March 2017


Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The tiniest amount of blue sky peeps through the high cloud. The usual songs greet – Great Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird and the distant cackle of Canada Geese. A pair of Bullfinches and a Song Thrush are bathing in a puddle on the track. A complex song is coming from a mass of Ivy. It sounds very much like a Garden Warbler, but a very early one, and impossible to locate! Birds are moving around the hedge but they are Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits. The meadow is very muddy, unsurprising after the heavy rains of the past few days. The view from the hide is very different, the scrape Willows have all been removed bar one. HybridThe Mute Swans are on the scrape along with three Canada Geese and a Moorhen. One of the Canada Geese is a hybrid; a dark breast, dark brown neck, a blob of white on its cheek rather than a chin-strap and a white line around the bill. I would guess and White FrontedxCanada Goose. There are Goldeneye, a Great Crested Grebe, more Mute Swans and Tufted Duck on the water. The winter visitors, Goosander and Wigeon seem to have departed. A Grey Heron sits hunched on a low branch whilst above are just four Cormorants. To prove me wrong, a female Goosander sails into view from behind the island. It crosses the lake, climbs onto the scrape and starts preening. A Mallard emerges from the reed bed. Back out into copse where Blue Tits churr and there is a burst of song from a Wren. A noisy flock of Siskin are at the western end of the meadow. The meadow hedgerow had been severely pruned back. A woodpecker drums in the distance. Wild Arum leaves are numerous under the hedges and fences. Some are plain, some spotted. Blackthorn is in blossom beside the Gloucester road.

Home – For the first time since the autumn, there are three eggs in the hen house; Bluebell must be laying.

Sunday – Leominster – March has certainly lived up to the old saw that it “enters like a lion...” Gales and rain have swept the country with short bursts of sunshine before the next downpour. This morning the rain started around 6:30am and turned to drizzle by 8:00am. Off down to the rail bridge. A female Bullfinch dashes across the path by the White Lion just in front of me. Its meeping call comes from the beer garden. Up onto the bridge. Fifteen Wood Pigeons sit, hunched in the trees. A pair of silent Jackdaws sit on the opposite side of the tracks, also silent and hunched against the rain. The River Lugg is high, grey and flowing rapidly. There are large numbers of white 5 year old cars are in the compound. Most of the police vehicles have gone. The market has restarted but it is just a dozen stalls huddled into the vehicle auction hall. Same old tat as usual! A woodpecker drums by the Kenwater, which is also high and fast flowing. A Mallard flies over Broad Street car park, calling softly.

Clarach Bay – Our friends are staying in a mobile home in Clarach Bay to the north of Aberystwyth. We travel across to join them for the day. Many of the hills of the Radnor Forest and the Cambrian Mountains are topped with snow. Slush lies in the middle of the carriageway. The bay lies around the estuary of the Afon Clarach. The river runs through a valley of holiday chalets and caravans. To the south is the wooded slope of Glanmor Fach, rising to Constitution Hill which overlooks Aberystwyth. The coastguard lookout can just be seen on the top of the hill. The wind howls off the sea. It is bitterly cold because of the wind chill factor. We have a short afternoon walk before retreating. Gulls dance in the violent air. A Red Kite, one of many we have seen today, floats along the beach. In the early evening Peter and I take the dogs to the beach. The wind has moved slightly to the north and it is raining. The beach is covered with grey boulders formed from Silurian grit stones of the Aberystwyth group. The walk does not last long.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another grey, damp morning but the temperature is rising now. The cackle of Canada Geese vies with the songs of Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Wren, the coos of Wood Pigeons and the caws of Rooks. The milder weather has brought out a clouds of gnats dancing above the track. Great Tits call in the meadow trees. A few wildfowl populate the lake including a Pintail, I think the first I have recorded here. Tufted Duck, Mallard and a female Goosander are also present. Half a dozen Cormorants sit in the trees. Long-tailed Tits squeak along the top of the meadow hedgerow. A Green Woodpecker with his scarlet cap lands on a telegraph pole, climbing to the top. Buds are emerging on the apple trees. Rabbit scuts top molehills. Hawthorn leaves are unfurling in emerald green.


Thursday – Ross-on-Wye – The sun shines, birds sing, can spring be here? Daffodils shine like mini suns. A Great Tit calls. From a car park by the River Wye, the road north crosses Wilton Bridge which was built in 1597, by an Act of Parliament after the ferry sank, and altered in 1914. In 1644, during the Civil War, Wilton Bridge was being defended by thirty Royalist musketeers from Goodrich Castle, who were under the command of Captain Caffy, when a party of Parliamentarian Troops, possibly under the command by Colonel John Birch, attacked the bridge with two cannon. The arch nearest to Wilton village was destroyed. The Parliamentarian troops then crossed the river at a ford (or more troops came up from Goodrich or down the west bank) and attacked the Royalists from the rear. Captain Caffy and many of his troops were killed. The river is wide and flowing rapidly. A male Goosander glides downstream at speed. Across the river is the White Lion, an inn of 1799 and Wilton Court, now a hotel, which dates from the early 17th century with early 19th century alterations. On the bridge is a large, weathered sundial with the faces. The sundial is early 18th century and has a badly eroded inscription that has been recorded as:

“Esteem they precious time Which pass so swift away Prepare thee for eternity And do not make delay”

Over the bridge where there is a small patch of shrubbery installed by Bridstow Parish Council to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. A Georgian terrace lines the road. Bridge House, opposite is a large Georgian house. Down Wilton Lane. Beside the White Lion is what looks like a fine old barn. It is, in fact the old prison and probably dates from the 17th century. Fishermans Reach is a modern estate. A large late Georgian house stands at the entrance to the estate. The Old Grange has some old wall. The house has an old core but there is much later enlargement. The lane swings around, passing 20th century houses before meeting the busy A40. Opposite are a pair of probably 18th century cottages and a pair of houses with Arts and Crafts hints, particularly the small towers with tiled roofs that house the chimneys. A Kestrel flies over into a Churchbrisk wind. A lane passes by 20th century houses of most decades. It meets the Hereford Road at the War memorial. This is Bridstow. A lane runs round to the church. Past the school and down a deeply sunken road. The banks sparkle with yellow Celandines. A large white painted house, Moor Court Farmhouse, possibly late 17th century, stands across the fields and beyond a mid 20th century estate, probably former council housing. At the bottom of the hill is the church of St Bridget, which is sadly locked. The church is from the 12th century with 14th century alterations. It was rebuilt except for tower in 1862 by T Nicholson. There is a 14th century stone cross in the churchyard with an 18th century sundial.

The Herefordshire Trail leaves the graveyard and crosses fields. The soil is sandy and reddish-brown; the whole area’s bedrock is Brownstone Formation, Devonian sandstone from 398-416 million years ago. A fine old farmhouse of Benhall Farm overlooks the fields. It is probably 18th century with mid 19th century alterations. The trail crosses the farm lane, lined with daffodils. The path leads behind houses to the A40. Four large arches run under the road, seemingly for the small Wells Brook. The route is a little confusing which is explained by a notice saying the public right of way has been moved, but not on the OS map! One now has to cross the A40 again, not the easiest of tasks, instead of going under our via the arches. The path runs through the village is Wilton and back down to Wilton Bridge. A footpath runs beside the river across the village green. Beyond is Wilton Castle but no public access.

Wilton Castle is believed to have been constructed sometime in the second half of the 12th century out of the red sandstone. It has been suggested the building had been designed as a monastery but the first stage of the castle was a Norman earthwork, wooden motte and bailey fortress. The 12th century castle was in the stewardship of the de Longchamps family. Despite the family being bailiffs of Normandy, chancellors of England, sheriffs of Hereford and enemies of King John, they seem to have left little mark on English history. After Castlethree generations, the castle passed to the families of Cantilupe and Grey. They had built a power-base in Wales but not as claimed by Matilda Grey, née Cantilupe, who stood up in court in 1292 and lied to the king that the castle had been built by her Longchamp ancestors in the days of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). In fact the castle could not have been built before 1154 and certainly the “barony” never held the Marcher rights Lady Matilda claimed for it! Later, in the 14th century, the fortifications were added when a rectangular keep and a twin-towered gatehouse were built into the existing curtain wall which was then flanked with octagonal and round towers. The castle passed from the family when William Grey was captured by the French at the end of the defence of Guînes in 1557, and was forced to sell the castle to Charles Brydges to raise funds for his ransom. During the 16th century a mansion house was built within the walls where the keep and gatehouse had been. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the lord of the manor, Sir John Brydges, refused to declare for either Parliament or the king, perhaps hoping to protect his family from the conflict. The local Royalist populace were so enraged by Sir John’s neutrality that they burned the house to the ground while the Brydges family were at church. An alternative version says the house was burned at the instigation of Sir John’s own cousin, a staunch Royalist. In 1731 the Wilton estate was sold to Guys Hospital in London. The Hospital trustees built a new house and let it out to tenant farmers. The manor house was extended in the 19th century, and it continued to be lived in by local farmers, until it was sold to a financier named Charles Clore in 1961. It remains in private hands.

After a brief stroll around the perimeter is the castle grounds, I cross the river and join the John Kyle Walk along the riverbank. A Great Tit calls, Long-tailed Tits from tree to tree, a Kestrel flies over then perches atop a dead tree to scan the area. Having seen nothing of interest, it is off. The road is on a causeway above the floodplain. Arches allow streams to pass under which are then culverted into the river. Three Black-headed Gulls fly past. One has its chocolate head fully restored, one’s head is grey as it darkens and the third is still in winter plumage. A statue of three Mallard by Walenty Pytel, Mallarda Polish born metal sculptor who studied at Hereford College of Arts, stands in the floodplain. Back to the road. A steep bank rises to where the parish church and the Royal Hotel overlook the river. The Riverside Inn is closed down. A dwelling has been built from a converted tower – it Schoolis the Ice House was built in around 1830. Its original use may have been, exactly as the name suggests, a place to store ice, which came from the River Wye when it froze during the winter. It was converted into the dwelling in 2005. The road rises past The Hope and Anchor. Opposite are cottages and more substantial houses set into the hillside. The British and Foreign School was established in 1837 by Ross and Archenfield British Schools under the patronage of Her Royal Highness The Princess Victoria. It was for children of different backgrounds. The Thomas Blake Memorial Gardens look out over the river. The air is already sweet with the scent of blossoms. House Sparrows chatter in the shrubbery. The road climbs and turns past Georgian houses in terraces. Castle Lodge is a strange castellated building in the middle of the terrace, built as a garage for the nearby Valley Hotel. Malvern House, formally the Castle Vaults public house, is dated 1838. At the top of the road a long, high, castellated wall runs around the hillside. An entrance has been blocked and is now the home of feral pigeons.

Up the High Street. A lane leads to Royal Parade. Cottages and the Gazebo Tower were built in mock Gothic in 1833 asking with the town walls. Sadly there is no access to the tower as Herefordshire Council sold it off in 2011. Opposite is the Royal Hotel on the site of the Bishop’s Palace. The Palace was built of timber with a gateway with a porter’s lodge and a second small building which had a dungeon for priests. By the 16th century it was in ruins but the small building and dungeon survived until the 18th century and at this time the area was known as the Bishops Court. During the building of the Royal Hotel in 1837, a vaulted cell was found 7 feet below the surface measuring about 16 by 12 feet with 5 foot thick walls with large chain rings mounted in the walls and the only entrance was in the roof. This is likely to have been one of the cells under the palace and it must have been a formidable holding cell.

The church of St Mary the Virgin stands at the top of the hill. We visited the church some 18 years ago. The church at Ross is recorded in Domesday, but no trace of that building now remains (though chunks of limestone incorporated into the current building may pre-date the Conquest). The current church was built between 1280 and 1316, when the building was dedicated. The west tower was added in the middle of the 14th century, along with both north and south porches. About 1510 a side chapel known as the Markye Chapel was built. Most of the church is in Decorated Gothic style. Remarkably there are six medieval piscinas in the church, which would suggest that at one time there were six separate altars in Monumentuse. There is some surviving early 15th century stained glass. There are fine memorials to members of the Rudhall family. The Rudhall memorials were brought here from the family chapel at Rudhall Manor, about three miles away, when the chapel was closed. The oldest is a table tomb to William Rudhall (died 1530) and his wife Anne. William served as Attorney-General to Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne before his untimely death left the way open for Henry VIII to inherit. Above the table tomb is a wall monument to William (died 1609) and his wife Margaret Rudhall (nee Croft), made of black marble and alabaster. The Rudhall bust is a life-sized statue of Colonel William Rudhall, who commanded a Royalist troop during the Civil War. To the south is another table tomb to John Rudhall (died 1636) and his wife Mary. In the churchyard stands the Plague Cross, erected in memory of 315 residents of Ross-on-Wye who died during an outbreak of the plague in 1637. The plague victims were buried at night in a mass grave, without coffins.

A market occupies the mediaeval market hall. Down Brookend Street to Brookend. A trough was presented to the Ross Town Commissioners by the Herefordshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on October 8 1891. Brookend is a junction of five roads. A large mill pond occupied the land to the east of the junction with a corn mill on the junction. Brook House was once two houses, a 17th century one to the north with the southern house being added during the 18th century. Beyond the junction, the Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway entered the town shortly before the station. The line closed in November 1965. Into Millpond Street. Cottages and workshops line one side whilst the other is a large superstore on the site of an agricultural implements manufacturers, a timber yard and some cottages. Up Cantilupe Road. The library is a modern building. Next to it is a Victorian building with a stone façade reading “For ‘the young that labor and the old who rest’”, a line by Alexander Pope in the third of his Moral Essays “Of the Use of Riches” (1734), eulogising John Kyrle, the Man of Ross. The original spells “labor” as “labour”, the normal way in England. The building was erected as a Baptist Chapel in 1887. In the 1950s this was the Magistrates Court, later the Register Office. Into Gloucester Road. A second hand shop has a Hornby railway layout for £650 (reduced from £850)! A “Nouveau Cuisine” Indian restaurant has a menu exactly the same as hundreds if not thousands of others. The Congregational chapel’s foundation stone was laid on 3rd June 1867 by H. O. Wills of Bristol and it was completed and opened on 21st July 1868 by Revd Newman Hill of Surrey. It became the United Reformed Church in 1971, then an antiques centre but is now apartments. Back through the High Street and down Edde Cross Street. Merton House was built sometime around 1800 and in 1802 it was owned by Walter Hill. Lord Nelson and his guests visited the gardens after breakfasting at the Swan and Falcon Inn on the High Street. Lord Nelson then went down to the Wye and took a pleasure boat down to Monmouth. Into Trenchard Street. Pye’s Almshouses were the gift of the Revd Pye, vicar of Foy in 1600. They were rebuilt in Edde Cross street in 1679 and the houses and the garden adjoining were exchanged for the old almshouses on February 3rd 1792 by Walter Hill. Then they were further endowed by Thomas Roberts in 1854. They were restored in 1964. Rope Walk, where ropes were made, runs off Trenchard Street. The path along the river starts here and I return to the car park this way. Route

Sunday – Leominster – There is no change in the River Lugg since last week, swirling grey water flows down to the Wye. Wood Pigeons coo, Robins and Song Thrushes sing and Blue Tits chatter. Blackbirds chase hither and thither. Stinging Nettles and Cleavers are shooting upwards. Arum leaves still unfurling in the shady parts. A large crop sprayer trundles along the A49. The market is much larger than last week, hardly surprising as it is dry and fairly mild this week. Many familiar faces in both vendors and browsers. And the same old stuff!

Home – Yesterday I cleared away most of the sunflower stalks. The sunflowers make a fine display but as Kay says, “They are thugs!” They spread rapidly with thick roots underground. I also removed the dead perry pear and planted a Cox’s Orange Pippin by the espalier wires. Today I have another go at the stalks but my back is not up to it so I abandon the task after filling a sack. On my wander to the marker earlier I gathered a bag of Dandelion leaves which are fed to the hens who rush at them and start feeding greedily. The girls are laying well now. Indoors I prick out and pot up the first batch of tomato seedlings, over twenty of them. I place the pots on the bathroom window ledge, which is now crowded with seedlings. I then bottle the four demijohns of cider I made in the autumn. None of them are as clear as usual, but they seem to taste fine!

Monday – Mortimer Forest – A glorious spring morning – a nip in the air, blazing sunshine in a blue sky mottled by high clouds. Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds are in song. A Green Woodpecker yaffles from the Oak wood on Overton Common. A Great Tit calls nearby. Up to the enclosure which is disappearing under a forest of Birch saplings, brambles and Bracken. The current thinking is that the enclosure was a moat with possibly a 14th century deer keeper’s lodge on a mound in the centre. Along the Forestry track. A Marsh Tit disappears down into the Mary Knoll Valley. The track is littered with conifer branches, the results of the recent high winds. The bird songs are constant, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Tit, Chaffinch and Wren. Carrion Crows caw harshly. Four Redpoll feed on the Silver Birch, swinging on the thin twigs as they hang upside-down. Further on a short distance there are more in conifers. A Common Buzzard flies over as the track approaches Peeler Pond. Up the hillside to High Vinnalls. A nearby Raven calls softly. The hills are clear and sunbathed. There is a stiff breeze cooling. A pair of Common Buzzards soar lazily on the wind. A pair of Ravens rise from the woods to glide away over the valley. The fields stretch away in a fresh green tapestry down the valley towards Leinthall Common and Wigmore. The sky is criss-crossed by aircraft vapour trails. According to an app, most of these aircraft are heading for the Americas – Houston, Havana and Montreal.

Down the track to the Deer Park. Blue Tits examine pine cones. Wrens explode into song. The short cut down through the conifers is now a mass of mud where heavy logging equipment has chewed up the ground. The wood itself has been substantially thinned out. Off round the long way except off road bikes have created a new path down the hillside. A cut piece of trunk reveals 75 growth rings indicating the tree had been planted just after the Second World War. A discarded branch has pink male reproductive parts that pour out clouds of pollen when disturbed, all going to waste it would seem. A new hunting look-out tower has been constructed by the track. This seems a bit strange as there are far fewer deer here now because of unregulated over-hunting. The short cut down to the bottom pond has also been churned by the machinery and is impassible. Coltsfoot flower on the verge, bright yellow disks on squamous stems. The hillside been largely cleared down to the first pond. Yellow Flag leaves are rising from the edge of the bottom pond. A few Primroses flower by the track. On down towards Black Pool. A Coal Tit dangles off a Birch twig.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – High clouds do not stop the sun shining down. The hills to Hazelthe south of the river are misty. House Sparrows chirp merrily around the car park. The fluting song of Dunnocks, we called them Hedge Sparrows when I was young, ring out from hedges. Soft, spiky, grey-green Grey Willow flowers, Pussy Willow, has appeared. Then the herald of spring, a Chiffchaff calls from the wood. White Violets are in flower by brambles. The towering Poplars are spotted red with blossoms. These flowers are male, apparently female poplars are quite rare.The usual songsters are in full volume – Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Robin, Great Tit and Wren. A Greenfinch wheezes. On the boat compound corner are several trees covered in a small red blossom. I am sure they are some sort of Hazel but the flowers seem larger than the common Hazel. A pair of Bullfinches fly silently along the hedgerow. Canada Geese are getting noisier. Some of the winter wildfowl are still present, fifteen Wigeon and a couple of Goldeneye. Ten Tufted Duck are together at the eastern end of the water. Mallard are scattered about. A Grey Heron stands on a Snipelow overhanging branch. Above are a dozen Cormorants. Many of the Canada Geese are in pairs. A pair of Greylags are on the far side of the lake. There are just a few Coot and Moorhens about. A Great Crested Grebe pops up. A pair of Mute Swans are at the western end. A Magpie watches from a waterside tree. A pair of Canada Geese fly in, landing near the scrape and immediately chase off another pair who were on the mud. A pair of Snipe stand motionless in the water’s edge below the hide. Nearby the water boils with mating frogs. Another Chiffchaff calls at the western end of the meadow. A Goat Willow has grey catkins, also called Pussy Willow, but these are yellow with pollen. Bulmers Norman apple trees are almost in leaf. A few more apple trees are forming buds, but most still look dormant.

Friday – Hereford – From Leominster station I can hear a Chiffchaff calling near Butts Bridge. Outside Hereford Station the construction of the new road is underway. Its sole purpose appears to be avoiding the roundabout on the A49 although it is hard to see how this will help the city’s traffic problems, which are mild compared to many places. The city centre has more and more empty shops. A ginnel by Henry Bull’s house, near the Cathedral Green, is called Harley Close and runs past a large house where Alfred Watkins lived in the 1920s. The lane leads to East Street, just behind the Town Hall. A large coach house and some terraced houses with access for stables or coaches line the road. Into Ferrers Street. Most the buildings here are modern, housing association flats and the Cathedral School. Into Castle Street. Number 29 incorporates the late 14th century Vicars Choral hall. They moved to their new premises in the 1470s. 6 Castle Street was previously a pair of cottages with 17th century cores. Most of the rest of the street is Georgian. Another ginnel passes Castle Pool, the last remnants is the castle moat and The Fosse, built in 1825 probably by Robert Smirke. It is a wonderfully extravagant styled house with octagonal chimney stacks, French windows, Dutch gables and a first floor conservatory. Onto Castle Green. Down to Victoria Bridge. I can hear the beating wings of a Mute Swan before the bird comes into view, rising over the bridge.

Clouds are thickening and there is a chill wind from the south. I follow the path along the southern bank of the River Wye. The banks are spotted yellow by Celandines and daffodils. A drake Goosander flies upstream. A path leads to the road at Putson Manor, a 16th century manor house. Putson Manor was originally the Palace of the first Bishop of Hereford, Bishop Putta, 670 AD. Putta’s Ton (homestead) became Putterston and eventually Putson. The present house is thought to stand on the site of the original house which extended out towards the river. The main part of the house was built by Richard Clements in approximately 1580-1590. An old wall separates the manor from the road. Into Putson, a large 20th century housing estate. Across Holme Lacy Road and on southwards. A lot of the houses are Cornish Type 1 PRC house types with a medium pitched, hipped roof. A large housing Churchestate has been recently constructed south of the Hoarwithy Road,the part with the rather twee name of “Poppy Walk”. The estate is a bit of a maze, none of which is on my OS map but fortunately is shown on my mapping app. The estate ends as Bullingham Lane passes under the railway. Beyond is a mixture of 20th century and earlier housing. A female Common Pheasant flies up from the roadside. The lane travels south. Ahead is Dinedor Hill with its wooded hill-fort. The lane drops down towards Bullinghope. Over Withy Brook and up into the village. Bullinghope’s name derives from “Bulla’s enclosed marsh”. Bullinghope House is a large timber-framed 17th century farmhouse. Strangely, this building seems to be listed as Bullinghope Court. Opposite is a large Victorian house, The Cedars, which was the vicarage with the remains of church in front of it. The church of St Peter was probably 12th century. Despite being restored Dawbeneyin 1819, it was in ruins before 1880 when the new church was built. Now all that remains is a rectangle of walls about five feet high. A timber-framed house stands nearby, it was a 17th century barn now converted into a dwelling. Bullinghope Court is an ostentatious modern building. There are a number of other modern mock-period houses here. Church House, however, is period, an early 17th century farmhouse later converted into two tenements. Along the lane is the old school, now a residence.

The church of St Peter is next to the old school. It was built 1880 by F R Kempson with the tower added in 1909. A monument on the west wall records the achievements of John Dawbeney who served King William III, Queen Anne, King George I and King George II “in their wars”. The plaque is naval in theme. It was removed from the ruins of the earlier church in 1894 and placed here. Dawbeney’s will is held by the National Archives. On the north side of the west wall is another naval plaque, Commander Price Glinn, listing his ships and engagements. He died in 1860, just three years after getting married to Helen, daughter of Richard Johnson who was Clerk of Peace for Hereford for 32 years. The Johnsons had a family vault in the old church. The organ is late 19th or early 20th century. A Roll of Honour records seven men who died 1914-19 and Winifred Aulsebrook, who was killed at Rotherwas Ordnance Factory in 1920.

Back through the village. A Chiffchaff calls by the brook. A Common Buzzard flies over, harassed by a Carrion Crow. Back under the railway. Back on the estate, a bus stop is called Saxon Gate, which apparently is the name for the area. It was formally called Bradbury or Stirling Lines and was the SAS base. I have been unable to discover why it was changed to Saxon Gate, as there were no walls or gate this far south of city. Pink cherry blossom brightens the route. The road swings westwards and joins the A49. Cherries and Magnolias are in flower. St Martin’s church is open, unlike when I passed this way previously. This church was not the original St Martin’s which stood by the old bridge but was destroyed in the Civic War. This church was built in 1845 by R.W. Jearrad, with the chancel in 1894, by Nicholson and Sons and is known as the SAS church as it contains a number of graves of members of that St John's Walkregiment as their base was once nearby. It is a typical Victorian edifice. Perhaps the oddest thing is a notice in the inner porch are welcoming “Pokemon trainers”!

Into the city. The Treacle Mine pub, closed for some time now, is being converted into a pizza outlet. Over the Wye by the old bridge and up Bridge Street to the junction of King Street and St Nicholas Street. Here stood St Nicholas church, demolished in 1841. A café was its rectory. This part of King Street is mainly estate agents. Straight ahead is the cathedral. We have just this week has a talk at the Historical Society on St John’s Walk, a covered passageway between the Vicars Choral and the cathedral. It was rebuilt in 1504 by Bishop Richard Mayew. It has recently been restored and revealed many fascinating features including numerous disturbed graves. The roof beams are beautifully carved and date from the rebuild. Fleur-de-lis and a Stafford Knot in the carvings may indicate that financing came from Magdalen College, Oxford and Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, both associated with Mayew. Route

Sunday – Leominster – A grey, damp morning. Chattering Starlings cluster on a television aerial. Jackdaws sit silently on another. A Magpie flies to the top of a Silver Birch beside the railway and calls harshly whilst bobbing its whole body. A Blackbird sings and a Chiffchaff calls. Over the railway. The breeze is blustery on the bridge. Up the line is a Goat Willow covered in rich creamy blossom. A Wren sings in the scrub below. The River Lugg flows grey and swift. A Grey Wagtail flits upstream. The market is about the same size as last week, which is surprising given the threatening sky. Plant merchants have a lot of broad beans, which can probably be planted out and tomatoes which seem a bit early to me. Mine will not go out into the greenhouse for at least a month yet and possibly later. I collect Dandelion leaves for the hens on the way back. A fine drizzle starts and stops.

Monday – Croft – The Spring Equinox is anything but spring-like. Drizzle, grey skies and a persistent wind make it a rather miserable morning. By the time I reach Croft it is raining properly. Creamy, buttery clumps of Primroses brighten the long drive to the castle. Off down the ride to the Fish Pool valley. A Carrion Crow caws, a Chiffchaff calls onomatopoeiacally and a Green Woodpecker yaffles in the distance. A Song Thrush flies up from the muddy track. A carpet of green and yellow Saxifrage covers the track-side bank. The rain does not diminish the desire of the birds to be heard and Wrens, Robin, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are all in good voice. Dog Mercury, Stinging Nettles, Wild Arum, Wood Anemone, Ransoms, Ground Ivy, Red Campion, members of the Dandelion family, Cleavers, Dock and Ground Elder are all emerging from the leaf mould covered ground. Primrose flowers quiver as raindrops bounce off them. I am soaked and decide to call it a day and head up the slope out of the valley on a ride that enters the car park field.

Tuesday – Leominster – It is cold. Short showers earlier in the day were almost sleet. A bitter wind blows. Across the Grange and into the playing field. A cock Blackbird quickly swallows a worm before flying off. A Great Tit calls from one of the cherry trees. House Sparrows and Starlings chatter by the scout hut. The Manchester train rumbles out of the station. Into the Millennium Park. The large gateway consists of a pair of Kingfishers is another metal sculpture by Walenty Pytel, as mentioned in the report of Ross earlier in the month. Blackthorn is in blossom. Large beds of Stinging Nettles are growing rapidly. The snowdrops have finished and the daffodils have started to flower. The “pond” had been cleared of undergrowth but remains dry. Again, nettles proliferate. A Chiffchaff calls in the trees by the circular garden, the Tranquil Place. Robins sing. Down The Priory. Despite the many times I have walked down this street I have not noticed there is a tall cast iron pole on the edge of the road. I assume it was once a telegraph pole.

Thursday – Leominster – Through the town and along Vicarage Street which follows the former route of Pinsley Brook. Into Cranes Lane, past Oldfields, an old farmhouse we once viewed in consideration of buying. Out into Green Lane. House Sparrows chirrip. Townsend House dates back to around 1560 but was refurbished every 100 years or so, giving it Georgian and Victorian characteristics. An 18th century red brick earth closet, apparently seating three, was in the garden. It has been moved to the Avoncroft Museum. The land to the south was a garden then what seems to have been a park. Charles Norgrove was originally a linen draper in the town and moved to Townsend House in 1900. He then developed a timber and builders’ merchants business. The park area to the south of the house and onto Bargates was his timber yard until the 1980s. It is now Townsend Court sheltered housing and a BUPA Care Home.

A ginnel runs to Bargates with the backs of houses on Perseverance Road lining it. It emerging opposite the former Radnorshire Arms, a mid 19th century pub, now being converted into a house, and beside the old Bargates school, now a nursery. A fine Victorian house stands on the opposite corner to the former pub, facing down towards the town centre. Down the road past the famous Hester Clark almshouses. Founded in 1735 by Mrs Hester Clarke, widow, and endowed at her death with £20 per year, for four decayed widows each to have £5 per annum, and rebuilt in 1874 by the architect Haddon and the builder, Smith. Known as Clarks Hospital, there is a “Dutch” gable with niche containing figure holding a chopper, and tablet recording:

“He that gives away all before he is Dead,
Let em take this Hatchet and knock him on ye head”

Next door Rock Villas is a solidly built stone building of three dwellings. Below is a row of late 18th century cottages, a larger house, a late 18th century building of two dwellings, a short row of earlier 18th century cottages then a couple of Victorian homes. Finally on the junction is a 17th century timber-framed building housing a long established fish and chip shop. On the northern side is a terrace of late Victorian houses, then the BUPA care home and a petrol station on the site of the timber yard as mentioned above. The petrol station stands on the main junction of New Road, Bargates, West Street and Dishley Street but this junction only dates from the 1970s. Previously, Rainbow Street was link between Dishley Street, Bargates and West Street. The Bull’s Head Inn stood next to the petrol station but is now (as an Indian restaurant) is on the other side of the junction.

Home – A female Blackbird has been pulling the lining out of a hanging basket by the back door for some days now but it is only today we realise she is building the nest in a flowering quince in the alleyway that leads up to our garden. It is rather exposed and we frequently pass that way, obviously, so we hope she will not be disturbed.

Sunday – Southampton – My hotel is in a mixed industrial and retail park, with all the style of a concrete block. A dual carriageway leads to the Old Town and Waterfront. The Quayside pub looks like it was once the dock offices for the West Quay. Behind it is a vast square block of Containersa “leisure world” consisting of cinema, chain restaurant and casino. This side of the road is dominated by an even vaster blue IKEA. The air is suddenly rent by the blasts of a ships horn. Beyond car salerooms and workshops is a cruise liner. It moves forward slowly, so slowly it is only the movement against a fixed point such as a lamp post that makes one realise it is really moving. A few minutes later it picks up speed and sails away from the dock. The road approaches the town walls. However, these can wait (they have for many centuries); I need a pint, the drive from home to Brighton and then to Southampton has worn out my nerves! Into The Duke of Wellington, a reasonable pint of Wadworths but at a typically southern price. It appears to be the only decent pub around the old town so I go back and have some food too. Back through the walls. A pair of Mallard are hoovering up food droppings outside a restaurant. Down to the waterfront. Through the Mayflower Park. An old wooden pier is collapsing into the sea. Gulls, mainly Black-headed, are screaming in all directions. The River Test flows out into the Solent here. Along the dock. Mr Whippy is busy. Two wooden structures stands at the foot of the concrete slope down to the water, their use now lost. A large container ship, not that large by modern standards, heads down towards the Solent. The cruise ship berth is now empty but other vessels are tied up further on. Horizon Highway, a vehicle carrier, is an extraordinary monolith of a ship. The entrance to the dock is a wonderful old art Deco Arch, “Associated British Ports, Gate No 8 Berth 101”. Back to the hotel.

Monday – Southampton – Evidence has been found which shows area has been inhabited since the Mesolithic with structures found under the Solent. A Roman fortress settlement of Clausentum was established in 70CE. It was an important trading port and defensive outpost of Winchester, at the site of modern Bitterne Manor. Clausentum was defended by a wall and two ditches and is thought to have contained a bath house. It was abandoned around 410. The Anglo-Saxons formed a new, larger, settlement across the Itchen centred on what is now the St Mary’s area of the city. It was known as Hamwic, which evolved into Hamtun and then Hampton. It is from this town that the county of Hampshire gets its name. Viking raids from 840 onwards contributed to the decline of Hamwic in the 9th century and by the 10th century a fortified settlement, which became medieval Southampton, had been established. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Southampton became the major port of transit between the then capital of England, Winchester, and Normandy. Southampton Castle was built in the 12th century and by the 13th century Southampton had become a leading port, particularly involved in the import of French wine in exchange for English cloth and wool. A Franciscan friary was founded circa 1233. During the Middle Ages, shipbuilding had become an important industry for the town. Henry V’s famous warship HMS Grace Dieu was built here and launched in 1418.The port was the point of departure for the Pilgrim Fathers aboard Mayflower in 1620. Southampton became a spa town in 1740. The town experienced major expansion during the 19th century. The Southampton Docks company had been formed in 1835. In October 1838 the foundation stone of the docks was laid and the first dock opened in 1842. The railway link to London was fully opened in May 1840. From 1904 to 2004, the Thornycroft shipbuilding yard was a major employer in the city, building and repairing ships used in the two World Wars. The Supermarine Spitfire was designed and developed in Southampton, evolving from the Schneider trophy-winning seaplanes of the 1920s and 1930s. Its designer, R J Mitchell, lived in the Portswood area.

Out of the hotel and into the West Quay Road. A road leads to another gate, “Associated British Ports, Port of Southampton, Gate 10 Berth 102-109”. Beyond is the huge Solent Flour Mills of Rank Hovis. The mills, completed in October 1934, was the first building constructed on 200 acres of reclaimed land, set aside by Southampton Railways for industrial development. Beside the road is a container yard with a mountain of containers attached up to eight high. Amidst the traffic and industry, a Goldfinch sings from a small tree. At the dock is the “Grande Roma” of the Grimaldi Line, another vehicle transporter. Somewhat ironically, Charles Grimaldi commanded a force of French, Genoese and Monegasque ships which sacked the town in 1338. Grimaldi used the plunder to help found the principality of Monaco. Towards the Old Town. A large site contains various parts of the BSA group, but no motorcycles or small arms. WallsHowever, the logo of three rifles is displayed in the ironwork of the fence. The Westgate stands inland across the dual carriageway and the park. At one time it led directly on to the West Quay the original commercial quarry. The groove of the portcullis and the small openings for defenders can still be seen. Up Anspach Place where there are representations of ships recalling the quay. Boats were also built here. A model is of a 14th century cargo vessel that would have exported wool and imported wine and other continental goods. Blue Anchor Lane is a narrow route up from the quayside. Its small gate arch also has a portcullis groove. In the 1330s it was known as Wytegod’s Lane after John Wytegod, the owner of a property now known as King John’s Palace. The house stands at the top of the lane, now a museum, and like everywhere, not open on a Monday! Opposite is St Michael’s church, closed at the moment but it is early.

Behind the church is St Michaels Street where some splendid buildings stand. Cooksey, Son & Burch Provision Merchants was in a building is alternating red and white bricks, now apartments. The London Gazette of 29th April 1884 gave notice that the partnership between Cooksey and Burch “has this day been dissolved by effluxion of time”. The building on the corner has a fine door surround with a bearded face apex, flower topped columns and tiled decoration. On the other corner is High Street is a monumental Italianate building, now a restaurant, with “Established A.D. MDCCCXXXIII” on the frieze. It was the National Provincial Bank (later the National Westminster Bank), built in Bank1867 by John Gibson. Above door is a large shield supported by two maidens. Opposite are the ruins of the Church of the Holyrood, built in 1320 and badly damaged on 30th November 1940 by bombing. It was known as the Church of the Sailors and is dedicated to this who served in the Merchant Navy and lost their lives at sea. In the bell tower is a fountain erected in memory of the crew of the S.S. Titanic. It originally stood in Cemetery Road. On the front of the church is a plaque commemorating the deaths of twenty two “brave and disinterested” men who died in a fire on the night of 7th November 1837. The fire broke out at 11.15pm in the stables of merchants King, Witt and Co whose warehouse fronted on to the High Street 100 yards from the quay. It is hard to imagine a worse place for a fire. The principal stock was sheet and pipe lead, in immense quantities, shot in bags, 50 carboys of turpentine, each of 12 gallons, oil, varnish, wine, paint, glass, brushes, lamp black, resin, bottle wax and about 190 lbs of gunpowder, just 10 lbs short of the legal limit for unlicensed premises. An estimated 150 people were engaged in the salvage operation, many forming a human chain between the store and the High Street. Three great explosions, caused it was thought by the flames meeting turpentine spilled from one of the carboys, demolished the store and engulfed many of the rescuers. Fifteen were killed outright and, of the over 100 injured, seven later died of their wounds. It was a preventable catastrophe. The fire brigade had almost an hour in which to isolate and subdue the fire in the stables, but the three engines that attended were in a poor condition and, critically, none carried any hooks with which to bring down the shed roof.

Nearby is an anchor from the Queen Elizabeth 2, the iconic liner based in Southampton. The bell of the church sounds the quarter hour. Towards the docks. There are several more magnificent buildings among the modern stuff. Much of the city is modern, often brutalist architecture. Bombing in the Second World War destroyed large parts of the city. Holyrood and Market Chambers are Victorian Gothic. Another great Victorian edifice, dated 1894, stands empty and forlorn. It was the Head Post Office. It has a 14th century vault. On down the road is a nest of scaffolding beside a school car park. Within the construction are old stone walls. Further on is the Town Quay Park. A small park of French flowers and a White Mulberry commemorate the arrival of French Huguenot refugees in the 1680s fleeing persecution after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV. There are extensive ruins of the Town Quay and the Watergate.

Across the main road is the ferry terminal for the Isle of Wight. On the Town Quay is The Wool House, a 14th century warehouse for storing wool for export to Venice and Genoa. It was restored as a museum but is now a bar. Beside it is the former Royal Southern Yacht Club Club House built in 1846 by T.S. Hack. Pevsner and Lloyd called it “the finest piece of early Victorian architecture in the city”. Built in stuccoed Italianate Classical style with Tuscan colonnades. It is now empty and decaying. Opposite is the Royal Pier. The 900-foot pier was opened on 8th July 1833 as Victoria pier and was built as a dock steamer services. It closed in 1979. As mentioned above, the pier is rotting away. The ornate entrance hall is now a restaurant. Onto the modern Town Quay. The ferry is reversing up the River Test towards its berth. Cormorants stand on the rotting pier. A tug is pulling another vehicle transporter, “Auto Eco”, away from the dock. Round the end of the quay. Across the water is what I thought was an hotel but turns out to be an enormous cruise liner, “Aida Prima”. A three-masted sailing vessel is in the harbour cruise. In between is a marina and the berth is the Hythe ferry. There is a rumbling roar as the Auto Eco engages her propellers and starts to turn. Looking back at the city, a gable end reads “May and Wade Export Grocers Shipping Contractors”. I can hear the whistling call of Oystercatchers, but fail to locate them. Auto Eco is now turned and moving out under her own power. She is bound for Baltimore. Back on the main road another large Victorian building, Harbour House, now a club. By the door is a brass letter box with a brass sign underneath starting “Telegrams When office is closed deliver to Police Office opposite”.

Eastwards past dock buildings. God’s House Tower is a mediaeval fortification named after the nearby hospital. The tower had a sluice that allowed water in at high tide. If attacked, the defenders could close the sluice keeping water in the ditch to act as a moat. The tower was also the town armoury and the town gunner lived on the first floor. Past the bowling club and Queen’s Park with the Gordon memorial erected in 1885, the year he was killed at Khartoum. Yet another monumental Victorian building stands alone. Union-Castle House was built in 1847 by Alfred Giles, Engineer to the Docks as the Custom House and was used as such until 1902 them until 1953 housed the offices of the Union Castle Line and has been referred to as Union Castle House since then. The building has been converted into apartments. At the end of the park is South-Western House, a magnificent hotel. The ornate Windows surround have gold crowns above them on the third floor. The entrance is flanked by large armorials, the Royal Arms and the Arms of Southampton. The pediment is a monumental carving of Victoria’s head flanked by angels, Harold and ships. A small slate tower has another Royal Arms. Sadly it all looks empty and disused, but maybe still has residents. Pilgrim House and the Old Bank Chambers are also empty. A Georgian terrace runs along the side of the park. Royal Mail House is at least occupied is not by the named business. I now find the grand entrance to South-Western House now called Imperial Apartments. A large cast iron and glass canopy covers what once must have been a fine entrance. Originally the hotel was built over the ends of the railway lines, so that passengers could alight the train on platforms that came right into the hotel, almost cutting it in two on the ground floor. The architect was John Norton of London. It was named the Imperial Hotel, and opened before it was finished in 1867. Soon after the developer went bankrupt. Subsequently, the development was taken over by LSWR Company, completed, and renamed the South Western Hotel in 1871, but not before the town council had proposed turning it into a lunatic asylum. Southampton Terminus railway station, built to the design of Sir William Tite, served the docks and city centre of Southampton, England from 1839 until 1966. The station was authorised on 25th July 1834 and began as the terminus of the London and South Western Railway (which was the London and Southampton Railway until the line opened). The station opened on 10th June 1839 as “Southampton”, although it was not officially operational until 11th May 1840, due to the track not being fully linked between Winchester and Basingstoke. Opposite is a pub of 1905, The London, with lovely green and cream tiling.

Over Central Bridge. Housing estates and factory units stand where once the railway ran. Then a surprise, there is still a single line here still in use for freight. A plaque in the bridge states it was erected by the London & South Western Railway Co and opened in July 1882. On the far side is the bridge, the toll bridge over the River Itchen rises. Below stand The Royal Albert FeatherHotel in a dead end. Built in 1853 for Scrases Star brewery, it later was under the ownership of Strongs Romsey brewery until 1971 when Whitbread’s brewery brought them out. Whitbreads then sold it on to Gale’s Horndean brewery. It was nearly demolished in 1975 but is now a Grade II listed building. It has been converted into flats. The bridge was opened in 1977. To the north the view is dominated by St Mary’s, Southampton’s football ground. Upstream the river is lined by marinas for pleasure craft. Downstream are blocks of flats, new ones being built on the demolished ship building yards. Out in the Solent, another ferry arrives from the Isle of Wight and another vehicle transporter is moving very slowly up the water with a tug attached to its stern. Down from the bridge into Woolston. Woolston is believed to originate from Olafs tun, a fortified farm on the east bank of the River Itchen established by the Viking leader Olaf I of Norway in the 10th century. The Woolston Millennium Garden has a 10m high statue of a feather, the theme is the park being “Flight and Float” recognising the community’s long association with aircraft and ships. Local companies here included Vosper-Thornycroft and Supermarine, makers of the Spitfire. Down to the river. The vehicle transporter, “Asian Breeze”, is edging into a berth across the other side of the river having arrived from Cuxhaven. A pair of Mute Swans approach hoping for food.

Back into the town. The large pub that would have served the busy docks is now apartments. The cinema built in 1912 is a tatty bingo hall. The rest of the shops are the usual small off-high street mixture of takeaways, estate agents and beauty salons. The food stores are Polish. The main street, Victoria Road, has a few national chains. The Social Club dates from 1901. St Mark’s Institute dates from 1931. The end of the road has a large Lidls and the council offices and library under new apartments. On down Victoria Road where there are boarded up shops and a pub decorated completely by the English flag painted on its walls. There are side streets of early 20th century terraces and semis. Up Weston Grove. St Mark’s church is locked. It was built in 1863 by local builder John Bull and Sons to the design of architect William White of Wimpole Street, London, and was enlarged by the same architect in 1866 and 1867. Opposite is St Mark’s Infant School, now the community centre. A bus for the city centre approaches, so I leap aboard.

I alight by Oxford Street. Across the road is the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, previously St James CE church, was established in 1964 and inaugurated on December 6th 1970. Along streets of 20th and 21st century apartment blocks to the Central Hall, built in 1925 for the Wesleyan Methodist Church, it was designed by Arthur Brocklehurst from Manchester and cost £41,000. During the Second World War, the building was damaged and repaired and used as a mortuary.

St Mary’s church is open. The first church at Hamwic is thought to have been built around 634CE when St Birinus arrived at the port on his mission to re-convert England to its former Christian faith. About this time, the first small church of St Mary was built on the present site. During the Viking raids of 994, Olaf I of Norway is believed to have worshipped at the church while camped at Woolston prior to his return to Norway. A document of 1281 appears to confirm the status of t Mary’s as a collegiate church and as the principal church of Southampton. In the 12th century, the church was rebuilt on the instruction of Queen Matilda (the wife of King Henry I), as it was in a poor state of repair. Around 1570 the church was destroyed, probably as a punitive measure against the then Rector, Dr William Capon, because of his disagreement with a decision by Government commissioners to confiscate the Chantry lands. Only the chancel remained. Archdeacon Brideoak instigated the building of a new church in 1711, by adding a nave at a cost of £920, but eventually in 1723 the chancel was also rebuilt for £400. in the 1870s Bishop Samuel Wilberforce sought advice from the eminent architect G. E. Street, who condemned the building and on the death of the Bishop in 1873, it was re-built under the Rectorship of his son, Canon Basil Wilberforce. During the blitz of 30th November 1940, incendiary bombs destroyed the church leaving a damaged tower, bells and Baptistery. The sixth church was finally begun in February 1954 and completed and consecrated in June 1956. Pevsner and Lloyd were rather scathing about the main building and what they saw as a squandered opportunity “to build a new mother church worthy of a great city which had played such a significant part in the war in which it had so much suffered”. They praised Street’s tower and spire as making externally “a splendid composition, one of the finest Victorian steeples in England ... wonderfully impressive when seen from a medium distance”. The organ is among the largest church organs in the south of England. It was built by Henry Willis & Sons, and designed in consultation with D. Cecil Williams, organist at the church. It was completed in 1956, and incorporates some “Father Willis” pipework from the former Albert Hall organ in Stirling. The pipes occupy two arches. The west window was designed by Gerald Smith and depicts six local landmarks.


Up the road into the Kingsland area, very multicultural with varied food shops but also very run down. Across the railway. Into a confusion of road junctions. The dome of a mosque rises above houses across the junction. Under the junction and post the university. Across Andrews Park which is being well used in the warm sunshine. There is a statue of Palmerston. Into Above Bar, the main shopping area with cavernous shopping malls running off. The Bargate lays across the road. Built around 1180 as part of the town defences. Any strangers left outside after curfew could find shelter in inns in Above Bar. In 1320 drum tiers were added and the upper floor was extended to create the Guildhall. Three guns were stationed here. The watch bell is still hanging on the battlements. Below the Bargate is the High Street. One large bank building is still actually a bank, another is a restaurant. The Star Hotel has a carved block in the wall stating “Coaches to London (Sundays excepted) Alresford Alton performs 10 Hours”. I get served in a Wetherspoons, a rarity! On down High Street. Another bank, then a bar is now empty. The Dolphin Hotel has an arch for carriages in the centre is is façade. The Royal Coat is Arms is above the carriageway, although both the lion and unicorn look rather Disneyesque. I am back at the ruined church.

Despite the doors being open, the church of St Michael is still closed. The Norman tower of St Michael’s Church is the oldest building in Southampton and dates from 1070. The church was rebuilt in the 12th century. Two chapels were added either side of the high altar in the 13th century and the north aisle in the century that followed with the south aisle being added in the 15th century. The spire, probably first built in the 15th century was rebuilt in 1732 and then heightened by nine feet in the 1870s at the request of Trinity House as an aid to ships coming up Southampton Water. Although its windows were damaged, St Michael’s was one of the only churches in Southampton not to have seriously damaged by the bombing in 1940, allegedly because the spire was used by the German bombers as a landmark and their pilots were ordered not to hit it. Past the Roman Catholic church of St Joseph, also closed. Fortunately The Duke of Wellington pub is open!

Off around the walls. After a French attack in 1338, Edward ordered the arches from the Westgate to be filled to stop attacks through them. Biddle Gate was at the end of West Hythe Quay. A new door lock in 1489 cost 23/4 nearly £600 now. Simnel Street was the location is Mr Martin’s baths, popular in the mid 18th century as salt water bathing was thought to cure many ills. I rejoin the walls at the Garderobe Tower, built in the late 14th century as the south-west corner of Southampton castle. Southampton Castle was first constructed in the late 11th century. During the Anarchy, it was held by William le Gros, the bishop of Winchester and supporter of Stephen. When Henry II came to the throne in 1153, he took it back. In 1187 the wooden keep was converted into a stone shell-keep. However, by 1286, the building was described as being in ruins. Because of the French raid, in 1378 a large-scale programme of building works at the castle was ordered, the main objective was to quickly build a new tower on “Old Castell Hill”. The two leading architects of the day, William Wynford, as master mason, and Henry Yevele were appointed to take charge of the works. The work took place in 1378 and 1379. Between 1378 and 1388 the castle was almost completely redesigned. However, after 1518, no more money was spent repairing the castle. The inner bailey became used first as a rubbish tip, then for small-scale agriculture. By 1585, a Special Commission found the castle was “very ruynaise and in greete decaye”. In 1618 James I sold the castle to property speculators; it was then sold on to George Gollop, a local merchant, and a windmill was subsequently built on the motte. In 1808 Marquess of Landsdowne built a mansion in a Gothic style on top of the motte using some of the stone remains of the old keep; it became known as Landsdowne Castle, providing famous views across the town. Landsdowne Castle was pulled down in either 1815 or 1818, and most of the motte was subsequently flattened. A modern tower block stands on the site now.

Up onto the wall again. Along a terrace of late Victorian houses. Out from the walls now is a modern plaza and shopping malls. The terrace is rather bizarrely called Forest View. Into Albion Place by the Masonic Hall. Catchpole Tower was the last addition to the walls built in the early 15th century to carry cannon. Up a lot of steps to the top of Arundel Tower. StatueOver a bridge across a busy road. Statue of John Le Fleming (1295-1336), mayor of Southampton is by Anthony Griffiths. Down to ground level again near the Bargate. Beyond Bargate the north wall continues along a back lane. This is the oldest part of the walls, built in 1260. York Gate was cut through the wall in 1769. The Polymond or St Denys Tower dates from the late 13th century and was the north-east corner of the walls. Round through loading yards of shops, then across East Street and down the aptly named Back of the Walls. Only a short, low section of the east wall remains. Hardwickes Bond Store stands in the site of the East Gate. Large blocks of student accommodation stand on the route of the wall. The way is then blocked by construction work on another large building. A detour takes me around the construction site and I pick up the wall again, still in Back of the Walls. Friary House stands in the site of a Franciscan Friary. It was founded in 1233 and was dissolved in 1538. John Brissault built a sugar refinery here in 1740. It was later a warehouse, bombed in the Second World War. The Friary reredorter, built before 1373 was part of the town defences, a tall square tower, mounting two guns. The Friary House was built in 1373. In 1310 a pipe brought water from Colewell Spring on land owned by Nicholas de Barbflete, to the area. In 1410, the town took the system making it the first urban water supply in England. The Round Tower was built as a dovecote in the late 13th century. It was incorporated into the wall in the mud 14th century. It was used as a house in the late 18th century. The walls have now arrived at God’s House Tower. A plaque on the wall has the Arms of Southampton and “GAM, 1822”. St Julien’s Chapel was the chapel of the Hospital of St Julien or God’s House which was founded around 1197 as an almshouse and hostel for travellers on pilgrimage to Canterbury. It was used regularly by French Protestants from the 16th century until 1939 and is called the French church. The next section is the Watergate. Past the Wool House to Cuckoo Lane where I started by circuit is the walls. Below Cuckoo Lane is a column with a basket atop of it as a lighthouse. It commemorates the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail from here in 1620. Nearby is a fountain dedicated to Mary Anne Rogers, stewardess on the Stella which was wrecked on 30th March 1899. She saved women under her charge but drowned herself.

After dinner I return to the Mayflower Park. Two ships have docked across the river, Eddystone and Harland Point, two of the Point class of six roll-on/roll-off sealift ships originally procured under a Private Finance Initiative to be available for use as naval auxiliaries to the British armed forces.

Tuesday – Hamble-le-Rice – A village on the tip of Hamble penisula between Southampton Water and the River Hamble. The sun has gone and there is a cool wind. On a pebble beach looking out across the Solent. The Isle of Wight ferry sails past. Across the water is Fawley with its extensive refineries. Three LPG ships are at the dock, two low in the water and assumedly unloading. On this side of the water is a long jetty also for unloading either oil or gas. At the top of the beach is Gorse scrub, then a large reed bed. Screaming gulls are high overhead. The jet ferries pass each other. The City of Chichester, a hopper dredger, makes its way up the GunSolent. A ledge in the pebbles just beyond the high water mark is covered in Sea Beet. A raised footpath runs along beside a fence around the oil storage yard. Under the pipeline. Bird life is scarce, a few Black-headed Gulls fly past and Carrion Crows scavenge the beach. The concrete path ends and a footpath heads inland to Hamble Common. A Goldfinch sings. The air is filled with the scent is coconuts, the scent of Gorse. St Andrew’s Castle, built by Henry VIII in 1543 stood here. It was slighted by Parliamentarians in December 1642. Most of the castle had been eroded away but apparently some blocks can still be seen at low tide. An Iron Age settlement was here from around 700BCE until 43CE. A 19th century gun battery stood near the castle and Bofors anti-aircraft gun was positioned here in WWII. Another tanker, “PTI Nile” is moving slowly up river. Beyond a gate onto the common is a bank, the remains of the back and ditch of the Iron Age settlement. Back on the edge is the beach. Brent Geese fly around in the distance. A Chiffchaff calls on the far side of the common. A redundant harbour beacon had been fitted with nesting boxes for birds of prey. Tugs are manoeuvring the tanker into her berth. A Great Crested Grebe bobs on the waves before diving. The River Hamble flows into the Solent beyond the point. A road runs from the marina on the point back towards the town. It passes though the common. A track parallels the road. The are good numbers of Chiffchaffs calling. A creek is flowing slowly inwards as the ride rises. Beyond, on the edge of the river are about a dozen Dark bellied Brent Geese. Pleasure craft and a little pink ferry move down the river.

Up School Lane where modern houses hide behind high hedges and fences. The Schoolhouse is now housing. The housing now changes from late to early 20th century. The road meets the main road through the town. Now the houses are Georgian and older. The Gun House is late 17th century. Ye Olde Whyte Harte, misspelt in every way, is dated 1563, but the frontage is 18th century. Henville House is mid 19th century. Down to The Square where one house is dated 1602. The High Street winds down to the waterfront past three pubs! There is a lifeboat station on the foreshore although it does not seem to be well used. The little pink ferryboat arrives. It runs from here to Warsash on the other side is the river. A pair of Mute Swans glide past.

The church of St Andrew is locked. It originated as a small Benedictine Priory of the early 12th century. A large piece of fossil tree acts as a seat. Sadly, Robinson’s Compass Adjusters has closed down. I wonder if there are any others still operating? Across a disused railway line that ran into the Hamble Oil Terminal.

Portsmouth – The Romans built Portus Adurni, a fort, at nearby Portchester in the late 3rd century. The name derives from Portesmuða meaning a haven, and muða, the mouth of a large river or estuary. It was mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for the year 501. Danish Vikings raided the area frequently in the 8th and 9th centuries. In 1001, the Danes pillaged Portsmouth and surrounding locations. The Danes were massacred by the survivors the following year and rebuilding began, although the town suffered further attacks until 1066. In 1189 Richard I, who had spent most of his life in France, arrived in Portsmouth before he was crowned in London. When Richard returned from captivity in Austria in May 1194, he summoned a fleet of 100 ships and an army to the port. He granted the town a Royal charter, giving permission for an annual 15 day free market fair, weekly markets, and a local court to deal with minor matters, and exempted its inhabitants from paying an annual tax of £18. Richard granted the town the arms of Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus, whom he had defeated during the Third Crusade in 1191, reflecting a significant involvement of local soldiers, sailors, and vessels in the holy war. King John reaffirmed the rights and privileges and established the permanent naval base. The first docks were built by William of Wrotham beginning in 1212.

In 1229, Henry III assembled a force and invaded France from here. The invasion stalled and returned from France in October 1231. In 1242 Henry III summoned troops to invade Guienne, and in 1295 Edward I sent supplies for his army in France. By the following century, commercial interests had grown and its exports included wool, corn, grain, and livestock. Edward II ordered all ports on the south coast to assemble their largest vessels at Portsmouth to carry soldiers and horses to the Duchy of Aquitaine in 1324 to strengthen defences. In 1336 a French fleet under the command of David II of Scotland attacked the English Channel, ransacked the Isle of Wight and threatened the town. Concerned, Edward III instructed all maritime towns to build vessels and raise troops to rendezvous at Portsmouth. Two years later, a French fleet led by Nicholas Béhuchet raided Portsmouth, destroying much of the town. Only the stone-built church and hospital survived. After the raid, Edward III exempted the town from national taxes to aid reconstruction. Upon Edward III’s death in 1377, his grandson Richard II was crowned, and the French landed in Portsmouth in the same year. The town was plundered and burnt, but its inhabitants fought back and defeated them, which led the French to retreat and raid towns in the West Country instead. Henry V built the first permanent fortifications of Portsmouth.

During his reign, Henry VII made Portsmouth a Royal Dock, and was England’s only dockyard to be considered “national” at the time. In 1539, Henry VIII built Southsea Castle in anticipation of a French invasion. He also invested large sums of money into the town’s dockyard, and expanded its boundaries to 8 acres. Around this time a Tudor defensive boom stretched from the Round Tower to Fort Blockhouse in Gosport, as a protection to Portsmouth Harbour. In 1545, from Southsea Castle, he witnessed his flagship Mary Rose sink with the loss of about 500 lives, whilst going into action against the French fleet in the Battle of the Solent.

Most residents, including the mayor, supported the parliamentarians during the English Civil War. On 5th September 1642, the remaining royalists in the garrison at the Square Tower were forced to surrender after the Royalist military governor Goring threatened to blow it up with gunpowder. In return, he and his garrison were allowed safe passage. During the latter half of the 17th century the town continued to grow; a new wharf was constructed in 1663 for military use, and in 1665 a mast pond was dug out. In 1684 a list of ships docked in Portsmouth gave evidence of its increasing national importance; the town was the only place of naval rendezvous in England at the time. Between 1667 and 1685 the town’s fortifications were rebuilt, making Portsmouth one of the most heavily fortified places in the world. In 1759, General James Wolfe sailed from the harbour to Canada on an ill-fated expedition to capture Quebec. In 1805, Admiral Nelson left Portsmouth to command the fleet that defeated the Franco-Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar. At the turn of the 20th century, Portsmouth was considered the world’s greatest naval port when the British Empire was at its height of power. Portsmouth was granted city status in 1926, following a long campaign by the borough council. Between July 1940 and May 1944, the city was hit by 67 air raids which destroyed 6625 houses and severely damaged 6549 of them.

I am booked into The George in Queen Street, a pleasant old fashioned, proper pub and hotel built in the late 18th century. It is close to the Naval Dockyards. East along Queen Street. A short distance from the main road, down Bishop Street is the Mitre Courthouse and Treadgolds warehouse dating from the mid 19th century. Despite the name, the courthouse was the stable block for the warehouse. On along the main road. A building is dated 1912. Others are clearly late 20th century. John Pounds Centre is a community centre and a health and fitness mall. A building looks like an old pub, the name Royal Oak Court may be a giveaway! A rare shop is Baun & Co, Naval Outfitters. A monumental arch stands in front of modern, boring buildings of HMS Nelson, a naval depot. Opposite is HMS Nelson wardroom which accommodates the Navy officers a far grander affair, the officers’ quarters and mess. Built in 1899-1903 by Sir Henry Pilkington.

On a major road junction is Victoria Park with a quaint park house of large irregular pieces of limestone, erected in 1878 by W King, the mayor. On another corner is St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral with a 2010 bronze statue of St John sculpted by Philip Jackson, standing outside. The building was started in 1877-81 by J ChapelCrawley, continued in 1881-96 by J Hansom and 1906 by Canon Alexander Scoles. It was restored following bomb damage 1945-50 and re-ordered 1971. There are painted stations of the Cross. The various chapels are richly decorated. St Patrick’s Chapel, the last part of the cathedral to be finished in 1924, has rich woods and gold details with a painted statue of Patrick. Behind the cathedral are cathedral offices including the Bishop’s office, which had been destroyed by bombing, and a building looking like a church. Aggie Weston House, named to commemorate its proud connections with Aggie Weston’s, the much-loved sailors’ support charity founded in 1876, began life in 1908 as the Duchess of Albany Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Home. Into Edinburgh Road. Park Tavern and the Stationformer Shipwrights Arms stand either side of a tall, derelict building which was a third pub, The Trafalgar. Down past Portsmouth and Southsea station. A train passes over the bridge on the far side of the building. Into the Guildhall Square. One side has the concrete brutalism of the civic offices, the other the Victorian pomp of the Town Hall. A large advertising screen pump’s out mundane Muzak. A statue of Queen Victoria has her back to the modern building – apt! A statue is Charles Dickens faces the civic hall and he looks far from pleased.

Down Guildhall Walk. The buildings here look mainly 19th and 20th century. The Astoria is a fine early 20th century cinema, now a nightclub. Now in the university area. Past the Gun House, built by the army between 1870 and 1898, and down Landport Terrace. Again a mixture of housing and offices. One must remember that, like Southampton, Portsmouth suffered badly from bombing in the Second World War and was for many years a military town. When the military moved out of a lot of areas this left a lot of unsuitable buildings. None of this excuses some of the appalling architecture that fills the bombed and empty sites but does explain why the mixture exists. Into Ravelin Park. Ravelin House was home to Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in 1937-38 when he commanded the 9th Infantry Brigade and Portsmouth Garrison. Across from the foot of the park is Portsmouth museum. Formerly barracks, it was built in 1893, designed under Lt-Colonel R Dawson-Scott RE, for the War Office and converted in 1973. Next door is the Portsmouth Grammar school. Across the other side of a roundabout is the Grammar Lower school, founded in 1732. This building dates from 1879 and is in the Neo-Jacobean by A E Cogswell. Into High Street, where there is a long range of the grammar school which occupied this building, Cambridge Barracks, after the military moved out in 1926. Richard I built a royal residence here in the late 12th century and Portsmouth occupied part of the site until it was demolished in 1854 to make way for the present building. Opposite is a mixture of 18th through 20th century houses. John Pounds church was built in 1955 the founding stone layed by Sir Adrian Boult. John Pounds (1766-1839) was a shoemaker whose work for the poor inspired the Ragged School Movement.

Into The Dolphin, allegedly the oldest pub in the city, although the building is 18th century, for an expensive and not very good pint. Across the road to the Cathedral church of St Thomas of Canterbury. In 1180, Jean de Gisors, a wealthy Norman merchant gave land in the new town or Portsmouth for a church. It was dedicated in 1188. It was unaffected by a French raid in 1337 which destroyed much of the town. However, the murder of the Bishop of Chichester in 1449 by local sailors resulted in the town being excommunicated and the church closed. It was open again by 1591 when Elizabeth I worshipped here. The building was badly damaged in the Civil War. The tower and nave were rebuilt after the Restoration and galleries added in the 18th century along with the wooden cupola on the tower. The cupola contained a lantern to assist shipping. Much of the main nave was built in 1939 by Nicholson, although the war interrupted building and it was finished in the 1990s. To me, the whole building has an empty and lifeless feel. Although there are some interesting monuments, well maybe really only that of the Duke of Buckingham, a favourite of Charles I, the whole feeling is one of modernity with no history. Unfair maybe but nevertheless that is how it seems. Buckingham, was Charles’ unpopular military adviser, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham and was stabbed to death in an Old Portsmouth pub by war veteran John Felton.

At the bottom of the road is the sea. The Commodore Goodwill, a Ro-Ro freight vessel operating a daily service between Portsmouth and the Channel Islands and a weekly connection between the UK, Channel Islands and France, is entering harbour. Out in the slight murk is a container ship heading out. The Isle of Wight lays across the Solent. Three Napoleonic War forts are Churchout to sea. A hovercraft enters Southsea. A statue of Nelson stands below the promenade. In the square are several houses bequeathed to military charities. Many is the Royal Garrison Church, originally part of a hospital founded in 1212 by the Bishop of Winchester. The nave was badly damaged by bombing in 1941. It remains unroofed. Between the church and sea is the King’s Bastion, Long Curtain and Spur Redoubt – mid 17th century defences built by the Dutch military engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme.

Back to the promenade. The Victoria Pier was built in 1842 as a landing stage for the stream packets to the Isle of Wight and France. In 1861, the Clarence pier was built and the Victoria Pier lost its role. It was rebuilt around 1930. The Square Tower was built in 1494 as part fortifications and as a home to the Governor of Portsmouth. In 1584 it was converted to a gunpowder store, the governor moving residence next to the Garrison Church. In 1779, the gunpowder having been relocated to Priddy’s Hard, the Square Tower was converted to a Royal Navy meat store until 1850, when this function was moved to the new Victualling Yard complex at Gosport. The tower was manned during World Wars and was purchased by Portsmouth City Council in 1958-1960. The Point Gate stood near the tower and gave access from the town to the Point. In 1687 it was enlarged with a drawbridge and moat and renamed King James’ Gate. The most was filled in around the mid 19th century and the gate demolished in 1865. Along the Hotwalls to the Round Tower built between 1415 and 1422. It gives an extraordinary view of the Solent and Portsmouth. The water is busy with ferries, fishing boats, yachts, police boats and commercial shipping. Beside the Round Tower is Capstan Square where a capstan was situated that could pull a chain across the harbour entrance. Beyond is Tower House. Along an alley. A cottage was formerly the Black Horse Tavern around 1657. On along narrow streets through the Point, Spice Island. The Still and West public house was once a Gales house, sadly no longer. The Spice Island pub has a fine façade reading “Brickwoods Brilliant Ales & Stout, Wines & Spirits”. Sadly the current beers on offer are a pale imitation. The Point Battery stood here. The area was games for its lawlessness in the 16th century. It was reintegrated with the rest is the town when the walls were demolished in the mid 19th century. Across the water is the ferry port and the Spinnaker Tower, 170 metres tall. I have to return to the cathedral to get around to Gunwharf Quays. A house in Lombard Street was the Ruby Pub between 1850-1923. The detour was because of the Fish Quay. The Bridge Tavern looks good but is on the other side! A new ferry terminal is being built.

Through a development of apartments into The Plaza. Trendy shops abound. A dock crane by Stothert & Pitt reminds one how the fortunes and honest livings were once made. A large Dock House is an oyster and fish restaurant. The Customs House, a pub. Everything else is gone. A grey framed glass, cylindrical tower, some 25 storeys high looks over the remains of a dock. The dock seems landlocked but a large Grey Mullet is cruising the water. I then get trapped in the shopping mall, the temple of consumerism, and take some time to find out how to get out! I emerge and pass under the railway. A 12 storey housing block is empty and decaying. Beggars sit in the street. Gillott & Hasell were Naval Outfitters, but the shop is now a bookies. The Kepler’s Head Hotel is still in operation. On a dock is HMS Warrior, an iron clad from 1860. The road turns at the main gate, built in 1711, to the dockyard. Inside is The Victory but not for me today. Half Moon Street becomes Queen Street.

Friday – Lyonshall – A windy morning. Bright sunshine glares off the wet roads. Into Lyonshall. The village was known as Lenehale by the Saxons. In 1046 King Edward the Confessor dissolved the Benedictine Convent of Saint Marie of Cormeille which may have been located on the A44 opposite the church. In 1055 King Edward made Earl Harald Godwynson “Lord of Lenehale”. The Memorial Hall built in 1922 has a plaque recalling eight dead of the First World War. Past the stanchions of the old railway bridge which carried the Kington-Eardisley Branch of the GWR. It was never a much used line and closed on 1st January 1917. It reopened with one train a day from Titley to Almeley on 18th September 1922 and fully on 11th December 1922. The Second World War brought final closure on 1st July 1940. The station is a tall building rising from the road to the level of the line. A new small estate has been built at Fishpools, one of the sites of a Baptist Chapelnumber of mediaeval fishpools in the area. A Song Thrush flies into an Ivy covered hedge then chases a Blackbird out. It starts to rain. The Woodlands is a large timber-framed 16th century house. The Royal George Inn has closed. Known as The George until the 1930s, the building may date from the 1580s. Originally it was a ciderhouse and in 1840, when owned by the Clarke family, it had five apple orchards surrounding it, all are now built on. Opposite is a house called Maiden Head which was the Maidenhead Inn, dating from the 15th century. The Hereford Road dog-legs through the village centre. There are several fine timber-framed houses. Winton House is a range of buildings date from at least the 1500s. It was extended in the late 16th century and again in the Georgian era. Forge Cottage is late 17th century. A long barn like residence, formerly the forge, is attached and was in use until the mid 1930s. Ivy Cottage is in a ruinous state. It has internal cruck beams and is probably 14th century. Up Spond Lane. The Baptist chapel is a pleasant red brick building with cream and black brick details. It is now a residence. Stone Cottage is dated 1845. The Whitehouse is 16th century with an extensive Georgian restoration. The Farm is from the 1550s and was the house of the wheelwright in the mid Victorian era. Other properties are late Victorian. Upper House is a large mid 19th century farmhouse. The lane passes through fields and woods. A Chiffchaff calls, a Woodpecker drums, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Robins sing. The lane passes another dismantled railway bridge almost hidden, despite its considerable height, under Ivy. Offa’s Dyke passes here as well although I am not sure the wooded low embankment along the field edge is actually the dyke. The next field is a large orchard. The trees and hedges are busy with a singing Song Thrush, Coal and Blue Tits, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and my first Blackcap of the year. Primroses and Lesser Celandines brighten the banks. A late Redwing is at the top of a tree. The vast majority of winter thrushes have now gone back north. I can smell poultry units before I see them. Robins sit on consecutive telephone poles eyeing one another. Greater Stitchwort, also known as Addersmeat, is flowering. A Skylark sings over a meadow.

Elsdon House

The lane enters the hamlet of Elsdon. Elsdon House is a large residence overlooking the fields to the south. It was owned by the Pembers, the parish’s largest landowners during the 17th century. The house appears to date mostly from the mid 19th century with a 17th century core. The 1855 map shows a park with a number of ponds, one with an island. Into Jack’s Ditch Lane. Ground Ivy is flowering on the verge. Much of the verges are covered in Dog Mercury and Cleavers. Past Green Cottages. Across the Ground Ivyfields is Rhodds Farm which had a square dovecote and stable clocktower. Mistle Thrushes rasp as they fly off. Past woodland, Rhodds Wood, of where the wind roars noisily through the trees. Brickworks once lay to the east of the road, now gone and wooded over. Great and Blue Tits chatter excitedly in the trees. Ground Ivy flowers at the foot of the hedge. Back on the A44. Penrhos Farmhouse, dated 1771 is in the Kington direction. I turn the other. There are more vast poultry units down the hill to the north. Past Ovals Farm. Lyonshall Nursery stands on a site that was once known as “Crackydonia”. Old Vicarage is a massive grey stone house with outbuildings. Built for £2753, of Penrhos stone with dressings of Grinshill white stone, and in a Tudor-gothic style there are numerous gables and mullioned/transomed windows set in fine gardens, with a lake. It was designed by Richard Yates of Admaston, Shropshire for Charles Edward Maddison Green who was born in Suffolk in 1835; in 1869 he married the sister of W. Rider Haggard. Taking up Holy Orders he was appointed to the living of Lyonshall in 1866. The old Weymouth Arms is 13th century. Its early use is unknown. It had been a pub for many years and its name, “The Weymouth Arms”, refers to the 3rd Viscount Weymouth who married the heiress to the 2nd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer’s Estate at Titley and Lyonshall in 1759. He became the Marquis of Bath in 1790 and died in 1796. The inn was renamed as “The Wharf Inn” as it was a stopping place for the coal wagons from South Wales and it was known as that until at least 1863, a year after the Tramway closed. The old school stands on the Hereford junction.A Red Kite circles over the western edge of Pembridge.