Thursday – Home – The snow seems to have brought chaos across the country although it has not yet been in any large amounts. Many roads have been blocked, mainly by traffic accidents. It is still snowing lightly this morning. It is very cold and the gusty wind adds a considerable chill factor. The chickens’ water is frozen solid. I replace it, pour hot water into the bird baths and fill up the feeder. Mid morning a small flock of Redwings appears in the garden. Several hop down the alley, searching under some brown leaves that lie along the edge of the path. Much more snow is forecast. The A44 over the Cambrian Mountains is already closed. In the late afternoon the snow arrives. It is fine particles, not snowflakes as such and is being blown around by the wind.
Friday – Home – It has snowed continuously overnight and the wind has created drifts. It seems strange that the trees are devoid of any snow and some roofs are almost clear. In the sheltered parts of the garden it lays about a foot deep. I clear the steps down from the hen house and a patch round to the feeders but the girls have no intention of coming out. The wild bird feeders are filled and boiling water put in the bird baths. A Song Thrush is by the patio seemingly unsure of where to go. There are still a number of Redwings in the trees, along with House Sparrows, Robins, Blackbirds and Dunnocks. The road is very quiet. No newspapers have made it through and many shops have already posted online that they will not be opening.
Later in the morning the hens emerge and scurry around to hide under the hen house. They can get to the feed and water from there. The first pile of seed put out on an old Wellingtonia stump has gone so I replenish it. In the mid afternoon the snow returns and falls continuously again. The water is defrosted again and the second pile of seed has gone and is replaced.
Sunday – Leominster – The thaw is well set now. Water pools where drifted piles of snow still blocks its passage down the gutters. Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws are noisy. Starlings sit hunched over the television aerials. House Sparrows chatter. Over the railway where black lines cut through pristine white. The water level in the Lugg is fairly high but will rise much more as the melt takes hold. It starts to rain. Mistle Thrushes rasp as they fly out of the Black Poplars. Large snowmen stand on the meadow. Five Canada Geese fly over. The minster bell chimes 9 o’clock and the compline bells call. A Chaffinch pinks in the trees beside the A49. Unsurprisingly there is no market.
Tuesday – Home – Fourteen Carrion Crows are at the top of the Ash and Horse Chestnut trees in the garden. There is a pile of wheat on the Wellingtonia stump – the birds pick out the rest of the seeds and leave the wheat berries behind. Flowers like crocuses and dwarf irises demonstrate their resilience by standing bright and colourful even after being buried under snow for several days.
Bodenham Lake – The car park seems surrounded by Great Tits, all calling their two-toned song. A Woodpecker drums up in Westfield Wood. The sky is mottled with clouds. Much of the snow has now melted away, resulting in extensive flooding in the Lugg plain south of Dinmore. The lake is largely ice-free. A few Coot and some noisy Canada Geese are present on the boating area. A charm of Goldfinches fly up into the Alders. Blue Tits join them. The meadow is saturated, water squelching out from under my feet. Common Buzzards soar and Carrion Crows fly purposefully over the woods. A single Redwing is in the hedgerow. Magpies call and fly around. There are small numbers of duck on the lake – Mallard, Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Teal. A couple of Cormorant are in the trees. Canada Geese are scattered across the area. Five Greylags swim into view on the far side of the water. A Moorhen picks its way through the flattened reed bed.
Friday – Stanford Lacy – The temperature has dipped again and fog encloses the town. Last night we noticed water flowing down the street and called Welsh Water. This morning the flow has stopped but the street has a set of temporary traffic lights and a section cordoned off. Down to the station to get the train to Ludlow. One gets just a glimpse of Berrington and Eye station as the train speeds past it. It was opened on 6th December 1853 by the Shrewsbury and Hereford Joint Railway and closed on 9th June 1958. Fog becomes thicker as the train heads north. From the station in Ludlow I take the ginnel that crosses the railway tunnel and up to Gravel Hill. A row of Victorian houses have their names carved into the copes on the gate pillars. Past the hospital and up to the junction of New Road, overlooked by the Catholic church. Abandoned public conveniences are “To Let”. In New Street stands a chapel converted into a dwelling. It is a red brick building with pleasant cream and black brick trim, built in 1870. Back down New Road. Just past the main entrance to the hospital is Zion Primitive Methodist church, built in 1878 and seating 258 was much larger than the New Street chapel. It is now apartments. From here, Bringewood Chase can be seen across the valley. Clouds lay beside the trees. The road is a mixture of short terraces of Victorian houses and later 20th century. A young woman is on her driving test and has to perform a hill start, which she does flawlessly. The road descends to the railway and turns to run alongside for a short distance before arriving at a junction. My route moves away from the line and heads north-east along Fishmore Road.
Two cock Ring-necked Pheasants strut across an area of scrub, formerly the Ludlow Brick, Tile and Pipe works. The road passes through the same mixture of Victorian and modern housing to a bridge over the A49. Just before the bridge is an older road, now cut off, with a small bridge over Fishmore Brook. A Chaffinch sings in trees above the brook and a silent Blackbird watches. The A49 is on the route of the Ludlow and Clee railway line which turned south here to join the Manchester line. The line was for goods only, running from 1864 to 1962. In the distance Titterstone Clee’s flanks are still mottled with snow. A rusting barn stands in a nearby field. A Common Buzzard flies past and a Carrion Crow rises from a bush and follows the raptor to see it off. A wall leads to Fishmore Hall. There is an alcove in the wall, much overgrown, which has no discernable use. John Hooper Holder was the major builder of Fishmore Hall. In the early years it was called Stanton (or Staunton) Lacy House. He made substantial alterations and additions in about 1820. He knew Jane Austen and is mentioned in her letters. The house passed through a number of hands until around 1950 when it became a school and served this function until about 2000. It then became derelict for some years. In 2007 it was restored and converted into a hotel.
Beyond is a splendid early 19th century toll house, with an octagonal tower extended with a wing. Catkins hang from a leafless Hazel hedge. The road descends and forks, I take the left hand branch. A Robin sings in trees outside a mid 20th century bungalow. On past open fields above which a Skylark sings. The road passes under Whitbatch Coppice. The cloud lying along the side of Bringewood is diminishing and it feels milder. Whitbatch Cottage is partly timber-framed but not as old as it wants to be. The Grandstand of Ludlow racecourse lays across the fields. Halfway House is another partially timber-framed building. These houses I find tricky to date, they may be 18th century but also may be somewhat later. The trees and hedges show no signs of spring but there is Dog Mercury flowering at the base of the hedgerow along with patches of Snowdrops. A stream, Hope Gutter, runs down from the hillside. Wild Garlic, Ransoms, is in leaf on its banks. The road reaches a crossroads. The eastwards lane runs up over The Hope. My route, Carpenter Lane, is westwards to Stanton Lacy. A woodpecker drums up in the hillside in Hope Coppice. An orange beaked Blackbird watches me from the top is the hedgerow. In a field, a silver-backed Ring-necked Pheasant stalks across the cereal shoots. A long row of barns runs towards the road from the farmhouse at Manor Farm. The lane zig-zags into Stanton Lacy. A K6 telephone box has no phone. It stands outside the former Post Office which was in a 17th century building. Past a couple of timber-framed cottages, both 17th century and the school, now a residence. Beside it is the schoolhouse. A graveyard stands beside the road. Another with the church of St Peter is on the opposite side of the lane. Opposite the church is the large former vicarage hidden in trees. Numerous Rooks and Jackdaws are around the churchyard with the former’s nests in the trees. The church is locked, but as I stand outside a couple enter the porch, and disappear. I had been turning the handle the wrong way…
The church is a complicated building. Stantun was at the centre of a large area of productive farming. It was held at Conquest by the Saxon freeman Siward, son of Ethelgar, who later was in service to Earl Roger of Montgomery. He was involved in the foundation of St Peter outside the gate, in Shrewsbury which became the abbey church. A large cruciform Saxon church was built in Stanford in the mid 11th century. At Domesday, Stanton had passed to Walter de Laci. The north and west walls of the church are decorated with lesenes or pilaster strips which are typical of mid 11th century Saxon churches. There would have been a north and south transept and a small chancel. On the north side is a blocked up door which is Saxon but with a roll in moulding which indicates Norman influence, hence the mid 11th century date. After the Conquest the chancel was replaced with a much longer one. Around 1320 a south aisle was added and maybe ten years later the very substantial tower was added. There may have been an earlier tower but this one along with the south aisle meant the south transept was demolished. It is believed the Mortimers were responsible for this rebuilding. There were stained glass heraldic shields here consistent with the date of 1320 but these were lost in Victorian period, probably in the major restoration by Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1849/50. The font is 14th century. The reredos, pulpit and altar were installed in 1849. The organ is by Gray and Davidson dated 1854. A Royal coat of Arms hangs above the nave bearing the cipher of George II. There are a number of monuments. By the altar on the north wall is one to Elizabeth Scriven, daughter of William Swanne of Bewick, who died in 1613. By the organ is a plaque to John Thynne, armiger, who died in 1717. Most of the glass in the church is mid Victorian and by Evans of Shrewsbury. There are six bells cast by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester in 1693, only one has been recast, in 1778 by Thomas Rudhall. By the north door is an ancient oak lined aumbry. Outside there are two canopied tombs in the chancel wall. Both date from the mid 14th century and are very worn. The occupants of the tombs remain unknown.
A bridge crosses the River Corve. The lane joins the Ludlow to Bridgnorth road through Corve Dale near a large house called The Crosses. By the roadside the first Lesser Celandines are coming into flower. The road passes the golf and race courses. Over the railway and into the A49. I decide to walk along the footpath by the road than take the usual route along The Burway, which will be a quagmire. A flock of Fieldfares flies over, obviously yet to return to the north. The road enters Ludlow by the school. The road is lined by mid 20th century houses. New houses are being erected behind them. A strange corvid is in the trees, it has pale tan coloured back and wings. The meadows next to the Corve are flooded with several Mallard taking advantage. Route
Sunday – West End, Surrey – It is a damp and overcast morning. Off to the recreation ground with Freddie the Westie. A cacophony of Starlings are in trees by the church along with singing Blackbirds and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Five Canada Geese fly over. A Black-headed Gull seeks worms on the football pitches. The ground is saturated. Housing developments are everywhere as former market garden and farm sites disappear.
Monday – Surrey-Herefordshire – Woken shortly after 4:00 in the morning as the flight from Lagos roars over on its approach to Heathrow. Off back home. However, taking the M25 may be a mistake. The satnav tells me to take the M3 and then up through Bracknell to the M4, but I decide to keep on the M25 and join the M4 directly. Big mistake. The last mile to the M4 junction takes over half an hour. Driving on the M4 is not pleasant with a lot of spray from other vehicles. There are good numbers of Red Kites along the motorway including a group of four over a woodland. There is a real tussle between a Red Kite and a Carrion Crow who seems to be driving the raptor away from a rookery. The road across the Cotswolds has very poor visibility with thick fog. Around Gloucester and onto the Roman road north-westwards. There has been a lot of rain here and in one place the road is flooded. A passing van sends a sheet of water up over the car. The fields south of Leominster are lakes again.
Saturday – Hereford – I have been unable to get out much this week as workers are in demolishing the old and erecting the new shed. It is now finished. Down to the city by train. The fields south of Leominster are flooded again. Beyond Dinmore Hill the whole area seems to be a continuous lake. Canada Geese swim across the waters and feed around the edges. Mute Swans sail serenely through the floods. The road to Marden is under water as are all the lanes to the isolated farmhouse. One house is surrounded by water, the garden is a pond. The course of the River Lugg can be discerned beside the church of St Mary the Virgin at Marden by a flow through the wide lake of water. The flooding continues over the fields where the Wergin Stone stands. Into Hereford. There is a “pop-up” artisans market within the Butter Market. It is good to see all the stalls are filled by both the regulars and the specialists. Stalls are set up in High Town. One sells Bulgarian sausages in a bun, another German sausage and yet another “traditional” English burgers. Along Capuchin Lane to the cathedral. A waterfall of red ceramic poppies flows down from a small window. It is the “Weeping Window” created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper to commemorate Herefordshire’s contribution to World War I. The wind is bitter and I am not sorry to quickly do some shopping and retreat to the railway station and home.
In the afternoon, snow begins to swirl and dance in the cold air.
Sunday – Home – It has snowed all night and continues this morning. Everywhere is under about a foot of light, fluffy snow. I brush off the ramp from the hen house and clear a patch in the run. After a while the girls deign to emerge. The snow continues to fall all morning. It is still light and fluffy, whipped into swirling clouds by the wind. The snow finally stops in the early afternoon. The deep snow means that work in the garden is suspended for the time being.
Monday – Leominster – Across a wet and icy car park. The sun is trying to break through luminous grey clouds. The wind is bitter. The thaw is slow. Across the Grange and into the play field. Robins and Great Tits are in song, Blackbirds mutter and call alarms. Moles have thrust up molehills through the blanket of snow. Through the Millennium park where the expected display of daffodils is buried deep in a white drift. Into Pinsley Mead. House Sparrows chatter in the bushes and a Dunnock and Song Thrush sing. Down to the Kenwater which is flowing fast although not as high as I had expected. Blue Tits churr in the hedge beside Paradise Walk. Back up through the town. By mid afternoon, the sun is shining down from a blue sky. Everywhere is dripping as the thaw accelerates.
Friday – Droitwich Spa-Salwarpe – The weather feels far from springlike with a chill wind and overcast skies. I park in a modern housing estate and head to the Droitwich Canal, begun by Brindley in 1767 and opened in 1771. House Sparrows chatter beside the canal. Opposite are the King George V playing fields. Moorhens squeak from dried reed beds. The canal reaches Siding Lane Bridge. On the far side is a large sports centre, on the site of a former wharf, and a school. The area is manicured grass with walkways and footbridges. Onto the tow-path, part of the Monarch’s Way. Leaves are appearing beside the path, Hedge Mustard, Stinging Nettles, Cleavers, one of the umbellifers, Wild Arum and Lesser Celandines, some beginning to flower. A pair of Mallard swim under a modern footbridge. Wrens, Robins and Great Tits sing. The River Salwarpe flows parallel to the canal beyond playing fields. A pair of Mute Swans are nest building on the far side of the canal. Under a couple of modern road bridges. My first Chiffchaff of the year calls from a dense thicket. On this side of the canal is Droitwich Community Woodland, on the other side a far older wood. Beyond the Community Woodland is Coney Meadow Reedbed Wildlife Site. A sign states it is grazed by rare breed Shetland cattle although there is no sign of them today.
The geology of the area is mainly Mercia mudstone, laid down in hot Triassic deserts. Over it are much more recent alluvial deposits. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in the distance. A Magpie chatters in the trees above. Across the valley the land rises into High Park, a large house built in the late 18th century and enlarged around 1830 with further alterations around 1940. A muddy footpath crosses the rough meadow to the edge of the extensive reed bed. A Yellowhammer sings on the far side. A Sparrowhawk sweeps along the edge of the reeds then crosses to the canal-side trees, jinking and twisting through the branches. A Water Rail squeals in the reeds. A pair of Canada Geese fly over. Back to the canal. An old rusty construction, probably a swing bridge (confirmed on the 1903 OS map), is on the far side. Across the canal now is Salwarpe Court, built on the site of an older building in 1580, up a slight rise. A path rises from the canal-side to the church. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips above. A Grey Squirrel leaps between trees. The river is at the bottom of the slope which rises between to the path and then down to the canal.
According to a Saxon charter, dated 817, Salwarpe was granted by Coenwulf, King of the Mercians, to Deneberht, Bishop of Worcester. The manor appears to have been taken from the church, probably by an ancestor of Earl Leofric and his brother Godwin, as Leofric held part of Salwarpe and Godwin held the principal manor there. Godwin on his death-bed was persuaded by St Wulfstan, then Dean of Worcester, to restore it to the priory. Ethelwine, Godwin’s son repudiated his father’s will and retained the manor, but according to Heming, the Worcester chronicler, did not hold it for long, “losing his lands with his life” soon after Godwin’s death. Salwarpe was not, however, restored to the priory, but granted to Roger de Montgomery Earl of Shrewsbury, who was overlord in 1086. On his death in 1094 his English titles and estates, according to the Norman custom, passed to his second son Hugh, who was killed four years later while fighting in Anglesey. His eldest brother Robert of Bellesme succeeded him, but in 1102 forfeited all his estates in England for rebellion against Henry I. The overlordship from this time remained with the Crown, and is last mentioned in 1571. Salwarpe Court was the birthplace of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. In 1406 and 1440 the manor was said to be held of the Prior of Coventry, passing into the hands of Henry VII in 1487. Salwarpe was settled on Katherine of Aragon when she married Prince Arthur, and she continued to hold it until her death. The manor was granted in 1545 to Hugh Davie and George Wall, who sold it in 1546 to John Talbot, a grandson of the 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury. The manor passed through several hands before passing to the Douglas family in 1822.
There are a good number of Yews in the churchyard and a restored preaching cross. Luckily a churchwarden unlocks the church for a short time and I am able to see around briefly. St Michael’s church is Norman in origin but extensively rebuilt in the 14th century with a new tower in the 15th century. There was further alterations in 1848 when the chancel was completely rebuilt, although Pesvner considers the sedilia to be from circa 1530. He calls the arcades, “puzzling”, and considers there was a tower over the north-west bay. The south side chapel has a black and white altar tomb with an inscription to Olive Talbot, who died in 1681 and her mother, Elizabeth who died in 1689, widow of John Talbot. The reredos is a relief of the Last Supper. The east window is by Hardman. On one nave pillar is a facsimile of a letter from Charles I commanding the men of Salwarpe to bring picks, shovels and spades to strengthen the defences at Worcester.
Beside the church is Salwalpe House, the former rectory. Opposite the lych gate is the former Grammar school and master’s house, established for boys in 1607 and girls in 1730. The schoolrooms were rebuilt in 1821. The school moved to a new site over the far side of the canal in 1882 where remained in use until 1956. A large flock of Jackdaws flies into the churchyard.
Off along Copcut Lane past the school, now a residence and the court. The village hall is modern. The Rectory is also 20th century. Skylarks sing over the fields. Over the railway, the former GWR, Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Branch. Beyond a housing estate, some 700 plus new houses, is being erected, surrounding Middleton Cottage. Opposite is a field of ewes and lambs. Copcut House is mid 18th century. The finished part of the new housing estate continues back from the road. Copcut Lane reaches the A38 by The Copcut Elm, a large pub. The A38 is Roman in origin and was also the Saxon Saltway. The remnants of an old wall run alongside the road. The road enters Droitwich Spa. The A38, Worcester Road, continues through extensive late 20th century housing estates. Finally past a few late Victorian houses and the Red Lion pub of a similar age. Slowly the houses become older, early 20th century and Victorian. Sacred Heart and St Catherine of Alexandria Catholic church, designed by F Barry Peacock and commissioned by Walter Loveridge Hodgkinson, opening in November 1921.
This area is Witton. Amphlett House is the Methodist Church Centre. In 1923 Judge and Mrs Amphlett donated the house to be used as a Home for Boys in memory of their son. The Home was officially opened as the Edward Paul Amphlett Memorial Home on 1st May 1924 by Judge Amphlett as a residence for 27 boys (aged up to 14 years old).The Home was renamed the Amphlett House Home for Boys in about 1950, closing in 1966. The building reopened as Amphlett House Hostel for Nursery Nurses in Training, finally closing in 1972. The church stands beside it, built in 1937/38 by G.R. Acton and enlarged in 1962. The Castle pub is dated 1881. The road begins to descend. Opposite up some old step is a cemetery, St Mary’s. A large grave to the Tombs family. The Tombs enclosure consists of their memorial, the grave of the local vicar and their lifelong house servant. Nearby is the grave of the builder of Droitwich. The chapel footings remain behind the graves, the footings being listed but the building was not and was removed in 2012 to much local disquiet. The chapel, dedicated to St Mary of Whitton, was 19th century. The original St Mary’s church was in an area of woodland by The Castle pub. I chat to a man who had pretty much single handedly cleared the dense undergrowth and exposed much of the site.
On down to a roundabout. Highfields Hospital stood here. It was demolished in 1995. Opposite is The Hollies, a large Georgian house now a kindergarten. Over a roundabout and towards the town centre, past the private hospital, a modern building and a mixture of Victorian and modern buildings. The tourist information office and museum are in the former brine baths built in 1888 by John Corbett and rebuilt in 1985. The brine had 2½lbs of salt in every gallon. Salt has been a major part of Droitwich since the Iron Age. Roundhouse buildings typical of that era were found to the north of the Salwarpe, in the area later occupied by the Roman villa in Bays Meadow. The towns natural brine springs were utilized to manufacture salt from about the 3rd century BCE. A large Roman fort was constructed on the hill to the north of the iron-age settlement at Crutch Lane, probably during the campaigns of Aulus Plautius around 46CE. Another fort was built following the Boudiccan revolt in early 60CE at Dodderhill. A civil settlement, Salinae, grew up around the salt workings. By the 2nd century, the salt workings were leased out to entrepreneurs. The area was called called Wyche, derived from the Anglo Saxon Hwicce kingdom, referred to as “Saltwich” in Anglo Saxon charters, with the Droit (meaning “right”) added when the town was given its charter on 1st August 1215 by King John. The salt industry was industrialised by John Corbett when he erected the Stoke Prior Salt Works in 1828.
Into St Andrews Street. The Raven Hotel is an extensive timber framed building standing on the site of the manor of Wyche, birthplace of St Richard de Wyche in 1197. The hotel was built in the late 16th century and restored by John Corbett in 1897. Into Victoria Square. A sculpture by John McKenna of “The Saltworkers” stands by the modern library. A modern shopping mall leads off the square. The post office, Victorian, is still in operation. Back down St Andrews Street. At the foot of the road is St Andrews Church. The chancel arch and north tower are early 13th century. After a fire in 1290, the church was largely rebuilt in the early 14th century. A chantry chapel is dedicated to St Richard de Wyche, bishop of Chichester. He was a friend of the homeless and adopted as patron saint of the Guild of Coachmen of Milan. He was canonized by Urban IV in a Franciscan church at Viterbo in 1262, he died at the age of 56 in Dover and his celebrated feast day is the 3rd April. There are half a dozen bells on the floor of the church, the bell tower being demolished in 1928 as it was unsafe due to subsidence. The font is Jacobean. A 14th century grave marker was removed from St Mary’s church and placed in the chapel. On the south pier of the chancel is a monument to the memory of Captain Coningsby Norbury R.N., who was with Admiral Benbow in the West Indies and was an envoy from King George I to the court of Morocco. He died in 1734.
The road enters the High Street. The former Town Hall stands on the corner. Along the street a building of around 1420 is being restored. Other buildings in the street are mainly Georgian and Victorian. Off the High Street is Tower Hill brine pump. Although the well here was dug in the 1890s, the pump was not installed until 1921. It is the only operational brine well in Droitwich. Into Friar Street. Again the buildings are Georgian with modern infill. Norbury House is a vast 1930s Art Deco building that began as a hotel. It is now apartments and a theatre. Chantry Cottage is late 16th century. Next to it is The Old Cock Inn which was first licensed in 1712. On the wall is a grotesque human head with toad issuing from mouth, popularly reputed to be satirical portrait of Judge Jeffreys. Ecclesiastical windows are thought to have come from the church of St Nicholas, destroyed in the 18th century. The Hop Pole is Queen Anne period. Priory House dates from around 1650. The chimney stack has panelled brickwork, again of the Queen Anne period.
Up The Saltway, a modern ring road. Covercroft is now modern superstores. There was a large salt works, reservoir, clay pit and short railway line here until the early 20th century. Towards the station. Back from the modern road is Newtown, streets of late 19th century houses, many of which have slightly extravagant chimney stacks. St Nicholas’s church, dating from the 1870s, is locked. The modern road back towards the station runs past the site of the Droitwich Union Workhouse and Infirmary. The station opened in 1852 but now has nothing to commend it. Before the station two lines meet, from Birmingham via Bromsgrove and Birmingham via Kidderminster, both heading for Worcester. Over the railway and over the road to the estate where I am parked. Route
Sunday – Leominster – I often wake around 4 o’clock and do as usual, except the clocks went forward into British Summer time, so it was 3 o’clock until last night – odd! A Tawny Owl is hooting near the house. The sun is rising into a blue sky. A Nuthatch calls persistently from the great Horse Chestnut. House Sparrows and Wood Pigeons are noisy. The River Lugg level had fallen a little. Many of the police cars have gone from Brightwells’ compound but there are a large number of ambulances now. A flight of six Great Black-backed Gulls pass over heading north. The market is in full swing, albeit in a smaller area as the vehicles for auction take up more and more of the site. It is the first market this year as the weather has prevented any before now. It is somewhat comforting to see the same old tat, china and glassware no-one should want, piles of rusting tools, racks of dubious style clothing, pictures that were cheap when new, books no-one wants to read, perfumes that are unlikely to be what it says on the box, vintage items straight out of the recently unloaded container from China, George Foreman grills, of course, electrical items that cannot be tested before purchase and boxes of unknowns. Trays of pea and broad bean plants remind me I need to get into the garden and get working! Round to the River Kenwater which is flowing rapidly. Dunnocks are active in the hedges, chasing and singing.
Home – Out into the garden. Gardening tools and materials that have been stored in the greenhouse and summerhouse need to be moved into the new shed. We have ordered a new workbench but that will not be here for a week or so. A lot of stuff is moved back albeit in a temporary arrangement. At least now there are a few feet of available space in the greenhouse for seed trays and lettuces, summer purple sprouting and winter purple sprouting broccoli are sown. Outside peas go in along with a row each of beetroot and parsnips. Two eggs from the hens, which is good as it has mainly been the single one recently, probably from Bluebell. I am fairly certain she and Speckles laid today, so Silver is slacking! Kay reports a Brimstone butterfly and a bumble bee. There is a large gelatinous mass of frog spawn in the pond. The water boils with frogs as one approaches. Later in day Silver produces the full house of eggs.
Monday – Croft Ambrey – A bright but chilly morning. The work restoring the Fish Pool Valley to its Picturesque design continues. Trees are being thinned and watercourses cleared. Several Great Tits sing their two tone song. A Robin bursts forth from a low branch. A grunting Raven flies over. The ground is greening with Golden Saxifrage leaves, mosses, Wild Arum and emerging Bluebells. Wrens join the chorus and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drums. Blue Tits seek food high in the still skeletal canopy. Several more woodpeckers drum. The thick undergrowth and vegetation has been stripped off the line kiln and its stonework is exposed for the first time in many years. Chaffinches hop along branches. A large Ash has been felled and sawn into logs. The rings indicate the tree was around one hundred years old. Ransom leaves, Wild Garlic, are emerging on the banks beside the track. A stream pours down from one of the side valleys, under the track and down to the main stream in the bottom of the valley. The slopes are littered with felled trees and cut brush. A Song Thrush sings. Grey Wagtails are on the mud that covers parts of the track at the foot of Bircher Common. Up the track between the common and Lyngham Vallet. A Coal Tit flits between branches searching each briefly.
Up to Whiteway Head. Blue Tits, Chaffinches and Nuthatches call. One of the latter scurries down a conifer trunk head first, the only British birds that do this. Along the Forestry tracks and up to Croft Ambrey. The surrounding views are hazy. Clouds sit on the Brecon Beacons. There is a constant rumbling from the quarry across the valley. A Yellowhammer sings, his sulphur head shining in the sun. Off down the hillside back to the castle. Ravens are vocal over the trees. At the top of the Spanish Chestnut field a woodpecker has found a particularly resonant branch to drum. A flock of Siskin are in the trees near the quarry pool, hard to locate despite the considerable noise they are making. A pair of Mallard land on the pool. Behind the pool, a cow lays in the sun with her little white calf.
Good Friday – Moreton-on-Lugg – Hereford – The sky is grey and there is little about the weather that says spring. The village has only grown since the 1950s, now having approximately 333 houses, 200 of those being built since the 1970s. It was formerly centred on Moreton Court which lay to the north of the road through the village. The original 17th century Moreton Court was occupied by John Keysall, a banker of London and high sheriff of Herefordshire in 1794, then from 1816 by William Chute Gwinnett who had served as High Sheriff of the county in 1823, and found fame at Moreton Court as an agriculturist and for his splendid herd of Hereford cattle. It was rebuilt in 1863 by Thomas Evans, “a gentleman of ancient Welsh ancestry, who was for many years resident at Sufton court,” However, the court was demolished in the 1950s and the majority of the village’s houses are built on its site.
As last week I am lucky in catching a churchwarden with the key at the church of St Andrews, so I manage a brief visit. The interior is extraordinary, a complete surprise. The church, dating from the 12th century, was in a ruinous state by the mid 19th century. Thomas Evans employed W H Knight of Cheltenham as architect, Collins & Cullis of Tewkesbury as contractor to almost completely rebuild the church. A 12th century window remains in the chancel, the south arcade is 15th century as the roofs of the nave and south aisle. In the chancel are beautiful mosaics, largely in gold, made by Salviati craftsmen from Venice. They were installed in 1887, paid for by Thomas Evans mother in his memory. Others of angels, of lesser quality, are in the nave, installed in 1898. The ornate brass chancel gates (by Hodgkinson & Co, of Coventry), screen, marble steps and pulpit were all donated by Thomas Evans widow, Thomas had died in 1872, in 1874. The glass is by Rogers of Worcester. The chancel roof is dark blue which offsets the golden mosaics. Sadly, I cannot linger as the churchwarden wishes to lock up.
The site of what was probably the earliest manor house can still be seen at Church House Farm, which shows clear evidence of having been a moated site. Long thin pond is the remains of the moat. Littlebury’s Directory of 1876 states “Amongst the nobility and gentry of England in the time of Charles II., the name of Peter Dancer, of Moreton-on-Lugg, appears, as extracted from Blome’s Britannia folio, London, 1673, and he was Lord Farmer at that time. Afterwards, Mansel Powell, Esq., who served as high sheriff in 1734, appears to have been owner of Moreton manor and estates, and resident there.” The present house is Victorian.
On to the A49. A Peregrine Falcon flies northwards. Onset the main road and off up Morton Road. Ewes and lambs are in a small field by the junction. As the road starts to climb the adjoining field is rooted up by water pipe laying. On the far side of the field is a route of Blackthorn in blossom. The continuing cold and damp weather will not have made for a good fertilisation by insect pollinators. A few berries remain on Ivy in the hedgerows. Chaffinches, Great Tits, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Yellowhammers are all vocal. Hawthorn leaves are appearing, bright green on grey branches. Over the Roman road at Portway. The Burghill lane descends. The Welsh hills in the far distance look grey and cloud-bound. Large compounds have been laid down below the covered reservoir.
Into Burghill village past the Grange with its fine dovecote. Opposite Primroses for in a ditch. Past the church. Burghill Court lies across the fields. A Chiffchaff calls in the trees. Burghill Court coachhouse, stables and barns have all been converted into residences. The Mallard fly around, seemingly chasing and squabbling. Home Farm House is a fine Georgian building. It has what I assume are original metal framed windows with large hinges. A pair of attached houses have a plaque, “ELW 1912”. I assume this is Elinor L. Woodhouse, widow of John Woodhouse of Burghill Court. The lanes joins the Weobley-Hereford road at Brontë Cottages, another pair marked “E.L.W.” on the mock timber-framed gables. The road passes the former St Mary’s Hospital, now a housing estate. The roadside bank is bright with domestic, frilly petalled daffodils, Periwinkles and Primroses. Further on Red Dead Nettle is in flower. Past Hospital Farm and Lower Burlton to the Roman Road. Through Bobblestock to the racecourse. A bus back to Leominster is due so I decide not to head into the city but go home.