Friday – Humber – The first round of the annual BTO Breeding Birds Survey. Dawn was quite bright but now it has clouded over. Across the fields from Steens Bridge. The grass is long and full of rain from last night, so my feet are soaked in a trice. Wood Pigeons and Carrion Crows are moving around in decent numbers. There seem to be more Ring-necked Pheasants than previous years. Into Humber village where the Jackdaws are in a copse beside the field rather than on the church as is usual. There also seem to be less of them but until I do the totals I cannot be sure. There certainly are less Blue and Great Tits, which is odd as I would have expected the mild winter to have favoured them. A local woman chats about the birds she has seen before cycling off to go swimming. Chiffchaffs are in the usual places on the other side of the river, down by the Humber Brook. Out along the roads where there are several Yellowhammers and Whitethroats, I usually only record a couple of each. However, there is no sign of any Corn Buntings this year, which is sad.
Sunday – High Offley – The now annual Barnsley Bugler meet on the May Day Bank Holiday at The Anchor beside the Shropshire Union Canal. A grey morning. The sun is trying to break through on the eastern horizon, silhouetting High Offley church. Dawn chorus was deafening, individual songs could barely be discerned. Now, several hours later, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Wren, Robin, Skylark can all be heard, as can the inevitable Canada Geese. These days where there is water there are Canada Geese. Moored boats go on forever down the canal. Mallard swim, rest on the bank and graze in the fields. A Mute Swan investigates Maddy, clearly not happy to see her. Tufted Vetch has tiny purple flowers on the edge of the canal. A Whitethroat sings from a wire then drops down to a fence below the level of the tow-path. There are some white mushrooms in the grass beside the tow-path but I have no access to any field guide so I leave them. Later checking convinces me they were St George’s Mushrooms, a very delicious species! At the bridge the road leads into the hamlet of Shebdon. A house has a plaque dating it to 1870, with 1851 in small numbers and the logo HH. There is a mixture of old and newer properties as one would expect. Across the fields are a scattering of farmhouses and farm labourers houses. Skylarks sing in numbers above a grain crop. Swallow mate on a television aerial. Into Oldershaws Lane. There are some fine houses down the road, many in local red brick, one dated 1828. Goldfinches flash down the hedgerow. A Robin sings in a small Oak. Whitethroats are regularly spaced down the hedgerow. Turn into the lane that leads back to Old Lea and The Anchor. Red Campion, White Dead Nettle, Buttercups, Cow Parsley are all in flower. Large amounts of Comfrey are growing in the verge.
High Offley – Tyrley Locks – Off on the boat in a north-westerly direction. Brigid is rubbing down the top rails of the boat in preparation for painting and Dave P. joins her. I just get a beer and watch the view I’m afraid! The lambs in the fields are getting bigger now. A fine looking cock Ring-necked Pheasant runs along the tow-path as we pass. A lot of groups of ducklings scurry after the boast as we pass, always watched carefully by the Mallard duck. Sometimes they get split either side of the canal by our passing and those separated from their mother rush across the wake to get back to the main group. Past the old Cadburys’ wharf, now owned by Premier Foods; Birds Custard is now made here. The floor of the woods has an azure mist of Bluebells. Into the Woodseaves Cutting. There is evidence of still more landslips and areas of trees have been cleared. Hart’s Tongue and Buckler ferns are common on the slopes above the canal. At Tyrley Locks the boat is tied up and we walk about half a mile to The Four Alls. There are a few pubs with this name around the country and is derived from “The King rules for all; The Priest prays for all; The Soldier fights for all; The Ordinary Man pays for all”. After a few pints we set off back to the boat and back to The Anchor. As usual all the way back there are Grey Herons which wait for the boat to approach, fly ahead and settle again only to be repeated several times before flying higher and back behind the boat to land. One wonders why they do not do this first time. Whitethroats are in the tow-path hedgerows. A Pied Wagtail and a Swallow share a length of telephone wire. Three Greylag Geese stand in a field. A canal boat on a trailer stands across the far side of a field, an odd place for it.
Monday – High Offley – The sun is bright but there is a sharp wind which chills. Down the canal southwards. Blackbirds and Robins sing, there is a Chiffchaff every hundred yards or less. Off the tow-path at Grub Street. Greenfinches wheeze in the trees. At the next road junction, Long-tailed Tits rasp and Chaffinches pink. A cockerel crows across the fields. At Leawood several rookeries are attended by noisy Rooks. This year it is clear the Oak has come into leaf long before the Ash. Swallows are nesting in the gents’ lavatory as usual and get rather agitated when the loo is used. One stands on the cistern and stares at me until I leave and it can fly out.
Tuesday – Home – Overnight rain has dampened everywhere. Despite this, the grass needs cutting so I set-to. The hens seem to have calmed down a bit but the Silver Sussex can fly up onto the chicken-house roof and over the fence, so one of her wings is clipped. After cutting the grass and strimming some edges, a few things need sowing – purple sprouting broccoli, sweetcorn, leeks and some more courgettes and pumpkins. Then the canes go in for climbing beans that have sprouted in the greenhouse. There is screaming overhead and the first Swift of the summer scythes through the blue sky. Spotty the Blackbird with white spots on his head is singing loudly from our Ash tree. The dessert pear at the bottom of the garden has a large number of embryonic pears as does the perry pear; the plum has some fruit and the apples are all in blossom. However, the greengage does not seem to have a single fruit, I was hoping this year it would start to produce.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Sunshine and showers greet us at Bodenham. Canada Geese cackle. A Garden Warbler sings loudly beside the hide. A Coot searches the shallows. A few Mallard are scattered about. A pristine Ring-necked Pheasant shakes off the rain on the bank. Out comes the sun again. Scanning the water brings a surprise, seven Shelduck at the western end. A lone drake Tufted Duck is nearby. A young Cormorant pops up beside the reed bed. House Martins twist and turn high above. Outside the hide is a mass of chromium yellow Broom. Back in the meadow the hedgerow seems snow-covered with the masses of Hawthorn blossom. Robins, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and a Song Thrush serenade. Many of the apple trees are now in blossom. Just heading down the road from the lakes when a Chinook helicopter passes over at tree top level sending Wood Pigeons flying in every direction.
Friday – Bucknell-Hopton Castle – From the church the road passes over the brook. In the far side a line of Weeping Willows hang like curtains. It is a day is wind, sun and showers. Up Dog Kennel Lane and then a bridleway up the hill. A massive Oak stands at the corner of a field. A rainbow arcs across the western woods. Rain starts again, time for over-trousers, but of course it stops when I get them on. The path comes to a crossroads and I turn left past Willow Cottage. A Blackcap sings in an Ash and is joined briefly by a Tree Sparrow. Then a Garden Warbler starts up at the base of the Ash. Across another track crossroads, this would indicate this was a far more important route one upon a time, and on up Bucknell Hill. The verge is dominated by Red Campion and Stitchwort with a scattering of Dog Violets and Germander Speedwell peeking through the grass. Past another couple of isolated cottages and into Mynd Scrub. On up the hill where sadly the broadleaf woods give way to depressingly gloomy ranks of Forestry Commission conifers. The track passes by the top of Bucknell Hill which stands at 345 metres. Occasional firebreaks give glimpses down the valley of the River Redlake. A Wren sings ahead. The path drops down through mixed woodland to Hopton Woods. Although the woods are predominantly conifers they are edged with half century old Beeches. A path runs around the wood to Mereoak Farm. The path skirts the farm and runs along between fields and a conifer plantation of trees probably less than twenty years old. An owl box is on a pole, I am not having a look inside, that is how Eric Hosking, the bird photographer, lost an eye. It is raining persistently now. Skylarks sing over the fields of grain. A detour through the woods comes to a knoll marked in the map as a viewpoint. However most of the view is obscured by conifers. The area was open hillside at the turn of the 20th century, but covered in conifers post-First World War. This is the top of Hopton Tittershill at 397 metres. Little red fruits have already formed on the Bilberries. Back along the track to where a path is supposed to descend the hill but there is no sign of it. A Common Buzzard flies silently through the trees. As the path descends the hill around the edge of Hopton Park, the trees have been cleared giving fine views of Hopton Castle and the surrounding countryside. A Raven cronks overhead.
The path drops down to a field. Across the field the footpath send to go through another field but this one is occupied by cows and calves. It is not wise to take a dog through so I try to find an alternative. A meadow with long, very wet grass runs along the hedgerow parallel to the village. I am surprised to find a fine pair of Fallow Deer antlers lying in the grass. How they got here I have no idea! There is no way through the hedge so in the end it is back to the forestry track and continue around to a bridleway and down into the village. Across a stream to the church of St Edward. The stonework does not look old and I would guess this is a Victorian rebuild in an old site and indeed it was designed by Hereford based architect Thomas Nicholson and rebuilt in 1870 at a cost of £1,000 and a Miss Rodney of Park Cottage paid for the entire refurbishment. The church was originally called St Mary’s, changing to St Edward’s in 1927. The original church is believed to have been built around 980 but was destroyed by fire.The interior is fairly ordinary although there is a fine harmonium beside the sanctuary. Outside is a large monument commemorating William Smith (died 1840) and his wife, Ann (died 1824). Hopton Castle is mainly very fine timber-framed houses with a few modern dwellings. The finest is the Old Rectory, the men of God knew how to live!
Pre-Conquest, a Saxon named Eadric owned the manor of Opetoune as well as Clun and Hopesay. By 1086, the Domesday Book recorded the area, owned then by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, as “waste” so the settlement may have been dispersed or destroyed in local fighting. The incumbent at the time, holding the manor from the Earl, was Picot de Say. Hopton castle is an interesting building. By 1165 the owner was Walter de Opton, in time the written form becoming “de Hopton”. In the 13th century, the family was politically significant, Sir Walter de Hopton being Sheriff of the large, adjacent counties of Shropshire and Staffordshire. Acting as judge and, for a time, as an auditor in Ireland for Edward I, he resigned after being himself heavily fined for corruption. He was also accused of stealing cattle from the road between Hopton and Jay. It is not known exactly when the castle was built. It has features from 11th through to the 14th centuries. It may not have been built until the latter date incorporating earlier features to give the impression that the family were old landed gentry. It is believed there was a Norman timber castle here before this time. At the time of the Civil War the castle was owned by Robert Wallop, a staunch Parliamentarian. In February 1644, the castle was commanded by Samuel, later Colonel, More, son of a local landowner. Major Phillips (possibly from Brampton) came to advise on strengthening defences. A week later, the Royalists, under Sir Michael Woodhouse, attacked. There was a three week seige involving 200 Royalists against 30 Parliamentarians who surrendered eventually.
Off down the road to Bedstone. To the east is a small hillock screened by conifers. This is Warfield Bank and has an earthwork on the summit although not visible or accessible from here. The roadside hedge is a mixture of Holly, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Elder and Beech. A Whitethroat sings from its top. Suddenly a flock of more than thirty Swifts appear overhead screaming. They disappear just as quickly. I leave the road and take a track back up into Hopton Woods. The views behind are magnificent. Bluebells flower thickly along the eaves of the wood. Small Tortoiseshells and Peacock butterflies enjoy the hot sunshine. A Chiffchaff calls in the wood, a Wren sings and a Blue Tit churrs. At an old shelter it is clear the path I need is actually in the wood so through a gate and up a blue and white wonderland of Bluebells and Stitchwort. There is also a few plants that are yet to flower but have a display of purplish leaves. I cannot identify it but suspect a bellflower or similar. A number of conifers have been uprooted and already Red Campion and bramble have colonised the pit left behind. On through the wonderfully named Gripesnest. I can find no reference to the origin of the name, but Grype is an old name for the Griffon Vulture, although a nesting vulture here... A long haul up a muddy path criss-crossed with fallen trees brings me back to the corner of Hopton Woods. There are exposed rock formations up the path, Silurian micaceous siltstones of the Bailey Hill Formation. A road leads down Darky Dale. An unusual pine stands near the road. At about twenty feet up it divides into three separate trunks one of a which bifurcates again. A little beyond the woodland are open fields where there is Castle Ditches, a Romano-British settlement or enclosure. A ditch can be seen although it is very worn down. On down the road. Orange Tips flit along the hedges. Common Buzzards mew as they circle above a copse. At Pool Cottages I realise that a footpath cuts over the hill avoiding a long dog-leg. The hill is pretty steep and I have to lift Maddy over three stiles but it saves a fair distance. The path rejoins the road at Mynde Farm where an old merle border collie barks furiously at Maddy who ignores it completely. I am getting very tired, my knee is very painful but the views of the Marches countryside, the calls of the birds and the bleating of lambs pays for all. We wander along the road. Suddenly a rabbit bolts between us from the hedge into the woodland. Maddy looks round, she knows something happened but is unsure what exactly and looks stares questioningly at the woodland. Mynd is a hamlet of a few cottages and large 20th century house with white standing stones in front of the main entrance. Down the road and again down the bridleway to Dog Kennel Lane. I intended to have a look around Bucknell but I have run out of time. Route, ignore the triangle south of Hopton Castle – GPS collywobbles!
Monday – Croft – Sunlight filters through the sylan green but threatening rain clouds loom. There is a fresh and lively breeze. Down the ride to the Fish Pool Valley and up through the Beech woods. Bird song is mainly chirruping Blue Tits, a Blackbird, brief snatches of Chaffinch and Great Tit and then an even briefer burst of that which I am listening for, Wood Warbler. Spurges grow along the bank. It is getting darker and the wind stronger. A small bird emits a single note before breaking into the familiar spinning coin song of a Wood Warbler. It is searching for food in a Beech sapling. The different species of flower is increasing rapidly now, Herb Robert, Yellow Archangel, Bugle, Stitchwort, Bluebell, Lesser Celandine, Ransoms, Hedge Mustard, several of the dandelion family, late Primroses, Cuckoo Pints, Bitter Vetchling, Common Vetch, Dog Violets, Forget-me-nots, Welsh Poppy, Yellow Pimpernel and a few I have probably missed. There are gouges up through Lyngham Vallet where machinery has entered the woodland to thin it. Just before Leinthall Common a Blackcap sings in scrub under the conifers, a song of strength and clarity as ever I have heard from this little species of warbler. Out in the common the Bluebells are a sea of azure with just a couple of ivory white blooms. Willow Warblers sing from the steep slopes of the common. The views from Croft Ambrey are extensive. The great Ash on the hill-fort is still not in leaf. Whitethroats sing from trees around the ramparts. The trees by the gamekeepers cottage are busy with Chaffinches, Robins, Blue Tits and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Spanish Chestnuts are finally coming into leaf. A charm of Goldfinches twitters up into a sapling. Although the Spanish Chestnuts are all gnarly and decayed only two are without any leaf. Sadly one of these is one of the magnificent millennium trees. Swallows and House Martins sweep around the farm yard by the castle.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A chorus of Blackcaps, Robins and Wrens ring out from the Willow copse as it bathes in warm sunshine. A carpet of Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, Geranium molle, covers the ground next to the track with delicate little pink flowers. The lambs in the orchard are noisy. Less so are the Canada Geese for a change, just a few yelps. A Cuckoo calls from the south. The lake is relatively quiet, just the Canada Geese on the island seem to be upset now and are making a continuous racket. A pair of Greylag Geese, probably feral, have apparently annoyed a cob Mute Swan which heads towards them rapidly with wings arched. They wisely beat a retreat and are joined by three more, so maybe not feral after all. The Cuckoo is either very mobile or there is more than one, but at no time are two heard simultaneously. A few Mallard feed at the western end and a pair of Tufted Duck glide out from behind the island. There is a large patch of grey in the green of Dinmore Hill which I guess is an area of Ashes which are yet to come into leaf. Back in the meadow I have my usual trouble to distinguishing individual songs from the chorus, but I think there are at least two Garden Warblers along the snowy blossomed Hawthorn hedge. The meadow is a glorious carpet of yellow buttercups on fresh green grass. Into the orchard where Maddy disturbs the resting sheep despite doing nothing. A Mistle Thrush rasps and Green Woodpecker yaffles under the eaves of West Field Wood. A Coal Tit feeds on apple trees, darting its head around the pink blossom picking off insects. From here I head up to the chicken farm to buy some feed. The hens are certainly eating enough despite not laying a single egg for around a week now!
Home – Things are gathering pace in the garden. The second sowing of lettuces have been planted out and this time fitted with plastic collars made from old bottles to defeat the slugs that devoured the first sowing. Also planted out are ruby chard, again protected with collars. In the greenhouse, tomatoes have their first fruits and strawberries are ripening. Green peppers have been transplanted into troughs and the chillies I purchased in Somerset have been potted on. The cucumber, courgette and pumpkin seedlings have been brought down from the bathroom window sill but the problem remains of identity. Their labels all faded to blankness and at the moment they all look the same. Hopefully by the time they need planting out I will be able to work out what is what. The potatoes are growing well and have been earthed up. Broad beans are covered in flowers and bees are frequent visitors. The French and Runner beans have been put into the bed but they also are suffering from blank labels although a number had the seed packets attached. Kay’s flower beds are glorious, although she is having a difficult time planting her next seedlings without damaging the current display. After my complaint this morning about the lack of eggs, Stevie has obliged with her first for some weeks. Hopefully this is the resumption of normal service again.
Stockton Ride – Another BTO survey, this time my third annual Woodcock survey. Up to the field at Stockton Ride. A Chiffchaff calls in the strip of woods that runs along beside the old Roman road. Into the field. Some chicks are making a din in a tree by the gate. There is a hole created by a broken branch some way up and they may be in there. The fields are sown with autumn cereal this year. Bird song starts to diminish as the sun disappears. A huge pink moon appears in the horizon. As the light begins to fade, Blackbirds change from sing to alarm pinking. A rabbit lops out is the woods and then back in again. A Grey Heron flies over, seems late to be heading for its roost. It is shortly followed by another, both heading south-east. Now Robins and Song Thrushes are the only singers. Maddy is patient although very keen to keep playing chase ball. As we leave the full moon has turned golden and risen into the darkening sky. My Woodcock count is, yet again, a zero.
Friday – Addlestone-Weybridge, Surrey – Coxes Mill is busy with wild fowl. A pair of Great Crested Grebes glide across the water. Mallard and Coot are plentiful, including well grown ducklings. The inevitable noisy Canada Geese arrive. Yellow Flag flower along the ponds edge. Over the lock and eastwards into the sun. Mist rises. A detour down a footpath leads to the edge of a wood where Chiffchaffs, Wrens and Blackbirds sing. Back to the canal. A Colas Rail diesel engine, a French company, pulls a single white piece of machinery over the bridge. A woodpecker has found a particularly resonant branch to drum. A pair of Great Tits are bringing food to a nest in an old woodpecker hole in a willow. Boats are moored in large numbers along the other side of the canal. Over a footbridge and onto the path beside a road. A Mistle Thrush rasps. The canal reaches Town lock where it joins the River Wey. Over the bridge and into Elmbridge, a borough, which includes this area, Weybridge. Elmbridge is named after the Elmbridge Hundred, named in Domesday and derived from Amelebrige, a bridge over the River Amele or Emley now known as the Mole. Weybridge was little more than a few houses and a couple of mills until the late 18th century but its expansion was due to the arrival of a fast rail link to London in 1838. The shops on the high street say wealth. There is not a single house in the estate agent’s window for less than a million pounds. The high street contains some fine older buildings. St James’s Church was rebuilt in 1848 with a south aisle added in 1864. The large rectory is now a chartered accountants.
Into the recreation ground, the old church fields. A pleasant park with facilities such as tennis and basket ball. Nearby is Churchfield House, built circa 1912 by Jarvis and Richards for Surrey County Council in the Arts and Crafts style as a Technical Institute. Off the high street and up a road of restaurants, tapas bars and shops selling home ware, seemingly all in chrome, stuff I would not live with ever! Into Springfield Lane consisting of Victorian houses including Springfield Cottages and a small chapel, now headquarters of the local scouts. At the end of the lane is Monument Hill with a tall column dedicated to Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, the Duchess of York who died in 1820. The column was raised by public subscription in 1822, made from the remains of the original Seven Dials Monument that stood in St Martin’s Lane, London until 1773. It is not yet 7.30 but the traffic is horrendous. Back along the main street to a little café, the Caffe Dolce which serves an excellent croissant and cappuccino. Back along the canal. A Song Thrush sings from the very top of a dead tree. A Grey Heron is disturbed and flies off across the fields. A Cormorant flies asking the canal. A slug curls around the umbrella of a Cow Parsley. Blackcaps have a choral duel. Back at Coxes lock there is an extensive Willow carr below the railway line through which a Moorhen delicately treads. There is a small corrugated iron and wood shed beside the lock and a Blue Tit is flying from the interior to a Beech tree and back several times a minute. A boat pulls up at the lock and the couple start to operate it. A Grey Heron lands nearby. A Grey Wagtail flies to and fro, it may have a nest under the footbridge that crosses the millpond outfall. Route
Ditchling Common – Plans go awry. We decided to go to Newlands Corner but mistakenly trust the sat-nav. This takes us on to the M25. However the motorway is flowing freely so we decide to take advantage of this and go round to the M23 and head to Brighton immediately. We still want a brief break though so we leave the M23 and cut across through Burgess Hill to Ditchling Common. Although I once knew this countryside well, so much has changed over the last 40 years that it seems new to me. Ditchling Common is likewise, I remember a piece of commonland, a bit of gorse, a lot of bracken, a few horses and cattle grazing and a relatively small pond. Now there is a large area of woodland around a quite extensive pond. Having circled the pond we are heading back when a rich song rings out from a Hawthorn. The singer is well hidden. I think through the options which are really only Blackcap, Garden Warbler and the song is too intense and rich for either which only leaves Nightingale. As the common is known for Nightingales I am happy that this is what I am listening to, my first for fifteen years.
Saltdean – We are staying with Tom and Lara and Kitty, our granddaughter. I take Maddy out for her late evening walk. A very fit looking Fox trots up the street on the opposite side followed by a neighbour with a dog pulling on its lead to get to the vulpine visitor. Maddy, of course, just goes to the car and misses everything. The fox disappears into the gardens opposite.
Saturday – Telscombe Tye – A short road leads to the footpath up from Saltdean on to Telscombe Tye, a long ridge of downland running from the main South Downs to the sea. The sky is covered in nimbus clouds. House Sparrows and Starlings call from the back gardens of the houses on the edge of the estate. Sheep graze the down. A Bronze Age bowl barrow called Pedlersburgh is a roughly circular mound about 25 metres across. It has been partially disturbed by past cultivation, leading to some levelling of its north western side. Surrounding the mound is a ditch from which material used to construct the barrow was excavated. This has become infilled over the years. Back to the path and on northwards. Rabbits are plentiful. Skylarks sing overhead. A Carrion Crow’s nest is in a fork of a Sycamore just 12 feet up. The views expand as the track tops the down. The track is bound by low banks that look ancient but are occasionally eroded to expose concrete. Past Telscombe Tye dew pond. The track comes to a junction of pathways. Another bank heads southeast but this one is old, a cross dyke believed to be associated with Pedlersburgh and another bowl barrow of the Bronze Age.
A lane drops down into Telscombe village. Telscombe Cliffs is a large post-war development to the east of Saltdean but the village of Telscombe has no road link with it and can be approached by automobile only from the north. The manor of Telscombe is recorded as early as the 10th century, when it was given by King Edgar to the minster of Hyde. After 1538, the manor and village passed through many hands in the following centuries; in 1900 James Andrew Harman became Lord of the Manor, and in 1924 it was acquired by Charles Willam Neville (born Charles William Neville Ussher in 1881), the developer who had founded Peacehaven in 1916. The main building material here is flint. The church of St Laurence, sadly locked, is flint-faced. It was founded in the 10th century but the building was restored in 1903 and again in 1922. The house of Stud Farm is a fine Georgian building in flint, where bookmaker and racehorse trainer Ambrose Gorham lived at the turn of the 20th century. His fortunes changed in 1902 when his horse Shannon Lass won the Grand National against the odds. Using the money he won, Gorham turned Telscombe into a thriving village with horse racing at its centre. A club was built in 1924 so apprentices had somewhere to socialise. Outside the club, now the village hall, is the frame of the well winding wheel which originally stood on the opposite side of the road. It was in use until 1909 when Ambrose Gorham installed mains water to the village. The manor house was built in the 18th century on an earlier 16th century building and for many years was used as Judge’s Lodgings, occupied when High Court judges were sitting at Lewes Crown Court. It sports a circular tower built in the 19th century. Opposite is the old Rectory, a fine Tudor Gothic house built around 1840.
The village is situated in a combe. The road out climbs onto the down. Before the summit of Southease Hill, a path drops down into Cricketing Bottom. Mount Caburn dominates the view ahead. A Common Buzzard flies up the valley, something that would have caused great excitement in my youth! A Curlew calls its bubbling song. One side of the track is nettles, Hawthorn and Elder from which Whitethroats sing. A Yellowhammer flies by. South Farm is a ramshackle affair with rusting farm machinery and vehicles scattered about. Tumbling sheds house calves and a milking herd. The track meets the South Downs Way which takes me up Mill Hill and then down towards Rodmell. Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons feed in the pastures. A Cuckoo calls from the distance. Newhaven lies in the mist down the Ouse valley. Rodmell has Saxon origins and pre-Conquest was held by King Harold. At the time the Domesday Book was compiled, there was a church in Rodmell, which was granted to Lewes Priory by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey. The blacksmith shop, Christopher Dean and Son, established in 1910, stands at the bottom of the lane down from Mill Hill. The Abergavenny Arms stands on the crossroads. Henry Neville, Lord Abergavenny bought land here in 1830. Opposite is Rodmell House, built in 1859 as a mill and granary. Down a lane in the village past probably nearly all 20th century houses although many try to look older. Certainly the Old Rectory is, a magnificent edifice of flint in the Victorian Gothic, built around 1840, although it may be earlier and altered at that date. Further on is the Monk’s House, the home of the author Virginia Woolf until the 28th March 1941 when she took a walk through the local fields, and drowned herself in the nearby River Ouse. Her husband Leonard Woolf continued to live there until his death in 1969.
Back to the Newhaven road, which is the Roman Ermine Street. A field of Broad Beans is in flower. A lane leads down to Southease. The lovely little Saxon church of St Peter is again locked. It dates from 960 and has one of only three round towers in the county. A fine house stands across the green. On down the lane through the water meadows where a Sedge Warbler scratches out his song. Yellow Flag blooms on the sides of drainage channels and the fields are also yellow with buttercups. Reed Warblers jug jug in the channels. The old swing bridge over the River Ouse has older wooden docks around it. Southease was once an important port, at the time of the Domesday Book a thriving community the village appears to have been the biggest herring fishery in the district, having been assessed for 38,500 herring while Brighton had a mere 4,000. The River Ouse south of Lewes was canalised between 1791 and 1795, to create the Lower Ouse Navigation, designed by William Jessop and supervised by Cater Rand, a Lewes schoolmaster and civil engineer. The current structure, which replaces an earlier bridge approximately 10 metres upstream, dates from 1880 and incorporated a swing span to permit the passage of masted vessels. The bridge was fixed in position in 1988, under parliamentary powers, to prevent large vessels sailing further up river. However, the pivot table is still in position. Back to the main road and then up Gorham’s Lane towards Southease Hill and Telscombe village. A moto-X circuit circuit has been cut on the hill to the west and an engine rips into the serenity of Skylarks, Chaffinches and a Great Tit. Further up the hill is a large area of gorse full of song, Whitethroat, Linnet, Dunnock, Goldfinch and I am certain another Nightingale. Through Telscombe again where a Green Woodpecker yaffles. Up the hill and along westwards to Tenant Hill. A track travels round to the top of Saltdean. A Painted Lady butterfly rests on the flinty path. House Sparrows are in the edge of the oil seed rape near to the housing. Down into the main shopping area great Art Deco hotel, the Grand Ocean is now apartments. Route
Sunday – Saltdean-Rottingdean – Charles Neville purchased open downland where it dipped down to the sea between 1916 and 1925. Along with Peacehaven and parts of Rottingdean, he developed this area of the coast, mainly between the wars. It is now a large housing estate split between Brighton and Lewes local government bodies. Down to the cliff tops. Herring Gulls sit on roof tops. Starlings “sing” with quivering wings. A flock of a dozen Golden Plover fly over. Marine View is a large Art Deco block of flats in dirty white and powder blue. Saltdean Lido, built in 1937 is another wonderful Art Deco construction sadly in a poor state of repair. There is talk of a benefactor coming to its rescue. Down past Whitecliff café, more Art Deco, into the undercliff walk. Tree Mallow and Sea Kale flower on the beach. Sea Beet is not yet in flower. Someone, presumably the council has replaced the black plastic sacks from the waste bins but left the full ones in top. This would seem a mistake as gulls are busy ripping them open and scattering the contents. A Rock Pipit stands on a polished steel railing, singing. The cliffs are wondrous things, millennia upon millennia of tiny creature’s remains piled up. Seams of nodules of flint run through them. The undercliff walk ends so it is back towards Rottingdean. The tide is out and the rocks exposed. They have been eroded into small deep channels. A Little Egret stalks along one of these channels. A Fulmar sails along the cliff face. Feral pigeons, descended from the original inhabitants, Rock Doves, now quite rare, rest on ledges. Sea Aster flowers on the base and face of the cliff. Up into Rottingdean. Through the village to the Catholic church and up a green, leafy lane which has been cobbled in the past. The lane emerges into an area of Hawthorn where a Wren, Great Tit and Whitethroat sing. Down to Saltdean Vale, where the parish church is an austere 1960s building in grey stone. At the bottom of the road is a large park, Saltdean Oval. Here are some barns, probably the oldest buildings in the whole place.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The sky has clouded over since a bright and sunny dawn and it has just started to rain. Bird song is still in full flow with a goodly number of Blackcaps singing along with Robins, Chiffchaffs, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. Willow Warblers sing on the edge of Climbing Jack Common. A Tree Pipit sings from the top of a part-dead Silver Birch. The Bluebells across the common are as fine a display as I have ever seen. A Yellowhammer sings from the top of a Hawthorn, its sulphur plumage bright and shining. Broom is in flower, chrome yellow against the dark green of its and the conifer saplings leaves. As I approach High Vinnalls I realise something does not look right, where is the radio shack? At the summit it is revealed it has collapsed, naturally in the wind or by human vandalism I do not know. A cooling breeze blows across the hill. Bright yellow ochre moths with black spots flit across the bracken and brambles. The nearest I can find is Purple Tigers, but I am unsure. They are hard to see the details as they are very mobile. A Brown Silver-line moth suns itself on the path. Further down the hill where it is more sheltered, Speckled Wood butterflies are in patches of sunlight. Down the hill by the pond a yellow-bodied hawker dragonfly moves over the grass and herbage, a female Scarce Chaser, Libellula fulva.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Dawn was misty with a heavy dew. Now the sun shines warmly. The water level in the lake is falling slowly, we have had some rain but not enough to maintain its winter level. Canada Geese are present and a few Coot feed. A Green Woodpecker calls from the grass in front of the hide by the vegetation keeps it hidden. This area is now dominated by Ox-eye Daisies. Common Blue butterflies fly to and fro through the grasses. A Cormorant arrives, gliding over the surface before touch down. A large Carp moves through the shallows. Several more join it. Last week’s grey area on Dinmore Hill is now bright green as the Ash has finally come into leaf. A Common Buzzard flies up from the reserve. Blue damselflies flit along the bushes. Broom has finished flowering and now is festooned in pea-like pods. Bird song is less intense now, but Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Blackcaps are still in good voice.
Friday – Radnor Forest – Before entering New Radnor I can see the hills are covered in cloud. Not surprising as there has been heavy rain during the last 24 hours and more is threatened. Everywhere is glowing green. Water gurgles down the brook from Mutton Dingle. Bird song is limited to a Willow Warbler and few Blackbirds. Carrion Crows caw as they fly over. Bluebells and Stitchwort are still in flower but the May, Hawthorn blossom is finishing here. Up to the woods where Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sing. On up through the Forestry plantation. Lichen and star mosses grow on stumps. Pink nascent fir cones are developing. On the top of the ridge the clouds have lifted and a large flock together Rooks rises and falls. Up on the track across Bache Hill, despite sweating profusely from the climb I have to zip up my coat as there is a cold, blustery east wind – the vagaries of the British weather! Cloud is dropping again and shrouds Whimble. Skylarks sing above the heather where Meadow Pipits chase. Sheep are losing their winter fleeces and look tatty. The grey, misty hills stretch on forever in every direction. It starts to rain although it does not come to much as I enter the large conifer woodland at Stanlo Pond.
Tracks have been cut through the blocks of conifers, slashing off the lower limbs. I am surprised to be passed by a BT Openreach van and a few minutes later by another telecoms company vehicle. On along the track. It appears I spoke too soon as the cloud falls further and the rain becomes heavier and persistent. A Cuckoo calls from across the valley. As visibility is now limited I decide to head across Black Mixen and down the Ystol Bach valley. It is pretty grim up here now as the rain pours down. On the opposite side of the valley there are green patches in the red of the dead bracken. I am not sure what makes these areas where the bracken does not grow but they make interesting shapes, two such areas could be cartoon people playing football or is the rain affecting my imagination? In some places Bilberries are ripening but here they are still in flower. At the end of the track where the moorland of Mynydd Yr Eithin opens out, a deer bounds off up Whimble. A Meadow Pipit stands on a post and sings was despite the rain which seems to have set in for the day. The lack of bracken allows details of the land to be seen and there are low ridges across the ground indicating where walls once stood, creating fields and pens. Down the hill where the roadside is covered in the white froth of Cow Parsley.
Sunday – Home – The day starts wet and stays that way. I am preparing breakfast when I glance down at Maddy’s water bowl. A small, skinny, red-brown frog is busy swimming around in circles. Maddy seems oblivious to the fact. After Kay has seen it I take the bowl up the garden and release the frog near the pond. In the garden the potatoes are tall and in need of a decent watering and that is what they get throughout the day. Less happy are the chickens who huddle beneath the house as pools of water gather in the run.
Spring Bank Holiday Monday – Croft – Dawn was bright, clear and sunny but now clouds cover more than half the sky. Down to the Fish Pool Valley. One of the pools has a stone column standing in the water, rising about four feet. I assume it once held something such as a jardinière but now grass grows out of the top. Here, in the grass, are several egg shells,a mixture of brown and very pale blue. They look about duck egg size. I have never noticed a Mallard nesting on the column, and I think it is an unlikely spot but I have no explanation as to how the shells got there. Up through the Beech woods where the songs and calls of Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Blackbirds, Wood Pigeons, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wood Warblers and Wrens are heard. Up to Croft Ambrey hill-fort. Purplish red cones have formed on long hanging Larch branches. A Common Buzzard circles top of Lyngham Vallet. Sun lights fields below. Leinthall Earl lays at the foot of the hill; sheep feed in a field, beyond is the hamlet dominated by a farm and beyond that the quarry. The hillside still white with May blossom. Down towards the castle. A pair of Treecreepers are slipping into a crack in one of the Spanish Chestnut trunks. They most certainly have nest in there, a typical Treecreeper nesting site.
Home – As the forecasted rain is holding off, some gardening is done. Edges of paths and around the vegetable beds are full of grass and weeds, so the strimmer is let loose on them. Some of the unidentified cucurbits are planted out; something will come out them, I just hope that I have planted courgettes in the small bed in front of the greenhouse rather than the sprawling and creeping cucumbers or squashes. I have to check the tomatoes everyday as there is always a rogue shoot on one or more of the plants. Parsnips are thinned and some of the stronger thinnings planted in a new row. Some weeding is done in the fruit cage but it is only an attempt to hold back the worst of them – if only weeds were edible (and delicious as many are edible but not very nice!) Of course, the chickens are quite happy to have them thrown into the run. One of the new chickens is laying a small pale egg, we have had two now, but we do not know who it is. Hopefully, they will all be in lay very soon.
Tuesday – Stockton Ride – The second Woodcock session of the year and almost certainly the last as the third session is not undertaken if the first two draw a blank. The usual songsters are in full flow when I arrive – Song Thrushes and Blackbirds mainly. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies across the cereal crop field from one strip of woodland to the other. A Common Buzzard glides in the opposite direction up into a tree. It is some distance away but there looks like there may be a nest where it lands. A Cuckoo calls from some way off. A rabbit sits motionless in the edge of the field hoping I have not noticed it and disappears as soon as I turn my back. Maddy has hunkered down in some long grass. The occasional Swallow sweeps past low over the field. High, thin cloud mottles the sky in pink and grey against blue. As the twilight advances the Blackbirds start their evening alarm calls. A Robin searches a large manure heap for some morsels before darkness falls. A Fallow Deer has appeared as if by magic in the field to the north of where I am standing. Of course, no Woodcock!
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The air is mild and very humid after another night of rain which has only recently stopped. A Cuckoo calls from West Field Woods. Bird song is still constant. Several dozen Swifts feed over the lake. A few Canada Geese, Coot and Tufted Duck are on the water. Swathes of Yellow Flag adorn the western shore. A Kingfisher flashes across the lake, the first I have seen here for quite a while. Three Cormorants are in the trees. A few Swallows join the Swifts in the insect hunt. A Mallard lands by the scrape with a quack and a splash. A Greenfinch calls his nasal song from the top of a dead apple tree in the dessert apple orchard.
Thursday – Home – Eggs are appearing and the fun is now trying to work out who is laying them. We know the old Warren is not laying at all and the younger Black-tailed Warren is regular and her eggs are pale at the bottom. The very pale ones we think belong to the Silver Sussex and now we have a mid-brown one with some speckles, which should belong to the Speckledy, which leaves the Bristol Blue. However, today there is a broken egg on the path outside the run. We have had the pale and speckled, so this must be the Blue, but what is going on. There is also a lot of fecal matter on the path, so it looks like the Blue is roosting up on the fence instead of in the house. An answer is to clip their wings. The Silver has already been done, now the other two youngsters get a clip. However, when I go out at dusk, all three are huddled together on top of the fence. I removed them and put them in the chicken house, getting a painful scratch across the back of one hand.
Friday – Corve Dale – I park at Aston Munslow, a small village in Corve Dale, the valley of the River Corve, a tributary to the River Teme, which flows between Brown Clee and Wenlock Edge. The Swan is a wonderful rambling 14th century country pub allegedly frequented by Dick Turpin, as very many places were. How he had time to be a highwayman is a mystery! Opposite is a fine timber-framed house clearly added to over the years. The main road runs from Craven Arms to Much Wenlock and from 1653 and until the 19th century the road was known as the Apostles’ Way. It was turnpiked in 1756 and disturnpiked in 1867. In the early 19th century locals still recalled that banners, including the “great banner” of the Crucifixion and of St Michael (patron of the church), were borne in annual procession from Munslow village along the Apostles’ Way to the Aston boundary: there the banner of the Cross was fixed to the fence of Cross leasow (a pasture), a well beside the road (in Molly’s piece) was dressed, and refreshments were enjoyed. A lane climbs a gentle hill towards Wenlock Edge, past The White House. This house consists of three separate stages of building, a 14th or 15th century hall, a late 16th or early 17th century central section and a late 18th century, Georgian west end. It was in the ownership the Stedman family for some three hundred years, eventually passing by marriage to owners named Smith and then Farmer. In 1947 it was sold and eventually became owned by the Landmark Trust now use it as a holiday let.
The day is overcast. Blackbirds and Robins sing, Wood Pigeons coo. The entrance wall to a house set well back from the lane contains a safe, one way of keeping ones post and milk. The land continues through banks of lacy white umbellifers – mainly Hogweed, Cow Parsley and Rough Chervil, Stinging nettles, Buttercups and Red Campion. Behind, Corvedale is misty. Skylarks sing high over cereal fields. The lane turns north and now runs parallel to the Edge. A Yellowhammer stands in a gate post. Foxgloves are coming into flower. On past Little London Farm. The public footpath leaves the track at Little London. A Chiffchaff calls in the trees and a Willow Warbler sings across a nettle and bramble patch. The part is an overgrown trackway and clearly not used that often judging by the length of the grass and plants which sun soak my legs. It enters a wood and meets up with a track which leads up to Munslow Common. Opposite is Playground Plantation. I head down the hill. The track turns but the path runs straight but through a dense patch of Docks and then grasses and my legs are soon wet again. The path opens up into a sunken way. The sandstone sides are split into small flat segments. One contains the fossil outline of a little scallop shell. The track is in a poor condition and where the bedrock is exposed it is green and horribly slippery. A large flock of Long-tailed Tits with Blue Tits and probably other species is moving through the trees above. The path deteriorates as it drops down Munslow Deans, slabs are like ice and to avoid them means a nettle patch. Then things get somewhat ridiculous as it drops into a deep ditch down which Maddy drops her ball and refuses to retrieve it. Getting it out results in more nettle stings, this time to the inside of my thighs – not happy!
Shortly afterwards the path emerges in Munslow by the church. Munslow was named after a mound, presumed to be prehistoric as neolithic and Bronze age relics have been found and there are Iron Age field systems. Domesday records the manor of Estune (which comprised Aston with its member Munslow) was held of Earl Roger de Montgomery by Rainald the Sheriff, and was a manor of 8½ hides. St Michael’s Church dates from the 12th and 13th centuries, its first incumbent being recorded in 1215, restored by Pountney-Smith in 1868-1870. The north aisle is 15th century but the tower is Norman. On the north aisle wall is a monument to William Churchman, who died in 1602. The monument is possibly slate in a local stone frame and rather naively marked with a large heart containing biographical details and outside are a picture of a knight, a skull and an hour glass. Another brass records Richard Baldwin who died in 1689. The Baldwyn, later Baldwin family were one of the old families of Aston. Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister between the wars, was directly descended from them. Monuments in the outside wall have been made from the local stone and have flaked obliterating the script. The Church Goods return for 1553 is as follows:- “Mounslow, 18th May, 7 Edward VI., John Lyttleton. John Steedman and John Trow, churchwardens. One chalys of sylver with the pattent ther[to belonging]. iij bellys.” At the Religious Census of the Province of Canterbury taken in 1676, there were in Munslow 400 Conformists, 4 Papists, and no Nonconformists, – inhabitants above the age of 16. The Papists were probably the Smiths of Aston, who also had an estate at Upper Millichope. Laurence Courtney, “a Popish Recusant and servant to Mr. Smith of Aston,” was buried in 1709; John Edwards in 1703, Anne Edwards in 1716, and John Wheeler in 1734,– all “Popish Recusants.” William Rows, “a rapist,” of Wooton in Warwickshire was buried in 1717. A fine Georgian House, the Rectory, with an entrance with pillars stands behind the church.
Down through the village. A separate burial ground was established in the 19th century because the graveyard at the church was full and the adjoining meadow floods. This burial ground is also now full, closing in 1993. A house stands on a high bluff, below it looks like the quarry that built the church. Another house, Miller House dating from 1799, towers up with only one small window in a vast wall and several under the eaves. A footpath heads back in the direction of Aston Munslow. Common Buzzards circle high above the valley. Across the fields, Brown Clee is shrouded in thin mist. The path is in a slight ridge. To the west the land drops then rises towards the Edge. The trees here are a lovely mixture in age and species. Along the path, a young Great Spotted Woodpecker flies from an Ash, a very unstable looking flight before returning to the tree and chipping continuously. The next field has a crop of barley far more advanced than any other cereal crop I have seen this year. The long whiskered heads have developed and wave in the breeze. The next field is fallow but rogue potato plants indicate the previous crop. A few trees mark out the lines of grubbed out hedgerows. Across another field and into Aston Munslow again.
Saturday – Home – Yesterday I put netting across the top of the run to stop the hens roosting on the fence. So instead, two of them got onto the roof of the house and started roosting there. After a lot of squawking and swearing I catch them at put them in the house. This morning we have two eggs, one I think is the Black-tailed Warren’s but the other is larger than the ones the new girls have been laying and quite pale but not as pale as the Silver Sussex’s, so maybe it is the Bristol Blues. Doubtless we will work it out eventually, as if it matters!
Leominster – The refurbished Grange Court is officially opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire, Lady Darnell. A large purple band has been placed around the building and after a suitable speech, Lady Darnell pulls it down, with a helping hand from several people as it seems rather well fixed! The annual plant fair is on the Grange and Kay makes a good number of purchases. A market is in Corn Square with a play being performed with a lot of shouting at one end and a dance troop of young girls standing nervously at the other awaiting their moment.