Tuesday – Humber – May arrives with a frost. After scraping ice off the car I head for Humber to undertake the first part of this year’s BTO Breeding Bird Survey. Yesterday I replaced some broken glass in the cold frame and greenhouse. I seem to be incapable of undertaking this task without cutting myself, although I do manage not to break any of the new sheets of glass which has happened on more than one occasion. As soon as I start the survey I open up the, admittedly small, cut which of course bleeds profusely. So off I set with tissue wrapped around a finger trying to hold a pen, pad and binoculars.
There are small birds moving in good numbers between the roadside hedgerows, disappearing inside the hedges rapidly. However, the combination of song and occasional glimpses soon identifies good numbers of Whitethroats and Linnets. At one point a Yellowhammer, Linnet and Whitethroat are all sitting in close proximity on a telephone wire. The Woodland Burial site is slowly being covered by trees, usually ornamental ones. Into Humber which is quiet. There are usually over a dozen Jackdaws around the church but today only two are present. Across the fields which this year are mercifully free of giddy young heifers. Sheep watch, just a dozen or so and of a number of different breeds. The fields down to the Humber Brook are a bird desert, just a few calls from the brook-side trees and a distant mewing of a Common Buzzard. The sun which was brilliant in a cloudless sky is now being obscured by high cloud that is developing quickly.
Friday – Glasgow – We are staying on Sauchiehall Street between Finnieston and Kelvingrove. We head towards Kelvingrove Park. In Derby Street there is a large Greek style building with a Hebrew inscription above the doors. It looks like it may be a rather unusual synagogue but is in fact the former Finnieston United Free Church designed by James Sellars of Campbell, Douglas and Sellars in 1879, later becoming the Kelvingrove Parish Church. It closed in 1981 and came CAVA Sounds recording studios and is now apartments. Into the park originally created as the West End Park in 1852 by the English gardener Sir Joseph Paxton, Head Gardener at Chatsworth House. The park has been the site of three exhibitions: the 1888 International Exhibition, the 1901 International Exhibition and the 1911 Scottish Exhibition. To the south of the park is Royal Terrace with fine mid 19th century house in polished ashlar with fluted Greek Doric doorways. The terrace becomes La Belle Place which ends with a hall built in 1857 by Charles Wilson. It has a frieze showing the “Progress of the Arts” by Mossman. It is now a Hindu Mandir. Up to Woodside Terrace, a long row of houses by George Smith built in 1838. They are similar to those below in Royal Terrace. Steps rise to Lynedoch Place. A large building with several Lombardic towers was built as the Free Church College by Charles Wilson in 1856. The adjacent church gutted by fire in 1903 and incorporated into college as library in 1909. The interior was refurbished by D Thomson and Colin Menzies in 1909. College became Trinity College before being converted into flats in 1985. Opposite is a white church tower, Park church built in 1858 by J Rochead. The body of the church was demolished in 1968 and a block of flats has been built on the site.
Down the road is a wonderful symmetrically arranged circus of astylar Italianate terraces around oval garden, Park Circus. The houses were designed by Charles Smith in 1855/6 and built between 1867 and 1872. They are in polished ashlar and have scroll bands around the first floor and eaves. There are ornate railing around the top of the chimney stacks. One house contains the Glasgow branch of the Goethe-Institut, a German culture institution. The far side of the circus leads out to the park again. Here is a statue of Field Marshal Earl Roberts, a replica of monument by Harry Bates ARA in Calcutta. It is noted he was involved in the Indian Mutiny, Afghanistan, Abyssinia, Burmah (sic), South Africa and Ireland – a true British imperialist! Down through the park to Eldon Street. St Silas’ Episcopal church founded in 1864 as an independent Anglican congregation, designed by John Honeyman, architect, with a hall by Miles Gibson built in 1894-95.The founders of St Silas included Sir George Burns, one of the founders of the Cunard Company, William Burnley, who owned much of the land on which the sea-side resort of Dunoon was then being developed, and Sir Archibald Campbell of Blythswood. At the junction of Woodlands Road is the old school, designed in a Jacobean style T-plan by Robert Dalglish in 1882. It is now a bar. A visit to a small gallery results in a purchase of a fine piece of art. Side street are terraces of four storied mid Victorian houses in polished ashlar. A large white building houses the Burnbank Bowling Club. A short distance up the road is Woodland Methodist church designed by David Barclay in 1907 as the Swedenborgian or New Jerusalem Church, whose remaining congregations are now scattered world wide. As the name suggests Swedenborgianism came from Sweden in the early 19th century and established a certain following amongst Glasgow’s working poor. By the 1960s the Woodlands congregation had declined to a few widows and was absorbed into the Methodist Church. West End Park Street consists of tenement blocks, on the corner is a pub with the remains of an old façade, “Lagers Wheat Beers”. Opposite is a statue dedicated to Bud Neill, 1911-1970, cartoonist & poet. Ranald MacColl drew up the crosslegged Elfie/Lobey/Rank statue concept and art students Tony Morrow and Nick Gillon sculpted and erected the statue in 1992 which features “Lobey” and “Rank Bajin” astride “El Fideldo”. Just beyond is a large church, St Jude’s Congregation, (Free Presbytarian), and hall in the French Gothic by John Burnet Snr built in 1874-5.
We return to Sauchiehall Street to leave our purchase in the car and head for Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum. Designed J W Simpson and Milner Allen (London) in 1892 and completed 1901, it is a profusely decorated, free classical style museum and art gallery. The sculpture was supervised and partly executed by George Frampton; other sculptors involved included W Birnie Rhind, E G Bramwell, Johann Keller, A McF Shannon, F Derwent Wood and A Falkner. The Art Gallery has a fine collection of paintings by the “Glasgow Boys” and “Glasgow Girls” from the 1880s to 1900. It also houses many of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpieces. Although he died before the Art Deco period started, many pieces seem to anticipate that movement. He was very influential on the Art Nouveau and Secessionist movements. We could have spent hours here but these days my body seems to react badly to walking around exhibitions and we leave.
Across the road is Kelvin Hall, built in 1927 to replace an earlier exhibition centre which burned down in 1925. It was built for Glasgow Corporation and was designed by Thomas Somers, Glasgow’s Master of Work and City Engineer, assisted by Thomas Gilchrist Gilmour. The hall covers some six acres and is now under redevelopment as a culture, art and sports venue. On to Partick Bridge, manufactured in cast iron in 1876-8, by Hannah, Donald & Wilson of Paisley. Beside is the older Snow Bridge built around 1800 to carry main traffic over River Kelvin at Partick until its cast-iron successor was opened in 1878. On the far side is Partick Sewage Pumping Station designed by A B Macdonald, city engineer, dated 1904 in the Scots Renaissance style.
We catch a bus back to the city centre. This area has the major retail chains. We pass The Willow Tea Rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Cranston and opened for business in October 1903. They are currently undergoing a major restoration project. Many of the original fitting are in the Kelvingrove museum. The name of the tea rooms was inspired by being in Sauchiehall Street is derived from saugh, the Scots word for a willow tree, and haugh, meadow. Up the road is the former Beresford Hotel, a notable examples of Art Deco/Streamline Moderne architecture, designed by William Beresford Inglis, of Weddell & Inglis, was also the hotel’s owner and managing director. We are now weary and retreat to the Bon Accord pub for the rest of the afternoon.
Sunday – South Shields – The Barnsley Buglers have met up in Gateshead. We take the Metro (what a great resource this is!) to Cullercoats. Here are sandy beaches busy with folk enjoying the hot sunshine. Above the beach St George’s church looks out over the sea providing a magnificent landmark with its 180ft high tower. It was built in 1881-4, designed by John Loughborough Pearson with glass by Kempe. We climb up to the road by Sharpness Point. Percy Gardens is a fine crescent of houses dated 1875. Behind one is a strange looking tower seemingly in an Art Deco style but is a six storey WWI watch tower, built at the back of a house owned by the War Office and used as a command centre for coastal defences. The tower was built to provide watching eyes for a pair of gun turrets, one at Marsden at South Shields, and the other near Seaton Sluice. Past the peninsular on which Tyneside Castle and Priory stand.
The Spanish Battery stands on the hillside, the site of a 16th century fort overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne; it is also sometimes known as Freestone Point. Henry VIII had a fort built here in 1545 to defend his fleet as it assembled in the Tyne before invading Scotland. Cannons in the fort were manned by Spanish mercenaries, which is how it is thought to have become known as the Spanish Battery. In 1643 the fortifications were repaired and the defensive wall raised. in 1902, the battery was modernised and equipped with a single 6 inch mark VII breech loading gun and two 6 pounder Quick Firing guns. A second 6 inch gun was added later. the guns were removed and the site of the modern battery was cleared in 1954. Down to Black Middens, notorious rocks that have wrecked many a ship. The “land train” passes. Along to the fish dock where a statue named Fiddler’s Green, which was created by sculptor Ray Lonsdale, in honour of the fishermen lost at sea. Nearby is a superb conversion of an old smokehouse where a set of bulbous windows seem to be pushing their way through the slatted walls. On to the Prince of Wales tavern, home of the wooden dollies for a few pints. We then catch the ferry, using our Metro tickets, to South Shields. A large cargo ship passes with tugs pulling and pushing her to the mouth of the Tyne.
Tuesday – Home – French beans, climbing and dwarf, runner beans and more beetroot are sown. The morning is hot but clouds slip in from the west in the afternoon, cooling the air. Mowing the lawns is not a cool job however and the grass has grown rapidly over the past couple of weeks. Screams come from on high – the first Swifts of the year.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The world is green again as leaves unfurl. It is also full of song, Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wood Pigeon, House Sparrows and Robin. A female Bullfinch flies across the track, disappearing into the willows. Hawthorn is coming into blossom, one can “cast a clout”, the May is out. The sun shines brightly but there is enough of a breeze to keep the temperature moderate. Forget-me-not, Meadow Buttercups, Wild Strawberry, Red Campion, Daisies, Ground Elder and one of the dandelions are all flowering along the trackside. In the meadow, Wild Arum is in “flower”. Spotted orchid leaves have emerged, these are probably the MarshxCommon Spotted crosses I have seen here in the past. The path down to the plantation has been dressed with gravel which makes walking much easier and will certainly be a boon when it is wet.
The water level in the lake is high, the scrape has vanished. What looks like a camera trap has been set up at the base of the bank. Little is on the water although the yapping of Canada Geese comes from the island. A few Mallard and Coot are scattered around. A Mute Swan sails serenely into view. There appear to be no Cormorants present, just a Carrion Crow lurking in the trees. Another stalks the back in front of the hide. The reed beds have yet to start growing. Suddenly a large Carp leaps out of the water several times.
The Alder copse now has a number of species of tree growing in it including Beech, Field Maple and Oak. A corner by the gate of the wildlife refuge is bright with chrome yellow Broom. The trees in the orchards are coming into blossom. Some cider trees, like Court Royal are covered in blossom, other such as Chisel Jersey have virtually none at all. The same applies to the dessert apple orchard, nothing on Herefordshire Pomeroy, whilst Stoke Edith Pippin is an explosion of white. A new wildlife pond had been excavated just beyond the car park but it has yet to fill.
Home – I have been remiss in leaving part of one vegetable bed too long and it is now covered in weeds. They take most the afternoon to remove filling two sacks. The soil is still hard and claggy despite it being a vegetable bed for over ten years. Once cleared, carrots, a small ball type that is suitable to claggy and stony ground which this is, radishes and spinach are sown. A robin stands on a small dead shrub a few feet away and watches.
Friday – Ross-on-Wye – On the edge of Tudorville, Fernbank Road leads towards Chase Wood hill. A car park stands on the route of the Ross and Monmouth Railway line which closed in 1965. Most the houses are modern on large plots. A Blackbird sings from the top of an araucaria, surprising he can find somewhere to perch on the scaly leaves. Fern Bank is one of the few older houses, a large stone villa with an unsightly breeze block garage. The lane rises into the hills. A lane leads off into a small estate of mock timber-framed modern houses. The lane becomes a track heading east. Merrivale Wood lies to the north. A Chiffchaff calls. Hart’s Tongue ferns have unfurled. Beside the track are old overgrown quarries. The rocks are layers of Devonian Brownstone Formation with cross-bedding. Yellow Archangel is in flower, whorls of creamy yellow flowers with nettle-like leaves. Herb Robert is also out. The track reaches Hill Farm, a group of houses and conversions. Here Greater Stitchwort is in flower.
The track runs on through Gatley Grove around Chase Hill. The sun is battling with the cloud cover and a brisk wind blows. A Red-legged Partridge looks down track at me before wandering casually away. Chase Hill was a royal hunting ground. The Bishops of Hereford also hunted here. In 1354, Walter Moton , the Bishop’s warden or gamekeeper, was tried and sent to Fleet Prison for “carrying off” 1300 deer (500 stags and hinds – Red Deer one assumes, 500 Fallow Deer and 300 Roe Deer) and hundreds of hares, rabbits, partridges and pheasants. In 1807 100 maiden Oak trees were sold for the considerable sum of £1000. In the 1790s much of the woodland was rented to William Partridge, Ironmaster, for charcoal production.
The track climbs then turns south and runs along below the ramparts of Chase Hill hill-fort. The fort is univallate with an interior covering some 22 acres. Flint tools from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods have been found locally so the site has been occupied for a considerable period. The hill rises around 660 feet and gives a good view of the surrounding lowlands and river. The main period of occupation seems to have been from the 5th or 4th century BCE when it housed up to 1400 people. The site probably only abandoned after the Roman invasion and Ariconium, the local Roman settlement, had been founded in around 50CE. There is no access to the body of the fort. Rowan Tree farm stood on the eastern side but has completely vanished. A Blackcap sings. A Raven barks. A Common Buzzard glides over. A small groves of Coastal Redwoods stand alongside the track. The rest of the wood is towering conifers with younger natives growing in-between. I realise I have passed the track junction that I wanted and head back a short distance. I find the path, a much narrower one leading down through the woods; part of the Wye Valley Walk. It descends steeply, in places requiring steps. Yellow Archangel is flowering profusely on the steep slopes. There are large patches of flowering Wild Garlic. A hen Pheasant flies up from under my feet in a cheap attempt to give me a heart-attack. The path reaches the foot of the hill beside a field ploughed into ridges for potatoes and enters a meadow. A sawn tree trunk forms a seat, or has been here some time has as the woods is rotting away and a piece of chipboard has been placed on top with a plaque, “Bob’s Seat”. Below is the hamlet of Coughton, lying in a valley surrounded by wooded hills.
The path reaches the road beside a three storey house. The old maps indicate this was a corn mill, disused by the turn of the 19th century, with a large mill pond behind the house where there are now farm buildings. Opposite is a large stone house which appears on the old maps to have buildings running eastwards in use as a smithy. The roadside is pink with flowering cherry petals which continue to rain down like confetti. Past a house called Coughton Mill, although this is not indicated as a mill on the maps and recorded as a late 17th century house with 19th century additions. I pick up the Wye Valley Walk again through a meadow. Past the entrance to Craig Farm, formerly The Slad and up past a very deep hollow way towards Howle Hill. Across a meadow and then onto a track by a cottage. Up the hill are Beeches and Sycamores, on the down slope are conifers. Past Stillmeadow. Up the hill is another cottage, Sunset Cottage, with a large modern conservatory attached to the front. A Garden Warbler sings. Past a modern designer house then one that looks late 20th century but has a very 1930s door and surround. A large, much extended house, Hill House, is up the hill. Before 1900 it was known as The Warren. The track reaches a road, Sharman Pitch. Across the road where a footpath cross down into a valley. Across a stream. A vineyard has been planted on the opposite slope. The path rises again passing through the garden of a cottage and on to a lane at Spring Herne. The lane descends steeply. Down the hill is a cast iron horse trough, sadly empty but for rotting leaves, in a stonework surround. A plaque on the surround states it was erected in 1897 by the Walford Parish Council. The rocks rising from the edge of the road are still Brownstone but here full of quartz pebbles, clearly an old river bed.
The lane bends its way past Lower Whythall is a fine timber-framed house of the late 16th century. Upper Whythall, a 16th century house with earlier parts, is hidden in the trees. Down the lane, across a stream and into the western end of Coughton. Priory Lea is a large house, formerly Walford House, dated to the early 19th century, behind which is a modern housing estate. I retrace my steps a short distance to turn down a footpath running up a track towards New House Farm. The housing estate is behind an old wall over seven feet high which would have enclosed the garden of Walford House. A path runs alongside the wall now some ten feet high and now behind the estate. The wall heads back to the road. A Lilac tree is covered in dark purple blossom. Across a rough pasture to the road again. Bollin Farm had a large late 18th century stone built farmhouse and a large collection of old stone barns. The road is busy but fortunately there is a footpath. Doughton Cottage is a substantial house. A tractor harrows a field followed by gulls. A large orchard of young apple trees is in blossom. Into Ross-on-Wye, Tudorville again. A white, cast iron milepost stands by the road, cast by Perkins and Bellamy of Ross, stating Ross 1 Mile, Lydbrook, 5 Miles. A couple of farm buildings, all that is left of Tudor Farm, stand alone beside a modern housing development. A holiday park stands next to a small cemetery. Amidst the 20th century housing is Erdington Villas of 1887. Chapel Street leads off Walford Road. A house has Arts and Crafts influences and is now named, oddly, Noah’s Ark Apartments. Route
Monday – Onibury – Onibury stands under a cloudless sky with the temperature rising. House Sparrows chatter, cows low in the distance, Rooks caw. Past the old railway station and over the tracks. Over the bridge spanning the River Onny, which is sparkling in the sunshine. Off along the Clungunford lane. A white Lilac covered in blossom stands by the gatehouse to Stokesay Court. Copper Beeches alternate with red and white flowered Horse Chestnuts. Estate cottages date from the 1870s. They have large gardens, which one would have had productive vegetable patches but these areas now lie fallow. Oak trees are coming into leaf, they are late this year. Garlic Mustard, Cow Parsley and Dandelions dominate the roadside. Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort, Cleavers, Hedgerow Cranesbill and Stinging Nettles are also present. Stokesay Court stands on a slight rise screened from the road by a wall of ornamental trees. Stokesay Court was built by John Derby Allcroft, a partner in glovemakers J & W Dent. Work lasted from 1889 to 1892 under the architect Thomas Harris, finishing only six months before Derby Allcroft’s death. In WW1 the house became an Auxiliary Military Hospital for convalescent soldiers. A bell tolls the hour. A Common Buzzard circles over field to the south. A Whitethroat sings is scratchy song from the hedgerow. Past several houses at Whittytree, some again estate cottages from the 1870s, others more modern. A large patch of yellow flowers is a mystery, they are some species of crucifer but which one?. Trees are at their most magnificent with fresh green leaves shining in the sun. To the south is Bringewood. A sign starts “No Footway for 1 mile” which seems odd, there has not been any footway for the previous mile either.
At Duxmoor, Weybrook is a thatched house formerly called Dovey Brook Cottage, built in the late 17th century. Other houses are more modern, one is probably Victorian but the cartouche has been obliterated. The Clungunford road now turns off this lane and I follow it. A black St Mark’s Fly floats by with its legs dangling. The lane climbs. Behind are the Clee Hills. The countryside is a patchwork of green grass and cereals, red silk and great slabs of yellow oilseed rape. Ferney Lodge is a gatehouse for Ferney Hall. Built between 1856-60. by John Norton for WH Sitwell in the Jacobean style with Dutch gables and stone mullion windows. Ferney Hall, also for Sitwell by John Norton was built in 1856. It lies to the north-west across a large field in parkland by Humphrey Repton. Beside the lane here is an operating timberyard. On to the road where there is another gatehouse in the Jacobean style dated 1873. To the east of the lane is Quarry Plantation, to the west, Stonepits Coppice and Ferneyhall Dingle. Between the coppice and the lane are old Oaks, probably over 500 years old, and Sweet Chestnuts.
The road continues in a straight line. Below is Duxmoor Dingle. Orange Tip butterflies are on the wing. Yellowhammers sing from the edges of the fields. Horse Chestnuts, maybe 200-300 years old stand either side of the lane which has wide verges. If the trees are at the younger end of this estimate, it suggests this is an enclosure road brought about in the Georgian period by Parliamentary Enclosure Acts (The Making of the English Landscape by WG Hoskins explains this well). The road meets a junction with a lane running under the eaves of Doctors Coppice towards Brandhill. Under the trees in the coppice is an endless sea of Bluebells. Off along the Brandhill lane. A Blackcap, Song Thrush, Chiffchaff and Great Tit are all in song. The roadside verge is a mixture of Greater Stitchwort, Vetch and Dog Violets. Past a large house which looks to have some age. Ahead in the distance, across the Onney valley is Flounders Folly. The lane, Green Lane, heads down to Whittytree. My route continues to Brandhill. At Coppice House Farm is a farmhouse the OS map calls Coppy House. Dartmoor Cottage stands above a slope called Dartmoor which runs down into Brandhill Gutter. Through a number of St Mark’s Flies. There are more cottages along the lane, all seem 20th century but could have older cores. Orchard House lies down in the valley below. An old chapel had been rendered and painted but a sign states it was used by Primitive Methodists from 1860-1969.
The lane reaches Brandhill Farm. A pond is almost dry but enough water allows for some new bulrushes to rise. At White Cottage, called The White House on the map, the road divides. It may once have been a crossroads. My route lays eastwards. A cottage has a small section of stone wall but the rest, including the roof is corrugated iron. Here the verge had the little blue eyes of Germander Speedwell peeping up at the sun. Past the entrance to Gorst Barn Farm. The lane starts to descend. Brown Clee lies ahead. A Small Tortoiseshell alights on a Stinging Nettle. The descent becomes steeper. A Garden Warbler sings, flitting from bush to bush.
The lane comes to a sharp ⋁ bend down in Springhead Gutter before rising again. The stream flows across the road. Small flies dance thickly in the air above the water. Up and up the lane which joins the Shropshire Way and eventually enters Aldon. Swallows rest on wires. House Sparrows chase to and fro. A massive red bull glares at me from a gate as I pass. From Aldon, a road drops down to Onibury. A tractor rumbles and rattles in the field above the lane. Down past the gatehouse and over the river again. Several drake Mallard and a Grey Wagtail fly downstream. Route
Friday – Brecon – Towards the centre is Brecon past the somewhat grim barracks, the headquarters of the 160th Infantry Brigade. The other side of the road is a mixture of houses and shops although most of the shops are empty. Streets of small terraced houses run down to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Gas Lane passes the rugby club and comes to a canal bridge. A row of canal-side houses are only around 10 years old. Beyond the bridge, the only one listed it seems, dated 1796-1800, is an older property, Gasworks House. Here there is a winding hole, a wider section to allow boats to turn. House Martins sweep over the water. Under another bridge and into the canal basin and the end of the canal. Pretty stone cottages stand on one side, the modern Brecon Theatre on the other on the site of the old gas works. In between the rows of cottages is a square, two storey tower-like weights and measures office, known to have been here in 1834. A modern monolith stands at the end of the basin. Back into the town centre. Richway Court is a large rambling house, partially truncated by the widening of the road. Around the corner, the front of the house is dated 1774 and adjoining houses are typically Georgian. Oxford House was the home of the agent to East India Company at Seringapatem and founder of Asiatic Society. Brecknock museum is covered in scaffolding.
Into Glamorgan Road. Numbers 3 and 4 are large and heavy looking Italianate with an empty alcove. The pair were known as the Ferns and Tredburn in 1952. The old museum was built by David Blow, English Independent Congregationalist Minister opened as a chapel in 1836. It was the main building of the Brecknock Museum from 1927 until 1974. Morgannwg House is from the first half of the 19th century and has an imposing entrance with lions. It was used as part of St David’s Convent school, now a nursing home. Next to it is an austere pebble-dashed house, Harvard House, dated by a fireplace to 1614. It was owned by the Philips family from 1669. Several notable Brecon families lived there until the early 20th century when a French Religious Order, Les Filles de Saint Esprit of St Brieuc, Brittany, obtained the building. Since 1940s, it has been an Ursuline Convent. Small buildings are opposite, stores or workshops, originally outbuildings of Tredegar House in St Mary’s Street which has been demolished. The road turns. Turning with it is Buckingham Place, an early 16th century great hall and solar, extended in 1824. It was late home to the Awbrey Family in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was the official residence of the Bishops of St David’s from the 1660s. Theatrical performances were held here in the 1680s by a London company. It was remodelled in 1824. There is no connection to the Buckingham family, the name was decided on by the town council in 1860. On round the bend is St Michael’s Catholic church. Built in 1851 by Charles Hansom, the great Spanish soprano Adelina Patti, who lived at Craig-y-Nos Castle, married her third husband, Baron Cederstrom in the church in 1899. The Coliseum Cinema opened in 1925, with a seating capacity of 650. It has Art Deco features. Down to the Watergate at the foot of the Usk Bridge. Watergate Baptist church dates from 1806 but was rebuilt in 1880. It stands beside the Afon Honddu, just before it joins the Usk. Across the river is the ruins of the castle and castle mill built in the 17th century. Up The Avenue. Kensington Baptist church is modem. The road rises post the Brecon Grammar school for boys, 1901-1958 and now become Cradoc Road. Houses in one side have steep gardens which a beautifully kept with displays is azaleas and other spring flowers. Past Brecon cemetery with a small former lodge by 1858 by H J Powell, architect of Cardiff, now a residence. There are two near identical chapels in mirror image both by Powell, built in 1858. To the west the Brecon Beacons dominate the view.
Into a modern housing estate to pick up a public footpath which leads to Ffynnon Maendu, Maendu Well. The area around the well is marshy. A stone channel runs down from an inverted boat shaped stone building to a marshy pond. Inside the building, through a small, low entrance is a step and a rough hewn hole, the well. The well house is believed to date from 1774. The footpath continues across a field and up towards The Crug. Across a ridge of an old hedgerow now just a row of Hawthorns and the occasional Oak. A lamb has an awful cough. Although not steep, the hill is a steady climb and the high, thin cloud does nothing to stop the sun heating up the land, and me! Bird song is thin and sporadic, a Robin being the most consistent with a Yellowhammer and very occasional Skylark. A Willow Warbler sings in the hilltop Hawthorns. Skylarks are louder up here. A Buff-tailed Bumble Bee visits Gorse flowers, large balls of pollen on its legs. Finally at the summit is Pen-y-Crug hill-fort. The views are magnificent, the Brecon Beacons, Black Mountains, Ysgwydd Hwch in the Brycheiniog Forest and Brecon. To the north west is Penoyre House and the villages of Cradoc and Battle. A Roman road ran north-eastwards on the eastern slopes of the hill. The hill-fort is tri-vallate and has been shown to have had defensive stone walls and palisades. It was occupied from around 800 BCE to 75CE, although it may be even older. In the 18th and 19th centuries, areas of the hill on which Pen-y-Crug sits was occupied by a brick and tile works, and worked as a tile quarry.
Down from the hill towards Cradoc. A Red Kite circles the fields below. Of the hill and down an old track lined in blue and white with Bluebells and Greater Stitchwort. Hundreds of St Mark’s Flies hover around the track and hedgerow. Off along the road to Cradoc. Cuckoo Flowers are the palest violet along the roadside. Buttercups, Cowslips, Dandelions and Celandines add the yellow touch. Cow Parsley is a foam of white. Blues and reds are barely represented, just the odd Tufted Vetch and Bluebell. New glamping pods are on the hillside. Beyond, in the trees in Penoyre House, designed by Anthony Salvin for Colonel John Lloyd Vaughan Watkins, Liberal politician who sat as Member of Parliament for Brecon and was High Sheriff of Brecknockshire and Lord Lieutenant of Brecknockshire. It was built between 1846-8 in an Italianate style. Into the village. At the crossroads is the smithy, now a workshop. The village clearly expanded considerably in the late 20th century. Into the Aberyscir road. A wooded hillside lies ahead with a hill-fort on top – Coed Fenni-fach. On down the lane. Across the fields is Battle standing stone. I wander up a narrow lane in the hope of a better view but hedges and a hillock get in the way. A bridge crosses the abandoned Neath and Brecon Railway line which closed in 1962.
Back to the lane. Another lane heads up into the hills. Below is a double bridge over the Afon Ysgir, a tributary to the Usk. The lane drops down to Gaer Farm and beside the farm is Y Gaer, Cicvcivm, Roman fort. Access to this advertised CADW site is problematic. CADW state that gates lead to the interior of the fort, which they do except for the large flock of sheep penned in between! In the end I walk between a rectangular pond and the wall. The pond has a low wall at one end with a patterned ceramic piece sunk into the ground to act as an overflow mechanism. A clamber up the wall takes me into one of the remains of a corner tower. The first fort at Y Gaer was built for auxiliary troops of the Vettonian cavalry from Spain. It was protected by banks made of clay, topped by a wooden palisade. Inside the enclosure was a stable building and living quarters. In the late 2nd century the fort was rebuilt in stone by the Second Augustan Legion and repaired in the 4th century. Outside the wall was a ditch 1 metre deep and nearly 9 metres across. The fort was rectangular with an entrance on each side which have been excavated, or in the case of the eastern gate, still being excavated. The site was excavated in the 1920s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler. It revealed a Principia, the legion headquarters, a Preatorium where the commander lived, barracks and a bath house. All are now hidden again under grass.
A Common Buzzard mews overhead. West of the fort is Aberyscir across the Afon Ysgir. Unfortunately it is not easy to get to from here. The house, built in 1837 on the site of an older one, and church of St Mary and Cynidr are mainly hidden by trees, the motte can be discerned through them. The church may have Celtic origins but the building is an 1860 rebuild. There is no substantiated evidence of who built a fortification on the motte. There is some evidence of a small settlement nearby but that has largely disappeared. Mistle Thrushes rasp as they fly across the little valley.
Back through the farmyard and onto a bridleway, marked as a Roman road on old maps. Through sheep meadows where huge boulders have come to rest. The bridleway passes under Coed Fenni-fach. It is clouding over and a wind is rising. The track is on the edge of a woodland. Ancient Oaks are surrounded by Ash, Beech and many other saplings. A Chiffchaff calls. A Wren sings. An Orange Tip butterfly flies along the ride. Lake Gludy lays down the bottom of the hill. It is much manicured. A large house, Coed stands by its shore. Above, sections of hillside have been cleared of conifers. The track enters a damp hollow way where there are too many mosquitoes. On further ditches have been dug in the rich red soil, St Maughans Formation of the Devonian, 393-419 million years ago, and grey gravel laid on the track. A footbridge crosses a stream. The track rises away from the stream and becomes grass covered. Past Pennant. The track deteriorates into a rough overgrown path. Now again it is a track, old with large and small stones but badly broken up. Clearance of this section took place in 2009. It looks like an old stone lined channel team beside the track to drain it. Newton Farm lays across the fields, road and river. The house was built in 1582 for John Games, who was descended from Davy Gam. The track joins Fenni fach Road. Past the Brecon Boathouse, a café, with rather a lot of slot machines! Down to the a Promenade along the river. Into the town centre past the bowling club. Route
Sunday – Leominster – 8 o’clock and the sun is already heating the air. House Sparrows are nesting under the eaves of the museum next door, the stables to our coach house. Off down to the market. The water level is falling in the River Lugg. It looks like we have another extended dry period from May into June. At home the water butts are already being used at an alarming rate and crops such as the potatoes and peas are not being watered! Into Easters meadow. A Song Thrush is searching the recently mown grass for food. At least two others are singing in the trees along with Blackbirds and chattering Blue Tits. The expansion of the compounds for auction vehicles means the market is being compressed into a smaller space so it is crowded. I buy some plants for Kay that she wants for the planters in front of the house. Otherwise there is nothing that catches my attention, well almost nothing – there are some sets of screw thread cutters for £50 which seem a bargain but for which, to be sensible, I have no use.
Home – I earth up a couple of rows of potatoes. Sweet peppers are planted out into the greenhouse bed. The wires across the patio are repaired in preparation for the vines that are sprouting now. The pond is pretty much dead – cyanobacteria are producing hydrogen sulphide and seem to have killed most things. I dredge out some of the excess rotting leaves and remove some water. Refilling the pond is a problem, as already noted it seems unlikely that rain will be forthcoming, so I may have to resort to tap water as the least worst solution. Rhubarb is pulled and is used to make eleven jars of jam but this has hardly made a dent in the quantity still in the two patches. There are several long stalks of asparagus that need cutting and will be for dinner tonight. Egg production is still very slow – Bluebell is the only hen laying with any regularity.
Monday – Clee – The land drops away down the common and out across North Herefordshire. A haze obscures the detail of the landscape. An area of Gorse has been recently burnt. A Willow Warbler sings in a copse protected by stone walls and fences. Sheep feed on the thin grass. A cast iron milestone leans beside the road. Marked as Doddington, it declares; Ludlow 7; Cleo Mortimer 4. An older stone marker from the late 18th century is on this side of the road with a benchmark arrow. A toposcope stands nearby erected by the Automobile Association. It records this point stands at 1047 feet above sea level. Few of the locations indicated can be seen through the haze. Rocks litter the slopes of Titterstone Clee. Into Doddington, through the gates of a cattle grid. The village is scattered across the hillside. Past the church of St John the Baptist which is not yet open. Up a bridleway northwards and across rough pasture to another bridleway. Everywhere are lumps and dips, the results of years of quarrying. The hillside is covered in Gorse, oddly none of it in flower. Pond Skaters dart across a puddle in the track. A Green Woodpecker flies off the hillside into trees. Blue Tits and Linnets flit between the Gorse bushes.
A footpath continues as the bridleway turns back towards the main road, then it becomes a lane. A brilliant yellow-lime tree of the maple family is in a garden on Whatsill. A Sparrowhawk being harassed by Swallows, circles out across the common. The tarmac track turns to the house and an older surface continues. It is stone cobbles mainly grassed over. There were brick kilns here but they have disappeared under the Gorse and grass. A Stonechat calls from the top of a Gorse bush. The track becomes increasingly boggy and now water flows down it. Magpie Hill stands above the track. Now Brown Clee comes into view. A Raven soars and cronks over Magpie Hill. Four Ravens harass a passing Common Buzzard. The track has now disappeared and it is hard going through the tussocks of sedge. Eventually a gravel track appears leading to several fairly modern houses. Down away from the houses to a road junction on Hoptonbank. Along a lane heading north-west. Linnets and Willow Warblers sing. The lane runs straight, crossing Catherton Common. Past Craven Cottage, extended to become a sizeable house. A lamb lays under a Gorse bush in the shade.
The lane turns a bend beside a deep old hollow way and the common ends abruptly and pasture lies either side. Into the village of Cleeton St Mary, past the village hall. Past The Birches. The lane now drops down to the village centre. There are sheep around the place, a lamb stands in an overturned salt bin. Titterstone Clee and its white golf ball air traffic control radar stand high over the village. The village school is dated 1872. A row of almshouses stands opposite the church of St Mary. There is a plaque on the houses that records that they, the school and church were endowed by George and Mary Pardoe, the school as shown in 1872, the church in 1878 and the almshouses in 1883. The Pardoes were priests to the Treasurer of Powis castle, Thomas ap Adam in the 1480s. When Henry Tudor invaded in 1484, Thomas joined him and was rewarded with a number of Marches manors. By the late 17th century, the Pardoes were landowners in their own right. In the 19th century, the Pardoes sons were often in Holy Orders. In the late 1840s the Revd George Dansey Pardoe and his wife entered into a series of land deals with Beriah Botfield MP, the coal and iron magnate who owned Hopton Court, and as a result they became the owners of the land round the present church. By 1902 George Pardoe had discharged all his mortgages and owned all the farms in the village. In 1916 his son the Revd George Southey Pardoe was killed in action whilst serving as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces, and his death is recorded among the Fallen of the Village on a memorial above the Font. He was last of the line.
St Mary’s was by T Nicholson of Hereford in Early English style. Pevsner was unimpressed but it is not an unattractive building. It has a rood screen and the glass is in the style of the William Morris school. Outside there are some graves with headstones of crosses on a triangular then straight base, clearly a local style. The Rectory stands next to the church. Church House is a large house on the other side of the road junction in the middle of the village.
I decide to return back to Hoptonbank and then to Doddington. A Kestrel is hovering over Catherton Common. A slight breeze makes little difference to the heat in the middle of the day. The lane joins the Oreton road. This in turn comes to the Bridgnorth road. The Bethel Primitive Methodist church is dated 1880 and still in use. Next to it is the old schoolhouse. Opposite is a petrol station. Along the road back to St John the Baptist church. It was built in 1847 by Thomas Botfield, iron master, of Hopton Court for the local coal miners and quarry workers. The design was based on the plans used to build nearby Hopton Wafers’ St Michaels’s church. Thomas died before the church was built, but his wife Lucy (née Skelhorn) completed it and donated a set of communion silver which is on display at Hereford Cathedral. The window frames on south, west and north walls are unusual in being cast iron in a decorative pattern. All windows have clear glass. The Communion rail is also cast iron. Tiles behind the altar are believed to be Minton. There is a west gallery, early 20th century wooden screen and arch. Route
Wednesday – Home – A few days ago Kay reported a bird with a red breast on the seed feeder, not a Robin, Nuthatch or Chaffinch. Had me stumped. Then today she saw it again and Googled it and declared it was a Bullfinch. I must admit to some scepticism when I joined her outside but shortly after a female Bullfinch landed on the feeder! So there is a pair around here and probably breeding. These are the first we have seen here and whilst that is nice, Bullfinches’ reputation for damaging fruit buds is a little worrying. The Conference pear is loaded with nascent fruit. The Howgate Wonder looks good but the Cambridge Gage seems to have failed to set fruit again this year. Guides state they take at least five years to establish themselves but this tree now has had seven. The rest of the garden is looking good. Beautiful purple alliums have flowered in Kay’s new bed. The shrubs are all beginning to flower. I have earthed up one lot of potatoes. Peas are steadily growing and the broad beans are in flower. Pots of French and runner beans are ready to be planted out. But everything is very dry, we need rain!
Friday – Home – I asked for rain and we now have it! Rain has been falling steadily since dawn. The weather maps indicate that it is not going away anytime soon as a trough slowly moves westwards across the region. It seems my planned walk will not happen now as the train I wanted has been cancelled, (along with thousands of others across the country, hopefully sounding the death knell for this hopeless privatised fiasco). At least the garden will be happy. The beans were planted out yesterday so they will be well soaked in. A Blackbird started singing around 4 o’clock and continued despite the downpour.
Dinmore Hill – I head out despite the rain as the weather forecast claims it will be showers. A bus to Hope-under-Dinmore. The church is still locked despite assurances that arrangements were going to be put in place to have it open. The rain is continuous. A pair of Mallard fly across the oilseed rape field opposite. Across the main road, the A49, and into the village. A Blackbird is in a complete tizzy about something, standing at the foot is a hedge, tail flared, pinking furiously. Onto the footpath up through the woods to Queenswood Country Park. Beeches, Oaks and Field Maples line the path. Into the main woods. A Chaffinch calls persistently but otherwise it is just squeaks. Up to the park centre and over to the bus stop. I am soaked through. Cars and lorries pass hissing through the wet. Tractors pass pulling trailers that seem to have no agricultural connection – skips of rubble, a skip of rusty metal frames, some long wooden benches. The bus arrives late. I stand up on the way back to town, my coat is dripping and it seems unfair to soak a seat.
Home – The rain continues throughout the afternoon. The water butts are replenished. The hens have spent the day sheltering under the chicken house. Just the one egg again, admittedly one more than yesterday, but not good!
Sunday – Home – A Pine Processionary moth is resting on a post of the chicken run. Their caterpillars are a serious pest of conifers.
Clarach – We have travelled across to the west coast of Wales to stay overnight with Pete and Jo. Pete and I take the dogs down to the beach. The cliffs are wonderfully folded layers of Aberystwyth Grit formation from the Silurian. Towards the small headland the beach is eroded rock with rock pools with sadly little in them.
Borth – In the early evening we head through Borth. The village stretches along the coast towards the estuary of the River Dyfi. A small herring fishing community has been here since the 16th century at least. In the 18th century the village was more established often with mariners retiring there after years at sea. The railway arrived in 1863 after which the village grew rapidly. It is a popular tourist destination. We travel further north past caravan parks to the estuary. Large grass covered sand dunes are part of the Dyfi National Nature Reserve. Large sections of the estuary are roped off to protect nesting Ringed Plovers. There are none to be seen but a couple of waders fly past, probably Common Sandpipers. Sand Martins twitter over the sand dunes.
Wednesday – Widnes – A Song Thrush is in good voice in the trees beside Leominster railway station. Half a dozen Swifts fly north. It is grey. The train heads north. Fields without livestock have vivid splashes of yellow from Meadow Buttercups. Clouds obscure the tops of Long Mynd. Approaching Shrewsbury there are fields and fields of potatoes. The train gets busier at Shrewsbury and then fills at stations as we get closer to Manchester. Approaching Crewe the train passes a yard full of track maintenance wagons, hundred of them. As we enter Crewe there is a line of old railway carriages including a number of brown and cream Pullman cars. The train is late out of Crewe and gets progressively later as a Virgin service, as the conductor calls it, is running late because of a cable failure. Past a large telescope at Jodrell Bank. The train is late into Stockport but I am in good time for my connection, which is running late. Apparently the cabling problem is due to attempted theft! At Stockport station there is a Freightliner Class 47 diesel in BR livery named “Beeching’s Legacy”.
Through Manchester, past buildings from the 19th century through to those still rising. A canal basin is below the train and the Metro is above. Past Old Trafford. Through Warrington. Finally Widnes station. The back of the station offices are all closed and under plastic sheeting. A water fountain of 1872, the same date as the station itself, is peeling paint. It was apparently here that Paul Simon wrote “Homeward Bound”. Outside on the small forecourt is a large plaque “Farnsworth+Widnes”. Blackbirds are having a noisy argument in surrounding bushes. Farnsworth lies to the north of the tracks, I head south. Modern houses by the station give way to late Victorian, 1899. The road joins Birchfield Road.
Opposite is Victoria Park with a small lake and fountain. Canada Geese feed on a mound so densely covered in daisies it looks like snow. At the end of the lake is an area of reed bed closed off by a curved walkway. This is partially closed as Mute Swans are nesting in the reeds. Beyond the lake are wide open green spaces, a large playground, a skate park, woodland walk, courts, a climbing boulder, bowling greens, a band stand and a café – everything a municipal park should be! At the other end of the park is the War Memorial erected in 1921, designed by Harold E Davies with sculpture by Herbert Tyson Smith in Portland stone and York stone. The WWII inscription and plaques was added in 1950. A milestone here once stood at Bold on the A57. It was damaged by a bomb on 12th April 1916 when five Zeppelins made the last effective raid on England. Nearby is a fountain installed in 1902 in memory of William Gladstone. The glass house is still in use as a visitor attraction, the Butterfly House. Near the entrance is a statue of Sgt Thomas Motterhead VC and nearby a small flower bed dedicated to him and Pte Thomas Jones, both awarded the Victoria Cross in WWI and Lt Thomas Wilkinson, awarded the VC in WWII. The park was established in 1897 and dedicated to the citizens of Widnes as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It was designed by William Barron and Sons, who also designed Locke Park in Barnsley. The park was previously part of the Appleton Estate.
Out of the park into Appleton Village. Before the Conquest, Appleton had been held by Dot, a Saxon Freeman, afterwards it was in the possession of Osborn Fitz Tezzon. In the Domesday Survey, Appleton was valued at 16 shillings and described as a wasteland. Appleton then passed to the Aston family, and later to Adam De Dutton of Arley. The name Appleton simply means “a settlement where apples grow”. It is believed that Parliamentarians under Sir William Brereton marched through Appleton to the Battle of Stockton Heath in 1643, where they were repelled by the Loyalists. In 1648, the Duke of Hamilton fled through Appleton to Delamere Forest. In 1651, Charles II retook Warrington and marched through Appleton at the head of his army. A dual carriageway heads into the centre of town. A terrace of houses is dated 1877. Other housing is 20th century. St Bede’s church is Catholic. It was built in 1847, by Weightman and Hadfield, in red sandstone with a slate roof. The altar, which I am unable to see is reportedly by Pugin. A large nursery looks like a former pub. Back to heading south towards the centre of town. Cooling towers of Fiddler’s Ferry power station stand to the east. A large shopping centre stands in the middle of streets of post-war housing. Into a street of Victorian terraced houses. This leads to Simms Cross and a vast Asda. Back on the dual carriageway. The extensive Riverside College stands on the junction, a large leisure centre opposite. Heading south again. Municipal Building is a towering modern block. Opposite is a splendid Art Deco Health Centre built in 1938-9, by Widnes Borough Engineers Department to the design of Austin T Parrott. The Public Library and Technical School date from 1895, built in bright orange-red brick. Another imposing building is opposite, it appears from the maps to have been a public house and is now a night club. Into Victoria Square. St Paul’s Parish church is also in red brick as is the vicarage next door both built in the 1884 with the tower being added in 1906. It was designed by Henry Shelmerdine, Chief Architect of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Across the square is the former Town Hall, now a bar and solicitor’s offices, built in 1885, by F & G Holme. A long curving building is the same brick was the Runcorn and Widnes Industrial Co-operative Building Society of 1908. The 1927 map indicates there was a “Picture Theatre” in the block. Another curving building is now a bar and seems to have been for many years.
On down Victoria Road. There has been a permanent settlement on the higher ground above the marshy riverbanks in the mediaeval period and a church at Farnworth dating from around 1180. Victoria Road is likely the old route between the ferry and Farnworth and Appleton villages. There is still the remnants of Victorian splendour above street level but generally the area looks run down. An army drill hall is a piano showroom. The Conservative Club has weeds growing out of the building. Across Asley Way which runs along the route of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway line. Widnes Central station was here but completely demolished in 1984 when the road was built. Under a railway bridge that carries a freight line to Fiddler’s Ferry power station. This line was previously the LNWR Widnes Deviation Line running between Liverpool and Warrington. A station, Widnes South was constructed a short distance from here, the remains of which were removed only a couple of years ago. The road now passes under the end of the new Mersey Gateway bridge, which was still under construction last time I saw it. It is growing warmer and muggier. The area is industrial units and yards. The Mersey Power Company had a small square brick building, still being used as a sub-station, in the middle of modern buildings. The Swan Inn is an impressive building on a corner, now apartments. Opposite is Spike Island. A 16 ton Caustic Pot, a container for producing Caustic Soda stands by the entrance.
In the late 19th century, Hutchinson and Gossage had huge soap works here. These declined in the early 20th century as more efficient, less polluting processes were developed. The area was turned into a park by the local councils in 1975. The Catalyst is a museum and visitors’ centre in the only remaining bit of the works. The air is richly scented with musky Elderflower blossom. Down to the Mersey. Over the locks of the Sankey Canal constructed in 1750s, opening in 1757. It was also known as the St Helens Canal and linked St Helens with the Mersey. In 1833, the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway opened and the world’s first railway dock was established. House Martins sweep overhead with much twittering. A noisy flock of Starlings flies around. A herd of Mute Swans preen on the edge of a blocked off section of canal lock.
Along a path to St Mary’s church. It is locked. It was designed by the Lancaster architects Austin and Paley and opened in 1910. An unusual octagonal wayside pulpit is set into the boundary wall of the church, also designed by Austin and Paley. The text “Go out into the highways and compel them to come in that my house may be filled” (from Luke 14:23) is cut into its masonry. The terrace behind it is dated 1906. The Victorian Promenade runs along the river to the Runcorn and Widnes bridge. A small park has a statue to Creighton Hutchinson MD, a local doctor for some 40 years, dying in 1927. A red stone building stands by the water, the former Transporter Bridge Power House. The Mersey pub stands above, closed. Back towards the town past the Widnes Academy which is housed in a large rambling Victorian school. Back on the road by the Catalyst. A small green was the site of the original St Mary’s church also called Widnes Dock Church. It was built in 1858 but by 1902, unstable ground conditions caused subsidence and it was demolished in 1911 when the new church in the promenade was opened.
Back up Victoria Road. It has started to rain so I dive into a pub. The rain pauses. Up to Moor Lane. A large depot, probably for the corporation buses had a portico with “Widnes 1923”. I then realized it is still the bus depot. The road comes to the new gateway at a large junction where there is a slip road from the new bridge., which I notice, carries a toll, an online payment system. “Pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited”, says a sign. West on Ditton Road. Refuse lorries queue up at a recycling plant. Across the road is waste ground full of road building materials. Fairway House was built in 1920 for McKechnie Brothers Ltd. Most of the building is now disused. Duncan McKechnie (originally Duncan McGeachy) (1831-1913) was a chemical manufacturer and metal extractor. He was trained as a soap boiler in Glasgow and later moved to become a foreman at a soap and alkali factory in Runcorn. In 1869 he entered into partnership with two colleagues to run a new chemical factory in the town, but soon left to found his own company in St Helens. This company specialised in extracting and refining metals. The family eventually lost overall control of the company in 1971. New businesses were acquired, and in 1984 the company was renamed McKechnie plc. The industrial units continue. There are industries I have never imagined – Marine container testing? Others are now obvious, an aluminium ingot manufacturer with a yard full of mountains of aluminium scrap and an excavations company with even higher mountains of rock and soil. Some give no indication of their trade, I suppose if you do not know, you do not need to know. Often old walls mean that older buildings and businesses stood here once. Some older industrial buildings are still in use behind the modern ones.
The road bends and crosses first Ditton Brook then the railway mainline. The road enters Halebank. The housing is a mixture of older and newer properties. Halebank Terrace has a plaque stating “1886 JT”. Opposite a chapel, now happy clappy, had foundation stones from 1903. Next to it is an Oddfellows, Ireland and Blackburne Lodge, dated 1924. It is now a social club and Chinese restaurant. My hotel is a short distance further on. Route
Thursday – Hale – A grey morning. Down Mersey View Road. A Boeing 737 out of Liverpool John Lennon airport, just a couple of miles west, roars over, bound for Warsaw. The lane leads to Pickering’s Pasture, a nature reserve. A meadow area is full of Yellow Rattle, Meadow Buttercups Oxeye Daisies, Meadow Cranesbill and grasses. Bird song includes Song Thrush, Blackbird, Linnet, Blue Tits, Whitethroat, Goldfinch and Blackcap. Another meadow, over the hedge, is a sea of Oxeye Daisies. A Rabbit bobs away into the grass. The track comes to the Mersey and the Trans Pennine Trail. A dark chocolate brown, almost black Rabbit is beside the track. A noisy skein of Canada Geese fly past. The Mersey is misty. Down the bank is the main channel, then a large expanse of mud. Beyond is Runcorn, Weston Point chemical works, with the church spire rising above the warehouses. Much of the mud flat is empty. Along the edge of the channel are a good number of Shelduck, Lapwings and Canada Geese. A couple of Grey Heron stalk the shallows. Various gulls stand about and fly over. An Airbus passes over bound for Zakynthos. A Greenfinch is singing behind the meadow. Pickering’s Meadow was tidal grazing marsh until 1948 when the Council started using it as a landfill. It was reclaimed in the early 1980s and became a Local Nature Reserve in 1992. There are some pink White Campion on the bank to the estuary. A large bush of Burnet Roses fills the air with sweet scent. More Rabbits are in the grasses. Their numbers are in steep decline again because of the resurgence of myxomatosis and other viruses.
The trail leaves the estuary and heads inland. A small patch of Ragged Robin flowers under a Holly bush; not a flower I see very often. On the other side of the path is a large sewage treatment works and the air is rather foetid. A Mistle Thrush seeks food around a bench. Areas of meadow are yellow with Meadow Buttercups and more patches of Ragged Robin, clearly not so uncommon here. The trail joins the main road at Pickering’s Farm. The farmhouse has squared gable ends between chimney stacks with a window in them. There was a cooling breeze beside the Mersey but here it is much muggier. Across the fields is another farmhouse nestling in the eaves of Little Boar’s Wood. Decoy Barns is a large Georgian house, formerly Hale Gate Farm and a series of barn conversions. Decoy is woodland surrounded by a moat in the shape of a pentagon. It is a duck decoy probably built in the 17th century. Records show that in 1754 it was repaired and improved by its owner at that time, Colonel J. Blackburne. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Decoy Marsh, a SSSI, is beyond down to the estuary. A field of broad beans is coming into flower. Three Cormorants fly over. Skylarks are singing both sides of the road. Aircraft are rather low now, a Ryanair to Malaga roars over, banking steeply. Another skein of Canada Geese fly over. Ram’s Brook passes under Marsh Bridge. A Sedge Warbler is singing in reeds along the brook. A large marshy pool is on the other side of the brook. There are Coot, Shelduck, Mallard including some well grown young, Black-headed Gulls, Canada Geese, of course and a Grey Heron on the pool. A whistling over head marks the passing of the Mute Swans.
Into Hale Village along Town Lane. Goldfinches twitter in the trees. Another Georgian house has squared off gables but no windows this time. A bungalow opposite is dated 1926. A little further on are a pair of late 17th century red brick cottages. Past the old school to The Green. A mid 18th century house stands opposite the war memorial and field gun. High Street contains a number of 18th century houses. Park Lodge is a Victorian Gothic house of 1876. Hale Park was refurbished in 2008 and is another fine municipal green space. Beech Lane runs across it to the site of the former Hale Hall, seat of the Ireland and Blackburne families. The Irelands settled in Hale around 1190. Sir Gilbert Ireland, MP for Liverpool, largely created the Hall around 1674 but its origins were much earlier in a hall called Old Hutte. Additional parts were built on 1802 from designs by John Nash. The Irelands married into the Blackburne family, whose name was derived from the place of the same name. John Blackburne was a powerful politician representing Lancashire in the House of Commons for 46 years. The Ireland Blackburnes moved out in the 1930s and the house was abandoned after the Second World War. The house decayed and the ruins were finally demolished in 1981.
Down Church End past the Childe of Hale pub. The Childe of Hale was John Middleton, 1578-1623, who was recorded as growing to a height of 9 feet 3 inches. He went to the court of James I in 1617 accompanied by Sir Gilbert Ireland. There is much infill of modern housing. Farm buildings are all converted into homes. Past the cottage where John Middleton lived, a fine thatched building of the 17th century. More 17th century cottages were originally timber-framed but were bricked up and lime-washed in the 18th century. Opposite is a statue of the Childe of Hale outside the Manor House, a former vicarage of the late 17th century with red sandstone dressings and a balustrade. It is currently flying the French tricolour. The church of St Mary was built in 1754 with just the original tower of the 14th century remaining. The south side is covered in scaffolding. It is locked. John Middleton’s grave is near the south door.
The lane passes 20th century housing and then onto a track to Hale Lighthouse. Skylarks are singing above. It is getting warm. Whitethroats and Chaffinches are in the hedgerow. The lighthouse was built in 1907 on the site of one erected in 1838 but is now disused, forming part of a private residence. The are just a few gulls on the mudflats with a few Shelduck and Cormorants in the distance. The Mersey Way runs down the estuary. Rocks lay on the shore, Shirdley Hill Sand Formation of the Quaternary, 2 million years ago overlying Chester Pebble Beds Formation of the Triassic, 246-251 million years ago. The flora by the track is an odd mixture of umbellifers, Phragmites, Stinging Nettles and Raspberries! A Reed Warbler sings in the reed beds below. A wooden footbridge crosses Lady Pool, a small stream running from Hale Hall. Reed beds have become more extensive now. A pair of Linnets land on a harrowed field. The field is Hale Park. Icehouse Wood is on its western edge down to the estuary. The path is now narrow with wet vegetation on both side resulting is saturated trouser legs and boots. A caterpillar is on the path, the larva of a Drinker moth, Philudoria postatoria. Large horsetails are growing beside the path. Another Reed Warbler is in full song below in the reed bed.
The path cross down through a wood brightened by a flowering rhododendron. It crosses a small stream flowing down from Hale Heath and then steps rise up again. Rows of yellow columns carry runway lights. A Chiffchaff sings. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are noisy overhead. A Cinnabar moth flies by. A Curlew calls out on the mudflats. Past the rusting hulk of a van lying on its side. Four concrete tree stumps stand above the low cliff. The wind is rising and clouds are darkening. The weather forecaster seemed to be hedging his bets this morning on whether it would rain or not. More some stumps are on the path. Across Dungeon Lane. Signs are either non-existent or vandalised, so I head off along Dungeon Lane. There was once a small hamlet in this area and a salt refinery. The airport lies across a field of cereal, its tower rising in the distance. At Yew Tree Farm there is a path heading south which leads to Dungeon Point, (the name from Dunge or Denge, Old English for a marsh). The Mersey Way runs through here, clearly it must have run along the beach although there was no way of knowing that. Up some steps and onwards. The tide is rising and the mud disappearing. Five drake Mallard swim along the edge of the water. Past Oglet Point with the Oglet Banks beneath. A Sedge Warbler sings. The path is again badly overgrown. The easyJet from Palma Mallorca lands. Brown slugs are on the path, so are mating snails. The Ryanair to Wroclaw takes off.
Over Red Brow. I push on a bit but then a major setback. I meet a man who tells me he has had to close the path ahead because of a cliff fall. He really recommends I do not proceed, I could go round the beach but it becomes very marshy and boggy, so all I can do is retreat to Dungeon Lane. I am only a couple of miles from the end of the trail in Garston but I have to walk back over a mile. A Kestrel hovers over the path. Up Dungeon Lane across the end of the runway. A partridge arrows across the road disappears towards the airport. Into Speke. I am very hot and need a pint but when I Google the local pub there are some reviews that put me off. So onto a bus to Liverpool.
Liverpool – The city is buzzing, people everywhere. I got off the bus when I recognised a street and discover I am around the corner from The Dispensary, one of our favourite pubs. So after a few pints I find a Lebanese Street Food restaurant and have a fine mezze. The journey back to Halebank is a bit of an adventure as I manage to get the wrong bus but do get a connection possibly fortuitously as buses are being detoured from where I was originally headed. Route