Thursday – Reading – We are staying in an hotel beside the Caversham Bridge over the River Thames. It is on the site of an old inn, The White Hart. Reading is named after a group of Saxons who settled beside the Kennet around 600CE they were the Readingas, named after the leader Reada. By Doomsday Reading was a borough and a significant trading town. The abbey was founded in 1121. Reading was of great importance strategically during the civil war it stood half way along the Thames between the Parliamentary headquarters in London and the king’s capital of Oxford. There was a royalist garrison here but it was laid siege by parliamentary forces in 1643 and taken. The Town changed hands twice more before the end of the war. During the 17th century trade on the River increased. The main industry previously was cloth but that declined and the production of malt for brewing beer increased. The opening of the Kennet and Avon canal in 1810 made the town a significant inland port but the coming of the GWR in the 1840s began the swift decline of river trade.
Down Caversham Road which has terraces of late Victorian houses with attic rooms build out above bay windows. This style is predominant around here. Into Vastern Road. A long factory building in a vaguely Art Deco ends with a late Victorian offices with an arch for horses and carriages which is filled in. This would have been the entrance to former Iron Works. Opposite is Reading station; the area around it is all modern shops and car parks. Under the railway and round to St James’ Roman Catholic church. Its founder was James Wheble, who owned land in the area at that time. The church was designed by Pugin, one of his first church designs. It is in the Norman style, unusual for Pugin and probably influenced by the proximity of the Abbey ruins. Parts of the church were built using stones from the Abbey ruins. The exterior of the building is of flint, with ashlar dressings and a Roman tile roof. Construction started in 1837 and the church opened on 5th August 1840. There is a service on so we are unable to see the interior.
We walk around the perimeter of the goal, made famous by the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde and his subsequent, “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. A path, The Oscar Wilde Memorial Walk, runs beside the River Kennet (which joins the Thames a short distance away). Stumps of Horse chestnuts have been cut to only a foot or so high but new branches are sprouting. Off of the walk is the Abbey.
The Abbey of Reading, dedicated to the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, was founded by King Henry I in June 1121, as a Cluniac house but by the 13th century it was recorded as Benedictine. Henry I endowed Reading very richly and colonised it with monks from Lewes and Cluny. His charter of 1125 states that there were three abbeys in England which had been done away with because of their sins, that is Reading, Chelsea and Leominster. “He will now refound Reading and give to it the possessions of the other two.” William of Malmesbury records there was once a nunnery at Reading, long since abolished. The only major addition made to the church was that of the Lady Chapel, which was added in 1314. The Suppression was savage. Hugh Cook of Faringdon, the last Abbot, though a friend of the King was executed as a traitor in 1539 outside Reading Abbey’s inner gateway. His offence was that he would not acknowledge the King’s supremacy in other than temporal matters, and would not voluntarily surrender his Abbey. The Abbey fell to the King and the expelled monks were not pensioned until Queen Mary’s reign. King Henry VIII made part of the monastic buildings – probably the Abbot’s House – into a Royal Palace, which was used now and again by the next three sovereigns. Queen Elizabeth leased the houe to Sir Francis Knollys and his wife, the Queen’s cousin. Abbey House became their town house and Elizabeth visited often. In 1550, Edward VI had granted the Abbey Church to Protector Somerset. The parish church of St Mary in Reading was rebuilt and, to provide material, the choir was taken down. In the course of this, Henry I’s tomb was broken up and his bones scattered. Later, the Poor Knights’ Lodgings at Windsor Castle were built of the spoils of the Lady Chapel and, in 1643, when the Parliament besieged the town, the construction of defensive works involved the stripping out of most of the nave. Now the area of ruins is relatively small, although some walls indicate the immensity of the building. The largest area seems quite extensive but is is only the south transept, the rest of the great church has been demolished. There are modern bas-reliefs on the walls recording the first bishops and the memory of Hugh Cook. A third is a facsimile of probably the oldest known English song, “Sumer is icumen in”, originally in an early 13th century book held by the abbey and now in the British Museum. On another wall is a plaque stating the King Henry Beauclerc, Henry I, was buried here. The site of his grave has been lost.
We cross Forbury Gardens to the west of the ruins. The Abbey Gateway was restored in 1861 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. In the gardens is a huge statue of a lion in cast iron. It is the Maiwand Lion named after the Battle of Maiwand and was erected in 1884 to commemorate the deaths of 329 men from the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot during the campaign in the Second Anglo-Afghan War in Afghanistan between 1878 and 1880. The sculptor was George Blackall Simonds and it weighs 16 tons. It was cast by H Young & Co of Pimlico in 1886.
Over the road is St Laurence’s graveyard. A wooden grave board records the death of Henry West. Six days before the opening of Reading Station on 24th March 1840, a freak whirlwind struck Reading. It ripped off a four ton section of the station roof. 24 year old Henry was fixing the glazing of the roof at the time and was hurled 200 feet away to his death. The abbey’s Hospitium of St John, the dormitory for pilgrims, founded in 1189, lies to the north. In 1485 it became the Royal Grammar School of Henry VII. It is now a nursery.
We pass into Town Hall Square. Here there are large Victorian buildings, four and five storied, former banks and offices, many now pubs. The Town Hall was built in several phases between 1786 and 1897, although the principal façade was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1875. It is no longer the home of the town’s administration and now houses the Reading Museum, a large concert hall, several smaller halls and conference rooms, and a public café. We have a pint in a pub on Reading station. After a quick visit to the Oracle shopping centre, a monstrous edifice to retail we pass Reading Minster, St Mary’s church but it is closed. Tradition has it that St Birinus founded a small chapel on the site of St Mary’s in the 7th century. At Domesday, the church had been granted to Battle Abbey by William I. The main body of the church dates from the late 11th century but the church lost its importance when the abbey was built. In the Reformation St Mary’s was stripped of its altar, statues and stained glass, and by 1550 was in need of extensive repair. Between the years of 1551 and 1555 the church was extensively restored, using quantities of masonry and timber from the ruins of the Abbey. Further restoration took place in 1863 when a new choir aisle was added, and in 1872; with further work in 1935 and 1997-2003.
We head north towards the station. In Broad Street there is an archway to Broad Street Congregational church. Above the arch is a tower with moulded soffit and rustication, bolection upper part. A pediment over the arch has a cartouche inscribed “Broad Street Independant Chapel” and dated on frieze below “1662, 1892, 1800”. The tower is capped by an octagonal turret. We return up Caversham Road and onto Caversham Bridge. A pair of Great Crested Grebes are on the River Thames. A Cormorant flies upstream.
Friday – Reading – A cool, damp morning with a hint of mist. Onto the Thames path beside Caversham Bridge. The first bridge on the site was built sometime between 1163, when a famous trial by combat was fought on nearby De Montfort Island, and 1231, when Henry III wrote to the Sheriff of Oxfordshire, commanding him: to go in person, taking with him good and lawful men of his county, to the chapel of St Anne on the bridge at Reading over the Thames one side of which is built on the fee of William Earl Marshal and by the view and testimony of those men see that the abbot has the same seisin of the said chapel as he had on the day the said earl died. William Marshal was the first Earl of Pembroke, the principal landowner in the Caversham area, and had died at his home at Caversham Park in 1218. The old bridge was the site of a skirmish during the Civil War in 1643 and was left with a wooden drawbridge structure on the Berkshire half. In 1869, it was replaced by an iron lattice construction. Work began on replacing Caversham Bridge in 1923 with the current structure which is of concrete with a granite balustrade. It was opened in 1926 by Edward Prince of Wales.
Five Mute Swans in a row glide serenely up the river; they are all last year’s cygnets now full grown but with a hint of brown. River cruise boats are tied up on the bankside along with couple of canal boats and some cabin cruisers. A small island, Piper’s Island is completely taken over by a pub restaurant, where once there was a small chapel. Rowers are already on the water, sculling upstream. Many more Mute Swans are near the bank along with the inevitable Canada Goose. A pair of Great Crested Grebe are out in the centre of the river. Posh apartments line the river. There is short row of late Victorian houses, one named rather obviously Thames View. Fry’s Island has a bowling green, The Island Bohemian Bowls Club. A street of Victorian terraces leads off towards the town centre. A large multi-trunk London Plane stands on the bank coming to leaf but still has the seed balls dangling. A Canada Goose is standing on the hedge of the bowling club with two more in the water making their usual racket.
Two large stone lions adorn the entrance to Caversham Boat Services. Mallard swim out from the bank. A modern suspension bridge, Christchurch Bridge, opened in 2015, crosses the river beside the end of Fry Island. Three Mute Swans take off with a clattering of wings against the water. The slope down from the bridge is edged with rusted, flat iron bars. A constant flow of people are using the bridge to get to work. Reading Bridge, built in 1923, crosses the river in single span. A row of houses with stepped up stories in a style popular in the 1960s stands near the bridge. The river divides before a weir, this side a channel running round to lock gates. A drainage channel separate the path from King’s Meadow. The meadow’s name comes from Henry VIII when he seized the abbey’s lands in 1539. The meadows originally ran to the abbey walls but was divided by the Great Western Railway in 1840.
A house stands beside Caversham Lock built by the Thames Conservancy in 1931. The lock was originally built in the 1770s and rebuilt in 1875. Across the lock gates onto the island. A plaque states the salmon ladder was sponsored by Thames water in 1994. A path crosses the weir which contains motorised gates. Water rushes through with a mighty roar. The path crosses View Island. Robins, Blackbirds, a Chiffchaff and Dunnocks are in song. A housing development has been built on the next small island. A Mute Swan is nesting against a wall. A footpath now runs westwards between the river and Christchurch Meadows, originally farmland owned by the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Seed has been scattered on the ground and is being gobbled down by Feral Pigeons, a Carrion Crow, Mallard and Canada Geese. Vast old, Ivy covered Willows line the riverbank.
Across Reading Bridge to meet Vastern Road near the railway station. Clearwater Court is the headquarters of Thames Water. Up Lynmouth Road back to the river. A Red Kite flies over. A Coot calls as it bobs along the water. Two Egyptian Geese and a single gosling stand on the bank. Route
Sunday – Brighton – The sun shines from a clear blue sky. There is a slight chill in the air. It is just before 8 in the morning but already there is more traffic passing in a few minutes than will be seen in an hour in Leominster. Around Hanover Crescent a row of twenty four classic Georgian houses built around 1822 by Amon Henry Wilds, for Henry Brooker. There is a lodge house at each end. Although all listed, some of the houses have been spoilt by rooftop extensions. Sir Rowland Hill lived in one house between 1844 and 1846. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from the trees dividing the crescent from the busy Lewes Road. Into Richmond Terrace. More Georgian houses followed by the red brick edifice of the former technical college built 1895. South of the college is a row of houses by Wilds. The Phoenix Art Gallery is in what was Wellesley House which was built in 1970 in two halves because 89-year-old Harriet Sylvester refused to move from her house, despite many offers to go. The block was only completed in 1974 after her death and was totally at odds with the surrounding buildings. Behind the building are the former offices of the Phoenix Brewery built in 1893 by the Tamplins Brewery Company, founded in 1820 It remains as offices. Malthouse Lane is modern housing. The Free Butt pub is sadly boarded up. The rest of the brewery site is all modern housing. I can remember the smell of malting drifting across the town in the 1950s. Phoenix Place runs along behind Wellesley House and at the end there is a short row of late Victorian cottages.
Along Albion Street past the 1950s housing and tower blocks in Albion Hill through to the Richmond pub and back on the Lewes Road. Across the road St Peter’s church is in shrouded in scaffolding. The tower shines gleaming white having been cleaned, probably the first time in over 100 years. Along Grand Parade passed another long row of bow fronted Georgian houses. Many are looking for the shabby but work is being done on others. The gardens opposite all fenced off and slightly unkempt condition. Beyond the Baptist church still stands and looks like is still being used. It was built in knapped flint with terracotta dressings in 1903 by George Baines & Son, in the Free Perpendicular style. It has been restored following bomb damage in WWII. Sadly, the Astoria cinema where I attended Saturday morning ABC minors club has been demolished despite its Grade II listing! An older man in a leather jacket and a skirt passes, this is Brighton. A very large building consisting of 142 homes 450 student flats and a dance studio with offices restaurants and workshops, is being erected in Circus Street on the site of the old wholesale fruit and veg market. Marlborough Place is one of the few streets but appears to be completely unchanged with the King and Queen pub is a neo-Tudor building still standing in the centre. It was designed by Clayton and Black and built in 1931. Offices were built in 1933 by John Leopold Denman for the Citizens Permanent Building Society.
The Valley Gardens opposite the University of Brighton galleries are completely boarded off with a very large inflatable grey building occupying the space, all part of Brighton Festival. Across the foot of Edward Street which looks little changed. On past the Georgian terraces. Opposite now is the Royal Pavilion, Nash’s masterpiece for the Prince Regent, later George IV. Up the short Pavilion Street with the Marlborough pub which looks little changed. Opposite in Princes Street is the Parochial Offices built in 1894 for the Board of Guardians and Registrar by Nunn and Hunt.Once the registry office, it is now apartments. Into the Old Steine. New traffic proposals appear to be attracting considerable objections from the residents here. The house where Talleyrand, the French statesman stayed in 1831 is now solicitors’ offices. Steine Gardens is covered in tents for Brighton Festival and the fountain is shrouded by scaffolding. A stone plaque to Gideon Mantell has almost eroded away, something of an irony for the famous old geologist.
The Royal Albion Hotel looks in good condition. Past the Aquarium and over the road to the seafront. Joggers are everywhere. The Palace Pier stretches out across a still calm sea. Back across the road and head back up Manchester Street to St James’ Street. Dolphin House houses the Evening Argus. Here there is a fine traditional pub frontage of green tiles, but the pub, The Star, has unfortunately been renamed the Mucky Duck. St James’ Street seems little changed but I suspect many of the shops have changed hands several times since I was last here. In New Steine there is “Tay”, a sculpture by Romany Mark Bruce commemorating all those whose lives have been affected by HIV and AIDS.
Into Upper Rock Gardens and up towards Eastern Road. The east side of Upper Rock Gardens consists of tall Victorian houses with basements. I recall in assisting with the delivery of a piano to one of the basements, a job which fortunately there was no risk assessment. The hill keeps climbing now in to Egremont Place. Brighton Home is owned by Pilgrim Homes, a charity founded in 1807 care for elderly Christians. A plaque states that wards for the sick were added to the home in 1947. Next to it is a large building divided originally into two houses, maybe still two houses, one side is faced in flint, the other in yellow brick.
At the top of the road is the ornate entrance to Queen’s Park erected in 1890 by the Trustees of the racecourse. Into Queens Park Road past long terraces of Victorian houses, three storeys to the west and two storeys and a basement to the east. The Ebenezer chapel of 1891 is now a nursery. The architect was W S Parnacott and the builders were Box and Turner, with the inauguration service was held on the 8th September 1891.The Walmer Castle has inexplicably been renamed The Independent. The Royal Exchange has been renamed Haus on the Hill. The Islingword has at least kept its name but sadly been painted a rather awful matte black. The Pepperpot is a garden observation tower, built for the grounds of Attree Villa in 1830. It was designed by Charles Barry for the Brighton Solicitor and property developer, Thomas Attree. St Luke’s church is faced in knapped flint. It was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield and built between 1881-1885. St Lukes Terrace is noisy with chattering House Sparrows and Starlings. St Lukes swimming baths, where I learnt to swim, is still standing next to tall Victorian School. It really is a fine building with pilasters, a pediment with the Borough Crest and swags and topped by three lead-covered turrets. Both orange and yellow bricks are used with features are picked out in cream some bricks are laid in herringbone style. It was built as a Board school between 1900-1903, designed by Thomas Simpson.
Into Freshfield Road. Freshfield Inn has been converted into apartments. Past the racecourse to the top of Elm Grove. The pub on the junction has been renamed appears to be called “Pox on the Downs”. It was the Down’s Café, then became The Winner pub and now Fox on the Downs, despite the strange script on the sign! Brighton General Hospital built in 1866 as a workhouse is still in use as a hospital. The Racehorse pub, built in 1882, looks a little different apart from the silly spelling of its name to Ye Racehorse Inne. However, it is actually closed and was converted into a residential premises in 2013. Into Ryde Road. Across the valley is Hollingbury hill-fort. Into Hartington Road and dropping down steeply to the Lewes Road. The whole area was developed in the 1920s. A number of houses have actually been dated on the gable, 1927. Further down there is a long terrace in cream-glazed brick. It ends at the ornate gates of the Brighton and Preston Cemetery erected in 1885. The Cemetery Lodge is of the same date, built in the Old English style.
Along Lewes Road. All of the traditional shops, the butchers’ shops, the greengrocers, Macfisheries, bakers etc. have gone. The funeral directors is still here and there is in fact a butcher’s shop next to it but I cannot recall what was here previously. Towards Elm Grove. The Trades Club is in poor decorative condition. The shops after it are mainly Asian groceries and takeaways. Route
Friday – Rock-Pensax-Menithwood – A mist greeted the dawn but was soon burned off by the sun. The Clee hills are still cloaked in cloud and as I reach the village of Rock the cloud overhead is thickening. House Sparrows are making a considerable racket around a house, the reason being there was a cat sitting on the roof. Along Porchbrook Road and past the beautiful Norman church. Another House Sparrow disappears up under the eaves of Church House. Out of the village. The verge to the east has numerous bright yellow dandelions but that to the west has none at all. Skylarks sing overhead. Lambs in the field are decent size now. Lesser Plantain and Tufted Vetch grow on the verge by the pasture. A lamb has got its head stuck through the mesh of the fencing. It was able to push the mesh out and get its head through it and chomp the grass on the other side but when it tries to remove its head, it pulls the mesh back hard against fence posts and jams. I pull the mesh out and push the lamb’s head back through and it rushes off to its mother.
The lane descends. Over the hedge are the white railings of a racehorse gallop. The training stables are up on the hillside behind the church. On the opposite side of the road is a large Elm tree standing alone in a field. It is good to see one of these quite rare trees now, so many having succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. The tower of Abberley school and Abberley Hill lay the distance. A Whitethroat soars up from the hedgerow in its display flight, pirouetting in the air, singing its scratchy song throughout. Two Skylarks tussle near the white railings of the gallops. The verge is now dominated by white flowers, Greater and Lesser Stitchwort, Garlic Mustard, White Dead-nettle and umbellifers. Through Porchbrook, a small cluster of houses. The rush-lined brook passes underneath the road. Thick, sinuous vines of Black Bryony rise up out of the hedges. Past a small copse. Bluebells, Dog Violets and Archangel flower. A Great Tit calls and Blackbirds sing, a Pheasant croaks.
Down the rather more busy Abberley to Clows Top road then off down to Pensax. House Martins sweep around a substantial house, the old vicarage and stables. The house is in red brick with cream brick trimmings. Roof has lines of black and red slates. No expense spared for the clergy! Into the village. The name Pensax is a combination of the Celtic word for hill, Pen and the word for Saxon, Seax. There are modern houses at the edge of the village but down towards the valley is the large Home Court. Homestead is an older building but probably still 20th century. Set back from the road is a large Victorian Gothic house with an octagonal clock tower rising from the central of three gabled bays. It was built in 1842, based on an earlier 18th century building, by the Clutton-Brock family, a coal mining dynasty. Opposite, a pathway leads past a tall wall to the church. Churchyard stands on a wooded promontory.
Church of St James the Great was built in 1832-33 by Thomas Jones on an old ecclesiastical site. The chancel was altered and the porch added in 1891 by George Vialls. The bells were removed in 1983 as the frames were unsafe. They now sit at the back of the nave. The date from 1627, 1669 and 1681 and marks on them indicate the younger two were cast by John Martin who had a foundry in Silver Street Worcester. At the base of the tower there are a number of monuments to the Clutton-Brocks of Pensax Court. The church is very austere. The hammer-beam trusses in the roof have been recently replaced. The nave windows are coloured glass diamonds but those in the chancel are Victorian stained glass. A painting on the reredos is badly worn. It was installed around 1910 and is probably the work of Davies and Sanders, of the Bromsgrove School. The figure of St George has a Pre-Raphaelite look. The organ is by Nicholson of Worcester and the seats in the nave came from the redundant church of St Nicholas in Worcester.
A footpath descends the hill via a steep muddy and rather slippery path passing swathes of flowering garlic. It joins the narrow Penn Hall Lane. Modern houses lay alongside the lane. The lane crosses over a brook which is heading southwards eventually join the River Teme. The lane now passes through Pensax Common. It now climbs up a long hill. To the south is the long ridge of hills that lead to the Malverns. In between our fields, hedgerows and woods leading down towards the Teme. Every direction is gloriously green with fresh young leaves. The lane skirts the summit of the hill where there is a triangulation point. Nearby is a shaft of an old coal pit. The area is close to the edge of a large outcrop of Halesowen Formation sandstone, running north from here, from the Carboniferous 307 to 309 million years ago.
Penn Hall is a very large house. It is believed that land at “Penhull” was given to the church at Worcester by Wilferd but this was lost to the church before the Conquest. William I restored the estate to Bishop Wulfstan. The estate was held in the reign of Henry III by Alured de Penhull. Records show that in 1759 the Revd Thomas King began mining coal beneath his estate at Pen (sic) Hall. On past Menithwood Millennium Green. The village is scattered but much enlarged in the 20th century. There appears to be little agreement as to whether the village is Menith Wood or Menithwood. My route heads north. There is an old Mission Chapel with a small hall attached. The lane rises as it leaves the village. A small line of ponds and lakes lay down the hillside to the east. Stildon manor is a large house with numerous barns including one with a rounded end facing onto the entrance, now converted into a residence. The house was built in the mid 18th century on a mediaeval manor site. Stildon cottages are a pair of former farmworkers residences. Fields are covered in dandelion clocks. It starts to rain.
The lane reaches the Clows Top to Abberley road again. Straight across and onto a public footpath although the path has been sown with cereal, some sort of weed killer has been placed down the mark it out and stop the cereal from growing. The resultant stunted cereal is bright yellow, so I guess I am following the Yellow Grass Road. At a path junction, another footpath runs down beside a field then over the Porch Brook and alongside it. The brook is in a deep little valley below.
The path joins Porch Brook Road at the hamlet. It has stopped raining. A Chiffchaff calls. The lane rises gently back to Rock. A Whitethroat sits on telephone wires muttering. Back at the sheep meadow, another lamb has got through the fence and is chomping on the roadside. It managed to get back through the gap it has made at the bottom of the fencing. I bend the fence back into place to stop it getting out again. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The sky is entirely cloudless and the sun shines brightly. A Starling screeches from a guttering, possibly unhappy at the Carrion Crow sitting on the television aerial above. Jackdaws chack and Wood Pigeons coo. It is strange to see that the cycle shop has moved into the centre of town, it had been here for many years and it is just hard to know what will happen to what is a triple shop now. Sadly I suspect demolition and a new, boring house built on the site, although around here, the developers will probably try to fit three in! Swifts sweep by the bottom of the street – first of the year. A Chiffchaff, Dunnock and Blackbird sing beside the railway. White cattle graze in Lammas Meadow. The level in the River Lugg is lower than one would have expected after this week’s rain. Easters Meadow is covered in dandelion clocks. I have to walk down by the river again to get the market. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps sing across the water. The market is busy. New arrivals from Eastern Europe, here for fruit picking, are looking at everything. However, the junk quota seems high this week and even they are not buying.
Home – I move some of the tomatoes out of the greenhouse. It is still a bit of a risk as the nights can still get too cold. I then start removing Stinging Nettles from the orchard area. Their roots are thick and spread everywhere. In one area I leave them, the caterpillars of Peacock butterflies feed on them. Ivy has been growing over the back wall fro many years but it is getting too much. I have already cut many stems but this has not had a great effect, so now I start ripping it down. It is filthy work with dust, muck and dead leaves and stems raining down on me. I have several coughing fits. I clear a small area and manage to half fill a large “hippo” bag. Much more and the bag will be too heavy to get out to the car to take to the dump. So the rest will have to wait.
The tomatoes in the greenhouse are growing rapidly now and the side shoots are forming already and must be pinched out. Lettuces I planted into a trough have become large and lush; we have been picking leaves all week and hardly thinned them at all. Leeks have sprouted, the second sowing of beetroot will soon be ready to plant out. Lablab beans and sweet peppers have been potted on. Broad beans are in flower but the peas seem slow. The purple sprouting is now finished and the plants are being fed to the chickens.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – An area of high pressure has moved in over the country bringing clear skies and warm sunshine. Into the Mortimer Forest. Red Campion, Herb Robert, Bluebells and Forget-Me-Nots are all in flower. Blackbirds and a Wren are in song. A Blackcap explodes into song which seems to upset a Robin which flicks its tail and jumps from branch to branch. Further on a Chiffchaff calls and Blue Tits chatter. Young Oak trees have shiny green leaves with just a tinge of copper about them. I wonder if these Oaks will ever reach the maturity of some of our great, ancient trees scattered around Herefordshire and what sort of world will exist around them. A Great Tit flies up into the trees and starts to sing his two-tone song. The dark branches of conifers have pale green tips where the new growth emerges. Another is covered in tiny green cones. The bank beside the track is covered in azure Bluebells. A couple of Speckled Woods fly along track. Three more are tussling in the air.
Out onto the Climbing Jack Common. The Bluebells are probably the best I have ever seen them, the whole area is carpeted in blue. A Willow Warbler sings its plaintive descending song. Chaffinches search the Hawthorns on the edge of the common. A female Stonechat flies across the common, pausing on dead stalks of Bracken. Black St Mark’s Flies with a dangling legs drift by. A Cuckoo calls in the distance. Larches have bright red immature cones. Into the young Birch and Hazel coppice. Willow Warblers are singing everywhere. Sadly there is no sign of the Tree Pipit which used to fly off of the tall Oak at the top of the common. Across a track which is edged by Broom with chrome yellow flowers. Whitethroats sing from the top of the saplings.
From High Vinnalls looking west, past Bringewood Chase, the fields are patchwork of green cereal and yellow oilseed rape. The distant Welsh hills are misty. I head off down the track and suddenly the Tree Pipit appears and perches at the very top of a conifer. On down through the woods to the Deer Park. A Red Kite flies over. Old paths have become overgrown and disappeared but new ones have appeared created by downhill mountain bike riders. I reach the ponds. A Raven croaks from the hillside. A Chiffchaff clings to a dead Bracken stalk then disappears up into the trees. An Orange Tip butterfly flits past. Water Crowfoot flowers on the pond. Wood Spurge flowers beside the forestry track. A pair of Common Buzzards fly out from the conifers and out over the Hanway valley. A Brimstone butterfly flies over the edge of the track. The pink flowers of Grass Vetchlings are appearing beside the track. Nearby is a patch of purple Aquilegia, an escape from a garden.
Friday – Clyro – The warm sunny weather recent days has abruptly departed. The sky is overcast with thick bands of cloud and it starts to rain lightly. Clyro, Cleirwy, is a village to the north of Hay-on-Wye. On the south side of the village is Clyro Castle. A stile leads to an overgrown path which climbs up the considerable motte of the castle. The sides and top of the motte are wooded. Nothing remains of the stonework with the castle. There are buried footings of a polygonal curtain wall probably with a gatehouse on the south side and internal buildings. The castle was probably built around 1075 along with that at Hay-on-Wye. When Hay was being refortified in stone in the late 12th century, Clyro was probably abandoned as its lands had been granted by the princes of Elfael to Abbey Cwmhir. Clyro Castle was probably rebuilt when the Tosny family took Elfael in 1276, but it is not recorded until 1397 when the area was being ruled by the Beauchamps from Painscastle. Clyro was amongst the several castles refortified in 1403 against Owain Glyndŵr but probably soon fell into decay afterwards.
Back up the Hay-on-Wye Road to the Brecon Road. Kilvert’s School stands on the corner. Diarist Francis Kilvert was curate of the parish church from 1865 to 1872 and taught at this school. Opposite is a semi-detached house dated 1927. Into the village, a mixture of Victorian and modern properties. The late Georgian vicarage is, of course, a substantial building and mentioned many times in Kilvert’s diaries. Up the old road which twisted through the village before the bypass road was built. The Village Hall, dated 1929, stands opposite the gates of the churchyard.
Into the churchyard, where there is a war memorial consisting of a wooden crucifixion on a stone base. Captain Ralph Baskerville’s name is on the base. The Baskerville family were an important family in this district. The parish church is dedicated to St Michael and All Angels and was first recorded in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535. The church is Victorian having been almost entirely rebuilt between 1852 and 1853 by William Jones of Brecon to the designs of Thomas Nicholson, though the base of the tower is early 15th century. The marble monuments were replaced on the walls. One monument is to Captain Spiridion Mavrojani, born in Sofia, former High Sheriff of Radnor and the 5th Battalion Royal Fuseliers, who died of pneumonia in Jerusalem in 1930. A large wooden hatchment of the arms of Thomas Baskerville Mynors Baskerville is on the north wall. The reredos is late Victorian, as is the organ by Nicholson and Lord. The font is Victorian. A large safe by Milners is in the nave. There are five bells, three of which are recast old bells. In 1908 the church was renovated and the text, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise” painted over the chancel arch.
Out at the eastern end of the churchyard. A cottage stands by the lychgate. Opposite are 17th century cottages and across the road is a short terrace Victorian cottages. The road crosses Clyro Brook which flows clear under a small bridge. Beside the brook is the Baskerville Arms, a late Georgian or possibly later public house. A milestone declares “Hereford 21 miles Glasbury 4”. It stands outside Ashbrook House, built in 1852 for the agent of the Clyro Court estate. Kilvert lodged here from 1865-1872. He refers to it in the diaries as Ty Dulas. It has a fine large arched window with small, intersection glazing bars. Past more short terraces Victorian houses, clearly all built at a similar time by the same builder. The road returns to the main road but just before the junction a small lane, Clyro Pitch, climbs up out of the village.
Towards the top of the hill is Cwm Byddog nature reserve. In it is a large mound that is the remains of a motte and bailey castle, Castle Kinsey, believed to have been built by Cadwallon ap Madog in the 12th century. It was defended on the northern side by the deep ravine of Cwm Byddog. Nothing now remains of any masonry. A house, Court Evan Gwynne lies to the east of the nature reserve on the remains of the bailey. There are ancient pollarded trees here. A stream runs down the ravine bubbling and gurgling its way down the hillside. Two Chiffchaffs call. Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort, Violets, the last of the Bluebells and Yellow Archangel are in flower along the path. A footbridge crosses the ravine with the stream rushing down beneath. Early Purple Orchids and Bugle (once called “St Lawrence Plant”) flower up on the higher ground. The path continues around the perimeter of the woodlands then another path descends into the ravine. However this path does not descend very far before running around the hillside and coming to a bench overlooking the main road down the bottom of the hill. It has rejoined the original path here so I retrace my steps.
Great and Long-tailed Tits squeak and chatter as they move through the trees seeking food. More Early Purple Orchids flower singly in the grass. The bird song continues now, a Song Thrush and Blackcap. Another path descends into the ravine. This one passes some of the ancient Oaks, two are dead and one has lost its main trunk which lays snapped off beside it. A third shows clear signs of the pollarding and is looking healthy. The path reaches a footbridge near the bottom of the ravine and crosses stream again. Just upstream there is a mass of tumbled trees and rocks under which the water flows. The path climbs the hill side beside a second stream. This path rejoins the main path beside the castle motte and back out to the road.
Up the lane. Greater Periwinkle flowers on the verge, beautiful blue petals against dark green leaves. The lane crosses the stream. A cottage with a large barn attached named after the cwm stands above the stream. The lane keeps rising past a modern bungalow at Gethin. Pennywort grows on the base of an old Oak tree. Past Tyn Y Wern. Opposite blacksmithed gates stand open by a track that leads to Crossfoot farm. A standing stone is in a field to the north-west of the lane. Off the lane into a narrower one. This lane drops down to the small Cabalfa Brook running under the road. A small waterfall lies upstream. Tump Farm stands above the brook. Whittey’s Mill also stood here. The first Red Kite of the day flies low overhead. The line crosses the Offa’s Dyke path. I head off down the path. The path passes a number large brilliant chrome yellow broom bushes. Below in a deep ravine is Bettws Dingle. Beside the path are Cowslips, Cuckoo Flowers, Buttercups and Selfheal. The path starts descends steeply into the dingle. It crosses the brook via a tall bridge.
The path rises again up the far side of the dingle. It then starts to descend towards the River Wye. Past a barn, partly in good condition and partly in ruin. It is called, rather inappropriately, New Barn. Cwm Bwllfa farm is on the hillside. The farmhouse has a substantial chimney although the small silver pot indicates central heating now. The path joins a narrow lane that drops down to the main road. Offa’s Dike path runs along the main road then crosses and drops down to the Wye. The entire time walking down the path from the top of the hill I have been in hearing distance of Chiffchaffs. Here they are joined by Blackcaps. A Common Buzzard circles overhead. The path descends a steep bank, one of the old riverbanks that has now been deserted by the River Wye. Across a small footbridge over a brook that flows down from Bronydd. Into a field of chocolate coloured cattle a brown so dark they are almost black.
The path continues across fields of cattle and grass on the river floodplain. A Skylark sings above. The path follows a farm track for distance then runs along the side of a bright yellow field of oilseed rape. The next field sparkles with buttercups. Up on a low hill to the north is the site of a Roman fort stood. The vexillation fort is a large site, covering roughly 26 acres. It was established around AD 60 as part of Roman attempts to subdue the Silures tribe of mid Wales. A vexillation fort usually covered 20-30 acres and was made to hold both legionary and auxiliary troops, as well as offering a storage depot and serving as a winter base during a major campaign. The site was used briefly twice and then completely abandoned before AD 69. The fort is reputed to be the one Tacitus recounted in his Annals, “a camp prefect and several cohorts were deputed to build garrison posts in Silurian territory. The Silurians attacked, killing the prefect, 8 centurions, and “the boldest” of the rank and file soldiers”. The path now reaches the River Wye. Mute Swans are nesting on a small island on the far side of the river. Beyond is the encampment of marquees for the Hay festival. The path climbs up through a wood and passes an old quarry. This now joins the Clyro to Hay-on-Wye Road. I head back up to Clyro.
Sunday – Leominster – Over the past year Lesser Black-backed Gulls have become more or less resident in the town. They were calling last night at around midnight and this morning two are standing on the roof. Their yelping can be heard over the town as I head for the market. House Sparrows and Wood Pigeons are also calling this morning. A few Swifts soar overhead. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen considerably compared to recent weeks. There are large numbers of army Land Rovers and emergency service vehicles in Brightwells’ compound. The market is busy. I find some lupins at a reasonable price, most of our have not emerged this year.
Home – I clear away the purple-sprouting broccoli plants and dig out the edge of the bed. Grass have taken over about nine inches so it is removed. Some Armenian Beetroot seedlings are planted out. I am now waiting for the courgettes, squashes, callaloo and beans to germinate. Buying about twenty different varieties of potato seemed a good idea at the time but they are all growing at different rates making earthing up tricky!
Wednesday – Leominster – The dawn chorus rings out across the car park. It is not great variety of birds, mainly Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons. A couple of Wrens join the chorus around the Grange. Ten Blackbirds are feeding in close proximity near the Verdun Oak. There are an equal number on the old playing field. Into the Millennium Park. A Chiffchaff calls beside the railway line. The Stinging Nettle beds are more extensive than ever. A single Rabbit hops away into the railway embankment. Elderflowers are beginning to emerge. There are thin bands of cloud across the sky, tinged orange in the east by the yet to rise sun. The air has a nip to it. The pond has now completely disappeared under Goat Willows, Hazels and thick nettle undergrowth. More Rabbits hop away in the Peace Garden which again is full of Stinging Nettles but also brightly coloured pink with Red Campion.
Onto Pinsley Meads, the pigpen is now completely obscured by Elderflower and other small trees. It is an interesting building no one seems to know why it was built or when. Some claim to recall it when it was used to store hay, but whether pigs were ever kept here seems more an old story than a fact. What is clear is that it was built in several stages with some very old stone work at the bottom, newer stone work, then brick. It has been suggested it may have had something to do with controlling water flow between the Kenwater, Pinsley Brook and the fish-ponds that stood here in mediaeval and later times.
Laburnum flowers brilliant yellow beside the wonderful great Norman door of the minster.
Friday – Worcester – I park in the Dines Green area of Worcester. The sun is shining with some cloud cover. Earlier this morning cloud was building in the west making me decide not to head for the Welsh mountains. Dines Green is a very large 20th century housing estate. Into Oldbury Road. This is on the edge of the large housing estates with farmland to the north. East towards Worcester city centre. Just before the Laughern Brook a large retirement and care home is being constructed. The water level in the brook is low. Gnats and flies dance above it. On past more 20th century housing. At the Comer Gardens junction, there is a group of earlier dwellings, one terrace is dated 1880. A corner shop here has closed down. Across the road is the Comer Gardens institute of 1906.
On towards the city along Oldbury Road. St John’s campus of the university of Worcester consists of modern buildings set in lawns and trees. The Lodge at Oldbury Park is a yellow brick neo-Tudor building of 1881, formerly the lodge to Henwick Grove, the home of the Binyon family. Laurence Binyon wrote “For The Fallen” in the first year of the war, and part of the poem forms the centrepiece of Remembrance Day services:
Much of the park is now occupied by a modern primary school. Oldbury Road comes to Henwick Road a route from Worcester travelling north on the western side of the River Severn. A wide path runs down Holywell Hill. Holywell House is a substantial mid 18th century building overlooking the valley of the River Severn below. It has large stables behind it. At the foot of the hill is Henwick Parade. Holywell cottage is probably a late 18th century house. Nearby are short terraces, one dated 1897, another 1924. On past industrial units, the University Arena and under the long railway bridge across the Severn. A West Midlands railway train passes over. A huge Homebase DIY store has large banners declaring that the store is closing. There was a disused distillery here at the end of the 19th century. The path passes a relatively small tree probably only 20 years old. I do not recognise the species, possibly a Mimosa. It has an extraordinarily long shallow root which has cracked the path down along a considerable length. There are flower beds here but majority seem to have been abandoned and are now growing weeds.
Henwick Parade comes to the old A44. A hideous modern McDonald’s stands on the corner. A strange riverside building, probably 1920s and 1930s is for sale. It is called a “Screening Tower” on the 1940 OS map, not present on the 1928 map. The River Severn appears to be barely flowing. A flight of old stone steps down to the water is blocked by Goat Willow. The corresponding flight on the eastern bank is also clearly rarely used. Over Worcester Bridge. Lesser Black-backed Gulls float below.
Up Bridge Street to All Saints church which is locked. The church was probably 12th century, there is a reference in 1125. The first stage of tower is 15th century and probably incorporating part of the City Walls. The church was rebuilt between1739-42 by Thomas White with alterations by Aston Webb in 1889. The tower was restored in 1913, and further restorations took place between 1990-5. Across the road, at the foot of Broad Street is an area of Lime trees. The tiles underneath are sticky. I wander through the city centre to the cathedral and pay brief visit this magnificent old building, wandering around convoluted route trying to avoid the overkeen guides. I pause a while at the tomb of King John. His effigy is of a small, weasel-faced man, much as characterised over the years. Down into the cool crypt before returning out into the heat and smell of motor exhausts. Along the College Precincts. Sir Edward Elgar lived at Number 2. Through a gateway, Edgar Tower, begun around 1300-35 and completed after licence to crenellate had been obtained in 1368-9. It was restored in the 19th century and was probably originally the entrance to the castle. This leads to College Green. Buildings of the King’s School stand around a green of Oaks and Limes. Some look to have considerable age but are, in fact 19th and early 20th century. Others look more modern but have 16th century cores. The largest building is the school hall. It was the monastic refectory, built mainly between 1076-99 although may have 10th century origins. The upper part dates from between 1476-99 and incorporates Christ in Majesty dating from 1220-30. The building was restored in the 19th century and has rainwaterheads dated 1886. Between the Guesten and the main cathedral building is a red sandstone series of arches; work is being undertaken to restore them.
Along Edgar Street. Here the houses are a fine collection of early to mid 18th century town houses. Cross the busy dual carriageway into Friar Street. A lovely small garden was built in 2012 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee and the centenary of William Laslett’s almshouses. The garden on the site of the old city gaol. All the shops are restaurants, luxury goods, tat and stuff but nobody is selling old fashioned food and household goods the shops would have sold once. I then discover the Chinese supermarket has closed down. St Nicholas church, built on an older church between 1730-35, attributed to Thomas White or Humphrey Hollins, is a Slug and Lettuce bar. Opposite seems typical High Street these days – fast food, bookies, vapeshop, empty, chain coffee, bookies, charity shop, bookies, mobile phones and another fast food outlet.
I head back towards the river. The Scala Theatre opened as a cinema in November 1922 and closed in June 1973. It is now an amusement arcade. Across the way the Congregationalist church, was built in 1858. The architects were probably Poulton and Woodman. It is now a nightclub. The Angel Centre was a Sunday school, now community centre. It was built in 1887-1888 by Aston Webb. The Paul Pry pub is Victorian – just, built in 1901 by Frederick Hughes for R Allen and Sons, Brewers. The buildings are now modern down to the gold clad library with the exception of one Victorian office. Rack Alley is a small flight of steps and an alleyway behind a building that looks like it was once a warehouse and is now an abandoned nightclub. The alley merely leads to a modern multi-storey car park but would have once come to the City Walls which ran down behind the modern buildings. Down by the river is the Heart of Worcestershire college, a modern building. It stands on the site of St Clements Gate. The gate led to causeway and on to a common meadow at Pitchcroft, the race course. It was damaged the civil war and demolished in the second half of the 18th century. St Clements church also stood here. Le Vesinet promenade runs beside the river. Under the railway bridge. A thicket of Stinging Nettles and Brambles covers a bank down to the water. A female Grey Wagtail darts out for an insect then returns to the bank. There are also dense patches of oilseed rape! Maybe it is not the natural plant for this place but it is attracting good numbers of bees, including several Garden Bumblebees, Bombus hortorum.
Over Sabrina Bridge. Up out of the Severn floodplain to Henwick Road. Back into Oldbury Road. Dark clouds are moving in from the West and the wind is rising. Route
Sunday – Lichfield – We are in Lichfield for the Barnsley Buglers Spring meet, albeit nearly a month later than usual. We arrived yesterday but the day was mainly taken up by talking, swapping news and drinking beer. This morning we head into the city. Milley’s Hospital is a building of 1504 constructed as almshouses for Dr Thomas Milley. It has a two storey porch rising to a gable with a low (by today’s standards) front door. We wander through Erasmus Darwin’s herb garden. He was Charles Darwin’s grandfather and a fine botanist who had ideas about evolution which were developed by Charles. The garden is a fascinating mixture of beauty and practical plants. We pass magnificent cathedral but do not go in as there is a service being held. However we do look around the outside and I observe the superb grotesques at the apse end of the cathedral. Down to the Museum Gardens. A statue of Erasmus Darwin stands outside the former Public Library and Museum. It was built between 1857-9 by Bidlake and Lovatt in the Renaissance style. Along an avenue of Limes and Horse Chestnuts. The flower beds are in a nice traditional formal style but many of the flowers are coming to the end of their season. A statue of Captain John Smith, commander of the RMS Titanic, who went down with his ship, 1912, by Lady Kathleen Scott, widow of Scott of the Antarctic, in 1914. Across the road is Minster Pool. Beside the pool is the Memorial Garden where a gorgeous Foxglove Tree has weeping branches festooned with large violet flowers which emerge before the leaves. The tree is native to China and was brought back to England in the 1830s.
Along the side of the Minster Pool which is fed by Leomansley and Trunkfield brooks. It is believed to have been created or extended during the 12th and 13th centuries by creating a dam towards the later named Dam Street, to provide power for a mill and to create a fishpond. It is likely there was an earlier natural body of water here. At the start of the 14th century, under the orders of Bishop Walter Langton, a causeway was built on what is now Bird Street, dividing a much larger pool in two. These became known as Minster Pool to the east and Bishop’s Pool (or Upper Pool) to the west. The Bishop’s Pool silted up over time and was filled in to create Museum Gardens, which opened in 1859. We then wander through the streets looking into the shops. We spend some time in the delightful little antique shop and spend some money. We visit the birthplace of Dr Benjamin Johnson, the writer and philosopher famous for his dictionary of 1755 and many other writings. The house was built for Johnson’s parents Sarah and Michael in 1708, and the family ran their bookshop business on the ground floor. The ground floor is still a bookshop. It is well laid out with the basement kitchen telling the tale of his birth and early life and then his schooling is on the first floor, his time at Oxford on a second floor, his travels to London on the third floor is later life on the fourth floor and at the top, the end days of his life. We then partake of refreshment in a pub then decide to head out to find another one!
Our route takes his past the Hospital of St John Baptist without the Barrs of the city of Lichfield. In 1129 Roger de Clinton was appointed Bishop of Lichfield. He built the new cathedral, fortified the Close, laid out a new town and then constructed a defensive ditch and rampart. There were four gates or barrs which were closed at night. Pilgrims and travellers arriving after the curfew could not enter the city, so the bishop has a priory built just outside Culstubb gate on the London Road. This was completed in 1135 and run by Augustinian canons. By the mid 15th century the ditch and ramparts will no longer used and the gates remained open for pilgrims, so shortly after 1492 William Smyth, the Bishop of Lichfield devised scheme to use St Johns Hospital for better use. It was refounded as a hospital for aged men and has a free grammar school, although that later moved. Thirteen “honest poor men upon whom the inconveniences of old age and poverty without any fault of their own had fallen” were given lodgings and 7 pence a week. The lodgings have been updated obviously and added to but still provide accommodation for older people. Attached to the almshouses is St John’s chapel. It has been used as a place of worship since 1135 with the exception for a period in a 17th century when it was in a ruinous state. The north aisle was built in 1829 and there was further restoration in 1870 when the walls of the nave were raised, a new roof built and buttresses were added to the outside of the south wall. In 1994 the east window was filled with a magnificent stained glass by John Piper representing “Christ in Majesty”. A small plaque in The gatehouse reads, “It is admirable to consider how many millions of people come into and go out of the world ignorant of themselves and out of the world they have lived in”, (William Penn)
Just across the road is Lichfield City Station which opened in 1849, on the South Staffordshire Railway’s line from Lichfield Trent Valley to Walsall and Dudley. This later became part of the London and North Western Railway. The present building was constructed in the 1880s. A bridge carries the railway over the road. It was built in 1849, by Edward Adams (Clayton) or Thomas Johnson of Lichfield for the South Staffordshire Railway. There are relief armorial bearings below the frieze and one large one on the parapet; to the north, the lower shields with arms of Bishops of Lichfield: Hackett, de Clinton, Lonsdale and Hayworth, the upper shields with the old Borough seal and the leopards of England (originally placed in the centre of the parapet, north and south). To south are four armorial bearings of local families: Anson, Forster, Dyott and Bagot. Apparently, it is the fourth most struck, by motor vehicles, bridge in country. Beyond the bridge on one side of the road is the old Lichfield brewery which was formed in July 1869 to acquire the business of John & Arthur Griffith & Co, Lichfield Brewery and possibly the Lichfield Malting Co Ltd. It was acquired by Samuel Allsopp & Sons Ltd 1930 with 182 public houses. Brewing then ceased and beers were supplied from Burton. The company continued to run pubs until 1935. On the other side of the road is a very pleasant little pub, The Bitter-Suite, with beer is served straight from the barrel without any pumps.
Monday – Lichfield – Kay and I breakfasted earlier than the others so we head into the city. Up Gaia Lane and down Bishop’s Walk. There are the backs of two large houses here. Selwyn House dates to 1780 and St Mary’s House, the former vicarage, which consists of part of the mediaeval wall with a hexagonal stair turret into which a house had been built. The current house replaced this, still using the old wall around 1710 and much enlarged in 1805.
A footpath leads to Stowe Pool. It is fed from a stream that runs Minster Pool under Dam Road and is a large, elongated pool with fishermen sitting around under tents rather than any umbrellas. There are good number of Mallard, some drakes already entering eclipse, Coot and a few Great Crested Grebe including chicks of both Coot and Grebes on the water. It is clearly a popular route for dog walkers and joggers. A mill stood next to St Chad’s church at the far end. The pool was taken over by South Staffordshire Waterworks Company in 1856 and made into a reservoir. A boat house was built around 1890. St Chad’s church was founded by Chad in 699 CE. Chad died in 672 and was buried near the church but his bones were moved to the cathedral in 700CE. The church was rebuilt in the 12th century and altered considerably in the 13th century. It was damaged during the civil war by parliamentary groups requiring the roof to be completely rebuilt. The north aisle was rebuilt in the Victorian Gothic in 1840 and the major restoration was undertaken starting in 1862. The front dates from 1450. The pulpit is sunken into the ground with tiled floor at least a foot below the pulpit replacing a double-decker pulpit in around 1900; the recess in the floor was not made until 1916. There are some good Victorian and Edwardian glass Curtis, Ward and Hughes and Christopher Whall . The best glass are two memorial windows depicting St George and St Alban and St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Christopher designed by Morris and Co. There is a peal of four bells, three of them are 17th century but the fourth is believed to be possibly from 1255 although a 1555 date may be more likely.
We return to the cathedral to meet up with our group. We wander around the magnificent building, which we have visited before, accompanied by the Reigate and Redhill Choral Society practising for a concert. We then depart for home.
Friday – Craven Arms – The sky is overcast, it is mild and drizzle is in the air. Out of Craven Arms station and down a small path that runs between modern housing and the railway line. A Red Kite circles overhead. Through a car park and past Tuffins supermarket. Tuffins are a local chain which seems to sell everything. Into Corvedale Road. Little seems to have changed in this mid Victorian Street. Swifts glide for insects high above. A bridge crosses the River Onny. The water flows sluggishly before rippling over mini rapids. A Blackcap sings far too loudly for its diminutive body. A lane leads off to Halford. The Mill House stands on the corner, or though there is little evidence it was ever a mill.
The housing in the lane is late 20th century. A pair of Bullfinches fly off. The buildings become older approaching to the centre of the village. Large square farmhouse stands beside a large farmyard. Nearby is a long, partly timber-framed barn has been converted into dwellings. A door on the first floor would have had a pulley to lift loads into the hayloft. A screaming Red Kite is low overhead. A second is behind the barns. Into the churchyard of St Thomas’s church. War memorial plaques are in the lych gate. Eighteen names are recorded, the youngest aged 19 years old, the oldest, 42. The church is locked. The church was previously known as St Mary’s. It is Norman and belonged to Bromfield Priory. It was restored in 1848 and 1887. From the graveyard on can see the former corn mill beside the River Onny with the water wheel slowly turning although the mill has been converted into a comfortable home. Church farm stands opposite the graveyard.
A lane heads east from the big farm towards Lower Dinchope. Another pair of Bullfinches are beside the tall grain stores. The sides of the lane are a great froth of white Cow Parsley. The lane is climbing across the far south-western end of the great limestone ridge of Wenlock Edge. Field Mouse-ear on the roadside bank is rapidly turning to seed. Patches of china-blue Germander Speedwell peep through the grasses on the verge. Past Ireland, a cottage with a crowing cockerel out the back. The lane descends with Lower Dinchope at its foot. Above on the ridge, Callow Hill, is Founder’s Folly. A Dunnock sings on the wires, watched by a cock Yellowhammer.
An even quieter lane turns off just before the hamlet. Yellow Crosswort flowers beside Horsetails. A stream flows on the other side of the roadside hedge. Beside the stream, Wild Garlic flowers are finished and the leaves are beginning to droop. The lane passes between Batch Coppice and Berrymill Wood. A Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Robin, Wren and Blackbird are all in song. Bugle and Hedge Bedstraw flower. The stream runs close to the lane. A Mayfly rises, wings whirring like a tiny hummingbird. A Hawthorn is covered in pink-white blossom. The stream passes under the road and pours down a moss-covered shoot before heading off across the fields.
The lane descends gently. Ahead in the distance is Ragleth Hill and Caer Caradoc. The lane crosses Quinny Brook via a ford and footbridge. Fish snatch insects off the surface of the water. Beneath the footbridge the river plunges down a weir. A Spotted Flycatcher grabs insects above the water. Into Strefford. A large stone farmhouse stands on a road junction. Modern housing fills in between 17th century buildings. The Old Maltings has two dates W.B. 1740 and M.F.M. 1757 on a plaque. A local says they have no idea of why there should be two dates, possibly the later is an extension being built. The name seems Roman, a ford on the street, but Watling Street is some way to the west. Strefford Place is a large house, a central block with two parallel wings.
The lane comes to an end but a footpath continues. Down the side of a field where russet brown cow lies with two calves. The brook runs alongside the field. A Blue Tit and Goldfinch seek insects in the branches of overhanging bushes. Below a fish splashes. A fence hangs over a large area of former bank that has collapsed into the river. A replacement hangs partly submerged in the water. It makes one wonder how much longer fence number three has to go before it to succumbs to the erosive action of the stream. A footbridge crosses the brook. This path is now part of the Warthill Wander. The path crosses a field in a drainage ditch. A shoal of small fry dash up and down the ditch. They are barely an inch long. Up the side of another field. Stones in the field are all water smooth showing this to be a river valley. The path now arrives at the busy A49.
Across the road a lane leads to Wistanstow. A couple of houses stand on the junction, not the quietest place to live. A bridge crosses the South Wales to Manchester railway line. The tractor is using a large mechanical hammer to pound in a new gatepost. A track maintenance vehicle passes on the railway. A house is called the Old Rectory but in fact fairly modern. The former rectory is hidden in woodland behind an old orchard with a good number rhododendron bushes in flower. A gate here says “Woodland Garden”. A very large Georgian house stands on the corner of the lane with the main road through the village of Wistanstow. It has been extended probably on more than one occasion over the years.
A short distance up the road, Watling Street, is the church of the Holy Trinity. It was locked last time I was here so I am pleased to find it opened by women cleaning the building. The foundations are Saxon but the present building was erected between 1180 and 1200. Before the Conquest, the church belong to St Alkmund’s church in Shrewsbury having been endowed by King Edgar the Peaceable (959-975). Edward the Confessor gave the prebend to Godfrey Wiffesume. On his death, Earl Roger gave it to his physician Nigel. He held it after the Conquest and eventually the possessions of St Alkmund’s church went to found Lilleshall abbey in King Stephen’s time. The church is cruciform with a 14th century tower. There was extensive restoration in 1874. The nave has roof moulded trusses and purlins with quatrefoil windbracing, and moulded wood ashlar pieces with enriched panelling. The mouldings have been painted gold. The north transept roof has trussed rafters with raking braces and south transept has moulded queen-post trusses and cusped windbraces. There are some fine Norman windows set deep into the thick walls. The font is 14th century. There are numerous box pews in both the nave and the north and south transepts. Some of these still retain the numbers and names of the houses whose occupants used these pews every Sunday. The walls of the south transept have fine 17th century painted scriptures, there were more in the nave but these were too far worn when they all were uncovered in 1877. There is some good glass. St Wystan’s window and St Anne’s window are fine examples of the work of Mary Agnes and Margaret Rope. The clock on the tower was installed as a war memorial after the First World War. There are eight bells, three from before 1553. In 1758, a peal of six bells was cast by Rudhall. In 1903 the tenor was recast and two new bells added by Barwell of Birmingham. The entrance to the tower is outside through a door into a small room built into the corner of the nave and the north transept which has a very tall chimney rising from it. A stairway encased in wood climbs up the inside edge of the North transept and disappears into the tower. A Red Kite floats on the wind over the tower. The priest’s door is a fine example of the transitional style from Norman to Early English.
I pause for a pint at The Plough which is the home of Woods brewery. Off down a lane which leads down to the Bishops Castle road. Again the banks are green-tinged creamy-white clouds of umbellifer flowers. A Carrion Crow is harassing a Red Kite. Across the road at Crossway and onto a track. Much taller and sturdier purple stems of Hogweed rise above the delicate white of Cow Parsley. Nearby, another umbellifer has leaves that suggest Giant Hogweed – but it is not large, maybe just a young plant. A foot bridge crosses the River Onny. Below the bridge are steps and another small bridge on the Onny Trail. Past the buttresses of a long gone bridge that carried the Bishop’s Castle railway line. Despite the warm afternoon I have yet to see a single butterfly today. Of course, having said this I immediately see one up ahead but it is gone in the breeze before I can identify it. A Beautiful Demoiselle, Agirion virgo, all black wings and metallic blue body, alights on a nettle but disappears almost in an instant. A female of the species, copper and green, flashes by. A Soldier Fly with a green iridescent thorax rests on a leaf.
Across the road to Cheney Longville. The track is now a tarmacked lane. A yard is stacked high with tree trunks. Fledgling Blue Tits are twittering in the hedges and bushes. Road comes to Long Lane and I turn eastwards. A tall Perennial Sow-thistle flowers on the verge. Nearby is the similar but paler yellow flowered Smooth Sow-thistle. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies pass with a single chip. A pile of fresh earth and the strong smell of creosote indicates a brand new telegraph pole. I assume they are called something different these days but I still think of them as telegraph poles despite the fact that telegrams are now long gone. Off Long Lane onto Watling Street.
I want to head east and search for a footpath and eventually find the stile but beyond it is impassable, so I pick up another path which may or may not be an official footpath. After some distance and it splits and I head off down another well worn path which is certainly not marked on the map. This is a classic case of where people want a path, they will make it and it becomes established, where people do not use a path despite it being the official path, it is soon lost. The paths pass through an area of woodland called Greenfields. I emerge on the edge of the housing estate behind the station. An old house with end walls tiled in slates stands at the edge of the housing estate. Old buildings nearby are now being used by builders and undertakers. They were all part of the old gas works. The engine shed lay beyond. The road through the estate comes out by the railway bridge in the centre of Craven Arms. The Craven Arms Hotel appears of closed down, which is a shame as it is the place that gave the town its name. I wander through back streets to the Stokesay Inn. It is empty! Route