Sunday – Humber – May begins with cold, frosty mornings. The first round of the annual BTO Breeding Bird Survey around Humber. There is lingering cloud in the east, moving away to reveal a deep orange sun above the horizon. Along the lanes, counting good numbers of Blackbirds and Linnets, often in pairs. Several Yellowhammers and a Skylark overhead, passing Wood Pigeons but no Blue or Great Tits. A Common Buzzard is on a post near the dog kennels. Down the lane beside the woodland burial ground and across Humber Brook. Female Blackcaps “tap” in the woods. A few Jackdaws are around the church. Through to the fields. The first field has been sown with oilseed rape, all across the public footpath. However, there are tractor tracks to follow. I do not enter the big field, but do count 28 Carrion Crows. Back to the village. A Tawny Owl is staring at me from the step on a telegraph pole. It is glorious in browns and oranges in the bright morning sun, huge black eyes staring at me. It departs with calls of “Tuit tuit”. Back along the main lane – the Roman road. A large continental articulated lorry is trying to find Great House Farm. It is down towards Stoke Prior village but I am unsure which one is the right farm. (I realise later that if the lorry heads down the school lane into the village, he will have a terrible problem with the junction into the village. But he was facing the wrong way, so may go round – hopefully.) Just before the end of the survey, a Whitethroat scratches out a bit of song from the hedgerow.
Home – Various sowings have not fared well, so I sow more beetroot, leeks and broad beans. The second sowing of peas have come to nothing. At least the tomatoes in the greenhouse seem to have survived the cold nights.
Tuesday – Home – Yesterday was gales and rain, today just the wind remains gusting through the trees with just a few brief showers. Enough rain fell yesterday to refill the water butts, which is pleasing. The morning does not start well – the chicken run door blew open, despite my being sure I had bolted it. The hens are being very awkward about returning and it takes quite a while to round them all up.
Purple sprouting broccoli seedlings are planted out. They had to be purchased from a nursery as my home sown ones failed. The lettuces being grown under cover are doing well. The first asparagus are showing and there are signs of potato shoots appearing. Lots of blossom has now garlanded the Christmas Pippin apple.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Grey clouds, tops lit up a shining white by an obscured sun, cover much is the sky. The morning has warmed after a clear night which resulted in a light frost. House Sparrows chatter, Wood Pigeons coo, a Chiffchaff calls, a Wren and Blackbird sing and Canada Geese gabble in the distance. On down the track. A Robin watches my passing from a small Willow. The disembodied song of a Garden Warbler comes from a thicket of Dog Rose and Brambles rising up dead tree trunks. A Jay crosses the track.
Out on the lake are a couple of pairs of Mallard, a small group of Greylags with goslings on the far side, then a duck Mallard glides into view with seven ducklings and a Canada Goose climbs onto one of the islands also with a brood of goslings. A Pied Wagtail undulates past. There is just a single Tufted Duck. Along to the meadow. The air is full of small insects. A couple of dozen House Martins are over the meadow. Several Blackcaps and another Garden Warbler are singing around the perimeter. It starts to rain. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. A couple of Ring-necked Pheasants stalk the Jacob sheep pasture.
From the hide, more Tufted Ducks, Mallard and Canada Geese can be seen. A Mute Swan is at the western end. Nine Cormorants are on the small island. They suddenly lift off and scatter across the water. A Grey Heron emerges from the reed bed. A pair of Little Egrets fly in. More than thirty Tufted Ducks are around the lake. A Ring-necked Pheasant on the bank croaks and shakes his feathers. A Coot is by the reed bed.
Back along the meadow. Molehills have been flattened and are covered in rabbit droppings. Many more trees in the orchards have come into blossom.
Home – Shortly after reaching home, a heavy downpour of hail bounces off the ground. There are further short, sharp showers, often of hail, during the afternoon along with breaks of bright sunshine.
Friday – Home – Another bout of ankle pain keeps me grounded today. After a milder night than of late, the day steadily warms with frequent sunshine despite the steady flow of vast cumulus clouds drifting eastwards. Something, Wood Pigeons I suspect, have been at the purple sprouting I planted out a few days ago despite the netting draped over them. The netting is raised and hopefully this will prevent any more damage. The lettuces under the covers in the bed are progressing well but little has happened to the seeds sown. Potatoes are showing more and more.
In the afternoon, the first Swift of the year is very high in the sky, moving northwards.
Sunday – Leominster – After rain throughout yesterday, the sky this morning is still grey but the clouds are thin and broken. The sun almost manages to shine through. Wood Pigeons call and a Song Thrush sings from the park. Cherry blossom down the street has finished. Leaves are finally appearing on an Ash tree. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has risen thanks to the rain, the shingle banks are all submerged again. Robin, Chiffchaff and Blackbird are all in song. A Song Thrush and Wren join them. A Sedge Warbler is singing its scratchy song somewhere around the eastern side of the bridge but hearing it, never mind locating it, over the almost constant roar of the traffic on the bypass is difficult. It is finally found in the middle of the large piles of branches pruned from the roadside hedges that have been left on Easters Meadow.
All the apple trees in the Millennium orchard are in blossom now. The Wild Garlic are in flower but the leaves are fading and the patch is disappearing under Stinging Nettles. It starts to rain. A ticking female Blackcap is in a quandary as humans approach from each direction. She finally heads off towards the railway. The bells toll the hour followed by the Compline bells. The water level in the River Kenwater is also higher than in recent weeks. The rain ceases and the hazy sun re-emerges.
Into the churchyard. Two Grey Squirrels chase across the graves and a Rabbit bounces off into the bushes. Through to Corn Square and back into the car park. Irish Travellers have encamped there which will cause ructions tomorrow. There was a lengthy consultation on providing a site for temporary travellers. I felt it was inadequate and too far from the town. Several lengthy reports followed and now, at least a year later, absolutely nothing has happened. Thus the travellers are in the car park.
Monday – Lugg Meadows – I start from The Cock of Tupsley, a modern pub in the east side of Tupsley, an eastern suburb of Hereford. A sharp shower passes then the sun emerges. Across the Ledbury road into an older lane, the original route of the road. Green Alkanet flowers with an intense blue on the bank with Garlic Mustard, Herb Robert and Cleavers. A Chiffchaff calls overhead. Lower House Farm, built in 1614 and known as “Nobletts” until 1885. It was, until recently, the offices of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. A gate leads onto Lugg Meadows.
The meadows are traditional “Lammas Meadows” divided into strips and parcels of lane marked by “Dole” stones, many of which are still in the ground. The meadows were closed to livestock between from Candlemas (2nd February) to Lammas (1st August) to allow the grass to be grown for hay. The owners of each patch would gather in their hay crop, then the meadows would be open for all to graze their livestock. Winter flooding kept the soil rich and fertile.
Along a path on the western side of the meadow. A Great Tit searches a newly leaved shrub. It flies off to be replaced by a singing Dunnock. A Song Thrush sings nearby. The meadow is spotted with Field Buttercups and Dandelion clocks. The path runs alongside a small brook, Lugg Rhea, which has split from the main river further north and rejoins it again near the road. A steep bank, Baynton Wood, rises towards the Tupsley estate, covered in trees. Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Blackbird sing. A Carrion Crow is on a nest in the fork of a young tree. Nearby a Little Egret sits hunched in a tall Ash.
A gate takes the path briefly into the woodland. Patches of flowering Wild Garlic grow on the edges of the paths. Back out onto the meadow, although there are more trees here. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Oak trees are bursting into leaf. It would appear that the Oak and the Ash are coming into leaf simultaneously. A detour up the hillside to a lane in which stands a fine Victorian Gothic house.
Back down the path. A pair of Goldfinches fly up into the trees. The Little Egret is flying around the meadow below. A footbridge crosses the brook and the path runs out onto the wide expanse of grassland. Black St Mark’s Flies hang in the air, legs dangling. Across the meadows, grasses and Field Buttercups ripple in the breeze. The path continues northwards on the eastern side of Lugg Rhea to the main road. The rain returns with a vengeance. The path runs east for a while then heads back down the meadows. The pale violet flowers of Cuckoo Flower, also known Lady’s Smock, Milkmaids or Mayflower, grow among the Field Buttercups. The rain stops and the sun shines again. Typical April showers, pity it is May.
The path is now beside the River Lugg. A Common Buzzard flies over. House and Sand Martins sweep across the wet grass. A Reed Bunting sings in a clump of bushes growing in the river. A Swallow flies upstream. A short burst of song comes from a Reed Warbler but it then falls silent. Across the meadows, more large late Georgian or early Victorian houses stand on the hillside, Aylestone Hill, with considerable modern infilling. The path follows a large meander of the river. White Comfrey flowers and Butterbur leaves grow on the bank. A heavy and prolonged shower makes my decision not to bring wet weather gear seem rather foolish. A Goosander flies away from the river.
On down the meadows alongside the river. Regular Blackcap territories are marked by song. A Whitethroat displays over the edge of the river bank. A path crosses the meadow back to the brook. The rain has stopped and the sun shines again but I am soaked. A footbridge crosses Lugg Rhea and a path leads back to Lower House Farm. Twittering Linnets fly across the field. Back up the old lane to the Ledbury Road and The Cock of Tupsley. Route
Tuesday – Home – The pattern of showers and sunshine continues. The small patch in front of the cold frame is weeded – couch grass is advancing across it rapidly. It seems no matter how much of the underground tendrils are removed, it will still return. Four holes are dug and some manure put in then they are backfilled. Four courgette plants are planted above the holes and a fifth goes to the back of the patch. Plastic cloches placed over the seedlings. Three of the cloches are shop bought for the purpose, the other two are large plastic mango chutney jars. Indoors, some squash seeds are planted in a small tub.
In the afternoon, a short thunderstorm passes with a heavy downpour of hail.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – After a bright, sunny start to the day, cloud starts to thicken. A column of Swifts and silhouetted Martins rise high above the track. Blackcap, Wren, Chiffchaff and Robin are in song. An Oystercatcher is on the island with a couple of Mallard and Coot. A Common Buzzard soars high above the meadow. The Swifts are now over the meadow, screaming as they twist and turn after insects. A Cuckoo calls south of the lake.
Pair of Great Crested Grebes glide together across the water. A flock of Canada Geese are grazing on southern bank. Few Tufted Duck are around the lake. Mute Swans at western end. A scattering of Swifts are overhead. A pair of Greylags stands on an island. A couple of Cormorants are fishing. A cacophony of Canada Geese comes from the island but there is no indication as to what set them off. A Coot becomes upset by the presence of a Mallard near the scrape and chases him off. A pair of noisy Greylags fly onto the water close to the scrape. A Great Crested Grebe approaches the scrape and swims about with its head underwater. It makes little grunting noises as it moves away. A duck Mallard appears with three ducklings.
Back through the Alder plantation. Ring-necked Pheasants are in the paddocks rising up to the road. Into the meadow where Hawthorn is coming into blossom. A Garden Warbler is singing in the hedgerow of Field Maples and Hawthorns. Despite much searching I only get a couple of brief glimpses. The air is full of small insects, some sort of midge. A Jay flies across and over the lakeside trees. Through the orchards where many trees are now pink with blossom.
Friday – Home – Another night of rain. The female Blackbird is back collecting sisal from the hanging basket by the back door. I suppose this means the nest for which she was collecting before has been compromised somehow. The presence of a pair of Magpies in the garden may be a reason, although the weather may also be a contributory factor. The Magpies squabble with a Jackdaw. A Wren stands on the garden wall, tail cocked like a pistol hammer, singing loudly. He moves up the wall, stops and lets rip again, before flying onto the summerhouse roof. A Magpie flies onto the end of the roof and the Wren makes a swift exit. A little later a Grey Squirrel enters the garden via the Willow tree and onto the Ash tree. It has also upset the Magpie which chases it down the tree but the squirrel appears to pay no attention.
Blackstone-Kidderminster – From Blackstone car park across the Stourport to Kidderminster road. A former Toll House stands beside a bridleway which runs eastwards. A Grey Heron flies over. The track comes to the Devil’s Spittleful and Blackstone Farm Nature Reserve. The latter is recently acquired land which will be allowed to return to heathland. The track becomes increasingly sunken into the landscape. The banks are dominated by white – umbellifers, Greater Stitchwort and White Dead-nettle. Then some colour, Common Fumitory, Common Vetch and Forget-me-nots. Under a railway bridge, the disused line to Stourport of the GWR Severn Valley Branch, opened in 1862, closed a century later.
Beyond the bridge the path divides. Off along the left-hand fork. A meadow is covered in Dandelion clocks. Beyond is an embankment carrying the Severn Valley Railway on the GWR Severn Valley Branch Loop. On the other side of the track is a field bring disc-harrowed. This has attracted a flock of young Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws (no Rooks though). A diesel locomotive, Class 40, 40106, built at the Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn factory in Darlington, rumbles along the line pulling half a dozen coaches. Several trainspotters are set up with cameras. A Yellowhammer is calling across the fields.
Under the railway and onto Devil’s Spittleful Nature Reserve. It is though the site gets its name from a central sandstone outcrop called originally, Devil’s Spadeful. The legend relates how the devil, being vexed the piety of the people of Bewdley determined to destroy the town by blocking up for channel of the Severn and so causing its waters to overflow and drown the good inhabitants. He took up a spadeful of soil and started on his errand of destruction. On his way he met a drunken old cobbler with a great bundle of worn out shoes on his back. “How far is it to Bewdley?” was the question. “I have worn out all the shoes coming thence” was the reply. So the devil dropped the spadeful and there it reminds to the present day. The same story related to Robin Hood’s Butts in Herefordshire.
Between 1941 and 1945 the eastern most part of the reserve became the site of Burlish camp, a tented camp for the 297th US army hospital. The heath is thought to have been cleared around 2500 years ago. Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Robin sing. Another train drawn by a diesel rumbles past towards Kidderminster. The engine is Brush Type 4 (later Class 47) class of British Railway diesel locomotives developed in the 1960s by Brush Traction. A total of 512 Class 47s were built at Crewe Works and at Brush’s Falcon Works in Loughborough between 1962 and 1968. The sandstone outcrop rises a short distance to the south east. It is topped by Scots Pines and a large cave is visible on its flanks. The rock is Bridgnorth Sandstone Formation, Sedimentary Bedrock formed approximately 272 to 299 million years ago in the Permian Period. On along the track. A Jay is staring at something on the ground. The Class 40 returns watched by a row of trainspotters beside the line.
A track runs northwards past the Rifle Range Reserve, where there was once a race course, and then alongside Whitehill Wood to the east and the fences of the Safari Park to the west. The track passes through woodland, most trees being less than 100 years old. On the other side of the fence is the entrance to the Safari Park, with several lines of cars all waiting to enter. Various bellowings and grunts come from behind the fences. Rhydd Lodge is now part of the Safari Park. A footpath heads into Rhydd Covert. The wood was given to the Scouts in memory of Major and Mrs Harcourt-Webb and their son, 2nd Lt R Webb, of the Queen’s Bays Regiment, killed in action in 1940. A small memorial stands in the Chapel Field.
Through the trees are misty blue patches of Bluebells. Greater Celandine flowers by a fence. The path passes the end of an estate of high end housing. On down into a valley. The bottom of the valley is the east side of Rifle Range Reserve. A Song Thrush is in full flow atop a flowering apple tree. A Jay slips silently away. A footpath leads into woodland. A pair of Magpies are noisy high in the canopy. The path climbs to a concrete track that leads through Gorse Covert into Rifle Range estate. Three Dunnocks chase through the bushes.
The Rifle Range estate is former council housing with newer infill. A Rifle Range Road leads to Sutton Park Road that divides this estate from Sutton Farm, another estate. The housing here is inter-wars. A hill slopes down to the north side of the road with Sutton Farm in a bowl. The Methodist church, built in 1962, lays down the hill a slight way. A number of Victorian houses stand with newer build in between. The road meets the Bridgnorth road. A row of Victorian houses with dormer windows are surrounded by modern houses. The parish church of the Holy Innocents stands on the junction. It is a brick built church on the site of a wooden mission church, consecrated in 1938.
Along the busy main road. The houses are a mixture of late Victorian and Edwardian villas and terraces. To the west, beside the railway line, stood the Isolation Hospital which opened around 1884 and closed in 1948. Little remains of it now. Over the railway and past a building site where an extensive development is under construction. Into a cul-de-sac of mid 20th century semis and along a path into the Birchen Coppice estate. Walter Nash Road East forms a large crescent. St Peters Community Church lays across a large green. The church was constructed in the 1950s at the same as the estate. On the other side of the green is the pub. The shops consist of a convenience store and post office and two takeaways. The former police station/house is a residence.
Off the main road and onto Burlish Top Nature Reserve. A wide open space is dotted with yellow flowered Broom. Phone masts rise from a copse. A Cuckoo calls. Over Burlish Top, passing the masts. The track joins the Geopark Way. Dropping Wells Farm lays in the valley below. Across the valley is the winding queue of cars crawling around the Safari Park. The path passes twisted trees, Oaks and Beeches, not very old but often multi-stemmed. Great Tits fly between them. The path, which is still tarmacked descends. Pretty blue, green and white patches consist of Bluebells, Garlic Mustard and Greater Stitchwort. The path arrives at the bridge which carried the Stourport line and back down the lane to Blackstone. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The wet weather continues. The rain has ceased but will be temporary. The sun breaks through the voluminous grey rain clouds. A Chiffchaff calls from the great London Plane opposite the Chequers. Over the railway. A Song Thrush and Wren can be heard singing loudly. Onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has not risen substantially despite all the recent rain, but the water is now a pale chocolate colour. A Blackcap sings in the Hawthorn by the bridge. Stinging Nettles and Cleavers are growing strongly, swamping the Ground Ivy. Only White Dead-nettle seems to be holding its own. A Grey Squirrel bounces across Easters Meadow. The sky is darkening.
Back round past the White Lion. A few Swifts soar high overhead. Into the orchard. A Sedge Warbler is singing in the trackside bushes. It will be interesting to see how the cider apple crop fares this year. The Herefordshire Redstreak, Dymock Red and Bloxwood Foxwhelp seem to have very little blossom, but Tom Putt, Lady’s Finger, Genet Moyle, Michelin and Dabinett all look good. Red Campion flowers under the white Paper Birches in the Peace Garden. By the River Kenwater, a Bird Cherry had numerous white spikes of flowers. The water level in the river is also pretty much the same as last week.
Through the churchyard. Yet another Blackcap is in song, accompanied by the ever present Wood Pigeons.
Monday – Leominster – The sun is bright despite the numerous cumulonimbus clouds. As another stage of the lockdown is eased, the streets become busier. Over the railway. House Sparrows chatter and a Chiffchaff calls. Nearer the river, a Wren bursts into song. A thrumming northbound train rumbles into the station. Over Butts Bridge. Easters Meadow is white with Dandelion clocks. The air is full of white fluffy seeds like snow. Just as we are preparing for our year to start to take off, the Dandelions’ year is coming to an end. An insect is moving through the grass somewhat ungracefully. I think it is a species of picture-wing fly but I am unable to identify it.
Under the A49 at Mosaic bridge. The fallen willow laying half way across the river has defiantly put out fresh leaves. The flower heads of Garlic Mustard lean towards the south and the sun. Purple Comfrey flowers on the bank. Along beside the river. Few flowers are out hover-lies move up and down the greenery in vain. A Song Thrush sings in the trees and a Whitethroat moves through the undergrowth with a sharp churr call. Umbellifer leaves are rising high, already three feet and looking like they have some way to go. Fresh Teasel leaves have emerged and Butterbur leaves are getting larger and larger. A Rabbit runs across a paddock past stalking Jackdaws. A Crane Fly seeks in vain an open flower in a stand of Red Campion. A Blackcap sings in an Oak, then flies across the river to resume his song from another Oak. A pair of Wood Pigeons clatter out of a Hawthorn, they never seen able to depart a perch with any finesse. Three sawn off Willow stumps are in the edge of the bank, barkless and riddled with holes. However, two have sent out new branches which are now in leaf, but the third has come to its end.
Onto Eaton Bridge. A long log has lodged against the bridge and rubbish is building up behind it. Again fluffy seeds dance in the wind like snow but these are from a Willow. Wall Rocket is flowering beside the old road. A Chiffchaff calls despite the traffic noise. Common Vetch flowers, pink and purple, are in the grass. Across the A49. Both Wall Rocket and Common Vetch are flowering on the other side along with Germander Speedwell and Ribwort Plantain.
Up onto the railway bridge. Great Mullein leaves grow in the gutter along with Sycamore saplings and numerous other plants, even raspberries. Dead leaves are forming a fine mulch for them.
Wednesday – Sanclêr, St Clears – We finally get away for a break after the relaxation of Covid-19 rules. I have often passed St Clears on the A40 west of Carmarthen but never stopped there. Into a car park on Pentre Road. There is a noisy small rookery by car park. The river, Afon Cynin is flowing clear. Into Pentre Street. A marble monument gives thanks to the “kind people of St Clears who on the 23rd June 1940, welcomed into their homes and lovingly cared for 168 London school children with 24 teachers and helpers who were re-evacuated from Sussex and belonging mainly to Albion Street School, Rotherhithe, an area devastated by bombing in the London Docklands”.
The river flows in two channels under the road. Further down the road is a clock on a column and behind it a monument to the Rebecca Riots, a series of protests against conditions in the rural areas of Wales between 1839 and 1843. The toll gates of St Clears were destroyed in 1842. There is a very pleasant Craft centre which relieves us of a few pounds for preserves and earrings. A milestone in the street states “9 miles to Carmarthen, 24 miles to Hobb’s Point”, the latter being in Pembroke Dock.
We realise the town is divided by the busy A40, the major trunks road from West Wales to the M4 motorway. Down the river to pick up the High Street which is on the other side of the A40. But the Riverside walk is closed. At we have to follow the dual carriageway and up the slip road. High Street has no shops just houses in a strange mixture. A cast iron water pump of late 19th century date is by the pavement. Nearby is a Gothic Villa in the Strawberry Hill style. The National School of 1875 stands next to Capel Mair, an Independent chapel, originally of 1820, but rebuilt in 1827 and again 1862. The 1862 rebuild was to designs by the Revd Thomas Thomas of Landore, Swansea, and cost £1200. Founded as a branch of Bethlehem, Pwll-trap, the chapel became independent in 1891. It was refurbished in 1913. Another water pump is by the pavement. Cross House and Cross House Stores, both early 19th century and listed are in very poor condition.
The Town Hall was converted in 1848, from Cross storehouse, presumably a marine warehouse. John Rogers of St Clears was asked to draw plans for the conversion. The purchase of the stores was for £130 with £119 being spent on the conversion. The Corporation, comprising of burgesses and officers working through a Leet Court, met on the first floor for the first time in 1849, the ground floor being used for a market. There was a carpenter’s shop on the 1st floor in the early 20th century which became an infants’ classroom from the 1960’s but now looks abandoned.
Opposite is the parish church of St Mary Magdalene. Traditionally founded by one of the Norman St Clare family around 1100, it was established by mid 12th century as a cell of the Cluniac monastery of St Martin-des-Champs of Paris, with a prior in sole charge. However, the establishment was always small, in 1350, a prior and one monk were resident here. Dissolved as a Priory by Henry V in 1414 and granted in 1446 to All Souls College, Oxford, as a parish church. The church was built between 1147 and 1184, but only the chancel arch remains from the original building. It was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries and the tower was added in the 15th century. It was extensively restored in 1853-5 for £538 by R.K. Penson, and again in 1883-4 at the expense of Timothy Powell, Penycoed, for £530, by John Middleton of Cheltenham. Although the outer door to the tower is open, we cannot enter the main body of the church. The churchyard is extensive; two graves having exquisite ceramic roses on them.
Out of a gate on the south side is the cemetery and down a track. A hard has a rotting boat on it. An old bale-lifter rusts beside the track. Back to the High Street and on to the castle. All that remains is a tall, tree covered motte, although the bailey is intact and now a playing field. It has never been excavated although old photographs show the outlines of defensive walls and buildings. The castle is situated on the junction between the Taf and Cynin rivers, probably at the limit of navigable water. It is not known who built the fortification, it may be the castle called Ystrad Cyngen which we know was captured in 1153 by Rhys ap Gruffydd of the south-west royal house of Deheubarth. Giraldus Cambrensis mentions St Clears Castle by name as the home of 12 archers who had murdered a young Welshman who was “devoutly hastening to meet the archbishop” presumably to offer himself as a crusader. This was a terrible sin and the 12 Englishmen themselves later took the cross as penance. The Lord Rhys took the castle from the English a year later in 1189 and gave to his son Hywel Sais, but it was recovered by William de Braose II in 1195. In 1215 it was one of the castles taken by Llywelyn the Great during his sweeping campaigns into south Wales, but was in English hands again when William Marshal the younger, earl of Pembroke, took charge. Thereafter it appears to have remained in English hands until the 14th century when decay set in. St Clears does figure briefly in the Glyndŵr uprising in 1405, when it was besieged and captured, although it was already in a decayed condition.
We return up High Street and cross the A40 by a road bridge. On the far side is a wooden statue of a boar, the symbol of the town. The Board School, built in 1874, is a B&B. The Market Hall is a vets. Numerous Pennyworts grow from a wall of Didymograptus Bifidus Beds of Mudstone formed approximately 461 to 466 million years ago in the Ordovician Period. There is a bakery near to the crossroads where we purchase lunch, eaten beside the river.
Laugharne – A small town known mainly for its association with Dylan Thomas, Considered to be the inspiration for "“LLareggub” in “Under The Milkwood”. It is a popular tourist spot. We park in King Street by the Congregational Church. Opposite are late 18th century Georgian houses. Brown’s Hotel was built in 1782 and extensively restored in 1938. It is known as the
On the wall of Three Mariners
“...in another half hour the “Three Mariners” will have undone their waistcoats. I shall drink beer with the portreeve and no crimping pussyfoot shall say me nay” Dylan Thomas May 1934.
drinking hole of Dylan Thomas. The Three Mariners is earl2y 19th century.
The Town Hall dates from 1747 although an earlier Town Hall existed; it is much altered and extended. A clock tower stands by a two storey Town/Market Hall, with a low lean-to gaol extension of 1774. The tower used to contain a bell by Abraham Rudhall. A large pink house, Castle House is an early Georgian classical house from around 1730 with Regency alterations and enlargement around 1810. Internal modifications were undertaken by Clough Williams-Ellis for the author Richard Hughes who occupied the house 1934/5 to 1946. Island House is a large 16th century house undergoing extensive restoration. Down to The Grist and onto the coastal path under the walls of the castle, the “Brown as Owls” castle of Dylan Thomas.
The castle is closed today. There was probably a Norman castle here by the early 12th century, though the remains can be traced only to the de Brian family in the late 13th century. This may be the castle mentioned in about 1116 as the castle of Robert Courtemain, but the first definite reference to the Norman castle is in 1189 when, after the death of King Henry II, it was seized by the Lord Rhys, prince of Deheubarth. It attracted further hostility from the Welsh in 1215 when it was destroyed by Llywelyn the Great and later, in 1257, when it was again taken and burnt. From the de Brians and their descendants, in 1488 the lordship and castle passed to the earls of Northumberland. In 1584, Elizabeth I granted Laugharne to Sir John Parrott, said to have been the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, who converted the old medieval castle into a comfortable Tudor mansion. Perrot became too powerful for Elizabeth’s comfort, and in 1592 he was sentenced to death for high treason; he died, though from natural causes, in the same year. An inventory made in 1592 suggests that Perrot’s building was of rather poor quality and that the castle “is like within a few yeares to run to utter ruin again”. During the Civil War, Laugharne was captured by Royalists in 1644, but was quickly re-taken by besieging Parliamentarians. The castle was partially destroyed soon afterwards and gradually fell into decay. It was left as a romantic ruin during the 18th century and at the turn of the 19th century the outer ward was laid with formal gardens. The gazebo overlooking the estuary was used in the 1930s and 40s by Richard Hughes.
Over a stream where Swallows sweep inches above the water. A marsh runs down to the estuary of the Afon Tâf and Afon Tywi. Up the estuary is the Boathouse, famously where Thomas lived. Across the marsh is a flood control. To the south west is a light tower on Ginst Point. Across the estuary slopes of small trees and bushes, Craig Ddu drop down to the marsh or in places end above low cliffs of sloping layers of the Milford Haven Group of Sedimentary Bedrock formed approximately 408 to 427 million years ago in the Devonian and Silurian Periods. On this side Sir John’s Hill rises, covered in freshly leaved trees of rich green hues. Out on the estuary mud opposite, on Black Scar, are a few gulls, Carrion Crows, a pair of Shelduck and a single Little Egret.
Tenby, Dinbych-y-pysgod – We are staying in a rather splendid hotel, Broadmead, formerly a villa of about 1850, part of the small early 19th century suburb developed from 1823 by Richard Rice Nash, alderman, with the villas generally in the cottage style. It was known in 1891 as Sunnymead, occupied in 1911 by Major Young. We visited the town before and noted the history.
Into the town centre. It is busy, more people than we have seen for quite some time. Most people are sensible and give each other room. The town has numerous large Victorian and Georgian terraces, three or four stories high. The road heads into the walled town where narrow streets of shops run parallel to the sea. The bay sweeps round with a long strand of sand. A large rock, Gosker Rock, rises from it. After some false starts we find a decent, although very busy pub, with a range of beers brewed on the premises, our first draught beer for over six months.
Thursday – Tenby – The weather has deteriorated considerably. We leave the hotel in the rain and drive down to the South Beach. The wind is gale force driving the rain into my face, so the visit is very brief. St Catherine’s and Caldey Islands are both grey in the mist and rain. We then have a wet but relatively easy drive home.
Friday – Home – The rain and gale-force wind continues. Strings are attached to the frame in the greenhouse and ten tomato plants are planted out. Three cucumber plants are potted on. I then make a start on weeding the beds. If only my vegetables were as vigorous as the weeds! Grass in particular is a real pain with thick runners racing across the beds underground. It will take several sessions to make the weed level acceptable.
Sunday – Home – The morning starts with a visit to the tip or the “Household Recycling Centre” as they are called these days. The car is loaded with sacks of garden waste that contains weed seed and roots that will not rot down sufficiently in our compost bins. Yesterday the plastic tunnel was removed from a row of lettuces and wire netting place over them. Some tomato plants are planted out and the plastic tunnel put over them. Half a dozen Swiss Chard plants are also planted out and wire frames placed over to protect them.
This morning I return to weeding and starting the next batch of sackfuls. The small patch by the chicken run is cleared for courgettes and squashes. Then a patch on the salad bed. Overhead, Lesser Black-backed Gulls circle and yelp. Both our resident Robin and a female Blackbird are watching carefully and move onto the cleared patches as soon as I move. Finally, the sacks containing potato plants are topped up with compost as the plants head up into the great outdoors. Rain is in the air.
Monday – Leominster – The skies are grey with darker grey clouds drifting eastwards. The air feels damp and cool. Through the town centre where there are few shops open although it has passed 9 o’clock. Down Broad Street and onto Bridge Street. A gang of screaming Swifts chase high over the River Kenwater. The river level is higher than of late and the water a grey-green. The flock of Swifts, over two dozen birds, are now over the junction of Bridge Street and Mill Street, gradually moving north.
Along the old Ludlow road. The path eastwards along the Lugg is still closed because of work on the Flood Risk Management Scheme, although little work appears to be taking place. Along the old railway route at Summergalls. Hemlock Water Dropwort, a large bright green umbellifer, grows on the edge of the Lugg often spaced about ten yards apart. This umbellifer is extremely poisonous and these are yet to flower. A Wren sings, a Collared Dove hunches on a telephone wire,a Wood Pigeon drops down into the long grass in a field over the river and a Blackbird seeks did on the edge of the road. Four black cattle lay next to the fence separating the track from the tip, sheltering under evergreens.
The public footpaths here are still shown on the OS map in the position they were before the Lugg relief channel was dug over 40 years ago. They now cross the river without any bridge. The track will take walkers to the original end of the footpath but has now for a locked gate across it. No matter today as I am going into the footpath in the opposite direction. A passing dog walker tells me the path ahead is seriously muddy – he is not wrong! Chiffchaffs call, a Great Spotted Woodpecker chips, a Blackbird sings, a Wood Pigeon coos and the rain keeps falling. A path runs up a slope to a hole in a fence. Beyond is a wilderness of brambles and Hawthorns. A Whitethroat is in song.
Back down to the path and the mud. Thin branches of Hawthorn hang down converted in delicate flowers, white petals and red sepals. Stinging Nettles and Hogweed fight to dominate the space beside the path. The path meets the Kenwater where it rushes over a weir. The path continues along the northern bank of the Kenwater and emerges onto the Bridge Street playing fields. Starlings, Blackbirds, a Mistle Thrush and, oddly, a female Bullfinch are feeding in the open grass.
Over Kenelmgaer Bridge, an old crossing although the modern bridge is a prosaic construction of concrete slabs. Through the Oldfield estate on the site of Oldfield Farm. Along Cranes Lane into the town centre.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The Gloucester road runs to Bodenham past fields of green grass and yellow buttercups. A herd of red and cream cows and calves stroll across the hillside. Into the village where Lilac, Laburnum and Hawthorn blossom and Red Valerian grows in large bunches from garden walls.
Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows and a Chaffinch are calling loudly around the car park. The sun is in and out as clouds move across the sky. Field Buttercups, Daisies, Dovesfoot Cranesbills, Forget-me-nots and Wild Strawberries flower beside the track. Chiffchaffs and a Song Thrush are singing. A Blackbird bathes in a puddle. Canada Geese and a two Great Crested Grebes are on the sailing lake. A pair of Oystercatchers are on one of the islands. A Mute Swan leads half a dozen cygnets. A Wren darts out from behind an electricity meter box on the sailing club store. Another fires staccato notes at my presence. Four Greylags are on the meadow bay.
The meadow sparkles yellow with Field Buttercups. Sadly, the Early Spotted Orchids seem to have vanished from the meadow. A Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler are in song. Into the hide. The Mute Swans and several Mallard are on the scrape, a Coot is nearby. It climbs onto the scrape and chases a female Mallard for some reason, ignoring the drakes. Fifty noisy Canada Geese fly in. Three Cormorants are on an island, with a couple of Tufted Duck. After some time the Canada Geese quieten down and other sounds can be heard. Of course, the peace does not last for long! A Moorhen emerges from the reed bed. A cob Mute Swan with wings arched approaches the scrape, increasing his speed as he gets closer. The two sleeping swans quickly depart and the Mallard temporarily scatter. A duck Mallard appears with four ducklings. A Reed Warbler state singing in the reed bed, he is in the Willows rather than on the reeds themselves. Two Great Crested Grebes face each other, heads lowered to the water but little happens and after a bit they just drift apart. A Coot disappears into the reeds carrying a stick.
Back in the meadow, the Hawthorns are covered in blossom like snow. Into the orchards. The cider trees are in full blossom, some of the dessert apples have already finished and tiny fruits have appeared. A Green Woodpecker is on one of the telegraph poles.
Friday – Bromsgrove – A grey morning but mild. Charford is a large housing estate on the south side of Bromsgrove. This estate was planned in 1946 and started in 1950. It brought many people out of slums and temporary housing. In March 1955 six shops with housing above were constructed here. There is now a single shop and community centre. Through the estate, past the primary school. Plans for the school were drawn up in 1946 but because of post-war shortages of materials and labour the school did not open until 1955. The road ends at the junction with Charford Road. Beyond is the extensive campus of several schools.
A public footpath crosses Spadesbourne Brook and through the campus. It is eerily quiet, just the sound of singing Robins, Wood Pigeons and screaming Swifts. A Carrion Crow stalks Daisy spangled grass. A white dome houses an observatory. The path leaves the campus into Conway Road. Past a large Arts and Crafts house which the owner informs me is dated 1929. Along a lane where one side has large early to mid 20th century houses, the other Victorian/Edwardian terraces with long gardens to the road.
Into Old Station Road. One side has a few Victorian villas, the other late 20th century housing. A Blackbird and Magpie are having a fight by the lodge house at the North Gate of Bromsgrove School. Into The Crescent where modern housing gives way to early 20th century terraces and then large semidetached houses. Around the corner is a large building with badly worn arms over an arch and a doorway, although the date, 1890, can be just discerned. On November 25th 1890, a new police station and magistrates’ court opened on the corner of Ednall Lane and the Crescent. Designed by Henry Rowe, the county surveyor, it was built by Tilt and Weaver at a total cost of about £5,000. The station had a charge room, six cells and accommodation for the superintendent, a sergeant, a married constable and six unmarried policemen. Up Ednal Lane. A large hall, the Sunday School, is dated 1888. It has four Foundation stones and two courses of bricks with initials inset. It stands next to the Baptist Church. The first church on this site was built in 1867 shortly after New Road was opened. It was replaced in 1977 and again by the present building in 1990.
Into New Road. A large Victorian house stands set back on a raised plot of land. Either side are modern developments. A large block is apartments has been built in the site of Bromsgrove Cottage Hospital, incorporating two of the former entrances and a plaque on one of the gables. The hospital was built in 1878 and closed in 1987. Next to the hospital was the Literary and Mechanics Institute. It moved from the High Street in 1893 but the site was empty by 1988 when it, along with the hospital was developed into apartments. Down the hill towards the shopping area. More large late Victorian or Edwardian houses are set back from the road. Older industrial buildings stand behind the shops in the High Street. At the foot of the road is The Tudor House formerly known as the Hop Pole Inn, built in 1572 in the High Street. It was originally a private house owned by someone called WB. In the 18th century it was owned by the Boulton family, some of who were surgeons. Joseph Brooke a victualler, is listed as owning the building in 1792. In the 1860s it was proposed to demolish the building to create a new road to Aston Fields and the railway station but a committee was formed to save the building. However it was advertised for sale by auction on April 5th 1865. The Bromsgrove Local Board sold the timbers of the front of the structure to the Worcester City and County Banking Company who re-erected the building on its present site in New Road. The bank was taken over by Lloyds Bank who moved out in 1914. In 1916 estate agents took over the property and it has been occupied by that profession since.
The town was a royal demesne at the time of the Conquest, and continued to be so till the reign of Henry III. Bromsgrove can be traced back to pre-Roman times and there is much evidence to suggest an important Celtic settlement once existed here. A Roman road passed through the town down the High Street, linking Droitwich, Salinae, with Wall, Letocetum. It is thought by the 7th century a Saxon hamlet stood around the hillock on which today’s parish church stands. In the Domesday survey of 1086, the town is referred to as Bremesgrave – Breme being a notable person and grave meaning a fortified clearing in a forest. The wool trade made Bromsgrove prosperous but it was the nail making trade, introduced by French Huguenots that was the main industry for some three centuries.
The High Street is a mixture of Georgian and modern buildings. Many of the old buildings are timber-framed with brick facades. Four coaching inns were here at the lower end of the High Street with only the Golden Cross remaining today. It was known as Rose and Golden Cross in 1687 and before that it was the Rose and Crown. It became the headquarters of the horse-drawn bus which took passengers from the railway station in Aston Fields. It was also here that coroner’s inquests were held. The Golden Cross was used as the headquarters of Tory party during elections and election results were announced on the balcony to the crowd below. In 1859 there was a pitch battle between Tory and Liberal supporters outside the inn, ended when a troop of cavalry charged down the High Street with swords drawn, scattering the crowd. The Golden Cross was rebuilt in 1932. Opposite is Cleggs Entry named after John Clegg, a tea dealer, whose shop was on the right hand of the passage until 1926. In the 19th century it was known as Dipples Entry. From 1811 John Dipple and George his son had an ironmonger shop on the left side of the entry for 55 years. Before that it had been another coaching inn, The George owned by Richard Sanders, the bellfounder who between 1703 and 1735 cast 184 church bells.
The High Street passes a timber-framed early 17th century building and then into a modern junction with Market Street. Like a number of areas of the town, it is difficult to work out the layout from old maps as much has been redeveloped over the years. Across the junction is the large St John’s Court, formerly the vicarage which was extended to become the Council Offices, now a nursing home. Steps rise between the ground of the court and a large Georgian house in a deteriorated condition. At the top of the steps is the parish church of St John the Baptist.
Through an old lych gate, probably mediaeval although much has been renewed over the years. Into the churchyard. The base of a cross stands nearby. The walls of the raised graveyards are made of old headstones, many much thicker than usual. Just a few can be partially read, revealing they are 18th and early 19th century. On the wall is the church is a plaque to Thomas Porter, mercer, who died in 1673 aged 73 and his wife and son who died in the first years of the 18th century. The church dates from the 12th century, but is predominantly of 14th and 15th century construction. It was restored in 1858 by George Gilbert Scott. It is locked. In in the churchyard are the gravestones dedicated to the memories of Thomas Scaife and Joseph Rutherford two young railway workers killed at Bromsgrove station by the explosion of an engine boiler, of a locomotive ironically called “Surprise”, on the 10th of November 1840. Further down the cemetery is a carved reclined figure, badly worn, in a plinth, in memory of William Chance who died in 1768.
Out of the churchyard and past the Amphlett Memorial Hall, built in 1957, and the War Memorial, one a traditional white cross, the other a modern memorial dedicated to this who lost their lives in the Burma Campaign of the Second World War.
Into Church Street. On the corner is a shop in the former Satchwell’s Shoeing Forge. Opposite is the Coronation Building of 1937. Back into the High Street. A statue of a Dryad with Boar stands on the junction. A majority of shops are in 18th century buildings. A four storey 16th century timber-framed house stands between two Georgian buildings, one the Lloyds Bank on the site is the old Hop Pole recorded above. A statue of AE Housman, born in the town, stands in the middle of the street. Nearby is a plaque to the Manchester Unity Friendly Society, Bromsgrove District Members who died in the Great War. The old Post Office is a pub.
Into The Strand. The Queen’s Head pub is late 18th century, re-fronted in the 19th century. Opposite, two early 18th century houses, now two shops, stands next to a later Georgian house. Nearby are two 18th century cottages, possibly with older cores. Back to Windsor Street which runs parallel to the High Street. The former Bromsgrove Library, council buildings and fire station is abandoned. The Congregational Chapel of 1833, in the Grecian style is in very poor condition. Opposite is the Sunday School of 1852, also boarded up and in poor condition.
Back at New Road. All along the road are old stone garden walls but behind more often than not, the old Victorian house has been demolished and replaced by flats for smaller houses. Those remaining are nursing homes or medical practices. The road descends a hill. Cedar Lodge and the semi detached houses opposite are in a plain Victorian Gothic. The houses are Cottage Homes erected by Thomas White in 1885. Born in 1819, Thomas White was the son of John White who made a living in Bromsgrove as a fellmonger and leather maker. A fellmonger prepared animal skins and pelts for leather making. He went into business with Captain John Adams the main distributor of revenue stamps (for the payment of stamp duty on legal and other formal documents) for the seven townships in the County of Worcestershire. He was also a manufacturer of extracted indigo (used in the dying of flax). The next houses are modern. Into Bant Mill Road.
Into Old Station Road and back into Conway Road. The gates to Bromsgrove School, a private establishment, are open so I take the opportunity to visit the chapel built in 1931, to the designs of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and executed by J and A Brazier Ltd for Bromsgrove School. The listing states it was built as a monument to those boys of Bromsgrove School who died in the First World War. Scott designed the fine chapel at Charterhouse School, Godalming, as a memorial, the Bromsgrove example – by a distinguished firm of builders – displaying a similar fusion of Arts and Crafts and Gothic styles, and the bold design and meticulous craftsmanship characteristic of his work.
Back down the footpath and along Charford Road. The Spadesbourne Brook once sported mills grinding corn and manufacturing needles, worsted cloth and lint. The lint mill was once the largest employer of women in Bromsgrove but closed in 1958. The road leads to Rock Hill. Charford Lodge stands on the junction. A little up the hill is St Peter’s Catholic church. It was built between 1859 and 1861. The architect was Gilbert Blount of London who designed and supervised the Gothic revival erection. James Wilson and Co of Birmingham were the building contractors and the slate roof contract was sub-let to the local Jonathan Brazier. Beside it is the community centre dated 1931 and the Catholic school.
On up the hill. The Greyhound pub is closed and derelict. A ginnel leads onto the Charford estate by a house with an Arts and Crafts look. Rain is in the air. A series of ginnels run through the estate. St Andrews church is a wooden building.
Sunday – Leominster – It seems an age since we have had a morning like this – cloudless with a blazing sun. Noisy Jackdaws fly over. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. The River Lugg flows swiftly, the water at a similar level to that of recent weeks. A Blackcap, Robin, Song Thrush, Wren and Blackbird all sing lustily, a Chiffchaff calls upstream.
Back over the railway and into the Millennium Park. Apple blossom has faded but it seems at the poor weather has not prevented pollination and many embryonic apples have appeared. Elderflowers beginning to appear. Several Blackcaps are in song along the trackside bushes. A Sparrowhawk flies swiftly over. The Kenwater water level is also similar to recent weeks.
Into the churchyard. Swifts feed overhead. A Carrion Crow barks from the top of a conifer. Yelping gulls pass over. Wood Pigeons coo.
Home – The plastic compost bins are full, so the job of transferring has to be done. First the contents of one of the large wooden bins is turned into the other. The compost looks pretty good! Then the plastic bins are tipped and the contents forked and shovelled into the newly empty one. Two of the bins’ contents are a bit dry which has allowed ants to create nests, so the wooden bin is watered well when filled. Two squash plants are transplanted into the bed by chicken run. The bags containing potato plants are topped up with more compost. It looks like some of the lettuces in the greenhouse will bolt before they can be used. The hanging baskets of Tumbler tomatoes are hung on the patio. The number of outstanding jobs in the garden grows every day, but there is no point in getting stressed about it! Later in the afternoon, feathery cirrus clouds appear.