November 2009

Tibetan Cherry

Monday – Dinmore Hill – It is getting colder. October was frost-free; apparently there have been 10 frost-free Octobers in the last 40 years, 5 of which have been in the last decade! Probably another sign of global warming. Leaves are falling rapidly in Queenswood Country Park. There are many beautiful trees but this is the time for Acers, their reds and oranges are stunning. They are complimented by the rich red-brown of the bark of a Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula tibetica. The paths are surprisingly good considering the amount of rain that fell across the country yesterday. A Jay flashes its white rump as it slips away into the foliage.

Tuesday – Leominster – I awake briefly in the night to the sound of rain falling and water trickling out of the drainpipes. Just after dawn it has stopped falling but everywhere is saturated. The mercury is low as great swirls of depressions sweep across the north of these islands. Outside the front door is a patch of soil where a tree has been removed some time in the past. Common Ink Caps, Coprinus atramentarius are growing; they are edible but contain chemicals that cause vomiting and palpitations if alcohol is drunk at the same time! They were once boiled down with cloves to make black drawing ink. Maddy’s ball sends up a plume of spray as it hisses through the grass with her stretching like a long-dog after it. The moon is huge and ivory in the morning sky. Flocks of winter thrushes – Redwings and Fieldfares rise up into the air and turn, orientating themselves before flying off.


Thursday – Croft – Up the path towards Croft Ambrey. The sun shines fitfully. The Spanish Chestnuts have lost a lot of their leaves, but the Oaks are still carrying canopies of browning foliage. Small birds are flitting between the hedgerow and Spanish Chestnuts, never staying still and making identification tricky. One sits high on a branch long enough to display a dark patch on its vaguely streaked breast – a Corn Bunting. The path climbs to Croft Ambrey. Views from the Iron Age hillfort are good as it is fairly clear. The descent by the east gate is not easy as the ground is still sodden and slippery. Likewise the path down to the Fish Pond Valley is very wet. Great whorls of ferns adorn the opposite slope. The sun slips through the trees creating dapples of light and shadow. Maddy just drags sticks around, throwing them for herself when I fail in my duty. The fish ponds have changed from the weird blue lagoons (the colour caused by rotting leaves) to deep, dark, mysterious pools.


Tuesday – Mortimer Forest – Up the track from the Black Pool car park. It has stopped raining but everywhere is wet and it remains overcast. Occasionally there is complete silence but more often there are the squeaks and chirrups of tits foraging the conifer plantation. Fungi are flourishing in these conditions, particularly the Russula family. The path across the Iron Age enclosure and down into the woods is muddy, but not as bad as I would have expected given the volume of rain that has fallen. Mist hangs over the area, vaguely obscuring the ranks of dark green and yellow conifers. A Blackberry bramble has a few doomed flowers that will never produce fruit. I take the path on down the hill into an open Beech wood. The ground is brown with leaves whilst dying bracken blazes like beaten copper.

Saturday – Leominster – A deep depression has crossed the country, unloading its cargo of rain whipped by gales. At dawn this morning there is a temporary reprieve from the rainfall, but the winds still thrash the trees. However, it is surprising how many yellow and brown leaves are tenaciously hanging on. At the bottom of the playing field, a Silver Birch, maybe 10 to 15 years old, has had a large branch ripped off. Closer inspection shows two branches have come down. I suspect the upper one, which seems to have a fairly small connection point, came off and hit a spur on the lower branch and tore that away as well. Small flocks of Fieldfares fly up and across towards the river, chacking like higher pitched Jackdaws. Later in the morning the rain returns. A stallholder at the Farmers’ Market is selling her wares cheaply, commenting that she is not expecting many customers in this weather. Across the country there has been damage to trees and power lines, but less flooding than was forecast.

Monday – Eaton Hill – The rain is pounding the roofs and pavements just before dawn. Water runs in a broad stream down the gutter. Fortunately, it begins to ease as I take Maddy for her early morning walk. Throughout the morning there are showers and brief bursts of sunshine. In the afternoon Maddy and I head off across the Grange and through the churchyard. It is easy to feel the presence of past generations here – how many have passed this way, maybe fifty generations since the founding of the first monastic settlement and it seems likely that there were folk here for hundreds of years before that. Down The Priory, the lane of cottages that leads to the Kenwater. The river is running fast and brown. Across and along Mill Street. It starts to rain again. The River Lugg is also muddy and fast flowing. Along the farm track towards Eaton Hill. Many trees have lost their leaves and the round clumps of Mistletoe are silhouetted against the grey sky. A Raven sits hunched on a branch at the top of the hill. At the top of the hill a herd of bullocks, some smooth, some curly coated, some grey, others dun, red, black and a mixture. Along the ridge of the hill through the small woods and down the edge of the field. The maize crop has been gathered leaving stumps sticking out of the ground. Clouds and mist cover the distance hills to the west but northwards there is sunshine on the hills near Shobden. Down the hill and across to the railway. The rain stops and the sun emerges.

Friday – Wergin’s Bridge – It has stopped raining for a while. Wergin’s Bridge is on the road between Sutton St Nicholas and Hereford. Beside the road is a hedge, a ditch and then a field containing the Wergin’s Stone, a standing stone described by Alfred Watkins in The Old Standing Crosses of Herefordshire (1930):-

Wergin's Stone

The base cannot be seen from the road and the stone is now surrounded by an unsightly metal pole fence, although that prevents cattle knocking it over as has happened in the past. John Webb in Civil War in Herefordshire (1879) records that:-

There was two stones (at least) here previously as recorded by Daniel Defoe in his 1720s Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain:-

The stone has also been called “The Devil’s Stone” locally.

Monday – Leominster – It rains on and off all day. There has been serious flooding in some parts of the country, Cockermouth in Cumbria has suffered badly, and there seems to be no let up in the flow of rain-bearing depressions coming up from the mid-Atlantic. There is a bright spell in the early afternoon so I take Maddy over to the Grange and down to Millennium Park. A Great Tit flies into a bare apple tree and chirps, declaring his presence. Overhead, small groups of Fieldfares and Redwings fly in all directions. The Kenwater flows fast and muddy; some of the trees on the water’s edge have their bases submerged. Back on the Grange, Maddy takes umbrage at another Border Collie trying to take her ball and sees the larger dog off.

Wednesday – New Radnor – Heading westwards Monumentalong the A44 we encounter rainbows and heavy downpours of rain, but it is bright when we enter the small town of New Radnor. Within minutes the sky darkens and a short time later it is raining heavily again. So in the intervening dry spell we quickly walk around a couple of streets. New Radnor seems quite a small and quiet place, more like a village, but it was once the county town of Radnorshire. It is built on a mediaeval grid to replace Old Radnor, set a few miles to the east. Approaching the town, one is confronted by an extraordinary 77 foot tall monument, erected in memory of George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), the son of Sir Thomas Frankland Lewis of nearby Harpton Court. The family owned large estates and were powerful men both sides of the border. Sir George became a lawyer and went on to become the MP for Herefordshire. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for War. The monument is in poor repair and fenced (apparently because nobody will take responsibility for its upkeep!)

In the centre of the town, in Broad Street, is the old Town Hall, now a snooker club. At the top of the street is the old forge, now a private dwelling. Along High Street and Church Street are a number of pleasant houses of different construction – stone, timber-framed, brick etc. Looming high behind the houses in a massive motte of the castle. The town was originally called Trefaesyfed and the castle was War Memorialprobably built in the late 11th century by William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford. It was in the hands of Philip de Braose by 1086. Like most castles around the Marches, its history is one of capture and recapture. The sons of Einion Clud of Elfael took the castle in 1182. Enion o’r Porth and Rhys ap Gruffydd entertained Baldwin of Exeter, who was Archbishop of Canterbury and Giraldus Cambrensis, Archdeacon of Brecon, here in 1188. Einion was killed by his brother in 1191 and in 1195 Matilda de St Valery was probably responsible for its recapture for her husband William de Braose. However, Rhys ap Gruffydd, returned and sacked the castle before winning the battle of Radnor against Roger Mortimer and Hugh de Saye in 1196. The castle was destroyed by the Welsh again by them in 1216, 1231, Graveyardand 1262. It was rebuilt by Edward Mortimer and was garrisoned against the Welsh in 1282. Radnor castle then gently fell into decay, by 1538 only one tower remained habitable and that was used as the county prison. The castle was in the care of the Earls of Pembroke in the reign of James I and then passed to Lord Powis. During the Civil War the castle was visited by Charles in 1642 but after a siege was captured and slighted by Parliamentary forces to prevent it becoming a Royalist stronghold again. There were still some walls standing in the 19th century, but all have now fallen. The sky is getting darker. The War Memorial is topped by a large statue of a soldier. Down Rectory Lane where a tiny graveyard lies between a house and a footpath. Along Hall Street which leads back to Broad Street. It starts to rain heavily. Back by the monument, Water Street is well named as a stream runs alongside the road, with small bridges over to the houses. It is flowing rapidly.

Thursday – Mortimer Forest – The Forestry Commission offices are situated by the Whitcliffe car park on the Ludlow-Wigmore road. A track runs southwards, gently rising through an open area, Upper Evens, where the conifers have been cleared and Silver Birch has taken over. However, more conifers have been planted – probably a sensible financial proposition but sad that the forest has not been converted back to broadleaf. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips and tits squeak. Wood Pigeons fly across an azure sky. There is a brisk wind and strong sunshine, although clouds are passing, Mary Knoll Valleythreatening yet more rain. The ground underfoot is sodden. The path emerges at the edge of the Mary Knoll Valley. Opposite is the open top of High Vinnalls and to the west, across Mary Knoll is Hazel Copse rising to the triangulation point on Bringewood Chase. The track leads east for a while then the “Climbing Jack” path heads down the valley side. It is steep, muddy and slippery, and the descent is not helped by Maddy dumping large branches at my feet in a vain attempt to get me to throw them. Having failed, she runs behind me to retrieve her branch and then drags it past, hitting me on the legs with it. The path reaches the bottom of Mary Knoll Valley, down over two hundred feet. The stream is bubbling down its bed below the path. The hillside above is Sunnyhill Bank – and I note the old maps call the cottages further down the valley, Sunnyhill Cottages, but it is now Sunnydingle Cottage, although Sunnydingle Woods are further to the west. The stream enters a fair sized pond. A Kingfisher flashes turquoise as it flees my approach. Beyond the pond it is possible to see the stream has changed it course several times with old courses left high and, relatively in these conditions, dry. These changes of courses can be seen in action where the flow has been blocked by a small dam of sticks, leaves and mud which has built up between a tree root and the bank, forcing the stream around the tree and back to its course in a little meander. The path meets a track that rises past large quarried faces of limestone, the layers clearly visible. The path comes to a junction, ahead is Starvecrow Lane, a track that leads to Starvecrow and Hucksbarn before emerging onto the Overton Road. My path, to the left, climbs Lower Evens. A very late flowering Great Mullein with yellow blooms stands several feet high next to the track. A path leaves the track and heads back toward Whitcliffe car park. It is very wet and I am more wading that walking much of the time. Jays squawk noisily in the dense conifer plantation.

Friday – Home – The garden is pretty well “put to bed” for winter. The purple sprouting broccoli has grown into large, heavy plants that are falling over under their own weight, so they are staked. The rainbow chard is doing very poorly, maybe they are too close to the edge of the raised bed. I move some further out into the bed and put a cloche over them. Another cloche goes over the lettuces. Garlic has sprouted, as have the red onions sets. There are two rows of dense pea shoots. The broad beans are just showing. But all of these are for spring. The bottom of the garden is a mess of apple and damson trees – all old and full of decay. I have already pulled out one large branch from a rotten limb on a damson and now finish cutting it into small pieces for disposal. Everything is so wet that burning it is proving impossible. Another dead mass is pulled down. At least the path is not being blocked by dead limbs now, or it will not be when this branch is cut up. Disposal of large amounts of dead material is a problem. We have five compost bins and all are full, yet there is a mass of stuff still to go. It has to be reduced, put in bags and taken to the recycling centre; not a favourite job. I splash a bit over water over the plants in the greenhouse. My fingers are now numb with cold despite the blue sky and bright sun, so I retreat to the house.

Saturday – Leominster – The turning-on of the Christmas lights in Corn Square. The event is advertised as occurring at 4:15, but of course it is late. It was last year and by the way most people only turn up at 4:15, it probably is late every year. After about ten minutes the procession of the Nativity with a bored looking donkey and the Town Mayor arrive. All gather around a lorry where there is a large plunger, the light switch. The mayor mumbles something into the microphone and then it is over to the compère for the switch on. The man in a fluorescent yellow jacket climbs a ladder nest to the lorry to reach a junction box. “Let’s have a practice!” cries the compère, and so there is a countdown from ten and the man up the ladder turns the lights on, something of a lack of planning and communication one thinks. The compère ploughs on regardless. Actually, half the lights around the square have failed to come on anyway. So there is a second countdown, aforementioned plunger is plunged and everyone cheers. The dark half of the square remains dark. Someone points this out to fluorescent jacket man who climbs up the ladder again and fiddles with the wires. Finally, the full glory is revealed, although neither Blackpool or Oxford Street will be quaking in their boots.

Monday Sulphur TuftCroft – The wind direction has changed to come from the north and consequently the temperature has dropped considerably. In fact there is a warming sun shining brightly in a blue sky but the chill factor of Boreas is nipping my fingers. Underfoot it is muddy, very muddy. In places a small stream runs down the path and the established watercourses are flowing swiftly. Water gushes out of culverts draining the hillsides. Maddy is in a mood for stick-playing and drags various pieces of wood, and there is Parasol Mushroomplenty of choice as the recent gales have brought down an abundance, along the path, dropping them for me to throw, which I resist. There is silence from the birds, the only sounds are the trees muttering in the wind and the bubbling water. The track rises gently between Lyngham Vallet and Bircher Common. The hillside is coloured copper by dead bracken. Water gushes out from under a small stone ledge at the foot of the hillside and joins the stream. I cut up through the woods where Sulphur Tufts, Hypholoma fasciculare are abundant. The top of the hill is at Whiteway Head where I take the path down the eastern edge of the valley, the western edge of Bircher Common. Sheep graze on the grassland between the path and Oaker Coppice. I wander over the grass towards the southern end of Oaker Coppice looking for an enclosure, possibly Romano-British, but also possibly post-mediaeval. However, whilst there seems to be an area which seems to be slightly different from the surrounding grassland, I am not convinced. Back down the hill past Croft Lodge and Highwood House, the latter a fine large country residence which in 1876 was the seat of the Hon. Humphrey de Bohun Devereux, J.P. and D.L, son of the 14th Viscount of Hereford. Further on down the road is the old rectory, undergoing refurbishment. Just beyond, over the stream that flows out of Fish Pond Valley is the gate to the long drive of Croft Castle. Up the drive, a large Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, grows beside road.