Thursday – Bodenham Lake – Grey clouds still carry more rain. Westfield and Dinmore woods have turned to tarnished bronze. The hedge between the paddock and meadow alternates scarlet and gold – haws and Field Maple leaves. A skein of noisy Canada Geese fly over. There are Cormorants everywhere, on the spit, in the trees, on the pontoon and more fishing in the water. I count at least forty. A Great Crested Grebe fishes on the far side. Mallard circle each other. The pair of Mute Swans still have three large cygnets with them. A Grey Heron flies off the scrape to the far shore. Another pair emerge from the north-western reed bed. Tufted Duck and Coots dive. Various guttural barks are emitted by the cormorants. Back in the meadow a Green Woodpecker climbs up a telegraph pole. Predictably, large numbers of cider apples are rotting in the orchard; none have been gathered for cider as claimed by the notices on the gates!
Friday – Leominster – Already the point of putting the clocks forward and back each year has slipped away – it is quite dark as Maddy and I head off across the Grange. However, we have a new toy! A ball that lights up. It is hilarious to see a small globe of light, changing colour, bobbing along as she retrieves it. Numerous Blackbirds chink their alarm calls in the dark. Tawny Owls hoot in the distance towards Eaton Hill. Later in the day Maddy and I return from the station past the White Lion Inn. The awful new houses that sit uncomfortably in front of the pub are now finished. It surely cannot be that bit more expensive to design interesting looking houses instead of this row of boxes. The old Pinsley Mill is a sorry sight – vandalised, set on fire and partly demolished. This area is evidence of the way some property developers have no grasp of the ambience of a market town like Leominster. Goldfinches fly out of the bushes beside the railway to drink from puddles in the roadway. White Dead Nettle flowers on the waste ground between the mill and Millennium Park.
Wednesday – Bircher Common – A grey morning of drizzle and mistiness. Blackbirds and Redwings move around the common. Deeper in the Gorse, Hawthorn, Elder and Maple thickets Chaffinches and a Bullfinch dart around. The water level in the pond is still very low, the surface green with weed. Rain falls more heavily. Gorse is spotted with yellow blossom. The wet bracken is russet brown. The ground under the Beech grove at the edge of Oaker Coppice is golden with cornflake crunchy leaves. There is little fungi under these trees. Indeed, the only specimen I find has large semi-circular bites out of it, reducing it to little more than a stalk. Down on the southern edge of the common, the place is busy with avian comings and goings. Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Goldfinches and Blue Tits scurry around. Blackbirds chatter and Redwings chack. Jays are calling further down on the field margins. A Carrion Crow joins in. Fat Wood Pigeons feed on the fields. A sizeable flock of Starlings fly off a Field Maple in the hedgerow and down the slope to a tall tree where they alight and watch alertly. Flocks of winter thrushes fly over.
Home – Kay has confirmed there is a Common Pheasant in the area. It was drinking from the pond this morning. We are not sure that it is welcome in the garden as it could do rather a lot of damage to our seedlings.
Friday – Croft – A mist closes the world around me. Wind rustles the leaves. Many more leaves lie thickly on the track. For some reason, Maddy decides to go through the main gate which is protected by a cattle grid. She quickly realises her error and backs up gingerly. Drops of water fall constantly from the trees. Up in the Beech wood leaves are falling like copper snowflakes. Maddy is full of energy and eagerly chases her ball down the steep valley sides and gallops back up again for an immediate repeat performance. Small flocks of finches move about the tall trees at the end of Fish Pool Valley but maybe it is the mist that makes them very flighty. I nearly fall flat on my face as I step over the wide log fence onto the path up the valley between Lyngham Vallets and Bircher Common. The smooth log is slick with wet algae giving my steadying hand no purchase. The woods are quiet, just a background of wind through trees. The silence is broken by loudly squawking Jays, which although large and pink, remain invisible. Blue Tits search the Silver Birches for food. The Mortimer Trail along the top of Leinthall Common is a quagmire. Suddenly there is a patch of Hawthorns and Ash saplings full of noisy Blackbirds. Visibility on Croft Ambrey is even further reduced. Beyond the confines of the hillfort is a wall of grey; indeed from the northern edge the southern ramparts are invisible. Some grasses have a strange yellowish substance growing on them. It is a slime mould, possibly Badhamia lilacina (plasmodium). I had been pondering the utter lack of fungi in the woods. Had the rain come too late? I had wondered if the local posh restaurants had pickers that scoured these woods, but then where were the inedibles? Then beside the track down from Croft Ambrey stands at least a dozen Fly Agaric, their white-spotted scarlet caps shining with moisture. I gather a few Field Mushrooms from the lower field near the castle.
Monday – Croft – A damp and decidedly chilly morning. Gentle burblings of tits and Blackbirds come from the woodland edge. Nuthatches call in the Beech wood. Below a large caterpillar digger is clearing the long closed dam of one of the fish pools. The digger stops and peace returns. Robins sing, a Wren ticks and a Carrion Crow caws harshly. Then a distant murmur turns into a growling rumble as a tipper comes down the track loaded with earth, heading for the pool where the repairs are being undertaken. I had wondered if the tipper had come all the way from Aymestrey, the closest point of access to the road, but a mini-digger by a large pile of soil at the top of the track answers that question. Along a muddy trail past the great, ancient Oaks. Jays squawk, Blue Tits churr, nuthatches wheep and Redwings explode this way and that at the top of the Spanish Chestnut field. A Grey Squirrel chunters its displeasure at Maddy. A large flock of finches, mainly Chaffinches rises from the ground near the gate. Fungi are growing out of a Beech tree. They are Slimy Beech Caps, Oudemansiella mucida, also called Poached Egg Fungus, Porcelain Fungus or Beech Tuft and are apparently edible when cooked after the slime is washed off. A couple of decades ago, it was discovered that a very powerful anti-fungal agent can be made from these and similar fungi (the fungus uses it to stop other fungi invading its space) and is now extensively used in agriculture. I leave them where they are and collect some field Mushrooms instead.
Tuesday – Leominster – A clear cold afternoon. We wander around the antique shops for a while then I take Maddy for a run. New fruit trees have been planted in the meadow by the Kenwater between the picnic area and the Millennium Park – apple, cherry, pear, gage and one unlabelled. I gather some Blewits from a pile of leaf litter in the Breathing Space garden.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Although many trees still have some leaves, there is a wintry feel to the morning. It is cold, grey and misty. Fields look bleak. The Dinmore woods are hidden. Corvids seem to dominate the avian world. A pristine male Goosander glides majestically across the lake. Tufted Duck numbers seem to have risen, whilst Cormorant numbers have dropped dramatically. Goldeneye have also arrived. A Grey Heron stalks across the shingle. A Green Woodpecker calls behind the hide. At the risk of being obsessive about this, I note that the apples have still not been gathered from the cider orchard. Many more have rotted. There are still a goodly number of eating apples either on the trees or as wind-falls. The day seems to be getting colder.
Friday – Eaton Hill – A cloudy, grey sky and a light wind greets the morning. It is wet and muddy along the path beside the River Lugg. The sun is trying to break through. A flock of Redwings pass over. A Common Buzzard crosses the flood plain and a pair of Ravens circle high above Eaton Hill. Long-tailed and Great Tits feed in riverside bushes. Blackbirds fly to and fro. Flocks of unidentified finches dash past. Rooks call over the fields. A few Fieldfares alight atop a tall Ash but pause only briefly before the join passing Redwings. Up the old drovers’ steps and onto the ridge. The big field holds a crop of beets. A single Black Nightshade grows on the field’s edge, its flowers tiny white stars with a yellow centre. Many of the beets on the field edge have been well nibbled by the local deer and/or badgers. Near a lone conifer the beets have been destroyed altogether. There are burrows all around the bottom of the tree. Several species of fungi are growing beside the path. One is an inverted chocolate cone, possibly one of the Clitocybe family. Another is almost certainly one of the Agaricus family which includes the common Field Mushroom and the commercially grown mushroom. Down the hill and past Brightwells where there is some sort of horse related event with stalls and horse-boxes by the dozen. We get stopped at Mill Street crossing by a bright yellow HST Class 43, named “John Armitt” with the logo “New Measurement Train”. Known as the “Top Banana” this train uses various pieces of measuring equipment to ensure the track is in good condition. The cottage by the crossing, presumably once the crossing attendant’s abode, used to have a door and a window above facing the road, now bricked up.
Sunday – Swinley Forest, Berkshire – In Surrey for a birthday party, so David and I take Maddy and Freddy to this popular woodland. It is an extensive area of woodland, part of the Crown Forests, lying to the south of the town of Bracknell. It is only just past 9 o’clock and the car park is crowded. Dozens of runners, cyclists and dog walkers are in the woods. Conifers dominate. It is damp and misty. Small fungi grow in the leaf-litter. Young conifers are decked with spiders’ webs which are white with dew. A Roman road crosses straight from east to west. It ran from London to Silchester and is called the Devil’s Highway, apparently because post-Roman occupants of the area believed only the devil could have built such an unnaturally straight road. We are looking for an Iron Age fort called Caesar’s Camp but we fail to locate it. David remembers it from his youth but things change over the years. Indeed, the paths do not match the OS map extract we have. The woods were part of the huge hunting reserve of Windsor Forest. The Fallow Deer hunted originally here were replaced by Red Deer in mediaeval times. The laws on illegal hunting were so strict that the deer herds multiplied greatly and caused much damage to the crops of local people. After the Civil War, the Parliamentary forces destroyed the deer herds and much of the land was sold off to pay the Army. At the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles II was left with the Forest as nine widely separated great woods. Outlaws lived in the forest, poaching and stealing taxes and dues being delivered to Windsor. Around 1722 the Forest was terrorized by a gang called “The Blacks”, forty of whom were eventually arrested and publicly executed. In 1723 the notorious “Black Act” was passed, bringing in 50 new capital crimes for deer poaching, leading again to over-population by deer, destitution and yet more crime. In 1730 the situation was so bad that fear was expressed for the safety of the Royal Family at Windsor. At the end of the 18th century, a French invasion was feared and the army used the heathland around Caesar’s Camp for exercises, including constructing redoubts (earthwork refuges) that can still be seen today. Part of the forest suffered greatly this year when a fire swept through the area, the largest in Berkshire history. We follow the forest tracks, past an eerie pond and marsh that may not have changed for a thousand years. A Fly Agaric stands by the track. Back at the Look Out where there is a visitors’ centre, playground and tree top walkways and zip wires, the crowds have grown.
Tuesday – Mortimer Forest – Morning mist glows like plasma in the bright sunshine that filters through the trees. Water drips; everywhere is sodden. Great Tits squeak. Three Fallow Deer stand in the dark conifer wood watching our passing. A slight breeze creates a blizzard of leaves. Spiky café crème puffballs grow out of the track-side banking. Despite recent rain, there is still only a large puddle in the lower of the Deer Park ponds and the upper one remains dry. The clouds have reasserted their dominance over the firmament and the sun has disappeared. Conifers line the skyline to the south. Many have a Carrion Crow sitting at the apex. Three Common Buzzards glide up from Richards Castle, mewing. Mist rises like smoke from the hillside. A flock of finches, Linnet I think, flies over calling like sleigh bells. A flock of Crossbills is flighty, not pausing anywhere long, soon departing with their jip jip call. Willow Tits, Blue Tits and Wrens call. A Great Spotted Woodpecker worries at a branch. A Treecreeper is briefly glimpsed before it scurries hidden up the far side of a tree trunk. It gets mistier as the track climbs to High Vinnalls. Clouds sit on hills and columns of mist like wraithes drift over the woods. A rosy breasted male Bullfinch searches a Silver Birch. Fallow Deer with dark chocolate backs bound across the track on Climbing Jack Common. Blewits are growing in the grass. Down in the lower woods near to Overton, Goldcrests, Blue and Coal Tits acrobatically search for food among the Silver Birch branches. Small bracket fungi and Honey Fungus infest old stumps.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A sharp frost overnight has not gone deep and the ground is still wet and muddy. Redwings fly out of the orchard hedgerows. At least a dozen Cormorants clatter across the lake as they take off. Six female and two male Goosander are in the shallows. A male vigorously washing his feathers and the scattering Cormorants must make a pair of Grey Herons’ chances of finding breakfast diminish greatly. A pair of Common Pheasants sit on the reserve fence. A Little Grebe dives near the scrape. Several Mallard, a drake and several duck Teal wash and feed in pools in the scrape. Tufted Duck dive across the lake. More Teal sift mud on the spit where twenty Cormorants stand, many drying their wings. There are yet more Cormorants in the trees. Large numbers of Coot are bobbing down into the depths. Three drake and one duck Goldeneye and two male Pochard are present. A Green Woodpecker yaffles on the island. Several Wigeon are near the north-west corner. Clumps of fungi grow near a large bramble patch. As usual, identification is a problem but I settle for Burnt Tricholoma, Tricholoma ustale. Sheep are now on the meadow and look suitably annoyed at Maddy’s sudden appearance. A few Blewits grow in the grass and numerous fairy rings, not the Champignon but possibly the deadly Ivory Clitocybe, Clitocybe dealbata.
Thursday – Home – Bottled my first demi-john of cider for the season. Not entirely clear, but probably just a pectin haze rather than yeast. This batch was started at the end of August using Tom Putt apples. It really is very good, one of my best! It is very low in acid but just enough to give it some body but not the usual amount that makes the sides of ones tongue shrivel. Another half dozen gallons are clearing, more than that are still bubbling away and I am hoping that several “stuck” gallons are going to get going with a boost of wine yeast.
Friday – Hereford – Maddy’s first train journey and although she seems a little puzzled by it all there certainly is not the abject terror shown by Dill the Dog. A herd of over twenty Whooper Swans rests in a field of greens near Wellington gravel pits. Into Hereford and through High Town to Capuchin Lane and the cathedral. Down Gwynne Street, so named in the 19th century having previously been called Pipe Well Lane, past the Bishops Palace and round past modern apartments. Nell Gwynne was born on 2nd February 1650 in a house on this site which was demolished in 1858. She was mistress of King Charles II who made their illegitimate son Duke of St Albans. She was only 37 when she died in 1687. Over the River Wye via the old Wye Bridge. Mute Swans, Mallard and gulls are on the water. Under the functional but uninspiring modern road bridge, past a burnt out restaurant, a short row of attractive Victorian villas and the modern rowing club. A tramway ran from the south and alongside the river here. A Common Alder has maroon catkins and bright green cones. Under Hunderton bridge, built in 1854 by Charles Liddel for the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway Co. The present iron girder structure was built by the GWR on the original stone piers in 1912/13. The line was closed in 1966.
A rowing boat is sculled by. Past a housing estate and riverside houses of varying ages. One was a public house and still has the West Country Ales plaque on the wall. A Sparrowhawk flashes overhead. Although it is only a short distance from the city centre, playing fields on the opposite bank have given way to farmland and sheep. The path eventually leaves the estate and passes over a small stream at Abbotsmead. The path continues through modern housing, running alongside a drainage channel. Wooden footbridges join sections of the estate. A wide open grassland appears dotted with squares of stones in mesh cages and seats. It appears to be an old tip on Hunderton Rough. Up through a field of sheep to arrive at Belmont Abbey. It was founded as a Benedictine Priory in 1859 and the church of St Michael and All Angels was built in 1857 and consecrated in 1860. It was designed by Edward Welby Pugin, son of Augustus Welby Pugin. Two tombs stand in the north transept, that of the Rt Rev Thomas Brown and the Rt Rev John Cuthbert Hedley. However, this is not a welcoming church and tape stops access to many areas. Inside the churchyard are rows of simple headstones dedicated to Doms, Monsignors and Very Reverends. Across the field, on the edge of the housing estates, is a small chapel. It was built in 1852 along with almshouses by R.C. Carpenter for Francis Wegg-Prosser, lord of the manor, who founded the priory. Back down the Abergavenny road. Past Tescos, McDonalds and the “Community shops” – several fast food joints, convenince store, off-licence and bookies. Something of a statement on the understanding of community these days. Back to the station, via the Pasty Shop. A freight train waits for the green. If the French signs on the wagons are correct, they are carrying steel coils bound for Port Talbot.
Saturday – Leominster – Seems that today is a popular one for train excursions. This morning GWR King Class engine 6024, “King Edward I”, passes through. It can be heard from some distance as it whistles hauntingly. The gleaming engine and carriages rush under the Worcester Road bridges filling the air with the scent of coal fires and oily steam. It is travelling fast and is gone in an instant. I last saw the engine in the mid 1960s, rusting away at Barry Docks where it had been sent for breaking. It was bought by the 6024 Preservation Trust in 1973 and was restored and running again by 1989. This afternoon Kay and I head down to the old waste ground by the Millennium park. First a clean and shiny diesel locomotive hauls past a long train of carriages including one marked “Royal Scot”. A scruffier, more typical diesel pulls through with a long train of wagons, including a bright yellow crane. Then a near brand new Peppercorn Class A1 “Tornado” hauls an massive line of carriages past, whistling almost continuously. The engine was built in the last decade by the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, the first steam engine for over 40 years.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – It is a grey and cool morning. I start from the Vinnalls car park, standing on the site of old gravel pits and quarries, and head for Peelers Pond. The air is rent by snarling chainsaws as the Forestry Commission carry out woodland maintenance in the western edge of Sunny Dingle Wood. A flock of Wood Pigeons passes over. Coal and Blue Tits chirp, a Carrion Crow barks. Peeler Pond is yellow-grey with clay mud. Up the steep path to Climbing Jack Common. It is very quiet all the way to High Vinnalls. Good numbers of golden brown Woolly Inocybe fungi, Inocybe lanuginosa grow by the path. On the summit the sound of a shoot comes from way over towards Burrington Hays. Down the trail and west down into a valley. Willow, Blue and Coal Tits call in the conifers. Layers of Elton beds of shaly siltstones line the track like shallow steps. The few fossils in the stone are small pieces of crushed shell. Banks by the track show numerous layers, a couple of which are particularly thick and solid looking. The path drops down into the valley that leads to Elton. My track heads the opposite direction for a while and then turns down across the floor of the valley. The valley is bright green grassland with incursions from the wood, now a single entity but once divided into various woodlands and coppices – Pool Plantation, Kingacre Wood, Tinkerbridge Wood, Hall Wood and Brush Wood. A circular coppice, Roundabout Coppice, stood here but has been felled. The brief appearance of the sun is welcome. The path drops again into the valley which leads down to Aston Pipe. Fungi is still common despite it being late in the year. A Clouded Clitocybe, Clitocybe nebularis has been reduced to lace-work by neat circular holes made by slugs. Russet Tough-shanks, Collybia dryophila, are very common. Over the stream and up towards Juniper Hill to the harsh croaking of Ravens. The path climbs steeply up Juniper Hill, firstly on a rough, stony track then a slippery, muddy slope before the grassy sward of Aston Common. A few Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria, grow on the hillside. The trail drops down to Pitch Coppice and back to the car park.