Thursday – Leominster – Hurricane Sandy has caused extensive flooding and much damage to the eastern seaboard of the United States, despite being downgraded to tropical storm before it made landfall. New York and large parts of New Jersey were flooded and billions of dollars of damage caused. Here the pressure is very low, at 973mm of mercury, however, the recent high winds have dropped and it has stopped raining after a very wet night. The new hen is still proving to be something of a Houdini as she escaped yesterday afternoon, although I have no idea how! But she is laying daily.
Bodenham Lakes – A brief visit to the cider orchard to liberate some apples. A few Kingston Blacks have fallen and a large number of Blanc Mollet. I am unsure about the identity of the third tree that has a decent number underneath. The map on the information board is not clear, the identified positions do not match up with the actual trees. They may be a Chisel Jersey or a Reine de Pommes.
Humber – The BTO are undertaking a survey of winter thrushes and I have signed up using my Breeding Bird Survey patch. I am not sure why I did not choose another patch as this one is difficult to cover at best and not exactly prolific with anything other than Jackdaws and Common Pheasant. But nevertheless, here I am and it is still raining slightly. The chack of Jackdaws is noisy around the church. Up the track towards Humber Farm. A Common Pheasant balances precariously on a pole topped fence before jumping off and running in that odd upright manner down the field. There are several other cock pheasants in the field. A pair of Chaffinches flutter across the grass in combat. Across the field that heads towards Steens Bridge (which seems to change from two words to one word on some sign posts). The bird life is, as usual pretty limited; a few Common Pheasants and a passing Common Buzzard. The field is a sea of mud into which both my feet and stick sink. Two Common Buzzards sit on fence posts near the old railway line where it cut through Blackwardine, an Iron Age settlement, neither of which show on the ground. The sheep in the field beside the raptors look disinterested. Onto the road to Steens Bridge. Several Skylarks are singing, not sustained summer songs, but brief snatches as they pass overhead. Near Stoke Prior school is a field of mud with piles of soil containing potatoes. The rest of the field is covered with topped haulms. A grave is being dug at the Humber Woodland cemetery. Back to Humber church with very little to record, although negative results can always be important, if not very satisfying.
Monday – Croft – A bright blue sky and sunshine, although at this time of year that means mist and cold. It is a few degrees above freezing. The leaves are turning golden rapidly now but many have yet to fall. A Nuthatch calls near the car park. A snarling chain saw sounds across the fields. Down in the Fish Pool Valley, a tall spindly trunk, one of more than eight, of Lime has surrendered to gravity and forms a long arch to the ground. Water trickles down the stream that links the pools. A few birds make brief sounds, even Robins seem to have given up singing. A Raven grunts as it passes over. Further up the valley a Wren bursts into song. The area at the end of the valley is populated by mainly Ashes. Many have lost all their leaves and, although they look tatty with a number of dead branches, there is no sign of Ash Dieback, a disease caused by a fungus Chalara fraxinea. The disease has devastated Ash trees on the continent, especially in Denmark and has been identified as a risk in the UK for over three years now, but the authorities have done nothing and have banned imports of potentially infected Ash saplings only last week! Up the track between Bircher Common and Lyngham Vallet. A Nuthatch scurries up an Ash, jinking this way and that, searching for food. Blue Tits also search the branches and a Marsh Tit (I think, the call is not exactly one I recognise, although certainly not the normal Willow Tit call) attacks a seed held on a branch between its feet. A Nuthatch taps loudly on a Beech tree limb. Blackbirds mutter up towards the common. On up to Whiteway Head. A great, pale half moon lies in the western sky. Frost tinges the grass at the top of Leinthall Common. The footpath to Croft Ambrey is a quagmire. Up onto the Iron Age hill-fort. A Coal Tit is searching an Oak for grubs. Logging operations are taking place at the top of Lyngham Vallet. One of the few positives about the wet weather is the presence of water in the pond in the old quarry at the top of the park field. This means Maddy can be persuaded to chase a stick into the water and wash off most of the mud.
Friday – Hergest Ridge – A misty morning, fine drizzle and a breeze. The Beeches glow copper and gold. There are reports of thousands of Waxwings erupting from Scandinavia as there berry crop has failed there. There will be little joy for the visitors here as both Hawthorns and Rowans are devoid of fruit. (Sadly, there have also been many reports of thousands of migrants perishing off the coasts as they get lost in banks of fog and end up landing on the sea in exhaustion and drowning!) The hills of Herefordshire are completely obscured but patches of sunshine glide over the Radnor Forest. A Fieldfare calls as it passes over. A flock of Golden Plover circles and disappears into the low cloud. The weather is strange. To the east, clouds hang low but the Walton Basin is bathed in sunshine. Here towards to top of the ridge, the cloud has lifted and the drizzle stopped. The Golden Plover flock has split and a small group circle and, whistling gently, land in the tussocky grass near the Monkey Puzzle grove. Over on the Radnor Forest, Black Mixen has again vanished in cloud. Three ponies stand in the lee of the Araucarias, the wind is much stronger and bitter here. Sheep have been rounded up and taken down from the hills. Barely anything can be seen beyond the ridge. My resolve to walk on is broken by more drizzle. Back round the race course. Maddy drops her ball in the mud of a water-filled hollow whilst she drinks. The ball disappears into the soft mud causing her great consternation as she looks to and fro for her precious plaything. The weather continues to change by the minute. The ridge is green and brown – grass and dead Bracken, with little gems of yellow dotted everywhere – Gorse flowers.
Sunday – Leominster – Last night a thin, finger-nail moon shone brightly, its shadowed disk blue-grey. Jupiter is a brilliant jewel. This morning there is a heavy frost, the grass white with rime. A Carrion Crow croaks loudly and persistently as Maddy and I pass under the tree it is occupying. The sky starts to turn from black to a deep blue. Blackbirds fly around the churchyard, pinking their alarms continuously. A couple of hours later the sun has risen into a cloudless blue sky. Down by the River Lugg, three Cormorants fly to and fro seeking somewhere to fish, but they will be disappointed around here. A mist hangs over the water and the sun gleams blindingly off the surface. The market is small, the cold drives off many casual traders. More tidying is undertaken in the garden. The runner bean poles are dismantled, many pods of dried beans taken in for shucking, and the rest bagged for composting. I put more netting around the purple-sprouting broccoli and pick a few heads, the first of the season. Also the first are a few parsnips which are, as usual, split, bifurcated and generally deformed but turn out to be delicious. Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits are searching the trees for food. Blackbirds are on the apple tree and Jackdaws in the Ash.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The rain falls steadily. A woman in the Vinnalls car park has a pair of spaniels. She orders them to sit which one does reluctantly and the other has to be pushed down. I give a “been there, done that” smile. Maddy trots by with a wary sideways glance. Not a single bird can be heard, just rain pitter-pattering onto the fallen leaves. The path up to Climbing Jack Common from Peeler Pond is in as bad a state as it has ever been. Thick, deep, clinging mud sets my feet slipping and sliding. A cock Pheasant crouches in a hollow below the path but when I stop and observe, it realises it is not hidden and trots off. High Vinnalls is inevitably cloaked in cloud. Down the track where the only bird call so far is heard, a buzzing Willow Tit. The track winds down the north side of the ridge. It has almost stopped raining. Now just trickling water and wind in the tree tops is heard. Past a group of school children being shown the landscape and trees. Mutterings of “couldn’t we come here in the summer”.
Tuesday – Croft – A grey but mild morning. Down to the Fish Pool Valley and across the valley bottom by the pump house. This is one of the few ways to the Highwood Bank as the others are all closed off for dam wall repairs. Up the Beech wood where both below and above is the colour of fresh copper. A few young trees are still intensely green. Carrion Crows call and tits squeak. As usual at the time of year, the bank sides where the leaves do not lay are emerald green with mosses. A pair of Common Buzzards glide slowly over the wood, calling loudly. A sign has been attached to the notice board at the old quarry showing pictures of the symptoms of Ash Die-back. Logging work is under way in Lyngham Vallet to the south of the ancient Oaks. Great gouges cross the path where machinery has crashed through from the forestry track. The view from the top of the Spanish Chestnut field is magnificent. Merbach Hill, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons are all clear in the distance.
Thursday – Newent – A market town on the edge of the Forest of Dean about 8 miles north-west of Gloucester. The town has a long history, Mesolithic and Neolithic flints have been found in the district and evidence of Bronze Age metal working. An important settlement developed in the 2nd century CE. The main Roman road from Glevum (Gloucester) to Branogenium (Leintwardine), Magnis and Ariconium lay nearby and the settlement had an industrial area where iron smelting took place and a high status villa nearby. The Saxon manor was held by the king and No’ent was recorded in the Domesday Book as a large settlement of 34 households, the land held by Durand, High Sheriff of Gloucester and the Abbey of Cormeilles Sainte-Marie. The town prospered in the 17th century with a Market Hall being built in 1668. Industrialisation followed with a glass and iron works, a mill and the start of coal mining. The town declined in the 18th century but it was hoped coal would revitalise the economy and a canal was built which eventually joined Hereford, Ledbury, Newent and Gloucester. However, the coal proved uneconomical and the arrival of the Great Western Railway put paid to the canal, especially as it used some of the canal itself. The town lost its railway in 1966.
The high street is a delightful collection of shops in what look like mainly Georgian buildings. The United Reform church is much later being built in 1846 in the Victorian Gothic. Many however, are much older timber-framed but clad with bricks. There are still some superb Georgian town-houses. The market square still has the fine timber-framed market hall, currently being adorned with Christmas lights. A nearby house has a blue plaque recording it as the birthplace of Joe Meek, “Mr Telstar” according to the text, who was a successful songwriter and record producer of the early 1960s. The George Hotel claims to date from around 1649. The Shambles was a number of shops, including a butchers which became a Victorian museum in the 1960s. It has now reverted to a small shopping street. The church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the 13th century with a 14th century Lady Chapel and tower. There was very likely earlier buildings here, the Saxon township would have had a church and a Norman replacement was likely. The present church retains some of the 13th and 14th century features but the nave of this building collapsed on 18th January 1674 under the weight of snow. A new nave was built in the current style of large round-headed windows. The steeple was blown down in 1661, replaced again in 1872 and yet again in 1972. In the porch is a fine early 8th century cross-shaft with a representation of the Fall of Man, the sacrifice of Isaac and David Cutting off Goliath’s head. Nearby are massive grave slabs with Greek-style crosses thought to be from the 7th century. Inside the church is very spacious. Over the entrance is a tablet to the memory of Mrs Barbara Bouchier, who died in 1784 on the way home from India, sculpted by Flaxman. A tablet, also by Flaxman, to Barbara’s sister Sarah is in Gloucester Cathedral. In the Lady Chapel is a case containing “The Newent Stone”. In 1912 two skeletons were uncovered during the excavations for a new vestry. One skull rested on this stone which is about 8 inches by 6. One side shows the crucifixion and the Harrowing of Hell and the other a crozier and pectoral cross. Around the edge are the names of the evangelists – “Mathell, Marcus, Lucas and Joannes”. The name “Edred” is carved on the stone, who was presumably an ecclesiastical probably from the 11th century. Near the chancel is an alabaster tomb of an unknown knight and lady, dating in style of dress from 1370-1385. In the graveyard are several graves that identify butchers. Another is of a tailor. From the church and back to the market square. Here a lane leads to the old police station and Petty Sessional Court. One door has a stone lintel marked “Solicitors and Witnesses”. Beyond is Newent Lake, formally monastery fish ponds which were enlarged when Newent Court, now demolished, was built around 1810.
Sunday – Leominster – It is cold and the sky is still bright with stars. A pair of satellites pass each other, probably hundreds of miles apart in reality. The Cosmos 1758 Russian rocket body is heading south whilst the Lacrosse 4 rocket body from the USA heads north-east. A little later another rocket body, CZ-4, launched by China, passes over, by far the brightest and fastest moving. There is a heavy frost but it has not frozen the still swampy ground of the Grange. Maddy has lost her ball and is looking expectantly at me. I am not searching for it in this dark, so she will have to do without, we can look again when it becomes light. A Robin sings, a Tawny Owl hoots from Eaton and a Carrion Crow caws from the railway bridge over the River Kenwater. Venus is bright in the eastern sky and Jupiter in the west. Later in the morning we head off to the market via the green where Maddy’s ball lays in the grass. The River Lugg is full and flowing dirty brown. Not a lot of stalls but the art pottery man is there and yet again I buy a couple of pieces – a Bretby jardinière in perfect condition and a smaller one he believes is Linthorpe, where Christopher Dresser was the designer. Back home, at last the pots of broad beans in the greenhouse are beginning to sprout. The demi-johns of cider have been moved to the cupboard containing the gas-boiler. All are now bubbling quietly.
Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – A grey, wet morning although the fine drizzle has ceased by the time I arrive at the lake. Three Goldeneye swim along the far edge of the boating area. Some trees in Westfield Wood are still full of golden and copper leaves whilst others are stark and bare. A Green Woodpecker calls from the lake-side Alders and Jays are in the saplings near the hide. A Cormorant, a couple of Coots, a Moorhen and several Mallard are on and around the shingle bank. A pair of Mute Swans are a short distance away with another dozen adults and a couple of cygnets scattered across the water. Three Tufted Duck wing in followed by a pair of Wigeon. It seems only a couple of Canada Geese are present. Wisps of cloud drifts through the trees on Dinmore Hill. Wood Pigeons are regularly passing, jinking in the blustery wind. Back along the meadow where a Bullfinch dives into the hedge. A good number of Blackbirds are along the hedges and in the trees. Redwings and Fieldfares are in the orchards but not in large numbers. I would have expected there to be more given the reports of large numbers coming in from Scandinavia and further east. A couple of cider apple trees are surrounded by rotting fruit, but the sheep are in the dessert apple orchard and will have “hoovered” up any in there. The trees around the car park are busy with Chaffinches and Blue, Great and Coal Tits.
Thursday – Mortimer Forest – Strong winds blow through the conifers creating continuous sounds of rustling and sighing. Everywhere is wet. It rained continuously through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and now more is threatened. Not a single bird moves or calls. Grey toadstools are widespread. Although the sun is making an appearance, much of the sky is swirling pewter.
Home – The wind strengthens and as predicted rain returns. A stone owl that stood on top of a pillar at the end of the passage wall has been flung to the ground by the furious wind-lashings of next-door’s Leylandii. A section of the chicken run has also blown down. I repair it as best as possible but the whole thing needs replacing. A new perch is put in the chicken house. An old Ikea shoe rack had made a roosting perch but was not really satisfactory, so a simple wooden beam is put across the length of the main house. The young hen has still not really got it into her head that the nest boxes are there for her eggs – they are laid on the floor of the main house. Maybe a dummy egg will help?
Friday – Sutton St Nicholas – After the recent rains, the morning is fair with a cobalt blue sky. Not surprisingly, both the Rivers Arrow and Lugg have burst their banks and caused extensive flooding. South of town the fields are under water as are large areas south of Dinmore. Mist rises off the sodden fields and copses. The road to Marden has some deeply flooded sections which are a little worrisome to drive through. One section outside Sutton St Nicholas looks too risky so I go down to the Roman road at Holmer and back up past the Wergin’s Stone. I park at Sutton St Nicholas church. Opposite, Pantall’s Farmhouse is a splendid Georgian building, plain but of excellent proportions. Down towards Sutton Rhea but soon the track is deep under water at Moyles. Maddy is belly deep and whilst I can get some way further on a bank separating the ditch cum stream from the road, they join a short way ahead into a general flood pool, so back we go.
The church of St Nicholas is on an early Norman site but only a few stones and the font, mended with iron hoops, remain. The main building is early 13th century with a 16th century tower. There was a steeple but this was removed in the 18th century as there was no money to maintain it! Inside there is a Jacobean two tier pulpit and a simple screen of a similar age. The steady tick of the clock can be heard in the quiet. Beside the organ is a plaque stating that the “Incorporated Society for Building (sic) and Churches” gave a grant of £96 (I think, it is hard to read) in 1859 towards “reseating the church, on condition that 100 seats, conveniently placed, and in conformity with the plans approved by the Society be set aside for poorer inhabitants for ever.” I suspect the present day incumbent would be delighted with 100 attendees of whatever financial state to their services. The east window is late Victorian. A piscina has been partly obscured by a large piece of stone fitted into the window bay. It has a semi-circular section cut out and this holds a lectern. A rather strange arrangement! Outside is the base of a cross, but is reckoned to be 14th century although it looks older. Behind the base, on the gable of a bay in the south transept, are two reset 13th century corbel-heads. The Rectory is a fine building with its front door facing the churchyard and a gate into the same. On the other side of the road, called The Ridgeway, is Upper House Farm. The outbuildings are in a state of disrepair, the pyramidal roof of what was probably an oast house is missing many slates and the roof ridge of a barn is sagging precariously. The village is full of late 20th century “bijou” developments, hardly surprising this close to the city. At the crossroads is an old pub, the Golden Cross, the old Congregational chapel, now a dwelling and a couple of fine Georgian houses. One is constructed of squared blocks of stone but those of the third storey look different to the lower ones, an indication that this floor is maybe a later addition.
Sunday – Leominster – The news bulletins lead with tales of flooding across the country. Down to the market. The River Lugg is high and flowing rapidly. It would probably take just another foot of water for it to burst its way across Easters Meadow. The market is small, very few traders have bothered to turn out in these conditions, although it has stopped raining. Cheaton Brook flows under the entrance to Brightwells and is just a foot below the wired baskets of stones that form its banks. Round to the banks opposite Pinsley Meads. Like the other waterways, the Kenwater is running high and fast. As there seems to be no threat of rain for a few hours, I get the lawnmower out and remove the leaves from the lawn. They fill four large black bin-bags. Yet again, that Houdini hen has escaped and I have to chase around the garden to catch and return her to the run.
Monday – Croft Ambrey – A grey, cool morning. Everywhere is saturated. Many places throughout the country are suffering flooding, although Devon and Cornwall has been worst affected. Water rushes down the streams between the fish pools. Most leaves have fallen and are rapidly decaying to leaf mould. The woods are quiet, only the occasional Nuthatch and the gentle roar of water. Streams pour down paths, gouging out the leaves and mud to the bedrock. A waterfall has appeared between two of the pools. The wetness means the golds and copper of the autumn leaves and bracken have tarnished to dull brown. The public footpath up the end of the valley is a substantial stream so we take the forestry track. Maybe the stream would have washed off some of the mud Maddy has collected. It becomes mistier further up the hill. An Elder has a fine growth of Jew’s Ears fungi (Auricularia auricula-judae). I collect a few. It starts to rain gently. Cloud sits on Croft Ambrey reducing visibility to a few yards. However, it has stopped raining. Rumblings, crunches and reversing horns sound from the quarry far below hidden in the mist. There does not seem to be extensive flooding across the Arrow valley, just pools like mercury dotted here and there. Some blue sky has appeared and the clouds gleam white and grey.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – There is extensive flooding south of Leominster. Gulls taking advantage of the newly created lakes. The Lugg has also burst its banks around Bodenham. Fields are under water and my usual route is closed. Along the track beside the orchards, bare Hawthorns are draped in fluffy white Old Man’s Beard, (Clematis vitalba) also known as Traveller’s Joy, and vermilion rose hips. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. The lake is several feet higher than its usual level and has flooded the yacht centre and the surrounding area. Not surprisingly there is nothing of the scrape above the water level except the very tops of some Willow saplings. Very few birds are present. A couple of Moorhens bob around and three Mute Swans are close to the submerged reed beds. A few Canada Geese are asleep on one of the pontoons and four Mallard glide slowly across the water. Three Cormorants are in the trees. A Wigeon whistles from somewhere distant.
Thursday – Lichfield – A cathedral city in Staffordshire. The settlement began as a Saxon village. The name may come from Lece feld meaning a small stream (lece) by the open land (feld), but the Oxford Dictionary of Place-names prefers the old British Lĕtocĕton meaning a “grey wood” with feld being added later. Another story is that the Romans martyred a thousand Christians here in 300CE and the name means “field of the dead”. However, there is no historical evidence to support this. In 669CE, St Chad established his bishopric in the town and Lichfield became the ecclesiastical centre of the Kingdom of Mercia. The burial in the cathedral of the kings of Mercia, Kings Wulfhere in 674 and Ceolred in 716, further increased the prestige of Lichfield. In 786 Offa, King of Mercia, raised Lichfield to the dignity of an archbishopric with authority over all the bishops from the Humber to the Thames. However after King Offa’s death in 796, Lichfield’s power waned and in 803 the primacy was restored to Canterbury by Pope Leo III. The Vikings ravaged the city in the 9th century and Bishop Peter moved the bishopric to Chester in 1075.
By Domesday, Lichfield was recorded as a small village. Bishop Clinton developed the town into the grid pattern that still exists today. In 1195 work began on the Gothic cathedral. The Dissolution greatly affected the city with the loss of pilgrimage to St Chad’s shrine. Plague killed a third of the inhabitants in 1593. The last public burning at the stake took place in 1612 when Edward Wightman from Burton on Trent was executed for claiming to be the Saviour of the World. The cathedral suffered great damage during the Civil War as the city was divided and changed hands several times. From 1650, the city became an important stop on the London-Chester coach route. It also became known as a centre of intellectuals – Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward all making their homes here. We make our way through the streets of half-timbered and Georgian buildings. The major stores are here but there are also many independent shops and businesses, such as “R. Bridgeman, Architectural & Ecclesiastical Craftsmen in Wood and Stone” and “FM & J Wait, Cabinet Makers, Upholsterers, Undertakers &c”. A couple of shops occupy a building that was “Dame Oliver’s Infant School” where Samuel Johnson was taught English in 1714. Past a lake, Minster Pool, and the old hospital dating from 1208 to the close containing the cathedral.
The cathedral of St Chad and St Mary is magnificent with three towers, often called “The Ladies of the Vale”, all in a warm brown sandstone from a quarry to the south of Lichfield. Around the outside walls are niches which are still filled with saints and kings. The southern doors are in a richly carved Early English arch. We wander down the vast nave. Often old and worn alabaster tombs have had later monuments placed over the niches in the walls where they rest. A bust of David Garrick was erected by his “relict” Eva Maria. A plaque and relief is dedicated to Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin and an important scientist in his own right. A few sections of mediaeval wall painting still exists. In the Lady Chapel is some extremely fine Flemish painted glass dating from the 1530s which Brooke Boothby bought from the Abbey of Herkenrode in 1801 when it was dissolved during the Napoleonic wars. A vestibule leads from the north Choir Aisle to the Chapter House and contains a unique medieval pedilavium where, following the example of Jesus at the Last Supper, feet were washed on Maundy Thursday. In the Chapter House are the Lichfield Gospels and The Lichfield Angel, both dating to around 730CE. The Gospels contain 263 folios of which eight are illuminated. Its paleographic and stylistic similarities link it to Northumbria and Iona, the painting techniques resemble the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. However, links to the Hereford Gospels suggest a Mercian origin. Others have argued that the manuscript was written in Wales, particularly due to the Welsh marginalia. The Angel was discovered in February 2003 during an excavation under the nave. It is thought to depict the Archangel Gabriel and was part of a stone chest that contained the relics of St Chad. We were told that the archaeologist who discovered the stone was on his last dig before retirement and was the butt of jokes because during his long career had never discovered anything of great importance and then he found this, one of the finest pieces of 8th century carving ever discovered.
Barnsley – We come into town from Worsbrough. The Cutting Edge, a rather odd modern pub on the long slope down to the River Dove has been demolished. Along the Sheffield Road where pretty much every pub is up for sale. At least the empty stores at Town End are now occupied. We are told that most the pubs on the Wakefield Road have been demolished as has The Wilthorpe, the site of which now houses a Tesco’s. It is one of the clearest signs of how the community once centred around their pubs now retreat to the television and their soaps and celebrity shows.
Friday – Barnsley Canal – Down to Willowbank in the dark. It is below freezing and the landscape is pale on the just-passed full moon. Tawny Owls hoot along the railway. Sections of the path would be very muddy but it is helped by being frozen. The canal looks even more weed-filled.
Easby – South of Richmond stands the ruins of Easby Abbey on the banks of the River Swale. It is thought there may have been a religious site here from 700CE. The church of St Agnes (a Sicilian saint) was believed to have been built in the early 12th century. In 1152, Roald, Constable of Richmond Castle, founded an abbey here. This was a house of the Premonstratensians, an Order took its name from the Abbey of Prémontré in the diocese of Laon, it having been inaugurated there by St Norbert in 1120. The Premonstratensians wore a white habit and became known as the White Canons. The abbey suffered frequent raids by the Scots during the Middle Ages but much damage was done by the drunken behaviour of an English force which was billeted there on the way to the Battle of Nevilles Cross in 1346. It was abandoned after the Dissolution in 1537, although there were just seventeen canons resident, down from a peak of over thirty. A fine gatehouse stands on one side of the road. The church is on the other side and beyond the extensive ruins of the abbey. An impressive refectory was built in the late 12th century and rebuilt in the 13th century with large windows which would have made the first floor dining room very light and airy. Many of the cloister buildings are still standing but the church which would have stood here has been almost completely demolished. Another range of buildings, probably based around an infirmary, stands to the north of the site of the abbey church. Two pits stand nearby which were the bread ovens. Sadly, the church of St Agnes is closed which means we miss seeing the extensive mediaeval wall paintings and a replica of the Easby Cross dating from around 790CE, the original being in the V&A. The site is overlooked by Easby Hall, an early 19th century country house.
Richmond – A market town that grew up around the castle on a bluff high above the River Swale. After the “harrying of the North” in 1069 when King William I ethnically cleansed the north of England following an uprising in York, he gave the Borough of Richmond to Alain Le Roux de Ponthievre of Brittany, known as Alan Rufus. He constructed a castle on “Riche Mont”, the Strong Hill. A 100 foot high keep, which can be seen for miles around, was erected at the end of the 12th century by Duke Conan the Little and the great outer walls by Henry II. We head into the centre past a large, crenellated pub, the Fleece, designed by GG Hoskins, the godson of the Duchess of Gordon, in 1897 in his typical Gothic style. The centre of the town is a large cobbled market square, covered in cars unfortunately. A tall obelisk of a rather odd gherkin shape is the Market Cross, erected in 1771 and built over a large reservoir that once supplied the town water.
The castle only opens at weekends in winter which is a disappointment. So we take a stroll around the Castle Walk, a Georgian terrace which leads round under the castle walls above the river which tumbles over rocky outcrops. Round beyond the river is a large green, Richmond Green, which was the mediaeval centre of industry, containing a tannery, corn and fulling mills, brewers and nail makers. It is connected to the far side of the River Swale by the Green Bridge, built in 1788. Higher up the hill just below the terrace is the last remaining pedestrian gate into the town. On a hill opposite is the Culloden Tower, built in 1746 by John Yorke, M.P. for Richmond, to commemorate the English victory over the Jacobite Scots at Culloden Moor. The terrace leads back round to market square. Back down to the main road. Opposite The Fleece is a ruined church with a 15th century tower, all that remains of a Franciscan friary, established in 1257. It was dissolved in 1538 and being so close the the urban centre of Richmond was robbed out of stone quickly and completely.
Newcastle – We have arrived in Gateshead to stay with our friends for a couple of days. Out for an evening in the city of Newcastle. The metro crosses the Tyne. The bridges to the east are lit up and a large pale yellow moon hangs behind them. We notice the crowds, something we are unused to these days. Indeed, the first pub too crowded for us, so we move on to one of the few quieter ones. After a few beers and a fine Chinese meal we take the Metro back. Two “lasses” in skimpy tops, very high heels and the skimpiest of shorts (used to be hot pants maybe) get off at our stop. One was staggering up the escalator, her buttock cheeks largely exposed, falling over and stumbling off out of the Metro station to universal bemusement.