Saturday – Saltdean-Newhaven – A windy morning but the sun is emerging from a bank of clouds, although it may shortly disappear behind another. Down to the cliff tops and east, a war memorial stands in the green sward, the dedication already eroded so that it is hard to decipher. The sea is fairly calm despite the stiff wind. A Cormorant sweeps around and retraces its flight. Ones footsteps bear watching as the path is riddled with rabbit diggings. Over the end of Telscombe Tye and down towards the sprawl of Telscombe Cliffs. A female Stonechat, Goldfinches and a Dunnock are in a patch of scrub. The path turns into roadside for a way before rejoining the cliff top behind the Smugglers Rest pub. Concrete building is hidden in the cliffs, it is a sewage pumping station. Nudism appears to be a problem here with notices indicating there are byelaws prohibiting such behaviour! On along the cliff top. A pair of Cormorants sit on the sewer outfall. A lone surfer looks disconsolate as he retreats from the rather unimpressive waves. The path continues seamlessly into Peacehaven. The town started out in 1914 as Anzac-on-Sea but soon changed to Peacehaven. Post-First World War it grew as a place for war veterans to live and by 1924, the population numbered 3000. It now sprawls out across the Downs and down to the cliff tops with a population of over 14,000. Numerous rows of 20th century housing line the path and spread a long way inland. The Greenwich Meridian runs through the town. Charles Neville, the local land agent, raised money from the public to build an obelisk to mark the meridian and the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1936. Unfortunately, the King died before the foundation stone was laid so it became the George V Memorial. Jackdaws float around the cliff top then a surprise as a Raven twists in the air cronking. Bastion Steps lead down to the foot of the cliffs but I stay on the top.
The path leaves Peacehaven and starts up over the Peacehaven Heights via The Leas, past a chalet village. Gulls are ever present, drifting by and calling. It has clouded over now, the clouds in the west look threatening. The path diverts around Chene Gap with a wooden bridge over a deep ditch. On top of the hill is something encased in a tarpaulin, surrounded by a strong fence. Dwellings are scattered over the rather barren area back from the cliffs. They look rather isolated and a little grim. Beyond is a housing estate. Ahead is another chalet park and a radio mast and lookout on Castle Hill. There was a Bronze Age settlement on Castle Hill and later an Iron Age hill-fort but little remains now. Newhaven harbour west arm stretches into the sea with its lighthouse blinking. Large Tree Mallows are common on the cliff edge. The cliffs here are a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The chalk was laid down in the Upper Cretaceous, around 85 million years ago. A Stonechat calls his rapid tick. The harbour is dominated by a large yellow and white ferry. More Stonechats call. A Pied Wagtail lands on the path, a Blackbird watches. Several of one of the agaricus mushrooms grows near old concrete blocks, probably once holding wires for a mast. Old gun emplacements from WWII lay either side of the outlook. I recall that we used to break into the old fort when I was young. The shell lifts were still in place, covered in oil and smelling of fuel. Fallen passageways and blocked doors held mysteries. Today the fort is a tourist attraction. Down to Fort Road. A modern art installation called “The Look-out” stands at the junction. Nearby is The Prince of Wales pub, an old United Ales house with a frontage of green tiles in two tones. The town centre is a drear modern affair. Newhaven has as been depressed as long as I can remember and nothing much has changed. The Saxons built a village here called Meeching. Because of flooding to the north of the village, the estuary of the River Ouse did not develop and Seaford was the local port. The flooding was caused by the longshore drift of shingle blocking the river mouth. In the 16th century a channel was cut below Castle Hill and the sheltered harbour developed. The accumulation of shingle still continued though and the river mouth moved slowly eastwards. In the late 18th century a western breakwater was built to stop the drift and the new haven was born. The first bridge across the river was constructed in 1784. The arrival of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1847 greatly enhanced the small village. The docks grew in importance. I worked here briefly in the 1970s, firstly unloading ships – meat boats from Argentina with sacks of frozen hare meat for pet food and steak in large flat boxes and banana boats from the Caribbean with large brown Banana Beetles and spiders – not my favourite job! Later I did a bit of “ship keeping”, basically caretakering British Rail ferries that were tied up for the winter. Across the main road the bridge to Denton Island looks down on a large rotting iron barge. The ribs of another boat are just shadows in the mud. Herring Gulls and Little Egret feed. Denton Island has attracted a lot of businesses to the area to replace the dock and harbour work. Down the road and over the swing bridge, rebuilt in 1974. Seawards, are the old piles of the original bridge. A large metal sculpture of a Cormorant stands on one with the real thing beside it. A bus is about to leave back to Brighton, so I leap on board.
Saltdean – In the afternoon we all go down to the beach. Kitty, our granddaughter is walking now. A Raven lands high on the cliff and is mobbed by Jackdaws. We have a tapas lunch at The Whitecliffs Restaurant, a rather splendid art-deco building where the land dips down almost to sea level. The sun and clouds are providing spectacular colours in the western sky.
Sunday – Brighton – The wind is stronger today with “stop one in one’s tracks” gusts. The sea is also much wilder, foaming white breakers crashing into the a seawall in high plumes. A Lesser Black-backed Gull, the dark fuscus form of the Baltic, sails by on the wind. Jackdaws twist and turn, playing in the air whilst Common Gulls stand hunch-backed by the edge of the water. Over to Rottingdean and onto a bus for Brighton. Old Steine is rather shabby – bare, weedy flower beds, grass worn and patchy, the fountain switched off with dirty water in the pool. Up St James Street. It wants to look trendy but somehow fails. Upper St James Street is even tattier. Down to the sea front. Marine Parade is closed for the annual vintage car run. The Esplanade, now called The Max Miller Walk, is closed because it is unsafe. Along the main road. Again there is a sad air of neglect. All the iron work is leaking rust, weeds grow through the cracks in the asphalt. The Georgian buildings often need a paint job. Things so not improve at Grand Junction Road, the Royal Albion looks tired, the pub under Clarendon Mansions, on the corner of East Street is boarded up. It is sad, this is the centre of historic Brighton and it looks like it will need millions spent on the infrastructure, something that is unlikely to happen. Up East Street there is a store with the windows full of old Singer sewing machines, quite a fun idea (although I am told later it is the corporate image of the chain...) Back eastwards along King’s Cliff, towards the great Georgian squares, the terraces are all impeccable or covered in scaffolding and being painted.
Monday – Bodenham Lakes – Last night saw heavy, prolonged rainfall, but this morning is bright but cool. Robins tick around the car park. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from the tall willows. The lake hosts the usual autumn species, Canada Geese, Coots, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe and a Grey Heron. The Coot numbers are increasing substantially each week as are the Canada Geese and there are more Tufted Duck and Wigeon but the Gadwall and Shoveler are nowhere to be seen. Three Cormorants are in the trees. Threads of spider silk catch the sun as they float across in front of the hide. The Mute Swan family glide into view. A Grey Heron flies onto the scrape but its eyesight is such that my slightest movement alarms it and it departs. Rasping of Mistle Thrushes comes from West Field Woods and a pair chase through the tops of Oak trees. Sheep have been put onto the cider apple orchard so all the fallen fruit have been eaten, rather a waste! A Chiffchaff is calling from the orchard edge, very late in the season indeed. Back at the car park a flock of 16 Redwings land in the Poplars – the first winter thrushes of the year.
Wednesday – Radnor Forest – It look like Guy Fawkes night will be clear and dry, which make a change, although we do not have anything to do with fireworks – too many years of trying to keeps dogs calm, usually without a great deal of success. This morning, although the sun is making brief appearances it is quite bitter with a sharp wind. Military jets roar over. Up into Warren Wood and past the end of the Water-Breaks-Its-Neck stream. Water is flowing swiftly through this stream and down Black Brook. On up the track. Russet brown cones festoon Spruces. There are almost no bird calls, just the occasional squeak. The sun emerges and lightens the woodland. A Nuthatch calls. A few late Ragwort are still in flower. The hills are turning brown as the Bracken and heathers die back. The occasional corvid flies over seemingly in a mission between somewhere and somewhere else. Thin white clouds glide towards the south-west. A fresh landslip has exposed sheets of Ludlow series shale. There appear to be some tracks in the surfaces but no fossils. Four Bullfinches slip through the young conifers. Down below the track is Davy Morgan’s Dingle. The stream bubbles past an outcrop of rocks and rushes on down the deep defile. The track turns and climbs higher. Another fall of rocks again yields no fossils. The track runs around to Lluestau’r Haul, meaning “Shelters in the Sun”, although no shelters have been found here by archaeologists carrying out surveys of the Forest. The pond, Pwll Y Gaseg (Pool of the Mare) lays below in the valley. A Robin ticks, falls silent and watches from a young Spruce. A slight drone of wind is all that can be heard. Instead of taking the track down to Warren House, I turn onto a track that climbs back into the plantation. No vehicle has been up here for some time and the track quickly becomes a path. Carrion Crows caw, a Raven cronks in the distance. The air is scented with pine. Blue Tits squeak. A sheep baas, strangely the first I have heard. A large number of chocolate brown fungi are beside the path. These are Birch Knights, Tricholoma fulvum, which as the name suggests, grow under Birch trees, none of which are present here. However, it is probable that Birch was the predominant tree here before being cleared for conifer plantations and roots remain. Annoyingly the path is now heading in the wrong direction so I cut my losses and return. Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria, peeks out of the grass. Another brown toadstool is growing here and there in clumps, the Deceiver, Laccaria proxima. Trails made by either badgers or foxes cross the path. Back to Lluestau’r Haul. Across the bilberry bog and on down the fields to the path down the woods. This path has been cleared of the fallen trees which made it quite challenging previously. It is now warm in the sunshine. The path still is rather tricky as there are slippery roots hidden under the fresh layer of Sweet Chestnut leaves. A large Sweet Chestnut log lying beside the path hosts numerous shoots, one of which may well taken root and become a new tree when this one rots. A quick detour up to the waterfall, Water-Breaks-Its-Neck. It is probably flowing with a greater volume than I have seen before and looks quite beautiful. Back down the stream and out of Warren Wood. Ravens fly over the end of the wood, barking loudly. A pair of Common Buzzards mew higher in the sky over Mynd. The sun lights the plantation on the hillside on the other side of Black Brook in greens and gold.
Thursday – Shirl Heath – We drive over to Cobnash, near Kingsland, to visit the tree nursery. We want a sorbus of some kind, possibly a Chinese Mountain Ash for the garden. However, the nursery is closed without any explanation. So we decide to go to the garden centre at Lyonshall. Heading down the road through Shirl Heath there are large flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares flying this way and that – the winter thrushes have truly arrived. We find a sorbus with deep coppery leaves and the promise of red berries, so it is purchased. On the way back there are numerous flocks of different species moving around, especially Rooks and Wood Pigeons. The morning has been cold, it is now getting damp.
Friday – Upper Town-Pencombe – It is raining lightly. From Upper Town, a lane turns just before the cottage called Gobbets and leads to The Criftage, a few houses including Criftage Cottage, dated 1831. The road ends and a track continues, blocked by locked gates. This is a public bridleway, indeed a long distance route, the Three Rivers Ride, supported by The British Horse Society. No alternative, so over the gate. An extensive badger set is in the bank. The rain has stopped although maybe not for long. Common Pheasants and Wood Pigeons whirr noisily away. The track enters Sheepcotts Court, which looks rather like a full sized model village, really quite odd. There appears to be only a couple of buildings on the OS map but here there are several barn conversions or new builds and houses, liberally decorated with reproduction metal advertising signs. Back onto a path by a maize stubble field. Redwings, Fieldfares and Pied Wagtails fly off. Past a tumbled down barn and on along the bridleway. A hedge is so enveloped by Old Man’s Beard that the base hedge plant cannot be seen. Further on it is shown to be Beech. Past Red Hill Coppice and on to Broxash Wood. Between these small woods is a field, I assume part of Shortwood Farm, where there is a circular fence enclosing what looks like a bramble patch. A Common Buzzard circles overhead. Into Boxash Wood where a number of Bullfinches disappear with quiet calls. It is raining again. Up Hundred Bank. Behind is Ullingswick and far beyond the roofs of Hereford. The geology is the St Maughans Formation, made up of red/purple/grey mudstones, sandstones, intraformational conglomerates and calcretes, deposited from a braided stream system which ran over a vast, flat, arid landscape in the early Devonian when the continents were colliding to form a super-continent, Pangea. This means the underlying rocks are stripes of differemt sandstones and alluvial deposits on Old Red Sandstone.
Little Cowarne – Down a narrow lane through Little Cowarne. Past Upper House, The Steppes, maybe more modern than it would like you to think, and the Old Tithe Barn now a house. St Guthlac’s church, 12th or 13th century in origin but heavily restored in 1870 by F R Kempson. Neither the listing or Pevsner note the dedication of the church; it was not revived until 1992. There is some speculation that the church could be based on a Saxon building, which could have been built by Spirites, a priest at the court of Edward the Confessor, who held Little Cowarne as part of his considerable estates; however, just before the Norman invasion he blotted his scroll and was banished. The stone built bell-tower is a saddleback with a southern gable. Inside a safe stands under the bell-ropes. A harmonium has several small organ pipes flanking a mirror above the keyboard. The font has been recarved out of an older, probably Norman one. It stands on the older base. Opposite the church a small stream runs beside the road. An 1840 tithe map in the church names the field above the stream as Road Orchard. It is flanked by a row of old willows and a Yew. Little Cowarne Court is a 16th and 17th century house. On the bend is The White House, an early 17th century long timber-framed building. It has been in the Abell family since the 1600s. During the Civil War, Scottish soldiers supporting Parliament clanked up the steps of the White House and the leader of the forage party gashed a table with his sword as he demanded food and drink. Little Cowarne and Ullingswick later put in a claim for £22 13s 4d for damage. Up out of Little Cowarne. Past houses from whose gardens comes the clucking of hens and the quacking of ducks. Suddenly the air is full of Fieldfares as a large flock passes over. There are plenty of Robins in the hedgerows.
Pencombe – Pencombe Hall is an imposing house in overgrown woodland. It was built in 1862 as a rectory for one of the Arkwright family. In 1926 it was purchased by two retired colonels to breed Angora rabbits! It is now a care home. More Fieldfares are in the trees. Into Pencombe. The church of St John is set on a circular mound with a number of old Yews; all signs of an ancient, possibly Celtic site. However, the church is rather a disappointment. The church looks Norman but the older church, certainly not the first was a ruin in the mid-18th century and demolished with the present building being erected in 1862. Pevsner calls it “an odd conceit”, stating, “[It is] meant to be Transitional or mixed Norman and Early English. This must have been a conscious historicism. All details a little fussy.” That said, the former building was a mixture of Norman and Early English and had an unusual division of chancel proper and apse, recreated in the new church by Thomas Nicholson even if his details are rather historically inaccurate. The only remaining object from the older building is a font. I step outside the church to find the weather has deteriorated considerably. The rain is heavy and persistent. Up the hill and back down again towards Little Cowarne. It sounds like the ducks are laughing at me! The road runs with brown ochre water. In the bottom of the valley, by the White House, water comes from every direction and pours into the brook.
Ullingswick – A lane heads towards Much Cowarne. At the top of the hill is the Three Horseshoes, a pub in a surprisingly modern building, although a tavern is marked on the old maps. It is a welcome break. Meadow End is a modern dwelling, flat roofed and square, white walls and large windows. It has no context with the surrounding countryside but is all the better for it! It is far more interesting than most the new builds of red brick, grey slate roofs and little or no architectural merit. Along the lanes to Ullingswick. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ullingwic. The name may derive from “Ulla’s Wick”, where wick or wich is an Anglo-Saxon corruption of the Roman vicus meaning a place with significance. St Luke’s church is early 12th century in the Gothic style. The nave was lengthened in the 13th century. Something squeaks at me when I enter, possibly a bat. It is a pity that none of today’s churches have any information about them in the church. I can find out and as it later but it is always preferable to learn things in situ. On the wall is a panel painted altar-tomb from 1590 with an effigy of John Hill, kneeling figures of Elizabeth (Brooke) his wife and Jane, their daughter, also two sons, John and Francis; shrouded figures of two infants and a shield-of-arms above. A delightful little organ is in the chancel, restored in 2007. The east wall contains a typical 13th century “Herefordshire” window. Beyond the church yard is Upper Court. It has a 16th century central wing, a 17th century southern wing and later additions. Over the hill towards Upper Town is the old school house. The rain is finally easing.
Sunday – Leominster – A real autumn day. It is very damp and a thick mist covers the area. Down to the Sunday market. The River Lugg is flowing grey-brown and fairly full. Across the wet meadow and into Easters Court. The market is now much smaller than in the summer, hardly surprising. As usual I find nothing that piques my interest so after wandering around for a while I set off back to Mill Street. The Cogwell Brook is running red-brown into the grey Lugg. The town is still very quiet. Back home the tomato plants in the greenhouse are cleared out. The soil will need replacing during the winter. A large container of windfall apples are picked off the path and grass and dumped into the compost bins. Several are thrown into the hens. A little later Kay comes out and we plant the sorbus we purchased earlier in the week. All the garden furniture is moved into the summerhouse; an act of the finality of the season.
Monday – Gladestry-Glascwm – A cold misty morning. Rain stops as I set off through the village of Gladestry. Down the Painscastle road. Behind Yew Tree Bank and Broken Bank, the end of Hergest Ridge, drop down to the village. To the west the land starts to rise towards Colva Hill. Small valleys and hills surround the immediate area and the sound of running water is ever present. The Cross is a house with a cross painted onto the gable. It is noted on the OS map as far back as 1889. Rooks caw. A lane turns west towards Colva. The rain has started again. The lane turns south-west at Gobe. A new house is constructed out of what looks like chipboard. An old wooden building with ventilator domes is collapsing in a sheep field. Past Lower Gwernilla. Little Gwernilla lays up the hill across green meadows. A deep wooded valley carrying Gladestry Brook is to the north. A tractor rumbles down a track on the hillside above the valley, a Border Collie loping along ahead it. Nuthatches are noisy in the trees. The road drops down and crosses the stream which is being fed by several smaller waterways. Up past Upper Gwernilla then Llanhaylow. Here a late-mediaeval cruck-framed hall-house was demolished around 1980. There are hill farms all along this route and one wonders how much of a living is made out of them these days. The only use being made of the land seems to be sheep pasture. The hedge beside the road has been laid for many years. Long moss covered trunks lay atop the bank with curly and straight offshoots of Hazel rising from them.
Into Colva. Colva is documented as Golua sometime between 1447 and 1489, and appears as cholva in about 1541. The name may mean a place littered with branches or perhaps a well-wooded area, but neither is certain. It was originally only a parochial chapelry within the ecclesiastical parish of Glascwm. By the early 19th century it was still associated with Glascwm but in civil matters it was independent. Its origins as church or settlement, however, remain obscure. Rhigyfarch’s late 11th century Life of David and a poem by Lewis Glyn Cothi both attribute its foundation to St David himself, though this is highly unlikely. There have also been claims of an early medieval ecclesiastical establishment here from at least the 8th century, but this too cannot be verified. No evidence has been found for any settlement growing up around the church in the medieval period. Colva Farm was formerly “The Sun” inn on an important drovers’ route that presumably was in use in the late Middle Ages and continued perhaps into the second half of the 19th century. However, there was probably nothing else here apart from the church and inn. A Nuthatch is searching the edge of a barn for did before flying up to the top of a telegraph pole and inspecting that. Colva farmhouse is an impressive building. The church of St David is an absolute gem. The building is on a mound which is edged by large stones. Yew trees stand in the churchyard. The body of the church is a single chamber. A 15th century porch is framed in timber. A wooden belfrey is 17th century. Inside there are the traces of wall painting uncovered in the 1980s. Various texts and an extraordinary skull and crossbones by the font can be seen. Above the door to the belfrey is a large board with the Royal Arms of George II, although the cipher was altered in 1838 in honour of Queen Victoria. An inscription reads “1838 Thos. Davis Churchw. Cartwright de Aberedow pinxit 1733”. A single Parrot Waxcap toadstool, Hygrocybe psittacina, stands by the gate.
Beyond the hamlet is the conical hill of Yr Ally, rising to 429 metres. A troop of toadstools, either Trooping Funnel, Clitocybe geotropa or Giant Funnel, Leucopaxillus gigateus are growing on the roadside. The lane descends steeply to a brook, babbling merrily at Cloggau. Jackdaws, Starlings and a few Redwings fly around the valley. Over another brook, which is in fact the River Arrow. Beech trees stand in the points of the meanders of the stream. Up to a crossroads and pause to look around. Three Red Kites have appeared behind me and circle the fields. It is much milder now. A little further on another Red Kite flies out of an old Ash and flies off, head turning this way and that as it inspects the landscape. The lane runs along the side of Black Hill. Far below a stream gurgles and bubbles. Large flocks of Starlings are in the fields of Little Hill to the north. Even when they cannot be seen their excited chatter reveals their presence. A sudden silence is followed by a whirr of wings as they move to another patch. There are also decent sized flocks of winter thrushes in the moorland on Black Hill. The hillsides are a deep russet of dead Bracken above the green sward. The rock here is exposed in places, a pale brown Silurian mudstone. Past Three Wells, a house and somewhere the wells which are the source of the stream. At Hill Castle the lane drops steeply down Rhiw Fwnws, slightly daunting as it means I have to climbs back up here. The old road runs down, deeply cutting into the hillside, from an old disused quarry.
Glascwm lies in the valley below. To the north is an Iron Age hill-fort. The village stands on Clas Brook and was on the drovers’ route. At the west end is the church, also dedicated to St David. It is believed that a clas community, a pre-Conquest religious community, was established here within the cantref of Elfael, possibly as early as the 6th century. As with Colva, it is suggested that St David founded the monastery, but there is no documentary proof. Nevertheless, this in believed to have been one of the main churches in pre-Conquest Radnorshire, and it was also the location of a miraculous hand-bell supposedly belonged to St David and was known as a bangu, mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis in the late 12th century. It has been suggested the name of the village is derived from clas and cwm, a valley. Others maintain Glas cwm simply means “green valley”. The church has been painted white. The present building consists of a 13th century nave, a 15th century chancel, and a belfry on the west end. There are some Tudor features and many of the windows were restored in 1891. The internal walls hold a number of 18th and 19th century monument plaques. The font is 12th century on a later base. Back up the hill. Great, Blue and Coal Tits flit through the hedgerow at the top of the hill. Back along the side of the valley. A Common Buzzard and a Red Kite are quartering the same section of hillside but just ignore one another. Then a third species of raptor flies over, a Peregrine Falcon, calling as it rises from the top of Black Hill. Down and then up again towards Colva. A field of white geese are near a house that looks abandoned. However beside the house is another field of geese and a cockerel is crowing. The track to the house is blocked by fallen trees, but a little further up the road I realise there is a lane which will lead around to the other side of the property. On along the lane, back through Colva where a tied up collie is desperate to get at me, glad the rope holds! It is getting darker and damper as the lane passes through Gwernilla again and in down into Gladestry.
Wednesday – Leominster-Ford Bridge – Another damp morning. Off down Etnam Street to the river. The Lugg is high and swirling brown water flow rapidly under the bridge. Robins are in song. Over to the Millennium Wood where a lot of clearing has been carried out. Blue, Long-tailed and Great Tits are active on the river banks. A Moorhen makes a typically ungainly dash across the water, flapping wings and dangling feet. Mud squelches underfoot. The undergrowth along the edge of the path by the horse pastures has been hacked back making progression far easier. A Mallard departs with a quiet quack. The path meets the A44 at Eaton Bridge. Lorries pound past. The gate to the footpath on the south-west side of the bridge has been screwed shut, fairly typical for this area. Across a meadow where Wood Pigeons and Mistle Thrushes take to the air. Pollarded Willows stand in the Hawthorn hedges. They have not been cut for at least ten years. Redwings now pour out of the Hawthorns. Across another meadow, where a horse approaches hopefully but I have no treats, to Eaton Hall Bridge. It is said one of the spans of these bridges were raised by order to allow barges through but there is a weir across the river under this bridge, which once held sluice gates which were removed and cemented up in the mid 20th century. The bridge is probably 17th century but rebuilt in the 18th century and again in modern times. A relatively short, contemporary leat flows off on the hall side. There are no sign of any mill buildings. The hall is mainly 19th century around a 14th century core. The house was built by the Hackluyt family. William Hackluyt fought for King Henry V in the Battle of Agincourt. A gate, called “The Millennium Gate” was presented to the Price Family of Eaton Hall by the Eaton Fishing Club in memory of Tom Price. The club have a small summerhouse by the river here. Large flocks of winter thrushes are now flying here and there. A Cormorant flies over. The river meanders through sheep pastures. The path is in a poor condition. The stiles are dangerously slippery and in one place a fence has been knocked down as the path has fallen into the river. A Beech tree is full of rot, most its branches are dead yet still there are leaf covered shoots on it. One meander almost turns back on itself and looks as though the spit of land will not last much longer. A pair of hounds watch from the far bank. Beech trees have substantial crops of mast.
Volca Bridge is very low and is much patched with brick. There is no way a barge could have passed here. It was probably built when a lock was built downstream drowning a ford. The ford would have given the inhabitants of Stoke Prior access to the Lammas Meadows. “Volca” derives from the earlier name for a common Lammas meadow Folkehey, or meadow of the people. A green lane heads towards the Stoke Prior road. Wheelbarrow Castle is across the field. The derivation of this name has had me wondering for some time. One suggestion is Wheol or Wih (OE), meaning “holy” or “heathen”, and Bearwe (ME)from Beorg (OE), meaning “a small hill”, sometimes one that was used as a burial ground. There is a hill directly behind the house. The lane joins the road at Cross Cottage. Into Stoke Prior which Domesday records as belonging to Queen Edith. The church of St Luke is open. Although the original 14th century church was completely rebuilt in 1863, it is not an uninteresting building. The roof has some fine beams with pendant finials. Memorial plaques are on the wall in the entrance hall which is below the tower. One records the death of Admiral John Wyatt Watling in 1867, who served under Nelson and as a Lieutenant in the Navy played a courageous role in the capture of Mauritius from the French in 1810. A mediaeval stoup lays on the floor acting as a plant holder. Off down the lane to Ford Bridge. Outside the village are extensive cider orchards. On past the stanchions of a bridge that carried the Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster railway line, closed in 1952. Past Stone Farm. Ralph of Tosny held Forne (Ford) at Domesday. The tiny church of St John of Jerusalem is probably not linked the Knights Hospitallers of St John, despite there being the presbytery of Dinmore just a few miles away. However, it is a delightful little Norman chapel of a nave and a semi-circular apse. It was rebuilt in 1851 on a 12th century base. Four panels of what is thought to be leather the roof of the apse contain small portraits of the apostles. A note on the wall records the plate includes an unusual beaker cup with domed cover and raised ornament by William Gamble of 1688. Of course, it is not on display in the building. Outside the door of the church is a green leading down to the River Lugg.
Just to the south is Ford Farm, parts of which are mid-18th century. A family of Mute Swans glides rapidly downstream. There are seven cygnets, a fairly remarkable number. They are losing their brown feathers to turn pure white. Ford Bridge has been strongly reinforced by concrete under the stone parapet. Across the A49 and over the railway by Station House, although there is no sign is the old station platform. Through Wharton where most the houses are 19th and 20th century, apart from the 17th century Wharton Cottage and another pair of timber-framed cottages, Cook’s Folly, previously known as 1 and 2 Wharton Bank which are also 17th century. Over the A49 to Wharton Court. The Jacobean house is three storeys with attics and cellars; the walls are of stone and the roofs are covered with stone slates. According to Price (Account of Leominster, 1795) the house was built by Richard Whitehall in 1604, porch being added in 1659. There are extensive barns, one housing a café. On up the Hereford Road. Two Victorian cottages either side of the turning to Brierley have similar decoration over the windows. A series of small bridges at Elms Green takes the road over small streams which were part of the water meadows control system but now simply drain the fields. Finally over Broadward Bridge under which the River Arrow flows and back into Leominster.
Thursday – Lancaster – We are staying in the city for a night. Our pub is the Wagon and Horses on St George’s Quay. I manage to miss the turning coming into the city and the one-way system and the repair of the city centre sewers conspire to make recovery a bit of a nightmare but eventually we get there. The quay was part of the fourth largest port in England 1800 largely based on the slave trade; the triangular route of slaves from Africa to America, rum, spices and tobacco to here and then trade goods to Africa. An installation stands at the end of the road commemorating the dreadful trade. The Wagon and Horses, then The Cart and Horses, was a beer house along with an allegedly fifty others along the dock. In the 1840s, Liverpool started to take larger ships and Lancaster declined. Arthur Kirkham must have been a good landlord as the Wagon and Horses survived when most of the other hostelries disappeared. He left ten properties to his wife when he died. The pub was a single room then but now has taken over three adjacent houses and a warehouse to form today’s pub. The River Lune flows past, wide and rapid. New food defences are in place, once customers stood bare footed in the bar as flood water swirled around them. Black-headed Gulls squabble over titbits. The quay is a long line of old houses, warehouses with the wooden cranes still intact on the upper floors and several larger buildings including the old customs house, now a museum. We head into town under Greyhound Road Bridge which crosses the river at the end of the quay. It carried the Midland Railway but the line was closed to passengers in 1966 and in 1972 was converted to carry the A589.
The city is full of magnificent Victorian Gothic buildings in grey-brown stone. A Roman fort stood on the hill now occupied by the castle. There is some evidence of Saxon occupation and it seems likely there was a monastic community near where the Priory stands today. After the Conquest, Loncastre, the castle on the River Lune, as given to Roger de Poitou. Richard I gave the settlement borough status, and John, Count of Mortain, later John I, gave the first charter in 1193. The castle was started a century later and greatly enlarged by Elizabeth I. It was the development of the port that turned the town into a major trading centre. Lancaster became a city in 1937. We walk up into the shopping centre, noting what we thought was the extraordinary number of shops dedicated to electronic cigarettes. The town hall is an enormous building opened in 1909 in Dalton Square. Opposite the Town Hall is a monument to Queen Victoria, a gift to the city of Lancaster by Lord Ashton. It was built in 1906 by Herbert Hampton in gardens are laid out inside sandstone balustrades designed by Edward Mountford. Four panels depict eminent Victorians including, on the north face, James Williamson, the donor’s father. At the height of his linoleum empire, Lord Ashton was one of the world’s richest men and had residences at Ryelands House and Ashton Hall, together with ones in St Anne’s (near Blackpool) and London. A nearby church is an Indian restaurant, looking impressive but with a very ordinary menu! Lunch is taken in a city centre pub, which has a large safe in the corner. We take a look around the city museum housed in the old Town Hall. Narrow winding streets lead up to the castle. Visits are by tour only as the County Court still is housed within and the castle only ceased operating as Her Majesty’s Prison Lancaster in 2011. The weather is deteriorating so we retreat to our pub for the evening.
Friday – Lancaster – It is raining heavily after a night of gales. A pair of Cormorants sit on rocks beside the river. A beautiful drake Goosander is fishing. Gulls stand bunched against the inclement weather. We had planned to visit the Priory on top of the hill but realise we would get soaked in the short walk up there, so we set off north up the M6 motorway. We stop at Tebay Service Station in Cumberland, probably one of the best in the country. There is a large delicatessen attached with local produce and beers.
Housesteads – We drive on up Shap Fell and down from the eastern Lake District. The rain is still falling heavily making driving an unpleasant experience. We head east from Carlisle along the A69 which for many miles follows a Roman road and is mile and mile of absolutely straight road. A brief pause in Haltwhistle, which lays claim to being in the geographic centre of the British Isles. The rain continues. Our next stop is Housesteads the site of Vercovicium, one of the best preserved Roman auxiliary forts on Hadrian’s Wall. Neither of us has visited the wall before, so we plod through the rain up to the site. The wall is probably the most important and certainly the best known Roman monument in these islands. It was started in 122CE on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian and runs some 80 Roman miles (73 modern miles) from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend on the River Tyne. Somewhere between 14 and 17 forts were constructed along its length. It purpose according to Hadrian’s biographer, was “to separate the Romans from the barbarians”. There are many theories as to why exactly it was built, but many modern historians consider it was more a statement of power rather than a physical barrier. In 142CE the wall was abandoned as the Antonine Wall was built to the north. This fort was built in 124CE overlaying the broad wall and a turret fort. It is likely that the site for the fort was chosen for its strategic position commanding a gap in the Whin Sill ridge overlooking Knag Burn. There were barracks and a large fort commander’s house. It had no running water supply and relied on stone-lined tanks to hold rain water, which if today is any indication, was in good supply! There are also probably the best preserved latrines in the country. The Headquarters, hospital, granaries and store-rooms are also present. We do not stay on the fort site long but retreat to the museum. After a cup of hot chocolate, we emerge to discover it has finally stopped raining. The sky is still steel grey and angry. The view southwards is magnificent. The history of Housesteads as a farm is quite fascinating. In 1604 Hugh Nixon, “Stealer of cattle and receiver of stolen goods”, became the tenant of Housesteads farm. From 1663, it was owned by the Armstrongs, a notorious family of Border Reivers. Nicholas Armstrong bought the farm in 1692, only to have to sell it again in 1694 to Thomas Gibson of Hexham for the sum of £485. They remained as tenants. They were a well-known band of horse thieves and cattle rustlers who used the old Roman fort as a corral for their ill-gotten gains. They traded as far afield as Aberdeen and the south of England. At one time every male member of the family was said to have been a “broken man”, formally outlawed by English or Scottish authorities. Nicholas was hanged in 1704, and his brothers fled to America. We continue eastwards on another incredibly straight Roman road and then on into Newcastle where we are staying with Dave and Joy.
Saturday – Shildon – Off to the railway museum at Shildon. The town is known as “the cradle of the railways”. The Stockton and Darlington Railway established its workshops there in 1825. The company owned much of the land, and the population expanded to around 9000. The first passenger train left in Shildon on 27th September 1825. Timothy Hackworth, a railway pioneer, built one of the first ever engines, the Sans Pareil and his workshop, the Soho Engine Works developed from 1833. By 1855 it was a large complex of workshops and other buildings. After the Second World War, Shildon had one of the biggest sidings complexes in Europe. Shildon wagon works, or BREL as it was known finally closed its doors in 1983 with substantial job losses. The museum now houses a number of engines and carriages from the earliest days with a replica of the Sans Pareil, a Stirling Single from 1870 which has a single eight-foot diameter driving wheel each side, North Eastern No. 1, one of the first electric locomotives, A Stanier Black 5, one of the great workhorses of the railways, an APT-E, the advanced passenger train that promised much but was mothballed in 1976 after never going into service and a number of Royal carriages. The shop has an extensive range of Hornby OO locomotives and carriages, all costing what seems like a fortune compared to my younger days (but probably more or less the equivalent). An enthusiast asks us if we wish to stay for his presentation on buses but regrettably we have to leave so as to meet up with friends at Barnard Castle.
Barnard Castle – A delightful market town on the River Tees in Teesdale. The town is named after the castle built on the site of an earlier defended position from around 1095 to 1125 by Guy de Balliol and extended by his nephew Bernard de Balliol and his son Bernard II between 1125 and 1185. We do not get to see this castle, certainly something for the future. The main street is wide with a great variety of shops. A Market Cross or Butter Market, an octagonal building built by Thomas Breaks, stands at the end before the road drops down to the Tees. Down this road, The Bank, is the premises of television antiques expert, David Harper; a shop covered in rather obtrusive lettering and somewhat out of context with the rest of the historic street. Nearby is a 16th century house, later an inn, the Boar’s Head, that allegedly entertained Oliver Cromwell (although if he actually was entertained in every building that makes this claim, he would have had little time for anything else!) Well weathered statues of musicians stand on the façade. On down to the river past a large house which in 1796 became the residence of Sir John Hullock, Knight and Baron of the Court of the Exchequer. He enlarged it to accommodate and entertain his fellow judges while on circuit. As the river is approached there are a number of recently restored premises that have a row of windows on the third floor, indicating their former use for weaving. Mill Court, formerly known as Thorngate Factory was a woollen mill, then chamois leather factory, this part now flats. Built in the mid-18th century it was, from 1935-82 used by North of England Chamois Leather Co. Once the Tees was crossed here by stepping stones. A three-span wrought iron footbridge on stone piers was built in 1871, but washed away by floods in 1881, sending two men to their deaths, but replaced the following year by a new lattice girder bridge built by Wilson Bros of Darlington. The Tees is almost black with peat-coloured water flowing over the Stainmore Formation of mudstone, siltstone and sandstone, sedimentary bedrocks formed approximately 313 to 326 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. We return up The Bank and have a very acceptable pint in The Old Well Inn before proceeding to the Bowes Museum.
The Bowes Museum – This magnificent building was purpose built in the 19th century by John and Josephine Bowes in the style of a French Château and opened on 10th June 1892 and houses one of the most outstanding collections in Britain comprising a remarkable selection of European fine and decorative arts spanning the period from 1400 and 1875. The star is the Silver Swan, an English silver automaton, bought by the Bowes in 1872. The life-sized swan is operated once a day, at 2:00pm and whilst only lasting 35 seconds, it is a mesmerising sight. The collection is quite enormous, large rooms full of portraits and others full of fine silverwork, porcelain and other treasures. However, on a personal note, whilst I appreciate the quality of the manufacture of these items, most of them hold little interest for me. The paintings seem like the on-line photo sites of today, maybe interesting to the sitter and their family and friends but not to me. Similarly, most of the decorative arts are fussy, often Rococo and again not to my taste. A modern collection is of work by Julian Opie, interesting rather than spell-binding. Another major collection is of the use of feathers in fashion, some extraordinary creations of haute couture, but left me thinking about the wholesale slaughter of birds that fed this industry for many years. We leave for another pint, this time in The Golden Lion and as it is getting late in the afternoon we head back to Newcastle in the knowledge we will be returning to Barnard Castle for a longer visit.
Tuesday – Croft Castle – A chilly morning but at least it is dry. Nuthatches and Blue Tits call in the car park. Most leaves have fallen and the hillsides are dull and dying with the exception of Buckler Ferns that still stand proud and green like giant royal crowns. Water is flowing out of the Fish pools rapidly. Up through the Beech wood where there is a single multi-trunk sapling with bright emerald leaves among the golds and coppers. The colour scheme is similar in the ground but here the verdancy is provided by star mosses. Up beside Lyngham Vallet. Robins sing sporadically. Blackbirds call alarms. A Wren sits on a twig at the base of a tall pine and sings a brief song. Along the main forest track. Calls at various pitches come from the conifers. I suspect Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Crossbills but locate none of them. A shock awaits around the bend as I approach the path up to the Mortimer Trail by Croft Ambrey; the entire conifer plantation has been felled. Just a few deciduous trees remain. This is wonderful, a return to the old open woodland. A Jay squawks. Up onto the hill fort. A Common Inkcap, Coprinus atramentarius and one of the Agaricus mushrooms grow beside the path. The views are misty and heavy clouds fill the horizons. Either side of track down to the Spanish Chestnut field is also being cleared. A noticeboard indicates that much of the area south of the hill-fort is going to be cleared.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another cool, damp morning. Blue Tits churr, Blackbirds mutter, a pair of Greenfinches cheep as they fly through the tree tops and, of course there are quacks and barks from the lake, Mallard and Canada Geese. Three Teal and a pair of Mallard fly up from the end of the lake by the meadow. Fieldfares pass over high in the grey sky. More winter thrushes fly around the meadow and into the orchards. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the grass into the lake side willows. Black-faced sheep lay and watch. A flash of white rump as a Bullfinch crosses the meadow. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flit through the Alder saplings. Wigeon, Mallard and Canada Geese are in the scrape. Wildfowl numbers continue to increase on the water, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Teal, Goldeneye, Mute Swans, Moorhen, Coot and a large number of Canada Geese. Three Cormorants are in the trees. A pair of Shoveler glide into view. Back in the meadow a Goldcrest is searching the Hawthorns for insects. The leaves on a Field Maple are shining chromium yellow. Honey Fungus is attacking a dead apple tree trunk that is prone on the ground. Just one tree still bears fruit, a few small yellow apples but they are crisp and sweet. Mistle Thrushes rasp as they fly around the orchard. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from the top of a Poplar.
Friday – North Herefordshire – Down Broad Street and up the lane to the refuse site. A gate leads to the old railway line. Common Inkcaps grow in the grassy verge. It is now raining. I was planning a cost free day by walking to Ludlow and catching the bus back, but the service has been cut. Leominster has never had much of a bus service, it now effectively has only one useful route, to Hereford and the train is quicker and the same price! A Sparrowhawk crosses the field and lands in a tree. Rooks and Carrion Crows immediately fly in to harass it. Up the track which emerges into the Eyton road at Croward’s Mill. The mill building has been converted into domestic dwelling. The leet and millpond are behind the mill building and cannot be seen from here. A lot of noise is coming across the fields, probably the potato loading machinery on Broad Farm. A stream rushes under the road at Cheese Bridge. Coxall is a 17th century house, remodelled in the late 18th century. Ring-necked Pheasants wander in field of long, green grass that almost hides resting sheep. More Pheasants and a pair of Jays are in the next field. Kemble House is a pleasant cottage. Pondside Cottage is an old black-and-white cottage with extensive modifications. Past the 18th century Eyton Court. A cider crushing wheel and the stone base of a cider press lay against a barn wall. Cider apples are being harvested in an orchard by Eyton Hall. Past Hill Farm which has been in the Morgan family for three generations. Croft Lane turns off the Luston road and heads towards Bicton.
Bicton is a small hamlet on the crossroads of Croft Lane and the Yarpole-Kingsland lane. On into Yarpole, a pretty village. The name is Anglo-Saxon meaning of Yarpole (Iarpol or Yarpol) is fish pool or dam for containing fish. In the 7th century, Merewalh endowed Leominster Priory with the manor of Yarpole. Edward the Confessor divided the manor, giving the Greater Manor to Richard de Scrobe of Richards Castle with the Lesser Manor remaining with the Priory. This division remains in Domesday. The Manor House is 15th century with an outbuilding which was the former gatehouse built in the 13th century and extensively restored in 1972. The Bell Tower of St Leonards church is the glory of the village. It stands separate from the church and the main timbers have been dated by dendrochronology to 1192, making this probably the oldest timber-framed structure in England. The four main oak posts came from single, slightly curved trees which would have started life in the 10th century. The church is early 14th century, restored and extended 1864 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It contains the village shop, an excellent community run establishment selling both essentials and a wide range of local delicacies, such pork pies and cider, which I purchase. The lane eastwards leads to Bircher. The Knoll is a large mid-18th century house than looks south from the edge of the hamlet. The Court House is a 17th century farmhouse. A lane passes the old Forge and heads towards Orleton. A man is coppicing Hazel. He comments that these have not been done for some years. Many of the branches will be only useful for firewood but enough can be used for hurdles and plant climbers. Over saddle of Bircher Knoll which was a wooded hill until 1972 when it was cleared and is now a bare sheep pasture. Back down hill past a cottage simply called The Knoll. A track runs between two orchards, one with cider apple saplings, the other far older. Fieldfares fly over calling.
The track meets the Richards Castle road and shortly a turning heads into Orleton up Kitchen Hill Road, so named because the area was used as a military catering base in the Civil War. A brief break at The Boot, a fine old inn originally a 17th century house, with a lovely warm stove blazing away. Off down Tunnel Lane past The Methodist Chapel and a small row of cottages. A Kestrel sits on wires. Wofferton radio masts, the last shortwave transmitters in England, lay across the fields in the mist. The road turns east but a track keeps going south. The rain which had ceased for a spell has returned. The track ruins past a field of winter cereal and then into a wooded trackway. Large stones lay beside the fields. One wonders how much damage they did to a plough before being removed. A large Shaggy Parasol grows by the track. The track divides and I head in a westwards curve down an increasingly wet quagmire. Past the old Parsonage, as usual usual a particularly fine and large building. Past Vicarage Cottage and then through the hamlet of Moreton. The track continues down the edge of the Berrington estate. Across the field is a hedgerow that indicates the route of the Leominster canal. The track enters a young wood. A bulldozer sits in the National Trust woods, Moreton Ride, two men inside seemingly doing nothing. The rain is intense now. Across a bridge over a brook which flows from Berrington Lake into the Main Ditch. The Keeper’s Cottage can be glimpsed through the trees. The path disappears and I cross a field to Park Farm. This path joins the A49 and there is a difficult stumble through the long grass down the verge as vehicles speed past. Any joined-up thinking would have made a walking path down here so that people could walk from Leominster to Berrington Hall, but that is clearly too much to ask. A track heads west through open fields, past a barn and then over the railway. Unfortunately, my map has run out here and I take the wrong path and have to follow a track to Mile End. Vast piles of timber are here and a lorry carrying a mobile wood chipper is the source of the noise that I earlier attributed to the potato farm. The track emerges on The Broad and the road leads back to Broad Street. It has been raining heavily for some time now and my jacket finally succumbs and I can feel my t-shirt getting soaked.
Monday – Home – The first real frost of the winter. The roofs of the cars in the street sparkle in the street light. After dawn, the grass in the garden is white. The chickens’ water is partially frozen and there is a constant drip of melting ice falling from the trees along with leaves. The hens are still laying regularly. Both bird feeders are empty. The seed feeder attracts mainly House Sparrows and a few Great, Coal and Blue Tits. The contents do not last long. Neither do the peanuts in the other feeder as it is now being frequented by Grey Squirrels and Jackdaws, neither of which are particularly welcome. The sun is out and hopefully it will soon warm the place. However, it does not really warm up at all. I am stuck indoors today because of pain in my foot, probably gout. Most of the apples are now down. Several trays are in the garage but many are left to be bird food. A few green peppers are still on the plants. I am watering them to see if they will survive the winter, they do not usually.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It is how one thinks of a November morning. Overnight rain has left everywhere wet and misty. The temperature is half a dozen degrees above freezing but it still feels bitter. Goldfinches preen around the gate. A Song Thrush is singing; it creeps off furtively through brambles. The hedgerow is busy, Blackbirds, Wood Pigeons, Great Tits, Wrens, Redwings, Robins. A pair of Goosander explode in a flurry of black and white out of the bay at the end of the orchards. Several Bullfinches are in the trees at the end of the meadow, they seem to like it here. The lake is populated with numerous Coot, Tufted Duck and Wigeon. Teal and Shoveler are also present as are inevitable Canada Geese although in smaller numbers then usual. A couple of Cormorant are in the trees, one in the classic wings-outstretched pose. A Moorhen searches the scrape, another joins it. A Jay appears in the back in front of the hide giving good views of this beautiful bird with its pink body, black moustache, flecked crown and the brilliant blue flash on its wing. Mallard have congregated on the western end bank. A pair of drake Goldeneye are in the distance across the water. A squeaking Pied Wagtail flies past. The peace is broken by a skein of Canada Geese flying in. Bodenham Lake is the largest area of fresh water in the county, although the gravel pits at Wellington must be approaching a similar if not already greater size. The majority of lakes in the county are artificial, old gravel workings. The gravel is extensive which gives some idea of the size of the River Lugg in the past when it can be argued that the Severn and Wye were tributaries. It was during the last Ice Age a glacier blocked the River Teme , which fed into the Lugg and turned the former westwards into its present channel and greatly reduced the flow of the latter. A couple of large, fresh-looking Blewits are picked from the meadow.
Thursday – Worcester – We drive over to city of Worcester. Parking is a bit of a nightmare and as we wander into the city centre the reason becomes apparent – a large Victorian street fair. The main shopping thoroughfare is full of stalls. Many are now quite familiar from the various food fairs around the area in recent years. Prices are slightly weird, bottles of beer and cider seem rather expensive, whilst some cakes and pastries seem rather cheap. We end up with a vast vanilla slice each – incredibly sticky and rather larger than prudent for those of us trying to rein in our waistlines. We drift into streets which we have not visited before. There are some splendid older buildings here. One timber-framed restaurant has a glass panel in a part of the wall showing the old wattle and daub filling under the modern rendering. Greyfriars is a merchant’s house, built in 1480, with early 17th and 18th century additions, which was rescued from demolition after the Second World War by the National Trust and has been carefully restored and refurbished. Regrettably, it is closed until later in the day, but is certainly somewhere to put on our list of places to visit. Several pubs have retained their “French Mustard” coloured tiles on their outer walls. One has its “Mitchell and Butler” signs intact, the company is now a pubco, owning properties but no longer brewing beer. Another result of Tories’ disastrous “Beer Orders” of 1989. Nearby is a wonderful Carousel of fairground horses. This is just the opening day of the fair, we imagine that the next few days will see the sort of crowds we make every effort to avoid! But all power to these many small producers and entrepreneurs who are hoping it will be a very merry Christmas!
Friday – Lingen – The journey to Lingen is slow and a bit frustrating. The lane from Aymestrey is narrow and first I meet a cement lorry. A lot of reversing to find a gate entrance and back on the way. Next it is a dust cart. This time he backs up, not too far so I can drive up a field entrance and let him pass, then roll back out onto the road. Then a covey of Common Pheasants of the stupid kind. One insists on running asking the middle of the road in front of the car even though the rest have had the sense, eventually to head off into the hedge. Next is a JCB hedge cutter. But now I am here. Off westwards and onto the Herefordshire Trail. A large raptor flies over, probably a Sparrowhawk. Past a large white house, The Vicarage and across fields. Rabbits scurry across the pastures. The non-existent path climbs, behind me in the opposite side of the valley, part of Lingen Vallet has been cleared. Jackdaws circle and call high above a circling Common Buzzard above Clay Vallet Wood. A Red Kite flies over the hill. A pair of collies and a Jack Russell greet me noisily at Mynde Farm. The trail crosses a shallow valley, source of a stream called The Gullet. The trail disappears in a fields of winter cereal but is found again at Mountain Buildings, a collection of barns. This was called Mountain Farm until the end of the 19th century. A Raven flies around overhead. The trail disappears again so I head off across another cereal crop to a gate. The fact the trail is so ephemeral around here is odd as it was a maintained track according to the old OS maps. Fieldfares, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes fill the Hawthorn hedgerow. The day is grey and damp but was relatively mild until a bitter wind started to blow. Through the gate and off the trail to the top is Harley’s Mountain and its triangulation point. The views are extensive but very misty. Now one has to admit this is not what one usually considers a mountain. It is 7000th highest peak in the UK, the 859th tallest in England and rejoices in being classified as a “sub HuMP”, i.e. is 10 metres short of being a HuMP, which in turn is a prominence with a drop of at least 100 metres all round. The name however has a little more resonance being that of the local family that have held Brampton Bryan castle since 1295 and still do. They also gave their name to Harley Street in London.
Back to the trail and across another field which has a small pond at the end. A Skylark flies over singing a few notes, nothing like its fluid springtime song. The track crosses more fields, including one covered in winter oilseed rape which soaks my feet. I had yet again forgotten to put my walking boots in the car, so only have my walking shoes. The trail comes to the top of a lovely valley with a wooded stream running down it. Several huge fungi, Shaggy Parasols I assume, are rotting under a Hawthorn. Fresh Foxglove leaves are appearing. The trail reaches a lane. A medium sized brown bird does up from a Hazel spinney and off across the hillside. I think it was a Woodcock. The lane heads northwards with the stream below in the bottom of the valley. Willey Lodge stands on the hillside, a fine looking 17th century farmhouse. It was the home of one Aaron Griffiths the driving force behind the Presteigne Coal Trial of 1912 to 1914, which attempted to mine coal in the district. Aaron Griffiths died in 1913 but his son carried on raising money to pay for the trial. It was never a commercial success and the venture was wound up in 1915. Nuthatches call from overhead branches. A pond had been created below the farmhouse. A large flock of finches flies over but disappears before I can identify them. Blue Tits search the branches. Blackbirds are numerous. Jays squawk in the woodland. The lane has been steadily dropping down and meets a point near Hick’s Farm where two streams converge. An old railway boxcar sits beside the steam, Jacobs sheep are in a paddock beside it. Past Mill House, where there had been a smithy. Another Sparrowhawk flies overhead. The Herefordshire Trail rises up the hill into Pedwardine Wood but I follow the lane which turns eastwards.
Boresford Farm has a long, whitewashed house. There are a number of old abandoned quarries along the lane. The valley around Willey and along this road are Pridoli Rocks from the Silurian, 416 to 419 million years ago. Now they change to slightly older Wenlock shales, 423 to 428 million years old. A large stack of logs lies by the road being attacked by numerous forms of fungi, Varicoloured Bracket, Coriolus versicolor; Tyromyces stipticus which seems to have no common name; Fir Polystictus, Hirschioporus abietinus and another which frustratingly I cannot name despite it being pretty distinctive! (After a lot of searching through books and on-line, I reckon these fungi were Common Rustgills, Gymnopilus penetrans.) The lane runs across the end of Pedwardine Woods to the north and Arthur Ridges Wood to the south. A house called The Ridges sits in the hillside. An old artesian well stands rusting. Beyond us the conical hill of Birtley Knoll. A pair of Red Kites fly over breaking off their seemingly determined flight to have little mock dog fights. Down another lane to Birtley Green. A small chapel, a Primitive Methodist, has been converted into a domestic dwelling but is still surrounded by gravestones. The lane meets the Brampton Bryan-Lingen road at Birtley Cross. There is the sad sight of a dead Great Spotted Woodpecker lying in the roadside ditch. An old stone bridge, HCC 364, carries the road over the stream I had followed from Boreford Farm, it had run the other side of Birtley Knoll. Past the entrance to The Farlands. Opposite, away up on the hillside, a tiny cottage is rotting away. The road leads back into Lingen. A milestone stands by the road stating “Birtley 1 mile Lingen 2 furl”. For those of a tender age for whom furlongs are ancient history, there were 8 to the mile. Route