Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A sudden change of weather. The sky is blue, the sun shines but it is cold! A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls repeatedly from the lakeside woods. A Mute Swan and cygnet are on the lake. There are some Mallard quacking but the sun reflects off the surface of the water blinding me. A few Canada Geese preen in the bay. The hillside are a glorious display of autumn colour. A Common Buzzard flies asking the edge of the wood calling. The scrape is empty. A flotilla of over forty Cormorants lifts from the lake and fly off eastwards. A Grey Heron flies over with a squawk. A couple of Mallard, Moorhens and a drake Shoveler are by the island. A few Cormorant remain in the trees. It is unusually quiet. The corpse of a Canada Goose is on the scrape, ripped open by, I assume, Carrion Crows or maybe Ravens and Common Buzzards. The Cormorant flock have reappeared a across the lake. A lone Cormorant fetches up onto the scrape. It shines in the sunlight as water drips off its feathers. All the Cormorants and Canada Geese, which are normally here in large numbers are an indication of how the distribution of species changes. Normally in the past, Cormorants bred on coasts and wintered there. Numbers were limited by human persecution and pesticide pollution reducing breeding success. Over recent years there has been a considerable increase in inland breeding and it has been established that this is because of the expansion of the range of the continental sub-species, Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis, partly because the limiting factors have been removed by protection and the reduction in pesticides and the growth of artificially stocked fisheries providing ample quantities of food. Canada Geese are an introduced species from the New World and like the Cormorant, the increase in suitable wetland habitats has led to a substantial population growth. They also have hardly any predators. Great and Blue Tits are active is the Alder plantation.
Home – Clearing the garden for winter continues. Today I clear the greenhouse. All the tomato and pepper plants are composted. I take an armful up to the compost bins and on my return a Robin has flown into the greenhouse to see what there is to eat. It panics as I enter, flapping against the glass at the closed end, so I have to flush it back down towards the door and out. I start weeding and pull up a clump and expose a frog which jumps at one of the windows in its attempts to escape. I place a large flower pot at an angle for it to hide under. When I return again from the bins it is escaping across the greenhouse to hide under the staging. The sun is still bright but it is now cooling fast. Kay has cleared the asparagus bed, not much of a bed as only two plants have taken. But she clears the whole bed and we will put in some more in the spring. The purple-sprouting broccoli now stands about four feet high. We have never had them this size before and just hope they crop well.
Thursday – Bodenham Arboretum – This site is to the north of Kidderminster. It is very popular as the packed car park bears witness. The site is mainly centred on a large lake and several smaller pools around the edge. It covers some 54 acres and was started in 1973. Many trees have lost their leaves which surprises us as large woods near us such as Dinmore are still pretty much full leaved. However, there are enough autumn colours, especially Acers to brighten the rather dull and grey day. The rich leaf mould under the trees proves to be ideal for fungi. Honey Fungus, Armillaria Mellae is frequent on stumps, Sulphur Tuft, Hypholoma fasciculare also on stumps and others probably belonging to the Lactarius and Russula families although I am beginning to think life is too short to try and work out exactly which ones! On a hillside is a circular construction made of sandbags called the Fernery. It contains a pond and some sizeable ferns. We wander around past numerous specimen trees and back to the visitors centre. We fancy a cup of tea but the restaurant proves too crowded. Web Site
Sunday – Leominster – The first serious frost of the winter. The roofs are white and windscreens frozen. The River Lugg is even lower than before. A Ring-necked Pheasant explodes from the undergrowth by Butts Bridge making me jump. The fields are white and gold in the rising sun. The market remains small with a noticeable increase in Christmas tat. A couple of large wooden tongs that were once used to remove washing from hot water amuse me – I have not seen them for years. There are clouds to the north, south and west but overhead and to the east the sky is blue as a thrush’s egg. A large coach from Ellesmere draws into Bridge Street car park to pick up passengers for Chester and Liverpool, day trip or holiday?
Malvern – We travel over to the Three Counties Showground to visit an antiques fair. It is one of the smaller fairs with a “better class” of collectable. Unfortunately, my heart is being annoying and I do not feel well enough to enjoy looking at the wide range of items on sale. We almost buy a little needle box but the lid hinge has been broken, apparently this morning according to the stall holder, and it has a small plaque depicting Niagara Falls, which makes it pretty irrelevant. However, we do find a pretty small glass vase by the Cowdy glassworks in Newent. Later in the day it begins to rain, the first for some time.
Monday – Little Hereford-Brimfield – A few clouds are gathering in what was, first thing, a clear blue sky. Another frost but less hard than yesterday. I park by the bridge over the River Teme in Little Hereford and set off along Lynch Lane. An orchard of cider trees stands over the hedge. The trees are tall and spreading, unlike many modern orchards where much more compact stock is used. Past the Berrington junction. Another orchard old older trees hosts a large flock of winter thrushes who fly this way and that, calling their distinctive chatter. A drive leads off to a large Georgian farmhouse. Past Lynch Farm. Off down Haynall Lane. A Mistle Thrush flies over. Lambda Court looks modern but may have an older core. Behind Homeland Yard is a field of goats. Across the fields Titterstone Clee stands dark and sharp. Beyond, Brown Clee is less clear as cloud touches its summit. A vast tarmacked yard is empty, its use unclear, (although I later learn that a local auctioneers hold farm machinery sales here). The lane drops gently towards Brimfield Cross. A large sports club lays behind high hedges. A lane turns towards Brimfield. Into the village past Manor Cottage. Manor House is undergoing renovation. The old Post Office is a domestic residence. The Roebuck pub, a 17th century inn, remodelled in the late 18th century, is still a going concern and had the village shop attached. The village hall contains the Post office, open one day a week. The buildings in the village site how Brimfield had grown over many years although the number is modern houses indicates more rapid expansion over recent times. The lane through the village approaches the A49 passing Pritchett Almshouses of 1903. A lane leads to the church. A chattering flock of winter thrushes flies over.
St Michaels church dates from the 13th century but was partially rebuilt in 1834, restored in 1884 and largely rebuilt in 1904-8. It is a rather plain interior. The pulpit is 19th century and a lectern is in the Arts and Crafts style. The font is 13th century. In an alcove on the southern side is a window by Jim Budd Stained Glass representing Noah releasing the dove, made in 2002 to celebrate the Millennium. The tower is 13th century which was raised in the 16th century with a timber-framed belfry. Brimfield Court stands nearby. It was recorded in 1885 as a “substantial brick residence” and may have been Jacobean or Caroline in date. However, it burnt to the ground a few days before it was due to be auctioned in 1925. A house has been rebuilt here. Greenfinches stand at the top of Hawthorns which are laden with berries.
A footpath crosses the main road and a lane runs past Parrowfield to Wyson, a small village enlarged substantially by 20th century housing. The lane meets Wyson Lane where a couple of 17th century houses stand. Over Brimfield Brook by bridge HCC 1136. The Primitive Methodist chapel was enlarged in 1845. Wyson Lane leads back under the A49. There are mainly later 20th century houses with a few older properties and a terrace of late Victorian cottages just before the main road. The road enters Brimfield by the old forge. Over Brimfield Brook again by bridge HCC 79. The coping stones have been carved with graffiti over many years. The oldest date I can discern is 1949 but a lot of the carving is too eroded to read. At least one stone has been reset the other way around. Brimfield Hall, now extensively modernised, once occupied by the Salwey family of Richards Castle, is opposite Manor house. It was hidden when I first passed by a long barn. It once had extensive gardens and orchards but these have been truncated by the A49 bypass. This by-pass dates from 1981 and before traffic had to wind its way through the narrow streets of the village.
I retrace my steps to Little Hereford. Passing Lynch Farm again there are birds everywhere. A large flock of Redwings and Fieldfares, Blackbirds, House Sparrows, a substantial number going on the intensity of the twittering, Blue Tits and a Yellowhammer. Darker clouds are beginning to fill the sky. Route
Thursday – Bury – We head north through rain and rainbows. The motorways are heavy with traffic. We stop off in Bury to visit the famous market. There are acres of shopping centres. The outdoor market is not open today but the indoor one is open most days. Several stalls sell famous Bury black puddings along with items simply do not see in the south such as cow heel and of course tripe. There is a fine Italian deli. We buy a splendid pork pie and a bag of home-made cough sweets! The rain pounds down but fortunately intermittently.
Out of Bury and north through former mill towns. We cross the hills of the Pendle Forest area of the Bowland Forest. Pendle Hill (amusingly, the three parts of the name: Pen, Dle comes from hyll and hill, all meaning hill) and other hills have a thin scattering of snow. Up the Ribble valley, the river flowing nearby. Through the delightful village of Long Preston and on to Settle where we are staying tonight. Ribblesdale was created by glaciation about 14000 years ago. A lake formed after the end of the Ice Age probably because the end of the valley was blocked by terminal moraine. Eventually the river broke through leaving the valley similar to today. On to Settle and the Golden Lion Hotel, where we are staying. It serves a splendid pint of Saltaire Blonde. In the evening there is a folk sing around led by Mike Harding.
Friday – Settle – Our first destination after breakfast is Settle Station. The line between Settle and Carlisle is famous as it passes through the stunning landscape of the Dales and the eastern fells. Outside the station is a large water tower now converted into a home. There is glass walled room on top. A coal wagon stands the forecourt. The signal box is now part of the tourist attraction but only open Saturdays. The main part of the station building is a gift shop. From to of the footbridge there are views of rugged hills is every direction. Across the valley to the east is the small town of Giggleswick. On a hillside is a large dome, part of the chapel of Giggleswick School. Back to the main street of Settle, Duke Street.
Settle is thought to have 7th century origins, its name being the Anglo-Saxon word for settlement. At Domesday it is recorded that the previous lord was Bo, but after the Harrying of the North (1069-1071) the land was granted to Roger de Poitou. In 1249 a market charter was granted to Henry de Percy, 7th Baron of Topcliffe by Henry III. The town developed after a turnpike joined it to the industrial centres and its mills expanded considerably. Some large houses were subsequently built, Cragdale Lodge was built around 1830 and became the police station but is now accommodation again. The Social Club, formerly Ashfield House built for local banker William Birbeck in the early 19th century. It has 12 chimneys on one stack and possibly a similar number on the other but the pots are missing. Our hotel the Golden Lion is late 19th century but retains a doorway and lintel marked 1671. Opposite the wholefood shop has a bicycle high on the front wall being peddled by a bee! On the market square is an imposing Town Hall, now commercial properties and shops. It was built in 1832 by George Webster of Kendal in the Gothic Revival style. Surrounding buildings are mainly mid to late 18th century and early 19th century. Down near a large bridge carrying the railway line over the road, is the church of the Holy Ascension. It was built in 1832-1836 by Thomas Rickman in the Early English style. Unusually it is built north-south. This means that the “East Window” actually faces south. The window was designed by O’Connor of the Pugin Studio. In the nave is a 1913 window by William Morris of a Burne-Jones design. The pulpit and font are both in brown and cream alabaster from 1869. The apse is lined in similar marble. The roof is a Queen post with red painted braces and trefoil decoration in spandrels, with tie beams supported on moulded stone corbels. Outside is a gravestone reading:
My Sledge and Hammer both declined
My Bellows they have lost the wind
My Fire extinct my Forge decayed
And in the dust my Vice is laid
My Coals are spent my Iron gone
My Nails are drove my work is done.
It is the grave of Luke Ralph who died on 19th March 1849, aged 49, clearly a blacksmith. Also here are his wife Agnes who died in 1820 aged only 29. Their son William died in 1840 aged 10. Luke remarried to Elizabeth but their son James also died in 1840 aged only 5. Elizabeth lived to the ripe old age of 74, dying in 1979. Clearly one daughter lived because her son, William Ralph Briscoe died in 1870 again, only 6 years old.
Across the Dales. There is beautiful views of the River Ribble it carves its way down the Dale. It tumbles over large rocks causing white rapids, then flowing swiftly and black past bare trees or the occasional Hawthorn still red with berries. At Horton-in-Ribbledale we pause to look at the snow covered Pen-y-ghent. Further on we stop again view the Three Peaks and the Ribblehead Viaduct. Numerous small stone buildings are in various states of disrepair. Hawes is busy, lorries and cars parking everywhere and anywhere causing traffic chaos. We had hoped to stop in Leyburn, but the weekly market is in the main car park so nowhere to stop.
We next stop in Chester-le-Street. This town started, as the name indicates, as a Roman fort, Concangis on the Roman road, Cade’s Street named after John Cade of Durham, an antiquarian of the 18th century who postulated the route of the road from the Humber to the Tyne although this has still not been proved. The road crossed Cong Burn or River Cone here, now culverted, running under the market place. The market is rather limited. Up the main street Front Street which is the route of the Roman road. The town is like many other former mining communities with a lot of cheap shops. The small shopping mall is awash with school children on lunch. We have a cup of tea which comes with a few biscuits for a pound each! John Leland described Chester-le-Street in the 1530s as “Chiefly one main street of very mean building in height.”, a sentiment echoed by Daniel Defoe. Up Front Street. B&M Bargain Store (now a national chain we always call “Bum”) is clearly in a typical white Art-Deco former Woolworths. The Grove was a superior 18th century house, now occupied by the Durham Aged Mineworkers Homes Association marked by a gable plaque dated 1893. The Post Office has a metal feature marked ER 1936, indicating the brief reign of Edward VIII. A large hotel is in Victorian Gothic style.
The church of St Mary and St Cuthbert is a gem. It was established to house the body of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 684-687. After his death he became one of the most venerated saints of the time. When driven out of Lindisfarne by Viking raids in 875 the monks took St Cuthbert’s coffin along with other valuable items. After seven years they settled at Chester-le-Street (then called Cunecaster or Conceastre), at the site of the old Roman fort of Concangis, in 883, on land granted to them by Guthred. A wooden church and shrine was constructed for the relics. It was built within the Roman fort, which although abandoned over five hundred years before may have still offered some protection, as well as access north and south along Cade’s Road and to the sea by the River Wear.
The church was not replaced by a stone one suggesting this was to be a temporary resting place, however it became a cathedral as it contained the seat of the bishop, for the diocese (sometimes known as Lindisfarne and sometimes as Cuncacestre) stretching between the boundaries of Danelaw at Teesside in the south, of Alba at Lothian in the north and the Irish sea in the west. The bishop’s authority was confirmed by Alfred the Great, and for the next 112 years the community was based here, visited by kings Æthelstan and Edmund, who both left gifts for the community, to add to the treasures brought from Lindisfarne which included the Lindisfarne Gospels. Renewed Viking raids drove the monks out in 995, firstly to Ripon before returning to the more easily defended Durham, where they eventually built a stone cathedral around St Cuthbert’s remains. In 1056 a stone church replaced the wooden one. In 1286 it was made a collegiate church, with a dean, seven canons, five chaplains and three deacons, supported by tithes from extensive endowments throughout a large parish. The church was extended in the following year. Around 1383 an anchorage was added in one corner of the church, to be used by six male anchorites until 1547, when it was extended. The spire and belfry with three bells were added in 1409, one of which is still in use.
The collegiate church was dissolved during the Reformation and the church became a parish church with reduced wealth and influence. In subsequent years much of the money for building came from donations, with those of the Lumley and Lambton families particularly notable. John Lumley contributed a set of fourteen family effigies that now lie along the north wall in 1595 (although apparently only five are genuine). Major restorations were undertaken in 1862, and the church became a rectory with the installation of an organ in 1865, later restored by Harrison & Harrison. A screen was installed in 1883 to celebrate the church’s millennium. In 1927 a reredos, panelling and a bishop’s throne by Sir Charles Nicholson and three panels, “Journey of St Cuthbert’s body”, by his brother Archibald Keightley Nicholson were added. An enthusiastic pair of volunteers insist Kay rings the ancient bell!
Gateshead – We stop at the Angel of the North, the iconic statue designed by Sir Antony Gormley overlooking the A1. Work began on the project in 1994 and completed in 1998 at a cost of £800,000. We have passed the statue many times but this is the first time we have approached it close up.
Saturday – Newcastle-upon-Tyne – The Barnsley Buglers are in full complement so we head into the city. Dave tells us the Metro has been privatised and the service has deteriorated considerably to the extent that in may soon come back to the public sector. Accordingly, there is a signal failure up the line so the trains are less frequent. However, we arrive in the city centre and head over the Bridge Inn which is between the castle and the High-level Bridge. There was a distinct danger we could settle in for the afternoon, so we force ourselves out and down the precipitously steep steps to the Quayside. The Quayside is busy and we walk northwards passing the Sage, Baltic Wharf and the Millennium Bridge before reaching the Tyne Inn at the point the Ouseburn enters the Tyne. A vast tidal barrage was built in 2009 but it seems that it has failed to work since the following year. We climb steps to the Free Trade Inn where we get our pints and sit in a garden on the opposite side to the road looking up the Tyne as the sun sets. We then head up the Ouseburn past the Toffee Works. The site was a storage area for livestock until the early 1900s when it was taken over by Maynards as a toffee works. It is now offices. Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children’s Books, located in a former granary. A number of small boats are moored on the mud below. On up into Byker to The Cluny, a well known music venue. I am rather distraught to find that Nadja, a Berlin-based Canadian duo are playing there tonight and there is no way I can stay to see them! We continue on to the Cumberland Arms, another fine pub. We then adjourn to a Lebanese restaurant before heading home. The
Metro situation seems to have got worse so we opt for taxis, expensive but better than standing for an age on a damp platform.
“Ah, could I see a spinney nigh,
A paddock riding in the sky,
Above the oaks, in easy sail,
On stilly wings and forked tail.” Paddock is an old English name for the Red Kite
By John Clare (c1820)
Sunday – The Great North Road – We head south down the A1, the Great North Road. The road is still being upgraded to a major motorway. We reach the junction of the A1 with the A64. The A1 approximately follows the route of the Roman Ermine Street and the A64 the road from Chester to Bridlington, although Ermine Street diverted to York where the roads met. Above the motorway are five Red Kites. This species was re-introduced into Harewood Estate in 1999 and now around 100 pairs breed across the area.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Grey clouds slide across the sky. Recent days have been damp and mild and this morning is little different but colder, wetter weather is forecast. Early this morning the moon was still bright; there was a super moon on Monday, the closest the moon has been to earth since 1948. Jupiter is also bright in the pre-dawn sky. Here at Bodenham Lake, Carrion Crows are noisy whilst Robins sing intermittently and Blue Tits chatter. Field Maples are an intense chrome yellow, Spindle and cotoneaster leaves are turning red but many trees are now bare. Long-tailed Tits mine through the trees surprisingly quietly. A Blackbird chucks an alarm and a Green Woodpecker flashes by. Redwings are scattered along the hedgerow. The lake is very quiet, a few Mallard on the far side strut their stuff. Just a pair of Carrion Crows are on the scrape. Over 20 Cormorants are in the island trees but there is nothing on the water! A single Grey Heron sits hunched on a branch in the south-western corner with a group Mallard nearby. Small brown-black insect with needle tail lands on my hand. It is sawfly, Xyela julii, apparently without a common name. The Xyelidae are a small family now but with an extensive fossil record dating back to the Triassic, between 245 and 208 million years ago. A pair of Magpies fly off from the island. A Common Buzzard circles the centre of the lake trying to find a thermal. A pair of Wigeon glide into view at the western end. The wind is rising and the sky darkening. I cannot think of a previous time when I have been unable to locate a single Canada Goose on the lake. A Moorhen appears. I leave the hide and reach the meadow just as a large class of small, noisy children arrive. There are sheep in the cider orchard despite there being a substantial amount of fruit still available. A Fieldfare flies over, calling.
Friday – Llandrindod Wells-Cefnllys – A light coating of snow whitens the Radnor Forest. On into Llandrindod Wells. I park outside a four storey Victorian red brick semi called Fairview although most of the view is now an Aldi. It is cold! Towards the town centre. The Quaker Meeting Hall was built as The Newman Southall Building in 1879. Opposite is a garage with a half hearted Art Deco look. The late Victorian town houses continue, many divided into flats. The famous 1929 Art Deco car showroom on the corner is empty and looking dilapidated. The names of classic marques on then portico have letters missing. Into Craig Road and then Broadway. The houses are large and get progressively younger as the road heads away from the town centre. Left into Cefnllys Lane. Nuthatches call from the far side of the primary school park. The rugby ground lays behind Broadway. A pair of houses either side of Brookfields look classically Art Deco and I later find a reference to one of them, The White House, from 1939. I was unsure of their age because of the unfortunate plastic replacement windows! A Radnorshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Gorse Farm is a former “balancing” pool. (A balancing pool is used to store water after heavy rain and release it more slowly thus preventing flooding.) The sky is largely blue and clear but some dark clouds are drifting in from the west.
The road passes through tight bends as it leaves the town and climbs past Glencoe, not the most typically Welsh of names. A Raven flies over muttering softly. The road is icy with the remnants of snow and frost. The road starts to descend passing Bailey Einon farm which has a fine late Georgian stone farmhouse. Opposite is an undulating ridge, Bongam Bank. The road turns sharply and descends steeply through more twists and turns to Shaky Bridge, known as Pont Bridge before the start of the 20th century, a reference to “pontage”, a toll to use the bridge. A brook bubbles down beside the road. At the Cefn Llys picnic area is a memorial some to Doctor John Emrys Jenkins, General Practitioner and Surgeon at the War Memorial Hospital in Llandrindod Wells. Over Shaky Bridge which crosses the wide and fast flowing River Ithon. Across a meadow of sheep. To one side Bailey Einon Wood, another Radnorshire Wildlife Trust reserve, rises and to the other, more steeply is the knobbly crowned Castle Bank. Bailey Einon Wood is shown as a woodland in the 1840 tithe map, with a small orchard near the kissing gate. This area is the result of volcanism in the Ordovician era, 464-467 million years ago, the valley being tuff, magma that rose to the surface, where sudden pressure relief caused explosive volcanic eruptions, producing fragmentary pyroclastic material or ash, and the hills are igneous bedrock created by lava flows. At the end of the meadow is something of a surprise, the church of St Michael.
The church of Llanfihangel Cefnllys, in English, the church of St Michael of the Ridge, stands in a circular churchyard (or llan) surrounded by ancient Yew trees. This suggests a Celtic site. The earliest documentary evidence of the church dates from 1291 but it is likely it was completely rebuilt around the time Roger Mortimer extended Cefnllys Castle on Castle Bank in 1242. Cefnllys is recorded in 1246 as Keventhles, with other variations on this form during the 13th century. The name combines the elements cefn meaning “ridge” and llys interpreted as “court”. The church’s windows are 16th century. It had its roof removed in an effort to drive the congregation to the main Holy Trinity Church in Llandrindod Wells in 1893, but it was replaced in 1895. There is a small, squat, broach spire, supported on corbels at eaves level. It has two bells. In the porch there is a tablet recording Hendry Bank Common rights (1885). Inside there is a wooden screen and a pulpit made of Jacobean pews in 1661. An organ came from Weston Super Mare in 1989. There are a number of memorials on the wall including a wooden one of Ezekiel Williams dated 1771.
The village of Cefnllys grew under Norman control and later became a Borough with a Market Charter from Edward I in 1297 and an MP until 1832. It probably started to decline in the 16th century when the castle was abandoned. A tumble of stones indicates a building stood near the gate at the foot of the hill and the 1889 OS map show it was a house called Ty’n-y-llan From the churchyard a track runs around Castle Bank. Red Kites and a Common Buzzard soars overhead. The track runs around the hill but there is no public access to the castle remains, which are little more than mounds and bumps. It is believed there was an Iron Age hill-fort on the top of the hill, but this has not been proved and quarrying on the summit has damaged the site. There is a tradition that Elystan Glodrydd had a fortification here in the 10th century. The lords of Maelienydd may have thrown up fortifications here in the 12th century, perhaps to replace the motte and bailey at Din Iethon some two miles to the north, but there is no documentation to support this. There is also some evidence that the castle may have been built by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in the 1220s. A stone castle, sometimes known as Castell Glan Ithon, was erected by Roger Mortimer between 1240 and 1246 on the northern part of the hilltop. It fell to Llewelyn in 1262. A more substantial foundation for a new keep at the south-west end of the hill was developed by the Mortimers in about 1273 after the Treaty of Montgomery agreed on 29th September 1267. In late 1294 Cefnllys castle again succumbed to the men of Maelienydd who rose in the general rising of Madog ap Llywelyn of Meirionydd, Cynan ap Maredudd of Deheubarth and Morgan ap Maredudd of Gwynllwg. It is possible that the last Brian Brampton of Brampton Bryan fell in this action. The castle was burnt by Glyndŵr in 1406. A house was built on the site by a new constable of the castle between 1432 and 1459, and his bard describes the keep as having an octagonal tower. When Leland passed this way in 1540 the castle was a ruin.
A house, Neuadd, is on the far side. It is 17th century but much altered in the 19th century. The Court Leet was held here after the abandonment of the castle until the 19th century. Back down the track. Below on the river plain is, according to the OS map, Burnt Mound, a Bronze Age cooking site, but I am unsure where although there are some low earthworks below. A female Goosander glides downstream rapidly in the current. Down near the church, Blackbirds, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes are in the Hawthorns. Back to Shaky Bridge and back up the hill. The clouds are thickening. Down towards the town. A Kestrel flies over almost pausing in flight to see if there is anything below before deciding not and flying on.
Into the town centre between the modern edifices of the Welsh Government offices and County Hall. However the town centre is Victorian grandeur. The Coleg Powys school was formerly the Ye Wells Hotel, built in 1907. After being commandeered by the army during the Second World War, it became a school for the deaf and is now a further education establishment. Tom Norton Depot is Art Nouveau. The lions on the parapet are not dated here though as they are on the car showroom. Begun in 1906 and initially completed in 1911. It was founded by Mr Tom Norton and formerly known as “The Palace of Sport” and “Tom Norton Limited”, becoming “The Automobile Palace Ltd.” in 1925. The Architect was R Wellings Thomas. In 1906 Mr Norton started one of Wales’ first public bus services and soon after brought aviation to Mid-Wales, becoming involved in early passenger aircraft – hence the lettering on the front “Aircraft”. The first Ford Agency for the whole of Wales was in this building as well as, from 1918, the Austin Agency for most of Wales and that of Ferguson Tractors. The building now contains various businesses and the National Cycle Museum. The former Methodist church on the opposite corner has been taken over by evangelicals. Up Spa Road. The church of the Holy Trinity, opened in 1871, has a coffee morning and is noisy, so I do not linger. It has started to rain. Opposite is Temple Garden with a bandstand and statue of Thomas Jones (1742-1803), a Welsh landscape painter. The square is surrounded by hotels including the rather strangely green painted Metropole. The Christmas lights are being installed in Middleton Street, where there are too many stuff and charity shops. Down briefly to the station. The station was opened in 1865 as the terminus of a branch line from Knighton by the Central Wales Railway (which was absorbed by the LNWR soon after completion). Construction of the Central Wales Extension Railway southwards towards Llandovery started soon after and upon completion of this line in 1868, making a through route between Craven Arms and Swansea. Beyond are the supermarkets, the busy part of town. Route
Monday – Leominster – The rain finally dwindles to a faint drizzle after more than twelve hours of downpour. The wind remains blustery and it is cold. Storm Angus passed through at the weekend, mainly affecting the south coast with damage and floods. This is a second deep depression following on Angus’ heels. The River Lugg has risen considerably, which is unsurprising and is now red-brown with sediment. Past Brightwells’ compound. The amphibious craft has gone and now a gypsy caravan stands in its place. Nearby is an army Ferret car. Water rushes out of Cheaton Brook like a chocolate milkshake. The Kenwater is also deep and far but much greyer in colour. A quick visit to the Community Centre which occupies the old Girls and Boys School, built in 1858 and enlarged in 1872, at a cost of £2,000, with residence adjoining for the master, for 557 children. When I emerge the rain has started again in earnest. Back through the town trying to avoid the spray as vehicles drive through the large puddles in uneven surface to the High Street. By 3:00 in the afternoon it is quite dark. The automatic door to the hen house needs sorting out, probably new batteries, but that is not a sensible job in pouring rain, getting the electronics wet would be a disaster! Eventually, the rain eases to a drizzle again and I stand under an umbrella and replace the batteries and reset the mechanism. The hens huddle under the house muttering to themselves.
Tuesday – Croft – The sky is still grey and a strong wind blows but it seems the stormy weather is finally passing. It rained heavily again the night and a large branch from our dead apple tree broke away. I brought it to the ground and will need to get the saw to it.
A Jay lifts off from the pasture beside the long drive into Croft Castle. It remains momentarily in a roadside tree before flying off. Some of the Horse Chestnuts around the car park still have a good deal of golden leaves still to fall. Robins sing and Nuthatches call. The Fish Pools are full and water gurgles down the overflow channels. A Grey Wagtail flies across one of the pools. Up the copper coloured bank over a thick layer of Beech leaves. Wrens call their warnings and a small flock of Wood Pigeons clatters off. A Grey Squirrel chunters from the trees. Climbing the bank is tricky as the mixture of leaves, twigs and Beech mast is unstable on a slick muddy base. Dark green Star mosses push their way through the leaf mould. Saplings hold on to their leaves far more than the more venerable trees and bright lime green dominates the steep slope back down towards the pools where there is much young growth. A pair of Grey Squirrels chases around the base of trees whilst further up the trunk a Treecreeper scurries up searching for insects in crevices.
Up the track from the end of the valley. A pickup and trailer rattles past carrying bags of Oak seedlings and stakes. The track joins another at the base is the area cleared beneath the hill fort. It is strange to think whilst walking along the track through open, sparse woodland that this was once running through thick plantations of evergreens. New gates and a cattle grid cross the track. Just beyond the track divides and I take the left hand towards the Keeper’s Cottage. A new fence runs along the top of Lyngham Vallet. Another area of cleared plantation lies to the south of the track. Here the ancient Oaks, several six and seven hundred years old are now in open woodland rather than being enclosed by conifers. A new barn had been erected with information boards and activities for younger visitors. Oak saplings have been planted nearby. One wonders if, when these are ancient trees whether there will be anyone around to marvel at them? Cattle troughs have been installed, the cattle have yet arrive. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. Good numbers of Blackbirds and a few Redwings are in the hedgerow. A Song Thrush is singing. A Goldcrest searches a Hawthorn. Further down the hedgerow is a flock of Chaffinches with at least two Yellowhammers with them.
Thursday – Hereford – The River Arrow has burst its banks and the usual fields are flooded south of Leominster. A large flock of Starlings flies over Elms Green. There is more extensive flooding south of Dinmore where the Lugg has flowed over. This extends down towards Wellington. Two flocks of Lapwings fly over the road at Wellington. It is cold and grey. From the retail estate on the Holmer Road I walk up to the Roman Road and then into late 20th century housing estate. A small green with a number of trees including a pair of Weeping Willows makes a pleasant centre to the estate. Back into Roman Road. Here the houses are earlier. Holmer Hall is now flats. The Crescent is a route of 1930s houses with roofs coming down to ground floor level and dormer windows. Holmer Hall Cottages are a similar age to the hall. By the racecourse is a footpath across a wide open green space. Racing has recommenced at the course after a considerable layoff. Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons are in the trees on the edge of the green. A pair of Pied Wagtails fly off. I return to the retail park.
Sunday – Leominster – There is a chill to the air but no frost. High scattered clouds drift slowly westwards. The River Lugg flows swiftly. A Cormorant shakes it wings and rises from the water. Blackbirds fly to and fro across the river. A Nuthatch calls from an Ivy and Mistletoe clad Ash tree. A Great Tit calls loudly from beside the railway. The market is smaller still. Every year it seems to diminish as Christmas approaches – the opposite to what seems logical. Lots of the stalls now have Christmas goods. Both Cheaton Brook and the River Kenwater are flowing fast but both have lost their colour and a much clearer than last week. Corn Square is being set up for a Christmas event. The lights were switched on last night, a rather disappointing affair. The square was crowded but there was little happening. I think the Town Crier made a speech but his microphone failed. There are only two decorative lights in the square, although the main streets are lit prettily this year. With the Government “austerity” programme it is hardly surprising that the public realm cannot afford to do anything much. We need to ensure that city bankers and their ilk can still make vast fortunes to spend in the south-east and stash abroad, whilst the rest of watch our country decay.
Home – I replace the failed door-opener on the hen house. The hens are beginning to lay again. The branch that fell off the dead apple tree is sawn up and bagged. I leave it outside the front garage doors for anyone with a log fire to take. Then windfall apples are bagged up to take to the recycling centre. There are eight sacks, far too many for us to compost. We have trays of apples, frozen apple pulp; we have given away bags of them but there are still far too many. However, the birds will have something to keep them fed over the next couple of months as there many on the ground still.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The morning is overcast but not too cold. A quick visit to the recycling centre to dump all the apples and then on to the Mortimer Forest. The woods are very quiet, only the occasional Blue Tit chatter. The background noise from the roads means it is not completely silent. Across the enclosure and the sun emerges to light up the dark green Spruces, brown Bracken and yellow Birch leaves. On along the Forestry track. I stand still; the silence, apart from the distant drone of traffic, is almost eerie. I catch a distant cheep then a Wren starts ticking rapidly nearby and another responds. Overhead the clouds thin and blue sky appears but the wind is picking up. A Raven barks nearby. Deer slots are plentiful in the mud of the track. The occasional Robin flies to a convenient perch to watch me pass. The peace is shattered by a passing helicopter. I have never understood why it seems impossible to quieten their engines. A small group of conifers is clearly older than the rest of the plantation here, their trunks far wider. A little further on are five Oaks probably all over 200 years old.
At Peelers Pond I take the path up to High Vinnalls. Out onto the hilltop. The wind is brisk. The hills are misty but clear enough to see that the thin layer of snow on the tops has gone. The field below are still very green. Down the track and into the woods again. Large Buckler Ferns look fresh and green against the brown dead leaves and grasses. Down through the Deer Park. A Common Buzzard sits atop a conifer, gliding away as I approach. A venerable Oak stands on the hill its main branches almost all broken away but with plenty of new growth. It is likely to be the last remnant of the old forest. Another tree on the hillside is perhaps a few hundred years old and there are huge stumps of ancient giants possibly young as the Civil War raged or even earlier. There is plenty of water in the ponds that lie down the valley towards Hanway. Much of the sky is blue now and mottled winged Common Buzzards circle. Route