Sunday – Leominster – Last night the Hunters’ Moon shone brightly from a clearing sky. This morning the clouds were back. Brigid, Ken and I head off to the market. There is a decided chill in the air now. Over the River Lugg whose level still remains low. More police cars are in the Brightwells’ compound, some only three years old. There are also some more exclusive vehicles, a Sunbeam Rapier, a Lanchester Fourteen from the early 1950s and a Jaguar Supercharged probably from the 1960s. We are at the market for probably only five minutes before Brigid finds something to buy. I do not think I have bought anything for about six months. The market is small now but the quality of the stalls seems to have gone up. We wander back though the town.
Home – The garden is gradually being submerged in a blanket of copper and gold leaves. The beans have dried reasonably well and leaving them much longer risks them turning mouldy. Trays of Pak Choi seedlings in the greenhouse are finally beginning to get larger. There is a lot of clearing to do and I need to get my onions and garlic planted. The hens are moulting, there are feathers everywhere, and egg production has fallen off but not stopped.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A frosty morning. As weather fronts move across the country, mornings are alternating between wet and mild and clear and frosty. The sky is cloudless. A Redwing flies over. The line of Poplars are leafless but the Willows on the other side is the track are still green. A number of Mallard and Canada Geese occupy the boating bay. Westfield and Dinmore Woods are now gold, copper and brass. Carrion Crows and Pheasants call from the woods. Robins and Blackbirds are active. Round to the hide. The water level is as low as I can recall and the scrape is extensive. A pool by the reed beds has greasy ice on it. Over sixty Canada Geese are on the far side of the water. A couple of Cormorants are apparently standing on the water with their wings outstretched, the gravel spit clearly runs a long way out into the lake. There appears to be only one other Cormorant, this one is the trees on the island. It is very quiet, even the Canada Geese are silent, just moving to and fro in a long line. The scrape is deserted until a Wren dashes out from the reed bed, under a still green thistle and starts searching for morsels. A Grey Heron is hunched on the base of the spit and a Moorhen is pecking at the mud nearby. There is a complete absence of ducks.
A troop of Blewits, Lepista saeva, are on the edge of the meadow. A lot of cider apples are rotting in the orchards, such a waste. However a few trees in the dessert apple orchard still have ripe and crisp fruit. Two Green Woodpeckers fly away from the orchard off into the woods.
Thursday – Home – Yesterday the climbing French beans were cleared. They yielded a decent amount of beans for drying. Today, in go red onion sets and garlic. I try them most years with very varying success. The spring cabbage is looking good as is the purple sprouting broccoli. Leeks are a decent size and very slowly getting bigger. Leaves are falling steadily now, which means I really must carry out the necessary repairs to the leaf mould cages. The hens have now gone off lay almost completely. Blue is a sight to behold – she has large areas bare of feather with nascent feathers poking through her skin. Silver has a ring of bare skin around her neck. However, Speckles seems to have lost no feathers at all. The peanut feeder is being well used by Blue, Great and Coal Tits. The latter seem to have had a good year as there are more around than I have noticed before.
Friday – Llandegfedd Reservoir – After overnight rain, the morning is bright with clouds scurrying across the sky from the west. From the Pontypool and New Inn station a path leads into a large housing estate, part of New Inn, called the “Heol Felin” housing estate (all roads begin Heol (Welsh for road) built throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s. Into Golf Road, again a late 1960s and 70s development. Out of the estate onto Jerusalem Road. Fields stretch out eastwards. Sheep are being rounded up by a dog. Having got the sheep to the gate beside which the handler stands, they are released and wander off across the field again. The lane narrows and leaves the estate behind. To the west, the fields drop down into the Lewyn valley. Upon the far hillside is a tower. The lane turns eastwards. Across the valley, on the far hillside is a block house and watchtower marked as just “works” on the map. The lane rises and from the top of a gentle rise one looks down on Llandegfedd reservoir. A lane with an ornate sign proclaiming “Twilight Herd of Holstein cattle”, leads down to Upper Trostra farm. A small stone shed houses a water pump. The lane is on the boundary of Downton Castle Formation mudstones and the Upper Llanbedoc and Llangibby beds of mudstone, both laid down in the Silurian. Past Trostra House, the farmyard, Bridge House and several more modern dwellings. At Lower Trostra, a house began as a two cell, gable entry, one and a half storey house which could be in the early part of the date range for such houses, that is 16th century. It has undergone much alteration since then.
The lane becomes a track, then a path. Tits, Blackbirds and Robins shoot out of the hedgerow and disappear. The path becomes a hollow way. The bases of trees overhang the exposed layers of pale mudstone. Roots penetrate the layers of rock, travelling horizontally until they find a weakness or crack to turn downwards again. Older exposed rock is coated with emerald mosses. A path rises from the hollow way and runs above a marshy stream. The sides of the valley are covered in Oak and Beech with Willows down by the water. The path turns and runs alongside another stream, crosses it by a footbridge, then climbs a small hill. Below the original stream meanders through green and mud banks to the reservoir. The path is part of the reservoir trail and now proceeds high above the edge of the water. There are large exposed banks down to the water indicating the level is low. A pontoon of pumping equipment provides a perch for three Cormorants. The reservoir is an important wintering site for wildfowl but they are clearly yet to arrive. Only a large flock of Canada Geese are present. A small flock of Fieldfares flies over followed by a Raven. A closer scan reveals a Great Crested Grebe and half a dozen Goosander. The path comes to a small hide. Another scan of the water reveals more Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
In the mid 1950s Cardiff Corporation proposed damming Sôr Brook to form a reservoir, to make provision for the supply of water to Abertillery and District Water Board, The Pontypool & District Water Company and The County Borough of Newport. There were many objections, particularly from those whose property would be flooded and a Public Enquiry was held on October 2nd 1957 at the Civic Centre in Newport. However, the Corporation prevailed and in November 1958 an order was made for the construction of the reservoir at a projected cost of £3,139,858. Construction of the reservoir started in 1961, most people had moved out by mid 1962 and the filling of the reservoir started in October 1963. Supplies of water were made available to the various local authorities by March 1964. There was local resentment that the reservoir was called Llandegfedd as it was land in Glascoed that was taken. The name was chosen because the original proposal was for a reservoir further south at Llandegfedd. Ironically, the Sôr Brook was insufficient to maintain the reservoir and the water to fill this reservoir has to be pumped from the River Usk, the pipeline entering the reservoir at the Glascoed end of the reservoir just beneath Parc Newydd. The site is now a SSSI.
A stile leads into a meadow without any indication of the route. Along the bottom of the meadow then up the steep slope and then a kissing gate indicates the way into Sluvad Wood. Through the wood of Oak, Beech, Hazel, Holly and a tall, and apparently lone Wellingtonia. The path now looks like another old hollow way. It rises to join a farm track. The works mentioned above are just up the hill, surrounded by an impressive fence topped by rolled barbed wire. Up the road is the entrance which announces it is a training academy for Welsh Water. A Grey Wagtail flies out from the site. Back down the hill a short distance to pick up the reservoir trail again. The path avoids the road but walking is more difficult because of the layer of copper coloured wet leaves concealing wet tree roots. A dangling bramble tendril snatches my hat off my head, for the second time! Rudimentary steps lead down to the reservoir dam. Out in the water is a concrete reservoir valve tower. The road crosses the dam. Pied Wagtails fly to and fro, whistling. A water treatment plant lies below the dam. Over the dam and round past the visitors’ centre. The road now climbs steeply out of the valley.
At the top of the hill is the village of Coed-y-Paen. Most the houses look modern. Through the village to Christchurch. It is locked. The church has a large tower, rather too large for the nave. Built in the local yellow-grey sandstone in 1848, designed by Sir Matthew Digby-Wyatt. It is in the Victorian Early English style. The Carpenters Arms is open so I have a couple of pints and a chat with another walker. Back down past the church. The telephone box is a mini library. A road heads south-west. Past a man laying a hedge in the tradition manner. The road drops steeply. A pair of pine trees stand alone in a field on the hillside. Opposite is Darran (called Daren on the older maps) Plantation. An old quarry has completely been reclaimed by nature. The road does a sharp zigzag over Sôr Brook. Two round pillars are in the brook which may be the remains of a footbridge. Another stream joins the brook by the road bridge. The road climbs past Brook House. The lane turns into the Tre-Herbert Road near Croes-wen, an early 17th century farmhouse, originally just two rooms, enlarged in the 19th century. Over the hill and down towards Cwmbrân. Past a golf club. The chapel for the Greater Gwent Crematorium is a large building with a hint of Arts and Crafts. However, it was built in 1960, designed by Mr F Buckley of Sir Percy Thomas & Son, Cardiff. It was the first crematorium design that the company had done and contained numerous elements of poor design, which have subsequently been costly or impossible to put right. A lot of cars containing people in black are turning into the car park. Across the A4042. The funeral cortège passes. On a side road stands the Pontrhydyrun Baptist church, originally built in 1815 but replaced with a larger building in 1837. The road steadily descends into Cwmbrân and the station. The wind suddenly turns colder but the train is on time, so the wait is brief. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A small flock of Long-tailed Tits squeak in the tree outside the newsagents. It starts raining. Over the River Lugg where the water level is higher than of late. Two Cormorants fly over. A Mute Swan swims downstream. The rain gets heavier. All but a few hardy souls have set up their stalls in one of the big auction sheds.
Monday – Talgarth – A bright, cold, frosty morning. Through Talgarth and up The Bank to the church of St Gwendoline. On along Heol Yr Eglwys, Church Street. A flock of Redwings are muttering in a Yew in the churchyard whilst feeding on the red berries. The road divides, one lane dropping down to a bridge over a brook, my route along the hillside. The old Vicarage is stone cottage at right angles to the road. Just up the road are the gates to the old Rectory, a far grander affair, which was called the Vicarage in the 19th century. Opposite is Ty’r Bryn, a large late Victorian house. The lane runs between fifteen foot high banks. Chaffinches flit between Holly and Hazel trees. Modern cages of rocks stabilise the banks in places. The lane starts to rise. Now large old Oaks tower out of the top of the banks. Jackdaws chack and fly off. The road now leaves the deep hollow way and passes fields. A Common Buzzard sits on the cross piece of a double electricity pole. Park Wood lies to the north of the lane. A majority of the trees are around fifty years old, but the wood is an ancient woodland. Barking Ravens pass over. To the south is the lane are the Black Mountains and Mynydd Troed. Behind, the Brecon Beacons. There is now woodland on both sides of the lane. To the south it falls away steeply down Cwm Rhyd-Ellywe. Blackbirds, Robins and Great Tits fly to and fro. A Treecreeper climbs a trunk. A track, carpeted in copper leaves, heads off into the woods to an old quarry. Some trees here are older, but still probably not much over a century in age.
The lane exits the woodland and passes through fields. To the north are field and a bracken covered area. This is The Park. To the south is a large old orchard. A large house, The Lodge, is undergoing extensive refurbishment. The lane starts to climb again. A stream runs below the side of the road. A flock of several hundred Starlings fly over, another large flock is chattering in a tree. Ffostyll Cottages are semi detached dwellings with large windows. They look early 20th century but do not seem to appear on maps until the 1970s. The area still has the look of a park with specimen conifers scattered around. Ffostyll is a large farm, although many is its buildings look abandoned. The farmhouse is a long, two storey building. More Starlings are chattering in a hedgerow. Over a crossroads. Twmpa, also called “Lord Hereford’s Knob”, is directly ahead. Through a gate and into Open Access land of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The lane crosses an area of sedges. On along the lane. The sound of chattering Starlings is constant. The vestiges of stone walls line the lane, which is now more a track. Two Red Kites pass. The lane is now passing through Rhos Fawr, a historic common land, under the western flank of the Black Mountains. Castell Dinas lies to the south. A ram is sniffing a ewe but she is clearly disinterested. He soon gives up. Through another gate and out of the Access Land. The lane drops steeply to Blaenau Isaf. The house stands next to the rushing Felindre Brook which is crossed by an ancient stone slab bridge. Back up out of the little valley. Over another two brooks draining off the Black Mountains. More Redwings feed in trackside Hawthorns and Crab Apples. Twmpa now rises from the track. Hay Bluff lies beyond. Now the lane moves away to the north-west. Another Hawthorn is full of Starlings. Beyond is the wooded dome of The Allt, or Hay Forest. An open grassy area is pocked with molehills and dotted with Meadow Waxcaps, Hygrocybe pratensis. Bryn-ddwy-Nant is a white farmhouse. On down the lane. Past a large modern barn. Opposite several Siskin fly up into the trees. A lane leads off to Maes Y Lade Centre, Essex Boys and Girls Clubs. A little GR post box is almost buried in a Holly hedge. Ahead on the horizon now are The Begwyns.
The lane travels through several sharp bends. Below is one of the brooks that once turned Tregoyd Mill some miles on. The lane runs below the eastern flank of The Allt, dropping steadily into the Wye valley. Pheasants are everywhere, some exploding out of trees, others just clearing the hedgerows, most making a noise. Through Newcourt Farm. The lane meets the old Hay to Talgarth road and travels into Felindre. Off the main road at Wood Villas which links to a road heading south. Over Felindre Brook. Up the road and off along a narrow, winding lane. Through a farm, Dan-y-Common. The lane climbs steeply to Graig Wood which is Open Access Land. Below is Old Gwernyfed. On up and up, rather exhausting. The tarmac ends and the route becomes a track. The track is muddy but eventually levels out and passes Pen-y-Coed, a house high on the hill. The track divides and my route turns south. The track climbs again and is broken into large stones which can easily turn an ankle. A flock of winter thrushes flies over. Behind is a fine view across the Wye valley. The track finally levels off and had been flattened by regular tractor use. Across the fields to the west is a small field which contains two long barrows. However, little can be seen and this is as close as it is possible to get. The track had become a series of pools, some quite deep. The track comes to the crossroads I passed earlier. Straight over and in down the lane, which is now tarmacked.
A flock of Chaffinches does along the Hazel hedgerow before me. There is a flock of Starlings in the field behind the hedge as evidence by their excited chattering. A sign says the road descends at 12%. The lane enters Llanelieu. The lane gets steadily steeper until it reaches the bottom of a valley through which a brook flows. Beside the brook is Llanelieu Court. It is thought the building originally had 14th century monastic associations with Llanthony Priory. In the 17th century, the house was the seat of the Aubrey family. The building is a complex amalgam of 15th and 16th century buildings with 19th century extensions. The main door is a pointed arch with a later medieval double-ogee bracket moulding. The door is battened with original ironmongery, and drawbar to rear. Above the door, a reset moulded voussoir inscribed appropriately “EXITVS / ACTA:PROBAT / 1676”, and a second stone with a much weathered inscription reading “SIC HORA SIC VITA / DEUS NOBIS HOEC OTIA FECIT / R A / W M Anno Domini noctua vola 1676 W A”. H. Haslam records the identification of these and a third inscription set up opposite, to be from Virgil’s Eclogues and from Ovid’s Heroides. The initials are those of William and Richard Aubrey.
Across the road are some steps which lead up to the church of St Ellyw. It is a redundant church under the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches, and an absolute gem! It is a single undivided 13th century cell with a 16th century south porch and a gabled bell turret at the west end. Immediately to the east of the porch is a blocked medieval door and there is a narrow priest’s door dating from the 13th century further to the east. It was restored in 1905 by Baldwin of Brecon without altering its mediaeval appearance, and further repaired in 1981. By the porch are two 7th-9th century grave markers indicating a Celtic origin of the site. Beneath the bell turret is a sundial inscribed, “PB Warden 1686”. The door is hinged on the right, which is unusual for the age. Inside there is a 14th century rood screen and loft. The screen is remarkable, panelled in red, with stencilled cinquefoils, and a moulded rood beam, originally with a painted inscription. The walls retain mediaeval plaster and many original paintings can be discerned, including a fine Lion Rampant which was part of the Royal Arms. There are panels of text, figures of Adam and Eve and stencilled flower patterns, much still uncovered. The pulpit is a simple 18th century box on a stone plinth. Pews are 17th or 18th century, in oak. The chancel floor is largely covered with grave slabs, mainly 18th century with one of 1640. The font is an octagonal cone shape with a 17th century oak cover. There are monuments on the walls, including a number of the Price family of the Court, the Davies family of Bronllys Castle and one of Thomas Aubrey who died in 1669. A limestone donative tablet of 1773 in north-east window records the gift of annual monies to poor children “lawfully begott”. In the graveyard is a tapered sandstone square shaft, set through a square slab and supported by a stone plinth. The shaft is inscribed I W 1718 on the west face, and has an iron band around the top and 4 iron peg seatings on top for a lost metal finial, probably a sundial.
Back down to the Court. Its barns and granary are all converted into dwellings. A lane leads into Cwm Rhyd Ellywe. A large gunnera stands over a spring which pours into a stone basin. The lane runs some way up the hillside above the brook. Conifers grow along the roadside with a mixture down in the valley. The rough pasture above the road is covered in ant hill tussocks. A bridge takes the road over the brook. Through Gwernllwyd farm. The lane joins another lane. Another small stream runs in a gully below. On the outskirts of Talgarth now. Two sheep are in the road but fortunately they find an open gate and run off into a field. Large stone house stands opposite the former Mid-Wales hospital. The hospital buildings are decaying rapidly with the roofs going. There is a long building behind some trees which was the hospital chapel. Past old cottages and then over brook again. Up the hill to Church Street. Route
Friday – Llandrindod Wells-Llanllŷr – A sub-zero morning, taking an age to defrost the car. Out in the countryside the fields’ colours are muted by frost but the trees glow golden in the sunlight. However in Llandrindod Wells, clouds obscure the sun, there is a mistiness and it is bitterly cold. Over the Heart of Wales railway line by the station bridge. County Buildings are up for sale. This was the old County Hall, built in 1909. The Council moved out in 1950, and the building became the police station and magistrates court, but they have now gone. Along Waterloo Road, dominated by a superstore. Down Cadwallader Way, through an industrial estate, then a modern housing estate. A gentle rain of copper and brass leaves fall from young Beeches. Onto North Avenue, the A4081, the Rhayader road.
Down as small lane is Caebach Chapel, an independent non-conformist chapel founded in 1715 by Rev Thomas Jones of Tetbury. It is a single-storey rubble building with some hand-made brick dressings to windows. The chapel stable stands opposite. A man tells me the chapel has been recently re-roofed. It had old stone tiles which were too heavy and sadly ordinary slates have been used. Another Thomas Jones, the artist who has a statue in Temple Gardens in the town, is buried within. The road is lined with mid 20th century houses and bungalows. Road of modern housing lay off the main road. The road bends at Crabtree Green where the dwellings are older. A longhouse stands on the bend. Around the bend is the town cemetery. The road, now called Thompson Way, leads to Llanyre Bridge over the River Ithon, Afon Iethon. Starlings and a Common Buzzard pass overhead. A lane passes the sewage works and continues to Cwm, a farm. The farmhouse is a lovely late medieval cruck-framed hall house. It was converted to a storeyed house in the 17th century. Later a parallel rear wing was added which is first shown on the 1889 Ordnance Survey. It has five gabled dormers. It stands by a stream which drains the marshland below Rhiw Gwraidd some miles to the west. The lane continues to Castle Collen, formerly known as The Castle in Victorian times. The large farmhouse lies across a field around which runs a permissive footpath leading to a Roman fort, Castell Collen.
Through a gate and on to the fort site. A Roman road ran approximately along the course of the present A44. There are some signs that subsidiary roads ran to Castell Collen but little research has been undertaken as to their course. The interior of the fort has extensive buried walls. It was an auxiliary fort recorded as being built around 75CE by VEXILLATIO LEG II AVG F, (marked on a fragment of carved stone decorated with the likeness of a griffin) meaning “a ‘Flag Section’ of the Second Augustan Legion made this”. The original fort was rectangular in outline, measuring about 510 feet from north-north-east to south-south-west, by about 360 feet transversely, within the ramparts, giving an occupation area of about 4½ acres. At some later date the northern defences were reduced by about 140 feet, giving an almost square outline and reducing the internal area to about 3 acres. There were two main periods of occupation, the original timber-built fort on this site was of typical Flavian type. No evidence has been found that the fort was occupied during period of Hadrian but it appears to have been re-occupied in the late 2nd century. Archaeological excavations have shown there was a vicus, a civilian settlement between the fort and the River Ithon. It is thought the garrison was withdrawn before the 4th century.
Back down the field and on along the lane which turns west. The fog has grown and now nearly obscures Rhiw Gwrraid. On up the lane then across a field to Pentre Brook. Across the brook via some slippery and unstable stones (of course there was an easier way just upstream!) The old maps show there was a footbridge here. Up a slope of mud. Blue and Coal Tits flit through the trees. Over a field that is waterlogged. The next field is little better, mud squelching under every footstep. Across a lane at Castell Gwynt and into another pasture with plenty of sedges. However, this field is less wet. The hills to the west have almost disappeared now into the fog. To the south and east, Gilwern Hill, Carneddau and Aberedw Hill are a dark line above banks of fog. On across fields. To the north-east is Thimble Court, a Gothic house, although it seems to be fairly modern having been built on the site of Bodkin Hall, a timber-framed cottage thought to have originally been a squatter’s house, but now demolished. Across a pasture thick with sedge. Across a boundary wall that is only inches high, marked by Oaks, Holly, Silver Birches and Hawthorns. Across the pasture through more sedge and dead thistles to the corner where the path enters the churchyard of St Michaels, Llanfihangel Helygen, meaning “the church of St Michael at the willow tree”.
The church of St Michael is one of the ring of churches around the Radnor Forest that keep the dragon of the forest contained. It is a single cell building. A notice states the church is 11th century but the roof is the oldest part from the late 16th century. It was a chapel of ease to the mother church of Nantmel until 1859, and had no rights of burial or baptism until after 1818. It was reportedly in a dilapidated condition in 1689 and in poor repair in 1812. The walls were partly rebuilt around 1812. In 1851 it had 20 free and 50 other seats, with an average congregation of 27.The pulpit stands halfway down the church against the north wall. The box pews from the west end face the altar, then those between the altar and the pulpit face the other way so all are facing the preacher. The pulpit is a simple panelled box with a reading desk next to it. It is believed the furniture came from another church in the early 20th century. The altar is a wooden table. The font is pre-Reformation. There are four 19th century monuments and one for a soldier killed in action and buried in Havrincourt, France The glass is all plain. The east window was put in after an appeal by the curate, Thomas Price, about 1854. The sacrament safe had been painted shut. The churchyard is circular with a large Yew.
Out of the churchyard and down the road southwards. A modern bridge crosses Pentre Brook. At a farm, Bryn-bedwen, white doves and Light Sussex chickens are in the yard. At a junction the is a small triangular green with a stone plinth covered with a manhole cover, probably an old well. The road enters Llanyre, Llan Llŷr. An old wood and corrugated iron barn stands in a field, gently rusting away. The Points is a large late Victorian house. Nearby are more modern dwellings, then another Victorian one, Hafod-y-Bryn. On down the road. A new, vast house is being completed. Opposite are bungalows which have half the building in timber cladding. There a more very large luxury houses, one still under construction. Cortay Park is a modern housing estate and again, partial cladding seems popular, although this looks more like uPVC. Fernleigh is a large red brick house with cream detailing. It was the vicarage built around 1900. Nearby, Nant-y-Groes , also known as Llanyre Hall is a classic late Victorian country house with nine bedrooms. The main house in its current form was built in 1893 for George Maximillian Lindner in preparation for his term as the High Sheriff of Radnorshire, but some of the stone parts of the house are known to be much older. Up a lane is Garter Hall. There is now a break of open fields and woodland before the village starts again. This is the older part with the church of St Llyr. Llanyre is recorded in a charter of Edward II of 1292 which granted rights for a weekly market and two annual fairs. At this time it was recorded as Thloynyare and in 1304 as Thlanhur. A document of 1566 refers to Llan llyr-yn-ros, meaning “the church of St Llyr on the moor”.
St Llyr’s church was completely rebuilt between 1885 and 1887, and in the 19th century had a dedication to All Saints. Its medieval predecessor is reported to have had an unusually ornate roof. The font may be late Norman in date, but this is all that remains of the earlier church. The new church was built by S.W. Williams in the Early English style and consists of a nave, a chancel with a three-sided apse and a porch on the south side. The pulpit is in white marble. The chancel arch has small pillars with carved floral decoration. The lectern is a rather strange representation of a Pelican feeding its young with blood from its breast, symbolising the sacrifice of Christ. There is some good glass, both Victorian and modern. Around a dozen Yews stand in the graveyard where there are some substantial monuments.
Across from the church is a pub, The Bell. It was built in 1888 by the local Gibson-Watt family on the site of a much older inn. Originally a Welsh drovers’ inn, it was extended in the 1970s. Behind it is a large Tin Tabernacle which was the Friends Meeting House, in 1894 and used until 1942. The house was then transferred to the Baptists who used the premises until the 1950s. At the end of the village the lane meets the Rhayader road. Llanllyr farm stand on the junction. There is a footpath all the way back to Llandrindod. A Red Kite crosses a field, the first today although Common Buzzards are indeed common. Past the lane to the Roman fort and over the river. At the cemetery the Ithon Road runs south before turning into the town centre. Past the school playing field where rugby is being taught. Next to the school is a large villa, The Shielings. Across Dyffryn Road. Another large house stands on the opposite corner. There is a succession of large Victorian houses as the road bends and approaches the town centre. Victoria Road runs off and contains a very modern design Catholic church, Our Lady Of Ransom And The Holy Souls. The Victorian house beside it, Kerith, has crosses built into the gables. Back to Ithon Road. The houses now become three storey terraces, then two more large houses, one, Ithon View, dated 1884. There is now an area of modern council housing, which seems odd so close to the town centre but the land appears to have been open for many years with a sulphur spring at the far end. Opposite is the Albert Hall Theatre of 1896. Then a Presbyterian church built in 1870 as a Calvinistic Methodist Chapel and rebuilt in 1904-5 rebuild by W Beddoe Rees, in the Arts and Crafts Perpendicular. Brynithon is a strange Victorian Gothic building, once home in the 1890s to a magistrate, Major W E Twyning of the noted tea planting family. He was a retired major of the 18th Regiment. It is interesting that he was born in Cardiff, his wife in Richmond, Yorkshire, his cook in Tenby and the parlour maid in Haverford West. At the end of the road is the High Street with the library on one corner and a block dated 1877 on the other. The High Street is a strange mishmash of Victorian and modern buildings with no real shops. Caxton House housed printers who began publishing “The Radnorshire Advertiser” in 1878. It is still a print shop. Back through the weekly market and over the railway. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Down Etnam Street. The weather has turned milder again. The sun is rising over the hedges south of the River Lugg. Looking north, tree leaves glow golden in the light. There are now over sixty police vehicles, and a motorbike, in Brightwells’ compound. Along with a number of ambulances, the gypsy caravan is still there. The market is small with rather less Christmas stock than I would have expected by now.
Friday – Stretton Hills – A bright, chilly morning. There is a touch of frost across the fields. A haze lays over a housing estate in Ludlow as smoke rises from chimneys. There are not many so it is easy to see how thick smogs formed when everyone had an open fire. From Church Stretton station, I head up the A49 a short distance then turn into Sandford Avenue. St Milburga’s Catholic is a white, pebble-dashed building, vaguely south European in style, built in the 1920s. It is on the corner of Watling Street North, the old Roman road, along which I head. The 1960s housing estate to the east stands on the site believed in Victorian times and earlier to be where the final battle took place between Caractacus and the Romans. This belief has been discarded these days. The house are large and early 20th century. The lane crosses a brook by Coppice Leadlowes Nature Reserve and turns into a modern housing development. A narrow lane runs north, sunken deep between banks indicating age. It is called Cwms Lane, further up Cwms Road. It turns on to a rough track down which flows a stream. Blue Tits chatter, a Chaffinch pinks, a Magpie churrs, a Robin starts a brief burst of song and cawing Rooks pass over. The track is a quagmire which only starts to dry as it reaches a gate and enters a pasture. Down the slope is New House Farm with two houses, one an 18th century farmhouse probably with an older a structure and a large fishing lake. Beyond Long Mynd is bathed in sunshine. A squeaking Pied Wagtail flies pass. Ahead rises the steep slope of Caer Caradoc. Jackdaws chack in the trees. A track runs between Caer Caradoc and Helmeth Hill through Cwms. Below a brook empties into a large pond. Off the track and down to a small footbridge over the brook. A badly eroded path ascends the hill. Little yellow, scarlet and orange toadstools peep out of the grass, varieties of Waxcaps. The frosty grass sparkles in the sunshine. Through a gate and on up the hill. Finally, puffing and panting the first summit is reached. The views are stunning. Church Stretton lays far below in the valley created by the Church Stretton fault, a violent splitting of the earth’s crust in the Precambrian era, some 560 milliom years ago and subsequent erosion. To the west, Long Mynd, to the east the long dark strip of Wenlock Edge. The Manchester train passes far below like a toy.
On past Three Fingers Rocks. These rocks are volcanic lavas and ashes. Ravens circle, I am not dead yet! One Raven is making a strange noise reminiscent of an ASDIC used to echo locate submarines. Up to another rock outcrop and across a saddle, where bronze dagger was found here in 1936, then up to the ramparts of the hill-fort on Caer Caradoc. Finally, I am on the far point and summit of the hill. To the north is the vast Shropshire and Cheshire Plain. In the haze in the far distance are chimneys of the industrial works on the Manchester Ship Canal. To the east over Wenlock Edge, are the Clee Hills then, again in the haze the Derbyshire Dales. To the west the line is the Clwydian Hills travels north. The south is even hazier but the Sugar Loaf in the Black Mountains can be discerned. A small pool on the summit has a veneer of ice. A pair of Ravens come to investigate me but are disinterested. Across the ramparts again and down the northern edge is the hill. The drop is steep and painful on my knees. Over Little Caerdoc and another steep descent. It is brutal, my knees are throbbing. Into woodland at the foot of the hill. Hawthorns here have been stripped of their haws. A Robin bobs down the path.
A lane leads to the hamlet of Comley, passing Comley Quarry. Here, in 1888, Professor Lapworth from the University of Birmingham found the country’s first Lower Cambrian fossil, a trilobite, Callavia callavei. Comley Brook bubbles down beside the road. A lane crosses the stream and heads up towards The Lawley, another long hill running north-south. Lawley appears to come from old English and means Lafa’s-leah, Lafa being a personal name. Another steep, unrelenting climb accompanied by the croaks of Ravens. The summit is a large conical outcrop topped by a weather vane in the shape of a Raven, although the beak is more that of a Chough. The real birds circle the summit in some numbers. There are at least two Iron Age settlements on the hill and various ditches but they are difficult to discern. The path now descends across a series of small hills. A Common Buzzard hangs in the clear blue sky, the first today. A long woodland, Hore Edge rises from sedgy land to east of hill. The path finally drops down through a woodland to a lane. The lane heads north-east crossing a stream. A ram is in field with his ewes wearing a raddle block.
The lane continues between hedgerows and fields of sheep. It enters Longnor. A newly built farmhouse stands near the entrance to the village. There are things to see in the village but I need to get to Dorrington to catch a bus back to Church Stretton, missing out will cause complications with the trains. So I am ploughing on. Cobbler’s Cottage is a timber-framed black-and-white 17th century building. Past the primary school and church. At the last house in the village, a Fieldfare is in the garden. On past Forge Lodge, a large house. I then decide I will have to trust a footpath which cuts off well over a mile. It crosses a field and then should go straight across the next. However a path has been worn around the edge, so I follow it. It comes to a new gate then crosses the railway line. It is clearly the footpath now although it is different to that shown on the map. A muddy path runs alongside the line then turns into a small park and into a modern housing estate. The road leads round to the A49. I visit the butchers, a fine establishment we stop at when coming down this way. The bus is on time and returns me to Church Stretton. The town has been overtaken by the “Black Friday” craze – black balloons everywhere and most shops displaying 10% off items posters. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A bright, frosty morning with a breeze from the north. Willows still cling on to a few leaves but most trees are now bare. A few Coot, Mallard and Tufted are on the sailing bay. A Mistle Thrush stands atop a Hawthorn by the orchard and the chatter of Fieldfares comes from the fruit trees. The relative peace is destroyed by the arrival of a large gaggle of Canada Geese. A few moments later another forty arrive raising another cacophony. A fair number of trees in Westfield Wood still have leaves and some are still in the process of changing from green to brown.
The water level in the lake remains low. Five Cormorants are in the trees. A Moorhen is on the scrape. Apart from these and the Canada Geese there is little to be seen. No winter visitors are here. Scrub and trees have been cleared on the south side of the lake in preparation for extending the shallows and creating a large reed bed. A Robin hops around the scrape. The pools on the scrape are frozen but the lake is ice free. A flotilla of Canada Geese arrive on the scrape, mercifully silent. There is a couple of Greylags with them. A Grey Heron flies across. A juvenile Mute Swan appears. Another Grey Heron appears from the reed bed below and flies off with a squawk. Coots start squabbling on the edge of the scrape. Half a dozen Mallard swim into view.
Maybe ten Blackbirds and couple of Redwings and Fieldfares are in the cider orchard. There are more of all the species in the dessert apple orchard. A few eating apples remain, some russets and a larger red and yellow apple. The russets are determined not to fall when I give the branches a shake, the tree being too large to shake entirely. I also gather some very small eaters.
Thursday – Hereford – I alight from the bus in Holmer. It is cold. Clouds drift from the north. Off westwards along Roman Road. The fields opposite the racecourse are now a large housing development construction site, Hereford Point, a meaningless name to match the mundane architecture. A footpath runs down between Ayles Brook and the racecourse. The path leaves the racecourse by a scout hut and enters a housing estate, Westfields. Down Highmore Sttreet. The houses range from late 19th century and most decades of the 20th century. Roseland Terrace may be late 19th century. Opposite are a number of prefabs built towards the end of the Second World war to house bombed out families. Spring Cottages are dated June 1868. Next to them is Hawthorn Cottage where the date has been erased from the plaque. Opposite the housing is probably less that a decade old. Down to the Grandstand pub and into Yazor Road. On the eastern side of the road is the huge Cargill chicken processing site. The road passes a strip of scrub and a long green, then over Yazor Brook. Now housing is an odd mixture of system built and brick. The road comes to White Cross. Over the junction and up Wordsworth Road. At another roundabout, seemingly called Green Lanes Traffic Island, I turn into Westfaling Street. Back from the road is a large play area with another scout hut and skateboard park.
A new medical centre had been built “conveniently” next to the city cemetery and crematorium. The cemetery, opened in the 19th century, is divided into sections for various churches and non-conformists. There appears to be fairly substantial area still available for new burials. The crematorium is modern. The Millennium Garden has grey stone sites for cremation plaques. Many gravestones have been secured with unsightly pieces of scaffolding. As the path approaches the chapel the graves are older. The chapel is a tea room and florists. Back to Westfaling Street and towards the city centre. The houses are now older. The former superintendent’s house stands by the old gates to the cemetery. Brightwell House and adjoining terrace, at the corner of Whitehorse Street has Arts and Crafts features. Next to the terrace is Hescott, in yellow brick. There are more large houses dating from the latter part of the 19th century. The road bends, lined by a route of villas dated 1898. This is part of Broomy Hill. The villas become a terrace. Opposite are large mock timber-framed houses. Scholars Walk leads to Margaret Allen House, a large three storey Victorian building, formerly the Redcap School, founded in 1923, taken over by the Haberdashers’ Company of Schools in 2004 but closed two years later. The house next to it is vast, again mock timber-framed. The road is now Breinton Road. Modern buildings stand either side of the bridge over the former GWR (Hereford, Abergavenny and Newport Branch) railway line. The road is now Barton Road. The housing is a mixture from the last three centuries. At St Nicholas church, the road crosses the A49 and enters the city centre past the site of Friar’s Gate, demolished in 1782.