Monday 2nd October – Willowbank – The warmish, very damp weather (it is just stopping raining) has resulted in numerous varieties of toadstool emerging all over the hillside and down into the valley. I meet Bill and Prince at the bridge. They are off across the valley to the sewage works and back, but it is too far for Dill the Dog these days. A late Swallow wings its way over, twisting to and fro in flight, head south.
Tuesday 3rd October – Ludlow, Shropshire – An early morning walk on Whitcliffe Common. A path leads down into the gorge cut through pale limestone by the River Teme. The limestone gorge is a geologically important site consisting of Ludlow Bone Beds, exposed Silurian strata of marine deposits from 420 million years ago. Chaffinches are pinking; Robins singing. The town rises towards the Market Square and castle on the other side of the river. A long weir runs down the flow of the river, diverting a stream to a sluice. This was one of at least five weirs on the river providing energy for wool mills.
Town Square – The market square is part of a much larger Norman market square extending to the Bull Ring. Ludlow is unusually a planned Norman town – most towns grew almost randomly. The Buttermarket and shops now occupy the Bull Ring, eastern, end of the market. Most of the buildings surrounding the market square were erected in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, although Castle Lodge and parts of Quality Square are 16th Century. The castle lies at western end. There is a mixture of stalls from fresh food to bric-a-brac.
Ludlow Castle – The sun is now shining brightly as we enter the grounds of the castle. It sits on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Teme. It is not clear when the construction of the castle first commenced, but the architecture indicates late 11th Century. It is referred to in records in 1138. It was one of a number of castles built along the Marches by the Normans to hold back the Welsh. The castle was in one corner of the manor of Stanton owned since the Conquest by the de Lacy family. It fell into the hands of Gervase Pagenal during the civil wars of King Stephen’s reign and was besieged in 1139 by Stephen himself, who gave the castle to Joce de Dinan. After various changes of hand, the castle was restored to the de Lacys. The de Lacys spent many years in Ireland where they grabbed large estates. The castle was taken into royal hands on occasions but remained a power base for the de Lacys. The last male heir died in 1240 and the castle passed through de Lacy daughters to Geoffrey de Geneville, a distant relation of Eleanor, Henry II’s queen. Like the de Lacys, he spent most of his time in Ireland and gave the lands in Ludlow to his son Peter in 1283. It was probably now that the fine range of domestic buildings were built in the Inner Bailey. Peter’s daughter married Roger Mortimer of Wigmore who was instrumental in the overthrow of Edward II and became Earl of March. However, he over-reached himself and became rather over-familiar with the Queen of the young Edward III and was tried for treason and executed in 1330. Ludlow Castle passed from the last of the Mortimers to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York in 1425. This resulted in the castle being sacked by the Lancastrians in 1459, during the War of the Roses. When Edward IV became king in 1461, the castle became the property of the crown and, apart from the Civil War and Commonwealth years, remained so for the next 350 years. It was the seat of the Council of the Marches sat here from 1473 until 1689, again with a break during the Commonwealth, and Ludlow was effectively the capital of Wales for those years. Much rebuilding took place during these years.
After 1689, the castle fell into disrepair and was looted for building materials. It was leased to the Earl of Powis in 1771 and bought by a later Earl in 1811. The castle has remained in their hands ever since. The remains consist of an outer bailey with stables, prison, gatehouse and lodgings, St Peter’s Chapel, Mortimer’s Tower and an inner bailey with a keep, Round Chapel and extensive northern range of buildings. All the buildings are of pale Silurian limestone. The views from the top of the keep and northern range, via steep spiral staircases, are magnificent (despite the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach and legs as vertigo sets in!) The River Teme arcs around the base of the limestone cliffs way below. The town stretches away into the distance and further is the hump-back of Clee Hill. Feral pigeons and Jackdaws are ever present. We sit under the sun in the courtyard for a while. A Horse Chestnut has completely smooth nut cases, some split open to reveal the gleaming red-brown conker within.
Wednesday 4th October – Leominster – We wander around various parts of the town, areas we are considering in terms of house hunting. We view one interesting cottage that was a smaller cottage with a barn attached that has been converted. It is close to the town centre and has a large garden. I am quite interested in the property, but Kay is less certain as there is clearly a large amount of work to be done on it.
Thursday 5th October – Hay-on-Wye – We head somewhat aimlessly out of Leominster towards the west. We end up in Hay-on Wye, the second-hand book capital of England. It is raining, but the small town is busy. There are shops buying and selling books everywhere. We follow a sign to Hay Castle. The original castle was probably built by William Revel, one of Bernard de Newmarch’s knights. Later in the 12th century a site to the north-east was utilised for a large oval ring work 85m by 70m. Matilda de Braose (also known variously as Moll Walbee, Maud de Breos, or Maud de St Valerie, which was her maiden name) is said to have built the stone keep in c1200, but it is perhaps more likely that she added the gateway arch to a tower built in the 1180s. Indeed it is said she built the castle single handed in one night, carrying the stones in her apron. When one fell out and lodged in her slipper she picked it out and flung it to land in St Meilig’s churchyard, three miles away across the River Wye at Llowes. The nine foot high standing stone can still be seen inside the church. She incurred the wrath of King John by refusing to hand over her sons as hostages for their father’s fidelity. She sent a message to John saying, “My boys I will not deliver to your King John because he basely slew his nephew Arthur, whom it was his duty honourably to protect.” The enraged King John confined Maud and her sons to Windsor Castle where they starved to death. Her husband, William, escaped to France but died the following year in poverty. Owen Glyndŵr burned Hay in c. 1401 and dismantled the castle. It was still used as a defence against the Welsh in 1403. It passed into the hands of Earls of Stafford, later the Dukes of Buckingham and suffered further damage during the 1460s, the Wars of the Roses. In the 1660s, James Boyle of Hereford built a mansion on the site. Further parts of the old castle were removed as the house was developed. Today, some parts remain derelict after several fires in the early 20th Century, but other parts are now in use. Many outbuildings are used for book selling. Steps lead down the the street below. Steel shelving in the small green before the street wall holds thousands of books at a cost of 50p or less. It is market day and there are stalls in the market place and in the old market hall. We wander the streets for a while but eventually the rain becomes tedious and we retreat back to Leominster.
Leominster – The evening is spent in the “Grape Vaults”, a splendid pub on Broad Street. It stands probably opposite where the Market Hall was built, later moved. The pub has near perfect pints of Banks’s Original (a mild) and Bitter. The landlord had obtained a load of firewood from a demolition contractor so there is a roaring fire – OK, so this is a problem for Dill the Dog who goes into paroxysms of terror at the crackling and spitting wood. There is no music, so conversation is easy and relaxed. And what conversations are going on! It is not often you overhear, “When I represented Zambia at Judo....”. The place will be perfect when the smoking ban comes in next year!
Friday 6th October – Hereford – It is raining again and by the time we drive over Dinmore Hill on the Hereford road it is torrential. We enter the city and park in the multi-storey car park. We soon realise we are now in a city and no longer in a market town. The traffic is horrendous and the pedestrian areas crowded with people. We tramp the streets visiting estate agents. The vast majority of houses that are suggested to us are 1930s and later in crescents and drives and avenues. We know that although some of the offerings were spacious with decent sized gardens, they are simply “not us”. It is suggested we have a look at the St James area so off we go. It is not far from the city centre, past the cathedral and along past the “castle” and a long rectangular lake. Mallard are already ducking and bobbing at each other. The area around St James Street contains some pleasant Victorian houses but we are still concious of the amount of traffic everywhere. We retreat to The Victory pub, which is home to Spinning Dog Brewery. They make a very fine pint! The bar looks like the stern of HMS Victory, quite a stunning effect. I warm to the area, but Kay has decided that Hereford is not for us as a new home – great place to visit and shop but not to live in.
Saturday 7th October – Hereford – We have stayed at the Somerville House B&B, a very good establishment that looks after the details of making a room comfortable. In the morning I wander up Aylestone Hill with Dill the Dog. It is a main thoroughfare of large Victorian houses. A park covers a hill from which there are good views across the city and off towards the Black Mountains. A Jubilee fire basket stands at the top of the hill.
Tintern Abbey – We follow the River Wye southwards to Tintern. Here in a wooded valley stand the magnificent ruins of Tintern Abbey. This was the first Cistercian monastery to be established in Wales. The Cistercian Order was a breakaway from the Benedictines – the Black Monks. The Cistercians held to a more austere lifestyle and wore undyed woollen habits, giving rise to the name “White Monks”. Tintern was founded on 9th May 1131 by Walter fitz Richard of Clare, the lord of Chepstow. The monks came from l’Aumôme in the Loire Valley, France. The first church and monastic buildings were completed around 1150. In 1189, William Marshall became lord of Chepstow. In 1219, William Marshall the Younger made a generous gift of lands to the monastery. In 1245, the lordship of Chepstow and patronage of Tintern passed to the Bigod family, Earls of Norfolk. By now, main cloister buildings had been extensively remodelled. In 1269, Abbot John started work on a new Gothic church, which was consecrated in 1301. By 1350 all major building works were completed. On 3rd September 1536, the abbey was surrendered to the forces of Henry VIII in the first round of suppression and Cistercian monastic life was finished at Tintern. The abbey and its local lands were awarded to Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester. For the next two centuries, iron wire was produced here. In 1756, Charles Somerset took steps to preserve the abbey ruins. The Crown purchased the site in 1901 and restoration of the ruins began. The shell of the great Gothic Abbey stands high above the ruined cloisters and other monastic buildings. Although thin and heavily weathered, the stone frames of the the great west window still stand, a window of seven lights in two-three-two pattern. From near where the Abbot’s residence stood, one can sit at marvel at the scale and beauty of the building whilst a Robin sings in a nearby Oak. Over the river, the hillside rises steeply, cloaked in trees that are just beginning to turn to the gold of autumn. This view cannot have changed in the near millennium since the first Cistercians arrived.
Nunney – We travel on to Somerset to Pete and Jo’s. They have a new Springer Spaniel puppy – Zebedee. It is, as expected, completely mad! Jasper, the Irish Wolfhound x German Shepherd is not impressed with this non-stop bundle of energy. Dill the Dog, on the other hand, seems quite amused by all the rushing around and joins in.
Tuesday 10th October – Barnsley Canal – The wet weather continues to be perfect for fungi. Birch Boletus and Penny Buns (known as Ceps in France) are growing by the old canal basin. Horse Mushrooms are dotted over the hillside. Four Greylags fly over. A pair of Moorhens are high in the branches of the old Willow that lies across the canal. A Pied Wagtail flies across the valley, high in the sky, its cheerful two tone call ringing out. Four Redwings, first of the season fly down to some Hawthorns. On of them adopts the classic upright pose at the very top of the bushes.
Friday 13th October – Dearne Valley Park – Down beside the canal from Harborough Hills. Drake Mallard in their new shining plumage escort females on the canal. The canal is choked with weed. Apples that have fallen from overhanging trees float on the surface. A Wren ticks angrily from the dense undergrowth. Even before the leaves have fallen from the willows, the process of rebirth is apparent in the form of small tight buds containing next year’s pussy willow.
Tuesday 17th October – Willowbank – We are now deep into autumn. Willowbank is entombed in fog and darkness. A Robin sings in the distance. Nearby, the only sound is the pitter-patter of water droplets falling from the leaves of the bushes.
Saturday 21st October – Barnsley Canal – Down the wet and muddy slope of Willowbank. There are even more fungi rising from the soil. The white spotted scarlet caps of Fly Agaric and the scaly brown caps of The Panther, both poisonous are under Silver Birches. Further down are large and very soggy Boletus and numerous Russulas. A Moorhen calls sharply and loudly from the middle of a reed bed. A Jay calls in the distance. Up the hill above the lock I find a decent number of Horse Mushrooms.
Sunday 22nd October – Home – Yesterday I cut the still growing grass. This morning a Red Admiral butterfly landed on a leaf outside the kitchen window. It is still very mild and there is no sign of frost in the near future.
Bagden Lane – A narrow back lane that runs from The Dunkirk, a public house on the Barnsley to Holmfirth road, to High Hoyland. The road follows a ridge above the Upper Dearne Valley, with the villages of Denby Dale and Scissett, and Cawthorne to the south-east. A pair of Grey Wagtails with their sulphur coloured bellies fly up from a puddle in the road. We follow a bridleway around the side of the hill. The hedgerow is made up of Beech, Hawthorn, Holly and Rose briars. At an opening – the old gate no longer in evidence – a tall Holly is laden with scarlet berries. A Wren is squeaking from within the hedge. A house over the way has magnificent views down the valley. Kay points out a partridge in a field of a low leafy crop, but it has disappeared before I can see it. Down below, on winter wheat fields which are just greening with the crop shoots, Rooks are squabbling – flying up at each other and clashing a few feet off the ground. There are the remains of a rough old drystone wall, overgrown with bracken and brambles, beside the track. Then there is a much better preserved section of wall above the steep slope to the fields below. An old apple tree stands beside the track. We sample a slice of apple, it is probably a cooker as it is quite sharp. Grey clouds are building with the west from whence comes the wind.
Saturday 28th October – Scout Dyke Reservoir – There is a rainbow over Cannon Hall as I head up towards Scout Dyke. However, up here at the reservoir it is much greyer and there is rain in the air. Across on the top of Whitley Common the windmills are turning rapidly in the gusty breeze. The water level is low in the reservoir. The tower stands high and dry. The overflow dyke is at least ten feet above the water level. A Grey Heron stands hunched on the dam wall. It flies off over the conifers down the valley. A Robin is singing down in the woods below the dam. There are four rather tatty looking Tufted Duck on the water and a sole Canada Goose. The occasional chatter of Blue and Great Tits comes from the dense conifer wood. Many trees are looking yellow and poorly, but I have been reporting this for years and the trees are still here! A pair of Carrion Crows glide overhead on the wind. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is flying into the wind up the reservoir. Cattle bellow across the fields. A couple of dozen Black-headed Gulls are searching the water’s edge for scraps to fight over.
Ingbirchworth – Further up the Huddersfield road to Ingbirchworth reservoir. Rowan trees are heavy with their vermilion berries. A charm of Goldfinches rises and settles again in a mixture of tress – Hawthorns, Alders and Sycamores. A wall with stones sticking out as steps crosses the path. Although Dill the Dog is moving pretty well these days, I am still surprised when she bounds up the steps on to the top of the wall and jumps off the other side. A large clump of Russula toadstools grow in the grass. A female Goosander is on the water – this seems early to me! A cock Pheasant flies over a field wall and scurries off up the field. There are a number of Black-headed Gulls around the reservoir. A Grey Heron and a young Cormorant stand on the water’s edge. Water is gurgling down the main feeder stream. After being pleasantly surprised at Dill the Dog’s agility, she spoils it all by falling and getting her leg stuck in between the slats of the walkway. She cannot get up and looks pitifully at me. I release her leg and she scrambles up and off the safety of the path. She has forgotten the incident within seconds and is happily wandering off down the track. Several large flocks are flying over the hills – Lapwings with Golden Plover, Wood Pigeons and Starlings. There are Mallard and cross-breed duck down in a sheltered corner of the reservoir. A Dabchick bobs on the water. Out in the middle, a Great Crested Grebe floats serenely.
Sunday 29th October – Cold Hiendley – Down the track towards the reservoir. The berry crop has been very heavy this year and the Hawthorns here are typical with masses of dark crimson haws. Rose hips are much in evidence too, many different varieties, some small, round and dark red like haws, others orange-vermilion and elongated. The water course that took water from the reservoir to maintain the levels in the Aire and Calder Navigation (Barnsley Branch) is overgrown, marshy and somewhat odoriferous. The reservoir is bright and blue under a cobalt sky, despite high cloud. The sun glances blindingly off the surface. Great Crested Grebes are numerous, some in pairs, some single. The path up the northern side is surprisingly overgrown. The water bailiff used to ride his moped down here checking anglers’ licences, now it was be quite impossible to do so. Several Willow Tits are calling and a couple of pairs are chasing each other through the thick undergrowth. A smart yellow and black suited Great Tit cheeps as he searches the branches for food. Jays are calling far away in Haw Wood. Boletes, Russulas and Fly Agaric fungi grow beside the path. A Grey Heron catches sight of me through the trees and flies off, barking angrily. Dill the Dog manages to fall off the path into the brambles and reeds at the water’s edge and is stuck. Her look of a mixture of fear and embarrassment is heart-breaking. I go down on my hands and knees and haul her out by the scruff of her neck. A small flock of Shoveler rise up from the east end of the reservoir and settle down again on the far side. Up the steep bank that is the dam for Wintersett reservoir. At the northern end are numerous Coot with a few Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon and a couple of Pochard. A family of Mute Swans is gliding past the boat house. A Pied Wagtail stands jauntily on a rock sticking out of the water. At the southern end there are even more Coot, hundreds scattered across the water, again with a few duck. I head back up the path beside Cold Hiendley. A somewhat incongruous sign states, “No Horse Riding”. Wood Pigeons flap loudly from the tops of trees hidden by the thick undergrowth. In places the path is covered with acorns like the tessera of a mosaic. A small brown dragonfly flits around the leaves. The canal through the woods is virtually dry.