Wednesday 1st October – Kington – A market town on the Welsh border, straddling Offa’s Dyke. The name was recorded in The Domesday Book of 1086 as Chingtune meaning a manor owned by the king. William II, Rufus, granted the royal estates around Kington to Adam Port, a younger sibling of the Ports of Hampshire, around the end of the 11th century. A castle was built here and Adam became Sheriff of Herefordshire. His grandson, another Adam fell out with Henry II and in 1172 fled to Scotland, leaving his wife under the protection of Wigmore Abbey. The castle was forfeited to the crown. In 1173, Adam Port and Roger Bigod returned to England with the army of William the Lion, King of Scotland. They laid waste to the Marches of Scotland from Carlisle to Newcastle on Tyne, but William was captured at the siege of Alnwick Castle and Port and Bigod fled. Port later made peace with Henry II but never regained his castle. The castle would have been used as a base in the conflict between England and Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd of Wales. In 1201, King John granted the castle to William Braose of Radnor, Abergavenny and Brecon but then demanded it back in 1208 in a dispute over money and loyalty. The Marcher baron complied but his four sons attacked the castle but were beaten off and the Braose family fled to Ireland. John granted the castle to Roger Clifford in 1213, but was probably recaptured by the Braose brothers in 1215. John marched on Hereford and utterly destroyed the castle in August 1216. Reginald Braose gained favour with John’s son, Henry III but rebuilt his castle at Huntington in 1217. Huntington became the regional centre for many years, but Kington, with its eight annual fairs, growing commercial activity and being a stopping place on the drover path over Hergest Ridge, slowly regained its importance.
I start out from the old Market Hall, built in 1885 on the site of the Kings Head Inn and replacing one of John Abel’s. Up the hill is the town square with its war memorial. To the north of The Square are early 19th century Regency houses and to the south 18th century houses with modern additions. The Swan and The Royal Oak are the only two remaining pubs where there were at least five. The Royal Oak proclaims itself as “The Last In England”. Up past Castle Hill where a water tank stood providing the first piped water to the town in 1831. On the crest of the hill is the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. Opposite is a lovely rambling house that was once Lady Hawkin’s School, founded in 1632 by Lady Margaret Hawkins, Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth II and second wife of Sir John Hawkins, the sailor and adventurer. Lady Hawkins was one of the Vaughan’s of Hergest Croft, a pre-eminent local family. The building was designed by John Abel for £240, although not timber-framed.
I pass it and head down the hill a short distance to take the Ridgemount Road towards Hergest Ridge. There are a number of fine houses in this road. However, the frequent heavy downpours of rain are becoming a nuisance, so I abandon my idea of heading up Hergest Ridge and return to the church. The church dates from around 1200, however, it is likely there was an earlier Norman church built alongside the castle – the castle mound being to the north of the church. The church has a tower by the southern aisle, not exactly in line with the church. The tower was rebuilt in 1794. There is a 13th century chancel and a 19th century second nave. The Norman
pillars of the original nave have clear mason’s marks, mainly a “T”. A round Norman Font stands by the door, where there was also a baptismal tank sunk into the floor, probably as a result of the 1662 “Order for the Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years”. This required an adult to be in the water, which required a tank of some sort. In the south aisle is a chapel, dedicated by Bishop Orleton in 1325 containing the alabaster tomb of Thomas “Black” Vaughan of Hergest Court who was killed at the battle of Banbury in 1469 supporting the Yorkist cause. A local tale tells of thirteen parsons who met in Presteigne church to exorcise the malevolent spirit of Black Vaughan. When it materialised, twelve of the exorcists were struck senseless with terror. However, the thirteenth managed to reduce Black Vaughan’s ghost to the size of a fly and trap it in a snuffbox. This was then sunk in the pool below Hergest Court under a great stone. But an unlucky accident released the evil spirit, to roam the Borders for ever more in the shape of a ghastly black dog. It is said that Arthur Conan Doyle, who stayed at Hergest Croft, based “The Hound of the Baskervilles” on this story. Black Vaughan now lies with his wife Ellen Gethin, daughter of Dafydd ap Cadwgan ap Phylip Dorddu, known as Ellen the Terrible after she dressed up as a man to infiltrate an archery competition where she shot an arrow through the chest of the man she believed had killed her brother. On the wall is an extraordinary plaque to the Vaughan family, in the form of a genealogy of the family. The plaque was restored in 1846 by one of the children of the Revd John Harley, Bishop of Herefordshire, son of the Earl of Oxford who was married to Roche Vaughan. The church has, of course, undergone a Victorian restoration in 1873/4. Outside, by the tower is a door reinforced with nails. This was the original Norman entrance to the church which could have been barred effectively against attack in troubled times. It is unlikely the door and the door frame are the originals. The stump of a mediaeval preaching cross stands by the church.
Many conkers lay on the path to the church. I wonder if this makes a statement about the town, certainly when I was young a conker would have been grabbed as soon as it fell – are children no longer interested or are there few children in the town? Back down Church Street to the main street where there is a decent range of shops. At the end of main street is Lower Cross, where Kington-in-the-Fields, the original village started in the 13th century after the destruction on the castle. A large concrete building was erected in 1905 by the Radnor Trading Company as their headquarters. The company owned quarries four miles to the west of the town and the building was an advertisement for the pre-stressed concrete products they made. Opposite is a bank, now the HSBC (assuming that still exists in these days of banking meltdown), and was a bank in 1808 when the Radnorshire and Kington Bank was founded. I have to shelter yet again as a squall of rain splashes the wet and shiny streets.
Sunday 5th October – Leominster – Ken and Brigit are visiting for the weekend. It is a foul morning – raining and chilly. Ken and I are both feeling a mite delicate, possibly because of the demijohn of Dunkerton’s perry I had picked up from their cider mill and we managed to finish. We wandered down across the Grange and past the Minster. Down The Priory and over the Kenwater, which is flowing fairly swiftly. The Kenwater is a tributary of the River Lugg, although it diverges from the Lugg just outside the town to the north-west and rejoins the main river to the east of the town. It is thought that the Saxon Earl Kenelm diverted a stretch of the River Lugg to form the Kenwater as a northern boundary to the Priory precinct. Kenelm died in 1060 and is believed to have been buried in the Priory. A plaque recorded this, but it was damaged at the end of the 16th century. However, John Hackluyt of nearby Eaton made a record of the inscription:
The Kenwater has been dug and had its bank reinforced at various times to provide flood relief to the area. The river is crossed by a white painted cast iron footbridge. On the other side is a path that leads to a Focus DIY store in one direction and around the cricket pitch westwards. The Focus site was the subject of a major archaeological survey in 2003 just prior to the store being built. A large amount of iron slag indicated the presence of a Roman-British foundry and ironworks operating between 120CE and 240CE. There was also the remains of a timber-framed building of the 13th century and a reasonably high status building which fell into ruin at the end of the 14th century. The lack of any finds of a later date indicate the site became a pasture. We head along Mill Street and up to Broad Street past a mixture of buildings from the mediaeval period onwards. A French Market is being held in Broad Street. We regularly visited the annual French Market in Saltaire, but this one is a bit disappointing. There are far fewer stalls and the prices have risen considerably. However, we still spend out on cheese, bread and sausage.
Monday 6th October – Home – Apples steadily drop from the Howgate Wonder. Most are damaged by their fall so end up being used for cider. Two demijohns are now full and a third started. Nuthatches, Blue, Great and Coal Tits are on the feeders almost continuously. Indeed, a Nuthatch is busily attacking the peanut holder just outside the window as I write this. S/he stabs at the nuts with its dagger beak and digs pieces out, stops and checks around to see if anything is happening around it, then back to the nuts. By the back door is a Garden Spider web. The spider sits in the centre and has two of its front legs missing. It has been a good year for the Horse Chestnut – enormous green grenade shaped fruits keep falling, banging on the summer house roof and splitting over the lawn, leaving a shining rich red-brown conker in the grass. It is hard work picking them all up and putting them into a bag. They will go to the Council recycling site, they can deal with composting the hard conkers and shells better than we can.
Tuesday 7th October – Leominster – It has been a filthy day with high winds and rain. All my work at clearing the lawn of conkers and their husks has been for nought; there are more than ever. My nerves are shredded by them hitting the summer house roof – when fiddling with electrics, a large conker hitting the roof sounds like a large electrical blow-out! The sun makes an appearance mid-afternoon so I head off down the road and into Pinsley Road. This is an old road in the town that turned and twisted its way to the Minster. It now has a mixture of old and newer housing. Pinsley Works is derelict and planning permission is being sought to convert it into apartments. It has a long history, a lease of 1675 records two sites at the bottom of Etnam Street, both corne mills. It is the northern site that still remains. In 1754 it was a cotton mill, and may have been for the decade before that, but was burnt down in mysterious circumstances in that year. The mill had been connected with Daniel Bourn who had sought a patent for a carding machine for cotton and wool. Whilst there is no evidence that such equipment was installed in Pinsley Mill, it has been suggested that Richard Arkwright, who lived at Hampton Court to the south of the town may have been involved. He was a rival in the cotton industry to both Bourn and Lewis Paul and John Wyatt who were trying to gain commercial acceptance of a roller spinning invention. Arkwright had already patented a similar machine and made his fortune with it. It is known that Bourn had purchased some Paul and Wyatt spindles and Leominster was one of the few places they were used, which just happened to be in Arkwright’s backyard. The spindles were destroyed in the fire and Arkwright went on to patent a carding machine that used the elements of both Bourn and Paul and Wyatt’s machines and this machine became the standard in cotton milling. The reason why cotton mills were operating in one of the great sheep areas is that cotton was brought into Bristol and transported to Manchester, through Leominster. In 1825, the mill had been rebuilt and continued as a mill until the Second World War.
Further along the road is a house called “Pilgrims Inn”. The road emerges beside the Grange House. The rain suddenly returns with a vengeance and I shelter under a huge Yew tree. When the rain dies away and a brief rainbow fades, I wander to the side of the house. A pleasant garden stands beside the house with a dilapidated conservatory attached to an extension behind Abel’s timber-framed building. On the other side of the Grange is a playground and beyond some fine steel gates depicting a pair of Kingfishers, to the east is the Riverside Millennium Green. Here apple trees and meadows have been planted and a pond created. The path curves around to the Old Priory Hospital. This building, started around 1150, was the monastery infirmary and reredorter (lavatories) until Dissolution in 1539. Pinsley Brook ran under the building until the 1960s and the channel can still be discerned. The building became a gaol, private house, in 1759 the town workhouse, a hospital and finally an old people’s home. Today it houses Social Services and the town Youth Hostel. Round into Church Street where the Forbury stands, a chapel built in 1284 which was later dedicated to Thomas Becket. In the 19th century it served as a music hall for the town, at that time a peculiar use for a chapel. Opposite is a lane leading to an area behind Broad Street. Here the “burgage plots” behind the buildings on Broad Street can be clearly seen. These plots were owned by the Priory and let out to the burghers of the town for rent, rather than being worked on in feudal service. Our garden is also one such plot. They are usually a multiple of “perches” (5½ yards) in length and breadth.
Thursday 9th October – Wigmore – A pretty village in the north-west corner of Herefordshire. The Post Office resides in a fine half-timbered “black and white” house. Two pubs and plenty of old buildings, including Queens House on the main junction. A western branch of the Roman road, Watling Street, crosses Wigmore Moor to the east of the village. The name has been written as Wighemore, Wiggemora and Uggemore. There are a number of theories about the origin of the name, from Wicga’s moor where Wicga may be a personal name or may indicate a local term for an unstable marshland in which “blister” bogs appear and disappear, or the Old English, Wicga, meaning a beetle (as in earwig) Mör, meaning marsh or from the Welsh, Gwig Maur, meaning “Big Wood”.
To the west of the village is the church of St James standing on a hill. The Norman church is on the site of an earlier Celtic church. In the reign of King Edward the Confessor, the barony of Wigmore belonged to Edric Sylvatics, Earl of Shrewsbury. It was tenanted by Gunfrid. Edric fought the Normans and was defeated and William I granted his lands to William FitzOsbern, who became Earl of Hereford. A church was built with walls of “herring-bone” pattern in Silurian limestone, some of which can still be seen. The chancel was rebuilt in the 14th century, narrower than the original and a south aisle being added with the original wall being replaced with two arches. A small north chapel, once called the Harroldes Chapel was a mid 14th century addition. The nave has an excellent example of an early 15th century “stub-tie-beam” rood of five bays with three trenched side purlins. The nave was restored by Bodley in 1864, the chancel restored in 1868. An original exterior window is high on the internal south wall of nave. A decagonal pulpit of the early 15th century has some intricate carved linenfold panels. A chalice stands on a shelf next to the pulpit, a brave place to leave it in these days when anything can be stolen. A sweet little organ was donated in 1907 in memory of Queen Victoria. Windows depict Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, along with Thaddeus, Peter, James the Lesser and Paul. The east window is in memory of the sons of Charles and Lucy Franklin who held the tenancy of Wigmore Hall. All windows date from around the same time as the restoration of 1868. The Royal Coat of Arms of William IV hangs by the main door.
Up the road is the old school, built in the mid 19th century. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls and lands on the top of a telegraph pole. Beyond we followed a path and soon before us on a wooded hill stood the ruins of Wigmore Castle, one of the largest Marcher castles on the Border. William FitzOsbern’s son, Roger de Breteuil took part in the Revolt of the Earls, which arose out of William the Conqueror’s refusal to sanction the marriage of Emma (sister of Roger de Breteuil) and Ralph de Guader in 1075. The revolt was suppressed by William and Roger de Breteuil’s land, including Wigmore Castle was given to Ranulph de Mortimer. The Domesday Book of 1086 records, “Ralph de Mortimer holds Wigemore Castle. Earl William built it on waste land which is called Merestun, which Gunfrid held before 1066. Ralph has 2 ploughs in lordship and 2 hides which pay tax, and 4 slaves. The Borough which is there pays £7.” In 1155, Henry II besieged the castle when Hugh de Mortimer refused to return Bridgnorth to the crown. The wooden castle was rebuilt in stone in the late 12th and early 13th centuries by Hugh de Mortimer. It was at this time the curtain wall was constructed which still stands today to the south and east sides. Various Mortimers enlarged the castle during the 13th and early 14th centuries. Roger Mortimer strengthened the position of the family through his marriage to Joan de Geneville in 1301 and added Ludlow castle and extensive Irish estates to his possessions. He led opposition to Edward II in the 1320s and became the lover of Edward’s queen, Isabella of France. In 1326, Roger and Isabella, who had been in exile in France, invaded England and with Henry, Earl of Lancaster, overthrew Edward II and placed their son, Edward III, 14 years old, on the throne. Roger Mortimer and Isabella effectively ruled England. There were many plots against the pair, but these failed as Edward would not support them, until in 1330 Mortimer ordered the execution of Edmund, Earl of Kent and half brother of the King. Henry Lancaster prevailed upon the king to act and just days before Edward’s eighteenth birthday Mortimer and Isabella were seized by Edward and his companions from inside Nottingham Castle. In spite of Isabella’s entreaty to her son, “Fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer,” Mortimer was conveyed to the Tower and hanged at Tyburn on 29th November 1330. In 1354, Roger and Joan’s grandson, also Roger, was restored to the title of Earl of the Marches. His grandson, another Roger was declared heir presumptive to the throne should Richard II die childless. This Roger dies in battle in Ireland in 1398. The male line of the Mortimers died out in 1424 and the castle passed to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, through his mother Anne, sister of the last Roger Mortimer. It is likely that Richard’s son, Edward was based at Wigmore Castle before his victory at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Edward deposed Henry VI and was crowned Edward IV in 1462.
In 1601, Elizabeth I sold the the castle to Thomas Harley of Brampton Bryan. His son Roger was a Puritan and Parliamentarian and left his wife, Lady Brilliana in charge of the castle during the Civil War. She dismantled much of the defences to prevent their use by the Royalists. After this the castle gradually decayed until in the late 20th century it was in a perilous condition. In 1995 it came into the guardianship of English Heritage who have stabilised it. A path leads past mounds that contained the outer defences and over a wooded ditch and up through Barbican bank and through the gatehouse, the base of which is buried by over two metres of fallen masonry and rubble. Beyond the gatehouse are various levels of grassy areas with trees and undergrowth. Remains of towers lie in each direction and steps climb up in stages to the keep from where views across the land are magnificent. Below to the east is a wide plain of fields of arable crops and cow fields. This whole area was flooded by a glacial lake 20,000 years ago. A glacier dammed the lake at what is now the village of Amerstrey. On the other side of the plain are great wooded hills, Gatley Long Coppice, High Vinnals, Juniper Hill, Monstay Rough, Long Larches, Deep Wood, Bringewood, Sunny Dingle Wood – all waiting to be explored. To the north the drop is precipitous, to the other direction less so, but still an easily defensible site. Close to the foot of the hill to
the east is Wigmore Cemetery, opened in 1899, with a small square brick and half-timbered chapel.
Friday 10th October – Leominster – An alleyway (what would be called a ginnel in Yorkshire) leads off of Ryeland Road and runs parallel to end up in a housing estate. The names of the streets record the past, Alderman’s Meadow, Probert Close and Wright’s Yard. The powerful and pungent scent of Ivy fills the air. A wall is covered with its yellow flowers. The dozens of bees and wasps create a gentle drone. From these older houses, the streets turn into a council housing estate. This runs up the hill and rejoins Ryeland Road. The whole area in mid-Victorian times was covered in orchards, but they are now all replaced by housing. A large white house is hidden behind trees. A sign says “Archer House”, but the old maps seem to refer to it as “Fairlawns”, although this may refer to the area now occupied by a veterinary practice. There is a quaint gatehouse, a small single storey building with large columns by the door. Some new houses stand in what is called Ryelands Orchard. Behind these house, a path leads south past a paddock containing some mature trees whose leaves are beginning to turn to autumnal yellows and golds. Past the paddock, the land opens up into fields, originally called The Ryelands. To the other side is a vast field of maize. Across the Ryelands the plain of the River Arrow stretches out with the Black Mountains in the distance. Across the field to Cock Croft. Hay has been mown and bundled in black plastic bales. Over the way, fields of straw bales lay golden and tan. Overhead, a Skylark twitters its song, a feeble trunk of its ethereal spring outpourings. Below Cock Croft, the path joins Passa Lane which winds round and down to the Hereford Road, joining opposite the cemetery. Just inside the cemetery gates is an area of children’s graves, tiny plots compared to nearby adult ones. Across towards Southern Avenue there is a group of graves all dated around 1948 and all Polish. After the Second World War, many Poles who had fought with the British did not want to return home to a country under Russian control. Many were temporarily housed in transit camps, one being at Barons Cross. They often were subjected to the same racism that East Europeans who are now coming to Britain sadly encounter.
Tuesday 14th October – Eaton Hill – Down Etnam Street and over the railway. Then over the River Lugg which is flowing clear and steadily. Yellow leaves drift down from the trees and float off downstream. A Wren and Blackbird dart across the river, they seem to wish to avoid being seen over the water. Under the A49 bridge which has a mosaic covering the far wall. On down the river where a Mute Swan is almost invisible in the overhanging vegetation. A Cormorant flies upstream. Numerous Guelder Rose bushes are adorned with red berries. A Robin sings from a tall Ash. The path now runs between the river and horse paddocks. The creamy blossom of White Dead Nettle is almost finished. A single Bistort flower, a pink club-like head, rises above nettles. Himalayan Balsam is also present. I use my stick to knock off the flower heads before they set seed, but it is futile really – their encroachment seems unstoppable. The path joins the A44 at Eaton Bridge. In the 18th century the river was navigable here up to Leominster. The middle arch of the bridge is wider to accommodate boats. In 1714 a sum of £1,200 was raised and £900 paid to a Mr Chinn who, instead of building locks at proper places, put up gates where bridges crossed the river. He built a wharf and basin here at Eaton Bridge and barges conveyed goods to and from the town.
A short distance up the A44 a path leads off through a rough meadow and start climbing Eaton Hill. Silent corvids fly over, small flocks of Wood Pigeons head across the landscape in a determined manner, smaller birds are calling from the hedges and bushes but remain hidden. Up the hill are some old stone slabs creating steps, now loose and dangerous. A modern set of wooden steps have been installed next to the old ones. It is believed the path is an old drovers’ trail. At the top of the hill, the Herefordshire Trail keeps eastwards, but I turn north along Eaton Hill, once also known as Comfort Castle Hill! The 16th century scholar, John Leland states, “the common fame of people about Leo is that K[ing] Merwald & some of his successors had castle or palace on hillside by town, half a mile off by E, now called Comfort Castle, where now be some tokens of ditches where buildings have been. Townspeople &others thereabouts come once a yr to sport & play.” The footpath now runs alongside a field of maize. It is difficult going, vast tracts of Stinging Nettles grow over the original path and often right up to the maize. There are, however, fine views across the broad valley of the Rivers Lugg and Arrow. Another Cormorant flies high over the hill. Its flight seems to indicate that it unsure where it is heading, brief pauses in wing beats and its head moving side to side. The path enters woodland again and passes a mobile telephone mast before dropping down the hillside towards Ridgemoor Bridge. Oaks and Sweet Chestnuts seem to be replacing the bramble and Hawthorn scrub. A large cream house lies over the field, also named Eaton Hill. The sound of the car auction travels across the field.
Thursday 16th October – Croft Castle – A large National Trust administered house and estate in North Herefordshire. Apart from a break of 170 years the Croft family have owned the castle and land since the Conquest. Bernard de Croft, Sheriff of Gloucester, was granted the land in 1086. From then the Croft’s have been a distinguished military family. Jasper de Croft was knighted during the First Crusade. Sir Hugh de Croft helped rescue Prince Edward from Simon de Montfort and deliver him to Wigmore. Williams’ brother Herbert was dean and bishop of Hereford, and his son was granted baronetcy as recognition of the sacrifices made by the Crofts. Sir Hugh’s great grandson, John married Janet, the third daughter of Owain Glyndŵr. Their grandson, Richard Croft, was a Yorkist who fought in the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on February 2nd 1461 which was held nearby on land belonging to the Croft family. This battle was decisive in putting the Yorkist King Edward IV (a Mortimer) on the throne. He also took Edward, Prince of Wales prisoner at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. In 1542, James Croft was the MP for Herefordshire. He was made Lord Deputy of Ireland by Edward VI. In 1552 he was made Deputy Constable of the Tower of London, most probably at the favour of Lady Jane Grey. In 1554 he was a prisoner at the Tower but he escaped with his life and was released on the 1st January 1555. Queen Elizabeth appointed James Croft Governor of Berwick. At the siege of Liege he repelled the Scots but they returned and defeated the English army for which James was blamed, however Elizabeth kept him as privy counsellor and controller of her household. He was one of the commissioners for the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, and in 1588 was sent on a diplomatic mission to arrange peace with the Duke of Parma. Croft established private relations with Parma, for which on his return he was sent to the Tower but released in 1589. He died on 4th September 1590.
In the Civil War, William Croft supported the royal cause and was killed outside his castle as the Royalists fled Battle of Stokesay on the 8th June 1645. Croft Castle was plundered by Irish mercenaries who had not been paid. It was further slighted to prevent it being used by the Parliamentarians. Charles II stayed at Croft Castle on a visit to Herefordshire. Herbert Croft was made Bishop of Hereford in 1661. He redesigned Croft Castle’s garden, removing the old village of Croft and throwing the people off the land. The Croft’s were financially ruined by the Civil War and sold the castle to the Johnes Family. In 1817 Sir Richard Croft attended to Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, who sadly died after giving birth to a still born son. The distraught Richard shot himself three months later. In 1923 the Trustees of Sir James Croft bought back Croft from the Knevill Davies family. Sir James died on active service with the No.1 Commando in 1941. The house came into the care of the National Trust in 1956. Several members of the Croft family still have apartments in the castle. The present castle is based on a 14thcentury building, but with many changes over the years. A fine library houses a copy of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary which Sir Herbert Croft (1751-1816) was annotating extensively, but was never published. There is also an extensive collection of local history books. The whole building is full of family portraits. One gallery has a collection of modern art, the collector’s taste for abstracts is evident. By the staircase are a number of watercolours of Hafod, an estate in Cardiganshire. Thomas Johnes inherited the estate and greatly developed it, including planting millions of trees. Sadly his mansion fell into ruin and was demolished leaving little trace these days. Much of the interior design is by Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, architect who designed Adam Darby’s bridge at Ironbridge.
Outside is the church of St Michael and All Angels, dating from the 14th century. Box pews from the early 18th century to the early 20thcentury are all still in situ. A large tomb of Sir Richard Croft and Dame Eleanor from the early 16th century is the key feature in the church. The parkland surrounding the house has an important collection of ancient trees, including a thousand year old Oak. An avenue of Spanish Chestnuts is said to have been planted from nuts carried by the Spanish Armada. It is reputed to have been laid out in the same formation as the Spanish fleet and dotted around are English Oaks in the positions of the English fleet under Drake. A walled garden has numerous apple trees and many pleasant borders and flower beds.
Friday 17th October – Stockton – Off down the road, over the railway and along the river. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls from the top of a tall tree. Blue Tits chatter. A patch of huge Butterbur leaves are beginning to decay. Across the horse paddocks a flock of Jackdaws are squabbling noisily. A couple drink from the gutter of a barn. Again, I head up the south end of Eaton Hill, but this time follow the Herefordshire Trail over the top and down to the east. For a national, named recreational path it is in a very poor state. Like the path along the top of Eaton Hill, one has to stumble along between a wet maize crop and thickets of nettles. The next section is supposedly straight across a ploughed field with large clay furrows. Going round the field is difficult, again because of nettles and briars. At the bottom of the valley I can hear a Common Buzzard mewing. It eventually flies across the top of the hill. The trail crosses Cheaton Brook, which I am surprised, quite irrationally, to see flowing north. Chaffinches hop across the red clay soil.
The path now is shown to cross another ploughed and harrowed field. Again, I walk around the edge, although this is easier now. Another Common Buzzard sits on a tall dead spike of a branch on a tree in the field. The path reaches Widgeon Hill, an old farm now a collection of barn conversions and restored houses. A bridleway opposite continues up the hill. The view behind to the west is magnificent, right across the Arrow valley to the distant hills and Black Mountains. At the top of the hill is another ploughed field, but this time I head straight across – the tracks show a horse and rider have already passed this way. This path arrives at Oakwood Farm, a modern set of units looking more like a factory than a farm. The path turns down and through an orchard. Rows of apple trees run off into the distance. At a small barn a wooden trailer is unloading apples into a hopper which has a belt that lifts them up and through a washing spray, then down to another hopper and another belt that lifts them and drops them onto a huge pile, some fifteen feet high. Interestingly, many of the orchards shown on the 1890 map have disappeared, whilst this orchard was just a field. The orchard ends at Rowley Barn. The path continues down the hill to Whittey Brook and up past a pretty couple of cottages. Now a track, my path continues up the hill before joining a small road. Down the road, over a crossroads and on down the hill. There are some beautiful cottages along here – half-timbered, one with an old wooden door with nail studs in it, with a carved wooden surround. The road crosses Cogwell Brook and carries on into Stockton where the Stockton Cross Inn is a welcome sight. The road continues westwards past Bury Farm, now Stocktonbury Gardens, and meets the A49 at Stockton Cross and Bury. I head back along the main road to Leominster, passed at one point by twenty or more Harley Davidson motorcycles heading for a rally somewhere.
Tuesday 21st October – Queenswood Country Park – This country park covers the top of Dinmore Hill, a densely wooded summit straddling the A49 between Leominster and Hereford. It contains an arboretum, the planting of which began in 1953 to mark the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It was funded by a public appeal launched by Sir Richard Cotterell who was then the Chairman of the Queenswood Management Committee and the Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire. A path leads up through an avenue of Limes into an area dominated by Acers, the Maple. Most of these are of Asian origin, although a few species come from Northern Africa, Europe and North America, where they are famous for the “New England Fall Colours”. The park is popular with walkers, many with dogs and children. Beyond the acers are woods of Oaks, numerous varieties from around the world. Past a long disused quarry, the path arrives at the edge of a steep drop down to the valley of the River Arrow. A brass plaque, a toposcope, erected to celebrate the Coronation, points out the features of the landscape from the Black Mountains round through Hereford and on to the Malvern Hills. Trails wind through the woodlands. One area is dedicated to Sequoias, the great Redwoods, which tower above us. The park will repay revisiting over the next couple of weeks as the autumn colours develop.
Friday 24th October – Burghill – I take the bus to Morton-On-Lugg and cross the A49 and head off towards Burghill. Past a fine house, “Tall Trees” which has tall chimneys and a timbered bay window. The lane rises steadily between hedgerows. Beyond to the north are fields of sheep and harvested grain – the latter mainly pale yellow but grass is already taking advantage of the lack of cover now the crop has gone. Beyond the fields are wooded hill – Badnage Wood, Pyon Hill which is one of the conical hills, typical of the district and Dinmore Hill. Chaffinches, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Rooks call out. Bright red necklaces of Black Bryony berries adorn the hedgerow. Also growing over the hedgerows are patches of Travellers Joy, a wild clematis with silver grey seed pods that become increasingly fluffy and last long into the winter when their other name, Old Man’s Beard, is more apt. Bright vermilion and crimson hips are also abundant. A Green Woodpecker yaffles loudly and flies from tree to tree – it seems disturbed by the presence of Rooks at the tops of the trees. Approaching a farm and some houses, other species appear – Pied Wagtail, House Sparrow and Long-tailed Tit. A large Bumble Bee hums along the hedgerow.
The lane comes to a crossroads where it meets the Roman road, Watling Street West, between Wroxeter, civitas capital of the Cornovii (Uriconium) and Kenchester (Magnis). Beyond the junction is an underground reservoir and the lane starts to drop down from the low ridge upon which the road was constructed. Credenhill Hill Wood lies on the horizon, some three miles away. Its wooded top contains one of the largest hill-forts in England. On the outskirts of Burghill is Burghill Grange, a large 17th century house with earlier parts. In the grounds in front of the house is a cider crusher – a circular stone trough and a large stone wheel that a horse would drag around the trough crushing apples. Beside the road is a tall octagonal tower building, which according to Pevsner, is a dovecote. On down the road is a lovely timber-framed barn with a delightful pink brick. Round the corner is a flower on the roadside I do not recognise but Kay later identifies it from a photograph as a Sedum, now a popular garden flower. The Sedum family are the stonecrops and this is one called the Orpine. The name Burghill comes from the Old English burg-hyll meaning a Hill Fortress. A castle stood to the north-west of the church but is now completely destroyed. The Domesday Book records: Held by Alfred of Marlborough along with Ewyas Harold. Held by Earl Harold. 8 hides, Value 15 (pre 1066 20). 16 Villeins, 19 Bordars, Priest, 4 serfs. 24 ploughs (+2 in lordship). Mill - 20s & 25 sticks of eels. Woodland – 4s. 5 Burgesses of Hereford pay 52d to this manor. 2 Men at Arms have 2 ploughs & 2 Bovarii. Godric, a thane, has 1 plough. Another man has 1 villein. After Alfred of Marlborough’s death William the Rufus handed the manor to Bernard de Neufmarché.
The centre of the old village is dominated by the Church of St Mary the Virgin. I decide to keep this jewel of a church for another visit. Near the church is a large cottage with a massive thatched roof, surmounted by a model pheasant in straw. The road turns by Burghill Manor, a late Georgian house. The road divides and I head through a much more recently built part of the village. There are a considerable number of homes here but no amenities. Across a field stands Burghill Court. I head towards Tillington. On each side of the road are huge apple orchards. One has new trees recently plants. They catch me out at first as they look like a stick has been shoved into the ground and some apples stuck to it. I then realise there are rows of these saplings running off into the distance. The local primary school is on this road. It seems odd as it is out of the village and not near any density of housing. Next to the school is the village common with an old cast iron sign stating that, under the Burghill and Tillington Parish Council Commons Act of 1899, anyone convicted of a long list of offences detailed would be fined 40/-. Tillington seems a strange village – neither Pevsner or Arthur Mee mention it – but it does have a shop and Post Office, a pond and a pub – The Bell. My ankle is now aching and sending the occasional spasm of pain up my leg. I had intended to continue on to Credenhill but the option of a pint and a rest is too inviting. On the way back, I reach the Roman road and can hear, rather incongruously, bagpipes. Someone in the row of houses down the road must be practising – I wonder what the neighbours think?
Saturday 25th October – Eaton Hill – I have seven gallons of cider brewing, but as they are made with eating/cooker apples the juice is short of an essential ingredient, tannin. Cider apples are astringent because of the high tannin content. A way to get more tannin is to mix in some juice from crab apples. I recall passing a crab apple tree somewhere on Eaton Hill, so off I go. Over the river and north along its bank. There is a small gravel island where the Kenwater and Lugg converge and two Mute Swans are asleep upon it, although they are sleeping with a wary eye on me. Over the A49 and start up Eaton Hill towards the telephone mast. The sky to the west has grey smears across it as if an artist has laid on grey paint thickly with a palette knife. At the top of the hill, I realise I have got the wrong place and the tree I want is the down the path beyond the maize field. The path seems even worse than last time with nettles thickly growing both where the path should be and out of the edge of crop itself. I slash down many, but it is a futile task. I reach the far side with quite a few stings. There is the crab apple tree and the path is covered with fallen fruit which I start to gather. A couple of women walking their dog stop for a chat and we agree we ought to contact the footpaths officer about the state of the paths. We agree that farmers must be able to make a living, but some consideration must be given to maintaining access. The crab apples yield a gallon of juice which is mixed into the demijohns.
Tuesday 28th October – Burghill – I drop into the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. It is a large church for such a small village. It was known to such luminaries as Sir Edward Elgar and the poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley. Two rows of six Yews lead to the door – the Twelve Apostles. A large old Yew, which Arthur Mee recorded as 25 feet in circumference in 1938, stands across the churchyard where there is also a cross, not an old one, on an older base. Inside the church is a Norman lead font, with the twelve apostles again and their “Master” carved around it, but they are worn and defaced. The church is based on a Norman one, although it was enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries, with round pillars being used on one occasion and octagonal on the other. Now only one wall in the sanctuary is the original Norman construction. On the west wall is a painted war memorial depicting an angel, a copy of “Love Triumphant” by G.F. Watts. Either side are benefactor tables – board recording gifts to the church and community on one and an account of the who pays for the boundary stones. There was a fine rood loft until it was removed around 1824. A piscina which served the rood loft still remains high on the church wall, just under the roof. A lovely chancel screen still remains, escaping the “modernisation” of 1880. Behind the alter the reredos is early 20th century in a rich dark red Oak, intricately carved. The tower, 13th century in origin was rebuilt in 1812 after collapsing and damaging the font. It has a full peel of bells and ringers come from all over the country to ring a round, which apparently can take over three hours. I do not tarry as long as I would have wished as there is shortly to be a funeral. The undertaker tells me a gypsy woman, only 37 years old, is being buried. Travelling folk are coming from all over the area and by tradition they all follow the hearse to the church. Down the road is Burghill Court, a house which was bought in 1874 John George Woodhouse, a benefactor of the church. In 1926, his two unmarried daughters were shot to death by the butler who had learned he was to be dismissed for drinking.
Credenhill – From a small car park, a track heads up this heavily wooded hill. A Jay flies off as I start the climb. There is much logging going on, in particular to clear the Iron Age fort on the summit. The track passes many large piles of logs. A flock of Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits passes through. They are communicating with each other in quiet “ticking” rather than the usual strident squeaks. A Red Admiral is in the tree tops, resting on an Old Man’s Beard. There are signs saying no entry to the top of the hill because of forestry work. However, the silence indicates there is no work going on. The top is a mass of mud and small branches, but at least most of the plantation has been cleared. Across the far side a defensive bank with an entrance can be clearly seen. I head south and find another long stretch of banking and another deep entrance. The fort has been showed to have been occupied from around 600 BCE until 150CE. It was a very large settlement – larger than Maiden Castle – and would have been an important Iron Age centre. There is debate about which tribe actually lived in Credenhill. Some scholars consider the Decangi to be likely candidates owing to a reference in “Annals” by Tacitus. They were attacked by the Roman Governor Ostorius Scapula around 48CE and defeated. Other candidates are the Silures, Dobunnii or the Cornovii. It seems likely that it was occupied and abandoned and re-occupied several times before being abandoned, possibly because of the new “town” of Kenchester down near the Wye built in the 2nd century CE. Far below on the plain is a large army camp – the headquarters of the SAS.
Wednesday 29th October – Home – A sharp overnight frost results in a pale morning. However, there is none of the snow that fell in Birmingham and London. The immediate effect is that leaves are falling en masse. The summer house roof is covered with them and the lawn is inches deep. Icy crystals adorn the chard. We dig out some compost from a huge pile that has been deposited towards the end of the garden. This whole area is a under of discussion – there are dead and dying apple and Elder trees, mostly covered in Ivy. A three foot pile of twigs and other material has built up. On the other the path the Ivy covers rubble and who knows what else. I think we need a professional to look at the area to see what needs to be done. By evening, the mercury is falling and it begins to rain – a thoroughly miserable end to the day.
Friday 31st October – Bache – Across the Grange, down The Priory and across the iron bridge. The Kenwater is flowing swiftly and the water level is high. Along the A44, over the railway and past the entrance to Eaton Hill. A Common Buzzard rises from the tall trees lining the road and off across the fields. Another is circling high above. A footpath leads eastwards from the A49 by Hay Lane. It passes around an apple orchard and then alongside a field sown with winter wheat. The sun is shining but there is a bitter wind. A small flock of Redwings flies out of a Hawthorn tree and off across the fields. It seems early for winter thrushes to be so far south, but over the next few minutes, numerous flocks of Redwings and even larger numbers of Fieldfares fly over. I am moving slowly, scanning the skies for more thrushes when a Hare dashes out of the grass, almost under my feet. It runs rapidly across the field and into the next. The path peters out and I realise that I have been insufficiently observant when reading the map – I should be on the other side of Cogwell Brook. Back along the stream to a crossing point. Facing west, the Black Mountains are in the distance and have a covering of snow. Having got onto the right path, I head back along the Cogwell Brook. A Dipper flies off upstream. A Robin stands on a gate, watching. The path finishes at a road junction and my route is straight ahead. Another large flock of Fieldfares drops into a field.
Past Forbury Farm and up to a small side road that leads to Gorstey Hill. Across the fields a large timber-framed farm house, Bachefield, with pink infilling glows in the sunshine. Gorstey Hill is steep. Past a farm named after the hill and down towards Upper Bache. Beside a long farmhouse is a square stone building with a gable on each face, topped by a timber lantern. According to the Herefordshire Council website, the building is a dovecote dating from the late 17th or early 18th century and still contains some nests inside. Across from the farm the view southwards is dominated by the substantial ditches and dykes of Bach Camp, an Iron Age hill fort. The name “Bache”(pronounced bayche) comes from the Old English meaning “the valley of the stream”. I do not know if the stream referred to is Yolk Brook which runs from the east down the valley between Bache and Kimbolton or an unnamed brook flowing south around the base of the fort. A substantial but muddy track heads towards the brook. A large female Sparrowhawk flies out of the trees and across the fields. A small bridge crosses the stream and the path rises steeply up to the fort.
The fort sits on a ridge between the unnamed stream and Whyle Brook to the east. The camp covers some 6¼ acres with a bank, ditch and counterscarp bank to each side. On the north-west side there is a very wide ditch and an entrance. Further entrances are on the south and north ends of the camp, although the southern one is considered to be modern. No dates seem available for the time of occupation. A path drops steeply down from the hill to a farm called “The Walls”, a local name for fort banks. A narrow lane leads north and then down to Brook Farm, now a collection of conversions and cottages. The unnamed brook runs through here. An old road runs up to Lower Bache. Holly and Ivy plus many other trees fill this little valley. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flit through. Along the road is a ford running up the stream away. I look in vain for a bridge and instead stride off up the ford. Fortunately, although flowing swiftly, the stream is shallow and I reach the far side with dry feet. Here the lane rises steeply. There are signs at each end saying that the road is unsuitable for motor vehicles and it is indeed with great gouges of potholes. Yet, there are still new looking red reflective posts on the edge of a sharp bend. The hamlet of Lower Bache is again some conversions, one set of cottages with brightly painted doors in primary colours. The farm house has lovely old stables. Next is a large house called “The Bach”. The lane leads back towards Leominster. A trailer stands in a yard, over-brimming with apples. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are feeding in a ploughed field. At the crossroads I head for Stockton and the pub, my legs are now tired and my ankles quite sore, but I have covered nearly ten miles.