Thursday 1st October – Home – The mornings are now quite dark. Maddy’s night vision seems pretty good as she chases after her ball in the gloom, a ball I cannot see once it has been thrown. The prolonged period of dryness continues. Last night we watched a football match from Manchester on the television – it rained throughout, so we were hopeful that it would move south. The atmospheric pressure is falling and the forecast says rain by mid-morning, but nothing. Indeed, by midday the sun is out. A Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus, has constructed a large web just over the garden wall, attaching it to a Leylandii. Kay calls out mid-afternoon that a butterfly has been caught in it. A Small Tortoiseshell is fluttering forlornly whilst the spider sits at the centre of its web. After some moments it approaches the butterfly and climbs on its back where it remains for some time. I assume it injects the struggling creature with poison as its movement slows and then stops. The spider then starts wrapping the butterfly in silk and having secured it, breaks away part of the web so it can move its victim to a small twig of the Leylandii. Apparently, it has been a good year for spiders, not something an arachnophobe like me is especially thrilled about!
Monday 5th October – Devon – We are staying in Jacqui and Peter’s cottage on the edge of the beach in Challaborough. The tiny village lies on the coast in South Hams district. The morning is a wild mix of wind and rain. Maddy and I head up to the cliffs over the bay towards Ayrmer Cove. Gulls cross to and fro beneath us. Out to sea it is grey and bare. We do not tarry long and I am soon back in the cottage with a coffee and a wide view from the French windows. The cove is only a few hundred yards wide with arms of quartz streaked Lower Devonian slates and sandstones dipping to the sea, ending in rocks. To the east the cliff ends at Warren Point. The rocks are more extensive and jagged to the west, providing resting places for the gulls. A Great Black-backed stands there hunched against the wind. In the middle of the cove is a stream, just a couple of inches deep, creating a mini-estuary in the sand. It is always a source of wonderment to think that this quite insignificant little water course has carved out the whole cove over the millennia. Some juvenile Herring Gulls, both first and second year, and Black-headed Gulls stand around the stream, the latter taking advantage of the sweet water to have a drink. Pied Wagtails flit along the beach seeking insects in the piles of seaweed. A Cormorant dives just off shore. In late Victorian days there was a Coastguard Station on the hill and “Rocket House”. A Lifeboat House stood very close to where the cottage is now. By 1907, the short row of cottages were simply known as “Boat Houses”. A foot bridge crossed the stream where now it flows through a concrete gulley under the road. The valley, then empty, now is full of holiday chalets. Out to sea is Burgh Island, a whale-back of greenery surmounted by a old stone pilchard-watch where someone would keep watch for the shoals of pilchards as they came close and the fishermen would then launch to net them. On the landward side stands a fine looking art-deco hotel, glistening white. Below on the sea wall is the Pilchard Inn, a much older establishment. Gannets are passing far out at sea. An Oystercatcher walks across the rocks below the cliffs. As the morning progresses, yachts and commercial vessels cross the horizon. Several groups of Gannets pass by along with a single shearwater and a probable Common Scoter.
Modbury – A pleasant Devon town with a main street of “real” shops. We go to a butchers to get some lunch and dinner. Modbury is nationally known these days as the town that has “banned” plastic bags. The meat is wrapped in paper and then in a bio-degradable bag. Down the street is a hardware shop, one of those which seems to be thriving in small towns, traditional and stocking a vast range of products. The “Plymouth Co-operative Society”, emblazoned down a wall in relief, is now a trendy designer houseware shop, although the Co-op still is trading further down the street.
Challaborough – By mid-afternoon the sun is blazing in a blue sky and flashing off the sea. Warships are heading towards the Devonport naval base near Plymouth. Yachts still pass every now and again, as does an occasional Gannet, otherwise the sea is quiet. The tide is out and many rock pools have been left. Whilst Maddy chases her ball I poke around in the wrack and see tiny fish dash out and disappear in a flash. Young Herring Gulls still strut along the water’s edge. On several occasions dogs try to jump over the gentle breakers approaching the shore. One small Labrador is deeper in the water and surfs in on a wave. Throughout the day the light changes, both the sky and, of course, as it reflected in the sea. As evening falls, two Cormorants fish just off shore.
Tuesday 6th October – Challaborough – Dawn is grey and wild. The tide is in and waves roll onto the beach. A thick sea mist hangs over Burgh Island but is slowly lifting. Groups of gulls sail overhead. A few Cormorants pass by far out at sea. As the morning progresses the mist lifts and then lowers again. Gannets are passing low over the sea. The tide recedes and the motley crew of gulls gathers where the stream flows into the sea. Breakers send spray over the rocks at the base of Warren Point and along the bottom of the cliffs.
Kingsbridge – A town on the Kingsbridge Estuary according to the map, but the inlet is not an estuary as no large river flows into it, but is properly known as a “ria” – a tidal flooded valley system. The town is made up of two medieval towns, Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke, originally a quarter of a mile apart. Kingsbridge first appears as Cinges bricge in a 962 Anglo-Saxon charter of King Edgar. The bridge appears to have connected the two Royal estates of West Alvington and Chillington. Kingsbridge and the lands around it passed into the possession of the Abbots of Buckfast Abbey some time after the Norman Conquest. The Abbot was granted the right to hold a market in Kingsbridge in 1219, his monks selling their produce. The road enters the town “over” the old railway. The arches of a closed tunnel are only a few feet high. To the other side of the road are the rooftops of new houses, showing how the road has been built up. We park beside the river where it emerges from under the town. A wide, muddy creek lined by boats, where gulls and Mallard squabble whilst a Little Egret stabs at the water. This is one of several Little Egrets, other having been seen in the River Avon a few miles to the west. It is funny to think that not so many years ago the sighting of a Little Egret would generate a call to BirdLine and a twitch! Now they are common estuarine birds all over the south of the country. The main shopping street rises up a hill. Like Modbury (and indeed like our local towns at home) it is a street of useful shops, including two fish shops (not like at home where decent fish is hard to obtain). The buildings are three storey, probably Georgian, and many have slate shingle fronts. One has slates of different hues of grey and red, forming patterns. The old “Reel Cinema” has an ornate clock tower dated 1875. The Shambles are a row of shops in front of a large church. A funeral is to take place shortly and a parking space for the hearse has been reserved using black traffic cones marked “Funeral”.
Challaborough – The day continues squally with the sea rolling in on breakers. A score of surfers take advantage of the conditions, riding the foam with consummate skill. Kay takes Maddy onto the beach with her football. We can hear her barking from the cottage as she dribbles the ball back to Kay. It starts to rain, but half an hour later the sun emerges. A large raptor passes over, almost certainly a Peregrine Falcon. By late afternoon the number of surfers has risen to over thirty. Two sea-anglers set up on the beach using fixed spool reels on what look like 10ft rods. None of the old “Dungee” 14 footers and ABU casting reels here! Again the light has changed and there is a luminous quality to the sea.
Wednesday 7th October – Challaborough – The waves are rolling in this morning. It is barely light but already there are six surfers taking advantage of the breakers. There are some spectacular dives, bodies flying high over the crashing foam and back into the undertow. David and I take Maddy and Freddy up over the top of the hill to Bigbury-on-Sea. Bigbury-on-Sea is a small village of modern houses, attached by road to Bigbury which is about a mile inland. In the Domesday Book it is recorded as Bicheberi, from “Bicca’s Burg”, Bicca’s Fort. It was held by Reginald de Vautortes from the Count of Mortain and was recorded as having a “Salt House” and 107 sheep. The wind has picked up. The wide sand spit leads out to Burgh Island and on the other side is a long strand where there are more surfers. The waves here are far longer but not so high as in Challaborough bay. A rocky outcrop has a shaft rising from it. As we return it starts to rain.
Salcombe – A delightful town laying in the estuary down from Kingsbridge, just in from the coast. It seems that every piece of the extensive mudflats contains a boat, big or small, expensive or less so. The bright orange of the lifeboat, RNLIB “Baltic Exchange III” gleams through the torrential rain. Salcombe looks the archetypical Devon fishing port, rising steeply up the hillside. Salcombe was the last town in Devon to hold out against the forces of Parliament during the Civil War. Indeed, Sir Edmund Fortescue obtained generous terms of surrender – he and his men marched out with drums beating and colours flying; officers kept their arms and the men had three months to make their peace with Parliament or leave England. Salcombe continued life as a typical small fishing village until the late 18th century when the ship building industry developed , employing over 200 men by the mid 19th century. Also by this time Salcombe was an important port. During the year 1848, 16,723 tons of cargo was landed (mainly consisting of coal, timber, groceries and fruit). In the same period the town despatched over 7000 tons of locally produce – corn, flour, malt, potatoes, slate and cider. The splendid Victorian houses in the town were built for the ship and shipyard owners. Trade fell away during the latter part of the 19th century as steam driven, steel hulled ships took the trade. However, development of the town was reignited by the arrival of the railway in 1893. Narrow streets contain sailmakers, chandlers and boat builders, but many more designer clothes shops. But there are other shops, what I refer to as “useful” - butchers, bakers, beer and sweets, and not forgetting the fish shop selling crab sandwiches. There are alleyways and steps leading up to the higher part of the town. The “Flying Friers” mobile fish and chip shop is busy. Along the road, there is juxtaposition of “The Chocolate Academy” and Dental Surgery which raises a smile. A loft crosses a path, dated 1827. The Lifeboat house is now a museum as the lifeboat is, as mentioned, tied up at a pontoon. A statue of what seems to be Hermes adorns the wall outside. Throughout the town many roof tops and gables are covered by spikes or wires to keep the gulls off.
Challaborough – The tide is now out. It is not a particularly expansive beach, the sea bed must drop away fairly quickly. There are still several dozen surfers in the water. A Rock Pipit alights on the wall of the garden. Several Swallows pass. As night falls, the sea calms and become flat, yet still a few wet-suited hopefuls look out to sea waiting for a wave that is not coming tonight.
Thursday 8th October – Challaborough – The difference in the seascape is remarkable. Today there is no surf, just slightly rippling sea with gentle waves breaking a few feet from the shore. A carload of hopeful surfers drives away in disappointment. The dawn sun catches the Burgh Island Hotel and the Pilchard Inn making them glow like brass. A young Wheatear lands on the garden edge.
Home – Bit of a depressing end to the holiday, came home to find Jill, the Light Sussex hen, had died. She was not looking good when we went away – she did not seem to recover after her bout of broodiness – but I thought she would pick up.
Friday 9th October – Mortimer Forest – Rain has been been forecast but has yet to materialise. Off along the track at Hazel Coppice and then up through the woods. Dry leaves and twigs crunch underfoot. There is an occasional squeak or chirp from one of the Tit family, otherwise it is quiet. A path leads up to the triangulation point. The distant hills are misty. Three birds chase across the open ground and then up into a Larch. Picked up in the binoculars they resolve into three Crossbills including a gorgeous pink-orange male. Far below to the west is Downton Castle, built in the 1770s by Richard Payne Knight, who Pevsner describes as “virtuoso, archaeologist, anthropologist in his way, prolific writer and bad poet”. The building is an asymmetrical mansion with castellations. His brother Thomas lived here. He was a prolific plant breeder, especially peas, cabbages and strawberries. The latter, the Downton strawberry, formed the basis for most modern varieties. His studies of peas matched that of Gregor Mendel, but he failed to develop the scientific theories that Mendel achieved.
Monday 12th October – Llanthony – Up the Vale of Ewyas which runs from Llanfihangel Crucorney, a village on the Hereford-Abergavenny road up to Gospel Pass beneath Hay Bluff, the road continuing into Hay-on-Wye. The valley, through the Black Mountains, has been carved by the River Honddu and its lower reaches are covered by farmland and trees, many of which are turning golden as autumn progresses. Llanthony derives its name from Llan-dewi-nant-honddu, meaning “an enclosure (or church) of David on Honddu”. Tradition maintains that David, the patron saint of Wales, lived here in a cell for some time in the 6th century. In the late 11th century, during the the reign of William Rufus, William de Lacy, a relative of Hugh de Lacy, the Earl of Ewyas, came across the ruined chapel of St David whilst out hunting. He appears to have had an epiphany as he stayed in Llanthony as a hermit in a cell. In 1103, Ernisius, chaplain to Princess Matilda, daughter of Henry I, went to find William and stayed with him. Together built a chapel, dedicated in 1108 and on receiving the lands of the manors of Cwmyoy and Oldcastle from Hugh de Lacy and with the sanction of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, they started building a priory. The original priory was finished around 1120 with Ernisius as the first Prior. The priory became an Augustinian house.
By 1135 there were forty canons in residence but attacks by the Welsh drove them out of the valley and they established a second priory, Llanthony Secunda, in Gloucestershire. Around 1186, another Hugh de Lacy endowed the estate with funds to rebuild the church at the priory in the Vale of Ewyas and this was done by 1217 and dedicated to St Mary, St John the Baptist and St Florence. A new gatehouse was built in 1325 and the priory was one of the great mediaeval buildings of Wales. Edward II stayed there on Palm Sunday, 4th April 1327 after having been deposed by Isabella and Roger Mortimer and being taken from Kenilworth Castle to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where he was subsequently murdered. By the early 15th century the priory was much diminished and was formally merged with Llanthony Secunda in 1481, both houses being suppressed by during the Dissolution in 1538. The buildings steadily decayed and fell in the following centuries. The cloister buildings are now a hotel, the end being a tower abutting the outer parlour of the nave of the great church. A number of walls remain giving a good idea of what a fine building stood here. The church of St David lays near the priory. It was probably built in the 13th century, allegedly on the site of Hugh and Ernisius’ original chapel. It is a solidly built sanctuary with thick walls. Fine wooden beam roof covers both the nave and chancel. A worn Norman font stands opposite the porch. The orientation of the alter is towards the rising sun on St David’s Day, 1st March. (The orientation of the abbey church was towards the rising sun on 24th June, St John the Baptist’s Feast Day). The chancel walls are covered with memorials from the 18th and 19th centuries. One merrily entreats the reader:
The “owners” of the plaque, however, Thomas and Susan Lewis, dying in the 1850s reached the respectable ages of 77 and 75 respectively. The altar rails are Jacobian. Near the porch is a fairly modern stained glass window not mentioned in the guide but seems to dedicated to St David and “three Matthew Knights of this parish”. Kelly’s Directory of 1901 records Matthew Knight as being the hotelier. We continue up the Vale of Ewyas and through Gospel Pass where the road surface is being replaced. Beyond, old Radnorshire lies in sunshine.
Wednesday 14th October – Mortimer Forest – From the Vinnalls car park trails lead into the forest. A loud tapping comes from overhead where a Nuthatch is standing on an Oak branch hammering at a nut it has jammed into it. A sudden roar envelopes the hills as an RAF Hercules transport aircraft skims the treetops. The track passes above Peelies Pond which looks muddy and discoloured. The wide gravel Forestry Commission track runs along the hillside under High Vinnalls. Below is the bed of a dried up stream. A flock of finches flies overhead, probably Redpoll from the calls. The track comes to a junction. One path leads off round Aston Copse, another up towards Brush Wood and my path heads down towards the hamlet of Pipe Aston. At the edge of the wood, a field heads westwards. A house is hidden in the woods – Juniper Cottage according to the 1888 map. Someone is hanging a bright red blanket over the railings to air. An old Oak stands in magnificent solitude in the field. A sunken, stony path then climbs up Juniper Hill. It emerges from the dark woods into a sunlit Aston Common on top of the hill. Ravens croak from the woods. The track continues around the hill, but a smaller path goes straight ahead and drops down to Pitch Coppice. It is damp and muddy underfoot – a change from the dry, dusty paths which make up the majority of the trails at the moment. There are numerous deer hoof-prints in the mud. Crossbills are calling loudly from above but remain out of sight. The trails runs around the edge of Pitch Coppice and then joins the road. Beside the road, heading back towards Ludlow are two sites of the Mortimer Geological Trail, firstly a quarry showing the Much Wenlock Limestone Formation of alternating layers of limestone and mudstone and secondly, another quarry with the Uppermost Much Wenlock Limestone Formation consisting of nodular limestone.
Friday 16th October – Leominster – It is interesting how knowledge changes ones visual perception of a well-known sight. I attended the Leominster Historical Society last night to hear a talk by Dr Nigel Baker, an Urban Archeologist, on “New Insights on Mediaeval Leominster”. His insights seemed to raise more questions than answers. He recalled that a large piece of Samianware had been found near Bargates and evidence of Roman iron-working found on the Focus site, yet nothing else was known about Roman activity here. He displayed a map showing the old town fortifications, they ran along our back garden wall, round through Waverley House, now a nursing home and across Etnam Street at the pedestrian crossing. He showed a photograph in which a slight hump in the road was visible, the remains of the wall and ditch. I had, of course, never noticed this before. He discussed the origins of Corn Square. It had been thought that the mediaeval market was L-shaped, running down what is now High Street and Drapers Lane to a crossroads made of West Street, High Street, South Street and a street that ran out eastwards along what is now a passage, Grange Walk. This last street was superseded by Etnam Street at a later date. However, Dr Baker believes that Corn Square is a later development; his ideas based on what happened in other local towns and the fact that the plots behind the north side buildings in Corn Square do not follow the pattern of the rest of the plots. Another question he posed was regarding the size of the Minster precincts. The Priory and Minster were, until well past the Conquest, the most important religious buildings in the region. There is a fairly obvious large square area that takes in the Grange and would have been defined northwards by the now dried-up Pinsley Brook, but was this the original precinct or was it actually smaller forming a semi-circle around the west of the site? So there is much to ponder on as I wander around the circuit of the Minster with Maddy, who merely ponders on her ball and the scent of rabbits. A couple of Tawny Owls tuit around the site. There have been a few Redwings around but none this morning.
Croft – Off down the track towards the Fishponds. The silence is broken by the constant pitter-patter of leaves falling like golden snow flakes. The track is carpeted by green, gold and yellow leaves. Down in the valley Wrens tick, a Robin sings fitfully and Moorhens bob across the water. At the last pool a wicker frame forms a strainer for the overflow. An old iron pipe takes water (although the level is too low currently) to a stream on the other side of the dam. A huge tree has fallen across the stream, its disk of soil and roots towering in the air. An indistinct path climbs beside Croft Lodge past a line of Yews which seem to be only 30-50 years old. The path joins a track of old cobbles running through the woods. The ground is covered in copper and verdigris with leaves from the magnificent old Beeches and moss. Maddy is on squirrel patrol and hurtles off into the woods to emerge some time later, wild-eyed and panting heavily. The track passes a quarry with a tall grey face of stone cut into the side of Highwood Bank. A few species of fungi are present – some old Honey Fungus on a stump and the occasional boletus.
Wednesday 21st October – Mortimer Forest – We take an afternoon walk up the track from Hazel Coppice. It has been raining and everywhere is glistening. The hills are dark, the conifers cloaking them will remain green, but there are spots of gold, copper, red and yellow where deciduous trees are marking the rapidly changing seasons. Wraiths of mist drift across the tree tops on Juniper Hill, vanishing in seconds.
Friday 23rd October – Leominster – The long dry period is now truly over. The morning walk is dark; stars twinkle in the vaguely lightening sky. How Maddy is managing to chase and catch her ball is an even greater mystery than before – I can hardly see her down the park, never mind the ball! Back home, as it gets lighter, mist drifts up off the shrubbery.
Monday 26th October – Leominster – A short reprise from the dark mornings. The clocks have “gone back”, British Summertime is over so it is lighter when Maddy goes out for her morning constitutional. Some Dabinett variety of cider apples remains on the tree in the Millennium park. Possibly enough for another gallon of cider, but we will see when they fall. Conference pears have fallen in the car-park – many are spoiled but there are a few worth retrieving.
Titterstone Clee – It is bright and windy up on the top of Titterstone Clee. The views are stunning! Raven and Carrion Crows are riding the updraughts from the northern edge of the hill. The quarrying has made the whole area difficult to interpret from a prehistoric perspective. However, there appears to be a clear circular, flattened mound quite near to one of the radar “balls”, possibly one of the Bronze Age cairns recorded here. At the triangulation point there is another mound of stones, but I am now sure the stone enclosure that is recorded as Bronze Age is relatively modern. A Kestrel glides past, head down surveying the land and ignoring the small flock of twittering Meadow Pipits that are mobbing it. Carrion Crows are playing together – there is no other word for it! One has a small round object, maybe a pebble which it drops and then plunges down after it. Far below the village of Bitterley lays peacefully and beyond Ludlow, the church of St Laurence and the castle merging into one from this distance. Beyond that is the Mortimer Forest, the open, cleared expanse of High Vinnall dun coloured, whilst Bringewood is conifer dark green. Down the steep slope above the car park, once where the railway ended, beside one of a number of massive old quarries that have disfigured this hill. It is an interesting dichotomy – it would have been wonderful if the hill had remained pristine, although does one count the Bronze Age cairns and Iron Age fort as disfigurements? Or is the extensive quarrying with its strange, abandoned remains of buildings and other relics all a valid and necessary part of its history? Which then brings one to the question, are the modern buildings of the Air Traffic Control a continuation of that history and as much a part of the hill now as the grazing sheep?
Wednesday 28th October – Bredwardine – A village in the west of Herefordshire, lying beneath the range of hills that separates the Golden Valley from the Wye valley. We approach the village via a beautiful multi-arched bridge over the Wye. The bridge was constructed in the mid-18th century. Just before the village is a large house with enormous chimney stacks up its side, built in dark stone – The Old Court, parts of which date from the 1380s. We park in the village and walk past the old coaching inn, the Red Lion, dating from the late 17th century and up to St Andrews church. There is a square tower attached to the northern side of the church dating from 1790, probably built on an earlier, possibly Norman tower. The porch leads to the main door which has a massive tufa (a soft limestone which here has been weathered red-brown) lintel which is intricately carved with rosettes. Inside the church is a huge Norman font, a plain stone bowl on a central column with four supporting legs. The lower part of the wall on the north of the nave shows early Norman herringbone masonry. Either side of the altar are monuments, to the north an effigy of a knight from the late 14th century whose face has been smashed off. To the south, an alabaster effigy of Sir Roger Vaughan. He fell at the Battle of Agincourt where his father-in-law, Dafydd (Davy) Gam also fell, both being knighted as they lay mortally wounded on the field of victory by King Henry V. On the north side of the church is a blocked door with another tufa lintel, this time carved with bizarre creatures, one seems to be bird-headed man and the other is, according to Pevsner, with a monkey’s head. However, the creature has obvious breasts and the large ears could be a head-dress. The legs are spread apart but the area between them has been damaged which suggests it may have been a Sheela-Na-Gig. In the graveyard is the grave of Francis Kilvert, a noted Victorian diarist, who was minister here from November 1877 until his death on September 23rd 1879, at the early age of 38. Beyond the church are the rather indistinct earthworks of Bredwardine castle. The manor was granted to John de Bredwardine. Bredwardine means “village on a steep bank”. The castle was erected some time in the second half of the 12th century. By 1277 it was in the hands of the Baskervilles and then Hugh de Lacy. It was rebuilt as a fortress during the Anarchy (the wars between Stephen and Maud in the mid-12th century) but was dismantled by the end of the century. The ruins passed into the hands of the Vaughans, and Roger Vaughan converted the ruins into a house in 1639.
Dorstone – From Bredwardine we headed up Dorstone Hill. A narrow road runs along the summit where Arthur’s Stone, a multi-chambered Neolithic burial chamber. It consists of nine upright stones supporting a capstone weighing an estimated 25 tonnes. The whole would have been covered by an earthen mound. Legend records this is the grave of a giant killed by King Arthur. It is likely to have been used as a family tomb for an important chief. It has never been excavated. Down the hill and into the village of Dorstone. The name is interesting. It is quoted in the Domesday Book as Torchestone, which suggests a root Torhtsige, changing to Dor- because of the River Dore which flows through the village. Alternatively, the Dor- element could point to the Old English Dëorsigingatün, the farm of Dëorsige’s people. Littlebury’s Directory and Gazetteer of Herefordshire, 1876-7 considered it came from “Arthur’s Stone is a corruption of Thor-Stein, the Stone of Thor, or Thor’s Altar, from which also the parish takes its name, Thorstein, or Dorstone”. The village has expanded with a good number of 20th century houses. The church of St Peter was largely rebuilt in 1889, spoiling what was a fine Norman church said to have been built in the 12th century by Ricardus de Brito, as an atonement for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket. One is disgusted to learn that the gem of the church, a late 13th century pewter chalice and paten, found in a tomb thought to be that of Johannes de Brito who died in 1275, which was accidentally broken into during the rebuilding, was stolen in 2005 and never recovered. The River Dore is a small stream running through a stone channel in the centre of the village. One old house has an ancient mini-van outside along with a large old grinding wheel. On the village green is what looks like the old village pump housing and a strange sundial which does not seem to face the sun! Beyond the Village Hall is a field containing the motte of Dorstone Castle, built in the 12th by the de Sollers family. In 1403, Henry IV gave the castle to Sir Walter Fitzwalter and requested he strengthen it against raids by Owain Glyndŵr. In the early 15th century, Richard de la Mare, a hero of Agincourt owned the castle. It is possible that King Charles I took refuge here for one night for Symonds in his Diary tells us that on “Wednesday 17th September (1645) the whole army mett (sic) at a rendevous upon Arthurstone Heath neare Durston Castle, com. Hereford; and from thence his majestie marched to Hom. Lacy the seat of the Lord Viscount Scudamore.” Lord Scudamore was a supporter of the Royalist cause. Up the street is an old spring or well housed in a small brick building recently refurbished.
Peterschurch – We stop briefly in this Golden Valley village, but the church is being converted into a “community resource” and we cannot enter! There seems little else of interest in the main street, apart from a quaint little house called “Shoestring Cottage”.
Saturday 31st October – Langsett Moors – In Yorkshire for the weekend, up early and onto the moors. Down the track from Lower Midhopestones and into the woods, Thickwoods, the track being Thickwoods Lane. The dark green of the conifers is splashed with the copper and gold of young Beeches and Birches. It is very wet after night rain. Blue Tits are chirping and from the distance comes the “Go Back, Be quick, Be quick Be quick” of Red Grouse. Langsett reservoir is low, large areas of exposed mud show the layers of mud on peat that have been laid down over the years. It is a nice demonstration of how mudstones are created. A leafless Rowan tree hangs over the feeder stream, heavy with crimson berries. The track crosses the stream via a stone bridge, which may be at Foul Carr Cote, although it is not easy to recognise the old map features as the reservoir was not constructed until the turn of the century. Indeed, the 1906 map shows the reservoir as “under construction”. The track then rises between the moors and the edge of the conifer plantation, through Ford Carr. The surface is rough where the soil that once levelled the stones forming the base has been washed out over the years by rain. A deep ditch runs down the edge of the track, several feet down as the soft peat is easily carved by water. Small clouds of flies hover above the track and the occasional day-flying moth flits by. Maddy is fascinated by the numerous Red Grouse that fly up in front of her. She also stands and stares at the sheep and is clearly tempted to round some up but she obeys my commands to return to me. The track reaches the open moors at the ruins of a farm – North America – now a jumble of stones, just a couple of courses high and a few large gritstone door posts standing erect like standing stones. Mist hangs over the far hills and bubbles up from the valleys. Much work has been done on the paths across Hindcliffe Common towards Mickelden Edge. I decide not to head down the hillside towards the edge but take the grouse’s advice and “go back”. A hazy sunshine clears the mist rapidly. Back on Thickwoods Lane, Jays screech from Town Head, Chaffinches pink in the tress and a Blackbird is muttering in the undergrowth.
Penistone – An afternoon walk down Green Lane and up Castle Lane at Castle Green. Dark stone houses, maybe looking a little foreboding but solid against the Pennine winters stand beside the lane. One is Shepherd’s Castle, maybe the origin of the name of the area, for there is no sign of any other castle here. Just beyond Gladstone View the road crosses a stone bridge, mainly a large wall of stone down from either side of the road with a small tunnel underneath where Sove Dike, from a south-westerly direction flows and becomes Castle Dike. Just beyond is a hidden pond called “Kirkwood or Hawksworth Dam” on the 1851 map. A footpath runs north-east along the route of Castle Dike. Fields are lined by gritstone walls, emerald green with lichen. An old quarry lies across the stream, not shown on the old map but seems to be present on the 1894 one. The path passes under the old Sheffield-Manchester line, now part of the Trans-Pennine Trail which I join and head back towards the town. Goldfinches chatter in bushes. A path takes me into the town centre by the church. Opposite the church is a large stone building, now a chemists, with large arched windows all round, some bricked up with stone blocks. This was the “Cloth Hall”, built in 1763 for the trading of cloth made by the many local weavers. A narrow ginnel runs beside the hall and another building, that being probably the oldest house in Penistone, John Parkin’s House built in 1726, as evidenced by a foundation stone marked with a “P” and that date. Pillars on the side of the house down the ginnel indicate that once the main entrance would have been here, but was blocked off when the Cloth Hall was built. Opposite is the “Rose and Crown” pub. A tale tells of the verger and Town Crier, James “Pot Oil” Ashton who after a drink in this pub vanished, never to be seen again. All that was left behind was his bell!