October 2009


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 Spideratmospheric 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 Burgh Islandhundred 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 Funeralthe 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 Salcombesurrender – 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 fewWheatear 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. HotelLlanthony 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 PriorySecunda, 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 Roofchurch. 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 Fieldhamlet 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.

Quarry Woods

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