Friday – Bodenham Lakes – Rain slants down like stair-rods. The place is deserted. On the lakes a few Mallard drift. Round to the bird hide where opening the window results in a wet shelf. A single Teal is sifting the mud in a pool on the scrape. A Mallard is head down in a deeper pool. At the far end a few Mute Swans are on the water doing nothing. Mist and clouds drift across Howe Wood. Sheep are once again in the orchard, but most are sheltering in the hedge that runs down the field. I gather a few apples from different trees, then head back to the car, dripping.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – Strong sunlight filters through the conifers although thick mists are not far away. The recent heavy rain has encouraged an outburst of fungi all over the forest floor. Numerous specimens of the Russula family are present, along with puff balls – Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum and Mosaic Puffball, Calvatia utriformis with its strange pyramidal scales and weirder species, Jelly Antler, Calocera viscosa, a bright yellow fungus looking like antlers growing out of a stump, the Grey Coral Fungus, Clavulina cinera, a dense mass of white branches growing on the thick layer of rotting pine needles and a Common Stinkhorn, Phallus impudicus, which is still all white but already attracting flies. Many conifer branches are decorate with cedar-red cones. Jays are screeching, hidden by the trees with one, just occasionally breaking cover and flying silently overhead. A Common Buzzard is calling from Hanway Common. As the path drops towards the pool at the top of the valley, there is a sudden change of scenery – the hillside up towards Haye Park House has been cleared of conifers. Wood Pigeons coo and rise and fall in parabolic flight, clapping their wings. Corvids pass over, Ravens cronking, Carrion Crows croaking and Jackdaws chacking.
Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – Cloud rests on Dinmore Hill. Here the day is still and the lakes reflect the grey sky with just the slightest drift of ripples. Mute Swans and Coots feed, a Grey Heron stands erect and motionless on the far bank. In the distance, Rooks and Jackdaws are noisy and there is an annoying alarm repeating. The hedges are becoming evermore colourful with yellow, gold, copper and bronze leaves, red hips and haws and still much green of many shades. A Kestrel sits on wires over the orchard, silhouetted against the luminous sky, hunched as it surveys the grass beneath it. A Robin sits in an Alder and watches before bursting into song. The bells of St Michael’s toll the hour. Jays are active – one flies over the meadows towards the lakes, another sits briefly on a fence post near the road before slipping away into the anonymity of the woods. The water level has risen covering most of the mud on the scrape. There are no Canada Geese present, which accounts for the lack of noise! A flight of ten Mallard drop down onto the water, followed by another eight a few minutes later. Ten Cormorants are in the trees on the island. The peace is broken by the arrival of a pair of Canada Geese, although they do fall silent once they have landed. A pair of Jays fly across in front of the hide. Most of the trees in the dessert apple orchard have dropped their fruit now, but a lot of the cider apples are still clustered thickly on their tree’s branches.
Friday – Hergest Ridge – The ridge is cloaked in cloud. Visibility is maybe 100 yards. Trees are dark shapes in the enveloping greyness. Sheep are spread right across the common rather than the usual large flock on the summit. The car noise from the A44 way below is intrusive. The wind strength increases with altitude but it is not blowing the mist away. Frequent outcrops of stone through the turf indicates that the common is a very thin veneer over the Devonian shales below. A sandpiper pipes loudly as it flies across the hillside. It begins to get lighter and maybe the sun will break through, but soon it turns gloomier again. I intend to head down the southern flank but finding the path when there are no reference points is difficult. Off down a green track between the gorse, which is, as ever, flowering yellow. I have no idea where I am headed, so a quick check with the compass shows the path is swinging eastwards. I reckon it may be the old racecourse and sure enough it swings right around to join the Offa’s Dyke path again. So it is off down the track back to Kington.
Monday – Bodenham Lakes – The sky is mainly obscured by clouds but the weather forecaster has promised sunshine. Long before they are visible, Canada Geese can be heard coming in from the east. Eventually six fly over cackling loudly. The Mute Swan family are feeding on the lake. Five Wigeon glide across the water. Coots bob and squawk. Along the meadow where a Green Woodpecker flies out of the lakeside Silver Birches and over to the woods. It alights upon a large trunk and immediately starts climbing up, searching for insects. From the hide, the six Canada Geese are swimming serenely around the island. There are nineteen Cormorants in the trees on the island and a further five on the raft. Back to the meadow. A Kestrel sits on the telegraph wires (which, of course, they are not – probably electricity nowadays). I miss it dropping down into the long grass by a hedge but see it lift off and across the upper meadow. I take a photograph of the departing bird and subsequent viewing reveals a small brown bundle in its claws. The sun has emerged and it is turning into a beautiful autumn day.
Tuesday – Bircher Common – There is an autumnal chill to the air. The leaves are now turning brown, gold, yellow and red much more widespread. The Robins sing a wistful melody of passing summer. An odd grunting comes from a path through the bracken near the pond and a pair of brown pigs wander across. The right of “pannage”, allowing pigs to feed on autumn acorns, is rarely exercised these days. The river plain of the Lugg and Arrow is misty, the distant hills a dark shadow. Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeons and smaller species, probably finches, sit at the top of the trees in Oaker Coppice. A small herd of ponies crops the grass under the eaves of the wood. These woods host numerous fungi, including some Blackening Russula (Russula nigricans), Bare-toothed Russula (Russula vesca), Granulated Boletus (Suillus granulatus) plus several unidentified species. Back down on the common, a mixed flock of Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits and Goldcrests dance and squeak through a Hawthorn. Small flocks of Starlings and Chaffinches fly over. A Song Thrush feasts on the red berries of a small Yew. A flock flies over, silhouetted against the tin sky but says winter thrushes. Further down there are a pair of Redwings at the top of a tree. More mixed tit flocks twitter along hedgerows. A Yellowhammer sits on a Hawthorn and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flies over. Back past a row of pollarded Ash trees, a number with rotted, hollowed-out bases to their trunks.
Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – A pale pewter sky greets a cool morning. Redwings are skittish, flying to and fro from the tops of trees, always watching. A Pied Wagtail flies over calling. From the lakes comes the occasional quack of Mallard or explosive kowk of a Coot. A Robin sings, Blue Tits chatter. The lakes seem to be deserted apart from a few Mute Swans, Coot and Mallard. The couple of dozen Cormorants of a few days ago have all departed. No Canada Geese to disturb the quiet. A single Grey Heron flies across the lake. Paul Evans reminded us in his Guardian column that the heron’s proper name Ardea cineria comes from the legend described in Ovid as translated by George Sandys in 1632 – “Aeneas hauing ouerthrowne the Rutilians, with the slaughter of Turnus, sets Ardea his regall Citty, on fire; from whose ashes, a meagre Heron ascended.” It is fitting that the Grey Heron, in many ways a bird that seems so primeval, should have such a legend attached to it.
Friday – Norton Camp – From Craven Arms a path crosses the River Onny, its bubbling waters gin clear via a white-painted iron bridge then crosses over a field. Above are grey skies and a slight mist hazes the hills. The day has an autumnal coolness. The path crosses another bridge, this one small and wooden over a stream a little more than a ditch, then up into a field of cows who stand and stare. Out of the field and along a farm track to Whettleton, which is mainly the farm and associated cottages. Whettleton was once a thriving village. In 1645, there was a Civil War skirmish when Parliamentarian forces attacked a larger Royalist unit, killed Sir William Croft and took several hundred prisoners. The Three Woods Walk heads south along a small lane, past a modern half-timbered house which has been finished well and fits into the landscape. A path now starts to climb to Norton Camp. The path is sunken some eight feet below the surrounding fields indicating age. A maple spreads overhead, its leaves are black-spotted with the fungal infection, Tar Spot. The path enters the wood and joins a much broader track that runs under the eaves of the trees. Craven Arms lays on the plain below whilst above is dense woodland. Maddy manages to drop her ball under the fence and down the slope on the edge of the wood. A suitable hole under the fence is eventually found and she is sent back to retrieve her pride and joy.
The path narrows and climbs. There are breaks in the trees which reveal wonderful views of Callow Hill, beginning of Wenlock Edge at Berrymill Wood and Long Mynd beyond. Several flocks of gulls glide overhead. The wind rises and leaves pitter-patter down. Pheasants are being reared on the hilltop and their cries are everywhere. Common Buzzards drift slowly over far above the trees of Nortoncamp Wood The camp has what seems like several rings of banks and ditches but the dense woodland makes viewing and understanding them difficult. The actual area of the interior of the camp is very large, a D-shape some 350 metres across enclosing some 13 acres, but it has been cultivated and is inaccessible. It was occupied from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age - 2350 BCE to 42 CE. A legend of two giants records that one giant lived on View Edge (to the south-west of here) and the other at Norton Camp. It is said that they were brothers, and they shared the rich land between them, and also a vast amount of money they had collected. This money was kept in a huge strong oak chest, deep within the dark vaults of Stokesay Castle, which is between the two hills. When one of the giants wanted some money he would have to obtain the key from his brother, who would throw it across the valley. One day, a careless throw resulted in the key falling into the moat and it has been lost ever since. Back down to the track which has been recently paved with lumps of local limestone from the Ludlow Series, Aymestry group of Silurian limestone. Tree felling is taking place on the slopes. The track heads south. Ravens play in the air high above, several dozen or more. More Common Buzzards drift out of the woods to circle the fields below. A noisy Nuthatch is searching a Sweet Chestnut for food. The track joins Rotting Lane which drops down to a lane which runs parallel to the A44, possibly the original road through here. The road joins the A44 but fortunately there is a footpath. A bridge crosses the River Onny beside a large weir with a concrete fish ladder. Just beyond is Stokesay Castle. Over the road is a path through the river meadows to take us back to the Visitor Centre. Blue Meadows Cranesbills and pink Common Mallows rise out of the long green grass.
Sunday – Hergest Croft – A large house and gardens on the way up to Hergest Ridge from Kington. The house was designed by Richard Drew and built in 1895. The Banks family acquired the estate in 1912. The house was requisitioned during World War II in 1940 and used for a relocated school. It then became an extension of Lady Hawkins School, Kington and finally housed the Herefordshire Archives until it was released back to the family in 1972. It is now five flats. The gardens are open to the public and there is a plant fair today. There are numerous specimen trees in the gardens and they are just beginning to turn into the glorious colours of autumn. A fine Weeping Beech stands near the main path down the gardens. Another path leads to a croquet lawn surrounded by carefully clipped Yew hedges. A large kitchen garden has some lovely old espaliered pears and a hedge of apple trees. The vegetable beds make me jealous, although the owners have a fair sized force of gardeners to maintain the gardens!
Monday – Croft – Leaves lay thickly carpeting the ride down to Fish Pool Valley. However, there are many, many more to fall yet. It is overcast and cool. A Nuthatch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker are calling in the trees at the top of the ride. Down the bottom, by the lakes, tit flocks are noisily moving through the trees. Over and up the other side of the valley the ground is copper with Beech leaves with the verdigris of mosses peeping through in small patches. The small quarry is also copper with leaves. Large patches of Clouded Agaric, Clitocybe nebularis, a fungus with mixed reports on its edibility, some say it makes an excellent dish, others that it causes gastric upsets, are growing at the foot of the grey limestone faces in the deep leaf litter. Up the forestry trail to the top path and along to the Keeper’s Cottage. More Nuthatches are noisily searching the trees. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. Cattle are laying down peacefully chewing their cud. The Lugg-Arrow valley is misty with patches of thicker fog. The red silk wrapping has been removed from the dead tree in the field above the car park.
Thursday – Queenswood Country Park – A sharp overnight frost has cleared. The glow of red leaves can be seen from afar – the Acers are coming into full glory as the sugars build up in their leaves turning them many shades of yellow, gold, crimson and maroon. Other trees are following suit although few can match the intense colour of the maples. I have forgotten Maddy’s ball so I get a new one from the shop. It is large, heavy and a bit painful on the toes when kicking it, but Maddy is happy, tail in the air as her huge mouth wraps around her new ball. A Silver Birch is, like many, infected with the fungus Birch Polypore, which is why it is unusual to see a very old tree of this species. Through the trees near the road the sun falls on a stand of pale grey trunks, quite beautiful despite the muteness of the colours.
Friday – Titterstone Clee – Threatening clouds cover the western sky. Up the path, past the great quarry, to the plateau of Titterstone Clee. The radar dishes are motionless, are they out of commission? Ravens tumble in the wind off the northern edge. An occasional Meadow Pipit flies over, squeaking. Far below in the orange bracken, sheep are white dots. The hills to the north look gloomy, to the east the Malverns are dark and brooding and to the south sunlight lights the mist that lays in the valleys, black hills rising above. The wind is strong and chilling. The sun shines down on Ludlow, the castle rising at the far end of the town which it has protected for so many centuries. Small villages are dotted in the fields to the north before the land rises, first for Wenlock Edge then the great hills of South Shropshire. It is time to get out of this wind and descend to the scarred lower slopes again.
Wednesday – Winsley – Through Hope-Under-Dinmore and village and out along Winsley lane. Past a farm, The Bury, a fine farmhouse and barns of stone and wood. A flock of mainly white geese and ducks waddle off noisily as Maddy approaches, although she just looks. A Pied Wagtail walks along the roof of one of the barns. Goldfinches chatter in the orchard. Rooks caw on hillside. Sun beats down on wet roads and it is getting quite mild. The road bends past the farm and starts rising. The field to the north contains ancient apple trees, some just dried out trunks, others clearly dying and a few with crops of small bitter-sweets for cider. On the far hillside is an orchard in better order and apples are being “swept up” and loaded onto trailers. The lane runs through the tiny hamlet of Woodmanton, which consists of a house called Lower Woodmanton and Woodmanton itself, a terrace of three cottages. Roadside Hawthorns are draped with Old Man’s Beard. Various members of the maple family are displaying leaves of yellow, red, gold, and bronze. The road begins to level out along the top of the ridge. To the north, the land drops into a valley and then rises to Winsley Hill. Meadows and fields of maize lay either side with large numbers of Pheasants croaking loudly and flying up from the lane side. Cold Oak Farm lies to north, Cold Ash is a cottage nearby. To the south, over fields, are Plock Woods, then a valley with Friar’s Grove, Dingle Coppice, Orling Coppice on the far slope and Upper Dinmore on the hill top. The views are magnificent, the great woods of Dinmore and beyond, over miles of farmland, The Malverns and Clee. A tractor is drawing a harrow over an already ploughed field. The lane leads on towards Westhope, but I head back, kicking the orange ball endlessly for an untiring Maddy.
Thursday – Grosmont – A village to the west of a large westwards loop of the River Monnow, lying in Gwent. Today it is a fairly quiet place with an active community (they run the local pub), but once was an important administrative centre, third only to Abergavenny and Carmarthen in South Wales. An important castle stood there, one of the Three Castles along with Skenfrith and the White Castle. We first visit the church of St Nicholas. The church was built between 1180 and 1300 with only the bell-tower and north porch being later additions. The style is Early English Gothic or Pointed. The building is in a cruciform plan, usually more associated with monastic churches rather than a parish church which gives an indication of village’s former importance. Entering the church reveals something of a surprise – the nave is a large empty area. Built around 1225-50, by Brian of Wallingford but completed by Queen Eleanor in the French manner, it has two arcades of five bays each 12 feet wide. There is still traces of plaster on the piers and arches but it has been lost completely from the walls. In the corner is a stone effigy, very crudely made, representing a warrior whose identity is unknown. It has been suggested it represents Henry Grosmont, 4th Earl of Lancaster and 1st Duke of Lancaster, a great-grandson of Henry III, but it is known he is buried at Leicester. Another theory is that it is Ralph de Grosmont, an engineer closely connected to the Three Castles. There is a record of four large Oaks being gifted to Grosmont by Henry III and these may well be those used in the roof of the nave and still present. At the east end is a screen and on passing through the door, one enters a typical Victorian church, this one the work of John Pollard Seddon. Beyond the screen is the Crossing which now acts as the nave. In the north transept is a piscina. In the south is the font, which is difficult to date, possibly a 14th century reworking of a 12th century Herefordshire goblet type. The chancel has two groups of First Pointed lancet windows from around 1205 and 1220. The east window is Victorian. The bell tower is octagonal, built in the 14th century and contains a ring of six bells cast by the Rudhall Foundry in Gloucester between 1707 and 1807.
In the main street stands the old Town Hall, built in 1838 and given to the parish council in 1902 by the Duke of Beaufort. On the ground floor is a large stone, which is known as the “Toll Stone”. There was once a custom that the first woman to place her basket on this stone on market day would be allowed to trade free of toll. Across the main street and behind the houses stands the fine ruins of the castle. It is built on a large hill, giving the place its name “Gros Mont” (although other sources say the hill referred to is Graig Syfyrddin, also known as Edmund’s Tump, a huge hill dominating the village to the south). A bridge crosses a very deep moat. Although little remains of the gatehouse, much of the curtain wall is still present along with parts of the towers and the hall. There is also a fine chimney stack, Eleanor’s Chimney, from the late 13th century. The first castle was probably built by William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford around 1070, It would have been a wooden keep and palisade. His son, Roger de Breteuil, lost his lands in 1075. The lands passed to either the de Ballun family of Abergavenny or the de Lacys of Weobley. The Marcher Lord, Pain Fitz John had acquired the land by the 12th century. It would appear the Great Hall was built around this time. In 1201 Hubert de Burgh, Justice of England held the castle and built the stone curtain wall and towers. Henry III dismissed de Burgh and took over the castle but was attacked by the Welsh in 1233 and Henry lost all his baggage and horses. Hubert de Burgh finally lost the castle in 1239. The castle became a favourite of Henry and his Queen, Eleanor “the Rose of Provence”. It is said she was the first to use the symbol of the Red Rose for the House of Lancaster. The castle was lavishly furnished for the royal visits. His son Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster took possession in 1267 and called the site “The Castle of the Red Rose”. Edmund’s grandson became Henry IV in 1399 and thus the castle was in royal hands again. Owain Glyndŵr attacked Grosmont in 1402 and razed the town. It never really recovered from this attack and the castle went into decline. The woods surrounding the castle are a delicious mixture of golds, coppers, reds and greens. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls and tits flit all around. Rain is threatening and clouds gather on Graig Syfyrddin. We retreat to The Angel, the community owned pub, for a fine lunch.
Friday – Mortimer Forest – It seems like dawn will never turn into day. Louring grey skies deny a single ray of sunlight. The woods are dank and quiet. A Jay rasps, a Blue Tit squeaks but otherwise Wood Pigeons and Crows pass over silently. Down the path into the Mary Knoll Valley. Brass coloured Beech and Birch leaves lay around copper coloured Bracken. It is thinking about raining. As I wander up the forestry trail it begins to get lighter, at ten o’clock in the morning. It is also mild and by the time I start climbing the steep path to High Vinnalls, I am sweltering and need to remove my coat. Everywhere is still relatively quiet, just the breeze rustling the leaves creating a sound like the sea on a pebbly shore. High Vinnalls is bleak. It is windy and all around the distant hills sit under heavy, loaded clouds. The whole landscape is viewed through a gauze of mist. Down near the Woodcroft junction, two Fallow Deer bound across the track and up into the woods.
Sunday – Home – The clocks have gone back, maybe for the last time as there seems to be more talk than usual about abandoning GMT and moving to CET. I am unsure, I do not like the messing around with the time that the BST and GMT changes entails, but I would rather stay with GMT. Although the morning walk with Maddy is an hour later, it is still gloomy under a grey sky. The garden still requires attention. Kay is still undertaking the epic task of clearing the far end areas. I try again to burn a bin-load of rose clippings but fail again! We have ordered new fruit trees to go in this area. They will be ready for collection in a couple of weeks. Getting to the large crop of Howgate Wonder apples high in the old tree is proving very difficult, especially with the rose, probably a Rector, growing right through the tree making it near impossible to reach the upper branches even with a ladder. I have been juicing the windfalls and freezing bottles of it. This morning a couple of demijohns of cider were bottled with just half a pint for testing purposes – of course! Broad Beans were sown yesterday – Super Aquadulce. This morning the garlic went in – Christo. Both did badly last year but perseverance is the only way!