Sunday – Leominster – The sky is cloudless. The sun blazes through a slight hazy mist. There is a decidedly autumnal chill to the air. The River Lugg’s level has fallen again and the water is clear. Mist rolls across the surface highlighted by sunbeams. Mist, glowing in the sunshine, also rises from Lammas meadows where white cattle graze. A Great Tit calls his two tone song. Robins sing intermittently. A Chiffchaff calls from the riverside trees. High pitched squeaking up at the top of Ash trees indicates some Long-tailed Tits are foraging. A pair depart like bobbing little balls with a stick attached to the end for the riverside trees. The market is not large but varied. A stall selling mugs has returned after a long break, I bought one for Jemima for Easter but it got broken so I can now replace it. Kay wants some Wallflowers and a stall has some pots of maybe five or six plants. The man tells me he cannot get bare root plants but Kay is pleased with the pots as the plants are in good condition. I look over Ridgemoor Bridge, the Pond Skaters have gone. The Wild Cherry beside the River Kenwater is turning yellow and red.
Home – I have collected another rucksack load of cider apples so cider making is underway. I collect some Howgate Wonder and Bramley apples for a neighbour and put what was a courgette in the bag, it is nearly two foot long! Conkers are falling fast now from the great Horse Chestnut tree. I still duck, quite illogically, when they bang loudly on the summerhouse roof. We sit under the vine on the patio watching a Great Spotted Woodpecker investigate a pot of dahlias before working its way up the willow, tapping loudly. Blue Tits are busy searching the Horse Chestnut.
Monday – Croft – Another cloudless morning. Sunbeams filter down through the trees. It must have been close to freezing last night and remains chilly now. Down the Fish Pool Valley. Robins sing whilst other species squeak and chatter. A Nuthatch darts overhead. The pools are dark and still. Over to the other side of the valley by the old pumping station. Up past the charcoal pit and great Beeches. On up the steep valley side. Felled Silver Birch logs are being consumed by Birch Polypore fungi, Piptoporus betulinus. More Nuthatches chatter excitedly in the tree tops. A brown capped toadstool rises out of the leaf litter, as usual I am unable to identify it but guess at one of the large cortinarius family. The climb reaches a track, part of one of the drives around the valley. It is thought the park was laid out in the 15th century but these drives, designed to tour the park by carriage were constructed as part of landscaping in the Picturesque style in the years either side of 1800, probably by Somerset Davies and possibly with some input from Richard Payne Knight. The track drops down towards the end of the valley. No water flows in the stream that runs down the valley to feed the pools. Up the commonland between Bircher Common and Lyngham Vallet. All the way up I pass between Robin territories, each with a singing male. The Bracken is high and very wet, so soon am I. Good numbers of Blue Tits are feeding high in the trees. Half a dozen Blackbirds fly across the valley, more are chuntering in the undergrowth. A Grey Squirrel calls. Jays and Ravens call from a distance. A red flash on a trunk indicates a woodpecker but then its back is exposed and the white bars means it is a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the first I have seen in many years!
Along the Forestry track, the path along the top of Lienthall Common will be far too muddy. Then up to Croft Ambrey. Wrens dart from one bramble thicket to another. The views from the hill fort are to the north fields and hills bathed in sunshine but to the south a considerable haze obscuring the countryside. Blue Tits chatter and Nuthatches call. A Red Kite soars over. Down past the pillow mounds and across the short section of mixed woodland before the cleared areas. There is a large mixed flock of Siskin, Goldcrests, Coal and Blue Tits, all twittering and dashing to and fro, never still for a moment. New fencing and gates separate the woodland from the cleared section. On down the track. I think the idea is to introduce cattle to maintain the open woodland. A good number of small fenced areas have been installed so trees can be grown safely. A barking Raven rolls in the air as it passes over. The track down from the Spanish Chestnut field to the castle had been levelled and laid with gravel, certainly makes walking down it easier. Cream coloured heifers in the orchard watch my passing. A Raven lands in the large field above the car park, then flies off with something in its bill. No Swallows or House Martins are seen, have they departed now?
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A small Spindle tree I have not noticed before in the car park has pink fruits. Off down the track. It has been a very good year for Hawthorns, their boughs are heavy with scarlet berries. A few Mallard and Coot are at the far eastern end of the lake but a large part of the water is full of Canada Geese. Again there are several hundred gabbling noisily. It looks like the cider apple orchard is being managed at long last. We collect a few dessert apples, all windfalls that are just going to rot, which seems such a shame.
Friday – Barry – I park at my hotel which is beside Cardiff airport. It is very overcast and an easterly wind is chilling. The road runs down the west side of a valley with a viaduct crossing the southern end. To the west is a runway. Meadow Pipits squeak in the grass. Lower Porthkerry Farm is a group of farm buildings and cottages. The main farmhouse dates from around 1600. Some of the farm buildings converted into homes and others still undergoing building works. Several cottages have fine thatched roofs. Down the Porthkerry lane. A flock of Swallows feeds overhead, maybe their last meal before the Bristol Channel. A raptor, maybe a Hobby, takes off and disappears across the field but my line of sight is blocked by the hedge. I look over the hedge but it has disappeared. A Great Spotted Woodpecker sits in a dead tree in the valley. Glebe (Church) Farm sits by a small green. The farmhouse is probably early 16th century and according to the listing, survives in a very complete state considering its age. It seems likely that it was built as a pre-Reformation parsonage. The listing notes the house is unusually well documented. It was first noted in the Stradling family correspondence in 1576 and is shown on the Penmark parish map of 1622. In the 1636 Glebe Terrier it is described as having three hearths. The railway line runs underneath this green and I must admit I did not even see it!
Beyond the green stands the church of St Curig. Porthkerry, Porthceri in Welsh, was once the main port of the area in Saxon times so there is every likelihood there was a church on this site and given the numerous Iron Age settlements in the district, there is likely to have been a religious centre here for many centuries. It is believed that this was the site where Robert Fitzhamon and his twelve knights landed in 1093 to ally themselves with Jestyn ap Gwrgant, king of Glamorgan, in order to help him in his struggle against his rival Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth. This church is probably 13th century whilst the tower is later, probably 15th century. It was extensively restored in 1867. On the north wall is a fine early 17th incised grave slab with excellent lettering to Reynolde Portrey who died in 1629. There is a little rood screen with linen fold carving. The font is octagonal. The organ was installed as a WWI memorial. In the church yard is a large 15th century cross with a very worn Virgin and Child on top. The church has six bells dated, 1550, two from 1695, 1879, and two added in 1950.
From the church a track leads down to a house and a footpath turns into a wood. The path drops steeply down into the foot of the valley. The path was once laid with stones with metal stays to retain steps but tree roots and time have destroyed it all and it is now lumpy and awkward. A golf course occupies the valley bottom. Up the valley stands the viaduct, built 1894-1900. It first opened in 1897 as a part of the Vale of Glamorgan Railway from Barry to Bridgend The engineer was J W Szlumper, assisted by Charles and William Szlumper;. Parts of the viaduct subsided on the 10th January 1898 and the railway had to be diverted via a loop-line until 1900. This was one of the last major masonry viaducts completed in Britain. The Vale of Glamorgan Railway became a part of the Great Western Railway in 1923. The path meets the Coastal Path behind the beach. A large bank of pale grey stone forms the top of the beach. The stones come from the cliffs, Bull Cliff, on the east side of the valley, Lavernock shales from the Jurassic, 196-200 million years ago. Whitelands Brook, here more of a ditch, empties into the sea. Steep steps climb up to the top of the cliffs and the path, neat edges and gravelled, travels along into a wide open area of mown grass, lined to the north by white modern houses. This is the far western edge of the town of Barry. Below are Bullcliff Rocks. Across the channel are the ghostly Quantock Hills in Somerset, almost lost in the mist.
The path drops down to Pebble Beach. Past some more white modern houses and apartments. In between the modern buildings are the remains of a Roman building dating from the late 3rd or very early 4th century CE. It appears that it was not finished. It was an important building as the materials are of fine quality, ceramic roof tiles instead of local slate, Lias limestone walls with alternating bands of tiles and limestone around the doors. Chips of white limestone from the Bath area have been found. The buildings use is uncertain as there is no underfloor heating that would have been present in a villa. It was possibly a guest house or similar public building.
A promenade runs along the beach to Cold Knap Point. Below the promenade, inland side, is a Victorian Lido and boating lake. Two multi-pillared shelters are below the promenade level. Tufted Duck dive in the lake. Mute Swans, gulls, mainly Lesser Black-backed juveniles and inevitably, Canada Geese are also present. Up to the top of Cold Knap Point where the views are of a grey mist sea and coast. The bedrock here is older, Carboniferous limestone of the Friars Point formation. Beyond the point is a yellow pillar topped by a Cormorant. Down from the point is a strange looking military type installation which turns out to be Cold Knap sewage pumping station. Opposite is a large Lifeguard Station which looks like it has been unused for some time. A stone watch house, built in 1860, stands on the edge of Watch House Bay.
A path leaves the bay past a wall of Ivy which is strongly and rather sickly scented. The thatched farmhouse of Cole Farm, known as Whitehouse Cottage, dating from 1560-80, is almost hidden behind the wall. It is the oldest occupied building in Barry. Up Cold Knap Way where all the houses are again painted white into The Parade where some houses have a vague hint of Arts and Crafts about them; all white of course. Suddenly the houses change to red brick! There is a long terrace of three storey houses with verandahs now nearly all enclosed usually with unsuitable modern materials. The road comes to a junction near Storehouse Point. Opposite is a pub, The Ship, a vast inter-war building. I have a much needed rest.
Off from The Ship, back to Storehouse Point. There are probably as many Carrion Crows and Jackdaws on the mud flats of the bay as there are gulls and the only wading bird is, rather ridiculously, a Little Egret, something that would have drawn birders from far around twenty years ago! A couple of wooden hulks rot on the mud. Old lime kilns are preserved at the point. Up what seems an unnamed road. The County Police, 1913, building looks like rental apartments now. Over the railway. A detour up Park Avenue where late Victorian house have front doors up a set of steep steps, offset for each pair of front doors, first flight running parallel to the garden then turning a right angle up to the door. The church of St Nicholas is now a Scouts centre. A fine cross in the graveyard was restored in 1894 by the sons and daughters of Frederick and Elizabeth Romilly. The church stands on what works have been a headlands at some point in the distant past. The original church on this site appeared on 14th navigation charts as “S. Niccola” or “Sannicola”. It was known to have been completely whitewashed and used as a “sea-mark”. The church was dismantled in the 19th century and rebuilt on new alignment. The architect was John Romilly Allen who was related to Samuel Romilly 1757-1818. To the west lies Romilly Park. The houses around here are fine, solid Edwardian properties for the middle classes built in the first decade of the 20th century. The church hall is dated 1892.
Back along Park Avenue and down past the station into Broad Street. Windsor Court is a magnificent building with a slate roofed hexagonal tower in corner over the pillared entrance. Formally the Windsor Hotel it is now apartments. Up Windsor Road, named after Lord Windsor, Chairman of Barry Docks and Railway Company, to the United Reform Church, started in 1903. At the top the road, Mount Sorrel Hotel is more Mount Sorry, up for sale but an interesting building, much neglected. Into York Place which becomes High Street. At first it looks like a typical down-at-heel shopping street but in fact everything is there! I get a reasonable pork pie from a deli. I turn back down to the main road and then across Gladstone Bridge. This leads to the docks.
A new road is lined by a retail park and development land. Over the far side of the dock all has been demolished and large landscaping machinery is present. The town’s history seems to be eroding fast. The small mediaeval village was said by Giraldus Cambriensis to be named after Saint Baruc. However another explanation is that it comes from the Welsh bar meaning a hill or rise. Therefore the Welsh name, Y Barri, means The Hills. There was a fortified manor house here in the 13th century but the Black Death and the rebellions of Owain Glyndŵr drastically reduced its population. It grew significantly from the 1880s with the development of Barry Docks, which in 1913 was the largest coal port in the world. I walk on and on, passing large new housing developments and eventually reach the Dock Office. This vast building was erected in 1898 for the Barry Railway Company, costing £59000, a considerable sum. The architect was Arthur E Bell, whose father, James Bell, was the resident engineer of Barry Railway Co, and supervised construction. It is in the Neo-Baroque Renaissance style. It has a theme of the calendar. There are four floors – the seasons of the year; seven lights in the traceried fanlight window – days of the week. The porch has twelve panels – months of the year. Inside the building are 52 marble fireplaces – weeks of the year. The windows number 365 days of the year. Each window has four panes of glass – weeks to a month. In the east and west walls of the entrance hall are two circular windows – Sun and Moon. The staircase, made of Portland stone, has 31 steps (days of the month) from ground to first and second floors and has an ornamental ironwork balustrade with circular foliage and fruit trails. In front of the building is a bronze statue of David Davies sculpted by Alfred Gilbert, who designed Eros’ statue in London. David Davies was an industrialist who created The Barry Docks and Railway Company. He left an estate valued at nearly £405,000 when he died in 1890. Sadly the building, now Council offices, is completely isolated now from the docks. It is good that Barry is regenerating, new housing, new jobs but it seems sad that the heritage had gone with it.
A lane leads off beside the Dock Office and runs under the railway. I follow signs for the shopping centre. When I get there it is sadly much more like the run-down inner town centres that are all to prevalent now. The Council Offices and Post Office stand opposite each other and I am back to Gladstone Bridge. Up Gladstone Road. A large building called “The Memo” is the Memorial Hall with a large cenotaph outside unveiled in November 1932. It was probably designed by E R Hinchsliff, Borough Surveyor. Back down to Broad Street. Broad House looks like it was a department store once with a Deco look but now is rather dilapidated. Wetherspoons is up to its usual standard, very busy, ten people waiting, one person serving – slowly. I find another pub which has no cask ale... Route
Sunday – Leominster – A clear blue sky with a blinding sun which has risen over Eaton Hill. House Sparrows chatter and Starlings mutter at the bottom of the road. The River Lugg is shallow and clear. A Grey Wagtail flits off from stones by Butts Bridge. Mist rises a few feet off the ground across the meadows. The market is small but busy. The Kenwater is also low and clear. A Dipper stands on a tea chest in the water, then whirrs off upstream.
Home – The chicken run has had a scattering of grey and white striped feathers for a couple of weeks now as the Speckled hen moults. She has patches of strange looking dark, shiny spines which are her new feathers growing out. I think it is still only Silver who is laying. I collect up three sacks of conkers and husks, really not making hardly any impression on the number scattered over the lawn. They can be heard banging off the summerhouse roof throughout the night. The tomatoes are pretty much finished now, just a few green ones are left. I bought some trays of kale and winter cabbage in the week for only 50p a tray and sowed them out – my seed sowings having failed miserably. The seedlings are looking good under their netting. I have also put rings cut from plastic bottles around the stems – hopefully both pigeons and slugs will be kept off! By mid-afternoon it is clouding over and getting decidedly chilly.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – After a damp start there is a gleam of brightness behind grey clouds. Leaves are now changing into their autumnal hues rapidly. They rain down from the row of Poplars like snow. Mute Swans and cygnets are on the boating lake with dozens of Canada Geese. Wigeon have arrived. More Mallard and Coot are present than in previous visits. A Grey Heron sits on a broken branch. A winter plumaged Great Crested Grebe glides into view. The Canada Geese are scattered all over the lake making a count difficult but there are clearly hundreds present. A flock stand by the scrape with feral geese including Greylags and a single Moorhen. Over forty Cormorants are in the island trees. A few Tufted Duck are scattered around and an adult Great Crested Grebe is towards the western end of the water. At least three more Grey Herons are at different places on the water’s edge. The Canada Geese are getting noisier, then suddenly they are virtually silent. A drake Mallard looks like he is regaining his breeding colours after eclipse. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Another Mallard appears in full breeding plumage. A Cormorant grunts and Carrion Crows bark, the sweet songs of Spring are now the harsh warnings of winter to come. There are plenty of ripe apples in the orchard with many rotting underneath the trees. It is fun gathering a few different varieties and comparing their flavours.
Friday – Fownhope – A cold autumn morning. I am having problems with gout and walking is proving painful, so today will mainly be short walks and then moving by car. I park by the Green Man, a 17th century inn, extensively altered in the early 19th century and again in the last century. Opposite is Alpha Cottage dated 1859. Many of the village houses look Victorian. There is some modern infilling. The school, built in 1868, is now private housing, the modern school being behind it. Opposite Whiterdine Villa a solid red brick Victorian house. Whiterdine Place is of a similar age. Fern House is a cottage with large windows, seemingly out of context with its apparent age. Next is a cottage of grey sandstone, dated 1809, then Walworth House, probably is a similar age, which once housed the local fire brigade and now has a butcher’s shop at the end. St Mary’s church stands on the junction of Capler Lane. A milestone is on the edge of the churchyard. It is dated 1903 and states Hereford is 6 miles and 56 yards with Ross being 8 miles and 165 yards, rather excessively accurate figures. Outside on the south-eastwards road are the old stocks in a cage. A sign states:
This guard was erected by the old parishioners to save this relic of the past from destruction by the Vicar, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Parish Council.
Mr Andrews Mr Slade Mr Brown (in brackets “Now in New Zealand”) Mrs Frank Evans and other members of the Lechmere Family including some old inhabitants of Fownhope. Novr 9th 1909 God Save The King
The stocks are probably from the 17th or 18th century. It is interesting to note that three of those involved set off to New Zealand, this being a time that emigration to The Dominions was popular. The Lechmere family were an important local family, descended from the Lord of the Manor. Capel Lechmere lived in Alpha Cottage in 1876. Kate Elizabeth Lechmere born in the village on 13th October 1887 was a British painter who with Wyndham Lewis was the co-founder of the Rebel Art Centre in 1914. However, it appears that none of of her paintings have survived. She served as a nurse in England during the First World War and had a three year relationship with the poet and critic T.E. Hulme before he was killed. After the war she became a successful milliner. She died in February 1976.
The church of St Mary was originally a small Norman chapel. The church was probably founded when the Abbey of Lyre had the patronage. The tower was built in the 12th century with the shingle spire being added in the 15th century. The chancel was built in the 13th century by the Chandos family, making the church one of the largest in the county. The Norman choir arch and Early English tower arches have carvings on the capitals and column bases. There is evidence of an underground passage between the tower and the nearby Stone House, used by priests. On the west wall is a superb tympanum from around 1140. It would have been originally over the main doorway but was moved to the western exterior wall during Victorian renovations, then moved indoors and affixed to the west wall. It almost certainly the work of the Herefordshire School of carvers. The carvings have traditionally been interpreted as depicting a Virgin and Child, flanked by figures of a bird and winged lion, intertwined with vines and foliage. The lion and bird presumably refer to the saints Mark and John, and the bird in particular appears in most of the works associated with the Herefordshire School. There are two fonts, one large one from circa 1670, with an octagonal bowl, stem and base, with blank arches to stem and fleur-de-lis in panels of bowl. It has been extensively restored. The other is Carolean 18th century with a circular bowl supported on elegant baluster shaped stem. Both were recovered having been dumped in different places in the village. A large oak chest dated from around 1325 is in the south aisle. Monuments in chancel in north wall consist of a wall tablet flanked by weepers, broken pediment with coat of arms, commemorating Nicholas Lechmere, 1711, and Martha his wife, 1763; a stone tablet with open segmental pediment with putti and scroll and foliage ornament on the south wall commemorating Johanna Lechmere, who died 1692. On the south aisle wall is a grave slab of John Sherman (died 1490), the last priest appointed by the Abbot of Lyre.
Across the road to the north of the church is the 17th century Manor House, To the west of the church is The Stone House, a late 18th or early 19th century building. Beside it is a house which has a late 16th century core which was remodelled and altered in the 18th century.
Much Marcle – This village is close to the Gloucestershire border. The road into the village passes Westons Cider Mill, makers of Stowford Press draught cider, a sparkling cider (not the real stuff!) The name derives from, Much, Middle English meaning large or great and Marcle from the Anglo-Saxon, mearc-leah meaning a boundary field. Much Marcle was an important royal manor, held by Earl Harold before the Conquest. At Domesday it was rated at 17 hides, and the inhabitants consist of 36 villans, 10 bordars, a reeve, a Frenchman and a radknight (or mounted retainer), 8 slaves, 6 female slaves, an oxman and a priest with his church. The tithes from the manor and the church were paid to the abbey of Sainte-Marie de Cormeilles, a Norman house favoured by William fitz Osbern. His son, Roger of Breteuil, Earl of Hereford, revolted against William I and was stripped of his earldom and exiled. He regained some status under Henry I, and was rewarded with the lordship of Much Marcle, which his descendants held under the surname of Balun. A castle was built here, first recorded in 1153 when Edward I granted the manor to Edmund Mortimer.
The church of St Bartholomew is 13th century, probably around 1220. There was an earlier church but it is not clear whether it was at this site or not. The windows were enlarged around 1350 and the east window is 15th century. The tower is late 15th century, said to be constructed using stone from the castle. Outside is a magnificent hollow Yew with a seat inside. It is estimated to be 1500 years old. The church’s main glories are its monuments. In the north aisle is the painted effigy of Walter de Helyon. He was a minor nobleman whose family became owners of an estate in Much Marcle. The name “Helyon” eventually evolved into “Hellens”, the name of the manor in the village. Walter de Helyon died around 1350, and is portrayed lying on his back, with his feet resting on a small dog. De Helyon is dressed in a jerkin, with a sword by his side and a belt and wallet alongside. Unusually for tombs of this age, it is solid oak painted with gesso. In the chancel is a canopied tomb of Blanche Mortimer, daughter of Roger Mortimer, first Earl of March, Lady Grandison, who died in 1347. She holds a rosary in her hands, and has a wimple on her head.
To the north of the chancel is the Kryle chapel. Here is the stunning alabaster tomb of Sir John Kyrle and his wife Sybil, née Scudamore, which is located upon a high plinth of black marble, dated from 1650. Sir John wears armour, but his head is bare, so that his long locks flow free. From about his feet peers a little hedgehog, the symbol of the Kyrles. The hedgehog stands upon a plinth with the inscription Nil Moror Actus, or “Never Delay a Blow”. Lady Kryle is clad in a long dress, open to reveal an underskirt. She wears slashed sleeves and a neck ruff, while lace peers from beneath her cuffs. At her feet is a bear paw rising from a crown, the sign of the Scudamore family. The quality of the carving is possibly some of the best in the country! On the west wall of the chapel is a richly coloured hatchment, depicting the hedgehog and bear paw symbols. Against the far wall is a tomb chest with the side by side effigies of a knight and lady, once thought to be Hugh, Lord Audley and his wife Isolde Audley, aunt to Blanche Mortimer, but now believed to be Thomas Walwyn, died 1415 and his wife Isabella Hathaway. Walwyn is clad in full armour, with a bassinet upon his head, and his feet upon a lion. Isabella wears a long gown with a high neck, while a pair of dogs pull at her hem.
On the east wall is a case with a figurine depicting part of the Massacre of the Holy innocents. It was found by Revd Cecil Money-Kyrle in 1918 in the ruins of the Chapel of the Holy Family of the Collegiate Church at Ypres. A parish chest dates from 1688. The font is older than the church dating from around 1150. There are several Green Men carved on columns in the nave. Six of the windows are by Charles Eamer Kempe, one of the best Victorian window makers.
On the main road is Much Marcle garage, a grade II-listed building. It has stood in the village since it was brought by Westons Cider in 1926. It was originally built in 1916 in Aston Down, Gloucestershire, as an Australian Flying Corps training hanger.
Little Marcle – Some distance away is the hamlet of Little Marcle. The church of St Michael and All Saints was designed by J W Hugall and consecrated 1869. It is built of red sandstone rubble with buff-coloured stone dressings and stone and tile roofs in a modified 13th century style. The bell turret is in a style reminiscent of Auvergnac Romanesque. It replaced its predecessor, which stood some 50 yards away as a result of the patronage of Revd John Jones who died in 1859 and was the former rector of the old church. Plaques on the wall record that William Ward Skittery of Lillands, who was overseer from 1888, then church warden until 1924, dying in 1937; his son William Martin Skittery, churchwarden from 1924 to 1980, dying in 1986 and his son, William David Skittery, churchwarden from 1980 to 2008 who died in 2010.
Sunday – Hergest Croft – Last night was lit by a super-moon, that is the moon is closer to the earth than usual that was also a Hunter’s Moon, so called because in other months, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day, while the October moon rises just 30 minutes later, which means more light overall during a 24-hour day, which was useful for traditional hunters. Throughout the night there was an occasional thud as another conker bounced off the summerhouse roof. However, there are not so many left on the great Horse Chestnut now – not surprising as we have already picked up at least a dozen sacks of them so far.
Early morning rain clears as we head to Hergest Croft which lays on the eastern end of Hergest Ridge. The colours in the trees are wonderful, particularly as the sun catches the leaves which lay against a deep grey western sky. There is a plant fair being held where Kay buys a number of less usual varieties for the garden. I was hoping that someone would be selling fruit trees, but no.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The sun makes a brave effort to break through the grey clouds and when successful it is quite warm. The verges and hedges are looking tired although still sparkling with crimson and vermilion berries. Sheep are in the meadow, all hiding under the hedge for some reason. A Silver Birch log in the coppice is being consumed by a fungus I fail to identify. Canada Geese are scattered all across the lake and in the trees on the island. There are in excess of 150 I would guess. A few Tufted Duck and Coot are diving out in the water. A pair of Snipe are on the scrape, one in the water and one asleep under a dead bunch of Purple Loosestrife. A small flock Long-tailed Tits are searching the scrape Willows. At least fifty Cormorants are in the trees. A few Mallard are asleep on the scrape almost hidden in the dead stalks. Dinmore Hill is mottled in greens, coppers and golds. A Grey Heron stalks the western end of the lake. The sun appears to have won against the clouds although it may be a temporary victory. Back in the meadow the hedgerow is taking autumn colours, especially the purple leaves of a dogwood. A learning-disability group are collecting cider apples. There are still plenty of dessert apples on the trees.
Thursday – Leominster – The air is damp. It has rained briefly around dawn and is now grey and cool. The hens are rapidly regrowing their feathers after a moult. I had thought they had ceased laying altogether but this morning there is a large egg, almost certainly Silver’s and the remains of a soft-shelled one. So hopefully they are coming back into lay – we only have a couple of eggs left! The last Civic Society meeting heard from Tim Bridges, the Diocese’s Buildings Support Officer who spoke on At-Risk churches in Herefordshire. In giving background to local churches he mentioned three in the Olchon Valley, lying under the east flanks of the Black Mountains. So off we go today to have a look at them. We take the old Roman road through Canon Pyon and then cross the Wye at Bridge Sollars then through to Abbey Dore and down some narrow roads, fording the Escley Brook to Longtown and then Clodock.
Clodock – The first is the southmost in the valley, just south of Longtown, standing on the River Monnow. Before 1536 Clodock was in the Marcher lordship of Ewyas. Until 1866 it was a large parish (until 1852 in the diocese of St David’s), which included the chapelries of Craswall, Llanveynoe, Longtown and Newton. In 1866 each chapelry became a separate civil parish, and the village of Clodock became part of the civil parish of Longtown. The name Clodock comes from Clydawg, son of Cledwyn of Ewias and the grandson of King Brychan of Brecon. Both Clydawg and his brother Dedwy were heavily influenced by their cousin Cadoc, and spent time at Cadoc’s monastery in Llancarfan. Clydawg became king and became betrothed to be married, but a pagan rival to the hand of his wife-to-be murdered the king in a fit of jealousy. His body was transported to his intended burial site, but the oxen pulling the cart refused to cross the Monnow. Clydawg was buried by the river bank, but in the night watchers saw flames issue from the grave. As a result, the Bishop ordered an oratory to be built over the grave site, and later a small church of timber was erected. The church was eventually replaced by a stronger building of stone, and this is thought to lie beneath the current chancel. After the Conquest, the area was subject to the de Lacy family. The church of St Clydog was built between the 12th and 13th century, the nave some time before the chancel. The tower is 15th century and is currently under repair. The interior was extensively restored in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mediaeval wall painting can be made out on the walls along with a large, restored painted decalogue panels. A gallery is still intact at the western end of the nave. Box pews are in three rows. The font is a simple chalice shape of the 13th century. There is a magnificent Jacobean three-decker pulpit with a carved sounding board. Behind the pulpit is a 9th century grave marker in Latin found under the nave in 1917. It is the earliest known Latin inscription in Herefordshire and translates as:
This tomb holds the remains of the faithful and dear wife of Guindass, who was herself a native of this place.
There are a good number of memorials on the walls. Two grave stones on the chancel floor are of William Simonds and Thomas Symonds who died on 18th and 25th September 1661. Both slabs are similar, carved with a fleur-de-lys, however, the quality of carving is different. William’s, apart from the spelling of deceased as “deseased” is otherwise as expected. Thomas’ slab however, spells deceased, “desesed” and eighteenth as “eyghteenth”. Both spell “here” as “heare”. The differences seem strange for two who would seem to be related despite the different spellings of their names and both having died within a week of each other.
Llanveynoe – On up the valley to the small scattered village of Llanveynoe and the Church of St Bueno and St Peter. The site is delightful with stunning views of the Black Mountains and the Olchon Valley. The church is said to have been built built on the site of a pagan site that became a small monastery founded by St Beuno in around 600 CE. However, it now seems likely the monastery was near Olchon Court, a few miles on up the valley. The church is 13th century but extensively rebuilt and enlarged in the 19th and 20th centuries. Because of the remodelling, Pvesner is very dismissive of the church but it would be a shame if people were discouraged from visiting this place, for the siting if nothing else. More importantly, Pevsner fails to mention the important Saxon stones present. Outside the building is a 5 foot high thin, short-armed Celtic-style cross with a channel running down it’s shaft. It seems to have been used in recent times for a water channel. This was found in the 1870s and brought to the churchyard for safety. The date is probably 10th century and the channel may have been a libation channel. In the church are two Saxon stones built into the south wall. One of these shows Christ crucified. The other stone which is damaged has only half an incised cross, an inscription, and alpha and omega symbols. The inscription is difficult to read because it is damaged and, also quite tiny Latin lettering. It reads: HAES: DUR FECIT CRUCEM STAM which translates as “Haestar made this cross”. At the top of the stone XPC the Greek Chi Rho and the letters IHC the Greek word for “Christ Jesus”. Both stones are thought to date from between the 7th and 10th centuries. We speak to a couple of parishioners who are very proud of their church. They tell us that a mediaeval earthwork has recently been discovered completely encircling the site. Strangely, the graves in the churchyard all seem to be 20th century. Next to the church is the ruin of a substantial house.
Craswall – Our next destination takes persistence. The first road we take is blocked by a vehicle stopping traffic because of road repairs. We turn around and find another way. We then enter Craswall which goes on for a considerable distance. We are on the point of turning around, no signal on our phones means we cannot check our position, but fortunately decide to press on and find St Mary’s church. Set on a hillside in a grassy clearing in woodland, the small, mow, white-painted church is a delight. A wooden door covers a window which looks in on a vestry under the timber-framed bell turret, clad in weatherboards. The building is early 15th century with a 17th century porch that leads into the vestry. A low door from the vestry leads into the body of the church. The east window is 15th century with three cinquefoiled-ogee-headed lights. The other windows date from a major restoration in 1883. At the west end is an 18th century gallery, which was erected when the wall was erected to create the vestry, although it was used as a schoolroom at that time. All around the walls and along the back wall of the gallery runs a board with pegs for hats, although apparently the vicar believes they were used to hang chairs on when not in use. Outside is a carved Celtic style cross recently installed in the 7th or 8th century base. There are no graves here, apparently because the bedrock is only a short distance under the surface, making grave digging impossible. It is incredibly peaceful here, even with a distant bellowing of a farmer directing his dog!
Friday – Leominster – It is a hoppin’ morning, just above freezing with mists hanging over the river. I head down to the Millennium Park to check the cider apple trees but someone has already hoovered up everything. It is a bit disappointing. For some years now I have been the only person collecting the cider apples from here and a good many rotted. Now cider making is catching on and both my sources of apples have gone.
Malvern-Callow End – Off to the north-eastern end of Malvern Link. The sun has burned off a lot of the mist. Despite a busy road and a housing estate, a Green Woodpecker yaffles nearby. Off up towards Newland. Isobel Harrison Gardens look like Arts and Crafts period alms houses, but were built in 1951/2. Madresfield Brook runs alongside the road. Beyond is Clarence Park Village, a large modern development of sheltered housing. At the end of the road is the Beauchamp Community, another sheltered scheme but this time in older premises. The Beauchamp Almshouses and the church of St Leonard were completed in 1864 for the benefit of retired workers from the Madresfield Estate and for the poor of the parish. The then Earl Beauchamp was heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement. Unfortunately, the church is locked. The first church at Newland was dedicated to St Michael, around 1215 and rebuilt in the 15th century. It was demolished in 1865 and the chancel was rebuilt to become the mortuary chapel of the Almshouses. The architect of the Almshouses and St Leonard’s church was P C Hardwick, who also designed Charterhouse school.
Down the Madresfield road. The road has broad verges with Oaks. Beyond is farmland. To the west the skyline is dominated by the Malvern Hills. North-east along Jennett Tree Lane. A small paddock on the junction contains white geese and a pen of hens. Madresfield Grange is a large country house built in 1905. A Horse Chestnut has spineless conkers. The roadside trees more or less alternate between Horse Chestnuts and Oaks. Some Horse Chestnuts have smooth shelled conkers, others the more usual spiky sort. The non-spiky kind indicate the tree is the Red Horse Chestnut, a hybrid of the Horse Chestnut and Red Buckeye. The road continues past the fields of the Madresfield Estate. A War Memorial has a single name on a plaque:
Flying Officer Francizek Surma of
308 (Polish) Squadron RAF landed by parachute, near this spot, on 11
May 1941, having abandoned his burning Spitfire aircraft, R6644.
Flying Officer Surma is believed to
have been killed in action near Dunkirk on 8 November 1941 and
has no known grave.
We Will Remember
Deblins Green has a large estate house of 1875, a number of bungalows from the first half of the 20th century, a few modern and a few older properties. It also seems to have a village green although this may just be how the land lies. The entrance to Callow End Court is a pair of pure white curved walls. The house is hidden behind tall hedges and a long brick garden shed which has the house letterbox half way along it. The road enters Callow End. Nutbush is a 17th century house. Jennett Tree Farm has several buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Along the road there is considerable 20th century infill.
Stanbrook Abbey now is a vast conference centre. The grounds are all private. They are apparently housing the launch of a new model BMW and several shiny black brand new vehicles glide past. The Roman Catholic abbey and Church of Our Lady of Consolation consists of Stanbrook Hall which is 18th and early 19th century; Abbey buildings of 1838 by Charles Day; New Church and cloisters of 1869-71 by E.W. Pugin; Holy Thorn Chapel of 1885-86 by P.P. Pugin; Abbey buildings by Peter Paul and Cuthbert Welby Pugin and George Coppinger Ashlin of 1878-80, 1895-98 and 1898-1900. The nuns took up residence in July 1838 and left in May 2009.
Into the village of Callow End which lies on the Upton road. The name comes from name from the old Saxon word Calwe or Calwa meaning a “bare hillside”. Pole Elm Cottages in Beauchamp Lane were an old chapel of some size. Down Lower Ferry Lane. The housing is mainly modern with the occasional older property. Past Priors Court, a late 16th century house, restored in 1898-9. The road joins Pixham Ferry Lane. The tower of Kempsey church late across the fields. Rooks’ beaks probe the soil in a field of cereal shoots. Just past a fine house, Pixham, previously known as The Boat and was an inn. The road rises over a levee and terminates at the old Pixham Ferry dock on the River Severn. The Pixham ferry boat was sunk during heavy floods in 1939 and unfortunately it was never replaced. It had for years been the only means of visiting the nearest doctor, resident in the opposite village of Kempsey. A few stones are all that is left. A canal boat motors past. A few yellow button heads of Tansy are still in flower. A Robin sings. Goldfinches feed in the trees.
Back past Priors Court and into Upper Ferry Lane watched by several Blackbirds and a Great Tit. The lane again is a mixture of modern and older properties although there are more 19th century ones here. Out onto the main road again. A short terrace of old cottages stands by the War Memorial. Next is the Callow End club, dated 1908. St James church is a small brick chapel of ease from 1888. Next door is the school of a similar age. Houses that I would have guessed as post Second World War have a date plaque of 1919. The village hall again looks of a similar age. A pair of octagonal buildings of the early to mid-19th century are part of the Abbey complex. An early 19th century milestone states, “Worcester Cross 4 miles”.
Back along Jennett Tree Lane. Opposite Callow End Court is an old cast iron lamp post almost hidden by Hawthorn and brambles. At Deblins Green a pair of Mistle Thrushes stand motionless in a stubble field. Wood Pigeons search the same field. Blue, Long-tailed and Great Tits squeak in the trees. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the stubble. Back in the Madresfield road I noticed a house, Benlake, I had passed earlier has fine bay windows facing me now. It is early to mid-19th century in date. A Kestrel flies into trees behind the house. Route
Sunday – Leominster – It is a bit grim as I head for the market, a wind whips up the leaves, it is grey and dark and trying to rain. There is a large apple on a tree growing by the fence of the industrial plant hire yard. It is delicious! The River Lugg is low as I have every seen it. The weather forecaster commented that there has been only 10% of the monthly average rainfall this October. The market is getting smaller now the mornings are colder and darker. Back round by the Kenwater where the water level is also very low.
Monday – Leominster – Up Etnam Street. The Royal Oak Hotel is looking more dilapidated as time goes by. It needs a large sum of money spending on it, not something that looks likely at the moment. Into Westbury Street. The tubs and troughs are having their last fling of autumn colour with geraniums and begonias; all will soon fade as winter encroaches. The morning is grey with a dampness in the air. The wind has a chill. Up Ryelands Road and into Cockcroft Lane. The big field has been sown with winter cereal and green shoots cover it. A Magpie chatters in the ivy-clad trees. Blackbirds are searching the rapidly deepening leaf mould. Along towards Cockcroft House. The field to the west is still covered in clover for fixing nitrogen. The hills beyond are hazy. A Common Buzzard flies out of the trees and heads for the Hereford Road. The track runs down to Hereford Road. I then walk through Southern Avenue and over the old A44 railway bridge. A South-west Wales to Manchester train passes under, slowing for the station. Earlier the sun has almost broken through the clouds but seems to have failed. The signalman is pulling levers in the signalbox and the old GWR style signal bangs down into the go position. A passer-by tells me they are soon going to electrify the signalling, which will be a shame. another link to the past will disappear.
Over the A44 to Eaton Bridge. The leaf-strewn River Lugg flows slowly past. Up Eaton Hill. The field at the top seems to have been turned over to grass now after several years of beets and maize. Jackdaws chatter in the woods. House Sparrows and Blue Tits chirp in the wild undergrowth. Four gulls fly over, except I suddenly realise they are terns but they have travelled to far too away identify which species. Down the track. There are birds flitting in and out of the trees far too quickly to see properly. The only one that gives a decent view is a fine male Bullfinch, hovering to grab a red berry. Nuthatches gabble and there are Blackbirds everywhere but the others elude me. I am sure they are Redwings. Although none ever appear long enough to be seen properly, I am confident in my identification. On towards Easters Meadows. A Cormorant flies downstream. Along Paradise Walk. A large clump of Inkcaps is autodigesting.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The air is chilly and wet. Trees drip. A few squeaks and whistles come from the woods, silence from the lake until there is a burst of quacking from some Mallard. There is a large mixed flock in trees by the boat shed, Blue and Long-tailed Tits and Redpoll seen to be the main species but all are very active making a decent view difficult. Fresh molehills pimple the meadow. Unusually there appears to be only one Canada Goose on the lake. However, there is a good array of wildfowl around the scrape, Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhens and female Shoveler. There are also only half a dozen Cormorants in the trees. A single Mute Swan glides across the water. Suddenly there is an approaching gabbling from the east as a skein of Canada Geese arrive. Over 450 have landed and the peace and quiet is gone now. More leaves are turning yellow, gold, copper and bronze but the colours on Dinmore Hill are muted by the mist. Sheep are grazing in the meadow and the dessert apple orchard. A pick-up vehicle is in the cider orchard and the apples are being collected.
Friday – Leominster – Before dawn the moon hung like a fingernail low in the eastern sky. Below shining brilliantly is Jupiter. Dark clouds move in and the moon disappears entirely leaving only the King of Gods shining.
Cwmyoy – From the Hereford to Abergavenney road, I turn into Llanvihangel Crucorney and then into the road that leads past Llanthony Priory, Gospel Pass and eventually Hay-on-Wye. The road runs through the Vale of Ewyas, Cwm Euas. I then turn into a narrow lane in such bad condition it is virtually a trackway. This passes through the hamlet of Cwnyoy where I planned to stop but parking is not available. On along the road a little further and I park by the River Honddu bridge at Neuadd and set off across a sheep meadow. The river gurgles across its stony bed. The sun shines intermittently though the dark clouds. Into a wood and then back out onto the road. A track leads to the church.
This little village is in Monmouthshire. The church of St Martin is extraordinary. At the end of the Ice Age there was a major landslip on this hillside and the ground remains unstable. Legend has it that the landslip happened on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, when there was darkness over the whole land and, according to St Matthew’s gospel, the veil of the temple was torn in two. The church has suffered subsidence over the years and is now called the “crookedest church in the country”. The tower leans at 5.2°, the tower at Pisa is 4.7°. Inside there is a door to the tower that is wonderfully tilted. The altar rail is at a considerable angle to the east window. Nothing is straight! After the Conquest, the De Lacy family became lords of the manor. In AD 1100 William de Lacy founded the priory at nearby Llanthony. His son, Hugh de Lacy, gave the new priory the manor and church at Cwmyoy. Monks from Llanthony Priory served the church at Cwmyoy, but after the priory was dissolved in 1538 the manor was granted to Sir Nicholas Arnold, Lord Chief Justice for Ireland. Cwmyoy, sometimes spelled Cwm Iou or Cwm Iau, means “the valley of the yoke”. The church dates from the 12th century. The original 13th century roof is still intact, if rather undulating. Inside is a fascinating an 11th or 12th century stone cross, sometimes referred to as a wayside cross or crucifix, which has a rare carving of Christ on the cross. It stood stood in the churchyard on the route pilgrims took through the Black Mountains via Llanthony Abbey to St David’s. It was buried during the Reformation but the King’s Commissioners never came to so remote a spot so it was returned to the church. In 1967 it was stolen but recognised in a London antique shop and returned. There is also a 13th century grave cover on the wall. The walls hold many monuments, a good number of which were carved by the Brute family, master masons of Llanbedr across the Brecon hills. Active from the 1720s to the 1840s, Thomas, Aaron and John Brute created plaques in a remarkably distinctive house style of artisan rococo and whose prolific output means many Black Mountain churches contain their work. A memorial to Thomas Price, who died in 1682, states: “Thomas Price he takes his nap In our Common Mother’s lap, Waiting to hear the Bridegroom say, ‘Wake, my dear, and come away.’” There memorials in the porch, two high above the door and quite impossible to read. The church’s windows are 16th century and the communion rails date to the 17th century. There are six bells, all dated, 1700, 1672, 1722, 1697, 1700 and 1722, but several are now cracked and the state of the tower means they are no longer rung.
From the church another path, an old hollow way climbs to Craig. The path climbs Hatterall Hill past a vertical cliff face of purplish-grey stone. Robins sing and acorns clatter down through the branches. A Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatches search stunted Oaks. There are Redwings around but they are very secretive and flighty. The rocky path climbs around the hill. A fox or badger sett disappears under the drystone wall. There are alarms calls all around, a Wren rasps, Blackbirds chuck. The remains of a some building, possibly a shepherd’s shelter lies across a field. A short distance further on is a cottage, White Cottage, that looks empty but not yet falling into ruin. The wind is rising. Past another ruined shelter, this one larger, containing an axle and a pair of rotting wheels. Tyr-hwnt-y-bwlch is a late Elizabethan, large longhouse and barns which look like conversions. The house is set into the steep hillside, roughly painted yellow with typical Elizabethan small windows. The track moves out onto open hillside. It is now just a slight hollowing in the land across the hillside. On the downwards side is a line of Hazels. Blaenyoy farm lies at the foot of the sweeping cwm. Ponies graze high up in the skyline. Sheep graze lower down. The stones of a collapsed building lie high up the slope. A deep gully runs down past them carrying a stream that eventually joins the Honddu. There are trees here up to the moor edge then just the occasional straggly Hawthorn. The Robin and Blackbirds calls are now being replaced by the guttural croaks of corvids. More ruined walls are set into the hillside. Common Buzzards and Ravens soar overhead. The sun is now warm out of the wind. Above the walls a stream bubbles out of a spring. More small walls set into the hillside are further up the slope. A pair of thin slabs of some have been placed upright nearby. A large crab apple tree almost blocks the path. Just before the moorland is a substantial jumble of stones from several collapsed buildings.
The footpath is supposed to loop around just below the beginning of the moorland and descend on the other side of the brook but all I can see are barbed wire fences. So I return on the path I travelled up. Tyr Charles is a small mid 17th century yeoman farmer’s house and barn on the lower slopes of the valley. At the end of the 18th century, the house was let on a lease for life to John Williams, and sub-let to William Prosser at £20 per annum. The valley is an interesting part V shaped, nearly U shaped. I assume it is glacial. Back at the foot of the cliffs I get enough glimpse of winter thrushes to be sure there are both Redwings and Fieldfares here. There are some truly huge boulders in amongst the bracken and Hawthorns. The sun shines on the golden leaves and bracken which are speckled with red berries of Hawthorn and Rose hips. Ravens dance high above the hilltop.
Back through the hamlet. The Old Vicarage and Church Cottage are substantial stone buildings, painted white. A large former farmhouse stands on the junction, it has been much enlarged. A Red-legged Partridge runs along the road in front of me. Route
Llanvihangel Crucorney – I stop in the village to look at St Michael’s Church. The village is now by-passed by the Hereford-Abergavenny road. The church is probably 12th century with the west wall of the nave shows signs of Norman stonework. The tower and chancel probably date to the 13th-14th century. The tower was heightened and the porch added in the 16th century. There was a refitting by William Powell of Abergavenny in 1833-5, but nothing of this seems to survive. The Victorian restoration dates from the 1884-7. There is now a modern glass dividing screen in the nave. There were six bells but only two remain. The story of the bells is that there was a much despised tyrant, Nicholas Arnold (descendant of the Arnold mentioned above) living in Llanvihangel Court in 1690. He seldom left the village but on one occasion set off for London. The villagers rang the bells in joy but the squire heard them and returned to remove the bells and send them to Brecon. Arnold sold the estate to the Harley’s of Brampton Bryan. A relief carved tomb slab is on the wall, apparently Elizabethan. In 1974 an earth-tremor precipitated the collapse of the nave roof which has been partially replaced. The east window is by Kempe.
Llangua – St James’ Church stands set back from the main road some distance from the small village of Llangua. The church is all that remains of a Benedictine Priory. The priory was founded before 1183 when the manor and church of Llangua were granted to Lyre Abbey in Normandy, to establish an alien priory. Around 1269, Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, Lord of Monmouth and son of Henry III claimed the patronage. In 1414, Llangua was granted to the Carthusian house of Sheen, which retained Langua and its other Welsh properties until its suppression in 1539. It is believed a pre-Norman church stood here, dedicated to Saint Ciwa. This church is late 15th century and was restored in 1889 by John Nicholson of Hereford and again in 1954 by E. Roiser. It is a simple building with a pyramidal capped timber-framed belfry. The church is locked but the simple interior can be seen through the clear glass windows. A long train rumbles past – Stobart Rail, with wagons marked “Less CO2”.
Sunday – Leominster – The annual nonsense of turning the clocks back as British Summer Time ends. “An extra hour in bed,” they say but I am awake at the same time as usual until I get used to the change. The weather remains mild and grey. Still no rain, so the water level in the River Lugg is possibly even lower. Yellow leaves of Black Poplar carpet Butts Bridge. Blue Tits are chattering in the riverside trees. There is a large amphibious vehicle in the Brightwells’ compound. They seem to be having a special sale for white van men, white vans are everywhere. A large number have Portsmouth registrations. The market is getting smaller as each week passes. Surprisingly there is no Christmas tat for sale. Back through town. A section of the ornate railings on Kenwater Bridge have been removed.
Home – I have managed to collect a decent quantity of cider apples – Dabinett and Michelin. I get over two gallons of juice out of them. The rest of the Herefordshire Russets are harvested. It is a strange tree, two main trunks are now rising from the central trunk and there are several very long branches very low down. I am going to have to think hard about how to prune it this winter. Silver is still laying her large eggs but the other two have not come back into lay yet. Speckle is looking pretty neat now she has regrown her feathers but the Bristol Blue still looks a state! Leaves are falling thickly now from the Horse Chestnut; at least the conkers have finished banging down.
Monday – Bringewood – The area lays under a shroud of fog. However, rising into the Mortimer Forest takes me above the fog into weak sunshine. I have not been to Hazel Coppice for several years. Robins sing, Carrion Crows caw and a passing Raven rasps. On along the track towards Bringewood. A Wren churrs then breaks into a disjointed song. A Great Tit calls a thin version his spring song. A Shaggy Inkcap grows in the trackside grass. Although conifers dominate, there are plenty of Silver Birches, Hazels and Beeches. These all have leaves turning yellow, copper and gold. Elder leaves just seem to get more dull and tatty, then fall off. A Common Buzzard mews across the valley. A large clump of golden fungi grow on a stump, Sheathed Woodtuft, Kuehneromyces mutabilis. Out onto the hillside above Monstay. The valley towards Wigmore is a sea of fog. A flock of a dozen or more Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests is moving along the hedge. Grey Squirrels are everywhere. A hinge sticks out of a gate post, the pole gate having rotted away.
I pick up the footpath along the edge of Bringewood but it is badly overgrown. Fortunately an off-road biking track detours around to the wider track beyond. It is getting cloudier and cooler. Fungi are widespread growing through the layer of conifer needles, almost all one of the Russula species, probably fragila. Other species of fungi are in the woods or on the path. One I can instantly recognise is a Shaggy Parasol, Lepiota rhacodes. Others I have no idea. A Willow Tit buzzes nasally in the thick dark conifer wood. Blue and Long-tailed Tits are present in good numbers calling to each other throughout the plantation. The path is deteriorating again with numerous tall Stinging Nettles I have to beat out of the way. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips and a Jay squawks. The nettle leaves are small but I learn quickly they are vicious and can penetrate trousers easily. Hidden below is New House and the ponds on Burrington Common from which occasional quacks are emitted.
The path turns northwards at Burrington Hays and drops down the eastern end of Hunstay Hill, still on the western edge of Bringewood. Pheasants croak. Below should be the River Teme and Downton Castle, but all is lost in the fog. The path joins a track through an area of Birch and conifer saplings. They some 12 feet tall and higher, all about five years old because when I passed this way in 2011, the site had been recently cleared and just replanted. Numerous spider’s webs are white with dew. A Great Tit appears to be washing itself using the water on the conifer needles. Then a Blue Tit seems to be doing the same, preening its feathers and shaking furiously. White flashes indicate departing Bullfinches. The track joins a major Forestry track down into the valley. It is descending into the fog and visibility begins to deteriorate. Condensation drips off the trees. The track is now tarmacked as it winds its way down the hill and reaches the pumping station. The splendid building has “Birmingham Corporation Water” and “Elan Supply” on its pediment, pumping water from the Elan Reservoirs near Rhyadar to Birmingham. On down into Deep Wood. A pair of cock Ringed-necked Pheasants stroll across the track ahead. The slopes of Deep Wood were also known as “The Dog Hanging Woods” because when the land was a Royal Chase, any deer poachers caught had their prized hunting dogs confiscated and hanged here.
The track descends steeply to join an east-west track. I turn eastwards and cross a small brook which passes through a culvert deep underneath.Over Raddle Brook. Beyond is Deepwood house and farm. The track joins Middle Wood Road which runs to Ludlow. Past Brick House. There are fields on both sides of the lane. To the south the land rises to Wheeler’s Vallets but the woods are hidden by the fog. A number of large old quarries lay beside the road. The woods are now Beeches planted in the early 20th century. Sunbeams descend through the trees like a vast tent of light on the hillside. There are still good numbers of Tits in the trees. The mildness of last winter must have helped numbers and although the spring was wet and cold maybe breeding was not as bad as predicted. On past rows of Hazels. I look in vain for some cobs but only see broken shells. A bridleway climbs the hillside. The route so far has been on the level or down hill so it is a bit of a shock to the system to be climbing. Fungi nestle in the grass, mainly small orange-capped members of the Mycena family. The sun shines through the fog, thick enough that I can look directly at the sun without blinding my myself. Into Lower Whitecliffe Woods. The sun gets brighter and brighter as I climb out of the fog. The path crosses a Forestry track where there is a very welcome bench. On a short distance and the path reaches Killhorse Lane just below the Gorsty pastures and a short distance to the entrance to Hazel Coppice. Route
Leinthall Starkes – I drive down the lane towards Wigmore. A Red Kite flies up into a tree beside the road. Then two more glide across the fields of Leinthall Moor and the bird in the tree flies off to join them.