Monday – Rotting Wood-Norton – A cool but sunny morning with plenty of high cloud in the sky. I park in Onibury Community Hall car park. Up the Norton lane. Several cottages are small timber framed buildings extended in stone. The are late 16th and early 17th century. Just before a large stone house, a bridleway heads north. Robins sing and Carrion Crows caw in woodland. Past Bank House dated 1871. A number of abandoned vehicles lay by the track. A modern bungalow is surrounded by rusting vehicles and rubbish. On to Upper Park, where barns are filled with bales of straw. The track runs along the edge of a field of autumn sown oilseed rape. The field boundary contains Oaks probably a couple of hundred years old.
The track is now a ploughed field edge. A train heads for Manchester through the river valley below. Beyond on the other side of the valley is Stoke Wood. The South Wales train heads south. A Blackthorn is loaded with sloes. The cold spring meant that most trees and bushes flowered late but when they did the pollinating insects wetter around in good numbers, hence we now have a great crop. A Red Kite flies along the hill top. I head on to the field then realise I have gone some way off the route. Back down and onto the bridleway again. Over a pasture then a field that has been ploughed and rolled. A few green potatoes lay in the surface indicating the former crop.
Across the field to a barn conversion at Middle Park and into a track and past a farmhouse. The sky is now almost completely covered by grey clouds. Whettleton Hill lays above the track which drops down to Lower Park, almost on the A49, before passing behind the Keeper’s Cottage and joining Rotting Lane which rises through Rotting Wood. The origin of the name “Rotting” is unclear to me, maybe it comes from the Friesian, Rott, which referred to a smallholding. A Great Tit calls his two note song. A tree stump has a small plaque, “Norah Davies Late of Gamekeepers’ Cottage Rest in Peace”. The track climbs the south end of Norton Hill, called Whettleton Bank on the old maps, although the modern maps locate that further east. Through woods that are less than fifty years old, most trees probably planted this century. Rotting Lane leaves the modern track and heads the wood. Here there are older trees and some evidence of coppicing. A large disused quarry lays the top of the hill. An exposed face shows the layers of Lower Ludlow Shales. A large clump of Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea, grows by a recently cut stump. I briefly lose the lane but pick it up again as it runs along the edge of a field. A circle of bushes and trees grow out of an old disused quarry and limekiln on the edge of the field. Redshank is still in flower. A pen in the woods is full of young Pheasants.
The track comes out into open fields at the top is the hill. A flock of Carrion Crows stands in a finely tilled field. A tractor is pulling a roller and tiller along the field beside the track. The views are panoramic, ahead the Clee Hills, the Malverns partly obscured by the Woolhope Dome, then the Mortimer Forest. A house, The Pheasantry, lies across the field. It stands in the edge of Norton Camp, the Iron Age hill-fort. A Dunnock watches from the top of the hedgerow. A covey of Red-legged Partridge explode out of the foot of the hedge. Oak trees have been recently planted in the hedgerow. Further down the track are older Oaks and Field Maples. A Common Buzzard and a Red Kite circle the fields together. There are hundreds of partridges here, they have been bred in pens beside the field.
Rotting Lane leaves the track and passes through a small wood. The track is in poor condition, scoured down to the bedrock in places. The track emerges onto the road at Norton, which mainly consists Norton Farm. One farmhouse is dated 1877, another is a large yellow stone building with a tall tower attached. This is the main farmhouse built in the mid 19th century. It and the barns have been converted into a score of holiday apartments. The road is on a Roman road, Marshbrook-Ariconium (Weston-under-Penyard) linking the Roman settlement at Ariconium with Watling Street West. This area was all part of the Stokesay Estate owned by John Derby Allcroft, a Victorian glove manufacturer. The clouds getting thicker and darker. The road passes the opposite end of the lane from Vernolds Common I passed last week. There is rain in the air. Dingle is a farmhouse dated 1875. Upper Onibury Farm is large with many barns converted into holiday cottages. The main farmhouse is another large building in pale yellow stone, from around 1840. The lane starts to drop down into the valley. Starlings sit on telephone wires. A Red Admiral butterfly is on the hedgerow. A thick rope of scarlet White Bryony berries is wrapped around a wire tensioning a telephone pole. The lane drops steeply through a short cutting the hillside. Another stump on the bank is converted in Honey Fungus. Sheep have been corralled into a pen at the bottom of the hill. One is being held on its back whilst its feet are examined. The road enters Onibury. Route
Home – This afternoon, Rocky, the Rhode Rock hen laid her first egg. It is pale brown and rather small but that is usually the way.
Thursday – Brecon - Llanddew – Westwards through Herefordshire into Wales. The river valleys are full of cotton wool, white mist. Approaching Brecon, Aberhonddu, the Brecon Beacons’ valleys are also mist filled. Into the town from the army barracks. The sun is shining but dark clouds are in the west. Into The Struet. County House late 18th century judges’ lodgings. Opposite, Rutland House, formerly Lloget House, is from around 1800. Nearly every house in the street are of a similar age, many Grade II* listed. At a junction, The Star Inn has been a residence for some time. Opposite the early 19th century Bull’s Head Hotel closed more recently. This is an important corner building on Priory Hill by Priory Bridge, the subject of a watercolour of The Struet by J M Ince, dated 1850 and in National Library of Wales. Across the junction, the Aber Honddu flows under a bridge. Up the slope is Brecon cathedral. A Grey Wagtail stands on a rock, bobbing. Across the road, cottages are 19th century and earlier. As the road leaves the town there is a small stone building with an arched entrance. It is empty and overgrown with Ivy.
Along Hay Road, Ffordd Y Gelli, which runs through the river valley, high rock faces on one side, the river on the other. Water pours white over a weir opposite Penhryn Lodge. The footpath is littered with acorns. The road rises, the Priory Mill below, recorded in the listing as “said to date from circa 1730 and circa 1840. Marked on 1840 Tithe map as part of the Marquis of Camden’s estate, occupied by William Matthews. Run at later period by Handleys, who also owned a mill at Builth. The mill processed animal feed as well as flour and closed 1937-8, after the weir was washed away. The Williams family were the last millers, from 1919 and bought the mill in 1938.” At White House, a track drops down to a group of houses by the river. A detached house is recorded in the listing as “of early C19 character but possibly incorporating earlier work. The Brecon of Honddu iron forge was sited in front of the house and was active from c1720-80. Called Forge Villa in 1841 when marked on Tithe map as part of the Marquis of Camden’s estate, occupied by William Williams Esq. The forge was then disused and the site called Waun Forge. Called Forge Villa in 1926 directory, when occupied by J. P. Thomas, farmer.” A footpath heads upstream. Across dew sodden meadows where I learn my lightweight walking shoes are not waterproof. Through a short piece of woodland where fallen trees are being decomposed by Honey Fungus. The rock and soil are red, Maughans Formation – Argillaceous Rocks and [subequal/subordinate] Sandstone, formed approximately 393 to 419 million years ago in the Devonian Period. Close to this spot is a border between this Old Red Sandstone and the Raglan Mudstone Formation – Siltstone And Mudstone, formed approximately 419 to 424 million years ago in the Silurian Period. A Grey Heron flies off squawking angrily. Now squawking and screeching ahead, this time Jays. A much deeper call from the hillside indicates a Raven.
The path rises along the edge of a bluff above the river then down to Anod Bridge. A small bridge carries a lane over the Aber Anod, a stream that flows into Cwm Anod, up which I have just walked, then there is a cottage, then a modern bridge replacing the Pont Cwm-Anod, takes the lane over the Aber Honddu. Back across the first bridge and eastwards up the lane. The lane climbs steeply up a hill cut through by a valley carved by the Anod, Cwm-sobr. Robins sing alternately. Cavernous drains line the road, some collapsed into large pieces. The lane enters Llanddew.
At the top of the hill is the old Rectory on the site of the mediaeval fortified residence the bishops of St Davids. The defensive walls and a tower lay above Bishop Gower’s well. The well is in an alcove at the foot of the wall and seems to have plenteous water. It was designed to allow access to water from both inside and outside the fortified residence, although the internal access is now blocked. Beside it is the village pump is marked “BAMFORD’S FROST PROTECTED LIFT PUMP” and dated 1908. This is the “new” pump, the previous one stood directly in front of the well. There is an ancient tradition that St Eluned, daughter of Brychan, fled here to escape from an unwanted suitor around 500CE. She lived a pious life until the rejected suitor found her and cut off her head. The saint’s head rolled down a hill until it stopped beside a yew tree. A holy well rose on the spot, and became a site of pilgrimage. However, it is now thought this event happened some way away on Slwch Tump, just ouside Brecon. A few ruined walls stand in the Rectory garden. The site was originally a Celtic clas or religious community. Gerald of Wales lived in the 12th century and described his small residence as “well adapted to the contemplation of eternity”. The remains are of a 14th century building associated with Bishop Gower. The “forcelet” was in the hands of the Black Prince in 1347. The vicarage was built in 1857. Opposite is the church of St David.
St David’s church is a 12th century cruciform church containing 13th century lancet windows and transepts. The tower was rebuilt in 1629, and a plaque commemorating the event is set in the chancel’s west wall. It reads, “This steeple was newly erected and made in Apriel Anno Dom. 1629. William Havard and William Griffith Gent then churchwardens”. The tower was given a pyramidal roof in 1780. It holds two bells cast by Thomas Stone of Hereford in 1631. The church is believed to be the oldest in Brecknockshire. The church was heavily rebuilt in the 17th and 19th centuries. The church was recorded as a ruin in 1875 with only the nave usable. The church was restored in 1883-4 with the nave in 1900 to plans by Ewan Christian. Some wall decoration was not preserved unfortunately. In the chancel there are two corbels that may have supported a rood screen or statues. There is a squint or hagiocope in each transept. The south transept was known as Capel y Cochiaid, or “of the red-haired men”. It was used as a schoolroom in the earlier 19th century and was the main entrance from 1884-1900. The font is bulky, clearly mediaeval and lead-lined. The organ was purchased in 1981 from St Saviour’s in Birmingham.
From of the churchyard there is a fine view down into the Honddu valley and up to Pen-y-Crug hill-fort. The south side of the churchyard is framed by Tygwyn Farm. A lane passes the old smithy. Behind modern houses are wonderful views of the Brecon Beacons. Llanddew Court is a large stone farmhouse. The lane runs between tall Hazel hedgerows. A Small Copper butterfly with tatty wings feeds on an umbellifer. The lane turns and drops down to Troed Yr Harn, a hamlet that is largely a farm. The farmhouse stands on the crossroads with the B4602. Across the crossroads and on down the hill. The wall to the farmyard is covered in flowering Ivy. The musky scent fills the air and has attracted hundreds of bees, wasps and a Painted Lady butterfly. The barns are by Mifflin of Leominster. Opposite former workers cottages have been done up into bijoux homes. The lane passes under the A470. A small stream runs down beside the lane. A lane turns off to Alexanderstone Manor. It is a 16th or 17th century house with a façade remodelled in the 18th century. It is on 1841 Tithe map as part of the De Winton estate, occupied by John Powell, with 215 acres. It was owned in early 20th century by Francis Dickinson JP. It is now holiday cottages. The name may derive from Eluned’s Stone. Hard against the rear the manor house is an early 12th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded by the Mora family. In 1148 a charter by David, Bishop of St David’s was witnessed by Alexander Mora, who is believed to have been the Lord of Alexanderstone at this time. By the end of the 12th century the castle may have been called Mara Mota, suggesting a link with the contemporary Walter Mara, Lord of Little Hereford.
Back through the lanes. Ahead the distance, Pen-y-Fan and Corn-ddu are topped by cloud. Back down to the lane and stream where the edge of a meadow has been reinforced with a stone wall. An Ash tree of some age is growing through the wall indicating its age. An old Willow lays tiredly across the stream, its trunk heavily infested with Honey Fungus. Another, less rustic wall and steps takes the stream down to a pool which lies beside a bridge the lane. The stream continues down steps and then off down the other side of the lane. A lane leads off to the right passing through a modern bridge under the A470. Just beyond, next to the main road, is a small motte. It seems to be in a rather indefensible position although the water-logged meadows may have helped. There is no historical record of it; it may have been raised by Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford who was attempting to re-conquer Brycheiniog after it had been ceded to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd or possibly a 13th century siege castle. It had been called Troed yr Harn Motte, although this seems to be a modern appellation.
A pair of Red Kites circle overhead. The lane joins the A4602 again. A huge new building is being erected by the leisure centre, a new High School. On past the present Brecon High School and College. Through streets is 20th century housing, then as the town centre is approached, 19th century. The front wall and gates are all that remains is the old Mount Street school, the rest is modern. Into Heol Gouesnou. A small plaque in a wall reads “N BRy 1866”. This stood for the Neath and Brecon Railway. Heol Gouesnou stands on the route. A temporary station stood around here before Free Street station opened for all the lines in the town in 1871. The line closed to passengers on 31st December 1962 and to goods on 4th May 1964. Opposite is a fine modern house mainly in glass. It stands above the road, set back, with an entrance in an arch on the roadside. Into the High Street and back to the Barracks. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Roofs are bleached by frost. The thinnest fingernail of moon is in the eastern sky above a blaze of gold along the horizon. To the west, clouds are blushing pink. I head for the market about an hour later. Thin wisps of cloud cover the sky hardly breaking the blue. Starlings squabble on a rooftop. The blazing white sun sears the retinas as I walk down the street. Over the river Lugg where the water level seems hardly changed since last week. Lammas Meadows are white with frost as is Easters Meadow. There are no flowers in the meadows but the leaves remain, sagging gently under their feather light load of icy crystals. A Cormorant flies upstream, its head on its outstretched neck seeming to know its destination. The market is smaller than of late. Still the piles of DVDs, babies’ clothing and plastic toys, boxes of rusting tools and hundreds of trinkets, china and glass items of little use to anyone. The plant sellers have limited stock, mainly trays of pansies and violas. Out across Cheaton Brook. Snowberry thickets by the Ridgemoor Bridge are decorated with the white balls of fruit that give them their name. It is a mainly American species, Symphoricarpos, naturalised throughout the country. Along Paradise walk, collecting tattered Dandelion leaves for the hens. Mallard feed by the Kenwater bridge. Several of the houses in Bridge Street are up for sale. Most are in a poor condition, which is sad as they are nearly all listed.
Home – Most of the conkers have fallen from the great Horse Chestnut that towers over the garden from next door. There has been a steady, loud bang as a conker falls onto the summerhouse roof, throughout the day and night. It will be a relief when that ceases. Poor Kay spends an inordinate amount of time clearing them up. I bottle 8 large jars of pickled onions. I can probably can buy them cheaper in Aldi, but it is satisfying to do them yourself.
Monday – Croft – The sky overcast and a breeze stirs the tree tops. Out of sight down near the entrance to the cattle drive, Rooks and Jackdaws are calling loudly and a Common Buzzard mews, the two may will be connected! Work continues on the bottom pool of Fish Pool Valley, a new footbridge has been erected over a new overflow channel. Fungi grow by the ride down to the valley floor, one of the milkcaps. A Nuthatch calls furiously from the trees below. Across the pond can the old pump house and up, past the charcoal pit, through the Beech woods. Grey Squirrels chunter high in the canopy. Fungi are scattered across the hillside in the copper leaf mould. Occasionally one of the boletus, a white specimen I think may be Fragrant Funnel, Clitocybe fragrans and a white variety of Oyster mushroom. A lot of felling has occurred down near the lime kiln, maybe the Ashes will be cleared as I mused a few weeks back. Along the paths and tracks up towards Croft Ambry. Blue Tits chatter, Blackbirds dash through the undergrowth, Robins sing and Grey Squirrels chase up and down tree trunks.
Up to Lienthall Common. Several Herefords are by the gate leading the Mortimer Trail. I am not sure they are supposed to be here rather than on the hill-fort itself. Across the hill-fort. Suddenly a large flock of thrushes flies over silently, almost certainly Redwings. A Willow Tit is calling from the north side of the hill-fort, but I cannot locate it. Then movement in a Hawthorn reveals it. Down to the Spanish Chestnut field and into the woods at the top of the castle fields. There is plenty of Birch Polypore, Piptoporus betulinus, mainly on dead Birch branches. A small Parasol Mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, is in the grass on the field.
Friday – Hereford – Storm Callum has blown in off the Atlantic bringing gales and rain. The bus passes a house in Hereford Road where Jackdaws perch on overflow pipes on a north facing wall, huddling against the wall to avoid the elements. Off the bus at Holmer. The new housing estate could be worse but is hardly inspiring. Along Church Way. Holmer Park Lodge, the Victorian gatehouse, is a cattery. Over the wall is Homer Park, sadly much given over to a car park for the spa in the old rectory. Into Coldwells Lane. The pond has reduced in size unsurprisingly after the dry weather. Highfield House stands on a rise. The pub, formerly The Rose Gardens, now called The Secret Garden appears to be trading again. Down a public footpath by the pub car park. Our runs past a large garden where a blue single decker bus is parked. There are a couple of small lakes by the path but both are full of vegetation with no water visible. Into a large modern housing estate. There is just enough variety in the designs to make the development tolerable, although the minimalist mock Georgian look is about as far as it goes. Into Roman Road where an ordinary late Victorian house has the embellishments that make it so more attractive than the new stuff.
Into College Road, past the vast metal barns of car dealerships. The road crosses the railway line. On the far side, the Bridge Inn has disappeared, replaced by new housing. Some industrial units and yards stand on the site of Victoria Tile Works, started in 1878 by Henry Godwin after he split from his brother William, and on former premises of the Herefordshire and South Wales Agricultural Manure Company. The works had closed by 1980. There is the shape of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal which passed under the road beside the railway. Past Victoria Park. Into Venn Lane. Water pours out of a manhole cover on the road, not a good sign regarding the drainage here. The rain is heavy and incessant. I am soaked so I decide to bail out of my planned route and head into the city centre. Aylstone Hill is solid with traffic, not sure how the new piece of road past the station has helped this! Route
Monday – Eaton Hill – A wild weekend with Storm Callum passing slowly through causing extensive flooding and uprooting trees. The A44 west through Leominster was closed several times as trees blocked it. Crickhowell, at the foot the Black Mountains was flooded when the River Usk burst its banks. Likewise, Carmarthen was awash from the River Towy. This morning is cooler with light drizzle making it uncomfortable. The wind has diminished to stillness. A train draws into Leominster station. The franchise has changed. It is now operated by KeolisAmey, a joint company comprising of the French multinational Keolis Group and Amey, a subsidiary of Spanish company Ferrovial. Overall control will be in the hands of the Welsh Government via a not-for-profit company, Transport for Wales. So far nothing has changed except the Arriva name has been painted over everywhere, but the franchise only started yesterday.
The water level in the River Lugg has risen considerably. It is flowing fast and brown, where it has been crystal clear for months. The staccato alarm of a Wren comes from a bank-side Hawthorn. Under the A49, Leominster bypass, via Mosaic Bridge. The mosaic on the far wall, designed by local children, had been repaired. Robins sing in the Millennium Wood. Himalayan Balsam is everywhere. A Sparrowhawk flies eastwards across the river valley causing a good number of Wood Pigeons to fly up from the trees and circle around whilst the raptor departs before returning to their perches. Common Chickweed and White Dead-nettle are still in flower. A pair of squeaking Pied Wagtails fly over. The Himalayan Balsam varies in colour from the whitest pink through to deep rose pink, all in the same stand. A few Hogweeds are flowering with other stems turned to seed. Onto Eaton Bridge. Two Mute Swans with for large cygnets glide under the arches, the pen leading the cob following behind. Up Widgeon Meadow where the trees planted a few years ago are ten to fifteen feet high now. Up the old drovers’ steps. Fresh rabbit burrows are in the banks.
On up the hill. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips, a Chiffchaff is searching a Hawthorn and there are Long-tailed Tits nearby, heard but not seen. Jackdaws chack and Blue Tits chirp. The Woodpecker is at the top of an Ash. It is now raining softly. The large field on top of Eaton Hill has small green shoots emerging in rows. The nettles and Brambles have been slashed back. Fungi have risen where the undergrowth has been cleared. They include Stubble Rosegill, Volvariella gloiocephala and Glistening Inkcap, Coprinellus micaceus, a third remains unidentified. A flock of Jackdaws is on the edge of the field. Once this would have been a flock of Rooks, but they have declined and Jackdaws are everywhere now. Jays squawk in the woods by the field of solar panels. A dead tree has broken and fallen across the path. A new house at Eaton Hill is well designed and fits in. Through Easters meadows and back into town. The River Kenwater is also higher, opaque and flowing rapidly.
Friday – Gloucester – It is a true “hoppin’” morning, only 4°C, trees dripping and a thick mist. Off to Gloucester. By the time I park up in Highnam, the sun is beginning to burn off the mist and a blue sky with high cloud is revealed. Through the mid 20th century housing estate. The road sweeps round the bottom the estate. A long wall enclosed a large garden and an impressive house of 1851, as indicated by a carved stone date in the gable end. There are stables and other outbuildings. The house was the former rectory. There is another large rectory less than a mile away for the now disused St Oswald’s church. Across the busy A415. Church Lodge is a wonderful little gem of Victorian Gothic with a circular tower. A footpath passes offices, one set in a Victorian building in an ecclesiastical design, formerly a school and the other modern, in wood. Opposite is the village cricket pitch. Robins sing in the trees, Rooks caw the distance. The path is strewn with red Yew berries. The path is sunken below the cricket pitch and passes through a gate under a stone bridge which carries a path to the pavilion. Beyond is the churchyard of Holy Innocents church. The church is only open on Sundays both for a service and visiting. The church was built by H Woodyer under a commission for Thomas Gambier Parry the owner of the nearby Highnam Court, and was consecrated in 1851. The architecture is Decorated style. Hubert Parry, his son, inherited the estate and is best remembered for his musical setting for Blake’s poem “Jerusalem” and much other memorable church music. Beyond the churchyard is Highnam Park. Jackdaws are numerous. A tombstone is dedicated to Thomas Fenton, the last squire of Highnam who died in 2010. The grave is beside that of vicars of Highnam and various members of the Parry family. The tombs are all inscribed in Gothic text making them rather difficult to decipher.
A footpath runs down the edge of a field towards the junction with the A40. Highnam Court is hidden behind trees. Only the gardens are rarely open to visitors. Down to the road junction, where a cottage is in the trees, not the best site given the noise the roads. Along the A40 where traffic passes at full speed. Another house is on the roadside, again the noise must be all pervading. Opposite are large fields of winter cereal. Over the River Severn via Telford’s bridge. The river flows steadily seawards. At the foot of the path down from the bridge is a large patch of Bristly Ox Tongue, a yellow Hawkweed, member of the Daisy family. Paths head south. A footpath traverses the scrubland Alney Island alongside Richard’s Wood. A footpath heads east past playing fields. There is a web of tarmacked paths, few is which are marked on the OS maps. I cross over the east branch of the River Severn. Into the city centre via West Gate.
St Nicholas Church has been redundant since the 1971 and is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. The building is 12th century, rebuilt in the 13th century, altered and added to in the 14th and 15th centuries when the spire was added, which was much higher then today. Damage was caused to the spire by a direct hit by Royalist troops during the Siege of Gloucester in 1643. It is now topped with a coronet by John Bryan. There was an extensive restoration by John Jaques and Son in 1865. The 12th century church was known as “St Nicholas of the Bridge”, the bridge being over a now silted and lost arm of the Severn. Across the bridge was the Hospital of St Bartholomew, founded in the mid 12th century. Henry III endowed the hospital with St Nicholas. I am conducted around the church by a knowledgeable volunteer. Above the door is a Norman tympanum, depicting the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Apparently, this was covered by plaster for many years and only discovered in the Victorian era when a lump of the plaster fell off. On the door is a reproduction of a 14th century sanctuary knocker, the original being in the city museum. The knocker depicts the Devil with a drunken woman on his back whose tongue is licking a bunch of grapes. Inside, above the entrance is the Royal Arms with an oddly altered date which is ambiguous, meaning it could have originally been for Charles II, George I or George II. The northern arcade has two bays with large Norman columns and rounded arches. The rest of both the north and south arcades are pointed arches of the early 13th century. In the south arcade is a beautifully carved piece of panelling from the front of a gallery installed in 1621. The carving is Jacobean and when the gallery was removed in 1924, parts of the carved wood were used to create two chairs. At the east end of the south arcade is the tomb of John Walton, a goldsmith, former city alderman, and Sheriff of Gloucester, who died in 1626, and his wife, Alice. Very finely carved effigies are thought to be by Samuel Baldwin, whose monument is on the north wall. Opposite is a plaque to Nicholas Sankey, who died in 1585, and the plaque, dated 1589, is the oldest monument in the church. There are four large squints either side of the sanctuary. The altar is surrounded by encaustic tiles. A window depicts a pelican feeding its young with blood from its breast. It is recorded that when the window was refitted a stone carving of a pelican was found. From here, looking back down the church, one can see that the whole building is tilted by subsidence. It was built on a marsh. The Victorians attempted to dig cellars to install heating but the pits flooded. They still do and the damp can be seen on the tiles of the floor in the nave. On the north wall is a plaque recording that Sunday morning lectures commenced here on 25th March 1795. These lectures were in addition to the Sunday services.
On up Westgate Street. The present street is laid on a Saxon one. The Roman west road lies under the southern side of the street. The present thoroughfare was once two with a line of buildings of the 12th century, including two churches, Mary de Grace and Holy Trinity in it. Many of the present buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries with later refacing. Past Shire Hall. It has a massive Ionic portico of 1816 designed by Robert Smirke for Gloucestershire magistrates. The wings were added in 1909-11 by MH Medland for the County Council. The rest of the building is a 1960-70 rebuild. Side streets lead down to the cathedral. One has a 19th century house incorporating the remains of King Edward’s Gatehouse built for Abbot Parker on the south side of the Cathedral precinct opposite the south porch of the Cathedral, formerly the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter. Nearby is a timber-framed range of the 15th century, with many later alterations, mainly in 18th and 19th with alterations and extensive restoration in the last century. I hurry on now to the bus station as the buses back to Highnam are two-hourly and one will shortly depart. Route
Monday – Rottingdean – The sun rises into a clear blue sky. Through the west of Saltdean. Streets of inter-war housing, some interesting Art Deco in design, many plain utilitarian homes. However, the considerable variations in design makes this estate so much more pleasant than its modern equivalents. Onto the main coast road Marine Drive, by The White House. It is rush hour and the traffic is continuous. Up the hill beside a long high wall, set with uncut round flint nodules. From the top of the down, East Hill, now covered in housing, the sea is dark blue and flat. At sea, an extensive wind farm, Rampion, consisting of 116 mills, is on the horizon. Down the hill into Rottingdean. The houses are older as the village is approached. On the hill opposite is the black Ovingdean windmill, built in 1802 and operated until the 1880s. Just before the foot of the hill is a modern development of no merit whatsoever.
Up the main street of Rottingdean. A huge house with double wings is boarded up, strange that somewhere like this has not been converted into apartments costing hundreds of thousands each. It was built in the early 19th century and had been used as St Aubyn’s school from 1832. The school can trace its roots back to late 18th century, when a local vicar, Dr Thomas Redman Hooker (1762-1838) ran an educational establishment in The Grange. Its pupils included Bulwer Lytton, who became a celebrated novelist, Henry Edward Manning, who became Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1865, and Henry Fox Talbot, one of the founders of photography. This building became an annex and was called Kennedy’s School in 1832 and Field House School from the 1860s and 1895 saw the introduction of the name of St Aubyn’s (which has been spelled without the apostrophe since 1940). John Kipling, the son of Rudyard, attended from 1907 to 1911 before going off to his public school at Wellington. It closed in 2013. Many houses have knapped flint finished, other are pastiches of old eras, Tudor especially. The village hall is in flint, dated 1885. Past a Catholic primary school and St Martha’s Convent. Burne-Jones lived in one of the next large houses.
A bridleway, Hog Plat, heads west beside a beautiful old farmhouse of 1724. In the garden wall is a gazebo built in 1822 said to have been built as a lookout for coaches from Lewes on the new Falmer Road. Allotments climb Beacon Hill. A Robin sings and a Wood Pigeon flies around, seemingly aimlessly, before alighting on top of an Ash. Up onto the hill top near the windmill. Skylarks sing briefly before parachuting down to the long grass. An area has been fenced off for sheep grazing. A Kestrel flies across the hillside, buffeted by the increasingly blustery wind. Another is hovering far across the grassland. The hills are classic downland, soft hills cut by gentle valleys, combes. Rottingdean Place lies below to the east. It was built in 1912 as the St Mary’s Home for Female Penitents. The Home was run by the nuns of the Community of the Blessed Virgin whose original premises had been in Queen’s Square and Wykeham Terrace in Brighton. In 1974 the Community moved to Rottingdean villa. To the south west is St Dunstan’s, the Blind Veterans Centre. To the west, Roedean school. An old dew pond is dry, unless the clay lining is maintained, it cracks and the water seeps away through the porous chalk below.
Ovingdean – Off the grassland and down a long road of 20th century houses, through Ovingdean. Down to the village centre. The Lodge is a flint house and beyond Ovingdean Hall, built in 1782 for Nathaniel Kemp. It was the birthplace of Charles Eamer Kempe (1837–1907), the stained glass window designer and Thomas Read Kemp (1783–1844), the founder of Kemp Town in Brighton. It is now an English Language School. The centre of the village was a large farm, Ovingdean Grange. The farm buildings are now all dwellings. The Grange was the property of Lewes Priory until dissolution in 1537. The farmhouse has 17th century work to the north, an 18th century range to east and the west frontage was altered around 1835 in a typical Georgian style. In 1857, the popular novelist W. Harrison Ainsworth wrote “Ovingdean Grange, A Tale Of The South Downs”, in which he described how the future King Charles II stayed there for less than 24 hours before escaping to France in 1651, fathering a child in the process. In reality, the King stayed at the George Inn in West Street, Brighton. Opposite are more houses in flint, mostly dating from the early 19th century. The rectory was built between 1804 and 1807.
Beyond is the church of St Wulfrans. Graves are packed tightly the churchyard. William Willett’s has a large concrete base with “Entrance” carved on it. He was a campaigner for daylight saving time. Another is a fine arched chest tomb with red marble insets, housing the remains of a good many of the Jex-Blake family, although their most notable member is not buried there. Sophia Jex-Blake is commemorated on the memorial stone, however. She overcame opposition to train as one of the first female doctors in the United Kingdom, helped to found the London and Edinburgh Schools of Medicine for Women, and started a women’s and children’s hospital in Edinburgh. A cracked font bowl lies in the grass near a sundial. Further on is the grave of Magnus Volk, the electrical engineer who built an early electric car and the Volk’s Railway on Brighton seafront, the world’s oldest surviving electric railway. Sadly the church is locked. The chancel and nave are early 12th century, the tower dates from the late 13th century, the porch 19th century, south chapel was added in 1907 and the north-west vestry in 1985 Restoration was undertaken in 1867. It is the only all flint church in Sussex. The two-stage tower is topped with a shallow pyramid-shaped spire of a design known as the “Sussex Cap” and has a circular corbel of similar height in its south-eastern corner.
Over a stile by the church gate and up Cattle Hill. A flint wall has flint buttresses. Steps rise over the wall. The wind has risen and is a powerful and cold blast now. Across the hillside. To the west are cranes building a new tower block of the Royal Sussex Hospital. A path passes behind Roedean. Down a track that joins an ancient track up Red Hill. Evening Primrose and Hawkweeds are still in flower. Up a white chalk track and across a golf course, constructed in 1893. Ahead is Black Rock Valley with Stanley Deason school where I worked in the 1980s. Then the Whitehawk estate and the steep rise to Brighton racecourse. The grandstand stands by the site of Whitehawk hill-fort an important site that sadly is largely destroyed. Deep in the valley is Whitehawk football ground, home of a club to be reckoned with these days! Up the hill is Sheepcote Valley, once the main rubbish tip for the town but now reverting to nature. Down the side of the hill to Roedean Road. Past the old gasometer. This was the town’s first gasworks, built outside the borough in 1818 with tunnels, now gone, to the beach where the coal was unloaded to avoid local coal taxes. They were set on fire on May 25th 1943 when a squadron on 24 Focke Wulf 190 fighter-bombers targeted the town. Route
Hove – A bus takes me to Hove. The modernist Hove Town Hall had aged well. Outside is a statue, The Juggler, by Helen Collis. Opposite the road is lined by shops below three and four storey blocks. Some chimney stacks have a dozen pots, sometimes two dozen. Up Norton Road. Houses here are three storey Victorian semis. Half way up is the Catholic church of the Sacred Heart, locked. The building, by John Crawley and J S Hansom, was started in 1879 and consecrated in 1887. It was established as a mission from St Mary Magdalen, Upper North Street, Brighton in 1876. Funds were available under the will of Fr George Alfred Oldham (d.1875) who had built St Mary Magdalen (1861-4) and the adjoining school. Up Eaton Gardens. Here the houses are large two storey detached buildings with rooms in the attic. They are in yellow brick with extensive decoration. Many are now converted into flats. A complete house sells for £1¼ million. Some houses have been demolished in the 20th century to be replaced with boring blocks of flats. Into Eaton Villas where Eaton House was built in the late 1880s by William Willett mentioned above as being buried in Ovingdean. Into Denmark Villas. Here the large terraces of three storey houses are plainer. There are also some smaller villas here. This leads to Hove station. The Ralli Memorial Hall is dated 1913. It has ornate fittings. The station buildings are plain. It was opened on 1st October 1865. It was originally named Cliftonville, then West Brighton, before being renamed Hove and West Brighton in 1894 and finally Hove in 1895.
South again down Goldstone Villas. Here are mainly Victorian villas and terraces. A former Methodist chapel is dated 1878 and is now offices. At the foot the road is Trinity church, now a medical centre. The church was designed by James Woodman, a local architect, was responsible for the design, and a builder named Cane constructed it. The Bishop of Chichester, Ashurst Gilbert laid the foundation stone on 7th April 1863 and consecrated the church on 15th June 1864. It is in a mixture of styles, some calling it “Lombardo-Gothic”. Into Blatchington Road. The United Reform church of 1867 appears to be still in use. Into George Street. Here there is a strange mixture of national chains, charity shops, small cafés and the odd local business. Into Church Road. St Andrews church is in knapped flint. It is, of course, locked.
The church was probably established in the 12th century in fields to the north-west of the village of Hove. This church functioned as the parish church of Hove until 1531, when the parish was united with that of Preston (to the northeast) and became the parish of Hove-cum-Preston. Although its parish church status remained, a declining population was unable to maintain it. By the 18th century the nave and chancel were crumbling; parts of the roof were removed; and the tower fell down in 1801. As the population grew it was decided to rebuild the church. Architect George Basevi designed the new building and the London-based building firm Butler & Green carried out the construction. It was designed it what has been called “Neo-Norman”. Much of the graveyard has been appropriated for the widening of Church Road and new buildings. One notable grave is that of Sir George Everest, the geographer who undertook the Great Trigonometric Survey in India while acting as Surveyor-General, was the first person to determine the exact height of the world’s highest mountain, which was then named after him.
Down Seafield Road, which has Victorian terraces down one side and garages backing onto the backs of the houses in the next street on the other. Onto King’s Road and a quick pint in The Neptune. Then past a building site where one assumes new apartments are rising, then King Alfred’s swimming pool. A Coastliner bus approaches so I go aboard for Shoreham. Route
Shoreham – Off at the centre of Shoreham by the footbridge to Shoreham Beach. In the late 11th century a new town was planted by the mouth of the River Adur, and was later called New Shoreham in distinction from the earlier settlement of Old Shoreham. The borough of New Shoreham became one of the most important channel ports in the 12th and 13th centuries, but declined in the 14th. A ferry across the estuary belonged 1235 to William de Bernehus, who held land in Sompting, and afterwards passed to William Paynel, lord of Cokeham in Sompting, who in 1316 granted it with Cokeham to Hardham priory. The ferry, recorded as part of the estates of the earl of Arundel in the 1660s and in 1732, may later have gone out of use: it was not recorded in 1753 or when the Norfolk Bridge was opened in 1833. A footbridge was built in 1921. The present footbridge, called The Adur Ferry Bridge, opened in 2013.
The sun glares off the blue water. A Cormorants and various gulls are in the mud on the far side. Here a young gull stands on the railings carefully watching a lad eating a roll a few feet away. Back into the main road. The Marlipins is a building of 12th century origin rebuilt in the 14th century, thought to have been the custom-house of the lords of New Shoreham. The pub next door, also called The Marlipins, had fine toffee coloured tiles on the front wall to the first floor. To the junction where the High Street divides, one road over the bridge and along the coast, the other north to Steyning. Here there were some old sheds and, if my memory is correct a ships’ chandlers. Now there are modern blocks, an arts centre, shops and apartments. Norfolk Bridge was a suspension bridge with some built towers at each end arching over the road. All is gone and it is now an ordinary bridge erected in 1987. The Bridge Inn is still here. Up the Steyning road, the Old Shoreham Road and under the railway line. There were extensive oyster beds on the river around here in the past. A large new development of apartments is being constructed beside the river. Opposite is Swiss Cottage, a pub. In 1838 James B. Balley, the shipbuilder, opened an entertainment centre called the Swiss Gardens. By 1843 the boating lake (there were later two lakes) had been enlarged and there was an aviary, a reading room, a library, a ball-room, ornamental gardens, and provision for various sports. A theatre and a museum were added before 1867. In the late 19th century the entertainment became more rough, the gardens were closed, and the theatre was used only occasionally. By 1905 the whole site was closed. Part of it was later used for the Victoria Upper Council school, and a small part survived as the garden of the Swiss Cottage pub. A path runs alongside the river on the bed of the old Brighton and South Coast Railway (Dorking, Horsham and Shoreham Line) which opened in 1861 and closed in 1966. Opposite is Shoreham airport where a helicopter lands and a small aircraft takes off. The airport was founded in 1910 and is the second oldest airport in the UK and one of the oldest purpose-built commercial airports in the world. Just upstream is the old wooden Shoreham Toll Bridge. This used to be the main route for the A27 and was a rickety affair when I was young but it still stands. It was first opened to public traffic in March 1782 and was completely rebuilt by the company during the First World War retaining the original eighteenth century design. The bridge carried the coastal trunk road, the A27, until 1970 when its successor was built a quarter mile to the north. The British Railways Board finally closed the bridge to road traffic on 7th December 1970. There are a few gulls on the mud, Herring, Black-headed, Common and Lesser Black-backed, but not a single wader. An old flint faced wall runs along beneath the path. Lancing College is on the hillside to the north-west. A great deal of construction is going on over the river between the A27 and the airport.
Back to the High Street. Into West Street, formerly White Lion Street. A restaurant on the corner was formerly a cottage from the 17th century. There are modern buildings here but also a few 18th century fisherman’s cottages in flint. A Primitive Methodist chapel is now a snooker club. However, from 1945 it became a factory for by Durex Ltd. Next to it is an older flint and brick building now an arts centre. Into North Street where there are more flint faced buildings. Opposite is the modern Catholic church of St Peter. Into Ship Street. Here are mainly modern buildings except for St John’s church which is now apartments. I need to catch a bus back, so much more is missed.
Friday – Abergavenney-Brynmawr – The days are shortening and I catch the train in the pre dawn gloom. Dark clouds cross the sky and the temperature has dropped. Invisible Robins still sing lustily. A fat moon shines in the western sky, past fullness but still bright. This is the first train I have caught since the new Transport for Wales franchise started, and it is late. So no change there. Out of Abergavenny station and down through the Holywell area. The cloud has lifted overhead but lays thickly to the west. A flock of House Sparrows chatter noisily in a garden hedge. Down to the Castle Meadows and along the riverbank by the Usk. A Grey Heron stands on the far bank. The sun suddenly breaks through bathing the area in golden light. Rabbits chase along the far bank. The water level in the river has risen but not as much as one might expect. One arch of the Usk bridge is full of smashed tree trunks. It starts to drizzle briefly. Through Llan-ffwyst. At Llan-ffwyst Crossing, Croesfan Llan-ffwyst, I start on the long distance path on the bed of the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny railway which opened in 1862 on the instigation of ironmaster Crayshaw Bailey.
The track runs alongside the B4246. There are still plenty of foliage on the trees but the ground is strewn with golden leaves. The track is now on an embankment high above the Blaenavon road and the Heads of the Valleys road. Our then curves southwards to cross the Blaenavon road. A large depot lies below. A railway mileage post stands by the track. Just beyond is the ruin of a brick wayside hut. The B4246 has divided and the track crosses a bridge over the southern leg. Past 20th century houses then Govilon Wharf. Over the canal. Past more 20th century housing and into the site of Govilon station which opened on 1st October 1862 closing on 6th January 1958. The old station building is now a dwelling. An LMS trespass notice has been set into the wall. Under a road bridge and out of Govilon. The track is lined by trees less than fifty years old, Birches, Beeches and Field Maples. It starts to rain so I struggle on with my over-trousers. The track crosses a bridge, the old OS map calls it a viaduct, over the brook down Cwm Llanwenarth. An ironworks lay below. The rain ceases. There is a standing stone in an enclosure at Pentre but I am far from convinced it is not modern.
The track is passing under a series of stone road bridges, all beautifully finished in dressed stone. The rain returns, heavier and more persistent. Through a cutting through the Devonian Brownstone Formation. Gilwern lies down the hillside. The Black Mountains are disappearing into mist. Through Gilwern station which opened in 1863. A cast iron modern signpost, oddly without any script, stands where the stone built station building stood. The path is diverted off the railway for a time but a footpath returns me to it. A Raven croaks as it flies over. The track is now above the Clydach Gorge. Traffic noise rises from the Heads of the Valleys road below. A few cottages are scattered along the way with small group at Tanker’s Row. A high viaduct crosses Cwm Dyar, Nant Dyar Viaduct, quoted as “composed of eight semi-circular arches built of old red sandstone with 30 foot spans on a curve of 10 chains radius at a gradient of 1 in 38”. Far below a waterfall tumbles down. Above are abandoned Clydach Lime Works, last worked in 1955, set into Gilwern Hill. The kilns ceased operation in the 1930s, but were refired during the war for agricultural lime, special hoods being made to place over the kilns during blackouts. Clydach station and the Station Inn are both dwellings now. The hillside is now woodland with older Beeches. The route has bypassed a tunnel through which the railway passed shortly after the station. The walls on the outside and the tunnel entrance area all in black brick. Past another milepost, marked “7”, the number of miles to Abergavenney Junction.
Another high bridge passes over a deep cwm, Sychnant. Various ferns, Hard, Male and Hart’s Tongue grow is the rock faces beside the track. Here the bedrock is Castell Coch limestone from the Carboniferous. The line now passes the abandoned Llanelly Quarry with lime kilns. Sidings ran into the quarry. The quarry closed in 1962. Round a large rock face reinforced with black bricks. The small village of Darrenfelen is on the top of this hillside. The route keeps curving round and has a tall reinforcing wall to the east side. Far below roadworks continue on the Heads of the Valleys road. The track now turns in the other direction and over Cwm Llam-march. A drainage tunnel is far the site is the cwm. The railway entered two tunnels here but the track now passes around the hill. A Common Buzzard flies past calling loudly. A small rock shelter has been cut into the rock face. The rock looks softer here, it is Twrch Formation of the Carboniferous. Through the hamlet of Gellifelen. Puck’s Valley, Cwm Pwca lies below. A pwca is a fairy or goblin that is able to change its shape, taking on the appearance of a range of different animals. The tunnels re-emerge into a dense willow thicket and the track rejoins the route the railway. Tal-y-Sarn is a small cottage with a corrugated iron roof, sadly boarded up. Now small brick wayside huts are beside the track. These were waiting rooms for Gellifelen Halt, Another hut in corrugated iron is rusting away.
Suddenly all footpaths are closed at Rheinallt, one supposes because of the road construction, but it means something of a detour. A footpath runs up a green passage then up some overgrown steps, up into Cwm nant-gam. The path meets a road that climbs over Mynydd Rheinallt. A Snipe zigzags away across the bleak hillside. The rain, which had stopped for a while, returns with a vengeance, driven by a strong wind. Onset the hill large machines, diggers and lorries are moving and crushing stone. The road drops down through Noble Square Industrial Estate into Brynmawr.
Sunday – Leominster – The sky is entirely cloudless. There is a chilly north-easterly wind which has prevented a frost. A Lesser Black-backed Gull is zigzagging this way and that in the breeze. Jackdaws fly over the road and a small flock of Starlings heads in the opposite direction. Orange cones hang from a Spruce which towers above the roofs from a back garden. Down the path by the White Lion where Wood Pigeons explode out of the trees. The water level in the River Lugg is still fairly low but the water is now crystal clear. Black Poplars are losing their leaves exposing a large clumps of mistletoe. The police cars and ambulances have gone from Brightwells’ compound leaving rows of army Land Rovers. The market is understandably small as the wind is bitter. It recalls days many years ago on Ford Aerodrome market in West Sussex where vicious winds cut through to the marrow. The Kenwater is still low.
Monday – Leominster – The temperature dips below zero for the first time this autumn. The hens’ water is frozen. The seed feeder is emptied every day now, mainly by House Sparrows. Starlings fly in from the east then break into smaller groups over the town and head in different directions.
Croft – The temperature has only risen a degree or so although the sun is shining brightly. High cloud moves swiftly across the sky from the east. There are stacks of tree trunks beside the drive. Down into the Fish Pool Valley. Blue Tits cheep and Nuthatches whoop. The heavy machinery has gone from the lower pool, work must have finished. Many trees are lost their leaves. Large brown bunches of keys hang in the Ashes. The Beeches are a glorious display of copper. Down in the valley, Wrens and Robins sing. Small birds dash to and fro through the branches – Blue, Coal, Willow and Long-tailed Tits. More stacks of timber are beside track. A lot of the Ash trees have been felled below the lime kiln. More have been cleared further up the valley. The hillside above the modern pump shed has also been felled.
Up towards the Mortimer Trail. More Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tits. A Jay makes a racket somewhere in the trees. A Willow Tit calls from up on the slopes of the hill-fort. A couple of Clouded Funnel, Clitocybe nebularis fungi are by the path. Young Hereford cows are feisty, one tries to face me down but retreats when I give her a sharp rap on the nose. Another is scratching its neck on a protruding sawn branch stump. Up on the hill-fort. More Robins and many more Blue Tits, they clearly have had a good breeding season. A heavy frost lingers in shady spots. Mist obscures the surrounding hills. A Blackbird mutters in a Hawthorn loaded with haws. Back down to the car park. It is the school half-term so very busy.