Ramblings

October 2020


Friday – Leominster – The Harvest Moon was hidden by cloud throughout the night. In the pre-dawn darkness and rain, I collect more cider apples. I would have preferred a greater mix of varieties but so far the main crop has been Tom Putt and Foxwhelp with a smaller number of Lady’s Finger.

The Tom Putt apple is associated with Combe House in Gittisham, Devon. According to correspondence sent to Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, the apple Tom Putt was supposed to have been named for an 18th century landowner, Thomas Putt of Combe, who died in 1787 and was nicknamed “Black Tom”. Others say the Putt commemorated by the apple was a rector, Revd Thomas Putt of Trent, a nephew of Thomas Putt of Combe. It was also known as Ploughman, Coalbrook, Marrowbone, Thomas Jeffreys and by many other local names.

The Redstreak, also spelled Redstrake, Red Streak or Red-streak, is a very old variety. It is first recorded in the early 17th century when John Evelyn stated it was originally named the “Scudamore Crab”, having been grown by the diplomat and politician John Scudamore, 1st Viscount Scudamore. His efforts in improving and raising fruit trees on his estate at Holme Lacy were an attempt to match the superior French cider available at the time. He had been ambassador to France, and possibly raised this apple from a pip brought back from there. The apple fell out of favour and possibly disappeared. It is unclear whether modern Herefordshire Redstreak are related to the original variety, which may now be extinct.

Less information can be found about Lady’s Finger apples. Some say it comes from the south west but most consider it to be a Herefordshire variety. There are other varieties with the same name. It is a long, tapering apple and this tree has not, in my experience, ever been that prolific.

Storm Alex, named by the French Meteorological Service as the storm is centred on Brittany, is bringing a lot of rain and by the afternoon stronger winds.

Saturday – Leominster – After a tempestuous night of rain and wind, it is slightly quieter this morning. There is still a strong breeze and the sky is dark. We queue up for our annual flu jab and then a bit of shopping.

Across the Grange and down the old sports pitch to the Millennium Orchard. I gather some more Tom Putt, Lady’s Fingers and Herefordshire Redstreaks. A quick check of the trees shows there will be plenty of Michelin, Genet Moyle and Dabinett apples in the coming weeks.

Track replacement is going on beyond the orchard. At least two cranes are on the down track and on the up track is a diesel pulling dozens of yellow wagons containing ballast.

Sunday – Leominster – The rain keeps falling. And it has been falling for over 24 hours now. A deep depression lies across the area with the pressure down to 967 millibars. Most of the drains in the street are blocked so water floods out onto the road.

Tamper

I have a moment of apprehension in the alleyway that leads to the railway bridge. A collie is hunkered down next to the wall with no one in sight, but then the owner appears with the all important River Luggball. He has been watching the track laying from the bridge. A yellow and orange machine is edging its way through the station. Tines cut down into the newly laid ballast and give it a shake and tamping. It is programmed with geometrical data that shows where the track should be, and compares the data with the actual track position using on-board measuring equipment. The machine then calculates the required movements to reposition the track according to the geometrical data. A pile of sleepers is on the station platform, ready to be laid on the up track. Near the bridge over the Kenwater is the diesel locomotive with its wagons of ballast ready to replace the up track.

The water level in the River Lugg has certainly risen but it is not as high as one would have expected after this constant rain but the water is now reddish chocolate. No birds can be heard but this is unsurprising given the noise the track work is making.

Home – The rain finally ceases mid morning. The sky remains grey and threatening more precipitation. The week’s bounty of apples are crushed in the scratter and pressed. Twelve gallons are now fermenting. By the late afternoon the pressure rises slowly, the clouds break and there are patches of blue sky. More rain is forecast unfortunately. A Raven flies over, croaking gently. As the evening grows dark, Mars shines with a reddish orange glow between the dark clouds.

Tuesday – Home – The sky is grey and the wind is rising again. All the climbing beans are removed. They have not been as productive as usual. The runner beans in particular cropped fairly sparsely and the pods became leathery very quickly. The wire tunnels that have been protecting rows of kale and pak choi are replaced with netting to allow the kale in particular more headroom. A row of cavolo nero which had not been protected has been eaten to the ground. The nets over the purple sprouting broccoli is raised again – the plants are the largest yet, so I am hopeful of a good crop in spring. Oddly the row of cavolo nero in this bed has not been touched!

Rain falls in short showers during the afternoon.

Wednesday – Midsummer Hill – It is a fine autumn day so Kay and I visit this hill on the southern tip of the Malverns. A track leads upwards through woodland, mainly Ash, some of which are clearly several hundred years old and fewer Oaks. Almost hidden in the woodland on either side of the track are two large quarries. Hollybush Quarry to the east has a lake in it, although it cannot be seen from the track. The wide range of Malverns Complex rocks in this quarry includes hornblende-rich examples. These represent early melts from the original dioritic magma. The quarry produced mainly roadstone as well as wall and rough building blocks. It was the last of the Malvern Hills quarries to close in the 1980s. A small windowless hut is in the woods, possibly an old powder store?

Ramparts

A Wren churrs and a Pheasant croaks. Extensive Brambles have mouldering blackberries on them. Jays, a Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch call. The track passes through the ramparts of Midsummer Hill-fort. The ramparts encircle the whole of the hill top. It was a large settlement, English Heritage’s most recent survey in 1999 recorded over 483 hut platforms. Excavations within the hill-fort have revealed Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age pottery and artefacts that show that the hill-fort was established in the 5th century BC and was occupied for about 500 years. On past a large pillow mound, a Norman artificial rabbit warren. Out onto the hill. Shire Ditch runs north from the ramparts. It is known that it was fortified in 1287 and used as a boundary between the land of the Red Earl, Gilbert de Clare, and Bishop Cantilupe from Herefordshire Cathedral. It is now thought, following a survey by English Heritage in 2000, that the ditch was in existence for a long time before this, possibly as early as the Bronze Age. Up to the top of Midsummer Hill. Here the views are magnificent in all directions. The Severn and Avon Vales to the east. To Obeliskthe west these subside to the Herefordshire Lowlands, and to the north west they subside to the Herefordshire Plateau. Below is Eastnor Castle.A short distance to the west is the Obelisk, a monument built in 1812 in memory of the son of the 1st Earl Somers who was killed in British Campthe Peninsular War. Northwards the line of the Malvern Hills is dominated by the ramparts of British Camp ringing the summit of Herefordshire Beacon. It is slightly hazy which makes the distant hills rather obscure. There is a modern concrete shelter set up as a memorial to Captain Reginald Somers Cocks M.C who was killed in WW1.

Across the summit are patches of Wood Sage with its crinkly green leaves and Yarrow. Yellow flowers adorn the Gorse. A path heads south, crossing the ramparts and then dropping down the hill. Below is a grassy slope with small spinneys beside which cock Pheasant joust to determine dominance. The path is well used but not marked on the map and gets pretty steep in places. It passes an old rifle range. It emerges at the car park.

Friday – Leominster – The pre-dawn sky is clear. Mars is in the west, Venus in the east, Sirius in the south and Orion in the south west. By 9 o’clock the sky is grey and drizzle falls.

Through the Grange. A few excitable dogs bark and yap. Jackdaws chatter on the roof of Grange House. A Robin squeaks from the Yew tree outside the house. A Carrion Crow barks from the churchyard. A Grey Squirrel bounces across the old playing field. There are still large quantities of cider apples to fall in the Millennium Orchard. It will probably be a fortnight before they are worth gathering. Along footpath to the White Lion then over the railway bridge to the River Lugg. The water level has changed little in the past week.

A Robin sings in the riverside trees. Yellow Black Poplar leaves are scattered across Butts Bridge. The alarm calls of Wrens comes from the undergrowth. Himalayan Balsam has spread all along the riverbank and is in flower; pretty but an invasive menace. Vehicles for auction in Brightwells’ compound look pretty much the same ones that were here over a month ago. A Cormorant with a pale belly flies south down the river. A “To let” sign has appeared outside Easters Court confirming that Brightwells are moving away.

The new chicken sheds have been erected in the field below Eaton Hill. I must admit they cannot be seen from anywhere other than the farm track that leads to Comfordt House. A new wooden building has been erected on the site of the old concrete barns at Comfordt House, appearing to be offices. Up the track to Eaton Hill. Japanese Umbrella toadstools grow singly on the verge. Much more densely are the brown, dead heads of Selfheal. Blue Tits squeak in the woodlands. The artificial screams of birds coming from the speakers at the solar panel array seem to have little effect on the Wood Pigeons Carrion Crows and Jackdaws perched on the panels. A Raven swoops down and away off the communications mast.

The big field on Eaton Hill has been ploughed leaving a broad strip around the edges which is very pleasing, providing an ecological niche for numerous creatures. A Common Buzzard glides low over the field and down the hill. It soon returns with an escort of harassing Jackdaws. The unploughed ground contains quite extraordinary mixture of brassicas, some with long pods, some with purple flowers similar to callaloo, others so I do not recognise at all. I pick some young fresh leaves for the chickens.

Down the old green way. The Crab Apple tree is heavily laden with fruit. I bite into one experimentally it is sweet but at the same time, mouth puckeringly dry. Down the old drovers path. Blackthorn bushes here are still carrying large numbers of sloes. Down to Eaton Bridge under which Grey Wagtail walks down overhanging branches looking for insects. Along to the old section of the A44. The pear tree by the path again has large rosy pears dangling. In unfounded optimism I try one again and whilst it is sweet the texture is hard and woody. Those I gathered last year never softened.

Across the A49 and up to the old road bridge. Scarlet rosehips shine in the hedgerow. The musty scent of Ivy fills the air; it has been an extraordinary year for Ivy flowers. However the breeze and cool temperature means that few insects are taking advantage of the bounty, just a couple of Common Wasps. A northbound train passes under the bridge. As I pass the station, three Swallows fly over heading south.

Wednesday – Leominster – The early morning, i.e. around 6:30am, is dark now. A fingernail of moon lays in the eastern sky next to Venus. Mars is glowing orange in the west. Mars is in opposition now, so it is at its brightest for two years – the period between opposition and the planet will not get this close to Earth again until 2035. Clouds are moving westwards at some pace in a blustery wind and it is cool.

Home – The day brightens with welcome sunshine although the wind remains lively. The troughs of tomato plants by the summerhouse are removed. More tomato plants, these in the greenhouse are also consigned to the compost bins. They are followed by the courgettes. The bins are now fairly full but all this new plant matter will reduce in volume in a very short time. The tree surgeon arrives and the fallen apple tree is removed. I had a last harvesting this morning, leaving a lot of apples still on the stricken boughs but we have enough in store now. The sawn up tree is in his trailer. The trunk was hollow, just an inch or so of living wood on the perimeter. A dessicated nest is on a hollow space, Blue or Great Tit. I need to see how easy it will be to get the stump out then decide whether another tree is going to be planted as a replacement.

Thursday – Home – The stump removal proves to be not too difficult but heavy work. The broken pieces of path asphalt are removed and then the Victorian rope design edging. The latter had been thrust up like geological beds by the eruption of the tree roots underneath. They have unfortunately been set in a channel of concrete which makes them very heavy. I then dig around the base of the trunk, which is completely hollow. A number of thick roots are found and these are cut with the electric saw which proves a real boon. Eventually the stump can be levered out and onto a set of sack wheels to take to the bottom of the garden. In the next few days, a trench needs to be scraped out to reset the concrete bases holding the rope edging.

Friday – Leominster – The air is cool and the sky mottled by grey and white clouds. Across the Grange and down the playing field. Leaves on the trees are turning copper, bronze and gold quickly now and many are falling. Still the Robin sings. A squeaking Grey Wagtail flies past, undulating through the air. Michelin cider apples are beginning to full in the Millennium Orchard. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen again.

Barn

Along Easters Meadow. Dunnocks hop through rosebriars above the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg. Blackbirds pink pink alarms and dash across the river. A small charm of Goldfinches flies over. Fresh molehills are scattered across the track. Along the A49. A pair of Mute Swans fly over, wings whooshing as they pass. On the north side of the road are rusting corrugated iron barns. One near the road carries a plaque of Bellow And Son Ltd – Maker – Leominster. Next to the barn are cottages standing by what was once a wharf at the end of the Leominster canal. A Mistle Thrush rasps from trees on the southern side of the road.

Onto the path across the fields from Hay Lane. A pair of Magpies chase across the stubble. The next field has the green shoots of winter cereal. Over Cheaton Brook. Calls of Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws can be heard in every direction from trees that stand beyond the pastures. Through double gates between pastures. Below Cheaton Brook takes a sharp turn. On closer inspection it is not natural but a stone built wall has been made projecting out at right angles into the stream. The ground rises