Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – A cloudless blue sky and a hot sun that has quickly burned off a morning mist. Trackside bushes are laden with berries, scarlet haws and Bryony, vermilion hips, black elderberries, purple sloes and here red blackberries yet to ripen. A noisy gaggle of Canada Geese lift off and head for the fields. Teasel heads are brown, Rosebay Willowherb white with fluffy seeds and nearly all other flowers that were blossoming just a week ago have gone. A large number of Canada Geese are still on the lake, many on the spit out from the island. Green patches of algae float on the grey-green water. Warning signs have been posted to keep dogs out of the lakes as the algae is deadly toxic. A few Cormorants sit in the Willows and a couple are on the water. The woods behind the meadows are still green but have lost their vibrancy and are almost ready for autumn. A few Purple Loosestrife and Ragwort flower on the scrape and Black Knapweed covers the banks. Brown Bulrush heads rise from the reed beds. Blue and black dragonflies hover over the edge of the water, possibly Emperor Dragonflies, but they do not come close enough to confirm their identity. A Common Buzzard sits on a fence post at the top of the paddock surveying the field. A Chiffchaff sings defiantly but hopelessly against the fading season. Few apples are falling in the cider orchard but far more in dessert apple orchard.
Saturday – Surrey Hills – Silent Pool – A spring fed pair of pools at the foot of the North Downs. Path leads to Sherbourne Pond, rather green with algae, although minerals from the chalk through which the springs have filtered adds a green tinge to the water. This pool stands on Gault clay and it has been suggested by a survey carried out in 2002 that this pool was dug out in 1662 along with the lower part of Silent Pool. A lone Coot stands on the far side. Past Albury organic vineyard, through woods of Beech and Yew which stand on Upper Greensand. Robins sing. Grey Squirrels scamper up the trees. A steep bank rises at the end of Silent Pool. The pool stands on Lower Chalk. A wall has been built many years ago to buttress a stairway. The pool is crystal clear here at the top end where the spring emerges. Two mysterious tales are told of Silent Pool. The first, more recent relates to the authoress, Agatha Christie. Her car was found abandoned here in 1926. She disappeared for 11 days before being found in Harrogate, Yorkshire. The second tale, a legend that a woodcutter’s daughter, Emma, was bathing in the pool. She heard a horse approaching and moved deeper into the pool. The man on the horse tried to lure Emma out of the pool but, frightened, she moved further out still. The man rode into the pool after the screaming maiden who drowned. The man rode off and it is said that he was Prince John. The girl’s ghost is said to still haunt the pool.
Newlands Corner – Back up the A25 to a full car park and crowds around the visitor centre, yet a few yards away down the slope of the down it is peaceful. Newlands Corner stands on the Albury Down, a chalk down, part of the North Downs. The chalk was laid down during the Cretaceous some 120 million years ago. 20 million years later, the African tectonic plate crashed (relatively speaking) into the European plate displacing the Tethys Ocean and threw up the Alps. The ripples from this collision caused folds right across Europe, including the South and North Downs. Flint nodules lay on the hillside where the chalk is exposed. The land below is wooded, a contrast to the land below the South Downs. The village of Albury and its church lay across the valley before dark, conifer infested hills rise. St Martha’s church is also prominent. A Mistle Thrush hops around the hillside. A Green Woodpecker, Rooks and Magpies call from below. A lot of the deciduous trees on the down look stressed. An Oak has bad mildew, a Silver Birch looks near death. Downland flowers still blossom – a yellow umbellifer, Wild Parsnip; one of the Hawkweeds; Common Hemp-Nettle; Marjoram; White Campion; St Johns Wort and Woody Nightshade. A black beetle marches through the grass, a Bloody-nosed Beetle, Timarcha tenebricosa, which will deposit a foul-tasting red fluid when attacked, but does not do so now.
Shere – A delightful village in the Surrey hills. The name probably derives from Scir meaning “bright one”, a reference to the stream which runs through the village. Some timber-framed houses, some stone, some flint-knapped and some brick. There are also a considerable number of shops – even real ones like a green grocer and general stores. Of course, there are also cafés, shops of “stuff”, an outdoor shop, fancy clothes shop etc. Many of the houses keep the names of their previous use – the Forge, Wheelwright, Prison, Pumphouse etc. The public conveniences are housed in a building with a plaque stating “S&A V.F.B” – Shere & Albury Volunteer Fire Brigade. A public drinking fountain stands in the street. It was given to the village by a pair of maiden ladies, the Misses Spotteswood. They abhorred alcohol and in 1886 paid J. Brown of Alburg Heath to sink a well to provide an alternative drink, to whit water, to the ale served in the nearby White Horse inn. Further down the street, the stream, Tilling Bourne, flows under the road. Ducks preen on the bank near a shed used as a duck-house. Alongside the stream is the Pumphouse then some fine allotments with towering sunflowers. A Runner bean grows up the support wire of a telegraph pole. Beyond the allotments the road turns and crosses the stream at a ford. Back down the main street is a small central green with an Oak tree. The church of St James dates from 1190 and built in the early English style. It is approached through a lychgate designed in 1902 by Sir Edwin Luytens. Entrance is through a door of 1626 and inside is a font from around 1200. The church has a nave and chancel, south aisle with a fine Norman door, a side chapel dedicated to St Nicholas, built around 1370-1390, with a window commemorating the end of the Wars of the Roses. A Crusader chest stands in the south aisle, dating from about 1200. On the north wall of the chancel is a squint and quatrefoil. Outside these was a cell which enclosed an anchoress, Christine Carpenter, in 1329. She could partake of Holy Communion by seeing the alter through the squint and receiving sacrament through the quatrefoil. It seems she left the cell at some time because she was re-enclosed again in 1332. Copies of letters from the Archbishop regarding her enclosure are on the wall. On the floor of the chancel are several fine brasses; Robert Scarliffe in his Rector’s robe of 1412, Lord Audley, 1491, John Redford, his wife and six children, Tudor period, Oliver Sandys 1512 and a Tudor brass of an unknown woman.
Abinger Hammer – Continuing eastwards along the A25 one comes to Abinger Hammer. To the south is the Tilling Bourne and beyond a large green for cricket. A pair of artists sit near the stream and sketch. A large Horse Chestnut by the stream has spineless conkers. The village was the centre of the Wealden iron industry. A large clock overhangs the main road and portrays the figure of “Jack the Blacksmith”, who strikes the hour with his hammer. The clock bears the motto “By me you know how fast to go”. The clock was given in memory of the first Lord Farrer of Abinger Hall who died in 1899. We head back towards Addlestone, passing Brooklands. Here a large retail park has been built on the famous motor racing circuit and only a short section of banked track remains beside the road. Heading back I am surprised and rather dismayed to pass field, meadow and pasture, one after another, with no livestock on them except horses. What a waste of our natural resources!
Monday – Croft – Rain pitter-patters onto the leaf canopy whilst the top of the trees glow in sunshine. Mud has returned to the tracks through the woods thanks to the recent rains. Occasional squeaks are the only sound other than the rain. Up towards the top of Lyngham Vallet, Corn Mint flowers by the path. Few other plants are still in flower, the odd Hedge Woundwort, Hogweed and Ragwort. A new gate has replaced the old stile on the path that leads up to the eastern entrance of the hill-fort. This is a blessing to Maddy who could only just scramble under the fence previously, as she refuses to attempt to jump stiles. Hare Bells, pale china blue, are in the grass all along the edge of the hill-fort. Wigmore and its castle are sharply defined in the wet air – it has stopped raining. The nearby hills are clear the more distant Black Mountains, Malvern Hills and South Shropshire Hills are misty and dark. Hawthorns on the top of the slope down to Leinthall are laden with scarlet hawberries.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – A rainbow arcs over the western sky but no rain – yet! The lakes are still green with algae. Some cider apples have dropped, which I gather and go to the board to check their variety – Broxwood Foxwhelp, a famous old cider apple. Round to the river. A Common Buzzard sits on a fencepost on the far side of the meadow, raises its backside to me and takes off. The Canada Geese are surprisingly quiet on the lake, just the occasional yelp. Jackdaws chase a Raven over the trees showing their considerable difference in size. A Mute Swan takes off into the strong wind then seems to change its mind and lands back on the lake.
Friday – Bodenham Lakes – Back to check if any more apples have fallen and indeed there are plenty of a French variety, Blanc Mollet. After leaving my booty in the car, Maddy and I head off towards the river crossing. A black Labrador puppy greets Maddy who growls threateningly. I tell the owner that unfortunately Maddy is a miserable so and so. The owner says that all dogs get more testy as they get old and I have to explain that Maddy is barely three years old and always been unsociable. The River Lugg is low. Down the side of the river through a quiet and empty meadow. The path crosses a tilled field then joins a road at The Vern. A large stone trough stands at the edge of a field behind an old cast iron fence. The Vern is hidden from view, although it can be glimpsed from the field. It was probably built in the mid 16th century, refronted around 1730, remodelled in the late 18th century with further alterations in the 1920s. The Vern is most famous for its herd of Herefordshire cattle. “Vern Robert”, also called either “Bill”, “The Sire” or “Beyond Price” was born in 1939 and is recognised as the sire of the breed. In 1953, “Vern Diamond” was sold to the Wyoming Hereford Ranch in the USA for a record £16,000. The Vern dates back to Saxon times when there was a ford across the river here. At Domesday it was called Ferne; in the Hundred of Tornelaus, previously owned by King Edward and having eight households. It appears to have been in the possession of the Scudamore family in the 14th and 15th centuries. A 1720 map calls it a township. A deer park is also shown on this and subsequent maps into the 19th century.
A road leads past Little Vern and on past private drives with houses hidden by trees and hedges. Oaks line the road, probably over 200 years old. A house is being built in the mock-Tudor style next to cottage. Another cottage has a large paddock next to it lined with damson trees, the fruit dropping and rotting. Opposite the field is called “Kings Field”, a relic of its Saxon royal ownership. The lane joins a larger road at Kitten Gate in the Parish of Marden. I follow the road to Litmarsh, a small village to the south of this road. A footpath leads to Berrington Lake. Little Berrington is a collection of buildings on the hill to the east. The lake contains Canada Geese, Mallard, Moorhens and noisy feral geese. The path runs around the lake beside a yet to be harvested potato field. A pair of Mute Swans and cygnets are in the rushes. Maddy turns to chase her ball and gives herself an almighty crack on a fence post. She stops still and I am worried she has hurt herself, but she seems alright. The path climbs a hill beside another field of potatoes and into Ashgrove Wood. The path drops down some steep steps cut into the soil to the meadow that leads back to Bodenham footbridge.
Home – Cider making is well under way. There are several demi-johns of Tom Putt, one of the pears I got in Surrey and now two of Foxwhelp. The Blanc Mollet apples are crushed and pressed and produce some extraordinary dark chocolate coloured juice. I note from a website (American!) that Blanc Mollet are very low in acid, whilst Foxwhelp are very high, so it seems sensible to blend the two, which I do.
Saturday – Kington – The annual Kington Agricultural Show. The local gentry have dusted off their bowler hats, ironed their best shirts and donned their tweeds and stride around with their shooting sticks. We really enjoy these shows, the exhibits may change, modern tractors and machinery has replaced the horse-powered implements and the horse related goods are now all about pleasure riding but much is similar to years gone past. There is, though, a lovely old threshing and bailing machine on display and, of course, the display of small engines. Being Hereford, the pride of place in the cattle show goes to the magnificent red and white Hereford bulls. They stand or lay in rows in the preparation areas in pristine condition. Their coats have been washed and primped to perfection, even their hooves are shiningly clean. In the sheep ring, Ryelands are being shown, large rumped with tight wool, they stand in a row awaiting judgement. Pointers are being judged in one of the dog rings, a couple of whippets in another. Three horse-drawn jigs are being paraded in the main ring whilst different horse competitions take place in other rings. We pop into the poultry tent where all varieties of fowl are in stacked cages, some with cards and rosettes declaring their place in the winners. The horticultural tent is, of course, busy. The vegetable competitions are surprisingly small, some only having three entries. I have no doubt I could have won the courgette class if I had entered, and probably the French bean class too, although most of mine would have been long past their best. The largest vegetable classes are way out of my league, some magnificent onions and leeks and simply enormous marrows. It is interesting to note there is only one decorated cake in the baking section, obviously going out of fashion. We remember the wonderful table full of them in Penistone. Of course, the cider makers have their stands but I resolutely ignore them – with heavy heart!
Sunday – Leominster – As part of the Heritage Open Weekend, the Civic Society has organised a walk around the town with local guide, Dennis Downey. We set off from the Lion Ballroom. The others go into the ballroom but I remain outside with Maddy. However, I have time to look at the new building being erected on New Street and it now looks rather better than I expected having seen the bare frame. The tour then goes to the front of the Lion Ballroom, where two shop entrances were once the hotel and bar entrances to the Lion Hotel, a coaching inn that fell victim to the railways which replaced the coach. It is interesting to note the foot-lintel of the bar entrance is considerably more worn than that of the hotel entrance. We go down Broad Street, past Pinsley House which is recorded as once being accommodation for 24 curates for the Minster. The road outside gained the name of Vicarage Street. We turn into Bridge Street car park which had been the fish ponds for the priory. The area was then used as the town dump and when this ceased the land was so polluted that the land could not be used for housing, so a car park was built. Along to the lane called The Priory where the oldest houses were used as guest accommodation for visitors to the priory. We look briefly at the last remaining building of the priory, now Social Services. The building used to contain the reredorter, the lavatory which was built over the Pinsley Brook which was filled in during the 1960s. The walk continues around to The Grange and on into Corn Square. Dennis tells us that using dendrochronology, the shop that is now a shoe shop was built around 1410, making probably the oldest in Leominster. Up to the old Iron Cross where the Roman Catholic martyr, Roger Cadwallader was executed, rather nastily by all accounts, in 1610. We go down the High Street where wooden carvings over a shop are displayed. They were “stolen” from the Market Hall, now Grange Court, when it was demolished from its site at the Buttercross.
Monday – Croft – The wind roars through the trees, Hurricane Katia, now downgraded to a tropical storm, has crossed the Atlantic Ocean and hit the north of the country. It is hardly surprising that only the occasional squeak or burst of song from a Robin is heard above the creaks and groans of branches being bent this way and that. Two young Common Buzzards fly up from the slope of the Fish Pool Valley into trees. The pools are being covered by leaves. Clouds race across the sky, turning the light from bright to dark and back again in quick succession. Further up the valley, Nuthatches call in the still dense canopy. Up the slope on the eastern side of the valley into the Beech woods. A relatively young Beech, maybe thirty years old, has grown next to a tall Douglas Fir, its main trunk has divided into two “arms” that seem to be wrapping themselves around the fir. Just up the slope is a very old Beech with three main trunks emerging from a bole that is largely hollow with a number of older trunks having broken off. The ground is still green with mosses, soon it will be copper with dead leaves. Up the path through the common in the valley between Bircher Common and Lyngham Vallet. Several beetles are on the path, Dor Beetles, Geotrupes stercorarius, round and black with metallic tints. They are called “Lousy Watchman” because they are often infested with mites, but these specimens seem to have escaped that fate. A Jay screams from the woods. A pair of Ravens soar over the trees, revelling in the winds. Along the top edge of Leinthall Common, the path being less muddy than I expected. Up the eastern entrance to Croft Ambrey. A white Honeysuckle adorns a bramble patch. A family of Blue Tits move through the trees. Swallows and House Martins speed past on the wind, but do not venture out onto the expanse of the fort. Yarrow and Harebells are still in flower. The views are obscured by a thin mist although Wigmore is bathed in sunshine. Shafts of light break the grey to the south. A Sparrowhawk flies over, twisting and turning in the buffeting air. Down the Spanish Chestnut field where I gather a decent number of Field Mushrooms.
Wednesday – Leominster – Down to the auction rooms on Easters Meadows. The books I am interested in go for far more than I wish to pay and I now have a long wait for a print to come up, I want the frame. So I wander to the nearby bridge over the River Lugg. Numerous Pond Skater are on the surface of the water. They face upstream and paddle with their legs so a small bow wave is pushed before them and a longer wave ripples away in their wake. A pair of Dippers fly out of Cheaton Brook and downstream. One stops for a moment on stones in the river and bobs up and down, then flies off. Bees are visiting flowering Himalayan Balsam and an occasional dragonfly hawks by. Over the road to the northern side of the bridge. Many more Pond Skaters are on the water here, mainly keeping out of the main current by gathering in little bays. A Small White butterfly is sunning itself below. A Robin sings. Back to the auction room where it is clear that the contents of the frame I want are far more valuable than I anticipated and goes for well over £100.
Thursday – Shropshire – Langley – We leave the A49 at Church Stretton and head up into the dales that cut across the land to the north-west of Wenlock Edge. Into a dale containing Bullhill Brook and to Langley Chapel. The manor of Langley is recorded in Domesday as Langvelege. In 1212 it was owned by William Burnell and in 1377 Langley manor passed by marriage to the Lee family. Humphrey Lee made Langley Hall his main seat in 1591. Langley Hall was demolished in the mid 19th century. The chapel became disused. There had been a chapel here since the Middle Ages, the present building probably being late Tudor. It had become neglected by the turn of the 20th century and the Ministry of Works took it into care in 1915. The chapel’s importance comes from the lack of replacement of fixtures and fitting in the Victorian era as happened to the majority of English churches, so we are left with a delightful 17th century Puritan church. Inside it is plain with roughly made wooden pews. Box pews stand at the eastern end with a reading desk and pulpit. The roof is a wonderful affair, collar-braced beams in the nave and trussed in the chancel. The wooden corbels are decorated, several with crudely carved faces. The collars have initials carved into them, probably the carpenters and one has the date 1601. There is little to differentiate between the nave and chancel, the latter being slightly raised and paved with re-used mediaeval tiles. At the west end is a wooden bell tower, but a local tells us that the bell is missing, sadly probably stolen.
Acton Burnell – Due north of Langley is the village of Acton Burnell. On the way we pass a Victorian folly, Sham Castle, erected by the Smythe family who built Acton Hall in 1814. The hall is now “Concord College”, an international private school (charging £26,000 a year!) Behind the hall is Acton Burnell castle, the ruins of a fortified manor house. This house was built by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1284. It had a strategic position on Watling Street, the old Roman road and still an important route. King Edward I granted a licence to crenellate in the same year. It was a three storey high hall with towers in each corner. Edward held a parliament here in 1283, presumably in the great barn nearby, which is now a single wall on private land and not open to view. This was the first parliament at which the Commons were fully represented. After Robert’s death, the estate passed down the family line. By marriage it became the property of the Lovels of Titchmarsh. Francis Lovell (the double and single “L” seem interchangeable) disappeared after the Battle of Stoke Field, where he supported Lambert Simnel against King Henry VII. It is likely he died of wounds received, although other reports state in fact, he escaped and fled to sanctuary at Colchester and from there escaped the following year to organise a revolt in Yorkshire that attempted to seize Henry VII. After the failure of this plot, Lovell first joined fellow rebels at Furness Falls and later fled to Margaret of York in Flanders. His lands were confiscated by the king who granted them to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The estate passed to the Smythe family in the mid 17th century, by which time the castle was already a ruin. It had been built of a lovely mixture of grey and red sandstone. Great cedars grow nearby.
Wroxeter – We next travel to the remains of the Roman city of Viroconium. The remains are mainly the bath house of the fourth largest town in Roman Britain. With a population of around 5000 at its height. The baths were constructed between 120 and 150CE. They consisted of a large basilica, heated and unheated rooms, a plunge pool, which was outdoors unusually, exercise yard, a market hall, latrine, shops and bars for food and drink. A large section of the basilica wall remains, called “The Old Work”, the largest freestanding piece of Roman masonry in Britain. The main heated room is large with piles of tiles that supported the floor to form the hypocaust. The plunge pool was filled in after 60 years of use, maybe our climate did not suit Roman outdoor bathing. Over the road from the site are a line of stones that were the columns for the forum. Beyond this is the River Severn. In the forum field is a Roman town house, built in 2010 by six builders for a television programme. One notes that Swallows have not yet discovered the numerous useful ledges in the rooms with unglazed, open windows – they will in the next couple of years! The area had been occupied by the Cornivii who had a flourishing farming and mineral industry hereabouts. The Roman name for the town, Viroconium, probably means “the settlement of Viroco of the Cornovii”, although it is not known who Viroco was, maybe the local chieftain or even an old name for the Wrekin which overlooks the site. There are many Roman forts around here. The Wroxeter fort could have housed 5000 men and was probably built by the Fourteenth Gemina Legion around 50CE. They were replaced in 60CE by the Twentieth Valeria Victrix Legion. They were sent to Deva (Chester) around 90CE. Although they levelled the defences and some buildings before pulling out, the streets and remaining buildings of the old fort became the base for the town. The departure of the Romans around 410CE seems to have little effect on the town. The town dwindled away after King Penda of Mercia took over the area in the mid 7th century and the village of Wroxeter developed around the ford across the Severn. Roman artefacts were commonly found over the centuries, indeed coins were so common that they had a local name, dindars, prehaps derived from the Latin denarius for a silver coin. The first proper archaeological excavation took place in 1859 when the present baths were found. It is clear from contemporary pictures that there was much more of the ruins, especially the hypocaust, at that time which means stone was robbed out in the intervening years.
Friday – Mortimer Forest – It is getting colder in the mornings and evenings. Up through the woods under a soft grey sky. Crossbills call, jip jip, from the conifer plantations. Straight up to the top of High Vinnalls. It is a climb of 180 metres, hardly a climb at all, but it gets me puffing and blowing. I chat to another dog walker about the health giving aspects of the walk. She is much faster than me, having already passed me, got to the top and is on her way down. Dor beetles lay motionless on the path. A large area of bracken on Climbing Jack Common has been mown and baled. A few Swallows pass over heading south. The summit is surrounded by a curtain of mist. Mary Knoll can just be discerned but no further. Meadow Pipits peep and Blue Tits churr. There is a breeze up here. Down to the Deer Park. Nuthatches, Jays and Crossbills are calling. The ponds are still low or dry. A Robin sings in the Hope Cottage valley.
Tuesday – Bodenham Lakes – After several wet days both the paths and foliage look fresh and bright. There is more bird song than I have heard in a while. However, the lakes still look putrid, covered with green algae, cracked like Arctic ice. The leaves are changing, yellows and pale greens appearing in the great woods on the side of Dinmore. The base of a tall Poplar is surrounded by yellow leaves. The lakes are quiet. From the hide, I can see only a couple of Canada Geese and can hear none! Mallard drift around the lakes or preen on the islands. A pair of Mute Swans, perfect white, glide through the green scum. A Grey Heron hunches on the spit and Cormorants sit in the trees. Into the orchards. There are hundreds of cider apples laying on the ground and rotting. I cannot deal with any today. Into the dessert orchard where I get a few “Yellow Ingestrie” which was bred by Thomas Andrew Knight of Downton Castle. It is said to be an Orange Pippin and Golden Pippin cross and is a small yellow apple with tiny red spots. The next collected are “Golden Spire”, introduced by Richard Smith of Worcester around 1850 although it originated in Lancashire. Another yellow apple, but with a little more green in the skin, it is called “Tom Matthews” when used for cider production. Then “Lord Hindlip”, a pale green and red apple, from Worcestershire in 1896, although there seems to be no information regarding the breeder. I also get some pears but neglect to check their variety.
Wednesday – Bircher Common – Sun shines on green Gorse dotted with yellow flowers. Linnets disappear within. A Chiffchaff calls from across the common. Raven fly overhead, cronking. The pond is mainly grass, the remaining water is green with algae. Housman’s blue, remembered hills are indeed blue today in a haze. Up to the Beech trees that sit on the outside of Oaker Coppice. Beech mast is falling like rain. Honey Fungus grows golden through the green moss on a stump. Into the wood where Nuthatches call and Jays rasp angrily. A Speckled Wood butterfly is on the wing, most have gone now, as have the Swallows and Martins. Swifts, of course, left last month, just slipping away, one day there, the next gone.
Friday – Queenswood Country Park – As we set off for Dinmore, Kay notices a strange little bug on the car window. Later identification shows it to be the larva of a Harlequin Ladybird, an invasive species from the USA that kills our native ladybirds. It gets reported and squashed. Autumn is coming slowly to the Country Park. A few of the Acers are changing into their brilliant reds and birches to yellow. Robin sing across the woods. Some new art has been installed in the woods – superb animal carving on tree trunks. The view from the look-out is hazy. There are still plenty of poly-tunnels in the landscape. They could almost be mistaken for lakes today.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Saturday morning I decided to dig out the chicken run. Two spadefuls later there was a twang across my back as something “went”. I was in agony and the pain has continued. Off to the osteopath yesterday and today things are marginally better. So off down the track under a very warm sun and clear azure sky. A gentle breeze rustles the Poplar leaves, now all yellow. Cheeps and chirps come from the hedges and trees and the more fluid Robin song. Scarlet berries festoon the hedges, hips, haws and Bryony, but the blackberries are finished. One bramble thicket is decorated with numerous spiders’ webs picked out by dew. The lake is quiet – just a few Canada Geese, Mallard, Cormorants, Moorhens and a single Mute Swan. The water level is very low. The meadow between the nature reserve and orchards is dotted with puff-balls. In the orchard, large numbers of cider apples lay on the ground. I am unable to collect any as I could not carry a heavy bag at the moment. The dessert apples are much reduced and pears have finished.
Thursday – Brockhampton – Another visit to this delightful park east of Bromyard. This time we visit the house. The weather has turned hot, a real Indian Summer. The house was built in the late 14th century by John Domulton, a descendent of the Brockhampton family that have been recorded in the area since the 12th century. It was a typical moated manor house and part of the moat remains. A wooden gatehouse stands drunkenly in front of the main house. It is infested with Cluster Flies. Whilst a nuisance, these flies are not dangerous, but the Trust cannot use any chemicals to get rid of them as it is suspected that bats use this old gatehouse. More insects are outside where dozens of wasps are feeding on fallen pears. It seems there was once a path leading from the gatehouse to the manor and the National Trust wish to restore it. However, it seems it did not lie where the Trust had believed it to be and an archaeological survey has been carried out, the results of which are awaited. The house was probably a timber-framed H design but alterations over the years have resulted in an L-shape. Batholomew Barnetby inherited the estate in the 18th century and commissioned Thomas Farnoll Prichard to design a mansion which was built on the estate. The manor house became a farmhouse. The back of the house, a stone built extension, is not accessible. From the entrance hall, a small room stands on the right-hand side containing a number of rustic items. To the left is the Great hall with paintings of the family. Stairs lead up to a bedroom containing a four-poster bed. A Common Prayer Book is on the bedside cabinet, a tiny book with printing so small I can barely read it. It is hard to imagine how it was read by candlelight! The next room is a study used by Colonel John Lutley, a Boer War veteran who died in 1946 and bequeathed the estate to the National Trust. A hatchway leads to the roof and contains a warning that bats are roosting above and entry is forbidden.
Friday – Bringewood – A clear night has brought a chilly start to the day but now the sun blazes in a cloudless sky. A Robin sings lustily beside the track into Hazel Coppice. Long stems of Rosebay Willowherb rise above the bracken on the edge of the woods. Their white, fluffy seeds have replaced the pink flowers. Jays rasp in the trees. Most of the Elderberries have been stripped off by birds. A cockerel crows from Monstay farm. Beyond Pipe Aston is hazy in mist. Up into the conifer woods. The silence is broken only occasionally by chirps and squeaks. New House can be seen far below through the trees. A small posy of rich rose coloured bramble flowers and the odd Ragwort are the only blossoms to be seen. The woods end at Hunstay Hill where a good number of Common Pheasants fly off croaking across the field. Yet another Robin sings whilst House Martins soar above in the clear sky. Back eastwards across the newly planted hillside – conifers, not native species! Into conifer woods again which are much cooler than the open hillside. As I approach a clearing bathed in sunshine, a warm breeze comes down the path. Indeed the wind is picking up. A cyclist passes me from behind and apologises with a grin as I jump out of my skin, not having heard his approach. Through the clearing and up the woods to the triangulation point. The Haltons lay below but beyond the ridge above Hope Dale is barely visible in the haze and nothing can be seen beyond that.