Thursday – Burford – This is the quintessential Cotswold town – a main street of yellow Cotswold sandstone buildings and an historic church. The town was founded on the River Windrush in the mid-Saxon period. The name comes from burgha, a fortified town and ford, a river crossing. Malmesbury records a battle between the West Saxons and Mercians at Burford in AD 752. Æthelhum, the Mercian standard-bearer who carried the flag with a golden dragon on it, was killed by the lance of his Saxon rival ending the conflict. The town grew rich through the wool industry and between during the 14th and 17th centuries. However, it was bypassed by the railway and as the wool industry and road travel by coach declined so did the fortunes of Burford. It regenerated in the 20th century through tourism in particular. We park beside the River Windrush, where Mallard, Mute Swans and feral duck gather waiting to be fed. It is noticeable in Oxfordshire that many car parks are free or have free periods – they know how to attract visitors!
Through a street to the church past a terrace of Alms Houses which have a plaque stating they were founded by Richard, Earl of Warwick in 1457, rebuilt in 1828 and are now undergoing extensive maintenance. The church of St John the Baptist is a very fine building, one of only eighteen churches in the country awarded five stars by Simon Jenkins in “England’s Thousand Best Churches”. There was a Saxon church here but nothing remains of it, although a small doorway in an internal turret of the south-west tower arch may well be Saxon in origin and reused here. The present church was started around 1175 and continued until around 1500. The west door and tower are fine examples of Romanesque architecture from the 12th century. The interior of the church has many wonderful examples how a church can benefit from a community made rich, in this case by the wool trade. The pulpit is a baroque confection painted in red and gold. St Peter’s Chapel is surrounded by a richly carved screen with a painted roof; it was once the pew of the Lords of the Manor from 1580 to 1870. The north chancel chapel, St Katherine’s Chapel, contains a magnificent painted tomb of Sir Lawrence and Lady Tansfield, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer who died in 1625. The monument was erected by Lady Tansfield after being refused a monument in Westminster Abbey and done so without anyone’s permission. The Tansfields were loathed locally for his high-handed behaviour and reckoned to be greedy and corrupt. It is recorded that local residents burned an effigy of Tansfield annually until the 19th century. It is said that a ghostly, fiery coach containing Sir Lawrence Tanfield or his wife flies around the town bringing a curse upon all who see it. There are various other tombs in the church and the Lady Chapel contains numerous monuments, many of the Sylvester family. On the north wall is the Harman monument dedicated to Edmund Harman, one of Henry VIII’s barbers and gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Harman died in 1577. The monument is in memory of him and his wife Agnes who had sixteen children who are depicted in the bottom frieze. A long Latin inscription is supported by four figures which look Aztec and are indeed members of an Amazonian tribe. High on the aforementioned south-west tower turret is a plaque depicting three figures, one on horseback and two on foot, known by choirboys as “The Three Disgraces”. Some believed the plaque to be Saxon, representing the Divine Horse Goddess Epona with attendants, but it seems more likely that it is a 12th century depiction of the Flight into Egypt of Joseph, Mary and the Infant. Outside are a number of “bale” tombs, stone tombs with the representations of wool bales on top. Outside, on the Lady Chapel wall is a plaque unveiled in 1975 by Tony Benn (Kay was present!) It commemorates the three Levellers, Cornet Thompson, Corporal Perkins and Private Church who were executed by Cromwell’s soldiers on the 17th May 1649. The church was extensively “restored” between 1870 and 1887 by G.E. Street. The restoration appalled William Morris and led to the formation of the “Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings”.
The High Street is busy. It contains a large number of “touristy” shops and high end clothiers, jewellers etc.
Abingdon-on-Thames – We are staying in this Oxfordshire town. Once the County Town of Berkshire, it was moved into Oxfordshire by the 1974 reorganisation. It lies on an angle of the River Thames where it is met by the River Ock. Neolithic items have been found locally. The town centre stands on an Iron Age settlement. According to the chronicler of Abingdon Abbey, a town called Seuekesham or Seouechesham stood here before the building of the 7th century abbey. However, history is confused by legends designed to raise the status of the place. The name Abingdon is said to mean “Hill of a man named Æbba, or a woman named Æbbe” who could be the saint to whom St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford was dedicated (Æbbe of Coldingham or maybe Æbbe of Oxford). However Abingdon stands in a valley and not on a hill and it is possible that the name was first given to a place on Boars Hill above Chilswell, and transferred to its present site when the Abbey was moved. The abbey was completely destroyed in the 9th century by the Danes. It was re-founded in the mid 10th century. In 1084, William the Conqueror celebrated Easter at the Abbey and then left his son, the future Henry I, to be educated there. In the 13th and 14th centuries, there was a flourishing agricultural centre with an extensive trade in wool and a famous weaving and clothing manufacturing industry. However, the area declined after the Dissolution and it was not until Mary I granted a charter establishing a mayor, two bailiffs, twelve chief burgesses and sixteen secondary burgesses that the town began to recover. In 1790 Abingdon Lock was built, replacing navigation to the town via the Swift Ditch. In 1810, the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal opened, linking Abingdon with Semington on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Abingdon became a key link between major industrial centres such as Bristol, London, Birmingham and the Black Country. In 1856 the Abingdon Railway opened, linking the town with the Great Western Railway at Radley. The town was famous as the home of the MG car factory, which opened in 1929 and closed in October 1980.
We lunch at The Nag’s Head. This pub stands on Nag’s Head Island which is connected to either side of the river Thames by Abingdon bridge. The bridge dates from 1422. Back over the bridge and along Thames Street to the Abbey Mill; all the buildings are boarded up. The mill was built by Ethelwold and recorded in Domesday. In the 16th century it consisted of three mills and a fulling mill all under one roof. Through a passage which has small doors to cottages on either side and up the street. Various buildings of the old abbey still stand and are in private ownership. The Long Gallery is the main survivor. Nearby is the Unicorn Theatre was once known as Checker Hall. A lane leads to the Abbey grounds. There is a very crowded children’s park and a busy open air pool. The Abbey grounds are quieter. E J Trendall, a wealthy merchant, bought Abbey House, which stands at the western end of the abbey grounds, in 1853. He set out extensive gardens leading to a lake with islands which were formally a rockeries but are now full of trees. Across the grass the footprint of the Abbey is marked with stones in the ground. A small ruin still stands. Out past a concrete mistake of a modern guildhall. The abbey gatehouse joins the old Town Hall with St Nicholas church, sadly it seems all the churches in the town are closed and locked.
Opposite is the market square. The old County Hall, described by John Betjeman as“exceedingly handsome” building, stands on the south side of the square. It was erected between 1678 and 1683, primarily to house the Berkshire Assizes when they were held in Abingdon. The builder was Christopher Kempster, possibly using a design by Christopher Wren. It replaced a market hall on the same site. In 1869 Abingdon ceased to be an assize town but the building continued to be known as the County Hall and is now the museum.
We wander up some streets of shops, all too many of which are closed down. The old Free Library is now apartments, although the decoration in the gables is nicely picked out on coloured paints. West St Helens Street is one of the oldest in the town, deeds of 1245 refer to “in vico occidentali beate helene”. It leads to the St Helen’s church dating from 1180, which locked and the mediaeval hospital. Long Alley alms houses date from 1446. The street ends on the banks of the Thames. To the west is a large old barge. Modern canal boats and cruisers are moored on the far side. Feral Geese swim up noisily. Back up East St Helens Street, again of considerable age, this time referred to in the deeds of 1245 as “in vico orientali sancte helene”. The street is lined with houses ranging from the 15th to 20th centuries, including a number of grand Georgian residences.
Opposite our hotel is the old County Police Station and behind it a sizeable gaol with a central rotunda lookout. The gaol completed in 1811, was built under the direction of Daniel Harris, Governor of Oxford Prison, who used free convict labour to carry out his civil engineering projects.The premises are partly restaurants and other parts are being redeveloped. We visit the The King’s Head and Bell pub in West St Helens Street. An inn called “The Bell” was recorded on this site in 1544. It is though “The King’s Head” was added to the name in an attempt to connect the property with Charles I who certainly visited Abingdon before and during the Civil War. The name reverted to “The Old Bell” in the 19th century. The present building dates from the 17th century although much of the structure is 18th century. The front was remodelled in 1907 when the present name was adopted.
Friday – Wallingford – We briefly visit this ancient town. It was possible to ford the Thames here which attracted settlers from the Bronze Age onwards. It was one of King Alfred’s “new towns”, the same size as the then capital, Winchester. It was enclosed on three sides (the river formed the fourth defence) by earthen walls capped with a wooden palisade and surrounded by a wet moat. William of Normandy came here after the Battle of Hastings as the local lord, Wigod was a Norman sympathiser and, of course, for the Thames crossing. In 1067 a large castle was built which stood for 600 years. In 1155, Henry II held a Great Council at Wallingford and awarded it a Great Charter of Liberties. We stay mainly around the market square. The church of St Mary-le-More stood before 1077, when the advowson belonged to St Alban’s Abbey. The west tower was originally 12th century but its upper stages were rebuilt in a Perpendicular Gothic style in about 1653. The nave and aisle were built in the 13th and 14th century and the chancel was added later, but all were rebuilt in 1854,including a marble reredos and sanctuary area with Salviati mosaic bands, to designs by the Gothic Revival architect David Brandon. The ornate rood cross was dedicated in 1921 to the daughters of John Kirkby Hedges. The pulpit dating from around 1888 is of grey-veined white marble with bronze panels of saints by Onslow Ford. The arcaded Town Hall, standing by the market square, is a timber-frame building that was constructed in 1670. Judge William Blackstone sat here as recorder. He was the author of the law book, “Commentaries on the Laws of England”, used by the founding fathers of America when they drew up the Constitution of the United States. The Corn Exchange of 1856 is now a theatre and cinema. There are a good number of antique shops. A country market is being held in the old cinema.
Sunday – Leominster – The morning has a distinctly autumnal feel. The sky is a mixture of dark, stormy looking clouds to the south and blue sky with fluffy white clouds to the north. The River Lugg remains low and clear. The market gets smaller as the weather deteriorates. There is the first stall with Christmas items, plastic trees and a Santa. I purchase a useful little lidded saucepan for the grand sum of £2. There seem to be fewer Pond Skaters under Ridgemoor Bridge. Like the Lugg, the River Kenwater is low and clear.
Sunday – Leominster – In the early hours the kik kik call of a female Tawny Owl can be heard from the trees in the gardens. Sadly it is not answered by a male bird’s hoot. The stars shine brightly and it is cooler than of late.
Off to market. The River Lugg is a little higher now, the heavy rain finally feeding through from the hills. A Grey Wagtail flies off upstream. The sun is up and starting to burn off the heavy dew. A Boeing 757, Manchester to Alicante flight leaves a vapour trail at 27000 feet. The Malaga bound Airbus at 23000 feet leaves no trail whilst a Faro flight at 37000 does. The market is not large, but busy.
Home – Most of the Worcestershire Pearmain apples have now been harvested. It was a good crop despite both moth and bird damage. The Herefordshire Russet apples and Doyenne Pear are not quite ready yet. The Marjorie’s seedling plum has also produced a better crop than I expected. There has been some moth and bird damage but not too bad. There are two problems, the tree is growing very tall making harvesting tricky and the nearby Hazel is in danger of overwhelming one side of the plum tree. Both issues can be resolved with the pruning shears! Courgettes are still growing both quickly and prolifically. Miss a couple of days cropping and they are the size of small marrows. Now I need to find some more preserving recipes. The ground crops are all slowing down. Lettuces, brassicas and leeks are all progressing, but slowly. In the greenhouse, the tomato plants are beginning to die back but still have a decent crop ripening. The green peppers however, are still vigorous and fruits developing steadily. We have cleared away the large nettle bed. It was left in case Peacock butterflies wanted to lay eggs there but this seems not to have happened. Brambles have regrown at an alarming rate and all pulled out again.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – A grey autumnal morning. Tints of yellow appear on the leaves. Wood Pigeons coo. Repeated ticks come from the undergrowth, probably Wrens. A Robin sings, a Jay squawks and Ravens bark. Up the path through the woods. A flock of Long-tailed Tits move noisily through the tree tops. A Great Tit chirps nearby. Along the Forestry track. The temperature is only in the mid-teens but it feels very humid. Few flowers are to be seen, just the remnants of Ragwort, Bird’sfoot Trefoil and Rosebay Willowherb. Birds are very flighty and difficult to pin down. A Chiffchaff feeds in a Birch sapling, its call a pale imitation of its spring song. Both Marsh and Willow Tits are calling in the valley that runs down to Sunny Dingle Cottage. The pebble tapping of a Whitethroat comes from the hillside. An arrhythmic tapping comes from the wood, probably a woodpecker although a Grey Squirrel runs across the track a few minutes later. A much more typical two-tone song comes from a Great Tit. Up the track towards Climbing Jack Common. Two large and wormed boletus fungi lie on the bank. Up to High Vinnalls which is shrouded in mist. The trees on the western slope have been cut back so the valley can now be seen. The Bringewood Chase lies across the valley but disappears almost immediately in the mist. Some of the conifers have large upright cones resembling a parliament of owls. Some of the cones have been ripped apart and Blue and Coal Tits are picking their way through the shredded remains. They are scattered across an area of trees keeping in contact with one another by constant twittering. On down the track then down through the Deer Park to the pond. The path down to the track that leads to the pond is getting overgrown and will probably be impassable in a couple of years. A Willow Tit buzzes by the pond, a Willow Warbler wheeps in a small Birch. The pond is reduced to a small pool.
Tuesday – Leominster – Early morning cloud drifts away eastwards to leave an eggshell blue sky and warming sun. Across the old playing field by the Minster churchyard. A Robin sings and a Chiffchaff calls intermittently. Into the Millennium Gardens. Foxwhelp cider apple are beginning to fall in numbers. Buckthorn in the hedge lining the railway has little bunches of black berries. A non-stop train roars past, hidden by the dense hedgerow. The path through the gardens is liberally sprinkled with rabbit droppings. Warblers are still in song, both Garden Warbler and Blackcap. Purple Loosestrife and Meadow Cranesbill are still in flower but almost at the end of their season. A Spindle tree at the end of the park, or the beginning I suppose, has delightful pink berries. The plum tree on Pinsley Mead has been stripped of fruit. There are still small fruits on a quince tree. The old building at the west end of the area is still surrounded by fencing. Various people have views on what the building was used for. It is timber-framed and probably goes back to at least the 17th century. Suggestions range from a store for the Minster, a hay loft and a pig shed.
By early afternoon, stormy clouds are passing over and it rains stair rods. By late afternoon the storm is rumbling overhead. Bursts of heavy rain are punctuated with strange light periods, then the rain pours down again. A pair of House Martins are still feeding above the roofs.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It is again warm and humid. The bushes alongside the track are full of scarlet Hawthorns, Blackberries and feathery, sea anemone-like tassels of Old Man’s Beard. The Blackberries are small this year, I assume the lack of rain during August inhibited their growth. The lake is very quiet. There are a couple of Mute Swans and some Canada Geese on the scrape. The cider apple orchard is a mixture of bounty and famine. Some trees are laden, others completely fruitless. It is similar in the dessert apple orchard, although most trees have some fruit. The Irish Peach produced tiny apples this year and few of them. Others have a decent crop but not yet ready for eating.
We pay a quick visit to Hereford. It is amusing that so many different languages can be heard in the city centre. More importantly, these people are shopping and spending money – without them the place would be even more of a retail desert! On the way back we stop at the Wellington garden centre. Kay wants some violas but the quality is poor, they are very leggy presumably because of the recent hot weather. There is a huge flock of Swallows and House Martins feeding over the centre and resting thickly on electricity wire.
Thursday – Shrewsbury – Mist is thick enough to call it fog as we head north from Leominster but starts to thin by the time we reach Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury railway station was originally built in October 1848 for the Shrewsbury to Chester line by Thomas Mainwaring Penson of Oswestry. Between 1899 and 1903 the station was extended by the construction of a new floor underneath the original building. The building style was Gothic, complete with carvings of Tudor style heads around the window frames, to match the Tudor building of Shrewsbury School (now Shrewsbury Library) almost directly opposite. It was operated jointly by the Great Western Railway and the London and North Western Railway. A lot of restoration is being carried out on the platform-side buildings. Out of the station past a long wall with old cast iron signs stating “Taxis Only”. Through the town to our hotel to drop off our bag. Down to the English Bridge. The Shrewsbury National School was built in 1708 and enlarged in 1896. Across the bridge and under the railway. Ahead is the Abbey. The Abbey Foregate passes either side of the abbey. The Hospital of the Holy Cross was built in 1853 by D Rowland and Pountney Smith as Alms Houses. The nearby Crown Inn dates from the early 18th century.
There was a small Saxon church dedicated to St Peter here built by Siward the Gross, Earl of Northumbria who died in 1055. The church was visited by St Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, in 1071. He prophesied that whilst the church was “the least of all places” it would become “the most glorious place in all Scrobesberia, (Shrewsbury) and a joy to the whole country”. Roger de Montgomery was made Earl of Shrewsbury in 1071 and in 1083, whilst in the wooden Saxon church, vowed to found an Abbey here. Roger died in 1094 and was buried in his new Abbey. His tomb in the Abbey was probably carved one or two centuries later. The Abbey was Benedictine, the first abbot being Fulchred who came from the Abbey of Sées in Normandy. A shrine of St Winefride was established which made the Abbey an important pilgrimage site and consequently very wealthy. At dissolution in 1540 the shrine was destroyed and her relics are now in the Roman Catholic church the Town Walls and in Holywell. During the 14th century the western side of the building was replaced by Gothic bays and the tower added. During the Civil War much damage was done to the north wall and the Parliamentarians kept some of the Scots captured at the Battle of Worcester in the church. By the end of the 18th century the church was in a poor condition but was extended and refurbished in the 19th. Two other Shrewsbury churches were closed, St Chad’s fell down and St Alkmunds was pulled down, and their monuments were moved to the Abbey church. These included a 13th century figure of a judge; Richard Onslow, (1528-1571), Solicitor General from 1566 to 1569 and Speaker of the House of Commons and his wife Catherine; Alderman William Charlton and Anne dating from the mid-16th century and William Jones and his wife from 1623.
Back across the English Bridge, up Wyle Cop and into St Julians Friars. Past a couple of pleasant houses from around 1820 and a drinking fountain obelisk dated 1874. An inscription records that it was erected to the memory of William Jones Clement, surgeon “by his friends and fellow townsmen in grateful recognition of his enlightened public spirit, consummate professional skill and active private benevolence”. Onto the riverside where the river-tour boat sails by. The walk along the river is busy with walkers, joggers and cyclists. A pair of rowers skull by. Weeping Willows line the far bank. On the hill opposite, the former Kingsland or Coleham brewery is now apartments. The Trouncer family founded the brewery in 1871. Ind Coope and Alsopp took it over and closed it in 1956. Nearby houses have gardens dropping down to river. Up past High School and round the Town Walls to St Chad’s.
The original St Chad’s church stood on Collage Hill. It was said to have been founded by Offa in the 8th century. The 13th century church was abandoned when the tower collapsed in 1788. The new church was started two years later and consecrated in 1792. It has a circular nave, the largest in the country. The church was built of white Grinshill stone, the building work being supervised by John Simpson (who later worked on several projects with Thomas Telford, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct). Internally, the gallery was supported by slender cast iron pillars were made by William Hazledine, an ironmaster who had a foundry in Shrewsbury. They are an early example of cast iron used for this purpose. Over the Arts and Crafts altar is a magnificent stained glass window, a copy of a triptych by Rubens in Antwerp Cathedral; it was made in the 1840s by David Evans, a local stained glass artist. Four more windows by Evans, all the gifts of Revd Richard Scott are in the upper gallery. Twenty one hatchments are on the gallery walls. The copper and brass pulpit is also Arts and Crafts. A side chapel, St Aiden’s Chapel, is a memorial chapel for the Corps of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.
On along St Chad’s Terrace which was improved in 1906 with a donation of £500 from the Shropshire Horticultural Society. Into the town centre again. There are so many fine buildings in the city centre. The Salop Fire Office in the High Street is a glorious piece of Victoriana. It stands next to Owen’s Mansion, an ornate black-and-white house, now a shop and restaurant, built in 1569 for Richard Owen the Elder.
Our hotel, Cromwell’s, was previously Warwick Private Hotel and dates from the 15th century. Opposite is Newport House, formerly The Guildhall, then Council offices, built by Richard Earl of Bradford around 1700, replacing an older timber-framed house that was removed from here and re-erected at the entrance to the Castle. It is now a private house. These are in Dogpole, so named because part of the old inner town wall ran through the street in which there was a small gate that people had to duck to get through so “Duck-hole” which became “Dogpole”.
Friday – Shrewsbury – After breakfast, spent watching the “Chelsea tractors” emerging from their gated communities, we wander around the town before heading for the station. Beyond our platform stands Shrewsbury Prison, The Dana, named after the Revd Edmund Dana (1739-1823), who was Vicar of Wroxeter but lived in Castle Gates House (the house mentioned above as being removed from Dogpole). He was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where his father was Chief Justice. The prison was built between 1787-1793 by John Hiram Haycock, executed by Thomas Telford, incorporating modifications suggested by John Howard who had suggested various ways in which the sanitary conditions of English prisons could be improved. These measures formed part of the 1774 Gaol Act. Facing us is a bust of John Howard. The long platforms also extend over the River Severn. The length of these platforms is an indicator of the length of the main-line trains that used to pull into Shrewsbury in the past, compared with the three carriage DMUs that use the station these days. Just over the Severn bridge is Severn Bridge Junction signal box, built by the LNWR. It is the largest surviving mechanical signal box in the world, with a frame accommodating 180 levers, and is a listed building. It is a mild, sunny day and the humidity and heat of yesterday have gone. There have been violent storms across the south-east resulting in flooding. A landslip has derailed a train near Watford Junction.
Monday – Brampton Bryan-Adley Moor – The early morning rain has continued but is now stopping. A widely spreading Sweet Chestnut on the small green by the main road is heavy with spiky capules. The church of St Barnabas lies short distance up a lane beside the castle. The nave is very wide compared with its length and there is no division between it and the sanctuary. The silence is broken by a steady deep tick of the clock. The church may date from the 14th century but it was destroyed in 1643 during the Civil War and rebuilt in 1656 for Sir Robert Harley, making one of only six churches known to have been built during the Commonwealth. It is said the fine double hammerbeam roof came from the banqueting hall of ruined castle, but there is doubt about this. There are a good number of monuments relating to the Harleys. At east end of the wall, is a monument in white marble to Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, Lord High Treasurer, who was impeached in 1711, acquitted in 1717 and died in 1724. On the north is a superficially similar but smaller monument for Mrs Sarah Harley who died in 1721. In the south wall is a recess with an early 14th century effigy, possibly of Margaret de Brampton. Behind the effigy are a number of mediaeval floor tiles. The reredos is of wood with religious quotations in gold. The octagonal pulpit is late 19th century in oak, with 17th century tarsia inlays in side panels. The font is 19th century. Much of the glass is dedicated to members of the Harley family and 19th century. The east window is by Powells of Whitechapel. In the passage to the vestry is a particularly delightful little window of the Child Christ carrying lamb inscribed for SR, 1882, probably by George Rogers of Worcester. Outside a great filled-in arch can be seen in the western wall, one of the only parts of the old mediaeval church remaining. Its use is unknown but it is speculated that it led to a separate western tower.
On up Church Road. House Martins dash to and fro overhead, feeding frantically for their journey south which will begin shortly now. Several Robins are in song. Columns of mist drift across the wooded hilltops like wraiths. Damson trees over the hedge are heavy with fruit. Necklaces of Bryony berries, ranging from green through yellow and orange to vermilion, adorn the hedge. A stubble field is being ploughed. This is standard practice these days but unfortunately leaves no fallen seed for farmland birds, such as Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Brambling during winter which accounts for their serious fall in numbers. The occasional White Dead Nettle and Herb Robert seen to be the last flowers of summer. An iron bridge, Parson’s Pole Bridge, crosses the River Teme. A notice warns of an outbreak of disease caused by Signal Crayfish, an American escapee which is immune to the disease unlike the native White-clawed Crayfish. There are more flowers on the other side of the river but unfortunately these are the invasive Himalayan Balsam. I take Weymore Lane towards Coxall and Adley Moor. Past Potlid Cottage. Young pheasants run around the stubble fields. A Chiffchaff calls briefly. Some way ahead a train on the Heart of Wales line sounds its horn. The lane runs beneath Coxall Knoll. Rosehips are ripening. A large honeysuckle patch is a mixture of flowers and red berries. A pair of estate cottages at Weymore have plaques carrying a crest at the top the gables.
The lane crosses the dried bed of River Redlake via a relatively modern bridge. Beyond is the drive to Coxall, a large late 18th or early 19th century farmhouse. The rain returns. Through the hamlet of Coxall, a few houses of varying ages, including a late 17th or early 18th century cottage. The lane becomes a track across a wide rough meadow, Adleymoor Common. A pair of Bullfinches slip away. A Common Buzzard floors along the far edge of the moor, mewing. Several more circle high above. I turn back. A Red Kite drifts eastwards in lazy circles. More scarlet berries, this time Woody Nightshade. A Wren churrs loudly whilst searching a large Willow by the river. Several farmyard ducks are on a shingle spit. I note the bridge has not been painted recently, there is graffiti dated 1984. Back the village some conifers are busy with birds, Blue and Great Tits and a Treecreeper are spotted and Nuthatch and Goldcrest can be heard. One way route
Wednesday – Llangynidr – We meet up with Fran and Derek in Crickhowell for lunch in The Bear, a delightful old style market town pub. We then travel up beside the River Usk to Llandynidr, a small village spilt into upper and lower parts. We set off down Cyffredyn Lane. The lane runs between fields and then crosses the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. The lane crosses a brook, Nant Cleister, which rises high on Mynydd Llangynidr. Cyffredyn is a small collection of houses, most probably holiday lets. Just beyond in a deep gorge that has the footings of small buildings. Derek tells me these building have only been demolished recently. A large stone stands by the road looking like an ancient monolith but is much more recently placed there. We continue along the road until we meet the canal and join the tow-path. Small humped-backed bridges take farm tracks over the canal. Aberyail Bridge No. 130, listed as an original canal bridge, has a diamond shaped sign which states the maximum weights allowable. The sign is generic with places for plates to be affixed which give the weights relevant to each bridge. Unfortunately, the plates are missing. At the base of the sign is the text “Great Western Railway Co. Paddington Station London”. The canal was first proposed in 1792 and in 1795, Thomas Dadford was appointed as the engineer and construction at Penpedairheol near Crickhowell. By late 1797, the canal was open from Gilwern to Llangynidr in Brecknockshire and the canal was completed and opened to Talybont-on-Usk in late 1799 and through to Brecon in December 1800. However, as the railways advanced and the canals declined the Monmouthshire Company, which had become the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company under an Act of Parliament obtained in 1845, bought out the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal Company in 1865, but the move came too late, and the Monmouthshire Canal gradually closed, while the Brecon line was retained as a water feeder. Control of the canals passed to the Great Western Railway in 1880.
The canal water is a red-brown colour from the local Old Red Sandstone silt. It is relatively busy with canal-boats. We pass over the Nant Cleister again which is being fed by an overflow weir from the canal. Across the fields stands the Old Rectory, an early 19th century building. Further on Derek points out the new stone edges to the canal which were built last year when the section was drained. A large rotting toadstool is in the grass, possibly a Giant Funnel, Leucopaxillus gigantea. Just before the path up to Forge Road and the lower part of the village, there is a charging point beside the canal and the first electric-powered canal boat I have come across. We head down Forge Road and turn into Coed-Yr-Ynys Road just before the road drops down to the Llangynidr Bridge across the River Usk.
Thursday – Bodenham Lake – After night rain the morning is fresh and sunny. A Chiffchaff is calling persistently. Only a few Himalayan Balsam and Evening Primrose are in flower. Canada Geese can be heard gabbling on the lake. The hedgerow is bright with glowing red berries of Bryony, Haws, Rosehips and what I think is a Cotoneaster. Across a very wet meadow. The leaves are turning on the trees, West Field Wood and Dinmore have a paler hue than in spring and summer. From the hide I can see there are Canada Geese everywhere. I count almost 400 but there are others hidden behind the island and in the trees. A Greylag and several Barnacle Geese are also on the water. A number of Mute Swans including five fully grown but still brown cygnets are present. At least ten Cormorants are flying around before resettling on the trees. There are few other waterfowl here, a few Coot and a single Mallard, maybe the usual species have fled the cacophonous row of the Canada Geese. A Great Crested Grebe appears at the western end of the lake. Back along the path through the coppice. Brambles have grown up through the young trees and now dangle back towards the earth. Back into the meadow. A Southern Hawker zigzags along the hedge.
Friday – Wormsley – The bus drops me at Bush Bank. Past The Bush pub and on down the Weobley road. The sun has appeared from behind a cloudy sky. A Robin sings. Past the standing stone. Military jets are busy today although they are very high. Turn down the King’s Pyon lane. Another Robin is singing. A Jay flies over. A Red Kite glides overhead to the south but is chased back westwards by the Carrion Crows. The Kite turns and twists to attempt to lose the Crows without success. Another Red Kite rises from trees and is unmolested. The Crows must have for bored as the original Kite reappears alone. Hirundines are high in the sky. A large tanker drives up the lane so I step off the road into the hedge and of course, a Stinging Nettle patch! The trees in a large cider orchard are heavy with fruit. The next field is a hop yard with quite short bines, much shorter than the traditional hops. The hedge to these fields is mainly damson trees with a very good crop. Into the village of King’s Pyon. A Nuthatch wheep wheeps from trees and a Chiffchaff calls. A breeze has arisen. Past the church and Black Hall farm whose 15th century timber-framed farmhouse has a substantial jetties. It consists of a mediaeval hall with two ranges were added in the 17th century forming an L-plan.
A lane turns westwards. I try to remove the husk from a fallen walnut but it is very under ripe and will not come off cleanly but does stain my hands yellow. Past another cider orchard with a decent looking crop. The clouds seem to be thickening. A substantial lodge house stands on the track to King’s Pyon House, home for many years of the Webb family, closely connected to the Peploe family, being the two main families of the parish. The old school house looks like a conventional house from the front with a very long hall attached to the back. Round to the Stone House. The house was built in 1878 probably by Henry Ward of Stafford for the Peploe family who had supplied vicars to the parish for many years. They did not use the vicarage which was leased. A lorry stops looking for King’s Pyon House. I show the driver’s mate the map. He growls at the driver thumbing backwards and off they go without a please or thank you. A large pond across a field holds a dozen Tufted Duck and couple of Little Grebes. Past Frogdon, home to Galliers family who bred Herefordshire cattle, winning many prizes for them at the turn of the 19th century. Wistaston farm lays across the way, a large farm complex. On to Wotton Farm and then the lane enters the Weobley-Hereford Road. There is a fairly steep climb up The Causeway and then down Raven’s Causeway. A Kestrel hovers over a field of red and white Herefordshire cattle. The wooded hills lie in every direction, sometimes gaps in them give subtle views of more hills beyond. There is a large patch of flowering Japanese Knotweed on the side of the road, worrying as this invasive import is not that common around here. The road reaches the bottom of a small valley cut by a slurry filled stream, then rises to the Herefordshire Golf Club.
A lane leads to Wormsley Court and Church. The name Wormsley comes from the Saxon, “clearing in the wood occupied by snakes”. It is probably that a Saxon church stood here. The present church of St Mary dates from early in the 12th century, but was lengthened, and the west wall rebuilt when the bell-turret was added in the 13th century. The Chancel was added probably early in the 13th century. In the 15th century the now vanished rood-loft staircase was built on the outside of the north wall. Wormsley Priory was founded around 1200 by Gilbert de Talbot. It lie some three-quarters of a mile across the valley and was dissolved in 1539. Wormsley Grange stands near the site of priory and is said to have been built with stone from the ecclesiastical building. It was the seat of the Broughton-Knights who undertook major restoration of the church in 1866-67 when the glass was placed in the east window. St Mary’s is no longer used and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It is a simple church with a pulpit and lectern made from Jacobean carved panels. There are two bells in the turret, one of an elongated shape dating it to around the same time as the church was founded in 1200 and the other dated 1671, probably cast in The Marches. Outside is the base to an ancient preaching cross. Several tombs stand in the churchyard of the Knight family including Richard Payne Knight of Downton Castle who was influential in the Romantic Movement of the late 18th century and Thomas Andrew Knight who developed new varieties of fruit and wrote “Pomona Herefordensis” in 1809. A three side monument has a now almost unreadable script dedicated to Ursula and Barbara Knight who both died young in the 1770s. Three apple trees stand on the edge of the slope beside the church. A woman from Court Farm that stands next to the church, tells me she had heard that groups of three apple trees had been planted in places across Herefordshire to commemorate the Knights and she had called up the planters to ask why none had been planted here, the birth and burial place of the family. Now the three have been planted. Court House is late 16th century but much extended over the years.
On down the road towards Burghill. A Common Buzzard rises from a stubble field. A newly repainted milestone states “Hereford 7 miles”. Past Brinsop Court. Credenhill and the Iron Age fort loom over the valley. On the northern side is a wooded ridge consisting of Red Barr Wood, The Vallets, Round Oak Hill and Badnage Wood. The road enters Tillington Common, a mixture of 19th and 20th century housing, now looking like a dormitory for Hereford. The common has two large Horse Chestnuts trees on its edge and a sign referring to the 1899 Act. A Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1857, now a dwelling, has had its bricks scrubbed rather spoiling its appearance. Red House Farm was one of a number of small mixed farms in the area. On past the Cricket Club. I have time for a quick pint in The Bell which stands on a crossroads where the Roman road from Magna Castra to Viroconium runs north-south. Burghill Community Academy has a new building. I wonder about the name, whatever was wrong with calling a primary school just that? Instead, it seems trendy Government advisors have to come up with new names to pretend something different has happened to the school. On through Burghill and up to The Portway. Morton Road hedge has been flailed – effective in controlling the hedge but crude and unsightly. The views from top of hill are wonderful. Down the lane to the A49 at Morton-on-Lugg to catch the bus home. Route
Saturday – Leominster – The Civic Society and the Leominster Area Regeneration Company (who own Grange Court) are developing a project on the Rivers and Bridges of Leominster. Many of the historic waterways through the town have been rerouted or, as in the case of the Pinsley have dried up. Today we are investigating when the Pinsley was first canalised so that it flowed around the Minster precinct. Three archaeologists are donating their time to carry out an initial assessment in the hope that a bid for funding can be made to undertake a full excavation. It is possible that the canalisation of the Pinsley dates from Saxon times. We are looking at a piece of ground just outside the bottom south-east corner of the Minster churchyard. The Pinsley flowed through here and the route can still be determined by the lay of the land. A series of test bores are undertaken with an auger.
It is hard work as the ground is heavy clay and it is proving very difficult to extract the auger from the test holes. The results are encouraging as a fair amount of charcoal is present which would enable dating of the sedimentary layers. Some small smooth stones are also recovered along with a small piece of iron, possibly a nail. We cannot afford to have carbon-dating carried out on the charcoal, but one of the archaeologists will kindly do a quick analysis of any biological material present. A number of people come to see what is happening which is encouraging.
Sunday – Leominster – It was a wild night with gales and heavy rain. It has settled down this morning. Off down to the market. Despite all the rain the level of the River Lugg is not greatly higher but the water is murkier than of late. Not surprisingly the market is quite small. As usual I find nothing to buy. Cheaton Brook flows red into the Lugg. The small colony of Pond skaters is still by Ridgemoor Bridge.
Home – My favourite job, the compost. The two wooden bins are about half full so I dig out the older one, putting the compost onto the newer pile. Kay takes some to renew her pots for spring bulbs. Then the three plastic bins are emptied into the now empty wooden bin. Manure from a local smallholding is spread regularly between layers of semi-rotted vegetable matter.
The tomatoes are nearing the end of the season. I pick nearly all the ripe ones, some have gone over. Some sweet peppers are still developing. I get a few pears off the old tree by the lawn. There are plenty more on the Conference but they are small this year. There are a few Doyenne pears but apart from one being visited by wasps I leave them. I test the Herefordshire Russets but they are all very reluctant to come off, so they are left too. I clear up the numerous fallen Howgate Wonder apples. I check one, it is still tart and the skin seems very thick this year.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It really feels like autumn today – grey sky, damp and cool. Robins sing in every direction. Many blackberries have yet to ripen but the ripe ones are small, full of pips and flavourless. A sizeable flock of Canada Geese loiter around the sailing compound. From the hide very little can be seen on the water. A few Mute Swans are scattered around the lake. However, the trees on the island contain at least seventy Cormorants, a worryingly large number! A Grey Heron stands motionless on the edge of the scrape. Suddenly a majority of the Cormorants lift off the branches and depart, some eastwards, others to the west. The heron wanders off with a guttural croak. There are only three Mallard and the same number of Coot towards the east of the water. An occasional single Carrion Crow flies over. A Blue Tit searches the Willows by the scrape. Two Moorhens creep out of the reed bed and start poking the weed on the edge of the lake. A skein of eight Canada Geese fly in noisily. The area behind the hide that was cleared a year or two back is now covered in Alder saplings with a couple of Hazels, Oaks and Rowans.
Friday – Capler & Kings Caple – I park high on Capler Hill by Capler Lodge. The land drops precipitously to the west down to the River Wye. The sun shines brightly but it is still raining! Angry dark clouds are hopefully moving through. The Wye Valley Way heads northwards into Capler Wood. A Carrion Crow caws and a Jay squawks. The woods have a mixture of trees, Oaks, Sweet Chestnut, Hazel and conifers. The track runs through a short section of conifer plantation then turns along the edge of Capler Camp.
A path traverses the Iron Age Hill-fort. Ramparts continue on the southern side but the northern edge is protected by a steep drop down the hillside. The hill-fort is long and narrow, covering some 15½ acres. As the track runs around the western end the rampart begins. Although the rampart is only slightly higher than the fort interior, the ditch drops down ten to fifteen feet to the track below. It was thought following excavations by G H Jack in 1924 that the fort had never been occupied, but in 2004 a geophysics survey found features typical of an Iron Age roundhouse. The hillfort is also known as Woldbury Camp with a tradition that the camp is the burial place of a British chieftain. Excavations have revealed a 2nd century Roman coin of Lucilla (161CE) and Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts. I break open a Sweet Chestnut capule with some difficulty, despite protecting my fingers against the spines with my handkerchief. The nuts inside are unripe but probably the largest and fattest I have seen for many a year, although not anywhere as large as the commercial Spanish Chestnuts sold around Christmas. Any open capules have their nuts emptied by squirrels, leaving thin brown husks. Along the southern edge, the rampart risers to about six feet high. The interior of the fort is wide with a thick bramble underbrush. Back down to the track that runs along the ditch between the two ramparts. It enters a rough meadow. A manhole cover sits on a mound beside a gap in the inner rampart. Out in the middle of the meadow is a troop of Parasol Mushrooms, Lepiota procera. Offset from this gap is one in the outer rampart. It is thought these gaps in the ramparts are relatively modern, the only entrance being at the far eastern end. The hillside slopes gently down to Brockhampton then across South Herefordshire towards Monmouthshire. Gorse is the only plant in flower now. Back down the track to Capler Lodge. My knees are not feeling great so I abandon the idea of a long walk down to the great meander in the river and drive down instead.
I follow narrow lanes. At Fawley Court, the road branches, my route crosses parkland. Fawley Court is a large country house with an early 16th century core, largely rebuilt during mid-17th century. It was the seat of the Kyrles; one of whom was the “Man of Ross.” Over a cattle grid on the far side of the park and over a bridge over the disused Hereford to Ross-on-Wye railway line. The Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway (also known as the Gloucester and Dean Forest Railway), ran for 22½ miles linking Hereford and Gloucester via Ross-on-Wye. It was opened on 1st June 1855 and was amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1862. It closed to passengers on 2nd November 1964, freight services between Ross-on-Wye railway station and Grange Court railway station continued on until 1st November 1965. A few more twists and turns takes me to Kings Caple. I park at the western end of the village by St John, Baptist church. I have no idea why it is no longer John “the” Baptist!
Kings Caple – Kings Caple was named to distinguish the village from other Caples, meaning “chapels” – How Caple (Hugh’s Caple) and Caplefore, now Brockhampton. These latter villages were the property of the Canons of Hereford Cathedral and English. Kings Caple was Welsh speaking, part of Ergyng, which the English called Archenfield. They owed allegiance to the English throne. Across the road from the church is Caple Tump, the motte of a Norman castle. An annual festival was held on the tump until modern times. The bailey lay across part of the churchyard. The road itself is Roman, Caple Street. A mounting block stands beside the road. The nave and chancel arch of the church are 13th century. The tower is early 14th century. The tower was added to in the later 14th century and the chancel rebuilt. Around 1400 the porch and Lady Chapel were added. A tomb recess is in the south wall, the tomb slab, plain so a date of the mid-13th century is uncertain. The fine tall pulpit with a sounding-board above it is Jacobean. The box pews were installed in 1638. The balcony dates from the early 18th century. The Lady or Aramstone Chapel contains a fine pair of Jacobean box pews and a goodly number of monuments on the walls of the Marrett and Woodhouse families. A Green Man is carved into the inside of the chapel arch. Outside is the Plague Cross, so named as a plague pit was placed nearby. It had a gabled head with a seated figure of the Virgin and Child on one side and Christ on the Cross on the reverse. However, this was smashed in 1947 when a tree fell on it. The war memorial was moved to where the tree stood. The local churches, that of Kings Caple, Sellack and Hentland maintain a tradition of giving out PAX cakes, with the greeting “Peace and Good Neighbourhood”, on Palm Sunday dating from a bequest made by Thomas More, a vicar who died in 1484. Nearby is Kings Caple Court, a typical large Georgian house.
Hoarwithy – I try to get down to Sellack Bridge but there are no parking spaces left at the start of the footpath – something for another visit. On the way around the lanes I pass Poulstone Court, a possibly 16th century house rebuilt in 1877. I pause by Hoarwithy Bridge. Originally travellers crossed the river using the ford or ferry crossing. These were replaced by a timber bridge in 1856. After 20 years of use it was replaced by an iron structure which was 260 feet long and 15 feet wide. It had a weight limit of 7 tons. It was replaced in 1990. A strange little three-sided turret of a house on the western side of the bridge. This was the toll house built in 1856, tolls ceasing when Herefordshire County Council took over the bridge in 1935 (these days they would probably double them!) The Wye is flowing brown and fast. The magnificent Italianate church of St Catherine stands on the hillside.
Much Birch – Back towards Hereford. I stop at Much Birch to look at the church. The church of St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury by Thomas Foster in early Gothic Revival style dates from 1837. Although light and airy, it lacks any atmosphere. Even the 19th century choir stalls have been recently removed and replaced by modern, plain chairs. On the north wall is a plaque for William Dyke and Dennis Creed, aged 20 and 17, who drowned in the River Wye in 1911. A 17th century chest stands near the modern glass doors. Old Yews stand in the graveyard. A preaching cross, probably 14th century hints at the age of the site. Some Meadow Waxcaps, Cuphophyllus pratensis are growing in the grass by the church door.