September 2018

Monday – Basingstoke – I park in a multi storey car is a shopping mall. Possibly for the first time ever I have to use a sat-nav to get out of a building! Into a small street. A new building is on the site of the printing works of the Gazette, which stood here from 1878-1975. Just a few older buildings remain among the modern ones. Into Cross Street. A statue of a Blue Coat Boy marks the site of the Blue Coat School which stood here from 1659-1879. A fine 18th century house stands on the corner of the street with New Street. Up New Street. A late 18th century house with rounded bays stands opposite what I suspect is a fairly recent building in a vaguely Victorian Gothic style. Next to it is the former Post Office, built 1925 and closed in 1971. Behind our a large modern block with a “Capita” Statuesign is empty. Joices Yard is mainly car park. Opposite another large office block is empty.

Into Winchester Street. A parade of shops has an arcade over it with iron supports, the building above consists of two wings with rounded fronts and a recessed range. Opposite is a late Victorian building with pilasters. A closed bank has Doric semi-columns. The Maidenhead pub has a winged angel relief on the gable. It is St Michael slaying a dragon, from the coat of arms of the town. Winchester Street was the main thoroughfare before the bypass was built and the Maidenhead was coaching inn. This building is Victorian but it and many others here would have served the coaching trade for several centuries before. A bank with a stone carved sign on a side entrance, “Bank Chambers” stands on the corner of the Market Place. The square is dominated by the former Town Hall, now a museum. Originally the Mote Hall stood here dating from the 13th century. It was destroyed by fire in 1656 but not demolished until 1832 when the present building was built. Outside the museum is a bronze statue of Jane Austen.

Into Wote Street. The Lesser Market had the name on a pediment and a cornice moulding and pilaster strips with moulded and painted fruit. Next to it is the Haymarket Theatre, formerly the Corn Exchange built in 1865 by Wyatt and Salter. It has a carved relief of St Michael, same as the Maidenhead Inn. There are a number of buildings on the right of the street ranging from the 17th to 19th century, all with later alterations. A large estate agents on the left hand side was an early 19th century house. A large statue in granite has no information at all – I later learn it is by Michael Pegler and has been dubbed “The Wote Street Willy” by local wits.

Back up the street to Market Place and along London Street. The Natwest bank was built in 1864 by F. Chancellor in the High Victorian manner. A bar is in a house dated 1870. It stands on the site of the Falcon Inn where it is said Oliver Cromwell stayed in October 1645 during the final siege of Basing House. The United Reform church was built in 1800 and had Classical façade with two large Doric columns added in 1860. In the street is a bronze by Mike Smith dated 1993. The Red Lion is an 18th and 19th century coaching inn. Opposite is a 16th century house, timber framed and jettied, lower floors being used as a restaurant. At the end of the street is a row of eight Almshouses, built in 1607 by Sir James Deane and still in use for poor widows. London Road continues across the ring road. There are several 18th and 19th century houses there. I head up the ring road into Southern Road. Mount Pleasant is a terrace with a central portico. The terrace is raised above street level. There are Victorian terraces following. At the end of the Churchstreet is Fairfields Primary school and Fairfields Art Centre, opened on 16th February 1888 as Board Infants and Junior schools. The name reflects the use of the original site where pig and sheep fairs were held. The two adjacent buildings, designed by Charles Bell and built by H.J. Goodall, are of red brick with filling-in of knapped flint work characteristic of the district. Bell described them as “Queen Anne, modified to suit their special purpose”. Opposite, All Saints church is locked. The church was dedicated in 1917. The church was designed by Temple Moore who usually tried to make his churches look as if they were older than they really were, ideally dating back to the Middle Ages. All Saints is built of brick, but the outside is faced entirely in Chilmark stone.


Across a junction is Bounty Inn. Next to it is a flint and brick barn on May’s Bounty Field and behind is Castle Field. John May was a 19th century Basingstoke benefactor. Born in the town, he and his brother took over the running of the family brewery in 1860. The previous year he had formed a local group of the Hampshire Volunteers and he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by 1898. He built a large drill hall on the Sarum Hill. He also purchased a field, now May’s Bounty Field, as a cricket ground and built a pavilion. The Hampshire side still play here on occasions. May became mayor of the town, paid for a new clock tower for the town hall and bought a ring of nine bells for All Saints church. He died in 1920. On the junction is a terrace of early 19th century houses. Beside them, in Victoria Street, is the spiritualist church in a tin tabernacle, which was the original All Saints church, moved here when the present church was erected. Opposite, All Saints hall is in wooden boards. Next to it is a strange Art Deco building of 1926 which looks like a house with its second storey sliced off. It is the Masonic Lodge.

Down Victoria Street. Into New Road, across Joices Yard and down Church Street. A bridge crosses the delivery route for the shopping mall. This leads to St Michael’s church. Basingstoke is first recorded in 990 AD as Embasinga stocae. In Domesday it had become Basingestoches and was in the possession of the Abbey of Mont St GlassMichel. The name is thought to mean the western most settlement of Basa’s Folk. The arrival of the railways in 1839, connecting Basingstoke to London, saw an increase in industrial activity. Famous names who started up in Basingstoke include Wallis & Steevens, manufacturers of steam engines and traction engines and Thorneycroft’s who produced their first steam powered lorries in 1898. Two shop owners went on to be nationally known; Thomas Burberry who invented Gabardine and Alfred Millward whose chain of shoe shops flourished for more than one hundred and twenty years. There is evidence of a church here in 1155. In 1464, the chancel was renewed and the church re-roofed by the Priory of Selbourne. The nave and aisles were then rebuilt in the early 16th century. The porch dates from 1539. The south chapel and vestry are 14th century, and a larger north (War Memorial) chapel was added in 1920. The church was used as a gunpowder store during the Civil War and there are musket ball Poor Boxholes in the south wall. German bombs of the WWII blew out all but one of the windows. The Tower is of four stages, with a crenellated parapet, octagonal corner buttresses capped by pinnacles of 1879, with a large west window. The chancel arch has two carved heads, Bishop Fox and Queen Victoria, installed by T. H. Wyatt during a major restoration in 1879. Above is a sculpture of Christus Rex by Peter Eugene Ball, made in 1997. Three hatchments with the Royal Coat of Arms (of Elizabeth, James I, and William III) are on the walls. The font is Victorian, 1885, with a magnificent carved wood cover both designed by G. F. Bodley. Nearby is the Charity Board and a Poor Box. Above is a gallery. The windows contain small areas of the original Flemish mediaeval glass, placed there after the bombing. The east window tracery was replaced after the war to the designs of Randoll Blacking and the glass is by Christopher Webb.

To the west of the church is Church House. It is used as the church hall. Records show it formed part of a manor called “Watermartyns”, set up from the bequest of Walter de Merton to his nephews in 1277. A mediaeval hall stood here. The earliest part of the present building, the Schoolroom, was built by John Bowyer in the early 17th century, with the Chapter Room following a little later, built in the latest style by wealthy clothier William South. The Barn, newly built or rebuilt around 1780, probably formed part of this textile industry. Later maps show the barn as the Vicarial Barn or Malthouse – malting became a major industry in Basingstoke in 18th and 19th centuries. An Infant School was opened in the smaller barn in 1865. The rapid rise in population in the town, and the 1870 Education Act led the need for extra school provision, and in 1870 the larger barn was converted into a school for girls. Next to it is Church Cottage, an 18th century house. I return to the shopping mall and managed to take a good deal of time trying to find my car!

Wednesday – Smethwick – This town on the western edge of Birmingham is sadly remembered for the vile racist Conservative Party election campaign in the 1964 General Election. However, there is much more to the place. Prior to the 19th century Smethwick was a thinly populated rural area, and in 1675 it was described as “a discontinued village” strung out along the Birmingham-Dudley road. It used to be thought the name Smethwick meant “smiths’ place of work”, but a more recent interpretation has suggested the name means “the settlement on the smooth land or plain”. Smethwick was recorded in the BridgeDomesday Book as Smedeuuich. The cutting of the Birmingham Canal through the northern part of the township in 1768-9 brought some industrial development. As a result there was a sharp rise in the population of the township, which numbered 1,097 in 1801. From the later 18th century a number of Birmingham business and professional men came to live in Smethwick. I head for Smethwick Galton Bridge station over the busy A457, the Birmington to Dudley road. A large Asian supermarket stands on a roundabout but this is not the time for shopping. On to Galton Bridge built in 1829 by Thomas Telford, at the time the longest single span bridge over the largest earthworks in the world. The arch is formed by girders pierced in a lattice pattern, with lattice bracing in spandrels. “Horsley Iron Works 1829” is said to be cast in four places. “Galton Bridge” is cast above the centre on each side. Cast iron railings terminate at stone piers with Gothic blind tracery. The bridge was named after Samuel Tertius Galton, a major shareholder. Below is firstly the railway then the New Main Line canal. The railway is the former London & North Western Railway Stour Valley Line. Another bridge carries the former GWR Stourbridge Extension which crosses the other line. Smethwick Galton Station is spilt level to serve both lines. A Jay squawks from the canal-side trees. Down a long path to the canal tow-path. Through Galton Tunnel over which passes the A4252, a road linking the A41 to the M5. The canal continues through a deep cutting. A Moorhen swims across the water. Smethwick New Pumping Station rises above the canal. Ahead is Brasshouse Lane Bridge. Up a flight of steps to the Old Main Line canal.

When James Brindley built the canal (a link from the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Wolverhampton to New Hall, Birmingham, via the coalfields and collieries of the Black Country) in 1768, he had to come over the hill at Smethwick after tunnelling operations failed. The summit is at 491 feet above sea level and then falls 40 feet to the Birmingham level. This led to a problem of water loss through the six locks on either side is the summit. James Watt proposed the installation of two beam engines, one at Bridge Street, the other at Spon Lane to pump water back up the hill. In 1789 John Smeaton cut the New Line at 473 feet above sea level. Now the twelve locks could be reduced to six. In 1891 G.R. Jenn suggested building a pumping station after he discovered Pumping Stationthe Boulton Watt engine in Bridge Street was irreparable. The station was built between the two levels the canal in 1892. The building fell into disuse in 1946 and was restored between 1982 and 2000. On along the Old Main Line. Houses built in the late 20th century up above the canal have steps down from their gardens to the canal-side. The houses are built on the sites of iron and stone pipe works. A Grey Heron stands on the edge of the canal. Canada Geese are making a racket as usual. A sluice pours water from the upper to lower canal. A bridge carries an arm of the canal, Engine Arm Canal, into a basin and a length of canal runs parallel to the two main lines to Line Wharf and a former malthouse. Beyond is first the three locks to the Birmingham level. Sadly the reconstructed tollhouse had been burnt out.

To the south of the canals are old and newer industrial buildings. To the north are large new housing developments. The last lock is just before Pope Bridge and Rolfe Bridge. The two canal are now at the same level and join together a short distance down stream. Up and across Rolfe Bridge. Several industrial units are closed. A bridge crosses Engine Arm where there are moorings for narrow boats. At the end of Bridge Street is the building that housed James Watt’s pumping engine. Along Rolfe Street. Smethwick Drop Forgings building on the corner of New Street looks run down but still in use. Other industrial buildings are festooned with Buddleia but still operating. In the midst is a modern conference suite. Next to it the Crown and Anchor Inn is derelict. The former Fire Station is offices, although they do not look open. Rolfe House is a mid 20th century block now restored by a housing association. The Smethwick Enterprise Centre is in canal side buildings of the old Corporation Depot. The General Post Office, built around 1890, is now occupied by a window manufacturer. Opposite the site of the public baths is waste ground. InnA bridge crosses the railway at Smethwick Rolfe Street station. A plaque in the station records that Rolfe Street stood the Theatre Royal at the other end of the bridge, one of the largest provincial theatres the country. It opened in 1897 and closed in 1932. All trace of it has gone, the site is now a tyre fitters. The Labour Exchange stood next to the theatre on a site previously occupied by a pub, also completely obliterated.

Across the A457 to High Street. Here there are two banks in high Victorian style, although one still Lloyds was built in 1905. There are several ugly modern blocks, then Smethwick Library, originally built as the Public Hall in 1866–67 and designed by Yeoville Thomason. In the other direction are some Victorian shops then a gleaming modern Gurdwara, a Sikh temple on the site of the Congregational church. Into Brewery Street, now a small retail mall. An iron foundry occupied a large part of the street. Into Church Hill Street where another iron foundry was on the site of a car park. Up to Trinity church. This area of Smethwick was developing rapidly in the early years of the 19th century. Land on the west side of the main road was given by J. W. Unett of the Woodlands for a new church. Building was begun in 1837, and the church was consecrated in 1838. Much of the cost of building was met by the Revd Thomas Green Simcox, lord of Harborne manor and the first incumbent of the new church. The original church, designed in the Early English style by Thomas Johnson of Lichfield, was built of Tixall stone and was cruciform, with a west tower and spire and one bell. The church, except for the tower and spire, was rebuilt on a larger scale in 1887-9 to the designs of Francis Bacon of Newbury, Berkshire, mainly in the Early English style with much of the stone from the earlier church was reused. In addition to the tower and spire, it consists of chancel with north vestry, nave with aisles under separate roofs, and south porch; the eight dormer windows which light the nave were added in 1934 as a memorial to Laura Hewitson (died 1934). In South Road is a fairly modern vicarage and terraced housing from the 1840s. The Smethwick Ex Service Men’s Club is now a nursing home. Next to it are large semi detached houses, one a nursing home, the others divided into apartments. Some of these houses appear to have coach houses. Into Little Moor Hill there are 20th century mock Tudor semis. A couple of older looking houses have a cartouche in each gable. One may say 98 or possibly 1908. Info Vicarage Road. The corner house is dated 1894. A terrace has timber framing on the second floor with an ornate brick frieze above. The rest the street are mainly early 20th century and although less decorated, most have some ornamentation. It is only the modern additions which are blank and boring.

Back to Brewery Street where I get four freshly cooked samosas for £1. Past the library. Blue Gates hotel is 1930s. In 1965, civil rights activist Malcolm X visited Smethwick after learning of a local government scheme that prevented black and Asian residents from buying their own homes in the area. As part of his visit, he was taken to the Blue Gates, then a segregated pub with a separate bar for black and Asian customers. He entered the whites-only Smoke Room but was refused service and was forced to move through to the side bar where he was served a pint of bitter. Opposite is a toll-house, built around 1820 for the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley turnpike which operated from 1760 to 1876. On up the High Street. The buildings are Victorian, the shops almost all Asian. Towards the end is the street is a large building, the former Empire in built in 1910 to the designs of George Bowden & Son of Smethwick, intended for use both as a theatre and as a cinema. By 1930 it was being used solely as a cinema. It was closed in 1957 and is now a Gurdwara. Route

Thursday – Birmingham – I head along Hagley Road towards the city centre. Past St Chads, formerly a hospital dating from around 1800 with later additions, it is now a regional NHS headquarters. Opposite are large 19th century houses now used as offices and hotels. The Ivy Bush pub is mid 19th century. Past the Oratory which I will come back to later. The Plough and Harrow is an hotel of 1832-3, designed by John Fallows in red brick with red sandstone dressings with later additions and alterations for the Calthorpe Estate. The three-bay building, facing Hagley Road and also fronting onto Harrow Road was in a 17th cemtury style which crossed Tudor and Jacobean motifs. Lord Calthorpe disliked it and called it “ultra-gothick”. The Calthorpe Estate lies to the west of Birmingham and has belonged to the Gough family since 1717. Along Plough and Harrow Road. Past the back of the Roman Catholic St Philip Neri Oratory. A large decaying building Towerwas St Philips Grammar School. It has an inscription, “In Vincvlo Caritatis MDCCCIX”, “The Bond of Charity 1909”. (This reminds me of books I have read, usually Victorian, where it was considered unnecessary to provide translations for Latin and Greek quotations on the grounds that readers would understand them anyway!) A shield on the portico is marked “PSN”. The Royal Mail parcels office stands close to the junction with Monument Road.

Into Waterworks Road. A red brick tower looms over the area. It was built by John Perrott in 1758, who lived in Belbroughton. There are many stories to explain why the tower was built. One is that John Perrott wanted to be able to survey his land and perhaps entertain guests. Or the tower might have been used to spot animals for hunting. Or that he built the tower so that he could see his wife’s grave, 15 miles away. From 1884 to 1979 the tower was used as a weather recording station for the Birmingham and Midland Institute. In 1966 the Geography Department of the University of Birmingham took over the running of the observatory until operations were transferred to the main campus. On along the road there is modern housing apartments and a tower block. Norwood Villas however is Victorian. Opposite is a large Art Deco building, Severn Trent Water. Streets of Victorian terraces lead off Waterworks Road. A Gothic building with a tall tower stand beside the offices. It is a water pumping station of 1862, designed by John Henry Chamberlain for Birmingham Corporation. A flock of House Martins twitter overhead. More streets of terraces also have a Gothic style. In Carlyle Road, added dormer units have rather spoiled the effect. However, the architectural variety is a joy. Magpies chatter on roofs. Into Stirling Road, more Victoriana and finally a 1930s block of apartments. Now back on Hagley Road.

Hagley Road here, it is an extremely long and busy road, is a mixture of buildings from the mid 1850 through to late 20th century. Kenilworth Court is a large 1930s Art Deco block with gates. Opposite is a parade of shops in a 1930s style next to an ornate late Victorian or Edwardian parade in red brick with pilasters and scrolls over the windows. Further on, another block looks older and simpler in design although the rain goods are dated 1929.

Into Highfield Road. One of a pair of stucco Regency villas was home to J. R. R. Tolkien between 1910-11. A number of late Georgian villas line the road. Into Harborne Road. Here to are Altarsubstantial properties built for the Birmingham merchant and upper middle classes in the late Georgian and early Victorian era. The Physician pub is extensive, thought to have been built in 1863 as a house. Into the city centre for breakfast then back along Hagley Road. The Oratory is open to visitors.

The Roman Catholic, Oratory church of the Immaculate Conception, was designed by E Doran Webb and built between 1903-1909, incorporating earlier work by John Hungerford Pollen of 1858, Henry Clutton of 1872-3, and an addition by G B Cox in 1927, together with the accompanying presbytery building, designed by Terence Flanagan in 1851 and the former Oratory School buildings designed by Henry Clutton in 1861-2 and 1872-3. The congregation of the Oratory was founded in Rome in around 1552 by Philip Neri. His system of devotion was dependant on private and public prayer and contemplation, mixed with practical acts of charity. It was revived, especially in England, by John Newman, who had been an Anglican clergyman, but converted to Catholicism in 1845 and was then ordained priest in Rome in 1847. He founded the first Oratorian congregation in Birmingham in 1848, followed the following year by a second house in London. Newman continued to Effigylive in the Oratory House as one of the community, even after his appointment as Cardinal in 1879, up until his death in 1890. Cardinal John Newman was beatified in September 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Birmingham. I am always taken by the contrast between Anglican and Catholic churches. Whilst our great cathedrals can be full of decoration and colour, they seem simple and plain compared to the Catholic churches. This one is a stunning example. The nave has mosaic flooring laid in overlapping fan-shaped patterns. The aisle arcades have monolithic, unfluted columns of Breccia marble with bases of green Swedish marble and Composite capitals. These support a full entablature with plain frieze, from which springs the painted timber barrel vault. Side chapels around the nave are niches with mosaic semi-domes, decorated in marble veneers. In between the side chapels are confessionals. A dome stands over the crossing. An altar stands in a rounded apse with panels of red African onyx with borders of yellow Siena marble. The altar stands forward from the rear wall on a stepped platform. It was designed by Dunstan Powell in 1899 for the old church. The tabernacle is circular with a domed roof which has enamel inlay. The frontal is of green Connemara marble with lapis lazuli plaques around the edges. Above the altar is a suspended baldacchino of gilded and painted wood. On the north of the crossing is the altar of Our Lady with a large statue of the Virgin. The side chapel of the Shrine of St Philip Neri has walls veneered in Siena marble and monolithic columns of red Languedoc marble to the corners. The Cosmatesque floor has a variety of inlayed patterns. The marble altar contains a wax effigy of the saint and the altar piece (after Guido Reni) has an elaborate gilded frame. The chapel of St Athanasius, a glass panel revealing the decorated coffin of St Valentine. On the south side is a reliquary chest with relics and souvenirs of the saint given to Newman in Rome in 1846-7.

I return to my car which is at the hotel in Hagley Road. Sadly, I have noticed that the city streets are strewn with rubbish. The pavements are patched and broken. Millions are being spent on luxury high rises whilst seemingly nothing on the crumbling infrastructure.

Sunday – Leominster – Juvenile Blackbirds and House Sparrows search the path in Sydonia park for seeds and worms. All fly off with a thrum of wings as I approach. Jackdaws are preening on rooftops. A pair chack as they sit on the top of the White Lion, one peering down the chimney. The water level in the river is still as low as it has been for several months now. Clouds are slowly clearing and suddenly the sun emerges lighting up the meadow and the trees. There is an increase in the number of army vehicles in the compound. The Kenwater is also running very low. Four Mallard stand on a stranded log.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It is autumn, the summer is over. Yellow leaves appear on the trees the chlorophyll breaks down leaving the yellow pigments. The hedgerows are dotted with red, haws and hips. Robins still sing, a Green Woodpecker calls, hardly enough to call a yaffle, a Magpie chatters deep in a bush, Wood Pigeons coo from West Field wood. House Martins feed overhead, fattening themselves for the journey south. A large Robin’s Pincushion, a gall Gallalso known as the Rose Bedeguar Gall caused by Diplolepis rosae is a hymenopteran gall wasp, is in the middle of a large thicket of Field Roses. The meadow has been mown.

Around the lake are several earthworks under way. The bank opposite has been stripped of vegetation and a digger is trundling around. At the west end the area has been flattened by another digger. The water level in the lake remains low with a large area of the scrape exposed. A number of Canada Geese and Mallard are preening their feathers, the drakes of the latter yet to regain their breeding plumage after their eclipse. A Grey Heron stands on the edge of the reed bed, another flies across the water. There are at least a dozen Cormorants in the trees. A cow is bellowing the distance. A small group of Tufted Duck swim across the water. Several Coot are also present. Two Mute Swans are at the west end. A Great Crested Grebe pops up from a dive. A female Teal swims into view. A loud cackling heralds an incoming Canada Geese skeins, the peace is broken. A pair of Coot fly across the water, they really are quite clumsy in flight and pretty much crash land on the surface. A cob Mute Swan sails serenely into view. He crosses the scrape and preens, muttering now and again. He certainly upsets a pair of Canada Geese who approach, necks stretched out, barking continuously. The swan ignores them completely. Two Cormorants pull at each others breaks whilst making their strange wavering call. The pen Mute Swan appears from the eastern end followed by three cygnets, still grey and rather velvety looking. Just as the newly arrived Canada Geese settle and quieten down another skein arrives the noise level rises again. They head to the eastern end, but suddenly there is near silence, they seem to have passed over, but the return after a few minutes.

Cider apples are beginning to fall in the orchard. A Green Woodpecker is in the grass, head up, watching. Numerous dessert apples have fallen in the other orchard, simply rotting away. The new pond is beginning to fill.

Friday – Leominster – The morning is cool. To the east, cloud is broken, whites and greys intermingle, even a sliver of blue. To the west there is a single sheet of pewter grey. Starlings sit on television aerials, chatting on squawks, squeaks and whistles. A lone Wood Pigeon looks on, excluded from the conversation. From the station bridge, I can see the clouds on the western horizon are broken into pillows. It starts to rain. A Jackdaw stands as a lonely sentinel on the station lift.

The train races south. A large flock of Canada Geese are gleaning a harvested grain field near Marden. Clouds in the east are lit by the rising sun. The rain was a brief shower. Approaching Hereford, a pair of wooden buffers are rotting away. The lines leading to them are disappearing under Brambles and Birch saplings. At the station, even the snack dispenser takes contactless cards, the days of cash seem numbered.

Abergavenny-Bryn-mawr – I take my usual route down to the River Usk. A herd of coffee-cream heifers is in the Castle Meadows. Their tails are matted with Burdock seed balls. Magpies chatter in the riverside trees. The meadow flowers are in seed, except for Yarrow which is still flowering. Over the bridge and into Llan-ffwyst. Through to St Faith’s church. Blorenge rises up dominating the view, recalling the slog up it a few weeks ago. Up the path to Llan-ffwyst Wharf. Great Tits call. A Nuthatch wheeps. The sun is watery but enough to cast pale shadows. Wood Pigeons leave the tree roots with graceless clatterings but fly off fast and direct like raptors. There are squeezes along the canal, some where planks can be dropped into grooves to block the flow of water so the section of canal can be emptied and maintained, in others the are gates, one has a plaque, 1986, but it is rotting and may not be of much use. Another gate is undated but looks in better condition and has 1030KG stamped into the wood.

Through Govilon Wharf. Round past the site of the old warehouse and its dock. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. The countryside is still green but it had lost its freshness, fruits have formed and preparations for the winter shutdown begin. Past a row of Sycamores with black spotted leaves, Tar Spot, a disease caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerinum. A small mammal, vole, shrew or Forgehammermouse dashes across the tow path. Bird song has been muted but suddenly there is an explosion from a Wren. A Common Buzzard mews from the crosspiece of an electricity pylon. I can hear a penny whistle; then a boat appears from under the bridge beneath the Heads of the Valleys road with the musician playing on the bow and an American hello from the stern. Into Gilwern. Past the United Reform church of 1886 and down to a general store. Opposite is Hope Baptist Chapel of 1876. A horse trough was erected memory of Richard Frederick Crawshay (son of the great ironmaster) of Ty-Mawr by his widow in June 1908. A house, Hatherleigh, is dated 1903. Back up to the canal.

Shortly the canal crosses the Clydach Gorge. Down steps and through a tunnel under the canal and up the gorge. Past cottages. The footpath through ferny woods on a precipitous slope. A stone stepped channel runs down the opposite hillside from the Heads of the Valleys road. A waterfall crashes down into a deep hole. A bridge crosses. By the path is Forgehammer sewage pumping station. On to Forge Row. The Llanelly Forge lay up the hill but was disused by the mid 19th century. The path comes to Forge House, site of an early 19th century Tinworks, operated as the Llanelly Iron & Tinplate Co during the 1870s and later the Llanelly Tinplate Co before closure in 1884. Onto a lane. A large three storey house stands back from the lane. Clydach House, of 1693, was home to Francis Lewis, the “Clerk to the Furnace”. In 1841 Sir Bartle Frere was born here, a High Commissioner of South Africa who unwittingly helped start the Zulu wars. Some 20th century housing lines the lane. The extensive roadworks on the Heads of the Valleys road have changed the area, the maps will need redrawing. Gilwern Hill towers to the south east. Vast quarries ring the hill. The road climbs. There are cottages intermittently alongside the road. A tramway ran along the road, then dropped down the hill. The lane enters Main Road, Clydach. The map still calls this village Cheltenham although there is no sign that it is known as this Unicornlocally. The houses are a mixture, mainly 19th century and older. The Ebenezer Chapel was built in 1828 and rebuilt in 1845. It is now houses. The Clydach Arms Inn has been demolished. A newspaper report in The Monmouthshire Merlin of 2nd May 1857, tells of “a horse, the property of Mr Maddocks, of the Black Rock, Llanelly, while standing near the Clydach Arms, by some means went on the cover of a cellar, which gave way, and he fell to the bottom. The animal was got out without injury.” The English Methodist church was founded in 1829 as a Wesleyan Methodist chapel and renovated in 1891. The houses are now modern. The Rock and Fountain Hotel is gone.

As the road leaves the village, two limekilns of Blackrock Lime Works stand in a wall behind which is a quarry. Below is the Heads of the Valleys road, still with extensive roadworks being Bridgecarried out. I have not been out of earshot of machinery for some while now. Into the hamlet of Blackrock. The Hafod Inn, with its name carved over the door, is now a residence. The Crown Inn is bricked up with breeze blocks. Past another large quarry. Behind, across the valley, is the railway, here passing over filled arches as it comes around the hillside. A milestone declares “Abergavenny 7”. Opposite is a house, the former Unicorn Inn of 1802 with a unicorn relief on its wall. A bridge crosses a small stream, Nant Yr Hafod. Below the road are large waterworks and a sewage treatment plant. A waste management site has a large bronze cannon by the entrance. A new road bridge, Gateway Bridge, with a great white arch is being constructed. The area below is a desolation of construction as new road systems are built. One final slope and the road stops climbing as it has been continuously since Clydach House. Then a bridge crosses the Head of the Valleys road and enters Bryn-mawr.

The town, sometimes cited as the highest town in Wales, is situated at 1250 to 1500 feet above sea level at the head of the South Wales Valleys. Prior to the Industrial Revolution Bryn-mawr, meaning “Big Hill”, was a small village settlement called Gwaun Helygen meaning “marsh of the willow”, and lay in the former county of Brecknockshire Hoteluntil 1974. With the expansion of the Nant y Glo Ironworks housing was required for the workers and Bryn-mawr turned into a prosperous town. Along Intermediate Road, formerly County School Road. The housing is late 19th and 20th century. Towards the town centre through streets of Victorian terraces. Some houses are former shops and pubs. Bailey Street chapel was built in 1876. The larger Tabor Baptist chapel dates from 1835, more here. Into the high street, Beaufort Street. The shops are mainly local, hardly any national brands. The town has the same look as many other towns, trying its best but always under pressure from the sustained cuts and neglect, the austerity, of the central government. The New Griffin Hotel seems to be a nightclub now. The Griffin Hotel was originally at the top of Beaufort Street but in 1916 the Rhymney Brewery Company who held the licence decided not to renew it on the grounds that the building needed considerable structural repairs. The New Griffin Hotel was then built at the other end of the street. Into the Market Square. The war memorial is being restored. The cinema is the former market hall, dated 1894. In the 1880s a railway line ran through the square but that had gone by the end of the century. The bus station is on the site of railway sidings that existed into the 20th century. Beyond is the Catholic church of St Mary built in 1957 replacing one built in 1863. Route

Sunday – Leominster – A grey overcast morning. A Dipper flies upstream over a very low river. Large swathes of Bistort, just leaves, are in Easters Meadow. The market was larger than I expected but all the plant stalls have given up for the season. There are still plenty of Water Boatman on the River Lugg by Ridgemoor bridge. Large banks of Ivy are flowering with a pungent scent. There seems to be only a few inches of water in the Kenwater.

Home – A couple of vegetable beds are cleared of weeds. I really ought to keep on top of the weeding, instead they are grown dense and large, resulting in several sacks to be composted in the Council’s hot composters. I find a few carrots that have happily grown in the weed. Some compost and blood and bone pellets are scattered on one bed in preparation for garlic. I keep on trying with alliums despite poor results over recent years! I stake up the purple sprouting although this is also rather late as they plants have already fallen prostrate and risen again. Hopefully they will more or less straighten out. Several gallons of cider were pressed yesterday. Apples are still falling. The Worcester Pearmains are pretty much finished, but there is still a heavy crop on the Howgate Wonder. I pick a few pears off the old tree by the garden wall. Many more are far out of reach.

Tuesday – Home – The remnants of a hurricane is moving through. Now called “Storm Helene” it blew throughout the night but without the forecast rain. The winds brought down surprisingly few apples, which is a blessing as we are a bit overwhelmed with them at the moment. Lots of bonnet-shaped chillies are ripening in the greenhouse.Lake Bluebell lays a tiny egg, her first for many weeks.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another storm is passing through now, “Storm Ali”. Both storms have caused air to be drawn up from the south so it is really quite warm. The path by the yacht club is closed because of cable laying. Through to the hide. Large areas of scrub cleared have been cleared across the lake and in the western end to form new reed beds. Canada Geese and at least 35 Cormorants are on the water. Willows by the scrape have been felled. There are no birds on the scrape. A Little Egret lands by the island. Three Grey Heron on the far shore, another two appear. Three Tufted Duck land on the water. Back to the orchards where apples are falling in large number now.

Friday – Great Witley – Another Atlantic depression has roared through, Storm Bronagh. This morning is very breezy but bright. Clouds speed across a blue sky. Witley Court is not yet open but the car park is available. Out of the gates and westwards in the Worcester to Tenbury road. A lodge house is beside large gates with wyverns on the posts. Beyond the gates is Hillhampton House, possibly the old site of Hillhampton manor house, and belonged to Martley parish until 1904. Sir Tatton Brinton, head of Brinton’s Carpets was a 20th century occupant. He fought in the second war, and was Mayor of Kidderminster in 1953.There is a paved footpath beside the road which is fortunate as the traffic is frequent and fast. The footpath is, however, becoming overgrown. Just before the village is Great Witley, the path is covered by rotting Lodgedamsons. A couple of timber framed houses are by the road. Past Stourport Lodge. A little further on is a small church The built in 1882 as a Mortuary Chapel in the new graveyard and was licensed that year. In 1895 it was enlarged so that it might be used regularly for services. The Vestry was added in 1897. It is locked. The bell cote is empty. The chapel was closed in 1976 and is now the Scouts and Guides hall. The village war memorial is by the roadside. A modern and then an older house are before the old school, now a commercial premises. It was founded in 1844 by Queen Adelaide and by 1849 there were 70 pupils and two teachers. In September 1895 the school moved to its present site opposite. This larger building was donated by the second Earl of Dudley. Nearby is the village hall and surgery.

A turning takes me onto the Martley road. Past Nailer’s Cottage, formerly the smithy’s and over a stream. A millpond is hidden by a large mound of overgrown rubble and earth. This millpond is modern, it is not on the maps until the 1970s. The tower of Abberley school rises above trees to the west. A narrow lane leads to Home Farm. A flock of House Martins feed overhead. A Pheasant croaks from the fields. There is part of moat behind the farm but it is not visible from the road. A tennis court is though. Large purple plums hang in an orchard. The farmhouse, now called Woodbury Grange is almost hidden behind trees and hedges. It is on the site of the former manor house and consists of the 15th century solar wing, refaced and altered in the late 16th or early 17th century with further alterations and additions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Clouds now cover the sky and are getting darker by the minute. A public footpath follows a track that has deep water eroded gashes in it. It rises up Woodbury Hill. It starts to rain. The hill is wooded, mainly Beeches less than 100 years old and conifer plantations.

This hill is known for the Woodbury Clubmen Declaration. During the Civil War, Clubmen were bands of local defence vigilantes who tried to protect their localities against the excesses of the armies of both sides in the war. They sought to join together to prevent their wives and daughters being raped by soldiers of both sides, themselves being forcibly conscripted to fight by one side Rampartor the other, their crops and property being damaged or seized by the armies and their lives threatened or intimidated by soldiers, battle followers, looters, deserters or refugees. As their name suggests, they were mostly armed with cudgels, flails, scythes and sickles fastened to long poles. They were otherwise unarmed. Clubmen in Worcestershire met here on Woodbury Hill on 5th March 1645 and under the leadership of Charles Nott, the Parson of Shelsley drew up the Woodbury Declaration, which protests at the “utter ruin by the outrages and violence of the soldier; threatening to fire our houses; endeavouring to ravish our wives and daughters, and menacing our persons”, and presented it to Henry Bromley (of Holt), the Royalist High Sheriff of Worcestershire.

In August 1405, Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh army and French allies were encamped on the hill, which is still called “Owen’s Hill” locally. He was confronted by a much smaller force of Henry IV. For eight days they faced each other. Henry was determined that Glyndŵr would have to make the first move, but it never came. In the end, Glyndŵr’s supplies ran out and his army retreated back to Wales, his French and Scots allies deserted him and the great campaign was effectively over.

There is also an Iron Age hill-fort at the summit. It is a univallate hill-fort with ramparts much overgrown. Pheasant pens occupy part of the interior which is wooded. The wind is becoming ferocious. It stops raining. Over the top of the hill-fort and down a track which passes behind Witley Manor, an early 17th house. The trees are more varied on Cattlethis side of the hill, Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore, Ash, Hawthorn and the occasional Oak. The manor is hidden by the trees. The route of the footpath is also hidden, it runs down beside a Yew hedge to the Martley road. Down the edge is a meadow where dozens of House Martins are feeding. A Raven cronks as it flies over.

The road passes a field of cattle with horns several feet long. They are possibly Gloucesters. To the north east are views is the Clent Hills and the outer areas of Birmingham. Into Great Witley and down a narrow lane by Stourport Lodge. This is the original name, having been named Rosery Lodge for some years. It was built in the Italianate style in 1860, probably by S Daukes for Lord Ward, later 1st Earl of Dudley of Witley Park. The lane passes Hundred Pool, a sizeable lake, probably created in 1718 when the park was extended. Garden House and Villa Fiore are former gardeners’ houses built in the mid 19th century. Past the church and the great ruined house and back to the car park. Route

Home – I despatched Silver, our Silver Sussex hen, this evening. She has looked unhappy for several weeks and today she has just laid in the run, not moving. She was disinterested when I picked her up, not her usual feisty self. So it was better to put her out of what clearly was a miserable existence. Bluebell is still not laying but she seems fit and bright so I will keep her for the time being. The weather is still rainy and getting cooler.


Monday – Croft – The first cold morning of the autumn, the temperature at 6°C. However, the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. An area of high pressure has stopped the stream of Atlantic depressions. Few leaves are falling yet. Robins sing. Work continues on the lowest pond in the Fish Pool Valley. A Raven barks, a Jay squawks, Blue Tits squeak. Restoring the valley to its original Picturesque Movement condition presents something of a conundrum. The views were much more open so virtually all the Ash trees would need removing, something that is bound to cause an outcry. Further up the valley Great Tits join the Robins. Some Sweet Chestnuts lay on the path but Herefordsthey are thin and flat, hardly any meat in them at all. Wrens tick quietly in the undergrowth before one lets rip with a burst of song. Mud had been washed down the path revealing the layers of Aymestry Formation limestone rising in steps, every one representing thousands of years of deposition of mud, sand and the remains of sea life. The limestone is Silurian, exposed here by the creation of the Fish Pool Valley some 12,000 years ago at the end of the Devensian glaciation when meltwater carved the valley. One side of an Elder trunk is festooned with the gelatinous brown ears of Jew’s Ears fungi.

A new gate had been installed at the top of the slope up to the Mortimer Trail at the top of Lienthall Common. Vehicle tracks head up towards the hill-fort. A herd of young Hereford cattle are inside the hill-fort fence. Most head up the path towards the eastern gate before turning off across the area beneath the main rampart. One, with rather large horns follows me, lowing Funguswhich is slightly worrying, but this one too turns off the main path. A Beef Steak fungus is growing on an old Oak. A Speckled Wood butterfly dances over the grasses. Black flies buzz around my head. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. Winged fruits on a Field Maple are turning brown. A heavily loaded lorry leaves the quarry far below, its engine straining as it heads towards the main road. Small Crane Flies, probably Limonia nubeculosa, flit across the path and the black flies, maybe Sheep Headfly, Hydrotaea irritans, become increasingly annoying. A new stile and fencing have been installed along the Mortimer Trail. The stile is rather too high!

Back into Croft Wood. A buzzing call says Willow Tit, an increasingly rare species. A Chiffchaff calls briefly. Into the Spanish Chestnut field where there are far more Crane Flies. I note that despite all the flies around today, I have not seen any Swallows or Martins.

Tuesday – Home – The night sky is lit by the Harvest Moon. Its brightness overwhelms the stars and the trees take on a ghostly grey.

The day starts with a slight mist but this is soon burnt off and the sky is intensely blue with the sun soon warming the air from the few degrees above freezing in the night. In the afternoon I plant some garlic. The bulbs are not the best quality, I imagine the garden centre has not stored them well. A row of Rocket also goes in. I then harvest a large number of courgettes, the so-called climbing variety, which did not. They have, however, been prolific. A large punnet of tomatoes are also picked. Overhead, a Sparrowhawk is being harassed by a Jackdaw. Our Holly tree is a splendid sight, covered in bright scarlet berries. Nearby, the rose that gave such a wonderful display in the summer now has numerous vermilion hips. Gossamer clouds are a thin wash across the blue.


Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A quick visit. The electricity distribution company is wiring up the new pole on the edge of the meadow. We head back through the orchard. Cider apples are falling in great numbers now and hopefully will soon be collected. It would be a shame if they are allowed to rot or fed to the sheep that are on the meadow.

Dinmore Hill – Up to Wynne’s of Dinmore, ostensibly just to look at what chickens they have in stock. A miniature black pig trots across its pen to greet us. There is a good choice of chickens, ducks, bantams and Japanese quails. Inevitably we come away with new point-of-lays, a Rhode Black, Emerald Star and a Russet Blue. The Emerald Star is supposed to lay green eggs, the Russet Blue, blue ones. We shall see.

Home – I put up a barrier of metal mesh across the chicken run and introduce the new girls with Blue and Speckles on the other. Rather than the usual attempts to get at new hens that has always happened in the past, Speckles and Blue retreat to the far end and make whistling coos and chucking noises. The new hens are a bit confused but soon start scratching at the soil. Amusingly, Blue has laid her first viable egg in weeks; seems to be making a statement although it is, of course, just a co-incident.

As the sky darkens into night, we go to put the new hens in the hen house – and they are missing! Two are in the hen house, on the floor, so I put them on the perch. They must have flown up over the fencing that divided them from the other two. However, where is the third, Emerald I think. We shine the torch around and Kay finds her on top of the run in the leaves of the Gladstone apple tree. Fortunately, I can easily grab her and place her on the perch too.

Thursday – Home – I start the day collecting some cider apples. I will have a painful back now. Emerald and Russet have not come out of the hen house this morning but I leave them. Rock is scratching around happily. There are holes in the netting covering the run so I decide to replace it. First though, I lop off the branches from the apple tree that are hanging on the net. Dealing with yards of netting, which catches on everything it can, is a tedious job but a new covering is now on. All the hens are now out. Bluebell has discovered she is no longer at the bottom of the pecking order and is making a nuisance of herself bullying Emerald and Russet. It will settle down.

Pontrilas – We decide to visit a couple of churches. First we head for Pontrilas. This takes quite a long time as the brains of Herefordshire Council have decided to close the A44 and Churchdetour traffic down the Gloucester road, which should not affect us, except they also have reduced the A49 to one lane at the Gloucester road junction at Hope-Under-Dinmore. The traffic queue is backed up beyond Marlbrook. There are no signs or boards to indicate Pontrilas church but it cannot be missed; it stands on a hill overlooking the Hereford to Abergavenny road, actually at Kenderchurch. We climb up to the church of St Mary. Below is the expanse of Pontrilas Sawmills. The church was closed in 2013 and is locked. The site is circular and likely to be ancient. It is recorded in the Book of Llandaff, written shortly after the Conquest, as Lanncinitir or Lannicruc, the church of St Cynidr, possibly the son of Gwynllyw and Gwladys, and so grandson of Brychan and brother of St Cadoc. The church was also possibly the seat of an episcopal see from the late 6th century and may have been a pre-Christian site. It is not possible to date the Norman church as it was almost entirely rebuilt by William Chick in 1870-71. A restored graveyard cross stands near the porch. There is a very pleasant view of wooded hills and fields towards Kentchurch.

Ewyas Harold – This village is to the north-west of Pontrilas. The road enters the village which is much enlarged by modern development. The road bends over Dulas Brook. In front is Bridge Farmhouse, recorded in the listing as “ruinous” but now appears well restored. A little down the street is the Methodist church, Victorian but undated. In the other direction is the Baptist chapel, dating from 1865. We walk up the lane northwards and then up steps to a field. On the far side are trees that hide the motte of Ewyas Harold castle.

In the 5th century the River Severn divided the Kingdom of Mercia from Wales and Clydawg was recorded as King in Ewyas. It lay beyond Offa’s dyke and was finally occupied by the English in the 10th century. In 915 there were attacks by Vikings. In 1042 on the accession of Edward the Confessor, Herefordshire and its loosely annexed dependencies, Archenfield and Ewyas, were severed from the earldom of Mercia. This formed an earldom that Godwin gave to Selwyn before his banishment. It was then split and Ewyas was given to Osbern Pentecost who built a castle here. That was demolished in 1052 by Earl Leofric. After the Conquest, William Fizt-Osbern built a new castle which was commanded by Alured of Marlborough. It it is thought that the current civil parish of Ewyas Harold was divided into two lost English settlements, Mulstonestone (where Osbern Pentecost built his castle), and Manitone (possibly where the modern village of Ewyas Harold now lies). In 1403 Henry IV granted William Beauchamp permission to refortify Ewyas Harold castle against Owain Glyndŵr. The castle survived repeated assaults, but was never strategically important after Glyndŵr’s rebellion ended. By the mid 16th century it was a ruin, and in 1645 a traveller described it as “now ruined and gone”.

We return to the village and visit the church of St Michael and All Angels. Early in the 12th century the church here was given to the Abbey of Gloucester (later to become Gloucester Cathedral) and a Benedictine priory was founded. This suggests that there was a church here at least as early as 1100, but the earliest part of the Effigycurrent building dates to the 13th century. The monks provided a parish priest to the church and a chaplain to the nearby castle. In the early 12th century the castle was in the hands of Harold of Ewias, son of Ralph the Timid earl of Hereford, and grandson of King Æthelred the Unready. He gave his name to the village. Harold’s son Robert founded the nearby abbey at Dore. The castle and manor passed Harvestto the Tregoz family through Robert’s granddaughter Sybil, whose first husband was Robert Tregoz, who fought and died with Richard I. Their son, another Robert, married the sister of St Thomas Cantilupe of Hereford. Robert died at the Battle Evesham in 1265, fighting for Simon de Montfort. He was succeeded by John Tregoz, and most of the church was built at this time. The tower is 13th century with seven foot thick walls and a finely carved south doorway, with double-chamfered arch. Above the doorway is a two-light window with geometric tracery. In the early 19th century the tower served as a Dame School – a form of private elementary school taught by local women. The chancel is also 13th century with 17th century carved altar table. The reredos has four panels, two Flemish from around 1530 and two 17th century German ones. A 14th century effigy of a woman lies in a tomb recess in the chancel. This is thought to be Clarissa de la Warr, John’s daughter and thus granddaughter of St Thomas. Her father died in 1300 and she is known to have predeceased him, possibly about 1270. Though her effigy is here in Ewyas Harold, her body is buried at Shrewsbury. A north vestry was added and the nave and chancel arch were rebuilt by G C Hadley in 1868 and the chancel altered considerably. There is some good Victorian glass. The Harvest Festival was held last week and the church still has a lovely display of flowers and fruit – in particular some fine quinces!

Back in the village centre, there is a modern but former Catholic Church opened by His Grace the Archbishop of Cardiff, the Most Revd John Murphy in 1972. The church closed down in early 2011. The Temple Bar is a Georgian building which has apparently been a court house, corn exchange, stable, butchers, and school room, and it has been suggested that the land on which it was built has links with the Knights Templars, although there is no evidence of the latter. It became a licenced premises in the 1850s. However, as seems typical for us, it is closed for the week.

We head home by heading north, with views of the Black Mountains, to cross Dorstone Hill and the Wye then up to the Brecon road and back into Leominster.

Friday – Home – Last night I had to remove one of the young hens from the roof of the hen house and put her inside. This morning all are out and seem contented, although they keep in their own groups, the two older hens at one end and the youngsters at the other. Back down towards the house and a bat flits overhead and disappears by the roof of next door. Then another follows. That there are two probably means they are roosting in the roof space.

Craven Arms-Ludlow – A few fluffy white clouds float in a blue sky. A gentle breeze keeps it cool. On a train heading north past fields of maize awaiting harvest. At Craven Arms, a ginnel leads to the town centre. Into Corvedale Road. The Methodist church, built in 1913, has mock timber framing decorations and small leaded windows with an Art Nouveau glass pattern. Opposite is 3 Corvedale Road, rather more imposing than the rest of the street, maybe a former bank. A restaurant is also in a good Victorian double fronted building. An Art Deco building is empty, this was formerly Barclays Bank. Another double fronted shop has a plaque, “JYR 1879”. This is Bank House, also probably a former bank. Several villas are dated 1892, then the road leaves the town and crosses the River Onney. Past the large Mill House and into the countryside. Bishops House is in stone with a fine arched doorway. It actually is the Bishop’s house, the Bishop of Ludlow, suffragan bishop of diocese of Hereford. It was formerly the Vicarage. A few 19th century houses lay beside the road to the north. One house right on the road is the Toll House, with tablet inscribed: “John Overton Builder, 1848”. To the south Norton Hill rises its hill-fort hidden in the trees. Common Buzzards fly out from woodland. TowerJackdaws are noisy and a Raven barks. West Knowles Lime Works stood near the road. Wendale, formerly Whetton Barn, is a farm now all converted to dwellings.

At Greenways Cross, a lane heads south. A large field of green leaves runs up to a small woodland, Bache Rough. On down the lane. A Raven calls with a rather high pitched, almost mewing sound from an Oak. It flies off with a more familiar cronk. Into Bache, essentially, Bache House on a small junction with Bache Farm in the valley below, where there is a large pool but I cannot see it from here. A small meadow beside the road had a once substantial but now rather tumbledown wall around it. Just further on a short distance is a cottage which consists mainly of a large square, castellated tower, rather inevitably called Tower House. It is listed as a 19th century folly. The road descends into Burley, another small hamlet. A lane turns off to Vernolds (once with an apostrophe but this seems to have been lost) Common. A cottage, once the smithy, dated 1878 stands on the junction.


A small farm lays down in a valley in an old quarry. A row of cottages lines Burley Lane, a dead end. The fields to the south-west are Vernolds Common. The common has been enclosed in the last 100 years. On the far side are houses and once, a school. Past a thatched cottage laying back from the road. A red public telephone box has a notice declaring it will be disconnected 42 days after September 2016. It appears to still work although the cobwebs bear testament to its lack of use. The lane runs on. Vernolds Common Wesleyan Methodist church opened in 1858 and closed in 1997. It is now a dwelling. It has fine iron work fencing and gate. A large, early 19th century, Georgian farmhouse, Ayntree, has a later extension on the back. Markings on the brickwork indicate an earlier, wider extension. The farm buildings are all abandoned.

House Sparrows fill hedges beside a pair of farm workers cottages, Pools Cottages. Down a track is High Walton Farm, part of the Earl of Plymouth estate, which covers much of the area. The 17th century, much modified in the 19th century, timber-framed farmhouse is hidden behind long, low animal stalls. Much of the land is used for livestock, apparently because the area is very low in lime. The History of the County of Shropshire states, “When H. P. Reynolds of High Walton farm, Bromfield, in south Shropshire was informed by the county analyst that every field was deficient in lime to the extent of at least a ton an acre, and some as much as 55 cwt., he found that it took one man a whole winter to apply the necessary amount of burnt lime and slag.” Further down the lane, the Keeper’s Cottage is a decent sized house. A Skylark sings overhead a pale imitation of its spring song. Estate houses are marked with a W and dated 1903. The “W” probably refers to the Windsors, who married into the Clive family. Through Ludlow golf course then a pause at the railway line whilst a train rushes through. The station building still stands as a private dwelling. On down past the site of a large Roman encampment to Bromfield. Approaching the A49 junction there are a couple of timber framed cottages and two Georgian houses, one being The Clive. Over the River Onney and under the road throughout a subway. The cottage on the far side looks abandoned. Jackdaws are noisy around the church of St Mary the Virgin. Over the River Teme. Work has finished on the weir but the old mill still seems half restored. Past the gatehouse which has an unused rather then abandoned feel. Lord Clive’s house, Oakley Park, peeps through the trees. It is now the seat of the Earl of Plymouth. Tree felling is being undertaken near the old pond, which is completely overgrown now. Into Prior Halton.

Pigs squeal and cattle low in the barns, the air is rather ripe. The lane gently winds its way towards Ludlow. Round a bend and the castle comes into view. The lane enters Ludlow beside the mid 19th century Clive Cottages. Over the Teme again, this time by Dinham bridge. Up the path that runs beneath the castle and into the market square. Route

Sunday – Leominster – The shingle bar in the River Lugg downstream from Butts Bridge has disappeared under the water so the level must have risen, albeit only slightly. Sadly Himalayan Balsam is growing all along the banks side now overwhelming the local flora. Robins are the only songsters now all the warblers have gone. There no Swallows or Martins in the sky. This morning is cool, maybe only 8°C, yesterday was cold enough for a widespread grass-frost. A lone Carrion Crow sits atop a spindly Alder, surveying the river below. Cheshire police must be renewing their cars there are nine in the compound, although with the constant cuts, maybe they simply do not have enough staff to drive them! The army vehicles are still here. Market is a decent size for a chilly autumn morning. The Water Boatman on the Lugg by Ridgemoor Bridge have disappeared with the arrival of the cooler weather. The minster bells ring 9 o’clock and the compline bells follow. I pick a bag of Dandelion leaves for the hens.