Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The weather has turned decidedly autumnal – grey skies and a cool breeze. No birdsong just a few chirrups and chirps. Teasels and Dock stand erect and brown. The heads of Creeping Thistles are a mass of fluffy seed. Haws are bright scarlet, hips are still turning vermilion and sloes are deep purple. A scarlet Bedeguar Gall, “Robin’s Pincushion”, a gall caused by the larvae of a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae is on a small brier. Two winter plumage Great Crested Grebes, several Coots and a Mute Swan at the east end of the boating lake. Four Little Egrets are on the islands. Cormorants and Tufted Duck are out on the water. A flock of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits are moving through the bushes. Another Great Crested Grebe and a Mandarin Duck are in the meadow bay.
The meadow is almost flowerless just a few Red Bartsia and Meadow Buttercups. At the end of the meadow, the final yellow stars are on tall spikes of Agrimony.
Sixteen Mute Swans scattered across the main area of the lake. A good number of Mallard are on the far side. Twenty-five Cormorants pour out of the island trees. A Grey Heron is on the spit. An adult and juvenile Moorhen are on the scrape. A Carrion Crow flies onto the scrape and sends the Moorhens scurrying. A brief burst of song from a Robin in the reed bed receives a response from another on the far side of the reed bed. A Common Wasp investigates the wooden window frame of the hide.
Back through the Alder plantation where a Robin is singing more persistently. Varicoloured Bracket Fungus, Coriolus versicolor, is growing prolifically on a sawn Alder log. Ring-neck Pheasants squabble loudly in a paddock of sheep. Into the orchards. Sheep are in the dessert apple orchard. I check an apple but it is still a bit sharp but this does not worry the big ram who chomps it down in seconds.
Home – The “meadow” is strimmed then mown. It produces a large amount of “hay” which goes mainly into the chicken run. The still green outdoor tomatoes are all cropped as blight is spreading rapidly.
Sunday – Leominster – There is not a cloud in the sky but the morning has the slightly cool feeling of autumn about it. Jackdaws chack from the rooftops. There is a whooshing beating from overhead and two Mute Swans pass over heading north. The the ground floor of strange timber-framed building at the entrance to Dukes Walk, which was once going to be a kebab shop, has suddenly been painted black, a change from the bright yellow it has been for the last 10 plus years. Over the railway. A Carrion Crow calls from trees down the track. A Blue Tit twitters and there is a brief burst of song from a Robin.
The River Lugg is shallower still with the gravel bar emerging from the centre of its bed. The large piles of hedge cuttings on Easters Meadow have been removed. The mown hay has also been removed and the bale lifting attachment for a tractor stands on its own at the far end of the meadow.
Over the A49 and into Easters Wood. Piles of Ash logs are evidence of the forestry operations recently carried out. A Common Buzzard calls near Eaton Hill. More Blue Tits chatter and a Robin sings. Red berries on Wayfaring Trees are bright against the darker woods. The path gently curves round and eventually takes me back to the river. Himalayan Balsam is everywhere. A Song Thrush hops along the path. A few blackberries are gathered. Back under the A49 by Mosaic Bridge. The river sparkles as it moves sluggishly south; a few insects dance above its water.
Back to the Millennium Park. Nuthatches are noisy and chasing through the trees at the foot of the churchyard. A Chiffchaff calls weakly. A Blackcap taps from deep inside an Elder. Another sings a poor imitation of its spring song. The Kenwater also remains very low in level. It sounds like bell ringers are warming up, tolling a different bell in turn. Eventually a full round starts. The air is warming rapidly.
Home – Another weeding session. A couple of large marrows are harvested. Dinner has carrots, beetroot, chard and beans from the garden and stored potatoes. The last of the gooseberries from the bush by the pond, a few damsons and a couple of figs are also gathered. The season of mellow fruitfulness indeed.
Monday – Presthope-Much Wenlock – The autumn feel continues even more intensely today as dawn brings a landscape covered in mist. The mist clears as I head north and Presthope to park up for Wenlock Edge. The lane up from Bourton would once have crossed the Mineral Railway and then over the tunnel carrying the Wenlock Railway – all gone now. The Shropshire and Jack Mytton Ways run along this ridge of Silurian limestone – the Wenlock Group created by a fossilised reef when the area was near the equator. I take the Shropshire Way which runs along the ridge with the scape slope dropping steeply away to the north-west. Below is the Jack Mytton Way and beyond, Lower Hill Farm. The path runs north-east. A Raven croaks in the distance. The ridge undulates considerably here with steps taking the path up and down. Many of the deep holes are old quarries.
A wooden statue is imitating a backbone, I think. It is hosting a large number of black flies. To the south is a vast area of flat, bare land, Lea Quarry. Further over is the quarry was deeper and is now flooded. Canada Geese can be heard. Next to the path is a face of limestone nodules. Those that have fallen off often have small pieces of shell fossil in them. Further on the face is made off of much larger blocks up to a metre square. Field Scabious flowers at the foot of this small face. Wild Basil is widespread. A Small Heath butterfly flits past. Trees next to the path carry good crops of haws and sloes. A Spindle has small brown fruits. A Spotted Flycatcher sits on the very top bare twig of an Ash, darting out to grab passing insects.
The noise level rises as the path passes the working part of Lea quarry. Back on the top of the ridge, an old wall can be barely seen under the bushes. Over the wall the land drops away precipitously. A short distance further on both sides of the path are dropping away steeply. Just off the path to the west is Major’s Leap. Major Thomas Smallman of nearby Wilderhope Manor was a Royalist officer in the Civil War who was forced to flee from his manor as Cromwell’s troops approached. He was carrying important dispatches but was cornered on the Wenlock Edge. Rather than surrender, he galloped his horse off the edge falling some 200 feet. His horse was killed but the Major was saved by falling into an apple tree. He made his way on foot to Shrewsbury where he delivered the despatches. The spot is said to be haunted by the Major and his horse. The view is hazy but spectacular.
On along the path through Blakeway Coppice. A pristine Speckled Wood rests on a bramble leaf. Now to the east is an old quarry site, Westwood Quarry, piled high with tree trunks. The path is now apparently Cross Britain Way. Another area of Westwood quarry is covered over with industrial units and an extensive timber yard. A tramway ran from here down to the GWR Wenlock Branch. A Chiffchaff calls. There are a good number of Blue Tits all along the path. A black beetle crosses the path.
The path comes to to Blakeway Hollow, ancient track across the ridge from Much Wenlock to Harley Bank below. This way derives its name from “Black Way” and was a packhorse route to Shrewsbury. Routes head off in seemingly every direction. A path heads along the last small remaining section of Wenlock Edge. The Shropshire Way now heads north east whilst the Jack Mytton Way heads down to the town of Much Wenlock. A lumpy limestone track descends to the town. It is now getting very warm. A deep old quarry lays by the track. An old abandoned limestone building looks out on a field of large mounds and dips created by lime kilns.
Onto a tarmac lane past modern dwellings and into the town. One side of the road has stone cottages often much extended. The other side is Havelock Crescent built in 1938. Onto the A458 Shrewsbury to Bridgnorth Road. A large old farmhouse stands on the junction. Birchfield Garage - Engineers is sadly no more. Cedars House is dated 1805. A timber framed Cottage is attached to the Old Smithy, both built around 1600. The Gaskell Arms Hotel stands on a major junction. It was formerly the White Swan, built on site of Rindleford Hall of which the stone foundations remain. A Squatters Cottage stands opposite.
I do not tarry in the town, which is busy, pausing only to buy a bottle of drink before heading back up to Blakeway Hollow. Just passed Birchfield garage, from this direction I can see a stone wall formed part of a bridge carrying the railway over the main road here. Blakeway Hollow is not steep but is a long and steady climb and I am soon blowing. A passing walkers asks “Are you in a rush?”. I admit I'm not sure I’m travelling so fast because it’s killing me!
Two main tracks run back along the Edge. Another walker tells me the one I did not take, the Jack Mytton Way, is a wide and easy bridleway, so off I go. This track is certainly easier underfoot being well compacted unlike the top path which was cobbles of limestone. The track is also deep in the woods and consequently much cooler. The trees here are mainly Ash and Oak. Worryingly, both are under attack throughout the country by Ash Dieback and Sudden Oak Death – both diseases brought in from the continent by plant traders feeding the somewhat ridiculous desire of gardeners for exotic plants (although why Ash, I do not know, it is hardly exotic). This behaviour has ravaged the country with rhododendron, Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed. Views to the west over mainly golden fields show that there is still a mist and haze across the land. Nuthatches whoop in the trees. A dead conifer has a large growth of Honey Fungus on its trunk. The track divides with the Jack Mytton Way heading on downwards and another track heading up to the car park. The tangled roots of a large old Yew exposed across the bank look like a sea monster. Route
Wednesday – Berkeley – The Civic Society trip to Berkeley Castle. We have a guided tour of the castle. There was a wooden castle erected here around 1067 by William FitzOsbern. This was subsequently held by three generations of the first Berkeley family, all called Roger de Berkeley, and rebuilt by them in the first half of the 12th century. The last Roger de Berkeley was dispossessed in 1152 during the Anarchy, and the feudal barony of Berkeley was then granted to Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy burgess of Bristol and supporter of the Plantagenets. He was the founder of the Berkeley family which still owns the castle. In 1153-54, Fitzharding received a royal charter from King Henry II giving him permission to rebuild the castle. Fitzharding built the circular shell keep between 1153 and 1156, probably on the site of the former motte. The building of the curtain wall followed, probably during 1160-1190 by Robert and then by his son Maurice. Much of the rest of the castle is 14th century and was built for Thomas de Berkeley, 3rd Baron Berkeley: Thorpe’s Tower, to the north of the keep, the inner gatehouse to its south-west, and other buildings of the inner bailey.
The castle was taken in 1326 by the forces of Hugh Despenser, the favourite of Edward II. The following year Edward was deposed by his wife Queen Isabella and her ally and lover Roger Mortimer, and placed in the joint custody of Mortimer’s son-in-law, Thomas de Berkeley, and de Berkeley’s brother-in-law, John Maltravers. Edward was held in Berkeley Castle for five months from April to September. A band of Edward’s supporters attacked, entered the castle and rescued him, only for him to be recaptured soon afterwards. He was returned Berkeley Castle in September. It is recorded that Edward was murdered there on 21st September 1327.
We visit the various rooms, most having different themes and no particular relevance to their original use. In the 14th century, in the Great Hall, the last court jester in England, Dickie Pearce, died after falling from the Minstrels’ gallery. Adjoining the Great Hall was the Chapel of St Mary with its painted wooden vaulted ceilings and a biblical passage, written in Norman French. It was converted to a morning room by the 8th Earl, who also made wholesale restorations to the castle, often using fittings and furniture brought in from elsewhere and having no connection to the castle.
A dispute about the ownership of Berkeley Castle between Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle and William Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley lead to the Battle of Nibley Green on 20th March 1470, the last battle on English soil between the private armies of feudal magnates. In the late 16th century Queen Elizabeth I visited the castle and played bowls on the bowling green and killed 47 stags in the deer park – the excessive number apparently in revenge for the absence of the Earl.
During the English Civil War, the castle still held sufficient significance for it to be captured in 1645 by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough for the Parliamentarian side; after a siege that saw cannon being fired at point-blank range from the adjacent church roof of St Mary the Virgin, the Royal garrison surrendered. As was usual the walls were left breached after this siege, but the Berkeley family were allowed to retain ownership on condition that they never repaired the damage to the Keep and Outer Bailey; this is still enforced today by the Act of Parliament drawn up at the time.
Dr Jenner’s House – The home of Edward Jenner, born in 1749. He spent much of his childhood exploring the fields and hedgerows surrounding the Gloucestershire town of Berkeley. After training as a surgeon with the great John Hunter in London, 23 year old Jenner returned to Berkeley with a renewed enthusiasm to uncover the secrets of the natural world. His early experiments included medicine, horticulture and the natural world. He achieved his Fellowship of the Royal Society for a paper on the nesting habits of cuckoos. Then, in 1796, he carried out the world’s first controlled vaccination against smallpox. Soon after he established a free vaccination clinic in the Temple of Vaccinia, a rustic hut in his garden. A tree stump near the hut has a fine large Dryad’s Saddle fungus on it. Jenner devoted the rest of his life promoting the benefits of vaccination. His work certainly has a particular resonance these days!
Church of St Mary the Virgin – This is a fine building with an extraordinary graveyard full of listed chest tombs. One is the tomb of Dickie Pearce, the Jester. Others are unusual oval shaped chests. A Saxon church stood on the site of the tower which is a considerable distance from the main building to prevent it dominating the castle defences. The Saxon church was a Collegiate church. It fell into decay around the time Robert Fiztharding received the Hundred of Berkeley in 1153. He had built and endowed St Augustine’s Abbey in Bristol, now Bristol Cathedral. He now built a church here. This was replaced in stages during the 13th and 14th centuries. The church still retains much of its mediaeval wall decoration. There is a Doom painting, Christ in Judgement, high at the top of the chancel arch, either 13th or 15th century. In the south aisle is the alabaster tomb and effigies of Lord Thomas III, the 8th Lord of Berkeley, who died in 1361, and his second wife, Katherine. He and his brother Maurice were with Edward III at the Battle of Crecy. On the south side of the chancel is a closed off room, the Berkeley Burial Chapel, containing the tombs and effigies of Lord James, 11th Lord of Berkeley who died in 1463, his son James killed in the One Hundred Years War serving under John Talbot and Lord Henry, 17th Lord, died in 1613, and his wife Katherine Howard, grand-daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. In the central aisle of the nave is a carving on a pillar capital of two ladies’ heads in close contact, surmounted by a toad. This is a “Sermon in Stone”, to teach that gossip is like the poisonous tongue of a toad! The East Window is dated 1873, by Hardman. The font has a rectangular bowl, large enough for the total immersion of infants and dates to the mid 12th century. The tower was rebuilt in 1751 and has a ring of ten bells.
Friday – Dymock – A damp and humid morning but a breeze is increasing in strength. Into the village of Dymock. It is thought that Dymock is a Welsh name and that the first syllable is from the Welsh dyn, meaning “fort” followed by moch, meaning “swine”. There is evidence of Iron Age occupation and the Roman Road from Stretton Grandison to Gloucester runs through the village. The village stands on a number of routes between Roos, Ledbury, Leominster and Gloucester. It was the ancestral home of the Dymoke family of the Manor of Scrivelsby in the parish of Horncastle in Lincolnshire who hold the feudal hereditary office of King’s Champion. The functions of the Champion are to ride into Westminster Hall at the coronation banquet and challenge all comers who might impugn the King’s title. The Hereford and Gloucester canal opened across the centre of Dymock in 1798 following the construction of the Oxenhall tunnel. In 1881 the canal was closed between Gloucester and Ledbury to make way for a railway. The line, which opened in 1885, carried passenger traffic until 1959 and closed in 1964. It took a more westerly route than the canal to enter Dymock at Four Oaks and north of the village it followed a direct route east of Tiller’s green to follow the canal’s course alongside the Leadon. These days, Dymock is probably best known for Dymock Red cider apples and Stinking Bishop cheese.
A modern housing development is called The Crypt. Opposite is a late 15th century timber-framed cottage and a house which seems to be an extended barn conversion, then a number of timber-framed dwellings. On this side is a pair of low cottages looking like alms houses then a large house of 1884 built is alternate red and yellow bricks. This house started as The George Inn and Great Wadley, became a butcher’s shop and now a house. Again opposite is a fine 15th century cottage with an crucks-frame end. Ann Cam’s School is dated 1825. It was enlarged in 1883 by a Mr Waller. There is some modern infill and small developments off of the main road. The telephone exchange is a small rectangular building next to a garage and village shop, Well House. The large, early 18th century Stoneberrow House stands behind it. Stoneberrow Cottages seems a strange name for a large late Georgian house. A large white house was The Crown pub.
A modern group of houses stands opposite the very large three storey former vicarage, High House, now flats. A mid 18th century house, it was remodelled as the vicarage in 1878 by the 6th Earl Beauchamp. On the south side of the road is The White House, an early 17th century farmhouse, rebuilt around 1770 and remodelled and extended in early 19th century. It stands in the place of a house that was the birthplace of John Kyrle (1637–1724), the “Man of Ross”, and the home of the Winter family in the later 17th and early 18th century. The large Wintour’s Green contains the War Memorial. Beyond is the church of St Mary’s.
Through an ornately carved lych gate into the churchyard. The graveyard contains a number of chest tombs carved in sandstone that have badly eroded. One tomb is an unusual octagonal pedestal shape. A Table of Benefactors hangs in the large stone porch. The church is largest in a group of early Norman churches ascribed to a “Dymock school” of sculpture. The church’s size, plan form, high quality masonry and elaborate decoration indicate its importance when built. Its age has been debated but it is now widely accepted that the present building, which once had a central tower, dates from after 1070, its long nave and certain stylistic characteristics continuing Anglo-Saxon traditions. Dymock is one of the few English churches of late 11th century date to have had a polygonal apsidal end to the chancel. In the early 14th century, the east end of the church was rebuilt on a rectangular plan. The west wall was rebuilt and new windows were inserted in the nave’s north and south walls. In about 1400 north and south transeptal chapels were added individually and asymmetrically to the nave, the former having a large canopied niche and the latter a piscina. In the early 15th century a west tower was added to the building. The Cheltenham firm of Middleton & Goodman restored the nave and chapels in 1870 and 1871 and a north vestry and organ chamber were added to the chancel in 1874. The Gloucester firm of Waller & Son conducted later alterations but altogether the gradual changes, among them the scraping of the interior walls, the removal of galleries, the reinstatement of windows, and the introduction of new furnishings, lacked a unified plan. Prominent members of the congregation such as the Thackwells paid for many new fittings, which included a font and a pulpit, and much of the window glass was replaced by stained glass by Kempe, memorials to individual parishioners. The organ built by John Nicholson of Malvern in 1884 and renovated in 2001 by Trevor Tipple of Worcester. At the western end of the nave is an exhibition devoted to the Dymock poets, six poets, who were walking, talking and writing in the area. They were Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson and Edward Thomas.
Back to the churchyard where a Chiffchaff is calling in a Yew tree. To the north of the church the graveyard slopes of way down to the River Leadon. Column bases run out from the northern transept but I cannot find the reason. From the foot of the churchyard the Daffodil Way and Poets’ Paths travel across the field. The breeze seems to have dropped again and it is getting very warm and humid. Across the field to the Ledbury Road and down to the modern bridge, Longbridge, across the Leadon. The water level in the river is low, the water coloured and the flow is barely perceptible. Back up to the main road.
Just before the junction is the parish hall of 1906. Opposite is the Old Forge now a garage. On the junction is the Beauchamp Arms. Along the main road and into the Kempley road. The police station, now a residence, is dated 1898 on an ornate stone plaque on the gable. The road rises and crosses a bridge over the old railway line. Below there is the edge of the old platform. The other side is children’s playground. The road divides and a short distance down the eastern side is the Western Way Chapel, a large building converted from a railway shed. Past a heavily laden plum tree, the fruit annoyingly our of reach. The road drops down to a stream flowing out of a sizeable pond, or even a lake, although there is very little water flowing down the high weir. The stream passes into an old stone culvert. Beyond is a modernised timber framed building. Back to the road. I realise that the plum tree is one of a long line leading up to a gate and some have plums which are are collectible. Unfortunately the land beyond the gate is private so I am able to nip round and gather those on the far side. Back to the village centre.
Kempley – I drive around the back lanes to the small village of Kempley. Past Stonehouse Farmhouse, a fine early 17th century mansion. St Mary’s church is now managed by English Heritage. It was built around around the year 1095 by Hugh de Lacy, a favourite of Henry I, on the site of an earlier Saxon building, but as the village slowly moved to higher ground at Kempley Green two miles away it became less and less used until replaced by a new church there in 1904. A path passes a row of Yew trees although most are not particularly old. There are several 18th century chest tombs in the churchyard. The church is, unusually, rendered in pink on the north side. Through a 12th century wooden porch. The interior of the church is a wonder – Romanesque architecture with the most complete cycle of mediaeval wall painting in the country. These painting were whitewashed in the reign of Edward VI (1547-53). They were uncovered in 1956. Possibly the finest is “Christ in Majesty” in a triple mandorla on the vault of the chancel. There are some 14th century images in the nave including the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket. Images are here
Sunday – Leominster – A much cooler morning with high wispy cloud. Jackdaws chack on the rooftops. Three Magpies fly over. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. A Wren fires its machine gun warning; a Robin calls a slower ticking warning call. Two Dippers depart downstream. The water level has fallen again in the River Lugg exposing even more of the shingle bank in the middle. The water is still gin clear.
Back over the railway. Within just a few minutes the cloud has thickened considerably overhead. A Robin sings in the Hazel tree outside the White Lion. Small green catkins have already appeared on the Hazel’s branches. Into the Millennium Orchard. Apples are ripening and beginning to fall. All the flowers have now finished just leaving brown seed heads. At least two Chiffchaffs still call. A Rabbit dashes past and under the gate into the abandoned, overgrown pond. Here the last Purple Loosestrife still have flowers at the top of their tall stems.
The water level in the River Kenwater continues to fall. The Minster bells toll 9 o’clock followed by the Compline bells.
Home – The strip of flower meadow is thoroughly scarified again and a large amount of dead grass and moss is removed. The rest of the lawn and other grass areas are mown. Then the edges and the orchard area at the bottom of the garden are strimmed. It is a difficult job as it has become very overgrown. There are half a dozen apples on the Coxes Orange Pippin and they look like they will be ready soon. It has been slow to grow, being four years old now, but any crop is welcome.
Monday – Leominster – Overnight rain has ceased although it may only be temporary. It is not warm but still humid. Across the Grange. A small flight of Lesser Black-Backed gulls passes over. Jackdaws and Magpies call. A Chiffchaff wheeps from one of the tall Oaks. The new team rector of the Minster seems to be moving in into to the rectory. Down The Priory to the Kenwater bridge. Along Paradise Walk. Both a Wren and Blackbird are calling alarms. A new sign has been fixed by the Civic Society to Paradise Bridge indicating it was the former course of the River Lugg.
Along Mill Street to the Ridgemoor Bridge. The bright white balls of Snowberries have appeared on the bushes beside the bridge. The change of season means the Water Boatman have all disappeared off the surface of the Lugg. Willows at the OK Diner junction has bright red blisters on their leaves caused by the Willow Redgall Sawfly, Pontania proxima. The big field on the A49 with the Dutch barn is for sale. A flock of feral pigeons and white doves keeps circling the field but not landing. After maybe a dozen circuits they disappear westwards.
Over the stile at Hay Lane and through the small copse to the open fields. The big field between the path and the A49 has a dense crop of maize. Cogwell Brook is low with a lot of water-smoothed stones exposed. Along the edge of the brook. Goldfinches fly up into the trees from a patch of unmown land where thistles have fluffy seed heads. A young Raven flies over the hedge beside the brook then executes a sharp turn when it realises I am the other side. The white trumpets of Greater Bindweed climb up through the Hawthorns. There is a heavy crop on Alders along the bank of the brook.
Through the double set of gates into a field of sheep. A footpath follows the course of the brook which is choked with weed in places whilst other patches run clear. Large multi-trunk Alders stand beside the book. A Swallow flies over. A Jay squawks in the trees. On the edge of the brook in one place are large Butterbur leaves, in another one of the mints. Over the brook is a large cider orchard. A Common Buzzard flies through the apple trees. The path comes to the bridge over the road that leads up from Stockton to the A44 and on to Bodenham.
Past the large modern barns at Stockton Bury Farm. On to the A49. Two more Swallows fly over. Overhead the cloud is thickening. Tractors pass frequently, often pulling trailers of potatoes going east, empty again going west. A Mistle Thrush sits on wires that cross a field. Ahead a Carrion Crow dashes between the streams of traffic and drags very crushed corpse of a wood pigeon off the carriageway. However it then seems to disappear abandoning its prize on the footpath. Sometimes the traffic movements in inexplicable. A lorry carrying a very large number of wooden stakes headed into town as I was walking out. As I now return to the OK Diner the same lorry with the same stakes is heading back out of town.
Into Bridge Street car park. A Common Buzzard land in a tree by the block of apartments much to the annoyance of some Jackdaws. It seems there may be an emergency somewhere as on-call firefighters are rushing down the streets to the fire station. Within ten minutes, the last crew member is on board and the appliance leaves, siren wailing and blue lights flashing. This delights some young holidaymakers.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – A grey, damp and misty morning. Robins sing loudly whilst others tick in the woods. Wet haws and hips are shining brightly. A Hornet flies down the hedgerow. A Goat Willow has collapsed over the path leaving a tunnel just five feet high. Blackthorn bushes have a very heavy crop of sloes, some of which I collect for sloe gin. A Chiffchaff calls. Many bushes are covered with the cream-green plumes of Old Man’s Beard.
Six Grey Herons are on the islands with a dozen Greylags. Mallard, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, including two juveniles, and Mute Swans are on the lake. A flock of mixed tits fly over. The meadow is quiet and empty. Field Maples are turning yellow. At the far end another Chiffchaff calls.
At least thirty Cormorants are in the island trees. They emit the occasional rumbling grunt or sigh. Most appear to be juveniles. Four Mallard are on the scrape. Another Robin sings nearby. Mute Swans are scattered all around the water. Clouds cloak the tops of trees on Dinmore. Another Grey Heron is on the island and a couple more Great Crested Grebes out on the lake. A Little Egret stands in the water seemingly asleep on the far side. Its head pops up as a Grey Heron lands nearby. Again, there appears to be no Canada Geese present. Almost immediately one sails into view and another flies in but does not stop. A drake Mandarin is beginning to regain its breeding plumage. Mallard drakes are also beginning to regain their colours. A Reed Warbler moves through the Willow saplings and down into the reed bed. The reeds are all arched over and beginning to turn yellow and brown. Several Goldfinches pass including pale juveniles just beginning to gain the adult colours. The Cormorants, far more than I had seen previously, decide to head south probably to the Wellington lakes. Some change their minds and return to the trees. A number of Coot appear.
A work crew from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust are in the meadow and heading down to the copse with various cutting and strimming tools. More sloes are on the Blackthorns along the edge of the meadow. Into the orchards. Few cider apples have dropped yet but several dessert apples are scattering their fruit on the ground. I collect a bagful to keep us going.
Back to Newtons Court to get some cider. As I chat to the proprietor a large low-loader, the 18 wheeler type, draws up, apparently to pick up a large portacabin. It shortly becomes clear he is not moving soon, so my man decides I will have to go the back way – through a gate, down the field, through another gate, across the orchard and through a third gate into a small development of barn conversions.
Thursday – Shrewsbury-Battlefield – The morning starts bright but cloud thickens during the journey to Shrewsbury. Out of the station and north along Castle Foregate. Under railway bridge on along the busy road. The shops before the large Morris Lubricants buildings are all takeaways apart from two mini markets and a pub. The road becomes St Michael’s Street. The offices of the gas works, built in polychrome brick and terracotta in 1884, seems empty. It was built as a three storey offices but only the ground floor remains. Modern apartments and houses face 19th century terraces. One house strangely has the front door and an arched entrance completely covered in insulation foam. Past St Michael’s Gate where an old gearing unit, part of the old gas works, stands as a statue.
The Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service headquarters and the Dolphin Inn, dated 1820, stand opposite Primrose Terrace built in 1907. Clinics occupy a former St Michael’s Board School designed by J L Randal in 1882. Along St Ann’s Hill. Restoration work continues on the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings. It looks as though the main building has been restored and work is now being undertaken on the large area in front of it. More takeaways and a funeral directors which may be appropriate. The housing is now a large area of former council houses and some new build, Spring Gardens, Ditherington and Heathgates.
A bill board looks like an advertisement for H&SBC but is actually a criticism of their continued funding for fossil fuels. It was around here that the Heathgate Gallows were situated. Past a small retail parade consisting of a pub, two takeaways, a tanning studio, mini market and a bookies. A short distance on this is pretty much repeated. There are are some short terraces of late 19th century or early 20th century terraces and some early to mid 20th century semi-detached houses. Through the busy Heathgates roundabout. A large early 20th century pub stands on the roundabout. More mid 20th century housing and a large supermarket and an aerospace factory housed in the Art Deco Sentinel Waggon Works. The works’ principle products were road vehicles. Steam powered in the 1920s, and later oil engined from the 1930s to the 1950s. The next shopping parade is takeaways, a Polish shop, computer repairs, hairdressers, café, charity shop and a dentist and a short distance away another funeral directors. All around are streets of mid 20th century housing.
This is now the Whitchurch Road through Harlescott. To the west is the Centurion Park industrial estate. The houses stop at Harlescott roundabout and a large retail and business park takes over. A statue of a black and blue sheep stands on a plinth surrounded by four more brightly coloured sheep. Into Harlescott Lane. Over the level crossing. The Old level crossing keepers house is in black brick with red lining. Opposite are a pair of 19th century cottages. South Wales to Manchester train races through. The large retail and industrial estate runs off in every direction. The dominant buildings are Stadco, who work in steel and aluminium. In the mid 1920s, Hall Engineering of Lancashire relocated their Chatwood Safe company to Harlescott, eventually becoming Stadco. In May 1924 the company purchased the 315 acre Harlescott Farm, planning to develop 50 acres for a factory and a village for the workers which lays along the road. This is followed by a much later development and the Harry Hotspur pub.
Into Battlefield Way where there are more large industrial sites. Just after a large second-hand car supermarket and before the A5124 is a footpath. A shrub with small pink flowers is attracting large numbers of bees. A large pond seems birdless. A Blackthorn is laden with sloes. At the end of the pond the line turned northwards and passes under the main road. Steps lead up onto a mound which looks out over the fields where the Battle of Shrewsbury took place.
The Battle of Shrewsbury was a battle fought on 21st July 1403, waged between the Lancastrian King Henry IV and Henry “Harry Hotspur” Percy from Northumberland. The battle, the first in which English archers fought each other on English soil, reaffirmed the effectiveness of the longbow and ended the Percy challenge to King Henry IV of England. The Percys had supported Henry both in Wales and Scotland in return for promised money and land. Neither promises were kept so the Percys revolted. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, and Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester, publicly renounced their allegiance to King Henry IV. They charged him with perjury because he claimed the throne in addition to his old lands and titles, taxed the clergy despite his promise not to without the consent of Parliament, imprisoned and murdered King Richard II, did not allow a free Parliamentary election, and refused to pay a just ransom to Owain Glyndŵr, who was then holding Edmund Mortimer. The battle took place in a large field of peas here. It is recorded that many did not know who had won. The King’s forces sustained greater losses than the rebels, and Henry IV very nearly lost both his life and his throne. But Hotspur was killed and was initially buried by his nephew Thomas Nevill, 5th Baron Furnivall at Whitchurch, Shropshire, with honours, but rumours soon spread that he was not really dead. In response the King had him disinterred. His body was salted, set up in Shrewsbury impaled on a spear between two millstones in the marketplace pillory, with an armed guard, and was later quartered and put on display in Chester, London, Bristol and Newcastle upon Tyne. His head was sent to York and impaled on the north gate, looking toward his own lands. In November his grisly remains were returned to his widow Elizabeth. The Earl of Worcester was beheaded and Sir Richard Venables, Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Henry Boynton were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury on 23rd July and their heads publicly displayed, Thomas Percy’s on London Bridge.
The path winds its way between the fields crossing a dried-up brook. The path divides and I take the westwards leg to Albright Hussey. The hedge has some age being made up of a good number of species including Field Maple, Holly, Oak, Hawthorn and Beech. The Oak has galls from the Silk Button Gall Wasp, Neuroterus numismalis. An Oak tree in the hedge has some considerable age. A tractor drags rollers with spikes on them across a large field. The path enters a farm track which leads to Albright Hussey. This is a much extended manor house, now a hotel. The place was recorded in the Domesday Book as Elbretone;. In 1292, to avoid confusion with other place names similar to “Albrighton” the name “Hussey” was added after the family who occupied it. The Hussey family remained here until the 17th century, and the estate passed to the Corbets in 1634. Royalist troops used it as a garrison in 1741. The present house, dating back to Tudor times was rebuilt in 1524, the timber framed section is the earliest part, the brick and stone wing being added by 1560. The chapel that was close to the house has disappeared completely. There is evidence of a lost mediaeval village to the south of the house.
Back along the path. A large Brown Field Slug, Deroceras invadens, moves slowly across the gravel. Past The Field House to the church of St Mary Magdalene, which is locked. A key is available somewhere but where is not clear. The traditional story behind the building of Battlefield church is that it was erected by Henry IV in thanks for his victory. However, the real story is that a local rector named Roger Ive, perhaps appalled by the slaughter of the battle, asked a local landowner named Richard Hussey to obtain a royal license for a chapel. This Hussey did, and granted two acres of land on which to build the chapel, where daily prayers could be said for the souls of those who had perished in the fight. The chapel was finished in 1409, a year before Henry IV granted a foundation charter and privileges to the chantry chaplains, ensuring an income to maintain the chapel. The chapel and the chaplains who served it became Battlefield College, which consisted of six small rooms for chaplains, and the church they served. Sometime later it seems that an almshouse and school were added. The west tower was added to the chapel in the late 15th century, but the chapel itself was abolished along with similar chantries in the Reformation. All the college buildings except the church were pulled down, and even the church was allowed to crumble into decay. The roof collapsed, and a new wall built to enclose a much smaller space; roughly where the rood screen is today. It was not until the 1860s that Battlefield church was restored, under the patronage of Lady Brinckman, one of the Corbet family who then owned the estate. The church became redundant in 1982 but has since been taken into care by the Churches Conservation Trust. A drain being dug in a corner of the churchyard may have inadvertently opened part of the burial pit. Workmen were surprised by the mass of bones which they thought showed the hurried nature of the burials. They may have merely unearthed a charnel pit containing bones of a variety of different ages. Robins sing and a Jackdaw chacks. A Blue Tit alights on a gargoyle then in the decorative pinnacles looking probably for spiders.
My route retraces to Harlescott Lane, then west. Opposite Harlescott House, a path enters the large housing estate. A pair of cottages are probably 19th century and were part of Chatwood Farm which stood here. A path follows Little Harlescott Lane an old route through the modern housing estate to York Road. A pristine Red Admiral feeds on a buddleia. Into Grafton Mews. A wooden building houses a church. This church began as Harlescott Grange Independent Evangelical Church in 1958 in a building in Gloucester Road. In 1962 it moved to this site. Back to York Road. A ginnel leads to an open area where the silhouettes of mediaeval soldiers stands on the edge of the moat that surrounded Harlescott Grange. The moat is now visible as a slight earthwork having been drained in 1950 and largely infilled following the construction of the housing estate. An account of the site in 1937 indicated that the sides of the moat were lined with masonry and when the moat was drained, 13th century pottery was found. A document dated 1417 states that the body of Sir John Massey of Tatton, killed fighting for Percy in the Battle, had lain at Harlescott. Through the streets to rejoin Little Harlescott Lane.
A stainless steel pair of panels stand on a green, designed by Jim Sadler in 2005 and called Divided Loyalties.
The lane enters Mount Pleasant Road. Opposite is the Church of Latter Day Saints. Along the road is the local school and Emmanuel church, a joint Anglican and Baptist church. Ahead the South Shropshire hills are blue-grey on the horizon. BBC Shropshire stands on a roundabout. Under a Victorian cast iron bridge carrying South Wales to Manchester line.
Back onto the Heathgate and Ditherington Road. Pass the old flax mills but just before the old school I turn off onto the old canal tow path. The Canal Tavern which sold Wem ales is still under some sort of restoration. The clouds and darkening in the South and West and the wind is beginning to blow up. Back to Castle Foregate. Large flocks of feral pigeons are flying about. Up into the centre of the town which is busy. Route
Sunday – Home – A brief period of rain in the night barely wet the ground. At dawn I collect some more cider apples. Later later in the morning I hear geese flying past but they cannot be seen below the trees. The work of cider making begins. Blue Tits, Robins and a Nuthatch visit the feeders whilst I am in the summerhouse working through the bags of apples, Tom Putt and Bloxwood Foxwelp varieties. Over five gallons are pressed and the barrel is filled.
Monday – Tenbury Wells – The morning starts sunny but cool. Through the modern housing in Burford and across the bridge that leads into Tenbury Wells. Below the River Teme is low and sluggish with shingle banks stretching out towards the middle. A large number of Mallard are on the upstream side.
A narrow passageway, Church Walk, runs beside the Regal Cinema, built in 1937 by Ernest S Roberts of Birmingham for J N Robson Clifton Cinemas. It was acquired in 1969 by Tenbury Town Council and is still a going concern. On the other side of the ginnel is a 17th century house and shop. The walk enters Church Street between 18th century cottages. Opposite is the church of St Mary. Beside the gate into the churchyard is the former fire station built in 1858. Through the extensive graveyard and onto a foot path between the backs of modern houses and rough pasture filled with Stinging Nettles through which bright white Greater Bindweed weaves. The path diverts through a modern bungalow complex and crosses a dry brook. Into more rough pasture of Stinging Nettles, Teasels and Creeping Thistles. A rather incongruous bench and table sit under apple trees covered in Mistletoe. A wide mown path runs through the pastures and past a rather splendid allotment. A white-bellied Cormorant flies over. The track becomes a narrow footpath and enters woodland. It runs along the side of a steep slope that runs down to the river. A Robin ticks and a Chiffchaff calls.
The path climbs the hill becoming wet, sedgy and very slippery. Himalayan Balsam is rampant. An exposed area shows the layers of interbedded Raglan mudstone formed approximately 419 to 424 million years ago in the Silurian Period. The path climbs to a sheep pasture and then runs along the top of the slope. Ash and Oak trees rise along beside the fields. A Speckled Wood butterfly flits over the grass. A stile takes the route back into the wood, Bednal Coppice, and down a steep, slippery path, (only one fall) to a footbridge over a choked brook. Over a stile into a very large field of willow saplings, followed by other tree saplings. There are then rows upon rows of very young Crab Apple trees with names like John Downie and Jelly King. Bars of soap hang from the fence around the field, apparently to discourage deer. The field ends at a meander of the Teme.
A track leads round to Berrington Road. Back eastwards. Jays Squawk, a Chiffchaff calls and a Common Buzzard mews before taking to the sky from a large Ash. Red strings of bryony adorn the hedgerows. The lane climbs, levelling out at Lower Haresbrook farm where all the barns have been converted into residences. The lane climbs gently again until it reaches modern bungalows and an older farmhouse. The modern housing continues. Westfield Cottage has some age standing on the junction of Haresbrook Lane and Berrington Road. The road descends towards the town. There are several large Victorian villas amongst the modern housing along the road. The Catholic church of the Sacred heart and Our Lady was built by Caldicott & Sons of Tenbury Wells in 1973-4 from designs by John Wheatley of Cleobury Mortimer. Park Terrace is dated 1895. St Just House is a large Victorian property. At the junction with Bog Road is a large converted barn of the 17th century with a dovecote in the gable, now filled in. Nearby is a late 17th century converted stable and the main house, Longwater, built in 1681, from long bricks made at the brickyard in Bromyard Road/Terrills Lane. College Terrace is dated 1913. The Oak House is 17th century, half-timbered box constructed and was a beer and cider house called the Barn and Barrel in the 18th and 19th centuries. The police station is still in use but the magistrates court not. Opposite, Clarence Row is dated 1809. Berrington Road joins the main road through Tenbury.
Wednesday – Edgbaston, Birmingham – We visit Winterbourne House and garden, a rare surviving example of an early 20th century suburban villa and garden. The house was built in 1903/04 for John and Margaret Nettlefold, of Guest, Keen & Nettlefold. They engaged local architect Joseph Lancaster Ball to design and build the house. It was built from red brick in an Arts and Crafts style. Mediaeval influences can be seen in the internal plasterwork, designed by local craftsman George Bankart, and the window furniture supplied by Henry Hope & Sons Ltd. Margaret Nettlefold designed the garden, inspired by the books and garden designs of Gertrude Jekyll.
John Sutton Nettlefold, JP (2nd May 1866 – 3rd November 1930) was a British social reformer. He was the fourth son of Edward John Nettlefold and was born in London in 1866. In 1878, he came to Birmingham and after leaving school entered the Broad Street offices of Messrs. Nettlefold and Co. (later GKN). Subsequently, he resigned his post and became managing director of Kynoch Ltd, a position he retained for many years. He was also chairman of Thomas Smith’s Stampings Ltd, and a director of Henry Hope and Sons Ltd for a considerable period. In 1898 he entered the City Council as a representative of Edgbaston and Harborne Ward, and remained a Councillor until 1911. Nettlefold’s most notable contribution was to the improvement of public housing in Birmingham for the working classes. In 1901, as the chairman of Birmingham’s new Housing Committee he extended the city’s slum clearance works. The majority of inner city housing was of a crowded back-to-back design. In 1907 Nettlefold established the garden suburb Moor Pool in Harborne to provide low density affordable housing with many interspersed green spaces, centred around a community hall.
John MacDonald Nicolson was the last private owner of the house and a keen gardener. He developed many new areas, including a scree garden and small alpine features around the garden. Nicolson died in 1944 and bequeathed the house and garden to the University. The garden became the University’s Botanic Garden and new areas for teaching and plant conservation were developed within the historic layout. Large lawns and borders run down the gentle slope from the terrace of the house. To one side is a winter garden and to the other a large walled garden. In the latter are several glasshouses with various types of plant – cacti, orchids, bromeliads and carnivorous plants. There is also a fine range of chillis. The walled garden is largely set to flowers although there are some vegetables around the edge.
On down the slope is an area with sections devoted to each of the continents. An area of grass covers springs that feed a water garden which contains some huge Gunnera. Beyond is Edgbaston Pool, a large lake. Various gulls are on the water, a Grey Heron in a tree, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhens and a couple of Wigeon.
Thursday – Edgbaston, Birmingham – We pay a short visit to Edgbaston Reservoir. Edgbaston Reservoir was built in 1827 by Thomas Telford as a top up for Birmingham canal system, which is still its purpose. It was originally a small pool named Roach Pool in Rotton Park. Past a gatehouse, a two-storey listed building in corporate BCN octagonal style, with a later extension dating from 1880, also designed by Thomas Telford. In 1876, a skating rink was opened near the gatehouse. By the 1920s the building was more popular as a dance hall, and was renamed the “Pavilion Ballroom” and in 1933 the “Tower Ballroom”. It remained open in some form until 2017, when it was forced to close due to rent costs and is now a graffiti covered eyesore. The water level is low. A large number of juvenile gulls, mainly Black-headed and Lesser Black-backs, are around the water. A few Mallard and Cormorant are also present. There is drizzle in the air.
Friday – Leominster – The morning starts cool but the sun is now warming the air rapidly despite the considerable amount of cloud. Onto Pinsley Mead. The old monastic building, which may have been the reredorter or maybe the prior’s house, still remains little more than store rooms. Several Robins sing, a Chiffchaff calls and a Carrion Crow barks from the top of a tree. The River Kenwater remains low. Through the Millennium Park and over the railway to Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg is even lower than in recent weeks with a larger area of shingle bank exposed. A Moorhen darts underneath the overhanging vegetation. No fewer than five vehicles from the Environment Agency are on Easters Meadow.
Across the A49 and into Easters Wood. Large numbers of logs are stacked by the paths where the trees have been thinned. A patch of Yellow Fieldcap fungi, Bolbitius vitellinus, rise out of the grass by the path. Wrens hammer out their alarms. A Chiffchaff calls. Back to the river. Along the pasture path. The only flowering plants now are Himalayan Balsam, late Meadowsweet and Greater Bindweed. Hawthorns are still loaded with scarlet haws, the winter thrushes seem to have arrived yet.
Onto Eaton Bridge. Great Tits fly across the river. A Common Buzzard soars overhead whilst a Cormorant flies upstream. On to the old section of road. The air is thick with the scent of Ivy. On towards the old railway bridge. A Red Admiral feeds on Buddleia.
Monday – Leominster – The weather finally breaks after a prolonged dry period. Rain fell heavily throughout the night. Morning is grey and windy. The temperature has dropped making it feel much more like autumn. In the early afternoon the rain falls again as I head down the street. However the rain has had little effect on the water level in the River Lugg which has only risen by a couple of inches, if that. A Manchester bound train leaves the station and a few minutes late a South Wales bound one pulls in. A great wedge of grey cloud moves in from the west.
Apples are falling steadily in the Millennium orchard. Into the churchyard. Someone has cleared some moss off a very large irregular stone which stands by the path and it can now be seen an area has been faced by a stone mason and a memorial to William Weaver who died in 1893 carved into it.
Around the Grange. On the south side the path is covered in yellow pine needles.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Rain fell again overnight. It is now bright but cloud is moving in. Red berries are dominant – Guelder-Rose and Wayfaring Tree, which I manage to mix up! Hawthorns and Dog Roses are also heavy with fruit. A flock of 38 Cormorants are on the lake, moving in together, beaks in the air like snooty children. Five Little Egrets are around the new islands. Into the orchards. A couple of cider trees have dropped a goodly number of fruit – probably Foxwhelp. Many others are still to ripen. In the dessert apple orchard many trees have apples beneath them. We try a couple, both of which have rather tough skins. Some Russets seem better and I gather a few.
Home – I have collected cider apples over the last few days and they are now pressed into another couple of gallons of juice. Along with some I pressed at the weekend I now have enough to fill another 5 gallon barrel.