Ramblings

April 2017


Sunday – Leominster – Yesterday was the classic April day of showers, but today is mainly sunshine. A pigeon’s eggshell lies on the doorstep of Norfolk House, the late 18th century residence of Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, famous for his reluctance to wash! The eggshell is under a Plane tree which is about to leaf. Across the road white cherry blossom covers the tree. Blue sky is criss-crossed with airplane trails. Bicycles are chained to the fence by the path outside the White Lion. This means the East European fruit pickers have returned and are visiting the market. Half a dozen gulls head north. Chiffchaffs, Song Thrush, Wren, Dunnock and Blackbird are all in good voice. The River Lugg flows swiftly. A Robin sings from the very top of a riverside Alder, its red breast bright in the morning sun. A Mute Swan flies downstream before veering off westwards. The market, not surprisingly is that largest yet and indeed there are many East Europeans spending their money. The banks of the Lugg below Ridgemoor Bridge are covered with Stinging Nettles. A Great Tit calls loudly by the turning towards Paradise Bridge. Compline bells ring from the Minster. More and more Chiffchaffs call all along the Kenswater. A Lesser Black-backed Gull in the Bridge Street car park has a darkish back of the Larus fuscus intermedius sub-species which breeds in south-west Scandinavia.

Flowers

Home – Yesterday the rampant weeds were removed from some of the vegetable beds – two sacks filled. This morning eight trenches are dug and in go the potatoes – Sharpes Express, a first early and Wilja, a second early. The bed is one beside the chicken run and it is still heavy, claggy clay despite being dug over several times over recent years. River-smoothed stones are dug up fairly frequently. The purple-sprouting is finally producing heads. At the same time, next year’s seedlings are pricked out along with some onions I am trying from seed. Sweet and Cayenne Peppers are also pricked out into individual pots and returned to the warmth of the bathroom. The rapidly sprouting broad beans are put into the cold frame to harden-off before being planted out. Lettuces in the greenhouse will also be planted out soon. The second sowing of peas in guttering in the greenhouse are sprouting. The first sowing was completely destroyed by slugs! The garden looks wonderful now. Although the daffodils are going over, they still provide a splendid display. Tulips are coming into their own. Flowering Blackcurrant is covered in blossom attracting bees. Down the path to the house are Snakehead Fritillaries, one of the most beautiful spring flowers.

Monday – Croft – The woods are full of song and sunshine. Sorting out the songs is not easy – Robin, Blackbird, Song and Mistle Thrush, Nuthatch, Wren, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Wood Pigeon and snatches I miss. A Woodpecker drums. Delicate white Wood Anemones are in flower. A Treecreeper scurries up a trunk. Two woodpeckers have different sounding branches to rap upon. A Blackcap burbles rather than sings as it flits through a bramble thicket. It then bursts into its full chattering song. A Common Buzzard cries as it flies over. After the lime kiln, the banks are covered with young Ransoms leaves, Wild Garlic. Daffodils shine yellow in the bottom of the valley. Up the track beside Bircher Common. Bird song is less intense here. Blue and Great Tits search the branches for food. Spurges have grown high beside the track but are yet Cowsto flower. Something small and bright white flashes up into the trees. I suspect Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but I cannot find it. A Goldcrest is in the same conifers. Up at Whiteway Head a singing Chaffinch falls silent as a Common Buzzard flies over the top of the trees. The Chaffinch resumes his repetitive sing as soon as the raptor has gone. The path along the top of Leinthall Common, the Mortimer Trail, is in a poor state, very muddy and damaged. The usual clanking and rumbling comes from the quarry across the valley. The track up to Croft Ambrey is also in a bad state. A large cloven hoof print and pat of dung indicates cattle have arrived in the area, as has been promised. Access to my seat on the branch of the sprawling Ash is now blocked by new branches that have broken from the trunk. A tipper lorry full of rock makes its way down from the top level at the back of the quarry. There seems to be no track down and it would seem that the lorry must somehow come through the woodland but it suddenly appears coming from the other side of the quarry beneath sheer rock faces. It is only later when I look at Google Earth that I can see the track actually does come along behind the wood and round the end of the cliff. A herd of fourteen cows are on the west side of the hill-fort. Orange Yellow Dung-flies, Scatophagia stercoraria have already found their way up here. The sky is clouding over. Down to the Spanish Chestnut field. Two Woodpeckers are competing on different sounding branches. Throughout the entire walk I do not think I have been out of earshot of a Chiffchaff. The sheer numbers is very pleasing, one hopes the rest of the summer visitors will be in the same abundance. Chaffinches and Greenfinches call by Park House, where the garden is looking delightful. An old farm dog walks stiffly along the track but its tail still wags. Two police helicopters roar over.

Wednesday – Burford – Burford House is a large garden centre and outlets centred on the Househouse to the west of Tenbury Wells. In 1086 the manor, along with Tenbury, was held by Osbern Fitz Richard, his father Richard Scrob having held it before him. The overlordship passed through the Osberns to the Mortimers until the death of Hugh Mortimer in 1304. It was then probably assigned to the Cornwalls, whose overlordship was recognized until the middle of the 17th century. The estate was sold in 1720 to William Bowles for ?35,000. Bowles was the proprietor of the Vauxhall glassworks in Lambeth, London, the largest glass works in the country, and was Member of Parliament for Bridport and later for Bewdley. He commissioned the building of the present house in 1728, extended the grounds and built a summerhouse. From the 1860s Burford was the home of George Rushout, 3rd Baron Northwick, a member of the Bowles family. During his time the house was greatly extended by the addition of east and west wings. In 1954 the estate was purchased by John Treasure and his brother, who demolished the added wings, completely replanted the gardens, and in 1958 opened the grounds to the public. It is said that evidence of the Cornwall’s castle was found when the west wing was demolished. The gardens lay to the south of the house alongside the River Teme. Frequent flooding means the soil is rich but a sizeable area is in the process of refurbishment after flood damage. The ground floor of the house is an outlet for house and home goods. The stables are a reclamation and salvage business. The summer house is a pleasant white building with Tuscan columns.

To the east is the church of St Mary. The chancel is Norman, started in 1175 probably on an earlier church and was probably the entire original church. The nave is 14th century in the Decorated style, the tower is Perpendicular. It was extensively restored in 1889 by Sir Aston Webb, (architect of the Admiralty Arch and the front block of Green ManBuckingham Palace) in the Arts and Crafts Gothic for the Honourable Georgina Rushout of Burford House. Large chandeliers were designed by Webb and made by Starkie Gardner. A carved oak screen with attached pulpit and sounding board were made in Louvain. The lectern was designed by Gardner and made by Frith of Chelsea. The font is 14th century. There are a number of monuments to the Rushout family, some by Sir Richard Westmacott, one signed in 1852 by Charles Geerts of Louvain. There is some fine late 19th and early 20th century glass including some geometric designs is barely tinted plain glass.

In the chancel is a tomb with a life-size painted wooden recumbent effigy of Edmund Cornewall who died in 1508. He is believed to have been killed taking part in a mediaeval joust, aged Tomb20. On the north wall is the life-size painted stone recumbent effigy of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of John of Gaunt, under enriched ogival canopy; she died in 1426. On the south walls are early 17th century painted monuments, one with the two kneeling figures of Sir Thomas and Anne Cornewall 1630 (now living, he aged 58 and she 55), the other to Thomas and Katherine Cornewall also 1630. The organ screen was made in Louvain. The ends of the choir stalls have diamond shaped depictions of may be Green Men.

In the sanctury is the jewel of the church, an immense wooden tryptych, to Richard Cornewall who died in1568 and Janet his wife, died 1547, and son Edmund, died 1585. The frame has fluted Ionic pilasters, inscribed fascia and pedimented head with painted tympanum; interior has 3 painted full-figure portraits in upper section and the 2.21 metre tall cadaver of Edmund Cornewall is depicted in lower section; the wings are painted inside and outside with figures of saints and armorial shields. Paintings are signed by Melchior Salabossh, 1588. The reredos was designed by Woolbridge and made in 1871 by Powell and Sons. On the floor to the north of the altar is an engraved metal slab in memory of Elizabeth Devroke (died 1516), daughter of Sir Walter Devroke (Devereux) who was married firstly to Sir Richard Corbet, then to Sir Thomas Leighton. Her daughter Anne married Sir Thomas Cornewall. To the south of the altar is a brass effigy to Dame Elizabeth, wife of Sir Edmund Cornwayle, died 1354.

Outside, there are carved figures in the corbel table which supports the parapet. The tower has been heightened by Webb. A huge, 300 year old Horse Chestnut tree stands in the churchyard. Nearby is the preaching cross, the top made in 1867, standing on the original mediaeval base. The air rings to the calls of Nuthatches and Chiffchaffs.

Friday – Craven Arms-Ludlow – On the train to Craven Arms. I chat to the chap with the refreshment trolley. He is not having a good day, having only taken £21 so far instead of the normal £100-£150, just a few coffees and some cans of Carlsberg to the lads on a stag do. He works for a franchise. I think of how all these franchises all have bosses taking their rake off. We are told that public sector concerns should amalgamate to save on running costs, so why does the same not apply to the private sector? I ask about the imminent bidding for the new contract to run the rail service here. He reckons a Chinese company is in with a Rabbitgood chance, they are offering new rolling stock and more services. Arriva seem more interested in getting the business in Bristol. I muse about the Chinese taking over our line when all these people are excited about getting our country back following Brexit. Although they will be replacing Arriva, a company owned by Deutsche-Bahn, German State railways! Off the train at Craven Arms to the seemingly inevitable call of a Chiffchaff. An unusual four carriage train rushes past towards the south. Off down a back path to the town centre. The Craven Arms pub looks like it is still in business, which, for a while, was open to question. It would be sad if it closed as it named the town, previously Newtown. Down towards the Discovery Centre. Goldfinches twitter in the trees. The mild winter has clearly helped their numbers. The trees on Norton Hill are still grey and grim, spring has not reached then yet. A brook flows beside the path then under the road and round in front of the Stokesay Inn. Across the Onny Meadows. Rabbits scatter off the path. More rabbits, a Mistle Thrush and a Magpie search a paddock for breakfast. Across the A49 and round behind Stokesay Castle. The sky is grey but the distant Shropshire Hills are sunlit. A bright display of purple Periwinkles brighten the foot of the hedge. A Swallow, my first of the year, flies over the castle. A Mute Swan, still with patches of brown indicating it is last year’s brood, and a pair of Coot feed on the large pond. Past Lawrence Court, its barns all converted. In the field opposite is a bull, cows, calves, sheep and lambs. A stocky, chocolate-faced lamb stares as I pass. Much of the hedgerow is white with Blackthorn blossom. There seems to be rabbits everywhere. A sizeable sewage works stands in a field. The track, the Shropshire Way, crosses the railway. The crossing cottage is a lovely little building on the far side. A Common Buzzard soars out from Stoke Wood on the hillside above. A lone Class 97, 97304 (a converted Class 37) locomotive, John Tiley passes, heading south. The track is now grassed over. Three more Common Buzzards leave the woods to cross the valley to Norton Hill. A cock crows from Stokewood Cottage under the eaves is the woods. A ewe and her lamb are all alone in the middle of the river Onny floodplain. More sheep and lambs are some distance away up the valley. The river is on the far side of the floodplain, running beside the A49, its path indicated by a line of trees. The track passes some old lime-kilns. These are 19th and early 20th century kilns on Churchway Common. The quarry for the limestone is behind them up the hill. The river now meanders across the valley coming closer to the railway. A Mallard bobs on the water as it ripples across stones.

The route leaves the railway and climbs into the woods which ring with the calls of Chiffchaffs and Great Tits. A Blue Tit chatters above my head as I pause on a stile. Across the valley, Rotting Wood ends on Whettleton Hill where a farmer is feeding his sheep before returning to Middle Park, an old farmstead. The area was the site of Onibury Park, a mediaeval park. Robert Burrel Kilnsreceived licence to impark at Onibury in 1266. That park may have had a continuous existence until the early 19th century, as in 1851 it was noted that a former park was now divided into farms. Violets and Anemones are in flower but Bluebells are at least a week away. The fiddle heads of ferns are unrolling. The path climbs the woods then crosses fields. A silver-backed Ring-necked Pheasant scurries down the field. A Grey Squirrel bounds up the track. The view has changed, now south is the Mortimer Forest and eastwards, the Clee Hills. Below is Onibury. Down beside a hedgerow that stands on a large warren. Past Stokewood Farm, although I suspect it is no longer the farmhouse for these fields. On down past another hedgerow riddled with holes in the soil. Past another Stokewood Cottage. The path runs around the edge of a field, this one is grass whereas most have been finely tilled soil. Onto a lane between the Clungford road and Stokewood Farm. A brook now runs beside the road. Its banks are covered in Ransoms which are about to flower. On the other side is the road are the barns of Step-a-Side farm. The name apparently comes from the fact that people would have to step aside to cross the ford Stationoutside the farmhouse on the road to Clungford. The farmhouse is large, rising the three storeys. On the junction is a substantial gatehouse for Stokesay Court. The gatehouse is in a Jacobean style, dated 1890, designed by Thomas Harris. Over Onibury Bridge and a wait whilst a train passes. The current Onibury Bridge was erected in 1888. It is composed of wrought iron arched girders, with a central span of 55ft, and 2 side spans of 30ft each. A flag of the Russian Federation flies at half mast in the station garden.

The late 19th century station and station master’s house is no longer used but retains many old features. Signs and posters adorn the building including a 1962 advertisement for Ludlow races giving the times of trains from various places to arrive in time for the first race and then to return home after the last. A red bus stands behind the crossing keeper’s house. Past the village hall and the former village shop, dated 1877, now a pub, The Apple Tree. I am too early! Onibury House is an 18th century house, now residential home. The village school still operates, and as it is play time, is very noisy.

Light

St Michael’s church has a split door which catches me out! Domesday records a priest at Onibury which would indicate a Saxon church stood here. The present church is from the 12th to 14th century. The roof was replaced in 1840. The nave is late 13th or early 14th century, the chancel is 12th century. There is a view that the chancel arch is Saxon but most believe it to be Norman. Either side of the altar there are cast iron memorials on the ground. One is to Richard Walker of Wooton Hall who died in 1666, the other for Mary Walker who died in 1673. The church was restored in 1903 by Detmar Blow, an Arts and Crafts architect. He designed the light fittings which have a mediaeval appearance. In obitum dorothea pytt
charissima uxoris e p

HERE LYES DIVORCED FROM HER HUSBANDS SIDE
ONE THAT BY DEATH MADE HER SAVIOVRS BRIDE
FOR ON GOOD FRIDAY HE DID HER BETHROAT
UNTO HIM SELFE FOR EVER WHERE HE GOTH
AND THVS VNITED SHE A GVEST BECAME
UNTO THE MARIAGE SVPPER OF THE LAMBE
LEAVING HER EARTHLY MATE GREIFE TO SVSTAINE
TILL DEATH IN STRIKING HIM WEDDS HER AGAIN
OH LANGVISH THEN MY SOVLE VNTILL I SEE
MY DEAREST WIFE IN HER FELICITIE
∗1657∗
Boards containing the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments are on the north wall along with the remains of a wall painting possibly of St Christopher and child. A number of other paintings have been found. There is a minstrels’ gallery under which are some 17th century pews. The other pews in the church are by Blow. The pulpit is 16th century with many alterations including the use of an old numbered pew.The glass is Victorian. On the chancel wall is a memorial to Dorothy Pytt dated 1657.

Outside the porch is 14th century. Beside the porch is an 18th century sundial with a vase-shaped pillar on a moulded base. The brass dial is by Harper & Son, Salop. There are four bells in a frame dated 1626. The second and third bells are probably 14th century, the tenor by Henry Clibury of Wellington Bell Foundry, inscibed John Wellings, churchwarden 1676 HC. The treble is also of 1676 but was recast in 1824 by John Rudhall.

The village ends with a short row of council type housing and some new build. Back Road heads south. A rookery extend over several stands of trees. Most nests look occupied. A short row of cottages is dated 1875. A rail maintenance engine trundles south. Beyond the railway, the river and road is Wooton, a substantial 18th century farm house. This was a moated Yellowhammersite of medieval date, demolished in 1850. On down the lane. A pair of Yellowhammers are in the hedge. Red Campion is beginning to flower, Garlic Mustard is already in flower. A drake Goosander flies over. A cock Chaffinch sings in top of the hedge whilst a pair of Dunnocks chase each other. Locomotive John Tiley returns, still running light. The Canada Geese fly by. A Skylark sings high overhead. Four Lapwings pass over calling their old name, peewit. Well preserved earthwork ridge and furrow and a group of ponds of medieval date at Wet Reins Meadow.

The lane reaches Bromfield. The signal box is still staffed. To the west is a gravel pit and associated works. S C Stanford excavated the site between 1978 and 1980. The excavations revealed three periods of activity. Firstly a Cornovian farm that probably started as an open site in the 4th century BCE was later defined by a square, single-ditched enclosure protecting two four-post huts. After the buildings had fallen, the site remained in use for industrial purposes, perhaps as an abattoir and tannery, and for iron-working. This was probably abandoned at the Roman conquest when a marching camp was built. Then in the 7th century the Iron Age site was re-used for a Saxon cemetery. To the east of the junction are stables for the adjoining racecourse. Around the racecourse and golf course, a somewhat boring walk. The whole area contained prehistoric relics, several Bronze Age barrows, ring ditches and other features, the majority of which have been lost. Over the railway to the A49. A 19th century house on the corner has a sheep in the garden. Across the road and into a track that runs around a field. The tower of St Lawrence’s church stands clearly ahead. I have passed this way before and remember commenting on the soil which is full of river-smoothed stones. Crops marks have indicated there were Bronze Age barrows and rung ditches in this field. A small clump of toadstools, probably small St George’s Mushrooms, Calocybe gambose are growing by the path. A Skylark is in full flow overhead, the sound of spring fields.

The path reaches a track at Burway Farm. There are two ancient Oak trees in the fields below. Burway Manor is house built around 1600, much enlarged in 1884. From here there is a fine view of Ludlow castle. Past the football ground, the secondary school and the cricket ground and tennis club. The lane leads to the main road into town. Over the River Corve by a rather boring modern bridge, built a couple of years ago after the old bridge was swept away. Corve Street rises to the town centre. Route

Sunday – Leominster – Another bright spring morning, just a hint of mist over the River Lugg. The market is the largest yet this year. The buyers have arrived in droves as well. As usual I find nothing to buy. Back along Paradise Walk. The River Kenwater’s level is slowly dropping. A riverside tree is covered in white blossom. I have never decided exactly the species of this tree, Bird Cherry, False Acacia or another of the introduced species.

Monday – Little Hereford – A cloudier morning but still dry and fairly sunny, although a light wind cools the air. Over the Teme by Little Hereford bridge, a concrete bridge, when constructed in 1924 to replace a brick bridge was, at 110 feet, the longest such construction in the west of England. Just beyond the railway crossed the road. A large house stands on where the crossing would have been. It seems like large for a crossing keeper’s cottage, but is Mushroomcalled Crossing Cottage. The Corner House stands on the junction where the Bleathwood Lane leaves the main road. On the opposite corner is the old forge, now mainly a modern residence. Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds and Blackcaps sing, House Sparrows chatter. The road turns. A small brook flows in a deep channel beside the road before going underground. Several mid 20th century bungalows are followed by a short terrace of former council houses called Temple Meadow. The name refers to Temple Farm which lays to the north and is listed in Domesday. Back to the bridge. The water is fairly low. There appears to be old footings just downstream from the bridge,, but this is more likely the layered bedrock. A footpath follows the river downstream. A gravel island has the stump of a large Willow along with a number of saplings and reeds. The path crosses an orchard then behind a caravan park. I am regretting not bringing a coat as the wind is really quite cold now. A pair of Willow Tits fly from tree to tree along the river bank. Past Westbrook Cottage, a substantial dwelling; it is difficult to discern what is the original cottage, built around 1600 and what are extensions. A concrete footbridge crosses West Brook. Some partly eaten St George’s Mushrooms are in the grass. A much larger island lays in the river, which takes a large meander before coming to a modern footbridge on older stanchions. The ironwork of the bridge is by R. Masefield of Chelsea.

Across the river where there are earthworks. On 10th April 1121 the Bishop of Hereford had granted Little Hereford and Ullingswick to Walter Durand, the father of Miles of Gloucester, for the service of two knights. Before 1123 Walter in turn granted Little Hereford to his son Miles and daughter in law, Sibyl Neufmarché. Miles later exchanged the village for Rood LoftBarnsley in Gloucestershire, granting Little Hereford to his nephew, William Mara, for the service of two knights. It is possible that William constructed a little fortress next to the church at this point as his caput. It is also possible it was extended by King Stephen. During December 1139, Stephen came to Little Hereford with an army after Miles of Gloucester supported the Empress Matilda’s cause and attacked Hereford Castle. Presumably the king himself resided at the motte-like structure nearest the church, whilst his army made use of the flat ground bounded by streams and banks to the east. In 1316, Reginald de la Mere was granted the Lordship of Little Hereford. The de la Meres held the manor until 1509 when Edmund de la Mere died. His daughter, Sybil married John Dansey of Brinsop and the Danseys held the manor until 1837. The Danseys had a fortified manor house on the site before building Bleathwood Manor in the early 16th century. In 1837 the manor became the property of Sir Joseph Bailey, a member of the family of Lord Glenusk, by whom it was sold in 1911 to Colonel Wingfield Cardiff, who set about recovering estate land previously dispersed, which his family still own today.

Into the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene. I chase a lamb out of the churchyard. It never fails to amuse me that sheep can get in or out of a field but never find their way back. The church is locked so I sit a few moments in the churchyard. There is a mounting block by the gate on the other side of the churchyard. As well as the usual ancient Yews, there is also a magnificent Cedar in the churchyard. Luckily a man turns up with the church key just before I leave. The church has a massive square tower, indicating its use as a place of refuge. The north wall of the nave is 12th century but the rest of the nave and chancel are 13th century as is the tower. There is a solid looking chancel arch with a staircase within which led to a rood loft. Above the arch is part of the altar with a painted inscription BB beside it. This is almost certainly referring to Beate Beatissima meaning Blessed, most Blessed, referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom the altar would have been dedicated. It is possible the sacrament was stored here in case of flooding. In the south wall is a tomb arch possibly that of Reginald de la Mere, or even to his ancestor Rainauld de la Mere who fought in the Second Crusade in 1149. In the chancel are two more tomb arches in the north wall, Edmund de la Mere and his daughter Sybil. On the south of the chancel are three sedilia and a piscina, all 14th century. A marble monument is dedicated to Joseph Bailey. A monument by the door records the death of 14 children in 1870. History records they were paupers from the Bedlam Cottages and it is thought they died ofRiver Scarlatina. However, recent research indicates the children came from various families of different backgrounds. Also there appear to be no burial records of children in 1870. The font is Norman. Beside it is a chest from the 17th century. Nearby is a Millennium Window designed by Jennifer Brewer. There are three bells; 1st by John Greene, 1628; 2nd by Isaac Hadley, 1702; 3rd by Richard Dankes of Worcester, 1633.

Across the meadow to the east of the church is a house that was the station, called Easton Court on the Shrewsbury and Hereford section (Tenbury branch) of the Great Western and London and North Western joint railway. The station was opened in 1864 and closed in 1961. Back across the bridge. Sand Martins and Swallows sweep across the meadow. Passing the Cloudisland, the air is scented with garlic and sure enough the island has a large patch of Ransoms. A Coal Tit calls as it searches an Ash for grubs. Flower heads have formed and are about to burst on Hawthorns. The apple trees in the orchard are also about to blossom.

Tuesday – Home – Two lenticular clouds are in the northern sky; flying saucer clouds! Later the full moon rises with Jupiter very close to it. This is a pink moon, named after pink flowers called Wild Ground Phlox, which bloom in early spring and become widespread throughout the US and Canada this time of year. It is the first full moon of April. I am not sure this American naming of various full moons is anything more than something to fill newspaper columns. However, the moon certainly looks ethereal as there is some low, thin cloud. Whilst I am out looking at the moon, I have my nightly chore of pushing Silver off the nest and waiting for her to join the other two hens on the perch. This happens every night and one would think she would learn not to bother, but no...

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A chorus of song from the woods is near drowned out by the cackling of Canada Geese. A House Sparrow speeds past with a beakful of food. A Blackbird searches the grass. A Wren explodes into song. The sun is intermittent as there are plenty of high clouds Song Thrushtoday. Last evening there were two lenticular clouds to the north of our house, flying saucer clouds! A bright white rump flashes across the track as a male Bullfinch flies to join his much more subdued coloured mate. He is in the bushes displaying his rose waistcoat and black cap. According to notices, it appears the sailing club is returning to the lake. Violets and a single Cuckoo Flower are on the verge. Robins and Dunnocks sing. The sheep are in the meadow, as the old rhyme states. Were it not for the Canada Geese, one would say the lake is quiet. Three Teal are on the scrape, the first I have seen here for a while. A few Coot, Tufted Duck, Mallard and a BlossomGreat Crested Grebe are on the water. Cormorants seem to be absent. Dinmore Hill is slowly greening. Suddenly a cloud of Sand Martins appears feeding about fifty feet above the lake, then just as quickly, they are gone. A female Mallard appears with about a dozen ducklings. She sets off across the lake, her brood in a tight pack behind her, seemingly moving as one. A Blackbird is calling an alarm from the nature reserve but nothing seems amiss and a pair of Long-tailed Tits appear unconcerned. A Willow Warbler sings his descending song in the small Alder plantation. The air by the orchard hedgerow is full of gnats. A Song Thrush turns its head with one eye looking skyward. I wonder if it is actually trying to hear movement under the grass? Ever more trees are in blossom in the orchards.

Thursday – Norton Canon – We decide to visit a couple of out of the way churches before having lunch in Hay-on-Wye. The first is at Norton Canon which lies on the road from Lyonshall to Hereford. The church is on a lane that lies off the main road. A large Vicarage stands Organnext to the church which is approached down a path from the lane. Wrought iron railings with ornate finials line the path. The church is a surprising sight – a 13th century tower is adjoined to a brick church. It was wholly rebuilt in 1706 (although other sources claim 1716) by an unknown architect who incorporated 13th century windows in the building. The church is in the Manor of Norton Canon granted by Wulviva and Godiva to the canons of Hereford in 1086. PulpitAt Domesday there were six hides paying geld, eight villans, 3 bordars and a female slave. An incised Roman stone found in the foundations may indicate an earlier religious site. The church is dedicated to St Barnabas on the 1887 map but St Nicholas on the 1891. The door jamb is inscribed This Church Rebuilt 1706. There is a wooden pulpit with Jacobean fittings, with a large cross, believed to be Flemish, behind it. A splendid harmonium, No. 659 by The Positive Organ Company of Kilburn High Road, London stands in the south transept. They were built under a patent of Thomas Casson (1842-1910), a banker from Denbigh in Wales turned organbuilder. They specialised in small organs for churches and shipped them across the Empire. The company ceased operation in 1941. On the north wall is a board recalling charitable deeds has, 1591 John Green left a house in Gloucester; 1653 John Carpenter left forty shillings a year, charged on land at Cliroe and 1782 Thomas Barnard Esq left a tenement at Pigstreet, (a hamlet to the west of Canon Norton) towards the maintenance of a schoolmistress to teach the poor children of this parish. ChurchBeneath are mediaeval coffin lids. Nearby is a large wheel which came from the bell tower, removed in 2012 when the frame was replaced and a sixth bell added. There was a further refurbishment in 1868 and 1867 when the chancel was rebuilt. The reredos is of 17th century carved panelling. Either side of the altar are stone plaques on the wall on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments and the Creed. A candle snuffer on a long handle leans against the wall. The font is 13th century with a large solid base. North transept has several early to mid 19th century wall monuments to members of the Carless and Whitney families. The gravestones on the south side of the church are the oldest but they were made from the local stone which has weathered badly and a largely unreadable.

Yazor – On down the A480 to this small village. Very close to the road is the St Mary the Virgin’s church, now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. The church was built at the expense of the Price family, in particular Uvedale Price, a follower of the Picturesque movement, of nearby Foxley between 1843 and 1855. The architect was George Moore, although Pevsner believed it to be George Rowe, but the spire and fittings were completed by the rector, Revd R L Freer, apparently because of Moore’s increasing insanity. It was described in the Hereford Times thus: The church is in form, a cross of early English style, built of two descriptions of stone from the neighbouring quarries of Sir Robert PulpitPrice; the one, which is of peculiarly fine grain and quality, as well as of extreme hardness, forming the windows and doorways, and the angles of the building, the other, which is of a coarser grain. The church was declared redundant in 1986. The original parish church was St John the Baptist which stands to the south-west across a field. It was later the Davenport family chapel. It was probably built in the 14th and 15th centuries and mostly demolished between 1843 and 1855 although partly restored around 1858. We approach the building through an overgrown churchyard where Common Pheasants run out of the bramble thickets and off to the fields. Tall Wellingtonias stand beside the building. There are no gravestones as the church was never licensed for burials which took place at the old church. There is a tall, octagonal broach spire. The main door enters a small porch devoid of light. Another door gains entrance to the church. It is a dark, cavernous space. A brass lamp hangs low over the central aisle. On each side of the Reredosnave there are three lancet windows, which are the main source of light. The pulpit is incorporated within the southern screen; it is polygonal and supported on a carved corbel. Above it is a tester decorated with the emblems of the Four Evangelists. The font probably dates from the 15th century, and consists of an octagonal bowl on an octagonal base. In the apse are five lancet windows with stained glass by William Warrington and dates from around 1845. The central window contains depictions of the Ascension, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. In the south window is the Annunciation and the Nativity, and the north window contains the Magi, and the scene of a miracle. The main colour used is red casting a strange light over the sanctuary. Beneath each of the windows is a metal plaque containing inscriptions of the Magnificat, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Nunc Dimittis. The central plaque is enclosed in a richly carved oak canopy. Near the altar is a large cast iron Gurney stove. Filling the north transept is an organ made in 1845 by Gray and Davison. When it was surveyed in 2000 it was unplayable. The windows at the west end of the nave commemorate Foxley family weddings in 1866; that on the north side depicts Ruth, and the window on the south side shows the Marriage at Cana. Both windows were made by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. The memorials include monuments to Sir Uvedale Price, his son Sir Robert, who died in 1857 and Rev Freer.

The lane up from the church passes under the Jubilee Bridge, built in 1887 by G H Davenport to allow the public road from Yazor church to Yarsop to be moved further west. We drive down another lane through Moorhampton towards Moorhampton station. A row of estate houses were built by the Davenports of Foxley and dated 1864. Some have cast iron ornate windows. The station, which stood on the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway was opened on 24th October 1862 and closed on 31st December 1962.

Hay-on-Wye – We continue to Hay. The town is very busy and we have some difficulty finding a parking space in the car park. However, despite all the people in the town, a number of shops have closed down, including the bank. Some shops have changed to cafés, others are just empty. The market has more niche stalls than the traditional ones of a few years back.

Friday – Leominster – I had planned a walk which involved catching an early train but the weather looked so threatening that I abandoned the idea. Of course, soon as it was too late to start, the weather improved. So instead I wander through the town. Most shops are open, even Brights the butchers who tend to keep to traditional trading hours. Down past the newly Grade II listed Hop Pole pub. The pub has a 14th century core with a hidden but intact cruck roof. Along Mill Street. A Chiffchaff calls from the trees beside a field of oilseed rape, now bright yellow. Although Chiffchaffs all have a two note call, it often sounds slightly different. This one is calling sweet chaff. Another by the River Lugg is more tsip chaff. The A49 is busy and takes some time to cross. On up the track towards Eaton Hill. The northern field is yellow with oilseed rape, the southern has a cereal crop. In the hedgerow, Hawthorn and Elder are in leaf but the Hazel has only a few unfurling leaves and a lot of buds. White Dead Nettle has creamy, hooded flowers. The hillside consists of various shades of green, the trees being of a wide variety planted as a park over a century ago. The track has numerous Elm seed pods laying on it. Common Buzzards and Ravens soar over the hill. Past the solar farm. The big field on top of the hill seems to be set to grass this year. Down the old drovers’ steps to the A44. A large amount of debris, tree trunks and branches have built up on the upstream side of Eaton Bridge; it needs a decent volume of rain to wash down the river. It has been there some time as plants are growing out of it. A Common Buzzard with a tail feather missing, making its tail look forked, and gull are using an upcurrent over the A49 to gain height. Over the railway by the old road bridge. On the far side, as one descend the bridge is a short avenue of cherry trees, all in blossom. Ragwort is in flower at the bottom of the slope.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A bright, sunny morning with high thin cloud. A digger on Ducklingscaterpillar tracks rumbles out of the car park, heading round behind the barn and across the old gravel pit yard. Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps are all in song. Blackthorn blossom is fading. The air is full of small insects. Blackbirds, Mistle and Song Thrushes feed on the meadow. A Green Woodpecker arrows over the hedgerow but on espying me swerves and returns to the woods. A Pheasant croaks from the same wood. On approaching the hide, there are even more insects, quite unpleasant as they bounce off my face. A number of Canada Geese are on the scrape. There are many more scattered across the water along with a few Mallard, Coot and Tufted Duck. The female Mallard has eleven ducklings now, she has lost only a couple. The digger has arrived on the far side of the lake where the new hide is being built. A long piece of timber is being set upright down into the mud using the bucket of the digger as a hammer. A Pied Wagtail sits on one of the last pieces of dead reed by the scrape; the rest have all been chopped down. Back in the orchards many more trees are breaking into blossom.

Friday – Winchester – We are staying at the King Alfred Pub in the Hyde district of the city. Next to it is a lane, Hyde Church Path. A small row of little weavers’ cottages, 17th or 18th century, start the lane. Bewick Cottage is hard to age, then 20th century housing. St Bartholomews church lays up the lane a short distance. It is still early, this the church is understandably still closed. It is clearly Norman and faced in flint. It has 12th century origins but much of the building has been refurbished in the 19th century. The tower is probably 15th century. The chancel was rebuilt in 1857-9 by Colson. The north side of the church is thought to be rebuilt 1879-80. Chancel was refurbished in 1912. Onto the Hyde Street. The Hyde Tavern is a delightful little building next to the Parish Hall. The tavern is late 19th century but looks much older. The gatehouseParish Hall is from 1903. Opposite is Hyde House, a late 17th century red brick town-house. Back on the other side is the road is the Vicarage, now several apartments, dated 1855, built is a yellow-grey brick. Another large house, Kingston House, early 19th century, in the same brick faces another, smaller red brick, mid 19th century, now the offices of Bellmans Auctioneers. Back towards the church through streets of Victorian terraces and semis. Opposite the church is the 15th century gatehouse of Hyde Abbey.

Around 880, King Alfred refounded Winchester with a cathedral and royal palace in its centre. A new minster was built by Edward the Elder and Alfred’s body was interred there. In 1109 Henry I ordered the New Minster to be removed to the suburb of Hyde Mead, to the north of the city walls, just outside the gate. When the new abbey church of Hyde was consecrated in 1110, the bodies of Alfred, his wife Ealhswith, and his son Edward the Elder were carried in state through Winchester to be interred before the high altar. The abbey was a Benedictine monastery, largely rebuilt after severe damage during the Anarchy. The abbey was dissolved in 1539. Now only the gate house remains. It became the main entrance to Hyde House, built by Richard Bethall using the stones from the monastery. It was demolished in 1769. Along Saxon Road. The abbey mill stream lies beside the road, flowing into the monastery precinct.

We drive to the city centre and park near the station. Into the centre. Over the River Itchen, where a mill stands. Abbey House was built around 1750 and stands on the site of King Alfred’s Nunnaminster, a Benedictine nunnery. Benedictine nuns fleeing the French Revolution moved here in the 1790s. It is now the official residence of the Mayor of Winchester. The Guild Hall is a vast building of 1873-5 by Jeffery and Skiller in the Gothic, Middle Pointed style with tall central tower and angle pavilions with French pavilion roofs. A west end lower extension of two storeys with pointed windows was built in flints. This was added in 1892-3, the architect being J B Colson. A market is setting up, same stalls as many other markets. The Buttercross is a Holy Cross, dating back to the mid 14th century. It is thought it may have been a gift of Cardinal Beaufort who was Bishop of Winchester from 1404-1447. It probably replaced a much earlier cross associated with the monastery. It was restored in 1865 by Gilbert Scott. We breakfast in the Café Monde which amusingly uses old portable radios as speakers.

Winchester Cathedral was founded in 642 by King Cynegils (or Cenwahl) on a site immediately to the north of the present one. This building became known as the Old Minster. It became part of a monastic settlement in 971. St Swithun was buried near the Old Minster. In 1079, Bishop Walkelin began work on a completely new cathedral. The building was Fontconsecrated on 8th April 1093. On 15th July 1093, St Swithun’s Feast Day, his remains were removed from the Old Minster and placed in a shrine in the new cathedral. The following day the demolition of the Old Minster began. The tower fell 1107, an accident blamed by the cathedral’s medieval chroniclers on the fact that the dissolute William Rufus had been buried beneath it in 1100; it was rebuilt later. Following the accession of Godfrey de Lucy in 1189 a retrochoir was added in the Early English style. The next major phase of rebuilding was not until the mid 14th century, under bishops Edington and Wykeham. Edingdon (1346-1366), removed the two westernmost bays of the nave, built a new west front and began the remodelling of the nave. Under William of Wykeham (1367-1404) the Romanesque nave was transformed, recased in Caen stone and remodelled in the Perpendicular style, with its internal elevation divided into two, rather than the previous three, storeys.

On entering the building, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the magnificent nave vaulted ceiling high above. We wander down the north aisle where the walls are covered in monuments, many to fallen soldiers in conflicts spanning the years. It is noticeable that a number are recorded of dying from dysentery or cholera, and I imagine that many more in the lists died this way Ceilingrather than by the enemy’s hand. The font looks like black marble, but is limestone, carved in Tournai in Belgium with the legends of St Nicholas. It was probably installed by Henry of Blois. In the north transept is a temporary display of the Winchester Bible, probably commissioned by Henry of Blois, William the Conqueror’s grandson and Bishop of Winchester between 1129 and 1171. It is an exquisite illuminated book, now rebound in four volumes. The 936 pages were all written by a single scribe, probably taking five or six years to complete. Its layout seems so precise that one could easily imagine that it was typeset by computer. There are 48 illuminated initials, although many others were never finished. Six different artists have been identified. Gold and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan have been used showing no expense was spared. Nearby is the Holy Sepulchre Chapel, rarely open to the public. The walls are covered with fine wall paintings, obviously faded from their former glory, but still stunning. An Easter Garden is constructed by the clergy each year to represent the finding of the empty tomb. We venture down to the crypt. It is subject to regular flooding and the floor is still damp despite the lack of rain recently. A sculpture, Sound II by Antony Gormley stands under the Norman arches. When the crypt is flooded both the sculpture and the arches are reflected in the water.

The retrochoir contains a number of chapels and memorial to St Swithun. His shrine stood here but on the night of 21st September 1538, it was demolished by officers from Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell’s Commission for the Destruction of Shrines. Nearby is a statue of Diver Bill, William Walker who was a deep sea King Alfreddiver who spent six years, six hour a day, under the collapsing walls of the cathedral, digging out the wet peat, removing the beech rafts on which the walls stood and laying bags of concrete to form a new base. At the back of the great screen in the sanctuary, is the Holy Hole, a three metre long tunnel through which pilgrims could crawl to get close to St Swithun’s shrine. Round into the presbytery. The great screen is a stone carved wall of the crucifixion and statues of Saints, Kings (and Queens as there is a small statue of Victoria there) and notables. The screen was completed in 1457 and was originally contained the brightly coloured states of saints but these were destroyed in the Reformation. Around the top of of the side walls are the mortuary chests of kings and bishops. It is believed that the bones of 11 or 12 people are in these chests, including the kings Cynegils (d.643), Cynewulf (d.786), Ecbert (d.839), Æthelwulf (d.858), Eadred (d.955), Edmund Ironside (d.1016), Cnut (d.1035) and William Rufus (d.1100). Also thought to be buried in the chests are Cnut’s wife Emma (d.1052), Bishop Wini (d.670), Bishop Alfwyn (d.1047) and Archbishop Stigand (d.1072). The Kings originally had their own tombs in the Old Minster. They were moved into the new crypt in the early 12th century, the first time the bones were mixed up. Around 1525, they were lifted onto newly built screen in the presbytery but in the 1650s Cromwell’s men broke them up and threw away the contents. Later, the bone fragments and other stuff collected by loyal citizens, were distributed amongst six mortuary chests, of which four originals remain (the other two are later replacements). Thus no-one knows exactly who is in what chest. The choir is a confection of intricate wood carving, probably by William Lyngwode of Norfolk working in the early 14th century. Along the aisles are the tombs of bishops.

Back down the High Street. A statue of King Alfred the Great stands in the middle of the road, one of the few memories I have from visiting here probably over 50 years ago.

Candle

Monday – Croft – At last some rain, not a lot but enough to wet the ground. Certainly not enough to silence the Chiffchaffs, Song Thrush and Blackbird singing around the car park. Cars are already entering Croft, the volunteers I assume. Off down to the Fish Pool Valley. Dog Violets, Herb Robert, Primroses, Garlic Mustard, Dandelions and Bluebells are in flower beside the path. Further down are carpets of Celandines and great bowls of Buckler Ferns. The hoods of Cuckoo QuarryPints, Wild Arum, Lords and Ladies have unfurled to expose the russet brown spike within. Lime-yellow cross-leaved Saxifrage is everywhere. A Blackcap ticks as it dashes around the brambles. Trees have been felled around both the top of the limestone quarry and in the quarry where the kiln stands. The whole valley is green now despite the Ash still not being in leaf. At the end of the valley, Blackcaps and Wrens sing. Up to the hill-fort. Below in the Leinthall valley the fields are a patchwork of green and brilliant yellow as grain crops grow and oilseed rape comes into flower. On the slope to the east gate of the hill-fort where I annually test the old rhyme, Ash before Oak – we’re in for a soak, Oak before Ash – we’re in for a splash. Here the Oak had clearly beaten the Ash into leaf. A Song Thrush sings loud and pure, a Marsh Tit calls as it searches for grubs and a Blackcap and Willow Warbler join in the singing. Up on the top, two Dunnocks call and answer. There is only the slightest haze on the hills to the north but those in the other directions are less clear. Down to the newly cleared areas. A Yellowhammer is calling in the distance. The cattle are nowhere to be seen today. Candles are blossoming on Horse Chestnuts. Two military cargo planes fly along the Lugg valley. A Linnet and a Chaffinch perch on one of the Spanish Chestnut saplings. The Quarry Pond is almost dry. Cows and calves are in the car park field. It seems strange to see black and white cows with creamy grey or tan coloured offspring.

Wednesday – Leominster – The weather is frustrating for gardeners. Dawn reveals an overnight frost. Now the sun shines brilliantly but it is still cold. A Blackbird sings from the chimney of The Bell pub. Something has torn open a rubbish bag in the car park, probably a cat as I have not seen an urban fox around here. The knot garden in the grounds of Grange Court are looking splendid with white star-like tulips. Most of the apple trees in the Millennium Park have Knot Gardenblossom. A rabbit lopes across Pinsley Mead. A Song Thrush, Dunnocks, a Blackcap and a Willow Warbler are in song. A plane crosses a cloudless azure sky, an Easyjet to Faros. The steps to the old priory hospital have been refurbished, which is odd as I have never seen them used. Elderflowers are beginning to appear.

Home – The fruit tree blossom does not seem too have suffered the cold weather. The Worcester Pearmain is covered in white flowers, the Herefordshire Russet’s have more pink in them. The pears’ blossoms have all gone over now and tiny fruits can be seen. The Cambridge Gage blossom has also ended but I cannot see any evidence of fruit yet. It looks like the berry crop will be good in the fruit cage; Blueberries, Red and Black Currents have all flowered well. The old Howgate Wonder apple has little blossom, it must be one of its years off. The Gladstone however, has a lot of blossom. The garden is covered in Bluebells now, a glorious display. I can hear a cockerel crowing in the distance; the chicken keeper down the road maybe has a new one as I have not heard it before. Our girls are still laying well.

Leominster – Kay has been away in South Wales and I go to meet her off the train. I am early so I cross the footbridge to Butts Bridge. The River Lugg is lower then it has been recently. A Chiffchaff is calling constantly.

Friday – Barnsley – In Yorkshire for the funeral of an old friend. Afterwards Dave and I have a couple of pints in a new, small beer house in the Arcade. Barnsley is changing, hopefully for the better. The 1960s concrete monstrosities in the town centre are being demolished. New businesses are appearing whilst old ones vanish.

Penistone

Saturday – Penistone – There is a solidity to the Yorkshire stone buildings that gives its towns and villages such a feeling of permanence. Some businesses have changed but many are still the same as I remember. The town is strung with blue and yellow bunting and bicycles, some real, some effigies, all in blue and yellow – the Tour de Yorkshire is coming through on Sunday.

Alsager – The Barnsley Buglers are on our Mayday Bank Holiday jolly. We have abandoned the traditional camping weekend, it really is too cold for our ageing bones, and booked into an hotel in the Cheshire town. There was a significant Bronze age presence in the area. Alsager was recorded as Eleacier, derived from Ælle’s Field in the Domesday Book, and was a small farming village. Alsagers of Alsager Hall appear to have possessed manorial rights in Cheshire at an early period, and were settled here by the reign of Henry III. Thomas, son of Adam, son of Gilian de Alsacher, occurs in an old deed (Edward III); this deed is now in the British Museum. William, Lord of Alsager, granted a licence to get turves (peat) in the liberties of Alsager in 1324. The direct male line of this family terminated with John Alsager, (High Sheriff of Cheshire 1763), who died in 1768, leaving five sisters and co-heiresses. In the 19th century its rail connections and rural character, made it a home of choice for pottery works managers from the nearby Federation of Six Towns which later became the city of Stoke-on-Trent. A large armaments factory was built outside Alsager at Radway Green in the Second World War and the town expanded dramatically to house the influx of factory workers. A camp was constructed at the same time for the training of Royal Marines. We head for the pub past large Victorian town houses, none listed and thus several have been renovated rather unsatisfactorily. We find The Lodge Inn, an excellent pub and get ensconced.

Sunday – Alsager – A watery sun filters through high cloud and a stiff wind blows. Opposite the hotel is a track up towards a car repair site. A tree stump has several large specimens of Dryad’s Saddle, Polyporus squamosus, a large bracket fungus. Just before the car repairers, where there is an early 17th century farmhouse of Bank Farm, the path seems to divert to the edge of a golf course. There are a good number of way markers but losing the footpath is very easy. However, I keep finding it again and cross the course. Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Robins and Willow Warblers are in song. It seems it is an eight o’clock Dryad's Saddlestart as there is nobody out here on the far side of the course. A Chiffchaff calls from the edge of a row of bushes that runs down the abandoned Audley Branch line of the North Stafford Railway. Through a kissing gate and down into a cutting. The line heads north. A Blackcap ticks a warning. The track is called the Merelake Way and is well maintained. On the opposite side to the golf course is a field of cereal. The spring flush of flowers seems to have ended. A few Cow Parsley, members of the Dandelion family, Forget-me-nots, White Dead Nettle and Garlic Mustard are in flower and Bluebells are just starting. The track approaches the town and dog walkers appear. There are particularly large Oak Apples on the track and in an Oak. The track is now on an embankment with the gardens of houses below.

The track terminates on Talke Road, formerly Talke and Alsager Road. The main line, the former North Stafford Railway Crewe Branch, runs behind a row of late 20th century houses. Nearby is a wooden lath and corrugated iron building, the Linley Adventist Mission. The little church has been here long enough to be on the OS map. Alasager Road Station stood to the north of this spot. Down Talke Road. The housing becomes late Victorian through to mid 20th century. A Goldfinch trills from a television aerial. A lane crosses the railway by a bridge. On the other side are industrial premises. A path runs alongside the line emerging at the railway station. The station building is now a private house. Opposite is Audley Road Post Office, inevitably closed. Past the Railway Inn, which claims to have been established in 1835, although the station did not open until 1848, a 1906 history of the town states there was only one inn, The Alsager Arms, in the mid 19th century and the pub does not appear on the OS map until 1954. Opposite, Albert Villas was built in 1895. Next to the pub are cottages dating from the late 17th century. Past Fanny’s Croft, marked on the 1876 map. New houses are being built here. Down to a bend in the road where stands Town House, a mid 18th century wing of a 17th century farmhouse. The hotel, which is opposite, was Townend Farm, probably of a similar date but not listed.

Little Moreton Hall – A few miles north of Alsager is this wonderful Tudor manor house. It had been built on marshy ground and tilts and leans in every direction. The fact it is still standing is mainly due to the extensive metal framing inserted into the building. Little Moreton Hall first appears in the historical record in 1271. The present building dates from the early 16th century with the north range being the earliest part of the house. Built between 1504 and 1508 for William Moreton (died 1526), it comprises the Great Hall and the northern part of the east wing. A service wing to the west was contemporary but subsequently rebuilt, giving the early house an H-shaped floor plan. The east range was extended to the Hallsouth in about 1508 to provide additional living quarters, as well as housing the Chapel and the Withdrawing Room. In 1546 William Moreton’s son, also called William (c. 1510-63), replaced the original west wing with a new range housing service rooms on the ground floor as well as a porch, gallery, and three interconnected rooms on the first floor, one of which had access to a garderobe. In 1559 William had a new floor laid at gallery level in the Great Hall, and added the two large bay windows looking onto the courtyard, built so close to each other that their roofs abut one another. John Moreton (1541-98) added the south wing around 1560-62. It includes the Gatehouse and a third storey containing a 68-foot Long Gallery, apparently an afterthought added on after construction work had begun. A small kitchen and Brew-house block was added to the south wing in about 1610, which was the last major extension to the house.

The Moretons were Royalists in a Parliamentarian region. The house was requisitioned by the Parliamentarians in 1643 and used to billet troops. The Moretons regained the building after the Civil War but were financially crippled. Several sections of the estate were sold but when William Moreton died in 1654 he left debts equivalent to £12-16 million today. The family remortgaged the estate but never lived there again. The hall was rented out to tenant farmers. By the middle of the 19th century the house was ruined and unoccupied. The Parlourestate was tenanted by the Dale family. Elizabeth Moreton, an Anglican nun, inherited the almost derelict house following the death of her sister Annabella in 1892. She restored and refurnished the Chapel, and may have been responsible for the insertion of steel rods to stabilise the structure of the Long Gallery. In 1912 she bequeathed the house to a cousin, Charles Abraham, Bishop of Derby, stipulating that it must never be sold. Abraham opened up Little Moreton Hall to visitors, charging an entrance fee of 6d. Abraham carried on the preservation effort begun by Elizabeth Moreton until he and his son transferred ownership to the National Trust in 1938. The Dale family continued to farm the estate until 1945, and acted as caretakers for the National Trust until 1955.

Not surprisingly the place is full of visitors. A mediaeval music group play on the lawn with people dancing. Mallard with their ducklings are in the moat. We wander around the house. In the Parlour there are wonderful wall paintings probably from the late 16th century. They were hidden behind Georgian panelling until an electrician undertaking repairs in 1976 found them. The chapel is still used for a monthly service. The long gallery is a wonderful space with a highly buckled floor caused mainly by the heavy grit-stone tiles on the roof above. In the courtyard is a window with its gable inscribed God is Al in Al Thing: This windous whire made by William Moreton in the yeare of Oure Lorde MDLIX. Richard Dale Carpeder made thies windous by the grac of God. A 17th century grain store stands one side of the gate, the other was the brewery, now a toilet block.

Crosses

Sandbach – We make a short visit to this town on the west of the M6 motorway. In the town square are two Saxon crosses. They date from the early 9th century and are carved with biblical scenes. They were recorded as standing here in 1585, shortly after the town received its market charter. In the early 17th century they were torn down by Puritans and their stones dispersed. In 1816, antiquary George Ormerod gathered as many stones as he could find and reassembled the crosses using similar sandstone to replace still missing sections. Several smaller monuments were also placed around them but these are now in the churchyard. We go to the church of St Mary. A priest and a church on the site of the present church was recorded in Domesday. This was replaced by another church erected in the late 15th century. This church was built in sandstone which became badly weathered. The present church dates largely from a substantial rebuilding by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1847-49. Much of the existing fabric was replaced and the remaining fabric was encased in new stone, which came from quarries in the Mow Cop area, was given by Sir Philip Grey Egerton M.P. The east end of the church was extended by some 40 feet and the tower was rebuilt as a copy of the former tower. The builders were Cooper and Son of Derby. There are some fine gargoyles but the rain goods have been replaced by plastic ones, which rather spoils the ambience. We are unable to enter the church as there is a wedding in progress.

Alsager – We return to base and then try out the Railway Inn which has some fine beer. A sign tells that during the First World War when beer was in shortage, pigeons were released when a delivery was made which brought the thirsty workers down to the pub. This may be a bit apocryphal like the date of the pub. There was another pub, The Alsager Arms which was much closer to the station, but this has disappeared and a modern health centre stands on its site. Along Crewe Road is Milton Park. A John Maddock Jnr lived at Milton House in 1861, the family being earthenware manufacturers in Burslem. In 1864, William Young Craig acquired the property and undertook extensive renovation. He has extensive vegetable gardens, an electricity generator, coal from Craig owned Welsh mines, gas lighting and mains water. In 1907, Earnest Craig owned the property. He was MP for Crewe and after his death in 1933, his daughter moved to the USA. The house was offered to the Council in 1939 but was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence in 1940. A little up the road, on the opposite side is Northolme Gardens, a small garden that leads down the The Mere, a large lake. There is no access to the mere, it is surrounded by houses whose gardens back onto the water. A female Mallard is diving to grab food off the bottom to the lake, a behaviour I do not recall seeing before. Inevitably, we end up at The Lodge Inn again.