Wednesday 2nd August – Willowbank – July was the hottest month on record in the UK. However, the weather has changed. Yesterday saw frequent heavy showers, this morning there is a blustery wind and rain in the air. The grass has enjoyed the rain, it is re-greening rapidly. Bird life, however, seems less keen with all keeping their heads down.
Saturday 5th August – Fleets Dam – Dill the Dog has suffered another episode of
Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome, a middle ear inflammation which results in a serious loss of balance. We have a short walk along the river to the the Fleets. She walks on ahead of me, but every time she looks around for me, she falls over. The episode started on Wednesday night, but now she does, at least, seem to have got used to it. It is still distressing for all of us though. Young Sparrowhawks are screaming in the trees that rise above with ponds and marsh between Old Mill and the Fleets. The lake is ringed by anglers and we head back.
Home – I have started digging the potatoes. They have proved pretty disappointing so far. The potatoes are small and there are not many per plant. The long period of dryness obviously did not help. Even more annoying is that there is still slug damage, despite both the dryness and the application of nematode worms to kill the slugs. It seems the worms fell victim to the drought, but not the slugs. Our first tomatoes are ripening and the French and Runner Beans are beginning to crop well. We have already had a couple of courgettes.
Friday 11th August – Willowbank – Dill the Dog is well on the her way to recovery but still a little unsteady on her feet. The morning is cool. Bird song has been reduced to a few mournful wheeps. A Song Thrush flies up from the path into a Hawthorn. A Blue Tit mutters briefly on the edge of a thicket. A bright sun to the south-east and a large pale moon to the north-west – Apollo and Selene facing each other across a cloudless sky. Or maybe it should be Lugh and Cerridwen, their Celtic equivalents. A Jay flies silently through the bushes. Rosebay Willowherb flowers are now long pink sheaths of seed, soon to split and cast the downy mass across the area.
Saturday 12th August – Shobdon, Herefordshire – We travelled here yesterday afternoon. The plan is to look at a house for sale in Leominster and tour the estate agents. Last night we visited a country pub that does not allow dogs in! Tends to say something about many villages these days. So we sat in the cold and drank some excellent Wye Valley Brewery beer. The morning is dry and fairly bright. We are camped under an old Oak tree with a number of dead branches. However, the live ones are heavy with acorns. Blue Tits are searching for grubs. A pair of Jays fly over screeching. Two young Goldfinches fly up to a branch on the tree and flutter their furiously, demanding to be fed which an adult obliges. There is a growth of a creamy coloured fungus on the dead wood. In the afternoon I wander up to Shobdon Arches. The road leads up the hill and joins another road running along the hillside. This road enters a long avenue of Beeches. To either side are wheat fields, one being harvested. The road ends in a large car park. Just before this is, to the higher side a cricket pitch with a match in progress. Down the hill is Shobdon Church. There have been three churches on this site, a Saxon chapel, unusually dedicated to a female saint, St Juliana. Nothing of this church remains. The second church was built between 1070 and 1160 in the Romanesque period. There was a chancel arch and north and south doorways which were richly carved and more of them later. The present church is an extraordinary Rococo construction. It was consecrated in 1756 and built for the Bateman family, which had bought Shobdon Court from Sir Robert Chaplin for £30,428 in 1705. Sir John Bateman, the Second Viscount, is credited with rebuilding the church but it was his uncle, the Hon. Richard Bateman who was was responsible for the design and construction. The actual architect is unknown. The inside of the church is a considerable surprise. One is used to dark buildings with glowing stained glass windows, but the interior of Shobdon church is lightness itself. White walls with friezes picked out in grey; white pews with delicate Wedgwood blue details; a pulpit standing on a plinth and scrolls (which are clearly too delicate to hold the weight of the ornately carved pulpit they appear to be supporting) and glass in the nave windows by William Price the Younger of London. Leaving the church and ascending the hill, one comes to the Arches. They are at the end of an Oak avenue and were placed there as an
eye-catcher in the eighteenth century. They consist of three arches, two semi-circular tympana – the north and south
overdoors and the chancel arch from the Romanesque church. The elaborate decoration is the work of a group of sculptors called
The Herefordshire School of Stone Carvers. The arches are now extremely eroded and worn but one can still make out the wonderful work involved. Lithographs by G R Lewis published in 1852 show the tympana as depicting Christ in Majesty and The Harrowing of Hell. On the pillars are dragons, knots, and the
pipe cleaner men. More information can be found here. Descending the hill, the track passes a large building, now flats. This was once the servants’ wing of Shobdon Court and is all that remains of the great house. Two lakes lay either side of the roadway as one descends further and then into the village of Shobdon itself.
Wednesday 16th August – Willowbank – Dill the Dog and I set off from the bottom of Greenfoot Lane. There is a good crop of cobnuts on the Hazels outside the school and I pick a pocketful. Along the path towards the railway there are more Hazels. A large mass of Woody Nightshade has grown up over the brambles and saplings with a mixture of red berries and purple and yellow flowers. Blackberries are ripening fast and Elderberries are beginning to darken. Hips and Haws are still green, but Sloes are only a few weeks from full ripeness. Over the railway and down the field to the top of the slope above the Dearne river valley and the canal. It is still green down in the valley but up here the grass is yellow and full of brown empty husks of Bladder Campion. Horses and ponies crop the grass and play with each other. A single Sheep’s-bit Scabious stands on the hillside, a small, as yet unopened, purple flower head on a long stalk rising from a small clump of leaves.