Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another morning that is nothing like one’s expectations of summer. Stormy clouds race across a windy sky. Drizzle falls. Along the track where Old Man’s Beard is coming into flower, now the white stars of a clematis, the fluffy beards will not appear for some time yet. Blackberries are ripening as are Haws. Sloes are also ripe. Sand Martins feed low over the lake. On the meadow just a few Birds-foot Trefoil still flower; Clover, Dock and grasses are turning brown. Fungi are appearing in the copse. The lake is quiet, mainly because there is not a single Canada Goose in sight. Sixteen Mallard, a Tufted Duck and a Teal are in the scrape. Another eight Tufted Duck are out on the water with a few more Mallard. A pair of Mute Swans and cygnets are at the western end along with a single Canada Goose swimming out of the corner. The bank in front of the hide is bright with yellow Ragwort and St John’s Wort and purple Black Knapweed and, down on the edge of the water, Purple Loosestrife. A single Cormorant is in the trees. Himalayan Balsam is spreading along the far shore. A Moorhen appears on the scrape with two tiny chicks. Then a second adult with two more chicks. The adults and three chicks disappear around the reed bed leaving one squeaking chick on the scrape. An adult reappears but the chick still does not follow. Eventually the chick heads off around the reed bed too. A second Cormorant glides in and lands in an ungainly fashion in the trees. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Clouds float through the tree tops on Dinmore Hill. Back along the meadow an Oak had a good crop of acorns. Some apples are ripe in the dessert orchard, including the Irish Peach which I had mistaken for another variety but the flavour soon corrects that misapprehension.
Monday – Talgarth-Llangors – The sky is full of different clouds, white and grey, towering and feathery. From the car park in Talgarth, l head towards the town centre then along Heol Las (Green Road) and then southwards on a narrow lane, Bell Street, once called New Road. Linnets twitter on wires. The lane is closed by a locked gate but walkers and cyclists can use it. Hazel nut shells crunch underfoot. To the east is a deep valley with a tributary to the Afon Ennig rushing through. The sun has emerged above the thick clouds that lay over the Black Mountains. A seat remembers John Gardiner who died aged only 53. On down the track. A hill-fort lays across the valley but is hidden from view by the trees. Onto a footpath which should cross the Abergavenny road but disappears on the far side, so down the wide verge a short distance and off along a lane. A small lane leads off at Penyrwrlodd. It is very humid! Through a gate and then over a stile beside a deep sunken greenway. Along the edge of a sheep pasture beside a thin strip of woodland. Over another stile. Mynydd Troed lays ahead, a hill topping out at 609 metres. Across another pasture. To the west are the Brecon Beacons, Pen-y-fan and Corn Ddu. Into another meadow where over a fence is long barrow.
Penyrwrlodd long barrow was discovered in 1972 when a farmer removing stones from a mound in his field found some larger stone slabs which lined a hole leading deeper into the mound. Within this chamber were piles of human bone. He contacted Hubert Savory, an archaeologist at the National Museum and an expert in prehistoric burial mounds, and Savory came to see the new find as soon as he could. This discovery must have come as a considerable surprise to him as archaeologists had been mapping burial mounds in this part of Wales for generations. Yet here was the largest and best preserved example in Powys, completely unknown! An excavation revealed that the mound was a type of tomb in use from around 3,600 BCE, consisting of a rectangular stone mound which widened at its south-east end. Here the walls of the mound bowed inwards to create a forecourt. Piercing the sides of the mound were several stone-lined chambers which contained the remains of at least six people including a very rare complete skull of a man who had died in his mid-20s. The strontium isotope results suggest that the majority of individuals here did not source their childhood diet locally. One individual in this group, dated to the first few centuries of the 4th millennium BC, appears to come from outside the British Isles, providing evidence for migration during the transition to farming in Wales.
An Oak tree grows at the northern end. Underneath is a good number of boletus. Back across the stile and on southwards. There are Puffballs in this pasture. Across the fields to Neuadd Fach where the route follows a sunken lane. The bedrock is exposed, St Maughan’s Formation Sandstone from the Devonian. The track reaches Nant yr Eiddil, a stream. Crossing it is easier than I had expected. Most flowers have finished blooming now. Tall stalks of Hedge Woundwort stand green and flowerless. A Warbler wheeps. The track emerges at Glan yr Afon. I decide to head back north-eastwards and then south again along the lanes. Past Upper Trewalkin which had a fine stone farmhouse. A field has a locally made gate, welded angle-iron and strips of iron with a forged handle, not pretty but solidly functional. More gates are similar but all made with slightly different pieces of iron. Past Penyrheol. The lane divides and my route runs around the north edge of the foot of Mynydd Troed. A detour up an extremely slippery, muddy path to the motte of Carn-y-Castell. It is a shallow, ploughed down mound which I would have missed is it was not marked on the map. It is possibly the
Castellum Waynardi or
Waynard’s Castle of the mid 12th century. It is suggested it is named after Walkelin Visdelon whose father, Humphrey, accompanied Bernard de Neufmarché in his conquest of Brycheiniog and who appears to have been granted the manor. Looking westwards, my destination, Llangors and Llangors Lake lay under the Brecon Beacons. The hillside here still has flowering Spear Thistles, Mouse Ear Hawkweed, Lady’s Mantle, Yarrow and Harebells. Back down the path which is even more treacherous going down, reaching the bottom feeling both pleased and surprised I have done so without mishap. The roadside trees are an interesting collection of Ash, Rowan, Crab Apple, Field Maple, Beech, Willow and Hazel.
Off the lane onto another which drops steeply past Upper, Middle and Lower Penllanafel farms. The first farm has a 16th or 17th century farmhouse and the others are of a similar or slightly later age. A ginger cat trots along the lane. The next farm is Upper Cefnwern. House Sparrows chirp. Swallows call overhead. I saw my last Swift two days ago. A Chiffchaff squeaks as it feeds along the hedgerow. There is much chomping behind the hedge, clearly a herd of cows hidden from view but not the ears. Numerous House Martins have joined the Swallows over the fields. Chaffinches rise from the road. Old Oaks stand outside Lower Cefnwern farm. The barns have all been converted. The road is still descending. Wrens tick in the hedge. A very large flock of corvids are circling woods some distance away in the valley. The lane crosses a stream, which goes on to join the Nant Cwy. A Red Admiral flies past. Vermilion berries of Wild Arum shine from under the hedgerow.
The lane enters Llangors. Past Plas Farm which appears on Tithe Map of 1840 in present form. Farmyard was then U shaped and opposite range side was thus apparently altered in the later 19th century to provide additional access to the north-east. Range backing onto lane damaged by fire last century. A little green with a tree ringed with a seat is opposite. A large house stands opposite facing down the road towards the village. The road contains some older properties, probably 18th century with 19th and 20th century infilling. A chapel has a plaque – Bethel, Addoldy Y Trefnyddion Calfinaidd Adeiladwwyd 1852, meaning Bethel, Place of Worship of the Calvinists, Constructed 1859. The Castle Inn is a large pub. Next to it is the old school. Just down the road is a Baptist Chapel, Penuel, 1829. Another large pub is the Red Lion.
There is a record of a church in Llangors from 1152. There is a possibility that a Celtic monastery existed here from the 7th century to the Norman period, but its location is unknown. It seems to have been dedicated to St Mary and St Paulinus until the Reformation, but since then only the second dedication has remained. St Paulinus, Paul Aurelian was a 6th century Celtic saint. He was the son of a Welsh nobleman, educated by St Illtyd at Llantwit Major, after which he founded a monastic settlement at Llanddeusant and was ordained priest. Paulinus is thought to have left Llangorse for the court of King Mark of Cornwall, sailing from there to Brittany where he became the first Bishop of Leon. Rhygyfarch records the young St David spent many years as a pupil of Paulinus, and once restored the sight of his ageing tutor. St Teilo was also a pupil of Paulinus, who was buried in a shrine at the former cathedral of St Pol de Leon, Brittany. A Llandaff Charter of around the 8th century records of a grant by King Awst of Brycheiniog and his sons to Bishop Euddogwy of a royal estate corresponding to the present parish of Llangorse. The Awst Charter records the donation by Awst of his own and his sons bodies to the church for burial, indicating that Llangorse church could have been a royal burial ground. Another Llandaff Charter describes a meeting in a monastery at Llangorse in 925 between King Tewdewr of Brycheiniog and Bishop Libiau. The current church dates almost entirely to the 15th and 16th centuries, with a major rebuilding in 1874 by T Nicholson, at a cost of £1033, when the sanctuary was added. The roof of the south aisle is a very good example of late 15th century barrel-vaulting, or
wagon-roof construction. A simple octagonal font is 13th century. A fine organ of 1764 by John Byfield from St John’s Cardiff was installed in 1894. There is a complete ring of 6 bells from the Evans foundry and a frame of 1721. Inside the church is a grave slab from the 6th or 7th century inscribed in Latin. The floor behind the pulpit is covered with newspaper which in turn is covered in bat droppings.
Over the stream, Nant Cwy. Past the closed Village Stores. A new primary school is under construction. Across Llangors Common to the lake, Llyn Syfaddan in Welsh. It is the largest natural body of water in the whole of South Wales. Giraldus Cambrensis wrote about the lake in his book about journeying through Wales in the late 12th century, reporting the local tradition that the birds in the area only ever sang for a truly Welsh prince or ruler. He also said the lake was often called Clamosus, Latin for
noisy, which may have referred to the birds or the noise ice makes when it cracks. He also recorded how miraculous it was with numerous strange colours that the lake water takes on at certain times. And the lake has long been associated with fairies, very large eels, and a witch who lived beside the lake and was known to frighten-away naughty children! The whole valley was created in the Devensian, some two million years ago by glaciation. The lake is the setting for a number of myths and legends – including one that says the lake is the location for the submerged Roman city of Loventium. In early medieval history it was known as
Brecenenmere. A reconstruction of a crannog is not on the original site. The crannog is an artificial island, measuring about 40 metres in width and is situated 30 or 40 metres off the northern shore of the lake. It dates from the end of the 9th century and was one of several royal houses belonging to the rulers of Brycheiniog. It is the only crannog in Wales and was constructed of brushwood and sandstone boulders, reinforced and surrounded by several lines of oak plank palisade. Tree-ring dating of the well-preserved timbers has established that they were felled between 889 and 893. The site seems to have been influenced by Irish building techniques, and was possibly constructed with the assistance of an Irish master craftsman. Its ending is unclear. Relations between Alfred the Great’s English territories and Brycheiniog deteriorated in the wake of Alfred’s death and in 916 Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred, sent an army into the Welsh kingdom. A number of burnt timbers have been found in the crannog and it is possible that the island was attacked and its defenders put to the sword by the English army. In 1925 a 25 foot-long wooden dug-out canoe was excavated from the mud near the northern shore of the lake, and in 1990 a second dug-out boat was excavated from close by. These have been dated from between the 8th and 11th centuries.
Ranulph Higden (1299-1363), the monk of Chester, summed up in Latin the fame of the lake, and John Trevisa (1387) translated the passage into English:–
Ad Brecknoc est vivarium
Satis abundans piscium
Saepe coloris varii
Coman gerens pommarii
Saepe videbis inibi
Sub lacu cum sit gelidus
Mirus auditur sonitus
Si terrae princeps venerit
Aves cantare jusserit
Statim compromunt nodulos
Nil concinunt nil caeterus.
There is a pole in Breighnok
There ynne of fische is many a flok
Oft he changeth his hewe on cop
And beareth aboue a gardyn crop
Ofte tyme how it be
Schap of hous there thou schalt see
When the pole is frore hit is wonder
Of the noise that there is under
Gif the prince of the londe hote
Briddes singeth with merry note
As mery as they kan
And singeth for noon other man
Possibly not the best time of year to visit, there are several camping and caravan sites around it and boat and canoe hire so it is noisy and busy. The majority of the wildfowl are by the launching hard being fed by visitors.
Off back towards Talgarth. A Red Kite flies over the edge of the village. I take the main road back towards Talgarth. Large, solid house stand by the roadside, Llangors Villa. Next to it is an archway with Cross in the stone has what looks like a church or chapel behind it with a large Victorian Gothic house nearby. Until 1840s this was a village farmhouse but was bought by London barrister Abraham Kirkman, described on his monument in Llangors church as
a profound antiquary, who rebuilt the house and barn in Gothic Revival style, very likely in connection with the nearby development of Treberfydd under Robert Raikes with J L Pearson as architect, also with the redevelopment of Goodrich under Lord Merrick with whom Kirkman had connections. The Kirkman family were harpsichord makers of Franco-German origin; Abraham Kirkman died in 1870 and is buried in the family vault in London. Some of the barns of Lower Pendre Farm have been converted. On past Upper Pendre Farm where the raised platform for the milk churns still stands. Out into the countryside. A few flowers brighten the roadside, Meadow Cranesbills, Honeysuckle, Woody Nightshade, Great Willowherb, Good King Henry and the last few Meadowsweet. A line of trees in the valley to the west marks the route of the disused railway, the Mid-Wales Railway closed in December 1962. Two more Red Kites fly over. The are several new builds out at least major extensions being carried out. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is bashing away at a dying tree. Another appears and there is a brief flurry. A furry caterpillar is in the road, so I move it to the verge. A field of oats is golden and ready for harvest. Another golden field is wheat.
Into the village of Trefecca. Modern housing is on the outskirts. A farm’s barn is a self catering cottage. The big corrugated iron barn behind it is by Mifflin of Leominster. A terrace in pale limestone stands opposite the gardens of Trefecca College, the home of Howell Harris, 1714-73, who formed the first Methodist society here. The original farmhouse was enlarged and aggrandised, 1752-9, in a modern Gothick style. From 1842-1906 the site served as a Calvinistic Methodist Training College and it is currently a Presbyterian lay training establishment. A motte and bailey are marked on the map but they seem to have disappeared under a large bungalow and outbuildings. Most of the motte was destroyed when the railway was cut through. This may have been Waynard’s Castle although the motte referred to above seems to be the preferred option. It was a timber castle. The clouds are darkening and the wind is rising.
Out of the village. A large ancient Oak stands in a field. It starts to rain. College Farmhouse was built originally in 1576, and leased to the Countess of Huntingdon in 1764 to establish a training college for dissenting protestantism, the college opening in 1768, at the inauguration of which George Whitefield preached. Closed down when lease expired in 1791/8, and the college moved to Cheshunt, the building then reverting to a farmhouse. Whitefield broke away to found the Calvanistic Methodists in or before 1741, although the Countess remained faithful to the original austere approach. The building is in the Gothic style, The Countess was a niece of Lady Fanny Shirley of Twickenham, a friend of Horace Walpole, and would seemingly be acquainted with the more archaeologically correct form of the Gothic style promoted by him through William Robinson at Strawberry Hill. The road continues into Talgarth. Route
Wednesday – Stoke-on-Trent – We visit the city famous as
The Potteries. It is a federation of six towns which combined in the early 20th century. It took its name from Stoke-upon-Trent, where the town hall and the railway station are located, along with Hanley, the primary commercial centre, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton. The city is the home of the pottery industry in England. Formerly a primarily industrial conurbation, it is now a centre for service industries and distribution centres.
We first visit the Moorcroft Heritage Centre . William Moorcroft, a graduate of what is now the Royal College of Art in London started producing fine art pottery in 1897. He sold through stores such as Liberty of London, Harrods and Tiffany & Co. in New York. In 1913, with the aid of funding from Liberty, William moved production of his art pottery to the present factory in Sandbach Road under the name of W. Moorcroft Ltd. Walter Moorcroft assumed the responsibilities of sole Moorcroft designer in 1945. In 1986 Sally Tuffin took over design. Aided by Phillip Richardson, she introduced animals, birds and geometric patterns into the vision of Moorcroft art. Moorcroft is known mainly for its tube lining designs where patterns are delineated by raised lines and coloured within. The centre is around a bottle kiln and contains a museum of many iconic pieces of Moorcroft.
We then parked at our hotel and headed into the city centre. Large roads tend to compartmentalise the city. There are many large Victorian commercial buildings reflecting the wealth of the potteries in that period. Many more modern buildings, some actually of architectural merit, are among the older edifices. Much of the industrial heritage has been bulldozed. The Potteries Museum and art Gallery is one of the better modern buildings. Outside is a statue of Arnold Bennett, a local man. The second floor of the museum is given to the history of the potteries. Since the 17th century, the area has been known for its industrial-scale pottery manufacturing. Companies such as Royal Doulton, Dudson Ltd, Spode (founded by Josiah Spode), Wedgwood (founded by Josiah Wedgwood), Minton (founded by Thomas Minton) and Baker & Co. (founded by William Baker) were established and based there. Stoke-on-Trent lies at the point of erosion where the coal seams of the Pennine Coal Beds have been preserved but are close enough to the surface to be easily mined. There also happens to be coarse and fine clays and ironstone. (Detailed information ) The construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal (completed in 1777) enabled the import of china clay from Cornwall together with other materials and facilitated the production of creamware and bone china. On the first floor is a display of Saxon finds including part of the fabulous Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, on 5th July 2009, it consists of more than 3,500 items, that are nearly all martial or warlike in character. The Staffordshire Hoard totals 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. Also in an adjoining gallery is a Spitfire, commemorating the fact that its designer, Reginald Mitchell, was born in Stoke. Opposite the museum is Albion Street where there is the Bethesda New Connexion Methodist Chapel, one of the largest non-conformist chapels outside London. It was built in 1819 with additions of 1859 and 1887 in brick with stuccoed façade. Rear of the chapel, which can be seen from the museum forecourt, is in Flemish bond brickwork with buff headers. Abutting the front of the chapel is a fine Art Deco building.
In the early evening we venture out for a pint. This proves a little difficult as two of the recommended pubs are shut despite contrary information on the net. We manage to find The Reardon which has a fine selection of ales. It also has a room with three snooker tables, none of which is in use, which seems odd. We then head south past St Mark’s church, designed by J. Oates, erected in 1833 of freestone ashlars in the Early English style at a cost of £10,000. We have dinner at Mirchi, probably one of the best Indian restaurants we have eaten in outside Bradford or Birmingham. The salted lassi certainly was the best ever!
We return to the hotel. Opposite is the Telephone Building, now a bar. It was built around 1900 in red brick and terracotta with a plain tiled roof in the Eclectic style, with main block of three storeys, and three narrow bays with flanking towers, with all vertical spaces elongated.
Friday – Long Mynd-Leebotwood – The Manchester train is running twenty minutes late. The notice board states it is due to animals on the track, Arriva being keen to point out that for once it is not their fault! In Church Stretton the bright sunny morning has gone to be replaced by a cool wind and thickening cloud. Through Church Stretton to the Cardingmill Valley. Nuthatches call from trees in the gardens of houses at the for of the valley. Up past the National Trust buildings, the former mill and the Aerated Water Works, the first bottled water enterprise in the area. Blackbirds call alarms. Several Robins are in song. A mewing Common Buzzard circles high over the hills. The stream bubbles down the valley although the water level is low. Up Motts road, a rocky path. Purple Heather and green Bracken cover the hills. A Common Buzzard hovers on the wind above the hill. Young Stonechats fly across the Bracken in various stages of plumage development. Black faeces are deposited on a mound probably by a Fox. Meadow Pipits sit on the green fronds, watching and squeaking.
Across the top of Long Mynd. Several ponies graze amongst the sheep. On to the Port Way. The surrounding hills and the Shropshire Plain are misty, although the outcrops of Stiperstones are clear enough. The Port Way continues on a metalled lane. Past a pool of yellow flowers, Lesser Spearwort. A cronking Raven flies over. Swallows chatter as they fly low over the Heather. A flock of Starlings feeds in a pasture. As the lane starts to descend the Shropshire Plain is ahead with the great whale back of The Wrekin rising out of it end of the chain of volcanic rocks of the Uriconian series, of Precambrian, running north-east from Ragleth Hill. Harebells beside the road are a particularly rich blue. Past High Park House of 1868 and another house, possibly Queensbounty according to the 1883 map, where House Sparrows fly up into the bushes chattering incessantly. Honeysuckle is in flower although some have already turned to crimson berries. Yellow and orange Toadflax flowers in the hedge. Toadflax has many colloquial names, often containing the word
eggs reflecting its yellow and orange colouration. Just the tips of Rosebay Willowherb have flowers, lower down are the seed pods, the bottom ones already split to reveal their fluffy seeds. Black Knapweed is also in flower, yellow Smooth Sow Thistle almost finished.
The village of Woolstaston is heralded by a large flock of House Sparrows. The church hall remains a wreck. On through to the outskirts of Leebotwood which lays on the A49. The name comes from the forest, called Botwde in the Domesday Book and Bottewode in 1170. Henry II granted this area to Augustinian canons of Haughmond Abbey with a chapel at Lega, hence the placename of Lega in Bottewode. The grant included a pasture that had belonged to Bletherus the hermit, who, it has been suggested, founded the church here.
St Mary’s church lays to the west of the village. A church on the site was first recorded in 1183. The present building dates from the 13th century with the tower and other alterations of 1829. The box pews are from 1776, a hexagonal wooden pulpit is early 18th century. Beside it is a reader’s desk and clerk’s pew probably also of 1776. The circular stone font dates from 1843. An ashlar reredos is late 19th century. The east window of 1854 is probably by David Evans of Shrewsbury. A medieval wall painting of the Nativity was discovered in 1976 on the north wall of nave. There are numerous monuments of the Corbett family of Longnor Hall, which lies to the north-east. Particularly notable is large tablet monument to Sir Uvedale Corbett (d.1701) with a gadrooned base, flanking columns, and a swan-necked pediment with two reclining figures. Another Uvedale Corbett (his father was also Uvedale) has a plaque recording that as one of
His Majesty’s Inspectors of Poor Law he was selected to organize a system of relief, first in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire at the time of the Cotton Famine in 1863 and subsequently in London at a time of unprecedented distress in the Metropolitan Unions. He was afterwards appointed Chairman of two Royal Commissions to formulate schemes for Local Government and Taxation in the Isle of Man (1878) and in Ireland (1880). Many other Corbetts served as Members of Parliament. In the churchyard are rows of closely packed tombs of the Corbetts.
It is now raining. From the church I return a short distance back up the lane then turn south. The lane rises and falls, twists and turns. Down to a little bridge over a stream. The lane passes a number of farms and the Malthouse. The rain ceases. On down the lane with Caer Caradoc looming up ahead. Through Highfield and past Dudgeley Farm. The lane joins the road from the A49 at Quakingbrook Bridge. The brook appears to have been called the Cound Brook. Into All Stretton and a couple of pints in The Yew Tree Inn. Much has been made on-line about the foul mouthed and rude landlord, and it all appears to be accurate. On into Church Stretton for the train home. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The water level of the River Lugg is very low again. A Carrion Crow is calling excitedly in the riverside trees. Moments later a Common Buzzard flies out and crosses to one of the tall Black Poplars. The early morning mist has been dispelled by the sun. The market is a bit larger than of late but some regulars are missing – on holiday one assumes. Back round beside the Kenwater, which is also gin-clear and shallow.
Home – The last two rows of potatoes are dug. The cabbage patch is cleaned up, one of the small Willowherbs is about to seed. The cabbages have suffered slug damage; I did not look after them enough! The tree I had misidentified as a Shropshire Prune appears not to be a damson at all, the fruit is very sweet. There are also plums on the Marjorie Pippin but they quickly get fungal damage. Courgettes are still growing fast and large. A good number of peppers are picked from the greenhouse. Tomatoes are ripening well now.
Monday – Leominster – Rain falls steadily from an iron grey sky. Up the slope to the old A44 bridge, now just for pedestrians. A Blackthorn has plenty of sloes. Hawthorns and hips are turning red. Ivy is coming into flower. Pink Common Mallow lies prostate. Teasels have turned brown but are still soft to the touch. Over the A49. Spikes of Weld or Dyer’s Rocket grows out of the decaying tarmac. Acorns are developing on a small Oak. Elderberries are ripe. The old route joins the present A44 just before Eaton Bridge. The River Lugg flows shallow and sluggishly with weed and rubbish built up in places. A young Grey Wagtail flies off. Up Widgeon Meadow. The newly planted trees are ten feet tall or more now. Up the old drovers’ steps to Eaton Hill. The field has been left to grass this year. The footpath which should run along the fence had been a problem for years, getting overgrown and no-one maintaining it, but now it is buried under a wide thicket of Stinging Nettles and Burdock. The latter is spreading out into the field and the farmer would do well to deal with it sooner rather than later. The path runs through a wood above the old butts and beside the solar farm. Down the track. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes search the track edge for food. An aircraft flies over, hidden in the cloud, but my app claims it to be an RAF Airbus from Brize Norton. Back down on the river plain, fields of cereal have been harvested leaving great rounds bales of straw behind. Common Buzzards are calling. A fungus is on the base of a Beech tree. It is gleaming black-mahogany on top with a pure white lip and is probably Laquered Bracket, one of the Ganoderma family. This family contains the fungi highly prized as alternative medicines called in Chinese: língzhī; Japanese: reishi and in Vietnamese: linh chi, literally: (soul/spirit mushroom).
Down to the A49 again and across Brightwells’ yard to Ridgemoor Bridge. Numerous Common Pond Skaters, Gerris lacustris, are scurrying across the Lugg. Over the railway and off along a Footpath that runs beside Dale’s yard on The Marsh. The path meets the straightened section of the Lugg. The alarm on the crossing sounds and shortly after the Manchester train passes, accelerating out from the station. Dale’s Community Orchard looks neglected and abandoned. Onto the path that the route the old Leominster-Kington railway line. More Pond Skaters are beside an inspection platform on the river. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies onto a dead tree with a chip. The Carmarthen train comes down the track, late as usual. The rain has stopped. A Common Buzzard flies out of a large stand of Willows, Sycamores and conifers and of across the river and fields. Himalayan Balsam is spreading asking the riverbank. The path reaches the Ludlow road, North Road. Over the Lugg Bridge. Several Hereford castle are chomping on a mound of hay. Of along Eyton Lane to Crowards Mill. An orange crane fly flits from leaf to leaf. Off down the track to Summersgalls Farm. A mixed flock of Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests and Siskin are in the trees. Back along the route of the abandoned railway. A pair of Swifts feed over the Lugg, possibly the last not to have headed south. Further along House Martins dash to and fro. A patch of Meadow Puffballs, Vascellum pratense, are nearing ripeness when they will decay with clouds of spore.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The sun shines although there is plenty of cloud building from the west. A Wren darts off into the bushes and sings a brief burst of song. A copper-coloured dragonfly disappears before I can get anywhere near it. Bees are disappearing right inside the flowers of Himalayan Balsam. An umbellifer flowers by the hedge. Each flower has a tiny white balls on stalks like a crown. A Chiffchaff flies off into the dense foliage of the hedgerow. Leaves are beginning to look tired and some are yellowing. The boating bay is deserted apart from a couple of Mallard and a Coot on the eastern edge. The meadow had been mown. The water level on the lake is low and the scrape is extensive. A few Canada Geese are resting. One emerges from the water hopping on one leg, the other seems to be injured. All the duck are in eclipse still which makes identification that bit more difficult. I think there are a pair of Gadwall present and a female Mandarin Duck. A Cormorant is drying its wings. A Common Sandpiper searches the edge of the scrape. A Moorhen is being followed by two chicks. Another appears, also with two chicks. A noisy skein of Canada Geese fly in. A pair of Mute Swans have five cygnets. There are good numbers of Mallard and Tufted Duck all around the lake. In front of the hide most is now brown, the Black Knapweed and St John’s Wort are all finished and in seed. A dragonfly lands on a stem and remains there, motionless. It is a Common Hawker, Aeshna juncea, also known as a Moorland Hawker or Sedge Darner. A raptor is screeching somewhere across the far side of the lake. A Carrion Crow lands on the scrape but is chased off by a Moorhen. A single Teal appears. Back to the orchards. Five Common Buzzards fly out of Westfield Wood.
Friday – Talgarth-Pengenffordd – The weather forecast predicted sunshine this morning with the risk is showers later but already thickening cloud is building. Out of the car park and along the High Street to Heol Las. A footpath running beside Afon Ennig leads to the lane to Pwll-y-Wrach, Hospital Road. Over the river by a fairly new bridge. Then into Heol Penbont. The houses are a mixture of 17th century to modern. Upper Aberenig House is mid 19th century with probable earlier origins. Fir Tree Cottage has an interesting change of angle, the side of the house is parallel to the road with a more recent frontage facing the bend behind. However the rear of the building has the same alignment as the front. The lane recrosses the Afon Ennig. The lane rises through high banks. A recently built stepped water channel runs down from a field some twenty feet above the lane. Views of the hill-fort mentioned last time I was in the area are impossible. On along the lane. There is a thin strip of Bishop’s Frome Limestone, a silicate conglomerate from the Devonian and Silurian, 359-444 million years old, overlaid by Devensian till some 2 million years old. The surrounding area is Devonian St Maughans Formation sandstone, 398-416 million years old. A set of steps leads up to a covered reservoir. A Raven barks as it soars over. Lanes head off from this lane to houses and farms hidden from here. A gate in the hedgerow allows fine views of the Black Mountains.
The lane joins one that has east to The Rhôs. I continue south. The sun is shining and it is warm. However the temperature soon drops when large clouds hide the sun. Mynydd Troed now looms large to the south-west. A furry caterpillar, probably that of a Fox Moth, crawls across the road. The lane enters the hamlet of Genffordd. At the farm I am greeted by an old limping collie. Up the lane a little way another comes for a petting, bringing the first one hurrying up jealously for more attention. A pulley wheel on a shaft emerges from a barn wall. On past a number of barn conversions. The lane meets the main Abergavenny road at Pengenffordd. The Moriah Chapel of 1835 has a full graveyard. The chapel of Calvinist Methodists, later Presbyterian was rebuilt in 1860 but closed recently and is up for sale for £40,000 although new owners will have to maintain the graveyard, allow access to it and allow future burials. Not surprisingly, it seems to be unsold. Many graves are of local farmers. A little wall post box of Edward VII is in the wall of what looks like an abandoned cottage. A path behind a hedge runs alongside the road to a junction. A lane is the route of the Three Rivers Ride. A short way back, I assisted a German couple who were seeking a riding school. Both of us had difficulty with a weak WiFi signal. Now here there is a mast, maybe half a mile away but it belongs to a different company and my signal is still poor. Apparently, this is how competition benefits the public! A footpath crosses fields. I had hoped to avoid a field of cows being guarded by a large bull but barbed wire forces me back down the hill, into the bulls’ field where I head up the hill quietly without looking at the great beast. A beady eye watches me but the bull does not get up. A Red Kite and Ravens soar high above. Over a stile across the footings of an old wall out of which grow several ancient Ash trees, one of which has holes right through the trunk and numerous stumps from broken limbs. A plane tows a glider over the hill.
The path climbs steeply to the summit where there are lumps and bumps of the remains of Castell Dinas. Below the Abergavenny road runs through the Rhiangoll pass making this hill an important defence blocking passage between south and mid Wales. To the east an undulating ridge climbs up into the Black Mountains. To the west is the great whale back of Mynydd Troed. On the north side is a small section of a building. The very top is a circular mound with rubble in the dip in the centre. This mound is formed by the rubble from a keep hall estimated as about 22 by 14 metres. Beneath the keep mound to the east is a well, now just a rubble and nettle filled depression. The layout of the castle is still fairly clear, a keep with a small bailey to the north. A ring wall with a deep ditch beneath it. Two towers are to the north with a gate. The fortress seems to have been constructed in stone from the first possibly by William Fitz Osbern or his son Roger de Breteuil, Earl of Hereford in the period 1070 to 1075. The castle was eclipsed with the building of Brecon castle before April 1093. Historically the castle remained a part of Brycheiniog barony until 1207 when King John granted it to Peter fitz Herbert. It then became caput of what was to become the Talgarth or Blaenllyfni barony. The castle was sacked by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in October 1233 and subsequently refortified by King Henry III of England before being returned to Peter Fitz Herbert. The castle was again captured by Llywelyn’s grandson, Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the period 1263 to 1268. The castle was finally destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr’s forces in the early 15th century rebellion. Out of the North gate. There are further lines of defence down the hillside. However, these are much older, the remains of an Iron Age hill-fort on which the castle was constructed. The hill-fort was multivallate and the entrance was through what became the Norman north gate. Down the hill is another herd of cows with their bull. Oh well, easy does it.
The Three Rivers Ride continues up a deeply rutted track is bright red mud. To the west the weather looks bad. A cock Pheasant is calling loudly. I struggle into my wet gear with near perfect timing as the rain arrives. The track, a restricted byway, comes to a metalled lane. Off towards The Rhôs. Past a ruined farm, Blaenau Isaf. A stream flows out of the woods. The rain stops. The pink of Great Willowherb brightens the roadside. Purple-pink Wild Angelica rises out of a ditch. Past The Rhôs, a farmhouse of the late 17th or early 18th century built by a High Sheriff of Breconshire. It has two storeys, a hall with lateral stack and service room at the western end. Later lean-to extensions were added to the gable end and on the north side, and a parlour at the upper end, to which is added a two storey single bay wing with a gable stack. A Congregational chapel is being converted into a dwelling. A lane leads off to the Black Mountains Gliding Club. Here the Three Rivers Ride takes a bridleway north-east. At first the track is very wet and muddy, then it starts to descend and the bedrock is exposed with broken slabs scattered about. The track joins a lane at Heol Rowland, a fine old white farmhouse. The lane drops steeply to a bridge over the Afon Ennig. The bridge dates from the late 1960s or early 1970s as there was a ford here until then. Here the lane enters Hospital Lane.
Past Primrose Hill Cottage. The river is channelled through several weirs. The road is passing through Pwll-y-Wrach, the Pool of the Witch. Past Arosfa which looks like a modern building or at least a modern reconstruction as there was a house in the same place in the mid 19th century. A stream, which rises on Rhiw Cwnstab, comes out of the hill to join the river which drops down one of the many waterfalls along this stretch, although this one is very small. There is a small brick building practically in the stream above the road. Off the road and down into Cwm Pwll-y-Wrach. Only the rushing water can be heard in the valley. Not a single bird is in sight. Down the red slippery mud paths to the waterfalls, then back up to join Hospital Road.
On down the road. A row of houses and The Lodge stand by the gate pillars of the former Mid Wales Hospital. The Mid Wales Hospital, originally the Brecon and Radnor Joint Counties Lunatic Asylum was a psychiatric hospital. The building was designed by Messrs Giles, Gough and Trollope of London and built at a cost of £126,000. It was opened on 18th March 1903, by Lord Glanusk. It was run down in the 1990s and the last wards closed in 1999. Since then permission to demolish has been refused and the building is rotting away with frequent reports of vandalism. Large signs state there is an industrial estate there but no entry is permitted. Down the road and backbone over the bridge where the Afon Ennig enters Talgarth. A small fish dashes across the river to the shelter of an overhanging tree. A ginnell runs down by a house and a little bridge crosses the river just after it falls down a little defile. A path rises up the hill beyond. After a false start I find the path which runs around a pasture. The wind is getting strong, the remnants is Hurricane Gert are on their way but this is probably too soon for this wind to be part of them. The path reaches a lane by a bridge over the River Ellywe running down from Cwm Rhyd-Ellywe. It is now raining steadily. Up the hill is Church Row and a gate into the churchyard. The church is open!
The church of St Gwendoline is late 14th century, built on a Celtic site said to be the burial place of Gwendoline, Gwen frewi, possibly the 11th daughter or possibly the granddaughter of King Brychan Brycheiniog from the 5th century CE. In the 1090s the church at Talgarth was granted to Brecon Priory by Bernard de Neufmarche. The tower is 15th century. The church was extensively restored at cost of £2000 in 1873 by Thomas Nicholson. The tower was renovated in 1898. The north transept was used as a school until 1893, when it was much rebuilt and now contains the organ chamber chamber and vestry. The organ was bought from Worcester in 1883 and decorated by Bertie Diveri. Six bells by Rudhall were hung in 1724. In the tower vestry, unfortunately not open to the public, is a stone with the inscription,
William Vaughan, who was murdered in Abergavenny, son of Sir Roger Vaughan of Porthamel, 1631. Howell Harris (1714-1773) is buried near the altar. He was inspired to take up preaching by the sermons of Pryce Davies, vicar of Talgarth, in 1735. He became a guiding force in the evolution of Methodism in Wales, and is considered by some to be the most influential Welshman of his time. In 1752 he founded a Methodist community at Trefeca, near Talgarth, which later became a training college for preachers. His burial in an Anglican church is because Methodists generally did not have their own burial grounds. His father, also called Howell, is buried in the churchyard. His son Joseph Harris (1703 – 1764) was a blacksmith, astronomer, navigator, economist, natural philosopher, government adviser and King’s Assay Master at the Royal Mint. A plaque to him and his brother Thomas is on the church wall.
It has stopped raining and the sun blazes down as I head down to the town centre. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Off to the market. The water level in the River Lugg has risen marginally but it is still low and has been so for many months. A Lesser Black-backed Gull is harassing a Grey Heron. The market is fairly busy. A flock of Long-tailed and Blue Tits dash to and fro across Mill Lane. Round to Pinsley Mead. There are a couple of fruit trees there and one has a good crop of plums. All the reachable ones have gone but many remain high up. Giving the tree a good shake brings down nearly five pounds of fruit.
Home – Despite my thinning the apples on the Herefordshire Russet, the crop is still heavy – too heavy in fact and yesterday’s wind has broken two main branches. I will leave them for now but will have to clean it up in the autumn. Marrow-sized courgettes keep appearing as if by magic. There are several decent sized ripe figs on the tree, although it is tricky harvesting them from the top of a precariously positioned set of step-ladders. Our plums seem to have been almost ripe for ages now, but I must be patient. A tray of Cavolo Nero seedlings have got very leggy. I prick some out into individual cells, they may grow on alright.
Monday – Newnham Bridge-Knighton-on-Teme – Newnham Bridge is a small hamlet much increased in size by recent development. The Great Western Railway, Tenbury and Bewdley Branch, completed in 1864 and closed for passengers in 1962, passed through the settlement. A large pub, The Talbot, stands a little further along the road in the junction of the Worcester and Kidderminster road. A lane heads for Bickley and Knighton-on-Teme. At the foot of the lane is a house of 1805 on one corner and the old Post Office, late Victorian, on the other. It is a grey morning. A little way up the lane is the old Smithy, now an extended cottage. The lane crosses the disused railway. Houses have been built across the former track on one side of the bridge. The station still exists as a dwelling. The lane rises and bends past a new housing development under construction. To the east the land falls to the River Rea, a tributary of the Teme. The lane keeps rising. A Victorian house has a large hall attached, the former school which closed in 1983. Jackdaws call. Roadside Damson trees are heavy with fruit. The lane levels. Views are obscured by mist. Common Buzzards are mewing, one flies out of a hedgerow. House Martins and Swallows are feeding across the fields. The Field House is a substantial red brick farmhouse with banding in cream and black bricks. Many field are set to cereals, some already harvested, some awaiting the combine.