Friday – Kington – I park in Hatton Garden Industrial Estate and follow a path to a narrow lane. It passes between the Kington Combined Storm Overflow and a graveyard of JCBs. Old and newer industrial buildings are nestled amid trees. At Waterloo Bridge, over the River Arrow, I meet a chap who tells me this is the old horse-drawn tramroad. From around 1816 it ran from Eardisley via Hay-on-Wye to South Wales to the steel works carrying limestone. It then extended to via Lyonshall to Kington and the lime-kilns in Burlingjobb in 1820 by John Cheese. Kington now had access to Welsh coal. The house just beyond the bridge was the tramroad mistress’ house where she collected tolls. Back along the lane to a former council estate. Parallel to the lane is Sunset Row, a short terrace of stone built cottages built by John Meredith, ironmonger. The area here is called Sunset on the OS map. The lane emerges onto a large roundabout. A short distance up the Presteign road is a bridge over Back Brook (also known as Gilwern Brook) which joins the Arrow a short distance on. A black cherry tree has splattered fruit on the pavement under it. Further on is a toll house built in 1875, one of five still standing around the town. This one has a peculiar first floor extension stuck out the front. I return to the roundabout and cross to a public footpath on the opposite side.
The path passes a garden centre that was John Meredith’s ironworks having moved here from Market Hall Street in 1820. Meredith had started in Market Hall Street in 1815. A short distance on is a sluice on Back Brook which would have controlled the flow to the watermill powering Meredith’s iron foundry. Meredith used the tramroad extensively, owning about 100 trams by 1828. To the other side is a slope up to houses. An apple tree at the foot of the bank is dropping large numbers of ripe apples. Modern housing now runs along one side of the old tramroad and a playing field on the other. The track comes to Crooked Well, a small group is some cottages. A corn mill was recorded here in the mid 16th century and a 17th century cottage is located near the site of a ford over the Back Brook. There are also cottages with large windows indicating they had Weaving Lofts. A short distance along the track is Byewell, a rather grander affair, an early 19th Century house designed by local architect Benjamin Wishlade. The track leaves the houses and passes by rough meadows of Stinging Nettles and Dock. The brook now passes another weir. The other side of the track is now a cliff some fifty feet high. Layers of Silurian mudstone are at a 60° angle from horizontal. Past a cottage. A modern footbridge, although the crossing is old, crosses the brook. There was a bear and bull baiting pit near here until 1815. The route is now blocked by a house. A path climbs to Broken Bank, Banks on old maps. There was a mill across the brook and again evidence of weaving in cottages. Up the hill where the dwellings here are relatively modern. A steep hill, Campion Lane, climbs to Montfort Road, the route up from Floodgates to the church. A cottage on junction, The Wych, is 15th century.
Into the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin. A chest tomb holds the Cheese family of Huntington Court and Ridgebourne. James Cheese lived until he was 66, his wife only 25, daughter 8 and son, 43. His mother-in-law managed 70 years. The previous generation are recorded on the other side of the tomb where the inscription is far more eroded, but the few ages visible are also relatively young. Into Kington high street. More shops are empty. On into Victoria Road. A row of large red brick Victorian semis, one is which is a Youth Hostel. Most buildings are modern. A post box in the wall, however is Victorian. Ye Olde Tavern is late 18th century and formerly the railway tavern. Back across the roundabout and into Hatton Garden Industrial Estate again. The station house is a fine large stone building of 1855. When the line was extended beyond Kington to New Radnor the line was realigned and another station was built opposite, of which nothing remains. A Painted Lady butterfly lands briefly on a Buddleia blossom. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Off to market. The River Lugg is even lower still, the gravel bank well exposed now. The sky is clear and it is already getting very warm. The market is busy. It is getting crammed in now because of the large number of vehicles being stored for auction. I buy some plums and onions. There is little else of interest.
Home – We have had the decking outside the back door replaced. As we expected, when the old decking was removed it exposed a concrete floor with steps leading down from the back door and up again to the path that leads to the garden. There is a drain in the middle that was choked with soil. The builder has been working in temperatures up to 30°C and returns today to finish off. I then paint some extra protection where the pots stand. The temperature now is over 32°C.
This morning I cropped some red chillies, well over a pound of them. I use just over half to make some chilli jelly. This afternoon another row of potatoes, Homeguard, are dug. The crop is disappointing but the drought came at the wrong time for them. A decent number of mangetout peas are ready. Runner beans are not doing well, this weather is not good for them. The climbing French (or Polish) beans are doing much better. Courgettes are as abundant as ever! The damson crop has failed completely here. There are plenty of grapes but, as usual, they are small and mainly pip. Tomatoes are beginning to ripen in larger numbers.
Monday – Leominster – Along Cranes Lane and down to Kenelmgaer Bridge. also known as Cranes Lane Bridge, over the River Kenwater. A footpath runs along the riverside. Wood Pigeons coo continuously in the trees. The sky is overcast there is just the slightest breeze to lift the mugginess. Across the bottom of a meadow now becoming overgrown with Meadow Thistles and Stinging Nettles. There is planning permission for a housing development here although like many, nothing has actually happened. A large old willow with twisted stems up its trunk stands foot of the slope up to Green Lane. Further on there is a large Oak probably over 200, maybe 300 years old. Along the riverbanks are more Oaks, Willows and Black Poplars. The Oaks have a fine crop of acorns. The river flows over a weir. Rocks are exposed on the far bank, Silurian Raglan mudstone. The path comes to an end at a fence. A Grey Heron flies over. Up the field to public footpath. Fruit is ripening in the hedgerows sloes take on their matt blue, shiny blackberries and purple-black elderberries.
I take the path heading back towards the town past down a herd of cattle, most laying chewing the cud. The path climbs the gentle hill to a modern housing estate. Out of the housing estate onto Green Lane where it joins Ginhall Lane. Along Ginhall Lane. Cursneh Hill lies across the fields. A footpath runs behind the Buckfield estate. An Ash tree is heavy with keys, little balls dangle from a Lime. Dozens of buff tip Moth caterpillars are munching their way through the Lime’s leaves.
Along Baron’s Cross road. A large Komatsu digger is on the back of a low loader travelling slowly and that, along with tractors, is slowing the traffic considerably.
Tuesday – Ellesmere Port – A train journey to Ellesmere Port. The first change is at Chester. The approach to the station is the The North Wales Mineral Railway, connecting Chester via Wrexham to Ruabon, constructed from 1844, here passing through a cutting where the chisel marks are still clear after over 170 years. Chester station is a junction for North Wales, Liverpool, London and Shrewsbury. Waiting on the Chester Island platform, built in 1890. An arched wall divides the tracks. Feral Pigeons are nesting in spaces at the top of the wall, the squeaks of young very audible. The whole station is an incoherent mishmash of original Victorian walls and modern additions. From Chester, a Merseyrail train takes me to Hooton. It was clearly a busier station once with four tracks through it. Now one is terminated here and the rust on another shows it is rarely used. The station building is fine Victorian Gothic. The rest of the platforms are wholly modern. Ellesmere Port station has ornate gables and stone chimneys surmounted by tall red brick diamond flues above eaves level with heavy corbelled caps. The station opened on 1st July 1863, as Whitby Locks. It was renamed Ellesmere Port on 1st September 1870. The signal box once stood next to the station building.
Out into Station Road. The Station Hotel was built in the 1870s, as the Railway Commercial Hotel and was, for many years, run by John McGarva and known locally as McGarva’s Railway Hotel. In 1909 an impressive and ornate extension was built to the left of the building’s frontage and the whole was renamed The Station Hotel. In 1912 a long, single storey extension was added to the north side. Sadly it is closed down. The next building is dated 1909, a former bank. Onto a main road, still Station Road. The road passed close to the station building across the tracks via a level crossing but that had all been replaced by a bridge dated 1961. Across a junction. A bookies was a late Victorian bank. A short distance along Westminster Road is a large red brick building with stone decoration and plaques, one stating, County Constabulary, with another shield, CCC. It is now flats. Back to the junction. One corner has an art work, a large structure of steel and glass with flying birds and sea. On another corner was the Hippodrome Cinema and Theatre which burned down in 1938. Down one side of Station Road every business apart from a general store is closed and shuttered. Opposite is a retail park on the site of an earlier police station and the vicarage. On the corner of King Street is a building, now a residence, with a portico where Established 1856 can just be discerned, although this building is probably several decades later. The doorway has been bricked up into a window. Just before a flyover carrying the M53 motorway is Christ Church, now an evangelical establishment. It was built as an Anglican church in 1869-71, designed by Penson and Ritchie. The nave was extended to the west in 1922–25 by Barnish and Grayson. The church was declared redundant on 1st April 1994. The graveyard is extensive. A war memorial stands next to the road. The original Station Road now terminates in a yard and the main road runs under the motorway. Oxford Street is about twenty yards long now. A rubbish strewn subway leads through overgrown shrubbery to the far side of the motorway.
Over a modern bridge, below is the Shropshire Union Canal. Here is Ellesmere Dock and the National Waterways Museum. Into the museum. The Ellesmere Canal and port opened in 1795 to connect the town with Liverpool’s docks. The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 and a slipway now ran into the new canal. It is now cut off by a road. A slipway had a winch house at the top where a steam-powered winch hauled boats out of the canal. The slipway opened in 1843, designed by Thomas Morton. Beside the slipway is a shipwrights’ shed. Beside it is a WWII Anderson shelter. The mess room is small, indeed the superintendent’s office next to it is larger. In the other side of the slipway is a large building housing the Waterways Archive and conference centre. It was formerly the foundry. Part is the building is the blacksmith’s forge. It is still in use but not today. There are six hearths. Beyond is the engine house which has an excellent display of engines.
Outside the engine house is the Victoria Arm, a basin built in 1837 to serve two warehouses, one storing pottery materials to go to the Stoke on Trent area, the other for finished iron goods to go to Liverpool docks for export. Through to the canal locks. A large dead carp lies in the dock. A number of boats are around the locks and dock, including the Worcester, a tunnel tug built in Queens Ferry in 1912, to tow boats through tunnels on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Bigmore is a steel dumb barge, i.e. without an engine. Built in 1948 in Northwich, it mainly carried corn from Manchester docks to the Kellogg’s factory at Trafford Park. In the lower basins are larger boats including a concrete barge built during the war when steel was at a premium. Beyond the dock is a modern hotel that had replaced a warehouse reputedly designed by Thomas Telford which unfortunately burnt down in the early 1970s.
A row of four cottages, Porters Row built in 1833, are all that remains is the housing for workers that would have stood in terraces. Outside is a telephone box with the old button A and button B mechanism. The cottages are fitted out in various periods. The first is the 1950s, rather familiar I feel. The next is the 1930s, then the 1900s and finally the 1830s. The Island Warehouse contains exhibitions about all aspects of canal boats. Swallows have nested in the entrance hall. A pair of Mute Swans are in the canal. One leaves the canal by the Island Warehouse and taps in a glass door to the amusement of visitors inside. Across to the pump house and accumulator tower. The latter is a device to store power by driving large drums up the tower then as they descend the hydraulic pressure is pumped around the dock to capstans, cranes and lifting jiggers. The pump house contains two large stream driven pumps built by Sir W.G. Armstrong and Co of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1873. Three Swallows sit on a chain across the roof. A Cameron engine of 1873, built by John Cameron of Salford, are believed to have supplied water to the header tanks which supplied the hydraulic engines. A mill engine was built by Frank Pearn and Co of West Gorton, in 1910. This feed the fire sprinkler system in the large flour mills by the lower basin. In the boiler house are two boilers built by Tinker Shenton and Co of Hyde in 1910. They replaced the 1873 Cornish boilers.
Out of the museum and down to the Manchester Ship Canal. Beyond are the wide sandbanks of Stanlow Banks. Little can be seen on the sand as they shimmer with heat. There is a panoramic view from Liverpool with the Anglican cathedral tower, round past John Lennon airport to the Runcorn Bridge. Gulls bob on the canal, Black-headed Gulls are losing their black heads. A few Mallard drift by. A path runs along the side of the canal. Three Coot dive. Along the path which is lined with apartment blocks to the end of the South Pier, Telford’s Quay. The entrance to the docks is here, Whitby Locks. Opposite is the lighthouse that marked the entrance. It was built in 1844 by G.R. Jebb, an engineer. Beyond, on the container dock, a ship is being unloaded. A front has moved in from the Atlantic and the temperature is dropping, cloud building and the wind rising. Round the end of the pier where the old lock gates are rotting away. Up the entrance to the docks are the current dock gates, covered in water plants and shrubs, clearly not in regular, if any, use. A small lock keeper’s hut of the mid 19th century stands beside the lock. Another control centre stands, raised above the entrance to the bridge into the dock.
Out from the dock up Lower Mersey Street. An office block, Portside House is dated 1990, the date of restoration rather than original building. Raddle Wharf Warehouses are now apartments. Mersey Terrace is dated 1836, built for the senior staff of the Cheshire and Ellesmere Canal Company. Across Merseyton Road is the Grosvenor Hotel, once a fine establishment, now cowering under the M53 and converted into apartments. Merseyton Road is an industrial estate. Elm Street runs off, ending by the motorway. There are short terraces of Victorian houses, all empty. The industrial units end with a couple of inter-war houses and a single early 20th century semi. The road bends by the Custom House. Across railway bridges. The lines are still below but the rails are rusty. These lines were the Shropshire Union Railway to docks which became Cawoods container terminal which closed in 1993. This road will run right around the town with the railway blocking the route back in, so I decide to return and head up into town from the dock.
Under the motorway and along Grace Road. The houses are inter-war. The road meets Westminster Road. All the housing in the district have the same, if limited architectural features, indicating they were all built at the same time by the same developer. Most are semi-detached with the doors on the side. Along Westminster Road is a Wesleyan Chapel of 1913. Into Wilkinson Street, terraces with the some exceptions, one being around forty properties in the area that have gable extensions are bay windows to the road. In John Street are two schools, John Street School of 1912, attributed to Charles E. Deacon and Horsburgh of Liverpool, architects, for the Cheshire County Council and the later Westminster Community Primary school. John Street School is now Wirral Methodist Housing Association apartments. Into an area of post-war council housing. Then past several thirteen floor tower blocks, Joseph Groome Towers. A path leads round into Station Road opposite the Station Hotel.
Over the railway. On the far side is a fine picture house built in 1913 for the Ellesmere Port Picture Palace Company. Sadly it ceased as a cinema in 1968 and is now a bathroom shop. Into Cromwell Road. Beside the former cinema is a war memorial to the Mersey Iron Works who feel in the First World War, over sixty. A short distance down the road is a large building from the 1930s, recently a social club, now boarded up but with workers inside. Back to the main road, now called Whitby Road. It is lined with businesses in former shops. The office of Justin Madders MP, a Labour member, does not mention the Labour party anywhere. A café has the familiar white tiles of Burton’s outfitters and enough and corner logo of Montagu Burton. There was a billiards hall on the first floor as was often the case with Montague Burton’s establishments. Our Lady Star of the Sea Roman Catholic church, built in 1932, is covered in scaffolding. A large shopping mall is behind a 1930s shopping parade. The shops are mainly takeaways and services. The Trinity Methodist church, built in 1914, is in red glazed brick. It is laid out inside as a café although there does appear to be an altar. At the end of the shopping area is the Civic Hall. The Council Offices are in an attractive multi-sided building, unfortunately attached to a large, ugly mid 20th century building. Across the car park is a 1930s building also attached to a multi-sided one, however this looks rather more like a water tank. I have tried one pub but the staff could not be bothered to serve people at the bar! Into a second which has no cask ales ready. Not doing well!
Into Whitby Park. Whitby Hall was built in former agricultural land by the Grace family in the 1860s. John Grace was a local entrepreneur and politician. The house is typical Victorian Gothic although rather bland, possibly because the magnificent array of chimneys has been removed. Ellesmere Port Urban District Council purchased the land in 1931 and appointed Thomas Hayton Mason, a popular landscape architect, to design a public park. Today the house is home to the Action Transport Theatre company. Out of the park and through an estate of inter-war housing for the middle classes. Through Whitby Village, a shopping area with hairdressers, nails, stuff shops, florists and vape shops, many of which are closed and shuttered. Past a large campus of dubious architectural design, University Church of England Academy. It is another academy, the flagship educational concept of recent governments, that is regarded as inadequate by OFSTED Inspectors. Its owners are looking to find a new company to run it. An appalling situation for an area that clearly needs good schools. Opposite is St Thomas and All Saints church built in 1957. Back to a junction by the Civic Centre. The police headquarters stands on one side. Route
Wednesday – Ellesmere Port – Into Heathfield Road. Playing fields and a playground are attached to a school. Opposite is a pleasant group of early 20th century houses around a small park. There appear to be an inordinate number of barbers in this area! Into Whitby Road and down to Westminster Bridge. Meadow Lane runs off of Station Road. There are a few rather isolated terraces of late Victorian houses and a very large site, once an industrial site producing plastic containers, now disappearing under willows and buddleia. Opposite a forklift truck is unloading paving stones off a lorry from Aberdeen. The lane crosses the Shropshire Union Canal. Ahead the road is blocked by the M53. Down onto the tow-path. A couple of piles of rusting child’s bicycles, a lorry exhaust and unknown bits of metal have been dredged out of the canal. Water plants are in flower. There are walls alongside the tow-path by which large banks of Brambles are heavy with ripening blackberries. Very young Moorhens chase their mother, squeaking continuously. Under two railway bridges, one abandoned and just a skeletal cast iron frame. A former dock is fenced off. Behind it are stacks of timber and pallets. The remains of a building is just the cast iron frame.
Over a canal bridge. The motorway crosses the canal just beyond the bridge. Into Cromwell Road. A large kitchen appliance outlet is empty and up for sale. Opposite is a gas depot and the smell of gas is in the air. Past the pallet manufacturing site. Opposite a large housing development is being built. The finished houses show the usual lack of any architectural merit, little different to post-war council estate, except those houses usually had decent sized gardens. Here there are small frontages, mainly taken up by parking areas, with the same plants, put in by the developers, many of which are now dead. A large banner calls the development, stunning, possibly true but only for its mediaocracy. I decide not to wait for the bus but to get the Metro into Liverpool and then cross to Birkenhead. However, my lack of geographical awareness means I did not realise that the train actually goes to Birkenhead first.
Birkenhead – I alight at Birkenhead Central. Outside the station is a heavy stone doorway inscribed Mersey Railway Offices. An old sign on the station, white painted lettering on black, is nearly all gone now. It appears to advertise the advantages of the railway. High up on the station is another painted sign, Mersey Railway and on the side of the building, Quickest Way to Liverpool. Birkenhead started as a Benedictine priory built by Hamon de Mascy in the 1170s. The monks operated a ferry across the Mersey. A few streets were built by the Lord of the Manor, Richard Francis Price, to create a bathing resort but it was the boiler factor built by William Laird in 1824 that led to the development of the town. This became a shipyard and the town be rapidly. Laird commissioned James Gillespie Graham to design the town on a rectangular Street plan with Hamilton Square as its centrepiece.
A flyover carrying the A552 rather destroys the ambience of a fine clock tower dedicated to Edward VII, designed by Edmund Kirby in Portland stone and erected in 1911. Sadly the paving around it is slowly succumbing to weeds and graffiti is scribbled on the lower parts of the monument. Opposite, Central Hotel, in a stone looking like Portland, is closed with many smashed windows. It opened in 1938 and closed in 2014. Next to it, Crescent Chambers also looks abandoned. On the other side is the Catholic church of St Werburgh and St Laurence. The Presbytery is dated 1835-1837, probably designed by M.E.Hadfield has an unsightly brick extension had been added to the side. The church is also by Hadfield. It is in red sandstone. The interior is late 20th century. Outside is a large, lifesize sculpture of the crucifixion dedicated to the war dead. On the other side of the path are ornate gravestones seemingly all by the same stonemason.
Beside the church is a huge shopping mall. On the other side is the road and flyover is Clifton Road. Here there are some interesting houses. The Woodlands, by Walter Scott, 1846, is in the Picturesque Gothic. On to the road are a number of fine houses in various styles, all by Scott in the early Victorian period. It was part of Clifton Park, a development of villas by Scott. Inevitably, all the space between the villas had been unfilled with modern developments. Along Lowwood Road. In Brookland Road, there is a terrace in alternate red and white bricks. Extraordinarily, one has been rendered in white plaster. Circular Road is a group of houses in a circle with terraces on the outside of the circle forming a ring. The quality is nowhere near Scott’s villas and the ring is not all contemporary. However, there are some large Victorian houses here, all part of the Clifton Park project.
Back past the Catholic church. In Grange Road is a red brick building with a red sandstone fasçia, Warehouse and Auction Room. Up Argyle Street. Buildings tell of an area that was once central to the town. The magnificent Post Office of 1907 by Walter Pott, closed; Old Post Office Hotel, a dance and stage school; into Conway Street, a cinema, I think The Empire, built in 1917 by A.E. Short, just discernible under black and silver nightclub décor; Post Office Buildings, cafés and restaurants; abutting is a now closed down Chinese restaurant. This was the Birkenhead Picture House built by T Taliesin Reed in 1916 for J.F. Wood of Bedford Cinemas. It was renamed the Birkenhead Super in 1924. It closed as a cinema in 1956 and was converted to a Top Rank ballroom, The Beatles played there. However, by 1969 it was stated to be derelict. Unfortunately, it is not listed. The fine Wirral Education Centre was the Birkenhead Board Higher Elementary School of 1903 by T.W. Cubbon in the free classical style, red brick and gold terracotta dressings.
Back to Argyle Street. A large former cinema, The Savoy, is a pool hall. A row of shops was built as such in 1850. Wetherspoons is in the Argyle Theatre where George Formby played. It starts to rain.
Hamilton Square is a splendid Georgian square, containing the most Grade 1 listed buildings in one place outside London. It was designed by James Gillespie Graham and named after Mary Hamilton, the wife of William Laird. It consists of three sides of terraces, all different in design. The fourth side contains the town hall, built in 1883 by C.O.Ellison and restored in 1901 by Henry
Hartley. It has a massive portico supported by six Corinthian columns and a three stage tower. The centre of the square is a large square of gardens with a tall Queen Victoria monument in the form of an Eleanor cross, designed by Edmund Kirby and opened in 1905. In front of the town hall is the Cenotaph, designed in Portland stone with panels in Westmoreland stone by Lionel Budden and sculpted by H Tyson Smith. It was unveiled in 1925. I do not tarry as the drizzle is irritating.
Out of the square past Hamilton Square station which had as tall, Italianate hydraulic tower with a faded sign, Mersey Railway Frequent Service of Electric Trains To Liverpool. A modern sign also repeats Frequent Electric Trains. The station was built in 1886 by G.E.Grayson, part of the Mersey railway and Mersey rail tunnel, which opened in 1886. The engineers were James Brunlees and Charles Douglas Fox. Opposite is a block of the mid 19th century in ashlar block. Another building opposite was the British Insurance Company offices, no empty. On towards the Mersey. The Pier Hotel is in green stone with the emblem of the Birkenhead Brewery Company. It is gutted. In Canning Street is a vast warehouse, Cheshire Lines Building, for the Great Northern and Great Central Railways. On the junction of Canning Street and Shore Road is the former Shore Road Pumping Station built around 1886 by James Brunlees and Charles Douglas Fox in an Italianate style. Our housed two grasshopper beam engines, one is which is still in situ. Down the hill are the gate posts and police booth of the Woodside Lairage. They are in red sandstone, dated 1868. Rail tracks run out of the docks and along the road. A replica of the Resurgum, one of the first submarines, designed by Revd George Garrett and built in 1879 by J.T. Cochrane of Birkenhead. The ferry terminal was built in the late 19th century. The ferries only run during the rush hour. Near to the terminal is a museum containing U-534, the last German U-boat and one of only four still in existence.
Up Chester Street past the Riverview, formerly the Queen Anne, a pub of 1840. The Sessions Court, which backs onto the town hall is dated 1885-1887. It was designed by T.D.Barry and Son. A row of shops includes the former Albion Hotel of 1837 by Edward Welch. Another row of six shops is thought to be by Walter Scott, built around 1847 in the Italianate style. Down Market Street to Argyll Street and ruins into Conway Street and the bus station. Onto a bus for Liverpool.
Liverpool – Off at Queen Square. Up to Lime Street station. As usual there is construction going on all over. A crane stands on a rising tower by the station. The plastic covering around the St John’s Centre appears to be permanent, I had assumed it was something to do with construction safety. Frankly it looks odd. The city is very busy as usual and I wander, seemingly aimlessly, yet manage to end up at The Dispensary pub pretty quickly.
Thursday – Water-Break-Its-Neck – Tom and I visit this waterfall in the Radnor Forest. It has been reduced to a trickle by the recent dry weather. A family are visiting for the first time and it must be disappointing to see such a pitiful flow. its normal flow can be seen here
Bryn-y-Maen – We then go to Llynheilyn, which is at the top of the road to Builth Wells. There are quite a number of Coot on the water. On the bank are a pair of Mute Swans with at least ten cygnets. It is difficult to count them as they are all piled up beside each other and one is not going to approach them! We head up the track that runs up Bryn-y-Maen. The grass seems reasonably green, which should please the shorn sheep grazing on it. We reach the top of the slope and cross some rough pasture then start descend. A couple of Small Heath butterflies flit past. The path is very indistinct but the sat nav on my phone tells us we are following it. Into a valley through which flows Gilwern Brook (the same brook that flowed past Kington on the walk recently). Swallows are sweeping low across the rough grasses. I then lead us in the wrong direction. I have not come down off the hill at this point before and have got disorientated. As soon as we turn back and start going in the right direction it starts to look more familiar. Through a sheep pasture and then along a track between Bryn-y-Maen and Gwauncest Hill. Beilibedw Maun Pools are much reduced. On to the Four Stones, an alignment which actually five rocks. I suspect there was another row forming an avenue leading to a large barrow but they have been lost. We then pick up a bridleway that runs around Bryn-y-Maen and back to Llynheilyn.
Friday – Ludlow-Caynham – The sun shines through a hazy sky. Leaves hiss and shimmer in their wind. The weather is cooler now. Within a short period of time, the cloud has thickened and darkened. Up to Gravel Hill from the station. Outside an agricultural machinery dealer there is an old grinding machine, probably for preparing grain for cattle feed and another machine for slicing. Both were manufactured by Harrison McGregor of Leigh in Lancashire. The latter has a large drum containing a vicious looking blade. The material was fed through two rollers with large teeth. Harrison McGregor was founded in 1872 and was taken over by David Brown Tractors in 1955. The former Co-op is now completely boarded up, it looks like it is not going to be used as a retail store any time soon. Into Lower Galdiford. It is time for muck spreading on harvested fields and the miasma of dung permeates the town. The road becomes Sheet Road. Much of the housing is 20th century with the occasional older properties. Coles Cottage is dated 1883. A path passes under the railway and detours around the footpathless road under the tracks. Rosebay Willowherb is turning to seed along the railway.
The road rises. Kennet House is neo-Gothic, built in 1872. It was said to have been built by railway official to give commanding view of the line. Nearby, The Sanctuary is Victorian with modern extensions. Further on, at the crest the hill, is a short late Victorian terrace, otherwise all the housing is modern. There are hints to the previous use of the land, Nursery Close, Orchard Cottage etc. Sheet Road crosses the A49 and passes the Ludlow Eco Business Park. Down the road is The Sheet, a 20th century housing development has been built around several older farms. The Sheet is recorded in Domesday as belonging to Leofnoth pre-Conquest and Ingelrann of Amport after 1066 with tenant-in-chief being Ralph de Mortimer. Sheet Lodge is the gatehouse to Sheet House both dating from around 1820. A turning takes the route down Squirrel Lane. Past a large electricity substation and a small sewage pumping station. The lane bends at Little Ledwyche Farm. Some large gunnera leaves stock out the hedgerow. A little humpbacked bridge crosses Ledwyche Brook. Unfortunately, Himalayan Balsam is becoming established on the banks. Almost immediately the road crosses another much smaller brook which flies from Ledwyche Pool. Ledwyche Farm stands opposite the pool, which was a millpond. The farm is made up of a good number of buildings including a substantial farmhouse, a malthouse and a mill. It is reported the mill mechanism dating from 1860 is still in the miller’s house. The pool has a wall along the road with the old sluice mechanism in a gap in it. The water level is, like everywhere, very low. Great Willowherb, Greater Bindweed, Meadowsweet and Water Mint flower at the water’s edge.
I leave Squirrel Lane and take a track which passes large stacks of tree trunks. The track turns and leads to Ledwyche Covert. Across the harvested field, a Common Buzzard mews loudly as it flies alongside the trees lining Cay Brook. At the end of the wood is a field of oats. Beyond is Titterstone Clee. The track descends to a broken concrete footbridge over the brook. It then climbs a pasture. A black spider scurries through the long grass. A Pheasant croaks from the hedgerow. The path enters a woodland. The path emerges by a bank of rock, Lower Bringewood Formation of Silurian siltstone, sitting on a bed of Leintwardine Formation which is on a bed of Aymestry Limestone Formation. All of this is projecting through the main beds of Raglan Mudstone. North of the path is Curtis’s Gorse. The path turns south and crosses a shallow dry valley and joins the Shropshire Way. The Clee Hills dominate the view. I turn my back on them and following the Shropshire Way across Caynham hill-fort. A track descends from the hill-fort. Pieces of limestone are scattered across the track. They sometimes contain pieces of fossilised shell. A cracked piece shows a pearly white crystalline structure.
Across a field is Caynham Hill House, possibly with a 17th century core and extensions in the early 18th century and the Victorian era. The trail continues to descend. At the foot of the hill is the Ledwyche Brook Crossing, where four great pipes of the Elan Valley to Birmingham aqueduct cross the brook. A metal bridge passes above them. It starts to rain. Across a ploughed field and back onto Sheet Road. Back into The Sheet and on to the A49 then down Foldgate Lane which runs behind the Co-op supermarket. The lane winds its way down to Temeside, crossing the railway by a bridge. From Temeside, a steep set of steps descends the River Teme. The river passes over rapids where Mallard chase to and fro. The path rejoins Temeside. Modern housing is interrupted by a short terrace of Victorian Gothic houses, Teme Villas. A metal gantry carries two large pipes over the river. Case Mill, called New Mill on the 1885 map, was a corn mill, rebuilt in the early 19th century. It is now the veterinary surgery. An early 19th century toll house stands on a junction with Weeping Cross Lane. The Weeping Cross stood opposite. The cross was often associated with the Augustinians. It was called by the Celts a Maen Achwynfan, a stone pillar with a rounded head marked with a cross. Weeping penitents were taken there by the priest to confess their sins. Up Weeping Cross Lane. The lane is lined with industrial and retail units, one being McConnel, apparently (Home of the Hedgecutter). Others are on the site of the fish ponds of the Augustinian Friary. Towards the top of the road, where it joins the junction of Lower Galdiford and Sheet Road stood the cattle market. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A blustery wind is blowing. Thick grey clouds cover the sky. The River Lugg is very low, as is usual these days. Two Carrion Crows perch in dead trees either side of the river like sentinels. The market is much larger and busier than I expected, I thought the threat of rain and wind would put folk off. I buy a pretty little dress for granddaughter, Kitty. I have no idea really if it will fit but it looks about right. Over to the petrol station to get some motor oil. I pick up a litre bottle but when I come to pay, the man demands, Why are you buying a litre which costs £20 when you can have four litres for £30? And promptly gets me the larger bottle. I decide not to challenge his helpfulness, despite the fact I really do not need four litres of oil.... Into Pinsley Mead where there are ripe plums in a tree. The cider apples are not ready yet, they will be difficult to collect as the area around the trees is very overgrown with grass and nettles.
Home – I am now pruning the grape vines every week, which gives the hens a good feed. The Worcestershire Pearmain apples are ripening quickly now. I collected the three greengages; it is a great shame the tree does not produce a decent crop as they are delicious. Also delicious are the figs. The small, almost purple ones are a delight but I tend to pick them earlier than that stage otherwise the Blackbirds will get them first. Our plums, Marjorie Seedlings, are ripening but very prone to mould. Pears are falling from the old tree, often smashing on the pathway. Unfortunately they are far too high to pick. The little Conference pear is very heavy with fruit, the limbs bent over alarmingly. The Doyenne du Comice pears have a reasonable crop. They are supposed to be cropped at the end of October but they cannot be far from ready to pick now. The potatoes have all been dug now. It was not a good crop, the long dry spell affected the first earlies especially badly. The tops have been taken off the Callaloo and the leaves frozen. The plants should sprout again and give another crop. Tomatoes are ripening in good numbers now. The little Green Grape variety which are grown in troughs by the summerhouse are now turning a delicate green-yellow. I have weeded the Chinese greens and they seem to be developing well. There are also a fair number of little carrot sprouts where the seed was broadcast over an area. Leeks are looking good, they can be transplanted into their final bed now the potatoes are out. Runner beans are still producing but the French, Borlotti and Polish beans are finished. Pods have been left for the beans to develop which then can be dried.
Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – As I get to the gate from the car park, four yapping miniature collies set off several other dogs and cacophony reigns. Fortunately, they soon depart and peace returns. A Robin sings. The sky is a glaring grey. Blackberries are in all stages of ripeness, from tight green to voluptuous black. A telegraph pole lays the meadow, ready to replace one that has cracks all up its length. It is warm and humid. A Great Tit calls and another Robin is song whilst yet another is ticking in alarm. Red Bartsia is in flower, providing a treat for bees. (I seem to have a block on remembering the name of Red Bartsia and I defy anyone to recognise it from the standard Fitter, Fitter and Blaney field guide!) A Green Woodpecker yaffles as it passes along the lakeside trees. Agrimony and Great Willowherb have just a few flowers left at the top their stems.
The lake is almost silent, due in main to the absence of Canada Geese. The grass at the western end is being strimmed which may account for the paucity of wildfowl. A few Mallard and Tufted Duck are around the water. A Mute Swan and three cygnets are on the far side. A Great Crested Grebe pops up. Just two Cormorants are in the trees. The Purple Loosestrife is coming to the end of its flowering on the scrape. A Moorhen appears from the reed bed. A juvenile Great Crested Grebe is on the far side. Most of the duck are still in eclipse. There are no flowers on the bank now, just numerous brown seed heads. A Common Buzzard sits on a fence post in the old deer park. This bird has a creamy breast and underparts.
Into the dessert apple orchard where I check a few apples. Most are still quite astringent. These I throw to the sheep that come running as soon as I start to pick the fruit.
Wednesday – Ysbyty Cynfyn – The church of St John was built in the early 19th century but there was at least one other previously on this site. It is believed that the stone for this church came from the demolition of an even older one in a more remote place. This building was rebuilt or extended in 1827 according to a panel above the entrance door, which shows the church had a small gallery at the back which was removed at a later date, it also explains that more seats were added and that some of these were free. It is believed that a hospitium (Ysbyty) was located here for people travelling to the Cistercian Abbey at Strata Florida, mainly on route from Llanbadarn with whom this church had very strong past links. Food, a bed and medical care were provided if needed. It is possible that the Knights of St John the Hospitallers were responsible for this travellers resting place. It also became the centre of worship for the shepherds of the surrounding hills as well as a resting place.
The church consists of three-bay nave and chancel, south porch and single west bellcote. The internal walls are white with the arms of the major religious centres of Wales painted on them. Above the altar are the Ten Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer in Welsh painted on boards. The church has two fonts, one later nineteenth century octagonal one of Bath Stone, the other an extraordinary 19th century wooden font, possibly an exhibition piece of around 1850-60, which has an octagonal wooden bowl with boxwood pointed panels in surrounds with crockets and column shafts and an octagonal base with eight scroll feet with lion heads. Inside is a papier-mâché shallow dish. The font cover is flat with delicate relief stippling and a centre handle of a figure carrying a cross entwined with a snake and acanthus finial. The church was restored in 1910, at which time the external cement render was added. It was close to many ore mines, especially Temple mine located in the deep Rheidol gorge behind the building. The church was famous for its games and an annual athletics contest.
There are three (or five depending on whom one asks) monoliths, first recorded in 1833, in the graveyard walls. There is dispute as to whether they are the remains of a stone circle or of a 19th century folly. Nearby is a round well by the wall of a building of Temple Farm.
Devil’s Bridge – Pontarfynach in Welsh is a village named after the bridge that spans the Afon Mynach, a tributary of the Afon Rheidol. The bridge is actually three bridges, built on top of one another. The top one was constructed in 1901 in cast iron, the middle one in 1753, upgraded in 1777 and again in 1814, the lowest bridge is mediaeval, probably built by the monks of Strata Florida. There is the old tale (the same as in Clun in Shropshire and many other bridges) regarding an old woman fooling the devil, who is going to claim the first soul crossing the bridge, by sending her dog across first, giving the bridge its name. Below the bridge the Afon Mynach plunges down some 300 feet over five falls. A path descends down steps, including the one hundred steep slate steps of Jacob’s Ladder. The slate is Silurian Devil’s Bridge Formation, 433 to 444 million years old. All the way down are wonderful views of crashing water. The hills are thickly wooded largely with Sessile Oak. Across the valley, around the slope of the Rheidol valley is a narrow gauge steam engine pulling a set of coaches. The Rheidol Vale Railway runs from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. It was built under the direction of Sir James Szlumper, opening in 1901. It carried lead from mines in the surrounding the hills and timber. It passed into the ownership of the GWR and then British Railways, being their last steam powered line and only narrow gauge railway until privatised in 1989.
A metal bridge crosses the river, which is some way below, shortly before it joins the Afon Rheidol. There is then a climb of over three hundred steps back up to Hafod, a hotel in the edge of the village. The hotel was originally a hunting lodge for the Hafod Uchtryd estate of Thomas Johnes of Croft Castle. The estate was one of the finest Picturesque landscapes in the country. His mansion, several miles away, was originally built in 1795 but was destroyed by fire in 1807. It was rebuilt and passed through a number of owners before being abandoned in 1946. It was demolished in 1958. The hotel, built in 1787 was enlarged and converted into a Swiss style château in 1839 by the third Duke of Newcastle and Sir Henry Houghton.
It starts to rain so we decide to head to Aberystwyth as the sky seems lighter in that direction. This is a mistake as the rain gets heavier as we walk through the town. Down to the seafront which is still blocked because of the demolition of a hotel badly damaged by arson. We give up and retreat to the car, dripping wet. We then drive to the George Borrow hotel in Ponterwyd where we are staying the night. It was originally called the Gogerddan Arms but was renamed after the famous author of Wild Wales, published in 1862, following his tour of Wales in 1854. It was the meeting place of the Oddfellows, Gogerddan Lodge, established or first registered in 1874. of the hotel, Borrow wrote:-
I followed and found myself in a spacious and comfortable-looking kitchen: a large fire blazed in a huge grate, on one side of which was a settle; plenty of culinary utensils, both pewter and copper, hung around on the walls, and several goodly rows of hams and sides of bacon were suspended from the roof. There were several people present, some on the settle and others on chairs in the vicinity of the fire.
The hotel stands high above the Afon Rheidol valley. A sign in the garden warns of a 200 foot drop over the wall but the rain prevents investigation. It continues to rain heavily into the night.
Thursday – Ponterwyd – The rain has stopped and we are able to peer over the wall behind the hotel and down into a deep gorge where the Afon Llywernog crashes down an outcrop of Silurian Denwenlas Formation mudstone and joins the Afon Rheidol which is flowing down a bed of Cwmere Formation mudstone of the same era. Beyond, the land rises to Bryn Brâs which is emerging from the mists in the morning sunshine. Our plan is to head north out of the village to the Dinas Reservoir but it appears the roads are closed, so we head back eastwards.
Rhayader, Rhaedr Gwy – We stop in this town where we have visited briefly on a number of occasions. From Brightwells car park we head round to the church of St Clement. A church dedicated to St Cynllo which was recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis in his perambulations around the country. How the dedication changed is unknown, maybe by order of a local house of Black Friars or maybe travellers had misheard St Cynllo and assumed the speaker meant the better known St Clement. That church collapsed in 1772. Only the 12th century font remains from that church. It was rebuilt with a tower being added in 1783. The church was entirely rebuilt by S. W. Williams of Rhayader starting in 1887. In 1897 the north aisle was added and in the early 20th century a new sanctuary was added which included a place for the organ (a late Victorian instrument by Alfred Kirkland of London), choir stalls and altar. Part of the north aisle was dedicated to St David in 2003. There are some fine tiles behind the altar. The pulpit is in Portland stone. The glass is all late Victorian or 20th century. A bequest was left to install a peal of eight bells but it was insufficient, so an electronic version was installed, believed to be of the bells of Canterbury! In the churchyard, near the west tower, is a large railed enclosure marking the site of a mass grave discovered during construction of the tower. The dead are thought to have been the garrison of Rhayader Castle who were all slaughtered by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth when he captured the castle in 1231. One of the skeletons had an enormous thigh bone measured at over a metre in length leading to the name, The Giant’s Grave.
Down Church Street, past the Eagles Inn, purporting to date from 1597. Nearby is the Bethany Presbyterian Methodist church, founded in 1822 and rebuilt in 1867. Castle Road leads to the site of the castle which stood on natural crag overlooking the Wye, and is defended on the north and east by rock-cut ditches with a causeway on the north-east which still provides access today. Little remains. Any trace of a bailey has been lost below housing. The castle was built by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth, in 1177 and was rebuilt by him in 1194, but fell to Maelgwn and Hywel, sons of Cadwallon ap Madog of Maelienydd. They lost it to Roger Mortimer in 1200, but it was regained by the Lord Rhys in 1202. It was stormed and destroyed in 1231 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd. The site was probably disused by the early 14th century; by the 16th century Leland was unaware of any castle here. This history is complicated by the fact there was another castle on the west bank of the Wye in Commote Dewdr and it has been postulated it was this castle that was built by Lord Rhys and the site we are looking at was built by the Mortimers.
We continue down Church Street to West Street. Opposite the junction is the old Police Station and Magistrates Court built around 1870, possibly by S W Williams of Rhayader in the style of Pritchard and Seddon. Along West Street is the Tabernacle Congregational Chapel, originally built in 1721 and rebuilt in 1836, by T Hope, architect. A group of early 19th century houses stands on the junction of a lane. We are now in Llansantaffraed Cwmdeuddwr. The lane leads to a large green by the river. This was a fording site for the drovers bringing large flocks and herds of animals to the English markets. The Triangle pub is a triangular building, once called the Tafarn y Rhyd. It also claims to be 16th century and given it was on the monks’ route between Abbey Cwm Hir and Strata Florida and the drovers’ trail, it is entirely possible. Nearby is the entrance to the churchyard of St Bride standing by the old School (1794-1978).
This is an ancient site with a formerly circular graveyard, later extended. It is said that Rhys ap Gruffydd met his court here in 1144 to found the Cistercian monastery of Strata Florida. Churches stood here dedicated to St Winifred and St Bridget. This building was a complete rebuilt by F R Kempson, architect, consecrated 26th October 1865. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached here in 1746. By the door is a 12th century stoup with carved heads, found in a wall on Neuadd farm. It is allegedly from Capel Madog but is more likely to have come from the old church here. Inside there is a nave, choir, chancel and south aisle. The nave and chancel are separated by a wrought iron screen with a central arch, three arches to each side and low gates. Th