December 2013

Monday – Shobdon – Out of the village westwards past Pearl Lake Caravan Park. The sound of beating swan’s wings comes from behind the woods where the lake is situated. Robins sing in the woodland, Cockshoot Plantation. The countryside opens up into fields of sheep or in one field, sheep, horses and a goat with horns askew. This is the starting point of another Winter Thrush Survey area. Four Redwings alight atop a large Oak near Old Decoy Rough. Belgate Lane heads northwards past Belgate Farm. There is another set of buildings called Belgate Farm some way to the north of this spot. The farm here does not appear on the 1983 OS maps, so is a modern development. Ring-necked Pheasants scurry across the fields. Yet more Robins are singing. On up the lane. A tall wooden fence of closely fitted planks stands across the entrance to an old gravel pit, although there is little sign of any pit, just a tall, tree covered mound. The pit was called The Old Gravel Pit in 1886 so is of some age. Redwings and Fieldfares sit at the top of trees. Another tree is host to flocks of Starlings and finches. A large flock of Rooks rises from a distant field. Back down the lane. A Mallard erupts from a pond and off across the fields whilst a Pied Wagtail searches the mud for food. A large flock of Carrion Crows are in the trees outside the farm. A Dunnock sings in the roadside hedgerow and Chaffinches watch from the trees. The sound of frequent gunfire comes from Old Decoy Rough.

Thursday – Knighton-Llangunllo – Up the south side is the valley in which Knighton lies to join the Glyndŵr trail around Garth Hill. Across the valley the hills are grey-brown with blocks of dark green. Jackdaws dance in the blustery wind; a wind that is causing damage and tide surges to the north and east of Britain. The track is being stabilised with a membrane and chippings. Our brave dog balks at passing a small machine that is transporting the chippings. The track is Loorunning through woodland. The trees are mainly bare and clumps of sticks indicate Magpie and other corvid nests. Great Tits and Chaffinches chase through the smaller branches and a noisy Nuthatch scurries along a large Oak limb. The track joins a narrow lane which drops down into a valley and then a smaller lane, Cwmgilla Lane which climbs westwards up the hill past a farm at Little Cwm-gilla. The old wooden barn has collapsed at one end. The wind is rising even more and the sky looks grey and angry, which is worrying as it was supposed to be dry and bright today despite the gale. The lane reaches Ebrandy Cottage and turns to Brandy Hall according to the sign, however, Ebrandy is the correct spelling. The hall, which can be seen from a little further up the track, is a mid 19th century farm house but there is an older, post-mediaeval aisled barn in the range of buildings.

The way continues ahead in a grassy track. In places the track has worn down to the bedrock, tilted mudstone. The track eventually stops climbing; it is one of those paths that keep reaching what looks like the top but it merely levels for a few yards then starts climbing again. Across a field where the wind is ferocious, it stops me in my tracks on several occasions. This is hard country, several sheep corpses, picked clean litter the field and a dead fox, already partly eviscerated lies by a fence. Fieldfares cross the hilltop. Across the top of Downes’s Dingle created by a stream sourced by a pond. The Glyndŵr Way continues through the rolling hills and the wind just blows and blows. A small stone building in the middle of a field looks like a toilet! The path crosses another footpath and then starts to drop. Down an old sunken track which gives welcome relief from the wind. A large disused quarry lies up the hill, now used as a rally car training school. Across Cuckoo Meadow into a valley to Cefn-Suran farm. A Common Buzzard flies off across the fields, Fourteen Acres and Cloggie Field. Finally the path drops down past more disused quarries to the River Lugg and the village of Llangunlo.

The Parish Church of St Cynllo stands up the hill. The church dates from the 13th Llangunllocentury but had a major rebuilding in 1878, undertaken by John Middleton, a country architect originally from Yorkshire. The tower, which had a foundation stone marked 1687, was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century Memorialand has four bells, including one of 1614. A three-light window is behind the altar depicting the crucifixion in the centre, the anointing of Jesus’ feet and suffer the children to each side. Most of the inscriptions have been moved to the west wall, including one to the son of James and Ann Meyrick who died at the age of seven weeks in 1730 and another son who at least got to the age of 24 years. Apparently, all the memorials here are not the fine marble they appear to be but painted wood. A Robin sings in the graveyard. Unfortunately the Greyhound Inn is closed at lunchtimes. A mobile Post Office stands at the cross-roads. Off along the road towards the station. Two Red Kites float on the wind high over the village. A few patches of blue have appeared in the sky and high clouds flow pale gold but below grey clouds are still racing southwards. Before the station a road turns back into the hills. It is a long gruelling climb up Fron-goch. Some small apples lie at the edge of the road. They have rolled down the steep bank but I am not sure which tree they came from. However, a single bite soon has the apple thrown away. It is quite acid yet sweet but with a rather nasty back-taste. Back into the howling wind although mercifully it is from behind now. A large flock of Fieldfares and even larger flock of Starlings cross the fields. Past Fountain Head, Upper Dolwickin and Bailey Hill. A pale rainbow appears ahead. The road meets the lane from Knucklas up the hill that brought me to my knees earlier in the year. Along past White Anthony Farm and down to the woods around Garth Hill again. It is now raining and it does not take long for the recently planed path through the woods to turn to slick mud.

Sunday – Leominster – It is a little later than usual as Maddy and I head down to the Millennium Park and the sky is beginning to lighten in the east despite the black clouds that brought overnight rain. The rest of the sky is clear and busy with space objects. Firstly is a rocket body from an Ariane 40 which launched from French Guiana on 7th July 1995 carrying a Spanish communications satellite. Next a rocket body from an Atlas V launched from Cape Canaveral on 15th July 1997 carrying a pair of naval signals intelligence satellites. This rocket’s upper stage shut down early placing the satellites in a lower orbit than expected. Finally a tank from a Briz-M upper stage launched from the Balkonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 11th December 2006 carrying the AMOS-5 (Spacecom) and Luch-5A statellite. Down to earth, Tawny Owls are busy calling over the other side of the River Lugg, both a female and several males. After breakfast it is off to the market. The River Lugg is flowing quickly but not too deeply. The market is small, I always expect it to get bigger in the run up to Christmas but it does not. On the way back, seven Magpies disperse from the trees by the river carrying who knows what secret never to be told.


Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – It is mild for the season but the air feels cold and damp. The trees look grey and dormant. Squeaks and squawks come from the hedges. There is a vague mist over the lake. Several Mallard and a Grey Heron fly from the scrape when the hide window is opened. A couple Otterof Teal remain. The heron returns after a few minutes. The lake is quiet. A few Goldeneye are scattered about and some Coot but little else. Suddenly the reeds move in front of the hide and two Otters bound out. They play fight and chase each other to and fro across a small patch of weed covered mud. In and out of the reed bed and sometimes ripples can be seen expanding away on the far side, then they are back again. One head appears in the water briefly and then there are two Otters playing and a third eating a small fish. A Green Woodpecker flies past. The Grey Heron is fishing and gulps down something small. The Otters are back into the reed bed and their progress can be followed by watching the reeds ripple as they pass through. Back in the cider orchard the final apples are falling and the same in the dessert apple orchard where the sheep have hoovered up all the windfalls. A quick shake of one of the few remaining trees with a crop causes a down-pouring of apples. I pick up a bagful and leave the rest to the sheep.


Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – An old pole or tree trunk rises beside the road opposite the junction of the Bodenham road. It is completely covered in Ivy and in the leaves on top is a Common Buzzard watching the adjoining field. Into the car park where Canada Geese can be heard in the east Otterslong before the two skeins appear. It is still grey, cold and damp with the added discomfort of a breeze. A Robin sings a short winter song. Carrion Crows call and tits squeak. A Song Thrush is standing on the edge of a water trough in the meadow splashing water over itself. A Jay and a pair of Bullfinches are in the lakeside trees. Wigeon and Canada Geese are around the scrape. The three Otters are out in the water playing before swimming off in a line. It is easy to see how they could be mistaken for a single, far larger creature. A couple of Teal, Moorhens and Coot are also in the scrape and a pair of Goldeneye are on the far side of the lake. Suddenly the Canada Geese all take off causing consternation to the Moorhens who are in the middle of the maelstrom of wings. Two female Wigeon are fighting whilst the males look on. A few Tufted Duck are at the western end of the lake and there is just a single Cormorant in the trees. A large flock of Wood Pigeons alight in trees on the far side of the water before dropping down into the fields beyond. A small flock of Mallard drop into the western end. A Goosander appears on the far side. Mistle Thrushes call their rasping alarms in the orchard. Yesterday’s fallen apples have all been eaten by the sheep but there are hundreds more under an old tree untouched – very odd!

Friday – Radnor Forest – It is nearly 9 o’clock and the sky is just beginning to lighten. And it is a strange unnatural light, a corpselight. House Sparrows chatter and Starlings burble in New Radnor. Up the road to Mutton Dingle. Dead leaves are everywhere even on the stones in the Sheepstream. The hills are covered in mist and there is rain in the air. A Common Buzzard flies down the dingle and a cock crows. A breeze has sprung up. All the sheep have been taken off Cwm Broadwell but there are still plenty on Knowle Hill. It starts to rain. Views from the plantation are minimal, a grey curtain hangs across the fields and a river of mist flows up the valley. Carrion Crows call invisibly from the hillside. It is getting gloomier again. Maddy decides to demonstrate the dispersal technique of Burdock by getting half a dozen burs stuck in her coat. I follow the track round the flank of Bache Hill. This is walking for walking’s sake. It is grey, wet and dull, visibility is reduced to a few tens of yards and what vegetation can be seen is dead or dying. I wistfully recall sitting on the now invisible nearby Bronze Age barrow last summer in warm sunshine, surrounded by purple heather, watching the scenery below. I am surprised to see what looks like a piece of weathered red and white marble beside the track, but rubbing a finger in it and tasting reveals it as a salt lick. Cock Chaffinches with pink breasts seem out of place on a barbed wire fence in the mist. Past Stanlo Tump and into another Forestry Commission plantation. The wind is stronger and sighs through the trees. Mist blows up out of Cwm Mawr like smoke. I had intended to follows the valley round to the small settlement of Cwm Mawr and then across Glastir and up to Black Mixen but the wind and rain in my face have literally dampened my enthusiasm and I cut across the moor and down the Ystal Bach Brook valley. By the time I reach Cwm Broadwell again the wind has cleared the low cloud and mist.

Saturday – Leominster – A cool morning. The sky is partially clear before dawn and several meteorites flash over. They are the Geminid shower caused by the object 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be a Palladian asteroid in a rock comet orbit. The Palladians are asteroids in the intermediate asteroid belt. Robins are already competing in song with several singing males scattered around the churchyard. The Christmas season is well under way with both the Farmers’ Market and a Victorian street market being held in the town. I buy some Tudge’s sausage meat for my Christmas sausage rolls. The street market is busy which is encouraging. We buy a print of Red Kites at a very modest price. A stall is selling onion bhaji scotch eggs which sound delicious (and fattening) but we are going to have lunch in the Grapes so we restrain ourselves. A barrel organ is being operated by a toy monkey which talks to the surprised children. The operator stands across the street with a radio microphone, most amusing to watch. Santa passes in a bubble-car!

Monday – Croft – It is grey and overcast with a breeze rustling the fallen Beech leaves. The paths are wet and slippery. The Environment Agency and a tree surgeon are in the Fish Pool Valley, I hope it is not Ash die-back they are here for. Bird song is a few cheeps and whistles. The steep bank on the far side of the valley is still dotted with fine specimens of fern. I am hot climbing the hill to Leinthall Common, it is very mild for December. A Raven makes a strange yelping call and flies off. Nuthatches chatter. The path down from Croft Ambrey is slippery and I suppose it will stay this way for some months now. Over the years I have grown increasingly disenchanted with grey, damp winter days. It takes all types of weather to make up the seasons and they should all be accommodated but somehow there just seems too many days like today. Again, Maddy goes to wash off in the pond with only a minimum of encouragement. It begins to rain.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another grey, damp and cool morning. A wind is building; the weather forecast is promising storms. Canada Geese, Mallard and Moorhens frequent the scrape. There is little else here, no Wigeon surprisingly. A Grey Heron hunches down on the island. The Canada Geese are restless, drifting away from the scrape. A Cormorant