Ramblings

December 2014


Rook

Tuesday – Leominster-West End – A cold blustery morning. The sun is trying to break through as we head for the M4 motorway. We pull into Membury service station. Rooks are standing by cars in the car park hunched against the wind. Their heads are uniform black as their eyes blend in with their black feathers. The white patch on their faces hold a vicious looking bill. They have learned it is easier to wait for crumbs than stand in a cold field seeking leather jacket and other pests. Clearly people throw food to them out of their windows as one is standing by our car staring at me sitting in the car. We see nearly a dozen Red Kite between Membury and Reading – if all the raptors we see are actually Red Kites, and it can be difficult to be sure at 60mph then they must have had a good year. We even spot one over the Bracknell Forest which is a long way east of their previous range. Later Joan tells us that there are a pair in the West End and Lightwater area sometimes sitting in the trees opposite their home.

Friday – Brampton Bryan – The temperature is barely above freezing and it is damp although the earlier drizzle has stopped. A bridleway onto the Harley estate passes the cricket pitch and rather splendid pavilion. Past a cottage and through a gate with an ingenious double latch. GateInto Brampton Bryan Park, an old deer park recorded in 1577 but probably considerably older. Carrion Crows are numerous on the fields beside Park Meadow. Nuthatches call from the Oak trees. The sun makes an appearance. The church bells of Brampton Bryan ring out across the fields. A chain of ponds created in the first half of the 19th century by the damming of Whittings Brook, lay at the edge of the drive. The road runs round to the entrance of the grounds of an ornate and substantial house, Park Cottage, a 19th century lodge built on or very near an older lodge mentioned in 1661. The bridleway heads off across the park. There are some very old trees here. The sheep are clearly this year’s lambs as their fleeces are still near pristine. Common Buzzards circle above. Pheasants croak from the Larch woodland to the west. As well as the fine Oaks there are also several beautiful Cedars. The path climbs a steep hill. The park was despoiled in the Civil War and much damaged by the great storm of 1658 (which coincided with Oliver Cromwell’s death). The Fungisun is hidden again and the sky is darkening. A clump of waxcaps fungi, Scarlet Hood, Hygrocybe coccinea, which are an intense scarlet as the name suggests, are by the path. Blue Tits and Goldcrests feed in old Silver Birches. Fallen trees host numerous fungi. The dark grey caps of Bonnet Mycena, Mycena galericulata; Glistening Ink Cap, Coprinus micaceus; Birch Polypore, Piptoporus betulinus; Tawny Funnel Cap, Clitocybe flaccida. Through a gate into a conifer plantation. The land opens out into Heathy Park, possibly the new park recorded in 1625 and the summit of the hill. To the west lies Stanage Park and Park Bank Wood. Onto a track through young conifers. A sheep is in total panic as I approach, it has its head through a square mesh fence and got stuck. It eventually pulls itself free and gallops over to the rest of the flock and seems to be telling another about its adventure. A flock of Redwings and a Raven fly off. A large flock of Chaffinches with Great and Blue Tits are in the trees. The path begins to descend past some old gnarly Sweet Chestnut trees. The trail leaves Pedwardine Wood and follows a sunken greenway down to Boresford Farm where I was last week. Along to Birtley and on towards the main road. A cottage has been abandoned and the roof is going, a sad waste. The sun is out again. A lane heads north to Brampton Bryan. A flock of Carrion Crows and Jackdaws search stubble. It seems strange there are no Rooks present. Two farms of Upper and Lower Pedwardine both have mottes associated with them and the former has a deserted mediaeval village behind it. There is no public access to either although the substantial earthworks can be seen from the road at Upper Pedwardine. This is probably a late 12th to mid 13th century castle site. Much has been robbed out and damaged. Vestiges of a round pigeon house and spring fed waterworks can be discerned from aerial photographs. A cattle shed built into the mound has robust stone foundations, possibly relating to the castle. Lower Pedwardine was almost certainly a timber fort although there are some stone footings which may indicate a stone tower. The road continues into Brampton Bryan.

Tuesday – Home – If Red Sky in the Morning – Shepherds’ Warning is to be believed then we must be on full alert. The dawn sky blazes as the sun rises. Jackdaws are becoming a real nuisance around the feeders. I have stopped filling the peanut feeder as they empty it in a few hours, both expensive and pointless for the Blue, Great and Coal Tits as they do not get a look in. The Jackdaws are now hanging onto the seed feeder with much flapping and emptying that. Some feeders are in large metal cages, that is what I will have to obtain I guess.

Hereford – The city centre looks less inviting every time we visit. The new shopping complex on the old livestock market site has dragged the big stores out of the centre, and many people with them. Empty shops sit in High Town. Down Eign Street there are now four Polish food shops, which are at least adding some variety to the cheap stuff stores and the charity shops. Back to garden centre at Wellington where a Robin is singing on a post amongst the Christmas trees. Inside, House Sparrows and Blackbirds hang around the bird food area hoping for spillage.

Wednesday – Presteigne-Willey – Through the town. Clouds are building after a clear, blue dawn. Past Cromwell Cottage and Lodge, a late 16th century house, another place that The Lord Protector managed a freebie? Harford House is a late 16th century house, birthplace in 1764 of Sir Harford Jones-Brydges He entered the service of the East India Company and was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister Radnor Buildingsplenipotentiary to the court of Persia, where he remained four years from 1807 to 1811. Radnor Buildings is a row of shops with an quite unusual frontage. The building may be fairly old but the frontage is a colourful display of tiles and painted plaster reliefs of pots of sunflowers, thought to be dated around 1895 and clearly Arts and Crafts influenced. Down Broad Street to the old Lugg Bridge. On up towards the town cemetery. A Common Buzzard circles the fields in which winter thrushes feed. Great Tits fly out of the Holly trees at the cemetery. Blackbirds mutter within and a Dunnock slips quietly into the hedge. The road divides and my route turns towards Stapleton. Blue Tits, Blackbirds and a House Sparrow are in a budding Magnolia at Pear Tree Cottage. The ruins of Stapleton Castle stand bare high on a prominence above the road. A Bullfinch flashes past and a Jay stands on the castle hill slope. Up Stapleton Hill and off into Stapleton Woods, managed by the Forestry Commission. A strong wind clatters the branches of Ash saplings. A rapid cyclogenesis, or deep low pressure system – known colloquially as a weather bomb, is said to be moving slowly eastwards between Scotland and Iceland. The track passes over a stream and on into Hangman’s Acre. A footpath emerges from the left and should continue to the right of the track up the hill, but there is no sign of it. On up the track which swings around to the south beside Wern Gay, heading the wrong direction. So back to a turning space in the track where the vestiges of a track leads up the hill. Over the years I have taken too many paths like this which end up in thickets or difficult climbs but I never learn, so off I go. Ancient OakThe path is an old track which then turns into a fairly well worn path through Hackley Wood. I spend a few moments removing a fallen Silver Birch sapling which is blocking the path. Shortly the path comes to a stile into a wooded pasture, so the right path! Off the path to climb up to the edge of a rapeseed oil field to look across at Hell Peak. An odd name – it has been suggested there are crop marks that may indicate a hill-fort although none is registered, however, it may have been an old meeting place leading to the name hel, Welsh for gathering. Back to the path and over the hill to Willey Hall. Willey is a Saxon word for willow but there are few here now. However, a Fieldfare is in an ancient Oak, leaning over a pond, which is reportedly the third oldest Oak in Herefordshire. A pair of farm dogs get me, one barking continually whilst wagging his trail furiously. The hall seems to be on a mound with ramparts to the north. Down the hill and across a very slippery footbridge whose hand rail has collapsed. The path into a wood lies between a route of Holly to one side and Hazel to the other. Broken Hazel nuts lie scattered across the path. The path emerges onto a freshly resurfaced track by a recently excavated quarry. On round a hill called The Globe on the track past a couple of dark green ponds. A second loud boom comes from the south, a sonic boom or quarrying? The right of way leaves the track down some rotting, moss-covered steps which are even more fun as part of the handrail has collapsed as before. Down into a valley. Red Kites and Ravens are overhead. A footbridge crosses a stream. An oldish sluice was built below the bridge but the gate has gone and one of the concrete retainers is falling over. Up a grassy hill. The path joins a lane near Pant Hall, a blue rendered house. Back down the lane towards Stapleton. The road has been resurfaced, but only in parts, which seems odd, if the machinery and men come all the way out here, why not do it all? A few spots of colour in the hedgerows are the necklaces of red berries of Bryony. There are now some seriously strong gusts of wind and more cloud is moving in from the west. The lane passes to the east of Hell Peak. Back near the cemetery, a Kestrel sits on wires, its tail in constant motion to keep its head still in the now quite violent wind. A Mistle Thrush is nearby seemingly watching the falcon. It is now raining and a rainbow arcs across Stapleton. Route

Friday – Leominster-Pudleston – After a night of heavy rain, the skies remain leaden but the fierce winds have departed. The Kenwater is flowing fast and muddy. Wood Pigeons coo from the trees by the Broad Street car park. A Robin is singing. At Ridgemoor Bridge the Lugg is also high and muddy, a grey-brown colour whilst Cheaton Brook flows in red-brown. A silver D47 locomotive races north whilst a South Wales bound passenger train heads towards the station. The sun breaks through low to the south. Lorries from all over the country rumble past the entrance to the drive to Eaton Hill. A C-130 military aircraft roars over just a few hundred feet up. Hay Lane leads up to Ridgeway, where there are a number of houses and Ridgeway Farm. Back down Hay Lane and onto a footpath beside a field of winter cereal. Redwings explode out of the Brockmanton CourtHawthorn hedge. It is getting darker and rain is coming, on with the wet gear. The path crosses the brook and continues along a field next to the russet coloured water. A flock of finches flies over but declines to alight in the waterside Alders and disappears across the fields. Sheep are watching from the neighbouring meadow. A bitter north wind is now making my cheeks ache. Moles have been active here with numerous red soil mounds in lines across the pasture. Up the side of another field and over a stile onto the lane between Stockton Cross and Stretford. Behind, low cloud sits on the distant hills. The rain I had expected has yet to materialise. The lane heads south past Docklow Slade and on past the vast cider orchard I walked through in October 2008. Eaton Hill lays in the opposite direction. On past Widgeon Hill Farm and Pattys Cross, where it has been suggested a cross once stood. Nuthatches call at Colaba Lodge. The house was was occupied in the early 19th century by the Kinnersley family, Major-General Kinnersley was late of the Bombay Army and Colaba is a district of that city. Much earlier human presence is evidenced by the finding of a flint tool from the Neolithic. It is now known for long-horned cattle. Opposite is a holiday village, seems a strange place in the middle of the fields. A small bridge crosses Holly Brook.

At a crossroads I turn eastwards. Water pours off the fields and down the road like a stream. Brock Hall is a fine Victorian house with octagonal towers to the front. A little way up the lane, Hennor Court looks older, a slightly odd mixture of Georgian and Victorian. On a little further a sign says Hennor with gate posts decorated with shields with a V hatch and three axes. The house, built in 1679 but much restored cannot be seen from the road. Charles Stevenson lived here in the mid 19th century. In 1855 he became a Captain in the Osmanli Irregular Cavalry and served in the Crimean War. Many hedgerows have thick coverings of Ivy, the berries of which are yet to ripen, but will provide a welcome deep winter food source Churchfor the birds. Round several bends as the road drops down to a bridge over Whyle Brook which flows through a large orchard where a good number of new trees have been planted. The lane climbs to Brockmanton past the Keeper’s House and Brockmanton Court, a fine looking black-and-white timber-framed building from the 16th and 17th centuries with later additions. The manor was in the hands of Roger de Lacy at Domesday and the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for the badger. The road bends past the Hall. The Nunnery is a vast house in a slight drop to the south of the lane. It looks early 20th century, maps of the 19th century show a small cottage still called The Nunnery. The lane continues to climb past some open woodland out of which three Common Buzzards fly, one being seriously harassed by a pair of dive-bombing Carrion Crows. The lane starts to drop down to Pudleston. A Grey Heron stands in the middle of a sheep field. A bridge crosses Whyle Brook which flows fast and noisily. St Peter’s Church of Pudleston-cum-Whyle is a small Norman church. Pevsner calls the tower a mystery as there are Anglo-Saxon elements about the windows, although the one that faces into the nave is typically Norman. The whole is certainly 12th century, with the nave being rebuilt in 1813. There was once an arch between the chancel and nave but now there are just the corbels, one a man and the other a boy with a feather in his cap. There is here a fine oak screen surmounted by a large cross. The floor of the chancel is made of encaustic tiles. The reredos is Victorian, carved from Caen stone and presented by Revd George Walker in memory of his wife who died in 1864. In the north Old Oaksaisle are two stained glass windows depicting the apostles. A west window is dedicated to a member of the Chadwick family of Pudleston Court. By the door is a Victorian octagonal font with an elaborate oak cover. The place is busy. Outside workmen are digging out grass that has grown over the edges of the path and inside two chaps are decorating the building for the Christmas carol service on Sunday. Beyond the church is a meadow leading down to a large lake belonging to Pudleston Court, a large, Tudor-Gothic house built in 1846, hidden by woods. The lake, a former fish pond, was probably dug in the 18th century by the Duppa family who had an earlier house on the same site. Two ancient Oaks stand in the meadow. I share my apple with a fat, hairy pig, a kuhnkuhn I presume.

A lane heads north out of the village past the Village hall, formerly the school which had 25 pupils around 1846 under the tutelage of Miss Louisa Wontner. Up a hill, far across the fields the village of Clee lays scattered across the slopes of Titterstone Clee. Whyle is a village with an odd layout around a square of roads. A road leads off each corner of the square and a farm, known for its organic lamb, lays on its inside. To the north is Lower Whyle, a large 17th century farmhouse. West towards Bach. A cloud of gnats hovers in my face. Past Whyle Mill, the water wheel now gone but the building is still clearly an old mill. Whyle Brook, like the others around here is running fast and red. The road is clearly lightly used and it comes as no great surprise to find it is gated. It meets the Bach road just before the hill fort. I head up the road away from the fort. The sky is now blue above and the clouds have headed south but the wind remains very keen. Past Brook Farm and down a lane that states it is unsuitable for motor vehicles. The lane runs up the stream through a ford. Fortunately I can walk along the bank as the water is deeper than usual. Suddenly a Tawny Owl flies up into a tree in front of me and sits there staring whilst ignoring the furious Blackbirds and Mistle Thrush. As soon as I move it is off, chased by its tormentors. Up out of the little valley into Lower Bach. Off down the road to Stockton. A Wood Pigeon flops out of a hedge onto the road then departs rapidly leaving a deposit. I had intended heading for the pub in Stockton but decide to push on for home along the fields I traversed on the way out. I am amused by an animal transporter parked in the Ridgemoor service station with the inscription on the back, Simply The Beast. The lorry comes from Bo’ness near Falkirk in Scotland! Route

Saturday – Home – Everywhere is pale with frost. I regret not covering the Chinese greens in the vegetable bed as a fat Wood Pigeon rises from them. The pak choi are severely nibbled. The bird feeder is filled with some better quality seed then usual, no wheat. It soon attracts a Nuthatch, the first seen for a while. It is a messy feeder, spraying seed everywhere as it picks out the choice nuts it is seeking. The spillage is not wasted though, Spotty the Blackbird is happily hoovering it below. The Blackbird has white spots on its head. I have commented before that we do not know if it is the same one that has been around here for several years or the offspring of an earlier bird with this feather pattern. Some call it partial albinism although the BTO discourage this as albinism is a specific condition which results in the affected creature having no melanin at all. Unfortunately, the Jackdaws turn up. One stands on top of the feeder so nothing else approaches until I scare it off. Then House Sparrows and Blue Tits return but they all give way to the returning Nuthatch.

Leominster – Into the town centre for the Victorian Market. The Farmers’ market is in Corn Square, a few extra stalls this month. The main market is in Broad Street. The usual collection of stalls are present. Local Morris Men leap and crash their sticks together accompanied by the accordion. Various townsfolk have donned Victorian garb. At the end of the market is a model monkey operating a hurdy gurdy. There is a speaker in the set-up and a young man stands on the other side of the street operating the monkey and speaking so it appears the monkey is talking. Children love it!

Home – Out into the garden at 10pm to see if there are any meteorites as it is the weekend of the Geminid showers. The sky is entirely clouded over. I awake at three in the morning and peer out of the window. Some stars are shining through broken, high-level cloud. Jupiter is bright, shining through the thin cloud that is slowly clearing. A brief flash in the south is the first Geminid, followed a few minutes later by a longer, brighter streak.

Monday – Mortimer Forest – It seems an age since I was last here, but I am surprised to look back and discover it was as long ago as May. Bright sunshine lights the trees. A conifer sports copper-coloured cones against a rich green velvety background. The path has been gravelled since I was last here. Blue Tits churr. A Raven barks. Up past the Iron Age enclosure and off along the track. The woods are quiet, just squeaks and whistles. Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits move through the trees rapidly and in good numbers. Blackbirds frequent the paths and open spaces between the dead bracken. Along to Peeler Pond and then up the steep slope to High Vinnalls. It has clouded over now. As the path rises a slight mistiness lays between the trees. There is also a haziness over the land when the path emerges above the plantations. Cloud lays on the southern slopes of Titterstone Clee and completely envelopes Brown Clee. It is trying to rain. To the south the sun lights up the clouds over the hills beyond Hereford. Down the paths towards ponds. On the north slope of the Deer Park, a digger is cutting patches in the bracken on a previously cleared plantation. It has wheels at the back and stabilisers at the front and is moving across the hillside by pushing itself using its bucket. A couple of Piebald ponies are in the valley down to Batchcott.

Thursday – North Herefordshire – Gusty winds blew dried leaves around a damp ground. The sky is leaden. Across the Grange. Down The Priory and over the Kenwater. Along to Ridgemoor. I assume the ridge in question is Eaton Hill and a moor stretched across here to the north. Past a milestone marked Lemster 1 mile, Ludlow 10 miles, almost hidden in the roadside grass. A Cormorant flies south. I follow the main road, the A49. It is busy. It seems odd that a lorry of tree trunks heads north and a few minutes later a similar load heads south. A pair of Mute Swans, both cobs, fly over making slow progress against the wind. Into Stockton and up the Pateshall lane. A Milestonelarge flock of Redwings is feeding in a churned up field. The trees bordering the field are busy with Blue and Great Tits, Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Collared Doves, Wood Pigeons, Chaffinches and House Sparrows. Up Gravel Hill. It is very mild for December, I am sweltering in my winter wet gear. The Roman road runs along the ridge to the west. It comes from Branogenivm, now Lientwardine and passes through Blackwardine, Newent and on to Glevum, now Gloucester. A lane leads off to the hamlet of Pateshall, being sought by a Sainsburys delivery van. Delivery vans of both supermarkets and the couriers from on-line businesses are a more and more common sight. On past a mature cider orchard where the chatter of Fieldfares and rasping of Mistle Thrushes fills the air. It starts spitting rain again. A Common Pheasant flies up from the roadside with a flutter of wings and a squeaking like a rusty gate. Hillside Farm displays the Soil Association’s Organic Standard sign; it is known for herbs. The road reaches a T-junction and a right turn passes a black-and-white cottage, Cog Hall. This lane passes Little Weir, a relatively modern house where the Cogwell Brook meanders close to the road and comes to a crossroads and the left turn enters Hundred Lane. To the south of the lane are large modern cider orchards. To the north are meadows. A large Willow with numerous branches touching the ground grows at the far side of one of these meadows. Hundred House is a small hamlet spread over a wide area. The house called The Hundred itself looks like it has undergone extensive modernisation and enlargement. There was a Primitive Methodist chapel here, built late in 1905, but has now been demolished. The name is strange. A Hundred was one of the Saxon divisions of a place. The Hundred of Wolphy originally included the land up to Brimfield and down to Dinmore. It was called the Hundred of Leominster in Domesday. But I cannot see any connection between this and this tiny hamlet. Jackdaws occupy a tall Ash. A pair of Ravens fly over in right formation, croaking continuously.

Further on is another scattering of homes including Hundred Cottage. The lane joins the A49. It is an unpleasant walk into Ashton, not even the smallest of verges so I am hanging on to bushes on a bank to let thundering lorries pass. Ashton Court appears to be a number of timber-framed buildings infilled in brick and later buildings. A fine barn stands at the Memorialentrance. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is chipping nearby. Off down the lane towards Luston. A Yellowhammer sits on a hedge. Jackdaws chack. Past the Berrington estate and its Capability Brown parkland and into Moreton. The old school dates from 1905 and has a small lead covered cupola on its roof. Over Crossbrook which appears to rise on Bircher Common and runs down through here to Portley Moor where it becomes the Main Ditch before entering the Lugg. The lane enters the village of Eye. Eye Manor was built in 1673 for Ferdinando Gorges, a Barbados sugar and slave trader known as the King of the Black Market. It has been extensively added to and is unexceptional on the outside but apparently it is, according to Pesvner, gorgeously enriched inside by plaster ceilings in nearly all rooms… garlands of almost detached fruit, flowers, and leaves, or leaf trails with little figures (e.g. cherubs, dogs, lion, cock, greyhound…). It was the birth place of Jeremy Sandford, the writer of the then controversial, play Cathy Come Home. His memorial plaque is in the adjoining churchyard. The church of SS Peter and Paul was originally dedicated to St Peter the Apostle. It was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The South Arcade is dated to 1190 and the North to 1220. It was refurbished by Gorges in 1681 and again in the 1870s when the tower was rebuilt. There is an unusual bronze memorial to Louisa Drinkwater Carver who died in 1949, on the wall. Two alabaster tombs lie in a side area of pews by the chancel. One is probably Sir Thomas Cornwalle, 1444-1500, although Pevsner favours Sir Rowland Cornwalle who died around 1520. The other is Sir Richard Cornwalle and his wife. A plaque designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield remembers the death of the three sons of Lord Cawley of Berrington Hall, who died in the Great War. Another plaque is in memory of his grandson John who was killed in the Second World War. In the graveyard many of the gravestones have eroded and are indecipherable. On into Luston. Through the village and of down the Eyton lane. The main road is more direct but not much fun for walkers. Past Lydiatts Farm where mistletoe in the orchard is almost white with berries. At The Broad is a corner plot and house where I often buy manure. It has a large duck pond. Under a low bridge is a small duck laying on its back, waving its legs in the air. I tap the fence to see if it will right itself and move off but no. So I ring the bell of the house and tell the occupant about the bird. He knows all about it and indicates he thinks it is a bit barmy. I often have to go and sort it out five times a day! Route

Church

Friday – Bradford-on-Avon – This delightful town is set in something of a gorge through which the River Avon flows. Most of the town centre buildings are constructed of the same honey-coloured stone as Bath. The Romans were present and the Saxons built around a ford across the river, giving the name of broad ford which became Bradford. The Normans built the bridge which still stands today, having been widened in the 17th century. We cross the bridge past a tiny bridge chapel which later became the town lockup. It is topped by a fish weather-vane known as The Bradford Gudgeon. The river provided the power for the woollen trade which enriched the town in the 17th and 18th centuries to the point that Defoe commented that clothiers were worth £10000 to £40000 per man, the equivalent of £1.5 to £5.5 million these days. Hills climb up out of the centre. We pass a large stone building with a stone inscription – C&T Spencer’s Ale & Porter Stores, dated 1884, before returning to the centre. Large quay buildings are now shops, although we note the butchers had closed down. We have lunch in a small organic co-operative. Over the river is a Saxon church dedicated to St Laurence which may have been founded by St Aldhelm. It is reputed to be a temporary burial place of King Edward the Martyr. It is a small building of a nave and chancel. High on the chancel wall are the reliefs of two flying angels. The stone altar has a carved pattern on its front. Across the road is the parish church of the Holy Trinity, however as soon as we enter we are told by the vicar that she is about to lock up, so disappointed, we leave. We have to move on but the town is certainly somewhere we will return.

Barrow

Saturday – White Sheet Hill – We go with Peter and Zebedee the springer spaniel up to this wind-swept down high above the Wiltshire countryside. The weather remains mild but the wind adds a noticeable chill. Model glider enthusiasts are on the north-eastern side with a little windsock and a canvas shelter. We look out westwards towards the great house at Stourhead. The farmland rolls on across the plain. We are beside a neolithic encampment with several round barrows. At this time of the year we often find Blewit, Lepista saeva, mushrooms here and are not disappointed. We gather enough for tomorrow’s breakfast. Far below a Kestrel glides across the hillside. We walk along the top of the scarpe slope, across a cross-dyke and over to the Iron-Age hill-fort, univallate on the west and south sides and trivallate to the north and east. Decaying Waxcap fungi are in the grass. We find one small specimen which looks very much like an Amethyst Deceiver, Laccaria amethystina, but this is entirely the wrong environment for this woodland fungus – a mystery.

Boxing Day, Friday – Brighton – A sharp overnight frost has frozen the ground. The car is covered in ice so I leave it and head off to the coast road. Gulls scream incessantly; feral pigeons flap and dance in mating rituals although most sit huddled on television aerials; Starlings stand on the aerials chattering. On to the coast road and east to Telscombe Cliffs. A bus should be due shortly so I wait to see if it will arrive. A garden wall here is in courses of sandstone Wallbricks which are heavily weathered leaving the pointing standing out in relief and flint completely unweathered. The bus does not arrive, my guess that it will be a Sunday service is misplaced. However there is a bus going west to Brighton, so I hop aboard. At Brighton seafront the sea is flat with the smallest wavelets. It is grey and really quite cold. A large new block of apartments, the Van Alen Building stands not far from the New Steine. It is quite reasonable architecturally, apparently in the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style although seems to have little context with the Regency rows either side. It was named after William Van Alen, designer of the Chrysler Building in New York. Along the seafront. Around Pool Valley, the hotels are a sorry lot. Royal York Buildings, however in the Pool Valley has been painted and looks very fine. The buildings were built on the site of an old manor house in 1819. Pool Valley was originally a pool caused by the winterbourne, River Wellesbourne which came to the surface at Patcham. The river was culverted and a road built over the pool in 1793.The Ramada Hotel looks tired but by the time I reach the bottom of West Street, the Belgrave Hotel still looks splendid with its rococo Queen Anne styling although it was designed by Thomas Lainson and built in 1892. The Odeon and the Brighton Centre have not aged well, their concrete brutalism are not the best examples. The Grand, designed by architect John Whichord and built in 1862-64 and The Metropole, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of the Natural History Museum, opening in 1890, still retain their majesty, and their tariff! The old West Pier is a small shell now, far beyond hope of restoration. Nearby a 162 metre high observation tower is being constructed, the i360. I confess I dislike these excessively high constructions which dominate the view. Up Bedford Square into Bedford Place. The terraces here are a mixture of elegance, maybe sometime faded, and downright tatty. The streets off Bedford Place had a reputation for slum landlords as long as I can remember. A Schoollate 20th century block is now a mosque. Christ Church, created AD 1841 according to the façade, is the New Venture Theatre. This was the local school, the church being next door but burned down and is now an Art Deco block with a strange hexagonal tower above the front door, called Christchurch. Western Road is already getting busy. A large store sells the sort of products one expects in the large Birmingham Asian supermarkets. Up Hampton Place. The catholic church of St Mary Magdalene looks like it is still an operational church. On up the hill via Victoria Street. Into a grid of streets off mainly two and three storey terraces interspersed with much finer villas or townhouses.

The parish Church of St Michael’s and All Saints looks like a vast brick built barn from the outside but inside I am struck speechless! Towering stone pillars reach up to arches. It is quite dark and one could easily be in a major Italian cathedral. Simon Jenkins rates it worthy of a place in the top 100 of his England’s Thousand Best Churches; Roy Strong declares it to be A Pre-Raphaelite Jewel and Pevsner states the exterior to be bleak but the interior splendid and cathedral-like. Montpelier and Clifton Hill areas started to be developed in the 1820s, and by the 1840s they had essentially taken the form they remain in today, with a range of high-quality houses, many in the form of Regency terraces and crescents such as Clifton Terrace. However, in 1850 one area of open land remained known as Temple Fields consisting of a field, a pond and a partly-built house. Plans for the church were drawn up in 1858, and construction took place between 1860 and 1861 to a design by George Frederick Bodley. But the building quickly became too small and, in 1865 FontWilliam Burges (who would die before the building was finished) designed a parallel church which would incorporate Bodley’s building as its south aisle. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of people active in various areas of the arts who were influenced by the Quattrocento period of Italian art, were closely involved with the decoration of the interior. Bodley was informally associated with this recently formed group, in particular with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, a long-term friend of his. William Morris himself, along with Philip Webb and Charles Faulkner, was responsible for the painting of the chancel roof. The large windows on the western face of the church were made and installed by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. There are many stained glass windows by Morris and Burne-Jones in the old building. Internal fixtures include a grey marble font and a green serpentine and calcite (verde antique) pulpit, both designed and made by Bodley. The noted stained glass designer Charles Eamer Kempe was responsible for the restoration and installation of a 16th century reredos of Flemish origin. This depicts three scenes from Christ’s life in the form of a triptych which has been removed due to awaiting restoration. The church is Anglo-Catholic, the classic Bells and Smells. Indeed, as I leave, the priest rushes in garbed in a cape and a domed, round-rimmed hat I have only ever seen before in films of South European churches. Through to Seven Dials and down to the station. Past Station Street and Terminus Street with their little bow-fronted terraced cottages. Into Trafalgar Street. The Prince Albert has a large mural depicting deceased music heroes from Hendrix to John Peel. Sydney Street is vintage and new age, all the butchers and greengrocers long gone. Kensington Gardens and Gardener Street have barely a single shop I recognise from the last time I was here. Infinity’s, Neals Yard and Dockerills, which has been in Church Street for decades are the few familiar places. In Bond Street there is a shop selling tourist tat called This is not a Butchers, who says irony is dead? Down to the Old Steine and up St James’s Street where I stop for a very late breakfast in a busy bistro.

Sunday – Leominster – A heavy frost and a bright sun. The chickens get a bowl of warm mash. A Great Tit is singing his two-tone note. Off down Etnam Street. As the sun rises above the roofs of the houses on the south side of the street, the frost on the opposite roofs melts. Over the river. The Lugg is flowing steadily. There is no market and will not be any until March. Blackbirds, Great Tits and a single Redwing fly up into the Aspens along the river bank beside Easters Meadows. Along Mill Street and up Bridge Street. I turn down Vicarage Street and onto the path beside the Kenwater. A track runs between the river and the Oldfields estate, built on the Oldfields Farm site. Up the hill and to the north the top of Titterstone Clee is white with snow. A series of ginnels run through the modern estate and out into Greenfoot Lane. Steps lead up into Perseverance Road. Often houses are built along these side roads starting at the junction and working their way along but this is not the case here. As I head towards Bargates, there is Perseverance Place dated 1868, next The Lindens, dated 1903, then Belmont Villas, 1861; Ebeneezer, 1878 and finally an enlarged cottage on the junction which may be older then all the rest. On the opposite corner is Bargates School, now a children’s centre, built in 1861.

Monday – Ashford Bowdler-Ashford Carbonell – The atmospheric pressure is very high, the sky is cloudless and the land rimed with frost. Ashford Bowdler is a small hamlet south of Ludlow, just off the A49, with several fine houses. Entering the village, to the north is The Grove, a late 16th or early 17th century house with an 18th century range. It was reputed to be the Dower House to Moor Park (a Churchdower house was built to accommodate the widow of the property owner so the heir may live in the main property). To the south is the Manor House, a 17th century core forming a cross wing with a late 17th century main range with 18th century remodelling and extension. Across the railway where a Green Woodpecker is calling from a trackside tree. The church of St Andrew backs on to the River Teme. The year of foundation of this Norman church is unknown, It is possible it was founded around 1211 by Henry de Boulers, the Norman tenant who gave the village its name, or possibly by the lord of the manor, Osbern Fitz Richard of Richards Castle. Records of Bromfield Priory refer to a dependent chapel of Ashford Bowdler, which may indicate the church is even older that the 13th century. The original building consisted of the nave which had few windows. The chancel was added later. It was built in the local sandstone and has a shingle broach spire. Restoration work took place in 1846, funded by Charles Walker but by the end of the 19th century the building was again very dilapidated. A major restoration took place in 1904-1906. The church retains its box pews and has a good number of wall monuments dedicated to the local families of Hall, Green and Ricketts. One plaque is to George Crawford Ricketts, (1751-1811), Attorney General in Jamaica, who retired to here after 34 years abroad with a freed slave called Henry Palfrey. Palfrey was baptised in 1803 under a new name of George Edward Ricketts. He drowned in the River Teme in August 1840. Nearby Church House is a three storey building constructed around 1785. The south garden is protected from the fields by an aha. Back along the lane past the Vicarage from the early 18th century which sports a George VI post box and Housethen across the fields to Ashford Carbonell. Carbonell is spelled with either one or two Ls depending where one looks! The name comes from the Norman family of Carbonel who came from Canisy, some 40 miles west of Caen. Hugh de Carbonel was a principal captain of the Conqueror. Long-tailed Tits flit through an apple orchard. The village is on the other side of the Teme and is approached across a bridge built in 1797 by Thomas Telford. It was renovated and partially rebuilt in 1877 by Thomas Groves, County Surveyor according to an iron plaque on its wall.

Mist rises from a weir. A Grey Squirrel scurries across the road with a small apple in its mouth. Jackdaws chack from the trees. The old, disused Ashford mill stands at edge of river. A lane leads to the village. A low, flat, modern building of glass and wood houses the school. The old school of 1872 stands by the road before a turning up Church Lane to the church of St Mary Magdalene. The church is mainly early Norman with the chancel being extended around 1200 and the nave lengthened less than a century later. Two large Gothic windows were added in the 14th century which would have greatly lightened the interior of the building. A major restoration took place in 1882-83 instigated by W Henderson of Ashford Court who kept a detailed account of the work which was read to the British Archaeological Association in 1883. The tower roof was repaired and the bells rehung in 1995. There are three bells – a treble, ƧPAVLV cast in the 14th century; a 2nd, PETRVƧ also 14th century and a tenor – BE OVRE SPEDE IHESVS, from the 17th century. The main door is early 13th century, retaining a lobe and tendril iron strap. There is a fine blocked Norman doorway in the north wall which features dog-tooth moulding of a style used in 1200-1210. There are five Yews in the graveyard, considered to be over a millennium old, hinting that the site may have a pre-Conquest history. A delightful and informative guide to the church suggests the incumbants were not as men of the cloth may be expected! In 1650, Richard Delamaine is described as grossly ignorant and immoral. In 1748, William Smith was charged with officiating without a license, i.e. not a vicar. It also appears there had been no vicar between 1759 and 1814, as Herbert Hill, who claimed to be the vicar is said to have resided in Lisbon! The main street through the village has some pleasant old houses, Home Farmhouse, a 17th century building with an earlier core with a fine chimney stack, a Primitive Methodist chapel of 1878 and a mock timber-framed village hall outside of which is a war memorial of nine names. Brook House, formerly Court House is a cottage of 1677 standing by a brook. Another cottage is dated circa 1650. Back by the bridge is an old cider apple orchard. Many trees are in a poor state yet a sign states it is in contract to Bulmers. I retrace my footsteps, in places quite easy as they lay there in the crushed frost and grass. Across the fields a tall crane works on a railway bridge.

Ducks

New Years Eve, Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The area of high pressure that has kept us frozen for several days is sliding southwards allowing a warmer, wetter westerly airstream to dominate. There is still plenty of frost on the orchard grass. The sun is golden and low, nasty when driving towards it. There is a thaw and the trees and hedges are dripping with a pitter-patter. A Great Tit flits through the Poplars. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. Six drake and seven duck Goldeneye, one drake and two duck Goosander and a good number of Wigeon and Coot are on the sailing section. Blue Tits churr. Another two female Goosander fly across the meadow section of the lake. Many more Wigeon are feeding here. Five Mute Swans are in front of the hide along with over thirty Teal and more Coot and Wigeon. Four Cormorant are in the trees. The western end of the lake contains Mallard, Tufted Duck and a pair each of Shoveler and Little Grebe. A Great Crested Grebe in its sleek winter plumage pops up. Something spooks the wildfowl in the reed bed to the west of the hide but nothing shows. A Black-headed Gull circles the water before landing. There are few gulls here generally which seems odd. Likewise the absence of Pochard is noticeable. A Moorhen preens in the reed bed on front of the hide. A Grey Heron flaps slowly across to the reed beds. A gleam of copper appears at the edge of the water, a Common Pheasant. As I approach the gate to the meadow a pair of near-black Mink dash across the top of the slope, then back towards the lake just in front of me. I wonder if it was them that spooked the ducks earlier? A Common Buzzard mews as it flies along the edge of West Field wood. Two more rise from the wood and another is high in the sky. Goldfinches and Chaffinches feed around the car park. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers are in the trees calling a long chattering cry rather than their usual chip.