Ramblings

December 2016


Friday – Frome Valley, Herefordshire – Bishops Frome – St Mary The Virgin Church is surrounded by rather unpleasant 20th century housing with just a few older, more interesting buildings. A timber-framed black and white house, Parsonage Farmhouse, stands across a lane behind the churchyard. It dates from around 1600. A little further along the lane is Barrington House, an imposing large Georgian former rectory. Jackdaws are noisy around the church. A large flock of Fieldfares and Redwings fly up into trees in the churchyard. Sadly the church is locked. A number of graves are enclosed in iron railings, once people of substance but all of the graves within are decayed and neglected. I leave by the main entrance which is the War Memorial. Opposite is the Church School dated 1843. Next to it is the school house. Both are now private residences. A modern community centre stands beside the village green. On the other side is the Chase Inn. Stocks House, a large dwelling that was once contained the Post MillOffice stands on the other side of the road to Burley Gate. Along that road is the Green Dragon, another pub, this one dating from the 17th century. A village with two pubs when so many have lost their only one! A short distance up the Bromyard road of the Wesleyan Chapel of 1886, also now a residence.

Off along Summerpool, past more 20th century housing and a small industrial estate, a technology park as it likes to be called! Out of the village where the River Frome pours over a weir turning a right angle. A stone wall of some sort crosses the river just before the town but it had completely collapsed. A corn mill stood here but the weir and wall are all that remains. Smoke rises from a large bonfire of prunings in a cider orchard which stands on the site of an old quarry although there is no sign of it. The road turns bedside a fine collection of corrugated iron buildings and crosses the river by Kingstone Bridge. A measurement station is situated on the far side. Past a hop yard. There are far fewer hop yards here now. In the 1920s the population of the area rose from around 700 to 5000 when the hop pickers were here. It is cold and grey, although not as cold as the last few days when the overnight temperature dropped to -10ºC. Naylor’s Cottage looks like a 18th century core much extended. It is surrounded by cider orchards. Flocks of Fieldfares and a noisy Mistle Thrush are in the trees. Broadham Cottage looks similar. Firlands is a large house with an aha overlooking the remains of an old orchard. A sharp turn at a junction by the Wheelwright takes me onto the Halmonds Frome road. There are a number of farmhouses and cottages along this lane; a number are listed 17th century cottages. Back across the river valley, another bonfire pours white Whitehousesmoke into the air from the orchard.

Halmonds Frome – Mayfields straddles a junction. The farmhouse is a grand affair, although newer than much of the rest of the farm, Victorian I would guess. A fine stone, wood and tile 17th century barn had a large stone protecting its corner against carts hitting it. Over the junction is another large house, Whitehouse farmhouse, dating from the 17th century, faced in red brick in the 18th century. Two 18th century hop kilns are attached to the end. The road climbs Snail’s Bank. It passes several timber-framed cottages and a modernist house, Jacob’s Cottage and The Majors Arms, a 17th century former cottage, now another working pub. This is all there is of Halmonds Frome. The name Halmonds comes from a personal name. From beside the pub the view to the south and west is of the Frome valley full smoke from the bonfires and beyond hills rising out of valleys of mist. The top of the hill is finally reached. It is a ridge of St Maughan’s formation sandstone on top of Raglan formation sandstone which has been exposed down in the valley by river erosion. St Maughans formation is Devonian (359-419 million years ago); Raglan formation is Siluarian (419-443 million years ago). To the east the Malvern Hills rise darkly.

Fromes Hill – House Sparrows flit around apple trees in the garden of The Hacketts, a 17th century cottage. A Common Buzzard flies past low over the adjoining field. The road enters Fromes Hill. The village here is Uplands, a small mid 20th century estate. St Matthews is a small church with a round apse built in 1886 by F.R. Kempson. Three windows in the apse are by Nicola Hopwood, commissioned in 2010 in memory of a local man who died in an accident.

Font Monument

Castle Frome – The lane joins the A4103. The Wheatsheaf pub lies to the east. I head west. The Bosbury road heads south off the main road just before it descends Lock Hill. This is the parish of Castle Frome. The Old Rectory is a large house, of course, with a barn and oast house. A footpath should lead down to the church. An arrow points vaguely along the hill and there are some poles stuck in the ground. Maybe the right way, but of course it is not. Back along the hillside then down a steep combe. There is no discernible path and the slope is slick and slippery. However, there is a stile at the foot of the hill so it was the correct way this time. Into the churchyard of St Michaels and All Angels.

Castle Frome is named after a castle built on the hillside, a short distance south of where I descended. It is believed there was a Roman fort on this site too and the area is still called Camp Coppice. The castle would have been wooden on a motte which apparently can still be found in the wood. The manor belonged to King Harold before Conquest and Walter de Laci afterwards. In 1242 it was held by Gilbert de Lacy of Crassage. He granted the lordship to William Devereux. Simoni de Bureley received it from Richard II after Elizabeth Clodeshalle’s alleged knowledge of the murder of Thomas Tidwyne by her husband, William Devereux. The manor passed back to her after Sir Simon de Burley was executed in 1388. One of her granddaughters married John Unett and the Castle Frome remained in the Unett family for the next three centuries. A large Yew stands near the south porch. The church was built around 1125. Over the south doorway is an Anglo-Saxon sundial dated from around 1050, although it may anything up to a century later, the name referring to the style rather than date. The nave roof is 15th century, the bell turret Victorian. The church was restored in 1878 by B. Martin Buckle of Malvern. Pevsner approves of Buckle’s skill in the anti-scrape sense, i.e. showing respect for the earlier work. The font is a masterpiece of the Herefordshire School of carvers, a late piece dating from the 1170s. It has three crouching lions at its base, only one remains intact, a large bowl carved with figures depicting the baptism of Christ. Pevsner states the design clearly points to Italy. A tomb chest in very good condition is in the corner of the chancel. It depicts SundialWilliam Unett in Cavalier uniform and his wife, Margery and dates from 1630-40. In a window in the chancel is a carved head of a knight, possibly one of the de Lacys. Unfortunately, this is a reproduction as the original was stolen several years ago. Below, at the back of the piscina are mediaeval tiles.

Town Farm stands next to the church. The farmhouse is reputed to date from 1560, altered and extended largely during 18th and mid 19th centuries and altered further during the 20th century. It is thought a village stood by the farm but was largely abandoned during the Black Death. On down towards the road. Church House is 17th century. KnightOnto the Ledbury road which passes by large orchards. The air is full of winter thrushes chacking and flying all over. It is hardly surprising as there are plenty of apples still on the trees for some reason. Over the A4103 now at the bottom of Lock Hill. On up the Bishops Frome road. A little way up the road is the Hop Pocket, a retail centre, maybe a slightly strange place for such an enterprise but it seems quite busy. A small bridge crosses a tributary to the River Frome which it joins immediately and within a few years another bridge over the Frome itself. As the road approaches the village again one can see that Barrington House looks over what was probably an extensive parkland although a large portion is now agricultural land. A field on the other side is the road is growing Christmas trees, some less than a foot high.

Bishop Frome – Back into the village and the church is now open. The manor belonged to the Bishops of Hereford. Domesday records a priest so there was almost certainly a Saxon church here. The tower is 14th century but the majority of the church was rebuilt in 1847 (chancel) and 1861 (nave and aisle, now the Lady Chapel) by F.R. Kempson. Pevsner is scathing about the building calling it terribly pretentious neo-Norman and not even archaeologically correct Norman. The chancel arch is late 12th century with a zig-zag decoration. In a recess is a stone effigy of a knight drawing is sword from the late 13th century, possibly a Templar member of the Devereux family. A board holds the clappers of the original bells, the present ones being hung in 1975 having been removed from a redundant church in Burwarton, Shropshire. The font is a lead-lined Norman example. The priest’s door is also Norman with a small Herefordshire School carving of fabled beasts either side. Route starting a bit late!

Sunrise

Sunday – Home – The cold has returned bringing a sharp frost. I soak some chicken pellets in boiling water for the hens. A Nuthatch calls from the great Horse Chestnut. I fill the seed feeder although it gets emptied quickly once the House Sparrows arrive.

Leominster – Leaves crunch under my feet. The south-eastern sky glows orange. Two Dippers and a Grey Wagtail fly off down a much shallower River Lugg. The Brightwells’ compound is always interesting. The amphibious craft and the gypsy caravan have returned after disappearing for a week or two. There are plenty of police vehicles, the odd sports car, white vans and miscellaneous cars. The market has settled down to its small winter size, mainly regulars. I buy a wreath for the front door but have forgotten my gloves so carrying it home leaves me with frozen fingers!

Monday – Radnor Forest – Travelling westwards the temperature rises above freezing but that brings ever thicker mist and fog. A Common Buzzard watches from a telegraph pole, its chest pale and wearing a torc of cream around its neck. Up the track towards Warren Wood. Robins, Dunnocks and Blue Tits search the grey Hawthorns for morsels; the berries have almost all been stripped except for hips. A flock of at least fifteen Magpies and several Carrion Crows fly off. A ghostly Wellingtonia stands alone in the hillside, the conifer plantation behind it lost in the fog. An area of woodland on the hillside has been cleared leaving a single tall pine and a large stack of logs. Wrens call their alarms from dead Bracken. Up the damp, cold gorge to the waterfall, Water-Break-Its-Neck. White water tumbles down from the misty top. The gorge sides are Logsgreen with mosses, ferns and leaves of Saxifrage. Back down the gorge and up through the woods. A Kestrel flies off from trees by the track to Warren House. On up through a mixture of conifers, Oaks and Sweet Chestnuts. The woods are very quiet, just the occasional short burst of song from a Wren, a chirp from a Blue Tit and the main source of sound, the gentle splat of condensed mist drops hitting the dead leaves. The path enters a pasture. Sheep stand in a line at the top of the field, watching.

On up to the Forestry plantation, Crinfynydd. The trees are now large enough to start thinning and a large patch by the path has been cleared. A quick count is the rings on one of the larger logs reveals them to be less than 20 years old. Large machines have gouged out tracks across the landscape. A vast stack of logs stands by the new track I noted last time I was up here. Past Pwl y Gaseg. There are more stacks along the track across Lluestau’r Haul. The logs are 7 to 10 years old. On up past more and more stacks. A large caterpillar tracked vehicle is in a cleared channel in the plantation picking up logs. The track passes more of these cleared passages which are lined with rows of cut logs.

The track turns and crosses the top of the hill, Esgairnantau. It passes the quarry where the rock to surface the track has been dug out. A large mound of rock is piled up ready for further Misttracks. Bands of different layers of mudstone, Ludlow Formations, are visible in the larger slabs of rock. The mist flows up Davy Morgan’s Dingle, the southern end of Great Rhos barely visible on the far side. The sun tries to pierce the mist but fails. The track zigzags down the hillside before reaching the large slab of rock above the dingle and Black Brook. The mist thickens and the hillside opposite disappears. A cold wind is rising. On down the track back towards Warren Wood. I pause. The growl of an airliner dies away, then there is utter silence. It is punctuated by a Carrion Crow cawing and the occasional bleating sheep but otherwise nothing. The track enters Warren Wood. The steeply sloping land down to Black Brook is a tangle of fallen branches and trees. A tall conifer and an Oak have both fallen into another conifer and rest against it maybe one hundred feet above the ground. A twittering comes from the top of a stand of conifers and a pink breasted Crossbill stands on top. Over the stream from the waterfall. Ravens are barking in the woods across the valley. I had noticed that the notices regarding forestry work named a private company. On the board naming Warren Wood the top piece with the Forestry Commission name has been turned round. I suppose the whole forest has been privatised. A Common Buzzard lands on the hedgerow and is immediately mobbed by some of the Magpies seen earlier. It seems to ignore them but my approach is to much and it flaps off. Blackbirds are feeding on the few remaining haws. It feels much colder down here than up in the hills. Route

Friday – Builth Wells – The sun is trying to break through lumpy grey clouds. It is still very mild for the season. I start by the gorsedd, the stone circle set for the Eisteddfod. Opposite is the imposing if rather grey and grim Builth Ecumenical (Methodist) church. Built by Welsh revivalist Howell Harris in 1747. It was his first chapel so he named it Alpha, recorded in large letters in a stone block on the church wall. It was first extended in 1824. In 1878, during extensive renovation work, the elaborate new frontage was added. The present Gothic chapel was completed in 1903 by Habershon, Fawkner, and Groves, architects of London and Newport. A short row of cottages leads to the church of St Mary. This has a mediaeval tower from around 1300 but the remainder of church was rebuilt in 1875, by John Norton. Further along the road is the Horeb Chapel (United Reform) was originally built in 1804, with an extension taking place in 1829. The current Lambordic style building, reportedly costing £1800, was built in 1869. It is said the spire was built to be a foot taller than St Mary’s, so as to be near to God. Across the graveyard to the main road where Churchthe Memorial Baptist church is now an antique centre, although junk yard may be a better term. West Street Memorial Baptist Church was first built in 1787. The church was rebuilt in 1899, by architect George Morgan of Carmarthen, in Gothic style with gable entry plan. Into Hospital Road, with the 1895 Wesleyan Church on the corner.

The road rises. An exposed rock face reveals the Builth Formation of Silurian mudstones, laid in thin layers. Past the school, then some large early to mid 20th century houses, then estates of late 20th century housing. House Sparrows chatter and a Pied Wagtail walls along the ridge of a roof. A small bridge crosses Nant-yr-Arian. A row of cottages runs down beside the stream. A Raven flies over barking. The road leaves the town and rises again. Two Jays and a Magpie squabble in an Oak. Another Oak’s branches arch over the road; they are lined with ferns. A fine old cast iron Brecon County sign post stands at the junction. I turn off towards Maesmynis. A trailer of Christmas trees passes. The road climbs steeply and leaves the mixed woodland, Road Wood. There are views now across the River Wye and Builth Wells to Llanelwedd Rocks which are terraced by a vast quarry. A tractor slows down, the farmer wondering why I am leaning on a gate apparently doing nothing. The hedgerows are bristly and clean where they have been recently flailed. A flock Starlings flies up onto wires. Past a large farm, Neuadd Isaf. At the crest of the hill is a wooden hall and the church of St David, Maesmynis. In 1291 Pope Nicholas’ Taxatio recorded the church as Ecclesia de Maesmenus, at a value of £5, and as Maesmynnys in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 at £7 1s 3d. However, Theophilus Jones records a building in a delapidated state at the beginning of the 19th century, but one with a particularly interesting decorated roof, now gone. By the latter part of the century it was a ruin and in 1878 the whole edifice was rebuilt. Unusually for a Welsh church it is locked. To the west are views of the misty Cambrian Mountains. To the east the Aberedw Hills.

The lane now drops steeply between green fields of sheep. Chaffinches stands on the top is the hedgerow and flit up into the trees, pinking. At a road junction a sign indicates Maesmynis is still another mile on down the road but my path lays to the east down a steeply descending lane. Past Garth-y-Felin, a house where the majority of the windows face east, only one faces west. A Red Kite floats over Cnwc-y-llo Wood. I try to find a bridleway down to Llanddewi’r-Cwm but come to a locked gate. A man calls and trots across the field, followed by Benji, his sheep, and tells me the way is through a gate by the neighbouring house. However, he also says the bottom end of the way is badly overgrown and very muddy, so we agree that going around by road is probably easier. The road descends. A Common Buzzard flies out is an old Ash tree which has heavy bunches of dark brown keys in profusion. The lane becomes very steep just before it joins the Brecon road. The road turns by a tall rock face to cross the River Duhonw. A series of small waterfalls run down the river gorge and under the bridge. There is a small eroded stone in the Fontedge of the bridge carved 1944, I think. The rocks are Irfon Formation Silurian mudstones laid down in deep seas. It is always a wonder how these rocks were laid down over 400 million years ago in an ocean which silted and dried, then the rocks were thrown up as tectonic plates collided and finally ground down again by glaciation. The weather is looking increasingly threatening.

St David’s church stands at the top of a hill in the tiny village of Llanddewi’r-Cwm. Much of the walls of the church are covered in lichen. An old Yew stands in the rectangular churchyard which has an older ring inside. It all points to a quite ancient site. The church is first documented in the period 1176-1198 as Sancti David de Cum in Buelt and in the Taxatio of 1154 it was Landewycum. The building probably dates from 12th or 13th century but was heavily restored and maybe largely rebuilt 1847. The inside of the church is plain and Victorian except for a 12th century font. An ornate wood and ironwork lock is on the door. The Red Kite is Builth Wellsnow overhead. Back down the Brecon road and then down the lane to Tregaer. Pant-yr-llyn Hill looms up ahead. A few houses lay down the lane. A lane heads eastwards. There is much rustling in the hedgerow as young Pheasants scurry away. The lane winds past the entrance to Maes-y-Cwm farm. The ridge of Aberdaw now lays ahead. A footpath takes me up to the triangulation point in the top of a rather isolated hill, Garth. The sun is making an appearance but the west is disappearing steadily in what is probably rain. A strong wind is blowing it this way!

Back down the hill and off along the Newry Road. Past Newry Cottage, clearly extended. Little Newry Cottage is probably the same size as the other was originally. A couple of Collared Doves fly up into the trees. Blackbirds chuck, a Chaffinch watches from a bare Hawthorn. A Horse come hurtling down the hillside, seems it just felt like doing it! A pair of Bullfinches flash off into the bushes. Goldfinches twitter in an old orchard. A small flock of Redwings flies off. A couple of Red Kites are overhead, sending up a flock of Jackdaws. As the lane enters Builth Wells, a stream runs under a small bridge. The old Tan house stands by the stream, now residences. Into Castle Road. Behind the terrace of late Victorian houses is the castle motte. Into Market Street and the town centre. Route

Sunday – Leominster – The morning is cooler than recent days. The River Lugg is flowing rapidly. On Easters meadow, the grass is touched by frost. The sky over Eaton Hill is purple and orange. A Cormorant sits in a tall tree by river. A Grey Wagtail bobs as it searches the car park for food. Further up the car park, a Pied Wagtail runs between the cars. There are not many of them as the market is smaller than ever. The sun edges over the hill and bathes the trees in golden light.

Monday – Leominster – It is a pretty foul morning. A persistent light drizzle soon soaks into ones clothes. Down to the station to buy some tickets for later in the week. I then work my way up to Sydonia Park. Starlings chatter on roof tops. In the park more Starlings plus Blue Tits, Blackbirds and Dunnocks are all calling, making quite a chorus.

Home – A Wren disappears inside the hanging basket of rather wet looking violas by the back door. There is now a steady trickle of eggs. I am sure Speckle is laying and I suspect that Blue has come back into lay. Both are in beautiful condition after regrowing their feathers following their moult. There is just one egg today. I had bought some spray to try and keep a cat away from the bird feeders but the pest is still there, sneaking off when I head towards the path.

Thursday – Runcorn – I alight at Runcorn station into a brighter day than on the Marches where the hills are clouded and fine drizzle falls. The name of this town in north Cheshire derived from the Old English words rúm (wide or broad) and cofa (cave or cove). Other historical spellings of Runcorn include Rumcoven, Ronchestorn, Runckhorne, and Runcorne. There have been limited finds indicating human presence since neolithic times. There is some evidence of Roman activity but it is not until 915 that Ethelfleda, Queen of Mercia built a fortification on Castle Rock overlooking the River Mersey at Runcorn Gap to protect the northern frontier of her kingdom against the Vikings. Runcorn was not mentioned in Domesday. William I granted the earldom of Chester to Hugh d’Avranches who granted the barony of Halton to Nigel. It is likely that Nigel erected a motte and bailey castle on Halton Hill in the 1070s. Runcorn was a small village becoming a health resort in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Towards the end of the 18th century, the port began to develop on the south bank of the River Mersey. During the 19th century, industries such as the manufacture of soap and alkali, quarrying, shipbuilding, engineering, and tanning began to develop. By the early 20th century, the prime industries were chemicals and tanning. The local government district retains the mediaeval barony name of Halton.

Off towards the Mersey crossing. The road joins a major dual carriageway which crosses over another. It then crosses the fine cast iron Waterloo Bridge where the Runcorn arm of the Bridgewater Canal now terminates. The canal was named after its owner, Francis Egerton the third Duke of Bridgewater who built it to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to the industrial areas of BridgeManchester. The Bridgewater Canal, opened on 17th July 1761 was the forerunner of canal networks. This section was not completed until 1776. A large traditional Victorian pub, The Waterloo, is now a Buddhist temple! A large Macaw watches me pass from a canal boat. Down streets to All Saints Parish church which stands on the south bank. It is a large building in red stone, built between 1847 and 1849 to the designs of Anthony Salvin. A mediaeval church, said to be built on the site of Ethelfleda’s wooden chapel, was probably built around 1250 stood here but deteriorated to the extent it was dangerous and was demolished. Sadly the building is closed. As happens all too often, all the gravestones have been removed and laid flat around the church. Across the river stands the church of St Mary in Widnes. Across a small bridge to the edge of the Manchester Ship Canal built between 1887 and 1893. Stone pillars carry the bridge across the river. The first bridge was built between 1863 and 1868 by William Baker for the LNWR. It is called the Ethelfleda Bridge after the queen of the Mercians (911-918). Above this bridge is a steel arch bridge built 1956-61 to carry the road. It was widened in 1977 and named the Silver Jubilee Bridge.

A lookout point stands where the 1875 map shows the ferry slip and baths. These lay between Castlerock and Belvedere Ship Building Yards. The baths were salt water, built in 1822 and very popular. Across the river is The Snig, from The Snig Pie House, named for its eel pies, sadly no longer sold. It was originally a boathouse. Nearby is the site of the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge built in 1901-1905 having cost £130,000. It could hold 4x4 horse loaded wagons and 300 passengers. Further east a new road bridge, the Mersey Gateway is being constructed which should open in a year’s time. Gulls are on the canal along with several Greylags and white geese. More gulls and Cormorants stand on the wall between the canal and river. Heading east a stone gate post with an iron lamp holder is all that remains of an entrance to a lost building, possibly Runcorn Steam Mills for flour production.

Up Mersey Road to the Royal, a large Georgian pub built in 1802 and the oldest licensed house in Runcorn. Meetings were held here in 1816 to discuss a bridge being proposed by Thomas Telford. Into the High Street. A large red stone building housed the police station. Built in 1831 as the Town Hall, it contained a courtroom. The Council moved in 1883 leaving the building for the police. Outside are two grooved some blocks that held the stocks. A fountain stops outside the building erected in 1857, by the Earl of Ellesmere but removed in 1948 during road widening. A brook, the Sprinch ran through here. Up St John’s Brow to Trinity Street which leads to the Holy Trinity church, locked of course. The church was built in 1838 as an evangelical alternative to the parish church of Runcorn paid by public subscription, with John and Thomas Johnson, soap and alkali manufacturers, being the principal subscribers. It was designed by Joseph Hartley, a local architect, and the church was built by William Rigby, a local builder. Back to the canal by Old Albert Terrace where Professor John Riley Holt, a renown nuclear physicist was born in 1918.

Crane

Back by the canal opposite a lock into the Mersey. A series of large apartment blocks line the bank. A Robin sings from a Silver Birch on some waste ground. Back up to the terraces of Victorian housing. Mariners Hall was a mission built in 1831 then used as a church hall. It is now a commercial property. Along Mason Street to the Old Quay Swing Bridge. A large tower and control room stand at the end. Below the bridge, the old wooden quay is fast disappearing under brambles and saplings. A pair of Gadwall swim under the bridge. The bridge leads to Wigg Island. The island is named after Charles Wigg, who started an alkali works there in the 1860s to extract copper from its ore. It was originally served by the Runcorn to Latchford Canal, and later by the Manchester Ship Canal. During the Second World War it was a centre for the production of mustard gas as Wiggs Works East, then Randles. After the war it was operated by ICI. Production ended in the 1960s. Back across the canal some of the rocks are exposed, red Triassic sandstone. The visitors centre is locked and barred, even the bridge to the entrance has been removed. Back over the bridge and eastwards. The road enters Astmoor. A long road runs through a large industrial estate. I notice that scrap metal merchants these days are all recyclers by name. The road ahead is closed but fortunately the footpath still open. A huge mobile crane is lifting a massive concrete bridge component, part of the Mersey Gateway road.

A closed section of road runs around to Norton Priory post allotments which seem to be mainly polytunnels. Over the Daresbury Expressway. A track leads to Norton Priory.

Norton Priory was founded in 1115 by William Fitz Nigel, Baron of Halton and Constable of Chester. It was an Augustinian foundation which became an abbey in 1391. The original community would have consisted of around 12 canons and the prior, increasing to around 26 members in the later part of the 12th century, making it one of the largest houses in the Augustinian order. It was dissolved in 1536 and purchased by Sir Richard Brooke. He built Norton Hall, a Tudor house here. During the Civil War the house was attacked by a force of Royalists. The Brookes were the first family in north Cheshire to declare allegiance to the Parliamentary side. Halton Castle was a short distance away, and was held by Earl Rivers for the Royalists. In February 1643 a large force from the castle armed with cannon attacked the house, which was defended by only 80 men. Henry Brooke successfully defended the house, with only one man wounded, while the Royalists lost 16 men. This house was replaced in the 18th century by a Georgian mansion. The Brooke family left the house in 1921, and it was partially demolished in 1928. In 1966 the site was given in trust for the use of the general public.

Having received my entrance fee the receptionist announces there are a large number of children in having a party! I cannot go into the most interesting part, the undercroft. One museum room is so loud with yelling children I retreat rapidly. A second floor with large windows allows good views over the remains the Priory, however children are on their way. I decide to move on, the walled gardens are some way away and probably of limited interest at this time of year.

[I learn some years later of the strange tale of Geoffrey Dutton whose grave was visible in the nave of the Priory church. The Duttons were an important family in Cheshire. Geoffrey went on the Fifth Crusade (c.1218-1222) as a member of the retinue of John de Lacy, Constable of Chester. The crusade ended in defeat in Egypt but it seems Geoffrey travelled on to Jerusalem and returned to Cheshire with a relic of the Holy Cross which he gifted to Norton Priory. Recently analysis has shown that Geoffrey, along with 15% of the skeleton found in the Priory, suffered from Paget’s Disease, which affects the bones, but a different strain to the modern disease, which is now rare. It was also proved that Geoffrey was murdered in 1248 by a savage, vertical sword blow to his back, from behind whilst probably kneeling.]

A track heads off to Phoenix Park. Past wood where Jays screech. A bridge crosses the Bridgewater Canal and the path enters the park, originally the Castlefields. There are good facilities in the park, a basketball court, skate park, artificial climbing boulder and café although there is no one here. A single child and parent is in the large playground. Out of the park and along a path through modern housing estates. Eventually the path enters Halton Village. Into Main Street. Here there is an eclectic mixture of buildings converting the last three or probably four centuries. The Trinity Methodist church is a fine affair. Up Castle Road. The old vicarage of 1739 looks more like a mansion. 19th century cottages are on the opposite side of the road. At the top of the road is The Castle Hotel, formerly the Duchy of Lancaster Court House. It was built in 1737 by Henry Sephton of West Derby. It is on the site of the castle gatehouse. The castle stands on the end of a ridge of the Helsby sandstone formation deposited between 245 and 235 million years ago. It has the most magnificent views across the Mersey. Nigel of Cotentin almost certainly built a wooden motte and bailey castle on the site. It is most probable that during the 12th century the wooden structure was replaced by a castle built from the local sandstone although no documentary evidence of this remains.It has been suggested that John of Gaunt, the 14th baron, made alterations to the castle although there is no documentary evidence.When the 15th baron, Henry Bolingbroke, ascended the throne as King Henry IV, the castle became the property of the Duchy of Lancaster. Between 1450 and 1457 a new gate tower was built. A survey of the Royal Palaces in 1609 suggests that by then the castle had fallen into disrepair. During the Tudor period it was used less as a fortress and more as a prison, an administrative centre, and a court of law. In 1580–81 the castle was designated as a prison for Catholic recusants. At the outbreak of the Civil War the castle was garrisoned by the Royalists under the command of Captain Walter Primrose who had been appointed by Earl Rivers. It was besieged by Parliamentary forces under Sir William Brereton in 1643, and the Royalists eventually surrendered after several weeks. On hearing of the approach of superior Royalist forces led by Prince Rupert, the Parliamentarians abandoned the castle and it was held again for the Royalists under Colonel Fenwick. There was a second siege in 1644 but, as the fortunes of the Royalists declined elsewhere, they withdrew from Halton and the Parliamentarians under Sir William Brereton re-occupied the castle. Around 1800 three folly walls had been added to the existing ruined walls on the east side of the castle to make it look more impressive from Norton Priory. The interior is only occasionally opened to the public.

Seneschal's House

The church of St Mary stands on the southern edge is the ridge, behind the vicarage. Someone is taking candles into the church and I ask if the church is open. The person make it clear they do not want visitors! Down the path to Castle Street. The former library, now Committee Room for the new linked Church Hall, was built in 1730 for Sir John Chesshyre. A plaque in Latin relates this. I return to the High Street. The variety of houses continues. Holly Bank House had a coat of arms over the door dated 1725. A couple of 20th century houses are followed by an early 17th century farmhouse. The village hall is dated 1901. Opposite is a chapel now in commercial use. The Norton Arms is dated 1758. The Seneschal’s House is a large sandstone building of 1598 built by the judge John King, called to the bar in London in the late 16th century and was originally known as John King’s New House. Down Halton Brow and into the main road. Off down Halton Road heading back towards town centre. This road is mainly 20th century with the occasional earlier building, sometimes given by an appalling modernisation.

The road now runs alongside the Bridgewater Canal. Mallard and Moorhens swim along the edge. It is not yet four o’clock it it is getting darker. The wall between the footpath and the canal had numerous buddleia growing on the canal since and looks pretty dodgy in places. Towards the end of the road is Co-operative Terrace marked in raised stone on brick. A carved beehive lays between the words. At the end is a larger building with Runcorn Co-operative Society Ltd, 1893. The road crosses the canal turning into Bridge Street. Strangely, I turn off the road into Bridge Street? I then realised that pedestrians are banned, it appears to be a bus only route. Up onto the tow-path. Past some old buildings on the canal edge, still in use. The path reaches a canal basin, known as Sprinch’s Yard. A loop was constructed originally to avoid a deep ravine but this was filled and by the end of the 19th century the canal was straightened. A tall house stands on the far side, once the home of the resident engineer, the first being Francis Wiswall.

Off the tow path and into the town centre. A fairly typical shopping area, mainly cheaper end. However, the place is a beer desert, not a decent point to be had. Eventually I find The Lion (after some misdirection) which least has a couple of hand pulled ales. Outside the traffic is horrendous, gridlocked everywhere. After an hour I leave the pub and the traffic is still crawling. It is now raining. Route

Friday – Runcorn – Down to the end of the canal. It is still quite dark with broken cloud. A Moorhen wanders asking the tow-path, wondering whether to flee from me onto the water but decides not. Several Mallard swim by. A Robin and a Song Thrush are singing across the canal. Into the town centre. Most of the buildings are 20th century and little has happened to them in recent years. The bus station is functional but uninteresting. A wine bar opposite is in Victoria Buildings of 1862. The Barley Mow is 1875. Along towards the Mersey bridge. All Saints school is 20th century but on a wall outside is the common saying about training up a child..... It is worn and parts have disappeared so it is certainly Victorian. Down to the waterfront and under the bridges. The castellated rail bridge is largely hidden from view from the east by the iron road bridge. The rail bridge, known as Ethelfleda Bridge or the Britannia Bridge, was built for the London and North Western Railway to a design Lockby William Baker, chief engineer of the railway company. Preparatory work commenced in 1863 and the first stone was laid in 1864. The bridge was completed by 1868 and on 21st May the contractor’s locomotive Cheshire drew 20 wagons over the bridge. It was formally opened for traffic on 10th October. The first goods traffic crossed it on 1st February 1869 and the first passenger train crossed on 1st April. On along Mersey Road, the Victorian terraces cease and 20th century housing now lines the road. The Manchester Ship Canal turns south whilst the Mersey continues westwards. The dividing spit of land is Runcorn Gap. A promenade runs alongside the canal. One of the modern houses on the waterfront has skeletons sitting at a picnic table with a gorilla holding another skeleton in a cage. Flocks of gulls pass over regularly. The pathway passes around an old dock inset into the bank. Between two modern apartment blocks is the old lock that would have brought the Bridgewater Canal, Runcorn branch into what was then the Mersey. It was constructed by James Brindley in 1774. There are plans to restore the link between the Waterloo Basin and here. At the top of the road is Bridgewater House built in 1771-3 by the Duke as a temporary home, which became the headquarters of the western end of the canal. A path runs along the route of the canal with large stones lining the way. A wide area for mooring is still apparent. The path rises through what was a series of locks to Percival Lane. Here was a large basin, now filled in and grassed over. On the far side is a building that was originally The Canal pub.

Down Percival Lane. Past a small industrial estate then one side has a long terrace dated 1871. The numbering indicates a good number of houses have been demolished for the industrial estate. A railway line which branches off near the station runs behind the terrace down to a large industrial estate and former docks. The dock office is to let. Up Runcorn Dock Road, under the railway line and off along Picow Farm Road. On towards Weston Docks. A long line of railway wagons are being unloaded at a huge waste incinerator plant. Large cranes list the entire wagon body off its wheels. On the other side of the road is a large recreation ground with a splendid two storey pavilion. Behind is Runcorn Town football ground. Picow Farm Road ends and Sandy Lane leads down towards the docks, through Weston Point. Weaver Hotel is a large late Victorian building facing the end of the road, named after the River Weaver. There is a church on the far side of the dock but a security man tells me there is no access to it. The foundation stone of Christ Church was laid by Sir Richard Brooke of Norton Priory, and the church was consecrated on 21st December 1841 by Rt Rev John Bird Sumner, Bishop of Chester. It seated for about 400 people. The stone from a nearby quarry was given by its owner John Tomkinson. The spire of the church was rebuilt in 1898 following a fire. The church stood on a headland jutting out into the River Mersey. However the Manchester Ship Canal was built on its river-side, and the Runcorn and Weston Canal on the land-side, leaving it on an island. On 1st June 1995 it was declared redundant and is inaccessible to the public. Robinson’’s Café does a first class full English breakfast for £4.99, a bargain that is hard to beat!

Back up Sandy Lane. The road rises up Runcorn Hill. A path leads into the hill and park. The path cuts through a deep passage in the Helsby Sandstone. The path was the route of drum-lines which carried wagons, called bogies, of sandstone down to the docks by drum pulley. On top is the hill is a nature reserve with a small pond. Great Tits call from the woods. The path leads to the Ranger Station, bowling greens, tennis courts and bandstand. An old quarry is nearby with a dinosaur carved into its face. Out of the park onto Highlands Road where there are some large houses, clearly homes to the merchants and bosses. Granary Cottages are much earlier. Above the road, on the edge of the park is a large house that has a faded Greenall Whitley sign, a Almshousesformer pub. At the bottom of the road is The Bakehouse, a café. On the junction stands an Brookfield Farmhouse dated 1691. Nearby is The Elms, a Georgian house of some size. Another smaller house of 1779 is at the top of Holloway. Unfortunately a rather boring bungalow has been stuck in between the two Georgian houses. Yet another Georgian house stands on top of the hill. Off down Holloway. A house is dated 1738. A large former NHS building, Victoria House, a cottage hospital is being renovated. Next a row of almshouses have an Arts and Crafts look and were built around 1900. On a barge board is quoted What I spent I had – What I saved I lost – What I have I have . Descending the hill where rows of terraced workers houses lay in a grid of streets.

Along Salisbury Street and opposite is the main cemetery. A house on the corner of the street has a tower with a tiled spire against the side of the building. A convenience store is dated 1888. Water FountainA cemetery superintendent’s house stands by the gate. Within is a former drinking fountain with a small plaque, The Runcorn Burial Board 1884 with a picture of a sailing ship. There are a number of large memorials in the cemetery, some with rather obsequious epitaphs. Sadly many gravestones have fallen over or tilt alarmingly. The Victoria Road Primary School has a frieze Runcorn School Board Elementary Schools, the construction date worn away, but enlarged in 1897, (opened as Greenway Road Board School in 1886. I suppose it was thought good to remind the little ones of their mortality. A1995 gravestone had the grave’s occupant’s signature in gold carved into the stone. Across Greenway Road is St Michaels and All Saints church, opened in 1887, closed of course. I pass the Lion again. On down the road where an old drill hall of the 5th Battalion (Earl of Chester’s) Cheshire Regiment, built in 1869 is in bad decay. Defence not Defiance is in stone over the door. Back down across the canal to the town centre.

Along High Street. The medical centre is on the site of St Paul’s Methodist (Weslyan) church. It was opened in 1866 at a cost of £8,000 and all of this money was paid by one benefactor, Thomas Hazelhurst, a soap manufacturer. It was a magnificent building but demolished in 1969, causing Pevsner to comment, The town has lost its one distinctive building. Only the railings outside remain. The National Westminster Bank is late 19th century. Nearby are several 18th century town houses. At the crossroads with Devonshire Place are a number of large buildings, Devonshire Buildings, Victoria Buildings, 1892 and Hailwood Buildings, 1872. An empty overgrown wasteland on the fourth corner probably held another. Up to the station. Whilst waiting for the train a Freightliner Class 66 pulls in with a train of the recycling wagons seen down in Weston Docks. (No route – GPS failure)

Sunday – Leominster – To the market on a cold damp misty morning. The River Lugg flows swiftly, bubbling under Butts Bridge. No birds are in sight or to be heard. Then a Magpie chatters briefly, as does a Blue Tit. A Cormorant flies over, its long neck twisting as it moves its head to and fro looking for something. The market is, unsurprisingly, small. The meat articulated lorry must be off the road as it has been replaced by a hire van. Robins sing around the entrance to Easters Court. Three V-formation skeins of Canada Geese fly over totalling around 100 individuals. There seems to be an increase in the number of empty shops in the town again.

Monday – Richards Castle – A damp, chilly morning with an unrelenting grey sky. I park near the Victorian church of All Saints at Richards Castle. To the east mist hangs over the course is the River Teme with a rather odd column of cloud somewhere around Ashford Carbonell. Off along the lane towards the village. Robins sing and a Dunnock sits on the wispy twig above the hedgerow repeating a short tweet. Carrion Crows call in the distance across grey winter fields. The large Manor House was built at the turn of the 20th century as the Dower house for the local land owners, the Salway family. The base of the hedgerow is still green with numerous new shoots of cleavers, Stinging Nettles (admittedly mainly old and peppered with holes) and new, fresh leaves of Herb Robert, Cow Parsley and Dog Violets. The road descends to Rock. A Victorian post box is in an old wall. The timber-framed Rock Cottage, built in the early 17th century stands on the crossroads, Rock Farm on the other corner. Along Woodhouse Lane, The Rock itself is another large timber-framed house. House Sparrows chatter in bushes by the farmyard. Four Magpies squabble in a large Holly. Ladywall looks like a barn conversion with a tower at one end, which I suspect is recently constructed. Several convoys of 4x4s pass, presumably off to a shoot. The lane continues past cottages, then Hilltop Farm. Hilltop is a modern flat roofed house, not particularly interesting.

The road turns and sweeps down into a small valley containing Woodhouse Farm. A large old quarry is overgrown with trees and Ivy. Both sides of the valley are wooded but there are no trees over a century old and most are far less than that. There are a number of apple trees indicated by the scattered small yellow fruit. The road has swung around and is heading north now. It appears the shoot has commenced as gunfire causes a mass cawing of Rooks. A Green Woodpecker yelps. The lane climbs gently through The Goggin. I have mentioned before I cannot find any source of this name. An apple plops down nearby and a grey-black sheep comes to investigate. A Common Buzzard flies over the Spruce woodland on the hillside. A footpath crosses a brook and over a stile with a warning there is a bull in the field, which does not appear to be so. The path climbs the hillside. Rasping Mistle Thrushes fly or is a large bare Sycamore. On to is the hill is a hedgerow along which a Fox wanders before loping across the field into a Gorse patch. From the ridge is the hill, a muddy and slippery track runs down towards Richards Castle. The track crosses the stream that flows from Boney Well. On along the track then across a field to the graveyard. Beyond is the tall conical motte of the castle and a path to the right leads to St Bartholomew’s church. I pause in the quiet of the church for a few moments. A plaque in the corner shows the Sawney family were spread from here. Two sisters, Frances and Margaret died in the mid-19th century in Brighton and Hastings respectively, both being buried in a vault in Brighton. Another sister, Octavia was the widow of Revd Thomas Lavie, chaplain to the East India Company, who died in Bhoog in the Province of Cutch, (nowadays Kutch (also spelled as Kachchh) is a district of Gujarat state in western India). Octavia was pregnant at the time but died in childbirth five months later on the ship Lady East. She was only 28 years old. Back down the hill to Rock and back along to All Saints. A large flock of winter Thrushes flies from tree to tree. Route

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It is the solstice but no sight of the winter sun here, just a sky of grey. The temperature is still reasonable for the time of year, 7ºC today, but the grey and damp make it feel cold. A Blue Tit squeaks from the orchard and a Pheasant croaks from Westfield Wood. A white rump disappears into the hedgerow, a Bullfinch. Goldfinches fly across the meadow. Carrion Crows call from the woods and the island. There are over fifty Wigeon on the lake with more behind the island, at least three Goosander, a male and two females, Mallard, two pairs of Goldeneye and twenty Cormorants in the trees. A small brown bird moves through saplings in front of the hide, flicking its tail regularly. It is a Chiffchaff, the first I have seen over-wintering. A few Canada Geese appear and start yelping. There are more it seems in the island woods as they start up too. Then peace returns, just the occasional whistle from a Wigeon. Back in the copse, a pair of Dunnocks get territorial. Long-tailed Tits tumble acrobatically at the top of Silver Birches. There are still a lot of apples in the cider orchard, yet again going to waste! Fieldfares are feasting on them. A few eating apples are still on the trees and edible.

Friday – Kimbolton – The weather is very changeable, yesterday was mainly bright but today is grey again and the wind is rising. Storm Barbara is on its way, although it should be some way to the north of us. Down the playing field to the Millennium Garden. The bells of the Priory toll ten o’clock. Magpies are active in the churchyard trees. It is trying to rain. The wilder areas of the meadow have been cut. The steps to the old Priory hospital have rotted away. It is worrying that these buildings, still the property is the Herefordshire Council, are deteriorating. At least they are mainly protected by listing. The gates drop at the level crossing and the Milford Haven train passes. Over the crossing and almost immediately the gates close again for the Manchester train. The levels of the rivers Lugg and Kenwater and Cheaton Brook are low and they flow clear. On along the A49. Good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings are in the orchard at the Tenbury junction. Up the Hamnish road. Chaffinches and Blue Tits fly out of the orchard, a Blackbird calls its alarm. The wind is getting stronger. Over Cogwell Brook. Left into the Grantsfield lane. The south-facing hedge is bare, the north-facing, a wall of Ivy. Black-faced sheep, resembling small llamas stare from a field. They are the Clun Forest breed. A Common Buzzard flaps over. It is surprising that the boughs is several old trees that hang across the road have not been lopped, they look like they could break in a gale.

Over the crossroads at Stanley Bank and onto the Bache lane, then left into the Kimbolton lane by Pyke Cottage. The concrete poultry sheds of Forbury Farm, a short distance up the lane, have been reduced to rubble. A large orchard appears to have been harvested much more efficiently than the one on the main road, but there are still a good number is winter thrushes in the trees. The lane crosses over Yolk brook. A Wood Pigeon claps and flaps out of a tree; they are incapable of slipping away quietly. Across the Tenbury road and up the lane beside the primary school. Portgate is a much enlarged cottage, the old roof line can still be seen on the end wall after the roof was raised and extended at the back. A cross wing has been also added later. Common Buzzards and Carrion Crows stand in a field of winter grain shoots. Left along a lane to St James the Great church. There is some fine glass in the church by Heaton, Butler and Bayne, several of which are in memory of the Hutchinson family. The Reverend Thomas Hutchinson was the incumbent in Kimbolton from 1851 until 1901. His wife Emma was a noted entomologist. His aunt, Mary Hutchinson, married the poet William Wordsworth in 1802. The lane drops down past mainly 20th century houses towards the main road. Stockton Court lies up the hill, overlooking the main road. Cogwell Brook runs alongside the lane. A set of steps leads down to it just before it runs under the main road. The small arched bridge has been raised later. The brook then runs under an extension to a house. This building is connected to a Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1830. The plaque records Ebenezer Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. Along the road to Cross Inn, a 17th century building according to the listing (16th century according to the advertisements). Back to Leominster. The rain arrives as I cross Easters Meadows. Route

Hunt

Boxing Day, Monday – Leominster – A thin sliver of golden moon hangs low in the eastern sky where it is beginning to grow light. Overhead is still dark and Ursa Major points the way to the Pole Star. A bright satellite passes over SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive), an American environmental research satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on 31st January 2015. Robins are singing strongly.

We follow a trail of horse droppings up School Lane to Corn Square where the North Herefordshire Hunt is meeting. Although I am not as vehemently opposed to hunting as I once was, mainly because chasing foxes is now banned, there is still the feeling of class divide as the upper classes on their horses look down on the peasantry. We watch from home as the hunt trots down the road and off. We then head for the traditional Boxing Day pint in The Chequers.

Wednesday – Burford-Nash – A very bright morning with a heavy frost. The temperature is several degrees below freezing. For the last couple of days an area of high pressure has been sitting over us. I start from Burford, a village on the north side of the River Teme, opposite Tenbury Wells. The village stretches for a considerable distance along the road to Worcester and Kidderminster. East along the Boraston road. House Sparrows chatter, a Mistle Thrush rasps just above my head, three Dunnocks argue and fight, Wood Pigeons coo and Robins tick. The road runs between a housing estate and a single row of houses, all 20th century. The lane joins another road up from the Worcester Road. A track turns off to Dean Park, shown on maps of 1577 and 1611 as a deer park containing a house or lodge in its northern part, but I continue along towards Boraston. The road lies high above a stream that runs into a culvert which runs under the road and then a large house Upper Spurtree. Up a short hill. Collybatch is a large mock-Tudor house standing in a grove of specimen conifers. The road starts to rise again past Keady orchards from which comes the familiar chacking of Fieldfares. On up the hill, which is hard going due to the excess of Christmas! At the top of the hill is a large house, the old rectory. To the north east are the Clee Hills and the village of Clee. A lane turns off to Boraston. Past the old forge. To the east is a long valley, Boraston Dale. At its head is a large three storey farmhouse and a number of other dwellings. Myttons Cottage is an enlarged 17th century black and white. A farmyard and barns contains several rotting pieces of machinery, including a large cement mixer and a bulldozer. The farmhouse, Boraston House, is a three storey Georgian building looking somewhat abandoned. It faces Boraston church, which has no known dedication.

Church

The church is locked and the keyholder is back at the old Forge. The church is recorded as 13th century but was almost entirely rebuilt by Henry Curzon between 1884 and 1887. Before 1848, Boraston, Nash and Burford churches were part of the extensive parish of Burford. After this Boraston became a parish in its own right. The churchyard became designated for burials in 1855. The church has a shingled broach spire. Down the road from the church is Boraston Court, which is clearly empty and decaying. A short distance down the Knighton-on-Teme lane is a large timber framed house, Court Cottages built in the 17th century, also in poor condition. Myddle House, a former farmhouse, however is a fine timber framed building. It is dated from the late 16th century with a 17th century rear wing and 18th century service wings. Another, extended timber framed house stands nearby, Lower House farmhouse dating from the late 15th century. Lee House looks Georgian. This lane leads down to the Worcester Road but I am not keen on walking along it as it is relatively narrow and very busy, so it is back the way I came. Back at the road junction, I turn right then left into the Nash road. It descends steeply. Jackdaws chack. The frost is melting, water plops onto dry leaves.

A junction at Whatmore leads to Whatmore Farm on one direction and onto Whatmore Court in the other. As I stand there two vans manage to turn up at the same time, an odd chance and even more fortunate that it is easy to pass. Whatmore Court is a large rambling house. The road turns sharply by a duck pond and starts to climb to Nash. The lane zigzags up the hill, the earth bank turning to brick at the top as the garden of Harley House starts. The views from the house must be magnificent. Nash Church of England School was built in 1846 and added to in 1873 and 1892. Past of the school is now a residence but the main hall looks unused. Opposite is the church of St John the Baptist.

Hatchment

The church was built as a chapel of Burford church with a nave and chancel under one continuous roof and west tower was built in a single phase of works in the early 14th century. A broached spire was added later in the 14th century and a north aisle in 1865. The nave roof structure also dates from the 19th century. Parts of the church are in a bad way. The north aisle is taped off as the floor is collapsing and plaster from the Victorian ceiling falls off regularly. There is a fine chancel screen carved at Louvain in Belgium. There are armorial hatchments on the walls relating to the Hill family of the nearby Court of Hill. The font is 14th century. A preaching cross stands in the churchyard.

To the south is the church is a large area is parkland of Nash Court, the seat of the Pardoe family built around 1765. From 1949 to 1977 it was the national training centre of the National Association of Boys Clubs, then a specialised school, which closed in 1991 and reverted to a house in 1994. A bell chimes midday but it comes from the Court, not the church. Rooks are gathering in the trees behind the Court, one would expect a rookery here but there is no sign of nests. A flock of Redwings are searching a pasture. On the edge is the field is a telegraph pole topped by a Common Buzzard. The lane enters the Clee Hill Road.

Across the field is the Court of Hill. The Hill family owned and lived at the manor which became known as Court of Hill from the Middle Ages. In 1683, as a young man, Andrew Hill rebuilt the house there. Another phase of building works, on the house’s surrounds, took place towards the end of the 18th century, some at least in the last decade of Thomas Hill’s life. On his death in 1776 he was succeeded by his elder daughter who had married Thomas Humphrey Lowe of Bromsgrove. This couple’s descendants held it until 1926 when the estate was sold to Edward Brocklehurst Fielden, MP, possessor of a cotton fortune.

The road heads south to Burford. Past a large gatehouse for Nash Court. A small group of houses is called The Cliffords. A valley descends from Nash Court. A large farm called Dean Lodge is on one side of the valley just up from the bottom, enough to give a fine aspect. The road has regular 20th century dwellings built beside it, none of any merit apart from Rugpits, a terrace of 6 houses built as almshouses. They are dated 1859 and have brick-coped shaped gables. Further down is Harp Bank Cottage, a canal house later used as a railway signalman’s house, built around 1795 for the Leominster-Stourport Canal and altered around 1858 for the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway Company. Beyond is a little wayside brick a with a chimney. The line entered Tenbury station here. The land has been filled in on the other side. Station House is up for sale but it looks far more modern than the original station. A large factory, Kerry, a food ingredients manufacturer, stands on the site of the cattle market. The Clee Hill Road joins the Worcester Road by the Rose and Crown, a timber framed building with an old Mitchells and Butler plaque on the wall. It is growing mistier and as the sun becomes obscured, colder. Into Boraston Lane. Past Old School Lane and Wharfside, where there were cottages and a wharf on the canal. Route

Friday – Hereford – In Leominster, the dampness continues but the air is less cold. The sky even has a few blue patches. A flock of Canada Geese are in a sheep pasture at Marlbrook. Mist lingers over Dinmore Hill. By Wellington the fields, trees and hedgerows are white with frost. I alight from the bus at Holmer and set off along Church Way. New houses are being built in the field to the north of the lane, not very inspiring although at least there is a variety of finishes; brick, rendered and wood. Left into Coldwell Road. It is much colder here than Leominster, all the trees tinged with frost. Both Coldwell Villa and Coldwells House have been enlarged since their 19th century origins, the latter into an extensive care home. The air is scented with wood smoke from wood burners. House Sparrows, Great Tits and Robins take advantage of feeders in gardens. New housing estates are spreading back from Roman Road. A Redwing and several Blackbirds are seeking grubs on a horse pasture. Through Munstone, which is almost all 20th century housing. Over the crossroads. Munstone House is much extended. Greenfinches chatter in the trees. The sun shines and the frost converted trees glow. Into FrostPatch Hill, a small hamlet based over a farm. A dwelling on the corner were church rooms built in then first third of the 20th century. Water drips off the trees as the sun melts the frost. Into Shelwick, another hamlet based this time on a couple of farms but now much expanded by 20th century housing. A bungalow is called Bannut Tree. According to the old maps, this was a beer house. The road bends to pass under the Hereford to Leominster railway line. The lane enters the road from Hereford to Sutton-St-Nicholas. Opposite is Shelwick Green containing Shelwick Court and Shelwick House. The Court, now owned by The Landmark Trust, is a stone house of around 1700 but within is a mediaeval great hall. Even more interesting is the fine roof of around 1400 which has come from another building. The manor was the property of the Bishops of Hereford at Domesday and it is possible this was the residence of their steward and manorial courts would have been held here. Shelwick House is an 18th century farmhouse. The Worcester and Hereford Canal ran under this road junction.

South towards Hereford, passing under the Hereford to Worcester railway line. Clouds are building. The road joins the A465 and I turn left. Fortunately there is a badly maintained footpath as the road is very busy. Several small bridges cross drainage ditches full of ice. It is a relief to leave the road and head off across the Lugg Meadows. The river flows steadily through banks of dead reeds and rushes. Bare branches of bushes sparkle wetly in the re-emerging sun. A substantial flock of Redwings, Blackbirds and Fieldfares are feeding on the meadows. Through a herd of Herefordshire bullocks who look on interestedly but move off when I wave my stick. Otherwise the meadows are quiet. Out by the southern gate onto the Lugwardine road and on towards the city. As present on the road at the north side of the meadows, there are a number of small bridges over drainage ditches. The bridges all have a stone plaque carrying their HCC number. Up the hill and past The Cock of Tupsley pub where I am tempted but keep going. The road into the city is lined with 20th century housing. One house, York Place, dated 1888, would have stood alone with no neighbours in any direction. The Ledbury road heads on in towards the centre. Tupsley War Memorial stands on the junction. A topiary display, City of Hereford, is on a grassy bank. A cast iron milepost states, Hampton Bishop Parish, To Hereford 1 mile, To Ledbury 13 miles. I peer in the window of The Rose and Crown but cannot see any proper beer.

Over the crossroads. Either side of the road is a large Victorian house, Edenhurst and Hafod House. The housing then returns to mid-20th century cheaper end buildings. Tupsley Lodge is late 18th or early 19th century, then a stream, Eign Brook, passes under the road. Under the railway line to South Wales. Into Central Avenue. An old Sycamore had numerous bunches of Mistletoe on its branches and the ground is scattered with squashed white sticky berries. The avenue ends at the Bath Street County Offices, boarded up. By the Barrels pub is a long building where Alfred Lovesey lived. He was the designer and developer of the Rolls Royce Merlin and Avon aircraft engines. Into the Barrels. On into the city centre which is busy, sales are on, despite there seeming to be almost permanent sales these days. The main road through the city is very congested but how many cities have a tractor with a trailer load of straw passing through the centre? The fog has descended again. Route

Saturday – Home – The year ends on a grey note. Damp, cold and grey. The year seems to be best summed up by a cartoon by Wiley which shows two men in an office looking out of a window at an enormous pigeon’s head which fills the window. One turns to the other and says, I wish I could say that is the strangest thing that’s happened this year! Who knows what next year will bring, one can only hope...