Ramblings

February 2019


Friday – Ludlow – It snowed yesterday evening and although the south-west of the country of experience heavy falls we were on the northern edge of the snowstorm and have only a light dusting. Heading north towards Ludlow the laying snow peters out and by the time I reached the town it appears none fell here at all. Down from the station to Corve Street. North along the street past houses some dating from the 15th century. Under the railway bridge and into Fishmore Road. A light breeze makes the cold all the more bitter. Houses here are 20th century with a small number of 19th century properties, the Lodgeoriginal Fishmore. Short flurries of snow swirl although it is rather hail than snow. A modern bridge crosses the A49. In the distance the Clee hills are white.

The road passes Fishmore Hall and then the Toll House. The road bends west and a narrower lane continues towards the hills. A tractor passes is pulling a tank of slurry, the odour following it all the way. Fifteen beehives are on the edge of a small woodland. A flock of pheasants fly off across a field of rape. There is much shotgun fire in the distance. The snow has now become persistent. At the foot of a hill is Whitbatch farm. The large farmhouse is 17th century with several additions added in the 19th century. Opposite nestled into the hillside is a cottage, originally called Gothic Lodge, then the South Lodge of Downton Hall. It has an octagonal tower which has a broad veranda around it, although the listing regards it as a tower with a wing. It was built in the early 19th century. The lane climbs a steep hill through a wood, the far western end of Tar Grove. Dog Mercury is close to flowering on the bank sides.

The lane climbs for less steeply now. Whitbatch cottage lays across a field with a deep gutter. The lane runs along a ridge with Corve Dale to the west and a valley cut by Hopton and Ledwyche Brooks to the east. The fields are large. A small wooden shed stands at the corner of one. The road levels out at Shortwood. The small house and barns of Shortwood Farm lay in ruins in the wood. The lane comes to a crossroads. Lodge farm on the junction has an 18th century farmhouse. To the right is the west drive to Downton Hall with another lodge, the West Lodge, built in the Gothick style around 1760. Downton Hall is privately owned. Built in 1733 it was the home of Wrendenhall Pearce. In 1781 his daughter Catherine married Sir Charles Rouse-Broughton, who had returned to England after working for the East India Company. He was MP for Evesham, then the rotten borough of Bramber where the owners of two cottages had the right to vote for and return a Member of Parliament each!

On the junction, a telephone box now houses a defibrillator. The snow has ceased now. To the east the snow covered cone of Titterstone Clee rises in the mist. Past California, a large house on Cleethe edge of California Coppice, once called Bent Coppice. Ahead to the north-east is Brown Clee, a patchwork of black hillside and snow. Across a crossroads at Haytons Bent. Stanton Lacy community hall stands by a cottage of 1903. On the other corner of the crossroads stands another house much extended so difficult to date, but it was once a smithy. A modern house stands on its own, then past Tory Lane where New House farm has a rather modest farmhouse for these parts. A small flock of starlings fly past these are the only birds apart from rooks crows and the occasional wood pigeon.

A large partially frozen pond lays beside a track which runs down to Witchcot, a rambling farmhouse of the 16th or 17th century. A nearby corrugated iron barn has a 17th century frame. Opposite is the site of a lost mediaeval village. The place is referred to as Wigecote in one old source. Several calling Fieldfares fly over. Back to the main lane. Opposite the entrance to Witchcott is a large triangular field called The Devil’s Mouthpiece. I can only find reference to this place as a quarry, now disused. The wind is getting stronger blowing coldly down from the North and it is getting darker so I turn back, having to follow the same route as any other route takes me onto a lengthy walk down busy main roads. From this direction is clear that New House farmhouse is larger than it first appears there is a small side wing but two larger conjoined wings on the back.

A Common Buzzard flies out of a tree and off across the field, it is the first time I have seen today. A Raven flies over croaking, rolling and twisting in the wind. It is harder coming back down the 1 in 7 Hill to Whitbatch as my knees complain. Route

Saturday – Home – The temperature barely rises above 3°C all day. The evening is bright and clear – it will be cold tonight. The International Space Station flies over heading south, the current crew being Anne McClain, Commander Oleg Kononenko and David Saint-Jacques. Cosmos 2151, a Russian ELINT (Electronic and Signals Intelligence), launched from Plesetsk in 1991 is heading north-east. Since the door opener and closer on the hen-house broke, I have to open and close it manually these days. Yesterday morning, the hens took some time to emerge, standing at the top of the ladder down to the run looking at the snow, the first they had encountered, with considerable suspicion.

Sunday – Leominster – Another freezing morning, the thermometer says -4°C. Two skeins of Canada Geese flyover noisily. There is thin cloud cover and just the merest hint of a breeze. The dry air means that the frost on the roofs and cars is not that thick.Fire Engine Jackdaws sit on the roof of the White Lion. Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons sit in the trees by the railway lines. A Song Thrush flies down to the frozen pub lawn. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen somewhat. Blackbirds dash across the water from one bank to the other. A Great Tit’s two note song rings out loudly from the riverbank. Montagu states that Tit is an abbreviated form of the word Titmouse, adopted by Gould and Yarrell. Pennant, Bewick, Montagu, Fleming, Selby and Jenyns, correctly employ the more familiar name of Titmouse. Correctly or not, Titmouse is now not used.

Little seems to have changed in Brightwells’ compound, maybe there have still been no sales this year. A few blackened haws hang from a skeletal grey Hawthorn Bush, stripped by the birds. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers squabble about possession of a tall Black Poplar. Reddish-purple catkins hang from Alders. Another Great Tit alternates in calls with the first, an unholy bidding and response. A Redwing sits in a bare apple tree by the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg. A shiny sable Blackbird chuck chucks as it flies across the water. Into Paradise Walk. A woodpecker is drumming on one of the trees. The water level in the Kenwater has also dropped. The cloud is getting thicker. The woodpecker has moved onto another tree which has a completely different tone. The minster bells ring out 9 o’clock. This is followed by the triple ring of bells calling to prayer. A Blue Tit chatters excitedly. The minster bells start again, bell ringers must be in for a session. A Wren is seeking food on the concrete banks of the Kenwater by the Priory Bridge. A Blackbird plucks snowberries from a nearby bush. Volunteer firemen are rushing into the fire station, some still in their pyjamas. Within just a few minutes the fire engine leaves the station and heads out to who knows what and where.

Friday – Leominster – Having been somewhat grounded by a small heart issue, today’s outing is just a local wander between downpours. Storm Erik (named apparently by the Irish Meteorological Service) has brought high winds and heavy rain. It is moving slowly so both Snowdropsweather conditions persist. Eventually the sun emerges. Across the Grange and down through the old football pitch on to Millennium Park. The bank between the park and the Minster churchyard is covered in a sea of white and green snowdrops. Robins and Dunnocks are singing at full volume even this late in the afternoon. In the Peace Garden there is a little splash of purple and pink from a small cyclamen. The Kenwater is higher than last weekend, running brown and fast. Buds are appearing on some trees and on a large rhododendron bush by the water. Dark clouds are approaching swiftly from the west. Along the path that runs from School Road past the wall of the Forbury. Sadly modern buildings obscure the façade of the Georgian house. The lane leading into Bridge Street car park would have crossed Pinsley Brook until the mid 20th century, it is now completely gone. It may have flowed where there is now an electricity transformer and a small brick shed with a pipe emerging from the side. The car park joins Bridge Street opposite a row of old buildings, Georgian and earlier. Nearly all in a poor condition. It creates bad impression on anybody entering the town centre. The next belt of rain arrives.

Saturday – Leominster – In the pale pre-dawn light a couple of skeins of Canada Geese honk as they fly over. They seem to make this journey every morning. I assume they roost either at Bodenham or Wellington lake but where they are now going is unknown. At home I sow several pots of broad beans in the greenhouse. It rains heavily again and the gale returns.

Brook

Sunday – Leominster – Yet more rain fell for several hours into the early morning. It is now cold wet and grey. A Great Tit sings loudly, not its two note song, but a squeak and a trill. As I approach the end of the street the rain returns. Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons occupy their usual spots on the rooftops, all hunched and silent. The water level in the River Lugg has risen considerably. It flows fast, a milky chocolate brown. There is a mingling of songs around Easters Meadow – a Dunnock, Song Thrush, Robins and Goldfinches twittering. A pair of Ravens twist, dive and float, playing in the air over the fields below Eaton Hill. A flock of Blue Tits feed high in Ash trees which are leafless but still have bunches of brown keys. They are joined by a dozen or more Siskin. A short distance below Ridgemoor Bridge rusty red-brown water pours out of Cheaton Brook into the Lugg. House Sparrows are investigated gaps in eaves of the old Elizabethan or Jacobean roof of The Poplands. The Kenwater flows rapidly. Blackbirds feed on the last remaining apples on the tree in The Priory.

Home – A length of guttering is filled with sieved compost, placed in the greenhouse and some peas are sown in it. Another row of peas is sown in one of the main beds. The chicken run is swampy but there is little point in putting fresh straw and chippings in until the weather improves a bit. The girls are still laying well, apart of course, from Bluebell who is getting old and slow but still seems in good health.

Monday – Stoke Prior-Stockton Cross – There is some blue sky overhead but the clouds to the west are grey and threatening. Along the Worcester Road. The units that run alongside the railway are an odd mixture; a garage, a car body shop, several large charity shops, large outdoor and country stores, a gym and industrial units. The old Worcester Road continues up and over a railway bridge now for pedestrians only. A Manchester bound train slows as it approaches the station. Under the bridge is a large pile of track ballast. Next to it is a white building, Sunnyside. It once was on a track that ran though orchards. Opposite is the signal box, known as Leominster South. The box is a type LNW/GW Joint 1 opened around 1875 and fitted with a 30 lever frame. Another signal box stood on a raised iron framework above the platform on the station. Over the bridge and across the A49, the Leominster bypass. A Song Thrush is in fine voice, Blackbirds seek grubs in the leaf litter. A Robin sings from the top of the tree next to Eaton Bridge. The River TreeLugg is still running high and fast.

Into the Stoke Prior road. The tumbledown remains of an old wall is covered in emerald moss, shining in the sunshine. A large dead Oak tree stands alone in the middle of the field beyond. Another Song Thrush sings in a roadside tree. In the corner of the field is a small flock of sheep. A small lamb wags its tail excitedly as it feeds from its mother. Eaton Farm has been mainly Mossconverted into residential units. Next to it is Eaton Barn, a gardening centre for those with learning difficulties. Beef cattle graze in a field with areas of standing water. Every footstep they take throws up mud. On the hillside across the road there are more lambs. The next field is empty of livestock but far more extensively flooded. A driver asks me where The Pound is situated. I tell her I know the name but I am not sure, so I look it up on my OS map on the phone and the GPS tells us we are actually standing next to it! Periwinkle flowers beside the road. Long-tailed Tits fly down the road dashing from tree to tree. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is in a row of poplars. A pair of Jackdaws and a Mistle Thrush are also in these trees. More Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows fly pass along the hillside. Passed Wheelbarrow Castle. I have yet to find the origin of this name although it is not uncommon. Canada Geese can be heard from the flooded fields. There is a lot of water on the road. I then realise a large pile of leaves is on top of a drain so I clear them away with my stick and water starts to pour down into the drain.

The lane end of the village crossing the small stream at the crossroads. The village has now lost its pub, shop and post office. The bus service is a once a week minibus, privately run. I turn up the lane that leads to the school. The barn that has been stripped down to its frame when I first walked around this area is now fully fitted with windows and what looks like a kitchen, however most of it appears to be filled with straw. The listing refers to the barn as 18th century stables and it appears that is still their use. The stream crossed earlier runs under the road again, issuing from a large pond in the grounds of Walls End Farm. The farmhouse beyond dates from around 1600. Wood Pigeons clatter out of the trees. The lane starts to climb. A side lane leads to the old Rectory, a large house on the hillside. Whilst looking at a notice I feel a nudge against my ankle and look down to see a cat which has wandered across the road to say hello. A woodpecker is drumming nearby.

On up the hill past another entrance to the old Rectory. Past couple of much extended cottages around older cores. The road continues to climb past a large, mature cider apple orchard. On the other side of the road the field is full of lumps and bumps of an old quarry. Past the school to the crossroads and I turned up northwards on the Roman Road. Skylarks are singing high above the fields. Past a farm house erected in 1861 according to the plaque on the wall. Past The Drum to the A44 Worcester Road and straight across following the Roman Road. The Trumpet which stood on the junction has disappeared completely. The lane dropped down to Stretford where the street, a common name for Roman roads, crosses Stretford brook. The old forge stands on the east side of the lane by the brook. On the other side of the brook is the Wain House, a long timber framed building which would have been a barn for carts. On the west side is Stretford Bury, an old farm once belonging to Leominster Priory. Rusty brown water has filled the brook.

The lane rises again then drops a little and crosses Holly Brook. Up again past Colaba house where longhorn cattle are bred. Patty’s Cross is a 17th century cottage. The rain continues past Widgeon Hill and on in a straight line. From here the Black Mountains can be seen, free of snow indicating the mildness of the weather recently. A large cider orchard lies Barnto the east of the lane. Fieldfares can be heard calling from within. From a gate, it can be seen there are numerous apples still scattered across the ground and Fieldfares are everywhere. They are magnificent birds with their slate grey heads and backs, pale grey rumps and the hint of chestnut about their breasts. One is bathing in a puddle on the track through the orchard. Cleavers are growing rapidly at the roadside hedges and leaves of Wild Arum unfurl into shiny green arrows. A pair of pollarded Oaks have a shock of young branches rising out of their large trunks. The lane descends gently passing Docklow Slade and then over Whittey Brook. Finally, over Cogwell Brook before meeting the A49, the Ludlow Road, at Stockton Cross.

By the junction there is another large cider orchard, however this one has had sheep on it and not a single apple remains so instead of Fieldfares there are the calls of Blue Tits. Along the A49. A rusting barn leans by a roadside house. Cheaton Brook is still flowing fast and rusty brown. Route – More or less...

Wednesday – Addlestone-Chertsey – It is a cool but not cold morning. Thin clouds cover the sky and, being west of Heathrow, it is criss-crossed with numerous vapour trails. A Dunnock sings and high in a tree a single Starling whistles quietly to itself. Out of Crockford Park, across the Brighton Road and into Liberty Lane. Interwar houses face post-war houses. At the tops of some taller trees are untidy clumps of twigs and leaves, probably old Magpie nests. Road names hint of the land that was here before expensive housing, Addlestone Park and Sayes Court Farm Drive. Sayes Court was a large country house long since demolished. Early 20th century housing would have stood next to fields and orchards, now all have been filled with late 20th century properties. Some properties such as Fieldhurst, formerly Field House, are of a decent size and would have been owned by the higher end of the middle classes. Towards the top of the road in a row of individually named Edwardian villas. The road ends facing a tall wall and barriers behind which runs the M25 motorway. A footbridge crosses the motorway. It is busy with cars speeding southwards but northwards is slow, little more than a crawl.

Beyond the motorway is an area of 20th century housing. Up Liberty Hill past a school. A Ring-necked Parakeet flies over and much higher, a large passenger aircraft turns and descends as it approaches for Heathrow. This is not a poor area, expensive cars sit outside most houses. A few old Oak trees stand beside the roads. Into Ongar Hill. Another school Churchstands next to the parish church of the Holy Family of the Roman Catholic diocese of Arundel and Brighton. Across the M25 again down Church Road. Feral pigeons sit on the motorway lamp standards. A Cormorant flies over, what must it make of the landscape below it. On the other side of the bridge is a large secondary school. St Paul’s church was built in 1836/7. In 1855 the chancel was added. Gravestones date from the mid 19th century.

School Lane consists largely of 1930s housing including some good examples of the Art Deco style, straight lines, flat roof and rendered in white. School traffic makes the road fairly chaotic, one car reverses out of a driveway straight into another. St Augustine’s convent now also a care home takes up a large plot. A large house, Fairfield was bought in the mid 20th century by the Congregation of Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, founded in Ciempozuelos, near Madrid, Spain in 1881. School Lane ends at Green Lane. A very large house stands opposite the junction. It is Brook House, formerly a mental hospital administered by Botleys Park. Under a large modern concrete bridge carrying St Peter’s Way, the A320. A Common Buzzard is on the main road’s embankment, searching the leaf litter. A footpath heads across Addlestone Moor. The moor is bounded on one side by the M25 motorway and on the other by Abbey Moor golf course. The moor is divided up into horse paddocks. A Greenfinch calls from a tree, several more Ring-necked Parakeets fly over. Addlestone cemetery is extensive. It was established in the early 20th century with a brick chapel. Green Woodpecker yaffles in the distance Carrion Crows bark. Now the moor is now divided into rectangular blocks by drainage ditches which are wooded. The small stream created by the ditches eventually drains into The Bourne which some distance to the east joins the Thames. Pannett’s Farm stands to the west, hidden by the trees.

A new housing development is being erected on the edge of the moor. Beyond it is the main railway line crossed fine cast iron bridge which could do with a lick of paint. Chertsey station is a short distance up the line. A Singapore airlines Boeing 777 bound for its home climbs out of Heathrow. Chertsey cemetery lays on one side of St Johns Way. On the other is Salesian College, founded as a Roman Catholic school in 1919, part of the Cor et Lumen Christi Community. Beyond the college is the older part of Chertsey cemetery with a fine Victorian chapel, St Stephen’s.

Into Eastworth Road where Meadow View is optimistically named, although probably more accurately in 1883 when it was built. St Ann’s Catholic church, built in the early 20th century, is a short distance at the road. Houses from the 1880s continue to line the road. On the corner of Queen Street is a large house with a crown on the wall, the former Police Station. A large square house with dark bricks stands next to it. Opposite is a fine red brick house, single storey with a second storey above the door, which has ornate chimneys and a scalloped tiled roof. Modern housing now lines the road as I travel westwards. A large green open space lays to the east of the road. The buildings are now a mixture of early and late 20th century as Eastworth Road approaches Bell Corner. Into Guildford Street. The Methodist church of 1876 is now flats. Guildford Street passes Curfew Bell Road. Across The Bourne, a much older Bridge stands next to the modern road bridge. Into the centre of Chertsey. The street looks mainly 19th century with several fine bank buildings. Guildford Street enters Windsor Street on the Staines and Windsor to Kingston and London road. War memorial stands opposite the end of Guildford Street. The Crown Hotel was rebuilt around 1898. Next to it Windowstands the old Town Hall which was built in 1851, architect George Briand. A water pump stands outside St Peter’s church, donated by John Ivatt Briscoe MP in 1863.

St Peter’s church was built in the 13th century but now just the west tower and chancel date from that period. The church was rebuilt in the 1806 and the tower has been rebuilt from the Belfry upwards at the same time. 19th century balconies are in the western corners of the nave. The organ is high above the nave on the northern side. In the south aisle, a former entrance was converted to amemorial chpel in 1922. There is some good Victorian glass. The font is an octagon of Caen stone made from the design of the font at Saint Mary’s, Oxford. It is in rectilinear style and was presented to the church by William Evans, Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1845. The Tower contains a fine peal of bells, a carillon and a clock.

Along Church Walk beside the graveyard. Most the gravestones have been removed and lined up against the back wall. The lane turns beside what looks like an old warehouse converted into apartments and here stands a small green, Abbey Green. Opposite is the old parsonage with a plaque saying it is the Abbey Gatehouse. The parsonage was built in the 18th century but parts of it are Wallearlier. It is now divided into 2 houses. Across the road is a green where there is the long Abbey Barn, mainly 17th century, converted into cottages and Manor Farm cottages, 16th century timber-framed houses. A lane leads to Ferry Lane past a green space containing a moat and fish ponds. Four fine gateposts lead into the park where there is a short section of two foot high wall which was one of the inner precinct walls of Chertsey Abbey. This was the first religious house to be built in Surrey. The Benedictine Abbey, dedicated to St Peter, was founded by Erkenwald, later bishop of London, in the 7th century. The site was then an island known as the Isle of Ceorot, which is theh origin of the name, Chertsey. The earlier wooden site was sacked by Viking raiders in 871. It was refounded in 964 and came one of the greatest modern monastic houses. By Domesday it held 50000 acres of land. The Abbey fell into a ruinous state and rebuilding commenced in 1110 and continued until the 13th century. The section of wall was probably built by John Rutherwyck, abbot from 1307 to 1346. Most of the abbey and monastery was dismantled during the dissolution. The main building of the abbey lay across Ferry Road on the site of a large 19th century house.

The lane continues past the old coach works which are in a mediaeval tithe barn. Abbey Bridge farmhouse stands by the Abbey River. Opposite there is a large dovecote, a rectangular structure with a gabled roof standing on a cast-iron column. It was constructed in 1880 and stood off Staines Lane in the garden of the iron founder, William Herring until 1999 when it was moved to this site. A bridge crosses the River Abbey which joins the Thames a short distance away. On the other side of the bridge is a large field in which there are earthworks. The field was called Abbey Mead but is now divided by the M3 motorway. Ferry Lane continues to the River Thames where a ferry once crossed but I turned back to the Abbey Barn. A bridleway runs past offices and an industrial site parallel with the London Road. A dried up water channel runs beside the bridleway. The bridleway joins Bridge Road the drain follows Bridge Road and is now called Black Ditch. It has been associated with the abbey. There are some older buildings on this junction particularly a pair of Georgian houses opposite.

The housing now is a mixture of Georgian and Victorian with a lot of modern infill. The road approaches Chertsey Bridge. The bridge was built between 1783 and 1785 by James Paine has five principal segmental arches with flanking single flood arches. A footpath runs alongside the River Thames. A large development of modern apartments stands beside the river. Here a two bed apartment here will cost the best part of half a million pounds or £1,200 a month. The route leaves the river at Bates Wharf. W Bates & Son are one of the longest standing boatyards and marinas on the River Thames , established as Taylor and Bates, building their first boats in the late 1800s. A path crosses Chertsey Meads and over the River Bourne. It then passes schools and emerges next to the fire station. Along a lane passing a large estate containing a film studio then joining the busy A317, Woburn Hill. There are some extremely large houses hidden behind woodland and tall walls. St George’s Roman Catholic ollege covers a substantial area of land in Woburn park. There appear to be some gravestones within a wood but as the whole area is private no investigation can be made. At the foot of Woburn Hill, Station Road leads into Addlestone. Large new office buildings and apartments have been built in the area before the station. From the station towards the centre of Addlestone. The shops here are fairly down market although all the new building should mean that the area is getting gentrified. Route

Thursday – Leominster-Ludlow – I return from Surrey driving through the night to get back to home early in the morning. There was some thick patches of fog particularly approaching Leominster which made the journey rather a strain. It is still damp and cool with a heavy mist lying across the land. Across the Grange where a pair of Cocker Spaniels are excitedly chasing their ball. Through the Minster churchyard and down The Priory to the old footbridge. A Dipper stands on the concrete edge of the River Kenwater. There are good numbers of Blackbirds along Paradise Walk. Out along the Ludlow Road then at Hay Lane I pick up the path which crosses the fields. Along beside Cheaton Brook, the other side of the field are barely visible in the mist.

Over the brook and into a sheep pasture where the resident moles have been very busy. The brook is still flowing rapidly but the water is clearer than of late. The next pasture also is home to a substantial number of moles which have raised hundreds of molehills right across the field. From this field across the Stoke Prior to Stockton Cross Road I rambled down earlier in the week. A lane leads to crossroads at Lower Pyke, then a lane runs down towards Stockton. Across Cogwell Brook. The field to the north has lumps which are house platforms from a lost mediaeval village.

Middleton

A lane heads north east from the Stockton Cross pub. The lane passes through Pateshall, a large farm. On past large cider apple orchards at Hillside farm which displays an organic logo. The lane comes to a junction at Cog Hall, beside Cogwell Brook. It then continues in a north-easterly direction. Large piles of manure are in fields ready for muck spreading. Town Farm stands on a gentle hill. The Rock is a large industrial farming unit. The lane crosses Upton Brook. Lower Withers is a fine Georgian farmhouse. At Five Ashes Cottage a large flock of winter thrushes is in surrounding trees making a considerable noise. Past the junction that leads to Middleton on The Hill a Doubly Fortunate Village, all of its soldiers returned home safely from both world wars.

Across the fields is Nurton Court, a substantial three storey Georgian farmhouse. A Yellowhammer flies along the hedgerow, its sulphur yellow brightening the dull grey morning. On past a junction at School House. Ford farm has a three bay farmhouse, 17th century with additions and alterations regularly since. A pair of Carrion Crows are harassing a Common Buzzard. They return to a tree where there is a large nest of sticks. The lane crosses Upton Brook again. The banks and woodland beside the brook are awash with snowdrops. Through Lower Upton. Across the fields is Nun Upton, a Jacobean farmhouse, brick-faced during the Restoration period. Through Stoney Cross, a small hamlet where half the houses are modern. Onto Lynch Lane. The sun is now shining brightly and burning off the mist and fog.

Lambs

The lane comes to the Tenbury Wells road at the bridge over the River Teme at Little Hereford. There are lambs in the field next to the bridge. One stands on its mother’s back, she seems utterly unconcerned. Another is jet black with a few white freckles and a white tip to its tail. A lane heads northwards between hedges over which are large fields, many containing sheep. Past several farms in hamlet of Middleton one of the many places in this area with that name. Temple Farm has a plaque advertising Stanley Herefords. These fine beasts are in a barn head through the bars feeding from a trough. The farmhouse is an interesting building, 17th century with 18th century alterations. A Primitive Methodist chapel has been converted into the residence. Middleton farm surrounded by barn conversions. Upper House farmhouse is 17th century, posibly with an earlier core. It has a timber-frame with a mixture of wattle and daub and brick infill. Willow cottage is a mixture of timber-framed and rough cut stone. Down the hillside is another large set of sheds for industrial animal production.

The Lane joins the Ludlow-Tenbury Road at Halfway House. However the house there is relatively modern and called Fairfield House. Halfway House farmhouse further along is far older. A field contains a number of remarkably dirty cows covered in mud. Burnt House farmhouse is a substantial building. Incham cottage set in woodland, Incham Coppice. Robins, Blue and Great Tits are singing in the woods. Beyond the woods are fields over which a Skylark sings. The lane comes to a junction called The Serpent. On one side of the junction is Serpent Farm, on the other large house also called The Serpent. The latter was an inn, hence the name, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. On down the lane, Steventon Road, there is a short row of very pleasant houses probably built for farm workers.

Up Tinkers Hill past a black and white house. Behind the house is the Serpent Coppice. Tinkers Hill is a hard slog at this stage of the walk. Down the other side. A large flock of Starlings is chattering incessantly in trees across a field. A Jay flies by. The lane goes over the A49 then under the Manchester to South Wales railway line. Beyond the railway is the hamlet of Steventon with Steventon manor down near the River Teme. Into Steventon New Road which runs past some very pleasant but very expensive housing. The lane divides into Temeside running alongside the river, I take the other road, still Steventon New Road, which runs up towards the town centre. A freight train passes with much graffitied wagons. Route

Friday – Ebbw Vale – The temperature hovers around freezing. Ice covers cars and the roofs of the houses are white with a heavy frost but it is not cold enough to freeze the puddles on the ground. A Song Thrush sings loudly in the woodlands between the station and Lammas Meadow. South of Leominster a bare field has rows of a root vegetable, possibly mangle wurzel, on which sheep are feeding. It is a win-win situation, sheep put on fat and their droppings manure the field. Beyond Dinmore Hill many fields are still under water, some frozen. Further down the line there is thick fog, it is difficult to see more than fifteen yards. It is intermittent, one side of the railway line is clear the other side densely fogged. The sun is a bright orange disk sitting just above the horizon. The fog returns after Abergavenny then dissolves again.

From Newport station I head up into a hillside of Victorian houses, one dated 1880. They are semi-detached, three storeys with an attic and to the rear, a basement. Up Serpentine Road. The church of St Mark, Gold Top is on a steep slope. It is locked up. It was built 1872-74, at a cost of £6,000, to the designs of Habershon, Pite & Fawckner of Newport. The Vestry, reredos and chancel screen were added 1902 by Graham, Hitchcox & Co. The parish in the prosperous suburb, was formed in 1875. The road above the church is called Gold HousesTops. Older spellings such as le Col toppe (1568) and Coldtop (1610) indicate name is English and means cold top – a cold, exposed hilltop. Here they are very large Victorian houses and villas homes of the rich merchants. Next to the church is the vicarage a large stone rambling building. A building which had housed a solicitors office is completely burnt out. Nearly all the buildings have been modified substantially is only at the end of the road where there is a building dated 1856 that retains its Neo-Gothic Victorian character. Gold Tops ends Godfrey Road where the Civic Centre a very large Art Deco building stands. It was commissioned by Newport Corporation in 1936, following an open competition for its design, which was won by T. Cecil Howitt of Nottingham, with F. E. Woolley as job architect. It is built in Portland stone. Up to Fields Road where there are more substantial Victorian houses. A bell in the art deco tower of the civic centre rings out 9 o’clock. More large houses stand high above the road with long steps climbing to the front doors. Some have mock Jacobean frontages, others ornate carved details. One is dated 1896. An eighteen foot high stone wall is on the opposite side to the houses screening the buildings below, stopping them being overlooked. There are coal holes in the wall, one still has its door, others are bricked up. A small building is in the wall was stables. The Victorian housing suddenly and early 20th century buildings takeover.

Into Edward VII Avenue, the name helping to date the housing. Towards the top of the hill, the houses are clearly into inter-war period, some with just a hint of Art Deco influence. Streets of decent sized houses lead off, again all pre-Second World War. Edward VII Avenue drops down to join Fields Park Road. Into Ridgeway. On the corner is a small square brick building Lockwith a large arched door, an electricity sub-station. Road is now part of the Sirhowy Valley Walk. Much of the housing remains classic pre-WWII. The road joins Ridgeway and drops steeply to the west now. A path runs down the hill across fields. At the foot of the hill is the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal and just beyond the noisy M4 motorway. The canal was built by Thomas Dadford Jnr. The canal is blocked where it passed under the motorway. On the other side is Fourteen Locks, an extraordinary flight of disused locks rising the hillside. I photograph them despite getting vertigo standing near the edge of the lock. The locks were constructed between 1795 and 1798 and rise 167 feet in just ½ mile. They were the last part of the Crumlin to Newport Arm of the canal and the effect on Newport was dramatic. In the 18th century, Newport had a population of around one thousand, by 1850 it was fifty thousand. The canal closed in 1949. Above the first flight of locks is a basin. A Lockmodern farm building stands nearby. By the next flight is Pensarn Cottage, the former lock-keeper’s residence dating from around 1800. The next flight of locks still have their gates and mechanisms, although clearly not used. A large cast iron bollard is beside the gates.

At the top of the hill is a large basin with a dragonfly statue in the middle. A café is on the far side and it is clearly a popular spot, particularly with the numerous Mallard who probably get fed regularly. There is one more lock beyond a road bridge. The Great Western metal sign stands by the bridge. Across the lock is a cast iron milepost, POTTER STREET LOCK 4 MILES DragonflyM.C.Co. On along the tow-path. Mallard are in pairs and seem to be in their own territories. A pair fly in to another’s territory and after a short squabble the incomers depart with the duck quacking loudly, pursued by the drake. There are also good numbers of Moorhens along the canal.

Suddenly, access to the tow-path is blocked for repairs. Fortunately a lane runs alongside the Newport golf club which takes me to the next bridge but the next section is also closed so I follow a road up Lower Mount Pleasant towards Ty-Sign. A track leads back down towards the canal. I chat with man with a couple of terriers. He explains that people are annoyed about the way the canal repairs are being undertaken as it felt it could be done in sections rather than closing off the whole area. Most of the trees down this pathway are coppiced Ash but there is one elderly Beech probably several hundred years old. At the bottom of the path is another bridge and beyond tow-path is open again. I am able to explain to another walker how to get back around the obstruction.

Ebbw Vale is now full of post-war council housing and large industrial plant. A thread of woodlands runs up the centre on the course of the Ebbw River, Afon Ebwy. Above the canal Ty-Sign is a large community built in the 1960s. In 1900, there were just two cottages here. The next bridge has lost its purpose as it leads to a thick woodland Graig. Formerly there were extensive quarries here, but these seem to have closed by the early 20th century. Later in the century a large clay pit used the bridge to feed the Ty’n-y-Cwm brickworks below the canal. Across the valley, Dan-y-Graig briskworks is still in operation. Just beyond the bridge is a stone buttress with a single ring on its face. A tree grows out of the top of it maybe 50 to 80 years old. The opposite bank is steep. Ferns adorn it and trees grow out of it, leaning towards the canal. The canal is broken by a road which links Ty-sign with Rhisga below in the valley. A Carrion Crow is anxious about something in the tree and I cannot see what its problem. A Magpie stalks along the tow-path. The canal is broken again by another road. A sign modelled on the old Great Western railway signs tell us that this area of the canal is called the Crumlin arm which ran for 16 km from Cwmcarn to Newport it was opened in 1796 from Crumlin and worked from until the 1940s. Across the valley, Mynydd Machen rises, topped by masts.

The canal is now passing behind older houses. Below hidden by trees at a railway line train passes brakes screeching as it slows for Risca, Rhysga, station. Across the valley A467 is on a raised causeway. The canal is bending this way and that following the contours of the hillside. Straight ahead is Twmbarlmn topped by a hill fort which I visited this time last year. Below in the Churchvalley is Risca. The church of St Mary stands on the site of a Roman building associated with the Second Legion stationed at Caerleon (Isca). A church was built here in 1146, a daughter church of Bassaleg. In 1733 dedication was to St Peter, later to St Michael. In the 17th century the village was called Ryseley, since the 18th Rhysga. This church was built in the Gothic revival style in 1852, the architect W G Habershon of London and Newport, the builder B Farmer and cost £1780. The tow-path becomes Brynhyfryd Terrace for a short distance. Under another bridge where embryonic stalactites are beginning to form. Water gushes out of a hillside down into the canal. Great Tits are calling all the way along the canal, which is interrupted again at Temperance Hill. The drop down to the railway below and the village of Ty Darran is quite precipitous. The canal has now been infilled and completely removed for some distance then starts again.

The tow-path comes to Greenmeadow Bridge. Short distance up the hillside is a burial ground where are a number of bodies of miners who died in Blackburn colliery after an explosion of fire damp on the 1st December 1860. 142 men and boys were killed working the steam coal seam known as the Blackvein. Many of the dead were taken to be buried in their home towns in England because locals refused to work the Blackvein as it had a reputation for dangerously high levels of firedamp. The canal continues its way, dug into the steep hillside. Above is a large area of cleared conifer plantation on Coed Mam-gu.

I am in Crosskeys, named after an inn. A train is due and although it is late I catch it to get to Cardiff Central to catch another train back to Newport. At Newport I discover a train has caught fire between Abergavenny and Hereford. The advice is to catch a train to Bristol meads then to Birmingham New Street and then somewhere else. So I get the Paddington train which stops at Bristol Meads where I alight. Onto a train for Glasgow which stops at Birmingham New Street but I am told I should get off at Cheltenham Spa and get a train to Worcester and then on to Hereford. This I do, but the train to Worcester is running late so late that it is clearly going to miss the connection. To add insult to injury it actually terminates at Worcester Shrub Hill station instead of Worcester Foregate, so I walk between them. I now have a long wait so I might as well go to the pub and have a pint before catching the Hereford train. Of course there is another long delay at Hereford waiting for the train which is running over half an hour late. The Holyhead train comes through apparently being pushed by diesel freight engine! I get home after travelling for 6½ hours. Route

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Patches of blue are appearing in the sky. It is mild but rather damp. Branches of willow have little white spots where pussy willow is about to blossom. There is a chorus of Robins, all defending their territories with song. Traveller’s Joy, the wild clematis, still has its fluffy seed heads but shoots of green appearing on the stems. A pair of Common Buzzards are soaring high out of Westfield Wood. Alders are covered in red catkins. The meadow is muddy and slippery. From the hide not a lot is to be seen. Noisy Canada Geese are on the far side of the island. Coot are scattered around the lake. The water level is high. There are a number of Greylag Geese on the lake, probably feral. There appears to be no Cormorants present and maybe only one or two Mallard. Two pairs of Goldeneye suddenly appear. A Mute Swan glides serenely from behind the eastern island. Two pickup trucks drive along the bank opposite temporarily silencing the Canada geese. A Moorhen emerges from the rushes. The workers in the trucks disturb the wildfowl on the far side and they begin to swim towards the centre of the lake. The water level is high, there is very little of the scrape visible. A pair of Pintail swim around from behind the island. They are followed by five Mandarin duck. Another two fly out from the island. Two drake Goldeneye get to close to each other and there is a quick squabble before they split. Another Mute Swan appears. Now a drake Tufted Duck has appeared.

Along the top edge of the meadow small toadstools are appearing. As usual I fail to identify them, Spring Brittlestem maybe? Tiny green leaves are just beginning to emerge on some Hawthorns. In the orchard the apple trees are still dormant. All the apples have now fallen and probably been eaten by the winter thrushes. Mistletoe is turning yellow. Blue Tits fly from tree to tree seeking food.

Friday – Church Stretton-Acton Scott – Last night was a full moon, a supermoon called the Snow Moon. It is the closest the moon will approach the earth this year. Dawn it is foggy and the sky has a luminous pink glow to it. A Blackbird and a Dunnock sing in the early morning gloom.

The fog becomes much denser as the train travels north of Leominster. By Church Stretton the mist is much thinner and is rapidly being burnt off by the sun. It is still cool, yesterday there were record temperatures for the time of year in Scotland. Out of the station across the A49 and across the old Roman Road. Past The Sandford, a former hotel now care home and onto a track leading up towards the gap between Hazler and Ragleth hills. A short distance up the track is the manse, an early 20th century building. All other buildings are late 20th century. Through 20th century housing estate and back onto a track still heading east. To the north the rocky outcrops on the top of Caer Caradoc, behind the Cardingmill Valley leading to Long Mynd. Raven croaks from the wooded slopes of Ragleth Hill. Through the abandoned sheds and barns of Snatchfield farm (which does not appear on maps until the 1970s) and onto a track that leads up to the saddle between the hills. A stream runs down through the woods cloaking the saddle. A small footbridge crosses it and the path continues upwards. A Blackbird, Chaffinches, Song Thrush and a Great Tit are singing.

Out of the woods and past a 20th century house and onto Henley Lane. West along the lane for a short distance then south into Chelmick Lane and again a short distance before turning east into Bull Lane. The lane descends passing a 1960s house, Fernvale, hidden behind towering Yew hedges. A flock of Chaffinches rises from the spilt hay around cattle ring feeder. Nethersprings is large house dating from the first half of the 20th century. A large flock of sheep stand motionless on the hillside staring at me. They then move down the hill towards me with a loud chorus of baaing. Beyond are the craggy outcrops of Caer Caradoc. Through Hazler farm, built in the late 20th century, though opposite are some large early 20th century houses. The lane enters the B4371. This road was turnpiked in 1765 with a toll gate at Hope Gate and disturnpiked in 1875.

The road enters Hope Bowdler. Hope Bowdler House, the former rectory, is now a care home. It is a large three-storey house with a wing with attic rooms dated 1861. Opposite Lower farmhouse is a substantial building. All of the farm buildings have been demolished and modern housing built. The Manor House looks a modern build despite being Elizabethan in design. A path leads to St Andrew’s church. LychgateThe lychgate has fine old stone tiles and a Pulpitsubstantial block of stone for resting the coffin with a cross at one end and gate posts at the other but the gates are missing. A path leads round to the entrance through 13 yew trees. In Domesday, the manor was called Fordritishope and belong to the Saxon Edric Sauvage known as Wild Edric. There were two villani, four servi, and two bondwomen in the manor. The name Hope Bowdler comes from the Celtic word hope meaning a narrow valley between two hills and Baldwin de Bollard, an important landowner. The church was founded in the 12th century and in 1231 Steven de Hope was named as the first patron of the church. The present building dates from a rebuilding in 1863 by S Pountney Smith in the early English style. The finely carved pulpit is dated 1639. The glass is by Kempe, some reset mediaeval pieces. The west window is dated 1866, in memory of Philippi Henrici Riou Benson of the Benson family who are long associated with the church as patrons and clergy. The tower holds six bells. one is mediaeval, another by Thomas Roberts is dated 1681, another is dated 1887 to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria and two additional bells were cast by John Taylor of Loughborough and installed in 1928. Beside the south door is a window of 1901 commemorating the reign of Queen Victoria.

A timber-frame cottage, Ivy Cottage, 17th century with a modern extension, stands at the foot of the graveyard. Off down the Soudley road. The village hall is a fairly modern corrugated iron building. To the south is the steep slope up to Yelds Bank cut by a stream which flows down from Hope Bowdler Hill. The high ground consists of Chatwall Flags And Chatwall Sandstone, formed approximately 449 to 458 million years ago in the Ordovician Period. The lower ground is Harnage Shale Formation,also formed approximately 449 to 458 million years ago. The houses down the lane are a mixture of older and large properties and modern houses, one still being constructed. In the valley below the stream has formed Soudley Pools. Soudley Cottage, a very substantial stone building stands on a cross roads. A lane leads off to the south-west. Down this lane are much modernised old stone farmhouses and modern buildings. Across a tiny brook which has carved out Chelmick valley. Fields either side of the lane seem to be sown with monoculture grass. The lane joins another at Birtley, a small hamlet. To the north the fields and woodland are called Rogers Rough. To the south, Ape Dale is still covered in mist. A police helicopter passes over. Hatton consists of three farms – Upper Farm, Lower Farm and Hatton Manor. The manor house is mid 15th century with 16th century and 18th century additions. The listing states, the main range contains a former 15th century open hall with smoke-blackened rafters and arch-braced collar-truss and cruck-truss in 2-bay former open hall. Upper farmhouse is late 16th century. All three are working farms. Hatton Cottage just along from the farms is the former parish workhouse. It then became The Bluebell Inn, the two houses and now a single residence. It is dated 1679.

The lane bends as it drops down to cross a small stream which flows down Rag Batch. Jays call in nearby Oak trees. Robins, Song Thrushes and Wrens sing. To the south of lane is Hatton Wood and across the fields to north is Jubilee Plantation. The lane comes to Acton Scott working farm museum made famous by the television series the Victorian Farm. It is closed for the season. A footpath leads to a field where are there was a Roman villa though nothing seems to remain now. Far beyond the field is the long dark line of Wenlock Edge.

Back to the lane and up towards a junction. Celandines are flowering on the roadside banks, bright yellow stars in the green and brown. Past the village hall. At the junction the route heads north past Castle Hill cottages. A Pied Wagtail runs along the roof of the cottages. The disembodied song of a Skylark floats down from above. Shiny black Carrion Crows sit in the trees. By the roadside there are a pair of Black Poplars planted in 2002 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. There are four older trees in the field with a notice but I cannot get to it. The sun is now shining in a blue sky and it has warmed up considerably.

A footpath heads north-east around a field. In the corner of the field is a circular concrete reservoir. The fields appear to be sown with grass or similar plant. Stalks from last year show that maize was grown here. On through the field the hedge of one has been cut back considerably and relaid. Mewing Common Buzzards circle Ragleth Hill. Skylarks sing above. The path comes to a bare beside which are piles of rusting and decaying farm machinery and vehicles. The footpath comes to a lane at Ragdon farmhouse, a three-bayed early 19th century building. The route rejoins Henley Lane further down from where I walked on it earlier. The map calls it the Cross Britain Way.

A large modern house with windows from ground to gable stands underneath Ragleth Hill. Up a lane signed Dry Hill Farm which appears to be the modern building. The path crosses the end of Ragleth Hill and down towards Church Stretton. Through Gough’s Coppice. Steps descend steeply making my knees complain. Down through a housing estate, the Donkey Patch, across the Roman road and into the town. Route

Monday – Leominster – Again the town is wrapped in fog. There is a damp chill to the air. Into South Street. A house has exposed the old shop front Ridley Baker and Confectioner in gold letters on a brown facia. Thomas Lewis Ridley was recorded here as Baker and Flour Seller in 1851, John Valentine Ridley, Baker in 1876 and Gabriel Ridley in 1913. Thomas was recorded as appearing before The Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors in Hereford on 26th October 1841. He was formerly a farmer of Stoke Prior, then a baker and beer retailer of School Lane and previously out of business, in Lodgings, previously of the Pantaloon Tap, School ShopLane, Liverpool. A terrace of large houses stands in Beresford Place. Opposite is Jubilee Cottage, 1890 and Downes Court. Road painted sign is over the entrance to the court EE Downes, believed to be blacksmiths. Beside is another house also a former shop then the former Black Horse pub, sadly also now house. On down the street there are more homes that were formerly shops. Some date from the 16th century, remodelled in the 19th century. Past the Moravian church and its small row of cottages. Opposite is Gateway Lane through a high entrance with just enough space for an attic room above it. A former petrol station is now empty again after being a furniture sales room. A small general stores still remains open in the corner. The Community Hospital is still in an old building although the back is all modernised. A Victorian terrace has retained its windows. Opposite is a small cottage and modern apartment blocks before the houses start to get much bigger. On this side is the large car park for the Earl Mortimer school, sadly the old school building which stood next to the road was demolished a few years ago. On the eastern side of the road are early 20th century houses, some semis, some in small terraces. Opposite are large Victorian houses in some earlier Georgian properties. Heather Hill is a large house hidden behind specimen trees. It dates from around 1830 but retains a 17th century wing from an earlier house. South Street becomes Hereford Road and on the western side of houses are all 20th century. To the east is Elm lodge, home in the Edwardian period to William Laver, a land and estate agent. Hereford Terrace leads eastwards to the playing fields of Earl Mortimer School. The houses here are all Victorian. The road continues in the same vein, 20th century to the west, on old cider orchard, 19th century to the east, Prospect Cottages are dated 1863. There is some modern infill to the east. A footpath leaves Hereford Road by Town End cottage which is probably 17th century.

The path passes a narrow track that was once a route for hop pickers coming out of the town to the hop yard which covered this area. Up to Cockcroft Lane, now just the path. The fields here lay fallow but at the top there is a mountain of manure ready to be spread. These fields belong to an organic farm. Another huge pile of manure is in the field above the houses on Passa Lane. Visibility along with ridge is less than 50 yards. Song Thrushes sing in the distance and nearby but invisible a Mistle Thrush rasps. Condensing fog drips off of the trees. Ivy berries have finally ripened and turned black and will being fed upon by Blackbirds. Bright lime green Hawthorn leaves are emerging and darker green, purple backed Elder leaves are unfurling. Onto Ryelands Road and past the Toll House. Down the hill, on a bank of south-facing scrub is some blossoming Blackthorn.

Wednesday – Bodenham lake – A bright frosty start to the morning. A woodpecker drums in the lakeside trees. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in the same area whilst another in West Field Wood responds. Great Tits, Dunnocks, Robins and Blackbirds sing. The lake is still and quiet with birds scattered across it – Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Canada Geese, a Mute Swan, Tufted Duck Coot, Moorhens and a pair of Gadwall. A Grey Heron flies up from the reeds in front of the hide and heads across the lake. A Coot stands on top of the dead reeds looking rather confused as if it is not sure why it is up there. It is making a quiet tapping noise. A single Cormorant is in one of the trees. The small flock of Teal come closer and I can see there is another drake Gadwall with them.

The sun is beginning to warm the air. These past few days have been the warmest February days on record. The weather has also been very dry over recent weeks. Unfortunately this has led to a number of extensive moorland fires in different parts of the country. There are still several Fieldfare in the cider apple orchard. On the way back home I am stopped on the Gloucester road whilst a tree is felled. Contractors are thinning trees that look about ten to twenty years old along a stretch of the road leading to the Lugg bridge. Two men with large loppers remove all the top branches so as to clear one half of the road and we are let through.