Ramblings

January 2012


Sunday – Home – The New Year dawns under a grey sky. We do not bother celebrating the midnight but were kept awake by the modern craze for setting off fireworks, which, of course, upset Maddy! Blackbirds explode from the garden as I head for the chickens. Yesterday they all laid, something of a surprise as old Ginger has not been in lay for some months. This morning the nest area is a mess – one of them has used it as a roost overnight, despite my removing them all to the perch last night. The straw is fouled and more annoyingly an egg has been broken. I clean up the mess and collect the two remaining eggs. A couple of leeks are dug for dinner. The day remains grey and cool. Goldfinches, Blue Tits, House Sparrows and a Redwing flit around the bottom of the garden. A fourth egg has been laid, so Ginger really does seem to be back in lay when most chickens are in winter unproductiveness.

Monday – Leominster – The stars are bright although the water flowing down the street shows it has only recently stopped raining. A satellite passes over to the east, visible for only a brief time. There is no satellite in the lists that matches this time and position but there is an Iridium Flare. Iridium Communication satellites have a peculiar shape with three polished door-sized antennas, 120° apart and at 40° angles with the main bus. One of these antenna catches the sun and produces a bright light that last for only a few seconds. This one is Iridium 60, launched from Vandenberg Airbase in California on 30th March 1998. A few minutes later, another satellite passes from north to south. This is an Arienne 5 rocket body launched by from Kourou in French Guiana on 1st March 2002 and carried the Envisat Environmental Satellite.

St Michaels – This village, on the Leominster-Tenbury road is distinguished from most villages around here by the large church that gives the place its name. A large common, Oldwood Common, lies to the north-east. A pond, once a sand pit, at the edge of the common has an old stone circular plinth topped with a gleaming stainless steel tree. A Green Woodpecker undulates its way across the open space. Nuthatches call from nearby trees. The day Silver Tree is now bright with a biting wind. Titterstone Clee rises, pale with a thin scattering of snow. A cottage, Glebe Cottage has an array of photovoltaic panels on a sloping frame at the bottom of their garden, a clever way of getting solar energy with spoiling the historic ambience of the cottage. Nearby, a large house is an interesting show of different architectural features as extensions were added. Behind the house the field was called the Lion's Den. A track runs part of the way around the common. It was a race track in the 1890s and the common a golf course in the early 20th century. Down to Bradley’s Corner then across the common. Too many dogs with owners who cannot control them. Victorian tea gardens lay on the north-western edge of the common, now just a green by the entrance to a large house. Back to the main road and down to the Church of St Michael and All Angels and St Michaels College. The college and its church were built in 1865 by Sir Frederick Ouseley to promote the performance of Anglican church music. Until its closure in 1985, the school regularly sang 150 settings of evensong; it was the last educational establishment in England to sing the orders throughout the week. The college is now an international school. Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman spoke of the College, referring to:

The approach to the church is through a gate with a lamp above erected to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Unfortunately, and unusually for these parts, the church is locked.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A windy, grey, overcast morning greets us. A Kestrel flies up from the orchard but little else is around. Wildfowl are noisy on the lake. At The east end, Mallard are quacking as the drakes circle the ducks, Wigeon are whistling and Canada Geese cackling. It seems only the Coot and Tufted Duck are silent and they dive for food. The American Wigeon that has been at Wellington gravel pits for some time has been reported here in the last few days. I start scanning but suddenly the bulk of the Wigeon take off. It is a Common Buzzard that scares them as it glides over the lake. Unfortunately they will not resettle and fly around and around and it seems that some of the flock are going to head down to Wellington, so I give up searching for the rarity. We head round to the River Lugg. The path is treacherous with slippery mud. The river is much higher than it has been for months and is flowing grey-brown and fast. We head back past the church of St Michael and All Angels.

Thursday – Church Stretton – We pay a quick visit to Church Stretton, mainly to peruse the large antique centre there. Much fascinating stuff, but not the piece of furniture we are seeking. Round to the church of St Laurence where we do not tarry long as there is a service in progress. Normally we would not disturb the congregation at all but a verger is insistent that we can look around regardless. In the event we just look at some of the quite good Victorian glass. One window is dedicated to Frederick Lord Leighton, Chairman of the Royal Academy. Born in 1830, he was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was the first painter to be given a peerage, but unfortunately is better known as the bearer of the shortest peerage in history. The patent for his peerage was issued on 24th January 1896. He had no connection with Church Stretton – he took the title after Sir Baldwyn Leighton of Alderbury suggested it. He died childless the following day, thus his barony was extinguished after just one day. We head up to Cardingmill Valley to eat lunch and give Maddy a quick ball chasing session. Heading back to Leominster we pass the unfortunate sight of a large shed burning down – the Fire Brigade report states that three cars and a digger were in the shed. At least the house and occupants were safe.

Leominster – The violent winds have claimed a victim. The large tree on the far side of the Grange, a False Acacia I think, has been downed. It looks like that the trunk had cracked badly and tree surgeons have had to fell it. (I later learn the tree was a Wych Elm, which makes the loss even more tragic. Like most Elms in Britain, the Wych Elm has suffered devastating reductions in numbers because of Dutch Elm Disease.)

Friday – Mortimer Forest – It is well past eight o’clock but the sun is only just above the eastern hills. The air is cold, just above freezing. Carrion Crows caw loudly. The wind has dropped and there are just a few small branches downed by the gales but no major damage here. A Green Woodpecker calls and tits chatter. The winter rains have stripped the layer of hardcore off the track leaving the tilted siltstone layers exposed. Finches twitter in the distance. A Great Tit squeaks its repetitive song. A chain-saw buzzes from the other side of Hanway Common. A large flock of Wood Pigeons fly over. The finch flock, Redpoll and Siskin, alight in conifers and birches, still calling excitedly. The sun is bright through a flimsy veil of cirrus clouds.

Saturday – Leominster – The sky is busy, no less than six satellites pass in a few minutes. Most are Cosmos rocket bodies. One is tumbling in space and winks on and off as the sun catches it. A shooting star blazes and vanishes in the western sky. Just the stump and a few twigs is all that remains of the fallen tree on the Grange.

Home – I notice that all the parsnip leaves have died back, so it seems a good idea to dig them out. Without the leaves as markers, I have to dig the entire row up to find them all. Some more thinning may have been a good idea, some are small and twisted around each other but there are a number of decent sized roots and one particularly large one. There is five pounds in weight of parsnip, not a huge crop but pleasing. The other day I was surprised to find a Small White caterpillar in the pak choi. I realise that I may have noticed this earlier considering the numerous holes in the spinach. I am slowly clearing this patch, but there is no rush, it will probably be used mainly for courgettes, still many months off. Leeks are slowly being used and they will last some time yet. I dig a trench where the runner beans are going to go this year and start filling it with kitchen and chicken waste. As soon as the trench is full, it is covered by the soil from the next trench and I will work down the bed. The chickens are still laying well but throwing them off the nests every single night does not seem to teach them to use the perch instead.

Monday – Bodenham Lake – Clouds drift across the sky leaving patches of blue. It is cool but not really cold. Across from the boat-hard are numerous wildfowl. Mallards preen, drake Teal toss their heads and whistle as they seek to Catkinsimpress the ducks. Canada Geese are noisy. Wigeon swim around, seemingly without purpose. I check the females carefully. There are minor plumage differences but nothing that convinces me that one of them is the elusive American Wigeon. A Great Crested Grebe sits motionless. Goldeneyes swim swiftly past and dive. Along the hedgerow there are flashes of white rump as first a Bullfinch then a Jay slip silently away. Out from the hide there is much splashing as Canada Geese dive, roll and shake their feathers clean. A Cormorant sots on the pontoon. Coot are in front of the hide, squabbling as usual. More Cormorants and Canada Geese are apparently standing on water as the spit is now submerged. Grey Herons hunch down on undergrowth on the banks. The woods and thickets look bare and lifeless but the promise of spring is there in lime coloured catkins on Hazels. Gorse is, as always, in flower. Blue and Great Tits call continuously as they move through the branches in their quest for food.

Wednesday – Croft Ambrey – The sun is lined up with the ride down into the Fish Pool Valley, framed by trees. A Song Thrush sings strongly. Great and Blue Tits chatter. Water bubbles through the overflow channels and rills from one pool to the next down the valley. A Grey Wagtail bobs on a faded notice standing in one of the pools. Standing on the path out of the valley there is a lot of sound, Song Thrush, tits, Nuthatches, Wren, running water but no noise. Beneath the natural sounds there is a peaceful silence. It does not last long, guns start blasting in the distance. From Croft Ambrey the land is mottled in light and shade as clouds move slowly over. A drone comes from the quarry and large lorries heading for it rumble along the narrow lane far below. A Blue Tit is calling persistently above me in the old Ash, the low boughs bent to the ground providing a splendid seat. Ravens call to each other over the woods in their deep, guttural voices.

Thursday – Leominster – The stump of the fallen tree is being ground out by some noisy machine and by nightfall has disappeared completely. New metal guards have been placed around the apple trees in the Millennium Park; I am not sure why, they do not look bad, but seem pointless. I was annoyed when I first saw them because the old wooden stakes had been removed and the name plates of the individual trees along with them. However, new plates identifying the varieties have now been affixed to the trunks. Snowdrops are flowering in the churchyard.

Friday – Hergest Ridge – A heavy overnight frost has left the hills pale in the morning sun. It is still much colder than it has been for weeks. A lorry is trying to get up to the ridge but its wheels slip on the wet leaves embedded in the tarmac and it fail to gain purchase. Starlings fly over with that directness and purposefulness that makes them so distinctive. The hills look bleak, Bradnor, its lower slopes cloaked in dark green conifers and Stanner covered in leafless Alders, birches and Ashes stand close by and Black Mixen and Whimble with its Bronze Age barrows further to the north-west. A Jay flies across the hill. At the Monkey Puzzle grove the Whetstone can be seen across the hilltop now that gorse and bracken have been cut back. A new post with an arm that swivels out to reveal an information board about the Whetstone stands on the summit. It recalls the tale that the Whetstone walks down the hill at night for a drink. More prosaically but rather more accurately it states the stone is an erratic carried here by ice during an Ice Age. It comes from nearby Hanter Hill and is made of crystalline gabbroic rock that has often been cut and polished to make kitchen worktops. The sky has clouded over and a chill wind blows up here.

Old Radnor – A village that now looks a typical small habitation in this part of Wales but the substantial church of St Stephen suggests a different history. The village is called Pencraig in Welsh. Radnor, mentioned in Domesday, means red bank or hillside. Pencraig means on top of the rock. The church Tombstands on a hillock, a ledge on the hillside, and is, annoyingly, locked. The hillock contains remains of Bronze Age earthworks. There would have been a pre-Conquest church here, probably dedicated to St MotteYstyffan, a saint from the late 6th century who was part of the Powys royal family. The name Ystyffan could have been mistaken by the Normans as being St Stephen. Certainly, it is a unique dedication in Wales. The current church is mainly 15th and early 16th century. There are several fine tombs in the graveyard. By the car park is a deep semi-circular moat behind the old schoolhouse, now a private residence. It is thought Old Radnor castle stood on the site of the old schoolhouse. Near the church stands The Harp, a 15th century Welsh longhouse pub. Down the hill towards Walton is the motte and bailey of Nimble Castle. The castle is also called Knapp, Maes Hyfaidd or Maes Hyvaidd and little is known about it. It was possibly built by Philip de Braose at the end of the 11th century.

Monday – Croft – Clear skies overnight sent the temperatures down below freezing and frosted the land. The morning mists are now being burned off by an intense sun. A woodpecker drums in the car park, Nuthatches and Blue Tits call Sheepand Song thrushes sing deep in the woods. We crunch up through the frozen, copper leaf litter to the ride across Highwood Bank then down to the path junction. Grey Squirrels friskily chase each other up and down trees. It is quiet but unlike last week there is a distant drone of machinery. Up the valley where the path is rutted with hundreds of deer hoof prints in the frozen mud. Sheep are in the Bracken. Up to Whiteway Head and Leinthall Common. The path is treacherous with ridges of frozen mud waiting to turn an ankle. The sun has failed to make much impact on the mist and the hills are hidden in grey. Frost lies thickly on the brambles and brown, dead Bracken beside the path. A Nuthatch calls noisily from a Hornbeam near Croft Ambrey. A small herd of dark-backed Fallow Deer are on the northern slope of the hill fort. They hurry away along the hillside as Maddy watches from the edge of the fort. The return to the car park is heralded by the still drumming woodpecker and calling Nuthatches.

Home – The afternoon remains cold with the temperature stuck below zero. Ice on the pond takes some breaking, it will freeze again quickly but gives the birds a chance of a drink. A flock of Goldfinches twitter at the top of the tall Ash, their breasts catching the sun and shining pale brass. The plants in the beds are all looking sorry for themselves, drooping in the cold, but they will recover when it turns milder. Some horse muck has been spread on the bed that will be used for potatoes this year. The tubers are already chitting in the summer house but it will some weeks before they are sown. The first Runner bean trench has been filled with droppings from the chicken house and kitchen waste and back-filled. A second is now filling. I am keen to get things moving but starting too early in the season is nearly always a mistake, the temperature never rises as soon as I wish. However, seeds have been ordered and I will sow chilli seeds later this week.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The weather has changed, frost and cold replaced by milder air and damp. House Sparrows near the village, Robins, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits all call making a dense weave of sound. Candle Snuff Fungus, Xylaria hpoxylon, grows out of the grass in the sapling spinney, but moss shows there are stumps hidden Pheasantunderground from which the fungi emerge. Good numbers of Tufted Duck, Teal, Mallard and Wigeon gather around the area of the spit which is now completely submerged. The only calls from the water are whistles from the Teal, which means no Canada Geese, they must be away feeding in the fields. Neither are there any Cormorants present. A cock Ring-necked Pheasant stands on the scrape. A pair of Teal dabble nearby. Goldeneye dive near the reed bed. There is a second cock pheasant and a hen on the scrape and the scene looks set for confrontation, but after a bit of wandering around and eyeing each other the second male flies off to the island. The slope in front of the hide looks bright in a quite iridescent lime green. This because the ground is mainly moss, not grasses. Three Moorhens search this mossy ground for food.

Friday – Titterstone Clee – There is only one question – what on earth am I doing up on the summit of Titterstone Clee in the teeth of a gale and rain? No sensible answer is forthcoming. The two geodesic domes, footballs, one large on a stumpy Entranceconcrete tower, one smaller on a steel framework are now the only working radar as the dishes have been removed from the other two units, just the bases of the latter remain. Brown Clee is covered in cloud. Down to the great line of stone that protected the flanks of the Iron Age hillfort. The importance of this site through millennia is demonstrated by the fact that it is marked on the Mappa Mundi, a world map from the early 13th century. Sheep feed, their backs orange with raddle. Large stones have been stood upright to form a line. Further round the hill a large stone has been placed on a boulder. These stones echo our ancestors’ desire to make their mark on a wild landscape but a mark that will eventually fall. I follow the rampart around the south-east of the hill. There is what looks like an entrance with rocks piled up either side, but is an unfilled trench from excavations in 1932. Further round is another circular shelter. From Clee Hill village, shafts of light breaking through the clouds illuminate the distant Malvern Hills.

Little Hereford – The River Teme flows swiftly under a fine single arch bridge of 1924/25. It is rather prosaically called H.C.C. County Bridge No. 72. A small island divides the flow. This side of the river is an orchard, the other a pub.

Monday – Lyonshall – A village towards Kington, unfortunately divided by the busy A44. Artefacts from the Mesolithic era Grotesqueonwards indicate a long history. Domesday records Lenehalle as being held by Roger de Laci, pre-Conquest it was held by Thorkell and owned by Earl Harold. The name comes from Lene meaning a flowing stream, reference to the Lugg and Arrow rivers, and the name is also found in the name of Leominster and the land element of Eardisland, Monkland and Kingsland, and hall or halle meaning a nook or hollow. Up a bridleway between the big house, Castle Weir and the hillock upon which stands the church and the remains of a castle. White jewels are clumped on the verge, snowdrops flowering under an avenue of Oaks, some probably well over two hundred years old, others maybe half a century, replacing old fallen trees. Nuthatches whoop from above; a Common Buzzard mews as it flies off; Carrion Crows caw; Robins sing and tits chatter. The house, Castle Weir, was built in the 18th century by the Cheese family. The name, Castle Weir, comes from castle ward, i.e. in the protection of the castle. A long pond, part of the castle moat, lies by Castle Weir Farm. A stone built drainage overflow cistern stands by its edge.

The track passes fields of fruit bushes – currants I think. The hedge is on a raised bank and has been coppiced and laid for many years, probably centuries. On past pens for pheasant rearing and into Lyonshall GlassPark Wood, part of an old deer park. Large stones in the track with holes for ties indicate a tramway ran here. The Kington to Eardisley Tramroad was built around 1820 to move cast iron, lime, agricultural produce such as flour and malt and textiles and clothing from the woollen mills. It was 8 miles long and horse drawn and despite the building of railways locally, it survived until 1863. The woods are full of croaking pheasants. A flock of finches flies off into the trees. The track joins a minor road. Down an old rutted track is Tramway Pool, a long lake choked with both living and dead willows. Although some sources say the pool was for the horses pulling the tramway trucks to have a drink, it does not appear on the 1890 OS map and therefore had nothing to do with the tramway. It was dug at the end of the 19th century probably for ducks for shooting. A pair of Mallard slip out of sight in the dense branches in the water. On the other side of the lane is a deep gully, possibly the route Castleof the tramway. A footpath leads off beneath an impressive tree house some 30 or 40 feet above the ground. It starts raining heavily.

The track passes a smallholding with pens of pigs and chickens. The path crosses a field containing a magnificent old Oak with massive spreading branches. Large whorls of thistle leaves lie in the grass. The church of St Michael and All Saints is open but the lights do not work! Built of sandstone some time after 1250, there was at least one earlier church on the site. On the west wall is a high Norman window which has survived from the earlier Norman church. Also, on a pillar is a grotesque also probably from an earlier church. There was a substantial restoration in 1870 when the internal fittings were replaced and the porch built. The font is 13th century on a modern base. The north arcade is early English and dates from 1250 and the southern arcade from a century later. Most of the glass is Victorian with the odd piece of mediaeval and a modern window by the Herefordshire artist Nicky Hopwood in the chancel. Beyond the church is a moat of water with the remains of the castle on an island in the middle. It is approached by a bridge. The castle was originally a wooden but a stone keep was built around 1090 by John of Eureaux, later Devereux. A couple of the curtain walls and the base of the keep can still be seen. The castle became the property through marriage of the Viscount of Weymouth in the 17th century and was sold to the Cheese family in the early 19th century.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A few patches of blue, not enough to throw a handkerchief over, as they used to say, between the clouds. It is mild. Blackbirds move cagily around the bushes, males eyeing each other and attempting to intimidate the other as they establish territories. A female Greenfinch drops down to drink from a puddle. Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Coot and Mallard float around the east part of the lake. There is a whooshing sound like gas jets burning as a small skein of Canada Geese whiffle (tip from side to side to allow air to escape from under their wings and so lose height rapidly) and descend to the water. A larger group arrive noisily a few minutes later. Great and Blue Tits are calling. Chaffinches chase through the hedges. Teal dabble in pools on the scrape. A pair of Canada Geese stand by the water. Most of the others are near or on the island. Cormorants are in the trees, one with two white patches on its wings and a paler head, indicating a breeding male’s courtship plumage. Four more Cormorants glide in to join them. The Teal move to the main water and the drakes start displaying and whistling. Three Mute Swans appear, two adults and one of last year’s cygnets. They start to feed by the pair of Canada Geese who are unimpressed and swim off. A pair of Common Buzzards soar high above the woods and orchards, one briefly harassed by a Raven. A Robin sings from the Hazel hedge. A Kestrel rises from the orchard.

Friday – Mortimer Forest – The sun is below the tree line but lights up the conifer tops’ green needles and copper cones. There is a blustery and cold wind. Coal Tits chase around the car park. Great Tits sing in the woods and Goldcrests squeak at the top of my hearing range. Maddy disappears when we reach the pond, her ball lies at the top of the bank and looking down she is standing in the cold water below. She has had an upset stomach and I am sure standing in cold water up to your belly is not a good cure, but so it goes.... The sound of the wind in the tree tops is broken by a yaffling Green Woodpecker, a croaking Raven and a mewing Common Buzzard. Crossbills and Siskin move through, calling from the canopy but are proving hard to locate. I move into a position where I can see the canopy and the birds depart to an obscured partt and then off across the hillside and gone. Up the track towards High Vinnalls. Birds are here but very hard to see. Just a brief flash in the dense green and silver evergreens. The size says tit and this is supported by the ticks and chirrups of Blue and Coal Tits and a wheezing Willow Tit. The hills are grey in the distance and the wind is strong and cold from the west. Down Climbing Jack Common to the woods. Conifers saplings have been felled in the lower section of Haye Park Woods, a pleasing development as it maintains the integrity of the old Beech and Oak woods here.

Saturday – Home – The days are getting longer, there is a blue glow in the east. The International Space Station passes over. It is a brilliant star racing across the sky, far brighter than any other star or even nearby Mars in the western sky. A Russian cargo ship is attached to the station at the moment. The Progress M-14M spacecraft docked in the early hours of this morning. There is a full team of six astronauts on board. The ISS fades as it passes overhead and moves towards the rapidly brightening sky in the east.

Birmingham – The canal is cold and quiet. Into the city centre where the crowds fill the streets and bars. We have a good few pints then an extraordinary Sichuan meal. The restaurant is rather unprepossessing but the food was outstanding. Most dishes were awash with small dried red chillies. I make the mistake of chomping into one. It seems vaguely spicy at first then the burn builds and builds until my tongue is on fire. I do not try that again. Both Dave and Ken manage to eat one by accident – both are quickly in pain! My abiding memory was of Dave with a tureen of fish in broth in front of him. Out came large flakes of fish, then fins, tail and finally the head.

Sunday – Aston – Into the dark back streets. No people, no houses just industrial units. Out onto Dartford Middleway, a large multi-carriage way road. Here the great majority of the buildings are modern. At Ashted Circus I notice a sign pointing to Car parka canal and find the Birmingham Canal Navigations (Birmingham and Fazeley Canal - Digbeth Branch). It is here the canal enters Ashted Tunnel, built at the end of the 18th century, 94 metres long and, whilst lit, looking very spooky! I decide not to venture in and head up Jennens Road instead. Millennium Point looks futuristic with angles and panels lit in blue light – it is a multi-storey car park. Opposite one of the few older buildings, the Black Horse pub. Aston University spreads along Woodcock Street, modern and thrusting. Oddly, the only older building here is the Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre. Magpies chatter everywhere. Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls yelp overhead. Inside some of these modern Holtsedifices to learning slogans have been painted on the walls; mission statements that seem little different to the exhortations of Maoist China. Suddenly there is a huge art deco building with modern extensions. Several pubs here too, the Sack of Potatoes, which seems fairly old and Gosta Green with a fading wall inscription barely readable and damaged by small modern windows. I eventually make out Holt Brewery Co Ltd, Brewers of Malt Ales and Stouts, Purveyors of wines and spirits. The brewery was founded on this site in 1887 and grew quickly by acquiring other local small breweries. It had grown to own 250 public houses when it was taken over by Ansell’s in 1934. Gosta Green is the name of the district, originally Gorsty Green in reference to Gorse which would have provided fuel and thatching. The green was held by William de Gorsty in the early 14th century.

Next to the Sack of Potatoes is a building site. A fine old portico and pair of columns is all that is left of the previous building. The new one is being constructed, retaining these features. It will be for the European Bio Energy Research Institute. I am now walking along Canada GeeseHolt Street, parallel to the main Aston road. A huge modern building houses Birmingham Science Park, Aston – Faraday Wharf. Down Love Lane to the canal. Two Canada Geese fly in, they can be heard long before I see them. They alight on the canal, yelping loudly at each other. One side of the canal is a wide clean tow-path, on this side is a nicely built path with seats covered in overgrown shrubbery, weeds and rubbish. The tow-path arrives at Aston Junction, which is the end of the Digbeth Branch. Out onto the ring road, Corporation Street and the roar of traffic. Showrooms, building sites, offices and squeezed in between, the Tehran restaurant and bar and Sicilian Pizza bar – live music and belly dancing! Back down to Dartmouth Circus and over the road to the hotel.

Monday – Leominster – A large JCB is digging a deep hole on either side of the foot-bridge at the station. They are erecting a passenger lift. At the moment is very difficult for anyone with mobility problems to get to the down line and a lift has been promised for a long time. The River Lugg is flowing fast. Huge molehills, mountains maybe, have been pushed up out of Easters meadows between the auction house compound and the river. A cold wind blows. Goat Willow branches are dotted with silver as buds of pussy willow start to split. Along the Kenwater, a Dunnock is singing on wires.

Tuesday – Leominster – Another grey day. A sharp frost had hardened the ground this morning, but is mud again now. Only two o’clock but the sky is darkening by the minute. A Common Buzzard flies out of the hedge between the railway and the Millennium Park and up into a tree on the edge of the churchyard. It watches and decides Maddy is getting too close and flies back down the edge of the churchyard to another perch. Snowdrops are now flowering in profusion but they are tightly closed in the dank gloom.