New Year’s Day, Friday – Hereford – The year starts with a frost, the first for some weeks. The sky is still leaden. Feathery ice covers the cars. The footbridge at the station has been salted. Water still lays on the fields south of Leominster. Gulls are both on the water and on the raised areas of grass, intently looking down at the ground seeking worms which are trying to escape the soggy soil. The fields south of Dinmore Hill are extensively flooded and the Lugg has burst its banks by the church of St Mary the Virgin at Marden. Unsurprisingly, Hereford is quiet. Past where Bye Street Gate stood until demolished in 1798 and into Commercial Street. Here even the discount shops are closing down. Through High Town and into Church Street formerly Broad Caboches Lane. A plaque records that Roger Kemble, father of John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons, both renown actors in the Georgian theatre, lived here. Another remembers Dr George Robertson Sinclair, organist and friend of Elgar. The street ends on the lawns beside the cathedral. Through Cathedral Close to Gwynn Street. House Sparrows flit between an overgrown Privet and the stone wall of the Bishop’s Palace. They must be finding small creatures hiding in the cracks between the stones. Every now and then a passerby causes them to flee back to the bush in a whirr of wings.
The River Wye is flowing fast and high, swirling pale brown water forming eddies out from the bridge stanchions. Along the riverside walk. Wye Villas, built 1915 has a fine row of Godwinson tiles along the façade. Nearby is an old warehouse. The Bishop’s Palace stands on the far side. Then the Watergate of the old, now demolished castle and on to Victoria Bridge. A few Goosander are on the far side of the river. Riverside trees are several yards out in the flow. A row of Black-headed Gulls sit on the bar of a goal. More feed on the pitch. The scent of silage is carried on the breeze from Bartonsham farm. There are more Goosander downstream and some frisky drake Mallard harassing a duck. Out of the park and into the Putson estate. Burned out remains of last night’s fireworks lay on the verge. Up to the Holme Lacy road. Starlings mutter and chatter on house roofs and wires.
The road leaves the city at Withy Brook and enters Lower Bullingham. Brook House stand beside the small bridges. St Elizabeth’s Covent founded by the Order of St Vincent de Paul as been bought by the Freedom Church, a cultish group. St Elizabeth’s Cottages stand nearby. Some lovely old barns are falling into ruin. St Charles Court are six almshouses, built 1887 by Peter Paul Pugin for Mrs de la Barre Bodenham of Rotherwas. The South Wales to Manchester train passes over the bridge. A sign welcomes one to the Rotherwas industrial estate (or is it Enterprise Park?). A large display sign commemorates the women who worked in the munitions factories here during both Worlds Wars. 68% of the 5740 people employed at the factory in 1918 were women. They were called Canary Girls because handling picric acid turned their skin and nails yellow. A few small brick huts and blocked off tunnels are hidden in the roadside trees. The garage where I recall the keys are held for Rotherwas Chapel is closed and besides the keys are now at the new County Archives nearby, which are also closed. Near the chapel is a long bank, probably a blast bank for the munitions factory. Over a dozen female pheasants scurry up it.
A track leads to Church Farm, now divided into several dwellings. Behind it stands the chapel. This area was extensive parkland of Rotherwas House, seat of the Bodenham family from the mid-15th century until the estate was sold off in 1912 to the county council. There have three houses built here, the last in 1731 which was demolished in 1926. King James I visited at least twice and it is said his courtiers liked the place so much they wanted to stay there longer, prompting the king to say, Non datur cuivis adire Rotherwas – Everyone may not live at Rotherwas, which became a local saying. It is likely there was a chapel here in the 13th century, which was linked to Dinedor church. The present building was constructed by Sir Roger Bodenham in 1583. It became a private chapel for the Bodenham family after Sir Roger’s conversion to Catholicism in 1602. The tower is 18th century and the nave and gallery were replaced in the mid-19th century. Extensive alterations were carried out by Peter Paul Pugin in 1884.
A concrete entrance to an earth mound across the field is another reminder the old factory. It seems to have got colder during the morning. A new footpath is marked on a noticeboard leading to the new Greenway Bridge, opened in 2013 and missing of course from the OS map. The path follows the old Hereford to Gloucester railway route. Several long sheds still stand between the industrial estate and the river, transit sheds and picric acid stores for the munitions. A short underpass runs beneath the railway, but unfortunately it is flooded. I walk through but get filled shoes, I did not think I would need my boots today. I wring out my socks and continue. A lone Mute Swan flies over. A heavily protected bridge across the river carries, I assume, a sewer main to the large sewage plant on the far side. Iron sculptures of local heroes, composer Sir Edward Elgar, French Resistance fighter Violette Szabo GC, executed in Ravensbrück in 1945 and Josie Pearson MBE, Paralympian wheelchair rugby player. Over the new bridge and along Outfall Works Road, past the end of the Bartonsham Civil War defensive earthworks and into Eign road. Past the alms houses and St Giles Chapel and into The Lamb Hotel, now more familiarly known as The Barrels, probably the best pub in Hereford. It is raining again as I return to the station to await another late train. Route
Sunday – Home – The atmospheric pressure has fallen to 950 mm and it is raining heavily again. The Great Spotted Woodpecker flies across the garden. I dig out a patch of the spilled and sprouted wheat from under the feeder and toss it into the chicken run. It is not until the early afternoon that the rain ceases but the weather forecast is bleak. By the evening, the pressure has fallen further and the rain has returned.
Monday – Marden – The sky is a mixture of blue, white and grey. Yesterday’s heavy rain has ceased, but is promising to return soon. The flooding is extensive all down the Lugg valley. Fields around the River Arrow just south of Broadward Hall are flooded. An area towards the hall remains above the water and a small herd of cows are grazing the green sward. The roads leading to Bodenham Lakes are flooded and I decide not to risk driving through them and head down to Marden. From Paradise Green I walk past the 20th century housing and into Orchard Green, the lane to Wellington. This road floods so often there is a permanent sign which can be displayed when the road is impassable. A gate shuts off the road at Laystone Bridge. From the bridge everywhere is water. Chaffinches feed on the short stretch of tarmac before the deluge. Robins and Song Thrushes sing. Jackdaws chack. The flow of the river can be seen through the wide flooded expanse. It has come up to the road level and is flowing across the road into a small paddock which is completely submerged. Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls feed across the vast lake. Magpies, Blackbirds, Great and Blue Tits are active in trees whose trunks stand in deep water.
I return to Paradise Green and head south out of the village to the War Memorial which stands at the junction of a lane that leads to the church. Starlings sit on wires across the field. A Victorian post box stands by the side of the lane. Mistle Thrushes fly over. Past Church House, a probably 17th century timber-framed farm house. The main house lies north-south with a large old barn and cider house extending to the east. House Sparrows chase around in large numbers at Marden Court Farm. Behind the church and the Old Vicarage, a raised bank protects the buildings from the rapidly following Lugg. Beyond is nothing but water. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from a dead branch. Wrens tick. Daffodil leaves stand on the bank, at least they promise spring. The sky is getting greyer and it starts to rain.
The church of St Mary the Virgin is open so I take advantage of the shelter. I have described the church here. There is a story that in olden times, the bell ringers were paid in cider rather than cash in Herefordshire. It was given to the ringers before the service and it was not unknown for them to avail themselves of this payment before the bells were rung. With their concentration and timing somewhat affected by the cider, the outcome could be at best a cacophony or worse, downright dangerous. Thus the priest at St Mary the Virgin insisted that the bell ropes come to the ground floor, rather than the first floor as is usual, so he could keep an eye on the ringers. There are indeed some plugged holes in the ceiling of the tower, so this tale could be true. Less believable is the tale of a ghost of a Civil War soldier who was chased into second floor room of the tower, cornered there and killed. Route
Friday – Home – A chest infection is keeping me at home today. Up the garden to the hens. As I pass under the Yew tree there is a lot of flapping from just above me. Looking up I see a barred breast and a flash of chestnut brown as a Sparrowhawk decides to depart. There are still Blue Tits in the shrubbery so they seem unworried by the raptor’s presence. The poor hens are stomping about in wet mud. There seems little point in digging out the run and putting in new straw until this wet spell is over – although that may be some time! Dawn, however, is frosty and bright but the weather forecast is not promising and indeed by mid-morning it is raining again.
By late afternoon the sky has mainly cleared and orange and purple clouds linger in the south. At dusk the gardens ring with the crepuscular pink pink of Blackbirds. A pair of males are on the top of the chicken run, eyeing each other. The hens have retreated to the house but as usual I have to turf Silver off the nest box otherwise she will soil it overnight. There are a couple of eggs in it, together with the one I collected earlier today makes a full house, again!
Saturday – Home – The day starts with rain, again. However, it clears by 9 o’clock and I can clean out the chicken house. A little later I prune the fruit trees. I decide the leave the greengage alone and do only a minimum to the Worcester Pearmain. The Doyenne pear was trimmed back to one central leader from three last year. However, this one has grown very long and whippy so I reduce it a lot. Lower branches are lopped off the plum. The problem tree is the Herefordshire Russet. Several broken branches are removed but there are still a number of very low and long branches. I decide to give them just the minimal trim and leave things for this year. Hopefully, it will grow taller and I can removed all the low growth. A trench is dug to be filled with chicken and kitchen waste for Runner Beans. This brief activity in the garden is accompanied throughout by a vigorously singing Dunnock. It starts to rain again and barely stops into the evening.
Sunday – Leominster – The sky overhead is clear but all around the horizon three there are threatening clouds. It rained heavily again yesterday evening and into the night. The temperature has dropped and we are promised even more colder weather in the week to come. Down Etnam Street and over the railway. The River Lugg is flowing high and fast, speckled with white foam from the weir upstream. A Wren slips through bankside brambles. As the sky lightens, Robins begin to sing. Easters Meadow is swampy. A Cormorant flies south. Jackdaws chack in the trees. A few minutes later a Cormorant flies north, probably the same one. Gulls fly south, Lesser Black-backs I would guess. Back south flies the Cormorant; I am fairly sure now it is the same bird. Song Thrushes have joined the morning chorus, not the full-blooded choir of spring but welcomed anyway. As usual, Cheaton Brook is far more red than the Lugg as it mixes in eddies.
Into the riverside walk. More Robins sing and numerous Blackbirds watch from gardens and shrubbery. The Kenwater is also high and fast. Yellow-green catkins hang in pairs on Hazel saplings. Dunnocks and Chaffinches inspect the path for morsels of food. At 9 o’clock the Compline bells follow the Minster’s hour bells. Up through the town. Last January I took photographs of the shops in town and will now do so again to make a record of the changes that occur year by year. There are already a fair number of closed or changed shops in the three streets I snap this morning.
Home – The rest of the morning is taken up by marmalade making. Every time I get the pot boiling and start testing for a set, I swear this will be the last time. Things are not helped by the great variance in recipes; some reckon a set will be reached in 12-15 minutes, others, Delia included reckon on 20 to 30 minutes. At the half hour mark I am panicking, have I missed the setting point? At around 35 minutes I decide that it may set and enough is enough. Into the hot jars the vivid orange liquid goes and the tops are screwed down. A few hours later it has cooled enough to persuade me that it really has set and is sparkling and delicious looking. Maybe it is all worth the worry! I celebrate with my last bottle of cider from the 2014 crop. The 2015 vintage is looking good and probably ready for testing.
Friday – Stockton – The heaviest frost of the winter has frozen puddles and dusted all the roofs white. The ice is not deep though, one soon cracks through to mud. Wrens, Blackbirds and a Song Thrush are feeding around the bridge over the River Lugg, which is still flowing fast and high although it has a clearer, more grey than brown hue. A Cormorant lifts off the water noisily flapping against the surface. A Great Tit calls his two-tone song. Most of the sky is blue but clouds to the east are moving south. Along the river by Easters Meadow. A few fresh molehills join the older ones. Their rusty red colour indicates the iron-rich Old Red Sandstone of the Devonian era. By the time I pass Hay Lane and head out through the fields the sun is shining brightly. Chaffinches move through the bushes. Carrion Crows fly over in pairs or small groups. The winter cereal crop is several inches high now. Over Cheaton Brook via the concrete bridge. The pasture on the other side is pimpled with molehills like measles. Blue Tits chatter in the brook-side trees. Across a field stands a tree with a tall, dead branch rising from its crown and atop this stands a Grey Heron shining in the sunlight. A Great Tit flies into a Hawthorn beside me and starts chattering furiously. To the west, the Radnor Forest is covered in snow. I reach the Stoke Prior road and have to make a decision, my achilles tendon is hurting just a bit too much. Angrily I decide to head back home. A Fieldfare is feasting on fallen cider apples in the orchard that runs alongside the A49. Near to the Tenbury road junction, three Redwings fly out of the orchard. From the main road I can see there are quite a few more Fieldfares in the orchard grey rumps flashing as the launch up into the trees. I crunch through damson stones, the fruit’s flesh decayed into frozen black mush. A dozen Yellowhammers chase across a stubble field on the north side of the road.
Sunday – Leominster – It is still dark as I wander down Etnam Street. The air is cold and damp, chilling despite the layers of clothing. A mist hangs in the trees by the railway. Jackdaws chack and Wood Pigeons coo. One is cooing no longer as pigeon feathers lay on the bridge over the railway, victim of a raptor. Network Rail are fitting some instrument beside the track with a solar panel. A Cormorant is on the River Lugg which still flows fast and grey. A Robin and a Song Thrush sing as a Blackbird flies over the river calling its alarm. Brightwells is empty and dark, the Sunday market will not resume for a couple of months. Along Mill Street and over the railway crossing. A Bullfinch is at the base of a hedge and Long-tailed Tits move through the hedge on the opposite side of the road. Round the riverside walk. The Kenwater is deep and fast. The old hard for launching boats that runs down from the car park is now broken up and becoming overgrown with grass and weeds. Up Broad Street where someone has had a load of logs delivered for their stove and is moving them wheelbarrow load at a time down one of the passages hidden behind doors next to the shops along the street.
Monday – Croft – Near Kingsland, it looks like a fence has been removed in a field of beet, a fence that divided bare soil from the beet and a flock of sheep are all in a line feeding at the edge of the green leaves. It is raining again. Clouds drape the hills. Even the cows in the field opposite the car park seem to be careful when wading through the mud that is their field. A Robin sings and occasionally a Blue Tit chirps, otherwise the only sounds are just the wind through the trees and the drip odd rain off their bare branches. Up to the end of the Fish Pool Valley. Birds are moving stealthily around, a brief glimpse of Wren, Robin, Chaffinch and others to skulking to identify. A black dog appears, runs past then turns to run up and have a sniff to check me out then off down the valley. He returns to have a bark before his owner arrives. Up the path where water flows down, washing the mud and leaf mould off the bedrock. The path gets muddied as it approaches Leinthall Common. Up to Croft Ambrey. Piles of sawn branches and saplings lie beside the paths where the clearance of the hill-fort continues. The eastern gate mound is now more clear and the second defensive rampart can be seen. White rumps flash up ahead as Bullfinches slip away. Up on top, out of the shelter of the trees the wind is strong and cold. Down to the Spanish Chestnut field. The sheep on the field are wet and muddy. A shiny machine is in the strip of woodland left between the newly cleared area of Croft Woods and the fields. It seems to be driving stakes in for new fencing. A Raven barks as it flies overhead. A Jay flies down the hedgerow is which is full of Redwings. Jackdaws are flying noisily around the castle. A log lies on the car park meadow with a large white fungi growth. However, on close inspection it looks like it is rather decayed making identification difficult.
Thursday – Cardiff – It is less cold this morning but barely above zero. However a thaw means the trees are dripping.
We catch a train to Cardiff, which arrives late as usual, leaving us with a longer wait on a cold platform. Heading south it is clear that much of the recent flooding has subsided leaving muddy fields. We arrive at Cardiff Central station. It was opened by the South Wales Railway in 1850 after Brunel diverted the course of the River Taff which had caused flooding on the site. Between 1932 and 1934 its successor, the Great Western Railway, replaced the station building (designed by their architects department) with an impressive new booking hall of Portland stone, with Art Deco light fittings, all topped by a clock cupola. Great Western Railway was carved onto the façade (larger than the name of the station).
People lived in the Cardiff area since the early Neolithic. The Romans built a fort here on the site of the later castle and a vicus, a township associated with a fort, built up. Little is known about the area after the departure of the Romans until William I built a castle in 1081 and a town grew around it. By the Middle Ages the population grew to over 2000, the largest town in Wales, although small by English standards. In 1404 Owain Glyndŵr burned Cardiff, but it was rebuilt. In 1536, the Act of Union between England and Wales led to the creation of the shire of Glamorgan, and Cardiff was made the county town. However, the town remained small. In 1766, John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute married into the Herbert family and was later created Baron Cardiff and in 1778 he began renovations on Cardiff Castle. In the 1790s a racecourse, printing press, bank and coffee house all opened, and a stagecoach service to London was established. The town grew rapidly from the 1830s onwards, when John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute built a dock, which eventually linked to the Taff Vale Railway. Cardiff became the main port for exports of coal from the Cynon, Rhondda, and Rhymney valleys, and grew at a rate of nearly 80% per decade between 1840 and 1870. King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status on 28th October 1905. The market for Welsh coal declined and Cardiff along with it. However, in recent years the city has recovered and grown again.
From the station we stroll along to our hotel which is near Atlantic Wharf. Opposite the entrance to the hotel is the long curved Spillers and Bakers building, a mill and warehouse building constructed by milling company Spillers in 1887. We start by walking down Atlantic Wharf, a long rectangle of water with narrow channels creating a small network of waterways. The Bute East Dock was constructed to relieve pressure on the existing Bute Dock in the 1850s. It was opened by the 12 year-old 3rd Marquess of Bute on 14th September 1859. The new dock was 1,310 metres in length and up to 152 metres wide. It was surrounded by railway sidings and large warehouses. The dock was closed in 1970 and the railway sidings removed. There are a lot of Coot and Tufted Duck, a couple of Great Crested Grebe, a few Mallard and a collection of gulls. Some converted warehouses remain but a lot of new build offices and apartments line the western side. At the head of the dock is The Bonded Warehouse, built in 1861 using a frame of cast iron columns, in classical proportions. To the east is a vast shed of Castle Steel Works. A single old crane stands across the water, built in 1933 by Messrs Stothert & Pitt Ltd, for the Great Western Railway Company and was last used in January 1987. At the end of the wharf is the large County Hall. Along Lloyd George Avenue, full of modern buildings, including the Red Dragon Centre and round to the iconic Welsh Assembly building. Opposite is a splendid craft centre which has many lovely pieces of glass, ceramics, pictures, leather and clothing – all rather expensive although fair enough prices for such bespoke items.
We have a pint in The Packet Hotel, a fine old pub, little tampered with. Next door is a Portuguese bakery where we get a stuffed piece of bread and one of that country’s famous custard tarts, pastéis de nata. Down to Cardiff Bay, maybe not at its best on a rainy winter day. There are few of the original buildings here, Cardiff being the largest coal port in the world during the Victorian era. This area is the famous Tiger Bay, renown for its multiculturalism for several centuries. The Pier Head is a Grade One listed building, built in 1897 and designed by the English architect William Frame. It was a replacement for the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company which burnt down in 1892. The building incorporates a French-Gothic Renaissance theme, with details such as hexagonal chimneys, carved friezes, gargoyles, and a highly ornamental and distinctive clock tower, known as Baby Big Ben. Its exterior is finished in glazed terracotta blocks supplied at the end of the 19th century by JC Edwards & Co of Acrefair near Ruabon in Wrexham. Nearby is the Norwegian Church, not on its original site and now a café and arts centre. Carl Herman Lund from Oslo, built the church in 1868 on land donated by the Marquis of Bute, to serve the religious needs of Norwegian sailors and expatriates. The Wales Millennium Centre has been built on its original site, so on land donated by Associated British Ports, the church was reconstructed on the current site and re-opened in April 1992, the church by Princess Märtha Louise of Norway. Across the bay is a long, slug-like building housing the Dr Who Experience. A blue police box, the Tardis, stands on the edge of the dock by a huge lock, rotting away, which held water in Roath Dock. Wooden dock stanchions stand out in the water on which Cormorants stands motionless. A few Coot, Mallard and Great Crested Grebes are in the bay. We pay a brief visit to the Welsh Assembly building, probably taking longer to remove everything metal from our persons at the security check, going through the scanner and being checked with a scanning wand! The debating chamber is much smaller than we had expected. Outside is a statue of Ivor Novello, sitting in a chair and looking back over his shoulder at the assembly building.
We had head back up Bute Street, full of the typical huge office buildings that housed companies whose businesses stemmed from the docks. However, unlike Liverpool where the buildings are often still in use, here many are empty and decaying. Some have been restored, one still with the sign Provisions Curers Bonded Store Merchants. Up past Cardiff Bay station and Butetown. It was originally a model housing estate built in the early 19th century by John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute, for whose title the area was named. It was one of the first multicultural areas of Great Britain with large Yemeni, Somali and Greek communities. The estate was demolished in the 1960s and the present estate built. Metal posts by the road record the presence of shops along the road, now gone. On the east side of the road is a very long wall retaining the bank on which the railway runs. On up to the town centre. A towering Art Deco building looks out towards the bay, however, it is not 1930s but completed in 2005 and called Altolusso. It is worrying that much new development going up but lovely old buildings which define the history of the place are being left to rot, at least with Altolusso, the façade of Victorian New College which stood on the site was retained.
Along St Mary’s Street. To the east is the modern shopping centre, to the west old arcades of artisan shops, boutiques and other unusual establishments. There is the first shop I have ever seen specialising in vinegars. The Welsh Baptist Tabernacle stands in the main shopping area. A chapel existed on the site from 1821, enlarged in 1840, then further enlarged and rebuilt between 1862 and 1865 in an Italianate style under local architect J. Hartland and Son. We pass it again in the evening when the stained glass windows are lit from within. We have a pint in the Duke of Wellington, then the Queens Vaults before ending up in The Goat Major, (the soldier who parades the regimental goat mascot of the Royal Regiment of Wales). The pub specialises in pies. Virtually every pub is a Brain’s house, whose beer is fair but not special.
Friday – Cardiff – The rain is pounding down so we sit tight on our hotel room for a while. We set off but fine drizzle continues.Outside the hotel entrance, in front of the Spillers and Bakers Building is a waterway. This is the Junction Canal, also called The Dock Feeder Canal. A listed bridge crosses the canal, built in the 1850’s when last phase of Bute East Dock was under construction and formerly carried road traffic over Junction Canal which connected Bute West and East Docks. It now passes through the Atlantic Development of gated communities and offices. We walk into the city centre passing under a railway bridge bearing the advertising slogan Brain’s Beers and abov