New Year’s Day, Sunday – West End, Surrey – A shower of rain ceases as I leave the house with Freddie the Westie. Up to the recreation ground. A tree stump is infested with numerous large fungi of the Oyster mushroom group. A raptor, almost certainly a Red Kite is calling in the distance but cannot be seen. A Grey Heron flies off from the pond.
Virginia Water – We go for a walk around this popular park area. Popular is an understatement as the place is crowded. I think there are less people in Oxford Street this morning! A fair number of birds are on the water or in trees on the more inaccessible banks of the lakes – Cormorants, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls. Screaming overhead reveals Ring-necked Parakeets. We reach the Totem Pole, a gift from the people of Canada to HM The Queen in June, 1958. It is 100 feet high, one foot for every year, and marks the centenary of British Columbia, which was named by Queen Victoria and proclaimed a Crown Colony on November 19th 1858. It is now the Pacific Coast Province of Canada. The Totem Pole is carved in the authentic style of the Kwakiutl, a federation of many tribes, and clans inhabiting the northern part of Vancouver Island and the opposite coastal mainland. The figures on the pole reading from the top are, Man with large hat, Beaver, Old Man, Thunderbird, Sea Otter, The Raven, The Whale, Double headed Snake, Halibut Man and Cedar Man. Each figure represents the mythical ancestor of a clan. The designer and principal carver of the pole, Chief Mungo Martin of the Kwakiutl was a most famous craftsman of this ancient art.
On to Savill Gardens. Savill Building serves as a visitor centre for The Savill Garden and wider Great Park. It was opened in 2006 by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, Ranger of Windsor Great Park. The wooden grid shell architecture, designed by Glenn Howells, has been constructed from sustainable timber sources from within Windsor Great Park. An Edwardian carousel is opposite, brightly lit with its organ playing. Nearby is the Cumberland Obelisk with the inscription:
This obelisk raised by command of King George the Second
Commemorates the services of his son William Duke of Cumberland
The success of his arms and the gratitude of his father
This tablet was inscribed by his majesty King William the Fourth.
It was originally inscribed Culloden but this was erased on Queen Victoria’s orders and replaced with Cumberland. By Victoria’s reign, the slaughter of the Scots by Butcher Cumberland was something best forgotten. We head back to the car park as rain is threatened.
Tuesday – Home – The weather changes from day to day. Yesterday was relatively mild and damp, then overnight the skies cleared and the temperature plummeted. Venus shone brightly close to the moon in the evening sky. Later, the stars sparkled, Orion high overhead. This morning there was a heavy frost with all the roofs white. By late afternoon the sky was a mixture of clouds with a few blue patches. A flock of finches is in neighbouring gardens, Goldfinches twittering loudly. Jackdaws have been chasing across roofs and through the trees.
Wednesday – Lingen – This morning there is no frost, just a slight drizzle of rain from a sky of patches of blue, white and grey. From Lingen a road runs south towards Presteign. Past the large early 17th century Old Farmhouse, The Royal George pub, dating from 1723, where an old AA sign records it is 152¼ miles to London. Over Lime Brook and past the Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1877. Out of the village, the last house being the old Post Office. There are several houses on the road, mainly 20th century although Well House may have an older core. Lingen Hall stands on the edge of a wood surrounded by trees. The hall was built in the mid-19th century for the prominent local family, the Gisbornes. It is in the Georgian style and internally incorporated many features from that period. The Gisbornes left in the 1930s and during the Second World War Effingham House school was evacuated here and remained for the duration. A large house by the road helpfully has a plaque stating, 1996. A lane drops down to Limebrook. The depth of the lane below the land indicates considerable age. A large fungi grows high on this bank, probably Common Funnelcap, Clitocybe gibba. At a junction stands Limebrook Cottage, which is probably 16th century, built using materials from Limebrook Priory. A barn stands on the other corner dating from the 17th century. A woodpecker drums in the woodland.
Around the bend are a few walls and lumps and mounds, the remains of Limebrook Priory. A nunnery was founded here around the late 12th century either by Rob de Lingen or a Mortimer. It is also unclear which religious order occupied the priory initially but by the time of Bishop Booth (1516-1535) it was Augustinian. A story states that around 1279, Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford had to write to the nuns regarding their lax discipline. It was suppressed in 1539. Now there are only a couple of walls which seem to be 13th century in date and a number of mounds and lumps in the field.
Over a small bridge, HCC 554, built (or rather rebuilt) in 1958. Back to the junction and in to Limebrook Mill where I am greeted by a large, hairy, grunting pig, a Kune I assume. There are a large number of Blackbirds around here. Pastures on both sides of the lane are occupied by chickens and ducks. The mill leet is an overgrown ditch now. The mill is a wonderful rambling building, still a residence. This is one of six mills recorded in the area, used for milling corn and fulling. This mill dates from the 13th century. It was extended in the 17th century and was last worked in 1936. Up out of the little valley. Carrion Crows are noisy above the conifers on the hill. Down the hill and across the brook again. Upper Limebrook Cottage stands high above.
The path carries on between the brook and Grove Head Wood. The map shows this path open to vehicles but it is clearly not. Jays squawk in the trees. The path joins a metalled road, albeit one that is covered in rotting leaves. The are various official notices attached to fences and posts relating to the upgrading of the byways. The lane passes the entrance to Grove Head before joining the road back down to Lingen just below Deerfold. Nearby, in 1874 pottery spoil was investigated just below here. Alfred Watkins visited the site in 1924 and found pot sherds but no kiln site. In 1929 a much more thorough search discovered quantities of mainly unglazed domestic ware, and several kilns. The road drops steeply towards the village. A Raven passes over, rolling in the air and cronking. A large flock of Rooks rise on an up-current above one of a series of small promontories that run off the Deerfold road. The church bell tolls eleven, more or less! Back over the brook yet again and into the village to the constant chatter of House Sparrows. The rosy breast of a male Bullfinch shines in the sun as it feeds at the top of a tree in the churchyard. Nuthatches call from neighbouring trees. Route
It is not yet spring,
Spring is being dreamed.
Monday – Home – Green and red buds are appearing on the rhubarb. A hint of spring! I surround them with the straw and droppings mixture I dug out of the chicken run a few weeks ago. Then I remove a number of slugs from the rhubarb forcer, feeding them to the hens, and place it over one of the crowns. A couple of leeks are dug for dinner tonight.
By five o’clock it is still vaguely light. Clouds drift rapidly across the sky and a fat, bright moon appears and disappears again. Venus is shining in the south-western sky. A couple of Robins sing and numerous Blackbirds repeat their evening alarm calls.
Friday – Home – New Year’s Eve in the Julian calendar. The full moon, apparently yet another supermoon, shines down on a white landscape. It has snowed overnight, albeit only a thin coating. After dawn the sky remains steely grey with slowly moving white clouds. The wind is strong and biting. All the bird feeders need replenishing, although for the seed holder, this is a daily task. Just one egg from the hens so far but two of them are now laying.
Hereford – Small blue patches are appearing in the sky as I catch the bus to Hereford. By the time we descend Dinmore Hill the sky is largely clear of cloud and the sun has melted the snow. I alight at Holmer and head west along Roman Road. The wind is still blowing making it cool despite the sunshine. Past the racecourse and on past green fields of winter cereals. A ribbon development of bungalows runs along the north side of the road, built in the first half of the 1930s. The modern road has been built slightly to the south of the original road which remains as a cul-de-sac in front of the bungalows, which are all named rather than given numbers. Long-tailed Tits flit through garden shrubbery. The bungalows give way to more recently constructed two storey houses. To the south of the Roman Road is a large housing estate built in the late 1970 and 1980s. Burlton Villa is one of the few older properties in the road. This house was recorded as being sold in 1934 for £810. Nearby are a row of cottages on the Tillington road once known as Mental Hospital Cottages, now rather more sensitively called Hospital Houses.
On out of the city and the road now passes through fields again. A number of houses lie around Tow Tree Lane which leads off northwards from the main road. Yazor Brook runs close to the hamlet and under the road. One older dwelling is called Hive House, maybe suggesting a beekeeper’s property once. Pinston House is 20th century but opposite, Bolt Cottages look older. On past the livestock market. On the northern side of the road are fields full of bamboo stakes. A small spindly sapling, just a couple of feet high is attached to each. I have no idea what they are but to the south is an extensive nursery of Wyevale, a garden centre chain, and I guess they are something for their range. A roundabout stands just before Stretton Sugwas. A Roman villa stood here and a short way beyond was the town of Magnis. Although Roman Road was built for troop movement, it would have seen considerable traffic moving goods to the forts in Wales and bringing produce back to the larger settlements such as Gloucester. There was also a palace and chapel for the Bishops of Hereford. It was Bishop Cantilupe’s favoured residence, last being used by Bishop Ironsides at the end of the 17th century.
I turn left and follow the road towards King’s Acre. The road crosses the route of the Hereford, Hay and Brecon line of the LMS, although little can be seen now. Veldifer is a Georgian house about half way along the road. It is associated with a large farm to the east. Wyevale Nurseries are on the site of Veldifer Farm, but started when the Williamson family bought Kings Acre Nurseries belonging to Messrs Cranston and Mayos, whose roses were reckoned among the best in the country. Kings Acre Bountiful is a cooking apple bred in 1904 here. The majority of the nursery was then on the south side of King’s Acre Road, a site now just fields. Inevitably, Wyevale is owned by a private equity firm now. Another large Georgian building is Clifford House. Helicopters are descending towards the not very secret SAS base at Credenhill. The road joins King’s Acre Road at the Halt Garage. The large three storey King’s Acre House, which would have stood surrounded on three sides by the nursery, is now flats and slowly being surrounded by newer housing. Along the straight road towards White Cross. Ferndale is one of a few older properties, built for the merchants of Hereford. Fayre Oakes seems to be one of those pretentious modern miss-spellings, but it was changed from Fair Oaks sometime between 1889 and 1904. From White Cross I return to the city centre.
Sunday – Leominster – A stormy grey sky threatens more rain. Jackdaws fly around the street, chacking. Further down the road Wood Pigeons are calling from roof tops. Up into the railway bridge. Magpies are in the trees, a Great Tit calls intermittently. The water level in the River Lugg is still quite low. A Dipper flies off downstream. Then with a single squeak, a turquoise arrow flashes upstream, the first Kingfisher I have seen here for a while. Fresh and very large molehills dot the Easters Meadow. Another Great Tit sits atop a bush in full two note song. Across the empty Brightwells’ site; the market will not commence for at least six weeks yet. A row of ten year old ambulances are lined up for auction. A Blackbird in a Hawthorn by Cheaton Brook chucks at me whilst flicking its wings and tail, only pausing to pick off a red haw and swallow it. All of the water weeds that were growing by Ridgemoor bridge have been swept away. The little garden area by the Kenwater has been completely destroyed, the shelter removed and several older trees felled. A single Minster bell tolls. Several Robins sing. Now a different bell calls out. The hedgerow by the Priory bridge has been drastically cut back. A Grey Squirrel is raiding bird feeders in a garden beside the river. Now a full peal of bells rings out.
Monday – Croft – The damp grey weather continues but it has become milder. Along the long drive to Croft Castle. A Grey Heron is on the first fish pond down in the valley below. One of the Beech trees that line the avenue has fallen, fortunately into the field, not across the drive. Cattle in the field to the south of the car park are as motionless as statues, suddenly the spell is broken and several move but then they all stop again! A Nuthatch calls persistently from the large tree in the car park. Down the ride into the Fish Pool Valley. A Wren ticks as it arrows across the path to disappear under a large Buckler fern. There is no bird song just squeaks and chirps. The lime kiln is rather a sorry sight with fallen trees and branches laying across it and most of the stonework disappearing under moss and Hart’s Tongue ferns. Great, Blue and Coal Tits feed in the bare trees. Half a dozen or more decent sized fish splash in the shallows of a fish pool, spawning? The path up out of the valley is relatively level, all the gouges caused by heavy rain have been filled with stone. Higher up the path deteriorates into a quagmire. I splish, splash, slip and slide my way up to Croft Ambrey. The distant hills are clear. Dinedor and Aconbury, both topped by Iron Age forts, lay to the south of Hereford. The Radnor Forest round to the Black Mountains and the South Shropshire hills are all sitting just below layers of cloud. The wind is stronger up here. A long line of molehills runs along the centre of the path. Sections of the western hills glow golden where the sun breaks through the clouds. Here though the sky is uniformly leaden. The route down to the Spanish Chestnut field is also muddy. New gates and fences continue to be erected in preparation for the introduction of cattle onto the newly opened woodland.
Wednesday – Chester – We last visited this city some fifteen years ago. Views from the train as we travel north are limited by mist. We head into the city centre from the station down City Road. Outside the station stands The Queen Hotel, a large establishment with an arched entrance to one side announcing Carriages and Post Horses for Hire. The Queen was built in 1860 but damaged by fire the following year and rebuilt in 1862. In a small garden beside the building is a collection of large ornamental urns and statues. Opposite is another large establishment, The Town Crier, an Italianate style former hotel, now a pub, built in 1865. The buildings are all large, a pair are dated as 1896 and 1898. The road crosses the Shropshire Union canal. A large former steam mill stands on the canal side. Chester’s mills were renowned, leading to Isaac Bickerstaff’s comic song of 1762 The Miller of the Dee. The mill was built in 1785 and is now a bar and offices. Another large block with numerous windows is now a restaurant and pub. The City Road joins Foregate Street. This road leads into the centre. The buildings range from mediaeval to 20th century. Some large timber-framed buildings are late 19th century whilst buildings like the former Haswell’s Tea and Dining Rooms date from the mid 17th century. The tea rooms hosted meetings of the Votes for Women movement in the early 20th century. A meeting in 1918 was addressed by Elizabeth Macadam, first lecturer in social work at Liverpool University and was attended by Phyllis Brown, the first woman councillor in Chester.
We have entered the shopping area, possibly one of the best in the country. Into Eastgate Street which is lined by The Rows, wonderful mediaeval walkways and shops raised above street level with more shops under the walkway. Into Watergate Street. We have a pint in The Crypt, a strange series of arched rooms that formed an undercroft built around 1180. The building above is Georgian, around 1744. Up Northgate Street where the Rows continue for a short distance. The cathedral is a little off this road. On the opposite side is the town hall, a massive building of 1865-69, built by WH Lynn of Lanyon Lynn and Lanyon of Belfast. Council chamber was gutted by fire in 1897 and redesigned internally by TM Lockwood 1898. Opposite is a bronze sculpture of a baby elephant called Janya, a gift from Chester Zoo. The Art Deco theatre is undergoing a major refurbishment. Our hotel, The Pied Bull, is reputed to be the oldest licensed house in Chester. The pub dates from 1155 although most of the building is 17th century. An original handmade staircase dates from 1533.
Thursday – Chester – We breakfast at Marmalade, a delightful café in Northgate. We then visit the cathedral.
A Roman fortress, built for the Legio XX Valeria Victrix at the head of the Dee estuary named Deva, adopted directly from the British name of the river, and Deverdoeu was still one of two alternative Welsh names for Chester in the late 12th century. The other Welsh name was Caerlleon, literally the fortress-city of the legions, a name identical with that of the Roman fortress at Caerleon in Monmouthshire. The modern Welsh name is the shortened form, Caer. The early English-speaking settlers used a name which had the same meaning, Legacæstir, which was current until the 11th century, when the first element fell out of use and the name Chester emerged.
A Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh was founded by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, in 1092 on the site of a minster built around 958, which in turn may have been on the site of a Roman basilica dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. The present cathedral was started by Abbot Richard around 1100. Numerous additions and changes have occurred over the centuries. The building is of a beautiful red sandstone, Keuper Sandstone from the Cheshire Basin. A cloister encloses a garden which contains a pool and a fountain, The Fountain of Life by Stephen Broadbent. Into the nave. One wall is covered by mosaics depicting the patriarchs and prophets Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah. They were designed by J. R. Clayton of Clayton and Bell, and date from 1883-86 and installed by Burke and Co. One of the glories of the cathedral is the choir. The choir stalls date from about 1380. They have high, spiky, closely set canopies, with crocketed arches and spirelets. The stall ends have poppyheads and are rich with figurative carving. The stalls include 48 misericords, all but five of which are original, depicting a variety of subjects, some humorous and some grotesque. Pevsner states that they are one of the finest sets in the country. The rood screen was designed by George Gilbert Scott, with gates made by Skidmore. The rood was designed by Scott, and was made by F. Stuflesser. The bishop’s throne or cathedra was designed by Scott to complement the choir stalls. It was constructed by Farmer and Brindley in 1876. The reredos and the floor mosaic date from 1876, and were designed by J. R. Clayton. Most of the glass in the cathedral is 19th and 20th century as much of the original mediaeval glass was destroyed by Parliament troops in the Civil War. In the north transept is a model of the cathedral being built in Lego, raising funds at a £1 per brick. A small chapel dedicated to St Anslem is up a spiral staircase.
We wander along Werburgh Street to the Addleshaw bell tower. The bell tower was built in 1973 to house the cathedrals bells when the original siting in the cathedral tower needed major works which proved extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive. Up into the city walls. The walls were originally erected in part by the Romans. The defences were improved when Æthelflæd refounded Chester as a burgh in 907. By the middle of the 12th century the walls were extended to the west and the south to form a complete circuit of the medieval city. They were further fortified before the Civil War, and were damaged during the war. Following this they ceased to have a defensive purpose, and were developed for leisure and recreation. The east gate has been replaced by a bridge which joins two sections of the city walls. It was erected in 1868. We stay in the walls to the New Gate built in 1937/38 to accommodate the increasing traffic on Pepper Street. The gate as also known as Wolf or Pepper Gate. In 1573 the daughter of Alderman Rauff Aldersey defied her father and eloped through the gate at night to marry a draper. Her father persuaded the city to lock the gate at night for many years, leading to the local expression when the daughter is stolen, shut the Peppergate which is the local equivalent of close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Below are the Roman Gardens which house a number of large artefacts from the former fortress.
At the end of Pepper Street is Parish Church of St Michael, now the Heritage Centre. The church dates from 1496 but rebuilt by James Harrison in 1850. It was stripped of its furnishings in the mid 1970s. Into Grosvenor Street. Chester has long been connected with the Grosvenor family, now the Dukes of Westminster. The family claims descent from Gilbert le Grosveneur (le gros veneur or master of the hunt), nephew of Hugh d’Avranches, more commonly known as Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester. Grosvenor Museum was built in 1885, funded by the first Duke of Westminster. It has a display of photographs of the Antarctic by Sue Flood. A stuffed Polar Bear was one from Chester Zoo which, when stuffed, became a symbol for the confectioners Foxes, who used a Polar Bear to advertise their Glacier Mints. A room has a comprehensive collection of Chester hall-marked silver. There is, inevitably, a large collection of Roman artefacts. In the natural history section is a Dox, the only known Dog-Fox hybrid.
Back to the Rows. The Boat Inn is a Sam Smith’s pub. They are known for everything in the pub is their own brand, and they are very cheap compared to other pubs. It was built in the early to middle part of the 17th century, opening as an inn in 1643. Its façade was rebuilt and restored in the late 19th century. We muse on the date of the staircase in the bar, deciding that it is probably 20th century and inserted to give access which may have been previously at the rear of the bar. However, it seems there may always have been a staircase here, although our dating of the present one was probably correct.
Down towards the River Dee. Near to the New Gate is the amphitheatre. Beyond is the original cathedral, St John’s. The church was recorded as being founded by Æthelred of Mercia in 689. However, evidence is coming to light that there was a church here for some centuries before this. It was expanded in 907 AD by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great. In 973 Ædgar the Peaceful, king of all England from 959, received the submission of his sub-kings at St John’s, following his coronation at Bath. On that occasion the vassal kings reputedly rowed Ædgar across the River Dee to the church. The collegiate church, as it was then, was restored in 1057 by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva. The Bishop’s Seat (Cathedra) was transferred to the church at St Werbugh’s now dissolved monastery in 1541. The building has a chequered life. It was built on a cliff overlooking the River Dee in the late 11th century. It is said to have been damaged around 1470 by collapse of a central tower and again in 1572 and 1574 by the partial collapse of north-west tower. Much of the transepts and the presbytery had been abandoned mid 16th century. The nave and crossing was restored by RC Hussey in 1859-66 The north-west tower collapsed again in 1881 destroying north porch, which was rebuilt by John Douglas in 1882. He also added the north-east belfry tower in 1886. The east end of the church was destroyed during the Reformation and is still in ruins outside the building. Like the cathedral, the church is in dark blood red sandstone. It was built just as the Romanesque gave way to the Gothic so is a fascinating mixture of both styles. Huge columns in the nave have mason’s marks. One has a faded 14th century painting of John the Baptist. A strange square font from the Commonwealth stands on what looks like an older base. A grave slab has a pair of hammers carved on it indicating it was that of a blacksmith, possibly John Edyan, a Welshman who was head of the company of blacksmiths in Chester around 1480. A number of stones, cross heads on display are Saxon and Irish/Viking. The organ is magnificent and huge; it came from Westminster Abbey, where it was used for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. It was specially made for the occasion, but later rebuilt for a move to St Johns. The reredos of 1876 was designed by Douglas, made by Morris and Co, with painting of Last Supper by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. A monument to Diana Warburton of 1693 has a strange sculpted skeleton partially covered in a shroud by Edward Pearce, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. A fine painted plaque is to Katherine Wynne who died in 1650.
Down towards the river. A red stone building is almost hidden in the trees. It is a mid 14th century anchorite’s cell, now a cottage. By the river are a number of houses in The Groves, the name of the riverside. They date from around 1800 and a little later. A suspension footbridge, Queens Park Bridge, dated 1923, crosses the river. We head down the Groves as the weather slowly deteriorates. A bandstand was erected around 1880 at the expense of Charles Brown of the department store Browns of Chester (now Debenham’s). Two large launches run river tours, not so popular in this grey drizzle. We return up Souter’s Lane (a souter being a shoemaker) past the former Palace of the bishops of Chester, dated 1751, later an YMCA hostel, now offices. Across Pepper Street there is the footings of a Roman tower.
Friday 20th January – Chester – The morning is cold and a heavy mist hangs over the city. Before we return home we have a brief walk around the city again. We pass the Guildhall, formally the church of the Holy Trinity rebuilt in 1865-9, on the site of one of the City’s nine medieval parish churches in the Geometrical Decorated style James Harrison but completed after his death by Kelly and Edwards of Chester. It was converted to the Guildhall in the early 1960s. We then go back down Foregate Street and up Frodsham Street to join the canal, the Shropshire Union Canal Main Line, at Cow Lane Bridge. The bridge was named after the area where cattle grazed before being brought into the city at night for safekeeping. A large pub stands on the site of a timber yard and salt store. The timber yard operated unto the 1980s. Opposite was an area known as Gorse stacks where, as the name implies, dried gorse was stacked for burning. A little further on is a winding hole and the former Gaumont Palace Cinema, built in 1931 backs onto it. We walk down the canal to the large warehouses by City Road and the Steam Mill, then up to the station.
Monday – Croft – A damp and misty morning that feels colder than it really is. A flock of Wood Pigeons fly up from the verge by the car park hut. Nuthatches call from the big Oak as usual. The sun is breaking through. A Dunnock flies up from the leaf mould onto a twig and wipes its bill. A Great Tit sings his rusty wheel song. Across the Fish Pool Valley by the old pumping pumping station and up into the Beech wood past the charcoal pit. Great and Blue Tits search the leaves on the ground. Grey Squirrels are noisy overhead. A Song Thrust bursts into song. Thin brambles are entwined with Honeysuckle which has seemingly fresh leaves. Along the ride that drops gently across the slope of Highwood Bank. A small flat area on the slope has a sign which states that this is a viewing platform. Grey Squirrels are numerous. A Treecreeper scurries up a trunk. A Common Buzzard flies off through the trees. The valley is busy with Blue and Great Tits, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Dunnocks.
Up the track beside Lyngham Vallet. On to the long forestry track that runs from Whiteway Head on Bircher Common to School Wood and Hill Farm. Jays screech in the conifers. Guns fire from the direction of Leinthall Earls. Up the muddy track to the Mortimer Trail along the top of Leinthall Common and on up onto Croft Ambrey. The sun is burning off the mist on the build but it still lays densely below. The air is getting warmer here too. Looking down from the hill-fort, a white flash in the woodland below signals a departing Bullfinch. It is now warm enough for a thin cloud of dancing gnats under the trees. From up here the fog-filled valleys stretch away to the north and west. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. Chaffinches are active in the hedges and Chestnut tree but the winter thrushes seem to have moved on. Drops of rain start to fall as I reach the car park but they come to nothing. Route
Wednesday – Home – The bushes half way up the garden are alive with chattering House Sparrows. It is so pleasing that this reminder of my youth is back again. For many years House Sparrows declined and the noisy, cheery chirping was missing from our urban environment, but they seem to have made a comeback. A sole Dunnock sings plaintively from the top of the rose bower (which is in desperate need of a serious pruning still!) A pristine Great Tit feeds on peanuts. Earlier, a Wren sought food in the pots on the patio. Everything is soaked, a mist condenses on the trees causing a constant drip, drip on the shed roof. We are still getting a couple of eggs most days from the hens. A few days ago a tiny, dark brown egg appeared in the nest; no idea who was responsible.
Bodenham Lake – The fog is thick across the lake, the far side opposite the sailing compound is just a ghostly black silhouette. A Long-tailed Tit, a cotton-ball on a stick, flies past. The place seems filled with hysterically barking dogs and shouting owners. It is cold but not freezing, hence the mud is thick and clinging. It looks like some work has been carried out on the scrape, there are now three mounds. A Cormorant stands on one. Several logs are in the water, another Cormorant is on one of them. Mallard chase noisily. A few Wigeon stand in the shallow water. A Goldeneye appears out of the mist and then disappears again. The reed beds seem to have been flattened somewhat. A couple of Little Egret fly in followed by three Goosander. More Cormorant fly around. There are duck out on the lake but it is too foggy to identify them. Some heavy machinery is growling and clanking somewhere on the far side of the water. The Goosander, glowing white in the murk, swim up to the scrape. A Grey Heron flies out from the reeds with a grunt. A Black-headed Gull washes, ducking its head and flapping furiously. A Coot slips off into the gloom. A third Little Egret appears, the log has recorded four and right on cue the fourth emerges from the reeds.
Back along the meadow. The Hawthorns have been been stripped of their berries. A Song Thrush hops across the grass. One of the cider apple trees in the orchard is surrounded by rotten fruit. The dessert apple orchard is peppered with large molehills. Blackbirds sit in tree branches muttering.
Friday – Tedstone Delamere and Whitbourne – Heading east from Leominster, the temperature drops a degree every five miles. As it started at only 1ºC, it is now below freezing. I park at Sapey Bridge. A pub, The Wheatsheaf, is boarded up so I use their car park. Fieldfares fly over. Over a small bridge that crosses Sapey Brook which flows into the Teme a mile or so to the east. Long-tailed Tits search an Alder. Worcester Lodge has a lion with the crosses on its body on the gable. Two large ornate porches stand either side of the building. Right onto a lane with some large old Oak trees on its verge. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies across a field. Stocking Gobbet is a much enlarged cottage. The lane climbs past Wishmore, a large farm with a number of barn conversions. The farmhouse is 16th century. A 17th century cottage, Little Wishmore has a long building next to it with a sign that says Old Shop. Between this building and a 17th century cottage, Birchy Leasome is an orchard. The next field has trees laid out like a park. Past another field of cattle. Whitbourne Hall neo-Palladian country house peeks through a curtain of ornamental conifers in the distance. The hall was designed in 1861 by the architect E.W.Elmslie, who also designed the Great Malvern Railway Station. The house was built for Edward Bickerton Evans of the Hill, Evans and Co Vinegar Works of Worcester, which was in the 19th century the largest vinegar producer in the world. It is his arms on Worcester Lodge.
Over a stream that is more a sedgy ditch. A lane leads off to the hamlet of Postwick. Lower Postwick is a fine black and white farmhouse dating from the middle ages. It has an irregular plan with cross-wing in middle. There are the remains of medieval cruck-truss but the rest of the building is 17th century. Opposite is a circular pond (shown on the 1886 map) in a field, iced over. Postwick Lodge is 17th century but with a 18th century front. Back down to the junction and on westwards. The lane descends to Sapey Brook. A tale is told of a horse theft in which the thief tried to escape down Sapey Brook. A poem was published by Dr Booker late Rector of St James, Tedstone Delamere and then Vicar of Dudley. The Springs of Plynlimmon in which the following alludes to the theft:
Till amid hills and valleys fair
At lovely Tedstone Delamere
She* meets a Brook without a name
Unchronicled unknown to fame
But not unmark’d so rustics say
By strange event in olden day
Then some nocturnal robber stole
From pastures green a mare and foal
And hoping to escape he took
His plunder d booty down the brook
Where he surmis’d each footstep’s trace
The flowing waters would efface
Deceptive hope and vain surmise
None can escape Heav’n’s searching eyes
A pious maiden with her sire
Heedless of peril toil and mire
Pursu’d the robber tracing plain
The footmarks fresh through field and lane
Till on the brook’s smooth fording side
Those marks more plain were soon espied
While on the further brink were none
The maiden then this orison
Pour’d forth to Heav’n in lowly guise
Faith beaming from her up cast eyes
O thou who to the good art kind
Grant we our plunder’d own may find
Then down the stream their course they bent
Its aid the clear stream gladly lent
And show’d in many a shallow place
The marks by which pursuit could trace
The fav’rite pad and filly too
That yet had never worn a shoe
These with the robber soon they found
And fast with cords the culprit bound
Near Hoar Stone’s rocks which tow’r sublime
And frown’d on such a heinous crime
Yet beetling grandly from above
Smil’d on the sire and maid with love
A pleasant scene for them to view
As Abyssinian vales ere knew
A Petrarch there might wish sojourn
And for his Laura cease to mourn
Or anchorite there find his cell
With meditation mute to dwell
Till purified from earthly leaven
His spirit soar aloft to Heaven
*ie the Teme
Tedstone Lodge is a gatehouse for the hall and has the same lion arms on the gable end. It is an extraordinary building with a double staircase rising to a door on the second floor. A cellar door is in the body of the stairs. Over Linceter Brook. Past Lower Sconch, another large black and white farmhouse. The lane climbs past another timber-framed 17th century dwelling, The Sconce. The lane crests at Upper House then drops steeply again. Another large house lies within the edge of Badley Common Wood. The common is deep in dead Bracken. Yet again the lane rises. A Kestrel flies off the wires. Elcocks looks like a much humbler dwelling, more likely farm workers cottages, now self-catering holiday lets. A flight of twenty plus Pheasants cross the road. Redhill is a substantial house on the hillside. Work to the water mains is being carried out all along the lane. There is a deep trench in the red clay here. The base layer of the area is Raglan mudstone, overlaid by well eroded St Maughan’s Formation sandstone. New Brick Cottage looks like a Victorian house with a slightly later doubling in size. The different colour brick seems a bit of a give away, but a second look reveals it is simply that the bricks in one half have been scrubbed and repointed.
The lane enters Tedstone Delamere. The name comes from Teodic’s stone by the stagnant pool or standing pond.Teodic was an Anglo-Saxon and as his name appears in a number of villages, clearly had a large holding here. William de la Mere, held Tedston in the reign of Henry III. A Bullfinch flies past. The lane is lined on the left by an old iron railings fence and on the right by a well constructed but much tumbled stone wall. Over the wall is a wood, The Warren. Warren Lodge has a crest on the gable. Tedstone Court is a large house of 1805, built on the site of an older manorial house. It has Georgian cellars beneath the house and stands within a medium sized moated area now incorporated into the garden. The house was built for the Wight family and was the Bellville family home from 1908 to 1996. Mrs N. C. Bellville MBE regularly opened the Court gardens for charities and other functions. A concrete path leads past the gardens of the Court to St James church.
Just inside the gate, a large tomb had completely collapsed with an urn lying by the path and the rest of the tomb fallen into a hole. By the porch is an old churchyard cross which has the original square-built plinth of AD 614, the upper part bearing the date 1629. It was altered to support a sundial in 1768 (or 1718 depending on source), and restored in 1856. The head is in a small glass case by the lych-gate. The churchyard is reputed to date from the Bronze Age and the church Saxon. There is little evidence for either. The present building is Norman, 11th century but it was greatly restored in 1856 by George Gilbert Scott. The simple 12th or 13th century font was banished to the churchyard at the restoration but has now been brought inside and stands beside the more ostentatious Victorian one. The screen is 15th or 16th century. Stained glass windows are by Hardman (the East window) and Kempe (North wall of the nave, showing Saints John and James). The first incumbent was a Delamere.
The sun is now shining but is having little effect on the temperature. On along the lane. The size of the court is now apparent with extensive outbuildings with oast houses. The grandly named Tedstone House seems to be a barn conversion. The lodge is a large house, more than the usual manor lodge house. Opposite is an extensive walled garden. Up the hill to Delamere House and a few more dwellings. Snowdrops are appearing in gardens and Wild Arum leaves unravelling in the hedgerows. Back down the lane towards Sapey Bridge. It has clouded over. Jackdaws chack as they fly to and fro, Rooks caw across the field and a lone Carrion Crow barks. Back down near the common, a Pheasant seems intent on bashing itself to death in a fence in an attempt to escape. If it had stayed still I would never have seen it. A Common Buzzard flies over attended by a Carrion Crow, which decides the raptor is now off its territory and breaks off the engagement.
Back near Whitmore Farm a vast flock of several hundred Wood Pigeons whirr into the air. I can hear beaters whooping in the distance, then the blast of shotguns. Why do the shooters never seen to go for the Wood Pigeons these days, unlike Pheasant, these birds cost nothing to raise yet so millions of pounds worth of damage to crops? Instead of turning down to Sapey Bridge at the old shop I continue straight ahead. Through what looks like a council estate. A pair of cottages called Acreage are the only old buildings here. House Sparrows chatter in the hedges on both sides of the road. This is the village of Meadow Green. At the junction further on is the village school of 1856, with an extension in 1875 and again in 2010. A timber-framed cottage is opposite. There is a park and community hall. Several older buildings and then Poplands Farm where the are oast houses and beehives. The road descends steeply past the Upper Churchyard. The road crosses Whitbourne Brook beside a small stone footbridge. Whitbourne lies at the foot of the hill. It is a mixture of old and newer houses. The Georgian Rectory is vast, facing the church of St John the Baptist. Beside the church is a large white house, Whitbourne Court.
The church of St John the Baptist comes from the late 12th century, although much was rebuilt during the 13th century. The tower was added in the 14th century. A major refurbishment was undertaken by by Perkins of Worcester in 1866 when the north aisle was added. The reredos is composed of tiles and mosaic made by James Powell of Whitefriars, installed to the memory of Sir Richard Harington. It has a central panel depicing the nativity in the style of Burne-Jones and the tiled wings are reminiscent of William Morris. The roof is Tudor, the font dates from around 1180 with a very worn Agnes Dei carving. The rood screen was installed in 1930 by the Harington family but moved from the chancel entrance in 2000 to the entrance to the tower. Marble monuments of the Freeman de Gaines family are on the tower walls, having been moved there from the body of the church in the 19th century. On the north aisle wall is a framed piece of cloth thought to originally have been a cope later adapted to hang in front of the altar. The glass is almost all Victorian.
Whitbourne Court was once the mediaeval palace of the Bishop of Hereford and has a large moat behind it. Bishop Godwin died here in 1633. He was a historian who wrote The Man in the Moone, possibly the first piece of science fiction. The palace was battered badly in the Civil War and a fire in 1655 destroyed most of it. In 1660 Colonel John Birch rebuilt the house for himself. A loft is still called Birche’s Hole after the place where Birch hid from Royalists. In 1817 on the death of the long term owner Richard Chambers, (High Sheriff of Herefordshire in 1792) Whitbourne Court was put up for auction, with the contents being sold off first. The Harington family occupied the house in the Victorian era. In the Second World War it was used for evacuated boys from Westminster School.
Back across the Brook where Goldfinches are singing brightly. Back up the hill to Poplands. A flock of twenty Fieldfares flies over. Through Meadow Green. A pleasant village community run shop is welcome for a drink and lunch. The road drops down back to Sapey Bridge. Route