New Year’s Day, – Leominster – The New Year starts slightly brighter than the old one ended. The sky is not uniformly grey as there are patches of blue. I need to go to the emergency pharmacy but it does not open for another half hour so I head up into the Newlands estate. A few House Sparrows chirp, Wood Pigeons call and a single Starling sits on a telephone vision aerial burbling. On the next gable is a hunched Blackbird. A Collared Dove glides overhead descending into a tree with its strangled call. Into Barons Cross Road where is plenty of traffic though, of course, nothing like as busy as a normal day. Buckfield Villa dates from the end of the Victorian period. A small terrace of 19th century dwellings is Lower Buckfield. A modern estate is now completed in the old brickyard which abuts a supermarket. Just beyond the supermarket exit another short terrace of early 20th century houses followed by a much larger building at the same period. All along the road is mid 20th century infill houses. New houses have been built on a field next to another large early 20th century building consisting of two dwellings. Barons Cross Lodge is a large Victorian villa. It is followed by a short terrace of Victorian cottages one has been finished in mock timber frame style. At the end is a house, The Birdcage, a restaurant in the 1970s and before that it was The Brick Makers Arms. A large brickyard stood next to the pub. The Barons Cross Inn still open though has changed hands many times over the recent years. The A44 turns to the left here on the junction is Conod’s, a commercial vehicle garage established in 1933.
Straight on along Cholstrey Road. To the south is Barons Cross camp, a former US General Hospital during WWII then, after the war, a resettlement camp for the Oboz Rodzin Wojsk and 340 Szpital Wojenny Polish Army units. It has been the subject of numerous planning applications for a large housing estate, none of which have come to fruition. The barking squawk of a Ring-necked Pheasant comes from the camp. There are the remains of buildings on the camp, all buried under thickets of Ivy. One half of the entrance gate wall is still standing.
Into Ginhall Lane. Beside the entrance to an old brickworks, a Goldcrest flies up into an Ivy covered tree. A Ring-necked Pheasant hunkers down in a field, its bronze body pressed the ground and his bright red wattles gleaming as he watches me pass. The hedgerows here are busy, Robins, Dunnocks, Great and Blue Tits, Wrens, Blackbirds and House Sparrows are all flitting between them and the trees. Magpies and Wood Pigeons are in the trees. The lane swings round into Pierrepont Road. This short road with a few Edwardian houses joins Bargates.
Friday – Radnor Forest – It has been nearly two years since I was in these hills of the Radnor Forest. Nuthatches, Chaffinches and Blue Tits are in the trees around the car park head off up the track towards Coed Cwningar, Warren Wood. Just barely light with thick, dark clouds hanging overhead. A Red Kite flies up the valley and Ravens bark high over the hills above. There are sheep in the pastures and a few up on the hills. A few Fieldfares and Blackbirds are in the trackside Hawthorns although these bushes have few berries left. A flock of Siskin fly out of a tree and across the valley. A dead Fox lays in a small sheep enclosure. Great and Blue Tits feed by tumbling upside down in the bare branches of the trees; a Robin sits at the top singing tunelessly. A cleared hillside has been replanted with rows of conifers.
Into Warren Wood. Black Brook bubbles below a steep bank. The track drops down to the confluence of the streams. Rock faces are emerald green with mosses, ferns and Saxifrage. Into the gorge to Water-break-its-neck, Dŵr Torri Gwddf. The whole gorge is bright green with mosses, Harts Tongue Ferns and Saxifrage leaves.
Back to the path and into the woods. A Treecreeper scurries along branches like a mouse. The sun emerges and lights up the trees. Up the paths through the woods; they are steep and I am badly out of condition! A Goldcrest seeks food in broken branches and twigs on the ground. Out of the wood and on to the upland meadows. Sheep graze quietly, some have the grey fleeces of Herdwicks. A Fox trots across a field ahead then stops when it hears the clang of the gate as I entered the meadow. It watches for a while then realises it is a human and gallops off into the conifer plantation. Hollies are still festooned with crimson berries. It is quite silent here just the occasional chattering of a distant Blue Tit.
The path continues to climb through the conifer plantation on Crinfynidd. The cloud is broken up now and patches of blue are showing. Across the small area of bog and onto the forestry track. The wind is stronger up here and much colder. The pond, Pwll y Gaseg has dried out completely now. On up the track across Lluestau’r Haul. The pools in the valley, Cwm Du, seem smaller than before despite all the recent rain. There are very few sheep scattered in the hillside opposite, Nyth-grug. A small Gorse bush sports two yellow flowers, the only colour amidst the winter greys, greens and browns. Ravens hang on the wind, cronking gently. Hardwoods planted some five years ago have developed into small trees now. Pale green lichens (Cladonia species I assume) grow out of the slate covered track. A withered puffball still smokes when tapped. I note great stacks of logs have all been removed, but it is strange how memory and time play tricks, the logs were gone when I was here two years ago! The old track continues northwards over Esgairnantau but my route follows the modern forestry track eastwards.
The track descends to the modern quarry that provides the hardcore for the forestry tracks. Summer large slabs show the layers of deposition of the Ludlow Group of Silurian mudstone. There are other marks but none really look like fossils. The track continues down in large hairpin bends. A bird flies out of the conifers and is gone in a flash. It looked like a raptor, I would guess Sparrowhawk. The track comes to the edge of Davy Morgan’s Dingle through which Black Brook flows. To the north-east is the steep grassy slope of Great Rhos.
A brief pause on a large slab of rock has sat here for years. The shallow grooves where the drills went in to split it are still visible. The track now descend steadily to Warren Wood. A Common Buzzard sails out from the hillside and down the valley. The clouds break and become thinner, the sun is bright in a largely blue sky. Back down to the entrance to the gorge. Looking down Black Brook, there are several moss-covered tree trunks lying across the brook. Back down towards the A44. A Common Buzzard circles near to Vron farm. It is calling and being answered by another which is high up over Mynd. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Grey clouds are edged in pink by the sun hidden behind the hills. It still remains mild for the time of year. Jackdaws squabble on the rooftops. The water level in the River Lugg continues to fall. It flows less swiftly, still a green grey colour. Blackbirds mutter in the bushes, a Dunnock sings briefly. Carrion Crows caw from the treetops. A Song Thrush sings in one of the trees that the bypass. Several Wrens fire off their rapid alarm calls. Round to the Millennium Park. Four Wood Pigeons fly up from leaf litter. There are Blackbirds everywhere, some will be winter visitors from the north and the continent. Moles have been very busy as there are there are even more molehills scattered across the grass. The Priory bells toll nine o’clock then the compline bells ring out.
Wednesday – Neen Savage – I park at Six Ashes crossroads above the Rea valley. To the west on the other side of the river valley are the Clee Hills. Above are stratified clouds layers of grey and light. There is a chilly wind, which is laced with the scent of manure. Off in a north-easterly direction. Past arable fields, some with small oilseed rape plants, others lay fallow still with stubble. Past a café and plant centre, the Larch Barn.
The road descends into the hamlet of Wall Town. The name derives from the substantial banks in a field which are the remains of a Roman fort. The body of the fort is now occupied by Wall Town farm, the house of which is probably 18th century and has a very substantial set of barns, all converted into residences. The fort overlooks a valley containing a stream and a lake. It was a multi-phase fort, probably in military use in the 1st to 2nd centuries CE, with subsequent civilian settlement in and around it (vicus). Fairly large mid 20th century houses stand either side of the hamlet. Road continues to descend into the valley. A large flock of finches flies up from a winter cereal crop field. I am too far away to identify species accurately although I see a couple of Chaffinches and a Linnet. A mewing Common Buzzard flies up from a conifer plantation. The road reaches the bottom of the valley and crosses a stream, Baveney Brook, on a high bridge, Wall Town Bridge.
I turn off onto Baveney Lane. The hunting and shooting set are out with their Cocker Spaniels. Loud shots and loud voices disturb the air. The lane descends into the stream valley. The stream is coloured a rusty grey by the Old Red Sandstone and mudstones. To the east is a wide strip of Pennine Coal Measures running north-south. Here and to the west are the Maughan Formations of Devonian sandstones. Either side of the stream and road is a conifer plantation. The road bends, crossing the stream which passes under a rebuilt bridge. Upstream from the bridge is a three foot high stone-built weir. The lane rises through Lower Baveney, which is just a large farm with a good many new, pressed-steel barns.
Baveney was called Barbingi in the Domesday book. In 1066 was held by Alsi and Fech and was worth 10s per annum. Fech also held a manor in Mawley, and was Saxon lord of Broc in Worcestershire. In 1086 Barbingi was held by Ralph de Mortimer from Earl Roger de Montgomery, and Fech was his under-tenant. It was a manor of half a hide, one half of which used to lie in Cleobury Mortimer. Two radmans and two boors had one team, and its annual value was 6s. The manor passed to Simon de Ribbeford, who was Roger de Mortimer’s seneschal in 1179. In 1295, William de Bardeleye held a tenement in Balbeneye under Sir Henry de Ribbeford, and Richard de Bardeleye, then under two years of age, was his son and heir. In 1304 Sir Henry de Ribbeford held Babbeney by the service of a third part of a knight’s fee. Baveney eventually passed from the de Ribbesfords to the Foxcotes. It afterwards came to the Soleys, and passed (with the manor of Neen Savage) under the Will of John Soley to Challenor Ogle, and on his death to the Bakers.
A Skylark sings high over stubble field. A very large flock of birds are feeding in a partly harvested maize field. They are flying between the hedgerow and the field. Fieldfares, Redwings, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Blue Tits, Yellowhammers, Linnets and House Sparrows are all in the flock which suddenly explodes into the air as a Kestrel flies in landing on telephone wire. They begin to settle after the Kestrel departs but a passing car disperses them in all directions.
On along the lane. Rooks are noisy in trees across the fields. Fields here are of large muddy stubble. A large farm is across the fields to the north, The Nash. The lane comes to a crossroads where a large house stands on the corner. There was once a school here. Nearby is a row of council houses. To the left, the road head back to Six Ashes, my route is westwards down a narrow lane. A Kestrel flies past and up into a large Oak on the main road. Clump Cottage is a much extended, stone built, probably 18th century cottage. A junction has a leaning sign post. Across an orchard is Nethercott, a farm whose farmhouse is 17th century. My route takes the other leg. The lane crosses dismantled railway, the Cleobury Mortimer and Ditton Priors Light Railway. The line opened for passenger traffic on 21st November 1908. and had a junction with the Wyre Forest line of the Great Western Railway (GWR) at Cleobury Mortimer and was absorbed into the GWR in 1922. The line closed for passenger services on 26th September 1938 and was then used by the Royal Navy which had a Royal Naval Armaments Depot at the end of line at Ditton Priors. It finally closed in 1960. The lane bends beside to gate pillars and an old forged fence and gates that lead to Chilton, a large Georgian house.
The lane drops down to the River Rea. The old school house stands on the hillside. Yellow catkins dangle over a bank. A road from the west joins this lane after fording the river. Although it is not deep the water across the ford is flowing rapidly. A footbridge crosses the river a short distance upstream. A plaque is attached to the bridge which states ←River Rea Neen Savage→ The arrow on this plaque marks the height of the flood of the 26th September 1946 as recorded by F M Tomkinson of Chilton.
The lane climbs into Neen Savage. Water pours out of a small square culvert in the long garden wall of The Old Vicarage. A Raven barks at the top of a specimen conifer in the garden. By the parish hall is a telephone box converted into to a mini library. Opposite is a church of St Mary.
At the Conquest, Neen Savage was held by Huni or Hunit, a freeman; hence it was sometimes called Hundesnene or Hunesnene, (Nene being the old name of the Rea). In Domesday, Ralph de Mortimer held Nene from the King, and Ingelrann held it under him. It was a manor of four hides; there was arable land sufficient for five ox-teams; in demesne there was one team and four serfs; and three villains and three boors had one team. There was also a mill of the annual value of two shillings. From Ingelrann, the Manor of Nene passed to the family of Le Savage and it became known as Neen Savage, to distinguish it from Richard’s Neen and from Neen Sollars, both called Nene at Domesday. In the Hundred Roll of 1255, William de St George is recorded as lord of Neen Savage, together with Geoffrey de Overton. In 1362, John de St George is stated to have held these manors. In the Calendar of Knights’ fees of Edmund, Earl of March, in 1414, John de St George is said to hold under him a knight’s fee in Neen Savage and Eudon George, the value of which was extended at the sum of 100s. The family of de St George continued to hold the manor until the beginning of the 16th century, when Elizabeth, daughter and heir of William de St George married Richard Kettleby, and carried the estates into that family. In 1704, the manor of Neen Savage was purchased from the family of Kettleby by John Soley, of Sambourne, near Bewdley. John Soley, the last of the family, left Neen by his will to Challenor Ogle, on whose death without issue it passed to Thomas Barwick Lloyd Baker of Hardwicke Court.
The church is late Norman. Strangely the main gateway to the churchyard is chained shut. In 1179 Hugh de Mortimer gave St Mary’s to Wigmore Abbey, which retained it until dissolution. In 1825 the wooden spire was struck by lightning which resulted in the melting of the two bells and slight damage to the rood screen. The spire was not replaced until 1882 when the tower was reconstructed at a cost of £1,300 under the direction of Thomas Gordan, architect, of London. There was much restoration of the building at this date. The south porch is mediaeval and there is a blocked up Norman door in the north wall. The font and pulpit are relatively modern. The delightful small organ was installed in 1885. The roof is braced rafter with tie beams. The church’s glory is the beautiful early 16th century rood screen.
The road turns past Lower Neen farm. Two white geese stand by a pond. The road rises past Neen House farm then a modern mock Georgian house. A Robin sings from a tree. Melbury is a much extended mid 20th century house. A short distance up the lane is Six Ashes crossroads again. Route
Saturday – Leominster – The annual Wassail. We gather in Corn Square where Jenny Pipes, an all-women Morris, perform three dances. They then lead a procession down to the Millennium Orchard. Here we circle a cider apple tree and various participants recite a rhyme with us all joining in a chorus. Then the tree is toasted with both cider and toast, the latter hung on the branches. There is then a drop of cider for all. I take a couple of bottles of my 2018 vintage which was made from apples from these trees.
Sunday – Leominster – Heavy overnight rain seems to have moved on but the leaden clouds persist. It is still very mild for the time of year. Wood Pigeons call, Robins sing and the rain returns. The water level in the River Lugg has risen by at least a foot and is now coloured red by the tons of soil being washed off the fields. In the woodlands around the river several Robins are in song. Back over the railway a skein of half a dozen Canada Geese flying north. A Carrion Crow stands atop a tall lamp post surveying the area. Along beside the railway, where the resident Song Thrush is singing loudly.
Through the Millennium Green and to the Peace Garden. The River Kenwater is also flowing rapidly. Dried seeds and wings of a Lime tree hang in the light breeze. Repairs are being undertaken to the two flights of steps that lead up to the rear of the old Priory hospital. Through the Priory churchyard. In the south-east the sun has risen but its golden light is soon swallowed by grey clouds.
Home – I prune a fig tree that is next to the wall by the fruit cage. It is growing in all directions with some branches heading one way then twisting round and heading off another. Then two gooseberry bushes are severely pruned. Both are prone to mildew so I am hoping that by allowing more air to circulate, this can be prevented. The greenhouse glass is washed down to remove the green algae that has grown on it. The interior is tidied up for the new season.
Tuesday – Leominster – Storm Brendan swept through overnight and into the morning with rain and high winds. It seems there will be little respite as another deep low is approaching from the south-west threatening more high winds and rain. I undertake more pruning on the Bramley which overhangs from next door. Long branches stretch out over the greenhouse, so I remove them along with some of the rose which is entangled in the tree. The rain returns so I eventually retreat, rather wet.
Thursday – Bodenham Lake – Again there is extensive flooding south of Leominster and on the fields along the Bodenham Road. Sky is covered with scattered cloud with blue patches. A sharp southerly wind, which accounts for the relatively mild temperature, is blowing in dark clouds. In the car park, a Nuthatch calls overhead, House Sparrows chirrup in the storage barn and Robins sing in the woodlands. Off down the track. A Dunnock sings in the orchard hedgerow. The water level in the lake is high again. A Cormorant, Grey Heron and Mallard are on one of the small islands, the other is occupied by a pair of Canada geese and another Cormorant. A third Cormorant and a Goldeneye are on the far side of the water. A Brambling is in a small flock of Chaffinches on the edge of the meadow. The meadow is saturated.
Canada Geese are scattered across the water. Half a dozen Mandarin Duck are flying about before descending to the eastern end. A few Coot are on the south side along with a drake Goldeneye and a single Tufted Duck. There is a high pitched squeaking sound in front of the hide but I can see nothing. Then an Otter breaks the surface and dives again almost immediately. It appears another couple of times before disappearing into the reed bed. I wonder if the high pitch call was a kit in the reeds. The Otter reappears and dives in the open water just beyond the reed bed. Suddenly a second appears, then one swims along the channel between the reed bed and the bank. A few minutes pass then two are tumbling in the reed bed in front of the hide. A short time later one comes out onto the edge and is eating a fish. The site warden comes into the hide and we see the Otters briefly. He is sure from the sound that they are couple of youngsters playing.
Back out in the Alder plantation, where a Great Spotted Woodpecker is calling. The sky is completely covered with dark grey cloud now and the temperature is dropping. Fieldfares call from the orchard. It starts raining by the time I am back in Leominster.
Friday – Hereford – Through the city centre to Barton Road. St Nicholas Church looks resolutely closed as usual. It is cloudy with a sharp wind making it feel quite cold. Down Greyfriars Avenue towards the river. The street is lined with early to mid 20th century semi-detached housing. A modern block of apartments stands on the corner. Two large semi-detached houses stand by the river, East and West Friars. A footpath runs around the Rowing Club then continues along the river bank. The River Wye is running higher than usual. T.S. Antelope is the sea cadets headquarters. Outside there is a howitzer. Past the rugby pitch. Under the railway bridge of the GWR Newport, Abergavenney and Hereford Branch. More rugby pitches. Beyond the pitches is Broomy Hill, the water tower rising with an accompaniment of Wellingtonias and other conifers. A Mute Swan, a couple of Mallard and a female Goosander are on the water.
The path turns into a quagmire so I decided to leave it and head up the lane that passes the Waterworks Museum. The lane emerges onto Broomy Hill which is lined with fine Victorian houses. One house was the home of Brian Hatton, probably Hereford’s best known artist. He was born here in 1887 but was killed in action in the First World War. Into Prince Edward Road where a long wall encloses the garden of a substantial house, West Bank. This road enters Tower Road with houses dating from the late 1880s with modern infill. At the western end of the road there is a small park which stands next to a large covered reservoir constructed in the 1970s. A muddy path leads through to Breinton Road. Opposite the end of the path is the back entrance to Hereford cemetery and crematorium.
Into Breinton Avenue part, of a large mid 20th century housing estate. Across Westfaling Street into Whitehorse Street. The houses in this street have a considerable variety of designs and are mid to late Victorian. Chandos Methodist church has a foundation stone laid by the Right Honourable the Earl of Chesterfield on November 12th 1908. The church closed in 2012. Down the road from the church what are almshouses with the foundation stone of May 30th 1887. A plaque above the door has two foresters, one with a bow and arrow, the other with a flintlock and the inscription A O Foresters Court Maiden Number 2849 Jubilee Almshouses. Whitehorse Street ends onto the busy A438 Whitecross Road.
This road leads back into the city centre. A painted wall sign records John H Aylett, The People’s Butcher for Local Meat and Canterbury Lamb. The shop now sells angling equipment. To the north of the road is the large site of Bulmers, famous Herefordshire cider maker sadly now part of the Heineken empire. Huge tanks and large stacks of barrels stand behind a long green fence. The road comes to a large junction where once the railway passed as it entered Barton station, now a supermarket car park. A Walenty Pytel sculpture of a woodpecker stands on the junction. The road becomes Eign Street which leads to the city centre at High Town.
Monday – Home – Over the weekend an area of high pressure moved in, the barometer needle heading towards 1040 mB. More pruning was undertaken, particularly the little crab apple which has spread rather inconveniently. The rhubarb forcing pot had been placed over some pale little shoots.
The garden sparkles with frost this morning. The two bantam cross hens are still laying infrequently, well, Emerald is not laying at all, but the Rock Island Red cross is still nice and regular. The sky is clear this evening and Venus is shining brilliantly in the western sky. I still have to go out every evening to push the hens off the nest, which they will foul if left there.
Wednesday – Cardiff – We are having a short break in the Welsh capital. From Cardiff Central Station we head to Wood Street and wander up the side of the River Taff. The Millennium Stadium stands high above us. The area was called Temperance Town, the stadium being built on the site of Little Park, later Cardiff Arms Park. A circus stood in the far south-eastern corner in the 1880s. A few Mallard are on the water. A two-person skulling boat passes upstream with a zodiac behind with the trainer giving orders through a megaphone. Black-headed Gulls stands on railings, some are regaining their chocolate heads. A Cormorant flies upstream.
Across Castle Street and into Bute Park, formerly Cooper’s Fields. It is busy with joggers and people strolling. A stone circle, made of Gorsedd stones was erected for the 1978 Eisteddfod. A Dominican Priory was founded here in 1242 on land granted to them by Richard de Clare between the river and the West Gate. A contribution towards the building of their convent came from the King. The earliest friary was a simple construction of wood, wattle and daub, replaced later by a more substantial buildings in stone. It was sacked by Owain Glyndŵr in 1404 but was finally demolished in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. Materials from the Priory were used in the construction of the Blackweir Farmhouse. The foundations disappeared under soil and vegetation but were excavated by archaeologists in 1887 and 1897, because the third Marquess of Bute wanted the remains examined and preserved. After excavation, the remains of Blackfriars’ Friary were dressed up as a garden feature. We cross to the eastern side of the park where a leat runs towards the castle where it fed a mill. Up onto North Road, passing the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Across the road is Cathays Park with large University buildings and the Police Headquarters. We turn into the Boulevard de Nantes, past City Hall and into the National Museum of Wales.
The museum is crowded with lots of school children. Many have come to see Dippy, the famous cast from a near complete Diplodocus skeleton that was discovered in Wyoming, America in 1898. The skeleton has stood in the entrance hall of the London Natural History Museum since 1905 until 2017 when it was replaced with the skeleton of a Blue Whale. Dippy is 70ft (21m) long and made up of 292 bones. Upstairs is an excellent Martin Parr photography exhibition of working class people in Wales. There is a photography exhibition, Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial Visions. For over 50 years the Bechers collaborated on a project to document industrial structures across Europe and the USA. Their photographic inventory included winding towers, blast furnaces, cooling towers, gasometers, grain elevators, water towers and lime kilns. Another exhibition is over eighty photographs by August Sander (1876-1964), drawn from Sander’s monumental project People of the Twentieth Century.
We then have a drink in the Goat Major before catching a bus to Cardiff Bay. The waterfront is grey but there are still some tourists. Into The Packet pub, not exactly salubrious but the beer was OK. Our hotel is The Exchange, built in 1888 in the Renaissance Revival style, as the Coal and Shipping Exchange to be used as a market floor and office building for trading in coal in Cardiff and later became a hub of the global coal trade. It