Ramblings

July 2011


Friday – Leominster-Hebden Bridge – Taking the train to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire to meet up for a stag do. There is a group of lads on the train with a similar objective although they are Blackpool bound. All are wearing Rugby Union shirts with a black and white pattern resembling a Friesan cow. The logo states Namibian Milk Board. The exception is one lad, whom I take to be the groom-to-be who is wearing a red and yellow plastic dress and red court shoes. They are playing some drinking game and are getting good naturedly louder. Shrewsbury station passes all too quickly as it is a Victorian masterpiece. The hills and dales of South Shropshire are giving way to the Cheshire plain. Then industry and housing dominates as we enter Manchester. I have to cross the city centre from Piccadilly station to Victoria station. The streets are a strange mixture. One can be passing trendy bars, posh offices and smart shops, hebden Bridgeturn a corner and be in a street of derelict and tatty shops with graffiti and rubbish. From Victoria station a two coach rattler has only a couple of stops to Hebden Bridge. The line passes from endless industrial estates with numerous units for sale or rent, beyond Rochdale into the Calder Valley and my destination.

Saturday – Hebden Bridge – Getting these lads together for a walk, which someone else has planned, is worse than herding cats. In the end I give up and wander off on my own. I meet Ken down the road and he joins me. We plan to follow the canal, the Calder and Hebble which become the Rochdale canal further west, to Todmorden. However, a sign on a gate undermines our plans – Cider Festival This Way! A little further on is Stubbins Wharf, a large pub and a room containing a bar with over fifty cases of cider. Not surprisingly, we get no further. We are joined a little later by Dave who is not a cider affectionado but is delighted to find Timothy Taylor’s Landlord bitter available. The rest of the afternoon passes in a haze.

Monday – Eaton Hill – A blazing sun is heating the land quickly. Down the road and across the River Lugg, which is low but clear. A large dragonfly hawks upstream but Maddy is having an altercation with a dog that had the temerity to sniff her and when I look back at the water the dragonfly is gone. Under the A49 and along the river. Huge Butterbur leaves are being subsumed, despite their size, by Cleavers and nettles. Numerous Ringlet butterflies flit through the long grass. A Chiffchaff Ringletstill calls despite the breeding season slipping away. Moorhens squabble on the river. Comma and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies flutter over the beds of nettles. A duck Mallard swims by followed by two ducklings. Up the hill past the old stone steps on the drovers trail. Yellow patches of bedstraw. Up the sunken trackway and out onto Eaton Hill. The farmer has sown a leafy vegetable on the field that has been used for maize over recent years. By the communications mast is a herd of young heifers sitting, ears flapping and tails swishing in a vain attempt to drive off the flies. They all rise and come to the gate to investigate Maddy and me. Down the track past Square-stalked St Johns Wort and Musk Mallows. Back past the Kenwater where yellow-centred white flowers of water Crowsfoot lay in the sparkling water.

Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – Gentle rain falls. Boats are about to be launched from the yacht compound. A large flock of Canada Geese move across the water. Mallard, with the drakes in eclipse, are scattered over the lake. A Grey Heron stands on a low branch, a few inches above the water, on the far side. Four Cormorants are in the willows. Three Tufted Duck arrow across the lake at great speed before gliding down onto the water’s surface. A lone drake Gadwall crosses the lake. Purple Loosestrife stands high in red-purple spikes near the reed bed. Nearby, are the rich pink flower heads of Common Centaury. Back along the hedgerow an almost pure white moth, a Common White Wave, shelters on a bramble leaf. A Green Woodpecker circles a telegraph pole in the orchards before flying into one of the larger apple trees. A sheep uses the stake holding the chicken wire that protects an apple tree to reach up and nibble off apples from the lowest branches.

Sunday – Home – The garden is now yielding decent amounts of produce. Over the last couple of weeks we have had a fair amount of strawberries, blackcurrants and whitecurrants. Gooseberries were plentiful if a little small. The broad beans have finished, not as many as I would have liked but a few portions are in the freezer. Peas are producing well, but I rather overdid Planterthe sowing and they are a tangled mess. I have dug most of the potatoes, a pretty fair crop, Amarosa have done particularly well, the others less so, but as usual I have failed in the labelling in that they have all faded and I cannot read, or remember, what I planted. The garlic crop has been much better than recent years when most was lost to rot, but there is still some white fungus affecting some bulbs. The red onions were a failure again with just a few shallot sized specimens. Chillies are beginning to appear in the greenhouse. French beans are doing well, despite most of my dwarf varieties actually turning out to be climbers! Likewise, the runner beans are now at the top of the frames. Courgettes and squashes have been very slow to get going but leaves are developing nicely now. A row of spinach has bolted before it got six inches high, but lettuces sown as a catch crop between the bean poles are doing well. Yet again the birds are devastated the Gladstone apples despite the CDs hanging from the branches as scarers. In front of the house and the museum, Kay has a glorious display in the planters.

Monday – Croft – Bright sunshine filters through the dense green arbour. The paths are slick with mud. The pools in Fish Pool Valley are covered with pale green swirls of algae. Few birds are singing. The path ahead is ethereal as sunshine glows in the thin mist. A squirrel runs through the canopy creating a white noise of water droplets on the leaves below (I later think that the noise is technically called pink, not white). After chasing her ball down the steep hillside of Paththe Beech wood, Maddy takes to laying in muddy pools. Few flowers are in blossom, the most common being the Bramble. Great Tits and Chiffchaffs still call and there is a constant background hum of insects. Up the valley below Lyngham Vallet. A female Blackcap with a chestnut head searches the lower limbs of trees for food. Blue Tits churr, a Nuthatch calls from deep in the woods. The area at the top of Leinthall Common where the Bracken had been mown is now green again with fresh growth. Water-laden grasses and fronds of Bracken overhang the path and by the time I reach Croft Ambrey I am saturated. The South Shropshire hills are bathed in sunlight but the Welsh, Worcestershire and mid-Herefordshire hills are in a thin mist. Down near the castle a snapped-off stalk and head of a Stinkhorn fungus lies in the grass. A cow and her calf are alone in the field and the mother does not like Maddy passing by, and indeed the feeling is mutual.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Columns of deep pink Rosebay Willowherb, called Fireweed or Bombweed from its propensity to grow on London bomb sites after the war (although the name Fireweed is commonly used in the USA), form a long line of colour at the back of the open area by the old gravel pit track. Evening Primrose rise in nearer the track along with assorted thistles, Teasels and Ragwort. Near the boat house is a greater profusion of yellows – many more Evening Primrose, Dark Mullein rising to five feet, Toadflax and St Johns Wort. White is represented by Hedge Bedstraw, Meadowsweet and Brambles, the latter also contributing to the pinks which includes Clover, Yarrow, Tufted Vetch and Mallows. A large flock of Canada Geese drift at the southern end of the lake. A Common Sandpiper bobs on the scrape. Mallard and Tufted Duck are scattered across the water. At the far end a Mute Swan leads four cygnets. There is a Barnacle Goose in the flock of Canada Geese. Cormorants sit on the platform with more in the trees. A couple of Grey Heron stand on the tip of the island.

Llantwit Major – We travel down in the afternoon to the coast of South Wales. There seems to be a surprising amount of traffic around the valleys and down beyond the M4 motorway. The town of Llantwit Major, Llantwit Fawr in Welsh, lies just inland of the Bristol Channel in South Wales. It is a few miles to the west of Cardiff and to the east of Bridgend. We are on a camp-site in the south-east of the town. We wander up a track beside a vast expanse of green wheat which separates us from the sea. There is no way through to the cliff tops from here so we return kicking Maddy’s disgustingly mucky ball ahead of us. Teasels grow in the hedgerow. Mayweed lines the edge of the field.

Thursday – Llantwit Major – Down a track by the camp-site entrance to Rosedew Farm. A track heads south then reduces to a path between wheat fields to the cliff tops. The strange heads of Salad Burnet, reddish spiky balls on a long, leafless stem, Cliffsstand beside the path. The sky and sea are blue. The Somerset and Devon coasts, just a few miles over the Bristol Channel are hazy. Minehead, Lynmouth and the hills of Exmoor can be just made out. Linnets chatter on top of gorse bushes growing on the cliff top. This spot is between Pigeon Point and Stout Point. The latter sticks out into the sea, a cliff of strongly layered limestone. A Great Black-backed Gull sits on the sea. Small flocks of Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and the occasional Swift twitter as the fly along the face and tops of the cliffs. A Meadow Pipit stands on a rocky projection on the point looking up and down the cliff. A pair of Whitethroats churr gutturally on the gorse. Tankers ride at anchor on the far side of the channel. The strange square blocks of Hinkley Point nuclear power station lie in the distant east. Greater Knapweed’s purple contrasts with the rusty red of Dock against the green grasses. Large branched heads of Burdock are yet to flower. Back down to the farm. Pink Great Willowherb flowers adorn the edge of the track. All the old stone farm buildings have been converted into self-catering apartments. A Common Buzzard mews noisily from a Scots Pine, maybe a newly fledged bird awaiting breakfast from its parents. A Mistle Thrush rasps as it tussles with a Magpie over a field of black, black and and grey and white cows and calves.

Boverton – A village on the east side of Llantwit Major. A large ruined manor house, Boverton Place stands by a meadow. Adjoining buildings have been converted into a home. The manor was established by Robert Fitzhamon for the Steward of the Manor. The house was rebuilt in 1597-98 by Roger Seys. The house became the property of Robert Boverton PlaceJones of Fonmon when he married the heiress to Boverton, Jane Seys and she died without producing an heir. The house was abandoned and fell into ruin. The walls and towers of the manor are in the pale limestone of the area. Jackdaws perch atop the crenellations. About a mile down a narrow road that turns into a track is Summerhouse Point. The Summerhouse was built in around 1730 by the Seys family. The Summerhouse is octagonal and set within an octagonal enclosure. The adjoining cottage was occupied by the caretaker and the building was still inhabited in the 1920s. What is there now is unclear as notices make it clear that no visitors are welcomed. Surrounding the Summerhouse is an Iron Age fort dated 700BCE to 100CE. The fort has several ramparts and is semi-circular with the sheer sea cliff on the South side. A path leads past the ramparts to a Lookout and Seawatch tower. Unfortunately it is closed. Herb Agrimony, a localised plant, is growing profusely. We find a viewpoint where the thick cliff top bushes have thinned to leave a space. The Somerset coast is hazier than earlier this morning. A domed caisson stands off Breaksea Point. Looking like a sea-fort, it is actually the cold water inlet for Aberthaw power station which stands just inland dominating the view. Back down the path. A Chiffchaff searches the stumpy trees. A Greenfinch perches on wires.

Llantwit Major – We head first of all to the beach. It lies at the end of a long valley of meadows called Cwm Col-huw. A stream, Afon Col-huw runs through and out onto the rocky coast. The valley was carved out some 15,000 years ago when melting glaciers resulted in what is now a gentle stream to be a raging torrent, Up onto the eastern cliff. A Fulmar glides along the cliff top. I rather naughtily peep under black corrugated squares laid by naturalists. Under one is a Slow Worm. Across an open area and up onto a rampart, the first of two called Castle Ditches. These are the ramparts of an Iron Age promontory fort. It is thought the original entrance has been lost to cliff erosion. Sea Cabbage grows on the cliff top. We return to the town centre and visit the church of St Illtud. The saint was probably a Breton who, according to the book The Life of St Sampson of Dol written around 610, was ordained by Garmon of Auxerre around 455. Illtud settled in Llantwit Major in about 500, possibly as a hermit. He attracted a substantial following and established a monastery, school and church here. The town of Llantwit takes its name from the site, Llan meaning church enclosure twit being a corruption of Illtud. The land was given to Robert Fitzhamon after the Conquest. He kept the area as his own growing grain to feed his garrison in Cardiff. The church and its tithes were given Wall Paintingto an abbey Fitzhamon founded at Tewkesbury.

The Celtic church was rebuilt around 1100 as what is now the west church. The east church, now the chancel and nave, was built in the 13th century. After the Dissolution, the revenues passed to Gloucester cathedral and did not return until the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church in 1920. The entrance is through a porch built in the 13th century. Along the top of its walls are wooden carvings of animals and a long inscription. There is a splendid collection of Celtic stones at the western end, including the 1.9 metre high Houelt Cross with an inscription referring to Houelt, son of Res, probably Hywel ap Rhys, King of Glywysing (the land between the rivers Tawe and Usk) in the 9th century; the St Illtud or Samson cross with the inscription which translates as Samson placed his cross; for his soul; for the soul of Illtud, Samson the king, Samuel, Ebisar; the Pillar of Samson, also inscribed mentioning Iuthahelo, believed to be Ithel, king of Gwent who died in 846 and a smaller pillar. On the floor is the old curfew bell cast in Gloucester in 1320. Two effigies lie in the west church. The southern one dates from t