Monday – Warwick – The Leominster Civic Society summer outing – all aboard the charabanc! Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, standing on the River Avon and has Saxon origins although human presence has been found back to the neolithic. A wooden castle was built in 1068 and a stone replacement was erected in the 12th century. The centre of the town is a large open market square with a large market house, now the museum. A statue to Randolph Turpin, the boxer stands in the square. Turpin grew up in Warwick. Much of mediaeval Warwick was destroyed by fire in 1694 so most buildings post-date that event. The town had walls, the east and west gates of which still stand with a pair of delightful Victorian post boxes, one at each gate. The collegiate church of St Mary’s stands on land endowed by Turchill, the last Saxon earl. It is likely a Saxon church stood here but nothing remains of it. The Earl of Warwick, Henry de Newburgh began the collegiate foundation, non-monastic, in the early 12th century. The only remains of this church is the crypt. The earldom of Warwick passed to the Beauchamp family in the mid 13th century. Thomas Beauchamp decided to replace the church but had only extended the crypt before he died in 1369. His son, also Thomas, finished the building around 1394. The church became a parish church rather than collegiate at the reformation. The fire of 1694 destroyed the nave, transepts and tower. Sir William Wilson of Sutton Coldfield undertook the rebuilding which was completed in 1708. The main body of the church is a striking open space looking down to the much narrower chancel. Large pillars were installed to take the tower but settlement created problems and Sir Christopher Wren was asked to advise and he re-sited the tower outside the entrance, over the street. A side chapel of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment is hung with colours dating back to the 1790s. The Lady chapel is more commonly known as the Beauchamp Chapel. It was built in 1442-1462 to house the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, who died at Rouen in 1439. His tomb is a magnificent affair. A Purbeck marble tomb is surmounted by a cage containing a golden effigy of Richard in full armour. Around the tomb are exquisite carvings of weepers, the family members including Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and later Warwick, known as The Kingmaker. On the south wall is the tomb of Robert’s only son, the Noble Impe who died in infancy in 1584. On the north wall is the tomb of Robert Dudley, who died in 1588 and was a favourite of Elizabeth I. Towards the south is a richly carved alabaster tomb of of Ambrose the Good Earl, richly carved with heraldry. Above the entrance is a wall painting of the Last Judgement, originally painted by John Brentwood in 1449, but restored in 1678 by Robert Bird, in the manner of Mr Michelangelo. The chancel has some superb vaulting and is a fine example of early Perpendicular style. There are also some exquisite carvings on the choir stalls. The tomb of Earl Thomas Beauchamp I and his wife, Katherine Mortimer, daughter of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Down to the crypt where memorial stones cover the floor dating back to mediaeval times. A ducking stool stands against the wall. Back up to the Chapter House, an octagonal room where the dean and canons held assemblies now dominated by the huge, black marble tomb of Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke, who was granted Warwick castle in 1604 by James I. I then ascend the tower, 160 steps tightly winding around to reach the top, 174 feet up. I am utterly exhausted! The views over the town, castle and countryside are splendid. We wander on around the town. The Lord Leycester Hospital is, of course, closed today. The buildings were originally owned by the guilds and included a Chantry Chapel, Great Hall and Guild Hall (but never a hospital in the modern sense). The buildings were acquired by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and endowed in 1571 as a home for retired servicemen and their wives, which remains the case still.
Hill Close Gardens – The reason for our visit is to see these restored Victorian detached gardens. Until the end of the 19th century craftsmen, businessmen and professional people lived and worked in the town centres. Their workplaces and homes were the same place and usually any land attached to the building was used for their business. So land away from the town centres was divided up into individual plots for the people to escape to tranquillity. There were thousands of these garden across the country, but by the end of the 19th century many people were moving out of their combined homes/places of work and into suburbia. The gardens were then sold for housing developments and now very few remain. In 1845, pasture land running down the hill from Warwick town centre towards the race course was divided into plots and rented to townspeople. Here they planted vegetables, flowers and fruit trees and kept poultry and pigs. The land was sold in the 1860s and the new owner immediately sold on the individual plots to those renting them, making a decent profit! This divided ownership meant the land was difficult to develop as all plots would need to be re-purchased by a single developer. The owners built summerhouses on the plots. The local council started buying up the plots in the 20th century and by 1993 had enough to develop the land for housing. Some periphery plots had already been lost to housing as long ago as 1900. However, some local people investigated the overgrown wilderness that many plots had become, indeed only two plots were still being used as gardens, and found the summerhouses and managed to get a number listed. This halted the council’s plans of redevelopment. A local group was set up and the land leased from the council. For the last fifteen years the gardens have been restored, summerhouses rebuilt and a visitor centre built. Now the gardens are a wonderful resource for local schools and a popular visitor attraction. We have a guided tour around the gardens and then we wander. Sitting in the sun, looking at delightful floral displays or getting jealous at some of the vegetables, gives just a slight idea of how much these plots must have meant to their Victorian owners escaping the noise, bustle and smells of the town centre. A Blackbird is having a dust-bath beside a gooseberry bush loaded with fruit, to some of which the Blackbird has been helping himself. More information here.
Tuesday – Mortimer Forest – The sky is grey and a chilly wind blows. This seems to have quietened the birds. A single Willow Warbler sings but its song seems downbeat and almost mournful. The spring flowers have all gone and their summer replacements seem sparse. Grasses are splattered with Cuckoo Spit. Honeysuckle flowers are opening on a vast entanglement on a small tree. Around Sunnydingle where more songsters perform – Chiffchaff, Robin and Blackcap. My legs are still suffering from yesterday’s climb up St Mary’s tower, so the climb up to High Vinnalls is steady with quite a few pauses! One of the St John’s Wort family is growing out of the bank, probably Trailing St John’s Wort, but I am unsure. Up on the summit, the wind is strong and the surrounding hills misty.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Rain fell heavily last night, a welcome soaking for the garden. It is still grey, cool and windy this morning. A woodpecker is machine gun drumming in the trees. Large clumps of Lady’s Mantle, a yellow flower in tiny florets with large leaves dotted with rain drops, is growing near the track on old gravel. A Robin and several Blackcaps are in song. Little froglets scramble across the path near the meadow gate. A large number of Canada Geese are on the scrape and many more on the water. A pair of Barnacle Geese preen beside the scrape. Mute Swans and Mallard are scattered across the lake. Only three Cormorants are on the pontoon and three more in the trees on the island. A Common Buzzard circles and calls high above the fields and Swifts soar even higher. A cob Mute Swan is close behind a young pen, probably one of last year’s brood. His neck is arched over her back and he nips her neck. She seems utterly unimpressed by this attention and paddles rapidly for the island, disturbing a Grey Heron which flaps off. Ringlet butterflies flit around the clearing.
Friday – The Smatcher-Burl Hill – The sun blazes in a cloudless sky. Out of New Radnor and up a lane to the east of The Smatcher, a large wooded hill. A Red Kite glides out of the woods and across the valley towards Harley Dingle. Over the old abandoned railway, the New Radnor station is now a caravan park. Flies are annoying, a Horse Fly nips my neck before being dispatched. A Silver Ground Carpet moth flutters out of the hedgerow and alights on the lane. The lane starts to climb steeply. A deep sunken lane runs beside the more modern one. The woods ring with birdsong, Robin, Wren, Wood Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Blue Tits and Blackcaps. Jackdaws chack as they fly over. Up to the Smatcher Cottage. The views over Walton plain are interesting. This area filled with ancient history looks so unprepossessing. The lane comes to a junction where my route turns into a rough track down to Yardro, a tiny hamlet. A small, simple chapel, Calvinistic Methodist is painted white but is securely bolted shut. Services are held fortnightly, if a preacher is available. A splendid seat made out of horseshoes is nearby but it seems suspiciously bright, and with a reason, the paint is still wet! A near miss. A family of young Starlings sit on wires and depart noisily. The road passes between high banks of Herb Robert, Foxgloves, tiny pale Willowherbs, Wild Strawberries, Cleavers with miniscule white flowers and Tufted Vetch. It is very hot. Past a farm, Wolfpits. The area is the parish of Harpton and Wolfpits. The name Harpton is Saxon, a legacy of when Harold Godwin took the area and founded his castle in New Radnor. I cannot find any derivation of Wolfpits, which is a pity as it is an evocative name.
A Yellowhammer alights in the tarmac but soon departs when it glimpses the in-coming Maddy. In past the track to Pool Redding and Lletty’n-y-ffordd. Down to Kitchen Farm and into Cwm Gwalley to Laurel Hall, a range of cottages, painted bright blue, which have been modernised with Bays with large windows giving wonderful views over the valley and Burl Hill. A large number of dogs express their dissatisfaction with Maddy walking through their territory but they are all behind fences. Chickens run free around the next cottage, Upper Blaen-y-cwm. Skylarks sing above the bracken covered hillside up to Castle Hill. A track climbs Burl Hill through bracken and gorse. From here the hills spread out in every direction. To the west is Caety Traylow but it is a long diversion to get to the paths climbing its flanks. Good numbers of Meadow Pipits flit across the gorse. So back down to the track and up another. A ploughed and harrowed field contains several Common Buzzards and a Red Kite, all of which take off in our approach. A path leads to Molecatcher’s Wood, previously known as Molecatcher’s Nursery. The path is supposed to lead down across the hillside but is blocked by a gate tied up with numerous pieces of rope. I check the map and GPS and it is clear this is the public footpath. So over the gate, or under in Maddy’s case and off across the hill. The path reaches another set of impassible gates. This time I have to lift Maddy over, not an easy job and slightly worrying after our experience at Bala. A track runs down the hill further and a public footpath sign indicates the way. However, there is still some confusion about paths particularly as this area is spread over two different OS maps. So I miss the path that runs around the north side of Highgate Hill and instead head over the west side. This path passes through field after field of sheep. Normally I quite like the sound of bleating sheep but after a while I must admit I would welcome some peace and quiet. The path turns off through Pwll-y-rhedyn wood, although not exactly through the wood which is further up the hill, these trees are Forestry Commission plantations. The track leads round to the road that I crossed earlier before heading for Yardro. I was hoping there was a path up to the top of The Smatcher but fences bar the way. A lamb stands by a gate with its eyes half closed and makes no attempt to move with the rest of the flock when Maddy passes, poor thing must be unwell. A tree has a fine outcrop of fungus, Sulphur Polypore. Back down the hill to New Radnor. Going down is probably more difficult that climbing up this hill as my knees complain painfully at the descent.
Monday – Croft – The hot weather continues. The land has dried out thoroughly and paths are dusty despite the last rain being only five days ago. Unusually Maddy and I are out in the afternoon and feeling the heat. There are Oak trunks in the car park from trees felled recently and they are to be converted into planks to build a bird hide in the Fishpool Valley. It is shaded in the valley and just a little cooler. A few birds sing half-heartedly. A welcome breeze cools things a little more. Up a path I rarely use from the end of the valley. A pair Common Buzzards fly through the trees chased by a Blackbird. They are, I suspect youngsters as one crashes into branches and almost hits the ground before recovering. I now remember why I rarely use this path as it winds across the side of one of the valleys frequently cut by fallen trees and thickets. It finally drops onto the path leading up to Sir James Croft’s grave. The grave and the whole hillside are covered in a dense blanket of Bracken making progress very difficult, particularly as the seemingly level sea of Bracken hides stumps, broken branches and brambles, all of which I find in a painful manner. When I reach the edge of the wood a short pause to type up these notes allows numerous flies to find and annoy me. Chiffchaffs call. Back down the Spanish Chestnut field. The replacement saplings for the old giants are growing well, they are over six feet tall now. The castle is busy with the car park full.
Thursday – Westonbury Mill Water Gardens – The delightful gardens and tearoom are near Lyonshall. We wander around large ponds, little canals, streams and follies all surrounded by a wonderful display of flowers and plants. The owner, Richard Pim has been developing the gardens since the mid-1990s. The old corn mill stands on Curl Brook, a tributary of the River Arrow. A stone tower has a old little water-wheel which drives a belt to which buckets are attached. The little buckets carry water to the top of the tower and when enough has been gathered, it gushes out of a gargoyle back down to the stream. White doves live in the tower and are quite unfazed by the water. A large pond is surrounded irises, mace reeds and many other moisture loving flowers. A dome stands nearby made up of wine bottles set in concrete. The colours inside with the sun streaming through is quite psychedelic. A canal has been dug and the spoil made into a tall spiral mound. The latest addition is a water-driven cuckoo-clock. The owner is trying to get it working, it is new and rather temperamental but great fun when the huge cuckoo appears and birds sing. There are some extraordinarily large Gunnera, a plant I remember from my childhood. It grew in Preston Park gardens in Brighton and we always called it Giant Rhubarb.
Friday – Presteigne – Around the Presteigne by-pass, past school playing fields although it seems all the pupils are in the tennis courts, a British win at Wimbledon works wonders! Turn west into Broadaxe, a lane and it would appear the area. The road turns into a track which leads to Nash Wood. A path climbs steeply into the trees. The wood starts as standard Forestry Commission evergreens but then changes into relatively young Oak, Birch and Beech. The steep climb makes me underestimate the distance I have travelled and it is not until the path starts to descend that I realise I have missed the path junction, i.e. the large track through the wood! A Chiffchaff calls. It is very hot again with a cloudless sky. This track is the Wales/England border, Radnorshire to my right, Herefordshire to my left. Maddy decides to do a disappearing act whilst I am checking the map. She is probably chasing a squirrel or the scent of deer but takes some time to respond to my increasingly angry bellows. I do not need her lost in these woods! The wood is mainly fir again. Something red flashes in the trees, a very brightly coloured cock Chaffinch. Areas of the woods have been felled maybe thirty or more years ago and replanted with native deciduous trees which is good to see. It is not easy being sure about exactly which track I am following as they branch out at slight angles to one another. This is now Knill Wood. After a while a path leads off around the edge of the wood above a valley of pastures and cattle. The woods are a glorious mixture of trees here.
A path rounds Hazel Point, conical hillock, and comes to a point where a path is shown on the map but not a public footpath and, of course there is a locked gate. Even if there was a path, a large herd of cattle is moving up the field and there is no way I would want Maddy near them. Back up a track and then off down an old track now grassed over. Ragged Robin flowers in the green sward. Another map problem here is the main public footpath is mainly obscured by the thick black line of the border, so it is possible a path will appear shortly. But it does not, this is frustrating, there is no way across the valley to my destination, the hill-fort Burfa. Back up into the woods where a short water break attracts dozens of flies but we are obviously not that interesting as most shortly depart. Grey Squirrels keep Maddy alert. In the occasional clearing in the woods, Speckled Wood butterflies pirouette around each other in the sunlight. The air is scented with resin and hums with insects. The path meets the track again and I take the opposite direction to the way here. The track travels through Cann Wood to Cold Harbour. A path crosses mown fields. Lots of Ringlets flutter in the grasses and a grasshopper rasps, an all too rare occurrence these days. The paths turns to run alongside Clatter Brook, almost dry. A Pied Wagtail flies up from a small pool. Nearby the old footbridge leads into a bramble thicket and a new housing estate. Now and again the path shows its age with a stone slabs and old stone walls. Into the town. Presteigne retains its feel as a market town with a decent range of shops although I notice a few have closed recently. Back at the car, the temperature gauge shows 32°C.
Monday – Evenjobb-Knill – Out of Evenjobb and up Bank Road, a steep road between high banks of recently mown grown grass and flowers topped by a hedge some ten feet above. Looking behind the Walton Basin is laid out with the Radnor Forest and in particular, the conical done of Whimble and the arching back of Bache Hill. From here the prominence of Whimble is striking which one would think means the barrows on the summit are those of really important people. Although there is some high cloud the sun is blazing down again. Insects create a non-stop buzz. A Fallow Deer feeds in a field of rather stunted rape. At Granner Wood a path heads off down Offa’s Dyke. The dyke is about ten feet high here and well burrowed with badger’s setts and a good covering of old Oaks, Hazel and Hawthorn. The Welsh side is populated by sheep and the English by a field of wheat. Of course both sides here are now in Wales. Enormous Burdocks grow on top of the dyke. The English side is now oats and the Welsh side, barley. The dyke is now higher because of a sunken trackway below it. Indeed the slope is always much greater on the Welsh side as it was the wild Welsh the English were trying to keep out. The dyke is cut by a road running up the west side of Middler Wood. A few houses are scattered along this lane. It is much cooler in the lee of the fir woods. A motte and bailey is hidden by the high hedge and trees, only glimpses of it can, be obtained. This is one of at least five in the area. Some would have been topped by a wooden castle and mainly pre-date the Conquest. It is thought this one may have been a more substantial building from the 12th century. The track ends at Barland, a large farm and several houses.
Back down the lane to Offa’s Dyke and along the dyke as it runs beneath Burfa Hill. Past Old Burfa, a large house and farm buildings. The house dates from 1487 and is a mediaeval cruck-framed hall with many extensions over the centuries and recently extensively restored. Another cottage along the track is a ruin of little more than a piece of wall with a window frame. On down the track and up the side of Burfa Bank and off round a path below the summit. I decide to try and reach the top which proves to be a real challenge as the steep ramparts are covered in loose stones. Inside the hill fort there are a confusion of ramparts, some really quite huge. The whole site is covered in trees and bushes so it is very difficult to make any sense of the whole. Burfa is a multivallate fort, i.e. more than one ditch. It is unusual in that it appears to be a single enclosure as all other local multivallate sites have multiple enclosures. Little is known of its history, it has never been excavated, but 1st and 2nd century items have been found on the site. A path rejoins the track around the hill and then back down to the track on Offa’s Dyke. At a road junction a little hump backed bridge, Ditchyeld Bridge has been replaced by a concrete one. The Hindwell Brook is joined by Knobley Brook and bubbles underneath. Off eastwards along the B4362.
The road enters England. A lane turns off and leads to the tiny village of Knill. The air is full of chattering House Sparrows and Swallows. Knill Farm is a mixture of old and new, lively old entrance to the yard with stone built barns and modern barns and sheds. Round to the church of St Michael and All Angels. The village is in Domesday as Chenille, owned by Fitzherbert le Scrob. The manor was in the hands of John de Kennell in 1242 and remained in the family until 1599 when Francis’ daughter inherited and married John Walsham of Presteigne. The Walsham family lived at Knill until 1924, for many years at Knill Court dating from 1617 to 1874 when it was destroyed by fire. Knill is a thankful village in that all of its inhabitants who went to serve in the Great War returned. The church is late 12th century with an early 13th century watch tower. It was extensively restored between 1873 and 1876. The font is 12th century. The walls are faced with numerous memorial tablets, mainly 19th and 20th century. High on the sides of the nave are hatchments of the Walsham family. A small window in the tower shows St Michael slaying the dragon. Back to Offa’s Dyke. A tree has fallen and its branches have formed a row of new trees and its roots have curled down from the large disc of the tree’s base and re-entered the soil. It is a hot and dusty walk back up Offa’s Dyke to Granner Wood and down into Evenjobb. Evenjobb appears as Emynghop in 1304 and Evyngeopp in 1544. It combines a personal name with OE hop, and is thought to mean Emma’s remote enclosed valley. When the parish was formed in 1870, it was called Evancoyd, which means the same thing but in Welsh. The village as a whole is referred to by either name, but the true Evancoyd is centred on Evancoyd Court, a large house standing to the north of the village. Apparently in 2001, the council decided there had to be a Welsh name for the village to put on the road signs and without consultation called the village Einsiob! As stated above, there are several mottes around the village, one is up beyond the old school and another seems to be on the main crossroads. A small chapel, the Bethal Chapel of the Particular Baptists, stands in the lane leading to Horseyard Farm. It has an extremely narrow doorway onto the street. A fine timber-framed house stands on the main crossroad. The church was started on a greenfield site in 1866 and is a fairly typical Victorian ecclesiastical building.
Friday – Knighton-Knucklas – The sun is already hot. This has been declared a level 3 heatwave, meaning the authorities must monitor the vulnerable; the elderly, young and those with chronic illness. The path runs alongside the River Teme. Past the sign, Welcome to Wales and in a little further past a new sign, Welcome to Shropshire. The land is scorching, brown patches appearing all over the grasslands and the verdancy of the trees becoming dulled. Swallows sweep over the water making expanding ripples as they touch the surface with their beaks. Over the river by the railway bridge. Past Panpunton Farm and up Panpunton Hill on the Offa’s Dyke path. The hill is long and steep and covered in bracken and thistles. By the time I reach the top sweat is pouring out of me. I have dug out my keffiyeh, an Arabic headscarf brought back from Yemen by a friends many years ago. I do not usually bother with headgear but the sun is dangerously hot today! The path continues along the top of the hill above the river valley. Now the land is dusty and dotted with thistles and nettles. Sheep graze. Harebells, Foxgloves and Gorse grow by the fence where I assume the sheep do not graze as much. A moment of strangeness, a Spitfire flies over and seconds later a modern fighter roars down the valley. An old wooden footbridge lies across a grassy, dry hollow in the land, a long lost stream. A pen has been built between the fields and is covered in wool where the sheep were sheared recently. A modern barn of corrugated iron and asbestos roof stands next to a ruined one of stone and wooden beams. It is sad that it is cheaper to erect an unsightly replacement rather than repair a traditional building that fits into the landscape. There is a breeze up here now which is very welcome. The dyke is only a couple of feet high here. Has it been eroded or more likely was never more than a token of Saxon ownership, relying in the terrain to deter marauding Welsh.
The path passes around the top of a deep combe and rises up to the triangulation point on Cwm-sanaham Hill. The rolling hills of the Marches spread out in every direction. I am surrounded by several varieties of Horse-fly. The path drops sharply down from the hill to a white cottage, Brynorgan. It passes another section of dyke before passing near Selley Hall, a fine three storey house probably named after a large family centred on Lientwardine, and heading for Garbett Hall. A Red Kite glides overhead. As I head along the dyke Red Kites are calling in from three directions. Beyond Garbett Hall the dyke is far more substantial. The heat is considerable, there is not a cloud in the sky. Small Tortoiseshell butterflies visit thistles. Follow the track up through fields of dust and sheep until the junction with the Jack Mytton trail, which I join. This heads off across the hillside whilst the dyke continues northwards. The track drops down from the ridge past banks of buttercups and Harebells, China blue in chrome yellow. It seems slightly incongruous when a pair of Black-backed Gulls fly along the ridge. The wind is building.
The track passes Llandishop, a farm and continues its dusty way down to a large farm at Graig. The farmer lets me go down a private lane to the minor road. Maddy drops her ball by a gate and it bounces off down the road never to be seen again. The road leads to Monaghty Poeth, a large Victorian house. There was a monastery grange here which was in the ownership of John Price, an MP, in 1550. On down a lane to Knucklas, a small village with a lot of new build, probably because the place has a station. The pub is shut! Above the village is a hill some one hundred and fifty feet high. Cnwclas Castle once stood atop this hill. It was built by Hugh Mortimer around 1220 and destroyed by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1262. Out of the village under a fine thirteen arch viaduct built around 1883 for the London and North Western Railway, and up into the hills. This may be a mistake a the road is steep and goes on and on. As I write this, Maddy is lying flat out and asleep. There is still a fair climb to the junction with the lane that heads back towards Knighton. Eventually the top is reached and a lane crosses a long piece of common land and White Anthony Farm. It then joins the Glyndŵr trail and a path leaves the road and passes through a some relatively cool woodland below Garth Hill. Maddy finds a crystal clear pool of water and nearly drinks it dry. The path leads into the town where I notice there are more shops closed down than the last time I was here.
Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – At 5 o’clock this morning the drought was finally lifted as rain poured down for some time. It has made little difference to the temperature but has greatly increased the humidity. Teasels are in flower like purple tonsures. A gathering of Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallard, Teal, a pair of Barnacle Geese and four Greylags cluster around the shingle bank. Nearly all the wildfowl are preening. A Grey Heron flies across the lake squawking. A Cormorant dries its wings on the pontoon with two others standing near. A few Tufted Duck are scattered around. The water is now green with algae. Mallows, Agrimony and Ragwort flower on the edge of the woods. Butterflies are suddenly around in good numbers, mainly Speckled Woods with some Ringlets and Meadow Browns. The sun appears making things even warmer. Common Buzzards call from Westfield Wood. Little froglets hop across the paths.
Wednesday – Stiperstones – Arrival at The Bog is delayed by a puncture on the narrow lane from the main road. The Bog was a thriving village after lead was discovered here and mining began in 1730. It was literally a bog until a boat level, an underground tunnel, was dug to drain it. By 1793, some 100 miners were employed in the mine. Now a few walls remain of what was the Miners’ Welfare Hall. The school which closed in 1968 is now a visitors centre. Lead mining ceased in the 1880s but the mines were reopened in the early part of the 20th century to extract barytes, mineral used in the paint, paper, medicine and chemical industries, closing finally in 1922. German prisoners of war constructed an aerial ropeway to carry the mineral to Malehurst for processing. The geology of the area is a folding layers of shales between which are the Mytton Flags consisting of silts and sands that have cracked, overlaying quartzite. Hot minerals pushed up into the cracks in the Mytton Flags which formed the deposits of lead ore and barytes. A track heads west from the visitors centre on down past a valley of evergreens which have been felled on one side. The sun makes appearances through the clouds which keep it cooler than of late. The track ends and a path drops down into the little valley. Through dense woodland and over a stream to a mown path. A little way down the path is a small section of stone wall. Above on Brooks Hill is an univallate hill-fort overlaid by a ring and bailey castle from the 12th century, Ritton castle. Not much can be seen as the site is very overgrown. Little is known about the castle. It was probably the residence of the lord of Ritton manor which was granted to the abbey of Buildwas in 1203 by Robert Corbert of Caus. The path continues through the woods with the stream babbling merrily. A stand of Yellow Flag blooms. The stream is an old level draining the nearby mine shafts. A glade opens out across the valley. A family of foxes are gambolling in the sunshine. It is a few moments before our presence is noted, although Maddy has not noticed anything, and the foxes trot off.
Back up the path and through a deep defile with a hut in its top. Lots of Ringlets flutter through the grass. A huge Umbellifer grows in the sedges by the stream, Angelica. Jays squawk through the trees. Back up the valley and onto the track and back to the visitors centre. Grasshoppers are rasping from all sides. A road climbs up to the Shropshire Way. This path crosses a moorland of heather and bilberries (which are apparently infected with a fungal disease) and on to the first of the first outcrops of rock on Stiperstones. The path is difficult a consisting of uneven rocks which sparkle with tiny crystals of quartz. These rocks are the hard layers of quartzite, 480 million years old, beneath the Mytton Flags that have folded and erosion has exposed them to form a ridge. The views are stunning. Long Mynd stretches along the eastern view with The Wrekin beyond. The plain of Shropshire and Cheshire stretch into the northern horizon. To the west and south hills roll on seemingly forever. Past the first major outcrop of rock, Cranberry Rock and on along the ridge. The angled ridges of quartzite are clearly visible in these great outcrops. A number of large cairns lie between the outcrops, the next of which is Manstone Rock, the highest with a triangulation point on its summit. The next is the Devil’s Chair. The path carries on across moorland but I turn back. The path is made up of lumps of rock which are really quite difficult to walk on. My eyes are firmly fixed on the ground as a wrong step could mean another wrecked ankle. As it is, the constant twisting of my feet on the rocks is becoming painful and the whole experience is no longer much fun. Maddy is also pretty unimpressed with the stones.
Friday – Brighton – Up to Lower Roedale, once a corporation yard, now housing. The land down to the railway at Hollingdean Road was a valley called Cowley’s Bottom. Harrington Farm stood in what is now Harrington Villas. Hollingbury Woods are dark green. The trees are far more dense than before the 1987 storm and there is undergrowth which did not exist in those days. Clouds are preventing the sun burn off a sea mist. Seagulls are a constant noise, they woke me early. From the end of the woods my route crosses the golf course and up onto the hill-fort, the misnamed Roman Camp of my youth. The ramparts are spotted purple with Greater Knapweed and yellow with Lady’s Bedstraw and a yellow umbellifer, Wild Parsnip. On the fort’s interior are large patches of Marjoram and Rosebay Willowherb. Below the ramparts are Hemp Agrimony and Wild Mignonette. Along a track through wood at the top of Wild Park. The trees are coated with Traveller’s Joy, also called Old Man’s and the lower shrubs with Bindweed. A Blackcap sings and a Green Woodpecker yaffles. Paths drop down through the woods to the Lewes Road. A monument commemorating the opening of Wild Park in 1925 is almost hidden by trees. Under the Brighton to Lewes railway line and in past Bates Estate, blocks of council flats that recall memories of Sunday morning canvassing for the Labour Party.
Moulescoomb Hall is a fine piece of early 20th century municipal building. Next to it is Moulescoomb Place, now owned by Brighton university and strangely housing a private members club. At Domesday, Mouslecoomb was a small farmstead in the parish of Patcham. It later was the property of Lewes Priory. In the early 17th century it was owned by Edward Culpepper who built a farm house. In 1730 the farm passed to Sir William Culpeper, 1st Baronet of Preston Hall. In 1790, Benjamin Tillstone bought the farm and commissioned a major overhaul of Moulsecoomb Place, extending the façade and refacing it in yellow brick. The estate was sold to Brighton Corporation in 1925 and the house to Brighton University in 1993. I had thought Preston Barracks had gone but some buildings remain albeit boarded and covered in graffiti. A modern shopping building on the old parade ground is also boarded and derelict. The whole is going to be a regeneration project, when and if money can be found. The Ship Inn is now called The Lectern. Behind it the Art Deco factory of Allen West still stands, part of it a storage company. The bus depot is still at the bottom of Bear Road with its Victorian offices although there are modern ones in the other side of the yard entrance. Up Hollingdean Road, where I lived in my earliest years and up Pope’s Folly into Freehold Terrace. This hidden little row of houses has modern buildings at each end now.
Beacon Hill – A hill above Rottingdean towards Ovingdean. It is stated that beacons have been lit here since the Spanish Armada. The hill is topped by a windmill and covered by a glorious flower meadow. Skylarks sing from the clear blue sky. Butterflies are everywhere – Small Skippers, a Small Copper I think although it vanished rapidly, Small Heath, numerous Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Cinnabar moths whose caterpillars are feeding on Ragwort. Many downland flowers are present in the long grasses including Round-headed Rampion, Field Scabious, both Greater and Black Knapweed, the aforementioned Ragwort, Weld, Lady’s Bedstraw and many more. Across the hill and down into Ovingdean past St Dunstan’s, a centre for blind veterans built in the Art Deco style in 1938. Ovingdean, according to E.V. Lucas is famous as the burial place of Thomas Pelling, Vicar, who introduced the mangul-wurzel into England. Maybe not an association well known these days! Under the road and down to the undercliff walk. The tide is in and blue-green water looks inviting. Gulls bob on the sea and stand on the beach. Black-headed Gulls are losing their black heads. Rock Sea-Lavender is growing at the base of the cliffs. Back up through Rottingdean, which is hot and busy.
Saturday – The South Downs – From Ditchling Beacon the Weald stretches away to the north under a cloudy sky. The North Downs lay on the horizon. Skylarks sing and a Yellowhammer repeats his little phrase. There is a vague mist over the Weald. A Roe Deer crosses the path then stops and sees us. It bounds away and up over the fence. Villages lay quietly below, Ditchling, Hassocks, then the towns of Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill. A muddy dew pond still holds water despite the lack of rain; they are not filled by the dew! The next dew pond is much more full with a large range of water plants. It is called Burnt House Pond, which stands near an old track called Burnt House Bostal. Burnt House was down the scarp slope towards Underhill lane. It appears that the pond was called Potamogeton Pond once. The name bostal means a narrow road-way up the steep ascent of hills or downs and comes from the Anglo-Saxon biorh, a hill and stigelë, a rising path, the source of the word stile. The track passes Keymer Post and continues on to the windmills, Jack and Jill. On the way back, there is a large flock of Rooks on a green field in Home Bottom. I arrive back to Fran and Derek’s to be greeted with the news that our granddaughter, Kitty Kay, has finally put in an appearance, being born at 3:30 in the morning.
Sunday – Home – A night of very welcome continuous rain. Courgettes are prolific as are the French beans. Runner beans are also beginning crop. However, the rain has caused a few problems. The towering Golden Rod are falling over and need tying back up. The pear tree is heavy with Conference pears and the most loaded branch is hanging across the path and also needs tying upright. Blackbirds have already started eating the Gladstone apples. We lose most of the crop every year which is frustrating. CDs are hung in the branches in an attempt to scare the birds off, it did not work last year but what else can we do? Some more black and white currants need picking but they will have to wait until tomorrow. So will the next row of potatoes. The first sowing of peas have finished and need clearing. Pak choi seedlings have sprouted but no sign of the chard yet. The sweet corn looks pretty pathetic and we will be lucky to get any cobs. Figs are softening and Damsons are probably only a week or so off being ready. The pond looks horrible with a thick layer of algae in the surface, the barley straw seems to have failed.
Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – It is warm and cloudy with a breeze. A Dog Rose stem has one of the largest Bedeguar gall, also called Robin’s Pincushion, I have seen. Traveller’s Joy drapes bushes. One Blackthorn has a heavy crop of sloes, another has not a single fruit. Butterflies have suddenly emerged in very welcome numbers. Small Heaths, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns all flit along the edge of the meadow visiting blackberry bushes, Common Blues are in the meadow grasses. Numerous Common Blue Damselflies move around the bushes like electric blue needles. The scrape is completely deserted. A Moorhen moves through the reeds. A few Canada Geese are scattered around in small groups. A dozen Cormorants stand on the pontoon, several more are in the trees. A few Mallard and Teal are in distant corners. There are a fair number of Mute Swans around the water. A couple of lurking Grey Herons are on the far side. A Common Buzzard calls, two more circle over the country park. A good numbers of bees feed on the Black Knapweed in front of the hide. St John’s Wort is beginning to flower. Outside the hide, the blackberry bushes are covered in green fruit, it looks like it will be a bumper year. Back in the meadow, little pink jewels of Common Centaury peek through the grass. None of the apples in the orchard are ripe yet.