Tuesday – High Glanau Manor – A Historical Society visit to this Arts and Crafts style house, south-west of Monmouth. The house was built in 1922-23 by the architect Eric Francis, of Chepstow, for Henry Avray Tipping on land he bought from the Duke of Beaufort. Avray Tipping was a renowned architectural writer, the editor of Country Life magazine, and a garden designer among whose friends were Gertrude Jekyll and Harold Peto. The house is built of sandstone, Brownstone, a variety of Old Red Sandstone from the Devonian, in the vernacular style with sweeping slate roofs, mullioned windows and copious panelling inside. The gardens were designed at the same time as the house ensuring that each room had a specific view. When the present owners came to the property the main avenue of the garden down to a pergola contained a large, modern swimming pool. This was removed and the lawn reinstated with long herbaceous borders. Pictures were obtained from Country Life of the gardens as they were before the Second World War and the borders now emulate those from that period. The two main borders are a mirror image of each other and contain a delightful mixture of plants, especially the tall delphiniums, peonies, irises, poppies, dahlias and alliums. The pergola has been restored and a slate plaque dedicated to Avray Tipping is on the wall. Beyond the pergola is a large Edwardian greenhouse with beaver-tailed glass panes designed to improve the flow of water down them. It contains a fine grapevine as well as tomatoes and many other hothouse plants. There are several large rocks exposed on the slope which runs down to an extensive wooded area. The rocks are quartz conglomerates of the late Devonian Era. We walk round to an octagonal pond where newts lay on the submerged weed and waterboatmen scull across the water. Up terraces to the house and take tea on the top terrace.
Wednesday – Home – Cropping is underway in the garden. Broad beans are heavy with pods and nearly two pounds of podded beans are frozen. Peas are not filling out so well, some rain is required. Potatoes are being dug on an
as needed basis at the moment but the bed will soon be needed for leeks, so the earlies will have to be lifted this weekend. The first ripe tomato is plucked, a huge orange skinned Burpee’s Jubilee, an American variety which was a prizewinner in 1943, and is still a very fine specimen! Perpetual spinach, more peas and spring onions are sown and some lettuces are planted out.
Thursday – Evesham – A market town with its roots in Saxon times. The name comes from Eof, the name of a swineherd in the service of St Egwin, third bishop of Worcester and ham which usually means a dwelling or farm but in Worcestershire often means the land either side of river subject to flooding. Egwin founded an abbey here around the beginning of the 8th century. It grew to be one of the largest in the country, but was dissolved by Henry VIII and the building demolished for building stone around 1540 and now only a bell tower and some ruined walls. Evesham’s other importance in history is as the site of the Battle of Evesham, the defining battle in the Second War of the Barons in August 1265 when Prince Edward, later Edward I, destroyed the barons’ force under Simon de Montfort. De Montfort and his son were killed but although the battle was not enough to end the rebellion it marked the turning point in Henry III’s fortunes. The town centre is similar to so many other medium sized country towns. There is a decent range of shops but many of the major chains are missing or closing down. It is telling that a closed down video hire shop is being turned into a bookies. The High Street has buildings dating from the 17th century through to modern. Down to the Abbey Park. Long avenues of limes line either side of the water. The park is busy especially as there is a school outing. Two catamaran rowing boats are racing, 25 or so children per boat. I salute the teachers who have got fifty children into life jackets, checked them and got them on board!
Up the hill is a water lily pond fed by a spring that fed the monks’ fish ponds. On up past the war memorial are the remains of the Benedictine abbey, a couple of walls and the bell tower. Parts of main buildings are marked out in the grass. A stone monument marks the spot where Simon de Montfort was buried. Under the arch of the 16th century abbey bell tower built by Abbot Lichfield. Beyond are two churches close together – St Laurence and All Saints. It is said that the churches were built, one for the town, St Laurence and the other, All Saints for pilgrims. However, more recent thought is that the original village lay to the south and west of the abbey, but as the number of pilgrims grew, the town developed to the north and east creating a separate parish. St Laurence was rebuilt in 1470 but by 1659 it had no vicar and was administered by the clergy of All Saints. By 1718 it was unusable but in 1737 repairs were undertaken but badly and the roof collapsed in 1800. The church was abandoned. In the early 19th century, Edward Rudge commissioned the architect Harvey Eginton, who carried out a major rebuilding in 1836-37. By the mid-20th century the congregation had declined again and in 1978 the church was decommissioned and taken over by the Churches Conservation Trust. Like many other decommissioned churches there is a haunting atmosphere inside. The Nicholson organ no longer works. Much of the interior and glass is Victorian or 20th century although the communion table is Jacobean. All Saints has a completely different feeling as it is still operational. The church is also much richer and opulent. It has extensive glass, a superb one from 1862 by Frederick Preedy, who restored the church and several others by Alexander Gibbs from the same period. A glass panelled coffin bier stands near the west wall. A statue of a horned Moses believed to be 13th century is in a case. We go back into the town centre through the abbey gatehouse. Past Walker Hall, a fine timbered house into the square which is dominated by the former library, built in 1908-9 by G Hunt. Nearby is the Booth Hall, a large black-and-white building which despite the name (booth or market hall) was an inn. It dates from the late 15th century. The Town Hall is 16th century with 19th century redevelopments. It has a weather station consisting of a wind direction indicator, thermometer and barometer presented by the Revd George Head in 1887. To the south of the High Street is the Almonry, a 14th or 15th century house, now a museum.
Barton – Our camp site lays behind the Cottage of Content inn. Swallows sweep across the grass. A Kestrel drifts over the trees with Swallows in close attendance. A Green Woodpecker yaffles loudly then shoots across the site like a yellow and green bolt. House Sparrows chatter in the hedges and a Goldfinch sings twitteringly from overhead wires. The Green Woodpecker returns and alights on a telegraph pole where it can be seen to be a juvenile. It calls frequently and loudly. Swallows gather on the wires.
Friday – Bidford-on-Avon – As usual, it was a noisy dawn, Wood Pigeons and the young Green Woodpecker especially. A Blackcap is in full song just behind the tent at 5:30. A path from the corner of the site leads to a track around a newly sown field, the water sprayer was in full flow last evening. This track joins the Avon Way by the river. There are a lot of little mounds of soil with a hole in the centre on the path. They are made by Mining Bees. The way crosses several fields to reach the bridge at Bidford-on-Avon. This large village grew around a ford across the River Avon (Byda’s Ford) which lay on the Roman Ryknild Street. A narrow eight arched bridge replaced the ford. It was first built in the early 15th century but demolished by Charles I in 1644 to cover his retreat from Worcester. It was rebuilt in 1650. A Saxon burial ground has been found near the village. The main road now bypasses the village centre, so the High Street is quiet. This end is a mixture of possibly Georgian and a lot of 20th century buildings with a few shops. A small square is reached where the buildings are older and far grander. Lloyd’s Bank is a large 16th century house in pale yellow and grey limestone. Beside it are small homes that once formed stables. The Old Rectory is partly hidden behind extensive hedges but is a fine affair, grey limestone with faux timber framing above some large bay windows facing the River Avon. Opposite is a quite magnificent house, The Falcon, an old inn from the mid-16th century. The church of St Laurence is locked. Again of the local grey and yellow limestones, parts dating from 1250. White doves frequent the tower. Down Church Street where the old Fire Station and Forge stand on the junction with Icknield Street. A lane called The Grange is lined with small old cottages before turning into 20th century housing. Another Green Woodpecker is noisy here. Back to the High Street which ends in Tower Close some fine cottages and some uninspiring 20th century homes. The modern road passes here and continues into later housing. Back to the centre of the town past the old police station.
Monday – Wye Valley Way – Rhayader-Llangurig – Red Kites sail across the outskirts of the town. A lane heads north-east out of Rhayader, past Marston Pottery and Cefnaes Hall. The sky has clouded over and it is very humid. Jet aircraft snarl around the hills. Swallows sweep low. The land climbs through fields and patches of woodland, mainly Oak with some Silver Birch, Holly and Rowan. The lane drips briefly before climbing again past Middle Nantserth. Tiny, sweet Wild Strawberries grow in the roadside bank. The lane keeps climbing. Up and up, finally topping out at Llidart Carnau, an ancient track junction, where the Wye Way leaves the lane and passes through fields of noisy Rooks. Past cows which watch Maddy carefully and then a mediaeval house platform. The path then turns into wilder terrain and descends a steep hill into a valley. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies off. Chaffinches and Chiffchaffs call below. Into Gilfach Farm Nature Reserve. There is evidence that this valley has been occupied since the Bronze Age. There is a visitors’ centre and a lovely old traditional Welsh longhouse, rebuilt in the 15th century. Several corn grinders stand by a wall. The route passes down the valley following the Afon Marteg. The water rushes down waterfalls and bubbles over Silurian shales. Salmon still come up this river to spawn. A Grey Wagtail bobs on a rock in the middle of the stream. Butterflies, Meadow Browns and Ringlets flit through the meadows. The valley contains the closed railway line from Llanidloes to Rhayader built by the Mid-Wales Railway Company in the middle of the 19th century. It closed a century later. A tunnel some 1000 yards long passes through a headland of Yr Wylorn and is now home to five species of bat. It starts to rain slightly. The route used to follow the old railway line but apparently the bridge over the river is now unsafe and so the route is now the
Monks Trod, an ancient road that once connected the Cistercian monasteries of Strata Florida in Ceredigion with Abbey Cwm Hir. At the car park there is a modern stone circle.
The way meets the A470 and crosses it. A path drops down to a narrow footbridge over the River Wye. Up and along the hillside through rough pasture. The soil is thin and huge boulders litter the hillside. The path passes through Oak and Birch woods before meeting up with a tarmac road which runs parallel to the main road with the river in between. Jays squawk in the trees. The light rain seems to have passed over. Red Kites call and occasionally glide over. On up the valley. House Martins sweep across the hillside. A large Raven soars out from rocks, Lloftyddglesion, high on the top of the valley before settling in the highest point to survey the land below. Through a farm, Safn-y-coed. A pair of domestic Greylag geese have goslings. Chickens wander around, a Cochin scurries up the road. A pair of piping Common Sandpipers cross the river. Most of the windmills on the hill to the east are motionless. Past a modern house built above the river. Vast stones have been used to stabilise the vertical bank. Several banks of solar panels are in a field with a hen house on which sits a Peacock. The road joins another at Dernol. A farmer is turning the hay. Overhead three Red Kites tussle and occasionally dive and grab a clawfuls of hay. The lane reaches a junction and I head up a valley. Capel Isaf Calvinist Methodist Chapel was first built in 1826 and then rebuilt in 1884, now a residence. Beside stands the graveyard, completely overgrown. Houses up the valley, Nant-y-Dernol are scattered by mainly conversions into well-to-do residences. A Whitethroat hovers above a wire before dropping down into the hedge below. At Tan-Yr-Allt a Treecreeper mouses its way up a tree. Blackbird and Song Thrushes fly through the trees. A path heads off up into the hills. A group of young people have just descended and a girl announces to me how much she hated the climb from the other side! A lad informs me the route is well way-marked. I had put my waterproofs in as it started to rain, it stopped almost immediately. I remove them and am annoyed by dozens of flies. Spots of rain return...
The path climbs up from the valley, up Blaen-y-Cwm and its associated stream. It is hard going! Finally the summit is reached and the path crosses a moorland of thistles and sedge to the west of Esgair Y Craig. It becomes a sphagnum bog and I am grateful it has been dry. The route is indeed well signed which saves getting out the compass as the way is far from obvious. Finally there is a steep descent to a stream, Nant y Clochfaen and footbridge. Over the ford and then realise there is another hill. The path, which does not actually exist, runs along a hedgerow into which a calling Redstart disappears. Up another field of sheep and thistles. Across a hay meadow then a track heads down towards Llanguric, I can see the church spire. Past a superb house dated 1915 and a row of cottages with plaques of heads on the eaves and in one case a clock marked Clochfaen. There are numerous theories on the meaning of Clochfaen. It can mean
Bell stone and indicate a ringing rock. Or maybe it means a bell quern. There has certainly been a house here for many centuries. The present, a black and white house in the Arts and Crafts style, was built in 1915 by W. Benson for Harry Lloyd Verney, Deputy Master of the Household to King Edward VII, and from 1911, Groom-in-Waiting to King George V. In 1917, Prince Albert, later King George VI, came to Clochfaen for three weeks while recuperating from a duodenal ulcer, shortly after serving in the Battle of Jutland during World War I. The Lloyd Verneys fell on hard times soon after completion of the house, which was eventually bought by Frank Stirk, a Wolverhampton solicitor, in 1927. On down and over the Wye and into the village.
It is now raining hard. My first port of call is the Bluebell pub. Maddy is soaking wet so we sit in the marquee outside. Behind the pub is a row of houses faced in slate. They are the former school and stand next to where the railway passed through the town. This line has a strange history. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1862, giving the jointly-owned Llanidloes and Newtown Railway (L&NR) (which was managed by the Cambrian Railways since 1860) the rights to extend southwards from Llanidloes with 1½ miles of double track to Penpontbren Junction where the Manchester and Milford Railway Llangurig branch would diverge through the Cambrian Mountains to Strata Florida and the MWR line would continue to Builth Road (serving Builth Wells). The M&MR and MWR would both pay 5% per annum on construction costs and maintenance. The branch line was officially opened in 1872 when a short section of the branch was built to the west of what would be Llangurig station. A single M&WR goods train was then hired by the L&NR to run along its entire length. This legally entitled the L&NR to invoice the M&MR for its share of the cost of building the joint junction station at Llanidloes, which it promptly did. However, by 1875 the M&WR was in receivership because it had been unable to raise the capital required to complete the railway from north-west England to west Wales. No line beyond Llangurig through Mid Wales to Strata Florida was ever started and the line was lifted in 1882. Off to the camp site. First problem, no kettle solved when the owner kindly gives me one. Not sure this was so wonderful as the noodles are pretty disgusting! Next problem is insoluble, clouds of midges that form around me in about 20 seconds of standing still. I eat the noodles moving around then retreat to the tent, zipping up tight. My walking app says I have covered some 9 miles which surprises me, I thought it was further. Later, I discover it had stopped recording at the foot of Blaen-y-Cwm, so at least 5 miles was missed!
Tuesday – Wye Valley Way – Llangurig-Rhayader – A Red Kite sits on a bush on skyline. Mist drifts over a conifer plantation on Esgair Ychion. To the west. The way is through wet sedges and grass with stiles I have to lift Maddy over and now a hill. Clouds on Pynlimon, the highest hill the range that is the source of the Rivers Rheidol (which flows west towards Aberystwyth), Wye and Severn. Across fields of sheep and thistles on Esgair Llwyn-gwyn. A track begins to drop down the eastern side. Purple Self Heal is common in the grass as is yellow Meadow Vetchling. Goldfinches, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails fly around the rough ground by the track. A Red Kite glides low across the fields. The track passes through a farm at Llwyn-gwyn and down to the River Wye which is broad and shallow. Across water meadows outside Llangurig. Swifts and Sand Martins feed. The road heads south, National Cycle Route 8. Of course, it is not flat but undulates a bit putting pressure on my leg muscles. The lane reaches Dernol where my path went into the hills yesterday. A large house has a plaque declaring it to be
Dernol Council School 1907. The road continues south following the river. Small patches of woodland are homes to calling Nuthatch. At Tyr-maw sheep have been brought into a small field for shearing. The noise of baaing sheep is constant. In a lean-to, two men are shearing. The field behind the shed is full of lambs, probably separated for market. It tries to rain but it is half-hearted. A number of Ravens are flying around Lloftyddglesion, calling and diving down onto rocks below where they squabble with each other. By the time I reach the Marteg confluence the sun is shining warmly. The Wye Way heads down to the river before crossing the main road. I stay on the cycle route and pass Nannerth-fawr holiday homes. The lane and river enter a deep valley between Gamallt and Penrhiw-wen, high hills covered in bracken, heather, rocky outcrops and great slips of scree. On and down into Rhayader past a mile stone stating
Aberystwyth 29 miles – Rhayader ½ and on to the town centre. The last haul up the high street is hard going, my legs are very sore; today has been over 13 miles! Route
Friday – Shropshire Way, Clun – Another hot sunny day although a light breeze helps. Through the town to Clun castle then down into a field of nettles. Past a row of cottages and off along the Shropshire Way. Meadowsweet and Great Willowherb are in flower but many umbellifers are going to seed. The River Unk bubbles behind a wall of hazels. Across a small bridge and along fields. A group of backpacking young people pass by. To the west hills of variegated green fields rise with farms at the foot. Maddy is having trouble trouble with the numerous small thistles and keeps hopping to avoid them. Rooks and Carrion Crows caw. Cows and sheep graze in bucolic contentment. A moment’s inattention and I lose way. Crossing a field and returning takes me close to a herd of cows. Maddy is terrified as I drag her past on the lead. One cow decides to investigate which makes matters worse, but a sharp rap on its nose with my stick sends it off. I find the sharp little turn through a hedge and back onto the trail. Across a field is Bicton Ditches, locally known as
The Trenches a post-mediaeval site of two ramparts and ditches to the south of a narrow plateau. It is possible they are seigeworks used by Parliamentarians in the Civil War although they are out of range of Clun castle, which, in any case, was according to Leland in a ruinous state in 1539. The path crosses the Newcastle road and starts up a hill through broad beans then golden barley. Yellowhammers are singing,
a little bit of bread and no cheese. It is getting hot!
The way is straight as it climbs Cefns, Welsh for
ridge. This is possibly an old drovers’ route, avoiding the marshy valleys below. Through sheep pastures. Here is a field of green wheat. As soon as I stop flies come buzzing around. More singing Yellowhammers and Chaffinches are in the bushes and trees. Maddy is being awkward about scuttling under the fences but when her ball is thrown to the other side she seems to manage well enough! Onto a track where the scent of camomile is strong. Across more fields to Three Gates. The path rounds Hergan. Golly Coppice lays in a deep valley to the north. Offa’s Dyke crosses the top of the valley. To the west of the dyke, a farmer is turning the hay. Here the way meets the Offa’s Dyke path. There is now a change of plan. I had planned to follow the Offa’s Dyke Path south for a way but time has gone more quickly than I had anticipated and I decide to take the road route back to Clun. Down the road to Three Gates. Tar is melting into little shining black jewels on the surface of the road. The road starts to drop towards Bicton. A tractor is sweeping up rows of hay, excreting bales. A rather unsightly industrial farm lays in the valley, vast black sheds with silver feeders towering above them. A sign post in Three Gates claimed Bicton was 3¾ miles and after walking a good mile, the next post says Bicton, 3½ miles. The wonders of country miles! The road passes Llanhedric farm and then an activity camp where the River Unk passes under the road. Into Bicton and then down to the main road and back to Clun. A Common Buzzard decides to alight on telephone wires above the road. It cannot keep its balance and has to stretch its wings to maintain its position. It does not take long for it to realise that its unsteady position is untenable to it flies up to the nearby telegraph pole. Having settled it realises I am watching it so is off across the field where it circles lazily. In Clun, Maddy stops outside a pub (and I show great restraint by not going in) and drinks nearly all a large bowl of water to the amusement of the drinkers. Route
Saturday – Home – Early morning swifts scream in packs as they soar high in the air. The playing field has finally been mown, leaving it more like a hay field. Walnuts have appeared on the tree in the Millennium Garden. At home everything is dry, unless it rains tonight, some serious watering will have to be done. The sun burns fiercely in a clear blue sky. The first courgettes have appeared on a couple of plants, Rugofa friulana, a warty yellow fruit with a firm texture. Gladstone apples are just edible but already under attack from the birds. As I walk up the path from the back door, a baby Song Thrush, barely able to fly bunny hops away. I think there may be a nest at the base of the wall but I do not want to disturb anything. The plastic compost bins are full so I have the unenviable task of transferring compost. The oldest wooden bin is emptied into bags, not too many as we have been digging into this bin for a while now. The dryness of the compost is demonstrated by the presence of an ants’ nest. The second bin is turned into the now empty one and the three plastic bins are piled into the newly emptied wooden bin. The tops are left off the wooden bins in the hope that rain will come and moisten the rotting plant stuff. The chickens are laying well now, four eggs most days. We still are unsure which eggs belong to which bird and indeed, we have no idea whether Stevie, the old Warren is laying at all.
Monday – Leominster – Last night the moon was a
super or perigee moon as it is at one of its closest approaches to our planet. It was partially obscured by black clouds but shone a brilliant yellow in the south-east. This morning it is pale but still large in the western sky. I gather a good number of small walnuts from the Millennium Gardens for pickling. They are pierced with a needle and put into brine for the first stage of the process. The hoped-for rain failed to materialise and the garden is very dry.
Bircher Common – After the bright start, the sky has clouded over and a breeze cools. A Common Buzzard flies over carrying something the size of a small rabbit in its claws. Yellowhammers call, one is sitting on a Gorse bush, yellow head and chestnut rump. A pair of Linnets rise from a Hawthorn sapling. Up the common past Oaker and Bircher Coppices. Fungi are beginning to appear, a puffball lies in the grass. On up to the ridge on Dionscourt Hill. A pat