Saturday – Leominster – A plant fair is taking place on the Grange. Kay visits whilst I remain at home because we still have the plasterer finishing off the wall in the corridor that is being treated for damp. She returns with a meagre haul, but everything is so late this year that it is pointless buying a lot of plants that cannot be put in as the spring flowers are still in full flow. In the early afternoon we both return to the Grange. The extensive refurbishment of Grange House has finally been largely finished and it is open to the public for the first time. The new offices have a very pleasant aspect overlooking a grassed area between the rear wall and the house. The Victorian folly made of some reclaimed parts of the old priory has been erected along this back wall. There is an arch which would have been Norman but is missing its keystone so it looks vaguely pointed like early English. A couple of windows are pure Romanesque. More pieces of Norman masonry lay around the perimeter. Inside the building is airy and light. The Mayor’s Parlour and Committee Room have been retained in their original style. Upstairs the main gallery is a splendid space overlooking the Grange. A musician is practising on various mediaeval instruments, some sweeter than others!
Home – Weeds grow without a pause. I spend some time on my hands and knees pulling them and grass out of the vegetable beds. One patch has lots of small Stinging Nettles in it – a fact I discover rather too late. The potatoes are earthed up some more. Slugs have been at my beans, so I reluctantly spread some bird-safe pellets. The pumpkin plants in the orchard area have been munched down to the ground. I have sown some more which hopefully can be planted out in time but precautions will have to be taken to protect them. We have noticed the apricot is looking pretty sick and there is a large canker on the trunk. It looks like it will have to come out; a great shame. The currant bushes are growing larger by the day and full of fruit. White lilac is in blossom. Great Tits search the old apple tree, Howgate Wonder, hopefully finding every last bug! One of the tomato plants in the greenhouse has flowers.
Monday – Ryelands – Horse Chestnuts are prolific this year with stunning displays of candles. This does bode ill for the autumn at home when the lawn will be bombarded with conkers! A clear blue sky, bright sun and pale crescent moon are overhead. Blackcaps sing in the shady hedgerow. Skylarks sing and Swifts scream above the big field behind the school. The field is growing clover. The next field is covered with a crop that has just sprouted and also looks like a legume. Bees visit the bright blue flowers of Green Alkanet, which is complimented by the flowers of White Dead Nettle. The name Alkanet comes from the Arabic, al hinna, which is also the root of henna the dye. The Green Alkanet is an introduced species, uncommon according to older guidebooks but seems to be spreading fast. Down the track back to Hereford Road. Suddenly Maddy drops her ball and stands with one back paw raised and a distressed look on her face. I check the paw and leg but can find nothing wrong. She then seems to walk without any problem. We head down Southern Avenue and along the Worcester Road. Sadly the old water works have now been demolished, another part of Leominster’s history lost.
Kimbolton – The second round of the Woodcock survey. Back to the same corner on the track between two strips of woodland. The expanse of field between the woods is now bright yellow with flowering Rape. Field Pansies cluster under the rape. Blackbirds are the main songsters. Sheep are continuously baaing in the fields beyond the deciduous woods. An occasional Swallow sweeps across the field. Hawthorn is still in flower on the edges of the woods. A Grey Heron passes over. It is officially sunset at 9.30pm. Much of the song has turned into alarm calls – pink-pink. A dog barks in the village. Crane flies are still active flying much to close for my liking. A Robin continues to sing as the light fades. A noisy Carrion Crow lands in a tree close to the edge of the wood and sends a Blackbird dashing across the field calling in alarm. The Robin falls silent but a couple of Song Thrushes take up the song along with Wood Pigeons. The church bell clanks out 10pm. A Robin sings fitfully for a few moments then falls silent. As it grows dimmer other songsters have brief flurries of song with longer periods of silence, at least bird-wise as the sheep never seem to quieten. Finally all give up and only traffic noise is heard. I am surprised at the lack of owls but not, sadly of Woodcock – this area will be returning a zero count.
Tuesday – Croft – Down the ride to the Fishpool Valley and then down towards the lowest pool. A drake Mallard watches over his ducklings and sleeping mate (who is actually watching quietly). Grey Wagtails flutter around from one dead branch perch to another. Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens sing. The sun us bright but a breeze cools the air. An open area is spotted pink with Red Campions but there us a worrying lack of insect life. A Blackcap sings from bushes. Across the dam of a pond where fish jumps and up through the woods to Bircher Common. The lambs on the common are almost as big as their mothers. A gorse has wool hanging off it where sheep have sheltered beneath the bush and some fleece has been left behind. Skylarks sing overhead, Willow Warblers sing in the valley and a Chaffinch sings from the trees. These trees are all in leaf now imparting a shining viridescence to the valley. A large Horse Chestnut is festooned with white candles. Thistles are spaced on the common with almost mathematical accuracy. A Cuckoo calls from Oaker Wood. The top of Leinthall Common is carpeted in Bluebells with white patches of Stitchwort. Blackcaps sing all along the top of the steep slope with the occasional Garden Warbler. The view from Croft Ambrey is always inspiring. Even in thick mist and rain there is a haunting and ancient atmosphere, but today with the sun shining on the vivid, verdant landscape it is sublime. A pair of Speckled Wood butterflies dance and pirouette above the forestry track. Further down a white butterfly passes but does not stop to allow identification.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Clouds cover the sky, so different to yesterday’s sunshine. A Green Woodpecker flies up the orchard as we go through the gate. The sheep in the orchard are all laying down and ignoring Maddy. The meadow is washed yellow with buttercups and spotted pink by Red Clover. A Blackcap sings in the trees in the far corner. A dozen plus Canada Geese and four Mute Swans occupy the shingle bank. Another young Mute Swan seems intent on seeing off a Coot, not by attacking but just swimming parallel and close enough to make the Coot uneasy. There are more Mute Swans on the water. No Cormorants are to be seen and the nest appears to be unoccupied. Similarly, the Coot nest also seems to be abandoned, although the eggs may have hatched and the young are off with their parents. There is the constant angry buzz of a chain saw coming from the woods to the west. A few Mallard dabble and a small number of Tufted Duck dive at the south end of the lake. Two of the Mute Swans squabble with wings outstretched and slapping at each other. Bird song is constant – Blackcaps, Blackbirds and Robins. A drake Mallard appears, its feathers becoming dull and dingy as it enters eclipse. A single Common Vetch with a single reddish-purple flower grows in the grass of the Alder plantation. Hawthorn blossom is still looking fresh and pristine, no-one has told it that it is called May and we are now in June! The sailing club section of the lake is completely deserted.
Thursday – Monmouth – We have not stopped in this town since 1999. This border town has a wealth of history. A Roman fort stood here, we saw excavations of it in 1999 when a Monnow Street building was being demolished. It now stands under a Lloyds Bank. Nearby the remains of a pre-Conquest wooden tower has been found with large defensive ditch crossing the street below. Monnow Street leads down to the River Monnow where stands a bridge with a town gate tower in the middle. This was constructed around 1270 and is the last remaining mediaeval bridge with a tower in Britain. Beyond the bridge is a Millennium Monument, a round table of segments containing the history of the town. Beyond is the market cross. Back over the bridge stands the Robin Hood Inn, one of Monmouth’s oldest buildings with a doorway from the 16th century. An upstairs room was used in the 18th century, before Catholic emancipation, to celebrate Mass. Unfortunately, the view next to the inn is the modern walls of a supermarket. The main shopping street is much the same as most towns these days – too many stuff and charity shops and chain stores closing down. However, there is a decent enough number of independents. A castle was built between 1067 and 1071 by William Fitz Osbern. This was followed by the establishment of a Benedictine priory in 1075 by Gwethenoc, a Breton who became Lord of Monmouth. The priory was granted to the Abbey of St Florent at Saumur and was consecrated in 1101. The town was laid out with burgage plots around 1100. There is not a great deal left of castle. It stands beside the Great Castle House, built in 1673 by the 3rd Marquis of Worcester. Since the mid-18th century it has been the headquarters of the RMRE (Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers). Large war machines stand outside.
In the car park is an Oak tree from the French grave pits of Agincourt presented by Major Ynyr Probert M.C. whose ancestors fought at the battle. The castle consists of the Great Tower in which it is likely the future Henry V was born, and the hall which was built by Henry III’s son, Edmund Crouchback when he was given this castle along with the Three Castles, White, Skenfrith and Grosmont, when he became Earl of Lancaster. The church of St Mary’s could be on the site of a Celtic church. St Mary’s was the church of the priory, however most of the present church dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. The interior dates from 1882 but a memorial and Lady chapel have been added later. There are some mediaeval tiles but I cannot find them! The rood screen has been split and part of it moved to the western end to form a narthex. The reredos is a large altar painting entitled The Adoration of the Magi, is by James Watney Wilson, RA, painted in 1888. Back towards Monnow Street. Agincourt Square where a house stands built around 1624 (the date on the apex of the gable along with the initials of William Roberts). Further down the road is the Shire Hall built in 1724. A statue apparently of Henry V was installed in 1792. In front of the hall is a statue of Charles Rolls, who co-founded Rolls Royce and whose family came from the vicinity. Nearby is a nice Victorian post box. We return home via Grosmont and Pontrilas. The roads pass valleys, green and lush. The roadside is lined with frothy white heads of umbellifers.
Friday – Humber – The second round of the BTO Breeding Birds Survey. The field beyond Steensbridge has been sown with maize. Rabbits dash for the thickets along the stream. Rooks are flying hither and thither, cawing loudly. Maddy manages to get over a stile but leaves her ball on the other side which means I have to clamber back to retrieve it. The public footpath is non-existent and walking through the long grass makes me grateful I put on my gaiters, water is flowing off my legs and boots. Several Yellowhammers are calling, a Pheasant croaks and Song Thrushes sing in the nearby woodland. Across a pasture and over another stile into a field again sown with maize. House Martins skim around the farmhouse. Nineteen Rooks are on the garden fence of the house. Into Humber where Jackdaws call around the church. The breeze is strengthening. There is little in the small village which is surprising. Down the lane and over the stream where a Mallard is dabbling. Again, very little in the lane or in the woodland burial ground. Down to the farm where again little moves – no House Sparrows which is odd. As I head up to the second transept the school coach comes down the road being driven by Mark, a neighbour. His mass of white hair and big, bushy white beard make him look like the driver of Harry Potter’s night bus. In the lane that heads back to Steensbridge there are a number of small birds suddenly appearing and disappearing over the hedge in a flash, no chance of identifying them. A family group of Long-tailed Tits passes, squeaking excitedly. The survey ends with a single Linnet on the wires.
Hergest Ridge – Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches greet at the top of Ridgebourne Road. The sun beats down on the open ridge. Skylarks sing blissfully. The bracken is only a foot high and the Gorse is looking dull and lifeless. The distant hills are misty, the closer ones green and vibrant. The squares of yellow rape seem normal these days although somewhat intrusive. Over the top of the ridge, passing into Wales over Rabber Dingle. A breeze keeps the temperature down, better for walking. Tadpoles scurry in pond at risk of being drunk by Maddy. The path drops down the western end of the ridge joining an old rutted track which passes The Camp and an old quarry and then descends descends Broken Bank. Ash, Beech and Hawthorn line the track. A Willow Warbler and a Chaffinch sing. Up on the hillside a Rowan is in blossom.
Gladestry – The track descends steeply into the village of Gladestry. Gladestry appears as Claudestre around 1250, and Glaudestrie a century later. This probably means Claud’s tree. The Welsh name of the manor was Llanfair Llythynwg, documented as Lanfeyr Lonthonnok in 1291 and Llanfair-llwyth Dyvnog in 1566, and indicating the church of Mary in Llythynwg. Philip de Braose took possession of much land around the area including New Radnor and Builth. The lands were previously held by King Harold. Philip’s father had been awarded the feudal barony of Bramber in Sussex for his part in the Battle of Hastings. Philip is believed to have died on Crusade in 1104. The pub, The Royal Oak, is closed indefinitely which is disappointing. Behind the pub is Gladestry Court, a large house built on the site of the manor house. The Post Office looks long closed and is now a private dwelling. The church of St Mary stands at the western end of the village with Cefn Hir, a hill higher than Hergest Ridge rising further west. The church is 13th century, enlarged in the 14th century with further restoration and additions in the next couple of centuries. It is very pleasant to find that refreshments are left in the church for walkers for an appropriate donation. South of the church the road crosses Gladestry Brook, a pretty little stream. Back up the track, seeming much steeper now. A beautiful male Redstart flies over the hill and perches in a dead tree. On top of the ridge are a number of dead dung beetles on the grassy path. The wind is quite strong now.
Monday – Whitton – Out of the village of Witton which lies to the west of Presteign in Radnorshire in a valley carved by the River Lugg. Past Nant-y-groes, where it is said Dr John Dee’s father came from. A small bridge crosses a stream that flows down Cwm Blewyn. A silly sheep has got itself on the wrong side of the fence and is in a tizzy. It tries to get back through the fence but fails. The amount of brambles, leaves and twigs in its fleece indicate it came through somewhere where there is a lot of scrub, but not here. I wonder if I open the gate which leads to a lane that runs up the hill alongside its field maybe it will get back, at least it will not be going onto the road again. However, my gentle approach merely send the sheep scurrying off up the drive of Nant-y-groes Hall. I give up. The road carries on into Pilleth. The name comes from two Old English words, pyll and hlið, meaning slope by the pool. Domesday records it as Pellelei. To the west of Pilleth rises Bryn Glâs, the green hill, where in June 1402, Owain Glyndŵr and his general, Rhys Gethin, destroyed an English force commanded by Edmund Mortimer. The English leader was captured for ransom and among those killed were Sir Walter Devereaux of Weobley, and Sir Robert Whitney, who was Henry IV’s Knight-Marshal. Glyndŵr had taken the top of the hill and the English were at the bottom. He had also hidden a part of his force in a hollow on the hill’s south side, now covered in Forestry Commission conifers. On the hillside stands the church of St Michael and All Saints which Glyndŵr burned before the battle. The English charged up the hill, often a tactical mistake when wearing heavy armour and were surprised when the hidden Welsh appeared on their flanks. Bad went to worse when their archers, who were Welsh, turned on them started shooting. It is said that after the battle, the hatred of the Welsh women who accompanied Glyndŵr’s force led them to mutilate the bodies and they were left rotting on the hillside. Further up the hill are three Wellingtonias which mark the spot the English dead are supposed to have been eventually buried, although bodies have been found since and are in a grave next to the church. The king refused to pay any ransom for Mortimer who promptly defected to the Welsh and eventually married Glyndŵr’s daughter, Catrin. Shakespeare makes mention of the battle:
Outside the church is a slate plaque which marks out the hills to the east, Litton Hill, Gumma Wood, Cilfeach Hill Hawthorn Hill, Hengwm Hill and Craig Hill. The church of St Mary has a 14th century nave and chancel, 13th century stoup and 15th century tower. The roof is early 20th century after a fire destroyed the earlier one in 1894. The door to the tower is open so I climb some very steep steps up a circular stair case to the top, which is thoroughly dark under the roof. Great old wooden beams are present shown up only in the flash of my camera. The church both inside and out is painted white. An old harmonium stands by the chancel. Outside on the north side is a Holy Well. Steps lead down to the water which appears to come through a channel in the side wall coming from a spring. One grave in the churchyard is of John Randolph Whitehead who was born in Esher, Surrey and died in 1999 in Onslow, Shropshire. He wrote much on literature and was buried in the same place as his grandparents. Below the terraced graveyard is Pilleth Court, a much enlarged house, parts dating from 1600 and farm buildings. House Martins sweep out from under the eaves of converted barns. In the far side of the main road is a bridle-path down towards the river. It passes a castle mound, Castell Foel-allt, almost certainly a wooden motte and bailey. Black-winged damselfly, the Beautiful Demoiselle, Agrion virgo, flutters by. Along the course of the Lugg, westwards there is a large mound with trees growing on top. Some say that this is a burial mound of the English slain, indeed some maintain the actual fighting happened here on the plain of the Lugg. Experts do not believe it dates from prehistoric times.
Back to bridge over the Lugg. Into a field of buttercups where a Blackcap sings and a Common Buzzard passes over harassed by a pair of Carrion Crows. Up the edge of the field where the path doglegs around Upper Litton. It then starts to climb through woods up Llan-fawr. A deep defile runs down the wood, a stream bubbling far below, shaded by large Sycamores. Great Spotted Woodpeckers call and a Song Thrush sings. Elder is beginning to flower. The sun is occasionally breaking through the cloud and a breeze keeps it cool. Towards the top of the wood a Willow Warbler sings. Out onto the open hilltop covered in nascent bracken. Tiny speedwells are blue jewels in the grass. Skylarks sing. The path skirts the summit and crosses the moorland. Meadow Pipits and Yellowhammers flit across the ground and up into the occasional Hawthorn or Rowan. A path follows the edge of the moor through a pasture, passing a shallow pool. The muddy areas are dotted with yellow-centred white petalled Water Crowfoots. The path drops steeply down the hillside through Sycamore and Hazel. Bleached sheep bones interest Maddy. The path becomes difficult, passing under many low hanging branches and dividing frequently. Inevitably I take a wrong path and have a fraught time finding the route again. Eventually I find an old quarry and can navigate from there down to Pentre and then into Cascob.
The name probably derives from the mound overlooking the Cas, the name of the nearby stream. The church of St Michael is one of the four guarding the sleeping dragon in Radnor Forest. A tump around tower has been fancifully thought to be a Bronze Age barrow, but is more likely the base of an earlier tower. Nearby is a large Yew tree under which sheep are resting. The church dates from the 13th century. It has a simple 14th, century oak screen, a stone font and a bell tower with one bell, dated 1663. Inside the church is a plaque on the south wall of the nave in memory of a former incumbent, who was very prominent in Welsh literary circles in the nineteenth century, William Jenkins Rees who was Rector of Cascob from 1806-1855. He was noted the part which he played in the revival of the Welsh National Eisteddfod at the end of the nineteenth century and was the author of The Lives of Cambro-British Saints, editor of the Welsh Manuscripts Society, and a contributor to the Liber Landavensis. On the north wall is a tablet, the ABRACADABRA. This is dated circa 1700 and was an accepted means of exorcising evil spirits at that time, and was used at Cascob to deliver one Elizabeth Lloyd from demon possession. Beneath the tablet is the legend containing the signs of the Zodiac, and the incantation that was used. Back past Pentre, across the bridge over Cascob Brook. Down the minor road for a way. A herd of goats including some little kids are in a field. Up a lane that leads to The Rectory, which seems a long way from the church. At the junction with the main road is a piece of agricultural machinery. On this is a Grey Squirrel. Maddy sees the squirrel and trots over. The creature seems utterly unperturbed and stands at nose height staring at the dog, who has no idea what to do so just stares back. The lane continues up into the hills. Across open moorland, Litton Hill which was in Herefordshire until the mid part of the 18th century. Jackdaws fly around summit of Llan-fawr to the west. The sun is beating down now. Across the top of the moor and then down a hillside of emerald green bracken and Bluebells to Whitton Bridge. The road crosses the River Lugg and takes us back to the village. The name comes from Hwita’s Farm and the village is called Llanddewi yn Hwytyn in Welsh. St David’s Church is rather disappointing as it was completely rebuilt in 1874 and extended in 1905. There is some earlier masonry but of an undetermined date. Inside the most interesting object is a monument of 1597 brought from Pilleth church after the 1896 fire. It is a memorial to John Price and his wife Catherine, daughter of Roger Vaughan.
Wednesday – Leominster – House Sparrows were common when I was young. They formed a constant background noise to life; their friendly chirps were heard everywhere. Then they slowly disappeared. The reasons seem to be various, I tend to think that houses became sealed around their eaves and the spudgers lost their nesting sites. However, recently they seem to be making a comeback. There are several regularly around the garden and their calls are often heard from gardens further down the street. This morning, as Maddy and I cross the Grange, their calls are all around Grange House and the area down to the Scout Hut. Good to see them back! Later in the morning Maddy and I set off down Etnam Street and over the railway and river. Across the meadow and under the A49 to Millennium wood. A Chiffchaff sings by the river and a Blackcap joins in briefly from the wood. The sun breaks through the clouds although it will disappear again soon. The verge of the path has been mown a fortnight back but the Butterbur leaves have regrown. Guelder Rose is in flower but the Wild Cherry already has small green fruit dangling from its branches. A long stretch of the bank top is covered in Stinging Nettles and Cleavers with the occasional Red Campion struggling to be seen. A Beautiful Demoiselle flies past. The paddocks are empty, wonder where the horses have gone? Last year’s Teasels stand brown and dry above this year’s new growth of leaves. Across the A44 at Eaton Bridge. Maddy needs lifting over the stile, which is a bit nerve wracking considering our last experience of this. Across a sheep pasture to a gate that has been tied shut. We manage to negotiate this and follow the public foot path to two more nettle covered stiles. After this the path disappears into a dense bed of nettles for as far as I can see. This is impossible and a disgrace. Leominster wants to be known as a centre for walking holidays and this is the standard of our public foot paths! Back to Eaton Bridge and up Eaton Hill. The wind is picking up. Sweetcorn has been planted out on the field along the top of the hill. Down towards the main road. Vipers Bugloss grows in the shade of the trees, a beautiful purple-blue flower with a hint of pink. One branch of Hawthorn has gorgeous pink flowers instead of the normal white ones. Potatoes have sprouted on the ridged furrows of red soil on the big fields alongside the A44.
Thursday – Bodenham Lake – Yet more House Sparrows! Much chirping around the barn in the car park. Along the track Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Chaffinches sing and Blue Tits chatter. May blossom is fading now but Dog Roses are coming into flower. A rabbit bounds away across the meadow which is still a fine sight yellow with Meadow Buttercups. The Blackcap is singing in the same tree as he has occupied for some weeks. Strange erect green plants confuse me for a moment in the coppice before I realise the Alder stumps in the grass are sprouting. Several Mute Swans pass the scrape, one grunting which awakens the five sleeping swans on the shingle. A family of Mallard swim away. Again, no Cormorants are present. The bank in front of the hide is a sea of Ox-eye Daisies. A few Canada Geese, surprisingly silent, Mallard and Tufted Duck lurk at the southern end of the lake. A Black Slug (Arion ater) is on the path. Most of the blossom has now gone in the orchards. Tiny red apples have appeared on a Genet Moyle variety, a cider and jam apple. A Dung Mottle-gill toadstool (Panaeolus semiovatus) is growing out of some sheep droppings.
Friday – Walton Basin – From the Council offices in New Radnor, down to the George Cornewall Lewis monument. It is grey and trying to rain. Off along School Street past the old schoolhouse. The air smells sweet wraith the scents of flowers. The Radnor Valley CP school is now housed in modern prefab units. The old stone-built school now hosts the playgroup. The lane turns into a track. Swallows and House Martins fly low over the hedges. The town football pitch is deep in grasses and buttercups. The hedge beside the track is a rich mixture of Beech, Hawthorn, Elder, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Lime and Honeysuckle. The track passes close to Summergil Brook which meanders tightly. This stream would have been part of the glacial outwash and the basin is dotted with glacial features such as drumlins. The track becomes rougher, although it is shown as open for traffic on the OS map, little other than a tractor would be able to traverse it. It now runs alongside a field of grain. Blackcaps and Robins are singing. Another Robin stands on a gatepost and ticks whilst Common Buzzard drifts out of the high hedge and off across the fields. Old Radnor stands on a hillside. A deep old trackway runs beside the more modern track, although this one is likely to be over 100 years old. The track joins the sunken track before it passes through a gate and become a normal track again. Some deep ruts full of water have clouds of mosquitoes above them. The hills behind me disappear into mist and I manage to get my over-trousers on just before the rain arrives. The nature of the track changes again; it is much wider and is lined with Oaks which are several hundred years old.
The track emerges onto the Kinnerton road at Four Stones. This refers to four standing stones in a field just south of the road junction. This area is one of the richest sites in the country for Neolithic monuments. Just to the south of the Four Stones is Hindewell Cursus which, on current evidence is the earliest monument constructed sometime after 3950-3520 BC and before 2870-2470 BC. This extends for 4.6km, making it perhaps the second longest cursus in Britain, comprising parallel ditches around 3.9m wide and 1.8m deep, set between 54m and 74m apart. There are also several palisaded enclosures across the basin and a number of standing stones. A large number of worked flints have been found dating from the Mesolithic through to the early Bronze Age. Up the road towards Kinnerton. A Yellowhammer sits on overhead wires. Rain comes in waves. Clouds over the Radnor Forest woods are like smoke and they clip the top of Whimble. Just before the village of Kinnerton is a standing stone in a field of buttercups. It is not the largest of stones, maybe a couple of feet high but it seems rather wonderful that it has stood here for millennia.
Kinnerton first appears as Kynardton in 1304, meaning Cyneheard’s farm or settlement. The road passes a pretty village pond with Yellow Flags coming into flower. A castle mound stands behind the pond and the settlement probably developed to the north of here in the mediaeval period. A siren is sounding to warn of firing on the military ranges in the Radnor Forest. A lane starts up Ednor Hill. Yonkin Farm is a delightful long, low cottage which becomes a barn at one end. Another fine old farm building stands nearby. There is now much more persistent rain. Past an small, old, overgrown quarry. Ednol Farm lies on a bend on the hill. It is just over a hill, Ack Wood, from Cascob; this road would have continued there once but now changes into a track half a mile or so ahead. Edenwalle appeared in a local manorial role of 1342, referring more to the manor and its farms than to the chapel. The name probably contains the Old English personal name Ēada and the suffix wall or well. The rain stops and the sun tries to break through. Ednol Chapel is in ruins, its walls turfed over and about 1m high. The chapel was formally abandoned around 1830; it was still standing in early 20th century when part of the screen was visible. The graveyard is rectangular and edged by a low bank. The last burial is reported to have been in 1829. The route is along the edge of a meadow with no path. My boots give up when they plough through saturated grasses and my feet are soon wet. The meadow is beautiful with Meadow Buttercups, Sorrel (tasting sharp and lemony), Yellow Rattle, Stitchwort and Speedwell. The path enter Forestry Commission plantations. There are enough deciduous trees along the margins to attract Blackcaps. A Hare races off up the track, seen but ignored by Maddy. The track climbs Ednol Hill and emerges at Stanlo Pool, a post-mediaeval, possibly man-made stock watering pool. Across the hill is Stanlo Tump, a large mound once thought to be a castle mound but quarrying evidence shows it to be a natural outcrop. The track across the open hillside passes beneath Bache Hill to reach the farm buildings between Whinyard Rocks and Whimble. From here the path I have climbed when heading for Black Mixen takes us down to Mutton Dingle. The rain turns torrential for a while and by the time we get back to the car both Maddy and I are soaked.
Leominster – Evening walk around the Grange for Maddy and me. It is stormy with a violently gusting wind. Suddenly, across the green there is a crack and whoosh and down comes a tree, a Lime. Several trees were planted in between the great Copper Beeches maybe ten to fifteen years ago and one of these has snapped off at the base and now lies on the grass.
Monday – Croft – It is an overcast and cool morning. A Song Thrush, Chaffinch and Robin sing. A Wood Pigeon coos. Ransoms have finished flowering and are beginning to fade but the powerful musky scent of garlic remains. Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff sing, a Wren ticks. Splatters of raindrops fall. The whole valley is at the peak of growth, fresh greenery everywhere. Looking upwards at the trees it is noticeable how abundant is the Ash. It would, or sadly probably will, be devastating if all of these trees succumb to Ash Die-back disease. A Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus) stumbles across the slope up to Croft Ambrey. It tumbles onto its back and lays there with its legs still thrashing like an inverted clockwork toy. I gently turn it back onto its feet. It is raining on the fort and a wind blows gustily. Small pale day-flying moths, never settling to enable identification. Onto the Mortimer Way around towards the woods again. Maddy sniffs a Blackbird fledgling which flies off muttering. Young cows are in the Spanish Chestnut field. Maddy starts to get panicky so I put her on her lead. One young miscreant starts to run down the field at us but slides to a halt when I turn, wave my stick and bellow at it.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It is a delight to hear a Cuckoo from across the fields. Nearer to the track are Chiffchaffs and Wood Pigeons. A large number of Canada Geese are on the lake in front of the hide, surprisingly quiet, just a bit of muttering. A good number of Mallard are on the scrape and across the water, the drakes mainly in eclipse. A Moorhen feeds in the reed bed, a Coot scratches in the shallows and Tufted Duck sleep. Mute Swans are at the far south end of the lake in front of a fine display of Yellow Flag Irises. Three Greylags appear. One is noisy and takes off gabbling loudly. The other two ignore it and the goose eventually returns with a large splash and noise. A Carrion Crow flies over carrying something white in its beak – a Wood Pigeon’s egg? Blackbirds are searching out insects on the Ox-eye Daisy covered bank. A male Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyanthigerum) is attached to a green female and settles on an Ox-eye Daisy. The resident Blackcap sings in his Willow at the end of the meadow.
Sutton St Nicholas – Down the road towards The Rhea I ventured down last November but was thwarted by deep flood water. Now it is dry and the water level in the drainage stream is low. Two Mistle Thrushes rasp at the top of an Ash then fly off, jousting in the air. A Greenfinch wheezes out his song from a garden. The 1911 census states two families of Gypsies, both called Johns, resided here. Rhea is an interesting place-name. It turns up in several places and seems to indicate a stream or area of fenland. The cottage at Sutton Rhea has been greatly enlarged. Two horses chomp in the paddock beside the house, much to Maddy’s interest. A Robin suns itself on a fallen trunk, ruffling its feather to expose them to the hot sun. The bridleway forms a triangle with the base maybe half a mile to the south. I set off down the western leg. The track turns quite rough with deep ruts. In the more open parts, Tufted Vetch climbs through the grass with purple flowers peeping out. In a wooded section is a straight depression crossing the track, the Hereford and Gloucester Canal, now completely dry. The track crosses the Hereford-Worcester railway line and continues towards the Lugg Bridge.
A large lake lays to the east of the path, just south of a gravel extraction plant. I am surprised there is no indication of the lake on my OS map which is the 2006 re-print. I discover later it is however on the on-line edition and there is actually a complex of lakes here. A Sedge Warbler sings constantly from a small willow thicket. The path emerges onto the A465 at Lugg Bridge Mills. The bridge is probably 14th century. Repairs are documented for 1409 and 1464, the parapets were altered in the early 20th century and the bridge widened during 1960s with south side largely rebuilt. Beyond the south side is the mill. Although there had been a mill at Lugg Bridge for centuries, it is believed it was above the bridge. The present site was developed by Margaret Rede in 1749. A large new mill built in 1811 by R Prince, 7 storeys high and substantially built of brick and stone with two undershot wheels. It has now been converted into dwellings. We start back up the track but Maddy has lost her ball. After several minutes of searching we give up, no idea where it is. A flash of deep pink high in a willow reveals a splendid male Bullfinch. He disappears showing his smart grey back. Chiffchaffs are everywhere, one is rarely out of hearing of at least one bird. A family of Blue Tits squeak as they search the trees, the young pale imitations of their parents. A Curlew bubbles his song far away over the buttercup meadows where House Martins sweep, twittering to one another. A Carrion Crow flies over, the tattiest looking specimen imaginable, many of its wing feathers are missing and indeed it seems miraculous that it can fly! Up the other leg of the triangular route. A couple of Orange Tip and a few white butterflies flit by but they are few and far between. I have yet to see a Peacock butterfly this year. But there are a good number of bees visiting the numerous Dog Roses. There is evidence in the form of large stone slabs that the track was once paved. The sky is beginning to turn grey. A Whitethroat flits onto the top of a hedge.
Friday – Mordiford-Backbury Hill – Mordiford lays on the east side of the River Lugg which divides and meanders under Mordiford Bridge. The name Mordiford possibly derives from the Welsh in part, mawr and ty meaning great house, so great house by the ford. The main street contains cottages built below the level of the road, steps which lay across half the pavement would present an interesting obstacle on a dark night back from The Moon pub. A fine Georgian house in red brick, the Old Rectory, stands next to the church. The nine-arched bridge is the oldest in Herefordshire, parts date from around 1350 but the main structure is 16th century. In October 1416, Robert Whittington, brother of the famous Dick Whittington, and his son Guy were kidnapped on the bridge and ransomed for £600. Over the bridge and south down the willow lined banks of the Lugg. Swallows in their dozens fly over the water. Up onto a levee from where another fine house can be seen facing the village further up the valley. This is Sufton Court, a Palladian mansion built in 1788 by James Wyatt for James Hereford, of the family that has lived in Mordiford since 1140.
A little further on along the bank is the confluence of the Lugg and the Wye. A local legend tells of the Dragon of Mordiford that lived in Haugh Wood, a large woodland area to the east of the village. The dragon would take livestock and maidens and come down Serpents Lane to the confluence to drink. No-one could kill the dragon until a criminal called Garston (actually a local family) having nothing to lose agreed to slay the worm. He hid in a cider barrel by the water’s edge and ambushed the dragon and killed it. But Garston did not claim his reward as he was killed by the foul stench of the dying dragon. A fourteen strong family of Goosander are moving down stream. Back to Mordiford and up Marian’s Hill. The public footpath leaves the track but takes some finding as the entrance is obscured by undergrowth and the sign is set back and even more hidden. The path climbs steeply up old stone steps. A Chiffchaff calls. Tits squeak and a Robin sings. It is pleasantly cool in the woods, The Grove, outside it is warm despite the overcast sky. At one point the underlying rock us exposed, green with algae and horribly slippery. The path emerges onto an open hillside, South Down. From the top the views to the west are magnificent. Dinmore, Pyon Hill and the range of hills around Wormesley, closer is Dinedor Hill and further south Aconbury Hill. Hereford lies in between the hills, the tower of the cathedral glowing palely. Over the hill top and Backbury Hill comes into view.
Through a gate where a young lamb stands all alone. It trots up to Maddy which causes panic on the poor dog, she is not allowed near these things! We move on down a track. Beautiful rich pink Dovesfoot Cranesbills grow beside the fence. We reach a lane but have to retrace our steps because Maddy has lost her ball for the second time today. On a short distance and she drops it again and walks on. I am fed up with this so her ball goes into my pack. On past Lower Cockshott and up a bridleway. Maddy has a strop on as she wants her ball now! Through cool woods and up towards Backbury Hill. The track is down to bedrock although it has been worn smooth and is slippery. I reach the Iron Age hill fort of Backbury. The northern ramparts are high and heavily wooded. Onto the fort itself which us also densely wooded. Suddenly there is a deep, rocky chasm, maybe ten feet or more. At the western end the hillside drops away precipitously. It really is a weird place. I attempt to find the north-eastern ramparts but the thick undergrowth and minimal paths defeat me. Back down to a path junction and then along the hillside to Broomy Green. The path then crosses several meadows where Swallows sweep and sheep shelter in the shade of a massive Oak. The path reaches a minor road. A Wren is vanishing into a hedge regularly, must have a nest in there. Down the road and off down another footpath just beyond a bridge over Pentaloe Brook. Across meadows of Meadow Buttercups, Red Clover, Hogweed, Ribwort Plantain, Sorrel and Yellow Rattle and into Limburies Wood. It is taking an amount of map work to follow my path, despite it being way-marked, there are two different way-marks, the Mordiford Circular Route and the Herefordshire Council Circular Route. I have no idea if these are the same or where they go and I would prefer not to end up miles off track by not checking my route. However, I am now crossing another meadow towards for another wood and all seems well. Just before the wood is a fallen tree which is a welcome seat. This landscape seems quintessentially English. A small vale, surrounded by woodland, a farm on the hillside with a black and white timbered house and a cluster of barns and outbuildings. In the middle of the vale black and white cows crop the grass. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. A Chiffchaff calls. Pity about the power tool snarling from a house up on the hillside. In the wood is a newish looking track, but is, in fact, on the 1890 OS map. A scattering of strawberries lays beside the gravel, obviously fallen off a loaded trailer. A few are edible and Maddy discovers she likes them! Several Common Spotted Orchids flower beside the track. Track meets another path near Pentaloe Brook. It was recorded by the Rector of Mordiford that:
Many more orchids are beside the track along with a stand of Ragged Robin, a plant I have not seen for quite a while. Down onto the meadow carved by the brook. A decaying timber-framed house stands by a ford. Seems so sad to see a traditional old building like this rotting away. More meadows yellow with buttercups, has there ever been such a year for them? The path ends in a modern development of bungalows and the road travels back into Mordiford. Back in the village, I visit the Church of the Holy Rood. It is an Early English style building from the 12th century. The Holy Rood in question is a preaching cross just outside the main door, probably installed during the Black Death around 1348. The present cross dates from the 1920s. The church is an interesting shape with two chancel arches which originally formed the base of the tower. This tower was removed between 1811 and 1814, when the church was restored after the flood, and rebuilt in is present position at the south-west corner of the church. A south transept remains and within is a memorial to Margaret Brydges dated 1655. In the sanctuary is a small coffin lid with a flower entwined cross carved on it. It is suggested this is 14th century as is the piscina on the opposite wall. For many years a painting of the Mordiford Dragon was displayed on the west end of the church.
Monday – Suckley Hills – The Worcestershire Way crosses the A4103 by the New Inn just inside the Worcestershire side of the border with Herefordshire. Large cumulus clouds, some very dark hang overhead. A strong wind sways the trees. Through the rape fields and orchards of Norrest farm and along a road. Past the farmhouse, The Norrest, a grand affair of some age. All the barns and outbuildings have been converted into residences. The track continues north and eastwards is the plain of the River Severn, flat into the distance before rising into the Cotswolds. Worcester lies in the middle ground. A Chiffchaff calls close by, a Blackcap sings and a Cuckoo is in the far distance. Past another orchard then up a common of brambles, gorse and bracken which lies between Long Coppice and Norrest Wood. To the south the end of the Malvern hills looms high. The path enters a wood of Oak, Ash and Beech. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. The track has been churned by horses into a quagmire. Round a group of houses and northwards again past The Beck, a large hilltop reservoir. The track descends and all around are meadows and orchards on hillsides topped with woods. Maddy gets excited by a Grey Squirrel which runs up an Oak in the meadow hedgerow, over the path and off into the woods.
The track meets a road. Nearby is Chapel Cottage and the old maps show a Plymouth Brethren Meeting House around here in the late 19th century. The road drops down the hill past some quaint cottages and less pleasant modern houses. Oddly, the place looks like a long hamlet but seems to have no name. The Worcestershire Way then turns off across a rolling meadow. Down through a copse and the path rejoins the lane at Upper Mosewick. Down to Longley Green and over Batchelor’s Bridge, which crosses Cradley Brook. On the north side of the bridge, another stream joins the brook and they flow northwards and become Leigh Brook. Into the village which has a lot of modern buildings, commuter homes for Worcester, but does have a delightful little Post Office and shop where I buy some apples. The path turns off the main street and over a stream then up into the Suckley Hills. House Martins are overhead, not high but not so low as to promise rain. The path continues up through the woods on Grove Hill. Below in the valley is Upper Tundridge Farm with an oast house once for hop drying but probably no longer. Sadly today’s brewers prefer continental hops and the great English hopyards are greatly diminished. The farmhouse is an early 19th century building on the site of an earlier one. The path is climbing through the woods then starts to drop sharply. I decide this is today’s limit, I can do without another climb on the way back, the one to The Beck will be tiring enough and the wind seems to be increasing in strength. The woods are redolent with the musky scent of Wild Garlic. Bluebells are finished. Foxgloves now flower in colours from deepest pink through to pure white. Red Campion and buttercups (Small-flowered Ranunculus parviflorus?) are also flowering. Back to Longley Green and up the hill to The Beck. From this direction the triangulation point on the top of the hill can be seen. There is no access to it, which is a shame as the views must be splendid. Black Bryony is climbing hedges and fences, its dark green heart-shaped leaves shine.
Home – The first batch of Elderflower cordial is made. The flowers are, like many others this year, a bit late but very abundant.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A blue, hazy sky and a sun-baked land make it seem like summer really is here, but how long it will last is anybody’s guess. The lake is quiet despite the large flock of Canada Geese on the water and sharing the scrape with Mute Swans. Nine Cormorants are on the pontoon with a couple more in the trees. A few Mallard and Tufted Duck are scattered around. A Robin with a beak full of food pauses briefly on a fence post before heading off to deliver its bounty. The reed bed looks stunted, individual blades seem to be cut off. No chance of a Reed Warbler nesting in this. Common Spotted Orchids flower where the copse has been cleared. Ragwort is coming into flower. Grasses are now at their best, although I have little identification knowledge of them. I think I am looking at Timothy, Meadow Fox-tail, Cocksfoot and one of the Meadow-grass family, but I could easily be wrong! A Dock stem is black with blackfly. As the yellow of the buttercups begins to fade the theme is taken up by Birds-foot Trefoil. On the way up to the chicken farm for some feed, a Red Kite soars low over the road at Hampton Court.
Friday – Weobley – Plans to walk up around Badnage Wood are stymied by the lack of anywhere to park near the footpaths. So I end up in Weobley. Up past the castle and across the field which is full of ancient sites and now noisy sheep. In across more fields to the site of the demolished country house, Garnstone Castle (comments here from a previous walk this way). Threatening clouds fill the sky and the wind is building up which is welcome as it was very muggy and humid first thing. Some cows get frisky as Maddy passes, a sharp word sees the sparkiest of them off. Past a walled garden and across a field of oilseed rape, odoriferous as ever. Out of the rape and across the old avenue that led to Garnstone Castle. Only the lines of trees and the far gate posts identify the route of the drive, fields have obliterated the actual driveway. A number of fields here are growing wheat. The country had to import wheat last year in excess of its exports of the same, hopefully the situation will be different this year. A pheasant croaks and an occasional Carrion Crow caws but mainly it is the wind in the trees that is the loudest sound.
The track starts to climb the hill towards a row of Leylandii which run down the hill to the two conifers, a matching pair to those that stand at the end of the avenue. Tiny white flowers are in grass, one of the Bedstraws. Puffballs lie on track. The track enters a woodland, Winsland. In the distance ahead are two Fallow Deer, a pair of the black-backed variety that are local to this area. They feed contentedly although every now again they look back down the track at me, Maddy is lying quietly in the grass, but they do not see me. They move on up the track, stopping to graze with their tails wagging rapidly. I move closer but one movement was the wrong one and they are off. Up a very muddy sunken path to the top of the ridge. A Chiffchaff sings his two-tone song loudly. The conifers planted out last time I was here March 2011 are now ten to fifteen feet high and surrounded by Silver Birch saplings. The path westwards on the top of Burton Hill passes one of the more useless triangulation points, it is completely surrounded by woodland and no readings would be possible. Maddy is dashing hither and thither, she has the scent of deer in her nostrils. Back down the track. There are several well scraped, near vertical sections of bank which must be where the deer run up into the woods above. A Walnut tree is growing on the hillside. A huge Buckler Fern grows beside the bank, a quite magnificent specimen. Back down the avenue. Brown slugs are frequent on the gravelly path. A cottage garden is well endowed with bird feeders which are attracting good numbers of House Sparrows, Great and Coal Tits. A Pied Wagtail sits on overhead wires. A rather tatty Common Buzzard glides over. At the rape fields, my first Meadow Brown of year flits by. A Small White and Orange Tip are also along this field edge. A large patch of a white crucifer is growing beside the rape, I think it is Tower Mustard. Back at Weobley Castle, a Great Spotted Woodpecker is busy high in an Oak.