Friday – Widnes – The sky is yet again grey. Down Mersey View Road. A Greenfinch wheezes and a Blackbird mutters. Heavy goods vehicles are rolling out of the industrial estate. A Dunnock sings from the top of a Hawthorn. A large house, Mersey View, is hidden in trees just before Pickering’s Pasture. It was formerly Shore House, built in 1703 and called Mersey View from 1861. It was the home of John Thorburn, the owner of Ditton Iron Works. There is less mist over the Mersey this morning. The same collection of Canada Geese, Shelduck, assorted gulls but just a single Lapwing are in the wide expanse of mud. I take the track upstream. There is a very light breeze, enough to make Silver Birch leaves shimmer and rustle. Aircraft are banking across the estuary, a Ryanair 737 is bound for Malaga. Rabbits dash across the track into woodland. Tall spikes of purple and pink Bugle stand above a large culvert delivering somewhat odorous fluid to the river. Gulls, mainly Lesser Black-backed and a few Herring gather in small channel which winds across a mud bank. Further on a single file of Canada Geese waddle across the mud to the main channel. They then take flight in a cacophony of cackling. An obelisk stands on the site of an old navigation beacon in use until 1971.
A modern bridge crosses Ditton Brook just below is confluence with Steward’s Brook. A pair of piping Oystercatchers fly over. There is an old dock in the brook in an advanced state of decay. It would have served the Ditton Brook Iron Works which stood on the western bank of the stream. A lorry park and then the industrial estate occupy the site now. A Blackcap sings in the willows and Elders on the hillside above the brook. An intercity train crosses Runcorn-Widnes Bridge. A stairway zig zags up to the top of the hill. A large artificial hill is surrounded by as culvert, a former industrial waste tip. The area was formerly known as Widnes Marsh and was a rifle range in the mid 19th century. Young Rabbits hop across from the hill into the undergrowth. The track passes a large chemical works, an emergency shower room is marked. Bizarrely the site produces dried protein animal foodstuffs. The Westbank Granite Works stood here. A goods train crosses the rail bridge pulling wagons carrying cars and vans. Past a vast supermarket distribution centre on the site of old chemical works. The sun is now making an occasional appearance through the clouds. Concrete shoots run down the steep back to the river, whatever their use that have been decommissioned for some time.
The track descends to Runcorn Gap, the ancient crossing point. A ship, possibly a coaster, has been beached by the lock entrance to West Bank docks. Under the rail, then the road bridge. Both are being repaired. The road bridge has white shrouds around each end of the arch. By the noise I assume the bridge is being water or sand blasted for repainting. Down to the Victorian Promenade. A stone built wall runs along the promenade with a concrete coping which is regularly lifted by Elder bushes growing out of it. The route makes its way to Spike Island then on up the river. Yellow water lilies are coming into flower in the old dock. A plaque in the ground is beside a post that held the rudder of a Mersey Flat but it has been removed. The wrecks is Mersey flats lie in the mud. The boats were small flat-bottomed sailing barges that ferried goods to larger vessels that would anchor in the deeper channels. They were common between the 16th and 20th centuries. One of the wrecks is the Eustace Carey. Four Mute Swans fly over towards the river. A large flock of Starlings feed on the grassy water meadows.
The trail reaches the St Helens Canal where it has been closed because of construction work on new bridge. The closure is for safety reasons although it is probable other measures could have been used to ensure safety but blocking walkers is most likely the cheapest option! I have to return to Spike Island. The canal tow-path is speckled with white feathers from preening Mute Swans. Most of the boats in the canal look like they have not moved for some time, indeed one is burnt out.
Up through the town and past Halton Stadium, home to Widnes Vikings Rugby League (who have not had a good season and have just sacked their coach, Dennis Betts), Liverpool and Everton Ladies football teams and Widnes Football Club. On past 20th century semis. The Albion is a large rambling pub of the mid 20th century on the site of a 17th century farmhouse that was used as a Catholic meeting place before St Bede’s church was built. Wade Deacon High School was formerly two grammar schools – Wade Deacon Grammar School for Boys and Wade Deacon Grammar School for Girls. It was built in 1931, designed by Stephen Wilkinson, the architect of Lancashire County Council. The school was named after Sir Henry Wade-Deacon CBE, Chairman of Lancashire County Council for four years until January 1931, and was one of seven sons of Henry Deacon, an important local industrialist of the United Alkali Company (now Ineos) and friend of Michael Faraday. I reach the station to find the train I had planned to catch is running late, too late to make my connection. There is another via Manchester and that looks like it will be on time. The journey home is uneventful, not always to be expected as the railways are generally in chaos these days. Route
Saturday – Leominster – Thick grey clouds lie to the east, above there are tiny patches of blue. Birds still sing even though his big nesting time. Blackbirds are seeking food across the Grange and the playing field. Wood Pigeons are everywhere, they seem to be around in even larger numbers these days which is a worry as they do a large amount of damage to food crops, including mine! Large banks of Stinging Nettles are under the apple trees at the Millennium Park; like the Wood Pigeons they seem to be thriving and spreading. A Blackcap sings in the bushes along the railway line. Meadow Cranesbill are in flower along with swathes of meadow Buttercups. A Chiffchaff calls from the hedgerow. There is a continuous bank of Stinging Nettles along the base of the churchyard, some five to six feet high. Behind are Elders in full blossom, ten years ago there were hardly any Elder bushes along this stretch, now there at least a dozen. Red Valerian is in flower around the car park on the old monastery site. It is also flowering out of the church wall along with Stonecrop. Swifts are feeding high in the sky sweeping across grabbing insects.
Sunday – Leominster – The River Lugg is still quite deep and the water coloured. It is a fine, dry morning so the market is much larger than of late – same stuff though!
Home – The tomato plants in the greenhouse suffered during my absence last week but I managed to water them in time and they are now looking fine again. Leeks are pricked out into a larger container and beetroots are planted out in the bed. A Maltese Marrow and courgettes, including a climbing variety are planted out. This required a massive weeding job as I had allowed the beds to become overgrown during the winter. On with the gauntlets as I attack the brambles, Bryony and Stinging Nettles that have returned to the bottom of the garden. We let this area grow quite wild but care has to be taken not to allow those three plants to overwhelm everything. A fledgling Jackdaw is standing on next door’s garden refuse pile looking rather lost. The parents are on the roof calling.
Monday – Home – Mayhem in the garden as a cat has a go at the fledgling Jackdaw. About a dozen adult Jackdaws are making an almighty racket and attacking the cat, which I chase off. There are far too many cats around here!
Croft – The sky is grey and the air humid. Chaffinches sing around the car park. The top of the Fish Pool Valley ride is awash with Stinging Nettles. A Blackcap is singing loudly. Down the slope are large Buckler Ferns. Another Blackcap is singing in the valley along with several Wrens. Up into the Beech wood. I am hoping for the song of a Wood Warbler but all I can hear are Chiffchaff, Blackbird, Wood Pigeons, Blue Tits and a Robin. Along the track half way up the slope. Great Tits are dashing to and fro through the branches, some calling. A Mistle Thrush rasps. Out into the main path at Highwood Back quarry. Suddenly the spinning coin trill of a Wood Warbler. It only repeats a couple of times then is silent.
On to the hillside to the Iron Age hill-fort. Hedge Bedstraw has pretty yellow rings of flowers.. Cleavers are in flower, minute white crosses. There is Cuckoo spit on some Stinging Nettles. The humidity is overpowering, I am saturated with sweat. The views from Croft Ambrey are obscured by mist. A Willow Warbler sings on the steep northern slope of the hill-fort. There is a very welcome breeze here. A tip of Sheep’s Sorrel is curled round by a web in which, I think is a pupa. Several Common Carpet moths, Epirrhoe alternata, are in the grasses – their caterpillars feed on bedstraws. Down through the western gate of the hill-fort. Here, there are Brown Silver-line moths, Petrophora chlorosata. Through the woods leading down from the hill-fort. A good number of Deer Shield or Deer Mushroom, Pluteus cervinus, are growing around some rotting branches. Down the slope from the top of the Spanish Chestnut field, one of the chestnuts had fallen ripping out a great bole of roots and soil.
Wednesday – Home – Fledgling Jackdaw in still in the next door garden. It is joined by another youngster. An adult comes down into the garden and feeds the fledgling. As I pass the other young Jackdaw takes flight, straight into the painted wall of the cottage that runs down the other side of the garden. It flutters down into the undergrowth and then takes off and gets up onto the roof.
Weeds keep growing rapidly and widely across the vegetable beds and I try to keep them down. Couch grass is a particular problem. We are now having a dry spell so frequent watering is required. In the mid afternoon the fledgling manages to get over the garden wall and into our passageway. We try to drive it back into the garden; it will probably be safer there, but it manages to escape up into the main garden. A little later Kay tells me it has disappeared into the shed. I catch it and return it to the enclosed garden. The young Jackdaw, almost certainly a sibling, returns briefly before flying off – straight into the cottage wall again!
Friday – Sugarloaf, Y Fâl – The morning is grey, damp and very humid. Despite a weather forecast stating one would be unlucky to catch a shower, it rained throughout the night. Good for the garden! Through the centre of Abergavenny. The Swan Hotel is being redeveloped. Along Castle Street and then into Pant Lane. Past the Air Training Corps. Opposite is a terrace of houses with either a rose or portcullis on the gable. The rose and portcullis were used as badges by the Nevills, Marquess of Abergavenny. to indicate their descent from Joan de Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and wife of Nevill, first Earl of Westmorland. The arms were officially granted on March 27th 1901, transferred to the town council on April 19th 1976. There are terraces of cottages built of uneven stones and larger properties built of the same stone but cut into regular blocks. Into Commercial Street. Across the A40. The Railway Inn stands on the corner, part of a row with doorways in a projection rising to the roof containing windows on the upper floor. Chapel Road leads into Cantref, a district of the town. The London and North Western Railway (Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Branch) once passed over the road, with Brecon Road Station and goods yard a short distance along the A40. The houses are very varied, one is simple Victorian Gothic, the next are Georgian. Some terraces, some good sized town houses. A pair are dated 1890. Any spaces are filled with 20th century houses of no merit. Christchurch is an iron structure with horizontal timber cladding. It was in corrugated iron and clad in timber in 1958. The church was built in 1879 by the Marquis of Abergavenny as a Chapel-of-ease to St Mary’s Parish Church, to serve the then growing community on his Nevill Hall estate land. Unusually, it was aisled and has a shingle broached spire on a square tower. As I head north-west through the district the houses become larger. Albany Road reaches a lane, Pentre Road beyond which is a substantial property, Skye House, built in 1947, then open fields. Past a couple of large modern houses and then into a modern housing estate. At Avenue Cottage, a lane runs northwards. Roses and Brambles are flowering in the road side hedges. Honeysuckle is also in flower in top of a wall. The wall rises to give Pentre House. The house is reported as being built in 1819 for Frederick Fredericks but there are said to be earlier parts surviving in the rear premises. The house had a major conservatory added in the late 19th century. Pennywort grows out of the gaps between the wall’s stones. The lane meets Pentre Lane at a house, Trysor. Opposite is Sugarloaf vineyard. Nant Iago pours down a series of artificial steps.
The lane climbs steeply and rather unrelentingly. The banks are covered in ferns, Cleavers, Dog Roses, Herb Robert, Ivy, Stinging Nettles, Black Bryony, Honeysuckle and Brambles. Pentre Farm is all dwellings now. Around a cattle grid. The lane turns sharply at Pen-yr-heol farm. I am soaked with sweat. A track heads on into the woods. Most of the bird song in the woods is Robin and Blue Tit. A Common Buzzard calls from above the canopy. Many of the trees, Oaks and Beeches, have twisted and bent trunks and branches. The old hollow way I am following is stony and deep in places. A couple of Pied Flycatchers fly onto perches a few feet from me, flicking their wings and launching into the air to grab a passing insect. They seems disinterested in my presence. The path is passing through Deri Fach, meaning small oak woodland. Some of the trees here are not old, probably planted in the second half of the 20th century. Many other have regrown after years of coppicing for charcoal.
Out of the woods and into a semi-open hillside of Bilberry and Bracken. Stunted Oaks are dotted around. Skylarks sing overhead. The path starts to climb more steeply. Below is St Mary’s Vale, carved out by Nant Iago. A Willow Warbler sings in the trees. The path swings round the top of Cwm Trosnant at the top of St Mary’s Vale and then starts the unbroken ascent of Sugarloaf. Meadow Pipits tweet all across the moorland. Dung beetles, Trypocopris vernalis, probably, are on sheep droppings. The climb is a struggle, I really need to lose some more weight! It is windy on the summit and the clouds makes the view very limited indeed. I stay only briefly before heading down again on another path. Down a steep path then across a wide expanse of moorland, Tŵyn Gwyn. Some of the lambs are still quite young. The track runs through Rholben, the Oak woodland on the other side St Mary’s Vale. A Blackbird and a Blackcap are in song. Many of the Oak trees here are much older than in the other side is the valley. On through the Oak woods. Several Wood Warblers are singing. A Song Thrush is in good voice. The path joins a lane which carries on down to Llwyn-du.
The lane joins another at Ty’r-ywen, a white painted farm. Past a large reservoir. A large house, The Chain, stands on the junction of Pentre Lane, Pentre Road and Chain Lane. The Chain was the residence of the Baker-Gabb family, who in the 19th century were an Abergavenny family with connections with the Abergavenny firm of solicitors Walford & Gabb. In 1817 Richard Baker Gabb junior, son of Baker Gabb the elder (1756-1821), was Steward to the Court Baron of Ewyas Lacy, and Steward to the Barony of Abergavenny. Through a kissing gate into Chapel Lane, a wee bit exclusive. The houses and gardens are extensive. Four houses have been created in the 20th century out of the Tythe Barn, which could be mediaeval or maybe 16th century. Courtleigh is a fine Art Deco house. Loud music is coming from Abergavenny Club, probably annoying the bowling club members no end! A school is having its sports day, more noise. The houses now are more modest late Victorian and Edwardian villas. The Victorian Gothic house at the bottom of the road, The Avenue, is something different with a statue of a saint in the gable, The Cloisters, reportedly St John’s School. Towards the town centre. On the corner is a small toll-house built in 1831. A modernist building has a bronze window frame with a large figure and 1906-1956. It is attached to Mulberry House, late 18th century and formerly a Youth Hostel and before that a convent of the Order of St Michael. The modern section was built in the 1950s and the whole owned until a few years ago by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Opposite is a Catholic primary school. The Catholic church of Our Lady and St Michael was built in 1858-60 and designed by J B Bucknall. The first church was built in Frogmore Street in 1690 and enlarged in 1740, this partially survives. King Henry VIII Grammar School from 1898-1962. It was built in 1898 and designed by E A Johnson. A row of houses are a mixture of early 18th and early 19th century. Next is Whitefield Presbyterian church, built between 1907-10 to the design of E A Johnson, Abergavenny’s leading Edwardian architect by J G Thomas & Sons, Abergavenny. On the opposite corner is Abergavenny Baptist church dated 1877 above entrance doors. The architect was George Morgan of Carmarthen, (1834-1915). Into Frogmore Street, the main shopping area. Barclays Bank is notable, opening as Birmingham, District and Counties Bank in 1892 and designed by E A Johnson. The shops are in buildings whose origins range from the 17th to late 19th centuries. From Frogmore Street I head back through the centre to the railway station. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Another warm morning. Swifts scream as they fly over the roof tops down the street. A Song Thrush is singing by the station, starting with a strangely mournful note before the more familiar repeated phrases. The River Lugg is running much lower than recently and is clear. The market is fairly large but there is a lot of baby clothes and toys and cheap nasty ceramics. The Kenwater is also clear. Water Crowsfoot is in flower. A Wood Pigeon is washing itself in the river by the old hard.
Home – We have not seen the young Jackdaw for several days so hopefully it has learned to fly and departed. The roses are giving possibly the best display we have ever had, but they are sending up long, flowerless shoots that need cutting back. It is difficult and soon my arms are covered in scratches. The potatoes are earthed up. Cucumber plants are put in the bed near the asparagus. The latter seems to have slowed down now and no further shoots can be seen. Silver has not been laying and seems to have pecked a bald patch at the base of her tail. I catch her, eventually with much noise, and dust her with mite powder.
During the afternoon we discover the juvenile Jackdaw is on a branch of a Leylandii in next door’s garden. S/he is very vocal, calling for its parents, presumably for food, almost continuously. On one occasion we see the parent feeding the youngster. There is plenty of activity at the feeders. The pair of Bullfinches are regular visitors along with Great, Blue and Coal Tits, House Sparrows, Robin, Wood Pigeons, Nuthatches, Blackbirds and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A Song Thrush passes through with a beak full of food.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Yet again it is warm, cloudy and rather muggy. A Blackcap sings loudly on the trees by the track. Dog and Field Roses are in blossom now. A largish patch of Biting Stonecrop is next to the hedge, brilliant yellow flowers against its green stems and grass. The meadow is painted with great splashes of yellow, Field Buttercups and Birds Foot Trefoils. Common Blue Damselflies are in the long grass in good numbers. A small area of scrape is exposed on the lake but very little birdlife is present, apart from the inevitable Canada Geese. A single Cormorant lifts of the water. A Reed Warbler is calling, jug jug, from the reed bed. A work party from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is erecting a fence near the hide. A lone Tufted Duck is at the western end where Yellow Flag are in flower. A few Mallard are near the island. Ox-eye Daisies flower profusely in front of the hide. There is a single orchid in the daisies. As usual it is a bit tricky to identify, many around here seem to be hybrids and I think this is a Common SpottedxNorthern Marsh. A Common Buzzard circles high above the island. I close the windows. Behind one is a Black-headed Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa coccinea. Behind another is a Garden Spider, Araneus diadenatus. Back to the meadow. A Chiffchaff is calling and a Whitethroat mutters. Just a few Meadow Brown butterflies are flitting across the grasses. There are sheep in the dessert apple orchard. Apples are developing, some covered in the web is a moth, possibly the Apple Ermine, Yponomeuta malinellus. The sun is now shining and it is getting hotter. The new pond is finished and has been fenced and padlocked off. However a lamb has still managed to get inside.
Home – I finish a job I have been meaning to do for a while. Grass has been creeping across the path through the fruit and vegetable garden, so I remove it back to the Victorian rope edging stones. They are in a fair condition considering their age. The grass and earth removed goes into the chicken run, the hens will soon reduce it to fine soil. The Nuthatches have bred, a youngster flies off the feeder into the willow tree. Lots of young Blue Tits are visiting the feeder. The young Jackdaw seems to have moved on, it is certainly more peaceful without it. Kay harvests some strawberries.
Friday – Eardisley-Almeley – Despite high scattered clouds and a slight breeze, it is still getting warm. I park in a former out of sight, out of mind council estate some way out of the village of Eardisley. The lane into the village centre is a mixture of older and fairly new properties. Approaching the main road is a pair of semi-detached cottages dated 1869. Cruck House is 14th century. Others are 16th and 17th century. A brick shelter stands over the pump. The Methodist chapel is undated but looks late 19th century. On the junction is the Tram Inn, 17th century with numerous changes and additions. Opposite is The New Strand, which houses the post office, café, bookshop and a pub. I turn up the Almeley road. The houses here are 20th century, some more recent. The lane leaves the village and continues between fields of cereals and sheep pastures. Hedgerow are overgrown with Cleavers and Honeysuckle. A Field Maple carries numerous winged seeds. A Dunnock sings. Over Gypsy Hall Bridge, the old walls replaced by railings. A modern house stands next to the stream. Gypsy Hall stands at the end of Holywell Dingle. A Common Buzzard lifts of the trees in the dingle. Several very large 20th century houses stand in spacious gardens. They are followed by an extensive cider or perry orchard. A Chiffchaff calls. A strip is woodland stands by the road, behind which is another large orchard. A grey stone farmhouse, Upcott Farm, is probably Georgian and an older, timber-framed farmhouse, Lower Upcott dating from the 17th or early 18th century, stands nearby. Little Upcott is a black-and-white timber-framed cottage also of the late 17th or early 18th century with a massive extruded sandstone chimney stack. A large private lake trickles water into a culvert under the road. It is fed on the far side by a stream running through Coke’s Yeld Dingle. The lake was dug after 1774 as it does not appear on the Nieuport Estate map. The stream then runs into a small culvert under the embankment of the disused railway. The desiccated corpse of a Lesser Stag Beetle lies by the roadside.
The railway continues alongside the road, just a raised ridge in the fields. Almeley station is a private house. The railway was the Kington and Eardisley line, opening on 3rd August 1874. The station closed in 1940 and was a cattle shed for some years but has now been converted into a small dwelling. The lane turns right into the village passing the ivy covered stanchions of the removed railway bridge. A footpath leads into cool woodland past Batch Cottage. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. The path is called Vaughan’s Way and passes through The Batch. Over a footbridge. There is the scent of wild garlic in the air but the ground is covered in Himalayan Balsam leaves. The path crosses the stream by another footbridge and beyond is the motte and bailey of Oldcastle Twt. The motte is large but its layout is obscured by the trees growing in it. It held a timber castle. Back down into valley carved by the stream. Onto a track passing Ross Cottage, probably 18th century. A pair of Bullfinches fly up the stream. There is only a trickle of water but it is clear much more has rushed down here recently, scouring the bed clean, exposing the Raglan Mudstone Formation of the Lower Old Red Sandstone. Past two more cottages, the second with a summer house hidden in the trees above the stream. The track joins the road beside Summer House in Almeley Wooton, part of which formed a mediaeval building with a central hall open to the roof and probably cross-wings at the south-west and north-east ends. It was largely rebuilt in the early 17th century and altered in early 20th century. The house was occupied by an early Quaker Roger Pritchard. There is a triangle of roads. On the Lyonshall lane junction is the Primitive Methodist chapel of 1870, now a dwelling. Ladylift Villa is a fine house of 1891. At the next point of the triangle is a Friends Meeting House of 1672, donated by Roger Pritchard. Two of the Quakers who worshipped there, Edward Prichard, and Edward’s brother-in-law, John Eckley, were involved with William Penn in setting up the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682.
The lane heads back down towards Almeley. In the distance is Hay Bluff and the Brecon Beacons. The cloud has thickened and the wind is a little more blustery. A Merlin sweeps over the hedge and flashes down the road, closer to the tarmac before riding over the hedgerow again. Into Almeley. The housing is mainly 20th century. A substantial grey stone house is opposite the pub (farm shop and deli) The Bells. Down the road are a yellow AA village sign giving mileage to Hereford, Kingston and London (147 miles in London’s case) and on the corners of a house, old street signs pointing the way to Leominster and Letton. Opposite is St Mary’s church.
There are stones in the church that predate the oldest part of the building which is the base of the tower, built around 1200. The nave and aisles were built in the episcopate of Bishop Orleton in 1320-1330 in the Decorated style. The nave roof is 16th century with two bays painted with the Tudor rose on yellow, blue, black and red panels. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and contains an early 20th century organ with oak case, inscribed W G Vowles, Bristol. The tower door is Jacobian. Some pews have 16th century carved panelling with rosettes, dolphins, monsters, arabesques and other enrichments, from former gallery. The glass is Victorian. The south porch is probably 14th century as is its fine nail-studded battens and trellis framed door. The church was restored about 1865, and the tower in 1903.
The name Almeley comes from Elm Meadow. It was the birthplace of Sir John Oldcastle, a Lollard sympathizer who was eventually executed for treason in 1417; he is presumed to be the basis for Shakespeare’s character of Falstaff. The castle, Oldfield Twt was in the possession of Roger de Lacy. It was occupied by Roger Pychard in 1242. Across from the church is the stone castle tump. The castle was constructed in the early 13th century at the time of King John. William Cantilupe was the constable in 1216. Henry III visited in September 1231. In the time of Henry VII, the castle was bought by Thomas Monnington of Sarnesfield. After 1670, the castle passed to the Pembers and then the Foleys, both of Nieuport House. There are the remains of fish ponds here too.
Almeley House is a large Georgian house opposite the church, built by Lord Foley as the Agent’s house for his Nieuport estate. Almeley Manor dates from the 14th century. It was known as Court House as the court-leet was held here. Elderflower is in full blossom now, large creamy disks with their distinctive scent. I return down the same road I took from Eardisley. The alternatives all mean a long stretch of busy A-road. Red Campion flowers profusely along the side of the road. Meadowsweet is beginning to come into flower. Past the orchards again where a Grey Heron flies over. At Gypsy Hall, House Martins sweep across the fields. Further on a Swallow zigzags inches above the tarmac. A Pied Wagtail is in a field of potatoes. Thick dark grey clouds loom overhead. Drops of rain fall as I reach the car. Route
Sunday – Leominster – There was a brief spell of rain around 6 o’clock this morning but it bright and fresh now. There will be no House Martins on the terrace of houses down the road this year as scaffolding up. Besides I have not seen a single House Martin this year in the area. Over the Lugg where a pallet is stuck on the rocks and will require quite a lot more water to come down to shift it. The river is very clear. Easters Meadow is high with grasses and the leaves of Redshank which have distinctive black marks. They are a member of the Dock family. A Song Thrush sings beside the river.
The market is larger than expected, I thought the rain would put people off. Extraordinarily there is an armoured personnel carrier, apparently Russian, beside the auction sheds. The Kenwater is also low and gin clear. The family of Grey Wagtails that live around the footbridge have been missing this year, which is sad.
Home – We allow the area around the fruit trees to run pretty wild. But this means the plant thugs try to take over – Stinging Nettles, Brambles and White Bryony – so I spend some time getting scratched and stung getting them out. We allow one large nettle patch, they are food for Peacock butterfly caterpillars, not that we ever see any! Wild Strawberries are also rampant down here so I pick some to add to the bowl of domestic strawberries Kay has just harvested. There are some rogue potatoes by the broad beans so I dig them out in the hope of enough for dinner tonight but am disappointed, just half a dozen tiddlers. We are keeping on top of the vines this year, cutting off runners every week.
Monday – Great Dunmow – I park in a cul-de-sac on the eastern side of this Essex town. The sun is shining and it is hot although a light breeze makes it bearable. The lane is Station Road but there is no sign of the station. It lay at the bottom of the road, on the Great Eastern Bishop’s Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree Branch. The station and line now are part of the B1256 bypass road. The line opened in 1869 and finally closed in 1969. Back towards the town centre. Buildings are a mixture of a few late 18th through to 21st century. An early 19th century toy shop, Saracens Cottage, has plaster reliefs on the front and emblems, called pargetting. It is a feature of many buildings in the east of England. Past the Drill Hall. A road junction houses the War Memorial. The houses are mainly late Georgian, although some date back to the 14th century. The Post Office, now an art gallery, is dated 1938.
Great Dunmow, stands on the Roman Stane Street between the Roman capital of Colchester and St Albans. It was strategically important and was burnt by Boudica in 70CE. There were two settlements, one in the south, near the old station where Stane Street passed and another at Church End to the north-east of the town. Both were reoccupied by Saxons who named the town, Dunemowe, Meadow on the Hill. In 1215, Robert Fitzwater, Lord of Dunmow, was a leader of the barons at the signing of the Magna Carta by King John. The town grew prosperous as a borough in Tudor times on wool and agriculture and has stayed so. It sided with the Commonwealth in the Civil War. The Dunmow Flitch, a side of bacon given to a couple who have been happily married for a year and a day was referred to by Chaucer.
Across a large car park to The Maltings, the town museum, which is, of course, closed today. The Catholic church of Our Lady and St Anne Lines looks like a mid 20th century block of council flats. Built in the late 1960s, it replaced a small chapel established in 1853. Past the old dairy and site of the gas works and onto a footpath that runs across rough meadows and the recreation ground. The River Chelmer runs through the meadows. A Chiffchaff calls from the river bank, House Sparrows chirp in Hawthorn bushes. A large housing estate is across the river, still being built. A circus is being set up in the corner of the recreation ground.
Out of the recreation ground past a large 17th century cottage, Porter’s Yard. The Angel and Harp is 17th century. Past the old National School built in 1836. A bridge crosses the river. A terrace of 19th century cottages stands on the far side. Before the bridge is another house with plaster reliefs on the wall. It is the former Six Bells public house, originally built around 1500. Down Church Street and Church View to St Mary’s church. Houses in the street are 18th and 19th century, Victoria House was formerly a shop. St Mary’s Side is the vicarage and a complex building around the 15th century and earlier core.
A church is first mentioned in the will of a Saxon, Thurston, in 1045. However, given its status as a town during the Saxon period it seems likely there has been a church here since the 7th century. Post Conquest, Dunmow was the property of Ralph Baynard, Sheriff of Essex, who constructed Baynard’s Castle in the City of London. The church of St Mary the Virgin was built around 1250. A century later it was almost completely rebuilt in the Decorated style. The tower was erected in the first half of the 15th century. Around the same time the arcades of the nave were rebuilt, the chancel-arch was rebuilt with the old stones and widened, and the south porch was added. A gallery from pre-reformation is above the south aisle. St John’s Chapel dates to around 1450. There are six bells; 1st, 3rd and 4th by John Darbie, 1671-4; 2nd without inscription or date and 5th by Robert Oldfield, 1613. The font is 15th century. Outside there are gargoyles on the roof edge. The church was restored in 1872-3, by G.E. Street and again in 1907 by R. Creed.
Beyond the church is the graveyard. Beside it is a field of wheat at the end of which is a concrete pill box. Great Dunmow was located on the GHQ Line, a series of defences and concrete pillboxes. Beyond the wheat field is a woodland in which there is part of a moat which encircled The Old Parsonage. The farmer has left space around the edge is the fields. In one corner there are little piles of fine soil like volcanos. They may be the nests of Tawny Mining Bees but the insects entering them look more like Digger wasps. Up Lime Tree Hill, where the Lime trees are green and yellow, leaves and fruit. At the top of the road is the Clock House, a three storey manor house of the mid 16th and early 17th century and The Limes of a similar date although parts may be older. Along The Causeway. Alma Cottages have their name in relief. Like the other cottages and terraces here, they are late Georgian, some with earlier cores. Into North Street. Brook House has a 16th century core. Past Doctor’s Pond with Canada Geese and Mallard, good numbers of young of both species. It is reputed the pond was used for breeding leeches for medical use, hence the name. It is also believed Lionel Lukin used the pond to develop the first unimmersible lifeboat in 1784. The Star Inn, a 17th and 18th century inn still has its stables, now hotel bedrooms. Route
Tuesday – Chelmsford – After an overcast dawn, the clouds are beginning to break up. It is warm. I park on the northern side of the city. Through a modern housing estate to Admirals Park. The park is named after Rear Admiral John Faithful Fortescue, who once owned Writtle Lodge near the footbridge on the River Can. This lodge was bequeathed to his brother William Fortescue after the Rear Admiral’s death in 1820 and was demolished some time around 1848. A three arch bridge over the River Can is the site of Beach’s Mill. Originally called Mochel Mill, then Much Mill, it processed corn and manufactured chamois leather. In 1859, William and John Beach of Bermondsey took over the mill and developed Whittle Oil and Leather Mills, employing 80 men. However, within a year much was destroyed by fire. Chaffinches, Chiffchaff and Wood Pigeons are all calling. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in the distance. Over through the park which is being well used by joggers and cyclists. West Park Pitch and Putt is on the site of William Bleach’s son brick making works. By the mid 1920s, Bleach’s Brick Works and Foundry was a successful enterprise. The site was sold to Sankey’s for £30000 in 1945. Blackcaps sing from thickets. A sign post was designed by Andrew Rowe in 1998 in cast iron. An iron footbridge takes the path bank over the Cam. Under the A1016. Under an 18-arch Victorian viaduct carrying the railway line, once the Great Eastern Railway, Colchester line. The river banks are dominated by Stinging Nettles. This is now Central Park, which opened in 1894. A stone footbridge built in the late 19th century crosses the river. Large modern apartment blocks stand on the far side. My route continues through the park. Beds of roses are in full flower. Through flower beds, past a café to a large lake with two fountains. The lake was created when earth was removed for the railway embankment. There are the usual Canada Geese and Mallard, the drakes of the latter going into eclipse. A young, squeaking Moorhen chick is searching the grass for food. Its parents seen unconcerned about it. The railway line is busy. A Freightliner diesel pulls a train of shipping containers.
The park is south of the city centre. A large roundabout is planted with bananas and palms. A large multi-storey car park stands next to it. This was the site of the cattle market, moved here from the High Street in 1880 and closed in 1963. In the other direction, across the river is the cricket ground. A diversion into the city shopping centre to purchase some charger cables. Over Stone Bridge and off alongside the river. Another bridge crosses the River Can just below the confluence with the River Chelmer. A footpath heads East past the Essex Record Office. A large weir blocks the river. A portage channel has rubber rollers to help haul boats across. An Environment Agency boat chugs up and down the river. Yellow water-lilies are in flower on the water. Moulsham mill stands across the river. A mill here is listed in the Domesday Book. The existing wooden building dates back to 1819 with substantial repairs carried out in 1860 and further brick built extensions in 1890. It was a water Mill, with grain being transported from Maldon along the rivers Blackwater and Chelmer. During the middle of the nineteenth century the Mill was converted to a steam operation. The waterways continued to be used, with coal for the engines being brought to the Mill by horse drawn barges. Messrs W H Marriage & Son, a local Chelmsford based family business operated the Mill for 200 years until its closure in 1971. It is now a business centre. On this side, a long hoarding runs along the path. A housing estate is being developed within the hidden area. The path comes to a bridge over the canal, the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation which ran from Springfield Basin in the city to Heybridge Basin near Maldon where there is a sea lock.
Along the canal side past a late 18th century canal bridge and the lock. Modern apartment blocks line this side and the new housing estate will line the other. A drawbridge crosses the entrance to a small marina. A road leads away from the canal. An area of waste ground has Evening Primrose, Red and White Valerian, Ragwort, Mallow, Black Mustard and Teasels. Into Navigation Road lined with Victorian terraces. A corner shop is now a dwelling. Back down to the end of the canal at Cressy Quay and Springfield Basin. Into the city centre. The River Chelmer flows through the late 20th century shopping precinct. Into High Street. Occasionally there is a trace of a far older building behind the façades. The Saracen’s Head Hotel has a 16th century core encased in the 18th century. Into Tindal Square where the former Shire Hall looks back down the High Street. It was designed and built by John Johnson, County Surveyor 1790-1 with a classic façade of Portland stone. The third storey has 3 central high reliefs in the window spaces, representing Justice, Wisdom and Mercy. Opposite is a bank built in 1919. In Tindal Square is a bronze statue of Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal, 1776-1846, born in Chelmsford and educated at Grammar School. He became Solicitor-General and Chief Justice of Common Pleas and figured in several celebrated cases as judge. The statue by E H Bailey was erected in 1850. A large red brick building, part former Barclays Bank 1905, design by Sir Reginald Blomfield and the former Post Office, with Edward VII on the façade. Into New Street. On the corner is the old Police Station built in the early 20th century with the emblem of Essex. A long dark grey brick building consists of several late 18th century houses. Opposite is the cathedral.
Chelmsford has a long history. A Neolithic and a late Bronze Age settlement have been found in the Springfield suburb, and the town was occupied by the Romans. A Roman fort was built in 60CE and a civilian town grew up around it. The town was given the name of Caesaromagus (the market place of Caesar). This name is usually reserved for large important towns, which Caesaromagus was not. Some believe the site was going to be a planned regional capital but it never developed. In 1199, following the commissioning of a bridge over the River Can by Maurice, Bishop of London, William of Sainte-Mère-Eglise was granted a Royal Charter for Chelmsford to hold a market, marking the origin of the modern town. The city’s name is derived from Ceolmaer’s ford which was close to the site of the present High Street stone bridge. In the Domesday Book of 1086, the town was called Celmeresfort. Its proximity to the old the Londinium-Camulodonum (London-Colchester) Roman road (the modern A12) ensured the early prosperity of Chelmsford. There was a leather industry in Chelmsford and there were skinners and tanners. There was also a wool industry. A friary in the town was closed in the dissolution but a Grammar School was founded in 1551. In 1789 an Act of Parliament formed a body of men called Improvement Commissioners with powers to pave, clean and light the streets of Chelmsford (with oil lamps). In 1797, the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation improved communications between Chelmsford and the rest of the country. The railway reached Chelmsford in 1843 leading to an economic growth. New industries grew up in the town especially engineering and in the late 19th century for an industry making electrical equipment. In 1899 Marconi opened the world’s first radio factory in Chelmsford and in 1912 a purpose built factory was built. Chelmsford became a city in 2012.
The church of St Mary the Virgin, St Peter and St Cedd became the cathedral in 1914. There was probably a 13th century church on the site but it was completely rebuilt in the 15th century comprising an aisled nave, chancel with north and south chapels, a west tower and south porch. The two-storey south porch has finely crafted flint flushwork called by Pevsner as among the best in Essex. The spire was rebuilt in 1749. The nave collapsed in 1800 following excavation in the vaults, and was rebuilt by John Johnson. Chancel and south chapel was restored by Frederic Chancellor 1862, who also designed the north transept and an outer north aisle was added in 1873. The chancel east window and clerestory is by A W Blomfield, 1877-8. There was further restoration by Chancellor in the 1880s. The two east bays of the chancel were added in 1926-8 to designs by A K Nicholson. The large complex of vestries and the original chapter house were added in 1929, also to designs by Nicholson. A new chapter house was built elsewhere, and the chapter house converted to a song school in 1990, and the whole complex was refurbished in the early 21st century by Andrew Murdoch of Fitzroy Robinson. In the supporting pillars of the tower are two tall cupboards which were used to store banners for processions and props for plays in the 16th century. The Tudor Gothic nave ceiling (painted and gilded in 1961 by Stephen Dykes Bower) is by Johnson, and has rose-window roundels. A Westmoreland slate font on a bronze base and Westmoreland slate altar was designed by Robert Potter in 1983-4; Westmoreland slate cathedra by John Skelton; screens to north-west and south-west chapels, and steel and bronze ambos by Guiseppe Lund. The glass is 19th and 20th century including four windows in the nave by A K Nicholson after 1927, the west window of south-west chapel also by Nicholson as a war memorial, and the east window of the Mildmay chapel by A K Nicholson studios, 1950-1, replacing bomb-damaged glass. A figure of St Peter is by John Hutton, 1969.
Back into Duke Street. The Golden Fleece pub claims to date from 1650. Next to it is a vast white stone building with a foundation stone is 1933, the Essex County Council offices. In retrospect, it is unfortunate given the date is the building that short columns above the door portico are federated with swastikas. A new annex , library and entrance has been built into the front in New Street. A large red brick building of 1909 in Duke Street is the older County Hall. On along Duke Street. A bar was the Quakers Meeting House from 1824-1957. It later became the Law Library. Opposite, Chelmsford station has been rebuilt. The Railway Tavern had some age. Down Victoria Road South is the Central Baptist church. Next to it is a red brick building of 1905. The road comes out at the banana and palm roundabout. Through the Memorial Garden laid out in the 1960s. Through Central Park again then up to Rainsford Road. The modern Quaker Meeting House stands by a large road junction. Next to it stands a gate house. The Globe pub looks 1930s mock Tudor. Opposite is a fine thatched cottage followed by a Victorian terrace. Back into Admiral Park and through Tower Gardens. The tower is a rotunda which stood over a water supply in the market place from 1814. It was relocated as a lamp standard and traffic island to the junction of Springfield Road and High Street in 1852. In 1914 Chelmsford Council purchased the land on which the park stands. It was called Tower Gardens as there was a Victorian water tower nearby which was demolished in the 1960s. The rotunda was taken down from the city centre and moved here in 1940. Then along the main road again to where I am parked. Route
Maldon – A town known these days possibly more for its salt than anything else. It lies on the Blackwater estuary and the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal starts here, ending as stated above in Chelmsford. The High Street is bustling. The buildings are a mixture of Georgian, some earlier buildings including a 15th century warehouse and later infill. Silver Street looks typically Georgian. The Blue Boar hotel is a former coaching Inn. It is a complex mix of late 14th, 16th and early 19th centuries. The Bell Inn is a fine Georgian house, but the rear range is 16th century. Cottages face it, mainly Georgian but again some have earlier origins. Maldon Court School was a house built in the early 19th century.
The church of All Saints is 13th century but there were earlier churches as both All Saints and St Peter’s were conveyed by Robert Mantell to the Abbot and Canons of Beesleigh Abbey in a charter of Richard I in 1189. The building is constructed of mixed flint and rubble with some limestone and ashlar dressings. The tower is a very unusual triangular shape, the only one known in England and possibly unique throughout Europe. There is a Sanctus bell in the shingled spire. It is 15th century and inscribed Fynn Ricardus et Sueyn Johannes, Richard Fynn being the vicar in 1390. The south wall contains niches in the buttresses which hold statues: Mellitus, Italian monk and companion of St Augustus; St Cedd, Bishop of the East Saxons in 654; Brihtnoth, Ealdorman of Essex who led the Saxons at the Battle of Maldon in 991CE; Robert Mantell, Lord of the Manor in 1170; Sir Robert D’arcy, MP for Maldon in 1422; Dr Thomas Plume, born in Maldon and a great benefactor to his town. The church was remodelled in 1728. In 1858 the south aisle and spire were restored; 1867 saw more restoration and reseating with further work in 1877.
The Moot Hall was a tower house built for Sir Robert D’Arcy in the early 15th century. In the 16th century the house was sold to a Maldon merchant and was again sold to the Borough of Maldon in 1576 for £55 when it was used as a court. From 1836-88 the ground floor was used as a Police Station and housed cells. After 1889 it housed the Essex Constabulary until the Police Station in West Square was built in the early 20th century. Down the High Street. St Peter’s church was probably 12th century with a tower built in the late 15th century. The nave collapsed in 1665 and on its site by Dr Thomas Plume built a library. The grammar school was on the ground floor. The library was given to the town on his death in 1704. It is one of the oldest public libraries in England, containing over 7000 volumes, mainly of the 16th and 17th centuries. King George’s Place is Art Deco. Opposite is the Methodist Church erected in 1861. The date 1932 is mentioned on the outside and I suspect it was extensively rebuilt then.
Down Church Street to the church of St Mary the Virgin. The church stands overlooking the River Blackwater. It has been a beacon for shipping for centuries. Pottery of the 7th century and post holes indicate there were timber churches here for some 500 years before the present church was built. The nave dates from 1130. In the early 14th century the chancel arch fell and was rebuilt along with the tower. The tower arch was blocked in the 16th century and the tower was repaired and the top storey rebuilt around 1628. The church was restored and enlarged by Frederic Chancellor in 1885/7. The rood stairs were uncovered during the restoration along with three mediaeval niches in the chancel. Mediaeval heraldic tiles were found at the foot of the rood stairs. A nearby monument commemorates John Fenne, Merchant of Calais, who died on 15th August 1486. The pulpit is Jacobean. The font is late 17th century. The east window has glass from 1912. A window in the south aisle was designed by Mark Angus in 1991 to commemorate the millennium of the Battle of Maldon. There are six bells, 4th by Miles Graye, 1636.
Down the hill to the Hythe. There was a Roman port here. The name Maldon is first recorded in 913 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it appears as Maeldun. The name comes from mǣl meaning monument or cross and dȕn meaning hill, thus monument hill. East Saxons settled the area in the 5th century and the area to the south is still known as the Dengie Peninsula after the Dæningas. It became a significant Saxon port with a hythe or quayside and artisan quarters. King Edward the Elder is thought to have stayed here while fighting the Danish settlers who had overrun North Essex and parts of East Anglia. A Viking raid was beaten off in 924. On 11th August 991 the Battle of Maldon took place during the reign of Æthelred the Unready. Earl Byrhtnoth and his thegns led the English against a Viking invasion. The battle ended in an Anglo-Saxon defeat. After the battle Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury and the aldermen of the south-western provinces advised King Æthelred to buy off the Vikings rather than continue the armed struggle. The result was a payment of 10,000lbs of silver, the first example of Danegeld in England. The battle is the subject of an epic poem which only fragments remain. At Domesday the town was the property of the King. Henry II granted a town charter in 1171. The town was an important port throughout the Middle Ages, particularly the export of wool. Maldon’s first railway link was a branch line to Witham opened in 1846. Later a second line linked Maldon with Woodham Ferrers on the Crouch Valley line between Southminster and Wickford line. The town was also the location of the first self-service Tesco supermarket in the country established in 1956, which I am not sure is a claim to fame or ignoblity!
The Hythe is bustling with tourists. Sail lofts have been converted into a number of uses and pubs are busy. A number of interesting boats are moored alongside the docks. Several are Thames Barges, the oldest being Centaur (built 1895). Another barge, Pudge, was involved in the Dunkirk rescue in WWII. Nearby is the Bath Wall, where a local group of fishermen held The Tin Shed Parliament, a regular gathering of prominent fishing families. The Blackwater estuary is a complex of mud banks. A Little Egret stalks the water’s edge.
Wednesday – Aythorpe Roding – The morning starts overcast. There is rain in the air and a blustery wind blows. The church is St Mary the Virgin is a distance from what is now the main village, which is actually Roundbush Green. This is Aythorpe Roding, a large farm and a hall. It is suggested that there was a village here but it was abandoned during the Black Death of 1348/9. The lychgate stands alone, whatever stopped animals getting into the churchyard, a strong hedge maybe, has gone. The church is a small flint and rubble building of the 13th century. The walls have been rendered with a thick layer of cement. There is a small weather-board tower with a shingled spire. Two bell ropes hang down. A small harmonium stands on the west wall, clearly unused. There is some Victorian glass. The body of the church is split equally between the chancel and nave. A larger harmonium stands in the chancel by the pulpit which is raised some four feet on a wooden post. There are six names on the war memorial, although a framed inscription names twenty eight who served. One name is recorded for WWII.
Kettering – Into the town from the south. Up London Road past late 19th and 20th century houses. A brick and tile works stood here in the 19th century. London Road Hall was founded in 1891 by Charles Pollard. It is still an evangelical church. Opposite is St Mary’s hospital, formerly the Kettering Union Workhouse. St Edwards Catholic church was begun in May 1939 and designed by the architect E. Bower Norris of Stafford. Next to the church is a large house in Victorian Gothic of 1886. At a main junction a former pub in Victorian Baroque is now assume sort of happy clappy establishment. Drovers Hall is dated 1880. Opposite is a London Road Cemetery with lodge and chapels. The chapels of 1861, one Anglican, the other non-conformist, stand either side of an archway with a spire. Beyond the archway is a long tree-lined walk with a cross at the end. William Timpson, who died in 1929, is buried here. He built an extensive shoe shop and factory business.
Kettering traces its origins to an early, unwalled Romano British settlement. The name means the place (or territory) of Ketter’s kinsfolk. It was variously Cytringan, Kyteringas and Keteiringan in the 10th century. There was unlikely to have been anything more than a few farmsteads before this. The town was granted a market charter by Henry III on March 17th 1227. In 17th century woollen cloth was made in Kettering; later, silk and a velvety-fabric called plush, were woven here. The present town grew in the 19th century with the development of the boot and shoe industry. Midland Railway Company opened Kettering station in 1857.
Across the road is the Corn Market Hall. Opposite the United Reform church of 1898 by Cooper and Williams in a modified late Gothic style. There is a large car park opposite and behind the market hall is the large rambling brick building of Kettering Council. Across the car park is what seems to be the base of a pillar dedicated to G H Watson June, Joint Managing Directory, 1885-1944. It gives no clue of what he was managing director. A twin towns toposcope is on top is the memorial. Behind is the manor house, now the museum. It is a 17th century building, refronted in the 18th century, perhaps incorporating earlier structure of house, known as Abbot’s house and belonging to Peterborough monastery.
Through a gateway in a wall to the church of St Peter and Paul. It is a late mediaeval church built in the second half of the 15th century in Oolitic limestone. It has an impressive tower and spire, each built exactly 88 feet in height although two feet were added to the spire in the 1887 restoration. There is a fine west window by Kempe dated 1893. The nave is large and high. The rope of a bell hangs by the west door. The bell was made in Kettering in 1772 by Thomas Eayre and is sung before and after funerals, being named in memory of Jack Warwick, a local funeral director.
From the church the lane leads to the market place. The Corn Exchange, built in 1863 to the plans of architect Edmund Francis Law. It screened its first film show on 9th February 1903. It was taken over by Leon Vint and opened as Vint’s Electric Palace on 16th October 1909. It was taken over by a new operator and was renamed Palace Theatre from 14th June 1912. Films were still screened, but it was closed in June 1914. Alterations were carried out and it re-opened in August 1914. New operators took over and it was re-named Hippodrome Cinema from 5th November 1917. It was not a great success and the Hippodrome Cinema was closed in January 1923. The Royal Hotel was built in 1878 in Jacobean style. Formerly The White Hart Hotel, where Queen Victoria stayed 1844. Charles Dickens stayed in this hotel, 1835, as reporter for the Morning Chronicle covering the Northamptonshire elections. Owned by the Duke of Buccleugh until 1896. Other buildings look like former banks but many no longer serve this purpose, although the banks are still here in different buildings.
Into the High Street. HSBC Bank is in a building built for London City & Midland Bank. The Midland bank as it was later called became HSBC in 1992. An older building next to it once had the date in the soft sandstone trim but is has eroded away. Next to it is an Art Deco cinema, now a closed bingo hall. NatWest is in a fine neo-baroque building of 1901 designed by Blackwell and Thomson of Leicester and Kettering. The next building is also dated 1901. Others are of a similar age although modern buildings have been inserted here and there. A market selling second hand junk is in the High Street. The street enters a large square where there is a modern clock, broken of course. In Gold Street is the Toller church, United Reform, built in 1723 on the site of The Great Meeting, the first non conformist church. On to the street past a large modern mall. Beyond is the Fuller Baptist church. It originated in the 1730s and was named after Andrew Fuller who helped found the Baptist Missionary Society. The chapel was enlarged in 1805 then rebuilt in 1861 by architect Edward Sharman of Wellingborough. Into Silver Street where again there are three storey late Victorian buildings over shops. Towards the bus station. The shops are smaller businesses and there are a fair number empty.
By the bus station, which is in the Horsemarket, is a large, typically flamboyantly designed Victorian pub, with vegetation growing out of the stonework, now a nightclub. Across the road, up Green Street is the Staples Building, now apartments. This factory was built for Abbot and Bird in 1873 and they are noted as still operating here until around 1914 when it was bought by James Partridge, a shoe mercer and manufacturer. By 1924 it had become a printing works. Streets of late Victorian terraces and villas lay to the east of St Mary’s Street. Matabele Terrace gives a clue to its age! Back to the Corn Market Hall past the London Road Congregational church Sunday school and institute.
Friday – Pumlumon – The day after the solstice and it is 3˚C, 2˚ in Rhayader. Up a track from Pont Rhydgaled, where the River Wye passes under the A44. The sun lights the tops of the hills but has not reached here yet and my fingers are feeling the cold. A car beside the track is covered in frost. A Swallow skims past. A Red Kite flies over. Chaffinches call in a stand of conifers at Llidiart Coch. A stream pours over green mossy rocks which a Grey Wagtail searches for insects. High on the hillside Y Foel sheep proceed in single file. A Meadow Pipit watches from a fence. The River Wye flows through rocks in the valley. A bridge crosses the river at Cefn Brwyn. A Mallard flies off upstream past the pillars of a weir. A new track has been scoured across the hillside to the west, part of the rally car circuits around here. A Cuckoo calls in the distance, the only one I have heard this year. Weirdly a radio is playing in a fenced off area containing hundreds of young pheasants.
The track comes to a modern barn next to an old quarry. To the west are the ruins of an old mine. The mines here date from the 1860s, closing at the end of the 19th century. The south-east flank of the Pumlumon Dome is an anticlinorial culmination composed of late Ordovician strata and surrounded by early Silurian strata, respectively termed the Van Formation and the Gwestyn Formation. Veins of galena yielded lead. To the south, Y Drum rises steeply. Past another group of modern barns and sheds, labelled a motor sport complex. A pair of Red-legged Partridge scurry up the track. Grey Wagtails are numerous. Across a stream, Nant-y-Cwdry. To the west is Pen Luest-y-Carn, with a cairn on its summit, just a pimple from here. The midges are starting to fly in the warming air. Past Bryn Frith, a small hill. Another pen of pheasants lays beside a conifer plantation. The stream below is the Nant Iago. Part the spoil heaps and ruins of another mine. A valley rises beyond the ridge above the mine that leads to the source of the Wye. Behind, beyond the ridge of Llechwedd Hirgoed is the forest of Peraidd Fynydd and beyond again the wind farm on Cefn Cross. The windmills are all stationary as there is not a breath of a breeze. Another disused shaft lies in a small cwm.
The sky is brilliant cobalt and cloudless. A Red Kite glides over. I try to rest for a moment but flies and midges soon move me on. The track enters the vast Hafren Forest, all conifers. Areas to the north-west have been recently cleared. There is supposed to be a footpath that will shortcut the loops of the forestry track but the plantation is impenetrable. The track winds its way through the forest crossing a tiny tributary of the Afon Hore. Further on the Hore plunges down a rocky defile. Now a footpath does head up into the plantation. A disused mine confirms my position on the map, which is on the edge of the forest under Hore Fach. There is no reference to this path, it appears it has been created by the Forestry Commission but is yet to appear on the OS maps. Above the hillside, the wingtips of a hovering Common Buzzard flash like lights. In pausing to write this I get covered in midges. Bilberry leaves are splattered with Cuckoo spit. The path runs upwards past a small gorge where there are numerous mine workings. A stone wall has been built and the stream runs around it.
The path joins a forestry track. A Tree Pipit soars and parachutes down to a small conifer. The path crosses an area that has been cleared leaving stunning views south and east. The east end of Llyn Clywedog can just be seen. A short detour westwards arrives at Carreg Wen standing stone. The stone is of veined quartz some 6 feet high and probably from the Bronze Age. A Mistle Thrush flies by. The track continues passing large stacks of logs. Below is the River Severn, Afon Hafren, a stream. The track meets the Severn Way. A pause on a bench by the track is again brief as flies descend on me. There are some beautiful grasses growing out of shale chippings, probably one of the Fescus and Yorkshire Fog, although my knowledge of grass varieties in non-existent. A well maintained path follows the ever diminishing stream until up amongst great tussocks of peat is a brown pool, the source of the mighty River Severn.
There are sheep everywhere, some sloughing off their fleeces. I press on westwards. A rock has Fox spraint on it. A blue pool is the source is Nant Gelligogau. The path continues to a pile of white quartzite stones and a fallen stone post engraved WWW 1865, along with graffiti. The initials refer to William Watkins Wynn, who was a very rich landowner, owning vast areas of land in Wales, even extending across the border into Shropshire. There are seven of these markers across the hills so it is likely that they marked a boundary to some of his land. The view northwards is of mountain range of Cader Idris. Eastwards are two large cairns. To the south the peaks of Pumlumon Arwysyli and Pen Luest-y-Carn. Skylarks sing above.
Back down the path to the forestry track them down a path that is the Severn Way, following the stream that is already much larger. It is less than two miles from the source and already the stream had carved a deep valley through which it runs. The path winds its way down into the valley past some massive boulders. Across the river via a footbridge and into Craig Wen. Rosebay Willowherbs are yet to flower. The path reaches a forestry track at Rhaeadr Blaenafren, waterfalls. I look for the path I could not find on the other side of the forest, hopefully it will get through. It turns out to be a major forestry track. Through the forest. Where the conifers have been cleared, Rowan, Birch, Willows and Oak are recolonising. A Chiffchaff searches a Rowan. Over Nant Tallwyth. The track climbs. A Willow Warbler sings. Foxgloves flower in open areas. A site had been recently quarried, probably for chippings for the tracks. The section of footpath that cuts of the corner is simply missing again, so I simply follow the track in a big loop. A gold and black striped dragonfly darts past. Chocolate winged moth with a yellow body and two red spots near its head lands on the path, a Red-necked Footman, Atolmis rubricollis. A Common Lizard, Zootoca vivipara, is on the track. The name common is sadly something of a misnomer these days.
Just as I leave the forest a party of walkers pass, the first people I have met today. A Small Hearth butterfly rests briefly on the track. It is a long, got walk back down the tracks. A Red Kite circles, checking out the Pheasant pens. The rocks in the Wye have been eroded into strange shapes. Back over the river. Small fish swim in the brown, peaty water. Route with some GPS Wobbles
Sunday – Leominster – The hot weather seems to have set in. Last night I had to water the garden extensively using tap water as the butts are nearly exhausted. Nothing is looking too bad but the broad beans are not filling out as well as expected and the potatoes are looking thirsty. This morning I have to cut a number of branches off the Bramley apple that hangs over the wall and onto our greenhouse. Having cleared the top of the greenhouse the sheet is pulled up over the glass to shade the tomatoes inside. Some kale seedlings are getting too big in the seed tray in the cold frame so they are planted out with much watering. Some Tumbling Tom tomatoes are planted in a hanging basket.
The market is busy. There has been much talk about fruit farmers being unable to harvest their crops because of the reduction in East Europeans coming over to fruit pick following the Brexit decision. However, it would appear this problem will not affect the local farms greatly as there are dozens of East Europeans at the market. The traders should love them as they spend well. Another Russian personnel carrier has turned up – this one is a BTR60 introduced by the Soviet Army in the late 1950s; the other being a Medic MT-LB introduced in the mid 1960s.
Tuesday – Newport – The sun is already heating up the land again. A high pressure system is locked over the country and shows little sign of moving. Forecasters say it will be the driest June on record. Into Newport centre. Past a re-creation of the mediaeval town cross, sculpted in 2001 by Timothy Lees. It stands outside the former post office built in 1844 and rebuilt in 1907-8 by J Rutherford, architect, for Office of Works. It once housed the telephone exchange, known as The Savoy. Also outside the building is a monolith commemorating D-day. Opposite is The Carpenters Arms, claiming to be the oldest pub in Newport, dating from 1403 although the building is late 19th century. Next to it is a large red brick and cream former hotel dated 1900. An underpass emerges at the castle and main road bridge over the River Usk above Town Reach. A Safety Boat is moored under the rail bridge as there are workers on scaffolding on the bridge. Over the Newport Bridge and on down Clarence Place. A building of 1909 is in a sorry state. A long curve of buildings, Clarence Quadrant, of a similar age to the rest of the street, has a number of empty shops. Newport currently has the largest percentage of shops empty in the country. In the middle of the junction is the War Memorial, similar in style to the Cenotaph. On the north side is the junction is the Art Deco cinema and a building of 1928 that looks in design at least 30 years earlier.
Along Corporation Road. The terraces of houses are late 19th and 20th century, the road did not exist until the last decade of the 19th century, just a track to Morgan’s Cottages which were swept awa when the development of the road took place. A couple of blocks of offices look empty. The bus depot is still in use. On past a shopping parade of down market take aways, restaurants and convenience stores. Past Lysaghts Park. Another parade of takeaways, a barbers, nails and beauty, bookies and builders. A large pub of 1898 is now offices. The houses are now 20th century. Just beyond Vivian Road the East Usk Railway crossed the road to run down to siding in the Usk Chemical Works and Great Western Wharf. A spur ran back north-west to East Usk Oil Works and Clarence Wharf Saw Mills. Beside these stood the sports grounds which now are home to Newport Dragons Rugby League team and Newport County football team. A sprawling school is Corporation Road Board Schools of 1902. New housing has been built towards the river. The Carnegie Free Library was built around 1905. Car dealerships and similar stand either side of the road before the Liswerry Pumping Station. It stands by Liswerry Pill Bridge, although no bridge can be seen now. Across a large junction. The WR Lysaght Institute was built by the joint efforts of the firm of John Lysaght Ltd and its employees, of the Orb Steelworks, The Stute as it was known, opened its doors in December 1928 and is now an events venue. Across another busy junction. A pair of octagonal gatehouses are all that is left of the entrance to sports facilities for Orb Steelworks. The steelworks opened in 1899 as a production facility for the Wolverhampton-based John Lysaght Ltd. It employed over 3000 and occupied 74 acres. It produced aluminium for fighter aircraft during World War II. The area of the sports ground is now a recently built estate. Under a fine cast iron bridge with fluted columns carrying a railway line that runs to the power station on the estuary.
The road passes through Newport Business Park, an extensive industrial estate. A Sedge Warbler is singing behind a dense Hazel hedge. A Herring Gull yelps from atop a lamp standard. Water channels must be running down either side is the road, although they are seldom seen but there are reeds growing almost continuously. An abandoned caravan is full of and surrounded by rubbish. Off the road and onto Picked Lane, the Wales Coastal Footpath. St John’s Wort, Evening Primrose, Ragwort, Centaury and Lesser Willowherb are in flower. It is now very hot! Teasels, Burdock, Great Mullein and Rosebay Willowherb are soon to flower. The path runs between an abandoned railway line and a chemical plant covering acres and acres. To the south are large sludge beds. Windmills are turning almost imperceptibly. Insects abound, lots of flies, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Ischnura elegans, Gold-ringed Dragonfly, Cordulegaster boltonii, a Red Admiral, Ringlet and Marbled White butterflies but bees are in short supply! Purple Tufted Vetch rises out of Brambles. In a shady patch, Selfheal flowers profusely by the path. There are wide area of high grasses. Hemp Agrimony is about to flower. Chiffchaffs and Sedge Warblers are in song. Common Blue Damselflies, Enallagma cyathigerum, are numerous.
The track comes to Pye Corner, several houses and a large farm with a house originating in the 17th century. In the last century there was a large research laboratory for steel behind the farm but it has now gone. Down the road is supposed to be a footpath but it is also gone. Past Fair Orchard, an early 19th century house with 18th century barns, and then there is Great Traston Meadows and Solutia (a large chemical firm, now Eastman, which owns the land) Nature Reserve and a footpath not shown in the map that will join the path shown on the map. Through meadows. Beside the track is a high Bramble thicket. Comma and Meadow Brown butterflies are flying around the blackberry flowers. I join the footpath. A brand new bridge crosses a dried out watercourse. A Wren sings. Good numbers of Ringlets are in the grasses. A large abandoned works, the British Aluminium Works, lies across from the reserve. A Black-tailed Skimmer, Orthetrum cancellatum, rests on a broken stem. The path is uneven, grass covered with the occasional Bramble growing in the grass attempting to trip me. A hay meadow had been mown. Footbridges cross the drainage ditches, called reens and grips that allowed the meadows to form. Sign posts on the bridges are surrounded by guano, a clear sign that something users then regularly as a perch. A Ring-necked Pheasant explodes noisily off the next footbridge. The path enters Nash. Waterloo Inn is a large pub rebuilt in 1898. Opposite is the church of St Mary the Virgin.
In 1113, Robert de Chandos, Lord of Caerleon, gave Capella de Flaxino to the Abbey in Chandos, France. The Abbey were required to found a priory at Goldclff, a few miles east of here. The priory built a stone church here. Only the north wall of the chancel and the squint remain of that church. At sometime in the following couple of centuries, the priory fell into the sea. In 1450, Henry VIII gave the priory land to Eton College who rebuilt the church. The church was closed during the Commonwealth, the last vicar, William Faries being expelled in 1649. The church fell into disrepair and it was not until the mid 18th century that Eton College repaired the chancel and roof. The church was formerly larger, as markings indicate that there was once a north aisle to the nave (demolished 1792). A gabled porch leads to a doorway with Doric pilasters, probably 18th century. The nave has a complete set of box pews with a central 18th century decked pulpit with sounding board. A late 18th century gallery stands above the west end. The tower holds a ring of six bells. Outside the porch is the eroded stump of the preaching cross.
A footpath crosses a meadow to a footbridge and joins a lane heading south. The lane ends and a footpath runs through the reed beds of the Newport Wetlands. A pink-red wild sweet pea grows by the path. It is one of the Lathyrus family but I am not sure which one. Beyond the path are wide expanses of sedgy rough pasture. Beside the path to the west is a narrow reed bed. There is a sudden and brief explosion of song, a Cetti’s Warbler, unfortunately not repeated. The iodine scent of the sea is on the light breeze. A Reed Warbler sings. The path rejoins the Wales Coastal Way which runs alongside a tall dyke and seawall. Beyond is salt marsh and mud and the Severn estuary, Usk Patch. Golden sandbanks lie in the channel. Opposite is Somerset – Clevedon, Portishead and Avonmouth. Southern Marsh Orchids flower in the shade of a willow. There are others along the path but they are turning to seed. To the south-west are the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Beautiful white tinged with purple Marsh Helleborines flower by the path. A detour along a very bouncy rubber walkway to what is supposed to be a bird spotting point but unfortunately the reeds are higher than me. The track comes to East Usk lighthouse built in 1893. It originally stood in legs but the level of the land rose as fly ash was tipped, so the legs were covered. 12 cylinders of gas lit the lighthouse; these lasted 12 months. It was converted to electricity in 1972. The lighthouse was the first Trinity House lighthouse to use a sun valve, a form of flow control valve, notable because it earned its inventor Gustaf Dalén the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physics. The light sends out 2 flashes every 10 seconds.
I had intended to walk right the way around the edge is the marshes but a path crosses them and has viewing points so I take that way. A Weasel darts across the path. All that can be seen from the hides are a couple of sleeping Mallard and a Moorhen. A female Reed Bunting flies into a Willow. On another pool there is a single Little Grebe. Another and more Mallard are on another pool. A male Reed Bunting sits appropriately atop a Reed.
I reach the visitors’ centre then realise I pretty much have to return the way I came. A path will take me back to Nash. Above a meadow Swallows and Sand Martins are sweeping up insects. Past Nash and across the nature reserve. Damselflies are numerous. A Scarce Chaser, Libellula fulva, rests on a Bramble. A Scarlet Tiger moth, Callimorpha domuinula, flies into the grasses. A path cuts off the corner and avoid Pye Corner. Back on Picking Lane towards Newport. The windmills are spinning faster now. Off of the track and into Commercial Road. A train pulling wagons is waiting on Bell Ferry. The haul up Commercial Road is hot and tiring. I am pleased to get to the station and sit down, slightly worried that I may not be able to get up again! The train is crowded and horribly hot. So hot that the conductor phones ahead to Hereford for bottles of water which he then distributes among the passengers. Route
Thursday – Symonds Yat – The sun is dispersing early morning cloud which held no badly needed rain. Young Nuthatches are in a tizzy in the car park trees. Blackbirds flick leaves to search underneath for insects. Out to the lane over the hill. A scattering of houses is Redinhorne. Old mines lay a short distance to the east. Down the hill past the old post office. The land to the east falls away precipitously down the River Wye. The lane starts to descend steeply. A track heads off down the eastern slope. Little grows on the steep slope under a dense canopy of leaves apart down Hart’s Tongue Ferns. A corrugated iron shed stands on the slope. A short distance down is a house, Wrens Nest, in the trees. An old garden in platforms drops down. Another house is perched on the hillside; how one gets access is a mystery. The path joins the Wye Valley Walk. Fallen trees have been sawn to clear the path. A staircase descends to a wide track. Across the track to old stone steps and in down the hillside. Jays squawk raucously. The woodland is dense but even here Himalayan Balsam and Stinging Nettles have invaded. A ruined stone building with a fireplace and chimney stack still standing is covered in Ivy.
The path enters an open area of Bracken where Banded Agrion damselflies, Agrion splendens, are flitting to and fro. Biting flies are nuisance. Elliott’s Wood rises up the side of Huntsham Hill. The path is now down to river level. Canada Geese and Mallard are in the far side. An enormous rock, ten feet high and probably sixty feet around lies by the river. It is Ivy covered with Beech saplings growing out of cracks. Another great rock is covered in Brambles and Stinging Nettles but these seem to be suffering in the drought. A number of these boulders are marked on the Victorian OS maps. They are full of full of river-worn pebbles, being Brownstones Formation – Micaceous Sandstone, sedimentary bedrock formed approximately 393 to 419 million years ago in the Devonian Period. The day is warming rapidly. The path is climbing again. Past the remains of a quite sizeable building. A pile of Wood Pigeon feathers indicates a probable Peregrine kill. A large fallen Ash blocks the path and provides a bit of a challenge to get over.
Huntsham Hill is a promontory and the path now runs around its end on a wide track. Red Campion, Hedge Woundwort, St John’s Wort and Common Spotted Orchids are in flower. Hemp Agrimony and Tansy are almost flowering. The track joins the road and down to Symonds Yat East. Houses are dotted over the hillside on the western side of the river. Over a meadow where sheep are annoyed at being disturbed as they lay in the shade. In the far side of the meadow is the hand ferry. A wire stretches across the river which the ferryman uses to haul the ferry across the water. There were once 25 such ferries between Ross and Chepstow. The path runs alongside the river. Through a campsite then the canoe centre into the little village. The Saracen’s Head claims to be 16th century. Another hand ferry is in the middle is the village. At the end of the village is the Royal Lodge Hotel and the New Weir. The Ross and Monmouth Railway emerged here from a tunnel under Symonds Yat Rock. The station was a little further on. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1959 and the line closed in 1965. Downstream are the ropes for a canoe slalom course. Here I decide to take a path back to Yat Rock. A Song Thrush is feeding a chick the same size as the adult with a de-shelled snail. Steps climb the hillside. A white fungus is growing on logs by the path. It looks like one of the Pleurotus family, the oyster mushrooms. A fallen tree trunk has hundreds of coins hammered edgeways into it. Back up to the road. A Garden Warbler is singing vigorously. More steps up to the log cabin. A short walk to the observation point. There appears to be no Peregrines on the cliffs at the moment. A Common Buzzard circles high above the river then drifts off across the woods. Route
Friday – Harwell – A village in the Vale of the White Horse, once in Berkshire but now in Oxfordshire. It is probably best known for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, site of Europe’s first nuclear reactor. I recall coming here in the early 1970s to collect a van-load of decommissioned electronic equipment for Brighton Technical College. The site, which is several miles south-west of the village, is now the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. I park in a modern housing estate and follow a footpath past the cemetery. Princes Manor Farm farmhouse dates from 1500 with additions of late 16th century to right with a brick front and addition to the rear from around 1750. It was owned by the Loder family from 1557-1713.Opposite is the church of St Matthew.
The name Harwell derives from the name of a nearby hill, Horn Down.