March 2010

Monday – Leominster – The first day of the month seems to indicate Spring. Whereas only a week ago it was still dim when Maddy and I head across the Grange, this morning is light under an azure sky. Birds are singing from every direction. There is a covering of frost whitening the ground. The Snowdrops in the churchyard have been glorious this year – vast white drifts of them. A Common Buzzard sits hunched on a gravestone. Only four nests make up the rookery at the Forbury, but the birds are making a considerable racket.


Croft Ambrey – Down the path into Fish Pool Valley. There were Mistle Thrushes up on the driveway to the castle and another is singing high in the trees. The sun is shining and it is relatively mild. If the track froze over night it has melted into mud now. A Great Tit sings his rusty wheel song; Blue Tits chase through Buzzardthe trees. Maddy suddenly rushes off after a Grey Squirrel. She is inches from its tail and I reckon she could have caught it if she really tried. I bellow at her to return when she reaches the top of the valley side, I do not need another episode of her getting lost! I am quite hot by the time I reach the edge of Leinthall Common. The sun glitters through a massive Yew tree at the base of the slope up to the Iron Age fort. The views are splendid, up the valley towards The Goggin with High Vinnalls rising behind. In the other direction Wigmore is bathed in light with the castle nestled in the hillside above the village. The top of Croft Ambrey has erupted with molehills like boils on a face. The sheep are resting near the great southern ramparts – Maddy is far too interested in her ball. A Common Buzzard is sitting on a tall, dead tree trunk just below the ramparts. It lifts off and drifts across the pillow mounds and alights in a tree below the east end of the fort.

Wednesday – Worcester – Despite being only a couple of dozen miles away, this is our first visit to this city. The River Severn flows through the city and is wide. It is bridged by a great iron truss bridge on stone pillars carrying the railway, rebuilt in 1904. Downstream is the road bridge, built by John Gwynn , opened in 1781 and widened in 1931. Black-headed Gulls, Mute Swans and a solitary Lesser Black-backed Gull (the LionBaltic fuscus variety) are on the water. Warehouses which would have stood on Worcester Docks are now luxury apartments and restaurants. One buildings still carries the signs painted on the brick of Hop and Seed Merchants. We head down to the cathedral. A tall solitary tower is all that remains of the 12th century church of St Andrew. Down the road is the Church of St Alban’s, a Norman building from 1175 on the site of a church from around 720 and, some suggest possibly a Roman church site. A fine terrace of houses lines the Cathedral precinct. A cathedral was first built here in 680 by Bishop Bosel but nothing remains of it. The next building was constructed by St Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, in the second half of the 10th century. The present building was started by St Wulfstan, a Saxon who was retained by the Conqueror, in 1084 and has examples of all English architecture between Norman and Perpendicular Gothic. There have been no major changes to the building since 1504. Inevitably, the Victorians undertook restoration, Gilbert Scott and Perkins, both of whom are buried in the cathedral. The nave is lofty with a fine pink brick ceiling. Many monuments line the walls and the body of the nave. A large white marble shows Colonel Sir Henry Walton Ellis Inscription on the tomb of Margaret, wife of David Rae of Edinburgh

In returning to SCOTLAND with her husband
From a visit to her Relations in ENGLAND,
While flatter’d with hope, how Vain!
Of soon embracing her tender Infants at home,
And accustom’d to Health and Joy,
The Fruit and reward of Innocence!
She was cut off like a flow’r in it’s bloom,
And meekly submitted to the will
Who, in this City, put an early period
To the virtuous and Valuable Life
Of this most amiable Traveller,
On the 7th Day of June, 1770,
At the age of 29 years.

In Testimony to the Affection which Death could not destroy,
And as a Tribute to the Virtues that did Honour her Sex;
He, who once was supremely happy as her Husband,
Erected this Monument in the year 1772.
being helped from his horse by an angel after being mortally wounded at Waterloo in 1815. A fine Victorian plaque in blue, yellow and white marble remembers Richard Woolf, Town Clerk who died in 1877. A large white Statuemarble statue of Bishop Philpott (apparently an ancestor of J.K.Rowling) by Sir Thomas Brock is sadly obscured by a large stack of chairs. The ashes of Stanley Baldwin, former Prime Minister lie under a stone laid into the floor. In the crossing is a huge monument by Louis François Roubiliac, to Bishop John Hough (1651–1743). In the chancel is the tomb of King John, who died in Norwich but requested he be buried in his beloved Worcester. The lion at his feet has the tip of his sword in its mouth. The tomb lay between those of Wulfstan and Oswald, but both have been destroyed. Nearby is the chantry chapel of Prince Arthur, elder son of Henry VII. Shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon at the age of 16, Arthur died at Ludlow. Above the chancel is a early 13th century ceiling vault crested by William of Blois and re-plastered, painted and gilded in the 19th century. Beneath is the crypt where parts of Oswald’s building can still be seen, including some painted plasterwork. A chapel lies within the crypt with a statue entitled Pieta by Glyn Williams celebrating the work of forty artists to the restoration of the cathedral in 1991. Outside, the cloister surrounds a herb garden and leads to the chapter house, which is octagonal outside and circular within, with a fine ceiling of ten ribs radiating from a central column. The cloister contains a massive heating radiator which resembles a finned naval-mine. There is some beautiful panes of etched glass for the Millennium by Mark Cazalet.

We then go to the Worcester Pottery Museum where there is an extensive display of Georgian, Victorian and modern pottery from one of the great regions of pottery making. Much of the fine porcelain is decorated in designs which are far from my tastes but interesting nevertheless. We head into the main shopping area of the city. The Guild Hall is a fine Queen Anne building from 1721, probably designed by Thomas White, a pupil of Christopher Wren. Three portrait statues adorn the front, Queen Anne, Charles I and Charles II. Defoe said:

Strangely, Defoe undertook his tour between 1724 and 1727, when the Guild Hall, of which he is so dismissive, was virtually new.

Longtown Castle

Thursday – Longtown – A village in the Olchon Valley which lies to the west of the Golden Valley under the eaves of the Black Mountains. It is part of the Hundred of Ewyas Lacy. Hundreds were old Saxon land divisions, but no such hundred existed in these wild frontier areas until the Normans imposed their writ. Walter de Lacy was given the land by the Conqueror and established a chain of castles to try and subdue the unruly Welsh. Longtown castle was built inside an earthwork which may be Roman in origin. The road up the valley cuts through the outer Black Mountainsbaileys of the castle. Some of the inner bailey wall remains with a relatively small but solid gatehouse set into them. Through the gatehouse and into the inner bailey, where one is faced with an impressive thirty five foot high motte surmounted by a round tower, probably built in the 13th century to replace an earlier wooden one. There were two floors within the keep, the upper one containing the apartments for the lord and his family. A garderobe (latrine) remains high on the wall of the tower. After Walter’s death the castle passed to his daughters Maud and Margaret, the latter marrying John de Verdon, who was on crusade with Edward I. His granddaughter’s husband, Bartholomew de Burghersh inherited during the reign of Edward III. Their son, Thomas, sided with Richard II and lost his estates after Richard’s death at Pontefract. The last owners were the Nevilles. The castle fell into disrepair in the 14th century but was briefly refurbished in the early 15th century in response to the attacks of Owain Glyndŵr. The small town Ewyas Lacy developed to the south of the castle but went into decline after the Black Death in the mid-14th century. In 1540, the town was referred to as Longa Villa in Ewias Lacy and then became referred to as Longtown. From the path around the keep there is a magnificent view across the valley and then up the Black Mountains. The hills are still streaked with snow. Below, in a field, very pregnant ewes munch on root vegetables. The daffodils on the sides of the motte are close to flowering but the recent cold has made them very late. Rooks caw noisily in the distance.


Craswall – A village that stretches for miles up the Olchon Valley north of Longtown. The name simply means Cross Stream. There is an old pub which we reluctantly pass and then the road takes a sharp turn and dives down into a valley carrying the nascent River Monnow. Back up the