Friday – Garway Hill – I successfully manage to get lost in the hills of South Herefordshire. I park off a junction between St Weonards, Garway and Pontrilas. To the east the land drops away into Garren Brook valley. Somewhere down in the trees is a large flock of chattering Starlings. The sky is overcast and it is cool. Near the junction is a house with a board The Sun but I am not sure it is a pub; later the 1888 OS map shows The Rising Sun, a beer house and a post office here. I take the south-easterly lane towards Garway. The lane descends and a turning at an old ivy covered leaning sign to White Rocks. Daffodils and Primroses are in flower along the banks of the lane. A barn is being re-roofed as part of being converted into accommodation at Little Garway Farm. A relatively old barn with a plaque, F H Dale Builder Leominster has been erected over the brickwork of a far older barn. Keepers Cottage standing on a bend, is as often is the case around here a reasonably substantial house. A cronking Raven flies over high in the sky. Geese can be heard and there they are, white geese behind a farm, Old Garden, far below in the valley. A Green Woodpecker yaffles, again far below. Here, a Common Pheasant is croaking. A Dunnock sings on telephone wires. The lane passes several houses some small cottages which have been greatly enlarged, others barn conversions.
Over a cattle grid and into the hamlet of White Rocks. The hillside is brown with dead bracken. A notice states Garway Parish Council – Driving of motorcycles or motor vehicles or tipping of rubbish on this comment is forbidden on pain of prosecution. A wooden notice points to Rock Mount (White Rocks). Up the track by the couple of houses one called the Chantry with the side extension with an ecclesiastical window. A short distance further on is Rock Mount, a white house with a wing. Up a short way onto the common. The area is riven with quarries and some platforms that may have held industrial processes. It is littered with vast boulders green with moss. The stones are of the bedrock, Brownstone, Devonian sandstone, 398-416 million years old. A legend tells of a giant called Jackie Kent and the devil who are planning to build a weir and a fish pond using huge white boulders from far away. Jackie and the devil, carrying their stones in their aprons, jumped from hilltop to hilltop with the heavy load when the apron strings broke at the summit of Garway Hill. The stones bounced and rolled down the hillside and came to rest on the southern slopes, where they remain today. They have given their name to the hamlet of White Rock. Jackie Kent, or Jack ’o Kent, occurs in a number of local tales. Ellen Mary Leather records that some suppose him to be Owain Glyndŵr, who was supposed to have hidden at nearby Kentchurch, or Owain’s bard. Other think he was Sir John Oldcastle, a 15th century Lollard leader, friend of Henry V and the basis of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. More likely, he was Sion Cent, the vicar of Kentchurch in the 15th century. The tales themselves are widespread and often local names are attached to them.
A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flies by. Back down to the lane which drops down into a valley. The Grange is a large house. Further down the hill is a long white house, Rocks Bottom. Water issues from various pipes, channels and springs down here. A track runs around behind another large house. I chat to a farmer on a quad bike inevitably about the weather. Another cottage is tucked into the hillside. It is thought that White Rocks was a fairly substantial mediaeval hamlet that slowly diminished. The Herefordshire Trail comes down this track and heads up across the common. Behind is the valley of the River Monnow, Afon Mynwy. Above it rises High Meadow. Several Ravens circle above the valley. Patches of Wild Arum are unfurling on the hillside. A Common Buzzard rises from the Bracken and sails out across the valley. Meadow Pipits squeak and Skylarks sing high overhead. There are plenty of rabbit droppings scattered across the common. Westwards is Grosmont surrounded by a delightful patchwork of fields. From high on the common, the strategic position of Grosmont castle is evident.
To the east there is a small earthwork. It is an important relic of the mediaeval use of the common. Evidence has been found of this area being used by humans since the Iron Age and quite extensively during mediaeval times with ridge and furrow ploughing patterns. A flock of Carrion Crows accompanied by four cronking Ravens (although one is clearly saying oink), passes over. The distant hills are becoming increasingly misty. The run of the Black mountains leads down to Skirrid, which stands high and proud above the land. Beyond the Brecon Beacons have virtually disappeared into the murk. Now below is Kentchurch Court and church. The trail comes to a triangulation point at 1202 feet, beside which is an octagonal low brick building, the remains of a radio tracking station. The barrack block and generator block were constructed during World War II. Several pure white ponies are by the building along with a brown. More ponies are down by a large pond, Black Pool, across the far side of the common. A ditch has been cut part way around the summit of the commons. Belle Vue farm and the White House stand on the eastern edge of the common.
The trail leaves the common beside a large communications mast. A path passes through a copse. Fresh young Foxglove leaves are sprouting everywhere. Either side of the path are old coppiced hazel but the trees beyond the path are young. A scattering of yellow crab apples lay under a tree; surprising that they have not been devoured by winter thrushes. Branches of a venerable tree has broken off, one completely leaving a great white scar, others are still partially attached but crashing down into Holly trees and blocking the path. The path joins a track, once cobbled but now mainly mud. This track joins the lane down which I am parked some distance hence. In a field a tractor with a flail is cutting back a large hedge with a violent amount of noise. Past several white painted houses, one is Hawthorn Well. Area of lumps, bumps and grassy near vertical banks must have been a quarry (again confirmed by the old OS map). A house stands in the corner, a good solid house built with a local sandstone. Large cottage stands opposite down the hill.
Cherry Orchards farm sits on the hillside. There are modern houses along the road they may be based around much older properties but there is little to seen of them. The road bends around Suckling Dingle. The Globe is a former public house, just a couple of hundred yards from the former Rising Sun. A telephone box is empty and rotting and opposite there is old garage in even worse condition. The lane is back at the junction and the car. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A grey morning waiting for the promised storm Freya. It is damp with rain in the air. A Dunnock sings loudly from the roof of a care home. Jackdaws chack as they fly to and fro. A Great Tit sings its two-tone song. More Jackdaws sit on the chimney stacks of the White Lion peering down the chimney pots assessing their suitability as nesting sites. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen. A Mallard flies upstream jinking and rising suddenly when it realises there is a bridge in front of it. A Blackbird sits in a willow overhanging the water. Another Great Tit sings monotonously. Pussy willow emerges on Sallows. A sleek four wheel, blue and silver Morgan car is in the compound. A long row of former ambulances sit in the car park all having sold signs in the windows. It starts to rain. Rather inconsiderately Brightwells have put a barrier across the car park requiring a return to the meadow and then a walk down the river side of the compound. The market has recommenced but it is very small, unsurprising considering the weather conditions. There are however a number of familiar faces returning after the two months break.
Into Paradise Walk where the hedgerow has been cut right back greatly widening the path. A dog walker crosses the car park with two dogs, one a young springer spaniel which is pulling this way and that. The owner corrects it but that lasts only a moment. I comment, Looks like it will do as it wants!A new rescue, he replies.
Monday – Croft – Storm Freya passed with prolonged blasts of wind last night. Across the country has been damage – trees down, some heavy snow but here little happened; in the garden, a couple of chairs were blown over along with some daffodils knocked down. This morning cloud sails across the sky speedily, but here at ground level, the wind is fairly light and the sun is shining.
Into the Fish Pool Valley. Large machinery is moving logs out of the valley and stacking them on the long drive from the village to the castle. Across the valley and up into the Beech wood, away from the roar of diesel engines. Great Tits call. Wrens sing. A Coal Tit flies up into the trees, its beak full. A Chaffinch flock moves through the tree tops. A Nuthatch whoops. A Great Tit is examining holes in a Beech. Clumps of rhododendrons have reappeared. The daffodils in front of the rustic shelter are in flower. The floor of the woods are covered in branches and tree trunks. Recently the National Trust stated the restoration of the Fish Pool Valley was complete. It is clear that there is still a vast amount of work to be done if the valley is ever going to look like the Picturesque Movement landscape again.
From the end of the valley a path leads up the west side woodlands. It runs along the side of the valley that comes down to the modern water pumping shed. Excavations have taken place beside the path revealing the base of what seems to be another old shelter with rough stone steps leading up into it. The climb to the grave of Sir James Croft is tricky, up a steep slope of wet muddy leaf mould under foot. The daffodils here are yet the bloom. Across the rough ground there is an extensive badger sett and from the fresh soil deposited around, it is still in use. It is rather more difficult now to extricate oneself from this area of wood is the old paths now run into new fences.
Along the path that leads to the Keepers Cottage. Ravens chase over the top of Croft Ambrey. It starts to rain. Down past the woodlands barn visitor centre and the magnificent ancient Oaks. The rain stops within a few moments in the sun and emerges. At the top of the Spanish chestnut field, some of the young trees have been very severely pruned, all the branches taken off and just a couple of twigs left. Further down the field the new Spanish chestnut saplings have had the same treatment. Flowering raspberry is coming into blossom in the strip of woodland at the foot of the field. Sheep with lambs are in the field opposite the car park.
Thursday – Bicester – A town in Oxfordshire. My hotel is in the north of the town in a very large, late 20thcentury housing estate. It is raining and there is a strong blustery wind. Out of the estate to the main road and down towards the town centre. Starlings are gathering at the top of a tree chattering and whistling. Some of the housing here is earlier 20thcentury. There is a single short terrace of houses dated 1899. A small suburban train crosses the railway bridge and approaches Bicester North station. It is a long red brick building. The railway first came to Bicester in 1850, when the Bletchley to Oxford line was completed and the London Road station on the LNWR.’s Birmingham line was opened. Bicester North station was opened by the GWR. in 1906. It is now on the Chiltern Railways line. South of the station housing is a mixture of 20thcentury and earlier with short rows of cottages in rough cut yellow limestone, Victorian villas and terraces in brick dated 1911.
A junction stands at the top of North Street which leads into the town centre. Past more houses in the rough cut yellow brick and a pub The Jacob’s Plough in a similar brick. Weyland Hall is a former Wesleyan chapel purchased by the local masonic lodge in 1925. The Wesley Hall of 1863 is now a bedding shop. There are a good number of older properties all in the same rough brick. Bicester Methodist church opened in 1927 and was called The Grainger Hargreaves Memorial Church for some years. Town centre, Sheep Street, formerly St John the Baptist’s Street, is pedestrianised. A large house, number 49, is in the Georgian style,built in the local brick. A number of shops are in rendered 18th century buildings. The Post Office was built in 1914 to the designs of Henry Collins but is now a Wetherspoons. A local bakers has closed down. A shop has a Georgian look but clearly has an older building there and indeed there is a plaque JRM 1689. The listing states the building was remodelled in the 19th century. A modern precinct is behind this high street. A firm of solicitors occupy the old law courts, built in 1864. The doors and windows are in the Caernarvon style. Opposite a large late 18th century house is now a bookies. The White Hart is late 17th century but was largely rebuilt and extended in the last century. The street approaches the Market Square. HSBC bank is in a fine building with a plaque established 1836 built 1920. It has a lead cupola at the top.
A good number Georgian buildings around the Market Square along with a timber framed building and a substantial town house of 1698 with plaque BJM. The market place continues behind the block of large houses from the 16th and 18th centuries. Again there is a mixture of Georgian and many earlier houses and shops some dating back to 17th century. A couple are timber-framed and others are probably similar but rendered. Causeway leads from the square to the church. There are some old buildings here including one dating from the 17th century with a substantial jetty. A house is dated 1884 and in the Victorian Gothic. Next to it is a modern Catholic church, then a stone building of around 1840. On the south side is the street, the shops are 18th century.
Into Church Street. The Old Courthouse and Police Station are dated 1857, although the courthouse is probably later. Church of St Edburg is closed. The War Memorial, erected shortly after WWI is like a mediaeval preaching cross. There is a church hall, the former tithe barn, to the rear of the building. Hopefully the church will be open tomorrow. Further down Church Street are more Georgian houses and much older buildings. Two are thatched and both at least 17th century although the listing thinks they may be older. Road bends slightly with a long 18th century wall one side of the road, opposite is Littlebury Hotel. Back to Sheep Street. The town centre is pretty similar to most around the country these days a mixture of chain stores and charity shops. There does seem to be a predominance of estate agents and Asian food outlets though. Retreat to the Bell pub, 18th century building extended in the late 18th century, to get out of the rain of course.
Heading back up towards the hotel, some street names – Crumps Butts and Tollgate Seats gives clues to the older place.
Friday – Bicester – A chilly start the morning but the rain has cleared away the skies now blue with a thin covering of cloud. Along to the main road and then northwards. The road is very straight, not surprising as it is formally Roman, Stratton Road from Alchester to Towcester. Evidence indicates both Iron Age and Romano-British settlements here. There was a Saxon village near to the Roman road by a ford over the Bure, the brook that runs through the town. Its name was originally Bernecestre possibly meaning the fort of the warriors or of Beorna, an Anglo Saxon lord. It is said that over forty different spellings of Bicester have been found in mediaeval documents. The earliest Norman settlement began around the two great manors of Bicester and Wretchwick, held by Robert D’Oilly, builder of Oxford Castle. Early in the 12th century the demesne tenant of Bicester was Gilbert Basset, was succeeded in 1154 by his son Thomas, a sheriff of Oxfordshire who married Alice, daughter of Walter Dunstanville. Thomas died in 1180, and a few years later his eldest son and successor Gilbert founded Bicester Priory and endowed it with part of his demesnes. The estate was in the hands of William de Longespée who obtained in 1239 the grant of a market from the king. By mediaeval times, King’s End Parish and Market End Parish were established townships, and in the 19th century these became the civil Parishes which became the early Urban and Rural District of Bicester. The town developed as an agricultural centre. Much of the town’s prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries came from local horse racing and to the Hunt. Coaches began to run from Bicester to London in 1752. The railway arrived in 1850. A detailed history can be found here.
A Red Kite flies over. On both sides of the road a thin strip of trees separates the road from the vast housing estates. The road comes to a large roundabout. I continue north along the Roman Road. On the other side of the roundabout is a very large former RAF camp and north of it Bicester airfield. The airfield commenced flights in 1911. It was a training base during WWII. After the war, it was a maintenance unit until 1956 when it became a base for glider clubs. A number of original building remain and the site is now being developed into a business park dedicated to historic aircraft and motoring. The barracks, which contain a large number of listed buildings, many showing Art Deco influences and that of the Garden City Movement of the 1930s, have been developed into a residential area, known as the Garden Quarter.
Into Skimmingdish Lane. To the north is what looks like a former council estate. Blackthorn is in blossom all along the road. A few of the bushes are pure white but many have a decidedly pink tinge. A pair of Goldfinches gleaming in the sunshine sit on an Elder whose leaves are just beginning to emerge. The lane comes to Fringford Road. The gatehouse of South lodge stands opposite the junction. A large house The Old Vicarage stands on the corner of the junction to Aunt Ems Lane. This ends at the B4100, the Banbury Road. Fields across the road disappearing under new housing estates. A short distance up the road is the church of St Laurence.
The church is locked. The base of the bell tower is 10th century Saxon and has a wonderful little window set deep into the thick walls. There is a fine Norman north door with toothed arch design. The nave and chancel were rebuilt in the late 12th century. The chancel was rebuilt again in the early English style in the 13th century. In 1874 the Gothic Revival architect Henry Woodyer restored the chancel, rebuilt the aisles and added a vestry to the east of the north aisle. The bell tower has a peal of five bells – two cast in 1874 and 1876, a third cast in 1928 and new treble and second bells cast in 1949. There was a treble bell, now inside the church, cast in about 1200 for Hugh and Sibilla Gargate and is believed to be the oldest inscribed bell in England. There are a number of graves of military personnel killed during wartime training flights.
Beyond the church is Caversfield House, designed by C.R. Cockerell and built in 1842–45 on the site of the former manor house. The manor, like Bicester, used to be in Buckinghamshire but was transferred in 1844 to Oxfordshire. Before the Conquest it was the property of Edward, a man of Earl Tosti. In Domesday it was held by William de Warenne. The overlordship of the Earls Warenne lasted until the beginning of the 14th century, when it passed before 1317 to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. The manor passed through numerous hands in the subsequent centuries. A little can be glimpsed through the trees. Back down the main road. A small stream runs under the road behind Home Farm. The older stone buildings have all been converted to residences. One of the large housing estates reaches the road there is some variety in the construction I cannot say it is a particularly inspiring site. The Banbury Road crosses the east-west road north of the town, the Whitney road, and continues into the town centre to meet the Roman Road. Past Bure Park, a large modern estate trying to look Georgian.
Part way down the road is an extraordinary looking Ash tree. There are at least 11 trunks rising from a long bole. I imagine a tree has fallen and these trunks have sprouted from the dying prostrate one. A pair of pillars stand by the entrance to Bure Park Nature Reserve. Alder has been planted along the path and at sometime an attempt was made to layer it into a hedge but seems to have been abandoned. A Wren ticks and starlings sing. Into the nature reserve which is basically scrub and young trees with fences falling to pieces with neglect. The Bure runs through the centre of the reserve. A Red Setter decides to lay down in the stream. The geology is Cornbrash Formation limestone laid down in Jurassic 161-168 million years ago. The stream has cut into the Forest Marble Formation, an older Jurassic limestone interbedded with mudstone 165-168 million years ago.
Out of the park and under the railway heading towards Bucknell Road. Again the whole area is a vast late 20thcentury housing estate. A short row of shops contains a butcher with also selling vegetables and a baker’s but what looks like the estate pub is closed. The houses are now mid 20thcentury. The Bure passes underneath the road. On the far side of the stream is a primary school unsurprisingly called Brookside. Houses grow older and are now interwar properties. At the foot of the road is the old school of 1869 with a small bellcote but no bell. At a crossroads I turned down St Johns Street. Cherwell District council offices, Oxfordshire libraries and a Travelodge all occupy modern buildings. The shopping centre behind the Sheep Street has a concrete modernist car park. Round past the bus station. The Bure continues, here culverted under a series of modern shops before emerging at the foot of the Market Square by Causeway.
Back to the church of St Edburg but it is still locked, despite the notice which says it should be open at this time, which is disappointing. It is thought that a Saxon church stood on its site in around 850CE. A triangular arched entrance set in the north wall of the current nave may have been the original entrance. In the early 12th century, the Normans radically altered and extended the building. Gilbert Basset oversaw the addition of transepts, an extended chancel and, possibly, a central tower so the church probably took on an archetypal cruciform shape. Rounded Romanesque arches that could have supported a central tower still exist in front of the chancel and at the crossing point between the transepts. The south aisle was added in around 1250, with an arcade built through the original nave wall with Early English pointed arches, clustered column supports and deeply undercut capitals. A north aisle was added around 1340 with its more robust octagonal columns along with a north chapel. This chapel, now the vestry, once had an upper chamber, perhaps to lodge the sexton, but which was later used from the late 17th century as a school room for a grammar school founded by the Vicar. The doorway into the school can still be seen on the exterior. In 1390, a clerestory was built on top of the original nave walls to shed more light into the central nave. The west tower was built was erected around 1420. Around the same time, the north porch was added, its tiny upper storey once housing the church records and chests. Nearly all of the medieval stained glass was lost to a lightning storm of 1765.
Through the graveyard and on across extensive playing fields. Across a road into Bicester Village, a shopping centre (or should that be retail outlet?) full of the most expensive shops one can imagine – Stella McCartney, Gucci, Armani, Vivienne Westwood, Victoria Beckham and many posh looking shops with names I have never heard of. The whole place is rather surreal. Hardly anything is priced – if you need to know the price, you can’t afford it....
Back on the Roman Road and the altogether cheaper end of the retail superstores – Burger King, Tesco, McDonald’s. The sun has made no impression at all on the temperature is still finger nippingly cold. A small artificial lake wind its way in front of McDonald’s and under a road leading to the superstore. Stones are sited in the grass verge indicating the highway boundary with a couple of arrows. A verdigris green piece of art stands on a mound. It is called Turning and by Charlotte Mayer, unveiled in 2016. Beyond the dual carriageway are new offices and beyond them yet more new housing. A large billboard on the edge of a wide open greenfield site advertises a new office development 30000 up to 500000 square feet. A Fire and rescue lorry screams past. Off onto a minor road heading south east. Here is another huge retail park, this one somewhat down market from Bicester Village. Strip of land between this lane and the main road is being cleared one supposes for even more housing or could it possibly yet another retail park although it looks too small for the latter. In the other direction stand eight poultry units. A digger is piling up soil which is being brought here by large lorries from the site up the road. There is a planning application notice which says the land here is being developed for a business park, so neither housing nor retail as I tried guessing an earlier.
The lane narrows. An old barn with blacksmithed girders is rotting away. Opposite is Promised Land Farm, which looks abandoned. A small flock of Fieldfares flies over beyond the gate is a flat featureless field the site of the Roman town of Alchester. The site had a strategic location at a crossroads on the Silchester-Dorchester on Thames-Towcester road and the Cirencester-St Albans road (Akeman Street). It has been shown to be one of the earliest legionary fortresses in Roman Britain after the invasion of 43 AD. There is uncertainty about its Roman name, it has been suggested it was Alavna with the Old English, ceaster added to signify a fort. The discovery in 2003 of fragments of the tombstone of Lucius Valerius Geminus, a veteran of the Legio II Augusta is significant in that it shows he retired from the legion while stationed at Alchester and even though he came from north-west Italy he remained here until his death. The site was abandoned by the 5th century CE.
Back to Bicester. Two Red Kites are floating over a Premier Inn on the main road. Clouds are thickening and the wind is rising. Back to the lake which is in apparently Bicester Office Park which is strange as it contains just a McDonald’s and a Tesco’s. A Mallard rises from the reed bed and heads down the water quacking gently then soars away.
Bicester Village station looks like a new station in grey painted metal, but it opened in 1850. The approach is through an artwork, Notes to Strangers by Andy Leek. Out of the village and back across the playing fields. Along a ginnel which comes to an unpaved road. A stable and forge are now residences. They are 18th century and possibly in the site of one of the Priory gatehouses. Thre Priory was Augustinian and never a rich establishment. Little remains of it now. Next to stables is the Old Priory. This is possibly the hospice of the Priory, dating from the late 15th century, modified a century or so later using stones from the Priory which was dissolved in 1536. The house called the Priory Gate has been extensively modified. Priory Terrace is dated 1890. Modern houses have infilled the lane. Across a small bridge, past The Priory and into firstly Priory Lane then Priory Road. The houses here late Victorian and Edwardian on one side and 1930s on the other including a fine art deco flat topped building in white. At the end of the road is St Edburg’s Hall,a fine Victorian Gothic hall of 1882) designed by the architect E. G. Bruton and erected at a cost of £1,200. It is now offices.
Into London Road, another past of the B4100. There are a couple of large late Victorian houses and a number of early 20thcentury homes. An old terrace is called the Hermitage, a late 17th century house now divided into two. Next to it is the former lock-up. Behind the road is Garth Park with a large house in the corner which, since 1946, has been the town council offices. The house was formerly the residence of the Keith-Falconer family. The house was built in the 1870s and by 1876 was owned by a London-based banker of German origin, Baron Adolf Deichmann who used it as a hunting lodge. He renamed the house, the Garth – it had originally been known as the Poplars. There is bandstand and a rather strange bed with the symbol of a sword and axes and a 2 and 3. It is a dedication to the 23 Pioneer Regiment. On the road outside the offices is a much converted building of 1896, also part of the council offices. Back again in London Road on the junction are several of buildings, one of which is 13th century. Hometree house is a very large Georgian building now a care home. It was built in first half of the 19th century, supposedly paid for by Thomas Davis, an apothecary. By 1874 the building had passed into the hands of Baron Schroeder, a London merchant banker whose bank, Schroeder’s, still exists. He used the house as a country retreat and hunting box. It housed Bicester County School (later Bicester Grammar School) from September 1924.
It has started to rain. The King’s Arms hotel has buildings attached to it in London Road which are 17th and 18th century. The main hotel which stands in the Market Square is 18th century although possibly earlier. A market is being held in Sheep Street and again, I retreat from the rain into The Bell. Route
Monday – Mortimer Forest – Today, in the ever-changing weather, has brought blue skies and bright sunshine. The furious winds of the last few days have dropped. Into the Mortimer Forest for the first time for a while. Up from Blackpool car park. Great Tits call in the woods. Further up the path, deeper into the wood, the Great Tit’s calls are joined by chattering Blue Tits and whooping Nuthatches. Higher up, it is clear that the wind has not gone away and is blowing noisily through the tall Spruces. Some of the saplings been cut down on the old enclosure but is still very overgrown and unless you knew there were banks and ditches here delineating the enclosure, you would not see them. Out onto Climbing Jack Common. Bluebell leaves are appearing beneath dead Bracken. Snow lingers in sheltered spots. Behind Titterstone Clee has a thin coating of snow.
Up to High Vinnells. I pause by the jumble of logs and pieces of wood that was once the radio relay shack. The wind is blustery and chilling. The distant hills are misty but clear enough to see patches of snow.
Sunday – Leominster – Another storm has passed through. Storm Gareth brought high winds and rain. Today there is still a wind but the sky is blue and the clouds are disappearing into the eastern sky. Goldfinches search for food among the seed balls hanging from the Plane tree opposite the Chequers Inn. A Chiffchaff is singing behind the White Lion pub. A singing Robin sits on a twig above the railway line. The River Lugg is running high and fast. Its water is a dirty grey. There is more bird song, Great Tits, Wrens, more Robins and Blackbirds. Red conical male catkins cover the Black Poplars. Many are scattered across Easters Meadow where they have been blown by the gales.
The sun has brought out the traders and the market is much larger this week, still the same rubbish though. A new fence has been put up along the railway and the pale grey strip stretches off into the countryside. The Kenwater is also flowing high and rapidly. A Dunnock flies across the water up into a tree and lets out a burst of song. The coach disgorges its passengers in Broad Street car park. People pour off into the town although I am not sure where they are going to go at this time of morning.
Wednesday – Home – The weather continues to improve. This afternoon is positively mild. Comma butterflies twist around each other in a wild dance up against the evergreen leaves of the Laurel. A Great Tit is still searching the apple trees for food. The local Nuthatch is beginning his spring call, soon we will be hearing this from dawn to dusk for the rest of the spring. Flowers are about to burst on the crab apple tree and one of the old pears. Blossom is already out on one of the damsons. There is frogspawn in the pond. A dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls flyover making a cacophony. Towards the end of the afternoon the sky grows dark.
In the greenhouse there are broad beans and lettuce is ready to plant out. The beds have not yet been prepared a job, I must get on with. A bumble bee buzzes past. Primroses are in flower over the garden, they have spread to the grass and underneath the trees making a true spring vista. Hellebores continue to flower. These are strange plants, their heads always hanging down so one never sees the beautiful little flower centres. Under the holly trees there is a large spread of lungwort. Daffodils are still in flower, scattered all around the garden, cheerful precursors of spring. Rhubarb is shooting up now I need to start picking and cooking it. I will probably give up freezing so much of it as it seldom all gets used through the year. A wind springs up as the clouds move away but there are still more on horizon.
Thursday – Bodenham Lake – Every day it seems to become slightly more spring like. The pussy willow has turned yellow as the pollen fills the fluffy seed heads. New growth appears on Blackberry brambles. Leaves burst on various trees. A Grey Squirrel hustles across the path as I head down towards the lake. A cloud of gnats hovers above the track. Birdsong is almost completely drowned out by the cackling of the Canada Geese further down the lake. The meadow is still soft and muddy after recent rain. Robins, Dunnocks and Song Thrushes are all feeding along the edge of the meadow. A Green Woodpecker flies towards Westfield wood. A Chiffchaff calls in the coppice.
The main flock of Canada Geese is on the far side to the west of the new hide. There is a couple of Greylag Geese, almost certainly feral, with them. This side the lake is quiet, just a few Mallard in pairs, a couple of Tufted Duck and Coot. A single Cormorant is in the trees. Canada Geese are fighting on the eastern island. Another Cormorant flies into the trees, this one has an all white breast. A pair of Coot mate quickly on the small area of scrape, ignoring the pair of cackling Canada Geese behind them. A Carrion Crow has found a dead frog in the reeds and is feasting upon it. Back in the orchards, buds are appearing on some of the apple trees.
Friday – Camnant – The sky is overcast, pewter grey. A cold wind blows in from the west. A lane leads northwards out of Hundred House. Chaffinches sing in the trees, lambs bleat in the fields. A row of static caravans lines at hillside. This side of the road is lined with modern houses, although an old mill is hidden below. House Sparrows suddenly burst into chattering. A Red Kite circles behind the houses. A rill pours down from the hillside with a caravan park, passing under the road and down into the small valley of the River Edw below. Both sides of the road are rough common land, Hundred House Common. A Chiffchaff calls from the woodlands to the east. Another caravan park lies on the hillside across the valley. A small 1930s style cottage lies abandoned. A 4x4 draws up to a gate and causing a flock of sheep to come galloping across the field but the vehicle carries on across another field leaving the sheep standing by the fence baaing except for one who is coughing rather unpleasantly. One large ewe continues to chomp whilst the others stand watching; maybe she is Shirley!
Primroses flower on the banks. Roadside hedges of Hazel are covered in yellow-brown catkins. The road comes to a junction, one leg heads up the hill, the other turns through more than 90° and enters Frank’s Bridge, Pontffranc. Confusingly, it appears various sources refer to either Franksbridge or Frank’s Bridge. A stream meanders alongside the road. A Mistle Thrush sings from the top of a tree. A house before the bridge is referred to on old maps as Frank’s House. The present bridge is Victorian at its earliest. It crosses the river Edw in Cwm Edw. Across the bridge are several houses that may be a lot older than they look having been modified and altered over the years. A long building divided into several cottages was once The Drovers Arms, so names because the village was on a drovers’ road. The road rises. A fair sized graveyard stands on the slopes with new grave towards the top. Opposite is Franksbridge Baptist Chapel. This is a large red brick building with 10 plaques, 5 either side of the door with the names of benefactors. It was first built in 1835 and then rebuilt in 1909 with a tea room being added later. It is clearly still in regular use. Several bright patches of Lungwort, clearly a domesticated variety, brighten the roadside bank. Road climbs out of the hamlet past number of 20th century houses. At the top of the hill is a large Victorian house, the Manse. A woodpecker has found a good sounding post and is drumming loudly. A Nuthatch runs up and down branches. At a road junction there is a small nature reserve, Werndryd, meaning Alder Field.
Along a narrow Lane is Franksbridge school, first opened on 29th July 1878. It has the school house attached and a modern extension. There is a sizeable estate of 20th century houses nearby. The lane leaves the village and descends steeply down to the river at Bettws Mill. The mill buildings have been extensively modernised into a fine residence. A gravel track is being laid leading to what looks like a very superior glamping lodge. The lane crosses the River Edw by a modern bridge, it was just a ford in Victorian times, then joining the lane I was originally walking from Hundred House. There is rain in the air, not forecast!
A lane heads westwards just before a bridge over a tributary to the Edw. Ink caps are growing on a pile of dung jumped behind a road salt container. The lane passes a large farmhouse, dated 1744 in Rhoscwm. The farm is called Gwern-hwsmon. The house is 17th century, the porch was added in 1744. Most of the farm buildings have been converted into residencies and there are a couple of modern houses built nearby. The lane starts to climb out of the Edw valley. The lane rises passing through rounded hillsides. Rocks stick out of side of the road into the field. They are grey Lapilli-Tuff, igneous rocks of the Gilwern Volcanic Formation from the Ordovician, 464-467 million years ago. Now the lane drops steeply down to a farm, Cwm, which stands beside the tributary stream. A large stone lies beside the stream and although they are standing stones around here I am not sure this is one of them.
Up out of the valley past a modern house. To the north are cone shaped Ordovician volcanic intrusions rising out is the Camnant Mudstone Formation, all of the same period. In the other direction across the field on the edge of a slight ridge is a map-marked standing stone. Further up the hill a large new pond has been dug beside the road. Out on to Camnant Common. Houses are down in the valley of Camnant Brook. Singing Skylarks, gliding Red Kites and calling Carrion Crows are all over the common. A fenced off area of woodland contains a rotting wooden railway wagon among moss covered stones. There was once a house here called New Castle. There is a small length of dry stone wall and a wooden ba