Sunday – Leominster – Storm Jorge has passed. There is still a breeze but the sky is cloudless, an azure heaven lit by bright sunshine. A Magpie skips through a tree behind the bank in Corn Square. Into the Grange. Another Magpie is high in the trees chattering harshly as are Jackdaws across the green. Third members of the corvid family, Carrion Crows are at the very top of the Wellingtonias by the old cricket pavilion. I am heading for the market, first of the year. I decide not to take my normal route across
Easters Meadow as it will still be a muddy swamp.
It is the first mild day of March
Each minute sweeter than before
The red-breast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside our door
Over the Kenwater by the 1844 iron footbridge. The river is flowing rapidly but is less muddy than earlier in the week. Along Mill Street and over Ridgemoor Bridge. The River Lugg is flowing more slowly and is grey having lost its milky muddiness. Cheaton Brook’s water level is much lower. Mud in the brambles on its banks indicates how high it rose.
The market is small but I purchase a bread maker for just £4, ours blew up in the night. Back along Mill Street. A Common Pheasant and Carrion Crows are gleaning the stubble field that lays to the north towards Ridgemoor. More Carrion Crows fly past overhead. Robins, a Dunnock and Wren are singing in the trees. Back in Etnam Street car park, a Blackbird is stalking after a female. They walk along the wall, she pauses to let him catch up a bit then walks on, flicking her tail continuously. However he flies off leaving her standing on the wall tail down looking rather disconsolate.
Malvern – We drive to an antiques fair on the Three Counties Show Ground in Malvern. The Malvern Hills loom to the west. It is held in a large pavilion. The majority of the items for sale are, as one would expect, antiques but we purchase two pieces of glassware, one 1980s and the other marked 2000. On the way back we pass many flooded fields, especially around Bodenham where the Lugg has spread far across the fields. The resident Rooks are harassing a Red Kite over Cadbury’s plant at Marlbrook. South of Leominster, the River Arrow is still spread across vast areas of land.
Home – Another mouse trapped in the greenhouse. I need to find out how they are getting in; the door is closed and the base is sitting on a concrete channel. The first frog spawn of the year is floating in the pond. Wild Arum leaves are sprouting everywhere as are Bluebells. A large Bumble Bee is visiting the Primroses. Leaves are sprouting on the Crab Apple and some of the roses. However, a chill wind and splashes of rain remind me not to get over-excited.
Monday – Leominster – It is another beautiful spring morning. The temperature was low at dawn, just a couple of degrees above freezing but it is now warming in the sunshine. The sky is blue with a scattering of mares tails clouds. Across the Grange where the grass sparkles with dew. The resident Magpie chatters and a Great Tit calls. I drop into the Community Centre in the old infant and junior school then head down to the Kenwater. The river seems to be flowing slightly more slowly and has dropped another couple of inches since yesterday. Back up The Priory to Pinsley Mead, then on through the Millennium Park. A helicopter clatters noisily up from the south and then makes a sharp U turn and heads south again. Buds are beginning to swell on the cider apple trees. A Greenfinch wheezes its song. The Herefordshire Trail at this point is called “Aida’s Amble”.
Along Worcester Road through the industrial estate. Up onto the old road bridge crossing the railway. A northbound train heading for Manchester passes underneath, slowing for the station. There is water in an old drainage ditch that runs down beside Lammas meadows. Spiky brown Teasel heads are beginning to topple. A clump of daffodils flowers beside the abandoned road. They are big and blowsy, clearly not wild daffodils. Overhead the cloud is thickening.
The River Lugg is still wide as it flows under Eaton Bridge. The paddocks to the north-east of the bridge are flooded. Back down the A44 to the big roundabout at the junction with the A49. Across and over the modern road bridge. The verge is rough and brambles conspire to trip one. A small patch of deep purple crocuses peek through the rank grass. Into Southern Avenue industrial estate. The sun has disappeared behind clouds so the air feels colder. There are flower buds on Laurel and Wayfarer trees. The brook flowing through the industrial estate has plenty of water in it, more than I have seen before. A footpath runs alongside the brook. Blackthorn is coming into flower. A Rabbit bounces across the path.
The path joins Southern Avenue at the bottom of the corporation cemetery. The entrance into the graveyard is difficult as there is a large deep pool of flood water beyond the gate. The graves here are late 20th and 21st century, getting older towards the Hereford Road end. A short distance from the Hereford Road entrance are the graves of Polish servicemen who were based at the camp at Barons Cross after WWII. Small Polish flags carrying the Imperial Eagle have been placed on each grave.
Along the Hereford Road to Broadward Bridge. The River Arrow flows under the bridge its water level barely a foot below the apex. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls, a Moorhen squawks, Blue Tits chatter, Jackdaws chack around the barns of Broadward Hall Farm and a Pheasant croaking an alarm flies off from behind me and off across the flooded plantation. Back up the Hereford Road into town. I cannot recall if I have noticed a cast iron fire hydrant on the pavement before. The top rim is embossed with “J. Stone Ltd London”. J. Stone & Co was a British marine and railway engineering company based in Deptford (and later Charlton) in south east London, established by Josiah Stone in 1831. Route
Wednesday – Bisley – A cool morning with glowing skies. Fusillades of gunfire come from the Bisley ranges. Off south down Guildford Road. The traffic is horrendous. It is only when there is a slight break that a Great Tit can be heard calling. A road sweeping team is causing traffic mayhem. Over The Bourne, a brook that obviously has iron in the water as the bed is golden brown. The underlying geology is the Windlesham Formation of sand, silt and clay from the Paleogene Period, 34 to 56 million years ago. Off into School Close. Bisley Community Centre was formerly a chapel for the Bisley Boys School (previously the Farm School and then The Shaftesbury School) was transferred from the Shaftesbury Homes. Built in 1874, it was funded by William Williams, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.
The name “Bisley” was first recorded in the 10th century as Busseleghe. Its manor was the property of Chertsey Abbey as part of Godley Hundred. It is derived from the Old English words Bysc, meaning bushes, and Leah, a clearing. Versions were recorded in the 13th century were Busheley and Bussley. After the Dissolution, the estate became the property of Sir Edward Zouch by 1911 was in the possession of the Earl of Onslow.
Into Church Lane. The housing is mainly modern but the Old Cottage is a 16th century timber-framed building with a thatched roof. Next to it are an attached pair of Victorian houses. On down to Clews Lane. Nuthatches are angry with a Grey Squirrel and making a racket. The roadsides are quite thickly covered with Wild Arum. A footpath leads off and a short way along it is St John the Baptist’s Well. Legend records that the Benedictine Abbey of Chertsey monks once taking the waters felt that it was so refreshing as to establish a shrine here, upon which the church was built around 1283. Aubrey’s “Perambulation of Surrey” of 1673 noted: “near the church is a spring called St John the Baptist’s Well. The dedication made by curious to try it with galls, which turns it to a purple colour. It is colder than other water in summer but warmer in winter.” There is evidence from the Pyrford Charter Bounds (956 AD) suggesting that a church had been constructed near the well. The spring water from the Holy Well contains significant amounts of dissolved iron, clear from the bright orange colour of the well head, and was once said to benefit sufferers from eye trouble and various other complaints. The stonework is mainly of heathstone, a sarsen stone found locally and is used in the construction of parts of many churches in this area.
Across a muddy field to the 13th century parish church of St John the Baptist. It features a medieval bell in a bellcote and a 14th century porch said to have been made from a single oak. It is locked.
Through the graveyard to Church Lane. On down the lane which changes into Warbury Lane. An old lane, now just a track runs off the lane but the start is flooded so I stay on the road. This ends at Chobham Road. A short distance along this road is Stillwell Cottage, a large 17th century house. The well is behind the house and not accessible. Opposite is Barley Mow Lane. Barley Mow House is also 17th century, timber-framed with brick infill. It was The Barley Mow Inn which closed down in 1921. Its landlord in 1785 was one Thomas Blackman. It is said that the house was once a royal hunting lodge that was part of Windsor Great Forest. A fireplace in the house bears the coat of arms of Charles I. The ghost of a headless man, thought to be a soldier killed in a drunken brawl outside the pub is said to walk in the road with his head tucked under his arm. His head was cut off apparently to prevent his identity from being known.
Large houses are on one side of the lane, the other is a wood managed by The Woodland Trust. It is relatively new growth having been woodland at the beginning of the 20th century and then a nursery. The single houses are now large modern housing estates on the north edge of Knaphill. Lesser Periwinkle is in flower on the banks, its delicate violet blooms almost hidden beneath brambles. Waterer’s Park is home to Knaphill Athletic Football Club. The lane comes out at a small shopping parade in Anchor Hill. Houses opposite early to mid 20th century.
Knaphill – Although the main settlement of Knaphill is now centred on Anchor Hill and the High Street, this area did not really develop until the mid 19th Century through the prosperity of the local brickworks. The remnants of the much smaller and older settlement are notably at Lower Knaphill where Anchor Hill joins Barrs Lane. During the early 19th Century this area was known as Whitfield.
Anchor Hill comes to a large crossroads. The Anchor pub is probably the only original building here. It was built in the late 1700s as a hotel, one of the first buildings to be built, when Knaphill grew rapidly due to the development of Brookwood Hospital. It was converted to a pub in the 1930s. Painted in a striking mustard yellow colour, the pub is now known as the “Sandcastle pub” catering for a primarily local clientele. The shops around the junction sort of things that cannot be bought at a supermarket, the increasingly inevitable Istanbul barbers, pet shop (shut down), undertakers (2), ladies hairdressers and takeaways. Off down the High Street. An old domestic garage stands behind a modern row of shops. It has a hay loft so was probably a stable for coach horses. The Methodist Church is a large red-brick Art Deco-style building designed by architect W.W. Pocock of London. It was finished in October 1935 and replaced the original church of 1867. The shops give way to late 19th and 20th century housing. A Red Kite circles overhead. A pair of houses have an art deco look with a plaque, inscribed JP, which looks more. The Baptist church opened as the Hope Chapel in 1882. Opposite, a pair of houses are dated 1894. There are more houses have a similar date with modern infill. Into Sussex Road. This leads to Broadway. A short footpath leads to Redding Way and an area of modern housing developments. Into Alexandra Gardens. At the junction with Brushfield Way is a large church, now Wat Phra Dhammakaka London, a Dhammakaka Centre for Buddhist Meditation. The church was the chapel of Brookwood Hospital. Nearby is a hall clearly belonging to the former church. Across the road are substantial blocks of apartments. This was Brooklands Hospital was established to complement the Springfield Asylum in Tooting opening in 1867 as Brookwood Asylum. It was the second County Asylum able to hold 650 pauper lunatics. It closed in 1994.
The road passes through large modern housing estates to Hermitage Woods Estate, now called Brookwood Country Park. The Hermitage was a large country house built in the early 19th century on a site recorded in the mid 14th century. Lady Margaret Beaufort and her husband Henry Stafford entertained Edward IV at their “hunting lodge” in the great wood of Brookwood on the 20th December 1468, the household accounts listing “Conger eel, lamprey and 700 oysters, served off a pewter dinner service bought specially for the occasion”. The house was demolished in the 1930s. A path winds round to the Basingstoke Canal. The water seems almost black under the gloomy darkening sky. The towpath comes to a large winding hole. Several Moorhens searching the water’s surface for food. In the winding hole are two steel barges. On the far side of to grandiose floating homes. Alongside the winding hole is Hermitage Road, the busy A324. Up the main road to the bridge under which the canal passes. Over Hermitage Bridge. The promised rain has arrived. Off along the tow-path again. A Mallard is on the water, Robins and Great Tits sing. Two trains pass high on an Embankment above the canal. This is the South Western mainline, so trains are passing every few minutes. The embankment towers above the canal with a moss covered brick retaining wall holding it up. The rain has temporarily ceased. On the other side of the canal are the back garden’s of numerous housing estates. Several screaming, arguing male blackbirds chase to and fro across the canal. The rain returns harder.
St John’s – The towpath passes St John’s Lye. There are several boats on the water, one large barge with a crane on board, a long empty coal barge, a smaller boat for picking up rubbish and a canal boat. All seemed in pretty poor condition. Grey Wagtails flit around the edge of the canal. Siskin chatter above. A pair of Mallard stand on one of the barges. A young Cormorant is fishing in the water. Just before Kiln Bridge, another commercial barge is tied up on the far side. A Black-headed Gull has its full chocolate cap. Beyond the bridge is a deep lock.
Onto the bridge and into St John’s. It dates largely from the 19th century, when housing first began to be constructed to accommodate workers employed at the local brickworks. I search on Google and find a pub that is open except it is not. So I follow a cycle track up Inkerman Way, the Pluto Trail back to Knaphill. At the junction with Raglan Road are a row of fine large houses. These were the accommodation for prison officers. In 1859 the Woking Convict Invalid Prison was constructed on the site of what is now St John’s Primary School. It closed in 1889 and the site became the Inkerman Barracks which were demolished in the 1970s. Wellington Terrace, in Victoria Road, is a long terrace of brick cottages, also part of the former prison and barracks. The road is long and straight and rises to the top of Knaphill at the Anchor Inn. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Another wild night of wind and rain although this is not a named storm. Grey clouds still cross the sky rapidly this morning but there are small patches of blue. It is reasonably mild more than 10°C. Down to the railway bridge. A Chaffinch and Blackbird are in song. House Sparrows chatter from the bushes back by the railway station. The water level in the Lugg has fallen further and now the erosion of the banks can be clearly seen. Easters Meadow is soft and very muddy. Great Tits and more Blackbirds sing on both sides of the meadow. Brightwells’ compound contains a large number of military vehicles. Fresh molehills show that some of the velvet jacketed ladies and gentlemen have escaped the flooding. The shingle bank at the confluence of the Lugg and Kenwater has emerged again and there are some green leaves appearing on it.
The market remains relatively small, it is still early in the season. A Ptarmigan FV439, a caterpillar tracked army vehicle stands outside the sheds. Ptarmigan is a mobile, cryptographic digital and modular battlefield wide area network communications system, whose technology led to the development of mobile telephones. Lesser Celandines flower beside the Kenwater in Paradise Walk.
Tuesday – Home – I start clearing one of the beds of weeds that have spread a little during the winter. An inverted rake is then dragged over the ground to draw the numerous stones that have come to the surface into a pile. They are then piled into a sieve and the soil is shaken out. The stones are then dumped on an every growing pile at the foot of the garden. I then dig into a large pile of compost that was dug out of the chicken run last autumn. Despite being covered by a permeable sheet it is very claggy. The lumps are thrown over the bed and then broken up as much as possible. The broad beans that have been in pots in the greenhouse are then planted out. The soil is also very wet and, being clay, very sticky. I decide against watering in – it is all wet enough and rain is expected again. The forcing pot is removed from the rhubarb and the pale pink stems pulled. There are a lot of slugs on the leaves of the rhubarb and they are thrown to the hens. Everything I have done has been carefully observed by a couple of Robins which dash in now and again to grab a worm. Daffodils are now at their best – a wide range of different yellows and trumpets.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Heavy grey clouds cover most of sky. A herd of Mute Swans previously seen in the fields at the junction of the A49 and the A417 at Hope-under-Dinmore has reduced to half a dozen birds. The flooding south of Leominster has reduced but there are still large pools along the Bodenham road and the fields still look saturated.
Along the track towards the lake. Wrens, Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds are in song. Canada Geese are cackling. Debris on the track shows that it has been under water recently. A Great Spotted Woodpecker Drums and a Green Woodpecker yaffles. The water level in the lake is high although obviously lower than it has been. There are just a few Canada Geese and Mallard on the main boating area. An odd looking cargo plane flies over, a Short SC.7 Skyvan (nicknamed the “Flying Shoebox”). A Common Buzzard soars high in the sky. Along the meadow. Blackthorn is in flower, bright green leaves are appearing on Hawthorn and Goat Willow the end of the field is glorious and its yellow-cream catkins. It does not really need saying that the paths are absolute quagmires.
Into the hide. A pair of Mute Swans fly in. There are more Mute Swans at the western end of the lake. A pair of male Ring-necked Pheasants pass in front of the hide. One has white on its crown and a pale sea green area on its rump. It will be one of the sub-species, probably the Chinese Ring-necked. One flies off to the island followed a minute later by the second and a third appears from behind the hide and joins them. A Drake Goldeneye dives at the western end of the water. The Chinese Pheasant returns but it is soon chased off by yet another cock Pheasant. A Long-tailed Tit, John Clare’s “Bum-barrel”, moves through a bramble thicket on the bank. A Song Thrush sings in the distance. A Moorhen swims out from the reeds with its jerky motion and heads along side of the bank. Two Mute Swans are canoodling, their heads and necks forming a heart. The wind is rising. Over 50 Canada Geese are on the far southern bank along with several Greylags. Two piping Oystercatchers fly in. A Cormorant descends from a considerable height. Gorse is in flower outside the hide window.
Back through the Alder plantation, my feet sticking in the mud. A donkey starts braying in the field and a pair of fat black pigs wander down the hill. The donkey is clearly intimidated by the pigs and gallops off. Buds are beginning to open on the apple trees in the orchards, although most are still dormant.
Friday – Preston on Wye-Moccas – Preston on Wye is a small village to the west of the city of Hereford. The morning is cool with a breeze but sun is shining despite considerable cloud cover. In the centre of the village is the community hall. Opposite is Green farm which has a double roofed farmhouse which is late 17th century, with some mid 19th century alterations and was partly rebuilt after a fire in 1947. On the other side of the road stands a fine early Victorian house, High House. Next to it stands the Jubilee Baptist chapel of 1869. Large cottage stands back from the road. The providence primitive Methodist chapel is dated 1862. Several timber framed houses are scattered around the village along with some modern 20th century housing. The pub is further down the road. I return northwards. Green Court is an extended house of some age.
The lane heads north. A large house looks reasonably modern but is actually a 14th century H-shaped hall, with some 17th century alterations and clad in stone in the 18th century. The old village well stands outside a pair of cottages, a modern one built onto a much older building. Robins and Chaffinches sing and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drums. Past an old orchard. A large Oak tree by the roadside contains a rookery and and several noisy Rooks. There is then a pair of asphalt tennis courts. The line passes through farmland and a timber-framed cottage before entering the second part of the village. The Old Mill has been greatly extended. This building was the miller’s house, the mill, now gone, being on the other side of the road. Water rushes down the millstream. A side lane passes a curved lake and leads to the church. Preston Court stands next to the church. The medieval manor house was built in the early 16th century, with alterations in the 17th century and renovations at a later date. Preston Court became an important farm, but in 1849 the farm buildings suffered catastrophic damage following an arson attack. At this time John Davies was the lessee of the farm under the Dean and Chapter of Hereford. A flowering Magnolia stands by the gate.
The name Preston, common across the country, derives from Presetune, meaning Priest Town. Preston on Wye is recorded in Domesday as having two clerics holding one and half hides, about 100 acres. The church of St Lawrence dates from around 1150 but the presence of priests at Domesday indicates there was an earlier church here. The Book of Llandaff states Gwfodw, King of Ergyng and Bishop Ufelwy built a church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, St Peter, St Dubricius and St Teilo, in the 6th century at Bolgros, identified as Preston on Wye. The church was restored in both 1625 and 1883, the latter by T Nicholson. The Huntley Chapel dates from around 1330 and was probably a chantry chapel. The altar is a 17th century communion table. There is a ring of six bells in a frame installed in 1995. A bell in “C” was cast by Abraham Rudhall in Gloucester in 1707, A “B” cast by John Finch of Hereford in 1641, an “A” also cast by Finch in 1627 and three bells cast at Whitechapel in 1994. An old treble, thought to be 14th century by an unknown founder has been retained for chiming in the old frame. Outside a pair of Yews stand either side of the steps leading up onto the mound on which the church is built. A 14th century preaching cross stands near the church. Just part of the shaft remains and the base.
Off along the road leading west. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in nearby woods. Lesser Celandines and Red Dead Nettle flower on the roadside banks. Past a good sized modern orchard. Blue Tits chatter in the hedgerow. A pair of Mute Swans are grazing in a field. The River Wye is a short distance north of the lane and a canoe hire centre occupies a site next to an extended Victorian villa at Bycross. A short distance further on the River is on the other side of the roadside hedge. A couple of modern houses stand next to the river and more commercial orchards. A paddock contains a small flock of Jacob’s sheep. Monnington on Wye church lies a short distance to the north. A timber-framed cottage, prosaically called “The Cottage”, was called Lower Moccas Cottage and then Jimane. It was built in the 17th century and restored in the late 20th century.
The lane enters Moccas at Rowley Court. The road turns southwards beside the gate lodge to Moccas Court. The gatehouse is called Bridge Lodge and was designed by John Nash in 1804. Opposite is Lower Moccas Farm with a large rambling timber-framed farmhouse built and added to at various times in the 17th century. A Common Buzzard soars high overhead. The village is a higgledy-piggledy collection of old and modern buildings including a school and school house. The village hall is modern. At the end of the village is another gate lodge to Moccas Court, this one Dawe Lodge and again by Nash in 1801.
The lane comes to a crossroads with the B4352. A War Memorial cross stands on the crossroads. Two timber-framed houses are across the road. They are from the late 17th century and the smithy stood behind them. A little was west is another 17th century cottage. The road is closed in the direction of Hay. Two lorries carrying tarmac turn up and head down the closed road. I head back eastwards. The Old Rectory stands to the north of the road. It is, as usual, a very substantial Victorian building. An old orchard stands by the road, the trees heavy with mistletoe. Behind to the south the line of hills that separate the valley of the Wye from that of the Dore rise covered in grey and dark green conifers, here Woodbury Hill Wood. To the north is a converted early 19th century windmill. The road enters the village of Blakemere.
A lane heads off in a north-easterly direction. A thatched cottage with a modern extension lies in a dip away from the road at Holy Well. Carpenter’s Cottage has also been extended in an unusual way. There appears to be a small old cottage, probably 16th century and a Victorian house had been built attached to it. Then a modern extension had been built encompassing the cottage. Nearby is a Hazel coppice where some of the trees have dozens of shoots. A stream runs down from Holywell Farm. It is not clear if this is the holy well but it is on private land anyway.
To the east, fields are full sedges and the map marks it as marsh. To the south of this is the Flits National Nature Reserve. Owlswood House is a solid Victorian building. A recently constructed bridge crosses a brook. A notice board states The Flits comes from Fleot or Fliet, meaning a stream in Old English. It is a remnant of traditional Herefordshire landscape is spring-fed flower meadows, marshes, ditches and wet woodland flanking the brook. This area is important for Soldier Flies, Snail Flies and Crane Flies.
The lane rises through a small cutting where where the geology is revealed as alluvial clay with a few beds of small river smoothed stones. A deep hole has been dug into the bank, probably by a Badger. Pope Place is the former vicarage for Preston on Wye and Blakemere. An artesian well stands across a field, stationary despite the steady breeze. Part of the field still has a crop of mangelwurzels on which sheep are chomping. A couple of houses make up Hainstone. The lane takes me back in to Preston on Wye.
Sunday – Leominster – Another wet and windy night, rain lashing against the window panes. By morning the wind has died down but it still rains. It does not put off off a Blackbird which started singing shortly after 4 o’clock. I head down the street. Wood Pigeons coo loudly on the rooftops and House Sparrows chattering gardens. Just two Starlings sit on a television aerial and nearby another Wood Pigeon and a Jackdaw.
Down to the railway bridge. My first Chiffchaff of the year is searching through an Ash which overhangs the site of an old railway track that led to an engine shed and turntable. Now there is just a muddy track to nowhere. The Chiffchaff is calling loudly and clearly. The River Lugg remains at the same level as last week. A Grey Wagtail bounces its way upstream. Easters Meadow is predictably muddy. Dark red catkins are appearing on the Black Poplars. Another Chiffchaff is singing upstream from Butts Bridge. Despite the rain this little warbler’s arrival from Africa makes it feel like spring, although one can never trust the British weather. A Greenfinch wheezes its song. The river level has risen slightly as the shingle bank at the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg is submerged again. A Dunnock is singing loudly and continuously near Ridgemoor Bridge.
The rain is now heavier and persistent. The half-dozen traders have turned up this morning are all in the car auction hall. The banks of Cheaton Brook just before it joins the Lugg have been scoured of all mud leaving the large blocks of stone, Raglan Mudstone Formation – interbedded siltstone and mudstone, formed approximately 419 to 424 million years ago in the Silurian Period. Along Mill Street to Paradise Walk where I pick some fresh, young Dandelion leaves for the hens. A traffic warden is making himself popular by giving out parking tickets in Bridge Street car park at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning.
Tuesday – Home – The country, indeed the world, is gripped by the rapid spread of a coronavirus, Covid-19, a variety of SARS that has originated in China. Across the world, nearly 200,000 people have contracted the virus and at least 7500 have died. Many countries are in complete lockdown; shops, schools, bars, gathering places all closed by order and their people instructed to remain at home. Our prevaricating Government is merely advising people not to go to pubs, clubs, venues etc. and where possible, remain at home. It is utter chaos. Supermarkets are being stripped of essentials and non-essentials for that matter. No-one knows if they should venture out or not. The town, apart from supermarkets, is very quiet. This could spell the end for many local businesses.
Yesterday I planted out the remaining broad beans and the gutter of peas. I then weeded another bed. This afternoon I dug out some of the spent compost from the greenhouse and replaced it with fresh from one of the big bins. A Greenfinch is calling. I then started removing pebbles from another bed. Every winter pounds and pounds of river gravel works its way to the surface. A Chiffchaff sings briefly. Three Blackbirds stand together at the top of the Bramley apple. There is a hint of blossom on one of the damsons. Snakehead Fritillaries are appearing on the section of lawn we are leaving as a flower meadow this year.
Wednesday – Leominster – The Covid-19 virus is spreading rapidly. Older people have been advised to keep her away from all others and preferably stay at home. Everybody has been advised not to visit pubs, clubs and restaurants etc. All schools will close for an indefinite period of time from tomorrow.
It has been raining since the early hours but is now reduced to just a vague drizzle. The temperature has dropped considerably since yesterday. The River Lugg flows grey-green at the same level as the weekend. Birds twitter and squeak from the riverside trees. A Grey Squirrel sits on Lammas Meadow cleaning face with its paws.
Into the Millennium Park. It is still muddy and paths have pools of water on them. The snowdrops are finished but daffodils are now replacing them. Blackthorn is in blossom. I gather a few leaves of Wild Garlic for the hens. A rabbit runs down the edge of the Peace Garden. Great Tits are calling from various locations. A Wren hops along mud on the bank at the edge of the River Kenwater. A Chiffchaff calls. Small pieces of glazed earthenware and the broken stem of a clay pipe have been thrown up in the soil of fresh molehills.
Saturday – Home – The Spring Equinox has arrived and with the days start to lengthen and the darkness shrinks. To welcome this the weather has improved with bright sunshine but a sharp wind makes it cool. I dig out some compost and mix it with sharp sand and fill small pots for my second sowing tomato seedlings. These are the outdoor bush and tumbling varieties. The left-over compost is spread around the garlic which has survived the winter well.
We are now heading for a complete lockdown because of the Covid-19 virus. All pubs, restaurants and places of entertainment have been instructed to close. Supermarkets are short of many items. Billions is being made available so that anyone who is laid off will receive 80% of their wages. Hospitals are struggling. And experts are predicting this could go on for at least a year!
Sunday – Leominster – Spring is greeted by a bright sunny day with high wispy cloud. An easterly breeze keeps the temperature low. Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws call noisily. A pair of the latter chase the pair of Starlings off of their usual television aerial. Down to the River Lugg. The virus is spreading through the country, death toll is rising and our little world is shrinking. Our local newsagents has closed for the duration. The Sunday market is closed. However nature simply carries on. Blackbirds scream alarms at each other, a Great Spotted Woodpecker chips, Great Tits see-saw their simple song and the river flows on as it has for millennia.
A Chiffchaff calls in the Millennium Park. A Wren sings from low down in the railway trackside hedgerow. A Blackbird sings in the church precinct. Another starts its song from the bushes on the edge of the old playing field. A Robin sits a few feet above me singing whilst watching me carefully. Then all the songs does full silent as a Common Buzzard cruises low from the churchyard, across the millennium stone circle and over the railway. It only takes a few seconds for the songs to start again led by a Dunnock. Then a Blackcap springs into song. Once I would have declared the Blackcap a newly arrived summer of visitor but these days many are overwintering, including some around our gardens.
Home – A couple of days of dry weather has dried out the chicken run enough that I can dig it out. For some reason the mixture of straw, mud and droppings seems deeper than usual and there are now several large mounds on the vegetable beds. I then remove weeds and snowdrops from around the bases of the fruit trees. I then put down a mulch of compost from one of our bins. Two rows of cabbage seedlings are planted out. I place a ring of plastic cut from squash bottles around the seedlings to act as barriers to slugs and snails. They are then covered by a cloche. A number of Swiss chard plants have overwintered in what will now be the potato bed, so they are moved next to the cabbage seedlings. Again a dressing of compost should give them a boost. Blackbirds and Robins are having a fine time with all the worms that have been disturbed in the chicken run diggings.
The afternoon is warm. Two Comma butterflies play, one landing on the warm bricks of the west facing garden wall and stretches out its copper and black wings with their ragged edges. Its body is furry, a pale brown.
Monday – Home – The light fades as the crepuscular avian activity grows more shrill. Blackbirds are pinking, a cacophony of Jackdaws comes from both four pairs at the top of our Ash and from others in gardens down the street. From the green passage of Elder, Laurel and roses that divides our garden the view towards the end seems lit with bright creamy yellow Primroses which are scattered down the edges of the path and in the grassy areas. A few daffodils stand erect like street lights. The hens have gone to bed. The sky is clear which presages a sharp frost, so I remove the tomato and chilli seedlings from the greenhouse and take them indoors.
Tuesday – Home – The forecasted frost has not materialised. By 8:30 in the morning it is around 5°C. I take some seeds from a stored marrow I cut up last night out to the hens along with the ends of a loaf. The seed and peanut feeders are filled. The tomato and chilli seedlings go back out to the greenhouse. A Chiffchaff calls from a neighbouring garden. Jackdaws fly over with beaks full of nesting material.
We are now in “lock-down”. The Government has decreed everybody must stay at home unless it is essential they go out. Although we will need some basic shopping and pills later in the week, we have no reason to venture forth at the moment.
Into the garden. Firstly I dig out two large clumps of Phlox for Kay to divide and replant near the newly pruned Laurel. Then four trenches of first early potatoes, Pentland Javelin, are planted.
Thursday – Leominster – Shortly after dawn and the sky is clear. A dull orange glow is above Eaton Hill to the east. The temperature is around about 0°C. Down the street. The Minster bells toll six o’clock. A Magpie is at the top of a tree behind the White Lion, flicking its tail up and down, chattering as it does so. A Chiffchaff calls continuously and a Robin sings. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drums one of the Black Poplars by Butts Bridge. Easters and Lammas meadows are pale with frost. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen further. Several Blackbirds are in song and a Carrion Crow coughs.
Back over the railway bridge and along to the Millennium Park. A rabbit dashes away, its white scut bouncing up and down. I gather a few leaves of Wild Garlic. Past the Minster and into Church Street. Starlings sit on the aerial of the Forbury. Another stands on the apex of the gable of the Forbury chapel. Feral pigeons fly to and fro.
I go out just before midday to pick up some shopping. I see barely a dozen people in the town. Shopping is done by standing in the doorway whilst the shopkeeper gets my order. The system breaks down a little when I have go in to enter my number in the card reader. It is then back home and wash my hands thoroughly. Strange days!
Home – The garden is rapidly emerging from winter. Most trees now have nascent leaves. Bees and hover-flies visit the early flowers. Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Wood Pigeons, Blue and Great Tits are all busy going about their business. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is on a Birch next door. However, Nuthatches seem absent. One was calling regularly from around this time last year.
Sunday - Home - The lockdown continues. Over 200 people died of the virus yesterday, so irritating as it is being stuck at home it is clearly essential. The morning is a mixture of sun and clouds with a bitter east wind. I have the usual tussle with the local Grey Squirrel as I chase it off the bird feeder. I then clear the asparagus bed and give it a dressing of chicken run diggings. A few stalks of rhubarb are pulled and that is pretty much it for the day in the garden.
I changed the clock on the automatic chicken house door this morning, so I go out after dark to check everything. Rocket is on the nest again and we have a protracted battle of wills before she reluctantly gets up onto the perch. A horned moon and Venus shine brilliantly in the western sky, lighting up the scattered clouds.