Monday – Alsager – Brigid and I have an early morning walk. Up Audley Road to the station and along the path I followed yesterday. This becomes a paved path around a large distribution centre. The old maps show this a being an old sandpit. The path passes through fairly young woodland and comes out on the Lawton Road by Hooze Hollow Bridge. The stream underneath is small. Up towards the Linley Lane junction. The road crosses the Sandbach Branch of the North Stafford Railway, which joins the LNWR Crewe-Manchester line at Elworth, west of Sandbach. There is no sign of it. We reach the road junction and look for the tumuli recorded on the map. This is the Bronze Age site mentioned earlier, but apart from a slight rise in the corner of the field we find nothing. On up the Linley Lane and then off at Lawton Heath towards Lawton Heath End. The housing is modern and often ostentatious to say the least. Bird song has accompanied us all morning and continues – Dunnock, Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and a rasping Mistle Thrush. Past open fields to Lawton Heath End where a lane runs down to the road back into town. The Salt Line as it is called here as it brought salt from the Malkin’s Bank works, crosses the road, now a bridleway. A board warns of rabbit holes and advises horse riders to keep to the track and at a steady walk. A Bullfinch flashes past. The housing gets older as we head back into the town centre and then back over the railway. After breakfast, the others depart north-east and we head south-west, home.
Wednesday – Leominster – It is strange how one can miss things that one should have seen long ago. Lloyds Bank has stood in the corner of Corn Square for far longer than we have been here. Today, I noticed it has the word “formerly” on the bottom of the stone lintel above the door carrying the bank’s name. Underneath the lintel is carved “Worcester City and County Bank Company Limited”, obviously there for years but unnoticed by me before now. The sun is rising and blinding in the east. A dozen Blackbirds and a similar number of Starlings are digging away at the Grange. Bunches of green flowers dangle from Lime trees. The dawn chorus is still in full flow. The blossom on some of the Millennium Park apple trees is beginning to go over. A rabbit lops off to the dried up pool, disappearing into the long grass.
Bodenham Lake – The sun still shines in an almost cloudless sky but a stiff breeze from the east keeps it cool. The bird song is all summer visitors – Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, several of each. The air is full of tiny insects. They are all along the meadow and through the Alder plantation and really quite annoying. Four Canada Geese, a Mute Swan and fourteen Tufted Duck are around the scrape. A duck Mallard swims by with seven ducklings. A lot of Canada Geese are gathered down the western end of the lake. Others are scattered around the water and on the island. A Coot mounts the scrape after a thorough washing and starts preening. The new hide had been constructed on the opposite side of the lake. A baby rabbit runs from the bank into the undergrowth beside this hide. A few more Mallard arrive around the scrape. There appears to be only a single pair of Canada Geese with goslings. They are at the western end in the reed bed. A female Mallard seems to want to separate the ducklings from their mother by attempting to chase her off, but the brood scurry across the water to rejoin their mother.
Leominster – On returning to town, I park in Etnam Street. As I walk up the street, a female Common Pheasant suddenly appears on the pavement in front of me and runs off up the street. She huddles against a house wall. I approach slowly, I do not want her to run off across the road in case she is hit by a car. However, she is up and off up the street again. Now she huddles up against the museum wall. Again as I approach, she leaps up and rushes into the museum lobby. Here she is trapped and I am able to scoop her up, to various onlookers making comments about a tasty dinner. I take the poor, frightened bird into our garden and release her. She rushes down into the far bottom corner. We leave her there. Later in the afternoon I check to ensure she has left. No sign of her, but in an old sink in the corner is a newly laid pheasant’s egg!
Thursday – Humber – The first round of the BTO Breeding Bird Survey. The wind is bitter and the sky overcast. However, it has not stopped a Skylark from soaring so high that it is a mere speck against the grey but its song rings out clear and true. Yellowhammers are on the hedgerows. A Whitethroat rises vertically, singing its scratchy song continuously and descends back to the hedge top. Blackbirds are in good numbers and there are more Song Thrushes than usual. Linnets seem in far larger numbers than in previous years. The fields towards Steens Bridge are as empty of bird life as ever. I hear just a single Raven. Yet again this year there are no Corn Buntings around. My list is the normal spread of species, nothing unusual this year.
Friday – Ivington – Another morning of hot sunshine, brisk breeze and fluffy white clouds. No sign of rain, good for walking, not so good for the garden. I start from the former outdoor shop in Upper Hill and head back towards Leominster. A Blackbird is singing in nearby bushes and House Sparrows chirrip. White Stitchwort and pink Herb Robert adorn the verge. The road drops through Middle Hill. The house at Middle Hill is a 14th century cruck-framed hall. There were originally two framed bays. The western one was demolished in the 17th century and the eastern bay enlarged. The cross-wing was also two bays which were modified in the 17th century. More modifications were undertaken in the mid 19th and mid 20th century. It looks in a pretty poor state currently. Down to Cross House, built in the 16th or 17th century. A dead tree, is covered in the blossom of a pink clematis. A lane heads north-west. The hedgerow lining the lane has a good spread of species indicating that it has some age. Below Yellow Rattle is flowering. A large field has bare, red soil ploughed into ridges – potatoes yet to emerge. Yellow Herb Bennett and pink and purple Tufted Vetch are just coming into flower. The lane bends past a modern semi, possibly farmworkers cottages, maybe not now. The road bends back again in front of the older farmhouse of Lower Hill. The lane surface deteriorates to mainly small stones. Honeylake Brook crosses the lane at a ford with a wooden footbridge. A police helicopter roars by. The lane arrives at a crossroads at Aulden. I turn left. A large copper Ring-necked Pheasant flies across the lane croaking rather squeakily. I can hear but not see a Whitethroat. My first Swift of the year flies past. Black St Mark’s Flies hang in the air, their legs dangling. A large cider orchard is in blossom.
The lane enters the small village of Birley. A pickup with a flashing light passes followed by a huge agricultural vehicle. The village consists of Birley Court, a large house rebuilt in the 19th century with a decent sized pond in front of it, St Peter’s Church, several houses and a lot of barn conversions. The manors of Birley were in the possession of two Marcher families, Lacy and Mortimer. They were run by tenants who, in 1086, were Godmund (tenant of Roger de Lacy) and Richard (that of Ralph de Mortimer). The Croose and Croose Parry family were Lords of the Manor. Annoyingly the church is locked, despite the diocese’s declaration that all churches should be open. The church is 13th century, extended in the 14th century and restored in 1873 at a cost of £1330. The tower is a large strong Norman edifice. There is a half-timbered gable on a perpendicular side chapel. A monument to Thomas and Susanna Croose Parry 1881, of Birley Court stands in the corner of the graveyard. Another Croose Parry is on the war memorial.
Back towards Aulden. At the cider orchard a Greenfinch calls and a Bullfinch flies across the lane. Several butterflies flit past rapidly in the strong breeze. The large machine that passed earlier is across a field. It has harvesting equipment on the front and a large hopper in its centre. It has already filled the hopper with what I assume are some sort of beet. There is an elevator on the side. A trailer is backed up alongside the machine and the load is transferred into it. On along the lane. Aulden consists of a few houses mainly 20th century and large farm. The lane continues eastwards. A large pond lies at the bottom of a field. A Mute Swan and a pair of Canada Geese are there. Across the fields the top of the tower of Monkland church can be seen. Honeylake Brook appears from across a field and runs alongside the road. A Hobby flies across a field of oilseed rape and up into a tree.
Into Ivington. A sign on a gate says
Shipps House, although the house is listed as Chipps House. It is a 16th century house, modified in various times, with oast houses. The church of St John is locked. It was built in 1842. There was formerly a chapel at Ivington, the high altar in which was dedicated to St Martin and St Benedict dedicated in 1377 by Archiliensis, Suffragan of the Bishop of Hereford. No part of it is now remaining. Out on the Leominster road past Ivington Bury gatehouse which is 16th century on an older base. The farm was originally in the possession of the monks of Leominster Priory. The sluice gates are still attached to Ivington Mill. Over the mill stream and then to the River Arrow. The wind is strengthening and the sky is clouding over. I head off across the water meadows. The meadow is lush with long grass, Field Buttercups, the occasional Marsh Marigold and Dandelions, both yellow discs and Dandelion clocks. The path, although there is nothing on the ground to indicate its route, follows the Arrow. There are old banks and dykes, part of the winter flooding mechanism. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps sing in the riverbank willows. The route comes to a bridge. Over the bridge. The meadow beyond is treacherous, cattle have been on the ground when it was wet and soft. It is now rock hard and deep hoof prints risk a turned ankle. Over a stile into a field that is being prepared for potatoes. There is supposed to be a public footpath across the field but our has been completely obliterated. I walk round the edge which is again treacherous as large lumps of hard clay have been dumped on the thin strip that has not been ploughed. Along a track that leads to the Hereford Road.
Saturday – Home – The sky is grey and seems to threaten rain but none comes. I pull out as many brambles as I can find, then clear out some Stinging Nettles that are growing through some blue flowers – Alkanets I think. One nettle leaf manages to slip between my gloves and my sleeve, so I have a nice mass of rash bubbles on my wrist skin. Two sacks of horse manure is buried in the courgette patch. I am going to restrict us to six plants this year and no squashes – we still have loads of last year’s crop in the freezers. The tomatoes and pepper are all in the greenhouse now and seem to have taken the transplanting well. Potatoes have emerged. The purple sprouting broccoli is almost finished now. Broad bean flowers are beginning to appear. Some lettuce seedlings are planted out. Three pots of beans are sown, I am going to stagger sowing beans this year. This sowing consists of two Dwarf French Beans – Amethyst and Blue Bloom – and a climbing French Bean – William’s Tiger Bean. We put out the garden furniture that was over-wintered in the summerhouse – that ought to bring rain!
Sunday – Leominster – We both head for the market this morning. The sky is blue as a Starling’s egg, the sun is already over Eaton Hill. I check the House Martin nesting sites at the bottom of the road but there is no sign of any martlets, to use the old name. They were also often known as Window Swallows. Over the railway and on to Butts Bridge. The River Lugg is clear, low and slow. The market is quite large, not as large as it will be in a few weeks if the weather remains fine. There are a good number of people selling plants, more than the regulars. However, it is a regular I go to to buy some Tumbling Tom tomatoes. I forget to sow any of this variety every year and they have been quite successful in hanging baskets recently. Round to the Kenwater which is also very low and clear. A Grey Wagtail is dashing to and fro over the water’s surface, catching insects.
Home – I plant out some summer purple broccoli I bought as seedlings. Compost is sieved and two hanging baskets are planted with the Tumbling Tom tomatoes. Everything is going to need some serious watering soon. We sit out later listening to three Wood Pigeons calling to each other – My Toe Bleeds Taffy – although Kay is dubious about this rendition of their calls. Swifts scream overhead, high in the blue. The towering Horse Chestnut that looms over the summerhouse is a wall of green leaves and white candles of flowers. Movement can be discerned within as Jackdaws move through the great limbs. White-tailed Bees are buzzing around the dead apple tree again and several are disappearing into a rotten crack in the trunk. An insistent tapping comes from a Nuthatch in the willow tree. A Grey Squirrel is making its rather annoying chatter.
Monday – Eyton – The sky has clouded over after a bright start. Off through the town and down to the Ludlow Road. Up to the New Lugg Bridge and along the former railway track to Summergalls Farm. A Swallow sweeps down the river, which is very low. A small flock of Starlings feeds on the bank. The track from the farm to Croward’s mill is a mess. A smashed caravan, pallet of bags, rotting bales of straw, rubble and abandoned farm equipment litter the route. The mill garden blazes with rhododendrons, and azaleas. Bird song seems muted, a Chiffchaff, Wood Pigeon, Rooks across the fields but little else. Over Cheese Bridge. A Whitethroat descends in jerks from a power line to the hedgerow, singing its scratchy song. Past Coxall Farm and into Eyton. Goldfinches flit around an old orchard. Another Whitethroat rises from the top of a tree and dances in the air whilst singing before descending to its perch again. Yellow Flag is coming into flower in the pond at Pondside Cottage. A Grey Wagtail flies up to the cottage roof piping loudly. A Jay flies across Eyton Common. I stand and listen awhile to the bubbling song of a Blackcap. Eyton Court looks like it is undergoing major renovations. Up to Hill farm where a large flat bed lorry and trailer are loaded with tons of straw. A small spaniel noisily greets me. A short time later I have to press against the hedge as the straw lorry passes. The lane reaches a crossroads with Croft Lane at Pool Cottage. I head back towards Leominster. The pool on the other side of the road is overgrown and barely visible. A shallow valley runs eastwards, across the Ludlow Road and on to the A49 before the land rises sharply to Stockton Ride, along which runs a Roman road. The lane rises past Lydiatts Farm. The lane descends again.
Across the field lies Cursneh Hill. From here it appears to dominate the area. A long held belief is that there was a major battle at Cursneh Hill. Soon after the death of Edward VI the throne was disputed between Lady Jane Grey, who had been designated the heir by Edward and Queen Mary. The tale is recorded thus:
“.. the partisans of the Earl of Northumberland and the Lady Jane Grey, who, at first seemed to have been in considerable force in this neighbourhood, assembled their followers near Leominster. Amongst their leaders were Hackluyt, of Eaton, Warnicombe, of Kington, Street, of Street Court, and Harley, Bishop of Hereford who, amongst them raised a force of 1,300 men, but, as the party of Queen Mary gained ground, their cause began to appear so gloomy that their numbers decreased daily. Sir James Croft, of Croft Castle, declared for Queen Mary, and was supported by the Walwyns and Francis Throckmorton, of Marden. The Walwyns were a very old Herefordshire family, but the Throckmortons had not long been connected with the county, the manor of Marden having been purchased from the Duke of Northumberland by Sir John Throckmorton, who was Chief Justice of Chester, and father of Francis Throckmorton. Street, of Street Court, went over to the royalist side, and the diminished rebel forces entrenched themselves on Cursneh Hill. They were there attacked by the Earl of Arundel, assisted by the inhabitants of Leominster, led by Philip Hobby, the retainers of Sir James Croft and Street, the men of Marden under Throckmorton, and the troops from Hereford under Walwyn. In this battle, a great number of the Lady Jane’s supporters were slain, and Queen Mary’s troops were entirely victorious.”
However, Dr Liz Round has postulated that the “battle” did not happen this way at all. Firstly, neither Sir James Croft or Philip Hobby were anywhere near Herefordshire on the date claimed, indeed, it can be shown Hobby was not in the country. There was a meeting of involved parties at this spot, but that it took place not in the summer of 1553 as the legend stated but six months later in January 1554 , the difference in dates being an error made in the original source which had not taken in account the change from the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The battle which involved the sort of numbers and the protagonists mentioned took place in East Anglia. However, Croft and Hobby could easily have met on the later date and Cursneh Hill could have been a convenient spot as Croft would not have wanted to meet at his home, Croft Castle. There may have been a minor skirmish or it was folk memories of a minor skirmish in the area during the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in the Wars of the Roses may have become confused with the later meeting at Cursneh Hill.
On through The Broad and back into town.
Wednesday – Leominster – Over the Grange. I met Seamus the collie and his owner. I have not seen them for a while. We reminisce over the passing of old Bob, the former street sweeper for the town, who used to walk across the Grange with her every day. There had been a sharp grass frost. This and the continued lack of rain is certainly testing the gardener’s patience. Rabbits bounce across Pinsley Mead and a Green Woodpecker lands on the big Ash tree.
Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire – We stop at the magnificent castle on the way to Pembroke. It stands on the Afon Caeriw (River Carew) which is part of the tidal estuary that makes up Milford Haven. A large lake lies below the castle, created when the river was dammed in the 16th century. It is likely the name, Caeriw comes from caer rhiw, meaning a fort on a small hill. Recent excavations have found defensive ditches which suggest an Iron Age settlement. Items from the Roman period and the mid-Saxon times indicate the site has been continuously occupied for at least two millennia. Beside the road is an 11th century cross, standing some 13 feet tall. It is believed to commemorate Maredudd ab Edwin, who died in 1035, co-ruler with his brother of Deheubarth. It is inscribed, on the west face MARGIT EUT REX ETG [uin] FILIUS and decorated in abstract patterns. The cross is in two parts, the top is Carmarthenshire sandstone, the lower portion is igneous type stone from Preseli, and joined by a tenon joint.
Gerald de Windsor cleared the site and built a stone keep around 1100. The rest of the defences were wooden. Gerald was made castellan of Pembroke Castle by Arnulf of Montgomery and married Nest, princess of Deheubarth around 1095. Nest brought the manor of Carew as part of her dowry. Gerald’s son William took the name
de Carew, and in the middle of the 12th century created an enclosure with stone walls incorporating the original keep with a
Great Hall inside it. The current high-walled structure with a complex of rooms and halls around the circumference was created in about 1270 by Nicholas de Carew (died 1297). The de Carews fell on hard times in the post-Black Death period and mortgaged the castle. Rhys ap Thomas, who made his fortune by strategically changing sides and backing Henry Tudor just before the battle of Bosworth. He was rewarded with lands and a knighthood and obtained the castle. He extended it with luxurious Tudor style apartments in the late 15th century. Rhys’ grandson Rhys ap Gruffudd however, was executed by Henry VIII for treason in 1531 and the castle reverted to the crown. In 1558 it was acquired by Sir John Perrot, a Lord Deputy of Ireland, who completed the final substantial modifications of the castle. He reconstructed the north walls to build a long range of domestic rooms. Perrot also fell out of favour and died imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1592 and again the castle reverted to the crown and was finally re-purchased by the de Carew family in 1607. In the Civil War, the castle was refortified by Royalists although south Pembrokeshire was strongly Parliamentarian. After changing hands three times, the south wall was pulled down, slighting the castle. At the Restoration the castle was returned to the de Carews, who continued to occupy the eastern wing until 1686. The castle was then abandoned and allowed to decay with much of the structure being looted for building stone and for lime burning. It is claimed that the north-west tower is haunted by a ghost of an ape, which murdered its master, the eccentric and bad-tempered Sir Roland Rhys. The castle is also said to be haunted by Nest.
We walk down to the dam. It is a glorious day. There is a small but inevitably noisy rookery just outside the castle. Down the track. The walls have extensive growths of Ivy-leaved Toadflax. Native to the Mediterranean region and thought to have been brought to London with imported marble slabs from Italy in 1640 and was planted in gardens. It has since escaped and become naturalised and very common throughout Britain. On the banks are the circular discs of the leaves of Pennywort, also known as Navelwort or Penny Pies. Only a few Mallard and Mute Swans are on the lake. The Dam is the site of one of the few remaining tidal mills. A mill was probably on this site when the castle was built. This mill may have been powered by a leat that ran from the river before the causeway dam was built to create the large tidal mill pond. There are records of the former mill from 1541. The Ministers’ Accounts prepared for Henry VIII mention “two mills under one roof called le french mills”. The name almost certainly derives from the millstones, which were made of French burr stone. John Bartlett took a lease on the mill in 1558 for a fee of 10 sovereigns annually. There was a fire at the end of the 18th century and the present building was built around 1801. It has two undershot wheels driving three stones each. The grain was delivered and the flour shipped out by sailing vessels on the river. The mill was abandoned in 1937 and restored in 1972. Numerous Swallows and House Martins are sweeping over the tidal mud. Many nest on the mill. A large miller’s house stands next to the mill.
Pembroke – Our B&B is towards the edge of the town. We head into the town past the station. The Pembroke and Tenby line was authorised by Act of Parliament on the 21st July 1859 as the South Wales, Pembroke and Tenby Junction Railway. The station was a wooden building, the stone one being built after the opening of the line. Mill Pond Walk drops down to the second mill pond. The first was created when the tidal inlet was dammed to harness power for the corn mill at Pembroke Quay. In 1864 the Pembroke and Tenby Railway Company (which was absorbed by the GWR in 1897) extended operations across the recently constructed embankment. The second millpond lies to the west. The water level seems low. A Mute Swan in the far corner has cygnets. A number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with several Herring Gulls are on the green water. A few Mallard drift around. The walk lies between the mill pond and the town walls. A memorial commemorates four people killed in an explosion at Chevron refinery in June 2011. At the end of the pond is a dam carrying a road. This is an ancient causeway bridge across the mill pond. A multi-arched bridge is shown on John Speed’s 1610 map, but a battlemented causeway is shown in the 1748 Buck view with a sluice towards the north end and a gabled mill on the west side. The tidal mill was first granted in 1199 by King John to the Knights Templar. It was developed into large four storey and attic building, described as newly built in 1821. It was burnt in 1885, restored 1887, burnt 1955 and then demolished. The present bridge was built in the early 19th century. The North Gate stood at the south end.
We have lunch in a pub by the dam then walk under the cliff upon which stands the castle. This path runs around the third mill pond. This pond is a large area of mud with small streams running through it. An old corrugated iron hut, becoming buried under weeds and shrubs, has a sign stating its was the “Pembroke Racing Pigeon Society”. A large sluice gate controls the water as the other side is tidal. Up the Darklin which is so called because it refers back to a time when the lane leading up the hill from the great North Gate was so narrow (with houses and pubs either side) that it was dark and dangerous. Today the road is named Northgate Street, or Dark Lane; and once the Norman North Gate was removed around 1820 it was able to deal with the increased traffic that resulted from the fast-expanding nearby town of Pembroke Dock.
At the top of the street is St Mary’s church. The church was first built in the 13th century, possibly on the site of an earlier one, but was rebuilt under the supervision of John Loughborough Pearson in 1879. The tower dates from the middle of the 14th century and contains a ring of eight bells. The original bells were installed in 1763, two were added in 1765 and a further two added in 1897. The modern entrance to the church is through a porch on the west side of the building, erected in 1926, accessed from the corner of Northgate Street and Main Street. The reredos depicting Christ in majesty, was designed by Pearson. The great East window is one of the best examples of the work of C E Kempe as are many of the other windows. The font is Norman and it has been claimed that Henry VII, born in the castle, was baptised here, although there is no evidence to support this. The organ is by Conacher of Huddersfield. At the west end of the north aisle is the children’s corner and memorials to the Adams family who lived first at Pater Church (Pembroke Dock) and then at Holyland House. A piece of carved alabaster dating from 1410-1450 seems to have been deliberately defaced and from its weathered appearance would seem to have been discarded. In 1610 little William Adams died, aged “8 years, 5 weeks and 2 dayes”, and the old panel was re-used as a memorial to him and was set with its carved face hidden in the plaster of the wall. It was rediscovered at the 1879 restoration. Beside the chancel arch are several old monuments including a worn carved panel that may have been an earlier reredos. There are also several memorials including one of Robert Seafort “Gene” who died on 7th February 1630.
Most of the houses in the Main Street are substantial. They date mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, reflecting the Georgian style, although many were rebuilt on medieval sites and still incorporate the earlier fabric – for example a number have vaulted undercrofts. The form of the medieval town remains intact; many of the long gardens are identical with the previous burgage plots (of which there were 227). At the top of Northgate Street is The Cake Shop, formerly the Golden Lion Hotel. The Clock House is an early 19th century building, said to originally been a fish market. The building appears to be on the site of the Pembroke Town Hall where Wesley preached in the 18th century. By the late 19th century it was occupied by E. Matthews, baker & confectioner known as “Bessie the Clock”. The tower was repaired by G. H. Barrett in 1879. The council minutes report that the building was bought by the council in 1899 as the assembly rooms, an estimate for repairs of £235 from the Borough Surveyor was received in 1899, payments made to Davies & Morgan builders in 1899 and for the clock 1900. It is now a nightclub. The King’s Arms was a coaching inn. The National School was built in 1861, it is presently used as an antiques market. Tabernacle Congregational chapel was erected in 1867, seating 630 adults. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of 1871-2 by K. W. Ladd of Pembroke Dock. The chapel replaced one of 1822, opened in May 1878 and seated 600 people. It cost £2,500 (£260,000 in today’s money) to build, with a congregation numbering 230. The minister at the time was Revd Evan Thomas who had settled in Pembroke in 1875. It is also now an antique centre. The town’s second church is dedicated to St Michael and All Saints. Originally a plain Norman church with a “stunted tower.” It was rebuilt in 1831 by Thomas Rowlands of Haverfordwest and altered in 1887 by EH Lingen Barker. Sadly it looks abandoned now. The south side of Main Street ends at East End Square and consists of five cottages, the Hope Inn which has a garden which is down a series of terraces, and beyond number 6, the old East End School. There was once a number 7 East End but this was demolished to make the road wider for tanks travelling from the railway station to Castlemartin Firing Range.
Thursday – Marloes – We do, what for me, is a bit of a nostalgic tour of the corner of Pembrokeshire I visited often in the 1990s when Pete and Jo lived here. We pass through Marloes and up to the Deer Park. The Gorse is stunning, absolutely covered with brilliant yellow flowers. On top of the Gorse are Linnets, Stonechats, a Whinchat, Dunnock and Meadow Pipits. Up to the look-out which is staffed, apparently by a volunteer. Out at sea are a number of tankers at anchor. The little boat chugs out to Skomer Island with its load of tourists. There are few birds visible on the island, just some Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The cries of Choughs drift across the grassland and then a couple come into sight, landing on a patch of closely cropped grass and probing with soil with their curved red bills. Blue star-like flowers are everywhere, Spring Squilla, a species restricted to western coasts in the UK. Stunted Bladder Campion grows in patches. Thrift is bright pink on the cliff tops and down the steep slopes to the little bays and inlets below. A Wheatear stands upright on the grass. On the south side of the headland, the cliffs of volcanic basalts of the Skomer Volcanic Group from Late Ordovician to Late Silurian were folded and distorted during the Variscan orogeny, in the Late Carboniferous. Back down beside the wall that cuts off the park. A Whitethroat rises from the Gorse, singing.
We drive through the narrow lanes down to Little Haven. The beach is mainly closed by construction work to alleviate flood risk. Over the Dale airfield down to Dale where we were hoping for a sandwich in The Griffin, but they only do full meals. On to St Ishmaels. We do not stop but notice The Brook Inn has been modernised. The outside loos have been converted – no longer can Swallows swoop into their nests above ones head whilst one is spending a penny! The landlord and landlady were old when I was last here and that was probably 20 years ago. We then return to Pembroke over Neyland Toll Bridge.
Pembroke – Human settlement in the Pembroke vicinity began long before the Normans. There are natural caves in the limestone formation which were the home of early man. Later settlers, no doubt, appreciated the good soils, equable climate and opportunities for travel and trade offered by the Pembroke River and Milford Haven Waterway.
The castle is a fine sight, although it is busy with school children and tourists. In 1093, after the Norman conquest of Dyfed, Arnulph de Montgomery was granted land around Pembroke. He made his headquarters at the western edge of a ridge of Carboniferous limestone. Pembroke’s strategic importance soon increased, as it was from here that the Normans embarked upon their Irish campaigns. The Earldom of Pembroke of 1109 was translated into a County Palatine in 1138, and the present stone castle, with its famous massive cylindrical keep, was begun by William Marshal, who was married to Isabel de Clare, daughter of Richard de Clare called “Strongbow”, second Earl of Pembroke, probably shortly after 1189. The keep had four floors, connected by a spiral stair which also led to the battlements. The large square holes on the top of the outside were to hold a timber hoard, or fighting platform. When the castle was attacked, the hoard could be erected as an extra defence, outside the battlements but way above the heads of the attackers. The keep was enclosed by the inner ward curtain wall. To the south-west stood the large horseshoe-shaped gate, which only survives at footings level, and to the east was a strong round tower with a basement prison. A thin wall was built along the cliff edge with a small observation turret at the point and the square stone platform on the north supported a huge medieval catapult for defence against attack from the sea. The domestic buildings on the west and east of the inner ward included William Marshal’s hall and private apartments. These were improved and further buildings added in the later 13th century, when the new Great Hall was built with a towering mass of walling projecting over its south-east corner to enclose the mouth of a large cavern, the Wogan Cavern in the rock below, which may have served as a boathouse. A large single-storey building was added near the keep to serve as the county court.
By this time, the castle had passed to the de Valence family; the Hastings family then held it from 1324 to 1389, after which the castle passed into the hands of the crown. In 1405 Francis Court was given munitions to hold the castle against Owain Glyndŵr’s uprising. The castle later passed into the hands of Jasper Tewdwr, Earl of Pembroke, and was apparently the birthplace of his nephew Harri Tewdwr, later King Henry VII. It is unlikely that the room in the Henry VII tower, in which tradition states that the future king was born, was the actual birthplace. In 1471 Pembroke Castle was besieged by Yorkist forces and Henry, his mother and his uncle Jasper were forced to flee. They escaped first to Tenby, where they were welcomed by the Mayor, Thomas White, and then to Brittany. From Brittany, 14 years later, they launched the invasion which culminated in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
Pembroke declared its support for Parliament at the beginning of the Civil War, but in 1648 the town’s mayor, John Poyer, disgruntled at his lack of reward, joined a disaffected group of Roundheads unwilling to be demobilized. Cromwell himself came to besiege the castle which only fell after seven weeks when the water supply was cut off and a train of siege cannon arrived to start a bombardment. After this defiance, Cromwell blew up the barbican and the fronts of all the towers to prevent the castle ever again being used militarily. However, it is noted that the Welsh never took the castle throughout the various uprisings.
Many sections of the wall and towers are accessible, often giving superb views of the estuary and surrounding town and countryside. It starts to rain so Kay, wisely, stays in the café whilst I ascend various towers up increasingly slippery steps. Sadly the main keep is not open today. Across the road from the castle is a row of mediaeval cottages inside the former West Gate of the town. The houses are elevated on bedrock, but the roadway has been lowered since medieval times. The undercroft under the main part of Flemish Cottage is large, said to have been the town lock-up. Back, beyond the station is a blue painted corrugated iron chapel.
Friday – Merbach – The rain has continued on and off for the past week and our water butts are full again. This morning is dry, windy and cool. High thin cloud mottles the sky. From The Red Lion, an 18th century inn, now a pub and hotel, a lane, Bredwardine Hill, rises westwards beside a culverted brook. A large stone house, apparently called The Cottage, stands behind high hedges. A Great Tit looks down from a branch overhanging the lane. The brook turns east as the lane starts to climb the hill. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies across the lane. The hillside is wooded with many ornamental trees in reds, yellows and various shades of green. A conifer is covered in a wisteria that reaches the to. Large mainly 20th century houses lay on the hillside. The hillside drops away steeply to the west side of the lane into a garden where rhododendrons bloom. A lane led down to the old school. Robins, Blackbirds, Wrens and Wood Pigeons are in good voice. The lane rises less steeply and gives a fine view eastwards towards Hereford, only slightly marred by polytunnels. The road divides, one part heading down into Finestreet Dingle to Dolvach and Finestreet Farms, my route continues up. Cleavers have risen to the top of the hedgerow and their tips wave in the air. Orchards lie on both sides of the lane, their blossom almost finished. Flowers adorn the roadside banks – Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort, Herb Robert (along with one of the other Cranesbill family with tiny pink flowers), Herb Bennett, Ground Ivy, Yellow Rattle, Wild Strawberry, Tufted Vetch, Cow Parsley, Hogweed and Field Buttercup. Harts Tongue and other ferns are on the west facing side which is shaded by trees. A new house has been built, yet to be occupied by humans but already providing a home for House Sparrows. On up towards the top of the ridge past Crafta Webb. Bird song continues, Linnet, Blackcap, Dunnock and Chaffinch.
At the top of the hill, at Cae-mawr Cottage, a track heads west on the Herefordshire Trail. The hill top is mainly open grassland cropped close by sheep. Some buttercup filled meadows run along the west facing slope. Vagar Hill lies to the west with the Black Hill beyond. The track arrives at Golden View but this is off the trail, that turned off some way back without any sign. The advantage of electronic maps and GPS comes into play and I regain the route. The ridge is open scrub with Gorse and Hawthorn dominating. Willow Warblers sing and a Common Buzzards mews. Three escarpment bluffs, Hay Bluff, Twmpa and Rhos Dirion are on the near skyline whilst further away are the Brecon Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains. Below is the River Wye laying in its wide flood plain. A female Yellowhammer flies into a Hawthorn. The soil is thin and bedrock outcrops. Small quarries are grassed over. A stone lies in the grass painted with “Nina Mary Woodhead 1919-2009” and “Misty My Beloved Dog 1999-2016”. The path enters Merbach Hill Common. The hill consists of layers of sandstone and mudstone laid down in the Devonian, 420 millions years ago. Lime production was a major enterprise up here. Three lime kilns remain down the hillside in the scrub. Up to the triangulation point. The views are panoramic and stunning. A Whitethroat sings nearby. Down the steep slope towards the Wye. A Holly tree is in blossom, its flowers being visited by numerous types of bee. Four Fallow deer run off as I descend the hill, two with spotted backs.
The path joins the Wye Valley Walk. Chiffchaffs dominate down here although a few Willow Warblers still sing. The path is through Merbach Wood. The red mud of the path is slippery and converted in deer slots. Yet again I miss a junction and end up further down the hillside than I should be. I hope another path will take me back on route but no, there is a dense woodland of Hawthorns, brambles and nettles so I have to retrace my steps back up the hill. A pair of Ravens fly off. Now back on track. It is getting warmer and I am overdressed! Off comes my coat and fleece and in goes the sun behind clouds...
A clearing is a sea of Bluebells. The path leaves Merbach Hill Common and crosses buttercup spotted meadows, unfortunately being spread with something from a tractor. Past a Christmas tree plantation. Across another field and then a track descends the hill. The River Wye is below again sweeping across the landscape in great meanders. The route leaves the track and crosses a lush green meadow. Ewes and lambs lay in the shade of an Oak. The extensive meadow runs along the side of a hill, The Knapp. Francis Kilvert, noted diarist, who was vicar of Bredwardine in 1877, noted what he heard about The Knapp in his diary entry for January 21st 1879: William Davies of Llanafan came in. The father and son were telling me of the games and sports, the fights and merriments, that went on in old times upon Bredwardine Knap. “What kind of games?” I asked. “I wouldn’t suggest,” said William Davies, “that they were of any spiritual good.” Below is a large cider orchard. Down a track and back on the lane, Bredwardine Hill. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Down Etnam Street. House Martins have returned to a row of houses that I am monitoring for a BTO House Martin survey. They were there last year but seemed to disappear without using the nests they built. The River Lugg is sparkling in the morning sun. The market is fairly busy. I buy a couple of trays of Purple Sprouting, mine have failed this year.
Home – I am sowing the Purple Sprouting when I notice a few seedlings have appeared – typical! I have to weed the two courgette beds before I can sow six plants. I am just growing courgettes this year, we simply do not eat the pumpkins often enough. The beds are infested with grass which has long roots travelling through the bed several inches down. I dig out as much as I can. One bed is by the chicken run and the hens look on excitedly as worms are exposed but they are out of luck! Two troughs of tomato plants are moved from the greenhouse to a position in front of the summerhouse.
The pond is a bit of a state. It is completely covered in duckweed. I start to skim some off but realise there are numerous rotting leaves in the water. Some are scooped out along with a frog that seems to manage to get caught every time. A few tadpoles are also swept up and returned. I think some serious dredging of the pond is going to be necessary in the autumn and some netting placed over it to stop the leaves falling in.
Monday – Croft – Up the long drive towards Croft Castle. A Fallow deer disappears down the first ride into the Fish Pool Valley. A Blackbird sings loud and clear by the car park. There is a stiff breeze, the sun is shining but much of the sky is covered in high cloud. Trees are in leaf now although some Ashes are only just emerging. A Nuthatch calls excitedly. There is a large bed of Stinging Nettles at the top of the ride down to the valley. Maybe it is my imagination but there seem to be far more nettles around these days. Robin, Blackcap and Chiffchaff all are in fine voice. A Grey Heron flies up out of the valley. Conifer branches have pale green tips of new growth. The variety of bird voices grows, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Wren, Wood Pigeon and a muttering Blackbird. Grey Squirrels are also muttering and grumbling. Four drake Mallard are by the footbridge at the end of the dam by the pump-house. A Great Tit has a beak full of grubs. Fish are breaking the surface of the pool. Over the dam, disturbing the Mallard, and up the steep slope of Highwood Bank. I peer up through the cavernous hole in the core of the trunk of an old Oak tree. The light of the sky shines down through openings above. I move through the wood slowly trying to pick out each bird song. I find it a little difficult when some songsters, especially Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins are so loud and persistent. However, I do not hear the song I am listening out for, Wood Warbler. I heard one briefly last year but they are, like most other species, declining in numbers. The woodland floor under Ash trees at the end of the valley is again hosting rather too many Stinging Nettles, but there are also numerous Buckler Ferns, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebells and Wood Spurges. A Common Buzzard flies through the trees. A fledgling Robin moves through a tree flicking its wings constantly. The parent is much higher up but soon descends to its youngster. Ransoms are now in flower, lovely white crowns above the green, pungent leaves. Yellow Pimpernals are common near the track, little yellow flowers shining out of the grass.
Along the Forestry track and up to the Mortimer Trail. A Dor Beetle stumbles across the path. The foot of Croft Ambrey hill-fort is guarded by a pair of Hornbeams and an old Yew. A Willow Warbler sings as I climb to the east gate of the hill-fort. A pair of Bullfinches fly asking the steep northerly site of the hill-fort. A Yellowhammer sings atop a blossom covered Hawthorn. Down to the track towards the Spanish Chestnut field. A Speckled Wood flies by, one of the all too few butterflies I have seen recently. A large tree has been cut down and the trunk left by the track. It has a crocodilian appearance coloured with orange patches of fungus. A large herd of cows and calves, and a bull, is in the car park field.
Wednesday – Leominster – Wispy horsetail clouds are high in a blue sky. The sun has risen over Eaton Hill. Young Blackbirds seek worms and Grubs on the Grange. Wood Pigeons are all over, calling from the trees and stalking the grass in the playing field. Apple blossom in the Millennium orchard had finished. The Manchester train accelerates out of the station. A Blackcap sings in trees at the bottom of the churchyard. As elsewhere, the are large beds of Stinging Nettles in the Millennium Park. Elderflowers are beginning to open but most of the discs are still consist of tight green buds. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. A pair of Canada Geese fly over, silently for a change. By the old Priory hospital, the path is strewn with spent willow buds. A Swift sweeps across the sky whilst far higher, an airplane leaves a white vapour trail which fades and disperses almost immediately.
Bodenham – The sun is now hot and the sky azure and cloudless. Plenty of songs still ring out from the woods. Dog Roses are coming into flower. A green, female Beautiful Demoiselle, Agrion virgo, lands briefly on a bush. Down to the meadow which is yellow with Meadow Buttercups. Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Blackbirds and Wrens are in song but the numerous Chiffchaffs from earlier in the year have fallen silent. An Orange Tip butterfly flies past. Along the meadow a single Chiffchaff is calling but it is a weak single note “chiff chiff chiff”. A rabbit dashes for the safety of the brambles. The air is full of fluffy Willow seeds. A Garden Warbler sings as it moves through a tree by the gate to the Alder plantation. Several drake Mallard are asleep on the scrape. The family of Mallard still numbers eight ducklings, which have grown considerably. There move out into the middle of the water then simultaneously plunge dive, then return to the scrape to preen. A few Canada Geese are around the lake, but no sign of any goslings. A Cormorant dives. A Grey Heron crosses the lake with a grunt. A Whitethroat sings as it searches the Willows on the edge of the water. Several Canada Geese accompanied by feral geese fly in noisily. Oxeye Daisies are opening on the bank. Yellow Flags are flowering in the reed bed at the western end. A Pied Wagtail lands on the scrape. Although bird song is non-stop, some are missing. Where are the Cuckoos, Sedge and Reed Warblers? Back in the meadow, a few damselflies rise from the grass and disappear quickly – probably female Common Blues. Just a few trees in the cider orchard are still in blossom.
Home – The grass needs cutting. And it is hot! At least the hens are happy as the grass clippings are strewn across the run. Next strimming the more tricky areas. The never-ending battle against Stinging Nettles and brambles continues and now Bryony has come back, creeping up plants and trees. I watered the greenhouse heavily last night yet the pots of tomatoes are already looking like they need more. The same applies to the two hanging baskets of Tumbling Toms and the Green Grape tomatoes by the summerhouse. Finally, I refill the bird bath which a Blackbird has been using energetically.
Friday – Craven Arms-Church Stretton – Off the train at Craven Arms. The sky is cloudless and the temperature is rising rapidly. Through a 20th century housing estate. Coronation Road was opened by the Carnival Queen in June 1953. The houses become less old the further from the town centre one travels. At the north end of the estate is a public footpath running alongside a near dry brook. House Sparrows chatter, a Wren sings and Wood Pigeons coo. The path emerges onto a straight lane, the Roman Watling Street. Along a network of lanes heading in the general direction of Cheney Longville. This road is Long Lane. Pink Red Campion, yellow Field Buttercups and frothy white umbellifers, Cow Parsley, Angelica and Hog Weed brighten the roadsides. A Jay and Yellowhammer fly over, another Yellowhammer is singing nearby. Past Highgrove stables to a crossroads where my route turns north again. This lane has high hedges, shading out and making it cooler than the ones in full sunshine. Common Buzzards drift across the sky. A yard is full of stacks of logs. A Grey Squirrel bounces off one of the stacks and across the ground. The lane reaches the Cheney Longville road and my route continues on a rough track. A Rabbit lopes across a sheep pasture. On the other side of the track is a field of barley, the ears beginning to ripen already.
The lane passes by the buttresses of a railway bridge of the Bishop’s Castle Railway. The Bishop’s Castle Railway was begun in 1861, planned as a line from Craven Arms to Montgomery, thus linking the Shrewsbury to Hereford line to the Oswestry to Newtown line. From the outset there was a shortage of capital, although the company continued to build but the line ultimately only reached Bishop’s Castle and was sold at auction on 19th January 1867. A receiver was appointed to run the railway. The Bishop’s Castle Railway Company remained in receivership until it closed on Saturday 20th April 1935. A small stream runs down the lane. A footbridge crosses the River Onny. Cuckoo Flowers grow along the river bank. The track fords the river slightly further downstream. Vast leaves of Burdock grow of the edge of the track. The track crosses the Bishop’s Castle road at Crossway and is now a metalled road. On up the lane to Wistanstow. A Red Admiral butterfly is sunning itself on the hedgerow.
Past Manor Farm and into the village of Wistanstow. Watling Street runs through the village. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon saint Wigstan who was grandson of the King of Mercia. He was martyred at this location by his great-uncle, allegedly here, although there are other claimants to this. The Plough is a Woods pub, the brewery being behind it. Numerous House Sparrows create a cacophony of chirping. Large house on junction. A K6 telephone box stands opposite the Holy Trinity church, mainly built between 1180 and 1200 but is locked. The bells toll ten o’ clock. The school stands next to the church. Next is the old Smithy, now the village shop. At the north edge of the village a lane turns towards Woolston. Wistanstow village hall is a splendid black-and-white building on the site of an old brick and tile works, donated by a landowner in 1925.
The lanes here are old, sunk between deep banks. Woolston Lane is rising steadily. Into the hamlet. Breretons Farm, though the map calls it Woolston Farm, is large, especially the Victorian farmhouse. A row of probably farm labourers cottages are date 1872. The rest is the hamlet is made up is fairly large stone built houses and barn conversions. Along a lane then on a track by Annie the Sweeps Cottage. Luckily the owner is outside and tells me that originally the land was all owned by the local farmer who has his own blacksmith whose forge was on the other corner is the lane. The cottage was called The Forge. Around 1900, the local sweep and his wife took the cottage and when he died, his wife, Annie, carried on the business, cycling around the villages. She is buried in Wistanstow graveyard. The current owners changed the name from The Forge to Annie the Sweeps Cottage. The hills south of Long Mynd lay ahead. The tiny blue flowers of Eyebright shine from the grassy verge. Past a cluster of homes at Brokenstones and onto a cool, wooded track through Brokenstones Plantation. Past a circular stone house, referred to in documents as “The Round House” and appears to have been a school in the mid 19th century. Onto the B4370 road which rises beside a deep wooded valley, Pillocksgreen Plantation.
Into Cwm Head. The church of St Michael and All Angels has sadly been sold as a development opportunity and is thus closed. It was built in 1845 to a neo-Norman design with a circular apse by H. C. Whitling of Shrewsbury. Whitling, who had lived in London and practiced in Cornwall and Devon, moved to Shropshire in 1840. He apparently misled the incumbent vicar at Cwm Head that his designs had been approved by the Incorporated Church Building Society, and by 1844 he had left the country “having got into pecuniary difficulties”. A gig house or bier house and stable which stands in the corner of the little churchyard. Common Spotted Orchids and Twayblade grow in the tiny churchyard, along with Lady’s Mantle and Yellow Rattle.
A short distance north of the church a lane turns west to Hamperley. Field are brilliant yellow with buttercups which shimmer in the breeze. Hamperley is a large farm. A lane heads north to Minton. An old cottage, Nettless and barns are abandoned. Suddenly there is my first Cuckoo of the year calling across the fields. The road climbs and then there are views to the east across the valley to Flounders Folly, Wenlock Edge and Brown Clee beyond. A fine Georgian house, Minton House, built 1753, looks out over the valley as the lane enters Minton. A Red Kite sails over. Behind the late 18