November 2008

Monday 3rd November – Home – Flocks of winter thrushes are flying over. Occasionally a few will descend to the top of the Ash or the Horse Chestnut. A Fieldfare stands high watching. A few Redwings explode out of the leaf cover and disappear away eastwards. The local Blackbirds are noisy. All three of the regular tit species, Coal, Blue and Great, are visiting a fat cake hung by the shed. A Greenfinch stands high in the apple tree. A Carrion Crow is in the Ash. Jackdaws fly up to the chimneys of neighbouring houses. A rasping Mistle Thrush passes over.

Aconbury – Down through Hereford and on down the A49 until a turning to King’s Thorn. This village runs into the next, Little Birch. The origin of the name Kingsthorn is obscure. The Dictionary of Herefordshire Place-names simply states, There is in Much Birch also, in 1538, a King’s Close of Twenty acres. I park outside the village hall and take a track that leads by the Primitive Methodist Church, built 1851 and rebuilt only seven years later. A hand water pump stands here next Fortto a stone trough. A path leads off of the track up into Aconbury Woods, through a wood once called The Warren. Through some mature woodland and some open areas that have been recently felled. The path then reaches the ditch and ramparts of Aconbury Fort, an Iron Age hillfort. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place Names declares the name Aconbury to be recorded from 1213 as Akornebir meaning Old Fort inhabited by squirrels. Certainly, here is the old fort and there are plenty of squirrels in the woods, sadly only Grey Squirrels not the more delicate Red Squirrels that our 13th century person would have seen. Another name for the site is Caer Rhain. The fort was a rough rectangle enclosing some 17½ acres. It has a bank, ditch and counterscarp bank with in-turned entrances south-east and the south-west, the latter with an outwork. The bank rises to five metres and averages four metres along its length. The ditch has been destroyed on the west and north sides although a path follows its line. Pottery Housefound on the site indicates it was permanently occupied from the 2nd century BCE until after the Roman Conquest. The interior of the camp is wooded and a path leads up to its highest point where there is a triangulation point – rather redundant given the density of the trees. On the eastern side, outside the fort, is a small encampment of the Wye Wood Project, a health development initiative to engage with key disadvantaged communities in rural areas and encourage them to get involved in walking, coppicing, conservation activities and rural crafts. A canvas covered area contains hand-made wood working tools. A part-built Iron Age house stands nearby. I follow the line of the camp bank round its north edge. It is very muddy but the view down Held Wood and across the Wye plain towards Hereford, which is standing in a pool of sunlight, is magnificent. To the west the path runs through a mature wood of Oak, Beech and Sweet Chestnut. It is very quiet with only an occasional Coal Tit cheeping. From the south side a track heads back down beside Skippitt Wood, past some cottages and houses to meet the road at King’s Thorn House. Across the road, the hillside continues to fall away across the A49 down to Hill Farm which is surrounded by acres of apple orchards.

I learn some years later that it was custom each year to send the monarch a cutting from the Glastonbury Thorn. One year, Charles I was staying in Much Birch when he received his cutting and he planted nearby in the place now known as King’s Thorn. There is still a descendent from that cutting growing in the neighbourhood.


Tuesday 4th November – Home – The inevitable has happened! An advertisement in the pet shop window, a telephone call, a quick house call and we have Maddy. She is a Border Collie, a lot of white with big black patches; her head mainly black with a white blaze and brown eyebrows! Her previous owners have a child who has asthma and the condition was being made worse by Maddy, so they reluctantly had to let her go. She is rather nervous at the moment and I had forgotten what it is like to have a young (9 to 12 months) dog around the house. She also needs a lot of exercise – indeed she is a bit overweight. But it feels great to have a dog again.

Wednesday 5th November – Eaton Hill – Down the road and over the railway and river. It is very wet underfoot, the air is saturated but not actually raining at the moment. Maddy behaves well off the lead. In fact she is a bit wary and keeps close, but starts to gain confidence. She picks up sticks and expects me to throw them. By the horse paddocks she meets a small stumpy pony but when the larger horses gallop across the field towards her she gives a short bark and is off. It is a worrying moment, but she does not go far and is waiting round the bend for me. She allows herself to be led past the horses and is happy again. Up the path to the south end of Eaton Hill and then south again. A path leads up to a field but there is a sign stating the footpath is closed because of a dangerous footbridge ahead. A deep, old track leads back down the hill but stops at a large bramble thicket. So back down the footpath, which I notice crosses another old track which is also choked with undergrowth. Several flocks of winter thrushes fly overhead. Back across the rough pasture and down the road to Eaton Bridge. Maddy pulls a lot on the lead, a habit she will be cured of, and does not like traffic, which is no bad thing.

Friday 7th November – Hereford – Off to the big city by bus. The bus is larger than the ones I have seen on this route before and yet it is still full. From St Peter’s Square I head into High Street. Here stands The Old House, a Jacobean house now a museum. Built in 1621 it houses a large quantity of contemporary furniture, household goods and wall decorations. The dark woods used throughout could give the rooms a gloomy feel, but with the large fires lit I think cosiness would be a better description. Outside the city is bustling. I had thought of Hereford as a small city in a rural area – which it is – and thus different from the great cities of the North which I am used to. But in many ways it is just the same, and not my sort of place. I wander down to the cathedral but in here there is still a lack of tranquillity. Off to the east there is a large green with a mound in the centre containing a column commemorating the life of Lord Nelson. A pair of cannons stand at its base. This is Castle Green where Hereford Castle stood. The site is next to the River Wye and had been an important defensive site before the Conquest. The first wooden motte and bailey castle was erected here in 1052 by Ralph the Timid, son of the Count of Vexin. This castle was destroyed in 1055 by the Welsh under Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. A Norman castle was built on the site by William Fizt Osbern, Lord of Breteuil in Normandy and Earl of Hereford. His son lost the castle in 1075 after his marriage to Emma, daughter of Ralph Guader, Earl of Norfolk – a marriage prohibited by the King, William I. Roger and Ralph rebelled against William but were defeated. The castle changed hands during the wars between Matilda and Stephen in the 12th century before Matilda’s son, Henry II granted it to Roger of Gloucester, who also rebelled against his king and lost. Henry IV based himself in the castle from 1400 to 1411 whilst campaigning against Owain Glydŵr. Although Hereford was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, the castle played little part in the conflict. It was sold to Sir Richard Hartley but went into decline and was largely destroyed by the 1650s. According to John Leyand, the castle was once nearly as large as that of Windsor and one of the fairest and strongest in all England. In 1746 the ruins were ordered to be dismantled and the site was transformed into the present Castle Green, the moat being turned into Castle Pool lake. I set off from here to find a pub for lunch, but am largely unsuccessful with most having a poor selection of beers.

Sunday 9th November – Leominster – A damp and miserable day. In the afternoon they sky turns extremely dark and there is a violent downpour, firstly of rain which streams down the roofs and bounces off missing the guttering. It then turns to hail and large patches of icy stones cover the pavement and road. In the evening we go to a concert in the Minster. The Border Voices sing and The Border Waites play mediaeval music by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) and some of his contemporaries. It is wonderful to hear sackbuts, shawms, viols, recorders, a racket and crumhorns played in the Norman nave.

Tuesday 11th November – Leominster – It seems like the rain may stop for while, although it has not at dawn when I let the girls out. Mid-morning and off over the Kenwater which is even higher and flowing fast. Across the A44 and along beside the railway. The paths are, inevitably quagmires of mud. Maddy’s underparts are quickly coated. The path meets the River Lugg and a disused rail line, the old Leominster and Kington Railway, later the Great Western Railway Leominster and New Radnor line . The River Lugg here is a relatively new channel. In 1961, Mr S.R. Booth, the first Labour Mayor of Leominster, proposed: A new cut to the north of the Kington line, under the main railway line, to rejoin the Lugg below Ridgemoor Bridge. Work began in 1962 and has made the regular flooding of Bridge and Mill Streets a distant memory. Flocks of Redwings pass over, some alighting on the tops of tall trees before heading off again. A Grey Wagtail pipes as it flits up the river, landing briefly on the bank. Equally brief is the appearance of a Kingfisher which alights on a thick twig by the edge of the river but quickly notices my presence and is off upstream. A Wren calls from a patch of brambles. Large numbers of Blackbirds are moving through the gardens of the housing estate on what was called The Marsh before the river’s diversion. The path crosses North Road and continues as a metalled road down to a farm.

Friday 14th November – Stoke Prior – Down the road and along Southern Avenue and up over the old A44 bridge. The road is now pedestrianised but this was one of the main routes into Leominster before the bypass was built.