Sunday – Leominster – The month starts in true autumnal fashion; dense fog. The recent rain has had little effect on the water level in the River Lugg. The gravel bank is still exposed in the middle of the river bed and a Dipper stands on it surveying the surrounding water. Blackbirds are squabbling in the bushes. The market is small but busy. Christmas goods are appearing more and more as the weeks go by.
Home – Back to scratting and pressing more apples. In between I fill the feeders. As usual Blue, Great and Coal Tits are the main visitors to the peanuts. There is a clear pecking order both within and between species with the Great Tits being the dominant although all defer to a Nuthatch. A cock Chaffinch makes an appearance but seems intimidated by everyone and soon departs. House Sparrows dominate the seed feeder and a Coal Tit looks on in vain. Eventually it drops down to the ground to inspect the spillage but like everything apart from Wood Pigeons refuses the wheat. Redwings are in trees several gardens down the street. Disputes over territories involving Robins and Blackbirds continue throughout the garden. The five gallon barrel is now full and two more gallons are ready to ferment.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A large lorry and trailer rumbles towards Bodenham loaded with cider apples. Everywhere is wet. Mist cloaks the woods and lays across the fields. Mallard, Coot and Wigeon are in the boating bay. Several Cormorants are either on the water or flying around. I give the hide a miss, (because I have stupidly left my binoculars at home). Sheep are in the cider orchard! Three noisy skeins of Canada Geese fly in.
Saturday – Huddersfield and Dewsbury – The Barnsley Buglers set off for a fairly debauched day out. We leave Barnsley station and pick up the other two at Penistone. The train then wends its way through the countryside and small Pennine towns and villages to Huddersfield. The plan was even lazier then that which transpired, as we headed into The Head of Steam, a bar on the platform of Huddersfield station, where we planned to stay. However, there is a local derby football match in town today, Huddersfield -v- Leeds, the home town losing three-nil. It is a lunchtime kick off so mid-afternoon the pub fills. Thus we head off to The Sportsman, a CAMRA award winning pub nearby. This is also busy but we get served quickly and seated. After a couple of pints we head back to the station.
The weather is pretty grim and the train to Dewsbury is running late. Beside Huddersfield station, St George’s Warehouse is being refurbished. It was built by the London & North Western railway between 1878 and 1883 but has not been used since the 1970s. A dense forest of scaffolding now rises against the Grade II listed structure. The train eventually arrives and we make the short trip to Dewsbury. Dewsbury station was opened by the LNWR in July 1848. It was designed by John and Henry Paul Child and built by Simpson and Field for a cost of £5,597. A major refurbishment took place in 1999/2000. We descend the hill to Ashiana Buffet Restaurant where we have a splendid meal. The return journey was a little tense as the train back to Huddersfield, the Trans-Pennine Express again, was still running late making the connection back to Barnsley a close run thing.
Tuesday – Home – It is windy but not raining and for a short period sunlight lights up the last yellow leaves at the top of the Ash tree. The chicken run is a quagmire so it needs digging out. I am not sure whether turning the compost from one bin to another or digging out the chicken run is the worst job. However, it really does not take too long. There are dozens upon dozen of worms exposed as I scrape off the layer of rotting grass and poo but most of the time the hens just look at them. Silver seems to be the only one with the nous to grab some. Their chance is soon gone as I scatter a large bale of shavings and straw on the worm-hole pocked soil.
Garlic is then sown. The onions sown last month have decent green spikes on them. The runner bean poles are taken down and the long, sinuous bean plants are consigned to the compost bins. Several sacks are filled with damaged and rotting apples. It has been a really good crop despite the moth damage, but there is a limit to how many we can store. The sun has disappeared behind threatening grey clouds. The purple-sprouting is staked – it should have been done weeks ago and stems are lying across the ground and the heads rising several feet, all in a muddle. However, it looks like they are happy enough and the net is readjusted to keep the Wood Pigeons off.
Friday – Home – The Met Office has adopted asked what seems to be an American idea of naming storms, although across the Atlantic they name hurricanes, we just have deep depressions. Anyway, Storm Abigail is passing through. Here it is a bit blustery and starts raining first thing but behind to brighten up. Mistle Thrushes rasp from the trees and one sings intermittently.
Caety Traylow – Off to the hills. A rainbow lingers to the north of the road west. Bright sunlight blinds from above Hergest Ridge. Through Gladestry. A Dunnock pipes from a hedge by the school. Round behind the church, the new houses are frequented by good numbers of House Sparrows. Dark clouds are building in the west. Rain and a rainbow follows shortly. Ahead Red Kites circle and drift. Carrion Crows hassle another raptor, probably a Sparrowhawk. The hillsides are a mixture of emerald green grass and copper bracken. A few flowers linger vetches, Hawkweeds, Herb Robert and even some Wild Strawberries. The rain has ceased but I suspect it may only be a temporary reprieve. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies through the trees. The Pen-faen Brook is full and flowing rapidly.
A lane leads off to the track up Caety Traylow. Fungi dot the lush sward, yellow and red Waxcaps and puffballs. As the top of Caety Traylow is reached a strong, buffeting wind blows. To the east is Hergest Ridge, Hanter Hill, Stanner Rocks, Bradnor and Herrock Hills and beyond lies Dinmore Hill and yet further, almost hidden in mist lie the Malverns. To the north east the Clee hills are also disappearing in rain. To the north stands the mast on Black Mixen atop the Radnor Forest. To the west and south the hills roll on into the Welsh heartlands. Below is the Cwm-y-Bont, a valley carved by Gilwern Brook and Black Yat. Beyond Llynheilyn peeps from behind Bryn-y-maen hill.
Back over the top of Caety Traylow. A couple of Red Grouse are flushed, a rarity in the border hills. Back across the hill in sunshine and back down to the lane. A few Fieldfares fly over. Back along the lane. An aircraft flies over. I am sad enough to have an app that tells me more than I will ever need to know about any aircraft flying over; this is a British Airways 777 from London to New York. It is raining again. Back in the village, outside the church a hedgerow is full of noisy House Sparrows and at the other end of the street, the school playground is full of screaming school children. Overhead a Red Kite drifts silently a Common Buzzard flaps up Yew Tree Bank towards Hergest Ridge. Route
Saturday – Leominster – Off down to the Millennium Park to collect what will be the last batch of cider apples for this year. It is a grey and damp morning but not the torrential rain forecast. There are not many cider apples left, mainly Lady’s Finger, an old Herefordshire variety, first recorded by Dr Robert Hogg in 1884, but certainly older. It is an elongated fruit. There are still a lot of Michelin apples but they are now rotting. Hundreds of cooking apples litter the ground, can it be that no-one wants them? We have more than enough at home but it all seems such a waste.
Back home I start to press the apples. There are a lot from a few days ago, so it is a long process, not helped by the rain that has finally arrived. A gallon is produced and then disaster, for some reason the bottom of the full demi-john just falls off, with the precious juice all over the summerhouse floor. I must admit this does little for my mood! I manage to get another two gallons pressed by using a tray of our Howgate Wonders and another of Herefordshire Russet windfalls. The final tally is 15 gallons, less than last year but enough.
A Grey Squirrel is being a persistent pest on the peanut feeder and I have to chase it off several times. Once gone Blue, Great and Coal Tits dash in and out, pecking off morsels they take to nearby branches to consume. There appears to be a pecking order, Coal Tits seem to give way all everyone, Blue Tits sometimes give way to Great Tits and there is also a pecking order within each species. However, all defer to a Nuthatch that dominates the feeder for a couple of minutes . As soon as it departs, the Tits are back. Some Blue Tits appear to be feeding others.
Sunday – Leominster – The wind is still gusting strongly after a night of gales. Although it is over an hour since dawn, it is still gloomy and overcast. The River Lugg carries more water than has been seen for some time, the gravel banks have all been submerged again. A cooing Wood Pigeon seems mournful this morning. A strip of brightness appears on the southern horizon. A small flock of Mallard speed over following the river. They fly to and fro around Easters Court, seemingly uncertain about where they want to go, then three split off and head East whilst the others continue to sweep around in large circles. Another three depart southwards. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls from waterside trees. The Kenwater is also running high and muddy. Magpies chack from Pinsley Meads. A Blackbird delicately picks Haws off a waterside bush.
Friday – Hamnish Clifford – Down to the River Lugg which is still running fairly high and muddy. Scattered flocks of Redwings move through the riverside trees. A Blackbird stands on a fence post, tall erect and looking alert. Now the leaves have fallen from the Black Poplars in Easters Meadow, the numerous ball-like growths of Mistletoe are exposed. Brightwells’ large compound is packed with vehicles for auction, including a good number of vans from the Environment Agency and police cars from as far as South Yorkshire and Devon and Cornwall. There is a horse sale today which may explain the large number of Irish travellers parked in Bridge Street car park since last weekend. A flock of squeaking Long-tailed Tits are feeding on branches overhanging the river. Cheaton Brook is flowing much clearer than a week ago. A tractor traverses the Ridgemoor roundabout pulling a trailer full of cider apples. Along to Hay Lane. A Dipper stands on a broken branch on the edge of the brook.
Along the field that lies beside the main A49. It is green with a winter cereal crop. The earlier clouds have broken up and it is getting cooler. There is much activity in the trees along the brook as I head to the Stockton-Stoke Prior road; a Robin sings, a finch flock feeds and flighty Redwings rush this way and that. Up the field where black-faced sheep raise their black ears in alarm before trotting off across the grass. A Grey Squirrel mutters from the old trees. Down the lane towards Stoke Prior. Many trees have now lost their leaves but some such as Oaks by a brook and out in the field still seem to have their full canopy. A twin-engined military Chinook helicopter flies over low sending up flocks of Wood Pigeons from the fields. Signs for lorry drivers point to Rowley Orchard where rows of cider apple trees run off into the distance. There are still a lot of fallen fruit under the trees. From Widgeon Hill the view runs to the Black Mountains. There is flooding across the River Arrow water-meadows near Ivington. Magpies chatter. A cold wind is rising. Just before Patty’s Cross I turn into the Hamnish Clifford lane. At the entrance to Rowley Grange a Jay screeches as though it is being strangled. Chaffinches pink. The sun is out making the copper leaves glow. More Chaffinches along with Great Tits and Goldfinches feed in a Silver Birch. A field of sheep has a sign by the gate, “Hamnish Oval”. In the summer the field hosts the annual Parish Team Cricket match between Hamnish and Kimbolton. One of the sheep has a Anti-Chaff Ram Harness. Past Rowley Lodge Farm. There is an orchard just before the hamlet church. The trees are old and have little fruit although several have a few pears hanging from the branches.
The original Mission Church is now the Community Hall, a black corrugated iron building. There is a key hanging by the door of the church of St Dubricius and All Saints. It was built in 1910 to replace the Mission Church. There is a mediaeval reference to a grant being made for a chapel at Hamnish, which could have stood on the site of this church. North aisle windows are very fine painted glass, attributed in one source to Kempe and Tower although this company seems to have been an invention of Pevsner. Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907) whilst working for Bodley, learned the art of decorating church walls and ceilings. However, he became interested in stained glass and studied the art and craft at the studios of Clayton & Bell. By 1866 Kempe was working, with two assistants, as an independent designer in London, and in 1869 unhappy with the quality of the work produced for him, Kempe started his own workshop at Millbrook Place. After Kempe’s death in 1907 the company changed its name to Kempe & Co. Ltd under the direction of Kempe’s cousin Walter Tower. The firm folded in 1934. The south windows have a decided Art Nouveau look about them and depict the Saints Alban, George, Martin, Francis, Ethelbert and Dubricius. Brackets of lights in an Arts & Crafts style are on the wall, although the effect is rather spoilt by the mixture of light bulbs.
A flock of Mallard quack quietly under a Yew tree at Hamnish Court. The lane bends then carries on past The Smithy and Slaughter Castle. A Fieldfare stands in a heavily laden apple tree. The lane enters the scattering of houses and a farm that is Grantsfield. Past the large house that is named Grantsfield. This was the home of Emma Sarah Hutchinson, née Gill, who was a renowned entomologist. She married the vicar of Grantsfield in 1847. A pale, summer-form of the Comma butterfly is named after her, Polygonia hutchinsoni and she identified four species of moth that have never been recorded in Herefordshire since. On down to the Lower Pyke crossroads and on down the hill into Lower Stockton. Across Stockton Brook and up to Stockton Cross and the pub. After a quick pint, I return to the A44 and head back to Leominster with lorries thundering by. The wind has become really quite cold – winter is on its way. Route
Home – When I changed the hens’ water this morning I noticed Stevie, the old Warren, was not with them. She had been looking out of sorts for several days. I looked into the hen house and she was sitting inside looking unhappy. I let her be and went off out. On returning from my walk I checked her again. She was still in the hen house. She came to the big door and fell out. She just lay on the ground and was clearly in a bad way. So I decided the best thing was to put her out of her misery. Stevie (named after Steve McQueen because she was an ace at escaping – The Great Escape – a film from now long ago) has not laid for probably over a year. Normally I despatch non-layers pretty promptly but she was such a character she became more of a pet, so we are rather sad to see her go.
Sunday – Leominster – A cold, bright morning. Water droplets on cars have frozen but there is not much of a frost. Down Etnam Street. A Starling is trying to get something from under the slates at a gable end of a house, but seems to keep falling off. Another sits on an adjacent roof and watches. Over the railway and to the bridge over the River Lugg. The water level is still fairly high and the river is flowing rapidly. Three Dippers fly off downstream, calling as they depart. The sun is rising but remains behind some cloud laying across the horizon. The market is fairly small with a lot of Christmas junk. Along Mill Street which is flooded just before the railway crossing. Up the pathway to the River Kenwater. The riverside trees are busy with Robins, Blackbirds and Dunnocks. A Song Thrush is singing somewhere around the B&Q car park.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The first hard frost of the winter. Out in the open countryside the temperature is -1°C. Up into the Mortimer Forest. It is slightly warmer here and the ground is not frozen. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips noisily. Blue Tits chatter. A Long-tailed Tit calls as it moves through Silver Birches but, unusually is all alone. A small flock of Goldcrests feed with rapid movements. Out through the Iron Age enclosure (although the information board now states it is believed to be a 13th or 14th century moat possibly around a deer park keeper’s house). The sky is mottled with high altostratus clouds. A slight breeze is blowing. Wrens buzz in the undergrowth in the interior of the enclosure. Off along the main Forestry track. A mixed flock of Tits and Goldcrests is moving almost silently through the tops of Larches. In the valley Robins tick from every direction. Peeler pond has a thin veneer of ice. Up the steep path to High Vinnalls. Several Fly Agaric linger under the conifers. The views from the summit are magnificent. Mist lies across the lower ground; to the south-west it glows like polished pewter in the sunshine. The surrounding hills are clear and crisp. Annoyingly the view westwards is becoming more and more obscured by the conifer plantation. Down the long track to the Deer Park. Down through the woods where large sprays of Buckler Ferns are still erect and verdant. It is very quiet, where are the finch flocks? Four Fallow Deer are in the cleared and newly planted area running down from Climbing Jack Common. Ravens cronk in the distance and a Carrion Crow caws. Down the steep path through the Deer Park. Deer have been down here when it was wetter than today as their slots in the mud show signs of slipping. The water level in the bottom pond is low and the surface is covered in a thin layer of greasy looking ice. A Jay squawks from Haye Park. Along the track back to Black Pool. A Green Woodpecker flies across the track then calls from the woodland. A Common Pheasant croaks from the same area. On the way back to town, I had just passed Luston when Starlings exploded from a field, scattering over the hedge in every direction. Moments later the dark form of a Peregrine Falcon scythed over as high speed.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A Jay flies over and onwards to Westfield Wood. Great Spotted Woodpecker calls from the trees near the lake. The boating area seems very quiet, just a single Coot. However on the bay at the end of the orchards is a flotilla of 47 Cormorants. Bullfinches feed in the Alder saplings. The lake in front of the hide is also quiet. Five Goldeneye swim at the western end. A Moorhen and a Carrion Crow feed on the scrape. Half a dozen Mallard slip into the water as the Cormorants approach. A pair of Grey Herons fly around, grunting. The Cormorants approach the western end causing agitation among the Mallard and a few Wigeon. A pair of Teal fly through at high speed without stopping. Something is screaming constantly from the island but there is no sign of the source, I suspect Water Rail. The water level is low again with a large area of the scrape exposed. Back along the meadow. A Pied Wagtail sits on a fence near the road. Magpies are in and out of the meadow hedge. There are barely any apples left in the cider orchard, sheep have devoured the lot. A few remain in the dessert apple orchard. A Mistle Thrush rasps and a Green Woodpecker yaffles.
Thursday – Worcester – Off to the Christmas Market in Worcester. It is not a good start when the train is late making catching the connecting service in Hereford a tense affair but we are just in time. The train to Worcester also managed to be late. But never mind, here we are. Stalls stretch all down the main streets and off into the side streets. Lots of stuff of course, quite a few beer and cider producers, Middle Eastern sweetmeats (funny how nothing is priced on these stalls, so one gets something of a nasty shock when they ask for the money!), the very cheap patisserie we saw last year and a dog charity which ends up costing us money…
We drop into King Charles House, a busy pub with some excellent ales. It was here, allegedly, that King Charles II stayed after losing the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651. We also try one of the Mitchell and Butler pubs in their original brown and cream tiles but they are too crowded. So we make do with a pint in the street outside the wonderful Guild Hall. The Worcester Guildhall was originally built as a meeting place for Worcester merchants around 1227. As with many other guildhalls, it became the centre for civic administration, a role it maintained after the merchant guild was no more. The present Worcester Guildhall is a Queen Anne building, begun in 1722 by Thomas White, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. White was badly paid for his efforts, and he died in poverty in 1738, bestowing the money he was owed on the Worcester Royal Infirmary. The city finally paid its debt in 1753. The centre section of the new Guildhall was finished by 1724, and has remained almost unchanged since then. The central façade is early Georgian style, with three bays flanked by Corinthian pillars. Over the entrance is a huge carving incorporating the Hanoverian royal arms. White had carved a statue of Queen Anne to be placed in front of the building and it is now placed in a niche over the door, and on either side of the door are statues of Charles I, depicted holding a church, and Charles II, with an orb and royal sceptre. On the rooftop are figures of Labour, Peace, Justice, Plenty, and Chastisement.
As we head back in the general direction of the station we drop into St Swithun’s church. The church was built on land given to the monks of the priory by King Stephen. Being squeezed in between the High Street and The Cross it became the parish church of the rich merchants who occupied this part of the city. The dedication to St Swithun, Bishop of Winchester in the mid-9th century, is odd – he had no known connection with Worcester. A possible link is St Aethelwold, one of his successors in Winchester, who promoted the cult of St Swithun in the 10th century, who was closely associated with St Dunstan and St Oswald, Bishops of Worcester. There appears from old plans to have been a 15th century church here but in 1733 the churchwardens engaged Thomas and Edward Woodward of Chipping Campden to completely rebuild the church despite there apparently being nothing wrong with the building that was already there. Their church is a fine Georgian edifice with boxed pews and a wonderful three decker pulpit. Not having a graveyard meant that the privileged had family vaults under the floor of the church which resulted in what Noakes, writing in the mid-19th century called the intolerable smell. Many of the monuments that covered the walls of the church have been removed. A fine sculptural monument to William Swift (1688) is one of the remaining ones. The organ is believed to be the third instrument in the building, this one dating from 1795 and built with money donated by William Swift. Large bellows are situated behind the instrument at the foot of the pulpit. There are six bells, three cast by John Martin in 1654 and the other three probably date from the 15th century.
The journey home was less eventful, although the Hereford-Leominster train was very crowded and late.
Sunday – Leominster – A wild morning as the third named storm of the year moves in. Pewter clouds race across the sky. It is still gloomy as I head for the market. A bare Hawthorn is a resting place for a small flock of Redwings, several Blackbirds and a Robin that stutters a brief snatch of song. More Redwings call as they battle the wind. Unsurprisingly the market is just half a dozen stalls. A non-English speaker is failing to negotiate a price down. On the north side of Ridgemoor Bridge, the Lugg flows past a bank of Snowberries with their white ball fruit. A Wren ticks. Winter flowering cherries brighten the grey and brown garden hedges.
Home – A Holly tree is growing by our back gate. The gate itself is blocked as we do not use it but it is still not a place one wants a tree growing. The path and gates used to be kept clear by the council gardeners but not these days. So I take the heavy duty loppers and cut it down, not the easiest job but I can brace one arm of the tool against the wall and use all my strength pushing the other arm until the blades slice through.
I noticed last night that the hens’ house door is not closing fully. The automatic system is slightly more complicated than the former one which just used mechanical switches to stop it when either fully raised or lowered. This one seems to use an electronic system. I try to reset it but, of course, it starts to rain and it seems unwise to have exposed electronics getting wet. But hopefully it is going to work now. A lot needs doing in the garden but this simply is not the weather to get out there and get jobs done. However, in a pause in the rain I dig the parsnips. The row is not easy to find, the tops died back some time ago but I manage to pull a few. They are not a great crop. A couple are large and long but most are multi-rooted and stumpy. A fair amount of the row is completely devoid of any roots at all. I was sure there had been leaves there earlier in the year, maybe the roots have completely rotted away? Still, after peeling and chopping I have a reasonable number for the freezer although I suspect the cores are rather woody.