Sunday – Leominster – I decide on an alternative method of getting more cider apples. Carrying back a packed rucksack is simply ruining my back, so I drive around to the top of the playing field and take a set of barrow wheels and a large sack down to the orchard. Wheeling a loaded sack back is far easier. Finding the apples is not helped by the layer of leaves now covering them.
By the end of the week the country will be back in lock-down after the Government’s utter failure dealing with the crisis. The private sector run “track and trace” system is a shambles, so it is highly likely that the people making pronouncements on the spread of the Covid-19 virus do not really know what are the current vectors. Workplaces, schools and universities remain open but pubs, restaurants, gyms etc. are to close.
Home – The wind is swirling leaves everywhere. It is quite bright although rain is expected. Kay calls me: “There’s a pheasant in the garden”. We head up the path into the garden in time to see one of the annoying neighbourhood cats departing rapidly. However, we can hear the croak of a pheasant. We look around and go beyond the central mound of shrubbery into the second area. Nothing. Then the croak comes from behind us, so back we go. Kay looks up and there is a male Ring-necked Pheasant perched in the Willow tree looking quite agitated. It looks like a young bird, its plumage is immaculate and it is quite small. We leave it in peace. In the afternoon, four Jackdaws are on a neighbouring chimney stack arguing noisily.
I broach the barrel of cider. It is very fresh and not completely clear but has a pretty good taste. Looks like I will be able to drown my sorrows during this impending lock-down.
Monday – Leominster – After a dull start the sky has now cleared and sun is shining brightly. However the gale-force winds continue, swirling leaves off of the trees and around the walls and pavements. Down to the River Lugg. The water level now is much higher than it has been for several months. An occasional whistle or squeak can be heard from birds in the trees but most sound is drowned out by the roaring wind. A South Wales bound train draws into the station. I cannot see hardly any passengers on it at all. A couple of school children leave the train but no one gets on.
Wednesday – Home – The first frost of the year whitens the roofs and covers cars. The temperature hovers around zero and the air pressure rises. The chicken run is dug out. The number of worms in the rotting straw, dung and vegetable material is most impressive. Fresh straw is spread. Some new asparagus plants are placed in a trench along from the two that have provided a steady supply but hardly enough at any one time to provide a decent serving. I have finally bought some lengths of wood to make stakes to which the boards can be attached to renew the raised beds. A Great Spotted Woodpecker has been visiting the peanut feeder, the first for some time.
Friday – Shobdon – A bright but chilly morning with a mist that is slow to burn off. A cold wind blows. A pale moon still hangs in the sky. The cricket pavilion stands forlornly by itself, the pitch now covered in rows of fruit bushes. An avenue of oak trees leads up to Shobdon Arches. On the other side of the avenue is a large pond devoid of wildfowl. The remains of scarlet capped, white gilled toadstools, one of the red Russula species, are scattered around the bases of the oaks. Other brown capped mushrooms are surround other Oaks. Several of the Oaks are clearly far older than the others, one in particular is clearly several hundred years older.
The old arches from the church, carved by the Hereford School masons in the mid 12th century, seemed ever more eroded. A track leads down to Uphampton farm. A large farmhouse to the west is Uphampton House built in 1861 to house the farm steward of Lord Batemaṉs model farm; an innovative Victorian project using all the latest technology including its own railway system. Although there is no available record of the cost of the house, it was likely to have been less than £1000. It was recently on the market for £1 million, which was the equivalent of £11000 in 1861! Near the modern entrance to the farm there is a modern farmhouse made to look like a timber-framed building. A Robin flies down to a gate post to see what I am doing.
Off along the lane from the farm. A single Redwing alights at the top of a tree. A modern cottage stands beside vast chicken sheds. An old holloway runs beside the lane. The Joiners Cottage has been greatly extended and has a modern timber built holiday accommodation in the garden. Nearby is substantial Victorian house, Little Broome. This is now Easthampton. The Old Cider House is an extended, probably 17th century cottage.
The lane comes to a crossroads. On the junction is a house of 1861. Another half-dozen dwellings are here ranging in age from probably 18th to 20th century. Westwards along an avenue of golden beeches leading to Shobdon Court. A pond is entirely green with algae. Either side of the avenue the field undulates gently; created by material deposited by glaciers during the last ice age. The bedrock is Whitcliffe limestone of the Silurian, 419-421 million years ago. It seems odd that the Beeches in the avenue are at different stages of autumnal change. Some have lost most of their leaves, most are golden although some are quite dessicated and brown and yet others remain almost entirely green. On the edge of the wood that surrounds the court is the stump of a huge ancient tree completely rotting away. The avenue arrives at the large northern gates of the court installed in the mid 19th century. Nearby is the Rococo Shobdon church, closed because of the lockdown.
Sunday – Home – Another grey, damp morning. There was some rain overnight. A Grey Squirrel keeps raiding the bird feeders so I drape some netting beneath the peanuts. It makes several attempts to work out if it can get to to the nuts through the netting and then climbs the Ash trunk to see if it can jump onto the feeder. However, neither option seems feasible. Unfortunately, the squirrel just turns its attention to the seed feeder and I have to chase it off.
Again Blackbirds are very active around the garden chasing each other to and fro. I suppose it must be a territorial issue although I am surprised they are trying to establish these so soon. Now the squirrel is giving up and departs to find easier pickings in another garden. Blue Tits and Great Tits now come down to the peanuts. They eating a very large amount at the moment and the feeder needs filling at least every other day. Some of the Great Tits must be young birds as they are small and quite slender. Hopefully they will bulk out before the real cold starts.
I am crushing and pressing the last cider apples I will do this year. There is now 18 gallons although I notice one demijohn is a strange colour, not bubbling and on testing not nice tasting. It is probably that this batch has some contamination and will need throwing away. It is now raining again.
Thursday – Home – There is the thinnest sliver of the old moon and bright shining Venus in the eastern dawn sky. As the day lightens, a Robin and a Song Thrush start singing. Everywhere is still wet and it is cool. The Grey Squirrel is back raiding the bird feeders.
Bodenham Lake – A Robin ticks at me as I start off down the track towards the lake. A few clouds drift across a blue sky and the wind booms as it goes through the now leafless Lombardy Poplars. A shrub, maybe a Cockspurthorn, has small bunches of crimson berries and fiery orange and red leaves. Redwings fly out of the Hawthorns and across the orchards. Very few rose-hips remain on the briars and the blackberries are now shrivelled on the brambles. A Little Egret, Mallard, Canada Geese and Cormorants are all on the new islands in the sailing bay. A Grey Heron is in the shallows beneath the trees at the eastern end. On the other side of the track a Redwing gulps down haws. Towards the western end of the lake are a pair of Great Crested Grebes, Coots and several Mute Swans. Two more Grey Herons fly in. Most of the western end and the meadow bay are completely devoid of wildfowl. Another Grey Heron is in the reed bed in front of the hide. West Field and Dinmore Woods are losing their colour and turning winter grey.
Fieldfares chatter in the cider orchard. Hundreds of apples lay wasted on the ground. Sheep are in the dessert apple orchard. A Grey Squirrel bounces across the width of the field carrying something in its mouth. A Grey Wagtail lands on the decking over the new pond which is still has very little water in it. Sky is now clouding over. A Common Buzzard glides over West Field Wood before a Carrion Crow rises from the trees and harasses it.
Friday – Leominster – After a wet and windy night the sky clears on a bright cool morning. Down to Butts Bridge. The River Lugg is flowing rapidly and is slowly getting deeper as the autumn progresses. Many trees along it bank have lost their leaves now yet some still maintain a green canopy. Large globular growths of Mistletoe festoon the Black Poplars. In one tree on the far bank the Mistletoe berries are being plucked by a Mistle Thrush. A Song Thrush is in a scraggly Hawthorn on this side of the river. Along the edge of Easters Meadow and out into Mill Street. Cheaton Brook is flowing rapidly but is shallow.
Into the track to Comfortd House. Comfortd Barns have now been glazed and look like they will soon be fitted out into office space. On up Eaton Hill. Clouds have built up in the south obscuring the sun and the breeze now cools the air considerably. The track has been repaired with fresh gravel to about half way up the hill. Tractor pulling a livestock wagon comes up the hill; it is the first time I have ever seen any vehicle up here. It goes through the gates at the top, turns round, then comes out and reverses back so the end of the trailer is facing the solar farm. Nothing much happens, so I move along, assuming they are loading sheep that have been grazing between the solar panels.
Along the top of the hill. Fresh molehills have been thrown up. Soil is rich dark brown. This section of path appears to be a thin strip of Bishop’s Frome Limestone Member which separates a larger area of Devonian St Maughans Formation sandstone to the east and Raglan Mudstone Formation to the west, laid down in the Silurean Period. The distant hills are misty. Down the hill which is slippery and on down the drovers’ steps. The Hawthorn bushes lining the path to the foot of the hill are heavy with scarlet haws which have attracted a sizeable flock of Redwings.
On to Eaton Bridge. Something is splashing in the water under the overhanging greenery on the south side of the bridge. I assume a Moorhen then the splashing comes out and I am surprised to see the head of an Otter appear. After watching for a few moment is clear that there are two down there. One swims under the bridge and explores the edge of the bank before disappearing. Unfortunately I am unable to get a decent photograph as the flash is turned off so as not to disturb them but this means the shots are all slightly blurred.
Along the old section of the A44. A Land Rover has been parked here for some months with somebody living out of it. It has now been joined a short distance away by a small caravan. There is supposed to be a travellers site being constructed close to here but there is no sign of anything happening. Over the A49. A Goldfinch flies off of a six foot high Teasel. It is difficult to see how the lockdown is going to work. I can understand Hinton’s being open as they sell animal feeds, but a game feed and gun shop? There is far more traffic than in the earlier lockdown, so few are staying at home. However, the market is quiet.
Monday – Leominster – Another grey morning with a cold breeze. Through the town which is quiet unsurprisingly as the majority of shops remained closed under lockdown. Into Dishley Street where one of the last remaining of the wood and corrugated iron sheds of Leominster livestock market is slowly rotting away. The service area behind the Co-op supermarket backs on to the rear of West Street buildings. Most are 18th century although there are modern extensions and at least one modern building. There is also a gap where the Vulcan Works, manufacturers of agricultural equipment stood. The former undertaker’s on the corner of Dishley Street and West Street shows its age with its undulating roof.
Into Ryelands Road and then down the long ginnel beside Westbury House. This leads to Probert Close. On the south side of the lane is the Leominster bowling green (once a large nursery), the other side is Hope Cottages. Behind the cottages and some modern bungalows backing onto Aldi car park is a three-storey Georgian house, Hawthorn House, built around 1835. Behind Hawthorn House was a large cider works and brewery. North of that, on Westbury Street was a large house, called Westbury House, presumably before the present house was named thus. The house in Westbury Street seems to have stood until the late 1980s when it was demolished and now Aldi supermarket stands ion the site. Into Aldermans Meadow then Mortimer Street. Through large a former council estate built just before WWII. Mortimer Street turns around into Ryelands Road again. Up the hill to the old toll cottage. Into Cockcroft Lane now a footpath.
A few squeaks come from Blue Tits and a chack from a Jackdaw as the path passes the large meadow with its old Oak trees. A number of Blackbirds fly up from the track where they are searching the leaf litter. A large Ash tree is leaning at a 60° angle over the path and it may not be many years before it collapses. A pair of Magpies fly over. To the west the Arrow Valley is scarred the ever-increasing expanse of polytunnels. The large fields running down towards South Street and the Hereford Road are fallow at the moment.
Down the path and into the old hop-pickers route, Gateway Lane which runs behind the gardens of the houses in Hereford Road. The track passes the school entrance and then past a row of “Cornish Units” former. council houses. House Sparrows bathe in a water filled pothole. The track becomes a tarmac road at the foot of Churchill Avenue entering on the left. Fat Wood Pigeons perch in a leafless Beech tree. The map claims this is still Gateway Lane but a right turning is Churchill Avenue which runs down to South Street. At the junction where is what seems to be a barn or workshop conversion. The rest of the houses in this section are modern, including a development called The Clock House on the site of a food warehouse of the same name. Into South Street opposite the community hospital.
Tuesday – Leominster – The grey dampness continues. A breeze chills the air. A drive-through Covid-19 testing site has been set up in Bridge Street car park. The River Kenwater is flowing swiftly and opaque. Treasure, the ancient building restorers, have scaffolding up the western side of the minster tower. Two women are practising Tai Chi by the war memorial.
Home – I construct a new wooden plank with one inch high treads to replace the rotting one leading up into the chicken house. For me, it is not too bad a job – I am pretty useless at DIY. For some reason, one of the newer hens is still refusing to use the nest and laying her eggs in the main house in the faeces deposited whilst they roost. I change the newspaper on the house floor twice a week so it is not a great problem, but a little annoying nonetheless.
The lettuces in the greenhouse are watered. They are growing very slowly now. Several chilli plants still have a good number of fruits. I harvest some. One has tiny orange chillies and I take a bite to see if they are hot or not. A mistake – yes they are hot – very hot! I will try and keep some of these plants going through the winter to see if they sprout in the spring.
Friday – Lugwardine-Prior’s Frome – It is a wet morning, rain falling steadily and colder than it has been of late. Down towards Lugwardine Bridge past the large 17th century timber-framed High House, raised above the road. A new house is being constructed of a small area of land. It is modernist; dark grey wood and large glass windows and strange angles. Past the Malthouse. A new estate in quarry field. South down Tidnor Lane, beside the early 19th; century Lower Lodge. A large Carrion Crow sits on the roof of a shed. Lugwardine Court, a large house facing south west. It was originally known as Rockfield House, and was built around 1770 but extensively rebuilt in 1810 by the Revd J Freeman. In the 1860s it was purchased by the Croft family of Croft Castle and renamed Lugwardine Court as apparently the name Rockfield House caused confusion with a house of the same name in Monmouth. A wall is covered in ivy which like everywhere this year is covered in berries. The River Lugg comes into view just beyond a small strip of woodland. Strings of bright red Bryony berries are laced through the hedgerows. A driveway leads through gates to the large Georgian Lugwardine House.
Out on the meadows, a flock of sheep stand absolutely motionless. Weir House and Weir Cottage both look fairly modern although are probably Victorian. The name seems odd as they are some distance from the river Lugg and there is no other watercourse near that I can see. Redwings are flying from tree to tree. Tidnor Court farmhouse is a large stone built building of 1840/50. Nearby towards the river is Tidnor Mill. The present mill house is believed to be 18th century. In 1925, the River Lugg Drainage Board purchased the mill and demolished it, removing all weirs and equipment (as the did at a number of other mills on the Arrow and Lugg) to try to prevent flooding.
Past the junction of Rhystone Lane which leads back to Lugwardine. I purchased a Golden Russet apple from Museum Orchard, a national collection of apple varieties some 450 different eaters, cookers and cider apples planted by the former owner Henry May. He is credited with saving many cider apple varieties from extinction. Windfalls in the orchard have attracted a very large flock of Redwings, Fieldfares, Chaffinches and Blue Tits. A belt loader stands on the edge of the orchard. Longworth Hall hotel stands on a low hill. A large Cedar stands by the entrance. This house was built around 1788 by Anthony Keck. The estate was for several centuries the seat of the ancient family of the Walwyns, who derived their name from Gwallain or Wallwain castle, in Pembrokeshire. Sir Peter Gwallain was engaged in the conquest of Brecknockshire, with the army of William Rufus. A fine lodge house is beside the road.
The lane becomes Larport Lane. A short distance along is Longworth mill and a bridge over the river Frome which enters the Lugg a short distance to the west. Stile Cottage has a large roof which comes close to the ground leaving only small windows on the ground floor. Larport seems to consist of a single enlarged 17th century timber-framed cottage and Larport Court Farm, built in the late 18th century with three oast houses behind it.
The lane comes to the B4224. Opposite is is Prior’s Frome which seems to consist mainly of modern council houses. It rises up Backbury Hill. A large Victorian house stands on the corner of a road junction. Opposite the tilted layers of a thin strip of Downton Castle sandstone are exposed. A short distance down the lane, the bedrock is Raglan Mudstone Formation, up the lane is Upper Ludlow Shales Group. There are a few older houses here among the modern late 20th; century and 21st century dwellings. The Yew Tree is a former pub, once the New Inn, now a residence. The Old shop is timber-framed, built in the 17th century as a farmhouse and then became a shop but is now a residence. Another 17th century timber-frame farmhouse stands and little way up the road and in between the fine solid Victorian house. Down the hill a stone built dwelling with a small area of timber framing looks as if windows have been added to a former barn. The Frome chapel of 1880 still in use as a place of worship.
The rain is getting heavier. Back along the main road and then along Larport Lane to the mill. Into Longworth Lane. A small flock of Starlings flies over. A large flock of over one hundred Redwings and Fieldfares explode out of a couple of roadside Hawthorns. The rain has finally eased off a bit although it has not stopped. A small flock of Longtailed Tits fly across the road. There is a constant chatter of Fieldfares. Over seventy Mallard are grazing in a field. A couple of Ring-necked Pheasants on the other side of the roadside hedge start croaking and running across the field setting up mass quacking among the Mallard.
The tower of St Michael’s hospice can be seen across the fields. To the west on the gentle rise is the large house of Sheepcote. The hospice lies down in the fold of the hill. Large number of new buildings added to it. The lane enters Bartestree past a few 19th; century houses, barn conversions and modern houses. A cul-de-sac consists of two rows of “Cornish Units” former council houses. The lane joins the A438, the main Hereford to Tewkesbury Road. Through Bartestree. More housing has been built since I last passed through here; a couple of houses look like they have actually had an architect thinking about design. On the western edge of the village is Penkelly, a large house of 1875 decorated with tiles made in Lugwardine by William Godwin. Its gateposts bear Godwin glazed encaustic roundels of the Four Seasons.
Down the hill and into Lugwardine. The church is of course closed due to lockdown. The air smells of wood burning stoves. It has finally stopped raining. Route
Sunday – Home – The strip of lawn we are trying to turn into a wild flower meadow is scarified with a wire rake. I then aerate it with a fork, a hard job leaving a blister on one palm. It seems both the young hens have learned that eggs should be laid in the nest. Emerald is in moult and looks particularly scruffy. As usual, I have failed to keep up with tying the purple sprouting to the stakes. So it is all over the place. I manage to get a couple into a more upright position and get the netting over them.
The evening sky is clear. In the east is Mars, south-east hosts a demi-lune, half phase moon and in the south west are Jupiter and Saturn, a few inches and millions of miles apart.
Monday – Leominster – The roofs and grass are pale from a sharp frost this morning and a mist reduces visibility just a little. Off down Broad Street and into Bridge Street. The Kenwater flows steadily. On down to the Old Ludlow Road and up to the New Lugg Bridge. To the east of the bridge, the footpath has been closed and work is underway to raise the bank of the River Lugg bypass channel to provide a defence against flooding up to a 1:100-year flood.
Westwards along beside the river on the old Leominster and Kington Railway route. At Summergalls the track heads north. Hundreds of apples are laying rotting beneath the row of trees beside the brook that flows down from Croward’s mill. This brook was before flood alleviation works in the 1960s the route of the River Lugg. The present channel of the Lugg is on what was then the River Kenwater. Large piles of manure steam in the fields. There is the occasional croak of a Carrion Crow and a few Wood Pigeons fly over. Past Croward’s mill and on towards Eyton. A long beech hedge glows with copper leaves. Two Grey Squirrels chase and chunter. Tiny catkins have appeared on roadside Hazels. Over Cheese Bridge, No. 716, under which flows Cheese Brook.
House Sparrows and Pied Wagtails flit through the trees at Coxall Farm. Half a dozen Starlings fly over in that direct, purposeful flight they always seem to have. Opposite Kemble House, Herefords graze in the apple orchard. A Moorhen skitters across the large pond at Pondside house. Eyton Common is silent. Work on Eyton Court what seems now have finished and the house looks splendid. Opposite is the The Marsh, a complex house of the 14th century with many additions over the centuries. A house with stone lower floor and timber framed upper, jettied all the way around looks old but is late 20th; century. A Nuthatch calls in trees opposite the old school.
The lane rises to The Hill Farm. Several trees in an orchard still have sizeable apple crops on them. A large flock of finches circles and then descends into a ploughed field out of sight. Right at the crossroads into Croft Lane. The lane rises towards The Lydiatts. A small flock of Redwings flies to the top of a tree. A Sparrowhawk crashes out of a hedge carrying something and disappears over the fields. A Fieldfare and Chaffinches are in an old orchard. The mist is thicker here visibility is down to about 100 yards. The lane starts to descend. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies ahead of me from tree to tree. Hart’s Tongue ferns grow on the banks.
The joins North Road at The Broad. Over Spittal Bridge, its name from its being near to the ancient Hospital of the Benedictine Monastery. A large low-loader carrying an earthmover emerges from the Lugg works causing a bit of a traffic hold up. Back through the town. My ankle is playing up again, sometimes almost too painful to walk then settling down to a dull ache – very odd.
Wednesday – Leominster – The rain finally stops after falling all night and into the morning. It is cool and of course, very damp. The sky is still clouded. Down the street and over the railway. A Manchester bound train is in the station. As it pulls out I can only see one side but there are no passengers in any of the seats. Black buds are appearing on the branches of Ash trees. Onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has risen slightly. Blue Tits search leafless branches of trees for food. A Mistle Thrush rasps. The rippling river reflects the grey sky. Black Poplars are now leafless but still carrying their large globes of Mistletoe.It is reported that, because of the pandemic, the Tenbury Mistletoe Fair has been cancelled for the first time in 150 years.
Jackdaws chatter at the top of a tree; others chase around the waste ground beside Pinsley mill and the railway. This is a strange area of land. It starts by the railway station where it has been blocked off by large steel gates, runs between the river and the railway until it meets the River Kenwater close to where it joins the Lugg. An aerial map shows a small bridge close to the railway which connects this area of land and to to a track beside a large plot and house beside Mill Street. This bridge cannot be seen from here. From Mill Street the track reaches the bridge but beyond is another large steel gate. The 1928 map shows the area divided by the old route of the River Lugg and bounded to the east by Ridgemoor Brook, which is now the course of the Lugg. The land was an orchard. By the late 1960s, the Kenwater had been extended to what was now the Lugg and the bridge installed.
Monday – Bodenham Lake – The air feels wet under a relentlessly grey sky. It is not really cold but nevertheless it feels exactly what one would expect from the late autumn. The track is muddy. Most leaves have fallen now. Dank, dark bunches of keys hanging from Ash trees. The new islands in the lake are crowded with four Little Egrets, two Grey Herons, over 120 Canada Geese, a couple of drake Goosanders, a Moorhen, a pair of Wigeon, a pair of Mute Swans, several Coot, Tufted Duck and Mallard. More Mallard are gathered at the southern end, one quacking persistently. Some of the Canada Geese are flapping vigorously in the water as they wash. A small flock of Teal fly up from near the big island where another Grey Heron is hunkered down. More Canada Geese are towards the western end of the lake.
Fieldfares and Redwings chatter in the orchards. A pair of Chaffinches flit from tree to tree. A noisy skein of Canada Geese drift in from the north towards the lake. A flock of 30 plus Redwing fly over. A raptor disappears over the rooftops of the houses on the lane too fast to identify, although I suspect it was a Kestrel. Some late windfall russet apples lay under a tree. The skins are somewhat uninviting with dark marks but the flesh inside tastes fine.