Friday – Home – My Friday walk has been temporarily halted by an arthritic knee. The doctor has injected it and given me pain-killers and this seems to have worked but she told me to take it easy for a few days. Carrying home a large rucksack of cider apples yesterday probably was not what she meant but there seems to be no adverse reaction. This morning the apples are processed and by late afternoon there are nearly two gallons of juice ready to ferment.
Things are slowing down in the garden. The nights are cold and it takes a while for the sun to warm the autumn air. I have made a start of removing the beans and there is a large pile in the summer house hopefully drying. Red onion sets have gone in on one of the bean patches. Nets have gone over the Purple Sprouting in anticipation of depredation by Wood Pigeons when the weather deteriorates and food becomes more scarce. The squashes have been a failure this year, none have grown to any size at all; I am not sure why this should be. Courgettes are still being produced but at a slower rate now. There are still plenty of tomatoes to crop. Herefordshire Russet apples are beginning to drop so they will need cropping soon. Both they and the Howgate Wonders are badly affected by apple moth. This is annoying as I put up the traps in plenty of time this year. Soft fruits are pretty much over now, just a few autumn raspberries still ripening. A late sowing of peas is flowering well so I am hopeful of a decent crop. Three eggs again today – the Bristol Blue is irregular but still producing.
Saturday – Leominster – The weather is slowly changing. An area of high pressure has dominated which has meant sunny days but cold nights. The mercury is now falling and the day is grey, failing to warm after another cold night. Down Etnam Street and past The White Lion along the footpath by the railway line. Goldfinches fly off from Burdock flower heads. A Robin sings. The old Pinsley mill site is still abandoned and overgrown. Rosebay Willowherb stalks are scarlet with flower heads just curls of white cotton. Scarlet hips are untouched. A few Meadow Cranesbills are still in flower. Into the churchyard. Most grave headstones have been removed. Some remain against the walls. One tiny one records Willie son of W. & E. Pennell who died in 1913, just a few days old. Into the old eastern end of the priory where the eastern end of the old church stood before a fire in 1699. An apple tree is surrounded by fallen fruit, no-one seems to want free fruit. I chomp one, Worcestershire Pearmain I would guess.
Hymns ring out from the minster. Bizarrely there are two Jeeps parked outside, both carrying heavy machine guns,or replicas thereof. Inside is a memorial service to Major John Campbell, CVO, CBE MC who died aged 93. He was awarded two Military Crosses while serving with Popski’s Private Army and subsequently worked in the Colonial Service and as a diplomat. Popski’s Private Army, officially No 1 Demolition Squadron, PPA, was a unit of British Special Forces set up in Cairo in October 1942 by Major Vladimir Peniakoff, MC (nicknamed Popski; later promoted to lieutenant colonel and awarded the DSO). Popski’s Private Army was one of several raiding units formed in the Western Desert during the Second World War. The squadron also served in Italy, and was disbanded in September 1945.
Along Church Street. The Forbury is a strange combination, a Georgian house abutting the late 13th century chapel, built at the gates of the priory precinct on the orders of Archbishop Peckham and dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr. The chapel became called The Forbury as it stood in the forecourt or outer court of the priory, the word coming from Foreburg meaning an outwork.
Sunday – Leominster – Off at six o’clock to collect some more apples for pressing. A half-waning moon is partially obscured by scudding clouds. It seems so short a time ago that this time of morning was bright and full of light but now it is really too dark to see what I am doing. I scrabble under hedges and in dead weeds to collect my booty. I get enough although not a full rucksack.
The market is declining as the weather turns colder. Mists are light and the meadow is covered in dew but it is not quite cold enough for frost. It is always amusing to notice that the language and accents are often either East European or Welsh here. As usual I find nothing to buy. Back over the river where a Dipper stands unusually motionless on a gravel bank. The water is low and crystal clear.
The apples are scratted and pressed, about a gallon and a half. Conkers are now falling regularly, often helped by fidgety, noisy Jackdaws, from the great Horse Chestnut that towers over the summer house. The explosive report when they hit the roof makes me jump every time – it is the irregularity of it all. I cut the lawn yesterday so the hens are rooting around a carpet of clippings. I have started filling the bird feeders again. House Sparrows are emptying the seed feeder in a few hours and Blue and Great Tits are steadily working their way through the peanuts. Grey Squirrels are beginning to bury conkers and other seeds in the lawn. Kay is busy changing the containers for winter colour with pansies and sowing bulbs for spring.
Monday – Leominster – Overnight rain peters out although the morning remains dark. It is not cold and a breeze is rising. By midday the sun is making sporadic appearances although leaden mountains of cloud rise in most directions. Across the Grange. A Kestrel passes over. Down the playing field where a headless corpse of a Collared Dove lies in the grass, doubtless the victim of a Sparrowhawk. The cooking apple trees in the Millennium Gardens are heavy with orange ripening fruit. Crimson Queening is a dessert apple and they are falling in numbers. This apple is also known as the Herefordshire Queening and was first recorded in 1831 but is thought to be much older. A dead mole lies by the path. The hedge alongside the railway is made up of various species planted out for the Millennium – Wild Service Tree, Guelder-rose, Crab Apple and Elder all adorned with a variety of red, brown and black fruits. However, round in the small park there is nothing on the Walnut tree, once known in Herefordshire as the Bannut Tree. Nearby is another young tree, one of the Ginko family I think. Around the edges of these public spaces is an almost impenetrable thicket of grasses, thistles and brambles. The ongoing destruction of local finances by the present Government means there is no money to maintain anything other than the simplest areas of grass, the rest has just been abandoned.
Wednesday – Port Sunlight – This village is on the Wirral, a few miles from Birkenhead. William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (1851-1925) was born in Bolton, son of a grocer. In 1886 he established a soap manufacturing company, Lever Brothers, with his brother James. It is now part of Unilever which still has a large plant here. He developed soap from vegetable oils and sold it ready wrapped in bars rather than making it in large blocks which were cut at the grocer’s shop for the customer. His most successful soap was called Sunlight and made him a fortune. Needing larger business premises, Lever purchased 56 acres of land in Cheshire and created Port Sunlight a model village developed between 1888 and 1914. He employed around 30 architects who built in a wonderful mixture of styles, which is generally regarded as Old English. He provided a school and leisure facilities.
In 1922 he built an art gallery, The Lady Lever Art Gallery, dedicated to his late wife. Lever was an avid art collector and on display are some sublime Pre-Raphaelite paintings including Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat and The shortening winter’s day is near a close by Joseph Farquharson, both now famous everywhere. He also invested in the New Sculpture movement with pieces by Edward Onslow Ford and William Goscombe John.
After a visit to the museum we wander up the main gardens, mainly roses which sadly are at the end of their season. The War Memorial is reputedly the largest in the UK. Unveiled in 1922, Lever had Goscombe John to design it. He exhibited some sketches and models for the memorial’s figures at the 1919 and 1920 exhibitions of the Royal Academy. When the final choices were made by Lever and members of his local committee they were cast at the foundry of A. B. Burton at Thames Ditton, and the memorial was built by William Kirkpatrick Limited of Manchester. Over 4,000 of Lever’s employees had served in the war and, of these, 503 had been killed. The memorial is made of granite, with sculptures and reliefs in bronze. At the centre is a runic cross standing on an octagonal plinth, on which are the statues of eleven figures. There are inscriptions on the sides of the plinth. Around the plinth is an enclosure with four seating areas surrounded by a circular parapet. The parapet is broken by four flights of steps. Flanking the tops of the steps are different reliefs of groups of children holding wreathes. On each of the four sections of the parapet facing the road is a relief depicting an aspect of the services. Nearby there is a memorial to the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster, when resulted in the deaths of 96 people and injuries to 766 others, at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield in 1989.
A brief visit to the church. Christ Church was commissioned by Lever, it was built in 1902-04 by William & Segar Owen using red Cheshire sandstone ashlar with stone tiling. Sadly it is locked but in the loggia or narthex at the west end is the Lady Lever Memorial is the chest tomb of Lady Lever, who died in 1913, and of William Lever. On black marble tombs are recumbent bronze effigies by Sir W. Goscombe John with bronze figures of children at their base.
Liverpool – We travel under the Mersey through the Birkenhead Tunnel and, as usual, are grateful for the satnav for finding our hotel. We then visit the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, a vast conical building with a circular tower topped by a crown of crosses. It has become an iconic symbol of the city. The catholic population of Liverpool increased substantially in the mid-19th century when many Irish left Ireland during and after the Great Famine. The Bishop of Liverpool, Alexander Goss decided there was a need for a Catholic cathedral and land was obtained in Everton. The bishop commissioned Edward Welby Pugin to design a new cathedral and by 1856 the Lady chapel had been completed. However, money was diverted to the education of catholic children and the Lady Chapel became a parish church until its demolition in the 1980s. In 1930 land was purchased in Brownlow Hill and Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design a new cathedral here. The design would have created the second largest church in the world with a dome larger than St Peters Basilica in the Vatican City. The cost would be £3 million. A start was made in 1933 but only part of the crypt was built before the war stopped progress. By the end of the war, the cost had risen to £27 million and building was stopped completely. In 1956 work was recommenced on the crypt and it was finished in 1958. However, the cost of continuing with Lutyens’ design was regarded as too much so again building stopped. Adrian Gilbert Scott was commissioned to come up with an affordable design which he did by scaling down Lutyens’s plans at a cost of £4 million, but the plans were criticised and abandoned. Sir Frederick Gibberd was chosen after another competition and construction began in October 1962 and completed in less than five years.
Inside, there is a large circular space with an altar constructed of white marble from Skopje, Macedonia. The area is lit in blue, yellow and red from coloured glass windows. Around the edge of the main hall are thirteen chapels. The crypt was refurbished in 2009 and houses the cathedral plate and various bishops’ croziers and vestments. It also hosts the annual CAMRA Beer Festival!
We head down to Hardman Street and the Fly in the Loaf pub. Opposite is a former synagogue of the Liverpool New Hebrew Congregation, from 1842-57. They had split from the original Liverpool Hebrew Congregation in 1838 and worshipped in rooms on Hanover Street for four years. In 1857, they moved to Hope Place Synagogue (now Unity Theatre), where they stayed until 1937, when they merged with a much smaller congregation to create Greenbank Drive Hebrew Congregation. They closed in January 2008. Looking down Pilgrim Street reveals the red stone Anglican Cathedral.
Thursday – Liverpool – It is dark and cool. Past the Variety Theatre which stages shows rather than plays. The huge edifices of the Walker Gallery, the central library and the World Museum are looming in the half-light. Into Victoria Street. The Bank of Liverpool, built in 1881 and designed by G. E. Grayson, is a bar. Opposite another vast Victorian building, now the Metquarter building previously served as Liverpool’s General Post Office, and was considered the finest post office in the UK. It was built on the site of Liverpool’s first synagogue built around 1750. A stone plaque states the Post office was unveiled by The Duke of York, with the Postmaster General in attendance, in 1894. Unfortunately, the building was severely damaged in the May blitz in 1941, resulting in the demolition of the upper floors and now the insides have been gutted for an atrium. Fruit Market (built originally in 1888 as a goods depot for the London and North Western Railway, and converted into a fruit exchange in 1923 by J. B. Hutchins), Century Buildings (built 1901), Fowler’s Buildings (offices and a warehouse constructed in two phases between 1865 and 1869,for the Fowler brothers, who were produce dealers, and were designed by the local architect J. A. Picton) are now all clubs and small businesses.
Into North John Street. Melbourne Buildings have been given a facelift and are now bright blue with gold details. A huge art deco block with 12 foot doors and a tower all in white Portland limestone contains fans to ventilate the Mersey Road Tunnel. It was designed by Herbert J. Rowse, and built by Basil Mott in association with J. A. Brodie. Opposite another Victorian block with carved reliefs. Into Dale Street where Rigby’s Buildings houses a pub named after Thomas Rigby. It was built in 1726 and re-fronted in stucco in 1865. Queen Insurance Buildings, designed by Samuel Rowland and built in 1839 for the Royal Bank has an ornate iron gate across an arch leading to Queen Avenue which consists of offices built in two stages, 1830 and 1880. No 1 Dale Street looks like and is a bank – it was built between 1856–58 for the Liverpool and London Insurance Company, designed by C. R. and F. P. Cockerell. The attic and slate Mansard roof were added in 1920.
Castle Street contains numerous mid to late Victorian office buildings, many now banks. The Town Hall is a delight of excess, great columns holding a pediment, swags lie over windows and all is topped by an immense dome with a clock, lions and Britannia. It was built between 1749 and 1754 to a design by John Wood the Elder replacing an earlier town hall nearby. An extension to the north designed by James Wyatt was added in 1785. Following a fire in 1795 the hall was largely rebuilt and the dome designed by Wyatt was added. Martin’s Bank Building was built in 1927 by Herbert J. Rowse as the headquarters of Martin’s Bank. The origins of this bank lie in the establishment of Heywood’s Bank, formed by Benjamin and Arthur Heywood, who became wealthy through the slave trade and set up the bank to enable others to do so as well. Heywood’s Bank was incorporated into the Bank of Liverpool, which was incorporated into Martin’s Bank before being incorporated, in turn, into Barclay’s Bank. The main doors are tall, in bronze. A smaller entrance, now in general use, has a carved panel beside it depicting a bearded white person with his hands paternalistically resting on the heads of two African children. India Buildings are again immense, also by Rowse, built in 1931 as headquarters of the Blue Funnel Line. It has a Travertine marble hall with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. James Street Station has a staircase in cream, brown and blue tiling disappearing into the depths. New Zealand House is relatively modest beside the other behemoths. At the bottom of the street is Tower House with an extraordinary marble confection topping it, built in 1908 by W, Aubrey Thomas. The first structure on the site had been a sandstone mansion, built in 1256 on the shore of the River Mersey. Its first owner is not known, but by 1360 it was owned by Sir Robert Lathom. By beginning of the 15th century it was owned by Sir John Stanley. In 1406 Sir John gained permission from King Henry V build a fortified house, which was named the Tower of Liverpool. The Stanley family later became the Earls of Derby. West Africa House formally housed the West Africa Bank. Finally, across the road is the World famous Royal Liver Building topped by the Liver Birds. I head back up towards Lime Street. On the corner of Cook Street is an 1846 building by Charles Cockerell was a branch of the Bank of England. It lies empty and forlorn. 16 Cook Street, Liverpool is the world’s second glass curtain walled building, designed by Peter Ellis in 1866.
After breakfast we spend the morning at the Museum of Liverpool and then Tate Liverpool, where there is an exhibition of art by Jackson Pollack. Pollack may not be everyone’s taste but we find the large drip canvasses fascinating. The ferry, Snowdrop sails up the Mersey. It is painted in bright colours, Razzle Dazzle designed by Peter Blake. Outside the Tate, efforts are ongoing to raise the tall ship Zebu which sank at the beginning of September. We lunch at The Baltic Fleet, which has been refurbished and now has its own micro-brewery. The afternoon is spent at the World Museum which has a fine Mayan exhibition and the Walker Art Gallery which has a contemporary British art exhibition. We are now museumed-out!
Friday – Liverpool – The Moon, Venus and Jupiter lie together in a lightening sky. Up London Road, where most the shops are shuttered. Round into Prescott Street. Most the buildings are 20th century but here and there are the great Victorian Gothic edifices. The Prince of Wales Hotel on the corner of Moss Street stands empty and boarded, it’s statues looking down on a very different world to that when they were new. On the opposite corner The Bank has been converted to student accommodation. The Royal Liverpool University Hospital is a vast site surrounded by builders’ cabins and a large sign stating that the new Royal opens in 2017. A tall chimney, from the mortuary I would guess, rises like a Victorian column. Prescott Street joins a major ring road which is heavy with traffic. The Sacred Heart Catholic church, built 1876, architect, George Goldie, stands dark on the corner. On the other side of the ring road streets of housing begins, the first time I have seen ordinary housing in my wanderings of the city. Past the multi-storey car park then another vast construction site for the hospital. Down a road between the building site and the University of Liverpool buildings. Beyond the modern buildings stands stand the red brick Victorian Royal Infirmary. A plaque erected by the Trades Union Council records that Robert Tressell, author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists died here on 3rd February 1911. Into Lower Gill Street where a cast curved block of flats stands, St Andrews Gardens on Copperas Hill. Designed by John Hughes and built in 1935 as council housing, they were known as The Bullring and are now student accommodation.
Moreton Corbet – We head home, calling off at Moreton Corbet castle. At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086 Moreton was one of 13 manors held by Thorold of Verley from Roger of Montgomery. His tenants were two Saxon brothers, Hunning and Wulfgeat, who were also the pre-Conquest tenants and had been allowed to keep their estates. Some time after 1086 the manor passed to Toret, one of Hunning’s Saxon contemporaries. The first castle built at Moreton Corbet was most probably a timber building but this was replaced by a stone structure in around 1200. The stone castle was built with an impressive gatehouse, a keep, high curtain walls surrounding it and was roughly triangular in shape. Toret’s descendant Bartholomew Toret fell out with King John and was thrown into jail. In 1239 Toret’s heiress married the Norman Richard Corbet of Wattlesborough and the castle passed into this family. In the 16th century Andrew Corbet altered the gatehouse and perimeter wall. Andrew’s son Robert was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and was a courtier and diplomat with great influence. He had been the ambassador to Antwerp and the Flemish influence can be seen in his rebuilding of the castle. Robert died in 1583 of plague and his sons, Richard and Vincent completed the rebuilding. During the Civil War Sir Vincent Corbet fought for the king and the house was damaged in the course of repeated bouts of fighting. The buildings were later repaired and reoccupied. In the 18th century the castle was abandoned as a residence, and it soon became roofless. Plans were drawn up in 1796 to build a new house on the site, but the project was never realised and the castle remained a ruin. The Corbet family still owns the castle today, although the site is managed by English Heritage. The ruins still reflect the magnificence of the building although much has been lost.
A story is told of the ghost of the castle. The ghost is said to be that of Paul Holmyard who was a Puritan. At the height of their persecution, Holmyard was given protection by Vincent Corbet and allowed to live in the castle. As the Puritans became more devoted to their beliefs Corbet began to worry about the implications of giving protection to Holmyard and so asked him to leave. He took shelter in nearby woods but one day returned to the castle and is said to have put a curse on the building, so that work on the castle would never be completed. Vincent Corbet was so afraid of the consequences of the curse that he never set foot in the castle again and neither did his son Andrew.
Nearby is the church of St Bartholomew. The chancel and nave are 12th century, a south aisle was added around 1330-40 and the west tower of circa 1539 with top stage added or rebuilt in 1769 at the expense of Andrew Corbet. There are a large number of monuments, many of the Corbet family In the south aisle is a chest tomb to Sir Robert Corbet (died 1513) and his wife with bays with crocketed cinquefoil ogee panels, a carved frieze, and two recumbent effigies. A chest tomb to Sir Richard Corbet (died 1567) and his wife is divided by turned half-balusters; each bay with large painted shield resting on elephant or owl below, the central panel with child in swaddling clothes, rose bush with lily growing out of it and a panel below with a squirrel and foliage. There is a hagioscope or squint between chancel and south aisle. The chancel arch has been decorated with flowers, for a wedding? The roof is painted with chevrons and the walls of the chancel are decorated with painted and gold leaf stencilled decoration in the Morris style. There is some mediaeval glass but most is fine Victorian.
Across the fields are two large hangers on R.A.F. Shawbury. The station’s association with flying training goes back to June 1917, when No 29 (Flying Training) Wing and the Aeroplane Repair Section of the Royal Flying Corps were established, under the command of Major A W Tedder for a short period, on the site of today’s airfield. By 1920 the site had reverted to its original agricultural use. Shawbury re-activated as an airfield in 1938, under the command of Group Captain H P Lale DSO DFC, although the arrival of No 27 Maintenance Unit (MU) on 1st February preceded that of No 11 Flying Training School (FTS) from RAF Wittering by 3 months. The school’s remit was extended to consider navigation as a science and to carry out research into the problems of world-wide navigation. This involved a series of long-distance navigation flights, the first and most famous of which was a record-breaking flight made from RAF Shawbury on 21st October 1944 when Aries, a Lancaster bomber, under the command of Wing Commander D C McKinley, took off on the first round-the-world trip by a British aircraft. The following year Aries underwent significant modification in preparation for important research flights, in May 1945, to the geographic and magnetic North Poles. The arrival in February 1950 of the School of Air Traffic Control (ATC) from RAF Watchfield saw the renaming of the CNS to the Central Navigation and Control School. Wellingtons and Lancasters were replaced by Lincolns, which were used together with Ansons and later, Vampire and Provosts for navigator and ATC training. By the mid-1970s, fixed wing training had diminished to be replaced by helicopter training.
Sunday – Leominster – Off to the market. Starlings stand on television aerials in Etnam Street, chattering with whistles, burbles and grunts. The sun is partially obscured by cloud, its red disk glowing behind strips of luminous grey. The River Lugg is low, the small gravel bank has again appeared in the middle of the river bed. Two large Black Poplars stand beside Easters meadow, one by the slope down from the bridge and another along the riverbank a short way. Across the wet meadow and past the compound of vehicles ready for auction. Not a large market this week. Kay buys some wallflowers but I find nothing to spend any money upon. Back over the river. A Dipper stands on the gravel bank before whirring off upstream.
At home more conkers have fallen from the Horse Chestnut and lay shining like polished stones in the grass. As a child these would have been riches beyond belief, hundreds rather than the small bag I managed to collect in competition with numerous other boys. I used to dry them beside the fire in the belief this would make them harder and so win more conker fights in the playground.
The Herefordshire Russets are beginning to fall. A couple of the Doyenne pears come away easily in my hand. Stevie, the oldest of our hens is moulting and showers of feathers follow each shake. I dig a few golden beetroot, I should have thinned them more. I pull some stems of chard, the leaves are becoming leathery but the hens still get into frenzy over them.
Monday – Bodenham Lake – The sun blazes golden through mists down the Lugg valley south of Leominster. A six coach train races by, a Class 67 used for the Cardiff-Holyhead run. The season of mellow fruitfulness is also the season of tractors bringing the harvest home, leading to long queues of traffic, not a worry to me but probably a frustration to commuters trying to get to their jobs. It is cool, only 4°C. Robins sing and Wrens rasp warnings. The woods shine gold, copper and brass in the sunlight. Tufted Duck, Coot, some still in juvenile brownish-black plumage and Wigeon are feeding in the boat-house bay. Canada Geese are noisy. A pair of Mallard are displaying mutual head-bobbing by the scrape. There are over 50 Cormorants in the trees on the island, the log reports over 100 present recently at dusk. A Grey Heron flies past, another is on a submerged spit across the lake. Back along the meadow, Field Maples turn chromium yellow, Beeches dull brass and some Hawthorns are already bare.
Wednesday – Eyton – A cold morning, the sky mottled with high, grey clouds. Last night there was a slightly bizarre experience when coming back from Hereford of driving alongside a train transporting white vans, all facing backwards and travelling at the same speed as me. This morning I head off down Etnam Street to the White Lion and along the path beside the railway. Michaelmas Daisies flower behind an old iron railing fence. Bindweed and White Deadnettle are still flowering. The train from Manchester to South Wales slows as it approaches the station. A few minutes later the Manchester bound train heads north. Across the Millennium Park and Pinsley Mead, down The Priory and over the 1844 iron footbridge across the Kenwater. Blackbirds search the gravel banks, which are more extensive than usual as the water level in the river is very low. Along to Mill Street around the Dales Cricket Club ground. A large fungus grows on a stump, either Southern Bracket, Ganoderma australe or Artists Fungus, Ganoderma applanatum.
From Mill Street I turn into Bridge Street and then along a lane that was the old railway line to Kington. The straightened channel of the River Lugg, dug in the early 1960s, runs beside the lane and beyond in a large field of yet to be harvested maize. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips nearby. The lane turns over a bridge by Summergalls (Summergates on an old map) farm. A couple of plum trees and a row of apple trees line the back of the Croward’s Mill leat. Great bales of straw have been placed along the road so it is very unlikely that these apples will be cropped. A Common Buzzard flies off from electricity lines over a field. Bullfinches disappear into a Hawthorn. Chaffinches and Blue Tits flit through the trees. A Wood Pigeon flies out of a Hawthorn sending down a shower of leaves. Jackdaws chack around Croward’s Mill. Formally known as Crowfords Mill dating from the 14th century its origins may lie in the 13th century. In the 18th and 19th century the mill was owned by the family of Lord Bateman of Shobdon Court. The mill operated as a corn mill until 1948 and up to 1974 pumped water to Eyton Old Hall.
The track joins the Eyton lane and over Cheese Bridge. Despite the cold start to the day, Speckled Wood butterflies are active along the hedgerows. There is a healthy population of House Sparrows around Coxall farm. Muddy ground in a large orchard opposite Kemble House attracts Jackdaws, Magpies, a Ring-necked Pheasant and a flock of Chaffinches. A regular thump signals falling apples. A pair of Yellowhammers fly over, the cock’s yellow head glinting in the sun. The cloud has now almost completely dissipated and Eyton Common is bathed in sunshine. One of a number of large bales scattered across the common provides a perch for a Common Buzzard. Past Eyton Court and up the hill to Hill Farm. A small flock of Linnets sits atop some Beech saplings. The road comes to a crossroads and I turn into Croft Lane towards The Broad. Pool Cottage, a 17th century timber-framed building, stands just beyond the crossroads. The road continues to rise gently to a point just beyond Lydiatts Farm. From here there they are fine views across to misty Black Mountains, behind to the Mortimer Forest. The lane drops gently down to The Broad which stands on the Leominster-Ludlow road. Back past Broad Farm and Redding Hall, an 18th century farmhouse and into the town. Route
Thursday – Croft – We walk up the track from the visitor centre past Park House. Into the Spanish Chestnut field. These mighty trees have small spiny fruits, similar to Sweet Chestnuts. Small numbers of Fieldfare pass over – winter really is coming now. On up to the Forestry junction. So many conifer trees have been removed, there are large open spaces up here now. Tall, spindly Silver Birches have been left. They grew like this to compete for light with the tall conifers but now look as though a strong wind will fell them. We return to the castle tea-room for lunch.
Friday – Radnor Forest – The sky is grey and low the tips of the hills misty. Cattle bellow from fields by Vron farm, although the most persistent noise maker sounds rather more canine than bovine. Blue Tits chatter in the hedgerow. I decide to give the waterfall, Water-Break-Its-Neck, a miss as the stream from the Waterfall to Black Brook is just a trickle. Up into the woods. Ravens are noisy in the sky overhead. On up through Sweet Chestnut, Beech and conifers. A Robin sings and a Jay squawks. A wind is building and grey clouds rapidly glide westward. Out onto meadows where little yellow and cream toadstools grow in the short path grass, probably brown Cow-pat Toadstools, Bolbitius vitellinus. Into a conifer plantation. Here the fungi are a chestnut brown fungus one of the Russula family, Lilac Mycena, Mycena pura, although these are rather more pink than lilac and Fly Agaric hide under the trees. Out through the bilberry bog past Crinfynydd. There is some mud here but most the bog is dry, sedges and bracken are brown and desiccated. Yellow slime mould, Mucilago crustacea (plasmodium) grows on coarse grasses.
Round past the pool, Pwll y Gaseg which is dry, although it has been so for some time, hence the small trees growing there now and on to Lluestau’r Haul. Gorse is in flower along the track, chromium yellow brightening the dull greens and browns of autumn. A footpath is still discernible through bracken and less out onto the moorland. Some wag has placed a sheep’s skull on top of the gate lever. A Common Buzzard flies over the Forestry plantation. Chaffinches pink alarms from the trees. Meadow Pipits rise out of the bracken fly off squeaking before dropping back down again. I have to retrace my steps a short distance to find a small path through to a ford on Mithil Brook. The brook is nearly dry. Off eastwards. A large pool has a sizeable island in it so the whole looks like a moat around, well nothing really.
A stony track follows Llan-evan Dingle downwards. It is quite hard to walk on with lots of loose rocks ready to turn ankles. The hillside over the other side of the dingle contains sheep walking upwards in lines, baaing loudly. A spring emerges by the track and a significant amount of water flows across the track and down to the brook. An exposed face in the rocks at the foot of a deep defile, Cwm Blithus Rocks shows layer upon layer of Silurian mudstone interposed with the occasional layer of yellow sandstone, all Ludlow Group. Mithil Brook is now flowing noisily. A small patch of Orange Peel Fungus, Aleurua aurantia grows by the track. Down to Llanevan farm where a lot of renovation is taking place. A track fords Mithil Brook then heads off towards the end of an outcrop of Llandegley Rocks which consist of the Llandegley Tuffs and the lower part of the Builth Volcanic Group. A Red Kite flies past. Across fields trying to follow what is supposed to be a bridleway, but there are no way markers and despite my map showing the route and my GPS saying I am on the path, there is no way through the fences. So back to Llanevan.
Through the farm again and back to the track. A knocking comes from a gnarled old Hawthorn and as I approach a Nuthatch flies off to another tree. Back on up the track. There is an old pedestrian gate tied up but on the other side there is a sheer drop down to Mithil Brook. There are specks of orange in between the rocks and stones on the track, tiny specimens of Orange Peel Fungus. Six Magpies fly over the hill top, where is the gold? The track steepens, which distresses my ankles, I hate getting old! Sheep are moving to the large unnamed pool in valley to drink. Back over Lluestau’r Haul, across the bog and then the meadows and down Warren Wood. Two Kites are over Vron. One is near the woods and this brings a Common Buzzard out of the trees. It continues to return to the trees then re-merge, not challenging the Red Kite but maybe signalling that this is my territory. The Red Kite sails higher and higher before drifting away. Route
Monday – Bromyard – Grey skies do not stop Robins singing. Brockhampton Primary school stands on the edge of the Bromyard Downs. A plaque records that Brockhampton, Norton and Linton School was built in 1884, with Mrs Luntley laying the foundation stone on 16th July of that year. A track leads across Bromyard Downs. A small copse of a single each of Ash, Oak, Hawthorn and Elder is grouped around some large boulders. The common runs along the side of the down and once provided a resting stage for cattle for which the drovers would pay one halfpenny per cow. The views stretch away to the south and west, fields and small woods dominate. Bromyard lies at the foot of the downs. A yellow painted group of apartments on the far side of the A44 was the old Bromyard Union Workhouse. Bromyard Poor Law Union was formed on 30th May 1836. A new Union workhouse for 120 inmates was built in 1836 to the east of the town seemingly out of sight and out of mind of the town, for which the Poor Law Commissioners authorized an an expenditure of £3,000. The architect was George Wilkinson who was responsible for other Herefordshire workhouses at Leominster, Ledbury and Weobley. His design followed the popular cruciform or square plan. In 1893, there was an outbreak of smallpox. The workhouse later became Bromyard Hospital.
A track passes an insect hotel, a pile of logs and similar with holes drilled to provide winter shelter for insects, and enters Warren Wood. From the eastern edge of the wood the land drops gently away towards the Brockhampton estate. The track continues out of the wood to a covered reservoir. My path crosses a stile and continues through the wood. A stone built pillar holds a National Trust sign, Brockhampton is one of their possessions. The seasons of bird song are over, now there are just the calls of Jackdaws and Carrion Crows and an alarm rasp from a Wren. Fungus emerges from the foot of a Beech, Shaggy Scalycap, Pholiota squarrosa. The path leaves Warren Wood and crosses downland. Along a green track that once formed part of a 1½ mile race course that ran around the common, constructed by the Bromyard Volunteers at the time of the Napoleonic wars. A five-race meeting in May 1884, four over the sticks and one on the flat, drew a crowd of nearly 7,000. Racing ceased in 1900. The downs have scattered stands of trees across the green sward. Past Hillfield Coppice to the Stourport road. A lane heads towards Buckenhill. Park Head stands nearby.
I head down the hill following the road to the minor road that runs across the down. The 18th century Royal Oak is the last remaining inn on the downs. Quarry Pond lies beside the road and is one of 21 ponds being restored by the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. It looks a mess at the moment but will fill and the banks green over. A track leads down to a new looking house and on round the building to join another track through woodland. A couple of Russet apple trees grow by the path along with a heavily laden pear tree that is completely surrounded by a bramble thicket. A track passes a good number of scattered dwellings. This track crosses Burying Lane which I take downwards. The lanes and tracks here are numerous and complicated. I turn back up the hill to a track bellow below the one I had previously come along. This track less leads to a Wesleyan Chapel of 1886 with a GR post box in its gate post. The chapel is now a residence. Back along the track past a crab apple trees festooned with tiny golden fruit and on down Burying Lane. A series of dark patches on the road indicate where damsons have been splattered by car wheels having fallen from old trees overhanging the verge.
Burying Lane joins the main road where The Holly Tree pub stands although it is now a B&B. It is recorded that there was a salt store here and it stood on a salt-way. and runs down past the football ground into Bromyard. The footpath runs along a raised section to lift it above an area liable to flood if the River Frome overflows. The bridge over the River is modern. The DRM bus garage stands by a house with a large armorial on the gable of Morris, Bill Morris who founded the company. The road passes the cemetery and rises over the old railway line. The bridge was first built in 1897 when the Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster railway opened. The deck was replaced in 2008 and is now called The Bill Morris Bridge after The Old Grammar School is at the top of the rise. Bromyard Grammar School was founded by royal charter in 1566, succeeding a chantry school based in the church. It closed in 1968.
Behind the Grammar School is St Peter’s church. The first church at Bromyard was established sometime around 840 CE as a Saxon minster, although remains of that Saxon building. The present church dates from 1175. Above the Norman south entrance is a carved figure of St Peter, probably Saxon and reused here. The font is Norman. There was a musicians’ gallery on the west wall but this has been replaced by a window dedicated to St Cecilia, patron saint of music, and displays famous local people. Hidden in the corner is a coffin cover depicting a knight. It is called the Avenbury Knight and came from Avenbury church. Nearby is the Bromyard Bushel, a cast iron container that measured grain and was made in 1670. On the west wall is a copy of Deacon’s Synchronological Chart, a seven metre long chart depicting universal history of the world’s great empires from Adam and Eve to Queen Victoria. It was drawn by Professor Edward Hull and first published in 1890. In the eastern end of the north transept is a pre-1300 window with late 19th century glass. The pulpit was made around 1883 using wood that came from an original three decker pulpit. The chancel is long, extended in the 14th century. The organ dates from 1839 and was built by J.W. Walker. An Art Nouveau tablet dedicated to the memory of Revd William Martin was erected in 1913. The High Altar covers a wooden Communion Table made in the 16th century and was originally in Hereford Cathedral from whence came around the start of the 19th century. A side chapel on the south side is the official war memorial. There are a number of 14th century recesses in the walls that would have held coffins or effigies but were probably removed during during the Reformation or the Commonwealth. There are eight bells.
After a quick visit to the High Street, I return to Burying Lane and up into the downs. The climb becomes steep and I reach the Downs Road with a good deal of huffing and puffing. A Jay is squawking in Warren Wood. The road passes an early 19th century turnpike cottage before returning to the school. Route
Thursday – Stourbridge – A town in the metropolitan borough of Dudley, but previously was in the ancient parish of Oldswinford, Worcestershire. Sturbrug or Sturesbridge as it is spelled in the 1255 Worcestershire assize roll – owes its name to an ancient bridge erected across the River Stour which, until recently, formed the boundary of the counties of Worcester and Stafford. The medieval township lay within the more extensive manor of Swynford (or Swinford) which, as the name indicates, was called after a ford – possibly situated near the present riverside estate called Stepping Stones.
Stourbridge was a centre for glass making, taken up predominantly after the immigration of French coal miners in the Huguenot diaspora at the end of the 18th century, although glass manufacturing dates from the early 17th century. Stourbridge stands on a geological fault where Old Red Sandstone meets a coalfield. Lime is also available making the town ideal for glass making. We start at the Ruskin Centre where there are a number of workshops where glass artists work in blowing, moulding and engraving glasswork. There is also a college for young crafts people. There had been several glass cones (large brick cone-shaped buildings designed to channel air into the furnace to make the fires burn hotter. It also provided a large work space for the glassmakers) on this site but they have all been demolished. A more modern glass works is now the Webb-Corbett Museum of Glass and we get a conducted tour by a very knowledgeable chap. He tells of the history, in particular the business, Thomas Webb and Corbett, founded in 1897 by the brothers Thomas and Herbert Webb, sons of the 19th century glassmaker, Thomas Wilkes Webb and grandsons of Thomas Webb I, together with George Harry Corbett. Several benches are laid out with the specimens found during recent archaeological digs of the former cone sites.
We then go up the road to the Red House Glass Cone, believed to be the only intact glass cone in the world. It stands next to the Stourbridge Canal which links the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (at Stourton Junction, affording access to traffic from the River Severn) with the Dudley Canal, and hence, via the Birmingham Canal Navigations, to Birmingham and the Black Country. The cone, which is 100ft high, was built around 1790. It was most recently home to Stuart Crystal who produced glass in the cone until 1936. Production at their factory on the cone site stopped in 2001 and it now houses workshops and the cone is a visitors’ centre where glass blowing demonstrations take place.
Off to park up at our hotel. A plaque outside commemorated the Stourbridge Lion, the first steam locomotive to run on a commercial line in the United States. Built by Foster, Rastrick & Co in 1829, the Stourbridge Lion’s historic first run took place on August 8th of that year. It is now on view at the B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore MD, on loan from The Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
Up to the bus station where statue of a glass blower by John McKenna stands. There are still some good buildings around the town centre but also a lot of 20th century buildings usually of limited or no design quality. The old Stourbridge Library was built in 1904 with money provided by the famous American industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, but is now converted into an architects’ office. The clock tower was added in 1920. The police station and court buildings are a vast affair built in 1911. St Thomas’s Church is Georgian completed in 1736. It claims to be often open, but is not. We pass a fishmongers, an increasingly rare sight. The Town Hall in Market Street is dated 1887 and built by Thomas Robinson. An almost wholly symmetrical building in elaborately cut red brick. The Mitre is a town centre pub, a good example of Brewers’ Tudor with fine original leaded and painted windows all round ornamented with heraldic designs and, of course, the eponymous mitre. There are two imposing fireplaces. The beer is good but the whole place smells strongly of toilet cleaner!
Down Lower High Street where there is the impressive façade of the King Edward VI School, now a Sixth Form College. The original school was founded on 21st May 1430 and was known as the Chantry School of Holy Trinity. The charter for the grammar school was granted on 17th June 1552 by King Edward VI. There is an extensive system of tunnels and caves underneath the school although these have been filled in with sand recently as Dudley Council would not pay for restoration work. The street continues with a number of late 18th century and Regency houses.
We return up the Lower High Street and into Duke Street to end up at The Duke William pub, which provides an excellent range of ales, a number of which come from their own micro-brewery and some delicious pies!
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – After a night of rain the morning is misty but mild. Robins sing. Mallard, Wigeon, a couple of drake Shoveler, a pair of Gadwall, several Cormorant, Coot and a winter plumaged Great Crested Grebe are in the eastern end of the lake. A flock of Wood Pigeons explode out of Westfield Wood. A few Canada Geese are out in the centre of the water along with a couple of Tufted Duck. Two pairs of Mute Swans feed. A number of Cormorants occupy the trees. A single Moorhen feeds on the scrape which is now extensive as the water level has fallen even lower. The Mallard drakes have all regained their breeding plumage and look resplendent with pristine bottle-green heads. A rabbit sits motionless under the scrape willows. At least three Robins are chasing through the meadow hedge, probably in dispute over the ownership of this territory. Sheep are in the dessert apple orchard. Plenty of apples remain on the trees and a lot lay on the ground. I imagine the sheep have not been in this orchard for very long as they usually chomp up all the windfalls.
Friday – Hereford – Overnight rain moves away and a south wind keeps the day mild whilst blowing leaves off the trees in a copper storm. The bus from Leominster was packed today. Through the city to the old bridge across the River Wye. A pair of Little Grebes are diving a short way downstream of the bridge. The water level is low, exposing the boat shaped concrete footings on which Mallard preen. More Mallard are chasing near the banks. Into Wye Street. The wall behind a row of riverside properties has a line of tiles by Godwinson near its top. Most are geometric yellow and blue but a couple feature a frog-like fish (actually a carp) and lily pads in a stream in cream and brown in a typical Art Nouveau style. A path leads into the riverside walk. Opposite beyond a spreading Cedar is the cathedral and its associated buildings. Past Victoria Bridge and the stones that mark the entrances to Bishop’s Meadow and King George’s Field, once known as Blackmarstone. The sound of Bartonsham dairy can already be heard. Along the path, known as Queen Elizabeth’s Avenue and out of the south gate into a housing estate started in 1934 and continued after the Second World War. Starlings cluster noisily around bird feeders in a garden more chatter from roof tops. In Oak Crescent are three post-war blocks of flats constructed of reinforced concrete with Mansard style roofs.
Out onto the Holme Lacy road at Putson. The large mid-20th century pub, The Gamecock, is now a Tesco Express despite local opposition, selling the cheap beer that put the pub out of business. Nearby is Bargain Booze, a pharmacy (although we used to call them chemists) and a funeral parlour! Back to the main road, Ross Road, the A49. St Martin’s church stands near the junction. By the east end of the church is a gravestone to Henry Symons, chaplain to the forces, the Guards and the Light Division of the British Army throughout the Peninsula Campaign of 1808. He died in 1857. He restored the church which had been destroyed in the Civil War, 1646. St Martin’s was the mother church of which All Saints was a chapel. According to Littlebury’s Directory of 1876-7, it was consecrated by Bishop Orleton in 1325, and stood without the city walls at the foot of Wye bridge. The church is locked. Outside on the main road is a bright silver Airstream motor coach. Over the road to Walnut Tree Avenue, although the large tree on the junction is an Oak. One side of the road is lined with inter-war bungalows. The other side is padlocked playing fields and post-war bungalows.
The road turns into the Abergavenny road. Opposite the junction is a row of Edwardian villas ask with stone name plaques. The buildings are then a mixture of 20th century with the occasional older, possibly 18th century remnants. Someone has placed a burglar alarm in the centre of one house’s name plaque. Back over the modern bridge into the city. In Bewell Street is The Bowling Green pub. Behind it is a bowling green dating from the 15th century, possibly the oldest in the country. The clubhouse, which is attached to the pub, dates from 1786. This was formally part of the grounds of Blew House.
Saturday – Home – At dawn high broken cloud is tinged with blood orange which then turns purple. Most of the day is grey but the sky eventually clears and sun shines down by the late afternoon. I spend my day crushing and pressing apples for cider, a time consuming task. A Grey Squirrel’s insistence at raiding the peanut feeder causes frequent interruptions. Two trays of Herefordshire Russet apples are picked. In the early afternoon the courgette plants get removed and stuffed into the compost bins. A trilling call comes from the old apple tree where a Goldcrest is energetically seeking insects. During the periods when the squirrel is absent from the feeder, House Sparrows, Great, Blue and Coal Tits are regular visitors and a Great Spotted Woodpecker puts in a brief appearance.