Friday – Leominster – The Harvest Moon was hidden by cloud throughout the night. In the pre-dawn darkness and rain, I collect more cider apples. I would have preferred a greater mix of varieties but so far the main crop has been Tom Putt and Foxwhelp with a smaller number of Lady’s Finger.
The Tom Putt apple is associated with Combe House in Gittisham, Devon. According to correspondence sent to Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, the apple Tom Putt was supposed to have been named for an 18th century landowner, Thomas Putt of Combe, who died in 1787 and was nicknamed “Black Tom”. Others say the Putt commemorated by the apple was a rector, Revd Thomas Putt of Trent, a nephew of Thomas Putt of Combe. It was also known as Ploughman, Coalbrook, Marrowbone, Thomas Jeffreys and by many other local names.
The Redstreak, also spelled Redstrake, Red Streak or Red-streak, is a very old variety. It is first recorded in the early 17th century when John Evelyn stated it was originally named the “Scudamore Crab”, having been grown by the diplomat and politician John Scudamore, 1st Viscount Scudamore. His efforts in improving and raising fruit trees on his estate at Holme Lacy were an attempt to match the superior French cider available at the time. He had been ambassador to France, and possibly raised this apple from a pip brought back from there. The apple fell out of favour and possibly disappeared. It is unclear whether modern Herefordshire Redstreak are related to the original variety, which may now be extinct.
Less information can be found about Lady’s Finger apples. Some say it comes from the south west but most consider it to be a Herefordshire variety. There are other varieties with the same name. It is a long, tapering apple and this tree has not, in my experience, ever been that prolific.
Storm Alex, named by the French Meteorological Service as the storm is centred on Brittany, is bringing a lot of rain and by the afternoon stronger winds.
Saturday – Leominster – After a tempestuous night of rain and wind, it is slightly quieter this morning. There is still a strong breeze and the sky is dark. We queue up for our annual flu jab and then a bit of shopping.
Across the Grange and down the old sports pitch to the Millennium Orchard. I gather some more Tom Putt, Lady’s Fingers and Herefordshire Redstreaks. A quick check of the trees shows there will be plenty of Michelin, Genet Moyle and Dabinett apples in the coming weeks.
Track replacement is going on beyond the orchard. At least two cranes are on the down track and on the up track is a diesel pulling dozens of yellow wagons containing ballast.
Sunday – Leominster – The rain keeps falling. And it has been falling for over 24 hours now. A deep depression lies across the area with the pressure down to 967 millibars. Most of the drains in the street are blocked so water floods out onto the road.
I have a moment of apprehension in the alleyway that leads to the railway bridge. A collie is hunkered down next to the wall with no one in sight, but then the owner appears with the all important ball. He has been watching the track laying from the bridge. A yellow and orange machine is edging its way through the station. Tines cut down into the newly laid ballast and give it a shake and tamping. It is programmed with geometrical data that shows where the track should be, and compares the data with the actual track position using on-board measuring equipment. The machine then calculates the required movements to reposition the track according to the geometrical data. A pile of sleepers is on the station platform, ready to be laid on the up track. Near the bridge over the Kenwater is the diesel locomotive with its wagons of ballast ready to replace the up track.
The water level in the River Lugg has certainly risen but it is not as high as one would have expected after this constant rain but the water is now reddish chocolate. No birds can be heard but this is unsurprising given the noise the track work is making.
Home – The rain finally ceases mid morning. The sky remains grey and threatening more precipitation. The week’s bounty of apples are crushed in the scratter and pressed. Twelve gallons are now fermenting. By the late afternoon the pressure rises slowly, the clouds break and there are patches of blue sky. More rain is forecast unfortunately. A Raven flies over, croaking gently. As the evening grows dark, Mars shines with a reddish orange glow between the dark clouds.
Tuesday – Home – The sky is grey and the wind is rising again. All the climbing beans are removed. They have not been as productive as usual. The runner beans in particular cropped fairly sparsely and the pods became leathery very quickly. The wire tunnels that have been protecting rows of kale and pak choi are replaced with netting to allow the kale in particular more headroom. A row of cavolo nero which had not been protected has been eaten to the ground. The nets over the purple sprouting broccoli is raised again – the plants are the largest yet, so I am hopeful of a good crop in spring. Oddly the row of cavolo nero in this bed has not been touched!
Rain falls in short showers during the afternoon.
Wednesday – Midsummer Hill – It is a fine autumn day so Kay and I visit this hill on the southern tip of the Malverns. A track leads upwards through woodland, mainly Ash, some of which are clearly several hundred years old and fewer Oaks. Almost hidden in the woodland on either side of the track are two large quarries. Hollybush Quarry to the east has a lake in it, although it cannot be seen from the track. The wide range of Malverns Complex rocks in this quarry includes hornblende-rich examples. These represent early melts from the original dioritic magma. The quarry produced mainly roadstone as well as wall and rough building blocks. It was the last of the Malvern Hills quarries to close in the 1980s. A small windowless hut is in the woods, possibly an old powder store?
A Wren churrs and a Pheasant croaks. Extensive Brambles have mouldering blackberries on them. Jays, a Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch call. The track passes through the ramparts of Midsummer Hill-fort. The ramparts encircle the whole of the hill top. It was a large settlement, English Heritage’s most recent survey in 1999 recorded over 483 hut platforms. Excavations within the hill-fort have revealed Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age pottery and artefacts that show that the hill-fort was established in the 5th century BC and was occupied for about 500 years. On past a large pillow mound, a Norman artificial rabbit warren. Out onto the hill. Shire Ditch runs north from the ramparts. It is known that it was fortified in 1287 and used as a boundary between the land of the Red Earl, Gilbert de Clare, and Bishop Cantilupe from Herefordshire Cathedral. It is now thought, following a survey by English Heritage in 2000, that the ditch was in existence for a long time before this, possibly as early as the Bronze Age. Up to the top of Midsummer Hill. Here the views are magnificent in all directions. The Severn and Avon Vales to the east. To the west these subside to the Herefordshire Lowlands, and to the north west they subside to the Herefordshire Plateau. Below is Eastnor Castle.A short distance to the west is the Obelisk, a monument built in 1812 in memory of the son of the 1st Earl Somers who was killed in the Peninsular War. Northwards the line of the Malvern Hills is dominated by the ramparts of British Camp ringing the summit of Herefordshire Beacon. It is slightly hazy which makes the distant hills rather obscure. There is a modern concrete shelter set up as a memorial to Captain Reginald Somers Cocks M.C who was killed in WW1.
Across the summit are patches of Wood Sage with its crinkly green leaves and Yarrow. Yellow flowers adorn the Gorse. A path heads south, crossing the ramparts and then dropping down the hill. Below is a grassy slope with small spinneys beside which cock Pheasant joust to determine dominance. The path is well used but not marked on the map and gets pretty steep in places. It passes an old rifle range. It emerges at the car park.
Friday – Leominster – The pre-dawn sky is clear. Mars is in the west, Venus in the east, Sirius in the south and Orion in the south west. By 9 o’clock the sky is grey and drizzle falls.
Through the Grange. A few excitable dogs bark and yap. Jackdaws chatter on the roof of Grange House. A Robin squeaks from the Yew tree outside the house. A Carrion Crow barks from the churchyard. A Grey Squirrel bounces across the old playing field. There are still large quantities of cider apples to fall in the Millennium Orchard. It will probably be a fortnight before they are worth gathering. Along footpath to the White Lion then over the railway bridge to the River Lugg. The water level has changed little in the past week.
A Robin sings in the riverside trees. Yellow Black Poplar leaves are scattered across Butts Bridge. The alarm calls of Wrens comes from the undergrowth. Himalayan Balsam has spread all along the riverbank and is in flower; pretty but an invasive menace. Vehicles for auction in Brightwells’ compound look pretty much the same ones that were here over a month ago. A Cormorant with a pale belly flies south down the river. A “To let” sign has appeared outside Easters Court confirming that Brightwells are moving away.
The new chicken sheds have been erected in the field below Eaton Hill. I must admit they cannot be seen from anywhere other than the farm track that leads to Comfordt House. A new wooden building has been erected on the site of the old concrete barns at Comfordt House, appearing to be offices. Up the track to Eaton Hill. Japanese Umbrella toadstools grow singly on the verge. Much more densely are the brown, dead heads of Selfheal. Blue Tits squeak in the woodlands. The artificial screams of birds coming from the speakers at the solar panel array seem to have little effect on the Wood Pigeons Carrion Crows and Jackdaws perched on the panels. A Raven swoops down and away off the communications mast.
The big field on Eaton Hill has been ploughed leaving a broad strip around the edges which is very pleasing, providing an ecological niche for numerous creatures. A Common Buzzard glides low over the field and down the hill. It soon returns with an escort of harassing Jackdaws. The unploughed ground contains quite extraordinary mixture of brassicas, some with long pods, some with purple flowers similar to callaloo, others so I do not recognise at all. I pick some young fresh leaves for the chickens.
Down the old green way. The Crab Apple tree is heavily laden with fruit. I bite into one experimentally it is sweet but at the same time, mouth puckeringly dry. Down the old drovers path. Blackthorn bushes here are still carrying large numbers of sloes. Down to Eaton Bridge under which Grey Wagtail walks down overhanging branches looking for insects. Along to the old section of the A44. The pear tree by the path again has large rosy pears dangling. In unfounded optimism I try one again and whilst it is sweet the texture is hard and woody. Those I gathered last year never softened.
Across the A49 and up to the old road bridge. Scarlet rosehips shine in the hedgerow. The musty scent of Ivy fills the air; it has been an extraordinary year for Ivy flowers. However the breeze and cool temperature means that few insects are taking advantage of the bounty, just a couple of Common Wasps. A northbound train passes under the bridge. As I pass the station, three Swallows fly over heading south.
Wednesday – Leominster – The early morning, i.e. around 6:30am, is dark now. A fingernail of moon lays in the eastern sky next to Venus. Mars is glowing orange in the west. Mars is in opposition now, so it is at its brightest for two years – the period between opposition and the planet will not get this close to Earth again until 2035. Clouds are moving westwards at some pace in a blustery wind and it is cool.
Home – The day brightens with welcome sunshine although the wind remains lively. The troughs of tomato plants by the summerhouse are removed. More tomato plants, these in the greenhouse are also consigned to the compost bins. They are followed by the courgettes. The bins are now fairly full but all this new plant matter will reduce in volume in a very short time. The tree surgeon arrives and the fallen apple tree is removed. I had a last harvesting this morning, leaving a lot of apples still on the stricken boughs but we have enough in store now. The sawn up tree is in his trailer. The trunk was hollow, just an inch or so of living wood on the perimeter. A dessicated nest is on a hollow space, Blue or Great Tit. I need to see how easy it will be to get the stump out then decide whether another tree is going to be planted as a replacement.
Thursday – Home – The stump removal proves to be not too difficult but heavy work. The broken pieces of path asphalt are removed and then the Victorian rope design edging. The latter had been thrust up like geological beds by the eruption of the tree roots underneath. They have unfortunately been set in a channel of concrete which makes them very heavy. I then dig around the base of the trunk, which is completely hollow. A number of thick roots are found and these are cut with the electric saw which proves a real boon. Eventually the stump can be levered out and onto a set of sack wheels to take to the bottom of the garden. In the next few days, a trench needs to be scraped out to reset the concrete bases holding the rope edging.
Friday – Leominster – The air is cool and the sky mottled by grey and white clouds. Across the Grange and down the playing field. Leaves on the trees are turning copper, bronze and gold quickly now and many are falling. Still the Robin sings. A squeaking Grey Wagtail flies past, undulating through the air. Michelin cider apples are beginning to full in the Millennium Orchard. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen again.
Along Easters Meadow. Dunnocks hop through rosebriars above the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg. Blackbirds pink pink alarms and dash across the river. A small charm of Goldfinches flies over. Fresh molehills are scattered across the track. Along the A49. A pair of Mute Swans fly over, wings whooshing as they pass. On the north side of the road are rusting corrugated iron barns. One near the road carries a plaque of Bellow And Son Ltd – Maker – Leominster. Next to the barn are cottages standing by what was once a wharf at the end of the Leominster canal. A Mistle Thrush rasps from trees on the southern side of the road.
Onto the path across the fields from Hay Lane. A pair of Magpies chase across the stubble. The next field has the green shoots of winter cereal. Over Cheaton Brook. Calls of Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws can be heard in every direction from trees that stand beyond the pastures. Through double gates between pastures. Below Cheaton Brook takes a sharp turn. On closer inspection it is not natural but a stone built wall has been made projecting out at right angles into the stream. The ground rises gently across a sheep pastures. At the northern end by flock over fifty Rooks rise from trees circling cawing loudly. At the top of the field is a large old Oak tree which has been sawn down. I count the rings and make it somewhere over 180 years old. A more precise count could tell much about the conditions the tree endured as the rings grow tighter and then spread out again. There is a good deal of rot around the rings of 60 to 70 years. Another tree nearby has fungus growing near the base and, on the other side, there are numerous holes into the trunk. Strangely one of them has a brick jammed into it.
On to the Stoke Prior and Bromyard Road. Back towards the A49. A few umbellifers and White Dead Nettle are still in flower on the verge. Water rushes down a weir just beyond the bridge over Cogwell Brook. To the east of the earth works of the old lost village. A Robin sings in a Weeping Willow. Fruit is falling in the large cider apple orchard. The crop looks average at best.
Back into town. Into Paradise Walk. A Wren is moving through the undergrowth making a hissing noise rather than the usual staccato machine gun-like call. The Kenwater is flowing steadily but the water level is low.
Sunday – Leominster – Michelin cider apples are now falling regularly in the Millennium Orchard. I have now gathered two loads. Carrion Crows bark on the far side of the railway. A Blackbird chucks whilst flicking its wings from the top of a hawthorn.
Home – The bed in which the beans were grown this year is weeded. More damaged apples are removed from the bed where the tree fell. Some bolted lettuce were under the tree and now provide some greens for the hens. I attempt to reseat the large concrete base of the path edging dislodged by the fallen tree. It proves a very heavy and eventually unsuccessful job. I need to dig a deeper trench and my back simply is not up to it today.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – It is a grey slightly misty autumnal morning. I do a tip run with sacks of damaged apples from the fallen tree and conkers from next door’s great Horse Chestnut. Then on to the Mortimer Forest. It has been a long time since I last came here – maybe 18 months! There are too many yapping dogs around the lower parts of the woods but I soon leave them behind. The strips beside the path which were cleared some years back are now being populated by fresh growth of Oak, conifers and Hazel. Up to the enclosure which is also being taken over by young Birches. On up past the large conifer plantations. Inside the plantations is dark with nothing but a few toadstools emerging from the brown mass of needles that cover the ground. These woods are also silent, not a single cheep from any bird.
Out onto Climbing Jack Common. Half a dozen Redwings fly over, the first winter thrushes I have seen this season. A Blackbird mutters, a Wren churrs deep in the bracken. The very high squeaking of Goldcrests comes from somewhere but I cannot locate them. A small flock of twittering Linnets flies across the common. Meadow Pipits squeak. Into the area formerly cleared which is now thick with conifers and Silver Birches rising to over 20 feet. There is a pine resin scent in the air.
The path reaches the summit of High Vinnalls. Just a few pieces of wood inside a broken wire fence indicate where the radio relay station stood. Views in most directions are completely hidden by mist. The hazy darkness of Bringewood Chase is about all that can be seen. Off down the track. There is a bitter edge to the wind. Piles of logs have been set up across an area of common. The purpose is a mystery, they do not suitable for equestrian use. A Sparrowhawk flies rapidly across the common and off down the hillside.
The old path down through the woods that cuts off large loop of of the track has disappeared but a new one has been carved out by mountain bikers. A Treecreeper scurries upper trunk of a Sycamore. A strange bubbling bark comes from either deep in the woods or out on Hanway Common, a buck Fallow deer in rut. Field Maples planted several years ago are some 10 feet high now, their leaves turning yellow and red in autumn colours. Down the steep path which cuts off another large bend in the track. Deer slots are in in the mud. Round to the pond. A large flock of Long-tailed Tits flies through the trees twittering excitedly. Blue Tits and Goldcrests fly to and fro. Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of water in the pond. On along the track. Acorns clatter down from oaks.
Sunday – Leominster – The clocks go back as British Summer Time ends and at least it is lighter as I head to the Millennium Orchard. I gather Dabinett apples today and get a rucksack full whilst hardly making any impression on the scores of fruit laying under the tree. It is raining hard. As I gather fruit, the south eastern sky turns orange and slowly a brilliant yellow sun peeps between the hills and the cloud layer. The trees around the churchyard are lit up, bathed in gold. A fuzzy rainbow is in the west.
Home – The apples collected over the past week are crushed in the scratter and then pressed. Another four gallons of juice is extracted, making sixteen gallons so far. The five gallon barrel and two demijohns have fermented out and are beginning to clear. The rain falls in prolonged showers all morning.
Night begins to fall around 5 o’clock. It is darker because of rain clouds then by 6 o’clock the stars are shining and a crescent moon shines through cloud.
Monday – Ledbury-Wellington Heath – Large loads of cider apples are travelling down the A417 Gloucester Road heading for Much Marcle and Westons. The skies are dark and it is intermittently raining.
Into Ledbury. I set off from Homend. The houses here are Victorian and fairly large. Modern estates lay behind them. Past the railway station and onto the Bromyard road. Under the Hereford to Worcester line. Properties are set back from the road mainly Victorian. Behind them the land rises to Bradlow Knoll, a wooded hill where the trees are a glorious mixture of greens, reds, yellows and gold. Opposite is an industrial estate. Beggars Ash is a lane rising past woodland. There are earthworks shown on the map here but they are largely hidden in woodland. Mistle Thrushes rasp overhead and Blue Tits dash to and fro. The woods end and a large orchard now lays at the foot of the hillside on ancient river terraces. Past Frith Cottages almost certainly built for farm workers now enlarged and modernised. Across the fields is the late 16th century Frith farmhouse under the eaves of the wood; it has two oasthouses attached to it.
The lane descends again. To the west there is a deep gorge with a stream running through it then the land rises to Hilltop Fruit farm. Into Wellington Heath. The lane rises steeply a sharp turn enters Horse Lane. The lane turns heading north again past modern houses. The lane makes its way through the village. There are a few houses which are older than mid 20th century but they are a small minority. Wellington Heath, or Walyntone, is mentioned in the 13th century in records of landholdings of the Bishop of Ledbury. After the reformation in the 16th century, ownership of land in Ledbury passed to local gentry. In 1693 there were approximately 30 holders of land here. During the 18th century squatters, many men working on the Hereford & Gloucester Canal and the Worcester to Hereford Railway, had built 16 cottages and between 1790 and 1813 a further 23. Very few of the houses of this period remain as they were generally of poor quality. The parish of Wellington Heath was carved out of Ledbury in 1842, and the church was built. The church was rebuilt in 1952 after a fire in 1944. Past the Farmers Arms, a pub established in 1895. A Grey Wagtail stands on play equipment. The Geopark Way crosses the village here. The old school house has been converted into a dwelling.
The lane starts to rise steeply and joins a main road. Swallow Farm is now equestrian stables. A building called the Cider House is dated 1684. There may have been a cider house here in that year but it is not this building, which was closed at the end of the 19th century because of drunkenness and fighting. Into the hamlet of Loxter and Raycomb Lane. Linwell House is a substantial building. All its associated buildings have been converted into dwellings. The road bends at the Old Hall, Hope End, a Victorian Gothic building. The lane beside the Old Hall leads to Hope End, although I do not visit. The area is a Picturesque Deer park designed by J C Loudon along with a country house in 1809. The Hope End estate was purchased by Edward Moulton-Barrett (who later assumed the surname Browning) from Sir Henry Vane Tempest in 1809. Among Moulton-Barrett’s children was Elizabeth Barrett Browning; she briefly described the setting of her childhood home in “The Lost Bower”. This house was demolished in 1873 and another built nearby, which is now a hotel.
The lane passes through a gap of blasted rock with a 45° plane. It seems to be a thin strip of Aymestry limestone running through an area of Upper and Lower Ludlow shales. The lane is now running around the top of the valley that runs down back down into Ledbury. It is a fine view across Ledbury and on towards South Herefordshire. A Jay flies past. In the opposite direction are the Malvern Hills. The lane descends past the end of Frith wood. Sheep lying down on a sloping meadow whilst a Ring-necked Pheasant croaks nearby. Ahead, on horizon, are the ramparts of British Camp on Herefordshire Beacon. Sweet Chestnuts clatter down onto the road. One nut is actually a decent size but most are too small to be bothered with. The farmhouse at Petty France Farm is probably 17th century with late 19th and mid 20th century extensions but some repointing has been done rather insensitively. Most of the barns have been converted into residences. Just beyond is a crossroads with the roads leading to Colwall and, in my direction, back to Ledbury. A cronking Raven flies over.
The lane passes large open fields; beyond is the Obelisk. A Common Buzzard flies out of the woods on the hill and circles the hillside. Past Red Cottages, a pair of Victorian semi-detached houses. The lane rises then descends again to Upper Mitchell Farm. The listed, early 19th century farmhouse is boarded up and the barns and oast houses are in poor condition. Further on, a footpath runs alongside long low barn and across a pasture. It rises around a wooded hillock, Kilbury camp. There is a barely discernable rampart running top of the hill, although this is believed to be modern. It is only a possible hill-fort. Back down at the barn, a pair of earthworks run southwards for a short distance.
On towards Ledbury. Westhill House is a substantial dwelling of 1840. To the east a circular brick air shaft rises above the tunnel which carries the railway line under this hill. The lane reaches a crossroads and I turn right into a delightfully named Cut Throat Lane. A track runs beside and above the road on the edge of Dog Hill Wood. The beyond far side of the road the land drops sharply down to an industrial estate beside the station. Down Knapp Lane back to Homend.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Everywhere is saturated by the frequent showers of rain. Stormy clouds still are moving over from the south west. Down the track between trees gradually turning yellow. Robins and a Goldfinch are in song. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from one of the row of Lombardy Poplars. Two Grey Herons, three Cormorants and an egret are on the new islands in the sailing bay. The egret is over the hump of the island so cannot be seen fully but it looks almost the same size as the Grey Herons and it is probably the Great White Egret that has been seen locally. A creamy brown Mute Swan cygnet glides on its own across the lake. Three Common Buzzards mew to one another as they fly along the edge of Westfield Wood.
Two Little Egrets are are on another of the new islets along with a number of Canada Geese. Two Great Crested Grebes are out on lake. The hide is still locked so I am unable to see the western end of the lake, however appear to be no winter wildfowl here. Back to the meadow. Four Magpies are on a tree on the edge of the woods. Down to the sailing lake again to check the original island. There are now 17 Cormorants here, many of them juveniles, and three Grey Herons but I cannot see the egret. From another viewpoint I can see the western end where the appears to be a dozen or more Mallard.
As usual there are large numbers of uncollected cider apples under the trees in the orchard. In the dessert apple orchard three of the large russet trees are nearly devoid of apples, as ours at home is, only a small, younger tree has a reasonable crop.
Saturday – Home – Violent winds roar through the trees throughout the night and into the morning. It gets darker rather than lighter as rain lashes down. A constant downpour of golden leaves is blown from the great Horse Chestnut. The chicken run is a swamp and the older birds have the sense to stay underneath the house in the dry. Today’s weather is Storm Aiden, named by the Met Éireann. This will be followed shortly by the remnants of Hurricane Zeta. Not a pleasant outlook.
The rain stops after lunch, but it may only be a brief respite. A large number of leaves have fallen from the Gladstone apple onto the netting over the chicken run, so they are gathered up from the top of a pair of stepladders and fill a large bag. They will go into the leaf mould bay later. A number of windfalls from the Bramley are picked up.