Monday 1st September – Wisley – We take Rose, Kay’s mother to the Royal Horticulture Society’s gardens at Wisley in Surrey. Red dragons have been created in red begonias to celebrate the Olympics. The long border is past its best but there are still numerous flowers to admire. It is noticeable that there are few bees around, as has been reported across the country this year. The huge Koi Carp glide through the ponds, creating bow waves. There is a sculpture exhibition spread across the gardens. A new glasshouse complex has opened since our last visit. It has an extraordinary display of Fuchsias, dozens of different varieties. In the orchid display is a strange black orchid that looks like a huge evil spider. Palms reach for the roof and a waterfall tumbles down.
Tuesday 2nd September – Stourhead – We stop off briefly at this National Trust House and Gardens. A bridge crosses into the nursery gardens where there is a greenhouse with a fine display of Pelagoniums. We walk around into the extensive gardens with many specimen trees. There is a view across the valley below where the church roof can be seen. Around a little further, far below is a large lake. We would walk on but the sky is darkening and it soon starts to rain. Fortunately we get back to the car just before a deluge begins.
Wednesday 3rd September – Glastonbury – This is one of the cradles of Christianity in Britain. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea, uncle of the Virgin Mary and who placed the Christ’s dead body in the tomb, traded metals around the coasts of Europe and up to England. The story says that he and eleven followers arrived at Glastonbury in 63CE and plunged his staff into the ground whence grew a Hawthorn. Other legends tell that he buried the Holy Grail on Glastonbury Tor. Not surprisingly, Glastonbury is a centre for mysticism with an excess of shops selling mystical flummery and flim-flam. What is undisputed is that there was a considerable human presence in the area with a large lake village constructed in the 3rd century BCE, the whole area being a vast lake with the tops of the current tors and hills being islands. The Celts referred to the area as Avalon, probably after one of their gods, Avalloc who ruled the underworld. The lake village was excavated by Arthur Bulleid between 1892 and 1911. Many superb finds were made including a bronze bowl known as
The Glastonbury Bowl and the remains of a wooden boat. Many finds are on display in The Tribunal, a 15th century merchant’s house, in the High Street.
Nearby are the remains of Glastonbury Abbey, one of the most important monastic sites in Britain. The first church was a wooden chapel built on Glastonbury Tor, probably by missionaries who came to England with a British king, Lucius, who had travelled to Rome in the 2nd century CE. A chapel on the site was destroyed by an earthquake in 1275. The current chapel, dedicated to St Michael, was built in the 14th century, but we just view it from afar today. The missionaries who built the Tor chapel built another church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in a more sheltered site where the great abbey was later to rise. By 500, Glastonbury was the first site of the Marian cult in Britain. In the 7th century the Saxons under King Ine of Wessex erected a stone church on the site. It was enlarged in the 8th century and again under St Dunstan who was Abbot of Glastonbury from 940-956. Dunstan had a number of monastic buildings erected, the earliest example of a cloistered abbey in England and enlarged the church so that it was one of the largest around. The abbey’s wealth increased with King Edgar giving gifts of land and precious metal relics and by the Conquest, it was the richest in England. The first Norman abbot, Turstin had a fractious relationship with the Saxon monks and considered their church to be unworthy and started a new one. Abbot Herlewin in the early 12th century in turn considered Turstin’s church inadequate and planned yet another based on the great church at St Albans. His successor, Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen, completed the church and rebuilt the range of monastic buildings. The old Lady Chapel still stood as did the ancient cemetery which formed the sacred centre of the abbey. On 25th May 1184, a fire completely destroyed this magnificent monastery and all its treasures. The first Christian church in England, shelter to numerous saints was gone. Rebuilding started immediately and monks were able to take possession of a new church on Christmas Day in 1213. Building continued for decades with the Galilee or west porch added in early 14th century. By Dissolution in 1539, the abbey was larger than Canterbury and only Westminster was wealthier. The end of the abbey was a nasty affair compared to many where the abbots and monks were given good pensions. Whiting, the last abbot, was convicted on trumped-up charges and beheaded on the Tor. The monks were driven out and the contents of the abbey auctioned off. The building was robbed out of its stone which was used in many buildings in the town and taken over the causeway to Wells which was being built at the time.
The ruins were bought on behalf of the Church of England in 1907 for £30,000. The remains are indeed far less extensive than many of the great monasteries around England. We wander around the remaining ruined walls built of a beautiful yellow stone. The abbot’s kitchen remains in good condition. It is a strange square building with a ceiling of eight curved ribs that meet to form central air holes. Ovens and fires burned in the corners with flues rising above them. The herb garden has a display of herbs commonly used by the monks. An extensive apple orchard covers a field. There are several ponds. At one a Grey Heron walks slowly away from me along the wooden parapet of a walkway before launching off into the air. Large Carp cruise in the water below. Further up the site is a large wildlife area with a badger sett. We sit under a tree in the sun looking across a wide expanse of green grass with the pale, high walls of the ruins in the distance. There are many non-native trees planted in memory of folk – a Blue Cedar has tufted leaves which do seem blue, an Evergreen Oak is taped off as there is a bees’ nest in the trunk. As well as being part of the earliest history of Christianity in Britain, Glastonbury is also the centre of the Arthurian legends. Avalon had long been associated with the mighty King Arthur and his wife Guinevere. It seems likely that behind all the myth and magic there was a Celtic leader called Arthur who halted the Saxon invasion in the 6th century. In 1191 the monks discovered a Celtic tomb with a lead cross claiming the body in the grave was that of the king. In 1278 the remains were re-interred with great ceremony in the choir of the Great Church in the presence of Edward I. The grave was lost during dissolution but rediscovered during excavations in 1934. We leave the abbey and cross the road to the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. Built between 1400 and 1484, it has clearly had the typical Victorian make-over. However, there is an interesting tomb, that of John Cammell from 1450 and some embroidery from around 1500 from the abbey.
Cheddar Gorge – The village of Cheddar looks like a typical tourist trap. A large and ugly building has cafés,
outlets and the
Cheddar Experience. Cars and people are everywhere. We drive up the gorge, the limestone cliffs towering above us. We stop and wander up the road. Up on a small ledge, three goats are grazing on grasses and lichen. A Kestrel hovers motionless on the strong winds high above the cliff tops. As we drive over the top of the Mendips, a Stoat appears at the roadside. It spins around, flicks its black-tipped tail and leaps back into the grass verge.
Monday 8th September – Home – We have finally moved into our new home in Leominster, Herefordshire. We took possession last Friday and the removal van arrived Saturday morning. Since then it has been an exhausting time sorting out boxes, emptying them, storing those we do not want to empty now, disposing of the packing materials and generally trying to achieve a modicum of normality. There is still much to do. Apples are ready in the garden and falling fast. I have yet to find the energy to start peeling and preserving them. There are also some potatoes in the ground – Pink Fir Apple. We are still discussing the best place to set up a chicken run.
Tuesday 9th September – Leominster – Off down Etnam Street. The south side is a row of Georgian houses, some large, some small. The Baptist Church stands back from the road flanked by a pair of houses, one the manse, the other dwellings for the poor. The Baptist church was founded in Leominster in 1656, the present building having been erected in 1771. On the north side there is a mixture of houses and shops from late mediaeval through to Victorian, although a number of apparently Victorian properties have internal fixtures from around 1400. The Chequers public house is a splendid timber framed building built around 1600 with barely any straight lines in it. House Martins chatter overhead. The rain that has been fairly constant for several days has ceased. It has brought severe flooding again to many areas from Morpeth in Northumberland to South Wales. Locally, Tenbury Wells has been back under water. A footpath leads alongside the White Lion pub, which looks 20th century but is based on an early 16th century building, and over the railway. It then crosses the River Lugg. The river is dirty grey-brown and flowing fast. The fields and paths are wet and muddy, making them treacherous underfoot. Pond Skaters gather in quiet corners of the river, their feet standing on the surface of the water which bends slightly with surface tension. The Kenwater joins the Lugg and shortly, to the north, Cheaton Brook flows into the Lugg. The brook is red-brown and contrasts with the greyer waters of the Lugg. It starts to rain again. Over the railway crossing and down a path that leads back to the Kenwater. An area of seating and a shelter is located by the river. A Great Tit is examining a nest box, rather late in the season one would have thought. Over the river by a cast iron footbridge and up to the Minster. I take a brief look into the church, but save a proper examination until another time.
Wednesday 10th September – Home – We have started working on the garden. Jackdaws call from the trees in the park which is over our back wall. One compost bin is emptied and the contents of a second turned into the first. The plastic compost bins are full of leaves which are too dry. So some leaves are distributed amongst the other bins and more are left in a pile to get wet. We have more or less planned where a new greenhouse, raised bed and the chickens are to be located. A new chicken house has been ordered. A deep cronk comes from overhead – a Raven, an unexpected sight although they must be relatively common in the area, breeding in the not too distant Black Mountains on the Welsh border.
Friday 12th September – Ludlow – It is the first day of the annual Festival of Food in Ludlow. An efficient
Park and Ride system is carrying coaches of people into the town. Not surprisingly, the place is crowded like the proverbial
gorilla’s armpit! The main events are being held in the castle. It is pleasing to see so many local suppliers and artisan producers selling their wares. We also take the opportunity to visit the parish church of St Laurence. It is a superb building, reflecting the wealth of the town largely through the wool and cloth manufacturing trades. In 1540 John Leland commented,
There is but one church in the town but that is very fayr and large and richly adorned and taken for the fayrest in all these quarters. This church has much been advanced by a brotherhood therein, founded in the name of St. John the Evangelist... Three and a half centuries later, A.G. Bradley said in 1905,
...on its crest rises the finest parish church in Shropshire if not in all England... The first church was erected sometime in the 12th century. Documents show it was rebuilt entirely in 1199, in a
transitional style between Norman and Early English. An Early English doorway and two-bay chancel were added in the 13th century as they town grew in prosperity through the wool trade. The hexagonal south porch was added in the early 14th century. In 1320 the north aisle was rebuilt and the south transept was added around. The north transept was built as the town recovered from the Black Death of 1349. Between 1433 and 1471 the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style. Although the interior of the church and its fittings are much altered, the building remains the 15th century one. The windows in the church are filled with mediaeval glass, mainly restored in the mid-19th century. The window in the north wall of the north aisle date from around 1320. A fine rood screen is Perpendicular in style and beyond are the stalls, 16 each side with misericords dating from 1447. The great east window depicts the life of St Laurence, much of which seems to be one of torture before being burned to death on a gridiron. In the chancel are a number of monuments; Ambrosia Sydney (1574) daughter of Sir Henry Sydney, President of the Council of the Marches from 1560 to 1586; Sir Robert Townsend (1556), Chief Justice of Chester from 1545, and his wife, Dame Alice (1574); Edmund Walter (1594) Chief Justice of South Wales and his wife Mary (1583); Edwards Waties (1635) member of the Council of the Marches and his wife Martha (1629) and Theophilus Salwey (1760) whose ancestors were Squires of Richard’s Castle with strong Parliamentarian and Whig traditions. On the floor is a tablet that records that heart of of Arthur, Prince of Wales, who died in Ludlow Castle in 1502 aged 15 years and 7 months, is buried nearby. (In fact, it is recorded his bowels were actually buried here in 1502 and euphemistically called his
heart.) In the Chapel of St John the Evangelist is the tomb of Sir John Bridgeman (1637), Chief Justice of Chester and his wife Frances. In the north transept is the organ, rebuilt in 1864, based on the Snetzler organ given to the church in 1764 by Henry Herbert, Earl of Powis. Looking up from the crossing gives a view of the vault of the 135 foot high tower, built in the mid-15th century. In the south transept is the monument to Dame Lady Eure (1612) wife of Ralph Eure, Lord President of the Council of the Marches (1607-1616). In the Lady Chapel are the Commandments and Charity Boards.
The X Commandments of almighty God are written in Gothic script and set up in 1561. The Charity Boards record nine of the many bequests made to Ludlow to assist the poor. It is interesting to see that a wide wooden top on the front pew is full of graffiti carved into the wood. The earliest I can see is
William Payler 1783.
Saturday 13th September – Leominster – It is Heritage Open Day and the Grange is open. This house was originally the Market Hall built by John Abel in 1633. It stood in the Butter Cross in Broad Street. In 1750 the building was converted to the Town Hall and Court. In 1792 it was considered the building was unsafe but the Council refused to pull it down and the stone tiles on the roof were replaced by slate and the dormer windows removed to lessen the load. In 1808 there was an attempt to get the building listed for removal in the Leominster Inclosure Act as it was a major impediment to traffic in Broad Street. This was refused due, in part, to the Duke of Norfolk. In 1853 permission was given to remove the Town Hall. In 1855 the building was auctioned and sold to Francis Davis for £95. He sold it to John Arkwright, grandson of Sir Richard Arkwright, for the same sum. Arkwright offered to the town as a museum, library and reading-room if they paid for its re-erection. The building was demolished but the plan to re-erect it in Corn Square fell through and it was taken to a builder’s yard in Etnam Street. In 1858, John Arkwright bought the land on which the building now stands and re-erected it as Grange Court. It was leased to the Moore family. In 1907, Arkwright’s son sold Grange Court to Theodore Neild, principal of Dalton College, Manchester and a prominent Quaker. The building was restored in 1909, but at the latter stages of the restoration it was set on fire by workmen and damaged badly. In 1928 the building was sold to a Mr Baker who died in 1935. In 1937, the trustees of Mr Baker sought to remove the building to sell it to William Randolph Hearst who wished to re-erect it near to St Donat’s Castle in Wales. The council blocked this move. After much negotiation, the Town Council purchased Grange Court in 1939 for £3000. It was transferred to Herefordshire Council who sold it to the Leominster Area Regeneration Company for £1 in 2008. The building is a wondrous affair of black beams white walls, decorated with numerous carvings. Epithets are carved into the beams at the first floor level. The Town Crier announces the Mayor who opens the building for the day. In fact only the mayor’s parlour and adjoining room are open to the public as it is considered that the stairs to the upper levels are unsafe. There is a display of photographs of the Neild family and a visitor’s book signed by Her Majesty the Queen. Several cabinets hold standard weights and measures and other curiosities.
Home – Sunshine at last. A Red Admiral visits a yellow Buddleia in the garden. A dragonfly hawks by, probably Aeshna cyanea. Robins are singing nearby. There is an occasional thud as another apple falls from the tree.
Monday 15th September – Wapley Hill – This heavily wooded hill is one of line of outcrops running north-south a few miles east of Offa’s Dyke and the Welsh border. A narrow road leads up from Combe Moor at Byton Hand. A parking area gives access to the woodland which is managed by the Forestry Commission. A track leads on across the hillside. The sun is trying to break through the thin cloud. Tits are squeaking, although without much enthusiasm. Clumps of toadstools peep through the grass, possibly Yellow-white Mycena. Through the trees are views of the wide plain carved over many aeons by the River Arrow. A Jay squawks loudly in the conifers and is briefly glimpsed as it flies off. A dragonfly is hawking the tree tops. A side trail climbs the hill. To one side are large old Beeches, to the other dense conifers. Here bird life is far more active. A flock of Goldcrests and Coal Tits tinkle through the branches. Hedge Woundwort flowers on the edge of the path. The track meets the Mortimer Trail, a long distance path and heads up an avenue of Cypresses. Another path leads towards the summit which is crowned by an Iron Age fort, Wapley Fort. At the far side, the scarp slope drops away steeply down Combe Wood. This side is a far more gentle slope which obviously needed man-made defences and there are five ramparts and ditches, three being medial ditches, before the broad open area of the camp. The defences cover a greater area than the camp itself. A Green Woodpecker darts across the open ground to one of the Oaks which are dotted around. Rowans and Silver Birches make up the other tree population with mixture of vegetation covering the ground. Rosebay Willowherb has finished flowering and is releasing its fluffy seed pods into the breezes. A cock Pheasant rises from the undergrowth noisily and flies off. An old tree stump is grey with lichen and appears to be a standing stone from a distance. The air is scented with the aroma of sage and the ground is covered with the leaves of Wood Sage, a few still have their small creamy two-lipped flowers. A number of summer flowers are still around: Foxglove, Red Campion and a few Harebells grow almost hidden under the herbs and grasses. A clump of an umbellifer has me puzzled – the stem is dark purple, leaves purple-green, the flowers pink and the seed pods deep purple. More fungi, including Puffballs, grow under the Oaks. On the north side, the woods drop steeply with a quarry dug into the hillside. Back on the western side of the fort there is a well in a small marshy pond. The date of the well is unknown. It is similar to ritual shafts found in Europe dating back to the Bronze Age, one is present on Salisbury Plain. Another theory is that it is a sacred well of the Roman-Celtic period. The presence of four unexcavated
pillow mounds would indicate an Iron Age sacred enclosure. Back outside the fort a path leads down to Warren House. Here the trees are full of squeaking calls – Goldcrests, Blue, Marsh and Long-tailed Tits and Chaffinches. At Warren House a notice warns that a Great Dane is on guard and indeed the huge hound loudly warns me off. A broad track leads back down the hillside. Six Common Buzzards fly over the ride, a pair a jousting in the air. They return much higher in the sky, seeking updraughts over the woods and drift off westwards. A seventh Buzzard flies up from the edge of the wood and off over the tree tops. A few Swallows sweep over the wood. Drops of rain fall despite the sun getting brighter.
Wednesday 17th September – Shirl Heath – The morning seems autumnal, misty and rather cool. Much of the grain crop has now been harvested. A combine harvester stands in a field of bales, its job done and now going into hibernation for the winter. A cowman drives a herd of Herefordshire cattle, powerfully muscled red and white beasts, across a field. There is a general auction held here. It has been at least thirty years since I viewed an auction, but nothing much has changed. The rows of mainly ordinary domestic items stretch across the barn. The next room has the better items, mainly Victorian furniture with the odd Georgian piece. A front room is full of new stuff, packs of tools, bundles of unopened domestic trinkets etc. Men, indeed no women at all, are wandering up and down the rows making notes in their notebooks. I am looking for a rug but there is only one and not to my taste.
Thursday 18th September – Brecon – We decide to tour around the perimeter of the Black Mountains. This outcrop of hills sits astride the English-Welsh border. As we approach the Wye valley, there is a thick inversion layer across the river. The hills can be seen above a thick layer of cloud close to the ground. Up the valley it grows misty and cool. We emerge into sunshine near Brecon. The city of Brecon lies on the River Usk beneath the towering Brecon Beacons. It has a castle, much of which is now the Castle Hotel. A wall and tower look out from a bluff over the river. The Romans had a station, Caer Bannau, five miles above the city at the confluence of the Usk and Yscir. It was here, in 1092 that Bernard de Neufmarche overthrew the Welsh under Bleddyn ab Maenach and Rhys ab Tewdwr, Prince of Dyfed, both of whom were slain. It is said that Bernard used the stones of the Roman fort to build the castle. A long Elizabethan five arched bridge crosses the river. It was built in 1561 to replace a mediaeval one destroyed by floods in 1535. It was repaired in 1772 and widened by Thomas Edwards of Eglwysilan in 1794. It had stone parapets which, as a nearby plaque states,
until the 1970s when the present deck was unfortunately superimposed on the old structure. The main streets lie on a gentle hill and are a pleasant warren of lanes with both national chains and local businesses. The Guild Hall is a 1770 construction built on a the site of a 1624 timbered building by John Abel of Hereford. This building had replaced an even earlier Council House of 1556. On the opposite corner is a fine pillared bank. There is a story regarding the High Street, when, in the mid 14th century, Sir David Gam as a young man killed Big Richard of Slwch, a crime for which he was expatriated. Gam went to the house of John of Gaunt and formed a strong friendship with Henry Bolinbroke, which proved useful when Henry became Henry IV. Gam regained his possessions and became a powerful person in Herefordshire. When Owen Glyndŵr (Glendower) rebelled against King Henry, Gam swore
by the nails of God he would stab his fellow Welshman to death. He rode to Machynlleth where Glyndŵr was holding a parliament, but the Welsh Prince was forewarned and captured the little Gam and hauled him in chains to a prison in Sycharth. Soon afterwards Glyndŵr and his army came upon David Gam’s residence at Cyrnigwen and burnt it down. A friend of Gam composed an englyn which translated as:
Brecon has a one of the finest cathedrals in Wales. Bernard de Neufmarche has established the Lordship of Brecknock and as a patron of the Conquoror’s Abbey at Battle in Sussex, he made an endowment which enables the Benedictine monks under Bernard’s confessor, Roger to form a cell at Brecon. Roger and another monk, Walter established the Priory church of St John the Evangelist and some monastic buildings. That church was replaced by the present one in 1201, constructed in the Early English style. The nave and transepts were rebuilt about one hundred years later in the Decorated Style. Two chapels were added to the transepts in the 14th century. The rood and mediaeval treasures including wall pictures were destroyed during the Dissolution or during the Civil War, although a couple of wall paintings survive on the nave pillars, one a Raven and the other what looks like a cape. Restoration was carried out, starting in 1836 with the main work being undertaken from 1862 under the direction of Sir Gilbert Scott. The church became a cathedral in 1923. The interior of the cathedral is simple but has an austere grandness. The font comes from the original Norman church and is quite damaged but many carvings, including a Green Man can still be discerned. In the north aisle is a carved wooden cabinet of 16th century Flemish origin. By the aisle is a guild chapel, that of the Corvizer’s or Cordwainers (shoe makers) now called the St Keyne’s Chapel. It contains a recessed tomb from about 1340 with an effigy of a man thought to be the supervisor of the rebuilding of the nave in 1312. Nearby is a wooden effigy of a lady from about 1550, all that remains of a three tiered memorial to the Gam family. In the sanctuary is a stone reredos by W.D. Caroe with intricate carved panels and rows of saints, apostles and those connected with the history of the church. On the south side is the 14th century tomb of Walter and Christina Aubrey of Abercynrig and another elaborately carved chest of the late 15th century. Also in the south aisle is the alabaster tomb of Sir David Williams (King’s Justice 1613) and his wife. The glass in the church is mainly Victorian.