Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – I turn onto the road into Bodenham. A car is parked and an elderly woman waves me down. There is a sheep in the road. Can you help me get this sheep back. She reckons the sheep has come through a kissing gate but there seems to be little chance of persuading it back. I block its path and slowly manoeuvre the recalcitrant beast back towards the gate but it runs off the other direction, past the woman and off down the road towards the other part of the village across Bodenham Moor. No chance of stopping the fleeing creature. The woman says the sheep belong to her neighbour so off she goes to get him and his team out.
After a typical Bank Holiday of heavy rain and darkened skies, this morning is sunny and warm. Few flowers bloom now, just the unwelcome Himalayan Balsam and Evening Primrose along the track. A Chiffchaff calls half-heartedly from one of the long row of fastigiated Poplars and another seeks insects near the base of these towering trees. A Robin sings, probably the only song to be heard regularly now until spring. A family of Chiffchaffs are in the willows by the lake. A pale moon lies above the western horizon. The five Barnacle Geese are still present which suggests they may well be escapees. They share the scrape with several Mallard, Canada Geese and Moorhens. There are at least a dozen Cormorants in the island trees and a large flock of Canada Geese below. A Mute Swan sleeps on the open water. A Grey Heron stands on a fallen willow. Coot and Tufted Duck are scattered around the lake but not in large numbers. A Common Sandpiper scurries along the western shore. A Grey Heron and juvenile Cormorant stand close together on another fallen limb, completely ignoring one another. A third Grey Heron flies to the edge of the island. One of the Grey Herons has spread its wings, presumably to dry them as Cormorants do, but not something I recall seeing before. Drake Mallard are just beginning to regrow their bottle-green head feathers again. Back along the meadow to the calls of a Green Woodpecker. Several clumps of Puffballs have emerged along with a partial ring of Fairy Ring Champignons.
Thursday – Stapleton Castle – A Historical Society visit to this privately owned site. Information on the origins of the castle are here. The present owners bought the farm on which the ruins stand some 13 years ago and built a house in the old farm yard. Some of the barns are now converted to homes. We head up to the bluff on which the castle stood. The present ruins are of a house built in the early 17th century by the Cornewalls. This house was subsequently owned by the Harleys but abandoned in 1840. The roof was removed shortly after and it was a ruin within five years. From the hillside the extent of the original outer bailey can be seen and it is extensive. The inner bailey circled the hilltop, the wall above a deep ditch which is still present in places but much in-filled elsewhere. The walls and the outer bailey wooden picket fence would have all been white-washed so the castle would have stood out like a beacon for miles around. Far below, in an area now used as a visitors’ car park, are the platforms of a mediaeval village. Across in a field is a single Hawthorn which is believed to mark the site of a circular, possibly Saxon church. Below the steep cliffs is a wide valley through which the River Lugg flows. This would have been a lake in the last Ice Age when the Lugg and Teme formed one large river before splitting off in different directions. In the fields below the castle site, recent aerial photography has revealed a network of tracks leading to an Iron Age settlement and what is probably a Neolithic henge.
The ruins are in a precarious state but in consultation with English Heritage, it has been decided that they should be allowed to fall naturally. It is clear some walls will not stand many more winters. The site has never been fully excavated and it is believed there are extensive cellars and dungeons under the ruins which were filled with wooden fittings that were not wanted when the house and castle were stripped for buildings elsewhere and set on fire. It is also possible that there are remains of an Iron Age defensive position under here too.
The hilltop is surrounded by some venerable Oaks and Ashes, including one Ash that has a hollowed out trunk and numerous old branches. Swallows sweep across the field beneath. A Common Buzzard sails over the valley. It is said that Henry II visited the castle as Lucie, sister of the king’s mistress, Rosamund de Clifford (the Fair Rosamund) lived here with her husband Hugh de Say. The castle was fortified against Owen Glyndŵr but it is thought he just rode on past the fortress rather than staging what would probably been a long siege. Joseph Murray Ince, a noted artist of the 19th century from Presteigne, painted the area a number of times, often rural scenes with the castle in the background, but the canvases give an interesting history of the decay of the buildings.
Friday – Morton-on-Lugg - Hereford – Off the bus at Morton-on-Lugg. The weather is turning sunny and the air warms. White trumpets of Bindweed festoon the hedge, some with insects deep inside feeding on the nectar. The A49 is busy. A brand new John Deere tractor passes with a trailer carrying another one. Off down the Burghill lane past the mock-Tudor Tall Trees. The house was built around 1878 by Thomas Nicholson for the Revd Charles Henry Taylor of Queens College, Cambridge who was to be rector from 1875 till 1923. The Revd Taylor was, owing to income from an exclusive private nursing home in London, relatively wealthy and his new rectory house quite substantial and at £2000, quite expensive. A herd of young cattle gallop down a field. On past modern bungalows and houses all with rather mundane names. Now out past open fields. The hedgerow contains ripening Black Bryony – green to yellow to orange to vermilion, red haws, purple sloes and creamy green mace-like heads of Ivy. A lane heads south towards Upper Lyde. Pretty mauve Dovesfoot Cranesbills grow on the verge. A squeaking flock of Long-tailed Tits move through the hedges. Further on, near Appletree Cottage, House Sparrows chatter.
At Upper Bewdley Bank in Upper Lyde, the road divides. Lyde Farm is a fascinating collection of buildings conferring several hundred years. Some of the stone barns have been converted into dwellings. A corrugated iron construction carries a plaque – T. Payne, Engineer of Moccas. Littlebury’s Directory and Gazetteer of Herefordshire of 1876-7 states the farm was the property of Alice Goode. Back to the junction and off down Upper Bewdley Bank. A fine orchard has dessert apples and pears and a plum sadly overwhelmed by Ivy. Opposite is a cider apple orchard. The lane is lined by modern houses. Another orchard has huge apples, I would guess cookers. Over the A4110, a Roman road, and on down the lane. A task, spreading Pear tree stands by the road with small fruit scattered over the thoroughfare, and still falling as one hits me! The size of the tree is difficult to ascertain as the trunk is hidden by Ivy, but its height is considerable. Blackberries. Burlton Court is a fine country house set in pleasant lawns and gardens. The house is recorded as being purchased by J. Aubrey, the grandfather of John Aubrey, (1626 -1697), noted antiquarian and writer. An avenue of Sycamores lie to the west of the house. Far off to the south west a large flock of nearly 100 gulls circles in the sky. Across the fields is a large modern housing development. Little Burlton Farm is wholly converted into residences. The lane meets the Tillington Road.
St Mary’s Park, the housing development I could see before, was The Hereford County and City Lunatic Asylum, built in 1871, renamed St Mary’s Mental Hospital by the turn of the century and finally closed in 1994. Through gate pillars and past a gate house. Behind the modern houses are large conversions of old wards. A small obelisk stands in a garden. It is a memorial to record that on August 18th 1944, a B-24H Liberator Bomber was engaged on a leaflet dropping training mission. It was seen trailing smoke from below the level of Credenhill Hill, one of its wings hit a chimney stack at the Mental Hospital and crashed in flames into the grounds. The chimney collapsed through the roof of the hospital into a ward, and whilst none of the patients was injured, all 10 of the American air crewmen were killed. The cause of the crash was probably engine failure. A large hospital building, now apartments, has a large cupola rising above it. The modern buildings are sympathetic to the Victorian ones. Another large building is surmounted by another lead topped cupola. Beyond is a meadow where deer graze.
Back to the road and on down towards Hereford. Nature seems to be taking aim at me today as a conker narrowly misses me and cracks onto the footpath. Lower Burlton Farm is all residences. The lane meets the east-west Roman Road at Bobblestock. Across the road and past a business park and into the Three Elms pub. My pint, an American Pale Ale brewed in Wilmington, East Sussex is a good pint even if the idea seems faintly ridiculous. Across the road and over a bank by the Co-op, past three large boletus mushrooms which unfortunately are past it. Off down Grandstand Road, the race course is close, through large 20th century housing estates. It seems Bilston Cottage, built 1874, must have been quite isolated once, no longer! The road runs along the back of the race course. There are no longer races here and it must be only a matter of time before developers move in on the site. Eventually the houses are older. St Mary’s Church is a small chapel built in 1912 opposite the Golden Lion pub which had no hand-pumps but very noisy cage birds and dogs. In 1938 the adjoining house on the left was combined to create a vastly enlarged public bar and many fittings from 1938 remain. It has a fine etched front window and a quoits bed. The road ends in the large and very busy roundabout at Widemarsh. I decide to take the bus back from Holmer Chapel. I am still waiting past the expected time but a passing postman tells me it is always late here, usually by ten minutes and sure enough that is what it is! Route
Saturday – Leominster – The morning starts grey with drizzle but slowly improves. The main crop potatoes are dug, Blue Danubes. The crop is again very poor. I have found a large pot with leeks growing in it – I had forgotten I had planted them in there. So they get transplanted into the space left by the potatoes. A few more Worcester Pearmains have fallen, the rest should be picked soon. A few plums remain on the Marjorie Seedling so I pluck them. Three eggs this morning for the second day running. It appears the Bristol Blue hen is laying again after a long period off lay.
Into town for the Leominster Food Festival. There are stalls in Corn Square and down Broad Street. They are a lot better than those at recent fairs which have got a bit stale and disappointing. The pie woman is getting close to selling out. There are several jam and chutney stalls carrying jars that look interesting but we have more than enough of our own produce to last a few years. Newton’s Cider makers have gone up market a bit; nicely labelled bottles and flagons, but double the price I used to pay. Round to the Grange where the civic dignitaries are watching a display of resuscitation techniques. Lot of people and dogs are milling around the pet rescue tent, too many Staffies for my liking.
Monday – Newchurch – A few clouds are scattered across a blue sky and the sun beams down. A couple of dozen House Martins chatter as they fly around a cottage where nests are under the eaves. A small face peeps out of one nest. Another flock is chasing around another cottage. Wood Pigeons coo. A dozen Swallows twitter on wires. Past the church. At the Great House a Border Collie is barking and bouncing although it looks unsure as to why it is making so much noise. The house dates from around 1490 and has the widest span of a cruck truss (28 feet) in Wales. Ceilings and a dormer were installed in the 17th century and a wing added in 1790. Past a farmyard and on down a track on the Offa’s Dyke Path. Across a fields, the River Arrow bubbles. The lane drops down to cross Cwmila Brook. There is a hum in the air but I cannot locate the source, there must be some bees somewhere. A Robin sings in branches of Hazel and Rowan, all of which is being overshadowed by a large Leylandii, the last of a row. The lane climbs then turns to Gilfach-yr-heol and the path carries on up the hill on a stony and muddy track. A Magpie chatters and another Robin sings. Behind, Disgwylfa Hill looms over the valley. Pen-y-Gwyddel is a collection of tumbling, rusting barns on the Disgwylfa hillside but something is happening as heavy machinery is on the track by the buildings. The track climbs around Little Hill. To the east, the view is unobstructed as far as Titterstone Clee. To the west Newchurch Hill rises with the moorland of Bryngwyn and Red Hills beyond. As the path tops the hill and the sweep of the Black Mountains lies to the south. A Dunnock sings from the base of a scrubby hedge. The path turns east briefly between hedges where the stems of Rosebay Willowherbs are covered in downy white seeds.
South again down a track called Red Lane, once the route between Newchurch and Rhydspence and the border between England and Wales. Through a woodland of pits, coppiced Hazel and Ash trees. A dwelling called Little Caeau once stood here but nothing remains. Red Lane joins an east-west road from Brilley. The map indicates an Iron Age settlement of Pen-twyn on the hill opposite but little can be seen. The Offa’s Dyke Path heads on south towards Hay-on-Wye but I turn west. Across the valley from where I have come, the small farmstead of Caeau could be unchanged for years except the roof is covered in an array of solar panels. Coal Tits search the cracks in the bark of old roadside Silver Birches. A broken down stone and brick building looks like an old barn but seems to have once been a dwelling called Upper Pen-Brilley. Past excited Border Collies at Castle Farm, although it is a visitor, not me that had their tails wagging. The map calls the farm Foes-dees. Next is Crowther’s Pool House, again called Newhouse on the map. The pool is a short way south, out of sight from here. At a crossroads I turn north-west. Moss and grass grows in the centre of the lane. A stream is hidden by woodland and bushes as it passes under the road, only the tinkling of water giving it away.
Across the valley is a fine late Elizabethan house, Dolbedwyn. The house apparently has fine period and decorative timberwork including 16th and 17th century doorframes, partition screens and staircases. The lane joins a larger lane at an offset crossroads at Newgate Farm. On down the road munching an apple and picking blackberries to go with it. I almost have to stand in in a hedge to let a convoy of road mending vehicles pass. The lane passes the entrance to the bridleway leading to Dolbedwyn. Across the field is a tree covered motte. I wander on and fail to see a hole in the road which sends me tumbling. I roll with it and no damage done to me but I manage to crack the screen of my pad which is very annoying, at least it still works... The motte stands above Cwmila Brook which passes under the road. The motte is probably a mound thrown up on which a small timber castle was built. However, it is reported that a Middle Bronze Age dirk or knife came from the site in 1835 which may indicate an earlier barrow. Dandelions are few and far between along this lane but everyone is being visited by an insect. The lane joins the larger road, the B4594, back to Newchurch. A red telephone box stands in the junction. The telephone looks like it will work but the door is held by twine which is wrapped all around the box. There are still some plants in flower, mainly in the shadier parts of the bank by the road, Black Knapweed, Yarrow, Herb Robert, Sow-Thistles and Hawk’s Beard. Common Buzzards circle the hills lazily. A herd of cows and calves is watched over by a magnificent Welsh Black bull. It is warm now. Past a field of what I assume is Miscanthus grass. The road now drops down into Newchurch. Route
Tuesday – Leominster – Autumn has arrived. A heavy mist cloaks the area and there is a decided nip in the air. I take the car to the garage for its MOT and then wander down to the railway bridge. A train hurtles past, clearly not stopping at this station. The old Great Western Railway style signal clanks as it drops to clear the down line. A diesel passes, pulling half a Trenau Cymru 125. Blackthorn bushes line the side of the ramp back down to the Worcester Road and they are covered by sloes. I am tempted to gather some but my just last weekend I filtered a large bottle of Sloe Gin and really do not need any more. The only other use is sloe jelly and we have more than enough jellies and jams to last a few years. So they are left to the birds. Opposite, hips and haws are ripening and a Robin sings in an Ash trees whose branches are heavy with keys.
Along the Worcester Road. The penny drops when I realise plastic film factory here makes the black plastic that wraps bales of hay in the fields – a bit of a mixed reaction as I am sure they are efficient but really unsightly. Along Southern Avenue where there seems to be plenty of businesses, hopefully flourishing. School buses, or rather large coaches, are returning to the garage after delivering their cargoes. There are some new 65 registration cars in Bengry’s Garage. The heavy mist is lifting only slowly and it is still grey and damp.
Home – I check the bird seed dustbin for the coming winter. Two mice have got in and eaten themselves to death, although I assume it was the lack of water that did for them. The chicken house has been sinking again on one side so I need to tilt it over and pour gravel into the holes the legs have created. The next job is sorting out one of the greenhouse panes of glass which has slipped. This entails removing the two above and realigning them all. Must admit, this is not a job I like, getting the clips out is painful on my fingers and handling sheets of glass always makes me nervous. But all goes well and the glass is now seated properly and hopefully no draughts. The two courgette plants in front of the greenhouse were very slow to start but both are now producing decent fruit. I pick some more Worcester apples.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A breeze had blown away some of the clouds but it remains autumnal. Himalayan Balsam and Mallows are still in flower. A Robin is singing by the boat sheds. Teasels are now dry and brown. A Kestrel flies up from the meadow and alights on wires at the far end of the paddock. A couple of dozen Canada Geese and the five Barnacle Geese are by the scrape. From the noise, there are plenty more Canada Geese around the lake. A Great Crested Grebe swims past the island. There are only a couple of Cormorants around. A couple more Great Crested Grebe are out on the water but few Tufted Duck or Mallard. A Grey Heron flies past, another is across the lake.
Friday – Bromyard-Stanford Bishop – The sun is burning off the overnight mists and dew. A few high, wispy clouds linger. Down past Bromyard Community Hospital on Frome Bank and on down Linton Lane. The properties become older, a Victorian post box is in a wall. Into the main road, the A44, by the Old Bridge House, a late 16th century timber-framed building. Petty Bridge, dated 1812 crosses the River Frome, one of the many waterways of this name, which is a British river name derived from the Welsh ffraw meaning fair or brisk. Much of the riverbed is covered in lush growth, Forget-me-nots, mints and reeds. Avenbury Lane heads south. The roadside hedge contains large Ash trees, then it becomes largely Hazel. One stretch has hops growing through the Hazel. A shrew speeds across the road. The fields beyond are pasture. A cow stands at the end of a track entering the lane. I drive her back down the track and close a gate. A footpath crosses a field to a footbridge over the Frome. It appears the river has split into a number of streams across this little valley. Himalayan Balsam is rampant here. There was a view expressed in the paper yesterday that although the plant is an invasive non-native, it does provide a lot of nectar for insects late in the season, and certainly there are plenty of bees visiting here. The ruined church of St Mary’s seems to be now in private land. The first church was erected here on a piece of land which is looped by the river, around 840CE. It was listed as belonging to a wealthy priest called Spikes in 1066. This church is Norman and was restored in 1881 but closed in 1931. There is not a lot to see, the tower at stands and part of the nave walls. The graves of a number of the Baskerville family are in the overgrown churchyard. The church, now owned by a local archaeologist, served Avenbury, the mediaeval village has disappeared leaving scattered farming communities. The name Avenbury means fortified place on the Aven (or Avon). It appears that somehow Frome and Avon are interchangeable river names. The path crosses a very wet grassy field.
The path enters a lane that leads to Avenbury Court. Past a cider apple orchard, the crop seems very sparse, although some trees have a decent crop. A nicely proportioned house, once The Vicarage, stands opposite the orchard. A husky-type dog comes to say hello. Beyond the house, stands a hop field, in the tithe maps as Pound Hopyard, this crop looking heavy. Avenbury Court is a fine farmhouse, possibly Georgian or later around a much earlier core. The hop kilns, oast house, cow shed and associated buildings are all converted into residential property now. The Herefordshire Way heads south. The path drops down a hull past a field of Jacob’s sheep to the hop field, which is extensive. It is good to see hops being grown in their traditional home counties in quantity. Up a hill and through Brookhouse Farm. The farmhouse was recorded as being sold in 1840 as The Brook House, reputedly the manor of Avenbury by Edward Stillingfleet Cayley. The Stillingfleet family had held the manor for some 200 years after Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699), theologian, scholar and the Bishop of Worcester, bought it. A track rises and falls past fields that have been cropped. A combine harvester is discharging a stream of grain into a wagon. Through Upper Venn Farm, where there is an early 17th century farmhouse and a late 17th century cottage. I leave the Herefordshire Trail, cross the Frome and head back to the road. Down the road for a way then off up a lane to Stanford Bishop.
Past Hill Oak Farm. A row of old damson trees, heavy with fruit. Obviously our forebears has far more use for damsons than today. I have sauce, jelly, cheese, sorbet and what should have been leather and still there are more in the garden. I cannot imagine anyone now using the amount of fruit here. A Walnut tree overhangs the roadside. Lower House farm lies across the fields with its barns and oast house. The Hawkins is another large farm with modern barns surrounding a late 18th century house. A short lane leads to St James’s Church. This parish church dates from circa 1200 with chancel of around 1300, restored in 1885 by Thomas Nicholson. However the site is clearly older, sited in a circular churchyard which is typically Celtic. By the altar is an ancient chair which is stated to be that which St Augustine sat upon at the Historic Conference with the British Bishops at the second Synod in 603. Sadly, it is now believed to be mediaeval. However, there is evidence that the conference took place in Stanford Bishop. The present church was restored in 1885 at a cost of £600. The font is 19th century on a 12th century plinth. The pulpit is Jacobean. Outside is a Yew declared to be 1200 years old. I leave the church and retrace my steps to the road back to Bromyard. The wind is rising and the clouds thickening. A large number of thin telegraph poles have been leant through the fork in a large Oak. It looks like they have been there for some years. A ruin, the Rumney Building stands in a field of cereals opposite the road junction. It was once a school and apparently there are inscriptions over door in south gable end; SCHOOL FOR GIRLS ENDOWED BY PHINEAS JACKSON, VICAR AD MDCCXXXI and over most northerly window on west front; THIS SCHOOL WAS REBUILT WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF THE NATIONAL SOCIETY AD MDCCXXVI. The road drops down past the entrance to Upper Venn to Hyde Bridge over Linton Brook, which has a tablet inscribed HCC 9 24. Long-tailed Tits squeak in woodland. A Common Buzzard mews over the fields where the combine harvester still works. Rooks caw in the distance. Leaves are beginning to turn yellow. A dozen or more Swallows fly over, the first I have seen today. It is hot and dusty as I plod on along the road. A few Speckled Wood butterflies flit past. Another old damson tree is heavy with purple fruit. A Wren ticks at me. Another rise in the road then it drops down to the A44. The Old Toll House stands opposite the junction. Back over the bridge and up into the town. Up Linton Lane where Ivy is in flower attracting hundreds of bees and wasps. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A bright, cool autumn morning. The south facing side of the street is bathed in sunshine, the north facing side much cooler. Down to the river. A Chiffchaff sings in the woods. A Dipper bobs beside the bridge before whirring off upstream. The water levels are still low. Robins sing and Jackdaws chack. Across the Easters meadow through dew soaked grass. The market is a reasonable size. I buy a pretty little vase by the Vasart glass factory, originally named Ysart Bros, founded in 1947 by three brothers,Vincent, Augustine and Salvador Ysart. The factory changed its name to Vasart Glass in 1956 and again in 1965, this time to Strathearn Glass. The factory closed in 1991. There is a similar vase on eBay for an extremely optimistic £320; I paid a fiver which is more realistic but still seems at least a bit of a bargain.
Monday – Bredenbury-Butterley – The morning is damp and murky. Past Bredenbury school and on down a lane. Trees across the fields are barely visible through the mist. A Common Buzzard launches from the top of a telegraph pole and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flies over. The hedge is a mixture of Field Maple, Hazel, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. North Lodge is a single storey house dated 1905. The lodge stands at the entrance to a long drive that went to Bredenbury Court, once home to the Barneby family, a long-established Herefordshire family. Bredenbury Court is now a private school. Rotting boletus fungi peep through the verge grass. Wiggall is an imposing house, three Guinea Fowl stand on a gate. A Nuthatch calls overhead. A Shaggy Parasol mushroom is beneath the hedge. The lane continues along a gentle ridge. The early 16th century black and white timber-framed farmhouse of Wicton Farm lies across the fields.
A turning leads to Rowden Mill Station which closed in 1952 and although now a residence, is preserved as a station with its platforms, a length of track and some wagons. A timetable, GWR advertisement and a postbox are on the wall. A brief shower of rain lasts long enough for me to don my over-trousers. On up the lane to Great Wacton, a large farm whose farmhouse has clearly been added to a number of times in different periods. One wing is 17th century. Back past the station and down the lane over the railway line. Down the hill to the River Frome. Beside it is Rowden Mill dating from the early 17th century. Hidden in trees to the east is Rowden Abbey, a half-timbered house of 1881 in wooded pleasure grounds. The site was previously occupied by a 16th century house with a moat. The earlier house was demolished at the end of the 18th century, but the moat and a fishpond survive in the grounds of the present house. It was the seat of a family of the name of Rowdon for 12 generations. It was held in 1216 by John le Moigne and descended to Sir Ralph le Moigne, who in 1274 was lord of Netherwood, Thornbury and other manors. The rain returns, heavier and more persistently. Up the other side of the little valley, past the Gardeners Cottage and the entrance to the driveway of Rowden Abbey. Rowden House Lodge stands by the drive to the house, built around 1880, which is, like the Abbey, hidden in woodland. The house is now a school, part of the West Midlands Learning Campus.
Up to B4214 road from Bromyard to Tenbury Wells, by Tack Farm, Winslow Grange. The old Blacksmith Cottage stands by the road. Pike Villa is a large house, probably early Victorian. The rain is heavy. Off down a lane by New Cross Farm. The lane runs between high hedges. A Goldfinch, one of the few birds to brave the weather flies over the hedge. Past The Hortons and on towards Butterley. Field after fields holds crops of maize. Butterley Mill Cottages, the old mill is further down stream. The lane is now more a track although it is still tarmac. The rain had almost ceased. Across a cattle grid and down to Butterley Brook Cottage where the Herefordshire Trail heads south. The trail is apparently closed because of an unsafe bridge. I ignore this, the bridge is old and had no guide rails but looks perfectly sound. Across a mown fields. A couple of Swallows sweep low across. The path runs under the railway. Across a meadow containing half a dozen houses and down a track by Wacton Court, a 17th century house with an 18th century wing. It is surrounded by scaffolding. There should be a ruined church here but I manage to miss it.
Down a lane to re-enter Bredenbury between the pub, The Barneby Arms and the garage. Past a number of Victorian houses, the old Post Office and the rectory to the church of St Andrew. The Parish of Bredenbury was united with that of Wacton in 1875 and a decision taken to build a new church on a new site to replace the very small existing medieval church at Bredenbury and the ruined church at Wacton. Land was donated by William Henry Barneby, of nearby Bredenbury Court, whose family also commissioned many of the fine interior furnishings. The foundation stone was laid 1876. The architect was T.H. Wyatt who was also responsible for Humber church and nearby Bredenbury Court. In the nave stands an elaborately decorated pulpit in various marbles depicting Biblical figures. The reredos is also richly carved in various marbles depicting angels. In the south chancel windows depict the Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, made by Mayer and Co. in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee 1887. There are plaques to the Barneby and the West families. Back to my start point past the old school building dated 1874. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A few patches of blue sky show today after several days of rain. A few Field Buttercups, Red and White Clover and Birds Foot Trefoil are all that remains of the summer flowers in the meadow. A few Tufted Duck and Mallard feed by the scrape. A flock of 16 Cormorants fly around the island, land on the water and all dive. They fly off again behind the island too re-emerge a few minutes later and fly briefly to the middle of the lake. However, the flock has now grown to 43. These sort of numbers usually indicate migrant birds rather than any resident stock. Canada Geese are present but not in their usual numbers. A couple of Mute Swans are on the far side. A third glides into view. Various groups of Cormorants fly around the lake, others fish or swim about with their backs held high as if looking down their noses at their surroundings. A Grey Heron stalks the far bank. A Great Crested Grebe is down the western end. A wasp hovers briefly outside the open window of the hide. A Moorhen stalks the scrape on large green feet. Back to the meadow where the hedge is now polychromatic in greens, yellows, golds, coppers and reds. A Common Buzzard circles the woods. More apples are more ripe enough to eat in the dessert orchard but few are falling from the cider varieties.
Friday – Home – Venus shines brilliantly in the eastern pre-dawn sky. I do not go out at night much now since we lost Maddy, so I miss the wonder of the stars, planets and satellites.
Pipe and Lyde-Hereford – Off the bus at Lyde Bridge. The bus driver, for whom English is not his first language, takes delight in pointing out that Lyde is pronounced with a long y, not short as I had used. On the map, the bridge is referred to as Pipe Bridge. The weather is perfect, not too hot but sunny, a blue sky with a scattering of wispy clouds. A footpath passes through the hedgerow by the bus stop and up into a field. A Chiffchaff calls rather ineffectually, nothing like the clear spring song. Exactly where it goes now is unclear, there certainly is not a regularly used path here. The old maps show it passing close to Pipe Coppice but this has gone. So I cross a meadow through very wet grass to reach the footpath to the road at the village. Down to the A49 junction past 20th century houses. There was only church house and Glebe Farm, next to the church here in 1905.
The church of St Peter, Pipe cum Lyde (both names mean stream) stands on the junction. The church may well stand on a Bronze Age burial site, the raised area in the south-west corner of the graveyard may be a round barrow. Fungi grow between the graves. Outside the entrance to the church is a medieval cross, although the head is missing. The church was built around 1100 and lengthened around 1180. The tower dates from 1250 and the chancel was rebuilt around 1280. The nave and chancel were rebuilt in 1873-74. There is a rood beam with a trailing vine carving from around 1500. Behind the pulpit, stairs rise, originally leading to the rood loft. The reredos was erected in 1868 by the Masonic Order in memory of Edward George, a Hereford merchant. There are various pieces of stone by the door including a bowl that would have been part of a Norman pillar piscina and a Norman corbel stone carved with the face of a muzzled bear.
Back up Church Lane. The lane rises to a small crest with views ahead across east Herefordshire to the Malvern Hills. Bright vermilion Black Bryony berries hang in necklaces over the hedgerow. A Blue Tit calls insistently. A field of maize is being grown by Cranfield University as part of a project to develop solutions to nutrient run-off from fields which is polluting the rivers. The road turns by Lower Lyde Farm. The main crop around here is maize. A footpath crosses undulating fields eastwards. Little blue flowers of Common Field Speedwell decorate the dusty path. A pair of Ravens circle and bark overhead. The path joins a lane with drops down to Lower Lyde Court. A young woman says hello and I tell her I have only come to see the moat that is marked on the map. She tells me I will probably be disappointed as there is not much to see. I respond that even if an old feature is on the map there is often only a 50% chance of anything being there. However she directs me to the remains of the moat and advises I continue past a derelict cottage to the lake. She states this is all part of the old monastery that once occupied the site. However, I can find no evidence of any monastic site here. Lyde Court dates back to the 14th century and is part of the vast Duchy of Cornwall Estate and now is an event centre. The moat is indeed rather full of dumped rubbish of the years. Getting past the cottage is impossible as the nettles and thistles are far too dense but I can carry on down a track and cross a field to the small lake. The water level is very low. Robins sing all around the surrounding woodland. I think it would be perfect on a late spring morning with the dawn chorus in full voice. Back across the field where Craneflies flutter in the still damp grass.
Back through Lyde Court and back to the main road at Lyde Cross. This leads to Munstone. Past Munstone Cottage dated 1838 and what looks like a converted chapel. I turn towards Holmer past modern housing and find the village pub – now a private function venue... The road bends beside an impressive pair of houses, Highfield House and Bank Cottages. Embossed stone letters read Bank Cottages No 2. Round the corner is the same building is No 1. No 3 and 4 is another grey stone house further down the road. Highfield House is mentioned by H. Rider Haggard, he of King Solomon’s Mines fame, in a book of 1902 called Rural England. He tells of a conversation with the house owner, Edwin W. Bevan, a farmer and fruit grower, regarding land prices in Herefordshire. The house is probably Victorian in a Jacobean style. The cottages, I assume are related to the house, probably for farm workers. Coldwells House is another large building, now a care home. Opposite is Willow Cottage dated 1901 and with its double glazed windows could have been built any time in the past century. The village pond is rather murky. A Moorhen disappears under overhanging branches. Copelands, an early 19th century house built around a 17th century core and Turvey House stand on the junction opposite Holmer Park. East along Attwood Lane. Attwood Farm is a housing development. Just beyond is another sizeable housing development of the most boring looking houses imaginable. If the architect thought that some false windows would make these packing cases pleasing to the eye, s/he is sadly deluded.
Over the Roman Road and down Old School Lane through a large industrial estate. The first Common Buzzard I have seen today is circling over the railway. The footpath crosses the line by a bridge constructed by Sanders (Tubecrafts) of Liverpool. The road bridge is a notorious narrow affair. The extraordinary stepped tower of the old Hereford County College comes into view. It starts to rain! Into Venn’s Lane. The Hereford County College is now the Royal National College for the Blind. The building was erected in 1881, designed by F.R. Kempson in the Victorian Gothic. Unfortunately, the view here is limited by the chapel and the range of modern, single storey classroom surrounding the main building. Abbey Grange is a rambling house, now a rest home. It was formerly known as Little Abbey and Ash Tree House and dates from the early 19th century. Opposite is Cox Cottage. This was the home of the painter David Cox. The house was purpose-built as a cottage-cum-studio for him in 1817. He lived there until 1823, when he moved to 47 Venn’s Lane. Netherwood House and Venn Court would have been once residences of the high and mighty of Hereford. I imagine there were more big houses along this road, now demolished for modern developments. Down through Aylestone Park. Local college students shelter from the rain under an immense Wellingtonia. On down Aylestone Hill past more fine Georgian and Victorian villas and houses built for the merchants and professional classes. Streets leading off are lined with early 20th century housing for the new middle classes of the Edwardian era. On into the city centre and into the Barrels for a couple of pints. Suddenly I realise I have a bus to catch and rush off to the bus stop whereupon the bus is late as usual.
Monday – Addlestone-Weybridge – Along the path past Coxes Lock Pond. Most of the water is devoid of wildfowl but there is a collection near the Wey navigation canal lock – a Mute Swan family, Mallard, gulls and a number of Egyptian Geese. Over the lock gate bridge and onto the tow-path. A multi coloured train rumbles over the bridge. A sulphur flash as a Grey Wagtail flies past. Acorns litter the tow-path beneath old Oak trees. Two adult Mute Swans slap the water loudly as they take off. Their three dirty brown cygnets try to follow but fail to get airborne. The parents wait along the canal for them. Along the canal to the River Wey junction at Town Lock. Two more Egyptian Geese are on a mud bank in a shallow area. Ring-necked Parakeets fly over. On the opposite bank are million pound plus houses, ranging from mock Jacobean, mid-20th century ordinary semis, vast early 20th century mansions to a modernist edifice of white and glass. A vast Weeping Willow stands in one of the houses’ garden. These houses were built after the sale in the 1870s of Ham Court Manor.
An Environment Agency barge passes carrying a digger (although I am not sure the Agency actually operates on the newly privatised canals now). Himalayan Balsam is widespread. More parakeets cry from the trees. A loop in the river flows away to a weir creating The Bull Dogs, an island. A Grey Heron sits atop a large post, one of the stopping craft heading for the weir. The path crosses another weir. Opposite is another weir complex is occupied by apartment blocks one of which has patios that reach out over the canal like old goods lift platforms. It stands by the site of an old, long demolished mill, Ham Haw or Weybridge Mill. At the Thames Lock, which opened in 1653, the River Wey joins the River Thames. An old stable is now as National Trust information centre. The lock keepers are operating the paddle lifts for a small pleasure craft to pass through. On the lock-keeper’s cottage opposite is a plaque announcing that Royal Humane Society’s apparatus kept here. The lock has a couple of footbridges onto Bulldog Island. One is an old cantilever bridge. A path leads away from river past a park. Grey Squirrels chase each other.
Over a cast iron bridge off of the island. Up the road and into Thames Street. A new school building is being constructed with living roofs. The school, St Georges, an independent Roman Catholic school founded in 1869 by a Belgium Catholic order of priests called the Josephites and was originally based in Croydon. Within a few years St George’s had outgrown its Croydon location and in 1884 moved to the grounds of Woburn Park. In the 18th century Woburn Park became famous as the first ornamental farm developed by Philip Southcote. After his death the estate had numerous owners including William Petre who purchased the estate in 1876 and established the first Catholic school on the site before he sold it to the Josephites. Portmore Park gate piers, tall stone pillars designed around 1700 by William Talman, stand a little further along the road, marking the site of Portmore Park that was created in the 1670s by the 6th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Howard (1628-1684). The duke’s widow sold it in 1688 to King James II who gave it to his mistress Catherine Sedley, the Countess of Dorchester. James spent his last night in England at the house after he was forced to abdicate in the same year to William and Mary. The countess went on to marry David Colyear (1656-1730), a soldier of some distinction serving William III. The king rewarded him by conferring the honour of Baron in 1699 and then an Earl in 1703, the first Earl of Portmore. Large developments dominate until shortly before the end of Thames Street where late Victorian or Edwardian house take over. The frontages are rather narrow, the builders trying to get as many in the street as possible. The last houses as the street enters Monument Green are dated 1887.
Onto Weybridge High Street. Down High Street, looking in amazement at the prices in the estate agents £1600 per month for an apartment in Coxes Mill... A stone stands beside the library, the Dial Stone from the monument which stood at Seven Dials in London before the monument was re-erected along the road here at Monument Green. The rain returns. The church of St James is closed. I have a cappuccino whilst waiting for the rain to stop then head back towards the Weybridge lock. Along the path where a few flowers are still blooming Yarrow, Herb Agrimony, Ragwort and White Dead Nettle. The Mute Swan family has swum into Coxes lock to the closed lock gates and now seem confused as to what to do next. Another Swan is at the top of the gates and getting rather agitated. The pen and cygnets return down stream leaving the cob and now two adults above him.
West End – We head down to the old part of the village for a meal. Along the road we count at least 21 Magpies in a small area.
Tuesday – Woking – We spend a short time in the town centre. This is dominated by shopping malls containing the usual array of national chains. Outside one centre is a passageway with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and a wide range of cooked foods from English through Biltong to Vietnamese. Across the square is Christ church built between 1887-1908 in the Gothic revival style. We head off in the rain down what was once a major high street, Kay points out where stores like Woolworths and Holland and Barrett were once trading but are now pubs and clubs, and inevitably, nail bars. Down into Church Street East where there is the Big Apple leisure centre outside of which is a Hawker Hunter jet, painted all silver and mounted on a pole. It is beginning to look a bit decrepit. A little further on is a silver Woking Martian, by Michael Condron, made in 1998, the invader of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds which was written in Woking and set locally.
Friday – Clun – A cool morning with a clear azure sky and a slight breeze. By the Memorial Park a Chiffchaff is still calling and Nuthatch mutter above. Through the village of Clun. Past the Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Chapel, where a plaque stars the stone was laid by Mrs Williams on June VIIth MDCCCLXXVII. Another records the donation of £300 by Rev E. Williams and his widow. Opposite stands a large red brick house with a fading sign on the gable end, Meredeths Commercial House. Past Turnpike Cottage into Waterloo Lane to a ford and footbridge over the River Clun. Off down the Woodside lane. A small, old bridge is almost hidden under brambles and Ivy. Below a Grey Wagtail bobs its tail beside the stream. The lane keeps climbing between high banks of Ash, Oak, Hazel and Blackthorn. The land around here is dominated by hills and valleys. Behind, the bells of Clun church ring ten. A bench, stone and urn are beside the lane the stone carrying a religious tract. Woodside farmhouse is late 20th century. From here, Clun lies behind in the valley. The sky is devoid of Swallows or House Martins, all gone away to Africa. The old farmhouse, now B&B accommodation is probably 18th century, but much modernised. The lane loses its tarmac surface as it runs around the hillside of Woodside. A track branches off towards Lord’s Wood, now seemingly part of Sowdley Wood, owned by Lord Sainsbury. A low wall runs alongside the track but is barely visible under the moss, ferns and Ivy. A small cottage marked on the map has been extended and added to to create Pooh Hall Cottages, not the most edifying name. The lane enters the woods which are conifer plantations. The area beyond the entrance gate has been cleared down the hill exposing a small ruined dwelling. A Wood Pigeon sits atop the tallest conifer, its pink breast shining in the sun. A Robin and a Dunnock are beside a mown grain field. Over the valley, Radnor Wood rises dark with serried ranks of conifers. Great Tits search the last Ashes before the conifers take over, although here they look like Red Cedars. Off the track and up a barely discernible path through the conifers. Across a new looking track and then upwards again by a path. Various Russula fungi rise out of the needle strewn bare ground. Where the conifers thin, deciduous trees such as Field Maple and Rowan attempt to colonize but they are spindly growths desperate to reach sunlight. The path disappears into the conifers. I press on and enter an area of old Oaks.
I am looking for a feature called the Rock of Woolbury but am unsure where I am exactly. I am annoyed when I discover that my compass is not in my backpack; I do not trust my electronic devices’ compasses. I need to go more or less south so I head towards the sun. Another track appears which joins a straight one which reaches a bend. I am sure from my map that I am now close to the Rock and suddenly I get a signal and can confirm this on my electronic map. Through some dense conifers to a near vertical bank and on the other side of a gully is the Rock of Woolbury, a large rocky outcrop covered in bracken. The Rock of Woolbury was the site of a large quarry, long abandoned. The name may derives from Walia and bury meaning a fortified area occupied by the Welsh. I decide I am not going to try to reach it and head back to the track. Overhead a Jay is muttering and squeaking.
Cloud is beginning to build. There is plenty of well nibbled fungi in the woods, Fly Agaric, members of the Russula family including a Russula emetica known as The Sickener, with a bright red cap and pure white gills and stem and, as the name may suggest, poisonous and several ceps – members of the boletus family and edible. Along several tracks through the plantation and then onto a bridleway travelling south. One side odd of the track is a mature conifer plantation but on the other side, the conifers are only a couple of years old. There is sudden brightness created by a patch of chrome yellow Gorse. Purple Heather is also flowering in small patches. A Coal Tit squeaks in the saplings. A fallen conifer has a lot of rock in its upended roots. There are few fossils, just some bivalves. The rock is Silurian mudstone, siltstone and sandstone of the Cefn Einion Formation, 419-421 million years old. It will always be a slightly strange sensation pulling apart a slab of rock and even if there is nothing visible one still knows that the rock was mud and silt that last saw the sun 420 million years ago. On around the tracks until I am as close to the top of Black Hill as is possible with a thick curtain of conifers separating me from the triangulation point. To the south the conifers have been cleared giving views across gentle rolling fields to the Radnor Forest. Hairy Stereum, Stereum hirsutum, is a bracket fungus growing on a stump by the path. This hill is thought to be the inspiration for Bruce Chatwin’s book On The Black Hill, although the hill near the Brecon Beacons seems more likely. The name Black Hill derives from the Welsh for beautiful hill.
I head back along the track to pick up another down to the road near the Fiddlers Elbow, a sharp bend. A number of worked flints were found around here and donated to the Clun museum in the 1930s. The road heads back to Woodside along the side of Black Hill. Ravens and Carrion Crows call from the fields below. Past Pen-y-Cwm, a stone house extended at either end in wood. Next door The Wain House has an enameled sign advertising Gallaher’s Condor pipe tobacco, which I recall as being popular from over 40 years ago (although as I subsequently discovered is still made today although, naturally Gallaghers is now a multi-national is owned by the Japanese). Chaffinches flit around the hedges. Over a crossroads besides which a house is being extended quite extensively. The road bends and runs down and under the Rock of Woolbury. The road descends steeply. A toadstool rises from the bank which looks like a Panther Cap or The Blusher. Both are members of the Amanita family, the latter is supposed to be edible but tends to resemble the former which is believed to be deadly. Hard Fern Blechnum spicant is growing in clumps on the roadside bank. Back past Woodside Farm. Here the land is made up of Dolomitic Argillaceous rocks (which means they are dolomites, i.e. limestone, containing clay minerals) and subordinate sandstone of the Clun Formation of a similar age to the surrounding hills. A path crosses a field to arrive at a small pumping station. Along the lane, over the river and up into the town. Into The White Horse, an early 19th century rebuilding of an older row of buildings, which brews its own Clun Ale – a very fine pint indeed!
Sunday – Leominster – The sun shines brightly in a clear blue sky but it is cold. The footbridge sparkles with a light frost. The fields beyond are misty and glowing gold. Bryony billows like clouds on a thicket. A Grey Wagtail flies under the bridge over the River Lugg which flows steadily. Beside the woods spiders’ webs are white with dew. Much more frost whitens the grass on the meadow. The market is fairly busy, the cool morning has not discouraged either sellers or purchasers. As usual, there are a number of things that would be useful and cheap but I have no use for them. Back to the Minster and round across Pinsley Mead to the Millennium garden. The cider apple trees are beginning to drop their bounty; a visit with my rucksack is probably called for in a few days.
Monday – Home – I must admit I am not a two o’ clock in the morning sort of person but I have managed to get up for the multi-named moon. Tonight the Harvest Moon, (the first after the equinox) is also a Supermoon, (at its closest to the earth and thus larger than normal) and a Blood Moon (a total lunar eclipse). The shadow of the earth moves slowly down the face of the moon until nearly and hour later the moon just has a thin slice of brightness at the base and the face is a spectral dried blood hue. As the moon darkens more stars can be seen glittering across the firmament. I am getting cold so a retreat back to bed is in order.