Friday – Pontypool-Abersychan – It is a cool morning, the second day that the windows in the house have been covered in condensation. Off the train at Pontypool, Pont-y Pwll. A Chaffinch is pinking loudly and a Blue Tit chatters. Up the long slope to the bridge over the busy A4042. Up The Highway to the Usk Road. Down the road and past the gates to Pontypool Park. Over the Afon Lwyd. Along Rockhill Road to the town centre. Through the town centre past the NatWest building, a Victorian club building (the Pontypool Club) dating from 1850-1860, which was converted into a bank around 1905, and externally almost unaltered since that date. It has an intricate façade. Up George Street. A building has masonic symbols on its façade but the shots below are The Well Being Centre and a gaming shop! The White Hart Hotel also has a fine façade. A footpath passes under the A4043, the former route of the Blaenavon and Pontypool Railway. Up a hill to the rather austere looking St Alban’s Catholic Church and Priest’s House. The church was built in 1844-46 in an economical version of the then fashionable Norman style, to the design of J J Scoles the prolific Catholic architect. A scene of the crucifixion looks down the hill. The ambulance station stands opposite a short terrace of early 20th century houses. This is followed by a modern school. Beyond, blocked up walls suggest the older school stood here. The houses are now larger, late Victorian and Edwardian. Churchview Terrace is dated 1891. I have no idea where the church is!
The road crosses a cycle track and footpath that runs all the way to Blaenavon but I stay on the small back roads. This is now Pontnewynydd. Over an old railway bridge. A housing estate lies below. Down Merchants Hill. It is difficult to imagine how this area looked a century ago. The railway is gone, the station too. There was the Eastern Valleys Brewery here but that is gone. On the other side of the railway was the Wainfelin Iron Mine. Today is sunny and although there are petrol fumes in the air from the traffic (and a rather odd burning plastic odour), once the air would have smelt strongly of smoke, steam and coal. At the foot is the hill is the A4043 and a Baptist Chapel of 1888, built to the design of architect George Morgan of Carmarthen, and modified in 1900 with the installation of new galleries. Across the road is the former Horseshoe pub now a fish and chip shop. A stream runs under the road. A sign shows the extent of the National Cycle route through here. This section is another part of the former railway. Over a railway bridge is the Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1849, rebuilt in 1883 and altered in 1992. A Victorian corner shop has a tall façade facing down the street. There are a few shops but they are three hairdressers, a barbers, several fast food shops, a general store and a chemists. I detour up the hill and along Holyoake Terrace then down an alley back to the main road, here called St Lukes Terrace. Victoria Villas is dated 1887. A Bethany Chapel (Calvinist Methodist) should be here but there is only a new block of flats. St Luke’s church was further up the road, demolished in the 1990s.
Back to the Methodist church and up Hanbury Road which runs up Cwmffrwdoer. It is lined with terraces in brick or stone. Albion Place is dated 1903. A former pub stands on Forgehammer Row. High wooded hills are to the south, Tranch Wood and to the west, Craig ddu. The valley below Tranch Wood was occupied by an Iron Works and the Tranch and Elled Colliery. Every small terrace has a different street name, Pleasant View, Bailey’s Terrace, Coronation Terrace. Kidwelly House is dated 1903. The road is now Hanbury Road again. One house is called the Old Butcher’s Shop. A Small Tortoiseshell visits a window box. A small general stores is open. All Saints church is for sale. It was built in lancet style in 1905-6 to designs of D.J. Lougher, architect, of Pontypool, and is constructed of iron-stained Pennant sandstone with red brick and terracotta dressings. The church comprises nave and lower chancel, and a south porch. Windows contain stained glass dating from 1898 to 1963 and includes works by Celtic Studios. It closed several years ago. The Bridgend Inn still appears to be operating.
Plas-y-coed Road rises into the hills. At the foot of the road was once a bridge over a junction of GWR Cwm-Nant-Ddu and Cwm-Frwdd-Oer Branches. The Monmouthshire Railway ran through the valley below. The terraces of houses are still the same early 20th century design. A little street runs down towards the valley, Kitchener Street, which dates it to the early 20th century. I decide I am taking the long way round so I head back down the hill. By the Bridgend Inn is a stream and Chapel Road. Up the valley was the Oak Brick company, managed by a Mr Bailey, which may account for the number of terraces with the name Bailey in them. The road rises, lined by later 20th century housing. The Ebenezer Chapel in Mount Pleasant, is dated 1740. Outside the door is the Ebenezer Stone of Help. One of the larger monuments seems to be of an ironworks owner. Another is of the Revd Edmund Jones, the prophet of the Tranch, who founded the chapel and died aged 91 in 1793. On up the hill, past Baileys Houses. The top of the hill provides a view back down the valley over Pontypool. A piece of waste ground is noisy with hidden House Sparrows. A Common Buzzard sails overhead.
Out of Mount Pleasant and into Charlesville. My meanderings have taken far too long, so I take to the cycle track. The track is the former Monmouthshire railway Tal-y-Waun Branch. An old abandoned lane from Pentre-Piod farm runs alongside the track before diving down under a cast iron bridge. The route runs along the side of a wooded hill. A large stand of Hemp Agrimony is by the path. Through Snatchwood, new houses can be seen through the trees. The trail heads off up the valley above Abersychan. It was going to follow this to Blaenavon, but I need to get a bus back to Cwmbrân for the train connection and it will be a bit of a rapid march to achieve this, so I decide to visit the town of Abersychan instead. Down a straight piece of road called The Promenade. Again, the whole area is utterly different to that of a century ago. A large iron foundry lay beside the lane, which was a railway line, one of many in a considerable complex of lines and sidings. At the end is the Big Arch. The Big Arch was constructed in 1879 to carry the Monmouthshire Railway to a junction with the London and North-Western Railway Blaenavon branch. The junction was immediately north of this bridge and led to a jointly owned stretch of line running through Abersychan and Talywain station to Garndiffaith junction. It is a vast brick edifice with an L shaped curve to one side with a corresponding one of the opposite end of the tunnel. Beyond the arch is the former British Ironworks. The British Iron Company started work on the site in 1825, with production beginning in 1827. In 1843 the company became the New British Iron Company and was taken over by the Ebbw Vale Iron Company in 1852. Pig iron production ceased in 1876 with all production stopping in 1881. Parts of the back wall and coke ovens survive, along with the office block, now roofless, as does the beam engine pump house of 1845, and its chimney base, from the British Ironworks Colliery. The remaining buildings are almost all listed.
The main road, Lodge Road, enters Talywain. The houses are late 20th and 21st century. British School Close stands on the site of the British School built in 1860 for the children of the ironworks employees. They had previously been taught in in a room at the company offices. Up Church Road. St Francis Close is new houses; a lane to the station was close to here. Past the Senior Citizens club house and bungalows. At the top is the road St Thomas’ church in ruinous condition. It was built in 1831-2 by Edward Haycock and has stained glass, now removed to a local church hall, by F.W. Cole for William Morris & Co in 1937. Jackdaws call from the roof. Back down Church Road. It continues down the hill Haul-y-Mynydd is an older house in poor condition but it looks like renovation is beginning. It has been modernised before, probably in the mid 20th century. Y Noddfa Capel-y-Bedydyddwyr of 1846 stands on the slope above the road looking out over the wooded valley. It was built in 1846, probably by Philip Hambleton of Pontnewynydd. A tomb records Ebenezer Phelps who lost his life in the Llanerch explosion, 6th February 1890 aged 22 years. In all 176 men and boys were killed. The road is now High Street. The Old Castle Inn is boarded up as are the buildings in its row, the centre one looks like it has had a fire. The High Street Baptist Chapel is dated 1827. It was remodelled in 1868 by W. Ardick & Sons of Warminster, although the exterior remained largely unaltered. Another row of shops contains the usual general store, hairdressers and pub, closed. A large former Co-op store on a corner is in poor condition although there seems to be some new windows fitted to the upper floors. Opposite the Trinity Methodist church is by E.A. Lansdowne of Newport, built in 1869-70 on the site of an earlier chapel built in 1825. It has a plaque commemorating the African-American soldiers stationed in the area during the war, part of a television series recently shown. On down the road, a row of old cottages stands running away from the main road, all alone. Up another side street, Bryteg, is the former Working Men’s Institute, then the library and now the Torfaen Play Service. The Bible Christian’s chapel of 1860 is disused. The High Street joins Station Street and the Old Road in the town centre. Into Broad Street where the Snatchwood Road Primitive Methodist chapel of 1896 has an odd little tower of an entrance. The Gwent Citadel is for sale. Back in the centre, it looks like the butchers has recently closed down. There are many other empty shops, a closed pub and what looks like a closed down pub. The bus for Cwmbrân arrives.
Sunday – Home – The weather changes quickly. Yesterday was sunny and dry, this morning it is grey and raining. I pull some rhubarb to take with us to Surrey – it is mother’s 97th birthday lunch. As I approach the compost bins to strip off the leaves a Sparrowhawk rises from near the plum tree and is off over the gardens carrying a small feathered body. We just hope it was not our friendly, local Robin.
Wednesday – Highnam-Gloucester – The village of Highnam is a small dormitory settlement just outside Gloucester. The houses are 20th and 21st century and a large number more are being built. Up a lane to Lassington. A cow watches over a stile. The modern houses end and a large Victorian house lays on extensive grounds. It is the old Rectory. Swallows cluster on wires. Grey clouds cover the sky and there is a cool breeze but we are supposed to escape rain. Past a sizeable duck pond with a modern house built next to it. Astman’s Farm cinders much of the hamlet of Lassington. Most other dwellings are 20th century. A pair of ancient wooden barns are teetering on the point of collapse. Beside them is a brick barn, converted into a dwelling. Across the lane is a small lake a ruined cottage and Lassington Court, an early 18th century farmhouse. Across the lane again is a tower, all that remains of Lassington church. The tower is 11th century. Domesday records the manor of Lassington as belonging to the Archbishop of York. It was rededicated in Palm Sunday 1095 after the Norman church was built. It was dedicated to St Oswald. Beyond the tower was the mediaeval village now gone. It was always small, in 1607 it consisted of just ten dwellings. It was restored in 1875 by Medland & Sons, but the Victorian church built in the Highnam Court Estate meant this church was little used. It is amusing to note that a church so little used has a rectory that is one of the largest houses in the area! The last marriage here was in 1947 and the last baptism in 1956. The church was demolished in 1975 leaving the tower in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust.
Back down the lane and onto a footpath they combines the Three Choirs Way and The Wysis Way, the Offa’s Dyke to Thames Path. A Robin sings. The path appears to be following an old track into a relatively young woodland. The path continues along the top edge of Highnam village. To the north is a view across the flood plain of the River Lesson as it flies to join the Severn. A Chiffchaff is still singing. The footpath leaves the village and crosses Lassington Hill. To the east the land falls away to Gloucester and the Cotswolds, both obscured by a haze. Into Lassington Woods, which are obviously well used, there are paths everywhere, so I just head in the general direction I think I should be going. A Green Woodpecker yaffles excitedly. The path joins a track at the edge of the wood which runs through field behind Over Farm. Yellow flowers are growing along the track – Common Fleabane, Ragwort and Trailing St John’s Wort . The track joins the busy A40 at the farm shop. The pub seems to be just called The Toby Carvery, part of the chain, but was once known as The Dog Inn. Along the main road to Staunton’s Hill, a housing development. It is on the site of the former Over Hospital, opened in 1903 as an isolation hospital, closing 1991. Behind it is The Vineyard. A house, later known as The Vineyard, was built by one of the abbots of Gloucester and was enlarged and moated by Abbot Froucester (1381-1412). After the Dissolution it became the bishop’s residence. It was plundered by the Parliamentarians at Christmas 1641 and used by them to guard the western approach and bridge to Gloucester. Colonel Forbes abandoned the position and burnt the house on August 10th 1643, and the Royalist Welsh army subsequently captured the site. By 1647-8 the residence was in a ruined condition and was being robbed for its stone. A path runs under the road.
On the other side is Over Bridge. Built in 1829 by Thomas Telford, based on a design of 1768 by French architect Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, across the Maisemore Channel, it is one of the lowest points that the river can by crossed. There is a dip in the middle of the bridge when the crown sank when the supporting frame was removed. The bridge remained closed until 1932 but as no more movement was discerned or was declared safe. The bridge remained in use until 1974. The original 16th century eight-arch bridge stood a little downstream. Just beyond is the railway bridge carrying the South Wales line. Suddenly the Severn Bore comes upstream, a series of waves which break along the bank dislodging much mud.
Under the railway bridge. Beyond is a low-lying meadow which is one of the largest river islands in the country. The River Severn divides at Upper Partington and rejoins at Lower Partington. The East Channel runs around to Gloucester Docks. I head off down the West Channel. The meadow, Port Ham, is covered by Perennial Sow-Thistle, Himalayan Balsam and Willow saplings. It then changes to thistles with fluffy heads. To the east the tower of Gloucester Cathedral rises above Richard’s Wood which was planted to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Charter given to the people of Gloucester by King Richard III. The path reaches Lower Partington and the path now runs beside the East Channel. A Mute Swan feeds in the muddy water. The path continues between the river and the rough meadow. An old concrete bunker is disappearing under Brambles. Screaming gulls fly over high in the sky. Footbridges cross drainage channels. The ground here is boggier than before; sedges, Purple Loosestrife, Forget-me-nots and Bulrushes grow. Through a gate and a large stand of Himalayan Balsam. A path lays on the route of a short canal which leads into Llanthony Lock. The lock cottage of 1870 stands beside the lock. The lock was built in 1871 to allow boats to avoid a new weir which was constructed to ensure the water level is the River above Gloucester remained at at least six feet. The lock remained in use until 1924 but there are plans to reinstate it. The path now passes under an old disused railway bridge, the GWR Dock Branch. The branch was built to carry double broad gauge track in 1854, converted in 1872 to standard gauge and closed in 1989.
A path leads to Castle Meads Way, a busy main road. Over the East Channel and on to Llanthony Road. The road is lined by industrial estates and Gloucester College. A path leads to Llanthony Secunda Priory. Llanthony Priory in the Black Mountains was seized by rebels in 1136 and the monks retreated to Hereford. Miles de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, have them land here near his Gloucester castle. After dissolution, the priory became a private home and farm belonging to the local MP, Arthur Porter. Part of the church remained as a Roman Catholic chapel until the Civil War, when it became a Royalist base and was badly damaged. During the Siege of Gloucester a Royalist cannon, shipped in from Holland to Bristol and from there to Gloucester, was placed on the walls of Llanthony Secunda and directed at the City Wall. It was hoped this cannon would break the siege and win the Royalists control of the city. The cannon misfired and exploded on the first shot. Some believe this to be the origin of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. The canal cut through the site in the 18th century. The Victorian farmhouse is being restored. It is in two parts, a mediaeval stone range and a later brick range. A 19th century cobbled surface has been discovered in the brick range, the floor of a stable. A much earlier domed mediaeval bread oven has also been found.
Through the site and into the docks on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, where the lightship Sula is moored. On the far side is a large maltsters, the building seemingly abandoned. Next to it large buildings are being constructed. Into the docks are large warehouses now all converted into retail outlets, pubs, gyms, apartments and offices. Over Llanthony Bridge. Above the bridge is Monk Meadow Dock, completed in 1892 as storage and wharf facilities for the timber trade. It housed a huge grain silo during WWII, then became a major oil depot until the 1980s. Dock offices are now pubs and restaurants. Out into Southgate Street. Then back across the quay to Mariners Square.
Mariner’s Chapel was built 1848-9 designed by John Jaques and built by William Wingate for a committee managing funds obtained from subscriptions and private benefactions to provide a Church of England extra parochial chapel to minister to sailors and dock workers. It has white plastered walls, open queen post roof, original pews, pulpit, altar rail and other fittings. Three lancets are above the altar with stained glass by Clayton and Bell and to either side of the lancets large panels in arched frames within crocketed gables with finials, inscribed with the ten commandments. Above the lancets is a painted ribbon inscribed PRAISE THE LORD.
Out of the docks again, past flour mills, a warehouse and an office block. Built in the 1850s for J and J Hadley, millers. Hadley is known now for a court case on contract law which set the rules on consequential damage from a breach of contract. A crankshaft has broken in the mill. Baxendale was to deliver a replacement but failed to do so by the agreed date, causing Hadley losses. Hadley sued for these losses. The judge declined to allow Hadley to recover lost profits in this case, holding that Baxendale could only be held liable for losses that were generally foreseeable, or if Hadley had mentioned his special circumstances in advance. Past the Customs House, completed 1845, by Sydney Smirke for the Customs Commissioners and now houses a military museum. Along Commercial Road, where modern and Victorian buildings stand alongside each other. The older buildings are mainly hotels and former pubs built around 1850.
Into St Mary de Crypt the Parish church through a carved doorway with an Agnes Dei tympanum, all that remains of the Norman church consecrated in 1137. The church dates mainly from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Extensive restoration was undertaken in 1844-5, by S. W. Daukes and J. R. Hamilton, with further restoration in 1866, 1876, 1903, and 1908 when the tower battlements and pinnacles were removed as unsafe. There are two medieval wall paintings in the Chancel, one is in quite poor condition, but the other depicts the Adoration of the Magi. The font dates from the 18th century and George Whitfield, the Prince of Preachers was baptised in it. He preached his first sermon in the Pulpit there, with such dynamism that it is recorded that people were almost driven to madness! He is credited with taking Methodism to America which eventually spread worldwide. Also baptised here was Robert Raikes, credited with founding the Sunday School Movement. Glass includes the east window and a south window in the south chapel by Rogers of Worcester, around 1857, and in the chancel the east window, a window said to be a copy of the medieval glass in Drayton Beauchamp church, Buckinghamshire. A recessed wall tomb is thought to have been for Roger Manchester who died in 1460. A tablet records the Wood family including James Jemmy Wood, 1756-1836, known as the Gloucester Miser who was said to have been the richest commoner in the country. It is said he inspired Dicken’s Scrooge! Adjacent to the church is one of the few remaining Tudor Schoolrooms in the Country. It was opened in 1539 by Joan Cooke with money she inherited from her husband John, and was the first free Grammar School in the City, operating on this site for 320 years.
Along Southgate Street again to St Michael’s Tower, all that remains of former parish church of St Michael, now used as a tourist information centre. Built between 1455 and 1472 at west end of the medieval church. The church demolished 1849, rebuilt 1851 and demolished 1955-6, leaving the tower. It stands in the junction of North, South, East and West Gate Streets. Along Eastgate. A tall, ornate Lloyd’s Bank was built by FW Waller and Son in 1898. The TSB is in the Guildhall which stands on the site of the Blue Coats Hospital, founded in 1668 by Sir Thomas Rich, closing in 1889. A Bath stone portico erected in 1856 by Medland and Maberly stands at the entrance at the entrance to the market hall, now a shopping mall. Opposite a vast modern block which housed BHS stands empty. A modern Co-op Food Hall is empty and closed. Another huge early 20th century department store, recently Argos, is empty and for sale. Through King’s Walk into King’s Square. The Regal cinema is a Wetherspoons. Another large store is closed down. Round to the bus station to catch a bus back to Highnam.
Friday – Hereford – Through the centre of the city. Yesterday we were in Worcester. Too many empty premises but the city still was busy and had a vibrancy about it. Hereford also has a lot of empty shops but it also has a run down air. The newish retail area across the main road has sucked the life blood out is the old city centre. Alban House, nearly all destroyed in a fire nearly seven years ago, remains under scaffolding with more promises from developers but little sight of action. Scaffolding covers the entrance to the cathedral. Down to the old bridge across the Wye. The John Gwynne James Memorial Home for Nurses is still empty and forlorn. A pair of cottages near the bridge are empty with broken windows, although a board states one has been sold. A pair of Mute Swans and a cygnet are in the base of the bridge. A small flock of Mallard are downstream with a single juvenile gull looking strangely out of place. Early rain has passed but the clouds still look threatening. A new block of flats has replaced the burnt out hotel above the bridge. It is on columns, a precaution against flooding, although recently the river level has remained low. Several Blackbirds fly out of a riverside Willow. They are young birds, male but without the yellow beaks yet. Much chasing is going on. Wood Pigeons are noisy. Under Hunderton Bridge, built in 1854 for the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway Company and closed in 1966.
Up into the bridge and across to the north bank of the river. The track passes on an embankment above rugby pitches. Jackdaws chack overhead. There is a brief shower of rain. Into Sainsbury’s car park, the site of railway sidings, engine shed and Barton Station. Out of the other side of the store and down Station Street. A Builders’ Merchants stands on the site of the Imperial Flour Mills. Into Barton Road. Then into Friars Street, between the Friars’ House and St Nicholas’ church. Behind the church is an old building, formerly a nursery school. Opposite is a former bus depot, now derelict. A little crescent of dwellings is John Venn Homes, dated 1955. The rest of the street has modern, mid 20th century houses and a Victorian terrace. The Lord Scudamore Academy is in early 20th century, possibly earlier buildings. Lord Scudamore Schools were opened in 1852 with money left in trust in 1680 by Sir John Scudamore, Viscount Sligo. Out into Eign Street then across the main road into the city centre. A 17th century timber framed shop stands on the corner of Eign Gate, just inside city walls.
Sunday – Leominster – It feels like autumn this morning – cool and grey. The path beside the White Lion that leads to the railway footbridge is almost overgrown with Stinging Nettles, I have to slash them back with my stick. The River Lugg is still very low. Across a very wet Easters Meadow. There are a number of police cars in the auction lot. One notes the Gloucestershire Constabulary cars are at least five years old whilst the Welsh Police, Heddlu cars only three-four years old. One would imagine a modern car could easily last five years in a satisfactory condition! An old Midland Red bus has a wooden frame body. Another gypsy caravan is in the lot. The market is much smaller than those over the summer; nearly all the plant people have gone. More stalls are now selling useless tat. Out onto Mill Street. A dark green British Railways Joint bus passes. I think this was a service that ran out of Todmorden in Yorkshire. A Kingfisher flashes up the Kenwater. Scaffolding has been erected on the Kenwater bridge, so that the recently replaced railings can be reseating.
Home – The weather deteriorates. Of course, it is nothing compared with the hurricanes ripping into the Caribbean at the moment – one is bemused to hear people still trying to deny the increasingly volatile and violent weather episodes are nothing to do with global warming, and if they are it is not man-made! Out into the garden regardless of the weather. A lot of tomatoes are picked before they start to rot. Large courgettes or marrows to be honest are also picked. We have been giving them away and still have more coming. There are also large numbers of climbing French beans. One set of canes are being left to form drying beans. The others I keep harvesting but the freezers are at bursting point. The Worcester Pearmain apples are almost finished; there are half a dozen trays in the garage. The Herefordshire Russets are nearing ripeness, this is another large crop. As usual the vines need cutting back – luckily the hens like the leaves. I sow a row of Cavalo Nero and one of Rocket. I have little idea what varieties the tall brassicas are, they got very mixed in the summer. At least two are producing purple sprouting broccoli. A few mange tout peas are ready, there are plenty of flowers so hopefully a late crop. I harvest the carrot – singular because only one survived. I also cut what is left of a large cabbage hoping there is some edible parts on it.
Monday – Croft – A rainbow arcs over the western sky as I pass through Bircher. It rained overnight and again this morning. It would be interesting to check the rainfall figures, it seems to have been raining a lot yet the rivers tell a different story. Another tree has fallen in the avenue to the castle. Swallows and House Martins sweep around the trees in the fields to the south is the castle. At the top of the ride down to the Fish Pool Valley is a new notice board informing of action to be taken to restore the valley to its former picturesque state. The valley was landscaped in the late 18th century by Thomas II Johnes (1748-1816) who went on to landscape Hafod in Ceredigion, one of the most outstanding picturesque landscapes in the UK. Although the woods are still predominantly green, the coppers and golds of autumn are appearing. A Wren is singing, a Coal Tit flies up into a conifer. A Robin flies into a pile of tree cuttings then up to the top of the pile to sing. The rain has returned. An archaeological dig by Polyolbion is taking place.
Up the path out of the valley. The new stones put in to stabilise the path are slippery, it then turns to wet mud. On up to the Mortimer Trail. At the gate the ground is covered in keys from a large Hornbeam. The tree’s interior is rotting away. The Yew inside the gate onto Croft Ambrey has another growing next to it. A branch from the original tree has slowly dipped to the ground some time in the last maybe thirty years and rooted. Nearby one of the Lactarius fungi has a white upturned cap with a lot missing through slug damage. It is windy up on the hill fort. The views are washed out greys with mist and rain. Dark sloping shafts of rain can be seen across the landscape. An old Parasol Mushroom stands in the long grass.
Down through the new gates across the now open woodland to the Spanish Chestnut field. More fungi are in the grass but I only identify a single Field Mushroom with any confidence. Some of the great Chestnuts are works of art as their old trunks and limbs age, losing bark yet some still manage a large canopy.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – An Atlantic storm, Aileen, moved through overnight and the wind is still gusting strongly. The sun is out although there is cloud to the west. An apple tree has been broken at the entrance to the car park. It had a large infestation of Mistletoe which would have made our even more susceptible to a strong wind. A Chiffchaff calls in the woods by the track. A large blue dragonfly, probably a Common Hawker, Aeshna juncea hawks down the hedgerow. Carrion Crows are enjoying the gusts of wind, dancing in the air. Drops of rain splatter down. A pale half moon is almost directly overhead. A raptor is keening in the trees. Good numbers of both House and Sand Martins are feeding just above the surface of the lake. A Jay flies along the meadow hedgerow. It is one of those strange occurrences where the sky above is blue and cloudless, the sun shines and yet the rain still falls. Fresh molehills have been thrown up along the edge of the meadow.
Twenty six Cormorants are in a flotilla on the water. Over fifty Canada Geese have congregated by the spit out of the island. A Great Crested Grebe is in winter plumage. There are a dozen or more Cormorants in the trees as well. The water level is low with a large area of the scrape high and dry but devoid of birds. More Canada Geese are on the island. A Grey Heron hunkers down on the eastern island. A few Tufted Duck are in the lea of the island but the usual Mallard seen entirely absent. There are some large raptors far up in the sky, impossible to see well. One is almost certainly a Common Buzzard but another looks far more like an Osprey. Then a third flies rapidly past the west end of the lane. It looks like a large falcon, Peregrine or Hobby but is gone in a flash. The Cormorants are mobile, thirty three have down to the west end of the lake. The wind speed is rising.
Back through the Alder plantation. Excited twitterings come from House Martins as they zip across the tops of the trees. A pair of Green Woodpeckers fly up from the meadow. A Comma butterfly suns itself on a Bramble leaf. One of the unidentified dessert apple trees had split in half in the orchard. The junction between the two large branches is black with rot deep into the wood. Another unidentified variety has dropped a large number of small bright yellow fruit across the ground. The rain has returned and as I leave the orchard behind me is a pale rainbow just above the apple trees.
Home – The large pear tree that partially fell last year has been very productive this autumn. Many fruit are far out of reach and those that fall often get damaged on the path or attacked quickly by Blackbirds, but there are still a decent number. Jobs are lining up in the garden – a dead lilac and flowering blackcurrant trees need chopping down and cutting up. There is still plenty of weeding to do. And, of course, the grass needs cutting again. To ensure I do not have enough time, cider apples are now falling in various places and cider making needs to start soon!
Thursday – Kington – We pay a short visit to this small border town. It is a slightly circuitous journey as the A44 is closed along the stretch in front of Castle Weir. We walk along the High Street. All the banks in Kington have closed, very much a sign of the times. On into Duke Street. The Oxford Arms is an 18th century hotel, restored as a pub in the 20th century. The street is mainly 17th and 18th century houses and cottages, the Olde House being late 16th century. Into Love Lane. A modern block of apartments stands on the site of sawmills. Opposite is the livestock market. The pens are full of sheep, which stand quietly, even laying and dozing, apparently unconcerned about the activity around them. At this moment it is just farmers standing and chatting. We head down to the bottom of the lane and take a footpath which heads back towards the town. A bell rings out, assumedly to announce the start of the auction.
A culverted stream should run down the lane on which the footpath runs but it is dried up and full of lush grass. A tannery stood opposite. The lane becomes Tanyard Lane and emerges onto Bridge Street by a bridge, built in 1810, over the River Arrow. On the far side of the bridge the river comes in from two sources. That nearest the town is a former mill race and the corn mill stands nearby. Over the bridge and on down the road past the Toll House, built in the early 19th century to an octagonal plan. The road turns into Headbrook. A large building has a couple of dwellings, a pair of large doors and then a bakery and pantry. The upper part of the buildings is wooden lathes. The bakery, Sally’s Pantry, provided an excellent lunch! Opposite is a house with rather grand chimneys. It is the former Drill Hall of the 1st Battalion, Herefordshire Regiment (D Company) and has a miniature rifle range behind it. We return back towards the town. Up Bridge Street. The Catholic Church of St Bede. The building was a Mission Hall erected in 1890 and run by the Church Army for St Mary’s Anglican Parish. In 1936 the Mission moved to a new Church Hall. In the early 1980’s it was purchased by St Bede’s parish. Up the street, set back is the old Picture House which was built as a Methodist Chapel in 1858. It was operating as the Picture House from the late 1920’s. Around 1930 it was equipped with a British Thomson Houston sound system. It closed by the late 1960’s. The old Police Station stands in New Market Street and is now a community hub. On up Bridge Street. A number of late 17th century houses all have an attic in the gable with a round-headed window in it. Opposite them is the Talbot Hotel, a 19th century inn and the Baptist church of 1868. The shops and houses in the street are mainly 17th century with later frontages. Along the High Street we discover a butcher’s shop is now owned by Stuart Fletcher who used to run our local butchers in Drapers Lane.
Friday – Abergavenney – On the train to Abergavenny. A flock of Canada Geese are feeding on a harvested field on the Lugg plain just beyond Dinmore. The sun shines through a scattering of high cloud. On Hereford station the train disgorges a herd of students and suddenly the train is half empty. South of the city many fields have already been ploughed and harrowed. Across the fields there are aerials beyond Pontrilas timber yard. This is the Pontrilas Army Training Area, allegedly used by the SAS.
Out of Abergavenny station and into the inter-war housing estate. Conkers are falling from Horse Chestnut trees. The towers of the church and the town hall vie for dominance on the skyline against the backdrop of the Black Mountains. Into Holywell Road which joins Lower Monk Street. A strange apparently timber-framed house stands on the junction. I suspect an arts and crafts mock 17th century building, however it is on the 1881 OS map. Up the road. An ecclesiastical house stands on the corner of Parc Pen-y-fal, probably built around 1850 by Thomas Fulljames of Fulljames and Waller of Gloucester. Beyond is a church, probably built circa 1883 and now closed and for sale with planning permission for homes. It may have been designed by Giles and Gough. Opposite is a vast building, now apartments. An Act of Parliament, the Lunacy Act, of 1845 resulted in the counties of Monmouth, Hereford, Brecon and Radnor building a Joint Lunatic Asylum here at Abergavenny 1847-52. The Asylum was opened 1st December 1851 at a cost of £37083 The architect was Thomas Fulljames. It initially had twelve wards and 210 inmates. This work forms the basis for much of the long front range; the right hand Infirmary wing was added in 1859-61. It became the Monmouthshire Asylum in 1897, the Monmouth Mental Hospital in 1930 and finally Pen-y-Val Hospital in 1948. With changing attitudes to mental care the use of the hospital declined and it was closed in 1997. A scheme for conversion to apartments was drawn up by Graham Frecknall of Monmouth. Much of the original corridor system was retained up to closure in 1997, but the subsequent conversion to apartments has of necessity destroyed most of this. Squirrels in the conifer trees send down a rain of needles and twigs. Four seated shelters stand in the lawns in front of the building with more at the rear of the building. Public Health Acts and reforms had created the requirement to provide institutionalised people with the opportunity for outdoor recreation. These shelters are probably prefabricated designs bought from a catalogue. White doves are on an octagonal ventilation tower for which has gargoyles at the top and lion monsters where the tower joins the roof. A similar tower is on the other wing of the building.
A path runs down the hillside through a wood where Robins are in song. The River Gavenny, Afon Gaffenni, flows through a deep defile. A footbridge crosses the stream. This is near the site of the Priory Mill, disused by the turn of the 20th century. A path, part of the Beacons Way returns up the other side. I leave the way and head up through streets of brick and stone terraces. Hampstead Cottage is dated 1881. Morton Place, a short terrace is 1890. The houses are in dark red-brown stone with yellow brick trimmings. Lovely arched entrance ways are also in yellow brick.
Out onto the main Hereford Road. The few Victorian villas are surrounded by 20th century housing. Over a disused railway bridge of the LNWR Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny – the Heads of the Valleys line. It operated between 1860 and 1958. A small Toll House stands on a junction. Dan-y-Bryn is a large house in extensive grounds above the old railway line. A coach house and stables, converted into homes, stands next to it. The road enters Maerdy. The village is an extensive 20th century housing estate. To the north it merges into Llantilio Pertholey, Llandeilo Bertholau. The houses are still mainly 20th century but older. It starts to rain. Back to the Hereford Road. The Old Punch House, formerly The New Inn stands facing up the road. It is closed as a pub.
Off the main road and down to a bridge over the Afon Gaffenni. The Gaffenni is a short river, some four miles long, rising between Bettws and Blaengavenny Wood. It joins the Usk in Abergavenny. It was once a much larger river but after the last Ice Age, rocks and debris diverted much of its water into the Wye. Beyond is the church of St Teilo. There are fourteen different modern wooden crosses around the churchyard. The earliest part of the building is the nave, north aisle and lower part of the tower which all date from the 13th century. The extent of the changes since make the form of the original church difficult to assess. Three chapels appear to have been added in the 16th century. The south porch is medieval, but was partly rebuilt in the late 19th century. The south aisle is probably late medieval or 16th century in origin but its present form seems to date from 1704. There was a major restoration around 1890 by Kempson and Fowler. A notable vicar was Thomas Jones the poet who celebrated the publication of the Bible in Welsh in 1588. I am refused entry to the church as the person inside wants to lock up. The rain has stopped. The lane passes under both the railway and the A465, the road from Hereford that becomes The Heads of the Valleys road. The old School House of 1872, is being restored as a dwelling. A large house, Trebencyn, lies across the fields. It was built in 1905 and was home of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Bleiddian Herbert of the 17th (Duke Of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers and saw action in South Africa in 1901. The lane joins the B4521 which is much busier but has a footpath. A side lane has a roadsign indicating Monmouth which seems a bit grandiose. Opposite in a field is a small circular enclosure surrounded by a low stone wall surmounted by a wrought iron fence. It is a disused reservoir. The footpath runs out. Crowfield is a large farmhouse, although I suspect it no longer has anything to do with the farm. The conical peak of the Sugarloaf lies to the west, Skirrid, Ysgyryd Fawr ahead. A stream has carved a deep gully beside the road. It comes from a spring a short distance further on. The wind is rising and the sky darkening. A flock of House Martins flash by. A car park is for the route up Skirrid, another day’s outing I feel. A Blackthorn is heavy with sloes.
A pit-stop at a pleasant café, The Copper Kettle. The road enters Llanddewi Skirrid. Past the Walnut Tree Inn, a Michelin starred restaurant, where car park is already full and it is not yet midday. A house stands in the junction to Llanddewi Court. A plaque declares the house was erected by Crawshay Bailey in 1879. This was Crayshaw Bailey Jr, son of Crayshaw Bailey, one of the great iron-masters of South Wales and a much hated man in that area. His mother was Sarah Baker, a servant, not Bailey’s wife. However, his son moved to Maindiff Court, a few miles from here where he built a mansion. He was known in the area for his charitable generosity. Bailey died in 1887 at the age of 46, after suffering a quick decline in his health. The court farmhouse is enormous. It is 15th century in origin but has been much enlarged. Behind it is the church of St David.
Through the churchyard. One headstone is for a Tom Williams of Maesmawr Forest Coalpit. Many others, of course are from local farms. The 15th century preaching cross is a stump but the head is on the ground against the base. The church is locked however I get lucky as I am leaving a woman draws up with the key. On entering the church it is immediately clear why it is locked. There are eight beautiful candlesticks, each holding four candles (no jokes please). Only the tower survives from the mediaeval church. The remainder was demolished in May 1879 and rebuilt for Crawshay Bailey Jr. by John Pritchard using local stone from a quarry near the Walnut Tree Inn. There is a fine example of a W. G. Vowles pipe organ, with spotted metal pipes, built in 1882. It was supposed to have been installed in Llanvetherine church but Bailey fell out with the vicar there. The font is 12th century on a wrongly rebuilt 15th century base. The east window is dedicated to Bailey and by Hardman. There are four bells cast by James Barwell of Birmingham in 1879. Heads at the base of the windows on the exterior as said to be representations of Bailey’s family.
Back past the Walnut Tree Inn where the is a House Martin’s nest with young being fed by the parents. This seems very late. Down a lane. The hamlet of Bryn-y-Gwenin lines the lane. Itafarngwyn has strange pointed top windows and doors. The lane rises. Bushes and trees are noisy with House Sparrows. The majority of the houses are 20th century with some still being built. The lane becomes a track then a footpath across a golf course. Golf is good walk ruined, according to Mark Twain, or maybe Winston Churchill or probably neither! But here they are using those daft buggies. In fact there does not appear to be anyone actually walking. Across a road into another part of the golf course where there are players walking!
Out into a narrow lane, Tredilion Road. There are numerous Blackbirds around both on the lane and in the hedges. Tredilion Park contains some large houses and a gatehouse. It was the home of Colonel Sir Robert Godfrey Llewellyn, 1st Baronet Llewellyn, of Tredilion Park, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. A long straight lane leads out of its gates leading to the Old Ross road. Across the field is Maindiff Hospital, built on the site of Maindiff Court, a mansion house built by Crawshay Bailey Jr in 1875. After Bailey’s death the estate was sold and in 1924 the estate was presented to Monmouthshire Asylum Committee becoming Maindiff Court Hospital. Maindiff Court was demolished and the neo-Georgian style brick hospital buildings were constructed in its place in the 1930s. Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, was held at Maindiff Court Military Hospital from 26th June 1942 until 1945 when he was sent to Nuremburg.
Magpies are making a considerable racket in the trees whilst Jackdaws fly around. As I approach, a Carrion Crow flies off but the Magpies still seem agitated. After a bright sunny spell it is turning grey again. Ravens are overhead, cronking. Past another entrance to Tredilion Park. A dried up stream bed lies deep below the side of the lane. It starts to rain again. There is a little water in the stream now. There has been much more as the bank is now badly undercut and it looks like some trees will not remain upright much longer. The lane passes under the A465 and the railway again. The railway bridge was built in two stages, one track at a time as one half of the arch is lower than the other. The stonework is very similar so there is not much difference in age. Abergavenny Junction was just to the north of the bridge and the bridge at one time carried five lines and several sets of points. The stream becomes culverted and disappears under the gardens of a modern estate before pouring out into the Gavenny. A stone bridge, Maindiff Bridge, crosses the river. The rain has stopped again.
The lane joins the Ross Road. Traffic now turns into Grosvenor Road and the Ross Road is little more than a lane that runs down below the routes of Victorian terraces I walked through earlier. The lane was once known as Ireland Street. It becomes a mixture of houses from the late Victorian to late 20th century, then enters Lower Monk Street. Back to the station passing Fosterville Crescent where villas have caramel-coloured terracotta trims. In Station Road there are two large Italianate houses of the mid 19th century and the Great Western Hotel, where I get a much welcomed pint whilst waiting for the train. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The River Lugg remains shallow. A Dipper is standing on a branch in the water. There are more police cars in the compound, these are from North Yorkshire. The market is a fair size considering it is quite cool this morning. Nothing to buy however. The Water Boatmen have gone from their spot by the Ridgemoor Bridge.
Monday – Croft – There is an autumnal chill in the air. The sky is mainly clouded. Along the drive towards the castle. A stump has a number of small pale brown Stump Puffballs, Lycoperdon pyriforme. Down the lane that leads back to the road. The parkland is laid out down the slope with carefully positioned trees, all several hundred years old, including a number of Wellingtonias, a popular species in the gardens and parks of the old large houses around here. A path crosses pasture. At the foot of the pasture is a lake, a former fish pond for the castle. There are no birds to be seen on the water although a loud hiccough from a reed bed reveals the presence of a Coot. Robins are singing, numerous Blue Tits chirrip as they search for grubs, a Chiffchaff is at the top of a Spanish Chestnut. A small valley runs down to the lake. On the far side is the ancient Quarry Oak, which has a girth of 37 feet and is considered to be over 1000 years old. Here there are more Spanish Chestnuts. Through a gate into another pasture where a line of Lime trees have been planted in a long double row across the middle. These appear to lead to some Hawthorns seemingly planted as an orchard. Some think they were rootstock for medlars. When the medlars died, the rootstock took over and the Hawthorns grew. To the south is a rise and Spanish Chestnuts grow along it. A couple of Wellingtonias stand between the rows. This is a tree lovers paradise. The textures in the chestnuts’ trunks and limbs are wonderful. These trees are in better condition than this in the field above the castle. The path now enters the Spanish Chestnut Avenue. Here many of these trees are showing their age with bare and fallen limbs and several fallen trees. Brambles and nettles cover the fallen trunks.
Across the bottom of a ploughed field. At the top of the field, on the south-western corner of Ladyacre Plantation is an old Oak with numerous bare limbs. On one is a Peregrine Falcon watching the field. Into another field which seems mainly Dock and Redshank. Over a stile into another pasture. A Greenfinch sits atop a Hawthorn. On the far side of the fields is a small covered reservoir. Over a couple of stiles into School Wood. Another reservoir in concrete stands behind Pierrepont House. The trees in the wood, Ash, Oak, Beech, Sycamore and some Hazel appear to be less than a century old. Lucton School lies across the fields and the main road. The path shows evidence of once being paved in stone. It was once Lucton Drive, forming the route from the South Lodge to the castle. The drive became disused in 1923. Down steps to a lane. Rounded ended piers of a bridge stand either side of the lane. This is the Gothick Bridge which carried the drive over Lucton Lane but the span was removed in 1947/8. The lane rises past Lucton Common, now just pasture. Past Hill Farm and the old barn back into School Wood on a track. Across the common is Pokehouse Wood. According to the folklorist Ella Mary Leather Poke derives from Puck, one of the many synonyms for fairy. It is said that the spirits and will o’ the wisps of the wood led travellers astray, so a local man donated a parcel of land to pay for a stipend to pay a man to ring the bell at Aymestrey Church for an hour at sunset to guide any travellers. On up the track. This part of the wood is a conifer plantation. A row of Oaks, some several hundred years old runs across the common to Pokehouse Wood.
Past a large stack of logs from the clearing of the conifer plantation to to restore the wood pasture. To the west is Common Wood. A noisy Raven lands in one of the remaining conifers. A flock of twittering Linnets moves through the trees. The track turns eastwards beside an ancient Oak. A fair number of Speckled Wood butterflies are flitting along the track. At the junction of the castle to Croft Ambrey path I head back down the hill. A Chiffchaff calls. Fungi grow under a Silver Birch. As usual, identification is a challenge, they are probably Pine Mesophaeum, Hebeloma mesophaeum but they could be one of the Cortinarius family. A pair of Dunnocks feed on the track. Onto the Spanish Chestnut field. A rabbit disappears into the hedgerow. A number of Ravens are flying over. A Great Spotted Woodpecker lands at the top of a conifer in Park House and stands there, looking around whilst calling. Route
Thursday – Home – The weather forecast says rain most of the day. As it happens it is more showers. The morning is spent preparing apples for cider then pressing them, which continues after lunch. The spent apple pulp is put in the compost bins, which attracts a Hornet. The large, yellow faced insect moves around the bins and I keep my distance. A couple of days ago Kay found a Speckled Bush-cricket, Leptophyes punctatissima, something I have never seen, on the lid of one of the bins. The tomatoes are almost finished now. I have sown some Pak Choi and Choi Sum greens which have sprouted and are now in the greenhouse. I bought some spring cabbage seedlings as my attempts at sowing seed has failed. Courgettes and beans keep coming and coming….
Friday – Bridgnorth-Quatford – Mist covers the land. Across the Clee Hills. It clears briefly, leaving the fields in blazing sunshine then descends again as I enter Bridgnorth. Towards the town down Salop Street, past Georgian and newer and older houses. A house abutting a Georgian house has a notch in the wall near the roof which allows a window in the wall of the larger house to see down the street. A row of houses dated 1879 have mock timber-framed attic gables. Down to the junction of Pound Street. The Whitburn Grange Hotel stands opposite The Bell and Talbot inn, which is early 19th century. Old Smithfield is a supermarket and car parks with the hospital at the far side. The street, now Whitburn Street, narrows. Past Carpenters Cottage, a late 16th century timber-framed house, previously the Carpenter’s Arms Inn. The Majestic is still a cinema although looking rather tatty. Shops here are mainly occupied although they are stuff retailers and services except for a fine looking butchers with a window full of pies. The King’s Head pub and brewery is 16th century. Into High Street in High Town. The Town Hall has a market in the open lower floor. The building was formerly a barn in Much Wenlock. A plaque below the clock gable states Thomas Burne Roger Taylor Ano. Dom. 1652. Many of the shops are in old timber-framed buildings, early 17th century with the occasional later Georgian infill. The Market Hall, 1855, is now full of shops. A lane runs past an old bakery, now dwellings. This leads to Castle Terrace and the Cliff Railway. Down the Cartway. The Wesleyan Chapel is dated 1843. Down the hill is a brick wall covering caves that were occupied as dwellings until 1856. Down the hill to Low Tow