Breinton Springs

I visited Breinton Springs in 2015 and blogged about it in Wye Walk – Part Three. I returned in May 2018 and have only just now decided to write about it. In 2012 the spring had been buried under a landslip following heavy rain. After my visit in 2015, but unrelated to it, the National Trust decided to rescue it.

Photo of Breinton Spring.

Breinton Spring obscured by a landslip 2015

They removed fallen and damaged trees, excavated soil which was then used to form a causeway and shore up the banks. Stones were gathered up and used to create a step near to the spring. The causeway was also formed from brash and cordwood log to allow for drainage and improve access. They also cleared away a lot of human rubbish. In my opinion the area is now much improved.

Photo of breinton springs

Breinton Springs restored 2018

It was a frosty morning in May when I visited, the meadow was full of diamante cobwebs. photo of cobweb with frost

Mist rose gently from the river.mist above river

The cattle were already well into their breakfast as the sun broke up the haze.

Ever get the feeling you are being watched?cow looking through hedge

The hamlet of Breinton is a short distance from the city of Hereford adjacent to the River Wye. The nearby orchard and St Michael’s church are on the site of an abandoned medieval village. The spring itself is surrounded by stonework indicating it’s importance at some of church silhouette

Near to the church are the remains of a moated mound which consisted of walls and a stone gateway dating from Norman times. It is thought that the Cathedral’s Chancellor was based there around 1150 AD before moving into the city in the 13th century. At this point it seems to have been used as a stock enclosure. A church was first built here around 1200 AD but was rebuilt between 1866 and 1870.orchard fenced

The area around Breinton is very rich agricultural land. Irrigation channels were dug across the meadows from the river and it was a popular drovers’ route for bringing livestock to Hereford. The river could be forded nearby and there were ponds for watering animals. The area is still rich with nurseries and orchards associated with Wyevale and Bulmers. Woodpeckers flourish in the orchards giving rise to the brand of Bulmers cider.orchard with sun rising

Buried in the churchyard is Dr Henry Graves Bull (1818 – 1885) founder of the British Mycological Society and the Woolhope Field Naturalist’s Club (WFNC). The area around Breinton is considered to be diverse in habitat and wildlife consisting of woodland, grassland, riverbank, orchards, hedgerows and different types of farmland. It was a favourite stamping ground for botanists from the  WFNC who discovered rare flowering plants, fungi and mosses here, presumably they actually trod carefully rather than stamping. photo of flowers and grasses

In 2012 over 200 different flowering plants were identified including rarities such as Shepherd’s Needle and Corn Buttercup.

Illustration of flower

Shepherds Needle – Scandix pecten-veneris Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé ”Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz” 1885, Permission granted under GFDL by Kurt Stueber

The hedgerows themselves consist of a diverse variety of shrubs and trees and create vital habitat and corridors for wildlife. Breinton provides a home for foxes, badgers, otters, squirrels, moles, hedgehogs, bats and birds such as kingfishers, skylarks, woodpeckers, yellowhammers and buzzards. The ponds host a variety of amphibians such as great crested newts and there is a rich diversity of insects including moths and butterflies.hawthorn tree on riverbank

A bat survey in 2013 identified six different bat species; soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, myotis, long-eared and serotine bats.

This bucolic idyll also inspired Herefordian artist Brian Hatton (1887 – 1916). Ironically he suffered from hay fever as a child and was often packed off to Swansea for his health. He was killed during WWI in Egypt. His paintings captured the pastoral scenes around Breinton; sun soaked harvests and wildflower meadows the backdrops for his rural workers, gypsies and horses. You can learn more about his life and see more of his paintings here.

painting of corn stooks in the sunshine

Corn Stooks – Brian Hatton 1908

What springs from Breinton is a small pocket of history, evoking bygone days when the countryside was full of life rather than the chemically treated sterile monoculture we have become accustomed to.


Hereford in the Snow

Following on from my post about the poppy display at Hereford Cathedral in the snow, here are some more photos from my walk into Hereford City during the Mini Beast from the East’s blizzard.Photo of blossom in snow

I thought this blossom looked very pretty in the snow. At first I thought it might have been blackthorn, but there were no thorns and some green shoots were showing, so I expect it is some sort of cherry plum type thing.Photo of blossom in snow

Far more easy to identify is Holy Trinity church, a Grade II listed building dating from around 1870.Photo of Holy Trinity Church

In the grounds stands a memorial cross dedicated to the men of the parish who died in WWI and WWII. For more information on the memorial, the wording and the names inscribed see this website.Photo of war memorial in churchyard

Regular readers will be familiar with the Bulmers woodpecker. This is my only photograph of it in the snow.Photo of Bulmers woodpecker in snow

Next to it is the WWI memorial poppy bench.Photo of WWI poppy bench

Another opportunity to save my soul; Eignbrook church. It is another lovely building.Photo of Eignbrook church in snow

Now we reach the old medieval walls that used to encircle the City of Hereford. Not much of a deterrent to ingress these days, unlike our traffic system. Note the snow squished daffodils.Photo of part of old wall in snow

This part of the wall was the site of one of the entrances into Hereford and the area is still called Eign Gate.Photo of Eign Gate Hereford in snow

Now we come to the cathedral, it is currently hosting the WWI poppy display “Weeping Window” as mentioned in a previous post.Photo of poppy display Hereford Cathedral

Skipping along to the nearby Old Bridge, we get views of the River Wye ….Photo of River Wye from bridge

… and the other side of the cathedral.Photo of cathedral from bridge

Walking down by the river and sheltering under the New Bridge we have the Old Bridge and cathedral in one direction.Photo of old bridge and cathedral

Hunderton bridge emerges through the blizzard in the other direction.Photo of hunderton bridge in blizzard

Back at the cathedral, Sir Edward Elgar patiently waits for the pot holes to be repaired before it is safe to cycle home to Malvern.

Also left out in the cold is Bully, the sculpture of the iconic Hereford bull.Photo of hereford bull sculpture in snow

He is guarding the Old House. It strikes me that we Herefordians are not very imaginative when it comes to naming things! Photo of Old House in snow

Oh well, time to trudge back home for some hot chocolate.Photo of old house in snow

Blackfriars Cross

In addition to the Whitefriars Cross mentioned in my previous post, The Cross at Whitecross, Hereford also has a Blackfriars Cross.Photo of Blackfriars Preaching Cross

This is to be found closer to the centre of Hereford City in the ruins of the Dominican Blackfriars Monastery. The friary was established in 1322, with the preaching cross in the cemetery. The preacher would stand inside the structure and proselytize to whoever gathered to listen. The nearby Coningsby Hospital was originally built in 1200 by the Knights’ Hospitallers, the crusading knights of the Order of St John.Photo of Blackfriars monastery

The preaching cross is a very rare example, I have read that it is the only surviving example. The cross was pretty much just a ruin when the famous artist Turner painted it. As with the Whitefriars Cross, the Victorians restored the preaching cross in 1864. They seemed to be fond of using their new found industrial skills to take care of our history.

Painting by Turner of Blackfriars Cross

Blackfriars Cross, Hereford (A Monument) ?circa 1793-4 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Gallery Oldham – Charles Lees Watercolour Collection , Photo: © Tate, London 2017

In 1538 the monastery was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry VIII disbanded such properties to raise money for his military campaigns after his spectacular falling out with the Pope. It was also considered by many that there were too many religious orders owning too much property and wealth.Photo of Blackfriars Monastery

These photos were taken on a film camera in the 1990s and digitally scanned.

The Cross at Whitecross

There is an area of Hereford known as Whitecross, named after the cross standing in the middle of the roundabout where two main routes into the city converge. I passed the cross during my stroll during the blizzard mentioned in a previous post; Snow! In Hereford!Photo of Whitecross

Originally known as the Whitefriars Cross, after the religious order, it was erected in the 14th Century. The hexagonal base is still the original, made of local sandstone, whereas the cross itself was restored in 1864. It required further repairs in 2005 after a car crashed into it.Photo of Whitecross

The base consists of eight steps, one of which is below ground level, a pedestal and socket stone. The pedestal has six recessed panels which were decorated and include the coats of arms of the Charleton family. It is topped by a foliated Latin cross. Lewis de Charleton was the Bishop of Hereford 1361-9 and it was he who instigated the erection of the cross.Photo of Whitecross

The purpose of the standing cross was to mark the position of a market place that was set up during the second outbreak of plague when people were too afraid to enter the City. Items brought out of the City were dipped in large resevoirs of vinegar kept on either side of the cross to disinfect them. Also coins were left in the vinegar vats to pay for food that had been brought to the outskirts of the City from the countryside. This second outbreak of plague reduced the population of Hereford from 3,000 to just over 1,000.Photo of Whitecross

The second plague pandemic is better known as The Black Death, it reached England in 1360, lasted for three years and killed approximately 800,000 people, around 20% of the population. It was a pneumonic plague caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria. During the first outbreak in 1349 the relics of St Thomas Cantilupe were taken from Hereford Cathedral and paraded around the City in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart the outbreak.Photo of Whitecross

Snow! In Hereford!

It’s not that it never snows in Hereford, but it seems to be becoming increasingly rare. When it does snow it tends to be fleeting and doesn’t stick.Photo of snow

However, 10th December 2017 in the wee small hours it started to snow and it didn’t stop all day. I decided to take a short walk early in the morning as I hadn’t been expecting it to last. The street lights were still lit illuminating the falling snow.Photo of snow

Hereford is situated in what meteorologists call a “rain shadow area”. Most of our weather is blown in from the Atlantic, the moist air hits the Welsh mountains where it is forced to rise. The barometric pressure is lower at high altitudes which has a cooling effect. This condenses the moist air into water droplets which are shed as rain or, when it is very cold, snow. Once over the Welsh mountains the less moist air descends and warms and so is more able to contain what moisture remains. Hence Hereford gets a lot less rain and snow than the Brecon Beacons.Photo of snow

Although Hereford did get a lot of snow, 18cm/7″ in our garden (20cm was recorded in Hereford), Sennybridge in the Brecon Beacons was deluged with 33cm/13″. In fact Hereford’s climate is described as being wet, just not as wet as Wales.Photo of snow

I had been expecting to see lots of dogs gamboling about in the snow, but the place was deserted. There were footprints so I was not the first. I hate ruining pristine snow.Photo of snow

I had also been hoping to take a sparkling snowy sunrise photo, but if anything it seemed to get darker as the snowfall became faster and heavier.Photo of snow

What even is snow anyway? Apparently snowflakes are formed when water droplets are supercooled around particles in the atmosphere. The particular shape the crystals form depends on temperature, moisture density and a whole load of other complex variables.Photo of snow

Although the ice that forms snow is clear the crystal shapes reflect light around causing snow to appear white.Photo of snow

Snowflakes tend to fall between 1 – 4 mph and each one is unique.Photo of snow

Here we are at the bridge. Hopefully the troll is still asleep and the snow will muffle my clippity-clopping and trip-trapping.

The babbling brook bubbles along through the blanketed banks.

The indigenous people of Nunavik in Canada have 53 words for snow, including “qanik” meaning falling snow.Photo of snow

At this point I am starting to not be able to feel my face.Photo of snow

The trees look pretty though, very Christmassy.Photo of snow

Farewell bridge.Photo of snow

Hello civilisation … maybe.Photo of snow

The driving conditions were dire, but there were still a few people who felt the need to venture out on a Sunday morning. Perhaps the people we depend upon such as emergency or medical personnel.Photo of snow

I did see a gritter lorry with a snow plough attached, but it didn’t seem to be using it. Snowflakes were also accumulating on the camera lens creating interesting lens flare.Photo of snow

I did contemplate crossing the “road” and walking through the field but it seemed to be getting darker, I was getting colder and the camera was getting wetter.

Photo of snow

I stood under a tree for a bit of shelter. Dear reader, learn from my mistake; a large clump of snow slid off a branch and slithered down the back of my neck.Photo of snow

Still, the streetlights provided some spooky atmospheric lighting to the snow.

Photo of snow

One last look at the snow laden trees.Photo of snow

Then another, then it was time to head home.Photo of snow

For those of you who like your snow moving, I posted a short clip on You Tube here:

Suburban Stroll

I have recently been strolling around the suburbs of part of Hereford. One of the things that I have noticed is that old school buildings have bell towers. Presumably this harks back to the days when people didn’t have watches, or possibly even clocks and were summoned to school by the unwelcome peeling of bells. This one is the bell tower of Scudamore School from two different angles.

This is Holmer School, as well as the ornate brickwork, the rather fine bell tower was said to be haunted.

Photo of Holmer School

This chapel doesn’t have a bell tower, but I rather liked the window. It used to be a Methodist chapel, but is now used by Christadelphians. This is a Christian group created by John Thomas in the nineteenth century. They have a reputation for helping refugees; from the WWII Kindertransport rescuing Jewish children from Nazis, to the present Syrian refugee crisis.

Photo of church window

This is Widemarsh Common, publicly owned land run by the local council. It is mainly used for football, cricket and dog walking. In 1679 John Kemble was hanged, drawn and quartered here. In 1678 there were rumours of a plot by Catholics to assasinate Charles II and install his Catholic brother James to the throne of England. John Kemble was a priest named in this dubious plot. After being arrested by Captain Scudamore (another illustrious Hereford family) the elderly priest was strapped to a horse and taken to London. He was cleared of involvement in the plot but it was decided that being a Catholic priest at the time was treasonous enough. He had to walk back to Hereford to meet his fate. He forgave his executioner beforehand which perhaps explains why he was allowed to die on the gallows rather than be cut down early to be drawn and quartered. Scudamore’s daughter was cured of throat cancer and his wife recovered her hearing after praying to Kemble and so John Kemble was beatified in 1929 and canonised in 1970.

Photo of Widemarsh Common

It is pretty thick with religious buildings in these parts. This is Saint Mary’s, an Anglican church. A rather dull building has been made more interesting with the addition of a fancy blue bell tower.

Photo of church bell

These are views across Hereford Racecourse. There has been a racecourse here since 1771, it was briefly closed but reopened again this year. There is also a Leisure Centre offering various sporty treats.

I believe I have found the local stocks! A medieval punishment of humilation whereby the transgressor would be held in place while rotten vegetables were thrown at them. Actually I have no idea what this is.

Photo of object looking like stocks

Nobody strike a match! Nestled amongst the housing estates, a petroleum storage facility. What could possibly go wrong?

Photo of Petroleum Storage

These pink flowers, which I later found out are Spiraea japonica, a member of the Rosaceae family, brightened up the verges. Presumably a garden escapee.

Photo of pink flowers

And of course, there is always a cat to be met on every walk. This one is trying to camouflage itself by pretending its eyes are unripe blackberries.

Photo of cat hiding in brambles

The babbling Yazor Brook, many many years ago I spotted a water vole in this brook. Maybe with a lot of effort they can be coaxed back.

Photo of Yazor Brook

Victoria House

One of my early morning suburban strolls took me around the grounds of Victoria House in Hereford. A once fine building falling into dereliction.Photo of Victoria House

It was built in 1912 to accommodate the resident surgeon of the Victoria Eye Hospital. This hospital used to be next to it, but has sadly been closed and turned into residential accommodation. Victoria House was then used as an administrative centre for the local health authority. Several years ago they also moved out and the building has been left empty.Photo of Victoria House

There are plans to knock it down and build a retirement village or some such. However, many local people feel that it is an iconic and significant building. Although they failed to get it listed, they would prefer that the building be preserved and restored.Photo of Victoria House

A local school backs onto this building and they have objected to the planning proposals on the grounds that, “… if the site is developed as proposed it will back immediately onto an area within the school grounds that has been developed as an outdoor classroom and as a haven for wildlife. It highlights the importance of the area for improving children’s understanding of their environment .” I should imagine the bunny I encountered would agree!Photo of rabbitThe gulls also seem to have made a home in the chimneys.Photo of gull on chimney

I have also found that if you look for buddleia, you will find it.Photo of buddleiaOne last look while it still stands.Photo of Victoria House

Buddleia Invasion!

While walking around the City of Hereford, it is always worth looking upwards. There are some nice old buildings with fancy bits on them.Photo of old building in Hereford

There are also buddleia (buddleja) growing out of the drainpipes. Photo of Buddleia in drainpipe

Buddleia is also known as butterfly bush, as many species of butterfly are highly attracted to the flowers. A lot of people buy these plants for their gardens. They were introduced to Europe from China during the nineteenth century. They are considered to be an invasive species. It outcompetes native species and reduces biodiversity.Photo of buddleia flower

Here it is slowly invading a carpark.Photo of buddleia by carpark

And here it is again clambering inexorably into the underpass, ready to disperse its seeds onto unwary passers by. If you are wondering about the graffiti I mentioned it in a previous post, Urban Scrawl. At least the butterflies will be happy though.Photo of buddleia over underpass

All the Fun of the Fair

Ah the sickly sweet smell of candy floss and fear; it must be the May Fair!Photo of Big Wheel Hereford May Fair

There has been a fair held in Hereford for over 900 years. It used to be known as St Ethelbert’s Fair and was run by the Bishop of Hereford. In 1838 control of the Fair was handed to the local authorities in exchange for twelve and a half bushels of wheat paid to the Bishop annually (I understand he is happy to accept a cash alternative these days).Photo of catapult ride Hereford May Fair

So for three days commencing on the Tuesday after the first Monday of May the civic buildings of the Town Hall, library and War memorial are cluttered by various stalls selling hot dogs, burgers and sweet treats, alongside traditional games such as hook-a-duck. Then there are the helter skelters, big wheels and the lunch lurching, retinal detaching catapult thingies.

There is just under five minutes of footage here at the British Pathé site of the May Fair in the 1920’s. The entertainment is more sedate and seems to be exclusively enjoyed by adults! It also looks to be pouring with rain.

Layered Clouds

After a dull and uniformly grey day, the sky suddenly turned interesting this evening. The clouds layered like a cake. This is the view going into Hereford City. Keep following the spire of All Saints Church and you’ll get there.Photo of clouds looking towards Hereford

This is the view for those fleeing Hereford for the safety of the Welsh mountains. Keep going, you’ll hit them at some point.Photo of clouds, looking away from Hereford

Polish Shop Signs

There have been a few Polish shops popping up in Hereford in recent years. Apart from the unfamiliar products and packaging, the most notable thing about them to my mind is their penchant for cute signs.

Painting of raspberries in basket

Sarah Miriam Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the advent of polytunnels the local farming industry is now more intensive with longer growing seasons. Eastern Europeans, particularly Poles, make up a large part of this agricultural labour force. Many Eastern European states joined the EU in 2004 which allows for the free movement of labour. Many also work in skilled jobs such as plumbing and carpentry. Many, many years ago I did a stint of fruit picking and the labour force was mostly made up of students, housewives and travelling folk. One of these travelling folk was sacked for putting rotten raspberries at the bottom of her punnets. She cursed the farm manager with rain that would ruin his crop. Sure enough, the next day torrential rain meant that the raspberries we picked were only good for jam making. I suspect she had been listening to the weather forecast on her transistor radio.

Photo of WW2 Hurricane

“126 Adolfs” – German aeroplanes shot down by No. 303 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Painted on a Hurricane, via Wikimedia Commons

Hereford already had a significant Polish community. In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland bringing the UK into World War II. Many Polish servicemen managed to escape to Britain where they served in the Free Polish Forces. The Polish aircrews were the second largest contingent (after the British) to fight in the Battle of Britain, the decisive campaign that ended Hitler’s ambitions to invade Britain. After helping to liberate Europe from Nazi fascism, these Poles then saw their country consumed by Stalin’s brutal communism and many elected to settle in the UK. As well as there being an RAF (Royal Air Force) base in Hereford, there was also a resettlement camp set up in Foxly, Herefordshire for Polish military personnel and their families many of whom made new lives for themselves in Herefordshire.

St Ethelbert’s Well

Actually, St Ethelbert isn’t well; in fact he’s been dead since 794. This is a holy well dedicated to St Ethelbert.Photo of St Ethelbert's Well

Ethelbert became king of East Anglia around 779. He travelled to the kingdom of Mercia to marry the daughter of King Offa of Mercia, albeit reluctantly.

Photo of coin of Ethelbert

One of the three known coins of Æthelberht II, King of the East Angles
By PHGCOM [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He had a sense of foreboding due to visions, a solar eclipse and an earthquake. King Offa turned out to be the future father-in-law from Hell. Whilst a guest at Offa’s palace at Sutton Walls fort (just north of Hereford) Ethelbert was restrained and beheaded on Offa’s orders, by a chap called Grimbert. It is said that Ethelbert’s severed head tumbled off a cart and cured a man of blindness. The road to canonisation and sainthood had begun.

The site of his well, near to the Castle Green, is said to be where his body was rested on the way to Hereford Cathedral. It has undergone several makeovers over the centuries. The exceedingly worn carving at the top is of a king’s head, but it is not known if it actually represents Ethelbert. It has been dated to the 14th century and probably came from the Cathedral. This was when the canopy was built over the well. The earliest reference to the well itself is 1250. It was cleaned out during the 1800’s and a vast quantity of pins were found. Presumably pilgrims dropped pins into the well in the hope of being cured from ailments. The modern frontage dates from 1904. It was a public drinking fountain until 2000.

Urban Scrawl

Illustration of Rambling Ratz grafittiWhen I walk through urban areas, I like to check out the local graffiti. Sadly Hereford’s isn’t generally anything to be admired. However, I was struck by the lovely calligraphic hand of the latest scribblings in the underpass.

Photo of grafittiI stopped to read it and was delighted to see Star Trek’s Mr Spock, as portrayed by the late and great Leonard Nimoy, being quoted. The silver writing at either end of the underpass reads, “live long and prosper”. Next to this in black it reads at the one end, “Look at life through the windscreen, not the rear view mirror” and at the other end, “I am the sea, the wind, the birds and the bees.   I am you, you are me, we are the dirt, the flowers and the trees”. The overhanging bramble is a nice serendipitous touch.Photo of grafitti

This habit of scribbling on things seems so ubiquitous. It happens all over the world and throughout history. The word comes from the Italian graffiato, meaning scratched, and refers to drawing or writing illicitly in a public place. The earliest example is to be found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Spray painting using hands as stencils found on cave walls has been dated to 39,000 years ago; 2,000 years older than European cave art. Technically this probably isn’t graffiti as it is doubtful there were any laws against such things at the time. Murals such as these are created with permission to advertise shops or raise awareness of events such as the WWI commemorations.

Graffiti scratched onto stones in Syria and Jordan between the 1st and 4th centuries AD are the only examples of the now defunct Safaitic language. The catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti at Pompeii, these included political slogans, messages of love and curses.

Photo of grafitti on high buildingGraffiti in the Reichstag, made by Soviet Red Army soldiers when they captured Berlin at the end of WWII, is preserved by the Germans. During the 20th century, aerosol cans of paint were invented. These were most famously and effectively used on New York subway trains. In the 1980’s stencil graffiti became popular. The latest innovation is environmentally friendly graffiti using moss. Some graffiti “artists” go to great lengths, or in this case heights, to display their personal “tags”

There is fierce debate as to whether graffiti is art, an expression of freedom of speech or merely vandalism. In the UK the Antisocial Behaviour Act of 2003 came into force; the Prime Minister, Tony Blair declared “Graffiti is not art, it’s crime.” This Act can be used against the owner of any property that is “defaced” which might explain why so many priceless Banksy’s were scrubbed into oblivion.

Photo of Banksy Rat Photographer

By Szater (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here is an example of a Banksy – a rat taking a photograph. I don’t know why that appeals to me!

So, is graffiti merely vandals creating an untidy mess; is it an important historical source of social commentary; or is it artistic expression? Perhaps it depends on the graffiti. Whatever it is, it is clear that it has always been important to leave ones “mark”. Perhaps this blog is just one egotistical piece of virtual vandalism in the digital world?

Wye Walk – Part Two

Photo of Hereford cathedral by the River WyeAfter a ducktastic start to our damp bimble in Wye Walk – Part One, here we are trundling along the tree lined banks of the River Wye in Hereford City.

On our right is Hereford Cathedral, home to the chained library and Mappa Mundi. The skyline and river reflections are dominated by its medieval tower, 218 steps or 43 metres of it. A recent archeological dig in the Cathedral grounds has revealed a possible 9th – 10th century Saxon Palace along with the remains of Saxon burials. These include a Saxon child and a possible Norman knight; more details here.

Photo of Sculpture of Dan the BulldogI have already mentioned the links between the composer Edward Elgar and Hereford in Urban Bimble Part Two. He crops up again with this sculpture of a bulldog carved from a tree stump. The hound in question is Dan, pet of the cathedral organist George Sinclair, during Elgar’s time. Elgar’s 1899 composition, “Enigma Variations” consists of 14 parts, each inspired by someone he was attached to. Number Eleven is dedicated to Mr Sinclair and an episode whereby Dan the bulldog falls into the River Wye. Not renowned for being water dogs, Dan nevertheless manages to swim upstream and scramble back up onto the bank, whereby he gave a triumphant bark. George and Dan were apparently inseparable and Elgar was very fond of them both. You can listen to Elgar’s Enigma Variations here, the relevant one is XI GRS. As to what the “Enigma” actually was, we shall never know. How enigmatic!

Photo of the Old BridgeNow we come to an old bridge, creatively named “The Old Bridge”. The original crossing would have been a wooden one, a stone bridge was erected around 1100. This was rebuilt in 1490 and widened by the Victorians in 1826. Until 1782 it had a gatehouse, Hereford being a walled city. During the English Civil War, Hereford was on the side of the Royalists; that is the rich important people of Hereford were on the side of the Royalists, the ordinary peasants weren’t asked their opinion. In 1645 the Scottish army fighting on behalf of the Parliamentarians laid siege to Hereford. The Scots were under the command of Alexander Leslie, the Earl of Leven who complained about the state of photo of old bridgeHerefordshire roads, “… the Army is not able to march above eight miles a day, though they begin to march at the Sun rising, and continue till ten at night ..” – so not much change there then. The Scottish cannon managed to breach the wall, but the people of Hereford took stones from one of the arches of the bridge to repair the damage. This is why the rebuilt arch is different to the others, can you spot which one? The Scots eventually tired of the place and went home. The Parliamentarians won the war, although the monarchy was later re-established with diminished powers (this is why Prince Charles’ letters lobbying the UK Government are considered controversial today).Photo of the Old Bridge Part of the old wall still stands today with a Scottish cannon ball embedded in it. Hereford did eventually build a second transport crossing over the Wye in 1966, it is called … wait for it … The New Bridge. Actually it is officially called Greyfriars Bridge, but we yokels are easily confused. If we cross the road and continue along the little footpath, we get a nice view of the other side of the Old Bridge with the cathedral behind it. These two photos were taken on a sunnier day some years ago.

Well it has been a bit of a dank and dismal day, hence the poorly lit photographs. However, we are rewarded with a lovely sunset as we head for our favourite fish and chip shop on the way home. For my American readers, chips in the UK are nice, fat, greasy fries and an excellent way to replace any calories we may have lost while rambling. If you are very good I may take you for a short bimble up-river later.Photo of sunset Hereford

Wye Walk – Part One

Wye walk? Why indeed? The Wye is the name of the river that flows through Hereford City and this post follows on from Urban Bimble – Part Three.Photo of River Wye

The Wye begins its 134 mile journey in the Welsh mountains at Plynlimon. It was on these wild, boggy slopes that Owain Glyndwr won his first victory against the English in 1401, during the Welsh Revolt. The river meanders down through Wales, into Hereford, back into Wales, past Tintern Abbey and Chepstow before ending at the Severn Estuary and flowing out into the Bristol Channel. Two parts of the Wye are Sites of Special Scientific Interest due to its importance as a wildlife channel, particularly for salmon, and the other habitats that it supports. It is popular with kayakers, anglers and walkers.

We shall be concentrating on the small part of the Wye that passes through Hereford City. We start our bimble at the Duck Pond; a rather murky pool full of debris, but popular with the ducks. Most of the ducks are the common dabbling duck known as the mallard. The name is probably from the old French malart, meaning wild drake. Most domestic ducks are descended from these. The female is a dull brown, so she can nest without being too obvious to predators, while the drake has a stunning shimmery green head and neck. The mallard drake has a reputation for being a rather unpleasant sexual predator, harrassing females and becoming notorious after a documented case of homosexual necrophilia, those of you who are not of a nervous disposition may read about it here.

For those of you wondering why ducks don’t get cold feet, it is all down to heat exchange. It has been calculated, by people cleverer than me, that mallards only lose 5% of their body heat through their feet. Heat will be exchanged more slowly if there is a smaller temperature difference between two objects. In a duck’s foot the warm arteries are close to the cold veins, so the warm arterial blood warms up the veins, whilst the arteries cool. This means that, overall, the blood in a duck’s foot is relatively cool – just warm enough to avoid frostbite, but cool enough to not be so different from the water temperature to lose much heat to it.

photo victoria footbridgeThese ducks are kept company by the inevitable flock of pigeons, grey squirrels and, on this occasion, a moorhen. These are similar to coots but with a distinctive red beak, they’re members of the Rail family and have lobed rather than webbed feet. They tend to feed around the edges of water.

Leaving the waterfowl to their fowl water, we head to the cleaner flow of the Wye itself. We cross over the Victoria footbridge, pausing for views up and down the river. The camera shake is down to the bridge moving as people walk across it, but I’m sure it is perfectly safe! Looking left the river disappears along its course, there are a couple of swans in the distance. A walk down river will often reward you with sightings of herons and kingfishers. Photo of River Wye

Towards the right there are views of Hereford Cathedral, discussed in Urban Bimble – Part Two. Photo of River Wye with cathedral

On the other side of the bridge are the King George V playing fields. George V reigned over the UK 1910 – 1936 and was the grandson of Queen Victoria, cousin to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany. The Russian Revolution and WWI were difficult times for the British royal family!

There are a large number of King George’s fields in the UK, after his death a committee was set up to find a suitable memorial. They arrived at this worthy aim: “To promote and to assist in the establishment throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people.” There were 471 playing fields in total, they must all display the heraldic panel and they can never be taken from us.

In the next exciting episode we shall stroll leisurely along the river and learn about how a soggy bulldog became a musical inspiration and meet an old bridge. Meanwhile I shall leave you with a snippet of William Wordsworth’s musings on the River Wye, from “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, you can read this and more Lyrical Ballads here:

If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,
In darkness, and amid the many shapes
Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

Painting of Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey by J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Where the Cider Apples Grow

One of the pleasures of living in Hereford is the sweet aroma of apples that often fills the air. When Herefordians aren’t growing cattle, they are growing apples. We put these apples to very good use – we make cider out of them.Photo of apple

Cider is an alcoholic drink made from apples (in the USA it is known as hard cider). Under UK law, cider must consist of at least 35% apple juice. Cider apples typically contain more fruit sugars than other apples which aids in the fermentation process. There are different apple cultivars with variations in acidity and tannin, these are blended to provide different levels of sharpness, bitterness or sweetness.

Photo of Woodpecker sculpture

Bulmer’s Woodpecker Sculpture designed by Walenty Pytel 1969

Traditionally farmers would make cider from their own orchards to provide refreshments for the farm labourers who would help at busy times of the year, such as harvests. Any excess would be sold to local pubs.

In the 17th century, Viscount Scudamore brought back a Redstreak apple pip from France to Hereford and raised his very own cider apple tree. Soon everyone was doing it and Herefordshire was turned into one big orchard. There are still 9,500 acres of cider apple orchards in Herefordshire. Cider overtook ale as the national drink. In 1763 the Prime Minister, Lord Bute, introduced a tax on cider resulting in his effigy being burned in market squares across Britain.

In 1887, H. P. Bulmer, the son of a rector, used apples from his father’s orchard to make cider using a neighbour’s press. It proved popular and his elder brother, Fred, turned down a post tutoring the King of Siam’s children to help him with the family cider business. The film, “The King and I” could have been very different! The business flourished and Bulmer now make 65% of all UK cider. Of the apples used in Bulmer’s cider, 90% come from orchards in Herefordshire.Photo of apple blossom

The process starts in the spring when apple blossom is pollinated by insects, usually bees. It is estimated that 75% of all our crops require pollination by insects, birds or bats. Disturbingly, in South West China, bees have been eradicated by intensive farming and pesticide use, this has resulted in farmers having to hand pollinate their blossoms. Studies in Europe and North America have shown that planting strips of wildflowers in orchards boosts the number of pollinators. Photo of cider press

Apples are gathered from the trees during autumn. The juice is extracted by milling, or scratting, the apples into small pieces. Traditionally this would be done using a pressing stone in a circular trough, powered by horse or water. The resulting mash, or pomace, is wrapped in horse hair cloth and pressed in ash racks to squeeze the juice out. The juice is then left to ferment, before being blended and bottled. The waste was often incorporated into animal feedstuffs, but it has been suggested that it could provide a source of renewable green energy.

On Twelfth Night, January 6th, Wassailing festivals are held in honour of the goddess Pomona requesting a bountiful crop. Pomona was a wood nymph in Roman mythology, associated with orchard fruits. There is a statue of her on the Pulitzer Fountain in New York, of all places. She is also name checked in C. S. Lewis’ “Prince Caspian”. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Waes Hael“, meaning good health, the correct response is “Drinc hael“. An example of a wassail is as follows:

“Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!”

Needless to say, copious amounts of cider would be partaken during the ceremony, along with “Wicker Man” style Photo of applefrolicking. In some wassailing ceremonies, a virgin puts some cider soaked toast into the tree branches, then a lot of noise is made by banging pots or firing shotguns. This is supposed to drive any evil into the toast, which will eventually be devoured by robins, thereby saving the tree. I just checked my calendar and yes we are in the 21st century!

For those of you who don’t like to drink cider on an empty stomach – it does have a worrying affect upon the use of one’s legs – there is a recipe for Somerset Cider Apple Cake here, of course you could substitute Hereford cider in the recipe.

Needless to say some of our great poets have been inspired by imbibing cider; Mr Robert Frost describes the bubbles very eloquently in this quote from “In a Glass of Cider”:Photo of cider in glass

“It seemed I was a mite of sediment
That waited for the bottom to ferment
So I could catch a bubble in ascent.
I rode up on one till the bubble burst,
And when that left me to sink back reversed
I was no worse off than I was at first.
I’d catch another bubble if I waited.
The thing was to get now and then elated.”

Fans of Mr Frost’s rustic oratory may also enjoy “After Apple Picking”, the full poem can be found here, but I shall give you a taste:

“For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.”
Just one final point, cider is an alcoholic beverage and can have a detrimental effect upon human health and behaviour. Please do not drink and drive. Make an informed choice when drinking alcohol, there are lots of facts and figures at this website here.

Starling Murmuration

In recent weeks the skies above the Whitecross area of Hereford have turned black every evening just before dusk. A large flock of starlings, called a murmuration, gathers together before heading off to of starlings

These birds collect together for warmth and protection from predators. It is also thought that they are social birds and exchange information with each other. They are very good mimics and have been known to incorporate ring tones into their of starlings

The starling used to be a very common bird in the UK, but it is estimated that their numbers have dropped by 70% due to habitat loss and farmland chemicals. Their numbers are boosted in the winter by migratory birds.

Illustration of starlings

Johann Friedrich Naumann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They are a little smaller than blackbirds and appear quite dark, but their feathers have a very pretty metallic sheen of purple and green that shimmers in the light. They are rather noisy, quarrelsome birds.

There has been a lot of research into these large, aerobatic flocks – basically how do they not crash in to each other? It seems that only the seven nearest starlings are important to each individual and it is a matter of moving when they move. There are more details about the science here.

As ever, Shakespeare has something to say on the matter; he alludes to the bird’s skill at mimicry in Henry IV:

Nay, I will; that’s flat:
He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbad my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’
I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

Indeed, rumour has it that it was a group of Shakespeare fans that introduced the starling to the USA in the 1890’s.

These particular photos were taken from the car park of the Aldi store in Hereford, next to the Great Western Way cycle and footpath. I don’t know where they actually settle to roost.

Painting of Ann Lovell by Holbein

Hans Holbein the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The starling does not crop up often in popular art, unlike the robin for example. However, I did find this painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, dated around 1526-28. It is thought to be of Anne Lovell, the pet squirrel may be because her family’s coat of arms contained squirrels and the starling is thought to be a visual pun on the family home at East Harling, clever eh?

There are some better photos and more information on this blog post here.