Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Lambourn to Welford (Lambourn Valley Way 2)

The river Lambourn on the outskirts of Lambourn

We resumed our journey along the Lambourn Valley in Lambourn (Stage 1 is described here) and soon crossed the river of the same name on the edge of the town. It was tiny and full of aquatic plants.

We followed a field-edge path parallel to the road and were immediately delighted to see lotso f butterflies: lots of Meadow Browns and Ringlets and a pleasing number of Marbled Whites. We skirted Eastbury along an enclosed path at the back of the village - rather a shame in soem ways because the village looked rather pretty when we drove through it on the way to Lambourn.

From Eastbury we followed a short section of dismantled railway and then another field-edge path. This was the view back along the valley.

We passed near to the late Norman church of East Garston (with the inevitable late Victorian restoration) - on the right in the view back shown below.

Following Lambourn Valley Way sign posts we found ourselves routed away from the roiute marked on the map and and climbing up a steep slope of a side valley. We were a bit disgruntled at first, but gradually we realised that we now had a wonderful view down over the Lambourn valley. This gave us a different perspective than being down in it.

The were cornfields on both sides of our path and I rather liked this image of a lone poppy.

We descended again to rejoin the mapped path and the river at Maidencourt Farm. The river at this point was much wider and faster flowing, albeit with plenty of aquatic plants.

We followed the bank to a spot where the river widened briefly - perhaps enough for some water play. There was a a handy seat too.

This was a very pleasant section with some new butterflies: Large Skippers, Commas and Small Tortoiseshells. We emerged onto the road at Great Shefford and then climbed path East Shefford House to reach the pretty hamlet of Weston.

Soon after this we entered the grounds of Welford Park, a red brick 17th century house, still owned by descendants of Richard Jones who had it built. The grounds are open in February each year so that visitors can enjoy a fine display of snowdrops. We tramped across the grassy park and were rewarded with a distant view of the house with the church of St Gregory behind it.

The church has an interesting history. It was built in 1852-55 to replace a Norman church with a 13th century stone spire with eight dormers. The new church's tower and spire are an exact replica of the previous, although everything beneath them is new. A later brief glance from the road suggested that the tower and spire are the most notable features of the church. One can't help but wonder why they did it.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: 7.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury & Hungerford).

Rating: four stars. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Athelhampton House

The entrance front

The house dates from 1485 when it was built for Sir William Martyn, the Lord Mayor of London. It has changed hands a number of times, but has now been owned by three generations of the Cooke family. Your first sight of it is the Great Hall, to the right, and the Parlour Range to the left which was added in the first quarter of the 16th century. At this point it is difficult to judge its overall size.

We especially admired the interior of the Great Hall with its impressive half hammer-beam roof dating from 1485.

We were also very taken with the Gallery on the top floor. This contains paintings by a Russian painter known as Marevna (Marie Vorobieff), who was married to Rodney Phillips, the owner of the house prior to the Cooke family. She seems to have had an interesting life in Paris from 1912 where she was part of an artistic circle including Chaim Soutine, Modigliani, Braque, Picasso and Diega Rivera, by whom she had a son. The paintings at Athelhampton seem to have been done late in her life in a cubist or pointilliste style. This is the largest example.

Marevna is in the bottom left with Diego Rivera behind her. Rivera of course was later married to Frida Kahlo.

Going now into the gardens, designed in 1891 by Inigo Thomas, we started in the beautiful small enclosure called the Corona.

And moved from here to the Great Court with its impressive Yew pyramids.

We walked across the front of the house to reach the lovely Doveote.

And now we could see the whole of the left side of the house, its full size now at last apparent. It is fairly obvious that most of this is more recent. Pevsner says it dates from around 1895 and 1920-21.

We saw a little of the mighty River Puddle or Piddle and wandered through the large kitchen garden, now being refurbished, and the Private Garden on the other side of the house.

We finished in classic country-house-visiting style by buying some plants, an autobiographical book by Marevna (which I have been enjoying) and some Notelets.

Conditions: a warm but cloudy day.

Distance: negligible.

Rating: four stars. Delightful house and gardens. The staff were uniformly friendly and helpful.

Sunday, 10 June 2018


Pembroke Castle from the Mill Bridge

We are staying near Pembroke, visiting old friends, and clearly we have to have a look around the town. We start our exploration at the castle, where we also acquire a copy of the Town Trail which I had found online here.

The castle, where Henry VII was born, dates back to the Norman Conquest. The first earth and timber castle was built in 1093, although there is speculation that an iron age hill fort preceded it. It was replaced by a stone castle in the early 13th century and this was progressively enlarged up to the mid 15th century.

This is the initial view that we had as we approached along Westgate Hill.

Once we walked through the Barbican and the Great Gatehouse I was delighted to see my first Red Admiral of the year - an unexpected delight.

Once inside we climbed the Henry VII tower and enjoyed this marvelous view to the north. On the left is the well-named Great Tower. It was commenced in 1204 and is 25m high and 16m in diameter. It is a rare example of a circular keep.

We had a very enjoyable ramble around the castle building, although we resisted going underground to see the Wogan, a vast natural cavern which was a shelter for cave dwellers during the ice age.

Emerging from the castle we turned right to reach Main Street and pass St Mary's church. On the left was Pembroke Town Hall with its splendid clock tower. The building dates back to 1820.

Heading along Main St we came to Orielton Terrace, a lovely group of presumably Georgian or early Victorian houses.

On the right after this was the rather handsome Congregationalist (?) church which we were warmly invited to visit by some very friendly worshippers.

A bit further on was the former Wesley Chapel, now an antiques centre.

We doubled back here and turned left into the New Way, the first street to breach the town walls and turning left at the bottom follow the line of the former walls. We passed the Gun Tower, one of six defensive towers.

Further along was the Gazebo. The base was originally another defensive tower onto which a gazebo was added in the 19th century. It has lately been restored and is now a rather lovely private house.

We headed back up towards Main St and then followed Black Horse Walk which brought us down to the Upper Mill Pond, with the 13th century Barnard's Tower on the right.

The pond had impressive wildlife including a family of Moorhens, herons and Cormorants. A passing local advised us that there was a great view point behind the reed beds and I duly took advantage of this excellent tip off.

We headed along the side of the pond and reached the bridge at the end. This offered a final, splendid view of the great castle.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. The castle was really impressive, but the town seemed to be in decline. We spent time discussing how it might be revived, but without coming up with any very convincing ideas. WE thought its remote location was probably the core challenge to renewal.

Saturday, 9 June 2018


Angle looking back from the east

Having just enjoyed a very nice walk around Freshwater West, we have moved onto Angle, where after a nice lunch in the cafe we are heading east around Angle Bay towards Milford Haven

As we get closer to the headland we see an island with a rectangular building on top - what can it be?

Close up it is revealed as Thorne Island with a fort on top dating from the 1850s, an era when there was great concern about the expansionist ideas of the French Emperor Napoleon III. The fort was converted into a hotel in 1947 and in 2001 there were plans to spend four million pounds to reopen the hotel with a five star rating and a cable car to allow access from the mainland. These do not seem to have materialised.

We continued around the corner into Milford Haven, where another fort sits on a small island in the middle of the waterway. This is Stack Rock Fort.

It was built in 1850-52 as a three gun fort and upgraded in 1859 with a new building that completely encased the original gun tower. It was one of many fortifications against an attack by the French, and specifically to defend  the Royal Naval Dockyard at Pembroke Dock. It is now derelict, but you can buy it for a mere £400,000. More information here.

At this point we decided to retrace our steps to Angle and to then continue westwards round to Angle Point, where there is a picturesque ruined watch tower.

There were many wildflowers on the headland, but all defied our ability to identify them. Suggestions would be gratefully received.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: maybe 4 miles.

Rating: four stars. A very interesting and picturesque walk.

Freshwater West

We are in West Wales visiting our friends Mark and Maggie and enjoying a pre-lunch stroll along Freshwater West beach. It has been raining and is a bit overcast, but the beach is a lovely sight.

So too are the beautiful pebbles at the back of the beach.

We walk to the end of the bay which offers us this view back.

We head inland across the dunes and quickly spot this lovely Pyramidal Orchid in the long grass ...

... quickly followed by this pretty Common Stork's-bill ...

... and then some Southern Marsh-orchids.

I was pleased to see a number of butterflies: mainly Common Blues, still very pretty despite the name. This is a male.

And here is the blue form of the female (often they have more brown and less blue)

Conditions: grey, becoming brighter.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four stars.