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Natural History Museum Library, London




Biodiversity Heritage Library


Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club: Report of an Expedition via the Golden Valley Railway

Place name:

Golden Valley




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May 25th, 1882.


The true lover of Nature will woo her in every mood and phase, so it was a just instinct that selected for the first field meeting of the present season a wet Thursday in May — and, when, on the morning of the 25th the soft whisper of the falling rain and the measured drip from the eaves were punctually heard on turf, and tree, and balcony (what time the intending holiday -maker, losing heart and hope, turns off to sulky sleep), our naturalists, welcoming the music, sprang up as to the early bugle call.


It was a joint meeting of the Woolhope and the Malvern Naturalists' Field Clubs, in the Golden Valley, which, by its new railway, has but recently been made easy of access, and the following members and visitors left the Barr's Court Station by the 9-40 train for Pontrilas, or else joined the party later in the day : — Mr. Thomas Blashill, president of the Woolhope Club ; Mr. G. H. Piper, President of the Malvern Club; the Rev. J. D. la Touche, President of the Caradoc Club, with four friends ; Revs. Sir G. Cornewall, A. W. Horton, C. Burrough, R. H. Warner, R. H. Williams, W. Jellicorse, A. Ley, P. S. Stooke-Vaughan, G. M. Metcalfe, W. Bowell, J. Barker, G. M. Custance and friend, A. G. Jones, D. Price and 0. Bannister, Dr. Bull, and Messrs. J. Riley, J. Tom Burgess, H. Vevers, H. H. Wood, J. Carless, H. C. Moore, J. W. Lloyd, C. Portey, — Hall, O. E. Creswell, A. Purchas, John Lambe, W. D. Robotham, H. Haywood (Moccas), J. S. Haywood, T. Salwey, Edwin Lees, J. J. Reynolds, Edward Goodwin, P. R. Kempson, Bernard Denadine, — Dawson, E. A. Taunton, Mr. Borton (of Christchurch, New Zealand), and Mr. Theo. Lane (Secretary).


You enter the district of Pontrilas, and the train, first winding round a wooded hill, takes a pretty straight course for some ten miles, to its termination near the head of the valley at Dorstone. It is a district enclosed between two ranges of somewhat bold hills, broken up by lateral valleys. A good breadth of tillage land slopes down from the woods to the bottom of the Golden Valley, where flat meadows extend in breadth for half a mile or more. Here, the river Dore, alive with lusty trout, winds and rushes, and sometimes even falls in its haste to join the Monnow, below Pontrilas. Now we can gain some notion of the day's business. Now Dore Abbey, mutilated indeed, but still massive, looms out in sombre gray, amidst the gladsome greenery of the drenched trees. Yonder is the ivy -mantled Tower of Bacton, where Blanche Parry, done in alabaster, stands


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for ever in attendance on her alabaster queen. And here are the "waterworks," or cuts, some miles in length, made by sanguine Rowland Vaughan, to control the vagaries of the river. Next, Vowchurch, where every blade and spray is rejoicing in the welcome moisture and waving towards Heaven for more. And here is Peterchurch, amongst its meadows, knee-deep in verdure. Surely, from its luxuriance, this was well -named the Golden Valley! Roscoe has said of it : " The far-famed Golden Valley, gay with yellow flowers, well deserves such a fairy-tale name"; but now an archaeologist at our elbow reminds us that the ancient British name for the river was Dwr — water — the root of all such river names as the English Derwent, the French Adour, the Peninsular Douro, and the Italian Dora. So "Dyffryn Dwr," the valley of water, was easily transformed by the monks into Val d'Or, which thus became the Golden Valley of to-day. Never mind— it is a real Golden Valley, and just now a valley of water, none the less.


At Dorstone, the party was received by the Rev. Thomas Powell, the rector, whose little "Guide to the Golden Valley" was already in the hands of most of them. He had, with great kindness, made the needful arrangements for the earlier part of the day, and for the benefit of such as might find it difficult to climb up to Arthur's Stone, some of the neighbours most kindly sent a supply of saddle horses — handsome and useful animals, that did their duty cleverly. The first visit was made to the Church, which, as Mr. Powell pointed out, had been partly rebuilt, some fifty years since. He gave an account of the finding of an inscribed stone, commemorating the foundation of a chantry chapel on the north side of the chancel by Ricardus de Brito, one of the murderers of Thomas à Beckett," who, with his three companions, is believed to have lived in penitence on the Black Mountain, not far from this spot: a few relics of the structure, dedicated to St. Faith, A. D. 1171, had been preserved. Mr. Blashill observed, in confirmation of the probability of the story, that the Augustinian priory of Woolspring, near Weston-super-Mare was founded by Tracy, another of the murderers. But the stone now in question is lost, as well as the copies taken from it, so the story, though thus well verified, passes to the somewhat easy custody of tradition — a thing to be regretted. The Church still contains a very handsome piscina, a portion of its oak rood-loft, and some other remains of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The school was next visited, and an account given of its endowment, with certain property in London, diminished in value to this day by the great fire of 1666. Still it seemed to be doing its work bravely upon a nice little assemblage of children, who remained as still as mice, and one could not helpwishing them joy of the widened prospects which must result from the closer union of their Valley with the world beyond. Passing across the Village Green, where the ancient cross now carries a sundial (the temporal is so much nearer to us than the eternal!) a start was made for “Arthur’s Stone." After a stiff climb of half-an-hour this massive relic of pre-historic times was reached, and Mr. Piper read a paper giving the most likely conjectures as to its origin and use, as well as the old accounts of its condition. A broad table, some 18 feet long, stands on rude upright slabs, and other stones lie around, one large stone lying solitary, several yards away. Its ancient name of "Thor Stein," seems to have


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given rise, first to the name of the parish of Dorstone — which some prefer to think arose from the river Dore — and next to the fancied connection of King Arthur with this place. Mr. Piper concluded with an account of the melancholy visit of Charles I. to this spot, on his vacillating journey from Monmouth to Hereford, and a short description of the geology of the neighbourhood.


During the address, the Rev. E. Stooke-Vaughan and Mr. Salwey were busy (as elsewhere during the day) photographing the objects of interest — a most useful way of fixing their appearance for future reference.


The mounted members of the party next made for Meerbage Point, whence a view of the landscape extending to several counties can be obtained.


The geology of the excursion was, however, altogether marred by the persistent rain, and the botany would have been, but for the enthusiasm of some of the visitors. The walls at Dorstone were at once seen, from beneath the umbrellas, to form a locality for Cotyledon umbilicus, wall Pennywort or Navelwort, an interesting and not inelegant plant, with virtues, moreover, for the cure of corns. Can this be the reason the natives walk so well? One member brought the Nasturtium, amphihium. Great Water Rocket, or Amphibious Cress, which he had gathered by Bredwardine Bridge. Geranium lucidum, shining Crane's bill, was gathered on the stones, at Meerbage point. Equisetum umbrosum, the dense Horsetail, was gathered at the Golden Well, and Moenchia, erecta was also found; and all these plants are rare in Herefordshire,


Mr. J. S. Haywood, honorary secretary of the Worcestershire Field Club, (who has always a happy knack of carrying about with him something of much interest appropriate to the occasion), brought with him Helleborous viridis. Green Hellebore ; Geranium Phceum, dusky Crane's bill ; Lathraa squamaria. Greater Toothwort, a parasite on the roots of Hazel and some other trees ; and some fine specimens of the Great Leopard's Bane, Doronicum pardalianches, so named from its roots having formerly been used to destroy wild beasts. This last-named plant, Leopard's Bane, was particularly appropriate, since a well-known station for it formerly existed in this Valley, a mile out of Peterchurch, on the Hereford-road. Some ruthless roadman, however, levelled the "tump" it grew upon, and its golden blossoms were no longer there to gladden the mind of the passer-by. The unhappy man, doubtless, did it in ignorance, or the dire malediction of Science would rest on him for ever hereafter.


Assembled at the Pandy Inn (Pandee — a tannery — we are in the midst of old Welsh memories), with appetites sharpened by the journey and the weather, such a dinner was waiting that showed that the resources of the Golden Valley are quite equal to entertaining all the visitors it can reasonably expect. Dr. Bull then made some announcements relating to the Woolhope Club, referring particularly to the loss it had recently sustained, by the death of Mr. T. Curley, a good practical geologist, and a member of the Central Committee. Mr. Curley has left to the Club a valuable collection of portraits — photographs — of the leading scientific men, ready framed, for the Club Room at the Free Library, and his scientific books. It was also announced that the next meeting of the Club, for Coxwall Knoll and Brampton Bryan Park, would be held on Tuesday,


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June 20th, instead of on Thursday, June 22nd, which happens to be Brampton Bryan Fair.


Thanks having been duly offered to the Rev. T. Powell and Mr. Piper, Mr. Powell gave some interesting extracts from Rowland Vaughan's account of his "Most approved and long experienced Water Works," which, far from being limited to statistics of the ditches which had been seen between Bacton and Peterchurch, deals with the social condition of the Valley. The account is extremely curious and often amusing, and not less curious is the scheme, which this scion of the Vaughans of Bredwardine thought suitable for the amendment of things as he found them there. The copy of the book, which is extremely rare, was lent by Mr. H. Vevers, and it is to be hoped that it may be reprinted at no distant day.


At 2-30 a start was made, by special train, for Peterchurch, and now occurred the only hitch in the arrangements. The rain, that had on the whole held out very well so far, began to fail, and soon entirely ceased. Not that it was of much consequence, for the remainder of the day was chiefly spent under cover, and it is remarkable, as showing the foresight of the ancients, that all the villages hereabouts were built, and all the churches founded, within a bow shot of the predestined sites of the railway stations — an example which the founders of some cities might very well have copied. At Peterchurch the Rev. T. Prosser Powell received the party, pointing out particularly the ancient altar slab, with its five consecration crosses. The Rev. G. M. Metcalfe read a very interesting history of the Church, which is worthy of permanent record — omitting in it, by the way, to detail his own great exertions in the work of its restoration. This is truly a noble building in all respects, having, like the neighbouring churches of Kilpeck and Moccas, the rounded sanctuary beyond the chancel, but also a second chancel (perhaps originally a central tower) which joins the east end of the nave, and besides this a more modern tower, of great massiveness, and a most graceful spire. An old, but still vigorous Yew tree, of the great girth of thirty feet, was observed in the churchyard.


The Church of Vowchurch has some traces of Norman work, chiefly in the small windows of the period. Tufa was used in some portions of the walls, as we have seen also in the apse at Moccas. It was found locally in small quantities, and, from its durability and easy working, was generally exhausted in early times. The great feature of Vowchurch is the timber construction of its tower, and the support of its roof. Huge oak posts were in the 17th century erected inside the walls, regardless of the windows and other features, and on these the roof was erected ; a mode of construction not to be held up for copy, but involving some curious motives, not easily to be guessed at now. In the little Church of Turnastone, three or four hundred yards away, the first feature of interest is the oaken porch, an extremely plain but effective piece of construction. Within the Church there is a fine incised alabaster slab — a somewhat uncommon feature — an example of which may be seen at Westhide, near Hereford. The single-light windows are of good proportion, and most of them retain the ancient hooks for shutters or casements. One heard, of course, the tradition of the erection of these


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Churches, by two sisters: such traditions are incentives to the discovery of their real history. “Sister " Churches are not uncommon; at Willingales in Essex there are a pair in the same churchyard.


At Abbey Dore the Rev. Alfred Phillipps received the party. He had caused some search to be made for the remains of the destroyed building before the arrival of the visitors. Mr. Blashill described the Abbey, (dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and built in the reign of King Stephen by Robert, Earl of Ferrars, and Lord of Ewias) pointing out how the Cistercian or White Monks, arose in Burgundy in 1098, and were introduced into this country in 1128, this Abbey having been founded soon afterwards. It seems certain that their first Church, if not their whole establishment, was afterwards rebuilt, the present fabric dating from late in the reign of Henry II., as the pointed arches and extremely interesting transitional carving indicate. A very remarkable letter from the young Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII., shows that great abuses had arisen in the Abbey, and asks help for the new Abbot, who desired to effect reform. But soon followed the dissolution and ruin of the building, with its subsequent restoration by Lord Scudamore, a sketch of whose life and good deeds is recorded with so much interest in the second part of The Herefordshire Pomona.


The tomb of Serjeant Hoskyns, another worthy, was inspected, and some one referred to his having amused King James I, by a morris dance of ten persons, whose united ages averaged 1000 years. The man or woman, who will believe that, will no doubt believe anything. They will believe the inscription on the tombstone of a former inhabitant of this parish, which gives the age as 141, the true age being doubtless 4. Mr. Blashill, in conclusion, ventured the heretical opinion that the tower, which the histories say was built by Scudamore, was really built in the fifteenth century by the monks of Dore. A marble slab on the wall is placed to the memory of Duncumb, the historian of Herefordshire. In the aisle, at the back of the altar, are recumbent figures of two Knights, arrayed in armour, supposed to represent Robert de Ewias, the founder of the Abbey, and Sir Roger Clifford, (the younger) who were both buried here. The altar is formed of a stone slab, fourteen feet long, which had been removed, after the dissolution of the monastery, and for many years had been used at a farm-house as a salting stone. Before leaving the Abbey some very handsome Communion plate was shown, the gift of Lord Viscount Scudamore after he became possessed of the Abbey Dore estate.


Mr. Phillipps very hospitably entertained the visitors to afternoon tea before they started for the beautiful walk over Ewyas Harold Common to Pontrilas. As the hill was topped, the slanting rays of the evening sun lit up such a glory of bright furze as will not soon be forgotten. Had we been a party of pleasure, how we should have revelled in it, and in the lovely scenery that encircles the spot! The Golden Valley and Vale of Dulas, with Ewyas Harold nestling in the wooded bottom, beyond Rowlston, the striking outline of the Skyrrid or Holy Mountain, and nearer, the hills of Garway, the Saddle Bow and Aconbury, with many lesser points of interest, all combined to justify the praises that have been given to this scene. Diligent search was made on the slopes of the hill for the


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Bee Orchis, Ophrys apifera, by the botanists present, but it was too early for the blossom, and it could not be found. Chlora perfoliata was there in leaf, and the green-winged orchis, Orchis Morio, in abundance, varying' in colour from purple to clear pink and white. Looking back over our route, and around us within the compass of a few miles, we recognise traces of all the factions of men that have lived and struggled in this border land. We have said nothing of the chain of early forts that ran down the Valley from Clifford to Ewyas Harold, of Clifford Castle and Snodhill, and beyond the Valley, Skenfrith and Grosmont, and the home of the Knights Templars and Hospitallers at Garway. Surely one may remember when rambling over such ground that "those ever-springing flowers and ever-flowing streams have been dyed by the deep colours of human endeavour, valour, and virtue."


And presently we arrive at Pontrilas, in good time for the train to Hereford.


The weather was very wet all the early part of the day, but it was yet a pleasant excursion, and every one, notwithstanding, seemed to have enjoyed their visit to the Golden Valley.



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