10th Recce x 4 June 3rd Late Afternoon
To investigate the watercourse which appears to rise from the small copse near near Middlehill Farm and to view the stream which flows from the pond at Biddestone Manor, both of these being tributaries of the Pudding Brook.
The day was cool and the sky was a dull white. We parked in Biddestone; there were ducks on the pond – possibly the one made William Mountjoy when he diverted the water which ran through the streets of Biddestone. (1) We walked out towards the Manor and down the lane, intending to approach the stream from the north. The lane was narrow and walking was difficult with motorists driving fast and close so we found a stile into a field and carried on in the same direction through grassy but managed fields. We were in horse territory and there were wooden fences and newly-built stables. We entered a small field and walked through knee high grass, the long leaves parting to disperse a pale green fume of pollen: hay fever! There was a pumping station, like a large garage, in the back of someones garden, then back on the road: beech hedges, bright green verges and thin dark blue slate roofs. We came to a junction; one fork leading to the Cross Keys pub on the A4 and the other the one we had walked up earlier that week. We took the latter heading back to the field where the watercourse ran down to the road to join the brook. There – just below the highest point – was the builder’s sack positioned in front of the bent log which lay slewed across the gap, grey and cracked, its two forks truncated and pointing in different directions. Now the sack had an empty compost bag – stylised yellow flowers on a blue background – screwed up on top of it.
We crossed the field of light red soil scattered with small stones. A hare leapt up ahead of us and disappeared into the darkness at the base of some distant trees. We made for the copse where the ditch emerged and walked round the edge before stepping inside the circle of trees. We were on a track, trodden around the perimeter of a six feet high chicken-wire fence, beyond which, amongst young green trees and patches of grass, were the small boxes and food hoppers associated with pheasant rearing. The fence was held in place by guy ropes, leaning out at angles and secured to the ground – possibly so it could be lowered easily to release the pheasants. After we had walked halfway round we came across the watercourse trickling under the fence before leaving the copse and travelling, via the ditch, down the field. We continued along the edge of the pheasant pen until we came to a narrow channel where the water flowed in from a damp area at the bottom of a small bank, next to the field. Maybe there was a spring rising up from below the yellow grit. We looked under the ivy growing down from the tree roots and dug around in the gravel but there was no evidence of water bubbling up. It seemed that this watercourse resulted from seepage from the surrounding land. We headed back across the field. Someone was sitting on the log, a cyclist taking a break, listening to music on earphones. We said hello and agreed it was a good time of day to be there. More rubbish had been left on the pile in the hedgerow; now there was a black strimmer on top of the clothes drier.
On the lane there were fewer motorists than before. We leaned into the hedge as they drove by and received a wave of thanks. The sky was duller still and the air grew cooler. We left the lane for a field with the parish boundary running along the edge of it leading to the Biddestone Manor stream. Another hare dashed away at our approach and we dropped down to a roughly harrowed flat-bottomed valley. Docks, comfrey and clumps of grass sprouted up here and there and a wide bed of plants occupied a straight path down the middle. This was the Biddestone Manor stream but there was no sound of running water just a solid swathe of bog plants; white flowered and a lush vivid green from their watery nourishment. There was no way across, the plants were too tall and tightly packed so we walked upstream along the edge. The foliage thinned out a bit and the stream became more evident; there was a gurgling sound and in parts a shiny reflection of the sky in the muddy brown water. Nettles were abundant as was another tall plant with soft feathery leaves and yellowish green flower heads; almost umbellifer-like but more of a spray. The marsh land near the stream extended until it became a wide impassable bog and we changed direction and went back over the field; the grass in this part torn up by the harrow. There was a faint track through the hedge so we pushed aside the nettles, crawled through and went back to the lane and up to Biddestone Manor.
We took the same lane down the side of the Manor that we had taken earlier in the year when it was cold and too dark to see. (Recce 2) The lane dipped and there on our right was the narrow pond coming under the road from the walled garden. The pond appeared to thin out to a stream which was fenced on both sides as it moved across the field – to keep the horses out of the water perhaps? This was the higher stretch of the stream we had just left behind. The fences were new and tidy with trees spaced along the edge, the fields were not grazed and the grass grew high. The outer field fences had an extra foot of woodwork on top of them. Strangely there were no horses in sight. We walked back to the car noticing the stream by the side of the road, hearing the suck and gurgle of water under pressure below its almost stagnant surface as it entered the culvert which took it to the Manor.
In 1661 Mr Mountjoy made a gutter from the springs and put the water from the streets into a pond. A spring opened near the Manor House which was called the 'Holy well'.
10th Recce x 5 July 12th Evening
To further investigate the Biddestone Manor stream, approaching from the A4.
The day had been warm, now the sky was grey and there was a cool breeze. We parked at Chequers crossroads, crossed the A4 and walked past the Mynte Farm stream to the low red-brick and concrete bridge under which the stream from Biddestone flowed before joining the Pudding Brook. Despite the long period of dry weather there was a dark trickle of water below the brambles covering most of the stream. Kestrels circled overhead, moving between the telegraph poles, calling to each other with subdued whistles. We went through a metal gate, leaning open, into a field, ripening barley rising on our right and the stream behind a hazel hedge on our left. Occasionally there was a break in the trees leading to the stream; the bed, made up of small stones, was dry and exposed, the stones calcified, along with other natural debris – a stick with a cast of calcium showing all its surface detail. Threshed barley husks littered the ground directly below a branch which still had some whiskery fragments clinging on to it: some creature, a squirrel perhaps, had a habit of feeding there.
We continued along the course of the stream, which for this section ran alongside a line of pylons, one of which had the undergrowth cleared from beneath so it stood in a square of brown turned earth, the thistles and grasses around it growing up to the edges of the square. We took an animal track through a hedge into a field of oats. There was another hedge, hiding the stream from view – a gap – then we were in a long narrow strip of land with mature hedges on both sides, pylons strung out along it, and down the middle – the overgrown stream bed – similar on account of its linnear course and mass of plants to its upstream appearance. A deer watched us from about a hundred yards away; as we moved it took off – two fauns just visible in the long grass following behind. We continued upstream along the low-lying valley, the stream still running directly down the middle – small shrubs breaking out amongst the grasses, nettles and flowering plants which defined its course. This line of foliage was interrupted at one point by a small stone bridge, level with the ground and grassed over. We stopped here shading our eyes from the bright light of the low sun. A decision was made to return to the bridge. We walked downstream – passing a pylon, gleams of sunlight on the metal structures high above. The wires ticking. Further along, the map indicated that there was another bridge but the path leading to it was impenetrable. Instead, we found a way through nettles and burdock into a neglected area sloping down towards the stream. The grass, thin dry bent stalks, was yellow and as far as we could see ahead a dense patch of umbellifers, with feathery leaves and small seed heads, grew between us and the water. There were different species of thistle in the dry grass; some with large globe heads, laced with thin filaments around the spikes, a large circular tuft of purple emerging, others were smaller with finer leaves and more discreet seed heads. Some of the grass was flattened as if deer had lain up there. Long tailed tits flew between the bushes. There was a faint track between the umbellifers; we made our way through and soon we were back in the first field. We walked up the slope of the field via a dried up furrow to view the course of the stream below, marked by a line of small trees leading to the bridge; on the other side of the road a twisting column of tall grasses, growing strongly yet beginning to lean over, showed the meander of the stream before it joined the Pudding Brook.
By now the light had gone. We walked back down, leaving the field, then along the grass verge, where a footpath had been worn, edging round the signs warning of roadworks ahead – the plastic triangle outlined in red with a stylised form in black on a white ground of a man digging his shovel into a pile of earth; a solar sign with a grey coloured base and a yellow painted stand supporting the sign; capital LED letters lit up on a black background: “A350 roadworks expect delays”. By the side of the road in a large lay-by a heavy goods lorry was tucked in close to the hedge; the engine running, the driver visible, reading in his lit-up cabin, and at the other end of the vehicle the tarpaulin cover hung open revealing the cavernous interior with a few sacks lying at the far end.