The Doward

 The Doward, near Whitchurch in Herefordshire, comprises two hills - Little Doward and Great Doward - and lies close to the Welsh border. It has a fascinating cultural, industrial and agricultural history. This post, however, is concerned with our visit to four  of the six nature reserves: Miners Rest, Woodside, White Rocks, and Leeping Stocks (locally pronounced as lepping though accessed via Leaping Stocks Road?!).

We parked the campervan in the small car park at Miners Rest (access through the five-bar gate). At this time of year, there are relatively few blooming wildflowers. Nevertheless, we did spot this Meadow Saffron near the entrance...

Meadow Saffron

It is also known as Autumn Crocus - it is a native British bloom and not a crocus although it is poisonous!

Apart from Speckled Wood, there was also a shortage of butterflies...

Speckled Wood - Miners Rest Nature Reserve

Miners Rest NR merges into Woodside NR. In the wooded area, we spotted a group (family?) of fallow deer including one youngster. Too quick and too far away to photograph using our camera phones. We did come across this small fenced-off enclosure...

Deer-free Experiment

The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust are monitoring plant growth in the absence of deer (inside the enclosure) in order to see what effect restricting deer access would have on biodiversity, especially plant life.

In the grassland area of Woodside, grasshoppers abound...

Common Field Grasshopper - Woodside Nature Reserve

...along with this European Hornet...

European Hornet - Woodside Nature Reserve

From Woodside, a short roadwalk led us to White Rocks Nature Reserve where we spotted these giant woodlice, helpfully magnified...

Woodlice/Magnifying Glass Sculpture - White Rocks NR

Miners Rest and White Rocks have plenty of examples of tumbledown limestone walls surmounted by multi-stemmed and twisted beech trees, remnants of the original beech hedges.

Beech-topped tumbledown walls - Miners Rest NR

Beech-topped tumbledown walls - White Rocks NR

Common Fleabane - White Rocks NR

Red Bartsia - White Rocks NR

We arrived at Leeping Stock Nature Reserve after a further short roadwalk. Lords-and-Ladies were widespread throughout all the reserves. The fruits of this specimen in Leeping Stocks had been part-eaten by birds although they are poisonous to many animals, including humans...

Lords-and-Ladies - White Rocks NR

Surprisingly, we came acroos some deer droppings in this reserve even though the area is fenced off to exclude them...

Deer Poop - Leeping Stocks NR

Wild basil was found throughout the reserves...

Wild Basil - Miners Rest NR

Despite the time of year, there was still plenty to see. We plan to return next year when the wildflowers are abloom and the butterflies are on the wing.

Goodrich Castle and Roaring Meg

 It is traditional to have a day out on August Bank Holiday Monday. While there are no guarantees regarding the English weather, you can usually count on it being warm if not always dry. Many people head to the seaside for the last summer fling before the kids go back to school in September.

Today, we are in luck and it is warm (20 ℃ or above between 11 am and 7 pm), dry, and sunny with just a few fairweather clouds. So, picnic packed and off to Goodrich Castle which, as members of English Heritage, includes free entry. There were lots of families though it wasn't overcrowded.

Solar Block at Goodrich Castle

For more information on this 11th Century castle ruin look here, here, and here. There are scenic views from the battlements...

Goodrich Castle - looking down on the moat

View from the battlements - Goodrich Castle

Goodrich Castle - view from the battlements

It is a 400-metre walk from the car park and visitor centre (information, cafe, toilets, shop, reception) to the castle. There are no facilities at the castle. It is a great place for kids to explore but there are quite a few steps to negotiate if you want to see it all. Roaring Meg is a mortar/cannon built locally in the Forest of Dean. It was used in the English Civil War by the Parliamentarians/Roundheads to capture Goodrich Castle from the Royalists/Cavaliers.

Roaring Meg at Goodrich Castle

Not far from Goodrich Castle is an area known as The Doward which includes a number of nature reserves managed by the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. Our first-ever visit is described in the next post...

Common Hill Nature Reserve - August Update

 Our last visit to Common Hill was in early June. Home and away family visits, the heatwave, some awaydays and Mary organizing an art exhibition for the Three Choirs Festival are just some of our excuses!

Yesterday, we contemplated taking a picnic out somewhere and finally plumped for Common Hill. As it was late August, we were greeted with a mown meadow...

Common Hill Nature Reserve from the North Meadow entrance

Round's meadow had also been mown...

Round's Meadow from the bottom of Monument Hill

...but not Monument Hill...

Looking up Monument Hill from the information board

I guess the clue is in the name: meadow.

Wildflowers have fulfilled their evolutionary aim (flowered and produced seed) so there was very little in the way of flowering plants to see, especially in the mown meadows! Just odd specimens of ragwort, gorse, knapweed, and agrimony. Quite a few speckled wood butterflies and several whites (certainly small white but the others too distant to identify) along with several grasshoppers that are easier to spot now the vegetative cover is sparser. One dragonfly seen in silhouette and a few 'bees' feeding on the knapweed. Bird-wise, it was very quiet apart from the ubiquitous Wood Pigeons.

This view from the top of North Meadow shows the exposed anthills after mowing...

Anthills now visible in North Meadow

And we came across a few of these...

Dormouse footprint tunnels

...dormouse footprint tunnels - a simple and effective way of monitoring dormouse traffic.

We strolled over to nearby Lea & Paget's Wood for a bit of forest bathing. The lords-and-ladies were in full display mode...

Insert [your own common name]

The arum maculatum has more common names than I've had hot dinners!

The Weir Garden and Painted Ladies

Over the past few days, we have been enjoying the company of our daughter and granddaughter. Today, we dropped them off at Hereford Railway Station to catch the London Paddington train. On the spur of the moment, we decided to visit The Weir Garden, a local National Trust property.

Hay fields viewed from The Weir Garden

Although primarily a spring garden, it is still worth a visit at other times of the year.

Hay Bales viewed from The Weir Garden, Herefordshire

After a gentle stroll around this riverside garden, we headed off to the walled garden. On the way, we pondered why it was called the Weir Garden since there was clearly no weir to be seen. In the distant past, a number of weirs were built on the Wye either to improve navigation (with associated locks) or for the operation of watermills. However,

In 1675 a report on the state of the river was that the "hazard of keeping and mainteyning the Lockes makes the passage of Boates so chargeable that it takes away the profitt of the river". It was proposed "that it should become an Open and Comon River" and that the "Owners of Mills and Weares" should be bought out by a tax on the county

And so, all the weirs were removed but the Weir Garden kept its name.

The walled garden is a short walk from the entrance to the Weir Garden.  It is currently undergoing a slow and steady restoration - especially the greenhouse. There are fruit trees, herbaceous borders, and vegetable plots...

Pumpkin patch at the Walled Garden

...and some wildflower meadows...

Wildflower Meadow

We were also thrilled to see a number of Painted Lady butterflies that had just hatched...

Painted Lady on agastache

Painted Lady butterflies are long-distance migrants originating from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. They arrive in late spring/early summer, mate, lay eggs, hatch as caterpillars, pupate (chrysalis) and re-emerge as butterflies in August and September. Unfortunately, no development stage of the butterfly can withstand our UK winter though this may change as our climate warms.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Weir Garden - 26/8/22)

Painted Lady (Weir Garden - 26/8/22)

Broadly Speaking

 Broad beans (aka Fava beans) are an excellent source of protein, dietary fibre, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. A minority of people with a specific genetic condition (favism) are allergic to broad beans but, for the vast majority, they can be considered a superfood.

In my experience, growing broad beans is easy but keeping them free of blackfly (aka black bean aphid) is a near impossible task.

Blackfly on Broad Beans

Spring-sown beans, for harvesting in June-July, may be more susceptible to blackfly infestations than autumn-sown varieties (harvest in May). However, I wouldn't rely too heavily on this advice - it may simply be that infestations in spring-sown beans occur when there is a lot going on in the kitchen garden. Regular inspection of your broad bean plants is the key to controlling blackfly and this task may get overlooked when there are so many other things needing your attention.

As blackfly infestations start at the growing tips of the plants, pinching the tips out can reduce the main entry points of these pests. Established plants can be sprayed with a jet of water; literally, blasting the little beggars to oblivion. Whilst great fun, this provides only temporary relief and will need to be repeated again and again. Alternatively, a gentler spray with a dilute soap solution or a commercial alternative can help stop the infestation from getting out of control. Biological controls don't really work in my experience but it is always worth encouraging predators such as ladybirds into the garden. We do grow sacrificial plants (e.g. nasturtiums) though not among the broad beans - they do get attacked by blackflies but are they just encouraging these pests into the garden and will they find your broad beans anyway?

I had a small patch of spring-sown broad beans this year which suffered a catastrophic blackfly attack. Those plants are now composting away in one of my Hotbins.

In an earlier post, I described an experiment I'm carrying out this year where leek sowing/planting is delayed in an attempt to avoid the worst ravages of leek moth and allium leaf miner. The results will be known later this year.

Along similar lines, I am trying out a variety of broad beans (Luz De Otono from D.T. Brown) that are sown June-September for a September-November harvest. The first beans were sown directly in the ground on August 5th and emerged a week or so later...

Emerging Summer-sown Broad Beans (Luz De Otono)

Some watering was required during the dry spell we are currently experiencing but germination rates were 100%.

On the 16th August, a double row was sown in what was the onion/garlic patch. A single bean was placed in a hole, made with a dibber, covered with  sieved homemade compost and watered in...

Broad Beans sown in cleared Onion Patch

I plan to sow at least two more double rows in late August and early September. Expect the final report towards the end of this year.

View from the Rear Window - July 2022

The start of the second half of 2022 and July turns out to be an extraordinary month weatherwise. In the garden, things are fairly quiet. Various shades of green dominate the rear window view. Thankfully, the roses and fuschias (middle right) along with some potted geraniums and dahlias provide some pink/red colour in the early part of the month...

Back Garden - 4/7/22

It's now the middle of the month and even the roses have passed their peak. The geraniums and dahlias are still going strong as geraniums and dahlias do. The buddleia's purple spikes have started their long flowering season - its common name of butterfly bush seems to be a bit of a misnomer as it does not appear to attract butterflies in greater numbers than other nectar-rich plants. The hosepipe has also made an appearance for reasons that will become obvious later...

Back Garden - 13/7/22

We are now at the back end of July and this photo might make a good 'Spot the Difference' puzzle with the photos from earlier in the month! Still, at least the lilies on the patio are putting up a decent show. The potted Calla Lily on the mosaic table was a birthday present for Mary...

Back Garden - 30/7/22

Jobs in the Garden
  1. Picked, ate and preserved bush fruits: gooseberry, black/redcurrants
  2. Harvested garlic
  3. Cucumbers and tomatoes in abundance
  4. Regular pickings of French beans, courgettes, swiss chard, spinach, radishes, lettuce, salad greens, mange tout, celery
  5. Dig up first potatoes
  6. Extra watering duties due to lack of rainfall
  7. Pruning, shredding and composting continues
July 2022 Weather

July's weather stats are summarized below. Very hot, very dry, very uncomfortable! According to my Davis Weather Station (data collection only from November 2019), July was the second driest month after May 2020 and, on the 18th July, recorded its highest ever outside temperature of 38 ℃.

July 2022

Weather Parameter



Average Monthly Temperature 

19 oC

Maximum Monthly Temperature

38 oC


Minimum Monthly Temperature

8 oC


Number of Air Frost Days


Number of Hot Days (> 25 oC)


Monthly Precipitation

7.6 mm

Greatest 24 h Precipitation

3.4 mm

22nd - 23rd

Number of Dry Days


Monthly Sunshine Hours (estimated)


Average Wind Speed

3 km/h

Highest Wind Speed

31 km/h


Maximum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1034.4 hPa


Minimum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1006.4 hPa


Average Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1021.0 hPa

Overnight temperatures of between 16 - 18 ℃ are generally recommended for a good nights sleep. Below, I plot the indoor maximum and minimum temperatures for July 2022 recorded by my Davis Weather Station:

Throughout the whole month, the indoor temperature did not fall below 20 ℃ at anytime during the day or night. On 14 nights, the indoor temperature was 24 ℃ or higher. We definitely felt sleep-deprived in July despite the use of a fan overnight.

Daily min/max temperatures are shown below [click for a larger image]. Daytime maximum temperatures were 21 ℃ or higher on every day of the month. And, of course, the record high temperatures observed throughout the UK on the 18th and 19th July can be clearly seen in my weather station data.

Below, solar radiation and rainfall for July 2022 are plotted out [click image for larger graphic]. England had the driest July since 1935 according to the UK Met Office. That was certainly mirrored by my weather station data and the fact that my rainwater butts ran dry and I had to resort to occasional watering with tap water for moisture-sensitive plants.

A comparison of temperature data (2020 - 2022) for the month of July is shown below. In terms of average temperatures, 2021 and 2022 were similar and both warmer than 2020. However, it is the 4 ℃ higher maximum temeperature in 2022 that distinguishes this year from previous years.
July 2022 rainfall was much lower than in previous years (see plot below) and it is this double whammy (low rainfall and extremely high temperatures) that has resulted in a very difficult growing year. Yields from the kitchen garden will be lower this year.

Finally, here is a photo of the 'Wild' or 'Secret' Garden in early July before the heat really took hold...

'Wild' Garden - 7/7/22

...and one of its residents keeping cool in the pond...

Composting Corn Starch Peanuts - Update

 In a previous post, I undertook a few basic experiments investigating the compostability of corn starch peanuts (widely used in packaging) in the hot composting process. Last month (July) I finally received a parcel containing the aforementioned corn starch peanuts. Time to see the effect of hot composting on this more environmental form of packaging.

I have two different types of hot composter: a HotBin™ Mark 1 and a prototype design from Soilfixer. These units are no longer available and have been replaced with updated models.

On the 8th July 2022, both compost bins were approximately half full with compost temperatures of 57 ℃ at a depth of 10 cm.  I added a quantity of corn starch peanuts to both composting bins in the afternoon, took a photo, shut the lid, and returned the following morning to see what happened. [Note: no observable change in compost temperature at a 10 cm depth on both days].

HotBin™ Mark 1 results:

HotBin immediately after addition of 'Peanuts' (8/7/22)

HotBin the day after (9/7/22)

Prototype Hot Composter results:

Prototype immediately after addition of 'Peanuts' (8/7/22)

Prototype the day after (9/7/22)


The hot humid conditions found in the hot composting process were sufficient to dissolve the corn starch peanuts. Complete dissolution took about 36 hours and there was no noticeable effect on the composting process. Corn starch peanuts are suitable for composting in a hot composting process.

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