Forging Forward


Photo 1: Wind Vane Designed & Made by Alex Rowe

Hereford has one of the few blacksmithing colleges in the country which includes the Hereford School of Farriery and artist blacksmithing. We have accommodated two student blacksmiths while we've been in Hereford: first, there was Tom Robinson (2008 - 2011), now running his own business in Suffolk, and, then Alex Rowe (2017 - 2020), back working in the family business as a fifth-generation blacksmith at Gittisham Forge.

Over the years, we've collected a few pieces including early test pieces made to demonstrate different skills & techniques of blacksmith artistry.

Photo 2: Pair of Snails by Alex Rowe

Photo 3: Dragon Door Catch by Tom Robinson

Photo 4: Toasting Fork by Alex Rowe, Poker and Wizard Candle Snuffer by Tom Robinson

Photo 5: Garden Bench by Tom Robinson & Nick Buchan

Photo 6: Tree of Life Gate by Tom Robinson & Nick Buchan

After Tom finished his basic blacksmith training, he went home but returned a few months later, after getting a job with Tramway Forge (no longer trading?) in Hereford, and stayed for a few months before finding his own place. Around 2013/14, Tom teamed up with Nick Buchan to run Gofannon Forge near Rhayader. While Tom was at Gofannon, he and Nick made our gate (Photo 6) and bench (Photo 5). The gate was for Mary's 60th birthday (2014) and the bench was a year or so later. The bench was originally made for one of the show gardens at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival (2015?); we were told James Alexander-Sinclair and Gregg Wallace had tested the bench out! Tom moved on to his new venture in Suffolk (post-2016); I'm not sure whether Gofannon Forge is still a going concern.

Alex is still a regular visitor popping in once or twice a year and he stays with us when volunteering as a steward at the Royal Welsh Show. He also resharpens my shredder blades which saves me a few bob! This year, Alex brought us a wind vane, part thank you and part 70th birthday present for me.

Video 1: Wind vane in action

Monmouth - A delightful market town

Photo 1: Monnow Bridge

A few days ago we visited Monmouth, just over the Welsh border. We were on a shopping mission but this small town (pop: ~10,000) is well worth a visit for its many places of interest. Monmouth is accessible by bus though not by train; the railway closed down in 1959. In the past, we have done the journey by bus, probably via Ross-on-Wye, but this time we were in the campervan.

Monmouth developed as a settlement around the confluence of the River Monnow and the River Wye and its name is derived from a contraction of Monnow-mouth.  Its best-known building is the Monnow Bridge - the last remaining example in Britain of a fortified river bridge. It is a Grade 1 listed building and a scheduled monument.

The reason I am mentioning any of this is not because it was a successful shopping trip, which it was, but because I was impressed with the floral displays around the public conveniences near the Monnow Bridge.

Photo 2: 

Hay Bluff

 It was Mary's birthday recently and we had a drive out to Hay Bluff, one of our favourite local beauty spots. From the car park, you can walk up the zigzag path to the summit (2221 ft) - a pleasure we had to forego this time because Mary was a little tired. Alternatively, you can reach Hay Bluff from the other side by riding 'The Cat's Back'.

Photo 1: Hay Bluff

Hay Bluff is a well-known landmark in Herefordshire as its characteristic profile can be seen from many parts of the county.

Next to Hay Bluff is Twmpa which also goes by the name Lord Hereford's Knob (Photo 2). Twmpa and Knob (knobbe, nobbe) are Welsh and Saxon names, respectively, for mound, lump, or protrusion. Lord Hereford/Viscount Hereford is the title of the Devereux family who have strong connections with the area.

Photo 2: Lord Hereford's Knob (Twmpa) from Hay Bluff Car Park

You would imagine that writing a song containing the words 'Lord Hereford's Knob' might be a bit tricky but this was achieved by the rock band Half Man Half Biscuit. Here is a copy of the lyrics; go here for a musical rendition.

In the far distance, you can see Pen y Fan, the highest peak (2907 ft) in South Wales (Photo 3).

Photo 3: Pen Y Fan (red dot) from Hay Bluff Car Park

We still had time for a quick look around Hay-on-Wye; the 'town of books' has over twenty bookshops that welcome browsers. The recently renovated Hay Castle is worth a visit and the cafe is highly recommended.

Our final stop was the Boat Inn, Whitney-on-Wye for a tasty and filling Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Spinach curry.

Reminder for the Big Butterfly Count

Just a reminder the Big Butterfly Count has started and you can send in any sightings up to 6th August. We have noticed an increase in numbers and species in the garden over the last week. 

Photo 1 was taken by Mary on the 21st July using a Pixel 4a phone - a Green-veined White feeding on marjoram. This specimen has recently emerged as part of the summer brood. 

Photo 1: Green-veined White on Marjoram

A short video of two 'freshly-minted' gatekeeper butterflies feeding on marjoram is shown below, recorded on a Pixel 4a phone in 2x slow motion mode (Video 1).

Video 1: Slo-mo of Two Gatekeepers

Keep looking and, maybe, grow some marjoram and/or other herbs!

Broadly Speaking Again or We've Bean Here Before

Last year (2022), I tried late-sowing my broad beans in August in an attempt to avoid blackfly infestation. That trial was only partially successful insomuch as I avoided the blackfly plague but had very few beans to harvest. Clearly, an August sowing of Luz de Otano beans was too late, even with the mild Autumn we had in 2022.

This year (2023), I sowed the beans in Rootrainers on July 2nd, a full month earlier than last year, and left them outside the polytunnel so that I remembered to water them regularly. By the 21st of July, the beans were ready (Photos 1 & 2) to transplant into their final growing position.

Photo 1: Broad Bean Plants in Rootrainers (21st July)

Photo 2: Broad Bean Plants in Rootrainers (21st July) 

Procedure was the same as last year and my normal practice for transplanting: dig hole, fill with water then homemade compost, insert plant, and firm in with hands and/or boot. All-day rain was promised for the next day otherwise I would have given the plants a further soaking.

I erected a temporary insect-mesh barrier around the newly-planted beans - this was mainly to keep the local cats (the poopers) and pigeons (the peckers) off the plot while the plants established themselves. Photo 3 was taken the day after transplanting after a slight battering by the rain.

Photo 3: Broad Beans in-situ

 Note: The larger plants, toward the top of Photo 3, were sown in early June and planted out later that month before we disappeared for a few days. Most of the transplants did not take due to the hot dry weather but a few did survive.

Time will tell whether the earlier sowing will avoid the blackfly attacks and produce a decent harvest.

View from the Rear Window - June 2023

 "In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different" - John Steinbeck

"It was June and the world smelled of roses" - Maud Hart Lovelace

June was definitely on the warm side and the roses were glorious (Photo 1, front right). Indeed, the UK Met Office provisionally reported June 2023 as the warmest on record since 1884 - the start of reliable UK-wide temperature data. My recollection of June's weather was hot and humid with occasional thunderstorms in the middle of the month bookended with somewhat cooler fresher conditions at the start and end.

I have included just a couple of the daily photographs I take of the rear garden - one at the start and one at the end of the month. In early June, the roses were abundant and sweet-smelling (Photo 1) which was fortunate as Mary is collecting and drying the petals to use as confetti at a family wedding in September.

Photo 1: Rear Garden View (June 6th)

At the end of the month (Photo 2), the roses had finished their first flush and the buddleia bush (near the green shed) was in bloom producing nectar-rich flowers for the butterflies. Green is the dominant colour but there are alternatives when you look for them (see later).

Photo 2: Rear Garden View (June 30th)

A slideshow of the daily garden photographs for June is shown in Video 1.

Video 1: Daily Garden Photographs for June 2023

Summary of Weather Parameters for June 2023

Cooling and Heating Degree Days have been added to the list. Sunshine hours are estimated from average daily solar radiation values measured by the Davis weather station. A list of average and total weather parameters is given in Table 1.

Average values are not always good indicators and can hide a lot of detail and nuance. However, this is not the case for the summary statistics reported for June 2023 in Table 1. As noted already, this year had the hottest June on record according to the UK Met Office. I can only look back on the last four years of weather data from my weather station. Nevertheless, many of the values listed in Table 1 show the most extreme values when compared with the earlier years: (i) highest Mean/Average Daily Temperature, (ii) highest Minimum Daily Temperature, (iii) highest Number of Hot Days in the Month.

To these record breakers, I could also add for June 2023: (i) the Monthly Average of Daily Maximum Temperatures higher by 2 - 3 ℃, (ii) the Monthly Average of Daily Minimum Temperatures higher by 2 - 3 ℃, (iii) the lowest number of Heating Degree Days, and (iv) the highest number of Cooling Degree Days. Hence, it came as no surprise when 2023 was (provisionally) accorded the hottest June in the modern metrological record.

Table 1: Average/Total Weather Statistics for June 2023

June 2023

Weather Parameter



Average Monthly Temperature 

18 oC

Maximum Monthly Temperature

30 oC

10th, 13th, 16th & 24th

Minimum Monthly Temperature

8 oC


Number of Air Frost Days


Number of Hot Days (> 25 oC)


Monthly Precipitation

31.8 mm

Greatest 24 h Precipitation

12.2 mm

11th - 12th

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)

1027.6 hPa


Minimum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1004.7 hPa


Average Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1017.6 hPa

Heating Degree Days


Cooling Degree Days


In Figure 1, the daily minimum and maximum temperatures for June 2023 are displayed. I noted earlier that my recollection of June 2023 was of a hot middle bookended by cooler periods. This is discernible in the profile below but is perhaps less exaggerated than I recall. I suspect the hot conditions in the middle of June made the beginning and end of the month 'feel' relatively cool. 

Figure 1: Daily Min/Max Temperatures (June 2023)

The daily rainfall and sunshine (using solar radiation as a proxy) profiles for June 2023 are shown in Figure 2. The hot sunny weather lead to thunderstorms and a couple of intense rainfall days on the 12th and 20th June. A 27-day drought was broken when it rained on the 11th June.  

Figure 2: Rainfall and Sunshine Data (June 2023)

In Figure 3 and Figure 4, I compare June 2023's weather with that of the previous three years. Temperature-wise, 2023 had the lowest maximum daily temperature of this set but it did have four days where the daily maximum was 30 ℃ or above. Combined with the higher observed minimum temperature (8 ℃ compared with 6 ℃ in the previous three years), meant the average daily temperature for the month was noticeably higher.
Figure 3: Temperature Data for the Last Four Junes (2020 - 2023)

As Figure 4 illustrates, relative to the previous 3 years (2020 - 2022), sunshine was up and rainfall was down. Also a quiet month windwise due to high pressure over the UK for most of the month.

Figure 4: Rain, Sunshine, and Wind Data for the Last Four Junes (2020 - 2023)

The UK Met Office produces monthly weather summaries; here is the one for June 2023. Their overview for the whole of the UK was ...

"June began fine and settled, with temperatures around average, but from the 9th it became warm and humid, and rather less settled, with thunderstorms breaking out in many areas. It remained very warm or hot for most of the rest of the month, but cooled down again in the final few days. It also became rather unsettled generally towards the end of the month"

... which is a pretty good summary of the weather in Hereford.

Mean temperature anomalies are illustrated in Figure 5 taken from the Met Office Report. Western Britain and Northern Ireland were extremely warm whereas Herefordshire (outlined) was only very warm! Temperatures recorded by my Davis Weather Station, located within the City of Hereford, will be influenced by the Urban Heat Island effect so were, possibly, a little higher than suggested by the Met Office map (Figure 5).

Figure 5: UK Mean Temperature Anomalies (Met Office)

Figure 6 shows the UK rainfall map as reported by the Met Office. Herefordshire was between 50% and 125% of the long-term average depending on your location within the county. The nearest Met Office weather station is Credenhill, a couple of miles down the road, where the long-term average (1991 - 2020) June rainfall is 47.83 mm. This is in good agreement with my 2020-2022 average of 45.3 mm (Figure 4). I can reliably report, therefore, that precipitation in my Hereford garden was low at around 70% of the expected value.

Figure 6: Relative UK Rainfall for June 2023 (Met Office)

My weather station recorded a slightly sunnier than usual June (Figure 4) - about 6% more than the average for 2020-2022. The Met Office uses a longer period (1991 - 2020) to define the contemporaneus  average sunshine duration for June (Figure 7); reporting a 10-30% higher value for June 2023 compared with the 1991 - 2020 mean. On all counts, though, a very sunny June!

Figure 7: Sunshine Hours Anomaly Relative to 1991 - 2020 Mean (Met Office)

Jobs in the Garden
  • On return from short holiday, lots of catching up replenishing nutrient solutions in Quadgrows and reinvigorating the hot composters which had cooled to ~40 ℃ in our absence. Fortunately, neighbours had left plenty of garden waste to process.
  • During dry spell at the beginning of the month (Figure 2), regular feeding/watering of fruit trees (apple, plum, cherry & pear), bushes (blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, blueberry), canes (raspberries) and vines (red & white grape). I use a balanced fertilizer (18-18-18 NPK) diluted 1 to 2000 (i.e. foliar feed strength) to encourage flower and fruit formation.
  • Sow corn and broad bean seeds in Rootrainers for planting out in mid-to-late June.
  • Extra watering/feeding duties in the flower garden. Also neighbour's garden as they are on holiday.
  • Earthing up potatoes on regular basis.
  • Plant out brassicas and net the plot against butterflies.
  • Plant out Swiss chard and Spinach Beet.
  • Transplanted carrots, parsnips & beetroot from Quadgrow seedbed to final growing position. Use insect mesh to shade new transplants from high temperatures/sunny conditions - regular nightly watering until settled in.
  • All waterbutts empty by 9th June; hoping for rain soon! At last decent amount of rain on 13th.
  •  Plant out Sweetcorn and Squashes, French Beans, Red cabbage, Calabrese and Cauliflowers.
  • Harvesting Cucumbers, Raspberries, Courgettes and a few Gooseberries.
  • Prepare batch of Comfrey Tea.
  • Succession sowing French Beans, Broad Beans, Snap Peas, Salad Leaves and Radishes.
  • On return from another short holiday, lots of catching up replenishing nutrient solutions in Quadgrows and reinvigorating one the hot composters which had cooled to ~45 ℃ (the other hot composter was happily operating at 60 ℃) in our absence.
Flora and Fauna
  • 1 x Blue Tit
  • 2 x Blackbirds (Male & Female)
  • 2 x Collared Doves
  • 2 x Crows
  • 1 x Great Tit
  • 12 x House Sparrows
  • 1 x Robin
  • 10 x Starlings
Video 2: Juvenile Starling on Bird Feeder
  • 14 x Swifts
  • 3 x Wood Pigeons
  • 6 x Bats
  • 1 x Large White Butterfly
  • 1 x Meadow Brown Butterfly
Photo 3: Meadow Brown Butterfly in Polytunnel (June 22nd)
  • 3 x Scarlet Tiger Moths
Photo 4: Scarlet Tiger Moth (18th June)
  • 1 x Small Tortoiseshell

And finally, a few photos from the garden in June:

Photo 5: Astrantia in the Paradise Garden (5th June)

Photo 6: Poppies and Alliums (5th June)

Photo 7: Rose, Paradise Garden (5th June)

Photo 8: Rose, Rose Garden (5th June)

Photo 9: Rose, Rose Garden (10th June)

Photo 10: Yellow Loosestrife (10th June)

Photo 11: Lily, patio (21st June)

Photo 12: Lily, patio (21st June)

Photo 13: Achillea, Paradise Garden (27th June)

Photo 14: Clematis, Secret/Wild Garden (28th June)

Photo 15: Doronicum, Secret/Wild Garden (28th June)

Photo 16: Rudbeckia, Secret/Wild Garden (28th June)

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