Church Stretton and the Shropshire Hills - DAY 1 (Stokesay Castle)

 Another day, another holiday. This is a busy time of the year in the garden so it's good to have a few short breaks for the mind and body to recover. Church Stretton is an historic market town close to the Shropshire Hills. We visited many times either camping or staying B&B. The town is on the Hereford to Shrewsbury railway line and we have caught the train on previous occasions. This time we went by campervan even though we were staying B&B.

Photo 1: Stokesay Castle, Craven Arms

Church Stretton is 40 miles due north of Hereford on the A49 and it takes about an hour by road. We always try to make the journey part of the holiday so dropped in on Stokesay Castle on the way. Described as the finest and best preserved fortified medieval Manor house in England, it really is a gem. Photo 1 is taken from the doorway of the Great Hall looking back towards the gatehouse.

Photo 2: Inside the Great Hall, Stokesay Castle

We had to cut short the excellent audio tour because the chill wind meant the house was extremely draughty and cold, especially with all the doors open and no windows! It was actually warmer outside with the benefit of some weak spring sunshine. Fortunately, being English Heritage members (with free entry) we didn't feel the need to overextend our stay to get our monies worth. 

Some parts of the house were clearly more expensively furnished & comfortable such as the Solar - the private living and sleeping quarters of the owners.

Photo 3: The Solar, Stokesay Castle

You can ascend the North Tower ...

Photo 4: North Tower, Stokesay Castle

... for excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

Mary had noticed one or two swallows flying around the castle so we were not surprised to hear this one singing his/her heart out from this overflow.

Video 1: Singing Swallow, Stokesay Castle (18/4/24)

A couple of close-up photos of this remarkably tame specimen ..

Photo 5: Swallow, Stokesay Castle (18/4/24)

Photo 6: Swallow, Stokesay Castle (18/4/24)

In the North Tower, numerous swallows were flying in and out, pairing up and building nests ...

Photo 7: Pair of Swallows, North Tower, Stokesay Castle (18/4/24)

Time to say goodbye to Stokesay with one last look at the entrance to the castle ...

Photo 8: Entrance to Stokesay Castle

... and a trio of yellow Spring flowers: from left to right - false oxlip, primrose and cowslip.

Photo 9: False Oxlip, Primrose & Cowslip - Stokesay Castle (18/4/24)


 Once you have forget-me-nots, you wont be able to remember the time you didn't have them! They will happily invade any and all areas - even growing where you might not think possible.

Photo 1: Swathes of Forget-me-nots in the Secret Garden

Easy to grow and, fortunately, easy to pull up when they grow where you don't want them.

The flowers undergo an interesting change after fertilization - the yellow corona, designed to attract pollinating insects, changes to white when there is no more nectar left (Photo 2). Indirectly, this reroutes the bees and other pollinators to other 'yellow' forget-me-not flowers thus making the pollination process more efficient.

Photo 2: Close-up of 'It'll Come to me in a Minute'

Lea & Paget's Wood Nature Reserve - First Visit of 2024

Photo 1: Recently-emerged Orange Tip Butterfly (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

Lea & Paget's Wood is but a short walk from Common Hill Nature Reserve and we often combine the two on a visit to either one. Described by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust as 'one of the finest ancient, semi-natural broad-leaved woodlands left in the Wye valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. Predominantly a mixture of sessile oak and ash trees, it continues to suffer tree loss due to ash dieback.

Photo 2: Diseased Ash Clearance I (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

Photo 3: Diseased Ash Clearance II (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

In spite of the destruction, wood clearance leaves space for other plants to grow and thrive: e.g. this Herb Paris had established itself in the middle of the wide path shown in Photo 2.

Photo 4: Herb Paris (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

The bluebells were out but it is a little early - it will look more impressive in a couple of weeks.

Photo 5: Bluebells at Lea & Paget's Wood (14/4/24)

Although we have had a lot of rain recently, Lea & Paget's Wood is always a good place to visit if you are interested in moss-covered tree stumps and fungi.

Photo 6: Bluebells, Wood Anemone & Moss-covered Stumps (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

Fungi abound on fallen trees especially where moss helps to retain water. I think these may be Glistening Ink Cap ...

Photo 7: Glistening Ink Cap? (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

... or maybe I'm just imagining the shiny (aka glistening) mica deposits on the tops ...

Photo 8: Close-up of Glistening Ink Cap? (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

Lea & Paget's Wood is usually a good place to spot Orange-Tip Butterflies because one of its main food plants, cuckoo flower, is widespread throughout the wood [note: both cuckoo flower and cuckooflower are widely used names; Lady's Smock is an alternative name].

Photo 9: Orange-tip Butterfly on Cuckooflower - side view (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

Photo 10: Orange-tip Butterfly on Cuckooflower - front-on view (Lea & Paget's Wood, 14/4/24)

A list of flowering plants spotted at Lea & Paget's Wood (14/4/24):

Barren Strawberry
Cuckoo Pint
Dog's Mercury
Early Purple Orchid
False Oxlip
Lady's Smock
Lesser Celandine
Common Dog Violet
Wild Garlic
Wood Anemone
Wood Spurge
Yellow Archangel

Photo 11: Early Spotted Orchid (Lea & Paget's, 14/4/24)

Common Hill Nature Reserve - 2024 Spring Visit

 Common Hill is a nearby nature reserve under the care of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. I have described the nature reserve here with updates here, here, here, here, here, and here. This was our first visit of 2024 (Sunday 14th April). The early purple orchids had started to show ...

Photo 1: Early Purple Orchid (Common Hill, 14/4/24)

On the way, we popped into Sainsbury's for some sandwiches, snacks (KitKat) and fruit (satsuma-type) and enjoyed our picnic with great views and melodic accompaniment (birdsong) ...

Photo 2: View from the Picnic Bench

It is a little early in the season for the main flush of flowers (late April/early May is better) but there were still plenty of violets (of the common dog variety) ...

Photo 3: Dog Violet (Common Hill, 12/4/24)

... and cowslips on display ...

Photo 4: Cowslips on Ant Hill (Common Hill, 12/4/24)

A list of flowering plants observed on the nature reserve:

Common Dog Violet
Barren strawberry
Bush Vetch
Common Dog Violet
Cuckoo Pint
Dog's Mercury
Early Purple Orchid
Field Forget-me-not
Field Wood-rush
Ground Ivy
Lady's Smock
Lesser Celandine
Meadow Buttercup
Wood Spurge

There was plenty of bird song, dominated by the chiffchaff, but including all the usual suspects: blue and great tit, song thrush, blackbird, etc. No butterfly sightings - there was a cold wind.

Photo 5: Looking into Round's Meadow from Lower Path (Common Hill, 12/4/24)

View from the Rear Window - February 2024 (Part II)

For Part I of View from the Rear Window - February 2024, see here. Blogger has been playing up recently and this seemed the quickest workaround. At the end of each monthly report, I add a few photos from the garden. So here goes:

Photo 1: Snowdrops in our Mini-Wood (3rd February)

Photo 2: Primrose with Auricula in the background (5th February))

Photo 3: Primroses (5th February)

Photo 4: Auricula (7th February)

Photo 5: Pitcher Plant (7th February)

Photo 6: Crocus (9th February)

Photo 7: Daffodil (10th February)

Photo 8: Crocus (10th February)

Photo 9: A Clump of Crocuses (16th February) with Daffodil Interloper

Photo 10: A Clump of Crocuses (20th February) with Daffodil Interloper

Photo 11: Hyacinth
And that's all folks.

Hereford's Warmest Day of 2024 (so far) and Wood Pigeons A-courting

The warmest day of the year (so far) in Hereford occurred on the 12th April (Figure 1) with temperatures reaching 21 ℃ between 3.30 pm and 4.30 pm (Figure 2). This daily high comfortably beat the previous record of 19 ℃ that occurred the day before (11th April). [Note: the following day (13th April) turned out to be the UK's warmest, so far, of 2024 with the mercury hitting 21.8 ℃ at Writtle in Essex].

Figure 1: Daily Maximum Temperatures (1st January 2024 to 12th April 2024)

Figure 2: Maximum Temperatures (15-minute periods) for 12/4/24 in Hereford

The Met Office gave a high probability to the 12th April being the hottest day so far.

We have seen hotter days in Hereford even earlier in the year: for example, 23 ℃ on the 30th March (2021) and 22 ℃ on the 5th April (2020). For the past two years, we have had to wait until 15th April (2022) and the 29th April (2023) for our first 'heatwave'!

When the weather gets warmer, it is time to start thinking of the birds and the bees. The local wood pigeons (well, perhaps only the males) have been feeling frisky for awhile now. The females seem to be, in the main, largely disinterested. I was looking out of the window this morning when I spotted a pair sitting on the trellis of the Paradise Garden. By the time I managed to get my camera ready, I had missed the very brief courtship routine of the male and the mutual preening and only caught the 'not today, darling' moment (Video 1).

Video 1: Wood Pigeon's Pairing Up?

Here is someone else's video showing the wood pigeon's courtship ritual ...

Video 2: Wood Pigeons a-courting

View from the Rear Window - February 2024 (Part I)

 February - the name can be traced back to Februa, the Roman festival of purification.

According to the UK Met Office, we have just had the warmest February on record for England and Wales, despite high rainfall and low sunshine levels. Globally, February 2024 was also the warmest February on record.

Just one photo of the back garden this month - taken in mid-February - showing bare trees and before the spring bulbs start to add colour. 

Photo 1: Back Garden in mid-February 2024

The rest of the daily photos are collated in the timelapse video (Video 1) below:

Video 1: Daily Garden Photos (February 2024)

Average weather parameters for Hereford are summarised in the Table below. Warm, wet and dreary!!

February 2024

Weather Parameter



Average Monthly Temperature 

8 oC

Maximum Monthly Temperature

17 oC


Minimum Monthly Temperature

-2 oC


Number of Air Frost Days


Number of Hot Days (> 25 oC)


Monthly Precipitation

81.0 mm

Greatest 24 h Precipitation

19.2 mm

8th - 9th

Number of Dry Days


Monthly Sunshine Hours (estimated)


Highest Wind Speed

47 km/h


Heating Degree Days


Cooling Degree Days


Daytime temperatures were warm for this time of the year and we only saw subzero night-time temperatures towards the end of the month.

Figure 1: Min/Max Daily Temperatures (February 2024)

There were five days with heavy rain (> 5 mm) and no rain on nearly half (13/29) of the days. Sunny days were at a premium but at least the cloudy nights kept the frosts away.

Figure 2: Daily Rainfall & Sunshine (February 2024)

February temperature data for the last 5 years are summarised in Figure 3. While five years is too short a period to confirm any trends in weather parameters, the data suggests the daily means, daytime maximums and  night-time minimums are all getting warmer.

Figure 3: February Temperature Data for the 2020 - 2024 Period

This warming trend can also be seen in the mean February temperatures for the whole of the UK courtesy of the Met Office - the 2020 - 2024 period is indicated by the red crosses on the rhs of the plot.
Figure 4: Met Office Graph Showing Mean UK Temperatures for February

In Figure 5, monthly rainfall and sunshine data for the last five Januarys are displayed. According to the nearby Credenhill Met Office weather station, rainfall in Hereford is around 51 mm for the month of February (based on the 1991-2020 average). So, February 2024 has definitely seen above average rain in these parts. Sunshine is below par, possibly part of a trend. It may not be a coincidence that the two warmest Februarys in Hereford over the last five years have seen above average rain and below average sunshine.

Figure 5: February Rain/Sun/Wind Data for the 2020 - 2024 Period

The following figures come from the UK Met Office's February 2024 Report. I've marked the location of Herefordshire on all three maps. Herefordshire, along with most of England below a line drawn from Middlesborough to Llanelli, was very warm. The rest of the UK was just warm!

Figure 6: UK Mean Temperature Anomalies (February 2024) 

The bits of the country that were very warm (Figure 6) were also rather wet (Figure 7), including Hereford, ...

Figure 7: UK Rainfall Distribution for February 2024

... and with a distinct lack of sunshine (Figure 8).

Figure 8: UK Sunshine Distribution (February 2024)

Jobs in the Garden
  • Another quiet month
  • Hot composting ad infinitum
  • Picked the last celeriac (about 1 kg) from 2023 season - made soup
  • Pruned the Rev Wilks and Golden Delicious apple trees, the Nottingham medlar tree, the Concorde pear tree and the Whinham's Industry gooseberry bush
Photo 2: From L to R, Medlar, Rev Wilks and Golden Delicious before pruning

Photo 3: After Pruning

Flora & Fauna (in the Garden)
  • 2 x Blackbirds (male & female)
Photo 4: Blackbird
  • 4 x Blue Tits
  • 2 x Collared Doves
  • 1 x Crow
  • 1 x Great Tit
  • 11 x House Sparrows
  • 1 x Herring Gull
  • 2 x Magpie
  • 1 x Robin
  • 15 x Starlings
Photo 5: Starling on Feeder
  • 5 x Wood Pigeons
  • Buff-tailed Bumblebees (numerous)
Photo 4: Buff-tailed Bumblebee on South Facing Wall

This is where I usually add some photographs of the garden. Unfortunately, Blogger is being a bit of a bleggar so I'll post the photos in the next article. 

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