For King and Parliament

Tuesday 30th December 2014- Winford- Dundry, Somerset

Me, Paddy Garcia, Kate Force One, Magic Dave and Burge

Inspired by the previous day’s walk (The Hoarfrost), we rambled again, loosely deciding on the Dundry area, and me settling on Winford as a starting point. Some degree of vehicle-based milling, resulting in unanticipated tour of the nether regions of Hartcliffe/ Withywood. Accompanied by intense verbal milling, centering on a complex loop of actor/ film confusion. It turns out that Toby Jones is not Jason Watkins, only one of them is in the Hunger Games, and that neither (possibly inexplicably) has yet played Batman.

No guidebook to follow, but Winford is blessed with many footpaths, so we parked the trusty steed by the church and headed out of the village eastwards, under the aqueduct, to join the Monarch’s Way. This, we discovered, is a long distance path from Worcester to Shoreham following Charles II’s escape route after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. It took him six weeks to cover the 600-odd miles apparently.

IMG_1931The Monarch’s Way headed due north, up a very long and fairly tough climb towards Dundry. We sweated in the sunshine. PG lost faith in my mapreading abilities early on and took over half way up (when did I stop being the navigator? Not sure I like it). The slog itself was through fairly featureless pasture fields, but the view back south was worth it from the top, an extensive sweep across the Chew Valley, the reservoir and way down into Somerset.

IMG_1935After a quick chocolate and nut break, we carried on across the top to Castle Farm. Right on the edge of the Dundry ridge, we then enjoyed amazing views north and west (farm name no accident we guess)- we could see the Clifton Suspension Bridge, right round past Long Ashton, then way over to both Severn bridges and over the Barrow reservoirs.

We then turned eastwards along a lane, past lots of horse paddocks and small-holdings. At this point, Burge was pleased to recognise that we were on the route of a previously-completed Geoff walk- talk of yesterday’s new guidebook had not been going down well. PG electrocuted at this juncture by fence inappropriately blocking footpath, eek.

The route followed the contour for some way, then we began cutting downhill. We crossed an extremely large field with two solitary freeranging pigs- not something you see often- and thoughts turned to food, so we stopped below Elton Farm for brief snacks.

After some debate about whether we could manage to complete our intended route before dark, we decided to soldier on rather than shortcut*. Down through rolling fields, many with horses, and over many, many stiles and fences, electric or otherwise. Felt like hard work.

IMG_1942Then we were into Bitham’s Wood and onto the valley bottom along lanes and footpaths. Very interesting history of gunpowder mills strung out along the stream here at Littleton and Powdermill Farm. This valley was a major manufacturing centre during the Civil War and key historic buildings survive. Then it was past the mossy-looking Kentshare Farm and back into the outskirts of Winford, accompanied by the slightly confusing but not unappealing odour of the Chinese cafe on the main road.

Final duck under the aqueduct (built, we learned, in 1851 and the earliest surviving example of engineering of its type, still supplying Bristol with water today), past the imposing Court Farm (built 1593) and we were back at the Church. Quick hop into the centre of the village to visit the Prince of Waterloo for a relaxing drink. Truly magnificent pub cat- enormous, friendly and totally in control of the establishment.

Overall, a good 5 miler. Some hard slog, but worth it for the inspiring views in multiple directions. Alarmingly fascinating to be under the flightpath of Bristol airport and see planes so close overhead. Didn’t enjoy the local obsession with over-fencing- the landscape felt slightly too tidy for me, and our hips are too old for an obstacle course- but otherwise very satisfactory. Must find out more about the very interesting gunpowder mills and the slightly Napoleonic overtones in Winford!

IMG_1945* Not allowing KFO to finish her apple. Burge is a hard taskmaster, as previously observed (Banjo!)

The Hoarfrost

Monday 29th December 2014- Hillesley, Gloucestershire

Me, Paddy Garcia, Kate Force One, Magic Dave, Madame Citron and Mr P

IMG_1910All very determined to have a ‘proper’ walk before the festive season closed, so we set out in good time, with lunches packed and a new guide book. Yes it’s true. The shades of Geoffwalks Past were stirred. Nigel Vile’s Pub Walks near Bristol and Bath set out on its maiden voyage, a Cotswold 6.5 miler.

We parked the cars in Hillesley and began the steep climb south towards Splatt’s Barn. The weather was spectacular- icy cold, heavy frost but not a cloud in the sky and glorious midwinter sunshine. Met a friendly dogwalker, who related the story of a careless¬† highwayman who went ‘arse over tit’ in the vicinity and lost his ill-gotten gains. A well-placed hole might yield treasure somewhere in the vicinity he reckoned…

IMG_1900As we approached the top, the landscape, and Mr P’s imagination, became dominated by the tower, which we discovered is a 100 foot memorial to General Lord Robert Edward Henry Somerset, a commander at Waterloo. After some dithering about whether to divert to observe the tower close up, we stuck to Nigel’s route, cutting west to enjoy amazing views off the ridge down across the Severn Estuary. We could just see the tops of the old Severn Bridge in the distance, and could also see along the scarp to the ‘Edge’ at Wotton, where we walked in the summer (PG36 intense green).

At this point, our usual issues with ballistics (‘Caution: shooting today, keep to the footpaths’) and dangerous beasts (‘Caution: bull in field’) arose. The first was no surprise, as we’d heard the guns and were seeing large numbers of pheasants flopping and squawking around as they do. The second didn’t materialise, fortunately.

IMG_1909We headed down towards the valley, then followed an unmetalled lane, admiring the scarps and lynchets sculpted by the frost, and the crunchy, icy mud. We stopped for Christmas chocolate in Hawkesbury. There’s something very special about this tiny hamlet with its beautiful church and ancient cottages, I’m always glad to visit.

From Hawkesbury, we looped around Hawkesbury Upton (at which point it became evident that the route was never going to approach the tower, much to Mr P’s chagrin) and then down across a steep valley, still heavily frosted on the dark slope. By now it was lunchtime, so we paused on the sunny side for a magnificent feast of ham, tortilla, turkey sandwiches, french snacks and cakes, crisps, fruit, and even more ham, with coffee and hot chocolate.

IMG_1914Fully replenished, we headed off. Lost the route very slightly- not enough to detract from our liking for Nigel’s directions- but soon found ourselves back on a wide ride, as instructed. Through an extremely beautiful enclosed valley with crystal clear stream, lovely in the afternoon sunshine. Then onto the ‘valley of death’, where we glimpsed a fast-moving beasty (lynx or tiger we thought most likely, less possibly fox). PG and KFO investigated a very dead badger in a hedge, whilst the rest of us considered the unlikely sight of a dead crow buried tail-up in a molehill. An aerial attack gone dreadfully wrong? We can only guess.

Much house envy in the very charming hamlet of Lower Kilcott, and more interesting wildlife- horses, birds, a selection of amusing dogs, including a strange snorting labrador and an ancient hound, as well as some tiny quicksilver trout in the stream (PG very excited).

IMG_1920By now the sun was heading below the horizon and the air was turning icy again. The route took us along a curving lane with high hedges covered in heavy frost. Utterly beautiful, like walking in a giant piece of confectionery. Towards the end, we encountered a misty, frosty field of shaggy highland cattle, steaming in the cold and slurping in a pond.

Then we were back at Hillesley and into the Fleece Inn, a friendly community-run pub, for a well-deserved post-walk pint. I’m not sure there are really enough words to convey the absolute beauty of this walk. Lovely countryside, as only the Cotswolds can provide, but it was really the icy frostiness, the low sun and the quality of the air that made it so special.

We also enjoyed Nigel’s directions, ably piloted by Madame Citron, and the crazy wildlife we saw along the way. The day out further enhanced by Madame Citron and Mr P’s hitchhiker on the way home (this blog cannot do her justice so she remains undescribed), and a lengthy pub crawl/ board game session back in Bristol by some of the party. Marvellous.

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Pesk, Kober ha Stean

11th December 2014- River Hayle, Cornwall

Me n’ Paddy Garcia

PG suffering river-watching withdrawal symptoms, and alarmingly high winds this day, an inland rather than coastal walk seemed wise, so we decided to walk up the River Hayle.

Set off from the church at St Erth along the footpath. We wended through Battery Mill, an interesting collection of fisheries, cattery, dog spa, caravans and various other light industrial stuffs. Then it was off along the river path proper- a very easy stroll right next to the water.

IMG_1861River beautiful. Stone-cold clear, even after the stormy weather. Not very wide but deep in places, and fast flowing, yet we could always see to the bottom. Some lovely bends where a fly fisherman could spend a happy day. This prompted a consultation with the Devil’s Window to find out about the fishing rights, and the discovery of an incredible fact.

Turns out you probably wouldn’t want to eat any fish you caught in the River Hayle. Despite its idyllic appearance, the river is still contaminated with heavy metals (copper, tin and cadmium mainly) from historic mining. Far too toxic for normal ‘metal-naive brown trout’, who are highly sensitive to toxins, there is nevertheless a population of hardy brown trout in the Hayle. A recent study has shown they have evolved genetically to tolerate the metals. This makes them, apparently, one of the most important populations of trout there are. Amazing. Still wouldn’t want to eat them.

Digesting this fascinating information (and wondering why PG had never read about it in Trout and Salmon), we continued up the river, enjoying head-high stands of reeds and dense scrub all around. Just before Relubbus we stopped at a caravan park for chocolate supplies and crossed the river, climbing up through woodland onto the hillside.

Met a very friendly cattle farmer at Trannack (‘ansome’) and a man carrying a chicken, then off up and down muddy hillsides, through brassica fields and past Chynoweth until we reached a high point where great views down across the Hayle estuary emerged. We then headed on over the top and down to St Erth, passing the marvellously secret-looking Old Vicarage.

IMG_1868Generally associate St Erth with industrial estates and train changing, but the village itself was charming. Quick look around the churchyard to admire the handsome slate gravestones, including a rather chilling one from 1832 (did they not know the names of the victims? Or the stone was put up after the ‘awful visitation’ when the information was lost?). Then back in the car to Godrevy to admire the stormy waves.

Not a spectacular walk, and short (3.5 miles) but very, very interesting. Pesk, it survives the Kober ha Stean.

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Ancient stones, bygone souls

Tuesday 9th December- Sancreed- Carn Euny, West Penwith

Me n’ Paddy Garcia

P1000528A short four miler defined by incredible views. The walk captures the essence of West Penwith: half wild, wet woodland and half windswept, granite headland, all of it more ancient than you can possibly imagine.

 

 

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Parked the car by Sancreed Church and headed south west out of the village, following signs to the Holy Well. In a patch of woodland, this sort of half-natural cave with a spring in the bottom and ruined chapel is well-used- many a ‘cloutie’ hanging on the tree by the water. You wonder what the churchman who rediscovered the well in 1879 would have made of such paganism.

IMG_1837Then it was off across the fields and green lanes, heading straight towards the Atlantic and into strong winds. Both well wrapped against the elements though (PG looking like a refugee from the second crusade, were waterproof trousers to be invented then), we forged on, enjoying the misty views and occasional glimpses of the sea. Many monumental stone stiles, and circling rooks and seagulls, heavy-coated cows.

IMG_1845At Boswarthen we admired dramatic ruined farm buildings, but by then the weather was set in wet, so we turned downhill to the hamlet of Brane, before heading up a lane to Carn Euny. The distinctive feel of this Iron Age settlement drew us in- easy to imagine the residents hunkering down in their smoky houses, or doing as we did, watching the horizon to keep track of boats coming and going along the coast. Particularly enjoyed the enormous fogou you can still walk down into. PG now P1000523looking like captured second crusader in Saracen dungeon. We ate sandwiches and coffee under its shelter and rehearsed the old debate about what its builders used it for.

 

 

P1000526The weather improved a touch as we left Carn Euny, so we looped north along a green lane and up to Carn Brane hillfort. Truly, truly spectacular views, even on a misty day. Not the highest point, but the perfect point for an amazing 360 panorama: right down across Penzance Bay to St Michael’s Mount, round to Lamorna Cove, past St Buryan’s Church dominating the horizon, right out to St Just, then all the way round to the hills above Zennor on the north coast. Such a fundamental grasp of landscape and territory.

Then we walked down the green lane, meeting the one and only human being we saw during the whole walk, a man clearing undergrowth (what is the right way to approach a man wearing ear defenders and using a petrol strimmer in a confined space from behind?). Then left at the stone cross to retrace our steps back to Sancreed.

We looked around the church of St Creden’s at Sancreed (¬£400,000 needed to repair the roof, eek). Touched by the memorials to William Stanhope Forbes, killed at the Somme in 1916 aged 23, especially the wooden cross, erected where he was buried in France, and later sent home to Cornwall. Overall, the church felt a little melancholy- the ancient central place of a parish that once supported a school of 75 children, and a methodist chapel that seated 200, as well as St Creden’s itself, it’s hard not to feel the past slipping away, the loss of so many working lives. The Victorian stained glass window with its images of fishermen, tin miners, farmers and gardeners said it all.

A wet drive over to Mousehole for a mill around, a drink in the Ship Inn and the lucky observation of many men in high vis preparing the astonishing Christmas lights. 7000 bulbs. If only we were here to see the full effect, they don’t turn them on until next week.

Back to Bluewaters to sit in the oriel window with a hot water bottle and write it all down. A slightly bleak, wintery walk, but no less enjoyable for that. Felt like a trip into the distant past as much as one into the far west.

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