Cathedral of the Forest

12 March 2017- Coleford and Newland, Gloucestershire

Me, PG, Kate Force One and Magic Dave

Forest of Dean the destination, we headed off very slowly, even by our standards, with stops to pick up forgotten phone, purchase an OS map (a keen 4 mins before shop opened), then intense in-car appliance-related milling (KF1 and MD) and lack of concentration (me and PG) which led to forgetting to leave the M48. But eventually, we arrived in Coleford and parked up by the possibly exciting-but-unvisited railway museum.

IMG_1042After a false start which led to a tour of the District Council Offices carpark, we set off in the direction of Newland, across gentle hills and passing over a dismantled railway, then along a green lane, which research by Magic Dave told us was a burial path: Coleford not having enough cemetery space, bodies were taken to Newland, Cathedral of the Forest, for burial.

Newland charming, but we decided to push on towards the Wye, doing a loop south along a valley, then over a ridge and back north along the Offa’s Dyke Path with the river down below to our left. Amazing views over to Wales, with the Sugarloaf and the Skirrid on the horizon. Landscape rather hobbit-esque with beautiful stone cottages and steep secret valleys and woods. Game breeding appearing to be big business, with many pheasants flapping, interesting compounds designed to keep foxes out and areas laid out for shooting- a totally different sort of landscape management.

Then a steep ascent back over a wooded ridge and back into Newland. Beautiful village with the large, and presumably ancient churchyard in the centre, and lovely houses around it, including a run of early seventeenth-century almshouses and a ‘lecturery’, a habitation for a lecturer being included in the almshouse foundation. And a remarkable, completely new built ‘historic’ mansion, which the devil’s window informed us was an actual historic house, burnt out a few years ago and rebuilt from scratch.

IMG_1041 2Controversially, we decided not to visit the church in favour of the pub (PG having declared he’d reached his ecclesiastical limit during previous week’s holiday). And just as well, we only just got inĀ  before the Ostrich closed for a quick pint outside: charming and characterful establishment, definitely worth a longer visit. Then it was back onto the green lane to retrace our steps to Coleford, and home via a (lazy, not get out of the car) tour of the castle at St Briavels.

Overall, a walk of indeterminate length (depending if you believed PG’s instinct, my mapreading or KF1’s iphone, somewhere between 4-8km), but definitely many steep climbs: aching legs but worth it for a lovely secret bit of landscape, hidden from the Wye and the big Welsh hills behind a ridge. Much talk during the walk of places we must visit, things we must do: first on the list, make a list…

 

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Urban Fidkin

6-10 March 2017- Clodock, Herefordshire

Me n PG

IMG_4232Such a lovely, lovely holiday, back to one of our favourite parts of the country*, to a stone cottage by the River Monnow in Clodock, just near Longtown. Slightly taken by surprise by the ferocity of the river by the cottage, a touch in flood but also a weir just outside**. Otherwise a peaceful spot (cottage on the river footpath and not a road)- just so relished the enormous number of birds, everything from sparrows, chaffinches and blackbirds to dippers and kingfishers, all busy about their feathery business…

We strolled around the vicinity quite a bit, visited the castles at Longtown, and learnt about St Clydog after whom the village is named. Murdered by a jealous suitor of a would-be suitor of his own, his body became supernaturally heavy and the church was founded where he fell. Yet another illustration of the dangers of unwise wandering in this part of the medieval world.

IMG_7975We managed one big walk, up through the village and then across into the pleasing Olchon Valley. Walked up the river, then back along the eastern ridge. Most fascinated by the very derelict Yellow House Farm, where the roof had clearly blown off as one event, and the rafters were laid out on the ground like a giant skeleton.

 

 

IMG_1037On the final day, we parked at the Bull’s Head and walked up to the head of the Monnow, where it disappears into a squelchy collection of springs, site of the ruined Craswall Grandmontine Priory. Glad to see the walls and earthworks under renovation. Then it was a drive down into the Golden Valley to stop at Abbey Dore. Absolutely one of my all-time favourite buildings, so obviously the melancholic remnant of a once much greater (Cistercian) whole, everything about its strange proportions and chilly interior appealing. Then it was fish and chips at Ewyas Harold, obviously a regular friday treat for many locals, and rightly so, delicious.

IMG_1010Too many other great things to mention really, it was a week of molehills and molecatchers, lambing, good food, amazing apple juice, and a pub that made it straight into the best pubs ever list- the Cornewall Arms in Clodock. Just one perfect room, full of great things and great people, you can’t ask more of a pub than that. And possibly more churches than PG would choose to visit left to his own devices…

And Urban Fidkin. In a holiday of characters and stories, he was the best. A nineteenth-century (petty) criminal who made it to America, made his fortune, and then came back to Herefordshire, changed his name (to his brother-in-law’s), and became the miller at the (still working) Clodock mill. Marvellous.

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*Ysgyryd Fawr, The Revenge Stone

** Totally forgot (the horror) to mention that PG caught his first trout of the season on the Tanhouse beat.