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.

IMG_0998

 

*Ysgyryd Fawr, The Revenge Stone

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

 

A Plus

20- 27 August 2016, Plouguenast

Me, PG, Kate Force One, Magic Dave, Mother-of-Two, Two, Slide and the Faringdon Archaeologists (x4)

IMG_0441L’adventure de l’ete (maybe?)… this time to Brittany, in an effort to circumvent the wind/ rain/ cold of previous expeditions, and to an actual house or two to circumvent the under canvas issue.

 

 

On both counts, extremely successful- not a tarp in sight and glorious sunshine. Not very much in the way of walking really, but we milled around the Breton countryside, meeting local wildlife (cats, cows, chickens, not as many fish as PG and Slide would have liked, at least one more wasp than KF1 would have liked, ouch), and strolled on various lovely beaches. Embarrassed myself with my weird French/ Spanish/ Italian hybrid non-language skills.

IMG_0413A goodly amount of ancient entertainment was achieved, including the astonishing stone rows at Carnac. We learnt quite alot one way or the other about Duchess Anne, champion of Brittany and married to not one, but two French kings (not at the same time we assume). And the de Rohans with their beautiful chateau at Josselin, adorned with their uncompromising motto, A PLUS. And their ancestor, son of a lady pirate who murdered her husband (‘bad childhood’ said the guide) with an even more direct motto: I do what I wish. We see what it took to become the grand fromage in early medieval Brittany.

IMG_0403Beaucoup de grand fromage was consumed by ourselves of course, with mountains of barbecue, booze, baguettes and some fabulous homemade madeleines. Best meal of the week undoubtedly at The Magic Cauldron in Moncontour- unbelievably tasty food, hippocras and medieval hats. Unbeatable.

Best of all, as always, fine conversation, comedy and companionship. Turns out that fun can be had without a tarp. None better, indeed.

 

IMG_0407

Save

The Revenge Stone

16 March 2016- Pontescob, Black Mountains

Me n Paddy Garcia

A few days away in the beautiful Grwyne Fawr valley. The valley didn’t have a road until 1912, when one was built during construciton of a new reservoir at the head, and it still feels remote. More remote than you’d imagine somewhere only 5 miles from Abergavenny could be. PG got his wish for lambs- surrounded by nothing but lambs, lambing and very, very tired looking farmers.

P1000542Walking efforts limited by a panoply of excuses, primarily (a) fishing (b) working and (c) aforesaid falling over, but we made it out one day for a sizeable walk, ably guided by Nick Jenkins Circular Walks in the Black Mountains. From our abode, it was straight out of the door up a steep lane (we considered that the description of this as ‘moderate’ showed Nick was made of sterner walking stuff than us), and along a green lane onto a fantastic ridge of open moorland. Incredible views on all sides, down right into the Ewyas valley and left along the Grwyne Fawr, across to Offa’s Dyke and the Sugarloaf. Geography lessons made flesh, or rock rather.

P1000543At a meeting of paths on top of the ridge, we reached Dialcarreg- the revenge stone, apparently the site of a memorial to Norman lord Richard de Clare, killed there in 1136 by the Welsh. Travelling hostile country accompanied by only a minstrel and a singer seems unwise on the basis of this example.

From the stone, we tracked down off the ridge a bit and followed the contours along the valley, past a string of fascinating farms, with incredible collections of old agricultural buildings, some hundred of years old. After a stop at the Tabernacle to admire the gravestones and sadly derelict manse, we crossed the river and headed up through steep fields to Partrishow, past ancient manorhouse Tyn-y-llyn.

P1000558Then to our destination St Issui’s Church. Hard to think of a medieval church in a more utterly beautiful spot. And one with a very special interior, complete with surviving rood screen and mural of Time as skeleton with spade and scythe. We sat on a stone ledge in the churchyard and ate lunch surrounded by spring flowers and sunshine, before heading off to view St Issui’s holy well, adorned by a great collection of votive offerings including pair of glasses and bottle of scotch.

 

A final rolling descent down the reservoir road back to Pontescob, bit sore in the hip but otherwise very happy.

 

P1000541

The Smallest City

14-16 August 2015- St David’s, Pembrokeshire

Me, PG, KateForceOne, Magic Dave, Mother-of-Two, Two, Slide, the Faringdon Archaeologists (x4)* and Burge (and chums)

IMG_2786The annual summer camping jaunt. Intense email-based milling preceded this trip- several weeks of correspondence resulted in no concrete plan until the days running up to departure, when a campsite satisfying strict criteria of (a) not windy and (b) not full was booked. All to no avail. Burge, forming an advance party, changed campsite the day before everyone else arrived. So we found ourselves at Porthclais- very beautiful clifftop, but, to quote a local- with a lazy wind, one that goes right through you rather than round.

After last year’s Adventures under Tarp, this year Slide had purchased two actual made-for-purpose shelters and a windbreak. When we arrived on friday, were delighted to see that Slide had managed to rig both shelters togther into a not-as-per-instructions semi-shelter. It just wouldn’t the same without some homemade tarp action.

IMG_2789We managed a fair bit of short walking. Porthclais is on the coast path, with beautiful small harbour- the medieval harbour of St David’s, so we learnt. Which probably also explains the well-worn green lane to St David’s itself, which we tramped a number of times at varying speeds. PG and I managed one early morning ramble around the coast path to visit St Non’s chapel and Holy Well. Spectacular views along the coast for miles, but possibly a bit ‘edgy’ for PG’s taste.

IMG_2783What a very charming small city St David’s is. On the Saturday night we made the trip for fish and chips. And a moonlit stroll around the grounds of the Cathedral and Bishops’ Palace- definite highlight- lurking in the dark listening to a Welsh male voice choir through the West Door, watching ladies in full traditional dress sitting in the porch and being buzzed by bats. Total magic.

 

IMG_2765We enjoyed spectacular sandcastle building, cricket and icecream at Whitesands, celebrated Magic Dave’s birthday with fruit gin, ate a vast amount of barbecued meat, and went crabbing at Porthgain. Really enjoyed this little harbour village with its derelict industrial landscape and fantastic Sloop Inn.

Otherwise chewed the fat, argued about wood (quality of), fire (smoky) and life into the night and generally arsed around. Great fun. Quotes of the holiday undoubtedly the much-loved ‘my zip’s gone crazy’ from Annabel, and ‘please god no singing’ from a desperate 3am PG. There is such a thing as too much Burgess & Slide it turns out.

Next year- we vow less milling and possibly a house, and NO TARP. eek.

IMG_2762* It turns out that actually lots of archaeologists live in Faringdon so maybe there’s something in my theory about Oxfordshire being heavily-archaeologised (The Wilderness).

The Wilderness

8-9 August 2015- the Oxfordshire Cotswolds

Me n PG

A weekend of pedestrian adventuring at long last. To Charlbury for dinner to celebrate the birthday of Prof S. It occurs to me that everyone- really everyone (except those under 18)- I know who lives in Oxfordshire is an archaeologist. I wonder what that means, and if anyone has ever mapped archaeologist habitation by county. Would be interesting to see the results.

We stayed at the ancient but newly-refurbished Woodstock Arms. Monkey wallpaper, Winston Churchill and a lacquered ceiling, quirky and good. We’d decided to stay in Woodstock and spend the afternoon walking to Charlbury, about 7 miles. Thus after a quick lunch, we headed off into the park at Blenheim.

Photo0032Whatever you think about aristocratic country houses (PG not much), Blenheim is undeniably impressive. The scale of the landscape vision is breathtaking. We walked out along the north drive- miles, I think literally, of straight avenue across the park and monument to the house. Enhanced by the slightly odd experience of the house (?fire) alarm sounding in the distance. Felt like the apocalypse and noone left but us and the sheep.

photoThen we were off along the Oxfordshire Way. Also strangely deserted, not a dog walker in sight. Many massive rolling fields of wheat and burning sunshine: we resigned ourselves to being sweatier on arrival than we intended. The route then headed through Stonesfield, followed by a final slog into Charlbury, this section accompanied by the sounds of the Wilderness festival* on the horizon. We ended at The Bull in the centre of Charlbury for a marvellous dinner.

photo(3)Fortified by a hearty breakfast, on Sunday we visited the deserted village at Hampton Gay. We parked at Shipton-on-Cherwell and took the footpath over the canal, the Cherwell and under the railway to Hampton Gay. Such a complicated and interesting bit of landscape, so many loops and routeways.

 

photo(1)
Hampton Gay was fabulous earthworks, extraordinary ruined Elizabethan manor and tiny chapel. And a sad story of a massive train crash in 1874  (34 dead and 69 injured on Christmas Eve) and the manorhouse gutted by fire in 1887.


All that done and not even eleven, we decided to keep going to Hampton Poyle, home to another small church and more earthworks. Then it was a loop back over the Cherwell to follow a track along the river, through a fantastic community woodland where we heard a squirrel cracking nuts and saw some deer in the undergrowth.

photo(2)An icecream stop at Thrupp Bridge, and back along the canal to Shipton, to tour a third and final small church, this one with colourful windows. Not a very long walk, but really lovely- a bit wild and woolly and a good slice of medieval landscape. Felt like walking two dead ends either side of the canal/ river/ railway and that’s a good thing.

 

* Discovered that the name of the festival comes from an area of managed landscape on the estate where it’s held. Thus dispelling the Cotswolds= not wild issue that was troubling PG.

 

By full tilt river and switchback sea

24- 27 April 2015- Laugharne, Carmarthenshire

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

There’s something quite futile about attempting to write about Laugharne and its environs. Right from the off, there’s Dylan Thomas, right there…

But we did walk, so I will write.

IMG_2553Firstly, the view. Our chalet was perched on a hill overlooking the very complicated estuary, and we enjoyed watching the tide wash in and out over the many sandy channels and inlets- in misty fog when we arrived, and glorious sunshine the next day.

On Saturday, we took a small stroll (3 miles) around Laugharne itself, to take in the main Thomas sights. We began with possibly the most lengthy phase of milling we’ve ever suffered from, which involved several false starts, some crawling back into house on hands and knees (to avoid treading mud into carpet after boots on), detailed discussions of health issues (backs, bowels, knees again) before general despair at hopeless aging was overcome and we sailed forth.

IMG_2493The route followed the estuary past Thomas’s spartan writing shed (previously garage) and along to the Boathouse. Fascinatingly small inside and as far into the sea as a house can be without falling into it. Then we trailed through ‘Milk Wood’ and looped inland to St Martin’s Church, where the man himself is buried, Caitlin beside. Enjoyed the higgledy-piggledy churchyard with its formidable but collapsing walls.

IMG_2500Then it was back down into the village for a stroll around the mighty Norman/ Tudor castle with towering views out over the estuary. And a gazebo- the writing spot of Richard Hughes, author of the first ever radio play, who lived in the perfect pink Castle House next door, where the Thomases were regular visitors.

 

Paused at the town hall and prison (Kate Force One taken by surprise by animatronics). Remarkably, Laugharne is one of the only surviving medieval corporations left in Britain, complete with burgesses and open field system. Then it was off for a drink at Browns Hotel, after a brief stop at Corran Books opposite, whose proprietor informed us that the very fine Georgian houses of King Street (where both are located) feature no less than six former ballrooms between them. Which conjured up a wonderful image of a town overrun with wealthy seacaptains of yesteryear, home from the sea, and nothing to do but dance, dance, dance.

IMG_2512Sunday saw us on a drive to Pendine for a slice of different history. The seven miles of sands are breathtaking, more so because the dunes behind (and indeed the beach) have been MOD property since the war, and thus remain a wild natural haven (except for the blowing things up bits, and the big signs telling you never to pick up unidentified objects…). And in the 1920s the sands formed a better driving surface than most roads, so it was here that several landspeed records were broken. Until a tragic end for JG Parry-Thomas and his car Babs in 1927.

 

IMG_2521We headed straight up over the hill from the beach, briefly getting mixed up with a horde of families on a picnic outing to the next (weirdly pebbly) beach beyond, before leaving them behind to continue along the along the South Wales coastal path. Very hard work on the legs, lots of steep climbs and descents, but glorious blue skies, yellow gorse and fantastic views over Carmarthen Bay, with Worms Head to to the east, and Tenby and Caldey to the west. After a stop for a hearty lunch of sandwiches, savory eggs, pork pies, apples, biscuits, coffee and one yazoo (Magic Dave), we turned inland and headed up to Marros, before looping back down towards Pendine, through rolling green valleys that didn’t feel coastal at all.

IMG_2534

Waiting for the hat…

Met a very friendly bunch of dogs and their minders who let us through their garden, got a bit lost, Burge had to retrace steps looking for lost hat (blog photos provided vital evidence of where hat last seen), and then we were back at the pebbly beach, just the final hard up and down back to Pendine. Quick drink in scorching sun outside the Beach Hotel before heading back to Laugharne.

Monday saw the party (-Burge) return home via the lovely Llansteffan (recommended by a local in Browns on our first night), looking out across the channel to Ferryside on the other side. In its 19th century heyday, holidaymakers arrived at Ferryside by train from Swansea, took a ferry to Llansteffan, and could cross the peninsula to call a boat over to Laugharne. Today travelling between the three involves lots of driving inland and out again, but it’s worth it- impressive castle and charming teabreak at Llansteffan. Then we crammed in one final Thomas stop at Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea, before tea at PG’s folks and home.

IMG_2550Great weekend away, absolutely made by the stunning views over the estuary. The horizon is definitely good for you. Great wildlife- hundreds of noisy birds, lots of furry things, even a high-speed badger. And a very charming, interesting, characterful town. We imagined Dylan Thomas tramping the countryside, searching for inspiration, and drink, did the same ourselves, and enjoyed the experience muchly.

 

IMG_2481

 

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.

IMG_1870