(Not so) far from the Madding Crowd

28 May 2017- Lulworth Cove, Dorset

Me, Jim the Alien, Big O and the Doctors

A weekend away visiting the Doctors: in training for a family climb of Mount Everest Ben Nevis in the summer, a BIG walk was promised on Sunday. We thus headed off to the south coast, to walk a section of the Dorset Coastal Path.

Parked at Lulworth Cove: completely beautiful spot in the sunshine, we fantasized about swimming in the cove on our return. After a slight detour round the village, we headed up and down some steep inclines before heading onto the ridge walk eastward. Really tough on the legs, but incredible views along the coast and over the sea.

Lunch was sandwiches at the top (during which we learnt there was a definite split in the party re: the acceptability of mayonnaise or not), fruit, and sweets (during which we learnt that I am out of touch with modern sweets- Moams- but it doesn’t matter as they are very strange). All these things rendered insignificant by a fascinating weather front which turned the horizon into a dark purple haze and then vanished: but we guessed rain was not too far away.

All fears of the walk being boring were banished as we entered the range walk at Lulworth Camp. The view opened up inland across the live firing range, where, so the Devil’s Window informed us, the Armoured Fighting Gunnery School practices what Armoured Fighting Gunnery characters need to learn. A fabulously wild and woolly landscape where wandering around and picking things up are clearly a bad idea, and where old tanks go to die. Extraordinary herds of rusting military hardware dotting the landscape.

The final section included some really, really tough climbs and descents, as well as the ditches of an Iron Age hillfort (suspiciously cratered looking). We picked a summit, and having crested it, called it a day, heading back to our lunch spot for a rest, then along a slightly inland path for variety, before final descent to the beach at Lulworth. The weather having turned a bit, stone skipping seemed a more appealing activity to finish, followed by cream tea and icecream.

Really fab walk, probably 8-9 miles, extremely tough on the legs, and made by the fabulous, fabulous views. Enjoyed being educated about lepidoptery, especially the Lulworth Skipper.

 

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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 in  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…

 

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.

 

Season of mists

30 October 2016- North Stoke, Somerset

Me n PG

img_0637Beautiful autumn walk, mild, misty and full of interesting wildlife. Parked at North Stoke, and reflected how fantastic it is that there are still new places to discover after all these years. Quick look around the very charming church, then a looping walk around Pipley Woods. On a clear day the view would have been spectacular, but we enjoyed as much of the misty horizon as we could see anyway. Hedgerows full of berries and shrooms and tiny wrens, fields full of rooks and rambling dogs. Down Landsdown Lane to Upton Cheyney, for a stop at Manor Farm for excellent lunch, farm shop, pig admiring and talk about chilli farming. What’s not to like? Must go back*.

img_0643* We went back! Sunday 4 December… parked beyond Upton Cheyney, walked over Hangman’s Hill for surprising views back over east Bristol. Frosty and good.

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Time flies

18 September 2016, Bredon Hill

Me, PG, Kate Force One, Magic Dave and the DJ

img_0529Totally forgot to upload a blog about this lovely walk I realise, but worth recording as a very lovely spot, and an excuse for stopping at Gloucester M5 services both ways. We parked at Elmley Castle, walked a six mile loop through beautiful countryside up to Bredon Hill with amazing views over the Severn estuary and ended up for a pint in the Queens Head pub in the village, lovely.img_0523

 

 

365 steps

29 August 2016, Chepstow

Me, PG, Kate Force One, Magic Dave

IMG_0453A post-holiday six miler and return to the Mullett, oh the joy! From a carpark outside Chepstow, a stiff ascent of the 365 steps, then a circuit taking in incredible views over the Wye Valley and Severn Estuary, both bridges on the horizon.

The weather was very hot, and the route was tough enough to satisfy Kate Force One’s need for walk-based training. The countryside was beautiful: lots of classic rolling hills, wild hedges and blue skies with fluffy clouds. We enjoyed a food break in the church field at Penterry, learning about some of the village’s darker history.

Highlight without a doubt was being stalked across a field by a few (what is the collective noun?) buzzards- one in particular flying slowly around us at not much height. Majestic.

Good to return to the Mullett after a considerable break, he never disappoints. An interesting walk and only the one obligatory section of misleading directions which left us facing a field of head-high corn…

Finished off with a drink by Tintern Abbey, watching a bushful of sparrows getting on with their fluff and feather business right there in the pub garden. Ace.

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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.

 

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