|The Wye Valley Way|
Ross-on-Wye (twice) ...
Once again we started a day’s walking in early morning sunshine and once again we knew it was not going to last. We had arrived in the centre of via the village of Mordiford, where we had left our return car, and had enjoyed an hour’s worth of eccentric Satnav guidance which if nothing else provided a scenic tour of the local countryside. We parked in a small car park in the centre of Ross and I spoke a few words into the camcorder while Colin went through his hamstring stretching exercises, which made him resemble one of those mime artists you see on street corners who imitate statues for hours on end. We set off towards the church and our starting point and within just a few minutes Colin cheerfully informed me that he had left the guide book back at the cottage. I called him a rude name and then we went back to the car, and back to Colin’s cottage to retrieve the book.
Standing before the large oak doors of the Church’s North entrance we fiddled with rucksack straps, shuffled about busily, and tried to determine how to gain the route proper. As we did so the amiable Church Warden opened the doors, wished us a good morning, and after hearing of our planned day of walking suggested that a brief tour of the church interior might be a nice start. I’ve driven past Ross-on-Wye many times since my brother re-located to the area and from the vantage of the A40 bypass the town presents a pleasing view, built as it is on a low hill above the river's winding course. Buildings rise up, one atop the other, and the church of St. Mary’s provides a focal point with its 205 ft spire pointing skywards.
St Mary's Church, Ross-on-Wye.
has been the centre of Christian worship in the town for over 700 years and is central to a large group of parishes in the area. It was originally founded by Robert de Betun, Bishop of Hereford, in the 13th century. The church, in its current form, was dedicated in 1316. There is evidence that suggests that there was a Saxon and Norman church there before the current one was built.
We left the church after perhaps twenty minutes and waved the Church Warden goodbye. A little more dawdling took place as we wondered about the church grounds, visiting the Plague Cross, erected to mark the final resting place of 315 victims of the 17th century Black Death, who had been buried at night and without coffins. There was also the ancient row of Alms Houses, unchanged for five centuries, to admire. The town of Ross-on-Wye has been inhabited for many centuries – since at least Norman times and most likely long before that – and was simply called Ross until 1931 when, to avoid confusion with towns of the same name, the ‘on-Wye’ was added. It became a market town in the 12th century and prospered owing to its location on the banks of the Wye which was a busy commercial trade route. In the 19th century the town enjoyed a major facelift as part of a government scheme to improve sanitation and living conditions in towns and cities. Streets were widened, slums cleared, and a mock-gothic architectural style was applied to new buildings erected. Ross is also, arguably, one of the founding sites of the tourist industry, offering scenic boat trips down the river from as early as the 18th century. Many of the towns hotels and inns were built to cater for this new found leisure activity. Today the town has a population of around 10,000 and notable people who have lived in or around the area include a couple of members of dramatist Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective), Richard Hammond of Top gear fame, and actress Noel Gordon (star of the now defunct soap opera Crossroads) who is buried in the church cemetery. Perhaps more surprising is that the Australian cricketer Shane Warne also has a property nearby. Ross-on-Wye has much to hold the attention and so it was a later start then we had planned by the time we finally set off on the walk proper.
Good deeds and wrong turns ...
We set off on a downward course through the streets of Ross, passing the pub where Colin and I had once enjoyed a legendary lock-in, and paused once again to admire the fish sculpture set before it and also to read the inscription set above the pub entrance, which explains how the pub received its name –
John Kyrle (1637-1724)
Gained fame for his community involvement, his modest lifestyle, and charitable works. He helped settle disputes, aided the poor & sick, supported schools, and left the beautiful ‘Prospect Walk’ with a fountain and garden to the citizens of Ross.’
This remarkable man, born to a wealthy family and highly educated, chose not to live a lavish lifestyle nor pursue a legal career after qualifying as a barrister. Instead he lived quietly in his home overlooking the market square of Ross, spending his considerable fortune for the betterment of the town and it’s folk. He enjoyed manual labour and would often literally get his hands dirty when working on the many projects he founded. One of life’s true philanthropists he continued to work tirelessly to help those less fortunate and died peacefully at the ripe old age of 87. I can’t help but feel that spending a week or two in this man’s company would have been an enlightening experience.
We wandered onwards and downwards, reaching the banks of the River Wye, and searched for the passport station to collect another stamp for our passports. The establishment named in the passport book no longer existed, it was derelict and had been for some years by the look of it, so we tried a couple of Cafes and shops further along the embankment. They all told the same story; they had applied for a stamp from the Wye Valley Way organisation and had been waiting for a few years for one to be supplied. So that was that – no stamp from Ross-on-Wye and a blank space in our guidebooks. It was a minor irritation and nothing more – nothing like as irritating as setting off in the wrong direction along the river and only discovering this after quite a long bit of walking and certainly not as irritating as having to walk all the way back to Ross after discovering the error. In mitigation of this screw-up we will just point out that the guide book told us to follow the river upstream once we reached its banks and at this point the river has no discernible flow – so we guessed and guessed wrong.
Pointed in the right direction we walked away from Ross-on-Wye once more, along meadows of wild grasses and bracken, passing through a makeshift camp-site where people were setting up marquees and stalls in preparation for some sort of canoe event. It was a Bank Holiday of course and the weather was miserable, which evoked memories of Redbrook Fete on
The River Wye after Ross.
Hole-in-the-wall and a whole lot of gradients ...
Soon we neared the strangely named hamlet of approaching it along a quiet little road between high hedges and verges of Hole-in-the-Wall was little more than a couple of cottages and a phone box but it did have a tiny little green and a wooden seat so we stopped there for a soggy lunch. We noted that the bench was dedicated to the owner of Classical Ventures the headquarters of which we passed by when entering Ross-on-Wye - maybe he was a former resident of this tiny little place. Apart from the occasional passing car we saw nobody during our brief stay and we didn’t tarry for long; the rain was becoming heavier and sitting still was making us feel chilly. We chose what we hoped was the correct direction and set off along a metalled lane, passing a derelict old mill that was for sale with an optimistic offer of planning permission for development into a home. It was certainly in an idyllic spot, seated high above the winding river valley with commanding views, but I think any prospective developer would need deep pockets to make the place habitable as it was little more than a shell. Passing the old mill the road swept down into an open valley, running parallel to the Wye. The rain let up for a spell and the day brightened just enough to do the scenery justice. We passed a small field where a couple of caravans were parked up, a chap was enjoying a cup of tea seated at the window of one of them and he smiled and waved at us as we trudged by, his wife was in the kitchen area, a shadowy presence who was probably making bacon sandwiches and would soon be sharing them with her husband, snuggled in the warm shelter of the caravan with an easy day of watching TV ahead of them. For just the briefest of moments I envied them, but despite the chafing and the drizzle I still preferred the open trail and the prospect of the miles ahead.
It was here that Colin had left the road on his journey to Birmingham, he had struck uphill through the forests and turned eastwards on his way to Malvern. The Wye Valley Way took us westwards instead, leading us down to a grassy path along the banks of the river which we followed for some time. A large group of walkers met us from the other direction. They had started out from Mordiford, our destination, and were heading for Ross. We told them that their route was a nice easy flat few miles of walking and they told us that our route was to become hilly and that harder work lay ahead of us. This didn’t seem like a very fair exchange of information as we had reckoned on a day without any hill climbing, but it appeared we were mistaken. The friendly crowd of walkers waved goodbye and with a pack of excited dogs leaping about them they headed off towards Hole-in-the-Wall, leaving us to continue along the riverbank. The Wye veered off to our left and we picked up the course of a small brook that led us across a few fields before reaching a crossroads where (as we had been informed) we began to climb steadily. There was a variety of terrain underfoot for the next half an hour; muddy tracks, bridle paths,
A view from Capel Camp.
Feisty canines and frolicking cows ...
We escaped the little valley by climbing once more, meandering up the grassy slopes of Common Hill, and finding ourselves walking into woodland once more. A series of sneaky gradients followed, in and out amongst the trees, passing by ancient lime kilns dug deep into the living rock of the hillsides, abandoned so long ago that mature trees twined their roots about the old stonework so it was hard to determine man-made masonry from nature’s work. We continued along ridgeway paths with the tangled woodland falling away on either side of us; it was pleasant enough walking but it was nearing the end of the day and tiredness was beginning to announce itself in knee twinges and back aches, I found myself hoping that Mordiford (and the pint of beer waiting for me in the village pub) was going to appear sooner rather than later.
It was around this point that a dog bit my leg. We were ambling along a nice wide section of forest track when a woman approached us with a Springer Spaniel capering happily about her feet. It was all doggy grins and wagging tail as it approached us.
"Don't worry" assured the woman. "He's fine!"
I made encouraging clucking noises as the dog approached me but he just let out a volley of barking that I took to be excitement and so I continued past him, whereupon the little swine dived in behind me and nipped my calf. Luckily it was a mistimed nip and no damage was done - I was certainly less bothered by it then the dog's owner who apologised as she went by, her face an excellent advertisement for the word 'mortified'.
There was a nice finale the day waiting for us however, in the shape of and area of ancient woodland and therefore at least 400 years old. The sun cast a mellow late afternoon light all about us, picking out the vibrant green of newly opened leaves and the jewelled carpets of and which covered ground. We pondered the purpose of the box-like structures that were fixed high up on the trunks of some trees. They resembled Tannoy speakers but were probably part of a conservation
We had our passports stamped by a friendly young barmaid and then sat outside, folding our stiffening legs awkwardly under a trestle table, and enjoyed our beers. We both admitted we could have easily enjoyed several more such beers sitting here in this pleasant little spot but we had another car to pick up back in Ross-on-Wye and another night to enjoy swapping tales and sipping wine back at Brock Cottage.
Later in the year we would return to the Wye Valley Walk, visiting the county capital of Hereford before heading ever closer to the Welsh border and the Plynlymon Hills.
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