We went to Hergest Croft Gardens again recently to see how the autumn colours were progressing and to say that we were blown away, if I might use the vernacular, would be an understatement. The colours were astonishing!
Having looked around the main gardens we walked across ‘The Park’ to ‘Park Wood’, both of which are parts of the Hergest Croft Estate, and we went as far as the Pond. I’ll leave you to be the judge of these scenes.
And now we see Amanda in a blue jacket and red trousers with matching tree.
Having walked on the path around the pond, and its upper valley, we were walking back towards the Pond when we saw this.
We haven’t seen anything like it before. It was a series of trunks arranged in a circle around a central trunk and the trunk material looked to be the consistency of cucumber; nothing like wood. The growth at the top of each trunk was something like feathery leaves. The trunks have obviously been deliberately cut back as part of some sort of maintenance. I’m hoping that someone from Hergest Croft will see this and tell us what it is.
( Hergest Croft later told us that it is a Gunnera i.e. Giant Rhubarb.)
Personally I think that it is a Triffid.
We then left Park Wood and walked back across The Park, which looked lovely in the sunshine, towards the main garden.
Having got back to the main garden we saw, on the ground, a lot of large leaves from a nearby vine of some sort and I have deliberately included my boot to give an idea of scale.
Well that was a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting visit. They haven’t seen the last of us yet!
Not far from us is a little village called Shobdon and it is known locally for its ‘International Airport’. By ‘International Airport’ I don’t mean anything like London Heathrow. Oh no. It is a small local airport from which one can charter a light aircraft to fly one to Europe. There is not a lot of traffic and very little noise.
People, including us, generally dismiss it with ‘Oh the international airport’ and nothing more. However, just recently, we discovered ‘Shobdon Arches’ and had a surprise – well two surprises actually.
Shobdon church was rebuilt around 1750, replacing the original 14th century church, and it looks a nice little church although fairly ordinary; that is until one goes inside.
The interior is a surprise and anything but ordinary.
It has been described as “a complete masterpiece of English Rococo” and “the finest 18th century church in Herefordshire”. The style is known as ‘Gothic Revival’ and is clearly influenced by Wallace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, London. The amazingly intact interior and matching furniture are the sole example of this Walpolean Gothick style of Georgian church architecture and furnishing.
Having been thoroughly amazed and enchanted by this church’s interior we left to look for the ‘Shobdon Arches’ and started along this rather nice avenue of trees.
Nearing the top of the hill we could see the arches at the top.
Arriving at the top of the hill we find our second surprise; these amazing arches. When the original 14th century church was demolished the chancel arches we removed to this location as a ‘folly’.
In the last picture it can be seen that these carvings have weathered disasterously which isn’t surprising as they were originally from the interior.
These carvings are the work of the Herefordshire School of Romanesque sculpture which was a group of master masons working in Herefordshire and Worcestershire during the 12th century. They were heavily influenced by carving seen in churches and monasteries in south western France. Their distinctive ‘Romanesque’ sandstone and limestone carvings are to be found in several parish churches in the area, notably Kilpeck, but also Eardisley, Leominster and Castle Frome.
Once upon a time there was a little seed which fell onto the soft earth. It felt quite at home there and decided to settle down. Over the years it was sustained by sun and rain and slowly grew.
Some years later we stumbled upon it.
Towards the end of September we visited Hergest Croft Gardens again which is where we found the Purple Beech and what a magnificent tree it is. We have one of those growing in front of the house and we keep it trimmed to prevent it from growing to that size and blocking all the light from the front of the house. I wish we had the space to let it grow.
This fruit is growing on a tree and I’ll give you one guess as to what the tree’s name is. You’re right – it’s a Strawberry Tree.
There were plenty of other trees bearing colourful fruit.
There are also a number of trees in Hergest Croft Gardens which have rather interesting bark.
There were also some impressive, large, fungi.
There are still flowers at this time of year as this Azalea shows. Quite a large colourful specimen.
Flowers are not the only source of colour as the leaves on the trees are starting to turn.
On this trip we saw, growing along both sides of this path, even more Naked Ladies than on our last visit.
This was a rather striking bush where the leaves were much more noticeable than its tiny white flowers.
There is so much to see here that we plan to make a number of return visits and, being in Kington, it is only a 30 minute drive from us.
Do you want to see any more of Hergest Croft Gardens?
Today we go home. Originally today was forecast to be dry but cloudy instead we have another bright sunny day.
On the way back we intend to visit two churches. Both are exceptional and each one is quite different from the other.
The first church is in a tiny hamlet called Michaelchurch. The church is small and rather primitive. so what’s exceptional about this church? Well we need to go inside for that.
I’m sure that you will have heard the expression “The writing’s on the wall” well that expression applies to this church – literally!
The church is a listed building and was founded in 1056 with alterations being made in the 13th and 17th centuries. However the real interest are the 13th century wall paintings together with some writing from the 16th and 17th centuries.
This is some of the later writing which includes the ten commandments.
The earlier 13th century painting is red and white and must have originally covered the whole interior including the interior of the window alcoves.
That church was astonishing. We have never seen so many 13th century wall paintings in any one building before. Certainly worth a visit and only 5 miles north west of Ross-on-Wye.
We are now going to venture another two and a half miles slightly east of north to the village of Hoarwithy, itself only three and a half miles from Ross-on-Wye.
The grade 1 listed church here couldn’t be more of a contrast with Michaelchurch. This is a Victorian Church built around 1878 in the Italian Romanesque style which was described by Pevsner as “the most impressive Victorian church in the county”.
The church has an imposing campanile of four storeys, with an open arcaded ground floor both of which are visible in the photograph. The church is of sandstone and a north porch, on the left, is linked to the arcades of the campanile by a loggia.
The carvings along the arcade are impressive but, because they are carved from soft sandstone, some of them are weathering badly.
This next carving shows the greek characters Alpha and Omega and you can see that the part of the carving near the camera is more weathered than the part furthest from the camera.
This Logia is particularly nice partly because of its construction, including the tiled floor, and partly because of the view beyond.
Unfortunately the church was closed because of Covid-19 so we couldn’t go inside this time. Hopefully we will be able to re-visit another time.
Well that was a nice 3-day trip and it was very welcome. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – Ross-on-Wye was a lovely little town and we’d hope to go back one day and the Forest of Dean is big and there are lots of places we haven’t yet seen so we’ll want to return for another multi-day visit. Until then ….
Before I get on to the account of today’s travels there is one thing I forgot to include in yesterday’s post.
When we were walking along Spruce Ride in the Forest of Dean we saw lots of dead Dor beetles (Dung beetles) and there must have been hundreds of them littering the ground. They don’t have a very long life span and these have probably died naturally but it seemed strange that we couldn’t see any live ones.
Then we started to see an occasional live beetle so there were some live ones about. I found one, alive but on its back, so I picked it up.
So, on to today.
We woke to another sunny day and, having had a tasty breakfast, drove off to our next destination and parked. One of the reasons that we came here was that I first drove here 65 years ago. Then it was a case of parking in a convenient space (not that many cars about then) and walking a short distance but now there is a huge car park (pay and display) together with a cafe. There is then a footpath from the car park which goes over the road on this footbridge.
The path then continues for a short distance to this viewpoint.
So what are they, and us, looking at? It’s this, the famous view from Symonds Yat Rock showing a U-bend in the River Wye. All of this so far is in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire but that view is across the border into Herefordshire so we are virtually standing on the border here.
My goodness, how everything has changed since my last visit except the view – at least that is still the same. The whole area has the atmosphere of a famous, bustling, tourist attraction, which I suppose it is now, but back then it was no such thing.
Making our way back to the car park we made a slight detour to see a different view in a different direction but it is still the River Wye.
Having had our fill of the view we went back, near the hotel, to look at another two lakes in the forest known as Cannop Ponds. This next picture is of the southern-most lake and the second picture is the northern-most lake. We walked from the far end of the southern lake to the join between the two lakes.
The first lake was much quieter with very few people but the second lake was quite busy and that could be because there is a large car park there.
After a pleasant walk we drove back to the hotel, parked and then had some lunch in the Orangery Restaurant. That decided us to try this restaurant for dinner tonight.
After lunch we walked to the Cyril Hart Aboretum which borders the hotel. I haven’t been a great fan of arboreta until I visited this one and that changed my mind.
On the way to the arboretum we went across this small area where the turf had been badly damaged and were wondering what might have caused this. We reasoned that it was probably caused by wild boar, which roam the forest, digging with their tusks in search of food.
The arboretum is certainly picturesque and is full of interest. One aspect that notices is the variety of leaf colour from the different trees.
There are some very large trees here and if you want big leaves then we can do big leaves.
Those leaves are HUGE and they are on a Norway Maple. This next view I thought was rather picturesque too and showed some of the larger trees.
This attractive and colourful little tree is a Spindle Tree.
We spent quite a time here, particularly as Amanda likes trees, and then went back to the hotel to prepare for dinner. As I said earlier we planned to eat in the Orangery Restaurant which is a lovely light and bright room with a menu which is quite different from the Verderers Restaurant we ate in yesterday.
The menu was different enough that it included these. Amanda is sitting opposite me and this sundae is big enough to hide her and her sundae. YUM!
Our travelling this year has been severely curtailed because of Covid-19 so no surprises there. When Covid-19 first appeared and the country went into lockdown we were able to only walk locally. Then restrictions on driving eased a little, although we weren’t able to travel far, but eventually those restrictions were also eased to the point that we considered going away for a few days. So when a few days of sunny weather were forecast we decided to bite the bullet and off we went.
We booked accommodation in the Forest of Dean and set off in the sunshine.
Our first port of call was Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire just a short way from our final destination. I had been to Ross-on-Wye about 65 years ago and could remember nothing at all about it so it was like a first visit.
This next picture shows a general view of the town taken from the banks of the River Wye with the famous church spire showing well above the rest of the buildings. There is, of course, a riverside walk here.
When we arrived we parked in a car park in Edde Cross Street then walked back to the junction with High Street . A short distance along High Street brought us to the Old Market Hall at the top of Broad Street. This was built around 1650, and replaced what was probably an earlier wooden building, and markets are still held in it today. It does look rather impressive.
Having had a good look around the Market Place we walked the short distance to the church and, at 205 feet, that is what I call a spire! Although the spire was rebuilt in 1721 the church itself was built in 1316 and is one of the largest churches in Herefordshire.
The attractive interior is certainly spacious and features a number of monuments.
Outside in the churchyard is the Plague Cross which was erected to mark the graves where the three hundred or more townsfolk were buried by night and without coffins during an outbreak of the plague in 1637.
To one side of the church is a small, but beautiful, public park called ‘The Prospect’ which includes some fine trees and also provides an impressive view looking down over the River Wye and the surrounding countryside.
After looking around the church we wanted some lunch so, going back to the Market Square to look round, we found a nice little cafe at the top of Broad Street quite close to the Old Market Hall.
There is a small outside sitting area, seen in the picture below, but we ate inside. We had a small but satisfying, and very tasty, lunch.
After lunch we spotted a few more items of interest on our way back to the car. A rather quaint alley, some old almshouses and a very ancient timber-framed building now used as an antiques shop.
After leaving Ross-on-Wye we drove the 8 miles to our hotel which was not in any town or village but in the middle of the Forest of Dean.
Having registered we moved in to our room, unpacked and went outside to explore the forest .
I took this photograph of the Speech House Hotel before we started walking.
There was a path nearby called Spruce Ride so we started with that and noticed on the map that it went past a lake and decided to walk as far as the lake and back. The forest off to the side of the track looked very pleasant.
We spotted a little stream where the water was very brown. This area, surprisingly, had a lot of mines in the past, some of which were for iron, so it’s not surprising to find water coloured by the iron ore in the ground.
It didn’t take very long to reach the lake which looked very picturesque in the sunshine and it was lovely and quiet.
We were on the lookout for things other than trees and lakes and eventually came across a number of interesting fungi.
On our way back we saw this tree which was covered in moss. Not something one sees every day. A ‘Moss Tree’ perhaps.
The marker on the map below shows our path to the lake and the light area by the junction is the Speech House Hotel. You can zoom in and out using the plus and minus icons.
After returning to the hotel it was time to freshen up and go down to dinner. We had a choice of restaurant and this evening we chose the more formal dining room which, I have to say, was rather nice.
We started off, before ordering our meal, with cocktails. Amanda had an Espresso Martini which was coffee flavoured, which she rather liked, and mine was a Passion Fruit Cocktail. If Amanda’s head looks a little odd it’s the ultra wide angle lens I used to take this photograph.
Our meal turned out to be very nice and afterwards we retired for the night.
Ross -on-Wye was a lovely little town and we do like the Forest of Dean. So there endeth our first day. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?
Butterflies? Flowers? February? It’s not as silly as it sounds. It all started this morning with a bright sun in a cloudless sky – it was going to be a beautiful day so we just had to go somewhere. That somewhere turned out to be Croft Castle.
We wanted to try and find some snowdrops which were supposed to be found in Pokehouse Wood. Don’t ask me where that name comes from because I don’t know and I’m not about to start guessing but the wood is on the western edge of the Croft Castle Estate. If one parks at Croft Castle then it’s going to be a five and a half mile return walk to Pokehouse Wood which we didn’t really want to do so we, naturally, cheated. On the way to Croft Castle we pass through the small village of Amestrey which, surprisingly, is on the western edge of the Croft Castle Estate so we didn’t pass through, we stopped and parked.
We used a public footpath to reach the edge of Croft Castle Estate where we found a sign, by some steep steeps, which told us that we had arrived at Pokehouse Wood. Up the steps we went and eventually arrived at a wide path where we turned right. Walking along the path, which we noticed was going downhill very slowly, we kept a lookout for Snowdrops. Not a sign. Not a tiny speck of white to be seen anywhere. But then we found these. Not a lot admittedly but it is a start.
As the path was going downhill we eventually arrived at river level, you can see the river below us in the image above, onto another path where we turned right.
Then things started to get interesting.
So, finally, we did find a few. We also noticed that the Snowdrop flowers were beginning to die back so we were lucky that we hadn’t left it another week as we may then have been disappointed.
We also spotted this solitary Primrose.
The path we were on seemed to be heading back towards our starting point so we decided to risk it and continued on this path. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the bottom of the steps we had climed previously so we needn’t have climbed them in the first place. Bummer!
On our way back along the public footpath we stopped to have a look at this tree.
Now that is a tree that you couldn’t easily miss. That tiny person at the bottom is Amanda trying to identify it. She eventually decided that it was a Wellingtonia. Wellingtonias are native to California in America and that is where they grow to their maximum height. They do also grow in other parts of America but not to such a height. However they do also like it here in Britain; growing not to such a height as they grow in California but higher than they grow in other parts of America.
We drove round to the car park in Croft Castle then walked to the restaurant where we had some much appreciated sustenance.
Our next plan was to walk around the upper reaches of Fishpoool Valley so we set off and came across another interesting tree.
This is known as the Candelabra Oak which Amanda estimates can’t be far short of 1000 years old. So you should be able to work out that it is an Oak and I don’t want any dimwits asking “Barry, why is it called the Candelabra Oak” as it should be fairly obvious. We started down the wooded path into Fishpool Valley.
Some way further down we saw, across on the other side, the Grotto which we had heard about but hadn’t seen so we went across to have a look.
It has to be said that we were not awe struck. Apparently some of it is now missing but what and where I don’t know. The second photograph above shows the Grotto on the left with Amanda sitting a little way in front. Walking on we came across our third flower of the day – a wild daffodil.
From the look of the area there should be a lot more of those in bloom in a few more weeks. We’ll have to come back and see. Back to our walk. The path went on – and on – and on.
It may be long but we were enjoying it. At this time of year with no leaves on the trees and a low sun the atmosphere was ethereal.
Our final picture, before we climbed out of Fishpool Valley and went back to our car, is of one of the ponds. The surface of the water was completely still and acted like a mirror showing some amazing reflections.
We also saw some butterflies – a Brimstone, a Comma and a Small Tortoiseshell so it must be Spring. That was the end of our day but we hope to be back for more daffodils – weather permitting.