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!
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?
We now decided that it was time to explore that second road. We weren’t going to a particular destination but purely to see what that road was like (Have you ever had a premonition that you are about to make a mistake?).
We headed off, on a warm sunny day, towards Beulah. Yes, I know, you’ve never heard of it. Well it’s a small village about 8 miles south-west of Newbridge-on-Wye in Powys. This is where the mountain road starts and having turned on to it, and before we’d left Beulah, we spotted a nice little church which we had to explore. The original path into the churchyard went over this cute little bridge but the current path bypasses the bridge.
And this is the little church. It is not very old, having been built in 1867, but it is very attractive.
Having had a quick look round ( what else can you do with a church that small?) we set off again along the road. This road is just one car’s width and does have passing places but you can bet that you won’t be near one when you meet a car coming the other way.
The first part of this road is mainly wooded but eventually after a gentle climb of some miles we came out into the open. We continue to head upwards through that valley round to the left.
We carried on to the village of Abergwesyn where we’d heard there was a ruined church. We couldn’t find the ruined church, if it still exists, but we did find the old churchyard with a mega Yew tree.
We carried on and soon went into another wooded section of the road with an unprotected steep slope on one side. No barrier to stop you driving off the edge and you do have to drive relatively near the edge because the road is so narrow.
I was quite pleased when that was over. Next we reached the Devil’s Staircase – a steep bit of read with some hairpin bends. The name is more worrying than the actual road and we successfully negotiated that section without problems. We reached another open area and we are still climbing but the views were getting better.
The road was beginning to get interesting now. It was bending in three dimensions and they tended to be sharp bends. When the bend was in the vertical plane the road beyond the top of the hill couldn’t be seen until the car was beginning to tip down the other side so one couldn’t see which way the road was going to go and there was always the possibility of a car coming the other way. Travelling was slow and if there was a short stretch where one could attain 20 MPH then that would be considered very fortunate. The same applied to bends in the horizontal plane – it meant driving really quite slowly. Don’t pick an argument with a rock – you won’t win.
Having reached the top we took a 7 mile detour to have a look at a reservoir we had heard about, Llyn Brianne, and it turned out to be a worthwhile detour. But it certainly increased our bend count.
Our road was now going downhill again but the bends didn’t get any better.
We finally reached the end of the road in a small town called Tregaron which was a relief from the bends – but not for long. We now had to return home which meant travelling the same route in the opposite direction. I was really looking forward to doing all those bends again.
I can tell you that by the time we reached Beulah again I was rather tired and we still had an hour to go to reach home. However we did reach home without incident and I don’t intend doing that journey again in a hurry!
The weather forecast for today was cloudy but dry so I opened the curtains with a little trepidation, especially after yesterday, to find this.
If that’s the sort of cloudy they meant I’m all for it. Today we go home but not straight home. We plan to go to Lake Bala for a ride on the Lake Bala Railway and to do that we have to go over the Hellfire Pass. We first have to drive along the edge of the lake and passed these rather fine, large trees.
We did notice that there are a goodly number of these very tall, very straight trees in various places around the lake. Nice to see.
We reached the start of the backroad which leads us up to the Hellfire Pass and found that it was a typical Welsh backroad – one car’s width and rather bendy both laterally and vertically.
We were climbing along the side of a valley to our left which Amanda could get a good look at, I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road, and she said it looks really beautiful with a stream running along the bottom and, apparently, waterfalls every few yards.
We managed that road easily enough especially as we didn’t meet any other vehicles (makes life easier) and we eventually turned right on to the Hellfire Pass road. Very soon after a short climb this came into view. There are very, very few places where one could stop off road so, to take this photograph, I just stopped where I was in the road. Again there were no other vehicles and that view is rather dramatic.
We went on a short way to the point at which we could see around that left-hand bend in the valley and I had to stop in the road again for this view.
What a view!
Soon after this we reached the top of the pass where there was a car park – the only one we encountered since we left Lake Vyrnwy so I had to take some more photographs of the views. Incidentally this is the second highest pass in Wales. I mentioned in a previous blog post that we had been over the highest pass in Wales – the Gospel Pass. I wonder where the third highest is?
Now we started down the other side which proved interesting. At times there was level ground either side of the road and at times there wasn’t. There was a very steep slope on the left and there was sometimes a crash barrier and sometimes there was nothing. This, remember, is on a road which is just wide enough to take one car. We did make it down safely and made our way to the Lake Bala Railway terminus.
The train above, waiting in the station, was the one we caught but not before we had a good look around.
This is our rather cute little locomotive called ‘Winifred’. It apparently wasn’t the intended locomotive for today but had to be used because the other one developed a fault this morning.
You may notice that it does not have a cab, so no protection from the elements for the crew, and there isn’t exactly a lot of room on the footplate.
The seating in the carriage wasn’t exactly plush but comfortable enough for a short journey – 30 minutes each way.
This is ‘Maid Marion’ the locomotive that was going to be used today until she got the hump. At least the crew would have had some protection from the weather in that little cab.
This train rockets along at about 10 miles per hour so I was able to take this next photograph of Lake Bala on the move without being joggled about too much. Pretty ain’t it?
When we reached the far end of the line, and the lake, the locomotive had to be uncoupled and moved round the train to the other end which is what’s happening below.
It looks cosy on that small footplate and it’s a good job that it wasn’t raining hard – they don’t even have an umbrella.
I apologise for this next video. It stops prematurely because storage on the camera had filled up. Bother!
That was the end of our trip so it’s time to go home. That was a rather short trip but we didn’t have any idea what the area was like or what the hotel was like so it was a trial trip really. We did like the area and the hotel very much so we would certainly like to re-visit Lake Vyrnwy again, if we can. Until next time!
The next morning we couldn’t wait to draw the curtains and this was our view.
Oh! Were did all that fog come from? Whilst we were preparing to go down for breakfast we kept an eye on the view and it was then that we saw the island in the sky. What an astonishing view!
The view was changing over time and we realised that the fog was slowly disapating and we could see more of the island as it did so.
However breakfast awaits!
After stuffing ourselves at breakfast we prepared to go out. First we were off to the local village Llanwddyn (pronounced lanurthin) to look at the dam at this end of the lake and I must say it looks very impressive.
Looking from the dam across the lake we can see the straining tower where the water first passes through a fine metal mesh to filter or strain out material in the water. The tower stands in over 50ft deep water and is over 150ft high but much of the structure is hidden underwater and cannot be seen.
Some of the earlier fog is still hanging over the water which makes the scene that much more picturesque.
From the top of the dam part of the village shows in the early morning sun.
Then we set off on today’s adventure which means climbing up the hillside to look at the remains of a Knights Hospitaller Hospitium built in the 14th century.
The first part of the walk was through forest so we could see little but trees. When we finally left the forest we could still see a small portion of Lake Vyrnwy and some beautiful autumn colours.
We were now out in the open trying to navigate across the relatively featureless moorland.
If you look carefully at the image above you should be able to see a diagonal track starting near the left-hand edge of the horizon and sloping down into the picture. That track leads down to the Hospitium but we didn’t know that at this time.
We are much further along now and you can still see that diagonal track disappearing into the dip ahead. It turns out that what remains of the Hospitium is in among that Bracken on our left. It would be very difficult walking through that so, although it was disappointing, we gave it a miss.
We went on round to the left and down into that valley which is where that diagonal track was leading and in the valley is a small stone bridge over which that track passes. This medieval bridge is a crude but functional structure and each side is shown in the photographs below.
There was supposed to be a spring near the Hospitium and Amanda found it by wandering around until she could hear rushing water. It was rather buried in the undergrowth but the flow was very strong.
We made our way back to the car (much easier to say than to do) and as it was parked next to the lake we noticed that the change in the direction of the sunlight was now lighting up the arches in the top of the dam rather nicely.
Driving back to the hotel I spotted this nice view of the hotel so stopped to take a photograph.
We went up to our room to prepare for dinner and later I took this photograph of that same view from the window again but different lighting.
I don’t think I could ever get bored with that view.
It all started with a boot full. That is to say a car boot not a boot on the foot. “But wait” I hear you cry “Surely you’re not going on another trip so soon after the other one?”
Well, from the look of that boot,with cases, I would say we are going on another trip and, this time, it’s Lake Vyrnwy about 50 miles north of us. The navigation system estimates the journey time to be about one and a half hours. Welsh roads don’t y’ know (one car wide).
The journey proved to be fairly straightforward and we arrived at the hotel without any problems. The hotel is the large building on the hillside in the distance beyond the lake. Just in case you wondered it is all of that building.
It is a nice hotel with two separate seating areas and we had a room overlooking the lake so you’re bound to get some views from the room later on.
The sitting room above had a small balcony outside with some tables and chairs.
Our room isn’t going to be ready until later this afternoon, which we expected anyway, so we decided to drive up to the far end of the lake to have a look at a waterfall.
We parked the car and set off on our walk but hadn’t gone very far when a very friendly local decided he wanted to join us. There was no “Do you mind if I join you?” – he just joined us. Here is Amanda with our new friend.
He eventually became tired of our company and we left him behind. A little further on we spotted these mountaineering sheep on quite a steep slope.
Continuing with our walk we came up to the brow of a hill and suddenly there it was.
We were determined to get to the foot of the falls so we pressed on which involved crossing the river. Not so far to go now.
Then we could see the waterfall in all its glory.
Finally we reached the foot of the falls. The view from here wasn’t quite as good as from further back but it was a lot noisier.
It was now late afternoon so we went back to our hotel. Our room was ready so we took our luggage up and had our first look out of the window. We couldn’t really complain about that could we?
So, dinner this evening, then it’s off to bed ready to wake to a new day.