We have been to Hergest Croft Gardens, near Kington, a number of times but we had never been further up the lane to Hergest Ridge at the top. It was now time to change that.
We took our normal route to Hergest Croft Gardens but instead of turning into their car park we went straight past to the end of the lane where we parked and continued on foot through the gate along Offa’s Dyke Path.
Hergest Ridge straddles the English and Welsh border and is part of the Offa’s Dyke walk as well as a standalone highlight in any exploration of Herefordshire.
If you decide to start at the main carpark in Kington a modest climb of 1300 feet up from the quaint town will bring you to this point, where we started, and we continue through the gate on the Offa’s Dyke Route.
Heading for the top the views emerge all around and, as you walk, run, or cycle along the beautiful moorland, you may chance on wild ponies grazing , we didn’t see any, but we saw some wonderful views.
There were numerous people walking up here and you can probably see that Offa’s Dyke Path is well worn and, therefore, easy to see and follow.
There were plenty of wild flowers about and we saw this Tormentil and Gorse on the way up.
From the ridge you can look across to the Black Mountains and even as far as the Malvern Hills, with uninterrupted English and Welsh countryside landscapes all around.
Look out for the Victorian racecourse that sits atop Hergest and imagine the thrills and spills as the horses galloped around the track. As we approached the summit we could see the Monkey Puzzle Trees ahead. This area is part of the Hergest Estate and the trees were planted by one of the owners having seen similar trees growing on mountain tops in Chile in the early 1990’s.
You should also see the Whetstone near the summit, a natural stone, which in medieval times was used as a place to distribute food to people suffering from leprosy. Legend has it that the stone rolled down to Hindwell Brook each time it heard a cock crow. but it doesn’t attempt to explain how it managed to get back up the hill again.
On the way down we noticed this tree in blossom. Although the blossom is pink we think that it’s a Blackthorn.
This was an easy and very pleasant walk on a warm sunny day.
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?
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!