20110227_Midland Hill Walkers – Wye Valley Walk – B-Walk
Who : The Midland Hill Walkers – Walking Club
Where : The Wye Valley and Forest of Dean on the England/Wales Border south of Monmouth.
Map : Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map no.14 – Wye Valley & Forest of Dean
Start Point : 537,051 + End Point : 505,125
Approx Distance : 16.5 km = just over 10 miles (by measuring wheel/map)
Significant heights climbed : 580m (1903 ft) … see end of diary for details.
Summary : B-party walk with The Midland Hill Walkers – Starting at Bigsweir Bridge and passing through St. Briavels ; The Slade Brook Valley ; Wyegate Green ; Caudwell Woods ; The Valley Brook Valley ; Astridge Wood ; Newland Village and Cathedral of The Forest ; Upper Redbrook ; Offa’s Dyke Path ; Naval Temple and The Kymin and finally across The Wye to Monmouth.
If you just want to look at pic’s instead of reading my diray, please use this link …. clicking on an image launches a larger view or click the icon which will show the set as a slide show.
This was the 2nd Midland Hill Walkers outing of the year, but this was my first trip with them in 2011 having not gone out on the walk & annual club dinner in January. Please forgive me but I’m going to be lazy and use MHW as an acronym for the rest of this post. As with all MHW walks, the coach left Kenilworth almost dead on 7:00 a.m. which had meant getting up very early to be out of the house by about 6:25. Rather than go through all the blurb about car parks, timings, etc. please use these links to see my earlier posts about the MHW and the MHW own web-site … ( Some Information About The Midland Hill walkers ) … ( Midland Hill Walkers_Leamington Courier Article ).
Having left Kenilworth, we headed off down the M5 all the way to Bristol to cross the River Severn and Mouth of The Wye, on the oldest of the Severn Bridges, crossing into Wales in the process. We then skirted around Chepstow to head up into The Wye Valley on the A466 as far as Tintern Abbey where the coach pulled in right next to the impressive ruined landmark. This was the start point for the A-party and I suppose just less than half of the walkers on the coach departed on the longer and more strenuous walk, leaving the B-walkers (me included this time) to travel further up the very pretty Wye Valley on the coach, closely following the river on the Welsh side until we reached a road junction near Bigsweir Bridge.
This was our starting point and we all piled off to retrieve ruck-sacks from the coach’s hold. We set off for about a hundred yards or so along the A466 in Wales, to cross over The Wye by means of Bigsweir Bridge. The river was very full and certainly much less benign looking than I’ve seen in the past. I can’t really say much about the bridge itself as it was almost completely shrouded from view because of maintenance works; the only point worth making I suppose, is that half way across we passed into England, leaving Wales behind us, at least for the time being.
Not long after crossing the bridge, we took a right onto a farm track, which, after crossing Mork Brook soon started rising on the first climb of the day. Our leader decided to do a spot of leading from the middle (or maybe even the back?) of the group, and being up at the front asked me and the lady I was chatting to, to carry on until we reached Lindors Farm. The climb was steady but easy underfoot and we soon reached our designated stopping point and the party regrouped before moving on again, soon re-crossing the Mork Brook for a second time. A second stop ensued as we regrouped in some trees where the damp conditions allowed a vibrant growth of mosses, especially on an old stone wall which I thought was quite attractive in a scruffy sort of way. I also let my imagination wander a little likening the old climbing stems of ivy to distorted fingers strangling the host tree – like something out of a fantasy story, one could almost imagine fairies or miniature hobgoblins or other such creatures hiding away in the shadows and nooks and crannies … too much imagination? – perhaps!
Moving on was still uphill and the track became a metalled road passing through the scattered cottages of Lower Meend. We’d probably been steadily climbing for about a mile now, and rather than ease off, the slope steepened as we left the minor road onto a narrow path forcing us all into a single file line and after a another steep pull upwards we emerged onto a larger road where a regrouping was in order, the steep slope and single file walking had spread us all out over some distance. This gave the opportunity for a chat with my sister and bro-in-law (it was them who’d introduced me to the club in the first place) whilst we enjoyed the contrasting sights of wide views out over The Wye Valley and the much more intimate snowdrops lining the path side.
We now had a section of road walking (still uphill) to enter the village of St. Briavels. The village is dominated by a remarkably well preserved moated Norman castle now a youth hostel. It was originally built as a hunting lodge for King John in 1205 on the site of an earlier stronghold; its towers were added as part of the Ring of Stone around Wales. I’ve stayed here once before (many years ago) with the Coventry CHA Rambling Club and always thought I’d like to stay again – which is actually going to happen this year as my wife, son and I are booked in during the summer for a couple of nights (really looking forward to it).
The roadside verges were scattered with snowdrops fairly shining out in the sunshine. There are some things that give your spirits a lift and this certainly came into that bracket. We now had a period of descent, at first on the road and then on a farm track (picked up at Andrews Corner) to drop down Mork Hill to Cross Slade Brook on a footbridge at Mork Farm.
This now marked the start of the second climb of the day, on another track … this time starting steeply. Our rise was enhanced (if that’s the correct word) by the sounds of a party of clay pigeon shooters down in the valley below but we soon left this behind as the gradient eased to reach Wyegate Green, a very small group of houses by the side of a minor road (Stowe Lane). Once again, the slope had spread the party out somewhat and this became our next place to regroup, with enough time for a refreshment stop. I found a branch on the road side hedge to hang my ruck-sack to be rewarded by a large drift of snowdrops naturalising in the field/hedge margins – a perfect setting by being slightly unkempt and on the whole out of sight from the road.
We’d now completed the second climb of the day and now continued north on the road more or less on the flat and soon joined a footpath heading down the side of a couple of fields to reach a narrow strip of woods (part of Caudwell Wood). The route now started to descend much quicker as we passed through the trees to very soon re-emerge into the open, to some super views out over a very pretty valley sweeping past in an arch below us.
The stream in the bottom of the valley is called Valley Brook, so our descent was basically into The Valley Brook Valley which is a bit incongruous really. The sun had really come out at this point and the crossing of the fields (diagonally left) down to the stream was really very pleasant walking. A little rise past Birt’s Cottage brought us onto another track and very easy walking heading north in the valley bottom for a short distance. We then branched half right on a faint footpath leaving the track diagonally rising across a grassy field heading for the corner bounded by woods. This was a lovely sun trap and perfect for when our leader announced this was to be our lunch stop. There were some super views from here both up and down the valley. A walk through here in the autumn I thought would be absolutely stunning when all the trees abound in their colourful glories.
Once appetites were satisfied and legs rested, we raised our sacks onto backs and set off again, and in keeping with the profile of the walk it was time for another uphill stretch; heading diagonally up through the trees of Astridge Wood on a broad path.
The steady climb would have been very straight forward except for a good number of fallen trees blocking our way and all at a very awkward height – too high to step over, too low to easily duck under; the impromptu limbo dancing raising quite a few mirthful comments and resulting laughter.
Once out of the woods we continued upwards to reach the outskirts of the village of Newland, soon taking a left turn into the aptly named Savage Hill … the tarmac lane really was quite steep (I liked the ornamental piglet in a garden half way up) and there was a target to aim for at the top; the large tower and pinnacles of All Saints Church, also known as “The Cathedral of the Forest” [The Forest of Dean that is], dating back to the early 1200’s.
I figured there must be loads of photo’s of the whole church out there on the world-wide-web, so I decided to try and pick out a few pic’s of what I hoped would be more intimate details; although I did end up with the common shots of the stained glass windows from the inside and the large stone cross in the church yard.
After a while, we set off again, crossing the church yard and then heading further north on a road leaving the village. After just a few hundred yards we took a footpath on the left (just past a farm and opposite a white washed cottage) and immediately had to brave muddy tractor tracks – and the mud really was very deep!
There now ensued a relatively level period of walking following the edge of several fields before starting to descend across a tilled field towards Furnace Grove/Swanpool Woods. My boots felt about twice as heavy by the time I’d crossed this last field. After passing through the narrow strip of woods the path then headed quite quickly downhill across a grassy field to join a road near Upper Redbrook, just after passing the end of Mill pond in the valley bottom. It took a little while to regroup again which gave time to enjoy the light shining through some fluffy seed-heads by the road side.
On the other side of the road a finger post pointed up a path steeply rising away from the road … the signpost was depicting a horse and carriage which is pretty ridiculous really considering the steepness, narrowness and roughness of the byway. Crossing the road here had taken us back into Wales and onto part of The Offa’s Dyke Path. Perhaps the Welsh are extremely adventurous when it comes to horse and carriage driving!
The path was really quite steep for a while but the rough path joined a lane/farm track becoming wide and much better underfoot. In fact it’s of a size to warrant its own name – Duffield’s Lane. Although I was starting to feel a little weary in the legs, I decided the best way forward was to get my head down and just work hard. This seemed to work well and as the gradient eased (although still rising) my stride lengthened and my pace quickened. The sun was shining, the views were good and the track ahead inviting and somehow from being almost at the back of the group I found myself right at the front ; a quite enjoyable blast up the hill.
We were basically walking up the crest of a broad ridge and just as the track was about to descend into Harpen’s Grove Wood [just below Upper Beaulieu Farm], we branched right to instead skirt the edge of the woods, still rising quite steadily. The path emerged onto a metalled road to reach the monument of Naval Temple. To my eyes a rather odd construction and one that had obviously seen better days. I’m sure the historical message and importance is genuine with Britannia perched atop the roof top arch but I couldn’t help thinking it needed a bit of loving care and a little something extra to stop it looking more like a glorified bus shelter rather than the glorifying temple of its name. According to a National Trust web site, the Naval Temple was built by public subscription in 1800, this Georgian structure is unique in its commemoration of the British Navy and sixteen Admirals in particular, who won important victories during the late 18th century.
In contrast to the run-down look of the Temple, the next building just up the way was perfectly pristine in its white washed finery – The Kymin Tower or Round House. This is a circular, Georgian banqueting house built in 1794 by local gentry for use as a small, private dining club. Lord Nelson and Sir and Lady Hamilton had breakfast here in 1802 (description from the NT web site).
Impressive as The Round House is, even more spectacular were the stunning views out over The Wye Valley and the town of Monmouth and way, way beyond; in the distance, Sugar Loaf could be made out in the sunny haze out to the west. Such was the highlight of the sights here, I’d have happily ended the walk there and then, but the coach was parked up in Monmouth at least a mile away, so off we set for the final descent of the day, steeply dropping through Beaulieu and Garth Woods to meet the minor Kymin Road which continued to drop, meeting the A4136 before crossing The River Wye for the second time in the day. Given The Wye has a habit of flooding; I couldn’t help thinking the static caravan park just upstream look particularly vulnerable!
The final stretch of the walk was through the centre of Monmouth to find the coach in a car park over-looked by the Monnow Bridge Gate. This is a stand-out feature where a massive fortified stone gate house is built bang in the middle of the arched stone bridge spanning the River Monnow, both dating back to the 13th C.
And, there ends my diary of The MHW B-party walk in and around The Wye Valley and The Forest of Dean – A bit in Wales and most in England.
1st rise = 200m (656 ft) … Bigsweir Bridge to St. Briavels.
2nd rise = 120m (394 ft) … Mork Farm to Wyegate Green
3rd rise = 80m (262 ft) … Valley Brook to Newland
4th rise = 180m (591 ft) … Upper Redbrook to The Kymin.
Total heights gained = 580m (1903 ft)
Start height = about 10m Above Sea Level and finish = about 20m ASL ….. Therefore, there were almost as much down as up, but none of the downhill bits were really taxing. The majority of the ups were on good tracks and paths, so didn’t present a problem.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings …. T.T.F.N. … Gary.
Next walk = 20110320_MHW_West East Traverse of Peak District, Another Midland Hill Walkers walk – The concluding leg of a series walks across the Peak district.