Roeburndale

Back in the late eighties, in the final months of my lengthy sojourn in Manchester, I discovered, just down the road from the sweeping coliseums of the Hulme crescent block where I lived, a nondescript shop-front which hid the local offices of the BTCV – the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. I’d previously spent a week on one of their volunteering holidays, eating and sleeping in Llanberis and working at the back of Cwm Idwal, repairing the fence around an experimental area to shield it from the depredations of sheep. (It cost me the princely sum of £23 – funny the things I can remember, given how useless my memory generally is.) At the time I was searching, without much success, for my first teaching post, and when I learned that if signed up for voluntary work I would not only keep my dole, but be entitled to an extra tenner a week, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.

We worked four days a week and then I think, on each Friday, we went for a walk – although I don’t remember any of those walks very clearly, which is odd. Memory, or my memory at least, is capricious: the things that I do remember are an odd assortment: bouncing around in the back of a minibus full of tools and other volunteers; sitting down with a flask of tea in a field in Cheshire somewhere, watching a blazing bonfire of brashings and admiring with satisfaction the neat lines of a newly laid hedge; the sweaty setting of cobbles on a path in Lyme Park on a bitter February day; the utter frustration of my attempts at dry-stone walling. Each day was different: we tended to be allocated to different projects every day, and I’ve never met such a disparate cross-section of society as I did in those few months.

One job in particular sticks in my mind. Nestled between a North Manchester housing estate and a railway cutting was a small marsh, an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Left to it’s own devices the marsh was silting up, alder and willow had begun to colonise and the marsh was slowly becoming scrub. Previous working groups had cleared some of the trees and dug out a small pond. Our task was to build a boardwalk across the marsh to the pond so that local primary schools could use it for pond-dipping trips. My first visit to the marsh was with a working group, but what the project leader really wanted was not a one-off visit from a working party, but a small number of volunteers to help build the boardwalk over a few days. And so, for a change, I spent several days in a single location building that boardwalk. It’s a bittersweet memory: it was a pleasant place to work, with a surprising variety of birdlife, but although kids from the estate had enthusiastically helped us with the work, we had strong reservations about the long term future of the project. On the last day we took several photos of our handiwork: one week later we returned to take more pictures of the charred and vandalised skeletal remains.

Anyway, whilst we sawed and dug and hammered and nailed, I had a lots of lengthy conversations with the young guy who was running the project. He must have been around my own age: though its hard to credit it now, I was a young guy too, once upon a time. I’m afraid I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was tall, with dark, curly hair; that he was friendly; passionate about urban conservation projects and angry about the penny-pinching of his superiors which, he felt, had prevented us from building a more vandal-proof structure. He told me that at the end of the week he would be taking a group of student volunteers from what was then Manchester Polytechnic to the Forest of Bowland for a long weekend of conservation work. Did I want to tag along? We would be staying in a camping barn, would I be okay to rough it?

Since the answer to both questions was a definite yes, that was how I made my first visit to the Forest of Bowland, without suspecting that only a few months later I would be moving to live and work just a few miles away in Morecambe. We stayed in a camping barn in Roeburndale, guests of the Middlewood Trust. I remember quite a bit about that weekend: that the sun shone; that we stumbled back across the fields in the dark after a foray to the pub in Wray; that although most of the work was coppicing in the wooded valley, I chose to climb up on to the moor and work on a dry-stone wall, which given my ineptitude seems inexplicable; that the birdsong on the moor more than compensated for my lack of progress with the wall. Above all I remember that the river Roeburn and the steep wooded slopes above it were beautiful.

Now here’s the curious thing: although I’ve lived close to Roeburndale since I moved to this area just after that first visit, I’ve hardly ever been back there. The problem is one of access: there are no rights-of-way along the valley. In fact, just one path drops into the valley, and that immediately climbs out again without following the river at all. However, I’ve discovered that there is now a permission path which does follow the valley. Which, in a very round-about way, finally brings me to the actual subject of this post.

It was the day after our return from Herefordshire. Surprisingly, the sun was shining and we had one more day of freedom before we were back to the grindstone. TBH didn’t even have that luxury; she had paperwork to do which couldn’t be ignored any longer, so it was down to me to entertain the kids. They had been remembering their swim in the Duddon a year ago, and so a trip to a river seemed appropriate. Why not the Roeburn?

 Permission 'path'.

The permission path seems to be little used and is barely evident on the ground, a few waymarkers here and there on fenceposts are just about sufficient to make it reasonably easy to follow.

We took a friend along, and with four small pairs of eyes on the lookout, we were destined to spot a lot of insect life in the meadows, especially since one pair belonged to B who has an unerring knack of finding interesting bugs and such like.

Cockchafer

Cockchafer

Crane fly - Tipula maxima 

A large crane fly, the largest British species, Tipula maxima.

Another crane fly 

A smaller crane fly.

Green Tiger Beetle 

A green tiger beetle.

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 Another dark bee.

 River Roeburn

The Roeburn and its valley is every bit as beautiful as I remember it.

River roeburn 

We found a spot where the water was reasonably deep. The sun shone down into the amber depths.

River Roeburn 

It should have been idyllic. But it wasn’t. Now the insects were finding us! We were eaten alive. Tiny midges were the culprits, but despite there minuteness we were all soon covered in angry red weals. It’s making me itch ferociously just remembering it.

The kids tried to soldier on and stoically enjoy themselves.

Paddling in the Roeburn 

Three of the crew – note that B isn’t cold, he’s scratching for all he’s worth.

Well, three of them soldiered on: little S just went into meltdown. He hated the midges, the river, the water, the rocks and, most of all I think, he hated me. In his defence, we’d broken down on the motorway the night before on the way home from Herefordshire, after setting off late, and we didn’t get him into his bed until around 2 am, so he was bone tired.

A did a wonderful job of cheering him up as we walked back to the car, improvising stories about bears and honey.

Back across the meadows 

We made one brief stop on our way home, to look at the confluence of the Roeburn and the Hindburn, which I’d read on the internet is a good place for a swim. Nobody there on that day – maybe there were more midges.

Confluence of the Roeburn and the Hindburn

I shall have to return to Roeburndale someday soon, maybe in the autumn, or in the spring when the redstarts are returning. Perhaps to follow this route.

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Roeburndale

King Arthur’s Cave, Seven Sisters Rocks, River Wye

From Raglan we drove back to the Wye valley for a final afternoon walk. We parked on a wooded hillside above the river and a short stroll through those woods brought us to a series of….

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…limestone caves and arches. Just the thing for a walk with children. They particularly liked this…

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…small tunnel, which they could climb up to and crawl through.

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The largest of the caves…

D by King Arthur's Cave 

…is, almost inevitably, King Arthur’s Cave. We had a thorough poke around inside, but didn’t find an sleeping knights awaiting England’s hour of need. (Hard to take a penalty in armour anyway, I should think.)

We did find some small calcite features…

Calcite formations in King Arthur's Cave 

Next on the itinerary was the top of the Seven Sisters Rocks. TBH and I walked along the river below these, years ago, and I remember them being quite impressive.

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The views from the top are certainly excellent.

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Of course, there’s always one who has to go that bit closer to the edge than everyone else…

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A stroll down through the woods brought us to ‘The Biblins’, where there is a suspension bridge over the Wye…

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The river was brown and swollen and running very high…

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We’d seen few other walkers in the woods, but the riverside path was very popular. It passes through more woods and some riverside meadows. We watched tree-trunks chugging past at a fair rate of knots.

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Also a crow riding a raft of tangled branches, like a corvine Huckleberry Finn.

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In normal circumstances, just short of Symonds Yat East, there would be a small island in the river.

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Not today…

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And under normal circumstances it’s possible to cross the Wye here on a small chain ferry. If I remember correctly from our previous visit, it’s one of the bar-staff at a local hostelry who pulls the ferry across the river. You can just make out the green boat in the photo below…

Symonds Yat East 

Hardly surprisingly, with the river running so high, the ferry wasn’t operating. It had been our plan to cross the river and climb back to the cars via a different path and more caves, but it wasn’t to be. I suppose we shall feel duty-bound to come back and repeat this walk some time. Damn! Leaving the others to enjoy ice-creams in the sun, Andy and I returned via the Biblins bridge and a more direct track back to the cars.

Long Stone?

It was a lovely end to what had been, despite the mostly dodgy weather, a really enjoyable trip. Thanks to the Surfnslide crew for putting us up, and putting up with us, it was much appreciated.

Biblins Walk

King Arthur’s Cave, Seven Sisters Rocks, River Wye

Raglan Castle

After our waterfalls walk, I spread our dripping gear over the garage, house and front garden of the surfnslide family home. Gallingly, the sun was now shining, although a gusty wind was preventing any impression that spring had returned from taking hold. From the front door I listened to a cuckoo calling from the trees behind the houses opposite. Maybe the cuckoo knew something about what was to follow: our final day in the marches was to be the best, weather wise. We opted for a similar arrangement to the first day: a castle followed by a walk.

 Raglan Castle

The kids adored Raglan. S said it was because it had a proper moat, full of water.

The Moat 

I think that it was also because it has a larger footprint than Goodrich and had more nooks and crannies to be explored. It is a great castle, but to my mind not quite as atmospheric as Goodrich. It was built later than Goodrich, and although it has fortifications, they may principally have been for show. I suppose that one significant element in the design of any castle is the impression it creates; that was a point made by the audio guide at Goodrich about the complex arrangements for the defence of the gate: they were almost certainly impractical on a day-to-day basis and may not have been regularly in use, but the two portcullises, the arrow-slits commanding a cross-fire of the gateway and the murder holes above were there for all to see. However, where as at Goodrich the tension between creating a comfortable home and a defensible stronghold is evident, at Raglan the imposing towers seem slightly bogus: more showing-off than military necessity.

Raglan castle and view 

Still, it is fascinating to look around and it commands great views of the surrounding countryside and nearby hills. (Andy did reel off the names of these and I think that I remember: Blorenge, Sugar Loaf and Ysgyryd Fawr. No doubt he’ll put me right if not.)

The view from Raglan 

Sugar Loaf and Ysgyryd Fawr. Possibly.

Wide staircase 

In complete contrast to the much older keep at Goodrich, the keep at Raglan has a wide staircase with broad and well-lit steps.

Hexagonal tower 

The keep is unusual in that it is hexagonal in shape.

Machicolations 

Machicolations.

Here’s something else that Andy pointed out to me, and another unusual feature of Raglan. These are machicolations, often found on French castles but unusual in Wales and England and indicative of the French influence on the design of Raglan. Machicolations originally had a defensive purpose, enabling stones or other unpleasant items to be dropped on attackers from the battlements, but again, I suspect that these were more decorative.

There are numerous other decorative elements at Raglan, of which here are a few…

Raglan gargoyle 

Decorative detail at Raglan 

Decorative detail over fireplace 

On the day of our visit, there was also a very noticeable pong in the vicinity of the castle. I thought it might be down to the sizable resident population of….

Raglan pigeons 

…pigeons, but the consensus was that there weren’t enough of them to account for it, so the cause of the whiff shall have to remain a mystery.

The castle was busy with swallows. But unlike at Goodrich, where I had searched in vain for nests, here we found several. These two…

Raglan swallows 

..were often joined by a third bird. I’m guessing that the ruffled one on the left is a fledgling.

Down to the moat... 

The moat too seems more like a water feature than anything intended to deter aggressors. It is inside the outer wall and only extends part way around the castle.

The moat 

B and I watched a pied wagtail fly back and forth from the far wall to the wall alongside us, always with some titbit in its beak. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a photo when it was close by, but this is a cropped version of one I took when it was on the far side of the moat.

Raglan wagtail 

The moat was also home to a family of moorhens. I was surprised to see that the lily-pads were robust enough for the chicks to walk across them.

Moorhen chick 

We picnicked in the grounds of the castle. Whilst the kids muddied themselves rolling down the steep bank of another (dry) moat, their parents stretched out in the sunshine (!). Bliss! The kids were happy; perhaps we should just stay here? But no: the walk that Andy had suggested was just too enticing.

B in the hollow oak I 

A hollow oak by the car park, the kids were all keen to explore, particularly B.

B in the hollow oak II

Raglan Castle

Afon Mellte in Spate

The day after our trip to Hereford held a little more promise: it was still raining, but not quite so enthusiastically and the forecast hinted at a brighter afternoon. In fact that seemed to be materialising as we drove down towards the Neath valley, but when we crossed the border into Wales, the skies opened again and things began to look much less promising.

It was still raining when we arrived at our destination and after a hasty consultation through adjacent car windows, we opted for an in-car picnic, to put off the inevitable. It had slackened off a tad by the time we’d eaten, and gratifyingly, when I offered the kids poking around in some cave entrances and a peek at some waterfalls in the rain they were all keen for the off.

The mouth of the Porth-yr-Ogof caves, where the Afon Mellte flows underground is just by the car park. B looked downriver in bemusement: “Well, we’re not going in there today, unless we want to kill ourselves.”

 Porth-yr-Ogof

Our walk was a severely curtailed version of a walk that the surfnslide crew did last year. (Post here. You’ll find a map there and photos which contrast sharply with the ones here.)

A path leads past several more cave openings, each of them full of roiling brown water.

Where the water leaves the caves, there is apparently a ‘blue pool’. Not today; just a raging brown swell. A pair of dippers repeatedly flew in and out of the roof of the cave. I would guess that they had a nest there for which they would be understandably afraid.

The 'blue pool' 

In slightly less wild sections of the river, swallows and martins were skimming low over the water. It was hard to imagine that their insect prey would want to be airborne on this cold and soggy day.

Gorge below the blue pool

Extra excitement was added to our progress down the valley, because each side-stream presented a challenge. Andy and I both got wet feet standing in them in our perhaps inappropriate trail shoes to hand across the children.

Sgwd Clun Gwyn

Sgwd Clun Gwyn

This is an overused expression, but the waterfalls were awe-inspiring. As you can imagine, the noise was phenomenal. Beyond the first fall the path follows a course high above the river and eventually above the second fall. I was glad that Andy was there to share in the shepherding of B and S, who sometimes appear to have an under-developed regard for their own safety.

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We were able to double back below the cliffs to the base of the second fall….

Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn 

Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn

Nobody was attempting to pass behind the waterfall!

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A nonchalant pose.

By this point little S had had enough. Time to turn back – but we had made the most of a pretty shoddy day. I don’t think any of us is liable to forget it.

I’ve finally got around to having a stab at a video. Whilst you wait for a more professional affair to appear at surfnslide, here’s my (short) effort:

Afon Mellte in Spate

Hereford Cathedral and the Mappa Mundi

The Wye and Hereford Cathedral in pouring rain

Some days you just have to accept that discretion is the better part of valour. It’s going to rain and it really might be best to admit defeat and stay indoors. Our second day in Herefordshire was just such a day: the forecast said rain, and, boy, did it rain. I was half hoping for an excuse to go and have a look at the Mappa Mundi anyway.

D said he thought the Mappa Mundi was very interesting, but since he had seen it “countless times” he would prefer to stay at home and play on the wii. Aside from A, the other children agreed. Andy offered to “take one for the team” and stay at home too, whilst a select band ventured into a rainy Hereford.

Hereford Cathedral interior 

The Mappa Mundi is on display at Hereford Cathedral, which of course is interesting in it’s own right.

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Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of tombs and memorials to the great and the good around the cathedral, but I was particularly taken with this knight.

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And his faithful hound.

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Patient observers of this blog may have noticed that, without knowing anything about them, I’m really quite fond of stained glass windows.

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There was an awful lot of it here, so I decided to restrict myself to finding images of St. George and his foe.

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Of which, it transpired, there are many.

He doesn’t look much like a Roman soldier here…

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It might be interesting to compare the iconographies of all the many countries which have him as their patron saint (there are many).

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In this little side chapel, the Stanbury chapel….

Stanbury chapel 

…I broke my self-imposed rule when I found this window….

Stanbury Chapel window 

…which I thought might show Hereford Cathedral and the Wye, but comparing it with the photo above, that seems unlikely.

In the crypt, I found this tomb…

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Which was a bit odd, since we were staying with Andrew Jones and his wife, of this parish.

In another small side chapel there are new windows, by Tom Denny, which commemorate the life of Thomas Traherne, a local seventeenth century poet and mystic.

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And the Mappa Mundi? Well – you aren’t allowed to take photos unfortunately – you’ll have to go and see it for yourself. It’s all I had hoped, absolutely fascinating, and the accompanying exhibition at the cathedral is also very impressive.

I found this snippet of the English translation of the map (which is Latin) on the internet.

Mappa Mundi snippet

The map is peopled with all manner of strange and exotic creatures, some familiar from popular myths and stories, like satyrs, unicorns, centaurs, and the minotaur, complete with labyrinth on Crete, but others less familiar – a race with a single huge foot used like a parasol to ward off the sun, and another race using their huge upper lips in much the same way.

It was gratifying for a yeller belly like me to discover that the map was drawn by ‘Richard of Haldingham or Lafford’ that’s Sleaford today, and that it probably originates from Lincoln Cathedral and was later brought to Hereford – Hereford and Clee Hill were added to the map after the rest had been finished.

So – not much walking today, on this blog “about walking, thinking about walking” etc, but, Thomas Traherne wrote a poem called walking. It’s quite long, but this part seems germane….

To walk is by a thought to go;
To move in spirit to and fro;
To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.

To note the beauty of the day,
And golden fields of corn survey;
Admire each pretty flow’r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of his great pow’r.

To fly abroad like active bees,
Among the hedges and the trees,
To cull the dew that lies
On ev’ry blade,
From ev’ry blossom; till we lade
Our minds, as they their thighs.

Observe those rich and glorious things,
The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
The fructifying sun;
To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
For us his race to run.

Hereford Cathedral and the Mappa Mundi

Climbing Up on Coppet Hill

Coppet Hill

South of Goodrich, the Wye twists and turns in a series of extravagant meanders, almost enclosing Coppet Hill and Huntsham Hill. We’d finished our exploration of the castle just as a heavy shower began. We waited it out in the visitor centre before picnicking in the sunshine.  From the car park at the castle, a short stroll into Goodrich village brings you to the lane which climbs up Coppet Hill.

Bee

A bee spotted on a road-verge flower – could it be a honey bee? It isn’t very yellow.

It’s clear from the map that there are several options for walks on Coppet Hill, one of which would traverse the ridge before returning along the banks of the Wye. On this occasion, we needed a shorter route. We climbed steeply up to the trig point, the views and the weather improving as we did.

B on Coppet Hill 

The kids all had several turns at climbing onto the trig pillar.

Chilling out 

The Shandy Sherpa gave an expert commentary on what we could see – the Forest of Dean, and the Malverns, amongst them, as well as the more immediate wooded hills of the Wye valley.

Coppet Hill view I 

We watched a kestrel hover over the tangle of bracken and foxgloves on the hillside.

Coppet Hill view II 

Speckled yellow 

Speckled yellow, a day-flying moth. It’s food plant is wood sage, of which we had seen plenty.

We continued a little further along the ridge, past ‘the folly’, which is little more than a wall.

The path on the common 

The Wye from Coppet Hill 

Looking down on the Wye.

Common vetch 

Common vetch, with an ant! Confusingly, common vetch isn’t actually all that common and isn’t the most common British vetch. It’s not something I would expect to see near home for example.

Down again... 

The west side of Coppet Hill is a common, and seems to be criss-crossed by many paths. The one we took, which cut diagonally down across the hillside and back towards Goodrich, was at a delightful angle.

Wasp

A cracking little walk that. Both Offa’s dyke and the Wye Valley Walk pass nearby. The latter really appeals to me. It also occurs to me that a detour over Coppet Hill would make for an interesting variation in this part of the route.

Climbing Up on Coppet Hill

Goodrich Castle

Goodrich Castle

Our project to explore Britain a weekend at a time continues and last week saw us spend a few days (midweek this time) in Herefordshire, courtesy of our good friends chez Surfnslide.

We like a good castle, and on our drive down stopped for lunch at Beeston Castle. The castle sits on a sandstone crag towering over the Cheshire Plain. Even on a drizzly, misty day the views were extensive; on a clear day they must be fabulous. But it was drizzly and misty for our visit, and there isn’t really a great deal of the castle still extant, so I didn’t take any pictures.

Not to worry: we were now in the Welsh Marches, a land of castles. The forecast was none too promising, so we decided to pay a visit to Goodrich Castle.

Goodrich Castle

I have very fond memories of Goodrich, from a visit with TBH about 10 years ago. One of the highlights I recall from that trip was the free audio guide to the castle.

Surfnslide AKA The Shandy Sherpa

Most of the party took one this time, and very good they were too.

Enjoying the audio guide

The stories of life in the castle from different periods during its long existence really brought the place to life. One story concerns the civil war mortar, Roaring Meg…

Roaring Meg

…with which Parliamentary forces destroyed  the North-West Tower and so brought an end to Royalist resistance and the siege of the castle. Much good it did us: but for the Jubilee, we could have been here a week earlier, when the sun was shining. (Bah humbug!)

The oldest part of the castle is the grey keep, which is climbed via a really tight and narrow, winding staircase. Since the castle sits on a hill above the wooded Wye valley there are good views from the top, only slightly marred by the great swathes of poly-tunnels which have swallowed up some of the surrounding farmland.

View from the top of the Keep

Of course, whilst everyone else was admiring the view, I was taking pictures of the pellitory-of-the-wall and English stonecrop growing from the cracks in the grey stonework.

Here’s a modest slideshow of views of the castle:

Goodrich Castle