This Whitsun, like last, we had the great good fortune to be invited over for a few days sojourn down in Herefordshire with our old friends over at chez Surfnslide. After a soggy start, even the weather decided to cooperate, the sun shone and a fabulous time was had by all. We had some great days out, each of them worthy of a blog post in its own right, but owing to an unfortunate oversight in the ‘packing a memory card’ department, I was limited to the internal memory of my camera, and therefore very few photos each day. So I’ve decided to bundle the whole trip up into one brief summary report. No doubt more detailed, better illustrated accounts will appear over at Surfnslide, if and when Andy ever catches up with his blogging.
We’d driven down on the Tuesday, in a pretty relentless, all-day downpour. When Wednesday morning dawned much the same, I began to have misgivings, but in the afternoon it brightened up sufficiently for us to head out for a shortish walk on Garway Hill Common. This hill clearly has excellent views, but unfortunately, during our visit, a hazy atmosphere impaired all but the vaguest impressions of those views. Whilst we were there, the clag did clear a little, but this improvement in the visibility coincided with another deterioration in the weather – the clouds regrouped and sent us scuttling back to the car park. And not a moment too soon: big fat raindrops cannoned off the windscreen as we all climbed into the car. Still – good to be out and to take a look at somewhere new to us.
Thursday brought much improved weather, and a block vote from the kids – a visit to White Castle topped their poll. It’s a small castle, but a cracker, with a proper wet moat and a bridge to get in; a tower with a winding staircase to be ascended and an outer court perfect, on a sunny day, for a picnic and a spot of Frisbee throwing.
Moat-side…..native pea? Vetch?
Horseshoe vetch decorating White Castle’s walls.
The kids had it all planned out – after White Castle they opted for a trip to Rowlestone Court, a farm with a campsite, and, more importantly as far as we were concerned, a small cafe selling their own ice-cream and an adventure playground thrown in for good measure. The zip wire, tyre-stack, mini-climbing wall etc were accessed via a muddy woodland walk where only a fool would venture in sandals. I suspect that it goes without saying that, there being one born every minute, there was a fool slithering around inappropriately in sandals, and of course: I was that fool.
The following day – bright, warm and sunny once again – the kids flexed their new found muscle and campaigned for a day in the garden. I could see from the twinkle in the Shandy Sherpa’s eye that he had a plan for exactly this eventuality and after a modicum of faffing, we were on our way to his favourite local playground for my first walk in the Black Mountains.
Andy suggested several possible excursions, but I thought it wise to leave the selection to the local expert. I thought he might take me to the magical Vale of Ewyas, which I’ve read about and admired so often on his blog, and which has attained an almost mythic status in my imagination, but no – he chose a trip to the Olchon Valley. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint at all.
We parked high, dropped way down into the valley bottom and then climbed on a fabulous diagonal path. Relief from the heat was provided first by the shade of the trees in the tall hedges and then by the hint of a breeze. Where the gradient eased, we picked up a sheep-track which contoured marvellously along the top edge of the steep fell-side between the valley and the moor, giving superb views of the patch-work landscape below.
After an indulgent lunch stop below Black Hill, we descended by the Cat’s Back ridge – our elevated parking spot paying dividends by reducing the descent at the end of the walk.
The Shandy Sherpa on the Cat’s Back.
Saturday brought another trip to the mountains, this time with the whole crew. We went to the Elan Valley – a place which I have to confess to feeling woefully under-informed about even now. You’ll have to forgive my ignorance. On the evidence of this fleeting visit it’s an area well worth investigating.
After spotting another pied-flycatcher almost immediately we left the cars (funny how these things come in twos or threes), we walked a little way up the valley, to a picnic spot Andy had previously spied. It was a little windy, but we were distracted from any minor discomfort by a fabulous display of buzzards and red kites gliding and stooping and alighting on the crags and hillsides above us.
After our picnic, the general consensus was that a walk further up the valley was in order. You can make out a rising track on the hillside on the right of the photo above: it’s an old mine road, well made, although now very wet and boggy in one or two spots. We followed it up to where the valley divides and a stream from the right hand branch comes crashing down a series of falls and cascades in a narrow defile. All very exciting for the kids (both young and old).
The last of these waterfalls flows into a very deep plunge pool which would be ideal for a swim. Little S was very keen to try it out, but both the water and air temperatures weren’t exactly conducive. He made do with some boulder hopping and the promise of a wild swimming trip somewhere closer to home when the weather allows.
On the way back to the cars we walked down the other side of the valley, which gave us some fine views of more waterfalls on the Rhiwnant and a chance to comb around a spoil heap where the kids found some attractive crystals and some stones with flecks of fool’s gold.
On this trip, like the last, we used a direct route on A roads rather than the more obvious, possibly quicker, but purgatorial M6 M5 route. Which meant that we had already thrice driven past Stokesay Castle which is just off the A49 in Shropshire. Intrigued, I was determined to visit. Happily, the Surf’n’slide crew decided to join us.
It’s a small property, but with a fascinating audio guide, takes quite a while to properly explore.
The sun shone yet again. We picnicked in the field by the car park, then had a wander around the (dry) moat. A final ice-cream and, all too soon, our holiday was all-over bar the driving.
Once again we had a fantastic break and were royally looked after. Looking at the map, it’s clear that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer, but we’ve all really enjoyed getting to know a few new places. We’re all very grateful to the Surf’n’slide team for putting us up and for putting up with us. Next year, if all goes according to plan, the shoe will be on the other foot and our friends will come to stay in sunny Lancashire with us. We’ll be hard-pressed to match their hospitality.
Next stop: Towyn Farm. Roll on the summer.