We were staying down near Hereford between Christmas and New Year, and once I had seen this walk in the Crimson Short Walks book, I just had to do it. Not only would it get me along a bit more of the Offa’s Dyke Path national trail (you can read about my first walk on that here), but it is also the title of the second album from Mike Oldfield. As it turned out, I was to be left a little disappointed by the actual walk, although I made up for that later in the week.
I was treating this walk as part of my training programme towards a number of events I would be taking part in through 2016 and 2017, culminating in The 100 Peaks Challenge. Those of you who read my blog should know by now that I have got into ‘tabbing’ in a big way. Just to remind you, ‘tabbing’ is a military term (‘tactical advance to battle’) which essentially means moving quickly while carrying weight. Of course, I do not travel as quickly or with as much weight as the military, but the events I am currently drawn to are worked on this basis. So I decided to go out today with my Karrimor SF Sabre 45 bergen carrying my essential safety kit, which consisted of my sleeping bag inside my bivi bag and stuffed to the bottom of the bergen; a headtorch, spare laces, paracord, gaffer tape and a couple of utility tools in one waterproof bag; wooly hat, ruff, and a pair of gloves in another; mountain first aid kit, and a towel and talcum powder in their own bags; a hexamine stove with a Zippo lighter, spork, tea bags and bags of porridge inside a metal pot and cup, all bagged and secured so it would not rattle; a cut down rollmat, and in another waterproof bag my change of clothing, being a short-sleeved zipped base layer, a fleece, a pair of hiking trousers, and socks, and once all that had been gathered together my bergen was weighing 25lbs. I had a couple of sausage rolls in the top of my bergen, and I also had 2 litres of water in bottles. My pacing beads were attached to one of the shoulder straps on the bergen. I was wearing long North Face hiking trousers, Paramo boxer shorts, Bridgedale socks, a Rab long-sleeved base layer, my The 100 Peaks Challenge technical tshirt, with my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket on top, and my AKU Pilgrim GTX boots. I had my compass attached to one of the outside pockets of the Fitzroy jacket, and my notebook and pencil in the other, and a couple of Chia Charge bars in my trouser pockets. I was also wearing my Garmin Fenix 2 watch, so I had absolutely everything I could ever need to survive on the wilds of Hergest Ridge.
It took us about 40 minutes to drive over to Kington, a small market town where we were able to park for free in the main car park because it was a Bank Holiday. The weather was dry and clear, with the sun trying to push through. From the car park we walked past the Market Hall and turned left up Church Street, past The Swan Hotel and continuing up out of the town centre until we came to St Mary’s church. We took the opportunity to look inside and saw the fine alabaster effigy tomb of Thomas and Ellen Vaughan.
We left the churchyard by the west entrance, crossed into Ridgebourne Road, and joined the route of Offa’s Dyke Path, leading up past Hergest Croft. We went through a gateway at the top, took the wider of two tracks, the grassy one which continued to climb, and which gradually rose up Hergest Ridge.
The ascent was an easy one, with wonderful views in all directions. Off to the north was Bradnor Hill and Herrock Hill; to the west was Black Mixen and Radnor Forest; and once we had passed a memorial bench and reached a major crossing of paths, we could see the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons off to the south, and the Malverns.
Offa’s Dyke Path continued straight on, but here we turned left, and started a long, gradual curve around to the right, seemingly following the 18th century racecourse, until we reached a wide path departing sharp left. This is where the walk turned into a navigation exercise when Debbie asked if I was sure that the path we were intending to take was the correct one. I took a bearing on the Ordnance Survey map section in the guidebook, then applied that bearing on the ground, and it matched up perfectly with the chosen path. We headed down towards an isolated farm, going to the right of it to join a farm lane which we would now follow all the way down, but before we got going we stopped at one of those information boards they have in places like this and I spotted two things : (1) there was something called the Whet Stone up top, and (2) there was a Triangulation Point. I could not believe it. How could anyone call this walk ‘Hergest Ridge’ and not include the Trig Point ? I suggested to Debbie that we should go back to the summit to take in both of these things and got the response I expected – she looked at me like I was an idiot, and we continued on our way whilst I was fuming inside. I would have to come back to properly complete Hergest Ridge. We were coming down towards the River Arrow, past a castle mound at a triangular junction, and at the road junction we turned right, crossed a bridge, turned left down a lane and just past Toad Hall cottage we turned left up some wooden steps to a stile and joined the Herefordshire Trail, at which point the terrain deteriorated dramatically. We went into a pasture which might as well have been a paddy field, the ground was so saturated. We were instructed by the guidebook to head slightly left along the obvious ridge, but instead we were just trying to find the driest path across the soggy ground to get us to the top of the ridge, and just as we entered the pasture at one corner a shooting party entered at another, and for some of them our paths crossed at the top of the ridge.
They had seen the way we had moved across the ground and asked if we were all right and knew where we were going, so I assured them that we did and that we had simply been looking for the dry track across the pasture, but as it turned out there was not one. We went through a derelict gateway near the bottom of the hedgeline (rather than a stile closer to the woods), and this led us through a very wide and muddy puddle to another saturated pasture as the shooting party began to line up. For just a moment I wondered if this might turn a bit ‘Hammer House of Horror’ and we might become the prey…it was not like we were going to be able to cross this ground at any speed at all ! We did hear shooting from the other side of the woods but never did see what was being hunted. We kept going through the pastures, staying down low beside a tree line above the River Arrow, passing a line of oaks, until we came to a waymarked stile on our left which led down to a footbridge which crossed the river.
We then crossed another flat bridge before walking left by the side of a garden to reach a lane, turning right there down the waymarked path. Once again we carried straight on through fields until we came to some recreation grounds, passing a couple of small dogs who were looking for squirrels, apparently, and once we had gone past the lodge and through the magnificent gates which had been erected in honour of the men who served in the great war, all that was left was for us to walk down the road to get back to the car, and for me to almost drive away without Debbie’s muddy trail shoes.
You can see more of my photographs from the walk here.
Epilogue – I went back on the afternoon of Wednesday 30 December 2015. I parked the car at the top of Ridgebourne Road and walked up to the old racecourse junction. The weather was wet today, a constant drizzle, which became somewhat miserable when the wind picked up, so I wanted to get this over and done with as soon as possible, but I had to get to that Trig Point.
I continued straight ahead, staying on the Offa’s Dyke Path this time until I reached the monkey puzzle trees, then turned off to the right to reach the Whet Stone, an ice-age boulder carried to this spot from Hanter Hill in a glacier. It was not as big as I had imagined it would be.
I returned to the Offa’s Dyke Path for a short while before heading off left to the Trig Point at 426 metres. It really is a magnificent setting and it was just a pity that the views all round were obscured by the weather this afternoon. I can imagine it would be absolutely delightful in the summer.
Mike Oldfield certainly got it right in his song On Horseback when he said, “So if you feel a little glum, to Hergest Ridge you should come.” I took a walk around the top, checking out the piles of rocks dotted about the place, almost certainly walking into Wales at one or more points, and then headed back the way I had come, this time making sure to keep to the Offa’s Dyke Path so that I did not leave any gaps along that way, my mission accomplished.
You can see more of my photographs from the afternoon here.