It goes without saying once having viewed the environment from such a perspective you feel at liberty to explore a lot more experiencing, in the process, hidden worlds that you may have otherwise come to think of as being prohibitive. From the perspective of roaming then you get braver and a very unique angle upon the world is offered, which is of course accessible to everyone. Indeed. If you feel disconnected from your environment then go walk about and see what’s there and you’ll soon see new vistas start to unfold before you. Britain’s a warren of ancient trails, bridleways and paths to explore.
It’s been some time since we left Jono and we’ve just come through Pembridge reaching the second camp of the expedition. We check the map and realise it’s been a full 15 miles of walking since our last camp before Kington. Good going considering all the exploring along the way. The site looks promising ready for the following mornings hike offset a little from the public footpath at one end of the greenest field you ever saw. Of course, the grass is mature and clean and the tarp is secure pitched under this large oak sheltering us from whatever deluge the weather could throw at us in the night. Everything’s set then and with all campsite stuff arranged we listen to the funkiest techno permeating the atmosphere and are tempted to join the party. Alas sleep comes easier than a hike across the fields and out of it we’re awoken once more to a fresh new day.
Day 3 – 8.2 miles to the River Lugg
The morning ritual is simply get a brew going, have a bite to eat, pack the gear then make a move towards the first checkpoint of the day, a bridge over the River Arrow in Eardisland. Of course, a mile away from camp and in a Herefordshire village kind of way the scene is lovely but there’s no need to over-do it just get your bearings and maintain momentum at a pace the environ dictates.
This was the plan. However, just when we think were done our exit out of Eardisland is delayed by the discovery of an abandoned dwelling so intriguing in character that it must be investigated in spite of the fact it adds an hour or so to our journey.
Hidden away by a vast hedge and well-established ivy the dwelling could be around 13th, or early 14th century. What an obscure archive we think and with nobody around we delve in. Clearly this is heritage as comparable in antiquity to the farm at Newchurch (Radnorshire) where the owner gave a little commentary on its age but as far as this place was concerned, it was a total mystery.
Despite being abandoned the house lives on like a dignified old timer and notwithstanding a few aching joints here and there you can still see its former glory with an unwillingness to buckle. Yes, a wisdom and silent beauty speaks and unlike the empty farm at the (Veallt) this building has a welcome feel. Yet if left for much longer the elements would certainly take their toll but none of this really matters for there’s a genuine magic resonating with every expressive day it stands. It’s surreal and so without hesitation the process of documenting this place of a bygone era ensues. The authenticity is unquestionable and leaves a very mysterious question: who lived here? We might never know but it’s as though whoever did live here wanted to leave everything exactly as it was for the passers-by to admire. We ourselves walk away bowled over yet just as you think you are on the trail once more were once again delayed further on down the road, but this time by a lamb rescue that awaits us beyond the hedge rows.
Now yelping in terror for its life a mission was on to loosen the lamb’s neck strangled firmly by a man-made wire fence. Entering the field, we remained calm for the pushing and pulling to come. It knew we were its only hope of release and to a degree cooperated until loose whereupon it ran away bleating but not before a moment of pause out of trust and real appreciation for the freedom it requested our assistance for. Of course, back in Radnorshire, on Guanceste Hill, a fully grown sheep was found dead strangled by such a fence so it was as if the discovery primed us ready for the following rescue attempt. It was a success.
With a satisfying rescue behind us walking continued towards a place called Lawton two miles up from ‘Eardisland’ where a footbridge over the River Arrow promised us an easy a crossing. (Grid Ref: SO 448-558 on OS Explorer map 148). It was though seriously out of action and so a passage over the river was not possible. There was no other choice but to make our way across more fields what with skittish cows gathering around curiously.
It turns out field hopping is fun and if you get a big enough stretch of fields obscured from normal view there’s a sense of peaceful isolation even when you are not far from populated areas such as the town of Leominster. Of course, following its natural course, the river can and does meander unnoticed if it weren’t for such bridges that invite the walker to cross the patch work maze of arable and grazing land. It’s good that landowners give us access but it would be great to have a little more.
The fields had an open range feel to them and the privacy afforded by this unexpected route was embraced as readily as the rarest of mountain views. Indeed. The British landscape does have some good qualities to it and you definitely get insight negotiating its gradations but it turns out were not the only ones in these Herefordshire fields right now for rounding a bend on the river we come across two stock men with a shared and mutual respect of the land tending to their herd, which amongst the maze of fields was a good meeting.
It was a natural encounter something out of old England perhaps and with it a sense of unburdened camaraderie knowing that despite the world’s material fixations life still goes on behind the scenes. Not to say the world is a drag rather it’s a fact that urbanized existence desensitises the many subtleties permeating life daily.
It’s all great stuff and the entire walk from the Arrows source has been interspersed with such experience revealing the in-betweens of life that appear in a kind of mystical dreamtime, which can only be found through an unconventional approach. However, shortly after meeting these stock men tarmac is once again under foot at a place called Ivingtonbury but it’s swiftly relinquished after 1 kilometre or so, not far outside Leominster, where another interesting trail is identified leading to Broadward Farm beside the B4361 into town.
Finally, the trail reaches a B road then crosses on and through to farm buildings on the other side where, after another kilometre, it passes under the A49 leading directly to the old 16th century bridge discovered the previous year on the Lugg hike. It’s close to where camp four was on that expedition. However, the objective is not to return there but to find the Arrows confluence, which means deviating from the marked trail. This is done with a little confusion because now we’ve run out of map, which could mean falling off the edge of the world, but not really. It’s late in the day and if the last bus to Hereford is to be caught we need to act quickly. Having said this possessing no map details for the remainder of the walk means the last sector serves up an unexpected and strange disorientation adding some intrigue to the overall journey. It could be fair to say that under these new circumstances the ground underfoot can be classed as virgin.
River Arrow - Wye Sub Tributary
36.7 miles total Fri 2nd May - Sun 4th
Day 1 – 11.7 miles
Every river journey starts at source and in the case of the river Arrow this emerges on top of Gwaunceste Hill in Powys a number of miles beyond Kington on the boarders of Herefordshire and or Powys. Of course, the river Lugg a 3 day walk from here serves as the confluence but first a scenic drive to ‘Foice Farm’ will place us on the trail head at an elevation of 380 meters, which leads over moorland and open field to source 3.2 miles away. Height 549 meters!
From the trail head it’s an easy approach walk to where the river Arrow reveals its presence for the first time flowing, as mentioned, to the river Lugg some 35 miles. Towards the source the landscape looms impressive and is a pleasure to meander through but it doesn’t go without a hitch when the expedition driver ‘Erica’ gets stuck on a gnarly barbed wire fence. Indeed. To prevent injury out come’s a knife to cut her free, which made for a laugh yet it also served to slow things down allowing us to form a greater union whilst enabling the terrain to be studied in closer detail.
Arriving at Gaunceste Hill we found ‘Cwm Kesty’ at its base marking the turn off point of the approach walk, which transitions into different topography leading you to an impressive dingle and subsequently the rivers source. It’s a charmed habitat and only made possible to appreciate by climbing up and through to our objective emerging a further 150 meters in elevation. Of course, the freedom of adventure is embraced with enthusiasm as we discover for the first time a world of wonder etched into the hills contours. This is the aforementioned dingle miniature gorge of Gwaunceste a truly great place to ascend the hill prior to meeting with the rivers embryonic spring further on past its rock, heather and moss cladded sides on route.
Here amid the rock, heather and moss the water jangles its way towards the Lugg in an environment green and atmospheric. Weathered trees and the occasional animal skull remind you of times passing as Red Kite above draw your attention to the reality of the predatory world among these hills. It feels remote and wild and for a short time you feel you are penetrating the interior of some exotic jungle. However, this is Wales and because of this it makes for a better adventure in some strange way. It’s more or less home!
After a couple of energetic hours filming, chatting and moving ever closer to the source the slender tributary forks off into two channels whereupon we choose to go left. Naturally after 200 yards the stream disappears into Gaunceste Hill itself and it’s here you can say the River Arrow now begins.
Summiting the dingle, the river can be seen seeping out of the bulbous top, which is high enough to offer panoramic views of this particular Welsh boarder range (Grid Ref: 163/155). From our elevated vantage point at the head of the Arrow we are permitted to sense the river and the Wye at large. This is what the journey is about for us elaborating upon our knowledge of these river systems whilst discovering fascinating worlds within them.
Energized by the overall experience we descend Gaunceste along the dingles edge peering down into its depths from high above admiring its formation as we gaze upon the natural world below, where only a short time before we had been climbing.
However, time is pressing so around mid-day we take on board some food and liquid perched on the hillside above Cwm Kesty. Of course, what characterizes the homes out here is the isolation defined by space and with only basic access and no major roads you get loads of it, which is also great for the thousands of noisy sheep scattered in profusion throughout the hillsides.
Still the landscape out here imbues the senses with healing energy soothing body and mind of any unresolved worries that you may have. It’s dynamic and the tension is alleviated as you are given chance to relax in a semi-natural environment that would have most likely inspired many a poet or budding explorer down the ages. Having rested for a moment then we follow our instincts and call in at Cwm Kesty at the bottom of the field, which for a short time served as a portal of dreams. Upon arrival at the house were greeted by the owner’s daughter who interestingly is known to us from friends in Hereford, which immediately puts us in a relaxed and receptive state.
Edging forward into their garden we are greeted by a few tantalising signs as to the type of people living here. In one corner is a shrine to the Buddha weathered by the wet environment and to the rear of the house there’s a small hydro power unit set up to exploit the Arrows modest flow at this point. To an extent the occupants are self-sufficient but you wouldn’t say exactly hippy or recluse just people who have chosen a different life style here in the hills. In due course the occupants appear prompting conversations about renewable energy, spirituality, parties in the hills and of course the people of Hereford who we might each know whilst Erica interjects the odd thought or two in turn. It’s a sociable meeting but after half an hour or so we have to leave our hosts.
Soon the original track that leads to Gwaunceste is again under foot marking the point where Erica, Mark and I now part company for Erica has a mountain break beckoning in the Pyrenees. After we bid each other goodbye we (Paul and Mark) continue onward along the road that follows the rivers new course. The story continues.
The road ahead is narrow sandwiched as it is between hefty hills flanking it on both sides, which invokes a sense of perspective and the prospect of traveling over yet more uncharted territory that invigorates our stride. We sure hope Erica feels the same way walking back to ‘Foice Farm’? However, still on the road and with not much else to do other than entertain casual talk of the environment, appreciate life and so on we make inroads on the journey. Its healthy stuff but after a period of time our attention is captured by a farm ruin called ‘Veallt’ set to one side off the road. We investigate.
It has to be said some abandoned buildings feel good but this place despite being grand once felt devoid of joy as a tragic and sad end seemed to permeate the space. Basically, it felt unloved and had that dark sense looming in and around each corner. Therefore, amid the old furniture, damp smells, dirty clothing, long since used ornate fireplaces, soiled curtains, broken windows, pigeon fowled floors, chests of draws and an old 40’s/50’s shoe found on the kitchen table and so on abandonment as opposed to harmonious departure reigned. It was spooky!
Even the birds came here to die what with a number of contorted skeletons lay on sills, which gave a strange new insight to the farm neglect. At this point we felt there was no point in hanging around just to feel uneasy in what felt like a lonely place.
Sounds like a total loss but there was promise amid some outbuildings that still broadcast a more productive time. There in one of the sheds was a wooden cart once used to good effect, old tools on the wonky partitioned panels spoke of wholesome labour and a loft full of decaying hay revealed the presence of livestock that needed feeding. There was lots of activity here once, which was a feeling that became tangible as one walked slowly around the yard.
From across the way in a field a chap had been watching us but there was no need to worry it was Mr Probert a real hard-core hill farmer with his beautiful sheep dogs and quad bike. Chatting later you could tell as he lent upon the gate that he was very much at home here where he had spent most of his life. A great bloke it was good talking with him sharing our own farming background before moving on down the valley nearer the hamlets of Newchurch and Michaelchurch-On-Arrow. We make good progress taking peaks into the area’s history as it’s made. One particular peak into a black and white farm in Newchurch reveals an establishment as old as the 13th century. It was a totally captivating place and yard but it won’t be until the next county along ‘Herefordshire’ and the picturesque village of ‘Eardisland’ that we come across another building quite as old. More on this later!
Beyond Newchurch the going is smooth and un-inhibiting. Of course, this is the attraction out here as there are few people to tell you what to do or how to be. Essentially few signs indicating a controlled environment exist as you don’t have a million and one traffic lights and barriers, stop signs, directional indicators, CCTV and so on. It’s simply a matter of enjoying your own rhythm and realizing your objective has few obstacles of this kind. It’s a still and peaceful landscape with only hill, hedgerow, style, farm and the odd road to negotiate. Indeed, traveling on foot this way you get into what we call a ‘Rhythm Outdoors’, which is a dance with each nuance of the natural world revealed along the way.
Near Mickaelchurch-On-Arrow we discover an old long since used bridle way that takes us in an Easterly direction towards the English/ Welsh border town of Kington and campsite one. About seven or eight miles has been covered to this point with a further three or so to go. With a fine sunset and a feel-good vibe at camp one there’s an easy groove where anxiety melts away amid the rural surrounds around us. The tarp is going up beneath a small rise so as not to be seen from above and there across the field is a fox in the twilight. It’s that rhythm outdoors here on the border of England and Wales and for sure a visceral encounter worth every mile. (Grid Ref: SO 261-522)
With a great basher is built using para cord and fashioned stakes from the ground were ready to make a brew and cook something to eat followed, all be it briefly, by an explorative walk by the River Arrow flowing 100 yards from camp. With ancient drover's lanes explored in addition evening soon draws in beckoning a good night’s sleep that’s immersed in only positive visuals experienced throughout the day.
Come the bright morning Kington is our first stop on route. For those who don’t know the town it sits close to the fabled ‘Offa's Dyke’ path, which has always seen travellers from down the ages and in this day and age there’s the familiar sight of walkers clad in walking boots and rucksacks. The dyke has seen it all and Kington also, which for a thousand years has been English originally deriving its name from Kings-ton meaning king’s town and being on our path a visit is certainly intended. So too as it happens, is a visit to Jono, a friend who lives just outside of town.
Day 2 - 15.8 miles
Jono is a King of sorts and large than life. He lives a mile and a half outside in a modest but functional flat close to Hergest Ridge (Mike Oldfield) and an old castle. When we arrive its early morning and some firm knocks on the door are needed to rouse him from slumber, whilst being watched by his neighbour from across the way. Of course, you don’t come across thousands of people on these trails so a visit to see Jono and a walk into Kington later is a pleasant interlude. It’s great because pretty soon the kettle’s boiling, he’s dressed and the beautiful down tempo psychedelic dance music recorded him weeks prior is on in the background, whilst simultaneously we begin talk of a micro adventure into town. After a while were joined by his neighbour’s wife Cathy and Blunders who watched us arrive. Soon there is a party atmosphere invigorated by a morning cuppa, stories and poetry recital like traveling bards emphasising the seriousness and humour of life. It’s good to be together.
After the departure of Jon’s neighbour, he leads us into Kington seizing the day via an unconventional path, which involves a visit to the town’s original fortified castle as well as an arboretum called Hergest Croft Gardens enjoyed by the town’s folk and visitors alike. On the way one of his friends is seen parked by an Arrow bridge accompanied by his mum. It’s none other than ‘Sooty’ the local coal man who is covered in soot by the many hours lugging heavy sacks. He’s wonderful, gypsy like and friendly chatting easily and quite openly about life. His mum joins in also and we all appreciate the moment and with regards us how rare coal men are these days. It still makes him a living but due to market forces he says he travels further afield for customers. London was quoted.
Progressing over the bridge and on through a cops’ we reach the castle, which is nothing more than a high earth mound now but none the less commands good views into the valley below where, just over yonder, we spot an old man hunched laying a hedge. So off down we go to meet him. When in contact he provides us with the low down on the castle and a potential tunnel running under his land somewhere.
He’s a fascinating old character moulded by years in these border hills. Indeed, satisfied by the encounter and the resonant sound of his broad accent we bid him farewell. Shortly after as we enter Hergest Croft a local woodland park, which was donated by a wealthy benefactor. Here you’ll find exotic trees such as blue cedars, maple groves, water features, tracks, trails and so on that in truth is over just that little bit too soon as it truly is rich in its content resembling a temperate forest of sorts. It’s fantastic!
Invigorated by the croft and its gardens we press on eventually arriving at some stables where Jono says he comes to see the horses as he rambles about the area. He proudly recites their names and we duly pay attention then glide on through the yard passing a rather nice country pile as we do. Entering Kington we purchase a bag of chips eating them in the livestock market, which was a blessing due to the sense of seclusion from the town at that moment. A pleasant time with a good host (Jono) headway must be made for camp two and the next stop 7.8 miles away at Pembridge so we say cheerio on the B4355 (Grid Ref: SO 305-572).
Another good day’s walking and camp 2 is located next to the river in lush farmland a mile outside of Eardisland that’s been the target of the day’s activities marked on the OS map as grid reference 408/587. Of course, between Kington and camp two plenty of countryside has been traversed and all of it exciting with interesting vistas, nooks and crannies to investigate.
Everything is encountered from quaint cottages, amazing old retired rail stock on a disused line, big farmsteads, rolling hills, ancient fields, five leaf clovers, hedgerow, trails, lanes, bridges, the archetypal village right through to a thousand cows crammed in a field chewing grass in perfect harmony. What an incredible sound much like ten thousand people rubbing hands together in unison. Amazing! For us then there’s no doubt that walking and camping like this is a worthwhile experience as it transcends an otherwise flimsy view of the world seen from the perspective of a car or routine life. Not to say there is anything wrong with this because there isn’t only the observation has been made that by stepping out of one’s normal behavioural pattern you are reminded of a landscape that’s very much alive. Of course, it’s often scanned over for convenience so we do come to think of the world as being linear and not something rich with variety and adventure. Yet it is!
So, with no map we actually find ourselves on a segment of the River Lugg that had been left out on the previous year’s expedition due to an unavoidable crossing made at the aforementioned bridge. It was a strange feeling because for a short time it was thought that the stretch of river now in our field of sight was the ‘River Arrow’ yet something was amiss because in reality the whole flow of water was uncharacteristic to what we had been attuned to these last few days. It was bizarre. So after initially being puzzled it was subsequently felt that the river in view was in fact the ‘River Lugg’, which seemed to be confirmed when a Kingfisher appeared flying downstream towards what was, in actuality, the Arrows confluence. Follow the current was the message. Sure enough by instinctively following the Kingfisher the waters of the rivers Lugg and Arrow were seen amalgamating in that all too evident ‘mystical dreamtime’ two hundred yards from where the Kingfisher had actually been seen. Crucial to the discovery of the confluence then we were transported into a hidden dimension of the rivers themselves, unearthing their enigmatic brilliance ‘off the map’ so to speak, making an otherwise average feature in British landscape spectacular.
In fact, for two small rivers in Herefordshire it was a far grander experience than could have ever been predicted had a link not been established this way. So, put simply real wilderness was discovered alive and well in a controlled environment, which naturally surpassed mundane reality.
Total distance: 35.7 miles height ascended – 200 meters