As I dream it all melds into one the physical and non- physical, which is what happens in the dream state reminding me of where Paul is and where I will be one day in that place where good souls dwell and where memories abound.
In the morning I eat some biscuits, pack up my camp leaving it clean and tidy and go and thank Diane at Risbury court for allowing me to camp the night in their orchard. Diane was not there but her Husband Robert was a little impatient to get back to the Rugby, which I don’t blame him for. It was pleasant enough though as he filled my bladder whilst I chatted to his son. Bidding everyone goodbye I head for the brook once more only for the mill at Risbury to catch my attention on the way out of Risbury Court, which is next door. I had seen a photo of it online and wanted to see it for myself and although I knew it wasn’t a public exhibit I was willing to ask the owners if a viewing was permissible.
Walking down the drive way I am struck by how lavish the place is. This is luxury pure and simple. I’m not perturbed for I have what I consider to be my own luxurious life in the special places and spaces I find myself in. So, with a sense of my own value I proceed to the front door, which is open. I knock to be greeted by Colin a wonderful friendly chap who, not only gives me permission to view the water wheel but invites me in for a cup of tea also. We are soon joined by his wife Anna who offers me a shower, which I decline on account of not being to grubby and their Daughter Kasia who I remember from the evening before. Then I reached out to a young pretty blonde girl of about 16-17 years of age tending to the horse that Erica and I had acquainted ourselves with on the way into the fort above. She was pleasant to talk to out in the field but now here she was in the Kitchen. I hope she doesn’t think I’ve pursued her because the truth is I approached the household to see the mill. The fact that she is here is surprising although it’s the hospitality that shines through equally.
Humber Brook - River Lugg
22 miles total Fri 30th June - 2nd
My twin brother Paul had arranged this hike before he sadly died on the 18th November 2016 (see tribute video Link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iuiEKD6PeU). Then he turned to me and asked me to join him but for personal reasons, which I never revealed I declined. I never told him the reason. He probably thought I was evading him but it wasn’t that at all. I wished I had revealed the truth now. It’s 8 months since his death and I’ve always been aware that he never did get to walk the Humber Brook. So, on the weekend of the 1st July 2017 I set off to walk it on account of it being my first birthday without him. It seemed to be a fitting tribute to my brother and a way of breaking into the Wye explorer walks again. So, welcome to ‘A Birthday Hike with Paul,’ on North Herefordshire's Humber brook a sub-sub tributary of the Wye.
Mark Firmin picks me up on the Friday morning. He’s a good friend and the son of Rusty Firmin former SAS operative and Iranian Embassy Siege team member. Having had both fathers serve in the same regiment we have much in common besides the outdoors.
At the source (Grid SO604614-OS Landranger 149) near St Michael or Bocleton church where there was an earlier Saxon church dating back to 1160 AD Mark drops me off. I’m happy that Marks come along to be a part of the walk and so, after a chat and a feel of the area, I unload and the Walk begins. I head off down the road towards High Bridge the closest I can get to the source without traipsing over private land I haven’t permission to be on. I’ve arranged everything else but not access to the source. I don’t mind going over private land without public access but on this occasion, I don’t want any confrontation so the bridge will have to do.
Having paid my respects to Paul and remembered his ambition to walk it I reach the bridge built by subscription in 1878 some 139 years ago. Here the Humber brook is but a trickle, which always inspires me to observe knowing full well it’s going to grow. John Muir springs to mind where he says, ‘Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.’ It’s an invocation that compliments my view and with that and Paul in my heart I set off.
I head back up towards the church sit for a while and then traverse its outside perimeter to head West down a track then on through to a small dingle where the most telling of old gates awaits (Grid SO 592-608-OS Landranger 149). To me this typifies old England or even old backwater Herefordshire it being part of a very ancient way. The gate invites me to step through to the Brook that flows gently over a bedrock slab as if West towards Leominster. The sound of the water and the coolness of the air permeates my being as I produce a number of splashes in addition, which are the consequence of my propulsion forward.
From here I meander my way through a wooded area peppered by some mature Oaks reading the map as I observe my advance. Beyond I’m back on the trail having lost the way mark for a moment. Paul is forever with me as I talk with him in my higher self. I sense and feel the outdoors he loved and through these familiar senses we are brought close together. I’ve made the best decision to come hiking the Humber Brook this my first Birthday without my dear twin. Oh, how we loved this kind of terrain and environment. I can see us both now as I walk the folds in the land, underneath North Herefordshire Oak, over stiles, through the swish of wheat and beyond through to the farms and estates that are anchored here. Chatter about it all would abound as would quite appreciation. Yes, I loved every moment of my time out here with Paul my twin. Like the oxygen that’s forever a part of me now we breathed each other’s company in. It was special as is this.
Still following the Brook it’s forced, through a fold in the land, to head South/South West towards Hatfield where Thomas Holder once resided at Hatfield Court in 1844. The first of a succession of owners he put the court up for auction, which included all his stock and farming equipment that being an impressive herd of Herefordshire cattle, sheep, pigs and 23 horses. Today this would represent a small fortune including the court although debt existed back then so we’re not able to assess his true state of affairs. Today it’s in a ruinous state but it would appear it was once a thriving farming concern.
Beyond Hatfield Docklow Pools beckons. One of the oldest fishing pool establishments of its kind in the UK it was established in 1972 and consists of a series of 9 pools containing an array of fish from Bream, Chubb, Tench and Carp to name a few. To get there I have to leave the road and enter a small woodland that forms the Eastern perimeter of the pools. Carefully traversing the woodland that’s peppered with evidence of a shoot I know I’m breaking a few rules to enter Docklow Pools but I feel there’s respect at my core so I continue. Finally, after navigating my ethics also, I reach a clearing, which presents one of the pools that’s accompanied by chalets on its Northern bank. I’m impressed by the set up and after admiring or at least appreciating the life and culture here I take a look at one more pool, its watering hole the Fisherman's Arms and head for Humber Woodland of Remembrance an environmentally friendly burial ground set in emerging woodland beside the brook and Risbury Hill Fort beyond.
The A44 is not that busy so I head towards my objective using it and its verges to make up time for it’s nearing the end of the day and I have an RV with my friend Erica at Risbury Hill Fort, which is a couple of miles away. Before I can reach there, she rings my mobile saying she’s not far away. With that a new RV is arranged at Steen’s Bridge 4KM East of Leominster. As I walk with focused determination I spot Erica pass me suddenly some 10 minutes later. With a rapturous greeting and a few laughs, I climb into the car and off we meander first to the Humber Woodland of remembrance but not before admiring a stone marker (Grid SO 532-562 OS Landranger 149) placed to honour Alfred Watkins the English author and self-taught archaeologist who is said to have discovered the existence of ley lines in the area, which are a series of ways that enable the earths energy to flow a bit like veins. After our observations here and at the remembrance site where I seriously consider Pauls final resting place we latterly head for Risbury Hill Fort where we retrace a walk she and Paul had enjoyed a year before.
On top of the Iron Age hill fort (Grid SO 542-554 Landranger 149) we walk its 3.2 Ha enclosure visualizing as we do the life of the iron Age people here some 3-3500 years ago. Paul and Erica had enjoyed a similar time together here although their connection was more tenderly entwined. She shared a few stories that were reminders of how funny Paul could be and what a special companion he was. After the walk, we finished off in the orchard at its Southerly base greeting once more the horse that had trotted by our side on the way in. There in the orchard with sheep grazing around us we spoke about Paul in more depth, my birthday and the unexpected and sometimes painful nature of life whereupon Erica gave me a gift of a note book and pen for my birthday. In the preceding years, she had gifted both of us similarly the memory of which was ignited upon receipt of this particular gift to celebrate my 49th and first birthday without my dear twin brother. It’s the 1st July 2017! With Pauls absence keenly felt the loss of our good friend was animated amid the orchard set beside the Humber Brook a watercourse he had originally planned to walk. Here now I was walking it in his memory and here now also were two friends contemplating its significance. It was special and sad as the sun began to set in what was a warm July summer evening the type Paul would have savoured.
Later after Erica had left I erected my camp and settled down to enjoy the orchards canopy formed by its interlocking trees. It was a green serene scene watching the sheep graze below it as the evening light brought to life the interconnectedness of life for without the light of the sun permeating every particle of this tree lined vision before me there would be no orchard and certainly no camp. I wonder to myself where is Paul in all this perfectly arranged cosmic order. He’s there in everything I see, feel, hear, smell and touch there’s no question. With these thoughts arising within I eat some food and retreat into my open tarp tent to commune some more with a reality made up of an outer and inner landscape combined.........
I sit and have a cup of tea with Anna and Kasia because Colin has gone off to bring back a marquee for a party on the lawn later. It transpires that Anna knows some of the same people as she too went to Bishops my very school. We talk about life, Paul, arriving in unforeseen places and future plans. It does indeed make adventure worthwhile.
Having viewed the mill I’m now on top of a hill near Hollywall Farm. I’m uncertain as to whether or not the farm takes its name from a well nearby because there is no evidence of it. The only evidence of any association of its kind exists further South at Hill Hole or Hell Hole Dingle otherwise known as ‘Hello Dingle.’ With all other theories considered nearby at Pencombe it’s likely a holy well existed at Hollywell or Hollywall Farm just off the old Roman road above the dingle. My objective is the Southerly reaches of the mixed woodland strip that envelopes the dingle. I can see the depression in the land from my Northerly position and so with a target in mind I’m off across Mercer property, which isn’t a public right of way but is accessible to me on account of the owner Jon Mercer kindly giving me permission to cross, which enables me to relax as I head for my destination.
Arriving at a strip of woodland that juts out towards the North from the main band of East /West woodland I’m struck by how thick it is inside. It’s summer and I’ve seen jungle like this before but it never ceases to surprise me or take me back a bit when I know I have to pass through. With a brief inspection, I climb in to find, to my obvious relief, a game trail running through it. With a staff in hand and with a few brushes of it from left to right it’s not long and I’m on the other side to be greeted by a deer grazing in the adjacent wheat field. It’s a nice sight that excites briefly before pressing on.
Climbing a gate into the main strip of woodland to the Southern boundary of the wheat field I’m convinced I’m now on the trail heading for the Humber Brook once more. There before me is a slope, which forms a wooded valley what with a similar slope on the other side of the Brook..........
It feels cavernous and as I near the bottom passing Spruce as I go there before me I spot the Humber Brook flowing quietly South West towards the Lugg. It appears wild and untouched and even feels sacred nestled here at the bottom of a wooded valley and or gully some 60 meters deep. Nobody comes here. I’ve found a place in North Herefordshire that could be anywhere natural in the world as trees arch over the gently flowing water symbols of the brooks time here unfolding. With an urge to commune and observe I sit, eat, drink and take in a place that instantly relaxes me on my birthday. I think to myself what a wondrous place to contemplate Paul and my life with him. Moments later I’m invigorated by the flash of Turquoise Blue. It’s a Kingfisher tweeting as it heads downstream darting at precise angles to avoid all of the overhangs. This is its pathway upon which I sit and as I’m alerted to its presence I smile saying, “Aahh do you see that Paul? Nice one mate – love you and you dad.”
Rested and rejuvenated I follow the brook downstream crossing over an old bridge once part of a weir. Now on a clearly defined track or trail I round a bend only to be greeted by the sound of cascading water. It’s the waterfall I’ve been keeping an eye out for. Enthralled by the sound I’m keen to take a peek at where the sound is emanating from, which when the location emerges widens my eyes considerably. It’s a small brook and yet there before me is a spectacular waterfall made up of red sandstone slabs that drop some 30 feet to the brook below. It’s width of about 18 meters gives it an added sense of grandeur whilst the woodland that envelopes it all around creates a cathedral like space where the water can play its notable tune in sync with glistening light. Looking down and later looking up I’m amazed at the find that ignites, not only that sense of adventure, but gladness inside also. This is Paul’s walk to and I’m thankful.
Walking across open fields towards Hampton Court I am struck by the grandeur of the scene. Below me to the right is a cleft in the land carved out by the brook, in front is the Queens Wood escarpment that stretches from East to West for almost 2KM and there awaiting my company is a large deep rich red beach tree standing sentinel over the vista. Beneath it I sit, have a brew and remember my childhood with Paul and other family members on Nan and Grandads Farm, which I can see and seeping through to my consciousness is the walk we undertook from the source of the River Lugg in the Radnor Forest for I’m now observing the Lugg valley with Hampton Court nestled beside it at the base of Queens Wood. The day is bright – the moment commemorative and divine.
As I approach Hampton Court after filtering water out of a trough and reflecting for a while on the DIY free rave party that Paul attended nearby in the 1990’s I calmly and serenely anticipate the Brooks confluence with the Lugg. What will I feel? What will I find? I’ve followed it from source, it was Paul’s original walk and plan and so some kind of expectation is natural when coming to the end of such a significant walk during what is my birthday weekend. It’s been full of wonder but sadly it has been absent of the one thing I would love more than anything else in the world and that is my dear twin Paul. Will, he be there with me. He has been thus far.
The court looks beautiful as it’s contrasted with the shadow cast by the trees overhanging the brook and the light of the day, which it’s bathed in beyond. I admire it through the bankside or weir-side opening for a while and then walk on towards the confluence, which is 80 meters or so downstream. I spot it to my right and without hesitation wade through some thick summer growth to be beside it some 15 feet below. Now widened as it enters the Lugg it has slowed down to a crawl as though neither watercourse is demanding much of one nor the other. It’s a tender connection that you might expect from the most romantic of get togethers
As I cast my eyes toward the River Lugg I’m struck by the tinge of green and grey shining bright in the July summer sun. It’s like a highly polished glass mirror that’s made up of creamy liquid silk flowing slowly due to its thick consistency. It’s not of course it’s merely a trick of light but it is otherworldly. There beside the bank staring at this mirror like image I sit with a gaze and am alerted to a bird coming out the bank opposite. It’s a Kingfisher or at least I think it is. I wait for its return, which comes moment later to my left further downstream. It perches, then moves and perches once more moving ever closer to the nest. It’s a deception strategy before entering it. I’m mesmerized as this is, not only a fabulous natural spectacle, but my first Kingfisher nest observed. Fascinated I convince myself that Wrens do not nest so close to the river in the bankside. Later as I walk passed Hampton Court for home I’m resolved to believe that it was a Kingfisher for although its Turquoise blue was not visible it being out of the sunlight its shape appeared to be that of Alcedo Atthis.
With a brief sit-down on a bench looking directly at Hampton Court from the rear that Paul and I once had a brew on I feel infused with the spirit of connection and respect.
I’ve honoured both my brother and the land having approached the walk with a mindfulness for all concerned. The end result was a natural spectacle that Paul would have enjoyed very much the very thought of which instils in me a tremendous love for him. It’s this love I came out to rekindle and invoke on the Humber Brook that flows through the North Herefordshire countryside we partly grew up in. It’s definitely been a healing walk, which I recommend to anyone in a similar situation in life. It’s demonstrated to me that the rhythm of the trail forged amid nature heals as it comes from a place that’s, not only in constant flux, but ironically timeless also. It’s where Paul and my other ancestors are and it’s to that timeless place my heart goes when I walk amid such raw beauty.
Written by Mark Jickells © 2017
Video: Humberside Trail