You are not really meant to do it but knowing the area we exit out back following a woodland track through the escarpment leading to some cattle sheds, where we meet James, a burly yet friendly farm hand who proudly shows off his stock. We hang around chatting for a while sharing the experience we had negotiating the farmland near Leominster golf course, which he told us belongs to his employers the Bowly family who, interestingly, knew our Grandparents. It was a pleasant meeting and we take this energy into Bodenham entering the village on a low-key track around and over a rise that’s part of the escarpment visible from Newton Lane. The next bridge to cross is through Bodenham village church yard where we meet the warden, a local farmer we know, Mr Moore and of course he’s not one to mince words so the meeting is nothing more than polite pleasantries, a brief exchange of thoughts, then on with the days walking.
With the churchyard to our rear the footbridge we’d been heading for took us to the far edge of a field encircling Bodenham Lake, an ideal place for yet another brew with views of the village where there’s also convenient access to Ashgrove Wood, leading to Little Berrington. Now jump forward an hour or so and we’re walking past a mature reed pond at Little Berrington with swans, moorhen and ducks upon its water. It’s quintessentially English and very relaxing! Casually we float through onto yet more lazy country lanes passing Litmarsh, the Vauld Farm, Marden, the big strawberry grower ‘Brook Farm’, another nice church and so on all the way to Moreton Bridge where the last camp of the expedition is organised beside the river.
The night here was classically rainy and thunderous but dry under the DD Tarp stretched out between poles found along the river’s bank, making for a basic, yet effective shelter. So, after a night under the tarp, and having been joined by a herd of frisky cattle crossing the shallow river onto our side, the morning ritual is again observed before making way to the confluence of the River Lugg where it joins the River Wye at Mordiford, just outside Hereford.
Day 6 – 8.9 miles -
The day’s walk starts the other side of the road at Moreton Bridge, which spans the Lugg and whilst appreciating the damp earth with the prospect of completing the journey later on that day it’s noticeable just how much the feet ache. Of course, having chosen the wrong footwear at the beginning they actually do hurt, but feet are all we have right now and we press on. Tentatively then it’s one foot in front of the other weaving through numerous earthen scented fields, wet from the night’s rain, that despite the feet are still a pleasure to walk through. Indeed. The Herefordshire landscape this time of morning rests effortlessly and as a result feels ancient.
Soon we’re within sight of Sutton St Nicholas a village a few miles outside Hereford, where the aim is to locate Wergins Bridge, celebrated by villagers earlier in the year for reaching the grand old age of one hundred and thirteen years. From here our bearings take us to an old bridleway leading from Sutton to Lugg Bridge Mill on the A4103 Worcester Road. Of course, situated just outside Hereford and due to it being undisturbed the bridleway is a gem providing a welcome route to the Lugg flats, which is the largest alluvial flood plain in England if not Britain.
Now in our backyard so to speak there’s no more map reading just a simple walk across the flats all the way to Mordiford via the Herefordshire Nature Trust property based at Lower House Farm situated in the Tupsley ward. Crossing the flats early in the morning is free easy and we walk like this into the rear of the Trust’s property where we chance upon an old friend, Vicky, who is about to start work.
After six days on foot this makes for a good social interaction. It’s a happy meeting and just before moving on we step into the trusts old 14th century farm house, where we meet another woman inside, who gives us a bit of milk for a few more brews whilst crossing the less public side of the Lugg flats on way to Mordiford and the river Wye four miles away. (Grid Ref: SO 565/372)
We aim to conserve energy and end up arguing the toss about pace, which is silly. However, we do reach the River Lugg’s Mordiford Bridge that interestingly was one of the most unique bridges of its age boasting nine arches at more than six hundred years old. It’s also the site of the ancient legend of Maud the Dragon of Mordiford but that’s another story. Our thoughts now are with completion of the journey, which has taken us from Radnorshire through North Herefordshire and finally to one of the UK’s most well-known rivers the “Wye”. The experience is taken in slowly computing as we do the emergence and coming together of these two energetic pathways. Of course, after trekking from source the whole scenario is otherworldly and what with the Woolhope Dome to your left and Dindore Hill manifesting before you in the distance everything appears in this spectacular hue of extra vivid ambience. It really is beautiful.
River Lugg - Wye Tributary
58.5 miles total Sat 20th July - 25th
Day 1 - 3. 9 miles (Pool Hill)
Source Grid Ref: SO 175/751- 4 interactive map click right. 4 OS Explorer 148 Click
Erica parked at the trail head where we set off at a leisurely pace to find the source of the River Lugg four miles away at Pool Hill, walking the old tracks overlooking the Radnorshire landscape along the way. It’s remote country here with iconic hilly vistas and after a while we take a short break to map read at a track junction, where we meet two guys from Presteigne making a bike ride to Aberystwyth on their mountain bikes. A bit of trail magic is unfolding so we exchange stories, share a laugh, directions and so on then bid farewell as we go our separate ways.
Further along, and over moorland with Beacon Hill to our rear, we navigate using landmarks such as the edge of plantations and ridge lines whilst descending and rising over false summits in order to reach Pool Hill and the source. Upon reaching it, the source is a mere pond-like ditch, that at the time was bone dry and no more than about 8 meters in length and 3 meters wide, which was a real modest affair yet somewhat honest. We stay for a while absorbing the atmosphere before moving downhill, where the first trickles of water begin to emerge from seepage underground. Soon this develops into a crystalline stream of water that over millennia had carved a fascinating gorge known as a dingle that would, when followed, lead to a campsite with firewood and an embankment to erect a tarp for the night. The fire was timeless hidden away in the dingle there!
Day 2 – 11.8 miles Grid Ref: SO 176/738
Rising to a fresh morning we clear up camp and continue to follow the young river down and through an impressive dingle-type gorge passing, as we do, Dingle Cottage, before re-emerging at the trail head and car where we started. It’s full circle and we part from Erica here saying goodbye as she returns to Hereford whilst we continue on thanks to her efforts. The next stop on the narrow back roads will be “Grungoed”, an old farm and another transitional point. Headlong then we ascend these old lanes until reaching ‘Pen Y Clawd hill-top where we walk across a farmed plateau to Pitch Hill a few kilometres away, enjoying, in the process, the sight of Radnor Forest to the south-west. Besides Radnor Forest the panorama also offers views of the River Lugg snaking its way through a valley below, near to where, a descent into the opposite valley is made onto the A488. It’s the Penybont/Knighton road but for us it leads to ‘Forest and Rocky Wood’. This is forestry commission land and the tracks here ascend to another farmed plateau overlooking yet another valley, where you are now completely out of range of Pool Hill. Onward then, and a slow descent into these lower reaches leads you to Pentre on an uneven track hugging Cascob Brook and crossing a sleepy road at the bottom to Springs Wood. Having descended the old track, you ascend 125 meters to a small ridgeline and old bridle way, Ackwood Lane, where the river is temporarily obscured by a group of hefty hills some 350 or so meters high. We’ll re-join the river again in Presteigne.
Secluded Ackwood Lane (Grid Ref: SO 237/656) takes us a few miles in its green shaded concealment to Beggers Bush where we come across a local who points the way to Wooden Rd and Thorn, which intersects with the legendary Offa’s Dyke path. We eventually meet with Offa’s Dyke, relieved from lack of water by another local encountered along the trail, and so unabated continue over land to ‘Slough Road’ that leads to camp two and Presteigne the next morning.
Making our way off Slough Rd we traverse the edge of North Wood in thick underbrush and find a place to pitch camp, connecting with the silent night as it fell and to awake in the morning, with a lingering mist, hanging in the valley ghost like in spirit. Magic! (Grid Ref: SO 285/636)
Day 3 – 9.7 miles
We pack our gear in this magical atmosphere, break camp, then make our way through ‘North wood’ to again step onto Slough Road further on up walking into Presteigne as we do where, unaffected by city life, a small border town is in full flow going about its daily business. It’s a chance to gather more supplies and appreciate the town’s quirky architecture and penchant for fascinating early 1900’s vehicles followed, of course, by a brew on the town’s Lugg Bridge. Our break is punctuated by a conversation with two women, one of whom takes a photo of us on the bridge before we step over the border and into Herefordshire and England. No border control here.
A few miles in and another stop is had at an old ruin, before moving on to Upper Kingsham that opens up to another stretch of walk defined by impressive wooded escarpments, which follow the rivers course. At this stage the river still has that clear mountain feel and the lush meadow hemmed in by ‘Yield’ and Grindells Wood has an almost alpine look. So, this is deepest Herefordshire, a great location for exploring one of the river’s small beaches seeking, as we do, old and unusual glacial rocks for the growing natural history collection back home. Of course, even now, the added weight of the packs doesn’t detract from enjoying the rural surrounds that have evolved quietly for centuries here. Indeed. Relaxed through hikes are made at Lower Yield, Brook Farm and Upper Lye then Mortimer’s Trail at Lye Pole Bridge’ where there’s another chance to document the area shaded by the bridges overhanging trees.
From Lye Pole Bridge through to Aymestry this section offers thick forest landscape, where one or two hidden dwellings tuck themselves away into the sides of the tree lined gorge, making for some far-out discoveries along the trail. The gorge levels out at 250 meters in height but a little-known fact is that it was carved out by a glacial overflow channel, which exploited a fault in the rock thousands of years ago. We thought it a fantastic event site, but not only this, the valley eventually brought us to the end of day three and our third camp site of the trip where the river is forced right to Aymestry by Garden House Wood and hill. So we make camp sheltered by the tree lined gorge, take a dip in the river accompanied by a Kingfisher sweeping the river system then, cloaked in mist once more, awake to another amazing morning the next day. (Grid Ref: SO 413-659)
Day 4 – 11.8 miles - (Grid Ref: 413-659 - OS Explorer Map 149)
With a buzzard sailing overhead the morning of day four is alive with nature, and of course the experience is intimate in a way that only a journey like this can be. Indeed. We are walking through other worlds as the expedition unfolds and aware of this we make sure that certain codes are abided by relating to people, wildlife and the land. At times you move slowly and deliberately, and in this manner, we walk into Aymetsry along the Lugg and on to the Riverside Pub by the bridge there, which crosses over to Yatton Court, a Georgian manor house. From here the trail passes through National Trust woodland on the side of a hill with the Lugg snaking round its base, and eventually leads to Beach Croft and an English Heritage owned 14th century water mill. More H20!
It’s an old place; a time capsule and pleasant interlude, where we spend time to relax and get a snap shot of life some five hundred or so years ago, which you realise must have been so closely intertwined with the land once that today we ourselves scarcely recognise it. However, the walk and our own early morning rises do provide a glimpse of what people all those years ago might have felt. Of course, the mill sits close to Mortimer’s Cross where a famous battle took place on the 2nd of February 1461 and where the troops may have awoken to similar mornings as they garrisoned for battle. It’s an interesting thought and you can’t help but reflect on your own life and the personal battles that have been had there also. Still, our own fate is by no means gruesome as on this occasion the historic landmark serves as an intermediary point out of the woods and into open country.
Day 5 – 13 miles - (Grid Ref: SO 513/572)
The goal was to get to Hampton Court Castle and Gardens just off the A49, but to get there of course there was more walking to do, passing early on, our first landmark of the day, an old hump backed 16th century Bridge. It’s a remarkable feature, concave in shape for strength, made of cobbles underfoot with old red kilned brick work for its sides; dating back to the Stuart period perhaps (1603). There are a few like this on the Lugg that in themselves highlight a slower pace of life, being as they are, just wide enough for horse and carriage and nothing else. It’s not at all like the single span structures of today, but nonetheless, you feel the significance of its construction and can almost travel back in time to the period that would have been glad for such a crossing.
Of course, even as a naïve structure of times gone by it still does the job and provides a nice image to take towards Stoke Prior, the one and only village where, in 1964, a certain wedding reception took place in the village hall. That was our parents’, and the hall still stands. Being eccentric, Stoke Prior the village does make you smile and coupled with nostalgia leads through to higher ground overlooking Leominster and Lugg valley that not only offers views of camp four at Aymestry, but also the Radnorshire hills away in the distance. We’ve come a long way so before moving on we pause for a moment taking time to appreciate the experience so far.
A brief stop and the walk continues towards a challenge never expected, another large agro type farming concern, cut off from the world blocking the route to Hampton Court. We find ourselves in a spot with no possibility of turning back because it’s simply too far and so the best solution to the predicament is to link up with Leominster Golf course skirting the farthest edge of this very 20th century farming landscape. However, this is an obstacle in itself and the river Lugg flowing past the Cadbury factory along the A49 creates its own barrier, which is assuredly impenetrable so a path through the golf course is the only real option. On the map and barring a U turn it makes sense so we go for it. Indeed. What with large farm machinery operating in the vicinity and intimidating signs saying “No Entry” the first move is to make a dash for some woodland across open fields so as to reach the edge of the golf course undetected. It was a success and there were wild deer on route. In the end it becomes apparent that the land negotiated is owned by the Bowly family who have their farm next to Hampton Court and in a chance encounter with one of the farms employees later on, this info naturally transpires.
When finally, we make it onto the golf course things calm down with an altogether civilized atmosphere as early morning golfers go about golfing, whilst at the same time, looking at us… these strange guys walking the fairways with rucksacks on their backs. It really feels luxurious here and is definitely a bit surreal inspiring a laugh. Have a go some time! Take a short cut through a golf course.
Anyway, the point was to get out of a tight corner, and thankfully there is a bridge just beyond the entrance to the club that can further our progress. It’s called Ford 66 and takes you over the Lugg to the main A49 road, which after crossing a few fields adjacent brings you to Newton Lane where our Grandfather was born. It’s the alternative way around to a place we didn’t think about visiting at first, but forced, we were lead in this direction and of course as an added bonus the unexpected route conveniently avoids the busy A-road. Excellent! So, as we crested Newton Lane the old farm our grandparents farmed “Oak Dene” comes into view near Hope Under Dinmore framed in the distance by the imposing escarpment on the Hampton Court estate. Our kin folk were long standing tenant farmers on the estate and for sure seeing Oak Deane there stirred a deep sense of place that you could only get from connecting with ancestry in this way. It truly was a lovely sight and it’s a scene our grandparents and mother must have appreciated many times.
So, we cross the fields where we played as kids leading back to the A49, then make our way to the old farm for a reconnoitre of times passed and, following some essential rest by the church, continue on to Hampton Court along the A417 that passes through Bodenham. The road here is busy in a blinding kind of way but then, in the blink of an eye you see it: Hampton Court. It is a big presence in the area and upon paying entrance is only a brief stay capturing some images for the camera. This we do, and then walk towards a “Winnie the Pooh” type bridge spanning the River Lugg, defining the castle’s boundary and rear meadow where we chance upon a group of commercial hippy types holidaying here in Herefordshire. It’s a brief convo then we move swiftly on.
In combining all these elements, you could only but respect the forces that brought these rivers into being and the life they sustain, which we are reminded of when out of the blue two Kingfishers dart past from upstream of the Wye. Whilst holding form in close alliance their meteoric appearance flashed with electric blue energy but, as quickly as they show, instinctively and without warning, they peel away, one up the River Lugg and one down the River Wye. It was like watching prophetic winged beings or nature’s perfect totems arrive for a meeting, conveyed through intricate webs of existence before our own coming. No doubts about it. This was certainly a “Turquoise Sound” phenomenon and truly an auspicious end to a worthwhile journey!
Distance walked 58.5 miles - Total height ascended 790 meters
Just beyond Mortimer’s Cross we walk for a while along the A4110 to Hereford Lane that a local farmer says is an old Roman road. This stands to reason as it is long and straight and stretches on for a few ceaseless kilometres. So, we chat to the old fellow outside his orchard laden farm, about the local district then respectfully thank him and carry on into Kingsland a few miles away. However, before arriving at the village, we take a stop in a time-worn barn hidden by undergrowth in a field, where we drink another brew in the company of a robin that flits between us by way of a wooden beam and early 19th century farm machinery. Shortly after, and recharged, we reach Kingsland, buy a quick half coke in The Corners Inn, finish up and then ford the village’s bridge focusing on Leominster that’s now within sight. It has to be said; walking the back lanes of Herefordshire in summer is idyllic yet it really is only temporary and we reach the outskirts of Leominster late afternoon. So it’s into Leominster but of course, entering is not as simple as you might think, as the route passes through intensely cultivated farm land. “Summergalls” is favoured as a more direct line into town. It was a challenge because it exudes this agro farming vibe that tells you to “keep out” so is not pleasant, barring a number of antique advertising signs and period 50’s and 60’s lorry cabs found within the farmyard itself. Something to note; the place does have a soul evident at the core of the operation where the farms roots can be seen in these time-honoured reminders and relics.
Around the immediate area the River Lugg spans off into various channels and systems of ditches, as well as an offshoot of the main river system called Kenwater that passes through the town to re-join the Lugg near Mill Street. So, what’s going on is a noose effect of water channels and river around Leominster’s top end meaning Kenwater, for us at least, offered the best route (direct line) into town rather than the Lugg that snakes round the town’s northern edge. Of course, as indicated, linking up with Kenwater did mean passing through the farms central core and beyond this tackling unforeseen scrub, old fences and so on, which resulted in our mysterious appearance in one of the towns parks. Whilst in Leominster the opportunity was seized upon to stock up on supplies and then make for a footbridge at the bottom of Etnam Street, over the rail line there to a public footpath and an A49 underpass running alongside the river. Of course the objective was to reach the camp site before dark situated a few miles out in open fields.
Arriving in said fields we met a guy taking advantage of the space practicing archery with a trusty bow, which he gestured for us to have a go with, making as we did some good first-time shots. It was great to spend time with a kindred spirit who we’d not met before. However, the trail beckoned so we said farewell as he continued on with his bowman ship. So, with enough light to find camp it was a steady walk to the site, passing along the way, numerous scenes reminiscent of old England; of charming and somewhat rickety farms dotted along the river’s bank.
It really was a beautiful evening. One that wants to somehow tell you that life is OK and that everything you’re doing is worth the time spent. Indeed. Beside our pitch were four sleek horses with spirited intent that were there as the sun went down and when it rose again in the morning. Guardians? So the sun shows up in the morning and the feeling is good going through the ritual of light food, a brew, packing and gear check with that final step away from what was, for a few hours at least, a welcome home for the night.