River Dore - Monnow Tributary
22 miles total Thurs 17th Aug -19th
We pulled up at a gate in the car, parked and walked across to the little cottage at the base of Merbach Hills South Easterly slope. There we were greeted by a wildish lady in her 60’s dressed in a night gown by the name of Judi. Stood at her door we told her of Paul’s earlier visit to find the source of the River Dore revealing his premature death as we did so to which she responded by way of inviting us in for a cuppa tea. We sat and chatted for a while to the rear of the cottage speaking of Paul’s loss and her own twinship her sister of which happened to live in Hay on Wye a few miles to the South West. The similarities felt comforting to me personally as they did to Erica also. We talked further marvelling at the view of Cefn Hill in front of us for this was the source of the River Monnow that Paul and I had walked a couple of years earlier. His presence was palpable and as we toured the source of the Dore later with Judi, which happened to be in her garden, we couldn’t help but speak of Paul again on account of his earlier search of the rivers source. This was a walk he wanted to do the knowledge of which would be with me from start to finish. Thanks to Erica it would get off to a great start as she, not only offered a lift up to the start point, but some welcome thoughts also as we explored an area that meant much to her in addition in that she had accompanied Paul on that first look at the Dore.
The source itself was set underneath 3 large stone slabs lay side by side creating a kind of lid a foot from the ground under which water would emerge as slow-moving seepage. It was the most interesting of sources that we knew Paul would enjoy being a water and river enthusiast. Looking to my left away from a somewhat ornamental setting for a river source you could already see an embryonic channel that would funnel Merbach Hill water down to the bottom of the valley. There people would never know of the contrived yet beautiful source from which it has sprung, which will forever remain a secret revealing itself only to those willing to know the very essence of a river that finally meets the Monnow 12 miles away on the Kentchurch estate at Pontrilas.
We said goodbye to Judi grateful for the unique insight and made our way to Arthurs Stone a Kilometre down the lane. The Neolithic burial tomb or mound itself dates back to 3,500 BC. A well-known landmark set above the Golden valley adjacent to the Black Mountains it has to be the view that partially makes this such a magnetic attraction in the region. It might also be the legends attached, which speak of King Arthur slaying a giant there, which left indentations in one of the stones after he fell. Others legends speak of Arthur leaving indentations of his knees or elbows on the Quoit Stone as he knelt there to pray. Whatever the truth it was good to be back at the site looking across to the Black Mountains, the Monnow and Golden Valley where I’ll later be walking and wild camping.
I say goodbye to Erica and head downhill South east to my first camp site beside woodland on what looks like a private estate on account of its mature Oaks that pepper the sloped undulating ground. Despite the uneven appearance before me I know that on the far side on the woodlands edge there is a flat spot large enough to pitch my tent on, which is born true when I reach the vicinity. Set beneath and sweeping canopy of a tree that offers yet more shelter form the encroaching storm I lay in my tent looking at a road 4 KM away that Paul and I had walked up two years before to reach the Monnow source on top of Cefne Hill mentioned earlier. With such memories, I’m in good company and feeling comfortable I get my head down after a walkabout, something to eat and drink.
In the morning, I head for Dorstone down a lane that Paul and I had walked way back in 2007. I’m surprised by the memory of this because as is common one can forget seemingly minor walks but in fact it was significant in that it was simply a pleasant time exploring the border country. On that occasion, we found a yurt in a corrugated shed the latter of which I visited in memory of our time together.
After peering into the shed once more, which housed this time around a horse box being converted into a mobile home I descended into the valley towards Dorstone. As I did so a white van went by in the opposite direction the driver of which stared at me as he drove. I stared back and with that the van stopped. I approached, opened the door and was greeted by an old friend Steve Pond who I had not seen for over 20 years plus. A welcome evolution to the journey I jumped into the van to greet him upon which I was offered a cup of tea and a chat at his cottage, which was on the other side of Dorstone on Snodhill. I would have to miss my first sighting of the river but this was a flow of a different kind that invoked a distinct forward motion much needed by me and possibly Steve.
At his home, we talked for well over an hour looking upon a wooded valley from a veranda adjacent to his cottage. All manner of subjects personal and general were covered filling us both up with inspiration enough to continue. Prior to leaving his son Ben appeared who I found to be placid and friendly. Later down the lane towards Peterchurch I would reflect back on the start of the walk, which presented the most pleasant of sociable starts as I visited also Manu an old friend who once used to busk in the City of Hereford. Both old friends, who lived not far apart, were very receptive, which seemed to mirror itself within me as I greeted the ladies in the Hub Café at St Peters in Peterchurch with a warm smile and an interest that gave a small contribution to them.
Very quickly I found myself back up in the surrounding hills exploring ways to navigate the maze of arable, grazing and wooded land. As I went along my way I came across an owl roost in an old abandoned toilet block that probably served former arable labourers. It was covered in dirt, excrement and owl pellets filling the sink, which would explain the then unknown raptor that took flight as I peered in through the door. The energy of predator and flight was unmistakable, which gave me a brief thrill as its movement resounded about the block.
With time to contemplate my time with Paul in the depths of a gravel bedded tributary feeding the Dore I allow the water of the stream and the canopy above to inspire a clear channel to my brother. It works to dissolve the stress of loss, which has impacted upon me greatly. I relinquish the pain, recite one of his poems called ‘A Shining Light’ and feeling that my connection has been rejuvenated I move on extending my good wishes to the cattle that have gathered on the other side of a nearby gate.
Passing through Dolward Farm at Turnastone, which is home to the friendliest horse and dog encountered on any trail I reach the Herefordshire Trail with a mighty Oak and keen sheep in my mind. Up through to the other side of White House and Chanstone woods I sit for the most agreeable view of Colliers wood opposite sheltered from the rain by the canopy of trees that reach over the fence I’m now sat beside. There from my sack (OS Grid Ref) I retrieve Paul’s Harmonica, which I play to the patter of rain with visuals to inspire the deepest of love for him. It’s his sound, which he left me to cherish and honour. Here in the vicinity of my rendition for peace I locate my second camp site, which offers up the most awesome sunrise come morning.
Beyond my campsite on the second day I reach St Margarets next to Tanhouse Farm an old family farm, which looks to be another struggling in these modern times. Inside the church at St Margarets, which is entered via a door dating back possibly to the 16th C, I’m greeted by a rood screen that dates back further to the 15th C although the place of actual worship is much older at 12th C AD. All faiths and none I can still appreciate a sacred site of this nature for its essence is the same as many others that being the pursuance of peace as can be witnessed by the doves hanging from the rood screen itself.
Riverdale near Bacton Stud beckons. At first as I read the map I thought Bacton Stud was a thriving equestrian centre but I’ve since learnt that it is in fact redundant as a stud but was once renowned as being the birthplace of Sprig, winner of the 1927 Grand National. The transient nature of life whether in the religious or competitive spheres never fails to impress itself upon my being as I explore the rivers and land around me. Indeed, what with the death of my dear twin Paul almost 9 months ago I’m reminded by all of the history present that my life is as precious as the next. I intend to live it but not before appreciating that which has come before me, which helps magnify the present moment in addition.
Having taken some photos and film of the river, sat and shared a little about the River Dore for Youtube I head for Dore Abbey eager to see a Cistercian domicile I’ve neglected to visit on many occasions before. As I enter, having spoken to some students from Portsmouth and Durham outside, I’m amazed I haven’t gravitated towards the Abbey before now. I comment to myself that Paul would love this and as I continue the dialogue transfixed by the lofty abbey around me I think of Erica to. Wow, echoes from my lips for this 11th Century abbey appears more like a cathedral designed for acoustics that amplify the creator clearly and without distortion. Slowly I make my away around this historic centre in the back country of the border lands intent on soaking up the history latent within its walls. Awe inspired enough I pull out one more instrument of Pauls and begin playing the Jews Harp in front of the organ and alter.
Feeling good I proceed to Ewyas Harold village store where I purchase some Ewyas Harold Spring water at half price. Set just off the A465 Hereford to Abergavenny road the village was named after Ralph the Timid who was Earl of Hereford between 1051 and 1057. Pre-Norman it sits as a gateway to the Black Mountains and has a somewhat mountain village feel about it as it’s surrounded by hills, water and woodland. Indeed, it’s remote enough for the SAS to train here at the Pontrilas military base 1 KM to the North. Walking through to Pontrilas itself after leaving Ewyas Harold the area brings back memories of when our father Terry would take Paul and I into the base being head of the SAS demolitions wing at the time. I smile at the memories invoked, which leads me to the confluence of the Dore with the River Monnow.
Lent up against a gate beside Highfield Farm wondering how I’m going to actually get to the confluence I look to my right to see a car pull up at the T Junction left out of Pontrilas that takes the motorist up to Cross Lyde and then onto Orcop Hill. It’s Steve who invited me to this year’s Sunrise Celebration festival, which is where I’m heading to after the confluence. I call out and spotting me his driver turns left instead of right into Pontrilas and pulls up alongside. Getting out of the car we give each other a hug whereupon I proceed to tell him of what I’m doing. With a cheery vibe we bid each other goodbye for now as he will be on site later and playing in the ‘Cat’s Cradle’ with his band NFA (No Fixed Abode) also.
After navigating a wrong field full of keen livestock, I exit as keenly to make my way down the road about 1KM where I spot the river. Knowing instinctively that it will lead me to the confluence I step inside and walk adjacent to the river until I come to a clearing beyond a copse. There are Cat runs from one side of the clearing to the other, which I find as auspicious as meeting Steve when I did. Feeling as though a divine order is at play I look to my right where I see through some trees and scrub the Dore flowing ever so gently into the Monnow. “Two rivers meet”, are the words that spring to my mind. Excitedly I scramble through the scrub to descend down to the now mature River Dore, which flows from right to left into the Monnow a river that has been with me silently also as I intermittently remembered Paul and I walking it two years before. Although hailing from different places the both converge without protest because they are of the same making. Eons of time have not separated these waters, which instils within me a thought and feeling regarding Paul and I and all those I have loved and lost. Perhaps we originate from the same well spring and although we may find ourselves on different courses we ultimately meet again as we flow into that much larger pool only to repeat the cycle. All energy that ever existed still sexists like that of the water that will forever remain in some form or another. I speak to Paul knowing of our connection and with my respects extended to the rivers also I make my way to the Sunrise Celebration on the Kentchurch Estate where I will attend a water workshop upon entering the site. Cosmic or what?
Written by Mark Jickells © 2017