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WYE

EXPLORER

River Dore Diary

From Merbach Hill

Through Golden Valley

River Dore - Monnow Tributary

22 miles total Thurs 17th Aug -19th 2017

Grid Ref: 308440-OS Landranger 161 - Map Link

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 ferw 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 Dorestone 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 Dorestone. 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 Dorestone 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.

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