Switch off your television set and go out and enjoy LEJoG Day 26

Day 26 pre-amble

The River Wye was a near-constant companion today, at least for the first half of the walk. As for the bit in brackets, it’s another reference for the 70s and 80s kids… Didn’t all that overt moralising get on your wick though, eh?

I’m not sitting at home watching TV, but there’s an inherent, deliberate self-accusation in that title. I might as well address that right now. It’s understandable why people, particularly those who are closer to being actual kids, might consider walking “boring”. I can’t deny that I find it boring sometimes.

Furthermore, my adoption of walking as a serious hobby is also an indirect consequence of life going very wrong, and more solitude than I would recommend or ask most people to bear. There’s no point denying that. I’ve been reluctant to join walking groups because of the age profile, and the split between ’30s’ and ’40s’. If I follow my age group (the latter) I’m more likely to be surrounded by retirees than younger people with whom I have more in common. The blog would almost certainly not exist if I were married with children and a full life, as I expected to be by this age. We’re venturing into territory more appropriate for the ‘Head’ section, so I won’t labour the point.

I used to be a runner but was strongly advised to stop by a knee specialist. The breakdown came about 18 months later. Walking wasn’t considered as an alternative until one random day about nine months before my return to work, when I’d just been to the post office and decided to walk for about 4 hours round local roads and fields. Now that’s what I call mundane. But, if my plans come to fruition:

  • I’ll have climbed the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales by the end of 2020;
  • I hope to combine trekking Mount Olympus with finally visiting Athens and a Greek beach holiday next summer;
  • Sometime in 2021 I want to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro (though I have to re-conquer my fear of flying first!);
  • Someday I will complete all 214 Wainwrights.

Not that boring really. It’s also been arguably the single biggest factor in me losing almost four stones in weight since leaving my previous job. I think the self-accusation and defensiveness stems not from being a solo walker, but from starting late and solitude in other areas of life. For more on that you really need Head.

LEJoG Day 26 (Monday 30 July 2018)

Monmouth to Ross-on-Wye (16 miles)

Cumulative: 371 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 15 minutes. Average speed: 3.05 mph. Weather: Warm and breezy, with occasional showers.

Practicalities: Check out, walk to the bridge, turn left to follow the Wye.

The walk

Start: Queens Head, Monmouth, 10:35am. End: Raglan House, Ross-on-Wye, 4:10pm.

This is an important moment in my LEJoG. Andy Robinson continues along the Offa’s Dyke Path to Pandy and the Black Mountains. I don’t catch up with his route again until Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire (Day 35). Instead I have to strike out for Birmingham. Seems a bit early for that, right? Well, no, for between here and Brum lie the Malvern and Clent Hills. I had never visited either in spite of living in the city for six years and working there for ten. This was perhaps my last opportunity to explore them without making a specific trip for that sole purpose. The key to reaching the Malverns from Monmouth was to head for Ledbury. Ross-on-Wye seemed convenient as an approximate halfway stop. Crucially, I’m on my own now – none of the sources I’ve used to plan LEJoG choose this section. I wonder how it’ll go…

Of course, it also means I’m obliged to provide more details on the route. That is not difficult to begin with. Follow the waymarked Wye Valley Walk (river on your right) NE out of Monmouth. After about three miles the river bends eastwards – keep following it. This is a classic, easy riverside walk and a nice blend of woods and open fields. After another mile or so the river horseshoes around a youth camp. At this point you actually have to take an inland concrete path towards the camp, re-emerging at a footbridge over the Wye (below):

Wye bridge 30Jul

This is Biblins Bridge: the name matches that of the youth camp. Officially a suspension bridge, it actually gives like a fortified rope bridge. It’s nothing like this, but nothing like Clifton either. Once over you have a very fast walk on the right (east) side of the river, along a wide track leading directly to Symonds Yat.

What the hell is a ‘Yat’ anyway?

Symonds Yat is comfortably the highlight of today’s walk. Excluding stopover towns it’s probably the busiest location between Bristol and the Malverns. It’s well worth spending time there, even if only for the splendid panoramic view of three counties and a river running through them. You’ve got to earn it though – the climb to Yat Rock is properly steep. Easily the toughest ascent between Cheddar Gorge and the Malverns. There’s a large picnic area at the top, so this was the ideal time and place for lunch. Afterwards, a short walk to an elevated viewing platform, from which the header image was taken. I’ll include the viewpoint plaque, although you might find it hard to read without enlargement:

Symonds Yat panorama

The one shame was that my half hour or so at Yat Rock coincided with the worst weather of the day. Very cloudy, and major showers just before and after the photos.

Symonds Yat, as shown on this map, lies at the southern end of a huge loop in the River Wye. Clearly it would not be advisable to try and follow the Wye Valley Walk much further. As Ross was my aim, a more direct route had to be found. The first stage of this was to descend to the eastern part of the loop before following the river (now back on your right) downstream and crossing via Huntsham Bridge to the B4229. This isn’t marked clearly on the map, but my Fitbit assures me that’s what I did.

As it was necessary to cross again via Kerne Bridge, another mile and a half away, I had to walk along the B4229 road. Some of this has no pavement or verge and is not recommended. Unless you like stopping, crossing, turning your head a lot and running to minimise the danger of bends. Things improve when you reach the village of Goodrich. Here you can come off the main road and follow a footpath. Eventually this brings you out on the far side of a road bridge east of the village. From here there is a decent verge all the way to Kerne Bridge.

Now you could follow the B4234 all the way to Ross, but I soon ruled that out. Instead I headed south, picking up a footpath to the left just after Wye Pursuits (marked on OS maps). A short climb takes you through farmland and then along a clearly-marked path NE, running approximately parallel with the B4234 and eventually descending to meet it. Just before you do, branch right again to follow a good, straight path through woodland. Quite a strong smell of wood-burning here, I seem to remember. The path crosses a road just north of The Rock Unique Stay B&B, re-enters the wood and continues to trend NE. It meets Bulls Hill: cross and proceed through a field, with woods now on your left. After a short climb through trees, you arrive at a road called Sharman Pitch.

Here’s the map. I headed straight across, past Routing West Ltd, climbing what I assumed to be the right path, purely because it was the widest and clearest in what was otherwise dense woodland. However, at some point I needed to head north (left, downhill) and didn’t, at least not until after a half mile backtrack. Your next essential landmark is the 45 degree angle in the road NNE of Routing West. There is a path downhill out of the woods (which I took), but it’s hard to spot and you may prefer to use the roads. I do promise that, on the OL14 Explorer map, this route will make sense. Just take care matching it to what you see on the ground.

From that point, head north through fields and into Chase Wood. There’s no getting away from it: this is a bit of a slog. It isn’t relentlessly steep. But it’s a long ascent with some steep sections and I had to stop for water three times. Some of the climb involves clambering over logs. I wouldn’t describe this as scrambling, but it’s not comfortable either, certainly not after 14 miles.

The wood was attractive, but I remember the air being very humid and there were plenty of gnats and flies around. As you come towards the end of the wood there are waymarked signposts all around. It’s tempting to head downhill as quickly as possible (north) but this is too steep to be contemplated for long. Instead follow the easier path marked by dotted lines on the linked map. You head NE, N then NW from the isolated housing to Penyard Lane/PGL Travel).

Proceed along Penyard Lane, taking the first left (The Gresleys) after a right-hand bend. Go to the end, turn right, then left into Alton Street. Follow Alton Street to the junction with the main road through the centre of Ross-on-Wye (B4234). I turned right here and walked the last ¼ mile to my accommodation at Raglan House. Note: this property is not currently appearing on booking.com and some sources suggest it is permanently closed.

After the walk

Had a pretty good three-course meal at this Italian restaurant, not far from the Alton Street/B4234 junction. For the rest of the evening, see MLP below.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Two Christmas episodes of Chart Music. First, taking me along the river to Symonds Yat and just beyond, CM #16. One of my most fondly remembered, purely for giving us the line “here comes jism”. To even begin to comprehend this, you need to watch/endure one of the worst Christmas songs in pop music history. I now vote for ‘Here Comes Jism’ every month in the Chart Music Top 10. At the time of writing it’s still an ever-present, though it peaked at 2. Yet another travesty number two…

And second, taking me all the way to Ross, CM #17. The enthusiasm of all three contributors just fizzes through every minute. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was their collective favourite episode, at least until CM #39. It’s the Christmas TOTP from 1973, which means the traditional retrospective look at most of the great no.1s of a year described by Taylor Parkes as “the most ’70s year of the ’70s” and by Al Needham as the peak of golden age TOTP. Also – and this is where my inner historian kicks in – the whole thing is set in the context of the oil crisis (October), the long-term effects of which would transform Britain and indeed the Western world.

At the hotel in the evening, a contender for my personal favourite episode so far. Chart Music #18 is one of very few I’ve listened to three times now. While evangelising in the comments here, I compiled five of the greatest moments so far. This is the only episode with two of the five:

  1. Al’s reaction to finding out from Simon that Martin Lee of Brotherhood of Man was only 26. A full 90 seconds of genuine, spontaneous, unscripted horror.
  2. The ‘Oh GOD” and full-throated, whole-hearted triple coating down of ‘Convoy GB’. Just a gift for Chart Music: that the most loathed DJ thus far covered also made one of the lousiest records ever to reach the Top 10, and it came up.

Picture (30 July 2018) shows the Wye from the viewing platform at Symonds Yat. Three counties (Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire) are visible.

Next: Day 27 (31 July 2018)… in which Ben is reminded of an old essay about Richard Nixon. Every day’s a university day.

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