First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Clouds were pushing briskly north over Herefordshire in layers of slate grey and silver. The steeply folded countryside of the Wye Valley had settled in for the cold season with strings of scarlet bryony berries festooning the leafless hedges and the cattle gone from the pastures to their winter sheds.
Up in the trees above Fownhope the Wye Valley Walk traced the long ridge of Common Hill, looking south over steep quarrying ground – now thickly wooded – towards the rainy hills of the Forest of Dean. Fieldfares newly arrived from Scandinavia were pillaging the windfalls in long-abandoned cider orchards, their pale spotted breasts and smoky grey heads bobbing among the brown and yellow fruit.
‘We used to send all our cider apples to Bulmers,’ said the farmer who stopped for a chat. ‘But then they said, ”Tisn’t enough, don’t bother.” So now we just leaves ’em for the birds and the deer, and they go through ’em like nobody’s business!’
Through the ancient woodland of Lea and Paget’s Woods went the Wye Valley Walk, past old limekilns half buried among the tree roots. On the grassy slope beyond the woods a potbellied pig was champing the greenery with splayed tusks and plenty of squelching, his sagging stomach trailing along the ground.
A short, sharp climb to the elliptical rampart of Capler Camp, an Iron Age hill fort commanding a wonderful southward view across the Wye Valley. Down through pines and larches and we were finally at close quarters with the Wye itself, walking the bankside footpath round the wide bends of the river. The water raced by, swirling and bubbling, carrying a flock of Canada geese who trumpeted to one another as the river swept them away round a bend.
Back at Fownhope, the crooked broach spire of St Mary’s Church beckoned us. The 12th-century tympanum of the Virgin and Child inside the church displays all the idiosyncratic brilliance of the style known as the Herefordshire School of Sculpture. The wide-eyed Virgin delicately balances a mysterious fruit between thumb and forefinger. A Wye Valley cider apple? I’d like to think so.
Start: Greenman Inn, Fownhope, Herefordshire HR1 4PE (OS ref SO 578345)
Getting there: Bus 453 from Hereford
Road: M50, Jct 4; A449 (‘Ledbury’); in 1¾ miles, Fownhope signed to left on B4224.
Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 189. NB: Detailed directions are strongly recommended. Download them, along with online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Greenman Inn, right along street. At church, left up Common Hill Lane. Pass Fownhope Medical Centre; in 200m, left through gate (584345). Dogleg right-left-right round 2 field edges (yellow arrows/YAs); up to cross stile and lane (585347) and on up bank (YA). In 50m, left (YA); in 30m fork right uphill (YA). In 150m, right by electricity pole (YA); in 100m, on ridge, right along Wye Valley Walk/WVW (586348).
Follow waymarked WVW east for ¾ mile to cross road on Common Hill (595346). Continue on WVW through Lea and Paget’s Woods for 600m to junction of paths at waymark post (599342). Blue and yellow arrows point ahead; but fork right, following WVW and ‘This Way to Ross’/TWTR. In 200m leave trees (599340); in another 250m, with Middle Green house on your left, bear right (601339), descending through successive gates with distinctive curly ironwork. Follow WVW down hedge on right into valley bottom (601337), then aim across field for kissing gate on skyline, 50m left of farm buildings at Overdine (600336). Ahead across field to B4224 (598334).
Left (WVW); in 100m, right down lane (‘Caplor’). In 150m, left into yard (597332). In 100m, right; follow WVW up fields, then steeply up steps to Capler Camp hill fort (596329). Bear right to barn; pass right end of barn; right along southern ramparts of fort. In 350m, enter trees (WVW); in another 70m, fork left (592329, TWTR) down through pines to road at Capler Lodge (591324). Left for 100m to viewpoint; then back along road and steeply downhill. At foot of hill, sharp left on path (587328); in 30m, fork right, steeply down past YA. At foot of slope, right along River Wye.
In ¾ mile, cross garden of Mancell’s Ferry cottage. At far side of garden, cross stile (576328).
If riverbank route clear:
Continue along riverbank for 1¼ miles. At entrance to wood (572337), don’t be tempted to continue beside river – the path is dangerously eroded in the wood. Instead, bear right away from river and follow southern edge of wood. In 300m descend to riverbank beside Leabrink house (575339). Follow path between house and river; continue on riverbank for 300m, then bear right inland (575342). Left through belt of willow; across field and through gate. Cross footbridge (576346); ahead (YA); in 50m, bear right up green lane past houses to B4224 (577346). Right into village.
If riverbank route flooded:
Keep ahead from Mancell’s Ferry cottage (NW) across field, soon with a bank on right, to metal gate, then kissing gate (YA). Cross farm track (573330) and keep ahead with bank on right. In 300m, right over stile (571333, YA); uphill with hedge on right. In 150m, at tree with YA, cross field to barn (573335). Pass to left of barn, cross 2 stiles (no waymarks) and field to kissing gate (574338, YA). Bear right down slope to stile (YA) on left of gate above Leabrink (575339). Follow hedge on left to cross lane by sewage works (577340, YA). Follow footpath (YA) back to Fownhope.
1. Wye riverbank path can flood in winter – ring Greenman Inn to check.
2. Don’t follow riverbank path through the wood near Leabrink – it’s slippery, eroded and dangerous!
Lunch/Accommodation: Greenman, Fownhope (01432-860243, thegreenman.co) – very smart, stylish place