First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The village of Longtown straggles out a mile along its back country road in a quiet corner of western Herefordshire. On this murky morning the Norman castle on its modest mound seemed the most upstanding feature of the Olchon Valley. The great rampart of the Black Mountains, walling in the valley on west, stood all but invisible in thick grey mist.
We walked the round of the circular keep, under the projecting chute of Lord Gilbert de Lacy’s own private garderobe, and on down through the stubby curtain wall. It was hard to credit that the battered and much-quarried little ruin once dominated all this valley and its commerce by road or river.
Strolling out of Longtown and down the pastures towards the winding Olchon Brook, the mountainous scene came gradually into focus ahead. From the river bank the green fields sloped up past Cayo Farm to where they abruptly steepened into the bracken-brown mountainside.
A grassy trod, one of a whole skein of paths criss-crossing these Welsh Border hills, slanted up the slope and deposited us at the top onto the broad saddle of Hatterrall Ridge. Suddenly the view opened for miles westward, down into the long cleft of the Vale of Ewyas, over and across into the wild central massif of the Black Mountains. The great arches and monastery ruins of Llanthony Priory lay screened by trees and the slope of the lane, but we could see the old packhorse track to the abbey falling away into Ewyas as a hillside thread.
Offa, late 8th-century King of Mercia, ordered a mighty earthen wall and dyke or ditch to be built along the borders to keep the warlike Welsh in their place. Here along the high lookout of Hatterrall Ridge run the remnants of Offa’s Dyke. We followed it north with tremendous views on all sides, present-day lords of all we surveyed.
All too soon our homeward path appeared, a steep track sloping down the mountainside into the Olchon Valley and its sheep pastures once more. A familiar landmark beckoned us back across the fields to Longtown – the stumpy castle keep, still standing sentinel over valley, road and river.
Start: Longtown Castle, Longtown, near Abergavenny HR2 0LE (OS ref SO 321292)
Getting there: Longtown is signed off A465 (Abergavenny-Brecon).
Walk (5¾ miles, some steep ascents, OS Explorer OL13): From castle, right along road. Opposite Outdoor Learning Centre, right (322290). Path down to cross stile; down field to road (320288). Through gate, left of ford (‘permissive path’); in 50m, right across brook; left up field to Cayo Farm (317285). Through farmyard; on up 4 fields (fence on right), then bear left to stile (310280) and green lane.
At top of rise cross green track (309279, yellow arrow/YA); bear left along green track, sloping uphill for ½ mile. Near top, path forks; go right uphill to Offa’s Dyke Path (308270). Right along ridge following ODP. In 900m pass trig pillar (305279); in another 600m pass cairn (300283); in 250m, at second cairn at cross-paths, right (299285). Path soon bears left and slants downhill. In 200m ignore green track hairpin to right (300288); in another 350m, hairpin right at cross-tracks (300291). Follow path, keeping same line, downhill for 500m to cross stream at corner of fence (303287). Right downhill to track; left to road (304289); right.
Pass Great Turnant farm (306288). In 300m, at Lower Turnant, right along gravel driveway (308291, fingerpost). Follow white arrows to left, then through gate. Down field to cross holloway at bottom left corner (310292, gates, YA). On down field; through gate by pond (312293); across field, through right-hand of 2 gates (314293). In 100m, left (gate, stone stile); down to cross footbridge (315293). Across fields (gates, stiles), heading for Longtown Castle.
Lunch/Accommodation: Crown Inn, Longtown HR2 0LT (01873-860217, crowninnlongtown.co.uk