First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A peerless, cloudless day over the Wye Valley, and the first shirtsleeves walk of the year. Cruel winter had been packed away with the heavy coat and gloves, and now the question was, ‘Sunscreen – yes or no?’
Hoarwithy lies where the River Wye makes a series of extravagant bends on its southward progress from Hereford to the sea. On the bank above the village perches St Catherine’s Church, splendidly out of place in all its Italianate flamboyancy.
Prebendary William Poole, Vicar of Hoarwithy in late Victorian times, poured out his family money on an elaborately carved arcade, marble columns, and inlaid floors, a gorgeous golden mosaic of Christ in Glory and a slender campanile four storeys high. In a county of notable Romanesque churches 800 years old, this endearing and rather mad pastiche sticks out like a sore but stylish thumb.
A cock crowed from down among the houses, the very sound of a village at early morning as we set out from Hoarwithy. Four Canada geese flew low, creaking and clamouring across the slanted pastures toward the distant gleam of the Wye, their long dark necks outstretched. The field path along the hedges ran among celandines, stitchwort and bluebells, a wonderful palette of spring colours.
Leaves were breaking on ash and hazel, tender green stubs pushing out into the sun. Among them a blackcap let out a sudden vigorous string of song, the bird itself somehow remaining perfectly invisible.
Beyond timber-framed old Prothither farm we passed up a steep and narrow valley where the traps set in thousands by spiders in the grass were all betrayed by the dewdrops that outlined every treacherous thread.
Ancient Athelstans Wood, a woodland since before the Norman Conquest, was thickly carpeted with wood anemones and emerging bluebells. The path led through a meadow, a golden sheet of dandelions, before descending to Little Dewchurch.
A Welsh cake and an orange apiece by the churchyard wall, and we were on the homeward stretch – three fields of monstrous monoculture as a counterweight to the foregoing glories of nature, then a stroll down to Hoarwithy along the aptly and charmingly named Wriggles Brook.
Start: New Harp Inn, Hoarwithy, nr Hereford HR2 6QH (OS ref SO 545292)
Getting there: Bus 44 (Ross-on-Wye – King’s Thorn)
Road – Hoarwithy is signed from A49 (Ross-on-Wye – Hereford)
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 189): Right along the road. In 100m, fork left uphill (‘Hereford’); in 200m, left (546296, fingerpost, stile, yellow arrow/YA). Follow Herefordshire Trail/HT waymarks for 800m to road (540300). Right past Prothither; fork left (536301); in 100m, fork right (fingerpost) on a path up the valley (YAs). In ½ mile pass a confluence of brooks (532306); in another 300m, turn left across the brook (532308, YA). Follow track to left; follow YAs past Altwynt Farm sheds to road (528305). Left; turn right by a house; in 150m, turn right off the road (fingerpost); in 50m keep ahead into a wood (stile, YA). In 30m, turn left up the edge of the wood (526308, YA); in 100m, half right across field to gate into wood (523307, YA). Cross the corner of the wood to a lane; follow it to the right for ¾ mile. At Skyrme, right (513310, stile, fingerpost, HT). Follow HT waymarks clockwise for 1½ miles via Athelstans Wood (519316) to Plough Inn, Little Dewchurch (534318), then south for just over a mile to road at Prothither (536301). Left along lane to Hoarwithy
Lunch: New Harp Inn, Hoarwithy (01432-840900, thenewharpinn.co.uk)