First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A glorious cold and sunny winter’s morning in Herefordshire. The sparrows were tuning up for mating season in the holly hedges around Dorstone in the Golden Valley, but the nip in the air said that winter was not yet quite over and done with.
The squat stone tower of St Faith’s Church, more suited to a fortified farmhouse than a house of God, recalled medieval times along the Welsh Borders when village folk at the mercy of Welsh or English marauders were often in need of such a refuge.
In the steep fields north of Dorstone the barns at Llan Farm were stuffed with hay bales, the shed packed with wintering cattle who stamped and blew as I went by. The ewes, heavy with unborn lambs, were still out in the pastures, their fleeces stained with the dusky red Herefordshire mud.
Up at the top of the climb the tangled bracken on Merbach Hill glowed fox brown in the sunlight. A tremendous view opened to all quarters, a patchwork of green farmlands running east to the distant Malvern Hills, south and west to the long ridgebacks of the Black Mountains, sailing against a streaky sky like Phoenician ships with outward-jutting prows.
You can’t just turn away from a view like that on a day like this. I sat on the summit and gazed my fill. Then I found a tangly path among the old quarry humps and thorn trees on the hill, leading to a skein of snowdrop-spattered tracks and lanes that landed me by the remarkable 5,000-year-old monument of Arthur’s Grave.
The split capstone of this ancient tomb, twenty-five tons of solid sandstone, was dimpled with hollows. Cup marks incised for inscrutable purposes by the tomb builders – or the dents made by the elbows of Giant Arthur as he fell in kingly combat here? I hoped the tiny boy I spied playing hide and seek in Arthur’s Grave was being told both tales, and many more, by his mother watching near the fence.
I hopped over the stile behind the monument and followed the old path down the hill to Dorstone, where the Pandy Inn had a log stove hot enough to warm a frozen giant, let alone a weary walker.
How hard is it? 5¾ miles; easy/moderate; field paths.
Start: Village car park, Dorstone, Hereford HR3 6AN (OS ref SO 315415)
Getting there: Bus T14 (Hereford); Sundays, Bus 39A
Road: Dorstone is on B4348 between Hereford and Hay-on-Wye
Walk (OS Explorer 201): Pass village green, phone box and church. Cross B4348 (315418); on beside recreation ground; cross brook, then old railway (315421). Far left corner of field; cross Spoon Lane (315424, yellow arrow/YA). Far left corner of field; left (315426) on Llan Farm drive. In 100m right (stile, arrow); bypass farmyard to cattle shed (314428). Right up track; cross Scar Lane (312433); on up fields (YAs, stiles) to Arthur’s Stone Lane (312437). Left; on right bend, ahead (310439) on stony track (hedge on left) for 900m to Merbach Hill trig pillar (304447). Right on path through bracken; in 150m at Wye Valley Walk post, ahead to gate (310448). Right along fence; in 250m, left (310445, gate, blue arrow) on green lane. In 500m, ahead down road (315443); in 400m at Hollybush Cottage, right (319441, fingerpost). Cross stream; up by wood; at gate on left (319440), right up slope to stile (319439). Ahead/south to Arthur’s Stone Lane (319431); left to Arthur’s Stone (319431); right (stiles) down field path to Dorstone.
Lunch: Pandy Inn, Dorstone HR3 6AN (01981-550273, thepandyinn.co.uk)
Accommodation: Zakopane House BG&B, adjacent to Pandy Inn (pandyinnbandb.co.uk)