New Year – New Walks – And a New Direction?

January 31, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Devon Walks, Gloucestershire walks, Herefordshire walks, Pub walks, Worcestershire walks | 1 Comment
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It’s been a busy time for me since my last blog with quite a few changes in my walking world. Firstly I decided back in August to close down the AD HOC walking group. I was struggling to get other leaders and was also struggling to fit in my other commitments. It was very successful whilst it lasted but since setting it up the situation at Cheltenham Rambling Club has stabilized with lots more decent length walks, and I also realized that most of my LDWA friends are quite independent and can ‘cherry pick’ their way through the many other social and challenge walks available on a weekly basis.

Tasting at Broome Farm

Tasting at Broome Farm

Striding around Ross

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had sold out of my Ross Round walking book and have decided to republish it but in a larger format. I approached several publishers without any success but one of them gave me some good advice; ”Where is your new market?” and ”Will the old customers buy another issue which sounds the same”. So, I have renamed it ‘Striding around Ross’ and there are now five interconnecting walks totalling over 50 miles and that includes The Ultimate Ross Round (URR) which is a conglomerate of the Original Ross Round (ORR) plus an extension over May Hill, which makes it up to a marathon distance, and which I still have (forlorn!) hopes of making a route for a major challenge walk.

The previous Ross Round book was self-published and I was resigned to repeating this but then discovered my previous printers were no longer in business. However I then discovered, that the Winchcombe Way walking book had been published digitally and got in touch with local printers who have done a really great job on my book with the advantage that the digital process allows the whole format to be viewed almost as one proceeds. We intend to launch the new book in late March and have an open evening at Rossiter Books in Ross planned for Wednesday 27th March. Let me know if you would like to attend?

Fox trap on Aran Mountains

Fox trap on Aran Mountains

The Wyche Way

I have also been busy walking over The Wyche Way, which I have mentioned previously, and which is to be walked by Cheltenham Rambling Club over 6 easy stages later this year. I have been accompanied on the walkovers by Jim Mason, and as ever, Anne Ochala.  Jim has been particularly keen since he is involved with The Walkers are Welcome initiative in Winchcombe and we have discovered that Kington also belongs as well as Bromyard which is close to the route. We have met up with several of the committee members in Kington and have recently learnt that there may be a new walking centre for Herefordshire, hopefully to be established in Kington, so that apart from The Offa’s Dyke path, and the new Arrow Way, they are also interested in promoting The Wyche Way.

Kington is a really rustic little market town, and the first three stages of The Wyche Way pass through rather typical and flat Herefordshire countryside. However,  just when you think it may get a bit boring, you discover an unknown Roman road, a new timber frame house being built out of plantation timbers (as shown on Countryfile) and all sorts of other unexpected gems so that it has been far from boring. During stage two we caught glimpses of the Malvern hills in the distance ahead and at our lunchtime stop on Stage 4, which is as far as we have got so far, we enjoyed a very good break in The Wyche Inn, just below the main ridge of The Malvern’s, which was typical of Herefordshire, having no frills, but offering plain good value.

 Guys Wood!

The last bit of really interesting news is that at long last, I have hopefully acquired a piece of woodland, and what is more, in a really interesting and good walking area, The Blackdown Hills. For those of you who do not know, the background to this is that when we sold our business, nearly twenty years ago, my friend Brian Wright said “why don’t you invest in some woodland. Your family have been in the timber trade for three generations so put something back in?”  I guess at the time, I still had my business hat in place, so we ended up buying another property in Cheltenham where we initially ran a gallery, but which, was later leased out. We sold the property in 2010 and my mind went back to Brian’s original suggestion. The best woodland in the country is mostly part of an estate or a farm and small parcels are not only hard to acquire but relatively expensive with prices rising steadily over the last decade.

Guy in the wood

Guy in the wood

During the last two years I have probably looked at about twenty pieces of woodland. One of the very first which I unsuccessfully tendered for, was the aptly named Walkers Coppice. Fifteen acres of really superb woodland with many prime oaks, situated neat Woodstock and owned along with seven other much larger lots by The Duchy of Cornwell. Actually the position was not the best, being in rather too well populated countryside and rather too close to London. The vendors accepted an offer for the whole estate which made my bid (second best anyway) worthless.

So, where are The Blackdown Hills? It is an unfortunate fact that many people only know where they are by a motorway, so in this case it is necessary to head south on the M5 and then just past Taunton one can see a striking monument up on the wooded hills to the left. This is the Wellington Monument, built to commemorate the famous general, which is situated on the western edge of The Blackdown Hills. This AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) is not that large and stretches ten miles in a south easterly direction down to the attractive town of Honiton, previously famous as a centre for lace making.

The supposed mantra for a lot of property purchases is position-position etc. I was always looking to get away from it (Gloucestershire) a bit but The Blackdowns are an easy one and a half hours driving, and only just over another half hour to the coast and sea. The aforementioned Brian at Lyme Regis is also less than half an hour way and should be able to help administer any work on the woodland. The woodland is only eight acres and all walkable. (unlike some other jungles I have inspected).

Quality of the woodland  is regrettably not that good (at present?) with quite a lot of Birch, Hazel etc and not many prime trees but it is 800 feet up and drains well. There are two lanes on either side and a very good pub just a mile down the road. Behind the pub is a large campsite with fishing lakes and a couple of static caravans available for letting out.

The Blackdown Hills are quite sparsely populated but there are a few interesting villages and apart from the nearby AONB office there is also an East Devon and Blackdown Hills Woodland Association which I plan to join and which offers all sorts of advice. I shall hope to be going to their Woodland Fair later this year as well as a Country Music and Beer Festival. I have already earmarked an interesting 13 mile walk which passes close to highest point Staple Hill at just over 1000 feet and I am in touch with a lady from Cornwall and Devon LDWA who lives quite close to The Blackdowns at Collumpton and who has a very good knowledge of the area…

You may therefore see a little change in direction during the next year from your scribe but whatever, you should still be receiving more news of walks, pubs, and now woodland!

Guy Rambles on…from Nerja to Exmoor

April 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Devon Walks, Wales walks, Worcestershire walks | Leave a comment
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Guy Rambles on…from Nerja to Exmoor…and a little bit of bridge restoration on the side.

I guess that blogs are supposed to be rather instant but since I am being badgered by my webmaster to put something, well anything into print,  I have decided to follow on from my last walking blog.

2011 didn’t get off to a good start when, whilst out on a really short local walk with L, my cartilage, which I had been nursing for the previous year, went again. This was just turning to get into the car! so I decided to “bite the bullet” and have the operation. Helped by a large cheque, this was soon accomplished, but the specialist said after the op “you’ve got an awful lot of wear on that knee!”
I was back walking within a couple of weeks and back up to reasonable distances within a couple of months. When people ask me how it is, I say about 80% from perfect, and I now use a walking pole for any serious hill walking.

The big worry for walking at the time was the necessity of waymarking 125 miles of The Palladian Way with the book due out at Easter time. However the delivery from China, where it was printed, was understandably late, although the finished product was just great and has been very well received. I did most of the waymarking with my old friend Ken Thomas, from Chester, who managed to find a relative with a spare cottage at Swinbrook near Burford which we used as our HQ for the first half.

Private waymarking is a little complex since whilst most county councils do not object to discreet extra signs on their posts, it is often quite difficult to decide which is a private post or which is CC. So in some instances one just has to take a gamble and face the possible wrath of a landowner. I thought that I might get up to ten such cases over the total distance but in fact have only received one vociferous complaint although I guess there have probably been a few signs removed. I have learnt from experience that one certainly does not consider any waymarking on large private estates such as Blenheim!

Involvement with the book took up a lot of my time last year and initial sales were quite good with a two pronged attack from publisher Nick Reardon and also my extra contacts. However it is quite surprising how all the necessary freebies to newspapers, magazines, journalists add up. The original 500 print run of my Ross Round book has just sold out after 7 years and I think that the 1500 run of The Palladian Way may take a similar time although my optimistic lady accountant now has me registered as a sole trader with some expenses tax (legitimately) deductable!

We keep getting little bits of free publicity for the walk and one of the more interesting items was provided by The Cotswold Conservation Trust who publish a walking newspaper called The Cotswold Lion which also acts as a sounding board for The Cotswold Wardens, who do so much good renovation and repair work on the footpaths within the Cotswold AONB. We were able to get them to put in a handrail down a steep slope and restore an old “Clapper” bridge on our route at Signet just south of Burford. This was funded by an associated charity called Friends of The Cotswolds and I provided a plaque to go on the parapet of the bridge so that apart from setting up a new long distance walk it was nice to be able to provide some small environmental improvement.

With Grandson at Restored Clapper Bridge at Signet

With Grandson at Restored Clapper Bridge at Signet

Last year was also good for the AD HOC walks I had set up and we organized 24 in total. This was originally instigated since my main walking club Cheltenham Ramblers had stopped putting on most of their usual long Saturday walks. However, during the year, the old walks organizor resigned, and they (CRC) have now started offering more longer walks so that with this and the fact that most of our members prefer their involvement with the LDWA, means that my AD HOC group is struggling to find leaders and walks have dropped this year. I may have to do a mailshot to walking shops and gyms etc if it is to continue but having said that we have three walks coming up at the end of April and a possible weekend up in The Staffordshire Roaches in the autumn.

Due to my OP I had to duck out of The Crickhowell Walking Festival last year but the party of five whom I had organized had a great time and were keen to repeat it this year. Once again it was a really good week and the weather was also fine. The Festival goes from strength to strength and there are so many features that are good-long walks- lots of variety- easy to understand grading of walks- and of course the familiar faces that one gets to know after a time. I suspect that not all of our “famous five” will be up for it next year and our existing (quite reasonable) cottage is now under new ownership so that we may have to find a new base but I am still planning to go myself.

Some friends say that I (or even we!) have the life of Riley as we had to cut short a holiday out in Spain for me to get back for the Crick Fest. We have friends locally who do not like the usual cold weather here in February and who for a few years have been having a month out in Nerja – southern Spain – in the Costa del Sol. The self catering apartment for a month was quite reasonable and we were persuaded to go. There are certainly a lot of Brits out there as well as Germans and Scandinavians but the main thing is the climate and I was in shorts for 20 consecutive days.
It wasn’t supposed to be a walking holiday but I had nipped over to The Map Shop in Upton on Severn and picked up a map and book of walks in the area. However, even I, wasn’t prepared for the terrain , which is very rocky, and quite difficult to navigate. I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of walking on one’s own but happily I was in the internet café one day and met an English walker who told me of a Scottish guide who was quite reasonable. Gerry was a very sociable man, of a similar age to myself, who didn’t like to start walking much before 10.00am and liked a drink at the end of the day so I went out with him for 5 days and by the end I was beginning to get an understanding of the area and how the ridges and valleys linked up. The mountains are quite spectacular and go up to over 2000 metres although I only got up to just over half that. I also found an Irish guide John Keogh whom I went out with for one day. He was rather more business minded, also younger and fitter too! L was quite happy whilst I was walking to soak up the sun on the balcony, with an occasional sip of chilled wine, to stop any dehydration!  We also found a local “ex pats” type club where we enjoyed several old films and where L played Bridge for a couple of afternoons and whilst we mostly ate in we also found no shortage of local restaurants to try out.  We are already thinking of next year!

I have also enjoyed two other recent walking weekends in lesser known areas which are worth mentioning. I went down to Exmoor with quite a large party from The Brecon Beacons Park Society and stayed near Dunster. This was my third trip to Exmoor in the last six months and I have become really fond of the area. There is a lot of contrast with this small National Park spread over a lateral area of 30 miles from the east outside Bridgewater (The Quantocks) over into Devon near to Barnstable in the west. On my last two trips I based myself on Exford which is almost in the centre but my favourite place is Dulverton which is on the southern edge of the park. There is nothing very high or arduous but lots of hidden places to discover. I have been so impressed that I have joined the Exmoor Society which seems a worthwhile thing to do and oh, I nearly forgot but there are some great pubs down there as well!

When I was with Ken Thomas last year we talked about meeting up and walking again- possibly in Wales, so we went up to Chester recently and I took Ken on an interesting backpacking trip which I had done previously some 8 or 9 years ago. This was a two day trip around and over the Arans which are in mid Wales and just to the south of Bala Lake. We left my car at Llanuwchylyn, which is at the western edge of the lake and traversed around the mountain (14m) to Dynas Mawddwy where we stayed at The Llew Coch or Red Lion, to us English folk. It wasn’t a very quiet evening, or night, since a local farmer had just sold a prize bull for £130K and was throwing a party for 130 friends and villagers in the large function room at the back of the pub. This was unfortunately almost below our bedroom and they were still enjoying themselves at 3.00am!
Our route the following morning was almost straight back over the ridge. I say almost, since Ken persuaded me to ascend on another permissary (in places) path which involved a very steep and stony climb but we were rewarded with an unusual bonus at the top in the shape of a most unusual Fox Trap which we were told about the previous night and which was fashioned like a sheep enclosure but with vertical sides, and in the past, a hen tethered in the middle to attract foxes. As we were looking for it, it dawned on me that it was April 1st and we had also just told a family of Germans walkers about it as well but “Thee of little faith”, there it was. It took another hour to get to the first summit Aran Fawddwy which is just 10m short of 3000 feet and then we continued on to the second summit of Aran Benethlyn which is a bit lower. The views were really great for about 50 miles in all directions and this mountain range is really quite quiet with maybe just 12 or so other walkers spotted over the whole weekend. We only walked about 12 miles but with 3400feet of ascent it took us nearly 8 hours and I found it quite a bit harder than on my last trip.

After all this, my next walking is going to be quite uneventful, and will be The Worcestershire Way with Wilts LDWA in May, which I have done twice before but not south to North so I should have some different views. I will let you know about it in due course but it could be another 18 months but I hope not!

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