Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hay-on-Wye to Kington

Two rest days with (brother) Nick and (sister-in-law) Moira in their immaculate house in Hay. Or almost immaculate: there’s still one room filled with the various stuff they’ve accumulated over the years but for which they still have to find homes. Their house is beautifully renovated, with lots of original wood complemented by well-chosen new bath and kitchen appliances, and with great pictures everywhere – many by my mother, who was a very talented artist.

One had to be careful, though: slippers mandatory when indoors, and an accurate description of what they do when going upstairs or downstairs on polished old wooden steps, some of which are rather uneven or slope towards the front. I hope they’re well-insured for their B&B guests. Though no casualties were reported for the ten days during which they had put up Hay Festival speakers. It had obviously been demanding and stressful, which was evident in Moira’s reaction to my muddy (but dry!) boots and trousers when I first appeared on their doorstep.

The East door of the church of St Mary
and St Nicholas with its unique carvings
We were joined by Susan, arriving from Hereford by bus that evening. Monday was dinner in; Monday a local walk in a loop to the South of Hay followed by dinner out at the Griffin in Felin Fach some dozen miles away (very good), and Tuesday was a guided tour of three churches on our way to drop Susan off in Hereford for her train back to London. First there was Dore Abbey, a grand church which is the only remnant of a major Cistercian monastery; then St Nicholas’s Church at Grosmont (partly an ancient nave, but with much of the body of the church rebuilt in Victorian times), and then the tiny Norman church of St Mary and St David, with extraordinary, unique and well-preserved carvings around the door and beneath the eaves. Nick is obviously a great enthusiast of church architecture, and there are plenty of interesting ones in this part of the country.

On Wednesday it was time to set out again and resume the Offa’s Dyke Walk. Nick and Moira elected to accompany me, at least for some of the way (which turned out to be all but the final bit into Kington).

This is more domestic country than the Black Mountains to the South of Hay. There are open fields, largely arable, on the flood plain alongside the Wye. And there was even someone fishing in the river itself. It made me feel rather nostalgic about times I had been salmon fishing on the Wye, but I’m not sure it would have the same appeal if one can’t keep anything one catches.

After the first couple of miles it was a turn to the left and up into the hills. It’s undulating country, attractive, almost entirely sheep farming, though with occasional cattle. Views from the higher levels are superb, and it’s an entertaining challenge to work out which distant hill is which.

Lunch at Newchurch with Nick and Moira
Just before reaching it we came across a couple struggling up the hill from Newchurch. She was heavily loaded, and thrust a leaflet into our hands. She was on her way from John O’Groats to Land’s End – but was “walking for Jesus” rather than purely for exercise. Late 60s? She had started the previous year, but was forced to stop because of injury; she had resumed in Penrith at the beginning of May, and planned to get to Bristol on this leg.

At Newchurch we found that the church provided drinks and biscuits on a serve-yourself basis, and there was a table outside for lunch. Very welcome – and an excellent way to get the extra few quid for church funds. I’m surprised that it isn’t a more frequent offering: there are, after all, enough churches on the way across country.

After Newchurch it’s a long climb up Dysgwilfa Hill – open moorland at the top. Then there’s a long, high level traverse before the descent into Gladestry. Very attractive country. At Gladestry it was time to say goodbye to Nick and Moira, who were to catch a taxi back to Hay (There’s only one bus a week from Gladestry, and that’s on a Tuesday, and doesn’t go to Hay.)

Monkey Puzzle trees on Hergest Ridge - an incongruous sight
Then it was the final cross-country stretch into Kington. This is across Hergest Ridge – a wonderful open area, with a maximum altitude of just over 400m, and superb views in all directions. Now one can see the hills to the North and West as well as across lower levels to the East. It’s smooth grass paths between large expanses of still quite young bracken. Here, apparently, it’s mown and baled for animal bedding. At the top of the Ridge there’s an incongruous copse of monkey puzzle trees, and the tracks of what used to be a race course. And then it’s the long final descent into Kington.

I arrived at Church House at 5:30; Liz Darwin showed me my room, made me a cup of tea, and dashed off, leaving me to wait for Irvine Laidlaw. It was a fine evening, and their garden is gorgeous. Just a pity that the splendid wisteria was past its prime. A few late flowers, but nothing like the display there must have been a monh or so ago. The house is beautiful, too – Georgian, and well proportioned, with a warm, comfortable and lived-in feeling to it.

The view North from Hergest Ridge, just before Kington
Irvine turned up bang on schedule at 6:30, and as soon as I had finished my delayed bath we set off for the Stagg at Titley in the BMW Alpina Z8 that he had just imported from the US (one of a limited edition of 555 cars, apparently). There we had an excellent dinner, though the service could be somewhat abrupt, with plates whisked away almost before you had put down a knife and fork.

On our return Ollie, Liz’s son, was in the garage with a couple of his local buddies, playing around with motor bikes. Ollie is at UWE in Bristol, doing a business degree, but is already in business selling motor bike parts around the world. Evidence, if one ever needed it, of the way that the Internet makes all sorts of new enterprises possible.

Ollie and his friends – and Irvine – were in seventh heaven talking about cars, bikes, engines, and the like. All over my head, I fear.  But it did become rapidly apparent to all that Irvine is rather wealthy and well-endowed with classic cars. And so to bed.

An excellent day, despite the forecast. Almost totally blue sky to start with, and then cloud building up during the day. Looked threatening in the early afternoon, but then improved to finish with a sunny evening. Despite the threats, there was no rain. Temperature 15 to 21C. 26.23km; 724m ascent, 629m descent. Moderate to severe. Very undulating with four major climbs.

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