If August, during this otherwise glorious summer, has been a bit of a disappointment with more rain and cooler temperatures, it certainly decided to go out in a blaze of glory as ten of us tackled the Three Castles Walk on the last two days of the month.
David and I set out to establish camp at Meredith Farm at Llancloudy on Friday afternoon. It is called a farm but feels more like a menagerie. There are two large fields, one referred to as the ‘very quiet field’ and the other the ‘games field’. We were pitching in the games field with rope swings hanging from large trees and numerous animal pens housing pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, guinea fowl and a play area with guinea pigs among the plastic toys. A ‘Wendy’ house tucked under trees provided toilet, showering and washing facilities as well as a library of books and a chest of children’s toys. A real family orientated campsite and clearly popular as there were several families having a final treat before the start of the new school year. In the early evening the farmer, Dr Neil Wheeler, would come to feed the animals and he would have a following of children, and parents, as they were all encouraged to become involved.
It was quite breezy as David and I erected our two shelters, which would form the kitchen and dining areas, and it took rather longer than expected to put them up. Tents were still being erected when the first of the group members began to arrive. Thankfully, friends, Richard and Anita, arrived to collect some pears from me, and got roped into helping put tents up. It remained dry throughout but as we settled down to evening drinks and pasta bolognese we had spells of light rain. After the meal, David was presented with the ‘Lobster of Laughter’ for omitting to pack the gas rings before he left home. Thankfully, Annie, David’s wife, came to the rescue. The plastic lobster was found in the toy chest and he would have to look after it throughout the next day.
The morning dawned reasonably bright and dry, although the light rain of the previous evening would guarantee that long grass would hold its moisture for a while and give our feet a good soaking. There was no great rush as we were only hoping to cover a little under ten miles and we needed to move a car to the finish point at Lower Green. While that was happening the rest of the group enjoyed exploring Skenfrith Castle, the church and the church yard where there were lots of ripe and juicy plums fallen from the trees but kept moist in the damp grass. As a result it was shortly after 10.00 that we set out on the walk.
The walk proved as delightful as it had been three weeks previously although there were obvious signs of progression with the farming year. What had been fields of cereal crops were now fields of stubble and those that had been stubble were ploughed ready for use again. Bales of straw, which littered the fields earlier, were now carefully stored in barns. Thankfully, we encountered very few fields of long, damp grass so our feet remained comfortable throughout.
As the day progressed the weather improved further and it proved quite warm. The strong breeze of the day before had gone. Occasionally we came across information boards giving an insight into the history of the area from the medieval, castle building, era through to more modern times. Part of the route we were taking was a major coaching route from London to Ross to Abergavenny to Milford Haven. We passed a now ruined coaching in with attached blacksmith forge, neither used since the early 19thC and with the passage of time and the changes to the landscape it is difficult to imagine how they were ever reached by coach. The descent to the inn is fairly precarious on foot.
Soon after lunching in a field with a view we reached White Castle, the most complete of the three and the only one that requires you to pay an entry fee. The woman on the kiosk looked dreadful and complained of feeling ill for the last three weeks. As a result she wasn’t very welcoming and should not have been there at all. We declined the opportunity of going into the castle, largely because we did not expect to see much more than we could see in both Skenfrith and Grosmont, both of which are more easily accessible.
The scenery on this walk just gets better and better. In the morning we had views of Blorenge and the Skirrid but as the afternoon unfolded and we moved slightly north of the Skirrid, Sugarloaf came into view along with the rest of the eastern side of the Black Mountains with Pen y Gadair Fawr poking its summit above the ridges in the foreground. Even further afield, through the haze, the Brecon Beacons began to show. It was a glorious day.
We reached Lower Green at about 3.40pm and although the cars were there to take us either back to camp or to the White Castle Vineyard there was no Angela to drive the second car. David had to go and rescue her, she having been misdirected by a farmer and thus not intercepting us en route. By the time we were ready to pile into the cars a cup of tea and some cake was far more enticing than a glass of wine, so we headed straight back to camp for leisurely cups of tea and a variety of yummy cakes.
I made the mistake of going for a shower at about the same time as the menagerie were to be fed. The small shower cubicle had a window overlooking numerous tree swings and adjacent to a pen containing two pigs. The only thing separating the shower from the outside world was a net curtain. As I am drying myself lots of children and their parents came to feed the pigs. One mother came to lean on the windowsill two feet from my naked body. One worries at times like this just how effective net curtains are. If she saw anything it did not register. When I had finished I just had to check and, yes, net curtains are very effective, she saw nothing. Phew!
The farmer persuaded us to buy twenty lamb chops off him for our meal that evening and at £1 a chop it was good value. They were reasonably sized and probably belonged to the sheep that greeted me when I went to book the site a couple of months previously. The rest of the evening was spent in amusing chatter and another wonderful poem from Ann, who is becoming Adventure Guide’s own poet laureate. We had touched on the theme of forgetting things in our conversation the previous evening , particularly in the light of David forgetting the gas rings. Bearing in mind the reference to Thomas, Walton, Angela Treks (T.W.A.Ts) on Hadrian’s Wall she quickly put together the following:
ADVENTURE V DEMENTIA
Brilliant! I am always full of admiration for anybody who so easily puts poetic pen to paper. As we adjourned to our tents for the night we marvelled at the night sky, ablaze with stars and the very distant explosions of fireworks over in the general direction of Hereford.
The morning dawned bright and clear and after another leisurely breakfast we drove to Lower Green and our finishing point of the day before. The walk today was going to be that little bit harder with two decent hills in ever increasing temperatures. The chapel at Upper Green stands completely surrounded by fields, trees and rolling hills. It is in such a beautiful setting and on this particular Sunday morning seemed to be full for a service and flower festival.
The first test of the day was the ascent of Edmund’s Tump. It was sufficient to get the heart pumping and sweat dripping from our brows. However, it was worth every effort as the view revealed itself on a glorious day. Before us lay Blorenge and the whole of its accompanying ridge hiding the once industrialised valley where Blaenavon nestles, the Skirrid, Sugarloaf, the whole of the Black Mountains ending with Hay Bluff and, in the distance, the Brecon Beacons. It was a pleasure to take time to recover from the effort of the climb and just soak in the view. We could not have seen it looking any better.
The climb continued a little way into the woods lining the ridge of Edmund’s Tump before we followed its line and eventually began the long descent into Grosmont. Occasionally, through the trees, we were given glimpses to the east of Penyard Hill overlooking Ross-on-Wye and May Hill. Similarly, gaps in another direction gave us views overlooking Grosmont, a most attractive village with its castle turrets rising just to the right of the centre. The many roofs with solar panels gave the village some modernity.
The village has retained its shop and post office and the pub is still at the heart of the village. The church is large and well worth the time to have a browse around. However, on this occasion we bypassed the church, the shop and the pub and headed straight to the castle for our picnic lunch. As we approached the people in the house adjacent to the castle were pottering in their garden and I couldn’t help think how lucky they are living in a beautiful village next to a medieval castle. I wonder if they appreciate it?
We had now visited all three castles and all that was left for us to do was make our way back to Skenfrith. The route dropped from Grosmont along the road for a while before beginning a lengthy climb through fields and woodland, only to drop down again. From our descent we now had views looking across to the Malvern Hills. It was hot in the still air with the sun beating down.
When I did the walk three weeks ago I made a slight error in navigation and instead of following the official trail followed one that ran slightly higher but parallel, but ultimately ending up in the same place. Thinking I knew how to avoid a similar mistake and did not need the map to hand, I fell into the same trap and we found ourselves similarly off track. This time we endeavoured to correct it. It did not diminish or detract from the walk as a whole. However, I felt slightly uncomfortable at one point. When you enter a field of cows, they often stop what they are doing and stare. They are not always standing the same way but their heads are turned in your direction and as a person you are never sure whether they will stay where they are or take a closer look. I had gone to look for the best route to pick up the trail and when I finally met up with the group who had avoided climbing a barbed wire fence, and thus made better progress, they were standing in no particular uniform direction and their heads were all turned towards me. Would they accept me into their group or would they shun me. The similarity between the two scenarios was uncanny and, as I say, for a moment I felt slightly uncomfortable. I am pleased to say they accepted me back into their herd and did not trample me to death!
Angela was waiting for us in Skenfrith and after an ice cream we headed back to camp for tea and cakes. It was good to relax a while in camp, to spare a little thought to the two days of walking, to appreciate that we had been walking in a stunning area of border country and that we were justifiably tired. With that thought we struck camp and headed home, this time for a shower without a stranger standing eighteen inches from me.