By Joy Strangward

EASTER Monday saw a group of 14 walkers plus Bruno the dog journeying up to Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire to join Robin and his spaniel Biggles from Penarth and District Ramblers on a 9-mile walk in the glorious Wye Valley.

Setting off by road in hazy sunshine, a stone stile and steps led them downhill towards the lovely Flanesford Priory, an Augustinian priory founded by Sir Richard Talbot of Goodrich Castle in 1346 and where he is buried, which is now holiday accommodation. Pausing at Kerne Bridge to remove outer clothing they learned it was built in 1828 in order to carry coal and iron ore from the Forest of Dean to South Wales and was originally a toll bridge.

Following part of the long distance Wye Valley Walk and heading up steps into Thomas Wood the narrow path overlooked the calm River Wye frequented only by canoeists, Canada geese and swans, and clambering under and over fallen tree trunks they paused for morning break. Recognising deer prints in the soil below their boots the path led on towards the wide open banks beside the Wye, with the fields on the opposite bank stained bright yellow with crops of rapeseed as the sun disappeared, but it remained warm.

Heading around a huge bend in the river they gazed above to Courtfield, built in 1805 on the site of an earlier house by William and Teresa Vaughan, but with the subsequent alterations to the property much of its medieval history was lost. In the 1950’s it was sold to the Mill Hill Missionary Society as a training centre, then became a retreat but has now been returned into the ownership of the Vaughan family who farm the estate. Arriving at Welsh Bicknor and passing the camping site the grand Church of St Margaret came into view along with the Youth Hostel which was built as a rectory for the wealthy rector and landowner Stephen Allaway, who paid for the demolition of the Norman church and replaced it with a fine Victorian building which has since been renovated.

Moving on to arrive at the Stowfield Viaduct or the ‘Black Bridge’ as it is known, this was a rail link accessed by a tunnel in Thomas Wood, between Herefordshire and Lower Lydbrook in Gloucestershire on the opposite bank and was closed for repairs for several years, but is now fully open to foot passengers although repairs are incomplete.

As the sun reappeared a little further on they stopped for lunch utilising some handy fallen tree trunks for seating and refreshed moved on along the riverbank to pass a poignant memorial to the eleven people who were killed in an air crash on 7 June, 1942.

A Halifax bomber was testing airborne radar equipment which was vital for use in WW2 along with its inventor Alan Dower Blumlein, a great engineer and aged only 38, when it crashed on farmland near The Green. The project was so secret that his death was not announced for another two years and the cause of the crash was found to be a servicing error.

Entering Coldwell Wood where the woodland was awash with swathes of bluebells and wild garlic there was a stop to view the memorial to John Whitehead Warre, a 16-year old who was drowned in the River Wye. His brother and sister along with his parents were being rowed along the river on 11 September 1804 in exceedingly good weather for the time of year and they decided to stop off for a picnic.

The boy decided to go for a swim in the river and was overtaken by cramp and sank. One of the boatmen went in to save him but the boy struggled and the boatman was forced to let go of him to save his own life. His body was conveyed to Monmouth where it was buried and apart from rewarding everyone who was involved in the tragedy for their help, his parents decided to put a memorial at the spot to warn others about the ‘deceitful stream’.

Another bend in the river led them below the massive Coldwell Rocks where peregrine falcons nest and the viewing platform some 500ft above them at the Yat Rock. On past passive Hereford cattle where a stile led them onto the lower slopes of Coppett Hill Nature Reserve, where moss covered stones beside the narrow woodland path led them gradually uphill to a country lane with great views to St Giles Church in the valley below. The overlooking the Kerne Bridge in the distance upstream, the return was made by road before the journey home.

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