By Joy Strangward

A GROUP of 15 walkers joined Joy from Penarth and District Ramblers at Monmouth Leisure Centre at the start of a 9.5 mile walk in glorious summer sunshine.

Setting off through the tunnel below the A40 and heading along the banks of the very calm River Wye, rowers were out from the adjacent club. Crossing wooden footbridges dappled in sunlight and reaching Dixton, the initials NCE on the riverside gates that guarded the crossing the vicar made from the other side of the river to the church, relate to Capt. Noel Elstop a fine oarsman who was second master at Monmouth School.

Entering the delightful Church of St Peter’s which has been flooded on many occasions they viewed the brass plates in its interior showing the height the water reached during memorable floods. This church was rebuilt in the 1080’s and its herring bone masonry in the wall is a lovely feature, along with the embroidered padded seating on its pews showing birds, animals and scenery of the River Wye in stunning detail.

Exiting from the churchyard the cows in the meadows beside the river barely glanced at the group as they made their way to cross the busy A40 before continuing uphill by quiet country lane to reach Newton House. Overlooking Monmouth, the land it stands upon was purchased by Admiral Thomas Griffin and his son George built the house between 1799 and 1802 and nowadays it has been converted into private apartments.

Passing Newton Hall where the stables contain a colony of Greater Horseshoe Bats a sunken lane beneath trees led them gradually uphill to a wonderful viewpoint where the trees had been cut down. Then on to the beautiful mature beech trees in Joint wood which afforded them some shade during morning break with delicious ginger cake baked by Marilyn. Refreshed they passed the ruins of Kennel Farm where a path that had been cleared by machinery led them through tall bracken to reach the road at St Wulstan’s Farm, which dates to the 16th century and from where there were misty but grand views of the Malvern Hills.

The road led them on through Welsh Newton where a stop was made for the purchase of honey, before a rough track between houses brought them to a stile and into fields beside Newton Wood. Then onward past growing maize, gradually dropping downhill through fields with wonderful views towards Blorenge, Ysgyryd Fawr, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Black Mountains, whilst hacking their way through stiles that were somewhat overgrown.

Upon reaching the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, they paused to hear about St John Kemble, a Catholic priest for over 50 years who was falsely accused of being part of a plot to overthrow the Anglican King Charles II, in favour of his brother James II who of course was Catholic. After being arrested and taken to London along with other leading Catholics in the area he was spared being hung, drawn and quartered and instead he was hung and his head and hand were severed and his body was buried in the churchyard whilst his hand is preserved at St Francis Xavier Church in Hereford.

This stunning, peaceful 13th century church is Grade I listed and belonged to the Knights Templar until 1312 before passing to the Knights Hospitaller, who were formed to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land and made the perfect stop for lunch. A short walk along the main Hereford Road brought them back into fields at the rear of Broom Farm for a short climb up to a lane which they followed to Great Manson Farm.

Then across huge fields where the crops had been harvested and down to reach the River Monnow where the banks were choked with Himalayan Balsam as a couple of foot bridges led them to Osbaston Weir. A mill was sited there in 1628 and from 2009 a new fish pass to allow salmon to access the river was added with a hydro power station and two screw turbines providing power for 152 homes. Some pavement pounding led them into Monmouth, through the Burgage and back to their start by mid-afternoon to make the journey home as the heat was intensifying.

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