Traipsing through two countries and three counties28th June 2020
The start of a new year often is a time for reflection on what has gone before as much as pondering the prospects of a year to come. In this, 2018 was no different and I was in the middle of a career break as well, so the thinking turned to my next career moves and the choices that I arrived at in January 2018 continue to pervade more than two years later.
In fact, they affected the start of this year with another work break that allowed the taking of stock in light of then seemingly pervasive threats. Throughout this, I also got to wonder about future transatlantic excursions as a form of distraction. Many do love planning but you need to not have an intrusive global event to make it happen. So all those dreams from January and February of this year are placed on hold.
Thankfully, it was only my own speed of inquiry and assessment that forestalled any overseas travel dreams in 2018. Other plans could be made to happen in a piecemeal if imperfect manner. What I needed to do is get over the residual stresses caused by what needed doing during 2016. At least, I did not have a global pandemic back and I count myself very fortunate for that.
Returning to 2018 though, it was not as if all the required introspection ruled out day trips quiet like the activities or the weather of the first two months of this year. In fact, a few of those took me to Wales and the principality had not seen my making trips there for quite a while if I recall correctly. The sequence of Welsh outings actually began before Christmas 2017 when I embarked on a trip through the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park. That took me through Abergavenny and Brecon as far as Neath before I continued my way home. In time, the possibility of exploring another quiet part of Wales may come to something.
My first Welsh excursion of 2018 actually took me to Cardiff, a city that I have long neglected, and the outing was repeated in part on the Spring Bank Holiday of 2019. Then, there may have been a Spice Girls reunion concert but what intruded on my ambling more were posses of cyclists going along multi-use trails. Sunshine pervaded on both visits but thoughts of basing myself in Cardiff for a few days to explore the countryside within its vicinity retain their appeal. While I might do some cycling of my own too, I do intend to leave better space for walkers, especially around the delightful Bute Park and along the banks of the River Taff.
So far, what I am talking about is a spot of reconnaissance that may lead to future trips and there is one other excursion in January 2018 that deserves a mention before the main trip report and it leads easily into it. That took me from Macclesfield to Aberystwyth via Shrewsbury and Llangurig. Not only did that take me past Pumlumon Fawr by bus, but the stopover at Llangurig also allowed some muddy walking along part of the Wye Valley Walk. What I really was exploring though were the logistics of getting near Pumlumon Fawr for an ascent of one of the highest hills in mid-Wales. That left me with the framework for a scheme that either would use Aberystwyth as a base or involve a bivvy on the side of the hill, depending on how brave I feel.
The Wye and Severn rivers both rise on Pumlumon Fawr, yet that was not where my Welsh wandering took me next. It may have featured the same River Wye, but this was a circular ramble with Monmouth at its starting and ending points. In truth, I also fancy a visit to Tintern Abbey but remains outstanding too and the idea for the Monmouth excursion lay in my mind for quite a while before it happened.
Calling the route a circular one does much to hide its actual complexity with some of that arising from serendipity. At my arrival in Monmouth, all that was yet unknown as I passed through it heart with older buildings like those of its church and its independent school adding interest along the way. The school’s students were going hither and thither in their boisterous ways and, fancying an air of greater peace, I left them to those to reach the River Wye.
There, I met up with the Wye Valley Walk that was to convey me along the Welsh side of the river; Offa’s Dyke Path also passed hereabouts, but that was not part of my designs since I was bound for Symonds Yat. With the hubbub of the A40 in the background, I relished the sunny morning as much as I could. Apart perhaps from the likes of St. Peter’s Church near Dixton, those early stages were not to be peppered with so much in the way of human construction.
Forested hills lay to my right and in front of me as I went and it was around these that I was to spend much of my time. Some were to be more easily named than others, but that did not detain my thinking as I reached the point where the river parted from the busy motorised thoroughfare. Beyond Wyastone Leys, my surrounding were to become much quieter and much now forested.
The forested route may have limited opportunities for photography but I was soon enough at The Biblins where I would cross the Wye and encounter a greater human presence. Some were walking and others cycling, but there was enough room for all of us and I still recall having the place to myself at times.
It was afternoon by the time that I reached the eastern part of Symonds Yat. Not only had the trail led me onto tarmac but I had crossed into England and was in Herefordshire. The road and any traffic that was passing along it was left behind to round Huntsham Hill and return through Elliot’s Wood. What became clear was how late in the afternoon it was getting so I was anxious to keep going and photographic efforts stopped.
After reaching a road again, I then left it to go through Mailscot Wood and into both Gloucestershire and part of the Forest of Dean. With the road to Christchurch never far away, I was lured along a trail nearly as far as Hillersland before I turned in the direction of the River Wye again. That felt longer than was ideal given how late it was in the shortness of a January day.
Soon enough though, I was back on the route of the Wye Valley Walk and heading towards Monmouth again. However, I decided against crossing the river until I reached the Wye Bridge in Monmouth, so following Route 423 of the National Cycle Network. By now I was back in Wales and soon enough reached a section of the railway that once connected Monmouth and Symonds Yat. That made navigation less of a concern as the hours of daylight faded.
Eventually, the gloaming would turn into full darkness and torch-lit walking along tarmac returned me to Monmouth, where I had plenty of time to find the bus terminus that I had not used on my arrival. Tintern was passed in darkness on the way home but that fact did nothing to spoil the satisfying day out. In fact, it remains a useful excuse for returning to a delightful part of Wales.
Train journey from Macclesfield to Hereford with a change at Stockport, followed by bus travel from Hereford to Monmouth using service 36. Bus journey from Monmouth to Chepstow using service 69 followed by train travel from there back to Macclesfield with a change in Birmingham New Street.
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