“So if you feel a little glum,
To Hergest Ridge you should come.
In summer, winter, rain or sun,
It’s good to be on horseback”. From “On Horseback” by Mike Oldfield
In 1973 an unknown musician released an album that shot straight to the top of the album charts. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was the first title on the newly formed Virgin record label, and it helped to make Richard Branson a very happy (and rich) man! The follow up album in 1974 entered the album charts at number 1 only to be displaced by its predecessor, Tubular Bells – which must have made Richard Branson even happier (and richer)! The follow up album was called Hergest Ridge.
We were visiting friends in Mid-Wales, and I was given the job of sorting out a hillwalking day. Seeking inspiration, I looked at a section of the Offa’s Dyke Path for inspiration. The path runs for 285 kms (177 miles) from Chepstow to Prestatyn, mostly following the 8th Century earthwork named after King Offa of Mercia. Then I saw it – the path crossed from Wales into England as it crossed Hergest Ridge.
I’d never been anywhere near there, and looking at the map it looked like the kind of hill that wasn’t going to get pulses racing, either by exertion or excitement. However, the lack of exertion seemed to tick the box for Chris and our host Barbara, so Hergest Ridge it was. The map also showed a pub symbol at Gladestry, so our start and finish point needed no further discussion.
The walk out over the ridge can best be described as pleasant, which sounds a bit condescending, but pleasant is exactly what it is. Barbara and Chris could chat without needing extra oxygen, and I amused myself by getting in a bit of navigation practice identifying the unmarked border between Wales and England. Border Collie ‘Mist’ carried on just being a dog.
The summit of the ridge is a broad plateau, where the wind was predictable and constant, an ideal opportunity to do some work with ‘Mist’, who is training to be a Search and Rescue dog. The SAR dogs are mostly air-scenting, which means that they look for, and then follow, human scent carried by the wind. Never one to miss a training opportunity I set up a short exercise, with both Barbara and Chris being the bodies. In what seemed a very short time, the dog had two finds.
The dogs are rewarded when they have a successful find, the reward being a game with a favourite toy – the reward for bodies Barbara and Chris was a lunch break at the summit. From there we set off for a day at the races.
We were almost 150 years too late, the last race having been held in 1870. However, the site of the racecourse is still clearly visible, as is the nearby ‘Whet Stone’. This large stone block is an ‘erratic’, deposited here as the glaciers retreated towards the end of the last Ice Age. Legend has it that each night it walks down the hill for a drink.
Heading down for a drink seemed like a good move, so after admiring the strangely placed ‘Monkey Puzzle’ trees on the second summit of the ridge, we headed back along a winding green track towards Gladestry and its pub. We were soon back in Wales and down in the village. Outside the pub we could see people sitting at the outside tables enjoying the fine weather. Unfortunately that’s all they were enjoying – it was another 1½ hours to opening time!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock
p.s. Pleasant hillwalking has its attractions, but a visit from an old mate indicated that a day on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) was called for – read about it next time.
It’s odd how the whet stone seems to sit in its own ditch. I wonder if its presence affects the erosion of the surrounding ground in some way?
Hi Lance, I’m sure that finer minds than mine will have an answer 🙂
Hmm, about 20 miles from my brother in Luston – maybe worth a visit next time we’re down there. We would have to do better with the pub opening times though 😉
Mist doesn’t look that thrilled with her private swimming pool – I think you have mentioned before she isn’t a natural water dog? My cousin had a springer spaniel that wouldn’t go near the stuff, but it transpired she had very bad eyesight and the reflections may have spooked her. A friend had a great big bear of a Bernese mountain dog that was terrified of feathers, but that’s another story.
Mist is Ok with water so long as it isn’t deep, and even then I can get her to swim for a stick, but she would rather have a paddle 🙂
There is something nice about walking along ridges and tracks…this looks really nice…maybe I’ll manage it one day.
It was like a ‘mini’ Dales walk SP – the only negative aspect was that it was too short!
I’ve always wondered where the title of the album came from – now I know! Looks like a very pleasant stroll – there are days when a pleasant stroll will do very nicely!
Cheers Andy – an open pub at the end would have rounded things off even more nicely!
So now I’m thinking you’re pub jinxed!? 🙂 it’s going to take a while before the walking festival pics will appear on http://www.vanplusfour.com [shameless plug, ha!] but let me assure you that my trademark shot worked a treat and double trouble overlooking the hills is super cute, can’t wait to share!
Pub jinxed?!! – definitely 😀
Looking forward to seeing ‘Double trouble’
That looks a bit like the Susssex Downs – and I like the Sussex Downs so I probably should give that a visit sometime.
Remember Mike Oldfield and was listening to Tubular Bells again last week in the holiday let on Skye as they had it on CD there. Great memories!
Ahh, Tubular Bells, memories indeed – must dig it out!!
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