“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.