A holiday on the edge – Welsh/English borders

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My main holiday this year – the longest one that I go on with my parents in late May/early June this year – is kind of difficult to summarise. We were looking to visit the Black Country/Cotswolds but due to the lack of success in finding any holiday houses that met our requirements in those areas then went for a cottage near New Radnor, just over the border in Wales. As our holiday last year was based not far away in Brecon then this was an unprecedented return to the same area but in actual fact it proved to be a great choice and we covered a lot of ground and most of the places we went were new ground for me. This filled in a lot of gaps in the epic map of my life’s travels in Great Britain – particularly Herefordshire, South-East Shropshire and West Worcestershire. Worcestershire was a particularly pleasing addition, as apart from a long-forgotten trip along part of the M5 many years ago, I had never seen the county at all and certainly hadn’t stopped anywhere within it. Herefordshire is pretty much complete, as we took many different roads across it to reach other places. While it was only a very quick visit to each place, this will prove very useful for me to identify places worthy of a further visit – particularly to appreciate some of the region’s pubs, as there was a bit of a Wetherspoon’s overdose for reasons out of my control.

New Radnor itself is a very small village but has an unexpectedly splendid monument, to Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who was an MP in the area and an important cabinet minister in the mid 1800s. It is to the south-east of the beautifully-bleak Radnor Forest mountains that force the A44 to take a significant detour to the south. This makes it easy to spot in a road atlas. This part of Wales is beautiful but not very well known compared to the more touristy areas of Wales such as the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. The Radnor Forest mountains are up to 600 m high and the most distinctive is ‘The Whimble’.

An example of the scenic beauty around New Radnor

An example of the scenic beauty around New Radnor

Saturday 30 May

We left bright and early so as to make the most of the day and stop en-route in some places along the way. As it only takes four hours or so then we only needed to stop once between Hampshire and Herefordshire. We had a brief stop at one of our usual spots – the viewpoint at Birdlip (just SE of Gloucester). This gives stunning views across Gloucestershire towards Wales, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

The view West towards Gloucestershire and beyond from the viewpoint at Birdlip, near Gloucester

The view West towards Gloucestershire and beyond from the viewpoint at Birdlip, near Gloucester

After negotiating the Gloucester bypass, we headed up the A417 to Leominster. We had dinner in Wetherspoons there and a brief look around the town, which is very pleasant. We then headed north up to Ludlow, which is a very pleasant little town in Shropshire where most of the buildings date back to the Tudor era and there are some interesting but rather expensive shops, as well as numerous ancient pubs, with The Feathers probably being the most famous. We had a look round a market, with one stall selling nothing but old cameras, hundreds of them! Nearby is a very attractive castle.

Leominster

Leominster

The famous Feathers Hotel, Ludlow – one of not many British pubs that have their own Wikipedia article!

The famous Feathers Hotel, Ludlow – one of not many British pubs that have their own Wikipedia article!

Ancient buildings in Ludlow.

Ancient buildings in Ludlow

The grounds of Ludlow Castle

The grounds of Ludlow Castle

After that it was time to head to our holiday cottage near New Radnor, which we travelled to via Knighton but the A49 immediately North of Ludlow was closed immediately before where we wanted to turn off so we had to find a diversion, which went through the middle of a golf course.

White House Cottage is one of three adjacent cottages rented out as self-catering holiday accommodation by the same owner but it was very luxurious, boasting an enormous garden, and a separate lounge (with the TV/sofas etc) and a pleasant sunny room to sit during the afternoon. However, the most remarkable thing was the Games Room, which contained a pool/snooker table (pub size) and dartboard as well. Me and my dad used this every day although sadly our skills left much to be desired!

Games room at White House Cottage.

Games room at White House Cottage.

My bedroom - with the luxury of a four-poster bed!

My bedroom – with the luxury of a four-poster bed!

White House Cottage

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Sunday 31 May

We took it easy on Sunday, just visiting our nearest big town (Hereford; actually a city!) for lunch and a visit to an unusual Tesco supermarket that had a car park hidden in a grim basement. We had a look at some of Hereford’s shops but didn’t stop long as we visited it last year. In the evening, I had a brief walk down the lane to ascertain where the footpaths to the mountains behind our cottage began but I accidentally trod on an inch-long thorn and it penetrated my foot but luckily it was not very deep.

Hereford Cathedral (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

Hereford Cathedral (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

A striking 50s/60s building near Hereford's Wetherspoons (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

A striking 50s/60s building near Hereford’s Wetherspoons (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

Monday 1 June

The weather forecast was grim but we visited Bridgnorth (in Shropshire) anyway, which is not a place I would have thought of going but I had obviously not done my research on this as it is a very pleasant and attractive town, being separated in two by the steep hill that rises above the River Severn. There is a cliff railway/funicular here; unusual in being inland as these are usually only found at seaside resorts. Sadly we did not get time to ride this but the weather was pretty wet so it may well have been a waste of time anyway. We tried to visit the Severn Valley Railway station; one of the most impressive and authentic preserved railways in the UK; however it cost £3 to park and we only wanted to stop and look round the shop/museum (if there is one) so we didn’t bother.

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth and the River Severn

Bridgnorth and the River Severn

Tuesday 2 June

It was a very blustery day but fortunately it wasn’t as rainy as the forecast threatened so we stuck to main roads away from smaller places where trees might have blown down and blocked roads. We followed the A44 all the way from New Radnor to Worcester; this was exciting for me as my first proper visit to Worcestershire. The county town (actually another city!) seemed surprisingly larger than Hereford but boasted another nice cathedral and a lot of shops, as well as a very grand guildhall. However, some of these county towns are much of a muchness in terms of things to see, particularly when paying a very brief visit.

Worcester Guildhall

Worcester Guildhall

Worcester Cathedral

Worcester Cathedral

Wednesday 3 June

The weather was much more agreeable today so we went on our only trip West of the week, this time along the A44 again in the opposite direction to Aberystwyth. While I’ve visited the seaside resort once before, that was when we were staying 20 miles to the North in Tywyn so approached it from the north then – and was nearly 20 years ago anyway – how time flies! I thought the route along the A44 would be quite nice but was astonished to see how beautiful it actually is; some of the vistas rival those in Scotland, with winding roads with a sheer drop to one side along forested valleys. This part of Wales appears to be largely uncelebrated, in not being in a National Park or even an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). If that scenery was in England then it probably would be an AONB but I guess Wales has so much splendid terrain that all of it can’t be.

Aberystwyth itself is a seaside resort with all the usual attractions – promenade, amusements, a pier (sadly truncated by storm damage) and even a cliff railway, which (like one of the ones in Hastings) doesn’t go anywhere apart from a hilltop viewpoint, although I guess that likewise offers great views. The resort was battered by severe storms in early 2014 but it appears that all the damage has been repaired now.

Aberystwyth seafront (North end)

Aberystwyth seafront (North end)

We had to park near the station but that proved a useful decision, as the Wetherspoons was actually inside the station, under the canopy (it probably replaced a station cafe of some sort). This location was also useful as we had a look at the Vale of Rheidol station, one of the most scenic preserved railways in the country.

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

I was surprised with how narrow the gauge is of this, but it was operated by BR until relatively recently. Unfortunately the original station site was redeveloped into a retail park, with the current station being rebuilt further East of this. We later managed to park for a brief look/photo shoot at the southern end of the Marine Parade, which offered nice views as well.

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

Aberystwyth seafront (and pier)

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

On the way back, we took the scenic A4120 back East, which goes via Devil’s Bridge. This is the other end of the preserved railway but is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the areas, with the steep valley being bridged by three bridges of different eras, each on top of the previous one. There are also some lovely waterfalls to see here.

Devil's Bridge

Devil’s Bridge

In the evening, I was able to start my mission of reaching the top of the mountains behind the cottage, as the weather was more suitable for the novice and unprepared hiker that I am (having hung up proper walking boots a long time ago after being disenfranchised by the local ramblers club in the late 2000s probably). The walk to the bottom was surprisingly hardly muddy at all and I was soon able to reach the heath/forested area near the top, with a very steep ravine to the right, one of several very deep ravines that penetrate the central ‘rock dome’ of the Radnor Forest. The term ‘forest’ is misleading here, as much of it is open heathland; ‘forest’ originally described an area that was open for hunting.

Nearing the top of the mountains, the terrain gives way to this lightly forested ground and upland heath

Nearing the top of the mountains, the terrain gives way to this lightly forested ground and upland heath

Near the top was a large metal farm shed; one of the highest I’ve seen. Sadly, ‘The Whimble’ is inaccessible due to being private land. Luckily, the area surrounding it is open access land (according to my trusty OS Explorer Map) so I walked NE across the open moors. Much of the inner parts of the mountains is off limits due to being a ‘Danger Area’. The signs suggest it is a ‘Rifle Range’ but apparently it is used for testing somewhat more substantial ammo!

The Whimble, one of the Radnor Forest's most recognisable hills is sadly all fenced off and inaccessible.

The Whimble, one of the Radnor Forest’s most recognisable hills is sadly all fenced off and inaccessible.

Up the top of the mountains is this huge plateau of heathland about 600 m above sea level.

Up the top of the mountains is this huge plateau of heathland about 600 m above sea level.

The view East on the way down from the mountain top.

The view East on the way down from the mountain top.

Thursday 4 June

This was the nicest day of the week in terms of the sunny weather and so we had a trip to Great Malvern (in Worcestershire but close to the Herefordshire border). This spa town is part of the general area known just as ‘Malvern’ but Great Malvern is by far the most significant town. The area is known for its bottled drinking water as well. The main street is very steep but the top boasts superb views to the East. If I had more time I would have climbed the hill above the town but an early finish to the day’s outing allowed me to have another walk up the mountain behind the cottage.

Great Malvern, at the top of a steep hill down to the park.

Great Malvern, at the top of a steep hill down to the park.

Stunning views from great Malvern's elevated position

Stunning views from Great Malvern’s elevated position

I had to make the same hike up to the top but at least I knew where the paths were this time. On reaching the top, I headed West between the Whimble and another rocky outcrop as I wanted to see the valley there but was stunned on how bleak it actually was. Both sides of the valley had steep ravines with little vegetation and it was rather windswept but I followed the path by the Whimble to the south and ended up back in the copse halfway up the mountain before making my way back to the cottage.

The bleakness of the Radnor Forest hills facing West. The Whimble is out of sight to the immediate left.

The bleakness of the Radnor Forest hills facing West. The Whimble is out of sight to the immediate left.

Part of a ravine near the summit of The Whimble. DFown below in the valley (and well out of sight) is the 'Danger Area'.

Part of a ravine near the top of the mountains. The summit of the hill ‘Black Mixen’ is out of sight beyond the hilltop. Down below in the valley (and well out of sight) is the ‘Danger Area’.

The top of the mountain near the Whimble. The whole of the Radnor hills at this altitude are very flat and barren, with just heathland for miles on end.

The top of the mountain near the Whimble. The whole of the Radnor hills at this altitude are rather barren, with just heathland for miles on end.

Friday 5 June

Sadly, our last proper day of the holiday had arrived but we took another trip East to Worcestershire, this time to Kidderminster. The town itself is nothing special; it boasts a very Brutalist car park and shopping centre called the Swan Centre – the ugly sister to Eastleigh’s younger shopping centre! I was pleased to see that an old Victorian mill building with a prominent brick chimney had been converted to a Premier Inn and Debenhams department store rather than being bulldozed like many of these endangered industrial buildings. However, the main attraction is another Severn Valley Railway station – the other end of the line from Bridgnorth. This station looks very authentic as an early 20th century terminus, even with old shops such as WH Smith. It is regularly used for filming historical TV dramas/films. There is also a great museum, which is free! This contains a lot of ‘Railwayana’ such as locomotive nameplates but also some great working exhibits, such as an electromechanical telephone exchange, with several different vintage phone handsets (I have a fetish for these it seems!) and a set of signalbox levers that I had a go at using to see how they are mechanically interlocked (to prevent the potential for an accident if levers are moved that could cause danger).

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

An old telephone exchange at Kidderminster's railway museum

An old telephone exchange at Kidderminster’s railway museum

Signalling levers at Kidderminster's railway museum

Signalling levers at Kidderminster’s railway museum

On the way back, we went via Clee Hill, one of the most notabvle hills in SW Shropshire. The views were stunning!

Clee Hill Common, Shropshire.

Clee Hill Common, Shropshire.

In the afternoon I was intending to have a walk to the end of one of the nearby ravines but the supposedly public footpath has been stopped up with ‘No unauthorised persons beyond this point’ signs on the gates and a large industrial scale agricultural enterprise of some kind. Fortunately, the second part of my walk was more fruitful (literally), as I had heard about a cider farm just ten minutes’ walk from the cottage! Ralph’s Cider produces traditional cider and perry from apples grown on or near the farm and has ‘The only licensed cider house in Wales’ although I sadly didn’t have time to stop for a pint in there; however, they were happy to let me taste a sample of each of their products before I bought some fresh out of the barrel in plastic bottles to take home!

Ralph's Cider and perry; the real thing!

Ralph’s Cider and perry; the real thing!

Here’s a map (in two parts) showing all the routes we covered.

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 - West section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 – West section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 - East section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 – East section

 

 

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