Day 3 – Ross-on-Wye to Hereford

The top of Pig Alley was my start point today but I was a little reluctant to leave Ross-on-Wye straightaway and instead backtracked along the street for a little, enjoying the sights of this old part of the town including the landmark stone Market House.

However, the path beckoned and I made my way past the Man of Ross pub and down some pretty steps towards the riverbank. There is the feel of an urban park to this first section, the paths are laid out and there are dog-walkers, joggers and children being pushed in buggies, I felt slightly out of place with my rucksack and map.

There is a fine picture opportunity if you turn round, with the river in the foreground and the skyline of Ross low on the bluff it sits on – noted as one of the prettiest scenes in the country.

The everyday thinned as I reached the underpass where the A449 carries the traffic to South Wales and headed out into something more resembling countryside. The rumble of traffic started to give way to the sound of the fast-flowing river and the birds and away to the right the houses started to peter out.

My progress was watched by a large number of swans on the opposite bank, set up in big groups or bumping gently on the current in pairs, their bright white feathers adding a much-needed cheerfulness to the colours of the day.

Two days previously, we had enjoyed the hottest March day for half a century but today the clouds were low and grey, the breeze light but brisk, no hint of rain but not much of warmth either. Next week there were warnings of snow – spring in England is capricious.

Better times promised though, in the fields the rapeseed was beginning to show a hint of yellow on its tips, in a few weeks the patchwork of fields would be ablaze in one of the loveliest sights you can imagine. There was a dusty aroma in the air too, which would be overpowering when the bloom reached its height on long sunny days.

I was slow to settle and made my first navigation error of the day, hugging the riverbank instead of dog-legging slightly cross-country, which cost me some distance but no real harm and I was rewarded with the view of the skeletal pillars of the old railway bridge by way of compensation.

Market Houses on legs are a feature of towns locally, Ross-on-Wye’s is impressively built of stone. At nearby Ledbury and Newent, they are half-timbered.

The Collins Tower is part of the mock walls of Ross-on-Wye constructed in 1833 when Wilton Road was developed.

The Man of Ross pub commemorates John Kyrle, who died in 1724 and was an early example of a philanthropist remembered for his good works in the town. The local high school also carries his name.

Regaining the line of the path opposite Backney Common, I left the immediate bank and skirted a low ridge at Monk’s Grove, where spring flowers were carpeting the sheltered spots. The tower of Foy church emerged across the river and I hit the lane to Hole-in-the-Wall near pretty Foy Bridge.

This is a quiet out-of-the-way spot but I suspect might be popular with visitors in the know in summer and there were signs about private parking outside some of the houses suggesting that it might all busy-up at different times.

This is quite a long stretch of road when you walk it, running alongside the river on the left and Lyndor Wood on the right until you drop down onto the bank proper just beyond Lyndor Cottages. A little further and you leave the river for a while and head inland to How Caple, a section I quite enjoyed, a mixture of lane and wide track.

Having been on the flat all day, the next hour of so brought a hint of uphill as you gain height away from the river but there was nothing particularly taxing about it and the height is achieved in short easy sections.

The viewpoint at Capler Lodge offers some benches for a welcome sit-down and there is a signboard with information on the nearby Iron Age fort at Capler Camp, one of a number of hillforts in the area. This was once part of Archenfield, a semi-autonomous medieval lordship in the lawless borders of England and Wales. Its independence lasted 1,000 years and was bought largely by a willingness to provide forces to fight the Welsh. Local people enjoyed unique fishing rights as recently as 1911.

My target was Capler Camp but I promptly missed the turn and continued on a different footpath. I realised the error quite quickly but felt disinclined to backtrack and instead picked by way across country, with directions from a kind man mending a hedge, and picked up the path again on the Fownhope road.

The combination of River Wye and the town on the bluff above it makes Ross-on-Wye one of the most photographed towns in Britain

The River Wye on the approaches to Ross is wide and quite fast-flowing

The old railway bridge at near Backney Common.

A memorial marker on the banks of the River Wye at Backney to the Reverend H St Helier Evans, who succumbed to a heart attack moments after rescuing two boys from drowning

Swans in Flight by Walenty Pytel on Rope Walk is one of several works by the artist in Ross, including the iconic leaping salmon outside the Man of Ross pub. His work can also be seen in Ledbury and Malvern. His Jubilee Fountain is in the shadow of Big Ben in London.

Foy Bridge near Hole-in-the-Wall on the road to How Caple

Then it was uphill again though scattered smallholdings, the path zig-zagging in a way that would have been calamitous for my navigation but for the sudden appearance of waymarkers, which got me all the way through Lea & Paget Wood and over Common Hill.

Lunch was on the step of a stile gate and as I munched a hot-cross bun to finish, I pondered on today’s target. I had reached the area around Fownhope, which was today’s minimum target and a common stopping-point for our customers, who lodge at The Green Man, a very nice pub with a very pleasant beer garden.

My legs were tired but I still had good hours of the afternoon in front of me so I decided to push on to Mordiford at the least and perhaps even Hereford. So instead of turning down the lane into Fownhope, I set off across country again and a nice section it was too, grassy open fields to the left of the large Haugh Wood and in double-quick time I was on the outskirts of Mordiford.

The part-medieval bridge at Mordiford is a real landmark, with multiple spans over channels of the River Lugg. Crossing the narrow bridge requires care because it carries a lot of traffic to Hereford but at the far end, there is a nice photo to be had of the bridge and the church in the background.

Benches at the Capler viewpoint are a good place to rest your legs before heading on towards the nearby Iron Age hillfort

The pretty outskirts of the village of Mordiford

The historic bridge at Mordiford spans the River Lugg.

I had determined on Hereford now and scrambled up the bank of the flood bund, which carries the Wye Valley Walk in a long arc around Hampton Bishop before you pick your way through the village and cross the road again to intersect with the riverbank of the Wye.

This carries you to the outskirts of Hereford itself and you rejoin the path along the main road into the city, a taxing straight after a long day, the tarmac unforgiving on sore feet. Just after the railway bridge, you drop into the network of narrow streets around Bartonsham.

As always when you hit an urban area, the waymarkers largely disappear and you just have to do your best. I found my way to the site of a now-vanished castle and from there to Hereford Cathedral, dropping down over the old medieval footbridge to the swimming pool, where I called it a day.

A longish stretch of 16-17 miles aided by some kind terrain but some fiddly bits too and the last section into Hereford itself was tough but an interesting mix of countryside and heritage which rewarded the effort.


Weeping Willows frame the lane in Hampton Bishop

The site of the former castle in the centre of Hereford. A key fortress during the endless Anglo-Welsh battles during the medieval period, it was badly damaged as the city changed hands between King and Parliament during the Civil War and demolished in 1660.

Hereford Cathedral is home to the famous Mappa Mundi and also has a wonderful medieval chained library.

Ornate stonework at the entrance to Hereford Cathedral

A tactful plaque commemorating one of Hereford’s most famous daughters. Pretty and witty, she sold oranges on the streets of London and was mistress to several leading men before catching the eye of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. He acknowledged the Duke of St Albans as his own illegitimate child. Jostled by a crowd who thought she was the unpopular Catholic Duchess of Portsmouth, she quipped: “Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore!”

The medieval footbridge is one of several useful crossing places for walkers as the Wye Valley Walk swaps banks through the city.