When I was here last year I spotted this intriguing path descending into the woods above the River Wye, not far from Chepstow. Then I turned left through the gate and followed the Offa’s Dyke path but, having earmarked this place as somewhere to return to another day, back I came with a new circular route in mind, from the top of the cliffs down to the river’s edge and up again.
What’s over the wall on the right, I hear you ask?
Well, it’s the rather splendid Pen Moel estate, sadly still seeking someone to call it home.
This time I was joined by the excellent A and we made short work of the track’s steep descent through the woods, admiring the brilliant colours of the remaining leaves, the grandeur of the cliffs as they began to tower above us, the abundance of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s signage, the thoughtful provision of benches, and so on.
Bright November sunshine, no one about, absolute silence save for the birds – it was all going terrifically well. What the map showed as a bridleway – and which I had feared may have been long lost as it doesn’t really connect anywhere to anywhere else – was turning out to be a well trodden route through a pleasant nature reserve. With hindsight, maybe I should have wondered about this.
I certainly should have wondered about this.
Suddenly the path disappeared and we were in for a big surprise, all right. We were face to face with a very steep mass of boulders. I’d call it a scree if the stones had not been giant rocks of at least hip height. To the right, more rockfall, steeper still. To the left, the mudbanks and the river awaited an incautious mis-stepper. (So that’s what happened to Mr Chicago Bulls.) Clearly we had to get across this but there was no indication of where the path would recommence on the other side – straight across, up a bit, down a bit, not a hint came there from the GWT.
Happily A has the intrepid agility of a mountain goat and headed out into the rocky wilderness. I followed in an inelegant inverted crablike traverse au derrière (au derrière? sur derrière? Step forward linguists). Half way across were a few rocks with yellow splodges of paint which encouraged us to think that we were on a route to somewhere but as these could not be seen from either side of the boulder field I hesitate to call them useful.
And good luck with getting a horse along this bridleway.
Safely back on terra firma and revived with a few chunks of chocolate on a handy bench, I took to mud gazing. The light and the low water (the Wye is tidal here) made the strange shaping of the silt oddly fascinating. A little further round the meander and the steep cliffs gave way to a gentler slope and to the ruins of St James’ Church at Lancaut. Other than a farmstead, this is pretty much all that is left of the medieval village which once stood here.The church was deconsecrated in 1865 and its roof and fitments removed but, 150 years later, there remains the marks of a lost community.
A picturesque ruin in a dramatic landscape – there has to have been a postcard and here it is on the information board (Neil Parkhouse Collection). Looks like nothing much has changed in the last century or so.
There’s also a quotation from one Eleanor Ormerod (c1840) ‘The situation, on one of the crooks in the Wye, and just above the river is romantic in the extreme…’ (Ormerod turns out to have been a world renowned entomologist and ground breaking female academic, as well as a woman blessed with a good eye for a view. My, but this walking lark is educational.)
What then? A brief chat with a couple coming in the opposite direction – Are all those boulders still there? Well, yes – followed by a surprisingly gentle path back up the hill, past the old lime kilns, to the level of the cliff top, 100m or so above the river, and to a vertiginous vantage spot from where we could dare ourselves to lean out and retrace our earlier steps. It was a great walk, only a few miles long but, as A and I agreed, a world away from the everyday.
I just don’t fancy those boulders again.