Offa’s Dyke Path, day 4: Hendre to Llangattock Lingoed

May 21, 2019 1 Comment

A perfect May day: not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of wind.  And no traffic noise, just birdsong in stereo.  Swifts, the first we’ve seen on this trip, flash around the house, and a pair of Canada geese carefully guard their young near a pond.  Today our host is going to Malvern for the day, to visit a flower festival (strangely Old Hendre is almost devoid of flowers).  We’re off before nine, in a field that’s been churned to pure mud – by an incomer farmer, according to our host, ‘from West Wales’, clearly a place of fear.  Two white sofas sit incongruously on the slope, near an old caravan.

A buzzard launches itself across the sky in front of us.  Suddenly two crows emerge from trees and start to attack it.  The buzzard, on the defensive, tries to dive and veer out of their way, like an outnumbered fighter pilot, and in the end admits defeat.  We dip down to Afon Troddi (Trothy in English), and a flat field where Grace Dieu Abbey once stood.  Nothing of it now survives above ground, only names for a bridge and farm nearby.  The path goes north through fields, roughly following the river.  As we come to a rape field, of a colour seldom seen, as C says, since the psychedelic sixties, a farmer approaches us in a buggy, ‘to check the fencing’, he says, but more likely to see whether these three ill-dressed individuals mean trouble for him.

This is the kind of landscape that you dream about, in some kinds of rare utopian fantasies.  Every conceivable shade of emerging green is on show in the woods, hedges and fields.  The forms of higher hills, Skirrid and Sugarloaf, appear on the horizon, but all around us low, domestic hills rise and fall in interfolding masses.  The morning sun – there are no clouds all day, except for a thin line of ‘Magritte’ clouds to the west – cast shadows from trees, hedges and molehills. 

The church at Llanfihangel Ystern Llewern is open. Two locals are preparing it for a service, and explain to us that they’re planning a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for improvements (could we please sign the visitors’s book as evidence for the HLF?).  They’re true enthusiasts.  They show us the church’s features, including its wagon vault roof, and monuments to the family of Joseph Bradney, the great historian of Monmouthshire.  There’s a good lantern tower, a surprising addition by T.H. Wyatt, the Victorian restorer.  Further on, the Path takes us past a house with chickens – a cockerel of showy plumage and hens in subtle gradations of grey, housed in palatial accommodation – and then through the middle of a cider apple orchard, the trees set at exact intervals in ranks set at right angles, and each one trained to grow upwards rather than allowed to grow sideways, according to Mr Bulmer’s strict guidelines.  Next comes Llantilio Crossenny and an even finer church: elegant shingled spire, wonky chancel arch set off-centre, and stone relief memorials set into the floor.

A long uphill section brings us to White Castle, the most ‘military’ in the triangle of Three Castles in the area.  It’s a child’s dream: round towers, a deep moat, narrow windows, and plenty of grass to play on.  We stop and eat our picnic lunch in the sun, harassed by workmen mowing the lawns (on a Sunday?).  Next the Path descends to the north.  The long haunch of Skirrid blocks the view, but in front of us is a lush green bowl of fields and hedges.  We’ve made good progress, and to avoid turning up to our next stop too early, we sit on the parapet of the small bridge across the Full Brook, and dangle our legs over the thin flow of water.  An old farm worker in braces and a solid car stops for a chat.  He can’t remember a time when so little water flowed here.

Then it’s a short walk to Llangattock Lingoed, with a steep climb at the end through yet another rich meadow to the Old Rectory, where we’re due to stay the night.  As we climb, Ca waves to us from the top of the hill: she’s come to join us till the morning.  Next door is the limewashed church of St Cadoc.  Inside is a medieval wall painting of St George and the dragon, discovered during restoration in 2002 – five years before the George and the dragon painting was uncovered on the walls of Llancarvan church in the Vale of Glamorgan, another Cadoc dedication.  There’s also a wooden rood beam carved with vine leaves, a seventeenth century box pew, an early funeral bier, and a spectacular ‘angel’ fragment of stained glass.  Outside in the large churchyard foliage has been allowed to grow unchecked, and the gravestones seem to swim, their arms at various angles, through the long grasses.  A short way down the road, at the Hunter’s Moon, we eat a large meal to make up for calories lost during the fine day.

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  1. Gordonapwalter says:

    Evocative, learned and poetic when need be, a marvellous preparation for our Anniverary walk on the same terrain.
    Thanks Andrew apgwallter.

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