After our nice weekend down in the Gower we had friends coming to stay. My mate Mark of Beating the Bounds fame (of sorts) was bringing his family down for another visit to my adopted Herefordshire home. They paid us a visit last year and despite the worst of the weather that a British summer can throw at you, we had a great time. They were so impressed they bought the T-shirt and decided to do it all over again.
The signs were not promising. After heavy rain forced us to abandon our Gower trip half a day early, it carried on raining through the night and the rest of the next day. It was still raining when they arrived to much rolling of eyes. Surely it couldn’t be that bad again. The next day was a carbon copy of the previous year, dull, cold, dreary and wet. Corners of mouths were very much down. We got lucky however and the rain stopped just long enough for a short drive and walk up on Garway Hill.
The views from up here on a clear day are expansive but despite the sun and some blue sky putting in appearance it was clearly just a small window in the wet. The dark clouds completely surrounded us and closed in. We timed it nicely though, reaching the car just as the rain started up again. At least we’d got out and had a stroll and some air. Tomorrow would be better surely
It wasn’t. It was still dull and cloudy with frequent showers. TJS had been telling us that the weather was due to improve but he has a habit of using the BBC Weather website for his forecasts. Anyone who has ever been led down that particular garden path knows just how unreliable it is. Still we thought we had to get out and I handed out the options to the kids and they unsurprisingly chose the castle one. White Castle to be precise, quite close to home and somewhere I haven’t been for a few years. When we got there the weather looked brighter than it had done for a few days. Our luck had finally turned, we wouldn’t see rain again for the rest of the week
White Castle as you can see isn’t white at all but a rather fetching dark brown (or grey if you listen to TJS). In terms of the classic castle features of stairways and passages it’s a bit lacking and quite small. However it is very picturesque, tucked away in the quiet hills and off the beaten track, and it has a proper moat, something any self respecting castle should have. Even in holiday week we were pretty much the only visitors
It doesn’t take all that long to wander around the inner and outer courtyard and climb it’s only tower where there is a splendid view across to the nearby Black Mountains and Forest of Dean
The kids were having fun though and there was bags of space to run around in and play medieval games of death
It’s a very tranquil place which more than makes up for it’s lack of spiral staircases (something else all castles should have if you ask me)
The view across the moat is particularly evocative
After an hour of wandering and play it was time for lunch. I have to say that castle courtyards make very fine places for a picnic. The sun came out from time to time and we all spent a happy hour playing games and eating, or in my TBF’s case lying down on the picnic rug
Our castle fix fully satisfied we needed another place to fill the gap before tea. We headed for Rowlestone Court, home to a rather fine ice cream making facility and an adventure playground in the woods. After gorging ourselves on large cones we headed off to play. The rain of the previous days had turned the place into a mud-path (the farmer kindly scraped the slurry from the path for us where it crossed the farm track). Just the sort of place for sandals or so ED thought 🙂
The zip wire provided fun for all ages. Me and ED are far above such tomfoolery and kept a respectful distance.
A pile of tyres full of muddy water provided a degree of fun out of proportion with its appeal. Together with the zip wire, a couple of climbing walls and some monkey bars we passed a happy couple of hours before it was time squelch back to the car.
TJS promise of good weather was finally delivered. The next day dawned warm and sunny and I declared it officially “play in the garden” day. Out came the paddling pool and the waterslide and the kids were as happy as pigs in mud. Which was just as well as all that water on top of a soggy lawn turned my garden into something approximating a pig pen. Still the kids and TBF’s seemed happy and content so I put the second part of my plan into action. ED needed, I felt, to see the local hills so off we sneaked for a swift stroll. I decided that the classic round of the Olchon Valley, returning via the Cats Back ridge would give him the flavour of the Black Mountains with the added advantage that its only 30 minutes from my front door. I’ve walked this route many times so just head to my categories section and you’ll find 3 or 4 posts, winter and summer that follow this route
We followed the usual route down to the river and then steadily upwards through the sparse woods and bracken onto the edge. It really was quite hot, which came as a surprise to both of us. Rather than cut up to Offa’s Dyke and along the centre of the ridge we followed a succession of sheep tracks that kept close to the edge. I’ve never walked this part before so I rather enjoyed the change of scene. We put the world to rights, moaned about each of our work issues and generally talked about nothing in particular, the perfect way to spend a day in fact.
At the head of the valley (having followed a group of sheep along the track for a couple of miles) we stopped for a flask of soup and a cuppa. We lazed on the grass and soaked up the sun, a pleasant change from the rain we’d soaked up the year before. We both love our kids to bits but sometimes it is nice to just enjoy a walk at your own pace without the constant nagging from one or other of them 🙂
Time was pressing and we’d promised everyone a BBQ. We decided against an out and back to Hay Bluff and settled for the glorious and easy stroll that is the Cats Back. I never fail to tire of this ridge. Black Mountains to the west and the carpet of green and fertile countryside that is Herefordshire to the east. I hope ED was impressed, nothing better than showing off your own favourites to an appreciative audience
Over all too soon and back to the madness of the family. We had a fine BBQ in the warm sunshine in the garden. A pretty good day if you ask me.
Onto the next day and sun was still shining so I plumped for a day out in the Elan Valley. Me and TJS had walked down the Rhiwnant Valley back in the winter and had decided it would be a fine place for a sunny stroll, picnic and a swim in the pool at the far end. Unfortunately whilst it was sunny it, the temperature had been removed for the day and it was more like March. Not a day for swimming. Undeterred, we walked up the valley for lunch.
We sat by the river, huddled in various nooks and crannies trying to stay out of the chill wind. Not exactly lazing on the grass sunning ourselves like I’d imagined the previous day but there you go. After lunch we decided to walk to the end of the valley by one of the old mining tracks
It was a really fine route with expansive views across the Rhiwnant Valley and to the wild and empty moorland above
The path had it’s interesting sections. In several spots it clung to the cliffs and was exposed enough to need a little care. In others, bog and tussocks cascaded down the hill like a waterfall making for some “challenging” walking (or wet feet to put it another way)
The path ends abruptly where it meets a narrow stream that tumbles down to the Rhiwnant in a series of dramatic gorges and waterfalls. Just my kind of playground, I need to come back in warmer weather and do some serious gorge scrambling here
The water empties into a stunning pool at the bottom, deep and clear and perfect for a wild swim if it hadn’t been so cold! Still it was warm enough to sit for a snack and brew and to allow the kids off the leash.
The junior Dangerous Brother seemed intent of trying to fall into each and every wet spot but to my amazement he never did. All the kids seemed to find the place interesting
It’s become one of my favourite spots in the UK. Don’t tell anyone about it!
It was time to head home, back through the mine workings where the kids all found some wonderful minerals and crystals
Time for our friends to head home but ED had an idea to pay a visit to Stokesey Castle on the way. It’s less than an hour from home but I’ve never been. It was still warm and sunny so we took little persuading to make another day of things
It’s a splendid little spot, more a fortified manor house than castle. English Heritage do a great a line in audio commentaries at their properties and this was no exception. They can be a little cheesy but it really brings the place to life
In most castles you have to try and use your own imagination to visualise them as proper lived-in dwellings. In a well preserved place like Stokesey it’s so much easier and we spent a happy hour wandering into all it’s rooms and sharing in the passion for the various owners who have cared for and restored it over the years. It even has a tower and some steep stairs from the top of which are fine views across the Shropshire countryside
The story of the how the castle came to prominence and then fell into decline and dis-repair is a fascinating one. Luckily the right people came into ownership at just the right time to restore to what we see today. How many other similar places have not been so lucky have fallen into dereliction or worse, simply crumbled to dust. Sobering thought that so much history is likely to have been lost forever
We concluded the day with a gentle stroll around the dry moat, providing an opportunity to view the castle from another angle. In DB Jr’s case to view it from a patch of nettles
An ice cream in the garden finished of the day perfectly but it was with a sad and heavy heart that we waved our guests goodbye. It’s great having them all down to stay, the kids get on really well and creates a lovely relaxed atmosphere that made the house feel rather empty when we got home. We’d had a really great week and the weather had been really good to us. There was so much more I wanted to show them but there will be other times I hope. To our friends from the North, thanks for being such great guests and we hope you enjoyed the stay. Reciprocation next year I hope 🙂