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More Garway Hill   9 comments

Whilst my local mountains in Wales have been closed off, Garway Hill became my release valve for a high level walk and views to keep me sane.

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This one was taken after dropping TJF in town for a socially distanced meet up in the park with one of her friends. We thought we could grab a walk in between drop off and pick up.

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Another day with heavy showers forecast but we were lucky again and avoided a soaking even though there were clearly damps spells about. We even managed a cheeky summit beer – a very nice Brewdog Lock-Down Lager!

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More bracken starting to rear its head.

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Some of the paths I use on this walk will shortly disappear until winter when it dies back.

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We had time to take the longer route, down the ridge, back along the lane and cutting back across the fields to the open common land.

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An enjoyable if short walk.

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Next day I was on my own while the rest of family visited my Mum-in-Law. I took a long ride out to see if could cycle all the way to the top of a local hill (a missing Marilyn) called Burton Hill.

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I managed it with some stiles to haul the bike over and few interesting moments on a muddy path riding on slick tyres. The photo below gives flavour of what trying to find summits in these out of the way places can be like! Steep hard work on the way up but a fabulous long downhill ride back down!

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Missing the Rain   18 comments

In between the two hots spells we had some mixed weather of sunny, sultry days and showers, Trying to balance between between kids commitments, and visiting parents now rules were more relaxed we picked a day to take stroll around Bradnor Hill. I’d been up here in January in completely different conditions, cold wet and everything with the green lushness of a damp winter.

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Its the site of the highest golf course in England. This is how they keep the fairways trim and tidy.

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Its a fine high level stroll, parking and staying high for most of the walk.

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There are some huge open pastures, home to what looked like thousands of sheep. I don’t think I’ve ever walked through a field so strewn with sheep poo!

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We were following Offas’s Dyke and its one of the places where you can actually see and walk along the dyke itself.

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Looking across to Hergest Ridge and Hanter Hill where we’d walked a few weeks back.

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Back east along the Lugg and Arrow valleys.

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The view from Herrock Hill is a spectacular one, this is looking over Radnorshire and into the barred land of Wales.

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Black Mountains visible in the distance.

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The next couple of images show that bright green that can only mean bracken is starting to flourish. I’m hoping that Wales will open soon and we can access the higher mountains before these smaller hills become smothered in the green stuff.

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Final view, actually taken from one of the tee’s on the Golf Course. Not a bad place to play a round. Forecast had been for heavy showers but we stayed dry and they only arrived with a vengeance after we got home.

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A Bike Ride and a Swim   13 comments

After our Wye Valley walk the day before and the missed wild swim opportunity I wanted to fix that before the weather turned (as it was planned to the next day). Time to combine that with a bike ride. We have as number of swimming spots near home but most are popular and therefore unlikely to be suitable in the current situation. My guide book mentions the Lugg at Bodenham as a good spot so I hoped an early start and the fact its out in the sticks would make it a little quieter.

It was a fine ride, almost exclusively on quiet country lanes (apart from a nervy crossing of the A49 on its only dual carriageway stretch) although a lot further than I thought – 18 miles each way.

Bodenham is a beautiful village with a stunning church, looking especially fine on a clear sunny day. I found a quiet corner to lock my bike and get changed and headed for the river.

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The Lugg is a small river but its deep enough for a swim and was surprisingly cold. There were a few people around but in no way crowded and everyone was being distanced and respectful. I found a quiet shady spot and went for a swim.

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I didn’t stay in long as more people were arriving and I’m not really a sun-bather.

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Happy with a wonderful cooling dip, I headed back to my bike for the return journey.

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The meadow along the riverbank was stunning.

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The bridge over the Lugg on the way back to the Church. There are also some abandoned Quarry pools nearby that are also good for swimming (although you are warned not to enter the water as its perceived to be dangerous due to hidden obstacles). I need to investigate these when I come back here.

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Last couple of shots of the church before cycling the second 18 mile stretch back home.

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Wye Valley Wander   12 comments

Our wonderful spring weather was drawing to a close. One last chance – for now – to set out early for a walk in the sunshine. A change of scene was needed so we stayed local and took a walk in the Wye Valley.

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Parking up in Goodrich we headed up to the top of Coppet Hill for the now regular routine of cooked breakfast.

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Views over Goodrich Village and its castle.

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Our only summit of the day – Coppet Hill. A long spur between the sinuous bends in the river Wye.

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Lazing in the warm sun, bellies full of bacon and eggs.

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Its a lovely high level stroll before descending the long ridge through the woods and down to the river. This was the first time I felt moderately ill-at-ease in the new situation. We were walking a respectful distance behind a family group who were stopping more frequently than us. Not a problem as it was a fine day to pause and enjoy the surroundings while we waited for them to move on. What was unsettling was that under normal circumstances we’d have just walked past and shared our mutual enjoyment, where we were all heading, what a fabulous day it was. This is one of the delights of the outdoors, those brief moments of sharing these joys with like-minded people. It felt like I was avoiding them, almost rude and it felt wrong. Just something we will have to get used to for a while.

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The rest of the walk was a long easy wander along the banks of the Wye.

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The grassy meadows full of buttercups were wonderful.

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Just before we reached the church and hostel at Welsh Bicknor I took a look at the old railway tunnel on the long-abandoned line. Its blocked off now for safety reasons but when I was a kid we visited the hostel on a History field trip and took a walk through. A few hundred yards that slices off a good 2 -3 miles of river walking.

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I’d forgotten what a beautiful church it was, especially under such a clear blue sky.

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As we continued we were looking for a likely spot for a stop and a swim in the river. Unfortunately all the best spots were on the other side of the river and the few on our side were all occupied. The last few miles were protected by what must be one of the longest continuous patches of nettles anywhere.

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Still, the walking was still lovely, albeit it was becoming rather hot. The swim was badly missed.

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A new family enjoying the weather.

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We finished off at Kerne Bridge before a short walk back up the road to Goodrich and the car.

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Something different and another walk that I probably wouldn’t have done had the Welsh Mountains been open. Accentuate the positive!

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Sunshine After the Rain   13 comments

As I point out many times, the fickleness of the British weather never ceases to amaze me. A couple of days after strong winds, heavy rains and cold temperatures, Bank Holiday Monday delivered a complete stunner of a day.

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As before we were up and out early to make best efforts at avoiding any crowds. Heading back to Shropshire and the bristling tors of Stiperstones we were parked up by 9am and heading onto the ridge for breakfast. The other advantage this has is its often the best part of the day. The air was clear and the views all around were superb.

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A zoom shot of Cadair Idris on the horizon.

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South to the Marches and Black Mountains

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Manstone Rock.

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We managed to construct a decent spot for breakfast and enjoyed our usual repast of bacon and egg butties and a cuppa. It’s a fine tradition that I intend to stick to through the summer.

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There are flatter and grassier spots but they were a further away and we were hungry.

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Corndon Hill, one of new favourites but sadly the Welsh Border makes a little wrinkle to include it so it’s out of bounds at the moment.

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Whilst the ridge is a fine walk, the path is one of the most awkward one’s I know. It’s a knobbly, rocky path with all said rocks seemingly angled in all sorts of odd opposing directions. Its really frustrating to walk on but luckily the views more than made up for that.

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Looking back to Manstone Rock.

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The Devils Chair. The long spine of rock at the northern end. Tackled direct and along the crest is quite a challenge. I bailed on a couple of sections figuring it wasn’t the best of times to be risking a visit to hospital. It’s really very narrow and exposed in places and would not be out of place in the Alps.

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A view from one of the pinnacles.

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And looking back to the arête.

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Looking out east, The Wrekin prominent in the distance.

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We carried on past the path we usually take down the east side where we’ve always parked at the fine pub of The Bridges Inn. This time we carried on north with a plan to head down to the west side and explore one of the steep sided valleys (or dingles as they seem to be called here) that carve that side.

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This is Mytton Dingle which looked very fine from above but fancying a longer walk we carried on with a view to descending Crows Nest Dingle.

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After a pointless detour through a field looking for a path that wasn’t there we finally found the right way in to the dingle via a stop on Oak Hill. Worth it for the birds-eye view of Mytton Dingle and the village of Stiperstones.

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It was worth the effort. Crows Nest Dingle was lovely. A narrow valley, green and lush with splashes of colour from the Gorse and Broom.

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It even had a picture-perfect cottage.

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The last few hundred yards were a mess of farm clutter and scabby sheep before some road walking, a wooded path along the base of Oak Hill, a wander through the village (with another wonderful looking pub, sadly closed of course) before a steep grassy field to climb.

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The views across the Shropshire countryside and the dramatic edge of Mytton Dingle were so fine it seemed entirely correct to make another long stop for a cuppa and snacks.

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More road walking and a nice track through the fields brought us to the old mine workings of The Bog. This was the only place I’ve been since lockdown that was even remotely busy. There were several families enjoying the sunshine but unlike other scenes across the UK, everyone was quiet and respectful (and distanced).

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We finished off the walk with a wander through the forest and down to the end of ridge near Nipstone Rock.

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We found a nice grassy hollow for another rest to soak up the warm sunshine.

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All that was left was to wander through Nipstone Woods and across this field. It always seems to have long grass and I love the way it ripples in the breeze.

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Even the short stretch of path back to the car was a delight, winding through the Gorse with views across to the Long Mynd.

Another wonderful warm spring day walk, clocking up 10 miles. Whilst its a little frustrating to be so close to the Welsh Mountains at home, without being able to visit, we are so lucky to have areas like this so close to home. Despite their scenic grandeur they don’t seem to have attracted anything like the hordes that have descended on the more popular honeypots. Its delivered a couple of fine days without ever feeling we were breaking the lockdown constraints. It already seems like a long time ago now that lovely spell of weather seems to have come to an end.

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The Storm Before the Calm   12 comments

Well, storm is overstating things a bit but it gives the idea just how much the weather changed over the late May Bank Holiday weekend. The Saturday was grey, cold, windy with the feel of rain in the air. Eager for some fresh air and exercise we headed out for a brief stroll around Hergest Ridge near Kington, taking in the main sights. First on the list is the small grove of Monkey Puzzle trees.

This time it provided shelter as we were hit by a nasty cold rain shower. I’ve been wearing shorts since lockdown began but this was not a day for shorts!

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At this point we didn’t know what to do as the summit area is pretty exposed and dark clouds were all around. We pressed onwards but after another short dousing the sun came out and we had a glorious half an hour of sunshine, blue skies and clear views.

Looking across to the Gwaunceste and Gladestry Hills – never walked in there.

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The shower receding behind us.

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On to the next of the “sights” the small pool near the summit. Completely dried out after the stunning spring weather.

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The Radnor Hills

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The Trig Pillar

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The true summit.

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And off to Hanter Hill.

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Now I have to admit to being a little naughty here. Whilst the majority of Hergest Ridge and this walk is in England, the col between there and Hanter Hill marks the border with Wales. The short steep, climb out and back to the top meant we were in forbidden territory for 20 minutes. I don’t think anyone saw us and as with all the other times I’ve been up there we didn’t see a soul.

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Herrock Hill and Bradnor Hill.

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And back to Hergest Ridge

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The dis-used racetrack that runs around the summit. No idea what they raced up here.

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And the final sight, the Whet Stone (the one that supposedly walks down to Kington every night for a drink)

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The sunshine belies the fact the clouds were gathering again and we raced down the ridge back to the car. The weather on our next walk was rather different!

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Back Out in the Wider World   15 comments

A couple of weeks back the lockdown rules were eased and it appeared to be ok to drive to go for a walk. Whilst it seemed you could drive as far as you liked we felt that we still needed to keep driving to a minimum and avoid any of the really busy spots. As Wales was still out of bounds the obvious target was the Shropshire Hills around Church Stretton, less than 50 miles away and only an hour in the car.

I planned a route from a less well used lay-by and trying to make sure we planned the route and times to ensure we kept things low key and made social distancing as easy as possible. This meant an early start and taking the tools and supplies for a breakfast in the hills. This plan worked really well and having a freshly cooked bacon and egg butty on the walk is now mandatory and well worth the effort of carrying the stove around all day.

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The parking spot only had a couple of cars in it when we arrived and we headed up into the Hope Bowdler Hills planning to find some shelter (it was still chilly a few weeks back) under the Gaer Stone for breakfast.

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Its a steep climb up to the Gaer Stone but the views were superb. It felt so good to be back out for a proper long walk again.

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Although having said that we stopped after 20 mins for an extended breakfast stop. Enlivened by TBF losing control of the Jetboil components and they rolled down the hill for some distance in varying directions!

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It will become apparent through the post that I love the Shropshire Hills. They make for great high level walking with a real sense of height despite the fact they never rise over 2000 feet. On the east side they are characterised by broad grassy ridges and steep rocky summits like Caer Caradoc. On the west, by the Long Mynd and its steep sided valleys.

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We were just revelling in striding out for the first time in two months and so far had barely seen anyone.

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Caer Caradoc was our next target and a short steep climb had us on its summit ridge, studded with rocky tors.

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Looking back to our first few tops of the Hope Bowdler massif.

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The views from the summit were breathtaking. South to the Marches and Welsh Mountains.

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East to the Clee Hills

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West towards Snowdonia.

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North over the Lawley and the Cheshire Plain, The Wrekin dominating in the distance.

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As befits such expansive views the descent was brutally steep before we turned and headed down to cross the fields (and the A49, the only danger of the day) before picking up the paths across the Long Mynd.

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Looking back to Caer Caradoc.

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There were a succession of wonderful empty, grassy paths that take you south and up towards the top of the Long Mynd. It has many wonderful features of its own but its summit ridge isn’t one of them. Its broad and featureless with a road along the top and was the only point in the day where we saw anything that resembled “crowded”. Whilst Church Stretton and Cardingmill Valley can be busy the rest of the area is vast and sprawling and you rarely see many people outside these two spots.

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So it was today, after a short walk along the road we dropped into the long and sinuous valley of Ashes Hollow and all was quiet again.

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Its a wonderful place and if you stretch your imagination a little it could be one of the Lake District valleys or maybe a quiet glen in eastern Scotland. Despite its beauty and the gorgeous day, we saw only a handful of people on its long twisting course.

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Near the bottom it becomes quite a narrow ravine, a wonderful finish before the campsite and pubs of Little Stretton. Of course, all closed sadly, a cold beer or cider would have gone down well.

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One more hill to go and a steep climb up Ragleth Hill to finish the day (with a breather halfway up).

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A fabulous grassy romp and another favourite section, although after weeks of dry weather already looking brown. Last time I was up here in December it was lush, green and very wet!

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Twin Peaks of the Clee Hills.

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And Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler Hill bringing us back full circle.

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This I believe is Broom. Very similar to Gorse, albeit less prickly. What I’d never seen before was the yellow flowers with bright red patches. All I’ve seen before is just yellow. It was a stunning colour show as we completed our long walk.

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We’d been out for 8 hours by the time we reached the car and checking the distance when I got home it was 15 miles and not far off 3000 feet of ascent. Perhaps a little too much for the first time out in a while but we wanted to make the most of things and these hills are built for long walks.

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It was interesting that with all my cycling my lung capacity and general fitness was markedly better and I was flying up the steep bits. However cycling doesn’t have your legs carrying any load and I was most definitely not hill-fit. I was a wreck for the next few days, struggling round the house while my legs recovered from carrying my ample frame around the hills for 15 miles

Magnificent day though.

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Taking an Evening Constitutional   11 comments

Whilst the gorgeous summer weather continues and we now have chance to head out short distances for a walk we’ve been doing walks after the evening meal. We have a couple of candidates. Merbach Hill, subject of my last post and Garway Hill, which features here.

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This first visit looks clear and warm but in fact it was really quite chilly.

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We even managed to convince TJF to join us!

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Its but a short walk to the summit from the car park. Its quite an isolated spot so the views are expansive. As I’ve mentioned before you can see several counties from up here. Pretty sure I could make out 11 when I checked.

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There were a few people about and we got lucky to find the bench in the sun and out of the wind for a sit down and a summit beer.

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The plan had been to watch the sunset but it was far too cold to wait around.

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No matter. We’d had some exercise and fresh air to end the day on a high and nice to walk together as a family which is pretty rare and special. Something to savour in these dark times.

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Our second visit was just a couple of evenings back. Much warmer this time.

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Views across to the Forest of Dean.

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And to the Welsh Mountains, sadly still out of bounds.

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A close up of May Hill, one of Gloucestershires highest points and a fine hill I climbed back in January when it was cold and everywhere was sopping wet and muddy. Seems an age ago. With its coppice of trees on the summit its very distinctive and can be seen from a distance. I always look for it now when I’m up in the hills.

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Out of luck with the bench seats but the grass was soft and dry and made another fine overview too watch the sun go down – again with a cheeky beer.

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I’m enjoying my evening walks and its becoming a regular event at least once a week now in addition to my cycling exploits.

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Even though we have to use the car to get here I can report its considerably less than 250 miles and my eyesight is perfectly acceptable for driving……

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Posted May 29, 2020 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

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Birthday Hill   18 comments

Pinching this idea from Mark over at Beating The Bounds. In the past whilst not necessarily a birthday hill me and TBF have always tried to do something nice either near to or not necessarily near to our birthdays. Not always a hill but sometimes a coastal walk, some surfing fun or a weekend in Barcelona! This is on the basis that doing nice nice things is better than having nice things although I don’t see any reason why I can’t have both! 🙂

This year clearly doing nice things was going to be limited and I resigned myself to the happiness that comes with having all the family together and maybe a nice meal in the garden. Heading towards the weekend things seemed to look up. Not only was the forecast set fair but there were indications that taking a short drive for a walk was now ok. On that basis ahead of the big day we took a tentative drive up to our nearest eminence, Merbach Hill. We debated long and hard about whether it was the right thing to do or not. In the end we decided as it was only a 15 minute drive and that its a lonely, little walked spot at the best of times it was ok. Even though we’d printed off the revised guidance in case we were challenged, but in the event the few people we have seen up there (socially distanced of course) have been friendly.

On the morning of my Birthday we visited again and parked up at Arthurs Stone, an old burial site of some sort well sited overlooking the Golden Valley.

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Its a really pleasant a quiet walk along the lane, almost no-one drives up here, before heading out across the fields to the access land at the top. We’d come prepared and cooked breakfast, bacon and egg sandwiches and a cuppa near the top overlooking the Black Mountains. Next best thing to being able to hike them.

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I’d been bemoaning the fact that I didn’t know anywhere locally where we could see the spring bluebell show. We only used to come to Merbach Hill in winter when looking for a short walk near home. Its was with some surprise to realise its a fabulous place to see them and the show was truly magnificent.

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The photos don’t really do it justice but the whole woodland was just a sea of blue – well purple actually.

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The lockdown has taught all of us to appreciate the simpler pleasures. Had it not been in place I would likely not have ventured up here at this time of year and missed this wonderful display. A real birthday treat.

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We completed the walk and the day was finished in fine fashion. Cold beers in the garden, a chinese takeaway feast in lieu of a meal, homemade cherry ice cream and a zoom quiz with all my university friends. It was a little sad, as we should have been together on the campsite in the Lakes but it was great fun nonetheless and in a strange way made it even more special for me (even though I don’t really go for making a big party of things on my birthday).

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We’ve been using our extra freedom of the past couple of weeks to head out for local evening walks after tea. A few here from another trip to Merbach Hill when we even had the rare pleasure of TJF with us.

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The evening light is glorious and clear making for wonderful views, if a little chilly at this late hour.

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Merbach Hill has been a little saviour over the past few weeks and I intend to give it more love and attention in the future.

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Posted May 26, 2020 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

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Embracing My Inner Cyclist   14 comments

So with walking seemingly a non starter (other around my local lanes) I needed something else to ensure I stayed fit and healthy. I brought myself a new bike a few years ago with the intention of trying to use on my work at home days to get me out of the house and stay reasonably fit. I’m so glad now that I did as its been a godsend in these difficult times.

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Anyone that knows me will tell you I’m not and never have been an especially keen cyclist. Its always been a means to an end. A cheap form of transport before I had a car or a way to access the mountains when the terrain allowed. Over the past couple of years I’ve found a few rides of around 10-15 miles that I undertake when I have time working at home although its been sporadic especially through winter when cycling in the cold and wet is not much fun.

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On realising it was going to be only form of real exercise for many weeks I took a decision that I should head out every day. So far I’ve managed that apart from one day and since lockdown started I’ve clocked up over 700 miles. Considering I’ve been at work for all that period other than weekends and Bank Holidays and the longest single ride was 35 miles, I’m pretty proud of that. I’ve been trying to make it a habit such that I won’t break it when we are back to something resembling normal. Its my intention to take some form of exercise every single day which you would think is obvious for an outdoors person but when your work takes you out for almost 12 hours a day it can be tough.

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So I’ve been expanding my range of bike rides and taking on some longer routes over weekends. This has obviously been helped by endless days of sunshine and blue sky when cycling is a very much more enticing prospect.

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I stick to my usual 3 or 4 routes during the week fitting in a ride either between daytime meetings or at the end of the day. I’ve also been combining cycling with essential trips to the local butchers and farm shops for supplies. In addition to cycling I’m also determined to give more support to my local businesses who will really need it as the crisis continues. It adds cost but the value for money is the key as the supplies of meat and veg are an order of magnitude better.

These next few photos are taken from a small hill I cycle past regularly. Its called Cockyard Tump and as well as having a great name offers some superb views.

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The actual top is on private land a few metres from the road but I noticed the gate was open and no-one was around so I saw no harm in a quick wander in my bike shoes.

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Looking back towards my home village of Madley.

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I’ve actually enjoyed scouring the maps looking for routes to maximise the almost endless collection of country lanes that a county like Herefordshire provides. These are taken from Bredwardine Bridge over the Wye where we’ve swum in the past.

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I managed to put together a route that circumnavigated Hereford from home using mostly C-class roads, a couple of miles of B-Roads and only about a mile of A-Road. Another route (the longest I’ve done that I was rather proud of)

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Views from the highest point near Aconbury Hill.

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The River Lugg at Moreton. I’d have been underwater on this stretch just a few weeks before yet now the local rivers are almost down to record lows!

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Taking a well earned snack break on the bridge.

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Its taught me to rediscover not only how subtly beautiful the county is but to enjoy the less obvious delights. My first few weeks coincided with the burst of yellow of the Rapeseed fields.

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Crops of bright green waving in the breeze.

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And views I must have cycled past many times and just never stopped to notice. A view to Burton Hill above Weobley (a missing Marilyn I need to climb at some point)

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As my cycling fitness improved I decided to tackle a slightly more ambitious route (most of my local roads are essentially flat). I found a road that climbed to around 300m which didn’t look too steep. I always carry a pair of ordinary trainers on a bike ride in case I have a catastrophic failure and have to walk home so I figured I could walk up the hill if I had to. To say I was chuffed to cycle all the way to the top without a break is an understatement.

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My joy was further enhanced by the route from the top of the “pass”. A glorious high level traverse, rolling along without any major climbs with spectacular views across to the out of bounds Black Mountains.

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It was a warm sunny day, I’d done the hard yards and had a nice long swift descent to look forward to.

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I stopped by the roadside for a snack amongst the wild flowers on a deserted road. I almost liked cycling at that point! 🙂

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I repeated the route a couple of weeks later although in reverse the road up up was much tougher, steeper and longer and I was at my bike fitness limit but still managed the climb.

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Just before the drop I decided to take in a very short walk. There is a missing HUMP up there called Mynydd Ferddin so I hid my bike behind a hedge and took a 15 minute wander to the top.

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It was a much cloudier day but the views were still grand and it was nice to do something without feeling saddle sore.

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No-one around and I suspect this path rarely sees any visitors. Even by Herefordshire standards this is middle of nowhere territory!

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Looking back on my first hill climb for a couple of months.

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Another one of my treasured discoveries from this ride. The stunning Dulas valley near Ewyas Harold.

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I’m still keeping the cycling going although less frequently now that the slight relaxation in lockdown rules is allowing me to head for some walks again. I intend to cycle every day other than when I can fit in a walk. Lets see if I can keep that Lockdown resolution.

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