Wye Valley AONB

The picturesque lower Wye Valley has attracted tourists and walkers for at least 250 years. But 50 years ago it was officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). See the photo of  Forgotten Valley, Newland, Wye.
It was of little surprise that the parts of the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean were proposed by Lord Bledisloe and others in 1931 when the Government first considered setting up ‘National Parks and other similar areas in England and Wales’. However, it was not until 1971 when the 126 square miles of the Wye Valley, from Mordiford just east of Hereford down to Chepstow, were officially designated. Thus after 40 years of wrangling the 28th AONB came into being. It remains unique as the only cross-border Protected Landscape in the family of 13 National Parks and 46 AONBs in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This outstanding landscape offers so much for walkers. There are the long-distance walks, including (probably the best) stretches of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail and the Wye Valley Walk, the start of the Wales Coast Path and Wysis Way, part of the Herefordshire Trail, and more. Hundreds of miles of footpaths, tracks, and lanes through ancient woodland, fertile farmland, or along the Wye lead to endless opportunities for tranquil walks and picturesque views. Many are promoted with printed or downloadable route guides and leaflets. The Walkers are Welcome towns of Chepstow and Ross-on-Wye, with also Coleford preparing to join, make planning and visiting even more pleasant. They lay on local Walking Festivals and organised walking groups regularly lead guided walks and step out throughout the year.

Anybody walking in the Wye Valley AONB is literally following in the footsteps of our ancestors. We know paleolithic hunter-gathers lived in the caves on The Doward. The iron age Silures tribes obviously found the dramatic topography of the Wye Valley outstanding for incorporating into their hill forts, likewise for King Offa with his Dyke builders and guards marching up and down the valley and the Norman lords building their castles and overseeing the locals. The Cistercian monks found the tranquility and productivity of the Wye Valley perfect for their second monastery in Britain (their first in Wales). The complex geology gave the area powerful streams, abundant forest, and copious minerals from which early industrialists forged the crucible of the industrial revolution, while on the rich red soils and fertile floodplain a wealth of crops and livestock grew, which could all be traded up and down the Wye. Meanwhile, artists and writers discovered picturesque, sublime, and romantic views in the Wye Valley from the mid-1700s onwards to this day.

If you haven’t visited the Wye Valley you are missing one of the nation’s most outstanding national landscapes. If you have been here before, you’ll know you have walked in mind & body with William Wordsworth, who wrote in 1798 ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour’
“O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!”

Chepstow https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-c-d/waw/174/
Ross-on-Wye https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-o-z/waw/49/

Wotton-Under-Edge Walking Festival to be rearranged

The annual Wotton-Under-Edge Walking Festival was due to take place between May 13th and 16th.

It has been decided to rearrange the dates to allow the easing of Coronavirus restrictions.

A decision on the rearranged date will be made in early April with June or September being the most likely slots.

The organisers say ” We hope some of you can join us on our walks which are in a beautiful part of the Cotswolds.  You can follow us on our Facebook page for more updates.”

Spilsby Litter Pick

Two Members of the Spilsby Walkers are Welcome  group did a litter pick on Saturday morning on 20th February and managed to fill 2 large sacks in just 30 minutes.  They  covered a small area on A16 in Spilsby filling their bags with bottles(a few empty vodka ones), cans and picked up and deposited at least 20 bags of dog poo in the appropriate bin. There are still a number of those in the hedgerows.  They say that  the A16 still looks like a dumping ground but every little effort helps. Normally there would be 8 pickers and they  could have made a real inroad, however, lockdown has prevented that.
Take a look at their efforts

Cancellation of Newton Stewart Walking Festival 2021

The decision has been taken to cancel this May’s Newton Stewart Walking Festival due to the continuing Covid crisis. The event had been scheduled to take place between 7th and 13th May 2021.
Chair of the group of volunteers who organise the event, Joan Mitchell, said:
“The committee has regretfully had to take the decision to cancel Newton Stewart Walking Festival for another year. The safety of our walkers and leaders, and protection of the wider community has to take priority. The festival would, of course, need to adhere to all Covid related guidelines and regulations which were in place at the time and this led us to the conclusion that the only prudent option was to cancel the festival for 2021.”
“We have been in touch with our supporters reassuring them that the walking festival will return in 2022, Covid permitting, as we are in a sound financial position and our enthusiasm is undimmed. It’s been gratifying to have had responses from friends from around the country expressing their support and regrets. In the meantime, local residents can continue to enjoy the many local walking routes which exist around Newton Stewart and elsewhere, in line with current regulations.”

The photo by R. Peace  shows  walkers enjoying  the spectacular views from Cairnsmore of Fleet during the  Newton Stewart Walking Festival 2019More information from Joan Mitchell, Chair, Newton Stewart Walking Festival Committee,  joan@bagbie.co.uk

Talgarth Walking Festival- cancelled

Talgarth WaW say “We regret that we have decided to cancel the 2021 Walking Festival because of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, and the uncertainties about restrictions. We have decided to aim to organise the Festival on the first May Bank Holiday 2022, assuming that restrictions will have been lifted.
We are sorry to disappoint you, but hope that we may see you in 2022. In the meantime, stay safe.”

That Was A Year That Was

Heritage Trails and Remembrance Day Walk –

It was with frustration and sadness that the seventh annual Corsham Walking Festival scheduled for last June had to be cancelled and postponed, especially as the walks programme, the website and brochures were finalised before the first national lockdown. The Walking Festival was to be a highlight of several weeks of public events centred on Corsham which all were all sadly cancelled.

However, as more Corsham residents were required to look to the local paths and byways for their daily exercise, the completion of a local Heritage Trails project last April provided a welcome alternative to ‘lockdown’.

The Heritage trails proved extremely popular as gyms and sporting clubs were forced to close and walking became one of the few means of exercise readily and locally available for families to get involved with.

The Project was developed to encourage the local community and visitors to appreciate the historical environment and experience the natural beauty of the North West Wiltshire countryside.

The first part of the project involved improving the Public Rights of Way (PRoW) and path furniture: stiles, gates, waymarker posts and signs. In total 55.48 miles of PRoWs are included in the trails, resulting in a significant number of repairs and installations to make the trails accessible to all. Work included the installation of additional waymarker posts and the replacement of some of the stiles with kissing gates (See pictures).

The second part of the project saw the design of eight trail leaflets so that walkers can learn about local heritage and places of interest as they explore the trails ranging between four and ten miles. The improved paths, signage and the leaflets have inspired many more people to explore the area beyond the town, including nearby villages of Biddestone, Box and Colerne and live their cars in Corsham and use paths instead of roads.

The eight Heritage Trails can be viewed and downloaded from the Corsham Walking Festival website at: http://corshamwalkingfestival.org.uk/more/heritage-trails/

Remembrance Day November 2020 Commemorated by walkers –

Last November, the pandemic restrictions changed the way the town was able to mark Remembrance Day. The British Legion cancelled all parades at local war memorials and instead, a group of local ex-Service walkers walked 17 miles between the Town and Village War Memorials and Commonwealth War Graves sites around Corsham, laying British Legion Remembrance Crosses to commemorate the fallen.

Another eleven walkers from the St Bart’s Walking Group laid crosses on a ten-mile walk at two Commonwealth War Grave locations on the graves of the fallen of the two World Wars.

In all, crosses were laid at 5 War Memorials, 55 Commonwealth War Graves and 30 Service graves: a poignant and fitting way to combine walking with respect for those who fell in combat. It is now planned that this will become an annual event.

Report from Barry Cox and Jane Dezonie, Corsham Walking Festival Committee

Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail 1971-2021

The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, truly a cross border National Treasure, celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. On its journey from sea to sea, the Trail passes through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a National Park:  

The Wye Valley AONB, with stunning views of the River Wye and the iconic view of Tintern Abbey from Devils Pulpit. 

The Shropshire Hills AONB, where you are in the true heartland of the Trail following the ‘Switchbacks’ and never far from Offa’s Dyke itself and one of the hardest day sections of the route. 

The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB, this section takes you from Chirk Castle to the sea over numerous heather-clad hills and stunning views of the Vale of Clywd.

The Brecon Beacons National Park, and the 10-mile traverse of Hatterrall Ridge, encountering the highest point on the Trail and at a consistent height of around 1700ft, with yet more breath-taking views into England and Wales.

And for good measure, a brief detour off the Trail, on an alternative route, will let you experience the miracle of engineering by Thomas Telford, that is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct AKA the ‘waterway in the sky’.

The Trail is a spectacular path that winds itself through the ‘Breath-taking Borderlands’ of England and Wales for 177 miles between Chepstow on the River Severn to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. The two ends both being Walkers are Welcome towns, and in between, on or near the Trail, we have Montgomery, Bishops Castle, Clun, Knighton, and Kington which are also Walkers are Welcome towns.

As well as Offa’s Dyke itself, after which the Trail gets its name, the route passes through or by countless other historical sites, such as Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey, Monnow Bridge, White Castle, Beacon Ring, Dinas Bran and numerous hillforts in the Clwydian Range the largest being Penycloddiau.

The path was officially opened in Knighton by Lord Hunt (of Everest fame) on July 10th, 1971. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the work of creating and completing the route involved a pioneering partnership effort by government agencies, local authorities  and the volunteers of the then newly formed Offa’s Dyke Association

Over the last 50 years, the Offa’s Dyke Path has become one of Britain’s best-loved walking routes, and an important mainstay of the local tourism economy. During that time, hundreds of thousands of visitors have discovered a unique walking experience which combines spectacular landscapes and wildlife, the extraordinary history of the Welsh Marches (most obviously represented by the ancient bank and ditch of Offa’s Dyke itself built by Offa, King of Mercia 757-796), and the warm welcome to be found in the market towns, villages and rural communities along the route.

Today, the care of the path is jointly funded and strategically managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Natural England (NE) and their local authority and national park partners. Practical management and repair are undertaken by the relevant local authorities (Denbighshire (Flintshire), Wrexham, Powys, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Brecon Beacons National Park, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire Councils).

The whole route is undertaken in about 12 days, as set out in the official guide-book, but it can also be enjoyed in short sections or day walks, or incorporated into many circular walks.

You can experience many sections of it by joining in one of the numerous Walking Festivals along the route, many hosted by the Walkers are Welcome Towns. See our What’s on.

To find out what’s happening during our 50th Anniversary Year visit the website https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offas-dyke-path/

Photo shows The Kymin

Brecon Beacons Geopark

What attracts walkers to the Brecon Beacons? Is it the same thing that attracts much of the weather – the mountains? The National Park is very much the three-dimensional landscape; wide open breathable spaces sure, but beyond that, it’s got depth too. Lofty peaks above and deep caves below. What’s not to like?

When we set foot, map in hand, to follow the trails from the Walkers are Welcome towns of Crickhowell, Talgarth, or Llandovery we’re undertaking our own explorations of this protected space. No matter that many have trodden these trails before – we each come with our own knowledge and interests; we stride out on different days in different conditions in different seasons, in varying lights. That means we can encounter things that nobody has seen previously – a view revealed through the mist, a fiery sunrise, a flashing wing of plovers, a fresh tumble of stone.

But even beyond this, there is something more we can do to enhance our appreciation of what we enjoy on the day. It’s reaching out for the stories behind the landscape and its day-to-day dramas.

What the Fforest Fawr Geopark has done these last few years is emphasise the importance of the fourth dimension in this landscape. That of time, something which hangs thickly around these hills. But how do we reach out to claim it as part of our experience?

We might start by remembering that behind every hump and every hollow, there’s a story to be told. It may be one for the geologist to tell – of moraines and sinkholes (we have both aplenty here), or it may be for the archaeologist to relate – of Norman mottes or of borrow pits or perhaps for the ecologist to explain – anthill-bedecked grassland, undisturbed for centuries or maybe those unassuming bee holes.

Not so far from Llandovery in one of the lesser-visited parts of the Geopark is a tract of moorland over which history has been drawn and re-drawn. Around 1800 years ago Roman soldiers made an overnight stop at Y Pigwn. The legacy of several hours’ work on their part remains with us nearly two millennia later as the giant playing card imprint of their ‘marching camp’. Much later, just two centuries ago, in fact, quarry workers followed the geology and extracted myriad ‘tilestones’ from this same ground to roof local farmhouses. Their linear legacy cuts across the Roman one.

You need not venture far from Talgarth to journey some 400 million years in time. Within the Old Red Sandstone of the Black Mountains are fossilised lime-rich soils from that distant time; they are now hard bands of rock over which falls like Pwll-y-wrach now plunge.

And if you should find yourself in Crickhowell, look south to the great limestone cliffs of Craig-y-cilau – if this place had not been beneath an equatorial sea 330 million years ago, they would not be there. And if they had not been there, then south Wales may not have been one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution.

So time is key amongst these hills. Brush up beforehand or tag along with an expert; every mile walked through this landscape can brim with meaning if you have an eye to look and a curious mind to ponder on what it holds and where it has come from.

    Alan Bowering, Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer

Introducing Whitchurch, Hampshire

the ‘Town on the Test’ and gateway to the walking trails of the glorious North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Over a hundred years ago the Star newspaper reported: “Whitchurch is in Hampshire. People who live in it call it a town. People who live out of it call it a village. It is about as big as a good-sized pocket handkerchief”. Well, small it may be, but in 1890 Whitchurch wrote its name into the history books when eighty citizens won a famous ‘Victory for Liberty’ at the High Court of Justice, a victory that set down laws granting the legal right of all citizens to demonstrate peaceably.
Whitchurch is still Hampshire’s smallest town and we venture to say there are few towns that can boast a river as picture-perfect as the world-famous River Test chalk stream that flows through the centre of Whitchurch. Paper for the first Bank of England notes was produced here, paper washed in the crystal-clear waters of the Test, and Whitchurch also boasts Britain’s only working Silk Mill, still operating in its original building. The Mill continues to weave commercially on Victorian looms and is now a popular visitor attraction; it is just one of the five mill buildings representing their industrial past that you will see on the waymarked ‘Mill Trail’, see the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLqv2ZtrcU
This part of North Hampshire is a tale of two halves. The Whitchurch Mill Trail and the attractive thatched villages to the SW nestle in a landscape of species-rich water meadows and chalk streams offering a gentle walking experience for all age groups and many of the villages have excellent traditional pubs, so lunch is well catered for. From the square, the land rises steeply meeting the North Wessex Downs on the northern edge of town. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where the Downs are the Ups, is a landscape of ancient flinty tracks along open chalk ridges and steep valleys cut through by chalk streams and winterbournes. This is Hampshire walking country without the crowds…

Take a step back in time and follow the Wayfarers Trail along the ‘rooftop’ of Hampshire where burial mounds, hill forts and ancient field systems provide evidence of early human occupation. Be sure to listen out for the call of the skylarks as you pass over Watership Down, made famous in Richard Adam’s book of the same name; Richard Adams was a resident of Whitchurch until his death in 2016 and look out for Highclere Castle or Downton Abbey as it has become known. The Wayfarers ends on ‘Gallows Hill’ (complete with gibbet) and here you can pick up the Test Way, where it is downhill all the way to Southampton Water. A short ten-minute bus ride from Whitchurch links with the Test Way at Harewood Forest, home to a large native deer population.

It is possible to explore the area using public transport. Andover bus station has connecting rural services to a number of the villages and trails. King Alfred’s Winchester – 30 minutes by bus; Salisbury – 40 minutes by train (onward buses to Stonehenge) and Whitchurch is just an hour by train from London.
Walk new paths in 2021; discover somewhere new https://whitchurch.org.uk/

River Test, Whitchurch Mill Trail courtesy of Chris Watts

North Pennines AONB

The oft-repeated phrase “It’s grim up north”, could not be further from the truth. Yes, the stunning landscapes and heather-glad moorland can be desolate walking in winter driving rain, but they are exhilarating, dramatic, tranquil, and peaceful with exceptional wildlife habitats, offering some of the most unspoilt countryside in England. This is home to the North Pennines AONB designated in 1988 and the second largest AONB. Reflecting the geological significance, it is also a UNESCO Global Geopark with a legacy of mining and quarrying for minerals and stone which allows for picturesque timeless cottages.

This is the northernmost section of the Pennine range and the AONB lies between Carlisle to the west and Darlington to the east. Bounded to the north by the Tyne Valley and to the south by Stainmore Gap. There are four accredited Walkers are Welcome towns in this area. Alston Moor and Middleton-in-Teesdale which lie towards the centre of the park with Brampton on the north-west edge and Kirkby Stephen teetering on the southern edge.
WaW Northern England towns https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-n-england/

The lack of light pollution and wide-open vistas makes for amazing night skies. Here you will find some of the best places for stargazing with 16 Dark Sky Discovery sites within easy reach of WaW towns. This is the perfect family evening activity for autumn and winter months with the added predictable meteor showers, northern lights and moon phases. Anywhere within the AONB is suitable away from streetlights. For added information see
https://www.northpennines.org.uk/what_we_do/dark-skies/ and the individual towns.

The higher you go around Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria and the Upper Eden Valley away from the centre on a clear night you will see have a great dark skies experience. They have just produced a new booklet Upper Eden Dark Skies available in the Upper Eden Visitor Centre and other outlets. This includes local recommended sites just out of town, identifying constellations and what else to look for and how, even the local bat population has a mention. Easy family evening walks are included. Near this small town is Tan Hill known for the remote highest pub in Britain and the exceptional displays of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

Middleton-in-Teesdale, Durham, offers magical experiences for walkers coupled with the beauty of the universe. There is a new major observatory at Grassholme Reservoir https://www.grassholmeobservatory.com/ just outside the town. Businesses offer Dark Skies Friendly venues including special Stargazing packages with walks featured on Middleton’s website. Along the road towards Alston and High Force waterfall (pictured above), you will find the AONBs Bowlees Visitor Centre where they hold exhibitions and participation events for all the family.

Alston Moor, Cumbria is a quieter part of the county, off the beaten track, so different to the nearby Lake District with stunning scenery and lots of Open Access Land of England’s last wilderness. There are usually seasonal special events to book. Just imagine watching shooting stars over Epiacum Roman Fort (Whitley Castle), considered to be the best-preserved fort ramparts in the entire Roman Empire.
Brampton, Cumbria consider their most stunning countryside is up above Castle Carrock and Talkin villages, at the start of the Geltsdale Trail, Jockey Shield and Low Hynam. There are hopes that Talkin Tarn Country Park will be given designated dark skies status being such a special place for viewing. A little further is RSPB Geltsdale a Dark Sky Discovery Site, well known for their birdlife and walks as well as stars, “it has a really wild feel to it” say Brampton. You might think of an evening stroll along with the wonder of Hadrian’s Wall.
Not to be outdone, there is lots of Dark Skies activity in and around other WaW towns including in the Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains of Wales with members Devils Bridge, Lam-peter Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llandysul & Pont Tyweli and Bro Tregaron See https://www.thecambrianmountains.co.uk/discover-dark-skies

Photo: Orion Constellation by Gary Lintern Photography

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