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Stone-Spotting in (southwest) Herefordshire – around Dorstone 8 June 2011

Herefordshire remains a little visited and largely unspoilt county. No motorways (except a little stretch near Ross on Wye) bring the would-be visitor here, nor is there a seaboard to tempt. And what is there for the stone-head? Well, throughout much of the county you'll find plentiful hillforts, like the excellent examples at Croft Ambrey in the north and British Camp and Midsummer Hill in the Malverns. But there is little visible evidence by way of monuments to mark man's presence from earlier dates. To find those, you have to travel to the outer edges of the county.

The majority of Herefordshire's standing stones and megalithic tombs huddle together in the south-western parts of the county, under the shadow of the steep Black Mountains escarpments than mark the end of England and the beginning of Wales. It's here that I'm heading today, hoping to link two or three standing stones with arguably Herefordshire's most famous prehistoric site of all. Despite growing up in Herefordshire, these are sites that have passed me by (or rather, I them) until now.

The Hereford-Brecon bus drops me at the village of Peterchurch. A winding lane leads westwards, into a landscape of neat fields, occupied by horses and herds of cows. It's very quiet. The lane climbs steadily, before opening out to the first sight of the Black Mountains' north-eastern edge, centred on Black Mountain itself (not, incidentally, the highest point of the range by a long way). Further on, I reach Urishay and pause to admire the ruined Norman chapel and even-more ruined castle. The first of the day's bands of rain sweeps in now, but it's only a shower. As I head on westwards, along straight lanes than I assume are the result of the 18th/19th century Enclosure Acts, the sun is attempting to break through the ragged cloud above. A junction with the Michaelchurch-Llanrosser road brings further extensive views, now centred on Hay Bluff (Pen-y-Beacon). Straight ahead is a no-through road sign, this is my route onwards to the first of today's sites.

King Stone — Fieldnotes

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The lane winds onwards, dropping down into a shady valley before re-emerging into the sunlight. And there, in a field on the left hand side, is Wern Derys stone. Not much changes in this part of the county. I don't know if many other TMA-ers have been to visit this stone since Baza's fieldnotes almost 8 years ago, but what I do know is that there's still a sign saying "Stock – please close the gate", and still no sign saying "bugger off". Thus encouraged, a closer encounter is had. This is a shapely, tapering stone. Herefordshire's tallest, just beating the Queen Stone to it (in the face of not much other competition, it has to be said).

The view of the stone from the lane presents its widest face, clad in yellow lichen. The north and south sides are narrower and face down the valley towards Ysgyrd Fawr (sadly hidden by trees from the stone itself). The whole of the south-western vista is taken up by the Black Mountains' escarpment. It hardly seems likely that the placing was indifferent to such a brooding presence.

King Stone — Images

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<b>King Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>King Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>King Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>King Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>King Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>King Stone</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

A lovely stone, and a great start to the day. Suitably enthused, I head further west along the no-through lane to the decaying Glibes Farm, where a bridleway is shown heading south. This proves to be the one mistaken choice of the day, as the first field is knee-deep in sodden grass (waterproof trousers safely packed away in bag), then the route goes through waist-high nettles and brambles before disappearing into Glibes Wood. Eventually it emerges back onto another metalled lane, but only after some serious undergrowth and a ford. Harrumph. I resolve to stick to the lanes from here on in!

But the sun is coming out again (oh, didn't I mention the temporary downpour?) and I've still got plenty to see.

Mynydd Brith — Fieldnotes

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I head northwest to Llanrosser, where my route runs between the higher ridges of Cefn Hill to the west and Vagar Hill to the east. Keeping on for another mile or so, I reach a sign-board on the left, telling me about Cefn Common. Opposite, a bridleway gate leads onto a permissive track running eastwards.

This little track, running along the south side of Mynydd Brith wood, is the way to approach the Mynydd Brith stone. Sadly, as it comes into view, my first thought is "is that it?" I had expected something taller, especially after the lovely Wern Derys stone whetting my appetite earlier. But this is a much smaller affair, only about four feet tall. SMR has it down as hesitantly "prehistoric?" and I can see why there is doubt. It has clearly been worked. The angles are very sharp, despite weathering. It has a "W" carved on its top (could be an "M" I suppose) and looks like a boundary stone. Oddly, although it is actually on a parish boundary, the reports I have read suggest that this is coincidental and the stone was not known as a boundary marker. Which seems very unlikely. "Disputed antiquity" I think.

But fear not, because it's still worth coming up to see it, for another reason entirely. Walking further ESE along the track, it emerges onto Vagar Hill near a telecoms mast. And it becomes apparent that, unadvertised at all, Vagar Hill is quietly one of the best viewpoints in Herefordshire. At 433m, it hardly towers above the surrounding countryside – even nearby Cefn Hill is higher. But it's situated Just Right. To the south, especially on a day of cloud, sunshine, rain and shadow, the Black Mountains escarpment is spectacular. To the east, the jagged ridge of the Malverns and, inevitably, May Hill (which you seem to be able to see from everywhere). Northwest, the mountains of the Radnor Forest – Great Rhos, Black Mixen and Bach Hill, for once not shrouded in mist and cloud. Further NNW, something more prominent, which must be one of the southern North-Walian ranges. North-east, looking down a straight-as-an-arrow enclosure road, are the South Shropshire hills of Brown Clee and Titterstone Clee. Magnificent. So, the stone may not be the most exciting, but it's still a very worthwhile trek to come up here.

Mynydd Brith — Images

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<b>Mynydd Brith</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Mynydd Brith</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Mynydd Brith</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Mynydd Brith</b>Posted by thesweetcheat<b>Mynydd Brith</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Pen-y-Beacon — Images

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<b>Pen-y-Beacon</b>Posted by thesweetcheat


My route takes me down the enclosure road, dropping steeply now down towards the Golden Valley, and Dorstone. Below Common Bach a decent view of Moccas Park opens out, and the heavily wooded Dorstone Hill can be seen. Somewhere down there is also the Cross Lodge long barrow. I skirt the edge of Dorstone village, as I'll be coming back here later to catch the bus. But first I have a long uphill trek, to get to what will now be my final site of the day. I had intended to include the Gannols Farm stone, but tired legs and the prospect of walking along a busier road put me off. Out of the village, a surprisingly busy and very steep byroad takes me up Dorstone Hill. Over the crest of the hill, another, even narrower land runs north-west. This is the route to get to Arthur's Stone.

Dorstone Hill — Images

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<b>Dorstone Hill</b>Posted by thesweetcheat

Arthur's Stone — Fieldnotes

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And suddenly it's right there, the capstone the first thing to appear over a little hump in the road. There's a small motorhome parked up alongside, and a chap sitting quietly by the chamber. We say hello and then I get on with being utterly impressed with this place. First, the monument itself. What an astonishing size the capstone (now broken) is, what a feat of engineering it was to have built this. It's supported, table-top like, on a number of upright slabs, which look barely big enough to cope – but obviously do. A couple of upright stones at the south end may mark a false portal, while an entrance passage (roofless) leads away from the north of the chamber before turning to the west. As I do, to be even more awestruck by the views. I don't think the photos and descriptions I have read really prepared me for the views from this monument. The Black Mountains north-eastern escarpment fills the horizon, from Ysgyryd Fawr (The Skirrid or Holy Mountain) to the south, right up to Hay Bluff (Pen-y-Beacon) at the northern tip. Wow. No-one is telling me that this monument wasn't sighted with this in mind – particularly when you realise that the western curve of the passage faces Hay Bluff and the orientation of the chamber faces Ysgyryd Fawr.

Obligatory photos taken, I chat to the guy with the van. He tells me he's staying here tonight, with the prospect of sunrise and sunset to look forward to across this wonderful landscape. Lucky man. He lays a bet that I will be the only person he sees here today. As I haven't seen anyone but him for about three hours (cars excepted), I'm prepared to believe this. Then, while we chat, another couple come in a car, take some pictures and leave. Then another couple, who tell us that they've just been to see the lovely (and very pagan inspired) Saxon church and Kilpeck. They also come and go. It rains and the chamber makes for a neat shelter for a few wet minutes. The sun shines again. Van man tells me he intends to spend to summer in his van, crossing Wales to look for interesting places. Maybe we'll meet again!

After probably an hour, I leave him to his (possible) solitude. I take the footpath straight down off the hill, a much more direct route back to Dorstone. Which turns out to be a lovely village, with an attractive village green and pub. While I wait for the bus, a car pulls up, from which a bloke emerges with a working Victorian three-wheeled bicycle (well, tricycle). He got it in exchange for some stone-walling work he'd just done.

Herefordshire, little visited. Largely unspoilt. Long may it stay that way.

Arthur's Stone — Images

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thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
9th June 2011ce
Edited 10th June 2011ce


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