Sunday 5 February 2017

Winter Delights at Cefn Ila

What a great day for walking : I love Cefn Ila - I was born here near Usk. 

It's now owned by the Woodland Trust - they planted a new wood here about 10 years ago - 36,000 trees which are now starting to mature. Lottery funding secured last year has enabled improvement to paths at the lower end near the car park to make it more accessible for people who have difficulty walking on uneven ground. 

The little video I've made today shows what a great place it is to go for a walk and you can read my earlier blogs for more detailed background info on Cefn Ila (links to these below).

Previous posts on Cefn Ila

A Boxing Day Ramble at Cefn Ila

A Summer Evening Stroll at Cefn Ila

Cefn Ila's Secret Garden

Sunday 29 January 2017

The Magical Monnow

I haven't had time to do much on Usk Chirps by way of new entries recently, but I aim to change that in  2017 and try and add something at least once a month in the form of either a written article and photos, or a video,  or even a combination of all three!

To kick things off here's a little video I've made of a walk done recently on the Monmouthshire/ Herefordshire border in the beautiful Monnow Valley between Skenfrith Bridge and Tregate Bridge a distance of about 8 miles there and back.

Sunday 22 November 2015

In Search of Cleddon Falls

After a very busy summer with no time to write up anything for Usk Chirps, it feels good tapping away this morning to share a beautiful walk that we did yesterday on a very cold but fabulously sunny November day.

Ruck sack packed with sandwiches and coffee we set off to explore Beacon Hill above the village of Trellech near Monmouth. A largely circular walk of probably around 6 miles+ in total, took us across open heath land, forestry tracks and paths and part of the high level Wye Valley Walk in search of Cleddon Falls. Incidentally,  this area is not only great for walking but mountain biking and horse riding, with lots of trails and bridle paths open to horses and bikes as well as walkers - see link at the end of the post with more info.

We started at Beacon View car park (location info given at the end of this post) which provided amazing views across the wonderful spire of Trellech Church and rolling Monmouthshire countryside, to The Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, glittering in the bright sunshine with a dusting of snow (the first this winter), on their caps in the bright sun. Standing in the biting north easterly wind pulling on wind proofs, hats and gloves, we could clearly see The Sugar Loaf, Skirrid and Blorenge with Table Mountain, Pen Carreg Calch and even Pen-y-Fan in the very far distance.

View from Beacon Hill  car park

The trails are way marked from the car park with red and yellow arrows and you have the option of doing walks of much shorter length than the one we chose. We followed the trail in a clockwise direction heading left up the forest track, initially on the outer edges of the red trail which takes you to the Beacon Hill View point.

Beacon Hill View Point

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            From here we followed the track through a gate and down over the heath land through a gate and across a forestry road to join the yellow marked trail through the forest.

Follow the yellow marked trail bearing right along the path at the bottom along the edge of the forest then turning left opposite a wooden and metal gate on your right (which would take you back on to the heath and will eventually be your return route). Continue down this track following the yellow arrows which will eventually take you to the right into a narrower, muddier track through the trees.

Keep going along this path which forms part of the Wye Valley Walk and you will emerge on to a wider forest trail.  As you walk along the trail look out for an opening to your left which takes you to The Duchess's Ride View Point so named after the Duchess of Beaufort who is said to have enjoyed riding in her carriage along this route.

This view point perched high above the Wye Valley, provides stunning panoramic views above, over and down the river towards the Severn Estuary and a convenient bench on which to sit and eat sandwiches, drink coffee and contemplate the beautiful view.

After a welcome refreshment rest, we headed back out on to the trail turning left. To the left the stunning views high across the Wye Valley continued through the avenue of Scots Pine and Beech trees.

In this section of the walk the trail is littered with 'pudding stone' a type of sandstone embedded with quartz pebbles which was once quarried and used extensively for building walls and manufacturing mill grind stones in the local area.

After about 1/2 a mile you reach a cross roads of tracks and it was here we left the way marked trail taking an unmarked track to the left - unmarked but as our Ordnance Survey Map showed, still part of the official, Wye Valley Walk. This is quite an amazing track passing through Cuckoo Wood with beech and oak trees (part of the Duchess's Ride). It was very probably originally a quarry stone transportation route for extracting the pudding stone. All the way it is edged with ancient looking moss covered stone walls and boulders. Could this be one of the paths William Wordsworth walked when he visited the Wye Valley in 1793? (See Wordsworth Walk link below).

At the end of the track you come to a B&B on the left hand side and we suddenly realised we had accidentally stumbled on 'Sarah's Place' (aka Falls Cottage), owned and run by our friends Steve and Sarah Widdett. Sadly Steve and Sarah were not at home (or maybe they hid when they saw us!) when we knocked, but it is clear their charming property provides a warm, friendly haven for walkers, mountain bikers and other 'outdoor loving' types. It is dog friendly and positioned in a superb location for access to everything connected with The Wye Valley, Monmouthshire and The Forest of Dean. Be sure to check it out on the link here. Sarah's Place B&B.

Sarah's Place B+B - well worth a look if you want to stay in the area

As you pass Sarah's Place look out for the quirky weather forcasting stone on the wall which will be sure to give you a smile as it did us! You become aware, as you reach the metalled lane at the end of the track, of the sound of roaring water and you realise that the original name for Sarah's Place is Falls Cottage for a good reason as across the lane,  tumbling down the very steep, wooded hillside into the valley below is a beautiful waterfall. We had found Cleddon Falls, running fast and furious after the very heavy rainfall over the last week.

After admiring the wonderful falls we retraced our steps past Sarah's Place and back along the stone strewn track to rejoin the forest trail until we came to the forest cross roads once more. This time we went straight across the track past a bench on the right, to follow the yellow arrow marked path which meanders up through the woods - follow this track until you reach a wider forest track and go straight across and look out for the metal and wooden gates on the left (you passed these earlier) and go through them up on to the heath land track. Just off the track to the right you will see a boggy pool - Dewi enjoyed a swim in there.

Continue up the track and you will come to a crossroads with a bench where we stopped for another coffee and to admire the view across the heath towards the Malvern Hills - you can just about see them outlined beyond the nearer ridge in the very far distance .

From here you have about 1/2 a mile left to walk to the car park. Continuing straight on up the track, through the gates at the top and going straight on through the wood where there was lots of fallen timber after the storm and forestry operations before descending down the trail to the Beacon Hill car park and its lovely view once more.

More Info

This is a great walk for dogs as they can run free for most of the walk. However, be mindful of wildlife and be aware there may be ponies grazing on the heath and take care at Cleddon Falls where there are very steep drops.

Start Location
From the B4293 in Trellech take the road signed ‘Llandogo, Catbrook, Tintern’ and immediately take the left turn. After ½ mile take the first left turn. Go up this narrow lane Beacon View Forestry Commission car park is ¼ mile on the right.

Beacon Hill Nature Reserve - Gwent Wildlife Trust

Beacon Hill - Wikipedia

Wordsworth Walk

Tread and Trot Trails - this area is great for walking, mountain biking  and horse riding with lots of trails and bridle paths open to horses and bikes as well as walkers.

Sarah's Place B&B

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Spring On The River Usk

Just a short poem inspired by and a few photos taken on my walk along the banks of the River Usk this lunch time 29 April. I am truly blessed to have all this on my doorstep.

Spring on The Usk

Spring unfurls its cloak of green
Along the wooded banks and paths.
Birds sing and dart.
Lambs call to watchful mothers.
Swans glide sublime, as ducks squabble
And dogs plunge and swim.
Fishers cast their lines to hungry trout
In deep pools reflecting sky.
The scent of wild garlic floats on a carpet of white, pink and blue
As untended, natures garden reveals and delights
The happy wanderer on The Usk.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

The promise of Bluebells - Coed-y-Bwynydd

This weekend I enjoyed a ride out with friends on my horse Rowan past the beautifully restored medieval farm House at Allt-y-Bela which, at this time of the year is surrounded by a breath taking carpet of snowdrops. Seeing the drifts of snowdrops in the woodland around Allt-y-Bela, reminded me that Spring is not far away and in a couple of months we can look forward to the appearance of another of my favourite wildflowers the bluebell.

We are very lucky in Monmouthshire to have many ancient deciduous woodlands in which bluebells thrive. There are numerous sites you can visit and walk in late Spring, taking in their heady beauty and scent, which I'm not ashamed to admit, has been known to move me to tears. One of the best known sites with  free and open public access  to see bluebells is at Coed-y-Bwynydd.

Coed-y-Bwnydd (which translates as ‘wood of the gentry’ from the Welsh Language) is situated high on a wooded promontory, 196m above sea level, overlooking the Usk Valley and village of Bettws Newydd close to the Clytha Estate between Usk and Raglan.

A plaque at the entrance to Coed-y-Bwynydd states that the site was 

“Presented to the National Trust by Captain Geoffrey Crawshay in memory of Sgt R.A.Owens, Royal Air Force, of Llanfair Kilgeddin, killed on active service on August 7th 1943 aged 21.”

A popular destination for walkers, Coed-y-Bwynydd is most famous for the carpet of bluebells which emerge there each Spring, but there are also many other wild flowers here including primroses, orchids and red campion. Photos taken April 2014.

From Coed-y-Bwynydd and the lanes approaching on either side, particularly the lane leading down to Clytha, there are beautiful views over the surrounding countryside across the Usk Valley towards the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.

The views across the Usk Valley are truly stunning.

As well as being a renowned beauty spot Coed-y-Bwnydd is

an important archaeological site with the largest and possibly best-preserved Iron Age hill fort in Monmouthshire.  In fact, the ramparts are so well preserved that the fort’s importance is nationally recognised by its status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM)

More than 2,000 years ago this was a large, multivallate Iron Age camp  proected by a series of manmade ditches/ ramparts and a massive earth mound at the entrance and by the very steep natural incline, particularly on the north western sides overlooking the Usk Valley. Excavations between 1969 and the 1970s revealed four roundhouses, and evidence that the fort was occupied by Silurian tribesmen over a considerable period of time. Information boards at the entrance to Coed-y-Bwynydd show a plan of the site as it would have been.

Archdeacon William Coxe  wrote about the 'ancient encampment' of Coed-y-Bwynydd on his tour of Monmouthshire in 1801. Like modern day visitors he was clearly very taken with its position.

"The encampment of Coed y Bunedd is formed on the summit of a commanding eminence, at the extremity of Clytha hills, about four miles from Usk, and to the West of the turnpike road leading to Abergavenny; it is a small camp of 480 yards in circumference within the ramparts, but of considerable strength. The western and northern sides being precipitous are bounded by a single entrenchment; the other sides are fortified with triple ditches and ramparts. The entrance is covered by a tumulus which rendered the access extremely difficult, and appears to have been fortified at each extremity with towers, of which the foundations still remain. It was originally strengthened with walls, and many of the stones lie scattered on the sides and tops of the ramparts. ......... The Western side overhangs the meandering Usk, and commands a beautiful view of the northern parts of the county, which will amply repay the traveller for the trouble of ascending the summit."

He provides us with  a scale drawing of the site

The deep defence ditches can still be clearly seen today.

Finding Coed-y-Bwynydd

Map Ref: SO365068 Landranger Map Number: 161 (click on map reference to view map)

Be warned, the approach whether from Clytha or Bettws Newydd, is up a steep narrow lane with limited passing places and very limited room for parking on the roadside adjacent to the entrance marked with the National Trust sign.

More Info

Best time to see bluebells and other spring flowers – April through May

Dogs permitted under close control – grazing animals in surrounding fields

National Trust – Coed –y-Bwyndd

Megalithic Portal – Coed-y-Bwynydd

Wikipedia – Hill Fort

Multivallate Hillforts

A Historical Tour Through Monmouthshire - Archdeacon William Coxe 1801