St Briavels

Twenty-two members met at St Briavels for the walk, while another regular, Toby, was again present to represent the canine fraternity. There was a true carnival atmosphere in evidence as well, albeit that (for most) the annual village festivities that were competing for attention and car parking spaces would have come and gone by the time of their return.

The splendid Norman fortress of St Briavels Castle provided the backdrop for the walk’s commencement. During its long and varied history the castle  has had a succession of aristocratic associations, been the leading centre for the production of crossbow bolts and a notorious debtors’ prison before settling into its present role as a Youth Hostel under the auspices of English Heritage.

Much of the walk was to follow the route, in reverse, of the Wye Forest 50, Bristol & West’s tri-annual challenge walk next scheduled for the 14-15th April 2018. And so it was that the group headed northwards to Newland where the morning break was taken in the grounds of All Saints Church, traditionally and affectionately known as the 'Cathedral of the Forest'.

From Newland, it was onwards, via Coleford, Berry Hill and the Forest Holidays’ cabins at Christchurch, to Highmeadow Woods before picking up the Wysis Way and following its undulations westwards to the lunch spot adjacent to Near Hearkening Rock and the Suck Stone. These are two of the ‘Staunton Stones’ associated with the nearby village, the former reputedly given its name by local gamekeepers who used its concave cliff face to detect poachers in their woods at night and the latter the largest piece of detached puddingstone in England and Wales estimated to weigh 14,000 tonnes.

By this time walk was also back on the Wye Forest 50 route, and the shared route was followed onwards to the The Kymin overlooking Monmouth. Sadly, misty conditions meant the claim that nine counties can be seen from this spot couldn’t be fully tested.

After a brief detour to admire the Naval Temple, the ‘route bagging’ continued with progression turning southwards now in tandem with the Offa’s Dyke Path. This was followed to Redbrook, where the association with the Wye Forest 50 route was brought to its conclusion, before the ascent into Highbury Wood led to an impromptu afternoon break to allow folks time to regroup and recover.

From Bigsweir Bridge there was one more sustained climb to return the remaining faithful to where it had all began at St Briavels.