Chapel Hill and Penterry: a rethink

My friends in Tintern are keen to do something about the ruined church of St Mary, Chapel Hill. It’s a pretty little Victorian Gothic building, in ruins since deconsecration and a disastrous fire, though the churchyard is still in the charge of the Church in Wales. They are also keen to revive Tintern as a centre for pilgrimage. It’s a key location on the Cistercian Way – of course –  but there’s also lots of scope for local pilgrimage. The combined parishes of St Arvans, Itton, Devauden, Kilgwrrwg and Penterry do a walk around the parish churches on Rogation Sunday – could we tap into that? And could the Cistercian Way be tweaked to take in Chapel Hill?

So a group of us set out this morning to try it out. Actually, it works very well – if anything, better than the route up the Stony Way, which is now so badly damaged by off-roading as to be dangerous.

Start in the same way, across the main road from the abbey and up past St Anne’s House (the old gatehouse chapel – look for the line of the precinct wall in the surface of the road) but go straight across the side road and up the steep lane to the church. After visiting the church (the building is marked as dangerous but the churchyard is stunning, with some huge C18 tombs) continue up the lane. At SO 52946 00098 the tracks divide – take the left fork and keep going up a lovely hollow way. At ST 52606 99801 cross a forest road

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(here’s Nell with her new friends)

and keep going up to a gate.

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The path winds right and left and up to another gate.

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Walk along the hedge to the gate at the top right corner of the field.

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Turn left on a metalled lane.

You can cut across the fields to Penterry church from the gate just before the next farm buildings at ST 52196 99539 – angle across the field to the far corner at ST 52082 99071 and keep going on the same line. If the animals in the field put you off, continue on the lane to ST 52342 98851, go through the gate to your right, walk up the field with the hedge to your right, through the gate at the top and up the next field to the church.

This would make a nice circuit: Tintern Abbey – Chapel Hill – Penterry – back to the abbey. The Stony Way is in such a poor state that you might do better walking back across the fields to Ruddings. We didn’t, because we had dogs with us and there were lambs in the fields, but if it had been wet under foot we might have regretted it.

For the walk across the fields, go back down to the metalled road at ST 52342 98851 and go straight across, down to a stile to join the Stony Way at ST 52429 98866. Go straight across the track and over another stile, then turn left and follow the RoW which bears gradually up to your right. You can divert up to visit the (very overgrown) Iron Age fort at the top. The path is waymarked round the farmyard at Ruddings (an old grange site) and down the lane which was actually the main road down the valley before the nineteenth century. Look out for the limekilns to your left on the way down, and the line of the outer precinct wall. I haven’t walked this way for a few years so I probably ought to recheck it, but the local footpaths are generally well maintained.

 

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Llanthony to Cwm-iou (1)

Good grief, two days without rain – so we are back out on field work. Also my neighbours’ dogs are off on holiday so I am focusing on things I can’t do with a dog in tow – eg anything involving stiles.

First up was checking the bit just north of Llanthony. I did some work on it back in December (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/visions-and-revisions/ ) and suggested that the footpath past Trevelog and Deri-duon probably wasn’t worth struggling with. The problem is that there are several deep stream valleys cutting across the path, with dangerously steep and muddy banks. There are also some heavily overgrown sections. These could be dealt with, but the steep banks need steps – which would decay and need repair and eventually replacing. Not viable in the present climate.

I then suggested that the (unwaymarked) footpath through the gate at SO 27800 29048

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should lead to the path past Llwyn-on at SO 27870 28961- and it does. Go through the gate and walk along the hedge to your right

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then pass below Llwyn-on, turn up to your left and keep contouring round on the same line past SO 27997 28789 and SO 28099 28639. Pass above Broadley Farm and keep on the same line past SO 28292 28423. At SO 28415 28343 cross a stile by a gate. Walk along the lower edge of the woods and ford a small stream. Cross a stile out of the woods at SO 28482 28271 and bear right across the next field, past the new barns to rejoin the road down the valley at SO 28498 28092.

I wanted to recheck it to make sure there were no more problems. It’s all well stiled and waymarked. You do have to ford several streams but even after the recent rain they are shallow and easy to cross.

Take the path below the ruins of the abbey gatehouse. After exploring the abbey, retrace your steps, turn right round the west end of the Abbey Hotel and right again to walk above the outer wall of the abbey precinct, following fingerposts and waymarks to ‘Hatterall Ridge South’. Past the abbey church, go through a gate at SO 28959 27882. Bear left across the next field and up hill to a gate in the top hedge at SO 29242 27913.

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Continue on the track through the trees, bearing right across a little stream. At the top of the wood turn left through a gate

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and walk along the fence to your right. At SO 29445 27887 go through the gate to your right.

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Walk ahead keeping to the same contour, passing well below two ruined farmsteads.

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(The whole valley was intensively settled with hundreds of farms and smallholdings until bottom fell out of British farming in the nineteenth century and most of the young men left to work in industry.) Don’t be distracted  by the waymarked stile in the trees at the top left corner of the field

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– it’s a difficult scramble across the stream and the track from it is overgrown. The right of way goes through the gate a little further down the hedge, at SO 29750 27537, and past another ruined barn.

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Bear up to the left on a faint track

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and join a clearer track which continues on the same contour line down the valley.

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Go through several waymarked gates. Keep to the same line above Maes-y-beran farm

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and head for the stile at SO 30180 26611.

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Pass below a stand of conifers (not on the map). Continue on the same line above another stand of conifers (this one is on the map) and through a ruined farmstead at SO 30134 25823. The path continues on the same line, going gradually downhill. At SO 29928 25599, just before a stream and a belt of trees,

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turn sharp right and walk downhill. Turn left to walk through the ruins of Weild,

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another substantial farm which has been completely abandoned. From here the path slopes gradually down hill to SO 29533 25286, SO 29309 25090 and SO 29201 24962. At SO 29109 24794, just before the bridge, ignore the waypost pointing to Cwm-iou along the road and turn left following the signs for Darran.

That was as far as I could get today. I walked back along the road – a very new lamb in the field

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and the deserted chapel at Henllan

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(some of the stones in the wall look awfully like tombstones).

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Back at Llanthony I was recalling T. S. Eliot’s

… hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea

 – and lo and behold, a sign for Treats of Llanthony  (http://www.llanthonytreats.co.uk/ ), just below the road towards the river.

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As well as the cafe there is a cabin, bunkhouse B&B and room for camping. Sue was supposed to be ironing towels after a busy weekend and with more guests arriving but she kindly did me a cuppa – then tea and cake for another random walker – then more tea and cake for two lads on bikes – did she ever get the ironing done, I wonder? Treats basically seems to be open whenever you want it to be, though of course Sue does have to go and do things like shopping occasionally. She says that if you are walking in the area you can always ring ahead and check – 01873 890867.

Another fine day and I should get past Cwm-iou.

 

Angels and visions

Tintern-Llantarnam is pretty much sorted and we are working our way back up the borders. I haven’t walked the area round Llanthony since 2005 and there have been a lot of changes and improvements to the footpaths. The track over the pass from Hay and down the Nant Bwch seems to be the way to go, and it takes you past Llanthony’s third monastery, the strange Anglican community founded by Joseph Leycester Lyne, Father Ignatius. Hugh Allen’s new biography of him is a good read.

Just past the monastery you meet the road from Llanthony over the Gospel pass. Turn left to visit the church at Capel-y-ffin, described by Kilvert as ‘squatting like a stout grey owl’ among the yews of the churchyard. Lovely cherubs on the south wall

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and symbolism on this head stone –

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‘One by one the sheaves are gathered’. Just south of the churchyard, at SO 25483 31495, take the lane alongside the churchyard wall,

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across the Hoddnu

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and past another tiny church.

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This is Capel-y-ffin Baptist chapel built by the two brothers, William and David Prosser. According to Wikipedia, ‘a wall plaque commemorates their work in bringing The Ministry of the Gospel to their house in the year 1737. And Secured this Place for That Sacred Use for the Time Being. Both died near the End of the Year 1780.’

The lane bears up to the right, passing above Blaenau farm and becomes a path across the fields.

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It is well walked and waymarked as a route up to the Offa’s Dyke path.

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Cross two pretty stone stiles (the second at SO 26068 31171  is a bit of a challenge)

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and continue on the same line along a stony track.

Nell and Cara coupldn’t manage the stiles. Cara is getting old and creaky but hates being picked up. Nell is just daft. So we went back along the track, they had a good swim in the Hoddnu and we walked down and up a very steep stony lane to rejoin the track at the far side of that very precipitous stile. Walking along the road and down that lane is the best way to go if you have dogs.

The farm above the track at SO 26521 31032  is called The Vision, and was given that name after the famous vision of the Virgin Mary at Father Ignatius’s monastery. The farm inspired Bruce Chatwin’s novel On the Black Hill, though he relocated it to the other side of the Hatterall ridge.

At SO 26701 30804 the track becomes a metalled road. There are some footpaths to the left but they mostly go up the ridge. The road is very quiet, little more than a farm track, and an easy walk. After about 1.8 km, at SO 27735 29421 , the road turns to the right. Go through the gate ahead of you and continue along a narrow lane. This has all the feel of an old road, possibly the original road down the valley. It would be too narrow for carts, so once the local farmers took to using wheeled vehicles the road across the valley would be easier. I walked along the lane to rejoin the metalled road at SO 27912 28728 but it might be worth exploring the track that bears left at SO 27795 29061 and becomes a footpath passing above Broadley farm and rejoining the road at SO 28502 28103.

At SO 28560 27946 you turn left on the main road down the valley (usually quite quiet, though it can be busy on summer weekends) with encouraging views of the priory and the Half-Moon pub.

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Ahead of you is the priory gatehouse, now a barn. When the road bears right round the gatehouse, take the footpath straight on to the rest of the priory buildings.

Pushing Up the Borders

Llantarnam-Neath is sorted, I think I’ve worked out Monmouth-Tintern and Tintern-Llantarnam, time to push a bit further up the Marches. To be honest, we could just use the Offa’s Dyke Path from below Cwm-iou through Pandy, Llangatwg Lingoed and Llandeilo Gresynni. It’s a good route past castles and through pretty villages, it’s meticulously gated and waymarked, it’s clear but isn’t over-walked, it actually goes past Grace Dieu Abbey – why not?

I don’t know why not. But somehow it feels like cheating to make too much use of an existing route. We really ought to be able to commit to keeping a few more footpaths open.

The OD Path really is the only way to get from Grace Dieu to Monmouth. And it’s pretty much the obvious route from below Cwm-iou to Llangatwg Lingoed. Llangatwg is well worth the visit – the church has a splendid wall painting of St George (south Wales has 3 wall paintings of St George, all in churches dedicated to Cadoc, most awkward of saints. Two could be coincidence, three looks like a pattern – but why?), some intriguing medieval stained glass (very rare in south Wales – again, we don’t know why) and one of the most splendid post-medieval cross slabs I have ever seen, its shaft flanked with vividly-carved figures in late sixteenth century dress.

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From Llangatwg the OD Path goes south to White Castle. But another footpath heads east across the fields to the intriguingly-named Great Pool Hall and the Scots Baronial mansion of Glen Trothy. Here you join the Three Castles Way which takes you to Llanfair Grange. This was an out-station of a Cistercian abbey just over the border into England, Abbey Dore. The monks were so important that when they were given the grange they were actually allowed to divert the main road to go around it.

The Cistercian Way doesn’t go as far as Dore but the grange is worth a visit. You can see the remains of fishponds, and the terraces where the lay brothers cultivated grapes in the warmer weather of the thirteenth century.  This was one of the first sites excavated by our great Cistercian historian and archaeologist, David Williams. The muscle power was provided by young men from the Young Offenders’ Institute near Usk, working as volunteers and rewarded with lemonade and crisps. You wonder where they are now.

The grange chapel lies under the trees and a new church has been built along the lane.

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From Llanfair there should be footpaths to Plas Ivor and Llanllwyd. I walked that way but about ten years ago so it needs rechecking. Friday I went to look at the footpaths at the Grace Dieu end. There should be paths along the Troddi and the Llymon brook. They are stiled and waymarked, and there are even sturdy little bridges across some of the smaller streams, but the paths aren’t walked and they are hopelessly overgrown.

Back to the road and up to Llanfaenor. The church here has been converted into a house.

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There are no end of other Llan names in the area – Llandishty, Llancreaver, Llanllwyd. Llanfaenor and Llanllwyd (now a farm) are both recorded as chapelries of the great mother church at Llangatwg Feibion Afel – you have to wonder if the others were as well. Llandishty Cottages are on the route.

There’s a hollow lane from Llanllwyd down the valley to Littlemill Farm. It’s overgrown at the bottom but passable. When you get to the stream, cross the narrow footbridge and walk up the far bank. Turn right and walk above the hedge, cross a stile and turn left on a rough track up towards the farm. Through the gate, turn right and follow the roughly surfaced track up to Llanfaenor. From there the best route at the moment is down the very minor road to Onen, across the old Abergavenny-Monmouth road and down to Llanfihangel Ystum Llywern. Here you rejoin the OD path to Grace Dieu. It means a few miles of road walking but the road is very quiet and there are lovely views across the rolling hills of north Gwent.

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At Llanfihangel lies buried Sir Joseph Bradney, the great historian of his adopted county of Monmouthshire. He came from Shropshire, inherited an estate around Talycoed near Llanfihangel, fell in love with the area and its history and settled there. He learned Welsh and tried to employ all Welsh servants in his house. Very much the old-fashioned huntin, shootin’ and fishin’ Tory, he was also an old-fashioned antiquarian historian. He led the local militia and was desperate to serve in the front line in the First World War but by then he was too old. Eventually, after badgering all his contacts, he was taken on as commander of a labour corps, digging emplacements and latrine trenches just behind the front line.

Been there, though on the other side of the fence.

Back in the 1980s, as a result of a chance conversation on the bus to Aberystwyth, I discovered that the ‘missing’ final volume of Bradney’s History of Monmouthshire was actually in draft form in his papers in the National Library of Wales.  After some negotiating I got hold of photocopies and edited it for the South Wales Record Society. It was a major tidy-up job, checking transcripts of old documents and church monuments, assembling some very fragmentary notes and typing the whole thing on the latest in high-tech, an Amstrad PCW (remember those?). Most of the typing I did while nursing my daughter, typing with my right hand and nursing her on the left. Then I had to learn how to transfer it to a proper PC, just at the point when we were discovering the wonderful world of Windows. The book was published in 1993. It sold like hot cakes and put the Record Society on a good financial footing for some years. Eventually it sold out and the National Library decided to put it on line – it’s at http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/listarticles/llgc-id:1044290/llgc-id:1044493.

I have always wondered how the very conventional Sir Joseph Bradney would have coped with having his notes tidied up and his transcripts corrected by a woman who had spent time at Greenham Common and felt the Labour party was getting dangerously right-wing. There might have been a few difficulties … on the other hand, we had many interests in common and I imagine he would have coped.

Now Sir Joseph sleeps in the churchyard with some of his children, their monuments all but hidden under seeding grass and marguerites.

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If the church is open, you can see the war memorial which commemorates his youngest son Walter. Walter was killed at Peronne in the spring of 1918. He died only a couple of miles from where his father was stationed, but such was the chaos in army communications by that time that it took weeks for the news to reach Sir Joseph.

From Llanfihangel the OD Path takes you along the west bank of the Troddi. It’s meticulously waymarked, almost too much so, and meanders along the river bank until you reach the road at SO 44694 13362. Turn left, and in about ¼ km turn right to cross the fields to the site of Grace Dieu.

I need to rewalk the stretch from Llangattock to Llanfaenor and we are there.

West from Tintern

This started well, then tailed off – paths I found easily in 2005 simply aren’t there any more. A bit of rethinking needed – but it was a lovely day’s walking.

Cross the main road past the abbey and walk up past St Anne’s (once the outer gatehouse chapel). Turn left and walk along the back lane past the Beaufort Arms. Once past the hotel car park, the track bears right. The OS web site marks the Wye Valley Walk up the stony track ahead of you but it’s waymarked to the left, past the limekilns and up to Rudding Farm. This is a long way up to go down again. Better to stick to the track up hill ahead of you. This is the Stony Way, built for the monks to provide access to their grange farms up the hill. It has been very eroded and overgrown, though it seems to be recovering.

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When you get out of the woods, the climb becomes less steep. At ST 524 988, there are stiles to left and right. Go right, walk up the field and cross another stile to a metalled road.

In wet weather the alternative is to follow the Wye Valley Walk waymark then turn right at the top and walk along the edge of the woods. Rejoin the Stony Way by a stile at the end of the woods, cross the track and take the stile up into the fields.

Cross the metalled road, walk up the hedge to your right, and bear left across the next field to the stile into Penterry churchyard.

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Leave the church by the footpath going south-west across the fields. Cross the metalled road and take a stony track ahead. When the main track goes right to a cottage, keep straight on and into the forest. When the forest road divides, take the left fork, then bear left again up a waymarked hollow lane between massive stone walls. In 2005 it was possible to turn right at the top of the hill and walk on through the woods but this path seems to have vanished. Instead, go over the waymarked stile, walk to the middle of the field then turn right and walk to a gate in the far hedge, then walk along the hedge to your left. You are now on the St Tewdrig Trail (http://www.thecircleoflegends.co.uk/tewdrigtrail.htm ).

Turn left on the metalled road then right along a stony track. Bear left with the track and walk round the slope. There are wonderful views to your left.

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The big farm below you is on the site of Tintern’s Rogerstone Grange, and the reservoir was once a holy well. The St Tewdrig Trail goes downhill to the grange. When the stony track goes left into the field, keep straight on.

After some sadly decaying memorial benches

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the track bears right into the forest. The route through the forest is difficult to follow – we really need some waymarks here. There is a network of forest roads, forest roads which are rights of way, forest roads which aren’t rights of way, rights of way which aren’t forest roads … Take the second track to the left. When the tracks divide, take the left fork (effectively straight on). At ST 494 977 the track bends to the left and you cross a small stream. It’s worth walking up the bank ahead of you to look down over the reservoir, now a very pretty pond

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with another memorial bench.

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In about a mile at 486 975 you reach a crossroads where seven tracks used to meet. Unfortunately, the one we want has completely vanished. I thought I had worked my way back to it but it turned out to be another one, very overgrown, which got to the main road some way to the south. It’s possible to cut back from this to a track which emerges from the trees behind Yewtree Cottage, but it’s very difficult to find the paths on the ground. There are also problems with the footpath as it climbs the fields to join the road to Newchurch – new houses have made the path difficult to follow.

The alternative is to stick with the forest road from 486 975 and follow it as it bends north and downhill, then turn left at the T junction and walk down to the road. Cross and take the minor road ahead of you. Go straight over a crossroads, down hill and up a steep slope past a farm called Ty Bettws. It looks like an extended long house and the name ‘Bettws’ means a place of prayer or a hermitage. At the top of the slope, where the metalled road turns right, take the lane to the left. You are now on the line of the old pilgrimage route from London to St David’s. When the track divides, take the very muddy fork to the right and walk on to the metalled road.

In 2005 I walked along the road to Newchurch. There are off-road alternatives, but the road runs along a ridge with magnificent views to either side.

Cistercian Way: Grace Dieu to Tintern

Time to track back and revisit some of what we walked in 2005 and put on the web site. There are a few updates – well, it was 10 years ago. We didn’t think much then of the Wye Valley Walk from Monmouth to Whitebrook. It’s easy, flat, along the river bank, but to be honest a bit boring. On the other hand it’s easy, flat … But I was being ambitious and wanted some thing more interesting. So what follows is largely what was on the old web site at http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/target/26640439/source/search with a few corrections.

From Grace Dieu, it has to be the Offa’s Dyke Path to the outskirts of Monmouth. Where the OD path turns left into the town, continue on the west bank of the Trothy. In about 1/4 mile, take the road to the right signposted Mitchell Troy. Walk over the dual carriageway.

When the road bends sharply to the right, take the footpath straight on along the drive to Troy House.

Keep straight on to the right of the house and through the modern outbuildings and up the track.

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Follow the track past the first two fields then cross left into the field and walk up the hedge to your right. Go over a stile and into the trees. Turn left along a track. When you are just past the far corner of the field you were in, take the waymarked footpath to the right and walk up a lovely hollow lane.

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At the top we need some waymarking. Don’t take the first track to the right – it’s waymarked but not technically a right of way. Take the second, almost immediately after – not waymarked when we were there but this is the footpath.

The path goes over a stile and out of the trees. Follow the hedgerow along the bottom of the first two fields. The right of way has been diverted below a cottage: follow the waymarks to Penallt churchyard.

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I couldn’t resist going in to look at the ledger stones. No crosses, but these – very crudely lettered. Are they the same firm as the St Maughans ones?

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Also this rather cute cherub in the graveyard

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Leave the churchyard by the lychgate and turn left to walk downhill. In about 1/4 mile, just before a cottage, a waymarked track goes up to the right. Walk steeply up hill through the trees, along the top edge of a field, past a converted barn, back into the trees and down a hollow lane. Cross a stony track and keep straight on, across a metalled road and up through the trees along another hollow lane. Turn right on the metalled road and bear left at the T junction. When the road bends to the right, take the footpath straight on through the Gwent Wildlife Trust’s Pentwyn nature reserve and turn right on a track which becomes a side road into Penallt village.

Walk straight through Penallt and across the crossroads at the end of the village, then take the waymarked footpath to the left immediately after the crossroads. This takes you through trees and past the garden of the Argoed. When you leave the gardens, the path divides. Take the left fork round the edge of the rough ground. Turn left on the metalled road. When the road divides, first take the right fork then the left. This is a no through road which passes several cottages then becomes a stony track as it goes into the woods.

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Ignore the bridleway to your right at the forest entrance. Waymarked Glyn Mills, it would take you to the medieval borough of Trelech and the medieval road from Bristol to Chester. This is now a very minor metalled road which becomes a track at Tintern Cross, but it’s a considerable diversion.

The road into the forest soon divides. I took the right fork which descends steeply to a stony track. Turn left on the track then when the track bends sharply to the left take the path to the right (I think the left fork probably crosses the track here). Follow the path steeply down hill (a very eroded hollow way) and turn left on the metalled road at Whitebrook.

In about 200 yards, two no through roads go up to your right. Take the second. Follow it until it becomes a track. Here the Wye Valley Walk joins the track and goes steeply up hill to your right.

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Turn left on the metalled road at the top, follow it to another steep turning to the right, then left again along the metalled road. When the road turns right, take the track straight on. From here the Wye Valley Walk swings through the woods with lovely views

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to pass above Llandogo, through Bargain Wood and Botany Bay to the river at Brockweir.. Here the Wye Valley Walk remains on the west bank. There is a good path to Tintern Parva but after that you have about ½ mile of busy main road to reach Tintern. A better route is to cross the river at Brockweir and turn right at the pub. You are briefly walking along the line of the Offa’s Dyke path, but where the OD Path is waymarked up to your left, keep on the lower track and follow it into the trees.

When you can see Tintern Abbey below you, turn right on the track of the old Wye Valley Railway and walk across the bridge. This gets you to the Abbey Mill: once the monks’ corn mill, then an iron forge and furnace, now a tourist and craft centre. Walk on down the river to reach the abbey.

By the time I met Steve at the Abbey Mill I was staggering along – it was a much harder walk than in 2005. At this rate I might be revisiting the riverbank walk to Whitebrook.

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

(A good alternative to crops, and you can let them down to get through the nettles. Eliot obviously knew what he was talking about.)