Sentinels above the Wye

Fri, 15/01/2010 - 11:53
Submitted by Neil Coates

Finding the obscure forestry car park, secreted amidst a web of sinuous byroads in the folds of The Doward hills, is a challenge too far for many, which leaves this secluded part of the Welsh Marches refreshingly quiet. A December day finds me on crisp, frost-frazzled path, meandering past old limekilns and little quarries to the gaping maw of King Arthur’s Cave, a multi-chambered Pandora’s Box of artefacts, revealing that our Palaeolithic forefathers shared this bijou residence with cave bears, sabre-toothed tigers and hyenas – not at the same time, presumably – and feasted on giant elk.


Leap forward several millennia and that scourge of the Romans, Caractacus, is rumoured to have made a home within the ramparted summit acres of the nearby Great Doward. The hill fort’s necklace of ditches and banks are riddled with badger setts; a great place to spend a late summer evening, but on this winter’s day fallow deer are the mammal of the moment. My rather clod-footed progress across crunchy, leaf-litter strewn paths disturbs a small, browsing herd of such. We lock eyes momentarily, then they’re off, their athletic leaps and bounds over frozen earth and tumbled rocks a minor miracle of grace, bravery and bravado as they flee down precipitous slopes towards the river, invisible in it’s arboreal chasm.



Silvery, skeletal forms of beech, birch and ash shimmer in the watery sunlight, and ivy and moss glimmer vivid shades of green as my thin path rises up the flank of a limestone bluff, trailing then to an easily missed fork, leading to one of England’s great unsung viewpoints. Breaking free of a veneer of firs and yews, the ground disappears from beneath my toecaps, plummeting several hundred feet into the Wye’s sublime gorge. This is the top of one of the Seven Sisters, immense spires of Dolomitic Limestone thrusting to the sky from the depths of the rift; a spectacular, dream-like landscape of hanging woods, yew groves, rock-needles and cliffs cleaved by the Wye through the Forest of Dean’s thickly wooded plateau. The famous Symond’s Yat Rock is a mile to the north, but these secluded sentinels see few visitors, leaving this mouth-watering panorama along the wooded defile as a wintery gift to hardier souls.


Excitable jackdaws carouse along the line of pillars; a couple of buzzard float easily by, chattering fieldfares feast on holly berries whilst suicidal grey squirrels scamper through branches protruding well out over the abyss. Far below, the mercurial waters of the Wye twist beneath the delicate span of the Biblins footbridge, but this is for another day. Forest tracks return me to my lift for a short drive back to reality and a welcome wallop of real ale in the warm and friendly little Wye Knot Inn, at the head of the gorge opposite Yat Rock.

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