We’ve known Rocky for half a lifetime or so – one of our favourite DJs – variously on his own, as one half of Rocky & Diesel, one third of X-Press 2 or as one fifth of the Ballistic Brothers – and an all-round top chap to boot. When Rocky started turning up at Caught by the River events, it was one of those full circle moments (possibly for the more rave-tinted spectacles Balaeric reader, one of those Full Circle moments). An avid walker and birder, Rocky would wax lyrical about the virtues of the British countryside with the kind of passion we used to all reserve for chats about records. Seemed like a good idea to get him to document a recent trip to the borders of England and Wales.
A Wye Diary
Four days at Symonds Yat East. Arrive Sunday. The Liverpool group arrive late after a stop to buy the first five litres of cider from Broome Farm just up the road. Get the tents up and feed on BBQ chicken and drink the cider.
Monday. A walk in the Forest of Dean.
We want to link up two lakes that we spot on the OS map – Speech House Lake and Mallards Pike. Start at Speech House Hotel and head along Spruce Ride, a wide track way leading off into the Forest. Find the first of our lakes after around 30 minutes walking.
Sheltered behind trees just to the right of the path, it’s beautiful and calm and still.
At the end of Spruce Drive there’s a bit of a climb, something I wasn’t expecting. The view at the top is fantastic. There are lots of tracks, all very similar looking. We’re glad of the assistance of the GPS. We eventually make our way to Mallards Pike. Very lovely but a little more ‘developed’ than the first lake. On the way back to Speech House, off the main track, through a swampy section. As we step over a fallen pine tree, a female mallard flies up from just below us. Reveals eight perfect eggs sheltered under a pine branch.
Back on Spruce Drive and familiar ground, heading back to the start. Drive to Symonds Yat Rock to take the view, trying to spot the peregrines that live on the cliffs. The evening is spent at the Ferrie Inn and the Saracen’s Head drinking Butty Bach, Kingstone’s Tudor Ale and Weston’s Perry talking about childhoods spent on housing estates in Liverpool and London.
Tuesday. Ross’s birthday.
Eighteen mile canoe trip from Kerne Bridge – just below Ross On Wye – into Wales to end at the Boat Inn, Redbrook. Launch and watch the three scousers get quickly into the paddling. Takes Ross and me a good 20 minutes to catch up. Aside from the brilliant blue of the sky, we are surrounded on 3 sides by green – the river’s dark silty green and the almost fluorescent hue of the banks, broken occasionally by cliffs poking through higher up.
Spot a Kingfisher. Like a turquoise bullet shooting towards us. Pull the canoes up onto a gravel bank for a brief stop. We’re joined by a bull and his cow. There calves also join them to check us out.
Occasionally, wagtails (pied and grey) lift off of bankside perches to flutter up after flies. They then stall like miniature stunt pilots and fall back towards the river before recovering and heading back to their plot with the spoils. Lunch at the campsite. Head off again for the most picturesque stretch of the day. Swallows dive bombing us and pulling up just before impact. The river meanders and twists for eleven miles down to Redbrook. We find the end spot, a disused railway bridge and foot bridge, the pub just to our right and our pick up to the left. The river is the border here and the pub is on the Welsh side, so we have a beer in Wales and get picked up in England. Back at camp – after more Broome Farm cider is picked up en route – we feast on chicken wings and Will’s fine meat selection picked up from a local farm shop in Liverpool.
Wednesday. Road trip (we always have a road trip day).
Head off and drive up Golden Valley where Rowland Vaughan came up with the idea for the water meadow, a fact I discovered later that evening reading Charles Rangely-Wilson’s wonderful Silt Road. First head into Hay on Wye. Sadly missed the book festival by three days but get ourselves into the book shops. Spend a couple of hours scanning the shelves. Books on R.F. Scott, the SAS and various other subjects are bought by the crew. We end up in Richard Booth’s beautiful wooden emporium. Tried to buy a copy of Robert Macfarlane’s Holloway. Robert had been at the festival. Unsurprisingly no copies left. Ross looks for vinyl but his search is fruitless. This is a book town through and through. Old Stables tearoom for lunch. Welsh rarebit the finest I’ve tasted and the apple, pear and cider cake – ridiculously good. Food induced drowsiness. One of our party saying he felt like he’d been spiked by a Welsh Cake (editor’s note – this is very, very possible). On to Hereford to visit Hereford cathedral and a look at the Mappa Mundi. The Medieval map of the world is drawn onto a single calf skin and is displayed in near darkness to help preserve it. The whole map centres on Jerusalem with the rest of the world as the author saw it, laid out around the centre. There’s also a large frame that hangs opposite the Mappa Mundi. It’s thought the map was originally drawn in this frame. People knew about the frame thanks to a drawing done in 1780 but it wasn’t actually discovered until 1989 in a shed outside the cathedral.
After getting our fill of culture we head out into the city. Ross finds an Oxfam with a nice selection of vinyl. Dr Who and Human League albums (not together) and various other bits sate his hunger. Al and me find a fantastic outdoor shop and spend half an hour drooling over kit and chatting with the assistants, before leaving with a new Piezo lighter for my stove. Our final evening is spent back at the Saracen’s head. Steak all round.
I wake around 4;30 on the last morning to the sound of birds and what I think is someone slow hand clapping. I then realise I’m hearing a swan taking off on the river, the clapping is it’s wings hitting the water. There really is nothing better than the English countryside. When the weather’s on your side, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.