Sometimes – often, we don’t realise what we have lost until it is gone. With this thought nagging me like a tired child I find myself walking from the heart of Hereford, within minutes in a landscape I hadn’t truly realised existed.
The beautiful River Wye is swollen, angry, tumultuous after a spring of unprecedented snow and rain in a time of tyrants and loss. Every walking step I take tries to bring me back to the moment, each precious one I am training myself to value. Blink and it is gone, but here comes another.
From Hunderton Bridge we walk past the Model Railway at Broomy Hill, following the Wye Valley Walk, past the Waterworks Museum and into the meadows where walking is free to the poorest, and richest, of Hereford. In the future these are the kinds of open spaces that city planners will try to recreate. Places where families can breathe out, emptying their heads of all the busyness that makes us ill, escape the fumes of vehicles that lay claim to our right to clean air – places where children can run free with nothing but the wind in their ears. How amazing that places like this exist I tell myself, in cities like this. Following a band of dedicated Green Party friends, we follow the path along the river to Breinton.
Not far along the path past the ancient woodland that is a haven to the wildlife that is fast dwindling under pressure from our human developments, we see Belmont Lodge across the river. Grade ll listed, designed and built by James Wyatt in 1788, a second gothic skin added less than 100 years later by Edward Pugin. To our right is Warham House, dating back to the 16th century and later rebuilt, reputedly by Pugin, in 1854. Beneath the house lies the Coronation Field gifted by its owners to the people of Hereford as a Public Open Space during the Queen’s 2012 celebrations. Four magnificent veteran trees stand guard over this precious, threatened, space.
We walk on, past rich medieval water meadows where pastoral keepers once fattened their livestock early, onto National Trust land where Jeremy Milln shows us Breinton Spring which he rescued, digging out the soil after a landslip a few years ago. We drink thirstily from the spring. This is Breinton, a European Special Area of Conservation, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a landscape little changed since it was immortalised by the tragically young Victorian painter Brian Hatton, killed in action in Egypt in 1916; a landscape designated by Herefordshire Council for a bypass that will slice its way into a vision of progress that will, by all accounts, do nothing for the traffic congestion in Hereford, but at enormous cost will enable 44 tonne hgv’s to move unfettered from Wales past the city.
Our walk moves us uphill, clambering up to patches of wild daffodils at the Norman church – St Michael’s, where we head back towards Hereford, weaving alongside wild periwinkle, guiding us like timeless purple stars past hollowed oaks that have stood patiently for hundreds of years. Back at Warham House we marvel at the trees towering above us that might soon fall beneath the blades of an alleged progress, taking with them all those sentient creatures who harbour in their boughs. We leave through the kissing gate, passing Hereford Community Farm, set up in 2013 to provide animal assisted and land-based therapy and skills to people who are disadvantaged by ill health, disability or social need – just the kind of place a ‘big society’ aspires to have. The kind of place that will be impossible to replicate when a road destroys it.
Slowly we follow the road as it winds back to Broomy Hill. I try to counter my sense of sadness, my feeling of loss, my anger – with an optimism that surely, we won’t let this happen. Surely, we have learnt enough by now to know that this is a landscape, with all its special designations, that must be valued, protected and acknowledged for how much it has to offer us – how much we have to lose should it disappear?
Join us for another walk across the proposed Western Bypass route on Sunday 13 May 2018, ring Rick on 0780 5441457 for details.
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