Outdoor: Kingfishers, castles and trails of the river bank

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The Independent Online
A walk around the village of Goodrich encompasses more or less everything you might hope to see in the Wye valley: spectacular views, the river, black-and-white Herefordshire houses and

a ruined castle.

Catherine Stebbings sets out.

Start at the car park for Goodrich Castle, and walk down the hill towards the village. At the bottom of the hill, turn left towards Welsh Bicknor and Courtfield. It is not long before the gentle climb affords good views of the large Herne Bridge on your left and the village of Goodrich on your right. On reaching a triangular patch of grass, turn right along a quiet country lane and, keeping left, follow the road past a little cottage named Bearwood.

The gradual climb takes you around the edge of Coppet Hill. To the west the little village of Goodrich is easily visible, with its neatly walled churchyard, 14th-century church and impressive rectory.

The little path cuts through the thick covering of bracken and gorse. Much of the walk is laid out in the valley below. You can see the great loop of the river emerging from Symonds Yat and meandering across the plain. From here the patchwork of fields and hedgerows stretches to the mountains in the distance.

The path eventually reaches a little wood of ash and oak. Turn right and follow the gentle descent to the river. At this point you should be able to see the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. To the east is the Forest of Dean, whose massive oak trees were originally grown for making ships in the 18th century. You will see the old coal- mining villages of the forest; Ruardean, Lydbrook and Drybrook. To the south west is Symonds Yat, with its backdrop of woodland and dramatic rocky outcrops that have challenged many a climber.

Continue down the path into the wood that clings to the side of the hill. Sycamores give way to a dense covering of coppiced hazel, gnarled silver birch and dark green yews. Among the undergrowth of brambles and bracken are scatterings of wild marjoram, euphorbia and dog's mercury. The woods are inhabited by foxes, badgers, rabbits, squirrels, and roe and fallow deer.

Climb over the stile at the bottom of the hill, and you are in the lush green water meadows that lie alongside the river Wye. Go down to the water's edge and turn right so that you are walking downstream. Looking across the river end straight up, there is a steep rock where a pair of peregrine falcons successfully raised their young this year. The peregrine's dramatic diving stoops can exceed 125mph.

When the river is not full of canoeists testing their strength against the flow, you may be lucky enough to see an otter of a kingfisher. You will certainly see and hear the ducks and swans that enjoy the river.

This stretch of river is lined with mature willow and alder trees. The rich pasture is grazed by sheep and cows, and the odd heron can be seen flying across the water meadow. The footpath takes you through a gate and a beech wood before re-emerging in the meadow and coming to an end. If you look up towards Coppet Hill, you will see the image of a white fox painted on the rock above.

Walk towards the right-hand corner of the field, where a lovely old walnut tree stands before a castellated farm house. Follow the footpath through the farmyard and past paddocks of Arabian horses and miniature Shetland ponies. When you reach the busy road turn right, and after about 200 yards cross the road. Go through the kissing-gate and walk across the fields, following the marked path over a stile, through a gate and along a dark lane to Goodrich.

Turning left at the road you will come to the black-and-white-timbered former courthouse. Turn right and follow signs to the church. The mellow, pinkish stone and simple spire belie the grandeur of the linenfold-panelled walls inside, which were brought here from Goodrich Court when it was demolished in 1950. (The church is often locked; key available from the village shop). It is a pleasant church, but not spectacular, and many points of interest - such as the perpendicular east window - can be admired from outside. There is a stone seat in the churchyard for tired, contemplative walkers.

Take the north-western gate out of the churchyard, walk up the track and turn right at the top. Turn left at an old farm building into the field ahead; don't follow the footpath sign. Follow the muddy track right and aim for the avenue of lime trees in the distance. Once a pleasant drive to Goodrich Court, this is now a picturesque campsite with one permanent resident, who lives in a much loved gypsy caravan. Walk up the avenue, turning right at the road - which takes you into the village past the old jail and The Hostelrie hotel. A little further down the lane is Jollys, the village shop and post office, where jars of barley sugar and humbugs adorn the shelves.

A little farther down the road turn left up Castle Lane, through the car park and on to Goodrich Castle. This red sandstone ruin is as rugged as the rocks it stands on. Goodrich Castle has it all: a forbidding 12th- century keep, steep spiral stairs, murder holes, dungeons, a massive Norman tower, an elegant chapel and a broad, grassy moat.

Length: about seven miles of easy walking, with gentle climbs and descents.

Goodrich Castle (01345 125436), is five miles from Ross on Wye off the A40. Car park open 10am-6pm daily. Castle open 1 Nov-31 March, Wednesday- Sunday, 10am-4pm. Closed Dec 24-25. Admission: adults pounds 2.30, concessions pounds 1.70, children pounds 1.20.

Map: Ordnance Survey Landranger 162 (1:50,000).

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