Kate Humble: A proper holiday? It's a lovely walk on a sunny day near home
Sunday 19 August 2012
What is the definition of a holiday? Does a proper, bona fide holiday need to involve suitcases, new outfits and a trip to Boots for sun cream? Do you have to go away from home and, if so, for how long? Unsure, I looked it up in the dictionary: "A day of festivity or recreation when no work is done."
In that case I've had the perfect holiday – perfect because it involved no planning, no packing, no airports or ferry terminals, and no sitting in traffic for hours on a motorway. The weather was guaranteed because it was sunny when we woke up – the first sunny day in weeks – and the forecast told us it would stay sunny for the entire length of the holiday we'd just decided to have. Water bottles, a couple of bananas, dog leads, a well-worn Ordnance Survey map and we were ready to go.
The Monnow Valley walk starts in the Welsh border town of Monmouth, just up the road from where we live. It follows the route of the pretty river Monnow, from its confluence with the more famous River Wye, for 40 miles to the literary festival-friendly town of Hay-on-Wye. It would be easy enough to do the entire length of the walk in three or four days, but we've been doing it sporadically, whenever time allows, walking sections of the marked route and then finding our own way back. On this day we started just outside the village of Rowlestone. With the dogs scampering delightedly ahead, and the unfamiliar feeling of sunshine on our faces, we walked up a lane, clambered over a stile, and then climbed up a steep, sloping field to be rewarded by far-reaching views across the patchwork of fields and woods – the dramatic outlines of Hay Bluff and the Skirrid sharp against the blue sky.
After the village of Walterstone, we descended towards the river, crossed it by a wooden footbridge and started the steep, breathless climb up the other side of the valley, the hedgerows crowded with wild flowers and birds furiously foraging to feed their young.
A narrow path alongside a millstream brought us to the Herefordshire village of Clodock. The pub proved to be a gem. Run by the same family for generations, the Cornewall Arms serves drinks through a hatch and we joined the regulars for a pint of local cider in a room more reminiscent of a family sitting room than a pub. Across the road the old watermill was having an open day. There are records of a corn mill here dating back to as early as the 13th century, but the building standing now dates back to the 17th century, lovingly restored by its owners to full working order. We joined a tour, followed by tea and cake made with the mill's own flour. Fortified, we started our return walk home, relaxed, carefree, and sun-kissed.
No work had been done and we felt thoroughly festive – a proper holiday.
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