The walking simply flows all day long without a cow or a territorial dog or an impatient car driver in sight. I find quiet back lanes all the way west on my journey to Dorstone.
I am pleasantly surprised. I had felt anxious about the early part of the journey where there was a stretch of main road and a stretch of footpath across farmland but the road is pavemented and when I reach the footpath I meet a farmer in his garden and am able to check there are no cows in the field and that the way is clearly marked. He reassures me it is and details the way to go, adding;
You have to be assertive about your power, its the way of nature, the way of farming.
I am interested at the nature of advice I am receiving from the male guides I meet. They respond to my admissions of fear with gentle challenges to stand in my power and as I walk my sense of a right to be here is increasing.
People in these parts are good hearted. A woman in a car at the main road edge stops to check if I am on the wye valley walk, eager to give me directions. I am in Bridge Sollers having come down off the Roman road that leads west to cross the river.
I explain, as I have to many now, that though in a sense I am following the course of the Wye, I am not particularly following the marked walkway but rather my penchant for village hopping and set off again past the church at the start of the next lane. I am about to walk away n by when a statue at its corner beckons me in. I hesitate, its a longer walk today, 14miles with some steep hills to climb, but the statue gets the better of me. He may be called St Andrew but he is for sure modelled on Merlin, complete with oaken staff and he stares out in a gesture of vulnerable acquisence for what is.
The church porch looks ancient with oaken nails holding together oaken panels and roof arches and in the corner a yew with massive girth stands besides her more slender two daughters. My next village is Preston on Wye. I have noticed it on maps close since the beginning of planning for this trip for no particular reason. I go into the village to find the pub. It is lunchtime and I am ready for both a sit down and food.
It is called the Yew Tree and there I am given a warm welcome. Roy is an ex sailor complete with golden earring. He tells me the tales of this place whilst Nicole brings out delicious food made by Johan.
This is a town full of scruffy houses and kind people
He says and proceeds to tell me that when his wife died three years ago on the day of the funeral the pub changed hands and changed his life. The landlady and her staff took him under their wing and he has eaten his lunch there ever since. They even consult him when they change the menu to add some of his favourites.
I’m their chief food taster
He says and he and Nicole talk about the great live music nights they have and of how weddings and funerals are held in the marquees on the green outside. The food is excellent and half the price I have eaten anywhere on this journey. I recall the fat chef and the skinny chef who boasted their average food was gourmet as I eat the best minted pea soup I have ever tasted for a price I haven’t paid for soup in several years.
This is a pub I can recommend wholeheartedly. They are an intrinsic part of the community playing their part fully and welcoming and interested in passing travellers. Relief courses through my veins. It is still alive then, the spirit of hospitality that is the raison d’etre of inns, though many nowadays would struggle to truly understand this.
Roy wants to tell me a story once he hears what I am doing. When his wife was dying he met a woman who was a lay preacher at the hospital who helped to make things more comfortable for them. One day she saw them at home and saw a photo if Roy’s children. She said they must be related for the likeness. It turned out that they were distant cousins and gave traced their family back to the 1609s and are now in touch with relations in Australia too.
When my wife died God gave me a new family
Says Roy who was orphaned young and sent from London to Devon in the war as a refugee.
When I take my leave of the Yew Tree Roy stands up to shake my hand and give me the onward blessing of these parts
And I look at this old man who has made my stay memorable. I stare in amazement, close to he looks almost my age…
He says. Its meeting people like you that keeps me young. Clearly an open mind and a receptive attitude is what keeps us young. Roy has told me of the Canadian who walked through for charity and wrote to Roy to let him know how much money he’d raised. I think of how well placed this inn and its incumbent welcomer is to receive pilgrims of all sorts and delight that I have chosen this route. I resolve to write to Roy too and make sure I have the pubs details before I leave. Nicole tells me she is having six weeks off to go to Pennsylvania to work on a summer camp where children can receive counselling. She is going to teach them to cook. She says the landlady is keeping her job for her and we both agree this is how it should be.
As she hands over the pubs card she says we do accommodation too, in the bunk house, about £10 a night Roy it is. If ever there was a pilgrims pub this is one!
Johan comes out if the kitchen as his shift does to an end and I am readying myself to leave, our final discussion is on tattoos, all but me have them and I tell of the dragon I always intended but never did. I muse as I leave on our ancestors who would hav e tattooed their skin and how times change in terms of what is the norm. I find it somewhat refreshing to be the odd one out for not having a tattoo.
The friendly trio have told me the best way to Dorstone is through Moccas but I have penchant to visit Peter Church and follow the back lanes onwards. I spy on the map there is a well and I want to see it. I find the lane and search a little but soon give up wondering if the curved stones at the bottom of the lane over a brook might be it. I am just starting to walk on when a couple call me back
Are you looking for the well?
They direct me over a style and across a field and behind a shed.
When I get there I see the well is owned and managed by the waterboard. I look through the barbed wire topped fence, then I look again and I am under the fence in an instant. There in the mossy bank is an ancient holy head carved from stone a bearded green man, St peter no doubt, but without a doubt this is Merlin too.
I clamber down to the issuing stream to drink from the well that still supplies peter church with its water as it runs fresh, rainwater from the mountains.
The waterboard info sign explains that it has recently reinstated the head where it is supposed to be having been cemented into a wall for years but of course originally was the drinking fountains spout. It goes on to say that though it was known in christian times it was clearly of much older pagan origins and that these holy heads were everywhere where a holy well was found.
As I walk on I feel truly blessed at the synchronisities that are creating this walk of mine as I walk by ancient relic acre ancient re!ic without plan or design but a determination to follow my nose along the map and follow my bliss rather than marked tourist ways.
The climb up Stockly hill to gain this place is steep and goes on for a mile or more. This was the Anita had recommended over our shared garden breakfast of soaked chia seeds and fresh fruit walnut toast and tahini. It is perfect, it means I do t have the final steep climb I have been warned about in Dorstone. I am already up high. Anita’s Peruvian grain has served me well. It was given to the warriors who would run over mountaibs to keep them going being rich in nutrients, a super food.
I am now on the final stretch and arrived at Dorstone village hall, past the pub and Dorstones front room – its excellent community centre, in plenty of time for tonights event – its a fundraiser for Nepal that Looby’s partner Chris is putting on. Its a slide show of images from Nepal and the Himilayan Permaculture centre he founded there in the 80s after having originally gone out there as a VSO volunteer.
As the audience settles itself I meet the kindly couple who made sure I didn’t miss St peters head well. I feel amongst friends at this event of international import high in the hills of the Welsh – English borderlands.
The ensuing talk has my total attention the whole time, a very unusual experience for me. Within five minutes talking heads have usually sent me off into a reverie if my own whilst they ramble on. Not so with Chris Evans. If you want to truly appreciate understand permaculturec as a design system, and of how it works to create sustainable resilient communities able to produce their own food and build , and, as it turns out, earthquake proof buildings then look out for one of his events or come to Applewood his Dorstone Permaculture centre for a course run by him and Looby and you will not be disappointed.
Chris began creating perma culture design centres in Nepal and the slides we see of the work that has been done are truly inspiring.
At the end of the talk, when locals begin to ask questions about Permaculture locally I get to meet Flora, who has just started working to raise awareness of how important it is to spend time with the dead and dying and not to let their bodies be taken without at least a three day wake. We share experiences. I talk of the wake of a lovely friend and communard at bowden housecommunity where I used to live and how healing that was for me not having had the opportunity to do that with my own father when he died in a hospital bed. Flora talks of the death of her husband in kenya and of how their five year old daughter was able to say
That body was just a house for daddy’s soul, wasn’t it?
I recall later my good friend Lisa Anderson telling of how it was to sit and play music and sing to a dying then dead woman and her family. It feels good that we are beginning to remember how important the dying process is, every bit as important as the being born process.
Looby and I walk out of Dorstone and up to Applewood. She is only the second person to walk with me on the warriors way. We climb the hill slowly admiring the sunset as dusk begins to fall.
If you want to learn more about Permaculture you can get Looby’s books here: