Kington, Herefordshire

12th - 14th November 2004


Hergest Ridge is a hill on the border of  England and Wales, the highest point being in England, near the town of Kington . The Offa's Dyke long distance footpath leads along the ridge, although not quite to the summit, nor to the trig point. During the 2nd World War, the hill was cultivated, but has now reverted to rough grazing/moorland, and is plagued by bracken (coarse fern). In getting there from Hertfordshire, I took a route via Aylesbury, up the A40 through Oxford, Cheltenham, Ross-on-Wye and Hereford, to Kington, a long way off, virtually on the Welsh border in North Herefordshire, arriving 22h30. I was keen on the region because when I was a kid, I remember an elder brother corresponding with French pen-pal, who had been on a student a sabbatical in the Wye Valley. I recall the many beautiful postcards she sent him and found the landscape with its beautiful valleys and meandering streams infinitely appealing. The hostel we were to be staying in had recently undergone renovations and we were the first to occupy it since. There was an outside drying room and muddy boots were to be left at the door, owing to the cold, windy conditions, despite the sunny blue skies. I was allocated a room all to myself, adjacent to the rear entrance of the rambling, old house.  recall this because a greater number of children turned up than is normally the case and the place of nooks and crannies turned into a virtual playground for the kids, as they explored every nook and cranny in round after round of hiding go seek. At times it got completely out of hand. The place was comfortable and the lounge, in particular, complete with fireplace, was splendidly cosy with its huge couch and armchairs. And so it was that we left the village after heading up the High Street and Church Street, along up a road that eventually led us up the hillside to Hergest Ridge, in an area known as the Welsh Marches, taking us across the Welsh Border and down through the the town of Gladestry.

Jane and her version of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies; Shadows across Hergest Ridge.


Shadows across Hergest Ridge in the Welsh Marches.


Hergest Ridge, though stunningly beautiful, is plagued by bracken. The word bracken is of Old Norse origin, related to the Swedish word bräken, meaning fern.



An easy path along Hergest Ridge down the hillside towards Gladestry.


Just outside the Welsh town of Gladestry, Herefordshire.




In the afternoon sunshine in the Welsh Marches, stopping for a bite to eat, a cuppa and a wee doch 'n doris afore we gang awa.

Hergest Ridge is also the title of the album, written and mostly performed by Mike Oldfield. It was his second album and like its predecessor, Tubular Bells, was number 1 in the UK album charts, but unlike its predecessor, it went straight in at the top spot. After being in the spotlight for Tubular Bells, something that Oldfield found uncomfortable, he retreated to the English countryside to work on his next opus. Hergest Ridge, named for a hill on the border of Herefordshire and Wales near where he was living at the time, was the result. Like Tubular Bells, the album is divided into two movements, but unlike its multi-themed and rapidly-changing predecessor, Hergest Ridge involves economic use of the various themes and with more sophisticated musical development. Oldfield is also innovative with Hergest Ridge in the novel way in which he builds up textures, commonly involving multiple layers of electric guitar recorded by first amplifying heavily (to achieve a sustained organ-like quality) and then reducing the volume greatly. Textures are extended further using various organ timbres and the use of voice as an instrument (the voice is never treated prominently and is deliberately reduced as much as possible and thus permitted largely for textural effect).

According to producer Tom Newman, parts of the album were also recorded at Chipping Norton, and the original release mix created at Air Studios, London. Hergest Ridge was remixed in quadraphonic stereo by Oldfield in 1976 for the 4-LP set, Boxed. Following the creation of the remix, Oldfield stated that he wished for this new version to be the one used for all future releases of the album. All CD releases have the "Boxed" mix, as do most of the later pressings of LP and cassette. The remastered bootleg version of the original mix is distributed in the Internet. An orchestral version of Hergest Ridge was arranged and conducted by David Bedford; parts of various performances were used in the documentary The Space Movie. To date, it has not been officially released. Hergest Ridge was the number one album the week of 14 September 1974 and remained so for three weeks until being knocked out of the spot by its predecessor Tubular Bells. Oldfield is thus one of only three artists (along with the Beatles and Bob Dylan) to have defeated themselves in this manner. Hergest Ridge is a popular vacation destination for Oldfield's fans, and the house where he lived at the time, The Beacon, is now a guest house. The cover photograph features scenery from Hergest Ridge, and was taken by Trevor Key; the Irish Wolfhound on the cover (and on the LP label) is named Bootleg.


Group shot on Hergest Ridge in the Welsh Marches.


Descending into the town of Gladestry in the Welsh Marches.


Gladestry in the Welsh Marches and the church of St Mary the Virgin.


The hills are indeed alive with the sound of music, well the probably were when Mr Oldfield still frequented these parts. I was told that evening by a woman in the local Ye Olde Tavern that flew model radio controlled aircraft on the ridge. We stopped at a pool on the ridge - it seemed appropriate given the wonderful scenery surrounding us. The Black Mountains could be seen to the south. We stopped for a bite and a nice warm tea. As is also customary hikes, a trend started either by Martin Lighten or Peter Karran (this would have to be confirmed by more senior members), an assortment of whiskeys or liqueurs is usually passed around, to warm the inner lining, so to speak. Just then we heard the distinctive sound of a horn being blown, as if we were about to witness a real, live foxhunt. This being in news of late owing to the legislation passed by the labour Government, effectively banning the sport, were we indeed about to experience the law being put to the test by the will of the people, albeit a privileged minority? Perhaps it was the combination of the sunshine and alcohol, but my imagination conjured up all kinds of possibilities as to what we were about to play witness to. Well, the drama died a death even before it began to unfold and we were left none the wiser. Perhaps it was someone just blowing their own trumpet, so to speak.




Whilst on the subject (you can tell I'm padding this out because I can't remember much of this hike anyway), a wee doch and dorris (sp) is a whisky and a beer chaser (can also mean just one for the road). I discovered that it is not Gaelic it is broad Scots. I recall the famous song sung by Harry Lauder: "Just a wee doch & doris just a wee dram that's ah just wee doch and doris afore we gang awa, there's a wee wifie watin in wee butt and ben, if ye can say its a braw much moon licht nach yer aw richt wee me". In English, I believe, the translation goes something like "just a small whisky and beer, (can also be used as just a dram/drink) just a one for the road before we depart the premises. There is a small lady awaiting me in a small 2 room cottage, and if you can say its a lovely moonlit night tonight, you're OK with me". It was with some haste that I wished to get back to the town, in time to watch the South Africa versus Ireland rugby game. If my memory serves me well, I think we got thumped, so perhaps I needn't have bothered. We had drinks and ate in the pub - I think it was steak and ale pie - I can't, for the life of me, remember. Later we paid a visit, on our return to the hostel, to the quaint, decidedly not-so-obvious Ye Olde Tavern, just down the road in KingtonGM itself, which doubled as Jake's Bistro. An unusual setting for a pub, probably a conversion from some sort of residence. This is where I confirmed the origins of  Mike Oldfield's connection to Hergest Ridge!



Kington's revamped hostel; An unusual conversion of a former residence


Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.


And so it was that I headed back on Sunday morning via Ross-on-Wye, where I stopped for lunch and then later, Hereford. The weather was foul but I was none too impressed with Hereford, to be honest.  I felt it was a complete letdown.  Expecting a quaint rural old-world town, I found it to be somewhat lacking in real English village character. Having spent a fair amount of time in these two towns, I needed to press on through Gloucester and Cheltenham, which I found somewhat more impressionable.  I had tickets for a Branford Marsalis concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London.  My luck ran out when I got stuck in a traffic jam in Cheltenham and then later on the M4, after a local football match had come to an end.  This cost me too much time and I thought that I might still make it for the interval, to catch the second half of the performance but to no avail. Unfamiliar with driving central London, I took a wrong turn towards Piccadilly Circus and ended up on the right side of the Thames but still some distance from the RFH.  I had no choice but to make a U-turn and head back out of central London via Hammersmith, to pick up the M25 north, on to Welwyn, where I still lived at the time.


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Links to other websites:

  • The Official Mike Oldfield Information service - website

  • Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - website

  • Wye Valley walk  - website

  • Wye Valley on Wikipedia -  website

  • Hergest Ridge - wiki

  • Offa's Dyke - wiki