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Harley's Mountain Air

This bracing walk in a corner of Herefordshire is just what the doctor ordered.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 755ft (230m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Meadows, field paths, woodland tracks with roots, 10 stiles

Landscape Wooded hillsides and farmland, views to higher Welsh hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 201 Knighton & Presteigne

Start/finish SO 364672

Dog friendliness Horses near Lingen but few sheep; exciting woods

Parking At St Michael's Church, Lingen (tuck in well)

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk away from the church and cross over to take the minor road signposted 'Willey'. When you reach the first bend, follow the fingerpost directly ahead. Climb over a difficult gate beside a small corrugated shed, then walk by the paddock edge, reaching a little-used lane in trees.

2 Strike up the field, passing a dead oak. Follow a waymarker up and slightly right. In the corner, negotiate the rusty gate between better ones. At the derelict Mynde Farm skirt left, around two collapsed buildings. Find a gate on the right behind a low building still standing.

3 Go down and up a wide meadow to a stile seen from afar. Veer left, passing beside Mountain Buildings on a deeply rutted, rocky track. Some 160yds (146m) further, enter a large field. The line you require is diagonally across the field (but if ridged with potatoes, for example, follow two field edges left); then keep that line, now with a hedge on your left. Take the track along this breezy ridge to a gate with a small pool to the right (possibly dry in high summer). Above and behind you is the dull, grey trig point. (Walk 44 leaves here.)

4 Turn left, initially preferring the left-hand field edge to the lane, here overgrown. Descend steadily for 650yds (594m). At the bottom move left, down to a small gate. Through trees, shortly emerge close to The Red House. Go dead ahead, finding a narrow path within trees, right of the garage and beside a hedge. Within 40yds (37m) negotiate a metal gate. Do not be tempted down; instead move left, beside a wire fence for just a few paces, then, maintaining that fence's line, proceed to walk below a narrow ridge on a faint green tractor track for perhaps 100yds (91m). When the ground ahead drops steeply into a dell turn half left, to walk down the woody edge of a meadow. In the second meadow, where the trees bulge out to the left, dive back into the woodland - a waymarker on an oak is reassuring.

5 Go steadily ahead, sometimes boggy, in woodland then lush pasture, for ½ mile (800m). At a wobbly silver-grey gate drop left 10ft (3m) to a waymarked stile into a once pollarded, streamside lane. Reach a road.

6 Turn left. After 450yds (411m), on a bend, go straight down the field to a hedge beside some farm buildings. Find a stile in that left corner. Go ahead, to another stile that gives on to the village road - take care! Turn right to view the church before reaching your car.

After the Second World War the nascent European Economic Community devised the well-intentioned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to address food shortages. This 'good idea' did not embrace the diversity of farming conditions, practices and cultures, and could not foresee subsequent technological advances. In its later years the CAP fell into disrepute - its supporters might say because it was so successful - because surpluses resulted, and maintaining these perishable stores was costly. The scheme was also contentious because many of the larger players in the global food market, in particular the United States, were jumping up and down, saying (correctly, it seems) that exportation of such surpluses was illegal because they arose from subsidised production.

It was therefore deemed necessary to reduce the European output - 'set-aside' was introduced in the 1992 CAP reforms. Under the scheme, farmers essentially left some fields 'unfarmed' and received financial compensation for loss of income. That such a scheme was completely contrary to the traditions, instincts and ethics of many in the farming community was overlooked.

Set-aside was still running in 2001, when farmers were obliged to leave 10 per cent of their food acreage out of food production. The payment (or 'compensation') received was partly dependent upon which side of the Welsh border your land lay. In England the rate was £88 per acre (£218 per hectare) but in Wales it was £77 per acre (£190 per hectare). Set-aside land could be used for growing 'industrial' as opposed to food crops. Set-aside land could be either part of a crop rotation or left for successive years. In environmental terms, favoured fields would be those adjacent to existing hedgerows, copses, commons and the like.

The latest 'radical' change to the way in which the European Union manages its agriculture was floated in 2002. The crux of the new strategy is to cut the link between the quantity a farm produces and the size of the subsidy it receives, instead making fixed, one-off payments based on historical values, and making payments for 'environmental services'. This goes down well with environmentalists - who say that the United Kingdom has the 'fastest rate of birdlife diversity loss in the EU' - since it removes the financial incentive to intensify farming. In its simplest form, the argument runs that a sheep farmer who is paid per sheep will put as many sheep on the land as possible, leading to overgrazing and consequent erosion and loss of biodiversity. However, if the small-scale hill farmer is happy with the money side of it, this does not insure against environmental degradation - encroachment by forest, bracken and the like - owing to undergrazing. Clearly the solutions to the agricultural economy will continue to tax policymakers for years to come.

Where to eat and drink

Lingen's pub, the Royal George, has fine ales from Wye Valley Brewery, and a beer garden (no dogs in the bar). Lunchtime snacks are only available at weekends. The tea rooms at Lingen Nursery and Garden are open from Easter to September, whereas the nursery is open from February to October; all are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. If visiting Presteigne you'll find several options, for example, the 1616 Radnorshire Arms and the Bull Hotel. Close by, looking incongruous in a black-and-white building, is a Chinese take away. There's a fish and chip shop too, which also sells veggie burgers.

While you're there

Cross into Wales and visit nearby delightful Presteigne. It is surely only the border that keeps it out of the Black & White Villages Trail. Its main street is strewn with black-and-white buildings. The Judge's Lodging in Presteigne is a hands-on illustration of life and its social strata in the 1870s. A few miles south east is Shobdon Airfield, one of many built during the Second World War. For a different perspective on north Herefordshire, try a flight in a light plane or microlight.

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