This walk includes a stretch by an abandoned waterway, now being restored.
Distance 7.8 miles (12.5km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 260ft (79m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field and woodland paths, minor roads, at least 35 stiles
Landscape Gently undulating, mixed farming, woodland, derelict canal
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 202 Leominster & Bromyard
Start/finish SO 642415
Dog friendliness Close control near livestock and on minor roads
Parking St Bartholomew's Church, Ashperton
Public toilets None on route
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1 From the church car park take the 'forty shillings' gate, behind houses. (For all of ten paces the path is actually in a garden.) Join a track to the A417. Turn left, then right, beside a driveway. Follow a fingerpost across meadows for about 600yds (549m). Find a gate beside a cricket net. Veer right. Cross a driveway down a long field. Join Haywood Lane near a house. Turn left. Follow this for roughly 1 mile (1.6km). Find a stile on the left just beyond a gate about 100yds (91m) after the driveway leading to Upleadon Court.
2 Cross large arable fields and a ditch, then Upleadon Farm's driveway. Aim for the far left-hand corner, then skirt some woodland to your left, later striking left (waymarked) up a huge field. At Gold Hill Farm go right of a tall shed. Behind this, turn left then briefly up and right. Follow a boundary remnant to a road.
3 Turn left for ¼ mile (400m). Where the road turns left go ahead for a short ½ mile (800m), initially beside a wood. Over a rotting plank turn left but in 25yds (23m) turn right. After 500yds (457m) enter trees. On leaving them strike half right for White House.
4 Turn right along the road. When you reach the junction, take the footpath opposite (there's a ditch on your right). Beware (please!) of the chance to smash your head on a horizontal tree trunk just after concentrating on a single-plank footbridge. Walk another 700yds (640m) across fields, over three footbridges and under power lines, passing through a gap to another stile, but do not cross this - note three waymarkers on its far side. Turn left, heading towards old orchards. Just beyond Homend find a stile in a far left-hand corner, shielded by a huge ash and a persistent elder. Turn left, soon moving right to double gates flanking a wide concrete bridge. After the leafy avenue keep ahead, eventually veering right. Go 550yds (503m), crossing the driveway to Canon Frome Court, then another track, finally reaching a road by a spinney.
5 Cross over the road and walk straight to the canal. Turn left. In 140yds (128m) turn right, over the canal. Veer left and uphill, finding a large oak in the top left-hand corner. Keep this line despite the field boundary shortly curving away. On reaching a copse turn right, later moving left into an indistinct lane. The village hall heralds the A417. Turn left, along the pavement. Turn right to the church and the car park at the start of the walk.
Unless you know where to look, the only hint of the Hereford and Gloucester Canal in the city of Hereford today is in the street named Canal Road, which led to the canal's western terminus. In the east the canal joined the River Severn at Over, just west of Gloucester. The canal's success was short-lived.
Since the 1980s the Hereford and Gloucester Canal Trust has striven to restore the canal to its former glory. The Trust's greatest tangible achievements to date have been restoring the skew bridge at Monkhide, a section of canal at Yarkhill, and the Over Basin, across the border in Gloucestershire. Perhaps the greatest intangible achievement to date has been the partial winning over of opinion. Gradually people in authority are realising that this isn't just men playing with water and boats instead of railways and steam trains (and not just because some of the canal volunteers are women). Perhaps it's because they have noticed the thriving and growing canal leisure sector in adjacent Worcestershire, where almost as many people overnight on boats (13 per cent) as they do in bed and breakfast accommodation (14 per cent). A few years ago the planning authorities were successfully lobbied in Hereford city. The service road to a new retail park in the north of the city - connecting Newtown Road and Burcott Road - includes a bridge that spans the course of the old canal, instead of cutting through it or filling it with hardcore or concrete. Most recently, Herefordshire Council's blueprint for redeveloping the northern part of Hereford's city centre proposes restoration of the canal basin.
Inspired by photographs, I went to see the skew bridge at Monkhide. Do this yourself and, like me, you'll surely be disappointed. True, it's on private land, but no provision has been made for access - in short, you can't legitimately take a good look at engineer Stephen Ballard's mini-masterpiece, now a Grade II listed building. Ballard later worked as a railway engineer. His grandson, also called Stephen, unveiled a plaque on the bridge. It's a shame that the skew bridge hasn't been made into a modest 'place to visit'.
Records show that, typically, a lock keeper would be paid 14s per week but his employers would deduct 2s per week for rent. Lock cottages may have been rudimentary, but what could someone today earning, say, £350 per week rent for £50 per week? This brings to mind the old but still valid expression, 'the best place to put your money is in bricks and mortar' - house bricks, that is, not canal bricks.
About ½ mile (800m) south of Ashperton is the Hopton Arms Inn. It serves bar meals and also has a restaurant. You can also get tea and coffee here. There is a beer terrace (beside the main road) and a separate children's play area.
Near the cricket net and the road beyond it are the Ashperton Tunnel portals, in a deep cutting, dug in 1840 - presumably the unnatural heaps thereabouts are canal spoil. You should see some solar panels in use near Gold Hill Farm.
The Hop Pocket Craft Centre at Bishop's Frome (also near Walks 28 and 29) is a mecca for craftspeople and artists, providing workshops, studios and shop windows for handcrafted wares. The centre, in converted farm buildings, has expanded, largely due to a six-figure Rural Enterprise grant awarded in 2002, to cover some 40 per cent of the conversion costs. You'll also find locally made food and drink here such as cheeses, game, wines and ciders.