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Kilpeck and Orcop Hill

A walk once enjoyed by a young woman who became a wartime heroine.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 590ft (180m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, tracks and minor lanes, 21 stiles

Landscape Wooded, grazed and cultivated hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 189 Hereford & Ross-on-Wye

Start/finish SO 445304

Dog friendliness Good, on-lead exercise, not allowed in Kilpeck churchyard

Parking Spaces beside St Mary's and St David's Church, Kilpeck

Public toilets None on route


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Walk down to the Red Lion. Turn right. At the junction follow 'Garway Hill'. Take the second fingerpost. Find another stile behind The Knoll (house). Strike diagonally across pasture. Cross another stile, now with the field boundary on your right. Veer left to reach a lane at a bend. Turn left. Follow waymarkers through trees, then go straight down a field to near a junction.

2 Turn left, past Two Brooks. After 500yds (457m) turn left, through a gate by Grafton Oak, tucked behind. Soon in a scenic meadow, follow the fence until a crossing stile. Now keep ahead but drift down, guided by a gigantic oak. The stile you need is ahead, not another, further down, that crosses a brook. Contour with trees on your left for two fields. In the third find a footbridge down and left.

3 Follow waymarkers, diagonally up the field. Walk with a wire fence on your right. Leave this long field at its top end (but, to observe rights of way, first cross and re-cross the wire fence on your right, via a wooded area). Go diagonally to an opening beside a hollow oak, not the more easily seen, three-bar stile. Move left to walk along the left-hand field edge. Ignore a waymarker into the left-hand field - any way out has completely disappeared. Instead keep straight, to a tarmac road. Turn left. After 650yds (594m) a fingerpost slants left.

4 Take this path through bracken to a track. Turn right for 25yds (23m), then left, to pass to the right of Saddlebow Farm. The avenue below leads into a field. Walk along this right edge, to just before another gate. Join a very good track, following it for 650yds (594m), until three gates in a corner.

5 Take the second on the left. Beyond New House Farm go over ¼ mile (400m) to a junction. Don't turn down to Kilpeck yet! Go 160yds (146m) further. Here go left, around some old farm buildings. Descend to an unseen gap not 50yds (46m) left of the bottom right-hand corner. Out of this copse, cross two fields to pass between the buildings of The Priory. An avenue of horse chestnuts leads to the Red Lion.

The bottom of a garden seems an odd place for a museum, but the Violette Szabó, GC Museum is a very personal one. It stands in the grounds of Cartref, the modest house to which Violette Szabó would come to visit her cousins. Rosemary Rigby, who lives there now, is both the museum's creator and curator. Among the many attending the museum's opening in 2000 was Violette's daughter, Tania.

Violette Bushell had a French mother and an English father. When Violette was 11 they moved to London. Violette met Etienne Szabó, a Hungarian-born French national 12 years older than she, at London's Bastille Day Parade in 1940. After a whirlwind romance - not uncommon in wartime - they married 41 days later. In February 1942 Violette gave birth to Tania, whom Etienne was never to see, for he succumbed to chest wounds inflicted in the Battle of El Alamein that October. Seeking revenge, Violette joined the Auxillery Territorial Service (ATS), from where she was head-hunted by the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her second mission on the ground in France was to be her last.

Among the museum's exhibits is a door of the car believed to have been the one in which Violette Szabó, Jacques Dufour (the local Maquis leader) and a friend of his had been travelling to visit another Maquis member when they encountered a Nazi road block. In the ensuing gun battle her two companions escaped, uninjured, but Violette had to surrender when she ran out of ammunition. She was - posthumously - awarded the George Cross, the first woman to be honoured in this way. Although unaware of major Nazi troop movements, it isn't clear why Dufour, who was driving, decided to take on the soldiers at the road block, rather than turning the car round and hoping they wouldn't be pursued, or at least hoping to find a better escape route, for example, but this was the beginning of the end.

From her capture on 10 June 1944 until her execution on 28 January 1945, Violette was moved eight times, enduring rape, brutal assaults and inhumane living conditions, particularly at Ravensbrück concentration camp and three months at Königsberg on the Russian Front. The outcome could have been so different. Alerted to where Violette was being held, two SOE colleagues intended to rescue her from Limoges Prison, which wasn't heavily guarded. Tragically, just hours before they planned to do it, she was moved to Fresnes Prison in Paris.

Of the SOE's 55 women members, 11 were killed in service, either in France or in concentration camps. R J Minney's biography of Violette Szabó was published in 1956. In the 1958 film, Carve Her Name with Pride, Virginia McKenna - who attended the museum's opening - portrayed Violette. Although Steve Tomlinson's summary account of Violette Szabó's life, available at the museum, doesn't dwell on Ravensbrück's horrors (where 92,000 women died), it still leaves a grim memory of a fanatically and remorselessly cruel regime.

What to look for

People flock to Kilpeck church to look at the large number of decorated corbels that adorn the building's exterior. As Norman churches go, it is one of the best preserved in England. It was probably built at the same time as a former Benedictine Priory - 1134. Beside the church is a substantial motte and bailey, also 12th-century. Part of this has been absorbed into the churchyard. There are vestiges of an enclosure, roughly 200yds (183m) by 300yds (274m), defining a Saxon village here.

While you're there

Visit the Violette Szabó, GC Museum. Add a quick and easy 3½ miles (5.7km) walk away from the ponds, curving round to The Mynde's iron front gates. Turn right, past the lake. Now just keep going on waymarked driveways and tracks for nearly 1½ miles (2.4km). At the A466 go diagonally left - the museum is 275yds (250m) down the lane. It is open on Wednesdays, 11am-1pm and 2-4pm, April to October, but please telephone in advance should you wish to visit outside these times.

Where to eat and drink

At Wormelow Tump, on the A466 and close to the museum, is the Tump Inn, just reward for those who have made it there on foot. It has a beer garden, a children's play area, bar meals, snacks and an Italian restaurant. Happily, the Red Lion at Kilpeck stands just two minutes from the end of the route, an ideal spot for well-earned refreshment.


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