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Rent-a-Bee in the Golden Valley

A busy pilgrimage from the River Dore to the River Wye and back, across a heavenly landscape.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,165ft (355m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Minor lanes, good tracks, meadows, couple of short but severe descents over grass, 24 stiles

Landscape A route with many picnic opportunities!

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 201 Knighton & Presteigne orOL13 Brecon Beacons (East)

Start/finish SO 313416

Dog friendliness Grazing land, but some freedom in sections of woodland

Parking Car park beside Dorstone Post Office

Public toilets Beside village hall, near green

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1 Go down the near side of the triangular village green but turn right (not to the church), passing fine houses with finer views. At the lane end turn left, passing D'Or Produce Ltd (who pack potatoes). At the B4348 care is required. Go straight ahead, bridging the River Dore. Be sure to switch sides before the road bends severely right. Follow the driveway towards Fayre Way Stud Farm. A clearly waymarked route across pastures leads directly up to Arthur's Stone.

2 Beyond Arthur's Stone take a fingerpost. Cross the second field diagonally. Follow the left side of an ineffective fence to a stile left of the corner. Two fields further descend very steeply on grass beside larches. Keep beside the hedge to find an awkward stile. Take the lane but skirt right of Finestreet Farm using several stiles. In another steep meadow find a stile below and left of a massive standing oak with a fallen one beside it. Cross a field diagonally, to pass beside a newly renovated, timber-framed house. Beyond is Bredwardine.

3 Cross the road carefully. In 80yds (73m) an avenue leads to St Andrew's Church. At the very end a stile and waymarkers lead to Bredwardine's bridge over the River Wye - ideal for a picnic.

4 Go back to Point 3. Take the '25%' gradient road beside the Red Lion Hotel. Go 700yds (640m) up this lane, including its steepest section, to just before Hill Cottage: here a fingerpost points right, and behind you is a '1 in 4' sign.

5 Keep ahead, ignoring a right turn after 160yds (146m). When the road rises sharply after a stream, find a gate on the right, just past a house (called Finestreet Dingle). Now ascend this dell (also called Finestreet Dingle) guided by blue arrows. In front of a house turn left then left again, to skirt a plantation. A row of hawthorns points to your stile near the brow. Tackle an awkward gate near some scrawny pines, keeping this line to a minor road. Turn right. In 325yds (297m) turn left (sign '20%'). Down here after another 325yds (297m) find a fingerpost, hidden behind a holly tree.

6 Soon join the track visible ahead. Now rattle on, to and through Llan Farm. However, 220yds (201m) beyond it, take the diagonal footpath (not the old lane, right). Cross a sunken lane, the old railway, then the village playing fields to reach the road near the church. Cross over, then skirt right of the churchyard, along a fenced path, to the village green and the start.

Bees are fascinating. One could write a book this size just on the biology and sociology of bees, and still have much to write. We shall have to content ourselves with a little bit about how Herefordshire has benefited from them. Beekeeping is a combination of science, art and skilled labour, an all-consuming hobby or, occasionally, a way of earning a living. After Dorstone, the next village going south is Peterchurch, home of Golden Valley Apiaries and where David Williams and his father before him have kept bees since 1959.

At one time David and June Williams' Golden Valley Apiaries managed over 540 colonies of bees, although today the number is closer to 100. A typical year would yield 8½-10 tonnes of honey - about 20,000 1lb jars - but one exceptionally good year produced over 13 tonnes. The honey, which has won prizes at the Three Counties Show and the Royal Welsh Show, is largely sold through local shops, with some being sold in bulk to packing companies. (A meagre 5 per cent of the 25,000 tonnes of honey eaten in the UK each year is produced by British bees - so much for food mountains.)

All this honey has to be collected. Bees typically forage over a distance of about 1½ miles (2.4km). Fruit growing is financially a high-risk venture - apples and pears, but more so the soft fruits such as blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries - so rather than leave pollination to chance, growers hire colonies of bees. Although almost impossible to measure scientifically, it is generally reckoned that hiring bees during the flowering period can improve the fruit yield by 30-40 per cent compared with merely relying on the local, wild bee population.

Most of Golden Valleys Apiaries' work is within a 40-mile (64km) radius. Bees are early risers - to deliver bees to a site means getting the hives into a vehicle before first light - otherwise, particularly on warmer mornings, the bees may have taken flight. Typically the hives are kept on a site for four to six weeks. Bees don't like the rain, but yields of honey are only seriously affected if there is very protracted wet weather. The greatest danger to the flowers they are pollinating is a late frost, but the fruits themselves are also susceptible to adverse weather such as heavy downpours and freakish hailstorms at picking time.

Any species is susceptible to diseases and viruses. Over 100 colonies were lost in the Golden Valley when varroasis struck in 1994-5. The crab-like mite Varroa jacobsoni is a mere 0.04 inches (1.1mm) long and 0.11 inches (1.7mm) wide. It is a parasite, sucking blood from the bee. In addition, the mite lays eggs in the honeycomb; once hatched, these suck blood through the body wall of the pupa of the honey bee. The colony will almost certainly be lost as the mites are often found only when it is too late.

While you're there

St Andrew's Church at Bredwardine is very much Kilvert's church, being where the Victorian diarist was rector when he died of peritonitis in 1879. It has a huge 12th-century font. Brobury House Gardens - seen from Point 4 - extend to 5 acres (2ha) in formal Victorian style.

Where to eat and drink

Dorstone's Pandy Inn sits serenely overlooking the village green. It has a delightful beer garden and play equipment for children. Its food has won many plaudits - best to eat after your walk, otherwise you may simply get too comfortable. Roughly half-way round, in Bredwardine, the handsome Red Lion Hotel is an irresistibly convenient place to stop, particularly as you'll pass it twice.

What to look for

Look out for wind farms. One is planned for Vagar Hill, plumb in line with Hay Bluff when viewed from Arthur's Stone. It is to help meet 'renewable energy targets'. In autumn 2002 over 250 people, many belonging to Friends of the Golden Valley, attended a meeting at which the plans were presented ? this story could run and run. Arthur's Stone itself is a chambered tomb dated 3700-2700 bc.

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