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Two Frome Valley Churches

Secluded churches with unique features, and special trees amid pastures.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 475ft (145m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths, dirt tracks, lanes and minor roads, 14 stiles

Landscape Orchards, woodlands and pasture in gently rolling hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 202 Leominster & Bromyard

Start/finish SO 679502

Dog friendliness Good early on, but otherwise often among livestock

Parking Roadside just before grassy lane to Acton Beauchamp's church - please tuck in tightly

Public toilets None on route

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1 Leave the churchyard by an iron gate in the top corner. Soon enter an orchard. Skirt round to the right, passing outbuildings of Church House Farm and then down to pass behind tall barns. Now the orchard track ascends. When 110yds (100m) beyond power lines, at the corner of a plantation, turn left (blue waymarker), to walk between orchard rows. At the end turn left. In roughly 160yds (146m), well before the power lines and just before trees shielding a pond, go right. Soon you'll have a hedge on your left; reach a gate and a stile of three railway sleepers.

2 Once through Halletshill Coppice drop straight down to a footbridge. Now go straight up the bank, swapping hedge sides, to a minor road. Turn right (and visit the church). Return to the road and turn right. At the entrance to The Hawkins take a stile, then follow waymarkers across a track to skirt this farm. Now head down the pastures to cross a footbridge over the Linton Brook.

3 Turn left, walking beside the Linton Brook for 5?8 mile (1km), to a road. Turn left for 160yds (146m). Turn right. Now the driveway to Upper Venn Farm runs for ½ mile (800m). Just before the farm buildings move left, to a stile roughly 70yds (64m) along the edge of the field from the farm.

4 Cross the field diagonally, to a gate in the left hedge. Turn left across a field, aiming slightly uphill, beside residual mature oaks. You'll find a stile beyond an electricity pole. Pick up a rough track to The Venn. Admire its cream walls and exposed timbers, then turn away, along the drive. Follow this down to the minor road.

5 Turn left, passing Frome Valley Vineyard on a sharp bend. At the crossroads go straight over. Climbing this quite steep lane, the Church of St Giles comes into view. Take the first turning on the left to return to your car.

At first sight the Church of St Giles at Acton Beauchamp is unremarkable, sitting comfortably on a hillside. Parts of it are Norman, but it was largely rebuilt in 1819. However, if you move to the left of the main door you will see a doorway that leads into the tower. The lintel to this doorway is nothing less than a re-used 9th-century stone sculpture, depicting a bird, a lion, and probably a goat - there is nothing like this from the Anglo-Saxon period in Herefordshire.

Through the gate into the churchyard in Acton Beauchamp, a grassy path slants up to the church. Your eye may follow the shiny black line of the handrail that assists people to and from the church door, but right in front of you is an excellent specimen of a wild service tree. It must have been planted there. Wild service trees actually in the wild are relatively rare nowadays, although it is quite fashionable to plant them in urban settings. Their leaves are easily confused with those of a plane tree, but the latter's bark is very distinctive.

It is rare for the seeds of the wild service tree to have the opportunity to germinate since they are eaten and, genetically, destroyed by wasps. (This is in contrast to the consumption of hawthorn berries by birds, for example, where the expulsion of the seed, intact, after digestion of its juicy berry coating, is an effective form of dispersal.)

Academics are uncertain as to the significance of the name 'service'. Most likely it is a contorted Anglicisation of its Latin name Sorbus torminalis. Before multiple varieties of apples became available, wild service trees were grown in orchards because their fruits are edible. My dictionary says that a 'sorb' is a wild service tree, and that its fruits are called 'sorb-apples'. (In the southern counties of England they were called chequers.) Other less convincing theories are that 'service' derives from the Latin 'cervisia' for beer - not far from the contemporary Spanish 'cerveza' - since the wild service fruits were fermented to make a beery drink, really as a predecessor to cyder. Alternatively, it could have some association with the French word for cherry, 'cerise', since, although a kiwi-fruit brown, not red, wild service fruits are of a size and shape comparable to cherries.

In Stanford Bishop, St James' Church is similarly isolated, but has a hilltop position. The stonework is of a similar vintage to that in Acton Beauchamp - Norman and 13th century. Several yew trees dominate the churchyard, the mightiest of which is said to be 1,200 years old; inside, you'll see a certificate to this effect. Also here, nestling in a corner, is the strikingly well preserved, capacious wooden chair said to have been used by St Augustine in the year ad 603.

What to look for

Apart from orchards you'll also see hop fields on this walk and, in the vicinity of Paunton Court, look through the hedgerows for vineyards. They belong to Frome Valley Vineyard. Established only in 1992, the product of a modest 4 acres (1.6ha) goes into the making of four dry wines, one medium sweet and a rosé.

While you're there

Over 300 rose varieties are at nearby Acton Beauchamp Roses. To the west, south of Pencombe, is the fabulous Shortwood Family Farm. Younger children will happily consume a whole day at this complete hands-on livestock experience and in its play barn. Everything the farm produces is organic and you can join in collecting eggs, feeding the young animals and milking cows and goats. In late October horses work the cider mill. Bromyard, a 'black-and-white' market town for centuries, has recently acquired a veneer of eccentricity with the launch of a Public Art Trail - it's certainly contemporary, in that it combines the appropriate with the frankly silly. Lastly, don't forget Bishop's Frome's Hop Pocket Craft Centre.

Where to eat and drink

Such is the effort required to find the diminutive Majors' Arms at Halmonds Frome that you might hope that drinks would be on the house. It's worth paying for the views alone. On the B4214 through Bishop's Frome, the Chase Inn has Bulmers' Original, Wye Valley's beer and Frome Valley Vineyard's wine. Dogs allowed in the beer garden. Behind it, hidden from the B road, the family-run Green Dragon sells Theakston's and Foster's. Hot drinks and jacket potatoes at Shortwood Family Farm are very reasonably priced.

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