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Woolhope and Sollers Hope

A down-and-round-and-up walk in a peaceful farming area.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Country lanes, woodland tracks and fields, 17 stiles

Landscape Hilly, with agriculture and woodland, extensive views

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

Start/finish SO 630346

Dog friendliness An exciting stretch, but limited off-lead opportunities

Parking Marcle Ridge Picnic Place

Public toilets None on route

1 Begin downhill, along a narrow lane, for about 500yds (457m). Part of the woodland on the right here was coppiced in 2001, a task long overdue. Subsequent cutting at the correct frequency will yield wood for various coppicing products, and the land will be suitable for game shooting. A fingerpost points right, down to a wood. Note how calcareous the ground is. Turn right, then left before a dilapidated barn. This stony track turns left to reach Hyde Farm within 300yds (274m). Veer right but, within 60yds (55m), find a track going steeply uphill and back to your right (yellow waymarker).

2 Where this woodland track bends left, go straight, over a stile. Cross most of an expansive field, finally turning half left and up, aiming for an aperture in the corner - a track into Busland Wood. On your right are 20th-century larches, but the latter part of the wood, an indigenous deciduous mix, has been coppiced for generations. (Several field boundaries here have been grubbed up, which explains the sudden change of direction in the field.) Walk for 200yds (183m) in this wood, again going straight, into a meadow, where the track turns. Go ahead for 250yds (229m). Find a marker post above a small, dry valley. Swing left, to a gate into more trees. Keep on this track, steadily downhill, for about ½ mile (800m), to a tarmac lane - the Butchers Arms is just here. Turn left, up through downtown Woolhope. Just beyond a high wall find a fingerpost on the left, Cross four meadows to reach a footbridge flanked by stiles. Over this go straight ahead (not right) for about 50yds (46m), then cross a narrow lane. Cross two waymarked fields, veering right in the second to a corner gate. Turn left. Go through a gate just beyond Alford's Mill to a stile bearing three arrows. Turn left, over a footbridge. Follow the right-hand field edge for 130yds (119m). Turn right, over a stile.

3 Walk initially beside a fence. Keep this line for ½ mile (800m), later squeezing between two spinneys into lush pasture. A stile to the right of Court Farm soon leads to St Michael's Church at Sollers Hope. Take a stile near the main churchyard entrance to walk to the right of several modern farm buildings. Keep this direction past an orchard and across another meadow to a stone barn. Cross the lane here to walk beside a ponded stream. Maintain this line to reach another minor lane. Turn left. One bend after a stream, don't swing right on a private gravel driveway; instead go straight on, up a rough track beside Lyndalls Wood. Ascend for ½ mile (800m). Shortly before the brow turn left, up some wooden steps. To view Oldbury fort, turn right here then retrace your steps.

4 Having gone up the wooden steps, go straight along the ridge for nearly 1¼ miles (2km), passing close to the radio and television mast. Finally, steep wooden steps lead down to the car park.

Geologically, the so-called Woolhope Dome is a 'denuded anticline', that is, a massive fold of limestone that has been subsequently worn away. Shallow soils make farming only the lower slopes practicable, leaving limestone-loving species to populate the ridges.

Archaeologists believe that the number of lives lost in the 14th-century Black Death may have been exacerbated by food shortages in the two decades that preceded it: the summers, though hot, were short, lowering yields. The 'solution' was to increase the cultivated land by clearing further up the hillsides. Thus some 'ancient woodland' may only date from the post-Black Death period.

Towards the top of Lyndalls Wood and just inside it are the remains of lime kilns. Locally quarried limestone was burnt with coppiced wood (or perhaps coal from the Forest of Dean). The oxidised product, lime, has various uses, such as making whitewash.

Built in the English Gothic style, St Michael's Church was altered in 1887, when plaster was removed to reveal the well-preserved timbers of its barrelled roof. Also discovered was a 13th-century stone coffin lid, showing the coat of arms of the de Solers family, who owned the estate and gave the hamlet its name.

The first 'hedgerow' you come to approaching the fort is an earthwork delineating Oldbury's northern boundary. Some people believe that while forts such as Oldbury functioned as defensive focal points in times of need, they were built to some extent for 'show', giving its people a cultural identity, not dissimilar to the Christian 'culture' of building churches.

While you're there

Newbridge Farm Park at Little Marcle has tractor rides, pony rides, handling of the smaller animals, a large outdoor play area and a play barn. At Much Marcle is Weston's Cider (visitor centre).

Where to eat and drink

Before Woolhope is the Butchers Arms. In Woolhope the Crown Inn serves Wye Valley ales, draught cider and good food.

What to look for

Court Farm is nearly 400 years old. As you approach, you'll see an incredibly leaning chimney pot. A little further on, you'll see that it is, indeed, not credible - it's braced with an iron strut in the roof.

Worcs

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