One of our favourite walks takes us on the ridge above the beautiful River Wye, down to the little town of Tintern with its ruined medieval Abbey, to the Cherry Tree Inn for lunch and back through farmland to our starting point.
On Sunday morning we left the tools behind, preferring a walk to this favourite place rather than more digging. The sun was glorious after a cool night and up on the top of Wyndcliffe (above) , south facing and sun drenched it felt warm. Down below, the Wye, tidal as you might be able to make out from the exposed mud at the sides, glides silkily through this soft landscape.
Above us some of the trees have already shed a large proportion of their leaves but others are still turning. The leaves of English trees habitually turn yellow or brown, rather than glorious shades of red as in other parts of the world.
Much of the first part of the walk is through the heavily wooded slopes above the river valley which is deeply incised here. This is ash and oak wood with some beech and birch, although just occasionally, where the ground is particularly rocky, there are yew trees, at this time of the year carrying their glowing crimson berries. Each berry contains a highly toxic seed. In fact all parts of the tree are toxic, containing cyanide, except the red part of the berry. Birds eat the berries, the seeds passing through them without harm to either bird or tree and thus aiding the dispersal of the trees.
Yews live to a great age. Some studies estimate from 2000 to 4000 years. They are certainly the longest lived of all European plants and have in the past been associated with sacred sites and of course, with the production of longbows with which English and Welsh archers were so deadly during the middle ages.
In Tintern we lunched at The Cherry Tree Inn, before concluding our walk through some beautiful farmland where pheasants clattered loudly as we approached, gliding to the ground after their noisy take off.
Much of the land was sown to winter brassicas of various kinds-kale, turnips etc. that offer good cover for the pheasants and rabbits we saw. We also came across this very unexpected combination for October- poppies cheerfully blooming as the opportunists they are amongst these turnips.