Too Many Thirteens

Some of Carol’s ancestors are from Hereford so we’ve brought Billy Bailey, our caravan, up for a long weekend so she can rummage around in the dusty archives. A day for Carol in the records office left me footloose and fancy free until I was due to collect her from Hereford at 4:00 PM.

Billy is on a Caravan Club site built on the grounds of an old station of a now dismantled railway. Has the dismantled railway been turned into a footpath or cycle track? No – darn! However, we’re about 2 miles north, as the crow flies rather than as the rambler walks, of a section of the Wye Valley Walk. That sounded quite promising. I togged up, slung the weighty camera rucksack on my back in case I bumped into any interesting critters and set off. My first mile had to be on roads but they were relatively quiet side roads so no problem, then I’d be onto bridleways and footpaths.

Finding the bridleways and footpaths marked on OS maps should be easy. Sometimes either it isn’t or I’m not very good at it. I failed to find my first choice, a bridleway. The hedges where it should have been seemed far too thick for any horse to find a way through. As an alternative I came across a footpath junction about ½ mile further on – further in the wrong direction, of course. Fortunately I didn’t want to take the northern footpath; there was a sign announcing it’s existence but you’d have needed a machete to get through the overgrown hedgerow. The southern branch, however, heading towards the Wye Valley was in a much better state of repair, clear and open, so I took it.

After about 3 miles of indifferently/inadequately marked footpaths and a few resultant leaps of faith helped by combining OS map detail with Garmin eTrek satnav data, I finally reached my goal and joined the Wye Valley Walk. Hopefully this would be better signed. It was but only just. Were I marking a track, I’d put signs where the path actually changed direction rather than 50 yards after the change of direction. I had a short detour because of one such situation but managed to correct myself. The signs – two discs, one declaring “Wye Valley Walk” and a second bearing a direction arrow – are there but some required something of a search. Unfortunately most of the direction arrows are either partly or completely worn out. The partly worn out ones are particularly dangerous because the remaining part of the arrow can easily be misinterpreted. Naturally I took the opportunity to misinterpret one such and took a little more exercise covering an extra mile in the wrong direction before I returned and corrected myself once again.

After seven or eight miles, probably six of which had been the correct miles, I was still some three miles from base and was looking for a suitable return route. On the OS map, I spotted what appeared to be a useful track, cutting a corner, that would get me back to the quiet country lane heading home. Half a mile got me to the start of the track. “Private Road”, it declared. “Bother!”, I said and retraced my steps for a third time. It was another three mile slog along tarmac back to Billy.

My timing was much better than my route finding, however – after 12 miles of dry weather, just as I turned into the camp site, it started raining. As I was refreshing myself prior to collecting Carol, the heavens opened.

After some traditional refreshment the rain ceased and I fought my way through the Hereford traffic – Hereford traffic is an absolute nightmare – and started looking for somewhere to park to rendez-vous with Carol. The first two car parks I tried were pay and display. Did I have any change? No, of course not. Could I pay with a credit card? No, of course not. I’d spotted a multi-storey car park on the way in; multi-stories are usually “pay on exit” jobs so I fought my way back through the nightmarish Hereford traffic and drove into it. “Pay and display”. Arghh! I was about to phone Carol and tell her that Hereford wouldn’t allow me to park legally when I remembered an old and probably fake £1 coin (it feels wrong and had been rejected a year or so ago when trying to park in Devon) lurking in the car. To my relief, the Hereford machine accepted it. I had an hour to find Carol.

Do not drive into Hereford expecting to be able to park without a good supply of £1 coins. In fact, my advice is not to drive into Hereford at all.

Carol had had a relatively fruitless search in the records office, too. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised:

  • Our pitch number at camp site: 13
  • Carol’s assigned microfiche reader: 13
  • Carol’s locker at records office: 13
  • date:  Friday 13th.
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