Roger Butler takes a musical journey along Hergest Ridge
I DON’T KNOW MANY PLACES where you can feel as much freedom and space as Hergest Ridge, and I guess Mike Oldfield must have felt this way too when he penned his song about the joys of being on horseback. He had lived in a house near Hergest’s bracken-clad slopes when concentrating on the follow-up to Tubular Bells and, while this wasn’t quite as popular as his initial magnum opus, he named it after the whaleback ridge which marches directly across the border between England and Wales.
The photographic artwork that accompanied the music featured the hill, complete with Mike’s dog, through a 360º fish eye lens but over the years many folk must have wondered if Hergest Ridge was a real place or just the figment of a late night party back in the mid 70s. Further confusion might occur with pronunciation, since you’re meant to say Hargest – like hardest – but there’s no mistaking this long rolling ridge which rises outside Kington, in the west of Herefordshire, and ends up virtually in the centre of Gladestry, the first village in Powys.
An ominous heavy shower swept across the edge of the Black Mountains, but strong shafts of sunlight made the rain look like clouds of billowing dust in the Australian outback. I looked east over the woods above Kington and felt I was at the theatre. Moving from left to right, the view encompassed the steep slopes of Herrock and Bradnor Hills, distant Titterstone Clee, the crumpled contours of Worcestershire, the Malverns, the wooded crest above Abberley and the faraway clump on top of May Hill.
Any number of grassy rides led towards the top where nine distinctive monkey puzzles huddled together to the west of the trig point. Huddle is the most appropriate term because, from a distance, they really did appear to be deep in conversation and we half expected them to leap into life and start shouting at their intruders. For some odd reason, they were planted by the landowner around thirty years ago and are now visible from a number of nearby tops.
We continued over the broad summit and down into Gladestry, from where paths meandered along the southern flanks to take us back over the top and onto shapely Hanter Hill. Though its summit sits just 300 metres from the border, this pyramidal volcanic outlier is scattered with the oldest rocks in Wales and the gabbro and granite was formed at least 700 million years ago.
Mike Oldfield’s song includes a chorus which sings “Hey and away we go, Through the grass, across the snow”, and finishes with a couple of jolly lines “So if you feel a little glum, To Hergest Ridge you should come”. I fully agree, because right at the heart of the Welsh Marches and with Offa’s Dyke path running along its top, this is a rollercoaster worth returning to time and time again.