Gasping for breath and unable to speak, my legs were beginning to tremble and I had to stop for a few minutes, holding on to a tree for support. My lungs felt raw and my heart was pounding; I was exhausted and the end was nowhere in sight. “Are we nearly there?” I wheezed, knowing full well that we weren’t. Halfway up Symonds Yat Rock in Gloucestershire, I discovered the joy of hill walking.
It’s kind of fun, if a little undignified, to stand there puffing and panting with the effort of staggering up a hill, but the reward of the dramatic views as you go higher and higher, is worth every shaky step.
My husband and I are keen walkers. We like to walk at a snappy pace and when you live in Suffolk as we do, with its gently undulating (some would say flat) countryside, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Travel across country however, and the more interesting terrain forces a change of habit. The hilly countryside in the west encourages a slower pace and a joyful appreciation of the scenery, as it gently reveals itself with each passing step.
We based ourselves near Monmouth, on the England-Wales border, for our autumn break. The weather was sunny and cold on our first morning, and over a leisurely breakfast, we pondered how to spend our day. The scenery in the area is incredibly beautiful, so the only logical thing to do was to admire it, from the top of the nearest and biggest hill we could find.
And so we headed to Symonds Yat Rock, just a few miles away. There are two routes up to the top of the rock – one is quite steep and long, the other is very steep and short. We chose the latter – why, I’m not entirely sure – and met a young woman who was scrambling down the hill as we were puffing up it: “Is there a pub at the bottom?” she asked, with more than a hint of desperation. “Yes there is” I replied, “but more to the point, is there one at the top?” “No” came the disappointing response, “there is a tea hut though, but it’s shut.”
The clamber to the top of the rock, even without the reward of a cup of tea at its summit, was a perfect way to spend the first day of our holiday. The fresh autumn air made the walk invigorating and the far-reaching views of the Wye Valley from the top, made the effort of getting up there very worthwhile.
We packed a lot into our week on the England-Wales border, exploring numerous towns and ancient abbey ruins. And we fell in love. The countryside captured our hearts and we will return for more walking up those lovely hills, just as soon as our Suffolk legs have recovered.