Garth Lawson's monthly walk is in footsteps of composer and painter, Sir Edward Elgar

Garth Lawson.

Garth Lawson.

First published in Walks

IN his bowler hat, high collar and gloves, Sir Edward Elgar set out for Breinton from Plas Gwyn in August 1909.

Freewheeling on his deluxe Sunbeam bicycle rather than the fixed wheel “Mr Phoebus” of his Malvern days, the regal composer cut quite a dash. In the "sweet borderland where he had made his home", composition and cycling were interwoven.

He was now turning his thoughts to developing a theme conceived in Florence earlier in the summer.

Carrying his easel, canvas, stool and paints in metal containers, young Brian Hatton was a similarly unmistakable figure trudging the same route from his Mount Craig studio in Broomy Hill.

Bound for Warham, the acclaimed landscape artist was honing his talent from the scenes of pastoral life he found close to home.

Nurtured by his aesthetic parents – he'd lost his mother Amelia in July – he was a child winner of the Gold Star of the The Royal Drawing Society.

Encouraged and developed by George Frederick Watts, whose work adorned the walls of late Victorian homes, Hatton had studied art in Scotland. He had also experienced the colours of St. Ives and Newlyn in Cornwall and the excitement of an expedition to Egypt.

A few years earlier Elgar had befriended Charles Gorton who commissioned him to adjudicate at the Morecambe Music Festival. Elgar consulted the canon on the text of his oratorio The Apostles, brought him into his inner circle and went on holiday with him to Italy.

Gorton, in turn, had moved to a home in Hereford found for his retirement by Elgar in 1909 and saw it as one of his remaining missions in life to look after the welfare of the other adopted Herefordian's genius. Towards this end he would warn off autograph hunters and advised against accepting the post of Mayor of Hereford lest it interfered with Elgar's "gift for prophecy in music".

Among the scenes which Hatton recaptured with his brush were the trees planted about a century before to enhance the view looking from Warham House across the Wye to Belmont. On the left of his oil painting is a London plane and in the middle of the group a Turkey oak, which we reach first, at point 2, above the riverside meadows.

The third tree is no longer there, however. A watercolur also at Warham testifies to his fascination with working horses and award-winning draughtsmanship: “Picking Stones” to his empathy with farm labourers intent on their toil.

It is not difficult to sense the rolling landscape of Herefordshire and the Welsh Border in the rich textures of the work which was preoccupying Elgar. This is the opinion of at least one commentator, Kevin Allen, in his Elgar the Cyclist, a Creative Odyssey. As you embark on the more openly expansive second part of the walk, perhaps you too will feel a violin concerto coming on?

In that same year, 1909, Rev Philip Austen Lushington, a cricketing Master of Arts of Balliol College, Oxford, was also entering the picture at Breinton.

The energetic new vicar was to feature among the portrait commissions which Hatton took on board, and in 1912 canon Gorton was buried in his churchyard.

The former rector of Morecambe drowned mysteriously in the Wye below Quay House.

Brian Hatton was still a young man with a boundless artistic future, but the promise was cut short at 28 when he was killed in action at Oghratina in Egypt on Easter Sunday, 1916.

Large changes for the composer had meant a move from Hereford to London from 1912. Though the music would not fall silent till 1934, for Elgar it was just the cycling days which were now over.

Warham and Breinton.

Inspiring field paths, lanes, nature reserve.

An easy five-mile walk.

Map: OS Explorer 189, Hereford and Ross-on-Wye.

1. Breinton Springs National Trust (free) car park.

(Follow signs to Breinton church, passing Breinton House to GR 473 395). Exit by kissinggate (Application 1) and TL to rise gently to R of churchyard. Go through metal k-gate, below Breinton Grange (old vicarage) and follow avenue, with orchard to L, past pollarded oak, to pass through wooden k-gate into pasture field.

Follow R edge (Victorian Water Tower ahead) for 200 m. to pass through metal k-gate (R). TL along L field edge/hedge towards Warham House (L).

2. Hatton oil painting scene The Lawns, Warham.

Just before the House, look for Turkey oak and London plane (pictured) on field bank to your R.

Skirt on ahead in front of garden hedge via wooden ‘fishermen’s’ gate. TL past Stonehurst, bear R beyond Warham House drive to junction. TR, T immediately L up to junction. TL, rise gently past The Halfway House (which it isn’t), and just beyond cider press find bridle path going right.

3. Hillgarth. TR along path beyond farm (R) and TL to walk between Poole Hill and pond (L) to join the old Drovers Road. Head towards mast, but 50m. beyond Rose Cottage, find unsigned white metal gate (R).

4. Wyevale Wood. TR into wood, find Information board, fork R for drier route around R edge of wood past bird hide area and emerge on to (Church Walk) path via gap by gate. TL for 30m, then TR back on to original line of Drovers Road, ahead to tarmac by Pepper Plock. Go ahead past dwellings of Cranstone to cross road ahead through wooden gate, gently up field along R edge/hedge. Curve L with views of Elgarian expansiveness opening up. Drop and bend R through k-gate in R corner, by trees, cross 1st stile of walk into orchard, TL and skirt L edge of bank, bearing L up to cross stile in fence. Follow L edge with Welsh border views, over stile in cross fence, L edge, another stile into trees, up 3 wooden steps (L).

5. Path junction. Turn sharp L over stile, adjoining stile or through gate. Follow R edge/hedge up crop field through metal gate in R top corner.

Bear slightly L down field (views) through metal gate, down hedged avenue, orchard to L, to find country lane beyond farm (L). TR past Manor Cottages down to road junction. TR for Breinton Common to point just before R bend.

6. Ten steps. TL up steps through k-gate, favouring R side of field pasture over WVW stile along R edge/hedge of long crop field. Pass through kgate at R end (Church Walk) and TR to lane by Breinton Court Lodge. Go through metal gate opposite, past tennis court, k-gate, R on to lane back to car park.

7. Breinton churchyard. Canon Gorton’s final resting- place, marked by a Celtic cross, is 25m. R (south) of church porch.

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