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Garth Lawson's walk to Canon Frome this month
8:00am Friday 4th May 2012 in Walks
COLONEL John Dutton Hunt Hopton of Canon Frome Court was such a tall man that servants had to stand on an orange box to clean his washbasins.
An expert long-range shot, he extended his private rifle range in 1928 by making a clearing in the trees of Meephill.
The target was now exactly 1,500 yards away north-east across the valley and beneath the wood at Old Birchend. An impressive figure in his white spats, the sharpshooter lowered his 6ft 6ins frame into the bluebells for his first shot at the new distance, took aim and scored a bullseye.
Satisfied with this effort, he quietly packed up and went straight back home again.
Born in 1858, the only son of Captain John Dutton of Farnshill Park, Radnor, he attended Harrow and Sandhurst. In 1899 he married Sybil Maude, eldest daughter of Walter Mynors Baskerville of Clyro Court and granddaughter of John Hopton of Canon Frome. Assuming by Royal Licence the name of Hopton, the Colonel gained ownership of every house in Canon Frome and five farms of over 400 acres.
Hopton captained the British rifle team at Bisley and in the year after leading them on a successful tour of Australia, he took part in the 1908 London Olympics. In the men’s 1,000 yard free rifle competition he scored 84 out 100 with his 20 shots. He shot 36 times for England in the annual match for the Elcho Shield, the oldest and most prestigious long range rifle contest in the world; held between England and Scotland from 1862, with Ireland joining in 1865 and Wales in 1991, the “Hopton” is still among its awards.
The marksman was also a keen musician. A cellist, songwriter, and a director of the Royal Academy of Music, his song Ceylon Whispers was often played at Bisley. In 1914 he installed an organ in a purpose-built music room at the Court.
It was made by Jardines of Old Trafford and the model favoured at the time by the organists of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester cathedrals.
The Hoptons entertained the conductor John Barbirolli, a noted Elgar interpreter, and the pianist Myra Hess.
When he died in 1934, John Hopton was buried at his own request in a mausoleum at the point where he fired his rifle. The service was conducted by the Bishop of Hereford, with rifle range flags at half-mast. It had been intended that his wife would lie there with him, but she died at Cannes during the Second World War and it was impossible to bring her body home for burial.
In those war years the Home Guard set up a more modest firing range below Meephill and the gamekeeper would put out warning flags when they were practising.
Below the mausoleum, just to the right of the Olympian’s old line of fire is Childer Wood, where heavy horses are now used to control the bracken and bramble and extract timber. Last year Britain’s top horses competed here in the British Horse Loggers championships.
The coppice on Meephill maintains a mask around the marksman’s Mausoleum. Foliage now obscures the lines of sight, but, in spring, primrose, daffodil and bluebell bedeck the approach to one of the county’s best kept secrets.
THE ROUTE 22 stiles. Woods, monument, low-lying fields, modest climbs and old Hereford and Gloucester Canal.
OS Explorer map 202.
Public Transport: Bus 672 calls at Ashperton.
1. Ashperton Village Green.
With your back to the A417, and pond R, go through wooden gate down field to R of 4 imposing trees. Head down through small gate to green buildings of Canon Frome cricket ground. Pass through gate, TL in front of pavilion, leave via gate, over canal and cross stile ahead. Go half left in large field, cross stile into orchard and TR along near edge. Cross stile, bear L down through metal gate and follow L edge fence up bank (with Hansnett Wood R). Near field end, TL across stile, two more ahead, bear R across farm drive, plank bridge and stile, ahead through field, across stile, L of stone building, through netted gate and L along drive to road.
2. Meephill House. Go straight across road through gate, up engaging field into wood through rusty gate (view behind). Follow wide ride through trees to L of Heavy Horses Training Centre. Just before stile leading out into field (note its position), TL up ride. After 175 paces, TR up next ride and make for a raised platform which comes into view. T sharp L up to old firing point.
3. Meephill Coppice.
Mausoleum to Colonel John Dutton Hunt Hopton. See if you can fix on the spot at a level contour 1,500 yards north-east at Old Birchend where he got his bullseye. Retrace steps down towards Centre, and TL 20m over stile you noted. TR along near edge (with Childer Wood R) to bottom R corner and path junction. TL 40m, TR over plank bridge and stile.
Bear R up huge crop field.
Cross stile and follow L edge up bank to L corner. TR 40m to gate and TL into road. TL (ahead) ¼ mile along road past Clissett Wood and on bank, TR into field through metal gate.
Go ahead past 2 marker posts to fence elbow, down fence, TL across stile and stile by barn.
4. Gold Hill Farm barn. At other side of barn, TR across stile, bear L down pasture over stile, brook and double gate. Go diagonally L on same line across vast field to far corner.
Cross stile behind tree and bear R along R fence edge(with trees R). Go along gated channel of hedges and TL through double gate. Bear R across pasture and stiles either side of drive (to colonnaded Upleadon Farm). Bear L, same line, cross f/bridge, go half L over stile, bear R over crest of crop field and cross stile. On same line, go over stile on L diagonal to lane.
5. Haywood Lane. TR and follow pleasant lane for 1½ miles.
In so doing, cross the Hereford and Gloucester canal, bend R with its still waters below, past the old Munsley Tunnel House, beyond cricket ground and Haywood Thatches up to footpath junction. TR along channel drive, over stile, along R edge/hedge and over stile in R corner. Keep same line back to Ashperton Green.
Before undertaking the detour to Meephill Coppice Mausoleum, point 3, please obtain prior permission from Mr Doug Joiner on 07773 900751.