This month’s walk by GARTH LAWSON sees where a near disaster was averted on the railway and witnesses the changing face of fruit growing for the county A WALK through King’s Caple unveils the polytunnelled perplexity of modern farming.

Reached by road bridge from Hoarwithy or country lane from Brockhampton and How Caple, the rural parish is bounded on three sides by an extravagant loop of the Wye. Its other, eastern boundary runs roughly parallel with the line of the old Hereford, Ross and Gloucester Railway. We start at the Norman motte and bailey site of Caple Tump, opposite the church.

Down the lane leading to Sellack Boat, the residence of Shieldbrook was once an inn called the Old Boar, where bargemen could find hospitality.

Just around the corner was the wooden shed converted into a squatter’s house called Boathouse in 1800 by Francis Harris. The Harris family earned a living fishing and operating the ferry to the Sellack side of the river until grandson George made Augustin Ley wait once too often to get from one side to the other; the unforgiving vicar used his considerable influence to have a suspension footbridge replace the ferry in 1895.

Poulstone Court is now a tranquil setting which offers a “unique venue for meditative retreats and courses with a personal and spiritual growth focus”.

In the middle of the 19th century Mr.

Hatling, the occupier, had all his fish taken out of a pond, a horse robbed of its mane and tail, two sheep stolen and about 20 young apple trees maliciously cut to pieces; it was at a time when railway navvies were making regular trips to the courts for thieving, fighting and causing drunken mayhem.

In a typical day during the construction of Fawley Tunnel, a miner would shovel about 20 tons a day and compensate for lost energy by eating and drinking his way through about 2lbs of bread, 2lbs of meat and ten pints of ale.

Beyond the parkland of Poulstone, an excellent bridle route takes us along the path of a Roman road and under the old railway line.

Strangford Bridge can soon be seen over to the right, spanning the Wye.

At about 11pm on the evening of March 28, 1947, 20 minutes after a goods train had crossed the bridge, the locals heard a loud roar and rushed out to investigate. To their horror they found that the centre pier of the bridge had collapsed and brought down two adjoining sections.

The signalman at Fawley Halt (point 5 on our route) was alerted and a message sent to Ross station to ensure that further trains were diverted away. Some put the collapse down to heavy floods undermining the foundations of the bridge while others thought it had been weakened during the Second World War when several bombs had fallen 200 yards away; their real target was possibly the munitions factory six miles away at Rotherwas.

A short distance across the greensward from Fawley Halt is Fawley Court which dates back to the early 16th century and Sir John Kyrle, a relative of the famous “Man of Ross.” Kyrle bought his baronetcy and added a new stone wing to the old timber framed house in about 1630.

There’s no pub in King’s Caple today. The last one, the British Lion, near the old station site, became a private house in March 2000; and it’s now difficult to see the old railway tunnel for the trees.

The tunnels which we can see along our route –affording cover for crops – incite strong opinions in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Planning permission to cover a further 25 hectares of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries has recently been withdrawn in the High Court; and the growers who use them accuse those who oppose them of tunnel vision.

Strawberry fields forever THE ROUTE 1. Start opposite Kings Caple church next to Caple Tump.

With your back to the south face of the church, walk right of the tump and TL along the waymarked path. Cross stile under tree, private drive and next stile. Follow R edge fence of paddock. (Wave to May Hill). Go through k-gate on to road and TR down lane, with Sellack Church ahead of you. After 670m pass by Shieldbrook, which was once an inn called The Old Boar serving barge workers.

2. Loop at bottom of lane.

Take quick detour along footpath to Sellack Boat suspension bridge and return without crossing. Follow loop around to left past Boathouse. Stay on road past Poulstone Court, with parkland.

Reach islanded T-junction and TR. Go down and up to left turn in road.

3. Bridlepath to Fawley. Go straight ahead along the wide, grassy path at (what is) Ingsbury Cottage, through gate. Follow fine L edge of field (with Strangford’s old Wye bridge coming into view over to R).

Drop under old railway line, through gate, just R of pond, then half R up bank through bridle gate. Bear L up bank along L edge of pasture and through gate under dead tree. Go straight ahead across huge crop field, through gap in hedge other side and gate. Follow L edge through gate ahead along drive left of barns.

4. Fawley Chapel area.

(chapel is down to R). Our route, when reaching road junction, turns left up lane past Seabournes to Wyche Cottage at Fawley Cross. TL along road to reach Fawley Court. Bend R a few paces to imposing gates, then TL, for King’s Caple and Hoarwithy.

Cross cattle grid, along unfenced road, to cross next grid.

5. Site of old Fawley Halt.

Cross old railway again.

(Fawley Halt was down to L, and Fawley Tunnel a couple of hundred yards R, shrouded in trees).

Keep ahead past old British Lion public house. Go down and up to Penalt. At “boulder”

island T-junction, go very slightly L over stile into enclosure. Cross next stile, slightly R, and make way on same line through crop field towards an area with three hedge sides. Just R of telegraph pole go through gap in hedge.

Follow telegraph line as far as the one which sends you a little further L (and of houses) to road at Caple Avenue. TR before it past Primary School, ahead at crossroads, past King’s Caple Court back to Caple Tump.