WHILE his trusted lieutenant was directing affairs from a tent on top of Aconbury Hill, it seems Oliver Cromwell was drinking with his cronies down the pub. In the high summer of 1645, Oliver’s army converged on the county to besiege the city of Hereford. The man in the tent was austere Scotsman Alexander Leslie, first Earl of Leven, commander of the Solemn League and Covenant embattled for Parliament against the Royalist forces of King Charles.

As it turned out, Oliver’s army was here to stay for five weeks; it may have been a professional career but they hadn’t received a groat in payment for six months. Not only were they combatting the redoubtable defenders of Hereford under Sir Barnabas Scudamore (who owned Rowlston’s Farm at Little Birch) but they were also hungry.

The feeding of an army in warfare is often difficult and Parliament hadn’t been able to raise the necessary provisions for about 14,000 men in Aconbury and Little Birch. The Scots, obliged to take the remedy into their own hands, went out plundering the neighbouring parishes for bread from villagers’ ovens, flitches of bacon, peas, cider apples, green wheat, and acorns; they would also catch cattle at Wormelow Tump and drive them for slaughter up in their hill-fort. Stragglers from the army regularly put themselves at risk of retribution from the locals.

Indeed, St Weonards man John Hughes hands down a tale told by his grandmother who was 15 years of age and living by Wormelow Tump when the Scots were camped all around Aconbury. She recounted how a lone Scot and the farmer from The Ash at the top of Tump Lane were walking along a path in the field next to the road between Turkey Tump and Wormelow Tump. It seems the Scot asked him if he had seen any of his countrymen, and the farmer held him in conversation till they came to a stile: the soldier was armed with a sword and the farmer was carrying a simple billhook. Invited to cross the stile first, the farmer declined in case the other should have any advantage over him, and as the Scot was passing over he cut him down dead. It was a daring act so close to the lowest of the army’s quarters on the southern reaches of Aconbury.

From Aconbury Camp, in less wooded times, the Scots were able to keep an eye on The Mynde, seat of the King’s ally Sir Walter Pye, about a mile from the village of Much Dewchurch. Although extra gunpowder was certainly ordered for the Royal garrison in April 1945, the fortified Mynde doesn’t seem to have seen any serious action in the War. Pye, indeed, fined £2,316 pounds by Parliament for Royalism, had become very inconspicuous. At St David’s in Much Dewchurch, a couple of Royalist soldiers lie buried in the churchyard amid countless monuments to the Pye family - but there are no traces of Sir Walter who lived until about 1659 in poverty and obscurity.

The church, spiritual home to the more modern, racing Scudamores, is also something of a shrinking violet. Fortunately on foot we can view its splendour, and a really beautiful walk takes us past the latest incarnation of Bryngwyn Manor to the lakeside jewel which is The Mynde.

One disgruntled Royalist does seem to have reared his head from that direction. In rather cavalier fashion he took a pot-shot at Cromwell through the window of the Black Swan. The shot went wide, the Roundhead survived, the soldier was hanged and his ghost now walks the 14th century Inn at night.

One must imagine he’s murmuring:

Oliver's army is here to stay

Oliver's army are on their way

And I would rather be anywhere else

But here today.

  • Much Dewchurch
  • An easy walk with surprises. Manor houses, lake, delightful wood, wonderful views.
  • 4½ miles. Mostly there and back with one minor climb in a loop half way round. 2 stiles.

The Route.

1. With your back to the delightful Black Swan in Much Dewchurch, TL along the near side of the road for a few paces to the junction and cross (R) up the drive, through the lych-gate into St David’s Churchyard. Carry on L of the church down to the left over grassy area, through gap and over the quaint f/bridge. Immediately TR over stile and TL in the arable field, not along the near L edge but very slightly R along the usually well maintained footpath towards the farm ahead. When you reach the telegraph poles, maintain exactly the same line ahead, thereby skirting to the right of the nearest pole. You are aiming for the left edge of the hedge at Home Farm. You will pass to the R of a pool. Go through the arch in the hedge, cross the drive and skirt the L edge up the fine grassy ride to an obvious junction by a spinney.

2. Turn left in front of the stile. Go through gate ahead, under trees, bridge and out through k-gate. Pass bungalow and house.

3. TR up track across grid as if for Mileshiggins Farm.The austere looking Bryngwyn Manor is back to the R. Climb track. Cross grid. After 25m, fork R at path junction. It’s now a more level aggregate track. Nearing the cottage, look back to get a picture of where Tump Lane in Wormelow climbs up to Ash Farm. (It’s all about one mile south of wooded Aconbury Hill.) Just before cottage, level with walker’s gate (L), TR to cross stile in front of cottage. Take steep L edge down bank to point 2.

Cross stile and TL along the obvious wide path, through metal gate, next to a sheep dip. Proceed along this nice avenue, through a wooden gate, then through the waymarked gate on the edge of Flat Wood.

4. Follow the long straight path directly ahead, with The Mynde coming into view at one o’clock. Skirt the fine lake, with The Woodlands up to your left. At the four pillared gateway, keep L over grid, R round drive to next grid. TL along drive to fork in drives in front of

5. The Woodlands where the celebrated ghost writer M. R. James spent many weeks between 1906 and 1929. It was here he wrote A View from a Hill. Now return to point 2 and TL.