It came to him in a flash. Now in his 60s, Alfred Watkins was sitting in his car studying a map and gazing across the countryside towards the ridge of Croft Ambrey. What he perceived was “like a chain of fairy lights”, a series of lines linking ancient features such as mounds, moats, hill forts, standing stones, wayside crosses and churches.

Watkins was convinced that Britain was interlaced by a vast network of straight trackways. He argued the case for the existence of Leylines in The Old Straight Track of 1925, and in his list of initial sighting points, he now included beacons for the first time.

The previous year saw him propose an extravagant alignment: It ran from the Giant’s Cave on the Eastnor side of Herefordshire Beacon seen from (3), through the “sacrificial stone” to the church at Woolhope, from there to the church and a pond at Holme Lacy, and through Aconbury Church to finish on the highest point of Aconbury camp.

The walk gives a southern perspective of the Beacons in the Malverns. The pre-historic purpose of a beacon was to guide and direct. In the case of Midsummer Hill, seen from (4), an excavation by Watkins had revealed a platform beneath the surface.

It showed signs of having been a place where beacon fires burned. Watkins asserted that old tracks across a ridge are not there because they can be seen from below, but for the totally different reason that they provide easy travelling and are often carefully situated to conceal travellers from observers below.

First and foremost Alfred Watkins, born at the Imperial Hotel in Hereford’s Widemarsh Street, was an archaeologist and an inventor of photographic equipment. His fascination with photography began with a primitive pinhole camera which he made from a cigar box. He patented the “exposure meter”, a device which contributed greatly to photography’s evolution as a mass-market art form.

When Watkins was in his mid-20s, he found out that the Hereford and Gloucester canal was going to close to make way for the train. So he set out with a companion and his camera on a canoe expedition of the 34 miles of the waterway to capture pictures for posterity. At the same time, in 1881 or 1882, the budding Poet Laureate John Masefield was a small child living in Ledbury at a commodious Victorian house called the Knapp. The seat in its big bow window overlooked the canal 200 yards away across the garden, an orchard, a field and a clump of elms with a great rookery.

In Bye Street at the Ledbury Town Wharf (1), soon to be subsumed by railway tracks, the canoeists alighted for the night on their two-day excursion. Masefield’s work The Window in the Bye Street introduces a young navvy hero who was employed building the railway.

Alfred Watkins himself had become a familiar face in Ledbury as an agent for his father’s brewery and spirits business. Among his friends was John Edy Ballard, of the Frith. His uncles Stephen and Philip Ballard had supervised the creation of the Ledbury to Hereford section of the canal. Several years after it had been in full flow Philip was murdered by burglars in his Tupsley bed.

Another Ballard brother, Robert, owned the company which baked the five million bricks from which Ledbury Viaduct was built. Spanning the Leadon Valley, the 31 arches can be seen from several points on the moderate, undulating ramble over varied terrain.

The lady appointed to carry out the grand opening ceremony in June 1861 was unfortunately left behind at Hereford Station by excited officials. Another special train was speedily commissioned to pick her up, and the said Mrs Richards was able to lay the last of Mr Ballard’s bricks with the band playing See The Conquering Hero.

Ledbury and Eastnor.

Disused canal, dismantled railway, town, village, views.

5 1/4 mile moderate ramble, one stile only.

Map: Explorer 190, Malvern Hills and Bredon Hill.

Public transport: Bus, 388 and 476 hourly, and by regular trains.

The route: 1 Ledbury, Bye Street, opposite Market House. Return from either car park into Bye Street and walk away from main town thoroughfare past fire brigade to Brewery Inn. Opposite the pub frontage, formerly the ‘Boat’, are dwellings associated with the canal. Find the Ledbury Town Trail information board in Queen’s Walk in the public gardens, formerly Ledbury Town Wharf. TR along the easy footpath over the footbridge - below the Knapp - for two thirds of a mile through the parapet to the next information board on the left of road junction. Carefully cross road and TL under railway bridge. After 70m TR over stile up public footpath R edge of field to crest with viaduct behind, to find gap in top right corner and TR at path junction. Go thro’ new kissing gate and TR away from Frith Wood House and follow path further R over railway in front of house to reach Knapp Lane.

2 Knapp Lane. Bear R and immediately L along “No through road” with view through gap opposite Woodland Cottage. When reaching a seat, go ahead with fence on right, rather than descending to R, with a glimpse of May Hill, staying ahead downhill in front of green bench at path junction. Descend steps past sub-station, take middle path ahead, into walled lane to front of church. TL around church by garden of remembrance and TR along walled Cabbage Lane. TL past police station and after 150 metres cross road into Coneygree Wood public footpath. Climb into wood, ignoring R turn, up 14 steps, straight ahead, curving L and R up stony terrain, up six steps straight over path junction, still climbing to bear R into open thro’ old gate. Follow L edge of field to L corner thro’ gate, past bridle markers to clearing.

3 Herefordshire Beacon View. Keep to L field edge over stile or thro’ gate below Dead Woman’s Thorn, up and down a wide track. Go thro’ gate across the middle of a wide field to a gap and up a bank to another fine clearing.

4 Midsummer Hill View. Alfred Watkins excavated Midsummer Hill, which is the beacon above Eastnor Church, R of Obelisk. The one above Eastnor Castle is Raggedstone Hill. Descend the obvious track to the L of the church, down steps onto road. TR past church, school, village green into Clencher’s Mill Lane. TR for Eastnor Pottery and Eastnor Castle Estates Office, up wide drive thro’ buildings climbing to level stretch to go thro’ bridle gate on R. Head diagonally L up field to cottage between shed and barn to hedge. Turn R in front of gate skirting wood 60m to wooden gate. Go half R down excellent meadow to two small wooden gates into Coneygree Wood. Go straight ahead slightly R of tree marker, then bear L to find a notice.

5 Forestry Commission Notice. Just before notice turn sharp R 150m up track to where it levels off. Bear L downwards, with glimpses of Ledbury and Marcle Tower L, up bank leftwards, take L fork to skirt wood perimeter. Find old stone wall, maintain same line to rejoin it, to pick up view of Viaduct, L of church. Hug wall L down sunken lane to regain path into wood. Re-cross (Malvern) road to pavement, TL to Cabbage Lane and TR back to church. TL into cobbled Church Lane by Abbot’s Lodge. Pass 16th century Prince of Wales (or go in!), Market House, and bear R across the Homend to park(s).