To the North of the Royal Forest of Dean is the Vale of Leadon; here you will find the market town of Newent and the village of Dymock. In complete contrast to the forest and the Wye Valley the area provides a mixture of market gardens, rolling farmland hills, vineyards and black and white timbered buildings. The Vale of Leadon is a quintessentially unspoilt English area centered around the picturesque town of Newent.
Ledbury, just over the border in Herefordshire, is one of England’s text book market towns, full of prime examples of timber-framed buildings. The 17th century black & white Market House, which had originally served as a grain store dominates the town centre, and is supported on pillars of chestnut. It was completed in 1653 by John Abel, the Kings carpenter, another fine example of black & white architecture is The Feathers Hotel on the High Street.
In the Vale of Leadon there is fertile land in both arable and pasture use, the former often brilliant red at ploughing time. Market gardening and orchards are frequent. Further north still, the landscape becomes more open, with considerable areas of arable, few woodlands and an absence of hedgerow trees. The many villages, with their tall church spires, are thus all the more prominent.
Dymock and the Vale of Leadon is well known in literary circles, made famous by a group of young poets who had a close association with the area before the First World War. The six poets – Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brook, John Drinkwater, Wilfred Gibson, Edward Thomas and the American poet Robert Frost are today known as the “Dymock Poets” (see below).
Three miles to the south of Newent lies May Hill, it is identifiable by the clump of trees on top which were planted to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria. The hill rises to 971 feet, exceeding any other hill in the dean and provides magnificent views over Gloucestershire, The Cotswolds, Malvern hills and the plain of Hereford, extending to Bristol on a clear day.
Just outside Redmarley is the small village of Pauntley, the famous Richard (Dick) Whittington Mayor of the City of London in the late 14th Century and early 15th Century was born at Pauntley Court which remained in the ownership of the Whittington family until 1545. As opposed to the rags to riches pantomime story of a poor orphan boy who heads to London to make his fortune, Richard came from a wealthy family and became more prosperous when he became Mayor of London. Richard or ‘Dick’ Whittington was born during the 1350s. He was the younger son of Sir William Whittington, Lord of the Manor of Paultney in Gloucestershire. Sir William died in 135; the oldest son inherited the estate, so Richard traveled to London to find work.
To the North of Redmarley is The Malvern Hills – officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with scenic views over the three English Counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire. The Hills run north/south for about 13km and overlook the River Severn valley to the East, with the Cotswolds beyond. The highest point of the Hills is the Worcestershire Beacon at 425 metres. The hills are famous for their natural mineral springs & wells, and were resposible for the devopment of Great Malvern as a spa in the early 19th century.
Of the many writers and artists who have drawn inspiration from Gloucestershire and the borderlands, the Dymock Poets represent a particular moment in English life in the years leading up to WW1.
Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Eleanor Farjeon, and others, along with the American poet Robert Frost (for a while) settled in Dymock from about 1913 – 16. They were drawn by the area’s isolated beauty and the promise of companionship and support for their art, and for something more. Matthew Hollis writes: ‘They came from the cities for an elemental life, for the earth beneath their boots or the breeze that stirred the wheat fields.’ Perhaps they idealised rural life, which is hard and unforgiving, then as now. For a while, though, the beautiful Leadon valley gave them the space and freedom that allowed them to develop as writers and artists.
We can still experience some of that peaceful beauty in Dymock today. In Spring, the paths to Dymock Woods trail through daffodils and bluebells. St. Mary’s Church Dymock stands behind the village green, but the visitor is in for another surprise: the Poets Corner in the northwestern part of the church, where an exibition of poems, paintings, publications and information celebrates the Dymock Poets’s achievements. Read more at the church’s web page on the poets.