Redbrook /Offa’s Dyke

 Redbrook /Offa’s Dyke

A walk near the Wales/England border, beginning in Redbrook, Gloucestershire, a typical English riverside village with church, village hall, local shop, post office and playing field. Quite pretty, with clean air, different from how Redbrook was in the past. It is now hard to believe that ‘it was once the most bustling little place imaginable’, but, since Roman times it has been a hive of industrial activity. First iron (smelting was first mentioned in1300), then copper and later tinplate were made here.

In the 17th century Britain was dependent on copper imports. John Coster experimented with new ways of smelting copper using coal rather than charcoal. In 1690 he established a coal fired smelter and by the late 1690s was producing 80 tons of high-quality copper which sold for £100 a ton and was used in wire and battery-ware.

The English Copper Company established works in Redbrook and secured contracts from the Government Mint to become the main supplier of blanks for the copper penny. The copper ores were roasted to drive off sulphur and arsenic and visitors commented that ‘a thick yellow smoke hangs over the works which is unwholesome and detrimental to vegetation’.

Centuries of metal making at Redbrook produced huge amounts of waste. Most waste products were recycled; furnace slag was crushed and sent to Bristol glass makers and molten waste from copper smelting was cast into black slag blocks, copings and quoin stones which were used in many of the local buildings and exported down the Wye. (In the19th century Swansea smelted most of the Britain’s copper and was known as Copperopolis.

In the 19th century Redbrook tin was the thinnest tin you could buy. The Redbrook tinplate company became world famous with demand coming from the United States for packing tobacco. The village ran to the works hooter and Redbrook’s residents lived cheek by jowl with the noise, smoke, and smell from the works until 1961 when they closed, unable to compete with the Welsh strip mills.

As we set off along the river Wye, a group of children were doing artwork in the open air. Colourful examples of their past work were displayed on a noticeboard. It was wonderful to walk through a woodland in bud and to see the water in the river sparkle in the Spring sunshine. Soon we found ourselves climbing steep slopes and scrambling over/around fallen trees. A huge number of tree trunks were piled up where a logging company had felled trees from the hillside. Our route took us through a large field; the first wildlife of the day was spotted, a small group of deer.

The spires of the impressive All Saints church at Newland could be seen in the distance and we walked across fields of ewes with lambs, and past a building with coloured pencils as fence posts before reaching the village. The church was open and contains many memorials and stones. There is a medieval chapel dedicated by King Edward 1st in 1305 which was appropriated by the wealthy Probyn family. The local pub derives its name from the Probyn family crest; it was thought that Ostriches could eat iron, so the bird is shown with a key in its beak, alluding to the Probyn family wealth which came from metal industries.

The graveyard attached to the church has several benches and there are alms houses on the boundary, but we didn’t stop as we had hills to climb before lunch. As we left through the lych-gate, we could see that most village houses are stone and full of character.

The fields were strewn with lady’s smock (or milk maids and various other names). It is an important food plant for the orange-tip and green-veined white butterfly.

We arranged ourselves over a group of tree trunks and stumps to relax in the sunshine for lunch with views of the valley below us. As we finished, the temperature dropped as a breeze started. We descended the hill to a road where a stream ran alongside. Following the road, we passed fishing lakes and a small holding with two turkeys in the garden. Then we tackled a steep hill finding goats at the farm at the top. On a narrow footpath next to a house, we spotted a sign ‘5mph Please drive slowly children playing and animals’.

From here there was a brilliant view of the surrounding hills, especially Sugarloaf and then it was mostly downhill back to the cars at Redbrook. Now we crossed the pedestrian bridge, beside a crumbling old railway bridge, over the Wye into Wales, to enjoy a well-earned drink at the Boat Inn. Here we could see all sorts of energetic people – canoeists who appeared to be a hen party, cyclists, and walkers. [Walk 7miles 1300ft – Map OL14]