Red Daren and Black Darren

Overview
The Olchon Valley runs northwest from Longtown (SO325285) for a distance of about eight miles and forms the most eastern valley of the Black Mountains. A mountain ridge of over 600m. borders the whole valley on the west side with the Welsh border (part of the Offa’s Dyke footpath) running along the top. To the east the valley is enclosed for about half its length by a ridge of similar height, called the Black Hill (known locally as “The Cat’s Back”, for reasons which are obvious when viewed from a distance!). The Black Darren and Red
Daren (note the Ordnance Survey has different spellings for both!) are land slips formed following glacial action and are an impressive feature on the face of the western ridge.

The Olchon Valley has no northern exit road and is wonderfully peaceful and unspoiled with small ancient farms and grazing sheep being the only visible sign of human habitation. There are many options for walking at the valley level, either on roads largely undisturbed by traffic or on the footpaths linking them (see maps) and there are various routes to the tops which, although strenuous in places provide spectacular views across Herefordshire and the Black Mountains chain. Sensible walking boots and weatherproof clothing are essential even in apparently good weather as conditions can change rapidly especially at altitude.

Directions and walks
The Darrens
From Longtown take the road heading northwest through the village, passing the castle on your left and take the first left, signposted Brass Knoll, Turnant and Mountain Road. Follow this narrow road, climbing steeply in places, for about three miles until the road flattens out to reveal parking areas on both sides beneath the cwm which divides the Darrens. An excellent, if somewhat strenuous circular walk can be made from here, skirting the foot of the Black Darren, climbing to the top of the ridge and the Offa’s Dyke path and then descending to your starting point on the Red Daren side. The start is marked by a sign at the carpark reading ‘Offa’s Dyke Path’ and although the path is well-defined at first it becomes less so as you climb. Keep on this path until it flattens out to a small grassy plateau then head left taking the trail between the face of the Black Darren on your right and the ridge formed by a previous landslip to your left. Walk through bracken initially and continue on the path along the top of a small ridge. Large rock falls to your right will prevent you getting very near to the Darren but keep as close as you can, climbing and swinging slowly westwards. Look out for a track to your right which leads slightly back and up to the top and the Offa’s Dyke path. If you have time you can explore in either direction from here but the way to the Red Daren is to your right. Stay on the Offa’s Dyke path, passing a stone obelisk signposted ‘Llanthony’ until you reach the next one marked ‘Red Daren’. Follow the trail down and you will eventually join the track which you left at the grassy plateau.

The Black Hill
From Longtown take the road heading northwest through the village, passing the castle on your left and take the second left, signposted Llanveynoe and Black Hill. Keep on this road and after 1.8 miles look for a right hand fork, signposted Black Hill (but sign can be obscured). About a mile further on the Black Hill carpark is signposted on the right.

The trees and shrubs before the carpark can be good for spring migrants and the surrounding moorland holds breeding Stonechats and Wheatear. Across the road where you turned right for the carpark is a footpath which descends to the Olchon Brook and joins the road on the western side. A loop walk can be made along the road to the head of the valley and thence back to the car park.

Facilities: The Crown Inn at Longtown serves meals weekdays 12 to 3pm (except Wednesdays) and evenings 6pm onwards; all day at weekends.

Snacks, drinks and sandwiches can be bought at the shop and Post Office in Longtown.

Maps:
Ordnance Survey Explorer OL13 & Landranger 161
OS Map View (1:25,000)

What to see:
Resident Raven and Buzzard are numerous and Peregrine can often be found with perhaps Merlin on a good day. A remnant population of Red Grouse persists on the top of the western ridge.
Winter The resident species may still be found but the winter months are much quieter. Hen Harrier is possible on the tops.
Summer Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Wheatear, Stonechat and Cuckoo breed on the mountain sides and the woods and trees in the valley are an excellent place to find Redstart, Tree Pipit and Pied Flycatcher. Grey Wagtail and Dipper may be found along the Olchon Brook.
Spring/autumn Ring Ouzel possible on autumn passage beneath the Darrens.
Resources:
www.getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/local/olchon-valley-county-of-herefordshire; and
www.herefordtimes.com/news/features/walks/9506368.This_month_s_Garth_Lawson_walk_is_Upper_Olchon_Valley/ which includes details of the interesting history of the area.
Nearby sites:
There are no sites particularly close by the Olchon Valley, but Winforton, River Wye; Merbach Hill and Ewyas Harold Common are within reasonable driving distance.