A Walk Through History
PLEASE NOTE: A printable PDF of this walk guide is available to download here: Buckholt wood walk
Two miles north of Monmouth lies the picturesque woodland community of the Buckholt. At the heart of the village is the historic Buckholt Wood, once a thriving centre of forest industry. This walk reaches deep into the forest to explore a lost landscape of ancient sites, trackways and ruined cottages that stand testimony to an enchanting history that dates back over 2000 years.
Time: Allow 2 hours
Terrain: Stout footwear required. Can be quite muddy after wet weather. Some paths uneven and overgrown in places. Two ascents, one steep. Not suitable for pushchairs, unless all-terrain. Not suitable for wheelchair access due to uneven paths and steep slopes.
From Monmouth take the A446 towards Hereford for approximately 2 miles, continuing past the Royal Oak pub and Manson’s Cross. On entering the village of the Buckholt, pass the tiny church of St. John’s on the left. As you approach the next bend in the road the entrance to Buckholt Wood is signposted immediately on the left. Turn into the small parking area at the start of the forest track.
The Location of the Ruined Cottages:
1. Follow the track up a gentle incline, passing fields on either side. The canopy of ivy on the left at the start of the track conceals the ruins of the first of the ruined cottages that you will encounter on this walk. This labourer’s cottage is marked number 10 on the maps above. After a short distance, the track runs alongside an ancient ditch. At the head of the ditch, a gate blocks vehicular access to the woods. Cross over the low wooden fence next to the gate and proceed up the track.
2. The track soon passes an area of scrub on the right before again meeting the field fence. Here the track affords a beautiful view of the valley. At this corner, the remains of a tiny stone cottage (#12) can clearly be seen in the undergrowth next to the track.
A short venture into the scrub beyond the barn reveals the remains of the cottage (#11) that overlooked the valley on this site until the early 20th century. This was the home of Joseph Meredith and his descendants – a family of sawyers and woodmen.
3. The track soon reaches a wide junction.
Take the left hand track and proceed up the hill.
4. Continue to ascend the hill passing an area of young coppice on the right. The track bends around to the right to follow the contour of the hill and, after a short strenuous climb, soon levels off.
5. As the path levels it meets with a dark conifer plantation on the left of the track. A short detour through these pines leads to one of the finest areas of ancient coppicing in the wood.
This area of the wood was once quarried and evidence of this is shown in the many rocks still littering the forest floor. A visit to this part of the woods in May offers a stunning display of bluebells.
6. Carefully retracing your steps to the track continue on until reaching a junction. Ignoring the small path heading sharply south, take the main left-hand path, way-marked with a post and yellow arrow.
7. Follow this delightful path, heading west high above the Monnow valley. After a short way, a post on the left-hand side marks a path leading down to the ruins of a cottage (#15).
Little now remains of this old charcoal burners cottage that fell into disuse in the early 1900s, excepting the Spring daffodils and primroses that still grow in what was once the garden.
8. Return to the path and continue along, noting the breath-taking views of Monmouth and the Kymin through the gaps in the trees.
The remains of a small stone barn can be seen under an old Yew tree on the left side of the track.
9. Continuing along the track, look for another narrow waymarked path on the left, which leads haphazardly down to a collection of intriguing ruins.
This cottage (#16), was occupied in the 18th century, by Henry Williams, and his later descendants, the Hodges family. The fireplace and bread oven mark the heart of his once-substantial home. Outside, a sunken mossy mill-stone is all that now remains of the old barn.
10. Make your way carefully back to the track. The route now shadows the highest point of the wood and, on the slopes above the track, a prehistoric enclosure lies on a small plateau just below the crest of the hill. The enclosure comprises an impressive bank and ditch on the north and east sides and commands magnificent views to the south and west.
Continue along the track until an old trailer comes into view. Ignore the small path on the left-hand side that leads to Old Shop.
Opposite the trailer the route turns sharply right, up steep wooden steps, to the top of the hill. Take care as some of the steps are broken and the ground can be slippery.
A glimpse of the breath-taking view across the Monnow Valley towards Skirrid Fawr and the distant peaks of the Brecon Beacons provides a perfect excuse to stop for a rest half-way up the hill.
11. At the top of the hill cross straight over the main track and proceed straight ahead, heading downhill, following the path as it curves gently around to the right.
12. Cross over the next track, and again proceed straight ahead and downhill as the path passes between an area of open plantation on the right and denser plantation on the left.
You are now near the heart of the Buckholt Wood.
In early September 1847, this area was the site of a great manhunt, after four violent convicts made a daring escape from Monmouth gaol. Three of the gang; Thomas Mayo, George Albert and Samuel Hayes, were known as the “Usk Burglars”, and had been sentenced to transportation for a series of robberies in the Usk area. The fourth man, Patrick Murphy, had been sentenced to death for the crime of “Burglary with Violence”.
A report in the Monmouthshire Merlin, on 11th September 1847, describes in detail the vicious nature of the breakout:
“Mayo contrived to unfasten an iron rod from the window of his cell, called the saddle barn; he then broke off one of the legs of his low iron bedstead; with these instruments he cut away the lower panel of his cell door, and without further difficulty he stepped into the open corridor; he then with the iron bar broke off the large padlocks of two cells in which were Murphy and Hayes; these remained in their cells, whilst Mayo withdrew to an empty one opposite his own, all waiting the arrival of the turnkey with the prison keys.
At the usual hour, about a quarter to 6 o’clock, Mr. Allpass, the governors assistant, arrived in the gallery in which these villains were located, and he proceeded to unlock the first cell; he had barely done this, when Mayo flew upon him with the agile ferocity of a tiger, and clasped him by the throat and mouth. Mr. Allpass thus suddenly attacked, instinctively bit the hand which grasped his mouth. Murphy now bore upon him, and he received a murderous blow on the head and temple, from the iron foot of the bedstead, which weight 3 1/4 lbs. ; he fell to the ground, but in doing so he seized his whistle, and was about using it, when one of his assailants called to his companions to “take his squeaker”, Overcome by the strangling griping of his throat and the stunning blow he had received, Mr. Allpass was unable to offer further resistance, and the villains left him, after locking him in the cell with another transport, saying that “they had done for him”. They then unlocked Albert’s cell, and the four fellows descended the steps of the gaol, armed with the prison keys, which they had taken from Allpass, with a huge padlock, the foot of the iron bedstead, and a large stone which they tore up from a drain.
They proceeded to the lodge, at the inner door of which they awaited the arrival from the entrance of the two turnkeys at the appointed hour for commencing the duties of the day. Scarcely a minute had elapsed, when Bradshaw, one of the turnkeys, a powerful and well built young man, unlocked the door, and in a moment he was felled to the ground by a terrific blow on the head from the same iron bar which has been used upon Allpass. Hathaway, the other assistant, who was close behind Bradshaw, was simultaneously attacked by the other desperados, though he was the less injured of the three. They then locked the door by which they had entered, and seizing the large key of the outer door from Hathaway they let themselves out, flourished their weapons triumphantly in the air, threw the keys of the prison into a garden adjoining, and ran off up the hill of the old Hereford Road”.
The prisoners made their way to the Buckholt Wood where they were captured by some local Buckholt lads:
“several parties from the town followed the fugitives; and three men, named John Brown, Edward Jayne, and James Jeremy, caught the prisoner Murphy about a mile and a half within the Buckholt Wood, lying flat on the ground.
Hayes was the next to be captured, by two men in the employ of Mr. Williams, Miller, named William Bevan and George Drunderdam, whom they found in a brake* of the same wood, into which they had to crawl upon their knees.
Mayo and Albert were found by Brown, Jayne and Jeremy, in a deep blind ditch, their entrance into which they had concealed as well as they could with briars. In each of the two last cases, the hiding places were well selected and required corresponding ingenuity to detect.
All the prisoners were safely lodged in their old quarters, with the extra appendages of heavy irons and handcuffs, before 11 o’clock in the forenoon. The palpable intention of these men was to remain in the Buckholt Wood, which is very thickly overgrown with underwood and foliage, until night, when they would have been loose upon society to re-enact their plunder and their crimes. Universal delight was manifested at their recapture”.
Following their recapture, Murphy’s death sentence was commuted, and all four convicts were transported to Australia for 20 years.
*Brake: an overgrown area, tangled with dense brush and briars.
13. Carrying on to the end of this path, cross diagonally over the next track to follow a grassy path downhill through a dense fir plantation. Some navigation around fallen trees is necessary at this point.
14. Follow this path and cross the next track to follow a delightful wide path of pine needles
under the trees.
As you descend the hill the sound of bird-song becomes intermingled with the babbling waters of the Mally Brook in the valley below.
15. A T-junction is reached at the end of this slope as the hill ahead drops steeply away towards the Hereford Road. Turn left to follow the track downhill towards the south.
16. The track continues along a gentle downward incline through steeply sloping banks of trees towards an area of dense conifer plantation.
Along the track dilapidated garden walls, clusters of daffodils and several overgrown rhododendron bushes are a testimony to the community of woodland cottages that once existed here.
17. An overgrown track leading off the path to the left leads to the ruins of cottages 1 – 8 (please refer to map at top of the page for the location of the individual cottages – more information about these cottages can be found here).
This is a wild area of the woods abundant with loose rocks and brambles, so caution is necessary.
These cottages were once home to a community of woodlanders but were abandoned in the early 20th century following the decline of the charcoal burning industry. The cottages are now in a significant state of ruin, some sadly being little more than a pile of mossy stones.
The cottage opposite the old Plough Inn (#7) is in the best state of repair and the chimney wall and fireplace are still clearly visible, along with the old privy in the garden. This was the last house to be abandoned and was once home to a very disreputable local character called John James. It was from this cottage that John James fired his shotgun through the windows of the Plough while his neighbours sat drinking at the bar. James was disgruntled after being evicted as landlord of the Plough a few weeks earlier and had decided to take some drunken revenge. James was arrested on a charge of intent to do bodily harm, but luckily for him, the case was dismissed as there was no evidence to suggest that James’ behaviour had been anything more than a thoughtless, alcohol-fueled act of idiocy.
18. Returning to the main track continue through the pines, noting entrance of the underground spring on the right side of the track. This is often buried under fallen branches and can most easily be identified by the large white pipe on the left of the track that directs the spring water down the hill toward the Mally Brook.
19. The track soon opens up to a clearing on the edge of a field. This heavily coppiced area to the left of the track was once two open paddocks, which formed the pretty small-holding of Mary Dickens, in the 18th century. Mary’s cottage (#14) stood to the left of the clearing in a spot now marked by a large fir tree. Sadly, nothing now remains of this once pretty woodland cottage except the stonework at the base of the tree.
A short distance along the track another large pine grows through the remains of a second cottage (#13), which was once the home of the Wildings, a family of carpenters. Until the early 20th century this track was a well-used thoroughfare for the residents of this no longer existent part of the village.
20. Continue along the track enjoying the open views over the Buckholt valley to the left.
When reaching the junction turn left and continue down the hill back to the start of the walk.
The area of scrub to the left of the track, as you reach the car park, was the site of Buckholt’s infamous “Murder Cottage” (cottage #9)
In March 1817, village nurse Elizabeth Harry, was murdered by her husband James, who hid her body in a shallow grave near Manson’s Cross. Elizabeth’s body was discovered by Joseph Meredith, who lived in cottage #11, further up the track. James Harry was brought to justice and executed at Monmouth Gaol in August 1817.
The legend of “Murder Cottage” has long outlasted the physical evidence of the Harry’s house, and nothing now remains to mark the memory of the tragic event that occurred on this spot 200 years ago.
For more information about the Buckholt’s most notorious story, please see here.
21. Bidding farewell to the woods, return to your car and proceed to the Royal Oak near Manson’s Cross for a well-earned drink.