Follow in the footsteps of the mysterious Black Vaughan, a shape-shifting spectre who may have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, says Simon Whaley…
For a real sense of spookiness, step along Kington’s back lanes in the first hours of daylight, when the mystical caw of the rooks reverberates through the autumnal mist that hangs low over the nearby River Arrow. And if you hear the soft patter of ghostly paws on the tarmac behind you … RUN!
This 6 ½ mile walk wanders Kington’s isolated lanes, used by Sir Thomas Vaughan and his black bloodhound, before climbing Hergest Ridge, with its far-reaching views. It returns to Kington, where Vaughan’s shape-shifting ghost spread fear and terror, tormenting the locals in St Mary’s Church and the town’s Market Hall.
From the car park in Crabtree Road, turn left into Mill Street, passing a football ground on your left. Take the metal gate into the park and follow a fence on the right. At the park corner, pass into the adjacent school playing fields and, keeping left of the trees, cut straight across to the opposite hedge. Go through into a smaller field, following the left hand edge, before passing behind some properties on your right, emerging onto Hergest Lane. Turn left.
About 1km along the lane, pass Black Vaughan’s house, Hergest Court, on the left. Soon after, take the minor lane on the right, signed to Lower and Upper Hergest. Climb steeply, between high embankments, forking left at a junction. Go through Lower Hergest and, after a telephone box on the left, climb to Upper Hergest. Bear round to the right at the road junction, continuing through the hamlet.
After New House Farm on the left, take the next signed footpath on the right, through a gate, onto a bridleway. Climb up between trees. Pass through another gate to enter open hillside. Bear left, away from the tall obvious signpost, and look for a shorter waymarker post. From here, climb uphill, as waymarked, on a wide, grassy path. Look behind for great views across Herefordshire, towards the Brecon Beacons. Pass a couple more waymarker posts, and then a large pile of stones. At the next waymarker post, bear left, as directed, between the highest point of Hergest Ridge on your left and the trig point on the right, towards a tall signpost. Drop gently, over a crossing track, to reach another wide crossing track.
Turn right, with magnificent views across Wales on your left, and follow this track. Pick up the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, which joins from the left soon after, and follow this, as it travels through the old racecourse, passing a small pool on the right. Follow Offa’s Dyke’s long descent down Hergest Ridge towards a large wooden gate. Pass through to join a tarmac lane. This drops back into Kington, passing Hergest Croft Gardens, to reach the main road.
Cross straight over onto a minor lane, forking left, then right, into the grounds of St Mary’s Church. Enter the church, and turn right to find the Vaughan family vault. Return outside, turning left, dropping through the grounds to the main road. Turn left, and follow the main road down into the town centre. Turn right, into Mill Street, passing the old Market Hall on the corner, where Vaughan’s ghostly bull terrorised local stall holders, to return to the car park.
The Hound of the … Vaughans?
According to folklore, Sir Thomas Vaughan was an evil squire who walked his huge black bloodhound around Kington’s streets and lanes, often setting his dog loose on walkers who annoyed him. When Vaughan was beheaded during the 1469 Battle of Banbury (a turning point in the War of the Roses), his faithful bloodhound dashed across the bloody battlefield, picked up his head and carried it home to Hergest Court. Vaughan’s headless body was also returned to Kington and buried in a marble tomb inside St Mary’s Church.
But Vaughan remained restless. His ever-changing black ghostly spirit haunted the locals. As a black fly it would torment farmer’s horses. As a black bull it terrorised worshippers in St Mary’s Church, and locals in the market hall, so much so, people feared going out. Anyone who saw Vaughan take the shape of his faithful black hound knew death would come knocking soon. In the end, twelve priests carried out an exorcism in St Mary’s Church, reducing Vaughan’s spirit to the size of a fly, placing it into a snuff box, and securing it under a stone slab at the bottom of a pond at Hergest Court.
Could this be the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles? Doyle stayed at Hergest Court, so knew of Black Vaughan’s history. And many of Doyle’s character names are local Kington place names. The Baskerville Hall Hotel stands only six miles away, and in the book, the Baskerville’s family doctor was called Mortimer. Mortimer Forest lies 15 miles to the north-east. Was the entomologist’s surname, Stapleton, named after a village a few miles north of Kington? It can’t all be a spooky co-incidence. Can it?
How To Get There
Kington lies on the A44, 14 miles west of Leominster, and 21 miles north-west of Hereford.
The Burton Hotel, Mill Street, Kington, Herefordshire, HR5 3BQ
Tel: 01544 230323
This one-time coaching-inn stands in the centre of Kington, opposite the Market Hall, and its Cloud 9 spa offers the perfect opportunity to relax after your spooky hike.
Croft Castle (National Trust), Yarpole, near Leominster, Herefordshire, is reputed to have not one, but seven different ghosts in residence. Is this the Midland’s most haunted property?
(c) Simon Whaley