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The bottom of a garden seems an odd place for a museum, but the Violette Szabó, GC Museum is a very personal one. It stands in the grounds of Cartref, the modest house to which Violette Szabó would come to visit her cousins. Rosemary Rigby, who lives there now, is both the museum's creator and curator. Among the many attending the museum's opening in 2000 was Violette's daughter, Tania.
Violette Bushell had a French mother and an English father. When Violette was 11, they moved to London. Violette met Etienne Szabó, a Hungarian-born French national 12 years older than she, at London's Bastille Day Parade in 1940. After a whirlwind romance – not uncommon in wartime – they married 41 days later. In February 1942, Violette gave birth to Tania, whom Etienne was never to see, for he succumbed to chest wounds inflicted in the Battle of El Alamein that October. Seeking revenge, Violette joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), from where she was head-hunted by the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her second mission on the ground in France was to be her last. Among the museum's exhibits is a door of the car believed to have been the one in which Violette Szabó, Jacques Dufour (the local Maquis leader) and a friend of his had been travelling to visit another Maquis member when they encountered a Nazi road block. In the ensuing gun battle her two companions escaped, uninjured, but Violette had to surrender when she ran out of ammunition. She was – posthumously – awarded the George Cross, the first woman to be honoured in this way. Although unaware of major Nazi troop movements, it isn't clear why Dufour, who was driving, decided to take on the soldiers at the road block, rather than turning the car round and hoping they wouldn't be pursued, or at least hoping to find a better escape route, for example, but this was the beginning of the end.
From her capture on 10 June, 1944 until her execution on 28 January, 1945, Violette was moved eight times, enduring rape, brutal assaults and inhumane living conditions, particularly at Ravensbrück concentration camp and three months at Königsberg on the Russian Front. The outcome could have been so different. Alerted to where Violette was being held, two SOE colleagues intended to rescue her from Limoges Prison, which wasn't heavily guarded. Tragically, just hours before they planned to do it, she was moved to Fresnes Prison in Paris.
Of the SOE's 55 women members, 11 were killed in service, either in France or in concentration camps. R J Minney's biography of Violette Szabó was published in 1956. In the 1958 film, Carve Her Name with Pride, Virginia McKenna – who attended the museum's opening – portrayed Violette. Although Steve Tomlinson's summary account of Violette Szabó's life, available at the museum, doesn't dwell on Ravensbrück's horrors (where 92,000 women died), it still leaves a grim memory of a fanatically and remorselessly cruel regime.
Walk into the village and follow the driveway between The Kilpeck Inn and a stile into pasture to the left. Pass brick stables to cross two stiles. Keep the line crossing a further two stiles leading into a spinney. A narrow path leads up to a waymarker. Head up the field to a stile by houses on a lane. Turn right at Size Croft Barns and keep straight on at a junction marked 'No Through Road. Passing through yard of New House Farm to a stile, keep the right-hand hedge beside stock fencing.
Take the right of two gates and follow right-hand field edge to a hedge and gate in 0.25 miles (400m). Follow a muddy track along left-hand field edge for 328yds (300m), through a gap to a field with an ancient, wide-girthed oak tree. Passing beneath its boughs, follow left-hand field edge to a waymarked gatepost and a sunken, grassy lane. Continue along the lane and past a stone barn at the top. Turn left at far end of barn onto a tarmac track; stay on this to a minor road.
At Primrose Cottage walk left for 0.3 miles (500m). Beyond a junction, immediately after Butts Bungalow, leave left along a gated track skirting Cole’s Tump. Beyond a gate, keep ahead past a cottage to a gate in the corner. At an immediate fork, bear right uphill. Where the path later swings sharply right, go left to find a stile into the field above.
Head upfield, bearing right at the crest to a stile midway along the hedge. Follow a track left. Later meeting a narrow lane, go left again. Over a rise, it drops towards Bettws Court Farm. At a cattle grid, cross a stile on the right and follow the field-edge past the farm. Climbing a stile at the top, keep ahead and then swing within the corner. Look for a well-hidden stile a short way along the hedge.
A path drops through Mynde Wood, crossing dirt trails and then a gravel track to emerge into pasture. Cross to a gate at the far-right corner and pass between stables to a junction by a large house. Bear right and walk to a T-junction by cottages. Go left and keep left beside barns to a gate. Swing right and then fork left above ponds past The Mynde.
Walk down past a junction and on up the edge of a large field. Cresting the rise by barns, where the track winds right, keep ahead on a grass track. Through a gate, cross a drive from cottages and walk forward across grass to a stile. Continue beside a rough paddock to emerge onto a lane. Cross left to a gate and bear left around an injutting wood. Drop left to a footbridge. In the field beyond, walk half-right across the slope to a gate in the far hedge. Maintain this direction across the next field, passing through a gap. Now aiming slightly left, lose height to find a footbridge. Climb steeply away, leaving immediately right of Nash Hill Cottage onto a narrow lane. Cross right to a gate and walk half-left to an indented corner. Swing right straight downhill. Over a stile, keep ahead across a second field. Cross a gated footbridge and go left into another field. Keep by the left boundary, but entering a final field, bear right to exit over a stile by The Kilpeck Inn.
Field paths, tracks and minor lanes
Wooded, grazed and cultivated hills
Best kept on leads and not allowed in Kilpeck churchyard
OS Explorer 189 Hereford & Ross-on-Wye
Spaces beside St Mary's and St David's Church, Kilpeck
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
Herefordshire is split in two by the River Wye which meanders through the county on its way to the Severn and the sea. Largely rural, with Hereford, Leominster, and Ross-on-Wye the major towns and cities, its countryside and ancient villages are the county’s major asset.
Visitors can take advantage of a number of the trails which will guide them through areas of interest. Those especially interested in historic village life should try the Black and White Village Trail, which takes motorists on a 40-mile drive around timber-framed villages from Leominster to Weobley (established in the 17th century and known as a centre of witchcraft in the 18th), Eardisley (where the church boasts a 12th-century carved font), Kington, Pembridge and others. Other trails include the Mortimer Trail, the Hop Trail and the Hidden Highway, which goes from Ross-on-Wye to Chester. Hereford has a small Norman cathedral, which has a great forest of pink sandstone columns lining the nave. Inside is a chained library, a 13th-century Mappa Mundi (map of the world) and one of only four copies of the 1217 version of the Magna Carta.
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