Tag Archives: offa’s dyke

Offa’s Dyke Path, September 2011.

Offa’s Index.

Day 1 – Chepstow to Monmouth, 18miles.
Day 2 – Monmouth to Pandy, 17miles.
Day 3 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye, 18miles.
Day 4 – Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 15miles.
Day 5 – Kington to Knighton, 14miles.
Day 6 – Knighton to Montgomery, 18miles.
Day 7 – Montgomery to Lanymynech, 19miles.
Day 8 – Llanymynech – Froncysyllte, 18miles.
Day 9 – Froncysyllte to Llandegla, 11miles.
Day 10 – Llandegla to Bodfari, 18miles.
Day 11 – Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12miles.


Part 2. (North)

“The variety of scenery of this stretch of the path is remarkable”.


Day 6. Knighton to Montgomery, 18miles.

The first paragraph from the guide-book for today stage is peppered with potentially worrying phrases… “toughest part of the walk”, “a long procession of short steep climbs”, “if you’re fit & lucky with the weather, you will have a good day!”. Hmmm. But it does also say “rewarding scenically”, “outstanding natural beauty” and “quite unspoilt” so as usual it’s swings and roundabouts. Here the grain of the land runs in an east-west direction so there’s no alternation but to cross lots of hills and ridges, unlike the much conveniently laid out Black Mountains. But there’s no long way round. Well, there is but it is very long! After finally finishing a most generous breakfast and breaking free of conversation at Whytcwm we set off. After a nice gentle start to the day along the Teme Valley and a scamper across the Heart of Wales line we’re then confronted by all 1150ft of Panpunton Hill, and the climbing begins! The first few hundred feet are particularly steep but at least take us back to Dyke. The rest of the ascent is a bit gentler and the views from the top of are well-worth it.

The welcoming bench (in memory of Frank Noble) and cairn (in memory of Roy Waters of Tref y Clawdd Society) made me wish it was lunch-time already – my breakfast was still settling though. Still with views like this over the Teme, and Beacon Hill on the other side, it would be a shame not to rest up for a few moments with a sausage roll to occupy my mouth while my eyes were otherwise engaged. We continue along the ridge, before dropping down and then climbing again to Cwm-sanham Hill. I wasn’t wishing for many more of these drops & climbs, but alas this was one wish that wasn’t going to be granted.

Apart from the ups & downs the walking on the open moor-land isn’t too bad, remembering to always use the stiles! We get a nice view of the Knucklas Viaduct from here too.
We’re warned at this point to watch out for buzzards and we’re not disappointed. I was too slow on the shutter to catch the one that took shelter in the wind-savaged copse above, but one its brethren wasn’t far behind possibly looking down on Lloyney. The path now stays high for a little while as it heads towards Llanfair Hill, and is actually alongside the Dyke rather than on top of it.

But this gives us a nice side-on view enabling us to appreciate our guiding border-marking ancient earthwork even more. Apparently this section gives us the best views of the Dyke, uncluttered as it is by woodland and the like and it is easy to appreciate how impressive it must have been 1200 years ago.

Above to the left we see the Dyke heading back to the south where we’d come from, heading towards a place mischievously marked in the guide’s map as “Scotland”. Just ahead of us is Lower Spoad, something I seem to have missed. Probably distracted by the handsomely-decrepit looking half-timbered 17th Century Bryndrinog. Here we drop down again in to the Clun Valley and worringly the guide-book says “Here the real climbing begins…” oh dear. But just as the real climbing begins, up from the Clun and past a handy Severn Water drinking tap we see a very welcoming sign indeed… We are officially and exactly half-way there! Half-way to Prestatyn! A very reassuring marker not mentioned in my old guide-book, but it was soon forgotten as the ups & downs seemed never-ending. As we skirt round Hergan apparently there’s a gap in the Dyke where there’s quite an east/west gap in it. Sadly I missed this “1100 year old mystery” at the time – you do tend to get Dyke-blindness after a short while. It was also around here, just after Middle Knuck, that I bumped into one of the few other people doing the walk coming the other way. We stopped for a brief chat, both seemingly surprised that we’d encountered someone with the same idea! I hinted at the pleasing sign to come (not spoiling the surprise though), we bid our farewells and I headed through Cwm Ffrydd to Churchtown.

St John’s at Churchtown is somewhat isolated, and its 12th Century font disappointingly modern! Churchtown has a Churchtown Hill, Churchtown Plantation, Churchtown Hill Plantation, Churchtown Cottage and Churchtown Wood. But there is no town – the nearest village is Mainstone. So it was with pleasing solitude that I stopped in the church grounds for boots off and lunch out. Getting going again afterwards was a struggle, specially as it took me  straight up the steepest burst of today’s numerous ups & down. 350ft in quarter of a mile. I was getting very tidy of all this now – this “switchback” as it’s called. Bloody switchback!! Thankfully though they were nearly over.

Up over Edenhope Hill and down to the Unk and Nut Wood the path and terrain continue in the same vein. We see a cow with adding to erosion of the Dyke, and a lump of stone with “1969” carved into it. The Offa’s Dyke Association was set up in that year, but why there’s this otherwise-unmarked engraved lump in the middle of nowhere I have no idea. We finally drop down for the last time today, past Crowsnest and towards Cwm. The wide open flatness of the Montgomery Plain is welcome indeed. The last couple of miles are fairly uneventful – which after the all the climbs is exactly what you want!

We pass a monument and some wonderfully-ramshackle farm buildings walled in as if to stop them escaping, but I forgot to record what or where they are. The guide interestingly refers to the Dyke as a “monument” not far from here. Just semantics, but I’m not sure I agree. Near Brompton Bridge is about as useful as I can get. After Brompton Bridge it’s a long straight to Montgomery along the catchily labelled “Euro ER, Co Const, Asly ER & UA Bdy”. Montgomery is actually some little way off the Path so I have to leave the “Euro ER, Co Const, Asly ER & UA Bdy” to pass through Boardyhall Wood to get me there. But it’s still pleasant walking though Lymore Park which takes me into the town. The first pub I see is the Crown Inn, and boy it is welcome! After a couple of pints and a some light chit-chat with the locals in there I wandered through town to find the charmingly-quirky Dragon Hotel. The view from my window was splendid. But it was the welcoming refreshments that were the nicest touch – the sherry was lovely, but the crisps were a bit off I thought. They also had a painting in the corridor that I rather liked, I emailed the hotel to ask and they promptly got back to me saying it was by Jean-Baptiste Valadie – I shall be keeping my eyes open! (Rather like the young creatures in the painting.)

I dined in the hotel that evening, entertained if I remember correctly by some live lounge piano music. And each time I went back to my top-floor room I got lost in the warren of tiny corridors, landings and staircases. A Travelodge this isn’t! Splendid indeed. Top

Day 7 – Montgomery to Lanymynech, 19miles.

Today looked like it was going to be a much easier day than the constant ups & downs of yesterday. I reckon they was well over 5,000ft of ascent the previous day – that’s a complete (educated) guess mind you, but it sounds about right. Breakfast at the Dragon was quite busy, I think the first time so far I’ve not breakfasted alone – quite a shock! Then stopping to admire the Valadie one more time, we were off again. Again via the Spa across the road. Where would the rural walker be without a Spa for sustenance?? First things to do on leaving Montgomery is to visit the Robber’s Grave at St Nicholas’s.

The story of the innocent-done-wrong John Davies is here, although it does look fairly grassed over now so maybe his true guilt is coming to the fore at last. As mentioned already, Montgomery is a little way of the Path, so it’s probably a good mile to get back on Dyke-track, along the fun-filled B4386. Just as we get near the Path again there’s a little bridge – the County Boundary Bridge – over a small stream. I peered over and just below me on a branch by the top of the arch was something blue. I at first thought it was some litter, such brilliant blue being impossible in nature surely!? But no – it was of course a kingfisher, literally just a few feet below me. You could guarantee that no matter how long I stared at it, the moment my moved towards my camera he’d be off. And that’s what happened, into the brookside trees somewhere. I hung around for a bit seeing if he would come out but he didn’t. Still nice to see one, only the second kingfisher I’ve ever seen, and so close up too. Back with the Dyke now, and although it’s low and level the views are nice.

Montgomery Castle from afar on the left, and a dusty wheat-field on the right. I thought he was burning stubble at first, but nope just dust. By the looks of it. As is the way with flat lowish-level walking most of today was fairly uneventful. Never dull though!
The views were still marvellous. Although again I can’t recall what it is we’re actually viewing here. Past the Devil’s Hole, the Camlad and the motte & bailey at Nantcribba there’s plenty to keep us interested. But once past Forden there’s a couple of miles of road walking until we’re the other side of Kingswood. In to and up through Green Wood, high above Rabbit Bank and Chimney Piece. It all felt a bit deserted up here, there was the odd building and large Victorian garden walls & ponds and pheasant & foul running about everywhere – but not a soul to be seen. It turns out we’re in the Leighton Estate, now a forestry plantation. The ponds were reservoirs for the estate’s water works, and suitably called “Offa’s Pool”. I thought I’d taken more photos round here as it seemed quite eerie like a Marie Celeste of woodlands, but evidently I hadn’t!

A bit more ascent takes up to the iron age hill fort at Beacon Ring, at over 1300ft. And as you’d expect the views of the Severn Valley below are smashing.
As are the views of the distant Breidden Hills and the not so distant Phillips’s Gorse wood. It was all downhill now to Lanymynech but still quite a way so there looked to be no nasty steep descents as we passed Salvagog Dingle and the aptly named Buttington View. It’s all mainly farmland here, which itself can make for the occasional unexpected sight.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an overly-friendly collie – although it was a shame I didn’t. Stile poetry is not altogether unexpected either – although still nice. But I must confess I hadn’t expected to see a cow in manacles. Understandably she doesn’t look too happy about either! But as the farmland drags on this it doesn’t really make for the most exciting scenery.

The relative novelty of a business park dedicated to our Dyke makes a nice change, but shortly after that the Path takes us straight through the middle of a freshly ploughed field. Pleasant walking that wasn’t!
The next few miles are along the valley floor of the Hafren and although flat and easy walking are very tedious. Lots of search and rescue helicopters were buzzing about, which like the manacled cow broke up the monotony a bit. When we eventually got to Gornel farm we encountered the first (and indeed only) major change in the route since my elderly guide was published. My guide says go round the east of it, but these days you head round the west. The friendly farmer could see exactly what I was doing and helpfully pointed me the right way as he and his family got on with their business. Then as I got to other side of the farm I made two new friends! See, you’re bound to see a friendly collie sooner or later round these parts.

The farmer saw our immediate bond, and said I could keep them! I could take as many as I liked – obviously not wishing to be lumbered with anymore of these commonplace canines. Sadly I couldn’t have if I wanted to – which I did. Not looking back was impossible as I walked away collie-less. I hope they found good homes! By now I’m pretty tired and glad Llanymyneth is only a mile or so to go.

Realising I had no time to eat my apple I was lucky to find a willing recipient to save it going to waste. The guide-book mentions here to look for the fancy iron-work on the Golden Lion – but I’m more intrigued by the silly pub sign. The local scarecrow at (I think) Pont-y-Person marked the home-stretch into town which was all along the Ellesmere and Montgomery Canal.

This was recently re-opened just a couple of years before my guide was published and it mentions that some work was still necessary. Some work is still necessary I would say, but I am no canal expert. It was a nice change to walk along the canal, and they always make pleasant scenery – but while a waterways vista is good for the soul, at the end of a long day those tow-paths can be very tough on the soles! At last – Llanymynech! A pint in the Dolphin, food in the Bradford Arms (and a stupid argument about whether Cornwall is a country or a county…!) and more beer and then bed in the basic but decent and friendly Cross Keys. Cheers Hattie, should you ever read this! Top

Day 8 – Llanymynech – Froncysyllte, 18miles.

A fine breakfast with much personal attention from the owner of the Cross Keys, in the large empty dining, set me up nicely for the day. The climbing started almost immediately on leaving Llanymynech with Pen-y-Foel and Fron-goch waiting for us.

The views from Llanymynech Hill west towards the Berwyn Mountains were good, despite the foggy start. But the views of the herd of very nosey and very skinny cattle around Pen-y-Coed somewhere were not as nice. Looks like someone else needs a good breakfast too, I suspect they think that’s what I’ve come to see them for.

The Tanat Valley Light Railway on the way in to Porth-y-waen, built in 1904 for the quarries and mines round here didn’t last long. And is in need of a bit of trim!

Another steep clamber takes up and over Moelydd, nearly 1000ft above sea-level, and then into Trefonen – the home of the brewery no less! And indeed home to two little owls hiding from a swooping eagle. Trefonen has a lot for a little place!

The ascent up through Candy Wood to Baker Hill is long but gentle. Some forestry work fills the air the pungent and pleasant smell of Radox! The top of Baker Hill is wide and flat, and the remains of a race course are clearly visible. Unfortunately the carefully described view is obscured by trees now, so I have a play on the Janus Horse instead. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going!! Lack of access over Baker Hill forces us to walk along a road for a short while, which is a shame as the route of the Dyke looks pretty nice indeed here.

On leaving the road we start climbing again up Selattyn Hill, a healthy 1300ft. At the top a hand-operated info-sign-post points the way and tells us all about the Selattyn Tower but I dare not leave the Path, even to visit a small ruined folly.

Dropping down Selattyn Hill we hit the B4579, where the point the Dyke crosses is marked by large crenellated Victorian stone tower. Below this is the disused Craignant quarry, and lime-kilns. This is also a handy area for an al-fresco toilet break – a LDWer needs to know this kind of thing!

A point of interest here, that I might not have noticed here unless some locals who had seen me reading the information boards (and initially thought I might be intent on vandalism!!) as it’s not mention in the guide, is the Oak at the Gate of Dead. A giant oak tree, as old as the Dyke itself, and sadly recently split in two by frost damage. Well worth stopping off at for a few moments.

After passing up through Gwyningar Wood, Chirk Castle – continuously occupied since 1310 – dominates the view. The view now also includes the first glimpse of my home county – Cheshire. Always a nice sight! The open farmland here was home to many swallows too. Lovely to see, tricky to photograph. I wasted a good 20minutes here trying to get a half-decent photo, before giving up!

We can see Llangollen approaching now, and perhaps the upside down Path sign-posts are a warning of the relative urban shock that is to come! But it’s odd how even some chemical works can look picturesque from a distance, in sunshine, surrounded by greenery!
But more sad than thinking chemical works look nice is this…

This is the last bit of the Dyke we shall see. There will be no more Dyke for the next two days, and after over a week with it being an almost constant companion and guide it will be odd to be without it. Especially as we will still be on the Dyke Path. But onwards we must go, fare thee well ancient old earth work of Offa!

As usual at this time of day my feet are getting sore and the tow-path of the Llangollen Canal is hard, but my night’s rest – Glencoed – is not far away. But worringly I realise that Glencoed is on the other side of the cut. And my map shows no bridges any time soon. How many more miles is this going to add?! But just as I was getting a bit annoyed at the prospect of extra distance I come across a tunnel underneath the canal, seemingly only used for a riding school there – and it comes out right at the end of the Glencoed’s driveway. Perfect!
Glencoed is one the nicest places I stayed, and I had half the house to myself. Froncysyllte though is no place to be on a Saturday night. The one pub was deserted and wasn’t doing food, and it’s boast of views of the aqueduct aren’t much good in the dark. Still I managed to enjoy a couple of pints before returning back to the B&B via the local chippy. My hosts insisted on providing me with a plate and cutlery as I went to dine in my private lounge – and turned on the telly for the first time since leaving home.

In my room there was huge old teak or mahogany clock on a mantlepiece. Curiosity got the better of me and I dragged it forward to see if I could see the workings from the back. I couldn’t, so I pushed it back and was to horrified to find there was a huge scratch on the surface where I’d moved the heavy timepiece!! Oops!! What shall I do!?

After waking to the tune of a blue tit right outside my window, I shamefully owned up to the scratch over breakfast, but to say I was relieved when they told me that it was already there from someone else doing the same thing some time before is an understatement!! See – honesty is always the best policy, sometimes. Glencoed is a lovely lovely place. Top

Day 9 – Froncysyllte to Llandegla, 11miles.

A nice short day today, but one filled with some real treats. The first one just down the road. Or just down the canal, I should say – the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. I’d seen this on telly a million times, or there-abouts, and I was thrilled to be seeing it in its stone & iron flesh.

You can go two ways; the official route drops down to Dee enabling you to look up at the aqueduct or the alternative is take the high road and look down from the aqueduct – and indeed see it up close.  What a choice!! So I did both. Choosing to do more is always easier first thing in the morning! (I’ll also add at this point that it was not a windy day!) I’m sure most are you familiar with the aqueduct already, so won’t bore you with it too much. But the photos do speak for themselves – it is a marvelous sight!

I’d much rather cross it by foot than by narrowboat!

And it really is worth investigating the high & low options, if you’re a fan of Georgian canal engineering. And who isn’t?

The Dee too makes for some picturesque vistas.

The bridge that takes the “proper” route, and B5434, over the Dee is pretty fine itself too.

After all the bridge excitement we carry along the canal where it branches off west for a short while. Well, it should be a short while but I just assumed that two people ahead of me with the rucksacks were also on the Path so inexplicably just followed them. It was probably a good half mile or so before I realised that the bridge crossing the canal “with the sloping stone slabs for the horses” was actually about half a mile back. Damn. But as I was heading roughly in the right direction I just carried on along the canal until I got to the next bridge, near Bron Heulog, and crossed there and headed north back to the path. And it turned out that I hadn’t really added an awful lot of extra time or distance. This is the right sort of going the wrong way!

It also enabled me to catch a convoy of vintage lorries chugging along the Trevor Road, presumably off to a rally somewhere – unless there’s a particularly thrifty haulier based in these parts. And the path back up to the Path took me past a rather quaint little cottage, with nothing but trees for neighbours. Very nice.

It’s a steep clamber up to Trevor Rocks but the views from the top are magnificent, especially Castell Dinas Bran.

The Dee Valley is still pretty nice too.

The Path is now on a long but quiet road as it passes under the limestone crags of Creig iau Eglwyseg, and as road-walking goes it’s not too bad – the crags providing impressive surroundings. (The second fine sight of the day, after the morning’s bridges).

And there’s a friendly horse at Dinbren-uchal or Bryn Cottage or at some point along the way (I forget exactly where) who’s desperate to help me out with the more healthy parts of my packed-lunch. What could I do?!

We finally leave the road, and I stop for a rest at a little brook near Bryn Goleu. A very pleasant spot for a break before carrying on along a pretty percarious little path amongst the scree. Still, a slight improvement on the road though. The scree-ey path continues on crossing the occasional little gully in what is a attractively-desolate area. It looks like it could’ve been used a Doctor Who location. After a small wood we come out on to a road at a tight hairpin at a spot called “World’s End”, the guide-book says that this spot attracts many artists and picnickers but I thought it was a bit dark and dank. I stopped here by the Eglwyseg for lunch here where it fords across the road. It would have been nicer if it wasn’t near the road!

After lunch I set off up the road, and walked along with a couple who said something along lines of that they like just to drive off to the middle of nowhere on the spur of the moment, go out walking and not talk to each all day. Sounds good to me!
After a pretty dull stretch of road we turn off NW and through an area of extremely marshy moorland, apparently akin to the Pennine Way (one for the future!). Thank goodness for the numerous duck-boards that someone had thoughtfully put down.
Having survived the bogs we enter a conifer plantation. After a few miles of exposure it’s nice to be in woodland, although it is also a favourite of the local mountain bikers.

And the myriad mushrooms along the made me late (stopping to take photos) – and hungry (although I didn’t stop to pick any!)
Just after the woods we’re in Llandegla, and my B&B is on the far-side up a hill. Head-down and on auto-pilot I walk someway right past the turning for it. But eventually make it back to Bryn Dwr by the River Alun. And very nice situation, and very friendly hosts with a very big dog. It’s one of those B&Bs where are you right in their living space. But it’s all very nice. The chap drove me down to the Plough Inn for fodder and (coloured) water but I think I walked back. My room was right near the lounge & front-door though, so my night wasn’t as early as I’d fancied. Maybe I’ll take one of their pods next time! Top

Day 10 – Llandegla to Bodfari, 18miles.

A misty start to a long day, but the penultimate day. The whiff of Prestatyn is not far away now, hmmm… but it looked to be a nice walk over the Clwydian Mountains would surely make for a nice day. If the mist ever lifts.

Once up in the hills though above Llandegla, the mist does as least make for striking views.

And the local flora and fauna seem well adapted to it.

The mushrooms don’t object to the dampness either!

The mist kept coming and going for the first part of the Clwydians, past Moel y Gelli, Moel y Plas and Moel Llanfair so as we were at best above and at worst in it, the views were not great and everywhere – and everything was very damp. Staring at rocks and heather as we went up & down wasn’t the most exciting walking.

All the way along there are lots of signs and notices explaining that some footpaths – well, bridlepaths I assume, are closed or have been diverted because of a quad-bike race that’s taking place later in the day. Not an exciting prospect!
Round about Moel Gyw somewhere I see a sheep lying on its side at the side of the track, breathing heavily and foaming and bloodied at the mouth it’s obviously not too well. But James Herriot I am not, so there’s little I can do. A little later I come across one of the marshalls getting ready for the impending quad-bike race and tell her about the poorly sheep. Reassuringly she said she knew the farmer and would let him know, so fingers crossed the sheep is alive & well and still bounding about nibbling Clwydian grass to this day. I doubt it though. Some good news though – looks like my timing was good so I never had to encounter the quad-bikes!

It is clearing up a bit by the time we get in to Llanbedr and the views are super.

I think we’re looking over Ruthin in the photo on the left, and to the right is Foel Fammau – with a curious rendition of Munch’s The Scream in the heather.

From Foel Fenlli I look down to Bwlch Penbarraa and see a horrible sight – a busy car-park!! Of course, this is Sunday lunch-time and all the day-trippers are out in force now the skies have cleared and the sun is out. My solitude won’t be lasting much longer. The descent down to the car-park was very steep, but seeing a poor sheep that had found herself at Loggerheads lifted the spirits a little.

The path heading up away from Bwlch Penbarra was wide and busy. Families with lively kids running about in shorts and trainers mithering for an ice-cream as I carrying on slogging away with hot heaving boots and bulging rucksack was a little irritating. I would’ve loved an ice-cream too mind. They soon slowed down as we continued on up to Moel Fammau though.

The views were cracking, but surely all these local Sunday drivers couldn’t have just been out to see the views could they?

No, they’re all climbing up to the Jubilee Tower. A tower not for our present Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but ‘Mad’ King George’s Golden one. All very nice at the top, but we can’t dilly dally and pleasingly as we head-off all the afternoon strollers head off the other way back to their cars, and peace and quiet is restored.

But I wonder how long the peace and quiet would last for as I spy 1000s and 1000s of mountain bikers crawling up the hills at speeds so slow you wonder why they bother. They stay away – for now, and I’m left to enjoy the view of Moel Arthur and the television transmitter at Moel y Parc beyond. I pass some of the mountain bikers in a layby at the bottom of Moel Arthur noisily exchanging tales of their day, and pass more carrying their bikes down the hill, clearly having given up on cycling and realising walking is a much better option.

As the Bodfari buzzard soaring above us the end of the day can’t be far away.

The Path takes us right through the middle of a huge old hill fort which, as often happens, I omitted to take any photos of and to be honest have no recollection of. I did however take a photo of what looks like a memorial cairn, but have no recollection of that either. The views from the Clwydians though are unforgettable!

We pass a nice DIY project for someone with some time and plaster on their hands, which reminds me of one of Private Fraser’s best war-time stories, and then we are soon high above Bodfari itself.

The descent is long and the end marked by Grove Hall, and there then follows a long and rather boring walk along roads and the odd field to actually get into Bodfari. The Bodfari buzzard is back to welcome us.

When I got as far as the Downing Arms, I slipped my boots off and settled down to several refreshing refreshments as I was warned by the landlady at my B&B for the night that there’d be nowhere to get food in Bodfari on a Sunday night. “Where will I eat?” I asked her, “Don’t worry” she said “I’ll see you alright.”
So let’s get rehydrated here and then eat back at the B&B and retire for the evening – I wasn’t coming back out as it was a good a mile up hill to Fron Haul and my bed.

Amusingly in the pub there was a group of fellows who were walking the Path in the opposite direction, and were all full of glee and high of spirits – if only they’d asked to hear my tales of what the Path had in store for them! Anyways, I drank up put my boots back on and continued the hike up the hill and out of Bodfari.

The early evening views of the distant mountains – possibly Snowdonia – were grand.

The sad state of an old penned-in Land Rover and Austin 35 were not quite as easy on the eye though. Soon I was at Fron Haul – and what grand looking place it was!

I knocked on the door, and knocked again. Eventually a lady opened it and peering through the gap – “Hello?”
“Hello!” I said “Tim Matthews!”
“Am I expecting you?” said the lady.
“Yes… this is Fron Haul right?”
“Yes, but I’m not expecting anyone.”
“Oh are you sure?”
“Yes, definitely no reservations tonight.”
“Are you Gladys?”
“I spoke to you just the other week to double-check. You even told me there’d be no food available on a Sunday night in Bodfari, and you’d ‘see me right’.”
“Hmmm… well, that does sound like me… you’d better come in.”

Anyways, it turned out what had happened was that there was a Canadian family who were a day ahead of me (I heard of them in Kington at the Church House) and unfortunately they’d lost their passports along the route at some point and sadly had to cancel the rest of the walk so they could get on to the Embassy and sort all that nonsense out. When Gladys had cancelled their booking at Fron Haul she got a bit carried away and thought everyone for that night had cancelled – including me. But it was all ok in the end, I was here now.
And if the Canadians should ever read this – I hope everything worked out ok for you! And you’ll be back to finish the Dyke soon!

But what an amazing place Fron Haul is. Huge and quirky, bursting with character, knick-knacks, ornaments, objets d’art, stuff, bits & peices and odds & ends, rooms on rooms on rooms! She showed me up to my room, the bathroom across the landing and the television lounge next door. Needless to say I was the only person there. The place like a huge old haunted mansion, except it was quite lovely. And up for sale too like Glencoed. Oh which shall I buy?! Fron Haul’s 25acres sure beats Bryn Dwr’s measily 7! I expect bankers have both by now.

After a very tasty tea of steak, mushroom, mash, cauliflower and goodness knows what else, Gladys asked if I’d enjoyed.
“Yes, thank you Gladys – very tasty!” I said, dabbing my lips with a heavy cotton napkin.
“Good” she said “because before you walked in, apart from the steak everything on that plate was still out in the garden!”

What a fantastic place!

The view from window was idyllic, and the Fron Haul sunset was lovely. I think my final Dyke resting place was my favourite. Good old Fron Haul! Top

Day 11. Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12miles.

A nice shortish day for the nice last day was made even shorter by Fron Haul being maybe half a mile out of Bodfari, so today would only be more like 11½miles, which is nice as I can’t see this leg being the most thrilling walking – despite the attempts of the guide to reassure the Dyker to the opposite, and I have a luncheon date in Prestatyn with my old fella.

It’s a good steady climb away from Bodfari up past Sodom (no, I didn’t look back…) but once we’re up high again the views are again lovely.

The Vale of Clwyd opens up ot the west, and although the views don’t really change much all the way over Cefn Du that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The photo on the right is what I thought was St Asaph’s – that of Britain’s smallest cathedral city – but it actually turns out to St Margaret’s of Bodelwyddan which just beyond St Asaph. And is a more striking church, from a distance at least.

Snowdon in the distance somewhere doesn’t seem to be moving much as approach Rhuallt and cross over the bypass.

There isn’t really an awful lot to keep us hugely excited here, although the walking is still very nice. The occasional pheasant can be seen around Mynydd y Cwm looking a bit edgy with the season approaching fast. And from Marian Ffrith we get a first good look at the sea we’re heading towards, although this is Colwyn Bay – a little way down the coast from our destination.

Not long after here we pass the remains of the old Marian Mills, and then in no time we’re on top of the cliffs some 700ft above Prestatyn. And boy does this bit drag on… ups & downs and most of time shrouded in gorse and hawthorn so you can’t even enjoy the view. Every descent you hope it’s going to be the one that keeps going down, but no – it’s goes back up again. The opposite of “false summits”!

But after a good couple of miles – which seems much longer – we’re at the end of the cliffs. Spying the mythical floating wind-farm we finally start to drop. First through a suburban housing estate and then into Prestatyn town centre. Both are pretty much as you’d expect and are at worst unremarkable. Despite all the bad press there’s certainly worst places than Prestatyn really. Although an apostrophe for the pub wouldn’t go a miss.

It’s a long straight road past the football club and seaside souvenir shops to the end of the walk, its explanatory plaque and symbolic piece of public art, representing I can’t remember what. A couple of snaps, a quick look in the visitor centre, and then another quarter of mile and I’m in the pub for fish & chips and a pint with my Dad a good 5 minutes early.

It’s not a bad old walk really! Top

Flickr album with all 617 photos, for you delight and delectation.

Accommodation :

Chepstow – Upper Sedbury Guest House, NP16 7HN. 01291 927173
Monmouth – Drybridge B&B, NP25 5AD. 01600 715495
Pandy – The Lancaster Arms, NP7 8DW. 01873 890699
Hay-on-Wye – Rest for the Tired, HR3 5DB. 01497 820550.
Kington – The Church House, HR5 4AG. 01544 230534.
Knighton – Whtcwm Cottage, LD7 1HF. 07904 971866.
Montgomery – The Dragon Hotel, SY15 6PA. 01686 668359.
Llanymynech – The Cross Keys, SY22 6EA. 01691 831585.
Froncysyllte – Glencoed, LL14 5AN. 01691 778148.
Llandegla – Bryn Dwr, LL11 3AW. 01978 790612.
Bodfari – Fron Haul, LL16 4Dy. 01745 710301.




Offa’s Dyke Path, September 2011.

Offa’s Index.

Day 1 – Chepstow to Monmouth, 18miles.
Day 2 – Monmouth to Pandy, 17miles.
Day 3 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye, 18miles.
Day 4 – Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 15miles.
Day 5 – Kington to Knighton, 14miles.
Day 6 – Knighton to Montgomery, 18miles.
Day 7 – Montgomery to Lanymynech, 19miles.
Day 8 – Llanymynech – Froncysyllte, 18miles.
Day 9 – Froncysyllte to Llandegla, 11miles.
Day 10 – Llandegla to Bodfari, 18miles.
Day 11 – Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12miles.


Part 1. (South)


Having crossed England coast to coast, west to east, from sea to shining sea, I was wondering where to go next. The idea of crossing England still appealed to me, from a coast to a coast again – from a sea to another shining sea. And by twisting as many definitions of this as I could, I decided that walking south to north along the English / Welsh border would do just fine. And by English / Welsh border I do of course mean the border according that great old Mercian king Offa who eponymous marked it with his eponymous dyke, so hopefully it would be easy to follow the route. And then those nice National Trails people have gone and made it even easier to follow some 1200 years later, so what’s not to love?

First off I had to procure myself a couple of guide-books (north & south sections). I decided on the official National Trails guides, having had a good experience of them from my Thames Path jaunt. As is my way I managed to find them both on eBay for a quid each, saving me a good £20. They were the 1994 editions but I was sure that over the past 1200 years, the last 17 wouldn’t have made much difference. But just to be sure I checked with National Trail people themselves, and they said they’d be fine – there had been just a few minor changes in that time but nothing to cause any problems, and it was well way-marked anyways. See – I told they were nice!

Accommodation was booked with the help of a popular search engine  with little problem – no Coast-to-Coast type popularity issues here!

I’d read the walk is not the most spectacular nor the most demanding, and with lots of stiles. Still, “unspectacular” in terms of British walks can often mean “still very nice indeed”.

Right, so that’s 177 miles in 10 days – as the Lemmings say – “Let’s go!”

Day 1 – Chepstow to Monmouth, 18miles.

Day 1 actually started the day before with a very leisurely train journey from Paddington to Chepstow, stopping off in the lovely Cotswold village of Bisley for a fine pie & ale lunch with my good friends the Merrys. What better way to start any holiday?

Having got to Chepstow and a quick pint in town I found my over to Upper Sedbury, a couple of miles back towards the Severn and nearer the start of the Path. After some time I found my B&B and after some more time finally managed to get in – much knocking, ringing of the bell and ringing of the telephone was required to stir meine hosts from their evening telly. I dined out in a nearby pub that was still being built by the looks of it, but slept well.

I was off and away at a decent enough time in the morning, but I was bit annoyed at having to walk along the Dyke to get to the start of it. At least I’d not be getting lost for the first mile or so of the walk proper! So I metaphorically closed my eyes and ignored anything resembling an earthwork until I got my a glimpse of my source sea, well the Severn Estuary but it’s big enough to be a sea.

Once you first see the Dyke itself you can’t fail to impressed by how, well, impressive it still is after more than 1200 years. I wonder how long Offa wondered it would last for…? I couldn’t work out if walking along the top of it is respectful or disrespectful. I’ll go for respectful. Certainly more respectful than driving a farm track through it! But I suppose life must go on, and so must house building! This Dyke-top modern estate shows how substantial parts of it still are:

So far this early stretch through Sedbury and Tutshill has been very urban, but all walks have to start somewhere.

Tutshill offers us a fine view of Chepstow Castle and the Wye below. Tantalisingly ye olde guide-book says of this point “As a whimsy, on a stone wall just beneath the Path is a stone model of the Severn Bridge with a menagerie of stone animals processing across”. Well, I looked and looked and even asked a bemused passer-by (noteworthy in itself as there were to be very few passers-by on the this walk) but I couldn’t find it anywhere. If anyone does find it let me know! Finally passing along the medieval “Donkey Lane” we leave suburbia behind us – it’s just us and the Dyke.

The view from Wintour’s Leap is a fine view indeed. After here the Dyke takes us away from the river, leaving the Lancaut peninsula to the Welsh and we find ourselves on the roads again for a short while.

Although it’s a cloudy day it’s quite warm and very humid. Close, you might say. And we’ve been heading steadily up all the way since we started. So what a relief it was – and indeed a lovely gesture – to happen across the water left out for us by the good people at Little Chase, in the vicinity of Dennel Hill. I fairly took my fill and sadly there was no-one about to thank – so take this a thank you Little Chasers! Your refreshing thoughtfulness (or maybe they were just fed up of people knocking at their door with water bottles prematurely emptied!?) spurred me on to get to the spectacular vista of Tintern Abbey from the Devil’s Pulpit.

The woodland here in Casswell Wood is thick and verdant, and it was about that I got lost. Or rather not lost, but went the wrong way. And through no fault of my own. Let me explain. I caught up with a group of other walkers, all quite elderly but sprightly and clearly game for a stroll – although naturally not quite as quickly as my slightly younger legs were capable of (“quickly” here is strictly relative I must stress!). After a couple of hellos I established that they were walking the Dyke too, and I followed along not wishing to push past on the narrow path through  the trees. The path started to descend quite steeply, and was a bit slippy over tree roots and stones and some of the besticked-ladies were struggling, so they did stand aside and let me pass as the somewhat mouthy and not so nearly as amiable gentlemen at the front forged on. There were probably 12 or 15 of them in total and they were doing the Path in bits & pieces. I asked what time they’d left Chepstow this morning… “Nooo! – we’re going to Chepstow!!” they replied. I couldn’t quite work it out – how had I managed to catch up with them when we were going in opposite directions!?  I tried pointing out that I had come from where they were going to, so if we were now both going the same way on some path that I hadn’t been on yet, either I had gone very very wrong and come right again or they were wrong. One of us must have gone wrong, and the loud & proud men made it quite clear as to whom it was. “Hohoho got it wrong there lad!”, “Oh dear… you’re gonna have go all the way back up thurrrrr oh dear oh dear!” etc. Which, working out that something was clearly wrong here, I did, leaving them smug but still with their still steep descent, presumably down to the river, trying to work out where I had got it wrong. When I got back to the point where we’d met I realised what had happened.
Imagine a sort of T-shape junction of paths, where I was heading up the bottom bit and they were heading across the top-right bit. (Is there a term for sections of characters?) The men at the front of their group must have just blithely carried on across the top of the T, instead of coming down my bit. We met just as the back of the group was at the junction point, and were following the rest of them along the top-left bit. Are you following?? So they’d already gone wrong, but assuming we were on the same route I just followed them. Then I wondered why it didn’t occur to them how we’d both ended up walking together – as the easiest way for such a thing is by us both going wrong. I wish I could have seen the men’s faces when they did eventually realise that they were way, way, off the right path. Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. I’m sure the ladies gave them some stern fed-up looks as they made their way back a pretty steep climb.
Anyways, I was back on the Dyke now – now becoming a familiar sight.

We’re given a choice now at this point, like Radio 4 going on to LW. The high route which actually still follows the route of the Dyke, or the riverside route which is slightly longer but avoids going up. As I was going to be seeing plenty of the Dyke over the next 10 days (well, apart from the next 3 as we will see!) I went for the easier-going riverside path. And very nice it was too, the valley floor having more mint in it than a Wrigley’s warehouse! The Wye is unhurried, gentle and very relaxing – a wise choice of routes I think!

The next few miles were fairly uneventful as I remember, fields and woods – nothing too strenuous. Nothing strenuous that is until the climb up the Kymin, with its Naval Temple and fine views.

The steep walk down to Monmouth is jarring but it’s nice to know that we’re nearly at the end of the day, and it was getting dusk by the time I’d stopped for a pint or two at the first pub I saw – not realising that I still had a fair walk through Monmouth to my B&B, which although was on a main road was very “well hidden”, ie. had no signage, for reasons best kept to the eccentric but charming landlady. Although it is on the internet… hmmm curious. This also shows that recording the OS grid references for accommodations that are in towns isn’t quite so useful as the actual address!

Monmouth and its 13th Century bridge are very pretty, but the relative hustle of the evening “rush-hour” was a shock after a day of relative peace. I filled up for tomorrow at a Spa, ate well and slept likewise. Top

Day 2 – Monmouth to Pandy, 17miles.

The day began with me retracing my steps past the Spa which I wandered to while looking for the B&B last night for today’s lunch. I could have popped in this morning! But after a bowl of porridge that had been prepared in a very, very, Scottish way indeed I was in no mood for corner shop pleasantries. Surely you ask whether a diner requires copious amounts of salt when on this side of the border? Or does being on this side of the Welsh border mean similarly foul porridge preparations??
The second shock of the morning was the news from the guide-book that just as I was getting used to it, we weren’t going to see anything of the Dyke today. Or tomorrow… or the day after! What kind of Dyke path is this!? But it does promise other joys.

The first obstacle of the day is the apparently once treacherous Bailey’s Pits, now improved by fine and welcome bridging work. This bit would have been a bit of a muddy scramble in the old days. But then immediately after we came across the second obstacle…

… the way into the King’s Wood had been blocked by a gargantuan fallen tree. With a Herculean effort I managed to get over it, and my correct path was confirmed by the 1859 boundary marker.
The woods are not an unpleasant place, passing through Whitehill Wood, Great Garrow Wood, Calling Wood, Limekiln Wood, Hendre Great Wood, Dingle Wood and – my favourite – Telltale Wood. Although to be honest they all looked very much the same to me.

Crossing the Abbey Bridge (the Grace Dieu Abbey is long gone) over the Trothy eventually takes us to Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern and its wonderfully named medieval church of St. Michael’s of the Fiery Meteor. Shortly after here at Pen-pwll-y-calch we’re rewarded with fine views of Sugar Loaf and Skirrid to the north.

I’d never been in an orchard before, the nearest I came were a few scrawny apple trees in our garden growing up. Scrumping was never the thing in Cheshire. But that was to change at Penrhos Farm (not the scrumping bit I hasten to add – you’ll see tomorrow what I prefer to do with apples!). It was quite surreal – the neat rows of relatively small trees struggling – and often failing – to bear the weight of so much fruit. There’s a warning to keep dogs on leads for obvious reasons, but it turns out the orchard is for Bulmers so I’m not sure it would make much difference if Fido was to cock his leg.
The neat geometry of the trees is a little off-putting so I’m glad when we’re out of it. And into Llantilio Crossenny, where the sadly the 1459 village inn is now closed and presumably a rich man’s house.

The site of the Hen Cwrt, a 12th century manor belonging to the bishops of Llandaff, is just down the road so I went for a little wander. Only the moat now remains, and to me looks rather better than an 800-year pond might have looked.
Llantilio Crossenny is soon dealt with and we leave through a field that has the most numerous and most sizable mushrooms I’ve ever seen! I must have had a sheltered fungi life though, as many many more and much much bigger mycologica were yet to come.

The path now goes through some farm-land, and the good thing about walking through corn-fields is that it’s hard to get lost. And thankfully today the crow-scarers didn’t mistake the casual rambler for the farmer’s dreaded foe. After all the peace and quiet of late BIG BANGS!!!! would have been somewhat startling.

Some nice stone-work treats are in store now. Firstly is Old Treadam House, dating from 1600. It’s tucked just behind a pub that would more suited to one of the more modern suburbs of Milton Keynes rather than rural Welsh Wales. Not long after this is the very impressive White Castle, one of three Norman shows of might in the area. It was a lovely day and I pretty much had the place to myself, so it was well worth spending half an hour exploring and boots-off sandwich eating.
My guide says “It was a happy thought to route the Path on the track round the castle since it gives a splendid chance to appreciate it from a range of aspects” and indeed it does – I couldn’t be happier at such a thought!

There are lovely views to be had around here, but shamefully I can’t remember which way this looking nor what the hills are in the distance. I think I took it from the hill where the White Castle is, but I can’t be sure. The perils of writing up a walk 18 months after the event! It is rather nice view though, I think you’ll agree.

The open farmland now gives way to tarmac for a short while on the way to Llangattock-lingoed. It’s worth turning eyes-left for a glimpse of the Jacobean Old Court farmhouse, and then eyes-right for the medieval church of St Cadoc’s – confusingly white-washed since my guide-book had photographed it. Apparently inside there is a lovely old 15th Century mural of St George doing what St George does with dragons. An odd choice for Wales you’d think but apparently the experts say it refers to the bopping that Owain Glyndwr got back then, so we’ll say no more of it as there’s plenty more border-hopping to come yet.

More fine views were to be had as we approached Pandy, but it was quite a drop down to my destination and horror of horrors – a main road!! I could see where my B&B was, but couldn’t quite see the path. So just made a bee-line for it, which kinda worked. I got there!
The Lancaster Arms was a fine choice of accommodation. It was a pub until recently, and although now closed inside it is still exactly like a big old country pub. So in I went, muddy and tired, and perched myself on a barstool while landlady Sandra poured me a tin of beer. I was the only guest. Landlord Keith turned up and with their lively but friendly dogs we all had another drink or two. I later walked to a pub perhaps 1/2 mile down the road, getting absolutely drenched in the process but a bloody excellent pie made up for it. Please note that as you can see the Lancaster Arms does not provide Gideon’s Bibles in the bedside cabinets!
For a place with nothing except an open pub, a closed pub and a main road I had a very pleasant stay in Pandy. Top

Day 3 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. 18miles

So far the walking had been gentle but pleasant, and the weather also had been gentle but pleasant. I could get used to this! What could the Tolkienesque-sounding Black Mountains possibly have in store I wonder…? But ridge walking is always more fun than being down low, so bring it on Hay Bluff!

After passing Groes-lwyd it is a long steep steady ascent up on to Hatterall Ridge, but the weather is fine and the only company is equine so it’s a nice walk upwards. The photo at the top of this page was taken here, round about Upper Pentwyn somewhere, although I seemed to miss the Iron Age hill fort that I apparently walked through the middle of.
At Three Wells farm the farmer has provided a nice touch with some barn-gable poetry. At the time the bright sunshine rendered it hard to read, but it turns out that it’s The Lofty Sky by World War One era poet Edward Thomas, killed at Aras. A rather apt verse for this neck of the woods, and especially as soon I was going to be getting plenty of sky!

But eventually we’re up on top of the ridge, where we’ll be for most of the day. And where better to be than all alone on top of a high Welsh ridge?! I don’t know.

As you’d expect the views are magnificent from up here – and also give warnings of the incoming weather. You could see the weather blackening the Black mountains, coming in from the west a good 10 or 15 minutes before waterproofs were required. And boy, were they required! When the weather hit, it HIT. From sunshine, still air and blue skies to dark low cloud, lively high wind and lots of rain in which ever direction it fancied. And then after a 15 or 20 minutes, the blue skies would return – prompting me to take my waterproofs off. But as this pattern repeated probably 5 or 6 times along the top I soon decided it was better just to leave them on.

The guidebook says of this stretch that “walkers wanting to keep dry feet play an interesting game of ‘diversions’, competing to see how little extra distance they can to add to avoid the wet patches”. And it’s quite right. Although my boots were decent enough to keep the worst out,  the strong winds meant my waterproof trousers were flapping around like a high-seas ensign enabling much water to trickle down into my boots, saving it the effort of having to soak through. (I would later remedy this with underpant-elastic boot-straps. Always keep bits of elastic my Nan taught me!).

The dampness in the socks caused by this lead to an amusing little diversion. I had some minor blisters on my favourite blistering spots on the backs of my heels, which had been plastered so weren’t causing problems. But the plasters had got wet, so during one of the sunny spells I decided to sit down and enjoy a mini-pork pie and renew the plasters. As I applied the Elastoplast I accidentally dropped the peel-off backing which instantly caught on the breeze and fluttered away from me. “Bugger!” I thought, not wishing to contribute even the smallest amount of litter, so with one foot booted and one foot bare I pacily semi-tip-toed after it. But predictably every time I got near the pesky little thing the wind would catch it again and off it would fly – teasing me so! It did this in a circular route all the way round back to where I was originally sitting, and settled down more or less where I’d dropped it in the first place, and there it waited patiently for me to hobble back and claim it. I may as well just sat there and waited for it to boomerang back to me! The Welsh wind Gods were in mischievous mood!

When the sun was out the views were splendid, but unfortunately my camera didn’t want to focus, so quite a few photos up there didn’t come out. Definitely having absolutely nothing to do with operator error whatsoever it was odd when it strangely fixed itself a little later…

Just after Red Daren we get to a high point of the walk, literally the highest point. The guide says 2,306ft, my GPS says 2,310ft so assuming I was holding it 4ft above the ground we were both exactly right. So it’s all downhill from here. Very very downhill indeed in a short while as it happens. The descent from Hay Bluff down to the Gospel Pass road drops 600ft in half a mile. And was made no easier by the another stormy blast, the last – but the biggest and angriest – gale of the day.

This photo doesn’t really do it justice, it was gusting and raining all over the place. Usually directly in my face, and even knocking me over at one point. It turns out that all this weather was the back-end of Hurricane Irene that we’d heard so much about a couple of weeks before. If I had to be either end of it, I’d much prefer this end.

The way down Hay Bluff was as jarring and joyless as all steep descents, and resting in the stone circle at the bottom gave us a good view of where we’d come from. I think the sign-post to Pandy is indicating the vertical direction to take rather than a compass bearing.

The views down to Hay-on-Wye still looked fine, but even though it was only two miles to go it was going to be very unpleasant walking. It was still a good 300ft descent down to Hay, and although not particularly steep it seemed to drag on forever. And with all the rain dumped on the long grass that covers the path here it was very slippy. I ended up falling back on my arse at least 5 or 6 times. It was a very long two miles and was thoroughly fed up of it by the time I got to Hay. A very boring end to a great day – the worst bit of the walk. The evening was going to get worst though, but not for any walking reasons.

As we finally approached Hay, the cheery farm-life provided some more company to an otherwise day of almost complete solitude. And a big nosy pig insisted on an apply-treat before letting me pass. What else could I do?! (Proof of why you’re unlikely to see me scrumping!)

I got in to Hay, had a couple of pints in Kilverts and went off to find my B&B – the suitable monikered Rest for the Tired. A fine old Tudor looking book-shop-cum-B&B, although sadly I was housed in the very modern bit round the back. I went to eat at another pub, The Old Black Lion, and the pie & pint were both very nice but about half-way through the meal I was suddenly struck by terrible awful stomach-cramp, cramp like I’d never felt before. God knows what it was, but it felt I like I’d had Mike Tyson wallop me right in the belly-button. It was very very uncomfortable. I limped back to the B&B bent up, holding my stomach and crawled straight into bed.
It hurt a lot! I took painkillers and was a regular visitor to the loo for evacuations top & bottom – caused by the pain rather than “digestive” problems. I was seriously convinced that I would not be able to continue the walk, and tomorrow would have pack it all in and go home. I was at least thankful I was in a relative hub of civilisation that I could find some homeward transport from. Top

I slept not a jot…

Day 4 – Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 15miles.

That I didn’t feel too great this morning is somewhat of an understatement, very tired, very fed up and stomach still very painful. Although slightly better than it was the previous evening admittedly – and promisingly. I didn’t eat much for breakfast as it felt like there was nowhere for it go. I’m no medical man, and I just couldn’t understand what it was… I’d never had food poisoning but it didn’t feel like how I’d imagine that would feel. A medical mystery!

Anyways I set off to Kington, relieved that it was a slightly shorter day and also that the guidebook promised a “pleasant day’s walk”, hopefully meaning fairly easy going.  Like I said I was feeling a bit better, so I would see how I got on. So on my way I went, although still feeling like an abdominal punch bag. But would you believe it… within a few miles and an hour or so it the stomach cramps had faded! Just gone. Gone back to where-ever they’d come from. I was mightily relieved of course, but still have no idea what had caused them. All very bizarre – unpleasant and damned annoying!

I’m guessing such distractions account for the fact that I have few photos from the first half of the morning’s walk, despite there seemingly being some fine views to be had both the Wye and the wider landscape from Cae-Higgin. The one above is just after starting off in Hay, and pretty much sums up my mood at the time: blurry and grey! Although by the time I’d got to Bettws Dingle I was feeling better enough to be charmed by a hobbit house in a tree, and the trickle of the Cabalfa Brook.

After a pleasant-as-promised walk along Red Lane, past the aptly named Little Mountain we get to Newchurch.

The church at Newchurch may well be new, well relatively new – built in 1856 – but the font certainly isn’t. Dating from the 10th Century it’s one of the oldest things along the Path. Apart from all the stone circles, hill forts – and the Dyke itself of course. Compared to these the font is quite young I suppose!
I’m no church-goer, but I do like going in to churches. St Mary’s is nothing spectacular but cool and welcoming, with tea & biscuits provided. They were very well received! Of course the parish of Gladestry received a humble offering  in return for their Christian kindnesses.

Climbing up & down Disgwylfa Hill, and then up & down again, gets everything pumping. I liked the poetic plea against littering (surely they mean “dumper” rather than “dumpee”…?) and the views and high open land are very nice. And so it goes on for next mile or so, getting us ready for Hergest Ridge to come.

Hergest Ridge is a steep climb up but the open moorland at the top feels very big and open, it’s over 1,300ft and 3 miles long. The guidebook warns it might be breezy, and indeed it is certainly that. I can’t think why the race-course here is no longer in use…!

It had been quite warm today, but up here the wind took all that away which made a nice change. Being on high ground for a few miles is very nice, and especially on Hergest Ridge – a mysterious but familiar name from my childhood thanks to Mike Oldfield. Now I know what his fine Tubular Bells follow-up is all about!
But the bad thing about being up is coming down. The way down to into Kington and very long and very tedious, much of it along a road. I was half-tempted to ask the odd driver who passed for a lift! My feet were sore, and I was in a devil-may-care mood when I saw a bossy “do not touch” sign! Sadly I felt no more isolated though.

Finally into Kington, and what a charming place. Although slightly annoyingly my B&B – the Chruch House – was on the way in to town, and the nearest pub was much further along the road. I usually like a pint to wind down straight after the end of the day’s walking, but not if it means a lot of extra walking! So I checked straight in, and would go for refreshments later. But what a lovely B&B! Run by the Darwins – yes, related to the Darwin! – made me feel more like a guest in their beautiful home. And once in the bathroom I didn’t want to leave! The finest lavatory library I’ve seen yet in a long time.

But off to sample the night-life of Kington. Kington seemed to have everything you could need. Shops, restaurants, take-aways, some beautiful old buildings…

… and some fine pubs.

Be sure to check out the Olde Tavern, it was right on the other side of town from my B&B but if you like your pubs unchanged, as I do, this is a must see. I wish I could’ve stayed out later, but after last night’s fitful rest I need a good night tonight. Top

Day 5 – Kington to Knighton, 14miles.

After a perfect night’s sleep, followed by another luxurious bath (why not?), followed by perfect porridge, handmade by Mr Darwin in his perfect kitchen, I was all ready for what guide-book says is “the most enjoyable day’s walk of the whole Path”. A big claim indeed. But today we welcome the return of an old friend… the Dyke! We haven’t seen it for so long we’ve almost forgot what it looks like.

When I was a young ‘un an elderly relative lived near Knighton, (her memorable address was “The Nuek, Dog Kennel Lane…”) and she’d send us Christmas presents along the lines of key-rings emblazoned with “Knighton – the town on the Dyke”. Back then I had no idea what it meant, so I was looking forward to finally finding out.

The day got to off to a fine start, and in the cool morning air walking up to Bradnor Green, around Rhue Ville somewhere I saw a small furry thing dart across the path right in front of me, through a hedge and into the adjacent field and puff! he was gone. Far too fast for me to grab my camera, dangling around my neck inches from my hand, but I’m sure it was a stoat … or a weasel. No idea which, but it was quite a thrill.

Then steadily up past Bradnor Hill and its golf course, there’s more climbing up and round Rushok Hill – but afterwards the reward is return of the Dyke! The path has been well west of it for the couple of days, mainly because I think there’s not much of it left there. But now it is back with a vengeance – and looking fine!

Shortly after here, near Herrock Hill, I saw the biggest mushrooms I’d ever seen. This one…

… was easily 18inches high and a foot across. It would’ve made a good sombero, never mind a week’s worth of omelettes. I hope someone found a good use for it! The views were lovely as we continued past Ditchyeld Bridge and Burfa Bank – I could see why the guide-book was getting so excited now. And the sheep here were the most attentive yet; I assume they’d not had their breakfast yet.

The other photo is Old Burfa, which is medieval and I’m sure I read somewhere lay derelict for many years until an architect moved in and sorted it all out, and a good job he seems to have done.

Unfortunately I can’t remember where or what the church is above. I thought it might have been Knill but it isn’t. It was taken between Lower Harpton and Burfa, and it was some way off… to the east I think although I can’t be sure now. It certainly makes a fine photo, so if anyone knows please let me know.

Along Barland Bank the Dyke is extremely impressive, aided by the (occasional) stream below cutting out a gully. Wooden steps take us up to the top of it, quite some climb, on to duck-boarding to protect it against modern and many boots. The fine views are still with us, although unhelpfully again I can’t remember what the above photo is a view of now. Furrow Hill perhaps…?

Approaching Yew Tree Farm we get a rare glimpse of our old King. Along with a rare spelling of his name. And then we reach the relaxing cooling waters of the River Lugg, crossed courtesy of Dolly Old Bridge. The book says dippers and otters may be seen here so I loitered for a while but see nothing. Maybe they’ve moved on since my aged publications were current!

Some wildlife is out to greet us though – just a sunbathing tortoise-shell bur still very nice. My mind however was soon occupied trying to mentally reconstruct some ancient farm machinery, which alas time did not allow me to achieve.

Lots more fields to cross and lots more views to see, and plenty more Dyke to guide us now for the next couple of miles. All attractive enough of course, but to break things up there’s the odd distraction thrown in along the way. Firstly we pass a monument to an old railway pioneer, cutting a very lonely obelisky-figure in the middle of a field. I did take a not-inconsiderable detour to have a closer look, but can’t find any photos of it, if indeed I even took any. This is it though, for the curious.
Then shortly after that, just across the B4355, is a 19th Century marker stone bearing the inscription “Offa’s Dyke, made in the year AD 757”, a claim which doesn’t impress the guide-book much, but still worth peering through a fence for.
We then at long last spy Knighton and start another long steep end-of-day descent.

Knighton is a very nice little place, full of hustle, bustle and funny cars. But heart-sinkingly not many pubs that are open. I had a wander about, and bumped into another couple of walkers who were troubled by the same dilemma. As the tea-time rain began they decided to head to their evening’s accommodation but I wasn’t so easily beaten. I took a look around the Offa museum, and very interesting it was too, before heading back into town and stumbling across The Horse & Jockey which was not only open, it was dark, warm, quiet and had jocular lavatory door signs! Perfect.








Then back up the other side of the valley that I’d come earlier to find my B&B – Whytcwm Cottage – where the charming and very eccentric smocked landlady welcomed me in like a long-lost old friend. This was the only place on the Path that offered me boot-polishing materials. A chance I didn’t turn down. After a tasty tea in the George & Dragon I had a couple more pints in the Golden Lion and got chatting to a couple who were also walking it and were from “up north” too somewhere, I forget where. With each risque joke the Mr told he received a sharp elbow and stern glare from the Mrs. He was in high spirits but was soon not allowed to stay for another. I don’t think he was let out much at home!

Back to Whytcwm and soon to sleep. Half way there! (Almost). Top

On to Part 2. (North)