27 September 2017

Offa's Dyke

Offa's Dyke path was never at the top of my 'To Walk' list but if we are to complete our project of walking the whole of the UK mainland on long distance trails it had to be done. The walk is a 177 mile National Trail crisscrossing the Welsh/English border from Chepstow to Prestatyn. It's up-hill and down-dale and it took us 12 days this September. Altogether we walked 182.4 miles with over 10 kilometres of ascent. The extra 5 miles included diversions to get to our accommodation and the amount of climbing came as a bit of a shock. The weather was kind, the accommodation was generally very good, the waymarking was excellent, we ate well, slept well and enjoyed meeting other walkers.

Here's my walk diary - Enjoy!

Wednesday 13th Sept. Sedbury to Monmouth. 18 miles.
Getting off the train in Chepstow we headed south to Sedbury where a very unprepossessing cliff marks the start of the trail. 
The start of the walk
We admired a small bank of earthworks, which is the last we'll see of the dyke for the next few days, then headed back through the Chepstow suburbs into the Wye Valley. Our Cicerone guidebook states 'The first section of Offa's Dyke Path is also one of the best' - a claim that worried me somewhat as the day consisted mainly of steep climbs and vertiginous descents through heavy woodland with occasional glimpses of the river below. 
Tintern Abbey glimpsed though the trees
We saw no other walkers but caught sight of rowers far below us and small herds of deer running across the track ahead. The villages of Brockweir and Redbrook made welcome stopping points, the steep climbs down to them reminding us of dropping into Cornish fishing villages on the South West Coast path.  
The path into Redbrook
From Redbrook there's the option of taking a riverside path into Monmouth - a very good option which we chose to ignore, instead slogging back up to the summit of the Kymin, the last climb of the day, before spending the night in Monmouth.

Thursday 14th Sept. Monmouth to Pandy. 17 miles.
Today was a day of farmland. We walked through fields of horses and cows, sheep and pigs and negotiated paths through turnips and potatoes and corn. 
Farmers' fields
The corn was as high as an elephant's eye

We wove our way through cider orchards and picked damsons and blackberries from the hedgerows. The terrain was much flatter and the walking a little dull but the sun was shining and we made good time, picnicking at the White Castle and enjoying a pint at the Hunter's Moon Inn in Llangattock Lingoed. I had Robinson's cider - one of the appley-est ciders I've tasted.   

Friday 15th Sept. Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. 17.5 miles.

Great views
A great day's walking on the eastern ridge of the Black Mountains. We left Pandy early and climbed up Hattersall Hill for a 9.5 miles ridge walk over to Hay Bluff.
Views down towards Longtown and Llanthony were fabulous. Rain fell in 10 minute bursts but we soon dried out and headed for Hay-on-Wye. After a surprisingly steep and very muddy descent though trees we came to an access road with a wide grass verge and a laminated sign - 'Don't sit on the grass. It's our garden not a picnic spot'. Fortunately our welcome at the 'Rest for the Tired' B&B was significantly warmer, as was the hospitality at Kilverts Inn.
Great pub
Great beer and great pies!

Saturday 16th Sept. Hay-on-Wye to Kington. 14.5 miles.
Today we were joined, or should I say overtaken, by ultra runners taking part in the King Offa's Dyke race. We're attempting the walk in 12 days - they are running it in 90 hours. This year's winner Gregory Crowley finished in just under 55 hours and we were delighted to spot Mark Collinson who we met when he ran A Dales High Way. After 3 long days 14.5 miles felt very relaxed and we took our time, calling at the church in Newchurch where we enjoyed tea and biscuits along with other Offa's Dyke walkers, and at the pub in Gladestry. 
Welcome cuppa
The day ended with a climb up Hergest Ridge and a lovely walk on green tracks through harvested bracken, something I haven't seen in the Dales for many years. 
Broad tracks through the bracken

Kington is a small town that has seen better days and the pub was in need of some tlc. We'll draw a veil over our breakfast which suffered at the hands of a hungover landlord. On the plus side I went to the laundrette and we started day 5 with packs full of clean clothes.

Sunday 17th Sept. Kington to Knighton. 14 miles.
The dyke is back! 
Along the dyke
Today we followed long sections of dyke all the way, adding interest to what would have been a rather join-the-dots day. We're in the Welsh Marches between the Black Mountains and the Shropshire Hills ahead. Knighton is a friendly little town with great accommodation in the converted stable block of the George and Dragon. Lots of the walkers we've met finish Offa's Dyke in Knighton which is almost half way and has a useful station. We're carrying on though!
Monday 18th Sept. Knighton to Montgomery. 18 miles.
Eighteen miles AND 1,350 metres of ascent. The words 'comfort zone' and 'outside' come to mind - in fact it's fair to say I only got to the end of today by breaking out the emergency whisky. The first half of today's walk was lovely. Some steep climbs and descents with lovely views over the valley including a steam train crossing a distant viaduct. 
Half way there
We reached the halfway point of the walk - a fingerpost showing 88.5 miles in each direction - just before lunch. But by the time we got to Churchtown and the second of the afternoon's 3 tough climbs the rain was falling very heavily and made the steep ascents and even steeper descents very treacherous, especially through Churchtown and Nut Woods where the path was reduced to sludge. This section of the walk ends in Brompton Bridge but we continued another 3 miles into Montgomery to spend the night at the Dragon Hotel where the lovely young staff, great food and comfy rooms soon restored our sense of wellbeing.

Tuesday 19th Sept. Montgomery to Welshpool. 11.5 miles.
After yesterday's efforts it was great to have a shorter day. I resisted the temptation to catch the bus and we set off for a sunny day's walking. 
More fields
The morning's walk was fairly flat along the edges of fields then, after skirting the village of Forden, we began a long, easy climb up Long Mountain on a tarmac lane. Several cars stopped as the drivers joked about how far we'd to go! We left the lane to enter woodland - why are we always in trees when the sun's out - where the muddy path wiggled around the Leighton estate. We ate our lunch at the top of Beacon Ring, the site of a circular Iron Age hillfort, a taste of things to come. After a hair raising crossing of Buttington Bridge - no pavement and very heavy traffic - we joined the towpath for an easy walk into Welshpool. 
Buttington Bridge
It's a busy little town and we got there in time to enjoy a beer in the sunshine before replenishing energy and clean socks with food, sleep and a visit to the laundrette.

Wednesday 20th Sept. Welshpool to Trefonen. 17 miles.
We set off back along the towpath at a fast pace, staying alongside the Montgomery canal to Pool Quay. 
Hovering helicopter
The path then set off across a series of flat fields where our walk was enlivened by watching RAF training helicopters take off, hover and land again. We joined the Montgomery canal for the second time at Four Crosses and enjoyed a lovely walk into Llanymynech, not a very attractive village, before climbing up to Llanymynech Rocks. 
Tow path walking
Somehow we managed to walk the wrong way around the rocks and found ourselves completing a full circle of the quarry before heading off in the right direction. We've rarely gone wrong on this walk. Waymarks are so numerous that there's barely the need for a map. We reached the village of Trefonen where we were booked into Dingle Cottage B&B along with 2 other Offa's Dyke walkers. They stayed in the house while we went down the road to be billeted with Norman, the neighbour. Tea in pub, bed at Norman's then back to Dingle Cottage for breakfast. Apparently that's the way they do it in Trefonen!

Thursday 21st Sept. Trefonen to Llangollen. 16 miles.
Today's walk from Trefonen to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is only 12 miles but we had another 4 miles to go along the canal to our accommodation at Llangollen Hostel. The day started wet but cheered up later. We followed old lanes and field paths from the village up to Racecourse Common where we crossed the old racecourse, passing a statue of a two-headed horse and the remains of the grandstand. 
The grandstand
Before long we spotted Chirk Castle on the hillside ahead and climbed up though the grounds on a permissive path hoping to have a cup of tea. Sadly the teashop was inside the castle and required a payment of £18 each to enter. Needless to say the flask came out. 
The Great Oak at the Gates of the Dead, Chirk Castle
For a walk that passes through a number of villages and hamlets Offa's Dyke has been surprising short of en route refreshments. A great exception was a cafe boat moored in the Trevor basin where we enjoyed tea and toasted teacakes and a nice sit down after crossing the aqueduct. 
You need a good head for heights to cross the aqueduct on this narrow path
We liked Llangollen very much and enjoyed both our evening at the Corn Mill pub and the relaxed and friendly hostel where, yes, we did more laundry.

Friday 22nd Sept. Llangollen to Clwyd Gate. 15.2 miles.
A great day's walking. We left Llangollen and climbed up to Castle Dinas Bran.
Looking across from the castle to the limestone screes
Well worth the effort for the exhilaration of the climb and the fantastic views. After the castle we crossed the limestone screes to World's End, my heart always lifts in limestone country, where we had a break by the first tumbling water we've seen. 
Heading for the hills
After a short road walk through tree felling operations we crossed some open moorland on board walks before reaching the village of Llandegla where we spent a happy hour in the community cafe and shop. The day ended with our first taste of the Clwydian Hills, a long range of open fells with hillforts on top of most of the summits. We arrived at the abandoned motel at Clwyd Gate and were picked up by the landlady from the Druid's Inn, where we had a great night.
The lovely Druid's Inn

Saturday 23rd Sept. Clwyd Gate to Bodfari. 11.7 miles.
Our penultimate day and another great day's walking. I'm very much enjoying being in the hills again. 
Back amongst the hills
We got a lift back to Clwyd Gate then set off over Foel Fenlli to drop down to the car park at the base of Moel Famau where a shepherd's hut was open and serving drinks. 
The shepherd's hut cafe
There were lots of people around - walkers, runners, DoE groups - and it felt good to be in a buzzy atmosphere of people enjoying the outdoors. We had a great walk up to Jubilee Tower followed by a day of upping and downing as we crossed the Clwydian range. We reached Bodfari in good time but were a bit daunted to find the B&B a good way out of the village which meant a walk back in to the pub for tea. 

Sunday 24th Sept. Bodfari to Prestatyn. 12 miles.
Our last day and much hillier than I expected. We met lots of people out and about - walking, gardening, picking blackberries - and they all asked if we were finishing Offa's Dyke and seemed genuinely pleased for us. 
I can see the seaside
Lots of tantalising glimpses of the sea and an unexpected treat. Our friends were holidaying in Snowdonia and arrived in Prestatyn in time to meet us at the end.
We did it!

So - Offa's Dyke. The verdict. I had a lovely time and found the people we met to be friendly and welcoming. The route was easy to follow and quite varied though I much preferred the hillier sections to the flat bits. It was tougher than I expected but that may be because we did some long days, 15 miles works better for me than 17 or 18. On the other hand it's great to know that we can still do it. We packed light, carried what we needed and took advantage of every cup of tea stop and laundrette we saw. 
And as for our End to End Project - watch this space!
Our End to End walk