On Offa's Dyke
Last September I walked The Pennine Way. People ask if I enjoyed it and I can't honestly say that I enjoyed all of it. Some parts were physically hard, some were mentally hard. The weather toyed with me, fine sunshine when the forecast was for rain and Storm Ali with winds in excess of 80 mph for the penultimate day. But would I do it again? Most definately .#thepennineway
Offa's Dyke seemed like a logical next move. Like the PW I had walked along bits of it here and there, crossed over it many times on the way to Snowdonia on the A5 and lived close to it for half my life. I called Jo, whom I met and walked alongside on the PW and asked if she was interested, she was. Another friend Jocelyn, from Bruton Walkers, also wanted to come along. Husband Paul, (logistics manager) was happy to provide back up. The date was set for July 24th for 11 days. We were to camp on all but two nights. Everything was booked and some things were paid for.
Offa's Dyke was built by King Offa (founder of the English Penny) in the 8th century to form a boundary between his lands and the Welsh kingdom of Powys. It ran for 177 miles from Sedbury on the River Severn near Chepstow in Monmouthshire to Prestatyn on the Irish Sea coast in Denbeighshire. It meanders roughly along the modern border between England and Wales, crossing it in several places. It seemed like a good route to walk.
Sedbury to Redbrook, 13.7 miles. 2809 ft
We left home at 6 to drive to the start, just a couple of hours from home. The support vehicle, an elderly landrover was filled to the roof with all our gear, Jo’s gear and two terriers and their beds. Polly was going to walk with us, the elderly Felix was going to share the supervisory role with Paul. We started with a quick out and back along an obvious earthwork to the very start of the path. We then quickly got lost in a housing estate before finding ourselves and the river Wye far below us. This area was familiar territory for me from spending two summers assessing Silver D of E expeditions walking to Chepstow from the Forest of Dean. The days walk was a lovely combination of woodland, fields, river bank and more woodland, all with steep uphills and downhills. Passing The Devils Pulpit there is a stunning viewpoint of the ruins of Tintern Abbey far below, a little further the edge of the Beeches farm campsite with its mind blowing vista known as ‘Gods Window’. In Highbury Wood a familiar figure hailed us across a field, Jocelyn walking out to meet us. We thought that we were near the end but no… she had walked further than she had intended as we were late. We descended steeply to Lower Redbrook where to our disgust the Pub was shut. We made do with Ice Creams from the Post Office which we ate sitting in the park. Polly, despite having walked all day found the energy to race around the park with her new spaniel friend. Paul to collected us and took us up the hill to Cherry Orchard Farm campsite, simple but friendly and pleasant.
Redbrook to Pandy. 18.6 miles. 2712 feet
This was a killer day. Not just a long walk but continually changing gradients, some tricky navigation and to top it off the hottest day on Record. Polly was not walking as it was just too hot, Jo and I prayed for the woodland we had enjoyed so much the previous day. We got some, but nowhere near enough. Almost immediately we crossed the border into Wales for the first time. A long pull up to the views from the Naval Temple near Kymin, where I took a phone call offering me the job I had been interviewed for just before leaving, a steep drop down into Monmouth where we crossed the Wye, walked through the town and headed out into the countryside. The heat spoiled it for me, and I toiled across fields up and down, up and down, steep, not so steep. All pretty though, particularly walking through the cider orchards. In the distance for most of the afternoon the looming Black Mountains, our task for day 3. After a long gradual uphill I was about to give up when I realised I could see the end, and it was all downhill. Jocelyn was waiting for us at the campsite, she said it was too hot to walk. After a sit down and a shower we drove a short way down the road to the haunted pub ‘The Skirrid Inn’ to eat, but we weren’t very good company. That night we had the most amazing thunder storm, it almost woke me up.
Pandy to Hay on Wye 16.8 miles 2427ft
A fairly easy day today, once we were on top of the hill that was. A steep climb out of Pandy up onto the Black Mountains, a long and laborious walk along to not quite Hay Bluff. A sunny day and apparently hot in the valleys but up here with amazing views we had a lovely breeze. We saw lots of wild ponies with the cutest of foals. For the first time ever I dropped down off the Northern side of the escarpment, I had often wondered what they looked like from down there, impressive and a little overbearing. Down through pleasant open common, to farmland where Jocelyn greeted us and guided us down into Hay on Wye and via a pub and cold drinks to the campsite.
Hay on Wye to Kington 14.2 miles 2243ft
This goes down as a good day. Jocelyn walked out with us for a couple of miles along the riverside before turning back. She was returning to the real world and wished us luck for the rest of the walk. With some fairly simple navigation we walked briefly back into England then out again. We paused for a rest on a bench in Newchurch before a steep climb out of the village. Dropping down into Gladestry to meet Paul we arrived at the pub as the bolts were being drawn back. It was deliciously cool inside and as they were serving food we thought it would be a good idea to try some. From her the path climbed steeply again onto Hergest Ridge, a beautiful hill with fantastic views and an old racecourse around the top. I spent the first half of my life living less than 30 miles from here yet I didn’t know it existed. As we walked we watched the sky to our left darken, there were flashes of lightening in the clouds, it started to rain from the cloud and then the storm moved away. Up on the ridge, the worst place to be in a storm, we watched the whole process in sunshine. Diverting from the path we walked down to Bredward to our campsite for the night. They had felt the force of the storm we had watched and everything was wet but we brought the sunshine with us. We ended the walk in the early afternoon and had time to wash sweaty walking gear and hang it out to dry, lolling around in the shade and relaxing.
Knighton to Kington 13.3 miles 2387ft
Back into Wales today and for the first time since day one there were clear banks and ditches showing the route of the original dyke, I was surprised that the path still followed the top of the dyke, and hadn’t been diverted to one side or the other to protect the ancient workings. This days walk seemed to take longer than it should, I got very confused at one point when I couldn’t see our way on the map. Plodding along behind Jo with her phone map I had stopped concentrating but was five miles behind where I thought I was. Gutted. Lovely farmland, lots of lovely wildflowers on the dyke itself. Too many up hills and down hills though. Steep walk down to Knighton for a night in a bed in a town centre pub. After a week of showers it was lovely to have a bath but the room was hot and the noise of the town on a Friday night prevented a decent nights sleep.
Knighton to Brompton 13.7 miles 3447ft
Again, in theory a short day, but in practice a tough one, small hills, steep little killer hills, at one point it was almost scrambling as it was so steep. Beautiful views, isolated hamlets, more walking along the earthwork itself. Most importantly we passed the half way point on the trail.
The day started with a wander through the town, down to the park and the ‘half way in and half way out of Wales/England sign. After this bit of fun we hit a steep climb out of town, thankfully followed by a long walk along the top of the hill before the roller coaster bit started. The trail briefly coincided with Jack Mytton Way named after a local character. Just as we parted from Jack we came to a road crossing where Paul met us with sausage sandwiches, made from the sausages we had not managed to eat at breakfast. Down to the River Clun, up to Ergan, steeply down to Churchtown, steeply up Edenhope Hill. I was beginning to run out of energy and a sense of humour by now and another steep down and up through Nut Wood was almost the last straw. Fortunately we regained the earthworks on a lovely down hill stretch to the road although it was tricky to find the way out at the bottom. Easy down hill on the road then a muddy track to our campsite at Mellington Hall. Primarily a static caravan site there was a small, delightful area set aside for tents. Not the usual obligatory wide verge reluctantly offered to itinerant campers. Great showers too.
Picture of the half way post
Day Seven Brompton to Four Crosses 19.7 miles. 1625ft
A long day but not too much climbing. We visited England twice in the first 5 miles then spent the rest of the day in Wales. A long long straight and flat section made a welcome start after yesterday’s slog up hills. However the height gain was all in the middle with a climb of about 1500ft all in pretty much one go. We paused for lunch just outside Welshpool as we crossed the River Severn then followed the delightful Montgomery canal and the river to Four Crosses. This area was now very close to where I grew up and I was taken aback by the accents I met in the pub. I used to talk like that. On a long walk like this its easy to forget how quickly in the UK things change, not just scenery but accents as well. I was surprised to find myself looking at the familiar outline of Breidden Hill, An almost vertical lump of Basalt clearly visible from the A5, that oft driven road to North Wales. We were less than a kilometre from it base and from here could see the large and active quarry which had eaten almost half of it away. Leaving the river another straight section into Four Crosses and the Deserted Golden Lion in. I had been told to pitch in the garden at the back of the pub and wait until opening time, I hadn’t realised just how small the garden was. We just fitted our two tents in. Fortunately on a Monday night the pub garden was deserted. Huge meals in the pub restaurant.
Day 8 Four Crosses to Chirk 15.9 miles 2614ft of ascent
A stunning day with lots of company. Starting again with a lovely flat walk along the peaceful canal before crossing into England near Pant, and climbing steeply up through old quarry workings but now a rather pretty nature reserve. Steep down and steep up to Moelydd Uchaf we paused to take in the view. Two other walkers came up behind us and two climbed up from in front. The views were pretty good, and the sun continued to shine. We had planned to lunch in a pub in Trefonen, but it was closed. We made do with sweets, chocolate, biscuits and ice creams from the post office instead. Shortly after we came to Racecourse wood then racecourse common, the second racecourse on the top of a hill (see day 4) This was a very different place. With a road almost to the summit and the remains of racecourse building and information boards this was busy with sightseers and dog walkers. The walk from here was beautiful with long ranging views. There were quite a few walkers which was unusual but it was a Saturday, most of our walk had been completed without meeting anyone on the path. There were a number of dogs, one large Labrador which needed picking up over the numerous stiles slowed us down, but navigation was easy and it was nice to stroll and chat. The impressive outline of Chirk castle was in view for some time and as we got close a glance to the right made me stop and stare. It was the A5 up in the air on a bridge crossing the river. I’d driven over that bridge so many times. Again I was brought up short by the places I knew from the past appearing in my present.
Paul picked us up from the path and we spent the night in the old coaching inn in Chirk. My feet were unusually sore today and I used the ice from my quickly consumed coke to cool them down, making little puddles on the floor under the table as they melted. Later in the evening as I came down the stairs to take the dogs for their last walk I twisted my knee on the last step. As usual I carried on and tried to ignore it but I was worried that it might swell up and we had 3 more days walking to go.
s, the racecourse, the bridge
Day 9 Chirk to Pen y Stryt 15.7 miles ascent 3217.95ft
We cheated a bit today. The start of the walk should have seen us crossing the canal aquaduct at Pontcysyllte, I tried that a few years ago and didn’t get very far, so today started at the other side of the Valley, near Trevor and back into Wales. The path parallels the A5 as it goes through Llangollen on the other side of the valley and I found myself walking below Castell Dinas Bran, a ruin usually seen against the setting sun as I head into North Wales. We passed a number of D of E groups and Scouts on expedition. Then came something I was not expecting , the steep cliffs and stony landscape below Eglwyseg Mountain. They were awesome. A quick dive down and through a wood then up onto a moor, complete with grouse. It felt most out of place. Through some more woodland of Llandegia Forest. The clouds had been gathering as we had walked all morning, as we reached Hafod Bilston and left the forest the thunder storm started, right overhead. I love thunder storms but this one was too close for comfort, and the rain itself was torrential. We sheltered in the lee of a building for a short while but it didn’t help much so once the lightening was not overhead we carried on to the campsite where the tents were up but Paul and the kit were in Llangollen. but we were able to sit in the tent and not get any wetter. Yet again our plans for an evening drink were thwarted by a closed pub.
Day 10 Pen Y Stryt to Bodfari. 17.3 miles, 3456 ft of ascent.
I was really looking forward to this section of the path, some proper mountains. The cloud never lifted, to start with we had lovely views but as we climbed to Moel y Plas they disappeared, never to return. After a brief dalliance with a busy A road we found a rather nice pair of walking poles, neatly stuck into the ground in the middle of the path. There was no one in sight. They were the expensive sort and as we had no idea when they had been left, or which direction the owner was walking in the best thing to do was to leave them. About 10 minutes further on their owner appeared walking towards us. Young and fit he soon passed us again. We made the mistake of following him as he had said he know this part of the path well. We were quickly both lost and wasted time and energy bashing through a wood to regain the path. We started to climb back into the cloud. With the cloud came rain and with the high ground came the wind, with visibility down to about 10m it became a miserable slog. After the view point at Jubilee tower where we met two other walkers, two Polish ladies with an umberella, we had had enough. Jo twisted her ankle and I was still feeling my twisted knee a bit. Paul was waiting for us with hot soup at the road below Moel Arthur and to his surprise we said we were calling it a day. Once in the car and down the hill we were out of the clouds, the rain and the wind, it was a beautiful day. We found the campsite, it was a bit wet but quiet and had hot showers. As it was our last evening on the trail we drove a couple of miles to St Asaph to find a pub for supper.
The last day, day 11, Bodfari to Prestatyn 11.4 miles 2145.7 ft of ascent.
With Jo still suffering from her ankle and looking to catch an early train back to the South we shortened the route by a couple of miles at the start. The route we took was lovely although we got a little displaced at Marian Frith where we say the sea for the first time and again at Marian Mill Farm with some yappy terriers and a couple of Llama’s. There was no mistaking the route once we got on the hills above Prestatyn and although the end was a little way away, we could see the road all the way to the sea, we just had to get down the steep path to the town and past the shops. As we approached the town we met a young man walking in the other direction, a Dutch boy, he loved the hills and he visited the UK often. He was planning to walk the whole route. We wished him luck.
We reached the edge, the wind was up and the tide was in so we didn’t get to the beach but we did have an ice cream on the front.
It was all over. There was a sense of relief but nothing like the sense of achievement from the PW. We had cut the route short which weighed heavy and for a reason I can’t define, I hadn’t really enjoyed it, despite the lovely varied landscapes and the amazing views. Perhaps I should revisit some of the places, just to see them without the pressure of continuing.
Total distance 170.58 miles, Ascent 29633ft
Everest is 29029ft
It took over 9 hours to get home.