Offa’s Dyke Article

Published in the Offa’s Dyke Association Newsletter – 2013 – Part 2

Before I could reflect on the reality that I am just about to start a 177 mile walk to Prestatyn, GWR and Arriva Trains had deposited me in Chepstow laden with a full backpack.  My reality was further challenged when the first sign I encountered congratulated me on successfully completing the walk, just before Sedbury Cliffs, but I knew that a good 10+ challenging days lay ahead, plus a further ambition to complete the Glyndwr’s Way loop if my legs and conditions allowed.

A field in Upper Sedbury provided accommodation for the evening to be woken by two friendly Spaniel puppies that took an effort to shake off as I started the walk.  With Monmouth in mind, I got into a steady pace, past Wintour Leap and through familiar territory (and pubs!) from earlier day walks around Tintern, Brockweir and Redbrook.

Offa’s Dyke was immediately apparent and I tried to visualise the effort needed to build such a structure some 1200 years ago and the men who would have patrolled the ramparts very much as I am walking them now. How would the views over the valleys have been different?

Pandy was the next day objective, and after modern Monmouth, White Castle provided a welcome lunch stop and wonderful views across the Welsh Marches.  A good steak meal at the Oldest Pub in Wales fueled an early start onto Hatterell Ridge the next day, but unfortunately not early enough to enjoy the cloud inversion. It wasn’t until Hay Bluff before I met another walker as I descended into Hay on Wye for a meal and pleasant stay at a great campsite at Radnor End.

Directions approaching Llandegla

Directions approaching Llandegla

It wasn’t until Hergest Ridge until I met another Offa’s Dyke walker, suffering from homesickness. He needed to chat for a while. He seemed encourage by the easier sections ahead to Chepstow compared to the Shropshire Hills I was due to face.  It never seems easy to walk alone and yet I find you are far more approachable when doing so, easily making conversation with people you meet.  However, a nasty badger hole on the dyke almost put paid to my adventures the next day, I was lucky not to badly twist my knee and I would have welcomed a walking partner had the situation been worse.  The use of walking poles, particularly when backpacking almost certainly helped.

The towns of Kington and Knighton provide comfortable camping sites and good meals and a chance to visit the Offa’s Dyke Centre (where Jim persuaded me to write these articles).  It was here that I made the decision to walk Glyndwr’s Way, so after stocking up with food at Harry Tuffins, a labyrinthine supermarket hidden behind a petrol station I set off for Welshpool, avoiding the Shropshire Hills.

The Glyndwr’s Way loop ended in Machynlleth to a torrential downpour, which made river crossings dangerous, so it was not until spring of 2013 that I completed the section to Welshpool from Knighton and then took a train to “Mac” to walk the remainder of Glyndwr’s Way.  The Shropshire Hills were tough going, but a half day start to Clun made the journey easier with time to enjoy some of the best scenery so far and a real sense of remoteness with only the dyke for company.  It was joyful to see the new born lambs fortunate enough to miss the severe winter weather just a few weeks earlier.

Pontcysyllte Aquaduct, Offa's Dyke

Pontcysyllte Aquaduct, Offa’s Dyke

After a St. George’s Day steak meal at the White Horse in Clun, the walk into Welshpool was challenging but rewarding. I had only met groups of women walking that day until meeting the Trail Officer at Leighton Estate, concerned about the unfriendly warning signs in the woods. “Please minimise use of the Public Path” said one!  All because someone wanted to protect the pheasant shoot, though why they bother defeats me, as it would have been easy to poach half a dozen of the tame creatures by hand as I walked through the woods.  Descending from the Beacon Ring  Fort, I came across further warning signs, but this time concerning a friendly mad sheepdog, who would happily walk with you for many miles, unconcerned with finding its way home.  Perhaps he knew about the pheasants!

The Montgomery Canal was a very pleasant change from the previous day followed by easy progress alongside the River Severn into Llanymynech.  The walk the following morning made all the more interesting, when I read about Charles Darwin’s work on slope measurement that led to his invitation to join the HMS Beagle, that led to the publication of “On the Origin of Species”.   After reading with interest about the exploits and over zealous use of dynamite at the local mines to dig tunnels to England and shower local villages with rocks, I made easy progress across the former Oswestry racecourse into Froncysyllte to be greeted by the wonderful site of the Aquaduct.  Every pillar perfectly aligned as the day it was built by Thomas Telford in 1795.  Worth a visit if you have a head for heights.

Friendly collies

Friendly collies

The next days walk revealed perhaps some of the very best scenery of Offa’s Dyke, overlooking Llangollen and the River Dee, an opportunity to take a panorama photograph which looked wonderful when I got back home.  Passed the Manor House at World’s End and into Llandegla, having watched some pretty amazing mountain biking in the woods a few moments earlier.  I rested well at Gweryd Lakes knowing that the weather forecast of strong northerly winds, hail, thunder and rain would be a challenge the following day.  It did not disappoint, but by now my fitness level had improved and the descent from the Jubilee Tower was invigorating.  I was welcomed by friendly South African goats on arrival into Bodfari, a strange experience, as unlike sheep, who run away from you, the goats followed you around, wanting to eat anything you may possess.

By now I could smell the sea (aided by the strong northerly wind) and the last section into Prestatyn with view over the wind farms in the Irish Sea and Liverpool drew me towards journeys end.  With the high tide and Moderate Force 7 from the North any thoughts of a quick bootless paddle were quickly dismissed as I was soaked by a big breaking wave near the stainless steel sculpture that marked the Start/Finish.  Why the sign said “Chepstow 182 Miles” I am not sure, but the gold acorns marking the lampposts at the end made me feel I deserved a medal for the achievement, but perhaps that is for those who have walked the Wales Coast Path from Chepstow, a mere 870 miles!

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