Offa’s Dyke, Day 14

Date: Friday 6 June 2014
Walked from: Tintern
Walked to: Sedbury Cliffs
Walked with: Tracey
Distance: 9 miles
Stayed: Home! Hurrah!
Weather: Sunny again!

I’m done! I’ve walked the length of Wales in 14 days. My soles of my feet ache a bit but oddly, after 180 or so of walking, my legs feel fine. Think I’ll concentrate on the cycling for the next month or so though – I’ve a couple of long distance rides coming up and my walking boots and I could do with a little time apart, for the good of our relationship :)

Our nine miles today were over and done with by 12.30pm and were pretty easy, although the climb back out of pretty Tintern and into the hill covered trees that surround it was a bit of a slog. The view looking down on to the ruins of Tintern Abbey (from a spot know as Devil’s Pulpit) was quite lovely though, and made the climb ‘almost’ worthwhile.

Once out of the woods, the final approach to Sedbury Cliffs and the River Severn was quite odd, as the trail skirted the town of Chepstow: a mixture of fields, roads, some very expensive houses (some with spectacular views over the River Wye and Chepstow Castle) and other houses that appeared rather more affordable…

The final quarter mile from Buttington Tump to the top of Sedbury Cliffs took us to a stone plaque and fine views over the river and the older of the Severn bridges, gleaming in the midday sun. We were finished: time to call a taxi to whisk us to Bristol Parkway station and on to London.

I think I’ll leave the final summing up on what has been a brilliant trip to a question a women we met a mile or two before the end asked. ‘Have you gone all the way?’, she enquired. ‘I most certainly have’, said I.

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Offa’s Dyke, Day 13

Date: Thursday 5 June 2014
Walked from: Monmouth
Walked to: Tintern
Walked with: Tracey
Distance: 15 miles
Stayed: Wye Valley Hotel, Tintern
Weather: A lovely sunny day

What a difference a day makes; yesterday may have been wet-magedon but today was glorious. We took our time having breakfast and leaving Monmouth behind as I had calculated we only had 10 miles to walk. My maths wasn’t great – it actually ended up being 15 miles. Oops… I think getting lost in the woods and taking the route along the river may both have helped add to today’s mileage!

I actually got a bit lost twice today – once trying to find my way out of town) how on earth am I going to cope back in London?!?) and again pretty quickly afterwards, during the climb up to The Kymin, a location apparently popular with high society folk in the late 1700s, when wars with France meant the Great Tour to Europe’s key sights got exchanged for a trip around the British Isles – and one key stop was apparently the vantage point over Monmouth. If I were one of those honeymooners of old I might have felt a little hard done by. The view, however (once we found it) was certainly pretty!

After more fields and county tracks we stopped for a lemonade at The Bell pub in Lower Redbrook, swapping soggy walking stories from yesterday with a north-bound Offa’s Dyker. Then it was back up the hill again, and through Highbury Wood, a national nature reserve. More walking through flower-filled fields took us to Bigsweir Bridge, where The trail gives you two acorn-symbol coded options to follow; more climbing and woods (I’m starting to get a little wood fatigue) or a stroll along the chocolate coloured waters of the River Wye. The Wye won, but as I’ve already suggested, I think it may have added a few miles. Good thing it was so warm and sunny, and with such a pretty setting, though my feet were too tired to be skipping through the meadows!

A final muddy stretch of bridal-way took us to our final destination for the day and the last stop-over of the trip: Tintern, a pretty village strung out along the Welsh side of the River Wye, known best for the beautiful ruins of Tintern Abbey. Founded in 1131, the Abbey was already in decline by the time Henry VIII went after the monasteries in what was surely one of the most monumental marriage meltdowns ever!

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Offa’s Dyke, Day 12

Date: Wednesday 4 June 2014
Walked from: Pandy
Walked to: Monmouth
Walked with: Tracey
Distance: 16.5 miles
Stayed: Bistro Prego, Monmouth
Weather: Constant rain!

Not all walking days are created equal. For this reason, Tracey and I walked in more rain by lunchtime today than I have for the rest of the trip put together. And then we walked for an extra 3.5 hours on top of that…

I could tell you about the interesting places and landscapes we passed through today, but they didn’t have much of an impact – it was a ‘head down, put one foot in front of the other and add another layer of clothing from time to time’ type of day where leisurely food breaks, stopping to admire the scenery and photo stops were replaced with an overwhelming desire to arrive in Monmouth and get warm and dry again!

Stuff we saw that I imagine would definitely be worth a closer inspection if you weren’t being rain-lashed would include the pretty whitewashed church of Llangattock-Lingoed, various fields full of elegant horses and their charming foals, and the ruins of White Castle, which, disappointingly, weren’t white at all.

Instead I’ll tell you about walking through rivers of such chocolatey brown perfection that they were, as our walking mate for the day Neil (who caught up with us about two hours into the walk) described them, straight out of a Willie Wonker film. I’ll also mention one of the best place name ever for a lunch stop (the three of us and a couple heading north huddled in the porch of the church and throwing back food for fuel in preparation for the next watery onslaught): St Michael’s Church of the Fiery Meteor, in Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern. Yup, definitely back in Wales… I could also mention Kings Wood, but the best thing about it at the time was knowing that, having arrived there, we only had three miles of walking in peeing down rain to go!

In actual fact, the very best things that happened today acted as bookends to the walk: finally staying somewhere that had porridge as a breakfast option and arriving at our destination to be offered an on the house wash and dry of our walking clothes. I declared my undying love to the manager of Monmouth’s Bistro Prego (which, incidentally, also offers a very nice dinner) on the spot.

Relieved to say that tomorrow’s weather forecast looks much more promising!

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Offa’s Dyke, Day 11

Date: Tuesday 3 June 2014
Walked from: Hay-on-Wye
Walked to: Pandy
Walked with: Tracey
Distance: 17.5 miles
Stayed: The Rising Sun pub, Pandy
Weather: Good visibility, little bit of rain

I have been wanting to walk this journey for nearly three years, ever since the ex and I peddled up the road to Hay Bluff as part of a Anglesey to Bath cycling trip, so today’s walk was hotly anticipated – and did not disappoint.

Bidding Annette farewell, Tracey and I headed off – and up (and up a bit more) towards Hay Bluff and the lengthy Hatterrall Ridge, the highest point on the Offa’s Dyke national trail. The climb out of town was actually pretty straightforward; it was the stiles we had to cross at the top of most fields that were the bugger – I swear they were steeper than normal!

My guidebook describes today’s section as one of the most demanding on the Offa’s Dyke Path, and I imagine it would be if the weather wasn’t with you: once you’re up on that ridge you’re there for most of the day, without any shelter. Luckily for us the conditions were perfect for walking through moorland at a pretty constant 600m height – no wind that you would notice, a bit of rain for 20 minutes that looked ominous as it approached but was actually fine, and great visibility to enjoy the incredible views of the Welsh and English countrysides beneath us. Lucky old us! Once again, the photos will speak for themselves, although I’m not at all sure they do them justice.

As we got close to the end of the ridge we also saw the Severn Estuary; after 11 days of walking the end of the trail was finally in sight – a realisation that left me both happy and sad!

Tracey and I spent much of today following an orange dot in the distance – the bag cover of a guy called Neil who Annette and I met in Kington. Post the 20 minutes of rain mid-ridge walk, we caught up with him by a trig point, shared Jaffa Cakes and Murray Mints, and we ate together tonight at the quite brilliantly run Rising Sun pub. It doesn’t look very promising from the outside, but the quality of the food and the accommodation makes it an absolute gem for anyone walking in the area: it defiantly has the Silka seal of approval!

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Offa’s Dyke, Day 10

Date: Monday 2 June 2014
Walked from: Kington, England
Walked to: Hay-on-Wye
Walked with: Annette
Distance: 14.5 miles
Stayed: Kilverts, Hay
Weather: Perfect walking weather.

Today started off with a gleeful escape from The Royal Oak in Kington. The pub’s slogan is ‘last in England’. That could mean many things, but I put it to you that it should be taken as fair warning that it’s the last place you would want to stay. Luckily for us walkers the owner has landed a year’s contract with the local quarry so will be unable to offer his rooms out in the foreseeable future to anyone passing through town. I do feel dreadfully sorry for the poor sods from the quarry though…

Anyway, the walk started in light rain and with low visibility, which meant we missed out on what are supposed to be fine views over Hergest Ridge. It also meant we came the closest to being lost that we’d managed so far, although, more by luck than judgment we did eventually find a reassuring acorn sign (which are used to mark national trails in England and Wales – in Scotland it’s a thistle)!

The weather started to improve as we headed into the tiny village of Gladestry, which boasts both a pub and a cafe (housed in the former post office) that opens on Saturdays and Mondays. Whilst puzzling over these frankly unusual set of opening hours the owner of the cafe (for, fortuitously it WAS a Monday), dashed out to speak to us and solved the mystery: she opens up on the two days a week that the pub is closed because she felt sorry for the thirsty looking walkers she saw going by. That mystery was solved, but as Annette pointed out, it begs an even bigger question – what kind of a pub is closed on a Saturday?!?

The weather started to improve as we left the village and continued picking our way across the local farmland. By the time we stopped for lunch in St Mary’s Church in Newchurch (a picnic table left out for guests such as us among some ancient gravestones, and tea and coffee available for thirsty walkers to make in the church itself), the sun had made a welcome appearance. We were joined at our lunch stop by a lovely couple who had met in London and retired to Jamaica, and who come back over to the UK once a year to do a serious amount of walking. They made me both really want to walk the Pennine Way and really NOT want to: sounds like three weeks of incredible beauty and very hard work!

As we got closer to Hay we walked in the sunshine through Bettws Dingle, which my guidebook describes as a scary forest. Much of it has been chopped down, but the bits that remain were rather beautiful in the dappled sunlight. The final approach to Hay was through some flower filled meadows (where we accidentally awoke a snoozing Dutch guy who seemed surprised to discover he would have to walk a good 20 km to get to his planned destination for the night) and a treelined path near the River Wye. Crossing Hay Bridge we were greeted by a ‘Welcome to Hay Festival’ sign. We’d only missed the world-famous literary festival by a day. One year I’ll actually get to attend!

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Offa’s Dyke, Day 9

Date: 1 June 2014
Walked from: Knighton, Wales
Walked to: Kington, England
Walked with: Annette
Distance: 13.5 miles
Stayed: The Royal Oak, Kington

Weather: Beautiful – sunny and warm.

Annette and I practically romped through this pretty section of the walk, my tired legs of yesterday just a distant memory! Annette even broke into a run at one point, though I think she was just showing off cos’ she’s only got one more day of the walk left :-)

It was a fairly stiff climb up from Knighton, arriving at the top to find a golf course infested with sheep. Never before had we seen such a thing… but we saw it again as we approached Kington Golf Club at the end of our walk – clearly the local sheep are keen amateur sports enthusiasts!

Once we were up we stayed up for a while, crossing both Hawthorn and Furrow Hills before dropping down to the tiny village of Dolley Green. There were some good place names in the area, although sadly the route doesn’t actually pass through Discoed or Evenjobb…

We lunched in the warm sunshine on a stone bridge that crosses Knobbley Brook, and shortly after starting our walk again saw a young deer running at speed towards us as we walked through a farm. He or she veered off at the last moment, clearing a fence and disappearing, unseen but heard, into a field of wheat. It was a beautiful thing to witness.

A bit of a climb took us up to Herrock Hill and more fantastic views, 360 degrees worth of them, from Rushock Hill. The photos below don’t even begin to tell the story of what beautiful scenery we had today!

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Offa’s Dyke, Day 8

Date: 31 May 2014
Walked from: Newcastle-on-Clun, England
Walked to: Knighton, Wales
Walked with: Annette
Distance: 7.5 miles
Stayed: The Royal Oak, Kington
Weather: Dry, warm – lovely!

After yesterday’s efforts this was a nice straightforward day where, despite its short distance, my legs would have struggled to walk much further.

Having been dropped back off on the trail, we headed straight back up hill towards Springhill Farm, and walked for a while with a man called Jim from Portland, USA, who was in the midst of an entire month of walking around Wales and the Welsh/English borders. In fact, the combination of it being a Saturday, the good weather and the pretty scenery meant this was only the second day on our trip where we saw plenty of other walkers out – the first being back on the section from Bodfari to Clywd Gate, all those footsteps ago…

It was blissfully easy walking, largely along clear farm yard tracks, often with the remains of Offa’s Dyke running alongside it. Having not started until 10.40 we were finished and in Knighton for 2pm, so we popped into the Offa’s Dyke centre, based in Knighton as it’s the town closest to the halfway point of the route. Annette bought us both Offa’s Dyke themed tea towels, which I am most excited by!

The last bus of the week (4pm on Saturday – next bus on Monday morning!) took us from Knighton to Kington, where accommodation shortages on route meant we had to stay for two nights. On the bus it occurred to Annette that our new walking buddies Peter and Stewart were likely to be in town that night. They were! We had dinner, reunited Peter with his glasses that had managed to cover most of the route in a tag team of different hikers, and received an invitation to go walking with them in the Lakes; an offer we will most certainly be taking up.

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