Bob Delamare

Entered the Hall of Fame:22nd August 2014
Trail Completed:11th August 2014

Offa's Dyke Path

A train up to Prestatyn one Monday in late July took me to the Beaches Hotel for the night. The hotel is a modern motel type place right on the sea front some 800 yards from the town centre. The public spaces are a bit chaotic as the bar/restaurant is being refurbished but the rooms are what you would expect in a motel.

I used Keith Carter's, Offa's Dyke Path" guide book, Prestatyn to Chepstow and the Harvey maps 2011 edition. Both maps and book are in need of revision.

I was a bit late getting started on the Tuesday, what with trying to get my walkers' card stamped and last minute purchases from Tesco and Boots in the large modern retail park by the town centre.

The two cheerful teenage girls running the cafe in the rotunda on the sea front knew nothing about the Tourist Information Centre supposedly in the same building; they just had a pile of leaflets, but directed me to the foyer of the Scala cinema. The staff there had no idea either; just more leaflets. In the end I remembered the only place that still uses rubber stamps, the Post Office. There I got my first stamp, "Prestatyn 29.JL.14 Post Office".

The warm sunny weather of the previous day had turned cloudy and a stiff, cold North-Westerly breeze had blown up. As I looked back from the hilltop above the town, the off-shore wind-farm turbines, which had been stationary the previous day, were all turning. Even so I had a fair sweat on by that time. The morning mist soon turned to drizzle, driving in on the wind and it was time christen my poncho.

About mid-morning I ran into Emma and her mate, two younger English women, also going South. They had missed a turning further along and been directed by a well-meaning local but back to Prestatyn! We continued together as far as Rhuallt at lunchtime. Three sets of eyes are better than one for spotting the heavily overgrown signs along the way but we were holding each other up each time we crossed a stile and waited for the others. There are lots of stiles.

The Smithy Arms shown in the guide book is now a private house but a few hundred yards to the West is the White House, a modern pub/restaurant. We dived in there out of the rain followed not long after by a Dutch couple also going South and half a dozen young lads going North. I had a very nice burger; too much for me to eat.

We left separately but I soon drew ahead of the others and reached Bodfari on my own an hour too early for a pint in the Downing Arms. The little stores shown in the book is being refurbished as a "gallery". A phone call to my lodgings brought a lift for the 10 minute drive up to the B&B.

The second day started with a steep climb (bit of a pattern appearing here) followed by another and another up to the Jubilee Tower on Moel Famau. I took shelter from the wind in the lee of the tower to eat the stuff I had carried from Prestatyn. At 558 metres this is not the highest point on the trail but to my mind the most difficult to reach from the North. The path to the South is a gentle slope over a mile to a car park. It was thronged with casual walkers. Coming down to the car park I saw a sloping track up to the hill in front but no, we are going straight up almost vertical through 8 contours, 120 metres, before we drop down to Clywd Gate.

My phone finally got a signal as I sat on the steps of the closed Clywd Gate Motel and a quick call to the Druid Arms brought a car down for a lift. I was most impressed by the Druid. It isn’t the biggest or best in any category but it all works, it has all you need, the food is good and the service is prompt. Quietly reading the paper over a pint who should walk in but Emma and mate followed by the Dutch couple. Next morning after breakfast at 07:30 prompt, the 5 of us were run back to Clywd Gate to continue at 09:00.

I soon left the others with steep uphill climbs over 3 peaks before dropping down to Llandegla just before 12:00. The Crown is only open evenings and weekends but I nipped in the village stores for some fresh fruit. As I left the main street I saw Emma and mate just arriving. Just out of the village on the main road about 500 yards East is the Plough Inn. After a pint and pie, I took the lane to the side of the pub to re-join the path by some stables. Then steep uphill through the forest onto open moor land reminiscent of Dartmoor.  The path here runs on wooden planks to protect the natural and I was amazed to be overtaken by a runner. A short stretch on a quiet road leads onto the Eglwyseg Mountain. This is much easier walking than it sounds. Basically, you follow the contour round it for some 6 kms; the rocks tower above but out to the West magnificent views. Dinas Bran was shrouded in rain cloud as I dropped down to Llangollen, only to meet the Dutch couple looking for the Motor Museum.

I had a day out here to do some laundry and sight-see. The launderette was manned by a pleasant and helpful young woman, who gave me change and advice about using the machines. A tip for others, most launderettes are unmanned so you will need at least 5x£1.00 coins and 5x20p coins; they don’t take any other coins. The Tourist Info Office here gave me my second stamp.

As Day 5 opened the drizzle of the previous day had turned to heavy rain. I followed the canal towpath out of town intending to cross the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct. However when I arrived there was a small group waiting for a safe point to cross as the rain was driving over in waves on the wind. I couldn’t stand around so I when down to the valley bridge. Sure enough it eased off down there but came back with a vengeance as I came back up. And so it continued to Chirk Castle about half way. They wouldn’t let me into the Tea Room but there is a dry barn and a kiosk with hot drinks and snacks. I was so glad to see that. I didn’t realise at the time but I followed the Dyke itself for the first time out of the Castle grounds.

The rain had passed over as I followed the Dyke to Craignant and on to Trefonen. This day’s walking is easy going over farm land, on the dyke and stretches of road. Walking on the Dyke is not a pleasant experience. It is heavily overgrown with trees, gorse and bracken, so one is stumbling over tree roots, dodging from side to side to avoid the trunks and stuck in a narrow ankle-breaker slot in the top. This cannot be good for the Dyke, wearing away the turf allowing the soil to wash away and exposing the tree roots; nor for the walker, unable to see in any direction more than a few feet and liable to twist an ankle or worse; much better to walk in the field margin but risk being the wrong side of a fence.

Lynstead Lodge in Trefonen was one of the highlights of the trip. This is the best private house B&B I have ever experienced. A modern bungalow with rooms in the roof, it has everything you could need and some. The host ran me down to the pub for a very agreeable lamb shank and mash with a pint of cider. After the morning rain I reckon I earned it. Breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was prompt at 07:30. Can you imagine a B&B with an imaginative breakfast menu? Not the usual heart attack on a plate served piecemeal 15 minutes late.

Day 6 starts deceptively easily but a couple of steep climbs, particularly up to Llanymynech Rocks, 8 contours in in less than 250 metres, works off the fat. There is a little shop in Llanymynech village before you head on along the picturesque Montgomery Canal a mile or so to Four Crosses. There is a new by-pass road not shown on the maps or guide book, which is a little confusing but it is well signed. At this point I passed a couple with camping backpacks as I headed down the High Street. Passing the Golden Lion I noticed it was open. Was it serving food? Of course, it’s Sunday. I had completely lost track of the days at this point. So I dived in for a pint and sandwich followed by the backpackers.

It turned out they were Kiwis walking the trail and camping. We chatted for a while when an American lady at the bar asked if we had seen her husband. He was running from the South. Obviously we hadn’t but it just shows the diverse range of people you meet. The Kiwis left and I followed but didn’t see them again all day. The trail down to Buttington is easy walking over fields and grass land following the river Severn but featureless and becomes rather tedious. The only bright spot was meeting the runner from Washington DC, an hour or so South of Four Crosses.

I stayed in Buttington House overnight; a late Georgian rectory just behind the church. As expected in such building the room was a good size even with the en-suite bathroom inserted. Just across the road is the Green Dragon where I met Tom and Vicki, the 2 Kiwis, again over dinner.

Day 7 started with steep climb (again) up to Beacon Ring Hill Fort planted over with beech trees back in 1953 in an act of vandalism compounded in recent years by adding transmitter masts and buildings. From there the track winds slowly downhill through the forest of the Leighton Estate to the village of Kingswood. It was too early to think of stopping here so I pressed on along the roadside towards Forden thinking I might try a pub there. Just where the path crosses the road to pick up the Dyke across farm land, I met a small group coming the other way. I said I had come from Buttington and Kingswood and was heading for Forden but they claimed to be heading for Forden and the pub as well! One of those bizarre moments ensued as we both maintained our story. It turned out in addition to the Forden on my map; their guide book also had another “Forden” about a mile North, next to Kingswood. Must be fun delivering papers round there. The path follows the Dyke across farmland for another 5 miles to Brompton Cross where the ground starts to rise again past Mellington Hall. Before the road got too steep for my weary legs, I found Drewin Farm House for my overnight stay.

Unsure whether Mellington Hall would serve food on a Monday Mrs. Richards ran me over to a pub in Bishops Castle about 5 miles away. If you are in that area, I recommend you stay at Drewin Farm; a nice big room with en-suite.

Day 8, to nobody’s surprise, started with a steep climb up to 400 metres, then down to 300, up to 400 and down to 274 in Churchtown and a delightful country church. Then we are off again almost vertically up to 400, down to 250, up to 300 and follow the contour before back down to 215 to cross the river near Newcastle-on-Clun. And that was only half way! Back up to 400 again around Llanfair Hill, down to 260 and up to 400 around Cwm-Sanaham before the final almost vertical drop from 300 to 150 down Panpunton Hill in heavy rain to the river at Knighton. That is the hardest section of the whole trail relieved only by passing the official halfway signpost up on Llanfair Hill, 88.5 miles in each direction. As I walked into town who should I meet but the Dutch couple from the Clywd Hills.

The George and Dragon, a late 14th Century Inn in the middle of Knighton was my base for the next 2 nights as I caught up on my laundry. The old stable block at the back of the pub has been very neatly converted into half a dozen en-suite rooms. I was afraid being the back of a pub in the middle of town, the noise from the bars would make it impossible to sleep but no. It could be of course that I was so knackered nothing would wake me! I would recommend it and the food isn’t bad either. The next morning, while my laundry was going round at the launderette, I wandered up to the Tourist Info/Offa’s Dyke Centre to stamp my card only to bump into Tom the Kiwi. He and Vikki were camping over by the river at the foot of that last hill. In our conversation in the pub at Buttington, I had mentioned my case being carried on from Drewin Farm to Knighton by the local taxi firm. They had phoned them and piggy-backed on my taxi for Vikki to bring their kit to Knighton, while Tom walked the switchbacks alone. Of course I had to root out my itinerary for the numbers of the baggage carriers further down the line. I never saw them again after that but I did hear, whenever I asked walkers coming the other way, “anybody ahead of me?” “Oh yes, a Kiwi in a funny hat.”

Day 10 began with a major cock-up. I mistook the signs for Glyndwr’s Way for Offa’s and headed out of town up the wrong street. A kindly lady dog walker re-directed me but even so the trail is not well signed until you are well clear of the town and climbing steeply (again) up to the golf course. After the initial steep climb most of the way is gently rolling farm land following the dyke. Just after 13:00 about 2/3rds of the way, I found myself coming out of a patch of wood and looking across a broad valley. The sun was shining and a convenient height stile made a seat to eat lunch. Kington was tucked away out of sight round the hill to my left as I looked South towards a distinctive conical hill with a long dark ridge behind it. The map showed that the ridge must be Hergest, tomorrow’s route but what were those tiny black dots on the top about 2/3rds of the way along? Could they be walkers at this distance, about 3 miles? No, they weren’t moving; a mystery for now. The last couple of miles have a steep climb over Rushock Hill before dropping down into Kington.

I don’t have anything good to say about Kington, nor bad really. I had dinner in the Oxford Arms, which is more welcoming on the inside than appears outside but the whole town appears drab with none of the life of the others along the trail. The Swan pub mentioned in the guide book looks as though it has had some money spent on it recently and the windows on the upper floors were open but the sign outside says closed. Over breakfast at the B&B, I chatted with a young German couple, also walking South. They were carrying their gear rather than using baggage transfers, about 20 kgs apiece. The husband was amazed to find an English man knowing nothing and caring less about football (I rowed at school) but I did congratulate him on winning the World Cup and beating those bloody Argies.

By way of a change the climb up the ridge next morning is relatively easy and the walking fair going over short grass. It is easy to go astray on the bare ridge top as there are a number of sign posts for other tracks. At a distance they all look the same. The mysterious objects seen the previous day proved to be a clump of 8 Chile Pines (Monkey Puzzle trees). Why there on the otherwise featureless ridge beats me but the troop of wild ponies seemed to appreciate them. The trail drops down steeply into Gladestry where I passed the German couple taking a break, to cross the river and pass another charming, simple, country church before rising gently over the next hill. It meanders its way across farm land to meet the river Wye, swings away across fields of standing wheat before coming back to the river. Frustratingly it swings uphill away from the river bank into trees. Will I ever reach Hay? One emerges quite suddenly from the depths of the trees onto the main road over the town bridge. The fast moving, noisy traffic is a shock after the lonely cross-country wandering.

I arrived mid-afternoon in time to catch the Tourist Info office where a very charming lady made the 4th stamp on my card. Actually everybody I met was charming, friendly and helpful. The town is much smaller than I had imagined from its reputation but very smart and crowded with tourists from all over the World. Even after a shower and change I still had time for a wander round the shops. I hoped I might find a book on the Montgomery Canal and an antique map but no luck. I had been bothered for some days by the lack of pockets wearing shirt and shorts in the warm weather and even warmer steep climbing. With phone, camera, mini tripod, guide book, sherbet lemons, map etc. all to hand, I felt like a Christmas tree. I wandered round the 3 or 4 Outdoor gear shops until one suggested a bum bag or belly bag. That proved an ideal solution with my camera case threaded on the belt.

I stayed at the Black Lion in a rather basic back room with a separate bathroom along the corridor. It had all I needed but not a patch on the George in Knighton, the Druid or the subsequent Castle View in Chepstow. The lamb steak at dinner was twice the size but twice the price of anything before; beautifully done though.

Day 12, the 17.5 mile stretch over Hatterrall Ridge to Pandy is said to be one of the most demanding. It is the longest and reaches the highest but I found it quite easy. I left Hay just after 09:00 and reached the Lancaster Arms in Pandy at 15:30; six hours walking and a half hour break. The climb up to Hay Bluff is a steady slope with only one hiccup. About a mile out of Hay one finds a finger post with 2 fingers. One points diagonally away uphill marked “Hay Bluff”; the other straight on, marked “Clyro”. The circular plastic arrow sign is the one to follow, straight on. As I approached the foot of the Bluff I met the German couple again. Rather than straight up vertically as usual, the path here swings round the Bluff and diagonally up. Once on top the going is virtually flat; miles of made up path with stone slabs or hard core to protect the natural which is worn away easily. The only difficulty up there is the exposure. There is no shelter from the wind and in bad weather it could be grim. It’s pretty featureless and difficult to know exactly one’s position except when you meet a cross track marker or trig point. Eventually I found a hollow by the 552 metre trig point just the right size for me and my rucksack to snuggle down in, out of the wind, for a drink and a snack. But the clouds were gathering, there was rain in the air and Hurricane Bertha on the way.

I stayed and had dinner at the Lancaster Arms. The room was a good size, twin beds and a wash basin in the corner. The bathroom is along the passage which might be a problem when the other rooms are occupied. I don’t think B&B or hotel owners appreciate that elderly gentlemen may need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. There are a couple of pubs within walking distance and I regret I did not go to the nearest. I might then have met up with the Kiwis and some of the people I had passed along the way.

Hurricane Bertha arrived that night with heavy rain from early morning. So that day, 13, saw me in poncho from the door. There was a small group going North in the car park about to set off. I hope they made it OK up on that ridge. The rain that morning was much worse than any previous. The worst had passed over by White Castle but didn’t really dry up until Monmouth. This leg is not difficult in terms of steep climbs but it weaves in and out of small fields over stiles and through gates, all making slow going. At one point just after White Castle the path crosses 2 large, muddy, slippery potato fields. With knee- high wet plants brushing my legs I regretted not bringing my full length gaiters as the water eventually got down into my boots. It was well into the afternoon when I took shelter in the porch of the church at Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern to eat my snack. Thank you St Michael, patron saint of warriors. This old warrior really appreciated the sit down in the dry and put £1 in the box.

It was well past 16:00 when I crossed the Monnow Bridge into Monmouth; too late to get my card stamped at the Tourist Office. By the time I had found my accommodation and cleaned up, it was time to find dinner. The rain had returned while I was changing, which also deterred sight-seeing. I regret I did not have time to visit the Castle, birthplace of Henry V, as I was born on the anniversary of Agincourt. I guess another visit but by car next time. A good dinner at the Punch House and I was early to bed, again.

I didn’t want to hang about for the Tourist Office to open at 10:00 so once again the Post Office obliged with a rubber stamp but it was nearly 09:30 before I quit Monmouth. The path rises from near sea level at the river to 257 metres on the Kymin in less than a mile. Then rambles on down slowly back to river level before heading back up into woodland with rain hammering down. It pretty much follows the 150 metre contour above the river for some 3 miles. This sounds easy but is very frustrating in dense woods following a path that twists and turns. Time was marching on as I reached Bigsweir, so to make it up I chose the riverside path hoping to catch a pint in the pub at Brockweir. It looks so easy on the map but it was gone 14:00 by the time I got there and the pub was closing. With at least 5 miles still to go I opted for a cold snack and water cheered only by the Tide Times sign. I must be close to the sea, Chepstow and the finish!

Back up into the trees again following the Dyke round the contour. For a footpath there are an awful lot of tyre tracks and after the rain, mud! Eventually dropping out of the trees onto a scarily busy road I was glad to take a brief respite back into fields and even gladder to see in the far distance, the old Severn Bridge. Can’t be far now. Then onto the road, back in the field, across the road and up to Wintours Leap. The track follows a ridge high above the river with only a flimsy wire fence guarding the drop. Fortunately it is so overgrown I couldn’t see just how high and close to the edge I had been until I looked back. As the track twisted and turned on the outskirts of town, I realised the path ahead led down to the Old Town Bridge and headed straight across to find my hotel, The Castle View. My case was waiting but I just dumped my rucksack to head out of town over the new bypass bridge. I soon picked up the acorn signs for Sedbury only to meet the Dutch couple coming back. We shook hands and congratulated each other and on I went to take a selfie sitting on the terminal rock. I look 20 years older in that picture but I made it. A final picture of the old Severn Bridge and I turned to go back. Crossing the Sedbury road I realised I could also see the new Severn Bridge. Time for a shower and change back at the Castle View but one last little happy note, round the corner came Emma and mate. I couldn’t resist asking if they were sure they were going the right way. I think they were as glad to see me and to hear of the Dutch couple, as I was of them. Emma had had a knee bandage on that first day back near Prestatyn. I had wondered many times if she would make it. But there they were.

So that was that. I am sorry not to have seen the Kiwis one last time. I am sure they made it. Me, I was back to the hotel for a shower and change. It’s an old building and old fashioned as a hotel but very comfortable. I had a nice ribeye steak and several glasses of wine before I crashed out.

Next morning force of habit had me up early for a bit of sightseeing around the town and castle. A stamp on my card from the Tourist Office and a souvenir book before the rain came in again.

 

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