Day 8 Llanymynech to Chirk

A nice day’s walking with proper Goldilocks weather – not too hot, not too cold – just right!

I headed off from the Bradford Arms, who had welcomed me as a regular, just before 8.45. By 9.20 I had managed to put Llanymynech golf club a well struck 5 iron behind me.

I was looking out for the drainage with steps above as I was walking the dogs along the path eighteen months ago when they were installing it. They have done a cracking job.

The first real climb of the day was to the top of Moelydd with splendid views. I bumped into two walkers who were heading in the same direction as me. They headed off just before me and I spent the next hour to Trefonen basically 200 yards behind them with them doing all the navigation. It was ‘undulating’ from this point on without any real ascents.

Trefonen had installed a rather smart piece of public art showing where you were on the walk. They also had a post office but it was too early for the pub to be open so I pushed on.

If the Llanymynech Hill and golf course part of the walk had been familiar then most of the rest of the walk to Chirk was well known to me from previous walks and dog walks. The horses head sculpture from Oswestry Racecourse will be familiar to many Salopians.

I walked for the next hour with a veterinary nurse from Hay on Wye. She was good company and walked at a similar pace. She mentioned a helicopter that had flown over her the previous day and we agreed it was probably part of the filming I had bumped into earlier in the week.

We went our separate ways at Bronygarth where I headed for Chirk Station and the train home. Back there tomorrow morning to join up with the Mountain Goat to walk to Llanarmon, where we will be joined by Kev, who will be walking with us for the last two days.

Day 7 Montgomery to Llanymynech

The Dragon Hotel didn’t disappoint. The food was great, as was the company! I have wanted to stay there ever since first visiting Montgomery 12 years ago or so, so that’s one off the list.

The Dragon

I had a job getting back to the trail though. I spotted a network of footpaths that would allow me to avoid walking along the main road at Montgomery’s version of rush hour. They had been blocked off however and try as I might, I could find no way through and had to go the long way round. I can see a strongly worded email winging its way to Powys Council!

Suffice to say, having set off at 9:00 from the hotel it was just before 10:00 when I got back to where I left off the path the previous evening.

Another ‘long day in the field’ today, as Mountain Goat would say. Nowhere near as much climbing though and what there was was all over within a couple of hours.

After a (very misty) hour of Field – Stile – Field – Stile, and the amazing covered lane above, the path headed up into the Leighton Estate, which seems wholly dedicated to the rearing of grouse. After an initial climb it levelled off nicely and then kicked up again to the high point of the day, Beacon Ring.

I spotted a bright red rucksack heading up the hill about 200 yards ahead of me. Me and it’s weary porter arrived at the top together and there was already another ODP’er there who was heading North to South. We compared notes for about ten minutes and then I started the descent.

An oak blocking the path on the dyke.

After reaching Buttington and taking my life in my hands crossing the bridge, it was a return to fields again for half an hour or so. The farmer here obviously felt that the sheep and cows weren’t doing a good enough job coating the path with ‘debris’ (WRONG) and had decided that he would muck spread the entire field, including the gates at either end. I tried to pick my way through but it quickly became apparent that there was no avoiding it. I spent about 5 minutes cleaning my shoes after leaving the field.

The route then crossed the A483 and took up the towpath of the Montgomery Canal, which, thankfully, quickly veered away from the road and it was pleasant walking.

At Pool Quay I decided to support the Powis Arms as they had gone to the trouble of opening on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s a quirky pub I hadn’t been in before but I enjoyed it and was glad of the rest.

The next hour or so was all along the top of the dyke alongside the River Severn. It allowed good progress but got a bit monotonous to be honest.

The dyke snaking alongside The Severn

After Four Crosses, it was all on the towpath of the Montgomery Canal until Llanymynech, the day’s end point after 18 miles. This was enlivened by watching a Kingfisher fly over the River Vyrnwy where the canal passes over it.

The Bradford Arms in Llanymynech doesn’t look much from the outside to be honest. It’s a really well run, welcoming pub however. They couldn’t do enough to help.

By my calculations I have now completed 115 of the 177 miles of the path so the end is in sight. I also get to sleep in my own bed tomorrow and on returning to Chirk on Friday I will be walking with the Goat!

Day 6 Knighton to Montgomery

I come late to this evening’s blog as, as mentioned yesterday, three friends from Shrewsbury’s finest mixed voice choir had travelled out to Montgomery to keep me company.

After completing the Coast to Coast and Glyndwr’s Way, I can say, without fear of contraception, that today was the toughest day’s walking of the lot. It was unrelenting up and down for the first six and a half hours. I kept telling myself that the last 9 km was all downhill but I couldn’t seem to get to them!

The initial climb up from Knighton to the top of Pampisford hill wasn’t as bad as I had envisaged but the climbs just kept coming. The Knucklas viaduct was a familiar sight:

Turning the corner after a fairly short but nonetheless sharp climb, I noticed what appeared to be a film crew about 100 yards ahead. I carried on and when I next looked up I couldn’t help but notice they were filming me walking up the track.

As I got closer, the presenter, who turned out to be Sean Fletcher, asked me questions about the walk. It turns out they are making a programme for ITV on the ODP. I caught a couple of episodes of the one they did last year on the Coastal Path. They seemed to like what I said and made me walk up the track three times so who knows? Any enquiries through my agent.

It was only when I was about a mile further on that I thought of what I should have said when he asked me about my walking;

My Dad got me into walking and I’d like to think he’s looking down on me now.

He’s not dead, he’s a keen hang glider.

Well I liked it…

Some really tricky sections today as well, way marking not as good as earlier on the trail and badgers and rabbits ensuring every step had to be watched. If ITV didn’t provide my big break I didn’t want one to the lower limb.

This old plough was an interesting diversion on a day when I didn’t stop to take a lot of photos:

After finally conquering the final summit, at about 4pm, having set out from Knighton at 8.30, I was finally able to make some proper progress.

The last hour or so, crossing between Powys and Shropshire, was quick going. Well maintained stiles and footpaths. I was still late for meeting Col, Ang and Jan. Col was kind enough to come and pick me up where the main road met the path.

It was a real pleasure to have a few pints with friends after being on my own for the last week or so. It was also great that Col and Ang had brought my smaller rucksack so I won’t have to carry as much for the next two days! Here’s a picture Ang took of me after a really tough day…

I shall be in Llanymynech tomorrow evening. If any of the Shrewsbury set are at a loose end I shall be in The Bradford Arms.

After catching the train home from Chirk on Thursday I’ll be joined by the Mountain Goat on my return to Chirk on Friday morning and my fellow Teesside Poly alumni Kev will join us that evening to walk the last two days. That should be fun!

Day 5 Kington to Knighton

Lou at the Royal Oak in Kington showed them all how to present a Vegan breakfast. Outstanding!

They’re sliced field mushrooms top left. Delicious

I was gutted when I re-read the Cicerone guidebook this morning and I noticed for the first time a line saying “don’t miss the Olde Tavern in Kington, a classic old world inn”. I googled it and it looked even better than I feared. I had literally got to about thirty yards away before turning back. Oh well, The Swan was OK and had the footie on… he said, unconvincingly.

The day basically consisted of three climbs and three descents, covering 21km over the ground. I had to put my fleece on before leaving Knighton as it was really misty.

I was reminded of when we ran the ski chalets. If it was misty in the morning people were often reticent to leave to go skiing. We basically wanted them gone so we could clean their rooms and get out skiing ourselves. My standard two lines of encouragement were “it’ll be clear up top” and if that didn’t work… “it’ll all burn off in an hour”. Both of these half-truths turned out to actually be true today.

Above the mist at 350 metres
Last of the mist

The path soon rejoined the dyke for the first time in 50 miles of walking. It was really impressive in parts too, with lots of Wheatear and Meadow Pippet.

The return of the dyke

After the second ascent of the three, which was mostly through forest with lots of steps to help, I decided to make a detour to Discoed to see the 12th Century Church and the 5000 year old Yew tree!

18ths, 21sts, Weddings. Call Ed to discuss your requirements

The final climb of the three had the most brutal start but then levelled off (a little) and revealed some great views from the top

There were also some really well preserved sections of the dyke on Hawthorn Hill, the last of the day.

The descent down into Knighton passed a memorial stone which, apparently, has the wrong date.

It was a tougher, and longer, day than I thought it would be, probably due to the heat. Tomorrow’s, to Montgomery, is 10km longer and with more ascent. The draw of being joined by friends at Montgomery will help though!

Day 4, Hay on Wye to Kington

I hadn’t really found a pub in Hay that I liked so I took two bottles of Glamorgan beer back to my room and watched The Proms.

Howard, a fellow bass member of the choir and walking / drinking buddy, was extolling the virtues of Nicola Benedetti on our recent walk up and down the Long Mynd and I could certainly see the appeal. The Lark Ascending was poignant as I’d watched several such instances on my walk earlier.

Sunday morning and another great breakfast, after a nice chat with the waitress, and I was ready to settle up and head out.

The first part of the walk was alongside, but above, the River Wye. About five minutes in I started talking to a couple who, it turned out, had both walked the Coast to Coast and he had walked Offa’s Dyke Path in the 70s, so much reminiscing and comparing of notes!

A bit of sheep field walking, followed by a mile or so of country roads and a nice wooded climb up Bettws Dingle led to the first real climb of the day up Disgwylga Hill. This was quite steep so was taken in bite sized chunks!

More fieldwork followed which led to Gladestry and The Royal Oak. I faced something of a dilemma here, carry on for the final 7km or stop for a pint?

The Track and Trace register will tell no lies. You will find my name listed there and I make no apologies. A really friendly country pub that seemed well supported by its small population.

The Trail Blazers guide book, which I’m a massive fan of after first using it on the Coast to Coast walk, described the last 7km of today’s walk (on Hergest Ridge) as the finest stretch of the entire path – I’d struggle to disagree.

Incongruous Monkey Puzzle Trees
More wild ponies
On Hergest Ridge

Kington seems like every other Marches market town, struggling on having lost half of it’s pubs. Still nice to visit though. The Swan had the Everton game on as well. I would love to have visited 40 years ago though!

To Knighton tomorrow, with three decent climbs en route. This is the last of the ‘easy’ days until the last day into Prestatyn.

Birds update

For some reason, I haven’t remembered to mention the bids spotted each day so I’ll give a synopsis here and try to mention any highlights each day.

Day 1, Chepstow to Monmouth, Jays, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers stood out.

Day 2, Monmouth to Pandy, nothing remarkable really. Red Kite and a sublime Grey Heron, lifting out of a hidden brook 20 yards ahead of me, stick in the memory. A few Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch as well.

Day 3, Pandy to Hay on Wye, a really good look at a Wheatear (see below) and a couple of nice Stonechat.

Wheatear

Day 3 Pandy to Hay on Wye or ‘Take me to the ridge’

Me and Mary

Get on up was very much the objective of today’s walk. The first hour was a hard climb up to 450 metres. The gradient then eased up and it was fantastic walking along the top.

This was made easier by the fact that I had the best cooked breakfast of the week. Mary talked me into cooking it… well, I thought it was the least I could do after she dropped me off and picked me up from the pub the previous evening.

I also had the best night’s sleep I had had in ages. No light pollution and deathly silent. The beauty of the middle of nowhere!

After gaining the first level, the gradient eased and for the next three hours it was a ridge walk, eventually topping out at just over 700.

I thought of a poem extolling the virtues of the region:

The Lakes, I wouldn’t give two shakes

Snowdonia, don’t want to know you

But Black Mountains …

I couldn’t think of anything to rhyme with that though.

As it was a bit ‘one dimensional’ today I’ll let the pictures do more of the talking.

Wild ponies
Tryg point

A couple of miles outside of Hay on Wye I stopped to chat to a couple who were coming up the track as I was going down it. They told me they were trying to get back to their campsite before tea time. I explained that I was hoping to make Hay while the sun shined.

Well I liked it.

Hay itself seems to be a victim of its reputation. I have spotted about six obviously recent pubs that have now changed purpose. The result being that there are only about three proper pubs left.

Tomorrow promises to be an easier day. Not as far as the last three days and less ascent. Back to fields and stiles and woods after the excitement of the ridge walk today!

Day 2 Monmouth to Pandy or There’s something about Mary

After an excellent breakfast in The Punch House I headed off for day two, a little.later than usual. I hurried past the Robin Hood, just to be on the safe side.

After an hour or so road walking then flat edge of field stuff the path headed up into the woods. At the end of one climb there was a bench and I sat there for about ten minutes in complete silence – it was amazing.

An hour or so later I spotted a walker who was clearly doing the path in the opposite direction (he was carrying a guide book).

‘Enjoying the path?’ I asked

‘Yes, thanks’ he replied

‘Off to Monmouth then?’

‘Yes’…

I wandered on, thinking to myself, he should have his own chat show that fella.

After rounding a corner shortly afterwards, tomorrow’s challenge of the Black Mountains hove into view.

The path then headed through a cider orchard, growing apples for Thatchers. Talk about key workers!

The White Castle was one of the few notable sights on todays section. Built in the early 13th century to keep the Welsh in check.

After more, pretty uninteresting walking to be honest, I had a decision to make. The Hunters Moon Inn for a quick pint or carry on and finish the last 4km…

The landlord was concerned at the recent rise in Covid cases and suggested we might see pubs shut again soon – let’s hope not.

Refreshed, I carried on for Pandy. I must have climbed into one particular field at sheep feeding time as they all raced over to me.

Ten minutes easy strolling downhill led me to Pandy where Mary, my B&B host, had offered to pick me up.

What an amazing lady. She’s 83 and doesn’t advertise anymore and I only found her through the OD association. She barely took a breath from picking me up to dropping me off at the pub!

She told me a great story about two young ladies, one of whom was a vegan, who stayed with her last year and who she also dropped down to the Skyrryd Inn for dinner.

As I found out, Mary doesn’t drop you off outside the pub. She likes to take you in and introduce you!

Well, on this occasion Mary takes the two ladies into the bar and loudly announced; ‘This is Sam, and she’s a virgin!”

They were still laughing about it this evening…

Ask me anything about geraniums….

Or Mary’s Grandkids….

15 miles to Hay on Wye tomorrow. Climb up to 600 metres and then a ridge walk for 8 miles before dropping down to Hay. Should be great!

Offa’s Dyke Day 1

As first days go, that wasn’t too bad to be honest. As is traditional, they had saved a decent climb until right at the end (when your legs have had enough) but other than that it was OK.

Vegan whinge warning, I will be charitable and describe the breakfast as ‘underwhelming’. 2 hash browns, 2 vegan sausages, a thimble of baked beans and a fried tomato. ¬£8 added to the bill. I asked about toast but they said they didn’t have any vegan bread. I’d requested a vegan breakfast three weeks earlier and there was a massive Tesco 100 yards away…

Roll out was just before 9 am and it was a perfect walking day. No rain, no wind, not too hot. I spoke to an elderly lady on the Common just above Chepstow who was coming the other way. She advised me to be careful for the next couple of miles as it was quite tricky. I have to say, I felt she had under estimated my way-finding and navigational skills.

It was only a minor diversion and didn’t cost me much time or energy to get back on track but it did make me laugh.

What seems to have happened is that I walked down a field edge, where I noticed a man training his dog. As I approached the gate I hadn’t taken notice of the waymarker arrow and after a quick glance at the map it looked like a left turn was required. I therefore turned left and quickly arrived at a familiar looking gate….

It would appear I had walked down a field on one side of a hedge and then gone through a gate and walked back up the field on the other side of the hedge. Fortunately, the man with the dog didn’t seem to notice so I think I got away with it.

About an hour of woodland walking followed which brought me to one of the highlights of the first day – the Devil’s Pulpit overlooking Tintern Abbey.

Legend has it that the devil stood on the spot and tried to talk the monks into leaving the service of God. Henry VIII took a more direct approach and shut the place down.

Jays and a Green Woodpecker added some welcome avian interest after leaving the woods. I couldn’t believe how quiet they had been.

A decision had to be made shortly afterwards as there was a River Wye option or a ‘more fields’ option. Thinking I might spot a Kingfisher or two I went for the river option.

It was pleasant enough and offered up a nice spot to stop for lunch. No interesting bird life to report though. I was, however, taken aback by how much Himalayan Balsam had taken hold – it was everywhere. People probably (and understandably) think it looks pretty!

After reaching Bigsweir the paths rejoined and there was some more pleasant woodland walking and then a sharp climb uphill. While leaning on a gate to regain my breath, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye and there was a beautiful Treecreeper about 4 foot away. Thank God for profiterole vision!

Which reminds me, they’re looking to replace the fella who makes the giant √©clairs at the local bakery. They’re big chouxs to fill though.

The track then dropped down to Redbrook and shortly afterwards began the cruel, final climb. At the top, Kymin, was an impressive naval memorial.

It was then just a case of dropping down into Monmouth. After checking in and having a shower I ventured out to find a pub Dave, one of my golf (and local quiz scene) buddies had recommended. Unfortunately, they hadn’t re-opened post lockdown so I went in a pub over the road…. the pub in Star Wars (and the Rock and Fountain in Shrewsbury) were brought to mind!

About the same distance to Pandy tomorrow but with less climbing. The Skirrid Inn, Wales’s oldest pub, has my reservation for dinner!

Offa’s Dyke Path – 2km done!

Well, so far so good. No major issues with the trains down and, after being given the code for the door that was definitely texted to me (it wasn’t), I checked in and headed out to walk the first part of the path.

The Cicerone guidebook advised walking to the start via roads and a quiet footpath to avoid walking the same part of the path twice. This was sound advice and I was at the Sedbury Cliffs marker stone in under an hour.

With this part of the path being basically in the outskirts of Chepstow you’re effectively walking behind houses and on roads for the most part. The route planners have clearly tried to send you off on ‘proper’ footpaths where they can but it was obviously no easy task.

I did notice this masterful bit of planning on the walk back. What could possibly go wrong?

Just before arriving back in Chepstow Town centre you do briefly get a nice view of the old bridge ….

… and the castle…

I was ready for a pint after all my exertions (!) and The Three Tuns was really welcoming and Covid secure (I was reassured to read).

The Queens Head had stood out as the pub to visit on my pre-arrival research. It was very good too. The locals were very friendly and the Farmhouse Scrumpy was superb.

17 miles to Monmouth tomorrow with the Devil’s Pulpit, Tintern Abbey and The Monnow Bridge to look forward to. I hope they don’t have to send me a text to get my breakfast.

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