Offa’s Dyke – Day 7
Knighton to Mellington Hall (17 miles)
This stage marked a number of Landmarks on the ODP. I would pass the official halfway point and I would also be swapping guide books, passing from the South to the North editions! There was also the small matter of this being the infamous “switchback” section, which is supposedly by far the hardest (and one of the best) sections on the trail.
Once again I was on the trail early, setting off before 7 a.m. The site at Panpunton was pleasant enough with simple, but good facilities. The most important thing though was that it was right on the path. It also meant that the rather imposing looking hill that was right in front of me on arrival the previous evening would have to be walked up without a warm up. So it was, as I left the campsite, walked a few metres along the road, passed through a gate and into the stiffest climb of the walk so far. With a heavy pack on this was hard slow going, but it meant plenty of opportunity to rest and enjoy the views rapidly opening up over Knighton and the Southern part of the path.
It took a while, but eventually I stopped to rest breathlessly at the top of the slope. The view was to set the scene for the day. There was still a little uphill work to do, but now it was easier going on open ground towards Panpunton Hill. This was a section I walked with a grin on my face. It was cool, dry and slightly hazy and the dyke was a clear companion on the hill side to the east, and expansive views west. The numerous Ravens seemed to be enjoying the light breeze, hanging in the air like (not so) little black kites on a string. A Red Kite, obviously curious, flew just a few feet over my head on a magical little section of trail which passes through a Cwm then up to a trig point at Cwm-sanaham Hill.
Here you get a preview of the route North, the dyke clearly prominent over the constantly rippling landscape. A steep descent followed on a narrow path before a short diversion avoids a short sharp climb that follows the dyke and was the original route.
The route soon turned onto a byway, and for a while it reminded me a little of the Southern end of the Ridgeway until a road section interrupted. This was followed to Springhill Farm, which offered B&B and camping facilities. There was now a steady descent into the Clun Valley along a track, gloriously lined by flowering hawthorn. The promise of a pub in Newcastle couldn’t tempt me to make a diversion into the village, a round trip that would have added on around 2km to the day, so I took a good long break on a comfortable stile at Church Road, overlooking the valley I had just crossed.
The rollercoaster started in earnest now. Crossing the road the way became a steep climb, plateauing at the official halfway point (88.5 miles gone) for a short distance before a near vertical climb had me virtually scrambling up the dyke to leave me breathless and gasping at the top of the hill. Several ups and downs followed including a climb through some very pleasant woodland, then bursting out on even more fantastic views. Eventually I reached a road at Hergan, crossed it and promptly collapsed on the convenient bank next to the path.
The Dyke pays no heed to the lie of the land here and just ploughs straight over anything in its way, the path following blindly. At this point in proceedings ODP shares its route with the Shropshire Way and I bumped into a couple walking in the opposite direction (the first of the day) who were the first I had seen on the path. I gratefully took the opportunity to stop and have a chat, all the while eying another steep looking slope that they had just descended. Eventually I had to climb it, slow progress all the way to Churchtown (just a cottage and a church) less than 1km away, where I took another long and much needed rest.
The walkers who have passed me the past few days caught me again here and we set off together up the penultimate hill, the steepest of the lot. Bloody near vertical and a tough one to take at the end of the day. There was still one more hill to go though, after a steep descent and the last one, no more than 2km from Churchtown and by no means the worst hill of the day, was the one that nearly killed me. I struggled on to the top of the final descent towards Mellington Hall and sat for 20 minutes just admiring the view, and summoning up the motivation to walk the final 2.5km.
A short road walk was followed by the dyke plunging through some woodland, and suddenly there was the campsite on my right hand side with no clear entrance. As is the way when you’re knackered I had to walk past the site to gain entry. Fortunately as I got there a groundsman spotted me and took me down to the backpacking pitches in the back of his pick up saving me a fair walk.
The place is a big commercial site, and was probably the best value on the whole route. £5 for the pitch and right next to a fantastic shower block with washing and drying facilities. It was only a short hobble to the bar too!
Day Rating – 10/10
I was going to dock a mark for this day being a complete bastard, but in retrospect it really doesn’t deserve it. Simultaneously the best and the hardest days trail walk I have ever experienced. Hard, hard graft, especially with a heavy pack on the back, but the views were constantly astounding. This trail has been consistently good from the start and exceeded all expectations. I slept well that night!