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Offa’s Dyke – Day 13

Bodfari to Prestattyn (12 Miles)

The forecast for the last day was not good, persistent rain expected from around lunch time.  There was no sign of the rain as I packed away my gear in fine sunshine.  In keeping with the previous twelve days, there was one last stiff climb to start the day and it made slow going as the weary legs protested at the early activity.  This was an mix of quiet lanes and field walking, and  I couldn’t resist stopping and enjoying the views as the path gained height.

Leaving Bodfari

Leaving Bodfari

 

A long road stretch had me gritting my teeth as the feet began to protest, but as ever, relief appeared in the form of a section across farmland, this time with a moorish feel to it.

Looking South

Looking South

Just before the descent into Rhuallt, I stopped to chat with a local dog walker, only for almost all the walkers that I had met over the previous week to appear at the same time.

We convoyed down the hill together towards the rather grim intrusion of the busy A55.  As we entered the village the promise of a pub was somewhat alluring, but the one marked on my guidebook map (I was using quite an old edition), had shut and was now a private house.

It was a fine start to the day

It was a fine start to the day

The rain started as I left Rhuallt, slowly at first then settling into a persistent drizzle.  This was another steep climb out of the village with some fine views to the south, but it was now batten down the hatches time with the waterproofs coming on.

Looking South again

Looking South again

The remainder of the day was just a seemingly endless plod, small back roads, fields and short moorland stretches passing by in a daze, although the remains of a massive water wheel did entice me to take one of the few photos from the afternoon.

Approaching the A55

Approaching the A55

It was with some relief that soon after, the path began its traverse along the top of the cliffs above Prestattyn.  I could almost see the finish below me, and knowing that I was so close to the finish, I almost cried when a long flight of steep and rather treacherous steps appeared to take the path higher up the cliffs.  It was a slow descent into Prestattyn, and my last place of abode the fantastic Plas Ifen Chapel was enroute.  Looking like a drowned rat I rang the bell.  I was due to camp in their garden, but with the dreadful rain I was offered the floor of a small wooden cabin which doubled as a wash room for campers.  I gratefully accepted the offer, meaning I wouldn’t have to be stricking a soaking tent in the morning, saving me a bit of time.

Leaving Rhuallt as the rain starts falling

Leaving Rhuallt as the rain starts falling

I sorted myself out then, without the backpack (this felt like cheating) I walked the last mile and a half to the finish.  The cafe there was open and as I entered the other groups of walkers were there warming up as well.  I ordered a pot of tea and sat down, as we congratulated each other on finishing the walk.

The Water Wheel

The Water Wheel

Day Rating – 8/10

A decent enough day but spoiled a bit by the rain after lunch.  In the end I was just glad to get to the finish and dry out.  I can’t complain about the weather though, in 13 days walking, this was the first properly wet day.  Not a bad return!  As ever the finish was a huge anticlimax, more so for having walked such a distance, but there was a nice sense of satisfaction that I had made it!

Above Prestattyn

Above Prestattyn

Trail Rating 120/130 (92%)

What a fantastic trail.  It started impressively and just kept getting better.  Despite the sore feet and tiredness, every single day had at least one point where I was walking with a big grin on my face.  The scenery and variety of landscapes that the trail passes through are so varied, and for those with a bit more time there is plenty of historical interest along the route.  The middle section is often described as “the boring bit” and, having walked the length of ODP it is easy to see why.  It is a bit unfair to describe it as “boring”, but in comparison to the rest of the walk its…well…meh.

At the end

At the end

I would, however, recommend following the canal from Pool Quay rather than using the official route.  Although I walked the waymarked route, in retrospect the can; may have been a much more enjoyable option (is that the purists I can hear with a sharp intake of breath!).

Two mountain ranges, countless hill forts, castles, interesting towns and villages, pubs (very important), beer (even more important) and some of the most stunning scenery.  The one regret is that I never had enough time to explore places like White Castle, Chirk Castle and some of the towns enroute, but I was walking to a tight schedule.

This was also my first long one (since the North Downs Way almost 10 years ago) and my first solo effort over this distance.  The route is streets ahead of any other trail I have walked in the UK and I think will be very difficult to top.  If you only ever walk one trail in the UK – this has to be at the top of the list!

Mr Drowned Rat

Mr Drowned Rat

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Offa’s Dyke – Day 12

Llandegla to Bodfari (18 Miles)

After the spectacular previous day, I didn’t really know what to expect from the penultimate days walking experience as I woke on a misty, gray and dull morning.

Llandegla

Llandegla

Once again I made an early start, so early in fact that despite the number of people on the campsite I seemed to be the only one moving as my porridge bubbled away on the stove.  As I left the site at around 7, there was some stirring from a few of the tents.  I quickly passed along the main street of Llandegla and was soon out into open pasture where some early route finding proved a little problematic, probably because I was still half asleep!

The view on the way up to Moel y Plas.  It was raining here!

The view on the way up to Moel y Plas. It was raining here!

The climb, once it started, was rapid up to a minor road and the mist, along with a fine rain came down as I approached Moel y Plas.  Although it was rather cold, this short steep climb warmed me up no end.  I was, however, cursing my luck as the views became lost due to the all enveloping pea-souper!  I stopped at a bench after the descent to relent and put on my waterproof.  It was cold, wet and miserable.  Still, I couldn’t really complain, the weather so far had been fantastic.

The sun appears near Clwyd Gate

The sun appears near Clwyd Gate

Pressing on through the mist over Moel Llanfair, where visibility was nonexistent and the mist wrapped itself round me like a cloak, I shortly approached Clwd Gate.  I passed through a gate and just before starting the short descent to the main road that I would soon be joining, there was a chink of light as the sun began to poke through the low cloud.

The top of the climb to Foel Fenlli, looking south

The top of the climb to Foel Fenlli, looking south

I had hoped that the pub marked on the map would be open, but, as with many of these places (it was a substantial motel/pub/carvery type place), it was up for sale and shut.

The next obstacle was crossing and walking with the busy A494, a steady stream of traffic flowing along it making it difficult to cross.  It was soon left behind though, and I sat for a while, watching as the cloud began to clear away leaving some blue sky.

Panorama from Foel Fenelli

Panorama from Foel Fenelli

As I continued on, coming towards me was a large group, all with heavy rucksacks and wet weather gear looking every inch the Duke of Edinburgh group.  It was, of course, the group from last the campsite at Llandegla.  We reached a gate at the same time and it just so happened that our routes would coincide for a while.  The usual conversation ensued, although a few of them couldn’t quite believe that I had managed to get two weeks worth of gear and equipment into my backpack!

Panorama from the Jubilee Tower

Panorama from the Jubilee Tower

As the sun came out with a vengeance, it was an almost vertical climb up the slopes to the lower ramparts of Foel Fenlli, one of the stiffest climbs of the whole walk.  I sat panting by a waymarker at the head of the climb, enjoying the views and watching the struggling group of D of E who had blindly followed me up it.  Their ascent was soon followed by a chorus of “You’re going the wrong way” from below as the rest of their group caught up and headed off down a lower path.

Looking back up the ridge to the Jubilee Tower

Looking back up the ridge to the Jubilee Tower

The effort was well worth it here.  Quite simply, the views were breathtaking.

The route, which used to go straight over the top of the fort, now contours round the side, and it made for easy and enjoyable walking, eventually arriving at a busy car park, an access point for the busy Moel Famau and its Jubilee Tower.

Moel Arthur - The official route once went straight over the top - honestly!

Moel Arthur – The official route once went straight over the top – honestly!

The path here was a hard surface and tough on the feet, not to mention the fact it was a slow grind up to the Jubilee Tower itself, which seemed to be in the middle of a face lift.  The good news was that I had had my first glimpse of the finish, Prestatyn clearly visible on the coast almost 20 miles away to the north.  I lingered at the very busy view-point for an hour or so enjoying the sun, although the breeze was rather cool.

A distant view of the Jubilee Tower

A distant view of the Jubilee Tower

What followed was a delectable ridge walk away from the day tripping crowds, the giant lump Snowdon visible off to the distant west, and only a few walkers out enjoying this part of the Clwydians, including a couple of Aussies walking southbound on their day 2.

The Panorama from the final hill fort of the walk

The Panorama from the final hill fort of the walk

Another hill fort appeared, this time Moel Arthur, as the Offa’s Dyke rollercoaster got back in full swing one final time.  The steep descents were far more tiring at this stage than the ascents, although once again I was glad that the route had somewhat sensibly been diverted round, rather than straight over the top of the stupidly sheer slope in front of me!

That conquered, it was onto the next fort, up through the impressive Penycloddiau.  Even more impressive is the fact the fort has its own audio trail which can be downloaded.

Leaving the hills behind and entering farmland again

Leaving the hills behind and entering farmland again

It was a long steady descent into Bodfari, the path giving a final surprise as it contoured around the final slope to give some lingering views west.  Once at the lower level it felt strange to be passing through farmland on the approach to the village after spending so much of the day high up on open hills.

The last few yards into Bodfari

The last few yards into Bodfari

My campsite, the old railway station, was 1/4 mile or so off the path.  I slumped on a bench and just sat for 20 minutes before pitching the tent.  Eventually I made it to the pub (who are installing a bunkhouse), where all the faces from the walk so far appeared to be having a meal, unsurprisingly as this was really the natural stop for a last push to Prestattyn.

Day Rating – 10/10

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better.  Well, maybe not better, but this certainly maintained the astonishing quality that has been a key feature of this trail.  It was another tough day, but the effort was more than worth it.   Once again lucky with the weather.  Early on I thought I was in for it – rain and mist, but it all cleared just in time to give me an astonishing walk over the Clwydian Range. What a trail!

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Offa’s Dyke – Day 11

Wern Isaf Farm to Llandegla (9 Miles)

I had purposely put in a short day towards the end of the walk, more as a rest day than anything else.  It meant that I could take my time in the morning and set off late, with no time pressure for the rest of the day.

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I woke early, as usual, to a glorious morning and pottered about, having breakfast as the sun streamed in through the porch of the tent.  It was a stiff climb back up to the path, right under the huge mound that Castel Tinas sits upon.  It was a cloudless sky and for once an elongated section of road walking was nothing other than a pleasure.  The views were open and airy and ahead there were tantalising glimpses of the limestone cliffs close to Worlds End.

Looking North

Looking North

Eventually the road was left behind for a rough farm track which led the path right under the lee of the limestone cliffs.  Past a farm the route narrowed and probably the biggest surprise of the whole route appeared.  This section is nothing short of incredible.  The path follows a route under the cliffs across a major scree slope and is utterly spectacular.  The path is narrow across a fairly steep slope with wide open views.  Wow.  Just wow.

Looking back at the castle

Looking back at the castle

I pass a large group of runners close to Worlds End who are strung out over a fair old distance as they dribble by in dribs and drabs as the path leaves the scree and returns to a pleasant meander through woodland, although I am wishing the last section could have gone on for much longer.

There's a big surprise around the corner

There’s a big surprise around the corner

As an aside here, this is what I have always felt the West Highland Way should be like.  Crossing the side of mountains at height with panoramic views, instead of crawling along the floor of a glen following what was an old trunk road.  However I digress.

The highlight of the day (and the path!)

The highlight of the day (and the path!)

I took a break at worlds end, almost tempted to take off the boots and have a paddle in the ford that streamed across the road.  There was a sharp climb now, following the road through the woodland to where it burst out onto moorland.  Here a couple of mountain bikers appeared asking me if I was local!  Erm…no.

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The route had turned east here and there were some fine views before the path turned off over a fairly mundane board walk towards a large forestry plantation, now a large and busy mountain biking centre.

The route is criss crossed by bike trails (for the use of mountain bikers only), as the trail descends into Llandegla and I stop to have a chuckle at the rather obvious group of squaddies who look to be on an adventure training exercise.

The milestone at Worlds End

The milestone at Worlds End

As I left the forest, only a couple of km from Llandegla, I was passed by a couple of Belgian walkers.  They had started out from Oswestry and we chatted about long distance paths on the continent for a while.  From there it was a leisurly stroll down to the campsite in Llandegla.  I had arrived around 2 pm, meaning I had had plenty of time to set up and relax, although there was a large school group there already, soon to be followed by a substantial group of Duke of Edinburgh award kids.

The waymarker at the boardwalk

The waymarker at the boardwalk

In the mean time, I wandered up to the local shop to resupply for the last couple of days, then sat and read by the tent until the pub opened, where I was joined by the two blokes (and dog) from Mellington Hall for a pint (or two).

Day Rating – 10/10

Although a short day, this was quite possibly my favourite section of the walk.  The path to Worlds End is nothing short of spectacular.  Once again Offa’s Dyke continues to surprise and engage.  Fantastic

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Offa’s Dyke – Day 10

Trefonen to Wern Isaf Farm (15 miles approx)

I had spent a comfortable night in the beer garden at the brewery and woke up early, taking my time to pack up and having a leisurely breakfast at one of the picnic tables.  There was no access to a toilet, but no problem, there was a PC marked on the map a few KM up the trail at Oswestry Race Course.  Happy Days.

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They had an outdoor tap, meaning I could happily refill my water bladder, so of I went, happy as larry at 7am.

This was back to the undulating landscape that so encapsulates the ODP, following the earthwork closely.  There was some road work down a steep hill past a quite enchanting B&B, then a long steady climb through more fine woodland, the far edge of racecourse wood.  It had been another grey morning, and although there was no rain, the woodland had a dark brooding feel to it.  Eventually I emerged at the ruins of the old grandstand at the racecourse and went off route to find the public lavvy.

Looking towards Chirk Castle

Looking towards Chirk Castle

They had gone.  This is what comes of using an old edition of the guide book.  Oops.

Lets just say that going al fresco isn’t much fun.

After this a small group emerged from a farm just as I passed, they had been walking Offa’s Dyke over several weekends and were now nearing the end, with only one more weekend to go.  They were only heading through to Chirk before heading back to London.

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Once again the path is all ups and downs including a visit to “dirty dingle” which had been a major obstacle up until 1986.  You can well see how it got its name with the steep banks and stream at the bottom.  It must have been a formidable little  section of the path to cross.

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Soon the ramparts of Chirk Castle came into view and I decided to pay a visit to the castle.  I’ve never been so happy to see the sign “tea room” and I spent an enjoyable hour or so with a baked potato and watching a group of school kids hitting each other with big sticks (fortunately said big stick were removed before tears were shed).

Leaving the, there was a long stretch of road walking – at one point I was nearly run over by a very fast moving bin lorry – he wasn’t very impressed when I just stood in the middle of the road pointing out that there wasn’t enough room for the both of us at that speed, and he might like to stop at a gap in the hedge where I could get out the way.   It was that or attempt to become part of the hedge.

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I crossed the A5, getting a round of applause from a passing van driver, then caught my first glimpse of the Llangollen canal.

I made it to the tow path and suddenly there were people everywhere, on boats, on foot, on bikes and on tractors.  There were sneaky glimpses of Telfords bridge and I was getting rather excited.  I have always wanted to cross the bridge and now was my chance, albeit on foot.  I have a reasonable head for heights, but crossing on the narrow towpath (with the pack on it would have been difficult to pass) and the fact there was no barrier on the water side, was a rather freaky experience.  Still it was an ambition realised and I’m so glad to have crossed it this way.

View from the aqueduct

View from the aqueduct

I stopped at the Telford Inn on the other side and had a meal before starting on the last leg to Wern Isaf farm, just above Llangollen.  The canal was left behind with a short walk along a busy main road, then I was passing through what looked like an expensive estate, including one place that was liberally supplied with CCTV cameras.  It was here a seemingly endless climb started through thick woodland, and while it was another enjoyable section of path, it was very difficult to gauge progress.  Suddenly the path burst from the trees, climbing up even higher.  It was at this point my pack decided to decant most of the tent that I had stowed in the outer storage compartments onto the ground.  As I started swearing at my pack and telling it to “behave itself” I suddenly realised that there was a young family watching me from the viewpoint ten metres or so above me.

Oops.

The view point where ODP meets the Panorama Walk

The view point where ODP meets the Panorama Walk, click to enlarge

I climbed the last few metres to what was the Panorama Walk above Llangollen and once again, I was just blown away.  The views here were astounding, and with the ruins of Castel Tinas dominating the way ahead it was a perfect tonic at the end of what had been another tiring day.  The irrepressible grin returned and I walked along the road laughing and shaking my head.  What a finish.

Dropped down to the campsite, another lovely location, and pitched for the night.

Day Rating – 9/10

Looking towards Castel Tinas

Looking towards Castel Tinas

Another day in which I was given a huge surprise.  The first half was a nice enough walk without being outstanding.  Chirk Castle, the aqueduct and the Panorama Walk made this day though and the trail has never failed to have me astounded at the end of each day.  Special.

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Offa’s Dyke – Day 9

Pool Quay to Trefonen (14 miles)

Another late start this morning, mainly due to the landlady being at a wedding the previous evening.  I was glad of the extra rest for my feet, though, and the fact I didn’t have to spend an hour or so sorting my kit out.

On the canal

On the canal

In a way I was lucky with the walk ahead, basically flat all the way to Llanymynech along the Severn Valley and back with the canal.  The walk through to Four Crosses was eminently forgettable, probably because in terms of scenery I had been totally spoiled for the previous 8 days.  On a fine morning this would have been very pleasant, but it was dull overcast and my overriding memory was one of lots of cows and lots of stiles, one even without any sort of step, leaving me to clamber over what essentially was a wooden barrier.  There were one or two dog walkers out and about but not much else.  I lost my way slightly on the way into Four Crosses, but was soon back on the path having rectified the mistake.  I was looking forward to stopping in the pub for a breather, but had knocked off the 5 miles or so rather quickly (the feet were much better this morning) meaning it hadn’t opened yet.

Disused Lock near Llanymynech

Disused Lock near Llanymynech

There is a new bypass to Four Crosses and the Path crosses it via a very impressive underpass, complete with a fantastic mural.  I wish I had got the camera out now!

Soon I was back on the canal, and this was a much more interesting and varied walk to earlier, making me regret slightly that I hadn’t followed the canal all the way from Pool Quay, something that I had been considering.

The view south over the Severn Valley

The view south over the Severn Valley

I stopped off in the pub at Llanymynech and sampled a couple of pints of Offa’s Gold, with my boots off.  I think it is quite telling how many photos you take on a walk, and, until I reached the canal, I hadn’t taken one.  That being said, I was grateful for the easy walking and the rest it provided.

The tree tried to eat the acorn!

The tree tried to eat the acorn!

After lunch, and re-stocking on supplies at the shop next to the pub, there was a complete change in the character of the walk.  Suddenly there was a stiff climb up to Asterley Rocks.  A steep road was followed by an even steeper narrow track.  Around halfway up was a fallen tree.  The only way past with a pack on was to crawl under on hands and knees – I’m just glad there were no witnesses, especially the large group of Scouts that passed me coming down the hill a few minutes later.

At the end of another steep climb

At the end of another steep climb

There was a fantastic view point at the top looking South over the Severn Valley.  This wasn’t such a bad walk after all!

The view from Moelydd Uchaf

The view from Moelydd Uchaf

The path wound its way round the edge of a golf course, through some lovely woodland, with the surface getting a little muddy here and there.  It had obviously rained heavily overnight.  Another steep descent followed, and at this point a metal national trail acorn, which had been attached to the trunk of a tree, had been virtually engulfed by the bark.  An even bigger surprise was the crossing of two disused, but undismantled railways.  This was followed by quite a long road walk to Nantmawr with a stiff climb up to Moeldd Uchaff.

More from Moelydd Uchaf

More from Moelydd Uchaf

This was close to the end of the day, and once again the ODP had put a huge grin on my face.  It was windy, and it wasn’t too warm, but really the view was incredible over 360°.  From there it wasn’t far to Trefonen and my stop for the night, the Offa’s Dyke Brewery where I pitched in the beer garden.  Unfortunately I had to make do with my own food as they didn’t serve grub on a Sunday night.  Bummer.

The last from Moelydd Uchaf

The last from Moelydd Uchaf

I made up for it though by drinking a few pints of their Grim Reaper.  Lovely pint, but the name says it all!

 

Day Rating – 8/10

Carving in Trefonan

Carving in Trefonan

First half of the day was easy, but uninspiring.  Great second half to the walk though, which more than made up for the boring bit.  Once again this trail really surprised me.

 

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Offa’s Dyke – Day 8

Mellington Hall to Pool Quay (14 miles)

After the previous days exertions I decided to be rather tardy and have a late start.  I also booked in for breakfast at Mellington Hall, a hotel on the site (and the location of the bar for the previous evening).  It was dry as I took the tent down, and there was also the addition of another tent – two men and a dog, who were just setting out on the North section of the ODP.

The old oak and petrol pumps at the blue bell

The old oak and petrol pumps at the blue bell

Sorry guys, I can remember the dogs name, Spencer, (who I would discover a few days later doesn’t like hats), but your names escape me now!  I must apologise for that.

The tent came down and I went for breakfast in a rather lavish setting (I paid for it – it was a rather expensive breakfast) as the rain came on.  I took my time and as luck would have it, the rain had just about gone off by the time I set off.

Near Montgomery

Near Montgomery

Half past nine was my latest start so far, but the way looked relatively flat (certainly by the last 7 days standard) and I was looking forward to an easy day.  It was a short and gentle walk to Brompton Crossroads, the location of a rather unusual pub, the Blue Bell, complete with ancient petrol pumps nestled underneath an even older Oak tree.

Although the rain had gone the sky was still grey, with the sun struggling to break through.  The route bypasses Montgomery, a place that I would like to have visited, even if it was just to look round the castle ruins, but instead I confined my activities to walking along hedgerows, skirting fields and crossing a ridiculous number of stiles.  All pleasant enough, but just not in the same league as what had passed.  For once the trail was quite busy (more than 1 person out on it) with dog walkers and ramblers from Montgomery, the busiest I had seen any of the trail so far.  Some unusual ruined buildings were passed at Rownal (old stables perhaps), just as I passed a hiker who had just completed Glyndwrs Way, and was now heading for Chepstow on Offa’s Dyke.  The Camlad was crossed and immediately there was a short sharp climb (there was an Aussie here who was carrying virtually nothing and covering 30 miles or so in a day – I hope he was using B&B’s!) with the terrain becoming a little more undulating.  I made a decision to make the short diversion into Forden and stopped at the pub to find the British Lions playing their first test in Australia.  In the end I sat down with a beer and watched the second half – happy days.

The view back over the Camlad

The view back over the Camlad

I left the pub and returned to the trail, positively steaming up a long steady climb first along a road then through some fine woodland.  A picnic table was a very nice surprise at Beacon Ring, an old hill fort at the top of the climb (around 4km of it) and I stopped to rest my now very sore feet while enjoying the wide open views towards Welshpool.  The weather was being unpredictable now as well.  To the south rain clouds were releasing their contents with some relish, and there was a very large black cloud heading in my general direction.   By this point I had around 4 miles left to walk, most of it downhill.  The descent to Buttington was nothing short of purgatory, with my feet feeling as if I was walking on hot coals, and more worryingly, my big toes on both feet going numb.  The views were fine, but I wasn’t really enjoying this section of the walk.

P1020558Eventually I reached Buttington and crossed the Severn by way of a very narrow road bridge that carried a major trunk route across it.  That in itself was a bit of a hairy experience.

At Beacon Ring

At Beacon Ring

The route now followed the river through pastureland, and as I entered a large field a group of young bulls came zooming over.  In the end I had 15 or so beasts following behind me for the best part of a mile, most of them trying to eat the waterproof cover on my rucksack.  It must have looked a sight from the road (I was in more danger of being licked to death than anything else).  Eventually I left the cortege behind at a kissing gate crossed the road, and took to the very pretty towpath alongside the Shropshire Union Canal.

Down to Buttington

Down to Buttington

From there it was only a short walk to my second night indoors at the pub in Pool Quay, the Powis Arms.  I had booked the room ages ago, but the landlady seemed genuinely surprised at me turning up.  There was a wedding on, and she apparently assumed I was a guest at the wedding.  Still, I got a room and a decent meal for the night.  Of more concern was the state of my feet.  They were throbbing incessantly, and even a good long soak in the shower didn’t ease them off.  If they were still like this in the morning I would have a pretty big decision to make.  In the mean time, beer contributed to the pain relief, and I went to bed hoping that a late start and another “easy” day would help in the morning.

The reception committee

The reception committee

Day Rating – 8/10

The sun came out at the Canal

The sun came out at the Canal

Often described as the boring bit.  Was a pleasant enough walk today, gentle and pastoral without the striking views that have been a feature of the trail so far.  On another day I may have visited Mongomery, but my itinerary didn’t allow it.  A fine end to the day with the climb and views from Beacon Ring, although I was really running on empty on the way down.

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Offa’s Dyke – Day 7

Knighton to Mellington Hall (17 miles)

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The view south over Knighton

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.

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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.

The view west from Panpunton Hill

The view west from Panpunton 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 trig on Cwm-sanaham hill

The trig on Cwm-sanaham hill

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.

Offa's Dyke stretching into the distance.

Offa’s Dyke stretching into the distance.

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.

Half Way!

Half Way!

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.

A very appropriate old road sign at Churchtown.  The path was more like 1 in 5

A very appropriate old road sign at Churchtown. The path was more like 1 in 5

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.

Approaching the final descent into Mellington Hall

Approaching the final descent into Mellington Hall

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 view North

The view North

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!

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