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Month: June 2016

19. Diwrnod Aros; Waiting Day

19. Diwrnod Aros; Waiting Day

I woke up this morning in Kington eager to make it to Knighton in good time. But then persistent showers reminded me of my ‘waterproof’ jacket situation, i.e. that I didn’t have one. I had one in my pack that was labelled as such, but by now know better thanks to the experiences of the day before yesterday.

So I ordered a new jacket and sent back the offending one. And here is where the logistics of hiking solo and unsupported come in to play. I had to get it delivered to somewhere I would be in the next few days. I chose Knighton. My intention had been to walk to Knighton today, wait for it to be delivered there tomorrow and then be on my way straight away. I wasn’t counting on showers today though. And nor had I factored in where I was going to watch Wales v Russia in Euro 2016.

After a bit of thought, I made the decision to avoid walking today since I had no rain protection. Instead,  I decided to walk to Knighton tomorrow to pick up my jacket (please let it be delivered!), watch Wales v Russia, camp there tomorrow night and be on my merry way Tuesday morning. Good plan? Yes, I hope so. Complicated? Yes, very.

 

On a different and bit more emotional note, it’s Father’s Day today, which is never easy for anyone who has lost their dad. I don’t have much more to say beyond what I’ve said in the ‘About‘ page above, but every step of this walk is dedicated to my dad, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012.

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18. Llannewydd – Ceintyn; Newchurch – Kington

18. Llannewydd – Ceintyn; Newchurch – Kington

Step Count: 27,255

Distance: 8.78 miles

Max Altitude: 419 m

Min Altitude: 159 m

Height Gain: 382 m

Height Loss: 476 m

I started where I had left off yesterday, at St Mary’s Church, but considerably drier. The weather was fine and I felt good. After a cup of coffee and biscuit, I set off.

The first challenge was the sharp ascent up Disgwylfa, a hill and common land. It was surprisingly steep but the views made up for it. Two kites soared and jousted high above me.

In about a kilometre I met two Welsh-speaking hikers, Aled and Dafydd, and we spent ages putting the world to rights. They were doing the Offa’s Dyke Path from north to south, and raising money for the charity Mind. So we compared notes as to what was coming up on the ODP in each direction. Bizarrely, Aled had seen one of my tweets about Walking Wales/Cerdded Cymru a few weeks ago, showing what a small world this really is. I love meeting and chatting with other hikers on the trail. But meeting ones who spoke my mother tongue really made my day.

My next pit stop was to be at Gladestry as it’s the only pub between Hay and Kington. I couldn’t wait to get there. I was looking forward to a nice coffee, water and possibly cake (OK, definitely cake). I strode in to town and there was The Royal Oak inviting me in.

Fantastic! In I went…

Oh.

A closed pub when it’s the only pub for miles is a disheartening thing. So I did the next best thing I could. I sat inside the pub’s smoking shelter, got my Jetboil out and made myself dinner instead.

Cous cous and a latte it was. I feasted on my banquet with my shoes and socks off and with my feet elevated inside the smoking shelter. Don’t tell me I don’t know what haute cuisine means! Puzzled village folk drove past with concerned expressions. But I just savoured every bite.

After packing up, I set off for Hergest Ridge. This could only mean one thing – an ascent. But with my belly full and the sun shining, I made light work of it.


I had a few kilometres to walk across the Ridge to Kington. The entire trail was mine. Not a single other soul was there. I felt on top of the world.

And with that I arrived in Kington, my home for the night.

17. Y Gelli Gandryll – Yr Eglwys Newydd; Hay-on-Wye – Newchurch

17. Y Gelli Gandryll – Yr Eglwys Newydd; Hay-on-Wye – Newchurch

Step Count: 22,468
Distance: 6.93 miles
Max Altitude: 344 m
Min Altitude: 67 m
Height Gain: 372 m
Height Loss: 211 m

After days of frustrating rest, I couldn’t wait to get back out on the trail again. My intention was to take it easy, see how the feet and legs felt and not put pressure on myself.

Before I left lovely Hay, I had a quick coffee while I checked the forecast. 30% chance of light showers. Excellent! Off I went on the Offa’s Dyke Path.

The trail took me over the Wye, which looked swollen and fierce after days of rain.

The next kilometre or so led me on a path next to the river before reaching a crop field.

Take a good look at that last photo because that was the last I saw of a dry sky for the rest of the day. A few moments after I took that picture, the heavens opened and it stayed like that for the remainder of my walk.

What was that about 30% chance of light showers? How about a 100% chance of thick driving rain instead? It proved, if nothing else, that the weather forecast in this part of the world belongs in the ‘comedy fiction’ section of your local bookshop.

I struggled to get my waterproofs on speedily. I may as well not have bothered with my ‘waterproof’ coat though. It didn’t take long for my Rab Fuse jacket to give way until my top half was drenched (I have complained to Rab and asked for a refund so more on that in another post, I’m sure). My shoes let in so much rain that I felt I was walking with two buckets of water on my feet. My Berghaus trousers performed admirably though, which is something.

I carried on walking through fields, following the waymarks as best I could from underneath my hood. I took a left turn. Uh-oh….a field of livestock….of the bovine type….with horns, big horns. There was no way I was risking it, just no way. I turned back, my feet squelching. I climbed over into a different field and started walking despite the warnings not to.

Mercifully, I had circumnavigated the livestock. However, where I had landed looked to be a pasture saturated with cow urine and diarrhoea and I was up to my ankles in it.

Perfect! After trudging carefully so as not to sink any further into the foul gloop, I stepped into a field of potatoes, which was altogether a nicer experience, I can tell you.

I just needed to get to Newchurch, that was all. But there was another 5.5 miles to go. I didn’t want to think about the state of my wet feet inside my wet shoes so I put some music on to distract me. From then on I sloshed from muddy field to muddy field under dark rainy skies. I even took my jacket off after a while. I mean, what was the point?

And finally after hours of footslogging with a cup full of water in my shoes, I spotted the most wonderful sight on the horizon – a spire! The church at Newchurch was calling to me like a choir of angels! But wait…why would I – a non-believer – be excited at the prospect of going to church? Well, simply because I knew that St Mary’s in the village is open all day long to weary (and soaking wet) travellers like myself. For a donation you can help yourself to teas, coffees, biscuits and cake. And more importantly on a day like today, shelter from the elements.


I swear to you, reader, that I’ve never been so happy to see a religious establishment in my entire life. It was magical! I almost cried with happiness. I dried myself off as best I could and wrung out my socks while the kettle boiled. I made a hefty donation and signed the church book with a shaky hand. I examined my kit (not great). I examined my feet (even worse).

Hiking can be so glamorous.

14. Diwrnod Anaf; Injury Day

14. Diwrnod Anaf; Injury Day

I sit in Hay-on-Wye with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, pride, on the other, frustration.

Pride because my fundraising total for Pancreatic Cancer UK has now gone beyond the £1000 mark. Walking Wales only started on the 1st of June, so I’m insanely happy to have reached this milestone. It means an awful lot to me. And frustration because of the injuries to my feet and legs which are preventing me from carrying on and have forced me to take a rest day (probably two) sooner than I had intended to.

The donations and words of encouragement naturally spur me on and motivate me to get my boots on immediately and start walking again.

A few moments later though, I pause and remember that Walking Wales is a challenge, not a race. If I don’t look after myself now, I’ll never make it to the end. And that’s the moment when I banish the negative thoughts, start being kind to myself and remember what an awesome challenge this is….

13. Llanddewi Nant Hodni – Y Gelli Gandryll;  Llanthony – Hay-on-Wye

13. Llanddewi Nant Hodni – Y Gelli Gandryll;  Llanthony – Hay-on-Wye

Step Count: 30,879

Distance: 11.97 miles

Max Altitude: 547 m

Min Altitude: 103 m

Height Gain: 371 m

Height Loss: 502 m

It had been a soggy night in the Black Mountains. The rain had poured, pit pat, on Clark Tent non-stop. But I had been safe and warm inside nonetheless.

I awoke hungry and headed towards Treats, a local cafe/shop, to see if there was any chance of breakfast. I was in luck – scrambled eggs it was. And Sue, the woman who runs Treats, was kind enough to pack me on my way with a huge slab of Apple cake too.

The weather forecast wasn’t great; showers all day long were promised. Hatterall Ridge was shrouded in low level cloud.

The Offa’s Dyke Path goes across the Ridge for several miles. But with such bad weather and poor visibility, I made the decision to take the road route via Capel y Ffin to Hay. When hiking or backpacking alone, the only person you can rely on is yourself and you’d be mad to put yourself at risk if there’s a sensible alternative.

A mile out of Llanthony, the rain started. In Welsh we say that “it’s raining old women with sticks”. I’ve always loved that idiom. Out came the waterproofs and on went the rain cover on my pack. I continued walking.

I didn’t think of much. I just concentrated on the rhythm of walking. I saw nobody on foot, just people passing by in cars. I had no signal and I couldn’t take my phone out for photos as it was too wet. Besides, there’s only so many photos you can take of rainy pastures and sodden sheep.

In about four miles I came to Capel y Ffin (which means chapel of the border), which is a tiny village consisting of a church and couple of houses.

The rain started coming down in blankets. At the same time a yappy Jack Russell dog ran out of the nearby house and started barking at my feet. In such a situation, what do you do?

I hid.

My sanctuary was an old school red phonebox. The box had plenty of inhabitants but I was the only human to have been inside it in some time by the looks.

The owners came out to grab the ill-tempered little dog. There was silence. I tried to remember the last time I’d been inside a red phonebox. I couldn’t.


In a few minutes, I started on my path again. About a mile out of Capel y Ffin, I sat down at the side of the road to eat the apple cake Sue had given me. I had walked about five miles or so and figured I had another six to go, or thereabouts.

I put some music on and I walked to the beat. The road ascended and ascended as I reached Penybegwn (Hay Bluff) to my right. And my phone sprang back into life with numerous social media messages that put a smile on my rainy face.

Then began the long descent into Hay itself. The Offa’s Dyke Path joined in from the Ridge but I continued on the road as the waymarks which should have lead me through fields into the town were not there.

Quite suddenly, stabbing foot pain started, so I walked on carefully after taking painkillers. But then the familiar twang at the top of my left quadricep happened, again, and there I was hobbling down the hill at a snail’s pace.

A car pulled up next to me. A friendly,  concerned woman was at the wheel.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, fine, no problem!”

“Are you sure you don’t want a lift?”

“No, no, honestly. I am fine”

“For God’s sake, you can’t walk! Get in!”

And so I got in the car and she drove me the last quarter of a mile into Hay. I was overwhelmed by gratitude.

After food, an enormous coffee and more painkillers, I limped to a pub to watch some of Euro 2016. Republic of Ireland versus Sweden, to be exact.

I took my socks off (discreetly) and assessed the damage (also discreetly). Definite plantar fasciitis, but worse, my little toe was in a bad way and purple. So I cleaned it, dressed it and carried on watching the football.

Looks like another rest day tomorrow.

12. Y Pandy – Llanddewi Nant Hodni; Pandy – Llanthony

12. Y Pandy – Llanddewi Nant Hodni; Pandy – Llanthony

 

 

Step Count: 21,662

Distance: 6.12 miles

Max Altitude: 532 m

Min Altitude: 116 m

Height Gain: 465 m

Height Loss: 341 m

Still excited by Wales Euro 2016 win, I woke with a smile and had a hearty plate of scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast.

It was a beautiful day with blue skies over the Black Mountains. My intention was to get some good miles in while the going was good.

I left the campsite and headed north on Offa’s Dyke Path, crossing the main Manchester to Cardiff railway line. From the get go it was a relentless ascent. And you know how I feel about those ascents. I worked my way up slowly but surely.

The aim was Hatterall Hill. I found the bogeyman staring back at me on my way up.

The jagged Ysgyryd Fawr (Skirrid) mountain was suddenly behind me after being on my left hand side for most of yesterday. The view was stunning. Here’s the southernmost trig point on Hatterall Hill with Ysgyryd Fawr in the background –

The Offa’s Dyke Path stays on Hatterall Ridge for many more miles. Mountain sheep and shaggy wild ponies were everywhere.


And it was then that the dark storm clouds began to emerge from the west and I felt blobs of rain on my face. I hadn’t seen a single person on the trail all day bar one man a little earlier. I didn’t want to be caught in a storm alone on the ridge so decided to descend to Llanthony on a path that trailed off. It took me a while as I was going slowly in order to protect my knees.


By the time I got to the bottom the storm clouds seemed to have passed. Sod’s Law, but as a solo trekker, I made the best decision at the time.

Besides, descending to the valley below gave me the opportunity to look around Llanthony Priory, which is somewhere I hadn’t visited before.


And I also visited the Llanthony Priory Hotel cellar bar. It’s a quirky little place, full of character. But when the men next to me started talking about shooting water buffalo, I finished my coffee and left.

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It was time to set up camp.

Tomorrow – Hay-on-Wye.

11. Llanfihangel-Ystum-Llywern – Y Pandy; Llanfihangel-Ystern-Llewern – Pandy

11. Llanfihangel-Ystum-Llywern – Y Pandy; Llanfihangel-Ystern-Llewern – Pandy


Step Count: 27,140

Distance: 10.39 miles

Max Altitude: 219 m

Min Altitude: 53 m

Height Gain: 385 m

Height Loss: 374 m

I woke up excited – today was the day that Wales were playing Slovakia, 58 years since their last appearance in a major tournament. Now, if that wasn’t motivation to get to Pandy at the double, I didn’t know what was.

I set off across soggy ground, soaked after yesterday evening’s downpour. The storm hadn’t quite cleared the mugginess but it was a little cooler and breezier than the past week. Colours everywhere were vibrant.

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After passing by a Gwent Young Farmers Club event, the Offa’s Dyke entered a series of crop fields. The going was quite tough at times and I wished that I’d had a machete to thrash my way through.

 


Conscious of the time and the need to be in position (i.e. inside a pub with a telly) for the Wales game, I was keen to push on. However, this sign at the Treadam Barn piqued my curiosity.

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So I stopped for a coffee and glass of water, plus they gave me a complimentary Welsh cake (win!). Treadam Barn is a restored 15th century oak-framed barn.  There was no charge, just the request for a donation. The route between Monmouth and Pandy has no permanent facilities except for one pub,  3km from Pandy. So this rest stop was most welcome. It’s not open all the time and is not run as a business. But if you’re walking past and this sign is planted outside, do go in for the warm welcome they offer.

I barely stopped after this. I had no mobile signal and the 5pm kick off time was getting closer. I whizzed past the 12th century White Castle. I wished I had more time for a nose around, not least because when Rudolf Hess was imprisoned nearby in the 1940s, he was allowed to feed ducks at this very location.

After walking through fields and hamlets, the path led me into a field of livestock….of the bovine type. It was happening again. It was bullocks. Some of them more excited than others.

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When I saw more bullocks blocking the way to the next stile, I took a pass and made a detour. I didn’t need a repeat of the Newport Wetlands.

Earlier in the day, the kind people who look after the Offa’s Dyke had warned me to look out for this church –

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It’s the Church of St Cadoc, and by all accounts, weary hikers can go inside and make themselves a cup of tea if it’s open. Unfortunately, there was no time for that. Next time maybe.

I had reached Llangatwg Lingoed, the setting for the only pub on this leg of the ODP. And boy, do those signs letting you know this fact bring a smile to the face.

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Still, there was no time to stop so on I pushed. Pandy was tantalisingly near, as was the Wales match. I strode into the village looking for The Rising Sun pub and made a beeline for it. I was about to watch Wales take on Slovakia at Euro 2016!

What can I say about the match itself?? I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I shouted and cheered.

WE DID IT!!


Da iawn fechgyn….Lloegr nesa!

10. Trefynwy – Llanfihangel-Ystum-Llywern; Monmouth – Llanfihangel-Ystern-Llewern

10. Trefynwy – Llanfihangel-Ystum-Llywern; Monmouth – Llanfihangel-Ystern-Llewern

Step Count: 29,205

Distance: 9.47 miles

Max Altitude: 146 m

Min Altitude: 17 m

Height Gain: 334 m

Height Loss: 264 m

I woke up full of optimism. The messages, donations and kindness I’ve received over the past couple of days had been overwhelming. Pure motivation.

I ate breakfast and then started gathering the supplies I needed for the next couple of days. The route between Monmouth and Pandy has virtually no facilities. No cafes or shops or even public transport. There’s just one pub en route. So I did what any good traveller would do and obeyed the ‘when in Rome’ rules. Yes, I went shopping in Waitrose Monmouth for food.  Had to be done.

The Offa’s Dyke Path out of Monmouth leads you over the Monnow Bridge, which is a medieval gem and has seen so much history. It’s worth reading up about in order to appreciate it fully.

I was soon on the outskirts of the town where men were clearing foliage from the side of the road. “Where are you walking to, miss?”, asked one. I told him about my trek and he said it was amazing of me. His mum had died of cancer when he was just eleven and he’d been on a fundraising mission too, raising £17,000 in the process. “Where d’you put the tap for that kitchen sink you’ve got on your back then?”, joked another. “Cor I bet you were 6ft6 when you started this trek, the size of that backpack!” They wished me well, I said my goodbyes and was soon in the countryside.


I felt strong, confident and happy. I walked with a smile on my face and listened to music. I wondered whether anybody else had walked this trail whilst their iPhone blared out ‘Pump Up The Jam’ by Technotronic. There’s a first for everything. Even the sharp ascents into the forest didn’t bother me.

I met a man with a West Midlands accent who was a very experienced walker. We discussed routes and different parts of the ODP, where to camp and so forth. It’s always nice to meet fellow walkers and have a good chat about the path that you are both on in order to share information.

A bit further on, I bumped into a fell runner who was running the ODP north to south for the Alzheimer’s Society. The main topic of discussion was knees and how to protect them against all that the Offa’s Dyke Path can throw at you. He warned me about some of the hills yet to come and wished me all the best. I hope he raises lots of money for his charity.

When I’m following a trail, I’m always on the lookout for waymarkers. In the case of the Offa’s Dyke Path they come in the form of acorns because that’s the symbol of the National Trails. Sometimes they can be wooden signs, or stickers, or sometimes the words ‘Offa’s Dyke Path’ are engraved down the entire post.

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Whether I had missed the marker or it wasn’t there at all, I didn’t turn off when I reached Hendre. By the time I realised that I’d missed it, it was too late to go back. I decided to carry on on the road and try to link up with the path further on.

What do they say about the best laid plans?

Cars and vans were roaring past me on the country lane that I was on. I wanted to rejoin the path but couldn’t see a route through the fields to get to it. But then I came to a public footpath sign directing me over a stile. Clearly it hadn’t had many visitors recently –

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I could see the path marked out on my map and made a beeline for it. I had to get over another stile though, covered in nettles and then walk through some dense foliage which got worse and worse.

This was ridiculous. I turned back, crestfallen. And bitten and stung to bits.

I ended up in a random field and heard, “COOEY! Are you lost?” I explained to the husband and wife what had happened and where I’d gone wrong. My best bet was to follow the road apparently, which is what I did. I was back on the same piece of tarmac as I had been more than an hour ago. I refused to get angry with myself and carried on.

I got to a little patch of green at a small intersection. I sat down and had some food. Before long, the man and woman who lived nearby had come to say hello. I explained to them what I was doing and Bill immediately gave me £20. I was very touched. After putting the world to rights, I set off towards the path. This time I found it. Relief!

I felt a blob of rain on my face. Dark clouds were circling. I strode on harder. But before long I had little choice but to put the rain cover on my pack. It was a bit of respite to have a light breeze after days of sluggish humidity. It got heavier and heavier though, and soon, I was pulling my waterproofs out and yanking them on.

Fortunately, Clark Tent saw that I remained relatively dry.

Pandy tomorrow, I hope.

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Offa’s Dyke Path – a feather in anybody’s cap
9. Diwrnod Gorffwys; Rest Day

9. Diwrnod Gorffwys; Rest Day

I’ve been hiking a whole week now. I can hardly believe that it was just a week ago that I set off from the Senedd on my Walking Wales journey. Just a week. I’m not sure if it feels like longer than that or like yesterday. What I do know is that I’ve learnt an awful lot in seven days, about myself and other stuff. As I sit here in Monmouth and contemplate, so many random things spring into my head –

  1. I’m proud to have raised £881.78 so far. I’ve had donations from people I know, as well as total strangers. This is wonderful! I hope I do Pancreatic Cancer UK proud.
  2. The people I speak with about pancreatic cancer are always shocked at the facts surrounding this silent killer. Most haven’t even heard of it. I hope I’m spreading a tiny amount of awareness. I think I am.
  3. Never underestimate or doubt the potential kindness of strangers. My faith in humanity has been restored this past week.
  4. A challenge like this is a ‘wheat from chaff’ marker as to who your true friends are (if you’re reading this, you know who you are and how much I love and appreciate your support).
  5. I am my own worst enemy at times, but my own best friend too. I can get terribly down on myself but I can also drag myself out of it just as quickly too.
  6. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. I almost forgot this sentence that I’ve repeated to myself over and over on hard treks in the past. I won’t forget it again. It’s so true.
  7. I wouldn’t swap a Welsh cake for Kendal mint cake if my life depended on it (well, maybe I would in those circumstances).
  8. Too many pubs are closing down.
  9. My legs hurt.
  10. And finally, a timely and most relevant piece of motivational advice from The Greatest himself, RIP. I will be keeping this in mind as I tackle those hills –

 

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Erthygl – Daily Post – Article

Erthygl – Daily Post – Article

Diolch o galon i Bethan Gwanas am ysgrifennu yr erthygl mwya hyfryd am fy nhaith yn y Daily Post. Fe wnaeth darllen hwn godi fy ysbryd a rhoi gwen fawr ar fy ngwyneb! Dyma’r pethau sy’n golygu’r byd i fi a sydd yn fy nghymell yn bellach. 

Thank you to the fabulous Bethan Gwanas for picking up on my trek and writing about it so beautifully in the Daily Post. Reading this lifted my spirits and put a big grin on my face. These are the things that mean so much to me and which push me further

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