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Category: Offa’s Dyke Path

86. Aberystwyth – Aberystwyth

86. Aberystwyth – Aberystwyth


Distance: 1.86 miles

Max Altitude: 17 m

Min Altitude: 2 m

Height Gain: 30 m

Height Loss: 29 m

I had every intention of pushing on to Llanrhystud today, honestly. But it just didn’t happen.

I awoke with a mouth like the Sahara. I was still dehydrated from yesterday. I went for breakfast and drank lots and lots of fluid.

I ambled around for a while. I’m not familiar with Aberystwyth at all so thought it a mini duty to get to know it a little bit. I noticed the Ceredigion Museum so decided to pay a visit.

Built as a theatre in 1904-5, it was the venue for thousands of events including Eisteddfodau and political meetings. It became a cinema in the early 1930s, which ran until 1977. Ceredigion Museum then took over the building in 1982.

Its purpose is to deepen the understanding of the county.

It’s a very tiny museum but definitely worth a look.

My next stop was the pier. I have so far walked down every pier I’ve come across so Aberystwyth was to be no exception.

For years I have ‘collected’ graffiti so was delighted to see these examples on my wanderings around the town.

And then the pinnacle of the day – I met up with Dafydd, another hiker who I’d bumped into weeks and weeks ago on the Offa’s Dyke Path. Since then we have remained in touch via Twitter and he has been a wonderful moral support.

We talked for hours and compared notes. It was fantastic to be able to talk with someone face to face about the various experiences of the long distance hiker. The world, and Wales, was also put dead to rights.

But then came the inevitable sad goodbye (yes, yet another!).

I started walking out of the town but as I did, the rain began to fall harder and harder, while the path ahead looked bleaker and bleaker. Hmm.

I turned on my heels and returned towards Aberystwyth. I would rest my weary bones here for just one more night.

29. Rhuallt – Prestatyn

29. Rhuallt – Prestatyn

Distance: 7.34 miles

Max Altitude: 262 m

Min Altitude: 1 m

Height Gain: 266 m

Height Loss: 327 m

 

I woke up after a fantastic night’s sleep. The previous day’s walk in such atrocious conditions had banjaxed me. I’d zipped my sleeping bag up and passed out for the night.

I was up with the lark though and making breakfast before 7am. Porridge and coffee was the order of the day, served on a bright green spork! This was to be my last day on the Offa’s Dyke Path and I was excited to be completing it before rejoining the Wales Coast Path, which would take me back to Cardiff.


Still soggy, I donned my waterproofs, though I don’t know why. Force of habit maybe? And off I went, heading towards Prestatyn.

I’d love to be able to share anecdotes and photos aplenty with you, reader. But the truth is that I don’t have any. The weather was as atrocious as it was yesterday and my phone stayed in my pocket. I saw nobody and spoke to nobody (except for the lady who served me in Spar in Dyserth but the “please” and “thank you” conversation wasn’t exactly scintillating). The only saving grace compared to yesterday was the fact that I wasn’t going up any hills. It was down hill all the way and I virtually glided into Prestatyn.

Ok, I lied, I did take this photo but I don’t think it’ll earn me any art awards –

I headed for the sea and sat down on the front for ages just taking in the waves and the sand. I had missed the saltiness.

After a while I headed towards the official end (or beginning if you’re going the other way) of the Offa’s Dyke Path. Even the rain had cleared.



And with that, I realised that my journey on the Offa’s Dyke Path was complete.  I had experienced the whole gamut of emotions on that trail – joy, misery, despair, pride…it had almost broken me at times. But I had done it!

It was time to rest before taking on the rest of my journey back to Cardiff on the Wales Coast Path.

28. Llanarmon-yn-Iâl – Rhuallt

28. Llanarmon-yn-Iâl – Rhuallt

 

Distance: 9.18 miles

Max Altitude: 363 m

Min Altitude: 46 m

Height Gain: 381 m

Height Loss: 549 m

 

The hand that giveth taketh away. Such is life on the Offa’s Dyke Path, or to be fair, the weather on the path. Yesterday – joy. Today – misery.

It had all started off so well too. I rejoined Offa’s Dyke Path after leaving Llanarmon-yn-Iâl. I was looking forward to an exhilarating day’s walking. This particular stretch of the ODP skims around several of the peaks in the Clwydian Range of mountains. The views are spectacular. On a fine day, that is. 

No sooner had I joined the path aiming for Foel Fenlli peak that it started to rain. It was manageable at the start. The usual waterproof routine was put into action and I continued. However the path became steep, and was muddy from the previous days’ showers. 

As the path zigzagged, the visibility deteriorated. The clouds descended and suddenly there were no views whatsoever. 

I was hungry and despite the rain decided to have lunch at Bwlch Pen Barras, which is essentially the car park for Moel Famau. I managed to find a bit of shelter and ate a packet of crisps which I’d bought at the Community Shop in Llanarmon earlier. The rain came down heavier. A bedraggled group of walkers came past looking glum.

I psyched myself up after I’d finished eating, checked my pack and waterproofs and set off in the driving rain, following the path. On a fine day, I would have taken a detour in order to reach the summit of Moel Famau, but in this weather? No chance! 

I walked on in misery. The rain had breached my shoes by this point and I had two buckets of water on my feet once more. Slosh slosh slosh. Still, my new rain jacket was working (!) so at least my torso was dry.

I saw information points with the local history attached but the rain was so heavy I couldn’t even stop to read. So I made a promise to return on a fine day in order to enjoy these peaks properly, as well as the numerous hill forts and other features that I was missing out on. 

I got to Bodfari and sloshed into the Downing Arms where I was able to regroup, dry off in the loos (a bit) and have an orange juice. The relief!! 

I looked at the map. Should I stop here or continue? I decided in all my drenched wisdom to go on to Rhuallt. My reasoning was that I was already soaked and miserable, so why not get as far as possible today and leave an easier final day for tomorrow. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?

Feeling chuffed with myself I started out again. When I saw the ridiculously steep hill in front of me, I immediately regretted my choice. I very nearly turned on my heels and made for the campsite nearby but no, on I walked. 

After crossing fields and going down numerous country paths I walked into Rhuallt. My relief was Olympic. Especially when I made my way to camp to set up for the night. 

Just one more day to go on the Offa’s Dyke Path. Tomorrow I would reach Prestatyn. 

27. Froncysyllte – Llanarmon-yn-Ial

27. Froncysyllte – Llanarmon-yn-Ial

Distance: 11.42 miles

Max Altitude: 430 m

Min Altitude: 95 m

Height Gain: 567 m

Height Loss: 427 m

I looked up at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct….utterly incredible, I thought to myself. Of all the sights on the Offa’s Dyke Path, it was this that I had been looking forward to the most. And it didn’t disappoint. I savoured the experience. I ambled along the side of the canal, smiled at the pretty boats chugging their way back and forth and took an awful lot of photos.

And rather than take the ground ODP route, I decided to take the alternative Offa’s Dyke Path right over the top of the aqueduct, all 126 feet of it. Lucky I don’t get vertigo.

I could have stayed all day long exploring the canal and aqueduct. And I would have liked to have taken a boat for a day. But as ever on the ODP, timing was at the back of my mind and I needed to push on.

After leaving the towpath, the path ascended up to way above Llangollen and the surrounding areas. This particular stretch is known as the Panorama Walk and I don’t need to point out why –

I continued on the road, passing underneath Eglwyseg Mountain and the fabulously-named, World’s End (and yes, I already regret not taking a photo of the sign proclaiming this location!).

The area surrounding the path became more desolate and a waymark indicated that I needed to cross the moorland to my left to reach Llandegla.

I looked around me and and took in the view. I spotted something in the distance. I squinted and focused on the horizon….something blue….could it be….? Yes, I could see a body of water! I could see the sea, well, the Dee Estuary, but still…! I was overjoyed. I had walked from one body of water in South Wales to another in the north.

So with a smile on my face, I turned on my heels and started to make my way across the sprawling Cyrn-y-Brain.

I thought this sign on the other side of the moorland and forest was a nice touch –

I soon arrived in Llandegla. I could have stopped there but decided to make my way to Llanarmon-yn-Ial to camp instead.

The end of the Offa’s Dyke Path is near and the Wales Coast Path is calling me once more.

26. Llanymynech- Froncysyllte

26. Llanymynech- Froncysyllte

Distance:  18 miles

Max Altitude: 361 m

Min Altitude: 66 m

Height Gain: 859 m

Height Loss: 836 m

I must be the happiest, warmest, driest human being on the planet right now. I’m writing this blog from the comfort of a BnB! No Clark Tent or sleeping bag or sogginess but a bed with an actual duvet, and a ceiling over my head. The joy!

Let’s rewind though. The day started on the Offa’s Dyke Path under cloudy skies that looked to be threatening rain. I left Llanymynech early, as I was keen to make up for the previous day in terms of mileage. It’s a town that straddles the border and no sooner had I walked up the high street that I had this sign behind me –

And this one in front of me –

The first sight to greet me was a hill. Llanymynech is surrounded by quarries. Charles Darwin had spent time here studying the local rocks. I wish I could have had more time to explore but I just needed to walk. 

In no time, I was walking past a golf course. I think this was the fourth one since I left Cardiff. Yet more perplexed staring in my direction. I now expect it. 

It wasn’t long after this that I got lost after getting confused by the waymarks. Yellow, blue, arrows, acorns…which way?!

I got myself back on track and landed on a disused railway line (sometimes the puns just write themselves). 

And as they had been promising since much earlier in the day, the clouds opened and it began to rain. It wasn’t heavy but persistent. I put my phone away, got my waterproof kit on and continued. My new raincoat performed well. 

I walked on and on in the rain, down country roads, through fields, into and out of villages, and up and down hills. My left leg pained me and my feet were aching but I didn’t stop. 

In time I saw Chirk Castle in the distance. Again, I wanted to explore further but with wet feet and aching limbs, now was unfortunately not the time. 

In my head I had made Froncysyllte to be my stopping point. That’s what I aimed for. I wouldn’t cross the aqueduct today though. I didn’t want to waste the experience by doing it in the rain. I would stop walking here and pick up tomorrow, hoping for blue skies and some sunshine. 

I had achieved my longest distance so far on my journey and in pretty rubbish conditions too. So I got extravagant and booked a BnB, which is where I am right now. My clothes are drying and I have had a bath….a bath! 

Despite the pain, all is well.

25. Llandrinio – Llanymynech

25. Llandrinio – Llanymynech

Distance: 3.08 miles

Max Altitude: 75 m

Min Altitude: 65 m

Height Gain: 21 m

Height Loss: 13 m

Today was a strange short day in terms of walking but seemed ever so long in terms of everything else. 

I departed from where I had stopped – The Punch Bowl in Llandrinio. I had so many things that I needed to do, but amidst all of it I also needed to work out where I was going to watch Wales V Northern Ireland in Euro 2016. Deciding where to view the football is proving to be one of the main logistical challenges of this entire walk….(!) 

The less interesting stuff included day to day stuff, which, when you’re at home, takes no time (packing stuff, posting stuff, washing stuff), but on the trail, takes all the time in the world. Or that’s how it feels, at least. 

It was a miserable overcast day with scattered showers. The pain in my left leg was increasing so I walked to Llanymynech without paying any attention to the local environs, I’m sorry to say. Headphones in, walk on. 

I managed to get a couple of things sorted in Llanymynech but ended up having to take public transport back to Y Trallwng (Welshpool) to finish everything up. 

I found a campsite but it was a members’ only one. So then had to trawl around for another. By the time I found one it was almost time for the match. I had no time to get to a pub because I was off the beaten track. My solution was to stream the match using my mobile wifi (with a dodgy signal) and watch it on my phone inside Clark Tent. 

What a horrible game to watch, and I’m not talking about the constant buffering either. It was one of those games where I decided (once again) that I hated watching football as it was far too stressful. The only goal was a joy when it happened. But I aged several decades waiting for that final whistle. As if the Offa’s Dyke Path hasn’t aged me enough!

ADD: My mobile signal was so horrible that this blog failed to go online in a timely fashion, which I do apologise for.

24. Tal-y-bont – Llandrinio; Buttington – Llandrinio

24. Tal-y-bont – Llandrinio; Buttington – Llandrinio

Step Count: 24,779

Distance: 8.81 miles

Max Altitude: 88 m

Min Altitude: 62 m

Height Gain: 75 m

Height Loss: 83 m

I awoke to news of the European Union Referendum. It was with extreme disappointment that I shuffled in the rain to the bathroom block at the campsite.

I went back to sleep in the field and struggled to motivate myself to walk. I finally got myself on Offa’s Dyke Path in late afternoon. At least the rain clouds had moved on to reveal a bright blue sky.

I left camp and crossed Buttington Bridge over the River Severn.

After walking alongside the Severn, the trail led me to the towpath next to the Montgomery Canal. My mood picked up immediately. There’s something very calming and balancing about canals, for me. I’ve never been in a canal boat in my life, and yet they fascinate me.

This canal was abandoned in 1944 and is thankfully being restored.

After not having had much luck with pubs being open on the trail, it was with delight that I saw this cheery sign inviting me to the nearest local

Result!

The Offa’s Dyke Path then veered away from the canal towards fields and up on top of the Tirymynach flood embankment. My history book told me that in 1960, the defences failed and more than 200 animals drowned.

And speaking of animals, it was yet another deja moo for me as I became the person of interest to the local population, who decided to follow me across a couple of fields, I’m pleased to say, without intent.

I walked and walked across fields just daydreaming. It occurred to me that I felt a million miles away from the problems of the world at that moment. Walking through the countryside, and thus avoiding the news and social media, made me realise that life always continues. The UK had voted to leave the EU, Sterling was plummeting, the prime minister had resigned, and all manner of other things were chaotic, yet the river beside me was flowing, the grass was growing, birds were flying overhead and clouds were moving across the sky. Life always goes on, doesn’t it? A simple yet profound realisation.

I missed a waymark while deep in thought and continued along the flood bank. When I realised my mistake it was too late so I decided to walk towards the nearest road as dusk was upon me.

I reached the bridge at Llandrinio. A very helpful information board told me the history of the bridge. It was once a crossing point for Roman legions, while in the Middle Ages, people would get across the Severn here by ferry in order to trade goods. During World War II, anti-tank defences were built at either end of the bridge and it was manned by the Home Guard.

I read to the bottom and saw the familiar blue European flag with yellow stars. The information board had been placed there thanks to EU Objective 2 funding. I chuckled to myself.

I got to The Punch Bowl in Llandrinio as the light failed and had a quick coffee before resting for the night.

23. Mainstone – Tal-y-bont; Mainstone – Buttington

23. Mainstone – Tal-y-bont; Mainstone – Buttington

Step Count: 34,509

Distance: 14.54 miles

Max Altitude: 402 m

Min Altitude: 79 m

Height Gain: 336 m

Height Loss: 535 m

I started where I had left off two days ago in Mainstone, before my junket to the pharmacy.

I had done the worst of the dreaded ‘Switchback’ section of the Offa’s Dyke path, but had one more hill after Mainstone to deal with, which just so happened to be the worst. I looked up at it with trepidation. Edenhope Hill isn’t even a mountain but the gradient on it is insane. And this photo in no way conveys how steep the path is –

I made it to the top but if my calves had vocal chords they’d have been swearing at me.

There were also signs of Offa’s Dyke at the apex of the hill just before the descent began.

At the bottom I crossed the border between Wales and England for the first of five times during the day. The path meanders its way between the two countries an awful lot during this stretch.

There were some familiar sights. Where would we be without stiles?

The next stop was to be at The Blue Bell, a  well-known watering hole on the trail. By now I should know better than to look forward to a drink and a nice sit down in a pub on Offa’s Dyke Path.


Yes, another pub door closed. It’s the hope that kills you.

So in light of this, I veered off the trail and made a detour to Trefaldwyn (Montgomery), where I had some chips. Hope restored! I wish I could have stayed there longer to look around the castle and see some of the sights. But I wanted to push on and try to get as far as possible. I loved what I did see of the town though, which included this telephone box upcycled in blue paint to create an information point.


I was soon back in fields. Many were overgrown to Amazonian proportions.


These fields were the setting of some of the bloodiest battles of the English Civil War which were fought on Welsh soil. It was in these very fields that Oliver Cromwell’s troops had dealt a crushing blow to the Royalists. And here I was 372 years later just strolling through with my rucksack on my back.

After a quick break underneath a tree, I ended up walking next to somebody’s house. A woman came out to say hello and we chatted about my walk. She advised me to deviate from the path as it was now evening. She showed me an alternative route which didn’t go via the forest, which I followed.

It took me past The Cock Hotel in Forden. The bar was open! A smile and a large orange juice followed, as well as the chance to replenish my water supplies.

I walked on the side of the road after that. It wasn’t particularly inspiring but I did take a self-portrait. Of sorts.


By now the sun was disappearing and revealed the most stunning mellow sunset, like rippling caramel.


It was dark when I walked in to The Green Dragon in Tal-y-bont (Buttington). I had a hot chocolate and set up camp for the night.

All was well.

22. Diwrnod Salwch; Illness Day

22. Diwrnod Salwch; Illness Day

With the successes come the struggles. One of the bare facts of life. This is something that is magnified when you try to tackle something like walking more than 1000 alone, I’m discovering. 

Yesterday, I experienced several highs – I reached the milestone of half way on the Offa’s Dyke Path, I got the most miles under my belt since I started and I overcame a series of monstrous hill climbs and descents. I felt strong. I felt happy. 

In the middle of the night, out of the blue, I became ill. Reader, I shall spare you the grim details. All I will say is that life on the trail sometimes isn’t pretty. But you just have to get on with it regardless. 

I walked a few miles to a pharmacy to get the appropriate medicine. There was no public transport. I felt weak and a little miserable, if I’m honest. I wanted to be much further down the trail and not having to wait out some bug. 

But such is life. There are blips, big and small, in the road ahead all the time. We just have to walk over them. 

So tomorrow, I shall dust myself off, put on my shoes and start walking again. 

21. Dolley Green – Mainstone

21. Dolley Green – Mainstone

Step Count:

Distance: 15.4 miles

Max Altitude: 400 m

Min Altitude: 158 m

Height Gain: 797 m

Height Loss: 681 m


I awoke still buzzing from last night’s football result. When I logged on to social media, I saw hundreds of posts from revelling fans in France and that gave me a huge smile. In many ways I wish I were there too. 

Overnight, the Vale of Glamorgan council had changed their name temporarily to Bale of Glamorgan, which I had tweeted about. My tweet ended up on WalesOnline, which also gave me a smile.

Feeling buoyed I started from where I had left off the previous evening in Dolley Green. A steady climb took me to the top of Hawthorn Hill.  

It was a bright and breezy day so progress  was good. 

It wasn’t long before I was in Knighton. It felt strange being back, after only having left a few hours earlier but getting there to watch the football was non negotiable. I was looking forward to food. And moreover a visit to the Offa’s Dyke Centre. 


The man himself, deep in thought


I had a cup of tea and cake before leaving the Centre. Knighton sits right on the border and slap bang next to Offa’s Dyke. In fact, the Welsh name for Knighton, Tref-y-Clawdd, is far more telling. It means ‘Town of the Dyke’. And before I knew it I was literally between Wales and England. 

With that I was saying hello to Shropshire. 

That could only mean one thing – hills. And plenty of them. I knew that the section I had coming up was arguably the most arduous of the whole Offa’s Dyke Path. So since the weather was on my side and I had plenty of daylight left I decided to make a decent assault on the hills. 

It didn’t take long for my mobile signal to disappear. With no distractions, I got my head down and just went for it. It was hard and at times my heart felt like it would beat itself out of my chest. But there were rewards along the way too (namely some flat bits and nice views).

And some altogether familiar sights – 

It was also gratifying to connect with the actual Offa’s Dyke too. By that, I don’t mean the path, but the structure that King Offa built all those centuries ago. It was visible throughout the day. Remarkable when you think about it. 

Then came the best part of the day – the knowledge that I had made it to half way on the Offa’s Dyke Path. I had walked all the way from Chepstow solo to get to this point, and before that had walked from Cardiff. It was a proud moment. 

Pride made me walk on further until the light started to fade. I got to the village of Mainstone and stopped. It was time to put Clark Tent up nearby. What a day! My best yet in terms of miles under foot and certainly an important personal milestone achieved. 

Happy. 

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