The Ups and Downs of Offa’s Dyke:
Days One and Two
My friend Annie Sparkes, who I met while living in Peru, is an avid walker who lives in Bristol—very close to the Welsh border. I picked her brain to find out what paths in Wales she recommended and her first reply was Offa’s Dyke. It is 177 miles from the south to north coasts of Wales. I had no delusions that I would do the entire walk, so I started reading about sections and decided to start in the middle of the path at the lovely village of Welshpool.
A river “pool” is a place where the water is deeper and the flow slows down considerably. Historically pools in large rivers were natural harbors, especially for large ships. And so, many place names in England reflect these locations: Liverpool, Pool in Cornwall, the Pool of the Thames in London, and Welshpool. Originally, Welshpool was called Pool, but the name was later changed to distinguish it from the town of Pool in Cornwall.
I arrived in this village on Saturday, August 19, and stayed the night at the Severn Farm B&B—not far from the railway station. They regularly allow walkers to camp on their lawn and even provide a small self-catering kitchen for us.
Early the next day, I set out. I had chosen Welshpool for a starting point because much of the first day is level walking along the Montgomery Canal and through pastures. I decided right away that I love canal walking…it is so peaceful. The tow paths are level and the serene flow of the water is occasionally broken by canal locks and water wildlife.
Too soon, I had to leave the canal and begin my walk across the first of many, many sheep and cow pastures.
After a nice long day of walking I came into the village of Four Crosses, beyond which I found a caravan park that had spaces for tents. However, although the rain had held off all day, the weather deteriorated rapidly as I tried to set up in the wind. The inside of my tent was quite wet before I could shelter myself and—partly because I was so tired—I burst into angry tears. I was so frustrated that my hiking attempts in the UK seemed to always be thwarted by rain.
It was a cold night in the damp tent and I did not feel much better when I woke up to fog and mist. I packed quickly, hoping that I would find a warm place to breakfast in the next town, two miles away.
More canal walking made me feel a little better. Two miles along I arrived at the village of Llanymynech where the map indicated a café. I would learn that often the map notations are dated enough that I should never get my hopes up. But the little Village Pantry Café was open and the proprietress greeted my muddy self warmly.
I ordered a large pot of tea and full English breakfast—I could use the calories!
My breakfast arrived and I ate just about all of it. I got in the habit of taking a sausage and a couple pieces of toast with me to eat as a snack later on the trail. If there is a bit of jam to go with it, all the better…I love sweet and salty together!
I had arrived at the café cold, wet, hungry and a little discouraged. I left with energy, a new disposition and ready to take on the next 10 miles! Amazing what filling the tank will do!
I walked down the village street—on one side is England and the other side is in Wales. About the time I got to the end of the village (only about 4 blocks), it began to rain again. I suited up in raingear—cursing all the while.
The next stage of the walk was almost straight up. I was glad to have gas in my tank. Before long I came to the old lime quarry/mine. Lots of interpretive panels told the history. Limestone was and still is used in construction and stone fences throughout the UK. Historically, the stone was also burned in lime kilns to extract the lime for keeping the almost perpetually-used fields sweet and fertile.
One tidbit of history: In the 1860s, greedy mine owner, Thomas Savin, thought he would save some time by using four times the amount of explosives to extract a month’s worth of stone in one day. The blast rained stone down on the neighboring homes and he ended up spending all the money he had saved repairing the roofs of the angry homeowners! Ha!
After all the rain, I had a lot of mud to wade through. The pastures where cattle had grazed were the worst—they seem to gather in the corners and churn up a real mess, especially near the gates. At one point, having heaved myself and pack over plenty of stiles for the day, I had this choice: another stile OR an OPEN gate blocked by a mud pond. I opted for the stile!
Some of my friends may recall my Facebook post where I modeled these new rain chaps that I made just for this trip. Well they sure came in handy but they are not so new anymore!
The highlight of the day came after I had climbed up and up to the top of Moelydd. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce Welsh!) As I crested the hill, I could not stop my exclamations of “Wow! Wow! Wow!” It was a 360º view of all the valleys below—well worth the climb. The sun was out (well mostly out) and I stopped for an hour or so for lunch and to lay out wet clothes to dry.
Before I walked down, I decided it was such a lovely place that I left some of Rachel’s ashes at the base of the direction post. (I keep some of her ashes with me so I can leave them at all the beautiful places I visit around the world.)
I walked down to the village of Trefonen where I picked up some provisions, including a couple locally-made meat pies from a small store and. then I enjoyed a half-pint at the local pub before continuing on. It was already 7:30 in the evening, but I had a good hour and a half of light and was determined to put in a few more miles. Well, between the cloudy skies, the lateness, and the fact that I had to walk a couple miles through the thick Candy Woods, it was a pretty dark walk.
I emerged from the other end of the woods to find myself in an area of homes that was not appropriate for wild camping, so I had to go back into the woods a bit to find a secluded place to camp. By the time full night came on, it was a dark as a cave (no exaggeration) and so very silent—not even any animal sounds all night!
It had been a long, but satisfying day of hiking that I had really enjoyed. The first day had a tough ending, but by tonight things were looking up. I looked forward to the next day. Little did I know what a slog it would be!
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In the summer, the West Highland Way is a virtual highway of trekkers. I might encounter as many as 100 people on a nice summer day. Today I would meet five other walkers. Of course, I had to be prepared for the cold, but dressing in several layers was the remedy.