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Offa’s Dyke Walk Day 5

When we awoke in Llanthony it was raining lightly and the mist was low in the valley. But by the time we finished breakfast and checked out the mist had partially lifted and the rain had stopped. We couldn’t face the road so we headed off across the fields, past Llanthony Priory and up Hatterall Hill.

Our host at the inn had warned us it was a bit of an uphill, and it was. First the fields, then the rockier terrain. TheH admired the views while I clutched his hand and concentrated on my footing. I did not admire the view, knowing I was better off not looking down. There were a few flatter places where we could rest a bit before going on, and I was able to look out then. The higher we went the steeper it got, until very near the top where it was boggier and the footing was better.

An hour and twenty minutes and nearly two miles later we were at the top. I had made it (not that retreating was an option)! There was mist but no rain, and we could see patches where the clouds were higher. It was windy, but not quite as bad as the day before. And we were the only humans around. There were sheep and ponies but that was it.

We began walking north across the ridge on a relatively wide trail. It was beautiful. Once again we could see England better than Wales, but the nearest mountains were visible.The bilberry was just starting to have some tiny fruit. And partway we met a group of ponies with a frisky, adorable foal:It seemed interested in us and we even had an apple! But we kept our distance and it turned its attention back to its mother, who was having none of it:We had been a bit apprehensive about the footing, because one of the guidebooks described the path as wet and boggy even apart from all the rain that had fallen recently. But the path had been reinforced with large stones and it was quite straightforward to traverse.Which, given the large pools of water, was a blessing.Six miles or so later we were near the crest of the ridge and Hay’s Bluff, which purportedly offers spectacular views of Hay-on-Wye. But the descent from there was hair-raisingly steep and rapid, so we stuck to the official path, which slowly followed the ridge downward on one side. It was challenging enough for me, since the trail was completely exposed, occasionally windy, and narrow. But as usual, the views were spectacular when I had the guts to look out.We made it down and set off across the fields to Hay. We saw the smallest lamb of the trip near the base of the bluff:We crossed huge common pastures filled with sheep and horses and eventually made it to Hay and our lovely B&B on the river. 13 miles with a big ascent and non-trivial descent, and we had only two days and about 30 miles to go.

Offa’s Dyke Walk Day 4

We set off from Llangattock Lingoed with Miss Mary’s good wishes ringing in our ears and rain threatening but not falling. This was the day we would go up a steep hill to walk Hatterall Ridge, at the eastern edge of Brecon Beacons National Park. We first walked over the fields to Pandy, the childhood home of the philosopher, critic, and novelist Raymond Williams. His house is supposedly on the Path but it’s not well marked and I didn’t see it. Oh well.

It rained on us a bit early on, but the clouds were high as we started up:

It was a steep slope, over lots of fields. Part of the way up we were greeted by an Iron Age stone circle which had been a hill fort and settlement, occupied for hundreds of years:

At the top of that ridge we encountered the southernmost Trig marker on the ridge, so we knew we were near the top:

TheH and I both thought of his late father on this Father’s Day: he would have loved to see it, having spent part of his youth surveying mountains in the Alaska Range to build the Alaska Range.

We finally made it to the top, where it was so windy that we were shoved off the path a couple of times. But the views!

That’s England, by the way. The ridge path marks the border, so to the right of the path is England and to the left is Wales. Wales was cloudier (surprise), with a couple of the higher Brecon Beacons peaks occasionally visible through the mist.

Some people walk the whole stage from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye in one day, but that’s 17 miles and we had started two miles east of Pandy to make it a total of 19. And come on, my chances of walking 18 miles up, across, and down a steep ridge in one day were nil. So we’d planned a break at a small village, Llanthony, down the western side, which was also the location of an old priory.

It was about two miles down a steep, rocky slope carved out of the side. I picked my way verrry slowly and carefully, and at one point was overtaken by a family with a small girl and a toddler in the father’s shoulder pack, all nimbly making their way down, in Wellies.

The priory looked impossibly far away at first but eventually drew closer:

And tlllThere is a posh hotel and restaurant right at Llanthony Priory, but its six rooms were booked. So we stayed at the village pub down the road, the Half Moon Inn, where we had a comfortable bed and good food and drink. It’s an old inn and you have to be prepared to share toilets and showers. And there is no internet or wifi, which some visitors find difficult. We didn’t.

Over pints of local ale and cider we deliberated the next day”s path. The way back up to the ridge was steep and stony to the point that the path even had switchbacks, a rarity here. But it was shorter than the road, and we didn’t fancy 13 miles of pavement. We decided to wait and see what the morning brought.

In the meantime we turned our thoughts to dinner (beef casserole for TheH, cod and chips and peas for me) and then crashed for the night.

Our day’s route:

Offa’s Dyke Walk Day 3

We left Monmouth in a drizzle. We made our way out of the town without mishap and walked through fields and woods. This was our first really long walk, with 15 miles lying between us and our destination. The rain intensified to cloudburst level at one point, but by the time we approached the village of Hendre it had stopped. We found the field through which we were to leave the road, but it wasn’t clear which way to cross it to get to the gate to our next field, and it was seriously muddy, with not just animals in residence but also large equipment and some structures. We were standing there, trying to figure out where to go, when a group of three walkers joined us. We perused our maps and guides, picked a direction, and set off through what proved to be a complete mudpit. We are talking 2-5 inches of pure mud. Almost no grass mixed in, just a quagmire of sticky brown goo.And the direction we chose turned out to be wrong. So we spread out across the perimeter and eventually found the path gate, hidden behind some farm stuff. That took us through two or three more fields, also muddy but not nearly as bad. When we finally read the last field before we came out on a road, there was a sign taped to the gate suggesting that walkers use an alternate route because of muddy conditions. Gosh, yes, what a good idea. If only they had had a sign on the far gate.After that it was much easier. We passed through field after field with the occasional small village. No shops or pubs but we had provisioned ourselves. We had lunch with a view:Then we were on our way, crossing brooks and rivers and fields. We drew the attention of a herd of cows, who lined up to survey us:As you can see, the rain had cleared and the sun had come out. It was gorgeous: Not too warm with a lovely breeze. But 15 miles is a lot, and we kept plodding along, including through wheat fields:When passed the White Castle, we knew it was mostly downhill from there.Finally, 15.5 miles later, we were at our destination. But there was a problem. Our reserved room was not available. The hosts were extremely apologetic and had made arrangements for us to stay at a nearby b&b, which they would drive us to. There was nothing to be done and all we wanted was a place to stay, so we said thank you and got into the car. Our host took us to a house a few minutes away, and I recognized the name as one I’d seen in the Offa’s Dyke website under accommodations. It was a spectacular location, with a panoramic view from the edge of the mountain where we’d be heading tomorrow around to a good 180 degrees east.Miss Mary W., our substitute hostess, was from a five-generations old Welsh farming family. When her generation sold the farm, she and her mother kept a few acres and built a house for themselves. At 82, Miss Mary still runs her b&b, tends her large garden, and feeds her guests with eggs from her own chickens. Everyone in her village of Llangattok Lingoed knows her and she can get a table in the nearby pub’s excellent restaurant whether it’s fully booked or not. Which she did for us.In the morning she fed us a splendid breakfast with the aforementioned eggs, gave us sandwiches and homemade Welsh cakes for the road, and drove us back to the path. It was raining, of course, but we could still glimpse some of her view:

Offa’s Dyke Walk Day 2

We said goodbye to Tintern and set off for our next destination, Monmouth. The first little bit was on the road because we had to make our way back to the path. The path split at Brockweir and we took the lower path along the Wye for three miles, disturbing sheep along the way and passing the village of Llandogo.When the paths converged again we started up the road into the hills. The uphill wasn’t too bad and we passed through several woods as well as farm fields. The foliage and flowers were gorgeous, and the rain had made the undergrowth especially rich. We are seeing these flowers everywhere:We only made one wrong turn, going down when we should have gone across because the acorn sign was unclear (there are lots of marked footpaths which aren’t the Offa’s Dyke Path and they converge as well as intersect). But it was short and easy to recover.Today had some major ups and downs in the path. We went down sharply for a good mile to enter the village of Redbrook, which rewarded us with a delicious pub lunch. But then we had a two-mile ascent to the top of the ridge. There we reached the Kyrim, which overlooks Monmouth and offers spectacular views of the Wye Valley. It also features a monument to British Admirals in the Napoleonic Wars (readers of historicals will recognize several names!):And a round white house built in the Georgian era:From there it was all downhill to Monmouth for a couple of miles. The path we excellent and it would have been straightforward except for the mud. So much mud. But we went slowly and our shoes (and gaiters) could manage it. Nevertheless, we were so happy to see the end of the path, and lo and behold, our hotel was at the end of it. It was a pub with recently remodeled, very comfortable rooms.We went into Monmouth for dinner, thinking that Friday night would give us a range of options. But many of the Central City restaurants had already stopped serving. We found a Chinese restaurant down a little passageway, though, and struck gold. Everything fresh and made to order. We had a kimchi pancake for starters and then shared shredded pork with chiles and kimchi fries rice. So, so good, and a lovely couple running it.I leave you with the day’s map. Notice our wrong turn was much smaller this time!QToday’s mileage: 11.6 or 11.9, depending on whose Garmin you ask.

Offa’s Dyke walk Day 1

Our short walk last evening helped us get a sense of what the path would be like and how it was marked. But setting out for a 7+ mile day wearing backpacks which carry all our stuff is different. We had a lovely Full English breakfast food for sustenance and set out at 9:30 in a misty drizzle. As soon as we crossed the Chepstow bridge we started up a steepish lane to join the path at the same place where we had turned off the night before. I was panting in no time, which made me wonder about the rest of the journey. But I slowly adjusted and my backpack was comfortable.

The path does not always parallell Offa’s Dyke, despite the name, but in this opening section we spent a lot of time walking along it. It rises up to close to 20 feet in some places. We walked through fields and woods as well, and saw some spectacular scenery despite the rain:

We made one huge wrong turn in a field, which meant retracing our steps for about a mile out and back. And as the day progressed the rain became steadier and more penetrating. Even our waterproofs weren’t completely effective. But we kept going, squelching through the mulch and mud. When we arrived at the lookout just before the Devil’s Pulpit, though, the rain began pouring down and we could barely see Tintern Abbey through the mist and rain.

We were lucky to be under the canopy of a huge old tree, so we waited out the worst of it and went on to the Devil’s Pulpit.

We missed our turnoff to the path that would take us to the village of Tintern, but realized our error more quickly this time and doubled back. The footpath down hadn’t been described as particularly difficult, but it was rocky and occasionally quite steep, and the torrential rains of the last week had turned the upper parts into a creek. Thank goodness for gaiters over waterproof hiking shoes. And did I mention it was still raining?

After a somewhat grisly 45 minutes or so we made it down to the Tintern bridge and walked the remaining half mile to our night’s lodging, where we were welcomed with tea and cake. We rested, cleaned up, and walked backed to the Abbey for a closer look:

The Parva Farmhouse, where we stayed, is famous for its restaurant. We had booked dinner and were rewarded with a splendid meal. Needless to say, we slept well. Miles of hiking seemed to vanquish any jet lag.

Tomorrow, on to Monmouth. I’m holding up well but we have 6 days to go. The scenery and sense of being in a timeless place are well worth the effort. Here’s the map of our day, complete with the morning’s wrong-turn detour: