My first attempt to attend a professional conference in #onebag mode was a success. It made life much easier when I was to-ing and fro-ing and I didn’t wish for anything I’d left at home. I definitely think this is doable on a regular basis for a 3- or 4-day meeting.
What I took:
I know it looks like quite a bit, by everything packed down very compactly. I took more than I would have if I had been traveling for pleasure because I knew I’d be seeing the same people repeatedly. They probably wouldn’t notice if I were wearing the same thing two days in a row (most of them are guys and political-science guys at that, so fashion sense is not their comparative advantage, to put it mildly), but I would have been somewhat self-conscious. So I made sure I had different looks for each day and took one dress to wear to dinners in nice restaurants (different people and restaurants so I felt fine repeating the dress).
OK, not quite one bag, but the purse could go in the backpack in a pinch.
I haven’t tried this before but after our UK trip I was so taken with traveling light that I decided to try it for a conference. That pack holds two dresses, three tops, one pair of trousers, a sleep shirt, and the relevant undergarments. And a pair of sandals. I’m wearing trousers and a jacket and a pair of walking flats. The sandals went down at the bottom and the clothes into packing cubes, which left plenty of room for toiletries and other travel odds and ends.
I’m not the one presenting our paper so I left my computer at home and will rely on my phone and a small notebook. I could have fit it in but I wanted to try traveling without it again. Most of my work stuff is meetings anyway and there’s an app for the conference so I don’t need to haul the giant program around.
I did bring my ereader though. Of course. Some things are non-negotiable.
I’ll keep you posted on how it works out and tell you more about the clothes, which are all travel-friendly.
Our last day! I should explain that we knew we didn’t have time to walk the entire trail, which is 177 miles. The part we chose, Sedbury Cliffs to Knighton, is the south part and slightly less than half the total at 80 miles on the official path. Knighton is the acknowledged (not-quite) midpoint stop, probably because it has train and bus connections as well as the Offa’s Dyke Centre.
When we planned the trip we talked about doing parts of the south section but not necessarily all of it. We’d make sure we had shorter sections at the beginning and then get from one stop to another by walking or some other route depending on how we felt. But I guess once we started we got hooked, never mind the rain and the mud, because it’s the only way we wanted to proceed. If you had told me that I would stop in Hay-on-Wye and fail to visit a single bookshop I would have never believed you. But walking 9-15 miles a day, carrying a 20-lb. backpack over hilly terrain, is time-consuming and taxing, and we were pretty beat by the time we got in. Plus, most bookshops we encountered didn’t stay open very late. Even the one in Tintern was closed when we reached there at 3:30pm, which was about the earliest we stopped on any day.
Today’s stage, Kington to Knighton, is described as one of the best sections of the path, in part because it contains so many examples of what the full walk offers. And not least because after 50 miles we finally rejoin the Dyke itself. We set off from Kington and were immediately walking uphill to a golf course. That was unexpected. We managed not to get hit by any golf balls and made our way to fields above the town, where we had lovely views:
And soon we were reunited with Offa’s Dyke.
We hadn’t met many other walkers over the week we’d been on the path. There was a German couple whom we met occasionally, starting at Llangattock and continuing through the rest of our stages (they were doing the whole path), but mostly we’d pass each other or say hello in the evening in town. In Kington we shared the inn with two British men, one of whom whom now lives in Canada, and we saw them off and on this last day. And we met a solitary walker, a man in his 70s, who was coming from the north. But it’s a bit early for peak season, but I get the feeling that even when the path is at its busiest it’s nothing like the Coast-to-Coast, let alone the Hadrian’s Wall walk. Still, there were enough people to make us feel both part of a group while also giving us the solitude that had made the path so attractive.
Walking on the Dyke turned out to be surprisingly tricky. In the first couple of days, when we walked alongside it for much of the time, we were always aware of its mass height, but now we were actually balancing on the top. The badgers (and possibly other animals) have been making homes within it, and it can be narrow and uneven. But there’s something about walking on a hundreds-year-old form that is unlike anything else. Yes, it’s man-made, but it has become so much a part of the landscape that it feels like part of the natural earth. Unlike the Iron Age stone circle, which we admired but weren’t part of, this felt like something that integrated us into its existence. Humans, sheep, birds, plants, and all kinds of natural life had shared space on the Dyke since the 8thC.
The path was indeed a lovely way to end our journey. We walked uphill, downhill, across different types of fields and pasture, and saw the requisite number of sheep and cows.
And we came into Knighton via, of all things, a second golf course! This one had sheep mingling with the golfers, so it was clearly a multi-use facility; a links course in every way.
Although we thought we would have a chance to visit the Offa’s Dyke Centre, they had changed their hours and now closed at 5:30, so we missed them. We checked into our lodging, which had been operating as a coaching inn since the 14thC, according to its website. I’m pleased to say the mattress and bathroom were of much more recent vintage. The dining room served excellent food, and after baked sardines for a starter it was TheH’s turn to have a Hereford steak while I went for the Cauliflower Cheese.
We felt an immense sense of accomplishment. TheH has done a lot of backcountry trips and mountain climbing, but I’ve never done anything like this, and neither of us had backpacked in forever, so leaving the next morning from Knighton’s little railway station was bittersweet.
We were ready for a break, but now we want to find more of these kinds of activities. Britain is full of marvelous walks, of course, and we still have the second half of Offa’s Dyke before us, but we’re also exploring possibilities in the USA, and one of the best-known is even in Missouri.
I’m so behind! But I want to finish out my posts on this, both for my own sake and so that people looking for information on the route can find it in case it’s helpful.
This stage was going to be one of the long days, about 14.5 miles, and we were really starting to feel the aches and pains of daily walking. TheH had developed a pressure blister which made the last few miles into Hay-on-Wye yesterday pretty uncomfortable, and we had a day with plenty of up-and-down walking ahead of us. The lack of bus services in Wales really hit home here, because despite the route being popular, there was no direct bus service from Hay to Kington, our destination, so we couldn’t decide to abandon the walk partway. Unless there was Uber or something, which, just, no.
However, in addition to its famous bookstores (which were closed when we arrived and hadn’t opened by the time we left), Hay is blessed with an excellent pharmacy which was a 5-minute walk from our B&B and the start of the path, so we decided to go there and seek advice. If they had something that would alleviate the discomfort, then we could start off and just hope for the best. TheH went in to talk to the pharmacist while I waited outside (in excellent weather, our first such morning) with the packs. I was joined by a walker who was also waiting for his partner. They were doing a top-to-bottom, nearly 1000-mile walk from Land’s End to John o’Groats to raise money for prostate cancer research. They were about our age and doing magnificently despite experiencing even worse weather than we had.
TheH was successful in his quest, so he bandaged himself up and we started on our way. The first mile or two of the path took us along the Wye River again, and it was a much less demanding way to begin the day. Eventually, though, we were back crossing farms, complete with famous Hereford cattle in large pastures. A photo for Ros:
Today’s stage is not considered particularly demanding according to the guidebooks and other people’s accounts, but it had plenty of verticality: the total ascent is 2230 feet, almost as much as we did yesterday in climbing to Hatterall Ridge. We could see back to Hay’s Bluff, where we’d been yesterday:
We broke for lunch at a welcoming church in Newchurch, which puts out drinks and biscuits for walkers. There we met a young woman who was walking the full path, more or less on the same schedule as us, and we walked much of the rest of the day with her. She was in her 20s, walking alone and camping or staying in hostels, while taking a break between jobs.
I’ve learned to decode British understatement when it comes to these descriptions, though: Americans tend to call anything off-road a hike, whereas Brits will call strenuous exertions (by American standards) a walk. This stage had two healthy ascents, the second taking us to Hergest Ridge, which offers gorgeous views of the surrounding counties and back to the Brecon Beacons. It began to rain when we were on the ridge, so we didn’t see as far as we might have on a clear day, but we did get to see the big Brecon peaks before the clouds came down. And there were more cows. These seemed to find us more interesting:
We also walked through fields which were full of these grasses, making the landscape look pink/red from a distance. I don’t know what they are, but they were beautiful:
Part of Hergest Ridge lies within Hergest Common land, which is privately owned but made available to walkers and local residents. You will be completely unsurprised to know it is also utilized by sheep:
There is also a lovely garden, which we bypassed on our way down into Kingston. We found our inn, which was located close to the huge church that looks over the town, and checked in. Our hosts were a lovely young couple who had spent years renovating the property into a gracious and welcoming retreat.
We went down to one of the local pubs for dinner and, as usual, had excellent food: a Hereford steak salad for me and cod with summer tomatoes for TheH, with a shared strawberry trifle for dessert. We chose to eat in the bar, where regulars were having their usual get-together, and were made very welcome (especially when we agreed that turning on the footie was an excellent idea).
Fortified, we made our way back to the inn and turned in early. Only one more day to go, and it would take us back to Offa’s Dyke itself. I leave you with our day according to our Garmins:
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.