Offa's Dyke Path: A diary
24/08/15In the last two weeks of July this year I walked the Offa's Dyke path along the Welsh and English border from Prestatyn in North Wales to Sedbury Cliffs in the south. I wrote a diary as I went, which I have decided to release here. I have transcribed it as it was written, as faithfully as I can, including underlinings and grammer. The purpose of the diary was really to help me remember what had happened, when the days meld and fade into one another in a rose tinted haze. I remember thinking about what this walk meant and how it was changing me, because I did feel changed. I don't have the answers yet, but it is certain that an event can only be life-changing if one's life changes after it. I don't know if this will count, but I do know that after walking over 177 miles along a barrier built some 1300 years ago with my home on my back, I feel different. And that this is the start, not the end.
Prestatyn. Camping in beautiful flowery garden. Water feature burbling away. Went down to seafront to start the walk. Had fish and chips which I’d finished by the time I got there. I think I like the wind farms. Odd place. Not as horrible as I was expecting, but devoid of all romance. I had a pint of West Coast Pale Ale. Bar tender like a fairy or sylph. Now reading and there is a teenage party next door. Earlier was loud music, now chatting and occasional shouts and cries. Hilarious. Sunset looks amazing. Half wish I’d gone down to beach but sure it would have been disappointing. Sartorius hurts. Will dose up tomorrow.
Up at 7 for shower. Breakfast at Plas Ifan lovely. Talked to couple who had walked path 3 yrs ago. They were going to Hay soon. Set off at 9.05. Pretty steep coming out of Pres. Kept looking back for the sea and kept seeing it! Farming country, a bit up and down, lots of sheep and some cows, saw a frog. Weather beautiful, clouds like sheep. Rolling countryside should give way to hills tomorrow. Nice campsite. Everyone on path going opp. direction to me!
Was pretty glad to get out of Bodfari. broke camp at 9 after leisurely coffees. Pub was shit. Downing Arms. Locals very starey and gossipy and then one guy started complaining about ragheads being everywhere. Anyway - strimmer on the other side of fence at 7.45 so good thing I was up. Walk started gently and got into stoney path w/ old trees. Hill fort was amazing. Not a soul around. Took the detour up Mol Arthur and there was a cairn - cairns every where I was in Heaven! Some very steep climbs - Almost clambering. Lunch @ Jubilee Tower, feeling behind and exhausted. Much like Malvern Hills but on steroids. Down from there, loads of people. At Clwyd Gate had to climb up again. Much higher and further than expected, nice little dog said hello. Lots of sheep. Weird not often used path behind strange houses and around hill to get to campsite - Hills Have Eyes. Camping near fishing lake. Horses, piebald and shetland in next field, friendly but of course means flies! Exhausted, hurt all over. Hip was bad today. Foot blister size of 2 50ps! Windy. Wolfed down noodles and had shower. Do not expect to leave tent!
Rained overnight so tent was wet. Got going early as poss but after faffing it was 8.45 by the time I hit the trail. Going was easy - Fields, leaving hills behind. After Llandegla (?) into forest past studios. Got a little lost at one point, but I guess that is what forests do. All conifers planted in rows. Uphill. Out onto open peat fen. Walking along railway sleepers until road takes you down to world’s end. Very open and windy, body was in agony. Right side giving up all over the shop. Path follows under crags and scree slopes. Blue stone very dramatic. Descended on to road. Not seen buzzards or ravens. Lots of chilled brown faced sheep and lambs. Dinas Bran comes into sight. Really looks like a ruin on top of a conical hill from Lord of the Rings. Struggled into camp down lane towards Llangollen, very friendly and well equipt. Town very sweet. Lots of pubs and butchers. V. nice sausage bap and chilli garlic sausage roll. Bought walking poles because pain in right side. Washed clothes, really windy but not drying. Ate Co-op chicken and cucumber and toms for dinner! Kate arrived at 10pm!
Set off about 9.30 after coffee and cheese bread from Co-op. Back onto path and then through woods (deciduous turning to coniferous) where there were very mossy walls. Looked old and peaceful. Kate kept finding rubbish. Stopped at aqueduct for coffee and welsh cakes. Walk over A.D. was amazing huge drop, great views. Lots of walkers about (day trippers) - Telford designed. Walked along the footpath, great to have someone to chat to. Along canal the up through farmland and past Chirk Castle. Very ancient oaks around path, some cut into by road, steep walk up from Castle Mill where finally join actual Dyke. Kate scared of horses and cows. Plenty of both. More very old stone walls and boulders. Dropped bags and went off path little to see burial mound. Stayed at Carreg-y-Big equestrian centre. Kate called ahead and got us on sofas of rec room. Very grateful as rained in night, at times heavy! Knee now hurting more than ever. Thank God for walking sticks!
Kate’s lunch eaten by big black lab!
Sun19th Met Ian - Owner of Carreg-y-big. Thanked him and paid
Rain and Clouds cleared quickly and the day was sunny and fresh after the rain. Walking we met several Sunday strolling locals on Racecourse Common saying how lucky we were with the weather. Descend through wooded paths to beautiful hamlet Ty’n-y-coed. 7 Bedroom house for sale with barn - looks like owned by ceramicist for studios. Want. Just following signs rather than constantly reading book. Trefonen village shop amazing. Had pasties and cookies and coffee in mugs (pasty for later, pork pie for brekkie). Open hill summit with compass/direction plaque thing. Like Malvern. House on way down sells magnums. See disused farm buildings and cottages straight out of my work. Stopped on a bench overlooking Nant-Mawr. Such a pretty spot. Head up towards treeline of massive wood. Grinning, feels like wind in the willows, Ratty and Mole walking into wild wood. Path steep, and then onto Dyke high up. Path follows Dyke across onto golf course and then down below cliffs. Stop to eat Pasty. Don’t see peregrine F. Look at old ruined quarry w/buildings and down into Llaymynech past wall where Darwin measured mudstone! Beautiful red brick house overlooking valley. Ornate porch. Stopped for a couple of pints at Bradford arms then walked canal to Four Crosses. Many beautiful houses, new and old. River Vyrnwy. Kate collected car outside Golden Lion and I set up tent for night. Said Bye. Waited until then opened at 7. Had 2 bitters and sausage, egg, chips. Full. Bit squiggly. Asian vet student also there, and guy w/lots of tats. Owner big old school rock fan. Deep velvet live tape playing whole time.
Woke pretty early. Right leg in lots of pain at night. Dusting of rain on tent but ground dry. Went to get brekkie and coffee at Costcutter. Friendly little dog (there have been lots of friendly dogs) was very hesitant about the path at points. Through milk depot and into estate, then across farm. Kid in overalls told me where to go. “Don’t worry about the tups.” Walked along Dyke through farmland, dead flat. Lots of livestock challenges. Big boy sheep, could walk past. Curious cows had to shoo a bit. Then onto embankment by Severn. Lots of livestock and poo! Boots got heavy and started to rain hard and continuous, bullocks not moving, walked around, later. Mum cows and babies and bull in gateway and by bridge sheltering from rain wouldn’t move. Had to get over nettley bridge. Found Powis Arms pub open @ 11am! (Got the 11.20) great coffee, chilli and rice and naan. Chatted w/ Canadian lady going other way. (companion of older lady we spoke to the day before. Been ditched for slowness and not wild camping!) Rain had stopped so headed out onto canal and then across fields, went a little wrong a couple of times and long climb up to beacon ring. Field of corn before top was amazing with path cut through and windy - view spectacular. Hill fort was odd. Dense trees in centre, foreboding atmosphere. Path goes around anyway. Way down through forest. Managed conifers but also other trees on side of steep hill. Dark fishing pond, but later on Offa’s Pool all gone. Deep hole with vegetation. Then walk down country road and behind houses of Kingswood. Along main road and then fields along dyke to campsite. Dead on feet and slowing down. Bullocks being very inquisitive, near charging. Shoo’d them an hopped over stile they rushed straight up. Almost walk past camping - Meadow Rise, Forden. Had called earlier @ Buttington and booked bunk house! Have bunk to myself with amazing shower and can charge phone again. TV does work thank god. Washed socks, hope they dry! Finished reading Stardust and preview of other book. Made me sad. Saw red kite coming into Kingswood! Now tucked up happy! Do miss Kate, evening feels bit dull but I am thinking and writing and will sleep in a bed. I feel different. Maybe this trip is changing me.
Started early feeling good. Raining but bunkhouse was only £10! As conditions bad realised I would have to go to Montgomery for food. Long grass on path had me with soaking socks straight away. Feet sodden all day. Montgomery very nice. Imagine regency costumed people could be wandering around. Stopped at Spa and got massive oggie and pork pie. Inhaled oggie straight away. Showers with a couple of sunny intervals. Long grass and narrow path made sticks difficult to use. Walk along dyke all way. Met a very nice farmer in his 70s who chatted a while. Saw pub w/ petrol pump and walk through fancy estate gates. Then started climbing up. Switchbacks were murder! High country so views as rolling hills but up and down, following dyke on serious terrain. Realised that it always has the oldest trees on it. Thought sign saying 2 3/4 miles to Newcastle was a joke. Felt even further, was really plodding by time got up to high hill and saw half way sign! 88 1/2 miles each way! Such a boost. In campsite in Newcastle on Clun. Compeed blister plasters came off. It is huge and looks like an oyster shell. Re-applied. Hope they last until Kington where there is another pharmacy. Only person in campsite again! (although met 2 guys - Father/son? - Travelling same Direction and same time as me, first time I’ve seen them) apparently there is a fox about so food away in washup area. Off to pub for dinner. Very blustery little village in valley. Very tired but getting used to that. Short day tomorrow but very undulating again. Hope for better weather.
Went to Crown. met Bill Paxton and his wife whose name I think is Louise? and a historian called Ed. Fuck in hell - what a day.
Ed reminded me a little of the guy from Black books.
I was going to have a lie in but the pain in my knees woke me up and the weather looked touch and go so I thought I should get going while it was still dry. Ate super noodles for breakfast with some trail mix. Yum. and Coffee. Got going and first field had a huge bull and his whole family. Ha! Tiptoes around. Short day, only 7.5 miles but 2nd half of the switchbacks so was expecting it to be quite tough. Actually even though it was steep, much was on tracks so not hard going.Great views but hard to see where come from, always looking for the line of the dyke. Followed it up to its highest point. You walk alongside and it does feel like your companion. Kite and ravens (4 ravens as I was coming down into Knighton). Some rain. Ran into other people at Knighton info having lunch. Blaine and Kelvin. Blaine thought orange back pack was someone else (it is my rain cover) - Pitying Bill and Louise if the found it difficult to find their way on this… today will be tough for them. Went down into Knighton for lunch - Lasagne, very nice and nice coffee. Cool old guy in T-shirt and bucket hat called me in for ‘Best coffee in town’ and ‘Legendary lasagne’ it was good. Books all over Barclays coffee house, campsite back on the north side of town so retraced my steps. Again only person in field! But YHA already fully booked tomorrow only 1/2 day walking - 9 miles after detours. Resting in tent, sun blazing.
-In the end I ate supernoodles and trail mix for dinner. Started reading Homer’s Odessy.
I asked mum for some places I should look out for in Kington with family connections, and she obliged, so I shall get up early tomorrow and try to find them when I get there. It is starting to feel like a powerful thing, looking for where my great grandfather grew up, and where his mother dies , and where my granny grew up… and it feels much more special because I will have walked there. My great grandfather’s name was Felix my mum tells me. Because of a song from WWI - “Felix Kept on Walking.’’ This is not why I started this journey, but maybe it’s why I am here.
Listening to bulls sounding off across fields, and all kinds of birds. Also saw sheep dogs (2) and Landrover driving sheep today. mummy sheep separated from kids were crying for them.
A perishing cold night under a clear sky. Put extra jumper on and drifted in and out. As the sun comes up it gets easier to fall asleep but got up in time to walk the 1/2 mile back into Knighton and got breakfast, coffee and oggie for lunch in Bakery. Hit the path by 8.45. Uphill start but that proved to be the worst bit. The day was beautiful breezy air on high hilltops. Massive oggie demolished by 12 as it was so heavy I needed to get rid of it. Caught up to Kelvin and Blaine just after that and ended up walking with them all the way to Kington. there was one amazing part where we climbed up a hill covered entirely in bracken. It headed back towards the end of a valley and looking back down it was amazing. The fields flowed into the valley like a green sea into a cove. It’s difficult to write when there is not much to say except how beautiful a day it was. Saw our first look at Hatterall Ridge looming on the horizon, the weather all along looked brutal. I fancy I saw the spine of the Malvern Hills too but I will try to confirm that tomorrow. Getting into the campsite the lady in a caravan opposite gave me a cup of coffee! Lovely welcome. I went for a walk to get tomorrow’s lunch and ended up getting a sandwich and some nibbles for dinner instead. Will find cafe and butchers for tomorrow before I head out of town. Also drawn to find the tavern, where great grandfather Fred used to drink and where they had his wake. It was closed. Went back to the tent. Wasn’t sure I would come back. Just after 8pm. Here I am writing this journal, pint half drunk, in the Tavern. Feels strange, not how I thought it would but I didn’t know how it would feel. It feels good to be here, even though he died years before I was born. Haven’t found Cooper’s Yard. but I don’t even know what he looked like.
Just as I left a guy walked in who knew Felix. Said he was a postman, always wore shiney shoes (high polish) and walked very upright and straight. Not what I had pictured at all. Said he lived opposite the printers.
I also saw a stoat a Dolley green, bounded towards me, looked at me and then bounded away. Fumbled for my camera and missed it as it jumped into the hedge and scattered the birds.
Woke up to the sound of rain on the tent. Proper soaking rain. Decided to try and pack everything first and then pull the tent down and put it on the outside of my pack. Worked. Wet tent but I knew I’d be going to Uncle Pete and Aunty Pauline’s tomorrow night so no matter. No point in waiting around so went to Regents Cafe and had coffee and sausage sandwich and pack lunch and was on the road by 8.15. Walking out of Kington past Hergest House where granny worked as a teenager, then onto Hergest ridge. Outstanding walking. Even though raining and couldn’t see much it was lovely and pleasant underfoot. Towards the far end of the ridge some sheep were caught in front of me. Others kept joining and as approach Gladestry I must have had around 20 in front of me for about a mile! After Gladestry walking got harder as things got a bit muddier, worst in one lane where hundreds of sheep must have crapped recently. As the day wore on still raining, nowhere dry to stop so decided to push on all the way to hay. Bit with felled wood was as bad as it says in the book. Weeds and grass soaked me to skin. Over main rd. and by the Wye my legs were seizing up, but stumbled into the Globe at 2.15, only 6 hours in rain for 14 1/2 miles! Had hot choc and Brandy, talked to Emily, looked at my own pictures. Had some food at Blue Boar, changed into some dry clothes after couple pints called U. Pete and A. Pauline and was collected and taken to warm house up in hills. Massive dinner, bath, internet, weather forecast. Tomorrow looks good for Hatterall ridge. After that I will be wet. Will probably try and finish as fast as possible now Monday. Saw a Kite before descent towards river.
Woke early and packed all my freshly laundered dry clothes and ate an amazing fry up courtesy of Aunty Pauline. She also gave me bacon and sausage sarnies to add to my uneaten tuna ones fro yesterday. I was dropped at the carpark in Hay at 8.30. A perfect start. Setting off across fields I took a wrong turn once. Going off track for 20 mins but once back on track my spirits were high due to the good weather, the perfect day for crossing the ridge. Winds quite light and sunny with some fluffy clouds around. Saw several sets of wild ponies and the views were unreal. Herefordshire rolling away on one side, with clear views of the Malvern Hills, and the Black Mountains on the other. Rearing up like a wave. The ridge is wide and in places very boggy, in others sandy. After my lunch I started to come across ladies on horses doing orienteering and wearing florescent clothes… Some sort of horse club. Came to the realisation that many of the horses were terrified of me because with the backpack they didn’t see me as a person. Found great difficulty in knowing if I should speak, or stand still, or go past asap. There were so many it got to be quite stressful for me as well as the horses. I got quite anxious how they would react as I approached. I made great pace and was quite disappointed when the ridge started to come to an end. But then I saw the sea! (or at least the Severn Estuary), which is my goal, and I am almost there! Spoke to an elderly couple struggling up close to Pandy. Very lovely explained a little about the creation of the path (recalling no names). Long descent into Pandy and pitched up at the campsite at the Rising Sun pub. Showered, Fed, and with breakfast ordered all looks good. Except the weather forecast is terrible. I will be taking down a soaking tent and walking in rain and putting up a soaking tent. no place for food until Monmouth either… And my blister has finally burst… So tomorrow may be hell! But today I did the Hay to Pandy section in 7 1/2 hours!
I’m struggling to remember what happened today because it seems to be a blur of wet misery. I started being awake early, listening for the first drops of rain on the tent. They duely came at 6.45 and I was already in my clothes with bag ready to go and whisked everything into the shower area at the campsite. I hung the tent up to dry and read until 8am when breakfast began. Generic full english but good and filling as I knew I had no lunch. The rain was pouring down in great soaking drives and I tried the poncho, finally getting it over myself and my bag. I looked like a ninja turtle with shell. I was due to terrify some farm animals today! Started off ok, just driving rain. Passed by lovely looking church at Llangattock Lingoed all painted white. They have a sign inviting you in for tea or coffee but it was too early to stop. then passed pretty good time before taking a bit of a wrong turn just before Caggle Street. Ended up with a whole herd of cattle following me and had to jump over a fence. After a few more fields and wrong turns I ended up in the same field about 100m further on - I would have re-joined the path if I’d just kept going! It seemed like I had an angry farmer staring at me with his dog across a field so I waved and kept going. Very soon I found myself entering a field very close to 4 bullocks who did their best to chase after me to the gate. then was at the White Castle, where I bought welsh cakes and munched them while talking to the guy in the kiosk. He said that if I wanted to I could walk down the road instead of the fields. I wish I had. A couple of miles later I had to cross 4 large cornfields which were heavy, wet clay. My boots got waterlogged. It was as if a litre of water had been poured into each boot. I was aware of my blister having popped and it could become infected. In the next field I stopped in the pouring rain under a tree (not much protection) and wrung out my socks, it didn’t improve matters much. I also switched out the poncho for jacket and bag cover, as it gives more freedom, if not actually drier. A mile or so further on I started to run into people coming the other way, stopping to chat sometimes. the rain continued, as did my chances of getting trench foot. It was just miserable. I stopped to try and clean up my blister but the plasters were holding firm. After a near ankle breaking field of cattle churned ground I had another bullock incident. It was actually quite hilarious as they again ran away and then towards me. This time as I was hidden behind the hedge, they followed me and popped up when I was at the other end. I had a little head in hands moment at the summit of Kingswood but the rain was starting to ease up, even if my boots were squelchy. Coming into Monmouth a yappy little dog came flying down to bark at me. Apparently my bag cover looked too much like the luminous postal uniform. Another thing to add to the list of things animals dislike about me, except cows, they love me. And a couple of lambs! Who came up to say Hello! Must have been bottle fed. Anyway, I had been told that Monmouth festival is on and in the campsite (caravans and hikers only) you can hear the music through the rain. Had food at another pub. Really generic but big portions. Monmouth is the first place that feels like a big town with a non tourist life of its own. Complete with teenagers and a big supermarket. Weather is still crap but I am cozy in my tent. Boots drying. I really hope they are ok by morning… The Wurzles are headlining.
I am writing this on the Thursday, resting my still aching ligaments, muscles and bones. I will do my best to remember…
Woke early to get a good start. Around 18 miles to go to Sedbury Cliffs and then around 2 miles back to the train station in Chepstow. Was on the road, walking through Monmouth by 7.15, detritus of the festival about. Only place open was a Costa Coffee and I needed breakfast and lunch. Couldn’t bring myself to go there so carried on walking. Boots had not dried and had packed tent up wet, with a determination to get to the end. As 7.30 ticked over I saw activity in Wigmore’s Bakery and knocked on the door. They old me 2 pasties for only £2.60! One went straight down my throat along with Ibuprofen, the other for lunch. First obstacle was the Kymin, which rises steeply out of Monmouth. Plodded up through its trees to the wonderful view of Monmouth at the summit. There is the imposing white roundhouse at the top but also a naval temple (like a Roman temple but for the British empire) but it was too pompously imperial for me to want to take a picture. Walked down, passing a young female walker with a big pack going the other way, so there are others! Stopped at the village shop in Lower Redbrook for coffee, Paracetamol and snacks. If I’ve learnt one thing it is if you see a shop, stop and buy something! Another steep climb up into woodland and back onto the dyke. Great to see it again and beautiful dark woodland. Much of the day was like this. High above the river Wye on a wooded ridge on the Dyke. Did see some beautiful woodland in the Forest of Dean/Wye Valley. Come down to the river at Bigsweir Bridge. Rising up into more steep woodland but before I got there I passed through another field of bullocks! Sitting down, gave them a wide berth. They are my nemesis… Very steep woodland, getting to a point of nearly climbing up rocky crags. Arrows and acorns painted onto rocks and trees. Now in Gloucestershire. At the top in rural area lots of houses. through lanes and stoney paths between fields and houses. Stopped for lunch sitting on a stile. Wolfed down pasty. Would have my Snickers at Devils’s Pulpit. Down past the turn to Brockwier (only 1/2 way!) and then up to more woodland, meeting another young hiker with a big pack. Obvs. I started a bit earlier than most as have seen more people towards the end. The next 2 miles run by English Heritage, took a long time. Stopped at Devil’s Pulpit for a snack and a view over Tintern. looks amazing, must come back. very far below. Yew tree that grows out of boulder. 6 miles to go. Feels like the end, redouble pace. As you come into Chepstow horrible bit of road, and then the path starts to fall apart. Views of the Severn Bridge but route gets nasty, behind houses, fences, very tight. At 3.30 chatted with some BandB owners in a field (part of large old house). Doing the whole path gives you respect from strangers, “Well done, good for you.” Descend past chepstow and now on pavement the whole way. Get to bridge over A48, where I will have to return to, to get back into chepstow. Now Sedbury. Suburbia. Hedge collapse means you have to walk down road not a problem. I’d decided to stash my poles for last bit and walking was agonising and difficult. At last enter fields again and back onto the dyke for the last stretch. As I see the finishing rock ahead, Martins buzz around me and a buzzard soars overhead. At the end. there is overwhelming relief. The journey has been awesome and it is the perseverance I’m most proud of. I cannot take it in so I take some pictures and head back, now using my poles again. My suburban surroundings and Chepstow feel so grim. Full of sour faced people and grey. Have to wait a while on the station for a train that will take me home. Change my socks and shirts. I hurt so much. All the pain is washing over me. Looks like a guy has been climbing. Other people having adventures. The Welsh coastal path goes through here, I might see it again. Train and change at Newport. On train to Hereford I am passing through country I saw from Hatterall ridge. A tear in my eye now as I see features last seen from 600m up. Collected at Hereford by mum and Lottie dog. there will be a long time to decompress.
On facebook I have posted a portion of the photos I took on the path. You can view them even if you aren't on facebook.