Offa's Dyke (S) Summary

Offa's Dyke - South
By Mark Walford


There's no doubt about it, time really does fly. It's already a month on from the walk and yet I barely seem to have unpacked. I have few physical reminders of the week - a couple of toenails have turned a Gothic black and every so often my dodgy knee will twinge, evoking fond memories of cheeky gradients hidden beyond a stile. But I do have the pictures, my memories, and this set of scribblings. As predicted I missed the discomfort and exertion as soon as I put a business suit back on and became a Project Manager again. I have a new screen saver on my laptop, a view down the sublime valley of Radnor, taken as we descended from Bradnor hill, and I have spent many moments staring at it wistfully as phones ring and keyboards rattle all around me.
As a route I cannot recommend Offa's Dyke enough. It has everything you need really, mouth-watering scenery, well defined footpaths, friendly hospitality, gaunt ruins (the buildings - not us) and of course hills. My abiding memory is the amount of 'upping and downing' (as my younger daughter would say when she was small) required. It didn't detract from the experience one bit though; without all that climbing the views would have been the poorer. It isn't a particularly arduous trail, nowhere near as demanding as, say, the Kintyre Way and most averagely fit people will cope with this. Youthful super fit folks like Loves Young Dream will scarcely notice it, and there are those, like a certain octogenarian Aussie, who will always show by example that anybody can do it. Just grab a pack, pull on those boots, and walk.
As for next year, well I can't wait of course. I'll be back for part two of Offa's Dyke, swearing at the pointless climbing of pointless hills, forcing my soft city feet into outdoor shoes, suffering the inevitable blisters, chafing, and knotted leg muscles that will serve to point out that I really need to be fitter and probably conclude with me doing nothing about it.
Oh and of course I'll be at the rear end of a line of four, with a Strider, an Ambler and a Rambler ahead of me. But I wouldn't have it any other way. After all, when the day is done and the beer is ordered and we rest tired bodies the miles walked are the same for all of us but, more importantly, are happily shared.



Offa's Dyke (S) Day 6

Offa's Dyke - South
By Mark Walford
Day Six

Route: Kington to Knighton
Date: Thursday September 10th 2009
Distance: 13.5m (22km)
Elevation: 541ft (165m) to 1,299ft (396m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 2,448ft (746m) and 2,421ft (738m)

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There's no such thing as free parking ....

The final day of our walking dawned bright and clean, in direct contrast to the Stone Trolls who turned up for work under my window at 6:30 - oh how I would miss their random hammering and merry cursing. The Ritual Of Foot Therapy was rather slapdash today and didn't amount to much more than a couple of plasters and the good old crepe bandage. My left big toe nail had mutated into something so ugly that I really can't go into details here. Let's just say pork scratchings and leave it at that. I covered the unsightly object with a plaster. Colin, Jo and I moved with practised ease about the small kitchen of Brock Cottage performing our chores with precision and, I like to think, a certain grace. Never a fan of porridge I inexplicably accepted Jo's offer of a bowlful and then had to eat it with forced enthusiasm. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Jo's preparation, he's apparently rather good at his oats, but I just don't like the stuff and couldn't do it justice.
Bod arrived, punctual as ever, and we set off for the drive to Knighton. As with all the other mornings, Jo elected to be my passenger whilst Colin rode with Bod. I rarely see my cousin (only, in fact, when we do these long walks) so it was great to have the time to sit and talk with him. He's an interesting guy with a perceptive view on most things and our topics ranged far and wide during the week; which meant that the journeys always flew by as a result. We pulled into the town of Knighton and found the Offa's Dyke visitor centre with little fuss. The centre, a pleasant modern building of local Welsh slate, was open so Colin and I took a quick look around. I checked out the various tee shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies and satisfied myself that after the end of next year's walking I would have a decent selection to choose from.
Colin meanwhile had decided to buy the guide book covering next year's northerly section of the Offa's Dyke. He swallowed audibly when he was obliged to stump up over twelve English pounds for it. I asked if we could park there for the day and the lady behind the counter told us we could and it was free but there was a donation box near the door on the way out. Colin looked grimly amused. "This was our donation," he muttered, pocketing his new purchase. Outside he discovered he had an autographed copy of the guide, signed by its authors, so maybe the inflationary price was explained.

In Kington town, falling in love with a Bridgitt, Offa's Dyke reunited ....

We zipped off to Kington and we were soon shouldering our packs and getting ready to set off. Kington is one of those pleasant old market towns that you can find all over the U.K. I like these places, I like their haphazard town planning and varied architecture, I like the civic pride displayed in the tidy streets, smart shop fronts, and market squares. Kington seems to have managed to retain its old family businesses and it was refreshing to walk along a high street not stamped with a Tesco Express, a Boots Chemist, and a Starbucks.
ODS Day6 Pic 1


Give me 'Titleys Hardware Store' any time.
Colin was cameraman for the day and I could hear him presenting a running (well, walking really) commentary on the journey out of Kington. He was musing on the prospect of a good climb in store and suddenly exclaimed "Oh - and there it is then." I was admiring a row of quaint red brick cottages and wasn't really looking ahead. I followed Colin's camera and there was a bloody great hill staring back at me, literally across the road from Kington, as if it had been deliberately parked as close as possible to the town boundary. This, we were to learn, was Bradnor Green, a climb of a determined nature that would eventually lead us up and over the top of Bradnor Hill. We started the trek upwards, knees and legs throbbing in indignation at this rude awakening. Bradnor Hill tops out at 1,239 feet which makes it a Bridgett. A little research has
told me that to qualify as a Bridgett a hill must:

1. Fail to meet the criteria of any other reasonable and sensible Hill & Mountain Classification
2. Be somewhere worth walking to.

In other words a bit of an also-ran as far as hills go, which in my experience is a little harsh on Bradnor Hill. I mean, it has the highest golf course in England. You'd think that would qualify it for something more than Bridgett status; an honorary Hewitt at the very least. I had somehow translated the word 'Bridgett' into 'Bastard' by the time I laboured up the last slope and found myself on a wide green plateau of lush grass and sheep. It was hardly like being on a hill at all
and on such a perfect day, with the sun shining, I changed my mind immediately and fell very much in love with Bridgett, er ...I mean ... Bradnor.
We made our way over this large expanse of meadowland with lovely views being offered back into Hereford, and a last retrospective glimpse of Hatterall Ridge becoming vague and insignificant by all the miles we had placed between. We still climbed higher, but on more gentle gradients, and it was a refreshing, enjoyable section of the route. I was bringing up the rear again and I had time to study the different walking styles of my friends. There was The Strider, a slow almost rolling action that Bod employed, a constant mile eating posture that varied little whether he was walking on flat ground or climbing the steepest of hills. Then there was Jo, The Ambler, a slighter figure than the rest of us, baseball cap placed backwards on his head, hands often in his pockets, for all the world looking as if he was strolling down his back garden to admire the prize Begonias.
ODS Day6 Pic 2

Bradnor Hill and the dyke regained

Again, inexplicably, he seemed to devour miles effortlessly. My brother Colin adopted The Rambler method. An erect stance with hardly any upper body movement, only his head turning from side to side as he surveyed the scenery he walked through. By comparison I had seen myself on video and I had the busiest style of all, leaning forward purposefully attacking the ground with determined strides, yet perversely covering less ground than the other three. Not that I walk slow, I have long legs and a lengthy stride, but somehow this never translates into a constant speed like my companions.
By now we had passed from Bradnor Hill and onto its conjoined twin Rushock Hill. As a final reward we were re-united with our friend Offa's Dyke, last seen somewhere near Tintern on day one. Being on open ground it was a far more obvious structure, an impressive 1200 year old spoil heap running over the spine of the hill. We rested here a while under the watchful eyes of a large flock of sheep, absurdly pleased to be standing next to this turf covered ridge of Dark Ages earth.

Paradise found, oxygen lost ....

The route invited us to walk along the top of it which sadly was a little anti-climactic as it was riddled and potholed with the busy workings of rabbits and proved to be an ankle-twisting, uneven experience. However we soon left the dyke again for a while, turning eastwards onto the brow of Herrock Hill, rounding a bend and being presented with, in my opinion, the best view of the entire week. We were looking down into East Radnor valley, surrounded by gentle green hills, the counterpane of rural Wales flowing away into the dreamy distance. It was perfect weather for this most perfect view and I stood and stared for quite a while, reluctant to leave this spot, realising that the opportunity to enjoy such eye catching scenery would soon be over. Colin was equally enamoured of the place and so it was that we lost Jo and Bod for a time as they had walked on not realising we were communing with nature.
We walked down a wide grassy path and soon found ourselves a little lost. Bod and Jo were long gone and we reached a gate before dense woodland that was firmly locked with a 'Private' sign further making the point. The only other possible way forward was to take a tiny little sheep track off to our left that dropped down twenty feet or more at an extremely steep angle. I went first and took three steps before my feet went out from under me and I rode the slope all the way down on my ass. There was no damage done but I had a questionable
ODS Day6 Pic 3

East Radnor Valley

brown stain on the seat of my shorts for the rest of the day. Colin took great delight in zooming in on this of course but then had to negotiate the same slope himself with the camera still filming. To his credit he didn't go base over apex but he still crashed down in a less than controlled manner. We passed under some trees and walked along a trail bordered by a great sweep of valley sheltering in the lee of Herrock Hill and its close neighbours. If we were lost then this at least could be considered to be a bonus view. The trail developed into a more well-tended gravel path, then a farm track and finally a farm yard where Bod and Jo waited for us, maps in hand. Sometimes a nice bit of road walking is a welcome change to grassy tussocks or gravelled paths and so we meandered for a while along a most pleasant B-road, passing several Bed and Breakfast properties that must be a dream to stay in. Just as was wondering when this nice easy bit would come to an end, it did. We veered off, back across country and up through woodland on Evenjobb Hill, that even included flights of wooden steps for our entertainment. It was hard work under the sun. I was doing okay, really I was, but then I was offered the final straw; a really nasty short sharp track leading to a metal gate and a meadow beyond it. I couldn't face the thought of another breathless slow plod up this umpteenth pointless gradient and I went a bit berserk, running up it as fast as my legs would allow, almost barging through Jo who was walking upwards at a leisurely pace. I made it all the way up to the top, passed through the gate, and then almost passed out. Anaerobia is when your body becomes oxygen deprived and for a long half minute I experienced this interesting effect. I was whooping in breath but still not getting any respite from the odd feeling that I was drowning. I recovered of course but had a word with myself to not be so rash in future. I'd learned during the West Highland Way never to jog again, and now I added 'Fell Running' to my list of Things Not To Attempt. I hadn't realised that Colin was filming me throughout, the resulting footage was ... well, not as graceful as I would have wished for.

A lunchtime bite, welsh cowboys, ploughing up Furrow Hill ....

Thankfully lunch was called after we had climbed the field up from the gate, discovering along the way that the boundary fence was electrified. We took out last lunch break in brilliant sunshine; the lovely countryside laid out before us for miles, and ate in companionable silence. I lay back and covered my face with my hat, dozing pleasantly as Colin and Bod discussed the remainder of the route. I heard mention of another hill but I was already expecting this, indeed it wouldn't have been the same without a good old tramp up a jolly old hillside. Something bit me as I lay drowsing. Something with a vicious set of jaws, as it raised a sizeable lump in the small of my back which itched for days afterwards.
Colin got to his feet, muttered something about going ahead to do some filming, and left. We took another five minutes before setting off ourselves, cresting a small hill to find ourselves on the sort of uneven tussocky ground that we all agreed was our pet hate in terms of terrain. The Menu Of Ailments had been surprisingly absent thus far as I had pre-empted its publication by strapping on my knee support before we left Kington. However, as a sort of hors d'oeuvres, it did manage to tempt me with a platter of Ankle Twisters. Colin popped up from a hedgerow like a flasher but the only thing he pointed at us was the camera. He filmed us patiently walking the entire length of the field and out onto the road beyond.
Ah good, more road walking then.
Bod and I set off up the lane and had walked a respectable distance before the other two called us back to where the glaringly obvious white acorn sign (which we had missed) pointed the way across more fields. Another rather impressive Bridgett posed before us and I guessed, rightly so, that this was the next one we would have to bag. However first we had to lose all of our height since Offa's Dyke never started you from anywhere but the valley floor when climbing was required. We began to pick our way down the side of Hawthorn Hill which, inexplicably we never actually seemed to climb up in the first place. Jo suddenly had his own moment of madness.
"I can't walk down this one, my knees are starting to go," he suddenly piped up. "I'm going to jog."
And with that he set of, first in an untidy flapping of arms and legs but then, as he got some speed up, a respectable jogging gait. Colin was filming this and then he seemed to be afflicted with the same recklessness as well and began legging it down the hill after Jo's rapidly dwindling figure.
"Look at me - I'm jogging too!" he sang out to me as he careered past.
"Mind my bloody camera you silly sod," I replied fondly.
We made it down to sea level, into the very crook of the narrow valley, and then began our assault on the last hill of the week, an impressive mound called Furrow Hill. The path started off as a fairly modest gravel track passing a small group of cottages at Rhos-y-meirch and drew us up into the familiar high ground of open sheep pastures. As we climbed we heard a commotion from a meadow to our right. A man, a farmer presumably, was pretending to be a cowboy.
"Heeeaaahhh, geddon there, haa haa!"
It was very odd.
"Yaaarrrhh yarrrhhh, hey - HEYYY!"
We wondered what on earth he was doing.
"Yeeeharr, heyup-up-UP!"
"He's a-roundin' up those ornery steers fur brandin' hyuk," I drawled.
Bod laughed suddenly. "We're taking the piss but the poor bloke's probably got his leg trapped in a baler and is crying for help."
Finally we left this unseen cowboy behind and climbed onwards. The path was another strength sapper, not particularly steep, but long and snaking. I stopped a few times and I noticed that even Bod, who had suffered a painful foot all week, was taking rest breaks. For all the effort involved Furrow Hill was indeed a fine place. Similar to Bradnor Hill, its summit was a wide plateau of rolling grassland dotted here and there with clumps of lonely trees. The views were as good as any we had enjoyed all day, and it was a fitting finale to all the hills we had crossed during the week. Like Hergest Ridge before it I was captured by its wild open spaces, the winds whispering through the grass and the sweeping vistas it offered.
I made the last few yards up towards where the others waited.
"Have you seen my guidebook?" Colin called down to me.
I shook my head.
"It must have worked its way up and fell out on the path," he said dejectedly.
"Yeah," I gasped, "just like my lungs."
Fortunately he had lost his dog-eared copy of the current weeks walking and not the autographed guide purchased from Knighton earlier.

A wind down into Knighton, the missing miles explained, a Plan B ....

The long crest of Furrow Hill treated us benevolently once we made it to the top. We seemed to have discovered an even larger version of Bradnor Hill with acres of rolling grass, gorse bushes scratching a meagre living out of the thin soil, sheep in their hordes grazing, and the cool clean air. A small stand of evergreens clustered together at the apex of one minor rise, looking out of place and alien in this prairie. During the winter the cold eastern wind would bite them hard, and gales from the south west also had unrestricted access to them, but somehow they thrived.
We picked up the trail as it ran along the boundary of a sheep enclosure, pointlessly erected as far as I could tell since the sheep seemed to be pretty much free range,
ODS Day6 Pic 3

On top of Furrow Hill

and we met just a few afternoon strollers heading in the opposite direction. I wondered if they were locals because if I lived near to this wonderful place I would be climbing it at every opportunity, in all weathers. We turned eastwards and upwards to emerge at a crest where the town of Presteigne, lay below us, the shadows gathering about it as the valley fell into twilight. The sun was setting slowly, turning the grassland into subtle shades of rust and ochre, the sheep's shadows grew longer and the temperature cooled pleasantly on the close of this Indian summer day.
We began the slow wind down from Furrow Hill eventually picking up Offa's Dyke once more to enjoy another bout of lumpy, uncertain terrain until we left it to head off across pastures. There was just one more steep meadow to negotiate and as we passed through this gate Colin and I noticed that the section of dyke that bordered it was the most impressive example we had yet seen. This part of the dyke, fenced off from trespassing feet, rose easily twenty feet from ditch to crown and apart from the odd tree sprouting out of it, looked as solid and impregnable as the day it was first raised.
We entered woodland and knew that we drew near to Knighton as we began to see young families enjoying the still evening, and folk taking their dogs for a final constitutional. A park of some sort began to emerge through the trees to our right, complete with a tiny pitch and putt golf course. We walked along for what seemed like quite a long time and just as we were wondering where Knighton had gone the path tipped us off the hill in a series of steeply pitched wooded paths, tree roots and loose stones playing a final farewell tune on our tired feet. We spilled out onto a road and followed it along and then down into Knighton itself, walking along its high street past a pub bedecked with Welsh flags, and finally to the Offa's Dyke visitor centre.
Knighton has an English sounding name but the town has been proudly confirmed as Welsh for almost five hundred years, ever since the Act of Union. Colin acknowledged this by subtly hiding the St. Georges cross motif on his baseball cap, not that any of us felt in the least threatened by Knighton. It seemed to be half asleep.
There was a signpost outside the centre which pointed north and south along Offa's Dyke path. Northwards (our walk for next year) it read 97 miles. Southwards, the way we had come, it read 80 miles.
ODS Day6 Pic 3

Knighton and journey's end

So at least that solved the mystery of the missing miles. We had assumed that Knighton was exactly halfway along the route which we translated into an estimate of roughly 90 miles walking for each week. No wonder we couldn't find the missing 10 miles - they didn't exist.
Bod shrugged. "We've probably walked more than 90 miles anyway, taking all the gradients into account."
We stripped off all of our sweaty dusty gear, congratulated ourselves on a weeks walking completed, and headed back to Ross-On-Wye, via Kington, to indulge in a little celebratory imbibing.
We talked about the route we would be following next year and about the killer first day from Knighton to Brompton, which was allegedly the most arduous part of the entire route. We decided to return in May and do this section as a one-off walk. It made sense; we would knock of 15 miles from the weeks walking in September, we would not wear ourselves out on the first day of a long walk, and if by some unlucky chance we injured ourselves we would have a good 4 months to recover in time to enjoy the rest of the walk from Brompton to Prestatyn.

Celebration: The Man O' Ross Pub, Ross-On-Wye ....

We settled down at the Man Of Ross pub for an excellent meal and several rounds of the inns finest ale. Jo, not much of a late night person, took a taxi back to Brock Cottage after a couple of pints, but Bod Colin and I relaxed over another few beers, joined by the landlord who didn't kick us out until quite late. Colin and I arrived back at Brock Cottage and before we called it a night we took a last beer out into his garden, watched the stars, and chatted about the last six days. We always felt the same after completing a long distant hike. A sense of achievement tinged with sadness that it was all over for another year. Soon it would be a return to the routine of work and the daily drone of normal life. Soon the winter would arrive and the sunny mellow days of September would seem a long, long time ago. By the time I fell into bed, untroubled by the thought of an early rising, it was after 3 a.m.

See Route on ......

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Offa's Dyke (S) Day 5

Offa's Dyke - South
By Mark Walford
Day Five

Route: Hay-On-Wye to Kington
Date: Wednesday September 9th 2009
Distance: 14.5m (23.5km)
Elevation: 240ft (73m) to 1,371ft (418m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 2,231ft (680m) and 1,946ft (593m)

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The second hand book capital of the UK ....

We had further to drive today so we made a determined effort to set off earlier. The Stonemasons Symphony woke me at 6:30 and The Ritual Of Foot Therapy was concluded pretty quickly as I was running out of things to stick, wrap or smear on them.
Colin had laughed at the pile of dressings and unctions I had stashed on top of my bathroom cabinet but now they were nearly all gone. I still wound the crepe bandage around my left foot - it had become almost obligatory.
It was a glorious morning, hardly a cloud in the sky, and all the trees and hedgerows wore their late summer colours with pride, the first yellows of autumn beginning to show through. We left a car at the small market town of Kington and then made the short hop back to Hay to begin day number five. We were still unsure about how far we had to travel today, or indeed where we would be taken. Hergest Ridge featured somewhere along the route but other than that it was going to be a bit of a mystery tour. Estimated distances ranged from eleven to sixteen miles: An enigma of a day. I'd been to Hay-On-Wye before, a day's waking in April with Colin. 
ODS Day5 Pic 1

Window shopping in Hay-On-Wye

It is best known for being the second hand book capital of the UK with over thirty bookshops, and since 1988 a book festival
that draws literary luminaries from the world over, and crowds of over eighty thousand during its ten day duration. It isn't a large town so finding a B&B in June, when the festival launches, must be a nightmare for walkers of Offa's Dyke. It has a long history, the Normans in particular seemed to like this place as they built two castles and hung around for a couple of hundred years. It had a relatively anonymous existence afterwards until Richard George William Pitt Booth decided to proclaim Hay as an independent kingdom - not a real attempt at a royal coup but rather an ambitious publicity stunt that gave birth to the bibliographic reputation it enjoys today.
We walked out of Hay-On-Wye, past the Fudge Factory located rather ominously next to the public toilets. We passed by the rather impressive clock tower in Hay's market square, past its myriad bookshops, and finally left the pleasant town via a road bridge spanning the Wye. Here, just as in Monmouth a few days before, a crowd of people clustered on the bridge, engaged in outdoor pursuits. Not raft racing this time, but abseiling from the bridge's edge down to the river far below. It seemed to be a party of college students on some sort of adventure day and only a few of them looked very happy about what they were doing.

Border crossings, a long walk on Little Mountain ....

Hay-On-Wye behind us, we walked through fields of crops, the sun beaming down on us, and followed the river's course for a while before striking off to the north. There were pleasant open views all around and for a good while the walking was easy and uneventful. Bod and Jo had forged ahead leaving Colin and I to amble along, talking of this and that. We edged around one prairie sized field and observed a couple of walkers coming in from the opposite direction. They stopped, gesticulated at each other, struck off in one direction, stopped, had another conversation, and went back the way they came. This continued for some time and there was something aimless and ant-like in their wandering about that highly amused us. Bod and Jo were some way ahead of us by now but in a rare lapse of navigational skills Bod had missed the white acorn sign and we had to whistle and call them back. The sign led us into woodland and we began to climb again.
We walked for a few miles along pleasant rural byways that wound their way around hedgerows and meadows and soft rolling hills - the very picture of the English countryside. Except this of course was Wales. Or was it? The names of places we passed by served to confuse the issue because whilst there were many English name places - Redborough, Newchurch, Growther's Pool - there were other unmistakeably Welsh sounding places - Gilfoch-yr-hyeol, Dysgwylfa hill, Llwyyngwilliam - that always had you a little bit unsure as to which country you were walking through.
The map made mention of a hill known as Little Mountain and we were hoping, in vain as it turned out, to avoid having to go up and over it. It was the name that we found ominous - Little Mountain. If it had been called 'Slight Hillock' or 'Average Knoll' then we might have felt better about tackling it but 'Little Mountain' suggested rocky outcrops, scrambling, and lonely windswept heights. In fact Little Mountain was nothing like that at all; it introduced itself via some very pretty and secretive woodland walking - uphill yes, but nothing particularly taxing. Despite this however, the Menu Of Ailments arrived as I wandered beneath the dappled shade of trees. A special offer of Bubble Toes featured as I could feel a couple of new blisters under some of my digits, and Knee Grumble had overtaken Fresh Rubbed Heel as the dish of the day. I had to stop and rummage through my pack for the knee support I always carried with me for just such occasions. I wrapped it tightly around the joint and almost immediately felt the benefit. I was now wearing half my own body weight in various surgical dressings but at least I was walking in relative comfort. After a while the wooded path became steeper until we broke out from the trees on higher ground with rolling hills framing the horizon, but - which one was Hergest Ridge?
We paused for a water break and Bod began to peruse his map again. There was a long low ridge to the north; it was a bloody long way off.
"If that's Hergest Ridge we are in deep shit," he remarked. And then he turned to Colin. "There -see? There's your missing miles, all laid out before you!"
However we didn't head out towards that distant ridge but took a course more or less parallel to it. The trail continued to climb up the side of Little Mountain, a snaggled narrow little path that ran up alongside a series of fields. A path that sloped right to left which meant that after a while your ankles ached because of the unfamiliar angles. Once at the top of the hill however we were rewarded by yet another lovely 360 degree panorama of hills, valleys, and distant mountains. We were on wide grassland again and Bod summed up the look and feel of the place by suggesting that Julie Andrews was about to appear over the brow of the hill accompanied by a gaggle of singing Von Trapp children.

Kites on high, a man outstanding in his field ....

It seemed an ideal place to break for lunch. We stopped just alongside a farm track by a gated field and sprawled out on the warm turf. Large birds wheeled above our heads. Colin and Jo observed them.
"Kites?" asked Jo hopefully.
"Yes," Colin replied with a smile after watching them closely.
So there they were, the first Red Kites we had seen all week. Large and graceful with their distinctive forked tails, they sailed in lazy circles above us, serene and majestic.
The rumble of a tractor toiling up the hill drew our attention. As we watched it chugged into view, heading to the gated field in front of us. I got up to open the gate for the farmer but he obviously thought that city-bred types couldn't be trusted to do the job properly so he got out and finished the task for me. He was a friendly chap, getting on in years but probably fitter than any of us. He enthused about the weather; mentioned cutting the grass for winter feed, and said lots of other things interspersed with a lot of 'Aye's'.
He parked up the tractor and disappeared back down the hill only to re-emerge, minutes later, with the business end of a combine harvester. We watched with interest as he threaded this large vehicle through the narrow gateway and then hitched the front end of the Harvester, brought up on the tractor, to the rest of the machine. It was a manoeuvre that required a lot of precision driving and patience. Bod and I disagreed as to what he was going to do next. I thought the farmer had mentioned cutting the grass but Bod suggested that a combine harvester, albeit a small version of one, was only ever used to harvest crops. Well whoever had it right, it definitely involved chopping things down in a field.

If you feel a little glum; to Hergest Ridge you should come, The Octagenerian Aussie ....

After lunch we followed the farm track down into a valley where the farmers simple but imposing farmhouse stood, surrounded by mature trees, with a chattering brook running past the front door. For a person merely passing through it was idyllic in the extreme, but I tried to picture what it might be like on a dark day in January, when the cattle still need to be tended and the rugged fields would all the more difficult to climb. I suspected that the old farmer had a hard life at times despite the beauty he lived amidst.
ODS Day5 Pic 2

Cloud shadows on the hills and, er, Bod

We headed downwards into the very bottom of the narrow valley and of course I knew what came next. Offa's Dyke didn't disappoint me as almost immediately we were hiking uphill again, up towards the crown of the aforementioned Dysgwylfa hill. I muttered about the folly of it all but knew that once the walk was over and I was back in the office again, striving to meet impossible deadlines and stressing myself into an early grave, I would pine for these hills and the discomforts they brought and would dream of walking along with the sun on my face. We walked across bracken covered hillsides where the ubiquitous sheep first stared at us in alarm and then scurried away convinced that we were stalking them with murder in mind. To be a sheep must be to live a life in a constant state of terror. Hergest Ridge presented itself as we rounded the corner of Dysgwylfa hill. I knew of Hergest Ridge mainly through the 1970's album of the same name, written by Mike Oldfield who once lived in its shadow. For some reason I had always pictured Hergest Ridge as being 'down south' in the Home Counties (I'm probably getting confused with 'Solsbury Hill' by Peter Gabriel) so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only was it on our map, but we would actually be climbing over it. I must admit that as first impressions go, Hergest Ridge did it for me. It was a great crescent of a hill, a smooth sweeping whale back rising over 400 metres (1,300 ft) from the surrounding countryside. We were looking at its cultivated eastern flank and the hedges and fields rose up almost to its summit, a green counterpane of squares mottled here and there by the fuzzy treetops of woodland. Tiny white dots speckled this rural tapestry, sheep grazing the rich grass. It was a real stop-and-stare moment.
To approach Hergest Ridge we first descended to the tranquil village of Gladestry. A nice place - the sort of place that made you want to buy the first available property you came across and settle down to a life of vegetable growing and quiet contemplation. Soon we located the path up the hill and discovered that it was steady but not taxing, first enclosed by tall trees and then as we climbed higher, more open grassland. It was still the sort of climb that invited me to stop and get my breath back at regular intervals and during one such breather I noticed a man framing me for a picture, so I am now immortalised in some strangers photo collection; a sweaty open mouthed scruff in a floppy hat imposed against the scenic backdrop of the Marches.
We had climbed several hills during the walk to be rewarded with wonderful views once their summits were gained but I think Hergest Ridge offered us the greatest reward of the entire week, even more so than Hatterall Ridge. Quite simply the view from the top was stunning and I doubt any words or photographs I might offer can do it justice.
The weather was soft and mellow, the breeze light, and visibility almost limitless. Hills and mountains rolled away in all directions and to the west the great valley of Radnor opened out, making you wish you could take to the air and fly right across it to Bache Hill on the further side.
ODS Day5 Pic 3

On Hergest Ridge

Kites wheeled overhead, they now seemed to be everywhere having being so elusive for the first few days. We stopped by a signpost near the summit of the hill and surveyed the land laid out below us. Bod pointed out the general direction of the following days walking and to my tired legs it seemed to be yet another series of hills to be climbed. The wind was stronger on the exposed hilltop and it hissed through the long grass and tried to snatch your hat from your head. I panned the video camera almost 180 degrees, starting and ending at the setting sun. We picked up the path that would lead us to Kington and set off once more.
Hergest Ridge is a place of bracken and turf and sheep once you reach the top, a still and timeless sort of place. I walked along with Colin and we enthused about it all and how lucky we were to be there to experience it first-hand. All too soon we were descending again, following the long track that would lead into Kington. We noticed a small group of ponies enjoying the shade of a stand of trees and soon after a couple of women walked past us to stand counting them anxiously as if they feared some had been stolen. I half expected them to ask us to turn out our packs, just in case.
Bod and Jo had made some distance again but I could see them standing by a gate and talking to some other walkers. This was unusual for Bod as he isn't renowned for his gregariousness but as we got closer we recognised the three other walkers as our friends the Australians, whom we first met at the Half Moon in Llanthony. Colin and I fell in with one of them as the others walked slightly ahead. We talked about this and that as a long metalled track took us down from Hergest Ridge and down towards Kington. I was surprised to learn that he was well into his sixties - I had assumed they were all fifty-somethings - and absolutely astounded when he gestured to one of his friends and told us he was eighty-two.
There was some concern about him because he had been mentioning chest pains as they climbed the last few hills - he had a slight heart condition and they had a defibrillator stashed in one of the packs should he take a funny turn. I suggested that maybe it was an unfair burden on everyone to have such a worry to consider but the Aussie just shrugged.
"Well y'know how stubborn people can get. He'd prefer to peg out in a nice place like this rather than in some hospital bed and I guess we support him in that. If it happens, it happens, but yeah I do think he's pushing his luck a bit. He keeps claiming its just indigestion but that's what they all say isn't it?"
They were completing the entire route in one go, walking for a little over two weeks, and Colin mentioned that the most taxing day of all was coming along very shortly - right after Knighton in fact. He nodded and smiled quietly. "Yeah I know," was all he said.

Recovery: Fish and chips at Brock Cottage ....

We parted company when we reached Kington and we knew it was unlikely that we would meet them again so we wished them luck and waved them goodbye. I hope they completed the walk without any drama; they were really nice guys.
We walked back through the deserted streets of Kington and found our car. As we stripped off walking gear and prepared to head off a middle aged man approached us.
"Y'all from round here?" he enquired in an American drawl.
He was looking for somewhere to eat and as we had passed a few nice looking inns and restaurants we pointed him in their general direction. He was joined by his wife and they walked off down Kington's high street. They didn't look like the outdoors type so quite what they were doing in such an out of the way place as Kington baffled us and of course it's a mystery never to be solved as it would have been rude to ask them.
We decided to grab some fish and chips to eat at Colin's cottage that evening and we all walked, rather stiff legged, into Ross-On-Wye, Colin leading the way to his favourite chippy. As a nice coda to the day it was all uphill back to the car.
And my knees hurt.
Never mind, England beat Croatia 5-1 so I went to bed happy.

See Route on ......

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Offa's Dyke (S) Day 4

Offa's Dyke - South
By Mark Walford
Day Four

Route: Llanthony Priory to Hay-On-Wye
Date: Tuesday September 8th 2009
Distance: 13m (21km)
Elevation: 318ft (97m) to 2,303ft (702m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 1,621ft (494m) and 2,090ft (637m)

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Wings on my feet, lowering skies, a case of a leaky bladder ....

The Stonemasons Symphony woke me at 6:30 and I lay staring at the ceiling for 30 minutes before rolling out of bed and into the shower. The Ritual of Foot Therapy was going to require extra diligence this morning and I laid out the paraphernalia with care. First a swab with antiseptic, then two ordinary plasters, then a Compeed and then a crepe bandage wound about my foot and secured with reams of Micropore tape. I had a foot which was secured, the sore heel well padded, and something that looked like a minor attack of gout at the end of my leg, but it was the best I could do. I got up and trotted downstairs - not so much as a wince. A good start. We were getting slicker with our morning preparation so by the time Bod arrived we were practically ready. I took my new footwear and slipped them on. I'd called them trainers earlier but on reflection I'd say they were actually 'proper' walking shoes, robustly made with a decent grip on the soles. I'd bought them in a sale at a local garden centre and had intended them just for casual use but, when I took my first few steps in them, I knew all was going to be well. They felt so comfortable and light - it was like wearing slippers - and there was scarcely a twinge in either heel as I bounced outside and towards the car. They might not last more than a hundred miles before they fell to pieces but they would see me through to Knighton without a doubt. I felt like throwing my arms in the air and shouting "I can walk! It's a miracle!" but contented myself with a smile and a merry whistle.
According to the Met. Office today was supposed to be bright and fine, so of course the skies were leaden right from the start. A shame really as we were walking along the highest point of Offa's Dyke. We left one car at Hay-On-Wye and then took the winding and highly scenic road out of Hay towards Llanthony Priory. The road threaded through sheep pastures, climbing into the Vale of Ewyas, chaperoned to the north by the long wall of Hatterrall Ridge. To the south the land fell away to reveal a misty landscape, indistinct and washed with drizzle. As we neared the priory, hedges crowded in on each side and the way forward became narrow.
ODS Day4 Pic 1

Llanthony Priory

It reminded me of country lanes in Cornwall and every so often we had to stop and reverse into a passing place to allow cars travelling in the opposite direction to get by. Just a few miles before the Half Moon pub we saw the three Australian guys we had met there the previous night, shrouded in Goretex and well on their way to Hay-On-Wye. As we passed I wound the window down and threw them a morning greeting. They responded but it was obvious they hadn't recognised us from the night before.
We had been watching the tops of the hills as we drove along, particularly that of Hatterrall, and could see that the low cloud was rolling across them, sometimes obscuring the summits in ghostly grey vapour. It would be a little foggy up on top and visibility would probably be poor at times. Of course we had the option of using the road and some debate took place about which route to choose. Colin was eager to tackle the ridge and for myself I also wanted to walk the ridge but it was the prospect of climbing all that way up again that was daunting me somewhat. However I said little and decided to go along with whatever decision might be made.
We parked back near the ruined priory and I opened the tailgate of the car to pull out my rucksack. It was soaking wet so I did a quick investigation. The tube on my camel pack had been left in the unlocked position and the bag had leaked under pressure. I barely had a cupful left. I had packed a couple of extra bottles of water but I didn't fancy relying on them to get me through the day so I wandered off, camel pack in hand, to the Priory public house; open this morning and serving as a café. There were a few people inside sitting having coffee when I walked in. The lady behind the counter smiled and then looked at the thing I was carrying and her brow creased a little.
"Hi," I smiled. "Do you have water please?"
"Yes love," she replied and jerked her head to where a sink lurked behind a coffee maker. "There's a tap full of it there."
"Ok, so ... could you fill this for me?" I offered her the camel pack which she took from me as if she had been handed a used bed pan. She filled it and handed it back to me.
"Thanks," I said as I sealed its seam. "Bye."
"Bye then," she answered. As I was leaving the place I heard her say to one of her customers, "it looked just like his colostomy bag!"
I smiled. I suppose she had a point.

The second ascent of Hatterrall Ridge, Loves Young Dream, Colin's porn movie ....

We milled about in the tiny car park, adjusting straps, shooting video, and re-stashing water packs containing the strangely cloudy water drawn from The Priory. A man and wife with dogs meandered about, apparently unable to discover the exit from the car park, and a young couple radiated health and vitality as they lounged against their 4x4 vehicle and revelled in each other's gorgeousness. We had to face the start sooner or later so we all set off, trudging past the priory ruins and into the field at the start of the Offa's Dyke (north) path. Behind us the Couple With Dogs managed to escape the priory car park and were heading uncertainly across the field behind us and, bringing up the rear at an almost insolent stroll, came Loves Young Dream, arm in arm and at one with the world.
The path allowed us a warm-up of sorts by gradually introducing ever steeper fields. Bod walked alongside me for a while and muttered that his legs weren't working properly before finding another gear and striding off ahead in his slow motion, mileage eating, gait.
The familiar uphill pattern for the four of us soon took shape; Bod ahead, Jo just behind him and matching Bods pace, Colin either abreast of Jo or hanging back to take pictures, and myself at the rear, just 'taking my time' as people with no lung capacity like to say. At some point however Jo obviously decided that he wanted the climb over with as soon as possible and he shifted into overdrive, making the summit a good few minutes before Bod.
Couple With Dogs had miraculously maintained the path across all the fields and were now gesticulating towards the options ahead whilst their dogs capered about happily in a non-directional manner. Loves Young Dream had effortlessly overtaken them and were now rising up the hillside towards me as if on rails. I had to stop and take my first breather. They walked past me.
"I'm getting too old for this," I panted at them. They bestowed sympathetic smiles upon me and floated heavenwards, arms linked, and not a bead of sweat in sight.
The path became steeper and rockier and twisted about a fair bit. This afforded wonderful views back down into Llanthony Priory nestled in the green floor of its secluded valley. From up here it was easy to imagine how remote and isolated the medieval Augustine monks must have felt, trying to minister the priory in the midst of the bad lands of the Welsh\English border; a dark and dangerous place. You could imagine the ease with which the local brigands would sneak up on the unsuspecting friars, hidden under the cloak of trees or in the impenetrable darkness of the night. With no architectural defences and no trained military staff to defend them the poor monks would have found themselves set upon without warning, subject to assault, robbery, and worse.
ODS Day4 Pic 2

A view down into Llanthony Valley

The priory suffered several such incursions before the church elders finally got the point; Llanthony was a no-go area for ecclesiastical expansion, and the priory was wound down, the ruinous nature of the place indicative of stones carried away for local building projects rather than the usual culprit - Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.
I continued upwards, pausing every so often to re-oxygenate. The Menu of Ailments had a limited choice this morning - Rubbed Heel with a spicy helping of Knee Grumble. I accepted both with poor grace. I looked up as I rounded another hairpin corner and, not too far ahead, I spied Bod and Colin paused at what I sincerely hoped was the summit. On a far crest and becoming dim with distance, Loves Young Dream wandered serenely onwards, arms locked, plighting their troth with every steady footfall. I glanced down to see that Couple With Dogs had, against all odds, picked the correct path and would soon be catching me up, which wouldn't do at all. Its one thing to be overhauled by a pair of fit twenty-something's but quite another to allow oneself to be passed by a couple with all the directional sense of a mole in a coal cellar. I plodded on up to the others. Jo was hunkered down in a rocky crevasse, orange weather-proof jacket buttoned up so that only his eyes gleamed at me. He looked frozen, though I thought it was rather pleasantly cooling being up so high.
Bod was watching Loves Young Dream disappear southwards - the direction we had come from the day before. "Not even out of breath," he acknowledged grudgingly and then added, "I wanted to shove them off the edge when they walked past us."
Colin and Jo shared an amused glance and then they told us what had happened when Loves Young Dream had approached the summit. Once Colin had struggled and heaved his way to the top, he found himself just ahead of the young couple. He had fished the video camera out to film the accomplishment of the climb. Jo, sitting on a nearby grass bank had said "I admire your enthusiasm. I wouldn't be bothered." It was just as the fit young girl walked into earshot that Colin swung his camera in her direction (merely to film the view of the valley) and said, "Well, it's something for me to look at when I'm older." He could tell by the frozen expression of disapproval on her face that she suspected he meant her and was filming her perfect body for some 'personal time' later. "The view!" Colin emphasized, "To film the view!" but that seemed to make it worse. Jo and Colin cringed at the same time, then looked at each other once Loves Young Dream had passed and burst out laughing.

Moonwalking, sandwiches on high, small thoughts of a brother ....

We set off again, finally hitting the well laid path that would lead us northwards along Hatterall Ridge for the next few miles. Ironically this, the highest point of Offa's Dyke path, proved to be the flattest section of walking we encountered all week. The path was easy to follow and was well maintained and I for one was thankful for a bit of level ground. As we expected, the clouds kept rolling in on a stiff easterly wind, racing past us in ragged wreaths of white vapour. Visibility was cut down considerably but this didn't really matter as the ridge continued to widen out as we walked, large banks of heather and bog spreading out on either side of us.
ODS Day4 Pic 3

Walking in the clouds

Had the day been brilliantly clear we would have seen little more than a softly rolling purple blanket on each flank. Sometimes the path crossed marshy land and here the path was paved with huge flat slabs of granite which acted as giant stepping stones. We climbed steadily higher until the cloud vapour was permanent and visibility closed down to fifty yards or less. We saw very few people up here and I couldn't help but wonder what the weather conditions would be doing to Couple With Dogs. I half expected to hear a rescue chopper during the walk but it never happened.
We stopped briefly at yet another trig point, I needed to strap on my knee support and Colin, suffering from earache because of the persistent side-wind, pulled out a black hat with large floppy ears, cramming it snugly over his head. He looked like the world's worst Ninja but considering my choice of headgear for the week I felt it prudent not to scoff too much.
There is no marker to proclaim the highest point of the ridge and, by association, the walk itself. Bod kept craning his neck, and squinting at the GPS tied to his lapel until he announced that we were 'more or less' at the high point. There followed a very surreal landscape of broken rock and small piles of stones raised at regular intervals like the dwellings of some sort of Ridge Troll community. Except for the tussocks of reed sprouting here and there it could have been the surface of the moon. The ghostly vapour added to the atmosphere and my three companions blurred, vanished, and then re-appeared in the uncertain conditions.
Somehow I found myself ahead of the others after a time and I walked alone in this grey windy place, appreciating its atmosphere and wandering whether the path down from Hay Bluff would be as challenging as the mornings earlier climb. Almost imperceptibly the path descended, the air grew clearer, with curtained wraiths of cloud vapour zooming sporadically across our path. A series of natural stone steps dropped us down to a crossroads where the faithful old white acorn of the Offa's Dyke path pointed towards a new path to the right. Within a few hundred yards we were back out of the clouds and into clear air. It wasn't the brightest of days but after a few hours walking in fog it still came as a surprise. We passed a couple of volunteers maintaining the path, shovelling up the turf in readiness for a new layer of gravel. It looked like hard, back breaking, work that had to be performed after a long climb up and would be followed by an equally long climb back down again. It's amazing what people will happily volunteer for, and thank God they do otherwise walking long distant paths like Offa's Dyke would be a much more arduous undertaking.
We stopped for lunch overlooking the Olcham Valley where a tiny tractor chugged purposefully back and forth across a field, a brown trail of turned earth emerging in its wake. In the next field a series of dilapidated caravans, an old ambulance, and what appeared to be a military tank, gave away the position of a community of itinerant farm workers. The sun and clouds were playing a game of tag across the hills, bright patches of lemon yellow light being hunted by the racing shadows of cumuli. Far away on a distant hilltop a large white structure faded in and out with the fleeting light conditions. It was a tall tower of some kind but we couldn't determine its purpose. We ate in silence, apart from when I made a disgusted 'Pfahh!' noise as I chewed unsuspectingly on a segment of mouldy orange.
Colin was taking video as we prepared to move on and I remember thinking of my legs and how they had woefully seized up in the short lunch break. I had tried to walk off with some composure but Colin had spotted my discomfort and chuckled into the VT about how hobbled I seemed to be.
Too right mate.
The path clove to the north-westerly flank of Hatterrall Ridge and threaded its way down to where gorse-clad sheep pastures indicated that the ridge was conquered. Having loomed ever larger for the previous two days it seemed almost unbelievable that we had tramped all over it for so many miles and yet we were now about to leave it behind us. We edged our way downwards until the metalled road to Hay-On-Wye was finally met. A last look back at the ridge showed us a rather oblique hummock of a hill, turf covered and swathed in silver-grey cloud at its heights. The grandeur of the southerly approaches, where it had reared impressively against the horizon, was lost as we departed. We were looking back at the ridge almost edge on, at Hay Bluff - a blunt and modest knoll looking no worse than Kings Hill or The Kymin we had previously climbed. Bod watched Colin attempting to film this rather featureless and anti-climactic end of Hatterrall with a degree of amused derision. In an odd way I would miss Hatterrall Ridge, as I had enjoyed my time upon its heights and, for the next few days, as it receded into a blue-grey smudge on the horizon, I would often stand and regard it with a sense of nostalgia.
I imagined that the road would carry us all the way to Hay-On-Wye but, after only a short time, the route took us away from it and led us across open grassland heading towards, but never quite venturing into, the dense canopy of New House Wood. Bod had started to calculate the end of today's walk and it fell short of our expected fourteen miles.
ODS Day4 Pic 4

Colin descending from Hay Bluff

We believed we had about ninety miles to cover in total but our accumulated mileage so far was making this a doubtful target. Our biggest worry was that either our guide book was wrong or we had miscalculated our daily mileage and would be presented with an extended and fairly unwelcome last day where we had to eat up the 'missing' miles. As it stood we only had a few more miles to complete this afternoon - a fairly meagre total of eleven miles for the day. We hithered and thithered across the wide grassy fields, avoiding cow pats and tussocks of grass that sought to turn an ankle, and our minds wandered as much as the path before us. Colin was directly behind me and I threw him a remark about the weather which drew no response at all. I glanced back to see if he had maybe fallen asleep whilst walking. He was ambling along lost in thought, somewhere other than this wind-blown grassy field in the middle of Powys. I offered a penny for his thoughts and he snapped back into the here and now with a smile.
"Sorry mate, I was miles away," he said. "I was thinking about Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to Kennedy and whether they really did have an affair which led to her being bumped off."
"How on earth did you end up on that train of thought?" I asked.
"It's walking along like this I suppose," he replied. "Your mind is free to roam. You do as many miles in your head as you do on your feet."
We left the grasslands behind us and entered an old forest of mixed woodland which took us ever downwards, skirting around Cusop Hill and sometimes breaking out into meadowland where the rooftops of Hay-On-Wye nestled in the Wye Valley and where our days walking would end. I mistakenly believed we were still in England - as in so many places along this borderland route it was difficult to tell when you had straddled the divide. I was surprised therefore, when we emerged from under the cover of another small wooded copse, to pass by a small farm close to the village of Cusop where a Welsh radio station was entertaining the cows and the Red Dragon of Wales flew proudly in a stiff breeze, fixed to a pole on the farms roof.
Hay-On-Wye, I later found out, is Welsh despite its English sounding name.

Recovery: The Priory Inn Llanthony ....

A few final meadows and we made it to Hay-On-Wye and the car park. It was an early finish for us and we were all thankful for an easier days walking. It also offered us an opportunity. I desperately needed some new video cassettes and Bod suggested that a trip to Hereford could be worked into our route back to Llanthony Priory. Colin knew of a PC World where they would be sure to sell the cassettes so we set off from Hay for the twenty mile diversion to Hereford. We not only found Hereford but also located the PC World with little trouble and they sold the cassettes I needed AND they were on offer. We then drove all the way back to Llanthony Priory where our lucky streak ran out as we found that the Half Moon was shut for the evening. We opted to use The Priory instead and although it was slightly more expensive the food was delicious and arrived quickly, along with the excellent ale. We also had a nice little mystery solved for us as there was a plaque on the wall describing the ancient old Sweet Chestnut trees we had discovered on day one near Biggsweir Bridge.
The story goes thus:
In 1588 the Spanish Armada was destroyed by the English under Drake. Amongst the many treasures seized from the Spanish Galleons were a large number of Chestnut saplings (so apparently the first thing the Spanish were intending to do once they had conquered England was a spot of gardening). These saplings were distributed to noblemen and were planted on their estates as a symbolic tribute to Drakes victory. The ancient specimens we had admired on Monday were amongst the last survivors - and were over 400 years old. Sadly trees do not live forever, and Chestnuts are not a particularly long lived species. They are all dying now and in a few decades they will be just a tangle of bleached wood in a forgotten field. I'm glad I had the chance to see these Elizabethan relics in their final years. I had run my hands over their rough bark without realising the fascinating historical tale they represented.
Colin and Jo reviewed tomorrows walk, partly to try and discover the 'missing' miles. They mentioned a bit more climbing, including Hergest Ridge, which I had told them we would encounter at some point this week, then they folded the map away, a little depressed at the amount of closely bunched contour lines we would be translating into gradients come the morning.
We all assumed that our driving about all over the borders was at an end but I realised, as I climbed into my car, that I had just six miles of fuel left according to the on-board and often half-assed computer. The nearest town where we would find a fuel pump was Abergavenny and so we set off, driving like little old ladies to conserve fuel, to arrive at a petrol station almost running on fumes. It was a close call.
An hour later and we were back at Brock Cottage, having a Beer Before Bedtime. As an unwelcome reminder of life back home there was a news feature about the car industry in Birmingham and the demise of Rover Cars, a company I was associated with for many years. The poor workers who had been employed there at the time it went into liquidation were still waiting anxiously for any sign of their pensions. A grim story really but I had to laugh aloud when the workers representative came on screen. His name?
Maurice Minor.

See Route on ......

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