|Offa's Dyke - South|
A missing boot, a climb to the Kymin, the streets of Monmouth ....
The plan had been for us all to get up an hour earlier this morning to allow more time for preparing for the day. In fact we overslept by thirty minutes instead. I was first awake and was halfway down the stairs to rouse Colin before my legs realised what I was doing and protested by almost locking up and pitching me headlong into the hall. I wondered how I might feel come the morning and now I knew; a tad frail around the leg muscles.
I showered and then sat down to perform the Ritual of Foot Therapy; necessary before a long day's walking but over-rated as a pastime. First, a quick visual inspection and a fingertip once-over to reveal any trouble spots. Both heels looked a little red but no blisters were evident. Then a plaster on each heel, followed by a wrap or two of micropore tape around the front of the foot to protect the large pads beneath the toes and also around the heel to add protection to the Compeed dressings. Does it sound over the top? Well yes, probably, but I was forced to drop out of my last long distance walk because of a skinned heel and I wasn't about to have that happen to me a second time.
Bod arrived just as we finished breakfast. We were loading the cars when he noticed that he was a boot missing. He searched thoroughly but it was definitely AWOL.
"It must have rolled out of the car yesterday," he muttered. He had a brand new pair to use if necessary but they hadn't been broken in at all. He looked dubious at the prospect of wearing them.
Our first task was to park my car at our destination point for the day, the tiny hamlet of It barely registered as a place on the map at all and appeared to be not much more than a farm and a church. We headed through and out along twisty country lanes for a very long time before we saw the tiny track that led down to the church. A lovely church it was too, ancient, and built of local granite
Climbing up The Kymin
"You can use the car park," he said absently, as if he couldn't care less really. "We never lock the gates." And with that he lost interest in us and shuffled off.
We then had to drive all the way back to via Monmouth before we could start our walk proper. Conclusion: It may save a lot of money using one place as a base but on the whole I'd rather save the cash up and blow it on B&Bs and a courier service for my baggage. It means a nice early start to the walk and a lot less hurtling about the countryside in cars. We parked in Redbrook and got out to ready ourselves for the day ahead. Bod was eyeing the car park further down the road.
"That's the one we used last night," he said speculatively. "I think I'll just go and see if my other boot fell out there." He strode off. I didn't think he had a chance of finding his errant boot but I supposed it was worth a try.
Two couples walked across the car park, the guys dressed in stockings and suspenders and Viking helmets. 'Oh well,' I thought to myself. 'Country people, country ways,' but then I recalled a sign I had seen in Monmouth.
"Raft racing?" I asked them.
"No, we always dress like this on Sunday," came the reply. I suppose it was a stupid question.
I was doing my bend and stretch exercises and was demonstrating the benefits of the Victorian Lunge to an amused Jo and Colin when Bod appeared waving a boot over his head in triumph. "I found it! It was just sitting there in the car park, not even squashed!"
Colin grinned. "Are you sure it hasn't been pissed in?"
Bod shrugged. "It'll help toughen my feet."
Finally we were away. With no surprise at all we headed uphill, first a side street out of Redbrook, where we followed a local out for a morning stroll who kept eyeing us suspiciously, and then onto a gravel track that helped us rise steadily onto the high pasture and open views of It wasn't a steep climb but it was a long one and I soon became aware that my right heel was exhibiting all the signs of blistering. I decided to stop and address this as soon as possible. We crossed a field beneath the bow windows of a pretty bungalow. A Labrador leapt out from its garden and bounded across the grass woofing loudly at us. His furiously wagging tail gave away his true disposition but no doubt he had forced many a dog-fearing walker to take the last hundred yards of the field at a brisk trot. I'm more scared of cows than canines and so I whistled at him and encouraged him to come and say hello. This confused him. He stood his ground but his barking lost a lot of its conviction. Only when we were all out of the field and on our way across the next one did he run to the gate and give us a final warning to never cross his territory again.
It was a rather pleasant climb this morning and we knew that it would culminate at The Kymin's summit, 800 feet above sea level with grand views into Wales and a charming 18th century building called the Roundhouse where Lord and Lady Hamilton once had a public breakfast accompanied by Admiral Nelson. A ménage a trois of historic significance, though whether Lady H was enjoying Nelson's Column at this point in history is not recorded. We found a metal gate which channelled us into a very dark and gloomy little path between a laurel hedge and a high boundary fence and at its other end we emerged into a car park for The Kymin. We ambled up to the Roundhouse, passing a group of elderly tourists. One of the gents amused me. He seemed very confused at our sudden appearance and our attire and kept looking around to see where we had come from. He reminded me of the Major in Fawlty Towers.
was a fine example of Regency architecture as was its neighbour the
and Colin, who was videographer for the day,
The view from The Kymin
Jo admitted that he had come along completely unprepared for the type of landscape we would be travelling over.
"I don't know why, but I thought it would all be flat walking." he said.
Colin raised an eyebrow, "You didn't research it at all?"
Jo shook his head and laughed, "I've just turned up with a carrier bag and a knotted handkerchief on my head. I'm like, 'Here I am, let's go for this stroll, then!'"
Meantime my blister proved to be a beauty and needed a little release of fluid to ease the pressure followed by yet more Compeed and dressing. I could walk ok afterwards, but I knew about it all day. Presently we found a path downwards and left the Kymin behind us, leaping down May Hill in a series of uneven steps and into a small residential road where we lost the Offa's Dyke sign for a while. We regained it by using a tiny little path between garages so I think we somehow took a wrong turn at the Kymin. For quite a while we headed downhill, losing all the height we had gained in the first two hours, until eventually we reached ground level and the busy main road into Monmouth. The route took us past a Lidl's supermarket and across the main bridge over the Wye into town. Monmouth was probably a lot quieter on an average Sunday but today the bridge was thronging with people all leaning over its parapet to watch the raft racers on the water below. I wanted to stop and watch the rafters as they emerged from under the bridge, and maybe take a few photos, but the crowd was two-deep at the bridges rails, and of course we had mileage to make. We threaded our way through the good-natured crowd and then under a subway, the first and probably only subway I will ever use on a long distance national trail, and into the town proper. Monmouth, or Blestium as the Romans called it when it was founded, really was a nice place. Georgian architecture was very much in evidence and the high street had a bright, clean feel about it. We found a chemist open for business and, perhaps with foresight gained from experience, we wandered in and stocked up on more Compeed plasters and dressings. There seemed to be a lot of
We walked along a little lane which had a deep, brick-sided culvert running along its length, acting as a sort of border between the road and the cottages set back behind neat front gardens, with each cottage having its own little stone bridge offering access to the road. The sound of trickling water could be heard from the brook and Jo mused aloud about the possibility of local flooding. The general consensus was that it probably was a risk to the local occupants but then Jo went on to talk about the heavy rains we had seen earlier in the year, which puzzled the rest of us as we couldn't remember any such deluge. It all went quiet for a while afterwards.
The map told us that we had another hill to bag, climbing up through woodland called Kings Wood, shortly after leaving Monmouth and our intention was to break for lunch at its summit. After we left the last of Monmouth's houses behind we crossed a couple of large fields where hay had been gathered. The bales were of the old-fashioned square type and in each field a laden hay wagon waited to hitch a ride back to the farm. It was a scene from an earlier time, maybe back in the fifties, when all the farmhands wore braces and flat caps and they cheerfully stacked hay to the soaring strains of a Mantovani sound track.
Colin leaving Monmouth
Both Colin and Jo had to make furtive diversions into the hedgerow for a spot of kidney tapping. A pleasant lady and her two young boys passed me just as Colin made his move and I fervently hoped that an ugly scene was not about to unfold behind me. A hill generously carpeted with mixed woodland, Kings Wood hill more or less lived up to its name. If there was a King then sadly we missed him but it was a deceptive little bugger of a climb and by the time we reached its summit and broke for lunch I was having ugly sensations from both heels and I was pretty knackered. I spent much of the lunch break prone with my boots removed, eating my lunch lying on my back which is of course a silly thing to do. As is walking ninety miles in six days.
Like those hateful P.E teachers from childhood Bod rose, limbered up, and told us it was time to make a move. I would rather have spent another hour or three staring up at the clouds but I rolled to my feet. As Bod took his first few limping steps he called back over his shoulder. "It's all flat from now on - and a lot shorter than yesterday."
Music to my ears.
Erasmus the bull, The Menu of Ailments, Cider scrumping ....
Indeed the next few hours of walking were relatively flat and easy. A nice wide gravel track took us down and away from Kings Wood. Bod stopped to inspect some large concrete bunkers almost buried in the undergrowth. There was no mention of them on any of our maps so their purpose remained a mystery. We more or less tracked the course of the Wye as we headed deeper into Monmouthshire. We passed through pleasant meadows and remote farmsteads, the odd romantic old church thrown in for variety, and the tiny hamlet of Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern, a place with more letters to its name than buildings on its street.
Jo, a bit of a connoisseur of churches, decided that he didn't care much for one particular church we passed. He rather liked the heavy gothic style of the place but wasn't happy about the colour, which indeed was a rather dour slate grey. We were led right under its ancient bell tower with Jo feeling somewhat chastened about having to walk past it now he'd insulted it.
We encountered a group of large pigs in one field and despite having shared a mutual admiration of the things with Bod the day before, I wasn't overjoyed about having to walk into a field full of them. They can be unpredictable buggers. These were larger specimens than the weaners we had met yesterday but they didn't seem particularly interested in our presence. The farm we crossed here was a peculiar place; a ruined old stump of a tree had a great red gas canister poking out of it, and the farm house itself seemed to have developed a unique approach to home maintenance. Three dwellings were built shoulder to shoulder. The leftmost was a ruin with gaping holes in its roof and cracked walls, the middle one had seen better days but was still habitable, and the right hand house was relatively well kept. Someone seemed to be building a new house against the older one when the latter started to fall apart. Eventually I suppose, given enough time, a long string of houses in a recessive state of ruin would stretch away into the distance. They would of course at some point cross their neighbour's boundaries, becoming trespassers, and prone to being shot. So, eventually, there would be but one family left in the area, owning several thousand acres of land and a house 12 miles in length.
.... anyway ....
I was getting no let up from my sore heels and now a new unpleasant sensation crept in stage left as both my hips began to ache. As I walked along, lost in thought, I imagined that I was carrying around a sort of Menu of Aliments from which I was randomly selecting items. Today was Freshly Rubbed Heel served with a side dish of Battered Hip Muscle.
As we entered one field a notice pointed out that we were about to cross the domain of a bull called Erasmus (what a great name for a bull) who was perfectly harmless but walkers could use the farms driveway instead if they felt intimidated. We elected to walk through the field and I saw Erasmus, a great brown blob of bovine muscle, chaperoning his many wives and paying us not the slightest bit of attention.
The path led us right past the door of the lovely old Georgian farmhouse, possibly known as The Grange, and the farmers Collie dog came out to greet us with friendly tail wagging and much happy grinning. The farmer himself appeared in a Range Rover. He leaned out of the window.
"You'll get tired of stroking her before she gets tired of being stroked," he informed us and then parked up and got out for a quick chat with us. He really didn't look like the stereotypical farmer. He was pleasant faced and well-spoken and a little soft around the edges. He struck me as being a good insurance salesman or newsagent but not the rufty-tufty-man-of-the-hills type at all.
We stood and talked to him for a while and the gist of the conversation ran thus;
He knew he was very fortunate living in such a place and tried to appreciate the views he was offered every day. He believed walking to be a fool's pastime (and at that point in the day I tended to agree with him). He told us that Erasmus was a fine bull with a gentle temperament but within two years would be beef burgers. He doubted we would see any for at least another day or two. And he pointed out all the local mountains and named them for us.
But perhaps most welcome of all he asked us where we were headed and when we told him he pointed out the spire of the church at Llantilio Crossenny just a few miles distant.
We left this fascinating character to trudge down one of his fields to enter an orchard of cider apples used to make once a proud and independent local company but now owned by Heineken.
The cider orchard
After the orchards we hit a road that would take us all the way back to the church. I was slowing down a lot now as my blistered heels were beginning to hamper my walking so my three companions were ahead of me. However I plodded along, the sun setting, after a lovely days walking, and I felt the onset of what Michael Palin calls a 'happy attack'. I felt good, work was a hundred miles away, I was in the company of great friends, and we still had the whole week before us. It was this euphoric mood that lent me the little bit of vitality I needed to take me back to my car and the end of the second day's walking.
Recovery: The Bell Inn Redbrook (again) ....
Later that evening we found ourselves back at Redbrook where amongst our priorities lay a requirement to re-stock Colin's fridge with beer. He popped into the local village shop to see what they offered and emerged several minutes later with beer and a confused expression.
"Odd," he said, shaking his head. "I picked up the beers from the fridge and the lady told me to put them back as they were on offer from a different shelf in another part of the shop. I pointed out that they were exactly the same product and she actually got a bit shirty with me until I had put the ones in the fridge back and picked up the ones from the shelf instead. I saved a few pence, but - they were exactly the same beers."
We ate at the Bell Inn at Redbrook again but, sadly, without the attendance of the Riverdance Waitress. Once again the food was excellent and even Jo's vegetarian curry looked delicious to the rest of us carnivores. Colin also put himself in great favour with the landlord by discovering his phone, left carelessly on a windowsill. As we ate we overheard a conversation about the morning's raft racing in Monmouth. There had been a bad incident and a crew from one raft had almost drowned when their craft capsized. Once again we had a great meal and those magical and restorative pints of ale before arriving back at Brock Cottage just in time to make sandwiches, drink more beer, wash minging walking gear, and enjoy toothache before lights out.
See Route on ......