|Offa's Dyke - North|
Botulism for breakfast, wooing the Welsh, a fine morning to compensate ....
My alarm woke me and I got up quickly, getting dressed and reaching for my jumper. As I picked it up, a family of earwigs fell out of its folds and scampered in a lively manner across the carpet. I don’t mind earwigs, but it did make me wonder what else may have paid me a visit during the night. My feet were a little battered, following yesterday’s exertions, so I spent a few minutes applying plasters and they were fine afterwards.
I made my way to Bod and Jo’s room. It was as hideous as mine, with a fossilised air-freshener standing like a twisted rock on top of the wardrobe, a century old cup-a-soup in a cupboard and broken bed-boards. Bod delighted in showing me an old bed mattress, propped against a wall in the corridor outside. It had an ochre and dark brown stain running down its length and looked as if a decomposing corpse had been left lying on it for a few weeks. A tin of paint was propping a fire door open – the only function it had served in this place, as there certainly hadn’t been any decorating done for a couple of decades. Bod and Jo told me that they had slept poorly at first, as the television in the bar downstairs was placed directly below their room and had bellowed at them for a good while.
We went downstairs for our cooked breakfast. I usually looked forward to my morning meal, but the environment we were in lent a certain health risk to the whole thing. My misgivings deepened when our food was served by a heavily limping woman with lank, greasy hair which hadn’t been tied back or put under a hat whilst she was cooking. I couldn’t get the sight of her out of my mind and we were about halfway through the meal when I voiced a particular concern.
“I wonder what her hand hygiene is like.”
Bod and Jo groaned and made objecting noises.
“Colin!” admonished Jo, “You can think it, but don’t say it!”
Bod imitated somebody scratching their crotch, also giving voice to an authentic rasping sound. I felt a little ill suddenly and couldn’t finish my runny eggs. We all seemed to be re-arranging the food on our plates, rather than actually eating it.
We join the Llangollen Canal
I think we were thankful to get out of the place for a while and we took ourselves into Chirk, still looking pleasant in the morning sunshine. We hadn’t even bothered to ask the Stanton if they did packed lunches. I didn’t know about the others, but I liked my food edible and with only a small chance of giving me lower-bowel cramps. We bought packed lunches in a shop and I was served by a very nice and chatty woman.
We waited outside the Stanton for our lift. I, for one, did not want to go back inside the place if it wasn’t imperative to do so. When our taxi arrived, it was all I could do not to erupt in a great cheer and give the driver a grateful kiss. Jo took my room key to give to the Inn’s manager, but there was nobody about. The place was empty and locked up, so Jo just threw the key onto the bed and we left the hideous place behind with not a second glance. I wouldn’t recommend that you stay at this place. In fact, I’d be disgusted with you if you did unless you are a committed stain enthusiast, or looking for field work as part of your study on spores.
We were driven back to Castle Mill and then our driver waved us cheerio and went on, taking our luggage to Hand House in Llandegla. We got our rucksacks sorted and then began, crossing the road to walk up a fairly steep lane alongside of Gwyringar Wood and up one side of the It occurred to me as we trooped along, that we were going to be well and truly entering North Wales in the course of the day. I’d had my own views on this; after all, the folk around these parts weren’t known for their effusive friendliness towards the English. I’d recently lost my England cap and been forced to buy a plain one. This now seemed to be a kind act of fate; I wouldn’t now invite unnecessary trouble. In fact, I planned to be very careful in my relations with the locals and thought that I’d adopt the ‘hearts and minds’ approach that our armed forces are currently employing in Afghanistan. I’d carry a supply of boiled sweets with me to hand out to the indigenous children and my first aid kit could be readily used to patch up the local Football Hooligan Warriors. I’d be alright.
At the top of the lane, we had to turn right and climb over a stile, moving onto pasture which still took us uphill. I remember stopping for a moment here. Jo was beside me and Bod a little way behind. The sky was clear and the sun was just edging over the canopy of the wood. The air smelt fresh and cool. I recall having the distinct feeling that today was going to be a good one; the walking was going to be fine.
“We’re not the first to pass here today,” observed Jo.
There were tracks on the sward and I thought of the Four Walkers. Jo moved off across the pasture and left his own footprints, dragging slightly amongst the early condensation on the grass. His prints were a darker, richer green amongst the opaque sheen of the misty dew. Bod caught up and they both went ahead while I stopped to film. Once I’d joined them, the three of us stopped and admired this fresh view. We were at the crown of the valley, flanked by Mars Wood on our right and Warren Wood on our left. The morning was fast turning into a lovely one. It was sunny and the wide sweep of the Cheshire Plains fell away ahead of us. Chirk was still marked by an almost cheerful puff of white steam or smoke from a factory slightly to our right. Further right, the top end of the peeked carefully around the bulge of Mars Wood. On the horizon line of the plains rested a low, flat palette of grey. It was quite vastly spread.
“Is that industrial, or is it actual cloud?” asked Jo.
“Cloud,” said Bod. He thought for a moment. “If that’s industrial, we’ve got problems.”
Jo the sheep, canal-side again, a majestic aqueduct, a town called Trevor ....
We began a leisurely descent, down the side of the hill leading away from the valley. Jo and I identified flocks of as they looped about above us. They were accompanied by The descent away from the valley slope brought us down to a lane and Bod and I saw that a herd of sheep were being driven towards us and a sheep trailer seemed to be taking up most of the lane, which was narrow and left us little room to skip out of the way. Sheep began to spill past, wearing Bovidaen expressions of anxiety. They were being harried by a very dedicated sheep dog, which often as not also seemed to be trying to herd the trailer. In the general melee, I noticed something.
“He’s been herded,” said Bod, looking around, “He’s going to spend the rest of the holiday as a sheep.”
I found the mental image of Jo contentedly grazing with the rest of the flock amusing enough to guffaw out loud. Jo caught up with us and we all passed by Tyn-y-groes and began to wonder what the distinguishable building ahead of us was, musing about the possibility of it being an old school or estate. We worked out from the map that it seemed to be sited at Plas Offa.
This first hour or so of walking, we had found, had been about the most pleasurable of the week so far. It was sunny, it was warm and we soon found ourselves crossing open, pastured fields sometimes containing huge solitary oaks, as if placed there as sentinels. It was here, if we had realised it at that moment, that as north-bound walkers we would be walking along the line of Offa’s Dyke itself for the last time. It wasn’t evident to us and we never saw the dyke again. Instead, we walked down the last field and crossed a canal on the B5434 road, to drop onto the canal tow-path itself. The canal waters were riding high and in parts had over-spilled onto the edge of the field, creating marshy areas. Ducks quacked importantly as they sidled up and down the length of the canal. The sun was becoming very warm and it had burned my ears slightly by the end of the day. We walked for a mile on this, the watching the holiday traffic with detached bliss.
Bod told me of the aqueduct ahead of us, saying that people from all over the World visited here just to go across it. He knew this was so, he said, because he had seen a programme about it. We walked past a very pretty looking place called Froncysyllte, although I noticed that a lot of the properties here had ‘for sale’ signs in the gardens. I also saw that a lot of these gardens were multi-tiered affairs and wondered if the owners of these properties were ‘getting on’ in years and were finding that they couldn’t handle the mountaineering-masquerading-as-gardening they would face, every time they wanted to cut their lawns.
The beginning of the ‘Panorama Walk’
At this stage, the Offa’s Dyke route appeared to offer a choice between the official route and the permissive route, which would take us over the aqueduct. I knew that Bod really wanted to go over the aqueduct and he had been such a good boy that day, we decided to do just that. Besides, I’d been waiting all morning for the chance to cross it. The permissive route it was to be, then. I filmed the from quite a long way off before we walked on towards it. It really is a remarkable piece of work. Completed in 1805, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain, a Grade I listed building and a World Heritage Site. It took us over the Dee Valley at a height of 126 feet above the itself. On our side was a railing but the other side, the barge side, was open and a giddy view was on hand for the passengers on the canal boats going by, chiefly of a middle distant football pitch and wooded hills beyond. Bod suddenly stopped and tinkered about with a piece of iron. He announced to us both that he thought he had found the point at which the canal could be drained. The same programme had shown how the canal could be emptied into the Dee below, if required. Bod asked either of us if we had a spanner, so we ushered him on.
Soon, we had reached the small but lively village of It was filled with people, milling about and enjoying the sudden burst of good weather. I began to film them and also the boats gliding by, also taking in bunches of flowers that were heaped near the end of the aqueduct. They were laid all around and I was momentarily puzzled before the penny dropped and I quickly turned my camera elsewhere. Desperate people sometimes visit the aqueduct for reasons that the original builders would, I’m sure, be saddened at.
We were hungry and thirsty, so we stopped for a bite to eat. I also needed a toilet visit, so had the opportunity to walk about and enjoy the place on such a lovely day. The three of us sat on wooden benches for our snack and rest, listening to the folk shout comments to each other as they passed each other by on their respective barges. We were joined, briefly, by a couple of unlikely looking lads on bikes and I resisted the urge to check my pockets when they departed.
Break over, we puzzled a little as to where we needed to go next.
A Panorama Walk, Dinas Bran castle, at the Worlds End, more walking on the moor ....
It was a mystery that we weren’t to immediately solve, as we took off in the wrong direction and it was only as we were about to descend a steep lane that Bods’ route-finder nose began twitching. We back-tracked until we came to a footbridge and then a field we had crossed after going under the aqueduct. We then set off over that field in the correct direction, after briefly consulting our maps. Jo and I began to hear the screams of what sounded like a woman behind us. They seemed as if they were coming from the village of Trevor or the canal around there and it was difficult to determine their nature, but I thought that they didn’t sound happy.
We began another climb, this one towards Trevor Hall Wood. There was a brief drop onto a lane and then the route took us upwards again and we entered the wood. Dark, upright conifers stood plentifully around as we made our way along a narrow earthen track, the sunlight stuttering between branches and foliage. It wasn’t a large wood and towards its further end, the trees changed and began to present as lighter-hued deciduous oaks. A glade opened up on our right as we began to climb a small rise to a wooded gate and inside this open space was a solitary cottage, set back from a sweep of lawns. It was still inside the woods, yet had its own space and I remarked how isolated it was apart from a sheep, which was dutifully nibbling at the lawns and keeping it cropped; an organic lawn-mower. It then occurred to me that this cottage was on a walking route and probably saw more visitors in a day than my own place did in a year.
We went through the gate and climbed a short but fairly steep track which contained a few more sheep, lounging around like workers on a tea-break. Jo quite liked the style of one of them which absolutely refused to budge, forcing us to practically step over it. We continued, meandering up an ascending, winding tarmac road which we suddenly left and stepped onto open moorland. A wall of rock sat impassively beyond a road, one which we had to step onto and follow for the next three miles. The craggy rocks which would be chaperoning us on our right for this journey, first north-westwards then almost due north, were of limestone and reared up some twenty to thirty metres above our heads. They were not imposing; they tended to angle backwards, or else were set back a little from grassy banks. They were very impressive, but this was only a third of the wonderful views which had been accorded to us. We all stopped to gaze about us. To our left was the Dee Valley, the ground falling away from us as limestone rubble until it blended with the grass and ferns. This then merged, imperceptibly, with the emerald richness of the valley itself. The River Dee below was a broad, sparkling ribbon that wound its way down the valley length. Clumps of trees, lines of hedges, smoothed hillocks; they all added their own interest and beauty to a scene my greedy eyes drank in. On another imposing hill ahead of us along the valley, the broken ruins of the sprawled above a scene that must have stood for thousands of years. It is not an idle boast, that my guidebook regarded this part of the walk as one of the wonders of the whole route, with scenes below that were hard to exaggerate. I thought that these were the best sights of the walking week, so far.
We began making our way north along the tarmac lane, taking a path that is known as the ‘Panorama Walk’ as we strode down the whole length of this valley and towards the tired vestiges of Dinas Bran. As we ate up the distance, we began to see more limestone crags ahead of us. Those on our immediate right were now called the Trevor Rocks as we began to come alongside the remnants of the medieval castle on the hill.
The other end of the Dee Valley
The view ahead continued to open up and in the distance, the Berwyn Mountains appeared. I got left behind by my companions, due mainly to the habit I had developed at this place of stopping, gawping and switching on the video camera or taking a photo. Whilst playing catch up, I passed a farm and farmhouse which seemed to be undergoing quite a lot of alteration. Workers scurried about and lengths of scaffolding were clanking noisily as they were carried hither and thither. Distracted by this, I was taken by surprise by a sudden detour onto a road which went uphill at a dispiriting angle. Thankfully, it was a short pull and I rejoined the others at the top. It was then that we passed by the ruins, climbed a shallow grass bank and stopped for lunch at a place called Tan-y-castell.
As we munched our food, I became aware of how sweaty I was and also that I had chosen to sit in a sprinkled heap of sheep poo. Regardless of all this, I felt happy. Sheep continually trotted by on the lane we had been walking and also bleated from the sward behind and around us. The distinctive cry of a drew my attention upwards. It was being mobbed by some kind of raptor in the robin’s-egg blue of the sky and managed to achieve some impressive aerial manoeuvres, including a full-blooded barrel-roll.
“Now it’s just showing off,” said Jo.
I did a little more filming, turning the camera onto the castle and adding a little commentary.
“…and there are the ruins,” I stated.
“Was he pointing the camera at us then?” Bod asked Jo.
We finished our lunch in gratifying sunshine and then started off once more, turning north on the road. By now, the views west across the valley were of the Eglwyseg tributary of the River Dee and the hills beyond. We passed two farms, one of which was called Rock Farm, and climbed another rise in the road. This brought us to Bryn Goleu gulley and what I can only describe as an impressive slab of rock. Limestone scree poured forward from what appeared to be the beginning bulk of Eglwyseg Mountain. Rock climbers must use this rock-face a lot when they are being death-defying and stupid, because there were signs warning them not to climb at certain times of the year, due to nesting jackdaws and kestrels. With the sheer rock wall, the loose, sharp-edged scree and the scattered boulders, the whole place looked like a scene from The Planet of the Apes movie. I found myself constantly playing catch-up with the other two as I stopped to film each splendid vista that appeared between rows of trees or around the shoulder of
We were now working our way across definite scree slope which, according to my book, could present with dangerous footing during wet or misty conditions. I contemplated the long spill of fractured rock that made up the slope of the scree bank below me. If I slipped, I ruminated, it would probably be quite a while before I came to rest in a bloodied heap. I progressed and my boots kicked little shoals of flat rock down the slope, where they mingled with countless others in a bone-like and curiously musical rattle. I continued to pass around the might of Eglwyseg and caught up with Bod and Jo at yet another splendid sight.
“I think we’re going to run out of tape, before we run out of views,” I told the others as my thumb nudged the record button once more. The valley below had now become shallower and more wooded. It was luxurious with growth and seemed to be bunching up at its far end. The opposite ridge was now flatter and allowing the sight of more distant hills.
“How much tape have you got left?” enquired Bod.
“Five minutes. But I have another tape.”
Bod looked crest-fallen.
All-in-all, we crossed three separate areas of scree; broad, flat and with just our narrow ribbon of track to take us forward. At one point, the path undulated through a line of trees. Bod and Jo had left me behind again and I found myself presented with an upper route and a lower one. I stopped, indecisive. Which one had they taken? I dithered for several seconds before making a choice, which turned out to be the correct one. This was Offa’s Dyke; the correct route was the one which went upwards. At one point, I had to stop to put in the fresh tape for the video camera and during this, managed to put my hand down on a clump of thistles. A few spines immediately disappeared into a couple of fingers on my right hand and there they had to stay, as I didn’t have time to attend to them. Luckily, Jo had waited for me some way ahead and we all met World’s End together, which is about as dramatic a statement as you can make.
Bod on the Cyrn-y-Brain Moors
We began to climb north on what was now the Minera road. This was a very steep haul with conifer plantations on both sides and banks of ferns immediately around us, bringing us eventually alongside the Cyrn-y-Brain moors. Conversation had been fairly muted as we had saved our breath to deal with the steep road, but as it levelled out we began to chat a little more freely as we strode abreast in a little trio of grime and sweat-stains. As we turned left and walked onto the moor itself, our conversation dried up again.
This was mainly due to the fact that we had to go in single file. Two plank-width board walks had been laid down and made our passage much easier across the sodden ground and low, tough vegetation, but it did string us out in a line that made chit-chat difficult. Jo, at any rate, began to lag behind and was mostly silent for the rest of the hike. He later told us that he had started to become bored of the day’s walking by the time we had started to cross the desolation of the moor. I think I appreciated what he meant. The moor was a little bleak and we still had the forest ahead of us to go through. It had certainly seemed like a long walk today even if, to me, it would never become boring.
Bod and I walked ahead and encountered two walkers coming in the opposite direction. The lead walker smiled and greeted us pleasantly in passing. His companion, giving us a fleeting impression of curly hair and square-framed glasses, briefly switched on a box-like grin that seemed to hold no emotion and was as quickly doused. Occasionally, the moor dried out in random patches and the board walks weren’t required as we marched along an earthen track. We actually crossed the Cyrn-y-Brain moor in fairly quick time and came to rest on the edge of Llandegla forest. Bod and I had a quick drink and waited for Jo to catch up and then we all plunged into a conifer plantation, growing on what was formerly also moorland, for the long descent towards Llandegla. Jo lapsed behind again and caught up with us as we began to encounter some deciduous trees. He asked us if we’d seen the ‘bear print’ in the forest mud. Some degree of silence greeted this statement, but Jo insisted that the print had been massive and wished that he’d taken a photo of it with his phone.
What dark things lurk in ?
The track took us on, into more conifers which were atmospherically back-lit by the westering sun. Bod found a large scallop of bright orange fungi.
“Want a bit of mushroom?” he asked me.
“Yeah – you take first bite and I’ll watch you for a while.”
We continued down through a short and muddy dingle and then crossed a broad forest track, before descending in gloom once again. Finally, we cleared the forest and walked up to a wooden sign-post. The horrible thing told us that we still had a mile to go before we reached Llandegla. This couldn’t be right; I glanced at the time, seeing that it was five-thirty as we walked on and crossed some fields. We marched under some buzzing pylons, causing me to gaze distrustfully upwards. I’ve never liked them; I keep thinking I’m being bombarded with radiation or Kryptonite or something.
We crossed the A525 and took a path between two houses, to reach a small road which brought us onto the A5104 at Pen-y-Stryt. In reference to Jo, I have to admit that this last bit of the walk seemed to take an age. Suddenly, we found ourselves on the main street of and looked about us as it took us downwards. Principally, of course, we were looking for an ale-house. We’d have been looking for a while; Llandegla doesn’t have such a thing. However, in the act of our fruitless search for beer we came across a sign which read ‘Hand House’. We’d stumbled upon our home for the night.
Recovery: The wonderful Hand House, Llandegla ....
Our accommodation, Hand House, was on a bend in the road and stood next to the village church and graveyard. Children were playing noisily in the street as we walked trough the gate and up the front garden of our accommodation. We were suddenly ushered into the house by a youngish guy, who then mysteriously disappeared, not to be seen again until the next morning. The lady of the house welcomed us warmly. After the Neanderthal grunting of yesterday’s host, we were instantly entranced. She was simply wonderful and told us about the history of the place as she served us hot drinks and various pastries laden with jam and honey. She mentioned that the place was haunted by a ghost. A ghost, she added, that is only seen by American women. She briefly left the conservatory in which she had seated us, hunting for buttery cookies with which to further beguile. Bod added that she tells American women the ghost can only be seen by sweaty Brummies with chafed thighs.
This lady was great. She was 80 years old and had a tendency to lurch about the place, courtesy of a hip held together by pins from a recent operation. Post-snack, she made Bod feel guilty by showing him his room for the night by crawling up the final flight of stairs on her hands and knees. She also told us that we would be given a lift to the most local pub (The Plough) so that we could eat properly and slake our mighty thirsts. After The Stanton House Inn, Hand House, Llandegla, was a fertile valley of love and compassion. This lady’s husband introduced himself, too. He was a gifted musician and had an air of being totally laid back and at peace with himself.
Jo and I shared a room tonight again. It was lovely and oozed comfort. The beds, I noticed in passing, were awash with cushions. We unpacked and Jo then used his phone, so I took the opportunity to bath first, sinking blissfully into hot and bath foam-scented water. I got in and out quickly, mindful that Jo would want to have a bath before we went out. The little oasis of indolence that we had found ourselves in was, for me, briefly ruined when I used body spray and discovered that I had tender ‘friction’ areas on my butt from walking. I was forced to leap around the bathroom until the ferocity had died down. As an unhappy prologue to this, I had to apply Vaseline liberally to the affected area for the rest of the week’s walking. I guess the miles were finally taking some toll.
Once ready, we all left for The Plough at seven-thirty. Who should we meet within its walls but The Four Walkers? Happy greetings were exchanged and then we busily got down to the business of bull-shitting each other on the feats of our walking day.
The pub itself was feverishly busy for the first hour and then virtually empty by nine o’clock. The three of us ate our meals and then sank a few beers, occasionally mixing with The Four Walkers. I was asked by the young barmaid what I was doing, when she saw me picking obsessively at my fingers. I had been making a futile attempt at removing thistle thorns and told her what had happened earlier in the day.
“So – you’re being a wuss, then?” she asked, sweetly.
Chastened, I got her to serve me a Laphroig whisky just before we summoned a taxi to take us home. The fact that this only cost us £1.00 each was a pleasant surprise, although the taxi driver seemed to take a dislike to one of the slightly merry Four Walkers, although he was fine with the three of us.
We all turned in quickly once back at Hand House. Jo and I chatted for quite a while about religion and our beliefs and it was about midnight before we settled.
Twitter from @BabbleRouser (Jo)
Think we broke the land-speed record yesterday; 10 miles in about 3 hours. Today called for a more strenuous effort
Sep 7th via mobile web
Twitter from @BabbleRouser (Jo)
If we all make it out of this 'hotel' alive, it will be more than a minor miracle!
Sep 7th via mobile web
Twitter from @BabbleRouser (Jo)
Many lovely people in the world; fellow walker ferried us from end of today's walk to our accommodation. Top man!
Sep 7th via mobile web
See Route on ......