|Offa's Dyke - North|
A quick crossing, a short canal, an awful lot of Balsam ....
When my phone alarm sounded at seven-thirty, Bod was already awake. We were both edging around the room, trying to avoid embarrassing male bodily contact in the confines of our cell, when Jo burst in and further strangled the available space.
“Have you heard about ?” was his morning greeting. The news was full of Mr. Rooney’s sampling of the South African flesh pots during the World Cup. At least he managed to score somewhere, then.
We went down to eat and I quickly succumbed to the temptation of the traditional English breakfast, despite my former protestations that the salt content dehydrates me. It was a surrender that was to last the whole week. Well, I thought, I’ve already paid for it – I’ll be buggered if I settle for a bowl of muesli each morning.
As we ate, we listened to the guy on the table next to us. I thought his ilk was, largely, a parody but he was there in the flesh – The Railway Enthusiast. In fact, he was the rarer member of that breed, The Steam Railway Man. He talked animatedly to his table partner about his love of steam trains, routes and the restoration of the 440 class ‘Mallet’ throughout breakfast. I stole a glance at the target of such devoted outpouring. Her eyes were more glazed than her honeyed toast.
After breakfast, we made haste and prepared to leave. It took a little scurrying about, going up and down stairs and startling chamber maids at their work, before we located the manager and paid our way. Bod and I waited for Jo, who was delayed by we know not what (possibly his bladder) and then we were off. It was nine-forty and a fine morning for walking. We had been lucky – it had poured down overnight, but there was now not a spot in the air.
My trusty book told us that we would be walking mainly by the banks of the River Severn today, with the frowning down at us from the east. Before this, there would be a section on a restored canal tow-path.
First, we had to retrace our footsteps to get back onto the path itself, back-tracking along the canal system and the busy roads we had encountered yesterday afternoon. We rejoined it at Buttington Bridge and began to walk across some flood embankments.
On one of the early flood embankments with Breidden Hill behind
It was a fresh and breezy day and whiffs of cloud hurried by on private business, but there was plenty of blue sky and the light was good. The Severn twisted and turned, as if in torment, to our right as we progressed forward. We hit the A438 once more and had to cross it with some alacrity. It was busy with lorries again and I had no intention of becoming a road statistic labelled, ‘Man, with rucksack embedded inside intestines’. Once over the other side, we walked along its fringe for about 250 yards, enduring the rush of noisy traffic. We then reached the system. From this point and for a good while, we were not only walking the Offa’s Dyke route, we had also joined part of the route of the I like walking alongside canals and was looking forward to a good stretch of peaceful, uncomplicated walking. It was not to be. We joined the canal all right and it was peaceful and it was pretty. It also stopped being part of our route after a miserly one and a quarter miles. We were soon separated from the insistent snarling of traffic on the A483 by a high hedge of Hawthorn or Blackthorn. We passed a contraption that, at first, baffled me.
“What’s that?” I asked Bod. He looked at me as if I were a bit simple. It was an accurate look.
“It’s a lifting bridge.”
I looked at it closely and could then see the system of pulleys for myself. It had been restored and was handsome and bold in its statement of Victorian achievement. We walked on in silent appreciation.
“Its nice country,” stated Bod but, at a place called Pool Quay Lock, we were suddenly diverted away from the canal. “Aw – I like locks,” he finished, in a wounded tone.
We were taken down a lane and had to do a sudden and severe u-turn back onto the A483 with its rowdy chorus of vehicles. After the serenity of the canal, it was like being suddenly slapped by a previously flirtatious woman. Luckily, our ears were only bullied by this intrusion for about 200 yards and then we crossed the road and took off across a field and a track which ran beside the River Severn, near Maginnis Bridge. As we ambled along this track, I noticed that was out in a profusion of flowers. It mirrored the course of the river perfectly and looked lush and lovely. I’m at a conflict of interests with this stuff. As a conservation volunteer, I had recently had to clear loads of this plant from a woodland fringe in the Wye Valley and I well know of its invasive and alien prowess on our landscape. The trouble is, the bees in our country absolutely love it and, God knows, they need all the help they can get at the moment. However, it absolutely dominated the flora of the riverbank as we traipsed along and that, I’m afraid, is a little too much of a success story, especially for a non-indigenous species. Jo walked with me and told me how it had been introduced to this country. The details of this have escaped the poor refines of my memory banks, but I think it was introduced by just one person as a garden plant in the beginning of the last century and spread from there. Having the capacity to eject its own seed pods up to twenty feet away from the parent plant helps and the fact that it is many times more pollen-rich than most of our native plants has wooed the bees and they have defected. Our native species don’t stand much of a chance.
Criggion Quarry, The Four Walkers, a mad bitch ....
Once again, we negotiated a series of flood embankments and also crossed the dismantled former main line of the from Oswestry to Newtown. There were continuing views of the Breidden Hills and also of Long Mountain to the south, which we had scaled yesterday. On one of the flood embankments, we passed an orange, rectangular panel set out on the grass and standing up like a set of goalposts. It looked like a marker of some kind and we fell into discussion about what it could be. Bod suggested that this field might be a landing point for para-gliders and we thought, given the space around us, that this was a fair call.
The series of flood embankments continued and we were soon passing over the Tirymynach Embankment. A huge and disfigured hill began to draw near. This had an active quarry dug into it, called the and it began to dominate the view to the east (our right). We also began to pass lots of grazing sheep and cows, the latter of which were often lying sprawled across our path and totally resistant to the idea of moving, although they gazed at us warily as we passed by. The whole area was liberally doused with bovine shit and, for a brief period, walking Offa’s Dyke became a little like negotiating an organic minefield. Up ahead, we saw a line of four walkers. They were going at their own group pace, which happened to be slower than ours, so pretty soon we were amongst them. There were also walkers coming past us from the opposite direction. There was very little in the way of cheery greetings and questions about each of our destinations. We treated each other with first rate indifference.
Criggion Quarry consisted of a vast, cut away section in the flank of Breidden Hill. Dim sounds of excavation carried to us and also the sound of a huge ‘Tonka Toy’ style truck, made tiny by distance as it inched to and fro up the side of the quarry. We were able to mark its slow progress all the while we walked alongside the River Severn. It was at this point that I noticed, despite the easy terrain, that I was feeling very ‘heavy-legged’ and feeble. I mentioned this and Jo said that he felt the same way. We came to the conclusion that we may both have been suffering from mild dehydration, as neither of us had drunk that much water during the morning or, indeed, on the walk the day before. I made a mental note to keep sipping from my water camel, whether I was consciously thirsty or not.
Bod, Jo and Breidden Hill
We finally drew ahead of the four walkers, who were guys appearing to be in their 40’s and 50’s. They were talking amongst themselves and respectfully allowed us to go ahead over a stile before us near a residence called Red House. Their accents were from the south-east of the country, vaguely London-ish to my untutored ear. As for the three of us, there was little conversation between us at this point of the day. We had got into a rhythm and fairly powered along in a strung out line, occasionally throwing comments at each other over our shoulders and frequently interchanging our positions so that each of us took a turn on point during the walk. It became very windy as we swung away from the protective clasp of Breidden Hill. We approached a stout, iron sluice gate at which point we all seemed to decide that we needed a ‘comfort break’ at the same time. Nature provided in the form of a hollowed out bowl of a large Oak Tree. For some reason, I forged ahead just after this, following once more the old track of the Cambrian railway line and had time to stop on the gusty stone platform of in order to film Bod and Jo as they approached. Jo had lagged way behind and I’d had a good rest by the time he approached.
We became aware, as we all took a breather together and discussed stopping to eat, that it was only twelve-thirty and we had nearly finished the walk for the day. wasn’t far ahead.
“At this rate, we’ll be having our lunch in our room,” Bod mused.
We carried on; over a series of fields forming another flood defence in a north-westerly direction and it was here that we parted company with the Severn Way once more. It is reckoned that this flood defence system follows the line of Offa’s Dyke, which probably forms its foundation. The embankment turned west but we carried on in a more north-westerly direction, on a hedged path by The Nea farmhouse. We hurried along the edge of a field and joined a further embankment, which we then crossed until we reached the B4393 near Rhos Farm. After crossing this minor road, we carried on across grassland until we drew near to Gornel Farm. The walk required us to pass through the farmyard itself and we received a welcome here from several lively puppies and a very excitable tethered parent. I bent down to fuss fat-bellied and clumsy-footed canines, who displayed utter joy at our appearance. This is more than can be said of the mother (we presumed) and I’m glad that she was tied to a post. She just wasn’t pleased at us handling her babies and gave voice to a surprising range of blood-curdling noises.
“Good job she’s tied up – she’d have your face off,” advised Bod and I couldn’t disagree, so we moved on quickly so as to stop causing her further distress.
The difficult landlord, a bit more walking ....
We followed a path after the farm, which led us to a Lorry depot. It was a strange feeling to be walking along as a ‘rambler’ complete with rucksack, boots and water camel and to pass through a group of lads at work in their oily overalls. We had to walk right through the courtyard of the depot and all eyes were upon us.
“Alright, lads,” I muttered, self-consciously and they replied agreeably enough.
At last, we had reached Four Crosses and were forced to stop and consider where our accommodation was. I looked in my book and discovered that we had to cross the road before us (the B4393 again) and carry on across a track on some wasteland. This we did and also passed a school, before hitting the A483. It was but a short trek up this and we suddenly came across the – our next stop off for the night, in Llandysilio.
Himalayan Balsam at Maginnis Bridge
We wasted no time and were soon indoors. The bar was empty of customers, but the landlord was there and greeted us pleasantly, before launching into a number of things that he was afraid we couldn’t do. This began more or less as soon as he found out that we were paying customers for the night. Even this wasn’t a sure thing at first, as he had put us down for staying here the night before rather than the night coming. He said that this was okay though, as there was availability tonight in a triple room. He served us our beers before commencing.
“I’m afraid you can’t book in until four o’clock. That’s our policy.”
Okay – well this wasn’t a disaster. We had finished the walk today so early that we had already discussed walking a little further along the route, into Llanymynech. This just settled it.
“We’ll eat our lunch and then walk on,” I told him.
“I’m afraid you can’t eat your packed lunches on the premises.”
Bod and I looked at each other, shrugged. “We’ll eat outside,” he told the man.
“I’m afraid you can’t eat in front of the premises. You know, that’s just the way it is,” he countered. He wasn’t hostile about this in any way, but I was beginning to think him very officious.
“Okay, we’ll walk up the road and find a spot,” said Bod.
“Oh, you mustn’t walk on the A483. It’s dangerous.”
This was becoming wearisome, I reflected as I sipped my ale. We informed him that the Offa’s Dyke route didn’t take us along the A483 and I then filled in all the relevant paperwork to ensure our beds for the night. Get him off officialdom and the guy was very friendly and pleasant. A little eccentric and awkward around people, I saw, but a genuine man. Guitars were placed everywhere, some beautiful ones. He told me as I scribbled, that his music shop next door was his main business and, I suspect, very much his first love. There would be live music tonight, with people coming along with their own instruments and having a bit of a session. I looked forward to this as I have always enjoyed live music of most sorts.
We walked back into the bar, where the landlord’s wife had appeared and was busily arranging for us to dump our excess gear in our room. She was energetic and had a lovely nature and didn’t seem to hold with the ‘can’t book in until four o’clock’ notion at all. In no time at all, our luggage was upstairs and we were officially in.
We thanked our hosts and left The Golden Lion to begin our walk into My book of the route had suggested today’s walk end there, anyway. It was just that our accommodation came first along the way. We took a left up Parson’s Lane and trooped along this until it brought us to the canal. There was a handy bench and it was a pleasant spot, with a stone bridge just to the left of us. Lunch! The weather was still breezy, but very pleasant and we had no rain all day. We spent around half an hour talking about the day’s events as we munched our sandwiches.
Once on our way again, the nature of the narrow canal track meant that we walked in single file. The scenery was a little unkempt at times, although in a wild and pretty way and it would be a pleasant three miles to Llanymynech. I led for a while – over a stile, crossing a lane, over another stile. I couldn’t see Bod and Jo at one point and wondered if I’d lost them behind me, but they soon reappeared along the track. We stopped on an aqueduct over the or Afon Efyrnwy to give it its due Welsh name. I was curious, as I’d never come across an aqueduct over which also ran a canal as this one did. We looked down over the foaming river and Bod also pointed out a middle distant caravan park he had stayed at about 15 years ago. A hurricane had hit the UK that night and they had been woken at two in the morning by the site owner, because the whole site was flooding from the burst riverbanks.
We walked on and this section of the canal abruptly ended at a concrete barricade at Carreghofa Locks. A rusting barge was moored here and I had a quick mooch, climbing over its rail and around its edge and ignoring the imploring from Bod that I fall into the canal. I also saw a pair of here accompanied by five well-grown cygnets that were almost as large as their parents. This was a successful brood to say the least.
We carried on along a fresh canal section after climbing up a bank and crossing a road. We reached a gate which led us into the car park of a pub called The Dolphin Inn. This, we decided, would be the finish point of today’s walk, as close as we were to Llanymynech and with the next beer firmly on our minds. Unfortunately, we were out of luck as the pub was shut, but it didn’t take our homing instincts long to locate another and in a trice we were ensconced comfortably, supping our pints and chatting to the bar staff. After a while, we decided it was time to order a taxi and return to The Golden Lion. On the way back, we organised a baggage collection and drop off with the taxi driver for the following morning.
Recovery: The Dolphin Inn, Llanymynech ....
We came back into the pub via the back door and took our boots off in the hall. A cat lay looking sleepily up at us from its basket and I gave it a quick fuss. It was a little startling at first touch. It was a very lumpy cat and stroking its back was a little like running my hand over a furry, cobbled street. Puss seemed to appreciate the gesture, though.
Our room was reached via three flights of stairs and as the other two settled in, I did some filming of the accommodation and the area in general. I returned to the room to find Jo sprawled out on his bed and Bod in the shower.
“I see you’ve given me the bed next to Bods snoring,” Jo remarked.
“In this room, I don’t think that’s going to matter.”
Having just settled in our room at The Golden Lion
The TV went on and we all kicked back and chilled for a while. At six-thirty, it began to rain steadily. This continued for the rest of the evening and, as far as I’m aware, all night too. We had escaped it by a few hours. At seven-thirty, we took ourselves downstairs and into the lounge area of the bar to sample both the beer on tap and the music available. People began to arrive with their instruments, amongst which I saw guitars, an accordion, some bongo-type drums and a whistle or flute. Individual sounds of playing began to filter through the room only to stop again after a few seconds. Then, the musicians sat themselves in a loose circle on a number of seats and chairs and began to play together. It was an enjoyable period. The tunes had a Celtic liveliness and foot-tapping became irresistible to me. The landlord was very encouraging to everybody in the group who were brave enough to go solo for a few minutes, especially those whose efforts were still noticeably amateurish and clumsy.
“Well done. That was really good,” he told the flute-playing woman who had produced a series of discordant notes even my untrained ears winced at.
At one point, I did a little filming and also stepped outside. The rain was heavier and cars hissed along the road in the darkness. Bod, Jo and I were called through to the bar for our meal. It was lovely and a great feeling of contentment stole over me. This was not surprising; I was full of good food, I had a beer in my hand and miles of great walking ahead, there was no work to face tomorrow, or the day after and I was with good company listening to people create music for no other reason than the pleasure of producing it. However, the food and drink did its stealthy work on the three of us and we began to yawn hugely as we sat. It was ten-forty when we thanked everybody and bid them goodnight.
Bod once more attempted to read in bed. I doubt he had ploughed through more than two pages before he fell asleep and began to produce his own, soft and rasping music. Jo and I talked for a while about football grounds we have visited and famous people we have met. The rain spattered fitfully against the windows as we put the light out and settled down to sleep at half past midnight.
Twitter from @BabbleRouser (Jo)
Resolved to try @Corriepaw's 'Sinful Saturday' regime; healthy eating Sun-Fri, gluttony at week's end!
Sep 6th via mobile web
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
Done for the day. A short walk today, over fields and along canals. Curiously, we are all heavy legged and weary. Weather held out for us.
Sep 6th via txt
Twitter from @Corriepaw (Colin)
All 3 of us are sharing a room. It's a good size, which is more than can be said of the bathroom. Drying myself after a shower involved acts of contortion which could be considered lewd. The Proprietor of this place is hard work. He is a musician and is, therefore, strange.
Sep 6th via txt
See Route on ......