|Offa's Dyke - North|
Leaving Rivendell, the Clwydian Hills, switchback walking ....
It had rained hard overnight. Jo was awake before me and once I’d got up, we both made ourselves presentable and went down for breakfast. Bod was already seated at the grand, scarred wooden table. Breakfast was sumptuous, no fry-up today for us; we were each served a large ceramic boat, full of local and exotic fruit. I enjoyed this hugely, even though I had to keep a wary eye out for kiwi fruit, to which I am dangerously allergic. One nibble at kiwi and I’d start acting like the victim of a mustard gas attack. I couldn’t see me getting far today, trying to walk the trail with a bloated tongue and a pencil-width airway.
Once our fruit boats were emptied, I chose to have smoked mackerel. This was also bewitchingly delicious; although I was later to spend a good deal of the morning’s walking softly burping reminders of the taste. Our hosts put a tape on whilst we ate. It was guitar-playing of great fluency and skill and the performer was none other than the husband serving us breakfast. It must be a dream, to be so skilful at what you love doing.
Breakfast was soon over and it was time to pack and leave this wonderful place. Before we left, I took the time to effusively thank the woman of the house and also planted a kiss on her cheek. Well, they had been fabulous hosts and I think she appreciated the gesture! We were each given a simple packed lunch, as on this occasion I hadn’t pre-booked, but I did also get a couple of bananas to go with mine, which would be great for energy later. This we would certainly need – today’s walking was supposed to be quite hard and long, taking us over wild moorland and along a range of rounded hills of tough, Silurian shale. There was also going to be a series of climbs.
From the top of Moel y Plas, looking forward to the peaks we had yet to do that day
We said fond farewells and I briefly felt like Frodo the hobbit, being compelled to leave the peace and protection of Rivendell. We took a stroll to the local shop in a bid to buy some extra food for the miles ahead. We all agreed that Hand House had been the best accommodation of the week, with the kindest hosts.
“I’m surprised she didn’t tuck us up in bed last night,” said Bod.
As we shouldered our packs and did all the usual shuffling and adjustments one does before setting out, we could see that the hills we had to head towards were shrouded in rain clouds, although it wasn’t raining at the moment. I mentioned that our destination for the day was a place called Bodfari.
“Bodfari?” replied Jo, with a trace of amusement. He never seemed to know where we would be walking each day and seemed perfectly content with this. Indeed, I don’t recall ever seeing him so much as glance at a map.
“Yeah, Bod-very-Fari,” I responded, thinking of the distance to be covered today.
“It’s like Daktari, but without the cross-eyed Lion,” suggested Bod.
“……though we might be, by the time we finish it,” I added and mentioned that it was going to be seventeen miles of walking ‘over muck and moorland’.
Bod also said that we would be going over the Clwyddion Hills. Or Mountains. We couldn’t decide which they were.
“Walked up a mountain and came down a hill,” said Bod.
“Came down a cripple,” I amended, as I finished a little filming and packed the camera away.
Anyway, we agreed that they were the Clwyddion Hills and didn’t qualify as mountains. We started off. We had to walk past Hand House on the way out of Llandegla and I suddenly remembered that I was short a cap. I was forced to go back to the house and saw the younger guy from yesterday, who greeted me and let me into the conservatory. He went upstairs to our room to search for my cap and during his absence; I found it on a chair in the conservatory.
Bod and Jo had waited for me by the church and so we started off, quickly going over a succession of damp fields and crossing a small bridge over the It wasn’t long before we reached our first uphill bit of the day, at Chweleiriog. This climb was an immediately testing one and as Jo and I powered up past a small wood, we left Bod lagging behind. He later told me that he had felt so dead-legged and weary during that first climb that he had almost given up straight away. We walked for three miles over fertile farmland under a cloudy sky and then hit a lane, which we travelled along just above the small farm of Tyddyn-tlodian in a northerly direction. After about half-a-mile, we swung west and suddenly came upon open moorland.
It quickly became breezy and I felt the need to stop and don a fleece at the base of Moel y Gelli, which was the first of the that we passed by. I also filmed the lads as they walked on and climbed a stile some distance away. Once over this, they began to labour up the side of Moel y Plas and the first big climb. I followed on behind, walking past Nurse Fawr wood and a large transmitter station. I was beginning to be buffeted by a strong wind and the landscape was starting to look a bit desolate. There was a little concrete hut-type building at the base of the transmitter and I wondered what it would be like to spend the night there, alone at the base of this remote hill.
Moel y Plas was very steep; a really hard climb that left me blowing like a worked horse. Once I’d recovered some composure, I filmed dramatic views of other hills, valleys and sun-blazoned clouds, as well as the chilly-looking waters of Llyn Gweryd Lake below.
Bod called me and then pointed out the route we had yet to take. I was presented with a row of hills; falling back from each other into a purple haze and distant, piled cloud-banks. I climbed over the stile in a fence, from which Bod had spoken to me moments before and followed in their footsteps amongst tough little heather and bilberry bushes. The wind was still cuffing me about the ears as I took a track between the shrubs and was taken down a very steep drop to a Cwm to our left (west). Sheep were running about far below us on a plateau of grassy sward, their voices carrying up to us with surprising force. For now, we were being spared harsh walking as the track was level and skirted around, rather than over, such hills as Moel Llanfair and Moel Gyw. Bod stated that he has happy with this type of walking as he led, I followed and Jo came behind. We sometimes looked back and ahead of us to see if we could spot The Four Walkers today. We chatted to each other, wondering what time they had started out this morning. I had started to feel that we had found ourselves in a secret, unspoken competition against them.
Foel Fenli, high point at Jubilee Tower, misspent youths ....
Our path joined a wide track and we then crossed a col between two small summits. I was annoyed to find that somebody had dropped some chocolate wrappers. I picked them up, cursing the thoughtlessness of some people, as it felt wrong to leave them in such a wild place. The track led us over a small climb and to our surprise, quickly down the other side. We had a laugh and a good-natured moan at this. The Offa’s Dyke route could just as easily have chosen to take us around this needless ascent, as there was a track that did just that.
“I’m going to write them a stiff letter,” announced Bod as we clumped down the meagre hillock, “On second thoughts – I’ll write them an abusive one.”
We tramped down through a field and then turned right onto our first road, the A494 Ruthin to Mold road. This took us past a motel and then we had to leave it again, having to go steeply up a lane alongside Gyrn Hill. I stopped to do a little filming and glanced at my watch, noting that we had been walking for about two and a half hours. Bod and Jo had pulled away and were waiting for me at the top of a fairly steep bank. As I walked towards them, I became aware that there were a lot of cows and more disturbingly, bulls, standing in my way. My companions seemed to be waiting at the top of the bank, looking on to see what would happen next. If they were hoping for some kind of blood sport they were disappointed, as I got by the bulls unmolested and joined the guys. We were at Moel-eithinen Farm and we continued to walk to the top of a rise and then turned sharply left.
After looking at our maps, we were worried that we had a monster climb from a col ahead of us and we became relieved, as we approached, that there seemed to be an easier route up what was Foel Fenli. This was a very short-lived feeling. Instead of an easy path upwards, we were abruptly hit with a bastard of a climb. The track took us up hillside thick with ferns. It was very steep and very taxing and my legs soon began to burn fiercely as the angle of climb became even more acute. Although it never feels this way at the time, the pain of such an elevation was acute, but brief and the result of my labour was a magnificent view from the top. Be that as it may, I felt that we had paid heavily for this prize.
The chilly waters of Llyn Gweryd lake below us
Jo and I waited for a dripping Bod to join us and then we walked along the ridge of Foel Fenli. We hadn’t gone very far when we all decided that we needed a break, the time being about twelve-twenty. It was only a short rest; enough to get liquids inside us and also some carbohydrates. Our view ahead was very impressive, bordering on daunting as we realised that the track, hills and ridges ahead were all in the direction we had to go. We could see a man-made construction a long way off called Jubilee Tower. It looked very small and far away and I thought that it would take us quite some time to get there, as our walk today would take us right up to it. Far in the distance, we were sure; we could see Prestatyn and the end of the road and even the tiny, stick-like figures of the wind turbines on Liverpool Bay.
As I filmed and commented on the sights around us, I was persistently buzzed by a wasp, probably because I had just finished scoffing chocolate. Bod was looking at his map and I was amazed when he told us that we had only walked about six miles so far today. It felt like we had done so much more and I commented that this might be because of our efforts during yesterday’s walking; the accumulative effect in action. Jo had a look around, using my binoculars and then we began again as we descended Foel Fenli in order to join a gravelled path sweeping around a mound, as it turned towards Jubilee Tower. The next one and three-quarter miles of the route would take us to the highest point on the Clwydian range (Jubilee Tower being at 1,818 feet) on the summit of (the ‘Mother Mountain’). The stone path was long and undulated wildly and it became very steep as we approached the tower, which was rapidly drawing closer. We experienced fifteen minutes of hard walking in sudden sunshine. This culminated in a real, teeth-gritting haul which managed to rip my breath away. Finally, I made it to the base of and was taken by a stubborn determination to not stop walking until I had reached its top. I climbed up the uneven steps until I had achieved my goal. Jo had been visited by no such desire and sat down at its base, soon to be joined by Bod.
The first thing I became aware of as I walked onto the circular, walled summit was that there were a group of young people noisily taking part in some sort of team-building, let’s-keep-out-of-prison social worker-led day trip from Liverpool. The Scouse accent smacked against the brickwork like thick paste, there was a significant involvement of ropes and a general feeling of mutiny. As I tried to regain my breath with quiet dignity, I could see that I was being watched by one stone-faced lad.
‘Well, sonny, that’s what you get for nicking cars,’ I thought, uncharitably.
I gazed out over the wall towards the north. An information board told me that, from here, Liverpool was only twenty miles away and Snowdon was thirty-five miles to my west. Shortly, I rejoined Bod and Jo, who were sprawled delicately on a low wall. We had the briefest of rests and then walked on; going steeply down through long grass so that Jubilee Tower was quickly lost from view. It had surprised me how quickly we had covered the distance to reach it, after seeing it from the ridge of Foel Fenli where it had appeared so tiny. Before long, the tower had been left as far behind as it had been ahead and it was only notions such as this that reminded me of the miles our feet ate away each day.
Lunch on Moel Dywyll, the missing coat, Bod-very-fari, an over-warm welcome ....
It wasn’t long before our next climb had us tackling Moel Dywyll as we laboured up towards its crown, on top of which squatted a large, untidy cairn. It was quite a wild view all around us and my book had a map showing crowded, crenelated contour lines. We were deep among the Clwydian Range. The path dropped down again and continued to rear and dip through a landscape of heather. We walked on, creeping irrevocably towards the ascent of Moel Llys-y-coed amongst scenery which could reliably be described as feral. A jogging man overtook us and we silently watched him as we marched comfortably along. We were openly derisive between ourselves when he stopped ahead of us, but he had soon continued on and rapidly climbed into the distance as we scrambled down a very steep bank.
It was on the top of Moel Llys-y-coed that we stopped for lunch. I noticed that it was very windy up where we were and I soon became chilly. I’d also spotted rain clouds skating about, so I decided to put my Berghaus coat on while I sat to eat my food. A leisurely sort through my rucksack produced nothing. Baffled, I began a more thorough turnout, removing my food-pack and massaging clothes out of the way. It wasn’t there. A horrid, sinking feeling began to fill me with a tide of dismay. I hauled everything out of the rucksack, lips moving wordlessly and did that ridiculous thing you do when you hope that you’ve overlooked something that SHOULD be there; I peered into the corners of the rucksack, as if my coat could defy its own dimensions and be lurking in a tucked away fold. No Berghaus. I crouched for a few moments, casting my mind back and began to see myself in a cheap, shoddy room with fag-ends piled up outside the window and an airing cupboard with dull copper pipes. The place we had stayed in Chirk. I’d hung my coat in the airing cupboard to dry overnight and I had no memory of removing it. In fact, I knew that I hadn’t and that I’d done it again and left some of my kit behind.
I kept quiet about it whilst chewing listlessly on my food but, realising that I would be found out as soon as it began to rain, I owned up to the others. Not a lot was said, but Bod was wearing an expression that spoke volumes, although he also let me wear his cagoule as the wind was chilling and the clouds were piling up in readiness. I was instantly warm and sat back against a wire fence to finish my lunch.
“Are you sure that jacket’s big enough?” enquired Bod, sardonically. The material swamped me.
“It’s a bit tight around the shoulders, but I’ll manage.”
I watched the rain sweep nearer as I ate and we were just starting out again when it hit us, so I put on my waterproofs. We immediately had a steep descent down the North flank of Moel Llys-y-coed, a trip which was enlivened by grass that was now wet and slippy. We had a dry-stone wall for company on our right hand-side as we carefully made our way down until we had reached a very small, gravelled car park. The next climb started straight away and the other two set off while I stopped to film what we had just come down. I then joined them as they trundled up the side of Moel Arthur. Bod mentioned that, once we had got to the top of this hill, there was only one more climb to do. I had reservations about this but kept my own council.
We had soon dispatched Moel Arthur and began going down the other side again on more grassy slopes. At the bottom, we saw that there was a lot of building and digging going on and blokes wandering about in hard hats. This threw us a bit and it took a couple of minutes for us to work out which way we needed to go next. We then picked our way through the heaps of gravel and lounging, gimlet-eyed blokes and circumnavigated the whole thing, finding the track we needed behind some workmen’s huts. We passed a dark forest plantation as we left this mess behind and then began another climb, up to the summit of a hill-fort with its highest point 440 metres above sea level.
A view from Foel Fenli
‘Bodfari’ read a sign-post, without more helpful knowledge such as how far away it was. We walked down a lane, briefly, then crossed a stile and went down through a landscape of small, irregular fields with boundaries of hedges on the steep, Western slopes of the Clwydian Hills near Aifft. We crossed a bridge over a lively stream at Ty Newydd Farm and then went along a moorland path. This track fooled us and instead of taking us further down, as I had supposed it would, led us back upwards and presented us with a wonderful view of what I suppose was the Ty’n-y-celyn valley to our left. As I walked, I mused upon the walking we had done this day and the day before. The conclusions I reached, were that they had been both very difficult on the feet and very pleasing on the eye, with some absolutely fabulous scenery about us. I thought today had been almost as difficult as the Knighton to Brompton stretch. Bod reckoned that it had been as testing, but I still thought the killer gradients of day seven had the edge.
Recovery: The Downing Arms, Bodfari ....
Whatever, today had been long and I was feeling tired. It was with a feeble sense of gratitude that I finally noticed the track allowing us to go downhill again, taking us through another field. We had discussed stopping at a place called Grove Hall Farm and calling our accommodation from there, in the hope of cadging a lift. In the event, we walked on past the farm and onto a road, which led us onto the busy A541 and to the steps of The Downing Arms pub. It was six-twenty and the pub was closed. This was as an arrow through the heart and dashed our thin hopes of having a refreshing drink. I left Bod and Jo sitting morosely on a bench outside the firmly locked doors and walked somewhere quiet and away from the hurtling traffic. I phoned our digs for the night (Glan Clwyd) and spoke to our hostess, who didn’t seem overly-pleased that we wanted a lift. This was despite promising us this service when I had phoned months earlier. Be that as it may, her husband turned up before long which was almost a pity, because a blonde lady in The Downing Arms had spotted Bod and Jo looking crest-fallen outside her doors and had opened up early for us. We promised her we would return for a meal and were then taken to Glan Clwyd.
The husband looked very tanned and informed us that he had just returned from Portugal that afternoon. He had a glowing skin and was wearing a freshly-pressed shirt. Next to him, we must have looked like a trio of bat-cave scavengers down on our luck.
At Glan Clwyd, he led us into a fabulously warm kitchen where we were served with hot drinks and buttered scones by his wife, who invited us to drape our wet gear over her dining chairs. Our malformed boots were put in front of the Aga oven, which was giving off a pervasive blanket of warmth. The kitchen was huge, as was the house in general. It very quickly became evident that this was a couple with plenty of wealth at hand. They also had a friendly dog, called Montgomery, who we saw briefly whilst there was food circulating and not at all after that.
Bod and I shared a room tonight and it was like being led into an only recently turned off oven. The place was stifling, situated as it was above the downstairs Aga. The corridor outside our rooms had walls adorned with very posh preparatory school photographs and we spent a while, I must confess, giggling immaturely over these. I then took the opportunity to have a lovely soak in a hot bath. It was a peaceful evening outside and all signs of the earlier rain had departed.
Our meal at The Downing Arms had been arranged for eight o’clock and as it was a mile and a half away, the husband gave us a lift back there. He did so with the assurance that we would arrive back later under our own steam. The blonde landlady at the pub from earlier was in attendance and greeted us in a brash but friendly manner. We hadn’t been there long, when The Four Walkers arrived and there followed the usual round of ‘Where the hell have you been, we finished the walk hours ago’ comments from both parties. Bod asked one of them what time they had finished.
“Twelve o’clock,” he lied, with a little smirk. He later added that they had finished at three, but we never really got a straight answer. It had become a game.
I took the mobile number of one of them; so that we could all meet up the next evening and share celebratory end-of-the-walk drinks.
I had steak and it was a lovely meal after a hard day’s walking. The further walk back to our place was not so lovely, but it was a clear night and the three of us sauntered along companionably enough. We could see a bright light fairly low in the night sky and fell into deliberation about whether we were looking at the planet Venus or Jupiter. It seemed, we said, too late in the evening for Venus but too low in the sky for Jupiter. Our footfalls went on alongside our idle chit-chat and we walked for so long down black lanes that I began to fear we had become lost.
“Are you beginning to have doubts?” asked Bod.
“Yes. Five more minutes and I think we should turn back.”
As I was saying this, the farmhouse came into sight and we gratefully went inside. We retired quickly. Within five minutes of reading The Economist, Bod had fallen asleep and thick snores began rattling across the room. I listened with clenched teeth for a while and then could tolerate it no more. Quietly getting out of bed, I resisted the urge to smack Bod over the head with The Economist and instead, went exploring down the corridor and quickly found an unoccupied room. Cutting short a little yelp of joy, I made myself at home in the large bed I found there and slept with infinite comfort, not least due to the fact that the room I had discovered was blissfully cool after the engine room I had just vacated.
Twitter from @BabbleRouser (Jo)
Waited on by two angels at Hand House, Llandeglo. Highly recommended. Excellent service.
Sep 9th via mobile web
See Route on ......