Into Wildest Wales

Hergest Ridge Old waymarker Rest those weary feet! Time for Tea Wild Ponies on Hergest Ridge
OFFA’S DYKE – Stage 3 – Kington to Pandy

Saturday September 19th to Monday September 21st

Day 1 – Kington to Knighton - 13.5 mls

Day 2 – Knighton to Hay-on-Wye - 14.5 mls

Day 3 – Hay-on-Wye to Pandy - 17.9 mls

Personnel – Viv Lee, Geoff Halliwell, Neil Smith, John Bullen

No Special Guests this time

Base – Seven Stars, Hay-on-Wye

Just to remind people – we have split the walk into four sections of just less than fifty miles and are to complete it in four outings of three days each. We stay near the midway point of each section and drive there on the Saturday morning (each trip is Saturday to Monday). We then have an arrangement with a local taxi firm. They take us out to the start each day and pick us up at a pre-arranged point each evening.

One of the things we have done on this trip is set Viv a budget of £50 per night for accommodation and food. “What’s a budget?” she asked – those of you who have enjoyed her arrangements in the past will appreciate the joke in this!

On this section we would have had to settle for a can of pop and packet of crisps each night to stay within the financial constraints but, what the heck, the Seven Stars was worth that little extra. Neil and Viv had their own rooms and Geoff and I shared a twin which in fact had two separate bedrooms and a bathroom in between. The breakfast was magnificent (the smoked haddock and poached egg is highly recommended by Geoff and Neil) and of course, in true Viv fashion, there is a swimming pool!

It was an early start Saturday for the three hour plus journey but we were there for ten, booked in, changed and ready for Julie’s Cabs picking us up at eleven. This saw us on our way foot-slogging wise by twelve. Our start was from the Offa’s Dyke visitor centre in Knighton and we had happy memories of the end of our last section sat steaming in front of the fire in the Horse and Jockey with our soaking-wet clothing draped over tables and chairs. We had better fortune this time as the weather was superb throughout the three days. Is there anything better than an Indian Summer?

The hills of Hawthorn, Furrow and Rushock got us into our stride with splendid views of bracken, gorse and heather covered heathland. We spotted a Red Kite and traversed the highest golf course in England before dropping down into the lovely town of Kington. We had time for a pint in the Royal Oak before Julie picked us up. Her recommendation of eating that night in the Blue Boar was a good one with beer and food of a high standard.

The next day saw us tackle Kington to Hay-on-Wye. Ok we were blessed with good weather which perhaps enriched our view of the trek but each of us agreed in the evening that if asked to name your “Top Ten Day’s Walks of All Time” this would feature in there. Hergest Ridge (as John pointed out the title of Mike Oldfield’s follow-up album to “Tubular Bells”) was simply breathtaking. We were met by a small herd of the wild ponies near the most unexpected ring of monkey puzzle trees and their sneer of a look seemed to ask “why would you walk on when you have finally found paradise?”

Reaching Gladestry Viv somehow managed to persuade the landlady to open early (it was only 11.30am) and serve us a pint. Lunch was taken at the delightful St Mary’s church at Newchurch which invites “walkers to please enter and use our facilities”. There are a kettle, tea, coffee, biscuits and honesty box but sadly as yet no toilet although the vicar, who arrived whilst we were there, assured us that the proposal “is up before the committee”. As we sat outside eating our sarnies we were entertained by half a dozen buzzards enjoying the thermals, one of which was teaching its chick to soar and plummet. What a sight!

The afternoon was just breathtaking and we had a last delightful treat in store as we descended into Hay-on-Wye in the form of Bettws Dingle, a quite eerie, quiet and shaded glen which you felt must be alive with wildlife after dark.

We were back in time for a swim and sauna before heading for the Old Black Lion for a meal which subsequently won our vote for where to eat on night 3.

No need for Julie’s cabs on the last day as we were walking from where we were staying. The autumn sunshine had left us and the day was overcast with quite bearable short spells of light drizzle.

Our guide book states “this is one of the most demanding days of the entire walk but is also one of the most scenic” with the proviso “on a good day”. Sadly the mist denied us the views. Hatterall Ridge is the highest point of Offa’s Dyke at 2296 ft and it was truly a trudge to get there. To be honest I found this to be the only less-than- enjoyable part of the entire footpath but it still had its merits. For those of you who know Great Hill on the West Pennines this is so reminiscent of it but ten times longer. We did however see more wild ponies and as the afternoon wore on the weather and visibility improved appreciably.

The original plan had been to stop at Llanthony after a 13 mile day but we had decided to plough on a further five miles to Pandy, thus reducing our mileage for the last section of the walk. This proved to be a real bonus as this was the most interesting part of the day’s trek. We finished in the magnificent Park Hotel at Pandy, seemingly a converted mansion house with superb ale but a landlady who appeared to have no interest in Offa’s Dyke walkers!

The Old Black Lion did us proud again in the evening for the end of another superb trip. We have only a weekend off before we go to complete the walk October 3rd to 5th from Pandy to Chepstow. Only two days will be required to complete this as we did that little extra on this outing.

OFFA’S DYKE – Stage 4 – Pandy to Sedbury Cliffs

Saturday October 3rd to Monday October 5th

Day 1 – Pandy to Monmouth - 16.5 mls

Day 2 – Monmouth to Sedbury Cliffs - 16.5 mls

Personnel – Viv Lee, Geoff Halliwell, Neil Smith, John Bullen

Base – Bistro Prego, Monmouth

What were we letting ourselves in for staying in a Bistro? It turned out to be just ideal, situated on Church Street at the top of the town of Monmouth right in the heart of things. The rooms were small but better than adequate and we had a large sitting room to sit, rest, chat and quaff champers! The staff were pleasant and enthusiastic but it has to be the slowest served breakfast we have ever encountered. On the third morning Geoff exclaimed, “Where on earth is he? I ordered boiled eggs and it only takes three minutes to boil an egg!” Prompting the old explanation, “Well you ordered two boiled eggs so that’s six minutes!”

As we had clocked up extra mileage on Section 3 than we originally planned only two day’s walking remained to finish off the whole trail. Yet again the Mother Nature smiled on us and the sun blazed down. Pandy to Monmouth was glorious, delightful rolling hillsides and farmland, enriched by the emerging autumn colours. It was a day that really made you realise what a wonderful pursuit walking is. On a day of highlights that formed a constant stimulus to the senses, the ancient fortification of White Castle sticks in the memory. Fellow “Dykers” were few and far between on this section although we did encounter one ambitious young man who is tackling Land’s End to John O’Groats over two months utilising as many long distance paths as he can. Good Luck Sir!

We came into Monmouth at the bottom of the town and, as always, a beer was the first objective. We discounted the first two hostelries as not being suited to our attire but took a chance on the Vine Tree. The menu was full of traditional fayre – liver and bacon casserole, rabbit and lentil pie, broad bean and lentil stew. The landlady was asked if we could book a table but she explained she didn’t open the restaurant on a Sunday evening. Seeing how crestfallen we were she offered to open up just for us! It was superb and to our delight two other couples of diners made it more worth her while.

So for the last day - Monmouth to Sedbury Cliffs or Chepstow if you prefer. Without doubt it the longest 16 and a half miles any of us has ever tackled. We had expected a gradual downhill breeze towards the River Wye’s termination at the River Severn but this was a real toughie. Lots of short but stiff climbs tested our leg muscles throughout the day. This also marks the only short stretch on the whole Offa’s Dyke where a choice of route is offered. We deferred on the river option and went for the “purist’s” old route. We were glad we did as we encountered a line of chestnut trees awesome in their antiquity and demanding of respect by the very fact that they still exist. It would be interesting to determine whether they actually outdate the Dyke itself. Did they look down as young trees or tender saplings watching as the Dyke was constructed?

Just about the only disappointment of the whole of the Offa’s Dyke trail is the southern end point. It is just nondescript following such a stunningly beautiful 177 miles. After a few hundred yards though a very uninspiring residential estate there is a traipse through sandhill-like mounds out to the river edge and the stone marking the end – or start – of the trail. It just seemed a sad anti-climax. So minds turned to the usual question – “where for a beer?” A lady and her daughter gave us directions to the “Ferry Inn”, only another two miles away. Still it would put that further edge on our thirsts and it is doubtful we have ever moved faster! Disappointment awaited as they don’t open on a Monday! We had to content ourselves by sitting alongside the majesty of the Severn Road Bridge as dusk fell, awaiting our taxi.

What better way to celebrate having finished Offa’s than Pizza Express and a gem of a Weatherspoons pub? Neil questioned how much he had been charged for a round of drinks and it was explained that seven pounds was the right amount rather than the eleven pounds plus we had been paying elsewhere! So there is another prerequisite for all future treks – there must be a Weatherspoons wherever we are staying!

So that’s it we have finished. Badges were handed out and we hugged and shook hands. A fitting way to end a wonderful experience and we left wishing we were starting all over again!

Just a note about the guide book we used – “Offa’s Dyke Path” by Keith Carter. It is a superb publication for those planning to go North-South.
Forbidden fruit? Into the hills Is it that way? Mine's a pint We've done it! What a view