Monday, August 31, 2009

Caldicot to mold, part two.

Blimey i must be rambling. I ran out of space in my last post so I'll have to finish it on this one. So... 9. North to south or south to north? There was no point during this walk when i wished i'd done it the 'normal' way round. In fact day ten, over the black mountain, is definitely scenically better and easier from north to south. I generally prefer to walk up steep slopes and down shallow ones, and north to south seems to serve this preference best. For me though it was simple, there was no way i was going to finish offa's dyke on an august bank holiday sunday in prestatyn! 10. The offa's dyke trail is a welsh walk. King offa may not have been too keen on the welsh, and one third of the path is in england, but the best bits are most definitely in wales. And i live there so i'm biased. So what next? I'm convinced that I could do offa's dyke from south to north and it would seem like a completely different walk. Whenever i got round to looking behind me i was amazed at what the place i'd just walked from looked like. So that's a possibility, but i prefer a bit of variation, and Glyndwr's Way, a mid-wales 130 mile walk, has to be favourite at the moment. I'd have done all the welsh national trails then (pembrokeshire coast path is the other), and i could start looking at others such as the lleyn peninsula coast path, and... etc, etc. Once you start It's hard to stop. Maybe it'd be best if i did! So finally, surely for my own indulgence, a few best and worst ofs. Best b&b - drewin farm, Cwm. Best pub stopover - horse and jockey, knighton. Best landlady - Elinor, hand house, llandegla. Best attitude to walkers - cock (not rock) hotel, Forden. Best pint - wye valley hpa, closely followed by monty's desert rat. Best meal - lamb shank at pub i've forgotten the name of in Porth y waen. Best day - day 3. Best place to be - either the llangollen escarpment, the black mountain or hergest ridge. I'd better not risk libel action so I'll stick to worst day - day 5 (but only in a relative way). Worst place to be on the path - either prestatyn, monmouth or any of the many housing estates. Worst moment - the dog incident. Worst meal - well it involved lamb! By the way, the photo shows two useful gates near llanymynech. Bye!

Caldicot to mold, part one.

I'm sitting in newport station with an hour or so to spare before my train to wrexham. Caldicot is already a distant bad memory, which i can now erase because it had nothing to do with offa's dyke. I thought, for the benefit of anyone i know who might be thinking of doing a long distance walk, or anyone who might (God forbid) stumble upon this site while googling, i'd provide some further information, recommendations and tips, some useful, some useless and some simply self-indulgent. Please note that they are personal opinions not necessarily held by everyone (or anyone) else. 1. Long distance walking is fantastic. The only times i haven't got any keys on me are when i'm long distance walking or if i've lost them. It's the best way i know of getting away from it all because there is absolutely nothing to worry about (except the next call from carphone warehouse). The days seem to go on forever, in a nice way, and you spend ridiculously long amounts of time studying trivial things like gate latches, which suddenly become fascinating. 2. There are more types of gate latch than you can possibly imagine. The one in the picture was my favourite. An incredibly complicated way of opening a gate. The significant point here (yes, there is one!) is that the one criticism often levelled at the offa's dyke path is that there are too many stiles, which are a pain, especially with a pack. Well that is gradually being remedied. There are now very few stiles south of Kington, gates having been put in instead, and i suspect this will continue north in the future, hopefully with even more as yet uninvented gate latches. 3. When is a dyke not a dyke? The dyke, as i mentioned in an earlier post, 'got me'. I became obsessed with it, "ooh there it is again! The lump with the hole next to it." I suppose you had to be there really. However i have some issues with its authenticity at times. I have been assured by the historical texts i have read that king offa had it built from chirk south to Kington. I was happy with that until i came to a section of the walk yesterday owned by english heritage. They claimed it was a two mile stretch of offa's dyke. Yes there was a lump. Yes there was a hole. Then the dyke suddenly reappeared again in the last 50 yards of the walk. Surely king offa can't be given credit for every ditch in the uk. This last bit could be anybody's dyke. It could be kevin's dyke for all i know. 4. Ignore weather forecasts. Watch them first though, so you know what you're ignoring. I had hardly any rain at all, compared to what i was told i was going to get. 5. Cloud is good. A contentious issue with non-walkers this one, but when you're carrying a pack (and i suspect mine was no more than 15 kilos) sunny weather is hard work. Consequently walking in britain is usually great, unless it rains all the time. 6. Be prepared. I'm sure someone said this before me. If it does rain then you need to stay dry, which simply means a good waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, a waterproof rucksack cover and the best boots you can afford. I can't stress the last one enough. On a long distance walk huge amounts of you will hurt early on (but in a nice way!). This will soon pass. However if your feet hurt at the start it will not pass at all. I am yet to have a walking blister, and i'm convinced that the reason for this is spending time putting socks (two pairs for me) and boots on, then doing everything possible to keep them dry. I always wear leather boots for long walks. Heavy, yes. Waterproof, yes. 7. Water, beer and coffee are all essential. The first for obvious reasons. I carried two and a half litres on the days of this walk with no refreshments on the path. I tended to jettison some towards the end if I didn't think I'd need it (after all a litre weighs a kilo). Coffee gives you just the kick you need at the start of the day, and at any other point you can get it on the way. I've drunk masses of the stuff, all caffeinated. I'm even more addicted now than i was before. I'll be hanging round the back alleys of mold next week, trying to score some full flavour colombian blend. Beer, on the other hand, i was determined to avoid at all costs, honest guv! As it turns out this is simply not possible. Offa's dyke is a 50 pint walk. I challenge any beer drinker to do it on less (4 a day for 12 days, plus 2 bonus pints when you've been really good). The stop off pint is the best, though it changes your mindset from 'where's the next viewpoint?' to 'where's the next pub?'. I must admit though it does go against the grain when it comes to getting healthy. 8. Long distance walking makes you healthy. I can now safely describe myself as fit but... I can't say i've lost much weight, though jennie said i had. I have put this down mainly to the following factors: beer, bacon, sausages, fried eggs, crisps and chocolate. In other words if you want to go for the total health experience, camp. 9. To be continued...

Day 12, part 2. Sedbury to sedbury cliffs. 1 mile (+2 to station).

I DID IT! This photo is me at the inauspicious finish of the walk, marked by a rock with a plaque on it. The photo was taken by paul. More of that later. For the first time on the walk i was packed and ready to go straight from breakfast, because i couldn't get out soon enough. Breakfast was served in last night's indian restaurant. The floor was still covered with rice and bits of poppadom. I was the only b&b guest so as soon as the girl there had served up she locked the kitchen and left. I sat there on my own waiting for something to happen, but nothing did. I considered making myself a packed lunch but thought better of it, mainly because i didn't trust their food. So i was away by 8.30. I had to make myself stop thinking that i'd almost finished, because there were still a good few hills to climb and it was the longest day of the walk. I started by crossing the bridge over the river wye (wasn't that a film?), then had a seemingly endless climb up the first hill. The day was a series of ups and downs, with a spell along the river and hardly anyone in sight, amazing for a bank holiday sunday. I'd done the wye valley walk years ago, albeit on different paths and over two days, so i knew not to expect much in the way of views. It was woodland all the way, with just a few viewpoints. The weather was uniformly grey all day, no sun and no rain. I stopped at brockweir for a pint of my new favourite beer, wye valley hpa (not sure I'll get it in mold), which threw me right out of my stride for the climb up the hill overlooking tintern abbey. After regaining my composure i hit the road into chepstow with just 4 miles left. It had been a beautiful walk so far, despite the constant hum or roar of the A466 (depending on how close it was) which runs the length of the wye valley. I didn't meet anyone going in the other direction today. Yesterday i had met a swiss girl on day 2 of her walk. She was asking me all about it and it reminded me that i'd first met other 'dykers' (sorry) on my 2nd day. Now i was the seasoned walker, but it was nearly over, and I'll be in my second week back at work before she finishes. I think people i've met going the other way towards the end of the walk have seemed disappointed that i look quite sprightly. Maybe i should have torn my clothes and crawled along the ground like michael palin at the start of the monty python programmes. So as i was saying it had been a beautiful walk, then with 4 miles left it all got a bit silly. The path hits the road into chepstow then spends 3 miles trying to keep off it by heading through back alleys and housing estates. It was during this spell that i met the bloke with the camping gear again. He was sitting in a bus stop having a rest. We had a chat then i said i'd see him at the end for photo taking (this was indeed paul). This was when i found an offa's dyke sign which was an old out of use one. I followed it but was actually following the old route back up north. Anyway to cut to the chase i soon came upon the bus stop where paul had been, but wasn't any more. After walking 15 miles this was not amusing, so i was even less amused when i was stung by a wasp almost immediately (hey i've got the set this summer, a bee and a wasp). I was now charging about all over the place and not really sure where to go. At this point a nice old lady pointed me in the right direction and within a few minutes i was out of the housing estates and on the final short stretch to the finish. I've done enough long distance walks now to know that the end is always a huge anti-climax. You do a bit of punching the air, then wonder what to do next. In this instance i tried to take a photo of myself by the plaque but the camera kept falling over. Thankfully paul arrived to do the job (listening to wagner. Why didn't i think of that?). I thought he'd already have gone because of my wrong turn, but he'd done exactly the same thing. Now there was no option but to head for the railway station, on foot. When planning the walk i couldn't find anywhere to stay in chepstow so i decided to head for caldicot because it had a castle so must be nice. It's possibly the ugliest town i have ever seen. I couldn't find anywhere serving food, so i bought a kebab and sat in the town centre watching the locals fighting and the police filling up their vans. The walk relaxation vibe has already gone! Not much point doing a meal rating really. Fight rating: 7/10. Locals docked marks for going all pathetic when the police arrived, or running away. My b&b is a vast improvement on the previous two at least. So as the sirens continue to wail outside, i am left with a few decisions to make. Best ofs, worst ofs, that sort of thing. My final post tomorrow will address these burning issues. Stay tuned! Aside: happy birthday harry mac. We must have a game of chess soon, and tell your dad we must go for a beer soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day 12, part 1. Monmouth to sedbury. 17 miles (+ 1 for cock-up).

This post is dedicated to my boots, socks and feet, all of which have got me to this stage. As for my brain, well, It's just spent 20 minutes guiding me in a loop, at the end of which i found myself at the same junction i'd been at before. This spooked me out in a blair witch sort of way till i realised what i'd done! I'm now in sedbury, walking along wyebank road, off which lead wyebank place and wyebank avenue. It's a suburban bungalow nightmare! One mile to go.

Day 11. Pandy to monmouth. 16.2 miles.

This is my tourist photo, because it was that sort of day. Not in an "oh no, not another tourist" way, but in an "ooh, that's an interesting scenic landmark" way. The scenic landmark in the photo is monnow bridge in monmouth. It's famous for something, but i'm not sure what. Nice though. Left my pokey hole this morning at 9. It was sunny and already warm, but thankfully clouds soon appeared which made for easier walking (sorry sun worshippers, but i have different priorities!). Basically i spent the day walking through an undulating landscape of fields and more fields. Not the most exciting day but more tiring than i expected and, as i said, full of scenic landmarks. The first was st cadoc's church in Llangattock, a lovely white village church with a very old painting of st george and the dragon inside. A nice lady who was flower arranging inside showed me round. The next was white castle, a ruin which was most notable for being able to download an audio guide via bluetooth on the way in. The third was a herd of rare white park cattle which looked like those texas longhorn things (ok, not strictly a scenic landmark but very impressive. I would have used them for the photo but i was too sacred to go anywhere near them! I was in the same field though), and the last was the bridge in the piccy. The approach to monmouth was gruelling. The other towns i've walked through or into have had pretty introductions, but this was a mile of tarmac bashing through some nice, then not so nice, houses. I've been a bit taken aback at the scale of housing development in some of the places i've been. Forden for example, near welshpool, or trefonen wherever that was (the village with the offa's dyke brewery), were dominated by estates, to the extent that it was hard to find the village centre if there was one. So monmouth is a lovely town but It's enormous compared to the last time i was here, not that long ago. The shops were still open when i arrived and the town was packed. I was having trouble coping and considered running for the hills, but i wanted to watch united v arsenal on sky so after a shower i joined the throngs in a decent town pub and watched a 2-1 victory. After that i wandered into town. There was a mini-festival going on outside a pub so i watched that for a while, along with at least 8 other people. The first band were quite good and made an effort for a tiny audience. When they finished i headed back for some food. Now for the b&b. Well, It's dreadful. It's a pub called the queen's head. The owner sounds and looks like a man who's given up on it. The room reminds me of college days, no wonder he took the money in advance. The only reason i decided to eat here was because the restaurant was an indian franchise which looked good. I should have known better! Meal rating: 2/10. Lamb korai. Too tough to eat. Nice poppadoms though. Went back to my room to watch match of the day. Last day tomorrow. I won't miss monmouth.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 10. Hay-on-wye to pandy. 17.8 miles.

This is the fab view from the Hatterrall ridge towards bath (probably). More of that later. Firstly, when i stayed in Cwm at the end of day 6 i had texts from people complaining that they couldn't find it on a map. That's probably because it isn't on any. So where is pandy? Well It's somewhere along the A465 between hereford and abergavenny. I just wish it wasn't, but more of that later. I had to say goodbye to jennie this morning (again!), which wasn't easy, but i think she might have the trekking bug! It's been great having her as company for a couple of days, and gave me the chance to go a bit more upmarket on the accommodation for a few nights. The main factor today was the weather because it was a high level walk. The forecast was for showers and strong winds. As it turned out things worked very much in my favour. To start with the showers turned out to be a shower, but it was a biggie, and right at the start of the walk, so i was fearing the worst. It took ages to get to the foot of my main target, hay bluff, partly because i had to get togged up, but also because i had a spate of calls from, for example, the man who's fitting some gates at home, and of course carphone warehouse, who call me every day of my life anyway (please note: there is not necessarily any connection between carphone warehouse and the unnamed mobile phone company mentioned on day one. And two). But i got there, and stood looking up at the highest point on offa's dyke path. I noticed then on the map that the route traversed behind the peak and joined the ridge about half a mile beyond. That looked a bit dull so i went for the no nonsense straight up the front of the bugger approach. 20 scrambly minutes later i was on top looking back on the past three days walking (and trying to stand upright). In fact i could see most of the world from up there. I suddenly felt that i'd left mid wales behind and entered the south. The other thing that i suddenly realised was that the wind had turned to the west, and as the ridge i was to follow headed south east the wind would be behind me. Bonus! Basically the ridge runs for about 10 miles in a straight line with little drop in height, and with stunning views throughout. The path on top was great, well maintained and level, so i made quick progress. After about an hour i passed the bloke i think i mentioned on day 6. He was looking in good shape, and seemed very positive. I'm certain he will have gone on ahead again tonight, and i might or might not pass him again. A couple of hours later, and in glorious weather, i was already dropping down to the old pandy inn for a cracking pint of wye valley hpa. Went to find my b&b, then headed back to the pub for a rack of ribs followed by fruit pie and custard. Meal rating: 6/10. Docked a point for soggy veg and another for not providing a finger bowl (is that asking a bit much?). More importantly docked a point because i booked a table and then had to wait ages for one when i arrived, and 2 points because the pudding didn't turn up. Now i have some concerns which need airing. Firstly the b&b, brynhonddu country house, is fine but my room is rubbish. It's a box room, which would be fine if they hadn't tried to fit an en-suite bathroom into it as well. Actually if you stand in the field next door you can see straight through the window into the shower cubicle. But there are more serIous issues afoot. Namely bank holiday weekend. After 10 days of peace and quiet, chaos reigns. The pub is split roughly 80/19/1% between tourists from the caravan site next door, lads on a stag night and me. This would all be fine if i hadn't developed such an enormous holier than thou attitude. I suppose I'll just have to spend the weekend tutting and shaking my head at everyone. Time for bed.