Sunday, May 31, 2009

Offa's Dyke Walk

We're lucky that this long distance footpath goes through the village and if you take the canal variation right past the back gate. It's one of the national long distance footpaths and runs all the way from Chepstow on the Severn Estuary and follows Offa's dyke an ancient border earthwork. It roughly demarcates the Welsh uplands to the West and lower ground of the English Plains to the East. I walked it from Chepstow to Montgomery several years ago but had to pull out of completing it due to strained ligaments. It's always been my aim to walk more of the northern sections if not the whole lot.

Fortunately Mark was able to drop me off at the County Boundary Bridge just outside Montgomery and started off from there. The path sets out along 2 fields where the battle of Montgomery was fought and I should have had wonderful views back to the town and castle which stands prominently above it. However could hardly see to the end of the field for mist. Path soon runs past Rownal Covert which is supposed to mark where all the dead were buried after the battle. Mark was under the impression this had been cleared but this was not the case and there was a really good mix of shrubs, mature and young trees so it is being well managed. Going past Rownal was sad to pass 2 unused old cottages either of which would have made a lovely house if restored. Ok they were a bit out in the sticks and didn't have a road to them but should have been easy to put in a track.

Along from here and for bits along the back of Forden follow the Dyke plus stretches of lovely old 'green lane'. Finding and walking along these always feels special since they're usually lined with hedges and/or really old trees, can be edged by high banks and it just feels as if you've following the footsteps of others and over several centuries. These stretches were the highlight of the day along with the section through Leighton Park. It was certainly a relief to be in woodland at times because when the mist did burn off it was extremely hot. Leighton Estate is the most amazing place dating form the time of John Naylor a Liverpool banker who took posession of the estate in 1849. He built a Gothic mansion but what is more interesting is the fact he made farm improvements so it's a 'model' farm. Looking at it in today's terms it was so far ahead of it's time and if running today could be considered totally sustainable. It had it's own gas works, a complex engineered water system and even a funicular railway. Walk past the remains of one of the pools and can see the enormous wall that held water back however it's now empty. From the estate there's bit of a hike up to Beacon Ring hill fort. Now from here one is supposed to be able to have wonderful views of the Severn Valley and the mass of the Breidden Hills. However in reality it seemed even murkier than these photos suggest

By the time I'd walked around the hill fort and out of the Cwmdingle Plantation I was desperate for lunch. However it had suddenly got a lot chillier, windier and I wsa convinced there was a storm brewing up so bolted my lunch down and thought I'd better get moving quickly as there was still a long way to go. It's an easy but very steep descent back down into the Severn Valley and Buttington followed by a short boring bit that follows argaes along the River Severn.
By the time I'd got back down into the valley a lot of the cloud had burnt off and it was blazing. Walking along argaes is incredibly boring and I would have roasted so followed the canal which is much more interesting and there was hope of cover along some stretches. There are some lovely stretches and some that are wider more open and a bit boring. I'd promised myself that if I got to Pool Quay by 2.00pm I'd dive down into the pub and treat myself to a pint of fruit juice and lemonade. Never has a drink been so well appreciated. Also had an interesting chat with the landlord and another old guy who had walked from Welshpool along the towpath and had stopped for lunch at the pub.
Then it was the long walk home - some bits I enjoyed especially those in the shade or when the sun went behind the clouds and others not so much. Had hoped Mark would pick me up at Burgedin Lock but he hadn't got home and since it was only 2.45 pm thought I might as well complete the whole walk. However didn't appreciate what a nightmare it would be crossing the main A483 and what a slog the bit from Arddleen to Penthryn Fawr would be. Got to the stretch that leads up to home and it was so hot covered myself up put my head down and just got on with it and never even noticed Mark and dog coming to meet me. I've never been so glad to have someone take my rucksack and to get home. However after lots of tea and a long cool shower was pleasantly physically tired but really happy.
From the guidebook worked it out as 17.5 miles - not bad for a day and haven't walked that kind of distance for years.


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