Offa's Dyke Path 2002

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 2 - Monmouth to Kington


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Day 2 - Thursday 4th July - Monmouth to Pandy

Distance: 16.7 miles, Ascent: 2150 ft

It was a fine day with blue sky and just a few clouds as I set off after an 8 a.m. breakfast, calling into Monmouth to buy sandwiches and write some postcards. As I was writing my cards, Colin and Terry came past, having already walked from Redbrook over Kymin. They too were headed for Pandy for the night.

The route, though not exciting, was pleasant enough through gently undulating farmland, sometimes giving views of distant hills but at least, for the most part, not boxed in by trees. Again, the path was not very well maintained, with long grass in parts - not too bad in the dry but would be a nuisance when wet. As is common with paths through farmland, the ground was uneven in many places, sometimes caused by the hooves of cattle and sometimes by the effects of ploughing and failure to re-establish the path. This can be quite wearing on the feet and ankles and takes a constant effort to avoid twisting an ankle.

Heading towards Llantilo Crosseny there were better views of Skirrid, Sugar Loaf and the Black Mountains. There is a pub marked in the guidebook at Llantilo Crosseny and I felt sure that I would find Colin and Terry there. Sure enough, as I arrived at 1.45 p.m. they were sitting at a bench outside. Unfortunately, however, the Hostry Inn was closed on Thursdays. It only opens at weekends and at limited times during the week - hardly surprising as there is only a tiny population in the area.

After a short while, the others were on their way, but I decided to have a long break to rest my feet, which were feeling the effects of the long walk yesterday and the weight of my pack. Suitably refreshed, I made my way on towards the White Castle, which is an impressive building but I was disappointed that, although the path goes most of the way around the castle, I couldn't find a suitable viewpoint for a good photograph without paying to go inside for which I had not enough time for it to be worthwhile. From near the castle there was a very good view of Skirrid and some of the other hills, which were now quite a bit closer.

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Skirrid becomes prominent on the way to Pandy
Skirrid

Just past White Castle I met a lone woman walker named Pip. She was doing five days of the walk but was worried about attempting the Black Mountains as she was not very good at navigation and didn't have a compass. I pointed out to her that it was far easier navigating over the Black Mountains than over farmland, as there was only one path along there and she would soon realise if she strayed off it. However, she was still uncertain about it especially as the forecast was not very good. She was booked into a hotel in Pandy for the night so we walked together for the rest of the way, which helped with the navigation which, in places, was not very easy. We went wrong almost straight away when we both missed a sign overgrown in a hedge, so had to retrace our steps for a way to find it. The difficulty with navigating through farmland is that, where the path goes across a grassy field, there is often no visible evidence on the ground as everyone walks a slightly different route, so the only indication to look out for is the direction of an arrow on a waymarker or the presence of a stile in some distant corner of a field, sometimes obscured from view. Give me the upland paths anytime as they are generally more visible on the ground and there are more natural features to help with orientation.

As we reached Pandy, I turned off along what I thought was a path leading to my B&B in the Wern Gifford housing estate, whilst Pip carried on to the main road. As I approached the estate, I realised that I was at the wrong side of a high fence, so I ended up walking through long grass down to the main road and then back up through the estate - so much for a short cut!

I arrived at 6.30 p.m. and was greeted with a cup of tea and a hot muffin. The couple had only recently started doing B&B having spare rooms in a large family home. They had done Offa's Dyke Path themselves in four stages, completing the last stage in the north just after it re-opened in August following the foot and mouth outbreak last year. Another couple of walkers arrived half an hour later. They were a father and daughter (Jessica) who arrived by car and were going to walk for four days to Brompton Crossroads and then return to pick up their car from the B&B here.

There was a surprising choice of pubs for such a small place, with five of them within three-quarters of a mile, all being along the main Abergavenny road. I decided on the nearest one, the Rising Sun, where I met Alan, the chap who was camping. I discovered that I had left my wallet back at the B&B so just had one pint and then returned for a meal when I had got my wallet, so it was just as well I had chosen the nearest pub. By the time I returned, Alan had gone back to his tent, which was just behind the pub. There was only a limited choice of basket meals, so I had a cheeseburger and chips, which was filling enough and I even had to leave some of the chips, then I returned for an early night ready for a fairly long walk over the Black Mountains.


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Day 3 - Friday 5th July - Pandy to Hay-on-Wye via Black Mountains

Distance: 17.5 miles, Ascent: 2550 ft

I had breakfast at 8 a.m. with Jessica and her father. It had rained through the night and more rain was forecast, but it wasn't looking too bad as I set off at 9.15 a.m. I took a packed lunch from the B&B as there were no shops nearby and certainly nowhere to get anything en-route.

After crossing a field of long, wet grass, I started the ascent of Hatterrall Hill, first by road and then by path. It started raining for a short while so I stopped to put on my waterproofs and I soon found I was getting wetter from the perspiration inside than I was from drizzle outside, so it was not long before I took them off again. There was low cloud hovering over the ridge, but still some fine views of the surrounding landscape with its verdant, rolling hills and patchwork of fields separated by hedgerows and trees. At the first trig point (464 metres), I was almost into the cloud, so I took a short break thinking that this may be the last chance to see any scenery for the next 10 miles. It felt so good to be back on a good, even path with the beautiful, springy, sheep-cropped turf that exists around here. My feet had taken a bit of a battering over the previous two days and I discovered that the new cushioned insoles I had put in my boots were too narrow for my feet and were digging in and causing blisters. I had cut some bits off to help matters when I discovered the problem, but I had still been suffering, particularly over uneven ground. However, they were feeling somewhat better today on the softer ground, at least to start off with. Despite the dubious weather conditions, I started to feel that the best bit of the walk had just begun.

Fortunately, the cloud lifted slightly so that the next few miles still offered something of a view, albeit rather murky, but then as I climbed a little higher I started to lose the view as I entered the mist. At 11.30, I stopped for something to eat and the cloud dropped even more and limiting the visibility still further. However, I was favoured again by the weather and found that the cloud soon lifted again and opened up some of the views with a slightly brighter outlook all around. I passed several groups of ponies with young foals grazing over the hills. I do not think that they are entirely wild but nor are they particularly tame either.

Further along, the ridge gets broader so that the views from either side are cut off, unless a considerable detour is made to one side or the other although there are still distant views to be seen. I had not met anyone at all so far today, although I was following in the footprints of Terry and his father who liked to get off to an early start so they could take it easy later on. There were also fresh footprints of one or two others who I was not sure about. The weather brightened up further and even gave rise to some brief patches of sunshine but these were being threatened by some ugly looking dark clouds.

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Olchon Valley from Hetterrall Ridge
Olchon Valley

I stopped again for a rest and the remainder of my packed lunch about half a mile or so after the third trig point with a good view of the head of the Olchon Valley illuminated for a while by a patch of sunshine. Further on was the highest point of the ridge and highest point of the whole walk at 2,306 ft (703 metres), although it offers very little in the way of a view as the ridge is very broad at that point. Beyond there the path soon bears off to the right, dropping down underneath Hay Bluff. Had the weather been better, I would have followed the path onto Hay Bluff itself, as most people do, but the cloud had started to thicken and was descending rapidly so there was not much point, although there was quite a good view from beneath Hay Bluff before it was cut off by the descending cloud, which also brought a few showers of rain. Nevertheless, I considered myself very fortunate to have spent all day almost in the cloud but never being in it for very long.

An easy path over an upland common with a surface like a bowling green led on to the final descent into Hay-on-Wye, passing through a north facing meadow with hundreds of spotted orchids which were coming towards the end of their flowering period. Oddly enough, although the path had dropped several hundred feet down to the common, I spent more time in the mist there than I had done over the higher part of the ridge, only leaving it behind on the final descent into town. I pressed on fairly quickly, as I was hoping to a find a shop where I could buy some better fitting insoles for my boots. However, the first walking shop I found had no insoles at all, and the second one had none that gave any degree of cushioning, so I would just have to make do with what I had got for the time being.

I found my B&B near St. Mary's Church and found to my delight that the central heating was on, which meant that I would be able wash my dirty clothes and have a chance of drying them on the radiator by morning. That done, I headed back along the road to find something to eat and bumped into Pip on the way. She had taken the road route through the Black Mountains past Llanthony Abbey and over the Gospel Pass. She was staying in the same B&B as I was but said she found it rather 'spooky'. The first place I came to was The Swan at Hay where I had a pint of Flowers IPA which was a little bit 'off', but the braised breast of lamb with onions and potato was very good. The atmosphere was not particularly convivial, so I decided not to try a pint of anything else there and made my way to the Blue Boar where I met up with Terry and his father. As I suspected, they had arrived quite early at 3.30 p.m., which is why I never caught sight of them along the way. The Blue Boar, again did not have very much of a pub atmosphere, although the beer was better. It seems that most of the places in town cater for the trendy set from the London area, who come here because it is the second-hand book capital of Britain. They are more at home in Bistros and wine bars than in traditional pubs, so that is what is mostly catered for and some of the prices are more akin to those in London than Wales.


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Day 4 - Saturday 6th July - Hay-on-Wye to Kington

Distance: 14.7 miles, Ascent: 2,400 ft

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Hay Castle built circa 1200 with house built in 1660
Castle in Hay-on-Wye
Looking back along the River Wye towards Hay-on-Wye and Hay Bluff
Wye near Hay-on-Wye

After breakfast at 8 a.m., I set off at 8.55 and called into town for a look around, to buy things for lunch and to send off some postcards. As I wandered around by the castle, I found a second-hand bookshop with an honesty box into which people were asked to put money for their purchases. Eventually, after a couple of circuits around the town, I headed across the river to continue along the path.

The morning was quite bright but hazy and the start of the walk, along the bank of the Wye and then through farmland was quite pleasant, eventually reaching the A438 road after a couple of miles with a fine view back along the river towards Hay Bluff. This was followed by a steady climb beside a deep, wooded valley with little in the way of views, then by some road walking with very high, dense hedgerows so that the only views to be seen were those from the occasional gateway into a field. At least at the summit of the hill there were some good views back to the Black Mountains and of the gently rolling hills around and I stopped there for a snack a little before noon.

The walking now improved as the height was over a thousand feet and there were less trees to screen the view and the hedgerows were not so tall or dense. There were a number of ups and downs, but it made pleasant walking country and the odd shower of rain didn't last long. After a short stop for lunch, I met a couple of chaps from Bristol coming the other way. They were just out for the weekend doing two sections of Offa's Dyke Path. Hergest Ridge was now very prominent ahead as I neared Gladestry and called in the Royal Oak for a pint of Goldings. In there were two other walkers whom I had not previously met but who had been mentioned by some of the others. Shortly afterwards, as I was sitting outside, Pip came walking by and stopped for a drink too. I had thought that she had gone ahead of me, as I had spent a while looking around Hay, but she too had spent some time there.

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North West from Little Mountain
NW from Little Mountain
North from Hergest Ridge
N from Hergest Ridge

My feet had been giving me more and more problems which I had been putting down to the narrow insoles, but I began to realise that, although this had caused some of the problems, they were not the major factor. The main problem was the age old one of having a high instep with not enough support under the arches of my feet. This was putting too much pressure on my heels and balls of my feet. I looked for what I had with me that would be suitable to give more support and tried a folded up sock under the middle of each insole. A walking sock was too bulky, but a thin sock was just about right and I found a vast improvement as I set off walking again - the remaining four and a half miles felt like I was walking on air and was such a welcome relief.

The walk over Hergest Ridge was a lovely end to the day with soft springy turf and good views of the hills around. I walked this last stretch with Pip until she went off to her B&B, which was a little way out of town. The sun came out for a while to make the walk down into Kington even more pleasant and the relief from sore, aching feet made the whole world seem a better place, especially as I had the prospect of more comfort for the rest of the walk. It was a quarter to five as I arrived at The Royal Oak, advertising itself as the first in England or the Last in Wales, depending on which way you are going. As it was still quite early, I decided to have a look around town before checking in. I bumped into several other walkers as I walked down the main street, some that I had met before and others I had not. It was not long before I realised that there is not much to see in Kington as I was very quickly onto the road out of town. However, it is a pleasant enough place with a fair number of shops and pubs, so has most thing that a walker is looking for.

The Royal Oak is an old coaching inn dating back to the mid 16th century, with floors and ceilings sloping at all sorts of odd angles, particularly along the landing and rooms upstairs - I felt as if I had had one too many before I had even started drinking! At 7 p.m., I went down to the bar - I had suggested that Pip met me down here for a meal as she, like many lone women, didn't like going into pubs on her own. This meant that she had been buying cold things from the shops and eating them in her room, so it would make a pleasant change for her to have a hot meal and some company. As it happened, on the way she had met up with Charles, a 76 year old lone Offa's Dyke Path walker, so they both joined me, followed by Ian and his friend, who I had met earlier in the day. Soon afterwards, Jessica and her father came in as well, so it was a very sociable evening until everyone departed to their various B&Bs.


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