Clive grabs his kit and goes off on a 4 day trek along the famous Offa’s Dyke path.
Day 1 Hay on Wye to Kington
Fortunately by the time I had arrived at Hay and had a cup of coffee the rain had stopped and the clouds were beginning to break. This section of the walk has a gentle start near the river through various fields. But after about 2 miles the climbing begins.
There are not any particularly high hills on the walk but there are very few level stretches and the constant ups and downs can be very tiring.
Most of the day was walking through fields and woodlands although there were quite a few miles of minor roads to walk on.
The highlight of the day was Hergest Ridge, a very beautiful spot covered in bracken and short grass with amazing views. It was late afternoon when I arrived there and the sky was almost cloudless it was very restful and quiet.
From there I descended into Kington a small slightly characterless market town found the campsite, a tidy place between the river and the bus station but peaceful enough.
I erected the tent near the river and cooked some food. (Uncle Bens rice with some precooked german sausage chopped in). My body was feeling it a bit after the first day so I read a little then bedded down – cosy in my one-man, Jack Wolfskin Gossamer One – an extra-light, don’t-sneeze-too-often tent and Wolfmat Base Sleeping Mat.
The tent when assembled is very taut and precise and as with all tents, it’s worth a dry run first. It really is a sort of bivvy with structure. You can move about a bit when inside but getting inside requires a foot-first backwards shuffle maneuver. The Wolfmat base is very comfortable and warm. I’ve not had great experiences with mats in the past but this one is thick and comfortable. It also has a coating on the underside which means it grips and doesn’t slide around. It’s a self-inflating, foam type mat and blows up easily with a couple of helping breaths to firm it up. It also deflates quick and is fairly easy to wrestle the air out of and roll back up to a smaller than expected size.
The Gossamer One tent’s great feature is that despite it’s small, almost framed-bivi style, the front, head area of the tent can be completely moved back out of the way, allowing you to sleep under the stars. Unfortunately, I doubt I would be able to do that with this weather!
Day 2 Kington to Knighton.
I awoke about 5.30am and had breakfast (instant porridge mix with hot water – a bit too sweet for me really). I packed away – the tent was simple to put up and take down, and easy to stow away in my 65ltr rucksack. By the time I was away again it was 7.30am. I learned it is best not to camp near a river, the heavy dew in the morning means it’s hard to keep everything dry when packing.
No easy start today, straight into a climb onto Bradnor Hill golf course where fortunately a friendly groundsman stopped me because I was going the wrong way. A common mistake he said because the path is poorly signed at this point. So he directed me back along the right path and up the hill.
Today the countryside was wilder, more amazing views with fields and forests everywhere and lots of bracken. The weather was good, cloudy, but warm.
I met a couple about mid day who I had met the previous day, they said they were car-hopping between 10 mile walks each day. Not many people seem to do the whole path in one go. Most folk I met said they did it in sections and a few just on individual days. I thought I would meet many more walkers, but for most of the 4 days I was on my own. The path it would seem is not as popular as I’d thought which I found surprising.
Not so much road walking today which was good. The Dyke was very prominent along quite a lot of today’s walk. It is amazing to be close to or on top of it for so long, it follows some of the steepest contours of the land and I get more impressed by it the more of it I see so much work and engineering so long ago.
Nobody knows the real reason why the dyke was built except that it was the boundary line between king offers kingdom and the welsh about 1200 years ago. Whether it was defensive is highly unlikely. The dyke is an earthen bank of various heights with a ditch in front of it in some place and when it was originally build it probably had a wooden fence on top of it. It is around 177 miles long.
Today was not too long a walk about 14 miles, and i wanted to visit the Offa’s Dyke Centre in Knighton before it shut at 4pm, so I put a fairly good pace on not really stopping for a break. I arrived at Knighton about 3 and went straight to the centre, and had a look at he displays about the dyke and brought a cloth badge. tourist shop really. It was still early afternoon, so with cake and coffee in mind I headed for the tea shop. Quaint with 2 old ladies running it. I enjoyed listening to their lives for an hour while I charged my phone. If you are ever in Knighton call into Polly’s for a home-made carrot cake – recommended.
The campsite was half a mile away but right next to the path was an old run down farm and camping was in a hay meadow that had just been cut. As I was setting up my tent a dutch couple came over and said they were going to the supermarket did I require anything. That’s one of the things that makes it for me walking, you often meet helpful and friendly people.
Once I got the tent sorted, which doesn’t take long. The lightweight Jack wolfskin is ideal weight-wise for carrying on a 3 day trek, and gives a little more than a bivvi bag in terms of comfort. I wandered back into town to find a pub and have some food. Met a guy in the pub who was walking in the same area, he had lost his wife and one of his sons to cancer, and he talked about his experiences. He seemed ok although I could sense his sadness.
Back at the tent I read for a while, chatted a bit more to the Dutch couple and met a guy who was doing the whole path in trainers. He said he had soaking wet feet, so had walked one day in his crocs, at this joint I was appreciating my Berghaus leather boots.
Got my Head down about 10pm. I was a bit concerned about the next day. It is supposed to be the hardest in terms of ups and downs and the weather forecast is rain.
Day 3 Knighton to Brompton
Woke up about 5am. No rain, great! Trying to pack up your kit in the rain is so disheartening and at best, everything ends up damp. The problem with one man tents is that there is no room to do your packing inside.
Made my breakfast – porridge again. It’s getting a bit hard to swallow, but I figured that sugar and oats are good for carbs and energy?
Unfortunately I was a bit too laid back getting ready and as i was washing my cooking pot it started to rain. I dragged all my kit from the tent to a farm shed and packed it there. The tent bag seems quite waterproof and although the tent is wet it didn’t make anything else wet in my rucksack.
Today was meant to be the toughest day. Although none of the hills are higher than 450m there are lots of them. There will be a lot of climbing and descending and it’s going to rain all day.
The start of the walk was not too bad but by about midday I am beginning to feel weary. The best shelter I found for a break is the porch way of a little church on the side of a hill. It’s when you stop that you realise how hot you are and then get really cold. After a fruit bar and some water I am off again.
The next break a couple of hours later is again in a little church, this time in a very secluded valley. I sat inside the church this time which was so peaceful and quiet that I must have dropped off for half an hour! Today, I have no deadlines so pacing myself and taking breaks is not a problem. Only two more hills left and then I have reached my destination.
I got to the campsite about 5pm, in the grounds of a very posh hotel, (Mellington Hall) with a very well kept lawn for camping with a large washing block. It is still raining and after seeing the groundsman he suggests I go to the hotel for a coffee.
“Fish out of water”, that’s me. In a very posh hotel with a wedding reception going on – them in top hats and tails, me sitting in the corner, wet, muddy, dripping everywhere. The bride didn’t look too pleased, but the coffee and jam scone was nice and the place was warm.
It was 8pm before the rain stopped so I spent 2 hours in the toilet block trying to dry everything off. When it did eventually stop raining I put the tent up quick and got myself sorted before it began again. I cooked my rice and sausages. Wet feet, soaking socks, not got through my waterproof trousers but yes, damp shoulders, the vulnerable area of my Berghaus coat.
It was still dry when I bedded down and I felt snug and comfortable, so an end to a good day.
Day 4 Brompton to Buttington bridge
Today is meant to be pretty flat and about 10 miles so an easy day to finish on, which I am glad about. It rained again in the night but the tent was fine and had held out with no problem at all. By the morning though it was dry and looked as though it would brighten up.
The tent is really easy to pack away and quick. I always seem to get the hang of things at the end. I found when erecting the tent that it is really important to make sure that the guy ropes at either end are really tight to keep the fly sheet well clear of the inner tent.
Most to the day was walking through fields along the valley so it was a pleasant and gentle walk, the only real drawback about today is that my boots are still wet on the inside and by the end of the day were rubbing quite badly.
The walk goes past Mongomery, a town set on the side of a hill with quite an impressive castle ruin overlooking the town and the valley. Apparently it was major strategic point on the borders during the Middle Ages.
Of course the walk ends with a hill, (Beacon Ring) this one had the remains of an Iron Age fort on top of it – Beacon Ring hill fort.
By now, my feet are really sore and I have just started off down hill to Buttinton. I eventually get to the car which is welcome sight. It’s been a good walk, hard work at times, but with quite a variety of countryside with some very beautiful spots.