Saturday, 18 March 2017

Exploring the Offa's Dyke Trail

Long distance trails have always held an interest to me, partly because I like the whole concept of spanning a large span of countryside on foot, but also because of the lack of limitations it places upon you to start off from somewhere and end up somewhere entirely separate, without any plans beyond getting from A to B.

Despite this I have never actually completed a long distance trail and had very rarely attempted a prolonged period of walking until my Dad asked me if I would be interested in a walking a ~60 mile stretch of the Offa's Dyke over the summer of 2016.

I said that yes, I would be interested, and so in July of that summer we set off from Knighton, heading southwards down to Monmouth over 3 and a half days. As a day walker, I found the repeated days over the steep terrain heavier going than I would like to admit, but I also loved waking up every morning, breakfasting and heading out with only one goal in mind... reaching the next major town before the end of the day.

The Offa's Dyke is a particularly interesting trail, in that for most of its passage across the countryside, it broadly follows the England-Wales border, allowing you to (if you had unlike me done it properly) walk the whole way down from Prestatyn, on the north Wales coast, down to Chepstow, near Bristol.

For much of the part we would be walking along, the Offa's Dyke path follows the original Offa's Dyke itself, which is a (very small) boundary built between England and Wales by King Offa of Mercia between 757 and 796AD to mark his territory (much as a dog might against a lamppost, but on a far grander scale).

This stretch takes in the climb up from Hay-on-Wye onto the Hatterrall Ridge and into the Black Mountains, whilst also taking in many of the more amiable delights of the border country between England and Wales.

Since I have been lived up in the North East for the past few years and since my Dad lives down in the southern commuter belt, we would be heading towards our starting point from two very different directions, but after two long train journeys we met up in Shrewsbury ready to start our very slow train ride to Knighton.

Day 1: Knighton to Kington

On this, our first day of this grand adventure, we faced from the off one very major and incredibly daunting complication - the act of travelling from one place with one name to another place with a nearly identical name; and on my part at least, this resulted in some serious levels of confusion.

But that complication aside and after inching our way towards our start line along the local equivalent of HS3 we approached the start to find to our enormous surprise no fanfare and to our even greater surprise a lack of mayor to wave us off.

Instead our great and magnificent adventure merely began with our rather ordinary and mundane exiting of the station, heading up the road and then pausing to make 100% sure that we would be heading in the right direction.

Here we found the potential for comedic opportunity to about turn and correct our initially wrong direction, but in a move that probably knocked a few millions off our potential film deal, we found that we had gone as planned and so we simply continued on up the road.

By this point it was about 3:30pm and with this this not being a normal time to start a days walking, we began at a strong pace and I began my tried and tested method of filling up with liquid calories to be ready for whatever came my way.

Being border country, this quickly took us to the foot of our first hill, which would take us up to find our first taste of this region's English/Welsh countryside.
First View of Our New Countryside
This fairly steep and long climb offered an early introduction to what can only really be described as 'hilly, rural countryside'. This place has hills, fields, sheep and then more hills, fields and sheep, coupled with even more hills, fields and sheep, etc etc until your cuppeth floweth over.

Still, as we pressed on, the countryside did also start to give up some glimpses of the unique countryside of this area, with aspects that shifted beyond your typical rural British hillside and the first glimpses of something that looked a bit like a dyke:
It Looks Like a Dyke, But How Do You Test If It Quacks Like a Dyke?
Whether this was Offa's Dyke or not was very hard to tell and so we made the decision that yes we had indeed found this great mythical wall, which meant - to our delight - that our mighty quest to find this historic and elusive artefact was over. With that box ticked we began to pass through fields and over roads, leaving Knighton behind us.

Further away from Knighton, we were definitely gaining height and started to begin a shift from well tended farming countryside into a landscape that was starting to have a more of a wild side to its character.
It Is Definitely Hilly Countryside Round Here
Gate to Wilder Countryside
By this point we must have found ourselves on the Welsh side of the England-Wales border (it has never been known to actually rain on the English side unless there is a wind moving from West to East), because the clouds that had been brewing for some time, now started to release their contents slowly down upon our heads.

However, by this point we really didn't mind this watery interruption, in part because the rain was more a spray than a heavy fall, but mostly because we now found ourselves in exactly the sort of countryside we had come all this way to see.
It Is Raining More Heavily In The Distance
Hills Rolling Onwards
By this point we have been on the move for about an hour and it has been fairly easy going since the very early climb up out of Knighton; with our path following along this ridge, with only very slight moves up and down as we have been moving through the landscape.

However, it is now time for us to start thinking about our first descent of the day and as the path starts to drop down through the fields we start to become more vigilant about checking that we are indeed still going in the right direction as the path by this point is very faint and tricky to follow.

Despite this, we end up having very little trouble following our progress on the map and it isn't long before we are descending down off this ridge towards a lower level below.

Here we discover the reason for our descent as we cross over a very pretty little stream that is meandering across our path (seemingly in everything but a straight direction) and having crossed over this stream it keeps us company for the next section of our path before we become forced to leave it behind and start thinking about passing over the next ridge in our way.
Bridge Over Meandering Stream
With this stream left behind we start heading back up onto higher ground and before long turn into a field up which the path appears to pull up steeply to the very top of the next ridge.

Not wanting to make a mistake here, we check that we have indeed found the right path and begin the steep climb up the side, trying to maintain the good pace we have so far achieved today to ensure that we don't arrive too late into Kington at the end of the day.
My More Elderly Companion Helping Demonstrate the Scale of the Climb
The View Along the Ridge
Upon reaching the top, this ascent proves to be one of those never ending climbs, with the ridge at the top only leading to further heights requiring to be summited, and over the next few miles we keep gaining height, leaving behind the sheep fields and finding ourselves in more forested terrain as we go.
Trees Are Now Filling the Views
And Lining the Path
After a while though, our journey through the trees finally ends and we are released out into what looks remarkably like classic Southern English countryside, full of hay bal0es and fields of wheat (albeit with a few more hilly bumps than is typical in the south of England.

With this we are now in scenery that provides a stark contrast from the countryside we had enjoyed earlier in the day, with contrast from day to day and even mile to mile going on to be a defining feature of our passage through this stretch of countryside over the coming days.
Fields of Hay Bales
Tree In Field
Before long though we were back into more familiar countryside, heading back into the forests and trees and with the rain starting to pick up once again we were able to enjoy the cover of the trees for this stretch of our journey.

By this point we are back on the flat and continue along this level for the next phase before we begin our final climb of the day before our approach into Kington.

Ahead of us are clear markers that indicate that we are approaching this final climb of the day, and the first of these comes in the form of a bridge over a minor stream that puts us back alongside one of the local roads running through the region.
Over the Stream
Crossing this stream means that we are for the first time in a long while back upon a road, but we do not have to follow this for very far and soon turn off to the left, passing through the fields and onwards towards our next hill.

As we move through these fields, the path gradually starts to gain height and then as the rain starts to fall down upon us once again, the path pulls up more sharply taking us up towards the fern covered hills above.
View From the Climb
This climb also gives us our first glimpse of one of the more distinctive Offa's Dyke trail markers that can be found with this rather delightful symbol marking our path onwards:
Trail Market
Having been out of sync of everyone else on this day's walking - having started in mid-Afternoon - we haven't passed any fellow walkers all day, but near the top we came across our first fellow traveller of the trip who is walking the full route over their summer holidays.

With it having now passed 7pm and with our hoping to arrive in Kington at around 8pm, we are keen to find out any information about the route ahead, but are startled to find that we should face at least 8 or 9 miles of walking before reaching Kington at the end of the day.

Thanking our fellow traveller who sets back off on their way while we (being slightly alarmed) carefully checked our distance left, we soon realise that we have just encountered what are called an 'over-counter' in the industry, with the mileage left actually being far more reasonable than we had just been informed by our passing guide.

With a minor feeling of relief, we can now set back off on our way and we soon found ourselves at the top of a rainy and fern-encrusted hilltop that is cocooned by the surrounding clouds.
Path Through Ferns
Surrounded by Clouds
Up at this altitude the rain is no longer so much a spray than a continuous mist that we must push our way through and for the first time in the day we have our heads down as we continued to press on to our destination despite the unwelcome weather.

Before long though our spirits are lifted as up here the Offa's Dyke remains as well preserved as anywhere along the train and the mound of earth run far forwards into the distance, marking our path ahead.
Path Along the Dyke
With the Dyke guiding us into Kington and with us now on our descent into Kington for the night, our confidence in arriving at our destination at a reasonable time starts to rise and boosted by this confidence we pick up the pace heading into Kington.

Before long though, our confidence proves to be misplaced as a wrong turn put us off our correct path, but guided by a local out walking their dogs we soon find ourselves back on the right track and heading down the path towards our home for the night.
In Kington we quickly find our lodgings for the night; with two rooms upstairs in a delightful little B&B that was really just a converted house (that was otherwise full of books and at least one cat having a nice sleep on a chair) waiting for us.

Here we are able to exchange our wet clothes for some dry ones and with it being too late to get anything to eat we head out to console ourselves with some liquid nutrition before returning shortly to turn in early for the night.

Day 2: Kington to Hay-on-Wye

After a late start on the previous day, we begin our second day with a much earlier start and after a welcome cooked breakfast (having not been able to get anything to eat the previous night) we are back on the road and ready to head onwards on our journey.

Before heading on towards Hay-on-Wye we take the opportunity to re-stock and top up on liquids ahead of what is set to be a very warm day and with the benefit of the morning sunshine are able to see the best that Kington had to offer from its old stone cottages.
Heading out of Kington
After a bit of a quick look around, we set off on our way and starting with what would be our biggest climb of the day straight from the off, the first half hour of the day sees a fairly continuous climb back into the hills and out of town.

Before long we reach the base of a steeper section, taking us up onto the hills, where some of the local population are also heading up into the hills (and embarrassingly including a mother with a pushchair, who pulls away from us, rather taking the grandeur out of our departure; leaving us in her wake).

This humbling moment aside, we are please to find ourselves at the top, having by this point come a long way up from Kington and we take the opportunity to look back over the countryside we travelled across yesterday; having the luxury of watching rain fall behind us, knowing that we will be walking into sunshine throughout the day.
Rain Falling Behind Our Path
With these rains having little chance of catching us up, and with a large chunk of our climb for the head now complete, we now have the opportunity to take our time and start to really enjoy walking through this unique countryside; under blue skies and with sheep and horses are out in force enjoying the sunny start to the day.
Sheep on the Hills
Horses on the Hills
Having climbed up onto this ridge, the going is now very easy and the bright sunshine is proving to be a welcome break from what had been a drizzly first day on the England Wales border and as we keep going, we keep seeing more and more horses who are making the most of the favourable conditions.
The Hills Were Fully of Four Legged Friends!
After heading straight along this ridge for a fair length of time, the terrain starts to change from open grasslands to darker green country, with ferns stretching out from both sides of our path cutting through the landscape and at the same time our path starts to drop away for the first time in the day; starting to take us down into the valleys ahead.
From Grassland to Ferns
Starting to Drop into the Valleys
Dropping down into the smaller villages we start to catch up with a fellow walker who had clearly been on the move for some days and who is walking with a bit of a limp, along with what looks like a very heavy pack.

Pulling up alongside, this walker proves to be our first fellow trail walker who has also been heading to Hay-on-Wye today; having set off a few days ago as one of a party of four who had planned to walk 20 miles a day to finish in Hay-on-Wye.

In country like this, 20 miles a day can prove challenging even for well practiced walkers and with blisters and injuries taking the rest of the original walking party out of action, this walker would give us a bit of additional company for a large part of the day and across this phase of the route, we were spending most of our time passing through fields and past small clusters of what looked like old farm cottages so a bit of company was very welcome.
Old Stone House
Since the climb at the very start of the day we had either been walking along the flat or descending down onto lower ground, but once again we start to climb back up, exchanging tales of recently completed walks, with our fellow travelling sharing experiences of the Coast to Coast and with myself sharing tales of trips out on the North York Moors.

Before long we climb back onto higher ground and with us now approaching the middle of the day, we decide to stop for a spot of lunch, whilst our brief companion continues on along the trail, with us not meeting back up until we would pass him as he stopped for a late lunch much later on in the day.

For now, however, we are able to take a break and look out over the green rolling countryside, with the views in the distance offering us our first views of the Black Mountains that we would be tacking on the following day.
Back on Higher Ground
After a bit of a rest and a lounge in the summer sun, we continue back on our way, once again starting to drop slowly onto lower ground, carrying out a bit of sheep herding in the process.
Sheep on our Path
By this point it is very hard not to enjoy our very pleasant walk through these hills and we now start to pass pairs of walkers heading the other way along the Offa's Dyke, on their way to the northern stretches of Wales in a week or so's time; with a few of them stopping as they pass to give us a bit of insight into the countryside coming up and with the Black Mountains seeming to have been quite a common point of interest for walkers heading the other way.

As we continue along, the countryside continues to offer up some incredible views of rolling hills and an almost picture perfect rural scene, with the path mostly allowing us to remain in the hills, but very occasionally taking us briefly down into the valleys, before taking us back up into the hills on the other side.
Rolling Hills and the Path Ahead
Whilst the main points of interest on this trip are to be found on the hill tops and with the scenery available from higher vantage points, the trips into the valleys are not mere interruptions of this passage, but offer up their own features, with most of the small villages including a fair number of very old and picturesque architectural features, including a number of very similar old style rectangular churches:
One of Many Very Similar Churches
After many very brief trips down into the valleys, we eventually drop down and find ourselves spending a prolonged period at the lower levels, winding on between fields and going through a section of the walk where we have to be more attentive in order to ensure that we are on the right trail, with numerous paths pulling out from our main route and potentially leading us astray.

This lower level provides a bit more variety to our route, but after a while we eventually scale the gap to the next set of hills and as we start to climb back upon onto higher ground we meet our most interesting fellow walker of the trail who is well into their walk having set off from Cornwall, but far from their finish up in the northern stretches of Scotland.

We try not to hold up this walker for too long, knowing how far they have to go before they can finish, and we soon let them head back on their way, noting their condition - which remains very good despite the distance travelled (although I'm sure there must be at least one sore foot after that sort of distance!).

That sort of walk makes our little trek look rather insignificant, but it is heartening to see someone make such good progress over such an ambitious trail and as we focus back on our own route, we now find ourselves climbing our final climb of the day; and it is a relatively short and easy ascent under the now very warm rays of the sun.
Looking Back Over the Valleys
Remarkably for this part of the world, the heat of the sun is now very intense and it looks set to be one of the hottest days of the year; and the day hits its hottest temperatures as we walk along the top of this new ridge and continue to make the most of this remarkable countryside.
Fields and Blue Skies
Continuing on through these fields for some time, we eventually start to lose height and here we pass our companion from earlier in the day, who is breaking into a tin of sardines and preparing what looks like a very large sandwich.

Having already stopped earlier in the day, we catch up with him for a bit and then it is our turn to press on ahead, as we start to close in upon Hay-on-Wye and our final destination for the day.

As the miles to Hay-on-Wye start to fall, the landscape starts to change and becomes increasingly wooded; and we are now passing a steady stream of day trippers who are out walking the countryside, with this this area being the most popular for tourists that we will pass through.
Trees Increasingly Provide Welcome Shade
Stopping in the trees we take a very brief break offering a progress report to those left at home, and taking in the last of our drinks for the day to replace lost fluids.

Not wanting to linger too long given that we don't have that far too go, we soon get going again and for the first time find ourselves in a bit of a dull stretch, following some very minor roads heading towards Hay-on-Wye.

We briefly come off these roads in order to take a cut across a field or two, but whilst these cuts offer a bit of relief from the monotony of hedges and tarmac it is not long before we are back onto roads surrounded by high hedges (which to be fair do at least offer plenty of shade).

Finally we are able to pull off the roads once and for all and start to close in upon Hay-on-Wye.
Fields (And in the Distance Tomorrows Climbing)
Further respite comes as we drop into the trees and start to rapidly lose more height as we follow some minor streams down the hillside; with the surrounding trees offering a completely different feel to anything we have so far encountered on this day.
Dropping Through the Trees
Before long, the woods take us down and up to a major road, which we are forced to carefully scramble across, before we find ourselves in the fields on the very outskirts of town, which we will pass through until we reach the river - which will then lead us all the way into the town center.
Closing in on the River Now
From here it is now a long straight trek through numerous fields, sometimes passing through the middle and at other times being forced behind hedges, but eventually the river does come into sight and we settle down on the rivers edge for our final break of the day.
Here the river has a very similar feel to some of the wider northern rivers up in Hexham and Darlington and it is a very pleasant spot to rest and make the most of the sunshine that has remained strong through the day.

From here it is a short trek into town, over the bridge and into Hay-on-Wye.
Over the Bridge
Our accommodation for the night is placed right on the trail for tomorrow, but remains about a mile out of town so we still have a long trek to reach our home for the night, but when we do, we find that we're staying in our poshest stop on the trip.

With our bags dropped, we then amble back into town, where we opt for a very generous and yet very cheap portion of fish and chips that proves hard to finish after a long days walking, and after a pint in a delightful little beer garden we stop off at the supermarket for more supplies and head back to turn in for an early night, ahead of what will be our toughest challenge on the following day.

Day 3: Hay-on-Wye to Pandy

With Hay-on-Wye being the most touristy stop along our trail, we start our third day after a very good rest and continue to get off to a good start as we settled down to a very good breakfast to start off our day.

This day will be our toughest day's walking along the whole trail, but this is far from our minds as we settle down to a cooked breakfast that looks set to fuel us well for the day ahead.

An older American couple who had also stayed the night join us at the table and this proves to be an interesting meeting as the husband - who is now touring Britain with his wife - had two years ago travelled up from Cornwall to Scotland, both on foot and on a bike, during the first 6 months of his retirement.

With this company, the meal passes with us being able to listen to his stories of travelling up the Cornish coast and exploring the often desolate Scottish highlands, and this is certainly what we need on a day like today when it would be windy and wet all the way; requiring plenty of motivational thinking.

Whilst this conversation does somewhat take the gloss off our little holiday, listening to these trails is a welcome treat and as is often the case, serves as a reminder of how often we local-born inhabitants take our local countryside for granted; when others will travel thousands of miles to explore its riches.

But now we are well fed, it is time to leave this pleasant retreat behind and so with our bags packed back up, our day can now start in earnest; and so turning straight back onto the Offa's Dyke we head off down the road, across a few fields and continue along our path as it starts to climb up into the hills.
Starting to Climb Up Above the Fields
For the first hour or two of the day this path will be almost continuously climbing, up into the Black Mountains, which we will then pass along before dropping down into the village of Pandy on the other side; so ahead of us lies a big early climb and even this early in the day the going is proving tough, with some steep ascent up into the hills.
Climbing into the Hills
Unlike the previous day, however, the weather is much cooler and there is a light mist in the air that is proving very welcome given the effort that we are both having to put in.

As we climb, though we now find ourselves in a forested area that is further keeping us cool, but before long this takes us up to a gate that marks our release into the wilder hills above.
Into the Wild
By this point we have completed about a third of the climb we must make early in the day, and now we are back in countryside that is very similar to our first day, although at the same time the weather has reverted back to what is was and we're now walking directly into a driving wind that periodically brings rain our way.
Back to Our Previous Landscape
For now it is a relatively gradual incline and having adapted to the wind and rain, we are now settled in for the long haul and starting to get excited about the range of hills approaching ahead of us, that we will soon have to prepare to climb.
Our Major Climb Comes Into View
Although we have already completed what would normally be a very admirable ascent up from the plains below, it is now clear that most of the climbing remains ahead of us, but at the same time this is more what I had in mind when thinking ahead of what I might see along this journey and a fine example of desolate countryside at its very best.
Road Through the Hills
By this point it is remarkable to find that the road ahead is actually on the National Cycle trail, offering a very spectacular (but incredibly tough) ride out for the most foolhardy and as the mists come down, the hills ahead start to look much less intimidating as they start to disappear from view under the clouds.

For a short while, we follow this road, but before long it is time to turn off to the left and start to head up onto the top of the ridge, which we can then follow for the rest of the day, safe in the knowledge that almost all of our climbing will have been behind us.
Climbing Up Onto the Ridge
I have heard that many people consider this part of the walk to the worst part of all, but in all honesty this sort of stretch is why we are here and so it is with eager anticipation that we continue to head up along the edge of the ridge and start to take in the views below.
Continuing to Climb
Looking Out From the Path
The Valley Below (Formerly Known As the Hills We Climbed Up To
By this point, the hills that we were climbing up to earlier in the day are plains stretching out well beneath our feet and whilst the weather looks lovely down in the valley we find ourselves only heading up into worse weather on the ridge that remains above our heads.

Before long though, we've made it up to the top and now we are truly in the clouds, with visibility limited to only a short distance in front and behind and with the plains below now well and truly hidden from view.
Along the Ridge
Up here there is for myself at least a bit of a sense of deja vu, as the terrain could not be any more similar to the North York Moors, offering a massive contrast to the previous two days that were very unique in characteristic as England-Wales border country.

We're now set to be up here for most of the day and it is time to get used to plodding on into the mist as we're not going to be seeing much more than a few meters in front and at times we'll be struggling to see each other through the clouds.
Yours Truly in the Mist
It can seem hard to look favourably upon such conditions, but over time I have grown to rather enjoy the wild nature of such conditions coupled with such countryside, and have learned the merits of exploring the wild centres of moor on such rainy and cloudy days - to truly get a feel for the raw wildness of the countryside.

For today, the countryside lacks a true wild nature and will not be providing much competition for the country around the Jamaica Inn for instance, but up here today, we were only ever going to be treated to a display of wild weather or an incredible view backed by strong sunshine and we're a day to late for the latter conditions.

The greatest challenge of such conditions can be the sheer monotony of both the scenery and the driving winds, but after a while we find that whilst there are only very few fellow walkers up here, there are at least signs of life that pop up whenever we pass groups of horses frolicking about up in these hills.
Coming Up On Some Horses
With Those Off the Path Almost Fading From View
These horses seem to be a characteristic of this landscape and we've been finding plenty of four-legged equine friends across the three days we've been on the road so far and it seems that these hills offer no exception.

However, once the horses are behind us the desolate feel of this ridge starts to take back over and this feeling increases as the path starts to disappear entirely, and as we start to navigate solely using mounds of stones that have been left to guide our way.
Navigating Via Stone Mounds
Moving from mound to mound in this mist is now really exaggerating the atmosphere of the moment and as the mounds get further and further apart, it is welcome to - in time - be back on a clear path and (even more welcome) to come across our first Offa's Dyke marker on this ridge.
Definitely on the Right Track
Although most of our climb so far has been completed at the very start of the day, we have generally been on a slight incline so far and we now start along a stretch that will see us hop from peak to peak with slight descents and re-ascents between each marker as we let the miles pass by.
Hill Marker
By this point the weather is at its worst throughout the day and despite my not taking overly kindly to a passing walker expressing concern at my wearing shorts in such weather, it is still welcome to be able to stop for a spot of lunch in a dip that for the first time in many hours allows us to stop facing into driving wind and rain.

We don't want to stop here for too long, however, and before long we're back on our feet and enjoying the worst of the weather that the day has had to throw at us, with our heads now firmly down and with us now firmly focused on pushing on through the driving rain.
Through Driving Rain
In time relief comes at last, as whilst the wind remains as strong, the rains begins to ease down, with the rain clouds now being driven away from us rather than straight at us by the windy conditions.

As the minutes pass by this driving wind starts to reduce the levels of cloud cover and it is not long before the first chinks in the mist begin to appear and we start to see some rays of sunshine coming down into the valleys on either side.
The Mists Are Clearing
For the first time we are starting to get an idea of the type of scenery we have been walking through and as it turns out, we've been missing out on a treat underneath all that cloud; although the mist has cleared in time for us to enjoy some of our time up on this ridge, as we still have some way to go before we start to drop down into Pandy; and with the mist rapidly clearing we are able to properly look out in the countryside beneath our feet.

Fields Below
Path Ahead

Views on Offer
All of a sudden the day has completely changed and not only has the rain and cloud gone, but now the wind is dying down, leaving us walking in sunshine on what is now a glorious summer's day.

Not only this, but we now have the chance to look back and get a better idea of where we have come from, and lying behind us is this long snake along which we have traversed, with steep drops down onto the plains below on either side.
Looking Back Along Our Path
By this point, we have already completed most of the path along the top of the ridge and ahead of us we can start to see the end of this ridge and the point where the path starts its slow descent back down to the plains, where we can stop off in the village of Pandy.
The Ridge is Now Starting to Come to an End
We have been following the very edge of the Brecon Beacons on our route today, but these will be our last few miles in such terrain as our trek to Monmouth tomorrow will take us through a more domesticated countryside; so we are trying to make the most of these last few miles of wilder country as we go.

At the same time, there is much to make the most of, with the views heading back down the ridge being even more impressive than those we encountered heading up it.
Heading Down the Ridge
With More Civilised Country Ahead
Before we drop off the ridge entirely, we stop for a bit just to take it all in and once back on our feet, we are continually descending down, heading back towards the more heavily wooded country below.
Down Into the Trees
The temperature has now picked up and with our now being entirely dry, it is welcome to head into the trees through we continue to descend down and down until reaching the bottom of our descent, where we cross over a number of fields and down to a stream over which we find the gate leading up to our stop for the night.
Gate to Pandy
Upon reaching this gate we almost instantly hit the road, with our stop lying directly on the Offa's Dyke path by this road.

Stopping off we take a quick shower to clear away the mud from the day's hike and after enjoying the company of our very welcoming hosts, we head out for some dinner and having paid for absolutely nothing so far on this trip I do the honourably thing and make this meal the one thing that I will actually be paying for and treat us to a nice pub dinner.

Day 4: Pandy to Monmouth

Normally the Offa's Dyke is a 12 day trek from Prestatyn on the North Wales coast, down to Sedbury in the Severn Estuary, but this stretch from Pandy to Monmouth marks our last day of the trail before heading home; having completed about 38% of the mileage on offer.

Given the variety offered along the path we have been walking so far, it seems a slight shame to be leaving it behind so early, but it is welcome to once again be waking up to a cooked breakfast and by this time the feeling of getting a bag on your back and heading out the door has become a very welcome start to the day.

This sheer act of having nothing to achieve between now and late afternoon but heading on for mile after mile to the next calling point has become a welcome almost meditative habit, even after only four days, but with this being the last day it is going to be important to make the most of it.

Our day begins, by heading directly away from the hills of yesterday and into much pleasanter countryside, passing through fields with some hills on either side that we will have the pleasure of not having to climb today.
Some Sort of Hill
Instead of climbing it would seem that the next few miles will be spent passing through farmland and we are busy hoping from field to field and starting to meet some of the local residents that are enjoying their breakfast as they get ready to start in earnest for the day.
Cows Having Breakfast
Already it is clear that today is likely to be the most pleasant day, both in terms of climbing and in terms of weather, with the day set to have neither the heat of our second day nor the rains of our first and third day; and with the climate being in general just right.

At the same time, whilst the scenery is perhaps not as dramatic as some of the previous days we do find ourselves in a very idyllic rural and enjoyable setting.
Rural Setting
Whilst the going is much flatter and easier going than before, it is hardly like walking in Norfolk and between fields we are still seeing quite a lot of ups and downs, but it is all broken up the variety of farm animals on offer, with horses continuing to be a common sight throughout the day.
Some Ups and Downs
Before long the day's walking is starting to have a feel of a long Sunday's stroll and whilst there is no prospect of a roast dinner just down the road it is hard to deny the general pleasantness of this border country.
Rural Scenes
As we continue on and as the whole idyllic rural theme starts to get slightly over-done, we start getting into some of the more historical areas with a very old and lovely church, with a very old image of George killing a dragon inside it, being the more interesting such historical example:
Very Old Church
By this point it is hard to continue along a narrative without continuing to use words such as 'lovely', 'idyllic' and 'pretty', but the fields and general pleasantness continue through most of the morning with repeated scenes of fields, hills and trees, which struggle to get old when you are walking through them under the warmth of the sun:
Another Hill
For now the key attractions that are breaking up the day are the wildlife and after stopping for a bit to watch some birds of prey (kestrals I think) hunting we are back to passing through fields of horses and enjoying their company.
Otherwise the day just keeps going with perfect rural view after perfect rural view, for mile after mile under the warm sun of the day.
Yours Truly in Sunshine
Finally breaking the monotony of pleasant scenes, a sight we have been looking forward to for some time comes into view in the form of White Castle, which is an incredibly well preserved Welsh Castle that comes almost out of nowhere (what more could you ask for!).
Castle Coming into View
It is not every day that you stumble onto a medieval castle while out for a stroll and in this case we are fortunate to stumble across one that is not only incredibly well preserved, but also entirely free to enter and walk around.
Outer Castle Section
Crossing the Moat
Even better, we are lucky enough to come to this castle on a day when it has its very own cat, making the most of the bridge over the moat as a place to lie down and take in the sun's rays.
(This Cat is Alive - I Checked)
Back to the Historical Stuff
Inside the Keep
After having a good look around, we head out of the castle and start to turn on towards Monmouth knowing that we would now start to progress away from the rural scenes of the morning towards more urban farmland, until we finally reached our final destination along this trip.

With this in mind it is time to start clocking up the miles walking through field after field which is exactly what we start to do.
Moving Into More Urban Farmland
After navigating a series of fields we continue to progress through the urban countryside, turning onto a road and heading past small clusters of houses, and before long we start to see endless orchards of apples trees popping up on either side.

After a prolonged stretch along this road, we turn into one of these Orchards, whilst a couple who joined the Offa's Dyke path at Monmouth are resting coming the other way carrying what look like some very heavy packs and from the signs on the gates it is clear that we are now entering a Bulmer's cider orchard (there were no free samples).
Having passed through these orchards we start to climb up the other side and after climbing up a small hill, we can look out to see many acres of apple trees stretching out before us (supplying some fairly hefty quantities of cider I would imagine).
All Those Trees Are Apple Trees
Passing over the top of the hill, we then come across our most remarkable find of the day, with some visual proof (documented below) for the existence of Ents, with this one legged tree clearly having a foot and well defined toes:
This is Not a Tree, it is an Ent
Otherwise we are gradually working our way back into rural countryside and with not too far left to go before Monmouth we settle down for a rest just as a pair of dogs come along and keep us company by coming out to play.
Bit More Rural Again
Before long we return to our feet and heading downhill again, we soon encounter another of the small old churches that have been dotted along our route for the past four days.
Small Old Church
On the Other Side
From here on in it is pretty much flat and mundane farmland all the way up until the outskirts of Monmouth and I start to lag behind content that we've got plenty of time till our train takes us south in the evening, whilst my walking partner heads on ahead in the mistaken belief that the rail companies will kindly move our tickets forwards out of pure uncommercial niceness (that is not in the train company's nature!).
Pretty Mundane by Now
Finally though, a bit more interest arrives as we approach our final barrier of the day in the form of a hill that we must pass over before dropping down into Monmouth, where we will hop on the bus for an hour before travelling back from Newport by train.

In this setting it is almost as if we have already headed down south and it has a very southern feel reminiscent of the Surrey Downs as we start to climb back up onto higher ground.
Starting to Climb Onto Higher Ground
As we gain in height, we head into the trees and before long we are on a forest trail through a very lightly wooded forest that caps the top of the hill.
By the time we reach the other side and start to drop down, we quickly come out of the trees into fields of wheat as far as the eyes can see with almost wall to wall golden stalks surrounded by hills on the field boundaries.
Fields of Wheat
Soon, however, these fields leave us behind and our path starts turning into a road, which turns into a drive with houses on either side, which turns into what is very clearly the outskirts of a reasonably big town.

Pushing on into the town centre we soon reach the recognisable Monmouth bridge where we are able to pop into Waitrose and make the most of finishing our trip by topping up on enough food and drink to take us through till the end of the day.
After half an hour we are picked up by the local bus, which drops us an hour later in Newport where we are able to wait for our train to take us home and where our journey finally ends.

Over the four days of this journey, we enjoyed two days of rain, one day of real heat and one pleasant day of warm sunshine; we climbed up into the hills, we walked along the remaining sections of the Offa's Dyke, visited castles and passed through picture perfect rural scenes.

The greatest element of sadness on this walk is that we only completed four of the twelve days, and at some point I'll certainly be planning to come back and walk the full stretch from the very north of Wales down to the very South, taking in everything this remarkable stretch of country has to offer.

Until then it is goodbye to this part of the world, in the knowledge that I'll very likely be back one of these days...