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Wales, Offa's Dyke South

Hiking

Monday, January 21, 2008: Trial by Rain

Chepstow castle.

Mary, Julia, David S., and I departed on our drive to Chepstow Wales where we will start our walking tour of Offa's Dyke southern path on Tuesday.

We walked from the hotel to the start/finish of the Offa's Dyke path. It was raining, the wind was blowing, and the sky was menacing but we walked on through it all. I of course fell over in the mud twice which seemed to make everyone laugh; net me though.

The intrepid hikers at the start/finish of the Offa's Dyke walk.

From Julia: We had a small taste of what's to come walking in torrential rain. David was the first to fall over into the mud and has a good covering of it on his clothes ready for tomorrow. We will be eating a traditional breakfast to power us up in the morning with things like sausages, eggs, mushrooms, and fried bread. We will need it as locals in the pub told us it would be raining and we"d likely encounter landslides tomorrow, perhaps even snow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008: Trial by Flood

The morning sun. This photo proves that the sun does actually shine in England at least once a year.

We saw the English sun for the first time! In the morning we left the B&B to begin the Offa's Dyke walk from Chepstow to Redbrook which is about 13 miles. The trail was very beautiful in places and in the morning at least it was highlighted by bright sunshine.

We walked through woods that made me think of all the Robin Hood movies I had watched as a kid and even reminded me of Hansel and Gretel. These woods were filled with trees and plants that I am not familiar with from my experience in California and Australia. During this part of the walk we stopped at the Devil's Pulpit which gave us a fantastic view of Tintern Abby.

The Tintern Abby.

Eventually we came to the Wye River which was running very high. We had a choice to take the river route or the dyke route; we chose the river route. It was an extremely beautiful walk but, a bit muddy in spots. It was nothing to worry about until we came to a stretch of the river path which was completely submerged under the swollen river Wye. Our option was to back track a mile or so and try to get to the road above the track. Or we could bush bash our own track on the high ground above the now submerged path. We chose to bush bash through the holly, blackberry bushes, and think bracken. We accessed the hill by climbing the steep and slippery cliff face to the high ground above. It was amazing but we made it past the flooded parts of the path. This allowed us to rejoin the path after the flood part. We were very tired after this and had several more miles to go before reaching our accommodation in Redbrook. We made our way slowly through pine tree forests and arrived at the accommodation at 4:30. The good news was it did not rain a drop all that day!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008: Trial by Mud

My boots covered in muddy ooze.

We were delayed in leaving this morning due to a late breakfast by the inn keeper; this turned out to be an extremely costly delay. We headed off down the track from Redbrook to Llantilio Crossenny another 13 mile day ahead of us. We passed through some wonderful countryside and eventually came to a small town where we had a coffee and bought some lunch supplies. We continued through the town and out into the farming lands of Wales where we encountered the mud! Yesterday our trial was by flood but this day it was trial by mud. The paddocks and fields we crossed were in some places 4 inches deep in very wet mud, sticky, and slippery mud; and this went on for many miles.

Here is an example of how beautiful the countryside was.

Walking in mud is quite taxing as you exert much energy just trying to stay upright. But we plodded on through the brown ooze and although we were never completely free of it all day eventually it got less of a drag on our progress. The song "Mud, mud, glorious mud" became our song of the day.

Two very relaxed hikers after dinner.

Because of the unplanned delays caused by the mud we did not make it to our farm house accommodation until 5:30 that evening which meant we did the last few miles in the dark, and yes, wallowing through mud. We were sure glad to arrive at the farm house, have a shower, eat dinner, talk, and then go to bed -- to dream about mud.

Thursday, January 24, 2008: Trial by Hill

The hikers at a church.

We over slept this morning at our farm house accommodation. Our hosts Mr. and Mrs. Beaven made us a scrumptious breakfast but we did not hit the path until 9:00. The path this day led from Llantilio Crossenny to Longtown/Llanthony a 13½ mile hike. The path was made up of country roads and fields at first. We did have 10 minutes of showers but, nothing serious. This day we got the most sunshine on the trip so far even with the bit of rain. Then after our eleven o"clock break we headed up, and up, and up, the hills of Wales. We came to a thirteenth century church along the way.

A ruined Abby we saw from the hill top path.

Before we climbed the mountain we stopped for lunch in a lovely pasture filled with sheep. After lunch we continued our climb to the ridge line which gave us views of England to the east and Wales to the west. This was not an easy walk as the climb was quite steep; up to 2,000 feet. Then on the ridge line we experienced the full power of the wind in Wales (or so we thought).

Even though the sun was shining on us the wind must have gusted to over 30 or 40 miles per hour; nearly blowing us over at times. This was our trial by hill and wind. We made it to our farm house accommodation at Longtown/Llanthony which, was a very nice B&B. I was happy that we had put another day of hiking behind us.

Friday, January 25, 2008: Trial by Gale

The cold and windblown hikers on a heather covered mountain top of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

We left the farm house after breakfast and headed back up the mountain to the ridge line walk from Longtown/Llanthony to Hay-on-Wye a 13 mile walk. Getting up to the ridge was an hour and a half climb. A herd of ponies met us about half way up and seemed to guide us back to the Offa's Dyke path on the ridge line which, we had lost track off. Yesterday we were tested by the steep hills and sharp wind but today our trial was by gale force winds on the ridge line path. We walked the path for three hours and at no time did the wind speed drop below 40 miles per hour and often gusted to 60 miles per hour, at times almost blowing us over. In fact Mary was blow over by it.

Here are the very relieved hikes out of the wind finally and eating a well deserved lunch.

The air temperature was 40 degrees Fahrenheit but the wind chill was way below freezing so we were very cold on this part of the hike. This walk was the hardest walk I have ever done. The wind kept me from getting into any walking rhythm and the path was very rough full of rocks, streams, holes, ruts, and of course mud. We were all extremely glad when the path turned east and down the side of the mountain. This finally gave us a break from the gale force winds. A local told us later these winds were the worst he had ever seen in Wales.

Julia and in the background is the mountain we had just descended.

From Julia: We were all amazed that we made it off the ridge alive, no exaggeration! There were many times we all felt almost at the end of our endurance and just had to think a positive thought to be able to continue on. The wind was constant and at one point I was getting really cold. Both David and my mum had to help me put on my fleece while we sheltered behind a small pile of rocks. The wind was so strong it took 3 people to do the job. My mum was completely amazing and her bravery and great attitude helped us all to push on through. At the point at which we felt we could go no further we came to a junction in the path. One path continued on the ridge to a way marker in the distance, the other went down off the mountain. We were all so pleased when we realized Offa's Dyke was the downhill way. Hallelujah!

We walked through lovely green fields and were soon in Hay-on-Wye sipping cappuccino and eating cakes. The trial by gale seemed so far away then and now but, I shall never forget this trial as it tested us all to our breaking point.

The sleepy town of Hay-on-Wye was a welcomed overnight stop. The town very cute with has over 30 book stores, many little shops, an old cinema, and a ramshackle stone castle.

Saturday, January 26, 2008: Trial by Exhaustion

The typical type of rolling hills we saw.

We left Hay-on-Wye to walk to Kington early this morning as it was a 15 mile hike that lay ahead of us. None of us had slept very well that night and so we were all very sluggish all day. This day was our trial by exhaustion; there was wind, mud, and all of the normal trials that we had faced before but our exhaustion was our real trial today. We passed through two little villages on our way and Mary kept her hopes up that we would be able to buy a cappuccino in one of them but this never happened.

The exhausted band plodding up another hillside.

We passed through farm paddocks, green rolling hills, and many little back roads.

The rain once again stayed away all day. We have been so lucky with this for the whole trip especially when you consider the time of year we did this hike.

We were all so weary. But, we saw some of the most spectacular sites so it was worth the trouble. Alas, I developed a very achy ankle near the end of the day; I guess all of the repetitive motion over the five days of hiking so far had caught up with me. I was able to hobble off the hike to the hotel in Kington but, as I write this I am unsure if I will be able to continue with the others on the last day of the trip tomorrow. I am really unhappy about this but I also need to be careful not to make the injury worse.

Sunday, January 27, 2008: Trial by Injury

The type of scenery we saw.

This was the last day of the hike and the most beautiful of the entire thing. Yes, I woke up and due to Julia's superb nursing my achy ankle was useable so I joined everyone on the last day. We pushed on from Kington to Knighton another 14 miles.

Mary climbing a steep hill.

My ankle did remind me all day of its presence but it was able to carry me though the whole magnificent day. Thank Darwin for Ibuprofen, or as Mary kept calling it: aardvark; because this somehow sound like Advil to her! Keep in mind we had all been walking 8 to 9 hours a day for 6 days now so we were all getting a bit silly.

From Julia: We were all so happy to arrive at the hotel in Knighton and find out we could have a cup of tea and a piece of cheesecake that my mum kissed the waitress in her moment of joy. The highlight of every day has been having a hot bath or shower, and tonight was especially wonderful as we were able to discard our stinking hiking clothes knowing that next time we wear them they will have been laundered. Tonight we are going to have the trip awards ceremony at our last dinner. I suspect David S. will get ‘Leader and Navigator Award", David M. will get "Endurance through Extreme Pain Award", Mary will get "Cleanest Trousers Award", and I will get "Sign Spotter in the Distance Award." And we will drink to our success.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Here are the happy hikers celebrating their 6 day and 82 mile walk.

We did indeed celebrate last night and drink copious amounts of wine at our dinner which, was more of a feast than a regular dinner. That night we all slept very well.

We ate our last full English breakfast and depart from Knighton leaving Wales and our hiking adventure behind us. We all agreed we must come back in Spring or Autumn to walk the northern part of the path. I hope we will do this some time.









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