This walk is a part of a four-month charity walk I am writing about here.
I recently finished the 177 mile Offa’s Dyke Path, starting in Prestatyn and finishing in Chepstow/ Sedbury Cliffs. The walk far exceeded my expectations, and after getting into a rythym of walking all day through peaceful countryside it was an experience that I was sad to see end. The following is a summary of my route, walking for 12 days and resting for one, and camping all nights but one.
I hope it inspires you to venture away from the crowds and into the tranquility of the Welsh-English border country!
Day 1: Prestatyn. Camped at: Nantmill Touring Caravan and Camping Park (on Gronant Road)
I took a couple of buses to Prestatyn from Glasgow, so by the time I got to Prestatyn and wandered around looking for a campsite, all the shops had closed and there wasn’t much to do. They do have a movie theater, and that seemed like a fine way to celebrate the beginning of a new walk. In town they have many grocery stores and an outdoor shop where you can buy gas canisters. There is the beach, with calm waters and windmills out at sea which make for some unique scenery.
Day 2: Prestatyn to Bodfari, 12 miles. Camped at: Station House Caravan Park
The first day of walking climbed immediately up out of Prestatyn and gave a decent preview of what was to come: stiles to climb over, fields of sheep, and nice views. Nothing too exciting, besides the views out to see, and though it was too hazy to see clearly, the mountains of Snowdon in the distance.
After a day of muggy weather and sweat inducing climbs, I was happy to camp after a mere 12 miles. My new hike-mate James and I celebrated day 1 with a couple of beers at the local pub, The Downing Arms.
Day 3: Bodfari to Llangdegla, 17 miles. Camped at: Llyn Rhys Campsite
The book said this was a challenging day. It did not lie. Trail climbed over the Clwydian Range, and then back down. And then back up. And then back down. And up and down and up and down every hill in the Range. It made me stronger, I had to tell myself. A beautiful day, but not to be underestimated, as James and I limped into tiny Llangdegla asking the local children where the campsite was. Upon arrival I hunched over in miserable form, grasping my back and my knees and my feet at the same time, and the old lady running the campsite asked worriedly if I was alright. “It was the mountains!” I cried.
Tired and aching, we ditched out stoves for a pub meal at The Crown Hotel. In the morning I stocked up at the tiny store in town, where they also serve morning tea. Beware: they stock little in the way of actual food, and I mostly filled my pack with candy bars.
Day 4: Llangdegla to Llangollen, 9 miles. Stayed at: Cambrian House
After the long day over the Clwydian Range and starting off to wind and rain and drizzle and rain, I got grumpy, and decided to take a half-day and only walk the 9 miles to Llangollen, which is supposed to be quite nice. It was bustling with tourists and the sun even came out, and I found a grocery store and bought way too many fruits and vegetables. One of the problems of the trail is that some long sections have no stores. So when I found a good one, I tended to go overboard.
I called around looking for a cheapish B&B after seeing that the hostel was full. I found a room at the Cambrian House and made myself at home in my small, homey room. There I occupied myself by watching Welsh TV, and drying out my wet tent in the bathroom. The Cambrian House is kind of a creaky, “well-loved” kind of place, but the host is delightfully cooky, and the breakfast nice and big. Skip the vegetarian meat alternatives though.
Day 5: Llangollen to Baker’s Hill, 13 miles. Camped at: Carreg-y-Big Farm.
The day was a slow ramble over more hills, and my pack fully stocked with groceries, I ambled slowly through them.
I started by walking along the canal to Trevor, and then over the terrifying bridge. This is a canal, on a bridge, passable by boats. I was terrified and had to stop every few paces in order to steady myself and check that the railing was still intact.
The exciting part of the day however, was finally seeing the Dyke for the first time. Despite this being Offa’s Dyke Path, the dyke only follows the path for about 60 miles.
And there it was! It certainly looked like a dyke. For the days to follow the dyke would run in and out of view, changing appearance from a low mound to a high and defined wall.
The afternoon ended with sun and puffy clouds, and we relaxed with host of Carreg-y-Big Farm B&B Ian Reese and his dogs outside on the picnic table. James camped on the section of dyke in the backyard, while I opted to sleep on the floor of the small walkers hut (for lack of a better name)since soon the wind rolled in and threatened to rain. Thanks again Ian! (Carreg-y-Big is on the market, so check before you plan to camp. Or if you’re looking to buy a beautiful farm and equestrian center…)
Day 6: Baker’s Hill to Buttington, 20.5 miles. Camped at: Green Dragon Inn.
The first part of the day climbed up to the old racetrack and through some lovely woods and a nature preserve, where I met more sheep “baaaing” into the wind, and some nature lovers hopelessly looking for butterflies.
Since the latter part of the day would be flight walking along the canal and then later along the dyke and river, I decided to go all the way to Buttington in one go. It certainly wasn’t too difficult, but walking along the dyke for all those miles got tedious, as the scenery wasn’t too inspiring, and I had to warily cross many fields of massive cows and even once a testy bull who seemed to be getting shaken up by the recent passing of a few groups of walkers.
Cow on dyke.
As my like of sheep developed, my fear of cows grew. Nothing like a wall of curious cow making a bee-line for you to put you on edge.
Wall o’ Cows
I also got “attacked” by a dog with a muzzle, who got loose of its fence. By the days end I was fed up with animals and the drudgery of walking along flat ground.
Day 7: Buttington to Brompton Crossroads/ Mellington Hall, 13.5 miles. Camped at: Mellington Hall
Somehow I can’t remember anything about this day besides wet feet… I think the solitude of the trail had started to take over, and I started to get lost in thought as I walked through more fields and forest– not to say that it was boring, but 8 hours of walking a day start to run into each other…
The campground behind Mellington hall is beautiful though, and akwardly had a drink at Mellington Hall, though I felt much too underdressed to sit in such a fancy bar.
Day 8: Mellington Hall to Knighton, 13.5 miles. Camped at: Panpwnton Farm.
Everyone kept warning me about this day, over the Shropshire Hills and the “switchbacks.” Maybe it was because I had anticipated a huge challenge, but I was surprised how easily I climbed up and over the hills, and with fine weather it was one of my favorite days. The hills unfolded around the dyke in endless patchworks of fields. There was hardly a soul around, and I passed a mere 10 or so walkers that day. Here the dyke rose over the hills as a distinct spine, incorporated into fields and grazing commons. The wind up in the hills was sweet and grassy and it was about as good as a walk in the countryside could get.
In Knighton I knocked on the door of Panpwnton Farm where the owner June led me to the camping field, right in the backyard, a spacious field of uncut grass. With such a warm welcome and peaceful place to pitch my tent, I was tempted to stay longer. I had to move on though, but enjoyed the sunset and the warm light moving through the trees.
Day 9: Knighton to Kington, 13.5 miles. Camped at: Fleece Meadow Campsite.
More dyke, more fields. More sheep. A beautiful day. Also one of those days that sends you into meditative walking, so devoid of people that you (or I, specifically) start to have conversations with yourself.
In Kington I pitched at Fleece Meadow, but for the life of me could not find reception. And no one came to find me in the morning, so, thanks Fleece Meadow for letting me camp for free!
Day 10: Kington to Hay-on-Wye, 14.5 miles. Camped at Radnor’s End (for free, thanks Joanna!)
This day climbs over Hergest Ridge, a lovely grazing common with sheep and wild ponies running around, and views to the Black Mountains. Like in the Shropshire Hills it was easy to feel all alone on this day, and the views made any difficult walking much more manageable.
Day 11: Rest day in Hay-on-Wye.
Famous for its second-hand bookshops, Hay-on-Wye is a fine place to spend a day off. Sadly, I couldn’t buy any books, though I still spent a few hours walking through the stacks, relishing the complete randomness of the collections. In the same bin I found Breeding Society Finches next to Miniature Shrubs and A Guide to African Political & Economic Development.
The rain crept in and drove me into a coffee shop, and later into my tent, to get back to reading my neglected War and Peace.
Day 12: Hay-on-Wye to Pandy, 17.5 miles. Camped at the Rising Sun Pub (Mistake!)
Sadly my climb up the Black Mountains and across Hatterrall Ridge, the highest point on the path, was surrounded in clouds. Some nice views were to be had, but I missed most of the views of neighboring mountain ridges. It still was beautiful, and later in the afternoon the clouds cleared up some.
I made the mistake of pitching at the Rising Sun Pub, and maybe because it was a Friday, but every caravan pitch soon filled up, and and the massive circus tents came out and the place turned into what seemed like a family reunion, with kids running around kicking soccer balls at my tent, and their parents drinking loudly in their tents (why people caravan in the first place, just to do what they do at home, I don’t think I’ll ever quite get). I felt very old, trying to get to sleep at 10pm, which was impossible, next to what was a bit of a zoo, and a disappointing contrast to the quiet sites elsewhere. End rant.
Day 13: Pandy to Monmouth, 17 miles. Camped at: Monnow Bridge Caravan and Campsite
The day passed through small villages and ancient churches, as well as White Castle. More fields, and now I have the same affection for them as I do for sheep. Every fields glitters in its own way. I know that sounds corny, but watching the breeze ripple through a field of wheat is one of the pleasure of the path. Sounds incredibly dull of me, but it’s true.
At Monnow Bridge Camping the nice owner squeezed me into the small site in between caravans and camper vans, but it was a peaceful place. I toyed with the idea of wandering into the town for a Saturday night, but opted for my sleeping bag instead. (Sleep always seeming the best option).
Day 14: Monmouth to Sedbury Cliffs, with stop at Tintern Abbey, 22.5 miles. Camped at: Upper Sedbury House.
Oh dear, what a long day. Hot and hilly, I lazily took my time, and arrived late into Sedbury, to camp behind lovely Upper Sedbury House tucked up away from Chepstow between farms.
View over Monmouth
The day combined some steep walks up through forest, a nice view of Monmouth, a walk along the River Wye, a detour to Tintern Abbey, another steep climb, and a never-ending final stretch down to Sedbury with one last walk along the dyke. I finished a little dehydrated, very hungry, but happy. I popped a bottle of cider, sitting on the dyke one last time, looking over the cliffs to the Severn.