May 2, 1988: Montgomery to Welshpool
On Monday, May 2, 1988 we arose quite early; indeed Dorothy had convinced herself that we were to have breakfast at 7:00 – and was ready to go half an hour before required. She used the extra time to visit the newsagent, buying some snacks – including a bag of pear drops that lasted another two weeks.
We met at 7:30 in Mrs. Holloway’s dining room. After the full English breakfast we received some sandwiches from our landlady, got our gear, and brought it downstairs. I was deputized to go outside and get everyone’s boots – which I brought around to the front door. There was some last minute photography here and in the square and at 8:15 on a lovely Bank Holiday Monday we were ready to return to the path.
Once again I was not going back to our exit point in Lymore Park, but heading straight up the B4386 to the County Boundary Bridge. Again we would miss a mile of the path but our Montgomery interlude meant that we were to walk two miles to the one that the purist must accomplish – so I felt no qualms. Surprisingly there was very little traffic at this hour of the morning and we made excellent time in the open farm country. With a 2:54 train-time to meet and some uphill at the end I was quite eager to start out with a good pace.
The dyke came in on our right just beyond County Boundary Bridge (back in Shropshire after a night in Powys) though there wasn’t actually a footpath sign at this junction. Nevertheless I put us into the field to the north and we were soon encountering acorn signs on the stiles that separated fields. Toby was free to wander off-lead as we passed a small wood, Rownal Covet, though once I had to call him out of the trees on the opposite side of a wire fence. He had to be reigned in anyway as we were approaching Rownal farmyard. An encounter with another furious Jack Russell brought the lady of the farm outside – but we had easily separated the contestants.
A rather sodden track lead us past Rownal Cottages. Tosh, claiming she was not just being obstinate, paused a long time in the lane digging up – with her bare hands – a hawthorn sapling which stuck out from the top of her pack thereafter. Curiously C.J. Wright showed the path continuing due north across the River Camlad but all evidence on the ground (finger posts and acorns) indicated a diversion via Salt Bridge on the B4388. With Toby on lead I headed in a northwesterly direction across a sheep-filled field, aiming for the bridge. The others followed at varying intervals, with Tosh, having completed her chores, bringing up the rear. By the time she had arrived it had started to rain.
We put on our wet gear while standing on the bridge. Then we entered a grain field, with no path, and attempted to follow the line of the finger post toward distant Pound House. An acorn on an oak tree confirmed our direction but there was little comfort for the feet in the damp. I wasn’t wearing my rain pants and my cords were soon soaked. At last we reached Pound House and the original line of the Dyke Path. After crossing a road we had a little steep climb up a wooded hill. At the top, where the dyke itself resumed, we sat down for a rest and some liquid: the salty bacon of the full English breakfast often leads to an early morning thirst.
On more level ground we pressed on; often with the Dyke as accompaniment, often fairly close to the B4388 again. We passed behind a garden supply center in Forden and near Nantcribba Hall we were forced to return to the road itself for further progress in a northeasterly direction. The light rain continued to fall – but no one seemed fussed. At the junction of the A490 we turned right for a short distance, rejoining the dyke for an additional stretch along the boundary fence of several farms. Once three little lambs ran up to examine our party with great curiosity, causing a tethered Toby extremities of jealousy. Amid suburban gardens in their finest flowery display we reached the end of this stretch, emerging on a tarmaced lane that we were to follow uphill into the beckoning green forests of Long Mountain. At the junction with the lane to Court House we paused for another brief rest. I was truly proud of our pace for we had covered five miles in two and a half hours.
It had pretty much stopped raining when we started up again. There was a long steep pull up the hill; this put me so far behind that the others had wandered past our clearly marked turnoff before I reached the spot myself; I had to call them back for a forestry road that offered a somewhat easier gradient. I had been concerned about route-finding in this section but it was well-marked (though, not in all particulars, conforming to Wright’s maps.) The forestry tracks were often muddy going but there was always a dryer patch ahead and we were diverted off these dirt roads several times as well. There were tantalizing glimpses of Welshpool and the Severn Valley through breaks in the trees on our left. The rain had made everything smell wonderfully. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere. This turned out to be an excellent stretch.
We circled around what should have been Offa’s Pool – where there were impressive walls built by Naylor on view, but no water. The same could not be said for a second pool, where we paused for photos and a brief debate about a lunch spot. I was in favor of trying to find some dryer ground (earning a wifely soliloquy on the subject of deferred gratification) but as we continued we emerged onto the active Welshpool-Trelystan road. A short journey down this brought us to the spot where we had to say goodbye to the Dyke Path (the dyke itself makes a descent here too) which continued uphill on a tarmac lane toward Beacon Ring – while we had to descend to Welshpool, still some two and a half miles below us.
At the junction we found a not particularly sheltered dry spot and sat on the ground for our lunch. There was a wind about and I put on my blue jacket – fortunately the moisture had ceased. No one wanted to linger for a long while so after fifteen minutes we packed up and, with Toby on lead for the rest of the journey, we began a very steep descent down the road, with wonderful views of the valley below us.
The village of Leighton provided us with a number of charming sights, gardens and cats especially. A black Lab went for Toby, but the former was pursued by his own owner, brandishing his gardener’s spade. We finally reached the church and, a little later, the schoolhouse. The latter had been graced with a very clever modern addition. Highway walking followed road walking and this was not very pleasant. We walked up the B4388 to the B4361 and turned west, crossing the Severn, and circling the railroad station (mostly abandoned, it appeared). These were a tiring two and a half miles – the sun was out, it was warm, and carbon monoxide never makes for pleasant walking. It was 1:30.
We went onto the platform – with no sign of life anywhere – and most of the group changed clothes. Naturally there was only a gents here, which complicated the process. I was told by my wife to change my socks but I desisted amid muttered prediction of a sure cold to come (it didn’t). We decided to walk into town in search of a pub. There was a market on and the place was quite busy. We crossed the Shropshire Union Canal and got as far as the Royal Oak Hotel, where we sat on a bench and drank our drinks. Tosh bought postcards and Dorothy, thinking this was Sunday, tried to buy an Observer. We were all quite weary but the walk had gone very well; Dorothy in particular seems to have thrived on the exercise.
We retraced our steps to the station, where about twenty people were also waiting for the 2:54. It came about twenty minutes late, time enough to send me into the depths of depression over the loss of our connecting train in Shrewsbury. Not to worry: when we got to the latter site an announcement indicated that our train would continue on as far as Wolverhampton. At the latter an empty train began a run to London, getting us there only minutes after our original E.T.A. So we had good seats all the way. I read some articles I had clipped from the New Yorker – surprised to discover my stepfather, Ingolf Dahl, mentioned in an article about growing up in L.A. by Susan Sontag.
At about 6:00 we said goodbye to the Lees, taking the tube to Maida Vale, and stopping at the Lokanta to buy kebabs. Dorothy had already decided to join us on our next outing, scheduled for June.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: