June 25, 1988: Pant-y-Bwch to Four Crosses
On Saturday, June 25, 1988, only eight weeks after completing our fourth Offa’s Dyke expedition, we reassembled at Euston. Again we four (and dog) would take the 7:40 train to Shrewsbury, ready to add three more days as part of expedition five. Tosh had been complaining of a bad back so it was with some relief that we saw her wandering around the concourse at 7:30. Harold bought us tickets and we went in search of seats. The heater was blasting away beneath Tosh’s seat so she and Harold went to another compartment, returning when the surly P&O security guard with the clip-on tie departed from our area at Wolverhampton. Perhaps he had not been happy with a curious Schnauzer on the next lap. An excited Toby was never at rest.
Our train, which seemed to stop for too long too often, was a through train to Welshpool and we arrived here at 11:25, only a few minutes late. I had phoned the tourist information office for some taxi firm numbers and I went through these in a telephone kiosk across from the station, finding no cab free the first two times, but getting a promise of a ten-minute wait from a third firm. It was a glorious sunny day. We stood in the shadows of the station as numerous young men headed for the station on some outing. When a car pulled up I approached its driver but she turned out to be an ordinary motorist. Tosh was getting anxious when ten minutes turned to fifteen and we had a debate on the morality of jumping into the next cab regardless. At about 11:50 our taxi at last arrived and we loaded up. We asked the young driver why there seemed to be so much activity at the train station. He said it was because there was nothing to do in Welshpool – so everyone wanted a day away.
I directed our driver over the two and a half mile route we had descended last bank holiday. As we climbed the steep flanks of Long Mountain the wisdom of this strategy became ever clearer. Opposite Pant-y-Bwch farm we pulled into our lunch spot at the bottom of a road – overgrown in four weeks. We unloaded the car. The driver only wanted £1.50 for this great service. It was just going on noon – exactly the time I had wanted us to get started – for it meant we had a good chance of making it to a pub before closing time. We had debated staying the night before this day in Welshpool itself, but I had suggested that we could easily do the eleven and a half miles with all the available daylight; and as our landlady in Four Crosses was not giving us dinner there was no rush. I was therefore delighted to see my timetable coming to fruition.
We had only one mile of uphill on this day and it began at once: a steep climb up a tarmaced road. We then continued forward along a fence, walking in a sheep-filled field with a forest on our left. At the top of the field we turned left and entered a fringe of the woods; here Toby ran free for the first time. Ahead of us was the top of the mountain, Beacon Ring, with its transmission mast. It was lovely up here; we walked not on the earthwork of the ring but on a shaded path just within. At the point where it was time to leave I decided to join the others in putting on my shorts; certainly this was the first time every member of the group had been in shorts at the same time.
We entered another pine plantation near the mast and began a descent on forest roads – these were reasonably dry. I was using the OS map in my map case, xeroxes of C.J. Wright in my fist, and – also in my map case – the ODA’s Chesterton-like route descriptions. The latter proved very useful – especially here in the forest, where there were a number of tricky turnoffs. We emerged into the light again on the flanks of a sloping, grassy hillside, and followed a thin trod in a northwesterly direction. I had to use my compass for the continuation along a hawthorn hedge, for there was surprisingly no evidence of any path at a number of points on the hillside.
We had before us a rich panorama, with Welshpool on the left and, at the head of the green plain that was the Severn Valley, the village of Buttington on our right. It was toward the latter that we were descending sharply and I could already identify a prominent white building that I took to be Buttington’s pub, The Green Dragon. This mollified Tosh, who had already begun her inquisition on the subject of when do we get to the pub. Twice we changed direction briefly on farm roads, but it was not necessary to hook the dog. We walked down the edge of a field that was being harvested, the farmer seated on his tractor with a kerchief round his mouth. Harold agreed when I said, “This is literally an example of making hay while the sun shines.”
Near Stone House cottage two inquisitive grey lambs ran up to us in bleating eagerness – fortunately Toby was already in the next field with the Lees. By the time we had caught them up Harold had taken a wrong turn into someone’s back yard and the someone had obligingly halooed, “You’re going the wrong way.” The lady of the cottage was, in fact, on her way to investigate the behavior of the lambs, concerned that their mom had disappeared. We rounded the cottage and passed Stone House Farm itself, using a track to approach a stream which Toby lapped eagerly. Our route paralleled this stream as we reached the level of the valley floor, contours over for the day. A footbridge brought us into two large fields, but again there was not much evidence of a path in the grass.
A green lane next to a cottage put us on the B4388 and we took this to the north into Buttington. Opposite All Saint’s Church an old lady was standing in the graveyard. “Hot work for you today,” she said. Dorothy, who was some distance behind, reported that after the rest of us had cleared the graveyard the old lady had resumed the activity which our presence had interrupted, a quiet pee among the tombstones.
We sat down under an awning in front of the Green Dragon. It was shortly before 2:00 and the pub was half an hour from closing. I asked about food, but was told it was “finished.” This proved to be untrue, for Dorothy, following the lead of some yuppie exquisites, ordered some baps a few minutes later. We drank our beer (Tosh had bitter, I downed a pint and a half of lager), spread some milky suntan lotion over our legs, and ate our BR sandwiches until the baps arrived. I would have preferred some more picturesque vista than the A458, but the others didn’t seem to mind.
We began to pack up about 2:30. We had not quite covered four miles and there were still over seven and a half to go. It was quite warm but cloudy bright now – with only occasional periods of direct sunlight. We crossed the rail line that had brought us to Welshpool and then Buttington Bridge and turned north along the banks of the Severn. The river was wide and slow moving today; small white flowers were blossoming on the weedy water foliage below. We followed the river’s flood embankments for some distance, cutting off meandering loops as we continued north. Everything was quite overgrown and our bare legs were soon tickled and scratched. The embankment was only a few feet higher than its surroundings, but just visible enough to provide a guide through the neighboring fields, where some other hardy souls had trampled out the vestiges of a path.
We approached the A483, the rest of us escaping early over a fence while Harold and Toby, marching ahead, battled the nettle-choked official exit. A short stretch of road walking followed – with Toby on my lead. We were eventually joined on the left by the towpath on the restored Montgomery section of the Shropshire Union Canal. Here we had a nice rest under a tree. The towpath, which we followed for close to a mile, was in much better shape than the field paths we had just traversed. Wonderful wild flowers including yellow irises were growing along the banks and the scene was most peaceful and pleasant.
Eventually we reached the village of Pool Quay (which I insisted on calling Pool Cue), rejoined the A483, and returned to the Severn floodbank for more walking along the embankments. Just past the line of an old mineral railway (and lost bridge over the river) we paused for another rest. We were now in cow country. Toby obligingly rolled over into a cowflop, somehow failing to match his worst efforts of the past. Dorothy cleaned his collar but the sun and grass took care of the rest of it for us.
The real problem was the fascination that cows often feel for the dog: in short we were in for a serious outbreak of the Red River syndrome. As we headed north on the embankments cows would spot us and make a beeline for the dog, usually on Harold’s lead. Soon there would be a large bovine contingent between the Lees and ourselves, with Dorothy whimpering behind me – especially when some latecomer charged past. When the Lees reached the end of the field there would be an escape stile but the cows would still blockade our way as we approached the exit. I found that they were inclined to go elsewhere when I clapped my map case and this I had to do repeatedly in order for us to have a clear exit from their field. After a mile or so of this we found a cow-free field opposite the quarry on the Breidden Hills and had another rest. So many rests is a reminder of the effects of today’s warm weather.
I couldn’t quite match up the twists and turns in the river with Wright’s maps – this stretch seemed endless. Sometimes the embankments were so overgrown that it made more sense to walk along accompanying field margins. We eventually passed the hamlet of Rhydescyn and left the Severn. As we approached a left turn along the New Cut floodbank a herd of Friesians was heard from. A tremendous tailback soon separated the Lees and Toby from the Linicks. Harold looked like the Pied Piper of Powys. A little bridge seemed to offer some relief but the barbed wire at either end only dissuaded cows from using the plank to cross a dry wadi: they could cross without using the bridge and they did. They could not, however, climb the stile onto the Derwas Bridge – which came next – and here the frontrunners escaped the heifers. I had to clap up a storm in order to get us through the girls.
Once over the bridge we looked back to see them all lined up again, faces pointed toward us longingly.
There was no path through the buttercups on the other side but we headed in a northeasterly direction in search of a footbridge over Bele Brook. We found it but the route up to the next embankment was choked in nettles so it was decided to return to our trousers once again. My white shorts were filthy by this time anyway and my legs, with their scratches, bites, and sunburn, itched for a week thereafter.
After another stretch we collapsed on the path for a brief rest; here we encountered another walker in shorts and a yellow t-shirt. He was the only ODP walker encountered this day. He told us that he was on his fifth day out of Prestatyn. I congratulated him on getting this far so fast but he indicated he was about to pack it in because of his blisters. No, I thought, you are about to pack it in because of loneliness.
We were now able to head northwest, almost in a beeline, for our resting place. It was past six now and the sun had come out strongly again. Dorothy, uncomfortable with the weight of the pack on her shoulders somehow succeeded in wearing the pack backwards now, that is on her chest rather than her back. It looked like she was carrying a troublesome baby over a particularly nasty stretch of minefield.
At Neath cottage an uproar began, with some mangy Chows, a Jack Russell, and an angry sheep dog all protesting at Toby’s presence. After crossing the B4393 we had the unlucky opportunity of passing through a muddy and foul-smelling section of the Gornel Farm, the highlight of which was a small sewage plant. Here someone had bravely planted roses and honeysuckle against the cyclone fence. We passed through a dairy and emerged on a road in Four Crosses. Harold didn’t have any specific instructions on how to reach our b&b so we headed for the Four Crosses Inn first; here the publican pointed us back along the road we had just used; thus – after retracing our steps and continuing east for some distance – we pulled up opposite Mrs. Kilvert’s at about 7:20. Our landlady was watching Wimbledon.
We were shown to two nice rooms and Toby was fed. Then, under his accusing eyes -–staring at us from our window on the first floor -–we headed back to the pub. I disdained alcohol here – having a pint of orange and lemonade instead. We ordered scampi and chips and watched the locals out for a good time on Saturday night: pool, darts, fruit machine, fags. Dorothy was particularly fascinated by a trio of town belles clomping across the slates in their high heels and miniskirts. After dessert we paid up (an extremely inexpensive meal) and returned to the purple fence of Mrs. Kilvert. Zola, a chubby Labrador, rushed up to greet us. (Toby later drank from her water bowl.) When we got to our room we discovered that in rummaging around in Dorothy’s knapsack the dog had somehow managed to hook himself to this object, which he was dragging around to his own great embarrassment. I took our dog for a last walk past the post office across the street; then I had a bath in the blue bathroom – an attempt at a shower failing because I hadn’t noticed that a power switch over the sink needed to be pulled first. As it was already approaching 10:30 Dorothy and I each took a sleeping pill and climbed into twin beds. It had been a very successful day.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: