June 26, 1988: Four Crosses to Carreg-y-big
Sometime during the night it began to rain; when I got up at 6:30 it was still coming down, a light, steady drizzle that would give its flavor to our early morning efforts on Sunday, June 26.
Dorothy had a shower while I finished the last of the packing. At eight we descended to our breakfast, an excellent repast. I insisted that Dorothy stop complaining – and have some bran flakes. We were charged only £9.00 each for b&b, another bargain. I asked Mrs. Kilvert if she were in any way related to the Kilvert – but she didn’t think so. Of course I should have remembered that the famous cleric had no children and thus no direct descendants anyway. She watched us put on all our gear at her front door – for we had to start in full rain outfits as we departed just before 9:00. Already I could see that any attempt to reach a pub at Trefonen, some eight and half miles distant, was doomed.
We turned right at a crossroads, cutting off a brief stretch of dyke and path, reaching the A483, and turning north past The Golden Lion. At Parson’s Lane we turned west to take up a recently approved alteration to the original route, one that avoided road walking in favor of a return to the canal. By the time we had reached the towpath the rain had stopped and we were able to discard a layer. Again canal walking proved to be a delightful exercise, with the path clear of all obstacles save the occasional fisherman and his box of maggots. There were wonderful views of hillsides above the water and interesting foliage along the banks. Near Prentrheylin Hall swine replaced sheep as the dominant creature of the fields; these brutes were clearly half pig and half rhino.
I noticed, only at this late date, that our canal was about to cross a river – always an interesting conjunction. Indeed we were soon on a bridge over the Afon Vyrnwy – with more wonderful views in either direction. The fisherfolk were here too; one chap wanted some wind to scatter the clouds but as we cleared the delightfully reconstructed Careghofa Locks and neared the outskirts of Llanymynech the opposite occurred – the drizzle resumed. I had to have assistance getting my rain cape on; such ill-will always greeted this chore. Why did my companions never grumble when they had to hook the dog – a task repeated dozens of times a day – but turn surly whenever I need a little help?
Harold, in the lead with a tethered Toby, tripped over the beast – who was responding in kind to the furious barks of some unknown enemy behind a wooden fence next to the towpath. “Stupid dog,” I heard him say – never knowing which one he was referring to. I too was out of sorts over the return of rain, which made map reading difficult. Already a wet fringe was creeping down the fold of my OS map inside its case! Under the bridge carrying the A843 over the now choked canal we divided forces, with Tosh and Dorothy scurrying up the steps and heading south into Llanymynech in search of a store and Harold and I bringing up the rear, Toby on my lead again.
I had been lucky in guessing that there would be an open shop here on a Sunday morning. Harold and I stood under its awning while a Jack Russell wandered over from the service station, which seemed to be at the heart of the village, to have a look at Toby. I had asked Dorothy to get me a small container of orange juice but she returned with a giant carton. It needed Harold’s nail scissors to get it open and then, after a few slugs, there was the vexing question of what to do with it now. I ended up with it in my hand as we turned north, into the rain, and left the village on the Pen-y-foel road.
With Llanymynech Hill above us we were now encountering our first contours in some time. Roads carried us for a while and I was glad to have the ODA route description to confirm our line of march through suburbia. Eventually, however, we were invited to enter forest paths, climbing stiles, and dodging a woman with two ill-disciplined dogs bent on restricting our progress. Once past this challenge we had to turn uphill on a very steep and wet path. Progress for me was impeded by my lack of mobility – maps in one hand, the burdensome carton of juice in the other. In this vulnerable position I slipped near the top, rolled over onto my back and slithered off the path into the underbrush.
I wasn’t particularly hurt. Fortunately I hadn’t landed on my camera, though the lens cap – I later discovered – went into a last orbit in the melee. I needed Harold’s help in getting back on my feet, however. Not a drop of the offending orange juice had been lost. We now each took a final squirt from the mouth of the carton – with suggestions from Dorothy about where I could next put it.
Our route now lead to the west on faint trods that brought us below Asterly Rocks before rounding the hill and resuming a northerly direction. Things were not that well marked on the ground and I had to call Tosh back once to take a missed cutoff. The rain was beginning to slacken but everything was extremely wet and overgrown. The others got well ahead of me on this stretch but I caught up as we sighted the Llanymynech golf course. In the event it would have been simpler to have walked along its margins but newly erected signs insisted we bushwhack our way through the overgrown hillside just below the greens. When we did emerge on the course again we sat down for a rest and a snack while the golfers went about their business all around and even above us. At least it wasn’t raining anymore – the rest of the day was humid but grey. I managed to get through it wearing my Rose Bowl T-Shirt only – but I was often a little chilly.
After our rest we continued along the edge of the golf course, passed the 14th tee and began a descent into some woods. Tosh and Harold got quite a distance ahead of us but Toby rushed back to see where the rear guard was. When the three of us neared our downhill turnoff to the west Toby seemed to want to continue ahead. This led us to surmise that the Lees had missed the turn-off altogether and were above us. We called out and this was confirmed. They retraced their steps, somewhat embarrassed at having walked by an obvious yellow arrow – but saved from further wandering by the dog. We edged our way down a steep track gingerly, emerging at last at the edge of a field opposite Blodwell Hall. Here we paused for lunch.
Tosh needed help getting a Fanta can open. I used the awl on my Swiss Army knife but I suspect that in opening my pack both a pen and my black glasses case went walkabout – for I never saw them again. Toby had some biscuits and some water. He needed far less of this liquid today than yesterday; indeed he seemed to be full of energy. We ate Mrs. Kilvert’s sandwiches and some crisps while two horsemen trotted past on the access road to Blodwell Hall.
We then joined this track for a trip through Jones Coppice, virtuously disdaining an invitation to the nearby Red Lion because of our rather slow time today. We traversed some mucky fields and crossed a rail line, some more fields, the A495 and climbed up to the Cefn Lane. Here we turned west, descended to a road, crossed another mineral railway line and began an ascent, with Toby on lead. We were on this tarmaced surface for almost a mile.
When we pulled opposite Cefn Farm the farmer stopped his car to show us the way through his field. He spoke in a squeaky voice about the dangers of approaching calves and gave us the details of a gory incident in which a cow, protecting her young, had trampled a lady tourist. This only confirmed Dorothy’s bovine paranoia. I asked the farmer to point out our line of march and he identified a “hurdle” at the bottom of his field. We did indeed pass several calves as we left his field for a brief stint on woodland path. The latter put us onto the road into Nant Mawr, a delightful village if you except the hectoring dogs who came out, with their embarrassed owner in tow, to see us on our way.
We now had some steep climbing through fields and between houses to reach another lane. After a little more suburbia we entered a woods and continued our climb onto the plateau of Moelydd hill. Horses were grazing above an abandoned cottage. Ahead of us we could at last see the flagpole at the top. At 934 feet Moelydd counts as a real summit hereabouts – unusual for the Dyke Path actually to take one in. Naturally the views in all four directions were lovely. We had a little rest and someone took my photo. We now had to head south along the ridge for a while before descending the opposite slope and resuming our mostly northerly direction.
We followed some farm tracks. I couldn’t quite figure out the way forward here but eventually, with the use of the compass, I identified our exit into a distant wood, and we decided to cut a corner across an unploughed field. (We still had five miles to go.) We now had a farm track to take us past Ty-Canol farm, where we reigned in Toby when farm dogs appeared. After crossing a lane we climbed over a hedge stile and had another rest.
Our route to Trefonen now lay in a northeasterly direction across a cow-pie infested field with no path. Fortunately The ODA route descriptions identified two magnificent trees as guideposts; after this there was a sunken lane, which we mostly avoided because of its wet and uneven surface, and several more mucky fields with stiles. Just before reaching the village we followed a muddy track that ended next to a low stone fence. As I paused here for the others Toby jumped up on top of the fence and began walking along it – I don’t know why, it just seemed like fun. The problem is that he jumped into the field on the other side of the fence and this was much lower than the lane. So I had to reel him in when it was time for us to leave.
In the meantime the others had struck up a conversation with a family of three, mom, dad, and a mentally-challenged teen-age son. They were doing all of the Dyke Path in short one-day trips from the Midlands. Because they were car-bound they had to double-walk every section in order to get home at the end of the day. Thus they were on day thirty or thereabouts, having started today at Nant Mawr. We were very impressed with this dedication. We fell into step with them as we wandered behind Trefonen’s houses – both of us missing a turn-off along an overgrown hedged path. At Fron farm the trio went ahead of us up to the dyke, while we had a brief rest. In the interval we could see that they had gotten the angle of ascent wrong and our own traverse of the intervening field was more northerly.
We reached a minor road and obediently turned left at an ODP arrow. But the road led only to a puzzling crossroads. I expected that we would be following the dyke and so I called a halt and returned to the original arrow. Yes, it had pointed left but we had missed an overgrown stile hidden almost immediately across the street in a hedge. I gave a blast on my whistle and soon the others returned so that we could continue along the dyke in the direction of Pentre-shannel.
The end of June was proving an interesting time to walk. The supply of summer walkers was not yet in evidence and the lush spring had covered much of the route in a green embrace. This meant that route finding, on the one hand, and ordinary progress, on the other, were both impeded. This stretch of the dyke, for instance, should have been easy but grass hid the uneven contours of the surface and in one hidden hole Dorothy put a foot wrong, fell in a heap, and rolled over with a sprained ankle!
A wave of nausea washed over her and engulfed the rest of us as we all wondered what such an injury might mean to our collective plans. We gave Dorothy some water, cursing ourselves once again for failing to buy a bottle of gin at the Four Crosses last night. Eventually Dorothy tried to stand up and move about. She could walk without limping and after a few minutes we decided to move on. There was a steep descent along a tarmaced road to the Llanforda Mill pub. Here I started to breathe a bit easier because Dorothy seemed to manage such an ankle-testing surface quite well. We passed a family changing out of wet socks in their car – a beautiful little girl with yellow hair staring at us curiously.
We crossed a footbridge over the River Morda and followed a track to the left. Here I broke a long pole in order to give Dorothy a walking stick but she soon abandoned it as more trouble than it was worth. Harold hooked Toby because of a new menace ahead; deep within the woods we were being preceded up Craig Forda by a chicken! Eventually it left the track and we passed it by, continuing to rise, steeply at first, and then more gradually on a lovely path with damp foliage, grotto seats, and fine views of the Morda Valley on our left. I had told Tosh that this was our last ascent of the day but that it would come in three sections and the second section began when we left the dyke behind and drew up to the entrance of woodland on the borders of the Oswestry Old Race Course. From this picnic area we were receiving a steady stream of day-trippers and their dogs walking downhill.
I asked our group to stop for a moment before we climbed the stile into the woods – for an important milestone had just been reached: Dorothy had now walked five hundred miles on Britain’s long distance footpaths. How inconceivable such an achievement would have seemed at the end of the first day of her walking career one August day in 1976 when, the soles of her feet one giant blister, we had packed in a long Pennine trip after only 12 miles. I was quite proud of her.
We went forward along a wide track with two nice Boxers and their accompanying family passing us by. By some cottages at the top of the hill there were benches for picnickers and we paused here for a final rest. It was nearing 6:00 o’clock and so we pressed on over grass, heading due north, and emerging at a T-junction with the B4580. Here we had a mile of road walking around the flank of Baker’s Hill, stage three. There was not much traffic. It was still grey but actually we had enjoyed excellent walking weather since the rain had stopped in the morning. I took a picture of a wonderful field with its yellow and red wildflowers.
As we began our descent we could see Carreg-y-big Farm below us – our resting place for the night after twelve and a half miles. It was close to 6:25 and for once we would not have to descend into a deep river valley – for our farm was almost at the one thousand foot mark. Something most unusual happened. Below us a woman was scanning the hillside. She went inside her house and re-emerged with a tea tray. Pointing to it and waving to us she disappeared once again. We had been greeted a quarter of a mile before our actual arrival at Carreg-y-big.
Mrs. Jones came out a second time to say hello as we fell on the tea. We took off our boots and while the Lees went to their room I fed Toby. Then, after Dorothy had washed his dish in the kitchen, we followed Mrs. Jones to our room, also on the first floor. We had agreed on a 7:30 dinnertime, and when this time came we again repaired to the kitchen for pheasant and veg. I don’t really care for game and was particularly disconcerted by the pellet of buckshot I found myself chewing, but what a fine effort! Homemade blackcurrant pie and custard followed with the coffee. Toby was allowed the run of the kitchen and the lounge and had a great time.
I had a bath and fixed the toilet, which was stopped up with its deodorizer. While the others watched TV I took the dog out for his last walk. The empty crossroads surrounded by fields of grain reminded me so much in their setting of our stay at Beggar’s Bush. I fell asleep several times watching A Very British Coup. So when it came to an end it was time to follow Dorothy up to bed. Her ankle was being supported by the ace bandage I always carry. (And they laugh at me for overpacking.) I also had some anti-inflammatory pills in my much-maligned suicide kit for her to take. She took a sleeping pill; neither Toby nor I needed one.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: