June 27, 1988: Carreg-y-big to Chirk
It was still grey on the morning of Monday, June 27, but at least there was no rain. Once again we had breakfast at 8:00 and once again Toby was allowed to stay with us in the kitchen. He repaid this favor by escaping once or twice into the farmyard (where, fortunately, neither the farm dog nor any of the chickens were in immediate evidence) and by growling at Farmer Jones himself – who dared enter his own kitchen. (Wasn’t Farmer Jones in charge on Manor –later Animal – Farm?)
The Jones family was in transition. Their son, scheduled to inherit the farm, had just been offered his father-in-law’s farm, much larger, and now his parents – who wanted to retire to a nearby cottage – were in a quandary. The big questions was, would someone continue to offer needed accommodation to Offa’s Dyke Path walkers at Carreg-y-big?
We left the farmstead at about 8:45. There was a stile in a hedge near the crossroads and Toby and I had scouted this out during last night’s late walk. Dorothy seemed to be able to walk without too much difficulty, through there was definitely some swelling. One consequence of her accident was the decision to go to hiking boots soon – walking shoes were just not giving enough support.
We now had a relatively easy stretch of dyke walking over countryside that was gently rolling. Toby was able to go free most of the time and he was in excellent spirits, often racing ahead in his eagerness. We passed the edges of two woods and crossed two dingles. I had attempted to walk in just a t-shirt again today but it was too chilly and I had to put on my blue sweatshirt. We never saw the sun but, with the exception of a moment of two of mist, we were completely dry today.
At Orseddwen Farm we turned away from the dyke and followed a gated track over a flank of Selattyn Hill. We could hear sheep ahead of us and the dog had to be put on lead. After a few puzzling switchbacks in fields at the top we found a track for the long descent to the road at Craignant. A further descent to the bridge over Morlas Brook also left us wondering about the absence of a direction sign. Only the hint in the ODA route description (keep old kilns on left) gave us the confidence to begin an ascent that soon had us in someone’s back yard. This someone had obligingly made a beautiful ODP sign for the driveway – so we persevered to the top of a field, crossed a road and a stile, and sat down in the bottom of a mucky field for a break.
When we tried to escape this field there were problems. A very damp patch near a spring undid Harold and when the rest of us tried to circumvent it Dorothy began to sink into the muck, re-injuring her foot. When we had at last escaped this passage we rejoined the dyke, gradually approaching the crest of the climb near the woods of Plas Crogen farm. Once or twice cows came to investigate us – but we always seemed to be able to stay out of their reach today.
The descent into the valley of the River Ceiriog began with a very overgrown section of path next to the dyke. You had to walk in the “I Surrender” position for some distance and the trousers certainly got a soaking – no one was in shorts today. I asked the group to halt just beyond the sunken lane east of Ty’n-y-mynydd farm for here, on the Clwyd-Shropshire border, Tosh had achieved her 700th mile. Curiously the Lees had actually walked this stretch of the path many years earlier – so it was quite appropriate that this milestone should be reached here. Tosh wanted to have lunch but, with one eye on the early train from Chirk station, I suggested we wait.
We had to cross a steep-sided stream valley next. Toby, rushing ahead in pursuit of some scent (perhaps something that reminded him of a green can of Mr. Dog) hurled himself over the edge of the bushy bank but re-emerged unscathed when I whistled him up a minute later. Steps had been cut in the flanks of the valley walls since the Lees had been here last; this made the crossing much easier.
Dorothy had another painful slip on the steep descent into the final valley bottom. While she was recovering Harold and I spent some time admiring the lovely bark on the pines, mauve and olive – “decorator bark,” Harold called it. Near a white cottage built on the dyke Tosh let out a yelp – she had just grabbed an electric fence wire. This seemed to be her worst injury for she remained the only member of the group never to fall on this trip. And Tosh had been the walker least likely to start on Saturday morning.
Several dogs came out to investigate us as we reached Chirk Castle Mill, with owners begging them to desist – from the street and from upper-story windows. As we left the last of Shropshire and crossed into Clwyd proper we were entering the last of the Offa’s Dyke counties. There was a choice of routes here and I suggested we take the Castle alternative, open as a permissive path only in the summer months, because it was shorter and involved less altitude gain. The iron door at the lower gateway needed some effort to push open but we were soon on a steeply rising woodland path.
I dropped my map on the wrong side of the stile that brought us out of the woods and had to re-climb this in order to retrieve it. A series of white posts showed the way forward up the hill. Then we were in woods briefly, coming out on the road that joined the Castle itself with Farm Cottage. We now headed uphill toward the castle lodge on a track next to a fence. It was easy walking, though Toby had to be on lead because there were sheep about. There were impressive views of the Castle behind us now.
At the lodge we reached tarmac; it was only two miles to Chirk station from here, all on road, and, after an initial crest, all downhill or level. It was 12:20 and I knew we could make our train. Everyone seemed pleased with this outcome and we marched off purposefully down the road, passing Tyn-y-groes farm and arriving at our crossroads. Here the path went north but we had to head southeast in order to reach our station.
Toby was on lead for good now, and we did have to reign him in on occasion because there was a good deal of traffic on the narrow lane. We could soon see the woods that flanked the Shropshire Union Canal. We drew parallel after a mile or so with the magnificent gates to Chirk Castle, made in 1718-1721. Here we turned due east, crossed over the canal and the rail line and arrived at Chirk station. It was 1:10. With today’s seven miles added to yesterday’s total Dorothy had walked ten miles on a sprained ankle!
There was quite a group waiting to go to Chester across the track but we had the waiting area on our side all to ourselves. This made it easier to sneak behind the building for a pee. There was a strong odor of hot chocolate coming from a nearby factory. We ate the sandwiches Mrs. Jones had made for us; Toby, who had been feasting on crisps, got most of yesterday’s leftover ham sandwich. Our train arrived at 1:27 and thirty minutes later we were in Shrewsbury.
It was cold on the platform here and our London train was late. At least it was empty when it arrived so there was plenty of seating. Believe or not Tosh and Dorothy still had more school gossip to exchange after three days of non-stop yakking. We were back in London shortly after 5:00, disdaining Turkish takeout this evening in favor of Chinese. Toby had none of this, but the junk we had foolishly plied him with already on this day found two unhappy methods of resurfacing during the night.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: