Offa’s Dyke Path – Day 16

June 27, 1989: Llangollen to Llandegla

Llangollen from Castell Dinas Bran

Llangollen from Castell Dinas Bran

The skies were still grey and full of rain when we got up on Tuesday, June 27. I slipped next door to have an early morning pee – just as the bathroom was being vacated by a naked four year-old little girl. “Good morning,” I said, “how are you today?” However I got only a quizzical scrutiny in return before being abandoned.

When I had booked this accommodation Mrs. Lewis had asked if I minded having breakfast at 8:00. “You see” she said, “I’m a supply teacher and I never know when I’ll have to leave early.” I had assured her that both Tosh and I knew what was involved in that game. There was another couple, doing the walk from north to south in huge gulps, seated at a second table in the dining room. We chatted briefly about the route ahead.

The problem with such an early start is that we had only eight and half miles to go today. The Lees had insisted, wisely no doubt, that a four-day trip be re-divided into a five-day one. But the consequence was that we often had to slow things down, and today we decided to do so down by strolling back into town to visit Plas Newydd. We paid Mrs. Lewis (Harold, who owed me for train tickets, did all of this) and she prepared to leave while someone came in to do the washing up. I asked if there was a place we could leave our packs while we were in Llangollen. “You can leave them in the garage,” she replied, “they’ll be completely safe.”

After we had packed and taken our things out to the garage we headed back into town around 9:30. There were still some rain and I walked in full rain gear, having switched to my old boots. There was a colorful procession of long boats lined up along the canal this morning. In a taxidermist’s shop the highlight was a pair of stuffed rooks, each beak running with the congealed yellow of a stolen egg. They were putting up flags for the international participants at the Eistedfodd, only a few days away. On the middle of the Dee Bridge an Israeli flag was flapping: “And they say they’re not an expansionist state,” Harold quipped.

We ambled slowly through the town, making our way to the home of the Ladies of Llangollen, the two Irish ladies (“the world’s most famous virgins”) who had taken up residence here in the first half of the 18th Century, entertaining royalty and literati. The house only opened at 10:00 so we had a few wet minutes in the gardens before being admitted. The place was quite interesting, particularly the carvings, and we made a slow progress through the rooms, gradually getting squeezed out by touring American school teachers.

After Plas Newydd we returned to the High Street and had coffee and pastry in a crowded coffee bar that also featured a huge cavern of a used book shop – like one of those in Hay. Everybody used the loos and then Tosh went in search of gin. She disdained my suggestion that she try the supermarket across the street and tramped several blocks to a closed liquor store before returning to the Lo Cost and making her purchase. (I kept thinking that Locust was a strange name for a food store.) Some boys from the local comprehensive were selling guides and we bought a wet one. Then it was time to return to Dinbren House and get ready to do battle with Castell Dinas Bran again.

There was still a hint of moisture in the air and we kitted up in full rain gear, but as we headed back up the hill at 11:45 the last of the moisture left us and thereafter the skies became bluer and the sun began to put in an occasional appearance. There was a very strong wind and with my cape on I had to fight against considerable drag as Harold and I cut our switchbacks in the grass and bracken and Tosh marched steadfastly upward.

The Lees on Castell Dinas Bran

The Lees on Castell Dinas Bran

The views from the summit of Castell Dinas Bran were wonderful. I paused to take a picture, slipping my glasses to my forehead. The next thing I knew the wind had whipped them off and they had fallen a short distance down the cliff – where Harold retrieved them for me. The same thing happened a minute latter to Tosh’s clip-on sunglasses. These went airborne – and we never succeeded in finding them. It was time to get out of the breeze by retracing our steps down to the Precipice Walk. Tosh was the first to complete the descent, naturally, and we found her eating a piece of cake with coffee frosting at the bottom. Here I took off my rain cape: I did not have to use it the rest of the day.

And what a wonderful day it was. I can’t remember a walk more beautiful and exciting, with such a varied landscape and so few strenuous stretches to interfere with our enjoyment.

We continued along the motor road for a mile and half, dipping up and down and passing several farms. There were lovely views of the valley below us and the everchanging sky, now with only an occasional threatening patch, above. There was practically no motor traffic at all. Dominating the scene were the wonderful limestone formations of the Eglwyseg mountains. But before we could reach them the Lees, who were always nibbling, announced a lunch break. It was still quite windy so it took us some time to decide on which part of the road offered the best shelter. The choice here was up against the whitewashed wall of Bryn Cottage. I ate a British Rail sandwich I had purchased at Shrewsbury the day before and I took advantage of the stop to fish my blue sweatshirt out of my pack.

Shortly after the cottage a modest cement plinth indicated a track that at last allowed some escape from the road. We crossed a sleeper bridge and passed above Bryn Goleu farm and began a most exciting path above the tree line, winding in and out of patches of scree for several miles.

The scree path on the Eglwyseg escarpment

The scree path on the Eglwyseg escarpment

This famous scree path was only one of several sections encountered today that appeared, from the guidebooks, to be troublesome. Walking in scree is never fun but there also seemed to be some route finding mysteries needing solution on this stretch – according to the guides. Instead, I discovered, the walkers of yesteryear had worn a well-trodden path in most places and route finding was not at all difficult. Indeed the present path was not on scree chips at all; it was not difficult to walk on and the only problems came with an exposed passage across bare brown earth – where erosion had done away with any path. On this stretch I did manage to slip down the hillside several feet but fortunately I was still wearing my rain pants.

St. Mary’s Missionary Church came and went on our left as we headed north. A yellow-bottomed wagtail bobbed up and down in one of the several gullies we crossed. At one spot the carcasses of three or four dead sheep were perched mysteriously on a shelf just above the trail. Eventually the path began a descent closer to the tops of the trees and we found ourselves climbing over a stile into a forest. Tosh stayed behind for a comfort stop while Harold and I went forward a little bit into the darkness. Then the Lees had another snack and I accepted a swig of gin from Tosh. It did not seem to me that it took the promised ten minutes to emerge from the forest path onto the road at World’s End. Here a mother in a pink sweatsuit was waiting for her kids to finish splashing about in the water, some of which was shooting over the road.

We now had an ascent along the road, climbing to high moorland in the cool breeze of a late June day. I was reminded of the ascent of Gospel Pass on day five. The heather was just about ready to bloom; what a magnificent place this must be in August. We pressed forward, anxious not to miss the turn off over Llandegla moor. The mother came by in an estate wagon plastered with peace signs. She was smoking so I said we couldn’t give her 100%. Her kids waved at us. We reached our junction and turned off on a bearing of 295 degrees.

Llandegla Moor, like the scree path, used to have a reputation for difficulty; indeed C.J. Wright refers to it as “two miles of misery.” But with a well-trodden route, not too juicy today, one marked out with white posts, this turned out to be an easy climb on a gradual gradient. The clearing skies presided over a wonderful heathery scene and the section proved to be quite delightful. At the top, we sat down for a rest next to the forestry fence, and the Lees had another snack.

The forest was also supposed to present a difficult obstacle. As we entered it I warned the others to be on the lookout for signs. A bee pursued me while the Lees were adding sweaters. We crossed the ridgeline and approached the first of several forestry roads. Ahead I could see another set of walkers looking with some puzzlement at their ordnance survey map. They were a young couple, she a scruffy blonde, he a red-headed hippie with an earring, who were doing the walk north to the south. They had no guidebook and were relying on the map alone. I assured them they were not lost. They wanted to know how long it had taken us to get from Llangollen. After they started up I realized that I could have given them the ODA pages I no longer needed – but these would have been difficult to follow north to south. They seemed to be a bit over their heads – even though they had gotten this far – because they warned me that the forest section was poorly marked. On the contrary, the Lees and I found our descent very easy going – and quite well marked. One final interesting aspect of this encounter: these two turned out to be the only other ODP walkers encountered on the trail itself in five days of walking!

Down we bounced through the pines. Occasionally our efforts were assisted by boardwalks. We could begin to see the line of summits that would mark our route in the next two days –though our village, Llandegla, was hidden until the very end. We came out of the plantation in the backyard of the hiker’s hostel, Hafod Bilston, and turned right on a road. Then we followed farm tracks and field edges in the warm afternoon sun. Two scarecrows were on duty in the wheat filed on our left.

We went forward under some buzzing electricity pylons and climbed some steps onto the A525. There was then a desperate passage on an overgrown section behind some new houses before we found ourselves heading down the main street of Llandegla. Just past the police station we encountered Benarty, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Newell. There were some teenagers sitting in a car in the driveway. “Now don’t laugh at us old folks,” Tosh said.  It was 5:45.

Mrs. Newell answered our ring and went to get us some tea. Then she started to sort out the sleeping arrangements which were complicated by a second booking, a man and his son, and by the fact that she had forgotten that Tosh and Harold were a married couple. In the event the others went upstairs and I was shown to a room with two twins and a washstand inside Tosh and Harold’s bedroom. This wasn’t very satisfactory but it would have to do. They didn’t want to swap rooms with me – even though this left them in a double.

While we were having our tea and biscuits the other pair came in. Colin was in his late teens or early twenties and suffering from some sort of mental debility. His father, a prosperous Herefordshire dairy farmer, was walking with him from south to north. Colin had a look of stern concentration on his face. Part of his affliction was the disconcerting habit of repeating the second half of every one of his father’s sentences. “We are going on to Bodfari tomorrow,” the farmer said while Colin was adding “Bodfari tomorrow.” (By contrast, we were planning to reach Bodfari the day after tomorrow.)

The Lees went to take a bath (one usually left the water for the next) but when they were finished they reported that the teenage son had snuck in for a shower and there was no more hot water – so I decided to wait until after dinner. The farmer asked, “Would you like to walk with us over to the Crown for dinner? “Crown for dinner,” Colin added. Mrs. Newell actually called this establishment to let them know we were coming and we headed off for a five-minute walk into Pen-y-stryt where the popular pub was serving from a detailed menu. After we had ordered I went to use a pay phone to call Dorothy. The pub dog’s water bowl and pull toy were lying at my feet.

I had chicken curry and chips; unfortunately they turned the microwave off too quickly with the curry, which was tepid. Garnishing it with banana slices was also somewhat unique, I must admit. It was certainly spicy enough. I cooled down with ice cream for afters. The farmer proved to be a most unusual chap: a Cambridge graduate and Quaker, who had become interested in agriculture while doing his national service (as a conscientious objector) on a Welsh sheep farm. Now the possessor of 600 acres, his milk went mostly into Cadbury chocolate (Tosh’s Mars bars). He had banned the local hunt from his fields because it spooked his heifers. He was full of enlightened and progressive ideas and it was a real treat to have him as a dinner companion.

There was a lovely sunset that highlighted tomorrow’s ridge; indeed it did not become truly dark until after 11:00. But it was chilly again and we hurried back to the Newell’s after finally dragging Tosh away from the Hogarth prints on the walls of the Crown. They had some of them up in the wrong order.

I went upstairs to have a bath in the deep turquoise suite (downstairs the lav was in pumpkin). Mr. Newell was full of chatter about his work as a British Telecom engineer. Four members of the family worked for BT, including Mrs. Newell, who was taking a day off in order to manage all the breakfasts we would be needing.

I got through another movement by Mahler before nodding off after a most successful day.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 17: Llandegla to Llanbedr-Dyffryn-Clwyd