June 30, 1989: Bodfari to Prestatyn
Two mocking birds were feeding their young on the lawn of the Station House as we arose on the morning of Friday, June 30 – our last day on Offa’s Dyke Path. Because of the extra length of this day’s march, thirteen miles, because of its difficulty, and because I wanted to make a 4:54 train at Prestatyn, we had agreed to have breakfast at 8:00. The Lees, overstuffed by three days of full English breakfasts, were down to poached eggs on toast. I persevered with the whole lot. Mrs. Hastings also provided us with packed lunches and Major Hastings with the gloomy prophecy, “You’re going to get wet today.”
We got as far as the petrol station on the main road (also known as the “General Store”) so Tosh and Harold could shop while I wandered around among the potted plants on the forecourt. I also stood in the bus shelter for a while because it was already misting and I was not yet in rain gear. Tosh didn’t like the selection of newspapers on sale here so she tried the other store, the one with nothing on the shelves, and came up with a better representation from the quality press. At last, at 8:55, we were able to make our way up to the Downing Arms to begin our last adventure on this famous footpath.
We left Bodfari on a very steep lane that passed the gardens of several houses perched on the hillside. After a turnoff we were beckoned over our first stile to begin an assault on the flanks of Moel y Gaer. Harold and I carefully cut switchbacks in the grass as we inched ever higher; in fact once again we were not expected to climb to the top of the once fortified hill because after a while things leveled off and we were able to contour the peak at the 500 foot level on a nice tree-lined path. Farm drives were followed and then we climbed up a field, using the stile at the top as our target. This put us among houses again and on paved lanes for some distance. We were heading almost due north, toward the sea.
The weather was still behaving itself though our views of the Vale of Clwyd, behind us and to our left, were not reassuring – Harold could actually see the rain clouds heading toward us. As we neared Sodom I told Tosh not to look back. A farmwoman driving another trail bike zoomed around the corner behind us. She decided that one of her sheep dogs was not to be trusted with such disreputable looking strangers as ourselves and stopped to load him aboard the bathtub that she was carrying on a trailing cart. With the woods of Sodom Covert on our right we marched easily forward, eventually leaving the road for field paths over the top of Cefn Du.
There was some indecision about how to descend from this hill. There was no path and the instruction to angle “well away” from our last fence was not as useful as a bearing might have been. Nevertheless we persevered and as we descended we could see likely looking stiles. Stepping gingerly over the dried sheep turds we reached a paved lane at the bottom of the hill and used this road to climb the next.
Near the top we turned west along a track. This gave us access to a series of pathless gorse dotted fields on the flanks of Meol Maenefa, where we were often tentative in our angle of descent. Eventually, however, we found the enclosed bridleway we were looking for and used it to drop down to another road at a house called Benarth. Here the rain finally caught us and we paused to put on all of our gear before starting down the road.
A turnoff just before St. Bueno’s College put us onto field paths aimed at the ruins of Maen Efa. A complex section on permissive paths lead us over stiles, across fields, over footbridges, up slopes and finally down to a Roman road that debouched on the busy A55 at Rhuallt. It was raining very steadily at this moment.
Tosh, attracted by the prospect of shelter provided by the Smithy Arms, had darted across the traffic and was standing disconsolately on the dry porch of the pink pub. It was 11:15 and the pub was not yet open. We all stood around on the porch while Tosh tried to get someone inside to tell her when the place would open. When it was ascertained that the establishment would open at 11:30 we decided to wait. Tosh used some of the time to get postcards at a shop nearby. The publican, taking pity on us, opened his doors just a few minutes early.
The Lees, noticing an ad for Jack Daniels on the counter, engaged the barman in a conversation on the popularity of this brand in North Wales; they had just visited the distillery itself in Tennessee. I drank a welcome pint of Australian lager. We did not dawdle, and by noon we were ready to pull on all our wet gear again. It was still pelting down when we emerged from the pub and headed west on the Cwm/Dyserth Road.
I had to call Tosh and Harold back to our turnoff a few minutes later. They had walked right past a post hidden by foliage. It invited us to begin a steep scramble up a woodland path. When things began to level off a bit we descended to a farmstead (Tosh’s 800th mile) and searched about for our continuation. A sign indicated a dead end in a gorse bush; another, seemingly unconnected, invited us to move forward on a farm track. We chose the latter and, with the Coed Cwm plantation on our left, headed in a northeasterly direction, rising only gradually now, and coming out on a motor road.
Here we turned northwest, the forest still on our left, and walked on a fairly level stretch for half a mile. Tosh again walked past our turn off but this time I was able to get my whistle out. When she returned she took against the official route down to Marian Cwm village. It kept to the edge of a field of wet wheat and she was opposed to getting drenched in this fashion – especially since the rain had let up. I could see another way down to the village on tarmac so we abandoned the official route for five minutes. We were rewarded with some wonderful views of the beckoning coastline on this diversion.
Marian Cwm was little more than a hamlet and, in spite of its supposedly having two chapels, there seemed to be no shelter on offer. We rejoined the official route and headed north, getting through one field and deciding to have lunch in a sheltered gully full of junk. Harold had to help me hoist my rain cape so I could get at my sandwiches in the side of my pack. The open pocket also contained a bottle of bitter lemon I had been lugging since London. I decided this would be the best time to open it so, adroitly, I reached behind myself with one hand, snagged the top of the bottle, lifted it from its pouch and flipped it forward onto a concrete slab! It didn’t break and its taste was surely welcome.
There was still a chill breeze blowing so we didn’t remain a long time at lunch. I stowed my rain cape for the time being and we climbed up onto rocky Marian Ffrith hill, relying on posts to show us the route. (The waymarking had been excellent on this trip.) At the bottom of the hill there was a farm and opposite it another stile. A number of the stiles were rather rickety hereabouts and there had been a great number today, which added to our considerable fatigue.
We continued on through fields, along roads, and over fences. Eventually we entered a somewhat overgrown lane; it was surprising to find stretches of the path, so near one of the walk’s starting points, that looked as if they hadn’t seen another walker in years. This lane had one obstructed gate. Tosh climbed over it but I didn’t trust it. Harold and I tried to budge it at either side, eventually making ourselves a giant kissing gate in order to get through the left side. At the foot of the lane were some water buildings, the remains of a mill, a swift flowing stream, and a fish hatchery.
We used a motor road to climb the next hill, finding a turn off on a very muddy track up to the A5151. There seemed to be a brief diversion, because of construction at Tynewydd farm, but we continued across the next field toward the next stile, encountering piles of last year’s potatoes dotting the muddy surface. I could see down into the next valley, where a tractor was addressing itself to the field opposite. I was beginning to worry about contesting the footpath with this monster but at the next road the route turned to the west for a while.
The escape was up a wooded path. I slipped on a wet stone here, came down on my left knee, and lay in a heap until Tosh arrived to help me get up. I wasn’t hurt. When we reached the end of the wooded section, however, a new obstacle presented itself. This year’s potato crop had been planted right across the path. I knew we were to go forward, not only because of the guidebook direction to follow a line of electricity poles but also because I could see an acorn affixed to a distant pole. The farmer’s daughter in our party, however, refused to tread on the crop. I insisted that there was room to get through by following a furrow in the foliage worn by others before us. I set out without looking back and the others followed me. We came out, after several less problematic fields, next to the red brick Clarence House. Here we sat on the verge next to a motor road and had a pull at the gin bottle.
For the third time on this day the heavens opened up on us and we had to go under plastic one more time before setting off down the road. My feet were quite wet, not so much from the rain itself but from all the wet grass we had waded through. A man in a donkey jacket was out walking his dog as we turned off in a small collection of houses and took the access road to a house called Red Roofs. A footpath sign put us at the beginning of a ramble up and down Prestatyn Cliffs; I’m glad I had the guide notes to tell me to take the right hand junction just beyond the house.
We circled a quarry and then began a very steep climb up to the tops of the cliffs – the ups and downs of these paths were surprisingly overgrown. To our left we were getting not only views of the sea but of Prestatyn itself, our long-sought goal. Tosh kept disappearing ahead of us and eventually we found out why. She had been eying baby hawthorns again. Last year, just before the Salt Bridge, she had dug up three hawthorn seedlings and transplanted them to her garden. They died, but she was certain she could do better this time. So there she was tugging away at some poor plant when we at last overtook her. “Don’t make us late for our train,” I urged, but the lady was already wrapping up her prize.
Some men with dogs were hunting for something in a field; it was not an edifying sight and we passed them by quickly. We had a brief rest at a wonderful vantage point overlooking the town but I didn’t want to relax too much because there was still a chance of making the 4:54. Tosh didn’t mind waiting another hour and a quarter for the 6:05 – but then she had her family with her.
We began a steep descent next to a wire fence. Each of us took advantage of the last sylvan privacy for a final Offa’s Dyke pee. At the bottom of our hill we reached the suburban southern end of Prestatyn and soon located Fford-Las Street. It would change its name twice but this street would lead us directly to our goal at the edge of the sea.
It was just past 4:00 and I reminded my troops that we had a good chance of making our train. We continued forward along pavements, arriving at a busy corner at the head of the High Street. The rain had stopped so I pulled off my cape. I then lead a corking charge through the shoppers, the toddlers, the pensioners, and the schoolgirls as we marched toward the sea. Prestatyn seemed far more prosperous and modern than I had imagined it – not just a third rate seaside dive.
We had to pass our ultimate goal, the railway station, in order to complete another ten-minute walk along Bastion Street to the sea. The Lees were now about a block behind me but they were still soldiering on. A mist came up again, perhaps a sea mist! As I crossed the last road I could see an Offa’s Dyke boulder and plinth. I readied my camera so that I could pose the Lees and Harold could snap me. A walk that Tosh had begun in March, 1984 and that Harold and I had started at Sedbury Cliffs on May 3, 1985 was over. We had walked Offa’s Dyke Path. For the Lees it was the second completed route each, the first completed Countryside Commission path for both. For me it was my fifth Countryside Commission path walked, nine paths completed in all.
It was just going 4:30 so I knew we would make our train. We started back in mist, but I disdained putting on the rain cape one last time. At 4:45 we climbed up the railway overpass and descended to the platform ticket booth. We had to buy singles to Chester; our returns would be good after that. Several interesting things happened while we waited for our little train to Crewe. I stripped off my rain pants, my t-shirt, and my sweatshirt and fished a dry t-shirt and sweater out of my pack. I would have liked to do something about my shoes but I knew there was no time. Tosh also put on a new top, standing there on the platform in her bra to do so. “I bet you didn’t think I’d do this,” she challenged me. “Well, the ladies room is only fifteen yards down the platform,” I replied. Harold dropped his bottle of tonic water. This caused the top to flip off, spraying the bench with foam. I picked up the missile, had a last swig, and threw it away. No more gin and tonics for us.
When the train came it was crowded with mums and toddlers and school children doing their homework while yakking and munching Mars bars. The tracks got very close to the sea on the stretch to Chester; it was quite exciting. We were supposed to get the 6:05 for Euston at Crewe but it was late. Not to worry – so was the 5:45 to Euston and it came in just when our original train was supposed to leave. So we would arrive on time, albeit on the wrong train. The whole service seemed to be in crisis – with a strike every Wednesday and even more serious industrial action in the offing. We were lucky not to have been more inconvenienced.
I find return journeys quite boring, but at least I was able to change my shoes on this stretch. The Lees plodded through the papers, with Tosh leading the deplorathon. An Indian hockey player, three other adjacent passengers, and I all listened to our walkmans. Mine was the one that didn’t leak backbeat. We arrived in London at 8:11. The weather here was still sunny. I had a good look at Tosh’s seedling while we said goodbye, after a most successful outing. I hope it grows, I thought, but I knew one thing: it wasn’t a hawthorn.
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