Offa’s Dyke Path – Day 7

May 24, 1987: Gladestry to Beggar’s Bush

Ascending the Hergest Ridge

Ascending the Hergest Ridge

It was grey the next day (Sunday, May 24, 1987) but not actually raining. We had agreed to have breakfast at 8:00 but it was hardly necessary for us to have a very early start: no use in arriving in Kington before the pubs opened. We had the traditional English breakfast (which they must serve in Wales too, for we were doing most of our walking in Powys on this trip). I had Weetabix for my starter. Tosh congratulated Mrs. Pattison on the no music policy; many such compliments are received evidently.

After breakfast I returned to my packing. All but the cuffs of my blue cords had dried well in the laundry room and our boots seemed to be in excellent shape. Harold did the settling up while I lugged my gear downstairs. It was about 9:10 when we left for day two of our expedition.

After a little bit of road walking we climbed a track steeply up onto the flanks of the misty Hergest Ridge. Everyone, including Toby, seemed to be in quite good shape and we made excellent progress. (This dog did not even need a special early morning walk before departure, as Bertie had.) We now had to keep him on lead for most of the ridge walk because of sheep and poor visibility. This is a famous high level crossing but we missed most of the views. Nevertheless we had a most enjoyable four and a half miles, most of it on grassy green tracks that were particularly kind to the feet. We met quite a few walkers coming in the opposite direction. Those we talked to were glad it wasn’t raining any more.

Shortly after crossing back into Herefordshire we missed a small turnoff that would have lead us directly across the top, following instead the well-trodden track of an old race course around the left flank. Again I think that chat had broken concentration; in this case it was the plight of young Tim Lee, home from school, out-of-work, suffering from knee injuries,that occupied our concentration.

We began our descent to Kington, leaving the open moorland for a graveled track. Toby was allowed to roam free along this. On our right were the grounds of Hergest Croft Gardens; we had a peek over a fence at a marvelous display of blooming rhododendrons and other spring plants. Cars began to ply the lower end of our track and the dog had to come on lead for our entry into Kington. The route took us right through the grounds of another St. Mary’s church (the third, counting Gladestry). It was Sunday and we could hear the chorus of worshippers within. At the entrance to the churchyard I took off my rain pants; they were never required again on this trip.

We descended Church Street and soon reached the Market Hall and the Burton Hotel. Before returning here the girls went into a shop and bought the Sunday papers and some snacks. It was 11:20. We had some coffee in the hotel dining room, Toby attached to my chair, and then some drinks with John Richardson, our host from the night before last. Then we ordered lunch; several of us had ploughmans that included so much cheese that Toby was still eating the leftovers many miles later. I drank John Smith bitter, Dorothy white wine – what a civilized break! On a map in the front pub I showed Tosh our route while Harold gossiped with one of the locals. Everyone had the chance to use the loos and at 1:00 we had to pull ourselves away. I had briefly seen my shadow just before our arrival in Kington but it was still mostly grey outside.

I tried to phone BR at Shrewsbury for some train updates but the machine ate all my money while BR had me on hold. After giving up on this attempt we passed through the market square, past the old National School, and down a back street to Back Brook. Dorothy handed a flower to a little girl on a tricycle; the latter stared at us as though she had just been greeted by aliens from outer space.

Our party crosses Kington’s Back Brook

Our party crosses Kington’s Back Brook

We crossed the A44 Bypass and began a very steep ascent of Bradnor Hill. There were nice views behind us, and time to take them in as we gasped for breath. Toby, on lead, gave a warning bark to nearby sheep and started a minor stampede. We passed through the hamlet of Bradnor Green and continued up through the golf course, reputedly the highest in England. Toby was freed here; an old Springer came over to greet him. Golfers were actually busy but we didn’t encounter any en route. Near the top of the course things began to level off a bit as we contoured through some fields and passed to the left of some woods. It was useful to have everyone keep an eye on the horizon now – because this helped us identify the next stile or finger post and kept us on a true line. Much of the route was over open grassland with little evidence of a path.

We made a brief descent on a northwesterly line and crossed above the top of a woodland. Then we had to climb again in a northeasterly direction toward a horizon dominated by our first view, on this trip, of the dyke itself. When we reached it there was some ambiguity about which side to walk on; it seemed that we were actually supposed to walk on the top of the earthwork itself, though it was often more comfortable walking in the ditch to the north. I worry a bit about this habit, encountered many times over the next two days, of situating the path on the top of the dyke; how long will it be before the walkers have rubbed out an ancient monument with their boots?

We were heading due west on Rushock Hill now. Though hazy, the views forward were magnificent; Harold said they reminded him of the Lake District. We left the dyke for a descent among gorse along a track to the col between Rushock Hill and Herrock Hill – where we cut a corner and began a steep descent to the north. There were excellent views of the Hindwell Valley here, and a lush hanging wood behind us. Half way down we paused for a rest and some emergency taping. Below us a farmer and his sheepdog patrolled a country lane. We descended to this track ourselves; there was a small plantation of saplings here, each encased in a protective white plastic tube.

After passing through the edges of Croft plantation we came out into the open of the flat valley, dominated by a large farm at Lower Harpton. We crossed one of its fields and emerged on a road, crossed a bridge back into Powys, and followed the road to a second bridge, Ditch Hill. Here we turned left on the Evenjobb road for a while, forsaking tarmac at last for forestry roads through dark, humid woods.

We escaped the gloom for Old Burfa farmhouse, a restored 15th Century half-timbered structure then used for holiday lettings, later the home of the Kays, of Offa’s Dyke Association fame.  It looked quite wonderful.

After crossing a lane we began a long section of dyke walking, heading northwest along the top in a gradual ascent. Footing was a bit tricky, with all the roots and dips of a very uneven surface and nettles lay in wait for the unwary hand. Shortly before the end of this stretch we had a nice rest on some tree stumps, with water for Toby and snacks for the rest of us.

Another lane was crossed and we entered another section of forest via a long flight of wooden steps. These so delighted the dog he did them twice. When we emerged from the dark of Granner Wood we were greeted by a curious roan horse. He was a giant and Dorothy started to express her anxiety by wailing a bit and grabbing my knapsack. He passed us by and headed for Tosh and Harold, expecting a snack. Toby, on lead, was growing crazy at the intrusion, which reached its climax when the horse chomped into a sweater tucked into the top of Tosh’s pack. Harold was unable to help because he didn’t want to get Toby too close to the flashing hooves, Dorothy was still moaning some distance behind and I was occupied in photographing the scene and giggling. Tosh managed to extricate herself but not before a second horse, a giant chestnut charged up to have a look as well. Eventually we got ahead of the horses – who followed us for some distance. We escaped them by climbing a steep path to a fence. Here we followed the dyke into the Hilltop Plantation on Newcastle Hill.

The Lees and Toby amid the bluebells of Hilltop Plantation

The Lees and Toby amid the bluebells of Hilltop Plantation

Bluebells had made a marvelous carpet in this wood. Tosh picked a magenta flower, often seen in company of the bluebells, and later identified as campion. We emerged from the wood and began to descend toward a paved lane. A large herd of Charolais cattle began to edge closer to us but one bark from the dog sent them scurrying away in shock. The cow-phobic dog’s mistress commended him for this deed.

The lane, near Pen Offa cottage, lead down hill to Beggar’s Bush, and so we took it, forsaking the path, and heading for our evening’s accommodation. The sun was trying to break through the clouds at last. It was only half a mile or so to the bottom of the lane. At a country crossroads there were several houses and the first we encountered was ours, Beggar’s Bush Farm. Our landlady, Mrs. Heggs, spotted us from her window and beckoned us to the side entrance, where we were made most welcome.  It was 5:10; we had walked twelve miles.

We took off our boots – completely dry – and were given a cup of tea in the dining room. A fire had been started in the adjacent sitting room but this was very smoky initially. We were taken upstairs to our rooms. Tosh and Harold occupied a room supposedly used by Charles II. Everyone had a nice bath, two of us before supper and two after. In our room we shared out the remaining gin.

Toby had his tea and then was allowed to accompany us back downstairs. He had the complete run of the house – to his delight. Mrs. Heggs, 70, had been in occupancy for sixteen years here, but this was the first time she had been without a dog of her own. She was charmed by Toby’s following her about. Outside her giant tabby kept his distance in the garden. We were served lamb and potatoes and vegetables, much produce having come from Mrs. Hegg’s own garden. For dessert there was gooseberry pie and three helpings of custard.

We sat around the fire relaxing after dinner; this was when Harold and I had our baths – Toby never required one on this trip. Just before dark I took him out for his last run. It was quite strange to walk along the empty farm roads in the near dark but a giant lorry with bright headlamps ruined the mood. We had decided on an early start the next day, hoping to catch the 12:54 train, so with this thought in mind we had an early night. In our tiny double bed there was no room for a Schnauzer between us and after several tries Toby gave up and went to the foot of the bed.

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

Day 8: Beggar’s Bush to Knighton