Sunday, 30 October 2011

John O'Groats to Land's End: Offa's Dyke Path

Chirk Castle
I wanted to join Offa's Dyke Path as far north as possible in order to be able to see the 2 National Trust castles along the trail: Chirk and Powis. But unfortunately between me and Chirk Castle was the totally unmaintained Maelor Way - and Chirk Castle closed at 5 pm! I decided to roadwalk to get there in time for some sightseeing. I arrived at 4 pm only to learn that I had to walk half a mile around the whole place just in order to get my free National Trust member ticket. By 4.15 pm I was completely pissed off with the whole castle idea, but at least in the possession of a ticket. But 45 minutes proved to be enough for the castle - although impressive from the outside there was not that much to see inside.

Once on Offa's Dyke Path I realised that I had run into a positive problem: Good weather! I could not believe it, but now - already towards the end of my hike when I had completely given up hope that the weather would ever improve - an incredibly warm Indian summer had begun. On October 1st temperatures nearly reached 30 degrees Celsius - after I had had frost on my tent in Scotland on August 25th! Day after day after day sunshine! I started hiking in shorts and a T-shirt and nearly got a sunburn. Now you wonder why all that is a problem. Well, I wanted to as much advantage of the good weather as possible and lose not a single day of sunshine for a rest day. I even skipped Powis Castle in order to hike on and on and on - and ended up hiking 2 weeks without a rest day. After all that bad weather I had not expected that the weather would stay that nice for so long. But I did not only need a rest, I most definitely needed a shower and laundry. I started to smell really bad even for thruhiker standards. I washed up in a lot of rivers and hand washed one piece of clothing at a time so I could dry it a the back of backpack while hiking. On my second last day on Offa's Dyke I got to Monmoth were I discovered a camp ground with a coin-operated shower. I could not believe my luck but had to realise then that I did not have a 20 pence coin needed to operate the shower. I went off to get change. The first person I asked did not have enough small change but gave me 20 pence. "Don't worry," she said. "I just want you to have a shower." I guess I must have smelled really bad....

Offa's Dyke offered a lot of hiker amenities: Lots of the churches were open to hikers and offered tea making facilities and sometimes even free biscuits or juices. Free food was available in the form of huge apple orchards, the occasional plum tree and loads of blackberries. And to my great relief the waymarking was excellent. Still hiking was not easy: The trail follows a dyke built in the 8th century by the Welsh king Offa in order to defend his kingdom against the English. The steeper the terrain the better for defence purposes - and therefore 12 centuries later I was climbing up and down every single steep hill that was around. I felt like back on the Heysen Trail in South Australia! The actual dyke is sometimes very well preserved - and has sometimes completely been ploughed over by farmers. Although it often looks more like a mole hill than a defence dyke I still had to admire the technical achievement of building this 285 km long wall with just manual labour in the 8th century.  Very little of Offa's Dyke Path is on exposed ridges, except the stretch along Hatterall Ridge at an altitude of over 500 m. But here you are rewarded with great views and the sight of wild ponies. Needless to say that when I hiked Hatterall Ridge I had glorious sunshine, but gale force wind....

Hatterall Ridge
I really liked Offa's Dyke Path a lot: Good waymarking, enough patches of forest for good camping, scenic and convenient trail towns and most importantly really nice hiking. The hiking is strenouos due the steep terrain but you see a lot of varied terrain. In addition to the usual sheep and cows (which here are very tame and used to hikers) you will even see wild ponies! I can definitely recommend Offa's Dyke Path and I prefer it to the Pennine Way because you are less exposed to the wind and the weather.  And if you are forced to have a rest day due to bad weather then there is plenty to see in the trail towns.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good to hear the nice up and downs compare to the Heysen Trail.