Wednesday, 26 October 2011

John O'Groats to Land's End: From Pennine Way to Offa's Dyke

I was really desperate to leave the Pennine Way: I was just fed up with the seemingly endless bog and the constant gale-force wind. I left it earlier than planned in an area where I unfortunately did not have any maps for... oops. Still by using my GPS map, asking day hikers and doing half a day of road walking I was able to connect back to my planned route. And what a relief it was to be off those exposed ridges! All of a sudden I was in low-lying, pretty agricultural country - apple and plum trees everywhere, no more wind and even sunshine! And the very best of all: I was back into trees. Of course there were no extended forests, but little patches of it and lots of trees lining the fields. Camping became easy again.

On my very first day off the Pennine I had a very funny experience: I had found a nice little forest patch on my map that even existed in reality when I got there. Nice pine forest, but very densely grown. And as always in the UK with a fence around it... But I managed to find a gate, fight my way through the trees and find a great camping spot on pine duff completely sheltered from the wind. Life was good again and I was enjoying an early dinner when all of a sudden I heard a voice. I was very much surprised as my little forest patch was surrounded by huge pastures - and no settlement in sight. So where would a person come from? To my even bigger surprise this person was not talking, but singing. Actually singing rock tunes very loudly?! What on earth was going on here? I was pretty much convinced that nobody could find me inside this little pine plantation jungle, but still... Well, after carefully peaking out of my tent and listening it turned out that some teenage boy with rock star ambitions was practicing being the lead singer while walking his dog. He was pretty persistent and sang for over an hour - not having the slightest clue that a very surprised German hiker was listening to his exercises hiding in the trees. It would indeed have been very embarrassing for either of us to be discovered...

Greeting comitee
My planned route was stringing lesser known trails together: The Gritstone Trail, South Cheshire Way and Maelor Way. Because they were less travelled than the National Trails I encountered new problems: First of all the cows were not used to hikers. As soon as I had to cross a field with cows I was checked out by my big four-legged friends. I developed the following strategy: Climb the stile into the pasture and wait for half a minute. If the cows ignore you, just continue walking. If you are immediately surrounded by inquisitive bullocks, climb back to where you have come from and look for a different way. Unfortunately because these foot paths are very little hiked they are also very badly maintained. I encountered lots of broken or non-existing stiles, bad waymarking and paths overgrown with stinging nettles. In short very hard work - until I discovered that there were canals close by. And that meant easy and smooth canal tow paths! The lesson I learnt is that 8 km along a tow path take as long as 4 km on an obscure and neglected trail like the Maelor Way. So even if the distance was longer it made more sense to detour to the tow paths. Better maps would have helped a lot but I still managed to make good progress eventually on tow paths and quiet country lanes only using the foot paths when absolutely necessary.

Moreton Hall
This stretch also brought a nice cultural surprise: Moreton Hall, a medieval castle now run by the National Trust. And I being a National Trust member could visit for free. Nice forest close by that provided lovely camping turned this day into a real delight. Plus the weather was getting better and better every day - I could not believe my luck. I started to look forward to Offa's Dyke Path, the next National Trail along my route.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The place names sound interesting and this section seems to be an improvement on your favourite Pennine Way-the Backbone of England.