Day 89 -on Offa's Dyke and "the Stream in the Sky"

Trip Start Jun 12, 2010
Trip End Nov 18, 2010

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Where I stayed
Craignant Lodge

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

After a good sleep we are awake at 6.00 am and down in the wine bar for an 8 o'clock breakfast. We have a few final chores to do and Keith can’t resist the Deeside Tearooms for his morning coffee, which yet again did not live up to his 'even reduced’ standards.  \when will I learn he says just to have a black coffee before the physical exercise of a hill climb.  And what a hill climb it was to start today. 

To rejoin the Offa’s Dyke Path we had two options; the easy flat route along the canal or the more direct route, which took us straight up to Castell Dinas Bran (320m).  Needless to say with the energy of a rest day surging through our limbs, we went for the latter option.  We had seen the dark brooding ruinous outline of this castle, built in the mid 1200’s, silently looking down on Llangollen from its lofty perch for the past two days and we were determined to see it up close.  It took us about an hour to climb up the 250 mtrs from the town to the heart of the ruins.  We were certainly puffed, but by the same token, we were enervated by the incredible views from this fantastic spot.  It was truly breathtaking.  Why on earth did the Princes of Pwys Fadog who lived, ruled and entertained here, only use it for about 20 years, until it was burned and abandoned in 1277?  One can only imagine.   Certainly for us, it has become one of the highlights of the Offa’s Dyke Path so far.

With this wonderful start to the day lifting our spirits, we pressed on towards the crags of Eglwyseg and the Trefor Rocks.  The scenery is powerful and compels attention as the stunning crags provide the framework for the quintessential Welsh Borders farmsteads, which are set out around us.   We now find ourselves on a small country lane, which takes us down to a turnoff into Trevor Hall Wood, a dark, mossy, damp, native woodland which has just a lovely secret inviting feel to it. Leaving the woods, we are now ready for one of the highlights of this entire walk. 

We find ourselves back on a canal, the Chester and Llangollen.  Unlike our earlier, somewhat sedate, only modestly interesting canal walks, today we were about to encounter something dramatically impressive.  Shortly after joining the canal, we arrived at a junction whereupon turning south we came face to face finally with the world’s highest navigable aquaduct ever built.  The Pontcysyllte Aquaduct stands on piles as high as 126’  and the iron trough, 11’10" wide and 5’3” deep is carried across a 1007’ long span over the River Dee.  This was Thomas Telford’s brilliant idea to construct a "stream in the sky” to bring the coal, clay and limestone, in such abundance in the area, to feed the industrial boom that was occurring in the English Midlands, a hundred miles away.  So between 1795 and 1805, this remarkable civil engineering feat was completed, not only did the 18 sandstone piers need to be constructed and set in place with a lime, ox blood and water mortar, but also Telford had to construct the Horseshoe Falls on the River Dee, to supply the 12 million gallons of water which were required daily to pass over the aquaduct. 

Walking across this aquaduct is no mean feat.  The sheer drop on either side is confronting.  Even the young man in the Information Centre, who has been a mountaineer, now struggles with vertigo and can no longer cross the aquaduct.  With Keith feeling some trepidation, we set out and duly crossed this wonderful construction.  As we walked south so canal boats were busily heading north towards us.   It seemed quite fitting that this aquaduct has now been recognised as one of the great civil engineering feats of all time and is a World Heritage listed site.  So, Thomas Telford appears to be a constant in our adventure, having constructed the Caledonian Canal which so inspired us in Scotland, here he is in the Welsh Borders doing it again.

We had yet to have lunch and yet already the day seemed very full of highlights.  However there was still one more awaiting us on this special day.  Leaving the canal behind we were back once again in farmland heading towards an encounter with the very essence of the walk we are on.  But it was ten past two and our stomachs were calling out for sustenance so we threw ourselves down in a secluded spot while crossing a large field.  As we spread our jackets down and assembled our collection of food items, the customary cheese, tomatoes, pork pie complimented today by a vegetable bomb and a bread pudding, a veritable feast, and all spread before us on a wonderful tablecloth of green grass.  A local dog walker passed the time of day chatting with us whilst informing us she had never seen anyone sitting here picnicking before. 

With lunch done, we hurried into our rain jackets when the inevitable day’s Welsh precipitation arrived.  We moved off cross the B4500 and the River Cariog to find ourselves suddenly confronted with the reason for this Path’s very existence.  Here accompanying us across the field was a mound.  More than a mound though, this was Offa’s Dyke, varying between 8’ and 12’ in height , it was not the most impressive human achievement  we have seen on our travels so far.  Indeed, if we had not seen it marked in the guidebook we would not have taken it to be a special feature of the landscape.  Still, this was Offa’s Dyke, it had been constructed over 1,200 years ago by one of the greatest Monarchs Britain had seen, so we were duly reverent. 

As we walked along the Dyke, which at this particular juncture is still the border between England and Wales, we were equally impressed by the minutiae of the badger sets opening around our feet and the dramatic views across to the northeast of our path.  The oh so impressive Chirk Castle remained in view for much of the afternoon and we could only imagine it’s impressive interior.  We do know that it has the remarkable distinction of having been continuously inhabited by the Middleton family since 1595 to the current day.  They even maintain that Charles I slept there in 1645.  As a sharp counterpoint to the castle a hideous belching factory stood on the industrial River Dee proclaiming humanity’s ability to better nature.  Here we were told wood is broken down and then recompressed to make wood flooring better than nature.  How ridiculous this concept seems.  But then who are we to talk with our compressed stone kitchen bench awaiting our return to Melbourne.

Before the day was complete we had a stiff uphill walk into Nanteris Wood (360 m) which led to a brief decline before we stumbled out onto the little used B4579 at Craignant.  We crossed yet another ancient stone bridge and read the insignia placed there about the bloody Battle of Crogen in which Henry II was defeated in August 1165 by Owain Gwynedd’s Welsh forces.  It is amazing just how much historical significance seemed to be packed into every square mile of the British countryside.  Indeed it is a real challenge to pay the attention one feels such events deserve.  While musing over what this encounter may have involved, we are approached by a local who proceeds to tell us of more tangible events, namely the presence of a kingfisher on the branches below.  And so we let go of ancient history and return to the presence of nature. 

As we walked up the lane to our farmhouse B&B for the night, it was fast approaching 5 pm and we reflected on the wonders we had encountered today.  It was yet another very special day of sights, any one of which would have made the day special, apart  from the big ticket items we have listed, we were always surrounded by nature’s bountiful gifts.  It sounds ridiculous to highlight a single tree, but indeed a fully mature specimen growing in a classic setting this morning had about it a therapeutic quality that any manmade drugs could not equal.  Although we photographed it the picture cannot to it justice.  We have also seen a miscellany of Welsh farm animals and it is worrying Keith for the first time on all his walks, that he actually, without Debby’s prompting, took a photo of two sheep today that he felt he had  a connection with.  Where this will all end, who knows!!

We walked in to the farmhouse to be greeted by Mrs. Jones, a 76 year old, a widow of more than 25 years who has lived on this farm for 49 years and is still going strong offering the only bed and breakfast accommodation in this hamlet.  More than that, for the same price most B&B’s provide a bed and breakfast she includes a 3 course evening meal.  And very acceptable it was too. As we lay in bed Debby quickly passes into oblivion and Keith reflects on the full day we have had. The Welsh weather has been at turns bright sun, rain and strong winds. The latter that have threatened to blow his hat off, something that has so far only happened once on our adventure in the unfriendly town of Prestatyn.  The 24kms day today was tiring and has pushed our total distance walked through the 1,800kms mark. As the accumulated weariness gradually overcomes, Keith has one final challenge, to kill that damn blow fly that’s buzzing around the bedroom!!
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Morag on

Just having my "quick look" before bed and surprise here you are again. So Now i will have a delayed bedtime and the blog will substitute for my bedtime reading!

Suedeg on

That brings back fond memories of plodding rather more slowly than you walk on a canal boat over the amazing aquaduct. Perhaps thaty could be another holiday. See you Friday.

Jan Dalton on

The best photos yet - just glorious!

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