We set off at 9.10 on just a classic British autumnal morning
. Once again the morning has a brightness to it, which is uplifting. The sun is clear in the sky and the atmosphere is crisp and tingling to the skin. Today we are starting our walk along the disused Montgomery canal. We duck under the first bridge, which is barely 5’9" high and stride out along the tow path. We are both feeling fit and ready to tackle the day. The second bridge we duck under is the Wallace Bridge and here we encounter the most spectacular of scenes, as perfectly framed reflections of the verdant flora opposite are presented in the oh so still waters of this canal. Man may have created this canal with an industrial purpose in mind, but once again, as man moved on and switched his attention to other things, so nature has quietly resumed its authority and engulfed and enhanced man’s work. The profusion of green which has overrun the banks of the canal and threatened to engulf it in places, is just a breeding ground for wildlife. The air seems full of small bugs and flies and we watch swallows, house martins and swifts swooping down just touching the canal surface to feast on their harvest. We are told of a pair of kingfishers which inhabit a nearby bend in the canal. It was not our fortune today to see them.
We carry on where the old canal passes over a small aquaduct with the River Vyrnwy (yes this is how you spell it - the Welsh don't believe in vowels!) flowing contentedly underneath
. The going is easy along the canal, which offers the typical low impact walking for which they are renowned. We are sad to leave the canal on this glorious morning and we do so at the tiny village of Four Crosses. It is a feature of the British footpaths and rights of way that we pass through some unlikely places. Today is a particular case in point. We find ourselves walking straight into a milk processing depot amidst the tanker trucks which transport this precious commodity. The footpath has been painted in yellow lines through the facility to direct the walkers who steadfastly maintain their rights to follow this right of way. It would never happen in most countries in the world!! Leaving the milk depot, we then proceed through a farm where we encounter the farmer preparing his sheep for market. They are particularly fetching sheep, Blue faced Leicesters, we're told. When we comment how good they look the farmer explains that they have been dipped to look good for market in the same way ladies dye their hair to look good.
We are now walking directly on Offa’s Dyke, still passing through pleasant farmland but gradually the quality of the scenery deteriorates into a relatively boring path following the course of the River Severn meander. The River Severn, which will ultimately make such a grand exit into the sea, that will require the huge pair of Severn Motorway bridges to span it, is here a mere muddy, grey sad channel
. It’s hard to imagine how this can gain the strength and energy to become the mighty force which we will encounter a couple of weeks from now. It's easy level walking across the low lying flood plain, but it's not inspiring. It’s bland and we find we are walking without talking, in fact we’re not even thinking. It’s only mid-morning but we are already feeling weary and our mind just seems empty of words to speak or even thoughts to think. It’s like someone took the plug out of our heads and they’re empty.
We sit on a stile for 15 mins and share a banana, apple and Welsh cakes. We press on pursuing the River until we rejoin our friend of this morning, The Montgomery canal. Whether it was the food that re-energised us but suddenly we are more aware of the Breidden Hills (365m) to the east. At first it was purely the enormous dolerite quarry that distracted us, a brutal scar on the landscape as it was. However, now we become more aware of the monument sitting astride the top. It’s Rodney’s pillar erected to recognise the exploits of Admiral Rodney in 1782 at the Battle of Dominica. If that wasn’t enough, we read that these hills were used by Caractacus to hold out against the Romans in AD43. For 9 years this man held the Romans at bay until Claudius sent a special expedition from Rome to defeat him. Apparently he was carted off to Rome in chains, but his bearing and demeanour was such that he impressed the judges who pardoned him to spend the rest of his life a free man
. Fascinating as this piece of history was, for Keith he was aware that he was passing by King Caractacus in spirit .......... and it brought to mind that old tune :And the fascinating witches who put the scintillating stitches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses of the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Caractacus were just passing by…..
Keith sang the song a few times through until Debby finally got a break. (Don’t know if anyone can confirm that the words above are the longest verse or is there more? Also was it Rolf Harris or Danny Kaye that sang it?)
And so gradually we make our way into Buttington at 1.25. We are more than half way through today’s walk and have agreed to meet Mary and Lance here who will take our backpacks to the cottage they have hired for the week. This will allow us the luxury of walking up this afternoon’s particularly high hills without backpacks, a rare treat.
At first we were not concerned when Mary rang to say they were running late. We found The Green Dragon, a run down, tired pub on the A458 being managed by a young man trying to do his best against all odds
. Debby went to rebuild her energy with a sirloin baguette kept his simple with the classic British pub fare of ham, eggs and chips. Even when it started to rain outside, we contented ourselves that at least we wouldn't have to carry our backpacks in the wet. So we quietly ordered cups of tea while Keith gave Debby an impromptu foot massage. Then the dreaded call came through. Mary and Lance had been horribly delayed, something about the Pope personally obstructing their progress. There was nothing for it, we were going to have to tackle the hills with our backpacks and meet them later.
Summoning up all the determination that we have developed over the last three months, we set off, determined not to be down-hearted. Immediately we were in farm pasture land and the track started rising. In the book of maps we are following when two arrows appear close together it means 'steep incline'. These are the sections to be tackled with gusto, but which sap the energy. In particular, tackling these sections after lunch is harder than early on when we are fresh. Keith looked at the book and calmly announced the unthinkable, four double arrows, one after the other, up through a small snaking path heading to the Beacon Ring (approx. 400m) an Iron Age hilll fort dating back to 700 BC.
It took us less than an hour to reach the top and walk around the crown of trees which were planted here in 1953 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's coronation
. All the concern we had had about tackling this hill disappeared into nothingness, clearly they were all a figment of our frightened imagination. We have reached a point now where we are conscious of the efforts we have put in and the fragility of our energy levels. However we are in danger of frightening ourselves, sometimes for no reason and today was a case in point. We felt elated as we began the descent back down through the Leighton Estate and reaching the airily mystical Offa's Pool took time to marvel at this strangely coloured body of water hidden in this obscure spot. As we move off, we are distracted by literally more than a hundred pheasants running hither and thither across the path in front of us. They appear devoid of intelligence as they run in all different directions, sometimes nearly hitting us in their efforts to scurry away.
All too soon we are walking out of the woods and into Kingswood, our walk for the day complete. It's 5.20 pm and Mary and Lance are due to be there to pick us up and bring us to the cottage they have hired for the week. We are dismayed when we find the spot where we agreed to meet is empty. We walk up the road and sit outside the pub waiting for their eventual arrival. As the photograph shows, as our latest support team, Mary and Lance, had started with a thumbs down! However, once they had shown us around the magnificent holiday cottage they had hired and broken open the Bollinger champagne, the thumbs, like those of a Roman Emporer faced with a brave gladiator conquering a lion in the arena, turned firmly upwards. Not content with plying us with champagne we were then presented with delightful homemade leek and potato soup and a beef casserole. As we slid into bed after another memorable day, we agreed we were very lucky to have such strong support from so many.
We had a pretty good night's sleep before Keith awoke at 6 am to prepare for the day. For the first time on this adventure he noticed autumn had really arrived. At 6 am it is pitch black. My how things have changed since those days in the Orkneys three months ago when there seemed to be almost perpetual daylight. Debby again had a good soak in this lovely bath and Keith, still feeling lethargic and below par, followed her into the bath. By the time we descended for breakfast at 8 am we were feeling perkier. We were delighted to find fresh melon awaiting us, and even the bread Keith toasted for Debby did not unduly undermine our more buoyant spirits when we found a mouldy crust on it. However, when Debby tried to eat her scrambled eggs she complained they tasted 'funny’. Keith thought she was lucky as he was reeling from the smell that was rising off of his sausages. You may find it surprising that we consider The Manse was an above average B&B, unfortunately they appear to be cutting the corners with the quality of the breakfast produce.