Day 93 - Walking a switchback wonderland

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

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Where I stayed
New Mills Cottage with Mary and Lance

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Keith bounded out of bed at 6.15 this morning eager to confirm his strongly held conviction that it rains every day in Wales.  And yes, it was raining!  We had this morning, for the first time in a long time, to make our own breakfast.  Joy of joys, fruit - bananas, plums, pears, apples and blackberries picked by Debby yesterday.  The blackberries sat on the bench overnight and some had gone mouldy, so we carefully selected a few for our breakfast bowl, recognising that wild blackberries are definitely best plucked from the brambles and placed directly in the mouth.

It's 8.50 when we make our start today.  Leaving the backpack and its contents scattered around our bedroom, we simply hop into the back of Mary & Lance's car, ready to be driven to our starting destination at Kingswood.  It takes 40 mins to return to the place we were picked up on Saturday afternoon.  Needless to say, Keith the stickler for exactitude (known as Keith 'touch him' Badger after the Taupo relay team incident, back home with the Icebergers), spends time locating the exact footprint from which the mornings walk should begin.  It's still raining but hey ho, it's Wales and we don't have serious backpacks, just a little day pack for Keith to keep him in the habit. 

The walking starts on relatively flat farmland and we are quickly out walking on the dyke itself.  After all we are walking Offa's Dyke Path and for the time being apparently are now known as 'dykers'.  Keith wonders if he will now be considered a 'dyke-berger' back in Melbourne.  Gradually the heavy misty rain abates and we now begin to appreciate the views around us.  Walking along easy open farmland, with only the odd river crossing, like the River Camlad, to inject a little excitement into our morning, our eyes are drawn to features further afield.  We see the old town of Montgomery crowned by its castle ruins, another feature of seemingly incessant fascination the Endlish had with ruling the Welsh.  This castle having been started by Henry III in 1233, may well be a ruin today but it looks impressive from our perspective.

Now the rain has stopped we are warming to our task today and feeling good.  We are fairly rattling along and do 9 1/2 kms in the first two hours.  The dyke comes and goes from under our feet leading us out onto a brief crossing of the busy A489 road at Brompton crossroads.  Today we keep seeing signs welcoming us to Shropshire, the English County which borders Wales in this part of the country.  It seems the Council has a good PR department with their welcoming signs and statements that Shropshire is 'an area of outstanding natural beauty'.  For Keith Shropshire is famour for only one thing, A.E. Housman's 1896 collection of poems called A Shropshire Lad.  Although Housman caught the spirit of the place with the 'blue remembered hills' of childhood, his poems were inhabited by young men doomed to die before the flush of youth was off them.  They were conceived in hope and end in death, the destination from which no traveller returns.   Too gloomy for Keith which is why he's struggled each time he's picked up the book.

We walk through an impressive arched Gate Lodge seemingly directly into someone's property, but of course such are the liberties of the long distance walker following long established rights of way.  We are briefly back on the dyke before descending in a dank woodland dell, some treacherously slippery sodden wooden steps.  It's noon and we've held off morning tea awaiting the opportunity to trudge down through the thick mud that lines a secluded lane off to our left away from the official path.  We've set our sights on what we're told is the impressive Mellington Hall for a cup of coffee and a fruit scone perhaps.  When we get there the house and gardens are typical of the grand constructions that British moneyed gentry have built over the centuries.  It seems to be in a very good state of repair and we gaze in at the windows at tables with starched white tablecloths, fine cutlery and stemmed glassware.  Chairs carefully covered to protect them from dust.  The only problem for the weary traveller looking for sustenance is that the door is locked.  The whole setting has the air of a ghost ship sitting in dry dock in the middle of the countryside.  There are no signs to inform us whether the house is temporarily or permanently closed - is it for sale or is it simply Monday is their day off?  We'll never know, we simply take advantage of the wooden tables and chairs left out on the manicured lawns and scavange our skimpy backpack for some sad offering, a pale shadow of what we imagined we would have had inside.  After 30 minutes of rest we walk back out of this strange deserted place and head back up the muddy path that will take us back to what we know will be a very challenging afternoon. 

We are now embarking upon a series of steep hills known as the switchbacks.  We start off walking along the dyke which gradually rises upwards and then we follow a country lane which steeply inclines toward the ridge we can see above.  The final ascent sees us back on the dyke, rising with double arrow steepness until we attain the first peak where somebody has built a house called the Crows Nest.  A lonely traffic free back road runs right along the ridge here which is known as the Kerry Ridgeway (380m).  It's lovely to think that this small lane follows an ancient trackway that was one of the many drovers roads that crisscrossed the Welsh Borders.  We pause a moment to enjoy the breathtaking views.  By now the air is fizzing in our lungs as we suck hungrily down our windpipe the highly charged atmosphere.  We can feel the goodness surging through our veins as our heart pumps and we marvel at the spectacular scenery around us.  Suddenly you can understand why the people who build the Crows Nest live here.

We are hungry but do not tarry as we've set out sights on tackling the next descent and another hill before lunching at the bottom of a valley in the peaceful church yard of the tiny St. John the Baptist Church which we know awaits for rest and contemplation.  And so we descent once more on the dyke and right thry Nut Wood, where we cross the River Unk which defines the bottom of this hidden valley.  Up up we go again, this time its Edenhope Hill that tests our quads and calf muscles.  What starts as a walk up through a forestry plantation opens out into clear country with lovely views.  We can simply reflect on the effort it took these men 1200 years ago to dig the ditch and construct this dyke some 60 miles long.  We're in buzzard contry now and see large birds circling effortlessly overhead, but by now we are crying out for food and we have one final descent to complete.  We disappear down into a forestry plantation again and carefully make our way down a precarious steep slippery path.  Then we walk out into the sunlight and into a small church yard to briefly look at the biblical writings on the walls inside the church before relaxing on a bench outside.  We blink in the sunlight and can almost see steam rising off our hot bodies as we finally take sustenance.

Debby's first thoughts are to remove her shoes and socks and let the bracing air work its magic to cool her hot toes.  She is now regularly suffering shooting pain in her feet when they are kept enclosed and overworked.  WE have found two hour periods of walking are about the limit before a short break is required to ease the pressure.  We are so relaxed and joyful as we sit in this peaceful place.  It would be easy to pass the afternoon here curled up with book in hand.  However, there's a journey to be completed and another hill awaits.  Surprisingly in this remote spot three other walkes have arrived.  Walking in the opposite direction to us they tell us of the steep challenges that await us.  We say nothing of what we have encountered but simply thank them and move off.

Out of the churchyard we cross a small tributary to the River Unk and find ourselves back in woodland immediately on a track rising us steeply.  We rise up Knuck Bank (404m) and have to descend once again before tackling scalling Hergen Hill (408m).  To our surprise we are presented with yet another decline to cross a tiny stream and then another hill awaits.  We are walking once more up the line of the dyke and the path is overgrown in many places.  This is Graig Hil (369m) and we are exhausted b ut living every moment of the challenges this country is laying at our feet.  One final descent and we're down crossing the River Clun and out onto the B4368 where we will meet the Mary and Lance support team.  As we walk along the road to the pub to meet them, we know today has been yet another very special day.  Whilst passing Montgomery this morning we read it was the birth place of George Herbert in 1593.  In his poem 'Virtue' he wrote these words which we felt summed up our day today.

    'Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright!
    The bridle of the earth and sky -
    the dew shall weep thy fall tonight;
    for thou must die.'

The trusty support team are there waiting for us and as Lance drives us the hour and a half journey back to our cottage we regale them with storeis of the things we've seen.  Stories of the babbling skein of geese which flew by us in the morning, the sheep that actually walked up to Debby to eat from her hand and be stroked, Debby's fascination with the sheep interestingly decorated with black eyes, ears, nose, knees and feet, the raven we saw, only 7,000 pairs are said to exist in the UK.  We tried to explain of the switchback wonderland we had walked through and how we had lived life to the full today because there is nothing better than these oh so green fields and rolling hills and valleys.  But gradually we fell silent as we digested our own memories more fully. 

By the time Lance pulled in to the Talbot Hotel in Berriew we were ready for a couple of pints and gin and tonics to set us up for another culinery delight - Lance's chicken salad and pasta matriciana.  We think we have chosen our support team wisely.
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Morag on

Hello you are online at present I see! I am busy getting ready to go to Melbourne on Monday for module 5 of our therapy training. did you hear the grand final result -a draw -so played again next week.
Will miss again not seeing you two whilst in Melbourne and I won't be able to keep up with the blog!!

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