(This is part two of the journey. If you missed part one, you can find it here)
On the official guide books, the Offa’s Dyke trail is split into twelve sections. Most of these sections are split into 15 mile sections, handily allowing us to set up two sections in one day. So in the first two days, we completed sections 1-4. Section 5 and section 6 are split into about 11, and 12 miles, respectively. We knew that to make up for our shorter day on day one, getting to Brompton Crossroads (the end of section 6) was a minimum requirement. Fortunately, this 23 mile section turns out to be probably the flattest (and also the most boring) section of the route, which meant we could power along it. We spent the day walking as long and as hard as we could. I remember it for being a tedious walk. For all other days, there was always something pleasant to look at, but this particular day was taken up by endless fields and flat scenery. Regardless, we were happy to not be challenged by hills, and walked on.
The end of the third day greeted us with rain. Just as the sun was falling, we were about 5 miles from Brompton Crossroads, and started to go through what we hoped was the last batch of fields. Now, I’m not sure how much experience you might have with walking, but you may be aware that a lot of fields you walk through have cows in them. In the day, they tend to keep themselves to themselves, unless there are calves around, in which case you skirt past them slowly. In the night however, they see a head torch and they decide to take a little wander over to see whats going on. Not the kind of thing you want when you are walking in the rain, in darkness looking to finish soon!
Our spirits were down at the end of this day. We were half expecting a closed down pub at the crossroads, and the lack of a large town made it difficult to see the finish line, so we had little to drive us on in our limited vision. Fortunately, we made it to the crossroads and was greeted by an unassuming little house, where we could just about make out the board on the side reading “blue bell inn”. We stumbled into the porch, gingerly poking our head into the warm pub and was greeted by one of the best receptions we had all trip.
At the bar, much to our luck was an ex-squaddie (I will add his name when I get it!) who got us a round of drinks and set out giving us advice on how to look after our battered feet (see photo above). The neighbour was kind enough to allow us to set up the tent in his garden, and the landlady, Helen, allowed us to sit in her warm kitchen to cook our supper. I think this kindness literally saved our trip. We were down and out before arriving at the pub, and this evening raised our spirits significantly. (There was even free cake offered around from a birthday going on in the other room!) We met plenty of people who all gave us lots of encouragement and plenty of friendship. The only thing we found, is that everyone was quick to point out that our next day was difficult. One local told us it was “like climbing Ben Nevis two and a half times in a day”. But we worried about that in the morning.
Fortunately, against predictions, our morning started off dry, and the whole day remained pretty much rain free. We had 15 miles to Knighton, and another 15 to Kington, if we were to make our target. The 15 to Knighton was going over the Shropshire hills, a beautiful area, and one you don’t want to tackle with 90 miles of sore feet! Still, we took it on and found it hard going. We were greeted by the welcome arms of Knighton by 2pm. If we had stuck to a schedule, this would have been about 2 hours later than the hopeful arrival time. Without wanting to admit defeat, we got what we could from Knighton, which included ibuprofen for my swelling knees and cracked on, hoping to make at least 10 miles before nightfall.
Without being able to put a finger on the reason, our trek towards Kington became a very positive one. Possibly the food, possibly the painkillers we had loaded up on, we were high on energy and optimism. With about 8-10 miles to go to Kington, and 1 hour of light, we decided we should get our speed boots on and try and make Kington in the dark. Night fell when we had one large climb of about 5 miles left. We strapped on the head torch and decided to do it in the dark. This was either genius or completely foolish. Because of the result, I’m going with genius.
Generally, the path is very well signposted. It, however is not designed for night time navigation! Usually, it follows a fence line, however as we neared Kington, at the top of our climb, it decided to go cross field. Normally, when you can see the other side of a field, you can head towards the gate. In pitch black, you can’t do this, so we quickly got lost. I should point out that it was also raining at this point. At the end of our tether, we headed on a compass bearing South, aiming to hit a road leading us to Kington. We quickly found ourselves in a wood, with a house nearby. By this point, it was around 9pm – our latest walk of the trip! In desperation, we headed to the house and asked directions. Understandably, in the middle of nowhere, the owner was a little suspicious of what we were doing, however in the true spirit of the trip, he lowered his guard (and his rifle) and gave us directions and also a donation to the charity. What a legend!
We soon were in Kington warm and comfy. A shorter sleep was had, but it was worth it, knowing we had done another 30 miles against the predictions. Powering on from here became less of a psychological thing and more physical persistence. Our next day consisted of a continuation of this work, working hard in the mornings and pushing hard for as much milage in the light as possible. Fortunately, it was a very nice and and it paid off and we soon found ourselves heading through Monmouth on the last day, only 17 miles left to finish the task. Unfortunately, it was not the 17 mile wind down we wanted and needed!
The path from Monmouth to Chepstow (more accurately, Sedbury Cliffs) is a fairly steep and rocky path. Going along the hills past Tintern (which would be awesome to look at had it not been so misty), it is slow going and can be quite treacherous at times, especially since our last day consisted of plenty of rain. Muddy climbs and slippery descents wore on our patience, and it seemed like an age until we hit the roads, signalling the end of our climbs. In a rather anti-climatic fashion, Sedbury Cliffs offers little in the way of celebration. You find yourselves walking through estates and industrially abandoned areas, the place stinking if the tide is down. Your final 100 yards consists of a tough climb to a stone marking the end, with a good view of the sea.
We finished at around 5:30pm. A good time for the final day, fired on by our desire to finish. Fortunately, my dad met us there and fast-tracked us back to a warm house and warm food. I’d love to say we celebrated with plenty of beers, but exhaustion took over and we were asleep not long after food! A good rest for a a trip we can be proud of for the rest of our lives.