Date: Friday 30 May
Walked from: Kingswood, Wales
Walked to: Newcastle-on-Clun, England
Walked with: Annette
Distance: 13.5 miles
Stayed: Baron at Bucknell, Shropshire Hills
Weather: Dry – again!
Today’s walk was very much a game of two halves!
The first half was easy walking, almost entirely on the flat, through a series of fields close to the country town of Montgomery, where every second stile seemed to have a beautifully engraved ‘Welcome to Shropshire’ sign on it. As we weren’t, with one exception, welcomed to Wales (actually, the amusingly vandalised sign said ‘We come to Wale’) we spent much of the day clueless as to what country we were in!
The second half of the walk kicked in at Brompton Crossroads, where the Blue Bell pub, with its rusting vintage petrol pumps outside – suggesting a past somewhat more bustling than it’s present – was, disappointingly, closed. First it was the muddy squelch through the footpath to the side of Mellington Hall, which couldn’t be seen from the footpath, and its adjoining static caravan park… which could. Then came the steep haul alongside or on the Dyke itself up to the crossing with another Shropshire footpath, the Kerry Ridgeway, which was the first in a series of notorious climbs and descents on the trail, known as ‘The Switchbacks’. The valley immediately after there, by Nut Wood, was only marked in my book as being rough grazing. As it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, lined with bluebell and pinkish bracken hillsides, I consider that description to have somewhat undersold the locale!
A steep climb down Edenhope Hill brought us to the biggest challenge of the day; the kamikaze climb back up from Churchtown on a slippery, muddy slope which was only made slightly easier by our gratitude that we weren’t having to try and walk down it. We were greeted at the top by a small farmland road, yet more evil stiles, and the blossom filled trees of Eaton’s Coppice, and, shortly after, by a sign telling us we were still 2 and 3/4 miles from our destination point for the day. A relatively short distance normally, it sounded impossibly far to my aching legs. Oh, and of course there was more climbing…
As we made our way across yet another field of grumpy cows, these ones based in a steeply sloping field, for the first time on this trip I felt tired and grumpy and like I’d absolutely had enough. And then we say saw a guy, standing by a stile, at the top of the field, and two amazing things happened. Firstly, he pointed out the finger posts showing we were exactly half way through the Offas’s Dyke Path – 88.5 miles from Prestatyn, 88.5 miles to Chepstow. Well, that certainly deserved a whoop AND a photo, which Colin, the stranger at the stile, took for us. And then the really incredible thing happened. Colin offered us a lift to where we were staying tonight, which was 12 miles away. Obviously you should never take lifts from strangers. Unless they seem nice and you’re very tired… And just to reinforce how heaven sent Colin truly was? Turns out he’s a priest!