Date: Monday 2 June 2014
Walked from: Kington, England
Walked to: Hay-on-Wye
Walked with: Annette
Distance: 14.5 miles
Stayed: Kilverts, Hay
Weather: Perfect walking weather.
Today started off with a gleeful escape from The Royal Oak in Kington. The pub’s slogan is ‘last in England’. That could mean many things, but I put it to you that it should be taken as fair warning that it’s the last place you would want to stay. Luckily for us walkers the owner has landed a year’s contract with the local quarry so will be unable to offer his rooms out in the foreseeable future to anyone passing through town. I do feel dreadfully sorry for the poor sods from the quarry though…
Anyway, the walk started in light rain and with low visibility, which meant we missed out on what are supposed to be fine views over Hergest Ridge. It also meant we came the closest to being lost that we’d managed so far, although, more by luck than judgment we did eventually find a reassuring acorn sign (which are used to mark national trails in England and Wales – in Scotland it’s a thistle)!
The weather started to improve as we headed into the tiny village of Gladestry, which boasts both a pub and a cafe (housed in the former post office) that opens on Saturdays and Mondays. Whilst puzzling over these frankly unusual set of opening hours the owner of the cafe (for, fortuitously it WAS a Monday), dashed out to speak to us and solved the mystery: she opens up on the two days a week that the pub is closed because she felt sorry for the thirsty looking walkers she saw going by. That mystery was solved, but as Annette pointed out, it begs an even bigger question – what kind of a pub is closed on a Saturday?!?
The weather started to improve as we left the village and continued picking our way across the local farmland. By the time we stopped for lunch in St Mary’s Church in Newchurch (a picnic table left out for guests such as us among some ancient gravestones, and tea and coffee available for thirsty walkers to make in the church itself), the sun had made a welcome appearance. We were joined at our lunch stop by a lovely couple who had met in London and retired to Jamaica, and who come back over to the UK once a year to do a serious amount of walking. They made me both really want to walk the Pennine Way and really NOT want to: sounds like three weeks of incredible beauty and very hard work!
As we got closer to Hay we walked in the sunshine through Bettws Dingle, which my guidebook describes as a scary forest. Much of it has been chopped down, but the bits that remain were rather beautiful in the dappled sunlight. The final approach to Hay was through some flower filled meadows (where we accidentally awoke a snoozing Dutch guy who seemed surprised to discover he would have to walk a good 20 km to get to his planned destination for the night) and a treelined path near the River Wye. Crossing Hay Bridge we were greeted by a ‘Welcome to Hay Festival’ sign. We’d only missed the world-famous literary festival by a day. One year I’ll actually get to attend!