On this last day of (our) Offa’s Dyke journey we were having a bit of a dilemma. As hiking purists we dislike skipping parts of a trail or route. However, the path from Montgomery to today’s starting point was 5 kilometres and there were some uphill parts as well. So we decided to take a taxi (a rather expensive one, as the driver had to come from nearby Welshpool). Today’s part is known as the Switchbacks, a continuous joy of climbing and descending in the Shropshire Hills. Quite a challenge, as this day would prove.
Brompton Crossroads – Newcastle on Clun (11 km/6,8)
The Dyke is your companion on a large part of this stage. In the first bit you even walk on it. It is fun to be able to do that, however, this was also claimed by rabbits, so one had to be careful not to step into a hole. During the first few kilometres the path climbs gently, following the Kerry ridgeway, an ancient drovers route in Shropshire. After that you get the first serious challenge of the day. Although the climb is rather steep, it isn’t even mentioned on the map as a hill. This is the advantage and disadvantage of walking in the UK. You can go directly through fields and meadows, but it does mean that the path won’t meander to the top. You just have to go as straight forward as possible.
Because of this, the descend is a bit dangerous. You keep on walking on the Dyke, with rabbit holes scattered across, and because you go down, the risk of placing your foot on the wrong spot is bigger. Luckily we both arrive in one piece, at the foot of a hill. There’s a wonderfully placed, little church in aptly-named Churchtown, where we are welcomed by the local church choir. Despite the first uphill and downhill challenge we now reached the point where the actual switchbacks began. First we climbed through a forest to Hergan (408 m/1338 ft) and then to the lower Graig Hill (369 m/1210 ft). After that you descend quite a bit, until you reach the road to Newcastle on Clun.
Newcastle on Clun – Knighton (12 km/7,5 m)
The second part is in the same vein as the first. Up and down, always as direct and steep as possible. It does offer excellent physical exercise and wonderful vistas, but every climb becomes more of a challenge as well. The biggest one is the climb to Llanfair Hill (432 m/1417 ft). Once you arrive there you can admira a long stretch of the Dyke, first on your right, then on your left side. It’s also a perfect place for a picknick.
After that, there are two more hills to conquer, a wonderful setting for this tiring walk. The first one is the Cwm-Sanaham Hill (it’s Welsh, but does sound Arabic), with it’s 406 m/1332 ft. After that you follow a small path down, past a series of trees and then onto the last hill of the day, Panpunton Hill (376 m/1233 ft). After a short break (our feet were starting to ache) there’s one last descend, horribly steep, and quite straining on the knees. Very tired but satisfied with another stunning day of walking, we arrive in Knighton, where we pay the Offa’s Dyke Centre a short visit.
Our adventure on this first part of the Offa’s Dyke Path ends in Knighton. We’ve walked a bit more than half of the entire path. After 8 days of walking we were quite satisified, although part of me would have loved doing it in one go, obviously. This first half was really stunning. There were a lot of memorable stretches. From the very beginning, at the beach of Prestatyn, through the Clwydian Range, the screes of Llangollen, the forests, aqueducts, castles and ruins, canals, rivers and lakes… Offa’s Dyke Path can be challenging in some places, but it is a wonderful path, offering a great mix of nature and culture.
We decided to take the adventurous path in The Horse & Jockey Innas well and chose something Mexican. Tasty, but spicy. Luckily there was a local beer to accompany it.
Offa’s Dyke Guesthouse was very tidy and the bed was very welcoming. The owner was a friendly if somewhat eccentric woman. however, she did e-mail me afterwards apologising that she didn’t had the time to have a proper conversation while we were staying there, so that’s very hospitable and caring.
-After this day there’s a more or less comparable day between Knighton and Kington. Part of me was wondering how my feet and knees would have coped.
– We’ve only done half of it. The second part has plenty more to offer. There’s the highest point of the route, through the Brecon Beacons (700 m/2297 ft), there’s Tintern Abbey, Hay-on-Wye, known for it’s many book shops and Chepstow, with its impressive castle.