3. Clwyd Gate – Llangollen (23 km/14,3m)

Clwyd Gate

Because of the fact that our accommodation was located in Llanferes, a couple of miles from the starting point at Clwyd Gate, we treated ourselves to a ride. The owner of the Druid inn brought us there, after a good breakfast. For some strange reason we had decided not to take a packed lunch for the day and trust in our parovita crackers and cheese. A fatal error, we would later found out. Unaware of our miscalculation we left for our third day of walking, one that would lead us out of the Clwydian Range and into the Dee valley.

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Clwyd Gate – Llandegla

We had walked the main chunk of the Clwydian Range on the second day, but the third one began as the the previous one had ended. Again it went up and down and we passed some more hills, mostly walking the shoulder. First there was Moel Gyw (467 m/1532 ft). The royal breakfast we had half an hour earlier doesn’t make the climb easier. Some of the hill tops disappear in the clouds. After Moel Gyw we have two more to walk past, Moel Llanfair (447 m/1565ft) and Moel Y Plâs (440 m/1444 ft). After that we have left all the moels behind us and descend towards Llandegla. At first the clouds had disappeared, but from the moment we entered the small village the rain came pouring down on us. Luckily we found shelter in the little church nearby and waited till it stopped. We left Llandegla at noon, so we reckoned we could walk another our befoure having our lunch, so we decided to walk through the forest first.

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Llandegla – Llangollen

Alas! With it being a 20km+ day and with quite a bit of ups and downs it would have been a rather long day of walking anyway. But this was prolonged by a gruesome and frustrating passage in Llandegla forest. The main culprit was a little bridge crossing a little stream and the absence of a sign post to lead the way. We became rather disoriented and got lost in the forest for about an hour. We tried every alternative route and became rather desperate, even contemplating walking back to Llandegla and taking the bus to Llangollen or going to the mountainbike centre in the forest and asking for a ride to the town. Luckily, in one final effort, I crossed the bridge once more and walked a bit further than I did before, finally finding the holy acorn sign, about three hundred metres from te bridge and onto the path that would take us through the wonderful heather. Meanwhile, we were very tired, rather unnecessarily, and hadn’t eaten enough. Rather stupid, since that is long distance walking 101.

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The path brought us about half an hour later to a paved road. Rather knackered we sat down, rested a bit and ate our crackers and cheddar cheese. At that point it was half past two. The road wasn’t an ideal surface for tired feet either. Luckily the view, is quite sublime, a preview of the Panorama Walk we would walk on later, looking over the Dee valley. And there are plenty of beautiful things to come. First there’s the impressive rock formation called World’s End. But the real sublime (in both its literal and Romantic meaning) experience is then yet to come. The Eglwyseg Crags and its screes aren’t that high, but the relatively small path and the steep slope does make for an exciting walk if you have a mild form of vertigo. Luckily, again, the view is stunning.

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Once past the crags the path descends and joins another road. This time it is the Panorama walk. Fun fact: our trailblazer guide mentioned “Peacocks live here” and yes, at the exact moment that we walked past the place we heard the heavenly sound of a couple of peacocks. In other news, we still had to walk another hour to Llangollen, without any food and just a bit of water. Lucky for us this wasn’t the desert and all we had to do was walk the road. Helping us was a reference point in the distance, the splendid ruins of Dinas Brân. Our agony was prolonged, even when walking towards Llangollen. We were promised a bench to rest, before doing the last twenty minutes. Unfortunately it was claimed by a woman who rode there by car to enjoy the view. We did rest a bit before descending into the pretty town and stumbled onwards, after a wonderful yet needlessly tiring day.

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The food

The Dee Corner Cafe Bistro is a good cafe bistro offering a large hamburger (with an extra portion of bacon) which was very welcome after our self-inflicted prolonged day of walking. Great portions, nice setting.

The accommodation

We chose to stay at the Llangollen Hostel for three nights, because of the fact my parents were visiting friends in Chirk at the time. We would use the next day to walk from Llangollen to Chirk and then have a rest day. So this good hostel with good facilities was an excellent and budget-friendly choice.

Trivia

– The “ll” is pronounced as a, well, a shlj. You can best try it by placing your tongue against your front teeth and blowing. Shlangoshlen.

– The “w” is pronounced as a “oo” (or oe in Dutch). Eglwyseg becomes Eglooyseg.

– Of all the places in the world (outside) Belgium I’ve been to Llangollen the most. This was my eighth time.

– Llangollen isn’t part of Offa’s Dyke Path, but worth the small detour. Apart from the cosy centre it also offers the already mention Dinas Brân and Plas Newydd, the house of the ladies of Llangollen who welcomed the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott among others.

– Dinas Brân means “castle of Brân”. Brân the blessedwas a Welsh king and a giant from the Welsh myths, including the medieval story cycle the Mabinogion.

 

 

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2. Bodfari – Clwyd Gate (18 km/11,2 m)

Bodfari

This second stage of the Offa’s Dyke Path takes you to an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), namely the Clywdian range, a series of hills, the highest being 554 metres or 1818 feet, offering stunning views and scenery as well as fauna and flora. This AONB also includes the Dee valley. Further alonge the path, more in the south, you walk the Wye valley. The Clwydian range is also one of three consecutive area’s where you can enjoy some splendid hillwalking, the other two being the Shropshire hills and the Brecon Beacons. Plenty of thinks to look forward to.

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Bodfari – Moel Arthur

From the B&B in Bodfari we had a rather steep descend to the actual starting point. And that might be the blueprint of the day. You climb a lot, you descend a lot, you climb a lot, you… It is typical for the national trails in the UK that you go up and down the fastest way, which does mean that the gradients can be challenging or exhausting in some parts of the path. Luckily the view is more than worth the effort. This stretch of Offa’s Dyke Path is a succession of moels (hills), where you sometimes climb to the trig point and sometimes walk on the shoulder. The first one is a long, steady climb to the Pen-Y-Cloddiau (440 m or 1443 feet), where the trained eye can spot the remains of a hill fort. After that the path declines quite steeply and you can find some rest and peace on a picturesquely placed bench, before taming the Moel Arthur.

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Moel Arthur – Llanferes

The path to Moel Arthur is a fine example of the straight and steep ahead-principle. The succession of ups and downs are quite challenging, especially when carrying the rather loaded backpack, but it is less than 20 kilometres and when it doesn’t rain you can take as many breaks as you’d like. You can also choose your own personal way of getting up a hill. Personally I like to do it in one stretch, while my grilfriend prefers to take breaks while climbing. Eventually we both ended up at Moel Arthur (455 m or 1493 feet).

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Before heading to the main attraction of the day, you have to pass two more hills. Moel Llys-y-coed has a height of 465 metres or 1525 feet. Moel Dywyll adds another 7 metres? After that you immediatly go down only to go up a bit. It’s all a wonderful exercise, though you’ll get more and more tired and hungry. So what is the main attraction? That is Moel Famau, with its 1821 metres the highest point of the northern half of Offa’s Dyke Path, and the highest point we would walk (since we stopped in Knighton and didn’t do the part in the Brecon Beacons). From afar you can see the peculiar Jubilee tower, but because the path meanders, it does feel for quite a long time that you don’t get nearer.

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Moel Famau is an ideal place to just rest a bit and to enjoy the surrounding hillside, especially those that you have walked yourself. From there on you just follow a rather broad and crowdy path towards a car park. Normally you’d also do Foel Fenlli (511 metres), but because we had our accomodation booked in nearby Llanferes we had to go to the left and walk another 3 kilometres on the roadside, between the pine trees.

The food

The Druid Inn is your average inn. They did have (in 2015) a weekly menu with a different dish every day. I chose the curry, something entirely different, which was good, especially considering the fact we were in a small village in Wales. The place was filled with locals, which is a good sign.

The accommodation

The Druid Inn is the best option in the area. You do have the leave the path early, and it is recommended to ask a ride to the starting point of the next day (which did cost us 5 pounds), but the room is good and you immediatly can get an evening meal and a packed lunch (again, about 5 pounds per person)

Trivia

– In 1810 it was decided to build a monument on Moel Famau, the highest point of the Clwydian Range, in honour of the golden jubilee of George III. Initially they wanted to put a obelisklike tower on top of the structure that is still visible today. Because of a lack of money it was never finished, and part of the tower was also destroyed in the middle of the 19th century. This makes the Jubilee tower a very peculair monument.

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– Moel means “bare” or “bare hill” in Welsh. Moel Famau (apparently) means “Bare hill of the mothers”

– A packed lunch usually costs around 5 pounds and per person contains two sandwiches, one biscuit, a bottle of water (0,5 l), apple juice, a back of crisps (a very important part of the English lunch) and sometimes also a granola bar. It is convenient if you can get one in your B&B or Inn, since some places don’t have a supermarket or shop.

Offa’s Dyke Path: A summary

Whose what?

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Just as is the case with Hadrian’s Wall Offa’s Dyke Path also follows a historical border of sorts. Offa (Icling) was king of Mercia from 757 until 796. Mercia was one of the different early kingdoms in England and bordered the kingdoms of Wales, mainly Gwynedd, Powys and Gwent. Even if it isn’t known to what extent Offa was responsible for the construction of the dyke (or even parts of it), it is linked with his reign. So now we know who Offa from Offa’s Dyke fame was, but what the hell is the dyke?

The dyke is an earthen wall, built as a defensive structure. In many places it was supposed to be 20 metres broad and 3 meters high. It went all the way from the Irish Sea in the North of Wales to the south, ending at the Bristol Channel. The whole border was 240 km (149 m), but it also made use of natural barriers. So there was probably about 130 km (81 m) of the actual dyke built. Some theories claim that it was already constructed, either partially or in its entirety, some centuries before Offa’s reign, but there is no historical consensus. In any case, the contemporary border between England and Wales follows the line of the Dyke, even if it is nowhere to be seen in most places. Yes, there does seem to be a similarity with Hadrian’s Wall Path.

A long distance trail?

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Offa’s Dyke Path is, just like Hadrian’s Wall Path, one of the national trails of England, Scotland and Wales. It has a length of 285 kilometres (177 m). It starts up north in Prestatyn, at the Irish Sea, and meanders from England to Wales and back again. The path passes through consecutively through the Clwydian Range, the Shropshire Hills and the Black mountains in the Brecon Beacons, where the highest point of the entire trail, at about 800 metres (+- 2600 feet). It was officially “opened” in 1971. It is a varied and challenging path, where one can find beautiful nature as well as interesting villages and towns in Wales and England.

This blog series will, just as was the case with Hadrian’s Wall Path, describe the different stages, talking about the route, the food and the accommodation as well as giving natural and historical information. I do have to say that I won’t cover the entire path. We did about half of it, starting in Prestatyn and ending in Knighton (156 of the 285 kilometres or 97 of the 177 miles). We used the Trailblazer guide as well as the Cicerone-guide, although the second one describes the routh from south to north. So it’s a bit more difficult to use for navigation. But the path itself is, apart from one specific and cursed point, well-marked by the signs and symbols (the national trail’s acorn) we know and cherish.