4/5/6. Sóller and surroundings

This post doesn’t follow the usual format. Because we stayed in Sóller for three days, it’s difficult to describe the 4th, 5th and 6th day as separate stages. First of all, because we didn’t always leave Sóller, and secondly because we didn’t always follow the marked paths. But we’ve kept ourselves busy of course, so it still might inspire and interest readers.

Sóller

Sóller is a favourite destination for people traveling to Mallorca, not in the least because of the wooden tram that drives through the city and is featured on a lot of the post cards there. A similar train operates from the capital of Palma to Sóller. The town has its own square, with the obligatory cathedral and fountain. The banco de Sóller was built by one of the pupils of famous architect Gaudí. Apart from that, Sóller is also known for its delicious organe flavoured ice cream. The city centre has a shopping district, but apart from the usual clothing stores and tourist shops, you also have some outdoor ones. We also paid a visit to the small but charming natural history museum with the accompanying botanical garden.

Port de Sóller

The wooden tram that I mentioned above brings the tourists who don’t feel like walking to Port de Sóller, the harbour and residential and touristic area that lies in the bay of Sóller. We preferred to hike, obviously, and took a part of the GR 221 to Deià, our next destination, up until a point where there’s a woman selling her oranges next to a rather big olive tree, where we leave the path and head towards the port. The landscape has the same features and the previous days, with terraces and olive trees, although we don’t climb as much. After a while you spot the blue bay in the distance. Once you reach the refugi, it’s another kilometer towards the beach. Port de Sóller is perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as other parts of Mallorca (and Sóller), but the location, in the bay, surrounded by the Tramuntana mountains, is definitely 10/10.

Fornalutx

Fornalutx is probably my second most favourite village that we visited during our stay in Mallorca (the prettiest will feature in the next post). It combines the typical Mallorcan architecture with the small and steep streets, a beautiful and cosy square and a flower-loving population, decorating the village. On this third day of our stay in Sóller, we first climbed towards Sa Capelleta, a rather peculiar chapel, built in the say modernista-style as the banco de Sóller. It’s definitely worth the detour. From there on, you keep on ascending, until you reach the viewing point of the Mirador de Ses Barques. You’re know relatively high, especially since you climbed quite a bit in a rather short amount of time, but from there on you’ll mostly stick to the same height. About an hour later we reached Fornalutx. After a tasty lunch and some freshly squeezed orange juice, we returned to Sóller via the hamlet of Binibassí.

Alternatives

There are different options when staying in Sóller. You can go to Sa Foradada or walk one of the torrents. You can also go to Deía, but you’d be following the GR 221.

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3. Tossals Verds – Sóller

Tossals Verds

As was the case upon arrival, the surroundings of the Tossals Verds refugi was wonderful in the morning, amid the Tramuntana mountains, greener than usual at this time of the year. There are to options on the stage to Sóller. You can choose the official trail or make a detour via pas Llis, which will lead you to a rocky and narrow part with some steel cables for extra security. We opted for the normal route. It ended up as one of my favourite hiking days ever.

Tossals Verds – Cúber

Because we chose the regular route, we had to track back and walk a part of yesterday’s stage. We had chosen the low road to reach Tossals Verds so now took the high road to leave it. The relatively narrow path climbs quite steeply, but the trees provide some shade and shelter, even though the sun was already burning brightly. After the narrow path, we end up on yesterday’s rocky stretch. After that we finally head towards a new direction and follow the artificial canal in the direction of the two reservoirs Gorg Blau and Cúber.

The canal leads the way for quite a long time and we decide to construct a boat made out of leaves and put it to sail. Although the temperature is starting to rise, it is a wonderful hike. The closer we get to the reservoirs, the more often we see Puig Major, and its accompanying military base. After passing Gorg Blau it’s only a short distance to the lake Cúber, surrounded by terracces and the beginning of the hike up Coll de l’Offre. A truly stunning place.

Cúber – Coll de l’Offre

The Cúber reservoir has a maximal capacity of 4,6 hm³ and where it first was used for generating electricity it now is the main source of the water supply of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the island. Not easy with an ever increasing drought. In any case, the reservoir is the starting point of one of the most popular routes in Mallorca. From the lake you can go up to the Coll de l’Offre and down the breathtaking Barranc de Biniaraix towards Sóller, even if you’re not a natural born hiker.

We take the path to the right of the lake, in a wonderful environment with plenty of flora and fauna to admire, especially if you like birds. One has to mind for ticks in the grass, as is pointed out by a carefully placed sign. After a short break at the other side of the reservoir, it’s only half an hour to the Coll de l’Offre. The sudden increase of hikers and people admiring the view over the bay of Sóller is a clear indication that this is indeed a popular route.

Coll de l’Offre – Barranc de Biniaraix

From the Coll de L’Offre you can see the final destination of this stage. The bay of Sóller is clearly visible. Between Cúber, already at a height of 770 metres and the coll lies only about 100 metres difference in height. From there on it’s literally all downhill. Over a relatively short distance from 900 metres (2952 ft) to 100 metres (328 ft), to the small village of Biniaraix, taking one of the most breathtaking paths on the entire GR. We’ve obviously chosen the right direction, going down instead of 800 metres up. At first the path climbs down via a track through the trees. About a kilometre further down, past a farm, you finally reach the barranc or gorge with its accompanying camí.

Barranc de Biniaraix – Sóller

The gorge of Biniaraix runs between the Cornadors and the Morro. The slopes of the hills are covered with impressive terraces, mostly used for the cultivation of olives. From here it goes down quite steeply, following the old path of the camí de barranc de Biniariaix, with plenty of dry stone walls and cobbled paths. Once you reach the bottom of the Barranc there is plenty left to enjoy. There’s a waterfall, a small canal and step stones leading past a dried up river. Sóller isn’t that far away, yet you feel totally secluded in this unique place.

When leaving the camí there are only two small villages, Biniaraix and the hamlet Binibassí, between you and Sóller. There’s not a lot to be seen here, although we can have the first taste of Sóller’s famous lemon ice cream.

Sóller

Sóller is a little town in the middle of the valley with the same name. It was originally founded by the Arabs, just like most of the villages I mentioned above, but was transformed into a popular residential seaside town at the end of the 19th century, with a rather popular beach and promenade.

The accommodation

We spent a couple of days in Sóller, because the grandparents of our friends have a house there, his grandmother being Mallorcan.

The food

Because we’ve only just arrived we chose a restaurant on the main square of Sóller. The food wasn’t bad, but I can’t really remember what it was, so I’m sure it wasn’t that unbelievably memorable.

Trivia

– The Puig Major is with its 1145 metres (4740 ft) the highest mountain top of Mallorca, but because there is a military base on top it’s not accesible. The base is a American radar complex built in 1958 (yes, during the reign of dictator Franco)

– A warning sign for ticks isn’t without its purpose. A tick removal tool is a must when you’re going out for a hike.

– The names in Sóller and the direct surroundings point to the presence of muslim influence. Remember that Bin comes from Ibn, which means son of. In Sóller there’s a festival which include a reenactment of a battle where the villagers defeated the Morish pirates.

 

2. Lluc – Tossals Verds (16 km/9,9 m)

Son Amer

We left the refugi of Son Amer with a sky filled with clouds. The weather forecast mentioned showers. This second day is also the one with the highest point on the trail and with wonderful panaromas. We were definitely hoping it would be a short affair and that we would get good views once we got up. And we were lucky enough. But first we had to descend back towards Lluc and start the misty climb towards the rocky staircase of the camí de ses Voltes d’en Galileu.

Son Amer – Camí de ses Voltes d’en Galileu

Our first hightlight of the day consists of the climb of the stairs of the camí de ses Voltes d’en Galileu, a cobbled set of staircases carved in the rocks, above the tree line. The first pat of this path, between Lluc and the staircases, already leads you 450 meters higher. This path mostly zigzags between the trees, and is quite manageable. Along this stretch you can see some remains of the past, like a charcoal pit and a snow house (case de neu), in this case Son Macip.

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In these snowe houses the snow and ice was shoved together and during the summer it was used for gastronomic (ice and drinks) as well as medical purposes (for instance against burn marks. This was already in practice during the 17th century. From here you can spot the valley of Lluc, despite the presence of clouds and mist. After a while you reach the staircase, a comfortable path, although it can be quite exciting due to the fact there’s a rather steep drop next to it.

Camí de ses Voltes d’en Galileu – Coll des Prat

Once the “staircase” is climbed, you get to a bit without climbing (or descending). The views are a fine reward. The Serra de Tramuntana contrasts the blue sea in the background. The blue skies are yet to appear though. We can enjoy the Case de neu d’en Galileu, fully reconstructed, at a height of 1090 metres (3576 ft). This snow house is 14 metres in length, 7 metres broad and 6 deep and must have been able to contain quite a lot of ice. There’s also a ruined house in the vincinity, so it’s ideal to hide for the drizzle (and the cold wind)

After the snow house it takes some more climbing via a narrow path surrounded by sharp shrubbery (you do have to be careful when wearing shorts). After another 500 metres you arrive at the Coll de Telègraf. The path than goes down, again zigzagging and meandering, and goes up once again after that. The landscape is wonderful and because of the fact that the Serra de Tramantuna rises from the sea level you do get the idea that, despite it’s only 1000 metres, you are quite up high.

Meanwhile the clouds have mostly disappear. It remains rather cold, because of the altitude. But the blue skies do make a difference. In the distance you can see the Puig Major, the highest summit of Mallorca (1445 m/4741ft), which you cannot climb because there’s a military base up there. After another snow house and a rather steep descend and a relatively steep climb, you reach the Colldes Prat, the highest point of the day (and the trail) with its 1205 metres (3953 ft).

 

Coll des Prat – Tossald Verds

From the coll you have to descend 700 metres in about 6 kilometres. At first this happens rather steadily, in a similar kind of landscape. But after the while you go back under the tree line. From there on the descend is a bit more technical. Once inside the forest, the landscape transforms and you see new and interesting landmarks, like the Font des Prat, also known as the source of the Massanella, an ideal resting point near a small river (the days and weeks before our journey it has rained quite a bit, so the river isn’t as dried up as it normally is).

After that the path becomes quite rocky, with the pointy, sharp ends of the path testing the soles of the walking boots. You can spot a viaduct clinging to a cliff in the distance. The last part runs through a lush, green part, where you can choose between the high and the low road. Because we have to walk this part again on the next day, we choose for the latter. After a bit we arrive in our second refugi, the one from Tossald Verds, seemingly seperated from the rest of the world.

Tossals Verds

The refugi of Tossals Verds is named after the summit that lies near it and the domain where it is situated. Just like the one in Son Amer it has good basic facilities. This time there is hot water as well. There are also the obligatory Germans and they find it difficult to keep on their clothes once again.

Accomodation

See above.

The food

Just like on the first day the vegetarion option consists of salad, tomatoes, bell pepper and red ognions.

Trivia

– Apart from the two snow houses already mentioned, you can spot a few others, although not in a great shape, like the Case Rodna d’en Rubi and the Case de neu de Son Lluc. The last one is covered in bushes. The first one is already mentioned in 1637, the second in 1711.

– Thanks to these snow houses the population of Mallorca was able to enjoy ice cream and cooled drinks quite early on. The Can Joan de s’Aigo, a café that was established in the early 18th century lured people to Palma de Mallorca with ice creams and cooled drinks.

 

1. Pollença – Lluc (17 km/10,6 m)

Pollença

Pollença is a former Roman settlement. You can still find the Roman bridge there (photo taken here at night). It has about 17.000 inhabitants and the GR 221 starts (or ends here). It’s not that far away from Palma de Mallorca so you can just take a bus to get there. Pollença is mainly known because of its Calvari, a hill with 365 steps, with cypresses on both side as well as crosses, symbolising the Stations of the Cross. At the top of this climb lies the church of Virgen de los Ángeles. If you get there earlier, it is worth the trip. But the first day of actual walking is the stage towards Lluc. The path climbs quite steadily, from 50 metres to about 700 metres. After that you’ll descend a bit towards the refugi.

Pollença – Font de Muntanya

The start of this stage is more or less a necessary evil. You walk past a stretch of the road. Luckily, after a kilometre you head to the left, where you find a small path that follows the river. This part isn’t that well kept, but it’s definitely a curiosity as the GR 221 is well maintained overall. After climbing a less than sturdy ladder, you walk past a bit of the En Marc Valley, with a lot of green, fertile soil, mainly used to plant and cultivate the characteristic olive trees.

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From there on you follow the Camí Vell, the medieval route between Pollença and the sanctuary of Lluc. From here on out the road definitely starts to climb. The path is well maintained and bends towards the coll. That way you do ascend quite a lot, but most of the time it isn’t too steep. You can also find shelter in the shadows of the trees if you need some rest or a breather. The GR continues its climb, this time following a dry river bed, until you arrive at the font (source) of Muntanya, where a big, round stone is the perfect table for a lunch.

Font de Muntanya – Binifaldó

The road keeps on climbing and after a while you can see the Puig (Mallorcan for hill or mountain) Gros de Ternelles and the Puig Tomir. After a while you can also see the Puig Caragoler. You won’t climb any of these summits on the GR though, although you can, if you want to, take a side excursion to the Puig Tomir (1103 m/3618 ft). Binifaldó can be found at about 600 metres above sea level. Today you can visit the educational centre of the Serra de Tramuntana. At that point you’ve done most of the climbing, though it’s not yet the highest point of this stage.

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Binifaldó – Refugi de Son Amur

From here it’s about an hour and half to the Refugi de Son Amer, the unofficial ending of this stage. We get the company of some rather enthusiastic sheep for a while. The path meanders again through woodlands, passing two colls. The first one is Coll de Pedregaret (you’ll be able to reach Puig Tomir this way) and Coll Pelat, the highest point of today.  There are a lot of trees though, so there aren’t many vistas to find here. Luckily the road itself is quite a treat.

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The last bit is mainly going down. We also see the first terraces of our trip. No, not the ones where you can get some orange juice (we’ll save that for later), but the ones that were used and are still used to cultivate the hills and mountains of the Tramuntana area. It’s not only practical, but also has aesthatic qualities.

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One last rather steep descend and we finally arrive at the Son Amer Refugi. The Refugi’s are your go to accommodation along the GR 221. You’ll get the absolute basic provisions, but after a day of walking, that’s all you need. The only problem we had was the lack of warm water due to technical problems. But that’s not that much of a big deal either. And the need to shower was probably big enough to compensate for the temperature.

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Lluc

This first day of walking was relatively easy, so there was room (and enough energy) left for a visit to the sanctuary of Lluc. The Santuari de Lluc is a monestary dating from the 13th century. It is said a Moorish shepherd found a Virgin Mary statue here. Today it is still an important religious site and a place for pilgrims, although you can also find a hostel, a school and quite some tourist accomodations here. It’s a nice place to visit but it’s not that memorable.

The accommodation

Like I said above, the Refugi de Son Amer is a good place to spend the night. The bunk beds are comfortable enough and there’s a large room to eat. The staff was friendly enough. The other guests were mainly German, who seem to have the strange habit of taking off their clothes in public. (Save there underwear) Peculiar.

The food

Our companions are vegetarions so we also took the vegetarian menu. Apparently something went wrong with the order so they prepared a salad with tomato and ognions, drowning in oil and a hastily cooked omelette.

Bijzonderheden

– Both Pollença and Lluc are places with an important religious connotation. The Calvari obviously plays an important part in the festivities of the Holy Week.

– Mallorca has been under the control of the Arabs for quite a long periode. You may not notice it through buildings or art, but the influence is noticable when you have a look at placenames. Binifaldó originates from Binihaldon, or sons of Haldum. The state claimed the propery in the nineteenth century. Before that it was in possession of the sanctuary of Lluc. The minister of finance, responsible for taking the property, was excommunicated because of it.

– A good travel guide will mention which sources are safe and which aren’t. The font de Muntanya is all good, so you can fill your bottle of water there.

GR 221: A short summary

BREAKING: After finishing my trip report for Hadrian’s Wall Path (North-England) and Offa’s Dyke Path (Wales/England) I can present a different kind of trip in an entirely different country. No sheep-clad green hills, no Norman castles, Roman walls, fish & chips, pubs, mountains with more consonants in their name than is comfortably pronounceable. For this next route we head south, to the Balearic island of Mallorca, where we can find the GR 221 or the Ruta de Pedra en Sec.

La Ruta de Pedra en what?

The GR 221 is called La Rute de Pedra en Sec, translated as the dry stone route. Websites and guidebooks offer different explanations why it’s called that way. Some refer to the rock formations of the Tramuntana mountains. Others point out the cobbled paths you follow along the route, while another alternative consists of the walls and terraces built on the island throughout the centuries.

It doesn’t matter that much anyway. All of the above are perfectly true. The Tramuntana mountains are there throughout the majority of the trail, sometimes in the background, but mostly you’ll walk its paths. Because it can get very hot quite early in the year, its slopes and paths often consist of bare, dry rock. You do follow woodland tracks or paved roads from time to time. The latter are often routes used by shepherds and were restored meticulously by the Consell de Mallorca. At the same time there are often dry stone walls at the side of the path, with vistas over terraces, mainly used for olive trees. Add lots of sun, sea and good food to all of this and you have the perfect combination for a wonderful hiking trail.

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Hiking trail?

The GR 221 lies on the northern side of the island and goes from the east (Pollença) to the west (Port D’Andratx). The latter stages aren’t completely covered with signposts. It’s best to use a good map, the official guide and the cairns indicating the path. The biggest part of the path however, that between Pollença and Deià is clearly marked. It’s difficult to get lost on this bit. Apart from the official route there are also a couple of  alternative sections (variant). Mallorca has a lot of wonderful routes to offer besides the GR 221 and they can sometimes be added to the main journey.

This trip report will consist of the same elements as the other two, although there are a couple of changes. First of all, the GR 211 is a path that mainly sticks to the nature of the Tramuntana mountains and the sea. This means that there aren’t as many options available for cultural or historical visits. But, of course, wherever I’m able I will discuss the history and the culture along the route. Secondly, we stayed in Sóller for a couple of days. We walked the route with two friends. His grandmother is originally from Mallorca and they have a residence there. Since we were able to stay there, “accommodation” and “food” in Sóller wouldn’t be as useful, because we didn’t stay in a hotel or refugi and mainyl cooked our own food. But needless to say, the GR 221 is a magnificent route on a fantastic island. So I gladly invite you along the Ruta de Pedra en Sec, and hope you’ll enjoy it.

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8: Brompton crossroads – Knighton (23 km/14,3 m)

Montgomery

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.

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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.

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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.

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Knighton

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.

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The food

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.

The accommodation

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.

Trivia

-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.

7. Welshpool – Montgomery (18,5 km/11,5m)

Welshpool

We had entered Welshpool by the path next to the canal and decided to take a other way to head back towards the official path. Sometimes it’s better to chose the route you already know, even if you won’t discover any new sights. We went through the center of the town, following less than charming roads in the suburbs. After a while you link up with the canal once more, and that’s a good thing. Our return to the Offa’s Dyke Path meant an added total of 2,5 km, but luckily, we would see some pretty sights today.

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Welshpool – Kingswood & Forden (10 km/6,2 m)

The first part of the stage is a relatively steep hike to the top of Beacon Hill, an old hill fort amidst a beech forest and a telephone mast on top of it. Thanks to the yellow fields of grain the climb is not only challenging but also visually pleasant. The top of Beacon Hill was the perfect place for a short break.

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The highlight of the day was the passage through Leighton Estate, a very agreeable path through an imposing forests. These woodlands are not only used to please hikers, but here roam dozens and dozens of pheasants. It may have been fun to be surrounded by those manic birds, but it was obvious that these animals were bred as proverbial cannon fodder. Once you leave the forest you enter the small villages of Kingswood & Forden.

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Kingswood & Forden – Montgomery (8,5 km/5,3m)

The second part, heading towards Montgomery, offers a more pastoral experience and leads you to fields and meadows. It was here that one of the bloodiest battles in the English civil war, in the 17th century, was fought, in the vicinity of Montgomery. During this 8,5 km you can spot a bit more of the Dyke itself. It is a quiet, peaceful and easy stroll and a good place to walk.

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Montgomery

Montgomery is probably one of the prettiest places we’ve seen on this first half of Offa’s Dyke, a small village with beautiful houses. Despite its relatively modest size, you can spend quite a few hours if you’ve arrived early. The local museum has a surprisingly interesting collection and the castle, although it’s actually a ruin, is also a must, especially since you get a lot of interesting information during your visit.

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The food

It was proven once more that small villages can offer great food along a relatively touristic long distance trail. I chose a risotto and my girlfriend picked the vegetarian pasta. I also have fond memories of the chocolate cake.

The accommodation

The Dragon Inn is a neat hotel with spatious room and a very good shower (quite important while walking in summer). The staff was very friendly, which was especially welcome since we had to order a taxi for our next day.

Trivia

– The border country become of great strategic importance from the invasion of William the conqueror onward. It was called the Marshes, a buffer between England and the Welsh kingdoms.

– Montgomery got its name from one of those Norman noblemen, loyal to William of Normandy, Roger de Montgomery.

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4. Llangollen – Chirk (16 km/9,9m)

Llangollen

It’s a sort of golden rule for hiking enthusiasts. After a long and tiring day of walking it might be a good idea to plan a shorter, easier one, especially when you have the perfect opportunity to do so. After the unexpected war of attrition on the third day, we were able to recover with a relatively short stage. We would walk from Llangollen to Chirk where we would meet up with our family and Welsh friends. Because we would return to our hostel in the evening we only needed to take food and water with us. And what was even better, we had all the time in the world.

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Llangollen – Froncysyllte (7 km/4,3 m)

After a short climb from the centre of Llangollen to Offa’s  Dyke Path we began the day where the previous one had ended, with a stretch along the so called Panorama Walk. The view is undoubtedly spectacular, looking over the Dee Valley and with some more views over Dinas Brân, but of course a paved road is a little less agreeable on the feet and it is a rather busy one as well, so you do have to endure the passing cars. But luckily, we would soon enter Trevor Hall Wood and there we would find peace and quiet.

Trevor Hall is a Victorian mansion and as is often the case it is partially used for weddings and receptions. The woodlands are part of the domain of the mansion, but, as is common in the United Kingdom, it is accessible for hikers. The forest itself feels totally different than Llandegla forest, where we had some trouble finding the right way, which may have clouded our judgement. Trevor Hall Wood is more fairy-like and reminds you why J.R.R. Tolkien drew inspiration from Wales and its landscape while creating the fantastic (and fantasy) world of Middle-Earth.

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After you leave the forest you walk through a tunnel and via a kissing gate you enter a field with horses.  I was able to experience one of the deepest connections I ever head with an animal, thanks to a short but intense friendship with a horse. The selfie was fun enough, but it continued to follow my every step afterwards, not leaving my side. For a minute I had feeling of being a horse whisperer. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye. After a short break in Trevor, we went to Froncysyllte (again, a rather peculiar place name and a bit of tongue twister), where you can find and walk on the famous (well, in the UK) aqueduct of the Scottish engineer Telford.

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Froncysyllte – Chirk (9 km/5,6m)

Hold on. Someone thought it was a good idea to name the aqueduct in Froncysyllte Pontcysyllte. Originally it was part of a plan to link the Severn in Shrewsbury with the Mersey in Liverpool. The aqueduct was built in 1805. But due to a lack of funds, the trajectory wasn’t finished and with the dawn of the railroad there now was a alternative for the Llangollen canal. It wasn’t used for industrial transport. Today it mainly serves recreational purposes. Now and then you can spot the horse-drawn boats, but there are many pleasure crafts along the canal. Telfords aqueduct is the oldest and longest navigable aqueduct in the United Kingdom and with its height of 38 metres (+- 125 feet) also quite impressive.

The path follows the canal for another couple of kilometres, until you reach the Irish Bridge, where you go down and into the comfort of green meadows. The good news is that you can spot a chunk of the dyke. At first it’s rather subtle, but after a while the earthen wall becomes quite prominent. After descending some more, the path goes around Chirk Castle (see below), where, behind a fence, there is more Offa’s Dyke to admire. From there on it is about half an hour to the final destination of the day (Castle Mill). We add another two kilometres to the centre of Chirk, for a meeting with friends and family.

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The food

A delicious spaghetti at Paul and Ruth’s, my parent’s Welsh friends.

The day after dinner at the Corn Mill, a good restaurant located next to the river Dee.

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

In Chirk you can find one of my favourite (Welsh) castles, the eponymous Chirk Castle. It is a real treat, both on the inside and the outisde. There’s also a beautiful castle garden and the surrounding grounds lead to the impressive gate, which leads us to the legend of the red hand.

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The legend of the red hand tells of a dying lord who didn’t know which one of his sons was the oldest, which was a bit of a problem when it came to the inheritance. He decide to organise a race. The first one to touch his deathbed would gain his possessions and inherit the title. When one of the sons realised he would lose the race, he allegedly chopped of his hand and threw it at the bed, being the first one to touch it. Hence the red, bloody hand that features in the gate. Other legends speak of the same story but with the hand being cut off by a sore loser. There are also stories about a curse, that would only be lift when a prisoner would survive in the dungeons for more than ten years.

The truth is probably more mundane. James I, in need of money, created baronies. Those who purchased lands were allowed to add a red baronet’s glove to their crest.

Thomas Telford was one of the great engineers of his time and apart from canals and aqueducts, he also designed built bridges, tunnels and harbours.

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.

 

 

1. Prestatyn – Bodfari (21 km/13 m)

From north to south

As I said in the short introduction this blog about Offa’s Dyke Path will cover more or less half of the trail and we decided to start north in Prestatyn and head southwards to Knighton. This was mainly decided because of some very practical reasons. One can get to Prestatyn by train. First from Brussels-South to London St. Pancras and from Euston to Prestatyn to Chester. This domestic journey lasts around 2 hours and 40 minutes, which is good, since one can try and get some rest or read about the journey ahead. And to enjoy the ever changing landscape, that becomes more and more green and hilly.

Prestatyn is one of the Welsh towns that was once very popular as a seaside resort, especially in the Victorian era and the early twentieth century, just like Llandudno among others. Today it’s still able to draw a crowd. Because of the ever increasing visitors, the town got its own holiday camps. The closer you get to the beach, the less charming the houses become. Logically, the other way around you see that the further you get from the promenade the more exclusive the residences become and the influence of Victorian splendor becomes visible. We decided to stay in one of those pretty houses. B&B Plas Ifan offered a pretty room and a good breakfast, and we could start our second hiking adventure in good spirit.

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Prestatyn – Rhuallt (13 km/8m)

The path begins on the promenade, where you say goodbye to the Irish Sea (although there will be plenty of sea views left). Passing the city center you immediatly start to climb towards the Prestatyn Hillside. On the side of the path you can see gorse and ferns, which will both appear a lot more later on. Further ahead, you have a great view over the coastal town, the see and the windmills in the distance. It is worth the effort.

It immediatly becomes clear that this path is more challenging than Hadrian’s Wall, even after the first kilometre. A hasty conclusion? Well, time did tell our gut feeling was right. Once you pass the shrubs and plants, the rest of this part is characterised by green meadows and hills. Combined with the blue sky this forms a picture perfect landscape that just oozes that special Welsh wonderfulness.

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Rhuallt – Bodfari (8 km)

Rhuallt is a small village with a pub and consisting of a number of streets, but that is about it. It’s not enough to keep us lingering there too long, so we immediatly continue our journey. The fields are roamed by many different kinds of animals, and their numbers are ever increasing. We mostly meet cows and sheep, but now and then we do encounter something more exotic, something you wouldn’t perhaps expect to see roaming freely in Wales. After some grumbling and spitting (from the animals obviously), Sara and I were able to find a way through.

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After this strange encounter you mainly walk through the same kind of landscapes, rolling green hills, with kissing gates and stiles placed here and there to get through and over walls and hedges. Occassionally there are some architectural elements, like the little church of St. Bueno. After that you climb another hill, until you get on a path that is entirely made invisible by the ferns. With the hands up in the air we pushed and found ourselves a way through. You don’t climb that high on this very first day, but what characterises Offa’s Dyke Path is that it does go up and down a lot, without much a do. It’s often just straight forward, even if it makes for a really steep climb. Eventually we found ourselves a lovely hill and enjoyed the view.

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After a last climb, testing the knees once more, we reached our destionation of the day, Bodfari. This first day was definitely memorable. The sea now lies behind us. In front of us is the first real challenge, the Clwydian range.

The food

As often with these kind of villages you have a limited choice in Bodfari. We went to the Downing Arms, where we both took a hamburger and a good local beer. While going  there we took a short but dangerous busy road. Thanks to local we had a safe yet more tiring route back to our B&B.

The accommodation

Finding a place to stay in Bodfari was not easy. Two B&B’s mentioned in our guides were no longer  active and out of the other available ones one of the owner’s mother had just died and the other was fully booked because of a marriage. Luckily we could still book a room in Llety’r Eos Ucha. It was a clean and comfortably (and really big) room.

Trivia

 – The ll (double l) is pronounced like a slj in Wlesh, a bit like a llama blowing through his teeth. No coincidence that we met a couple of those along the way, I guess.

-Offa’s Dyke Path has it’s own sculpture symbolising both “the beginning” and “the end”, so it can be enjoyed by both the hikers that start and finish in Prestatyn.

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-Apparently it’s a tradition to dip your shoe in the sea and take a shell from Prestatyn, so you can throw it in the Severn at the end of the trail.