Monday, 16 August 2010

Day eleven. Newcastle-on-Clun to Knighton. 7.5 miles.

So that's it for another year. The last 7.5 miles were dispatched with ease (after kippers for breakfast, at last!) on a far moodier morning than yesterday, leaving us standing outside the first b&b where my car was, hoping that the landlady hadn't read this blog in the meantime! She was as lively as ever and made us a pot of tea, informing us that since my stay a mere 12 days previously her daughter had met a Canadian hunk and was now madly in love! So, a happy ending then.

I was pleased to be finishing the walk with over two weeks of the school holiday still remaining (oh yes!), as opposed to last year when I started back the day after getting home from Offa's Dyke. Last year it was quite a shock suddenly being surrounded by people again, but if the same thing had happened this year, after barely a single sensible conversation, it might have tipped me over the edge (note - I do not include conversations with Jen in the above, obviously!).

My thoughts will doubtless now turn to next year, and whether to remain in Wales (Lleyn Peninsula Walk? Part of the Cambrian Way?) or venture further afield (England?!). But for now I am sort of in a position to compare the three National Trails, so will. I say 'sort of' because I did the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in 1992, so my memories of that are much hazier. Also I camped then because I was younger, healthier and presumably grubbier, so the meal ratings would have been quite low (beanfeast, anyone?). An objective comparison must therefore focus entirely on the merits of the walk itself, whilst a subjective one would be based on my own experiences.

Here is a short objective comparison using a 1-10 rating.

Quality of scenery (but then that depends on what sort of scenery people like, oh well):
pcp 8
odp 9
gw 8

Scenic variation:
pcp 2
odp 8
gw 4

Difficulty (based on 15 miles per day approx' average):
pcp 5
odp 7
gw 7


Oh I'm bored with this already. Here's a Glyndwr's Way waymarker. As you can see some of them are quite old (this is the photo equivalent of last year's gate latch!).

I'm partly bored with this because I know already what's going to happen. Pembrokeshire will come off worst, but it remains my favourite long distance walk I've done, so there! What I can safely do is recommend any of the three as fantastic walks. Here are the highlights of my Glyndwr's Way.

Best day - day five. A walk on the wild side before ending at Machynlleth, en route meeting three mad Eastern Europeans.

Worst day - day eight. Mainly because of the morning weather.

Best bit - seeing the first two red kites swooping around at the end of day three. And the joy of two closed pubs actually being open.

Worst bit - fighting my way through bracken on Welshpool golf course.

Best place to be - on top of Foel Fadian (in the rain).

Best b&b - The Oaks at Llanwddyn. Highly recommended.

Best landlord/lady - Penny at Whytcwm Cottage in Knighton. A true star.

Best pub - none of them were brilliant to be honest, so I'll cheat and say the the Crown Inn, Newcastle (on Offa's Dyke). I'll never forget the Star at Dylife though!

Worst pub - the one at Llanbadarn, how dare it be closed! Of the open ones I could choose several from the first half of the walk but I won't, to protect the guilty.

Best attitude to walkers - the ill man at the Dyfi Valley Hotel who opened specially for me.

Best pint - anything by Monty's brewery. I was going to finish with worst pint but that seems a bit negative, especially as the beer got better as the walk progressed. So here's to Glyndwr's Way!

Day ten. Forden to Newcastle-on-Clun. 14 miles.

No photos today, or meal rating, as I've decided that both belong on this blog to Glyndwr's Way and are therefore no more.

An odd day in walking terms. 7 totally flat miles followed by 7 totally hilly miles, all on the Offa's Dyke Path. Of course I knew what coming because I did It last year, but the Shropshire hills are still as steep, however many times you climb them.

So the hilly bit went: steep ascent, steep descent, steep ascent, steep descent, steep ascent, smaller upsy-downsy bits for few miles, steep descent. All in a beautiful part of the country. Just 7.5 miles left now to walk now. We were both pretty tired when we arrived at the Crown Inn at Newcastle (definitely the smallest of the Newcastles I've come across), partly because of the terrain, but also because it had been a very warm, sunny day and therefore quite draining.

The pub was about to open and there were three older blokes waiting outside. They were doing part of Offa's Dyke and were an entertaining bunch, constantly digging at each other in a 'Last of the summer wine' sort of way. The oddest one was a retired teacher who had been drafted back into education to focus on critical thinking, which obviously interested me, but we managed to keep the work-related chat to a minimum.

Our room is a beauty, which in relation to the other pubs I've stayed in doesn't take much, but it is probably the nicest of the lot. The food was great too. Meal rating......blimey it's hard to resist.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Day nine. Meifod to Welshpool. 10.75 miles. Welshpool to Forden. 4 miles.

Hooray, I completed Glyndwr's Way on a beautiful sunny day. Despite the fact that I've finished there isn't that much to report about the walk itself, apart from the final hill. I started at 9:30 after a no-nonsense breakfast (none of this fruit juice nonsense, just straight on to a full breakfast with 3 sausages and 3 rashers of bacon) and for the next four hours wandered slowly up and down small hills, stopping for numerous water breaks because of the heat. When it's hot even sheep are more sensible than humans.

By 1:30 there was only one hill left between me and Welshpool, but it was the biggest ascent of the day and through head high bracken. After struggling uphill through the stuff for 15 minutes I emerged on the 2nd tee, par 5, 495 yards. This was Welshpool golf course and I immediately recognised it. I had been here many years previously with Jon, when he had come for a round with his uncle and I had offered to be caddy. It had been pouring down and they both spent the whole round complaining that "we usually play much better than this", even though I had my doubts. I remember thinking what an amazing golf course it was, perched on top of a hill, and that if I was a golfer (which I am not) I would play here all the time. However there is one big drawback, and that is that Welshpool golf course is also a common, which means that when I emerged at the 2nd tee, par 5, 495 yards it was being grazed by sheep. Lots of sheep. The only bits of the course which weren't covered with sheep were the greens, which were surrounded by wire fences which would be very easy to hit with a golf ball. Not ideal. So I left the 2nd tee, climbed through some more bracken, passed the 17th tee, par 3, 155 yards (far too easy), found a flag on the 16th green to keep the flies away and wandered along the fairway (only joking golf fanatics) and eventually reached the top of the hill via a rough track.

The views from here were as good as any I had had on the entire walk. In the near vicinity were the cliffs at Llanymynech and the lumpy hills I've forgotten the name of, while in the distance were the Pumlumon to the south west, Cadair Idris to the west, the Arans, the Arenigs, the Berwyn, the Cheshire sandstone ridge and in the far distance the Pennines. I took all this in over lunch, during which a man in a jeep suddenly appeared, rattled his way up the track and parked right next to me at the top. He got out and stood leaning against the jeep. I then had yet another riveting Glyndwr's Way conversation:
Me: "It's a lovely day isn't it?"
Him: "Hmm."
"Are you the groundsman?"
"Yep, that's right"
"Are the sheep a problem?"
"No not really."
"There are lots of them."
"Is this your lunch break then?"
"No not yet."
"Oh. Bye."
I really had hoped that this final attempt at a conversation would be a success, but no, it wasn't to be. I left the summit a broken man, unable to instigate a single productive conversation with a stranger I met en route for 9 whole days. Well, that's of course not quite true, but these have ironically been the most memorable ones!

Once I reached Welshpool I was heading for a garden with a plaque in it to mark the end of the walk. Before that though I needed to meet Jen and do a few bits and bobs, so these things now happened:
I got some cash out of the bank.
I bought the latest copy of Four Four Two.
I went to the tourist information.
I went to the Royal Oak for a pint.
Jen arrived.
We parked the car at a garage for two nights.
We went to the Royal Oak for a pint.
We went to the Spar for some goodies.
I phoned the b&b and found out that they did not do food.
We went to an Indian Restaurant and ordered a takeaway to be delivered to our b&b, 4 miles away.
We went back to the Spar for wine and beer.

At last we were now ready to set off for the walk to the b&b. I just had to keep reminding myself that I hadn't actually finished Glyndwr's Way yet! So, three hours after arriving in Welshpool, I got to the end of the walk.

After a walk along the canal path and the verge of the A490, with a quick stop for another drink, we arrived at our quite surreal 1930s inspired b&b, Edderton Hall. It was a strange evening as we watched our takeaway arrive by taxi along the long drive, ate outside, then locked ourselves IN our bedroom. Luckily we were able to escape down the outside fire escape and try again, this time taking the key into the room with us! Once the food was finished we considered our options for the rest of the evening. I certainly knew what I wanted to do, but however hard I tried I just couldn't interest Jennie in the Cock (the pub in the village, obviously!). So we stayed in.

So that's it, job done once again, but this walk now means that I've completed all three of the Welsh National Trails, which I'm really pleased about. I'll continue the blog with brief details of the final two days on Offa's Dyke with Jen to get back to my car in Knighton, plus my final thoughts on Glyndwr's Way, but to finish this post here is the final wildlife tally for Glyndwr's Way, 2010:

Polecats - 1
Pigs - 1
Frogs - 1
Red kites - 6
Flies - 8 (the same 8 have followed me all the way)
Horses - 162
Buzzards - 245
Cows - 479
Sheep - 6,435,886

-- Posted from my iPhone

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Day eight. Llanwddyn to Meifod. 15.25 miles.

The wet one. And the sunny one. A strange day, nay, a schizophrenic day no less. 8 miles of drizzle, followed by 7 miles of sun, with lunch in a chapel in between.

First, the wet bit. I had breakfast with other people for a change, a friendly couple from Neath. He had done Glyndwr's Way three years ago, in a heatwave, and had suffered with both the heat and blisters. I should therefore have been grateful that it was raining this morning, but I wasn't. The forecast, as on day four, was for improving weather, though this time I wouldn't be able to wait for it to arrive as it was happening later. I wanted to have a mosey around the village, (as it is a tourist haven, albeit of mid-Wales proportions) so put on the waterproofs (for only the third time, and each of the other times was for a short shower) and hit the craft shops, both of them. I then went to see the sculpture park below the dam, which had over 50 (wet) sculptures made by artists from all over the world. The quality was very high but this one had something special that the others didn't, though I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was.

My last call was to the RSPB Centre and shop, where I had a feathery chat with two nice shop assistants (who spent the whole time I was there trying to prove that two assistants were actually needed), and made a purchase, a memento from Glyndwr's Way. Meet Randy...

Well Randy is a provisional name. He's a red kite, see, so for alliteration's sake his name must begin with 'R'. Randy was the, er, first thing that came into my head. I know it's not great but the second was Roger, and Roger the red kite doesn't work too well either. I'll work on it (suggestions on a postcard please).

Towards the end of today's walk I was quite surprised to see a red kite floating around. I could hear another one too, but couldn't see it (oh, I'm a bit of a buzzard/red kite connoisseur these days). I was only surprised because it was a few days since I'd last seen one. Anyway that's six I've spotted now. Plus Randy.

When I finally began walking it was 11:15, but the poor weather meant head down and march, so despite some steep ascents I'd done eight miles by 2pm. This was at a hamlet called Dolanog. I have no idea what the scenery was like during these first eight miles because I couldn't see it, but I did notice that Owain was sharing his path with somebody called Ann Griffiths, who must have had religious connections because her path symbol was a bible (Owain's is a dragon, much more rock'n'roll). All was explained at Dolanog, where I took refuge in a chapel dedicated to her, and the many Welsh hymns that she had written. I felt slightly guilty using her chapel as a picnic area and shelter from the permadrizzle, but she undoubtedly forgave me, because when I emerged twenty minutes later it was to glorious sunshine. Not only that but there was not a cloud in sight. Simply put this was a miracle, a meteorological miracle in fact, and in return I have vowed to learn and recite one of Ann's enduring masterpieces, possibly at school (in the toilet if I'm not wanted for an assembly).

Now for the dry bit. Well dry bits are simply not as interesting as wet bits, so basically the sun came out, the waterproofs were off and I managed to get burned because I failed to notice how hot it actually was. There was at least some scenery to be seen, which began after lunch with a pretty walk next to a river, something unusual for this walk as normally it tends to stay high wherever possible. I arrived at yet another possible en route pint stop, with no hope of the pub actually being open as it was in a tiny village off the beaten track, it was Monday and it was 4pm. Surely it wouldn't be open. It wasn't.

I wasn't that bothered because I only had 3 miles to go, so wandered off towards the final hill of the day. I realised that it was yet another summit that was going to be bypassed and was keen to see the view from the top, so up I went. I wasn't disappointed, and ended up spending an hour up there looking at the views, which included Llanymynech, a village on Offa's Dyke, and England. Not far to go now.

Actually part of the reason I stayed up there so long was because I finally had a phone signal, so I could post my backlog of blog entries to prove that I really was still alive and send a few texts. I could see my destination, the King's Head at Meifod, from the top of the hill and the thought of a well earned pint finally lured me down.

The pub has indeed got good beer (Greene King IPA), a lovely lounge, a lively bar and it looks great outside. The only problem, and a common one in pubs, is the room. It's really not very nice, and as with last year the b&bs have proved to be far better. I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't £40, the most expensive I've stayed in bar Lloyd's, which was a hotel and looked like one. At least the other pubs had both been £25 and dismal. I've ordered a steak to celebrate nearly finishing Glyndwr's Way. It'd better be good.

It was good. Fillet steak with caramelised red cabbage and a leek sauce. Served with chips (the first I've had, apart from the wedges that were actually chips) and veg. Meal rating 9/10. One point docked for an over-abundance of caramelised red cabbage.

So the last day of Glyndwr's Way tomorrow, followed by two days with Jen on Offa's Dyke to get back to the car in Knighton. Welshpool isn't the greatest place to finish a long walk like this, but I suppose it's better than Prestatyn or a muddy cliff overlooking the River Severn.

-- Posted from my iPhone

What a difference a night makes.

View across Lake Vyrnwy at 9pm last night...

I can't see it this morning.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Monday, 9 August 2010

Day seven. Llanbrynmair to Llanwddyn. 16.75 miles.

Well here I am, sitting on the balcony of the Tower Tavern with a pint of Monty's Desert Rats, watching the sun setting over Lake Vyrnwy. Bliss.

The Tower Tavern is part of the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel. It is the non-posh part, which is why I'm here. I can only assume that as well as tramps, midges are also banned from the posh part, because I can see lots of posh people sitting outside to my left, and they don't seem to be slapping themselves every three and a half seconds. If you haven't been to Lake Vyrnwy it is beautiful but, for mid-Wales, quite popular. This is the quietest I have ever seen it and it's fab, though as it's Sunday it probably wasn't quiet earlier. Here is a picture of the dam.

My b&b is also fab, possibly the nicest so far and a two minute walk from the dam, though when recommending the Tower Tavern my landlord forgot to mention midges in the same sentence as terrace, glorious view and relaxing beer. It even provides a complimentary dressing gown, on which there is a label which says, "Wear me whilst watching the highlights of Manchester United's comfortable pre-season victory over Chelsea". So I will.

My Glyndwr's Way guide book is, sadly, rubbish. It is the official National Trail guide containing 1:25,000 OS maps, so why it spends the entire time describing in totally unnecessary detail which way to go I've no idea (have I moaned about this before? I suddenly had a sense of iPhone déjà vu.). I can read a map, I don't need directions, I need answers. I need to know why I am visiting all these places and their connection with my dear friend Owain. I know that, for example, he briefly made Machynlleth capital of Wales, so I know why I went there. But the book seems to forget about him most of the time. Maybe he came here and said, "I declare that this place shall one day become a reservoir, a place of great beauty, a place of meditation and calm. By the way does anybody have any insect repellant?" But then again maybe he didn't.

Another problem with the guide book is that it claims that all of the pubs en route are excellent. Well I suppose it has to really, as an objective guide. They aren't though, as the latest lunch time effort proved. It's Sunday, the Cann Office Hotel at Llangadfan is on the only 'A' road I crossed today, and it advertises all day food on Sunday. But it was empty when I got there. I don't think it's got the excuses that previous, more remote, pubs had. It's just not very pleasant, though at least the beer was good (Brain's).

Today's walk was the longest I'll do and it felt like it. Each day the ascents seem to get steeper and longer, four of them today. Here is the view looking back from the first hill towards Llanbrynmair (on the left).

Four ascents doesn't sound too bad, but I have to remember that each ascent can be anything between 500ft and 1000ft, so it soon builds up. The last hill was a killer, especially as I only had a mile left when I started going up it so I had a nearly finished attitude. The weather was spot on today, sunny most of the time but not too hot, with a lovely breeze. There were two long
coniferous forest sections but both were pleasant, meaning that I wasn't walking in the dark the whole time. The paths were wide and sunny. The scenery changed quite dramatically between entering the first forest and leaving it two miles later. As I went in the hills were as they had been since Knighton, lumpy and dropping down into valleys each time they ended. When I came out it was to much more 'sweeping' scenery, with wider, shallow valleys. More like an upland plateau really. I had read in reports on the net that the northern half of the walk was much less impressive than the southern half, but there has been nothing during the last two days to suggest that, and I've only got two days left.

Song of the day was 'Pale Shelter' by Tears for Fears, which was ok because I like it, though after it's been stuck in your head for hours you start to wonder why it's been stuck in your head for hours, and realise what a miserable song it is (from a really good, miserable album!). Maybe tomorrow I'll make a conscious effort to lodge something cheerful in my head, like Rick Astley. Or maybe not.

I made the most of today's weather because the forecast isn't great for tomorrow. Let's hope it's one of those days that turns out better than predicted. I'm stacking up these blog entries because I haven't had a signal for about five days! I hope nobody thinks I actually have died. Mr Blue Sky has just come on in the pub. That would be a great one to sing tomorrow. In the rain.

Oh, nearly forgot, I had chicken breast wrapped in bacon and stuffed with black pudding, with a peppercorn sauce tonight. Meal rating 6/10. The chicken was fine, but two points docked for trying to overcharge me (it said £9.50 on the menu, so she charged me £13.75), and another two for serving re-heated new potatoes and tired vegetables (well I know what I'm on about, I think!).

-- Posted from my iPhone

Day six. Machynlleth to Llanbrynmair. 15.5 miles.

I forgot to take any photos today, so took two in desperation towards the end but they have limited appeal. Then again so do photos of bowls of unidentifiable somethings.

It's not that the scenery today was rubbish or anything, I just forgot. In fact the scenery was as impressive today as on any other, and the sea made a second appearance in the distance. Today was basically three hills with a couple of gaps in between. I started at 9:45 after saying goodbye to Jen and Liz, then hiding in the Co-op till a shower had passed. After that there was only one shower, and I was able to hide under a tree till it passed.

Three events defined today. The first was that I met two other walkers doing Glyndwr's Way, so I am not the first after all (something I'm a bit disgruntled about to be honest). They did the southern half last year and were on the verge of completing the northern half when I met them, as they were finishing at Machynlleth. They moaned so much about the weather yesterday that I didn't have the heart to tell them that I'd had a day off.

The second event was when I dropped down to the village of Cemmaes Road at lunch time to visit the pub. I wasn't too optimistic after the disappointment of Llanbadarn and sure enough the pub was shut when I got there. In fact it was boarded up and looking almost as derelict as the Greyhound in Llangunllo. There was an old bench outside so I sat down to eat my packed lunch, trying to convince myself that it was a blessing in disguise for my health, etc, etc. I'd been there for about 15 minutes when the door opened. An old man was standing in the doorway looking, well, ill. He said, "I saw you sitting there and thought you might like a drink". Out of context it doesn't mean a lot but at the time I was absolutely staggered. The place was in as bad a state as the Greyhound had been, but this bloke hadn't even died yet. I followed him in to a small, musty room with far too many antique clocks on the wall, only one of which seemed to work. Everything was old, which didn't bode well for the beer. There was no hand pump so I settled for a pint of Ansells on tap. It was actually one of the better pints I've had, partly because it wasn't chilled to within an inch of it's life. We had a chat, during which I discovered that he was ill and that business wasn't good. I left with a real sinking feeling. I have been to several villages now that are losing their focal points, whether it's the pub, the shop or the post office. It's very sad and probably irreversible. But at least I'll remember the time that someone opened their pub especially for me, and closed it after I left.

The third event was in the evening at the Wynnstay Arms in Llanbrynmair, after I'd eaten my lamb shank with veg and mash, meal rating 5/10. I know lamb is a greasy meat but this was ridiculous, the Kenickie of the sheep world. So five points docked for excessive grease and for the presence of a grilled tomato, which had surely escaped from a different meal. Anyway, there was a girl staying at the pub who was studying wind energy as part of her masters and was visiting various mid-Wales wind farms on foot. Along with the landlady we had a brief chat about the subject, then the girl (Jess) asked me if she could interview me for her studies. I said that was fine but was nonetheless quite surprised when she went up to her room and came back with recording equipment, a sort of giant dictaphone, including headphones. Anyway I think I acquitted myself quite well in such stressful circumstances, rambling on happily about renewable resources, education and Adolf Hitler (can't remember now where he fitted in).

After she left I sat in the lounge for a bit, then the landlady informed me that the lounge was closing but the bar was licensed to serve till 4, if I would like to move into there. With 17 miles to do tomorrow I reluctantly declined the offer and toddled off to my room to watch the Football League Show. Ah the new season, it's been so long!

-- Posted from my iPhone