Offa's Dyke Path 2002

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 4 - Buttington Bridge to Llandegla

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Day 8 - Wednesday 10th July - Buttington to Llanymynech

Distance: 10.5 miles + 6 miles detour to Powys Castle (Welshpool), Ascent: 50 ft + 200 ft to Castle

Looking at the walk to Llanymynech, it was only 10.5 miles of fairly flat walking, so I could be left with half a day with nothing to do. The only reasonable detour seemed to be to walk in the opposite direction, through Welshpool, to Powys Castle and back, which would be about 6 miles round trip. The only annoying thing was that I had left my National Trust membership card at home so I would have to pay if I wanted to go in.

I had breakfast with Alan at 8 a.m. My socks had dried out on the line overnight and my boots were somewhat dryer, though still damp. We had another lift down into Buttington, as the landlady had to open up the church as one of her duties as Vicar's Warden. Many churches do not dare leave their doors open unless there is someone in attendance to deter vandals, but here the crime rate is still very low and they can get away with it. She showed us around the church before going off into town, whilst Alan went along the main path and I set off for a pleasant walk along the Montgomery Canal towards Welshpool and thence to Powys Castle. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the extensive grounds and even the castle courtyard were open to the public for free. The castle itself and the gardens were subject to an admission charge, but I was able to see as much as I wanted of the outside without payment. There was a good view from outside the castle back over Welshpool to the Breidden Hills, which I would be passing near to later in the day.

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View north from Powys Castle towards the Breidden Hills
Breidden Hills from Powys Castle
The courtyard of Powys Castle
Powys Castle

After looking around for a while, I started to make my way back, taking advantage of the shops in Welshpool to buy a few things for lunch. I retraced my route back along the canal, which also is part of the Severn Way, to Buttington. Instead of dropping down to the River Severn at Buttington Bridge, to join Offa's Dyke Path, I decided to carry on along the canal towpath, as Offa's Dyke Path joined up with that in about a mile and the two walks then run together for the next few miles. I had a short taste of the showers that were promised but there had not been much rain and there had been plenty of sunshine.

I stopped for lunch by the canal and met a chap who was walking Offa's Dyke Path from north to south, having walked it south to north a couple of years ago. There were quite a few dragonflies about and water boatmen on the surface of the canal that had surprisingly clear water. I could see the bottom quite clearly unlike many canals that have very murky water, but then there is very little traffic on this canal to stir up the mud. As I walked along, I could see numerous shoals of fish, probably trout, all about 4 inches long. There seemed too many of them to have grown there naturally so I presumed that they had been put there by a local angling association.

Eventually the path parted company with the canal and turned down by the banks of the Severn which, at this point, runs a very meandering course, although the path takes a much straighter line. One could be forgiven for thinking that Offa had been at work along here as well, but it was merely the work of a modern day Offa building a flood defence, although it was probably built on top of the original dyke. Across the river, the Breidden Hills were getting closer, as were several aerial masts and also the noise from basalt quarrying at Criggion Quarry. The whole face of the hill is being taken away and one wonders if some future generation of Offa's Dyke Path walkers will find that there is no hill left at all!

I stopped for a spot of sunbathing at 3 p.m. as well as to give my feet a rest until a large black cloud came over 20 minutes later and a little shower followed soon after. A little way before Offa's Dyke Path parts company with the Severn Way, I met two couples walking the path in the opposite direction. Some of them sounded Dutch and they warned me of an imminent footpath diversion and also of a nasty patch of nettles to come. Work was being undertaken on the flood defences and there were convoys of earth moving vehicles going back and forth where the path should be, necessitating a diversion of about half a mile to get around. Shortly after the diversion I encountered the nettles which were on a badly overgrown section of the path and just the thing you can do without when you are wearing shorts.

A short while later I met another couple walking the whole path coming the other way. I was surprised to see so many walking that way in such a short space of time, having met very few all the rest of the way, but then I realised that they would all have set off at the weekend, which is the most popular time to start any walk.

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The path follows the Severn Way for a while
River Severn near Pool Quay
Water lilies on Montgomery Canal near Llanymynech
Montgomery Canal
Llanymynech Hill from Montgomery Canal
Llanymynech Hill

After walking along the flood defences, the ridge reverts back to the original dyke which, though not very high, is still evident. After Four Crosses, the path rejoins the towpath of the Montgomery Canal for the rest of the way into Llanymynech. The canal is not yet fully opened, as there are a number of road crossing which block the waterway until funding can be found to build bridges. The lack of waterway traffic means that the banks have masses of wild flowers growing and there are lots of water lilies on the canal itself. This all made for pleasant walking and the view was enhanced by Llanymynech Hill, which came closer into view. I was just about to end the walk and enter Llanymynech when I met up with an obstacle on the towpath. A swan was sitting in the middle of the path with her brood of several cygnets. I approached quite cautiously but the swan didn't like it at all, so I backed off. After a short wait I made another cautious attempt to get around but this caused even more anger and the swan came hissing towards me. Knowing that an angry swan can do a lot of damage, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that I would have to retrace my steps back to the last road access and walk into town that way

At about 6 p.m. I arrived at the Lion Hotel, which is half in England and half in Wales with a marker in the bar showing the dividing line. This unusual feature has caused them to be featured on television on a few occasions. After a shower I went downstairs to the bar, where I had a nice pint of Bass and a bar meal and was then joined by Alan who had his tent pitched around the back. Alan had also been confronted by the swan but had made a quick dash around accompanied by a lot of angry hissing noises.

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Day 9 - Thursday 11th July - Llanymynech to Cloud Hill near Froncysyllte

Distance: 16.8 miles, Ascent: 3,150 ft

I had breakfast at 8 a.m. and got a packed lunch from the hotel, as I wasn't sure what shops I might find. The proprietors have been there for 42 years and are only just thinking of retiring because of the wife's ill health. Having been in the same business for only two years I would be happy to retire tomorrow, so I think they deserve a medal for that length of time in a very demanding job, with long hours and little time off. As I passed the village Post Office, I thought I would call in for a postcard but, like so many places around the Welsh borders, they did not sell any. Many places in other parts of Britain sell postcards of the most mundane things, but here, where the countryside has quite a lot to offer, nobody seems to think it is worthwhile.

It was 9.15 as I started the climb of Llanymynech Hill, which was quite steep in places. However, there were very few views from there as much of the way was thickly wooded. It would have been possible, in some places, to climb higher up the hill above the tree line for a better view, but I carried on hoping I might find one later. Further along by the golf course there were one or two places clear of trees which offered the views I had been waiting for. Path maintenance was very poor in places, sometimes overgrown to shoulder height and interlaced with nettles. The route down from the hill and then following some minor roads gave better views than there had been most of the way along the hill itself.

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Breidden Hills from golf course on Llanymynech Hill
Breidden Hills from Llanymynech Hill
Range of undulating hills west of Moelydd Uchaf
West from Moelydd Uchaf

Climbing up the hill above Nantmawr in a mixture of sunshine and showers gave good views and I stopped for a rest looking back across to Llanymynech Hill. The views opened up even more as I ascended Moelydd Uchaf culminating in a full panorama at the top. From there on the route drops down to Trefonen, which has a pub but it was only noon and I still had a long way to go, so I gave it a miss. At that point the heavens opened and there was a hailstorm, so I sheltered under a tree for a while until it eased off about 5 or 10 minutes later. Towards Tyn-y-coed I missed a left turn in the path by following something that looked like the dyke but wasn't. A quick check with my newly acquired GPS soon showed me where I had gone wrong and I was soon back on the right path but had to take shelter again because of another heavy shower. A GPS is hardly necessary on a walk like this with such good waymarking, but it can be handy at times to give an accurate grid reference.

On the way to Tyn-y-coed there were some very impressive but short sections of dyke with the characteristic deep ditch and high ridge. Outside the pub in Tyn-y-coed I met a lone backpacker walking the dyke from north to south. He had just been in the pub having a meal but had not seen any other walkers in there, so I decided to carry on and stop for my packed lunch in Candy Woods where there was shelter from any showers of rain.

The walking was more varied than the previous day but had not given rise to many impressive views, just quite pleasant walking. There was an interesting walk by the old Oswestry racecourse on top of a hill with its sculpture of horses heads and remains of the old grandstand dating back to the early 18th century. At Carreg-y-big, there is another impressive section of dyke, which can be seen from the road, but the path runs on the English side from which the dyke cannot properly be seen. Another shower of hail caused me to take cover under a tree, so I took the opportunity for short break at 3 p.m. with about five and a half miles left to walk. I met a couple who were out walking for the day and then a group of three doing the same but none of them had met any other walkers, even though I was still following Alan's boot prints.

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Sculpture at the Old Oswestry Rececourse and ruins of the grandstand
Old Oswestry Rececourse
Chirk Castle from Tyn-y-groes. An alternative route can be taken via the castle.
Chirk Castle from Tyn-y-groes

Dropping down the hill towards Chirk Mill, there is a good view of Chirk Castle in the distance and it stands out as a very impressive building. Somehow I must have missed a stile and ended up walking down the road until I realised that I was going too far east and had to cut back across further down. My B&B was nearly three miles past Chirk Mill, so I had another climb up to Tyn-y-groes, then a steady descent by path and minor roads to Cloud Hill, which was right by the path. From Tyn-y-groes there was a good view back of the dyke descending the opposite hillside. Over the brow of the hill was another good view of Chirk Castle, this time from the northwest looking back down the alternative route past the castle.

At Cloud Hill I found that I had now been allocated a proper room rather than the fold up bed that had been promised, although this meant that it cost me 25 instead of 12. However, it was a very nice room and better than having to sleep in a corner somewhere, so I was grateful to have been offered a bed of any sort for the night.

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Aqueduct at Froncysyllte from Aqueduct Inn
Aqueduct from Aqueduct Inn

After a shower, I walked down the road to the Aqueduct Inn at Froncysyllte for a bar meal and some Marston's Pedigree. There was a great view from the bar window overlooking the approach to the aqueduct, although there is a bend in the canal at the start of the aqueduct, which means that the main span is hidden by trees. After my meal, I took a walk over the aqueduct and back, watching a longboat crossing over. The width is only a few inches greater than that of the boats, so no steering is required and at one side there is an unprotected drop of over 120 ft to the valley below, whereas the other side has the towpath and railings. This is a remarkable construction, considering that it was built in 1805 and all the materials for its construction - coal, iron ore, stone and manpower (with the exception of Thomas Telford himself) were obtained within a mile and a half of its location. It is interesting to think that most of the early canal network was built using much the same technology as that available to Offa; manpower and horsepower. Remarkable as the construction of the dyke may be, the construction of the canals was an even more remarkable achievement.

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Day 10 - Friday 12th July - Cloud Hill near Froncysyllte to Llandegla

Distance: 12.5 miles + detour around aqueduct, Ascent: 1,700 ft

I had good breakfast at 8 a.m. together with all the International Eisteddfod visitors, whilst hearing lots of interesting local information from Mr. Sutcliffe, and watching a video about the aqueduct. The path, which runs right by the front gate, led me off down to the Llangollen Canal via the last section of actual dyke earthworks for the rest of the way. It was a beautiful morning with warm sunshine as I made my way along the canal towards the aqueduct. Offa's Dyke Path goes down by the river beneath the aqueduct but the alternative route, for those with a head for heights, goes over the aqueduct towpath itself. I decided to go over the aqueduct and then take a look at it from the road below, as I had plenty of time. I met a couple who were walking the path but had split it into 2 days over one weekend then 9 days including two weekends, so they were having to do extra mileage each day to make up for one less day's walking.

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This amazingly well cultivated garden was by the Llangollen Canal at Froncysyllte
By Llangollen Canal
Built in the late 18th century, Pont Cysyllte carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee
Telford's Aqueduct
Pont Cysyllte Aqueduct from the River Dee below
Pont Cysyllte Aqueduct

Down the road to the bottom of the aqueduct I found a small, rather difficult path leading right underneath the arches, where it met up with a well constructed path which now seems to be the official route of Offa's Dyke Path instead of the road, which is shown in the guide book. The views from beneath and from a little way to the east were most impressive and I then made my way back up the new path to the top and into Trevor to buy things for lunch, send a postcard and post off a film.

The route, after a short stretch along by the canal heads up through Trevor Hall Woods to join the Panorama Walk overlooking Llangollen. I was just emerging from the woods when I got caught in a heavy shower and had to take shelter under a tree. This was fine for about ten minutes but then droplets of water started to fall from the leaves and I decided that I would get less wet in the open, as the rain had started to ease off and soon stopped. There now opened up a glorious view of the valley and hills around Llangollen, although the band of cloud was rather slow in moving across to add sunshine to the scene. Further on, the Panorama Walk/Drive revealed a lovely limestone ridge that looked like an obvious route to take, although Offa's Dyke Path follows the road below the crags. Not one to miss out on a high level route wherever possible, I decided to forsake the official path and follow the ridge. At the top I had lunch whilst waiting for the cloud to drift away and, after a short shower, I was rewarded with a beautiful sunlit scene below overlooking the ruins of Castle Dinas Bran on the hill opposite.

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The limestone ridge was just asking to be climbed, whilst the path follows the road lower down
Eglwyseg Mountain
Dinas Bran Castle on the hilltop from Eglwyseg Mountain
Dinas Bran Castle

I definitely thought that this was a far better route than the road and, having walked along the road on a later occasion, I found it rather disappointing. The only advantage of the road route is that it allows a detour to the castle, which is well worth a visit for its fine viewpoint and interesting remains. There are no really good long distance views from the lower route, whereas the high route offers views across to the Horseshoe Pass and also to Cadair Idris in the far distance. The ridge has several layers to it and the higher ones started to lead me further in from the valley and away from the better views, but having walked the route again later, I found that it is better to stay close to the steeper edge of the cliffs, even though the path is less clearly defined. As I appeared to be losing the better views, I decided to drop back down the next valley and joined up with the path where it departed from the road. This revealed views of the crags further along rather reminiscent of scenes from the Grand Canyon but on a much smaller scale. This latter part of the route gives rise to some very spectacular views of the cliffs from below and it is debatable as to whether the views from the top or the bottom are better. On reflection, I think I got the best of both worlds by following the high route to start with, then the low route later on.

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Llantysilio Mountain and Horseshoe Pass from Eglwyseg Mountain
Llantysilio Mountain
Craig Arthur near World's End looking like a scene from the Grand Canyon
Craig Arthur

Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse again with dark black clouds and I had to shelter from rain again under some trees until it improved. At World's End there is a distinct change in the scenery from dramatic limestone crags to open, heather covered, peaty moorland rather reminiscent of the North Yorkshire Moors. Where the path departs from the road, most of the way has been laid with old railway sleepers, although these weren't necessary at the time as the ground was still quite dry. The walk through Llandegla Forest was not as dull as I expected, as there is quite a wide clearing by the path and it was not long before I was out of the forest, across some fields and into Llandegla Village.

My B&B was at a place marked on the map as an Inn, but which is now a private house. It used to be called the Hand Inn but is now called Hand House. The couple who own it bought it a few years ago in a derelict condition and have done a wonderful job of restoring it, although they still have some work left to do. I had tea and toasted scones in the conservatory on arrival before going to my room and then having a long soak in a huge bath in a rather palatial bathroom.

On the way through the village, I had noticed a sign for camping behind the Memorial Hall, so I had a look round the back and, sure enough, there was Alan along with a Dutch couple, who were also walking Offa's Dyke Path. It is surprising how many Dutch people come to Britain for walking holidays, but then there are no hills to climb in Holland, so the walking there is not as interesting. I have certainly met quite a number of Dutch people on this walk.

The landlady had recommended the Plough as a place to eat, mainly because it served food all week, whereas the Crown only served food on certain days, so I arranged to meet the others down there later on. I couldn't find the Plough, as I didn't walk far enough down the main road, but I had passed the Crown which was doing food anyway, so I set off back to tell the others and met Alan on the way. We didn't see the Dutch couple, as they had gone off to see if they could have their rather heavy luggage transferred to Bodfari. I had a Cumberland sausage, chips and mushy peas with some good Lees bitter with Alan and then the Dutch couple arrived. They had found the Plough and had a drink there but then decided to come to the Crown, as they had not found us in the Plough. Normally I like to stop at about three pints when I know I have a long walk the next day, but Alan persuaded me to have another. However, when the Dutchman wanted to buy one more I decided to opt out and left Alan there with them, whilst I headed back for my bed.

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