Adventure began early on Tuesday. Dressed in rough travel clothes, and hiking boots, I set off from home. A brief stop at the kids school had me shaking hands with my son’s teacher dressed a beautiful blue 3 piece suit for picture day, and off to the train Station.
9:30 AM. Destination: Manchester Piccadilly station. Will, my friend and hiking cohort flying from the US overnight, arrived there shortly, and waited for me where else?
In front of Krispy Kreme, that fabulous American icon.
Expertly using the Trainline APP, we navigated our way to a Arriva Wales train to Chepstow departing in 10 minutes. We laughed, chatted and slapping backs, boarded the train and were off.
13:30 Feeling a little hungry and not quite sated with the protein bars (with a 10 min nap Will – none too refreshed) we alight in Newport Gwent.
The connection to Chepstow leaves in 6 minutes, but we decide to get lunch first.
So we stumble out of the train station, and on towards the town center. Mind you, this is NOT the high-rent district. Wandering about for a spot to get lunch, we enter a quaint old market and find several cheap low-end stores and some teahouses. Several are offering all-day breakfast and tea for under £5.00. Patronizing one such place, we fill our bellies with warm fare. I wander about to gawk at other stores. Will stays behind to chat with the teashop owner who had decorated an entire wall with drawings from his 6 year old proclaiming love for her dad.
Almost right next door, I stumble on treasure. A used bookstore, manned by an incredibly polite, articulate gentleman who looks like Austin Powers aged 20 years. I browse his wares discreetly while he suavely greets an older woman Good Afternoon.
In time, I ask for help finding a book on Offa’s Dyke, telling him we are headed there in the next 30 minutes. We look through a couple shelves stacked with books on Wales. Alas there is none to be found on that topic. Armed with regrets, and warm wishes for success from Austin, we march onwards.
The train to Chepstow is only 1 carriage long.. A bus on tracks! We pass a couple of cool looking bridges on the Severn River. In about 30 minutes, we are in Chepstow. The town we’ve spoken of a thousand times, but never visited before.
We walk out of the tiny railway station, and I fall in love with this small Welsh town. Free parking at the train station.
Around 17:00 we are making small talk with the hotel receptionist about our hike, and how we need our bags transferred to Monmouth for the next day. She knows someone who can help. There is a fee. Except, a gentleman from the bar area steps forth and offers to move our bags, no cost. He is in beer sales, and headed to Monmouth for work tomorrow. We happily accept!
Trudging up our bags to the tiny room, we decide to explore the town. The castle is but 200 yards away. But we want to walk on, to try and get to the head of the Dyke. At the hotel, the receptionist asks if we have Sat Nav. Smiling broadly, we say that we’ll accept her directions. Which mostly comprises of turn right, cross the White Bridge and then keep going.
En-route we discover Blackberry bushes with sweet fruit. Also, we meet Chris, and Toni a sweet couple who are hiking the trail all the way to Perstatyn. We’d meet them over and over in the next week.
Navigating through narrow passageways between the welsh equivalent of McMansions, crossing small townhouse communities, we stumble upon a “Pennsylvania” sign to learn a little about recent history of the place. Our first information placard, lovingly recalls sweet home!
Finally, we are past the houses, and into the fields. With the Severn in clear view, we find the trailhead marker, and its selfie time.
We were slow to arise Wednesday morning. Will, recovering from jetlag and me, being my usual self.
The Beer Salesman rang us promptly at 8:45, causing us to hasten packing our bags. Will rushed the bags down in 2 trips and we treated our selves to a full English.
We had 18 miles of walking to finish today, with an elevation change of over 3000 feet. Give or take a mile that we had completed yesterday and the walking we needed to do to get to the trailhead.
The clock was about to strike 10:00 as we strolled back to pickup our trail.
Another mile or so of walking through narrow pathways adjoining people’s backyards and we are out to the Welsh countryside with mansions and quirky pathway signs.
After a getting a little lost, and getting a quick little tutorial from a local lady (with thick local accent to boot) we started making quick progress.
The weather quickly became changeable, and skies clouded up. We passed an unused quarry site, heavily marked with signs warning risk of death, and prosecution of trespassers. And as we made the turn under steady rain, what else do we see but a half dozen youth, girding up for misdemeanor!
A few steps later, we were upon a site of medieval valor in the British Civil War (Royalists vs. Parliamentarians).
Our path left the pastures and vales; soon the River Wye was a few hundred feet below at the bottom of the cliff. Another mile or so passes, and we started encountering the dog walkers. In the midst of the leisurely folk, we came upon on one of the most magnificent vistas on the trail. The Devil’s pulpit! Below us in the distance, was the abbey at Tintern, shrouded in mist yet illuminated by a rainbow!
Bitterly disappointed at not getting a better shot, we followed the dog walkers all the way to a parking lot. Across the parking lot, another fancy gate, this one with a python theme. And we almost fell in its lure. Not seeing any signage for the trail, we carefully re-read the sign at the parking lot entrance, and slowly realized we’d been off the trail for more than a mile.
Doubling back on our tracks through mud, we hoped the sunshine would stick until we got back to the Devil’s pulpit. It did. The placard reads “Folklore says Devil himself preached from this natural stone pulpit to tempt the monks at Tintern from their holy faith. His efforts were clearly wasted. As in 1131 Tintern became one of the most prosperous abbeys in Wales. Finally it was the “Defender of Faith” Henry VIII that removed its powers for good in 1536 during Reformation”
The detour altered our lunch destiny! The Pub in Lower Brockweir stopped serving food 10 minutes before we reached its doorway. The bartend kindly pointed us to the Old Station Café that served food until 15:00. It was ¾ miles the other way on the wrong side of the river. Two busy ladies managing a small kitchen served us food in the midst of railway memorabilia. I reminisced about my maternal grandfather. A Station Master who passed away in 1982. Also, I was able to indulge in an extraordinary luxury. A double espresso on the trail!
We quickened our steps as we re-crossed the bridge, and wended our way through the trail. Not stopping now for we still had 2/3 of the way ahead of us.
For about a half mile, the trail had us walking on a 2-lane “A-Road” where the cars whizzed past at 60 mph, and there was no shoulder or kerb to step off on! Put a healthy fear of walking on the road in my heart!
The sunshine stayed with us that afternoon. Around dusk we reached Kymin. The last hill crest before the climbdown into Monmouth!
With visibility impaired, I was hesitant to continue on as we were to walk alongside more roads. Luckily, a couple of high school students had driven up to enjoy the sunset. And for a very reasonable £20, they drove us down to our hotel at the foot of the hill.
As I dragged my weary bones into the hotel, a patron from the bar, backed up his car and loudly called out to me. Upon approach, he shook my hand, blurted out “Dr. Livingstone I presume” and had himself a good chuckle.
My Panama hat apparently reminded him of Henry Morton Stanley meeting David Livingstone
Perhaps the greatest British king, Henry V was known as Harry of Monmouth. Henry was born in Monmouth Castle on 9th August 1388, in the midst of his father’s wars against the Welsh.
He is immortalized by his campaigns against the French and the remarkable victory at Agincourt. As a boy he loved outdoor pursuits and at the age of 10 he could ride, swim and bend a bow and hunt: he was a fine scholar, an accomplished musician, a chivalrous and bold monarch who proved to be a shrewd tactician – both militarily and politically.
In addition to securing a temporary peace with France, Henry maintained control over the warring Owain Glyndwr whose armies sought to win territory in the Welsh Marches.
The trail for the day was 17 miles, with an elevation change of about 1000 feet.
This was a slow start for us again. There were kit adjustments we wanted to make, and sandwiches to buy for the trail.
We also stopped at a produce store, where the shopkeeper jocularly asked if we were from the colonies.
A brief conversation about the state of affairs on both sides of the Atlantic ensued. With President Trump on one side and Prime Minister Teresa May and Brexit on the other. Waiting for the sandwich, we looked at the clock, and hastened our steps as we walked out of town.
As soon as we had walked past the residential sections of the town, the gently undulating Monmouth-shire countryside presented itself. This was open farm country under a bright, partly cloudy sky. The temperature was a brisk 55 F. A gentle breeze encouraged us. The climbs were gentle, our packs lighter. We made good time.
Walking past fields of turnips, parsnips, standing corn, harvested oats and plucked Brussels sprouts.
We walked past the post marking hidden remains of the last Cistercian Abbey in Wales.
Walking in the open countryside was very uplifting for the spirit and soul.
For the most part, it was cattle and sheep that we met.
Every now, and again, we’d see some people. Never a part of the landscape, and not, it seemed in harmony with nature
We also came across a sign talking about the home of Dafyd Gam, a notorious Welsh warrior.
Blame our lack of the sense of history. I clicked this picture and we walked on.
We ate our sandwiches sitting atop a pile of concrete fence posts.
A passerby (one of the rare ones we met that day) exhorted us to be careful.
My friend quipped that a rendition of “Riverdance” was not forthcoming. We sniggered, talked of Michael Flattely and relished our blackberry pie pastry.
Perhaps the passerby was no other than the farmer whose posts we were perched on.
Another couple of hours through fields, and single lane country roads (with no traffic to speak of) brought us to the White Castle. Only it wasn’t white!
This is a 12th centrury Norman castle, which was extended, and fortified extensively in the 13th century. The name derives from the white rendering (white-wash?) which once covered its outer walls.
The gates were closed, but not locked. We opened the latch, and walked in with 3 or 4 other visitors. The sky, now bereft of clouds gave us poetic license to go crazy with our cameras.
From this point, Pandy was sign-posted as being 4 miles away. Having spent close to a half hour admiring the castle, and taking in sights. We were quite sure we could reach Pandy before sundown.
With almost no elevation change to speak of, we climbed down into Pandy just as it was rolling up to dinner time!