Saturday, August 13, 2011

Offa’s Dyke 1: Sedbury to Redbrook

Munson on Offa's Dyke

At 8am the postman arrived at the B&B with my packet of maps, luggage tags, transfers & booking information and other information needed for the next two weeks. There was no way I was going to be able to digest all of this before the walk so I had to quickly fill out luggage tags, work out what I needed to carry with me, and then stuffed the rest into my overnight bag. I took photos of some information pages so that I would have them on my phone for reference throughout the walk. Sadly the supplementary maps were at half the resolution of the ones in the guide books, so apart from indicating the start and end of each day’s march were of little use. It would be a few days before we reached a town where we could look for something better.

I went to the car to let Munson out for ablutions. He seemed cheery and energetic despite not having eaten for several days. A trio of French women had been camping in the car-park overnight. I’d tried to introduce myself yesterday but they were rather incurious about what an Aussie with fractured French in a car with French plates was doing there. I got a half-hearted wave from them in response to my morning greeting.

I left Munson tied up by the car and went in for my own breakfast. There were only two other tables occupied that morning and no conversation possible while the manager’s husband loudly vacuumed the adjacent hall. I collected my bags from my room and brought them downstairs to be collected by the transfer service. At this point I noticed I’d tracked in some mud from the car-park, so took my shoes off and found the manager’s husband to tell him and apologise. He said not to worry about it so I went off to collect Munson, and seal up the car for its two week stay. I didn’t feel it was right for Munson to carry anything on an empty stomach so I packed his carry-vest into his food-bag for transfer.

When I went back inside and was going over my day-pack one last time, the B&B manager came downstairs and launched into a blistering attack on me for leaving the room in an intolerably bad state. I thought she must have had the wrong room, so I asked her what she was talking about as I’d carefully left everything ready for room changeover, including stacking all my not-to-be used blankets and pillows on a chair so that they wouldn’t have to be washed. She said I’d left a mess “all over the room” and “had a good mind to make me clean it all up”. I said I realised I’d tracked in a little bit of mud and had apologised to her husband earlier, and offered to clean up. At this point he turned up and deciding that it was better to side with the missus, started having a go at me: “why do you think we vacuum this place?”. I wasn’t having any of this and told him so – especially after he’d been so inconsiderate about blasting out the dining room during breakfast instead of waiting for guests to finish eating. They both quietened down and departed the scene. I went back up to the room and found a few small traces of dirt on the floor just inside the door which would have disappeared quickly with the vacuum cleaner ( I worked in various places as a cleaner when I was a student and wouldn’t have blinked at it) – the rest of the room was spotless. I guess she was in a mood about something and decided to take it out on me. To tell the truth she’d been rather cranky when I arrived, so maybe hospitality wasn’t really her calling.

At this point a taxi driver turned up to take me to the start of the trail and collect my bags. I told him I hadn’t been advised of the transfer arrangement for the trail and had done that segment the previous night. He was quite happy with this; presumably he’d been paid for it regardless. It wasn’t very far to walk to pick up our journey, so I let him go with my luggage.

Which way

Finally, FINALLY we set off for Tutshill, glad to shed all these unnecessary morning stresses.

After the old lookout tower, the path weaves left and right of the B4228 road. Offa’s Dyke path is knitted together with many shorter “local” public paths, and at some junctions you’re presented with a spray of arrows and no reassuring little acorn to indicate which belongs to Offa. As we continued through “greater Chepstow” we saw more of the mix of back garden alleys, public streets, pocket fields with livestock and interstitial woodland that we walked through yesterday.

All the time I’m walking in this sort of area I’m watching for little yellow stickers or green signposts, the former often hidden by encroaching ivy and the latter by simply being lost amongst other more prominent signs. At one point we took a wrong turn and I backtracked to find that I’d actually seen a large yellow leaf poking through the ivy. Not much later I hit a three-way junction with no markers and took the centre route, which dropped us into a private garden. The garden’s owner helped out with better directions – he was very patient with me but obviously a bit weary that his attempts to get the signs fixed were not registering on the path ranger’s radar.

We missed some of the twists and turns of the path and stuck to the B4228 where we would’ve resurfaced every few minutes. Evenso there are longish stretches where that is the path and you’re trying to stay clear of quite a bit of traffic rounding blind curves. Bondi  and I experienced some of that when we did the Great Glen Way, so no surprises, but a few heart-pounding moments when we were squeezing out of the way of trucks passing in both directions.


Last view of the Severn
Offa's Dyke - Tidenham SectionOnce clear of the B4228 we enter a stretch of woodland where we’re actually walking along the top of the Dyke. Munson is now free to run around and sniff out the wonders of tree and earth. A local man is walking his dog on this stretch; he’s walked paths all over Britain but this patch is part of a circular trail that he does almost daily.Worgan's Wood
The path ascends slowly and we’re now on a ridge following the River Wye towards Tintern Abbey.  We’re now at a height of about 250m and have reached the limestone outcrop known as the Devil’s Pulpit where legend has it that the Devil tried seduce the monks away from the Abbey seen very clearly below. Munson flops down to have a rest and it seems we’re at a busy time on the path as several parties on different circular paths converge on the Pulpit. I talk to some of these people for 45 minutes or more – they’re very impressed that we’re attempting the entire trail. One family say that we’ll be passing their house further north within a day, and give detailed instructions for identifying it so we can drop in for a cuppa.
Devil's PulpitTintern
There’s a rapid descent to the river level – quite hard going on the knees – and then a small diversion into Tintern for lunch, a hefty pork in cider pie and an astonishingly had espresso that gets binned after one sip.

The next two hours track the river. The fields lying by its banks are dotted with horses and cattle, so Munson is kept trotting beside me on his leash. Towards the end of this section where it’s clear of livestock he’s rewarded with a quick dip and drink.
Early afternoon by the Wye
The last stretch for the day is another high track through a long sequence of separately named pieces of forested land: Creeping Hill Wood, New Weir Grove, Church Grove, and Highbury Wood (to name but some). We don’t see another soul, human or beast, until our final knee-pounding drop into the small village of Redbrook  just on 4.45pmForest, more forest, and Redbrook
We’ve got a 5pm pickup to take us to the Inn at Penallt which is on the other side of the river, and it’s a circuitous journey because we’re about halfway between bridges. When there’s been no show for 15 minutes I try to call the inn and my booking service, but the phone keeps dropping out with a weak signal. Finally a taxi pulls up, driven by a very cheery woman who’s a bit smitten with Munson; she’s been given a 5.30 pickup time instead.
Redbrook Village Store  Inn at Penallt
Offa's Dyke - Sedbury to RedbrookThe Inn is a very welcoming place. I’m told that Munson is welcome in the bar and dining area, and he’s keen to meet as many people there as will have him. As it’s another balmy evening I choose to sit just out the back and look out over the lawn and to the hills beyond, a little glad that they’re not changing minute to minute. The menu is really excellent and it’s hard to make a decision, however I do beleive I deserve three courses! Once a pint of farmhouse cider has been put in front of me, I’m ready to relax, but Munson still has a dicky bowel and I have to tend to his needs. He’s thirsty but still has little appetite for anything beyond some small treats. He finally settles down next to my table, happy to nuzzle against my feet while I talk to some guys sitting adjacent. Cider, food, the blur of today’s sights: I’ve got a hazy good feeling about the journey.

I’m ready to head for my room by 9pm – I’ve still to go properly through the pack I got from my booking service. Everything needs to be checked and rechecked as the proprietor at the Inn thinks he’s got me for two nights and my sheets say only one. Our taxi driver is also confused about the next destination for my bags. What a mess!

My pedometer says I’ve walked 31772 steps today or about 23.8km (14.8 miles) – not capturing all the ridge ascents and descents.


1 comment:

  1. Lesley2:43 am

    So pleased to see, at last, the fruits of your Offa's Dyke walk. Already I am on tenterhooks that Munson is still unwell and that my native G.B. has made such a 'horlicks' of your travel arrangements. As I know that you got back home I can only hope that things can only get better.....