Sunday, August 14, 2011

Offa’s Dyke 2: Redbrook–Monmouth–White Castle


MunsonUnlike at home, where Munson is usually the first one awake, hovering beside my bed as he attempts to force me to rise using the Canine Force (a combination of willpower, heavy breathing and the smell of last night’s bone), on the road he’s usually the laggard. At 7.30 he’s still out cold, sleeping in the inn room’s doorway as insurance against me departing without him. I’m up and quickly get all my things together, ready for our transfer back to Redbrook.

After giving Munson a quick walk around, I go looking for the breakfast. Everything around the main body of the Inn is locked up except for the kitchen door. I poke my head in and see the chef from last night is busy setting up for the day. I compliment him on last night’s work and ask about the breakfast arrangements. There’s a hiccough in that plan: they don’t open for breakfast until 9am – after my transfer. I’m getting a horrible foreboding that there will be schedule mismatches throughout the journey. At least I ate well last night, and I’ll be in Monmouth in time for some kind of late breakfast.

The morning taxi is early. I’ve got just enough time to pay for last night’s meal before grabbing Munson and the bags. After we’re dropped off, the bags will continue on to our next sleepover where I’ll have the luxury of two nights in one bed.

Redbrook to White Castle (marked)

From Redbrook, we have a climb to resume the ridge height we’d followed yesterday afternoon. It’s at this point that I realise I’ve walked off with my room key from the Inn at Penallt, call to apologise and make arrangements to drop it off in Monmouth. I then get a call from another place who have been surprised to get my bags when I’m not on their booking sheet. It seems the taxi driver has been given the wrong venue so I supply the (hopefully) correct venue name so that the bags can find their proper resting place.
 Morning fields

For about 40 minutes we’re crossing high pasture until we finally pass through some woods and pop out in a car park. I suddenly remember that this is exactly where I’m going to find the folks who invited me for a cuppa yesterday at the Devil’s Pulpit. I proceed down a driveway of what I hope is the correct house, and ring the door-bell.  “Hello! We were just talking about you and wondering when you were going to show up!”
Breakfast on The Kymin
We are ushered into the kitchen where an extended family throng were finishing breakfast. I’m topped up with coffee – and most gratefully accepted some breakfast to replace what I’d not had time for earlier. And so a most amusing hour is spent chatting of trails and dogs and stuff. The Kymin - Round House and Naval Temple

On the trail again and almost immediately we’re at the summit of  The Kymin which for 200 years has been a popular viewpoint and picnic area. It features two unusual neoclassical monuments, a white Round House built in 1794 to host functions of  The Kymin Club (a moneyed gentlemen’s group) and a Naval Temple built in 1800 by the club to celebrate various British naval victories.

The Kymin - Round House
View over Monmouth from The Kymin

After taking in the expansive views, we were again descending to river level, hitting the outskirts of Monmouth at around 11.30am. After a day of repeatedly encountering signs saying Welcome to Gloucestershire and wondering when we’d ever left, we finally got a Welsh Croeso welcome, even though we’d crossed into Wales not long after leaving Redbrook.

For a dog who’s hardly eaten for four days, Munson is still terrifically energetic and enjoying all the freedom of the forest trails.  We haven’t encountered many dogs on the path, but they’ve all been very well-behaved. As we pass through so many on-leash sections Munson’s getting used to me holding up the leash and beckoning for him t0 have it reattached. There’s so much novelty in the air that everywhere we go is interesting to him, whether he’s free to roam or not.
MonmouthMonmouth is one of the largest towns along the Offa’s Dyke path and represents my the last chance to get supplies of any kind before we get to Hay-on-Wye on Monday evening. I need something to address leg chafing and have been told to get some Bepanthen nappy-rash cream, the same stuff I used for post-tattoo care. I hope to get some long jogger’s underpants and a replacement day-pack, but the lone outdoor store is having a big sale and doesn’t have much of anything left in stock. So I end up just getting a few items at Boots’ pharmacy and some lunch materials at the Waitrose.

We sit down near the old Monnow Bridge to eat – well I ate, but I still couldn’t interest Munson in anything. I got a voice-message from my actual sleeping place for tonight saying they have my bags safely and to call them in case I get too tired and want an early pickup.

Offa's Dyke Path signs send you up the wallWe proceed west from Monmouth trying to discern the route between the increasingly useless guidebook and the hodge-podge of footpath symbols on the gates, trees and signposts.  After an hour of crossing fields and wandering down various paths I realise that we’ve circled back to Monmouth and are re-entering it from a NW angle. I grit my teeth and backtrack for about 20 minutes but realise that I didn’t have the tools or the patience to work out where we had diverged from the one true path. To pick up time again we will follow the B4233 road westward until we got close to the path again.

So we plod along the road, resting when we get to the entrance gates of the curiously named Rolls of Monmouth golf club at The Hendre. This huge manor house and hunting lodge was the childhood home of Charles Rolls, as in Rolls-Royce. He died in an aeronautical accident at an early age, and the house bounced around through the family until the 1987 when it achieved its present status as a golf course and function centre. That’s his statue in the Monmouth photo collage above.

The Hendre | Rolls of Monmouth
Barn Dance!Sometime after 3pm we reconnected with the trail and continued our walk through farmland, orchards and churchyards. I’m starting to see the long hills that we’ll be crossing in future days. I’m a bit worried that we’re not going to make our pickup time at White Castle but I can’t call to make alternate arrangements as there’s no phone signal and nowhere to stop and use a landline.

Afternoon fieldsStaggering on, through fields of corn and cabbage, the way is at least finally well-marked. As we pass a farm minutes before our destination some dogs come out, nipping and snarling at Munson who’s really too tired to deal with the situation. I kick them away and keep us moving. At last I see our pickup point and a car waiting, the driver is our friendly host, obviously accustomed to late stragglers. He’s pleased that he guessed Munson was a big dog – “Munson sounded like a big dog’s name.”

We’re at Pen y Dre B&B at Llanvihangel Crucorney which is a bit further along the path from White Castle. I’ve been practising the pronunciation of Welsh places names for a few years now, but I’m still far from perfect on the “dreaded ll” . My brother got the family middle name of “Llewellyn”but I don’t think he ever learnt to say it with its original Welsh pronunciation.

Pedometer tally for the day: 37767 steps, 28.3 km.

We’ll be staying two nights, so it’s well placed between the ends of our Saturday and Sunday walks. We collapse for a while and I shower and soak my feet for a while before changing into my dinner clothes. Munson doesn’t feel comfortable in the room so I take him down to a grassy spot and tie him under a tree with a bowl of water beside him. He alternates between sleep and being stared out by a cat sitting across the yard.

lone tree

The only eating options for the night are some local pubs. I hope the first one is close as I have blisters developing on my feet. It’s starting to rain as we approach The Skirrid  and there’s a few sullen smokers protecting the doorway. I can’t see any sign of anything announcing food service and ask someone outside if they serve food and if the place is dog friendly. Someone summons a barmaid out and she tells me they don’t accept dogs but I can sit on the other side of the building with him. I ask her if it’s under cover.  - No.

“I’m sure it’s raining on the other side of the building too”.

- S’pose.

A customer suggests I could ask for takeout. The barmaid pulls a face so I take the hint and bid them good evening.

It’s a longer limp onto the next pub, The Rising Sun. I look for a NO DOGS sticker on the entrance. Nothing visible, so I open the door and step in. I’ve hardly opened my mouth to ask if there’s somewhere we can eat, when the manager/bartender tells me very loudly to leave. Well that answers that. I guess pub business is so strong in Llanvihangel Crucorney that they can afford to turn away customers and be unfriendly about it. It’s a definite change in atmosphere from Chepstow and Penallt. It was like I had walked into The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London.

No proper food tonight then. At least it’s stopped raining by the time we get back to the B&B. Munson still doesn’t feel comfortable in the room so I take him down to his earlier resting place and secure him for the night. He’s in view of my window and I leave it open in case he needs further attention.

I eat all the biscuits on my tea tray in the room and read till sleep comes.

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