Monday, August 15, 2011

Offa’s Dyke 3: White Castle–Pandy–Llanthony

Munson #1  Munson #2
White CastleIn yesterday’s dash to our host’s car sitting outside White Castle, I barely glanced at the actual structure. I have somewhat succumbed to the ABC syndrome “Another Bloody Castle” , and unless the castle has particular aesthetic or historical interest to me, a glance is about as much as I can summon up. It’s a 12th century castle in the middle of nowhere in particular, although there are stories that Rudolf Hess liked to paint it while being held prisoner in nearby Abergavenny from 1942-5.

About thirty minutes into the walk we had to cross a field with a couple of splendid looking horses, one of whom was desperately interested in Munson. I think Munson was a bit smitten by it, as if he’d met the biggest handsomest dog he’d ever seen. They rubbed noses over the gate but that was as far as things went. I wasn’t sure how practical it would be to get across the field with such a large Munson fan dancing around us. It was only a minute later when someone came over to say hello and to distract the horses while we quickly covered the 60-70m to the far gate.

Munson's equine fan clubLLangattock Lingoed

It was pretty clear going for the next hour – mostly open countryside and working farms. After passing through Little Cwm  we stopped in the churchyard at Llangattock Lingoed for water and a snack. Cwm is the Welsh form of Coomb/Coombe/Combe which you see in many place names, denoting a valley.  I noticed that the information sign (inset above) capitalised both L’s in Llangattock. I wasn’t sure if this was a recognition of Welsh –ll- being a different letter, or a typographical error. I have a feeling it’s both as I don’t see other Ll---- places being written as LL---- in proper case format. It’s not double-capitalised elsewhere on the sign either.

Towards PandyAs we sat in the churchyard, we were followed in by a sturdy man with a very large backpack. Drawing closer and seeing his bearing and generous covering of tattoos, I judged him to be (ex-) army. He said he was doing all of Offa’s Dyke and asked if I would sponsor him for some cause. I declined, saying I was also doing the same trail. He looked rather miffed – probably surprised I wasn’t bearing a giant pack as well – and then quickly and stiffly strode off. I saw him once again in the distance that morning and then no more.

And so we continued up hill, up hill, up hill, down dale, up hill to the outskirts of Pandy which lies on the Abergavenny-Hereford road a little further along from our B&B at Llanvihangel Crucorney. With the town almost in reach below us, I had a small meltdown in a very large field which I spent 20 minutes criss-crossing, assessing gates and fences for open- or climb-ability as I looked for the exit. The ever-so-not-very-bloody-useful guidebook merely says “there are many gates, and a careful watch to pick up the next gate and waymark on the route is essential”. Well thank you very much and why not just say where it is!?!!!! It’s like those stupid web-pages which tell you to follow the link [hidden] in another part of the page instead of simply linking directly.

Finally free of that field, we cross the main road at Pandy at exactly 12 noon. From here the terrain changes dramatically, and to do it justice I’ve switched map representations to a satellite view. We’re entering the Black Mountains  and will follow the England/Wales border along Hatterrall Ridge.

White Castle to Llanthony (marked)

gate stileThe other dramatic change was the switch to stiles rather than gates. I’d like to say that there are good stiles and there’s bad stiles, but for the most part there’s just a spectrum of shittiness ranging from metallic gate appendages to rickety wooden things that would collapse if a parade of anorexic pixies floated over them in quick succession. I’m a very robust 100kg even before you add a backpack or 50kg malamute. Most dogs aren’t set to climb some narrow steps and do a half turn leap over a fence and somehow land on the other side without doing damage to themselves on the opposite steps.

As soon as we crossed the A465 it was stile after stile after stile. It was very nearly the end of the entire walk for us….
Stile guidethe railway stile

We crossed a railway line and then there was a short path up to the start of a field. Because of the general incline the stile was at different heights on each side – the top of the fence was about my shoulder level. There was no adjacent “dog gate” – usually a narrow opening blocked by a stout pole that is lifted to let a dog through. So I had to take my pack off and put it down on the other side and then lift Munson to shoulder height to get him over the top slat of the fence. The steps on my side were not stable enough to be useful. I had just got him over and released his rear end when he began to scream; his foreleg had become caught between the two top slats and it was supporting his weight. In a panic, I lifted him again as best I could to release it and then lowered him and scrambled over after him.

I sat with him trying to ascertain if he’d broken or sprained the leg and burst into tears. Munson’s cries stopped as soon as the pressure across the leg joints was released. I let him walk on to see if there was any limp, determined to get him to a vet if there were – and wondering how in hell we’d get back across that stile again. Within a minute he was running around and I began to calm down. I was absolutely ready to halt the whole walk, but that wasn’t going to happen today.

looking back over Pandy

Within the next 10 minutes there were several more stiles of similar awkwardness. I knew I had to sweat a bit more to lift Munson clearly over these and the lovely fellow did not complain at all. I also knew that there was no way that Munson was ever going to be wearing a pack to carry stuff for the remainder of this walk; the extra weight and volume would not allow it if there were two of me to lift him.

Just after 1pm we cleared the last stile and were officially on Hatterrall Hill at the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It was a high-flung sea of heather and furze ahead, populated by wild sheep and ponies. The path was not well-defined but I felt sure that keeping on one of the well-worn tracks along the wide band of the ridge would suffice.
Happy Munson againMunson relaxes
We took a breather on the grass as a cool breeze sprang up and took in all the gorgeous territory behind us. To one side was the last house we passed on the ridge, with this large fragment of poetry painted on the outward-facing wall of their shed. It’s a piece called The Lofty Sky by Edward Thomas, who was killed in action in France in 1917.

Today I Want the SkyTo-day I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:---
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where nought deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.  (Continued)
looking back

Six years ago Bondi and I did a day walk over Mynydd Llangors in the Black Mountains, and here’s a previously unpublished pic of the old master at a trig point on what was a much brighter warmer day.

trig point 20050828 Bondi at Mynydd Llangors

Ponies, sheep and signpostsWe continued on a gentle ascent for an hour or so, until finally spotting Llanthony Priory deep in the Vale of Ewyas and then watching out for the marker-stone that would send us off the Offa path to be picked up for the evening.

Llanthony Priory in the Vale of Ewyas Vale of Ewyas - looking south

The track down is a bit of a muddy rut, alleviated by stunning views southwards along the Vale. Once free of the charms of sheep and ponies, Munson was able to trot off leash until we emerged from the heather in a quite lush environment and walked down to the Priory.

We had no mobile coverage for most of the top of the ridge and absolutely none in the Vale, which meant I needed to find a landline to call the B&B for a lift. The Priory like Tintern Abbey is very much a dogs not welcome zone – and indeed I counted SEVEN separate No Dogs signed at the entrance gate. Kids are free to swing from the stones but you can’t walk in with a dog, so there were a few miserable people sitting around just outside the grounds minding the family pet while others went in.

Llanthony 'No Dogs No Dogs No Dogs No Dogs No Dogs No Dogs No Dogs' Priory  Munson waits at the Priory

Munson at Pen y DreBack at Pen y Dre B&B a family birthday BBQ was in full swing and I was invited, cajoled! to join them. It was an awful lot of fun and everyone was quite eager to talk to the curious Australian with the massive dog.

There was so much extra meat left over that Munson did rather well; his appetite came roaring back with so much to feast upon. He was also very happy to sleep up in the room with me that night.

Today’s pedometer count: 27688 steps or 20.8 km


  1. Anita3:06 pm

    In spite of the gorgeous scenery, I have to say that this walk isn't sounding exactly 'fun' for you...

  2. Lesley6:34 pm

    Food at last for Munson!
    Further to my regrets at the, so far, poor travel arrangements we now have to apologise for the bad signing of the walk. There are always those that love to deface signs for fun or some 'political' point, but the Trail is hardly user friendly. County or District Councils who have charge of these are not providing a good service and would or should get a big Nudge to do better.