Last week was a week when the weather took a leap from winter into summer missing out spring altogether. It just so happened that it was a week when I was exploring part of South Wales. Having walked the majority of the Offa’s Dyke Path there was still one rather big section I wanted to walk but to do this, I needed an early start.
The section of the Offa’s Dyke Path which lies between the popular Lower Wye Valley and the Black Mountains crosses Monmouthshire through an area very much off the tourist trail and passes through several small villages with unpronounceable Welsh names and undulating farmland. It is an area devoid of any public transport, so to do this walk required catching two buses.
My base is the attractive town of Abergavenny and so I am away early for the drive up to the village of Pandy to park up and don walking gear to catch the 07.50am bus back to Abergavenny. From here I have a half hour to kill before catching the bus to Monmouth and so I am in good time for the long walk back.
After a murky start to the day, the low cloud has now burnt off as I alight from the bus in Monmouth. It’s time for a break and I find a seat close to the River Monnow. For its size, Monmouth is an interesting town and there was once a Roman settlement here but its most famous structure is probably the ancient medieval fortified bridge over the river which is the last of its kind in Britain. Construction of the bridge began in 1272 and it was still used by traffic well into the late 20th century when a new relief road was built a couple of hundred yards to the south.
It’s time to set off and initially I have some road walking to leave the town, but soon I am following field boundaries through fields of lush grass. The hedges are springing into life as I make my way towards King’s Wood. A gradual ascent brings me to a wooded summit but the route ahead has been closed for six months due to forestry operations not that I can see anything happening. The diversion route takes me further south on a bridle path which has been heavily churned up by horses and hasn’t had any chance of drying out after the winter rains. For a half mile I inch my way along a rather unpleasant woodland path and take a course more in the brambles rather than on the path. I am just glad to reach a proper track. I eventually reach a quiet lane which I stay on for around a mile to just beyond Hendre Farm. Beyond the farm I return to walking on field paths but as I descend to the valley of the River Trothy I can see that the route ahead looks rather waterlogged and to make matters worse cattle have been turned out into one very wet field. A section of boardwalk helps a little but stops short of a very watery area. I attempt to continue but to my horror the sucking mud is simply too deep and so I end up with a boot full of mucky red mud and water. Why is it that boardwalks often end up too short?
Nearby at this spot is the site of the Cistercian Grace Dieu Abbey which seems to have been built at one of the wettest spots around although the exact site is uncertain. It was always a poor abbey and suffered much from Welsh attacks and never really survived as a community after 1232AD.
From watery Abbey Meadow I join a lane to cross Abbey Bridge before following more field paths which are not waterlogged towards my lunch stop at Llanfihangel Ystun Llewern. Who says these Welsh place names are easy to pronounce! The little church at this isolated spot is a real little gem. With no seats in the churchyard I find a flat grave to sit on and the only sound are the birds in the trees and one very vocal blackbird. It feels that it’s now the middle of summer and yet the previous day was cold and grey.
From the peaceful churchyard I set off, and my plan is to stay with the Offa’s Dyke Path all day. The path is well way marked and the course across many fields is well defined as the grass has been trampled. The advantage is that you don’t need to be constantly looking at the map as the route is obvious but let’s not be too complacent.
Having walked a few more miles across countless fields and followed more quiet lanes I reach the village of Llandello Gresynni. Crossing the B4233 here I am greeted by another temporary footpath closure. Overhead power cable works has meant that all paths which pass under the power cable together with a number of side roads are closed for a set period of several months. This will mean a long detour via roads. With the power lines clearly visible and no work going on anywhere in the vicinity I decide to ignore the diversion and set of across fields and staying on the Offa’s Dyke Path. It’s really a case of health and safety going well over the top in my opinion. Safely through the area, I ascend towards White Castle.
The castle which is now ruinous is located on an impressive hill top site. It was one of three Norman castles built in the area to ward off Welsh attacks. Today the castle is open to the public and is free to walk around. The central ward and keep is surrounded by a deep sided moat. It’s a good spot to stop for my afternoon break in the warm sunshine.
I still have several miles to walk and I continue refreshed following field paths through lush grass with the Black Mountains getting ever closer and the outlying hill of Skirrid Fawr looming larger. As I near the next village of Llangattock Lingoed there are signs ticing you on to the village pub giving the distance and time to get there. After an ascent towards the village, another sign shows a picture of a pint of beer stating ‘well done’ and ‘200 metres to go’.
As I’m driving I have to decline the temptation of a cool pint but take a rest in the shady churchyard. The church is medieval with a battlemented tower and the whole building is whitewashed. Inside are examples of rare 16th century pews.
It’s the last leg of my long walk and I set off downhill to cross the valley of Full Brook before a long gradual ascent to a long ridge. It’s all downhill now as the end of my walk is in sight. Ahead of me across the valley is the dark outline of the Black Mountains silhouetted against the afternoon sun. It’s been a good walk and I have forgotten about the wet foot I got earlier in the walk. Satisfied, another gap in my walk along the Offa’s Dyke path has been filled.