Offa’s Dyke Leg 1 – The Clywdian Range
In April 2010, Alex and I (and my dog) undertook an epic adventure to walk the Offa’s Dyke National Trail in aid of MS Society. This is my account of leg 1, The Clywdian Range – Prestatyn to Llangollen (5th April to 8th April 2010).
Day 1 – Prestatyn to Rhuallt (9 miles)
Prestatyn has few positive reviews from other walkers of Offa’s Dyke, so we made the decision to travel up (from Northampton) and make a start on our adventure on the first afternoon to get us out of town and into the Welsh countryside.
My dog, who could tell something exciting was happening, was very grateful when my parents, who were acting as our support team for the whole trip, turned up at 7.30am – the car was quickly loaded, and we were off! By 12.30pm, we were at the start and ready to go – the dog, whose excitement had reached mega-levels, was to be honest a bit of a nightmare with all the other dogs around, so, after a few quick photos, we headed off (sadly neglecting to wade into the sea or collect any pebbles).
The first few miles are straight through the fairly dull town center, but being fresh and eager we quickly left the town behind us and climbed up to the Prestatyn Hillside Nature Reserve. We past a couple of people just finishing Offa’s Dyke who, quite alarmingly, looked exhausted!
It was cloudy and windy, but the sun was straining through, and there was no sign of rain. There were amazing views across the valley to Snowdonia – and the snowy peaks of Snowdon were just about visible! The last few miles were through farm land, with fields filled with lots of baby lambs. Just as we had got into our stride, we left Offa’s Dyke to head to our campsite – Penisar Mynydd Caravan Park.
The campsite was the most expensive of our entire trip – partially this was due to an incorrect booking on my part, but even with the £5 donation they gave towards The MS Society (they couldn’t do a refund), it was still expensive. The facilities were pretty good, but compared to cheaper better campsites later in the trip, it was a disappointment.
After a dinner of Wayfarers Chicken Tikka and flavoured rice, we settled down for the night. We were sleeping in a 3 man Vango Banshee 300 tent (review to follow) – we could just about fit both of us, the dog (who had the most space of course!) and our two backpacks, but it was certainly cosy (although comfortable). It’s a good job we are good friends!
Day 2 – Rhuallt to Bodfari (9 miles)
Sleeping in a tent with my dog is a pain. At the end of a day’s walking, she will curl up and fall asleep straight after her tea – but this lulls you into a false sense of security. Her recovery time seems much quicker than ours, and once it gets light (any time after about 4am), she interprets any movement as a sign that something exciting is about to happen. This involves her leaping to her feet and trying to lick the face of the person who stirred (she has long ago perfected the art of getting her snout into the tiny opening of a sleeping bag) – the other person has the pleasure (?) of her big hairy tail whipping them in her excitement! On the morning of Day 2 we both agreed that the dog needs to be more tired!
Whilst Alex was in the shower I recorded an Audioboo – I had hoped to do this everyday, but to be honest I hate the sound of my own voice (and apparently sound unexcited), so this was the only daily update I did. Here it is:
We had quite a relaxed start, and left the campsite about 10am – in the evening we had arranged to camp in the garden of Elizabeth (@gwenoldy) who had walked Offa’s Dyke in 2009, so again we had quite a short day ahead of us.
The terrain was fairly hilly, but with some amazing views showing The Clywdian Range in the distance – we would be walking them properly the following day! The weather was mainly dull (occasionally the sun shone through) – but the rain seemed to be keeping away!
The “highlight” of the day was relating to snacks. At our first stop, Alex pulls out a solitary Crème Egg – I was a little disappointed that there was only one, so I unveiled a solitary Pepparami Hot – which I deem a far superior snack. A brief debate followed on Twitter as to which was the best snack, which Alex won (although subsequent discussions have shown that the people are with me on this!)
For the last few miles we could see the hilltop radio mast which marks our finish for the day. As we dropped down to Bodfari, we met another Offa’s Dyker – he was on his last day, and had to put up with snow, heavy rain and lots of mud during his walk, but had thoroughly enjoyed it. We both hoped the environmental conditions would fair better for us!
Sadly the pub was shut in Bodfari (so there goes our plan for a pub lunch), however we discovered the local shop did some excellent homemade pies, so we stocked up ready for the following day. As we trudged up the hill from Bodfari, the rain began (fortunately quite light) and we were met by Elizabeth – who escorted us to her lovely sixteenth century farmhouse on the hillside with stunning views across the valley. To see how wonderful it is, have a look at her blog: http://welshhillsagain.blogspot.com (they also have a holiday cottage available for hire).
There are several fantastic advantages to camping in people’s gardens: firstly, it is wonderful to meet people who you have been chatting with during the months of preparations (especially someone who has walked Offa’s Dyke before!), secondly, you have somewhere to dry out, and thirdly (and possibly the most important)….. tea and cake after a day of walking. Elizabeth had baked some fantastic lemon drizzle cake which we devoured for a few mugs of tea!
In the evening, Elizabeth’s husband drove us to the local pub, where we sheltered from the now quite heavy rain, had a lovely dinner and a few pints of “Wainwright” – indeed it is beer worth walking for! The pub, despite a no dog policy, very kindly let us come in with my dog as long as she was quiet and well behaved!
Day 3 – Bodfari to Gweryd Lakes (14 miles)
It rained throughout the night (the only time on the whole trip), but by morning the rain had stopped to be replaced by a bit of drizzle and a mist that clung to the hills around us.
After a wonderful breakfast – Elizabeth’s homemade damson jam was particularly delicious – we were given a lift back to where we left Offa’s Dyke the day before. It was a miserable morning – the stunning views from the hills we had hoped to see were replaced by an ere gloom. As our first proper day, we were keen to not push ourselves too much, so the plan was to get as far as Gweryd Lakes camp site, just North of Llandegla – about 14 miles of going up and down hills! Our muscles were feeling a little tight but, fueled by the breakfast, we headed into the mist.
It took a few hours, but eventually the mist began to clear, the sun appeared (admittedly accompanied by the wind) and the views around us started opening up – and wow…. the views were truly amazing. To the West we could see right across the plain to the peaks of Snowdonia in the distance – we could even make out the snow still on top of Snowdon!
After munching down our left over pies from the previous day, and a slice of Elizabeth’s left over lemon drizzle cake each, we headed up to the Jubilee Tower. The Jubilee Tower was built to commemorate the golden jubilee of George III in 1810. The tower was never finished, and a storm in 1862 blew the incomplete tower down. To make it safe, the tower was demolished down to the unsheltered base. See more on Wikipedia about Jubilee Tower and Moel Famau.
From the Jubilee Tower we followed the gently descending path down the hill – this was definitely the busiest part of the entire Offa’s Dyke, especially in half term with parents dragging their kids up to see the tower. As we descended, we met the support team, who accompanied us down to the car park to resupply us with water and flapjack – we have met them everyday so far to resupply dog food, but this was the first time they joined us for part of the walk.
For the rest of the day, the weather continued to improve – we actually even had a chance to sunbath during a break just off the A494 – there was supposed to be a restaurant, but sadly it wasn’t due to open for another two weeks (again our plans for a pint lay in tatters).
After a few more miles of sauntering along the edge of hills with wonderful views back the way we had come (even as far as the coast), we once again left Offa’s Dyke to drop down to Gweryd Lakes (review to follow), a campsite on the edge of a fishing lake tucked away in the middle of nowhere. By early evening the temperature started to drop quite suddenly, so after our boil in the bag dinner, we headed to bed.
Day 4 – Gweryd Lakes to Llangollen (13 miles)
Both Alex and I are in agreement that Day 4 was definitely the best day of the whole of Offa’s Dyke. Throughout the day there was such an amazing variety of landscapes, the weather was amazing, the distance just right and there was not too much climbing to do.
After a full cooked breakfast at the campsite cafe, we headed back to rejoin the Dyke. The first few miles were painful – my body had obviously started rejecting the punishment I was giving it, and my hips were bruised and my calfs were very stiff. A few miles in through, and all the aches and pains faded away!
To start the day, the terrain was moorland as we left the last of The Clywdian Range, but we quickly dropped down into lush farmland, following the course of the River Alun – the path weaving around trees and tributaries. As the temperature rose, I put the “fetch the pebble” trick to good use to encourage the dog to go for a swim to cool down.
At Llandegla (148 miles to go) we treated ourselves to an ice cream and a bottle of Lucozade, before heading up the hill towards Llandegla Forest – a wall of trees in front of us! Although just a conifer plantation, there was something very pleasant about the few miles spent in the Forest (forests always remind me of The Forest of Fangorn from Lord of The Rings). There was plenty of sunlight coming down through the trees, and the track gently meandered through the trees.
Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, we were out of the forest and in moorland following board walks over the bogs. Looking behind us, there was this amazing line of trees where the forest just stops.
We followed the path through the moorland, before meeting up with a single track road that drops down to Worlds End – here we met the support team who escorted us to the car park, their car, and more flapjack!
The final part of the day was truly stunning – from World’s End until we dropped down to our campsite on the outskirts of Llangollen, we were walking halfway up the hillside through the scree – there were wonderful views to the West, and imposing rocky crags above us.
As we approached Llangollen, we began to see the remains of, the presumably easily defendable, castle Dinas Bran (which means Castle of the City of Crows), towering over Llangollen. A castle has stood on the site since an iron age hill fort was built there in around 600BC. The visible remains are of the castle built in 1260 – it was destroyed by the Welsh in order to stop the English capturing it. Read more about Dinas Bran on Wikipedia.
After setting up camp at Tower Farm (review to follow), we headed down into the town for dinner and beers, at the very dog friendly Bridge End, to celebrate an awesome day!