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Offa 3 - narrative
Welshpool to Prestatyn


Having previously enjoyed the southern and middle sections of the Path, it was natural that we would complete it. July 2012 had stimulated us with expansive Welsh views and important Abbeys in beautiful valleys; the thriving agricuture of the central bit had a different feel; what would the top bit be like? We settled on mid-July for good, long days. After a dry summer, we were unlikely to get bogged down in the mud, as in 2012.

DAY 1. Welshpool to Four Crosses.
With an early train and straight-forward journey, we were walking out from Welshpool soon after 10am. In town, it was easy to find the Montgomery Canal and head North. A product of the 1790s, neglected in the 1960s, it is now a charming, quiet water channel, partly overgrown with weed, pretty with yellow marsh marigolds, and the only moving boats were a small party of children out for a nature class on the water. After the peace of the Canal, Buttington roundabout was a shock, and the rest of the morning was near the busy A483 (on our left), with the River Severn and swans on our right. It was less than an hour to Pool Quay, with its narrow lock and 1820s lock-keeper's cottage. Having passed sizeable herds of sheep through the morning, we opted for lamb shank at the Powis Arms - very tasty.

Happily the main road departed from the Path and the afternoon was more relaxed. The Welsh farms all round had more sheep, cows, bunnies, butterflies and green-brown wheat. Surrounded by green colours, there were flecks of white cow parsley and lots of wavey, tall pink flowers, and the company of the river flowing north. There were several big oaks among the hillside trees, and the Breidden Hills gave interest to the quiet scene. Much of the afternoon was on an embankment, built as a flood defence near the river. On the other side, the working quarry was clawing the rock, crunching it down finely, the juddering noises spreading across the fields. There was a fine green tunnel, with trees meeting overhead. The rural calm was also disturbed by various dogs near Four Crosses village, and an excited herd of cows, firstly curious about us, and then losing interest - a big moment in an uneventful day. Despite the forecast of rain, we'd had some sun. Then it was back onto the busy trunk road, the A483, to find our B&B, and a short walk into Llanymynech, for dinner at the Dolphin pub, with an affable landlord and chatty locals.

DAY 2. Four Crosses to Trefonan.
We started down the nasty, busy road to reconnect to Parsons Lane, leading back to the Canal, and the lovely, peaceful water scene, with poppies and other flowers brightening the view. The sky was showing blue and gave the morning optimism. Reeds and yellow marsh marigolds grew in the water; the basin was so full with so many reeds that it looked like mass production water planting. A swan was guarding her five big grey cygnets - a local said there had been more originally. The very tall aqueduct over the River Vyrnwy had a lovely view in both directions. A little further on, the two Carreghofa locks were again very narrow, clearly for narrow barges. We followes the Canal right into Llanymynech, and had a nice chat with some locals at the cafe; they said that the main street is the border between England and Wales, and it's better on the West side, as everyone gets free prescriptions in Wales. Baguettes in our bag, we climbed the small road northwards, passing old quarries, the great blocks of stone showing past workings. Apparently, the Romans had also mined copper and silver round here. We came out at the 14th tee of the Golf Course, and continued through the trees, curving round the hilltop: there were a mixture of firs, elegant larch, big sycamores, dangling lianas, and climbing ivy. Then we went steeply down to the old Tanah valley train line, used in 1940-60, but now overgrown.

We crossed the fields, picniced, and then to Porth-y-waen, passing groups of bullocks. The small roads to the former mining village of Nantmawr were quiet, and there was little evidence of mining, becaue it was underground or in the past. The steep climb through Jones's Rough showed it's now a Reserve, with lots of bird boxes and bird song. The wind blew us around as we climbed the exposed shoulder of the hill, and at the top, blew Jeremy's glasses off; he found them in the bracken. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, but too blowy. We took brief delight in the panoramic view of the rolling hills of Mid-North Wales; the light was bright, the broad, open scene was pretty, but it was too windy; so, down the hill to Trefonen, a small village with a cemetary in the middle, by the main road, and the Barley Mow pub, with lively local chatter. The next climb was up the hill to Moelydd and more extensive views.

DAY 3. Trefonan to Froncysyllite.
The lovely morning gave me the optimism of a new day, and indeed, much of it was bright and sunny. More wide, open views were often accompanied by bracken, green ferns, and loads of wild, mauve foxgloves, some growing surprisingly in the stump of a dead tree trunk. We climbed up towards Candy Woods, and much of the day was on or alongside the most well-built bit of the Dyke so far. It would hardly keep out the warring barbarians, but it was a clear delineation. There was a substantial avenue of beech trees; for a long stretch the grand old trees added to the historical depth of the place. Candy Woods had a nice mixture of beech and oak, punctuated by patches of Forestry Commission-type firs. Sometimes we were in green tunnels, where the branches had grown together overhead. Beyond the woods, the spacious views were glorious. We passed the Oswestry Racecourse, Carreg-y-big, and continued round Selattin Hill. From the hill brow we could see Chirk Castle ahead. But first it was down and up 'Dirty Dingle', now made easy by steps and a footbridge, then there was a steady descent towards the Ceiriog Valley. We picniced in a wheat field, with the Castle in view. From Chirk Mill we took the 'permissive' path up to the Castle. Arriving at the busy scene gave us the culture shock of moving from nature to 'civilisation': families galore having a day out c/o the National Trust. We made a brief visit and I most enjoyed the old clock tower, with the feeling of the fighting of many centuries ago; aggression was the same then as now: them and us, land... We went back to the Path, leaving Chirk Castle grounds beside a large herd of black sheep; then on across more of the patchwork of green fields, to the A5, and our B&B.

DAY 4. Froncysyllite to Llandegla.
We were almost immediately onto the Llangollen Canal; there were day-tripper barges moving slowly along in the sunlight, with trees around and a family of small water birds hoping to get fed. We bought our sandwiches at the friendly cafe in Froncysyllite, and walked by the Canal to the aqueduct, over the River Dee. Built in 1805, with massive, 40m arches, it is an amazing construction. The height and the wind made me feel queasy, so I held the handrail and concentrated on my feet. I was more comfortable crossing the field, and under a railway embankment, to the road - cars being the currently ascendant transport.

We entered the estate of Trevor Hall, and climbed through the dense woodland - closely planted firs, and then deciduous trees - out onto a small road called Panorama Walk. True to its name, there were grand views all around, with the Dee Valley below, the ruin of Castle Dinas Bran ahead, and limestone crags above. Luckily this sunny summer Sunday had just a few cars and some cyclists. The clear light, the contrast of the grey scree, the green fields, the sweep of waves of limestone hills, were all very striking and it was good to be out in the big country. The contouring path crossed some big hillsides of fragmented stones, occasionally perched on the slanting bluff, but not precarious compared to the aqueduct. The green valley below came closer. Around World's End, we were in the woods again, and then climbed to the Minerva road to the high moors. This broad expanse of moorland has well-engineered boardwalks to traverse the peaty bog. All around was bracken, blueberries, some dried grasses and patches of cotton grasses. Turning Westward we were in a big conifer plantation, growing so close that there was little light. The woodland footpaths had pine needles and cones underfoot. In the open, nature's default colour for July was the mauve/purple of heather. Some pathside trees were baby Christmas trees, and there were larches too. A long descent brought us to the fields and farms beside the A525 and Llyn Rhys Farm.

DAY 5. Llandegla to Llangynhafal.
A new day and different weather started with passing through the small town of Llandegla. The morning clouds teased us with spitting, hints of showers, but actually no real rain. The clouds were low and tones were darker all round. Out of the village, we crossed a series of fields, and followed the small River Alyn for a bit. The caves in the low limestone hill had probably been occupied in pre-historic times. The plantations were of more conifers; then going Northwards, we began climbing the first of the Clwydian Hills: Meol y Plas. We were surrounded by heather and bilberries (fruit just edible). More views from Moel Llanfair were slightly limited by poor visibility. These Moels were a series of broad-backed mountains, with lots and lots of sheep. We skirted round the slopes of Moel Gyw, and with more climbing ahead, passed by the hill fort Fenlli. Then the steady ascent of Moel Famau concluded with a final steep climb up to the ruins of the Jubilee Tower. Despite better visibility, the wind was again so strong that we nearly got blown off the top. But we could make out the Welsh Channel to the North, with quite a few wind farms: very appropriate in this windy area. We continued a little further North, still battling with the very wearing wind, and found a path down the mountainside to Llangynhafal, across a patchwork of fields in various greens.

DAY 6. Llangynhafal to Bodfari.
An hour's climb got us back on to the Path, with the wind steadily increasing as we got higher. Like yesterday, it was very blowy and as there was quite a lot of exposed walking, we were in a gale. At times it was too wearing for me; hood up, and narrow horizons meant less enjoyment of the grand views. The clouds above were grey too. We continued on the lines of Moels; it was a bit like walking along the spine of a dinosaur, with periodic bumps. The most striking one was Moel Arthur: a smoothly rounded dome. As a change from the buffeting wind, we found a corner out of the wind for our sandwiches in the next conifer plantation. The it was on, up again, to the hill fort at Penycloddiau. All these forts at the tops of the hills were well placed for defending their territory and maintaining tribal relations, as important 2000 years ago as today. However, apart from a reconstructed burial mound, there's not much evidence of their lives.

We continued down the dinosaur's tail, with a long amble down to the broad valley, and back to farm fields, with slightly surprised-looking sheep and more cattle. We saw the white houses and church of Bodfari across the fields. Down on the A541 the cafe had nice ice-creams, and we sat and chatted with other walkers. We'd not met many others on the way, so it was pleasant to exchange experiences with fellow travellers. Our B&B was slightly up the hill, with a fine view of the hills we'd just come from. Dinner at the Downing Arms was our celebration of Jeremy's birthday; it was a convivial place, with a group of old dears also celebrating a birthday. A couple of fellow walkers joined us and we had a happy, sociable evening with Keith and Tina.

DAY 7. Bodfari to Prestatyn.
We started with a lovely morning view of the hills to the South. Just by the Path, looking for the direction, we met David and Trudy, Aussies from yesterday. So we had a sociable morning walking and talking with them. Up the hill, and on top of Moel y Gaer, we skirted the hill fort. Crossing fields and grasses heavy with dew (and possibly overnight rain), my shoes soon showed they were NOT waterproof. The grey clouds all around meant no views this morning. The next hill, called Sodom, produced a few jokes; then on to another, lower Clwydian Cefn Du, and the final outlier: Moel Maenefa. Descending, we were above the trunk road, the A55, a noisy dual carriageway, disturbing the peace of the countryside. We crossed it, and continued descending, losing the noise, and before long arriving in Rhuallt. As the only town on this section of the walk, we were debating whether to wait for the Hotel restaurant to open at mid-day when it did actually open; so we had a light lunch, missed the rain shower.

The next steep ascent was a typical post-lunch effort, climbing through gorse and foxgloves, some fir woods; then more cereal crop fields covered the slopes of Mynydd y Cwm. After more woods, it was northwards again. These lower fields had cows, bulls, green/yellow wheat, sheep, and some peas. The weather was better by the time we got to Marian Ffrith, and so there were views to Snowdonia on the left and ahead to the sea, with the massive collection of turbines in the North Hoyle Wind Farm.

A little down the hill we saw a couple of llamas,belonging to the Marian Mill Farm, chewing in their unique sideways manner. The sun was out as we crossed more woods and fields. Arriving above Prestatyn, there was a big traverse along the cliff tops, starting with a steep climb to the ridge, through gorse, ferns, brambles and ivy-clad trees. With the brighter afternoon, we could see Eastward to Anglesey. A few wild raspberries detained me, and then it was a fairly steep down into town; I was grateful for some man-made wooden steps. A mile through the town and we were by the sea; photos by the Path's 'Start' sign, then shoes off and into the sea for our completion rituals. Cool water, a bit of wind, and the end of a long day meant we didn't linger; so we went to eat before getting on the train and speeding through the the seaside scenes, brightly lit by the evening sun.

CODA
We were pleased to complete the traverse of the Welsh Borders. People were generally friendly, with locals being chatty and welcoming; perhaps walkers are interested in both the outside world, and other people too. The characteristic weather mix of sun, cloud and wind also gave the walk a particular flavour: stimulationg and sometimes challenging. The Path is reckoned to be about 180 miles long, and we felt we'd seen a good variety of countryside, from intimate valleys to wide open hill tops. It's not dramatic scenery, but the changing views made for very pleasant walking, providing a natural play-ground for those of us who love to be outside.

© Diana Ambache 2015