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Offa's Dyke camping trip

Offa's Dyke camping trip


Postby tinnishill » Tue Sep 03, 2019 1:40 pm

Date walked: 14/08/2019

Time taken: 14 days

Distance: 288.2 km

Ascent: 10296m

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This walk report describes a camping trip along the full length of the Offa’s Dyke Path (ODP) in August 2019. It is intended to be a simple description of facts useful for others to follow, but it might digress a bit.

Some self imposed rules. The packs should never weigh more than 20% of the persons body weight. Each day should be about 20km long, looking for a night stop between 17 and 23 km each day. No intentional wild camping, but be prepared to if necessary. Keep the cost down. Don’t be obsessive about following the exact official route.

We started planning a couple of months earlier. There is no single source of information. We used accommodation lists from the Brecons National Park and Offa’s Dyke Association offices, the Cicerone Press guide book, the Harvey strip map, the National Trails England website, the ukcampsites website and read some online blogs. We used the Grough website to download and print our own strip map at both 25th and 50th scales. To see the bigger picture we also carried the OS 250th map and we occasionally zoomed in to street maps on Osmand on our smart phones. All of these proved useful at one time or another. We used the GPS on a phone twice to relocate ourselves. Our policy with guide books is to read them through at home, make some notes and leave them behind; the only books we carried were audio books on mp3 players and ebooks on our phones. We carried a storage battery for the phones, which were mostly switched off, and planned to be in a hostel every few days to recharge batteries both literally and metaphorically.

We booked the first four nights the week before. The Chepstow hotel was the cheapest bed we could find on line. We were too late to book the St Briavels hostel as planned so had to use the campsite up the road. After day two we started booking campsites and hostels two days ahead (we carried three phones from different providers but several campsites had no phone signal at all, making communications a bit slower than ideal).

Day minus one: Length 4.92 km Ascent 112m

Train to Chepstow, check in at the Beaufort Hotel, chipshop, walk out to Sedbury Cliffs for a photo opportunity at the marker stone, stop of at Tesco’s a walk round town and back to the hotel.

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Day one: Chepstow to St Briavels. Length 16.6 km Ascent 663m. 7 hours

Left Chepstow 10am, Wye Valley Walk on the west side of the river. Interesting woodland with remains of old landscaping features.. At Tintern Abbey we bought a take away tea and sheltered from the rain among the ruins before continuing up the west bank of the Wye to Brockweir. Another cup of tea and a shelter was had at the top of a steep hill at Mill Hill Community Shop, where there is an outside tap. Camped at Bearse Farm, a small commercial touring site.

Day two: St Briavels to Hendre . Length 18.8 km Ascent 548m 8 hours

Left the campsite down a right of way through woodland towards Mork to rejoin the ODP. We stumbled on a derelict farm building with loads of windblow plums which were extraordinarily sweet. On the escarpment above the river we were back into big woodlands. From Redbrook we again followed the signposted Wye Valley Walk on the river bank to Monmouth. Bought food and had a look at some of the historical stuff around town (there is a good statue of Roy Sopwith), then back up hill through King’s Wood to the Hendre Orchard campsite. The Hendres campsite is a good quality small camping spot set around a couple of ponds. It has a useful sort of lean to kitchen shelter containing a kettle and microwave for campers.

By now we were a bit concerned about a forecast storm due for the following evening. We had intended to camp at the Rising Sun pub campsite in Pandy but had had no reply to several emails. We phoned the pub and got through on the third attempt, booking a night’s B&B instead of camping.

Day three: Hendre to Pandy. Length 22.5 km Ascent 470m 8.5 hours

Most of the day was spent following hedgerows through rolling fields and up past the quite impressive White Castle. The wind and rain increased gradually all day, leading us to take refuge for an hour in the small pub at Llangattock Lingoed. From there we headed to Llanvihangel Crucorney in order to visit the little general store at the petrol station. The right of way paths on this section, away from the waymarked ODP, were a bit troublesome due to heavily overgrown hedge crossings and a lack of waymarking. We eventually turned up at the Rising Sun pub just as the weather worsened again, and were very grateful to be indoors for once.

Day four: Pandy to Capel y Ffin. Length 18.5 km Ascent 868m 8 hours

On a much brighter and drier morning we crossed the railway line and set up on to the Black Mountains. We stuck to the minor C class road as far as Upper Pentwyn farm; this is a pretty painless way to gain height. The high moorland on a dry warm morning was very pleasant, with lots of moorland ponies about. We encountered about fifty other people up there, in small groups of day walkers. That was the busiest day for other walkers on the the whole trip, but it was a nice Saturday.

After spot height 604 we turned down hill to Llanthony Priory, visited the tea room and crossed the valley to find the paths which contour along the western side of the Vale of Ewyas. These paths proved tougher than expected, being heavily overgrown with bracken. We were heading to the Grange equestrian centre at Capel y Ffin, where we had arranged to camp. The riding stables didn’t have a campsite, as such. They have an outside tap and toilets and we pitched in a pleasant riverside field we shared with a couple of elderly ponies. We ate one of our dehydrated meals. There were several cheery men in elaborate skirts wandering about which was a bit puzzling until the penny dropped that the next door building is a working monastery.

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Day five: Capel y Ffin to Hay on Wye. Length 15.7 km Ascent 391m . 5 hours

We decided to head straight to Hay on Wye by climbing the minor road over the Gospel Pass, setting off at about 7,30 on the Sunday morning. Half way up the pass we were passed by a couple of cyclists heading downhill at speed, but not so fast that we couldn’t exchange a “good morning”. Then more cyclists. Then more cyclists. Everybody said “morning”. Then we realised that they had competition numbers, and it was a big event. By the top of the pass we had exchanged “morning” with well over a hundred people, all but two or three greeting us in a friendly way. There were no cars until after we crossed the pass.

After a potter round Hay, doing the bookshop and tearoom thing, we pressed onto our planned night stop at the Black Mountain View caravan site at Bronydd.

Day six: Hay to Kington. Length 20.6 km Ascent 713m 8 hours

Noticing that there is a route on the 25th map up through Bronydd Wood, we followed it hoping to intercept the ODP higher up the hill. It just petered out to nothing higher up, leaving us to bushwhack our way out past a number of derelict sawmill buildings and dumped pick up trucks.

Eventually we got back on the track and reached Newchurch. There the interesting old church offers a self service honesty box tea and biscuit stall. We hit the church just as a heavy squall started, so dived in and put the kettle on. While there we chatted with a couple out on a day trip and two Australian couples who were walking the whole route, with booked accommodation and a luggage transfer service. We leapfrogged them several times over the next couple of days.

On reaching Kington we booked in to the YHA place, in a private room, and thrust our laundry in to their washing machine. During the evening we tried to do some booking ahead. Part of our plan had been to use the Llangollen Hostel, but it proved to be fully booked. The Kington hostel warden was very helpful and pointed out that the following weekend was an English Bank Holiday, a fact which had completely escaped us. That made prebooking somewhere in the Llangollen area tricky, as they all were either fully booked or wanted a minimum two night booking over the weekend. As it transpired I think that we could have just turned up at a campsite in that area and we would have been taken in, those that we subsequently passed seemed to have lots of room.

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Day seven: Kington to Knighton . Length 21.9 km Ascent 842m 7 hours

There were quite long stretches of walking on the actual Dyke on this day, through marginal farm land. At Knighton there was the almost compulsory visit to the Offa’s Dyke visitor centre where we were struck by the apparent indifference of the staff. We camped just out of town, at a small farm at Penpunton. We were the only campers at a very pleasant spot, about twenty metres from the Border which we had crossed so many times by now that we couldn’t remember if we were in Wales or England.

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Day eight: Knighton to Mellington. Length 21.8 km Ascent 1061m. 8 hours.

An awful lot of steep up and down, crossing a series of valleys which run east to west and short stretches of moorland. There was timber cutting underway in Churchtown woods, but we squeezed past easily enough. We began to notice a number of badger setts digging in to the Dyke itself, they must find it easy to excavate.

We reached Mellington Hall towards evening, met the groundsman who showed us where to pitch and gave us the entry code for a toilet block which, it turned out, we had sole use of. The Hall is a massive stately home sort of pile, now used as a Hotel and bar with a very orderly mobile home park in the grounds and a separate area for touring caravans while backpackers are pitched around a small landscaped ornamental lake. There were a few wasp traps hanging up around the buildings; we had a look in one and found an enormous, angry, hornet glaring back out at us.

Day nine: Mellington to Buttington. Length 19.9 km Ascent 507m . 7 hours.

This felt like a much swifter day, with less height change and a lot of it along the Dyke itself on the international Border. We had heard a rumour that there might be a shop at Kingswood but it turned out that we were several years too late to catch it. After Kingswood there was a stiff climb into woodland where the forest edges were festooned with signs typical of the area along the lines of “welcome to the estate, private woods, keep out, this does not apply to rights of way”. There were some ponds in these woods with, it turned out, a population of mosquitoes; we both suffered a number of bites which itched for days.

The Beacon Hill ring fort was interesting but while descending from it we took a wrong turn in the woods and our mistake led to half an hour of testing bushwhacking to get back on the path.

Eventually we pitched at a pub at Buttington. This was probably the least attractive camp spot on our trip. While it was perfectly OK and adequate it just felt a bit shabby and run down. There was an awful lot of road and railway noise. We were told later on that the Powis Arms pub about 2km further down the track at Pool Quay takes tents in an “unofficial” lightweight camp behind the pub, so it might be worth giving them a ring. I can’t testify as to whether that is a better choice or not.

Day ten: Buttington to Porth y Waen. Length 20.4 km Ascent 256m .8 hours.

Today started with the scariest experience of the trip; crossing the A458 bridge over the Severn at Buttington. It’s a very busy main road with double white lines down the middle and absolutely no allowance for pedestrians. Once over the appalling bridge most of the day was a mixture of easy walking along the banks of the Severn and the Monmouth canal. The temperature began to rise a lot in the afternoon. Today’s tea stop was at a little visitor centre for an historical industrial site by the canal at Llanymynech. After chatting to the old lady volunteers by the canal we climbed up through the maze of tracks in the historical site accompanied by three young mothers and their kids. They were regular visitors to these woods and kept us on the right track all the way to the top of the climb to Llanymynech Rocks. There was a kilometre walk along the borderline before dropping back into the valley to our camp at Porth y Waen. Our pre booked camp turned out to be a spot in a nice garden of a B&B with an impressive view, toilet and tap. We had a cup of tea, biscuits and an interesting chat with the proprietors before sunset.

Day eleven: Porth y Waen to Chirk. Length 22.8 km Ascent 889m . 9 hours.

There was a bit of a temperature inversion in the morning. We were on the road by 7,30. Today was the day that we were heading for Llangollen, where we had the Bank Holiday accommodation shortage reported earlier. We had ended up booking a hotel room on the outskirts of Chirk and decided to keep heading north on the ODP until it seemed sensible to turn right. The first hill that we topped out on had a 360 degree view around the surrounding lowlands, above the fading mists. North of Trefonen we were overtaken by a young lad who was about a foot taller than us and forty years younger; he was also heading all the way to Prestatyn. It was interesting to compare notes for a while, but we thought that we were holding him back and encouraged him to steam on.

The ODP Association notes had promised that there was a farm at Careg y Big which had vending machines in a roadside barn, which we had been looking forward to but that proved to be a myth.

A long stretch of the Dyke brought us down to a bridge over the River Ceiriog, where we entered the grounds of Chirk Castle via the Gate of the Dead, which turned out to be just a gap in the fence. The baking hot weather by now fully justified an ice cream stop at the Castle tearoom. We had spotted, on the Ordnance 25th map, a couple of permissive paths leading from the Castle downhill to the Shropshire Union Canal which we had to follow back in a southerly direction to our digs for the night. On the canal towpath we walked into a tunnel. After a couple of minutes we thought, “hang on, where’s the torch” . The tunnel was longer then expected, on a narrow towpath with a safety rail. We passed, with a bit of shuffling, another pair of tunnel walkers going the other way, and a chugging narrowboat, then popped out of the tunnel straight on to a high aqueduct. As the evening faded a great cloud of hot air balloons floated overhead.

Day twelve: Pontcysylite to Gweryd Lakes. Length 23.4 km Ascent 1197m. 9 hours .

We booked a taxi from the hotel at 7,30 to take us to the south end of the Pontcysylite Aquaduct. While we wandered across it a small team of kayakers were messing about in what is essentially a big tub of water in the sky. Leaving the canal behind at a sign posting the way to The World’s End we followed the minor road skirting the cliff bottom on Eglwyseg Mountain. There were lots of camper vans parked on the grass verge along here, presumably van dwelling rock climbers. From the vantage point of this road we could look down on the campsites around Llangollen, where there seemed to be plenty of spare room. At the head of the valley the road became a cart track and then a footpath. For a couple of kilometres, the footpath has the feel of a genuine high alpine traversing route. The World’s End is a spot at the head of the valley. From there a paved path crosses the moor into Llandegla Forest, a popular mountain biking venue.

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We piled into Llandegla community shop to stock up on food; this is the last shop before Prestatyn. We sat in their coffee shop and booked accommodation in Prestatyn and our rail tickets home. If the community cafe is shut when you pass through, the church opposite makes an offer of tea and biscuits similar to Newchurch.

We reached our prearranged camp spot at Gweryd Lakes by about 5pm. The Lakes are a fishing venue and take their security seriously. They have their details on their own website. They much prefer ODP backpackers to contact them beforehand. They were very hospitable and the site is in a very attractive spot, well sheltered but comparatively high in the hills.

Day thirteen: Gweryd Lakes to Bodfari. Length 22.9 km Ascent 1175m . 9 hours .

We woke to thick fog, packed up in the heavy dew and started moving early again. Our feet were soon soaked. The fog burned off after a couple of hours as we came to the tourist carpark which serves the Jubilee tower. That came as a bit of a shock, suddenly there were dozens of people everywhere.

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While descending the stone staircase into Port Arthur we met a family coming the other way. A young lad darted across the narrow stairway in front of me. If I had just frozen for a second all would have been well, but I overcompensated, stumbled, and took a nose dive through a gorse bush and went face down on some rocks. I had a lot of gorse thorns embedded in my left leg and a big, bleeding, gash down the front of my right leg. Making light of my state in order to not upset the young kids at the scene I staggered off the slope and we strapped up the mess. That all slowed us down a bit for the rest of the day, but we eventually reached the caravan park at Bodfari.

There is a small spot set aside for tenters at the end of the caravan site, which we shared with another couple on the ODP, a touring cyclist and some Dutch motorcyclists. We ate the last of the rations we had been carrying from the start. Everybody was very easy going and chatty. It was a night for the pub.

Day fourteen: Bodfari to Prestatyn. Length 17.5 km Ascent 604m . 7 hours.

The last day was pretty straightforward. We didn’t like the look of the big reascent on the ODP out of Rhuallt so we crossed the A55 via the road bridge at grid SJ094760. Before reaching the bridge we passed a bizarre housing compound called “Bryntirion”. This place has a high, impenetrable, hedge and cctv around it and a lot of life size human and animal plastic effigies sitting about in view of the road. I couldn’t guess what that was about.

The last couple of kilometres in to town are quite dramatic, along the cliff tops with views out to sea, then down one of the main streets and down to the beach. The little monument at the northern end of the ODP is right in front of a welcome cafe and icecream parlour, then over the sea wall and feet in the sea.

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Observations

Food and drink. We started out carrying dehydrated main meals for two evenings, one dessert, one made up porridge breakfast, about two dozen assorted cereal bars, two small tins of flavoured tuna sandwich meat, one tube of Primula soft cheese, one plastic squeeze bottle containing mixed fruit jam. One of us drinks decaf and the other instant coffee and instant tea. Having tried to work out how much we would consume, the decaff ran out on the penultimate day, while the instant and the Coffemate just lasted out long enough. We bought teas and coffees from any rural outlet we passed; burger and ice cream vans in laybys and rural shops. We were cooking on meths, starting with 1700ml in our packs and finishing with still 300ml left. While wild camping in Scotland we would normally use 4 or 5 chlorine dioxide tablets each day, but camping at sites with potable water on tap meant we only used two tablets during the whole trip.

On route we bought groceries at Chepstow’s Tesco, the Lidl in Monmouth, the petrol station shop at llanvihangel Crucorney, Hay on Wye Coop, Kington Coop, Knighton Spar, the Nisa shop at the A458/A483 junction at Welshpool and the community shops at Llanymynech, Trefonen and llandegla. We spotted, but didn’t visit, a Premier Foods corner shop in a side street at the northern end of the Pontcysylite Aquaduct. The further north we went the sparser the shops were.

The distance and height gain estimates for each day were arrived at by using the Walkhighland online GPX generator. They follow the route we actually walked, not the official route.
Total distance walked: 288.22km
Total height gain: 10,296 meters

A lot of people asked us if we were wild camping. As wild camping is supposed to be illegal in Englandandwalesland I thought it was an odd question, along the lines of “have you been shoplifting ?” but we didn’t get the idea that anybody took it seriously. All the literature about the ODP contains injunctions against wild camping; I have the impression that these injunctions are just legal cop outs for the publishers.

We have a lot of experience of wild camping in Scotland, it is our normal practise. The usual prerequisites that we would look for in a remote campsite would be that is free from wind hazards, water hazards, livestock hazards, has a water supply, a toilet area, is unobtrusive, and legal. During our two weeks on the trail I only spotted two or three spots where I would have been comfortable tenting; most places didn’t pass our tests. On the other hand there were hundreds and hundreds of places where I would have been happy bivying, with a goretex bag and small tarp. There were endless woodland boundaries where that would have been possible, it is just that bivy bagging for multiple day trips takes a bit higher level of skill and personal hardiness. Also, the woodland floors were covered in small jaggy things, so a closed cell Multimat would have been more reliable than an inflatable Thermarest.

Livestock. There are hundreds of cows and sheep in the fields we crossed, ponies on the high moorlands and every group of rural houses seemed to have barking dogs. At one point four dogs came roaring out of a farm yard making an awful noise; it turned out that they just wanted to give us a sniff and have their heads clapped. The sheep seemed to be less wary than Scottish hill sheep. The cows were often inquisitive; people who are frightened of cattle would find the ODP a bit emotional.

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Insects. Between us we suffered one tick bite, one bee sting, about a dozen mosquito bites and some random midgie bites. There was nothing like the midgie hazard usually found in the west of Scotland in August. We never needed our head nets.

Railtickets. We used the Scotrail phone app, picking up the tickets from a machine at our departure stations. The train to Chepstow was booked a month early for a cheap apex one way ticket. The first quote we got for our two return tickets for Prestatyn to Glasgow was £155. I then tried splitting the journey with an hour’s wait at Warrington, which produced separate tickets, from two different companies, for Prestatyn to Warrington and Warrington to Glasgow; that came to a total of £77 for two.

What would we do differently ? Probably have a rest day at Hay on Wye, which felt like the most interesting town we passed through, and possibly another rest day at Llangollen. We should have booked the Youth Hostels earlier; they take bookings from 90 days to go.
tinnishill
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Re: Offa's Dyke camping trip

Postby LaurenAlexandraAgain » Tue Sep 03, 2019 11:06 pm

Enjoyed your report! I did a couple of the southern sections of Offa's Dyke in 2017, and I recall it being hard going but with rewarding views. Your pics make me want to go back and do the whole thing!
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Re: Offa's Dyke camping trip

Postby Marty_JG » Thu Sep 05, 2019 10:33 pm

What a lovely & interesting report. One thing for the future:

While wild camping in Scotland we would normally use 4 or 5 chlorine dioxide tablets each day, but camping at sites with potable water on tap meant we only used two tablets during the whole trip.


Have you ever considered a filter system such as the Sawyer Mini or the Sawyer Squeeze?
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Marty_JG
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Re: Offa's Dyke camping trip

Postby china88 » Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:18 pm

Great report and a walk I have always wanted to do
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