WARNING: This is not so much a hiking post as a “travelogue comedy of errors”.
My walking companion from Australia was coming over to the UK and planning a week of walking in Wales so of course I had to go with him! After all, Wales is only 800 miles or so from where I live. I really need to stop reading miles and thinking in kilometres . . . . 800 miles really is a lot further than 800 kilometres! Still, he had come 9,000 miles to see me, so it only seemed fair. OK, he actually came to see his daughter . . . .
He wanted to walk part of the Offa’s Dyke trail, from Welshpool to Knighton, then follow the Glyndwr’s Way trail to complete a loop. Deciding he didn’t have enough time for that, he decided to get to Machynlleth on the Glyndwr’s Way, then take the train back to Welshpool.
I considered taking the train down to Welshpool (starting with a bus from here to Lairg) but that was going to take over 12 hours of actually travelling, plus another few hours in transit, plus probably a night in a hotel and over £100 in train/bus tickets. I decided to buy a car and drive down instead. Actually, buying a car was already a priority for other reasons, but this certainly gave me a firm deadline to aim for!
The driving option was made possible by a website called “JustPark”, where people can offer private car parking spaces (eg driveway space) for rent. I found a place near Churchstoke (about halfway between Welshpool and Knighton, a couple of miles from Offa’s Dyke) where I could leave my car for the entire week for only £10! Excellent!
So, the dog and I took off on a big road trip. Wednesday afternoon we drove to Inverness, bought the last few supplies for our walk and stayed the night in a friend’s flat (Merlin did very well at 3rd floor apartment living!). The following day we drove the 7 hours to Welshpool . . . . only stopping once! I probably should’ve stopped some more as I was quite tired for the last bit, but my mentality when driving is the same as when walking – I don’t like stopping for rests!
I met up with Steve, and we headed down to Churchstoke. We had decided to have dinner at the Horse and Jockey, and stay in the caravan park behind the pub (in our tents). Merlin came into the pub while we had a pint, argued over our maps and traded jests with the barman (or innkeeper, as I called him). Merlin kept fussing around, completely the opposite to our local pub where he just lies down and sleep, so when it came to dinner time, I put him in the car while we ate. Unlike Australia, there was no problem leaving the dog in the car as there’s never any sun to make it heat up!
The following morning we drove to our parking place. Or tried to. We got to where it should’ve been, but couldn’t find anything that looked like the photo, AND there was a big “NO PARKING” sign in the only available place. I tried calling the space owner, but got no answer. Steve went and woke the neighbours, who knew nothing about the parking, but did say that the guy who used to live next day was a bit of a crazy unpleasant man. Possibly he’s still advertising the spot even though it’s not available. So, the parking thing was a complete failure! I still think JustPark is a lovely idea though, and they were excellent when I spoke to them that afternoon, refunding my money straight away and being particularly concerned that I had somewhere else safe to leave my car.
Luckily the innkeeper had said the night before that we could’ve left the car there, so back to the Horse and Jockey we went. There was no-one around yet, so we parked the car in an out of the way corner and wrote a very polite note explaining the situation (“Dear Mr Innkeeper, you mentioned that we could leave the car here and we hope that this is still OK because we’ve been screwed over by our parking spot . . . . ) which we slipped under the back door of the pub.
FINALLY we were away, and only an hour late! Our first task was to get to the Offa’s Dyke. We tried to follow some public footpaths, which wandered through open fields, crops and, at one point, someone’s farmyard. This is quite common around here apparently. Despite much scepticism from Steve, we eventually found a sign for the Offa’s Dyke trail. And the dyke itself, which is hard to miss!
We started off in beautiful woodlands, . . possibly the prettiest part of the walk all day. Then it was through a variety of fields and country lanes. Merlin was a bit slower than normal, carrying all his food for a week in his packs, but still bounded around happily . . . which caused some problems when he suddenly yelped and came back limping badly. I assume he put one front leg down a rabbit hole. I took his packs off him straight away, hoping that he’d recover, otherwise it would be a very short hike! Within a few minutes he was back to normal, which was good, because those packs were too heavy for me to carry for much longer!!
Pretty soon we got to the hills. The dyke was built straight across the countryside, regardless of the terrain, and we were following the dyke. We went up and down and up and down and up . . .and up . . . I think we may’ve had one flat section. For a few metres. The hills were not small either, and were incredibly steep (see the elevation profile of the walk).
Probably the only thing worse than the hills were the stiles. We started dreading them, and would walk a fair distance out of the way to find a gate to go through instead. They would’ve been fine for us, . . . but Merlin was not keen on them. His reaction to stiles was to put both front legs out in front of him and push as hard as he could away from the stile! We started off both trying to lift him over from one side. Then we tried with Steve going over first and catching him after I lifted/pushed him over. Then we gave up trying to get him to walk up the steps and I’d just lift him over, backlegs first, the same way I do over fences up here. Sometimes it was easier to actually lift him over the fence next to the stile. On some lucky bits he could fit through a gap in the fence next to the stile. There was maybe two like this. The other 20 or so stiles we had to take his packs off, get Steve over the stile, perform a juggling act with an uncooperative dog, get me over, then put his packs back on. It was slowing us down a lot, not to mention destroying any kind of walking rhythm we had. That said, by the last one, he almost got over it all on his own – walking up the steps on one side and, with some help, stepping over the top and jumping off the other side.
Maybe half of the fences had gates in them. To those people, . . . we salute you. Thankyou so much!
During the afternoon, the rain started. And it didn’t stop. (so, no more photos) Luckily the stiles finished at this point. Lifting the dog over the stiles was hard enough as it was. Lifting a wet, muddy dog would’ve been too much. So much so that when we came to a choice between following the path up and over another hill, which was bound to have more stiles on it, or following the road, we chose the road. We talked to some other walkers that evening and found that there were lots of stiles on that section, so it was a good choice!
We eventually arrived in Knighton, to find a sign welcoming us to Wales. What? I thought we’d spent the whole day walking in Wales? No, apparently we started in Wales, and within half an hour went back into England, and spent the rest of the day walking in England!
The problem we had now was that we had nowhere to stay. There is a campsite in Knighton, but they don’t allow dogs. This was a big problem with our planning for this walk. Not only did I have to adjust to the non-Scotland rules of NOT being able to camp wherever you want, I was then hit with a horrible anti-dog policy in half the campsites on our planned route. Out of 6 staged stopping points (based on the guide books), only 2 of them had campsites that allowed dogs. Frustratingly, these 2 places both had 2 campsites that allowed dogs so we had plenty of options in 2 places and nothing at all in between.
This had been weighing on our minds. We were also going a lot slower than expected, due to the stiles, with no expectation that this would change in future days. This put us at risk of not getting back in time. The countryside had been rather boring farmland for most of the day too – another thing which we didn’t expect to change in the coming days. Oh, it was pretty, . . . but not really what either of us wanted in a walk. We were also cold and wet by this point. Any 2 or 3 of these things, we could’ve dealt with. All 4 . . . we decided to bail out!
Luckily we found a very helpful lady in the Knighton Tourist Info Centre, who booked the local taxi for us to take us back to Churchstoke. We had a couple of hours to kill so went down to the George and Dragon pub, for a pint. They let Merlin in and he soon curled up in front of the fire while we started to defrost and shared stories with some other walkers we’d seen on the trail.
We arrived back at the Horse and Jockey in Churchstoke (confusing, because there is also a Horse and Jockey in Knighton!), much to the surprise of the innkeeper! Some more banter, another lovely meal, and we spent the night in the same campsite we had the day before!
We were up to about plan K at this point, and started coming up with L, M and N. Eventually we decided to go and visit a blogging friend of mine (who’ve I’ve never met in person) who lives in the Peak District (“on the way home” if you look at it through squinty eyes). However, there is a dog equipment supplier in Wales (also loosely “on the way”) that I wanted to stop in and see. I’ve been thinking of getting Merlin a coat and harness, but didn’t feel confident buying one online. This way I could actually try them on him. Unfortunately my “marking it on the map” consisted of circling an area that was roughly 5 miles across in some random rural area of Wales! The Sat Nav (which I’d borrowed from Scott and had served us quite well up to now) couldn’t find the town name I was looking for so we had to use it to get us nearby then try to follow road signs. We drove around tiny villages and backroads for about half an hour before we finally found the town I thought I was looking for. Still couldn’t see any dog supply shop though! I asked in a store in town and they knew exactly who I meant and gave me directions to get there.
We arrived at Cammwdr Canines to be greeted by several cats and a horse, but no humans! We did find some eventually and Ann was extremely helpful at suggesting what we needed and fitting things on Merlin. I came away with a lovely new coat and a harness . . . which would’ve been really helpful for getting Merlin over stiles!
Then it was on to the Peak District. All smooth sailing except that the Sat Nav stupidly took us off the motorway and through what felt like the middle of a city where it took us 10 minutes to go about 100m. OK, I don’t know that there was actually a better way to go, but that isn’t going to stop me complaining. We finally got to my friend’s place (after a scenic drive along some stunning backroads because the main road into town was closed off for a parade) where we had tea and cheese on toast and cakes and a wonderful chat.
I had a plan that we could go and see Lake Windermere so I programmed “accommodation near Lake Windermere” into the Sat Nav. It did an amazing job. We had a smooth drive up there and arrived at an absolutely stunning campground. Stunning in both its organisation and facilities, and the views over the Lakes and to the hills. Sadly also quite expensive!! Still, a good spot to pitch our tents and a really lovely meal at the restaurant made up for it.
The following morning we went for a short walk up the hill behind the campsite for more stunning views and some interesting looking sheep. At least we were getting some walking done!
(I’ve included extra photos of me, because I’ve been getting complaints that all my photos are of the dog. This is one of the few times I’ve had someone else to take photos of me!)
We then headed back to Scotland. Plan Q now was to go up to Kings House, walk up the Devils Staircase and back, camp there then send him off walking south on the West Highland Way the next day. We stopped at Milngavie (the start of the WHW) to get some maps for Steve. Sadly, it was past 1pm on a Sunday and everyone that sold maps was closed. I knew there was a GO Outdoors (outdoor store) nearby so googled it (thankfully the mobile phone signal was enough to give me internet here . . . down in England/Wales it had been woeful!) and the Sat Nav successfully directed us there.
We looked, and couldn’t find any WHW books or maps. So we asked. They had sold their last copy yesterday. What!!? It really felt like this walk was just not meant to happen. They directed us to another outdoor shop nearby, which is also programmed into the Sat Nav. It took us almost into the centre of Glasgow, and then tried to make us drive through a railway line! Apparently the roads have changed since it’s been updated. At least the general area was correct so we walked around a bit and finally found a shop, and finally found a WHW guidebook!
It was too late to get to Kings House now . . . so much for Plan Q. Onto R, and then S, T and U! We eventually drove to Tyndrum and checked into a campsite. It had started raining, a lot. We couldn’t face wet tents, and the campsite was actually not renting out tent sites because the ground was so soggy, so luckily they had a “trekker hut” that we, and Merlin, could stay in. As soon as we got inside, Merlin jumped on the bed and stayed there the rest of the night. He had this look that said “don’t you know I’m a bed dog? You’ve been making me sleep on that stupid mat on the ground for the last 3 nights!”. At least the mattresses were coated in plastic!
Hot showers then dinner and a pint at the Tyndrum hotel, then home for a sleep on a proper bed!
The following morning the weather had improved slightly – it was only raining 60% of the time! Steve headed off south on the WHW and I accompanied him down to Auchtertyre farm, before returning to the car and driving home. It was a long, wet drive home, but I got home by about 5pm . . . in time to go to the quiz night that night (see next post). Steve walked for another couple of days down to Balmaha before catching the bus/train to Edinburgh to meet his wife. From all accounts it was a wet, but still enjoyable, walk.
So, not at all how the week was supposed to go, but at least we made it work for us . . . eventually!
Here is the route/elevation for the Wales part of the walk: