Walking Offa's Dyke Path (21 May to 14 June 2008)

Page Image Walking Offa's Dyke Path, with assistance from Celtic Trails -


Offa's Dyke Path

Page Image
Certificate of Completion

Itinerary (largely Celtic Trails “Classic Plus ODP7" tour) and click here to see all 750+ of our pictures at Flickr --> Page Image

May 21st - Travel Edmonton to London

The fun started with our cab driver - a man from Laos (but he said he was Italian) who has lived in Edmonton for 32 years and is sick of it. He was having a house built in Laos and is moving there in June. He sounded very socialist in his attitude, so we were not surprised when he said Laos was a communist country and it's perfect for him. Sounds like no one goes hungry, you can live on $5 a day. Interestingly, the policemen all live in big houses because bribes are rampant. We wished each other luck on our travels!

How nice it was to go through security without our laptops - feels so light ! Our hiking sticks were something of a curiosity but they agreed that they were okay to take on board. Everybody we encountered at the airport was so nice and pleasant. We think it is emanating from us as we are in such a fantastic mood.

The plane was fantastic as well, as the seating in business class was newly renovated.

May 22nd - London - General

Slept well on the plane, as the newly renovated seats with the lay-flat beds are comfortable. Breezed through customs (priority line), quickly got our luggage and hopped the Heathrow Express, the tube, and the hotel's shuttle to the (Hilton London Docklands) where Iga checked us in.

After we checked in to the hotel we immediately went site-seeing. Too full from our meals on the plane to bother with eating. We could have taken the hotel's shuttle to the Canada Water tube station but walked instead, to stretch our legs from the long flight and to see how long it takes when there is no shuttle.

Due to the weird street numbering system, we turned too soon and found ourselves way east of where we should have been, according to the map we had from the tube's website. To our good fortune we stumbled on Lavender Ecological Pond where we took pictures of moor-hens and other birds. It was very pretty and peaceful. We eventually got caught up with the map. It's a beautiful trail to Canada Water, past picturesque Surrey Water and through the woods to the station. The whole walk should have taken 25 minutes but we were almost an hour.

We got off at London Bridge station and headed west along the "Thames Walk". We stopped at Vinopolis and decided it wasn't for us at that moment. We next found the Anchor Pub (where Samuel Pepys would hang out), but it was closed for renovations (but they were recruiting!).

From there we went on to St Paul's Cathedral. It was already getting late so of course that was closed to visitors. But we did stumble on Temple Bar, one of the original gates to the city. It was very interesting and made a nice picture.

We turned around and crossed the Millenium Bridge to the Tate Modern. We nearly got killed several times because we didn't remember to look left and right 8 times before crossing the street.

The Tate Modern was still open for another hour. We did the entire 5th floor, which was all modern art and concepts. Covered: cubism (a lot of Georges Braque), a Diego Rivera, and then a whole room devoted to Communist (Soviet) propoganda posters from the revolution to the late 40's (Workers Unite!). Fascinating - Lenin & Stalin were heroes!

Visited modern art in various forms: minimalism - art stripped of anything resembling anything else; concepts and language - such as a chambermaid's photo logand commentary of a room she cleaned, essays & rants, the architectural drawings for things that could exist (e.g. a highrise for birds).

Caught the tube from the London Bridge station and walked back from Canada Water. We stopped for supper at the "Deal Porters". The food was fantastic, the wait staff was excellent (so polite and smooth), but the chef was right out of 'Kitchen Nightmares', except that he was good. He flew into a rage that too many people had ordered trout. He actually came out of the kitchen to track the waiter down. We could hear him losing his temper in the kitchen and Joanne had to change her order because another trout was going to be an extra 15 minutes.

Most of the time thr door to the kitchen was open and we watched him either pacing and ranting - or delicately work on the dishes with painstaking precision and focus. In the meantime, the dog came out and went back into the office several times. Not sure what he was looking for, but he seemed to know not to stray too far. The resturant was expensive but would still go back there.

Back at the hotel, we could hardly stay awake to read the paper and we went to bed early.

May 23rd - London - Chelsea Garden Show

We were up at 7:30 and wanted to be at the Chelsea Garden Show for 8:00. Even at 8:30am the crowds were light. We scrambled to get the free tickets to a 'Design Garden Forum', as only 150 tickets were available. We chose Trevor Tooth. The gardens (all display) were awesome. Took tons of pictures. Then we went into the Pavilion & tooks tons more. Wore the battery down on the camera by the end of the day.

Trevor Tooth talked about his inspiration (Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Fallingwater') and his process, including the construction challenges. He actually had to get them to remove the gate to move in his 7 ton platform. And it took two cranes, about 7 guys, and an hour to position it. Only a few milimeters out and the walks wouldn't have lined up.

In the afternoon, we attended Paul Cooper's presentation "Ocean to a Garden". Paul is really an artist, not a gardener. He lets other prople do the planting part of it. He also talked about Capability Brown, who built gardens for the "generations", and how lifestyle has changed since then - We are mobile, we need gardens we can pack up or throw away. Paul had a lot of ideas, a very different way to look at the space that surrounds you. It seems like the plants are incidental.

It was unbelievably crowded by 3-3:30 so we were glad we started 5 hours earlier. Next was the Chelsea Physic Garden and we only had 45 minutes until closing. It was a refreshing change after the crowds at the show. We discovered that there is a poppy from South America that produces codeine, not opium like the Asian poppy.

We made our way to Harrod's to see the great Food Hall. We think it is not as interesting as Galerie Lafayette (in Paris). Too many of the products are house brand. Why does all of their tea have to be Harrod's brand ? Must be economics. When you walk in you see a life size statue of Mohammed Al Fayed, this is a little off-putting considering he only owns the store currently - he didn't found it. We picked up a demi-bagette and devoured it in the park at Sloan Square & headed home.so apologetic. The tables of German tourists must have really messed them up. The food was simple pub fare and good quality. It was fresh and the chips were great. The dessert list was extensive and included English standards. We decided we have to go back for Treacle Pudding or Ginger Pudding or Spotted Dick!

In the evening Joanne planned out our itinerary for Saturday and Sunday. She says it took her hours - it's not as easy as it looks. Lee - "I know". Joanne - 'I know it's a lot of work and Lee spends a lot of time on it, but I didn't know it was this hard!"

May 24th - London - St Paul's Cathedral, +++

Got up in good time to go to St. Paul's Cathedral. It will be 19° today and sunny, and 15° tomorrow with rain.

St. Paul's Cathedral was very historic. Key features: memorial to John Donne, the Holman Hunt painting of Jesus Holding a Lantern, and the climb to he top of the cathedral dome. We were fascinated by the large fragments of effigies that survived the fire. Climbing the stairs to the dome was easier than Sacre Coeur in Paris. We think we are in much better shape now.

Next was St. Pancras Station and the British Library. Beautiful, very impressive exibhits of manuscripts, including the Magna Carta, the library's great treasure. The Magna Carta was written on sheepskin, which was expensive, and so the scribes wrote very, very tiny with very fine pens. Also saw the Beowulf page and several Middle English pages. We don't know how people managed to read them. Very tiny & unclear (illegible?) handwriting. We think you could not be able to translate these unless you spoke Middle English all of the time. We also listened to a voice recording of James Joyce reciting his "Finnegan's Wake." We think this is the only way one could really enjoy it - by listening to him read it, as it needs an Irish accent. Spent a lot of time looking at Mercator's Atlas, a very big gap between the Bering Strait (very well defined) and the northern Canadian Arctic (which was almost blank). Enjoyed Charles Dodson's transcript of "Alice," complete with illistrations.

We took a side trip to Piccadilly Circus to check out our hotel (Le Meridien Piccadilly) for the last night in the UK. The whole area was very chaotic but impressive. Lots of US chain resturants on the main streets, but on the side streets was everything else - Thai, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, Greek - all next to each other. This is the theatre district so the resturants all should do well.

Then off to the British Museum. When we finally got in sight of the museum we were tired & hungry. So we stopped at a pizzeria (actually Pizza Express but didn't realize it) & sat down to the the most authentic pizza since the one we frequented in Trastavere (Rome). What a treat. And our waiter could barely speak English. This resturant should do well too.

By the time we finished eating it was too late for the British Museum - oh well, next time in London.

We went right on to the Queen's Gallery. The highlights: a Caravaggio (Boy peeling fruit), Chippendale furniture, Faberge creations (including 2 eggs commissioned by Tsar Nicholas for Alexandra).

We made it in time to take the River Cruise on the Thames from Westminster Pier to the Tower Pier. There was a nice little commentary - for instance, we learned that the "OXO" building got around a no-advertising-on-buildings law by cleverly making a pattern in the tower with glass cubes that spelled out:


The other remarkable thing about the cruise was seeing how built up the banks are. The city is encroaching into the river. We cruised past the HMS Belfast (a museum) and decided that would make a nice visit some time.

After docking, we walked around the outside of the Tower of London, passing an Indian wedding and took picture, naturally. We realized then how multicultural London is, noting the impact of Indians in their colourful saris posing in front of the Tower of London (and not a temple or other religous symbol of India).

We crossed the Tower Bridge and bought hot sugar-coated peanuts from a vendor. The other side was Bermondsey so we decided to walk to the Bermondsey tube station as it was fairly close by.

Back to The Clipper for supper and the staff was still apologizing for the night before. We got to have the desserts we were waiting for - Joanne had Treacle Pudding and declared it was her new favourite, and Lee had "Date Walnut", which was what his grandmother (from Birmingham) used to make, and it was marvelous.

May 25th - London - Tower of London +++

We planned a shorter day today so we could have supper at Cindy's.

First to the Tower of London. we got there before most of the crowds. Of special interest this time was the stop at the Fusiliers Museum. They have a history that goes back to the 1600s. The life of a soldier has changed enormously over the years. The Fusiliers have fought in almost every war. The equipment and dress have changed dramatically of course. It was an excellent museum. Displays covered many aspects, such as the soldier's life in different eras, the specific wars (including causes and key events) and also the tales of specific soldiers.

Next was the Victoria & Albert Museum. We saw the costume display (favourite was the legendary Coco Chanel suit in black, in which she has been photographed) . We also went to the British Gallery for the Ware Bed and a series of ancient cast figures, including Eleanor of Aquitane's tomb (remember The Lion in Winter?), featuring her laying at rest with an open book in her hand appearing to read it (gotta finish that chapter!).

We took the train to Cindy's place in Teddington. Saw a religious procession at the end of Seymour Street. The priest was taking pictures so we got some as well. We had a nice visit with Cindy & Burke and a nice dinner too (grilled sausage and lots of vegetables - nice for a change)

May 26th - London to Cardiff & Around Cardiff

Today we took the train to Cardiff. The Cardiff Marriott was awesome, and so central to the train station and Cardiff Castle, with the old parts of Cardiff in between.

The people here do look a little different. Some women with jet black hair, pale skin, and blue eyes - like Catherine Zeta-Jones. Also a lot of blondes, like Duffy, and also like the guys in Edmonton who do the battle re-enactment at the Heritage Festival every year. Also the people here are very friendly and very easy to understand. We wonder if it will get harder as we go further north.

The weather was rainy & windy all day. We visited Cardiff Castle. The guided tour was of the part owned and decorated by the Bute family. They lived here until 1947 and then made it a gift to the city. Our guide pointed out that this was only one of their many homes (Isle of Bute is another) and they only spent two weeks in the summer here each year. The Victorian era decoration was extremely thematic. The smoking room had features on the walls and ceilings indicating days of the week (i.e. the gods and goddesses of), astrological signs, the seasons. The children's room was all nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The rooftop garden featured languages (Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek, Runes). All rooms were also highly religious, with biblical figures. For example, the dining room had Abraham on one side of the fireplace and Sarah on the other. In the centre of the dining room was a circular table with a hole in the centre - the servants would bring in a potted grape vine from the greenhouse and set it in the hole so the famly could eat the grapes off it.

The library was huge (as big as the banquetting hall). Each bookshelf was labelled according to the author and there were many isles of bookshelves. Of course languages and religous themes were key decorations.

Next we climbed the steps up to the Castle Keep and climbed many levels once inside. At the entrance end of the grounds was the Welsh Guards museum. This was also very good museum - not as coordinated as the Fusiliers Museum which had a lot of explanation, it was more of a collection. The Welsh Guards have an affiliation with the Ontario Regiment, and they fought in many wars including Niagra in 1812. The Wesh Regiment also has a mascot which is a kashmir goat. The goat always marches in the parades and looks quite cute.

For supper we decided on Indian food. We asked for Masala Tea even though it wasn't on the menu. At first we were turned down but then the manager came over saying he overheard us asking for Masala Tea, so he aranged for us to get it and it was very good (it even had some whole leaves, so obviously very special).

The real fun was watching the resturant patrons. The most amusing thing of the evening was when the three ladies next to us got their rice, which was a big plate of boiled rice and chips ! The British sure love their chips. The Indian resturant can't even avoid it. For us it was a very good meal, top quality.

After supper we took a walk around town. A few people were very drunk (there was a big rugby match earlier in the day) and the streets were somewhat littered. We think the real problem is lack of garbage cans - we saw two broken umbrellas in the street. But the people sure are nice and friendly.

May 27th - Offa's Dyke Path - Sedbury Cliffs to Chepstow (& out to Tintern Abbey)

We left for Chepstow on the train, it seemed so quaint and old after the commotion of the cities, but still not quiet or sleepy. We were picked up by TJ's Taxi and taken to The Florence Hotel. They had a lot of rain the last few weeks and even some flooding. A landslide above the road was still being cleaned up. The River Wye is very high.

We dropped our bags at the hotel while the taxi driver waited to take us back into town for the start of our Offa's Dyke Path walk. We took the trail to the Sedbury Cliffs and officially began our journey. Right at the start we were in a field full of cows and rabbits. It was also very muddy. From the Offa's Dyke Path marker we walked into Chepstow, and made only one wrong turn. We ate lunch at the Old George (recommended by our driver) - Bangers and Mash and Cottage Pie. This Cottage Pie was sooo much better than The Clipper's.

We took a taxi to Tintern Abbey, where we joined the CADW - Welsh Heritage Society (cadw - 'cadoo - to keep') under a family membership so that we could see all the castles in Wales for free and get an additional discount at the gift shop. After visiting the Abbey, we crossed the road to see St. Mary's Church, which burned down in 1977 but looks like no one has been near it for a hundred years. The road up the hill was mostly a footpath. As we climbed the steep slope, we developed the theory that the cause of the fire was arson, started by some lazy parishioners (teenagers? husbands?) so that they wouldn't have to climb the hill another Sunday again. The other interesting find was St. Anne's which is a private house with gothic windows, nestled against some of the original wall surrounding the Abbey.

We hopped the bus from the Abbey back to The Florence Hotel (there is a bus stop at both sites) and we were introduced to our rooms. In 1566 the original site was a woodsman's house. During the 1700's it was an inn and was then converted to a residence in the 1880's. Further improvements were made in the early 1900's to make it a hunting lodge. The property has a huge Monkey Puzzle tree and a rare Mountain Snowbell tree. Many of the windows date back to the original building and can no longer be opened.

The owners, Kathy and Dennis Redwood are very hospitable, the supper was very good, and we watched "Defence of the Realm" after supper.

Sedbury Cliffs to Chepstow was 2.6 miles (official start of the trail but the serious walking starts tomorrow).

May 28th - Offa's Dyke Path - Chepstow to Bigsweir Bridge

This is the breakfast at The Florence Hotel -

We thought we needed all of those calories for the day and we were right. It was raining when we started out. The taxi dropped us off at the Chepstow bridge where we came off the Path yesterday. We climbed up the hill and began our journey. Most of today's walk was on the English side and we walked past some very fine houses and scenic pastures. We walked past the view of a quarry and eventually reached the Devil's Pulpit (high in the hills overlooking Tintern Abbey). The forest was incredibly dark and we now understood how a forest can be creepy. The creepiest part are the thick woody vines that can wrap around a tree trunk and look like its choking the tree. Not hard to imagine that these trees have souls or spirits.

We had some moments of really hard rain but by Madgett Hills is had mostly stopped and we started to descend down to Brockweir, another quaint village but with a horse sanctuary. We walked along the Wye River with lovely sheep farms on the other side, with a few private boat launches. For the last bit of the trail we were in Slip Wood and it led us right to The Florence Hotel.

We had another nice supper, this time with a full bottle of wine, because we thought we deserved it. We spent a relaxing evening watching Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect and went to bed early. We really needed it.

Today's walk was 12.2 miles, including a few mistakes and the weather was mostly rainy, even though everyone we met along the way said it would clear up in the afternoon.

May 29th - Offa's Dyke Path - Bigsweir Bridge to The Hendre

Today promised to be sunny and 20° but it was still very boggy and muddy everywhere.

We went back up into the woods behind The Florence Hotel to reconnect with the Offa's Dyke Path, stopping to view the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) and Mountain Snowbell (genus Styrax) tree. We found the path but at some point we took the wrong fork in the trail and ended up in deeper woods that didn't connect with the the Offa's Dyke Path. It remained at a much lower elevation. Features in these woods include numerous swaths of foxglove, and a creepy huge tree thickly and totally covered in bright green moss, and not one single tree around it having any moss at all.

We realized we were on the wrong trail when it seemed to vanish. We scrambled up the steep slope, which was not very hard to do, but to get to the road we were forced to cut through a meadow that was all waist-high nettles, blackberry and other thorny plants. Lots of prickles in the knees. (Later, when we talked to two other parties who did this path, they ran into the vanishing trail, but they headed downwards to the lower road.)

The road at the top was Coxbury Lane, very nice and leafy. A posted map showed it ran parallel to Offa's Dyke Path and both paths they merged at Redbrook. Along the road we saw a very flamboyant pheasant (brown, white and red) sitting on a fence. He flew down into the stinging nettles when we startled him.

The road descended into Redbrook and we stopped at the Old Bell Inn for a glass of cider. They had two ciders on tap (Stowfort and Addelstone Press) so of course we each had a different one. Of course we were informed that the common one, Strongbow, "wasn't even made with real apples."

Onward through Redbrook. When we asked directions from two old men, they thought we should join them at the pub (across the river on the Wales side). We explained we just came from a pub, so then they gave us the directions back to the Offa's Dyke Path.

The climb up the street to get to the path was spectacular - beautiful old houses, most of them situated over the ditch that drains the land. It's like having a natural stream in your own yard. One gorgeous house with a big garden actually used the stream as a babbling brook.

At the top of the hill there were numerous farms and we walked through field after field. Eventually we arrived at the Kymin, which is a naval monument once visited by Nelson. From there it was a boggy steep down to the road to Monmouth.

Monmouth is another old town that mixes in the new. Its gatehouse is the oldest in Britain that is still standing on a bridge. We stopped at a cheese and meat shop to purchase a chunk of real Welsh cheese ("Tintern" which was soft and salty with chives), and consumed it outside the old market, in front of a statue of Edward V, who was born in Monmouth. Monmouth feels very Welsh, especially with so many signs in Welsh. But everyone still speaks English.

We left the town through Drybridge Street and then Watery Lane, which has many new houses but still with the old stone fences and walls. The new houses look a lot like the old ones, in style that is.

We went through King's Wood, which could be called the "Evil King's Wood" as it was so boggy and slippery. When we came out at the top, there was a clearing with a bench so we stopped and ate the remains of our lunch before descending down the other side of the valley.

We came to a large tree sprawled across the road. It fell recently, considering how fresh the leaves looked, and we had to climb through the branches. On the other side was a couple from California walking the path in the opposite direction, who were waiting their turn. They warned us of a water-filled spot ahead. Towards the end of the walk we came to a road that was just a pool of water. On the left side there was a hedge with no edge of ground to step on. On the right was a very narrow edge but the hedge was made entirely of prickly hawthorn, edged thickly with stinging nettles. So we decided to go exactly down the middle, assuming that was the high point between the ruts, and it worked out very well.

We then proceeded to the The Hendre Farm B&B. They called The Old Rectory for us and the owner, Paul Ball, drove up to take us to Llangattock Lingoed. Paul did an awesome job of renovating the old barn (a "tithing barn") into two B&B units. He even made the furniture.

The village of Llangattock Lingoed is absolutely delightful. People are friendly and interesting. They live in old houses amongst such beauty.

We took many pictures of Saint Cadoc's Church next door to The Old Rectory, and then ate supper at the Hunter's Moon restaurant (with a pub and accommodations) which was on the other side of the church.

Today we walked 10.9 miles.

May 30th - Offa's Dyke Path - The Hendre to Llangattock Lingoed

Paul drove us back to The Hendre to resume our walk. Almost right away we missed the first turn, because we were distracted by a huge tractor going very fast. The tractor was wider than a car.

The path took us through the muddiest and boggiest cattle pasture and we spent a lot of time searching for the way out. The farmer was there to check on his cattle and he pointed us to the way out. We eventually saw the marker post - it had fallen over due to the rain. The farmer had on Wellington boots, so he wasn't bothered by the mud. The mud was especially bad at the gate opening. It was disconcerting until we recalled that farms in Canada have this too - which is why everyone on the farm has a good pair of rubber boots.

Today was all about farms. We walked through field after field past curious sheep, cattle and even a pig (which is considered rare in this area). At one point the marker directed us through a field of canola (still called rapeseed here). The field had mostly finished blooming except for a fine line running diagonal through the field that still had the yellow blossoms. This line was actually the path. Here the ground was more compressed, so that plants were slower in blooming. The canola was densely planted and up to 6 feet high but we just forged ahead, never stopping or slowing down. At first we were careful to try not to step on the plants, but after a short time of wading through the vegetation, we stopped caring - we just wanted to get it over with. At the end of it was the next marker - it was then that we realized just how accurate the arrows on the markers were. From that point on if we didn't immediately see the next marker we followed the direction of the arrow and had very few mistakes on the rest of the journey.

To our delight, we passed through apple orchards. These apples were grown for cider (on contract to Bulmer's, which makes Strongbow). The trees were nicely spaced with lawn in between and no patches of mud at the gates.

At a farm called "The Grange" we had to squeeze through a narrow pen with a gate on each side. The pen held six little lambs that rushed the gate as we walked up. They were bleating and bleating, scrambling over each other to get out. We knew that as soon as we opened the gate they would be loose everywhere in the pasture. How to outsmart these lambs? We climbed over the fences separately so as to keep them distracted. We thought it was strange that a farmer would put lambs in a pen like that, with the Offas Dyke Path running through it.

We walked through many places that we thought would have a pub, but didn't. Later, Paul indicated that many pubs had shut down in recent years. It's a lot of work and they can sell these places to rich Londoners as a residence or second home for a lot more than as a pub. This is outrageous to the local people, including those second home owners for whom the local pub is an attraction. This could really change the way of life in the countryside.

We stopped at White Castle, which is directly on the Offas Dyke Path. It was in amazing condition. It still had a moat and the flowers (Yellow Flag) were in bloom too.

At the last field, going to St. Cadoc's, we had to climb a steep slope. Everyone had warned us about it, but it was easy to take, only about 50 meters. Essentially it was nothing compared to the climb we had through nettles to get to Coxbury Lane when we missed the Offa's Dyke Path.

We finished quite early today. We had supper at the Hunter's Moon Inn, with Addlestone cider, which everyone says is the best. The inn got very crowded as the evening wore on. It was Friday night and it felt like a big party or family reunion, There were even a few small children running in and out.

Today we walked 10.9 miles.

May 31st - Offa's Dyke Path - Llangattock Lingoed to Longtown

We mentioned to Paul how easy it was to fit in at the pub last night, as everyone we'd talked to the night before was asking about our walk. Paul said that after a couple of days your a "local," until rugby starts and then "you're English, you're Welsh, you're American...."

We walked away from The Old Rectory through fields just like yesterday's. We encountered a family of ducks - three adults and several ducklings in tow. It was only 10:30 when we reached Pandy and the Lancaster Arms, so it seemed too early to stop and have a drink. On our way up to Hatterall Ridge we started to encounter more people walking like we were. We guessed this was because it was Saturday and people were going out for a day walk. The ridge was spectacular - windy, sunny, warm. The vegetation is very scrubby but there are still sheep and some horses grazing at the very top. We learned later that this scrubby landscape is "moorland."

We passed some ruins of what we initially thought was an old castle but the guidebook explained that it was probably a sheepfold. Further along was a heap of stones, which the book described as a quarry. By this time we realized that the guidebook & maps should be consulted often. From the hill we also passed a Ordanance Survey triangular marker. Eventually down in the valley on the left we saw the village of Llanthony with its prominent old abbey. Using binoculars we got a very good view of this ruin. Soon we met the crosspath leading to Llanthony on the Wales side and Longtown on the England side. We tuned right on the path down to Longtown. It was a steep drop, following by a long stretch of flat road, and finally a steep descent on the road down to the Olchon Cattage Farm.

At the Olchon Cottage Farm we were greeted by two Jack Russell terriers. They seemed very fit and smart. The proprieteor, Mrs. Prichard, met us and we walked past the black chickens and guinea fowl up to the old stone house. The whole of the back yard was a lovely English garden, the sort that would belong to an enthusiastic grandmother.

We removed our boots outside and then she took us through the B&B dining room, through ancient wooden doors (no doorknobs, just wooden latches), then up a circular stone staircase to the floor above. On the right was our suite, the "Castle View," with a spectacular view of Longtown Castle ruins. Two gentlemen who were participating in a cricket tournament had the other suite.

Our suite was quite spacious, with a separate sitting room and large bathroom (originally a bedroom, probably). The rooms featured low wooden beams and were furnished with several, well-maintained pieces, including chairs, bookshelves, vanity, and wardrobes. Because we had arrived so early (before 3 o'clock) we had had lots of time to relax, read, watch TV and finish the snacks from our walk. According to the information guide on the Olchon Cottage Farm, it was once owned by actor Robert Newton, who we subsequently learned was the pirate in 'Treasure Island' and the inspiration for "National Talks Like A Pirate Day" (September 19th).

We had supper at 6:30. Mrs. Prichard brought out bowls of vegetables (carrots, cabbage & peas, new potatos in butter) and plates of chicken breast covered in an amazing creamy mushroom sauce. The dishes and everything were "Evesham", the same pattern we have for our good cups & saucers. To our great delight Mrs. Prichard brought in Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert, with ice cream. It was new to us, and truly it was wonderful. No wonder it is everyone's favourite.

The bed was so comfortable and the air was so fresh that we slept amazingly well.

Today we walked 8.9 miles.

June 1st - Offa's Dyke Path - Longtown to Hay-on-Wye

We started being selective in our breakfast so we cut back on what we usually ate. Limiting ourselves to just sausage and scrambled eggs allowed us to eat more toast and fabulous homemade orange marmalade without getting too full.

We left at 8:35. The Jack Russell Terriers barked at us and ran along with us when we left. We climbed up the road again and decided that it is always harder walking up a steep road than walking up an equally steep hill.

Mrs. Prichard told us of a shortcut to get back to the top of Hatteral Ridge directly above us. We took the Public Footpath which we had noticed yesterday going straight up the hill. Yesterday we wondered how that could be a public path - who would take such a steep hill? Well, today we took it, and it was not as difficult as we thought it would be. We were back at the top in less time than it took to climb down yesterday.

The walk at the top was very pleasant and also ever-changing - first rolling mist and then almost sun. Still sheep everywhere but also ponies. We later found out these were Welsh Mountain Ponies and they were wild (and we think protected).

We met up with a family of two teachers walking with their young children, a girl about 3 and a boy about 8. They were planning to eventually walk the whole Offa's Dyke Path, in small increments over the years. She told us that as a teenager she had spent a summer in Whitehorse with her grandmother and she loved it. We kept criss-crossing with them nearly to the end of the day.

The last strech on the hill, going around Hay Bluff, was probably the most amazing. A herd of ponies came toward us as though we were not even there. I got a great picture as they passed by.

At the end we passed through a few farm yards. It was not nearly as mucky as the previous farms and we saw some spotted orchids.

Then we arrived in Hay-on-Wye and saw the charter buses loading up to leave at the close of the book festival. Today was the last day of the festival. We made our way to The Old Black Lion. We left our boots outside, confirmed our supper for 7:00 and collected our luggage. We were shown the Cromwell Suite (#6), where apparently Oliver Cromwell once stayed.

After we settled in, we took a tour of the town. The banners and streamers were still in place from the festival and the shops would be open until 5:30 (Sunday closing bylaw). We hit the bookstore that is situated in the Hay Castle and immediately found two old books we wanted. Then we ran across the laundry (next to the bookbinder), so we quickly did our laundry so we'd have more tourist time tomorrow. It only took an hour - barely enough time to finish the cider that Lee brought back from the off-license.

Supper at The Old Black Lion was a treat - guinea fowl & rack of lamb and a glass of Strongbow cider each. We finished off the evening sitting in the upper loft of our room reading, writing post cards and drinking wine. It was very, very comfortable sitting in wingback chairs. It was after 11:00 when we went to bed.

Today we walked 12.3 miles.

June 2nd - Offa's Dyke Path - Hay-on-Wye "Rest Day"

We had a decent breakfast downstairs in the resturant - porridge & smoked haddock for Joanne, full English breakfast with black pudding for Lee. Only Joanne was curious to try the black pudding - it tasted something like liver. One thing we couldn't figure out at the Old Black Lion was how to control the shower between hot, cold, warm, cold, hot, scorching hot, cold, freezing.

Today we hit the bookshops. The best was Richard Booth's shop because it was enormous and the sorting/organization was impeccable. It gave us a lot of ideas for organizing the bookshelves at home! The Addyman Annexe was also wonderful. It had perfect old books very cheap. A shelf labelled "non-expensive antiquarian books" included a volume called "The Shorthand Times", and it really was all in shorthand - so we had no idea what it said. Another good shop was the Marijan Dworski Shop on languages. Here we picked up a book on how to interpret and read old documents. We have been curious about that every seince we saw the manuscripts at the British Library in London.

Lee wandered around town and took pictures of the Wye River, St. Mary's Church (which was at least from the 12-14th century - inside was a roster of the currates of the church dating back to the early 1100's). We had a healthy lunch at the Blue Boar (Welsh lamb and barley stew and mozzarella and tomato salad) along with a glass of Scrumpy Jack cider, which was very good and very cold.

In the afternoon it was more bookshops, an antique shop (Evesham tableware looking just like new). and then ice cream (Turkish Delight flavour which was rose water with slivers of chocolate).

Supper at The Old Black Lion again, same as last night (guinea fowl and rack of lamb), but we switched on who had it, and a glass of Strongbow cider each.

No trail walking today so we didn't record any milage.

June 3rd - Offa's Dyke Path - Hay-on-Wye to Kington

Today we walked from Hay-on-Wye to Kington. After a few good climbs we stopped at a pub in Gladenstry. The pub owner said he had only been there a few months. He used to be an IT services manager in the city for many years and it was much more stressful. He said that the pub business is easy but the hours are long. We continued on our walk. The highlight was a steep climb up to Hergest Ridge, where we had a nice long walk along the ridge. Near the end , before the descent into Kington, was a stand of monkey puzzle trees - very intriging.

Kington looked like a nice town. We stopped in front of the Swan Hotel & called the Grants to pick us up and take us out to their Bollingham House in nearby Eardisley. Stephanie Grant said she would come in a "red estate car", whatever that was, we thought, but it turned out to be a hatchback.

Their house was one of those great old country homes on a large plot of land, including gardens and a chapel. The house itself was built in 1714, although parts were added, most recently being the Victorian porch. Stephanie was a hoot, very easy and social, and her husband John was quieter but also very funny with a dry wit. They were very attentive about our welfare, comfort, and entertainment. We took to them right away. Possibly we were easy to relate to because we are Canadian and they had enjoyed the time they spent in Canada while attending the University of Toronto.

There were also three English gentlemen who joined us. They were walking the Offa's Dyke Path from Chepstow but were only doing the half-walk so would finish in Knighton tomorrow. We dined with them and compared stories - they ran into the same problems we did between Bigsweir Bridge & Redbrook but they went down to the highway and followed it into Redbrook. They all worked in the media, and had worked for one of Roy Thompson's papers when they were in their twenties. One of them was Nicholas Evans, the author of "The Horse Whisperer" and several other great novels.

After tea, we walked around the garden. Stephanie said it is smaller than it used to be. For instance there used to be a vegetable garden but now there is just an artichoke, rhubarb and asparagus patch. They also had a very old but very nice border terrier dog named Mr. Pitt.

Today we walked 13.7 miles.

June 4th - Offa's Dyke Path - Kington to Knighton

Today's walk was from Kington to Knighton. The book calls this one of the most pleasant, if not the most pleasant, walks on the whole journey. We found it the most difficult so far, probably due to the weather, which constantly switched from too hot to too windy and made Joanne quite fatigued. The highlight was the fighter jets zooming past. They came into close view while we were up high in the hills (at one point dropping below us as we were walking along the edge of a ridge). Adding to the day's difficulty was that there were few places to stop and sit, so we probably didn't stop enough today or drink enough water. Also there were a lot of hills.

From the Offa's Dyke Centre in Knighton, we were picked up by Mrs. Marsden, the proprietor of the Milebrook House Hotel . She drove a little red Alfa Romeo. This was another amazing and lovely home/hotel, built around 1740. Haile Selassie once took refuge here (renting out the entire hotel) and Mick Jagger stayed here whith his father when they were walking on Offa's Dyke Path.

The garden was absolutely gorgeous. There were three sections plus a wooded area with a pond. "Noodles," the cat, was very friendly to as and even showed us how to get to the pond.

Our dinner was superb. Several other couples joined us - all were somewhat elderly. We were not sure if we even brough the average age down to 75. Since it was a three course dinner, we went for dessert. The Ginger Creme Brulle consisted of three separate desserts - creme brulle (with ginger flavoured and chunks of rhubarb), ginger ice cream with chunks of rhubarb, and four pieces of rhubarb which had been poached with crystallized ginger. It was an especially fit supper considering it was also Lee's birthday.

It was along day and we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

Today we walked 13.5 miles.

June 5th - Offa's Dyke Path - Knighton to Churchstoke

Today we walked from Knighton to Churchstoke. We understood this would be the most difficult of all the walks, but we were fortunate to have cool weather and even a little light rain. The walk started out all right but from lunch on, when we crossed back into England, it grew more challenging and there were many steep hills going up and down. This section is referred to as the "switchback" because of all of the steep ups and downs.

Highlights of the day were the view of the aquaduct at Knucklas, the St. John the Baptist Church in Churchtown, and the sheep all over the path. We walked up to the Drewin Farm just before 6:00. It was a fairly long walk (fortunately without mud) but we experienced some nice cool breezy weather. We did take a lot of breaks throughout the day which made us a little late. Nevertheless, we felt a good sense of accomplishment when we were done. Mrs. Richards fed us tea and welsh cakes while we waited for another walker, Alun, who was walking from the other direction. She declared that she's made welsh cakes thousands of times, and they come out different every time. We enjoyed them very much.

Mrs. Richards cooked a very nice supper - a very good curry chicken casserole and an awesome raspberry crumble for desert. We spent many hours chatting with Alun , who was from South Wales. This was the third time he was doing the walk & his goal was to walk in in 9 days (vs our 14). He was 58 but looks 35.

Today we walked 12.7 very tough miles.

June 6th - Offa's Dyke Path - Churchstoke to Buttington Bridge

Today was a beautiful day for walking, as it was partly cloudy. It was a lot of flat land, for a change, and in the first hour the trail took us through an arch that passed under a house. Or another way to describe it - the house was built to be an arch over the path. Eventually we got to Kingwood and walked up to the pub. It was the middle of the day and we were ready to stop for lunch. Fortunate timing! The owner was about to drive away for an hour. He graciously stopped and let us into the pub, poured us each a glass of Woodpecker cider and said we could sit outside at the picnic table and just leave our glasses. It was so refreshing to have a glass of cold cider with our packed lunch.

Onward we went up into the woods. This was a walk we really enjoyed, as it was mostly an old growth forest and there were at least eight monkey puzzle trees in one stretch of the wood. We passed through the "Leighton Estate" which included a private fishing pond in the dark cool forest. Eventually we moved up to a very high peak which had a circle of trees. The path took us half way around the circle to get out the other side. Then we walked along the edge of the darkest forest you could imagine. The trees were so dense that there was hardly any light making it through. When we came out of that forest we were in a clearcut section.

As we descended from top, we met another couple going in the same direction. They were doing the Offa's Dyke Path over several weeks while caravaning as a group. A dog followed us most of the way down. When we were halfway down, we saw posters that his owners had put up, showing a picture of this dog and announcing that he will follow you to Buttington or Forden if you don't tell him to get on home. The couple we were walking with were clearly much faster than us even though they were at least 20 years older than us. And we thought we were fast walkers. We thanked them for the pleasant conversation and begged them to not let us slow them down. Then we stopped to take a picture of the most picturesque farmyard scene consisting of a lamb, a hen, and a rooster all perfectly posed.

At least we reached Buttington Bridge. We lost the dog somehow before reaching town and when we saw The Green Dragon pub across the busy road we thought how great it would be to sit down, have a cider, and wait for our taxi. Unfortunately the pub was closed until 6:00, but it wasn't quite 5:00 and the taxi wouldn't be there until 5:30. And then it started to rain. So we sat under an umbrella at one of the picnic tables in front of the pub and finished our last thermos of tea. The taxi came earlier than we expected and he took us to The Pentre, just outside of Trefonen Hall, owned and operated by Helen & Stephen Gilbert.

This was another fine old farmhouse, and Helen Gilbert's cooking was awesome. She must take professional pride in her cooking as almost everything was homemade, including the bread and the ice-cream. And Joanne got a glimpse of her stove in the kitchen - it's an AGA.

We went to bed early as tomorrow was supposed to be our longest day walking.

Today we walked 13.7 miles.

June 7th - Offa's Dyke Path - Buttington Bridge to Trefonen Hall

Helen has a really charming kitten, only 6 months old. This morning it raced up to the front door from outside, jumping all over and throwing around a dead mouse. Joanne sat down on a stone by the garden. The cat ran up and butted its head into her leg, and purred loudly, even louder than our cat Princess.

The taxi arrived to take us back to Buttington Bridge. Today would be a very long walk but mostly on flat land except for the hills at the end.

After cutting through a few fields from Buttington Bridge we walked along the Montgomery Canal. The canal had water lilies all over and lots of yellow flag blooming along the margins. The lanes along the canal are very shady and calm. Many groups of ducks with small ducklings live here.

We encountered a major problem on the path along the River Severn, which Alun had warned us about back at the Drewin Farm. We got to a point in a farmer's field where the gate was chained shut and strung with barbed wire, and there was a notice that this section of the Offa's Dyke Path was closed. We could not figure out the detour instructions (if there actually was a detour), there were no obvious path markers, and at that moment the farmer was spraying his crops with pesticides. So we quickly made our way (Joanne ran!) past the spraying, back to the road. We determined from the map that we could reconnect with the path a few miles further up the road. We continued on, once spotting a fox dodging into the hedge, and eventually reconnected with the path well over an hour later. With very little left of the River Severn on our trail, we were somewhat disappointed as it was said to be a pleasant walk. This was the only portion of the whole walk that was poorly marked - likely the result of the flooding from last year having damaged many of the markers.

We deviated from the river and arrived in Four Crosses where we mailed our postcards at the postbox beside the SPAR. In the SPAR store we bought some chocolate bars ("Mars Planets") and a bottle of wine to have with supper at The Pendre. Outside the store we took a picture of the "Dog Park" - a place to park your dog (actually a fixture to hitch your dog's leash while you shop inside). We headed to The Golden Lion pub but it was closed and we didn't feel like walking back towards the SPAR to the other pub, in case it was closed, so we pressed on to Llanymynech.

The route to Llanymynech took us back to the canals. We eventually came to a major lock and then the most beautiful fairytale house with a gorgeous garden and a family of swans in the water. The male swan was on our path and he hissed at as. So we had to go up over the bridge to get around his family, which included several cygnets. When we got to Wren we met up with a group of seniors partaking in a heritage walk along the canal. There were many new-ish lovely homes - you could tell it was Saturday as everyone was out doing garden chores.

In Llanymynech we stopped at the Blue Dolphin pub. We chose the Blue Dolphin over the others in town because it seemed busy. Actally it was filled with men - young, old, middle-aged - who appeared to have come from golfing and they were half-listening to the European Cup football match on TV. I saw only one woman besides us. This pub was actually on the English side of the border and the ones that were closed (or look closed) were on the Welsh side, so there may be different regulations on when they can be open. We settled in to relax for a few minutes with a nice cold glass of Strongbow cider.

We left the pub and climbed the slopes into the woods into a nature area around the top. At the top was an abondoned limestone quarry. It looked ancient but it was only 150 years old. We continued through the woods, past the golf course and down the other side. We passed a lot of people walking on these paths, as it was already late Saturday afternoon.

On the last hill of the day was a monument pointing out the distances to major centres, e.g. Liverpool (40 miles). We could see The Pentre from that point. Going down, we chose to use a short cut on another footpath that Helen had pointed out that morning. However we saw it pointed out from the backyard rather than on the map, so once we got into the fields the tall hedges blocked the view of the Pentre and somehow we ended up on another path that took us at least 50 degrees away from their property. When we realized we were off course we were two fields gone. Instead of backtracking we cut across other fields. It was like a maze - in one gate and no exit. We walked along a hedge, saw an opening, and crawled through. This put us in another field with no apparent exit. Eventually we found a small gap in the hedge again, and a plastic tube covering the barbed wire - like it was meant to be an escape hatch. We scrambled through, landed in another field. We climbed a fence and got onto the road. After at least five minutes of walking we realized we were approaching Trefonen Hall. We turned the opposite direction and soon started seeing the signs to The Pentre. We met Helen in the front yard. She was starting to worry about us as it was almost 7:00.

Fortunately, supper could wait, so we quickly bathed while she chilled our wine. Supper was a nice change - quiche and a puff pastry tart with cheese, tomato and basil, and three different salads (lettuce, cucumber, egg; coleslaw with walnuts & celery; and beets with a creamy dressing containing fresh horseradish). It was amazing & exactly what we needed after many days of heavy meat meals. The cheap bottle of Chilean white wine that we purchased at SPAR tasted sooo good.

Today we walked 19.5 miles, personal bests and even with all of the confusion it was a great day for walking.

June 8th - Offa's Dyke Path - Trefonen Hall to Llangollen

We said our good-byes to Helen and Stephen and immediately took the wrong turn at the end of the driveway. After going down-hill for a long way we realized our mistake and reversed. This was the beginning of a very hot, not quite pleasant day. We ran into Helen and the dog just as we were approaching Trefonen Hall and had a bit of a laugh about our screwups and said good-bye again. We continued on through the village, a mix of old and new houses and all very nice.

Today was Sunday and a lot of people were out for walks, especially as we approached the old, abandoned, but historic Oswestry racecourse. We proceeded down a hill and walked past an equestrian centre which was setting up a course for competitions.

The day got hotter and hotter. Finally the town of Chirk came into view. Then we rounded a bend and saw Chirk Castle. It was a long descent to the stream which we crossed, and eventually we found a waymark for our path. The path then took us up a steep slope, past houses off shady lanes and when we were half-way up we discovered it was not the route we wanted. We were looking for the summer route that went directly to the Chirk Castle and would have been half the distance. Oh well. It turned out that we had very little elevation to get to the castle so we marched on.

From the time it was built in 1310 the castle was occupied privately by just two families. 1946, the Myddletons made most of the castle plus the grounds available to the National Trust. The family still lives in one wing. Highlights of the castle include numerous paintings of ancestors (especially the various mistresses of several kings) in the stairwell, halls, and rooms; the stairwell was cantilevered out from the thick castle walls in one of the towers; lots of heavy oak furniture; a very old section of water pipe made from a tree trunk; the coronation chairs; the library (which included Chirk Castle references & in one book Lord Myddleton added his own annotations indicating disagreement with the text & illistrations); the castle's laundry facilities which was three large rooms and employed several laundry maids; ceiling decorations in the saloon, painted on silk; and the interesting shaping of the hedges and trees in the garden.

Outside the castle grounds we cooled off with a real ginger beer and honeycomb ice-cream at a pinic table in the shade. Since it was already 4 p.m., which was late, we decided to walk only as far as the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct and take a taxi the rest of the way to Llangollen.

We continued back to the canals. What a nice walk for such a hot day - there were strollers of all ages. We crossed the River Dee, which had many rapids, on the aqueduct, which was built by Thomas Telford. At the end was the Telford Inn. From here we called a taxi and it was just after 6:00 when it arrived.

We took the taxi to the Oakmere Guesthouse in Llangollen, the fare was only £6.50. Our hostess, Mrs. Knibbs, was fairly worried and had just called Helen at The Pentre to find out if we are the type of people who tend to arrive late.

The Oakmere was another fine old house run pretty much like a hotel. They had several guests and we had the front room, with a view of the remains of Castle Dinas Bran atop a very large hill. Supper was reserved for us at the Cornmill resturant. Excellent food, lots of it, and we shouldn't have ordered dessert but we did. The cider tonight was Stonehouse (very good).

Today we walked 15.5 miles (including the wrong turns at The Pentre & Chirk Castle and then we took a taxi for the last 4 miles).

June 9th - Offa's Dyke Path - Llangollen "Rest Day"

This was our rest day in Llangollen, a bustling tourist town. We started our wash at the laundrymat (which is staffed, so we left it with them) and went into the craft shop on Regent Street. We spent a long time there while the shopkeeper showed us the various Celtic design embroidery kits, how he organized things in the shop, what is needed to make bobbin lace, and all the scams people do with debit cards. He also had a nice border collie watching the shop - he gets the customers as they come into the shop.

We returned to the Oakmere with our laundry and got ready to walk out to the Valle Crucis Abbey, which is in ruins but with parts still well preserved. The Llangollen info centre (in an old chapel) directed us to just walk there as it was only two miles and it's mostly along the canal, although we found the last strech was on a very busy road. The abbey is situated in a beautiful vale, just like Tintern Abbey and the "Abbey Farm" has sprung up around it. They have built a trailer park and campground which now surrounds the abbey which makes it a little tricky to get pictures of the abbey from a distance.

The abbey had remarkable preservation, especially the Chapter House which still has the stone floor intact and a vaulted ceiling. In another room, on the second level, was a collection of tomb covers dating back 1,000 years. It was already getting warm, so we ended our visit with some ice lollies (popsicles) from the farm/trailer park convience store and meat shop.

Walking back was much faster, as we knew where we were going. Back in town we had lunch at the Bull Inn pub. The Ploughman's Lunch comes with two enormous chunks of white cheddar, picallili (chopped vegtables marinated in a sauce that was probably vinegar & molasses). We found the long lunch in the upstairs resturant was a good way to cool off.

Next on the agenda was the climb up to Dinas Bran. We went back to the hotel for our boots, walking sticks and water bottles. We were looking forward to climbing without our backpacks. After stopping at the Cornmill to make reservations for supper, we headed up the steep walk. We climbed past a school (boys playing cricket in the schoolyard for phys-ed class) and there were several other people walking. At the last gate we waited while a large school group (about grade 9) passed through on their way down. Their teacher said it was the start of a school field trip and they were from a town about an hour north of London in the Milton Keynes area.

Dinas Bran was built and occupied by Welsh princes. They entertained many guests, which was tough to comprehend because the climb was so great. Apparently it was very luxurious to live in. It was only occupied for 20 years and the occupants destroyed it by burning it when they retreated. They did this so it would not be occupied by the invading army and used against them. We could see our window at the Oakmere from there. The castle is a stunning site from the Oakmere, especially late in the afternoon when the sun shines on it.

Coming down th hill we decided to take a walk along the canal going the other way. As usual there were a number of houseboats occupied by vacationers. We decided that sort of vacation was not for us, worse than going on a cruise - it looked so boring.

We probably did too much walking on this so called "rest day" and it was very hot. When we got back to the Oakmere, Joanne's legs were in tremdous pain. We hobbled over to the Cornmill for supper. Joanne had the Stonehouse cider (cold, bubbly, and very good) and Lee tried the Scrumpy (still, somewhat warm and not that good). We over-ate, as usual but at least we passed on dessert.

We hobbled back to the Oakmere. And in planning for tomorrow we decided to take a taxi to Ruthin, our next destination, and have an extra rest day. It was going to be warm again and for much of the walk we were going to be exposed on the ridges of the Eglwyseg Mountains. We didn't want to take any unnecessary risks.

We didn't have the GPS with us today, as it was all in the Llangollen area, so we didn't know how far we walked but between the abbey, Dinas Bran & the canals it was likely close to 5 miles.

June 10th - Offa's Dyke Path - Llangollen to Ruthin by taxi for an extra rest day

The taxi we had engaged to take us back out to the Offa's Dyke Path took us instead to Ruthin so that we could get an extra rest day and try to recover from the heat of the previous two days and the extra long walks we made on Saturday and Sunday.

But first - we were entertained by our host at breakfast. Not saying he was a joke, but Basil Fawlty must have gotten his ordering banter from proprietors like him: "Teas? Coffees? -- Coffee-Coffee? -- Two Coffee? -- Toast ? -- White-Brown-Assorted ?". It was even more fun when a British couple came in for breakfast because they reminded us of guests on Fawlty Towers - bubbly laughter, telling jokes, all very much in holiday spirit! It was fun and we'll need to rewatch a few episodes.

Ruthin (Rhuthin in Welsh & pronounced ri-thin) was only £27 & 30 min by taxi and it seem like the most ancient town yet. We walked around St. Peter's square, which still contains a gibbet, which is used in hangings but we couldn't see it and didn't even know what to look for. We wandered down to Rhuthin Castle, which is now a hotel, and strolled through the gardens and saw peacocks.

We spent a considerable amount of time at the local park. There were a lot of dogs and a large swan family. The birds were all very active (and aggressive) so it was quite entertaining.

We went to the Rhuthin Gaol (jail) next, which was now a very good museum. It was very comprehensive in its display of what life was like for a prisoner, the reforms introduced by John Howard in 1793, and also the people who had been imprisoned there. Crimes were almost always theft - mainly food or clothing, with sentences ranging from less than a week (stealing bread) to 7 years (stealing a cow). One of the progressive things about the prison was that they were fed well. The amount and variety prescribed increased the longer they were there. The thought was that it would be cheaper to feed them well to keep them healthy, than to look after them sick. Basically though, the daily diet consisted of bread, potatoes and gruel. The strangest thing about the jail was the cranking machine. This was a punishment for people who were uncontrollable (couldn't get them to work in the laundry or walk on the treadmill that pumped water for the facility). The cranking machine did nothing. Adults were expected to crank 14,400 turns a day (1,800 per hour) while juveniles needed 12,000 (1,500 per hour) to get fed. The guards also had the ability to rest the counter (to make them have to start over) and to adjust the screws (to make the cranking more dificult), which is the origin of the expression " to put the screws to...." Women serving time had to bring their children if there was no one left to look after them.

We checked into our hotel, the Manorhaus, and marveled at the room (Oriel 4). It was very sleek and modern and plush and artistic. The library, which was next to our room, had a good collection of design books. Once our luggage arrived, we put on our shoes and wandered the town some more. It seems like the people who live here don't realize how old and quaint their town is.

Supper at the Manorhaus was very special. While we sat in the lounge area waiting to have our order taken, we braced ourselves for another situation out of Fawlty Towers. An American came in asking, in a very load voice, for an ice bucket (we thought he would ask for a screwdriver and a waldorf salad next, he had that voice). Later, as we were leaving our supper he stopped to ask where we were from (as we obviously didn't have a British accent), it turns out his wife, a tiny woman just like in the TV episode, was from Wales but they now live in Texas. Actually they were both very really nice.

For dinner we had the the guinea fowl with a starter of scallop salad (Lee) and Welsh spring lamb "three ways" with a starter of goat cheese tart (Joanne). We had a very good Mexican wine. Oddly, according to the wine list, this wine was Mexican but bottled in California. Once we saw the bottle, we understood. The label said "Baja California". We can only surmise that the wine steward thought that "baja" means "bottled".

No miles of significance today.

June 11th - Offa's Dyke Path - Clwyd Gate to Bodfari

Today was our second last day of walking and we were raring to go. The extra rest day in Rhuthin was exactly what we needed. Our taxi took us out to Clwyd Gate (pronounced cloo-id) and we rejoined the Offa's Dyke Trail at the Clwyd Gate Motel. There were two hikers starting out as well but going the other way. They were getting themselves oriented to start the day, which is something we should have been practicing as most of our mistakes were usually at the very beginning or very end of the day . After crossing a few fields we climbed up to the first of three hillforts we would pass today. At the foot of Moel Fenlii, Joanne was a bit down about climbing more hills but after a cup of tea and a few minutes rest we decided to leave our backpacks on the ground and scramble to the top to see what the Iron Age hillfort was about. At the top you could make out that it had been excavated for human settlement, but it was all grown over with grass. On the way down we saw how far or backpacks were below us - we were shocked to see how high we had climbed and how easy it now was to do that.

The next major climb was to the top of a hill to see the Jubilee Tower. This was started in 1818 to celebrate the jubilee of George III's reign, but it was never finished. It was supposed to be a pyramid. At first we thought, how careless to put something so massive on such a remote and steep hill - who would see it ? It could hardly be visible from the valley below where the people live! However, everyone here walks everywhere, so it does get visited regularly. We encountered a number of people on the path and at the tower.

The day was one hill after another, but the weather was cool and often cloudy. The terrain was almost moorland. Just as we got to the last Iron Age hillfort, Moel Arthur, we talked with another couple that were backpacking from Prestatyn to Chepstow, so they were carrying their tent, sleeping bags, clothes, and all their food. He was 80 years old - so we were very impressed.

At the top of the hill we walked past a group of 10 or more teens with a few adults, obviously a senior year school group. Later we learned that they were likely working towards the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

At the bottom of the hill we stopped to talk to two people walking their Springer Spaniels. The man, who was certainly a senior citizen, mentioned he walked the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island when visiting his son in Canada a few years ago. Man, these people are fit!

We got to Bodfari, expecting to get a cider at the Downing Arms pub before we were picked up. Unfortunately it was closed until 6:00 (even though the sign said it was "open all day"). So we called Mrs. Price at Plas Penucha and she picked us up a few minutes later.

At Plas Penucha, we were amazed by the size of the country home/farmhouse. It had been in her family since the beginning, 450 years ago! In the living room we admired the old samplers made by her great-grandmother, Catherine Roberts, in 1843 and her great-great-great-grandmother (not sure that's the correct number of "greats"), Mary Roberts, in 1815. Everything in the house was made or collected by people in her family. There was needlework (pillows, footstools, etc.) and several cabinets displaying china and porcelain. The art collection, with old and modern pieces was amazing and varied. The lounge nearly knocked us over, a long wall of books in rich dark wood (oak?) cabinets, a grand piano in the corner, a huge fireplace, and a curved wall of windows looking out to the garden at the far end. No hotel could match the homey elegance and authenticity of Plas Penucha.

We talked to the other guest, who worked as a travelling auditor. He actually comes from the coastal area of West Wales. Mrs. Price fed us very well: as salmon salad starter, chicken casserole with lots of fresh vegetables, and English strawberries with whipped cream & crushed meringues for dessert.

Today we walked 12.7 miles.

June 12th - Offa's Dyke Path - Bodfari to Prestatyn

Today was our last day of walking and we are feeling very fit. After breakfast, Mrs. Price drove us back to the Downing Arms so we could continue where we left off. As we parted, she told us the first hill was a tough one and after that it would get easier. She was certainly right.

We met several groups out walking today, including a group of three who were on their way to Chepstow. We knew this was their first day of many so we wished them luck. This must be walking season here. The weather today was mostly perfect - cool, breezy and mostly cloudy.

When we got into Rhualt around 11:30 we stopped at a pub called the Smithy, but it was closed until noon. We sat outside at the tables and started our lunch. After 15 minutes the owner came out and told us in a cross tone that we couldn't eat our lunch there. Of course we were okay with that so we went in for two glasses of cider and a bag of crisps. We thought she was still cross when we left. Well, at least we waited for her to open and she did get a sale out of us, when we could have just kept going. The pub owners in Kingwood and Gladenstry could teach her something about customer service.

The hills heading into Prestatyn were surprisingly steep. We thought this must be discouraging for the people who start fhe walk from Prestatyn as they get some very tough hills in the first hour of their walk. We did not remember it being this way when we started at Chepstow, where we gradually worked our way into the tougher hills. However, as we went up each hill, we saw the shoreline and offshore windfarms get closer and closer. At the start of the last hill was a quarry and it was quite deep, we walked above it on the edge of the hill on a very narrow path.

When we reached Prestatyn, the acorn waymarkers changed from wooden posts to nice brass plaques on telephone and power poles. As well, High Street, lined with busy shops, had "Offa's Dyke" banners all the way down to the beach. Along the way we stopped at 'Bargain Booze' for something bubbly to open at the beach. The shopkeeper found us a half bottle of warm champagne (£11.00) but the big bottle of cold sparkling perry (£1.79) we found at the back of the fridge was perfect.

At the beach, which was empty and sunny, we removed our boots (for the last time!) and tied them to our backpacks. Then we took turns standing in the advancing wavesr, drinking the perry and taking pictures of each other. It was awesome. The best part was removing our boots, sticking our toes in the dark sand and having our feet massaged by the cool waters of the Irish Sea. Not surprisingly, we did not put our boots on again for the rest of the trip (we walked in our flipflops on the beach).

Sue Burnet, owner of Melyd House, picked us up at the stone marker showing the start and end of the path, just before the beach. Their place was just at the end of the golf course in Meliden, at the foot of the hill we crossed 90 minutes earlier. For supper we walked over to the pub where a big wedding reception going on in the garden at the back. The food was so-so but our server was very good and since we were done with the walk, we decided to skip the cider and go with a good bottle of wine.

Today we walked 12.5 miles.

June 13th - Offa's Dyke Path - Prestatyn to London & Les Mis

At breakfast we chatted with another pair of guests. She was walking the Offa's Dyke Path and had two days left while her husband (wearing a Vancouver Canucks t-shirt from a recent trip to Vancouver to visit their daughter) was doing the driving and touristy things while she walked. He told us that he had walked up Moel Arthur the day before while he waited to pick her up, which he should be proud of as it was a steep climb and he didn't look very fit.

Mrs. Burnet drove us to the train station, which was on the same street that we finished our walk. Since we were early for the train, Joanne explored the shops in Prestatyn and picked up the newspaper & snacks (eccles cakes, flapjacks & apples) for the train ride to London. When we got off at Euston Station in London we really got to experience the full weight of our luggage. Lots of stairs to the tube and the escalators were not working. From the Piccailly tube station we went to our hotel, Le Meridien Piccadilly. Although we were in the heart of London, all of the staff seemed to be French.

Just down the street from the hotel was Fortnum & Mason. We spent quite a lot of time there - so much better than Harrod's food court, as it was geared more for 'foodies' than tourists. We had an early supper at an Indian restaurant called the "Spice Bazaar", on Rupert Street. After two week in rural Wales we had forgotten how much we missed spicy food. It was excellent. And it was fun to just sit and people-watch from our window seat at the restaurant. Always something to see in the heart of London.

That evening we went to 'Les Miserables' at the Queen Theatre. What a grand way to end our vacation. Everything was outstanding - the music, the signing, the sets, the play itself, but especially the casting and the performers themselves. No wonder it is London's longest running musical. We finished off the evening with liqueur coffees at the hotel bar.

Not much walking but we did get a workout carrying our luggage up and down stairs.

June 14th - Offa's Dyke Path - Back to home - London to Edmonton

After a great night's sleep, we went for a light breakfast at Caffe Nero. We hoped it was light enough as we were no longer walking 12+ miles a day and we would be sitting for endless hours in the airport lounge and on the plane.

For our last tourist activity, we went to the 'Royal Academy of the Arts (in the same courtyard as the Royal Academies of Zoology, Chemistry, Antiquities and Astronomy). We stumbled on it by chance, as it was just down the street from our hotel. What a treat! The permanent collection included the "diploma works" of many of the members seeking acceptance to the academy. Most of these artists were 50 or 60 when they completed these works, so it is not like a graduation diploma. The display was especially interesting because next to each work was a short biography of the artist, his or her influencers and accomplishments and something about the work itself (almost always an oil painting) such as specifically what was the artist trying to achieve.

As we sat on the Heathrow Express back to the airport, we realized we had mixed feelings about leaving - happy to be going home but also sad to leave such a beautiful place, both in the country and in the city. We felt like we appreciated and understood much more than on our previous trips to the UK. This was mostly because we engaged so much with the people here - staying in their homes, eating the local food, walking through their fields, enjoying the walks just as they do all the time, and sharing the "common bond" with the people we met along the trails. And we enjoyed their gardens, which they care about very much too. So this is what it takes to connect with a location.

We arrived at the airport an extra hour early to see if we could catch the 3:15 direct flight to Edmonton rather than the 4:15 via Calgary (as when we booked the trip eight months ago the direct flight to Edmonton was too early in the day). We had business class seats on the 4:15 flight and we decided we would take economy on the 3:15 if no business class was available. But for the £25 change fee (each!) we changed our minds. So we sat in the SAS lounge, enjoying free wine and refreshments, and waited for a the relaxing flight home.

We were back in Edmonton by 10:00, very little walking, very little lifting and many many fond memories.

On the flight home we put together a list of what we will miss, not miss & have mixed feeling on about our trip & walking Offa's Dyke Path -

MissNot MissMixed
Cider on tapHumidityHills (while physically
challenging, there was
a sense of
accomplishment plus
amazing views)
Local butcher shopsWet bootsSheep (they're cute
but with annoying
Lamb shanksFinicky toiletsLow ceiling beams
(charming until you
hit your head
Cottage pie at the
Old George in
shower controlls
Full Welsh/English
breakfast (good
eating but need a 12
mile hike to burn
off the calories
SongbirdsA different
mattress every
night for 2+ weeks
Moorland walkingNot knowing
when the pub
will open
Yellow egg yolks--
English strawberries--
Guinea fowl--
Sticky toffee pubbing--
Country gardens--
Tea breaks on
the hills
Excellant quality of
drinking water
Endless views--
Old oak trees--
Castles, Abbeys--
Mrs. Marsden's &
Mrs. Gilberts' cats
Instant friendship with
everyone you meet
Wild Welsh
Mountain Ponies
TV gardeners as
Eggheads on TV--

Very few in the 'Not Miss' column & even the 'Mixed' have their charm, it was an amazing trip and we miss getting up & walking the trail everyday !!!

So a big thank you to everyone at Celtic Trails, everyone at the B&B's where we stayed, the pubs where we ate and especially the people of Wales we met along the way. You all made this such an awesome trip. We still wakeup everyday wanting to start walking and we look for any excuse to hit the trails around Edmonton. We are now committed walkers and plan to incorporate many more long diatance walks into our future vacations.

Joanne & Lee

Updated 8 August 2009

For more information e-mail us at : joanneandlee@shaw.ca