2016 Walk 1 – Llangollen Loop

I’m currently in the beautiful North York Moors and sitting in my b&b as the rain is drumming away on the roof. The silver lining to these dark grey clouds is that the inclement weather provides a perfect opportunity to do some long overdue blogging.


The view from Castell Dinas Bran

I arrived in Britain just over a week ago and immediately headed north to Chester where I stayed for four nights. I spent much of the time researching at the archives, visiting my great-grandfather Herbert and making a day-trip to Huddersfield where I visited Royd’s Hall School and paid my respects to a young Canadian who died in the First World War.

On Friday I made my way to Llangollen by way of Wrexham. When I was last in Llangollen I arrived by narrowboat and I remember thinking to myself that one day I must return to do some walking. It took 13 years but today is that day. It was late afternoon and so I took a short walk down the towpath and through the town before tucking into one of the best sausage and mash suppers I’ve ever had. Judging by the crowds at The Corn Mill this was par for the course.

Saturday morning was misty but the showers appeared to be lifting when I headed out from my b&b. I didn’t get past the driveway before I realized the showers were going nowhere and so on went the wet weather gear. Suitably encased in Gortex I began the steep trudge up to Castell Dinas Bran looming high above the town. Lower down the trees provided some protection but once I emerged into the open I was slammed by wind and rain. The clouds and mists lifted enough to provide some stunning views but it was a struggle keeping the camera lens dry as the sheets of rain lashed the hillside. A series of switchbacks led the way to the top and the climb, weather and full Welsh breakfast combined to make it a challenging start to my walking holiday.

After exploring the castle ruins I descended via a different and very steep route to a short paved track. This led to a narrow road that followed the valley wall and formed part of Offa’s Dyke National Trail. I followed this north for a mile or two with great views to the west and a sheer cliff face rising up to the east. The rain was now intermittent but the skies weren’t promising enough to tempt me to remove my wet weather gear.

I had two possible routes planned for today but with a long walk tomorrow I was leaning towards the shorter (12-14 mile) option. However I spent too much time looking at the wonderful scenery and entirely missed the shortcut I intended to take. I studied my OS printouts (no GPS this trip) and found an alternative route was possible a mile or two further along. Almost immediately Offa’s Dyke left the road and followed a track along the steep hillside for some distance before descending though a forest where it met a road near a ford.

I’d been walking for two and half hours without a break and so I took a breather on a bench near the junction. It was only a five minute walk from World’s End Farm and so I thought this was an appropriate spot to turn back in the direction of Llangollen. I followed the beautiful quiet road, nestled in the valley floor and running alongside a small beck. Green fields on either side were chock a block with happily grazing sheep, cattle and horses.

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Showdown near World’s End Farm

A short way along I encountered a lone sheep walking along the road in my direction. It stopped and stared for a long time trying to determine what I was and whether I was moving in its direction. It eventually realized I was and turned tail and fled. Hemmed in on both side by fences and hedges it had nowhere else to go. A mile later I noticed a father and son working in a field of full of sheep marked with the same dye as the runaway. I caught the farmer’s attention and he quickly bolted for the gate. The sheep got ahead of him but she was no match for the Border Collie that quickly shepherded her back into the fold.

Not long after this I left the road for the Clwydian Way and followed a footpath that made a long slow turn around a hillside. There were a few fields to cross but much of it was on a dirt track which slowly rose to offer nice views to the west. The ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey were clearly visible as was the plume of steam from the train that whistled its way down the Dee Valley.

By this time patches of blue sky were appearing and so I took a break and happily removed my wet weather gear. A mile or so later a heavy shower forced me back into them, frustrating given Llangollen was less than half an hour away. Predictably the sun returned ten minutes later and once again it was off with the rain gear. I eventually rejoined the path that ran below the castle and began the steep descent into Llangollen.

The final leg of my walk was eventful as at some point on the descent I did something to my right knee and hobbled the last few hundred metres into town. Back on level ground I cleaned the mud off my Ecco walking shoes when I noticed the sole in my right shoe had split all the way through. Although these shoes were well over a year old I was shocked to have them fail like this on my first walk. Any decision regarding my shoes would have to wait until after tomorrow’s walk, a 20-mile ramble from Llangollen to Ellesmere in Shropshire.

New Jaunts Old Haunts

Walking through the Saanich Peninsula in late April

On one of my weekly 15-mile walks through the Saanich Peninsula

My trip to Britain and Belgium is rapidly approaching and I’ve been busy researching, sorting out logistics and walking. A combination of fine weather and flexible hours has allowed me to clock a minimum of 5 miles a day and at least one 15-mile hike per week. The photo above was taken on the one wet outing in mid-April when I practically had the Lochside Trail to myself. On one stretch, normally very popular with cyclists, I counted only seven whizz by in a two-hour period. In contrast during the same period I walked by six deer and hundreds of slugs, the latter of whom took full advantage of the gentle rain to slither about on the grass that lined the footpaths.

This route never gets old

This route never gets old

On my last hike I passed a pair of walkers and we were both so shocked we had to stop and chat. This might sound strange but hikers are a very odd sight on the Lochside Trail. Dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists outnumber us by a thousand to one. In the last seven years I’ve walked this route at least 60 times and I can count on one hand the number of hikers I’ve encountered. In fact other trail users often give me a quizzical look when they spot me approach with a fully laden backpack. Still this is much preferable to the stares I get in the city from those who simply assume I’m homeless. Fortunately the kindred spirits I met that day were heading to England to explore parts of the South West Coast Path and so we had a thoroughly enjoyable chat.

Surprise, my walking plans have changed! Instead of walking Offa’s Dyke I will divide my time between Cheshire/Shropshire/Wales, Yorkshire and the north Norfolk coast. I’m going to base myself in a handful of locations and explore each area on foot. I’ll be visiting some areas for the very first time while others are old haunts I haven’t ventured into for decades.

This new approach is essentially the one I used for my UK visits prior to my LEJOG in 2010. I believe this will be my 17th visit to Britain since 1983 and I’m finding that reasonably priced single rooms are getting thin on the ground. Cheap and cheerful rooms are giving way to luxurious ensuite sanctuaries geared to weekend getaways and not tired walkers looking for one night’s accommodation. I’m not the first to comment on this but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. I’ve more or less come to the decision that if I do another LEJOG-type walk I will be carrying a tent.

This church is definitely one place I will be visiting again

Christ Church Willaston

In my last article I featured a photo of a church and promised an explanation would be forthcoming. It is of Christ Church Willaston and it will be one of the first stops on my visit. If you’ve followed my blog over the years you will know that I’ve been trying to unravel the mystery surrounding my great-grandfather’s disappearance after the First World War. My research began in earnest in 1996 and it’s been quite a journey. I’ve spent countless hours exploring the streets of north-east London, Windsor, Chester and several villages on the Wirral. I followed in his footsteps on the battlefields surrounding Ypres and hunkered down in Archives across Britain in search of clues as to his whereabouts. Last month the Reverend of Christ Church Willaston confirmed that my great-grandfather is buried in their churchyard. I can scarcely believe that within two weeks my long journey will be over and I can’t help but notice that my feelings are similar to those I experienced the day I walked into John O’Groats.