• Simon Jones

Offa's Dyke - part 1 (The Diaries of a Wandering Traveller) 2019

Monday May 20th

Into Cheltenham before catching train to Chepstow. Too late for most of shops I need. A few hours where things don’t seem to be going right.

Get to Chepstow. Realised I wasn’t going to start walking tonight.

On my long list of campsites didn’t have any for Chepstow as hadn’t intended to camp there.

Headed for the tent sign on the ordinance survey map nearest to the start of Offa’s Dyke.

Got there.

Knocked on door.

Asked the guy who answered. He smiled, ‘There used to be, but there hasn’t been for years. We still get people knocking and asking once in a while. You can camp in my garden/field if you like'.

Turned out they had all the facilities except for a shower in the garage - as good as a campsite.

Beautiful views over graceful low lying fields with spring flowers in abundance. Stand watching. A Barn Owl flies by. I love Barn Owls.

Tuesday May 21st

Walk backwards to the start. A stone with writing about the Dyke out on the top of the Sedbury cliffs, overlooking the Severn bridge marks the start.

Meet a guy out with three other guys. He obviously is working with people with learning disabilities. We chat a bit. Feels like a special start.

Begin Walking. Walk through and around Chepstow. Try to pick up what l need. Have a freshly made multi vitamin juice drink at a juice bar with apple, carrot, beetroot, celery and many other juices in. Not my usual thing, but I figure I’ll need the vitamins!

Begin walking into and along the Wye Valley, by the beautiful and winding river Wye.

At points follow Offa’s Dyke. A 1250 year old construction!! Built by Saxon king, Offa - most likely in order to keep the Welsh out of his kingdom. It is still there as clear as anything, an earth mound with a ditch at the other side of it. It's not quite as clear here, and then there are lots of sections where you don't see it, as well as sections of the Welsh borders where it wasn't built because there were already clear natural boundaries - but in the middle section of the walk it is as clear as anything and you walk by it for miles on end.

Camp in a field with really long grass...

Wednesday May 22nd

Walk all day - along the Wye Valley and through woods. Beautiful.

Bag feels like carrying a house on your back...

Get lost chatting to a Dutch couple. Not sure if it’s their fault or mine. They carry on ahead. I’m behind them - chat to two ladies who show me the way back onto the path. Hope the Dutch couple find their way back!

Make it to Monmouth and a campsite have stayed at before.

Thursday May 23rd

Day in Monmouth... to take time out and prepare for a 40 mile section through the Black Mountains with very little in the way of shops. Need a new sleeping bag as was too cold last night. Get a new one - is 700 grams heavier. Not sure this is a good idea. Bag now feels like 2 houses on my back - but now I know I won’t freeze. Can’t think of anything I could leave out of the pack to make it lighter.

Friday May 21st

Begin long walk from Monmouth through open countryside towards Black Mountains...

Through lots of cow fields - no incidents.

Thanks everyone for praying.

Techniques for dealing with fear of cows (particularly when they start running towards you):

Stand still.

Wave your arms wildly over your head and try to look bigger (rarely works... encourages them).

Run away (they tend to run as well)

Wave your arms around shouting things like ‘go on’ in a Somerset accent (still tends to encourage them...)

Shout at them (tends to encourage them)

Moo at them.

Bark at them.

Sing to them...

Coo at them...

Hug them... (haven’t tried that one)

Come among them as one of their own- incarnational ministry strategy (ie: pretend to be a cow - they are not easily fooled).

Talk gently and softly with them.

Debate with them...

Speak gently and kindly to them...

Get ready to use the walking stick in your hand on them (doesn’t seem to fit with Martin Luther King’s theory of non-violent resistance).

Play dead.

Most successful strategies l’ve found:

Walk with your head down and ignore them- even if they start coming your way.

If they do start coming your way waft them away a little with your hand and sounds like ‘woaah’, ‘go away’.

If all else fails run for it - jump over the barbed wire and try not to hurt yourself. But avoid this one if you can.

PRAY - does work...

I camp in a meadow, trying not to squash too many of the beautiful flowers. Just had a sense, although it was a bit earlier than sunset, that nobody would mind if I camped here.

Thinking about a dream I had last night with prince Harry in it - seemed to be all about pressure to do things a certain way.

Even doing these walks - could feel I have to do it like this or that. Fast enough.... some people do it in less time, or any number of expectations I could feel, having shared it with friends. But God is saying do them as yourself- be yourself in how you do these walks.

Saturday May 25th

Get going and walk gently through beautiful countryside.

Stopping when I want to...

Walking gently...

Then after pub stop in the evening, have 3 hours to start climbing into the beginning of the Black Mountain Ridge and then down off the mountains to Llantony Priory where there is a campsite...

Have a sudden surge that I can do it and start walking quickly...

Look forward to getting to Llantony Priory.

Begin the ascent off the path at a small green path of the Black Mountain ridge.

The path was in fact not a path. The guidebook said there was a crossing of paths at the bottom of a slight drop... well, I was at the bottom of a slight drop... so that had to be it.

But as it turns out I am now clambering down a non-path... down a very steep side of a mountain, into a valley with 20 minutes of good light left! At least I can see civilisation in the form of a campsite and if I roll down... I'll hopefully keep on rolling to the campsite!

Clamber down - this can't be great for my legs. Climb over barbed wire fences, protecting vital parts!

As I've lost the path, I come to the back of the campsite - one of a few in this quiet deserted valley... but I want to head on to the campsite at the priory. It's only £3 a night. Walk with torch along the now darkening road. Can't wait to get to a campsite in such a contemplative spot!

I arrive and it's like Glastonbury. Well ok that's an exaggeration, but there must be over 100 people camping in this field! But except for that there are about 3 or 4 houses around Llantony Priory. It's a hamlet in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday May 26th

Wake up in tent - God's love is all around... When people pray, or have prayed in a place - it really seems to affect the atmosphere...

I mean His love is all around anyway, but - I sense it all around.

Spend some times in the ruins which become fuller and fuller of people in the day and eventually I move on.

It's an old Augustinian priory. I thought it was Cistercian. But the story was like that of many monastic settlements - a hermit arrives and a friend joins him, and then others gather around them.

I love that.

Hermits go to a quiet place to get away from others, and then accidentally form a community... and then a big monastery is built!

I love that it's said that 500 years before even all this St David came to this valley and spent time in prayer here - and he wouldn't have had a big Norman building like the monks, but a wooden hut, if anything.

Set off late... really want to walk through the Black Mountain Ridge to Hay on Wye that day... but it's 15 or so miles and I have about 5 hours of light... Speed through the mountains... have to remember occasionally to look at the view...

My blisters are hurting, despite the plasters...

Oww...

Methods of prayer for blisters:

Faith prayers - Standing on my healing... nothing happens and standing hurts.

Deliverance - 'I rebuke these blisters in Jesus name'... still nothing.

Crying out in the desert - 'Lord help this hurts, save me'... still pain.

Contemplative waiting - nothing.

Inner healing prayer - perhaps something happened in my childhood to cause these blisters (seems a bit far fetched)

Keep walking... steady walking.

Focus on walking.

Try not to walk with my foot crooked - will cause other problems if I do.

Walk on the blisters...

Looking at the view...

B... B.... Blisters (a few expletives - pardon my French Lord) - Shareable translation: 'Blundering, bloomin, bafooning blisters'... owww...

Despite all this fast walking is working and start to climb down towards Hay on Wye... get to a really nice quiet spot... about 5 minutes outside Hay on Wye, still in the Brecon Beacons national park and just a little down from the tops of the Black Mountains...

Camp out...

Beautiful...

Amazing and Solitary.

Head full of worries. I worry too much!

Monday May 27th

Sleep...

Rest in the morning...

Enjoy the contemplative space and moment before leaving.

Walk through a field with a single double sized cow sitting down in... um... that's a bull... keep walking - head down - don't look at him... three quarters of the way through the field turn around - he's still sitting down. This is a good sign!!

Despite my solitary moments in the mountain still feeling am meeting a lot of walkers. Enjoy chats, but as getting into Hay on Wye - struggling with energy for one more polite conversation... Anyway - will be nice to see Hay on Wye - a town known as a town for books, and full of bookshops.

5 minutes later: 'Get me out of here - it's full of people!' It's bank holiday Monday, there are two festivals on - the world renowned Hay literary festival, and 'How the light gets in' - a slightly more 'out there' philosophy and music festival - and the town is heaving with people...

I'm hungry... get food. First priority! One Cashpoint in town - out of order. A few places that do cash back - but they've run out of cash to give back. How do I get food? Eventually use card and buy a mixture of meat, and chocolate and orangey items (a strange combination), and eat them all on a bench, feeling slightly despairing...

Speak to Nathalie and Samuel on phone. Feel much better.

Go to a campsite on the hill with the name 'Monks well' next to it on the map - sounds promising.

Get there - they take card!

Set up tent...

Can rest now.

It starts to rain.

Lots of little whispers and small co-incidences - encourage me that God is involved in these walks.

Feeling much better - wander into town and even over to the festival.

Most of the festival is now closed for the day.

An event with Sandy Toksvig is ending...

Food hall is still open -

I need a meal.

Go to a Polish stand where they sell pierogi - but I have beef goulash in a bread bowl with rice - is amazing.

Tuesday May 28th

Take a little more time wandering Hay - having a coffee and looking in a couple of bookshops. I'm now not so tired and hungry. Hay is less overrun and is actually a really cute little town.

Leave later than I want to.

Really enjoy the walk though.

Walk towards Kington.

Camp up on Hergest Ridge, which is somewhere between a mountainous outcrop and a hilly park.



Wednesday May 29th

Walk more until the afternoon

Everything seems hard today - rain, direction etc... get up to a bit more of Offa's Dyke itself - feel God is saying something with everything taking longer today. Maybe divides take time to heal, but in His timing they can be healed.

Meet Nathalie and Samuel.... and have a great few days with them



Walking the dyke with Samuel during the few days they are with me

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