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  • Simon Jones

Offas Dyke - part 2 (The Diaries of a Wandering Traveller) 2019

Thursday 29th May

Take Nathalie and Samuel back to Kington (could that be a more similar name to Knighton, where we're staying? Move the n and the i around and add an h - OK, I've been walking for 2 and a half weeks - too much time to think!), which I went through yesterday, to a really nice coffee shop called La Gala. Lady in the tourist office yesterday recommended it to me and practically begged me to go in because it was her favourite one in town. I'd already been recommended a different one by a fellow walker. Couldn't decide but went for this one. Had a certain 'good coffee shop vibe' that is hard to define about it that I thought Nathalie would enjoy.

She stays in the coffee shop for a much needed hour on her own, while I take Samuel to the Small Breeds Farm Park and Owl Centre.

As we get back to our self catering accommodation, the back of my head begins to hurt in a way that feels serious. I hardly ever get headaches, and never migraines, but I can only liken this to what I've heard people describe as the onset of a migraine. Think perhaps I have overdone it with walking and my heavy pack. Have to go and lie down to recover.

Go and knock on the door of the owners of our accommodation/annex to make an arrangement. Len answers and says he's sorry he looks so awful, but he's been lying in bed all day recovering from a migraine, and that it's something he's struggled with for much of his life. I stand there mouth open, but not saying anything as I think about this.

Feel sure in someway, considering I've never had a migraine in my life, this must be the Lords prompting to pray for Len. Not sure in what way to.

Friday 30th May

Nathalie and Samuel walk for a day on the path with me. Len drops us to a point in the path 10 miles back from Knighton, so we can carry on walking from where I left off. Len is friendly and really encouraging to us about our move to Wales, and what we share with him about our lifestyle. At the end of the conversations his migraines come up again, and I say in a relaxed way that I will pray for him as I walk.

Nath and Samuel both seem to really enjoy us walking together.

I have Samuel on my back.

Conclusion: A baby on your back is heavy. But not as heavy as a pack that feels like carrying a pregnant elephant.

Therefore, I enjoy the release of carrying the pack for the day!

At one point Samuel and I climb up onto the dyke and have a little dance and play at the top, whilst Nathalie carries on walking lower down on safer ground.

We make it back to Knighton, but only by 9.30 pm, as it is getting dark. Julie from our accommodation calls as they are worried about us - say that we have just finished the walk.

Saturday 31st May

Is really hard to say goodbye to Nathalie and Samuel and goodbye takes longer and longer!

We have a cup of tea with Len and Julie before leaving the accommodation. Len seems really warm to us. Then we go for a drink.

I don't get walking again till about 6 in the evening, by the time I have bought some food.

Walk into the Shropshire Hills, and camp up at the top.

Sunday 1st June

Walk by large clear sections of the dyke, which is astonishingly clear and prominent given that it is over 1000 years old.

This section is said to be the most challenging section in the guide, using the term 'switchback' to describe the up and down nature of it - not the dyke that is, but this part of the route over the Shropshire Hills. 'Hard work' could be another name for it, particularly with a heavy pack. But there is encouragement in reaching the sign that marks being half way in miles - 88 and a half so far!

I reach a road that feels so peaceful and really in the middle of nowhere, and leads off on a 3 and a half mile walk to the small village of Clun. The guidebook suggests leaving the trail and visiting it as it is a pretty and peaceful little town. I feel drawn to it. A lady I meet later says to me that A E Housman, who wrote the small collection of poems called 'A Shropshire Lad', described it, and the area surrounding it, as one of the most quiet places on earth.

No wonder my contemplative side is drawn to it. Can't decide - have a real internal tussle - it is something I really want, but then I don't know if it is a good idea. In the end decide that however much I want to go and stay in this real sense of quiet in this particular area, that adding 7 miles to an already long walk could be enough to finish me off, and make me lose heart with finishing the rest. So I don't go.

Carry on up and down, up and down. The guidebook says that the total uphill distance for the whole of the dyke would be the same as climbing Everest - today I can believe this!

Come to a hotel that says it welcomes walkers and campers and decide to go in.

A young guy also camping in the small field next to a lake, gives me a snickers bar as I am low on food - really kind.

Monday 2nd June

Have to take a one and a half mile detour to Montgomery (a small town with a lot of history) today as have run out of food.

On these walks, just like in the rest of life you can have times when you feel low and negative about yourself, and times when you feel on top of the world.

If in the high times there is a potential for the false self to get in and for you to put your identity in what you are doing rather than who you are, there is one reality that keeps you very much down to earth...

... and that is the need to do number 1s, and unfortunately sometimes number 2s as well in the outdoors!

A deep proverb for walkers: When you have a toilet and a bush - a toilet is the best option. When all you have is a bush, a bush is better than nothing. Although, theoretically unofficial laws of the outdoors say that you should dig a hole about 15 centre metres deep to bury your doodoo - Easier in the woods, but try doing that on sunburnt hard ground, and you'll end up digging for a whole day of your walk, which won't be quick enough for your need for the toilet!

Question: What did Adam and Eve do about this sort of thing as they didn't have loos?

Answer to self: Some questions are better not thought about too much. This is one of those times.

Extra response to self: Some questions are better not asked in the first place. This might be one of those times too.

Keep walking - camp in a large field by the river Severn, next to the site of an old Cistercian monastery called Strata Marcella, but in fact it is just a field, with no ruins at all, except for the remains of a large mill leat on the other side of the road.

Tuesday 3rd June

Meet a man coming the other way in a field of cows who says a bit grumpily, 'I was chased by a mob of them about 20 miles back. First time that's ever happened to me'. This is not welcome news to someone recovering from cow issues!

This is the first day of total persistent rain. Today I learn that rain has the potential to decimate anything made of paper. My guidebook is made of paper. My guidebook is close to becoming Papier Mache

End up with company for the last couple of miles I walk today, alongside the Montgomery Canal, walking next to two sensible ladies who have their guidebooks in map cases. I didn't think of getting a map case for the guidebook, as I'd got waterproof maps for the first few sections of the walk, but now I was relying on the map book, and had not expected this.

I accidentally give one of the ladies a bruise on the eye! Not as bad as it sounds :-) She seems more unsteady on her feet than her friend, and with it being rainy and slippery slips on the side of the canal. She is half way between standing up and being flat on her face, and instinctively I reach out my arms to prevent her fall. But in the process she knocks against me and her glasses fall off and in doing so, give her a red bruise on her eye. I apologise and she says 'It's nobodies fault' (wish more people were like that in life when something goes wrong). Anyway comforting myself now with the thought that she could have banged her head on the ground and had a worse injury if I hadn't reached out my arms.

We arrive at Llanymynech, a small village, at 4pm. I've already walked a 10 mile section of the path today, and my plan is to have a break and a drink and to carry on hopefully to walk another 7 or so miles into Oswestry, find a camp site for two nights and have a night off. However things don't quite go to plan.

I go into The Cross Keys, the only open pub, and have two guys come up to me who are walking Offa's Dyke the other way. Can't put my finger on it but something about them unsettles me. First time on this walk I have been genuinely unsettled by anyone. Decide to escape into the toilets to clean things, dry things etc... and end up spending 40 minutes in there. That is without a doubt the longest I have ever spent in public loos!!

Come out feeling cleaner and dryer having used the bathroom as a mini house for the last 40 minutes. Not sure the £3 for my pie and coke really feels enough for the services I have received from the pub!

The two guys have left, and I end up speaking for another little while to the ladies I walked with earlier. Her eye is looking better.

Rain is still coming down. Go into the newsagent, which also has a post office and check my account for the final £80 for my walk which I'd transferred into the right account, as I'd lost a card. However it has not come through, and my face drops as this is the only money I have left - I have not brought our joint account card with me so that I don't accidentally spend money that is meant for bills. The guy volunteering in the shop, who also, by the looks of his tee-shirt, volunteers for the National Trust, notices my face drop. We have a chat, and talk about the weather outside. I think about it, and ask about buses to Oswestry where I was hoping to have walked to and then found a campsite for two nights, so that I could have a proper rest day. He says there is one, but I realise that I don't have enough money for the bus. He offers to give me the money for the fare. I think about it and decide that I will walk on in the rain, though I don't now think I'll reach Oswestry. After about 10 minutes trying to walk in the right direction, rain is tipping down, and I decide to go and accept his kindness. I'll have a day out in Oswestry, and then get the bus back to carry on the walk the following day.

Offer to bring the £5 he gives me back, but he doesn't want me to. Just about to get on the bus, when a lady who I immediately trust pulls up in front of the bus, asks me where I'm going and offers me a lift. I feel bad as I've just been given money for the bus, and go back to get on it, but she practically shouts me down to get in her car. I get in and tell her what happened and that I feel bad because I was given money for the bus, and now have an extra £5 in my pocket. She says that giving, etc... is what keeps the world going round. She's right. We chat about her almost adult children. One is seriously rebelling. She says that a lot of her friends seem to have a calm relationship with their kids, but then says that might be because most of her friends are Christians. Tell her that I'm a Christian as well, but don't feel I should offer advice about what she is telling me or do more than just listen. Tell her that she seems lovely, and I'm sure that they have been lovely parents, but that sometimes that stage for teenagers is a part of finding themselves.

Had a campsite in Oswestry on my list of campsites. Turns out that it's miles away. We can’t find a campsite in the whole of Oswestry. I tell her that she's been kind enough, and to leave me. My card is accepted, despite the lack of money on it, to buy a coffee in a posh hotel bar (the Wynnstay Hotel), where I sit drying out.

(The next morning the money still hasn't cleared - can't get through to Nathalie and if it hadn't been for the £5 I wouldn't have had breakfast, but I have a sense in my heart that the £5 is so that I can have breakfast - though feel that I'd be lucky to find a breakfast for that price, but a deli that looks lovely does a small breakfast for £3.95...

Some might read all this and think - well you should plan more so these things don't happen, but I think it's an illusion that we can plan in life for absolutely every eventuality. And this small bit of provision, is such a loving whisper that I am my Daddy’s little boy, and that He will look after me when I am stuck, even to the point of providing breakfast.)

Wednesday 4th June.

Camped in a field last night. Hadn't been able to find a campsite, and sitting drying out in the hotel, had finally resigned to that fact.

(A man, when I'd asked about campsites, told me about a spot in St Oswald's Anglican church grounds, right in the centre of town, where a homeless man had slept for a couple of months, and said no one would bother me there. Seriously considered it, but didn't feel peace. Tried to call the vicar from the number on the church board, to see if he'd mind, but had no response. I was praying about what to do, and at that moment saw a shop sign saying 'Out of Town'. Took this as a clear sign to walk for half an hour or so into some countryside to camp. So that's what I did.)

Take tent down this morning, but still try to have a rest day in Oswestry today. This is harder needing to walk everywhere with my massive pack, and not quite as refreshing a way to take a rest day.

Feel judged by people for carrying my huge pack around. Feel that everyone thinks I'm a homeless person and judges me for it. Reflect on this. The fact this bothers me suggests that even after 5 years working for a homeless charity and loving homeless people, I still have some sort of judgement in me. For from God's perspective, there is no such thing as a homeless person. To him there are just persons. Some of these people happen to have an issue with drink, some with overwork, some worry too much (me being one of them), some fight, some have large homes and some don't have a home to live in. But to him they are all just people, his little boys and girls who he loves. But why do we as people judge and look down on people? And sometimes on the people, 'the poor', who he says are blessed?

Still I feel looked at by everyone in the town today, walking around with my pack... and looked down on.

I pop into a prayer day at the church.

By 4pm the money still hasn't cleared, and I can't get through to Nathalie. I am stuck, and by now my faith in provision, which was sky high this morning, has plummeted. Go into the bank for the second time. Explain the dilemma, and the guy extends my overdraft by £30, so that I have £30 to use. This is a relief, and I go and get a much needed coffee.

Do my best even with carting my stuff around, to have a rest day in Oswestry...

The middle week of the walk until about this last Monday evening, seemed to be the week with more 'intercessory moments', but now I feel to let go of these and try and really enjoy this final week...

Get through to Nathalie and realise I haven't been able to get through as she has been in hospital all day with Samuel, as he picked up a virus, and it went to his chest. That wasn't in the plan.

Find a pub and sit with one TV playing the cricket, and another playing greatest hits of the 90s! Have a big burger and chips to replenish.

Go and camp back in exactly the same location as last night!

Thursday 5th June

Leave Oswestry by bus back to where I left off and walk all day.

Feel the potential to push and rush to finish, but that would be approaching the walks as some sort of sports exercise. Many people do this, and there's nothing wrong with that... but I have to remind myself that whilst there are many reasons I am doing these walks, a sports exercise is not one of them.

And whenever, because of talking to all the other walkers who ask how long it's taking you, etc, I fall into the urge to push myself to go faster in order to finish more quickly, it drains all the enjoyment of the walks away. So I do my best at being myself in doing them.

And to find an inner pace that comes from my heart. That means on one day I may walk many miles, and on another only a few, but I am going at the pace of my own heart... and hopefully in some sense, am doing this at the Holy Spirit’s pace as well, which is not about pushing.

Start to relax and enjoy about half way though the day.

Get a call from a distressed Nathalie, who is now ill as well, and attempting to look after Samuel at the same time.

Battle with such mixed emotions, guilt being one of them. Should I go home or not? Guilt is not a good motivation to go.

Camp out that night.

Friday 6th June

Decide that whilst I could keep walking, that as these walks are about growing in love, I don't feel right about just carrying on, having heard Nathalie again this morning. Love seems to be to go home for a night to help. I walk to Chirk (2 miles off the trail), being a lot nearer to home now, and simply get two buses to get me home.

In a coffee shop on the way, a lady gives a present to one of two friends and says 'it's because I love you' - we end up getting into a brief couple of sentences about love, and needing more of it in the world, and she does the same to her other friend who comes back from the loo. I unselfconsciously grin and stick my thumb up at her... which she seems to like, but afterwards worry that that must have seemed strange. But on reflection, she was too happy a soul to have minded.

Spend 24 hours at home. Nathalie sleeps for more than half of these. Samuel is now feeling better so he and I have a good time, and I feel strangely refreshed for having come home.

Saturday 7th June

Start out again, and travel by bus to Chirk. Have about 5 hours of light left, and so walk onto the Llangollen canal, chat to a couple who run their own canal boat holidays business, and then climb upwards from there, getting onto a larger rock escarpment above Llangollen, to camp for the night.

Pitch my tent where I think would be a good place - by some sheep and a bench - but it proves to be an interesting choice of campsite!! Perhaps the bench should have been a sign.

Realise there is a small track – turns out the next day to be the most used small road in the whole of Wales! Most likely introduced in the Victorian era to enable panoramic views of the Dee Valley. I had no way of knowing this as it seems so out of the way, high above Llangollen.

But start to realise there are lots of younger people driving by in groups in cars, a few shouting out some disturbing things. Start to feel unsettled. As it gets darker, realise there is one car, pulled up just behind where I am camped… start to worry, but feel it would be futile moving now that it is dark.

Lying awake in my tent hearing cars go by, I start having an unhelpful inner discussion about God’s protection. I know He protects us, and I have felt His protecting presence through these walks; yet having just been reading the Book of Acts, I also realise that those following Him were mistreated in many ways… but this is really not a helpful inner discussion at this moment, as I start to fear all sorts of outcomes.

End up calming myself humorously, by reminding myself that there are only about 8 criminals in the whole of Wales. Out of these, the two or three that might actually consider finishing someone off are very unlikely to be waiting in a car behind me to get me. This kind of rationalising does the trick and I fall asleep.

And as it turns out the most tricky customer of the night is a sheep with attitude issues, who just bleats and bleats outside the tent. Try a deliverance prayer from inside my tent to the sheep who is outside the tent at about 3 in the morning, and it seems to have some effect! Fall back to sleep.

An unsettled night overall.

Sunday 10th June

Walk the mile and a half down to Llangollen as I realise my provisions weren’t enough and I need something light and fun in the day. This was a fine choice and a pretty walk on the way down, but walking back up to the ridge felt like a more questionable choice! I think Llangollen is the busiest and most ‘touristic’ town on the trail (perhaps with the exception of Hay on Wye during the festival) though it’s such a small and pretty town. I said ‘touristic’ – is that a word? I would say ‘touristy’, but is that a word either? I used to say touristy, but Nathalie started saying touristic, and I’ve caught it. I don’t think either of them are words, but Nathalie is convinced she has created a new word, that will catch on. Should probably look it up as to ‘tourist’ as an adjective, but sometimes it’s more fun to have a pointless discussion. That’s the only problem with everyone looking up the answers so quickly on their phones – it prevents, or at least shortens some of these fantastically pointless discussions! Still if I did look it up, I very much doubt that either touristy or touristic would pass as real words… yet.

Walk to ‘World's End’. It is actually a place about 5 miles north of Llangollen. Rocky path towards it that would not be funny to fall off. Just as I’m feeling vulnerable on it – two guys cycle by… now that is a nutty part of the path to cycle on. I haven’t seen many cyclists on the trail, but I can’t imagine a harder part to cycle on, though at least it doesn’t have stiles. But credit to them! I wouldn’t do it.

Now over the empty moors and through Llandegla forest. Am getting closer to home. Having bought all those provisions, I can’t eat much of them, as am feeling a bit unwell.

Get beyond Llandegla and decide I will make it up on to the southern part of the Clwydian Range which is the home straight and the final 27 miles. This is the ridge of mountains that can be seen so well from our home in the Vale of Clwyd.

As am passing through some fields on the way to the first of the hills, I experience about 5-10 fields with cows with issues. Having not had a problem all the way through the walk, this was unexpected. Come to the final field of cows for the day thinking they look fairly calm, but it turns out to be the worst. One bounds towards me and jumps up at me. I deflect him by holding my stick up. The rest start to walk towards me in far too hasty a manner for my liking, and these are big hefty cows. I consider running for it, or one of many strategies – in the end sing a worship song, lift up my hands and keep walking slowly though the field. I didn’t hand out hymn sheets, and they didn’t join in, but they did all stop and look at me. I think they were thinking, ‘hmmm, this is new, we haven’t seen this before’. The frisky one goes to skip at me one last time before I’m over the style, but I hold my stick up and then breathe a sigh of relief when I am over to the other side.

Get up on to the southern start of the Clwydian Range, which is walkable from our house. Set my tent up in a stunningly beautiful location, and sleep, though am unfortunately sick in the night.

Monday 11th June

Loving the quiet up here, but feeling unwell, consider just walking straight home. Would be doable in about 3 hours. But as am now not going to finish the dyke today want to get a bit further.

Walk in the rain, and without eating much because of how my tummy feels – about 4 dry scones, and a few packets of frazzles. Walk another 8 miles or so till just beyond Moel Famau, the highest of the Clwydians, and then down towards the Vale of Clwyd, 'landing' about 5 miles north of Ruthin. In the end I walk back to our house, and so although I didn’t finish the Dyke in the time we allotted, I did start down in Chepstow and walk home, minus the few breaks in the middle. Simon Armitage, the poet, wrote a book entitled ‘Walking Home’ when he walked the Pennine Way south towards his home in Yorkshire, so feel I’ve done something similar.

Arrive home in the light, ready for work tomorrow and the next week at home.

Monday 18th June

Don’t want to leave it forever to finish the path, so after a day at work, get back onto the trail, except I find it really hard to leave home and Nathalie and Samuel again, and end up not getting back to walking till 8pm. They drop me at the bottom of the path back up to the hills. Take most of the time walking back up to the Dyke on the Clwydian ridge and camp at the top. So walked about 300 metres of the trail this evening. Am at work on Wednesday at 12, and have 19 miles of the dyke left.

Tuesday 19th June

Walk most of the day, not always quickly and end the day about 4/5 miles south of Prestatyn. That was another up and downy section of the path.

Wednesday 20th June

Wouldn’t normally do this, but I would like to finish today, so set my alarm for 4am and am off by 6. Call Nathalie at 9ish, she meets me at 10 and the Dyke is finished. But we celebrate with ice cream and coffee in a local coffee shop/ ice-cream parlour! Of course!

I have chocolate brownie flavour and that is a seriously good way to finish by the sea.

Question: How many ice creams is too much on a three week walk?

Answer: 21

Question: How many did you have?

Answer: about 20

Oh, well, that’s ok then!

Could probably have had about 4 extra nights at campsites for the price of the ice creams I had, but it wouldn’t have been half as fun.

Wave to the sea.

Think towards passing here again in the early stages of the coast path.

But one thing at a time old boy, you’ve just walked a major trail, albeit slower than some… have a rest for now… and you’ve got to be at work in an hour.

Nathalie hurtles back, I arrive fully clothed and showered to work only 5 minutes late. Not ideal, but it could have been worse.

The end!! Prestatyn... and the monument that is a little bit bigger than me.

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