Monday, 9 May
Now the various tints of green mount one over another up the hanging woods of Penllan above the dingle. Over the level line of brilliant larch green rises the warmer golden green brown of the oaks. But the most brilliant green of all is the young green of the beeches. The brilliance of the beeches is almost beyond belief. – Francis Kilvert
Our 32km Presteigne to Stokesay day started with a convivial breakfast inside, and a ground frost outside. We repacked slightly heavier rucksacks, as Susie had brought us supplies and made us some power bars from an Anna Jones recipe using puffed rice, seaweed, olives, chilli flakes, and honey. The combination was extraordinarily strange – but absolutely delicious, and undoubtedly sustaining.
On the Ordinance Survey map this stretch of Offa’s Dyke is marked in that special font which indicates a scheduled ancient monument, and this is indeed perhaps the best preserved section of the Dyke on the route. In many places it is a long low mound with a scoop on the west side and you can walk along the top of it as the earthwork snakes its way across the landscape, but in others you get a sense of what a formidable barrier it must have constituted: in one place the Dyke reaches 20 feet above a ditch flooded with bluebells. We came across Hilary and Jim, sitting with binoculars birdwatching on this perfect Sunday. We told them to keep a lookout for the red kite we’d seen circling lazily on the early morning thermals earlier on. They kindly photographed us standing on the Dyke with today’s Rambler pie, because at the end of the day, it’s definitely the Legges that keep us going.
The views today were unparalleled. To add to the Brecon Beacons in the south and the Malvern Hills to the east, we could see across mid-Wales all the way to Cader Idris. It is impossible to feel unmoved by this landscape, this wide, little-known borderland, sparsely populated except by sheep, hill after rolling hill.
The sun and clear air sharpened all the colours. There were few clouds in the cobalt sky, and the greens were so vivid as almost to take our breath away.
The contrast of colours against the sky hit us almost physically.
A real thrill was the sight of my first yellowhammer. We had heard the distinctive call several times, but then we saw one flying low along the ground, its bright yellow head giving the fleeting impression that it was carrying a bouquet of gorse in its beak.￼ Thereafter there were scores of the little things fluttering about in their Dyke-yellow livery.
The Dyke hosts many trees: sloes, mountain ash, hazel, crabapples with a spectrum of pinks standing out against the sky, hawthorn, oak and beech. Small copper butterflies and male orange tips drank bluebell nectar.
We took a short break in Knighton which is home to The Offa’s Dyke Visitor Centre. But this was where we bid farewell to the Dyke – and also to Wales, as we entered Shropshire. Our tenth county.
We climbed phenomenally steeply up into the hills leading over to Hopton Woods and Richard’s Castle. It was a lost world: we disturbed a heron at a pool, and it lumbered off up the valley. Craneflies drifted across the grass, a pair of buzzards danced a tumbling helix together high above us. We sliced our enormous pork pie inventively with Stephen’s driving license, and sat a while to drink in the views.
As we crested the hill the landscape opened up before us, from Clee Hill to the east to the Shropshire Hills, with Hopton Wood in between, and Stephen’s beloved mountain biking trails. We had actually walked sections of this bit fairly recently, in the other direction. It all seemed transformed, though, now: an apotheosis.
As ever, the last couple of hours were tedious. In the end, and after two solid miles of roadwalking, our campsite turned out to be about 4 km off route from where we thought it was, another hour’s walking. We had come 32 km with 1700m of ascent and descent. We phoned for a taxi to take us to the adults-only Greenway Touring and Glamping – spotlessly-clean and well-equipped beyond all imagination with showers better and more powerful than our one at home. They recycle like champions, and every eco-friendly detail is thought of. It is a beautiful and respectful place. The Indian restaurant delivers a takeaway to the door of your tent. Thoroughly recommended.
Counties walked through to date:
Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Bristol, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Powys, Herefordshire, Radnorshire, Shropshire
Stat for today:
Numbers of fields traversed containing simply enormous bulls: we didn’t stop to count. Kept right on walking.