Day Eight: Friday, 4th May, 2012 – Kingswood to Newcastle-on-Clun

Day eight of week one! OK, who of you out there of our generation were not influenced by Lennon & McCartney? An interesting cooked breakfast awaited our descent to the dining room. It looked dull but dry outside. Our boots were still wet despite sitting next to the boiler all night – Julia has leather boots with the advantage of Gortex; mine fit like a glove and are lightweight, but have uppers made of suede and webbing – porous in the conditions we had been walking in for the best part of a week. The rhythmical squelching was very much my signature tune. We chatted with Mary and John, admiring their garden and their day-old kittens: four little balls of fluff all of which would have fit in the palm of my hand.
Pound House (No. 2 marker on the map)
Pound House (No. 2 marker on the map)

We headed south through the twin hamlets of Kingswood and Forden, picking up Offa’s Dyke over pasture and arable land. The fields of rapeseed were particularly gaudy on this grey morn. These fields, to my nose, have the vague odour of stale urine; Julia said that I had become aware of my own distinctive bouquet. The terrain was easy going, but the uniform curtain of cloud tended to put a dampener on our spirits. The highlight of the morning was the skyline to the west upon which perched the silhouette of the castle at Montgomery. As we crossed the B4386, we were aware that Montgomery was only a mile away; but we knew that we had much to do and walkers coming the other way had warned us of a difficult afternoon ahead. We ploughed on, staying loyal to Offa for the time being.

The allure of Montgomery Castle to the west
The allure of Montgomery Castle to the west
At Brompton Crossroads, the pub was shut. If the petrol pumps on its forecourt we’re anything to go by, it had been shut for decades. As the afternoon promised to be hard work, we decided that we deserved to sit down for our midday repast. Although we were mucky and dishevelled, we resolved to bluff our way into Mellington Hall, about three-quarters of a mile south of the crossroads. The hall was rather gaunt but grand. Our bluffing worked; we gave the impression that the mud on our boots was aristocratic mud. We were respectfully herded into the deserted bar (in retrospect, they probably needed customers irrespective of their appearance and cleanliness) where we enjoyed  half-pints and paninis. A watery sunshine pervaded the fusty barroom as if to reassure us that the afternoon was going to be a gentle ramble.
Mellington Hall: gaunt and great
Mellington Hall: gaunt and great
A watery sunshine pervades the bar
A watery sunshine pervades the bar

A gentle ramble it was not! It is described as a switchback in our guide to the trail. I wasn’t sure what this term means. It transpires that it describes a road or railway track which climbs a hill or mountainside by constantly changing direction through a series of hairpin bends. It is also an archaic word for roller coaster. It really is a roller coaster.

Ascending south from Mellington Hall
Ascending south from Mellington Hall

Where Offa confronted ridges running at right angles to his Dyke, he relentlessly followed his chosen course, going directly up and down the slopes; no hairpins to ease the gradient. The modern walker follows his Dyke, and it is breathless work. This promised to be the terrain for the next fifteen miles or so to Knighton, an area where the world is thrown up into folds running east-west.

The climb from Mellington Hall took us through the hamlet of Cwm and it’s chapel, up past Drewin Farm and onto the Kerry Ridgway, a walking route running at right angles to the dyke (No.8 marker on the map). Cycling east was a pretty lady who peered from beneath her woolly hat to say, “Hello”. Julia and I felt sure that we had seen her somewhere; we concluded that she is a TV weather girl (I use “girl” loosely; surprisingly, Wikipedia maintains that she isn’t far off our age). Such levity was in short supply. After a steep descent to Churchtown, I wandered into the St. John The Baptist chapel to sit in a pew and rest my legs

The St. John the Baptist Chapel at Churchtown
The St. John the Baptist Chapel at Churchtown

. My silent supplications went unheeded; the climb out of Churchtown was particularly vindictive. During the afternoon we went up and down five ridges. As we descended the last, Graig Hill, we passed the halfway signpost. From here, we could see the pretty village of Newcastle nestled below us. This was to be our resting place for the night, with another seven – eight miles of switchback earmarked for the following day. We slowly shuffled through what seemed to be an enormous village before we reached The Crown Inn at about 6.30p.m. The weather had remained dry all day, but a fine drizzle began to fall as the pub came into view.

Newcastle - a welcome sight at the end of a long day
Newcastle – a welcome sight at the end of a long day
The Crown Inn is a cosy village pub with a reasonable restaurant (starters: nachos, and fish cakes; mains: pie and bean burger; dessert: tiramisu). The room was spacious, but we would have committed murder, paid a king’s ransom, and sold our souls for a hot bath rather than a shower. We had chosen to stay at The Crown as its website had promised “limited laundry facilities”. At the halfway mark, we knew that we would be running out of clean smalls. But unfortunately, the tumble dryer was on the blink. No matter. No doubt the good folk of Knighton would give us a wide berth on the morrow. We were in bed and asleep before half-past nine.
48 stiles
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