Day Fourteen, Thursday 10th May 2012

White Castle
White Castle

The day started overcast but without rain. We ate our breakfast without enthusiasm as we contemplated another wet day with the going heavy if not waterlogged. We agreed that we didn’t really want to return to Llangattock, and so we asked the taxi-driver to take us to White Castle. This was a couple of miles further south on the ODP.

As it happened, the lane leading off the B4521 was blocked by resurfacing work (I suspect that the incessant rain had washed parts of the road away). So we were dropped off and had about a mile’s hike to White Castle. It was quite dark, with low cloud cover, and before we reached the castle, it had started to rain. We had visited the castle many years before on a sunny day, when we were captivated by the spectacular views. Today, it looked rather gaunt and foreboding, and even the domineering Skirrid was lost in the gloom. But White Castle still looked and felt very impressive with its water-filled moat mirroring the leaden sky.

White Castle
White Castle

The young man in the ticket office told us that we could leave our rucksacks in the open space between his office and the portaloo, but as it was raining, we took them with us; we found a dry tower and as we were the only visitors, we left our luggage safely therein.

Monmouthshire felt like a sponge that had reached saturation point. Therefore, on the map purchased in Hay, we plotted a course to Monmouth taking the minor roads. This would criss-cross the ODP and occasionally follow it, but would hopefully prevent us from getting stuck in the mire. We walked on to the next village, Llantilio Crosseny; we were going to nose around St. Teilo’s Church but it was surrounded by scaffolding and workmen. The next target was the village of Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern; we deviated from our plan and followed the ODP through a pretty cider apple orchard.

Orchard near Llantilio Crossenny
Orchard near Llantilio Crossenny

This proved to be easy walking, but the subsequent couple of fields were extremely heavy going. On reaching the lane again, we reverted to our plan of sticking to the Tarmac; although this was a bit of a detour, and possibly not as picturesque as the ODP, we believed that it would prove to be more comfortable.

On reaching Llanvihangel, we suspected that it probably had more letters to its name than inhabitants. But it did possess a pretty church, St. Michaels. Although it was locked, it had a capacious porch in which we could sit and eat our lunch sheltered from the rain. George had actually prepared a packed lunch for us yesterday; however, having sought sanctuary in The Old Pandy Inn, we still had the pack with us. A day old, it tasted very good and, needless to say, very satisfying. Whilst in the porch, something unusual happened- we were overtaken by fellow Dykers travelling south! This hadn’t happened to us since Bodfari, ten days ago. The pair hailed from West Wales and had set out from Prestatyn two days after ourselves, and they were aiming to reach Sedbury Cliffs by the end of the following day. They had known each other since school days, and had the effortless repartee of a good double act. They were keen to swap yarns about the journey thus far. They also seemed keen to get to Monmouth, and so we said our farewells, in the knowledge that we were going to be eating in the same bistro that evening.

St. Michaels Church, Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern
St. Michaels Church, Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern

We noted that the Welshmen didn’t seem too muddy following their morning’s walk. In addition, our planned route for the afternoon involved walking two sides of a triangle to reach The Hendre, a hamlet about three miles from Monmouth. ODP was clearly a shorter route. Therefore, once again we changed tack; on leaving the church we left the road and followed ODP over the water meadows of the River Trothy.

A brief respite from the rain near the River Trothy
A brief respite from the rain near the River Trothy

We crossed the river at Abbey Bridge, somewhat surprised how easy going the terrain had proved to be. Over the bridge, our route once again took us across pasture adjacent to the river. We peered over a gate into a field with steer horn cattle. The field was a muddy quagmire for 20 – 30 yards in every direction from the gate. To the right, down towards the river, there was an enormous mound of manure. The cryptic words shouted the previous day by a lady walking north as we approached Llangattock-Lingoed rang in our ears, “When you come to the field with cows with horns, walk over the muck!” and indeed that is what we did. Although we were drenched, we were tickled by the irony of walking over a manure heap to avoid getting filthy. Surely there is a parable to be distilled from such experience.

The ODP to The Hendre was still very waterlogged. Thankfully, the fearsome-looking cattle seemed totally uninterested in chasing us. From The Hendre, the path was of good quality, climbing through King’s Wood before descending towards our destination for the day down a muddy track.

Euphorbia by the side of the path, King's Wood
Euphorbia by the side of the path, King’s Wood

Civilisation was reached at the aptly named Watery Lane, and we marched into Monmouth through the back door.  Over the picturesque Monnow Bridge, we entered Waitrose to stock up on water and buy a daily paper. We became rather self-conscious of our bedraggled appearance and the little puddles we were creating on the shiny, tiled floor. Several people expressed an interest in what we were doing; I suspect that they were relieved that we were just passing through!

We stayed at Bistro Prego; as the name suggests, it was primarily an Italian restaurant, but it had functional, clean rooms upstairs with all the essential facilities. We had booked a table to eat downstairs, but nipped around the corner to The Punch House first for an aperitif of Brain’s bitter. It would be negligent to visit South Wales and not have a pint of Brain’s. The food in Bistro Prego was interesting and pleasing to the palate but the portions were on the small side. (To start: artichoke salad, scallops & black pudding; mains: monkfish, scallops and prawns with spinach, duck, polenta and ricotta; desserts: chocolate pudding & ice cream) We chatted with our fellow dykers after the meal, but again they were itching to be on their way; the restless souls had noted that a local pub was holding a jazz evening. They had a much longer walk in prospect for the morrow, but they seemed confident that a bit of jazz and beer would prove to be the ideal preparation.
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