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.
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.
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
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.