Joanna was up and away to Oxford at some unearthly hour (six o’clock, I think). Before sneaking back to bed, we noted that it was a sunny morning. Indeed, the day remained bright and clear, giving us a marvellous day’s walk and some magnificent views.
We walked towards the haughty beauty that is Hay Bluff. The going was decidedly heavy and slippy and we felt grateful for the fact that we were climbing and not descending.
It was a gorgeous day, and after a mile and a bit, we arrived on a shoulder of land, open pasture crossed by a narrow ribbon of tarmacadam. It revived memories from my early teen years when we would travel en famille from Abergavenny to this spot and marvel at the views. The views remain breathtaking, but on this day, they were merely the hors d’oevre for the main course that lie ahead!
We continued to climb, skirting the peak of Hay Bluff to the north and then the east, gaining the ridge of which The Bluff is the northern extent. This was surprisingly marshy, but thankfully traversed by a path of giant flagstones (making one wonder about the logistics of creating such a walkway). Progress was therefore brisk. Julia and I agreed that we had underestimated our walk ability – we had booked our next night in Llanthony whereas, as we flew along Hatterall Ridge, we felt that we could have reached Pandy by opening time.
The views from the ridge were beyond belief; to the left, England as placcid as a mill pond; to the right, Wales, a turbulent rolling ocean. Far ahead, we could see what would be our final destination in four days’ time – the glistening Bristol Channel and the hazy shadow of the Somerset hills beyond.
We saw many more wild ponies than human beings. One of the latter species lay motionless on a island of grass amidst the marsh and bog. Julia and I watched him intently looking for the rise and fall of his thorax; but he didn’t move a muscle. After a whispered discussion, we felt it our duty to see if he was unwell or worse. A few metres from him, there were still no signs of life, but he suddenly started and sat up. We apologised profusely and gave a garbled account of our motives. He answered rather gruffly, the result, no doubt of being woken abruptly. We beat a hasty retreat.
We also passed a spritely rambler in his seventh decade. He was a veteran of ODP. On this glorious day, he had set out from Llangattock-Lingoed; he wasn’t deterred by a walking companion crying off at the last moment; he was climbing up to one of the trig points up on Hatterall Ridge before descending back to Pandy to be picked up by his wife. This was a trip of at least 17 miles! We can only hope that rambling will keep the two of us as fit as we enter our ‘bus pass years.
At a stone marker showing the path to Llanthony off to the right, we left the ODP. The path descended precipitously over Loxidge Tump. Far below lay The Vale of Ewyas with its ruined priory, and no longer did the prospect of pushing on to Pandy appear to be desirable. I know that I’m biased, having spent formative years down the road in Abergavenny, but Llanthony must be one of the World’s most beautifully tranquil spots. The path was so steep that it created the illusion that one could land in The Priory from a standing jump (albeit with a catalogue of life-ending injuries). As we had arrived before opening time, a fact testily confirmed by a couple of fellow hikers, and as the day remained sunny and clear, we explored the priory and the adjacent tiny chapel.
We were staying the night at The Half Moon Inn, a couple of hundred yards up valley from the priory. The landlord, George, was taciturn but turned out to have a heart of gold, and was no slouch as a cook! The accommodation was simple and clean; inevitably our little room had incomparable views over the valley to the steep western slopes of Hatterall Ridge.
Once again, we were the only guests; I suppose there are going to be quiet days in an inn so far from the bustle of 21st century life; George seemed to cope with this state of affairs by doing absolutely everything within the inn; hence no wages to find, although I get the impression that his daughter helped him a fair bit. We ate heartily in the bar; vegetable soup followed by chilli con carne. I’m pretty sure that we didn’t look wan and willowy, so I presume that George’s portions were based on the assumption that hikers arrive at his establishment in serious negative balance as far as calories are concerned. The bar was quiet – a couple of locals and three young teachers who were in The Vale of Ewyas supervising a group of kids from Ebbw Vale doing a Duke of Edinburgh hike. The two male teachers coped with this stressful scenario by drinking beer at breakneck speed. I counted three pints in forty minutes! I’d quite forgotten how efficient South Walians could be at power-rehydration. When the teachers left, and there were no more pints to count, we went to bed.