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A Wonderful Day: Total Walked 13.0 Miles
Knighton to Short Ditch
When you are exhausted, the cure is as simple as a good sleep. While Pam had a bit of trouble falling asleep, I slept the sleep of the dead, though I assure you, I am not dead. In Spain, breakfast is a slice of toast but in England they do it big. The full Monty is over easy eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, stewed tomatoes, and bake beans. Even though we haven’t walked a mile, I ate it all because we are Americans, and a clean plate is required.
Even though that breakfast should have lasted us for two days, we went across the street to stock up for lunch with a ham sandwich for me and a meat pie for Pam. She also required desert, so we opted for what were traditional pan cookies, one with fruit and one with chocolate chips. The only reason we do these hiking vacations is so we can eat all we want without feeling guilty. It’s the best of all worlds.
We started walking at a surprisingly early at 9:15. We’d packed all the bags and backpacks for the plane, so I thought we’d have to spend more time swapping and moving things around. Maybe we have just figured out how to travel? Walking though Knighton we saw of businesses decorated for tomorrow’s celebration of King Charles III coronation. It was both neat and a little weird, as an American, to see a celebration of the lucky sperm club.
The day started perfectly for hiking with temperatures in the mid 50s, a steady breeze, and no rain. Out of town the route became rolling hills and valleys with a combination of prepared trails, roads, and crossing pastures and fields. The United Kingdom is unique in that hikers are allowed access to private land if the land was used as public access in the past, was accessed by the public for 20 years and no one asked them to stop, or finally the landowner has given permission. If any of those conditions are met, the landowner, and all future landowners, are required to allow access by adding gates or climb overs. When we were hiking in England last time a celebrity wanted to move a long term public access path away from their newly purchased house. In proper British legalese, the courts told them to “get stuffed” and public access remained. It’s a wonderful gift that has grown the trail system in England and allowed everyone to enjoy the land. It’s also incumbent on hikers to leave gates how they found them and to avoid issues with farm animals.
Much of the trail today was through fields so we got to share it with lots and lots of ewes and their babies. Yes, it was a cuteness overload, but one can never hit their limit with baby sheep running around. Most of the lambs were born in March or April so look like little puff balls prancing about. Other than avoiding the abundant droppings of the mommas and babies, they leave you alone.
About lunch time we were walking through a field and noticed the owner had set up a couple of benches under a huge tree with a view, so we had to take advantage. We appreciated those benches a lot.
In the tiny town of Llangunllo we stopped by the town church because, as George Mallory said, it was there. The church was refurbished in the late 1800s, but the tower is from Norman times. The town itself is named after the 5th century St. Cynllo who supposedly was a religious hermit and prayed so hard he wore knee prints into rock with his devotion. The church was closed, but the cemetery around it was unique. Funds must be hard to get for the modern church because parts of the graveyard were overgrown with large trees and some of the above ground crypts had collapsed or were broken. It added a very eerie feeling to the church and the look is something that Pam’s mom would have loved.
We were supposed to stop at Short Ditch, which is exactly what the name describes. Back in ancient times some fool decided to start digging a ditch out in the middle of nowhere. Some say it was to protect a castle or was a military fortification. They only got about 300 feet of it done and stopped. Personally, I think someone just really liked digging. Right before this odd addition to the landscape we were to stop at a monument that described the area, Beacon Commons, a large chunk of land available to all for grazing their sheep. We came to a hip high stone structure which at one time had something on the front. Even though this was out in the middle of nowhere, where two dirt roads converged, here is where we were supposed to call the taxi to pick us up and take us back to Knighton.
The guidebooks all mentioned that there was no cell service in the area, so I was prepared to walk back until I could get enough signal to call the taxi. There’s been some improvements in Wales since those guidebooks were written because there was plenty of service. We caught the taxi driver as she was driving the town school bus and wouldn’t be able to get us for another 45 minutes or more. We described where we were, and she said it sounded like we were in the right place.
Other than a few drizzles and spits the day had been great but the clouds were getting blacker by the second and a good drizzle had started. We quickly got into our rain gear and were prepared to ride out the wet. Five minutes later, it was sunny.
As we were waiting, we heard a tractor coming up the road so I ran down to the gate that needed to be opened so I could ask them if we were in the right spot. I got to the gate and the tractor was stopped, but the farmer was slumped down in the seat and not moving. I paused for a second and saw no movement so threw open the gate because I thought this person must be in trouble. As I got to the tractor, the door opened, and it was a 30 year old guy. I asked him if he was OK because he was slumped head down. He laughed and said he was answering a text but appreciated that I was concerned about him. Oh, and yes, we were right were we needed to be.
The taxi driver was 10 minutes late because on the way up a bunch of lambs were galivanting in the road, so she had to get out and chase them off. She was hilarious as we talked about traveling. She told us about a trip she’d taken with some people, but now she doesn’t like them even though she was related to them. In a few weeks she and her husband are visiting Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, so we offered tips on what to do and see.
Back in Knighton we wanted to walk around and specifically wanted to go to a bridge that was placed on the dividing line between England and Wales so you could have two feet in different countries. It’s a little cheesy, but we are tourists after all. We got a big laugh out of it because, I suspect someone being funny, they painted the feet backwards, so you stood on a painted right foot with your left foot. We cracked up a lot about it. (This is probably a location joke and you just had to be there).
Sauntering our way to the town church, dedicated to St. Edward, the patron saint of England before switching to St. George, we were thrilled to see it was open. The church is all decorated for the coronation and inside they had displays by various civic and children’s groups about King Charles. There were three volunteers that were doing things inside as well. In the entry area there was a very small open door that went to the bell tower. One of the volunteers said that they had just received their risk assessment and she’d be happy to take us up. What a stroke of luck! The other two volunteers wanted to go as well because they had never been either.
The crazily narrow winding staircase built in Norman times lead first to the bell ringers’ room where all eight ropes came down for the ringers to pull. They only ring every five or six weeks because they rotate services between the other 14 Anglican churches in the county (like the one in Llangunllo) as there’s not enough members for each church.
The second room up was the clocktower and we got to see the 120 year old clock innards. The church is having a fundraiser to fix the clock which has not worked in a long time. Given that specialized trade, they were happy to get two bids out of the six companies in England. They hope to have the clock working by Christmas.
Finally, all the way at the top is the belfry, though we did not see any bats. The huge bells were installed in 1914 and some had clappers as big as my two fists side by side. We were so happy to have this serendipitous tour! We gave a donation to the clock fund and told them we would have our fingers crossed for that Christmas timeframe for the work. If all of you could do the same, that would be great! (Thank you!)
We had dinner reservations at our hotel, the George and Dragon Inn, and it was delightful. We had a lot of laughs with the owner, especially when she came back to the dinner table after Pam ordered fish and chips to say that Pam didn’t get a fish, but a whale. That was no joke, it was the biggest fillet of fish we had ever seen. I went for the lamb burger, but Pam thought that was a terrible thing to do after seeing all those babies today. It tasted great anyway.
Thank you all for reading!