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Bittersweet: Miles Walked 190.5
Cym to Knighton
The end of any vacation is always a bit sad as the shakeup of your daily routine is what makes them so great. The different scenery, the rhythms of days, and just pure change is energizing. When you do something a little physically challenging for your vacation, like we did here, I feel something else, too. It’s a faint, persistent echo of my long ago youth when I did things physically, which really is all mental in the end, which went far beyond levels most people can comprehend. Inexorably approaching the winter of my days, this echo always asks if I can still push past what I should be expected to do in this aging body. As for Pam, she had a great time, but is ready to go home. I should feel the same, but never will because I want to see if I can do a few more fourteen mile days. I’m already looking up other hikes that add twice as many miles to the vacation. (Pam says that last sentence scares her!)
Today started a little different. Normally at a B&B on this trip you are staying with other vacationers, but the other guest at the excellent Offa’s Dyke Cottage, Mervyn, was doing a training course in the area. He spent 30 years as an electrical engineer and the COVID time inspired him to make some changes. His children had grown, and he had a family medical issue where a hospital chaplain helped immensely, which made all the difference. It inspired him to become a hospital chaplain and he is so excited being of service to others. It was a gorgeous and inspiring story that set the stage for the rest of the day.
We needed that inspiration, because as I mentioned yesterday, everyone was telling us how difficult this section of the walk was going to be. It was challenging, but normally hikers are walking south to north, and we did the opposite. That meant we got the two very steep 600+ft (181 m) ups and downs out of the way early. There was a lot more up and down after that and my Apple watch recorded 3,713 ft (1131 m) in elevation gain for the entire day. Hitting those big ups and downs at the end of the day going north is what makes this section hurt. We had it easy in comparison.
Additionally, today was dry. Those big steep sections in the rain and mud would have been much more difficult. Before we left today Pam was reading the Offa’s Dyke Cottage guest book and there were a lot of entries from people who were coming north into the steep parts in the rain and had to give up because the trail got dangerous. One foot slip going up or down would have resulted in a long slide to the bottom of the hill leaving you covered in mud and the ubiquitous sheep poop.
At least we had the sheep to keep us company as we slogged up and down over those early hills. This entire trip we have laughed that when we booked it, we read that Wales has rolling hills. That didn’t sound too bad after hiking in Picos de Europa last year, which is a lot higher, but as Pam will tell you, those Welsh rolling hills sure added up to a lot! We did see a bunch of lambs all together in the middle of those hills so that was a perfect spot to catch our breath.
Now that we have been hiking with sheep for twelve days, we feel we are experts in their behavior, Dunning-Kruger be dammed. We’ve been particularly entranced by the feeding habits of baby lambs. It seems like when a momma sheep stops, her baby or babies if twins, immediately dodge under her legs and head butt her udder two or three times before trying to feed. With some of the older lambs, the head butts lift the mom’s back feet off the ground. For you human mothers reading I’m glad for your sake human babies don’t smack their heads into you to start nursing. Once the lamb has latched onto teat, the fun begins. While the lamb is suckling, their tails are in constant motion.
We’ve seen all sorts of lamb tail movement at rapid speed:
The windshield wiper from the top
The horizontal side to side
The full slither like a snake
The small circle
The windshield wiper straight up
The side to side wiggle like a dog
The straight up and down (like a pump handle)
The full helicopter (my favorite)
Some scientists say lambs wiggle their tails because it is a way for a lambs to communicate with their mother. Based on our extensive twelve days of studying lambs, the scientists are utterly (udderly?) wrong. The wild, rapid tail movement provides suction so the lamb can get the milk out of the teat. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it, scientists be damned!
We also saw some wildlife today that we didn’t expect. Though Pam isn’t too keen on snakes, she has a knack for stumbling over them. When we did the Coast to Coast trail years ago, she physically tripped over a black adder in Yorkshire. I managed to get a picture of it scooting away and when we asked a fellow hiker what the snake was, he looked extremely dejected. He said he’d been coming to Yorkshire for 20 years with the goal of seeing a black adder and two American’s tripped over one in their first hours. There’re only three snakes in England and they are very rare.
Again today, while Pam didn’t trip over the snake, she stirred it up and I got a picture of it. When we finished we looked up what kind it was and it wasn’t a snake, it was a slow worm, which is a legless lizard. What’s so hilarious to us is that Pam stirred up a slow worm on our trip to Spain last year. She’s two for two on the slow worms!
Our route followed Offa’s Dyke nearly the entire way today. With the hills, valleys, streams, and rivers, in the landscape, the Dyke was a more snake like in its travels compared to yesterday’s straight line. With each step my appreciation for the magnitude of the effort to build it improved. The whole earthwork including the ditch and bank was originally 65ft (20m) wide and 8ft (2.4m) tall. This is an extraordinary amount of dirt and rock that needed to be moved, especially considering the Dyke is 169 miles long. After seeing some sections with the facing at least 15 feet high today, after 1,300 years of erosion, it had to be impressive when built. The number of people involved in construction must have been huge, especially considering it was built during the Iron Age. Of course, this brings up the unanswered question as to why it was built. Was it really built to keep out the Welsh? Was it a show of power by Offa? Did Offa want to keep his kingdom’s people busy so they wouldn’t question his rule?
Several largish sections of the walk had long sections across high meadows where we had views for miles. It was hard not to stop every fifteen steps and take a picture.
It was great crossing a ridge and looking down into Knighton. It had been a long day and we were getting tired. After one final steep downhill we passed into the town proper. When we got to our hotel for the night, the George and Dragon Inn, we gave each other a high five and mainly wanted to sit down. In all, it was a very successful hike because other than a minor slip by Pam today going down a steep section, we never fell. Also, and just as important, we never dropped our phones into the mud or sheep poop. I’m still quite salty about the Transportation Security (Theater) Administration forcing us to leave our hiking poles behind. Pam’s slip today would have not occurred if she had a pole. Next time we are boxing up our poles so they can be checked. Also, we are going to research those waterproof socks we heard about.
When we checked into the George and Dragon Inn, the lady working the bar and the chef both said the remembered us from our last visit over two weeks ago. I don’t know if that was good or bad, or possibly scary. It was fine because they both remembered laughing a lot with us. Whew! We continued those laughs over dinner and a few drinks at the inn. With the long day, I ran out of brain power so had to head to bed, which is why this entry is late.
A special thank you to all of you reading and commenting on these posts. Writing about the day started out as an email to family to let them know we hadn’t fallen and weren’t stuck somewhere along the trail. In rereading those emails months later, I realized they helped me remember more about that trip than I had about any other. I love the challenge of thinking about what I’m going to write about in the evening, and I just love writing them. The encouragement from you all is a gracious gift and I thank you deeply for it.
Finally, thanks to Pam, AKA Super Trooper Pammy, for organizing everything, and not complaining too much about me staying up late with the lights on finishing the day’s story.