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Walking On History: Miles Walked 175.0
Welshpool to Cym
Breakfast today was an impromptu learning experience. Renee and Gareth joined us at 8 AM and a sheep farmer from Yorkshire, who was in Welshpool for a conference, joined us as well. As soon as the four of us found out he was a farmer, the interrogation began. He was trapped by four hikers who’d been around a lot of sheep and farms who wanted to know more about them. He was a very good sport about an inquisition that would make the Spaniards proud.
The questions we had were all over the place, but two comments were worth mentioning. His daughter makes her living as a border collie trainer. Hearing how she looks for the right combinations in a young dog was fascinating. He said her best dog, that she refuses to sell, was nearly completely trained by five months old as the dog came out of the womb ready to herd. Most five month old dogs I know are just big doofuses so hearing about a puppy who was ready to work was wild. He mentioned his daughter regularly sells trained border collies to the US for around £9,000 a piece.
Pam and I were in the UK in 2001 when the huge outbreak of hoof and mouth disease was going on and I remember seeing news stories showing giant pits of slaughtered animals being burned. I asked how it went for him. At the time the farmer was raising pigs, which were the original vector of the disease, and he was lucky that none of his animals were infected. However, he could not sell or move his pigs, so he was stuck feeding them at a cost of £30,000 per month. He continued to feed them hoping he would be able to eventually recoup his costs. They got too big for any slaughterhouse and had to kill and bury them. In all it took him 17 years until he finally paid off all the bills accrued because of the outbreak. He considered himself extremely lucky because at least he didn’t go out of business. The whole experience pushed him into sheep with some cattle on the side. We couldn’t thank him enough for sharing his stories with us because it gave us a deeper appreciation of the farming business. Since we had a big day of walking ahead of us, we had to leave but it was one of those conversations you hate to leave.
Roger, the owner of Tynllwyn Farm, where you are required stay if you are anywhere close to Welshpool, gave us a ride to the starting point of our walk today. Roger was telling us he was a cattle farmer for 35 years before his wife’s B&B business needed him full time. When we asked which was harder, he said there was no question that running the B&B was so much more difficult because he works from 5 AM to 11 PM from March to November.
Being a hike in Wales, we started with a big walk up a hill out of the River Severn valley from Welshpool. We are in pretty good hiking shape at this point, so it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. We loved the views of Welshpool from up high. We did have to laugh, though. Through the entire Glnydŵr’s Way of 160.7 miles we saw exactly six other hikers. Today we saw six in the first hour. In total today we saw 26 other hikers so it’s not like we are on a typical trail in any national park in the US. We did have a huge laugh towards the very end of the day as a couple past us going north as we were going south. The lady was playing the radio through her phone. She apologized profusely when she got close to us saying “I’m so terribly sorry for playing the news but I need something to forget about the pain.” How much pain must she have been in to think that listening to the state of today’s world was a relief?
Right at the top of the big hill was Beacon Ring, a hillfort that is marked by a single bank and ditch built in the Iron Age between 600 BCE and 50 CE. It overlooks the Severn Valley in Wales and the Shropshire hills in England. It’s fascinating to me that it has never been studied archeologically. It seems to me someone could develop a PhD thesis there easily. It’s called Beacon Ring because in the mid 17th century it was one of the beacon hills where in times of emergency, they would burn tarred ropes as a signal. In 1953 they planted trees to spell out EIIR in dark trees against lighter trees in commemoration of coronation of Elizabeth II.
As I was poking around in the hillfort, I noticed smoke and found some idiot had left a smoldering campfire. That annoyed me to no end. I sacrificed a quart water bottle to douse the coals and needed a little more, so I peed on the remaining embers. If someone tries to start a fire there again, I hope their roasted wieners taste bad.
We are now following a different walking trail, Offa’s Dyke Path to the south to return to Knighton, where we began this adventure, thus closing the circle. This path is a UK national path that loosely follows the border between England and Wales. So, who is Offa and what’s his Dyke?
Offa of Mercia was a powerful Anglo-Saxon king who ruled the kingdom of Mercia in central England from 757 to 796. He is best known for his construction of Offa's Dyke, an impressive earthwork that marked the border between England and Wales. Offa's reign was marked by his ambitious political and military endeavors, which aimed to consolidate Mercian power and establish his dominance over neighboring kingdoms.
Offa's rule witnessed significant achievements and innovations. He implemented a major reform of the Mercian coinage system, producing high-quality silver coins that became widely recognized and accepted throughout England and beyond. His diplomatic skills were evident in his interactions with foreign powers, including the Pope and Charlemagne, with whom he maintained cordial relations. Offa's legacy as a powerful king and his contributions to Mercian society and politics make him a notable figure in early medieval English history.
Offa's Dyke stretches for 177 miles along the border region between England and Wales. It was constructed to establish a boundary to keep out the unruly Welsh to the west. The structure is made up of a large ditch and a raised embankment and served both defensive and symbolic purposes. It acted as a boundary marker and a potent symbol of King Offa's power and authority, asserting Mercian control over the border region and deterring raids and incursions from the Welsh kingdoms.
Offa’s Dyke Path has about 60 miles of its 177 mile route following, or keeping close to, the remnants of the Dyke itself. After we dropped off the hill that contained Beacon Ring, we walked on the Dyke for large parts of the day. The Dyke is perfectly straight so we didn’t have much trouble at all following the path. It mainly was along active farmland and we saw lots of farmers out doing all aspects of silage production from plowing, planting, and cutting.
After we crossed the River Severn near Montgomery, we walked over a key battlefield of the English Civil War. In short, the Parliamentarians, who wanted a constitutional monarchy beholden to elected leaders, were fighting the Royalists, who wanted an absolute monarchy and thought the king ruled by divine right. In September 1664, the Royalist army was besieging Montgomery Castle in mid Wales, and a Parliamentarian force advanced to engage them. At first the Royalists had the upper hand, but the Parliamentarian counter-attacked and destroyed the Royalist army (Yay!). The Royalists suffered 500 dead and 1,500 captured while the Parliamentarians only lost 40 dead. A route doesn’t begin to describe it.
For an hour or two in the afternoon as we walked along the Dyke, we were treated with a traditional fence along the way. Today modern fencing in Wales is pine posts and rolled wire, topped with barbed wire. In the old days, those didn’t exist, so they used trees themselves. In the picture below they have partially chopped the branches of a tree and interwoven them with other branches to create the fence. It’s quite hard to capture a picture of a traditional fence that doesn’t look like a pile of branches. Also, I hope you appreciate the picture because I had to walk through nettles to get it so had the pleasure of a few stingles for the next half mile.
We are staying tonight in a beautiful B&B, Offa’s Dyke Cottage, which is literally right next to Offa’s Dyke. Diane greeted us and we felt right at home. Their built pond is gorgeous and something Pam’s mom would have loved to death.
After dinner I started working on this post drinking the bottle of wine left over from dinner, stretched out on a couch, overlooking the beautiful landscaping and hills of Wales. Before you get jealous, you should know that everyone we’ve talked to about tomorrow’s hike says things like “punishing”, “terrible”, and “ruthless ups and downs”. We’ve heard everything short of “you will die.” Please wish us luck!
As always, thanks so much for reading!