Offa’s Dyke: Day Zero

21st August 2007 – Path Start to Chepstow – 4 miles

I spent a while adjusting my pack, retying my laces and generally faffing about, while my wife waited patiently for me to give her the all clear to drive off and leave me at the start of my long walk home. I’d spent much of the journey down to Chepstow in quiet introspection, trying to mask it as driving concentration, but unable to remove the powerful feeling that something wasn’t quite right. It certainly didn’t feel the same as last year when I arrived at St. Bees in a state of barely suppressed excitement at the prospect of walking almost 200 miles from one side of England to the other. However, the prospect of walking a slightly shorter distance from Chepstow, at the bottom of Wales, to Prestatyn at the top didn’t hold the same appeal. At least not now I was here, at the start, about to wave goodbye to my wife for 12 days.

I had been anticipating (eagerly, it’s fair to say) the journey for several months now, it had been planned and booked since early in the year – January in fact – while the physical and mental euphoria of completing the Coast to Coast was still lingering in my system. It was now late August, much of the walking year washed away by the dreadful weather and just as accurately, wished away waiting for this very moment. But now it was upon me, I wasn’t sure if I was up for it.

I steeled myself, told myself it was just pre-walk nerves and tapped the roof of the car, releasing my wife for the long drive home before turning and walking through a rickety iron gate and onto a well worn path leading to the cliffs above the Severn.

Offa’s Dyke start The Ordnance Survey map describes this spot, where I was abandoned by my loved one, as Buttington Tump, a truly marvellous name; the path I was now walking on however, leads to Slimeroad Pill, surely a cure worse than any illness?

It was late afternoon and I had the path to myself, the sky was slightly overcast, but it wasn’t cold and there was no wind at all to stir the trees that line one side of the path up to the starting stone.

I touched the stone for good luck, took a couple of photos of the suspension bridge and headed south along the cliff line a short way to find the alternative path back to Buttington Tump. The amount of use the path gets has led to the introduction of inbound and outbound paths to the starting stone. The idea being that walkers use one path on the way in and the other path on the way out. Unfortunately, the secondary path is not that easy to follow and without adequate markers, my sense of direction led me quickly back to the path I followed originally. Ah well, I tried.

My plan was to walk the first few miles of the path this evening, as far as the northern end of Chepstow, find a pub for an evening meal and then head over to the B&B. I followed the path back towards Chepstow, through a couple of rough looking housing estates. In one of these I came across a group of lads trying to set fire to the hedge that lines the footpath. They had built a small pile of tinder and small twigs beneath the hedge and were trying to get it to accept the flame from a match. I half expected to them to stop and try to hide what they were doing as I approached, but they just looked at me defiantly, almost as if they wanted me to raise some objection. I sighed inwardly without breaking my stride, trying not to give them any justification to react to me.

Chepstow, as the normal starting point for Offa’s Dyke, is similar in some way to St. Bees, the starting point of the Coast to Coast walk. It’s not a particularly nice place and it’s a bit seedy and run down in areas. St. Bees however is much smaller and has that quaint “olde worlde” feel to it. Chepstow, however, is just seedy and run down without any other redeeming traits.

The path comes close to the River Wye for a short distance, before turning back into residential areas and crossing the bridge over the railway and the main Gloucester road. You then get a look at the more affluent side of Chepstow, before the path turns through a kissing gate and heads off up the hill towards the ancient lookout tower above the Wye. I left the path at the kissing gate and headed back towards the B&B, looking out for a likely place to eat. I stopped in the first pub I came across and ordered a soft drink and a menu. The “Live and Let Live” wasn’t busy, but the clientele at that time of the evening were very “hoo-ray” and I got the distinct impression that a slightly sweaty walker with a large backpack was making the place look a mess. I pressed on further into town and came to the “Cross Keys”, which due to the state of the exterior and the look of the punters drinking at the outdoor tables, looked more like a back street Manchester drinking den than a small town pub.

There were no other pubs before I arrived at the B&B, but the landlady pointed me in the direction of the “Fisherman”, which was reached by walking along a muddy path and then through a small industrial estate – which was nice. I rushed through a burger and chips and a pint of electric John Smiths to try and avoid what looked like an impending rain shower and returned to the B&B.

I rang Chris, she had arrived home safely, the return journey taking her about 2.5 hours. She wished me luck and fair weather and I promised to ring tomorrow when I got to Monmouth.

I was not using a baggage carrier on this trip, no-one seems to be able to just do baggage transfer for Offa’s Dyke; you tend to have to book the whole holiday including accommodation before someone will carry your bag for you. Most B&B’s will arrange to have a bag moved to your next destination, but they charge around £30 for that service, which adds up to a significant amount of money when you’re doing 12 stages. Being a tight-arse, I decided to carry all I needed on my back. My pack weight was about 8Kg without food or water and that included only one change of clothing, for the evenings and my Inov-8 Terrocs as my evening shoes. This did make the usual evening task of sorting out kit a bit easier though.

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