23rd August 2007 – Monmouth to Pandy – 20.5 miles
Breakfast was a bit painful; the food was burnt – now I like sausage and bacon well done – but the eggs and fried bread too? The landlady insisted on sitting across from me throughout the meal, chatting about nothing in particular, but unwilling to leave me to it. I finally managed to get away about 08:45, into another bright, sunny day, with almost no breeze – today was going to be warm!
My first task was to abandon the usual route along Watery Lane, in favour of a 3.5 mile detour to bag a trig point on a nearby hill. What a mistake!! The first mile or so was okay, several stiles and gently sloping fields brought me to the foot of a steep incline covered in dense woods. The right of way marked on the map ended at a 20 foot deep bed of nettles, brambles and scrub, rather than the stile across a field boundary I had been expecting. I spent 15 minutes pacing back and forwards across the boundary of the wood looking for a way in – none was to be found. I can only assume that path was rarely used and had become overgrown to the point where no-one could use it anymore. I eventually hacked my way through a section of the nettles that didn’t look too deep and clambered over a double barbed wire fence to scramble up an embankment to an overgrown track through the woods.
Fifteen minutes later I was faced with a similar problem, a track on the ground marked on the OS map, which no longer existed, forced an additional 1/4 mile detour around a couple of fields and through some dense undergrowth to pick up a small path leading to the trig point. That little detour only cost me 10 minutes.
Leaving the trig point I picked up a lovely forestry track that eventually led me back to the Offa’s Dyke path. One hour and fifteen minutes after I set out and I was 1.8 miles along today’s route, thoroughly pissed off, legs and arms buzzing from the nettle stings and sweating like a rapist.
The day didn’t get any better either. The next few miles was a series of narrow country lanes with high hedges and no views, followed by a long series of fields, each separated by a stile and many of them filled with the ruts created by cows when the field is wet, which then dries into ankle-breaking pits and divots. I was relieved to come across an old church about 11:00, with a shady vestibule where I managed to get out of the sun for a few minutes, shrug off my pack, have a few cautious swigs of water and obsessively check the level of water in my Platypus.
Instead of leaving the B&B with 2 litres of water as I had decided, once I’d seen the weather and the forecast for the day on the morning news, I added an extra 1/2 a litre, so the Platypus was loaded with 2.5 litres. My pack, with the small lunch, was almost 11Kg. More than I really wanted to be carrying on such a warm day.
Offa’s Dyke itself is nowhere to be found on this section of the walk and the route planners seem to have lost any sense of inspiration in getting you to the next section of the dyke. The path now follows more country lanes, with the occasional diversion across a rutted pasture or field.
I had planned my own diversion at the section, to bag the trig point a small way of the path at a place called The Grove. This involved walking along a couple of very narrow country lanes enclosed by high thick hedges, up what felt like quite a steep hill. Unfortunately, when I came to the field with my trig point in it, I found that there was no access from the road, due to the high, impenetrable hedges. I discovered a gate into an adjoining field, and I clambered over hoping to gain access that way. All the internal hedges were dense and overgrown and although I struggled gamely for 10 minutes to find a way through I eventually had to abandon my search. I’d incurred a 1.5 mile diversion for no result – I was thoroughly disheartened. I headed back along the narrow lanes to pick up the main path.
The temperature had continued to rise steadily and I eventually stopped for some shady respite and a bite of lunch on an old bridge over Nant y Deri, just before reaching Llantilio Crosseny. I was thoroughly worn out by this stage. The troublesome diversions, the dreadful rutted pastures and the seemingly inexhaustible supply of stiles had ground me down. I needed food, but when I tried to eat my lunch I couldn’t stomach it. The two small pork pies purchased the previous evening went into the stream to feed the fish and all I managed to eat was half an apple and a small carton of warm juice.
In my weariness I missed a waymarker and incurred another small diversion while I corrected my course along two country lanes. I then made a deliberate choice to abandon the usual route across a long series of fields, exposed to the very strong sun, in favour of a shaded lane that seemed to get me to the same destination; White Castle.
I was still obsessing about the amount of water I had left and when I spotted a guy mowing his lawn I stopped and asked him if I could get a top-up of my bottle. He happily agreed, seeing how sweaty I was and how hot the day had become. I used his outside tap while he told me about White Castle. I drank as much as I could stomach, as well as filling my plastic bottle, with the lovely cool water from the tap. After a few minutes I expressed my thanks and let him continue gardening.
I climbed the hill towards White Castle and quickly worked my way through the bottle of glorious cool water. It’s not a particularly impressive structure when seen from the iron gates that prevent those who are too cheap to pay the entrance fee, from visiting the grounds. I have seen a picture of it from the air though and it looks far more impressive from that perspective.
There was a little shop by the iron gates, run by a little old woman, selling the usual souvenir tat, and bottles of water. I bought one and sat in the shade cast by her little shop and drank it slowly. When I reappeared and thanked her, she asked me where I was heading to. I told her I was walking the Dyke and my next stop was the pub in Llangattock Lingoed, the “Hunters Moon”, about 3.5 miles along the path. “Oh, you’ll be lucky if that’s open today” she laughed, “they don’t open during the day anymore”. This casual remark left me completely drained.
On the official route I was 10 miles into a 16 mile day; with my diversions, both deliberate and unfortunate, I was actually 14 miles into what would become a 20.5 mile day. The pub at Llangattock Lingoed was an oasis in a sea of fields and country lanes, I had been counting on it being open and now I was being told it would be closed. Bugger!
To be honest, the next 3 miles or so were a complete blur, I know from the map that there were lots more fields, stiles and country lanes, but I don’t remember them. I just put one foot in front of the other and checked the map to make sure they were put down in the right direction. I got occasional views of the Brecon Beacons and the hills that were to make up tomorrows walk, but these were rare views and I was too tired to appreciate them.
I eventually staggered up a hill to find the fine white church of Llangattock Lingoed and a short stumble further on I could see the roof and the beer garden of the “Hunters Moon”. I would need to divert down a short steep hill if I was to visit it, but if it was going to be closed I wasn’t sure if I could face the climb back up to this path. If I hadn’t seen a head moving from the beer garden to the pub I would have carried on walking, but I thought it was worth the gamble.
The next 45 minutes were the best of the whole walk I think. I sat in the cool, flag-stoned main bar of the pub and drank two pints of coke, with loads of ice. The first one barely touched the sides but the second one was savoured with great relish. I chatted with the barmaid, the only other person in the pub and found her accent quite strange. It was difficult to tell where it originated. She explained she was from the Czech Republic and had been working here for 4 or 5 years, during which time she had learnt most of her English. Just like the Spanish footballer on the “Fast Show”, her accent was a bizarre mix of her own country and her adopted home.
She kicked me out, almost literally, at 15:00 when the pub closed and feeling somewhat refreshed, I pushed on towards Pandy. Two or three more miles of fields awaited me, but I eventually made my wearily over stile number 49 and onto the A465 that runs through the town. At 15:55, 7 hours and 15 minutes after I set off, I arrived at the Park Hotel and collapsed onto one of the small single beds in my room.
The Park Hotel is a rather strange place; an eccentric mix of great food, friendly staff and Basil Faulty-like organisation. I enjoyed quite easily the best Steak and Ale pie I’ve ever had, seated in a large, empty dining room with only Tom Jones for company. I asked for a small bottle of still water and was provided with a house branded bottle, which despite saying “still” on the label, proved to be sparkling.