OFFA'S DYKE PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 4: Pandy to Hay-on-Wye
Thursday, June 6, 2019
This is the most isolated stage of Offa's Dyke Path and comes in three parts: a long, steady climb onto the southern end of the Hatterrall Ridge, a long walk up the exposed ridgetop, and a long, steady descent from the northern end of the ridge into the Wye Valley.
The Hatterrall Ridge forms the eastern escarpment of the Black Mountains, the easternmost of the four mountain ranges that comprise the Brecon Beacons. The ridge is primarily made of Devonian Old Red Sandstone, which is actually made of layers of sandstone, mudstone, siltstone and limestone. For centuries, the red sandstone has been quarried for building and the limestone has been kilned to make lime for cement and agricultural use. The border between England and Wales runs along most of the ridge, so I was going to be spending much of the day with my feet in different countries.
After an early breakfast in the Rising Sun, I trotted back up the A465 to the Lancaster Arms Guest House (picture 1), rejoining Offa's Dyke Path at a gate opposite the former pub's carpark. A grassy path between wire fences heads along the edge of a field under tall trees to a footbridge over the River Honddu (picture 2), which flows into the Monnow about two kilometres further north.
A little downstream, the Honddu once powered a fulling mill, a type of watermill where woollen fabric was cleaned and finished before the industrial age. Pandy is the Welsh word for a fulling-mill and there are a number of settlements in Wales that have taken on the name.
Steps lead up from the river to a crossing of the Welsh Marches Line, which runs from Newport in South Wales to Shrewsbury in the West Midlands via Hereford. When the railway opened in 1854, Pandy had its own station, but this closed in 1958 along with the line's other rural stations and the nearest station is now at Abergavenny.
Across the tracks, steps climb into a field with a gate on the far side standing by a junction of quiet country lanes. Offa's Dyke Path goes straight ahead, climbing the narrower of the lanes up through the hamlet of Treveddw (picture 4), where the Path merges with the Beacons Way, a 159-kilometre long-distance trail across the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Above Treveddw, the ODP bears right across a large pasture, cutting off a bend in the lane but rejoining it under a prominent mobile phone tower (picture 5). The lane immediately swings left and climbs to Trawellwyd, where a single large house stands by a crossroads (picture 6). Over to the left is a view down into the valley of the Honddu where the little village of Stanton lies just on the other side of the river (picture 7).
At the crossroads, Offa's Dyke Path turns right, temporarily parting company with the Beacons Way, which goes straight ahead. Four hundred metres along a sunken lane, the Path bears left up a steep enclosed track. My calves were already feeling the strain by the time I climbed over a stile onto a more open hillside (picture 8), but there was much more climbing to come.
The path continues to climb very steeply alongside a drystone wall. Over the wall there's a good view south over Llanfihangel Crucorney to The Skirrid (picture 9). The ground levels off somewhat as the path peels away from the wall to cross the middle of the Iron Age Pentwyn Hillfort (constructed around 500 B.C.) and continue on across Hatterrall Hill Common, gradually re-converging with the Beacons Way, which comes up a vehicle track from the left (picture 10).
Clearly visible on the slope up ahead is a roughly oval stone-walled enclosure. The ODP bears slightly right to climb up the side of the enclosure, which turns out to have a few gaps in its wall (picture 11). Now near the edge of the steep escarpment, there are far-reaching views across the territory covered by the previous day's walk from Monmouth (picture 12).
From the high side of the enclosure, almost at the 400 metre contour line, there is another fine view back across Hatterrall Hill Common and The Skirrid (picture 13). I paused here to catch my breath as I was starting to feel the full weight of the camping gear in my backpack.
Next comes a steep ascent to the first of several Ordnance Survey triangulation pillars on the ridge. This one is at a height of 464 metres (picture 14). As I stopped to take another breather by the trig pillar, the four men I had met the previous day arrived one by one. A few minutes after the last gentleman arrived, we set off together, chatting about our plans for the rest of the walk.
Having finally attained the ridgetop of Hatterrall Hill, the gradient eases off considerably, but the trend is still upwards (picture 15). The well-worn path generally stays fairly close to the escarpment, though the ridge does widen for a while as a spur separates two valleys on its western side. About 1,500 metres from the trig point, the English border comes straight up the escarpment and begins to run along the middle of the path. Very soon, the path passes just to the right of the 531-metre summit of Hatterrall Hill (just a small part of the Hatterrall Ridge) and just beyond this is a large pile of discarded stone from a disused quarry (picture 16). Presumably these stones were not considered to be worth carting down off the ridge.
By this point I was struggling to keep up with my more lightly loaded (and probably fitter) companions, so I bade them farewell for now and relaxed my pace as I watched their four brightly-clad figures slowly shrinking into the distance.
Beyond the quarry, the ridge narrows again and the path dips a little, but not for very long (picture 17). To the left of the path is a fine view up the long combe of the Vale of Ewyas (picture 18), which runs parallel to the Hatterrall Ridge up to Gospel Pass and the source of the River Honddu. The main settlement in the vale is the village of Llanthony, whose ruined 12th century priory is visible from the Path.
Ahead, the path begins to climb fairly steeply (picture 19). The view over the vale disappears as the ridge widens but in compensation there is a magnificent panoramic view over the relatively flat rural landscape of Herefordshire over to the right of the path (picture 20).
Just after the ridgetop path begins to climb, the Beacons Way departs for good, angling down the steep side of the valley towards Llanthony. A kilometre further on, Offa's Dyke Path passes the second trig pillar on the ridge (picture 21), this time at 552 metres. The ground around the trig pillar has eroded by around a foot since the trig pillar was placed here.
From the trig pillar, the path levels out for a while before climbing gently to gain another fifty or so metres in elevation. Stone cairns of varying sizes begin to appear beside the path at irregular intervals along this stretch (picture 22), as do little stone-lined drainage channels crossing the path. The ground to either side of the path seemed to be getting more marshy as the path continued to ascend, and the path itself was showing more frequent signs of erosion.
As the path levels out again, it steers along the middle of a wider plateau, temporarily hiding the views on both sides (picture 23). A few small ponds amongst the heather demonstrate how saturated the ground is on the high part of the ridge (picture 24).
With most of the people who were walking the other way having already gone past me and the more restricted views, the path began to feel quite isolated as I pressed on over a long run of stepping stones (picture 25) and past the next trig pillar, at 610 metres. A family of wild horses were milling around the trig pillar (picture 26), seemingly totally disinterested in passing humans.
Soon the path comes close to the escarpment again, now with a view across the Olchon Valley to Black Hill (picture 27), another spur of the ridge, but this time on the English side.
The path was still rising, though now almost imperceptibly. Shortly after a marker stone indicates a cross path going over the ridge between the Olchon Valley and The Vale of Ewyas, the path climbs through the 630 metre contour and passes from Monmouthshire into Powys. Or at least the left-hand side of the path does. The right-hand side is still English territory.
The path keeps climbing very gradually as it edges past the Olchon Valley, with several more runs of stepping stones placed to curb the worst of the erosion. About three kilometres into Powys, the path passes a small cairn (picture 28) marking the highest point on the Hatterrall Ridge and on the entire Offa's Dyke Path, at 703 metres above sea level. This is also the highest point in Herefordshire, and indeed the highest ground in England south of the Yorkshire Dales.
I was a little surprised to find that this high-point was not marked with a trig pillar and had to double-check with my GPS that I was on the right spot to bag the Herefordshire county-top. The nearest trig pillar is two kilometres north-west on the very end of the ridge at Hay Bluff (at 677 metres), but that is not on the official route of Offa's Dyke Path.
A kilometre beyond the high-point, the ridgetop path drops down on a long flight of rough stone steps before snaking its way towards the tip of Hay Bluff (picture 29). At the bottom of the steps a marker stone at a path junction shows Offa's Dyke Path bearing right on stepping stones, finally leaving the ridgetop after around sixteen kilometres.
The ODP now begins a steady descent around the eastern flank of Hay Bluff to meet the minor road that comes down from Gospel Pass on the western side of the bluff, losing about 230 metres in elevation over the next two kilometres. Initially there are excellent views northward over the Wye Valley (picture 30) and south-eastward past Black Hill (picture 31). A third of the way down, the path leaves the border behind, now in Wales for the remainder of the day. A little further on, the well-worn path peters out and one must keep a lookout for a few marker stones indicating the correct route down the open hillside (picture 32) to the road.
For those completionists wanting to walk the entire length of the Hatterrall Ridge, it is possible to continue along the ridgetop path to the trig point on Hay Bluff and then make a much steeper descent to rejoin Offa's Dyke Path on the road. This is shown as an alternative route on Google Maps, but not on the Ordnance Survey. I took that option in reverse when I re-walked Offa's Dyke Path southbound. The weather was rather abysmal on that day and the trig pillar had a temporary moat, but it was also adorned with Welsh dragons.
By the roadside, another marker stone indicates that it's still four miles (6.5 kilometres) to Hay-on-Wye. The view back up to Hay Bluff from here emphasises how steep the alternative route is (picture 33).
As I set off along the tarmac (picture 34), I noticed that the clouds above me were starting to look a little ominous. Five hundred metres downhill, a large upright stone slab bearing the familiar acorn symbol shows the path bearing left across a heavily-grazed sheep pasture. For a while the path runs parallel to the edge of Tack Wood, but after a kilometre the pasture begins to narrow and the path angles up to a gate on the edge of the wood. A track now leads through Cadwgan Farm (picture 35) until a waymarker points down a steep and rather slippery hillside (picture 36). In the distance ahead, it appeared to be raining on the other side of Hay-on-Wye.
The Path crosses a lane in the hamlet of Upper Danyforest and continues descending through a tunnel of foliage. It was here that, heralded by a loud peal of thunder, the heavens opened above me and I stopped to fish my waterproofs out of my backpack. If it had to start raining, this was a good spot for it to happen, as the foliage held back the downpour long enough for me to get my waterproofs on without getting wet.
From the end of the enclosed path, the ODP descends the right edge of one field and the left edge of the next to reach a lane, turning left in search of a gate in the hedge on the right. The Path skirts around two sides of a field then crosses a gully to join a path through a small wood, where the rain began to ease. By the time I had crossed one more field into another small wood, the sun was shining. In the last of four more fields, I was passed by a group of about twenty rather sodden joggers just as I reached a gate on the edge of Hay-on-Wye.
A driveway leads out to Oxford Road, where I turned left past a large carpark and crossed the busy road to the town's Tourist Information Centre (picture 37). At the end of Oxford Road, Offa's Dyke Path turns sharp right into Church Street and shortly bears left down Broad Street to pass by the town's rather ornate 1884 clock tower (picture 38). At the next junction, by the Three Tuns pub, the Path turns down the B4351 to Hay Bridge (picture 39), which crosses the River Wye (picture 40).
Offa's Dyke Path turns up the riverbank on the far side of the bridge, but this was as far as I was going on the Path today, having covered another 26.2 kilometres. Five hundred metres further up B4351, I pitched my tent at the Radnors End Campsite before heading back into town to replenish my supplies and sample the pubs, of which there are more than one could feasibly visit in a single evening.
As it turned out, the second pub, Kilverts Inn, was where the other walkers were staying, so I ended up parking myself there for a couple hours. The gentlemen had reached town about an hour before me, narrowly avoiding the storm that I got caught in. The next day's forecast was not looking promising, however, so they weren't expecting to stay dry for long.