OFFA'S DYKE PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 9: Pool Quay to Trefonen
Saturday, June 22, 2019
After my customary Full English Breakfast, I set off from the Powis Arms in bright sunshine (picture 1). Outside the pub, a narrow pavement heads northward alongside the A483, rejoining Offa's Dyke Path and continuing up a low rise to a fingerpost pointing across the road and over a stile into a rough sheep pasture.
Still in company with the Severn Way, the Path angles away to the right of the road and the left of the River Severn, crossing the first pasture and a second to a rickety little footbridge over a tiny stream. The Dyke starts again here, and the path runs along the top of the bank as it squeezes between the river and the end of a crop field to cross over the embankment of the disused Cambrian Railway line between Welshpool and Oswestry, which has been taken over by trees in the half a century since the tracks were lifted.
Once through the trees, the view ahead is dominated by the extinct volcanic ridge of the Breidden Hills (picture 2), which rise on the far side of the Severn. The highest point of the ridge is Moel y Golfa, rising to 403 metres above sea-level, while the northernmost peak, Breidden Hill, has the tall obelisk of Rodney's Pillar on its 365 metre summit. The pillar commemorates the 18th-century British Admiral George Brydges Rodney and is visible from a long stretch of Offa's Dyke Path. Also visible from the path on the western face of Breidden Hill is the large Criggion Quarry, where gabbro has been extracted for road building.
The Path now runs atop a long, unbroken stretch of the Dyke, labeled on the OS map as the Tirymynach Embankment. This acts a floodbank protecting the farms on the river's west side, though the Dyke takes a rather straighter course and cuts off the convoluted meanders of the river. For much of the way, the Dyke is separated from the river by a buffer zone of marshy land, which still had some evidence of the river breaking its banks during the downpour a couple of weeks earlier (picture 3).
After almost five kilometres atop the bank, the Path crosses over the top of sluice gates opposite Breidden Hill (picture 4) and finally turns away from the River Severn.
Across the sluice gates, the Path heads westward alongside the drainage channel of the New Cut and turns across Derwas Bridge (picture 5) and through a couple of gates into a paddock. While I was trying to shoo a herd of cows away from the second gate so that I could open it, a middle-aged New Zealander caught up to me and more skilfully convinced the cows to make way for us.
As we walked across the field, he explained that he was nearing the end of a three month, 1,700 kilometre circuit of Wales via the Wales Coast Path and Offa's Dyke Path. He was also an ultralight backpacker, having done his entire walk with only eight kilograms of gear, including shelter.
At a three-way fingerpost on the far side of the field, the Severn Way and Offa's Dyke Path finally part ways, the former going right and the latter going left on a section of the Dyke that heads north-north-west past the attractive stone farmhouse of The Nea (picture 6). The Path continues in the same direction across farmland for another kilometre to the B4393, mostly atop the Dyke except where there is a line of mighty oaks growing right on top of it. This part of the Dyke is fairly worn-down compared to the stretch by the Severn (picture 7).
Across the road, the Path follows the Dyke across a large meadow before dropping off the right side and crossing three much smaller meadows to join the farm drive of Gornel. Reaching a modern housing estate on the edge of the town of Four Crosses, the path briefly follows Breidden Court to the left before a signpost points along the edge of a meadow and down steps into the depot of a bulk liquid transportation business on the former site of the Cambrian Railway's Four Crosses Station, which closed in 1965. A yellow line shows the safe way along the edge of the tarmac, which was mostly filled with a fleet of milk tankers, to meet the B4393 for a second time. Through a gate opposite, the Path crosses one more meadow to a roundabout at the foot of The Street.
A short distance up The Street is the Grade II-listed Golden Lion Hotel (picture 8), built in 1760. My new Antipodean friend was taking an early mark to spend the night in the friendly pub.
I also had a great night there on my southbound walk, which happened to coincide with a pub trivia night. I recall causing everyone to dissolve into fits of laughter when I answered the clue "a mutual arrangement by which two parties agree to tolerate each other" with "marriage". Alas, I didn't score any points for that answer: the required answer was "truce", but surely my answer was equally valid.
Further up The Street, just beyond the last house, Offa's Dyke Path peels off down a bicycle path on the left to pass under the A483 and join Parson's Lane. I stopped here to change my camera battery and somehow managed to put the camera into a weird colour mode, which I didn't notice for a while — apologies.
Ahead, at the end of Parson's Lane, the Path goes through the farmyard of Pont-y-Person to meet the Montgomery Canal by an archetypal canal bridge (picture 9). Offa's Dyke Path turns right along the flowery canal towpath, which will be followed in a long semicircle for the next three-and-a-half kilometres.
Just over a kilometre along the towpath, the canal widens at a former wharf that still has an old crane (picture 10). Around the next bend, an aqueduct takes the canal over the River Vyrnwy (picture 11). Both ends of the aqueduct have been filled in with earth, making life a little difficult for a couple who were paddling a canoe along the canal and had to haul it out of the water twice in a short space of time.
Off the end of the aqueduct is a mile marker, dated 1984 (picture 12), but confusingly the directions are reversed. Presumably, this belongs on the other side of the canal.
The Path soon crosses the B4398, where the canal was filled in to make a narrow bridge redundant, then the towpath continues its long curve to the right, stepping up through the two restored Carreghofa Locks on either side of a low stone bridge (picture 13). The village of Wern lines the right-hand side of the canal as it passes under the next few bridges, while to the left there is a view up to Llanymynech Hill (picture 14), where I would soon be walking.
After crossing Carreghofa Lane, another spot where the canal was filled in for a road crossing, the canal enters the compact little town of Llanymynech and straightens up on the approach to the canal basin by a bridge carrying the A483 (picture 15).
The England-Wales border runs along the pavement on the east side of the A483, placing the eastern and western halves of Llanymynech in different countries and creating some unusual administrative problems, such as the two sides of the street being covered by different police forces. Offa's Dyke Path makes a very brief sojourn into England here, passing under the bridge then climbing steps up to the road to cross the canal.
On the English side of the bridge, a short section of the canal in front of the Llanymynech Wharf has been restored to navigability (picture 16), but for the present this is entirely isolated from the rest of the canal network. The bridge is also the start (or end) of the ninety-eight kilometre Wat's Dyke Way, which follows the canal into Shropshire for a few kilometres before turning northward. Wat's Dyke is another frontier earthwork, similar to Offa's Dyke, but probably older.
A short distance from the canal, the A483 passes a Salop (Shropshire) boundary stone and curves away to the right, while Offa's Dyke Path climbs straight ahead up a lane that gradually gets steeper. Taking the first turn on the right, the path climbs past a few houses to a gate, from which a shady path climbs steeply up Llanymynech Hill to Llanymynech Rocks, a limestone quarry that was abandoned at the end of the First World War and is gradually being reclaimed by nature (picture 17).
Offa's Dyke Path turns left by a little stone building that once contained the braking mechanism for an inclined railway that carried the quarried stone down to the Montgomery Canal for transportation farther afield. The Path is well-signposted as it heads westward across the face of Llanymynech Hill (picture 18), gradually gaining height and a view southward to the Breidden Hills and, beyond them, the Long Mountain (picture 19).
Beyond a cairn, the path meets the line of Offa's Dyke and turns northward through the top edge of a wood just below the Llanymynech Golf Club. The path winds its way through the wood beside the Dyke, eventually swinging north-eastward along another stretch of the Welsh border. The path briefly emerges onto the edge of the golf course a couple of times (picture 20) before following the Dyke back into the woods.
A few minutes walk into the wood, the Path suddenly drops down off the left side of the Dyke (and into Shropshire once more) to descend through the woods on the slope of Pen-y-Coed. At the foot of the wood, a fenced path leads down to a quiet farm lane through Jones's Coppice. When the lane leaves the coppice, the Path goes straight ahead into the Tanat Valley (picture 21), descending one field then bearing slightly right in the next to cross the overgrown rails of the Tanat Valley Light Railway, an abandoned mineral railway. Across a couple more fields, the Path joins a short lane leading to the A495.
Diagonally left across the main road, the Path goes over a stile beside a red post box and crosses a field to a gate from which an enclosed path climbs between houses to Coopers Lane in the village of Porth-y-waen. Turning left past half a dozen houses, the Path goes through a crossroads where Coopers Lane becomes Cefn Lane. The lane soon crosses another branch of the mineral railway, where a sign advertises a restoration project, then continues for another kilometre to Cefn Farm.
Offa's Dyke Path turns off the road opposite the farm buildings, descending across a meadow and through a band of trees to another lane, Nantmawr Bank. Turning right, the Path follows the road up through the village of Nantmawr (picture 22) until a narrow path climbs steeply up between hedges. At the top, the Path bears half-left to go diagonally across two small paddocks then turns straight up the very steep hillside to Quarry Lane.
The Path is signposted left along the lane, which soon forks. Along the right branch, the Path passes one house then climbs rocky steps just before a second house to enter the Shropshire Wildlife Trust's Jones' Rough Nature Reserve. The Path climbs up through the heavily-wooded reserve before cutting across the corner of a glade (picture 23) then turning up through two small enclosures to join a track on the slopes of Moelydd.
The track climbs alongside a fence, passing a couple of isolated cottages before curving away up the heathery hillside to reach a fingerpost and toposcope on the summit of Moelydd (picture 24).
On the summit, Offa's Dyke Path turns sharp right and snakes its way down the bracken-covered slope (picture 25) to join a farm track. The track is followed around one sharp bend then at a second the path bears left up a grassier track toward Moelydd Uchaf Farm, turning right just before the buildings to descend and rejoin the previous track further down. This track is then followed along the middle of a strip of woodland and through Ty-Canol Farm to reach a minor road.
A few steps to the left, a fingerpost points across a couple of meadows to a stone slab bridge over a little stream. On the other side, the Path runs along the left side of a long meadow to find a stile and driveway leading to Bellan Lane on the edge of the sleepy village of Trefonen.
Offa's Dyke Path turns along the second lane on the left, Malthouse Lane, but this was as far as I was going on the Path today, and indeed for about ten weeks, as it was almost time to return home. Having walked another 23.3 kilometres of the National Trail, I continued along Bellan Lane, passing Trefonen's combined post office and general store (picture 26) to reach the junction with Oswestry Road by the Barley Mow Inn (picture 27). The adjacent Offa's Dyke Brewery straddles the Dyke, so it seemed appropriate to pop into the pub for a pint.
There is a bus stop outside the pub, but I already knew that the bus doesn't run on weekends and I would have to walk to my overnight stop in Oswestry. This was a straightforward but rather dull four kilometre walk alongside the fairly busy Oswestry Road to the south end of Church Street, where I had booked to stay the night in the Wynnstay Hotel, directly opposite the Church of St Oswald (picture 28).
The following morning, I had a couple of hours to explore Oswestry's town centre before it was time to get the bus to the nearest railway station, in the neighbouring village of Gobowen, for my train back to London.
Just up from St Oswald's Church, the Garden of Remembrance (picture 29) provides the main entrance to the large Cae Glas Park (picture 30). The garden contains several war memorials, including a statue of Wilfred Owen, arguably the most outstanding poet of the First World War, who was born in Oswestry and killed in action in France just one week before the Armistice, aged only twenty-five.
Continuing from the top of Church Street, Cross Street is the centre of the town's main shopping area and has buildings dating from the Tudor period onwards. A warren of streets radiates out on both sides of Cross Street and I wandered around this area for a while, stumbling across the Oswestry Guildhall (picture 32), which was built in 1893 and now houses the Attfield Theatre and the Oswestry Town Council.
From the end of Cross Street, it was only a short walk along Oswald Road and past Oswestry's former railway station (now the headquarters of the Cambrian Heritage Railway) to the bus station.