I’m a bit of a sucker for an Autumn scene – the turning leaves in the weak late sunshine, the glorious glow of golden foliage, Nature’s last hurrah, etc etc. All the trees round me are blazing away, doing the Fall fandango for all their worth, so where better to go to see the spectacle writ large but the lower reaches of Wye Valley where there are more trees than you can shake a stick at?
Plans were made which immediately began to unravel. In the course of the usual morning maelstrom of family life, I ran out of time to eat my breakfast. Nothing for it but to sling it in the car with me. There are worse places to sit with a bowl of porridge than a bench overlooking Chepstow Castle.
Not a bad way to start the day as it turned out.
Then there was the bus. What could be simpler? Park in Chepstow, bus to Tintern, walk back along Offa’s Dyke. Yes, so the Traveline website did warn that there would be a diversion as the main road up the valley was closed so it would mean travelling in a minibus rather than something more buslike, but first thing on a Wednesday morning who else would be going my way?
Only a large party from The Ramblers.
We all squeezed on with just one seat to spare. The delightful driver was beside himself with excitement I’ve never had so many people on this bus before. He took it upon himself to give us a running commentary as we plunged off down ever narrower country lanes. Now you need to keep an eye out because I often see deer around here… I used to drive the Megabus up to London, you know, but I’d much rather be out in the lanes like these… Look at how well the farmer’s cut the hedge here – makes it really easy for me to see what’s coming… I’m a farm boy really. Down from Malvern. That’s why I’ve not got the accent… Watch out for the geese around this corner – they make a terrible din when they see me coming and they catch some people off guard… You might see some fly fishermen next, they’re usually up and about early… Oh yes, they’re on the lower ponds today. Those are left over from the tin mines. Everyone thinks you only get tin in Cornwall, but they had it in Wales too… See those benches in that pub garden? When the river floods they float away, you know. That’s why they’re tied down… Well, here we are… Have a lovely day everyone.
Not a bad way to travel as it turned out.
The Ramblers were switching buses for Monmouth and a bracing 17 mile trek, so I was on my own for my wimpy walk. The sun had yet to rise much above the ridge so Tintern was still in the gloom, but a short walk along the bank took me from the Abbey to the old railway bridge where the light was looking more promising. I knew that the Wye is tidal here but even so, it was disconcerting to see a very strong, very swift flow heading upstream. Once over the river (and back in England, if we’re counting), I was soon on a short steep pull up through the woods to get to the ridge to join the Offa’s Dyke Path.
On the way, views of the Abbey opened up every now and then.
All was going well but while the scenery was top notch in many regards, you can see that it wasn’t exactly exerting itself in the leaf peeping opportunity department.
The woods were resolutely green.
So green, it was practically springlike, with just a hint here and there of what is to come.
But green is good too. And even in shades of grey the views would be spectacular.
And it was quiet. So quiet that my footsteps grew deafening and when I stopped all I could hear was a heavy silence, broken only by the calls of birds somewhere in the distance. With the main road up the valley closed, even the usual faint background noise was gone.
Up here, walking alongside the ancient bank and with all sounds of modernity banished, I began to wonder whether the landscape I was seeing would have been recognisable to the men who had dug the ditch, centuries ago.
Then I got a bit spooked by my back to the future train of thought so I stopped for a banana. Which would definitely not have been in the dyke diggers’ lunch boxes.
Just after Tidenham, the Offa’s Dyke Path goes a bit pear shaped, in my opinion. Because it is obliged to map a route from the Severn to the Dee, and because suburban sprawl and country estates have nixed a right of way straight through, the route planners have had to do what they can in the spaces that are left. This means that after miles of woodland tranquillity, I found myself spat out onto a B road – not a massively busy one, but still one with blind bends around which traffic hurtled at great speed. A couple of hundred metres later, the Path headed off down through the fields only to return to the road maybe half a mile further along. This happened over and over again. Kudos to Gloucestershire County Council for their impeccable signposting but this Walk Two Sides of a Triangle But Don’t Get Very Far lark grew tedious. On the plus side, at least I was going downhill.
On the minus side, this was Misanthrope Central. I’m fine with bits of barbed wire about the place, locked gates, Neighbourhood Watch signs and all the rest, but this was something else. High walls, huge iron gates, CCTV cameras, signs advising that guard dogs were roaming, notices – on the Path – warning that suspicious looking people would be reported… it all got a bit much.
So what with this and the constant diversions down backways – not to mention my increasing peckishness – by the time I got here
I was practically stomping along.
And then, tearing myself away from a perusal of someone’s socks on their washing line, my eye was caught by a gap in the scrubby hedge on the other side. A faint path could be seen. Through the scrub and three steps later, there was this
Not a bad place for a spot of lunch as it turned out.