Today’s walk took us over the Black Mountains, and for the first time I saw the views I had been waiting for. Having been informed by the pub landlord of a shortcut to the path from our previous night’s stopping point, we were soon back on our way and climbing steeply up towards the ridge. A flock of sheep in a field on the way provided a diversion by chasing Alfie (safely on a lead, but amusingly subdued at the sight of his ‘prey’ chasing him for a change). It was a stiff climb, especially as it was another hot day, and unlike Richard (who simply bounds up hills, unfazed and without apparent effort) I was soon sweaty and out of breath.
Although we hadn’t started early we reached the top with no other walkers around, and for a long while had the ridge to ourselves. This was ridge walking at its best. The views were amazing – probably 20 to 30 miles to either side, obscured only by a slight heat haze which burned off while we were up there – there was a fresh breeze, skylarks everywhere, and the going underfoot was easy and pleasant. My guidebook had gloomily predicted large boggy patches, with walkers leaping desperately from tussock to tussock watched by sardonic hang-gliders, but none of this materialised. In the 20 years since the book was written large sections of the path have clearly been resurfaced; in what must be the wetter parts flags and aggregate have been laid and we made fast progress.
At a cake break we were joined by Israel, who accompanied us for the rest of the day – it was great to see him again and get to know him a bit more. He was walking the whole Offa’s Dyke trail, up to Prestatyn, but still appeared to have managed to pack everything he needed for 12 days (minus a tent) into a backpack about half the size of my day pack. It is true that I am a terrible packer – I always seem to carry extra stuff, especially snacks and water – and I have been giving this some serious thought as I will need to get it to a bare minimum if I am going to wild camp the last couple of weeks north of Fort William.
We encountered a couple of groups of Duke of Edinburgh students coming the other way; for those non-British readers, this is an award scheme for school students which involves them (among other things) organising an expedition. Students ‘doing D of E’ as it’s known are easily identified by their enormous backpacks, their heavy steps, and their depressed and hopeless expressions, and this lot were no exception despite our assurances that it was all downhill from here.
After spending most of the day high up on the ridge (the highest ground on the Offa’s Dyke path and the LEJOG trail so far) I was very reluctant to come back down, and Richard and I decided to walk to the end of Hay Bluff and head down that way before rejoining Israel at the bottom. After a steep descent we came into Hay-on-Wye very hot, tired and much in need of a pint. Fortunately the landlord at the Blue Boar Inn took one look at Alfie (a clearly exhausted dog after 3 days’ hard walking) and bent the rules about allowing dogs in, and Richard, Israel and I had a quiet pint before Richard and I headed over the Wye bridge towards our campsite. It was great being able to walk into camp, rather than Arran having to pick me up, even though the kids were clearly more excited to see Richard and the dog than me.
A great day’s walking, and having said goodbye to Richard (who may or may not be rejoining for the last bit in Scotland) I went to bed early with a nice feeling that the walk was progressing well.
Highlights: The mountain ridge; the mournful expression of the DofE students; the lovely river Wye, all peaceful shallows and green banks; home to the caravan through fields of sheep.