The last two days have been wonderful: Yesterday I awoke to crystal clear blue sky that stayed with me all day as I travelled by train and bus from Kinghton to Llangollan via Shrewsbury and for the afternoon I spent in the delightful market town of Llangollan. Llangollan takes the prize for being the friendliest, most self-confident and active town on my route so far and given the paucity of towns on the journey ahead of me I think the title is pretty safe.
I spent a few blissful hours wandering around without my backpack (a luxury in a category all of its own) popping into various shops most of them having some connection with food. There was Mary at the bakers who supplied my with my Eccles cakes for todays trip and the wonderfully aristocratic lady from the cheese shop who supplied me with a stilton pork pie and a large slice of Caerphilly cheese and would have happily filles a second rucksack with goodies. She will stay in my memory for the answer she gave me to my question for directions to my B&B “Oh I have no idea what any of the streets here are called, I don’t even know which street we are on.” How laid back is that (and the answer is Church St.). Fortunately, Mark (a different Mark this time) from the Outdoor Equipment shop, a new category of establishment in which I have developed a heightened interest, was able to help out, but not before spending an hour pouring over ordinance survey maps of the Offas Dyke route and regaling me with stories from his ODT trip last summer with a mate. He managed the whole route in 7 days, bivouaking every night and marching 10 hours a day. He admitted to having to be almost carried the last stretch downhill to Prestatyn, but was a great encourager and gave me the only pub recommendation of the trip, The Crown in Llandegla, which I promptly tried out today and had the best tomato soup and toasted ciabatta, along with a robust conversation with two farmers and a woodman on the relative merits of being outside volontarily at this time of year. It was a three to one opinion split.
Today’s walk from Llangollan to Llandegla has been just amazing and amazingly varied. This section took me from the centre of town straight up – almost vertically, although I suspect after reviewing the last 5 posts it is apparent that I don’t need to emphasise that aspect: every moring starts with a vertical ascent – to the hill top upon whose summit the ruins of Dinas Castle can be seen from miles around.
The weather was fine enough with a good showing of sun, but an icy wind and a dusting of frost on the turf, which, joy of joys, had hardened the ground to make for easier going. The weather ahead in the North was looking less comforting, but the morning climb and descent was magnificent. I pocked up the official Trail route again after leaving the castle hill and spent the next three and half miles hugging the side of the massive rock formation on the road initially, thereafter on a small track which became successively smaller until it was only foot wide. It reached its slimmest point at the section at which I was both at my highest and the fall away of the terrain to my left at it its steepest. Of course. I navigated that section very well by forcing myself to think of all the places in the Alps at home that I had been in similar positions with narrower paths and steeper inclines. I couldn’t think of any, but the exercise took my mind off the predicament long enough for me to traverse it in one piece. I heard once, from a master pickpocket I recall, that the human mind can only focus on one thing at a time, which is useful to know when there are things about which you definitely do not want be thinking. That track led me to the aptly named Worlds End, which marked the end of that mountain, just as the clouds enveloped it and me and reducing visibility down to about 50 yards. Just in time.
Once off the top and up the next valley, the next section of todays adventure playground was revealed to me as the Trail was signposted off across a heather moor for about a mile and half. Nothing difficult about that, except dor the fact that visibility was seriously impaired by this time and the track, how shall I put it, not always easiöy recognisable as such. Time for the compass and a come hell or high-water march off at 320 degrees in a northwesterly direction in the hope that I would hit the edge of Llandegla forest at roughly the right point. It was an eary feeling walking half-blind across the open moor in the fog, with only strange wildlife noises echoing across the emptiness. One sound that I couldn’t for the life of me put a creature to, a cross between a screech and a growl, reminded me of nothing so much as a Roc (you remember the big bird from Sinbad the Sailor), but they are probably rarely seen in North Wales. Whatever that section felt like a scene from the hound of the Baskervilles and ended with my arriving exactly where I planned to be (“Wilkinson! Wipe that smug look off your face”) for the start of section three which will call “Hansel and Gretel forest”.Directly on leaving the moor and the cloud, I entered a dense, dark green pine forest, the first and certainly the biggest I have come across on the Trail. It was so dark and so dense, that I thought seriously about trailing crumbs from my KitKat in case I had to find my way back, only to remember that that trick didn’t work for Hansel and Gretel either. So it was either Gingerbread House with witch or the Crown at Llandegla. An hour later, I was slurping soup at the crown with my KitKat safe and sound in my pocket.
I am now esconced in a deep armchair in front of a roaring, well-established fireplace, a pot of tea by my side in Bodidris Hall , a small hotel about a mile off the trail and am preparing myself for tomorrow’s long slog over the top of Moel Famau in the middle of the Clwyd National Park on my way to Bodfari and the penultimate stop. The weather is turning very cold and windy and I have no idea how navigable the tops will be. But I have my Kitkat and a compass and at least I konwI have think of something else if it starts getting tight.