Gee, I’ve been missing this post and the writing, not to mention the exercise, the fresh air, the views, the movement, the freedom, the rain and yes, even in moments of post-Trail delusion, the mud. What I have really missed most though, was all the great feedback and encouragement and kind words from those of you who logged in every day whilst I was en route and commented or liked my posts. That was one of the best parts of the two week tour and I am very grateful for it. My last dispatch saw me, feet steaming in the freezing North Atlantic looking out eastwards towards the Bay of Liverpool and the hideous off-shore wind farm that now dominates the view from Prestatyn, at the end of a long, inspiring Trail that took me from the Severn Estuary to the northern coast of Wales along Offa’s Dyke. Instead of spending a blustery cold January afternoon and evening in Prestatyn, daydreaming in the Offa’s Arms pub by the railway station, or enjoying a tea and welsh tea cake at the Offa’s tea room by the beach or even shopping for souvenirs in the Offa’s gift shop, I decided, standing there on the beach, that the best thing I could do was to jump on a train or three and take a ride up to my home town of Poulton-le-Fylde on the west Lancashire coast, pay my parents a surprise visit, have a proper hot bath, an evening of my mother’s cooking and some home comfort for an evening before heading down to London. And what a good idea that turned out to be! The very strange feeling of heading back to civilisation or normalcy was palpable and surprising to me, given that I had not even been away a full tow weeks and that Wales wasn’t exactly the Antarctic, but nevertheless, there it was, a distinct feeling of melancholy and displacement , sitting in a train full of early evening commuters, in my muddy boots, full backpack (remember, “nobody goes walking in January” ) and grizzled beard and feeling as if I had arrived from a different planet. I may have smelled a bit gamey, too, after a week of wearing more or less the same clothes, well-aired and dryed though they may have been each evening, since my last encounter with a washing machine at the Benchmark B&B. In that feeling of melancholy I started jotting down all the great things that were hung out in my memory like so many hats on a hat rack and started wanting to award prizes to them for their special role in making the two week trip along Offa’s Dyke Trail (ODT to insiders) the unforgetable experience it truly was. So here they are, Offa’s Oscars:
Best Sausage: Brynhonddu Country Hose B&B – specially made pork monster with spices and herbs and grilled to perfection
Best Food: Without doubt at the Black Lion Inn in Hay on Wye. The landlady there came up to me at the end of my dinner asking if I wanted dessert. When I declined citing serious overfeeding, she grinned and said “Well, that’s one nil for me then, isn’t it”. I love competitive publicans and I would return to Hay just for that experience.
Best Bath: Best bath tub was definitely in the Kington Inn cause it was big and had Jacuzzi nozzles installed, but the best bath was, without a shadow of a doubt, the tiny little bucket of a bath which in a grander hotel would probably have passed for a bidet, that I collapsed into after the first day in Monmouth at the Riverside Inn. I have never been so glad of a bath in all my life as that one, so that gets the prize.
Best bit of Kit: Difficult one this and the jury was out for a long time deliberating. After much heart wringing it came down to a close tie between my retractable Leki walking stick, which saved my from injuring myself on many a grassy slope or my beloved Salewa 1,5 litre Thermos flask, which held my daily ration of green tea hot all day and well into the evening. And the winner is…The Salewa Thermos Flask, which is a good thing, because I left my precious stick at Prestatyn station in my rush to make the train. Now there’s gratitude for you.
Best View: A close tie between the magnificent view onto Tintern Abbey from Devils Pulpit just north of Chepstow or the sight of the Clywd Mountains stretching out in front of me in the early part of the walk to Bodfari. Given that it is the big views that have etched themselves indelibly onto my consciousness, the prize goes to the Clywd range.
Best Section of the Walk: No question – the two hour walk from Huntington to Kington over the beautiful Hergest Ridge. I was in a filthy mood that afternoon having lost valuable time earlier in the day and was worried that I would not have enough hours of daylight left to make the trip over Hergest Ridge safely. As it was, I was rewarded with a glorious evening walk over glorious heather moors and a walk that could have gone on for ever as far as I was concerned.
Most memorable act of Kindness: Has to go to Gary, manager of the Bodidiris Hotel who not only cleaned my boots and leggings in the evening but also got up very early to make my breakfast and then drove me down the first mile from the hotel to the Trail, knowing that I had a hard and testing day ahead of me.
Best One-liner: Goes to an unnamed farmer, who stopped his Land Rover as he passed me on the last day at 07:30 in the morning, wound down the window and asked “Wet your bed , did you?”
Ghastliest mud: The fields after Cym Maria, south of Prestatyn were more like swamps garnished with sheep excrement and seemed to get progressively worse the closer I got to the coast. There were plenty of candidates of course, but these were the worst of the pack.
That feels like a good place to finish my little awards ceremony. There is still much that I would like to relate, that with the distance of a week is still coming into focus. There are also the first outlines of next walks (two in England one in Italy and one possibly in Greece) to be tackled during the course of the year. My wanderlust has been well and truly ignited and there really will be no stopping me now.