Nic and Nicky Allen had very kindly put us up for the night. They gave us a very good breakfast and we set off for the start, the railway station at Knighton which is where we had finished the night before. Nic, our local guide led the way. We walked along the east side of the railway and then the path climbed steeply through woods until we found our selves on downland.
Because we had cut across Wales from Swansea this was our first day on Offa’s Dyke. The country is lovely, the walking hard. In some ways it was like the South West Coast path but without the sea, sharp climbs of three or four hundred feet, followed by a short stretch of relatively flat ground and then a sharp descent followed by another equally sharp ascent. It felt as if were walking across enormous ripples in the landscape. John Greig who had only just retired and who claimed to have spent the last 40 years behind a desk found it tiring.
An Offa they couldn’t refuse.
I had run out of maps. Luckily Nic had one and we were all very content to be led by him. The dyke is very impressive, much more so than I had expected. On the west side there is a deep ditch which amplifies the size of the bank on the east side. It is a formidable obstacle giving any one with a spear at the top of the bank a great advantage over any one approaching from the west. It must have taken huge resources to build, especially for a society, which I imagine, could do little more than save enough food for the coming winter. How had Offa motivated his builders? How long had it taken? What tools had they used? How had it been paid for? Was it a fortification, or a road, or built simply to impress, a massive land sculpture, a signal to the gods? Sometimes the fosse and the bank are worn down, or have been completely worn away, but often they are remarkably well defined. Offa’s Dyke © James Forshall
Nic and Johnny led for most of the way, Nic, the tallest of us, moving effortlessly. My blisters were no more than uncomfortable, though the plaster under my right toe felt as if were distorting my foot, still, nothing that I couldn’t manage.Looking West from Offa’s Dyke © James Forshall
From time to time we met walkers going in the opposite direction: Pip, walking for the British Legion, who said he would donate to Romilly and did so, ( Thank you Pip); a Royal Marine, carrying more than 80lbs, who had already walked down from Scotland and was going to walk round Wales. He was on a 12 week leave. So far the only night he had spend under a roof had been when he visited his son. We met a couple of rather severe women. Well, I say severe. I made a rather feeble joke at which the larger remarked, ‘Oh, we’re being silly are we?’ No more than I deserved, I’m sure. A couple of men broke their climb to talk: one with the demeanor of a soldier and extraordinarily well developed leg muscles, which John, after we had walked on, pronounced unnatural; his friend tubby, red faced and out of breath, John thought much more natural. Team Romilly takes a break: Left to right John Greig, Johnny Forshall, Nic Allen © James Forshall
We stopped to picnic by a small church. I went inside. It’s roof was supported by beautiful hooped beams. Nic had told us about it. ‘I think you’ll like this one’. I love churches. They seem, at least to me, to contain such a dense accumulation of history, of continuity and even now, have the power to sooth, to invite reflection, calm thought, and prayer. And why not pray? Who are we to say that God does not exist? And if he does do we not owe it to our dead to pray for them and for our living too? So I said a quick prayer for Romilly, before going outside and finishing my sandwiches.
After that there was another steep climb and another. John was suffering. Unlike the rest of us, who had left our packs with Nicky, he was carrying his overnight things. We came to a wooden bridge over a stream. We looked down enjoying the sound of the water, hoping to see fish, the light reflected up at our faces.
Another climb and then we saw the plain and knew that it was not much more than five miles to Montgomery.
The most direct route was by road. Nicky Allen and Dick Carslake met us at the pub at the top of the town. Nicky to pick us up and Dick to pick up John. We had a pint and then went back to the Allen’s house for a delicious slow cooked leg of lamb and quite a lot to drink.
Thank you to everyone who has donated so generously. I will write. We are making good progress to towards our first target of £20,000.
If you have not donated and would like help Romilly help homeless children please donate here: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk