Llanmynech to Pontcysyllte Aquaduct – Day 16 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

Johnny and the Phantom Signal Man.

Man in red walking past abandoned rolling stockAbandoned rolling stock                                                      © James Forshall                              

I had taken a wrong turning.                                                                                                                My mistake would take us out of our way but at least we were heading north.

Dick and Susie Carslake had given us a great breakfast. We had said goodbye to Rachel, Dick’s sister and her husband, who had so kindly put up Johnny and Jerry. Dick had dropped us at Llanmynech.  We had set off up the main road, crossed the river and then turned left.

We walked down an overgrown track. Somewhere down that track I missed our path. So when I saw an a track heading west through a bare field I took hoping would rejoin the correct route.  On the map it passed a large quarry, which had been turned into a farm reservoir. We could see what we thought must be the reservoir behind a wooded embankment and took the path which skirted it. This disappeared into thick thistles and ended in a fenced off corner. There was no style, though there might have been once. We took off our packs and clambered over the rickety fence. There were nettles and brambles to beat out of the  way, and then because the easiest way had seemed to be to climb the lateral fence and then recross it  rather than cross the one that was directly in front of us we had to swing down into a ditch. On the other side there was no path but we could see the embankment of the reservoir on the other side of the fence and followed parallel to it coming to fence over grown with brambles hawthorns. On the far side the ground fell to a stream too wide to jump.  Johnny said, ‘I think I’ll go down to that house. There must be a road there.’    ‘OK, see you at the bridge’. I was referring to a small foot bridge over the railway line which we had both seen on the map. Jerry and I clambered over the fence bashing through brambles down to the stream where a  fallen hazel provided a flimsy bridge. We pushed up the other side through nettles and brambles and out onto a railway track. The rails were rusty. We shouted for Johnny but heard no reply.

‘Let’s press on to the foot bridge. Johnny knows we’ll be there.’ I said turning and walking  down the track.  Jerry turned to look back.

‘Look! There’s a signal man waving at us.’ I turned but could see nothing, but the road bridge to the west that presumably Johnny would cross, certainly no sign of Johnny or a signal man. We shouted again.

‘No, he’s gone. But he was definitely waving at us’, Jerry said.

‘Probably to tell us to get off the track.’  We looked back again. Nothing. No one.

‘He was definitely there. He was dressed like a signalman.  You know, waistcoat, dark trousers, greasy black cap….’

‘ Why would they need a signal man?  This track hasn’t been used for years, probably not since the quarry was turned into a reservoir.’

‘Do you think if we asked in the pub the locals would say, ‘Signal man? Signal man?….The signal man down at bridge?  The one with the greasy cap? Oooh Err….you been seein’ the phantom signal man?’

‘ Definitely they would. Look at the state of this track. If that was a signalman he’d have to be a phantom one’.  Even though we were in sunny daylight there was the melancholy of a place once active that has been abandoned. The silence was dense in the heat. I shouted down the track but heard and saw nothing.

corrugated metal tyre through which a tree is growingAbandoned goods yard                                                  © James Forshall

We carried on down the railway track, passing rusting rolling stock and abandoned sheds. We came to a fork in the track where we bore left. The map indicated that it would take us to the road junction which was the start of the road would make a good short cut in a long day.  From the west it was joined by the road which Johnny would have to take from the house which he had said he was going to.  We came to a high barbed wire topped gate flanked by security cameras.  I could not imagine anyone being employed to watch them but we chose a spot which did not seem to be covered by them,  and shoving our sacks under the wire,  pulling ourselves through on our backs. A few more yards and we were at the road junction.  Since Johnny had had to go west and then east before joining the road and since we had taken the shortest route west without going east first and wasted no time it seemed logical to expect Johnny to appear on the road from the west.  We waited. Cars passed.  We looked at the map. Jerry didn’t want to take the road short cut that Johnny and I had identified. ‘It’s a bit soulless walking up the road.’  ‘Yes, but it adds a couple of klicks to follow the path.’

No sign of Johnny.  Jerry walked west down the road in the direction from which Johnny should appear. After a few minutes he returned to say that he had not seen Johnny. We heard a shout,  looked east and there was Johnny about three hundred yards down the road. How on earth had he got there when he should have come past us from the west?   We waited for him. He told us that at the house he had met an old man who told him that he was the signal man.

‘ He wasn’t wearing a waistcoat and a greasy cap was he?’, asked Jerry.

‘Well, yes he was’.  Jerry and I exchanged glances. It was strange that Johnny had appeared from the east.  It was if as we had traveled back in time and Johnny had reentered the present in a different place. That would explain the way that the path had suddenly disappeared in the thistles, and the appearance of the signal man, who from the way that Johnny and Jeremy had described him, had been dressed like the signal man in ‘The Railway Children’…..   Knowing Jerry he was probably wondering if Johnny could take us back with him and introduce us to Jenny Agutter, and knowing Johnny, who seems to know everyone, he probably could.

We agreed that as Jerry was our guest we would walk the path do the extra 3 kilometers. ‘You won’t regret it I guarantee’ said Jerry. We had to laugh knowing we would.  ‘It’s alright now. It’s still the morning, but we’ll pay for it later.’ I said. We set off along the path. It’s always nicer walking on a path than on tarmac. But it was hilly too, warm work and when we had the opportunity we stopped to fill our water bottles. From Nantmawr the path zig zagged up through woods for several hundred feet. It was steep. Near the top we saw this sign.

Orange ice cream sign painted on slate and nailed to fence on Offa's Dyke On we went and saw another. And then we came to a little house beside the path. It was painted the colour of vanilla ice cream, it’s doors and window smartie colours, but instead of luring us in and shoving us all into the deep freeze the young woman who lived there sold us some some cones, which we happily licked while admiring the view.  ‘It’s beautiful’.  ‘Aye but it’s rough up here in the winter’, she said.  Off we went and after a while came out of the woods to the summit of the hill which had fine views east into England. Jeremy said, ‘ See, I told you you wouldn’t regret it’

Map reading at spot height 285 near MoelyddMan sitting down amoung beech trees Offa's DykeNant-y-Gollen, Offa’s Dyke                                  © James Forshall

We followed the path and the dyke up through Nant-y-Gollen woods where we sat down to eat the delicious sandwiches which Susy Carslake had made us.  The woods led us out onto a plateau which was the site of the old Oswestry Race Course. The last race there was run in 1848. A group of young men with mountain bikes lay in the sun.  We plodded on.

Or rather I plodded, Jeremy who is tall strolled and Johnny was walking doggedly.  Pink sycmamore seeds and green leavesSycamore Pods           © James Forshall

We climbed some 700 feet to the shoulder of the hill to the north of Craignant and then down towards Chirk Mill with the Castle above it.

Chirk Castle, Offa's DykeChirk Castle                  © James Forshall

Chirk CastleChirk Castle                                                             © James Forshall

Two men walking in front of British White CattleLeaving Chirk Castle                                         © James Forshall

We walked up through the castle grounds and then out through fields where Park White Cattle grazed. Not far to go, though the tendon connecting my middle toe with the muscle running down the outside of my shin felt stiff and sore. It moved with difficulty.  I tried different ways of walking with little improvement.  As the evening wore on my pace slowed. By the time we got to the Llangollen Canal I was several hundred yards behind the others.

Reflection of Ash tree in Llangollen CanalLlangollen Canal     © James Forshall

Never mind. A good nights rest always seem to mend. We walked along the canal tow path towards the aqueduct built by Thomas Telford.

Canal, walkers, walking into sunlight, high contrastLlangollen Canal       © James Forshall

Aqueduct shadow over fields, shadow of Pontcysyllte AqueductPontcysyllte Aquaduct                     © James Forshall

A tow path on one side and a metal gutter full of canal water, just wide and deep enough to carry a barge, are supported on brick arches high above the valley. On the canal side of the aqueduct there is no rail. From the cockpit of a barge it must be as if you are floating a boat through the air.

At the far end of the aqueduct there is a basin, a drydock and a pub, which is where we had supper. I really felt as if I could not walk much further.  In the pub we settled down to our drinks, cider for Johnny, beer for Jerry and me.  In the other room football was playing on the telly.  The girl behind the bar was very pretty. One middle aged regular was camped at the far end of the bar to keep her in constant view. As Jerry said afterwards, ‘If only he had been able to keep his jaw from dropping’, but he couldn’t and sat there in happy, open mouthed wonder.

‘Where’ve you walked from? Asked the man on the next table. ‘Up from Swansea’

‘Fairplay’, He said.  His companion looked at us curiously.  I decided to research my etymological theory about the Welsh word cwm, which sounds like the English word coombe, both of which mean valley.  ‘Do you think that they are really the same word? I mean it’s a bit of a coincidence isn’t it: two words in different languages sounding the same and meaning the same even if they don’t look the same’

‘I really couldn’t tell you, could I?  I went to the wrong school, see?’

‘No really, I’m sure you didn’t…I mean…’

‘I went to the wrong school, didn’t I?

‘Well, I don’t know, I’m sure it was a very good school.’

‘No, see? They beat it out of us. Every time I spoke Welsh they whacked me. They whacked me when I spoke Welsh, see?  So I can’t answer your question.’

After a little while they left. ‘Gosh he was cross, but his wife seemed nice.’ I said.

‘I don’t think that was his wife’ said Jerry, ‘ When you were getting drinks he was already saying to her how mad his wife would be if she knew where he was.’

After a curry and more beer we walked up through the town and out into the country.  It was dark. About 300 yards from the houses we found a flat bit of field, got into our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

Sincere thanks to all those who have donated so very generously. If you have not donated and would like to help Romilly to help street children you can do so at

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

 

 

 

 

Montgomery to Llanmynech – Day 15 of Romillys One Island Walk for street children

I awoke early in the morning.  4.45? 5.00?  I remembered enjoying a lot of Nic’s wine the night before and going to bed wondering where my telephone was.  Where was it? Gingerly I rolled back my duvet and lowered my feet to the ground.  Ouch!  My right foot felt quite sore.  I rested it on my knee and twisted it to look at the sole. Not an appealing sight, the skin from the blister seemed to be muddled up with the plaster. I tugged gently. It looked as if pulling off the plaster would pull off the blister too. I didn’t want to expose the tender new skin under the blister. It would quickly form another one. My mind felt sluggish and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had been a little emphatic in some of my remarks at dinner. I remembered Nic who I had barely seen in 30 years looking at me rather strangely. And wasn’t the default alarm on my phone set for 5.30  when it’s Carribean Funky Disco tone set to max would wake the whole house?rucksack contentsI emptied my rucksack pushing the contents apart. No telephone there. I lifted the duvet, rifled through the rucksack again, felt in my coat pockets, my trouser pockets. The bathroom. I had to cross the landing onto which Nic and Nicky’s door opened. I certainly did not want to wake them. The door to their room was wide open. The wooden floored landing stretched before me like a minefield. Gently I put down a foot. The floor was solid though in the middle one board groaned and wheezed. I froze: front foot on tiptoe, back and head arched backwards, arms raised in surrender. It was not that I was actually doing anything wrong but looking for your mobile at the risk of waking up your hosts is a bit unreasonable and, well,  move like a burglar, feel like a burglar.  Not a sound came from their room. I imagined my hosts lying there in polite silence. How could two middle aged people, youthfully slim though they are, make so little noise in their sleep? I couldn’t even hear them breathing. With one or two more squeaks and wheezes from the floor boards I made it to the bathroom. No sign of the telephone. In the kitchen? Very slowly I made my way downstairs.

Downstairs I entered  a room I hadn’t seen before, then another which wasn’t the kitchen either.  Then I found the kitchen. I went round it. Several mobile telephones were charging, but not mine.  Where could it be?  The only remaining place I had not checked was Nic’s car. Bound to be locked but perhaps I might see it through the window.  Still no sound from their bedroom. The bolt slid back quite easily. I opened the door quietly. Outside the sun was just coming up. I stood there for a moment taking it in. There was dew on the lawn and the dawn air fresh to my blurred senses. The cool of the paving stones felt delicious. Steps led down to where the car was parked, and there on the gleaming black leather was my telephone.  What did Sherlock Holmes say? Eliminate all other possibilities and what remains is the answer. Well, something like that. I tried the door handle. To my amazement it opened: not just Sherlock Holmes, but a magician too. I crept back to bed and fell asleep, the contents of my rucksack scattered across the floor.

Wooden Offa's Dyke Sign post converted to Bird table Offa’s Dyke Bird Table                                              © James Forshall

If I had woken them Nic and Nicky were far too polite to say. After another delicious breakfast we said good bye to Nicky and Nic drove us to Montgomery where we had finished walking the night before.  It was another beautiful morning. Montgomery is a very pretty town. One wonders how it can possibly have escaped the planners and developers, but then they like to lay the blame for their work on German bombers. I thought sadly what a delightful place prewar Britain must have been, and how much we have destroyed.

We walked out into the country and headed north. Further uphill we could see two women. They stood admiring the view at the top and we said good morning to them. The younger one said, ‘I’m just exercising my mum’. Then Johnny said, ‘ Don’t I know you?. Weren’t you at ……….’s Party?’.  We stood and talked to her for a while. After we had moved off Johnny said, ‘Very odd she couldn’t remember me. I must have talked to her for at least half an hour’.

The way was well marked which was lucky because we did not have a map.  Then at Forden, whose pub was closed we missed our turning.  We could see the hill where we were meeting Jeremy Love to our east.  I asked the way from a man mowing grass. We came to a pub and I asked the way again. I also had a lime cordial and a sandwich which took up too much time.  The directions from the publican were different but sounded easier.  We were to go through the home farm of an estate and then to a church and from the two pillared gate at the back of the church the the path would take us up the hill to another farm where we would turn left, and that would lead us to the beacon where we were to meet Jeremy.  In the end we called Jeremy and agreed to meet at a pub on the Severn a mile or two further on which would save a mile or two and a steep climb.  On the  way we came to a beautiful black and white timbered house.  ‘Hang on a moment.  That looks like ……….’s house,’ Johnny said, ‘Do you mind if I go in and say hello?’.
Two walkers picnic on Offa's Dyke by the River SevernLunch by the Severn, Offa’s Dyke                                       © James Forshall 

We met Jeremy at the pub in Buttington and had a lime cordial. We crossed the Severn and found a place to picnic, then followed the river for a mile before crossing the main road and walking beside the Montgomery Canal.

Montgomery Canal, Offa's Dyke, Montgomery Canal, Offa’s Dyke                      © James Forshall

Between the river and the road a motor bike was parked. It’s middle aged ride and his postillienne were lying in the grass stripped to their underclothes, their black leathers hanging over the bike. ‘ They’re OK in the winter but in this weather….Ooph!….. swap your shorts for my leathers any day’.  ‘Throw in the bike and you’ve got a deal’….actually I didn’t say that. I definitely thought it. We left the canal and then walked across the river plain, along a dyke, not Offa’s but a modern flood defense.  To the east we could see a hill, eaten away by mining, in huge steps like a Mayan temple but without the fine lines of masonry, a Mayan temple with some terrible skin disease.

Bird scarerBird scarer.    (You can also use hubcaps for this.)                    © James Forshall

Although we had no OS map, Jeremy had torn a sketch map from an old guide book and in his hands this proved remarkably useful. The country side was not as pretty as the day before. I felt tired and the discomfort from the blister or my right leg seemed to have spread to my shin.  On we went.

Offa's Dyke, River SevernOffa’s Dyke trail, River Severn                                       ©  James Forshall

It was a relief for someone else to do the navigating.  Of course it is not all fun when the person doing the navigating is not skilled and gets lost, but ever since I have known him Jerry has been a brilliant map reader and we could have complete confidence in him. As day wore on though I missed the map reading. Keeping track of where you are takes your mind off fatigue and sore feet.

Oak Trees leaning at different angles on Offa's Dyke trailOffa’s Dyke Trail                                      ©   James Forshall

In Llanmynech we met Dick Carslake, who had kindly come to pick us up. We all went into the pub for a drink.  Dick then took us back to his house where Susy gave us a delicious supper.

Offa's Park sign and housesOffa’s Park                                                                    ©  James Forshall

Thank you to all who have donated so generously to Romilly.  We are moving steadily towards our first target. I will write to thank you.

If you have not donated and would like to help Romilly help homeless children you can do so here: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

Knighton to Montgomery – Day 14 of Romillys One Island Walk for street children

Offa's Dyke just north of KnightonTeam Romilly approaching the first trig point top left.  © James Forshall

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.

Three men and trig pointTeam Romilly         ©James Forshall

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.

Offa's Dyke, three men walking north a long the western fosseOffa’s Dyke, showing the deep fosse on the West side of the bank © James Forshall

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.  Looking into the streamOffa’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.Offa's Dyke north of Knighton, view of hills framed by trunks of pine treesLooking West from Offa’s Dyke   © James Forshall

Offa's Dyke north of Knighton, three men walking, track, hillsOffa’s Dyke trail  © James Forshall

Three men reading map by gateTeam Romilly consulting John’s guide book.  © 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. Three men resting by fenceTeam 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.

Foxgloves, sheep, Offa's DykeLooking west from Offa’s Dyke      © James Forshall

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.

Men look down at waterOffa’ Dyke  © James Forshall

Another climb and then  we saw the plain and knew that it was not much more than five miles to Montgomery.

Three men sitting by Offa's Dyke signOffa’s Dyke  © James Forshall

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