My friend Annie Sparkes, who I met while living in Peru, is an avid walker who lives in Bristol—very close to the Welsh border. I picked her brain to find out what paths in Wales she recommended and her first reply was Offa’s Dyke. It is 177 miles from the south to north coasts of Wales. I had no delusions that I would do the entire walk, so I started reading about sections and decided to start in the middle of the path at the lovely village of Welshpool.
A river “pool” is a place where the water is deeper and the flow slows down considerably. Historically pools in large rivers were natural harbors, especially for large ships. And so, many place names in England reflect these locations: Liverpool, Pool in Cornwall, the Pool of the Thames in London, and Welshpool. Originally, Welshpool was called Pool, but the name was later changed to distinguish it from the town of Pool in Cornwall.
I arrived in this village on Saturday, August 19, and stayed the night at the Severn Farm B&B—not far from the railway station. They regularly allow walkers to camp on their lawn and even provide a small self-catering kitchen for us.
From one of the many interpretive
panels along the canal.
Early the next day, I set out. I had chosen Welshpool for a starting point because much of the first day is level walking along the Montgomery Canal and through pastures. I decided right away that I love canal walking…it is so peaceful. The tow paths are level and the serene flow of the water is occasionally broken by canal locks and water wildlife.
Too soon, I had to leave the canal and begin my walk across the first of many, many sheep and cow pastures.
After a nice long day walking I came into the village of Four Crosses, beyond which I found a caravan park that had spaces for tents. However, although the rain had held off all day, the weather deteriorated rapidly as I tried to set up in the wind. The inside of my tent was quite wet before I could shelter myself and--partly because I was so tired--I burst into angry tears. I was so frustrated that my hiking attempts in the UK seemed to always be thwarted by rain. It was a cold night in the damp tent and I did not feel much better when I woke up to fog and mist. I packed quickly, hoping that I would find a warm place to breakfast in the next town, two miles away.
More canal walking made me feel a little better. Two miles along I arrived at the village of Llanymynech where the map indicated a café. I would learn that often the map notations are dated enough that I should never get my hopes up. But the little Village Pantry Café was open and the proprietress greeted my muddy self warmly. I ordered a large pot of tea and full English breakfast—I could use the calories!