Glyndŵr’s Way, day 1: Knighton to Short Ditch

June 16, 2023 0 Comments
Sugar Loaf Station

It’s a grey and cool June morning in Knighton as C1, C2 and I set off on six days of walking Glyndŵr’s Way, as far as Machynlleth.  We’ve all done some practice walks, but this promises to be a challenge.  The hills of Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire are frequent and the miles many.   We’re not used to doing fifteen miles over three continuous days, even though today will be a gentle introduction, at nine and a half miles.  And the weather forecast promises sun and increasing heat until the weekend.

C1 and I arrived yesterday on the Heart of Wales line from Swansea, one of our favourite rail journeys and certainly the slowest.  A lad on board was taking photos of all the station signs, and asked to get off at Sugar Loaf.  The train manager told us this is the first time her train had stopped there in two years, and let us out on to the platform for a minute to mark this unusual event.  Another passenger, an ex-railman, said it was his first time on Sugar Loaf station since he passed through here with a steam engine, in 1963.  C1 remembered, when he came on the track as a child with his mother, hearing lions in the tunnel nearby, a phenomenon the railman called a ‘roaring rail’.  Later, three Transport for Wales workers boarded, bearing two large yellow isosceles triangles.  At each station stop two of the staff dashed out of the carriage with the triangles to calibrate the drop from train to platform and report their measurements to the third worker, who jotted them down in a notebook.  All this struck us as an agreeable, rather Victorian occupation.

St Edward’s Church, Knighton

In the evening C2 joined us and after a meal we walked to the town church, St Edward’s, to hear a concert of ‘Nordic folk’.  It turned out to be a mix of Swedish, Finnish, English and Welsh tunes, played on fiddle and accordion.  C1 was tolerant, in his usual way, C2 found it a torture and sought fresh air, and I couldn’t decide whether it was fey and charming or terminally monotonous.

This is our third stay in Knighton.  The first two were when we walked the Offa’s Dyke Path.  Before C2 arrived we visited the spot, which we missed earlier, and, where Sir John Hunt, of Everest fame, officially opened the Path in 1971.  It’s marked by a plaque on a large boulder.  The town is a royalist stronghold, to judge by the Coronation memorabilia on the streets and in the museum.  Seated on a stool in the Museum’s front window is a Cistercian monk.  He’s called Baglan, which happens to be the name of C1’s childhood home, and he carries a rather world-weary expression on his face.

The start: in The Narrows

The Way begins.  We take photos of ourselves in The Narrows by the side of the elegant slates that mark the start, and wind our way through the streets and a narrow, secretive valley towards Garth.  Almost immediately we miss the path – the first of many careless deviations over the next few days – before picking it up and climbing a hill with good views of the town below.  A wood covers the slope to our left, and below on the right is the valley of the Teme.  Last year’s oak leaves cover the path under our feet, and we brush past head-high cow-parsley.  Bluebells, almost over on Swansea, are in full blush here.  Near Ebrandy House we overtake two Glyndŵr Way walkers, one of only two pairs we meet during the entire week.  Their day’s route is a good deal further than ours.

We pass Bailey Hill.  As we gain higher ground, hawthorn trees dominate the landscape.  This year’s may blossom is as white and luxuriant as any of us can remember, its brightness echoed by the fragments of sheep wool that litter the ground around the path.  Eventually we reach the site of the Phil Price rally driving school.  All’s quiet there today.  Incongruously, the sign at the entrance restricts speeds to 20mph.  Later, I’m responsible for another deviation, following a sheep track rather than the red triangle on my phone’s OS app, and we need to trudge unnecessarily back up a large field.

It doesn’t take us long to settle into a walking pattern.  The hills lie in wait for us at regular intervals, and but they’re not high enough to wear us out, and they reward us with good downhill stretches.  Only the occasional farm disturbs the fieldscape, and we’ve plenty of time for the conversation that always makes a good accompaniment of the regular tread of our boots.  Today’s subjects include the state of the Tory Party, the views Anglican vicars hold about the status of heaven and hell, and the net contribution dogs make to global warning.

St Cynllo’s Church, Llangunllo

The path opens on to a wide view of a bowl of hills below, and we descend into one of the very few villages the Way passes through, Llangunllo, on banks of the infant river Lugg.  On a bench outside the village hall we munch our sandwiches and wonder how we’re going to get a message to the taxi firm about collecting us at the end of the day.  None of us has a phone signal.  There’s no one around who can help us, and altogether it’s a very quiet place.  The pub is shut, the railway station called Llangunllo is a mile or so away, and the last bus called here in a long time ago (the bus stop features a book swap service).  We take a look in the church – like most Radnorshire churches, it’s open.  Inside is a wall memorial to John Pritchard of Dol-y-felin, JP and High Sheriff.  Elizabeth, his ‘sorrowing relic’, who put up the stone, had a florid turn of phrase:

These public stations he filled with honor to himself and benefit to his country.  His private habits were distinguished by a mildness of manners happily preventing or subduing those animosities which without such friendly interference too often disturb the harmony and comfort of social life.

When we get back to the village centre, an Openreach van is parked.  One engineer takes pity on us and offers us his EE mobile – this one has a signal, of course – and our taxi anxiety is lifted.  The other engineer is at work on the roadside cabinet.  We notice how few wires it contains, compared with our urban ones.

Uphill to Short Ditch

But now we have a second anxiety, how to reach our finish point, Short Ditch, by 2:30pm, the time specified by the taxi firm.  We’ve got an hour and twenty minutes to cover over four miles.  It seems doable.  But, of course, we’ve ignored the contour lines, the innumerable gates we need to open, and our gift for getting lost.  At the foot of the final steep hill, a dusty track up to a distant wood, we realise there’s no way we can reach Short Ditch in time, and we slacken our pace.  At the top we find, to our surprise and guilt, that Sharon, our taxi driver, is still patiently waiting for us – and passing the time in conversation with the two Glyndŵr Way walkers we met earlier.

Sharon takes us back to Knighton in sunshine.  In the evening we amble along the other bank of the Teme as far as Panpwnton, under the brute of a hill that almost destroyed us when we were on Offa’s Dyke Path in 2019.

Next day

Knighton clock tower

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