Offa’s Dyke Path, day 10: Cwm to Buttington

September 15, 2019 0 Comments

We start out early, with a spring in our step: no rain’s forecast, the wind’s slackened, and the day’s climbing is limited.  After a short walk along lanes we rejoin the Dyke, and follow it, still tall and well-ditched, downhill and northwards, through trees.  The tree roots need constant watching, to avoid a fall.  On our right a large static caravan appears, always a good omen on our walks.  It belongs to Mellington Court, a Victorian pile and estate which have maybe seen better days.  The owner’s sign inviting scruffy Dykers to breakfast suggests they’re no longer choosy about the status of their guests.

The Dyke strides in a straight line across the plain.  We shadow its course from field to field, until the distant castle and church tower of Montgomery emerge between the trees, gleaming white in the sun.  We calculate that if we deviate from the Path we can reach the town in time for coffee, so we walk down an estate drive westwards, past the neat, tree-fringed cricket ground.  M’s not been here before, and he’s impressed by the town centre’s miniature elegance, as well as the café’s flapjacks.

Back to the Dyke and to the fields of maize, barley and stubble.  We’ve never opened and closed so many field and bridge gates in all our days of walking.  Gates of every possible technological type are on show: conventional latch gates, ‘shin-busters’, ‘wrench to the side’ and ‘pull upwards’ types, kissing gates and gravity-assisted gates (this last more common in north-west Wales).  Many of the gateposts have a single bird’s feather inserted in their tops.  We puzzle about the meaning of this.  Is there some secret, Masonic society of Dykers, a kind of sinister shadow of the respectable Offa’s Dyke Association, and are the feathers a sign of their local presence?  Will a man in a bird costume be there to meet us in Prestatyn and hand us a ritual feather each?

Eventually, via a short stretch on the main road, we reach the village of Forden, with its massive poorhouse, opened in 1795 and described by a passing traveller as a ‘splendid receptacle of misery’.  More recently the village has been allowed to grow without restraint, and a huge new estate of characterless brick houses is under construction.  M. stops to take a photo of them.  He’s almost bursting with indignation at their poor architectural and building standards, and the lack of supporting amenities.  We hurry on, clomping up the ‘Roman road’ that climbs the hill leading to the Long Mountain. 

We need to stop to eat our sandwiches.  M suggests we break into a roadside field with a fine sunlit view over the plain.  Persuaded, we open the gate and spread ourselves on a grass bank.  Unless we’re doing damage, M assures us, we can’t be prosecuted.  But before we’ve taken a mouthful, a tractor stops at the gate.  M, always a swift thinker, suggests I help the farmer by opening the gate to let his tractor through.  Sure enough, the farmer’s annoyance at our trespassing is quickly assuaged by this simple act of kindness.  He drives on down the field, doesn’t reappear, and we return to our sandwiches.

At the top of the hill we enter a large wood belonging to the Leighton Estate.  Its history is a very 21st century one.  In 1847 John Naylor, was given the estate and its large gothic house by his uncle, Christopher Leyland, a rich Liverpool banker, as a birthday present.  Naylor began building his own lavish personal world: large, elaborate and self-sufficient.  He built a ‘home farm’, on an industrial scale.  He provided his house with its own water supply by building a reservoir, ‘Offa’s Pool’ (the dam, but not the pool, survives).  He built a pond for fishing, and he planted a large number of exotic trees, including one of the first leylandii to be seen in Britain. 

The broad track leads us further and further into the conifers of the forest.  We notice a curious circular ‘flying saucer’ by the wayside.  (We’re agreed that if an alien emerges and orders us to ‘take me to your leader’, each of us will reply, ‘we have no leader, we belong to a walkers’ cooperative’).  On closer inspection the saucer contains birdseed, and we soon see an astonishing sight: hundreds of immature pheasants scuttling and scurrying across the track in front of us.  They are the key to how the estate survives.  We’re told later that shooters – some bankers among them, no doubt – are invited to come and blast the birds to oblivion at a cost of £3,000 a day.

The woodland track continues, and finally climbs, so that when we emerge large views open up to the south.  At the hill’s summit is a large circular prehistoric ‘hillfort’, Caer Digoll or Beacon Ring, and alongside it, two tall communications masts.  They stand at near 900 feet and command panoramic views into Wales, with Cader Idris allegedly visible in the far west.  No doubt the invading Romans would have been spotted long before they arrived.  The fort’s interior was planted with trees, shaped so that from the air the letters ‘ER II 2000’ could be seen.  Growth since has obliterated this loyal message, and today the wood has the look of one of those sacred groves the pre-Roman Britons were so fond of.  We sit on a bench provided by Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust and agree this is the most comprehensive viewpoint the Path has offered us so far.

The path down to the Severn plain, unaccompanied by the Dyke, now off to the west, is long and at times steep.  Frequent stops, small steps and slalom techniques don’t do much to ease the strain on knees and toes.  But now the sun’s out and as we climb the last stile at Buttington our next host’s waiting to take us in his car to where we’re staying tonight.

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