Offa’s Dyke Path, day 13: Castell Dinas Brân to Clwyd Gate

September 16, 2019 0 Comments

Our host takes the four of us in his car to the start of the path that leads to Castell Dinas Brân, and we add to our day’s total of miles by climbing the steep hill to the Welsh castle.  Scattered and stark stone remnants are all that survive of the fortified court of the princes of Powys.  It operated, astonishingly, for a mere twenty years before it was burnt and abandoned in 1277.  The melancholy past is offset by the splendid present.  Panoramic views shine in the early morning sun, with drifts of mist still strung across the sky to the west. Two motorized paragliders circle above us.  A notice urges us, ‘meddyliwch ddefaid / think sheep!’, an echo of yesterday’s conversation about ovine intelligence.

Back on the Path we work our way round the foot of the Eglwyseg range, steep limestone slopes topped by sporadic rocky outcrops – at first along a lane that links isolated farms in the valley and eventually leads to a place called World’s End, and then on a narrow path, which climbs up so that it clings precariously to the side of a scree slope below the rocks.  This is a quiet and remote place – even the birds are absent, except for the occasional crow – though we can hear the distant roar of motorbikes on the Horseshoe Pass (the annual Harley-Davidson owners’ meet is in Llangollen this year).   The dry tap-tap-tap of C, A and M’s walking sticks echoes down the road.  We talk of many things, including whether we might interest Mike Leigh in making a film about our travels (a disadvantage is that we never fall into bitter disagreement or sulking).  The walk across the diagonal scree ‘calls for a good sense of balance’, in the words of the guidebook, and we wonder whether we might invent intelligent, GPS-enabled walking sticks that compensate for different levels on either side of the path.

All along this route we have views across the narrowing green valley below us towards the bare moorland and forestry of the hills beyond.  Eventually we leave the shadow of the limestone escarpment and emerge into the sun of the valley head, taking a break at a ford with a line of cubic stepping stones.  We’re not entirely alone: the odd cyclist comes splashing through the water and races off down the valley. 

The road rises to a quite different landscape, the open moors of Cyrn-y-brain.  Suddenly we see runners coming towards us.  They’re taking part in an annual seven mile fell race, which attracts entrants from across north Wales and Cheshire.  The front runners pass us with a force that we can almost feel brushing us, and all of them, men and women, seem locked in various kinds of self-absorption, torment or pain.  Most have passed us by the time we reach a ‘feeding station’ by the side of the road.  The feeders offer us water and some jelly babies.  Thus fortified, we leave the road for a path, lifted from the peat on neatly fitted stone slabs and then twin wooden sleepers protected by strips.  As far as the eye can see the moor stretches out, brown and purple where heather grows.  Again there are no birds: we’ve not heard skylarks for many days.

Finally the path hits the edge of Llandegla Forest, and we enter.  This is a large, privately owned plantation.  Gloomy, regimented conifers alternate with cleared areas which resemble ruined Western Front landscapes: giant stumps separated by discarded tangles of roots and branches, and the occasional stem left standing.  The silence here would be oppressive – little grows or lives here but the trees – were it not for the regular crack of what we take to be guns off to our right, and shouty mountain bikers who haunt these woods.  At one point four bikes whip past us on a cross-track.  Further off, Lycra and metal flash briefly through the trees, and we can hear cyclists calling to one another with urgent cries.

At last we drop out of the forest – the others seem to have relished it more than me – at Nant yr Hafod.  Clothes hanging on a washing line here start a new conversation about the correct pegging techniques for t-shirts, underwear and socks.  The landscape makes another sudden change, to grassy fields descending to a tributary of the river Alyn and a main road.  Here we have lunch, close to some buzzing pylon lines and opposite a bare hill, Moel Garegog.  Next comes that rare thing on the Path, a village.  Llandegla turns out to have a community shop and café, opposite the church, open even on a Sunday, and we stop there for a drink.  It’s a quirky and kindly place, and we leave a donation to help their cause.

After Llandegla the land becomes truly pastoral, almost like a large estate.  You half expect to come across shepherds playing their pipes and singing of their lost loves. For a while the path wanders along the pretty river Alyn, and then starts to climb in preparation for our next and final challenge, the Clwydian Hills.  In sympathy, the Denbighshire stiles, always stoutly built, get taller, until one of them, built for giants, almost defeats us.  Now we’re coming to the first three peaks, Moel y Plas, Moel Llanfair and Moel Gyw.  Luckily for us the path avoids the summits and winds round the western slopes of each one.  It’s late afternoon, there’s hardly a breeze, and the sun funnels heat up the valleys towards us.  We sit on the grass with a view of one of them and have a break (eating this year’s guilty Mars Bar).  For the first time this week I feel like lying on my back, closing my eyes and having a Richard Jefferies moment.  But we need to move, along a perfect hedged grassy track.  We meet a walker burdened with equipment, an amateur radio enthusiast, and ask him how far we have to go.  He replies in kilometres, which provokes M to a tirade about half-hearted British attempts at metrication – a symptom, he thinks, of a wider, isolationist malaise.  We pick up speed, to meet a taxi waiting for us on the main road to Ruthin at Clwyd Gate.  That’s the name for a large restaurant with the look of an Alpine ski resort.  A gallery of large windows faces down the hill towards the green Vale of Clwyd below.  But the place has been deserted for years, and looks forlorn.

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