Offa’s Dyke Path, day 15: Bodfari to Prestatyn

September 16, 2019 0 Comments

No kindness from the Path in the first section of today’s walk (we’re now reduced to three walkers).  From the road, opposite a disused pub, the fingerpost points straight up a steep hill, before we’ve a chance to wake up the limbs.  As the guidebook puts it, the Clwydian hills have not yet done with us.  We’re skirting the west side of yet another hillfort, one called Moel y Gaer (actually, most of the hills are ‘bald’ and have ‘forts’ on them).  Then follows a series of complicated manoeuvres across fields and along lanes and tracks that challenge our route-finding.  The famous Denbighshire stiles continue.  Most are standard – two stout posts with chamfered heads, two through-steps, both broad and heavy, and three cross-beams – but one we come across is much more elaborate, almost architectonic.  C’s monk’s bell – a loose strap striking his metal water bottle – clangs merrily as we descend a farm lane.

We emerge from a wood at an ill-omened place called Sodom, with fine views back to the Vale of Clwyd and rolling green fields following Moel y Gaer.  A solitary wind turbine makes a loud whining sound: perhaps it’s an early, noisier model.  Later, we go wrong in a large field and have to retrace our steps (M calls this ULA – Unwanted Loss of Altitude).  To regain our composure we sit down on a new bench set between two trees, in memory of ‘Wyn & Gwen Davies, a fu’n ffermio’r tir hwn’.  There are long views from here, across the Vale to Eryri and along the coast to the Little Orme.  In a field below us cows walks down a field in single file, as if they’re on a pilgrimage (we’re close to a pilgrim route).  Invisible just below us, near Tremeirchion, is the Jesuit college, St Beuno’s, where Gerard Manley Hopkins lived as a trainee priest between 1874 and 1877.  It was here that he began writing verse, and as we sit we listen to a reading of his great poem The Windhover, written here.  While at St Beuno’s Hopkins learned Welsh and became interested in Welsh verse.  Its cynghanedd found its way into the patterns of alliteration in his poetry.  P, our guestwalker yesterday, reported that after he left us and walked back to his car he’d spotted three windhovers (kestrels) on the Hills.

For some reason it’s turned suddenly cold, and we don’t stay long. From the bench we drop down on to the Vale and cross fields to reach the pedestrian bridge across the motorway-like A55.  Hopkins, acutely attuned to the natural world and its beauty, would have been dismayed by the wide gash the road cuts across the plain, and the noise of its ceaseless traffic (not to speak of the electricity pylons that pass close by). 

Beyond the expressway is the village of Rhuallt.  A gentle walk along a lane bordered by substantial houses – one is called, alarmingly, Brynllithrig – is rudely interrupted by a fingerpost pointing right up through woods and then open fields. This turns out to be a true brute of a climb, needing several stops to catch breath.  The only consolation is large views back behind us.  Eventually we’re granted some relief from Mynydd y Cwm and follow a long track on even ground.  We pass an old farm, with a large heap of car bumper units piled one on top of another: M suspects wrong-doing.  Sheep standing on the track stare at us before moving off.  They’re pondering how to respond to this strange new species approaching: creatures akin to humans but with antennae that tap the tarmac regularly and loudly.  Several sheep are lame, a sight that makes us ashamed of complaining about our aches and other minor ailments.

We climb gently to a hamlet, Marian Cwm, where Horeb chapel has been vacated by the Calvinistic Methodists and turned into a home.  Time to eat the packed lunches given us earlier, and we need somewhere to sit.  Yet again C magics up a wooden bench along the lane and we sit munching in the sun.  A well-dressed man walks past us up the slope, searching for a mobile signal.  Included with the lunch are two pear drops, sweets we’ve not tasted since our childhoods; sucking on them and climbing prove to be incompatible.  At the top of the hill is a big view of the coast, and of the numberless arrays of wind turbines out at sea.

Though the end looks in sight, the Path planners have other things in mind for us.  They seem to want to string the journey out so that we don’t arrive at Prestatyn too quickly.  On several occasions we’re surprised to find ourselves walking eastwards, and even south.  We cross a field occupied by single llama, which eyes us with disdain. Finally we reach the rocky cliff that overlooks the town and follow the long edge of it.  Towards the end there’s a last, wickedly steep section that leaves us panting, but then the Path begins to descend to the town. 

The Path, is if to make up for its recent meanderings, now heads in a dead straight line, through suburbs and the single-street town centre, over the railway line (a final weary climb over steps), and on the seafront.  The town’s an odd mix of nail bars, hairdressers (offering ‘aesthetics’, like a first-year philosophy course), florists and funeral directors.  Our cameras come out for the final time, as we pose for one another in front of the tall metal Offa’s Dyke Path monument, and again as we dip our legs in the sea, following an old Dykers’ tradition. 

The town attracted Philip Larkin’s jaundiced attention.  In Sunny Prestatyn, the poster of a laughing girl, ‘kneeling on the sand | in tautened white satin’, is violently disfigured:

She was slapped up one day in March.   
A couple of weeks, and her face
Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed;   
Huge tits and a fissured crotch
Were scored well in, and the space   
Between her legs held scrawls
That set her fairly astride
A tuberous cock and balls

‘She was too good for this life’, is the poet’s sad verdict.  Today there are no posters to be seen, and we have to search the shops for twenty minutes before we find a couple of mediocre postcards to send to our family and friends.

Now we’re done, in all senses.  C and I began our pedestrian journey round Wales on 4 May 2013. We ended it today, 10 September 2019, and closed a circle of 1,052 miles.

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