Offa’s Dyke Path, day 5: Llangattock Lingoed to Longtown

May 21, 2019 0 Comments

Another morning of complete stillness and no clouds (just a criss-cross of high vapour-trails).  Today Ca and Ch leave us, and C and I leave the rolling lowlands behind and head for the bare heights of the Black Mountains.  First, there’s a bit more of the green country we’ve come to love in Monmouthshire.  On the way we meet a couple we’ve already seen several times on the Path (they walk sections in a there-and-back mode), and Mr Red (the colour of his shirt), a dedicated soloist with two collies, who’s the first walker I’ve met to say that the Pennine Way was enjoyable.  The path moves north-west towards Skirrid, dropping to cross the Full Brook and passing a recent roofless ruin, before descending to Pandy, a straggling village on the unpleasantly fast A465.  As luck would have it we pass the ex-railwayman’s cottage where Raymond Williams was born in 1921. Then three crossings: the main road, the river Honddu and the railway line. Now we start to climb.

It’s a steady haul, but interrupted by an abrupt turn right, and we follow a minor road down a steep hill, in the ‘wrong’ direction, losing most of the height we gained before.  There must be a good reason, but this seems one of the most perverse routes of the whole Path.  Regaining height is hard work, on what is already a warm morning, but finally we make it to the Iron Age fort of Pentwyn.  Here we meet two Australians, from a remote part of New South Wales.  They’re determined anti-metropolitans and have avoided the usual UK tourist traps, penetrating instead to remote parts of Brittany and Wales.

From here it’s a less strenuous climb to the plateau of Mynydd y Gader, the more descriptive Welsh version of Hatterrall Hill.  From here the views are grand – back the way we came towards Skirrid, and east into Herefordshire and beyond.  Height flattens out the lesser hills and valley sides into a flat patchwork of green fields stretching away into the hazy distance.  Later on we can see into the green bowl of the Vale of Ewyas, and the ruins of Llanthony Abbey, far below to the west.  The symphony of birdsong that’s followed us through leafy Monmouthshire has ceased, but we’re relieved to hear a single skylark overhead.  Wild ponies graze on the slopes, bumblebees are at work among the bushes and heather, and the first butterflies of the season are on the wing, mainly white and small.  We’re very unlikely, though, in this bright light, to spot another inhabitant, the very rare Silurian moth.  At the crossroads where paths descend to Llanthony on our left, and Longtown on the right, we stop, find shelter from the south-east breeze, and eat our meagre lunch.  Then we take the Longtown option, a broad grassy path that falls diagonally down the east side of the mountain, keeping a steady, not too steep gradient.  From time to time a buckle on C’s rucksack strikes his empty metal water bottle, making him sound like a medieval monk tolling a handbell.  He hears a cuckoo, a rare event these days.

At the bottom we find a track that skirts the base of the mountain, but can’t find a way of advancing beyond it to get to the village of Longtown, tantalisingly close across the Monnow river.  We’ve no detailed instructions, there are no signs, and the map is ambiguous.  We’ve no choice but to keep walking northward along the track, further and further from the village.  The farmer, clearly no friend to pedestrians, and an enthusiast for barbed wire, offers no help.  At last we reach a lane, and then a series of impenetrable paths across fields and alongside a tributary of the Monnow, before crossing the river and climbing to the village.  All this has added a couple of miles and over half an hour to our trip.

We’ve emerged near the castle, which includes an early example of a circular stone Norman keep.  William I’s barbarous cronies in this case were the de Lacys, who joined the ranks of Marcher Lords and defended themselves against the Welsh.  (The valley was Welsh for centuries, and Welsh place-names can be found all over Longtown.) Nearby we sit in a small but perfect garden, Broome’s Garden, created by a body called Longtown Village Pride.  Having installed ourselves in the Crown Inn, we take a stroll south along the linear village – it’s not called Longtown for nothing – to the hamlet of Clodock,  which has a fine church, with box pews, a three-decker pulpit, a musicians’ gallery, and plenty of old monuments.  A decalogue, lettered on the north chancel wall, has a plaque with the words, ‘restored in 1989 in memory of Professor Raymond Williams, 1921-1988’. 

Further on we visit an old corn mill, and talk to its owner.  At first she’s suspicious of us as we trespass on her drive, but she softens when she finds we’re carrying a leaflet, a walking guide to the village written by her husband.  After that, a more secular pleasure: we sit in the sun outside the Cornewall Arms with a pint of ‘Best Butty’, another Welsh survival in Herefordshire, this time from Stoke Lacy, the home of the Wye Valley brewery.  The pub doesn’t seem to have changed for decades.  Outside is an advert for Red Lady paraffin, and inside an old woman serves us, not from a bar but from a primitive hatch, which offers no draught beers, only bottles.

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