Wye Valley Walk, day 8: Hay-on-Wye to Boughrood

May 10, 2022 2 Comments

Hay looks unbookish today.  It’s a few weeks before the Literature Festival gets under way.  The bookshops are open, but there aren’t enough visitors in town to make them look busy.  Other shops look closed or hibernating, waiting for the end of May.  But we’re here, C and I, back to start the Wye Valley Walk Part 2. 

Hay seems like a quiet old friend, one of those people you seen every year or two.  I prefer it like this.  The Festival is a mainly colonial activity these days, a temporary Islington-on-Wye – loud, bloated and over-commercial, with only just enough nods to Welsh writing to avoid the charge of monopoly Anglo culture.

H and Ca are with us, here in the Blue Boar, ready to join us next morning on a stroll to Glasbury. Our B&B is unusual. It has a swimming pool, and before the meal I manage a few gasping breaststrokes, until a proper swimmer comes in and glides twenty effortless lengths alongside me: I admit defeat and leave.  At breakfast two Canadian women, who are also on the Wye walk and have already walked Glyndŵr’s Way, ask us whether we’re strong enough to telescope their walking sticks.  They fear Air Canada will otherwise declare them untransportable.  H manages to unglue one of them with ease.

We walk across the Wye bridge – the first of many yet to come – and head across a field parallel with the river.  A sign gives notice that ‘Pablo Diablo’s Legitimate Business Firm Ltd’ plans to use the field for unspecified devilish purposes during the Festival.  Looking back, we have a fine view of Hay Castle, as always swathed in scaffolding, and the town, and the Black Mountains beyond.  We pass a strange memorial to Bill Barker, ‘who killed many salmon opposite this stone’ (how many salmon are left in the Wye today?).  Soon we’re on lower ground, skirting a large bright field of rape.  Beyond it we can see Baskerville Hall, where Conan Doyle once stayed, borrowing the name for his fiction. 

A sign tells us it’s ‘decision time’.  Do we want to stay close to the main road – fast, noisy, hazardous – or head up hill for a diversion?  The vote is unanimous for the second option, and we find ourselves in a huge sheep field, labouring up a steep hill towards two woods on the horizon.  The views from the top are grand, even though it’s not the clearest of days. A long line of hills extends from Hay Bluff, via Y Twmpa towards Cribyn, Pen-y-fan and Corn Du in the distance. From the top we drop to a lane, bordered by cuckooflowers, until the village of Llowes comes into view below us.  Alas, the door of the church, dedicated to St Meilig, is locked, so we miss the fine early cross and the Norman font. As we sit glumly outside the porch, two women walkers appear.  They too are on the Wye Walk, seem equally disappointed to see the church locked, and move off out of the village.  We stop to ask a local how to pronounce its name – something like the Welsh ‘llawes’ is the answer.

Llowes was a village much visited by Francis Kilvert (strangely, neither the Wye Walk nor the Offa’s Dyke Path pass through his home patch, Clyro).  Now we follow in the footsteps of the Two Women, up a field and then along a path that winds through the bottom of a wood, with views through the newly-leafed trees to the mountains in the distance. Past a derelict farm and down to the main road. Here there’s no choice but to walk along the grass verge, as the heavy traffic thunders past, before we can escape, along a fine line of mature limes, into Glasbury. On a hill stands Maesllwch Castle, a grandiose Gothic pile.

At Glasbury the café  is closed, but H and Ca are just in time to catch the T14 bus back to Hay.  C and I walk on through Glasbury village, which boasts the first Scout hut in Wales, still in use, and a red telephone box, not in use but repurposed as a community book-swap collection.  The Way turns into a track, which in very wet weather must be a muddy hell.  We stop to eat sandwiches, and the Two Women overtake us.  Walking again, we pass Pistyll, an old farm with a handsome yellow wash facade, and stately sheep who look down their noses at dusty walkers.  Then across water meadows, and finally along a woody path to Boughrood Bridge.  Here there’s a general store, and a sudden desire for Walls Magnums overtakes us.  As we sit on ‘Harold’s bench’ to eat them, the Two Women overtake us, without succumbing to the temptation we’ve yielded to: they have further to go than us, and walk on towards Erwood.

We cross the old bridge across the Wye.  It’s tall and long, and must have cost a huge sum when it was built by the Maesllwch estate in the late 1830s; some of the money was recouped through tolls, and the toll house, which was still in action in the 1930s, survives on the north end of the bridge.  Then we turn left and follow the main road to Llyswen, and our stay for the night, the Griffin Inn.  Afterwards, relieved of our backpacks, we explore the village – the church, dedicated to St Gwendoline (Norman font, lovely stained glass), and Tŷ Mawr next door, the Victorian successor to a building that for three years was the home of the radical politician and agitator John Thelwall – and then walk on to Boughrood.  The large church here was radically rebuilt by the Victorians, with massive steep roofs and a broach spire.  The spire fell down and has recently been restored.  At the corner of the churchyard is a Dead House, used to quarantine corpses when they were believed to spread cholera: if you go in you’ll see in front of you a bier and relaid gravestones – and shudder.  This morbid note is picked up in several information panels, put up when the spire was restored.  Almost all of them carry stories from 19th century newspapers of premature deaths and gruesome injuries. Back at the Griffin we decide not to take part in Quiz Night – wisely, since some of the teams look distinctly professional.  We’ll also miss the forthcoming ‘Potato in a Pot Competition’, another local social highlight.

Next: Boughrood to Builth Wells

Comments (2)

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  1. Lyndon Jones says:

    Dear Andrew,

    As always, I’ve so enjoyed reading this – I hope you enjoyed meeting ‘Disciplinary Di’ (as she described herself to us!) at the Blue Boar. We stayed in ‘Jacqueline Wilson’s’ room – the one with direct access to the pool!
    I’ll look forward to reading the subsequent instalments, but I hope you’re having a great time – difficult not to in the Griffin!

    All the best,

    • Andrew Green says:

      Many thanks, Lyndon, it was a great walk, one I’d recommend to anyone. At the end we returned to Swansea using the X47 bus from Llangurig and the Heart of Wales line from Llandrindod – two of the finest public transport journeys you can do in Wales.

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