Wye Valley Walk, day 9: Boughrood to Builth Wells

May 11, 2022 0 Comments

At breakfast we resume our conversation with another Two Women.  This time they’re trail riders (I detect a wince when I let slip the term ‘pony trekkers’).   We saw them twice yesterday, next to the river.  They’ve come from Hay, their borrowed horses are spending the night in a nearby field, and in the morning they plan to make their way to Painscastle and beyond.  We compare notes about trekking on horseback and on foot: horses should be quicker, but then gates and horse temperaments make for slow progress.  And the Two Women are fond of long riverside breaks.

We leave Llyswen, saying goodbye to the spirit of that lively jacobin John Thelwall, a former resident, and walk back to Boughrood bridge.  It’s local election day, and we pass a polling station.  We’ve seen posters for the LibDems (a member of the Gibson-Watt family, who used to be Tories when C knew them, growing up in Rhayader) and the unfortunately named Rhodri Boosey, who seems to have the upper hand in Boughrood, at least to judge by the poster battle.

Now we’re on the south bank of the river, walking along a track next to fine mature trees, oaks, beeches and others, most in the freshest of fresh green leaves.  The verges are a mass of late spring flowers: bluebells, stitchwort, cowslips and primroses.  As well as being Tree Heaven, this part of the walk is a paradise of birdsong: we’re lucky that we’ve chosen peak week for bird volume, as birds try to mate and claim territory.  Past an unusually grand sewage works (we’re still missing them from the Wales Coast Path), we approach Llangoed Hall, rising up above the river plain half a mile away.  Years ago Ca and I stayed there.  As we had tea a loud noise broke the rural peace, and Bernard Ashley’s helicopter landed outside.  We never saw the man himself.  Both Ashleys are long dead and the place is in the hands of a large hospitality chain.  It’s out of the financial reach of most people.  Today all we can do is admire from a distance Clough Williams-Ellis’s work in rebuilding the Hall (it was one of his earliest architectural commissions).

Along the river the great trees continue.  A whole line of them are dead, for some reason, but most survive from the great era of nineteenth-century estate planting.  The Wye alternates between rushing rapids and calmer pools.  Looking back, we can see a conical mountain far off: it must be Mynydd Troed, near Talgarth.  One of the constants of the mid-Wye valley up to Builth is that the Black Mountain ridge is greyly visible on the southern horizon.

Passing Trericket Mill we reach the delicate suspension bridge across the river at Llanstephan.  We stop to allow a small car to come across it towards us.  It clacks across the wooden slats, careful to avoid losing a wing mirror on the way; the bridge would be an impossibility for the Chelsea tractors now so common.  The same engineers, David Rowell and Co., were responsible for the similar suspension bridge across the Wye at Foy in Herefordshire, which we crossed last September.  Now on the other bank, we join the track of a long-dismantled railway, which soon becomes a road.  It’s narrow, but its lack of bends makes it a fast alternative for locals to drive between Boughrood and Erwood, so we need to keep our wits about us.  At a bench we stop for refreshments and admire a line of huge copper beeches on the plain below, and then cross a large old railway bridge spanning a deep gulch.  Powys County Council warns us again abseiling, so we decide not to try.  We’re the only visitors at the Erwood Station Craft Centre.  Here we have a rest and look around before descending to the river and crossing it again, this time by the brutalist (and brutal) 1960s Erwood Bridge.  The stone abutments of the old bridge, and the toll cottage that went with it, survive alongside.

Now a long and tiring climb begins in the midday heat, at first along a steep narrow lane.  Outside one cottage a tree is weighed down with more blossoms that it seems possible for it to bear.  As we gain height, across the river below, the high Radnorshire hills, brown, barren and with only a few scattered farms, start to come into view.  After another hard climb we emerge on to a wide expanse of common land, Twmpath Common, short grassland studded with scrub and gorse, and with wide views to north, east and south.  We sit and eat our sandwiches.  Below us we see, across the river, the village of Aberedw, and above it the remote valley that is the setting for Tom Bullough’s fine novel Addlands

The path dips gradually down to the north, on the boundary between common and hedged fields.  We pass the remains of an ancient baler and spinner, sinking slowly into the ground.  Entropy also affects signposts for the path: some are encrusted with lichen and mosses, others have lost arms, others again lie rotting in the grass.  Instead, we rely heavily on the little red triangle on our digital Ordnance Survey map.  We cross Afon Dyhonw and start climbing again, up a lane, before descending, along what starts as a leafy holloway and degenerates into a stony stream bed.   At the bottom we escape at last and walk gently into the outskirts of Builth Wells.  A huge grey helicopter rattles past overhead: is this a normal pattern of military behaviour in mid-Wales, or is the government preparing for war?

Builth is a faintly depressing place.  Tonight it’s unable to provide us with food under a roof – the kitchen isn’t yet ready, the chef’s off sick, the pub’s closed down – and we’re reduced to buying fish and chips and eating them with greasy fingers on a riverside bench below the bridge.  As compensation, we’re lucky enough to buy the last remaining tickets to see the stand-up Mark Watson in the Wyeside Theatre.  Part of his routine is to ask personal questions of a member of the audience and use an app to estimate the age of their death.  We feel relieved that he doesn’t pick either of us: at our fairly advanced ages, we’d really rather not know.

Next: Builth Wells to Newbridge-on-Wye

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