After more than 30 hours (and a 10 hour time change) by car, train, plane, tube and train, we arrived in Chepstow on the Wye River. Here we planned to rest a day and then begin our hike of Offa's Dyke. Chepstow was a wonderful culture change - from freeways, cities and jets to a quiet village.

Our stay in Chepstow was marked by a number of firsts, introductions to the common things of life for the next few weeks ....

... our first British B&B, appropriately named the "First Hurdle Guest House". We selected and reserved all of our lodging for the trip over the Internet in the months before the trip. We also called each to make the reservation. This worked out very well.

... our first room with a view of our first English garden. Most B&Bs, in fact most homes, had gardens abloom with spring flowers, and spring flowers lined the roads and paths. We understand now why English dishes are so often decorated with flowers.

... our first dinner of pub grub and a pint.

... our first castle. Chepstow Castle's earliest parts date to 1067 although most of it is 13th century.

... our first small English church. The pastor came out to greet us and we talked for a while about the church history and life in Chepstow.

Finally, the fourth day from home, we were ready to walk. The trail is well marked, both with signs and way-marks. As the trail follows the English-Welsh border, signs are in both English and (unpronouncable) Welsh.

The trail from Chepstow climbed easily across green fields. The day was cloudy but, blessedly, no rain. We carried just a daypack with many layers of clothing and lunch. Our luggage was taken from one B&B to the next by the Celtic Trails service.

We used trekking poles, collapsible for travel. This was our first major hike with poles and we'll never hike again without them - they made a tremendous difference, especially uphill.

Leaving Chepstow we passed many beautiful homes. We also saw our first flocks of sheep - many more to come!

As we entered farm and pasture land, the countryside was divided into numerous small fields. Each was separated from the next by a stile or gate. We got very weary of climbing over these. They made it impossible to maintain a good walking pace and were quite tiring. Note the yellow way-marker. This is an arrow and often indicated turns in the path.

Many of the stiles or other structures were way-marked with a white acorn. This was an excellent mark since it could be seen from quite a distance. When heading across a pathless field, it was very reassuring to see a way-marker on the other side

The Path reached Offa's Dyke at a section being preserved by English Heritage. As with many natural and historic sites in the world, the Dyke is in danger of being loved to destruction. Much of the path goes along the Dyke but some sections have been closed to protect them.

The sign tells us that the Dyke was built by Offa, Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia from 757-796. It was a dirt embankment with a ditch alongside. The function was really more of a boundary marker with the Welsh than a defendable line.

The trail followed the cliffs high above the Wye to a lookout from the Devil's Pulpit. Below were the ruins of Tintern Abbey, founded in 1131. We took an alternate route down to the Abbey for a closeup view.

Near Tintern Abbey was a pub with a lovely garden. We enjoyed the lunch packed by our previous night's B&B hostess and a pint of local brew.

Our first night was at the lovely B&B of Offa's Mead. This home lies immediately off the Path in "The Fence". We got a ride to St. Briavels for dinner and walked back.

In the morning we headed out through a dense dark forest. It was a bit muddy and we found that gaiters were very useful to keep our legs warm and dry.

Another form of field divider - easier to use than the stile - is the kissing gate. You just walk in, swing the gate and walk out the other side. Oh and yes, we found you can kiss over the gate

The path, and occasional fragments of the Dyke follow hilltops overlooking the Wye River. A descent to a small hamlet is followed by a climb over the next hill.

The town of Monmouth, between the Wye and Monmow rivers, is guarded by this 13th century gatehouse. Our lodgings had gotten double-booked (we knew before leaving home) and we were put up with friends of the B&B owner. It was totally welcoming and delightful. The next morning we shopped for lunch makings on the old main street before beginning our walk.
The countryside was ablaze with spring wildflowers. Our path often led along sunken lanes. The steep banks, often eight or ten feet high, were covered with flowers, ferns and ivy vines.

Foxgloves taller than us.
Broom, aka Scotch Broom, grows freely and wild. This varigated variety is much nicer than the yellow form found in the Pacific Northwest of our country.

A less pleasant type of vegetation was stinging nettles. We often brushed against them, much to our regret. Here Diane clears the way before crossing a stile.

Another flower was the ever-present buttercup. Fields were often yellow with it. In the distance, a large ridge, "Skirrid", promises an end to the gently rolling hills we have hiked thus far.

White Castle (no, no little hamburgers) was a Norman fort begun in the 11th century. Most of the current structure dates from the 12th century. Note that this fort is 200 years or more newer than Offa's Dyke.

The castle is open for scrambling around. The British do not protect tourists with large chain-link fences, "Do Not Enter" and warning signs. Individual responsibility is expected, not like the States.

Archers stood in the towers and fired through slots, across the moat, and into any poor attackers trying to storm the castle.

This long day ended with a very steep climb to Llangattok Lingeod - that's "Chlan ga tok lyn goyd" with the 'ch' being a gutteral sound. Thank goodness we had trekking poles to help push us along. We had our first pub stay at the historic (i.e. old) Hunter's Moon Inn

The Inn bar was warm, friendly, well-stocked and very welcome. We really felt we had earned our pints that day and felt much better when we went up to our room.

From the window of our room, we could see St. Cadoc's church, dating from the 13th century. The Hunter's Moon Inn was originally built to house workers building the church.

Much of the day's hike was up and along Hatterrall Ridge. It's a moderately stiff climb of about 1200 feet in 2 1/2 miles.

This is sheep country. We passed a herd being prepared for dipping. The herders were friendly and chatted a bit.

The climb up the ridge become ever more windy and barren. At lunchtime we were fortunate to find an old sheep corral wall to protect us from the wind and cold.

The top of the ridge was easy walking across a sometimes boggy, heathered, moor. We did need to lean west due to the the wind which threatened to blow us to the valley below. If we held our trekking poles out, they swung up at about 30 degrees.

Descending out of the wind brought us to Llanthony (Chlan toe ny) Priory. It was built in 1115 and part, the prior's lodging, remains as the Abbey Hotel.

We wandered around the ruins for a while and then walked to the Half Moon Inn. This was our least-memorable overnight. The pub was crowded with three-day bank holiday visitors, service was poor and it wasn't the cleanest.

Gardens were as lovely as wildflowers. We were admiring this peony when the owner happened out. She agreed to hold the flower so we could get a better picture; actually, of course, what we really wanted was a picture of her! Straight out of an Agatha Christie mystery.

Britain is not noted for wildlife. This red-headed pheasant was a notable exception.

Yesterday, the cold and bluster of ridgetops; today walking along a wooded stream was a delight.

After four days of hiking we really looked forward to a layover day in Hay-on-Wye. Unplanned, our schedule put us there during the annual, enormous, book festival. The town was full. With the help of a tourist bureau, we were able to find a place several miles from town, transportation provided.

Hardwicke Green, a Victorian lovingly restored by John and Jane Neville welcomed us. As with most of the B&Bs, we were treated as friends, not customers and when we left, we felt we were leaving friends, not just hosts.

The Neville's also provided "taxi service". As John drove us to dinner, we encountered a British traffic jam - a few cars and 100 or so sheep.

The Pandy Inn was a nice place for dinner. Not fancy or too pricey but at the upper end of "pub grub" in quality. We enjoyed the long evening outside as we waited for John Neville to pick us up.

Hay-on-Wye: Population-1500, Used book stores-39! The book festival was a mob scene. In addition to the stores, they had a tent complex with several lectures being given (by the authors) at any time. if was frustrating not to be able to buy books but they're a bit heavy to carry!

Even the snack area (in the castle yard) was loaded with books for sale. Would have been a mess if it rained.

The bearded guy to Diane's left had a sign offering to tell a story for one pound.

Leaving Hay-on-Wye we also left for the last time the Wye River. Ahead were two long days; each about 14 miles and 2000 feet of climbing - fortunately most of it in short ups and downs.

Our final day from Kington to Knighton started out cloudy and then got vile. It rained all day; a nice soft British rain but still wet. This is not the flying nun but Diane in full rain gear with a home-made white pack cover.

The worst part was walking through sheep fields. What a yucky, slimy, smelly mess!

This last day on the Dyke gave us the best sense of its size and scope. Marching over hill and dale, it is still clearly visible even after more than 1200 years of erosion.
We were delighted to reach the George and Dragon in Knighton to dry out and relax with a pint. Our boots were so disgusting that we left them outside all night!

From Knighton we caught a train to our next hike. It was an interesting and delayed trip. But, that's another story.

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