Monday, 13 March 2017

Offa's Dyke Path

Pandy → Hay-on-Wye

painted-tree.jpg Distance: 16.68 miles
Ascent: 851 metres
Duration: 5 hours 14 minutes

The borderlands
« Not walked | Not walked »

There are three segments of this walk of Offa's Dyke that I wanted to be clear of foul weather. Today was the first, and it more or less cooperated. In fact, this leg is the reason that I didn't follow through with my original plan of walking the Path in November last year, since at 703m it reaches the highest point in England south of the Peak District.

hatterall-ridge.jpgWait. England? Perhaps I should say "half in England" since for ten miles or so, the Path follows the border precisely along the steadily climbing Hatterrall Ridge.

hay-bluff.jpgStarting out in glorious sunshine was a treat that the ever-strong wind couldn't diminish. However, that wind could bring in clouds which eventually obscured everything over 630m or so. Since the ridge broadens as it climbs, I don't think the higher views would've eclipsed those from lower down which stretched for dozens of miles in all directions.

frogspawn.jpgAlong the high land the peat hags, which give The Black Mountain its name, have been badly eroded, but flagstones and cairns guide walkers across and around boggy sections where ponds were bursting with juicy-looking frogspawn. The long climb is one of endless false summits, and to cap it all ... well, there's the problem: as far as I could see there was nothing to cap the summit, no trig points, cairns or other markers, just an almost imperceptible sense of descent.

Eventually I dropped down into Hay-on-Wye and realised I'd crossed another subtle border, this one running east-west. Wales is a bilingual country, but which language should come first on street signs? Historically, this problem was solved by making Cymraeg first on the signs in the north, and English first in the south. From here on in I'll be reading "Araf!" before "Slow!" and all my "Pant" will be "Cudd". Another tiny change, another sign of progress.

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Sunday, 12 March 2017

Offa's Dyke Path

Monmouth → Pandy

lone-tree.jpg Distance: 16.49 miles
Ascent: 672 metres
Duration: 5 hours 19 minutes

Remarkable trees
« Not walked | Not walked »

What stood out most for me today were the trees. Soon out of Monmouth the path works its way through an area of forest, but those aren't the trees I'm thinking of: the remainder of the walk was through farms and across fields, and in almost every one stood an old wizened tree watching over the crops and livestock.

In the bedroom of last night's B&B was a book called "Meetings with Remarkable Trees". I didn't read it - the title alone spoke volumes - but I'd like to think there's a chapter in there about the fields of Monmouthshire.

Three other images stand out: White Castle, St George and Hatterrall Ridge.

white-castle.jpgThe castle is one of three joined by a waymarked walking route, but the only one of the Three Castles that Offa's Dyke Path directly passes. It's everything a castle should be: a stable ruin, free to enter, with minimal interpretation. It has an outer ward and an inner keep surrounded by a moat. Utterly delightful.

st-george.jpgThe encounter with St George was unexpected. The whitewashed exterior of St Cadoc's church in Llangattock Lingoed was startling enough, but inside – just to the right of the main door – is a life-size painting of St George vanquishing a recalcitrant dragon. The colours are faded, and the dragon a little indistinct. Does the dragon represent the Welsh nation being conquered by the English? The relationship between the two countries will be something on my mind for much of the week as I cross back and forth over the border.

towards-hatterall.jpgThen finally Hatterrall Ridge fell into view as the walk ended. Illuminated by a spotlight of sun, the golden brown bracken-covered high ridge was a welcome change to today's farmland. Or rather, it will be; the majority of tomorrow's walk involves walking the length of the ridge. I can hardly wait.

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Saturday, 11 March 2017

Offa's Dyke Path

Chepstow → Monmouth

shaggy-sheep.jpg Distance: 17.65 miles
Ascent: 1017 metres
Duration: 6 hours 19 minutes

The Wye
« Not walked | Not walked »

On 20 February 1999 I completed my first ever stage of a National Trail. As I collapsed into an armchair at the Poppit Sands YHA, one of the other hostellers tried to empathise: "I started walking Offa's Dyke last year," he said. "Gave up after the first day. Couldn't do it." And so for the last eighteen years I've been a little nervous about the walk to Monmouth (that's part of the reason I shaved two miles off it yesterday).

For much of today I've been expecting a nightmare path around every corner. While there are plenty of steep sections – which were particularly slippery today – the route was actually rather tame.

redbrook.jpgThe River Wye winds its way from Monmouth to Chepstow, cutting a deep cleft in the countryside. The Dyke follows high above through thickly wooded slopes. Most of the walk was in this woodland.

I'm beginning to see the Dyke in every earthwork (much as I now see every mound of earth in Suffolk as a burial mound). It'll be a while before I'm "tuned in" to this landscape.

devils-pulpit.jpgDespite the day being hazy and overcast, there were still absolute highlights, particularly the view from the Devil's Pulpit down across the Wye to Tintern Abbey.

monmouth-bridge.jpgJust outside Monmouth the Path finally crosses the river and enters Wales. Now I've completed the walk that I've been fearing all these years I can look forward to the rest of the way to Prestatyn with confidence.

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Friday, 10 March 2017

Offa's Dyke Path

Sedbury Cliffs → Chepstow

offa-start.jpg Distance: 1.94 miles
Ascent: 98 metres
Duration: 36 minutes

A prelude
« Not walked | Not walked »

Here's the plan: over the next twelve days I'll walk the length of Offa's Dyke Path. It's the only National Trail in Wales that I've not completed, and when I reach Prestatyn a week on Wednesday it'll join up with my walk round the Welsh Coast to create the longest circular walk I've done so far.

first-dyke.jpgThis time I'm on my own. Emma's at work, and although I enjoyed Mum's chauffeuring (and company) on Glyndŵr's Way last year, I decided to try and complete this walk unaided. I've booked accommodation for each night, and I intend to not use any form of transport other than my two feet until I reach the north coast.

The path itself starts incongruously on a cliff north of the Severn Bridge. It's a seemingly arbitrary point until you realise that there really is a Dyke and it is here, where the land meets the sea, that it finishes.

chepstow-bridge.jpgAfter a short walk along a segment of earthwork, the two miles into Chepstow aren't particularly inspiring save for the fact that they're the start of a big walk, and the north coast beckons.

wye-severn-confluence.jpgPerhaps of more interest is how I reached the start. I looped around Beachley Point, where the Wye and Severn kiss and make up after their race from the summit of Plynlimon.

Posted by pab at 17:35 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Wales Coast Path

M48 J2 → Chepstow

coast-path-dragon.jpg Distance: 2.86 miles
Ascent: 111 metres
Duration: 52 minutes

A coda
« Not walked | Not walked »

Five years after completing the Wales Coast Path, how do I find myself finishing it again? Back in January 2012 we crossed into England on the Wye Bridge, but the Coast Path that was officially opened later that year has its formal end point a couple of miles further up the Wye in Chepstow. It makes for a more attractive end, rather than the somewhat abrupt mid-bridge stop indicated only by a motorway marker post.

But I'm a completer, so the little chunk from the Bridge to Chepstow has been teasing me for too long.

The path is extremely well signposted, with the Coast Path's stylised dragon logo appearing at reassuringly frequent intervals on lamp post stickers, finger posts and even discs embedded in the pavement. Whenever I was unsure of where the route went next I needed only look briefly for the next waymark.

coast-path-end.jpgA mural set into the riverside path by The Boat Inn is the official end. It's somehow unsatisfactory. Perhaps this is because the upright stones on either side indicate the bigger walk on my mind.

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Sunday, 26 February 2017


Worry Dolls


Intent on seeing at least one live act every calendar month this year, February was fast running out so we took a bet on the Worry Dolls at our local arts centre. They played Greenbelt last year so it didn't seem too big a risk.

The music is Americana filtered through the ears of two women who grew up in Devon and Kent, met at university in Liverpool and settled in London. It was captivating, and a great way to spend a relaxed Sunday evening.

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Saturday, 18 February 2017


Hidden Figures


This was always going to win me over: an injustice righted, woven into a story about the human "computers" set at the dawn of the modern information technology age. The mathematician in me would've liked a little more about the technicalities of the problems being solved, but it's hard to see how that could be done without detracting from the main story.

A great film, but a little upsetting when you realise just how recently the events it depicts took place, and how some of the language and issues still resonate today. Let's not go back there.

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Saturday, 11 February 2017


La La Land


La La Land has been almost universally praised, which is ordinarily a warning sign for me. I wasn't won over by the exuberance of the opening sequence, the bright colours or charming romance. In fact, it wasn't until two thirds of the way through that I really caught on, but from that moment to the end there was a smile on my face. Here's a film that deserves its positive press, even if it is a little sickly-sweet in places.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017


T2 Trainspotting

We really should have watched this film while we were in Glasgow.

Down south the transformation Scotland has undergone in the past twenty years has been partly ignored. This sequel doesn't just catch up with the human characters after two decades, but the national character too. And it's a nation with a renewed confidence.

odeon-toilet.jpgThere's a surprising tenderness to the film, but also the grit you'd expect. Visually and sonically it echoes the film that defined my generation back in 1996. A very welcome return.

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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Celtic Connections , Gig

Made in Perthshire

It's difficult to review a show that's a curated collection of artists. Made in Perthshire was put together by Ross Ainslie and Patsy Reid for the 10th anniversary of the Perth Concert Hall in 2015. Reprising the show in Glasgow provided the opportunity for a wider audience to dip into this celebration of music from the environs of Perth (though like us at least one musician lives far south of the border).

made-in-perthshire.jpgPipes, strings and choir added texture to what was an unashamedly folky evening of Scottish music. The highlight was Lisa Rigby's unaccompanied Fortingall Working Song: an spellbinding tale inspired by the stone in Glen Lyon beneath which lie plague victims "taken here on a sledge drawn by a white horse led by an old woman".

Scottish stories in song: a wonderful end to a great weekend away.

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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Celtic Connections , Gig

The State Broadcasters

Not wanting to do Bella and the Bear a disservice, our first comment on leaving The Hug and Pint on Great Western Road tonight was agreement: "That was much better than last night". We were mainly referring to the support acts, but the headline was better too.

We'd first heard of The State Broadcasters because they're on the same record label as several other artists that we've come to know and love, but it's fair to say we didn't know much about the band themselves. Tonight's gig was slightly taken on trust, but we were far from disappointed.

Slow service in a cafe up the road (they had to make a burger from scratch, including mincing the beef) meant that we arrived partway through Alan Tennie's opening set, but it didn't take long to realise that he was a gem of a performer. Where the previous night's support acts were obviously pushing themselves hard to hold the stage, Alan's wistful, melodic songwriting was a delight.

Next up was Nadine Khouri: one woman with a guitar, but what variety! Soul, blues, folk with hints of rock, Nadine's playing was wonderful, coaxing percussive and varied musical sounds from her Gibson ES. She was a joy to listen to as she pushed herself, if a little rough around the edges. And her voice was spectacular.

state-broadcasters.jpgGiven the excellent support, The State Broadcasters has a tough job but they pulled it off well with a joyful performance. Clarsach (Celtic harp), trombone, harmonium and double bass joined the usual guitar, keyboards and drums with lead vocal duties shared amongst four members of the five piece band. Adored by the sold-out audience (including family members) the band's tender songs won everyone over.

We came away with a couple of CDs, and three acts that we hope to see perform again.

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Friday, 27 January 2017

Celtic Connections , Gig

Bella and the Bear

When we first visited the Celtic Connections festival two years ago we stuck to big gigs in huge venues. We're back this year for three days, and have picked shows in much more intimate surroundings.

Kicking off proceedings tonight in Broadcast on Sauchiehall Street was Tom Vevers: one man with a single vocal style (slightly over-exerted), one way of playing guitar (furiously strummed chords) and songs that were each a minute or two too long. Sorry, he couldn't raise much interest from us.

Next up was Owen Carpenter aka CRPNTR. Initially playing solo and reading poems, his charming stage presence made up for his arts-studenty, overly complex phraseology, but he really came to life in the last couple of numbers when three friends joined him on stage and added much-needed depth to the sound. There's something here that could be great, but it needs development.

bella-and-the-bear.jpgFinally, Bella and the Bear. Emma had previously come across them while researching for Solas, and it was on the strength of this that we booked the tickets. They didn't disappoint. Lauren Gilmour and Stuart Ramage sing songs in a conversational style, crammed full of melody and close harmony. They were clearly thoroughly enjoying playing, and captivated everyone squeezed into the basement of the pub who'd come to see them. Suffice it to say we immediately bought all their available recordings. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, 21 January 2017


Rogue One

noodle-nation.jpgIn a week when international politics increasingly resembles far-fetched fiction, even stories set "a long time ago in a galaxy far away" somehow seem more like documentaries. I wanted to be lifted out of my life tonight and transported to a positive place. Instead on screen I saw more megalomania, war and conspiracy with only the slimmest glimmer of hope. I'm sure there's a good film here somewhere, but it wasn't the film for me tonight.

At least there's always the pre-film meal to enjoy.

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Friday, 20 January 2017

Celtic Connections , Comment

Son of Lewis, lonely boy

Bless Karine Polwart for responding thoughtfully yesterday at the opening concert of Celtic Connections to today's inauguration of a divisive president.

Your mother was a wee girl once,
who played upon my rocky shore.
And you, you are broken boy,
and you want more and more and more.
You build a tower. You build a wall,
You live in fear that they might fall.
You who see nothing but your face
in the sheen of The Hudson River.

The world needs more quiet revolutionaries like Karine. "I burn but I am not consumed."

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Monday, 19 December 2016


"Give Everything"

I misread a note about learning. "Give everything," it didn't say.

"Give everything. It may come in handy later."

I prefer it this way.

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