Introduction to the Glyndŵr’s Way

Published 16 April 2013

A wooden post next to a path on Foel Fadian, Glyndŵr’s Way

It’s on the railway station platform that you get an indication that there’s something different about the town of Knighton. Two huge signs stand on the platform; one welcoming you to Shropshire, the other welcoming you to Powys.

The station itself sits in England. But walk a mere 91m down the road (or 100 yards in old money) and you are suddenly in Wales. Take one step back and you’re in the land of St George, one further and it’s all daffodils and dragons.

Knighton is a border town, firmly sat on the rather arbitrary line that acts as a border between two counties. Most of the residents live in Wales, but a small number of roads and houses actually sit in England, lumped together for the purposes of administration with the nearby village of Stowe.

Even the town name of Knighton is derived from Old English, namely the words cniht and tun. The place didn’t even have an official name in Welsh until 1971.

Not surprisingly though, for many years Knighton was disputed territory, suffering raids and attacks aplenty. Such were the number of attacks that in the 8th century Offa, King of Mercia had built a giant dyke to mark the boundary between the kingdom of Mercia and the people of Powys. Even then, Knighton was the only town to actually sit on the dyke itself.

It was only with the Acts of Union in 1535 that Knighton’s status was determined, and the town was formally decided to be in Wales. Even so it took until 1971 for an official Welsh name to be created for the town. Not that you’ll find many people calling it Tref-y-Clawdd; Knighton feels more like England than Wales. The accents are English, with a whiff of Midlands twang about them. The beers in the pubs and even the breakfasts served in the B&Bs are all English.

Yet despite being in an enclave of Englishness, we were about to head off on a journey into Wales. And not only that, but a walk celebrating a man viewed by some as a father of Welsh Nationalism.

Walking in the village of Meifod

April 2011 and the United Kingdom was in royal wedding fever. Wills and Kate were getting married and to a substantial number of people, this seemed an extremely exciting thing to happen. Not to me. I was feeling rather out of place. I mean, if they loved each other very much and wanted to get married, great. That’s lovely. I was very happy for them. But why should I care? I didn’t know them; they weren’t my friends or family. So why should I want to watch them tie the knot on television, or sit in a pub with a pint waving a plastic Union Jack? I didn’t even believe in the monarchy as a system and would have been quite happy to see its residents turfed out and Buckingham Palace opened up as a year round tourist attraction. Just think of the revenue the admission fees could bring in.

But the rest of the nation seemed to have gone Royal Wedding Crazy, with people threatening to put up bunting and holding street parties, left, right and centre. Thankfully I lived in a part of London where no one seemed to be particularly bothered enough to try to close off the street, erect trestle tables and eat picnic food whilst wearing plastic Union flag hats, but still there was little escape from wedding fever. The papers were full of speculation about what the dress would look like and busy telling tales of how the “fairytale” romance had developed.

Still, there was a bright side. To aid the nation in its celebration, the powers that be had decided that there should be some bank holidays. The wedding was set to be the weekend before Good Friday and there would be a bank holiday on that day, and on the Monday after.

Great, I thought. A four day work week followed by a three day week followed by a four day week. I can live with that. I may have republican principles but a free day off is a free day off.

Then, one night in January, a friend pointed out something. With four bank holidays in quick succession, you could have an eleven day holiday by taking just three days off work. On hearing this news I could see the eyes of my partner, Catherine, light up.

“We could do a walk!” she said, looking at me excitedly.

“We could indeed,” I nodded sagely, before heading off to the bar to get another round in.

It seemed like a plan. We’d make the most of our annual leave, do a good walk and escape a huge chunk of the Royal Wedding madness that was sure to grip the capital. But that just left one important question. Which walk to do?

A few nights later we sat in our living room scouring our walking books, trying to find options. Something that would fit in perfectly with the bank holiday period, and preferably one that would take us to an area we’d never been to before.

“You know, I’ve never been walking in Wales,” I said as Catherine thumbed through a rather battered looking walking tome which listed walks across the United Kingdom.

“Hmm. What about this?” she replied, handing me the book. “The Glyndŵr’s Way. Goes through the middle of Wales. Looks about the right length too.”

“‘The landscape is predominantly low moor and farmland, with lakes, gentle hills and beautiful valleys’,” I read. “Hmm. Sounds good. Let’s do it!”

It was only when we were on the train to Knighton a couple of months later, that the irony finally hit me. In order to escape one set of royalty, we were heading off to follow a walking route created in honour of another. A path dedicated to Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales.

Next time: just who was Owain Glyndŵr?

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