Glyndŵr’s Way Day 1: Knighton to Felindre

Published 23 April 2013

Glyndŵr’s Way signpost covered in lichen

Glyndŵr’s Way

Stage: 1 of 9

Distance: 16 miles, 26½ km

Walked on: 23 April 2011

“So you’re walking then?” asked the woman serving our breakfast, leaving us with just enough time to nod in confirmation before she darted off back to the kitchen. “Doing Offa’s Dyke then?” she continued on her next, brief return a few minutes later.

In the same year that Knighton finally got a Welsh version of its town name, a new National Trail was opened. For 176 miles, the Offa’s Dyke Path roughly follows the route of the earthworks built by a long dead king of a long gone kingdom.

Just like the Dyke, the trail runs through the town and the half way point of the walk is marked by the Offa’s Dyke Centre. Sitting in the town centre, the building provides an interesting display all about the Dyke, as well as being home to the Offa’s Dyke Association. And judging by the comment from the person delivering us breakfast, for walkers Offa’s Dyke was the main show in town. The town even has shops named after it. In its forty years of existence, Offa’s Dyke National Trail had made an impact on the Welsh town of Knighton.

In contrast the Glyndŵr’s Way was just a baby. Even the start of the walk didn’t seem to be particularly commemorated. True it did commence just outside of Knighton’s impressive clock tower but the commemorative stone my guide book had promised was strangely absent and the trail started with little more than a tiny wooden directional sign tucked away next to a phone box which pointed the walker in the direction of an information panel. Offa’s Dyke only passes through the town, and gets a visitor centre whilst the Glyndŵr’s Way starts right in the heart of the place and all it gets is a rather tatty looking board briefly telling the history of Wales. It just didn’t seem fair.

The panel wasn’t even that prominent, sitting a short way up The Narrows, Knighton’s high street which sits on an incredibly steep hill and is the home of an incredible range of quirky looking independent traders. A wool shop, a sewing shop and a model railway shop, the latter busy advertising its Christmas savings scheme despite the fact it was April. Well it pays to budget in advance.

In retrospect The Narrows was a sign of things to come for the whole route. But for us, just setting out on the thing and with naïvety in our eyes, it was just an incredibly steep hill; a short, sharp shock to get the walk of with a bang.

The Narrows

Of course a simple glimpse round Knighton would have told us the Glyndŵr’s Way wouldn’t be simple. The whole town sits in a tiny bit of flat land, surrounded by hills. An incredibly good defensive position no doubt for the older part of town built on the flat land, but as time went on and the Welsh and English stopped fighting with each other there was only one way for the town to expand, and up the slopes it went. The little wooden directional signs pointed us along a number of little paths running alongside houses and behind garages; each twist and turn taking us even steeper up hill. Each bit reminding us just how unfit we’d got over the winter months.

Still it soon became worth it for the view as finally we got high up enough to look back on the whole town before we plunged in to the woods on the side of Garth Hill where last years leaf-fall lined the floor and where bluebells, violets and primroses poked their heads out of the ground. It was an idyllic path to trample happily over, yet seemed to be sparsely used, with just Catherine and myself on it, along with a woman whose two dogs enthusiastically ran around, bouncing up and down the hill side.

Sheep and a tree

Popping out of the trees we joined a deserted track heading steeply up once more; giant mayflies hovering merrily over the ground in clusters and looking vaguely sinister. What an introduction to the Glyndŵr’s Way this was. No dilly-dallying on this one as we climbed ever higher, past Ebrandy Hall and over the hill to a delightfully named place called Downe’s Dingle. What Downe did with his or her dingle, who knew, although the nearby Downe’s Hole might have provided an indication.

The stone track gave way to grassy fields; lambs frolicking around in the lush, springtime grass. It was a glorious day; bright blue skies and very little cloud. There wasn’t even a breeze. It was only mid April but the country was in the middle of a heatwave. In the cities, the authorities were warning of increasing smog levels, however out here in the countryside the air felt clean and pure. The birds sang and the lambs bleated whilst car engines revved. Oh, hang on, that doesn’t seem quite right but the cause of that particularly rural noise was later explained as we passed a sign directing people to “Pete’s Rally School”. Thankfully the noise of people careering round the local woods in battered cars was soon gone.


If you were wandering around Wales looking for somewhere to bestow an award for “Sleepiest Village of the Year”, then you’d probably stop looking for any contenders as soon as you found Llangunllo.

My guide book did its best to try to make it sound exciting, even extolling that the village pub just could not be missed. Maybe it wasn’t one to miss, but at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon its curtains were firmly drawn and the place seemed to be in a state of slumber; the idea of all day opening having never crossed anyone’s mind. Not that there seemed to be anyone around to pop in even if it had been open. The streets were empty; the whole village still and silent, like everyone had just popped out and never returned.

Greyhound Inn, Llangunlo

We left the village as quiet as we’d entered it and headed back up hill once more, passing under the Heart of Wales railway line which was as sleepy as the village it served; not one of the handful of daily trains to run down the line made an appearance as we walked near it.

We were firmly in farming territory, with field after field of gates to open and young lambs to startle aplenty. As we went through one field, we passed a large group of sheep congregated en-masse in the shade provided by what few trees were available; this naturally making our own hunt for a shaded lunch spot even harder. Eventually we found a spot that was blissfully sheep free and where some tall bushes cast just enough shelter from the hot sun. We sat and ate our lunch, watching as a large group of flies continued their courting rituals just inches from our heads, seemingly blissfully ignorant of our presence. As we chomped on our sandwiches, four sheep stood and stared at us, no doubt wondering why we were sitting in such an insect filled location, but we didn’t care.


“Every time I think I know where this path is going, it heads off in a completely different direction!” sighed Catherine as we traipsed steadily up hill once more.

Normally Catherine could spot the right path a mile off. “That’s the one!” she’d confidently cry before striding off in exactly the right direction. It’s like she’s some kind of half-human, half-compass and half-map combination, but the Glyndŵr’s Way was causing her some confusion. Knowing we were supposed to be heading for moorland, Catherine had been convinced she’d worked out where we were going, only to find out we would be going in completely the opposite direction; our path actually going down a seemingly endless road between some fields, which eventually led us up to Beacon Hill Common.

DISASTER!

After a morning of glorious sunshine, the weather was beginning to turn. Indeed, almost as soon as I’d re-plastered myself with sun-cream over lunch, the sun went behind a cloud, and the wind had begun to pick up. Now, as we headed up Stanky Hill, thunder rolled lazily in the distance; its roars becoming increasingly frequent. Yet, despite the fact that the storm seemed to be getting nearer and nearer, not a single drop of rain hit the dried and dusty earth.

The thunder continued for much of the day, rather like a bully constantly harassing their victim with a cry of “Give us yer lunch money!” whilst being too lazy to actually get up and take the extorted cash. The air had a metallic taste to it, and it was clear a storm wanted to brew, yet it seemed like it simply couldn’t be bothered. So the dried heather and whinberry plants were left un-watered, and the dry, dusty soil that now covered our hiking boots would not be washed off by anything other than a few drops of water that I inadvertently spilled from my water bottle.

Whoever named the local hills clearly had a soft touch for the dark and moody as Stanky Hill gave way to Black Mountain. The first part of the name presumably came from the peat and heather that covered the hilltop, but “mountain” seemed wholly inappropriate given it was a mere 482m above sea level.

After the undulating hills of the morning, Beacon Hill Common had been flatter and gentler; a simple traverse. But now it was time to leave the moorland and head to the valley, which the Glyndŵr’s Way did with enthusiasm as it plunged down hill; the bracken and heather replaced by luscious green grass.

The village of Felindre

A stone track led us on to Brandy House Farm B&B, just outside the village of Felindre, which was rather useful as it happened to be where we were staying the night. We wandered up to the door, said hello to the owners and, before we knew it were being enthusiastically offered huge slabs of homemade sponge cake and a massive pot of tea that seemed to never run out of liquid.

Richard, the B&B’s landlord, couldn’t help but profess surprise at how dry we were. The rains had, by all accounts, been extremely heavy in Knighton; the roads almost flooded at one point. Clearly we’d been fortunate indeed.


“One of the things I like about walking, is…”

“The pubs?” Catherine interrupted me, mid-speech.

“Err, yes,” I replied, sheepishly.

It’s true though. Walking in Britain is essentially a big, giant pub crawl and at the end of a long day’s walking, there’s nothing better than walking up to that pub door and wondering what you’ll find inside. True, it could be awful, but sometimes you’ll find you’ve hit the jackpot and you’ve entered a real gem of a pub. It was one such place that we’d found ourselves in, that evening.

Felindre’s pub, The Wharf Inn, didn’t do food so Richard had kindly dropped us off at the Radnorshire Arms in the nearby village of Beguildy. No sooner had we walked through the door and we were greeted with a good handshake from Pete, the landlord who treated us like we were long lost regulars and we soon settled in to a seat by the fire with a well poured pint in our hands.

Of course, the main aim of the evening was food, and boy, what food was on offer. I’ve been long of the opinion that some of the best food you can eat is simple food, cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing. My pork hock in scrumpy sauce certainly fitted that bill, whilst Catherine proclaimed her delight at the broccoli and cheese bake that sat on her plate. We followed with a pair of utterly delicious raspberry pavlovas; the meringue sticking gently but joyously to the teeth. Fantastic,

So fantastic everything was that I ended up washing it all down with four pints of unbelievably drinkable local ale. Everything was watched over by Pete, who spent a fair amount of time chatting to customers and randomly topping up people’s pints. Even the Easter themed fireplace decoration was a marvel. What could have been a tacky display, given it was full of egg shaped ornaments, really did look extremely impressive and several of the younger customers spent their time trying to count the number of chicks on display. Whoever counted them correctly would get a prize, but invariably anyone who thought they’d got it right would head to the bar only be told that they’d missed a few.

Sadly we had to leave at some point; if nothing else we were reliant on the B&B’s owners to take us back to our beds and we couldn’t keep them waiting for us all night. I bade farewell to Pete, who told us not to let anyone know how great the walking was in the area. I told him I wouldn’t. Back at the B&B I scrubbed out all my notes about amazing scenery and sought something appropriate to replace them with. In the end I settled on something more profound. “Would I want this to be my local? Err, yes. Totally!”

Next time: locked gates and handy benches as the Glyndŵr’s Way heads to the ruined abbey at Abbeycwmhir.

Walking with the Last Prince: Following Owain on the Glyndwr’s Way

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