Offa’s Dyke Path Stage 2 (Part 2): Bigsweir Bridge to Monmouth

Published 19 November 2023

A path winds its way through trees in Slip Wood, on the Offa's Dyke Path
Slip Wood, part of Bigsweir Wood Nature Reserve.

Following the route of an ancient earthwork claimed to have been created on the orders of King Offa of Mercia in the 8th century, the Offa’s Dyke Path provides 177 miles of walking along the length of the England/Wales border. It’s a walk through beautiful scenery, where every day is different from the day before. In March 2023 I arrived in Wales, ready to set off for a journey in borderland. The morning of my second day saw me enjoy the River Wye, the devil himself, and a rather dry Foggy. The afternoon would offer even more.

From Bigsweir Bridge, the Offa’s Dyke did a quick march up the A466, before entering more woodland. The Offa’s Dyke Path was about to go through a series of nature reserves. First Bigsweir Wood Nature Reserve, then some fields, After that it would go into Highbury Wood National Nature Reserve. I even got chance to say hello to the Dyke which was, yet again, standing on the top of a steep hill overlooking the River Wye. I’m telling you, this Dyke was built to say “hey you, look what WE can do!” and nothing else.

Of course there was mud. I’d known it would feature a lot since I’d woken up at 2am to hear it lashing it down outside. What I hadn’t hadn’t realised is how much mud there would be. But when I did come across it, I always marvelled at my uncanny ability to remain upright. The ground did its best to change that situation, yet I always prevailed.

A view from a tall hill looking down on the River Wye and the village of Redbrook
Looking down on Redbrook, moments before slipping in mud.

That ended as I left Highbury Wood and took a path down hill to the village of Redbrook. The path was steep. And it was muddy. Very muddy. And the two were not the best of combinations. I tried my best, but with an air of inevitability, gravity won the battle. In seconds I found myself lying on my back wondering what the hell had happened.

Hands, coat and buttocks were coated in brown sticky mud. There’d be a large muddy stain on my backside for the rest of the day. A great, thoroughly bedraggled look to have as I arrived in the biggest, busiest village of the day.

Woodland path through Cadora Woods
More woodland walking on the Offa’s Dyke Path.

Once a major industrial centre, famed for its tinplate, Redbrook’s now a far quieter place. As well as the tinplate works and other metal based industries, it had once boasted thirteen pubs and three breweries. Now it’s a small village with most of its houses clustered around the main road. A main road that also included the village’s main facilities. A village store. Primary school. Playground. Village hall. Car park. And the pub.

I wandered through, thinking how busy it all was, and considering resting to lick my wounds. Until I saw a sign. One that told me it was 3.5 miles to Monmouth. This hit me with a start. All day I’d been working on the belief that it Redbrook to Monmouth was only two miles or so. I had no idea why, but that’s what I thought. I stared at the map in complete confusion, trying to work it all out. But the route was so full of kinks and turns that my use of fingers to measure the route kept giving me different results. There was only one thing for it. Looking at my watch told me it was 4pm. If I set off and was still walking in about two hours time, 3.5 miles it was likely to be.

Duffield's Lane - a well made track going uphill out of Redbrook.
Duffield’s Lane takes you uphill out of Redbrook.

There’s a simple river path between Redbrook and Monmouth. Nice and easy to follow. You may not be surprised to learn that the Offa’s Dyke Path doesn’t take it. It has other ideas, running along the top of a hill instead. Not following the Dyke itself though. That had been left behind a short while before I arrived in Redbrook. The trail’s official guidebook told me it would be another 54 miles before I’d meet it again.

No, instead I was to do a steep climb, walk along some more steep tracks and lanes for ages, so I could get to the top of a hill. Then I’d get to do very steep descent to get to the foot of the hill again.

The view of Monmouth and beyond from the top of the Kymin.
The Kymin gives a splendid vantage point to admire the local area.

There was a good reason. The hill was The Kymin, owned by the National Trust. It’s not a massive hill in the scheme of things but there’s a Naval Temple, and a building named The Roundhouse. Oh and it has an splendid viewpoint looking down on the town on Monmouth, and beyond. Those hills viewable in the distance? Ah yes, I’d be walking on them soon enough.

Built in 1794, The Roundhouse gives every impression of being a folly. One of those vaguely pointless buildings built by people with far too much money. Built so that they could show to all their friends that they had too much money. But this two story round tower building was built with for a purpose. Well, more of a purpose than saying “Look how much money I have”. It was built by the members of a group of Monmouth gentlemen that went by the name of the Monmouth Picnic Club, or the Kymin Club. The tower was a meeting house where they could get together, be social, and have some food.

The Roundhouse on the Kymin, right next to the Offa's Dyke Path.
The Roundhouse – now a holiday let.

Not just anyone was allowed membership. Of course not. Membership was only for the most important people in the area. And if you need any more of a clue, the funding drive to build it was led by the Duke of Beaufort and eight members of parliament. I can tell you’re shocked by this.

These days its a bit more egalitarian. The National Trust run it as a holiday let, so anyone able to spend a couple of hundred pounds a night, can pop inside.

Not content with building their picnic house, the Kymin Club also erected the nearby Naval Temple. Built in 1800 to commemorate the second anniversary of the British win against the French in the Battle of the Nile. For good measure, it was also dedicated to sixteen Navy Admirals. A hill about tell miles from the sea being the obvious place to do this. Well, where else would you put it?

The Naval Temple on top of the Kymin
Where else would you put a Naval Temple than a hilltop many miles from the sea?

I would have loved to stay a little longer but time was pushing on, my legs were getting a little weary, and I was longing to take off my heavy rucksack. There was a good chance that if I stopped, I wouldn’t get moving again. I’d be spending the night sleeping on the bench inside the temple. And what would Admiral George Elphinstone think of that? So after a quick potter around and a few more minutes admiring the view, I set off back down the hill.

Down yet more incredibly muddy paths.

There must be some law about these things. A decree that says when you are a mile from your accommodation, and your boots and clothes are pretty clean, the path must take you through a place featuring mud in epic proportions. The paths coming down The Kymin made the one into Redbrook look quite tame in comparison. Although unlike Redbrook, I did manage to remain on two feet and upright.

Alas, I did not remain unmolested.

Another muddy woodland path on the Offa's Dyke Path
Pure mud as a path.

My eyes were firmly glued to the ground, trying my best to to ensure I always stepped somewhere sensible. This will be why I didn’t spot the thick, low hanging tree branch dangling in my way at head height. The branch that hit my forehead. And that gouged a huge lump out of it, leaving blood flowing down it, on top of a significant amount of pain. That I still had a good mile of muddy walking ahead of me, also didn’t help my mood.

My hope, nay dream, of arriving at the Mayhill Hotel neat and presentable, was completely dashed. Instead I arrived outside coated in the ultimate combination of mud and blood. Not that the woman who showed me to my room, seemed to bat an eyelid. I suppose she’d seen it all before. Still it was with relief to finally be able to wash the blood and mud off.

And then I found out the pub I’d picked to stay in on the basis that it did evening meals so I wouldn’t have to go anywhere, wasn’t currently doing evening meals. I could order a delivery from somewhere. Or bring back a takeaway, and eat it in the bar with a pint. But about the only people I could find delivering was an establishment called “King Kebab”. And whilst I don’t want to cast aspersions on the quality of King Kebab’s food, I wasn’t convinced the best kebabs in the world would be found in rural Wales.

The Mayhill Hotel, Monmouth - next to the Offa's Dyke Path
The Mayhill Hotel welcomes muddy walkers. Maybe.

Given all the non-delivering takeaways were in the town anyway, I decided to talk a walk there anyway, and see if I could find a restaurant or pub where I could eat. But Monmouth on a Sunday evening was closed. What I wanted was some nice cosy pub, with great food. But the options boiled down to Michelin star hopeful, King Kebab, a branch of Wetherspoons, or Pizza Express. I opted for pizza, and was placed at a table next to a huge mirror so I could admire the impressive scar on my forehead.

At least my accommodation the next day wouldn’t require me to leave my lodgings to get some food. Although the walk to that establishment would be rather a long one.

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