Walking from John O'Groats to Land's End in the winter of 07/08.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Hay-on-Wye to Pandy

Described on a map, today's stretch of Offa's Dyke looks almost perfect. The path takes the crest of a long ridge which rises to just over 2300ft, with the promise of magnificent views and after the initial ascent, rapid progress southwards. Hay Bluff forms the rounded end of the ridge and looks down benevolently on the little town of Hay-on-Wye. Yesterday it was clearly iced with snow, but this morning I only had memories as cloud shrouded its current state in mystery.

Following a well travelled path and soon gaining height, the blustery gusts I had noticed in town grew to form a constant and strong wind. After climbing steeply through a wood, I emerged on a grassy plateau that spread out from the base of the bluff. The wind swept down these treeless slopes and blasted me with incredible force. I could hear nothing but roaring as it rushed past and struggled to make upward progress. I began to consider alternatives to the exposed ridge, which seemed a bit daft.

For some reason I kept going, ignoring a path into the valley that runs alongside. After rounding the nose of the hill, the wind began to ease slightly and I took the opportunity to rest a little before I headed up onto the ridge and all hell broke loose. Reaching the crest, it was more like a boggy plateau and I could follow the flagstones in the disorientating clouds. The wind knocked me about constantly, many times off the path which I then had to fight my way back onto, but I was able to walk roughly where I wanted to go. In this world of drifting whiteness and occasional stinging showers, the presence of such a powerful, noisy and invisible force was unnerving.

Although the flagstones disappeared in places and I had to pick my way through the bog, I found my way to the summit cairn. It was all downhill from here. After some time I dipped down under the clouds and got a taste of the views that make this part of the world so special. On the Welsh side, peaty ridges rose to impressive heights and hid narrow green valleys, while the English side is a blanket of fields and trees that stretches into the distance. After many hours with the wind as a constant companion, I was becoming more comfortable with the situation and was glad I hadn't chickened out earlier.

The ridge went on for many more miles, and I used the trig points and cross paths to judge my progress. It also became much narrower, with one particular section being a little bit exciting as I couldn't let the wind deposit me too far to the side. The more I descended, the more the wind began to ease, until I dropped off the ridge itself to wander through the remains of a hill fort. Lanes led down to the valley, before I followed a main road through the very strung out village of Pandy to find an inn.

Settling down to a pint, I slowly adjusted to the lack of noise, although it'll take a while for the ruddy glow to leave my wind scoured cheeks. As the landlord said, “that should have blown out a few cobwebs”.

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