Avoiding showers along the Welsh border14th April 2008
For the weak willed, the threat of heavy showers over the past weekend might have been an excuse to stay at home from the outdoors, but dry sunny weather featured more than one would have thought in light of the various forecasts. As for me, I just couldn’t rouse up any enthusiasm for going anywhere; I just was not in the mood for it. The weekend before couldn’t have been more different: after a month of March that was quiet on the hill wandering front for various reasons, a lengthy bout of “man flu” included, I firmly decided that I was going somewhere to get out among hills and an imperfect wasn’t going to stop. I was prepared for it.
The destination was to be the hill country near Knighton on the Wales-England border. It was a plan that I attempted to execute last December, but a late train thwarted my designs and I explored the Long Mynd instead. This time, no mistake was made as I left Macclesfield early in the morning and ended up leaving myself a forty-minute window in Shrewsbury after a train journey involving a change in Wolverhampton. I used that time to go for a walk around the town in damp weather and I came away impressed with what I saw. In fact, I have made a mental note to make a photographic foray to both Shrewsbury and Oswestry some sunny day when I want something a little different from my usual hill country forays.
I completed my stroll in ample time to catch my train to Knighton and, when I arrived there at around 10:00, I found the place to have taken on the feeling of a ghost town. On the train, there were a goodly number of ramblers and I thought that this might be their destination but I was to be very wrong: when I did disembark, there were more waiting to depart than what actually arrived. I took my time while ambling through this sleepy agrarian spot and dropped into the Offa’s Dyke Centre, a spot nearly as quiet as everywhere else.
In fact, the aforementioned quietness was to pervade the most of my day’s wandering. The sky indicated a day that was to be “iffy” on the weather front, but any predictions made based on its initial appearance were to be proved utterly wrong; the only rain encountered was the odd drop, if that at all. Once out of the Offa’s Dyke Centre, I made my way north and, within minutes, I was in Shropshire and England was to play host to all of my footfall between then and my return to Knighton. Loosely defined plans are typical of my walking exploits and this was no different: follow the Offa’s Dyke Path north and turn around to return to the train station in time to get home again.
Along the way, I saw very few people and the weather kept getting better as I perambulated over the not so high English hills and looking west was all that was needed if wanted to see their Welsh counterparts across the Teme valley. The lack of stature in the hills didn’t make any difference to the effort required to surmount them: a fact borne out by my progress up the not inappropriately named Panpunton Hill after crossing the Teme a short stroll away from Knighton. From there on to Cwm-sanaham Hill, progress was gentler and serious up and down activity was deferred until the descent from the latter and the subsequent re-ascent.
It was not so far north-east of Llandair Waterdine that I decided that I had gone far enough north for the day and set to following Shropshire’s public footpath network proper for a return to base. It was at this time that the cloud cover really started to break up to make up for some superb sunshine as I negotiated my way from field to field, never a strong point of mine. Crossing a minor road, I picked up a clear bridleway along which I continued on my way back to Panpunton Hill, Knighton and home. Everything was going well until confusion struck at a meeting of rights of way for which nothing on the map seemed to represent where I was. There was only one thing for it: head west until I met the national trail along which I had been hiking earlier. A stone’s throw was all it took to get me back in more familiar surroundings and I am not certain how I ended up where I did but I am inclined to suspect that a new public footpath may have been set up that the OS do not show on their maps. It’s undoubtedly the sort of muddle that makes a GPS receiver very useful for confirming that you aren’t going completely mad!
Once back on the Offa’s Dyke Path, the journey was unremarkable apart from the descent of Panpunton Hill paining my tired knees. The sun remained out in force as I made my way through Knighton, the place now being more alive than it was earlier, to its train station for the 16:15 to Shrewsbury. With the weather as resplendent as it was, it seemed a pity to leave so early but I had a good walk lasting more than five hours and the next train would have been at around 21:00 anyway. Nevertheless, I resolved that if the weather stayed as it was, I would stop off in Church Stretton for a quick nip into Carding Mill Valley with the idea of putting my camera to some use. That did happen and I was leaving when the first of the forecasted “nasty” showers arrived.
From Church Stretton, I took a train to Stockport although Shrewsbury’s looking wonderful in the post shower sunshine had me sorely tempted. I stayed on the train, deciding that a quick run around with my camera (for most of the day, I had been working exclusively with film thanks to my DSLR running down its battery and my lack of foresight for not recharging the thing in time) wouldn’t do the place justice anyway. Given that I travel this way regularly, the journey from Stockport to Macclesfield should have been routine but I have encountered an incident verging on adventure before. This time, I was both lucky and unlucky to meet the first southbound Virgin departure from Manchester since 17:00; I was lucky that it ran on time but unlucky in that it was overcrowded. I inadvertently, and unusually for me, got on in the first class bit and, not realising that it was open to all anyway due to what happened earlier, I made my way to standard class on a very crowded train. If I wasn’t on autopilot to an extent and knew more of what was going on, I would have stayed where I was, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty vision, isn’t it? Anyway, a ten-minute journey like this is never going to spoil the memory of what was a good and varied outing, and I hope to head down that way again. The possibility of spending more time along the Offa’s Dyke Path rears its head too.
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