Having allowed for a shorter day and some time in Monmouth last time out, I was faced with an extended stint of around 17 miles this time, although it is possible to break two miles early for accommodation at Llangattock Lingoed if you prefer.
Striding across the iconic medieval bridge in Monmouth, the sun was already very hot for a spring day and there was a mugginess which spoke of the possibility of a heavy shower or two at some point, although as it happened, it held off until after I was finished.
The odd rucksack could be seen bobbing along as I pushed through the brief outskirts of Monmouth so it was clear that I was not the only one on Offa’s Dyke that day and in fact, I passed one lone walker just before I emerged into the countryside and fell in step to exchange a word.
Steve was from Ipswich and was walking the entire length of Offa’s Dyke and as I had previously walked the path, we were able to chat quite happily about that and also the Pennine Way, which we had both endured. Then the cricket score (England were playing that day) and the travails of Ipswich Town in the football and so on and so on. In the end we covered 15 miles together in one of those random but very enjoyable travelling co-incidences that long-distance walking often throws up.
Perhaps it was the chat but the distance in that early stage was swiftly covered and before long we had crossed the belt of woodland that opens out near Lower Hendre, the main feature being five adult deer spotted near Dingle Wood before they went bounding off into the undergrowth.
The terrain pretty much all day was very easy, a succession of gentle up and downs across fields with a mixed agricultural use ranging from crops through to cattle and to sheep. There is the odd sharp climb, especially as you close up on Pandy at the end of a long day, but broadly you should make cracking time, especially as the path is so clearly marked.
Just beyond Hendre Farm is the site of the medieval
Cistercian abbey of Grace Dieu and there is an information post which records a
brief history including the fact that it was thought to have been burned to the
ground in a Welsh raid in 1233. Dissolved like so many others by Henry VIII’s
religious reforms of the 1530s, there is now nothing to see at all other than a
very pleasant spot and some names on a map like Abbey Meadow, Abbey Bridge and
Parc Grace Dieu.
Crop field prepared for planting just outside Monmouth - this was a day for agriculture and livestock
I just loved the way these all lined up in curious expectation ...
A field of rape was one of the most beautiful sights of the day
This was very much the best part of the day, the clouds had yet to roll in and the countryside was steaming hot. I emerged into a field of rape, brilliant yellow and pungent in the heat, chin high because the path was slightly lower than the rest of the field – looking across that expanse of colour, with lone trees picked out bright green against a soft blue sky, was simply wonderful.
And that is the tale of the day really, nothing flashy but a continuous soft beauty which really works on you, making this one of the prettiest, most satisfying of the day’s walks along this path. The livestock is confident and very photogenic, the smattering of churches small and perfectly formed – everything is as it should be but so rarely actually is.
Just before you start the trudge up to White Castle, you pass through a belt of cider apple trees, which were coming into blossom and giving a hint of just how lovely they will look – and in due course, taste.
But White Castle is the big landmark of the day and we were approaching it fast, with a last stretch of roadway before we arrived at that great fortress, one of three castles in the area along with Skenfrith and Grosmont.
With their origins in the need to strengthen Norman control of the troublesome border region, the castles evolved into imposing stone fortresses in the 13th century and of the three, I think you get that feeling most strongly at White Castle.
I have been there on grey winter’s day, with clouds low in the sky and a sharp wind coming in and White Castle can be a forbidding, threatening fortress. There is something solid about those thick bare walls that suggests that it is not a place to be messed with though the beautiful weather for this visit softened that slightly and instead it proved a very comfortable and lovely spot for lunch on one of the benches in the inner courtyard.
One rather bizarre fact is recorded on a post as you leave
the castle – it was the subject of a painting expedition by Rudolph Hess,
Hitler’s one-time right-hand man, whilst he was a prisoner at nearby
Abervagenny during the Second World War.
The stretch from Monmouth to White Castle had a softness to the landscape which contrasts with the view as you near the Black Mountains
Neat lines of cider apple trees - the apple is the symbol of Herefordshire and cider is the 'wine of the west'
The solid gatehouse at White Castle, the landmark of today's section
Moving on from the castle, it was clear that we were beginning to make serious progress, ahead of us we started to get good glimpses of the Black Mountains and the very different terrain which forms the backbone of the next stage. In no time at all, we were at Llangattock Lingoed, appoached up a steep bank to an exceptionally pretty whitewashed stone church and I sadly parted company with my companion, who had accommodation in the village, and tackled the last two miles alone.
It was a bit of an up-and-down with one especially sharp climb which was tough on the legs after a long day but now the Black Mountains were clearly defined, drawing me on and there was the odd drone of traffic from the A465 which told me I was getting close.
I called halt at the A465 and went in search of the pub, The
Old Pandy Inn, because cider was calling to me and I wanted to get shelter before
the heavy black cloud which was now gathered overhead decided to really chuck
In the wooden box at Llangattock Lingoed is a stamper for you to mark your Offa's Dyke passport
The lovely church at Llangattock Lingoed
Next time we climb - the ridgeline to Hay can be clearly seen as you approach Pandy