Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail 1971-2021

The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, truly a cross border National Treasure, celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. On its journey from sea to sea, the Trail passes through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a National Park:  

The Wye Valley AONB, with stunning views of the River Wye and the iconic view of Tintern Abbey from Devils Pulpit. 

The Shropshire Hills AONB, where you are in the true heartland of the Trail following the ‘Switchbacks’ and never far from Offa’s Dyke itself and one of the hardest day sections of the route. 

The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB, this section takes you from Chirk Castle to the sea over numerous heather-clad hills and stunning views of the Vale of Clywd.

The Brecon Beacons National Park, and the 10-mile traverse of Hatterrall Ridge, encountering the highest point on the Trail and at a consistent height of around 1700ft, with yet more breath-taking views into England and Wales.

And for good measure, a brief detour off the Trail, on an alternative route, will let you experience the miracle of engineering by Thomas Telford, that is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct AKA the ‘waterway in the sky’.

The Trail is a spectacular path that winds itself through the ‘Breath-taking Borderlands’ of England and Wales for 177 miles between Chepstow on the River Severn to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. The two ends both being Walkers are Welcome towns, and in between, on or near the Trail, we have Montgomery, Bishops Castle, Clun, Knighton, and Kington which are also Walkers are Welcome towns.

As well as Offa’s Dyke itself, after which the Trail gets its name, the route passes through or by countless other historical sites, such as Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey, Monnow Bridge, White Castle, Beacon Ring, Dinas Bran and numerous hillforts in the Clwydian Range the largest being Penycloddiau.

The path was officially opened in Knighton by Lord Hunt (of Everest fame) on July 10th, 1971. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the work of creating and completing the route involved a pioneering partnership effort by government agencies, local authorities  and the volunteers of the then newly formed Offa’s Dyke Association

Over the last 50 years, the Offa’s Dyke Path has become one of Britain’s best-loved walking routes, and an important mainstay of the local tourism economy. During that time, hundreds of thousands of visitors have discovered a unique walking experience which combines spectacular landscapes and wildlife, the extraordinary history of the Welsh Marches (most obviously represented by the ancient bank and ditch of Offa’s Dyke itself built by Offa, King of Mercia 757-796), and the warm welcome to be found in the market towns, villages and rural communities along the route.

Today, the care of the path is jointly funded and strategically managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Natural England (NE) and their local authority and national park partners. Practical management and repair are undertaken by the relevant local authorities (Denbighshire (Flintshire), Wrexham, Powys, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Brecon Beacons National Park, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire Councils).

The whole route is undertaken in about 12 days, as set out in the official guide-book, but it can also be enjoyed in short sections or day walks, or incorporated into many circular walks.

You can experience many sections of it by joining in one of the numerous Walking Festivals along the route, many hosted by the Walkers are Welcome Towns. See our What’s on.

To find out what’s happening during our 50th Anniversary Year visit the website https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offas-dyke-path/

Photo shows The Kymin

Brecon Beacons Geopark

What attracts walkers to the Brecon Beacons? Is it the same thing that attracts much of the weather – the mountains? The National Park is very much the three-dimensional landscape; wide open breathable spaces sure, but beyond that, it’s got depth too. Lofty peaks above and deep caves below. What’s not to like?

When we set foot, map in hand, to follow the trails from the Walkers are Welcome towns of Crickhowell, Talgarth, or Llandovery we’re undertaking our own explorations of this protected space. No matter that many have trodden these trails before – we each come with our own knowledge and interests; we stride out on different days in different conditions in different seasons, in varying lights. That means we can encounter things that nobody has seen previously – a view revealed through the mist, a fiery sunrise, a flashing wing of plovers, a fresh tumble of stone.

But even beyond this, there is something more we can do to enhance our appreciation of what we enjoy on the day. It’s reaching out for the stories behind the landscape and its day-to-day dramas.

What the Fforest Fawr Geopark has done these last few years is emphasise the importance of the fourth dimension in this landscape. That of time, something which hangs thickly around these hills. But how do we reach out to claim it as part of our experience?

We might start by remembering that behind every hump and every hollow, there’s a story to be told. It may be one for the geologist to tell – of moraines and sinkholes (we have both aplenty here), or it may be for the archaeologist to relate – of Norman mottes or of borrow pits or perhaps for the ecologist to explain – anthill-bedecked grassland, undisturbed for centuries or maybe those unassuming bee holes.

Not so far from Llandovery in one of the lesser-visited parts of the Geopark is a tract of moorland over which history has been drawn and re-drawn. Around 1800 years ago Roman soldiers made an overnight stop at Y Pigwn. The legacy of several hours’ work on their part remains with us nearly two millennia later as the giant playing card imprint of their ‘marching camp’. Much later, just two centuries ago, in fact, quarry workers followed the geology and extracted myriad ‘tilestones’ from this same ground to roof local farmhouses. Their linear legacy cuts across the Roman one.

You need not venture far from Talgarth to journey some 400 million years in time. Within the Old Red Sandstone of the Black Mountains are fossilised lime-rich soils from that distant time; they are now hard bands of rock over which falls like Pwll-y-wrach now plunge.

And if you should find yourself in Crickhowell, look south to the great limestone cliffs of Craig-y-cilau – if this place had not been beneath an equatorial sea 330 million years ago, they would not be there. And if they had not been there, then south Wales may not have been one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution.

So time is key amongst these hills. Brush up beforehand or tag along with an expert; every mile walked through this landscape can brim with meaning if you have an eye to look and a curious mind to ponder on what it holds and where it has come from.

    Alan Bowering, Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer

Introducing Whitchurch, Hampshire

the ‘Town on the Test’ and gateway to the walking trails of the glorious North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Over a hundred years ago the Star newspaper reported: “Whitchurch is in Hampshire. People who live in it call it a town. People who live out of it call it a village. It is about as big as a good-sized pocket handkerchief”. Well, small it may be, but in 1890 Whitchurch wrote its name into the history books when eighty citizens won a famous ‘Victory for Liberty’ at the High Court of Justice, a victory that set down laws granting the legal right of all citizens to demonstrate peaceably.
Whitchurch is still Hampshire’s smallest town and we venture to say there are few towns that can boast a river as picture-perfect as the world-famous River Test chalk stream that flows through the centre of Whitchurch. Paper for the first Bank of England notes was produced here, paper washed in the crystal-clear waters of the Test, and Whitchurch also boasts Britain’s only working Silk Mill, still operating in its original building. The Mill continues to weave commercially on Victorian looms and is now a popular visitor attraction; it is just one of the five mill buildings representing their industrial past that you will see on the waymarked ‘Mill Trail’, see the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLqv2ZtrcU
This part of North Hampshire is a tale of two halves. The Whitchurch Mill Trail and the attractive thatched villages to the SW nestle in a landscape of species-rich water meadows and chalk streams offering a gentle walking experience for all age groups and many of the villages have excellent traditional pubs, so lunch is well catered for. From the square, the land rises steeply meeting the North Wessex Downs on the northern edge of town. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where the Downs are the Ups, is a landscape of ancient flinty tracks along open chalk ridges and steep valleys cut through by chalk streams and winterbournes. This is Hampshire walking country without the crowds…

Take a step back in time and follow the Wayfarers Trail along the ‘rooftop’ of Hampshire where burial mounds, hill forts and ancient field systems provide evidence of early human occupation. Be sure to listen out for the call of the skylarks as you pass over Watership Down, made famous in Richard Adam’s book of the same name; Richard Adams was a resident of Whitchurch until his death in 2016 and look out for Highclere Castle or Downton Abbey as it has become known. The Wayfarers ends on ‘Gallows Hill’ (complete with gibbet) and here you can pick up the Test Way, where it is downhill all the way to Southampton Water. A short ten-minute bus ride from Whitchurch links with the Test Way at Harewood Forest, home to a large native deer population.

It is possible to explore the area using public transport. Andover bus station has connecting rural services to a number of the villages and trails. King Alfred’s Winchester – 30 minutes by bus; Salisbury – 40 minutes by train (onward buses to Stonehenge) and Whitchurch is just an hour by train from London.
Walk new paths in 2021; discover somewhere new https://whitchurch.org.uk/

River Test, Whitchurch Mill Trail courtesy of Chris Watts

North Pennines AONB

The oft-repeated phrase “It’s grim up north”, could not be further from the truth. Yes, the stunning landscapes and heather-glad moorland can be desolate walking in winter driving rain, but they are exhilarating, dramatic, tranquil, and peaceful with exceptional wildlife habitats, offering some of the most unspoilt countryside in England. This is home to the North Pennines AONB designated in 1988 and the second largest AONB. Reflecting the geological significance, it is also a UNESCO Global Geopark with a legacy of mining and quarrying for minerals and stone which allows for picturesque timeless cottages.

This is the northernmost section of the Pennine range and the AONB lies between Carlisle to the west and Darlington to the east. Bounded to the north by the Tyne Valley and to the south by Stainmore Gap. There are four accredited Walkers are Welcome towns in this area. Alston Moor and Middleton-in-Teesdale which lie towards the centre of the park with Brampton on the north-west edge and Kirkby Stephen teetering on the southern edge.
WaW Northern England towns https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-n-england/

The lack of light pollution and wide-open vistas makes for amazing night skies. Here you will find some of the best places for stargazing with 16 Dark Sky Discovery sites within easy reach of WaW towns. This is the perfect family evening activity for autumn and winter months with the added predictable meteor showers, northern lights and moon phases. Anywhere within the AONB is suitable away from streetlights. For added information see
https://www.northpennines.org.uk/what_we_do/dark-skies/ and the individual towns.

The higher you go around Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria and the Upper Eden Valley away from the centre on a clear night you will see have a great dark skies experience. They have just produced a new booklet Upper Eden Dark Skies available in the Upper Eden Visitor Centre and other outlets. This includes local recommended sites just out of town, identifying constellations and what else to look for and how, even the local bat population has a mention. Easy family evening walks are included. Near this small town is Tan Hill known for the remote highest pub in Britain and the exceptional displays of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

Middleton-in-Teesdale, Durham, offers magical experiences for walkers coupled with the beauty of the universe. There is a new major observatory at Grassholme Reservoir https://www.grassholmeobservatory.com/ just outside the town. Businesses offer Dark Skies Friendly venues including special Stargazing packages with walks featured on Middleton’s website. Along the road towards Alston and High Force waterfall (pictured above), you will find the AONBs Bowlees Visitor Centre where they hold exhibitions and participation events for all the family.

Alston Moor, Cumbria is a quieter part of the county, off the beaten track, so different to the nearby Lake District with stunning scenery and lots of Open Access Land of England’s last wilderness. There are usually seasonal special events to book. Just imagine watching shooting stars over Epiacum Roman Fort (Whitley Castle), considered to be the best-preserved fort ramparts in the entire Roman Empire.
Brampton, Cumbria consider their most stunning countryside is up above Castle Carrock and Talkin villages, at the start of the Geltsdale Trail, Jockey Shield and Low Hynam. There are hopes that Talkin Tarn Country Park will be given designated dark skies status being such a special place for viewing. A little further is RSPB Geltsdale a Dark Sky Discovery Site, well known for their birdlife and walks as well as stars, “it has a really wild feel to it” say Brampton. You might think of an evening stroll along with the wonder of Hadrian’s Wall.
Not to be outdone, there is lots of Dark Skies activity in and around other WaW towns including in the Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains of Wales with members Devils Bridge, Lam-peter Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llandysul & Pont Tyweli and Bro Tregaron See https://www.thecambrianmountains.co.uk/discover-dark-skies

Photo: Orion Constellation by Gary Lintern Photography

Fugitives by Simon Armitage

This poem was commissioned by the National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and published as part of a national celebration of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 2019. There are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK, we are celebrating a few in this newsletter.
“I was delighted to be asked to work with the NAAONB on this auspicious occasion. They are an institution that safeguards and celebrates all that is good about the world we live in, and an organization whose values I share and trust. The relationship between poetry and the land in this country goes back to the very origins of poetic utterance and I’m proud to be making a contribution to that ongoing dialogue. There is no greater challenge for a contemporary laureate and geography graduate than to contribute artistically to a conversation about the natural world and the state of our planet, and to praise those things that are wonderful and of wonder.”

Then we woke and were hurtling headlong
for wealds and wolds,
blood coursing, the Dee and the Nidd in full spate
through the spinning waterwheels in the wrists
and over the heart’s weir,
the nightingale hip-hopping ten to the dozen under the morning’s fringe.

It was no easy leap, to exit the engine house of the head
and vault the electric fence
of commonplace things,
to open the door of the century’s driverless hearse,
roll from the long cortège
then dust down and follow
the twisting ribbon of polecats wriggling free from extinction
or slipstream the red kite’s triumphant flypast out of oblivion
or trail the catnip of spraint and scat tingeing the morning breeze

On we journeyed at full tilt,
through traffic-light orchards.
The brain’s compass dialling for fell moor, escarpment and shore, the skull’s sextant plotting for free states coloured green on the map,
using hedgerows as handrails,
barrows and crags as trig points and cats’ eyes.

We stuck to the switchbacks and scenic routes,
Steered by the earth’s contours and natural lines of desire, feet firm on solid
footings of bedrock and soil
fracked only by moles.
We skimmed across mudflat and saltmarsh,
Clambered to stony pulpits on high hills
Inhaling gallons of pure sky
Into the moors of our lungs,
bartered bitcoins of glittering single and shale.

Then arrived in safe havens, entered the zones,
Stood in the grandstands of bluffs and ghylls, spectators
To flying pointes grazing wild grass to carpeted lawns,
Oaks flaunting turtle dove on their ring-fingers,
Ospreys fishing the lakes from invisible pulleys and hoists,
The falcon back on its see-through pivot, lured from it gyre.

Here was nature as future,
The satellite dishes of blue convolvulus
tuned to the cosmos, tracking the chatter of stars,
the micro-gadgets of complex insects
working the fields, heaths tractored by beetles,
rainbowed hay meadows tipsy with list and light,
golden gravel hoarded in eskers and streams.

And we vowed not to slumber again but claimed sanctuary
under the kittiwake’s siren
and corncrake’s alarm,
in realms patrolled by sleepwalking becks and creeks
where beauty employs its own border police.

And witnessed ancient trees
affirming their citizenship of the land,
and hunkered and swore oaths, made laws in hidden parliaments of bays and coves, then gathered on commons and capes
waving passports of open palms medalled by dog rose and teasel
and raising the lag of air.

By Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate

Photo: River Nidd just west of Pateley Bridge, Nidderdale AONB
https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-o-z/waw/56/

Countryside Code

Whilst it was amazing to see so many new walkers taking to the countryside during the lockdown periods for their exercise, many of our towns and villages have remarked on the behaviour of some unaccustomed walkers that are not familiar with the expected traditions. It was therefore particularly useful to be able to publicise the Covid short version Countryside Code. In November 2020, the Countryside Code department at Natural England announced that they are now having a refresh consultation. ‘There are essentially three levels of information: short and long versions for the public plus additional information for land managers and owners for areas of open country (currently incorporated into the long leaflet). The recently refreshed short version was produced this summer to respond to Covid and is easily reproducible at A4, A5, and A6 and can be laminated for use on-site. The full version, whilst not incorrect, has for some time needed reviewing at least in terms of presentation and potential use of social media.’ Looking at the existing material, Natural England invited feedback and we asked our members for their thoughts which we incorporated into one document ( here ) now forwarded to Natural England as part of the initial consultation. Whilst we have not been able to incorporate every individual comment, we are grateful to all members for the wonderful response and the thoughtful comments provided. For further  information please contact the Membership Secretary at membership@walkersarewelcome.org.uk  

There is now a survey that you could complete at https://defragroup.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9sosQ0YlnPyfv3T

 

Jubilee Park – Kirkby Stephen

To celebrate National Tree Week, Kirkby Stephen took their walk group to the town’s Jubilee Park. The park today is a mature woodland but in the 19th century, it was the future vision of some Kirkby Stephen residents.
When developing the railway yard in 1856, land was enclosed and because this was once common land, it was decided to set aside areas for residents’ recreation. The allotments were provided but the park had no initial purpose. It was decided eventually to develop the area to mark the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. A bandstand and boating lake were added with a rockery and steps up to the higher level.
We have Andrew MacKereth, the well-respected Warden of the Workhouse, to thank for laying out the planting and his “labour of love”, so many years ago as he planted the trees. See the illustration above with the original entrance and planting.
Today, there is a tranquil mature wood of beech and other varieties of trees as chosen by Mr. MacKereth and other self-seeded trees and saplings with a meadow of wildflowers including orchids. The clay bottom pond no longer holds much water but has become a haven for wildlife and for damp loving wildflowers. A recent survey has recorded some rare plants.
The award-winning summerhouse designed by Elaine Rigby and built by G. Middleton Ltd. has replaced the ruinous octagonal bandstand. This unusual design, built of stone and oak, is a beautiful restful place to sit admiring the spectacular views over Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang Edge.
There is a clearing in front of the summerhouse, towards the pond, that has been left to view dark skies which has become a popular activity in the winter months when the nights are longer. Kirkby Stephen Walkers are Welcome have just produced a dark skies leaflet to guide you.
The wood always feels secluded but in autumn after the trees have given their colourful display, there is a clear view of Kirkby Stephen below over the railway bridge. Look out for conkers and beech nuts on the woodland floor.
Just as the trustees envisaged this park over 100 years ago, 500 native trees were planted at Edensyde, the other end of the town in 2010 for future residents to enjoy. These trees are thriving with a few losses to Ash Dieback. How many will be inspired to create new woodlands this year?

Clarion Call – Sheffield’s Access Pioneers

Bradfield  (a village on the edge of the Peak District) WaW say “If you’re looking to find someone an excellent Xmas present why not send away for a copy of this book which charts the history of access to moorland; it is crammed with terrific black and white photographs. Taking photographs in the early part of last century involved carrying a heavy wooden camera and glass plates over many miles of inhospitable moorland. This makes the photographs, many published for the first time ever in this book, particularly remarkable.

CLARION CALL celebrates the role played by the early members of Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Group which ran from 1900 to 2015, in the century-long successful battle for the creation of our national parks and moorland access.

To order book(s) just send an email to chrisprescott1949@yahoo.co.uk
Cost £7.00 including p and p.  All proceeds go towards promoting rambling.”

Note: The same book will cost you £14.99 on Amazon. 

Celebrating the Ancient Broadleaf Woodlands of North Hampshire

It’s well known that walking quietly amongst trees and observing nature can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and well being in a natural way; in Japan they call this forest bathing or shinrin yoku.

We are fortunate to have some fabulous woods near Whitchurch, crisscrossed by Public Rights of Way and this is a perfect time of year to get out there, enjoy the peace, take in the autumn colours and celebrate our amazing trees.

Whitchurch WaW decided against organising a small guided walk, preferring to encourage as many local residents as possible to explore the three very different areas of woodland close to town with their own household bubbles. Children’s activity sheets were made available courtesy of the Woodland Trust and links provided to downloadable trail maps.

Bradley Woods is a small pocket of ancient broadleaf woodland found on a sheltered chalk slope in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding natural Beauty just 2 miles north of Whitchurch. The wood is predominantly made up of Beech, Birch, Oak, Ash and Hazel and is a particular favourite in the spring when the woodland floor is a carpet of bluebells.
http://whitchurchwalks.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Bradley-Wood.pdf

A little to the SW of Whitchurch is Harewood Forest, the largest area of ancient natural woodland within Hampshire, after the New Forest; it provides an excellent woodland habitat for wildlife and is home to a large native deer population. A series of paths crisscross the forest including the Test Way long distance trail. https://documents.hants.gov.uk/countryside/walks/WherwellHarewoodtrail.pdf

Blackwood Forest managed by Forestry England, offers a different experience. This mixed woodland of broadleaf and coniferous trees with its extensive trails, information boards and opportunities for den building and tree climbing makes this a particularly popular wood with children. Ash Dieback has been a particular problem in North Hampshire and you can see evidence of the clearance work being undertaken in the forest to manage this. https://www.forestryengland.uk/blackwood-forest

Remember, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Support National Tree Week and plant a tree near you.

Pointing the Way for Walkers in Cheddar

A new fingerpost has been installed at the bottom of the Gorge near the caves to help visitors better discover and navigate Cheddar Gorge and the surrounding countryside of Cheddar and the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) .
The junction is a key location for walkers,  it is located in the heart of the Gorge where the circular Gorge Walk and long-distance Mendip Way both drop into the village. The lack of signage had long been confusing for some visitors wishing to explore the stunning countryside and take advantage of the fantastic views offered along both routes.
With the support of Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council, Cheddar Walking and the Mendip Hills AONB Unit have teamed up to fund the new oak fingerpost, which is located at the junction of the B3135 Gorge road and Cufic Lane.
Cheddar Walking is a local group that promotes Cheddar as a walker-friendly destination under the Walkers are Welcome scheme, offering a number of walking routes of varying grades, starting from the village centre.
Huw Robson, Chairperson for Cheddar Walking said:
“This fingerpost fills a small but significant gap in the way-marking of some of the iconic walks in the Cheddar area. Many visitors in the lower gorge get confused about where to go to pick up the circular Gorge Walk and the West Mendip Way, and now this is clearly and attractively signed. Cheddar Walking is delighted to have worked with the Mendip Hills AONB on this project and we look forward to continuing to collaborate on initiatives to improve and promote walking in the area”.
Tim Haselden, Development Officer for the Mendip Hills AONB, said:
“We’re really pleased to have been able to help Cheddar Walking achieve this project, which forms part of a wider approach to provide a better and more sustainable visitor experience, helping people connect with nature and promoting Cheddar as the outdoor capital of the South West“.
The Mendip Way is a 50 miles (80km) long-distance trail that takes in all of the special qualities of the Mendip Hills. The West and East Mendip Ways connect Weston-super-Mare, via Cheddar and Wells to Frome. The West Mendip Way is largely in the Mendip Hills AONB and starts near the Bristol Channel at Uphill and climbs the Mendip Hills escarpment onto the Mendip plateau through Cheddar Gorge and down to Wells.
The Gorge Walk is a 3.5 mile (5.5km) circular route around the top of both sides of Cheddar Gorge taking in amazing views and a variety of wonderful wildlife and important habitats.
For more information, please visit https://cheddarwalking.org.uk/

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