Five Counties and Counting…

I was marking out the last segment of my walked route on the big-picture map I use to do the overall planning, and was astonished to realise I have finally made it onto the last fold.

This is the second of my big-picture maps, which you might remember from an early post on the topic of the adventure.  I was delighted to get map #2 from my Dad when I saw him in September; Liverpool and the Wirral are the on both maps, so it’s been October that has really covered most of the second half of the trip.  And now I am on the foinal quarter of that map, heading do soon to the coast.  The English Channel is visible on the map, now.  And indeed, this week I have been booking accommodation that will take me down to the sea over the next ten or eleven days.

Quite extraordinary, for a month!  Let me back up and take you through parts of Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshiore, Worcestershire, Warwickshire — a tiny bit of Gloucestershire and a fair chunk of Oxfordshire — and also Denbighshire and Powys in Wales.

Leaving London and my relatives, I took the coach up to Chester.  My plan was to walk from just south of there to Bangor-on-Dee, and had booked a place in Bangor accordingly, but ended up taking a side trip to the Wirral to meet with an old family friend — a friend of my grandparents before they emigrated to Canada, in fact — who had invited me to lunch.  I had hoped to meet with her on my way down the Wirral in August, but she’d been travelling and only recently returned.  Still, it was a delightful lunch, with stories of my family I hadn’t heard, and worth skipping a day’s walk.  I think!  I look at the gaps on the map and wince slightly.  But there are only four, which isn’t too bad, really.

I got to Bangor-on-Dee (not to be confused with the other Welsh Bangor, near Caernarfon, nor one in Northern Ireland, nor of course any of the ones in North America), and stayed in a quite lovely old B and B oin town.

The bridge over the river Dee there is apparently quite renowned — it was, if I recall correctly (I don’t have that notebook iwth me)  designed by Inigo Jones — and it was a nice place to recommence my walking.

From Bangor I strolled along the Dee most of the day before cutting inland to reach the Hand Hotel in Chirk.  I’m not sure why the red hand is an emblem there; I know it is the symbol of Ulster, but I’m not sure the connection with Chirk in north central Wales.  Chirk is the town with the aqueduct and tunnel I explored with friends from the farm in Oswestry, and also quite near the World Heritage Site of the Froncysyllte Aqueduct.  Having enjoyed the Chirk aqueduct I accordingly took the bus to Froncysyllte and walked over its.

I do think my fear of heights has diminished considerably since the Lake District; I was nervous crossing but nowhere near what I would have been in the past.  I could stop to take pictures without panicking I was going to fall off, anyway, and that’s saying something.

It was a gorgeous if cool afternoon, but it was in the Hand that all my bits-and-pieces travelling (and especially the plane trips) caught up with me, and I contracted a severe cold.  My intention had been to walk to Oswestry and go from there to Babbinswood Farm for a few days, but when I woke the next morning I felt sick enough not to relish climbing hills half the day — and it was a grey cool day, threatening rain — and it was a Thursday, and therefore a Community Garden day for the wwoofers at Babbinswood — so I took a bus to Glyn Ceiriog and spent the day poking around the garden and drinking tea next to the wood-fired stove in the hut, and if I didn’t really do very much work I have to say it was a pleasant way to spend the day.

I spent the next few days in Babbinswood, working some of them and walking others.  I did my Chirk to Oswestry segment, following the Offa’s Dyke National Trail most of the way.  I have to say the National Trails I have followed (Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke) have both had generally excellent signage — except for one tricky section on each.  On Hadrian’s Wall this was a place where the trail diverged from the wall itself for a stretch and got a bit turned around in fields; on Offa’s Dyke it was a stretch in the Candy Wood where multiple cross paths confused me sufficiently that I came out about half a mile away from where I thought I was.  Unfortunately the configuration of small lanes and hillsides was sufficiently similar to the actual trail that I went up the wrong valley a considerable distance before realising my mistake.

That day marked one of my first walked border crossings, with a sculpture of stone horse heads — one is in each country.  The horses are on account of the location being the Old Oswestry Racecourse, just before the Candy Wood consumed most of my afternoon.

After another couple of days recuperating from my cold, I tackled the Offa’s Dyke again.  Down from Oswestry on lanes to Four Crosses, where — alas! — I discovered I had two hours until the bus back.  It had been threatening rain all day, but just as I was thinking I might go back to the previous town (about an hour’s walk away), where the pubs and cafes were open, a friendly man from Yorkshire who told me this (I stopped him as he was walking his dog) invited me for tea out of the rain, and eventually even drove me back to Oswestry — a great kindness for which  I am thankful.

I acquired a new autumnal-weight raincoat and mailed my summer one home, along with some of my maps, and thus more heavily accoutred set out again for the south after my second visit to Babbinswood.  Or not quite!  I got to Welshpool, and after a night there went back to Babbinswood for a talk on fracking in Shropshire being hosted by a friend of the farmer.  It was an interesting talk; I still have something to learn about the topic, but it confirmed my concerns about the possibility of major ecological damage possible from the activity.  (Something recently again confirmed by the National Trust, of which I am a member, sending an email out stating that their position was that they wouldn’t allow fracking on their land.)  Since I was still feeling a bit unwell, I spent the morning sitting in the Welshpool public library reading a book on the alleged murder of William Shakespeare, which was one of the most impressive displays of pseudo-scholarship I have ever read.  The which was a pity, as I would like to follow up some of the author’s assertions and historical claims — something made difficult by the complete lack of citations!

The people in the tourism information office in Welshpool, who had directed me to the library, were greatly helpful the next morning as well, when they assisted me to find a B and B with room for that night.  I was rather surprised that the whole region was full, but so it proved!  I ended up having to take a taxi back a town to get to the B and B after walking the day, but the place was so lovely that I didn’t mind at all.

Well, I’m only on county #2 (Cheshire and Shropshire) of England, plus my two Welsh ones (Denbighshire for Chirk, and Powys for Welshpool), but I’ve written quite a lot and I think I’ll keep the rest of Shropshire and parts south and east — yes, east — for next time.  And actually it took me quite along while to get out of the clutches of Shropshire, a county with a most undulating border.  I’ll do my best to update this with pictures soon, but for the moment you’ll get words — about the quivalent of 1 1/3 pictures, ifthe old adage be true — so here’s a random picture of a handsome cock pheasant who attacked me for the length of two fields and a woods to even up the score.

the Cock Pheasant

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