Thursday, 20 February 2014

A schnifty bit more on the subject of... the Maelor Way and the Offa’s Dyke Path (Footpaths Nos. 15 and 16)

In our last instalment of the Big Dave’s Little Stroll route we left it at the end of the South Cheshire Way on the Shropshire Union Canal at Grindley Brook contemplating the Maelor Way. So that’s where this one will begin...

The Maelor Way links the South Cheshire Way at Grindley Brook, to the Offa's Dyke Path National Trail at Chirk. Most of the way is easy walking across pleasant meadows and through woodlands, mostly in the county borough of Wrexham in Wales, but partly in Cheshire and Shropshire in England. It crosses farmland to Hanmer Mere and Overton-on-Dee with its ancient yew tress, then follows woodland trails alongside the Rivers Dee and Ceiriog to Chirk.
The Maelor Way uses public footpaths, bridleways, quiet lanes and canal towpath to pass from Grindley Brook through unspoiled undulating countryside to Bronygarth in the shadow of Chirk Castle.

The Maelor Way is about 24 miles (38km) and Big Dave’s going to do the lot. It also represents the point where he’ll enter the third and final nation of Great Britain, the glorious and epic... Wales.
According to Wrexham County Borough Council “If you’re looking for rolling farmland with distant views to the Berwyn Mountains or the Cheshire Plain, steep wooded river valleys, the placid and picturesque Hanmer Mere, little-changed villages and hamlets and even a bit of the Llangollen Canal towpath, the Maelor Way is for you.” Who can argue with that?
Chirk Castle is also the point where the route bids farewell to the Maelor Way and embraces another behemoth of a national trail in the shape and form of the Offa’s Dyke Path.
The Offa's Dyke Path (Welsh: Llwybr Clawdd Offa) runs 176 miles (283 km) along the Wales–England border. It attracts walkers from throughout the world and either follows, or keeps close company with, the remnants of Offa's Dyke, an 8th-century earthwork, the majority of which was probably constructed on the orders of Mercian King Offa.  Although, he won’t be doing the whole length of the path, he’ll be doing around 140 miles of it (!) and so he can’t be accused of neglecting the Welsh leg of his journey.
Most walkers travel south to north, starting by the Severn Estuary, at Sedbury, near Chepstow, and finishing at Prestatyn on the north coast... so Big Dave's route is bucking that trend by starting at Chirk and finishing at Chepstow. The walk will take an average walker roughly 12 days to complete, although this can vary depending on individual fitness, attitude, the weather, age and experience.
Following a man-made border and ancient monument, rather than natural features, the dyke crosses a variety of different landscapes. This route crosses the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons and the Shropshire Hills (including the many ups and downs of the 'Switchback', for many walkers the hardest part of the walk).
The Path passes through, or close to, many historic towns, including Chepstow, Monmouth, Hay-on-Wye, Kington, Knighton, Bishop’s Castle, Montgomery, Welshpool, and Oswestry. The Path also passes through no less than eight different counties and crosses the border between England and Wales over 20 times.
In terms of the views, there seems to be much to see – from the riverside meadows of the Wye and Severn valleys to the peaceful rolling hills of Shropshire and Powys and the dramatic heather clad uplands of the Black Mountains. Along the way there are several castles, quiet country churches, enigmatic Iron Age hillforts and enticing country pubs to enjoy... so hopefully it won’t be all about the blisters!.
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