I’m calling this Offa’s Dyke Path – Day Zero because even though we hiked a bit of the path after we arrived in Chepstow, most of our day was spent in transit getting from Canada to Chepstow. I had left my home in Kanata, Ontario about 5AM the previous day to fly into Halifax, Nova Scotia while my hiking partner, Ron Joy had left his home in St. John, Newfoundland to catch a flight to rendezvous with me in Halifax. Together we then boarded an Air Canada flight at about midnight that got us into Heathrow airport at about 8AM.
It was raining when I had left Ottawa and it was drizzling a bit when we arrived in Heathrow. Not the best of ways to start a two week hiking trip.
As we waited patiently for our bus to arrive, I found myself wondering why luggage carts would be in cages and why the British would want to starve poor birds. My spirits were lifted, however, when I saw that someone at least liked the way that walkers looked! But when our bus arrived sporting what looked like a pair of floppy rabbit’s ears as mirrors, I knew that everything would work out somehow 🙂
I swept the cobwebs aside long enough to board the bus and almost immediately closed my eyes again and slept fitfully until we eventually arrived at our destination, Chepstow, Wales.
We found our B&B but not without a few anxious moments. First off, I left my camera equipment on the bus – my bad – but realized soon enough to to be able to stop the bus before they headed off to who knows where. Then came the interesting task, finding our B&B in a town that seemed to lack sign posts and didn’t have house numbers.
I’m sure that we weren’t the first to ask for directions in Chepstow and likely not the last. “Oh, you can’t miss it.”, they said. “Just up the street.”, they said. Up being a descriptor of distance and elevation in this instance. “How far?”, we asked. “Not far.” seemed to be the universally agreed upon response to that question so, with luggage in tow and with packs on our backs, we headed “up” the street only to go a bit too far. At that point “Not far.” was an easier distance to cope with since it was back downhill! We eventually got our distance calibration correct and arrived at our B&B for our first night’s stay in Wales.
To do the full and official Offa’s Dyke Path, you start at the official marker on the Sedbury Cliffs a couple of miles form Chepstow. To do that, you have two choices. Walk there in the morning or follow the normal procedure and do the first bit of the path shortly after finding your B&B, which as noted above we had been able to find.
After getting settled in to our rooms, our host showed us directions on the map and drove us to a point nearer to the Sedbury Cliffs starting marker. Everything felt fine except that a light mist was beginning to fall and we soon realized that our map and guidebook were still back at the B&B where we had been looking at them with our host.
Realization, of course, came shortly after our host had driven off! “Oh well,” says we, “the path looks well worn and well marked. What could go wrong?” And with that sentiment in mind, we passed our first Offa’s Dyke Path sign and headed out on a new adventure.
As we headed toward the Sedbury Cliffs, the rain increased and the path, although well worn, became quite slippery. Not a problem at this point, but definitely a concern by the time that we got to the cliffs. Apparently the mystique of hiking the path is improved if you pick a stone up from the Severn Estuary, shown in this shot that I took from the Sedbury Cliffs starting point, and carry that stone with you to Prestatyn and drop it in the Irish Sea at the northern end of the path. Perhaps that explains why there is a beach in Prestatyn and no beach in Chepstow :-).
Only trouble for us was the fact that the tide was out and the path down to the estuary was both steep and very slippery due to the mist which by now had become a light drizzle. We had read that the first part of the path basically traveled through residential streets, which it did, but were a bit surprised by this short section of the trail which was not only muddy but very slippery and no easy way around it. Wearing his running shoes rather than his hiking boots, my hiking partner was not impressed!
Oh, and did I mention the herd of black and white “guard cows” :-)?.
Well, here is the proof that we did get to the starting point for our journey along the Offa’s Dyke Path. The Offa’s Dyke Path runs for 177 miles from Sedbury Cliffs on the Severn Estuary near Chepstow to the North Wales resort of Prestatyn on Liverpool Bay. For about 70 miles it follows the course of the Eighth Century Offa’s Dyke earthwork.
Passing through the first of many stiles along the path, we were officially on our way and optimistically heading in the right direction. At least one sign post we would pass in the ensuing days would indicate that the distance was 182 miles but with a number of wrong turns, backtracking and getting to and from our nightly B&B accommodation and a pub or two, the distance that we would be walking would exceed 200 miles. Little did we know that as our adventure unfolded on this, our Day Zero, we would start quickly to accumulate more than the requisite distance.
The Acorn was the important key to whether you were on the correct path or not.
The path was marked in various ways, sometimes clearly and other times a bit more obscurely. Here, a yellow arrow and an acorn was the marker. We soon learned, but not soon enough, that a yellow arrow without the acorn marked a Public Path but was not necessarily the marker for the Offa’s Dyke Path. We found ourselves on Public Paths going in the wrong direction on more than one occasion!
At about this point in the trail, the trail came to a T-intersection and we turned to the right and followed the acorns not realizing that Chepstow (and our route back to our B&B) would have been visible had we just taken a few steps to the left. Without knowing it, we were soon heading out on the part of the route that should have been our starting point for the next day’s hike. Of course, from that point on, all of the landmarks and signs seemed to be pointing us in the wrong direction, which was closer to the truth than we would readily want to admit.