Home is Sweet But I Will Miss the Sheep

So, the Excellent 25th Anniversary Welsh Adventure was a huge success. We wanted to do something completely different, and we did!

Here is how our usual vacations work: travel to some city of interest, walk around all day seeing stuff, eat and drink a little too much, and come back home exhausted. As an introvert, I find navigating a city full of people tiring on both a physical and mental level. It’s worth it to see stuff, no doubt about it, but by the end of the trip I just can’t wait to spend a whole day all by myself in my quiet apartment.

On this trip, after a couple of days in Cardiff, we spent most of every day in near-isolation, hiking up hills, down valleys, and over moors. We saw far more cows, horses and sheep than people. We got used to the quiet–in fact, we began to really like it. By the time we got back to Bristol, we couldn’t believe how noisy cities are.

Physically, it was very tiring–those are some steep hills, and we covered several every day–but mentally, it was very refreshing. I think we both felt like we had run away from home! And, OMG, the scenery was amazing. We saw so much that we would never have been able to see from a car or train.

Wheat field in the Wye Valley.
Wheat field in the Wye Valley.
Yeah, we climbed down that hill, and up it before that. Rinse, repeat!
Yeah, we climbed down that hill, and up it before that. Rinse, repeat!
Curious cows.
Curious cows.
Just a few of the thousands of sheep we saw along the trail.
Just a few of the thousands of sheep we saw along the trail.

I was especially impressed by the moors. I had never seen a moor close-up before, and I found it really interesting and beautiful, too. We saw lots of heather, gorse, ferns (whole fields of these!), wild grasses, and wildflowers like foxglove and Queen Anne’s lace.

Stone cairns mark the old trail in Brecon Beacons park.
Stone cairns and banks of heather mark the old trail in Brecon Beacons park.
A peat bog. It's very black. I kept looking for a mummified hand sticking out of one, but no luck.
A peat bog. I kept looking for a mummified hand sticking out of one of these, but no luck.
Wild Welsh ponies on the moor.
Wild Welsh ponies on the moor.
Wild foxglove.
Wild foxglove with gorse bushes in the background.
Way. WAY up on the moor at Hay Bluff.
Way. WAY up on the moor at Hay Bluff on the Wales-England border.

We pushed ourselves a bit, never having hiked that far in that short a time before. In total, we covered about 70 moderately difficult miles in five and a half days of hiking in all kinds of weather. But, aside from my husband twisting his knee a little, and both of us having some aches at the end of every day, there were no injuries. Hiking like this is clearly something you can continue to do for some time, if you are in good shape. We saw many wiry older people on the trail who were doing just fine, though they were usually doing less mileage per day and taking it a little slower. (How funny to be called “you young people” at our age!)

Typical farm along the trail.
Typical farm along the trail.
IMG_5666
Very, very old barn.

We did have to skip one day because we had been caught in cold, driving rain, and had no interest in repeating the experience the next day, which looked equally disgusting! So, we spent that day in Abergavenny, a nice Welsh town with an interesting church and a pair of elderly docents who were so happy to have someone to talk to that they gave us a detailed tour of the place.

Abergavenny in the rain.
Abergavenny in the rain.

Another pre-scheduled “rest day” was spent in Hay-on-Wye, a tourist town specializing in secondhand and antique goods, especially books. So, that was fun, even if it made our baggage quite a bit heavier.

One of dozens of bookshops in Hay-on-Wye.
One of dozens of bookshops in Hay-on-Wye.
Well, OK, then.
Well, OK, then.

We stayed in a different “accommodation” every night. Some hotels (including a 13th century coaching inn with not one straight wall, floor, or ceiling!) some B&Bs, and one farmhouse. They were all very different, and everyone was really friendly and helpful. Whoever said that the Brits are reserved has clearly either not met the Welsh, or not lived in Austria. Every landlord, taxi driver, and bartender wanted to chat. Mostly about the weather 🙂 And it was sure nice to speak English for two weeks. (I think I am kind of over German, really. The first symptom of short-timer’s disease.)

For some reason, most people seemed to think we were Canadian. That was a new one to us. All I can figure is that, having gone to school in the UK, we both automatically switch to British vocabulary when we get there (lift, car park, chips, etc.) and when people hear those terms with an American accent they assume we are  Canadian. Also, a couple of people told us that they had learned never to ask Canadians if they were American because they get offended. But if you ask an American if they are Canadian, they don’t seem to mind. Go figure.

An old trail marker.
An old trail marker. Some of these were hard to find.
The actual dyke with a small moat on one side. It was not always this obvious, but very much so along this stretch.
The actual dyke with a small moat on one side. It was not always this obvious, but very much so along this stretch.

A couple of people have asked me how this walking tour thing works and what company we used. Here’s the deal: we booked through Celtic Trails and did the southern half of the Offa’s Dyke Path. They provided an itinerary, guidebook, maps and other information, and booked all the hotels and taxis for us. We just followed directions (a GPS was helpful) to whatever place we were staying in for the night–sometimes we were instructed to call the landlord to come pick us up at some point on the trail. A taxi or the landlord would take our bags on to the next accommodation while we hiked. We hiked anywhere from 9 to 14 miles each day. At most places dinner was arranged for us, so all we had to do was stumble into our room, take a shower, and go downstairs to eat. Then fall into a nice, cozy bed! They even packed a bag lunch for us for the next day’s hike. And of course, every place offered a big, high-protein English breakfast–the perfect way to start a day on the trail.

I give Celtic Trails an “A.” Everything worked perfectly smoothly, including taking an unscheduled rain day. I would love to do another one of their tours some day, maybe in the Cotswolds or in Ireland. It is the perfect arrangement for those who love to hike, but hate to camp!

We wrapped it all up by staying with my sister in law and her partner in his country house outside of Bristol for three nights. More quiet, more cows. And what did we do the last day? Walk five miles to a nearby town for a pub lunch!

Two weeks is a good length for a vacation. One week would not have been enough. After two, I am ready to be home and back in my own kitchen. Also, I will not particularly miss either peeing in hedges or trying to perform my morning ablutions in tiny, weird British bathrooms.

But I will miss the sheep!

Baaaa!
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3 comments

  1. looks like a fantastic walking vacation. As always, I enjoy the commentary and the photography. Thank you for including us in your journey!

    Like

  2. Brilliant! All of it!! I saw the movie The Way and have wanted to do the walk from France to Santiago de Compostela since — but this is looking super way awesome too! Maybe even better?

    Like

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