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Chirk Castle or Castle Mill to Llandegla

Thursday, August 16, 2012

These blog entries detail the adventures, perils, and inclement weather that befell Deborah, our Director of Marketing here at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, and her husband Martin along Offa’s Dyke, a 182-mile long trek along the border of England and Wales. For the full introduction and to start at the beginning to read the stories in order, see the June 28th, 2010 blog entry.

Chirk Castle or Castle Mill to Llandegla

Next: will the barometer turn from foul to fair as we make our way to Llandegla and stay in Wales for the rest of the trip?

Dear loyal Readers:

We have just safely arrived at Bodidris Hall, Llandegla (about 450 years old) after another harrowing day on the trail: 15.5 miles of close calls and ugly scrapes. In reverse chronological order, we finished a delicious dinner of wild onion soup, lamb, mushroom velouté and apple and cream tart followed by tea in the great hall. When we checked in, there were Welsh cakes, tea and sherry in our room. This, of course, compensates for the dangers in reaching this destination. While the weather was finally pleasant, we narrowly escaped with our lives.

Early in the evening, when we arrived in the village, we headed over to the store and post office. Norma, the postmistress, made us comfortable since we were tired, but not wet. It is hard to evade the trail hazards, something that I didn't expect in Wales. Fortunately, my mother warned me when I called to say goodbye, so we had the entire flight over to England to plan what to do.  Our guidebook did address the issues of borrowing weapons, but I felt that Martin was very creative with the weapons wagon. It was too bad that we had to abandon it. Again, the Welsh were very welcoming- they totally understood that we were not able to bring our own weapons over for the hike. I can understand why people train so long for this event since it is just not hiking but defending oneself. It is a good thing that my brothers taught me so many defensive moves and that The Hockaday School taught me archery. Martin is great in tight situations since he is handy with so many different weapons and improvising shelters.

Norma asked where we were headed. When I said Bodidris Hall, she said that she would take us since a taxi would cost so much. She said that would be her good tourist deed of the day. Bodidris Hall was splendid, but a bit run down although the room we had is close to the same size as our house. We had a lovely view of the gardens. The rate we had included dinner and breakfast. We arranged for dinner and relaxed in our room, drinking tea, sherry and eating Welsh cakes and taking a hot bath.  

But I digress. We left Castle Mill in good time since we knew it would be a long day. We climbed up towards Chirk and resolved to come back to visit. It is the oldest continuously lived in castle in Wales. It is quite impressive, a looming gray bulk on the top of a hill.  We knew that we were safe since armed castle guards patrolled the grounds. The sheep looked friendly. We were making good time in the sun. We spied peregrine falcons and various and sundry bird life. There were no golf courses. The day was going well.

We met a southbound party. Not only had they paid to ship their luggage ahead, they had paid for an armed guard to escort them from station to station, medieval and modern: crossbows and quarter-staves with kevlar vests and pants, goretex helmets.  We chatted with them, eager to learn of the perils ahead. Their tour operator, in addition to shipping luggage and making hotel bookings, had arranged for a shift of armed escorts for each stage, assuring them that the escorts knew the trail in that area. I had no idea tour operators did that kind of thing.

They warned of wolverine attacks, although their day had been relatively uneventful, with only the nuisance of a minor badger attack. They had seen signs of wolverines massing in the woods and perhaps making an unholy alliance with the badgers and warned us to take extra caution.

Martin kept his morning star on the advice of the escorts and gathered wood staves and sharpened and fire hardened them.  I kept my bow at the ready as we cautiously walked forward.  Within an hour, the unexpected occurred. I was in walking in front and the ground surrounding me began to sink. The badgers had undermined the trail! As I sank into the earth, the wolverines charged from the woods. An ugly situation indeed.  

I caught myself with my arms on the edge of the pit and Martin dragged me back up to safety. Horrors! We could

hear the badgers digging underneath us. We thrust our sharpened stakes into the ground to discourage them. We can’t stay on the path with the gibbering hoard below. Martin holds back the wolverines with a sharpened stake as I prepare the bow and begin firing. Between our spirited defense and leaving the path, we had broken the back of their devious plot. Before they could regroup, we surged onward to the next hill. We were now searching for a cow pasture, knowing the cow/wolverines antipathy. (Such a cow is to the left, keeping a keen lookout for any of its numerous animal foes.)

I couldn't help but think of previous vacations, sipping tea at the Deux Magots in Paris while contemplating St. Germaine de Pres or getting a pedicure at the edge of the Indian Ocean. Instead, I am fighting in armed combat in the rain with badgers and wolverines while climbing hill after hill. We have learned the code now in the guidebook: decline versus steep decline, climb versus steep climb. "Ridge" always means windswept, usually with hail. The views have been splendid and our fellow travelers quite interesting. I have become much more skilled in reading contour maps and packing and unpacking. I should note that unlike Martin, I have not lost anything yet.

Finally, we stagger into Llandegla, with all our gear and no other incidents. However, storm clouds were looming and I think that Norma, the kindly storekeeper, wants to give us some advice.  As she drives us to the Hall, she finally says, "it is said that specters are seen there at night. Take caution and keep your garlic close by."

I hope that we survive to travel onwards to the second to the last day of hiking to Prestatyn.

Yours apprehensively,

Deborah