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Llandegla to Bodfari

Thursday, August 23, 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.

Llandegla to Bodfari

Dear Readers

This proved to be our worst day yet. Overnight the weather dramatically worsened. Fortunately, the ghosts did not bother us since we don't speak Welsh. We couldn't understand them and they, being Welsh, refused to understand us and so we went back to sleep. After a substantial breakfast that Katie put together, we had to walk back to Llandegla since Tom the taxi driver could not be found. By this time, the wind and rain combined to completely drench us, but we were nonetheless able to struggle into town to replenish our lunch supplies. We met Norma at the store who suggested that we spend the day by the fire at the Hall. How prescient were her words!  She then asked if we were carrying garlic. We said no. Actually, when we were in Hay, we tried to buy garlic for cooking but none was to be found. We just assumed that the Welsh didn’t carry it in the stores. Norma burst our preconceptions. It turned out that the Welsh carry garlic on their person as a preventative. She had two cloves extra in her pocket and gave them to us. We thought this a bit strange.

Preparing for walking in the storm, we bundled up as best we could. We turned my plastic garbage bag into a rain skirt for Martin, I, once again, dressed in all my wool layers, and set out into the howling storm after Norma warned us again, "Always know where the nearest running water is and beware the wind."

This was not the most auspicious start to the day. We found the path and started up the fields to the first hill ridge. I noticed that my feet were wet, the first time that this occurred on the trip. I looked down and realized that the rain was blowing into my boots. A bit later, I noticed that I could feel water squishing around. Then later that my boots were filling up with water and my toes were covered. We saw another couple that we had met two days earlier and asked them how they were faring. They were considering options, including dropping down from the hilltops and walking around on the road. We did not then realize that there was more than one reason to do that and how close the road to Ruthin was.

We trudged onward. I, in a cheery tone, asked Martin if he thought we could make it.  Surprisingly, he said, "Perhaps. It is too early to tell.” My ankles were covered in water by this time. We made it down the hill, sliding through the mud and started up the next ridge.  "Martin, do you hear that howling?” I asked. He thought it was just the wind, but I wasn't so sure.  It seemed strange that the wind and rain were so hostile.  Perhaps that Welsh ghost last night was threatening us. It was hard to tell since he had such a thick accent and my Welsh is shaky in the best of conditions. The howling continued. The wind was lifting me up slightly when I took steps up to the ridge. I felt as if something was pulling me up.  I was actually getting frightened.  Dealing with attack sheep and handling cross bows were second nature to me, as easy as stile hopping, but I felt that this situation was different. Finally Martin said that this was dangerous. We caught up to the next couple and told them that we were turning back. They told us that when we turned around to not look back since there was something odd about the wind and asked if we had garlic. It was getting wet but we did have it.

We then fought the wind going back, making it up and down the ridges, and finally getting down to the flooded fields. I kept seeing things out of the corner of my eye but I was more concerning about Martin who started shivering at our tea stop. We ate 5 protein bars in the lee of the trees and decided we needed to find a warm pub back in Llandegla.  We kept slogging back, slipping and sliding through the mud, keeping our garlic tightly at hand. At long last, we saw the village church. I noticed that there was a sign "refreshments," but we wanted the warmth of a pub. On the way through the village, we ran into another set of hikers who told us that the pub was closed. I suggested the church. By now, we noticed that the village was ominously devoid of people and that the howling was worse. "Quick!,” I yelled, “to the church!” I ran ahead of Martin to open the door and pulled him in, slamming it closed on some pretty solid looking wind. By now, my hands were so cold that I couldn't get the packet of our dry clothes open and so the lady hiker had to help.  "What was that out there?” I asked. I don't want to know, she said. After about six cups of hot tea with sugar, and some dry clothes, we recovered and contemplated what to do. Our English cell didn't work but the iPhone came to the rescue and we called Hughie at Glyn Clywd Isa. He picked us up in the driving wind and rain and said that the flooded roads and fields were problems all over Wales. We arrived wet and still shivering to their lovely 200+ year old home. They had an Aga, a stove that is always on, so it kept the flagstone floor in their kitchen warm as we took off sodden boots and socks. We unpacked. Everything was wet except the clothes in REI compression sacks. Passports in ziplocks, money in ziplocks, camera, guidebook, food, tea (just kidding, we drank it all earlier.). We dried it all in front of the Aga, our new friend. Soon, we were ensconced in front of an oak log fire with tea and scones. I could write poems in homage to Welsh scones, by the way. Slightly hard on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, sweet only with raisins, moistened with jam and clotted cream. Yum.

I took a long hot bath at their insistence. Linda and Hughie thought I still looked cold and other storm refugees were expected.  When they turned up, we found that they had been in front of us on the trail by only a couple of hundred feet. They went on to a road into Ruthin, sought refuge in a coffee shop, took a bus to Denbeigh, used a laundromat to dry their clothes and walked to the b and b. Very resourceful, I thought.

So we now knew from personal experience why it is hard to find garlic in Wales (used to repel werewolves in the wind), we found storms worse than Alaska, and we were left in a quandary regarding completing our hike. Should we reschedule the rest of the trip or go on to finish the last day? Would the barometer turn from foul to fair on the morrow?

Finally, Hughie had us read a published tale of their property on the sightings of the "grim eleves" and photographic evidence of unexplained activity of the grim elf sighting. Oh well, that is another tale. We are warm and dry and safe, tucking into a dinner of lasagna, garlic bread, spinach salad and cobbler with custard sauce.

Deborah Hansen

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,


Catherine's Alaskan Adventures

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Catherine, the Pike's Marketing Summer Intern, has an excellent blog, L'Americaine Gourmande that details her gastronomic adventures while traveling or at home. Since she has been living in Alaska this summer, she has detailed several of her adventures, including her first time dipnetting, along with delicious recipes for food she has cooked. Catherine started the blog to detail the differences in cooking in America and France, where she studied abroad, as well as post recipes of tasty things she has made. To read her great blog entry about dipnetting on the Kenai, just click HERE and make sure to read through for her delicious salmon recipe. One of the side projects she is working on as marketing intern is designing and making holiday costumes for the Pike's Waterfront Lodge Lucky Ducks. If you are not familiar with them, I'm talking about three different stuffed ducks modeled after the real ducks that live on the hotel grounds.

Domgay to Chirk Castle/Castle Mill

Thursday, August 09, 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.

Domgay to Chirk Castle/Castle Mill

Dear Favored Readers:

We spent a pleasant night in the tiny hamlet of Domgay in a late 18th century house. Today was quite a long day with over 18 miles of canal, mountain, hill and dale. We survived it with quick attention to the dangers lurking in the seemingly bucolic countryside.

Mark drove us into Four Crosses, pointing out the continuation of our path. He was able to loan us a regular archery kit since I was still uncomfortable with the morningstar and the implications of close in combat. I should have mentioned that Mark ran, among other things, a horseback archery school and weekend events on his property.

We made it into Llanymynech, the town distinguished by the Welsh/English border running down its main street.  Trouble started after we reached the golf course. I may have mentioned the trouble with golf courses in Wales. They are always on top of a mountain, reached after a steep climb out of a town. None of them have featured tea and cookies overlooking a glorious view. We did see a "Welcome Hikers" sign at one, but we were too early to partake.

After, we climbed up to the golf course (I was panting); Martin called for a break and opened his pack. "Cheese!" He exclaimed! "Deb, did you buy cheese?" "No," I trilled. "Yuck and how heavy". He rummaged around further and found the following note:

“Hello hikers! You have honest faces and we can help each other. Have dinner at the Poachers Pocket in Chirk after your arrival in Castle Mill. Give the bartender the cheese and your dinner and ale will be free. Since England has imposed tax and extra duties on Welsh cheese and due to EU restrictions, the finest Welsh cheeses can no longer be purchased in England so we have organized an alternative distribution system, a tradition honored since the time of the Conqueror.”  

They knew our destination; we felt it best to cooperate.

We packed up and climbed on but were wary since we knew we had the contraband cheese and others probably knew as well.

Later that morning, we took a tea break with our favorite tea and the delicious English ginger biscuits. (To the left, a typical lunch break complete with checking the book for the correct trail.) We were perched on both sides of a stile and it wasn't rainy, a welcome change.  Suddenly, without warning, as if out of the blue, an aggressive horse galloped over. I was about to scramble to Martin's side of the stile when I saw that he had two horses to contend with. Fortunately, we had only unpacked the thermos and ginger cookies.  Martin leapt over to my side since that was the direction we were headed. We needed a distraction- the only other alternative was to brain them with the morningstars. Alas, we opted for the less bloody alternative of tossing ginger cookies at them as we raced across the field. Concerned about our dwindling supply, I tried breaking them into pieces, but I couldn't throw them as far. To get any distance, we had to skim them like small, delicious frisbees.

Finally we escaped from the horses and discussed, as we walked, how we would evade British border patrols when we crossed the river to Castle Mill. It then hailed and rained and hailed. We thought we would never make it. Finally, we saw Chirk Castle in the distance, a great gray fortress. We tried to walk faster and look innocent in case there were security cameras. We saw signs, "Smuggling is a crime!" and "Beware the friendly stranger!" What to do!?

Finally, we approached the bridge. Fortunately, we were running late and it was after 5:00 pm. The customs post was closed. We breathed a huge sigh of relief and started over. Then we heard a muffled bark from inside the watch house. The curtain twitched. We melted back into the woods.

I, of course, was worried since I was wet and cold and did not want to swim that river. Martin was more confident. He motioned to me that we would hang from the bridge edge and cross it by hand over hand. I wasn't sure that I could do it but Martin felt sure that I could. So we started across. "Holy cow, what a drop," I whispered to Martin, "Let's hurry!" so we did. When we finally reached our b and b our hosts asked us where we wanted to go for dinner. We said that we heard that the Poachers Pocket was good. They looked at each other knowingly and said that they could take us. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and lost the unwanted 20 pounds of cheese.  That is our story of how we made it to Castle Mill and Chirk Castel. Next: will the weather get any better as we make our way to Llandegla and stay in Wales for the rest of the trip?

Deborah Hansen

Welshpool to Four Crosses/Domgay

Thursday, August 02, 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.

Welshpool to Four Crosses/Domgay

Dear readers,

We set off with a heavy heart, knowing we would not see Angela and David along with the comfort of their wolfhounds. However, Julie, who was a very helpful front desk manager at the Royal Oak, learned of our problem and consulted with the bartender. He produced a loaner brace of morning stars that he felt I could use with a bit of practice. That evening after dinner, Martin and I made use of the bricked-in area next to the hotel. I passed muster.

The first part of the walk in a driving rain followed by a hailstorm was uneventful. The first intimations of trouble came when we met a southbound party mending their chain mail by the side of the trail. They quickly relayed news of unusual trouble. Scottish border wolves have been moving south. Since farmers had been successfully defending their flocks, the wolves had taken to foraging among Offa's Dyke travelers.  They had heard of this new danger and thus had worn chain mail over their hiking gear. It added to the weight, but they felt surviving the trail was most important.

We were quite concerned since we would be walking in a relatively exposed section of the trail, on the embankment to contain the flood from the Severn. When in a difficult spot, we felt that it was always important to eat so we found a lovely tree stump and set up our simple lunch of cheese, fresh bread, tea and ginger cookies and green apples.  It was now sunny and warm enough to require only three light layers of wool. Martin and I were talking quietly of strategies should a wolf pack attack occur. I was nervous given my limited morningstar experience and wished that I had not turned in the crossbow.

As I turned, scanning for trouble, I saw the wolves, creeping under the hedge, slinking in a very unusual pattern. Martin and I were stymied for a moment since we didn't have our missile weapons. But we realized since they were creeping under the fence, they were at a disadvantage we could exploit. Brisk work with the morningstars sent the survivors howling off to the river. We finished lunch and continued on with the hike.

When we reached Four Crosses without further incident, we heaved a sigh of relief and then hiked to our B and B for the night, a five star historic hall in the hamlet of Domgay.  Fortunately, it was easy to find and our host, Mark, was waiting for us. He escorted us to our luxurious lodging on the second floor. It not only featured a jacuzzi bath but also a heated floor, delicious cookies, and tea. We immediately availed ourselves of these luxuries since it had been a trying day despite our success with the wolves. We also washed our clothes and laid them on the bathroom floor to dry.  That night, over a delectable dinner of meat pie and salad finished with sticky toffee pudding, we discussed the next day's perils with Mark since we needed his insight. (Above, a beautiful bed and breakfast complete with training grounds, stables, and barracks around back.)

Tomorrow - on to Castle Mill at Chirk Castle.

Deborah Hansen