I was down in Chepstow for the Summer’s End Progressive Rock Festival, but I was not restricting myself to music while I was down here, and had already taken in the parkrun at the Forest Of Dean on the Saturday morning, which you can read about here. Now I was up early on the Sunday morning to get started on the Offa’s Dyke Path.
Offa’s Dyke is a great frontier earthwork built by Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796 A.D. It gives its name to a long distance footpath, one of Britain’s National Trails, which runs for 177 miles from Sedbury Cliffs on the Severn Estuary, near Chepstow, to the North Wales resort of Prestatyn on Liverpool Bay, through the varied and little-frequented landscapes of the Welsh Marches.
I was working from my OL14 OS map and planned to do a circular route from the Beeches Farm campsite which would take in a stretch of the Path past the Devil’s Pulpit. Unfortunately, this would not see me starting the Path from its very beginning, but my intention is to come back and do that, before going on to complete the whole thing. I had arrived at the campsite on the Friday evening in the most glorious sunshine, and while weather conditions were not as bad as Saturday morning, I still set off on this Sunday morning at 0730 in the mist. I exchanged greetings with the man who had shown me around the campsite when I had arrived on the Friday, and as I explained my proposed route to him he clearly knew it well and agreed it would be a fine walk for this morning. The start of my walk took me down a track I had driven up and down seven times so far over the weekend, but now, for the first time, I heard the very loud sound of geese on the other side of one of the hedges. This would be useful knowledge later on in the morning. The route away from the campsite was along a rough concrete strip with hedges on both sides, before it changed into a more built up track as it went through some woods, and I began to see signs for the Offa’s Dyke Path, but I did not want to follow them just yet because I wanted to join the Path further down. The track became a side road which then joined the main road, and I turned right, being very careful as I walked along this stretch as it was still very misty and there were cars on the road, not all of which had their lights on. I finally reached a turret in a wall I had spotted when driving along this road the day before, and that marked the point where I wanted to join the Path.
The Path was very clearly signposted and marked, and I walked down a flat, enclosed woodland path until I reached a sign which told me I was on the Tidenham Section, a 2 mile section which is in the care of English Heritage. I was deep into the forest now, walking along a typically earthy forest track with rocks forming part of the ground layer, and away from the track the trees formed a thick wall, although the light still came through, even this early in the morning. The Path was very easy to follow, including some signs specifically for the Devil’s Pulpit, and soon brought me out into a clearing which turned into a vehicle track through the forest.
I turned left and followed the track past the trunks of cut down trees, passing a sign from Gloucestershire County Council which detailed that the Path has been diverted to avoid erosion, which I certainly do not have an issue with. I followed the track round a bend to the right and very soon a signpost led me off to the right, up a steep slope which took me back into the forest. I seemed to be going uphill a lot now, although I did not recall having gone downhill previously, and I was heading deeper into the forest. The Path was still very obvious, and that, together with the occasional signposts, meant I did not have to consult my map at all at this stage. The Path had me walking along an edge which flowed down into more forest before it changed to a set of steps leading down, and then before I knew it I was at the Devil’s Pulpit.
Fortunately, there is a little plaque on the rocks indicating the location or I might have missed it with the mist obscuring any view which might have given away the location. Whatever it might look out on to was lost on me. Apart from the large rocks right next to the edge, the rest of the clearing through the trees was completely filled with mist. Hopefully I can have better weather when I come back again. Anyway, it is called the Devil’s Pulpit because folklore has it that the Devil preached from this natural stone pulpit to tempt the monks of Tintern from their holy path. I hoped he would not tempt me from mine, because it had been the easy work getting to this point, and now I had to make sure I did not go on too far and miss the turning back to the campsite.
I continued through the forest along a straight track and passed Lippets Grove Nature Reserve on my right. I could see that on my map. The trail headed off to the left, deeper into the forest, before coming back on itself round to the right, and as it began to head north again I knew I must be near because I could hear the geese. I continued on and very soon found a signpost which included a sign for Beeches Campsite. I turned right, went through a couple of gates, and found myself at the bottom of the field I was camped in, so it was an easy walk to the slope which led up to my tent.
I had covered 5.3 miles in about 1 and three quarter hours, and taken in over 700ft of elevation. One thing was very clear to me about this beginning stretch of the Path – it was not flat. It was undulating, and from the start it was going uphill, so when I come back to do it properly it will not be an easy introduction to the 177 miles.
You can see more photographs from my walk here.