Hot on the heels of the recent Yorkshire 3 Peaks hike, I just completed the Offa’s Dyke challenge as a Red Cross fund-raiser. Credit where it’s due: the vast majority of the money raised in my case was actually by my walking compadres on challenges like this: Taru, Jenny and Karl (a.k.a “The Butterley Booters’ .. named after a local reservoir and a local beer).
The Offa’s Dyke challenge hike was a 26 mile section of the Clwydian Hills and as mentioned it was organised by and helped raise money for the Red Cross.
Rather than three big peaks (as per the Y3P), this hike comprised a series of smaller but more frequent peaks, in the shape of the Clwydian Hills. Which was surprisingly tiring going in places.. but that’s the point of a challenge I guess 🙂
I’ve been doing these annual challenge type of walks for a few years now and for various reasons:
– it means a committed date in the diary to get out onto the hills (and to keep fit enough to be able to do them successfully)
– they give me the chance to enjoy an adventure (often with friends – see above)
– and of course they raise money for the charity of choice that year.
I especially jumped at the chance to do this one as I’ve never walked along any of the 177 mile Offa’s Dyke path. But I knew it was over a thousand years old (vague history lesson from me there, I know) and an official long distance path through some fantastic landscapes. And it boasts a lots of ancient hill forts along the way.
The section we completed was from Clwyd Gate, Ruthin up to the end at Prestatyn, along the spine of the Clwydian Hills.
Have a look at the official long distance path site for fuller details on the whole of the Offa’s Dyke path (http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offas-dyke-path). And for more information and walk descriptions about the Clwydian Hills (and a lot more), have a look at Paul Shorrock‘s blog.
Now, we didn’t actually spot the dyke itself. That could be because the weather was pretty heads-down inclement for the first part of the day, or it isn’t so obvious on the stretch we did. Or we were too busy looking at the great vistas this area has to offer and didn’t attend to where our feet were trudging?! Some Googling of Offa’s Dyke suggests it is obvious in parts. Hmm, not sure how we missed it!
A note on being prepared for challenge walks:
A lot of charities use challenge walks to raise funds and folk like me like to take part for reasons already stated. But enthusiasm isn’t a substitute for training beforehand or having the right kit with you.
Okay, you don’t have to listen to me: I’m totally not an expert but I’ve done enough of these challenge hikes to see some lovely, generous-souled people struggle where probably more prep would have served them well. I’d urge anyone undertaking their first challenge walk to be ‘match fit’ beforehand. And don’t wear trainers / a pac-a-mac / jeans / carry a carrier bag with some sandwiches in (e.g mitigate the weather and keep your hand free for stiles etc!). All the above was seen on this and other challenge hikes, where the weather and terrain can be punishing.
Some guys with undoubted commitment had to stop short on this walk and I’m pretty sure the factors above were involved. Which is a massive shame. And those that did make it to the end but in a slower time (and all credit to them for completing it – the last hill was a sod!) will have found themselves coming off a steep hill in the near dark. I overheard one guy say he didn’t have a head torch but he had at least made it back by dusk, thankfully. Hopefully all those behind us had torches (the need for a head torch was mentioned in the joining instructions. So generally, double-check those instructions / kit suggestions when the charity send them to you).
There’ll always be some people who eschew ‘proper’ kit and are still safe / warm / successful (and romp home in good time). But if you double-check your kit list and train for the walk beforehand, you’ll increase the odds of having a successful and rewarding challenge day.
Where we stayed:
We arrived on Friday night at Plas Bedw campsite: a working farm near Ruthin (we were staying two nights). For a reasonable £5 (at time of writing) you get a great farm campsite. Basic but not a portaloo toilet and pipe in a field kind of basic. The water tap in the camping field was there of course but this also had a clean toilet and a decent shower room. And friendly folk running the farm. Recommended.
- The late summer landscape of the Clwydian hills. Not just the wide vistas but the colours of the heather and gorse.
- The bara brith supplied at the checkpoints by the friendly Red Cross volunteers/ marshalls.
- The iron age hill forts we saw along the way: with more time and better initial weather I’d have been diverting off on a few occasions 🙂
- The camaraderie you get on these occasions (my own friends of course but also the other people we swapped friendly words and weather-weary banter with). Some of that sociableness was online before the day (and a hello to Salop Design who also took part on the challenge)
- Getting up in the campsite at 5 a.m to ensure we got over to Prestatyn in good time (where the meet and greet / registration was happening). Double checking of kit with a head torch on is irksome 🙂
I thought it would still be light but realised that the dark of winter is fast approaching.
- The clag and rain that dogged us for the first part of the day.
- The inevitable ‘why does that hill have to be there ?’ feeling that you get on any long walk. More so when one of those surprisingly steep (but not that high in terms of actual contours on the map) hills is right before the end point.
I’ll let some of the photos from the day tell the rest of the story. It was a genuine challenge – my knees are really feeling it as I type this! But I’m happy to have done it and to have seen a lovely part of the UK not seen before.