I’ve just walked along the M48, over the first Severn Bridge, and crossed into Wales. To continue my coastal walk, I should really turn left. But, instead, I turn to my right and walk through a tunnel under the motorway
Wales has an official coastal trail – the Wales Coast Path. It opened in 2012 and is a tremendous achievement, creating a continuous 870 mile coastal walk. The official path starts a couple of miles up the river, in Chepstow. And it would be a shame to miss out on the beginning of the path, wouldn’t it? If I did, I would never be able to claim I’d walked the whole of the Wales Coast Path.
So that’s why I’m heading the wrong way, into Chepstow.
Walking through underpass tunnels always makes me feel slightly uneasy. But this one is cheerful with graffiti. Graffiti that seems a class above the usual. Here is a Welsh dragon.
And a series of Chepstow scenes.
The underpass is part of a cycling route. I like the painting of a cyclist. Reminds me of my husband. But this one has far more hair and a bigger nose.
They’ve not forgotten walkers.
At the end of the underpass I leave the Wales Coast Path and walk up through residential streets. I’m heading for the Old Wye Bridge, which marks the beginning of the Wales Coast Path.
But first, I need lunch.
The Two Brewers pub doesn’t seem particularly crowded. But it’s a Sunday, and everybody is here to eat. The barman tells me there will be a 30 minute wait for food. Is that OK? Well, actually – “no”- it’s not OK. I have walking to do.
So I fall back on my make-do lunch, usually reserved for when I’ve missed food-serving time at a pub: a bag of crisps and a packet of peanuts, washed down with a cold cider and a glass of tap water.
My walk into the centre of Chepstow continues along a gently climbing road, lined with a mix of houses, shops and small businesses.
I pass a public park and get my first proper view. The houses across the valley belong, I think, to Chepstow. [My OS map doesn’t cover this area and, later, I realise I was wrong. I’m looking at Sedbury and will soon be following Offa’s Dyke across that far slope.]
Now I’m in a posher part of town, still climbing uphill and keeping to quieter residential streets. I’m surrounded by large houses and it’s only through gaps that I can glimpse the occasional view. Without my map, I’m a little disoriented, but I think that’s the River Severn in the distance.
I emerge onto the appropriately named Steep Street, leading down to the old Town Gate.
From here I head left towards the castle, and find a path that winds through a park (called The Dell, I think) and drops down to the river. Views of Chepstow Castle are obscured by tall trees, and the fact I am walking down a narrow valley. But it’s a lovely walk.
At the bottom of the valley I pass a marker stone. At first I think it’s to commemorate the beginning of the Wales Coast Path. But then I realise it’s marking the end of the Wye Valley Walk. How lucky we are to have so many long distance trails crisscrossing the UK.
I walk past the entrance to the castle, through a car park, and down to the river.
Here is wonderful bridge – the Old Wye Bridge – a beautiful 5 arched bridge, built during the Regency Period. Very elegant. It still carries traffic, with lights controlling the one way flow.
I linger a while taking photographs up and down the river. The light is gloomy now, but there is a better view of Chepstow Castle from this aspect.
Looking down the river I see another bridge. This one is a functional block on girders, without much charm. It’s certainly been a day of bridges!
[Later I discover I’m looking at two bridges, one behind the other. The first is a road bridge, carrying the A48. The second replaced a previous Brunel-designed bridge and carries the railway.]
I’m putting off walking the Wales Coast Path until tomorrow. Perhaps because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long, I want to delay the pleasure of starting it! My plan for today is to join the end of the Offa’s Dyke path and follow it to its natural conclusion on the bank of the Severn, then walk down to Beachley.
So, I cross the wonderful Old Wye Bridge and leave Wales. Now I’m in England again.
Up a steep track and I begin walking along the official Offa’s Dyke Path. It passes around the back of houses. I’m hemmed in, much of the route, by tall fences, hedges, ivy covered walls.
Perhaps coming this way was a mistake? I was expecting to walk along an ancient defensive earthwork, not skulk through narrow alleys at the bottom of people’s garden fences.
But when I leave Sedbury behind, I find myself in open countryside, and everything changes. Here is Offa’s Dyke. The proper Offa’s Dyke. A raised mound running in a straight line across the fields.
My detour was worth it.
I walk through a field of cows and cross a gate over a muddy stream.
A sign on the bridge tells me I am nearly at the end of the path.
Up a hill, and here is a marker stone.
Yes, this is the official end of the Offa’s Dike Path.
But, where is the river bank? In fact, the path appears to have come to a dead-end. In front of me there is a railed fence and tall weeds. I climb up and stand on the stone itself, balancing nervously. Now I can see over the vegetation. The path has ended at the top of a cliff. The River Severn is just below.
Jumping down, I set up a self-portrait – a photograph in which I look a little disappointed by the anti-climax of no-view that marks the end of Offa’s Dyke!
[Later I report the overgrown vegetation to Rob Dingle, the Trail Officer, via the Offa’s Dyke website. A really good facility. He told me he was aware of the problem, and it may have been cleared by now.]
At this point, I realise I’ve lost my watch. It must have fallen off my wrist, perhaps when I was pulling my rucksack on. I retrace my steps along the dyke, going back a few hundred yards, but can’t find my watch. It only cost a few pounds, but I am cross with myself for losing it.
I give up looking for my watch, turn to my right and walk down a footpath toward the marshy shoreline of the River Severn. My plan is to get to Beachley, where my husband is coming to pick me up.
The sun comes out, low and slanting, and I get some great views of the Severn Bridge. It looks better from this side, with the pylons behind it, instead of in front.
But the path soon deteriorates. My boots begin to sink lower with each step, and I start feeling the suck and pull of water under the boggy grass. I begin to walk faster. Spring from one tuft of grass to another, moving quickly to prevent myself from sinking.
When I come to a thick bed of reeds, blocking my way, I realise the path has really disappeared. And I’m in a bog.
I stomp back the way I’ve come, relieved to get to dryer land without getting water in over the top of my boots. I’m disappointed I can’t get through. But I cheer up when I find a footpath heading inland.
The sun is still shining and the countryside is lovely, warm with autumn colours, as I make my way back to the road.
I never get as far as Beachley. My husband picks me up from the side of the road, just south of Sedbury.
Tomorrow I will be back in Chepstow, ready to begin the Wales Coast Path properly. I may have been off-the-map and lost my watch, but today has been a great day and the detour was worth it.
Walked today = 12 miles
Total miles around the coast = 1,607