O Fôn i Fynwy – Day 23 Monmouth to Chepstow)

High above Monmouth
Enjoying the views high above Monmouth

 

The homeward leg. Chepstow is just seventeen miles down river. By early evening, we’ll have finally reached ‘Fynwy’ and the end of our adventure.

Over breakfast, Harri asked if walking through Wales had made our country seem bigger or smaller in my eyes. That’s a difficult one. There’s no doubt that it would be impossible to walk the length of most countries in just over three weeks, which – I guess – means Wales is a pretty diminutive place. On the other hand, experiencing the diversity of landscapes from the wonderful Anglesey coastline to the high summits of Snowdonia, the ‘green desert’ of mid Wales and then the bustling Beacons (well, Pen y Fan anyway) helped to ‘fix’ the geography of my country in my mind… with the result that Wales now presented itself as a vast and infinitely diverse landscape.

The homeward leg. Chepstow is just seventeen miles down river. By early evening, we’ll have finally reached ‘Fynwy’ and the end of our adventure.

Over breakfast, Harri asked if walking through Wales had made our country seem bigger or smaller in my eyes. That’s a difficult one. There’s no doubt that it would be impossible to walk the length of most countries in just over three weeks, which – I guess – means Wales is a pretty diminutive place. On the other hand, experiencing the diversity of landscapes from the wonderful Anglesey coastline to the high summits of Snowdonia, the ‘green desert’ of mid Wales and then the bustling Beacons (well, Pen y Fan anyway) helped to ‘fix’ the geography of my country in my mind… with the result that Wales now presented itself as a vast and infinitely diverse landscape.

So, after considering Harri’s question carefully, I answered that whether I viewed Wales as bigger or smaller as a result of walking between the country’s traditional ends was irrelevant. O Fôn i Fynwy had laid Wales at my feet like a great mappa mundi, giving me the opportunity to savour every contour of the changing landscape.

On the way to the Kymin
Stopping for a breathing on the long climb to the Kymin

After at least an hour of desperate searching, we’d finally found a lovely spacious room at the very comfortable Ebberley House where the owner Penny rather graciously agreed to accept us well after nine o’clock. Once again, we found ourselves eating ‘dinner’ sitting in bed, though we were so exhausted that I really couldn’t have cared less if we’d gone to bed without eating.

Over breakfast the next morning, we chatted to a very fit man in his early sixties who was cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats and his son, who was driving the support vehicle. Harri and agreed that we’d rather be the one doing the cycling! It’s been far too hot recently to sit in a car for hours on end. I’m not looking forward to returning to wheels as a form of travel… you see so much more on foot.

After a quick trip to Iceland (the supermarket) for our final day’s supplies, we headed across the River Wye and out of town. The first climb of the day followed a steep path through woodland to eventually emerge at the Kymin (pronounced Kim-in) where Lady Hamilton allegedly once breakfasted with Nelson.

The Round House
The Round House

The National Trust describes the Kymin as a ‘charming 18th-century Round House and Naval Temple’ and I admit it is a rather delightful structure, perched up there on the hilltop high above Monmouth. The Naval Temple is particularly unusual – built by public subscription in 1800 (six years after the Round House), it celebrates some of the greatest British admirals and victories of the time.

Impressive though these buildings are, it was the amazing views that really captivated me. It’s been claimed that on the clearest days you can see nine counties from the roof of the Round House – four Welsh and five English – but we were content just to gaze towards the Black Mountains and marvel that we’d been setting off from Llanthony just yesterday morning.

In local running circles, the Kymin is known not for its panoramic views but for the popular – and challenging – Kymin Dash, a seven-mile cross country race which takes place in April. My daughters completed the race this year and loved it, but with just 50 metres of flat running before ascending that hill I think it’s one race I’ll be giving a miss.

Somewhere in the Wye Valley - there are a lot of trees
Somewhere in the Wye Valley – there are a lot of trees

Anyone walking between Monmouth and Redbrook has the choice of following either Offa’s Dyke Path or the Wye Valley Walk. Harri chose to stick to Offa’s Dyke Path for our long-distance route, largely because it’s the more interesting of the two (the Wye Valley Path simply hugs the river all the way to Redbrook). Both paths veer briefly into England at Redbrook, at which point Offa’s Dyke Path continues on the England side of the River Wye. We chose to cross the river and re-enter Wales on the Wye Valley Walk (goodness that sounds confusing even to me and I wrote it!).

The Boat Inn at Penallt must be one of our favourite traditional pubs. The pub sits on the Welsh side of the river but attracts its locals from the English side. Fortunately, a footbridge links the two banks or otherwise the Boat Inn might be one of the most dangerous places to drink in Wales… for the English!

This is a pub that takes its cider seriously, but with it being barely noon and we still having a fair way to wander, we felt it best to steer clear of Old Rosie. Instead, we just had two halves of the (slightly less alcoholic) Boat Special and settled ourselves at a picnic table alongside the river where we watched canoeists passing by and chatted amiably to the people at the neighbouring table. All the while, the pub’s dog, a terrier, stood on a nearby barrel watching the world (and its drinkers) going by. The world needs more pubs like the Boat Inn. (I’ve just checked out their rather impressive website and there’s even a section on walks!).

The specials board at the Boat Inn... so tempting to stick around all day
The board at the Boat Inn… so tempting to stick around all day

The Wye Valley has long been a popular tourist destination and it’s not hard to see why the Victorians flocked here… though I do think the valley would be even more scenic if it lost a few of those towering trees… they pretty much blocked our views all the way to Tintern.

The effects of our one cider might well have worn off, but we were still in a party mood when we reached the twelth century Cistercian abbey. Be warned, Tintern Abbey is a tourist honeypot and we probably only escaped the madding crowds because it was a Tuesday. On this warm, sunny June afternoon the place was bustling but we were able to find seats in the Abbey Hotel’s beer garden (where we indulged in another cider).

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey

It was after 5pm when we finally got going again. We had about seven miles left of our epic hike through Wales and though we’d texted everyone in the family to say we’d be arriving sometime after 7 o’clock we didn’t really expect a full welcome committee (though that would have been lovely… next time, perhaps).

In the event, Harri’s long-time mate, Goff Morgan, was the only person who confirmed he’d definitely be there for our home-coming (with or without their other mate Paul). Goff is a larger than life character who holds the honour of being Newport’s only ever town poet (here he is at Caerleon Arts Festival).

Those last few miles seemed endless, perhaps because they were almost entirely through mature woodlands with limited views. Maybe we were tired – possibly the two pub stops hadn’t helped (though I had only consumed one pint in total) – or perhaps we just didn’t want our adventure to come to an end. For whatever reason, ours wasn’t an enthusiastic yomp into Chepstow.

As we emerged from the picturesque Piercefield Park, the views towards the Severn Crossing and across the Bristol Channel suddenly opened up. Just seven weeks ago, we were setting off for our five-day reconnaissance walk – England Coast Path: Chepstow to Minehead. Fortunately, I’d avoided the painful blisters this time around (thanks to the wonderfully comfortable Brooks running shoes!) but as I got my first glimpse of ‘home’ I suddenly felt very weary.

After nearly 400 miles we've reached Fynwy!!
After nearly 400 miles we’ve reached Fynwy!!

There was no doubt we’d achieved what we set out to do – we had walked from Anglesey to Monmouthshire in twenty-three days. We’d hiked almost 400 miles of often tough and almost always undulating terrain in all weathers and now we were about to hang up our shoes on a gloriously warm summer’s evening.

For the first time in his life Goff was punctual.. which meant he had to wait nearly an hour for our arrival. After the obligatory photographs on Chepstow town bridge we just about mustered up the energy for another drink, collapsing on benches alongside the River Wye and regaling our friend with tales of our travels.

There’s no doubt in our minds that O Fon i Fynwy is just the beginning. We have proved we are physically and mentally strong enough to do the distance and we’re already thinking about other long-distance walks we want to tackle.

23 days and half a stone lighter... and I'd do it all again tomorrow
23 days and half a stone lighter… and I’d do it all again tomorrow

None will be quite the same as walking through Wales though; we have been humbled by the beauty of our country. To quote a (translated) verse from the Welsh national anthem:

Old mountainous Wales, paradise of the bard,
Every valley, every cliff, to my look is beautiful.
Through patriotic feeling, so charming is the murmur
Of her brooks, rivers, to me.

I couldn’t put it better myself.

‘O Fôn i FynwyWalking Wales from end to end ‘is available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon, in Made for iBooks format from Apple’s iTunes and in other digital formats from Smashwords.

Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store priced at £2.99.

Day Walks in the Brecon Beacons by Harri Roberts is published by Vertebrate.

 

 

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