Offers Dyke Challenge – A brief summary….

On Wednesday the 8th of June, I completed the final leg of my 5 day Offa’s Dyke jaunt – having covered the 177 miles of National Trail from Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, to Prestatyn. Averaging about 36 miles a day with over 29,000ft of ascent, this was a tough proposition but I was confident of completion – provided that I avoided injury and the perils of blistered feet and ability to deal with the wide range of weather conditions that we can experience, even at this time of year! The trip was a Denbigh Harriers RC organised affair, with thousands being raised for charity -The British Red Cross – whom now have in the region of £7000 to purchase new defibs for use in North Wales  – fantastic stuff. A support crew supporting 16 runners – some did legs here and there whilst others had ambitions of doing it all on foot! I did the first 3 days with the club, and returned from another commitment to finish the last 2 days alone, well – I actually had the company of 3 clients during the last long day – which was brilliant!

Weather wise, on the whole the main obstacle was the heat.

Day 1 (Chepstow to Pandy) conditions were perfect, largely overcast and pretty cool. I’d done all of today’s route before, and expected the slightly ropey start through the housing estates and out of Chepstow, but this soon gave way to the beauty of the Wye Valley. The view of Tintern Abbey from Devils Pulpit confirming that there was some great running to come. Staying high above the valley on woodland tracks for the most part – past Bigsweir and up to the Kymin above Monmouth, descending to Monmouth and reaching the penultimate leg of the day. Tired limbs were evident amongst the group, and I found myself in ‘work mode’ – doing some assisted stretching with Dan to alleviate his tight calf at one stage! Undulating fields interspersed with road sections followed for the rest of the day. Eventually, after 35miles the village of Pandy beneath the mass of the Black Mountains was reached and our bed for the night.

Day 2, and things warmed up for the Black Mountains, Hay on Wye and on into the mid Wales borderlands to Kington. Ascending almost immediately on the Hatterall Ridge and up onto the Black Mountains, we reached the highest point of the National trail, at just over 700m. Unfortunately the views were restricted by the morning haze. A descent to the Gospel Pass was great fun – disappointed to miss the ice cream van though! The mercury rose on a very pleasant and easy second leg to Hay on Wye. Little wind accompanied us for the next leg to Gladestry – and it felt incredibly warm as a result, especially on the climbs out of the wind. The last leg over and along the lovely Hergest Ridge was a delight and Kington was reached at the end of day 2. Just the 32 miles today.

Day 3 was a scorcher, and all of it new territory for me. From Kington we ascended up to and beyond one of the most picturesque golf courses I have come across – and beyond this some great running above the 300m contour was enjoyed, with sections of Dyke really prominent at times and added real interest to proceedings. After Dolley Green, more climbing and a varied section to Knighton and a prominent landmark – as it’s considered the Halfway point of the trail. The considerable climb out of Knighton up Panpunton Hill was a tester, and it was the start of a real bumpy leg – lots of hill ranges running West to East – and, travelling North we were having to cross them all. All part of the challenge and a really beautiful, surprisingly challenging part of Offa’s Dyke. I recall seeing a number of Red Kites on Day 3 and it was great to actually see sustained sections of Dyke. Eventually things flattened out considerably for the final leg into Forden and the end of 34miles and the ‘hilliest’ day yet.

Day 4 involved some sustained flat sections including the Montgomery and Llangollen canals, with most of the climbing coming between Trefonen and the finish point for the day, at Trefor. Knowing this, I was a little more relaxed with regards to setting off and got underway from Forden at 8.45am (big thanks to Dad for the lift to the start point!!) – climbing up to Beacon Ring, the start was pleasant and relatively cool, Buttington was reached in no time after 6 miles and thereafter flat riverside/canalside sections quickly led to Llanymynech, 10 miles beyond. The rocks above the village were really interesting and I actually enjoyed the climbing (as the ‘Buff’ tagline suggests ‘flat is boring’) – and the going was generally bumpy to Trefonen and the outskirts of Oswestry. Beyond, the old racecourse was passed and into familiar territory on Selattyn Hill and down to Bronygarth and the Ceiriog Valley. The sight of ‘Wrexham CBC’ on the way marker acorns confirmed that i’d broken the back of the trail and was most definately now in North Wales! The thunderstorms that accompanied me over the hill above Chirk Castle to Froncysyllte  provided downpours and welcome relief from the humidity, which incidentally, was a real issue all day and staying positively hydrated was tough. In fact, after Trefonen I’d felt quite ropey and made a real effort to readdress the balance. A brilliant run across the aqueduct into Trefor and the end of 35 lonely, but very enjoyable miles.

Day 5 and a monster 65km/2500m of ascent stood between me and the finish line at Prestatyn. And the small matter of high temperatures and humidity – much of which we were totally exposed to on the hills of the Eglwyseg and Clwydian Ranges. A real battle to stay hydrated and fuelled for what was a long day. Me and Dave started in pleasantly cool conditions at Trefor and were soon enjoying the spectacular section on the Eglwyseg escarpment into Worlds End, where we met Bill and pushed on to Llandegla. After the descent to the village it became apparent that it was going to be another hot day. The Southern Clwydians of Moel Y Plas and Moel Gyw came and went, before a welcome Coke at the Clwyd Gate restaurant. Foel Fenlli from this side is never a walk in the park and it was great to get to Bwlch Penbarras and Andrew for lunch. Andrew joined and he was to stay with us for the rest of the day to Prestatyn. Things started to get physically tougher beyond Moel Famau – I’d begun to feel a little pain on the lateral side of my left ankle. I, like lots of runners, pronate slightly on my left side, and it doesn’t usually represent a problem, but a little pronation over a lot of miles, it was all part of my body telling me that it wasn’t used to doing this! It was certainly manageable and I was grateful that, that was the only thing troubling me – lets face it, it could be a lot worse! At Bodfari, Bill left us after an excellent 22miles of Offa’s Dyke – by some distance the furthest he’d ran. David Baugh (who’d completed all of Offa’s Dyke himself with the Club) from the Denbigh Harriers joined and 4 of us took to the steep climb out of Bodfari. On the flanks of Moel Maenefa after 4.5miles, David left us (after some filming – click HERE) and we made our way to Rhuallt. The last proper stop before Prestatyn. With Andrew still looking very fresh having joined at Penbarras, Dave began to suffer a little in the heat but completion was in no doubt as we negotiated the final lumps of Mynydd Cwm, and Melidan Hill to arrive in Prestatyn at the end of a long day. Andrew was also pleased to complete 22 miles (always brilliant to see clients achieve!) and me and Dave finished with 65km and 2500m of climbing in our legs. 11 hours, 53 minutes was on the clock.

Very many thanks to my Sponsors, Denbigh Harriers RC (congratulations to all of them involved in organising and taking part) and those playing a vital logistical role for me during the course of the challenge.

A wonderful experience, which again enhanced my belief that we surely live in one of the most beautiful, and interesting countries in the world!