The road goes ever on and on…
I wasn’t going to post anything quite so soon after the Shrewsbury trip but…make hay while the sun shines, they say. Or: get out of the house and go for a walk while the sun shines. We really couldn’t waste a day like today so we went on what is probably our second favourite walk. One of the reasons we like it so much is because we don’t have to drive to a starting point but can just open the door and set off.
There’s a useful booklet available from the town’s Resource and Information Centre, called ‘Cracking walks around Crickhowell‘. We bought it when we first moved a couple of years ago and we’ve done all six routes described in the book. This is one of them and it’s called ‘A walk through Tolkien’s shire‘ because this part of the world was Tolkien’s inspiration. Of course it was – everyone knows that, so other claimants can just back off! The evidence is overwhelming; just look at some of the place names he chose: Crickhollow…duh; and Buckland…Buckland Hall is a Georgian mansion turned country hotel about eight miles along the Brecon Road, where Prof T spent holidays with his family. Obviously it made a lasting impression. As well as this there are hills all around Crickhowell, just like the rolling hills in the shire; there are rivers and waterfalls; and there are trees, great big ones…
It takes about ten minutes easy walking to get from our house onto the route, which then takes us eastwards along the Usk. It’s very wet underfoot right now because the river’s been high recently, and also underfoot is plenty of evidence of the thousands of sheep munching their way through the fields. The worst aspect of this part of the walk is that it takes you past a sewage treatment plant, but if the wind’s blowing in the right direction it’s not too much of an issue. After half a mile or so there’s a more intimidating feature to navigate, in the form of the A40. At the risk of sounding like everyone’s mother, if ever you follow this walk Be Careful Crossing This Road!!! It’s probably because drivers have been frustrated by the recent 30mph speed limit, but they tank along here and you do literally take your life in your hands.
Assuming you’ve made it to the other side in one piece, you then follow the path alongside the army camp and up through the woods.
It’s reasonably well marked, either with yellow arrow signs or yellow plastic sashes tied around sentinel trees. The ‘Keep Out’ signs posted by the MOD are also a great help in sticking to the path, though I’ve got my suspicions that nobody from the military has been inside these woods for a very long time. I don’t know about the road going on and on but this trail goes up and up, until eventually the woods come to an end and you reach a lane. It would have been nice if the way we needed to go had looked like this today:
But it didn’t; that was the other direction. Our path looked like this:
Which is why we have boots, though I have to say that our walking sticks came in quite useful. I’ll never mock them again.
Happily we managed to stay upright and made it through the gate to dry land. By now all the effort of hauling ourselves through the mud had paid off.
It’s lovely up here in the summer, but even at this time of year it’s peaceful – almost shire-like, dare I say it? And looking along this old path is a bit like that scene in the Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo and the others are on the road to Bree and the Black Riders are coming…
But we didn’t get off the road, in fact we followed the path until we reached a stile that took us through some fields and past some glorious if wintry trees.
Soon after this we reached the fields alongside the Grwyne Fawr river, which isn’t very big but looked cold and fast-running. Surprisingly we came across three other people out walking here, which is unusual. We left them looking for Tolkien clues and went on to the village of Llangenny.
If you need to stop for a pint and a curry – and who wouldn’t? – the Dragon’s Head pub in Llangenny is the place for you. And clearly this is where Tolkien got another idea…why else would he have put a dragon into The Hobbit?
We paused here to get our breath back before we tackled the hill up out of the village, which isn’t very long but quite steep. On the way up a cyclist struggled past us, bright red in the face and breathing heavily, though he managed to wheeze a ‘hello’. Thankfully he reached the top, only to turn around and come back down again. He’d recovered enough to speak and told us he was going back to get the wife. Amazingly, five minutes or so later he came back up, followed by a woman who I guess was his wife. It is St Valentine’s day, after all, but it seemed like a strange sort of treat.
Once at the top of the lane we were able to appreciate some wonderful views, but the sheep had their minds on other things.
Now we’d reached the easy bit because it was all downhill and we’d left the mud behind. I should make a confession here – we did the short version of the walk, which came in at 5.2 miles according to Michael’s pedometer. The alternative is 7 miles, which is fine, except that there’s more ‘up’ as Alex calls it and so that ruled it out.
Maybe I shouldn’t let on but it was along here that we found some decent sloe trees last winter. It’s a cracking walk for lots of reasons, though I’m still not convinced about Tolkien getting his inspiration here over anywhere else. But in honour of him we made our way home for a second breakfast anyway.
Not all those who wander are lost