Newtown to Welshpool
Only 15 miles
In this issue discover what Upper Luggy and Banded Agrions are, where not to buy fish & chips, a toilet stop dilemma, my first failed transport encounter and why Peacocks have caterpillars. Plus much much more...
Hello and welcome along again to the next stage of my meandering stroll. We start today from Newtown through the Welsh and English countryside as I head towards Bristol and the culmination of 210 miles of the River Severn Way, now just over 180 miles away. Are you properly booted, sandwiches packed and ready to go?
Pam enjoyed last week's walk so much she's decided to join us for this next stage and the longest one so far with 15 miles (24 kms) to tread. Pam's legs are a little shorter than mine so she knows she can't walk that far in one stretch but we have a cunning plan; after 9 miles she'll be catching the bus home from Berriew and onward train from Shrewsbury whilst I continue right through to Welshpool to pick up a later train.
So... this is Newtown, Powys, still in Mid Wales but heading east towards its border with England and our home county of Shropshire. The trip here via train was uneventful and I was impressed to see a man working in our carriage as we climbed aboard sporting a tidy green uniform with the words 'Train Presentation Team' emblazoned on the back. He's a cleaner but what an upmarket title! Fab!
The free Metro newspaper that is kindly left on all seats and tables for our pleasure and indulgence claims that the highly controversial ID Card proposed for the UK is now effectively scrapped after the government spends one billion pounds on it! Shameful waste of our money. Sack the man who dreamed it up! (Just a slight rant about governmental spending and rank inefficiency - sorry!).
So here we are admiring the view of the River Severn walking across Halfpenny Bridge on a fine warm summer's day. Pam was obviously concerned she might miss her bus home 9 miles on as she steps out a cracking pace! Whoa! Hold on Pamela - it's not just me you're dragging - there are others here with us you know. Slow down!
We settle down to a reasonable pace after I reassure her that my timings have now been adjusted so we should never have to gallop again. We can chill and take it easy. Hope that's OK with you too?
This actually is the first time The Severn Way snuggles up to the river for any length of time since leaving its source back in Plynlimon 4 stages ago. It feels good and right to meander along its bank. But soon we leave the river once more as we connect with the Montgomery Canal.
Most canals in Britain were built 150 years or more ago as trading routes and this one was no exception taking 30 years to forge a way from Llangollen right through to Newtown some 35 miles away.
Horse-drawn canal barges would move limestone, coal, timber, grain and dairy products. It must have been a very busy route in those days providing employment for hundreds of men living nearby. In 1935 it was abandoned as a working canal and fell into disrepair. In recent years though, sterling work has been made to restore it as a wildlife site, and to that end it has been entirely successful. Most of the route is now unnavigable by barge as it often ends at roads and disappears underground, leaving swathes of isolated canal to be inhabited by amazing flora and fauna almost undisturbed.
Peacocks with caterpillars
Some of the most beautiful butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies are all seen along the towpath, not to mention kingfishers, grass snakes, water voles and fabulously scented wild flowers that leave a wonderful mix of heady aromas in the air. A haven for all wildlife including the impressive Peacock butterfly larvae feeding on nettle.
Every now and then we see a grey squirrel scuttle away and run up a nearby tree. There's currently a move to cull the greys in the UK as they've forcing out the more beautiful and now scarce native reds for many years. We're allowed to kill them on sight but they are such lovely cuddly little bundles that I could never bring myself to harm them in anyway. However, they are starting to appear on some adventurous restaurant menus so maybe we can eat our way through them! At least I don't have to do the culling!
A family of Mute Swans head towards us; Proud Mum & Dad with their 7 fluffy cygnets. A delight to see.
Once a pair of swans has coupled they stay together for life. Don't know about you but I find that quite charming, as long as Mrs Swan doesn't get too house-proud and naggy of course! Sorry Mr Swan but there are no divorce courts for beleaguered swan husbands. Is that sexist? Perhaps I should address the balance and say Mrs Swan can't ever take her adulterous husband to court but then I wonder if adultery happens in the swan world - I somehow doubt it.
A huge Heron slowly takes to the air with the gracefulness of a glider taking off. Massive wings flapping so slowly you wonder if it will ever leave the ground.But it does. Unlike the swans they enjoy more solitary lives. You rarely catch more than one in the same vicinity which makes you wonder how they breed. It must all take place under cover of the night, going their separate ways in the morning!
We reach one of many locks. Most of them on this stretch are no longer working simply because there's no traffic. Yet they are still maintained by British Waterways. This one is New House Lock.
For those who are not familiar with canals and locks; the locks are there in order to make allowances for inclines and declines in the lay of the land allowing barges not only to move to lower levels of canal water but in fact to climb up the canals. Some inclines are so great that several locks are required to move barges up the hills. Foxton Locks in my home county of Leicestershire springs to mind, where there's a 'staircase' of 10 of them shifting pleasure barges up and down several metres of hill.
Boring walk or interesting and fulfilling?
I'm not sure you felt the same; but when I realised there were 15 miles of canal towpath to walk today, I thought it would be the most boring stretch of the whole walk but it's turning out to be the most enjoyable to date. Pam's enjoying it too. Hope you are?
Talking of Pam... what do you do when a lady needs to use the outdoor loo? Do you stand guard in front of the bushes in case anyone should come along? Or walk a discreet distance and stand guard there looking in both directions all the time ready to whistle if someone should suddenly appear? Or do you simply slow your pace and walk on? I did the latter. We hadn't met anyone all day so the chance of someone walking here was remote. Or so I thought. Round a corner comes a woman and dog heading towards me. I look back and see Pam has not yet emerged from the hedge. I try to engage her in conversation in order to stall her. I get the feeling she thinks I'm trying to chat her up or worse. In any case she's not interested in talking to me. I look back again. Still no Pam. Has she fallen headfirst into the bushes? Or a ditch? Or fallen victim to some menacing creeping vine? How can it take so long?
The woman walks on, led by her canine, and gets closer to where Pam has ducked into the bushes. I try a whistle but realise I'm probably out of ear-shot. The dog turns and looks momentarily. Two feet away from the spot and Pam suddenly appears out of the hedge startling both dog and owner!. "Sorry! Call of nature" she says and scuttles on towards me with an embarrassed grin right across her face. 'What took you?' I ask. I won't go into details here but suffice to say it was the result of very hot weather causing very sticky garments! Enough said.
As I write I'm wondering whether this last little storyline will pass the editorial process (which effectively, is Pam reading through and sanctioning every photo and every mention of her name before publishing). So if you're not reading this (huh?) it's because it's been cut!).
There are many things of interest along the canal. This is the rather ornate Glanhafren Bridge with its cast-iron balustrades and as the picture shows it was built in 1889.
Along the way we keep coming across mysterious wooden sculptures. Pam takes a liking to this one. We haven't found any mention of who put them there and why but a little research reveals they are the work - and very clever work - of a couple by the names of Pippa Taylor, of Machynlleth, and her partner Jon Easterby, all of which have been designed to reflect an aspect of canal history. Very creative and not the bit least incongruous.
Time for lunch. Don't know about you but we're dripping wet with sweat - sorry, perspiration - due to the hot sun and high humidity. We drink pints of water on the way using our hydration units but it never stops us overheating. Still - mustn't grumble. It's good to have the sun with us today and it's far better than a day of rain. Remember our first stage from the source of the River Severn? It hardly stopped raining the whole length of the walk.
Not sure who that little boy with the red cap is curled up on the floor. Neither 'he' nor Pam seem quite ready to pose for this one though!
We're right on schedule so lunch is totally unhurried. Take your boots and socks off and let the air get to your toes for 10 minutes or so. A little trick I've always used on longish walks is to swap socks at a convenient halfway point. Best clarify that statement; I'm not suggesting swapping sweaty, smelly socks with other walkers but just swap right for left. It feels remarkably refreshing and gives you an extra spring in your step for a while. So let's do it!
OK... ready to go again?
We can't help noticing scores of damselflies wherever we walk alongside the canal. These are the very beautiful Banded Agrion.
There are some lovely sounding villages that we spotted over the fields and were able to identify from our Ordnance Survey map, such as the delightfully sounding 'Upper Luggy'.
And soon we arrive in the charming village of Berriew
This is Pam's stop. She's walked 9 miles and is ready for home. Anyone going with her or are you carrying on with me a further 6 miles to Welshpool? It's alongside the canal all the way so it's easy walking. You're sticking with me? Great! We'll just walk with Pam to the bus stop and grab an ice cream whilst there, and replenish my water bubble gadget thingy.
Phew - it's still hot. Very hot. These cows now how to keep cool!
A further 40 minutes walking and I don't know about you but my T-shirt is wringing wet with sweat! Let's sit a while and watch the damsel and dragonflies as they skit and skirt the water's edge. Here's a bench in the shade - sorry - I made it first and as I fancy a lie down and perhaps a doze all of a sudden there's no room for anyone else! Well - it was my idea this walk!
We're quite away ahead of schedule to catch the train at Welshpool so we can rest for about half-an-hour in this blissfully quiet spot.
And then onwards... come on!
The first sight of Welshpool is ahead.
Our goal for this stage is almost achieved and I've just realised I've managed to drink my way through 2 litres of water through the day.
And here we are! Welshpool! Phew!
Please say hello to Tana from Swansea, sitting on a bench as we arrive.
She tells me she's on holiday and advises where the best fish & chip shop in town is - I hasten to say she didn't offer this information as soon as I said hello! I was feeling peckish and wondered if she knew, and as we're still ahead of schedule we have the time to just wander up the road to taste the delights of said fayre.
Now - I have to admit what happened next was entirely my fault, but maybe you should have stopped me? Tana's directions led me up to the traffic lights to turn right for the fish & chips. For some reason I then walked straight into a Turkish Kebab place to order my fish & chips. I had to wait 20 minutes - both fish and the chips being frozen and what was finally served up was disgusting to say the least. I'm sure their kebabs are excellent but as fish & chip purveyors they're not going to win any prizes!
I walked out clutching my plastic tray (you see that's wrong isn't it? Fish & chips should always - ALWAYS - be presented wrapped in paper and oozing oil). I walk further up the road to a green where there's a seat and guess what? The proper fish & chip shop is here on the other side of the road. Perhaps Tana told me it was on the left and I didn't hear. Maybe she didn't tell me, and if not, maybe she's reading this, feeling a little guilty and maybe she might just offer a tiny apology? Maybe?
Anyway, time I made my way to the station. I arrive well in time only to find the train has been delayed 16 minutes due to signalling problems earlier in Birmingham. I look at my info sheet to check connection times because I have to change trains along the way. I find there's just one minute spare when I reach my connecting station! Now that's tight!
The train driver, however, was keen to make up time and really put his foot down so arrival at my 'change' station was minutes ahead of the next train. However, that train didn't arrive! It was cancelled due to the same signalling problems in Birmingham earlier in the day! I was stranded. Fortunately, Pam had by ths time arrived home and was able to come to my rescue. This was the first time our public transport system had let me down. Shall we forgive it? Just one little slip? I agree - I'm sure it won't happen again!
See you next time for Stage 6 of the fabulous Severn Way walk.
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Stage 5 Slideshow