Thursday, 11 June 2009

Walking The Severn Way: Stage 2

Rhyd-y-benwch to Llanidloes
Only 7.8 miles

In this issue read about;- our beautiful countryside, the best and worst of British transport, Sarn Sabrina, an English Mastiff, a Waggle Dance and a 2-headed sheep!

So… the first stage of my Severn Way walk from the source to Rhyd-y-benwch (pronounced Riddy Benook) was complete. Now for Stage 2; Rhyd-y-benwch to Llanidloes. The start of this stage is the Car Park in Hafryn Forest which is in quite a remote spot with no through traffic – it’s really just a one-way ticket!

Travel logistics
When I first embarked upon the planning of the early stages of this walk it immediately dawned on me that the logistics of doing linear stages using my car were going to be problematic – and of course it’s the same with any solo linear walk; how to you get to point A, walk to point B and then somehow get home? I could have considered each stage as a circular route of course but this either doubles the distance of each stage (and thereby the whole walk) or halves the linear aspect, neither of which - to me - would be satisfactory.

I once met a middle-aged couple who were walking the whole of the 650 mile Monarch’s Way in stages using their car and then arranging a taxi to collect them at point B to take them back to point A method which mildly appealed but the reliance on taxi’s and locating one in some of the remoter places on my walk appeared to me to be in itself problematic.

Anyway, it was obvious for the most part that the car was going to have to stay at home. I would work on each stage as a separate A to B assignment planning each one by using trains and buses, supplemented with the occasional taxi where needed and the help of my ever-helpful partner Pam who had volunteered to do some of the back-up where other transport proved difficult. Having relied on my own wheels since my late teens using our transport infrastructure was going to be an adventure in itself and one that I was actually quite looking forward to and a test of its ability to do what I needed it to do!

The chief potential problem being, of course, the failure of any part of the public transport when heading for a point A, leaving me much less time (or no time at all) to walk to point B to pick up the return transport home.

Not renowned for our expertise in transporting people around our island I realised that, for the large part, this would probably be more of a test of Britain’s public transport system than my prowess to walk! How do I find what train and rather more difficult what bus to catch, where to catch it from and when? I was helped by a very nice lady at our local council office who gave me the website of which is proving to be a boon in finding my way around the system and the country. You simply enter start and finish points, choose a starting time, select which mode of transport you wish to use – train, bus, ferry, walk etc or leave all boxes ticked and it will find the best route including time-tables and detailed instructions on how to get from home to railway and bus stations etcetera. I found this quite astonishing – it was just brilliant! My faith in the system was immediately levitated by 80%! I still had to rely heavily, of course, on the driver of said transport turning up on time for his/her shift. But we shall see.

So it was that on Thursday, May 28th 2009 I took the train from home in East Shropshire through to Shrewsbury where I had to change for another train to Caersws - the closest train station to my start at Rhyd-y-benwch in Hafryn Forest.

Travel Problems!
The train to Shrewsbury was spot-on-time but it was here I encountered my first problem – my train to Caersws transporting me to Mid Wales was leaving from platform 6. An overhead sign clearly marked this with an arrow pointing up. I followed the arrow with my eyes to find blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, a pleasing sight but platform 6 was obviously nowhere up there (unless, of course, it was to be alongside the elusive platform nine-and-a-half in the Harry potter series!). I walked around looking for further directive signs; there were none. I walked around the whole station continually looking at my watch which was counting down the minutes to my next trains’ departure at an alarming rate. Why don’t I ask someone where platform 6 is? That would just be plain stupid – it would be so obvious I know, and I also know that I would be the only person in the world who couldn’t find it. No… it has to be here somewhere. I ended up back where I had started looking at the same sign for platform 6 and looking once more up into the sky. A very clear and pleasant female voice (unlike the one encountered at Birmingham’s Moor Street on an almost failed trip to Birmingham’s Jewellery Centre (remind me to tell you about this another time!) announced over the tannoy system that my train was now standing at platform 6 and was about to depart. Desperation! Then it dawned on me; the arrow although pointing up into the sky really was indicating that you simply walk forwards past platform 7 where I found – you’ve got it - platform 6. Which was, in fact, and incredibly, the very same platform I’d alighted from my train to a few minutes earlier! I’m not good at this am I? I hopped on and seconds later the whistle blew and I was away! Whew!

Caersws is a largish village with not much going for it than a railway station and a couple of pubs but it sits in a delightful geographic basin with the beautiful hills of Mid Wales all around. The River Severn skirts the eastern edge of the village which I would meet on another stage of the walk.

For now Caersws is simply a stepping stone for a bus trip to Llanidloes. The bus stop sits opposite The Buck Hotel – is this really a hotel I wonder? It’s seems a little run down with no sign of life but for a pair of house martins nurturing their young in the somewhat dilapidated eaves of this rather shabby-looking building.

The bus arrived albeit 10 minutes late which we’ll forgive – life is at a steady pace here with no-one rushing to get anywhere. What was more surprising is that as a new senior citizen I assumed – as informed – that I would be able to use my freshly printed bus-pass to enable free travel anywhere in England and over the border into Wales. This information turned out to be somewhat confusing and a source of bewilderment to me as my bus pass was rejected by the driver as not being valid for my trip from Caersws to Llanidloes because it was issued in Shropshire which is England of course – not Wales. I discovered later and rather bemusedly that I could, however, travel the 60 miles from Shrewsbury to Caersws by bus completely free of charge but not the 8 miles from Caersws to Llanidloes – for this I would have to pay the princely some of £1.60! This made no sense to me and I doubt, dear reader, it will make any more sense to you! Anyway, enough digression let’s get to Llanidloes where I have to arrange for a taxi as there are no buses to this stages’ starting point in the Hafryn Forest.

I had this part of the trip fully organised as well of course. All I had to do on arrival at Llanidloes was to phone the local taxi firm with the number I had written on my detailed travel instructions. Nothing could possibly go wrong here you would think.

More Travel Problems!
Oops! There’s no network coverage for my mobile phone – it covers 99.9% of the country but unfortunately Llanidloes falls in that obscure and somewhat irritating 0.1%!

No matter – I had a contingency plan; the address of said local tax firm. So I walked the 10 minutes to its office only to find it well and truly closed! It looked like a taxi firm as I gazed through the window; chairs, computer, phone, papers etcetera but no sign of life. Ringing the doorbell stirred up nothing so I walked back to the centre to the phone box I ‘d spotted earlier and picked up the phone to ring. The instructions told me to insert my money but guess what? The slot wouldn’t accept any denomination of any coin of the realm whatsoever! Tried them all! I walked back to the office and rang the bell once more. Nothing! (I discovered much later the chap who owned it retired but hadn’t bothered removing all the adverts that appear on and offline! )

Ah but there is salvation here in the form of a Tourist Information Centre – or so the sign implied. I followed its arrow but failed to find anything remotely like a tourist information building. I did, however, stumble across the Town Hall which had its doors invitingly wide open. I walked resolutely in and up 3 flights of stairs ending up in a tiny kitchen where 2 men were bemoaning the plight of the local football team! I asked for the Tourist Information Centre and was told to knock quietly on the office door of the clerk across the corridor, which I did and was invited in to watch a lady there filling out wage slips and inserting cash into little brown envelopes. This place really has stood still in time I mused. Asking where the Tourist Information Centre was she explained that it wasn’t in the Town Hall and the sign must be wrong as it’s directly opposite the Midland Bank back down the road and around the corner – back, in fact quite close to the now defunct taxi office.

As I wandered wearily back down the 3 flights of stairs I mused that if the Tourist Information Centre was indeed opposite the Midland Bank then I must have walked right past it at least 3 times! The mention of the Midland Bank by the way is another indicator of the fact that Llanidloes really takes some time to catch up with news as this particular bank was taken over by the Japanese a decade ago and is now known as HSBC! Anyone outside the UK on given this information would have had to give up at this point as the Midland Bank no longer exists! However, I had enough about me to know that I simply needed to stand outside the HSBC building and look across the road to find the elusive Tourist Information Centre. Easy peasy!

Not so! A number of shops sit under Plymlimon House immediately opposite the bank but nothing remotely indicating the tourist information centre. Stumped again!

I crossed the road wondering what next to do with no tourist information and no mobile or phone box access when I spotted an advert in a newsagents with the number of another taxi firm. I went inside, explained my plight to the wonderfully helpful shop assistant who promptly handed me a phone. After some discussion with a barely understandable Welsh guy on the other end I was eventually collected and deposited at my starting point!

Whew! Just realised how much time I’ve spent here relating my voyage to you before I even embark on the walking bit! So sorry. Let’s hurry along. Things get better from here on in!

Let's away!
A male cuckoo was in full song calling for a mate as I set out from Rhyd-y-benwch, the air was cool but the sky was mainly blue. An easy walk today with just 8 miles along back lanes to Llanidloes passing first of all the first major water fall of the River Severn since the source;-
The aptly named Severn-Breaks-Its-Neck. After a short while the path moves away from the river and follows the lane I came along in the taxi. As I was heading up a slight incline in this quite remote area of Mid Wales a young girl with a huge waddling plodding dog the size of a small pony came over the brow. We stopped and chatted whilst the English Mastiff just looked at me with quizzing but doleful eyes. The girl, who I guess was around 13, told me she’d lived in the building I’d just passed – an old converted chapel – with her family for the last 10 years. She loves the peace, the quiet and the solitude. Not many people pass this way she explained and she was quite surprised to see me ambling along the lane. The house is totally ‘off-grid’ with no mains supply of anything. Energy for electricity is supplied by their own generator which I heard as I walked past and water is from a nearby spring.

A couple or so miles further along the road is the village known as Old Hall with its old Board School built in 1874 and now also converted into a fine looking house. Soon after this a much smaller lane is followed and even more charming than the first stretch of road which surprised me because I’m not a keen walker of roads and lanes preferring to stick to our wonderful network of footpaths which weave themselves in intricate patterns right across England and Wales. But this was wonderfully quiet. No traffic whatsoever. Charming. Beautiful countryside coupled with stunning views. And the hard surface didn’t matter one iota.

I stopped for lunch at the side of the River using my onboard lunch bar; the sandwich box and the obligatory flask of tea.

Lunch on a walk is always best taken fully relaxed:-

The day was turning out to be a very warm one with lots of sunshine and as I had a couple of hours yet before my bus was to take me back to Caersws for the return train journey I was able to take my time enjoying the scenery and points of interest and to relax on a lonely wooden seat further along the lane An odd spot for the placement of a seat as there can’t be that many people walking along this tiny single track – in fact apart from the taxi driver and the young girl with the English Mastiff I hadn’t seen a soul all day. And yet there was this comfy wooden seat just whispering ‘come sit on me do!’

So I did. For quite a while. Shared with a slug.

And a tiny red spider

And a two-headed, six-legged sheep!

On to the final leg of today’s delightful stage of the walk which had turned out to be a superb little amble.

Oh… by the way; do you remember on my last blog post (Stage 1) I kept coming across these little blue and silver signs that somewhat intrigued me as there was no explanation as to what they were?
Well… now I know! I came across a poster on a notice board in the tiny village just outside Llanidloes. The signs depict and mark the route for a 24 mile challenge called The Sarn Sabrina Walk of which its inaugural walk is to take place on July 26, 2009 There is a website if anyone is interested at

Arriving back in Llanidloes with time to spare before my bus taking me back to Caersws to pick up my train for the return journey back home, for most of its way, incidentally along a single-line track through some of the most beautiful and scenic English/Welsh countryside one could ever wish for.

I wondered through the town once more, but this time with my mind on this pleasant corner of Mid Wales, instead of trying to find in vain taxi’s that run, phone’s that work and the elusive, perhaps invisible, Tourist Information Centre.

I noted with some amusement at the abundant number of pubs within the small town centre, there’s one every few yards! If you stand at one particular spot right in front of where the Tourist Information Centre should be (!) you can count 5 of them. It was the Red Lion that finally beckoned me in whereupon I indulged in a pint of the famous and delicious Waggle Dance sitting outside in the sunshine feeling very happy with the world. The bus arrived on time. The train arrived on time. I arrived back home on time – in fact – to the minute as calculated by the impressive Traveline Midlands website and exactly 12 hours after leaving. My faith in our transport system, at least for the time being, is very high.

Catch you all in a few days time for Stage 3 of The Severn Way and don't forget to leave a comment below; help, advice, silly banter, words of encouragement are all very much welcomed and I know then you're definitely following me!

Please click this link for the
Stage 2 Slideshow

1 comment:

Chris Wigg said...

Sounds a lovely day out in gorgeous countryside. Good to hear the transport system got you there and back on time - perhaps it works best when not many people are involved.

I enjoyed the journey

Chris Wigg