Saturday, 16 June 2012

Mellington Hall to Buttington Bridge

My new walking companion - Susan at Mellington Hall
A good breakfast, and a leisurely start to the day. The “official” ODP path route from Mellington to Buttington is a relatively easy crossing of the Vale of Montgomery, followed by a long, 300m ascent to Beacon Ring, and then a long descent to Buttington on the River Severn.

Instead, we elected to take a longer but more level route – though not until the end of the day did we appreciate just how much longer. This started out down the drive to Mellington Hall (surprisingly busy, until we worked out it was people from the caravan park as well as hotel guests), and then followed Offa’s Dyke, just like the official route, for a couple of miles or so. This is a 50:50m mix between arable land and pasture. Muddy and slippery edges to fields with crops; long grass where hay has yet to be cut; only the occasional easy turf where sheep were grazing. It’s all stiles, too: none of the brand new gates that characterise much of the Offa’s Dyke Path.

Half way to Montgomery I discovered that I had left my walking poles in the entrance porch of the hotel. Luckily our luggage hadn’t yet been collected, so a quick phone call added the poles to the clobber to be transported on to Buttington.

It was then a turn off the ODP towards Montgomery, through the attractive Lymore Park, which is obviously a major local area for walking, jogging, exercising the dog, or collecting elderflowers for making cordials. The map shows a house called Lymore right by the road, but we never saw it. Either it’s totally screened by trees, or it’s no longer there.

Mewlligton Hall - a fine Victorian pile
Montgomery itself is a tiny little town, with a very attractive Georgian centre. All the significant buildings have informative little plaques explaining their history. Most, at some stage or other, seem to have been hostelries of one kind or another. We sampled a modern equivalent – the Castle Café – where we had an excellent coffee, and were tempted to more, though it was really too early for lunch!

To keep to our intention of a level walk we then went West on minor roads, stopping at a very disappointing pub in Caerhowell for lunch – the Lion Hotel. We had extraordinary soup, and shared an indifferent and obviously commercial pate, all served in a funny little alcove.

Then it was a further mile or so to cross the Severn, and reach the Montgomery Canal. The
Severn Way
, one of the long-distance paths in the area, follows the canal rather than the river.

This, it turns out, is a wonderful walk through largely delightful scenery. There are distant hills to the East, and the map also shows them to the West, but here they are hidden behind gently rising ground, often wooded. It’s very quiet: all afternoon we saw only half a dozen people. Of course, it wasn’t the most conducive weather for walking, and it’s not exactly the most populous part of the world, but we had expected to see a few more people.

Montgomery Town centre
The canal has been extensively renovated over the last 30-odd years, and the locks are apparently in working order. I say “apparently” because we never saw anyone actually boating on the canal, and some of the canal gates have vegetation growing out of them. So it’s sometimes difficult to believe that it’s in active use. This, after all, was a Saturday, and if anything is happening one would expect to see signs of activity over the weekend. I find it hard to believe that the rain would put off a dedicated enthusiast.

Our canal-side walk extended to about 9 miles, according to the regular mileposts. There is an aqueduct over one river – our first experience of water-over-water, I think – and several places where the canal crosses smaller streams. But it’s difficult to see how even a shallow-draft narrow boat can use the canal. In places there are marestail right across the width of the water, and in many others there are reeds, irises and other aquatic vegetation which severely limit its navigability. Yet there are notices that there was to be a major canal event in early July actually involving boats. Though perhaps “major” would be overstating it!

After about five miles we did actually see a narrow boat moored just above a lock, though no-one was in residence. One lock later there were two British Waterways workboats that looked almost as if they had been abandoned. It all feels rather sad: the impression is of a major undertaking, started years ago, which has somehow run out of steam. This was rather confirmed by the book on the Montgomery Canal which we found that evening in our B&B. It had wonderful then-and-now pictures, with several showing well-attended re-openings of various locks and other parts of the canal system.

The final bit through Welshpool is less attractive. North of the town centre the canal disappears under a major new road, and loses its towpath. Here we walked along the road for a few hundred yards before finding a footpath which cut the corner to the Severn bridge, which we had to cross to get to Buttington.

Susan at a Montgomery Canal lock - dressed for the
day's prevailing weather
Sue had removed the bottom section of her convertible trousers. Mistake! It turned out that the first part of the footpath was little more than a field of nettles – and hadn’t been trodden down, so she acquired a fair few stings. This did not improve her morale. I had estimated the day’s distance as little more than 20km, but that was if one had taken the high road. The level road I had chosen for us was nearer 31km – just a few too many. However, after the nettles it was a good footpath behind the huge new livestock market to the North of Welshpool, built by Tesco in exchange for the former livestock market close to the centre of Welshpool. It had not necessarily been a good exchange, as we discovered later that among other things it cut the railway off from the rather imposing old station, leaving access to trains a long walk along footbridges and ramps. The new market is apparently the largest sheep marked in Western Europe; it certainly seems huge enough to qualify.

The it was a final half mile to our B&B, across a rather dangerous bridge across the Severn and then along a few hundred yards of road. A welcome arrival – but a rather chintzy room and not enough water for two well-earned baths. And the local pub – the Green Dragon – demonstrated once again that culinary excellence is not one of the reasons to visit Wales.

Light rain all day. A few occasions when it relented for a few minutes. Temperature 12 to 17C. 30.81km; 180m ascent, 240m descent. Easy, but long.

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