|It’s unusual for one of my walks to avoid the hills, but that’s exactly what this section of Offa’s Dyke Path will do. Since leaving the Clwydian range we've crossed several major watercourses on their way down from the Welsh uplands, but today we'll meet the mightiest of them all.
The bus from Welshpool drops us at Four Crosses, where we finished our last section back in May. This is a very low-lying settlement, not much more than 50m above sea-level on a wide plain stretching from Llanymynech Hill and Afon Efyrnwy to the north to the Breiddins to the southeast. The Dark Ages earthwork of Offa’s Dyke crosses this plain, but there was once much more going on here than the patchwork of fields now suggests.
The northern part of the village is called Llandysilio, one of many Welsh locations associated with St Tysilio, who died about 100 years before King Offa was born. In the fields to the east a huge complex of cropmarks has revealed a Bronze Age cemetery, now flattened, together with ring ditches and traces of field systems. There’s nothing to see now, but back in the Bronze Age this was clearly a place of some significance.
We follow the dyke itself southeast out of the village centre. It’s much reduced here, generations of ploughing cutting its height to barely a metre tall. Straight ahead is a dark bulk of hills. These are the Breiddins, rising near-vertically from the plain and site of a number of Iron Age earthworks that will be watching over our whole route today.
The section of dyke north of Rhos is very attractive, planted with a double row of oak trees. From here we have a nice retrospective view of Bryn Mawr hillfort, yet another prominent site overlooking this flat landscape that we're traversing. But our first – indeed only – site of the day lies just a couple of hundred yards away to the east.
Crosswood enclosure could be seen as part of the complex of sites around Four Crosses and Llandysilio. It’s a circular enclosure with an internal ditch, bisected by the road from Rhos to Llandrinio. The road crosses the site about a third of the way from the northern part of the arc, so it’s not an obvious re-use of any original entrances. Sadly the earthwork has been much reduced by ploughing, rather similarly to the nearby line of Offa’s Dyke. It’s best preserved at the northwest, where both the bank and the internal ditch can be made out clearly, albeit not the easiest thing to photograph. Running east the bank gets even further reduced, to the point of near-disappearance.
On the south of the road we couldn't see anything at all, but this did involve trying to peer through a pretty thick hedge!
Not the most impressive place to visit, but as pretty much the only visible remains of the numerous sites on this flat plan, it’s worth a quick hello.
Leaving Rhos we rejoin the line of the dyke, heading arrow-straight across the flatlands. From here, the enormous brooding bulk of Breiddin Hill Camp increasingly fills our view as we cross the meadows. Quarrying has blighted the side of the hill, but nevertheless the positioning of the fort on its top is pretty formidable. It blocks views to the other forts beyond. Way over to the southwest, a further wooded hillfort, Gaer Fawr (Welshpool) rises prominently, with Crowther’s Camp another to the south. We are surrounded by these monuments to status and power, down here in the fertile land that sustained them.
The hedgerows burst with cow parsley and the waving stalks of grass that’s too far out of reach of the cows that graze most of this landscape. The surroundings are increasingly marked with drainage cuts, keeping the fields dry from the overspill of the great river that we’re approaching.
The River Severn, or Afon Hafren, has made its way from its mountain source on Pumlumon and is now a fast-flowing obstacle, cutting across the broad plain between the rolling hills of Mid-Wales and the mini-mountains of the Breiddins. We will meet it again, at the very end of the Offa’s Dyke walk over a hundred miles away. By then it will be the mightiest of all British rivers, forcing its way out to sea against one of the most extreme tidal reaches anywhere on the planet. For now though, it will be our gentler companion for several miles south, as we search for a bridge to the other side.
A more pressing obstacle comes in the form of a huge lump of beef however. Our path follows the Tirymynach embankment, built to stop the river from bursting its banks and flooding the fields of the plain. This is dairy cattle country, and in summer bulls often share the fields with their families. One such bull has chosen to lie down bang up against one of the stiles along the embankment, blocking a narrow gap in a thick hedge. He seems unconcerned by our presence, but our only way onward would involve climbing over his back. This doesn't seem like the action of a sane person and we reluctantly have to turn back to Red House, adding unwanted extra miles and taking us away from the river temporarily. From Pool Quay we follow the Montgomery Canal, now restored and navigable, outliving the dismantled railway that supplanted it. This low-lying plain has long been a transport route, just as the Hafren/Severn itself must have provided a terrific highway for the prehistoric people who built the hillforts, and even further back to those who laid their dead in the cemetery at Four Crosses.
The river crossing finally comes at Buttington Bridge, but this is also the end of our Offa’s Dyke mileage for today and instead we head westwards to Welshpool. A strange walk for me, avoiding the hills that stand so prominent to either side of us. But a useful new perspective, to view the forts from below, as the prehistoric farmers viewed them in their heyday. Did they see the suspicious eyes of warlike overlords, or a lofty place of refuge in times of trouble? I guess we'll never know, but down here the mother river flows on and on, untroubled by such concerns.
Posted by thesweetcheat
7th June 2015ce
Edited 7th June 2015ce
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