A Welsh Ride : Offa's Dyke To The Coast
At a Christmas party in 2019 over a glass or two of fizz, three horsey girlfriends and I shared our ambition to ride our horses across Wales. We ride together frequently and are all used to long days in the saddle. We plotted our route from Offa's Dyke to the coast, following large sections of Glyndwr's Way and the Cambrian Way. We searched for B and B accommodation suitable for 2 and 4 legged guests and were all set for our adventure in July 2020.
Covering more than 85 miles over 5 days requires considerable rider and horse fitness. My horse Kaz loves riding in company and his breeding (warm blood/Arab cross) means he is always up for a good day out with his friends – but working 5 days “on the trot” is a big ask, even for him. Luckily for both of us, Gower, and particularly Rhossili, offers some of the most beautiful and challenging bridle paths, which are perfect training conditions for an endurance ride.
As we all know, disaster struck in March 2020 with the Covid-19 lockdown. My planned training schedule was restricted to an hour’s exercise daily and this had to be taken within a 5 mile radius from our home. As the weeks passed, our adventure seemed more and more unlikely, especially as several of our accommodations had cancelled our bookings and all unnecessary travel was prohibited. At last the end of lockdown was announced at the beginning of July, so we quickly resurrected our plans and set about finding new places to stay en route. A further challenge was how we would transport human and horsey luggage, but a local taxi firm offered to collect our luggage each morning and transfer it to the next venue.
The adventure began before dawn on Sunday 19th July when, assisted by friends and partners, we met in Llandeilo and travelled in convoy to our starting point on the English/Welsh border close to Felindre. From here we planned a gentle day of just 4 hours riding. The weather was perfect: no rain, lots of sunshine but not too warm. We arrived at our first stopover at the Lion Hotel in Llanbister bang on time and without getting lost. The preparatory map work and our meticulous packing and repacking seemed to be paying off.
Day 2 began well, weather great and a sumptuous breakfast for all. The horses had spent a comfortable night in a barn at a nearby farm and we were on the road by 8 am. The contours on today’s section of the OS map looked more like fingerprints so we knew we were in for some steep climbs and sharp descents. We hadn’t reckoned for the bogs, however, which despite weeks of dry weather were still deep and muddy. We anticipated a 7 hour ride today, but we quickly realised we had underestimated the terrain. We weren’t helped by unmarked bridle paths and the 15 gates we encountered which frequently came off their hinges and refused to shut. We were also advised to change our route to avoid a nasty section of the A470. After nearly 12 hours hard riding, we arrived at the Bluebell Inn in Llangurig where we wearily untacked, cleaned and fed our magnificent steeds. We finished an amazing but gruelling day at the bar. Oddly, days 3 and 4 felt easier. We each fell into a routine and the horses became stronger and more confident. The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful: lakes, streams, forestry and open moorland. We stopped for picnics by rivers and on hill tops and we marvelled at the sight of Snowdonia in the distance. Red kites circled above us and swallows divebombed as we disturbed the insects in our tracks. People stopped to speak to us on the way, wanting to hear about our journey and we experienced the legendary “kindness of strangers” when we (occasionally) got lost. For me, the most memorable experience was staying at the fabulous “Star Inn” at Dylife, which is a 17th century drovers’ inn, the highest pub in Wales and where we were treated like rock stars. The horses crashed out, exhausted in the field outside our bedroom windows whilst we enjoyed a delicious feast and a stunning display of shooting stars. Night 4 was spent in a tiny caravan and tent at an Air B and B, which boasted a hot tub overlooking the coast at Machynlleth. We celebrated our final night on the road with too many bottles of prosecco and looked forward to the final 15 miles of our trek. Day 5 brought the first rain of the journey, but nothing could dampen our spirits as we rode through the village of Ynyslas and finished with an excited gallop across the beach. To watch a video of their adventure