I have been to Welshpool on the Shropshire/Wales border to do a reccee for my local rambling club. The area was new to us but we could put together a route from the map, what could go wrong?
We set off from Welshpool and headed east along the towpath of the Montgomery Canal. This canal was opened in sections by three companies between 1796 and 1819. Barges carried limestone for making lime, which farmers used to ‘sweeten ‘ or fertilise their soil. The 35 miles from Frankton Junction to Newtown passed through 27 locks. It was a tough journey. The canal closed in 1936 but local enthusiasts restored it and it is now navigable. The towpath has been upgraded and there are several picnic areas.
We followed the towpath as far as Buttington where an information board told us about David Jones. He was a lime-burner here in the 1820s and his men would load his kilns with limestone and coal. Lime was produced throughout the summer months.
We left the canal and after a short section of road walking we crossed a beautiful old bridge over the River Severn to join the Offa’s Dyke path.
We now had a steady climb along field paths and some light woodland to reach Beacon Ring Fort. It was hard work on a hot day and we were glad to pause to look back at the ever expanding view into Mid wales.
The Beacon Ring hill fort was built and occupied during the Iron Age between about 700 BC and AD 60. it was defended by a large bank and ditch with two entrances.
The beacon itself was inaccessible being surrounded by trees. The earliest record of the hill being used as a beacon is on a map dating to 1663. It was called ‘The Beacon Place’ and would have formed part of a chain of signals across the country. In times of emergency tarred ropes in the cresset at the top of the pole would have been lit to act as a warning. A large beacon was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. In 1953 trees were planted inside the hill fort to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11.
Today a radio mast stands close to the site. Our means of communication have changed.
We continued along the Offa’s Dyke path to reach Leighton estate which we crossed on a permissive path to reach a road.
We now had a mile across fields. There were no signposts and the gates were tied up but my SatMap GPS kept us on track. Passing through a campsite we reached a road which crossed the River Severn and the railway.
The rest of the walk should have been straightforward. The map indicated a path running due East across fields and then over the runway of the Welshpool – Mid Wales airport. We had even rung the airport to check that it was a permitted footpath. “No problem” was the reply. “We get people walking across it all the time. Just keep your eyes open for aeroplanes”
We set off diagonally across the first field, continually checking the GPS to take sure we were on course. There was no sign that anyone had passed this way – ever. But I could see the route on the screen and it was laying down our track so that we knew if we were veering to the left or right. Eventually we located the stile in the far corner which led to another field. The route lay diagonally across this field but there was no way we could cross it. The farmer had planted it with maize, which was now over six feet tall and totally impenetrable. We had to walk round the edge of the field which was waist high in nettles. It was at this stage that I began to regret having worn shorts. The next field was similar and we had to make a large detour adding a couple of miles onto our walk. We emerged onto a lane on the far side of the airport and then made our way down to the canal.
We could now relax and enjoy the stroll back to Welshpool. We learned about the work of George Watson Buck. He was appointed as an engineer for the Eastern branch of the Montgomery canal in 1819. There had been several problems with the canal and Buck had to carry out some major reconstruction work. He rebuilt the Luggy Aqueduct at Brithdir with a cast iron trough and used wrought iron tie rods in the aqueduct over the River Vernwy.
In 1828, Buck went to inspect the Stockport to Darlington railway and the following year he saw Stephenson’s rocket at the Rainhill locomotive trials. This led to a career change and in 1833 he left the canal company to join Robert Stephenson’s team building the London and Birmingham railway. During his time as a railway engineer he was responsible for the construction of several major viaducts.
Out 10 mile stroll had developed into a 13 mile hike and it was after six o’clock when we got back to Welshpool. We will have to revise our plans before we go out with the rambling club.