Today we should have been walking the Kington to Hay-on-Wye section of Offa’s Dyke. Instead, we are back home early. The big rucksacks that I mentioned in the previous blogpost were not only very large but very heavy. They just about fitted into the tent, but this made for some pretty awkward sleeping conditions. Sophie’s rucksack turned out to be 18kg and mine was 14kg. We only weighed the bags once we were home. I don’t know how Sophie’s was so heavy when I was carrying the tent and cooking equipment. Ultimately the weight of these backpacks would be our undoing. Think of this blogpost as a how not to organise your first multiday walking trip. It gives a brief account of our final day of walking and a few reflections on how we could have planned the trip better.
On day 5 we walked from Sychpwll to Forden, a small village just South of Welshpool. We followed the River Severn and then the Montgomery canal for the first 20 kilometres which were totally flat. We were making good progress and by this point our backs and shoulders had started to adjust to the extra weight of our rucksacks. We left the canal and followed Offa’s Dyke through Buttington and started to walk uphill through farmer’s fields with the warm sun on our backs, heading for the only climb of the day up to Beacon Ring. The weight of the bags made us slow, but we were starting to feel fitter needing less breaks on uphill sections.
We got to the top and stopped at a bench that looked out over the valley. We watched for a while as the farmers ploughed the fields and Red Kites followed behind swooping down for the exposed field mice. I even got my binoculars out for the first time to watch in more detail. After a while we set off descending through fields and then through a forest into the village of Forden. On the descent, both sets of knees began to hurt to the point where we had to start taking breaks going downhill. Over the previous days, our knees were hurting on the descents and stiff in the mornings. By the time we got to Forden we had both come to the realisation that continuing to walk downhill with our knees only getting more painful wasn’t a wise decision. Especially as the next day’s walk, Brompton to Knighton, would have been jam packed with steep ascents and descents. Sadly, this would be the end of our walk.
Clearly, we underestimated the challenge of walking with a very heavy rucksack. However, it was lack of preparation that was the deeper issue which caused us to cut our walk short. I had been wanting to do a long walk since I started this blog and I have been walking frequently and increasing the length of walks too. The main lesson learnt is to do a test walk with the rucksacks full. An obvious one I know, but this really would have helped us to extend our walk. We should have done a test walk, even just a single walk to get a feel of the bag and the weight to see if we thought a 10-day walk would have been doable. If we had done this, we could have focused on packing the rucksacks as light as possible or even shortening the route and adding rest days. Instead of testing equipment over the weeks leading up to the walk, we packed our bags a few hours before we got the train. We realised then that the bags were very heavy, and we got rid of what we could in the moment, mainly clothes. At this point it was too late to do anything other than haul the rucksacks on to our backs and walk to the train station.
We were both disappointed not keep walking until we got to Hay-on Wye, which became our goal as we decided having the weekend to recover before we returned to work/study the following week was a sensible idea. Part of the disappointment was that even though our knees were hurting, we were having a great time on a great walking route. Having been home for two days we have both had moments wondering whether we made the right decision. We have also struggled to walk down the stairs and let out groans when getting on and off the sofa. As the dust settles, we will share more stories and photos of the walk.