It doesn’t take long to discover that Long Distance Footpaths don’t do what they say on the tin. The implication is that you start from Significant Point “A” then follow a continuous trail to Significant Point “B”. Often this is not the case. Take the most famous LDF in the UK, the Pennine Way. It neither starts nor stops in the Pennines and when it has the chance to really get going by striding along the Durham/Cumbria watershed, it scuttles off to Middleton-in-Teesdale for chips and ice cream. Closer inspection reveals the reality of these “Footpaths”. In effect, they’re made up of a number of very decent short walks, the sort of thing you might do on a summer’s day, loosely sewn together by bullock strewn fields, chunks of public highway and, as far as the arthritic is concerned, a plethora of stiles. Alfred Wainwright, who knew a thing or two about walking, commented that one Pennine Way trip was more than enough and compared it somewhat less favourably to his own Coast to Coast Walk.
Putting proprietorial prejudice aside, there is some justification in his reaching that conclusion. Unless you are prepared to swim, significant points A and B are not in doubt and he did his very best to stay on the high ground in more or less a straight line to avoid strewn bullocks etc, but even he admitted that when it came to crossing the twenty miles of the Vale of York it was best “to get them over quickly”. So, if I wanted to embark on some long-distance trek, the time had come to scour the country in the hope of finding something similar to Wainwright’s invention. An obvious example seemed to be Offa’s Dyke Path which like AW’s route stretches from coast to coast, in this case from the Bristol Channel to the Irish Sea and for the most part, follows the fortification built by the Mercian king, Offa to prevent the inhabitants of Powys from sneaking over the border with grand larceny in mind. Like Hadrian before him, he would naturally use any high ground available, so perhaps here I could find a proper high-level walk.
Initial perusal of a guidebook did not bode well. Phrases like “now no alternative to using the B4388” and “drop down to the bottom of a field” suggested more bullocks and SUVs rampant than airy ridges and soaring cliffs. But it struck me that I might make a virtue out of necessity. Rather than walk the whole lot, just do the good bits i.e. all the sections which contained at least one Marilyn. A quick look at the map suggested that, for a start, the Path’s passage through the Clwydian Range might prove interesting. This, the most northerly section, starts with Moel Gyw, situated just south of the A494, and ends at the massive hillfort of Penycloddiau. Within these two peaks lie three more distinct summits, Foel Fenlli, Moel Famau and Moel Arthur and the remarkable thing, as far as the peak bagger is concerned, is that four of these five have sufficient drop on all sides to be separate Marilyns.
Now the problem with bagging Marilyns is you don’t get many to the pound. Unlike Munros, where a short stretch of gently undulating ridge can add as many as seven to your collection, Marilyns tend to stand aloof and alone. To do more than one in a day often means either an unprepossessing meander along little used footpaths or a quick dash by car from one starting place to another. Either way it’s usually easier to go to the pub. By contrast the Clwydd form a continuous ridge walk. There are, by definition, ups and downs between Marilyns but at no point do you feel you are descending into the valley to start all over again. I must have frequently glanced at these hills from the south westerly ramparts of the Peak District and bypassed them on innumerable occasions in my rush to Snowdonia. If I thought of them at all, it was probably as uninspiring moorland covered with intractable heather. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ridge is clearly defined, particularly on its western flanks which fall steeply into the Vale of Clwyd and this sense of airiness is complemented by some steep ascents and descents that give the walk a real mountainous feeling.
If age and/or inclination makes the continuous completion of the ridge a rather daunting expedition, there is a fortuitous alternative. Country lanes lead up to a couple of high passes which the local agencies have thoughtfully provided with car parks, which means you can devise your own walk and pick them off one by one. Mind you, it’s probably not wise to depart too far from the straight and narrow. Tradition has it that any Welshman found straying onto English soil had his tongue cut off and similar English transgressors were hanged.