Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Denbigh and the Ystrad Valley

Denbigh Castle
Family holidays were upon us once more and this year we were all keen to do quite a lot of walking while we were away.  Our chosen destination for our summer week away was North East Wales, an area we have driven through a number of times but never explored.  We had plans for a number of walks but thought we would start relatively easily with a short 5 mile stroll around Denbigh Castle.  By keeping the walk length short we also had plenty of time to look around the Castle, which is where we started.  This walk is number 5 in Pathfinder Guide Volume 32 North Wales, Snowdon and Offa’s Dyke.

View of Clwydian Range
The walled town of Denbigh is mediaeval and the county town of the Denbighshire.  It is dominated by the ruined castle that sits atop the highest point in the town.  This was one of the border castles built following the invasion and suppression of the Welsh by Edward I.  Most of the castle has been destroyed, inevitably as a result of the Civil War when it was partially demolished to ensure it could no longer be used.  We spent about 45 minutes wandering around the ruins and reading the panels that told us about the history of the place.  It was easy to see why this was picked as the site for the castle for the view all around was wide ranging and extensive.  It wasn’t quite possible to see the sea but it couldn’t have been much beyond the horizon.  To the east was the Clwydian Range and to the east were the foothills to Snowdonia.  Big puffy clouds and blue skies complemented the scene perfectly.
Small Tortoiseshell
Once we had explored the castle we headed on our way turning left sharply down the hill and briefly along a rather scary road with no pavement.  We were thankful to turn left again to take a path almost underneath the castle.  This path was almost along a shelf that allowed for great views south east along the Clwydian Mountains.  They looked very appealing – maybe another walk along here might be in order one day?  There are two in the same volume of the Pathfinder Guides.
Former North Wales Hospital
As the path descended steeply through woods we emerged out into a field and went down the hill in a different direction.  At the bottom of the field we changed direction and crossed a number of fields before reaching a stile in the far corner.  The walk alongside the field was delightful and I saw a number of small tortoiseshell butterflies, the biggest concentration I have seen in a very long time.  It was good to see healthy numbers when elsewhere there are reports of these attractive butterflies struggling.

Woodland House
At the stile the character of the walk changed considerably.  We were now on a very narrow path bounded by trees clinging to the side of the Afon Ystrad, a small but scenic river that flows into the River Clwyd.  We passed a dog walker along here and it was rather tricky to pass on such a cramped space.  Luckily the path didn’t last long and we emerged onto a road.  We climbed briefly along the road and then turned left along a track.  It wasn’t altogether obvious that this was our onward path as the fingerpost was completely obscured by a for sale board.  Whoever gets to buy this property will be getting a most attractive proposition that is for sure – the countryside here is splendid.

Owl Carving
To the north of the track is a very large building according to the map.  It is mostly out of sight as the path passes below it and through some trees.  It is unusual to see such a large building with no name marked on the map, but I have since discovered that it was once a mental asylum and no longer in use.  I suspect that is the reason why it is not named on the map as it has been out of use for some considerable time and attention does not want to be drawn to it.

Pig Family
The path now took up a position alongside the river and provided a couple of miles of delightful walking.  The river bubbled away below us and the air was full of buzzing insects all making the most of this beautiful summer’s day.  We soon passed by a distinct mound – a burial mound maybe?  Just past there was a delightful house; home to a very lucky person indeed.  Just past there we reached another road and dog-legged along here briefly to reach the onward path.  This path was largely enclosed by trees and just above the river.  We soon came across some more people, this time some locals leading their horses along the path to be stabled for the night.  The girls made their acquaintances with the ponies and then were directed to another small enclsure further along the path where some pigs and piglets were being kept.  We had to climb a small ladder in order to be able to see them, which somehow added to the excitement!
Pooh Sticks

After meeting the pigs we came across a footbridge across the Ystrad, which the children were eager to cross but disappointed when they discovered that it wasn't on the route.  Never mind - they still took the opportunity to play Pooh Sticks and this was pretty successful courtesy of the fast flowing water.  Further on the path opened out into a field and allegedly there are the remains of Dr Johnson's cottage in the woods here (he of first dictionary fame).  Despite looking for it keenly I didn't see it and presumably it is covered by a lot of foliage.  He apparently stayed here for a while at the height of his fame.

Just past here are we left the valley of the Ystrad and climbed sharply up through the woods.  At the top of the steep slope we crossed into a field and could now see some lovely views out towards the Snowdonia mountains.  Our route would take us in a big loop around Gwaynynog Manor where the literary connections continued.  This manor house, largely out of sight from the path, is where Beatrix Potter worked on illustrations for her books.

Is Beatrix in?
The character of the walk changed considerably now as we were high above the enclosed valley that we had walked through on the outward route.  It was a much more light and airy walk and a stiff breeze blew the clouds along at a reasonable pace ensuring that the view always changed.  As we continued across fields the Clwydian Range came back into view and then Denbigh Castle itself which looked most impressive from this vantage point.

Denbigh Castle View
The path dropped down through fields that were obviously the home to large numbers of cattle judging by the number of cowpats around.  We passed Galch Hill, a house that was once owned by the Myddleton family before they acquired Chirk Castle, some distance to the south.  We briefly went wrong here courtesy of the number of paths that were available to us.  We sound found the right route and headed into Denbigh a couple of fields further on.  It felt very much like we entered the town via the tradesmen's entrance for we negotiated a housing estate and then some allotments before finding ourselves at the bottom of the town centre.

Denbigh Church
Denbigh is a rather agreeable looking place - clearly a place of much antiquity although I suspect not particularly on the tourist trail.  The library is quite eye-catching - I suspect this was once the Town Hall?  It certainly looks like a civic building of some antiquity.  From here we climbed up through a steep alleyway back up to the castle.  As we did so we passed a couple of ecclesiastical relics - the first was a rather curious affair as it is a cathedral that was aborted during building as the project ran out of money.  Leicester's Church as it is known now stands derelict in gardens at the foot of the castle mound.  A little further up the hill is the tower of St Hilary, a mediaeaval church for which this is the only remaining part.  This marked the end of our walk for we were now back at the start.  For such a short walk this packs a lot of interest in.  The opportunity to visit the castle should also not be missed.

Leicester's Church

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