A brand spanking new way mark recently caught Harri’s attention while he was out running.
Just a stone’s throw from our home and embracing many of our regular walking/running routes, the Graig Diamond Jubilee Path was nonetheless exciting news to both of us.
A little rapid research revealed the origins of this exciting new path. In 2012, Graig Community Council invited people to submit ideas to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a way marked local walk emerged as the favourite. Twelve months on, a ten-mile route has been devised and the way marks put in place ready for an autumn 2013 launch.
‘The path’s objective is to raise awareness of the diversity of the area and encourage walking as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle,’ the council’s minutes explain.
Harri immediately contacted the councillor who was leading the project to ask if any assistance was needed in producing the promised leaflet but alas, he was too late; the publication was already at the printers. The councillor promised, however, that we would receive our copy as soon as it became available.
The leaflet duly arrived. Our first thoughts were that the route seemed rather convoluted, presumably because the organisers wanted it to pass through the centre of every community in the ward.
The instructions, too, seemed rather vague: a mismatch of historical information and imprecise route instructions rather than the detailed instructions that Harri writes. This is a common mistake… leaflets that try to be all things to all people rarely succeed on any count. Historians like local history, walkers like to know where they’re going!
While it was interesting to know that the Ruperra Arms ‘was established as a beer house in 1868’ I didn’t need to be told this twice within a few lines.
But our over-riding reaction to the publication was one of dismay at the extremely poor standard of writing and grammar. From the numerous dates listed, I’m guessing that a local historian wrote the copy – and much of what this person had written was extremely interesting. We just wish someone had been asked to look over the final wording before the leaflet went to print so that glaring errors could have been spotted and corrected, e.g. River Eddw [sic] and boarders (instead of borders). A fresh pair of eyes might also have sorted out the rather haphazard punctuation and capitalisation.
Poor English aside, the green coloured map looked very enticing and it’s very hard to resist a route that runs straight past your garden gate. So, on Friday afternoon, while feeling euphoric after a ten-mile run and not wanting to spend the rest of the day indoors on a computer, I decided to walk the Graig Diamond Jubilee Walk… alone.
The leaflet usefully suggests the use of OS Map: Explorer 152 but I couldn’t find it on our crowded map shelf so I challenged myself to following the path using only the leaflet and the way marks en route.
Harri, who learned of my plans at his work desk, seemed less than impressed with my spur-of-the-moment expedition; however I reassured him that I knew the area well(ish) so was highly unlikely to get lost.
It seemed madness to walk a mile to the official start of the walk at Graig Community Hall so I decided to pick up the route between Points 7 and 8. I walked out of the garden, turned right and headed up Pentre Tai Lane.
This meant I was actually following the Sirhowy Valley Walk; in theory, it was impossible for me to go wrong.
Twenty minutes later I was eating my words. I’d spotted the first way mark high on the hill where the once thick coniferous forest was no more and the natural habitat had happily re-established itself. The views over Rogerstone and beyond are lovely up here so I guess I was too busy enjoying the scenery to notice the next way mark.
By the time I realised I’d gone too far, I’d gone… far too far. No worries, this is familiar running territory so I just headed downhill, past the workmen who were working hard in the heat to re-metal the lanes (the very same workmen I’d paused to chat to earlier in the day when I was out running).
Back on track, I passed under the dual carriageway, pleased that I seemed to be getting the hang of this map reading lark.
I skirted around the edge of Afon Mead and headed back to the River Ebbw. Everything looked very familiar… I’d been running this exact route a few hours earlier. Interestingly, the Graig Diamond Jubilee Path (which from this point forth will be known as the GDJP) sticks resolutely to one side of the river despite passing two bridges. Now would that be because the river acts as a natural boundary between Graig and Rogerstone wards?
An hour into my walk and I was pretty much back where I began, at the end of Pentre Tai Lane. For a moment, I was sorely tempted… all I had to do was turn right and in five minutes I’d be sitting in my garden with a cold glass of cider…
But I pressed on and was quickly rewarded with a very pretty route through the sloped fields and woodland that run behind Bassaleg estate. I eventually emerged on Laurel Drive and followed a path behind St Basil’s Church.
At this point I diverged from the official route slightly because I love old graveyards and I knew that some of the Morgan family of Tredegar House were buried here and I’d never seen their graves. I was captivated by the intricate carved faces on the gravestone of the tragic Gwyneth Morgan whose body was found in the River Thames in 1924. She was just 29 when she died.
But time was getting on and I still had miles of walking ahead of me.
I reached the Ruperra Arms, meandered past the official starting point and turned left. It was then that it all started going badly wrong.
This is the problem with these hybrid-type hiking guides. They’re fine as long as you’re walking on obvious paths or alongside main roads but once you enter the world of fields it’s a whole new ball game. You need to know where you’re going, if you need to turn left or right after the stile, whether you’re heading uphill or not. Small details I admit, but pretty essential when you’re wandering around fields without OS Explorer 152.
And this being Newport and Newport council being notoriously bad at maintaining their footpaths then I don’t know why I was surprised when the new GDJP effectively disappeared. It was there on the map… sort of, anyway… but nowhere to be found in the fields. I fought my way through head-height brambles and nettles to emerge in an overgrown field with absolutely no idea which way I was heading.
I knew I needed to locate Cwm Hedd fishing lakes and – this is where a little local knowledge helps – I was 100% sure they were somewhere above Pentrepoeth. I strode off up the field.
I strolled across the freshly mowed lawn of a bungalow but immediately afterwards there followed another battle along a footpath so overgrown that I was on the verge of giving up when I spotted the lakes (the only thing that kept me going was the thought of turning back and retracing my steps). A quick glance at my leaflet revealed that the lakes were established in 2003 but they are so tranquil and attract so many ducks and geese that it’s hard to believe they haven’t always formed part of the natural landscape here in Bassaleg.
I couldn’t fault the views but where was the next way mark? Several false starts later, I spotted one pointing into the caravan park.
The next feature marked on my map was a pond. It was supposed to be on my left but despite much hunting, I couldn’t find it. It didn’t help that there were permissive paths all over the place but my simplistic map marked just the main lanes. When map and ground don’t correspond you know you’re in trouble!
By now I was getting tired. My legs itched like mad from all the scratches and stings, I was hot and sticky and walking uphill. I had no nibbles in my rucksack, just lukewarm orange squash.
The leaflet waxed lyrically about being able to see the north Somerset coastline as the path ascends but I’d have settled for being able to see a pond.
Then I spotted something glistening beyond the fencing, in a copse. Could this be the pond I was searching for? It seemed unlikely but the only other candidate was a large but rapidly evaporating puddle in a neighbouring field.
It was all so baffling; the GDJP way marks had vanished altogether and the way ahead seemed to be blocked by an insulated electric fence. I’ve since learned from Harri that you can unhook the fence and walk through (hindsight is a wonderful thing) but at the time, I turned left and followed another permissive path back to the farmhouse and stables.
It was nearly six o’clock and I was walking around in circles somewhere between points 2 and 3. I’d walked no more than five miles. At this rate, it would be dark before I reached home. There was woodland and a steep hill ahead of me; a long walk taking me ever farther from my home before eventually veering back to Rhiwderin.
So, with a heavy heart, and for the second time this year, I did what no self-respecting Walker’s Wife should ever do: with one last glance at my poor battered legs, I phoned Harri and begged him to come and pick me up.
I intend to complete the GDJP this summer. Graig has plenty going for it in terms of natural beauty and historical interest and I really do commend the community councillors for their attempts to get people to get active and exploring their local area.
I’ll be taking OS Map: Explorer 152 with me next time though… oh, and Harri.