Offa's Dyke leads me home: Part 2
Following on from Part 1....
Packing the stove away we set off before getting cold and soon entered a majestic valley landscape that traced Gilwern Brook along the old drovers roads. Hitting just the right balance between technical riding and covering good distance, crossing streams on sandy trails in wild open country it felt like we could have been anywhere in the world just then... Soon enough though we were faced with the typical trials of a british agricultural landscape as, whilst skirting a grassy field the trail disappeared into a muddy quagmire of trench warfare-like proportions, churned up by overuse in a wet environment the ground sucked at our tires grinding us to a halt. Knee deep, we were forced to trudge around, cursing the route as we forced our heavy loads onwards at a snail's pace.
Eventually we re-emerged onto open moorland and picked up an almost unperceivable trail bobbing its way across the heather as the arch of a dramatic rainbow began to form overhead. The route climbed us further into the moreland up gritty, muddy tracks and soon there was nowhere left to climb to. Surveying the landscape below us in the late afternoon dusk we made a plan to head for Glasbury where Jake, now approaching home turf, knew of a fishing hut we could probably bivi at. Darkness closed in as we clattered down leafly alleyways towards the Wye Valley floor. Our light beams creating a mesmerizing tunnel-vision effect as we concentrated on dodging obstacles appearing out of nowhere. The trail spits us out, covered in mud and dripping wet, onto the tarmac and we go in search of a place to warm up
The River Cafe in Glasbury looked far too clean an establishment for the likes of us but nevertheless we were beckoned in and welcomed to make ourselves comfortable huddling around a radiator nursing our pints and multiple bags of crisps. Kayaks stacked up outside it seemed that they were entirely used to dripping customers.
After resisting the urge to remain we delved back into the night and set off in search of our bed. This came in the form of the tarp hung off the side of a fishing hut at the side of the Wye river where we hunkered down in the doorway to protect ourselves from intermittent rain. Jake once again cooked up a tasty dish with spices, veg and salami and as we headed contentedly for our bivi bags a full moon emerged from the clouds encapsulated by a huge lunar ring. I pondered a while looking back on a day of contrasts, rainbows, stark natural beauty and a wholly unpredictable adventure.
Regardless of either the length or hardship of a multiday trip, an end in sight always carries with it the excitement and anticipation of simple pleasures. Clean clothes, a warm shower, a comfy chair, things we ordinarily take for granted take on a prize-like quality urging us speedily on. This final day was no exception. The popular tourist town of Hay-on-Wye saw us rolling in early morning as a farmers market was setting up. Searching for a spot to get an early coffee we were almost disappointed before the wonderful Granary Cafe opened it’s doors early to us, lighting up it’s big open fire momentarily trapping us before our journey continued.
On the road again, Jake was now able to point out landscape features that would guide us into our finish, we climbed our way up through an enchanted woodland along ancient walled trails, crossing streams as the valley narrowed. After passing, unscathed, through a shooting party we haul our way up and onto the side of ‘Lord Hereford’s Knob’ sniggering childishly through our gasps for air as we survey the landscape stretching out before us. From the high vantage point of Gospel Pass we could see that, somewhat fittingly, a cloud front stretched it’s way up the English - Welsh border casting the Welsh side into torrential rain whilst England remained in glorious autumnal sunshine... We made our way towards the latter and buzzed down swooping grassy singletrack towards Herefordshire.
Contouring around the hillside above Jake’s Farm we were met with one final challenge. A downed tree completely blocked the bridal path that we were traveling along. At first sight it appeared impassable but by this time for us there was no turning back so, crawling face down in the mud, we managed to find a way through the branches and, by removing some luggage and a wheel or two from the bikes, we were able to pass them through the tunnel we’d created. Working together, down there in the mud and the leaves at the end of this journey summed up nicely the sense of adventure that we had developed for ourselves. By, for a just a while, simplifying our lives down to basic tasks, reconnecting with the landscape, solving problems that it presented and tiring our bodies against physical challenge we had begun to forget much of what existed in the rest of our lives. In a world of certainty, deadlines, plans and achievements it’s handy to remember that once in awhile it’s possible to escape...
Gliding through the trees and dazzled by the afternoon sun, we finally arrive at Jake’s Farm blissfully nestled up in the head of its own valley. Biofuel heated, steaming hot showers awaited us in the camping field before Jake takes us on a quick tour with a celebratory beer in hand. We climb through woodland to meet his pigs rooting around through the leaves in the dusk. Intelligent creatures, full of personality it’s easy to see why ‘free range’ is the only way these animals should be farmed. Jake explains the process of farming them and then curing the meat to make their products and why respect must be at the heart of it all for both the welfare of the animals and the quality of the food they produce. It’s a fascinating insight into food and farming that most of us never get and it certainly does make you question some of the the practices of mainstream food production. We’re massively privileged in our world to have so much choice. Choice in where we choose to spend our money, how we choose to spend our time and what we choose to put into our bodies. The way I see it, it’s everyone’s own responsibility to respect this huge privilege by occasionally taking a moment step back to look at the choices we make and from time to time looking outside of the box to how things can be done differently. Whether that’s spending your friday night out in the woods rather than down the down the pub, looking for a company that does things a little more mindfully, supporting local businesses or figuring out how to cure your own bacon. We needn’t always swallow what’s fed to us. And I think that’s just about what Jake and I set out to show.
Bulgar Wheat and quinoa with chorizo and veggies
This is a versatile dish which can be made from a whole variety of different ingredients. We chose Bulgar wheat and quinoa mix for the base as it packs down very small for ease of transportation.
1 pack Summit Salami Chorizo flavour
1 red pepper
1 clove garlic
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
250g Bulgar wheat, quinoa, couscous or similar
1 chicken or veggie stock cube
Salt to taste
Lemon juice (optional)
Dice chorizo and veggies into rough chunks (this can be done previously at home and then bagged up).
Place a pan on the heat and add the diced chorizo, cook this slowly for around 3-5 minutes until the fat has rendered out of the chorizo and is coating the base of the pan.
Next add the vegetables and cook on a gentle heat for a few minutes until the onions become translucent, stir frequently to prevent them burning on the bottom.
Add the ras el hanout and cook for a further minute.
Add the grains and then the water and stock cube, bring to a simmer and cook until soft. If it gets too dry add a touch more water.
Season to taste and enjoy.
Home made Bacon
What could be better than a big juicy homemade bacon bap on a wet and windy welsh hillside? This one requires a bit of forward planning but is well worth the effort. Traditionally bacon would have been cured in autumn and would last all winter long, either hung up in the chimney to smoke or left ‘Green’ in the larder. A far cry from the flaccid, watery mess that gets sold on supermarket shelves, this is a recipe for real dry cured Bacon.
2kg of boned Pork, either belly (streaky) or Loin (Back). Make sure to look for free range or RSPCA assured.
Coarse sea salt
1 orange zest
2 tsp Celery powder
Place the pork into a suitably sized dish. Mix together the Salt, Brown sugar, Pepper, Fennel, orange zest and celery powder. Cover the pork with around half of the cure, making sure every surface is well covered. Reserve the leftover cure.
Cling film the pork and place in the fridge.
The following day drain off the liquid in the bottom of the dish, sprinkle with a little more cure, turn and place back in the fridge. Repeat this for around 3 days for belly and 4 for the loin. The pork should be noticeably firmer to the touch.
Remove the pork and rinse off any remaining cure. Pat dry with paper towel and wrap in a clean cloth or tea towel and place back in the fridge for at least 2 days, this will allow the salt to even itself throughout the meat.
The bacon is now ready for use, it’s best to leave it whole and slice it on the trail for a doorstop bacon butty.
Tip: Toast the bread in the leftover cooking juices from the pan for an extra flavour boost.