Conquering Offa’s Dyke – eventually

It was a case of third time lucky. Commissioned to write a feature for a walking magazine about the Offa’s Dyke National Trail, I had attempted to walk a section of the trail from Oswestry to Llangollen several times.

Every time I stepped off the train in Shropshire it snowed on me. Heavily.

World Heritage

Still, the story was worth pursuing. The earthwork bank, which stretched for 80 miles along the English-Welsh border, is bidding for Unesco World Heritage List. The accompanying long-distance walking trail celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer.

“Offa’s Dyke is very strong in ‘outstanding universal value’, the basic test for Unesco to consider the project,” says Ian Bapty, Secretary of the Offa’s Dyke Association. “The path helped to create English and Welsh identity.”

High wire

So myself and the assigned photographer tried again. And again.

Eventually the snow subsided and we got some images of me striding purposefully over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Thomas Telford’s engineering masterpiece some 127ft above the River Dee near Llangollen.

Non runner

While sitting around, waiting for a break in the weather, I was reading I Wouldn’t Star From Here, a collection of travel writing by Andrew Mueller.

What I enjoyed most was the behind-the-scenes stuff – when the jobbing writer finds his assignment untangling before his eyes through no fault of his own, or battles against common sense to fulfil an editor’s impossible brief.

Here’s his take on Jerusalem:

… to suggest to a mainstream readership that they might enjoy a holiday in a place which had, in preceding years, been at best slightly dicey, at worst an outright war zone … My cheerful travel feature on Jerusalem is yet to run.

As freelance writers, we are judged on results. Come ice storms and political crisis, we have to deliver.

That’s a freelancer’s lot and I accept it as such. But it’s great to find a writer willing to explode some myths about the process to arrive at that final printed version.

Your shout

Shropshire was a minor delay and we eventually got the story. You can even read the final version when published in walk magazine in March.

But I’ve had stories spiked, trips fall apart and angles shot down in flames plenty of times before.

As we stare hopefully down the barrel of another year, maybe I’ll share some behind-the-scenes insights on this blog.


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