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National Walking Day - What Do Walkers Want (from a B&B on the ODP)?

Owning dogs means every day is a walking day.  Add to that the fact that, a year ago, we moved to The Old Mill, which sits right on the Offa’s Dyke Path, getting outside is a daily highlight – although like everyone else, we’re a bit bored of the rain and mud.  Luckily, we’re just at the bottom of the beautiful Candy Woods,  where you can be fairly sheltered and spend hours wandering around the endless different paths rarely seeing another soul; just listening to the birds. 

Most of our bed and breakfast guests are walkers, and the majority of those are doing  the Offa’s Dyke Path, taking, on average, 10 - 14 days to cover the 177 miles between Prestatyn in the north and Sedbury Cliffs, near Chepstow in the south.  Opened in 1971 as a trail, apparently up to 3,000 people a year walk the whole route, with most doing it between Easter and October.  Looking out of our windows we never see too many people, so I don’t think you need worry about it ever being too busy, although you will find some points are probably more popular than others. 

Built in the 8th Century, the dyke is believed to have been ordered by King Offa to divide the Kingdom of Mercia from what is now Wales, and crosses over the England/Wales border 20 times along its length, while going through 8 different counties. There are still remnants of Offa’s Dyke visible along the route, including a section just south of us.

What we’re trying to learn is what walkers want from us as a bed and breakfast/campsite and, for those passing us during the day, a refreshment stop.  If you have any suggestions particularly as I am writing this on #NationalWalkingDay please add to those below.  We’re constantly trying to improve what we do, and help people complete and enjoy the walk.  Sorry - we can’t sort out the weather though.

Breakfast – we’ve discovered that most walkers don’t want a full English – particularly if they are walking from south to north, and are about three-quarters of their way through the hike.  By the time they get to us it’s cereal/porridge, toast and maybe eggs.  And fresh fruit – everyone seems to want more fruit – maybe the body is beginning to crave it at this stage.  We tend to serve Irish soda bread, which goes down well, and also potato cakes/scone/farls – whatever you want to call them, with the eggs.  We’ve also been experimenting with fruit or chocolate baked oats recently – and expect those to be on the menu this year.

Packed lunches – people tell us they don’t want a huge amount, and certainly not a large roll/sandwich.  Rather, they prefer smaller things that they can perhaps eat along the way, or at least not have to stop too long for, or spend the next few hours digesting.  Obviously, fillings need to be not too squishy – soggy egg or tuna sandwiches apparently are not that appealing even if you are starving!  Some flapjack and fruit cake seem to be popular and, again, fruit.  We tend to offer apples or satsumas – to avoid the squashed banana at the bottom of a rucksack.  We also add a few pieces of homemade fudge – possibly it’s more like Scottish tablet, as we make sure it’s hard enough not to escape en route.

Evening meal – as there are very few options near us, we do a simple evening meal for walkers.  Although we offer three courses, people generally only want a main and a pudding.  Pasta and rice are favourites, and also slightly lighter options like salmon and new potatoes.  Again, perhaps people are a bit fed up with eating a big meal every night, but you still need to take on those calories.  We do try and make sure the puddings are fruit based, even the recent Burnt Basque Cheesecake was served with a fruit coulis.

Drinks – when we first opened we offered everyone tea or coffee and cake when they arrived – but soon realised from the raised eyebrows that many walkers are looking for something a little stronger!  We’ve now got our alcohol license so, as well as tea and cake, you can have something that might hit the spot a bit quicker!   

The Kettle House - a small honesty shop across the road – came to life when we realised that the walk isn’t that well served along the route for food and drink.  I think we were still unpacking when people began knocking on the door asking to fill up water bottles (it was sunny then!).  We started with just a large help-yourself water container by the side of the road then, when the water got too hot (hard to imagine at the moment), we cleared out and cleaned up the outhouse, and put it in there.  Then the sun left and it started to rain, so we provided a kettle and tea and coffee, along with homemade cake.  While it’s always lovely when people leave us great reviews on the B&B, I think walkers finding The Kettle House are even more grateful. Apparently, when you’ve been walking for hours in the rain – and have a few more hours to go – coming upon an unknown shelter with a hot drink and cake is like “finding Christmas!”.  We often have a couple of different cakes available – as I write there is good old lemon drizzle, and a fruity malt traybake, which should help fuel you up the next hill (we’re in a valley – whichever way you’re going, there’s a hill!). Almost as important as the refreshments, there is a bench outside and a sofa inside where hikers can rest weary legs.

The ODP seems to be relatively low in these sort of honesty stops along the way so, if you live on the path, it might be something worth thinking about, and you will earn eternal gratitude from the walkers! There is also the village shop in Trefonen, just a mile south of us for those needing more than coffee and cake.

Wet kit - obviously everyone is coming in wet and muddy at the moment – and that’s fine.  We have hard floors throughout the house, so everything is washable.  We can give your boots a bit of a clean and they, and any wet clothes, can dry overnight in front of the woodburner or the Everhot range in the kitchen.  The least we can do is set you off warm and dry to start the day!

Our guests do inevitably ask us if we have or plan to walk the ODP.  Luckily for now, my excuse is we are far too busy during the “season”, but we have done various stretches around here, and in Herefordshire.  I must plot them all on a map, and see how much more I have to do.  Maybe one day – but in the meantime, we will just enjoy being able to walk out of our  front door and straight onto the path every day, and welcome in those brave souls who are out there in the mud.  If you  need a break – there’s cake and a kettle waiting for you.

If you are tempted to take on the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, you can find more information from National Trails and the Offa’s Dyke Association.  Logistically, you can book your own accommodation, or there is a number of companies who will take the hassle away from you and sort it all out, including luggage transfers if you don’t fancy carrying your pack all the way; equally, most of the B&Bs along the route will help with that too.

If you want evidence of completing the walk, other than no doubt a phone full of photographs, you can buy a seasonal “passport” from the Offa’s Dyke Association.  Designed to encourage walkers to access the trail in the spring, summer and early autumn, when the land is supposedly drier (!!) the stamps for the passport are available from Easter -  and so these are now officially open.  We look forward to seeing everyone out there.

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