Fine old high jinks they had in former days on the hilltop of Cym-y-Bwch, the ‘Horns of the Buck’, just outside Oswestry where Shropshire looks west into Wales.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
From Georgian into Victorian times, hotly contested horse races were held up here, competing for purses of golden guineas and the solid silver Sir Watkin Williams Wynn Cup. What with the drinking, gambling, pickpocketing and lewd behaviour that came to plague the occasion, the gentry stopped attending, and in 1848 the last races were run.
These days the old grassy figure-of-eight track is a favourite place to take a breather and walk the dog. The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail runs through the Old Racecourse, and we followed its straight course along a thickly wooded scarp edge among firs that gave out a resinous, almost buttery smell. Tiny goldcrests flitted in the treetops. A brisk, blowy sky ran overhead, and huge views opened from the blue distances of the Cheshire plain to the Long Mynd and the Breidden Hills further south.
A tangle of steep lanes led out of the trees along the line of Offa’s Dyke. In the fields beyond Pentre-shannel farm we found the old rampart more than man-height, its earthen bank knitted with big oak and ash trees and burrowed to a grey tissue by rabbits that scampered for cover. By a cottage on a green lane we met a couple walking their sheepdogs ‘Oh,’ said the woman, ‘try Hafod Lane if you want lovely flowers and views.’
It proved a great piece of advice. The narrow lane runs round the flank of the knobbly hill of Mynydd Myfyr. We climbed between banks of frothy yellow crosswort, red campion, blue speedwell and little scarlet wild strawberries to a superb view west over green lumpy country towards the higher Welsh hills – a steeply folded landscape nurtured and shaped by sheep and cattle farming, but somehow retaining a smack of wildness.
We found a path skirting the northern slope of Mynydd Myfyr. A lonely farm lay there, so deep in its cleft that only its roof showed until we were right on top of it. We crossed fields of lush grass and descended flower-bordered lanes, then headed back into the woods once more. A stiff climb, a shady tunnel of firs, and we were up at the Old Racecourse, on the Horns of the Buck, with the wind in our faces and a fifty-mile view to savour.
Start: Oswestry Old Racecourse car park, Shropshire, SY10 7HL approx. (OS ref SJ 258305).
Getting there: Signed to left off B4580 Rhydycroesau road, 2 miles west of Oswestry.
Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 240): Turn left along grass track of Old Racecourse to Janus Horse sculpture (257303). Left here along Offa’s Dyke Path/OD (yellow arrows/YA, OD acorn symbols) for 2 miles, passing Pentre-shannel farm (257279) to reach a lane (258274, ‘Trefonen ½ mile’). Leave OD and turn right to T-jct. Over stile (YA, ‘50’ logo), up hedge, through gate (254273). Aim a little right of white cottage opposite, crossing 2 fields (stiles, YAs) to green lane (250273). YA points right, but go left to road by cottage.
Left along lane for ¼ mile to junction just past New Barns (250269). Right here through gateway and up drive. Through gate, on along right side of barns; follow track across 2 fields to cross stile on right of gate (245268). Right up Hafod Lane round Mynydd Myfyr for a little over ½ mile; turn right over stile (243277, ‘footpath’) up hedge to stile (YA). Follow fence on left (YAs, stiles) to Pant-y-ffynon farm. Right into grassy drive (247277, YA), left along it. Through gate, immediately right over stile (YA); half left across field to cross stile to left of gate (249276, YA). In bottom right corner of next field, stile into lane.
Left; in 100m, right over 2 stiles close together (250277); half right across field to go through hedge gap a little to right of tall trees (249279). Keep parallel to the upper hedge, down to cross stile, right along track to road at Croesau Bach (247280). Cross road; bear right along lane opposite for ⅔ mile, down to bear left across bridge (256282). Follow Offa’s Dyke Path for ¼ mile back into Candy Wood. Where OD turns right (254286), go left along woodland track. At first fork after that, go left (YA); at next fork, go right (252288, YA) for 600m along bottom of wood with river on left. Track then rises steeply to rejoin OD (255298); left to Old Racecourse car park
Lunch: Picnic; or Barley Mow, Trefonen (01691-656889; offasdykebrewery.com)
Accommodation: Helen Gilbert, The Pentre, Trefonen, Oswestry, postcode (01691-653952; thepentre.com) – first class, friendly B&B; evening meal by arrangement.
Information: Oswestry TIC (01691-662753/662488)