Monday, July 12, 2010

371.2 kms: Chester-Stoak-Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port-Eastham Village-Bromborough-(by bus) Liverpool

What is not to love about canals? Canal boats are beautiful and invoke the imagination into romantic daydreams of a different type of life. Canal paths are flat: no need to explain the benefits of that. After a chatty breakfast (rarity for anti-social me), I headed out on the canal headed north. It was drizzly and grey—but that in fact only seemed to make the canal even more romantic. I must be in a good mood: I'm making rain romantic. What are you saying, rain is romantic!

Stopped for soup and coffee in Stoat, and coffee and Vimto at the Boat Museum in Port Ellesmere. I never know what to have when I stop. It's just an excuse to stop. An excuse to stop that involves buying something you don't really want just for the right to be able to use the bathroom ultimately.

People are funny. I know we all know that, but it bares mentioning again every now and then. I was asking people to direct me around the weird off and on ramps in Port Ellesmere that stood between myself and the way I wanted to go. My plan was to walk as far as I could towards the Ferry ('cross the Mersey) until five pm, and then catch the bus. It was, I suspected, eight or nine miles to the ferry and I had already done eight and a half for the day so was feeling quite confident. But everyone I asked told me that I couldn't possibly walk that far—inconceivable! Lordy, how have I managed to walk two hundred and fifty miles if it is impossible to do nine!

Turned out that I didn't walk all the way to the ferry. Turned out that I didn't actually catch the ferry. I had seen a bus route on a pole I passed that mentioned a five-o-five bus to the Ferry terminal. Close to five I started to try and find a bus stop which showed the same route. No luck. It must turn off somewhere I had already passed. I asked the next bus driver who was showing my destination, he told me that he went the long way and that I should catch the four-o-one. I asked someone where I was while I waited for the bus. As he showed me the bus launched past at three hundred kilometers an hour. No way it was stopping. Felt guilty because the guy I had distracted was waiting for the same bus. The next four-o-one arrived late but the driver told me to take the forty-one as it went closer to the terminal. A hundred number one buses had gone past. They went to Liverpool via the tunnel. At the risk of being told to get a different bus and with the last ferry leaving very soon, I gave in and jumped on a one. I was seated next to the window: double glazed. It had three or four inches of water between the two panes. As we dipped down in the tunnel under the Mersey the water would dip with us. I figured that the water was rain that was precipitated from the Mersey and so water beside me was as good a ferry ride 'cross the Mersey as I needed. The bus dropped me in the middle of town—which was just about when I realised that a bit of research is better for accommodartioin in a city, rather than the drop-in approach I use in villages. Oops. I had no map, no idea of where accommodation would be. I eventually found a labelled hotel (Premier Inn). It is Graduation Week though and lots of the hotels are booked out. They were full but they kindly found me a room on Albert Dock, at the Jury's Inn. It was dearish but less than I thought it would be. I was so footsore though that I actually caught a taxi—bit silly because I got up later and walked a million miles to find dinner two hundred yards from the hotel. My feet were so sore I couldn't even get out of bed to get drugs to deaden the pain. I lay in my fancy bed and watched the Liverpool Eye go round until I fell into a heavenly slumber.


Good night to Liverpool, good night to you.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

346.6 kms: Churton-Aldford-Eccleston-Heronbridge-Chester.

Not a great night of sleep: weird dreams about teleportation, time travel and the inadequecies of apricot coloured, eighties two-piece suits in the fifties era. I clock-watched. 3.19, 4.35, 5.46, 6.15, 6.39, 7.03, 7.14. I decided to get up at the last time-check and so managed to get a solid forty-six minutes more. I just made the post-office in Aldford, bought breakfast and ate it in a lovely field behind the church: red bull and jam fancies. It was a short day of walking—I was at the Chester Tourist Information by one. Short but lovely; mostly along rivers and through parks. When I got there I discovered it was Chesterval (of course). I panicked because there were seven million people there for the weekend: there was no way that there was going to be any room for me at the Inn. The first place I rang told me they had no singles. Three octaves up I asked about the price of a double; thirty-five pounds. Oh, um, okay then, I supppose that would do. Silent yahoo gestures made in the phone box—that's actuallly a good price and not what I expected to pay during Chesterval. The only thing was that they don't live on site so I had to wait until four to meet them. I had a antipasta plate and elderberry cordial in a cool underground tavern to pass the time. The B&B was just outside the North Gate, around a corner and behind the car park. You needed to pass a very interesting shop full of knick-knacks. I spent a fair bit of time looking through their windows—everything from art deco chandeliers to stuffed cougars to bronze-age helmets. The thirty-five pounds belay (past tense of belie?—it's surely not belied, is it?) the quality of the room. It was ace! Lovely big bed and a sunken bath. I mean a sunken bathroom. For come reason the bathroom was a couple of stairs down from the room. Weird, but lovely, and it had a skylight. Had a shower (nice after being out asleep in a mosquito-y dust-bowl all night. And then I went for a walk. I'D had a bit of a walk around while I was waiting and Chester is a pretty town with a lot to have a look at. It has a wall that goes all the way around too, and you can walk around it. It is about XXX kilometres, so I took a leisurely stroll. Leisurely because I wanted to savour, and leisurely because I keep having dizzy spells. Really not sure what that is all about. I like to think low blood sugar but I know how much sugar goes in and there is no ways that that constitutes the word 'low'. In Bath, and her in Chester, there is a strange fibreglass revolution taking place. Bath was lions. Chester is rhinos. Artists get given a large fibreglass animal to decorate. Then they place them all over town for people to see. There is an auction to sell them and all the money goes to charity. Makes for an interesting tour around town. I particularly like the roman themed one in the forum. I really fancied a curry. I couldn't for the life of me find a curry house and so I ended up in a pub. (The Victoria—with a fine portrait of the same in profile out the front. Why was she so partial to her profile? Maybe it's a stamp thing.) They actually did a curry. The women in the table beside me were vocally disappointed with their dinner. This is England people! The chef revolution is still a process in process. The curry wasn't too bad—just not spicy enough. When I got backed to my room, I sewed a sequin, and I slept like a baby that actually sleeps. Good night to Chester, good night to you.          

Saturday, July 10, 2010

334.8 kms: Ellesmere-Penley-Worthenbury-Shochlach-Castletown-Farndon-a field near Churton

This is the stuff of crying, in the face of something good to say that is. I am re-writing this because my Blogsy app is wacky. I'm not a fan of re-writing. Not when I can't recall what I wrote last time. What I wrote last time has disappeared into the internet somewhere. The annoying thing, like it is in your brain, is that it is probably still in there somewhere—I just don't know how to access it. Suffice it to say, what follows is a shadow of what was there before. I have slightly lost the passion behind this day. The landlord was a lot nicer this morning. Possibly I just thought he was because I had been able to sleep in due to a later breakfast time. I headed out of town via a quick look at the mere. I passed a couple on the way out of town and then I passed what I think was their twenty pound note. The gap between the one and the other was larger than I thought I would be able to make up if I turned around and so I took it to mean that providence believed the value of a sheep is twenty pounds. I was determined to use that twenty poounds, but providence had gone somewhere else for the day. The PH   (that's the little symbol I look for on my Ordnance maps to denote the Public House (pub). It is usually the only place to get food and drinks; there is sometimes a P, which is semi okay too because it means the Post Office, which usuallly has food and drink to by of the d.i.y. variety), so  again, the PH, in Penley was being demolished, the PH in Worthenbury had closed down and the one in Shochlach closed up for a private function about ten minutes before I got there (that was the worst—I could see people eating and drinking from the cold, rainy outside). I'd decided to stay the night in Farndon. You  guessed it: booked out.  Everything in town: booked out. I threw my usual caution about letting people see me walking of out of town with a great big pack on my back at bed time to the wind and spent some of my twenty on dinner. It wasn't fabulous.  And then I walked out of town with a large back pack at bed time. It took me a while but I found a flat sandy patch in the middle of a field of yellow flowered bean-like-object producing plants. It was a warm, rainy night and so I had to close up the bivvy bag. The mossies were so loud I could hear them from inside. And they would manage to get into the tiny hole in the top of the bag and into my skin. I am annoyingly bitten but mossies, let me just tell you, you are nothing, inconsequential! Next to these damn horsefly bites that is. I have one in the  palm of my hand. You could quite easily go mad from horseflies. I am really glad I am not a horse. Good night to a field near Churton, good night to you.      

Friday, July 9, 2010

307.6 km: Llanymynech-Maesbury Marsh-Tetchill-Ellesmere.

Heavenly walk along the canals. Flat. I had morning tea at an out-of-it's-element eco-cafe in Maesbury-- divine coffee, sublime carrot cake with the best cream cheese icing, high-tech bathrooms. There were unfortunately already people sitting in the little rail carriages spread out around the garden so I sat and got drizzled pleasantly on and patted the dog, who, like every other dog in the universe was only in it for the food.
The hostess was the spitting image of a boss I had at a restaurant that I worked in in the late eighties. Look, manner, everything. It was spooky. She made the mistake of liking my dress verbally-- called it retro. I sprouted forth about the blog and the theme and the beaver. I could see regret in her clouded-over eyes.
Lunch was eaten with feet dangling over the edge of the canal. It was changeover day for all the house boat rentals and new captains were directing their boats down the canals with fervour. Waves (of the hand) and shouted hellos were the day's fair. Canals are fascinating places. The machinery for the locks is so interesting. A family was even doing the trip in a couple of kayaks. The kids were young, the parents were stressed and they seemed to have to get the kayaks out and carry them between levels of the locks. They didn't look like they were having an overly fun time of it. Kids: why are we having to do this? Adults: why did we bother?
I was sitting around having another break a little out of Ellesmere and got talking to a couple of men and their dogs that overran me on the ground. They recommended the Red Lion to stay in in town. I took their word and went straight there. It looked lovely from the downstairs. The proprietor had too rooms. An ensuite for fifty pounds or a shared bathroom room for thirty. I couldn't justify twenty pounds for a bathroom. He called me a backpacker. It sounded like an insult. Does he know how far unlike a backpacker I actually am?
Dinner downstairs. It was okay but the waitresses seemed to be going out of their way to avoid the strange lady eating on her own and I had to basically trip them over to get service. I was tired and went straight to bed. Sleep was not easy though. First the bells rang at the church next door for one and a half hours--solid! Then the drunks went outside to smoke and be very vocal. Then the police helicopters started. There better have been something serious happening--I'm expecting cordoned off roads, crime scene tape and chalk outlines to justify this malarkey.
Goodnight to Ellesmere (if you ever get to bed), goodnight to you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

284.7 kms: (Welshpool)-Buttington-Rhyd-esgyn-Four Crosses-Llanymynech.

After a not fabulous night of sleep—unable to really say why, horrible, nagging dreams that even in your dream state you know don’t make sense and don’t warrant the anxiety were partly to blame—I was up and out as planned and sitting with a takeaway coffee and baked goods waiting for the Buttington bus well before time.
I packed for the dark skies and the rainy potential, but it never came to fruition. I love a cure through prevention and superstition. It was actually quite a fun day. I crossed fields and encountered a herd of friendly bullocks—it’s mostly been sheep this trip. They did the scared, followed by curious thing and ended up following me though the field. Now, I am not so paranoid about this behaviour and we had a good chat and a photo opportunity at the stile at the end of their field.
More animal incidents occurred when I played ‘sheep search and rescue’ on the Montgomery Canal. The day included a couple of miles walking along the rebuilt and quite lovely Canal that had been used for years in the past to transport lime. As I walked along I saw a sheep was in the water, on the opposite bank. I thought that it was dead and just floating. Its head was lying on the bank. I clapped and made noise to see if it was alive and it wearily raised its head and looked at me. Unlike any other sheep I had encountered, my presence was not enough to scare the willies out of it and get it scooting up the bank. I supposed that it had fallen in and was now near exhaustion with trying to get back out. There were marks up along the bank that seemed to point to it having tried and tried to get out of the water. It appeared like it had now given up. I could think of no worse way to die—to stay standing in that water until pure exhaustion caused you to slip away and drown. I imagined it’s mother (it seemed like it was the size of lambs, large lambs, that were still, all over the place, feeding from their mothers) crying for it on the side of the canal until she realised that it was lost and just, in the cruel reality of life as an animal, turning and walking away. Maybe it would get out, maybe the farmer would turn up and drag it out—I couldn’t take the chance. So I walked to the bridge a few hundred meters up, hid my pack in the thistles and proceeded back along the opposite bank until I found it. There was no way that I would be able to pull it from the canal—the side was too steep, I wouldn’t get a handle on it—so I had to overcome my extreme dislike of inland waterways, strip off to my bike shorts, singlet and bare feet and jump in the canal. Eeough!! The sheep was a little panicked and definitely had enough energy to resist. I had to play tug-o’-war with it to get it a little further down the canal where the bank was less steep. Lucky sheep wool is so thick: it was a great way to hold on, but probably hurt like hell to be dragged down a river by your wool—thus warranting stepping on my bare feet with your cloven hoof! I had to get my arms in under the sheep and hike it onto the bank. Then get in under again, along with a knee in the jacksie, and push the rest of it out. It finally managed to find the strength to walk away, shook its tail and wondered off without a single word of thanks. I dressed again and walked back to my bag covered in mud that would slowly get fouler and fouler smelling as the day proceeded.
I felt elated as I walked along. The path followed the Severn River again. It was much smaller this far up the country. Along the path was a sign for eighty-five pence coffee and biscuits. I stopped in. It was someone’s yard. I had been waiting for this moment since the house who had ‘Water for Walkers’. I think it’s a brilliant idea if you are a house along the Offa’s Dyke and you are retired. There was a bell in the back yard that you rang and a gentleman popped out and asked you what you were after. He then sat and chatted about the state of things. His chickens pecked around for crumbs and only got a bit of my leg. He was funny. He liked to play with statistics. If twelve percent of all car accidents involve drivers who are sober, then eighty-eight percent are sober people—it would be better, then, if all drivers were drunk. He filled me in on my possible destination for the night, Llanymynech. It is the only place in the UK which has a border run through the middle of it—the English-Welsh border runs right through it. This means that at some times there has been taxes applied to one side and not the other. And the Welsh pub nearly went out of business when the non-smoking laws came in there nine months before they hit England.
Two times I walked along the Montgomery Canal today. It got me thinking. The canals are lovely—house boats, locks, lock houses. Lying on my English side hotel bed—completely luxurious, enormous bathroom; as big as the room—I decided the time had come to leave the Dyke. I was more than likely two days prior to when I would have left anyway. I will miss a large climb and probably get to where I wanted to get either at the same time or earlier (Chester). I miss the climbing but not the downhills; I’ll miss the climb but not the lack of facilities. I will not miss Offa’s megalomaniac tendency to place his dyke on the crest of every possible hill. This is a good decision.
In the meantime I ate dinner. A lady approached me in the restaurant and told me how brave I was to go out for dinner on my own. It’s do it or don’t eat when you are alone, I told her. And even if all these people think I am a fool, they won’t see me again so it doesn’t really matter. I was a little warmed to hear it though. Thanks lady.
Good night to Llanymynech, good night to you. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

267.7 kms: Montgomery-Fordon (II)-Beacon Hill-Buttington-(Welshpool).

There is a movie, or a book, in which someone has to earn a rite of passage by making it through the first meal at boarding school, a plate of kippers, without giving-in and admitting he has no idea of how to eat them. I would have given it a red hot go, but in the end, would have done what I did this morning, and decided I just wasn't that hungry. What an awful experience! Actually it may have been Oscar Wilde's biography now that I think about it. I was back on the track within an hour and then stopping to gear up for rain. At Forden II I ran into a lady who I had met twice before—she had passed me once, a good few days ago when I was sitting on the side of the road, and she had been staying at the same hotel last night. This morning she was waiting for the bus outside the pub. With the rain and the upcoming hill she had decided this was not a 'holiday'; she was throwing in the towel and heading to Welshpool on the bus. I, on the other hand, went inside for my weirdest pub experience to date. I rang the bell as the time showed it should be open. The girl who answered the door told me that they 'open for walkers'. I guess this means not for other modes of transport. Open was a loose interpretation. I think they may have turned on one light. There wasn't really anything to eat as such, but I did have a tea and a lemonade while the girl and her boyfriend babysat her mother's infant. I was very glad to get back in the rain and up a hill. That says something. On the walk up the hill I decided to stay the night in Buttington. Rain, I decided, was stoppIing play for this day. The walk on the hill, I must say, was glorious. It went through a forest that was, frankly, enchanted. Nothing like magical scenery to take your mind off the gradient. Buttington had only a camping ground. No way. I, too, caught the bus to Welshpool. The owner of the B&B gave me her room. It is strange to invade people's lives like you do in some B&B's. You are in their house. Looking at the things they use everyday. While they are ... where? I had dinner at a snooty pub where they couldn't spell sausage (unless sauasage is an allowable derivative). The bangers and mash were reasonably priced but I stepped over the reasonable line and had a glass of wine and a raspberrry pavlova which was to-die-for. Early night followed. I have one hundred and thirty-three kilometers to do in eight days. Eek! Good night to Welshpool, good night to you.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

252.1 kms: Newcastle-Hergan-Dog & Duck Cottage-Montgomery.

‘Just head up this road, turn right into the High Street, across the bridge and past the Church. Then you are going UP! It’ll be really hilly.’
‘I am sorry, but that is what everyone says, every morning.’
‘No, this is actually the hilliest part of the whole walk.’ There is a certain sort of pride to be had in being the —iest in something. Offa’s Dyke Path towns seem to choose ‘hilliest’. Unfortunately, my landlords were right—again! I am in the Shropshire Hills. Do you remember that Nescafe ad: ‘How exotic, where are you from?’ ‘Shropshire.’ ‘Oh.’ On the sign that Welcomes you, they have illustrated the hills like a series on ‘n’s—straight up and a slightly more sloping down. That pretty much got them right. L— and D— from the Crown Inn told me there were four bad ups, three bad downs and then a lovely sloping down onto the Montgomery plain and the Severn Valley floor. But hills aren’t like going to the second floor of Chaddy—I was never quite sure when I had done one climb or one descent. It was a greatly challenging day with some really lovely scenery. It was a gratifying moment to finally look down and see the long, long slope of the last downhill.
I did have two epiphanies today. One: busting a gut is not worth it. It is only me who sets a standard of how far to go each day or as a whole and so there is no one to impress with making it unenjoyable. Two: it is no longer worth the lack of sleep and discomfort of sleeping outdoors just to save money you have saved to take a ‘holiday’. I decided the rest of the holidays I would stay in B&Bs or camping grounds if they appeared.
This then made me stress about getting one type of accommodation rather than having options. I am my own worst nightmare! I started looking for accommodation in Mellington Hall then Brompton Farm. No luck. I had to do the speed walk into Montgomery and then bite my own words by paying an exorbitant amount for the only available indoor accommodation! That’ll learn ya.
The room was nice though, looking out onto the square, comfy soft sink-into bed, alarm clock (no stress-about-waking sleeping), and even a tiny little carafe and glass of sherry for before bed. And everyone in the hotel was chatty. I chatted over dinner to a couple who holiday either here or Scotland, but the latter is too wet this year. Chatted to the landlord who was formerly the mayor. Chatted to the whole family of landlordians who needed to clear out the garage tomorrow. Chatted to another single female, carrying (ie. not having her luggage transferred from B&B each day and only having a day pack; my word to distinguish the ‘real’ walkers from the imitation). She was about fifty-five, maybe older. She had passed me one morning earlier in the trip when I had crashed out for a break on some soft grass. Now, she had had enough and was going to walk one more day and then find a nice place to stay in Welshpool for the rest of her holiday. Chatted to another couple and their cutest little gem of a dog—Gem—who holiday either here or Scotland, but the latter is too wet this year. P— used to be a merchant seaman and had spent a lot of time in Melbourne—mostly St Kilda—in the early sixties. Needless to say it was a late night—and I still had to have time for my before-bed sherry. There was a decided lack of sequining going on tonight.
Good night to Montgomery, good night to you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

233.2 kms: Knighton-Garbett Hall-Newcastle.

The day started with the usual beamingly delivered instructions: ‘Head up the High Street, turn off at the Offa’s Dyke Centre, along the river, over the railway lines and then UP. No, I mean really up, it’s HUGE.’ Unfortunately, unlike the people who, when they are asked for directions, respond with the false ‘oh, you can’t possibly walk there: it’s at least three miles away’ (I’ve only gone two hundred miles, but you are right, the last three are possibly unachievable), this man was right. The hill was a killer. But slowly slowly does it, and soon you are walking along the top with amazing vistas all around and sheep with legs marginally shorter on the port side than the starboard.
The ‘Land’s End’ of this trip has been the Ridge and Hay Bluff. Every time I thought I had travelled a distance, I would look around and there it would be, hanging over my shoulder like a reminder of the slowness of this mode of travel. Hill two today, though, finally obliterated them from sight and the illusion of distance travelled was again possible.
I had been told of a booklet available at the Offa’s Dyke Centre which listed the B&B’s all along the path. I got tight when I saw it was five pounds and decided I had winged it this far so I might as well wing it the rest of the way. The lady at the counter had informed me that there were a few places to stay in Newcastle though, and after a little walking I decided it was time for a slack day and that I would stop there and have a relaxing afternoon. Typically, I normally get up late and arrive late. My post-walking activities usually only include washing smalls, eating dinner, sewing sequins and crashing into bed—no time for lying around in sunny parks, reading a lot more, writing lists, day-dreaming; all the things a holiday should be about.
My eyes look like racoon’s or prize fighter’s, so another night indoors would also be highly beneficial.
I ended up in a lovely B&B at the pub. It was very specsh. I faffed, napped, showered, rotated smalls in the sunny window to dry, even managed to wash bike shorts and one dress for a lovely clean refreshing feeling tomorrow—grubby does become the norm, but like converting pounds to dollars, it is something worth not considering.
The pub was having a carvery that night due to a large booking that was there for a celebration. That was pressed upon me in a friendly way as the ‘best’ dinner option and so at seven-thirty I was there with plate out requesting lamb and pork please, no Yorkshire pudding. That is a weird item isn’t it? It’s like someone just thought that it would save on gravy boats if they made a pastry one, ate it and didn’t have to wash it later—all the fussiness of cleaning lumpy gravy from a spout maybe. The group was a table of teachers from the next village—approximately thirteen women and one man. They were the second noisiest thing I have ever heard. But very good eaves dropping material. It was one of those things where you didn’t realise how noisy they were until they all of a sudden left and the silence poured in. I had a nice chat to the proprietors and then went to a lovely bedded sleep.
Good night to Newcastle, good night to you.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

219.1 kms: Kington-Kington Golf Course-Pen Offa-Dolley Green-Knighton.

The sun was like me today—reluctant to really do the job with full and devoted commitment. It semi shone on my east-placed bag, but still left me sleeping ‘til late and didn’t really dry off all the wetness of the night. I was similarly lack-lustre and only made it a mile to the golf course before stopping for the first time for coffee and scones I didn’t really need. In truth I thought the day was going to be more of a doddle, but the golfers set me straight—it was a long walk. The golf course was quite cool. I would love to have played a round but they only allowed guests who could produce some kind of card that proved they weren’t hacks—I am a hack. I had been wondering why I kept seeing golf balls as I came up the hill. The course was on the moors—and there I was yesterday thinking that part of the moors looked like perfect places to play golf. The English find any space and pop in a golf course—I have run into them on sand dunes by the beach and among specially placed pile of refuse on the outskirts of towns. Part of that last sentence may be a lie. Being a moor, of course, there are sheep wandering around keeping the grass trim and golf-course-like and nibbling the purple bits off thistles. I wonder how many sheep get donked on the head by golf balls. I wonder how many golf balls roll off the hill never to be found again. Do golf balls cost a lot?
This second trip back to walking has been decidedly greyer than the first. Thankfully, though, all it takes to make the rain stop is to stop, take off the pack, rearrange all the outers, gear up for the wet weather, put the pack back on—rain stops the minute I click the one part of the pack strap into the other. I was listening to music today to facilitate hill climbing—there was, surprisingly, a lot today, with fabulous views. I sang to the sheep. Music does not calm the submissive beast. Maybe it’s just my lack of talent combined with breathy uphills.
I was doing the stress about accommodation thing as usual—two nights on the ground made me desperate for a bed. I lucked a great room at the George and Dragon in Knighton. They all had names rather than numbers—nice touch. I was in the Kite’s Nest.
I had some dinner and spoke to some more walkers—these ones doing Glyndwr’s Way which is the national trail that loops into Wales off the Offa’s Dyke. When I went back to my room it was like swimming in the creamy white sauce of my fish pie. It was like being completely off your tree drunk. It was exhaustion—again! I am boring myself with this exhaustion thing. I waded through showering, washing undies—the eternal chore—and making a cuppa to read by. The last did not happen. Last night I had a snotty filled nose all night and it ended up making the back of my throat sore—you are so happy to have read that detail aren’t you? I think I may have been just a tad under the weather. I think I woke and drank the cold coffee about midnight and crashed again.
Good night to Knighton, good night to you.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

197.3 kms: Hay-Chapel House-Disgwylfa Hill-Gladestry-Hergest Ridge-Kington.

You may have noticed a gap in the dates between this blog and the last: I have been giving my feet a bit of a break by putting them up (a little) in Cheltenham. Thinking that Hay would be a good place to get to other parts of the country from on the basis of its touristyness, I embarked on the journey. It ended up being a four bus, four hour journey. I am disorientated as to where I am in relation to anything else, but I feel quite sure I am not four hours away from Cheltenham. It was a lovely break. In the evenings A—— and I would go for adventurous drives in the surrounding country—enabling me to see more of the Cotswolds. We went to a roman villa which we peered at over the National Trust walls; we went to the alternative source of the Thames, which I found almost a little religious. It is called Seven Springs. You descend into a hollow, between a main road and pub of the same name, and a truck stop, and there, from the wall of the hollow, are seven points where water, cold and fresh, comes from the ground, and possibly ends up carrying ships and the mighty city of London on its back. We also went to Hidcote Gardens which is an amazing warren of garden ‘rooms’ in the grounds of Hidcote Manor. It was beautiful. We were lucky to be there late and so fairly alone as we wandered around and walked barefoot on the grass.
On the second I started back to Hay—thinking I would arrive lunchtime and be able to walk out straight away. I did not factor in, again, my penchant for late lie ins. Although S—— woke me at eight, I slept again ‘til at least ten. I think that my dizzies were the result of pure, unadulterated exhaustion, and the lovely long sleeps I have had in the last few days have completely cured me of them. I got ready and started the journey back after twelve which meant that I didn’t get back to Hay, this way, until fiveish. I didn’t want to walk out at that time. I also didn’t want to pay for a B&B, and so was happy to notice a camping ground just outside Hay. It was nice comfy grass and relatively flat with a lovely sunsetting view over Hay—it almost made me like camping. I even slept quite well.
The sunshine in relation to a perfectly positioned, east facing, bivvy bag placement got me up at sevenish and on the road by eight-thirty—miracles do happen! It was flat for all of about three minutes and then the hills started. There was an evil field to cross first though. It’s a strange phenomena these rights-of-ways. Do they precede land ownership? Do farmers who are obviously adverse to them—obvious through their posting horrible little, yellow, signs that ask you to please ensure you stay on the edge of the field to avoid damaging their crops and then don’t maintain the path so that your choice is stepping on their crops or traversing every conceivably horrible weed known to mankind—meet the same criteria of people who move into St Kilda and then complain about prostitutes? Suffice it to say, in the damn annoying habit I have of trying not to offend, I mostly didn’t step angrily on whatever crop the farsehole was growing and ended up with welted red legs that itched all day.
It makes sense that if you want to either protect your dominion, or let others know that you place a border between them and you, that you would place your dyke (if that’s the border indicator you are wont to use) where everyone could see it most easily or you could see them most easily: on top of every hill. So over every hill we go.
I stopped for the drink of choice for this trip—OJ and lemonade, just a tad of ice, no wonder I am not losing any weight—in Gladestry and then up the biggest hill for the day. I bemoan the hills, but they are amazing when you get to the top. They are mostly moors, lots of sheep to scare, great views. And I actually like going up—masochistic I know, but it is a great sense of achievement and makes you hurt in a way that feels good. What I can’t abide is going down. If it didn’t mean that you would end up in the stratosphere (which again I don’t mind, it would be nice and cool, but slightly hard to breath in), I would be happy to go up and along forever. But no, along comes ‘down’ to spoil the day! So down into Kington I went and decided on the success of last night to camp again. The ground was even flatter, even more lovingly green grassed. There were good strong pressure showers. But the sleep wasn’t fabulous.
I went back into town before that though and had a pretty mediocre dinner. I was watching the village politics between three girls in a group of boys. One was pregnant. She came along with the father after I had been there for a while. The girls said: ‘Ooh, we were just talking about you.’ I had wondered who they meant a few minutes earlier when they hoped that someone was just about in the worst possible labour pains she could be.
I think everyone thought I was a little mad spending Saturday night down at the pub sewing sequins. Is it any madder than the usual things people get up to in pubs on a Saturday night.
I was just trying to settle into bed when the people in the caravan next door decided a few fireworks in the field next door would be the greatest of ideas. Every boom scared the bejeebers out of me. Blessedly, it also scared the bejeebers out of their own dogs and children. It did also wake up two walkers who must be the early walking type because I think they had been in bed since prior to my arrival home. They didn’t last long, and I drifted into the restless sleep of the camper in a Gore-Tex cocoon.
Good night Kington, good night you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

170.9 kms: X-turn off to Hay Bluff-Cadwagan Farm-Hay.

Six am departures again did not materialise. I could rationalise it by saying I like to wait for the morning sun to have dried off all the dew, but I would only be fooling myself and none of you. I got going about nine, but, incidentally, at least all of my stuff was dry!
I stopped for baked beans out of a can for breakfast about half an hour later and I was already going downhill. I chose not to go to Hay Bluff—which I imagine has fabulous views down onto Hay—because it was two steep declines rather than one more gradual one (with incredibly steep bits). Have I told you yet how much I dislike downhills. I am not a fan.
And sheep? What is it with sheep? Why do they call people who are scared chickens when sheep are the scaredest creatures on the planet? This is what I thought until on the way down today I actually game across a chicken who nearly had a coronary as I came past it. Lord. Pheasant is also a good contender—I think it is the word for someone who is scared and also runs away in a completely ridiculous fashion.
By the time I got to Hay I was starving. I had a burger. Sated, I started looking for B&B’s. It’s the most touristy place I have seen so far—that is I have seen the most tourists here. I tried a dozen places and then was finally found a room by a man with a dog who liked Wes. I was paranoid and unsettled because he had spoken to a guy who owned the place but who doesn’t usually take the leading role in its day-to-day business—that’s the wife—and that man in turn ‘couldn’t find the booking book, take room 3, it’ll be alright’. I kept expecting a knock on the door and the wife telling me she is awfully sorry, but … I left to look around town and hoped for the best. I really wanted to stay and felt I deserved to as the place was called Rest for the Tired/Tyred and I certainly was the former. It was also magical. The house was a crooked little Tudor place. I had had to duck more and more with each flight of steps I climbed. When I got to the door of my room there was a plate with a cake on it that said ‘Eat me’ in icing—it was the only way to get in through the tiny door. Absolutely brilliant.
I am a book lover. I have so many books on my ‘to read’ pile that I don’t actually think I can read them all before I die. But Hay was too much. How did it happen? Well, actually, I did find that out. A Booth, of Booth Books was a scholar and worked in a book store in London. On a visit home to Hay he noticed the old fire station was for sale. He decided to make it into a book store. His vision however on purchasing it was not to have a book store, but that the whole town would be a town of book stores and he made it happen. They are, incidentally, the Booths of Booths gin.
But I was overwhelmed. I went to the Honesty Bookshop, which is one the lower terrace of the Hay Castle and is basically a series of shelves around the terrace, exposed to all the elements, and selling for a pound for hardbacks, fifty pence for soft, put the money in an honesty box—I love that the English still do so much on the honesty box system. I also went into Booth’s Books which is in a beautiful store. Apparently the Booth’s sold it and an American woman owns it now—and is spending a small fortune on it. I didn’t go in, but I was attracted by the outside and the generally dark appearance of the Murder and Mayhem bookstore—it was cool.
Things were too open and busy for me. Being on the road is a solitary occupation and the presence of people and bustle after the aloneness of the Ridge was a little cloying. I had coffee on a lovely terrace in the middle of the street—you carried your tray away from the shop and across the road—and tried to sew sequins but it was windy and now there are sequins blowing through Hay, taking a little mirrored sunshine with them. This, on top of the busyness sent me back to the B&B for a couple of hours. I came out later when everything was closed and toured around town and took lots of photos. Love that ten pm sunset! There is so much day for doing stuff. Quick dinner and home to bed.
Good night to Hay, good night to you.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

160.9 kms: Llangattock Lingoed-Pandy-Lower Pentwyn Farm-turnoff path to Llanthony-turnoff path to Capel-y-ffin-X (a guestimated point on my map along the mountain ridge).

The plan: head up onto the Ridge which started climbing in Pandy, went up to about four hundred meters straight away and then slowly climbed to seven hundred over six or seven miles, stay up there for the night, meander down into Hay for one night and then maybe head back to Chelt for a couple of days off the feet.
What happened: everything went mostly to plan.
What’s surprising: everything went mostly to plan.
Had a nice egg-free breakfast of cereal, toast and fruit. I think the egged-up other residents looked jealous—it was really nice. The breakfast room was full so I did the un-English thing and imposed on a man who was sitting alone by asking if I could sit with him. A lady tonight (a few nights hence) came up to me in the restaurant and said ‘You’re so brave going to a restaurant on your own.’ You just have to swallow your pride and do it. It is strange that it is an awkward social moment, and it was the same with this morning. I walked into the room, saw there was nowhere to sit. I had either to awkwardly retreat and feel foolish, or just be the loud brash Ozzie and make somebody else’s breakfast uncomfortable. The guy was quite friendly once he realised I was staying. We had big debates about football—I’m an expect after watching a game now—and bush fires. I have never heard someone say the word gorse so many times in a sentence—apparently it burns rather well. He was there to run up a mountain. He told me it was one that nobody knows—of course nobody knows if nobody will tell you name of it! Maybe it’s a mason sort of a thing.
Next food stop was in Pandy. I seem to have this fear that I will … god knows what will happen to me actually—if there is not a store or pub in the next few miles. So I filled up with vegetable soup, lemonade and coffee—that’ll keep me ‘whatevered’. And then I went uphill, fast. I nearly cried when I had to cede a few meters back down a hill as I knew it would be tough getting them back. They don’t seem to mind sending you the most direct way up the face of the hill on this path, even if the grade seems to be one step up for every half-a-step across. Lucky they don’t have to put the percentage signs on walking tracks—it would scare people to see a sign that said in one mile you will be going up a sixty-six percent gradient.
But it was so well worth the effort. The views from the ridge were magnificent. On one side were the Black Mountains reaching over into Wales; on the other the valley of the Severn with the Cotswolds off in the distance. The only thing that possibly could have made it better would be more normal English weather—the lack of any rain, and warm sunny days, for the last at least two weeks meant that the air was becoming hazier and you couldn’t see as far as you may with rain-washed clarity.
I passed the last path off to a habitable place and knew that my next search would be a place to sleep the night. A few hundred meters on I happened to look back and noticed someone was behind me. There was nowhere for them to go to beside Hay which seemed too far away for this time of the night. They were not carrying gear. I spent about an hour worrying about what the hell they were doing and why they weren’t passing me—all these people with no gear always do. I have visions of them asking to share my tent—which of course I don’t have, travelling as I do with a definitely one person bivvy bag. Then I imagined having to give them either the bivvy of my sleeping bag and which one would I want least to lose because by then I was convinced this was a ploy to steal my stuff. That escalated into a belief that they were actually after my passport, credit cards and cash. When the hour was over and it was time for a quick break, I looked back and they were gone. What a stupid way to spend an hour—inventing highway robbers who happen to be walking along isolated mountain ridges in search of victims—there are better ways to be a criminal!
Silliness aside I started looking for accommodation options. What I had was a flat, treeless plateau which fell steeply at the edges and was full of grazing livestock in the form of sheep and horses. But I found the perfect bed. In the marshier areas of the moor (that’s the vegetation up there) there are pools of water. Being the middle of a dry summer, they are empty. This means they are a recessed (hard to see someone camping out from the path), flat and absent of (dare I say it) gorse and other uncomfortable moor vegetation and full of sand. It’s like sleeping on a flat beach. I just had to hope it didn’t bucket down, and that, if it did, my fabulous new roll mat could double as a lilo. The only distraction to sleep was a cold and persistent wind that managed to get to me over the edges of the pool. Otherwise, it was a relatively good sleep for a bivvy-bag-sleep.
Good nigh to X, good night to you.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

138.4 kms: Monmouth-Hendre Farm-Llanvihangel Y’stern Llewern-Treadham-White Castle-Llangattock Lingoed.

Despite the sleep, I am still feeling lethargic. My eyes are black. Please, please, please don’t say I am getting old. The horrible thing is I feel a little old. Someone along the path called me fit the other day. I had to lean over and embarrassingly wipe the laughter-spit off their face. But it is all in the mind and so maybe I am better off to say to myself: it’s not age my dear, it’s the computer and the extra water and the thirteen muesli bars and all the bitty-bops for charging all your electrical, and the shampoo and conditioner. No one else is carrying. They all flip past me with a little day pack and a hoo-roo. I am probably averaging about three kilometres an hour. Someone else along the track stated that the walkers do about two miles an hour. That coincides. Maybe it’s not me. Factor in too the fact that the maps have gone from being white with yellow, orange, green and pink roads and tracks on them to pink with the same. This is because the contour lines have gone mad! They are the equivalent of that Blue Guide B—— and I had in Italy or Greece that advised that the road ‘ascended in a series of torturous bends’. I should have known that when a man builds a wall and a ditch to keep everyone out of his space, he is going to do it where he has the best view down into what they are up to, isn’t he?
Accordingly with the pinking of the map, today was up and down. Exhausting. Hot. And a death threat proclaimed to every brown fly that ever lived a miserable three day life! Their favourite seems to be to bite me through the back of my bike shorts. The backs of my thighs are like a bad peanut reaction.
The highlight of the day was a completely ridiculous pheasant that shot out of a bush and ran twenty meters up the path in front of me before diving into another bush. It belonged wholly in the Red Queen’s Garden in Alice in Wonderland. I think Lewis must have been inspired in part by pheasants. They run. No attempt to use a wing. Straight backed, head high. It is the funniest thing. When you see me ask me for an impression. It was laugh out loud stuff.
Thought I might be able to get to Pandy which is a good start for the ridge the next day (miles of walking along a mountain ridge with the only food or PH or accommodation options being down contours that are so close together you can’t differentiate them!), but only made it to Llangattock Lingoed, the village before Pandy. It was already eightish and I didn’t think I had hopes of accommodation. I was all prepared—but unhappy—for a night in the outdoors. But there was a lovely guesthouse, with a lovely hostess, and I got a lovely room.
The pub was ‘fully booked’ for meals. ? So I had crisps, chocolate and orange juice and lemonade for dinner.
The guesthouse had bathrobes so I had a great shower and lounged around reading in my robe. This is not such a bad life.
Good night to Llangattock Lingoed, good night to you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

115.5 kms: Tintern Old Station-Brockweir-Bigweir-Redbrook-Kymin-Monmouth.

So back to the dizziness. I had to just make sure I didn’t bend over too quickly or get up too quickly and I was okay. I did manage to make myself all feel-sorry-for-myself-y and why-am-I-doing this-y. And then I called it low-blood sugar, had sweets and felt a whole lot better. Sweets always make things a whole lot better don’t they—how can trashy magazines say there is no reason to ever have sweets. I can understand chocolate is better, but sweets don’t melt on long distance walking tracks.
I had a quite nice breakfast at the Old Station Cafe—although I did have to put in a grumpy customer comment when they tried to tell me it was almost too late when I had been standing in the queue for fifteen minutes of the most excruciatingly slow coffee making I have ever seen in my long and seeingful life. The coffee was very nice for all its slowness and the sausages more flavoursome than usual. I am sad in a way to leave as there will be a sausage festival on the weekend and who doesn’t love a sausage festival. I am sure it would mean accommodation was even harder to come by. (I was tempted to cross to a Italian Restaurant/B&B more recently to advise accommodation has two m’s—shouldn’t an accommodation place know how many m’s there are in accommodation? I didn’t because I am sure they would not have appreciated it. Let them look like fools!)
Today’s walk is not overly strenuous either. It meandered along the river. Went up a big hill. Went down. Went back up. Went down. And that was it. Between the first and second ups I stopped in an ‘open all day’ pub (bless their nylon socks). I really fancied a raspberry and lemonade. He had no cordial so he made me a pint of half raspberry and apple juice, half lemonade. It was divine—nectar of the gods. I had two, while two intrepid walkers regaled me with their far superior walking skills, less cumbersome bags and advanced age. Mmm. I don’t really attack this with the vigour it deserves of the serious walker. I have a much browner western facing shoulder due to always being out of bed and ready after the sky has just about done with having the sun in its eastern half. I have essentials like laptops, extra novels, maps with too much info and so too many of them (there are maps that are one only with the whole route on it—much more sensible. Yeah, sensible if you know it exists. Yes, well, that falls under the idea of ‘research’ doesn’t it, instead of the type of approach you displayed when Sam the Sash Window man asked how much training you had done for this walk. None. Laughs and guffaws, pick themselves up off the floor. Typical Australian attitude: she’ll be right mate. Just put on a pack and start walking.)
The last hill went up to a place called Kymin. It seems like the sort of place the Victorians went for an afternoon constitution. There is a memorial to the Navy, a white round house that commands a fabulous view from the apex of the hill (and which can be seen sitting prettily on its cleared position when you get to the bottom again), and gardens to perambulate in. There are recent sculpture now which are blended with the woods. It was worth the climb up. It is also worth noting that if there is a carpark then there is probably something nice that cars have made the trip up the hill to see and so it may be worth walking a few extra meters rather than collapsing on a bench just because there is one. There is a desperation with me and benches. I can walk all day, for hours and hours, on a day when some miracle has actually got me out of bed early, and see absolutely no one, but the minute that it is time for me to have a break, and there happens to be a bench in that break space, two people will appear from nowhere and beat me to it. It means that I have to sit on all other benches, if only for a moment and without taking the pack off, just to have my bench time—this is still a rare occurrence.
The woods up here at Kymin are so dense. A campervan was going down the hill and I swear it sounded like they brought down at least three trees with them. Like the brawl in Chepstow though, I just shrugged and figured if they needed assistance they could ask. Is that bad?
When I got down to Monmouth I started the usual search for a place to lay my head. I passed a pub called the Queen’s Head that offered accommodation. I decided I shouldn’t just stop at the ‘first available’ and should look around first. Needless to say, I went all about town and into the Queen’s Head who had just received a phone call for a cancellation and so had a room available. Things work out.
It was a strange, incongruous place. Run by an ex-South African. Had a sign out the front to say it was ‘football free’. The outside looked circa a thousand years ago; the inside looked circa 1993. But the room was nice with a big bay window that I could hang washing in to dry.
They didn’t do dinner in the pub even though all the tables looked like restaurant tables rather than bar tables, so I went back to the high street. I had Mexican. It was terrible. Proves, yet again, that the best place in the world for Mexican food is El Paso. When I got back I was too tired to do a single thing and so I crashed and slept and slept and slept.
Good night to Monmouth, good n … zzz

Thursday, June 24, 2010

97 kms: Chepstow-James’s Thorn-Tintern-Tintern Old Station.

Short day. Planned it that way. I had a lie in, visited the bank and then a leisurely coffee and non-egg based breakfast in a coffee shop before heading off to meet the Offa’s Dyke Path. Starting at the start had not been possible off the bridge like I had imagined. You would have to go back a couple of k’s and then walk them again. I’m not that much of a stickler for starts.
The terrain is already vastly different. The track follows—for this section at least—the valley of the Wye River. It’s stunning, the banks rise dramatically on either side of the river—necessitating climbs whenever the tracks moves remotely from the side of the river. The surrounding hills are covered in fir trees. This gives the vista a completely different look.
The track is mostly through forest and farm, heading off roads as quickly as it can. It, like the Cotswold Way, is also well marked and well maintained. I did have to get my compass out once because of a profusion of optional tracks. None of them seemed to go the right way even when I took the upside-downess of the compass into account. So I just hunched it, and luckily hunched right. The track turned out of the forest and onto a beautiful foot-only bridge over the Wye and into Tintern. There were about a million people taking photos of the abbey. Let me put that into the speak of someone who hasn’t spent a fair few days in the company of just themselves: there were about eight people taking photos of the abbey. I glanced at it. Nice abbey. And moved onto to trying to find somewhere to stay. My plan: find somewhere to stay and then go and look at the abbey. My first couple of attempts were futile—although a very sweet lady gave me instructions to her house should no bed be available in town. I had coffee. And then tried again. Tintern is a one street town basically. One house fits between river, road and mountain side. I popped into a few places and they sent me on and on out of town. I was beginning to think it was pay-back for adding five hundred meters to the day’s mileage calculation to account for an amount of faffing that I felt needed to be adjusted for, but was beginning to think the Gods did not agree. The sweet lady had suggested that I go to tourist information which handily is eight hundred meters past the last house in town at the Old Tintern Station. After the last quote for a single room with breakfast that I don’t like for fifty-three quid, I went to tourist info. One the way in I noticed a tent. They ended up having a camping ‘field’ for three pound ten. It was slanty, but cheap. There was no shower, just a key to the disabled loo at the cafe. I laid down the bivvy bag. The other tenter was not overly chatty so I wasn’t either. He was in bed when I came back and gone when I got up so don’t know what his story was except that he had been there before.
I took myself back to the edge of town and then to the extreme other end of town to the abbey. It was closed by this time but you are still able to peek in and through and around at it. And then I went to the pub for a lemon-lime and bitters (which the guy at the pub yesterday had never heard of—eh?), sat in the garden and sewed sequins and watched the sun change colours on the ruined church’s walls. It was quite lovely. I took my sequins half-way home to another pub for dinner. It was a lovely pork tenderloin with new potatoes and a fabulously gi-normous plate of fresh veggies. A couple were meeting for a date on a table next door. He’d brought flowers. It must be so hard when it’s a little place—when he popped in for drinks, the waiting staff was trying to get the goss from the girl about what the story was. As they walked off together they were doing the bumping into each other walk of the soon to be lip-locked.
Slept okay except for the feeling of lying on a cliff edge and the occasional need to crawl back up the hill to the roll mat. Tonight was the start of the dizzies though. Every time I turned over I got the feeling that the whole world was spinning. Now I know that the whole world is spinning, but we don’t normally feel it do we; we’re not supposed to feel it at least. And it spins fast. I was worrying because the last time this happened I was vomiting and having to lie very still on the couch and not go to work. This didn’t blow up to the same extent—but more of that tomorrow. For the moment, it was:
Good night to Tintern, good night to you.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

86.9 kms: Berkeley-the Power Station-Chapel House-Pillhead Gout-Severn Bridge-Chepstow.

Other people keep talking to me and I can’t understand what they are saying. I am concerned that something has happened to my ears.
Today’s was a long straight walk along river dykes, though cow fields, with the two Severn bridges slowly materialising as distinct through the sunny haziness. I missed the one and only PH’s (how a Public House is shown on my map—in case I haven’t already said, and sorry if I have) opening times by about ten minutes. This is a build up of justification—the longness, the hotness, the lack of availability of other options—for why I then stopped and purchased vitals, gave money for goods … oh gosh, I can hardly bring myself to admit it I feel so guilty! I went to BP. There I said it. Call me evil, a co-conspirator. I don’t feel good about it. I would almost have been better to buy petrol off them—cherry colas and starbar chocolates are where they make all their money isn’t it. I am not sure if it was the timing of the World Cup soccer game or people really are boycotting them, but there was scant traffic there as I sat on their corporate greed green grass and ate their food.
I was so tempted to stay in the banal Travelodge next door to the BP. My feet were aching and four kilometres of Bridge in bright sunlight as well as how long it would then take me to get to town, was not encouraging me. But it was too dear. The Bridge it would have to be.
Bridges sing. At least suspension bridges do. Stone bridges are a lot quieter. It’s a melancholy song. Like a bridge is sad that although it joins places, it can never go anywhere.
The centre of Chepstow is pretty. Very up and down—like it presages what will come on the path. I found a lovely hotel in the centre, fairly reasonably priced because ‘you’re coming in late’. And it didn’t include cooked breakfast—yay! I had a curry and listened to drunk people watching more soccer, and then spent the evening on the surprisingly good free wi-fi. It sounded like a brawl happened all night and as soon as that finished, the construction work started.
Good night Chepstow, good night you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

61.3 kms: Newark Park-Wotton-under-Edge-North Nibley-Berkeley.

Wes and I woke up with squished slugs in our hair. Can I just say—eough!!! And again—eoughghgh! Yuk! Why am I doing this? Anyway. The sun was not where we were—hence the presence of dewy slugs. So I moved everything into the sun to dry—which it did do very quickly. But then people started coming past in droves. Morning. Morning. Yeah, um, just trying to dry some stuff, you know. Oh you camped here last night? Um, yeah, I guess so.
I finally got into Wotton for coffee and the world’s largest and fluffiest omelette. I planned my way and made the final decision to leave the Cotswold Way at North Nibley and head towards the Severn, then walk back to and over the Severn Bridge and to the start of Offa’s Dyke. My other option would mean going all the way to Gloucester in order to be able to get across the river—I really didn’t fancy walking into Gloucester. I got off the path and onto the road. North Nibley was after one of the craziest ups and downs I had done in my three days of walking (sarcastic essence to that sentence). But, on a serious note, the poles are really good for the descents. They also make you go faster on the ascents, but I am yet to decide if that is an asset. The bit between the up and the down was spectacularly lovely—forest, dappled with sunlight (relief for the sunburn), and speckled with iron-age forts. There was also Tyndale’s Tower. A beautiful tower on the top of the escarpment. Two very red English people sunbaking nearby advised me that it had been built in his honour two hundred years after the church realised that burning him for translating the Bible into English so all the common people could read it was possibly an over-reaction.
I had lemonade and coffee in the pub at North Nibley. One of the waitresses had enormous assets and a strapless long dress that she kept threatening to stand on and reveal all—men in the pub all held their breaths every time she came up the stairs from the kitchen. She was sweet though and thoroughly convinced that an addiction to Neighbours was better than an addiction to drugs. Who was I to set her straight—as long as she is not harming others is all I can say. Putting it on the plasma as soon as the proprietoress disappeared may fall into the harming others category though.
The castle at Berkley was open for the day. My concession to a visitation was to collapse on the grass inside the gate. I’m on the road. That doesn’t allow for coming off it—that’s how it works.
A car stopped nearby, accusing me silently of lounging within castle grounds so I moved on. A couple in the cafe on Wotton advised that there was a nice place to stay in Berkley. I couldn’t recall what the name was. I had a feeling it was the ‘Something’ Arms, so I stopped at the Berkeley Arms, enquired about the price, grumbled and asked about other places cheaper, then decided I couldn’t be bothered and agreed. I had this odd little room that had an en suite bathroom, just for my use, across the hall.
Aside: As I sit here in Montpellier Gardens writing this up from copious notes, I look up and see butt crack. Gentleman, do you find this attractive when you see it? Please realise that low riding jeans also ride low when you are sitting and, I don’t know, I think I like the round, curvy bottom of bottoms rather than the tops of bottoms. Showing that pelvic bone s-curve on the front is one hundred percent okay, but when it comes to the rear, please fill the cracks.
Sorry about that. En suite. Doesn’t that mean in the suite? It was nice though. Did washing and sequin sewing and diary writing. Spent quite a bit of time looking at two seemingly identical paintings of the castle that hung on the walls of the room. Surely it must be some weird game of spot-the-difference: why else would someone hang two identical pictures. Do you have two identical photos of loved ones on the mantelpiece? Odd. Couldn’t find any differences. Had dinner. Salmon, overcooked with some weird orange and ginger sauce. Veggies and bubble-and-squeak were really yummy though. After dinner I had a walk around town, looking over walls at the castle, wondering though the church yard, staring into people’s front rooms (I love how the Brits don’t worry about curtains). Then I found the Mariner’s Arms. Oh my goodness! Was I encased in the arms of the wrong establishment. I’ll never know.
Good night Berkley, good night you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

48.3 kms: Tormarton-Old Sodbury-Little Sodbury-Horton-Outside Hawkesbury Upton-Hillesley-Newark Park.

I started the day ignoring good advice. It didn’t adversely affect me. My landlord was of the opinion that if things got too hard, you should just go round. He stated that was the philosophy of another Le Jogger who had also passed this way—shame on them! So he suggested taking the road and meeting the path at the junction, thus avoiding five stone stiles. When I saw the first stile, I succame. [For all the grammarians: I know that is not the past tense of succumb, I just think it ought to be.] I figured they would make me stronger. They were all actually quite easy to get over and I wasn’t sorry.
There was a petrol station and a cold drink in Old Sodbury and then nothing but walking. I got off the path to come into Hillesley because I was panicking about running out of water—an so absolutely parched because my panic stopped me drinking. I was going to wait out the pub’s lock down time—the pubs all close between about two and about six or seven. I figured I would fill up on food and water and then walk until I found a nice field outside of Wotton-under-Edge. Then I would go in there in the morning for brekky. I couldn’t see what time the pub opened again and was probably looking a bit dazed in an attempt to work out where the alleged shop was instead when a lady came to my questioning aid. I told her I was after water so she invited me back to hers and I filled my bottles and drank copious amounts of water. I sat in her back yard and chatted for a while, while her oblivious husband listened to the soccer on a sunlounge. Their names were Helen and David. They had a son who lived in Sydney for a while before his Australian wife broke his heart. They had visited a couple of times. She loved the birds but hated all the things that could kill or seriously maim you. I complained back about the horrible brown machete-mouthed flies, but she had never heard of such a thing. Yet another person who doesn’t believe me about this nasty creature—is it a kind of national denial?
Out of Hillesley was up and up and up. Through forest. There was ne’er a nice field and so I walked for ages and ended up on something called the ‘Circular’ Cotswold Way Path. It took me to a National Trust house called Newark Park, but I didn’t feel right sleeping in their field. I ended up on a patch of long grass that I squashed down about three feet from the foot path and only hidden by a tiny bit of long grass. In the evening, only one person went by but the morning would be a different thing (see tomorrow). I had already covered my back pack with disguising grasses, so when the person or tractor or similar drove passed, I just flung the khaki bivvy bag over me and the seemingly predominantly red things that surrounded me. If he saw I have no idea. This time the roll mat stayed out and I put on more clothing. I was definitely warmer, but I am not sure how much more sleep I got. It still seemed very little.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

27.2 kms: Lower Hamswell-Cold Ashton-Pennsylvania-Dyrham-Tormarton.

I think I slept all of about two hours and they were from six-thirty to eight-thirty a.m. I had put the roll mat in the bivvy bag thinking that that way I wouldn’t slip off it all night. What ensued was that the bivvy bag was stretched tight against the sleeping bag—especially when you sleep on your side like I do—and so it was both claustrophobic and cold. The roll mat worked very well regarding cold though—it was just top and sides that suffered. Marry that with old hips that get sore sleeping on the floor, a beanie that kept moving all over my head, and the magical disappearing Wes, and it was a disaster. I watched the light finally disappear at about eleven-thirty, and reappear like fairy floss on the horizon at two-thirty. What sleep I did get was dotted with bizarre dreams. But, morning comes, you pack up, move on and determine to keep the roll mat on the outside and a B&B as an option tonight.
The walking today was a little more like what I experienced last year—fields, crops, and thistles. I got my first thistle burns yesterday when attempting a sly bathroom stop: one to the hand, which agitated me all day, one to the butt cheek, eek! There are far fewer places to stop along the way though. I had muesli bars for breakfast from my storage cellars, a chicken and bacon sandwich, crisps and (thank god) coffee for morning tea from a service station, and sugarless (eek) coffee and jaffa cakes for lunch at five-thirty at the pub I am staying in tonight—the Major’s Retreat in Tormarton.
I lay down for a lovely lie (no nap or snooze) in a field that turned out to be a wrong turn and which, through traversing and cutting back onto the path, meant I missed the largest nettle forest of the day. My legs are spotty all over though and the giant biting fly things have got me twice. I am totally okay with a fly that bites and sucks out all your blood as long as it anaesthetises first. These have mouths the equivalent of a tiny machete, and machete is the weapon I least fancy being faced with.
I wasn’t taking chances with B&Bs today and so when I caught the proprietor of the Major’s Retreat just before four and found he had a reasonably priced, if old looking and slightly fusty smelling, room available I took it. It meant more lying. I washed some socks and jocks and then took the jaffa cakes, coffee, socks, spotty dress and sequins out to the back yard and tried to get a tan on my toes. Once the sequins were done (thirteen), I lay and listened to the sounds of small English village life: the banging of farm-machinery repairs, the grug-grug-grug of an engine that won’t start, neighbours greeting each other in the street, tyres on gravel, and birdsong—including an amorous blackbird wooing what he thought was four potential mates in the breezy trees, but turned out to be my socks drying.
Result of all that lying: sunburn! I applied. I re-applied. No avail.
I had dinner—most of an enormous plate of roast lamb, roast and new potatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower and Yorkshire pudding—with a lemonade and a Pig’s Ear local ale, sweet, nice. And now I am ready for a night of actual sleep with the remonstrance that breakfast doesn’t get served early here: fine with me!
Good night Tormarton. Good night you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

14.3 kms: Bath-Weston-Prospect Stile-(vicinity) Lower Hamswell.

I’m fairly impressed by that effort. Keep in mind I took the train to Bath today, faffed around in there, and only started walking at three pm. I am currently waiting for my inflatable mattress to inflate and watching the sun go down from a field nervously close to the path (I keep having to quiet down when people walk past—only a hedge separates them and my frantic, chilly typing), overlooking the valley of Lower Hamswell.
Up was the trend of the start of the walk; getting us out of Bath’s valley. From there the path went fairly evenly with some ups and downs. We skirted Bath’s millionaire’s row (remember that’s in pounds and it sounds even more impressive—absolutely stunningly cute houses). I stopped in a pub in Weston, which seems just an outskirt of Bath, for a lemonade and bathroom break. Some very intelligent and pleasant people made jokes about the state of my beaver. It’s a beaver people! It’s Wesley. It’s a damn comfy pillow. But it is not a vagina. For a similar crowd in the future I think I will go with ‘otter’.
There are lots of people on the walk which is nice. It always facilitates a rest stop to compare notes—although at this stage I seem quite insignificant compared to everyone who is on the last bit into Bath. The Le Jog story seems harder to explain this year. ‘Where’re you headed?’ ‘John O’Groats.’ ‘Oh my goodness, isn’t that amazing! Phil, she’s going to JOGs.’ ‘Really? All on your own? Bev, this girls walking to JOGs all on her own except for that beaver.’ ‘Really? How far have you gone?’ ‘Umm, fourteen kilometres.’ Stunned silence. ‘This time, you see …’
With no impending prospect of PHs (Public Houses) on the map, not even towns, I started looking for camping spaces at about eight. I had been spewing, for want of a better word, about an hour before as I was walking past a golf course with fabulous lawns whose manicuredness seemed to extend into the copses of trees that were scattered through it. I would have bunked down there. But, with the typically fabulous long summer days, there were still heaps of people actually playing golf. There was not a chance. Plus, my best laid plans of waking early enough to clear out before the next round of golfers would never have eventuated. I know me. Instead I have this field, the edge of which curves away from the path that goes through it so I can pop back on the path with ease tomorrow but won’t be seen today. There are houses across the valley, but they are too far away and wouldn’t see me without binoculars.
I have sewn on my fourteen sequins, carried the point three of a sequin over until tomorrow and we are now here together waiting for the mattress to inflate. Turns out waiting for the surprise of reading in situ is not as exciting for instructions as it is for a book. I was supposed to do this at home before heading out to prime the thing apparently. Oh well—there is a mouth piece for inflate and a whistle and a light to attract attention. Oh—that’s a lifejacket isn’t it?
Good night Lower Hamswell. Good night you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

76 kms: T4-Central Bus Station-Swindon-Cheltenham.

I am not hearing that tiny insignificant beep of an alarm clock that is my wristwatch—especially seeing as I have lately had my buzz alarm clock and that obnoxious car horn tone on my mobile alarm clock both being barely enough to wake me. It was no surprise then that I nearly slept in. I had figured that because it was free wi-fi, I could google an alarm clock, the ticking would keep the computer going and I’d be right mate. It seemed to be working the first couple of times I got up and checked but switched itself off by morning. So much for starting early on getting sick of full English breakfasts. I madly packed and headed for the train to T3. I managed the right train this time, but seeing as there is only one way to go, credit is not due, earned or given. I had some awful Costa version of full English brekky on a sandwich and coffee and then headed for the bus. Some blog preparation, some sewing of the last beatnik dress, and I was in Chelt.
Nothing has changed. It was like a year had never intervened. Adam has a new housemate, the fire is in and very lovely—he lit it on Friday night and I fell asleep mesmerized. They are replacing all the sash windows in the building and so Sam and Derek, the sash window men were at the flat most of the time. They were very entertaining and funny. Sam’s girlfriend’s name is Sam. Doesn’t it get confusing I said. Not to us, I know who I mean when I yell out Sam. His girlfriend has spoiled his dog, Poppy and so now she will only eat specially roasted cow’s innards.
I spent Thursday and Friday getting essentials like maps, a damn i-Pod charger because I had figured that I could charge the i-Pod on the computer but forgot that this computer is not the one with i-Tunes, and perfume—which I thought I could do without, but I thought wrong. On Friday evening I met Adam’s new friend whose a girl. She is lovely, and gives Adam a fabulously hard time which is always good to witness. We watched the soccer. Apparently it was ‘rubbish’. I was now ready to start the journey.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

17357 kms: Melbourne-Kuala Lumpur-Dubai-London Heathrow Terminal 3-Hayes&Harlington-Terminal 4.

EK 409 Melbourne to Dubai via Kuala Lumpur scheduled for an on time departure at 0240. Me, seat 39B. I am seated next to Milduran civil engineer, I will find out as we taxi out of KL about nine hours later, heading back to his long stay in the UK—high skill visa—after a last minute decision to come home for the weekend for his father’s sixtieth birthday. He was great as he was exhausted from the mad trip and so slept the whole way and didn’t even need to use the bathroom once. The people in front and behind me were another story though.
In front: A middle age couple who did not realise anyone else in the world existed and so refused to move or allow passage when making one of the three million delves into matching his and carry-ons, and, felt that full recline of their seats at all given times, including meals, was acceptable. I had at one stage to ask the male specimen to please lift his chair so I could eat without dislocating my elbows, and he said: ‘Yeah, I know, there’s not a lot of room is there?’ No there isn’t, especially when you are reclined upon and don’t feel you can recline in return—some awful sense of politeness.
In back: A—let’s not beat about the bush—pompous Englishman, living in Asia, commuting often, working in the financial industry. He was bless├ęd enough to be seated next to pretty young blonde thing, naive, headed to Contiki Europe, and so he was able to rattle off useful and banal advise for hours until he, blessedly for me, fell asleep.
The Plan: A twenty-four hour movie marathon that incorporated at least ten movies (see: T.B.A. link to be attached to list-addict.blogspot as soon as there is something to link to). I managed three between home and KL, half an audio book between KL and Dubai—half on which half I slept/drooled through—and four Dubai to London. I thought I would be able to make this up in the Yotel, but I found that what I looked at to watch cost money, and the weird keyboard/remote control was too difficult to control to try to work out if there was anything free going.
Aside: I keep hearing strange beepings everywhere with no immediately accessible rationale.
Back on track: Dubai airport has these great sunlounge type seats to wait in. I lay, the short-haired heathen, and listened to the excitement of an enormous South African muslim family’s religious excitement about visiting Jeddah.The wait was short and in now time I was back on the plane. This time I had an aisle seat in the middle bank and slowly, as people piled on, I crossed more and more bits to stave them away from my spare seat and the infinite leg room options it would allow. The crossing worked but there was a slight karma pay-off where we had to wait on the plane for over an hour while they removed cargo because 'the air was too hot for a heavy plane to take off' (see: T.B.A. link to list-addict). Umm, it's a heavy plane anyway.
Arrived in London a mere three-and-seven-eighths movies later. The immigration queue was insane. I had to speak harshly to the man behind me who was oblivious of any sense of personal space and so was standing so that his stomach was touching the small of my back. It was freaking me out! I don't like having people behind me—especially if you can feel their breath in your hair. There are times and places for that sort of thing—airport immigration queues are neither.
Through the queue I rushed down to the terminal transfer train, saw the words Terminal 4 and jumped on the just about to depart train, only to end up at a tube station several stressful moments later—stressful because I thought I would actually end up in Paddington. It was one minute before midnight and didn't look like any trains would be coming past to get back to the airport, so I ended up in a taxi. So much for staying at the airport so that I didn't have to faff around with transport!
Last thing to do for the day was to find and check into the Yotel. I was so looking forward to it. Some guy, English, who I should google and get a name for, but I am not currently in a googleworthy position, was upgraded to business or first class on BA and liked it so much he decided to make Yotels. He got the business or first class designer to design them. Ultimately they are like capsule hotels. I had a ‘standard’ room: it can accommodate two but you would step on each other a lot and you would have to like each other a damn lot. It’s a bunk bed built over two rooms, so you either have to go up a bit or down a bit to access you room, and then climb or duck to get into your bed. There is a corridor (generous word for the space it is) between the bed and the monsoon shower, toilet and basin. You can lower a table and chair in the corridor. It’s all bathed in a weird purple light—not unlike anti-needle-usage-purple on buses. But the towel was soft, the shower divine and the bed comfy. I used the free wi-fi, tried in vain to finish watching The Lovely Bones and finally slept. Paranoid that I would not hear my tinsy-winsy, ting-ting wrist watch alarm (justifiable paranoia), I googled an alarm clock with the hope the ticking would keep the computer active and the sound of the alarm would wake me. The ticking doesn’t keep the computer active. It is always my fate to sleep late!
Good night Yotel T4, good night you.