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.