This journey hasn’t quite started as I intended. I write this in a cosy little pub in a backstreet of the town of Chepstow on the Welsh border about 20 miles east of Newport. Apart from the barkeeper, a friendly guy called Stewart, I am the only guest in the place – and I don’t mean staying here, I mean in the pub. Stewart tells me that Sundays are always slow here and that the Sundays after Christmas are very slow, as nobody has any money left. Fair enough. The landlady, Diana has made me a delicious sandwich “coz you’ve come such a long way, dear. Normally we don’t do food on Sundays.” with Brie and home made caramelized red onion chutney, so that’s me done for today.
‘Why Chepstow?’, I hear the chorus exclaim.’You’re supposed to be in Kemble’. Ah well, the best laid plans…I had already formulated a plan B when I went to bed last night in Pöcking and had to put it into action on arriving in London as Plan A was in the most literal sense, a wash-out. The National Trail monitor put out a warning last night that the Thames Trail might not be safe due to flooding in the upper reaches. The warning turned into a Verbot by the time I arrived today and the saw that the Environment Protection Agency map of the Thames looked like a bloodied anaconda, as the red areas of flooding made up pretty much the entire stretch of the river, from top to toe. I am stubborn, of course, and was quite prepared not let a few civil servants in London put me off my avowed intent to travel the length of the river, but in the face of such compelling opposition, I decided to divert my attention to a trail on higher ground, on the assumption that there will be less flooding there. There may be snow storms and blizzards and drenched fields, but no flooding.
So, here I am on the northern banks of the Severn Estuary just south of the Welsh border at the start of the magnificently named Offa’s Dyke, an ancient road that historically separated England from the wild region to the west. The route is also a National Trail and takes me through the wilds of Monmouthshire up through Wales, past Brecon Beacon, the Black Hills and on up to the Prestatyn north coast. All in, 180 miles alternating between valleys and high ground in the hills. I have never been here before so it will be an adventure for that reason alone. The route is definitely wilder than the Thames Trail and I have no idea how the accomodation will be, but I have got off to a good start and couldn’t ask for better.
My beginners mistake of the day, which in the spirit of total transparency I feel honour-bound to share with you, was when I lost my luggage at Paddington Station this afternoon. You know that horrible sensation that hits you when you know you have mislaid something important and you go from carefree to panic in under 2 milliseconds. Well, that’s the experience I had when I realised that I didn’t have my luggage with me and in a bolt of adrenalin-fueled action, bolted back to where I had just come from, all the while trying desparately to retrace my last steps in an effort to mentally locate my case. Until I remembered that the reason my hands were free, was because my luggage was on my back. At which point I adopted my most nonchalant , world-travelled backpacker pose and wondered if people were sniggering at my stupidity and whether you could actually smell adrenalin.
Tomorrow I need to find a book shop to stock up on a few maps and the guide and then head off, a little later than I feel comfortable with, given the distance and the fact that it gets dark here at 1600, to Monmouth. It is raining of course, but I am not sure I am going to bother mentioning the weather, as it is due to be raining non-stop until Easter. Pip pip!