I am slowly acclimatising to 16 to 18 mile a day route marches, at least to the extent of spending every minute talking to me feet. Although todays section of the trail sorely tested both my patience and my stamina. The route took me from Monmouth at 0800, after a seriously heavy downpour between 0600 and 0800 had my spirits fairly low (I could hear the rain hammering down on the roof of the conservatory all morning), over endless fields with a short intermezzo of 1,5 miles of spectacular “yellow brick road path” through one of the most beautiful woods I have ever seen. But the fields…they almost did for me today.
Todays trail took me mostly on a level route with very few paths, with the largest part of the walk being through pathless, huge fields. I can believe that during the summer and autumn months this must be one of the most romantic and popular sections of Offas Dyke, passing as it does over ancient pastures with herds of sheep and even one of longhorn cattle and affording magificent views of the Black Mountains in the distance. However during the winter, particularly a wet winter such as this one, pristine pastures turn into swamp-like killing fields, the ground turns into quicksand-like sludge and the only sound I heard for miles was the sucking and squelching sound as my boots extracted themselves from the sodden turf (ex-turf). Initially it was just irritating, a small inconvenience to be stoically bourne and grinned at, after about the fifth field (with 15 more ahead of me) I could feel my energy reserves draining away as the very effort of moving forward and standing upright was proving tough. What a bliss to head up the hill to White Castle a 12 th century Norman fortification with a breathtaking view of the whole of surrounding Monmouthshire.
My suspicion is that it takes a few days of physical exertion for the body to stop complaining and to become accustomed to the walking, before the head is allowed the luxury of emptying and making room for new thoughts. I haven’t found that rhythm yet, but am optimistic. Meanwhile I am just loving being home in England and having such an unspoilt corner of it all to myself (seriously!). My beginners stupid mistake of the day was forgetting that the second B ind B&B stands for breakfast, which exludes the possibility of dinner. Carol my host informed me that a) I was the only guest and the first guest of the year (“Nobody goes walking at this time of year”) and b) there was a lovely pub about a mile and half down the road. That information was presented to me just as I had taken my boots off (“taken” is far too weak a word – “peeled” or “disgorged” would be more appropriate.) when zhe thought of putting them on again seemed a crass infringement of my human rights. Alan, my othe host, splendidly volonteered to drive me down to the Pandy Arms, whence I am now esconced, fully fed and watered and in the delightful company of Alan the publican. I have taken the precaution of reserving a room in a pub /inn in Hay-on-Wye tomorrow – I live and learn. Having been brutally honest about my failings, I have to mention that there are certain things that I have done correctly: I have great boots and gamaches (I could kiss myself for packing those at the last moment), my thermos is world-beating, serving me piping hot green tea all day, my backpack is robust and my high-tech walking stick has saved me from spending more time on my backside on slippery slopes than I already did. So, well done me on that score.
One final mention in today’s blog has to go to the author of my guide book, on whose prose I have had to and will continue to rely heavily to find my way across the endless fields and hedgerows: I know who you are and we have met before. You are the same gentlemen who writes the instructions in my origami books and who compiles the IKEA assembly instructions. I recognise that perfidious style which gives me 94% of the instructions I need to achieve success but cunningly ensures that the missing 6% are the critical ones. Soon i will find out where you live. God help you, if it happens to be in Hay-on-Wye, where I am planning to buy a big hand-made stick.