My trusty guidebook, with which I now have an intimate love-hate relationship, indicated that this would be the shortest of the routes so far and so I was quietly confident, having vanquished the mighty Hays Drop yesterday in good time, that today would be a doddle. I responded to the email from my B&B host in Kington, asking when i would be arriving with a nonchalent “expect me around 1430” to which he responded, not at all ironically “You’ll be a fast walker, then.” And I left it at that, smugly thinking, ‘Yes, I must be.’
The walk today was quite lovely and far more strenuous that I had imagined from reading the description in my book the night before. I seem to recall crossing four valleys, which means four long hauls up and four long, thigh muscle testing lugs down, but in my memory I spent far more time on the up bits than the down bits.
I also underestimated the effect that a wet and swampy underground would have on my average speed (answer: a lot) and forgot to calculate in a margin for error caused either by my not following the waymarkers properly (that one cost me 50 minutes today) or by wandering aimlessly around a large field trying to decipher my guidebook instructions and getting more and more irate as the lie of land refuses to calibrate with the words on the page and the request to “then take the gate at the end of field” assumes a mocking tone. Imagine, if you will for a moment, me with my oversized rucksack standing up to my anles in mud at a confluence of gates at the top end of a field, guide book in hand, with a few sheep close by watching the show, screaming at the top of my voice “There are three fucking gates, not one, you moron” (addressed to David, the author of said guide)!and waving the book at the nearest sheep, who I could swear was grinning. This happens regularly during the day and as I said, David and I have a love-hate relationship which grows more intense with every passing day. I swear that somewhere in the book towards the end the words “Now fold the open side back against the undercrease and onto itself to complete the wings” will be inserted into the guide and I wont miss a beat.
So because of all that I was nowhere near Kington by 1430 in fact I wasn’t even close to Gladestry by then and only hit my penultimate village by 1530. I mention this because it gets dark very early here and by 1700 it is beyond dusk. I was very keen to get into Kington early both to ensure that I wasn’t caught out in the dark (the thought of being alone with just David to help me in the pitch black is one too horrible to bear thinking of) and to have a chance of seeing Kington rathervthan just sleeping in it. As it was i was about an hour and half behind schedule, furious with myself for having wasted an hour and very uncertain as to what lay ahead of me on the last leg. I was also angry at myself for letting myself get so angry, because, in case i forgot to mention it, the 15 miles from Hay to Kington are breathtakingly beautiful, the sun was shining all day and I should have been in the highest of spirits from the sheer magnificence of the scenery and the views and the air and the light.
St. Christopher was right behind me again and I am so grateful for it. The last section of the walk took me up a lomg steep climb for about a mile on a grass carpet again cut between heather fields and bathed in the most luxurious evening light, which rendered the green of the grass almost luminescent. It was a magical hour and half walking lost in thoughts and drinking in the views of the hills and plains all the way to Malvern in the north east. By the time I cleared the peak and had started my descent the light was fading I could see the lights in Kington starting to come on and the valley settling down for the night. My anger was gone, evaporated with the dusk, and i was deeply moved by the tranquility and beauty of the uplands on Hergest Ridge. I thought yesterday was going to be the high point of the walk, but Hergest Ridge trumped it hands down.
A big thank you goes to Adam, my host tonight and a talented craftsman and artist. He not only provided me with a cup of tea and wonderful biscuits by his fireside as soon as I arrived but also volonteered to put my, by now filthy and drenched walking gear in the washing machine and to dry them in time for an early start tomorrow. What a hero!