Saturday, 31 March 2007

DAY 31: Llandegla to Sodom

Today: 18.5 miles
Total so far: 471.6 miles
Percentage Completed: 28.2%


(Click map to enlarge)

Another big day today: 1300m of climbing over the Clywydian Hills and 18.5 miles. Needless to say I am at the pub in Bodfari, before the final climb up to Sodom for the B&B. Two nice pints of Abbot are going down smoothly, restoring the circulation to the feet.

I reckon the views would have been stunning today, but as seems to be the norm, I was in mist / haze all day. Right at the end I could see down to the Dee estuary, but the walking was good. I have to admit to being a little tired after our efforts last night at the Crown at Llandegla and some of today's hills were a bit of a trial...

Breakfast this morning was out of this world: Melon with raspberries and strawberries, followed by poached haddock and grilled baby tomatoes on the vine with mushrooms.

That set me up and they sent me off with a corker of a packed lunch, as there was no possibility of fitting a pub in today.

I shall shortly set off to the B&B and sleep the sleep of the dead!

I have just realised, I have been walking for a month!

DAY 30: Froncysyllte to Llandegla

FRIDAY 30th March 2007
(Posted Saturday)
Today: 12.1 miles
Total so far: 453.1 miles
Percentage Completed: 27.1%


(Click map to enlarge)

No phone reception here, so who knows where this will be posted from!

I know, I know: Another lovely day; this must be getting boring reading about how this beardy bloke with a problem belly is having such a good time. I am pretty sure it's not to do with the walking. It's the stopping that counts: Where you stop is crucial in all of this.

Having struggled over the slippery screes under the limestone cliffs, with none of the benefits of views, I decided to have a long stop at World's End (thank you, Theo) As I was finishing lunch on a convenient bench, a walkery chap appeared by magic out of no-where and said "Alan Sloman, I presume!"

Being a crap liar, I had to admit to the sin, and Jeff Pepper introduced himself. It was not quite Livingstone and Stanley, but it came pretty close in my book.

Jeff explained he had started out this morning at six from Stoke and by dint of public transport and a firm determination had tracked me down to World's End. If I was going to look for someone, then World's End would be a good place to start as you can work back from there.

We strolled the rest of the way to Llandegla together and Jeff had explained that he had found my blog from Andy Howell's illustrious pages and had decided it would be a Good Thing (the capitals are important here) to meet up with me.

After spending his entire life in the banking system, Jeff broke away and now spends a few days a week helping out in an outdoor shop. He seems to have life sorted.

We spent a happy hour in my B&B (The Old Rectory - an astonishingly ace place) trying to wade our way through a mountain of home-made cakes and a huge pot of tea surrounded by three greyhounds, a whippet and a wonderful family who are living their dream and who have upped-sticks and moved from Surrey to try to run the best B&B on the walk.

We were then off to the Crown, to meet Pam (running the show), Terry, who was sixty last Saturday and enjoying life building kitchens for John to fit, Jan - who used to look after them all and now has a new job but misses her boys madly, Gerraint (I hope I have spelt that right) who has a pencil behind his ear and is a minor deity, and Dawn who is a PA who wears fishnet stockings and who has a black Lab & a Jack Russell and who walks them every morning and afternoon, works and brings up two children.

John has already done his own LEJOG on a bike, and for the last few years has been walking it with his wife in two week chunks and this year will get to Mankinholes.

Another lovely pub, totally built from the bottom up by its customers; as sure a foundation as one could wish for.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

DAY 29: Llanymynech to Froncysyllte

Today: 18 miles
Total so far: 441 miles
Percentage Completed: 26.4%


(Click map to enlarge)

Just 18 miles but with 1100m of ascent, so quite a day. The climbs and descents on Offa's Dyke tend to be of the short sharp shock variety, and they did just that. Still, I made it okay, in enough time to walk over Telford's amazing aqueduct, before doubling back to the B&B.

On the way over to Chirk Castle, I could swear I could see the Pennines in the far north east, still quite a few days away as I am heading north west for the next few days.

With no pubs at lunchtime, it was a workmanlike walking day, but the views are wonderful. I was not sure what to expect from Offa's Dyke, but it is wonderfully crafted walk; no two days are the same and the variety is refreshing. The path is not over-used and so you have good earth and grass beneath your boots rather than the sludge of the more commonly walked National Trails.

It is well way-marked and not overgrown with brambles. The only slight criticism would be the amount of barbed wire that the farmers feel obligated to erect, just to make you feel totally welcome - but that could be said for any part of the English and Welsh countryside (not Scotland though!)

Still having a good time, a slightly easier day tomorrow to look forward to.

If anyone out there wants a swimming pool in their back garden just call my brother (the one with the hair) He's a dab hand at water divining.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

DAY 28: Welshpool to Llanymynech: Evening Report

Today: 12.2 miles
Total so far: 423.0 miles
Percentage Completed: 25.3%


(Click map to enlarge)

After the lunchtime pub - a lovely saunter along the looping canal, passing swans nesting on the towpath and passing over an aqueduct, strange in that the canal has a dead end and so no one will be passing over it; a lovely piece of British eccentricity. The sky to the north of me start building to an electric intensity, and the air freshens after the muggy morning as I enter Llanymynech - a tidy little place with school, Post Office and three pubs that I have seen so far.

It starts to rain as I force my rucksack through the narrow front door: Perfect timing after a comfortable day.

That completes the Montgomery plain and the Severn Valley. The guidebook suggests that these past two days might not have been the high spots of Offa's Dyke, but I disagree. The walking has been pastoral and canal walking, when not strewn with rubbish left by towny idiots, is idyllic.

It may be early in the walk to try to understand why some places seem to be so ghastly and why others are so delightful, but my theory so far rests with the sense of scale in a community.

It seems that when you are in a village, ie a small community, everybody knows you and the community forges links with the youngsters to ensure they have enough to do and are valued. It would seem that when you live in a town, you do not have the chance to be known by all, and so older children tend to group together, as they at least form a cohesive group. This would seem to dislocate them from the community at large, and so the trouble starts.

However, with cities, there is so much available that these children are almost spoilt for choice, so the place has a safer feel to it as they are usefully occupied.

So, what is the answer - "When I were young" there were school trips, clubs, scouts, choirs etc: There was never enough time to do it all!

Nowadays, youth groups have dwindled as youth leaders and teachers have ever more paperwork, risk assessments and the like to wade through before any child gets a sniff of adventure and involvement.

Until we dump this bureaucratic crap and just take kids out to do risky stuff and actually succeed at something they never thought they were capable of and learn some self respect, then it can only get worse.

Our risk averse, blame culture is feeding a society that is becoming increasingly divisive towards children. Someone out there, and I don't mean politicians, should stand up and be prepared to denounce the nanny culture with authority, before it gets any worse.

DAY 28 Lunchtime Report

DAY 28: Lunchtime Report
The Golden Lion, Four Crosses

Hello Readers!

It's been a while since I had the luxury of writing a lunchtime report.

Well, I finally have Welshpool out of my system. It was dragging me down even as I was leaving it by the canal path; the filthy, litter and empty plastic bottle strewn towpath a testament to how the people of that awful little place saw themselves and their shabby little lives.

The further I walked away from Welshpool, my morale soared. The clagging mist slowly lifted, and I joined the River Severn as the sunshine slowly cheered everything up.

On the far bank the quarry rumbles away ripping huge chunks of basalt from beneath the hill to finally end up in some roadsurface somehwere. People complain about quarries, but it has been going on for millenia and at the end of the day, the hills are still there.

The pub has been recently taken over by a new husband & wife team - good music, an excellent fresh salad and well kept beers does it for me. It is early in the season for Offa's Dyke walkers, but it is an excellent walker friendly place - especially if you like Blues.

This morning I had breakfast with a team from York University who are being funded to find out that draining the peatbogs is a bad idea. They are spending all their days in the cold and wet on top of some wet windy hill in Wales measuring gas emmisions from pet bogs in drained and undrained conditions. Up to their armpits in freezing bog: I know I enjoy bogs, but I am not sure I could spend each and every day in them.

Huge respect for them!

Old speckled hen and Hancocks HB: Smashing.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

DAY 27: Little Brompton Farm to Welshpool

Today: 11.9 miles
Total so far: 410.8 miles
Percentage Completed: 24.6%


(Click map to enlarge)

The guide book raved about the views I would be seeing today, but Wales was having none of it; there was thick mist all day which scuppered everything. So with no views, I plugged through the immediate countryside whistling to the sheep.

Number 30 was a contrary sheep and followed me like a dog at heel for three fields until the stile finished her off. She was lonely, looking for someone to tell her troubles to, but I was not her soul mate. I told her all about Wilkinson and his special ways with sheep, but she bleated back that Wilkinson was a mythical being, a legend handed down ewe to lamb over countless generations and that one day he WILL return to dominate and pleasure the flocks once more. It is written.

I left Thirty alone with her fantasies before cutting down to Forden for an uncomfortable pint in the empty pub with a cheese and ham sandwich for company.

I was soon neck deep in a hot bath at my B&B in Welshpool.

Welshpool: Now here's a place!

“Welshpool”: The name conjures up images of swirling mists over pools beset with wild flowers, crows and buzzards calling overhead. Perhaps some ancient druid singing incantations holding a staff of gnarled old yew, with a flowing white beard.

The reality is somewhat more prosaic. You enter town passing a gypsy encampment with two yobs beating up a good-looking blonde girl at the roadside and ordering her back to the caravan, where there are very large dogs straining against metal chains anchored to something solid (I hoped). The immediate squalor around their home is then transferred to a pudding factory of gigantic proportion (Sidoli's of Shrewsbury - strange, it being Welshpool).

Leaving my B&B for the high spots this evening, the main street is a strange affair - once quite prosperous, the pubs now look like they cater for the young dispossessed, trying to screw the last shillings from track-suited youths with skin problems.

Why has ten years of this government done so little for our future generations? We are now building super-casinos to further rob them of their future, while assuring everyone that everything is fine and dandy and that the 4x4's will be taxed some more.

So that's all right then.

All politicians should be made to visit Welshpool - an outwardly prosperous place, but whose soul is sinking into the River Severn's deepest mud banks.

Monday, 26 March 2007

DAY 26 Knighton to Little Brompton Farm

Today: 15.9 miles
Total so far: 398.9 miles
Percentage Completed: 23.9%


(Click map to enlarge)

The Offa's Dyke handbook says this is the toughest day of the walk. I happily concur. But what a walk! It is described as a switchback - Anquet measures it at about 4,000ft of ascent; but what glorious ascents!

The morning's were in mist and cloud, so the imagination was running riot. The afternoon's ascents were brutally obvious and so well prepared for: I will never forget the tranquillity of Churchtown and it's peaceful graveyard with only a handful of families resting there. The calm was only broken by the pair of crows chasing away the buzzard - an epic of ten minutes' life and death struggle.

I made it in reasonable time to Little Brompton Farm. If ever you have to say in just one B&B in your life, make it this place.

A seventeenth century farmhouse with a timeless welcome. Bob & Gaynor are not in the first flush of youth, and have been welcoming walkers here since before the National Trail was thought of. Sadly, due to their age, they are now trimming the operation down, but they are world famous on Offa's Dyke.

Similar plaudits must go to Helen, who runs the Blue Bell Inn. Helen runs a tight ship. It's not about the beer. It's about the pub and all who sail in her. She has banned four people in the last forty years, and once they are banned: that's it. They never cross the threshold again. She does not have much trouble.

I spent an evening with the local mechanic, who drives the school bus, two sheep farmers and Helen, who drives the whole show. If I had been able to sleep on her floor, I would be there now. An experience of a lifetime. I know - I have said it before, but this walk just gets better and better.

One last bit of astonishingly good news that restored my faith at last with 'government'. My friends Tony & Caroline have at last been given approval to adopt, when the system has seemingly spent a lifetime putting obstacles in the way of the two most potentially perfect parents a child could wish for. With news like this, and the day I have just experienced, I know that there really must be a force out there for fighting for good.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Offa's Dyke Visitor Centre

DAY 25: Rest Day, Offa's Dyke Centre

I visited the Offa's Dyke Centre in Knighton this afternoon. I am sure a lot of money has been spent on it and to some extent, it does the job pretty well. But it is sliding down a very slippery slope.

Granted, it explains about Offa and how the dyke was built, but the people who campaigned for the centre were walkers who wanted the National Trail.

For the walker actually doing Offa's Dyke, there was actually very little of use!

I wondered if there was an accommodation list, and sure enought there was; in a little booklet that on first inspection looks full of all the right stuff. Until you try to use it, that is!

The National Trail Guide books are written as though you are doing the walk from south to north. So why oh why is the accommodation list arranged from north to south?

The Trail Guide refers to places actually marked on the map: the accommodation list does not - it mentions the name of the owner of the establishment first, then the postal address - incredibly useless for the walker! He wants to know how far the B&B is along the walk, not the postal address, which is next to b***dy useless to him! A veritable mine of information that you would have to spend days examining to get the details you need!.

I pointed this out to the lady who was manning the centre and all she said was "Nobody else complains!" I suggested to her that the average visitor to the centre was not actually walking the dyke, they had come there by car. She shrugged her shoulders as if she did not give a stuff!

Trying to be as helpful as possible I told her how the Pennine Way list was arranged and how much easier it is for the walker. She was having none of it and said - Then write and tell the OD Association..."

I gave up at this point and left, as I did not want to buy marmalade, pictures of Trails in the USA, any pottery or jumpers, sweatshirts etc.

This place is a joke - it has become a thinly disguised retail opportunity for the car driver, with staff that are mere shop-keepers with an attitude.

DAY 25 Knighton, Rest Day

DAY 25: Rest Day, Knighton
The British landladies' politeness:

"And what time will you be arriving this evening", she asks at the other end of the phone as I am booking my night's accommodation. I rattle my brains, look at a section of the days walk (the other part is tucked behind it in the Ortlieb bag) and hazard a guess: 5:30? "That's fine." Shall I ring you if I will be earlier or later?

"Oh, No bother - I shall be in all day..."

"What time would you like breakfast?" Half seven? I ask. "I can do eight o'clock then" she replies.

"Have you come far today then?" About twenty Miles - XYZ town. " Never heard of that" she replies - "How far is that then?"

I stand on her doorstep, drenched from head to toe, boots covered in red mud. "At least you have had nice weather today then..."

And after all this you are welcomed into her home, given the front door key, sit at her fire with tea and fruit cake and relax, confident that this evening you can relax and are in the warm as the rain lashes against the windows or the temperature plummets to well below zero as your wooly socks are steaming on the radiator.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

DAY 24: Kington to Knighton

Today: 13.6 miles
Total so far: 383.0 miles
Percentage Completed: 22.9%


(Click map to enlarge)

Dr. Ashton met me for breakfast at my B&B - which was one major effort having travelled down from Yorkshire.

The Offa's Dyke Guide Book admits that today's walk is probably the highlight of this National Trail. I have to agree. The climbs are not spine melting and the views are top drawer; the walk beautifully crafted to offer droolingly wanton views at every bend in the track.

The days is watery sunshine with misty vistas, letting your imagination to complete every view. Buzzards and skylarks provide the backing track, with lambs and careful mothers providing the scene shifting.

After a while, we pause to take in the wonderful scenery and Ali declares it is time for lunch.

She produces from her little rucksack: Smoked peppered salmon with fresh lemons, cream cheese, cos lettuce, bread rolls balsamic dressing followed by fresh fruit salad and fruit cake. This was accompanied by a chilled (!) bottle of champagne and a platypus of chilled Chablis.

It was one of those 'Gone to Heaven with a Gold Card' moments. Four chaps doing Kington to Knighton happened upon us as we were sipping champagne and wonderfully donated five pounds to the cause.

Ali packed up, and set off to return to her car, and so I plodded on, marvelling at the human spirit so alive in the chosen few!

I sauntered over the next beautiful hill and on my descent a shady character popped out of the bushes and took my picture walking down the dyke. Incredibly, it was Steve Smith, freshly back from a business trip to Italy and having driven 120 miles to accidentally bump into me!

Steve is a luminescent guy that brightens every chance meeting. His last TGO Challenge had been a minor epic, and he was assisted greatly by Ali & Sue on their crossings. He has been in quite a nasty accident with a European truck (don't you just love them?) and still need physio to sort his back out. He very gamely managed the next few hills with me before he had to return to his car, to go to a 'real world out there' party back home this evening.

What a splendid day, passing through magnificent border countryside.

I have to say - the most beautiful part of the walk so far.

Sloping down the hill into Knighton, I pass the golf Course, with chaps in fine sweaters and shiny shafted clubs that catch the late afternoon sunlight. It doesn't seem to be on my planet, so I make my way quietly into the backdoor of Knighton to find a shop that sells envelopes to send guidebooks home, and then slip into the quiet George & Dragon for a couple of pints of the Reverend James.

I read in the paper that Jade Goody has had her breasts enlarged, so all is well with the real world out there.

Friday, 23 March 2007

DAY 23: Hay on Wye to Kington

Today: 15.2 miles
Total so far: 369.4 miles
Percentage Completed: 22.1%


(Click map to enlarge)

A scrappy morning through muddy little lanes, trying to get phone reception to book tonight's B&B. Then Newchurch and a sea change in fortunes - one of Kilvert's churches and a little gem that does teas & coffees with an honesty box and table outside to relax. A quiet little place as close to heaven as you can get.

The springy turf and a fine views from Disgwlfa Hill more then make up for the scrappy morning. Then its down into Gladestry, too late for the pub. I knock open the Post Office and the wonderful lady makes me a cheese and pickle sandwich and a coffee, then carries my pack into her back garden so I can sit and enjoy them. These little pieces of kindness are making my journey one of overwhelming happiness.

Refreshed I gambol up Hergest Ridge (any Mike Oldfield fans out there? He lives in sight of the ridge) as the wind gets sharper and the gorse looks more and more battered. The views from the top are hazy as poor weather threatens, but it makes the ridge more personal; closer to me. Looking back I can make out Hay Bluff in the distance - it seems years away in my mind.

Time is washing over me and I am a man with no clock to measure it by, save that of distant views of the past.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

DAY 22: White Castle to Hay

DAY 22: Great Tre-rhew Farm to Hay on Wye
Today: 22.0 miles
Total so far: 354.2 miles
Percentage completed: 21.2%


(Click map to enlarge)

The reprise for the walk at the end of a long day: My feet ache. Again.

The guide for Offa's Dyke starts today at Pandy, some 8km past Great Tre-rhew Farm. I think that is a good plan. I arrive at Pandy after struggling in slippery mud and over even more slippery styles at 10:30am - to start the Guide Book's 28.2km to Hay.

(Black Mountains - morning mist)

Then it was straight up onto Hatterall Hill and the long ridge walk to Hay Bluff. Lunch heralded the onset of clouds and more rain coming straight at me, but I was doing okay. But the Mud! I seem to bang on a lot about mud, but this stuff has to be seen to be believed. The very worse bits have been slabbed, but it is hard going in the wet.

But I made it alright into the 'Rest for the Tired' B&B - very aptly named - to lie on the bed trying to stop the feet killing me, with three cups of tea. Tea has magical qualities, see, look you, boyo.

They don't do phone signals round these parts, so who knows where this will be posted from. So you won't know about the merlins I saw, the ravens and buzzards either. The Sugar loaf, signs to the magical Llanthony Priory and Capel-y-Ffyn. The clouds whistling over me, soaking my increasingly rufty-tufty beard.

(Black Mountains)

I am very tired again, and listening to three women in Kilverts (with some very nice 'The Reverend James' - a good discovery) each trying to top the other with appalling tales of dreadfully rich relatives with no manners and hateful wives. None has had a good word to say the hour I have been here, but this has been softened listening to Paul Jones with his excellent choice of blues music on Radio Two.

I have decided, quite surprisingly for me, that I LIKE people! (Apart that is, from the three hateful hags sitting on the next table.) Now, where did I leave that Big Red Button with "Eliminate" typed on it in big, scary letters?

One last thing: I have been carrying Rachael's tin of whiskey flavoured fruit cake since Bath, and I scoffed it with relish on the Black Mountains today.

Thank you Rach. Diamond Girl.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

DAY 21: Brockweir to Great Tre-rhew Farm

Today: 22.5 miles
Total so far: 332.2 miles
Percentage Completed: 19.9%


(Click map to enlarge)

Great Tre-rhew Farm is just past White Castle on my route. It is heaven of a sort and also hell. I was not going to have any wheeled transport on this walk of mine, but having staggered in here, Trevor exclaimed I needed a pint. The nearest local was The Three Salmon, two miles or so away and so after a sheep-dip bath, I guiltily climbed into the passenger seat of his 4x4 (Don't you just love them? Did Gordon punish the farmers?) and was transported in considerable style to the pub, where I met Stephen (headmaster) Keith (plumber) and George (the man who reared the fillet steak and his brother who butchered it) and Roger who pulled the excellent pints.

I tried all the beers and enjoyed one more than the others, but cannot for the life of me remember which was which. I laughed all evening, sitting in front of the woodburner but was saddened to hear that Roger will not be open much longer Such a shame. The good beer was 'Butty' something or other.

But back to the start of the day.

I bimbled along quite well in the afternoon and made White Castle in good time - what an amazingly atmospheric place, had a scout around and then made my way down by field paths to the farm.

Another excellent day. Tomorrow is big again - I have been given my orders for the pubs to visit in Hay by the boys in the pub tonight. So - an early start will be vital!

Having stopped short of my intended target the previous day due to the YHA's incompetence, I decided to stroll today's additional miles up the Wye from Brockweir - a good plan on paper that did not take into account the high tide of the Wye. The path at Brockweir was a good two feet under water, so I opted to leg it up the 'A' road to the next river crossing and then follow the Wye Valley Way to Monmouth. A good plan.

The Wye was sensational. The river was the colour of full-fat plumptious virgin olives. The sky was an impossible blue, the grass an emerald green. The river slid, rolled and galloped past me, sunlight catching the edges of the eddies and dazzled against the dark rocks that sat solidly mid stream. Swans preened and displayed, siskins burst from hedgerows in huge gangs and buzzards soared, prowling overhead, their under-colours dazzling in the sunlight.

It was a perfect morning.

(Monmouth Bridge Gatehouse)

Monmouth was Monmouth: Okay, but having a hard time. The lunchtime pub was geared for the pensioner trade, and I felt awkward. Only one reasonable beer. I chose the wrong pub. But I was on my way within an hour, having written post cards to Mum and the pub (honestly, in that order!)

(White Castle)

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

DAY 20: Alveston to Brockweir: Evening Report

Today:16.3 miles
Total so far: 309.7 miles
Percentage Completed: 18.6%


(Click map to enlarge)

I don't know why I stumped up to join the YHA: So far I have tried to get into three and have failed each time. The Lizard was shut. Street was full (Who on earth would want to go there?!) St Briavels didn't even answer the phone but left the message that it was not open for business today. Unbelievable really. No wonder the organisation is going down the tubes - they are never open!

So - with no Youth Hostel booked, I managed to get in at this super B&B, reasonably priced and two cups of tea and a seat in front of the fire on arrival. Small businesses. Backbone of the tourist industry. The Great British B&B.

This afternoon is glorious, if cold. It is wonderful to have elastic earth and leaf-mould under my boots at last, with wind rushing in the tall, ancient trees. Glancing through the trees I see the Wye snaking through its gorge, the remains of old quarries now full of wildlife.

The Dyke is hugely impressive and I push uphill to better and better viewpoints. The top of the dyke is gnarled roots and white rocks stained by thousands of walkers boots. The lower ditch is a delight of soft earth and shelter from the blasting north wind.

I have ample time to take a long break, the Wye hundreds of feet below me bright like silver in the afternoon sun. I am wearing every coat I have, and am snug, munching on a ham, cheese & pickle roll from Cuz Helen.

You don't forget afternoons like these.

DAY 20: Lunchtime Report

DAY 20: Lunchtime Report
Castle View Hotel, Chepstow

Hello, Shadwell here...

I am now in the Land of my Fathers: Wales. I arrived here by dint of scaling the impressive old Severn Bridge.

I was bl**dy freezing and all three coats were worn. Having arrived in Wales,albeit briefly, as I am about to cross back into Ingerland over the old Chepstow bridge, I also hit the 300 miles walked mark.

This is an good old inn - unpretentious, and friendly. I am on my second pint of thought juice, Hereford Pale Ale and it is refreshing.

The castle looks lovely and one day I will come back when it is warm & sunny and clamber all over it, but as it is bitter cold outside and nice and warm in here, it can wait until another day.

So far I have not been assailed by the 'Welshness' of anything (apart from the ridiculous road-signs - political correctness gone barmy) and it seems a civilized sort of country. I shall now nip back over to England, just in case...

DAY 19: Bath to Alveston

Today: 23.4 miles
Total so far: 293.4 miles
Percentage Completed: 17.6%


(Click map to enlarge)

A good day: I find myself saying that a lot lately. I must be having a good time.

I wake up to cold northerly winds, and slushy rain slapping against the windows. I am tired, having spent too much time last night posting pictures to the blog (or perhaps too much time in the Porter).

Rach's scrambled eggs do their magic and I am ejected from her flat into the weather. I am not interested in the Cotswold Way this morning as it will be wet & miserable, so instead I opt for the Bristol & Bath Railway Path: Good Choice! I bowl along, and am soon safely tucked in a corner of an enthusiasts railway cafe scoffing lemon cake and coffee. I arrange to meet Pat (a friend of the Baron's) in Pucklechurch and bowl along happily.

The pub isn't marvellous when it comes to beer, and the one proper beer they do have doesn't tempt me, so I try the cider. Hmmm - an acquired taste perhaps? It doesn’t do food, so crisps are fine. 

Pat & Don are charming, good people and amazingly seem pleased to see me. We speak a lot of Derek (our mutual friend) and they press twenty pounds onto me for my charity. Pat is one of my silent readers who I am sure is taking pleasure from my achy feet! She's a good girl.

The afternoon is back on the planned route and I gobble up the miles until at last I am at My Cuz Helen's (& Alan's) and am soon sitting down to the biggest chicken pie and gravy I have ever seen in my life.

Then it's down to the Fox for a very welcome (last chance I am sure, this time) pint of Sharps Doom Bar.

Back home to a rollicking chat with Alan about modern management of education and the arcane procedures that teachers now have to wade through. The reasonable man on the Clapham Omnibus would have thrown himself off the top deck if he had to follow the modern teachers handbooks. My father would be turning in his grave if he hears what teachers have to go through now before they even are allowed to start to teach little Johnny.

It's education, Jim, but not as we knew it!

Sunday, 18 March 2007

DAY 18: A day off in Bath

I like Bath. It's a little city that thinks like a village; it seems to care about people. We met up with old friends Elizabeth and Chris, lunched well, then set to, washing stuff, reproofing the Velez jacket, washing all the socks - and glory of glories: Had a haircut!

It wasn't Domenic. (That was before Christmas; the last haircut) but Luke did a grand job of it and poured me a beer as I was having a lot of it cut off. I shall have to tell Domenic about the beer thing.

I sorted out the resupply box, read twenty days of mail (tore up most of it - junk crap) and skimmed TGO for proper reading in fifteen weeks time. Washed the boots (disgracefully dirty) and rang Mum - (it is Mother's Day, for those of you dead children out there who had forgotten)

Then off to the pub with Rachael & Will for a few pints of Doom Bar - probably the last of the trip as I will be leaving their area shortly. The pub was lovely / lively, above the 'Hole in the Wall' and Tattoo Dave walked in - his shaved head, neck & shoulders completely covered in - you've guessed it already.

So - tomorrow is another day, and Frankly My Dear, I don't give a damn! I am getting into the mind-set of the 'gentleman of the road' and I am sure Alveston will roll towards me slowly as long as I am still upright on both feet.

I may well be bumping into Pat halfway through the day, who has been following the blog. That will be fun: I have decided that after years of being ambivalent towards the great unknown, I am now looking forward to discovering new places, new people and new experiences that hitherto I would have avoided like the plague!

I am getting into this handsomely.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

DAY 17: Radstock to Bath

Today: 15.0 miles
Total so far: 270 miles
Percentage Completed: 16.2%


(Click map to enlarge)

So much a better day today compared to yesterday, and all down to easier mileage. Finished the day at my daughters flat in central Bath just after 4:30 so had tea and hot buttered crumpets.

Coming over Combe Down and the views of Bath open up to magnificent effect and it was down hill all the way.

It feels lovely here and a day off will be just the tonic to ready myself for two weeks of Offa's Dyke.

I have enjoyed the Mendips for the last day or so; there is an intimate feel to the relationship between man and countryside - the buildings seem to complement the landscape. It is a place where man and nature seems to be in balance.


DAY 17: Lunchtime Report
The Hope & Anchor, Midford

Second pub of the day - Rich & I managed a swift Butcombe at the Fox & Badger at Wellow and were very good chaps and strode on magnificently along National Cycle Route Number 24 to Midford for our second (real) lunchtime stop. A rather good pint of Bath Ales Gem at the moment waiting for some deep fried Camembert and chunky chips. Us boys need to keep our strength up as we are being taken out in Bath tonight.

The weather is just gorgeous; cool breezes and warm sunshine with fluffy white clouds. My feet are still aching, but it is a shorter day today and a day off tomorrow, so that should sort them out.

Ooh - Another pint of Butcombe has arrived for Ricky the Rock - so I will help him out with it.

A nice enough pub but it could be anywhere within thirty miles of here - Identikit middle class customers with their Viyella shirts and fleecy tops, talking about how they are definitely improving education - well, they seem to be doing well out of it, anyway.

A family in the corner: the husband hiding behind his newspaper, the wife (very) overweight and bored. Nice rosy cheeked daughter looking bored to death. No-one has spoken to each other over lunch. They are getting to the bottom of huge multi-coloured ice-creams, but not enjoyed one minute. Has England come to this?

Richard suggests we should separate the three of them and drop them in different continents, and only let them back after a year. He thinks it would make a world of difference.

I don't know if I would let them back in.

DAY 16: Street to Radstock

Today: 21.6 miles
Total so far: 255.0 miles
Percentage completed: 15.3%


(Click map to enlarge)

Perhaps we stayed in the pub at Croscombe slightly too long - but this was Rich's first Lejog lunchtime pub and he felt he needed to sample the pleasure in a leisurely fashion. We left after a moderate two hours or so to scale the Mendips.

It was getting quite dark by the time we slipped into Midsomer Norton, which was okay except that Rich had booked us into a smart B&B in Radstock. By the light of headtorch we rifled our way across the valley to Radstock to finally hit the target at 7:30pm, with incredibly achy feet.

Lying on the bed I knew I needed to shower, get the socks and pants washed, rehydrate, phone Lynnie and sort out the maps for tomorrow. It was just all too much for my feet! My whole body seems to be connected to them!

Looking back over the day - we had great but differing weather all day, lovely views of Glastonbury Tor, went hippy-spotting in Glastonbury over tea in a cafe, and trudged once more over the Levels. A very varied day with a great (but slightly sideways) bloke who always has me in stitches.

As I type this my feet still ache over four hours after I stopped walking. Rich is doing a great impression of Quasimodo, so all is well with the world.

I picked up my first blister of the trip today on my right heel.

Rich's Sally met us at the B&B and Lynnie is waiting for us at Bath. I am looking forward to my day off to rest the feet and repair the blister (only a small one)

Friday, 16 March 2007

DAY16: Lunchtime Report

DAY 16: Lunchtime Report
The George Inn, Croscombe

Paradise Found: Peter is looking after us - we have had various tasters of the four different Draught real ales - one of which is made specifically for him.

It is like dying and having passed through the pearley gates with a Gold Member's Card. My boots are off, my feet relaxing into a pint of Butcombe Brunel IPA.

Rich's Bit: (Who is walking with me for two days)
"I'm on the King George - the Landlord's own. The good news is, it's only 9 miles to the fleshpots of Midsomer Norton. So we get 2 hours to enjoy the George."

2 hours? He is a cruel task master. All this pleasure to assimilate into this tired frame of mine.

The Crab fishcakes were superb and Rich's Lemon Sole was to die for. Peter (the landlord) and his wife run an amazingly good place here: Highly reccommended.

We came through Dinder to get here so here is a warning for future Lejoggers: The house has been bought recently and is being refurbished (to a beautiful standard) but they have put gates across the road, so to get here you need to be a bit of a locksmith...

Thursday, 15 March 2007

DAY 15: West Monkton to Street: Evening Report

Today: 21.8 miles
Total so far: 233.4 miles
Percentage Completed: 14.0%


(Click map to enlarge)

These biggish days are fine in the morning, but it's the last few miles each day that I struggle with!

I get to Street as the light is fading fast, to a B&B organised by Rich - so I am not sure where it is and the B&B owners don't know their own geography when I ring them so eventually I stumble on it almost by chance. (They also have no recollection of the booking made only two days ago.) Ho hum.

My feet are still aching as I write this, over two hours since I arrived! Still - tomorrow is not so big - a mere 19.9 miles... I am looking forward to my day off in Bath, two days walking away! Don't get me wrong though: I am having a whale of a time - it's just the achy feet! I am sure they will toughen up over the next fifteen weeks!

I am sure that Ricky the Rock is putting on weight - I blame his drink problem... He always insists on a second pint at lunchtime and I feel it cruel to refuse him.

DAY 15: Lunchtime Report

DAY 15: Lunchtime Report
The George Inn, Middlezoy.

A pretty fine morning, following a great night in West Monkton - looked after handsomely by Russ & Joyce Mannion. Teated like family - a lovely meal with some nice Shiraz, my washing done for me in the machine (luxury) and then down to the pub to meet up with Paul Kneeshaw - a veteran of the TGO Challenge and "bloody good bloke." Paul pressed a tenner into my hand as we left the pub for Sue Ryder.

I had not thought a lot about what the morning had in store for me when planning the route - it didn't look particularly inspiring from the map - following rivers and drains through the Somerset Levels.

What a revelation. Guided through the flooded levels expertly by Russ, we saw flocks of swans, willow beds, and magnificent views across to the Quantocks, the Blackdown Hills and the Padden Hills. Russ left me at Burrow Mump (at a shut pub) and I plodded on to Middlezoy - and an excellent little pub, still open to me when I arrived at 2:20pm: The George Inn - who serves free beer for Long Distance Walkers (well, this one anyway!) What a wonderful pub.

Still a long way to go this afternoon so the boots are off, the feet flexing and I am on my second pint of Butcombe - an excellent lunchtime pint.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

DAY 14: Sampford Peverell to West Monkton

Today: 22.1 miles
Total: 211.6 miles
Percentage completed: 12.7%


(Click map to enlarge)

What a splendid day - I left S.P. at 8:30 - a little later than I would have liked bearing in mind the day ahead. The walk along the canal was absolutely splendid - Moorhen, coot, mallards (shagging little bastards this early in the year too!). Dog walkers, pushchairs, joggers - an amenity enjoyed to the max. It is a delightful walk - the canal has no locks, so you trundle along just soaking up the scenery and peaceful solitude, watching the early morning mist slowly burning off the Blackdowns and Quantocks.

Mud - more of it - then brambles & mud then my lovely little brother and his mate Andy picked me up to steer me to the pub at Bradford on Tone (the White Horse - two excellent pints of Otter) when Russ Manion burst through the door, having walked back down my route to meet us. It turned out that Andy was a friend of Russ's mate and so we stretched out and before we knew it were at Russ's home, a deep welcome bath and a big day over.

Good weather, excellent company and good mileage - all in all a perfect day - ooh! and hot news - another county crossed - early this morning I passed from Devon into Somerset!

Now off to the pub with Russ to sample the delights of West Monkton - just for the research, you understand'

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

DAY 13: Crediton to Sampford Peverell

Today: 21.2 miles
Total: 189.5 miles
Percentage Completed: 11.4%


(Click map to enlarge)

When local authorities decide it will be a 'nice idea' to have a way-marked path, I am sure a lot of research goes into the sustainability of the route, the economic benefits to the ratepayers of the route and the publicity of the the route - if it is not publicised then it's a pretty pointless exercise.

Well, the Exe Valley Way has been successfully publicised - it has made its way onto the 1:50k mapping. The way-marking is fair to poor, but the sustainability of the path is woeful. There are long stretches where it is unadulterated ankle deep bog - no attempt at any sort of drainage, path improvement or even simple stepping stones in the areas that are obviously going to be prone to flooding.

I walked passed Mid Devon's new Fortress offices in Tiverton after slogging my way through three miles of slop (and an incredibly inconsiderate fencing contractor's Heras fencing diversion around the sewage works) and it was only the moat that prevented me from launching an assault on the Rights of Way Officers for Mid Devon Council (if there are such beasts). I was pleased to note though, that the Tiverton bypass was commemorated with a granite stone. I am sure the car drivers welcomed the signage as much as I missed it on the Exe Valley this afternoon.

In my head this afternoon, I wrote letters to all the outdoor agencies under the sun, perhaps in an effort to divert my thoughts from my aching feet: This morning had been quite tough in terms of climbing up and down Devon hills on tarmac and the afternoon was tough because of the mud straight after lunch.

I met a lovely lady on the Exe Valley Way, walking in the opposite direction. She walked it quite a lot and said that today it was in very good shape compared to normal, but she would never consider any footwear other than her wellies.

I fell into a hotel as my feet decided they had had enough for the day. Just enough time to get bathed to join my little brother and sister who had come up from the south coast to have a beer with me.

Tomorrow is another big day - I hope my aching feet recover overnight!

DAY 13: Lunchtime Report

DAY 13: Lunchtime Report
The Trout Inn, Bickleigh

A wonderful morning. Is that because I was leaving Crediton? The town has the last laugh - as I am leaving by the footpath I am forced to negotiate ankle deep liquid red mud that plasters my beautiful clean boots.

The weather can only be described as perfect. Fluffy white Springfield clouds, ice-cream cool breezes and warming sunshine. The walk has been Elgar in my mind (I know this is not the right bit of the country, but hey - relax). The hills have been steep, the views quintessentially English. The Exe is a delight, full and purposeful in its flow.

I am having a fair to middling pint in a bit of a coach-party road-house, but I am in a comfy sofa and all is well with the world. Still 10 miles to do this afternoon, but I am going to dawdle and take it all in leisurely.

The countryside around these parts is as heavenly as the town is hell.

Monday, 12 March 2007

DAY 12: South Zeal to Crediton

Today: 15.1 miles
Total Mileage: 168.3 miles
Percentage completed: 10.1%


(Click map to enlarge)

The weather forecast was pretty certain it was to rain until mid afternoon so when I finally left the twelfth century inn this morning it was a great to realise that Exeter had again got it mercifully wrong (and so close to here too! What chance has Scotland of an accurate forecast?)

I tumbled along in fine form, looking forward to a two pub morning: The first, at Spreyton, was where Uncle Tom Cobbley had set out with all his friends to Widdecombe Fair, and looked absolutely perfect in its Devon village setting. Perfect, except that it was shut.

I redoubled my spirits and head down, headed onwards to the next chance of libation a mere 11km further on at Yeoford. Imagine my disappointment to find it very dead too! I resorted to sitting on their car park wall, munching peanut brittle and drinking bottled water, staring forlornly into the black windows of the pub.

I now come to the subject of Dogs. Or, rather Dog Owners. Dogs are quite rightly seen as Man's Best Friend. However, and this is not meant to be sexist, but dogs are obviously not Women's Best Friend.

On the walk up until now, without a single exception, dogs being walked by women when they are not on a lead don't give a monkey's stuff about their owner's desires for the dog to come to heel. The apologetic crap the women come up with after their pooches have slobbered all over you, jumped up at your throat and behaved pretty dreadfully runs something like "I don't understand it- Rover is such a lovely dog normally - he's only being friendly."

These women need licenses. It is not the dog that needs the license - it is the women dog owners - they are not fit to look after an animal they patently have absolutely no control over what-so-ever. How they ever bring up children just beggars the imagination! "I have no idea why little Johhny mugged that old lady - he is such a good boy at home..."

(Sorry Alan the dog made me do it - lol JH)

I arrive at Crediton, full of expectation for a decent pub and perhaps a good foody place. No Chance Squared.

Crediton needs a bypass. That way even the traffic can avoid it. Okay, it is Monday, and perhaps some of the better places are shut, but good grief. There is an outcry here at the moment from the local shop-keepers because Tesco want to open a new Superstore.

For the first time in my life, I find myself agreeing with Tesco - and I have a marvelous suggestion for a location for them.

Slap bang in the middle of the town centre.

Bull-doze the lot and start again. The sweetener (bribe?) could be to build an Olde Worlde Pubbe that stayeth open all day on Mondays and serves fine ales pulled by buxom wenches. That way I will be able to get a drink on Monday and the women will be pulling pints rather than setting their barmy pooches on beardy walkers.

I'll get my tin hat now...

DAY 11: Bridestowe to South Zeal

Sunday 11th March
Today: 13.2 miles
Total mileage: 153.2 miles
Percentage Completed: 9.2%


(Click map to enlarge)

It was a late one last night in The White Hart. Stuart & Maria came over from Plymouth (a wonderful couple who met on the TGO Challenge and had their wedding reception at the famous Tomdoun Hotel)

I surface quite late and slowly get myself organised in the tent, and it is with tired legs that I plod up the hill. I find a little piece of paradise just after the Meldon viaduct - a restaurant car run by the cheerful Carol, so manage my first food of the day - a pastie and coffee. Rejuvenated, I head off to discover the delights of Okehampton.

Sunday lunchtime in Okehampton in early March. Not many delights. Even the pubs don't look welcoming and none tempt me inside. I decide to forgo lunch and with a shrug, start the plod up the hill out of town.

A van draws up alongside me - he had been driving down into town and quite amazingly had recognized me from two years ago on the TGO Challenge - we had had a great night in the Mason's at Tarfside together. I carry on my plod up the hill only to be stopped again by his friend who had heard I was in town.

So, old Okehampton ain't such a bad place after all.

South Zeal is a little gem. A steep little street hurtles you into the heart of the village - a real picture postcard of a Devon village and I am staying in the Oxenham Arms - a more perfect looking little English pub you will never find!

No phone signal here, so I will post this from somewhere on my walk tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

DAY 10: Launceston to Bridestowe: Evening Report

Today: 17.1 miles
Total Mileage: 140.0 miles
Percentage Completed: 8.4%


(Click map to enlarge)

A lovely day: Fine & sunny, well way-marked and an absolute joy. The first pint went down so well at lunchtime that I had a pint of Sharp's Doombar to follow, which was even nicer than the first. I held myself back and refused a free one from the landlord (ex Navy man; I reckon he had seen it all in his time).

The tent is now pitched (and looking jolly handsome, if I say it myself). It is a bit of a tardis - I have a huge amount of room inside. I knew where I was in the old Akto - everything had it's place so I could lay my hands on the stuff I wanted in the pitch black of the night. This new tent needs to be broken in - disciplined in the ways of it's master - at the moment it is chaos in there and I shall never find anything.

Bob Cartwright (when he interviewed me for the podcast) was taken aback when I told him I had not tried it out before the walk. So: Tonight's the Night!The feather mattress is all inflated, as is the pillow and the sleeping bag is all laid all ready for me (It will be a first for that too).

I am now in the White Hart and am on 'Jail Ale' from the Princetown Brewery on Dartmoor; thought I had better try it seeing as I am now in Devon. And it's very nice too! I can see myself trying another one in a minute. This is fine little pub bang opposite the Post Office and church. A perfect little English village.

I am really getting the hang of this walk now. I am beginning to mentally 'free-wheel' as I bimble along. At the start, I was thinking of too many things - perhaps apprehension, and I spent too much time working stuff out as I walked - wondering who to call to sort out last minute little snags, bits of work that needed attention, worrying about how I would cope - all sorts of stuff crowding my thoughts.

Now I am leaning back, taking long breaks in the sunshine, having another chocolate bar rather than looking at the map and working out destination times. The next destination will arrive in it's own good time. All I have to do is lie back and think of England!

Lynnie is on her way back from Italy from her skiing trip - nothing is broken.
All is well with the world.

DAY 10: Morning Report

DAY 10: Morning Report
The Blue Lion, Lewdon

Beautiful English Spring day. A pint of St Austell 'Proper Job' and I am on the Two Castles Trail - a path that links Launceston to Okehampton. It is a little honey of a walk. I passed into Devon this morning, crossing the River Tamer on Polson Bridge. I had never realised how long Cornwall was! (Mind you, I am usually whizzing through in a car on the way to a holiday cottage.) So - that's one county done and out of the way.

The first thing that has struck me about West Devon is that things are on a bigger scale. The valleys are broader, the spaces more open, and the cars travel that little bit faster on wider lanes...

This is a proper boozer; no mucking about with food, just beer & nibbles with a nice wood burner radiating warmth and fostering the idea of a long lunch indoors on a comfy chair. There is talk of where the hunt is today and how much it costs going the Point-to-Point,even if you stay out of the beer tent and the bookies, which I would have thought was the whole point of going!

Friday, 9 March 2007

Pictures from the Frontline - LANDS END TO NEWLYN

Hi, John Hee here guesting as Alan's technical support.

Hot off the press and courtesy of the wonders of modern technology Alan's pictures are now being beamed over via the LEJOG satellite constantly hovering over his head, to find their way onto his posts.

Scenes from Day 1 all ready and waiting - please go and take a look.

DAY 9: Round-up

DAY 9: Rest Day Round-Up

This is a look back over the last eight days to catch those little things that were missed at the time.

With Cornwall rapidly coming to an end now (Does this station stop at this train?) a lady asked me in the fish restaurant at lunchtime which bit of Cornwall I had enjoyed the most.

Was it the rugged magnificence of Land's End & the Lizard? Perhaps the empty beauty and clear air of Bodmin Moor? I had been moved all the way to my boots by all three.

But no. The gem that stuck in my mind, was the clamber up a steep little sunken lane yesterday afternoon; with a little stream gushing down the lane towards me, shoulder height in a perfect little channel carved into the side of the lane. As the clear water bubbled and rushed along its way, it tugged at the ends of the ferns that grazed its surface. Large flat granite slabs lined the base of the splash and the sunlight picked out the crystals in the rock. The bank above and below was awash with celandines and lush green mosses.

For me, the charm of Cornwall lies in the micro view; yes it has it's grand sweeps of landscapes, but so too will the Pennines. Ambling along the sunken lanes your eyes are drawn to the more intimate, personal details and I have often found myself just standing in quiet lane with just the sound of larks and raucous crows in my ears, marvelling at the simple beauty of it all.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

DAY 8: St Breward to Launceston: Evening Report

Today: 21.0 miles
Total so far: 122.9
Percentage completed: 7.4%


(Click map to enlarge)

My feet know that they have had two big days. I arrived in Launceston to find that my hotel was at the very top of the hill - and it seemed a very big hill at the time! My room is on the top floor. I lay on my bed for half an hour with my feet propped up on pillows, with me promising them faithfully I wouldn't do it to them again...

The hotel is full this evening. Larnsunn seems to be a very active place - we have the Stamp Collectors in one function room, Lloyds TSB in the basement, and very strangely, the patchwork quilters in the last room. These ladies all had to file past me whilst I was eating my tomato and ham soup. I started getting horse's burial at the remarkable similarity between these ladies and those in Roald Dahl's 'The Witches'. There has not been even a glimpse of any small child...

Going back to lunchtime at the Rising Sun: As I was leaving the lovely girl behind the bar pressed a five pound note into my hand with a lovely picture she had drawn of the sun rising: to cheer me up when it rained. Wonderful.

As I was scuttling along the lane about an hour later, a car pulled up from behind and asked me if I was the walker from the pub. I answered positively and the guy introduced himself as the owner of the pub and asked me for the blog address - So - If you are the proud owner of that magnificent establishment - Hi - and thank you.

It is now pouring down with rain outside and I am all snug and bathed and fed inside. It's a day off tomorrow - so I can visit the highspots of Larnsunn. I shall wash my walking shirt - it's only been eight days and I know it doesn't need it, but hey - It's a holiday - It can have a treat too!

DAY 8: Morning Report

DAY 8: Lunchtime Report

What a splendid morning. Clambered up Brown Willy (ooh! Madame!) then headed off across country over closely cropped grasses stocked with moorland ponies, to hit the Rising Sun (to the north of Alternun) for a one o'clock pint or two of Betty Stogs (I do like this particular pint) and some Welsh rarebit.

The regulars were all in & they all tried to get me to pronounce Launceston correctly (something like 'Larnsunn'). Cornish country pubs are wonderful - they are still the heartbeat of the community; the social centre where the elderly are looked out for and the young tearaways told to mind their P's & Q's.

The beers are well kept, served at the perfect temperature and when you need a bit of help choosing, you get taster glasses.

This afternoon is 15km, so a bit of a hike along Cornish lanes, so I shall keep this short as I have sunshine and sunken lanes to cope with!


Wednesday, 7 March 2007

DAY 7: Indian Queens to St Breward

Today: 21.2 miles
Total Mileage: 101.9 miles
Percentage Completed: 6.1%


(Click map to enlarge)

Well, if Cornwall put on it's little black dress for me yesterday, today it had a few glasses of champagne and dragged me upstairs! What a fabulous day - largely because of this afternoon's walk along the Camel Trail.

Today, I got rid of the legs and replaced them with cast iron wheels. I was the Sir Nigel Gresley, the Duchess of Montrose, steaming up the Camel Trail, whistling & hooting as I rumbled up the track. I shall discard the Nikwax and employ a wheel tapper.

This was the railway that took day-trippers to the last public hanging in Britain. It's a beauty. I sat on beautifully designed little path-side chairs and watched as buzzards soared and mewed overhead, as the river slewed over the weirs. For the first time I could smell fresh woodland earth rather than cow manure (It has to be said, at this time of year, Cornwall does smell of shit!)

The sting in the tail was the last few miles up to St Breward - they seemed like climbing the Eiger. But well worth it for a cracking B&B (thanks to Mark Moxon) and a lovely pub - two pints of Sharps Doom Bar so far...

Tomorrow's an even bigger day: Steady Now!

DAY 7, Morning report

DAY 7: Morning Report
Inidian Queens to Boscarne Junction

I can recommend the Chinese restaurant in Indian Queens. (One diner had followed the chef from restaurant to restaurant for five years, he thought he was so good)

The view from the top of Castle-an Dinas is worth the climb. I am not sure if it is worth the slither down the god-awful sludge of a footpath down the other side hemmed in between new very sharp barbed wire and incredibly grippy new brambles. I don't know what it is about Cornish landowners, but this morning i noticed an amazing amount of barbed wire and the complete absence of footpath signs at roadsides. The final scramble to the lane is through a heath through yet more gorse and brambles, again unsigned. This seems to be a 'no-go' county for walkers.

Whinge over!

The morning's weather has been glorious - cool breezes and warm sunshine. The pub here at Boscarne Junction seems to be part of a chain, but the beer is good (Betty Scoggs and Rock something or other) and the service is keen too. It's just not my idea of a pub.

I did 20km to get here and have 13 to go this afternoon along (mostly) the Camel Trail, so it should be nice and easy.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

DAY 6: Truro to Indian Queens

DAY 6: Truro to Indian Queens
Day's Mileage: 14.4 miles
Total Mileage: 80.7 miles (4.9%)


(Click on map to enlarge)

Ooh! A new statistic! Less than 5 % of the walk done with 99 walking days planned still to do.

I am still not sure whether I loved or hated last night's B&B. The lady who runs it is amazing, bossy, charming, talkative, and a complete fright. The decor is decidedly African with a touch of Cornwall and woodchip. The shower worked and so did the shaverlight - the two most important criteria for my old mate Lord Elpus (currently tasking a sabbatical in the English Lake District)

There was a screeching gale last night with driving rain and the windows rattled all night and the boy-racers zoomed past my window until I dropped off to sleep watching Paxman in Belfast.

But today - Today was a honey of a day! Cornwall put on its little black dress for me, slapped on the make up and was once more beautiful. Truro was charming (not so last night in the pouring rain and in a crap pub). I found a pretty little walk to leave the town under the railway viaduct alongside a gurgling splash to take me to Ideless and then by lanes to Indian Queens.

There was very little rubbish today - obviously a classier sort this side of Truro. Just found a discarded microwave, fridge-freezer and washing machine, strangely about a mile apart from each other.

I bowled along at my 5km per hour. Cornwall is very hilly, but the legs ate it all up. I forgot to buy any lunch in Truro and so made do with some Nobby's Nuts, salt & vinegar crisps, and cheese & onion crisps, washed down with two wonderfully well kept pints in the London Inn at Summercourt, run by the excellent Dave (from Royston, you know) and his wife Deb. Dave bought me a pint and so after kicking me out, I sat like an old codger on a bench outside, watching the world go by with my tootsies out for an airing. Then it was a gentle stroll to Fraddon & Indian Queens.

Fraddon is 'interesting'. So I took a few pictures and if I can send them to John Hee, he will post them on today's blog later on on the trip.

Weather today? Lovely. I got to my excellent B&B and it then did the honour of chucking it down. Perfect timing.

I like this walking business. I am a gentleman of the road. The highway is my home.

Monday, 5 March 2007

DAY FIVE: Gweek to Truro

DAY 5: Gweek to Truro
Day's mileage: 15.9 miles
Total so far: 66.3 miles


(Click on the map to enlarge)

I have made it to Cornwall's county town. I am not sure what that means for Cornwall or for Truro; but you are now appraised of the facts. It does have a good looking cathedral, which I shall have a look at in the morning.

Right now I am watching the six o'clock news with the rain lashing against the window and I feel smug. The socks are washed and the coffee cooling beside me so all is well with the world.

I could tell you about the fascinating day I have had but that would be fibbing. It was scampering along litter strewn Cornish lanes. I was too early for the pub at Stithians, which looked nice, so I stumbled on to the next village where the pub was frankly poor. I sat near two blokes banging on about their 'roles and responsibilities' within a well known charity organisation. They were both climbing the greasy pole, seemingly trying to get the better of each other. It was ghastly.

I moved on after just the one poorly pulled pint to finish the day quite early.

The news is full of the two people washed into the sea at Mullion Cove and also the poor girl who died on Dartmoor. The weather has been pretty dreadful, and I have only three coats to deal with it. I am sitting here glued to the telly, waiting to hear of my fate tomorrow from the weather forecast.


Sunday 4th March 2007
DAY 4: Goonhilly to Gweek:
Total today: 11.9 miles
Total on Walk: 50.4 miles


(Click on the map to enlarge)

The rain lessened and I toddled off (I couldn't put it off any longer)

I had missed my lunchtime pint and so was delighted to find The Ship open at Mawgan. Not wishing to chip up at Gweek a short step away worse for wear, I limited my ration to a single pint - which was a crying shame as the pub is a stormer and full mid Sunday afternoon.

I am sure there will be more.

I am now at my B&B at Gweek - all very nice; clean, tidy, efficient,but.... just lacking that friendliness I have found so far on the trip. Just as I arrived it absolutely threw it down, so I was glad to be here.

So, how is it going so far? Am I suited to this Long Distance Walking lark? I am gobbling up the miles but deliberately limiting my mileages for this first week so as to get bedded in.. Lots of lunchtime rests make it delightful and I am having a great time.

Again, no mobile signal tonight, so this will have to be posted from elsewhere tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

DAY 4: Goonhilly Earth Station

It's bucketing down outside and I am safely indoors in the free cyber cafe. Only a short afternoon to go so I am enjoying the time off from the horrid weather outside!

The village of Lizard was an odd place. Very Royston Vaisey... A few places quite well scrubbed up, a few needing a lot of repairs. The other thing I have noticed today is the quality of roadside rubbish - it's all packaging from junk food. Soft drinks bottles, crisp wrappers and beer bottles. An amazing quantity - and this was going through the Goonhilly Nature Reserve.

Ambling through Britain at 3mph you notice stuff like that - quite depressing how little we care for our countryside. However, when you do hit civilisation, it is heartening to see how diverse and helpful our society can be. So who are the louts who are screwing it up?

Mullion to Lizard

DAY 3: Mullion to Lizard
Total today: (Porthleven - Lizard) 13.3 miles
Total so far: 38.5 miles


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Not a bad afternoon at all: Warm, sunny with cooling breezes. I am not a fan of coastal walking; just how much sea can you need & want to see? And all the relentless ups and downs take it out of you. I would not plan a hill walk that went up and down every bloomin' mile. It is going against the grain of the land - cutting across it. The next bit of coastal walking I shall be doing, if all goes well, will be the walk up to Cape Wrath.

I stayed slightly longer than intended in Mullion, as the beer was splendid, and as I am not driving it was rather nice to lean back and have a third, as the afternoon was just eight miles or so.

Lizard Point was mightily impressive, with blue-grey seas smashing onto huge black rocks below the lighthouse.

Speaking of rocks, I have not yet told you about Ricky - my pet rock that I picked up at Land's End. That's the end of any lightweight pretensions then: Carrying rocks the length of the Kingdom. I shall release Ricky the Rock when I get to John O'Groats.

Lizard (the village I am in now) has no phone signal - so this may well be posted from somewhere on my route tomorrow. The pub here sells Greene King IPA, so I am in heaven.

So: End of Day 3 and all going well! The forecast for tomorrow is horrendous though...

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Lunchtime: Day Three

The New Inn: Mullion
Day Three

Today is another day! Two cool pints of St Austell IPA and mushroom soup for lunch with the sunshine streaming through the window. It doesn't get much better than this.

I had morning coffee at a cafe at Gunwalloe Fishing Cove and met a Bavarian chap who is doing the coast path - he started at Minhead a few weeks ago and is taking five or six weeks over it. He looked fit and young and I daresay he is doing the coast path all the way, wheras I have dived inland to the pub for lunch.

More later tonight...

Friday, 2 March 2007

Penzance to Porthleven

Walking Day 2: Penzance to Porthleven:
14.1 miles
25.2 miles so far (extra mile yesterday...)


(You can click on the map to enlarge it)

A nice stroll out of Penzance after a lovely stay at the Blue Seas (and a rather splendid donation of $20 - I cannot find a pound sign on here!)

Then it got more tricky: It's been pouring down with rain here for weeks apparently, and the walk along the cliffs from Marazion to Praa Sands was an absolute quagmire and it started to rain - light at first, getting heavier with very gusty winds straight off the sea.

I tumbled into the Clipper restaurant at Praa Sands for a spot of lunch to be confronted by a cricketing Legend: Chris Old! I was the only customer (unsurprising given the awful conditions) and so I had him and his wife all to myself! What a lovely bloke. They dried me out, fed & watered me and gave me helpful directions. They refused to let me pay for my lemonades. If ever you are in the area, pop in and say hello.

The next section to Porthleven is a real roller-coaster and marvelous fun in the even heavier rain and gustier wind. I reckon I climbed Everest on that section!

I made it to the Harbour Inn and have washed all my day's kit as it was plastered in Cornish mud. The room is full of steam with clothes dripping all over the room.

I certainly know I have been for a walk today.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Great Britain 1

I was in the 'Lime Tree' tonight (a wonderful little restaurant) and I met a lady already well through her starter. She is one of a kind: Angela, from Newlyn. A retired teacher still young at heart who still felt she had something left.
She is a grandmother and is about to rent out her house for two years and is going to Vietnam to teach children from a tribe in the mountains to be teachers so that their children don't have to walk for three and a half hours to go to school. The tribe were originally itinerant, but who have lately settled down in the mountains, sort of Mongolian ethnically.
What sort of experience had she to do this? For the last few years of teaching over here she had been dealing with travellers and the problems with educating children that were constantly moving on.
She will be the only Brit in that location and to meet some more she will have a thirteen hour trip on the bus to Hanoi.
She left at nine to go to her last poetry evening for two years.

The Cormorant Fish

I am now an ornithologist. After lunch I spend twenty minutes studying the cormorant off Penzance beach. I have come up with an astonishing conclusion:

The cormorant is in fact a fish. He spends 80% of his life (40 seconds at a time) below water and only 20% of his time (10 seconds) above water.



Newlyn:Lunchtime: The Tolcarne Inn

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Cornwall is famous for its tin mines. Well I haven't seen any tin this morning, but I have seen plenty of mud. If you could sell mud, I would be a rich man in Cornwall.

This pub is glorious. Two pints of Youngs Special and a fish soup with garlic bread. Moira is an Irish girl and runs it with her husband Alan (a jazz guitarist). It will be hard to leave.

The woodburner is on and the second pint is slipping down beautifully.

We have had five fisherman in discussing how much Bert's fingers were going to cost him - he lost them in a winch and now he is finding it tricky getting his job back.


We touched on the iniquity of financing the education system and the sharp showers that I have missed completely.

Lynnie left me this morning at Land's End.

That was difficult. I wasn't sure if it was the wind or the emotion of it all, but the tears dried up at Sennen Cove when I was struggling up the hill from the beach.

I must go now to Penzance. I need to clean my boots; they are disgraceful.