The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Friday, 30 May 2008

Day 46 - Keld to Brown Rigg Moss

30 May
Distance: 13 miles
Number of inconsiderate campers encountered: 1 group of 5

Perhaps I'm just on my way to becoming a grumpy old woman, but as well as not liking people pitching their tent within touching distance of ours, I also don't much appreciate noise at night.

In fact, I'm not sure that it's ever acceptable for one group of people to subject strangers to their choice of music, at any time of day, but particularly when it's clear that everyone else has gone to bed.

Our saviour was the rain. The music was coming from a car with the door open. The rain caused the music to be curtailed and the group to retreat to their tent.

Still, out of twenty eight nights on campsites only two annoying incidents isn't a bad record.

Today brought a break from our usual routine. We didn't want to start early as we didn't want to finish early. So, rather than a 6am alarm, we woke at 7.30 - a blissful lie-in.

The lie-in was followed by a very lazy morning. It was 11am by the time we came to leave Keld (another lovely place to which we will return in September when we walk the Coast to Coast).

The earlier rain had abated by the time we set out up the valley, soon leaving behind all signs of civilisation. Then, two hours later into sight came the Tan Hill Inn, which claims to be the highest Inn in Britain at 1762 feet, and its car park was heaving.

Beer so early in our walk seemed ill-advised even if it was 1pm, so we just popped by for a glass of pop before setting out across Sleightholme Moor.

The moor was wet underfoot and there was moisture in the air too, but that didn't detract from the beauty of the place (if you like bleak-ish open spaces). We even spotted some excellent potential camp spots towards the far end, but it was still early in the day.

Lunch (a very late one) was had at God's Bridge, an interesting geological feature (being a natural bridge), which is unfortunately within sight and sound of the A66.

At the first water point the other side of the A66 we picked up some incredibly peaty water ("just the colour of wee", Mick helpfully observed) to see us through the night, as this is our first wild-camp of the trip.

We're now sitting in the tent very close indeed to the Pennine Way, but it seems unlikely that anyone will be passing by at this time of day (famous last words?). Since pitching the tent the skies have cleared and we can see for miles. It's fantastic.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Day 45 - Gayle to Keld

29 May
Distance: 13 miles

Last night's campsite was Bainbridge Ings, which lies just outside of both Gayle and Hawes. I'm not sure which place it is strictly in, but just so that I could claim to have spent a night in Gayle, I'm claiming it to be there. Now if Blackburn House in Gayle (and there was one) had been a B&B, well I think that we would have had to have stayed there!

We'd been at the campsite (good campsite - first one we've stayed at so far that's had a drying room) for four hours when our favourite PW walking group arrived. But hark - there was no sound of coughing. The other tents were there (across the other side of the field) but flapping-tent-coughing-bird was missing. We spent a peaceful night.

We woke this morning to a gloomy looking day once again, but by the time we got moving the sun was threatening to break through and we had a glimpse of the hills around us that had been missing in the mist yesterday.

By the time we got to the top of Great Shunner Fell (after no small amount of faffs on the way, and having witnessed a vast array of bird life), although quite hazy, we could still appreciate the 360 degrees views. And gosh, how green the surroundings suddenly became during our day without visibility yesterday.

It was as we stopped for 5 minutes at the shelter on the top of Great Shunner Fell that I felt something of an irritation on my left butt cheek. Mick was bemused as I suddenly mooned at him, asking if there was anything obviously causing it but he only reported a couple of red pin-pricks. Re-dressed, I sat back down - but wait - the irritation was still there and there was most definitely something causing it. I then pulled out a very large ant. Mick hooted at the fact that I really did have an ant in my pants, whereas I was less amused, particularly as it had bitten me quite comprehensively. I spent the next couple of hours suffering a prickly irritation not dissimilar to the nettle rash incident a few weeks ago.

Dropping down off the hill we stopped for an early lunch just before Thwaite, where we chatted briefly to a couple also walking the PW, who we saw a few times a couple of days ago (they were no doubt close by yesterday too, but obscured from our view by the cloud).

When we did get to Thwaite, had I a bottle of something fizzy in my bag then I would have broken it out. Had there been a pub then we would have popped in for a pint. However, as it was all we did to celebrate having reached the half-way point in our journey was to pat each other on the backs (it would have been a hug, but that's a bit tricky with a backpack on).

Then Mick and I went our separate ways.

Fear not. It was only a temporary parting. There are two obvious ways to get from Thwaite to Keld. One is direct and kind to poorly feet, such as Micks. The other way is to follow the Pennine Way up and around a hill.

Had I been the dutiful and sympathetic wife then I would have accompanied Mick along the direct route. What I actually did was to hand over the stove so that he could have a cup of tea waiting for me when I arrived.

I then set off down the road and had got a hundred yards or so when I realised that something was missing, and that it wasn't just Mick. Back I went to collect my Pacerpoles, then back down to the village I went.

Don't tell Mick, because I wouldn't want him to think that he'd missed out on anything, but the views from the hillside between Thwaite and Keld were absolutely awesome - helped of course by the blue sky which had materialised.

I spotted Mick and the tent as I approached Keld - it being the only tent in the field (bet we'll be joined by others later). He met me on the road and treated me to an ice-cream. It seems that contrary to the information in the Cicerone End to End guide, there is a little shop in Keld, so I needn't have carried all that heavy food all day!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Week 6 - Random Thoughts

Miles to date: 615

As lovely and as varied as the more southerly sections of this walk were, we are particularly liking being in the bigger open spaces, with the more rugged feel to them, on the Pennine Way. Of course, bigger spaces and less population does mean that we're having to put a bit more thought than previously into getting hold of supplies and making sure that they'll last to the next shop. I'm trying to err on the side of caution and we're eating a lot, as a result of which my bag for tomorrow is heavy! Still, it'll ease once we've eaten breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses and lunch.

Talking of heavy packs, whilst we were at Ma-in-Law's at the weekend we picked up a stash of stuff that we'd left there for the northern half of the journey, so I'm now also carrying maps for the rest of the journey (A4 print outs, let me stress, not full OS maps), pages from the two PW guide books, midge head net, insect repellent and the like. Add to that the restocking of other consumables (and my mock-crocs which I picked up the week before) and my bag felt awfully heavy when I picked it up on Sunday morning (happily, it didn't feel so bad once it was on my back). At least I know the weight will drop slightly as we go north, as I post home used maps (I'll not here go into the reason why I'm troubling to keep maps that I could just reprint).

The two things with which we didn't leave Halifax, as previously mentioned, were the Icebreaker and the foot cream that had gone astray in the post. The good news is that they weren't irretrievably lost. They arrived on the eighth day after they were posted. We walked there quicker! They're now back in the post wending their way back to Sister and hopefully they'll catch up with us somewhere before John O'Groats.

The only gear issue worthy of mention this week on the wear-and-tear front is my Paramo Azuma Vent trousers (and remember I only have the one pair of trews with me). There are holes on the inside of each ankle and I'm unsure that they're going to last the distance. There's also an issue with the elastic, but as I fitted that elastic I can only blame myself for that! In the unlikely event that we pass a shop selling Montane Terra Pants in my size there will be a purchase made.

Day 44 - Horton to Gayle*

28 May
Distance: 14 miles

Just as the wind was beginning to ease last evening an organised group of Pennine Way walkers, whose bags and tents had been dropped off earlier by the Sherpa Van Project, arrived.

Things did not get off to a flying start with them, nor did they improve. You see, I have a bit of an issue with people camping so close that they may as well come in, so when one of the group had her tent touching ours (literally, and this was on a huge empty field) I stuck my head out, reminded her of fire risk and asked her if she was going to pitch a reasonable distance away.

She did not appreciate my request. Nor did she appreciate my offer of help when I realised that she was battling against the wind.

When Mick pointed out that I did sound like something of an officious cow, I felt bad. So bad that I had every intention of going to apologise to the woman and have the usual sort of a 'bit breezy, how's your walk been' sort of a chat.

However, when I did come to leave the tent I found that she had pitched within three feet of us (nylon to nylon that is, not guy to guy). Am I being unreasonable, or is that just too close? I could be in a double bed with someone and be further away.

Still, as long as we were all careful not to burn our tents down and as long as she wasn't going to make unreasonable noise then all would be fine.

As it turned out despite this woman's best efforts to find shelter by pitching on top of our tent (for we had of course taken the sheltered spot) she achieved no shelter at all. As a result her 2-second pop-up tent flapped like a flag all night. Plus this was a woman with a bad cough. Being charitable about it, I'm sure that the coughing was neither malicious nor for her own amusement, but it kept me awake when I wanted to sleep.

We crossed our fingers as we snuck quietly away at just before 7.30 this morning that the group was travelling south, not north.

As for our walk, there's not a lot to say, because we didn't see a thing all day.

For the first hour the wind (strong, but much calmer than yesterday) was head on and was again lashing rain into our faces. So, in our own little worlds of Underhood we kept our heads down and kept putting one foot in front of the other, having first made the navigational note that if we found ourselves in a forest then we had missed our turning.

The rain did stop and it stayed stopped until just as we were finishing second breakfast, but then we ascended into the cloud and that's where we stayed. In fact even when we pitched our tent we were still in the cloud.

At times visibility dropped to about 15 yards, at times we could see significantly further, but at no time was there any view. At no time could we see the lay of the land ahead.

Looking at the map, we felt sure that there would be 'oohs' to be had on other days.

Being another short day (we're specialising in them at the moment) we were at our campsite by 1.30 (and shortly thereafter, in sampling the facilities, discovered that our soap and shampoo are still in Malham). I confess that we did both groan on checking in when we were told that the bags and tents had arrived for a group of walkers who were coming in from Horton. We explained the cosiness of last night's pitching and the owner kindly said that he would put that group across the other side of the field. Somehow I don't think that they'll be popping by our corner for a chat...

As for Mick's feet, it's not good news. The pain is in the middle of the balls of both feet and is quite severe by the end of the day, even though these days are not long. We're contemplating taking a day off here to allow them to rest. I popped into the village/town earlier and it doesn't look like a bad place to spend a day.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Day 43 - Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale

27 May
Distance: 12.5 miles
Number of times I got blown off the path: quite a lot

What's worse than walking into a strong headwind? One answer is quite obvious: walking into rain being driven by a strong headwind.

Our easterly/north easterly wind, which has been troubling us for a few days, is persisting and it was at about quarter to seven this morning, as I was sitting outside of the tent eating porridge, that the rain started.

Breakfast was abandonned for a while and with remarkable speed we had the tent and our belongings packed away.

The rain did let up as we made our way up the just-under-400 steps to the side of Malham cove, but the wind was still fierce and the cloud low. The cove being such an awesome spectacle, I would have felt cheated had it not been for having visited just last October in good weather. That trip also meant that I didn't need to get the camera out today - I'll stick with the blue skied shots that I already have.

The break in the rain was short-lived and for the next couple of hours it was usually hitting us either head on or from the side, the former smarting somewhat on the face!

Second breakfast was a very short affair, being cold as I was. I was even eager for the next hill so that I could get warm again.

Although I'd seen Malham Cove before, the other notable feature on today's route, a jaunt over Pen-y-Ghent, was something to which I was looking forward.

Alas, from the moment that the cloud covering it came into view, it was clear that this was not a day for such an ascent. Rain and low cloud alone would perhaps not have deterred us so much, but battling against the wind such as we were, combined with the wetness and the lack of any views meant that a trip to the top would have been purely an exercise in being able to say we'd been there. It was disappointing to miss it, but then out objective is to get to John O'Groats, not to battle to trig-points for the sake of it.

So, in common with some other people walking the PW, who were just behind us, we omitted Pen-y-Ghent and headed straight down into Horton.

Incredibly, there were other people going up there. Lots of them. Including plenty of families dragging their children up. Quite why anyone would choose to do a day-trip up a hill in such conditions...

With the wind now mainly behind us as we made our way down things should have been easier - except that the force of it (over 40mph I would say, with some big and prolonged gusts) repeatedly blew me off the path. It certainly made a couple of the rocky steps rather 'interesting'.

Even down in Horton the wind is howling around. We made a bee-line for the campsite, only to find that despite the 'camping with prior permission only' signs, there was no-one home from whom to seek that permission.

Until such time that we are able to get permission, we are sheltering in the tent which we pitched anyway. It was only after pitching that I saw the 'no vacancies, pre-booked persons only' sign (but there are only four other tents here on the generously sized field), so I'm now sitting here in fear of the signs being enforced and us being ejected from the place.

As for the battle between Mick's feet and his shoes, although he's blister free it is not a happy experience for him. Hopefully at some point in the next couple of days the boots and his feet will come to a mutual understanding.

Update: three hours later and we're all legal; the farmer has returned and hasn't thrown us off his field. He also commented (as us Brits are prone to do) on the weather - he says he's not seen the likes of this at this time of year. Mick says I've seriously understated the ferocity of the wind conditions in my report above - he'd like it to be known that that was some wind we walked in today!

Day 42 - Lothersdale to Malham

26 May
Distance: 15 miles
Number of wannabe killer cows: 1 herd

It was a day of varying surroundings today. After a few days of mainly moorland, today we passed out of moorland and into rolling farmland - which of course meant that we had to play spot the stile and clamber over said stiles.

With Mick's feet still fighting for supremacy over his new boots, we made it through the first nine or so miles in the expected timeframe. Those nine or so miles took us to Gargrave and it was a good way before there that I started fantasising about a tea rooms.

The Dalesman was the first to which we came and whilst supping tea and eating cake we got chatting to a chap who at 4am today completed the Long Distance Walker's Association 100 mile walk.

We were still marvelling at the reality of someone who had undertaken such a feat (and was sitting there talking coherently and looking fresh like he'd just been for a five mile stroll) when arrived Alan and Nicky, who had been walking towards us from Malham to meet us.

With more tea drunk we set off in the direction of Malham.

Then Nicky mentioned that she had brought home-made chocolate covered flapjack with her. I resisted at some length mugging her on the spot for it.

In fact, I managed to wait a reasonable length of time before I called for a snack break to try it out and it turned out to be an absolute treat. We even managed surreptitiously to pocket the rest of the bag, so we'll be enjoying it again tomorrow.

Arriving in Malham we found it absolutely heaving with people, with some sort of a Bank Holiday Monday event going on. The campsite is far busier with tents than any we've been on to date. Woe betide anyone who decides to hold loud conversations or parties all night...

Day 42 photos - thanks to Al Dewfall

Killer cows


Nicky, Mick and Gayle

Al, Mick and Gayle

Monday, 26 May 2008

Day 42 - Holding post

Today's post has been delayed by poor mobile phone reception. With luck, the problem will be resolved shortly.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Day 41 - Hebden Bridge to Lothersdale

25 May
Distance: 18 miles
Number of other end-to-enders met: 1

Ma-in-Law set us up well during our rest day for the next leg of our trip. She'd bought in every food that she knows that we like and she cooked us one of her legendary roast dinners.

This morning younger step-son, who had journeyed up to Halifax (with girlfriend (hello Nick & Holli!)) to see us, dragged himself out of bed at an unearthly hour to drive us back to Hebden Bridge. It was just gone 7am as we set out from the point we had got to on Friday.

Considering that we detoured to Edale to ensure that we got the start of the Pennine Way, and that we will take the more significant detour to Kirk Yetholm at the end of the Pennine Way, we're not being particularly faithful to the Way. We detoured to go via Marsden, we detoured to Hebden Bridge, then this morning rather than going staight back to the Way from Hebden Bridge we decided to go via Hardcastle Crags. It's a scenic route and in that we've been to both Heptonstall and Hardcastle Crags before we didn't feel too bad at choosing the latter route.

The main point of note on today's route was Top Withins above Haworth, and it was in the mile after that landmark that we met four different sets of people out walking. After that we met no-one until our walk in to Lothersdale.

This is a sunny bank holiday weekend. Okay, so the wind was conspiring against us today and making the going hard, but did that really put off all of the walkers? Where was everyone?

It was on the walk into Lothersdale that we met two chaps. They wondered if we'd seen their friend who they were meeting. You see, he was walking from Land's End to John O'Groats.

Thanks to the chat we had with them we came to meet this end-to-ender, Doug, in the Hare and Hounds in Lothersdale after we'd found our patch of grass for the night and put the tent up.

He set out from Land's End on 29 March but had a 2 week lay up with infected blisters. He's now ditched the tent and is going well. His schedule is the same as ours for the next few days so there's a chance that we may bump into him again.

So, that's four people we've now met doing the same walk as us. News has it that Conrad is still going well and is now about 5 days ahead of us.

News of Mick's new boots is that everything went well for the first 13 or so miles of the day. Then we stopped for lunch and he took them off for a while. Thereafter he had a problem with the ankle cuff and a tendon, which caused quite a few adjustments (some accompanied by a positive flinging down of the walking poles with a big harrumph).

I'm sure that sometime in the next four or five days the boots will lose their battle with the shape of his feet and decide that their easiest option is to conform.

Even if they do trouble him again tomorrow, there will be a distraction. Friends of Mick, who he's not seen for quite some years, are heading for Malham to walk back to meet us. It's always nice to have someone to walk with for a while, so we're looking forward to that. And it's a short day too.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Day 40 - Rest Day Halifax

24 May
Distance: 0 miles

Royal Mail has let me down. A parcel was posted by my sister last Tuesday. It contained my brand new Icebreaker top to replace my Smelly Helly and it contained a tube of Gehwol Extra foot cream. That parcel has not arrived. £40 worth of brand new goods lost somewhere in the Royal Mail system. I am not amused.

I think that I'm more distressed about the absence of the foot cream than the smell-free top. How will we get through a week before the next parcel without the nice footcream? It's our treat at the end of each day.

Better news is that CityLink did their job with Mick's boots and they arrived without a hitch. Mick's been wearing them all day, but there's no escaping the fact that tomorrow he'll be in the unpleasant position of wearing brand new boots to walk 18 miles. His Salomons won't be coming with him this time; they've done well to cover 600 miles, but they are now completely dead. So tomorrow, he will be putting full faith in his boots.

It being a rest day a few errands have been run. The first and most important task of the day was to get my hair cut. It had grown remarkably over the last six weeks and hat-hair was becoming an issue. So today I visited a barber and asked for a grade 4 all over. It seems that the gradings are shorter up here. I am scalped! Still, it'll soon grow back.

As for Mick, the hair on his chin is now longer than the hair on his head.

Day 39 - Standedge to Hebden Bridge

(As much as I like this mobile blogging device, every now and then my post doesn't get through for reasons unknown. Fortunately Vic lets me know when this happens. So here's the post I sent at 6pm last night, that got lost somewhere in a black hole):
23 May
Distance: 17 miles

Another fine morning was upon us, but this was a misty one and up on the moors, well my goodness, it was a bit nippy! It was certainly a hat and gloves morning.

It was the wind that was doing it. Every now and then we would find shelter for a few moments (staggering when suddenly finding that we didn't have to lean anymore) and start to overheat. Then the shelter would end and the hats and gloves came back out again.

The prevailing feature today, amongst moors and agricultural land, was the reservoirs. There are certainly plenty of them around these parts.

And, of course, it was the day that we passed Stoodley Pike Monument. It seemed like a good spot for lunch; it turned out to be less so, smelling like a urinal as it did (sardine sandwiches and urine, now there's a smell to behold!).

Before we knew it we were in Hebden Bridge. It was the knowledge of the treats that were in store that caused our fast pace today.

I now sit on Ma-in-Law's sofa. I've soaked in her bath with a glass of red wine to hand. In a few moments we're off out to Halifax's finest Thai. All is well with our world.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Day 38 - Crowden to Standedge

22 May
Distance: 13.25 miles
No. of other people seen out walking: just 2

It was a day involving a lot of nothingness. Soon after leaving the campsite we were out on the moors and that set the scene for the day. There were no houses, just 2 roads and barely even any sheep.

I like nothingness, so with yet more fair weather upon us, I was happy.

Although we could have taken a lower level route around the first lump of the day, Laddow Rocks, we opted for the route across the top edge (a route made more interesting by the exposure and wind combination). It was a good choice: the views were well worth the pull up there.

Dropping back down to the stream we rued the fact that it was the beginning not the end of the day as we spied a couple of excellent wild camping spots, but regretfully we passed them by, danced through the only bog obstacle we found all day and made our way up the paved trail to Black Hill.

The man-eating bogs on Black Hill appeared to have been tamed out of existence by the recent dry spell. I'm only going by appearances there - I wasn't foolish enough to test the issue by venturing off the path.

We'd passed Black Hill and swung around the hillside when I spotted the snack van, quite a distance away from us, up on the road. Pointing it out to Mick he took on a gleeful glint in his eye. When I confirmed that they would sell bacon baps and that it was on our route he almost put a sprint on.

Finally reaching it an excellent third breakfast was had. It was an unexpected bonus in an already good day.

Continuing the other side of the snack-van road we were then alongside reservoirs for quite a while; it made for some very good views that I will no doubt have failed miserably to capture with my 'point and click' photography.

Needing to get to a shop today, so that we have some lunch for tomorrow, caused our diversion from the Pennine Way to drop down to Marsden. As my lunchtime post said, it was rather nice sitting there in the sun, but eventually, even with the short day, we had to move on.

We moved on slowly, but not just because of our reluctance to leave the town. A little navigational confusion came in trying to avoid the main road route to our night stop (for which confusion I'll take the blame). We did, of course, find our way in the end (although not before I came perilously close to losing my hat; I'm very grateful to Mick for noticing so promptly that it was missing (so why is it he doesn't notice a new hair style with such speed?))

Having found our campsite for the night it was evident that we weren't going to be using the Bushbuddy tonight. We may be adjacent to the A62, but we're still on the moors. There are no trees or obvious burning materials around.

It also soon became evident that the ground is a little stony - when I managed to bend quite impressively one of our titanium v stake tent pegs. Good job Mick's been carrying spares all this time.

Tomorrow we're off to Ma-in-Law's via Stoodley Pike, where we'll come to the first bit of the route so far that we've both walked before.

Day 38 - Lunchtime

We're sitting on a bench in Marsden, next to the five-stepped weir. The sun is beating down, the ducks are basking, we've had a fine morning.

We should pick up our bags and carry on our way, but the sunshine is causing laziness.

We've less than 2 miles to go today. Perhaps its the knowledge of how short a distance there is that's making us happy to just sit a while.

Day 34 photos - thanks to Steve Watson

Finding Mick and Gayle and some overly inquisitive calves

Wading through the grass

Gayle, Sam and Mick taking a short break by the Trent and Mersey Canal

Parting company...

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Day 37 photos - thanks to Trentham Walker

Kinder Reservoir

Vale of Edale

Paragliders over Mam Tor Ridge

Camp pitch at Edale

Gayle and Mick outside Nags Head PH-Start of Pennine Way

Gayle meets up with Trentham Walker

Day 37 - Edale to Crowden

21 May
Distance: 16.25 miles
Number of cheeky robins encountered: 1
Number of knee-testing descents: 2

Having spent a very pleasant evening in the Nag's Head with Jeff, he didn't baulk when we told him that our morning start time is 7.30am.

It was a few minutes before that time when we all strode out of the campsite this morning for photos in front of the pub (the official start of the Pennine Way) before setting off along the 'new route' which goes along the valley and up Jacob's Ladder.

Before we knew it we were on top of Kinder Plateau and marvelling at its dryness. When we got to Kinder Downfall there was no downfall to be seen. In fact there was barely any dampness on the river bed, never mind a trickle.

Navigationally it was an easy morning for me and Mick. Jeff is familiar with this route so we followed his lead until Mill Hill, where Jeff turned left for Glossop and a train home and we turned right to follow the paved trail to the Snake Road.

It was a nice change indeed to have company for the morning (moreover company familiar with the area, able to point things out to us), so thanks to go Jeff for coming to find us.

Progress had been quite rapid until we reached the stoney stretches up Bleaklow, which slowed us a little. Then for a bit of navigational practice I led us slightly off course off Bleaklow Head, which took a little bit of head-scratching and a bit of yomping to put right.

The descent down Clough Edge was testing firstly for its stoneyness and then for its steepness and by the bottom we were adjudging this to have been a hard day.

However, we also adjudged it to have been a spectacularly good day. With the variety of terrain and surroundings and views there was certainly a lot to recommend it (if bleak open spaces are your thing, that is).

We're now sitting at the campsite at Crowden where once again we find ourselves the only customers. Alas, I don't think that this camping solitude will last for much longer. I spy a Bank Holiday weekend and school holidays rushing towards us...

Day 36 - The Forgotten Details

Last night's posting was typed quickly and whilst holding a conversation, which explains its brevity and disjointedness. It was only after I'd sent it that I remembered a detail that was definitely worthy of mention - another excellent B&B.

It was Monday afternoon when we arrived at Kinrara in Horwich End, were greeted by our host Jean and shown to our room. It was a room that caused an ooh - not for the room itself (although that was lovely) but because of the stunning views over Todbrook Reservoir and beyond.

It was a view that we could enjoy equally from the bed or from our balcony.

Things got even better when we found that the room was not en-suite. I view not en-suite as a good thing; it tends to mean that there's a bath, and this was no exception.

But before soaking away, tea and cake was on offer (very good cake too) and a comfy chair and Jean showed herself to be a very genial and attentive host.

Considering that all of our B&Bs have been chosen from the internet based purely on their location, I'd say that we've not done too badly so far at finding ourselves in some jolly nice places - and this was definitely one of them.
The other thing that I didn't mention yesterday was that for reasons unknown I ended the day with jolly sore feet. The good news is that they made a miraculous recovery overnight.

Mick's feet also suffered, although in his case the blame is most firmly being placed on his worn out shoes, which are somewhat lacking in midsole padding as well and having more than a few stitches missing.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Day 36 - Whaley Bridge to Edale

20 May
Distance: 9.75 miles
Number of vaguely mean looking animals: 0

One of the many good things about viewing the country at a speed of less than 3mph is that you get to see the details. In particular you get to have a good look at houses and gardens.

With the first half of today being along roads and lanes, with houses dotted around, it was a good day for admiring the architecture.

A very slight detour was taken during the morning to take in the top of Eccles Pike. I'd promised Mick before we set out that it was only a 50 pace detour. It turned out to be a little more than that, but for the views it was well worth while, for although it was a touch chilly today the weather was fine and the views clear.

Chapel-ELF took us a while to pass through. It was the pie shop that first distracted us (best Homity Pie I've ever had) and the supermarket that last distracted us, with various other things in between (including the worst toilet facilities encountered so far).

Beyond Chapel-ELF we got back out into open country, and with it we were rejoined by the twitterings of skylarks, which have been absent for the last week.

Approaching Edale we were tempted to just cut across to Upper Booth, thus cutting some distance off today and even more off tomorrow. Looking at the map for a moment the big zig-zag over to Edale didn't look sensible. Then I recalled that if we didn't come to Edale then we wouldn't walk the whole of the Pennine Way, which would rather make pointless going out of our way to Kirk Yetholm at the end of the Way.

It's a good job that we did come to Edale too, because there we were sitting in the tent when another backpacker appeared.

"You must be Gayle and Mick" he said.

"This is no coincidental meeting" I thought (not a lot gets past me!).

It turned out to be Trentham Walker, also known as Jeff, with whom we have spent our evening and with whom we will hopefully walk at least part of tomorrow.

Jeff is a self-confessed gear head. We are in our element.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Week 5 - Random Thoughts

Miles so far: 501

How have five weeks passed already? Surely I'm stuck in a time warp and we only set off three days ago?

After 500 miles there are pieces of kit which are starting to show distinct signs of wear. Here's this week's thoughts:

Falling apart at the seams: that's Mick's shoes. As you may recall, he switched to his boots down in Chepstow but within half a day decided that they didn't fit his newly expanded feet and so sent them home. George Fisher doesn't do mail order footwear, however on explanation of his predicament they agreed to send out a pair of boots, half a size up from the two pairs he already bought from them. He will get his hands on them on Friday, which means that the Salomon XA Pros need to last another four days. They're completely worn down and are literally falling apart at the seams (not to mention squeaking) so it's touch and go as to whether they'll make it. Still, 550 miles (so far) of hard use out of a shoe like that isn't bad.

Underpants: My £4 Decathlon own brand are doing just fine - as I expected them to as I've been using Decathlon's finest for a few years now. Mick's Decathlon £5 pants are doing fine too. However after just 17 days of use his Berghaus ones are stretched out of recognition and have been pilled badly since about day five. Don't think we'll be buying any more of those!

OMM Villain MSC: you may recall that one of the things that I particularly liked about this backpack was the padding on the shoulders, which meant that for the first time ever I could avoid bruises on my boney collar bones. That's another thing that was good whilst it lasted. Alas, the padding is now compressed.

Montane Featherlite Jacket: it's still in one piece and still working exactly as it should, but it's become surprisingly faded. Given the colour combinations that we often sport in any case, a bit of a patchily faded jackeet isn't really bothering us.

Mick's trousers: performance is just fine, but they have suddenly become a bit baggy on him. I don't think it's a fault with the trousers, just a need for more pies!

Day 35 - North Rode, Congleton to Whaley Bridge

19 May
Distance: 15 miles
No. of mean-looking bulls around which we diverted: 1
Song of the day: Proclaimers, I would walk 500 miles

The day started along the canal and so it continued for some miles, but not all was to go smoothly. We were just approaching Macclesfield when into view came a large barrier across the tow path with 'Path Closed - Entry Prohibited' signs prominently displayed.

Further information told us that the closure was due to the collapse of a wall and that a diversion was necessary. I'm not a big fan of unexpected diversions, particularly on a walk of this nature, so around the barrier I swung myself, perilously overhanging the canal to complete the manoeuvre, and along the closed section I proceeded (trespassed, I supposed).

I had hoped that just around the bend the obstruction would come into view so that I could gauge how passable it was. Mick followed me and ten minutes further on we had still found nothing.

It turned out that the fall was immediately before the end of the closed section, and it was one impressive collapse. The wall in question was about 15 feet high, made of large stone blocks, and it had given way from the bottom, causing an entire section of intact wall to slide out, coming to rest at an angle of about 45 degrees.

We assessed it for safety, decided that it looked completely stable, and climbed around its bottom edge. For once I agree that this was a necessary closure, rather than the usual precautionary overzealous health and safety sort (not that I make a habit of ignoring closure signs and inspecting the problems causing them...).

An intentional detour was then made from our route around Bollington to ensure that we passed a shop, and as it turned out our progress through the village was slow. First there was the stop at the shop, then a lengthy pause at the Post Office (outside of which a woman pressed a pound into Mick's hand for Macmillan, which added itslf to the £5 donated by last night's B&B), then, just as we were fancying a cup of tea, we came across the Bridgend Centre (

What a fantastic community facility it turned out to be. The offer of tea/coffee and a biscuit for 50p was enough to draw us through the door and once there one of the ladies manning the centre gave us the full tour of its facilities.

As well as the usual village hall sort of facilities it has a library, a wood workshop, a well equipped computer centre, a large second hand shop, a library area and a studio area set up for transmitting a local radio station, which is used for teaching media to youngsters.

On top of all of that, they have a magnificent sampler on the wall, measuring 5 feet by 10, which took 35 local people 7 years to sew (photo to follow).

And, on top of all that they organise lots of community activities, including walks around the local area, with a particular emphasis on getting children into walking on the basis that if you start them young they'll continue to be walkers for life.

It struck me as the sort of facility that every large village should have, and we stayed quite a while chatting to the ladies there (during which time lots of people dropped by, proving how well used it is), before eventually the hills started calling us.

This morning there had been lumps on the horizon and this afternoon we reached them. It was quite a shock to the legs and lungs after a few days of flatness.

As we walked up the lumps I noted that, ignoring the 200 yards of Welshpool's high street, today was the first day on the entire route so far of which I have walked part before. It was on Good Friday 2007 that I arrived in Bollington to meet a (then) complete stranger by the name of Alan Sloman ( who was at the time in the process of walking LEJOG. That prior knowledge helped somewhat with route finding.

We also noted that today saw us complete our 500th mile since Land's End. That feels like a milestone worthy of a minor celebration.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Day 34 - Weston to North Rode, Congleton

18 May
Distance: 20 miles
No. of overly inquisitive calves: 9
No. of disinterested bulls: 2 (disinterested in us, that is; quite interested in the cows around them)

We were two hours into this morning's walk, having already waded through lots of grass and been forced to take a detour where a path had been diverted, when we saw Sam and Steve coming towards us.

Sam and Steve worked with Mick, back when Mick was gainfully employed, and unsurprisingly it was no coincidental meeting. They had come to verify on behalf of the Ultra PMES chaps that we really are walking this walk - and to walk a way with us.

Their timing in meeting us was good: we came into their view just as we were being followed closely across a field by some overly inquisitve calves.

Together we all walked to the Trent & Mersey canal, along it for a while then back across farmland following still the South Cheshire Way, until time demanded that they retrace their steps back to their car. It was very nice to have company walking (and we were most grateful that they fulfilled our request of bringing flapjacks to solve a local availability problem!).

Soon after lunch on the front lawn of Little Moreton Hall, we left the South Cheshie Way, just shy of its end point of Mow Cop (which in my head is called Cow Mop), and took to the Macclesfield Canal.

After the best part of two days on the South Cheshire Way, I've been pleasantly surprised with it. I had it in my mind that, skirting and passing between industrial areas as we are, it would be one of the least inspiring parts of the entire walk (indeed, having shared that information with Vic she changed her mind about walking with us yesterday and thus missed the treat of rain and long wet grass!). Whilst the Way didn't offer much in terms of views, interesting buildings or historical features, it was entirely inoffensive farmland which kept us off roads whilst speeding us towards the Peak District.

Once on the canal, the map indicated that after about six miles along its towpath we would reach our B&B for the night.

We duly left the canal at the appropriate bridge and followed a couple of roads to where I had marked the location of the B&B.

When we couldn't find it we did the sensible thing and called to ask for directions.

Then it transpired that I had completely erroneously marked the location as being a different Yew Tree Farm some 2.5 miles away from the correct one.

It was news that, back in Cornwall, when my body protested at the end of a long day, would have caused me a certain loss of morale and maybe a touch of whining. Today neither mind nor body made a protest at the unexpected extension.

Indeed, on the bright side I noted that at least the accommodation was in the right direction, added no greater distance to our overall mileage and meant that we have a shorter day tomorrow.

The fact that it has no pub nearby is a small disappointment, but we have dehydrated meals aplenty, so we'll be getting the stove out in the garden later.

So, another good day with a bit of sunshine, much drier long grass and, most importantly, with some good company.

Day 34 - Lunchtime

Most days lunch involves us plonking ourselves down in a field somewhere. We often try for a nice view; often we fail.

Yesterday we found shelter from the rain under a large tree. That the tree was on the front drive of a rather nice house was a little of a concern, but we were out of sight of the house and what was the chance of the owner driving along their drive in the fifteen minutes we were there?

As Terry Pratchett said, million to one chances occur nine times out of ten. There were a few nervous moments when the owners' car pulled up alongside, but they obviously thought better of telling us to move (or took pity on us) and let us continue lunching.

But I digress.

Today we're sitting on the front lawn of Little Moreton Hall for our lunch. If you're not familiar with this place then google it and see if you can come up with a photo.

It's like a Disney reconstruction of an Elizabethan house. It's fantastic.

Alas, time won't be spent taking a tour. One of us <coughMickcough> didn't bring his National Trust Membership card. But, it's definitely on the list of places to which we must return.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Day 33 - Whitchurch to Weston

17 May
Distance: 19 miles (19.5 if you include the heads-up-bottoms incident that saw us walking down a lane in the wrong direction)
Number of overly inquisitive calves: 5
Number of overly interested bulls: 1

My sister deserves a double thank you today. Not only did she give up her bed for us last night, but she also got up quite some hours before her usual rising time this morning to drive us to the station for our early train back to Whitchuch.

It was just gone 8am as we donned our packs and set out from Whitchurch, soon after finding ourselves navigating the entire length of a golf course.

Fields then became the theme for the day as we took to the South Cheshire Way. As with the Maelor Way, an awful lot of those fields contained very long grass - at times up to our hips.

Unlike our wadings on the Maelor Way, this grass was wet: very wet indeed. Within a short distance our trousers were drenched and water had seeped into our shoes. Much squelching and sloshing occurred.

Still, at least it wasn't raining.

Then it started to rain...

Rather belatedly (probably three hours after it would have been sensible to don them) we decided that the best way to tackle the long grass and crop fields was in our waterproof trousers. As an added bonus to keeping the legs more comfortable, they also gave the nettle-proof qualities that proved to be, at times, necessary.

There were definite similarities today with the Maelor Way experience. As well as the long grass we had to contend with nettle beds, ploughed fields and wading through crops. However, two things made this a much happier experience (even with the wetness from all directions): for one thing we had a proper 1:25k map and thus could easily navigate across the fields; secondly the vast majority of stiles were in good repair and all save one was passable (the exception was one so overgrown with hawthorn as to make a diversion worthwhile).

It didn't take us long to realise that this is dairy farm country. Fortunately the biggest stampede in our direction was curtailed by an electric fence, but we did get marginally delayed by a milking-time procession. It was during that procession that the odd-one-out-brown-beast amongst the friesians took a bit too much interest in us. Noticing its large stature and lack of udders I made a girly retreat until one of his lady friends caught his attention.

That 3km from our destination we found ourselves walking in a westerly direction down a lane was inexcuable. Fortunately for me it was one of the occasions when Mick had also looked at the map so I didn't have to take all of the blame...

In Weston we're staying at the hotel. That's our second hotel in a week, once again caused by a lack of obvious B&Bs. For the second time we've managed to find a hotel room that doesn't have a bath. That must be quite a feat.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Killer dogs - A Different Perspective

Hi all, this is Husband calling. I've been given permission by SWMBO to post my own entry onto the blog, so I think that it is only fair that I tell the truth about these 'killer dogs'.

Gayle's definition of killer dog and mine differ somewhat. I believe that if I have to fend off one or more snarling, snapping canines with the pointy ends of my Pacer poles whilst carrying out wife-protection duties and looking around desperately for a suitable escape route at the same time then it is appropriate to classify the offending beasts as 'killer dogs'. However, Gayle's perception is somewhat different to mine: they only have to be from the canine family. I offer the following as an example:

As we were strolling along a country lane during the mid-morning only last week, Gayle suddenly starts to squeal something about a killer dog bearing down upon us and immediately adopts the 'let's use Mick as a shield' position. I spot the Baskervillian creature as it came tearing round the corner of a nearby drive, making a bee-line straight for us; its teeth bared; its floppy ears bouncing; its tail wagging furously; I hear its quiet barking (mewing really) and its [literally] puppy dog eyes sparkling. The Springer puppy could hardly get any closer to the ground as it timidly slunk towards us and rolled over for me to rub its tummy. The frantic tail-wagging made it difficult for it to stand up. I get a severe licking of the hand and have made a friend for life. It jumped up and bounced along the road with us like Tigger. I now understand why they are called Springer spaniels.

This lovely little chap was classified as a 'potential' killer dog by Gayle. Really, I ask you!

Now Friesian cows , they really are sneaky.....

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Day 31 - Hanmer to Whitchurch

15 May
Distance: around 8 miles
Number of very ignorant canal boat people encountered: 4

I am sitting on my sofa in my own house. Tonight I will sleep in my own bed. Nothing has gone awry. It was always the plan that when we reached Whitchurch we would pop home for a day.

Tomorrow will be busy doing repairs and making arrangements going forward before returning to Whitchurch early on Saturday morning.

But what of today. Did the farce on the Maelor Way continue?

No, it didn't. Not because the Maelor Way suddenly became a passable route (from the evidence we saw, today would have been worse than yesterday; at one point had we battled over an overgrown stile we would have found ourselves in a dense field of rape with no gap for a footpath). Instead we resigned ourselves to a bit of road walking.

No matter how much I looked at the map, I couldn't find a reasonably direct way to get into Whitchurch that didn't involve a bit of A road, and that was the most awful part of today's walk; that was one busy road.

However, I shunned the most direct routes so as to achieve a bit of pleasant walking and by going a kilometre or so out of our way we found ourselves on the Llangollen Canal.

Unlike our canal walks thus far, this is a canal with life on it. Right from joining it there were narrow boats moored and before long we were overtaking moving craft as they paused to operate the lift bridges. It really did amaze us though how many of the people on those boats went out of their way to studiously ignore us and our cheery hellos.

Our first port of call in Whitchurch was a map vendor, as I have become increasingly convinced over the last couple of days that I don't have detailed maps for the South Cheshire Way, which we'll be following for the next couple of days (I've also become increasingly concerned that it will turn out to be a repeat of the Maelor Way nightmare, but surely people use their footpaths more around here?). The second port of call was an outdoor shop for the purchase of a compass.
Having bought a decent Silva one I'll be making a special effort not to lose this one!

So, it's another rest day tomorrow, with a thousand chores to fill the day. We'll probably be hankering after the peace of the trail by the end of a morning of phone calls and sewing!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Day 30 - Bronygarth to Hanmer

14 May
Distance: 17 miles
Number of wannabe killer dogs: 3
Number of killer cows: 1 entire herd

It was a hideous farce from beginning to end.

We should have known that it wasn't going to go well when we left the Old School in Bronygarth and struggled to follow the sketch map from the Maelor Way guidebook (a sketch map that is not to scale nor is it directionally orientated).

Twenty minutes later the broken stile that was completely hidden by stinging nettles (and my trousers boast no nettle-proof qualities) should have been the next clue that this is a Way that is walked by about 2 people per year. We are this year's mugs.

Never have I come across the combination of footpaths so ill-signed, ill-used, wildly overgrown and with stiles in such a bad state of repair (in one place completely collapsed and handily replaced by the farmer with barbed wire).

1:25k maps hadn't been procured for this section on the basis of having the sketch maps in the guidebook (the guidebook that seemed so detailed and useful on initial reading; I now take back every good word I ever said about it). With those maps supplemented by the narrative, how difficult could it be to follow?

I gave up on the book and resorted to 1:50k map and compass (with the necessary guessing as to which side of fences we should be on) when we got to the bit where the sketch map was entirely unclear and the narrative helpully told us to 'go the other side of the barn to a stile 20 yards from the junction'.

1) which side is the 'other side' when you're approaching something corner on?
2) 20 yards east or west of the road junction?
3) How far to the stile?

All of those pieces of information would have been helpful.

After the mud baths that were pure comedy, followed by a bridge so rotten that the Local Authority is just waiting for a law suit, we came to a sign telling us that the next two bridges were out of service and a diverion was necessary - 4.5km along roads, mainly along a B road and an A road.

For reasons perhaps only explained by a stubborn nature and an intense dislike of busy roads, we still persisted with our intended route beyond Overton. That persistence saw us wading for a couple of miles through knee high grass - always an energy sapping experience - whilst playing spot the bridge.

Surely things couldn't get worse?

It was about ten minutes after lunch that we came out of some woodland and a bearing was required. Then I realised that I'd lost my compass.

I wasn't moved to retrace my steps through the long grass to hunt for the needle in a haystack (it wasn't a good quality compass and I wasn't attached to it). We still have Mick's compass so I'll just have to buy myself a new one next time the opportunity presents, and in the meantime try to lose Mick's...

Finally patience was lost with the Maelor Way. We took to lanes and finally made some rapid progress.

Then just a mile or so before our destination we were presented with the options of taking lanes that formed two sides of a triangle or a footpath that formed the third.

I won't got into the detail but it took us the best part of an hour to cover the half a kilometre 'short cut'. The incident with the cows firstly encircling us and then following us turned out to be the least of our worries (although they do possibly explain why we didn't turn back when we got to the most difficult obstacle of the day (a nettle, broken stile, drop, deep stream, nettle, barbed wire combo; thank goodness for the fallen tree, even though it was followed by a nettle bed and a significant wetland)).

Incredibly, despite feeling like we were achieving less than 1mph for much of the day we still arrived at our destination earlier than anticipated, and feeling reasonably fresh.

Perversely, we even looked back on the day and saw some enjoyment in the challenge (and despite the obstacles the sun was shining and the surroundings green and magnificent).

Tonight we are not camping, nor are we staying in a B&B. No, tonight we are living it up in the Hanmer Arms Hotel. It feels like we deserve it too.

Day 29 - Nantmawr to Bronygarth

13 May
Distance: 12 miles

It was another of those short days today.

Having breakfasted well on Jo & Mark's home laid eggs, Jo dropped us back off at Nantmawr at 9am.

With our first task of the day being the pull up Moelydd, we were thankful that it was a tad cooler than the last few days. It certainly made the climb more comfotable. It was also a bit clearer than we've had on the ODP so far, but still not so clear as to allow us to see all of the hills named on the topograph on the top.

Field paths (and plenty of stiles again - I'm even getting to grips with not swinging my pacerpoles wildly in Mick's direction at each stile now) led us to our next climb, which in turn saw us arrive at Oswestry's Old Racecourse.

The remains of the old Grandstand (last used in 1848) are still to be seen on the site and, being a popular area, it's also festooned with benches - very convenient for our elevenses of Welshcakes (we're working our way through various makes, and today's were not great in comparison with the others we've tried). Another topograph was to be found up here too, but it proved a little pointless in that all views were obscured by trees.

After crossing a deep ravine that has been improved by the provision of steps that are just a touch too steep for comfort, it was almost before we knew it that we were leaving Offa's Dyke and the ODP for the last time, to make our way to Bronygarth. Conveniently the path we opted to take to get there came out right next to the campsite (using the term loosely, we're actually in a garden, but a very lovely garden indeed).

Arriving at just gone 1pm (even having stopped to lunch a km before our destination), it was far from a testing day. We get back to sensible mileages tomorrow.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Day 29 - Holding post

Just to confirm that the walkers are faring well, but there's a bit of a problem with the mobile blogging device.
Gayle's post for today will hopefully appear shortly.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Skinniness - or not?

Today marks the end of our fourth week of walking.

As I've mentioned before, being ever conscious of my ability to lose weight at the drop of a hat, I've been eating for Britain during those four weeks. Mick's been doing a pretty good job on the food front too.

Today was also the first time that I've had the opportunity to weigh myself since we started. I have lost no weight - a fact about which I'm very pleased indeed.

Husband's not been doing quite so well. Despite the dedication to cakes and lard, he's managed to lose 6lbs. The man-breasts (which were only ever in evidence when he donned a pack) have gone.

Day 28 - Welshpool to Nantmawr

To start today's post, a few words must be said about Hafren House B&B in Welshpool. It is owned by Alan and Mary, who took possession of it at the end of last September. In the space of six months they not only worked wonders on the run-down property, so that they could open it as a B&B, but they did that work remarkably sympathetically for the style and age of the property.

Our room was pleasing indeed, but to top that this is an establishment that caters well for walkers. They have a drying room in the cellar, they have trays in the rooms for muddy boots to sit upon, they serve a very fine breakfast indeed, but perhaps best of all for a walker, they serve that breakfast from 7am. If you find yourself in Welshpool in need of a bed for the night, this is a place that I would recommend.

We'd breakfasted well, to set us up for the day, had settled up our bill and were just heading for the door when Mary saw the promotional panel on the back of my backpack. Seeing that we are walking to raise money for Macmillan, she promptly returned to me £20 of the money I'd just given her, to be added to our fundraising total.

Within three minutes of leaving the B&B, under clear blue skies, with far less of a haze than previous days (purely to spite us as this was to be a lower level day), we were on the Montgomery Canal, which in due course also becomes the route of the ODP.

The ODP, a while later, leaves the canal instead to follow the river. However, we opted instead to stay on the canal. It's not that I can do a comparison, but I felt that it was a good choice.

This is not a canal that is in use. A particular issue for boats bigger than a canoe is that at many of the road crossing points the canal ends and then recommences the other side. That lack of use seemed to have a positive effect on the wild-life as there were swans (with cygnets), moorhens (or are they coots? again with young), ducks and herons a-plenty.

Despite being the route of the Severn Way, the tow path is also apparently not in regular use. Once away from the edge of Welshpool there was no longer a dirt path. It was uneven grass, which made the walking all the more interesting. Even better, the tow path was meddow-esque in its variety of wild flowers. Once again I kicked myself for not being more familiar with our flaura and fauna.

Llanymynech was to be our end point for today. The problem was that it doesn't have a pub that opens at lunchtime (or at least not as far as we could see and not as far as the person in the Post Office could tell us), and my friend, who was picking us up to give us a bed for the night, wasn't able to get to us for another hour and a half.

The happy option for us was to make tomorrow shorter by continuing to walk north.

We made it as far as Nantmawr, which gave us the benefit of popping up and around Llanymynech Hill*. It had the double bonus of giving us the views that we thought we would miss on our low-level day as well as meaning that we didn't have to start tomorrow with its killer ascent (hmmm, thinking about it, we have a different hill to start tomorrow).

I'm now sitting at the house of Jo and Mark who have very kindly fed and watered us, given us use of their washing machine and who are giving us a bed for the night, before returning us to Nantmawr in the morning. A big thank you goes out to them. We're feeling quite spoiled of late with all of these beds and hospitality.

We've decided that we're not going to compress the next few days into fewer days. We're just not in a rush (even though I don't know what I was thinking when I put such a succession of short days in; perhaps I just wasn't thinking?), so tomorrow is going to be another short day as we amble up to Bronygarth.

(*Another note for The Bandits: Llanymynech Golf Course. It's another one that's on top of a hill and it looked in good condition, particularly the greens. We came upon it at the fourteenth tee, where Mick tried to put his Pacerpole to dual use by using it as a golf club; alas, he soon realised that he had no balls :-). Photo will follow.)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The Sneakiness of the Cows

Mick thinks that cows are sneaky. They'll all be grazing merrily, often exactly in the line of your path. All seems fine when they run away at your approach.

However, as soon as you get past them, they start to follow you - but (and this is the sneaky bit) if you should turn back to look at them, they all stop and look nonchalant. You can almost hear them whistling as they gaze around in that 'noooo, I wasn't following' sort of way.

Carry on walking and they gain on you again. Look back and they stop. And so on, until eventually they entire herd is right on your heels.

Personally, I think that they're sneaky in more ways though. I reckon that they all get together each morning and decide what tactics they're going to use against walkers that day.

The other options are that:
- they all stand in front of your exit gate, staring you down, as you approach and refuse to move without great persuasion;

- they all calmly carry on grazing, seemingly ignoring you until one of them gives the sign to stampede at you, without warning, approximately half way across their field (i.e. the biggest distance from an exit point);

- as soon as they see you coming three quarters of the herd runs directly towards your exit point, whilst the other quarter run directly at you.

It was the latter scenario that occurred today, so not only did we have the predicament of needing to move 18 cows from in front of a gate, but we also had to evade the six running straight at us.

And that doesn't even touch on their strategies of creating the muddiest, most rutted obstacles at the most inconvenient points on a ROW...

Day 27 - Mellington Hall to Welshpool

11 May
Distance: 13 Miles
Number of Overly Inquisitive Cows: 24
Number of Llama (non-killer): 5

Two principal factors led to today's change of plan. For one thing, I really didn't fancy camping at the Green Dragon at Buttington tonight. I've driven along the A458 hundreds upon hundreds of times, which is probably what was putting me off from camping adjacent to it.

The real deciding factors, however, were our lack of food, combined with the fact that we wouldn't pass any shops if we continued on the planned route. That we were both hankering after chip-shop chips for tea also helped sway things.

So instead of following the ODP for the duration, we headed off it in some forestry, trespassed a little and passed some lovely and very interesting houses to go via Leighton into Welshpool.

Arriving just after noon we made a bee-line for an eatery (hills yesterday = very hungry day today) then set about finding some accommodation (not a difficult task - I know Welshpool quite well and the TIC seemed to be the obvious starting point; within two minutes of entering we had ourselves a room booked just a three minute walk up the road).

As for today's walking, it was in the main across farmland. Whereas hills were yesterday's theme of the day, today it was stiles. Whereas yesterday was all hills with a couple of small sections of flat, toay was all flat with a couple of short steep bits. Continuing our ODP theme, the views would have been magnificent if we could have seen them through the haze.

With more short and flat days coming up, we've been looking at the maps trying to decide whether to rearrange the next four days (50 miles) into three days. No decision has been reached. It's not like we're in a rush and at least the short days will give Mick's tendon the chance to recover.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Day 26 - Knighton to Mellington Hall

10 May
Distance: 13.5 miles
Number of Killer Hills: About 10

There was a light show in the night. About midnight there were bright flashes coming from all around us. It had us completely baffled for a while as to what it could be. We even went outside to look.

Eventually we decided that it was lightning even though there was no thunder to be heard. The storm must have been some way away.

A short while later faint rumblings were heard and it even thought about raining on us. Next thing I knew the alarm was going off, so I guess that it didn't disturb me too much.

Cheerily, the ODP guidebook starts the description of this part of the path by saying that it is the toughest part of the whole route. It goes on to say that if you are fit and have good weather then you will have a good day.

I would like to think, after 25 days walking, that I am approaching reasonably fit. We also had reasonable weather today despite a few raindrops falling on us first thing this morning. But it was certainly a mental challenge to go up a steep hill, only then immediately to go back down the other side, to then immediately be faced with the very next hill.

This bit of the country is not just rolling; it's violently rolling!

Despite the steepest climbs being saved until the end of the day, we made it through. Upon analysis, we also realised that neither of us had aching feet or legs and neither of us was overly tired, putting the 'oh no, not another hill' feelings of the day firmly into the 'psychological issues' category.

My goodness the day was warm for those climbs, though. Wearing my Smelly-Helly for the third consecutive day, and with me glowing in rivulets by half way up the first hill, the stench that I was emitting was making even me feel a little nauseated. I made sure to keep my distance from anyone else!

And there were other people today. In fact, we met more people than we have on any previous day on the ODP, including four other backpackers coming the other way.

I now sit in the sunshine (that at least had the decency to wait until the penultimate climb before breaking through), all clean after a shower and with my Smelly-Helly washed and drying in the heat of the late afternoon. In a while we're going to test the 'Walkers Welcome' claim of Mellington Hall as we turn up in our muddy walking gear for dinner.

Being a weekend, and being in a slightly more popular location, we have neighbours tonight (once again last night we were the only people on the campsite). They're Alan and Irene, who come from my home town and they've been so generous as to put £5 into our fundraising pot. That adds itself to the £5 donated by the Spar shop in Knighton yesterday afternoon, by the very nice and chatty man who served us.

For those who've been waiting for photos... some from Day 22

Mick, with beard

Gayle on the Offa's Dyke ridge

Mick, Gayle and Juan at the first trig point of the day

Juan, embracing the true spirit of ultralight backpacking (less kit, more wine)

The cottage, adjoining the white-washed Maesyronen Chapel

Friday, 9 May 2008

Day 25 - Kington to Knighton

(Or according to my 1:800k map of the UK: Knighton to Knighton)

9 May
Distance: 14.5 miles
Number of encounters with (non-killer) bulls: 1
Number of cows we accidentally upset: 1

Hills, sheep and flies were the notable points of today.

After rain in the night (which wasn't mentioned on any of the seven copies of the weather forecast received by text from my sister last night) we set off this morning under grey skies and a low cloud base.

We'd soon ascended into that cloud, just beyond Kington Golf Course*, as we walked through fields upon fields of sheep. This is obviously a sheep farming area - we must have passed hundreds upon hundreds today, most of which paused in their grazing to stare at us as we passed.

It was warm, mind, in spite of the greyness. Very warm indeed. It was a warmth made worse by the steep climbs of the day.

I wouldn't say that we're strangers to walking uphill. Even on this trip Cornwall and Devon were hardly flat and Offa's Dyke so far has had its share of ups and downs. Today, however, those ups were sharp. Some of them so much so that they had been furnished with wooden staircases (and I don't mean wooden steps built into the ground, I mean actual wooden staircases). The less steep hills were just long.

Still, I attacked them with my new found fitness - and found the upper reaches of every single one swarming with flies - a large number of them copulating. It must be the warm, still, heavy weather that they like for such activity because great stretches of the walk resembled a fly convention.

It was near the top of one of the longer inclines that the bull was encountered. I was just about to whip out the camera to capture five very cute calves standing in a line looking straight at us, when Mick moved and frightened them away. Putting the camera back, I turned around, saw the beast behind me and said "Bull".

"Where?" asked Mick

"Just there" I said, pointing "That huge one with the big testicles".

We hastened up the rest of the hill, narrowly avoiding a stampeding cow when we accidentally herded its calf into a corner.

Views were even more curtailed today than the last few days, although I'm sure theyKd be stunning on a clear day, but the sun did start to make a hint of breaking through, just as we reached Knighton.

Having both run out of water shortly before the town, we now sit here outside the Horse and Jockey supping pints of pop before we make our way through town to find ourselves a pitch for the night.

(* For Simon R, Ginger Tart and any other Bandits reading: Kington Golf Course - the highest in England. The first tee is at 1284 feet and it goes uphill from there. Looks worth playing, but not on a windy day)

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Day 24 - Hay-on-Wye to Kington

8 May
Distance: 15.5 miles
Number of killer dogs: a blissful 0

With bus times not being overly convenient and with the bus stop being a mile and a half out of our way, a taxi seemed like a good method of getting back to our departure point on the ODP this morning after our rest day yesterday.

It arrived at 7am, as requested, and ten minutes later we were back at Hay TIC, ready to go - and with the added bonus of the taxi driver having donated £5 of our fare to Macmillan.

We were soon walking alongside the Wye, albeit trees obscured it from our view.

Reaching an A road would not usually count as one of the high points of a day, but today it was from such a vantage point that we got to enjoy fine views of the Wye with mists hanging above.

Haze was a theme of the morning. From the river we started our first climb of the day and the map promised fine views from the top.
Whilst I can't complain about this excellent weather we're having, the haze was such that the views were severely curtailed.

Having made it as far as Gladestry, by just after elevenses (Welsh cakes proving to be an excellent elevenses snack), a quick stop at the pub for some pop seemed to be in order. In fact it was only because of the pub that we went to Gladestry at all; it had been our intention to take a more direct route from one side of the valley to the other.

Not only did we take the detour via Gladestry, but having clambered up the next valley side we decided that rather than following the official ODP route which skirts around one side of the hill we would go straight up to the top and walk along the broad ridge.

It was a good choice and once again the surroundings were superb, set off nicely by the sunshine. Even the views were starting to clear a little.

A chap was met as we passed over the area that the ODP guidebook told us used to be Kington racecourse and after a chat he rummaged in his pocket and gave us £5 for Macmillan. Another good day for our fundraising.

Even having stopped for second breakfast, elevenses, a pint of pop and lunch, we still made it to Kington by 2.30 (whereupon some of the local primary school children mistook Mick for a cowboy; easy mistake to make with that Tilley hat).

Wendy is now pitched on the campsite and our campervan dwelling neighbours have given us a cup of coffee, which is always a nice thing to have happen.

Our only slight concern is that the fair is in town and is in very close proximity. Will we have the sound of fairground rides throughout the evening and into the night?


(written Wednesday)

A few public thank yous are due.

Firstly to Adrian and Deborah, who we had never met before but who offered us a bed for the night last Friday.

A bed is far from the only thing we got. Having been picked up from Easton in Gourdano, they took us the scenic, sight-seeing route back to their house, where they gave us not only a bed for the night but also a meal, as much hot water as we could use and the use of their washing machine (bliss - clean trousers for the first time in weeks!).

Having probably bored them silly with our walking talk all evening, we had a very comfortable night.

The following morning they starred again. Up before 5am, they had breakfast cooked and laid out for us at 6am. At 6.30 we left their house supplied with fruit and cake for elevenses and by 7am they had us back at the point where they had picked us up the night before.

To have such incredible generosity from two strangers was a fantastic treat and we thank them both wholeheartedly. Their generosity really did set us up splendidly for the day ahead.

The next thank you goes to Nic and Luke who drove an hour each way from their home down to Monmouth to deliver our change of shoes and tent and a resupply parcel to us. Not only did they go out of their way just to make the delivery, but they also gave us someone to bore with our walking tour for the second night in a row! Thank you Nic & Luke

The third thank you goes to Vic & Juan. Not only has Vic been acting as remote back up but, as I've already mentioned, they booked a cottage in Hay-on-Wye to coincide with our arrival here.

And what a spectacular place it was that they booked. It's a Landmark Trust property, Maesyronen Chapel, which is the oldest non-conformist church in Wales. We're staying in the cottage adjoining it and it is incredbly characterful with amazing views. As I sit typing this I am looking out from our elevated position over to Lord Hereford's Knob and its ridge.

I don't think they could have picked nicer place for our day off.

Last but not least, a big thank you to my sister, Kay. She's getting to grips with the internet and is texting us every night with a detailed weather forecast for the next day. She's also being a very attentive resupply manager, without whom this trip so far would have been far more tricky (it was also Kay who went on a successful emergency ferrule replacement errand for us).

A big thank you one and each.

Good Luck!

I don't know the exact dates, but I do know that there are two events that take place around this time in May, so:

To Alan and Phil and Darren and Dawn and Martin (and Sue?) and the chap from the campsite by Mullion and anyone else taking part, we wish you the best of health, weather, underfoot conditions and gear performance on the TGO Challenge.

To Mike and Stephen and the others on the Ultra team, we wish you a pleasant, dry-but-overcast, blister-free day on the Keswick to Barrow Walk.

Looking forward to catching up with how you all got on, once we get back to the world of reality and the internet.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Week 3 - Random Thoughts

Cumulative distance to Pandy: 322 miles

Another fine week that has seen us sample some lovely green spaces in places that appeared dominated by motorways. We've crossed into Wales (and back to England and back to Wales and repeat), have met another 2 solo end-to-enders and have started along the Offa's Dyke Path.

Not all has been entirely rosy. After a few days with a pain in my left foot, I spent last Friday being crippled by it. I was determined not to fret unduly until such time as it was apparent that my foot was going to become detached from the rest of me, but I was a touch concerned about how painful Saturday's 19 mile day was going to be.

I called for my boots a day early in the hope that a change of footwear would solve the problem. Then the pain completely disappeared over night. My last day in my Roclites was perfectly comfortable, and (touching wood) there has been no hint of a recurrence since.

Mick on the other hand has been suffering a little - and having a bit of a footwear disaster.

His first problem was tendonitis developing in his one lower leg. From my point of view it's an annoyance because when on tarmac it's making his left foot slap down very noisily! From Mick's point of view it's a pain in the leg, but he's applying the ibuprofen gel regularly.

Mick's other problem is his boots, which he switched to on Sunday morning and on Sunday afternoon found had become too small. That's a bit of an issue as having finally found a pair of boots that suit his strange feet, he bought and wore in a spare pair in case of mishap with the first pair on this trip. So, now he has two identical pairs of boots that no longer fit him (although hopefully after this trip his feet will shrink again and they'll get used to their full potential).

Fortunately he suspected the foot-growth issue and had taken the weight penalty of keeping his Salomon XA Pros for a couple of days. Having now carried his boots for 2.5 days, whilst continuing to wear his runners, the boots have been sent home. The XA Pros will be fine for now, but he is now left with a bit of a boot issue for when they wear out (which won't be too far hence).

As for other kit, I think that the Pacerpoles deserve a mention. We have become four footed beings, with our poles in almost constant use. On the couple of days that I was without out them (the ferrules wore out, I had to wait a few days to get replacements and the clicking on roads without ferrules is just too annoying) I felt like something was missing.

They're great for extra power uphill; they're great for helping the knees downhill; and on the flat you can just set up a nice rhythm that keeps you ticking along. Okay, I do trip over one every now and then and I do occasionally hit Mick a glancing blow with a wayward stick, but I also manage to trip over my own feet and flail my arms even without out them.

Ordinary poles I did not get on with, but I wouldn't be without my Pacerpoles.

As an added bonus, if you wave them around your legs when there's a killer dog about it tends to keep the fiend at bay until you've managed to clear its territory. With the killer dogs we've encountered so far there would have been much more squealing-like-a-girl going on in the absence of defensive poles.

Day 23 - Rest Day Hay-on-Wye

I wasn't going to post anything today, with it being a rest day. However, I find that I can't let the day go by without giving a mention to the River Cafe in Glasbury Bridge - and not in a good way.

This being the nearest eating place to where we're staying we ambled the mile and a half down there this morning for a late breakfast.

The service was absolutely appalling. We waited so long after asking for a menu that I gave up waiting and walked down the road, bought a flapjack from the post office, ate it and walked back before the news came back that there wasn't a menu but we could have whatever breakfast we wanted (really, thirty minutes to decide that there is no menu? and I really was hungry enough to eat a scabby dog, and according to Mick a little bit crabby with it).

The shocking service was not what warranted the mention though.

When we finally established that there was no breakfast menu, we asked for three Full English and one Veggie Full English - with the clarification what I was quite happy with the usual Full but with an extra egg substituted for the meat items.

Finally (after much audible and quite profane swearing from the kitchen) four breakfasts appeared.

'The Vegetarian one' they said first. I indicated that it was mine and down it was placed. The other three breakfasts appeared. Then, having checked that I didn't have the wrong one, the waitress was called back to clarify an issue.
Apparently, in the world of the Glasbury River Cafe, bacon is a substance suitable for vegetarians whereas sausages are meat and get substituted by an egg...

..Oh dear.

If I was actually a vegetarian I could have been quite upset by the issue.

(by the way, reports from the others was that the bacon was very nice indeed - particular the extra rashers they got off my plate).

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Day 22 - Pandy to Hay-on-Wye

6 May
Distance: 17 miles
Number of killer dogs: 0

Wow! What a fantastic day.

Yesterday afternoon as we were walking into Pandy on the ODP, our friends Vic and Juan were walking in from Abergavenny (which explains why the green line on the map hasn't been updated for a few days - we are making progress and it will make a huge leap forward when Vic returns home at the end of the week).

So not only did we have company for tea last night but we also had company on our walk today. Even better, way back when we set the date for this walk and came up with the first few weeks of the schedule, Vic booked a cottage in Hay on Wye. So for the next two nights and for our day off we have a cottage in which to relax. Bliss.

It was 9am this morning by the time we met up with Vic & Juan and started the stiff pull up to the ridge that we were to follow for the rest of the day (none of the undulations of the last few days :-)).

The sky was clear and although the day was too hazy to make for good photos, the views were absolutely superb. Better than superb, in fact.

The path was also unlosable (I can say that with hindsight!) which meant that this was the least-navigation day so far; all the more time to look around uttering 'oooohs' and 'wows' (of which there were many).

As we were following the border between England and Wales most of the day, the decision came as to in which country to have lunch. Vic, Juan and I chose Wales. Mick, alongside us, we reckoned was in England.

We were actually lucky that lunch happened for us at all. Once again we failed to buy food in advance and learned upon arrival at our campsite that there is no shop in Pandy. Fortunately for us, Vic came up trumps and managed to procure 4 packed lunches from her B&B.

Contrary to the last couple of days of tiredness by half way through the day, today I felt fresh as a spring chicken. That freshness lasted well - until we started the descent from the ridge towards Hay, at which point the feet started to complain again. Then they started to complain with gusto. It was last-half-mile-syndrome a-go-go. But even aching feet couldn't detract from the absolute splendor of the day. It was up there as one of, if not the, best day so far.

A bit of a boost was given by the Jelly Baby break on the descent (thanks to Backpackinglight for sending two packs with the order we placed last week; the resupply of Gehwol foot cream will also be appreciated).

Having made Hay-on-Wye it was good to find the bus stop we needed to be just five paces from the ODP and also that the bus stop was plentifully supplied with benches.

I'll gloss over the fact that it was a mile and a half walk from the bus stop at the destination to the accommodation, because by then a trip to the pub and a huge meal had refreshed us no end.

We're thoroughly looking forward to a day off tomorrow. Bet we wake up at 6am, mind.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Day 21 - Monmouth to Pandy

5 May
Distance: 16 miles
Number of aspiring killer dogs (failing miserably in its quest): 1

I've been a walker my entire life. My parents used to take me walking before I could walk. As you may expect, all of this walking has involved a lot of peeing out of doors. So, you'd have thought that with over 30 years experience in the matter I may have learned to check for stinging nettles first. Alas, as I have now (painfully) learnt, it only takes a small aberration to find yourself with nettle rash in places where nettle rash should not be.

That aside, it was day 2 on the Offa's Dyke Path (ODP) today and although much of it was across farmland it was still jolly nice - and jolly undulating.

The ODP continued to be well waymarked and in most places well trodden. Admittedly, it was a bit tricky to see where the path went through the field of rape that was three feet tall. It was also rather tricky (impossible, I'd wager) to get through that field without getting covered from shoulder to knee with yellow pollen. However, most of that pollen was covered by the mud that I managed liberally to smear over myself later in the day.

Luncheon (hastily bought in the only grocer I could find open in Monmouth at 7am on a Bank Holiday) was eaten just below, and with a good view of, White Castle, before we continued across the fields, suddenly surrounded by families after hours of solitude.

The high cloud of the morning (fortunately) took a long time to burn off. It was warm even without the sun, but a couple of miles from Pandy the sun broke through, and golly, it was hot.

Still it was only a short stroll (with aching feet) down to Pandy and only a few steps or so up the road to our campsite, where the owner kept us entertained for a good while before we pitched the tent. Once again, we were the only tent there (and this is a tent only site), which also of course meant that we didn't need to feel guilty about hogging the shower for an unreasonable length of time.

With 21 days walked, we're now quite focussed on the rest day that we're having on Wednesday, just 17 miles away.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Day 20 - Chepstow to Monmouth

4 May
Distance: 19 miles (going on 84)
Number of mice I stepped on: 1 (by accident)

Today was our first day in our boots and the first day on the Offa's Dyke path (ODP) - and it was hard. As I sit here (next to the still smouldering Bushbuddy) typing this my feet still feel like someone's been punching the soles all day.

But back to this morning. As we left the campsite we agreed that it was the worst value for money yet. For £11 you get a patch of field and a share in a single toilet, shower and hand basin in a 'rustic' outbuilding. We couldn't grumble, mind, as the owner donated £6 of the fee to Macmillan.

As we walked back into Chepstow, at 7am, it was with the belated realisation that with today being Sunday we were very unlikely to find a grocer in the town centre open for business - and we didn't even have any breakfast, never mind lunch. Even worse, we weren't to pass another store until three miles before our destination.

As fortune had it we passed close to a Tesco petrol station in the town. I crossed my fingers that they opened at 7 and so it turned out to be. The food crisis was solved, which was a jolly good thing as I was having a particularly hungry day.

With rain falling on us (but so warm!) we set off along the (mainly) well way marked route.

All went well, despite the occasionally heavy downpours, until this afternoon, when we misplaced the ODP. I'm not sure how it came about but it took us so long to notice the error (and we were heading in the right direction, just on a parallel lower path) that we decided to vary the route slightly. I fear that the result was even more ascent than advertised and no less distance. We weren't the only people to make the same error either; we encountered eight others who had done likewise, albeit six of those were together in a D of E group.

By the time we reached Redbrook the wearing of the boots, the ascent and the cumulative mileage of the last three days was showing. Our legs were tired and the last three miles were a struggle, even though the day had dried and brightened. We again varied our route (intentionally this time, but as a side effect we missed what the guide book describes as the best view point on the whole ODP; as visibility wasn't great we didn't feel as bad about that as we might have) to take the seemingly easier riverside path.

Arriving in Monmouth every B&B looked inviting and we very nearly knocked on the door of one, but with a final burst of energy we made it to the campsite on the far side of town, where a small pitch was found for us despite the site being fully booked.

It's going to be an even earlier early night tonight, so that we'll be fighting fit and raring to go in the morning. It's a more pleasantly proportioned 15.75 miles tomorrow.