Fri 15 April
Overcast, low cloud, occasional short-lived drizzle
Our ordinary backpacking routine would have seen us up at 6 this morning and walking around 7.30, but that's not how this morning went. I first awoke at 6.25, looked at the time, listened to the rain, thought "Nah!" and went back to sleep. It was gone a quarter to eight by the time I made moves kettlewards for our breakfast brew. It was twenty to ten by the time we set out.
I don't like late starts, but today it was worthwhile. Aside from not having far to go, the delay gave the rain time to stop such that, even though there were some drizzly spells throughout the day (and it's raining lightly as I type this), waterproofs were not required. That said, I did wear my jacket all day, and Mick wore his overtrousers so between us we had it covered!
Oh the mud, though! The last mile or so of yesterday had been a mudfest and the ground conditions hadn't been helped by the overnight rain. It made the going awfully slow for much of the time.
In view of the mud and the low cloud, the decision to take the high route via St Briavels Common, rather than the riverside route was not (in hindsight) worth the effort. It was a series of byways, in various states of muddiness, bordered by fields and with no views. Even so, when we reached valley level again and had the option of taking to the Wye Valley Way, which would have shortcut our day and kept us below the cloud, we still opted to take the higher route of the ODP. It seemed wrong to be wandering off track so early in the walk.
Many areas of nice natural woodland featured today, with fine carpets of bluebells, wood anenome, wild garlic and lesser celandine, as well as another blue flower of which I know not the name. This particular section was marred, however, by a very steep descent on wet, rotting leaves covering waterlogged clay. We inched our way down, with occasional yelps as slides were taken.
Entering Bigsweir Wood the signposts and waymarks in the car park are now so obvious that it would take a serious lack of attention accidentally to take the low, easy track, as we did in 2008. Today we took the proper route which, through this loveliest of the day's woodland, was marred only by the mud. Did I mention that the mud was a notable feature and impediment today?
By Redbrook patience with undulations and muddy descents had been exhausted so the route over Kymin was omitted in favour of the riverside walk into Monmouth, where Henry's Cafe served me a pot of tea (made with leaves) holding four generous cups. As we sat there we contemplated: to stick to plan and go for a stealth camp tonight, or to go with the easy option of the campsite. For the second consecutive day, the campsite won and I'm pleased to say that the welcome received was far friendlier than in 2008 (when we were greeted by a shout of something along the lines of "what do you want" from an upstairs window, and (if I remember correctly) later the same day Conrad was refused a pitch even though there was plenty of room by us. Today we were thoughtfully given a patch of grass just outside a lean-to shelter, housing a couple of benches and a drying rack - luxury facilities for the backpacker :-)
The toilet facilities are still rather dated, mind. A particular feature is that the token meter for the ladies' shower is outside the cubicle opposite a window, which was once whitewashed, but is now clear in patches. I probably don't need to explain the implications of that arrangement...