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]

Sunday 21 December 2008

Rhinogau Bogs and Fog: Day 2

I said ‘to be continued’ as if something else interesting was going to happen – which was a bit misleading.

I slept a lot better than I expected (which wasn’t too difficult given that I hadn’t expected to sleep at all), and arose in the morning to find that the rain had stopped, the wind had dropped and I was enclosed in a blanket of cloud.

Darkness and dense cloud don't make for a good photo. 'Fraid that there weren't any more from the day either.

In the poor visibility, it looked like the day was going to be a bit of a navigation exercise, with the first mile or so across rough, pathless terrain.

With compass in hand, off I yomped into the gloom, over crags and through bog and heather and bilberry, the latter two nicely concealing boulders and holes which are just lying in wait to break an ankle. I took as much care as I could, but in the dampness a few slips were unavoidable – and it was wholly predictable that I did at one point temporarily lose a leg in a hole.

It was, I think, as much luck as judgement that I reached the valley bottom exactly where I intended to, next to a boarded-up building from where it was but a hop, skip and a slip to the track which runs along the valley.

Things nearly went awry when I reached a junction of tracks at the edge of the forest. I was so sure that I needed to turn right, yet my compass told me that was 180 degrees away from the bearing I had taken. Ooops - worse than a schoolboy error: when I’d taken the bearing I had been holding the map in the direction of travel – or to put that another way, I had the map upside down! At least I realised that something was awry before I took a step in the wrong direction.

Being now on good tracks, mainly-visible paths and the occasional stretch of road, things got easier; all I had to do was make sure that I spotted the turns and then preferably follow them in the right direction – something which would have been simplicity itself had the descent seen me drop below the cloud such that I could see which way was up. As it went, that low cloud turned out to be more a case of fog: even when I arrived back at sea level a few hours later, visibility was curtailed.

I’m not quite sure when the race for the 12.49 train started. It had been in my mind when I set out that I may make it back for that train but my intention had been to get the later one. Sometime later it occurred to me that the walk back would not take me vastly longer than the time available to make the early departure and that with the next train being 2 hours later, I would be somewhat stuck for something to do. There’s only so long one can spend browsing in Woolworths and drinking a cup of tea in the only café open out of season.

About half way through the morning I decided conclusively that I wouldn’t cover the distance in the time available and slowed down from the punishing pace I'd been setting.

But, then it played on my mind that I would find myself with over an hour to kill in an out-of-season seaside town and that there was no point taking a circuitous route or passing slowly over the terrain when I couldn’t see anything anyway. So, the sprint continued and I modified my route (track and road, rather than paths over a lump) so as to maximise my chances of getting home 2 hours earlier and enjoying some of the journey in daylight.

With the best part of 4 miles to cover and under an hour available I really didn’t think that I would make it, but continued to race along anyway. If nothing else, it was good aerobic exercise.

The outcome was that I reached town with time to dash into a shop for a bottle of water and made it to the (busy) platform with enough time to stow my poles on my pack (the other outcome was that two days later I still ache quite considerably from the effort!). No sooner had I straightened up from my pack when up trundled the train and on I got, attracting the odd glance from the well-dressed ladies who had no doubt been in town for the draw of market day. Perhaps I did look a little bit out of place with my dreadful hat hair (something that I didn’t notice until some hours later) and with mud adorning my trousers up to mid-thigh.

The journey home was uneventful and there I arrived some five and a half hours later in a state of extreme tiredness (a combination of the relentless pace I’d set followed by a long journey, me thinks), but happy with what I had achieved.

And the all-important question: would I go solo again for a night on the hills? Absolutely, I would.


  1. Hi Gayle,Well done on completing your solo trip.It can be a little daunting camping out on your own in the wilds but it is probably much safer than being on a campsite with a load of drunken youths who are very noisy and looking for trouble.I had a scary night at Angle Tarn(the one below Bowfell)in 2005 when the heavens opened and the wind was approaching gale force.I had visions of the tent blowing away and didn't get a wink of sleep.One of the strangest nights I experienced was in 2007 camping by Alcock Tarn just above Grasmere.It was starting to go dark and I could hear voices on the skyline and saw what seemed to be a party of men.I wondered if it was a group of lads who had got lost--Would they see my tent and come down to me.I was very apprehensive as to what they would do.Then it dawned on me,they were actually a group of local sheepfarmers who were rounding their flock up.They soon made their way back home but anything out of the ordinary like this does seem to have an unsettling effect.Anyway,still looking forward to reading about your recent tent purchase.Bring it on!!!!

  2. By accident rather than design my walking over the last three years has been solo. I must be a miserable old so-and-so as I rather enjoy being on my own and doing just whatever I want. It's a real release from the pressures of modern life and a taste of real freedom. One day in the Cairngorms this year I spent a whole day without seeing anyone, perhaps the first day in my life where this has happened.