Just My Imagination…

I’m sitting in a pub in Chester right now. This particular building was built in 1622. They say it was built on the ruins of a 12th-century building. Since this is within the Chester city walls, I’m betting there’s been a building here since at least the early 900s after Aethelflaed and Aethelraed made Chester a burh.

As many of you have probably noticed, most of my LJ titles have been song lyrics twisted to suit my purpose. Most of them have been Rush, of course, but this one is the Temptations. Why them? Well, that’s what is on right now. Yes, I’m in a pub built in 1622 in a city founded by the Romans on an Iron Age settlement posting on the internet listening to Motown. Oh, and by the way, Harry, the owner, proudly boasts of the 13 ghosts of this pub, the building timbers reclaimed from warships, and the swords and shoes buried in the floors found in a renovation. The British Isles stack layers of history just like the stone strata I’ve seen on this trip.

Anyway, the last couple of days have been a whirlwind. I decided to go to the SCA event. They had 22 people. They had hoped for 30 people. Those 22 included the King of Drachenwald, the Prince and Princess of Insula Draconis, and their heirs. Court was fascinating. 5 royals, plus retinue and heralds nigh unto outnumbered the crowd. We, in Calontir, would be wise to recognize the riches that we have in our populace, because other places are not as fortunate.

There were, however, a higher percentage of fighters than normal. They had, I think, 10 fighters, though only 7 or so participated in the fighting demo for the Scouts who were also having an event at the site on that weekend. Ten whole fighters!!! Ask Richard about his first War College after he first came over and again, you’ll appreciate Calontir’s wealth and fortune.

Anyway, it was a good time, and many thanks to Richard and Lena for providing transportation, a sleeping bag, paying my site and feast fees, and providing beer.

The only bad thing was that my tablet dropped and its screen broke. It still works (obviously), but it will cost $400 to repair. I’m likely to just buy a $400 laptop instead, as it still kinda works for reading but for the editing and writing I’ve been doing the Android operating system is very frustrating. Oh, and I had a mishap as I was near the beach in Prestatyn. I stepped in a puddle by some rocks to rescue a soccer ball and found myself suddenly waist deep in water because the sand shifted from beneath me, and my temporary phone here, my Blackberry for home, and my camera were all doused and are all dead. Yes, in less than 24 hours I killed or wounded every electronic device I had with me. Fortunately, I only needed the phone for 2 days, the memory card in the camera survived (hence today’s pictures), and my insurance should replace the Blackberry when I’m home. Still, at one point last night I was in a restaurant eating without a single electronic device on me. I’m not sure I can remember the last time that happened.

But then came the last day, which was a challenge, a bit of an Odyssey all its own. I woke up at 6:45, got to the Stockport train station by 8ish after a side trip to the wrong station (thanks again for saving me, Lena). Took a train from there to Crewe and got a train from there to Prestatyn. Made it to the taxi company that was to hold my luggage by 10:30, and they gave me a ride back to the beginning of the day, including back to the B&B that I would have stayed at to switch some stuff around.

By 11am I was on the trail, but…. in the hustle and bustle I forgot a few things. I have been taking 800mg of ibuprofen every day prior to walking to ease the pain and inflammation. Yeah, I forgot that. I normally have had a big English breakfast to fuel the walk. Yeah, not so much, a pastry is all I had. Oh, and I have normally started with at least a bottle of water, and usually a bottle of Diet Coke, a bottle of water, and sometimes even a Diet Red Bull to help on the trail. Yeah, I did have the Red Bull, but not the water or Diet Coke.

Believe me, I felt the lack of ibuprofen, food, and water on this day.

The path starts with a 125 meter climb, but the taxi dropped me off a half-mile up the trail knocking off about half of that. I trudged up the road sort of waiting for the initial energy and adrenalin to kick in. Guess what, it did not. I made it up that hill, and then the next, and then came the descent to Rhuallt. For a stretch, actually, I was doing pretty good, but the descent was tough and my feet were really starting to hurt. At least, however, I was seeing the trail as it should be. Some mud, but not too much, and not horribly slippery.

Ooops, I spoke too fast. I was in a pasture looking at the four horses ahead of me wondering how I was going to walk right by them (including behind them) when I suddenly was over my ankles in mud. So much for the dry socks. And that was quite a struggle to clear, it was so extensive. It was a very frustrating bog because there was no way I could tell it was any different at the edges. Just another pasture with hoof marks.

Anyway, so I dragged myself past this bog and up some hills to the walkway over the A55. I’m totally exhausted but I have the promise from both of my maps of not one, but two different possible places to stop in Rhuallt. I can get some food, something to drink, change socks, and all that. On Sundays, pubs serve all afternoon, and it’s usually full of protein. I’m set once I make the next half-mile to Rhuallt.

Uh, yeah, well not so much. I never could find the pub, and the cafe was closed.

So I sat on a rock and changed my socks. At some cookies I’d kept in my bag for this purpose and planned the rest of the day. The map was fairly clear that the last *major* hill was to come up, and then it was mostly downhills with a few rises here and there but nothing tough. OK, so all I’ve got to do is climb 125 meters in a half-mile.

Let me repeat, “all I have to do is climb 125 meters in a half-mile.” I’ve talked about meter elevation a lot, so it’s time for some perspective. A normal business floor is 12-15 feet. 4 meters is 13.3 feet. Soooooo….., 125 meters is about 31 stories tall. Yeah, it’s not stairs so it’s not as steep, but…. there aren’t really any landings. There are at times places it’s safe to rest, but you’re not guaranteed any. And guess what, even after all this walking I’m not enthralled about climbing up a 31-story building.

I did it, but it killed me. The lack of my normal food, etc. contributed of course, but I was totally wobbling and in agony afterwards and I had six miles to go.

One foot in front of the other. That’s all you can do. One foot. Each step after a while is its own victory.

I was helped for a time by the Prestatyn airshow, as I had a Spitfire flying over me. That was really really cool. But I still had miles to go before home.

I trudged on, glimpsing the Irish Sea periodically, but mostly focusing on the path. As I was reading the path book, I was also becoming increasingly nervous of a particular stretch that remained. You see, Prestatyn is in the plain between the sea and the hills. The hills above go up to some 220 meters of elevation, while the upper part of town is about 70. That’s 150 meters of elevation and it’s a sharp drop. Furthermore, the Path runs along the side of that cliff. The guidebook says: “It’s a narrow path with a sharp drop of 300 feet or so.”

So let me do the math. A 300-foot cliff. A narrow path. My love of heights. My wobbly legs.

I’ll pass. So I took the road that paralleled and took me down into Melidyn, the town literally right next to Prestatyn. This had the benefit of bringing me at least to a pub where I could get some water. OK, it was tonic water. I had a couple of those. I also had some barley-flavored water. Two of those as well. Drank those while letting my feet air and watching Adam Scott collapse at the British Open. Then, I faced the last 2 plus miles.

I walked down the sidewalk of the A547 to meet with the Path at High Street in Prestatyn. When I was on High Street something magical happened.

I could see the end in sight. A great song came on the headphones (Three Days by Jane’s Addiction again, actually).

The pain went away. The pain was replaced by emotion and adrenalin. Pick an emotion, they were all there. Call it a combination of a raised middle-finger to everyone and everything with a great joy and happiness and love for everyone and everything.

I doubt I’ll ever think about that afternoon without becoming emotional, as I’m sitting in the pub right now crying.

In any case, I walked down High Street to the train station where I had to climb two flights of stairs and then immediately descend them on the other side. I ran up the steps and hopped quickly down. Yeah, and I’m not exaggerating for those who’ve watched me walk slowly a step at a time down the steps at my house.

I strode briskly and proudly and emotionally down the last portion from the railroad down Bastion Road. I made it to the sign and the rock and then proceeded to the beach.

The tradition is to walk into the Irish Sea as if the Dyke extended down into it. So I did.

I doubt you can appreciate what this next bit is for me, truly. In all honesty, I don’t know if I’ll ever really understand or appreciate it myself. I’m on the beach of the Irish Sea. Nearly 200 miles from Chepstow, over 100 miles of which I’ve walked, stumbled, tripped, and slid over, with pennies in my pocket and blisters on my feet I’ve seen Wales. (The blister on my right foot is a callous, but the one on my left heel is just agony right now). I stood there in the Irish Sea and sang loudly in the key of army. Well, actually worse than the key of army as I let some of the emotion that I’d been holding in come out.

If I’d have had hours, I don’t know how many songs I would have sang but I only sang three. Song of the Shieldwall while I’m standing in the swan-road. Forgive me huscarls, but I yelled “Huscarl” at the Irish Sea as well. Battle of Maldon, “though my strength must end.” Finally Fyrdmen on Campaign. It was the last that was the most special. “For when a Fyrdman strikes a blow he never stands alone.” It’s never easy to end a relationship, but one constant has been the friends that have wanted to help but Kate and I.

I stood there in the Irish Sea, the waves buffeting me, the sand shifting beneath me but I did not fall into the waves as I yelled “strike a blow for freedom, and strike one for the land” into the wind. Yeah, it’s a cheesy metaphor, but all I could think at that moment were all of the fyrd, and all of my friends, helping me stand in the waves and in my life.

Thank you all.

Bringing Me To Life

I should warn you, if you don’t want wallowing in self-absorbed introspection, skip down to the bottom.

So, I had an epiphanous moment today (my spellcheck doesn’t like epiphanous, but it seems like a word to me and you know what it means, anyway…). I had this moment while I was walking. I was about 7 miles into my 11.5 mile walk today. I had been waffling back and forth in my mind what to do tomorrow. On the one hand, I can continue walking the Clwyds, which I’ll talk about more in a minute, or I can go to Richard and Lena’s SCA event in Manchester. I was sitting there contemplating the down sides of each choice.

And it dawned on me that I needed to focus on the positives of each choice. I say it quite often that sometimes there’s no good decision. There are often times when the best decision is a bad decision, but it’s just less worse than the others.

But here I was with a different conundrum. I knew I faced a huge set of climbs, each with 60 plus meters of elevation in a short time, but I also knew I was on the downhill side and that I was feeling, not only not bad, but actually pretty good. Somewhat tired, but in all honesty, pretty damn good. I also knew that the Clwyds are beautiful, with the prototypical moorland scenery that we in the US only sort of envision. Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to do 12 miles, but…, by doing 11.5 today I’m over 91 miles total and with 1 day left to walk the 12 miles from Bodfari to Prestatyn, I was going to clear my new goal of over 100 miles total.

With the choice of going to the event, the factors basically boil down to the next time that I see Richard and Lena, and the fact that I won’t see them as Prince and Princess during their reign. Also, the chance to sort of hang out not in an anonymous setting, but in a setting where I’m the cool foreign Laurel again πŸ™‚ OK, so yes, I do have an ego.

I realized as I was walking up the lane at the time that I was in a great position where I had no bad decisions. On the one hand, I knew I’d enjoy the Clwyds, but that I did not have a *need* to see the Jubilee Tower and the other sights on the way. If I did, great, it would be fun, but no great need. On the other hand, I knew I’d enjoy the event. If I didn’t go, I wouldn’t stress, but it would be cool. Neither choice has any real negatives other than the fact that I’m not doing the other, but both have fun inherent in them. All of the sudden, everything got relaxed.

And it was right at that moment that Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life came on the headphones. Yeah, it’s a secret vice, but I love that song. And it was sort of a rebirth of sorts in my mind. I’ve been asked by a bunch of people if I thought that Kate and I’s marriage was truly over, or if I thought there was hope, and my answer has always been, “ask her, it’s her choice that we’re not together.”

That *was* true.

Now, however, I’m healing and growing and it’s no longer true.

Don’t get me wrong, I still truly love Kate, but if she came back to me at Pennsic and asked for us to actually work on our marriage, I’m not necessarily going to say yes. I might, but, now, for the first time, I might not.

And this realization makes me feel reborn. For the first time in a long while I feel at least somewhat in control of my fate. The truth is that I’m a fairly laid-back guy. If I don’t have a definite preference, I am perfectly willing to adjust to a definite preference by my significant other. In fact, I like it when my significant other tells me their preferences so I have the opportunity to adjust. Kate sometimes feels uncomfortable and rude stating her preference. I get not wanting to be rude, but both partners need to have the opportunity to express a preference. Since I’m not all that worried about most things, I’m perfectly willing to accede to the vast majority of my partner’s preferences. With Holly, I didn’t know when to actually stand for my positions, but that wasn’t really a problem with Kate. The difference is that it bothered Kate that she would *have* to tell me her preference while I was *happy* when she did. That is one basic failure in our relationship, actually.

All of that is a long-winded way to say that I’m finally asserting control again. As I said, since I don’t get worked up about much, I tend to accede to my significant other and in fact get in the *habit* of acceding to that significant other. So I sort of get out of the habit of making choices.

Going to Wales was definitely a choice, but it was a choice in some ways of desperation. I certainly don’t regret it, nor do I regret getting a lesser vehicle in order to pay for this trip, but it was always a choice of desperation. It was a choice between wallowing in the status quo which would have been essentially deadly (and I’m not being hyperbolic), or finding some way to change the paradigm.

Walking Offa’s Dyke without any preparation and training was not wise. That lack of wisdom was exacerbated by rain, but Celtic Trails suggests a pretty significant period of training to get ready even if the weather had been perfect. I had none of that. I didn’t have a chance to break in my shoes. I never really studied the route, or thought of the inherent challenges. All in all, choosing Offa’s Dyke was fairly stupid.

But it changed my paradigm. It changed my way of thinking. It changed my body. It changed my attitude.

Kate asked me when I was thinking about this if anything closer, like the Katy Trail, would work. It’s possible, but I think unlikely, I would have been too close to the standard lifelines. Here, there are times that I *have* to swim or I sink. I cannot call a longtime friend to come help. Sometimes, I can call a cab, but while signal on these hills is better than one might think, it’s not perfect, nor is there much access in some places except by helicopter.

There was a point today on the heather that there was literally no one in sight, and I could see for at least a half mile in every direction. No noise but the birds and the sheep. There’s an isolation there that’s stunning.

I’m not healed, and I’m not exactly happy, and I’m not “over” Kate, but I’m so much farther along that it is difficult to describe. I’ll weep again, but I there will be times that I *don’t* weep again. So now, now for the first time in a while, I have been brought to life.

Alright, enough of the maudlininess (it was in a book, so it must be a word).

I’m sitting in a fantastic restaurant right now called On The Hill in Ruthin, Wales and they have a really good dark beer from a brewery here in North Wales called Bragdy Mws Piws. What, you don’t read the Welsh. Sigh, in English it means the “Purple Moose Brewery.” This beer is the O Ochr Tywyll Y Mws, or the Dark Side Of The Moose. I will not say that I’ve walked *all* of Wales, but I have walked from North to South and I’ve yet to see a moose, clad in a purple or otherwise. I’ve seen lots of sheep. By lots of sheep I mean LOTS of sheep. But no moose or meese. I guess I’m definitely going to have to come back and hunt the wily and elusive Welsh Purple Moose. Ooh, or maybe that’s the appropriate game for the Calontir Party.

There was another brilliant song during the walk. I’m walking in the moors on the west side of a hill and Stan Rogers and the Witch of the Westmoreland came on. I actually embarrassed myself by singing it out loud (twice actually), and on the second time a group of three 50-plus year old men blew past me not even breathing hard despite the fact they’d walked farther today than I had.

Screw them. I actually did great today. This was my best walk on the trip. Resting in Llangollen had benefits along with the downsides of not actually doing anything in that town. I did those 11.5 miles, some of which were very challenging, in less than 7 hours. Yes, parts of it were easy, but the long downhill in Llandegla forest was not, nor were the big rises, nor were the fields full of mud still. I’m sore, and the blister on the back of my left heel is still an issue, though part of that is that I took off the bandage and my Birkenstocks rub that spot. Still, I’m feeling good tired and good sore.

Well, that’s a true Rhodri-length post. I’ve missed stuff, as I’ve missed stuff all along, but that’ll do for now.

Well, I’ve missed a number of days. Some of that has been fatigue, some of that is because when I’ve written, I’ve been focusing on a scroll text (don’t worry, Violet, if you’re reading this, it’s not for you).

The text is done, and I’m moderately pleased with it. I’m probably being too harsh on it, but this will be one that will be read into a different kingdom’s court, and someone who I greatly admire will hear it and be in a position to critique.

Anyway, back to my progress. I’m in Llangollen, which I’m starting to learn how to pronounce. Thus far, I’ve walked about 80 of a possible 130 miles actually on the Dyke Trail. My goal at this point is to walk 20 miles in the next three days and at least reach 100.

I think last we saw our intrepid hero, he was taking a taxi into Cwm. From Cwm I walked 13 miles or so to Buttington. If it had not been for the rain and wet, this would have been a fairly pleasant walk. It was mostly even, over moors and fields. I was definitely tired, and the last mile or two was a real bitch, but I made it.

The next morning, however, I was supposed to walk the longest stretch, 16.5 miles. I was in no shape to do that, even if most of it was flat. The B&B owner had to drive to Llanymanarch, which was about halfway on the way, so I took advantage of that and only walked 8 miles or so. That put me in Trefonen.

I loved Trefonen. More specifically I loved the Barley Mow, the pub. Well, not just the pub, but the brewery attached to it, Offa’s Dyke Brewery. Their Grim Reaper porter was damn fine. I had a great evening there chatting with people. The owner, Derrick, gave me a tour of the brewery and while it is small, it is impressive. He said it was a shame I had to walk, because they were brewing the next day and I could help and watch.

So that night I made an executive decision and decided to forgo the walk to watch the brewing process. I didn’t watch the whole process, obviously there are parts that take a while, but I watched the making of the mash, and watched while the John the brewer explained every detail of the process, including the incredible amount of paperwork the government requires of him. It was a fascinating couple of hours, and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

However, by the time that was done, there was no way I could make the walk in the time left. Furthermore, at that point I was completely exhausted. I made my way to my B&B in Llangollen via taxi.

One of the drawbacks to walking the Dyke as I have has been the lack of time to really appreciate some of the places I’ve been. Much of the trip has been one foot in front of the other just trying to make it to the next B&B. Llangollen is a perfect example. I’ve actually spent more time in Llangollen than any other town I’ve been to on this trip because I got to Llangollen so early yesterday. However, I was so exhausted I basically spent the day napping and reading. I really cannot even truly appreciate the quality of the room that I’m staying in.

Llangollen has a ton of fascinating stuff. It lies along a steam-powered railway (whose rails are 40 yards down the hill from my room) that does tours around this incredible valley. It lies along a horse-drawn canal (which lies 20 yards uphill, yes uphill, from my room) that does tours along the Dee. There is a medieval abbey a mile and a half or so from my B&B. There is a hillfort that became a castle in the 1300s two miles away. There are all sorts of more modern items of interest around as well. Oh, and did I mention the setting? Llangollen is in one of the prettiest areas I’ve ever seen. The Dee here is just stunning.

But all I really had time and energy for was the medieval abbey, Valle Crucis. It’s definitely worth seeing, and worth the 3-4 miles I walked getting there and back. You’ll see pictures eventually.

I’ve got to come back to the Welsh border, and this time rent a car or plan on rails and buses or whatever. This is wonderful country. Beautiful, nice people, neat places, tons of history, great food and beer, just an awesomely wonderful place. And while I’m making lots of decisions to ease my walking, the fact is that this walk is too tiring to really appreciate the place in the time I’m set up to walk it. Not only that, I’ve skipped past some places I wish I could see, like Tintern Abbey and Chirk Castle.

Perhaps if the weather had been better (it’s literally rained every day I’ve been over here and does not look to change). Perhaps if I’d have simply *planned* to only walk certain portions and arranged to spend a bit more time in places. There are indeed people who walk this path start to finish, but I have not met anyone who is doing it this year. Everyone who I’ve met who is walking the path is doing a portion over a weekend or so, not trying to bite off all of it at once so perhaps I was too ambitious.

I don’t know, but part of this trip is leaving me, not unfulfilled because I’ve succeeded in achieving many of the goals that got me thinking about doing this in the first place, but I guess simply feeling like I have not given this area the attention it is due.

There’s actually an SCA event not too far away being in Richard and Lena’s home group on Saturday. I did bring garb, and I’m contemplating taking another day off if I can figure out the logistics, and going. If this were last time, it wouldn’t be a question, but there’s a part of me feeling obligated to walk the path.

I have three days of walking left. Two of them are in the teeth of the Clwyd range. I’m pretty sure I cannot walk the 14.5 miles I’m scheduled to tomorrow, in part because the first mile or so involves a climb of something like 350 meters of elevation. That’s over 1000 feet. I’m probably going to cheat and have the person that gives me a ride get me up to World’s End, about 3 miles and 300 meters of a head start. I don’t feel much in the way of shame for that by the way, because if you total the number of meters of climb left in the day, it’s nearly 1000, or 3000 feet.

So there are a number of things to mention. I did realize a cognate or loan word in Welsh today. I don’t know why it took me so long, but one of their words for road is “ffordd,” and that gets modified to “ffyrdd” when meaning routes. Yes, there’s a connection. The word “fyrd” actually has roots in the word “faran,” which in modern English is “to fare,” meaning to travel. “Fyrd,” as a word, came from the idea of the people that traveled with a lord, presumably to battle. I don’t know whether old Germanic languages borrowed from old Celtic languages in this case, but there’s definitely a connection.

I’m also struck by how many Latin cognates and borrowed words there are in Welsh. Green, in Welsh, is “werdd.” Contrast this with “vert,” and the connection is obvious. For some reason, I never realized that Welsh borrowed so much from Latin or Latin-based languages. I wonder if that happened during Norman times or if it’s ancient when the Celts sort of passed near Italy in their migrations.

Everything in Wales in bi-lingual in Welsh and English, and it’s the kind of thing that if I spent a year or two here, I’d become pretty fluent. Maybe I can get a teaching job or something πŸ™‚

Another note has to do with this tablet. In many ways, this tablet is brilliant. I really enjoy its media abilities and its touchscreen capabilities are smooth. If it hasn’t already become one, it will be a fixture in my life. However, it’s very frustrating at time simply because what I think as normal features don’t exist here. If you’re used to using the shift key and arrows to highlight text, using Ctrl-C and Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V, and doing that instinctively as I do from two decades of typing in Word and other programs, you’re going to be at least a little frustrated. I’ve looked for apps to add that feature, but not found one yet. It’s always the little stuff, right?

OK, that’s probably enough for now. I’m going to head back to the barn and get as much rest as possible for a looooooong tough day.

Conditions, Permission, Mirrored Self-Afflictions.

14 July 2012

First, Happy Birthday Olga, oh and Happy The Peasants Are Revolting Day to all the Frenchies out there.

Second, Remember when I was anxious to get back to walking along the Dyke itself?

Yeah, I was wrong.

Really, really wrong.

The day started off well, despite an initial 200 meter plus climb from Kington in the first mile. Picture a mile long Cardiac Hill. However, by now, that’s not that big of a deal. It takes a while, I’m certainly not racing up that hill, but it holds no fear.

At the end of that climb I’m at 377 meters at the top of Rushock Hill where the path finally can meet the Dyke again. From here, the Dyke heads westward before heading northward and for a while the path is the Dyke and the uphill ditch.

The top of the Dyke is rough going, full of ankle-twisting mounds and with the promise of dropping off. From Rushock Hill the drop is only 2-3 meters, so not a big deal.

However, you have to get from that 377 meter mark down to 172 meters in another mile, and going down is farrrrr worse. It was tricky, but not overly difficult getting from Rushock to the pass before Herrick Hill, but getting down from Herrick was a mess. It was a wider path than coming down from the Black Mountains to Longtown, but not by a huge amount and it was muddy and chewed up. In other words, it was really really slick. I slipped on my butt twice, once about a foot away from a 500 foot dropoff. It was not as steep as the one to Longtown, nor was I really in danger of falling to it, but….

I pressed on, going slower and finally made it down to Lower Harpton. I missed a turn and went an extra couple of hundred yards but made it. I’d say I made it without difficulty, but that’s only true if you accept that focusing carefully on *every* step and taking an hour to go three quarters of a mile is “without difficulty.”

From Lower Harpton the path leads past Burfa, a really cool Iron Age fort. I have a great picture of it from elevation. This part of the path was great, mildly slick, but broad and only slightly muddy. However, the second half-mile was actually on the Dyke.

Picture if you will a mound that is about 20-25 feet up. Picture that there is a path on the top that is less than a foot wide, and a fence about 2-3 feet on the other side of the top. In other words, there’s nothing really to catch you if you start to slip down to the brook to the left. Picture that the trail is really really muddy and really really slippery. Picture that the trail also generally slopes downward to the ditch. Picture that the fence, which might just be the only thing that’s keeping you at the top of the Dyke is old, loose, and the top part is barbed wire. Now, picture all of that for three quarters to a half of a mile.

That was exhausting and slow. I did much of it sideways, holding on with both hands. No, this was not life-threatening, but it was tiresome and frightening nonetheless.

Oh, and one of the weird things that has happened in the last couple of days is the vast number of flies that have suddenly appeared. Clouds swarming about your face. And they’re aggressive. It is a major annoyance. So, picture the above picture, and then realize that flies are buzzing like mad, and you can’t really do anything about it while both hands are holding onto a fence.

And I gave up and didn’t walk the next two mile stretch that promised to be much like that. By that point I was done as done could be of walking muddy and slippery trails. I walked to Presteigne, which was another 3-4 miles, meaning I had a total of 8-9 miles. I’m not sure exactly.

In Presteigne, I went into the first pub, which happened to be a gay bar, and hung out and dried off. I had been told there was a bus from Presteigne to Knighton at 5:28, but while at that bar being eyed by the guys and laughed at by the dykes, who loved that I was a Dyker, I got informed that the buses don’t run on Saturday often.


But I got lucky, and it turned out that a regular routinely gets a taxi from Presteigne to Whitton, and from there to Knighton was no big deal. Best 10 pounds I’ve *ever* spent.

So now I’m at the Horse and Jockey, showered and ready for a relaxing evening.

15 July 2012

Knighton is sort of the halfway point on the trip. It’s not actually in the middle, being about 80 miles from the south and 100 from the north. However, its Welsh name is Tref-y-Clawdd, which mean Town of the Dyke. This is where they put the Offa’s Dyke Centre and this is where they separate the guidebooks. This then, was the first I’ve really looked at the northern portion of the path, having been focused on the parts I was walking and the southern book and map.

So just about the first thing that is said on the portion from Knighton to Cwm is: “This is the hardest part of the path because of all the short steep ups and downs and it can be hard in wet weather.”

Have I mentioned mud yet?

So screw it, I’m going to roam around Knighton. I may only walk a few miles around the town, but I’m tired of sliding on my butt, especially if this whole day is like that. Besides, there’s actually quite a bit in Knighton. I have a taxi arranged to get me from here to Cwm.

As a bonus, from Cwm at least for a bit, the terrain broadens, the grain of the hills is more north-south instead of the current east-west stretch, and there’s the vanishingly small possibility it might dry some. I can dream, right? It’s not going to rain *every* day I’m here right? It has so far.

On a better note, last night was a blast. Last Saturday the weather was so bad that literally I was the only one in the Coach and Horses in Chepstow. Last night was pleasant, and the Horse and Jockey was hopping. I met and hung out with a lot of cool people, and then moved on to George and Dragon, and then on to an afterparty. Got back to my room at 3:30am. Tonight is a traditional B&B and I suspect I may pass out early.

So, for now, I’m checking out and roaming the town, I really really need to buy some bug spray.

From First To Last, The Peak Is Never Passed

13 July 2012

So the first real trip notes for a couple of days.

I’m sitting in the Oxford Arms in Kington, Herefordshire waiting on dinner with a pint and a half next to me. It’s been that long of a day.

As a side note, I’ve been learning tons of pronounciations. One that surprised me is that Hereford and Herefordshire pronounce the second “e,” meaning it sounds something like “Harryford.” I’ve just been saying “Hairford.”

Speaking of learning, I just learned that the middle cask tap in the left-hand set of taps is delicious. I might even learn its name.

I apparently am obviously beat, because the barman said: “Came over the hills, did you? Need a pint, don’t you?” To which I just pointed at a cask ale tap at random. His name, by the way, is Fred. Debating about taking a run at the lovely Zoe who is setting silverware in front of me. Ask me in a few pints…. πŸ™‚

I must confess, I didn’t *really* come over the hills. I only did the first 6.5 miles on the Offa’s Dyke Path to Newchurch. Parts of it were nice, yeah, those were the tarmac parts. There was a lane that the guidebook described as a muddy lane, and guess what, after have rain every day for a month, and twelve straight hours last night, it was a morass. It was the worst of many stretches.

My host for the evening, Susan Robson (I’m not really her daddy), said that if I had continued it would have been fine, but what I did was walk the roads to Kington from Newchurch. It was an extra half-mile or so, and it hurt my feet, but it wasn’t muddy. It was, however, 9 miles of step after step.

15 plus miles from the Old Black Lion to the De Lacy House. Yeah, dinner and a pint or 8 are called for.

By the way, the people who run St. Mary’s at Newchurch are wonderful, awesome, brilliant, and every other superlative adjective I can think of. They offer water, tea, and a few pastries as well as a place to sit to passing walkers for a donation. Yes, Matthew and Sarah, I followed in your footsteps. I’m four entries under yours in the guestbook. I rested here for about 20 minutes, including changing socks and getting my feet out of my shoes for a bit.

Yeah, Newchurch was amazing, however, they are the first ones to apply the term Dyker to me. I’m sorry, but that just makes me think I’m chasing, sometimes successfully, lesbians. “Yeah, Tuesday, I was a total Dyker, and man you shoulda seen the hottie I ended up with.” Hmmm. Alright, face it, you all knew I was going to make the reference sooner or later. How many of you thought I’d wait to be crude after a whole week?

In terms of walks, it was actually fairly boring, though part of that is because I went on the roads. Newchurch is a nice little church. There’s a Roman route camp early in the day. There was some stuff in Gladestry that I missed. Some scenery from the top of a big hill that I avoided. Still, not like many of the other days.

No, today was about one foot in front of the other. I never really got the adrenalin going, never really got a flow. Maybe that is because yesterday was a rest day. Maybe it was because of the initial terrain, which was the best start to a day so far in terms of elevation. Maybe it’s because there were two 200 meter plus climbs, of which I only did one plus another 100 plus. Whatever it was, while on Tuesday I was doing fine once I got to the top of the ridge, I was fighting fatigue from step one.

I had one last mile actually in Kington, and it was probably the slowest mile evah on asphalt. Warp Factor Painful Trudge, Mr. Sulu.

And I have something like 65 miles to the next rest day, so I better get that back.

Tomorrow is slightly shorter, but some of the declines are sharper and if they’re muddy, I’m not enthralled. 13 plus miles from lodging to lodging.

We shall see.

So far I’ve walked almost 50 miles, out of a possible 65 or so on the path. Many of those miles are on random hills that the people that made the trail thought I’d like, given that the last three scheduled walks have not been next to the Dyke, for the simple reason that the Dyke really doesn’t exist except in fragments there. Tomorrow, however, is one of the best portions of the Dyke, so I hope the mud doesn’t drive me back.

At least the Dyke fires the light that gets in my eyes.

An Odyssey

OK, so I did this sort as a fun exercise. It has not really been edited, and it’s long and somewhat rambling. Go behind the break at your own risk.

He walked out of the inn and immediately went to the church dedicated to St. Cadoc. It was an old church, centuries old, with age that no amount of white plaster could ever truly hide. The moss that draped along its eaves added an earthly quality to its heavenly presence, almost as if Mother Earth had claimed a share of ownership over what the followers of the Father of Heaven had built. Around it was a green, a deep green of grass and moss and weeds and shadow and overgrown markers of lives that were lived.

Some markers were still readable, some almost pristine from the sharp marble that so far had resisted 249 years of wind and rain and prayers.

To enter the church, he had to walk on stone worn from those lives, each one seeking absolution, or relief, or more likely for the young and healthy, to fulfill obligations due to older relatives. Maybe even in a place that has only marginally changed its pace with technology, many came because it was a welcome diversion; a living drama highlighted by uplifting glorious songs and dangerous perils of eternal fire.

Whatever their reasons, he himself came here seeking a connection. He looked carefully at each of the stones that were legible. “B. Christopher, awaiting B. Christopher.” “B Jones lies here, as does D. Jones, as does R. Jones.” The age of the church is hardly comprehensible in some ways, but stones of people alive in the English Revolution lie here. That seems plenty old, but truthfully the time since Cromwell holds less than half of the life and absolution embodied in these stones.

He took pictures, wandering about, and was rewarded with a memory unimagined had he not actually entered the church. Painted in negative in the white plaster on the wall was a knight on his destrier, sword upraised to defend the holy. Is this an image of King Arthur? Perhaps. He’s mentioned twice in Cadoc’s vita. A saint? George probably, but could it be Cadoc himself? Perhaps. He’s always been displayed with a spear, maybe this is a High Medieval interpretation. Could it be a Norman marcher lord? Perhaps. Cadoc would not be the only early Welsh saint patronized to at least some extent by a Norman who realized that the defenses he could build against his restive neighbors need not only be built of stone. Could it be from Victorian times. Perhaps. Maybe it was even decorated for the first time during this Elizabeth’s six decades.

He didn’t stay around to ask, for there were many miles to go and there was no one there to ask. He merely signed the guestbook and left his small change as a meager thanks for the magic that age can infuse without even trying.

Outside the church, he returned back to this world, if only for a moment. Taking a bit to adjust his headphones, he looked at the two other walkers, these from the Pacific Northwest, waved and set off on the trail. He knew today would be an adventure, but no amount of preparation truly readies a person for death approaching within two feet… multiple times.

Three days. Three days of walking moving him along eight leagues or so had gotten him to this place. Three Days was also eleven minutes of brilliance that was the first thing on those headphones. He saw shadows of the morning light, remembering shadows of the evening sun, knowing he would make the shadows and the light become one on this day. He’s thinking about how men prey on each other, and the strangers he has adopted as kin. He’s hearing the song and letting it wash over him, wearing away his confusion and initial fatigue like a river of sound over suddenly rounded rocks of emotion.

The first steps on this day were, appropriately, uphill to get to the top of the churchyard, out the latched gate to where the road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Then up some stone stairs behind a school with a mere century and a half of history or so, then out into some fields along a clear, well-worn track.

To his right, a pasture rises above him. To his left, another pasture falls to a line of trees whose stream, swollen from seemingly unending rain, flows swiftly and loudly. He knows that ahead, probably a hundred yards or so, is a gate that will move him from this pasture to the next, and beyond that another gate, and still another.

Each gate is marked with the acorn on a yellow field that has been his constant companion and relief on this trail, as it marks this specific trail and no other. Why an acorn? He does not know, and may never know, but whether it’s a small disc, or a small painted sign, or even carved out of hundreds of signposts, the next one on the path signifies a small victory, a little victory from which great victories are made.

He smiles wryly as he passes many of these, for not all are put on markers that cannot be moved. At least one, he has noticed, is 90 degrees off from what it was supposed to be, so the rumors he’s heard that neighborhood teens take great joy in turning them ever so slightly is true. So far, he’s foiled their evil plot, a plot he himself finds mildly funny, unless, of course, he has to walk an extra mile or five.

For now, though, he has to focus on his footing. While the mud has dried at least somewhat, the footing is rarely smooth and easy. More important, while this may be a national trail and all that, it tends to run in active pastureland. Active pastureland implies active pasture animals. Active pasture animals mean that the squishiness is not necessarily dirt. He has become expert in spotting such mines, noting the difference between large piles from horses, the swirly leavings of cows, and the constant marble-sized glossy droppings of sheep. Each, of course, is a banquet for the flies, who fortunately prefer these easy pickings to the moving possiblity of a man.

His current path runs along the side of a hill, past a long abandoned stone house. This house could only be decades abandoned, built by a farmer prior to the war but abandoned as technology broadened farm sizes. It could be centuries old, abandoned by a family that preferred a different spot on their land, a spot they have continued to live at as generation after generation has at least one that prefers the mud and manure of farm life to the allure of greater promises, sometimes that even come true, of big city life. He’ll never know. It’s just time, sliding away and leaving its droppings.

On the next pasture the path curves down the hill towards the stream hidden by green-clad sentinels. At this point, he faces another constant hazard, the challeng of navigating the ground before these gates. Many have depressions deepened by thousands of soul’s soles. Why do people walk the Dyke? He supposes each must have at least one reason, but guesses that most have a variety as he does. In any case, they have eroded the space before each acorn-adorned gate leaving a place for rainwater to gather its forces to block the next voyager in shifting lines requiring constant tactical thought to defeat.

This particular one requires only minimal thought. He approached from the north, grabbed the post, swang himself around to achieve the first step. There, still holding onto the post, he reached over and unlatched the gate, which grudgingly allowed him passage onto the wooden bridge.

The promise of rushing water that the babbling brook had given from below was fulfilled now. He stood on the bridge, watching the water flow proud and arrogant beneath him, headed to either the Monnow or the Wye, or, he guesses, the Monnow to the Wye. Nevertheless, he stands above in his mild arrogance, taunting it from the perch built by bustling hands.

He wonders about those hands for a moment, about not the organization that created this particular trail, but the actual hands that worked to build this bridge, others like it, the gates, the signposts, and laid the gravel and stone that valiantly strives to hold off the mud. What did they think about Offa? What did they think about Mercia? Were these just names used for roads and neighborhoods? Did they look upon the Dyke as a mere obstacle, or even perhaps as convenient feature upon which to build houses for factory workers and retired postmen and lorry mechanics. Did they hope their mums would live on this earthwork? Or did they merely appreciate the opportunity to put their hands to building a bridge not for the pride of building but the ability to pay a couple of quid for a pint? He suspects that last is the real truth, but standing on that bridge, he hopes that at least someone whose sweat poured into this trail proudly claims Offa as one of his kings.

Crossing the bridge after his thoughts were carried away by the water, he turns in dismay to the next foe. Suddenly, before him stood a giant with a matching stone hammer.

This giant was something like 40 yards tall, and though adorned in green as everything else in this forest, his was a lighter green. Giants need fear nothing of course, and this giant proudly shone brilliantly from the darker greens around him, with a whitish line of trim adorning the joining of his jacket in the middle. At the top, his bushy face taunted the walker, especially taunting his fear, daring the voyager to defeat him.

Yet towards the giant the walker strode, daunted but refusing to let this tiny soul defeat him. He marched directly before the giant, and then step by step, he forced his way forward, lessening the giant with each step. Four times the giant’s stone forced him to halt. Four times he continued on until finally the giant became his own size. On the fifth time, his defeat of the giant was complete and he proceeded then onward to the next acorn. Onward to the next field of battle.

Ironically, the soundtrack of this battle was also epic. A song of a mortal man in a world of battling gods. The power of emotion and the strength of thought warred for supremacy both in song and listener. “Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, with the heart and mind united in a single… perfect… sphere.” Twenty minutes of musical conflict for twenty minutes of silent struggle.

But passing Old Park and Great Park, he strode proudly along. He knew that this tiny giant was only a little victory, but, again, litle victories were all he hoped for. The music here, at one point a driving beat, at another a charming ballad, fed his enthusiasm. Yes, there are monsters to defeat, and challenges to overcome, but he, at least for the moment believed in the power of song. How many of these same miles had hobnailed Roman legionnaire sandals strode singing upon? Plus, at day’s end, he knew he needed not to build a route camp, merely find the luxurious accommodations waiting for him.

Here to a momentary escape from endless fields he reaches a gate to a country lane. The firm tarmac beneath his muddy shoes a bit of a relief from the constant scrutiny that muddy fields required.

Soon, however, he turned up a field towards a farm named on the map. He wondered actually how long that farm had been there. At least decades. He would be surprised had this same farmhouse not been around in the 1800s. Could the farmstead even be mentioned in the Domesday? Perhaps someday he’d check.

For now though, he passed the stone building with its satellite dish, it’s ancient Range Rover, and its sheets flapping heartily in the brisk wind on the clothesline. A light blue if you must know. He went down the farmstead’s driveway to another brief stretch of tarmac before turning back onto another field. This time, the field sloped nicely downwards to another gate.

But beyond this next gate stood a new foe, adorned in black, glaring balefully, staring patiently, calmly waiting for the swords to be drawn and the blood to flow. Behind this giant captain were a full company of myrmidons and mercenaries ready to stand at his side.

The walker strode forth to face this foe, a foe he had no idea how to defeat, a foe he had no idea how to elude, a foe that he must best as it stood athwart his path. With “you’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too” in his ears, and some trepidation in his heart, the walker stood at the gate staring his foe in the eyes, a conflict of wills that the walker eventually won. He opened the gate, staring at the foe, and calmly walked by him. The foe followed, not, perhaps, with malicious intent, but now perhaps curious to the knight that had bested him. Ahead, his troops gathered in their lines, but separated from the path and the walker strode defiantly among them. At least, if that is not how this encounter went, it is how the walker will forever remember it.

From this point, the adrenalin ebbed as he proceeded down to the major highway beneath him. The path passed in a small collection of houses with names that lacked vowels, he exchanged pleasantries with an elderly gentleman and crossed over to the base of his greatest foe of the day, though not perhaps his deadlist.

This foe towered above him, arrogant in the sunlight. “Can you, dear walker, succeed in the footsteps of thousands of others? Or shall you, like a gnat, circle around me, allowing the daggers of your mind to defeat you? I care not. I was here before your gods, and I shall be here after your works, be they ever so mighty as Ozymandias, will crumble into dust.”

Laughing the foe allowed the walker an easy start to the battle, a nice bridge over a beautiful brook that rounded its bedrock into beautiful patterns under leafy proud trees. Then, a comfortable set of stairs up to some dire signs of immediate danger, a warden of the greater foe, angrier and more spiteful and more deadly in his rhythmically periodic defense.

The walker heeded the signs. He looked and listened, careful to heed the great peril before him. Yet despite his caution, as he stepped forth the warden suddenly turned a corner and sped incredibly quickly at the invader. The walker quickly stepped forth and eluded the striking serpent with barely a foot or two to spare. The warden, in its fury, sped away, to snap at its next victim.

With a few breaths to catch, and with the wind of the attack still pulling at his hair, the walker stood in amazement at the closeness of the escape, a closeness all the more amazing given that the risk had seemed so small.

But with a moment to recover, he turned then to the next portion of the path, a steep climb up some fields to a series of lanes. Once, he had a chance to get out of the lanes and take a shortcut on a field, but the morass was more frightening than passing cars with no time to swerve so he continued onward and upward for the glory of… well… something.

Then soon he arrived at perhaps the most frustrating battle of this war, a battle led by a proud and disdainful farm cat. The cat walked carelessly before the walker, making several jumps at one point to leap from the roadway to a perch on a roof where he could glare balefully as the walker passed by. Here the road led steeply downward, a slope of many yards that seemed wasteful to the walker as he knew he must immediately regain this height starting at his next turn. Yet, this battle he never had any opportunity to win, as the path was literally set in stone, and his frustration mounted as each step took him both farther and nearer to his goal.

Eventually, the path turned to the left, to the teeth of the monster that awaited him.

Step by difficult step the walker climbed in this portion, a shady trench whose mud had regained some strength and rarely slid beneath him.

Step by tortuous step the walker climbed through the next field towards a long rock wall past smug sheep who were happily entertained by the walker as they ate.

Step by counted step the walker climbed past the wall. Ten steps here, twelve there, a whole 21 at one point, each number punctuated by a few seconds of heaving breath.

Step by angry step the walker rose to Hector’s Rise onto a plateau where he was able to catch his breath.

As the breath returned, so did comprehension. This spot, this plateau, was at least an initial reward from the great enemy who treasured the worth of his foes. This plateau was made by man who built a hillfort here thousands of years ago to protect his families and his sheep from his neighbors. Now it is merely a grass-covered series of mounds arranged to look out over the valley. Now it looks over the A465 and the town of Pandy that stretches along the motorway. Now it stands in silent watch over a peaceful land whose people continue to offer sweat, toil, and tears, but not shed their blood or the blood of their neighbors. Yet this peace asks its own questions. How many men has this vantage point seen slain? How many gallant advances? How many cowardly retreats? What has this hillfort seen in shame and pride over thousands of years and over a thousand feet of height?

But the walker can only pause to let the questions flit over his head, as he needs to head to the west of the pine trees above him and make an ascent to broad long plateau. This next portion is not the end, but not still the beginning. He’s moved from farmland to moorland, and though the trail still generally is ascending, it’s merely a rolling bit until the last set of final climbs that appear in the distance.

Those are the true enemy. Those are the ones that sit there taunting the walker as he expends his energy on lesser guardians. Those are the ones that sit there at the narrowest part, inciting the walker’s demons to greatest potency. Those are the ones that bear the greatest menace.

But for now, he has a chance to proceed at some speed, not as fast as the scurrying mountain sheep that here are simply irritated at his disturbance, but still faster than before. To his left in the distance is an old farmhouse that is not marked on the map, but is still fascinating. This house may only be 1200 feet up here, but what an odd and desolate place to live. How many miles is it to get bread or milk or beer or the occasional sweet? Is there a Tesco within an hour’s drive? How long to the Waitrose in Monmouth?

The walker’s path veers slightly right past another stone wall, this one crumbling somewhat in its age. At the base of the wall, the walker looks up to a steep climb where a misstep could mean a quick and deadly trip downward. It’s not terribly likely, of course, but it is possible, and that possibility attacks the walker with every step. Halfway in between he briefly turns around, but almost falls from the force of the downward peek. Songs play in ears, but he hears them not, simply looking downward, placing his feet precisely, shutting out the outside world, focused on a picture frame a yard to the left, a yard to the right, and perhaps three yards ahead.

Now each step is a victory.

Every time he advances his right foot, he pushes back his fatigue.

Every time he advances his left foot, he pushes back his fear.

Every few small victories he pauses for air, not looking around for that way lies madness.

Eventually, each of those victories add up. He’s now on another plateau with at least one more stern climb before him. Now he can appreciate the constant time changes of La Villa Strangiato. Now he can look back at the valley he has almost conquered, at the giant, and the orc, and the serpent below.

Yet almost is not victory and he presses on to one last great climb.

Again it’s a step.

And a step.

And a painful, agonizing breath as he reaches another plateau.

And now the enemy has, for the moment, tipped over his king to the walker, for above the walker is something white. It’s not gleaming, for the clouds are full and grey. The people who placed this stone wanted it to shine with the glory of the sun, but the walker prefers this. It stands out yes, but like the war between heaven and earth at the church that began this trek, this stone should have its roots in both. Here, in the grey of a promising storm, its whiteness is a symbol of man’s desire to reach the sky but its absence of surreality hints that its foundation is the root of this mountain.

Briefly the walker pauses at likely place to eat the sandwich made for him years ago by the welcoming hosts of the Old Rectory. A lifetime away. He accidentally rips a small bit of foil and before he can catch it, it flies in the increasing wind, and he watches it catch what light it can as it sinks yards away in deep heather.

Sighing he gathers his thoughts, turning to the goalpost a mere hundred yards away up a shallow incline.

Now it is time to accept the victory conceded to him, he thinks. His pride, however, at his success is taken away, however, because as he is within yards of his touchdown, a light cheery voice passes him saying “Hello.”

“What?” Holy cow, there’s another person here. How the heck did that happen? The two exchange greetings, and eventually pictures with the white stone, and then the walker moves on alone, as the other person merely came up to get to here and then to get back down. As she leaves, he notices that down the trail is yet another person, this time with a happy spaniel sniffing out everything he can, including the other walker returning to home.

Amazed, for the only creatures he’d seen since starting his ascent were monsters and demons and sheep, he continues on, wondering if this figment would catch up to him and the spaniel would find something interesting in his boots.

Soon enough, yes the other man caught up to the walker. The other man, who had won the entire war five times before, merely refought various battles three times a week to keep fit. He and his spaniel speed past the walker, chatting happily for a moment, blithely unconcerned about the monsters the walker has seen and yet to see.

Soon the spaniel is lost in the heather up ahead, then the walker veers around a corner and the jaunty bob of his head is gone and the walker is alone again.

But now the walker’s solitude, which had been restful, has become a moment of loneliness and desolation as for that brief moment up at the top of the enemy, there was contact.

There’s nothing to do, of course, so the walker plods doggedly ahead. He knows that there is another major rise ahead, but this is generally rolling moors and the path goes along a ridge wide enough to ease his present fears, though the future descent gnaws at him.

What he thinks is the final ascent to his maximum height for the day proves to be an illusion, a final taunting of the enemy who has merely retired momentarily from the field, not yet yielded. Then the next ascent leads to another. And another. Each one shielding the possibility of more to go.

But finally, almost unbelievably, he realizes that he has in fact made it to the last rise on this ridge. Yes, there is a rise before him, but theoretically he is to descend before that rise. Theoretically.

The walker takes stock of his situation. Music that has gone unnoticed as he plodded upwards returns to his consciousness. “The banners of the nobles swing round, the wind whips them around with a crack” seems perfect for the chilling gale in his face at this height. Dumbeks of Kashmir recognize far travels. The appeal for solitude and privacy of Limelight in a place where the walker is so alone.

He is not, however, content. He has defeated the enemy once, but this contest is not over, and he turns his attention to the next battle.

According to his map, he will soon meet a path. To his left on the west, Llanthony, with its shell of a medieval priory and symbol of wealth and hubris. The his right on the east, Longtown, with its castle and marcher fortifications. On this bleak hilltop emotions can be given free reign, and he wonders of the emotions that have crossed that path to go from east to west and west to east. Hate, of course. Fury, undoubtedly. Love, probably. Pride, lust, and greed? No doubt.

Right at that moment, however, the walker’s emotion is fear because he has yet to find that path. Everything he has informs him that the path is before the next rise, but that rise approaches quickly with each step. There’s a clearing in the heather before him, is that the path? Well, he thinks dubiously, it is neither marked nor obvious. Maybe this is not it.

There’s another clearing. Nope, not it.

Is that a cut in the hill? Nope, not it.

Glaring at the map, he looks for any hint that will tell him if he has missed the path. Any landmark. Matching the contour lines. Nothing jumps out.

So he goes up to the next likely spot. Nope not it.

He checks his map again, and the guidebook. Still, nothing jumps out and the next rise, some 250 feet above him, begins to loom as he approaches it.

The limestone gives way to sandstone, but this change merely brings him closer to the next peak.

Llanthony and Longtown each get closer, with the priory and castle both sharpening into focus.

At this point, the walker cares not, he only cares about getting off of this damned mountain in one piece.

Where is that path?

He rephrases and shouts in the wind: “Where is that fucking path!?”

Shockingly, the wind and the sheep and the stone and the great enemy do not answer, though the walker might hear the remnant of a chuckle as the wind passes.

Nothing to do but continue forward and hope for a sign.

But now the path is starting to climb again. Can this be right? Or has he completely missed the path and will he have to walk all the way to Hay-on-Wye some 10 miles ahead?

No, he will not, for hidden past a rise is a raised stone. It is, of course, shaped much like a tombstone, but it is a stone nonetheless. Wind and rain have washed away the letters but faintly he can see arrows pointing to each side, and peering closer he confirms that one goes to Llanthony and the other to Longtown.

He is, of course, overjoyed to have actually found the path.

Until, of course, he looks at it.

It starts going steeply downward until it can curve around the mountain. Rough footing, with rocks everywhere. And, of course, mud.

Beneath the beginning is a lovely view, that, of course, goes over 500 feet straight down.

Of course.

In his fear, his mind starts thinking about something else. Anything else. Like the phrase “of course.” What does that really mean? “About a path?” “Relating to a way of proceeding?” How did it get to mean “of course” like we understand it to mean?

With such grammatical thoughts, he carefully takes the first step. And the second. Before he realizes it, he has made it to the first plateau, and now to follow this curving path that is merely a slight level spot on the side of the mountain. The flattened portion is about as wide as the walker is tall, but for some reason the presence of wild flowers and heather on the downhill side is reassuring. Downhill in this case is a bit of a misnomer, though, as more appropriately on the cliff side.

He takes the first step. There are IPAs, after all, waiting down the path.

Each step is slow and frightened. The wind that refreshed on the top now simply adds to the fear, as the enemy’s laughter periodically comes through.

For the most part, though, the enemy leaves the walker alone, at least as long as the walker focuses entirely on each step. Every once in a while the walker loses concentration for but a second and looks down at the sheep and horses that are only two hundred yards away, albeit two hundred yards as the photon flies.

In many places the path is something like a trench, a small little depression of ankle-turning rocks, slippery mud, and tripping roots. In some of these cases the quick route down is about two feet away over the slight rise to the right.

Frighteningly, the rise that has zero margin for error also has a trail worn by many travelers. But I am not them.

In some places, it broadens a bit to a smooth two to three yard wide pathway. However, this is muddy and slippery too, and generally angles down to the dropoff. Nevertheless, with care it’s as good as I could hope for, especially when the heather is to the right. Not that the heather could actually save me, but for some reason it helps.

In four or five places, however, the enemy has made a special challenge. Each is a narrower portion, only a yard or two wide. Each has no margin on the right. Each is a mud pit. Each took many long seconds as the walker makes every move slowly… precisely… surely.

As the walker progresses, periodically he looks down. He started 5-600 feet higher than the pastures below him. Now, he estimates he’s 400, soon it’s a still terrifying 300, then 200, then he starts seeing that he is approaching… not level terrain, never that around here, but terrain where if he trips, he merely falls 15-20 feet into a barbed wire fence. Safety, or at least a relative version.

He proceeds down the now broad muddy lane as it curves next to a cattle paddock. Never before has a cattle paddock seemed so welcoming.

He has made it off of the mountain.

But like Odysseus returning to Persephone, the journey is not complete. The walker has not been welcomed into a warm hall.

And, for the first time, the Walker is unsure. He’s come down to a lane heading north and south. Like old computer games he’s faced with “N” or “S” and he has to decide based upon obscure hints and clues. The map, in this case, provides directions, but which way is the cattle grid? The map is unclear.

Both north and south are mudpits, but the one to the south seems slighty, ever so slightly, easier to traverse.

South it is. But after a half of a mile, the path has shown no signs of being the correct one. With the laughing of the unbowed enemy in his ears, the walker slogs back in the same muddy footprints he just left.

Back to the interesection, but this time to the north.

And farther north.

Through twenty-foot wide mud puddles.

Along yards of churned mud.

Forever hoping to see the tarmacked road that his map promises him. The cattle grid that wards that entrance.

Fatigue and mud slowing his steps, he finally sees the tarmac. A small road, enclosed by the ever present hedges, with the slick bars of the cattle grid leading down the hill that is not even yet so low.

He is so tired now that whatever music is playing is washing over him, helping probably to ease the fatigue, but not at any conscious level. Not at any level he can describe.

And the road goes steeply down. Every step is still fraught with the possibility of tripping and rolling, perhaps not to the death, but certainly to the pain.

He trudges ever on, each step impacting on his already sore feet, but at least since he is going downward, the blister gained by climbing the mountain is irrelevant as his feet are pressed as far forward in his shoes as possible.

Cars pass by, contented farmers heading to their pub probably. The walker responds to their waves with the enthusiasm he can muster.

And that is little enough. There is no scale on the map, but the overall distance from the moment he took the plunge and stepped off of the mountain was a mere 1.8 miles. Surely, he’s walked more than that by this point. Yet there’s another mile, and another 300 feet of descent to go on the sturdy by painful tarmac before reaching the hall.

But there’s nothing for it, and while it is not truly a case of “walk or die,” emotionally he *must* continue. He has defeated monsters of legend along the way. He eluded the door warden to the enemy’s great hall. He defeated the enemy both climbing the mountain and descending it. And while he has no Persephone waiting for him, he has the wealth and warmth of a hall awaiting, if he can but defeat his own mind.

Finally, he is rewarded with the promised line of poplars.

He pauses for a moment to study their sharp verticality. Nine of them presumably lining the driveway of his destination.

Nine welcoming sentinels beckoning him home from hundreds of yards distance and scores of feet in height.

Those scores mean that he cannot go any quicker, though he is anxious to reach the hall. The steep road still begs for him to trip and roll and let the enemy win at the end.

Eventually the walker stands at the end of the lane to the night’s haven. The nine poplars form an honor guard of sorts. The small rise to get to the final building is but a mere nothing that even in the walker’s fatigue causes no worry.

For he has no worry now. No fear. No pain.

He is home.

I’m busily writing out a more complete description of yesterday’s journey, but harrowing is probably an apt term. You’ll see soon enough.

I did not end up walking hardly at all today, which is a bit of a shame as I actually feel great. My choices basically were:
1. Walk back up the mountain. Nope, I’m good.
2. Walk along the lanes to Hay-on-Wye. Tempting but also unsafe. English country roads have hedges instead of shoulders. Sidewalks? Whatevah.
3. A ride with the day’s luggage to the Black Lion in Hay.

I chose 3. I got here 11ish, then spent the next hour washing Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire off of my clothes. I then spent about three hours working on the bigger description of yesterday, which I’m doing slightly differently, as you’ll see.

By then my room was ready. I settled in, repacking my back and enjoying the stability of two whole nights in the same place.

After that, I went a-wandering.

This place is awesome… and deadly. I’m proud that I did not by the 450 pound original 1610 map of Gloucestershire that I found. I was in fact tempted. Had Chepstow still been called by its earlier name on that map, I might have succumbed. I have no idea if there is a single extant map that calls Chepstow by its previous name of Striguil. I realized that I’m just now mentioning this, and I admit it is quite an oversight. A previous Earl of Striguil is fairly well known. Hs name was William, William the Marshal. So, yeah, if I could have had a map with that kind of a connection to William, I might have done something stupid.

I did buy two books. One was a Welsh phrasebook, and the other was a humorous tour book of the Offa’s Dyke Path.

Then I went and had Indian, a very disappointing Tikka Masala with hardly any spice at all. Korma Sutra is still King.

For now, I’m going to relax a bit before enjoying the ale casks downstairs for the rest of the night.

The Enemy Within

10 July 2012

As you will see, today is about conquering the Enemy Within. These are my notes, I’m going to make another post soon that fleshes out the actual day. So my notes from the 10th are all on my phone, as I did not want to carry my tablet up the great mucking hill I climbed. That turned out to be a wise choice. Anyway, here are the transcriptions…

Well, I’m looking over a valley. It’s about an hour after I left the Old Rectory. And as you can tell, I’m breathing hard because boy it’s been generally uphill and when it was downhill it was the wrong kind of downhill, either really steep or along the side of the hill where one foot is higher than the other. But, I have to say the shoes that I bought have done well. I have yet to experience shin splints, which given that I’m about 24-25 miles of walking in the last 4 days with probably another 10 to go today, I really cannot complain.

As I said, I’m leaning on a fence over this valley. Another little victory to get here. This wasn’t the longest or hardest climb I’ve had yet so far. Earlier today I had a climb that was about 40 meters, 40 meters up according to my guidebook. Yeah, that was kinda fun, it took me about 4 rests to catch my breath going up that, doing that in about 60 meters lengthwise. And what you didn’t see was that once you got to the top of what you could see you had to continue on to another rise.

That was not fun, but I have to get used to it, because here in about an hour I suspect I’m going to climb about 450 meters. I think I have a half mile to do it in, but I may not have that much. When I do it, I’ll be on top of one of the ridges of the Black Mountains that’s supposed to be stunning. Hopefully I’ll make it up there, be able to have lunch up there, walk along the ridge for 4 miles or so, which is supposed to be fairly smooth and easy. And then, uh, the descent which could be interesting in Longtown tonight, well, actually Olchon. So, hopefully this recorded, and hopefully this recorded because I really didn’t want to carry the tablet up 450 meters.

10 July 2012

Well, I’m to try it. I’m not sure how wise this is, but I’m going to go up. From where I’m at it’s something like 350 meters up. So far, the walk’s been good today. Not really muddy. But I’m really nervous this, not just the climb, but if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, which is the path, the path is going to be terrifying for me, given my joy and love of heights.

Well, we’ll see how I do. If I get to a point where I’m so freaked out that I have to come down, so be it. I can get to where I need to get to by coming back down and taking a cab. That would kind of suck.

Hopefully I can make it the next 5 miles. I’ve made 3 in the past hour and a half, so that’s not too shabby. If I can make the next 5, actually 7 is what I’ve got left to do today, if I can make that, it will involve a lot of height. Some spectacular scenery, but here’s hoping. The locals think nothing of it, and it’s a standard trail, so they can’t have people falling off of it every day, can they? Can they? Well, we’ll find out.

10 July 2012

So it’s about 12:30pm local time. I am at about 260 meters I would guess, leaving me only about 200 meters of elevation to go. I have gotten to a stile that has a couple of levels to it which conveniently enough provides a seat, and I’m taking advantage of that seat.

A stile, for those of you who don’t know like I did not before this trip is a, basically a couple of wooden steps where you can step up high and then swing your leg over a fence to the steps on the other side. Sometimes it’s nice because you can avoid mud puddles, but sometimes your leg are tired and don’t want to go over the top, so sometimes that’s challenging.

I’m sitting here looking back over the valley I just did cross this morning. I’ve been walking for about 2 and a half, maybe 2:45, and I’ve gotten about 4 miles I would guess, which is about 40% of my trip. I’ve got about 6 miles to go, and of course those 200 meters I’ve been talking about.

Once I get up to the top, I’m told that it’s a nice smooth walk that is graveled and really easy going and so on and so forth. Yeah, I’m hoping, but I’m still really nervous about it because at some point I’m going to get up to 488 meters which is by far the most I have ever walked up. There’s a little side trail that will get me up to 535 if I want and tomorrow if I so decide that I’m enjoying walking up this ridge that much, I can walk up to 700plus meters. Um, I don’t know. At this point I would say I’m walking around the hill to get to Hay-on-Wye. We’ll see.

Right now, I’m tired, but not overly so. My feet are pretty good, got a little of what may turn into a blister on the back of my heel that I will probably have to do something about when I get to Olchon Cottage but there’s not much I can do about it right now.

Now I just have to face my fear of heights, because what I’ve seen of this of this path, what I think of this path is that I’m walking up is that something like 4 feet away is a dropoff, a rolling dropoff down all of these meters, and that’s kind of terrifying

So, I’m think I’m OK once I get past this 200 meter upward stretch, which I’m guessing is about a quarter mile. I’m not positive, but if I can make it past this quarter mile, half mile, whatever, and get to the top of the ridge, I think it’s smooth sailing. For now, I’m going to check out.

There’s supposed to be a old Iron Age hillfort so I may check in again there.

10 July 2012

Well I am now finishing up my lunch. I guess I’m at about 440 meters. I have made it most of the way up. I can actually see the crest of the path, I can see the stone that marks it about 100 yards up. I’ve stopped where I’m at because it’s a little depression in the path that has raised berms that I can sit on.

So far, the path has been better than I expected. When you see it from the base of the mountain, it looks like the path is right next to a huge steep dropoff, and it’s fairly close, but the path is 2 yards wide generally speaking. I suppose you get a car up here if you really wanted to… and were crazy.

The surface is pretty good, it’s not particularly muddy. Muddy in some places, but not bad, and those are usually the level places. It’s a slow walk. I’m not positive off the top of my head what time it is, I’m sure the time stamp will tell me, when I finish this recording.

But, it’s been since about 11:30, so about 2 hours to make what I’m guessing maybe over a little over a mile of walking distance. I say it’s hard to tell as I can see a lot of my walking here from where I’m at, including as you’ll see, a very specific series of cow photos (chuckling). It’s, uh, been an interesting walk. It’s too bad Kate is not up here because some of the photos she’d get from this vantage point would be stuuuuupendous.

But again we’d worry about her camera in the weather because it looks like I may get some rain, before long. So far, I’ve just gotten a few sprinkles. Hopefully it doesn’t rain too much on the downward part. That’s the part I’m really nervous about.

I figure I got about 5 miles to go, 3 miles on the ridge, then 2 miles down to Longtown and Olchon where I’m staying.

So, hopefully the next 3 miles which is fairly even from what I’m told and is like what I’ve been on, which when it’s smooth is fairly nice to walk on. Hopefully it’s mostly like that and I can traverse it fairly quickly so that I’m not after 6:30pm when they’re expecting me. Fortunately, I think I have signal up here and can call if need be.

With that, I think I’m going to get these old bones vertical and try and get these last 100 yards of ascent. Then the long, mostly even stretch of the ridge and hopefully not miss the Longtown cross path so I don’t have to go up to 700 meters.

I will say that right now I’ve made the executive decision that tomorrow I’m walking around the crest because I do not want to walk straight up 700 meters. I just don’t think I could do it. Tomorrow I’ll be walking around this mountain.

But I have done pretty good with what I’ve done. Getting up to this point is not a little victory, it’s a pretty big one. Every 10 steps has been a little victory and there were a lot of 10 steps, a lot of 10 meter stretches.

And the occasional weird song, like Due South, really? I’m going north, really. But some others have been very fitting.

So, Hand Over Fist, paper around the stone, I’m starting back up the ridge with every muscle tensed to fence the Enemy Within.

Experience to Extremes

9 July 2012

Sitting in the Florence eating breakfast. While they’re tasty, I still find the concept of beans being a breakfast food odd. Nevertheless, the standard English breakfast is quite good. Bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans. Yum.

Not much to say yet today, but I’m girding my loins to elevate 700 feet in less than 2 miles. Then we’ll see about coming down off of the Kymin. Fortunately, that’s the start to today’s trip and if I want to come down via a roadway, I can. Also, right after that is Monmouth meaning I can take a break.

According to the map, after Monmouth there is some elevation, but nothing like the Devil’s Pulpit or the Kymin. Also the trails look good. Still not sure I’m making the 14.5miles to White Castle. We’ll see what time it is when I leave Monmouth.

I’m also starting to get nervous about tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m supposed to do half of the highest point on the trip, something like 2000 feet of elevation. It’s also in a very boggy area and might be difficult in wet periods. Did I mention it’s raining and muddy? Then on Wednesday I do the second half. There’s an alternate route along the side of the mountain that is safer, and I may take that one. I’m going to call the trail company when I’m in Monmouth and discuss it with them.

Today is overcast again and I’m sure I’ll get some rain, but none right now. The hat I have works well, unless it pours.

By the way, you might say that I should have expected more rain, given our stereotypical view of England. Let’s just say that they’ve had more rain in England thus far in July than they average in July and August combined. By like twice as much. I can see the Wye flowing out the window right now, and it’s flowing fast fast fast. The word I hear most about this is: unprecedented.

To describe the general countryside that I’m in, I would say think of a curvy, green, Ozarks. I’m not sure the elevations here are as much as the Ozarks, but the hills do seem high enough as I’m walking up :). There’s an ancient feeling to the landscape here, not simply because of the history. The hilltops are rounded and curved, like they’ve been worn down far more than the Ozarks have. Some of the farms here are on inclines that I suspect were dismissed in the Ozarks, plus there are lots of pastures. At one point the path passed through a pasture with 4 white horses with no fence between the path and the horses. Earlier, I’d been in a sheep pasture with a herd about 20 yards to my right. For some reason I find that interesting.

9 July 2012

Made it to Monmouth, a nice little 6plus mile walk. Actually today’s walk so far has not been too bad. The initial challenge was to walk two miles while gaining 700 feet of elevation. The initial part of the hill was the worst. That was about half of that in the first half mile. I took it slow and easy and made it to the top of Kymin with the Round House and Naval Temple.

The Naval Temple, for a Hornblower fan, is pretty cool. It’s a monument to the admirals of that war, and includes Nelson, Rodney, Howe, and Hood. In the lineup of admirals, those are some heavy hitters.

The Round House is kind of interesting, though I’m told it’s better on a sunny day. What *was* spectacular was the view overlooking Monmouth and the Wye Valley. You’ll see pictures… eventually πŸ™‚

Then came the interesting part, coming down without mishap. There are several routes down, including one entirely on asphalt. I took the way down that looked easiest, but I might have been wrong. Then again I might have been right. Much of the way was through the lane between fences, a tight, rocky, steep descent. I managed to make it without slipping, but it was close.

I did, however, slip after I got to a much easier stretch and lost concentration. Nothing, huge, just down to one knee, but funny because I made the hard parts safely.

By the way, I’ve determined England’s a pointy place. It seems like most of the bushes along the path have thorns. There’s also many holly trees. And today, as I was descending I had to grab at a random branch to keep my balance. Yeah, you guessed it, rose bush. My hand looks like a kitten to town on it.

After that I was generally in the town. Right now I’m in the Punch Room Pub in downtown Monmouth, about to have lunch. I’m going to try the combo appetizer platter. I’m curious what buffalo wings are like here πŸ™‚

Monmouth itself is a nice solid town. The town church was originally founded in 1102. Yes, I have a picture of an original stone.

Now, I have choices ahead of me. It’s about 8-10 miles to White Castle across fields without much in the way of elevation change in comparison to what I’m used to. If I finish here at 2pm, then I have to average 2 miles an hour. Doable… depending upon the mud and rain. I’ve probably averaged about a mile and half per hour so far, but that’s partially been because of the elevation changes and challenges. If the path is as kept up from Monmouth as they claim, then I’m good, but….

However, there’s a lot to do in Monmouth, not least of which is catch up on photos and what not. There’s the Nelson museum that of course I want to see. Also, I’m supposed to end up today at White Castle, which I’m going to want to walk around. What I may do is putter around Monmouth for a bit, and then get a taxi to put me up the path a bit so that I can have 2 miles or so to White Castle, and then with some time to walk around there around 6pm before my hosts for tomorrow pick me up.

Physically, I’m sore but not particularly tired. Again, if it weren’t for the mud, I’d be blowing through this. That in itself is a little victory. The new shoes I bought have done well on the rough terrain. My knees and ankles are much less sore than I expected or deserve. From a sedentary lifestyle to walking 20-some miles of rough terrain in 3 days ought to hurt at least some.

Mentally, I’m in a very rough place right this second. I’m not feeling particularly fair, so I hope you don’t take too much offense at this, Kate. You express your emotions in pictures. I do it in words, and I have things I just need to say so I can process them.

Anyway, Kate posted a bunch of photos recently, and some of those photos hurt a lot. The photos of her family at the wedding only a month or so ago bother me. It’s like that whole trip was a fraud. Why did I have to stay and meet Kate’s family if I was two weeks away from not being a part of it? The entire reason I didn’t get to visit any of my friends was to stay meet the Hogans. Why did you even want me there? We had a good trip, I thought, but I guess I thought wrong.

And the pictures from Lilies are just hard. Again, it’s like it was all a lie. I’ll forever think of the day with Maerwynn with joy, but tinged with anger and sadness because the pictures of that day are Kate’s. And, oh yeah, that evening she dumped me. Joy.

And she’s also got pictures up of a new guy. I’ve never met him, so I suspect she met him after we broke up. Now I have no place to judge as I have been looking on OKCupid and flirting more than normal, but for some reason this bothers me. I’m not a jealous man, and I didn’t mind her flirting. It’s not like I wasn’t flirting too. I really do want the best for her and I hope she finds someone that works for her. I worry about her expectations of a relationship, and I fear that her unwillingness to communicate will poison her chances. Again, however, those are concerns that things go well for her in the future, not jealousy.

Nevertheless, I’m jealous of this guy, whether or not she’s actually seeing him romantically, and it’s really odd for me. It just hurts, and frankly it just hurts that we don’t communicate enough right now to tell each other these things. I guess the hardest part is that we’ve bunkered down into our fortresses and set up our defenses because we know we can hurt and be hurt by the other. At least, I assume I can hurt her but I’ve always had some challenges reading her. We hardly talk right now, and when we do we’re trying to avoid awkward conversations. I’m hoping that this trip will not only allow me to grow into a better stronger, though footsore, person, but also allow Kate the space she needs as well. Hopefully by the end of Pennsic, when we’re sorting through the way we life together for the future, we can reasonably easily talk about our respective futures with other peoples. Because despite my anger and frustration and disppointment and sadness that we’re not together, I really do love her immensely and want her to have a happy, joyful, and love-filled life, even if that’s not with me. Kate, if you do read this, I want you to especially read that last sentence and not stress about the angst and frustration in the other part of this. I really do love you and want the best for you.

OK, so the buffalo wings are sort of like Popeye’s spicy chicken. They’ve put the spiciness in the breading. The tandoori chicken “on a schteeek” is quite tasty. Interestingly their definition of nachos is essentially nacho chips, but no cheese. I make wayyyy better ribs, but I find barbecue over here to be slightly on the humorous side in general.

Oh, and I’m getting a lot of brains this trip. Brains Bitter, SA, Black, and others to be precise. Brains is a Welsh brewery, and as ou can see I’m working down their whole line. If I ever become a zombie, I want to be one in Wales. Braaaainnnz. Oh, and Fernando, there’s a scrumpy every where I go, as well as other ciders on tap. I even had one in your honor. And yes, Kate, I’ve had some lighter beers for other people too. I had two Dorothy Goodbody’s from Wye Valley Brewery last night.

Some random catchup notes before I forget:
– The Coach and Horses was founded in 1602. I am not sure if it was a Roundhead or Cavalier bar. It’s on Welsh Street, so called because it was outside the main walls where the Welsh had to stay. The current owner, Ian Weyrick, was born in Wales, but moved to South Africa as a baby and Zulu is his first language (of about 15 including Welsh and English). No offense to Josie, who was an excellent landlord, but if I come back to Chepstow I’m staying there. It’s more me πŸ™‚

– The night life in Chepstow is fascinating. There are two dance bars open until 3am or so just down the road from the C&H. It just seems odd that a smallish town like Chepstow is the regional late night disco site.

– Despite those bars (and apparently you want to steer clear of them late at night because some kids want to bash some heads when they’re drunk), Chepstow is a lovely place to go.

– So far, Anne and Kate have done a bangup job at Celtic Trails. Both Josie at the Town Mews and Dennis and Kathy at the Florence have provided excellent food, comfy lodgings (I only hit my head twice on the beams at the Florence), and wonderful service.

– Again, communications may be spotty over the next two days until Hay-on-Wye. I really don’t know when I’ll have WiFi next.

A Certain Amount Resistance To The Forces Of Light And Heat

8 June 2012

Brockweir. I made it to Brockweir. There was some question. Not quite sure how many miles that was, but it was mostly vertical in one direction or another. It was also muddy as hell for much of it. Some small wonderful portions were nice, but many were just ankle-deep mud pits for yards.

I only slipped on my ass 3 times, the last time I made it down the final 10 yards of a particularly tricky stretch the fast way. I’m pretty sure I set a new league record in amount of that damn hill that I wore into a pub. I’m just covered head to toe. Right now I’m sitting on their patio, transferring some of that mud to them. I actually took my shoes off to give my feet a chance to breathe.

Oh, and I think I slipped into poison ivy. My right forearm is tingling. I’ll wash it again before I leave.

There were some absolutely terrifying moments along the way as well. In many places you are 2-250 feet above the Wye. When you’re on the Dyke itself, that means that to my left was a step hill that ran all the way down to it. Not quite a cliff, that hill. Not quite. Oh, and did I mention it was muddy? Yeah, you try walking on a 2-3foot wide muddy path filled with roots and stones with a huge drop-off to one side without getting nervous. Or in my case, terrified.

For the next stretch I have two options. One is more direct but over a hill and the guidebook says that it is difficult in some stretches when wet. That part is difficult and getting down from the Devil’s Pulpit wasn’t? In the immortal word of Dongal, “Huh.”

So I’m taking the longer stretch that goes along the Wye. I expect it to be muddier, but it’s essentially level.

Oh, and while I got a few awesome pictures of Tintern Abbey from the top of the hill, I did not make it to Tintern. There’s a path that diverges in the woods to Tintern, but it’s basically directly down the hill. I had enough problems with the shallow route, thank you. I could go back to it, but I really don’t have time to add yet two more miles today. I need to be in Bigsweir by 6ish.

I’m waiting now for some lunch at the Brockweir Inn, where they’re just chuckling at my muddiness, not mad. Thank you very much. And they have the first pale ale I’ve run into so far.

At least the music has been good.

One Little Victory popped up. This seems a perfect choice actually. The boys wrote that after they came back from the tragedy of Neil’s wife and daughter, which not surprisingly sort of destroyed Neil’s view on life. It’s a recognition of his growth and survival and the growth and survival of Rush as a while. “Another chance at victory, another chance to score, a measure of the moment, in a difference of degrees, just one little victory, a spirit breaking free.”

It’s the kind of thing that I need to think about. I mean, I turn 44 in about a week and I don’t have a whole lot to hang my hat on. Two failed marriages. A semi-successful career in computers, but that time has passed. A failed career in academics. I have hopes and plans, but right now it’s hard to put much faith in them. As Mal said, “You notice anything about our luck lately? Any kind of pattern?”

I’m trying not to be on the drift, but it’s hard when I think about things sometimes. How the hell did I let a marriage fail in 11 months? I mean, really, I didn’t even get to celebrate *an* anniversary. How the hell did I not realize the nature of my choices in 2003 in terms of jobs? The information was there, but I didn’t see it.

So right now I’m looking for every little victory that I can get. Making it up a hill (and let me tell you there were some hills today, hills that rival Macedonia). Making it through a muddy patch. Making it to a vista, such as the ones overlooking Tintern Abbey. Those were stunning, and yes I have pictures. Making it from Brockweir to Bigsweir. One step before the other, making it the next mile.

Hopefully these will lead to bigger victories. Writing something along the way, besides Medb’s scroll, which is starting to take shape in my mind. Actually keeping up with this schedule, at least for the most part. The mud does slow things down and it doesn’t look like I’ll make a two mile stretch from Bigsweir to Redbrook. I’d feel worse but for the mud and also because I’m doing the long option to get to Bigsweir. Well, all that and my feet hurt :).

OK, I’ve finished lunch. I’ve a certain degree of determination, staring on a different course.

One more step. One more song. One more little victory.

8 July 2012

Grrrr, I just had this typed out but my tablet lost it. Trying again.

Made it to Bigsweir and ultimately the Florence. I was soaked. I am tired. It was an adventure. More to come tomorrow, probably of all of that. I didn’t quite make it to my end point, but I did walk 10-11 miles. Yes, I’m sore. Honestly, if it had not been for the mud I think I would have made it. Yeah, there were slow stretches, but many of the muddy slow parts were places that I might have made up time if they hadn’t been kilometer-long mud puddles.

I’m supposed to make it 14.5 miles tomorrow. We’ll see how much farther past Monmouth, which is about halfway, that I get to tomorrow. I might just take Mahault’s advice and see the Nelson museum there. At this point, I’ll get where I get, and I hope tomorrow’s landlords will get me there πŸ™‚

While I would have loved to have had someone on this trip, Kate would not have enjoyed it. So far, I’ve seen too many places where she might have lost her camera, but also even more places where she would have been bereft without it. The overlook over Tintern comes to mind.

I am not mountain climbing, but it ain’t far away at times. Going up in the mud is interesting but not especially difficult. Going down? Chinese-freaking-curse interesting.

For now, though, I’m exhausted. I need to review tomorrow’s route and get some sleep.

PS I’m not sure after Monmouth if I will find WiFi before Hay-on-Wye on Wednesday. Don’t panic if I don’t post.