Day 2: In Which Our Hero Manages To Stay Upright

7 July 2012

I am sitting on the initial stone marking the path right now. I’m overlooking the Severn Estuary, which currently has no shipping on it. The bridge over the Severn, stark white in today’s gray light, is busy, however.

The Severn itself is flowing busily to the sea, a brown gray of sand and stories and history.

At the base of the hill that I am on is a bridge over a small creek. One sign says, congratulations on finishing the walk. The sign from the other direction says good luck. Such a metaphor, eh?

OK, so, it’s a cheap and cheesy song, but “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I know I’m ending some begining right now, but I’m not sure what beginning that is. I’m crying over lost possibilities with Kate as I type this, but I’m not sure when that beginning ended. I’m not sure I’ll ever know our relationship and what happened. I’m not sure she does or will either. All I know is that I want her here right now. If we hadn’t split we would have gone to Ireland in the next year, and I would be patiently waiting while she took picture after picture after picture. I wish I were waiting on her right now. I’m only taking a few, and they aren’t in her class.


As to this beginning of a beginning, it’s fairly auspicious. The weather from my perspective is awesome. Cloudy, windy, cool, but no rain. The path so far has been terribly muddy. News reports from up the trail say that will continue for the entire walk. For now, I’m heading back to Chepstow, about 2-3 miles so I can look at their castle. Then to Gloucester to see the cathedral there.

7 July 2012

It’s about 2:30 now and I’m sitting in a suddenly busy Chepstow Castle. When I got here about an hour ago it was empty. Now there are a dozen college-aged kids. I wonder if a bus just got here πŸ™‚

Getting to this point has been interesting. When I mentioned that the Offa’s Dyke Path is not like the Katy Trail, I really wasn’t kidding. Getting off of the hill was an adventure with as muddy as it is. I literally turned my feet sideways so I could sort of do a semi-controlled slide. I made it barely without falling down.

Parts of the path are ankle or even deeper in mud. Think of the Pennsic when Fernando turned 40 kind of mud. Oh, and in parts there’s not really a path, just a cow-pattie covered field. At one point there was a little creek where 4 rocks had been put in it to help cross it. It was challenging indeed with this mud. Worse was the next part where I had to go down a 5 yard or so little slipway that was entirely mud.

It’s amazing the sense of accomplishment just simply traversing portions like this.

After that, however, it was mostly straightforward paths, though they were often in between some high walls and hedges. You walk generally speaking upwards so you can go along the cliffs overlooking the River Wye. Then through a posh neighborhood onto a cool rock-walled path.

Then you come to a T, in which you can go up to continue the path, or back down to Chepstow. I turned back to Chepstow as I have other plans today. I doubt I’ll actually walk the other 100 yards or so that I missed tomorrow, as the only place that Josie can really drop me off is at the bottom or the top of the hill. I think I’m going to be hard-pressed enough to walk tomorrows 12plus miles without starting at the bottom of a mucking great cliff.

Making my way down the hill brought me to the small bridge over the Wye at Chepstow. Crossing this brought from Gloucestershire, England to Monmouthshire, Wales. This particular bridge was built in 1816. 18-freakin’-16. Meh, it’s a baby.

I stopped for lunch at a small pub called the Three Tuns that happens to be right next to Chepstow Castle. It was an odd meal for me, simply their cheese plate. They gave me three different large wedges of cheese, a good salad, and delicious bread and butter. Oh, and some slightly sweet chutney that I couldn’t identify but which I ate all of. I actually couldn’t eat all they brought me, even though it was delicious, but it was just too much. And that’s saying a lot from me.

Let me tell you this castle is an amazing place to visit. It’s one of the oldest stone fortifications in the UK, well, at least the original tower is. It was added on quite a bit, including by William Marshal, and I would guess it stretches about a quarter mile on a cliff overlooking the Wye. It’s in surprisingly good shape, and there are a ton of the interior places that you can visit. At the barbican you can even go up to the door of the highest tower. At that point you’re at least a hundred feet in the air on both sides (more on the river side). Yes, there’s a wall to each side, but you’re on a 3-foot wide path. I’m proud of myself that I didn’t wet myself in shear terror but it was close-run thing. Heights and wasps are my terrors. Fortunately, I’ve never flooded my house to kill a spider, but I have sprayed bunches of the wasp spray that you’re never ever supposed to spray indoors inside the house in Columbia.

So far today has been immensely valuable for a couple of reasons. First, I knocked off some of tomorrow’s walk, only about a half-mile but still. Second, while my tablet is proving it’s worth, and it takes good pictures, I’m going to need a different camera just because it’s cumbersome. That and I want something with a strap when I’m leaning over something to take a shot. I thought that this might be the case, and Kate gave me some suggestions of what to look for. I’m going to get something this afternoon to smooth that out.

However, here I am in the cool in an opening that I think might have been an oven typing this out. The tablet is so light and convenient that I barely notice it’s presence. Plus, it has more memory than my entire music collection, meaning I’ve got everything, including stuff that I don’t know well or have listened to hardly at all. The soundtrack of this walk has been interesting. Fyrdmen on Campaign has popped up. At one point something Irish-y popped up while I was walking on one of the less developed parts of the path, and it seemed so incredibly perfect at that moment. Something from Korn came up when I was going through the portion that leads through a suburban neighborhood and that helped speed me up a bit. Judas Priest, Rush, and Heather Dale have also contributed.

Actually, for about the entire trip over Heather Dale provided the soundtrack. Specifically, I listened to the Road to Santiago about 20 times. I might just set it on repeat one of these days and learn it on the walk. Someday I’d like to walk the road to Santiago like I’m doing here, but this trip is of course a pilgrimage of its own. I guess you could say I’m seeking God, or Odin, or Zeus, or anyone of their buddies. Introspective only gets me so far right now.

OK, I suppose it’s time to check back in at the B&B, maybe change socks or even go to sandals for the Gloucester portion. Then see about a camera. Then maybe something caffeinated.

7 July 2012

I’m sitting in Mamma Mia waiting on some Italian deliciousness. I was going to eat at the Coach and Horses again, but they don’t serve tonight. Humorously, the landlady came up and apologized for not telling me last night. She’s actually been stressing on that all day.

Nevertheless, earlier I was able to upload my photos for the day. After dinner, I head back to the C&H to post this and finish captioning them.

So I bought a camera today. In fact, I bought the most expensive camera I could. Ummm, let’s just say Chepstow does not have a Wal-Mart. I found one stationary place that actually had 2, count them, 2 digital cameras in stock. I bought a Fuji with 10x zoom and a goodly number of megapixels that came with a holster and a 2gb SD card. Part of the reason that I love this tablet is that it will take SD cards, so this should work fine. It was only $160 or so, so while I would mind losing it, I’m a lot less worried about leaning over something and taking a picture with it than the tablet. In any case, I bought the most expensive camera in Chepstow πŸ˜€

Tomorrow the plan is to be on the trail by 10am. Josie will make me another huge breakfast which really suited this morning well. Eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, and really tasty strawberry jam and orange marmalade. Yummm. Then, she’ll give me a lift to where I start tomorrow.

The plan is something like 14 miles. I know I said 12.7, but I think I’m taking the low road. The Offa’s Dyke path has only one place where there are two choices, and I hit that tomorrow. The description of the high road is that it is shorter, but harder on essentially unmarked hills. The guide specifically mentions that it’s challenging in bad weather. So, I’ll take the low road along the Wye that is 1.6miles longer.

I’m also going to add more mileage along the way by stopping in Tintern for lunch and to see the Abbey there. I’m of two minds here. Part of me wants to walk every step of the Path. It’s possible if I do Tintern, I don’t make it all the way.

However, in doing so I’ll actually walk at least as much distance, and I kind of think that it would be stupid to pass by such a landmark simply to essentially be pedantic. We’ll see how I do. I actually pass by the lodgings along the way, so if I can’t go on, I can stop a mile or two short today.

For tonight, I’m eating some amazing Italian sausage waiting on my entree. Then it’s back to the C&H for cask ales until midnight or so. 14-15 miles in the mud. I suspect that I’ll be less coherent tomorrow night.

In any case, cheers mates.

Made It

Greetings all

I’m sitting in the Couch and Horses pub in Chepstow, Wales right now. I have just finished my first pint and a delicious meal. Anne specifically suggested this place, and it’s no wonder why. It has won the “Town Pub of the Year” from CAMRA for two years running. You may not know CAMRA, but Erich and Elasait do. CAMRA is the CAMpaign for Real Ale. 6 different casks pulls, two of which I can tell you at this point are scrumptious. I’ll let you know about the others later πŸ˜€

The trip went really well. The first flight was extremely comfortable because I was in First Class. I couldn’t upgrade the second, but I had already chosen the Premium Economy and I got an aisle seat with no one sitting next to me. I still didn’t sleep much, but it was as comfortable as I could have hoped. The flight also was basically turbulence-free. I suspect part of this is that 747s are just big damn brutes. I was, however, disappointed to find out that it didn’t have WiFi, which the flight from KC to DFW did in fact have.

I got into Heathrow at about 9am local, or about 3am KC time. By about 11:30 I was on a train to Gloucester, and by 2:30 I had arrived to Chepstow. Yeah, I was tired, given that I really had pulled an all-nighter. I’m still a little logy, but a nap and a shower at the Town Mews has perked me right up.

So, the weather giveth, and the weather taketh away. First of all, the English are getting a little frustrated about what has apparently been a month of rain with not much change in sight. It’s raining outside the window I’m looking out right now. However, I’m giving their complaints a bit of a deaf ear. After all, right now it’s 13 instead of 40 Celsius. I can deal with a little rain when I’m looking at 50s as opposed to 100s. The taketh part is that parts of the Trail will be harder to walk because of the mud.

Tomorrow, I’m going to do the initial part of the trail, which isn’t really included in the itinerary I mentioned yesterday. It’s a 2 mile or so jaunt from the actual Severn Estuary up to the rail bridge over the Wye. I’ll probably continue to the next bridge over the Wye so that I can go to the amazing castle here in Chepstow before returning to the train station and going back to Gloucester for a few hours. My plan is to be back in Chepstow 6ish, have a few more pints at the Couch and Horses and fortify myself for the first day of walking.

All in all, about as smooth of a day to get ensconced in Chepstow as I could have hoped. Awaiting me here, by the way, was Josie, the owner of the Town Mews at the train station. There was also an excellent package of maps and guides provided by Celtic Trails waiting for me. I spent some time looking at the path, and at times, the terms path is a misnomer. Sometimes it’s walking on major highways. In some places, it’s crossing a semi-random field. It’s definitely not like the Katy Trail path. Glad I can read a map πŸ˜€

Also, I’m afraid I’m a bit of a disappointment to Josie. She kept wanting to make me tea, or to get me something else, or basically be an awesome host. I might be a little too low maintenance for her. Still, she’s promised me eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, and beans for breakfast. You all will be proud of me. I set my foot down and refused the cereal.

Well, I’ve finished my beer, so obviously I need to stop typing and order another. Till tomorrow everyone.

At The Starting Gate

Greetings all

Well, I am sitting here at MCI all checked in and ready for the first leg. This first part is a quick jaunt down to DFW with American Airlines. I was able to upgrade this to First Class for $42. Major score. I’m trying to upgrade the 9 hour leg with British Airways, but it doesn’t want to let me online because it doesn’t know that I’ve dealt with the seat assignment on American. American won’t let me do seat assignments because it’s on BA. Where’s Joseph Heller when I need him. Hopefully, in the hour and a half I have at DFW I can figure it out.

In any case, I’ve got some time to kill, so I’m going to write a full complete Rhodri-length post.

This past weekend was wonderful and relaxing. There are times when validation and love that normally feels way too much is just what one needs. Eoforwic and Ealdormere have given me way more than I’ve given them, but I do recognize that it’s been a two-way street. In any case, the welcome that they gave me was just what I needed right now. Sitting around the Eoforwic fire singing until late drinking beer that Rattanicus and Gypsy and Mahault and Berend brought me was wonderful. I am out of practice, so I didn’t sing particularly well, but of course I have a set of songs they’re not used to so that helped. I also did Eric St. Leger’s ship song a couple of times, as I’m trying to bring it back to the normal rotation. It was rough, but Hector especially liked it and commented upon how it sort of forms a snapshot of Calontir in 2005.

I fought a goodly amount on Saturday. The main scenario was a steal from the Abbey kind of scenario. It needed some thought on how to do it, but the basic setup of bricks in a haybale Abbey was good. I’m contemplating how to make it smoother. The original idea was not particularly effective, and I broke it. My side won the first round 24 to 1. Oooops, sorry Mordain πŸ™‚

Sunday there was a class on melee tactics. It was extremely difficult keeping my mouth shut. Shockingly, Ealdormere and Calontir have different warfighting styles. Who knew? Still, the class was fun to watch.

The highlight of the day for me, however, occurred at court when Medb got announced for her Laurel. In truth, I thought this was overdue, long overdue. I knew she’d be a Laurel back in 2003 or so when she went to York to look at the back of a piece of sprang and was able to reject the “academic” theory of how her type of sprang was actually done. I was terribly impressed then, and the work she has done since has continued to impress. So, doing as the Romans do, for the proto-Mistress Medb, Wassail!

The trip back on Monday and Tuesday was generally uneventful. We could have pressed on and done the trip in one day, but it was wiser to stop for the night. We made it to Bloomington and stayed at the Chateau. OK, this was a really cool choice. First, the decor is very Versailles-ish. Fleur-de-lys everywhere. Did you hear me Issi and Lyriel? Everywhere. The bathroom even had FdL wallpaper. Second, they actually have a hotel bar and a hotel restaurant. You know, most nights I do just want a hotel room, but I lament the decline of the hotel bar. This one even had a couple of decent beers on tap. In any case, I was a little nervous about the price, but it was only $60 or so on a Monday night. Not bad at all.

Yesterday, Kate, Jenn, and I hosted a 4th of July party. We ended up getting about 20 people and it was about the perfect size. Big enough to have a good vibe, small enough that there was not much pressure. One of the attendees was the neighbor over the back fence, Mike. He seems like a very hoopy frood and he survived being the *one* non-SCA person. Now if I can fix his taste in beer πŸ˜‰

I actually feel a little guilty, because I have thought basically since I moved in 15 months ago that I should host a neighborhood get together of basically the houses that I can see from my house. It took Mike contacting Jenn to get him invited over. I so suck. I think some point in September I’m going to have to rectify this mistake.

So now I sit in MCI ready to go. Another hour and a half or so and I’m on my way. Here’s my overall trip itinerary.

7/5: Leave KC on Flight 1298 at 2:35pm to Dallas. Then at 4:10 Flight 192 to Heathrow landing 8:45am Friday the 6th.

7/6: Arrive in the morning, then make my way to Chepstow. First task will be to get a phone, the second to get to Paddington Station, the third to Chepstow. Not sure when I arrive in Chepstow but I’m staying at the Town Mews there for both Friday and Saturday night. Hopefully I’ll get there early enough and have enough energy to go visit very early 12th century Norman castle there. We’ll see, in any case, a lot of kicking back, relaxing, and maybe a pint or three.

7/7: Technically a rest day, but this is my chance to visit Aethelflaed and Gloucester. It’s a 30-minute train ride and knowing me I’ll get to Gloucester 11ish and spent 5-6 hours there and return. I’m intending to get a good night’s sleep and be well-rested before the actual start of the walk, but I’m not always the wisest of knives in the sea…

7/8: Up on my way, hitting the open trail, there is magic at my fingers, for the spirit ever lingers, undemanding contact in my happy solitude. The first actual walking day, this one from Chepstow to Redbrook. It’s 12.7 miles, but along the way is a slight optional detour of Tintern Abbey so it might end up longer. We’ll see. That night I’m staying at The Florence in Bigsweir.

7/9: Redbrook to White Castle, 14.5 miles. No, I’m not going to try and eat sliders in White Castle. I will probably have lunch in Monmouth though, a place of some reknown. I’m actually really excited about the accommodations on the trip in general, but this seems especially cool. I’ll be staying at the Old Rectory in the middle of Llangattock Lingoed. This sounds like a neat place. I hope I’m coherent enough to appreciate it. This may not be the toughest part of the trail, but I suspect the second day will be the hardest day of the trip.

7/10: White Castle to Longtown Cross Path, about 12 miles. The directions for this day are positively Grimfellish: “When you reach the crosspath descend off the top of the mountain and continue across the base of the mountain until you come to a cattle grid… Turn right and cross over the cattle grid and head down the lane to Olchon Cottage; identified by a row of poplar trees along the drive. Please note that there is no mobile reception here.” No, really? I’ll be staying at the Olchon Cottage Farm this night.

7/11: Longtown Cross Path to Hay-on-Wye, 13.0 miles. So, this will be the final make or break day. If I complete this day, I’ll make it through the whole trip because I have a rest day in Hay-on-Wye. I’ll be staying both the 11th and 12th at the Famous Old Black Lion in Hay-on-Wye. I totally dig this name.

7/12: A “rest” day. Yeah, I’m going to rest a lot in a town known far and wide for it’s booksellers. This is probably the most perilous day on the whole trip. A full day with a credit card in a town full of weird, cool, and one-of-a-kind books? Perilous indeed.

7/13: Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 14.5 miles. Kington is the home of the Offa’s Dyke Centre and is the one part of this whole walk that I saw last time. It was here that I discovered the actual Offa’s Dyke Path and thought, “Wow, wouldn’t this be cool.” I’m staying at the De Lacy House in Kington. There’s also a microbrewery here. Yum.

7/14: For they marched out, to Bastille Day…, and for me I’m marching from Kington to Knighton. I’m totally stopping at the George and Dragon in the middle of this day’s 13.5 miles. I stay at the Horse and Jockey Inn in Knighton.

7/15: Knighton to Cwn, 13.6 miles. I stay at Drewin Farm on this night.

7/16: Happy Birthday to me, as I walk from Cwn to Buttington, 13.7 miles. I actually stay at the Tynllwyn Farm in Welshpool. At this point, by the way, I’ve entered Powys which is sort of where I thought that Rhodri ap Hywel would be from. Conveniently, my trip cost includes a ride from the lodgings to a pub and back. Brilliant!!!! Did I mention that when I contacted the booking agency I told them I like Real Ales. This definitely deserves a self-congratulatory smirk.

7/17: Buttington to Trefonen, 16.3 miles. So, I might regret my birthday celebration as I walk the longest distance so far on the trip. Ahead Warp Factor Trudge, Mr. Sulu. I’ll be staying at the Lynstead Lodge in Trefonen. Well, I’ll just have to console myself that dinner will be at another microbrewery.

7/18: Trefonen to Castell Dinas Bran, 15.8 miles. Another long day, and one made longer as there are castles on this day. I end up at the Plas Hafod in Llangollen for two days as I have a rest day here in Llangollen.

7/19: Another rest day in Llangollen, which looks to have lots of cool stuff.

7/20: Castell Dinas Bran to Clwyd Gate, 14.5 miles. I’ll be staying at Gorphwysfa Guest House in Ruthin. You might have noticed, by the way, that several places that I’m staying are not actually on the path. The trip planners have arranged for people to pick me up at various times and places to shuttle me back and forth from the lodging and the trail. This seems as good of a time to mention that they’ll also be transferring my suitcase from place to place. The total cost for the trip from them was like 1600 pounds. That includes the lodging, breakfast, and all of the basic logistics, including plans for lunches and dinner reservations where applicable along the way. That seems like a great deal, and a ton of work by Anne and Kate at Celtic Trails from my perspective.

7/21: Clwyd Gate to Bodfari, 11.0 miles. Wow, a short day, although I’m thinking this might have a lot of verticality. Tonight I’ll stay at Valeside in Bella Vista (Bodfari, not Arkansas). By the way, a charmingly English note to this day’s directions: “The Downing Arms is a half mile away, on the A541. A pocket torch would be useful for your finding your way home after dinner.”

7/22: Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12.0 miles. I have at this point officially made it. W000000ttttt. This is the last day. I actually stay at the Chester Recorder House in Chester both the 22nd and 23rd.

7/23: The last “rest day.” Rest my ass, I’ve been anxious to see Chester for years. I’m stoked. I’ll also be looking to suck every last bit of fun out of this trip. Yeah, not so much resting.

7/24: On Tuesday I will make my way towards London. My flight leaves Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon, so I don’t actually have to make it all the way back to London. I’m not sure where I’m staying, but I suspect I’ll keep an eye out for one last cool pub. Maybe I’ll take a slight detour and go stay in Oxford near Wychwood Brewery, home of Hobgoblin. There’s got to be a Wychwood pub near there, right?

7/25: At 3:45 local, I take Flight 297 from Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare. I land there at 6:05 Central. Then, at 10:25, I take Flight 5093 from Chicago to KC, landing at 11:45pm. Who wants to pick me up? πŸ˜€

So that’s it. You know, I don’t know as I’ve ever had a period of my life ever be quite so structured. Again, I’m indebted to Kate and Anne at Celtic Trails for all of their work.

My flight leaves in an hour at this point. I am sooooooo ready.

And to quote the immortal Rocco, “I’ll catch you on the flip side.”