I like sleeping in the open: no tent, just a bivvy bag. I have a poncho too, just in case it rains so I can put up a shelter. Of course if the weather is really bad a tent is much more sensible but in the summer, sleeping in the open is best. If there are no midgies and it’s a clear night you can look at the stars. There’s nothing like the night sky to put things in proportion, to strip away the clutter of images, memories, desires, and fears which flair and flicker in your mind, and to connect you without effort to the power behind the universe.Sometimes you see shooting stars.
I don’t take a blow up mattress. It’s one more thing to carry. Grass and heather are really very comfortable. But of course you wake early. That’s nice too, since if it’s 5.00 ish you certainly don’t feel guilty about a snooze and then again it’s nice getting up and getting going. You can’t do that so easily in B and B’s. At least not without forsaking the breakfast you have paid for.
This morning we packed up quickly. I don’t remember what I ate. A biscuit. I noticed that my right ankle was swollen and my leg red and itchy. It felt as if something like a giant mosquito had bitten me behind the knee. We headed up to the gateway that you can just see in the picture, and then to the house with the two chimneys. We went through a still operational but derelict farmyard and then walked up through the woods to the right of the house. Jerry was map reading and we made good progress. He was leaving us later in the day; and Johnny would come to the end of his section at the River Dee that evening; and after that I would be on my own through the Wirral, Liverpool and the Lake District, quite a few days. I like being on my own but I would miss my companions.
‘I’ve got a good word: three letters….you’ll never get this. Never,’ Jerry said.
‘Are we playing hang man?’
‘Ok that’s one life’
‘Hang on, Johnny, go for the vowels.’ And then as an after thought, ‘I suppose it does have vowels?’ I asked
‘You can’t ask that question’, Jerry said
‘Does it have any vowels?’
‘That’s two lives. No’
‘Is it Welsh?’
‘That question isn’t allowed’
Ok, I know. Cwm’
‘You’re supposed to guess the letters individually, ‘ Jerry said,’ It spoils the game to ask questions like “Is it Welsh? ” or “Does it have vowels?”
We crossed fields and then came to the moor. The bracken came up to my shoulders. It was hard work to push through it and sometimes you lost your footing. It made me wonder whether I had not been over optimistic about my projected rate of progress over the Scottish hills. From time to time ragged sheep would look up fearfully and then disappear, hurriedly, into the bracken.
At Minera a nice woman filled my water bottle. The pub was closed so we retired to the church yard where Jerry made a cup of tea and Johnny massaged his feet. It would not be long before Jerry left us to catch his train so he used his camera to photograph the map he was leaving with us. Lower down the grave yard a woman walked past with a bunch of flowers, held stiffly in front of her, like a soldier on parade, her eyes fixed upon the grave she was visiting. I hoped that she would not think us disrespectful but feared that she would.
From Minera we took a public footpath, once a railway track, which followed the back gardens of a row of houses. Some were completely overgrown, others were stripped bare of all vegetation by the hens living in them, others full of rubbish, some with rows of happy, shiny vegetables, some the homes of happy dogs and some of fierce unhappy dogs. At one point the railway line had been built over with houses. In another place it had been used as a store for large plastic coated silage bales which we clambered over. Sometimes it was completely overgrown and we had to fight through thick undergrowth.
For a while we left the path and travelled along narrow lanes which we left after a farm with a large collection of canabalised tractors, walking downhill across the fields to a valley. Here the ground was wet. There was the sweet smell of decaying vegetation, and marsh buttercups. The path wound between willows and continued downhill into the valley, deeper, darker and more thickly wooded. After a few hundred yards we came the huge vertical piers of railway bridge which used to span the valley. The horizontals had been removed but the massive stone piers, hung with creepers, rose up through the forest gloom like Aztec ruins.
What capital investment they represented, what confidence. Had they not been axed would not Britains pre-Beeching rail network have provided the basis for an ecologically sustainable transport system, above all one suited to a small, densely populated island? All along my walk I had seen telephone boxes overgrown with ivy, rusting pillar boxes, the massive remains of axed railway lines, networks pioneered in Britain, supposed redundant, but also the visible symbols of unifying, beneficient, trusted government.
We continued on the railway line and after a few hundred yards of wading through stinging nettles, Jerry left us to catch his train at Cefn y Bedd. We came to a very thick section of undergrowth beyond which we could see one of those difficult looking 6′ fences of sharply pointed corrugated tridents. We climbed down from the line to the road at Ffrith and walked up the road to Llanfynydd where we walked north east up hill to Waun y Clyn. Johnny said, ‘ I can’t believe that we can be so near towns like Wrexham and be walking through country like this.’
From the top of the hill we followed a water course down to the main road. The rest of the walk would be on tarmac. Johnny hoped to catch a train that evening so we did not stop for lunch but cracked on, up the road from Hope to the park at Hawarden, the towers of the cement works to the west acting as an indication of our progress. Once we drew even with them we would only have four more miles to Connah’s Quay and the Dee.
At a the entrance to the park we sat down to lean against the cottage wall and take a rest. Johnny massaged his feet and I had a drink of water. It was nice and peaceful. Johnny had given up the idea of catching a train and I could happily have sat there for a the rest of the day….no, make that the rest of the week. We had not been long there when a small car stopped and a slight woman and a tiny boy, about 5 years old got out. After the usual politesses, the woman asked, ‘Do you mind me asking what you’re doing.’ We explained, resting, on the way to Liverpool.’ She was relieved and apologetic. ‘It’s just that my parents were broken into a couple of weeks ago.’ We were sorry to have caused anxiety. After she left we reflected how brave such a small person had been to confront two characters, one in a Grateful Dead T shirt, looking like an out of work roadie on a hitch hiking holiday, the other like a poor imitation of Crocodile Dundee. On reflection she too might have wondered if she had slipped back in time, or, more likely, if we were visitors from the not so distant past, her parents youth.
The road took us through woods. Signs told people to keep out. At the end of the park the road came up against a dual carriageway embankment. We followed this west, negotiating a round about and then continuing on through the park to join the main road. We trudged on and were definitely uplifted by the sight of Hawarden and there, almost opposite the road junction, a pub. We went in and ordered some food and soft drinks. We had planned to camp at the camp site near Queensferry but this seemed so pleasant and we were so tired, but they didn’t have rooms. We wasted quite a lot of time looking at other pubs. We trudged on towards Queensferry. We decided to look for somewhere to eat something and somewhere with a room. Isn’t that the way? Start the day praising sleeping in the open air, end the day praying for a hotel room.
It started to rain, not heavily but it had not rained since my arrival at Swansea and without a tent it was not a night to sleep out. Under the flyover at Queensferry a nice couple directed us over the bridge to the ‘Gateway to Wales’ hotel. I took photographs of Johnny. He had completed his mission, walking 170 miles from Swansea to the Dee in seven and half days, an average of 21 miles a day. He had never complained even though his feet gave him trouble, a good effort, and it had been fun to have him with me. As well as being my brother he is one of the most amusing people I know. My sincere thanks to all those who sponsored him so generously.
If you would like to help Romilly help homeless children you can do so at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk