Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children: Tales from the Loch – Auchinoon to Dunfermline

Padlocked hearts, padlocks with names of couples engraved upon them, locked to the Forth Road Bridge with the Forth Rail Bridge in the background

Derek & Fiona, Maz & Adz, Caron & Alex, Connie and Sandy, Iain & Mary and Mr and Mrs McCulloch

It was like trying to move against the crowd in the rush hour. The wind tugged at my hood, and shoved and pushed my pack. And it was wet. The wind drove the stinging rain against my face. Cars sped past in a blur of atomised water and dirt. I was walking down the A 70 in the Central Lowlands of Scotland towards the turning onto a minor road north, and was hoping to cross the Forth Road Bridge later that day.

It was wet but I didn’t feel uncomfortable. My coat was holding up well. My boots were dry too. I passed stoic sheep and lambs sheltering where ever they could. I turned onto the small road and headed north. I passed forestry on my right. To my left pylons as grey as the sky, chased by the wind, leapt over wet fields to the west. In a lay-by two vans were parked, the drivers both women exchanged packages, wound up their windows, and drove off in opposite directions.

Traffic on the Forth Road Bridge motion blurred, sea below, girders

I thought that it would be nice to stop for a hot drink, or even an early lunch at Kirknewton. When I got there I could see the pub to my east, but it meant walking a couple of hundred yards out of my way,  so I carried on towards East Calder. My road did not enter this village either but crossed over the B 7015 and then followed a route roughly parallel but at some distance from the River Almond. The land was flat. I could see grey sheds in the distance. I was walking through that half world where fields no longer have a strictly agricultural value, but that harassed, abused, uncertain look of a city’s borderlands.

Before long my road crossed the Union Canal. I could have continued on it but decided to change and walked down to the tow path.  My head was now at the level of the ground in the field and I could see the crisp blades of barley grass coming out of the earth like the advertisements of the front of ‘Farmer’s Weekly’.  The canal drew close to a slip road of the M8 junction 2 and I slithered down a steep bank from the tow path, walked out on to the pavement of the slip road, through an underpass following the road into Newbridge where I had seen the enchanted letters ph marked upon the map.

Road Markings at Queensferry seen from the Forth Road Bridge

View from Forth Road Bridge at Queensferry

I can’t remember the name of the pub. I pushed in through the door. Even after the gloomy light of the wet day seemed dark. It was warm and dry. In the gloom I saw two figures at one end of the bar and two figures at the other end. Conversation stopped and four heads turned to look at me. There was moment’s silence and then the conversation recommenced. I un-shouldered my sack and dumped it by the bar. I saw a radiator on the far wall and walked over to take off my coat, and then sitting at a table, undid my  boots and took off my waterproof trousers, from time to time regarded by the men at the bar.

‘What can I do for ye?’, asked the barmaid. (I hope that any Scots will forgive me my poor transcription of the accent)

‘Please could I have a cup of tea?’ Even as I said it I had a feeling that it would seem like an odd request.

‘We don’t do tea’

‘Oh’

‘Ther’res no call for it’

‘Aye, ther’ res nay tea serfed behained this bar’, added one of the men to my left.

His companion nodded at me in affirmation.

‘I’ve got a tea bag if you could give me some hot water’

‘Aye, well if ye’ve got a tea bag. Nae problem’, said the barmaid. I found the bag of tea bags that the nice people, Dave and his sister, had given me on first day out of Gretna Green, in one of my trouser pockets.

The man at the end of the bar on my left asked me where I had come from and where I was going to. I explained the A70 and before that Gretna Green and that I was going to Inverness. “Aye, and I bet this gentleman’s not as young as he looks either’, he said. He was dressed in tweeds and and a tweed cap. He could have been a gamekeeper, which is almost exactly what he was, since he was a ghillie, and it also turned out that he was the same age as me….

‘Aye. I used to walk a fair bit,  and I know the rules of good health, but the drink has done fer me, done fer my liver, …done for it, ‘ he said, not gloomily, but with the grim satisfaction of a man who knows that, even though it was hard, he’s made a good job of it.

‘Aye, And what would the rules of good health be, Graham?’ asked his neighbour.

‘Weell, tak y’re veggetaples, eat in moderation, walk a wee bit……and have a woman from tame to tame…… I’ve had three wifes, all deevorced….and.. they all say it was all my fault.’

‘And your’re surpraised?’ asked Maggie, who had returned with my tea and a tin of biscuits, which I happily tucked into. Mmm, so sweet and crunchy… forbidden fruit. What a treat.

‘…and not wash in hot water’, continued Graham on the health theme, ‘I’ve no washt in hot water for three yeears now.’

We were joined by a third man, with a kindly face who was introduced to me as a heating engineer, ‘ A very rich man’, said Graham.

The conversation continued on the subject of what I would see and where I was going. ‘Aye well if you go up the Laraig Ghru, ye’ll see the Dark Man no doubt,…he’s been seen by many. Even the mountain rescue have seen him’.  From this the conversation turned to other strange phenomena. Graham claimed to have seen the Loch Ness Monster….

‘Weell I was out in the boat. I’d been out all day on the Loch, when suddenly the boat was rocked, violently, as if I it had been taken by a great sea wave. I feared for my life, I can tell you. I thought, ‘Graham…this is it’. The boat surged, forward then backward, in a terrible way. There was a rush of bubbles under it,  and around it…I’m not making this up…No, No though I had been hitting the hip flask all afternoon. I’ll give yer’re that.’

The time passing pleasantly to other unusual sights, Graham claimed to have seen the Duchess of Argyle without her knickers when she was having a pee. ‘It did me careeere no good at all, I can tell you.’

The kind man who was the heating engineer explained that a quicker and pleasanter way to get to the Bridge would be to walk down the abandoned railway.

I offered to pay for the tea but Maggie was having none of it. ‘And you bringing yer’re aine tea baag. Niver’  Considering how many of her biscuits I had eaten this was very kind of her. My time in her pub was definitely the best bit of my day, as good as or even better than crossing the bridge, and I am grateful for the welcome I received, and would happily have spent the rest it, there, with my new friends, eating biscuits and listening to tales of hill and loch.

Cargo ship seen from the Forth Road Bridge

By the time I left the pub the rain had stopped. I found the railway by the junction of the  A89 and the M8.  I walked down it happily, thinking of the conversation in the pub. The sky began to clear. There were flowers which I had not seen, their enchanting, modest little faces turned to the sky. From time to time large aeroplanes, their turbines overwhelming even the sound of the traffic, appeared in the strip of sky above the path, seemed to hang there for a moment before heaving themselves through gravity up and on.

At Kirkliston I crossed the Almond again and then turned left into the village. I was sure that it would be pleasanter to continue on the railway but it would have taken me the best part of two miles out of my way and I was keen to cross the bridge and finish my day. Here I misread my map and took a wrong turning. I was redirected by some nice people in a car, returned, took the correct road, passing new houses, through an underpass and then over the motorway.

Builders yard seen from above, scaffolding pipes in sunlight

View from The Forth Road Bridge, Queensferry

Before long I arrived at the The Forth Road Bridge. I could have walked on the west side, with the view of the work on the new bridge, the huge towers to support it, but that would have meant looking into the sun, and I chose the east side with a view of the sun on the rail bridge.Dark waters of the Firth of Forth around the break water at the foot of one of the piers of the Forth Road Bridge

Walking onto the bridge had something of flight about it:  even slower and far noisier than ascent by balloon, but with the same surprise at looking down on the familiar from so directly above, on gardens, roads and houses, and then the mighty firth, with miniature waves, burnt to silver in the evening sun, the occasional tiny gull gliding far below, yet far above the water. The foot path is separate from the road way. People jogged past me in enjoying the evening light while on the road the traffic passed in a cloud of noise and pulverised carbon, shaking the criss cross of girders high above the water, till they and the road bounced from the huge steel cable sweeping up into the sky.  I enjoyed the bridge. It’s long and took me longer.boat and bridge_DSF7214

On the other side I took the road I thought would lead to Dunfermline, but it did not. I walked past what I thought to have been an outlying part of the Rossyth naval base, now full of steelwork for the new bridge. The sun was setting. It was getting late and I was tired. Willfully I interpreted the new road layout in a way that meant I would be heading directly to Dunfermline. I passed a huge collection reinforced hexagonal concrete pillars, pushed together, standing vertically, like cells in the nest of some vast, but unseen insect. I passed   metal fences of fading green paintwork, neglected ‘MOD Property Keep Out’ signs and places where the metal fence stakes had been ripped leaving dark gaps like missing teeth.

Pink bridge, the Forth Rail Bridge, small houses of North Queensferry below, Blue sky, blue waters of the firth of Forth

I could delude myself no longer. I was walking into Rossyth not Dunfermline, and must have gone several miles out of my way. I consulted my map. A nice man walking his dog hailed me. ‘Ye look lost. Wher’re de ye want to go?’ I explained. ‘Aye, well ye can take a bus but I guess you’re walking.’  I continued in the direction he had pointed out but was rather disappointed, 5 minutes later,  to see the bus pass me.  I walked on up a wide avenue with grey houses either side until I arrived at the bridge above Rossyth Railway station. It was late, nearly 10.00 pm and I had nowhere to stay.

Fence post

All photographs © James Forshall

Many thanks to all those who have given so generously. If you would like to donate to help homeless children in Africa please do so at http://www.virginmoneygiving/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

From the Bhuddist Monastery to Tibby Shiels Inn

Colourful Bhuddist temple

No, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not in Tibet but the borderlands of Scotland.

I had arrived at the Bhuddist Monastery in the last gloomy shades of light the night before. In the distance I had seen something which looked like a large white chess piece, as high as a two story building. I wasn’t sure what it was but I knew it looked Bhuddist.

I was shown to my room by a woman monk in robes and with a shaved head on which I judged there to be two day’s growth.  ‘ This isn’t the reception. It’s the overseas operations.’ she said.  She kindly offered me a cup of coffee from the urn.

‘ You can imagine with Nepal, we need a lot of coffee. How far have you come today?’.

‘From Gretna Green.’

‘So, not so far?’

‘Well it seems quite far’. I was dog tired, but then the distance I had traveled was an infinitely small fraction of that which most souls travel to perfection, or so it must have seemed to her, or perhaps she had only ever gone to Gretna by car. ‘Is there any food for me?’ I enquired hopefully. Since supper was served at the early hour of six, Catherine had asked for something to be left out for me. No, there was nothing. I went to bed feeling mildly aggrieved and determined not to miss breakfast. I pondered how I might negotiate a reduction in the bill. Perhaps I should ask to speak to the manager.

At breakfast I found myself sitting next to a nice woman from the Isle of Man. ‘My son is on a football tour, so I thought that I would have a bit of piece and quiet.’  She was a spiritual healer. I asked her what had been served for supper the night before. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘the menu said, ‘Jacket Potatoes and Soup’ but when I asked where the jacket potatoes were I was told they had been the ones left over from lunch and that they were in the soup.’

As I left, I passed two lay sisters, not yet, nuns but aspiring to be. One was painstakingly brushing lichen of a stone wall, and on the other side of the drive another was picking inch high sycamore seedlings out of the ground. ‘I hate killing things,’ she said holding up a bunch of saplings in her hand, ‘but you see I’m transferring their conciousness to these two’. She gestured to two little saplings in a pot which had been saved from this massacre of innocents. ‘The rest will go on the compost heap’. ‘Well, that’s perfect,’ I said hoping to cheer her, ‘composting is reincarnation in action’. She smiled sweetly.

The road climbed up out of the valley and then descended through commercial forest. It was a small road but from time to time lorries hurtled past throwing up dust.   There had been a heavy frost when I awoke that morning, and although not strong, the north wind was very cold.

Commercial forest, moss, evergreen trees

I sheltered in the dark forest to have some lunch and pressed on. Before I arrived at Ettrick the ground became swampy. Willows grew by pools of water. A sign planted by one of these read, ‘Midgehope’ in fading paint.

I turned west down a lane towards the church, behind which the path would take me up to an old drovers road.  There was a beautiful avenue of beech trees leading up to the church, behind it some cottages, and beside it an elegant house I took to be the manse. I climbed up hill, from time to time looking back on this pretty scene.

road and stone wall lead past line of beach trees, funeral monuments in back ground

Common mistakes in fence crossing. Example 1.

Moorland walking, crossing fences

Startled sheep looked up with a jolt and skittered off, calling their lambs to follow. This one was so newly arrived that all it could do was sit and wonder how it had got to this bright, cold place.

New born lamb, grass, moorland, afterbirth

I took a bearing across the hill to join the Southern Upland Way. This is beautiful, a turf road, here following the contours of a valley. I left it, following a similar path downhill and then east above the southern shore of Loch Mary.  At Tibby Shiels Inn a tall man, well a man who is taller than me, asked, ‘Are you the man who is walking to John O’Groats. Come in and have a cup of tea’. His name is Alister Moody and he owns Tibby Shiels Inn. He’s a nice man and it’s a nice inn with music on many nights, and I was very grateful for the cup of tea he gave me.View of a typical Scottish borders valley near Ettrick

I’m walking a long way to raise money to help homeless children in Africa. If you have not done so, Please donate at http://www.virginmoneygiving/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

The Englishman, The Australian and the Scotsman – Day 22 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

(If you’re new to the blog:  I’m walking to John O’Groats to raise money to help street children through Romilly’s charity. The story starts at the post on the right: ‘Where shall we park the car?’)

Swan, Leeds Liverpool CanalLancaster Canal  © James Forshall

Have you heard the one about the Englishman, The Scotsman and the Australian?

It was a bit like that the next day at breakfast in the B and B, except it was three Scotsmen, an Australian and his wife, our hosts who were from Lancashire…and me.  We were all  eating at the same table which made for lively conversation.  One of the Scotsmen and the Australian were talking about the price of airline tickets to Australia.  Our host didn’t think much of it, and standing behind his chair, he was a big man, turned to me,

‘You said how you’d liked the people in the North on your walk. Well let me tell you, a lot of us would go with the Scots when it comes to the referendum.’  The three Scotsmen, sitting opposite me and were looking at me hard. I quickly disassociated myself from the Conservatives, whose ineptitude have much so much to make the mess in which we find ourselves.

‘I’m a paid up member of the Green Party’.

‘That did it for me, that remark by your P.M.’, said the  youngest of the three Scots.

‘What did he say?’

‘About Scotland becoming a third world country…What’s he called that clown?’

‘Not Milliband?’

‘Well let me tell you, he’s lost the Labour vote in Scotland’

Someone said something about immigration.

‘Well, if you want to stop that, vote Ukip’, I said. ‘That’s a great way to stick it to the Tories’, I said.

‘We’re with you there’ said the older Scotsman.

‘ Yup,’ said our host, ‘They’re voting Ukip’.

Someone said, ‘What’s this about us not having the pound?’

‘Well there’s no way Scotland will have the pound if they vote for independence’.

It sounds so mean doesn’t it. A bit like an a child saying, ‘You can’t play with my toys’. I could see this wasn’t going down well, and wished I’d been able to explain why it was contradictory to wish to leave Britain but keep the British pound; and how divorced couples don’t share bank accounts for good reason; and how the Euro area had shown what happened when you had currency union without political union, but breakfast was breaking up and there wasn’t time.  We said good bye amicably but I had a feeling that I turned three ‘may be’s’ into three definite, ‘Yes’s

But how is it that at the island’s biggest constitutional crossroads since 1707, the decision of a day to keep or break the union, which took 200 years to make, and which served both countries well for 300 years, bringing peace where there had been centuries of border conflict and bloody war; how was it that the people making that decision still did not know or understand what the forseeable consequences of that decision will be?

How is it that our politicians have allowed this problem to fester for so long? Does the party of the Union, which has so spectacularly failed to protect it, imagine that if the Union breaks up they are going to be allowed 1000 years of Tory misrule?

The three Scotsmen, all nice, polite friendly men worked nights, changing signs for Tesco stores. I wondered how they would feel if the Union breaks up and they had to produce passports every time they came down to do a job for Tesco’s. Imagine the tail backs; but border controls there will be.

The Australians’ had said good bye. I finished my breakfast with the B and B owners.

‘My wife’s going blind. We’ll have to sell the business’, said the man.

‘We’ve lost our culture,’ she said, ‘Now sometimes I’m afraid to say I’m English’

‘Yet, they all want to come here’, said her husband,’That’s how bad we are.’

‘What’s everybody’s is nobody’s’ she said, ‘and in the end nobody cares for it’.

Sunken boat, rushes, water, Leeds Liverpool CanalLancaster Canal © James Forshall

I went back to the Canal and headed north.  It was a lovely day.

I’m walking a long way to help raise money so that Romilly can give street children a chance. If you would like to help, please donate at

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Aintree to Burscough Day 21 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

( I am walking to John O’Groats to raise money to help street children through Romilly’s charity. The story starts with the post on the right, ‘Where shall we park the car?’)

Squashed Foster beer cansFosters Cans   © James Forshall

While I had waited for nice Courtney at reception to book me into my room, a succession of middle aged men had come into the hotel asking for their keys.  One of them explained to Courtney that they were a party of golfers and that they were about to meet up for drink and then go out on the town. They had already had one session after their game. It was 9.45 pm. ‘Will you be having breakfast?’ Courtney asked. ‘Oh I shouldn’t think so. I don’t expect we’ll get back until around 6.00 a.m. We didn’t last night, least ways’.

As I came out of the shower I heard a loud bang and then a furious hooting. I looked out of the window one of the golfers had reversed his car into that of another golfer.  Notice advertising free pudding©  James Forshall

The next morning I picked up the abandoned railway track of the night before. Before long it opened into a patch of disused ground and then disappeared into a scrub of willows and brambles. It ran north along  the east side of the Aintree race track. There were places with sensational views of individual jumps just a few yards from the path.  I walked on through suburbs and then came to the canal.yellow flowers by canalLeeds Liverpool Canal  © James Forshall

A man was fishing. I asked him if he ate the fish. ‘No. It’s just for fun’. He jerked on his line. The rod bent. He pulled on it hard but the hook was stuck in weed.  A few hundred yards further on I came to the first cornfield.

View of cornfield through metal railings with convovula on leftView of the River Alt from the Leeds Liverpool Canal © James Forshall

I was making for the junction of the Leeds Liverpool Canal and the Lancaster Canal at Burscough. From there the Lancaster canal went due north more or less to Preston, but having crossed the Mersey on the ferry I was now too far west and had to work my way east.

I followed the canal north to the M57 where it went under the motorway. After that it headed west, so I left it and joined the road to …well on the map it didn’t seem to be going anywhere but up to the M58, a hundred yards in front of which it stopped, but it was heading north and from it I could take another road north east, shadowing the M58, which I would then cross and head north on the B5240 to Lathom.

The land was flat. To the south I could see squat tower blocks: Kirby?  St Helens?.  I walked past farms, and ditches full of rubbish.  Who does this?rubbish in a ditch© James Forshall

From time to time I had to put on my waterproof coat, but most of the time it was dry and sunny. A powerful wind was blowing which bent the trees, pulling on the pale undersides of the leaves, buffeting my rucksack.   I crossed the motorway and at Stanley Gate and went into a pub, which was full of people eating. ‘It’s late for lunch.’  ‘Not on a Sunday it isn’t’, said the young Scots manager. I wondered which way his family would be voting on the 18th September.

Blue portable lavatory, toilet, w.c. on wheels on edge of road by fields, blue sky, puffy clouds© James Forshall

I walked on. There was probably less than five miles to go. The wind tore across my path.  It was early evening by the time I got to the Ring O’Bells. It’s beside the canal. Cyclists were leaving it to continue down the tow path and colourful barges were mored beside it.  I went inside ordered beer and crisps. On the table beside me a young man and a much older man were talking about raising money to fund the younger man’s motorbike racing career, and how to make money out of it. ‘See, most people like uz know this recuvery’s all piss ‘nd wind’, said the older man. The girl behind the bar gave me the name of a B and B. I rang. The woman sounded nice, pleased that I had called even though it was late. When I left the pub it was dark.  Weak BridgeBridge over the Lancaster Canal  © James Forshall

The woman showed me to a comfortable room. I showered. Washed my boxer shorts and socks, hung them out to dry in the shower room and fell asleep. It had been a long,  if uneventful day.

If you would like to help Romilly give street children a chance donate at

http://www.virginmoneygiving/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

 

 

 

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool – Day 20 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

Dog with tinsel ears sitting on pavement© James Forshall

(If you are new to the blog. I’m walking to John O’Groats. A leg infection obliged me to stop until I recovered. The journey starts with the post on the right, ‘Where shall we park the car?)

It was the leaving of Liverpool and it wasn’t;  not if Aintree is part of Liverpool, which on the map it looks as if it is.

I landed mid morning at John Lennon Airport and took the bus into the centre of the city. It was a fine Saturday morning and humming.

I wanted to change my telephone.  I spent quite a long time with Roy in the Vodaphone shop. By the time I left it the crowds were even thicker and it was after midday.  I walked down to the docks where I had stopped walking weeks earlier. Then I turned left and walked North East along the river front, past flattened warehouse space, empty docks, converted warehouses.

derelict ticket office, Liverpool, docks, mersey© James Forshall

I walked past dock gates with names like Victoria and Trafalgar, opening onto an an expanse of leveled hardcore and cobbles, the teeth of a city ground to the bone, then the thin gleam of the river, Birkenhead, and a sky like a dirty aluminium pan. I didn’t have a street map and had not yet worked out how to use the navigation tools on my new telephone, so was navigating from my 1:50,000 OS map and compass.  There was no one about.  It was quieter than early Sunday morning, except that it was Saturday afternoon and I wondered what it would be like on a week day.

I walked past a boarding house. There was a girl leaning against a first floor window talking on a mobile telephone and moving in time to music. She had blond hair and wore hot pants. Hotpants! Outside a large bearded man stood on the pavement. He wasn’t waiting. He was just standing. Something about him made me think he might be the exception that proved the rule that Liverpudlians are friendly and sociable. I walked on, past a magnificent Tobacco Warehouse, awaiting conversion to flats or demolition, then over a metal swing bridge and on until I decided that it was time to turn East. I wanted to join the disused railway line which is a public foot path and which would link to the Leeds Liverpool Canal.

Tobacco Warehouse Liverpool DocksTobacco Warehouse  © James Forshall

I was walking up hill away from the river.  I walked past an empty park. I badly wanted to pee and walked off my route to a garage, where I bought a sandwich. The man at the till told me that the w.c.s were for staff only. He told the same thing to the motorist behind me. ‘Blinking ‘eck. I’ve been peeing in here for the last thirty years and that’s the first time I’ve heard that’.

I walked up a street of terraced houses. A man came out of his front door wearing a grey track suit. He looked as if he had only just woken up. He lit a cigarette inhaled deeply arched his back, stretching his arms above him, exhaling smoke and revealing quite a lot of pale stomach skin.  I walked past a church yard, dark sooty grave stones, dark greens then to the dual carriageway intersection. I found a place to have a pee below an ornately carved 19th century coat of arms dedicated to the glory of the borough set into a concrete wall. I crossed under the intersection and continued east. Now I was walking down the street of salons: beauty, hair, tanning, pet grooming, nail painting, and pedicure interspersed with convenience booze stores and takeaways. Most of them were shut though some of the booze stores were open.

It was late afternoon, grey skies, empty streets, rollerblinded shops. I wondered where I would sleep.  I had an idea that I could find a place to pitch a tent on a piece of urban waste ground or on some of the green space on the edge of the city: urban camping. I kept on walking.  I knew I had to turn left or north somewhere here to meet the abandoned railway line.  I followed a street of terraced houses and to my amazement saw a blue cycle way sign. This must be the abandoned railway exactly where it should have been. I turned left or north onto it. I saw no one. It had taken me a long time to get this far and I was still a long way from the limits of the city.

The track followed a cutting whose steep banks were covered in willow and blackberries. I have never seen such big blackberries. It was as if they were cultivated. They tasted delicious, sweet and perfumed. I would have happily stayed to collect them in large quantities. As it was I would walk for a few minutes and then unable to resist,  stop, pick a hand full and cram them in my mouth.  I saw no one.  It must have been after 6.oo pm.  I came to a place where the track passed under a wide road. It was a bridge but felt more like a tunnel,  rectangular with an cinema screen of light at the end of the darkness.  I walked in.  There was little graffiti. I walked on. It became darker. I concentrated on the patch of light and wondered what I would do if one of the lumps dimly perceived  at the side of the tunnel rose up, men in rags and tried to attack me.  I couldn’t run.  But nothing happened except for the metalic rumble of traffic above.

I walked on and then in the distance heard a terrible cry, that of a soul in torment, rather than of physical pain, repeated again and again. I came to another tunnel though this one was shorter and then as I walked through it I heard the cry again louder. I wondered what awaited me.

The track swung out of the tunnel into a gentle curve to be crossed by another path. There was quite a lot of space, bracken brambles the kind of place I could conceal my small tent, I thought.  Then I heard the cry again, this time more like a cry of triumph and I saw a group of children running towards me on the upper path.

‘Welcome to Liverpool,’ One of them shouted.

‘Welcome to the shit hole’, shouted another ‘….Well not Aintree but here.’

‘Its a camper!’.

‘Let’s photograph the camper.’

‘We’re er yer from?   Do yer camp out every night? What’re yer doing it fer?’

I explained and handed them Romilly stickers. ‘I’ll sponsor you.’  ‘So will I.’  ‘Wher’ll you sleep tonight?’

‘I thought I might sleep out here on the railway track.’

‘Not ternight yer not’, said a diminutive boy.

‘Yu’ll be done over.’

‘Yu’ll be mugged.’  They looked at me worried.

‘You should go to the Premier Inn.’ Said the girl. ‘There’s one at Aintree. Here, let me see If I can find it for you.’  She consulted her mobile telephone and called. There were no rooms. The girl looked concerned. ‘I’ll see if I can find you somewhere else.’ The other children crowded round as she bent over her phone.

‘Ere, luke at the hair on ‘er’, one of them said. We all looked up. Three young people wearing a mix and match of army surplus, denim, and goth black were walking down the path: a different tribe. One of the girls had purple hair.

‘Hippies’, said one of the boys scornfully.

‘Ya, Puma warriors!’ jeered another.  The puma warriors kept on walking, wisely I thought.

The children called a couple of other hotels. None had rooms. They thought I’d find something in Aintree and gave me directions.

‘And if yer see a group ‘f lads and they asks you fer the time doan answer’

‘Say yer haven’t got a phone’

‘Say no thanks and keep walking…or they’ll do yer’.  I looked down at the pale half circle of their upturned faces. They were concerned.   I thanked them.

I found the Kentucky Fried Chicken and turned left down the high street.  I hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards when I saw a railway bridge above it and a blue sign to the cycle path.  ‘What the heck’. I didn’t want to pay for a hotel. I walked back up some greasy stone steps to the path and turned east. But then there was sign which seemed to indicate that I was going in the wrong direction. Further down the path I could see the smudged outline of two people in the gloom. I got out my torch to look at my map.  That definitely seemed to indicate that the path went north east, but the sign seemed to be saying the opposite.

‘Alright?’ asked a friendly voice. The smudged silhouettes had turned into dog walkers. ‘Yes, thank you. Fine.’ I didn’t want to get into a long discussion. They moved on. I turned off my torch and the gloom closed around me, a pale path ahead through deep shadow.  I walked a few yards and came to a second sign. This too indicated that I was going in the wrong direction. I got out the map and my torch.

‘Lost?’ It was the dog walkers again. ‘No. Not lost but I’m not sure which direction to take. My map says I should carry on down the path. The sign says the opposite.’

‘You don’t want to stay on the path at this time of night…definitely not’, said the man. ‘There’s a premier Inn just down the road. Go there’ I explained about the rooms. ‘You can’t stay here. Y’ll be mugged. They’ll sort you out. Come with us we’ll show you the way.’  And so I did.

‘I wouldn’t come up here without my husband’, said the woman, ‘It’s the lads. Saturday night. You just don’t know. That’s why we came back. We couldn’t leave you up here on your own.’

And sure enough when I got to the Premier Inn the very nice girl at reception remembered that the there was a room without a television which they weren’t allowed to sell. A room without at telly: urban camping. Bliss.

If you would like to help Romilly help street children donate at http://virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

 

 

The Wirral to Birkenhead – Day 19 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

(If you are new to the blog: I am walking to John O’Groats for the street children charity Romilly. The journey starts with the post on the right, ‘Where shall we park the car?’)

The Face of the NHSIt was the greatest good fortune to have met John Earle. He took my tent and most of the contents of my rucksack in his car. Even so the walk from the Harp to Birkenhead was hard.  Most of it was on tarmac and my right leg was painful. I wondered if this was tendonitis. According to my plan the next day would be a rest day and I hoped that that would sort it out.

But for it’s pink sandstone Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square could have stepped out of Edinburgh, which in a sense it did. The Scots played a leading role in developing both Birkenhead and Liverpool.  In the centre of Birkenhead John met me and took me back to his flat where he had very kindly offered me his sofa for the night.  When I examined my swollen leg John said, ‘You need to get that looked at mate. I tell you what: I’ll take you into A and E. They’re very good there’.

Man taking cash from dispenser Hamilton Square, BirkenheadHamilton Square underground station, Birkenhead   © James Forshall

The next morning John went out to get the ingredients for breakfast, an invention of his own which John called ‘Chicken Cheese Foo Wong’.  He came back and prepared this with great care. ‘This’ll set you up. It’s my favourite. You’ll love it’  and I did. Very good. Thank you John.

John drove me to the hospital where they thought that I  might have Deep Vain Thrombosis, but after bloods, X Ray and Ultrasound it was explained that I had cellulitis  (Yes, gentle reader, cellulitis not cellulite) and that I should stop walking until it had cleared up.   Cellulitis can turn to septicemia so should be taken seriously. This was a blow. How long would I have to rest? It could be a few days.  If only a few days I could catch up as I had done in Wales though it would mean doing at least 25 miles a day and cutting out the diversion west into the Lake District to walk up Helvellyon. No doubt further short cuts could be found.  But it could be longer. In the meantime I should keep my right leg up, rest and take the antibiotics.

John picked me up from A and E and took me to Marigolds (after the washing up gloves), the best fish and chip shop on the Wirral where we had lunch. After that he dropped me off at the ferry pier where I had finished my walk the day before. He had been very kind and hospitable to me. Thank you John.

Interior of U 534Interior of sunken U boat, U 534: sunk at the end of the war by British planes, in Danish waters. Since all the crew escaped it was not a war grave and was gifted to Liverpool by the Danish Government.    © James Forshall

I had chosen to walk up through the Wirral so that I could cross the Mersey on the ferry, which had been a treat for us, when as children Johnny and I came up to stay with my Aunt. I don’t remember it that well, a stiff breeze, quite cold, the grey river, grey sky, the lights of Birkenhead shining mistily in the autumn afternoon, people lining the railing in coats and macs and hats and caps of grey, brown and black and a sense that Birkenhead was smaller and drabber than Liverpool, which for us then held an impossible air of romance. This was before the Beatles and the tunnel, and the ferry was how you crossed the river.

Steve, one of John’s friends said, ‘I loved the ferry. We went across with mi Dad to football matches, all wrapped up. It was crowded with other supporters. You’d get tea and sandwiches downstairs but now…’ But now it’s a run as a tourist attraction.  What is it about tourism that kills meaning? Hear one thing. See another: the tinny music playing a bar or two of the famous song, then a metallic voice recounting the past glories of Liverpool, and outside the brown river, a port empty of ships, and a river front with an oddly Soviet look.

Liver pool sky lineLiverpool from Birkenhead     ©  James Forshall

The centre of Liverpool has been wrecked. In other parts of the city whole communities, streets of terraced houses, each street with its own pub were uprooted, the houses knocked down, and grassed over. It is as if they never existed. The people who lived in them were  moved into high rise blocks in outlying dormitory towns: not of course on the same scale as Stalin’s policies to the Nationalities, but the same mechanism, and all in the name of progress.

The odd thing is that although we use the word community more than ever we are less good at it than when it was almost never used.  Since 1960’s huge areas of urban Britain have been destroyed in the name of one fad or another, economic or political, or some town planning fashion, and with them the fragile ecology of local societies,  which had taken over a century to establish themselves. It is as if we feel that by using the word community often enough we will recreate those bonds of family, friendship, neighbourliness, mutual interdependence, mutual care, shared obligation which we destroyed.

Liverpool FC shop window

Four Boys and Four GirlsLiverpool may have been beaten up by German bombers and mad planners but it’s people are great. There are still many wonderful buildings and a sense of gaiety and pride. I loved the egg shaped central library, and the people who were so kind and helpful. You only have to look at a Liverpudlian and he’ll start talking to you, even in a library. I was drinking coffee, they have a coffee bar in the main part of the library, when a man asked me if I was looking at him. I said that I wasn’t. He asked me if he could sit at my table.

DSCF9644 Hillsborough Memorial © James ForshallJohn Fitzpatrick and the Hillsborough Memorial  © James Forshall

Jack Jones HouseHe was immensely proud of Liverpool.  He told me about the Hillsborough disaster, still hurting after all these years. He and his 7 year old daughter had been instrumental in raising the money for a memorial to its victims. He offered me a bed for the night. He showed me around the library and took me to the memorial.  He was still angry at the way the police had handled the crowd on that day and the enquiry afterwards.  He was a trade union official and we walked past his offices. He was an old school un-reconstructed socialist, a republican and a pacifist and had had a red T shirt made parodying the one with the crown on it and the slogan, ‘Keep calm  and carry on’.  On his the the crown was upside down and the slogan was, ‘Get Angry. Take Action’.  I think I’d like to buy one.

Tooling up for night outTooling up for a night out.

All photos on the Romilly’s One Island Walk posts © James Forshall

I’m walking a long way for street children.  If you would like to help Romilly to give them a chance in life, please donate at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com//team/romillysoneislandwalk

 

 

 

 

The Wirral to Birkenhead – Day 18 Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children 1.

I am walking from Land’s End to John O Groats to raise money for Romilly’s charity to help street children. The walk begins with  ‘Where shall we park the car?’ on the right.

Abandoned wooden boat low tide Rivrer DeeLow Tide, the River Dee     © James Forshall     

I left our hotel before breakfast was served and took a taxi back to Queensferry Bridge. My plan was to walk along the river and then pick up the Wirral Way. It was low tide and the water glassy.  The man on the gate at the Tata works told me that the path ended after a few hundred yards and I would have to return. I felt sure that I could continue. It ran between scrubby sycamores and a stone embankment. Even if the path ended I would walk along the beach of the river, I thought, and climbing down through the branches of a tree found myself on the sand. But what had looked like sand turned out to be a very sticky mud. Furthermore the tide was coming in rapidly. So after taking pictures of the boats abandoned there I climbed up and walked back to the gatehouse.

Abandoned boat, beach, woods pylon

Low tide, the River Dee              © James Forshall

From the Tata works gatehouse it was quite easy to find the Wirral Way, which is a cycle path.  The people in Wales had been friendly, the people on the Wirral were even friendlier. Jo Williams told me how he had saved several of the railway locomotives, which had carried coal and steel, and had tried to list the last of the …..Railway signal boxes to exist.  ‘Aye, it was a busy place, the Wirral was’. On the path everyone said, ‘Good morning’, or ‘How er yer doin?’, or ‘Nice weather’. On Dartmoor few say that and if you, you greet them with a, ‘Good morning’, they look  uncomfortable, as if you might ask them for money, or worse. Not that the people walking on Dartmoor are from Devon, but incomers from London or the South East.

DSCF9424 Pylon © James Forshall                                                                                         © James Forshall

Vipers bugeloss, chain link fenceViper’s Bugloss in front of the Toyota Works            ©  James Forshall

Joyce and her husband told me about the local botanical gardens, how Nelson had come Parkgate and how Handel had played there. Near the Harp, Paul and a friend were exercising their racing pidgeons.

DSCF9484 Paul and young homing pidgeon © James Forshall        ©  James Forshall

A little later I fell in with a young man who was out for a constitutional. At ‘The Harp’ we had a drink together and when he heard that I had no where to stay that night he offered me his sofa for the night. We were to meet in Birkenhead. He took my rucksack which by now was feeling very heavy. My right leg was sore and with all the chatting I still had a long way  to go before Birkenhead. I was very grateful for his help.

MOD range warnng sign, sheepMOD firing range warning sign       ©  James Forshall          

Many thanks to all those who have donated so generously.  If you would like to help Romilly to help street children you can do so at

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

 

Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children: Why we are walking.

This is Jo Jo. He’s sniffing jet fuel. Jet fuel it doesn’t speed him up or help him fly. It slows him down and destroys his brain.  Street Child in Zambia sniffing jet fuelJo Jo is 14. This photo was taken by Christopher Mulenga when Jo Jo was living on the streets of Kitwe. He is now in the care of FOSC in Kitwe. He left home when he was 11  because his parents abused and beat him. He doesn’t want to go back. At the moment he is being taught and domesticated at the Kawama site of FOSC, in order to get him back to school. Thanks to the generosity of its donors Romilly is currently able to pay for half the salaries of FOSC.

Help Romilly to help children like Jo Jo at :

http://www.virginmoneygiving/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Romilly would like to help FOSC become more self sufficient and is examining ways in which to do this.  If you would like to see how these develop, as well as follow our fund raising adventures, click the +follow  button.

Travor to Queensferry Bridge 26 miles – Day 17 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

 

Rucksack, shoes, sticks sleeping bag, in foreground, green field, grey skyMy bedroom 5.50 a.m.                                                    © James Forshall

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’

‘P?’

‘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.

Men in red brewing up in a church yardBrewing up                                                                   © James Forshall

Sore footJohnny’s foot.                                      © James Forshall

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.

Stone pier of railway bridge in woodRailway bridge vertical                          © James Forshall

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.

Iron work and barbed wire Railway iron and barbed wire         © James ForshallDSCF9335 Jeremy leaves usJerry leaves to catch his train              © James Forshall

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.’

Foxglove and tree barkFoxglove         © James Forshall

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.

Man on Queensferry Bridge view west over River DeeJohnny crossing the River Dee at Queensferry            © James Forshall

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.

The River DeeThe River Dee, looking west                           © James Forshall

Man in Red Grateful Deat shirt in front of blue metal work, Queensferry Bridge, River DeeJohnny completes his mission, Queensferry Bridge, River Dee:  170 miles in 7.5 days                                                                                                         © James Forshall

If you would like to help Romilly help homeless children you can do so at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Welsh Road signThe End of the Welsh Road           ©  James Forshall

Llanmynech to Pontcysyllte Aquaduct – Day 16 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

Johnny and the Phantom Signal Man.

Man in red walking past abandoned rolling stockAbandoned rolling stock                                                      © James Forshall                              

I had taken a wrong turning.                                                                                                                My mistake would take us out of our way but at least we were heading north.

Dick and Susie Carslake had given us a great breakfast. We had said goodbye to Rachel, Dick’s sister and her husband, who had so kindly put up Johnny and Jerry. Dick had dropped us at Llanmynech.  We had set off up the main road, crossed the river and then turned left.

We walked down an overgrown track. Somewhere down that track I missed our path. So when I saw an a track heading west through a bare field I took hoping would rejoin the correct route.  On the map it passed a large quarry, which had been turned into a farm reservoir. We could see what we thought must be the reservoir behind a wooded embankment and took the path which skirted it. This disappeared into thick thistles and ended in a fenced off corner. There was no style, though there might have been once. We took off our packs and clambered over the rickety fence. There were nettles and brambles to beat out of the  way, and then because the easiest way had seemed to be to climb the lateral fence and then recross it  rather than cross the one that was directly in front of us we had to swing down into a ditch. On the other side there was no path but we could see the embankment of the reservoir on the other side of the fence and followed parallel to it coming to fence over grown with brambles hawthorns. On the far side the ground fell to a stream too wide to jump.  Johnny said, ‘I think I’ll go down to that house. There must be a road there.’    ‘OK, see you at the bridge’. I was referring to a small foot bridge over the railway line which we had both seen on the map. Jerry and I clambered over the fence bashing through brambles down to the stream where a  fallen hazel provided a flimsy bridge. We pushed up the other side through nettles and brambles and out onto a railway track. The rails were rusty. We shouted for Johnny but heard no reply.

‘Let’s press on to the foot bridge. Johnny knows we’ll be there.’ I said turning and walking  down the track.  Jerry turned to look back.

‘Look! There’s a signal man waving at us.’ I turned but could see nothing, but the road bridge to the west that presumably Johnny would cross, certainly no sign of Johnny or a signal man. We shouted again.

‘No, he’s gone. But he was definitely waving at us’, Jerry said.

‘Probably to tell us to get off the track.’  We looked back again. Nothing. No one.

‘He was definitely there. He was dressed like a signalman.  You know, waistcoat, dark trousers, greasy black cap….’

‘ Why would they need a signal man?  This track hasn’t been used for years, probably not since the quarry was turned into a reservoir.’

‘Do you think if we asked in the pub the locals would say, ‘Signal man? Signal man?….The signal man down at bridge?  The one with the greasy cap? Oooh Err….you been seein’ the phantom signal man?’

‘ Definitely they would. Look at the state of this track. If that was a signalman he’d have to be a phantom one’.  Even though we were in sunny daylight there was the melancholy of a place once active that has been abandoned. The silence was dense in the heat. I shouted down the track but heard and saw nothing.

corrugated metal tyre through which a tree is growingAbandoned goods yard                                                  © James Forshall

We carried on down the railway track, passing rusting rolling stock and abandoned sheds. We came to a fork in the track where we bore left. The map indicated that it would take us to the road junction which was the start of the road would make a good short cut in a long day.  From the west it was joined by the road which Johnny would have to take from the house which he had said he was going to.  We came to a high barbed wire topped gate flanked by security cameras.  I could not imagine anyone being employed to watch them but we chose a spot which did not seem to be covered by them,  and shoving our sacks under the wire,  pulling ourselves through on our backs. A few more yards and we were at the road junction.  Since Johnny had had to go west and then east before joining the road and since we had taken the shortest route west without going east first and wasted no time it seemed logical to expect Johnny to appear on the road from the west.  We waited. Cars passed.  We looked at the map. Jerry didn’t want to take the road short cut that Johnny and I had identified. ‘It’s a bit soulless walking up the road.’  ‘Yes, but it adds a couple of klicks to follow the path.’

No sign of Johnny.  Jerry walked west down the road in the direction from which Johnny should appear. After a few minutes he returned to say that he had not seen Johnny. We heard a shout,  looked east and there was Johnny about three hundred yards down the road. How on earth had he got there when he should have come past us from the west?   We waited for him. He told us that at the house he had met an old man who told him that he was the signal man.

‘ He wasn’t wearing a waistcoat and a greasy cap was he?’, asked Jerry.

‘Well, yes he was’.  Jerry and I exchanged glances. It was strange that Johnny had appeared from the east.  It was if as we had traveled back in time and Johnny had reentered the present in a different place. That would explain the way that the path had suddenly disappeared in the thistles, and the appearance of the signal man, who from the way that Johnny and Jeremy had described him, had been dressed like the signal man in ‘The Railway Children’…..   Knowing Jerry he was probably wondering if Johnny could take us back with him and introduce us to Jenny Agutter, and knowing Johnny, who seems to know everyone, he probably could.

We agreed that as Jerry was our guest we would walk the path do the extra 3 kilometers. ‘You won’t regret it I guarantee’ said Jerry. We had to laugh knowing we would.  ‘It’s alright now. It’s still the morning, but we’ll pay for it later.’ I said. We set off along the path. It’s always nicer walking on a path than on tarmac. But it was hilly too, warm work and when we had the opportunity we stopped to fill our water bottles. From Nantmawr the path zig zagged up through woods for several hundred feet. It was steep. Near the top we saw this sign.

Orange ice cream sign painted on slate and nailed to fence on Offa's Dyke On we went and saw another. And then we came to a little house beside the path. It was painted the colour of vanilla ice cream, it’s doors and window smartie colours, but instead of luring us in and shoving us all into the deep freeze the young woman who lived there sold us some some cones, which we happily licked while admiring the view.  ‘It’s beautiful’.  ‘Aye but it’s rough up here in the winter’, she said.  Off we went and after a while came out of the woods to the summit of the hill which had fine views east into England. Jeremy said, ‘ See, I told you you wouldn’t regret it’

Map reading at spot height 285 near MoelyddMan sitting down amoung beech trees Offa's DykeNant-y-Gollen, Offa’s Dyke                                  © James Forshall

We followed the path and the dyke up through Nant-y-Gollen woods where we sat down to eat the delicious sandwiches which Susy Carslake had made us.  The woods led us out onto a plateau which was the site of the old Oswestry Race Course. The last race there was run in 1848. A group of young men with mountain bikes lay in the sun.  We plodded on.

Or rather I plodded, Jeremy who is tall strolled and Johnny was walking doggedly.  Pink sycmamore seeds and green leavesSycamore Pods           © James Forshall

We climbed some 700 feet to the shoulder of the hill to the north of Craignant and then down towards Chirk Mill with the Castle above it.

Chirk Castle, Offa's DykeChirk Castle                  © James Forshall

Chirk CastleChirk Castle                                                             © James Forshall

Two men walking in front of British White CattleLeaving Chirk Castle                                         © James Forshall

We walked up through the castle grounds and then out through fields where Park White Cattle grazed. Not far to go, though the tendon connecting my middle toe with the muscle running down the outside of my shin felt stiff and sore. It moved with difficulty.  I tried different ways of walking with little improvement.  As the evening wore on my pace slowed. By the time we got to the Llangollen Canal I was several hundred yards behind the others.

Reflection of Ash tree in Llangollen CanalLlangollen Canal     © James Forshall

Never mind. A good nights rest always seem to mend. We walked along the canal tow path towards the aqueduct built by Thomas Telford.

Canal, walkers, walking into sunlight, high contrastLlangollen Canal       © James Forshall

Aqueduct shadow over fields, shadow of Pontcysyllte AqueductPontcysyllte Aquaduct                     © James Forshall

A tow path on one side and a metal gutter full of canal water, just wide and deep enough to carry a barge, are supported on brick arches high above the valley. On the canal side of the aqueduct there is no rail. From the cockpit of a barge it must be as if you are floating a boat through the air.

At the far end of the aqueduct there is a basin, a drydock and a pub, which is where we had supper. I really felt as if I could not walk much further.  In the pub we settled down to our drinks, cider for Johnny, beer for Jerry and me.  In the other room football was playing on the telly.  The girl behind the bar was very pretty. One middle aged regular was camped at the far end of the bar to keep her in constant view. As Jerry said afterwards, ‘If only he had been able to keep his jaw from dropping’, but he couldn’t and sat there in happy, open mouthed wonder.

‘Where’ve you walked from? Asked the man on the next table. ‘Up from Swansea’

‘Fairplay’, He said.  His companion looked at us curiously.  I decided to research my etymological theory about the Welsh word cwm, which sounds like the English word coombe, both of which mean valley.  ‘Do you think that they are really the same word? I mean it’s a bit of a coincidence isn’t it: two words in different languages sounding the same and meaning the same even if they don’t look the same’

‘I really couldn’t tell you, could I?  I went to the wrong school, see?’

‘No really, I’m sure you didn’t…I mean…’

‘I went to the wrong school, didn’t I?

‘Well, I don’t know, I’m sure it was a very good school.’

‘No, see? They beat it out of us. Every time I spoke Welsh they whacked me. They whacked me when I spoke Welsh, see?  So I can’t answer your question.’

After a little while they left. ‘Gosh he was cross, but his wife seemed nice.’ I said.

‘I don’t think that was his wife’ said Jerry, ‘ When you were getting drinks he was already saying to her how mad his wife would be if she knew where he was.’

After a curry and more beer we walked up through the town and out into the country.  It was dark. About 300 yards from the houses we found a flat bit of field, got into our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

Sincere thanks to all those who have donated so very generously. If you have not donated and would like to help Romilly to help street children you can do so at

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk