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

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Montgomery to Llanmynech – Day 15 of Romillys One Island Walk for street children

I awoke early in the morning.  4.45? 5.00?  I remembered enjoying a lot of Nic’s wine the night before and going to bed wondering where my telephone was.  Where was it? Gingerly I rolled back my duvet and lowered my feet to the ground.  Ouch!  My right foot felt quite sore.  I rested it on my knee and twisted it to look at the sole. Not an appealing sight, the skin from the blister seemed to be muddled up with the plaster. I tugged gently. It looked as if pulling off the plaster would pull off the blister too. I didn’t want to expose the tender new skin under the blister. It would quickly form another one. My mind felt sluggish and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had been a little emphatic in some of my remarks at dinner. I remembered Nic who I had barely seen in 30 years looking at me rather strangely. And wasn’t the default alarm on my phone set for 5.30  when it’s Carribean Funky Disco tone set to max would wake the whole house?rucksack contentsI emptied my rucksack pushing the contents apart. No telephone there. I lifted the duvet, rifled through the rucksack again, felt in my coat pockets, my trouser pockets. The bathroom. I had to cross the landing onto which Nic and Nicky’s door opened. I certainly did not want to wake them. The door to their room was wide open. The wooden floored landing stretched before me like a minefield. Gently I put down a foot. The floor was solid though in the middle one board groaned and wheezed. I froze: front foot on tiptoe, back and head arched backwards, arms raised in surrender. It was not that I was actually doing anything wrong but looking for your mobile at the risk of waking up your hosts is a bit unreasonable and, well,  move like a burglar, feel like a burglar.  Not a sound came from their room. I imagined my hosts lying there in polite silence. How could two middle aged people, youthfully slim though they are, make so little noise in their sleep? I couldn’t even hear them breathing. With one or two more squeaks and wheezes from the floor boards I made it to the bathroom. No sign of the telephone. In the kitchen? Very slowly I made my way downstairs.

Downstairs I entered  a room I hadn’t seen before, then another which wasn’t the kitchen either.  Then I found the kitchen. I went round it. Several mobile telephones were charging, but not mine.  Where could it be?  The only remaining place I had not checked was Nic’s car. Bound to be locked but perhaps I might see it through the window.  Still no sound from their bedroom. The bolt slid back quite easily. I opened the door quietly. Outside the sun was just coming up. I stood there for a moment taking it in. There was dew on the lawn and the dawn air fresh to my blurred senses. The cool of the paving stones felt delicious. Steps led down to where the car was parked, and there on the gleaming black leather was my telephone.  What did Sherlock Holmes say? Eliminate all other possibilities and what remains is the answer. Well, something like that. I tried the door handle. To my amazement it opened: not just Sherlock Holmes, but a magician too. I crept back to bed and fell asleep, the contents of my rucksack scattered across the floor.

Wooden Offa's Dyke Sign post converted to Bird table Offa’s Dyke Bird Table                                              © James Forshall

If I had woken them Nic and Nicky were far too polite to say. After another delicious breakfast we said good bye to Nicky and Nic drove us to Montgomery where we had finished walking the night before.  It was another beautiful morning. Montgomery is a very pretty town. One wonders how it can possibly have escaped the planners and developers, but then they like to lay the blame for their work on German bombers. I thought sadly what a delightful place prewar Britain must have been, and how much we have destroyed.

We walked out into the country and headed north. Further uphill we could see two women. They stood admiring the view at the top and we said good morning to them. The younger one said, ‘I’m just exercising my mum’. Then Johnny said, ‘ Don’t I know you?. Weren’t you at ……….’s Party?’.  We stood and talked to her for a while. After we had moved off Johnny said, ‘Very odd she couldn’t remember me. I must have talked to her for at least half an hour’.

The way was well marked which was lucky because we did not have a map.  Then at Forden, whose pub was closed we missed our turning.  We could see the hill where we were meeting Jeremy Love to our east.  I asked the way from a man mowing grass. We came to a pub and I asked the way again. I also had a lime cordial and a sandwich which took up too much time.  The directions from the publican were different but sounded easier.  We were to go through the home farm of an estate and then to a church and from the two pillared gate at the back of the church the the path would take us up the hill to another farm where we would turn left, and that would lead us to the beacon where we were to meet Jeremy.  In the end we called Jeremy and agreed to meet at a pub on the Severn a mile or two further on which would save a mile or two and a steep climb.  On the  way we came to a beautiful black and white timbered house.  ‘Hang on a moment.  That looks like ……….’s house,’ Johnny said, ‘Do you mind if I go in and say hello?’.
Two walkers picnic on Offa's Dyke by the River SevernLunch by the Severn, Offa’s Dyke                                       © James Forshall 

We met Jeremy at the pub in Buttington and had a lime cordial. We crossed the Severn and found a place to picnic, then followed the river for a mile before crossing the main road and walking beside the Montgomery Canal.

Montgomery Canal, Offa's Dyke, Montgomery Canal, Offa’s Dyke                      © James Forshall

Between the river and the road a motor bike was parked. It’s middle aged ride and his postillienne were lying in the grass stripped to their underclothes, their black leathers hanging over the bike. ‘ They’re OK in the winter but in this weather….Ooph!….. swap your shorts for my leathers any day’.  ‘Throw in the bike and you’ve got a deal’….actually I didn’t say that. I definitely thought it. We left the canal and then walked across the river plain, along a dyke, not Offa’s but a modern flood defense.  To the east we could see a hill, eaten away by mining, in huge steps like a Mayan temple but without the fine lines of masonry, a Mayan temple with some terrible skin disease.

Bird scarerBird scarer.    (You can also use hubcaps for this.)                    © James Forshall

Although we had no OS map, Jeremy had torn a sketch map from an old guide book and in his hands this proved remarkably useful. The country side was not as pretty as the day before. I felt tired and the discomfort from the blister or my right leg seemed to have spread to my shin.  On we went.

Offa's Dyke, River SevernOffa’s Dyke trail, River Severn                                       ©  James Forshall

It was a relief for someone else to do the navigating.  Of course it is not all fun when the person doing the navigating is not skilled and gets lost, but ever since I have known him Jerry has been a brilliant map reader and we could have complete confidence in him. As day wore on though I missed the map reading. Keeping track of where you are takes your mind off fatigue and sore feet.

Oak Trees leaning at different angles on Offa's Dyke trailOffa’s Dyke Trail                                      ©   James Forshall

In Llanmynech we met Dick Carslake, who had kindly come to pick us up. We all went into the pub for a drink.  Dick then took us back to his house where Susy gave us a delicious supper.

Offa's Park sign and housesOffa’s Park                                                                    ©  James Forshall

Thank you to all who have donated so generously to Romilly.  We are moving steadily towards our first target. I will write to thank you.

If you have not donated and would like to help Romilly help homeless children you can do so here: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

Knighton to Montgomery – Day 14 of Romillys One Island Walk for street children

Offa's Dyke just north of KnightonTeam Romilly approaching the first trig point top left.  © James Forshall

Nic and Nicky Allen had very kindly put us up for the night.  They gave us a very  good breakfast and we set off for the start, the railway station at Knighton which is where we had finished the night before.  Nic, our local guide led the way.  We walked along the east side of the railway and then the path climbed steeply through woods until we found our selves on downland.

Three men and trig pointTeam Romilly         ©James Forshall

Because we had cut across Wales from Swansea this was our first day on Offa’s Dyke.  The country is lovely, the walking hard.  In some ways it was like the South West Coast path but without the sea, sharp climbs of three or four hundred feet, followed by a short stretch of relatively flat ground and then a sharp descent followed by another equally sharp ascent. It felt as if were walking across enormous ripples in the landscape. John Greig who had only just retired and who claimed to have spent the last 40 years behind a desk found it tiring.

An Offa they couldn’t refuse.

Offa's Dyke, three men walking north a long the western fosseOffa’s Dyke, showing the deep fosse on the West side of the bank © James Forshall

I had run out of maps. Luckily Nic had one and we were all very content to be led by him. The dyke is very impressive, much more so than I had expected. On the west side there is a deep ditch which amplifies the size of the bank on the east side.  It is a formidable obstacle giving any one with a spear at the top of the bank a great advantage over any one approaching from the west. It must have taken huge resources to build, especially for a society, which I imagine, could do little more than save enough food for the coming winter. How had Offa motivated his builders? How long had it taken? What tools had they used?  How had it been paid for? Was it a fortification, or a road, or built simply to impress, a massive land sculpture, a signal to the gods?  Sometimes the fosse and the bank are worn down, or have been completely worn away, but often they are remarkably well defined.  Looking into the streamOffa’s Dyke © James Forshall

Nic and Johnny led for most of the way, Nic, the tallest of us, moving effortlessly. My blisters were no more than uncomfortable, though the plaster under my right toe felt as if were distorting my foot, still, nothing that I couldn’t manage.Offa's Dyke north of Knighton, view of hills framed by trunks of pine treesLooking West from Offa’s Dyke   © James Forshall

Offa's Dyke north of Knighton, three men walking, track, hillsOffa’s Dyke trail  © James Forshall

Three men reading map by gateTeam Romilly consulting John’s guide book.  © James Forshall

From time to time we met walkers going in the opposite direction: Pip, walking for the British Legion, who said he would donate to Romilly and did so, ( Thank you Pip); a Royal Marine, carrying more than 80lbs, who had already walked down from Scotland and was going to walk round Wales. He was on a 12 week leave. So far the only night he had spend under a roof had been when he visited his son.  We met a couple of rather severe women. Well, I say severe. I made a rather feeble joke at which the larger remarked, ‘Oh, we’re being silly are we?’  No more than I deserved, I’m sure. A couple of men broke their climb to talk: one with the demeanor of a soldier and extraordinarily well developed leg muscles, which John, after we had walked on, pronounced unnatural; his friend tubby, red faced and out of breath, John thought much more natural. Three men resting by fenceTeam Romilly takes a break: Left to right  John Greig, Johnny Forshall, Nic Allen © James Forshall

We stopped to picnic by a small church. I went inside. It’s roof was supported by beautiful hooped beams. Nic had told us about it. ‘I think you’ll like this one’.  I love churches. They seem, at least to me, to contain such a dense accumulation of history, of continuity and even now, have the power to sooth, to invite reflection, calm thought, and prayer. And why not pray? Who are we to say that God does not exist?   And if he does do we not owe it to our dead to pray for them and for our living too?  So I said a quick prayer for Romilly, before going outside and finishing my sandwiches.

Foxgloves, sheep, Offa's DykeLooking west from Offa’s Dyke      © James Forshall

After that there was another steep climb and another.  John was suffering. Unlike the rest of us, who had left our packs with Nicky, he was carrying his overnight things.  We came to a wooden bridge over a stream.  We looked down enjoying the sound of the water, hoping to see fish, the light reflected up at our faces.

Men look down at waterOffa’ Dyke  © James Forshall

Another climb and then  we saw the plain and knew that it was not much more than five miles to Montgomery.

Three men sitting by Offa's Dyke signOffa’s Dyke  © James Forshall

The most direct route was by road.  Nicky Allen and Dick Carslake met us at the pub at the top of the town. Nicky to pick us up and Dick to pick up John.  We had a pint and then went back to the Allen’s house for a delicious slow cooked leg of lamb and quite a lot to drink.

Thank you to everyone who has donated so generously. I will write. We are making good progress to towards our first target of £20,000.

If you have not donated and would like help Romilly help homeless children please donate here: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

 

 

 

 

 

Erwood to Knighton 28 miles – Day 13 of Romillys One Island Walk for street children

Welsh grey, white pony, dark cloud, dark moorland                                                                                                                                  © James Forshall

This was a great day, though I awoke feeling foggy.  Peter had been very hospitable as we waked England’s defeat and my last had been a huge, delicious glass of malt whisky. Johnny seemed very perky and alert. I ate a lot of breakfast, porridge, bacon and eggs though so I was well set up, and Caro found some plasters for my blisters.

Blisters

On the two long distance walks in the Pyrenees I had not really suffered from blisters at all. Perhaps this had made me overconfident.  I had started at Land’s End wearing an old pair of leather boots made by Scapa.  They were very comfortable, and had seen me all the way  from Bayonne on the Atlantic to Banyuls on the Med in 2001, but they were heavy and by had the time I reached Boscastle, the uppers were coming away from the sole. Since most of the walking was on footpaths I thought I would try a lighter trainer style shoe. Perhaps I did not take enough trouble choosing them; perhaps it was my socks, which although claiming to be wool were mostly artificial fibre.  On the Haute Route des Pyrenees I had worn the same pair of socks, hand knitted in the Shetland Islands, all the way. After two weeks the wool had been transformed into felt by the  constant action, but I suffered not  a single blister.  At the time I attributed this to the anti blister cream I use, but I had been using it on this walk too.  We had had miles of tarmac outside Swansea and through Neath and miles more the preceding day.  Whatever the cause, by the time we arrived at Erwood I had blisters on my toes, on one heal, and two large ones on the balls of my feet. None of the blisters had burst and the consensus was that I should not burst them. Caro put large plasters on the one’s on the balls of my feet.

Welsh ponies and walkers                                                                                                                  © James Forshall

It was a lovely walk. Peter had given us a route, which kept to the heights most of the way. It was dry and we were walking over gently rolling moorland along tracks with beautiful views and not another soul in sight. Looking back we could  just see the Beacons. It was encouraging to see how far we had come. It is true that I felt slightly nauseous but I was confident that I would sweat it all out pretty quickly,  which I did. The alcohol seemed to have killed off the diahorrea of the day before too, and once I had got going and warmed up the discomfort from the blisters was much diminished. On we walked past wild Welsh ponies, Johnny, Caro and Caro’s Australian terriers in the lead.  We saw a stone curlew, which got up with a cry, dipped, rose again, and fled. The sky was full of lark song. At the Doctor’s Pool  Caro left us. We continued on. Eventually the path led downhill to a saddle where another track crossed ours by some beach trees growing out of the an old stone walled bank in the corner of a field. Here we sat down to eat the delicious sandwiches which Caro had prepared.

We had not been there long, enjoying the food, the shade and the rest when two riders came into view.  They stopped and we chatted. They were on a three day trek. We both looked at their ponies enviously. One of the girls, saying what fun it was added, ‘but it gives you a bloody sore a…’                                                                                                          ‘Swap your a… for my feet any day’, I thought as they galloped uphill.                                  ‘What a great way to do this’, Johnny said gloomily. Somehow the sight of those gleaming, well muscled ponies, springing over the green turf took the shine off walking. Nothing for it but to get started. We had a long way to go.

An hour later we stopped to ask directions at a small house screened from the empty moorland by willows and silver birch.  A young woman was hanging washing.  The man was friendly and helpful. What on earth did he do there? It did not strike me at once but later I thought that there was something of Anthony Perkins in his face.  Did this explain its tired lines, a life time of people being reminded of the Bates Motel?  How unfair.  His directions were good.  ‘At the Mawn pool don’t follow the track which is obvious. The path is you want is not clear but goes down the edge of the pool.’ This proved useful and I’m grateful to him.

The country before had been open but this was even emptier, miles and miles of shallow hills and pasture empty except for sheep stretched before us. Johnny was impressed. ‘This could be south America’

It was hot and we sat down by the edge of the track to rest.  In the distance we could hear an angry buzz and see a cloud of dust, racing towards us.  Seconds later a rider, with samurai mask and armoured  in plastic rose out of the dip and sped past in a cloud of dust and the racket of hammering pistons, six more followed, their ridged tires chewing into the earth, engines chucking out carbon dioxide:  ‘Man beats up planet’….no, ‘Man beats up planet for fun.’ In the distance we could sheep scatter.  The sound receded, till no more than the sound of a blue bottle against a window. The skylarks returned to their song.

DSCF9045 preparing sheep for shearing © James Forshall                                                                                                                                   ©  James Forshall

Not long after we came across a farmer and his worker cleaning up sheep for shearing. He farmed 2000 sheep. ‘It must be a good life’ I said, very much the city boy. ‘Aye but it’s rough up here in winter. In the summer they feed their selves. In winter we got to feed them, see?’  ‘Even so…’  ‘Aye, it’s a good life, but we’re not sharp enough for anything else’, he said, looking at me slyly and we both laughed.  I stood and watched as he and his assistant, pushed the sheep through the pen, cleaning them up and drenching them, eagerly policed by their collie.

Sheep farmer, Radnor, Wales                                                                                                                         © James Forshall

Sure enough, at the Mawn pool the path we wanted disappeared and I took a bearing. Due north, corresponding to that of the path on the map. We headed down hill and picked up a narrow path which crossed a field of thistles. By now we were in the valley which leads up to New Radnor. We could hear the road which we would have to take. There was little choice. Peter had advised us against going into the Radnor Forest which in any case was much higher.  We walked down a track to ford a stream.  The water was perfectly clear.  Two steel gutters, spanning the banks provided a bridge for cars to a work shop.

Man cooling feet in stream                                                                                                                          © James Forshall

On the other side there was a mobile home which had been extended and some how grown into the hill side. Johnny took off his boots to cool his feet. A black labrador puppy looked longingly through a gate. I went to the mobile home to ask for water.  A woman came out. She brightened when she learned that we had lived not far from Haslemere. ‘I had a paper round there….Do you know Frenchham ponds?’ Robert who was a camera enthusiast came out with his own film camera to look at mine.                                                                             ‘Do you know how much this one is worth,’ he asked proudly.                                             ‘£120?’                                                                                                                                                     ‘£5.  Just £5. Probably not even that now’, he said with relish. He kindly gave me a wrist strap for my camera which he had made, which was very useful. They showed us the pine tree which had blown down within a few feet of flattening their mobile home.  They told us Knighton was another fifteen miles. Fifteen miles! That was a blow.  We had worked out that it could not be more than ten.  ‘Definitely fifteen’, said Robert, ‘I’ve measured it in my car.’  We thanked them. They had been kind and pleased to see us.

DSCF9055 Patrick © James ForshallPatrick                                                                                                        © James Forshall

Not long after this we came to a sign. I’m very grateful to that sign, ‘Knighton  9 miles’. Nine miles. Robert’s car was way out. I said to Johnny, ‘Nine miles! We’d eat that before breakfast’.  Bouyed up we walked to new Radnor, where a voice from the scaffolding above the pub door said, ‘We’re open at 5.00’, and a woman sitting in a car kindly offered us water.   After a small hamlet Johnny said, ‘If that is ……..then we’ve only 7 miles to go’.  We walked on for an hour and came to a sign announcing………… Then followed a long period when all the signs said that it was 7 miles to Knighton.  Perhaps Robert’s car had been right after all. It certainly felt like it. By the end of our day, our rucksacks containing no more than ibuprofen, bivvi bags, sleeping bags, water proofs weighed heavily. How could so little way so much?

We made Knighton on time, Johnny racing on for a pint. I went straight to the station where I met John Greig, who had come down to walk with us.

I was pleased. Road work apart it had been a lovely walk.  We had caught up the miles and the time we had lost due to engine trouble. We were back on schedule.

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