Meet Benson: Street Hero

Benson’s parents died when he was five. His older sisters were left to care for him, but they didn’t….

Young African man from Zambia in blue against a green background

They mistreated him, badly enough for him to take his chances on the street when he was seven years old. He was homeless in Mufulira for three months and then came to Kitwe, where he was also homeless. For a while he stayed with Friends of Street Children, leaving them for an orphanage run by the Catholic Church, from which he ran away. FSC street workers picked him up and lodged him at the FSC Kawama centre.

From the FSC Kawama centre he went daily to primary school, passed the national examinations with flying colours and was accepted by his secondary school, which he completed. This is a considerable achievement for someone who started life as a street child. Benson has always wanted to be a lawyer, so that he could defend street children, but until now he has not had the sponsorship to go to university. Since leaving school he has worked at the FSC Kawama centre, helping out with street children. He understands them and speaks their language. Throughout his life he has shown, resilience, intelligence, determination and courage. For his fellow street children he is a remarkable example.

Thanks to the generosity of Romilly’s supporters, her charity has been able to transfer £300 for Benson’s first term at teacher training college.

If you would like to donate in order to help fund the next term of Benson’s teacher training course you can do so here.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charities/romilly

My thanks to Christopher Mulenga for sending me the photograph of Benson.

 

 

 

 

 

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Romilly’s One Island Walk: Tibby Shiels to Stobo

View of Loch St Mary through leafless trees

I set off up the road from Tibby Shiels with Loch St Mary on my right. The sun bounced off the water. The cold, metallic light darkened the outline of the trees. There were no leaves to be seen. It could have been February rather than May.

After a mile or so I took the path which follows the Megget Water up to the dam. I was walking across moorland, at times the path was no more than a soggy, black carpet of peat. To my right were fields of grass enclosed in stone walls. A few sheep grazed. I heard the cry of curlews. Gradually the path neared the river and at the same time the road from the dam on the other side drew closer to the river too.

Rather than walk two sides of a triangle to cross at the dam I decided to cross just beyond a small island. It looked as if I might be able to step from stone to stone. I stepped out onto a stone and then, following the momentum already flowing, jumped to a large rock. I landed on its side, clung on, and with some difficulty scrambled up onto it. The stream was wider and the stones further apart than I had thought. I sat on top of the rock taking off boots and socks and rolling up my trousers.  The flow of water was vigorous. Its rush and noise hid the sounds of bird and sheep, enclosing me, drawing me down to the river’s world. It looked deeper and faster than I had thought. I stepped cautiously into the water. It was freezing. The stones were rounded and slippery. I hoped for my camera’s sake that I would not fall in, but gosh, it was cold. My feet and ankles felt as if they were being squeezed fiercely by something so cold that it burnt. I would have liked to have moved faster but the darkness of the water and the uncertainty of the stones slowed me down. I clambered out and sat in the sun drying myself and enjoying the tingling sensation in my legs.

I walked up the road and joined my friends at the dam. We set off west and then took a path where there was a public footpath sign. The path was marked on the map but straight away forked in a way that was not. The map path ran up hill parallel to the stream in the valley below, but did not seem to be as consequent as the diverging path which seemed to beckon and corresponded better with the authority of the footpath sign. We stuck with the smaller path and headed up hill past a plantation, keeping the stream or burn below us on our left. We were on the western edge of the map and would soon move on the eastern edge of the next map and had to look from one to another.

It did not seem quite right and at times I was not sure which valley I was in. I took a bearing from where I hoped that we were to the head of the Manor Valley.  The path disappeared and we found ourselves walking uphill through rough tussocky heather. It was hard work.  The burn below swung off to the west. It should have been a sign. I checked my compass and we continued. We went north west down hill to a gate in a fence which we went through and then sensing the empty space behind the rise in front of us walked to its top and found ourselves on a cliff of moorland grass falling steeply to the valley floor with the valley laid out before us. Bingo! It is a happy moment when one’s faith in the wobbly needle of the compass is fulfilled: a kind of magic, a trick played on oneself.

Looking North down the Manor valley, smooth hills and valley sides with occasional plantations, rough moorland grass in the foreground
Looking north from the head of the Manor Valley

We walked down the hill, traversing and re traversing its steep sides and then headed north down the valley.  High up on the valley side where the sky met the hill we could see the silhouette of a man on a quad moving jerkily.

sheep skull with moss

The path became a track. At the edge of a wood we stood back to let a farmer, his boy and dogs herd ewes and lambs up the valley. One of the lambs was left behind by its mother, who was cut out and driven back by the dog while the farmer scooped up the lamb letting it hang by its front legs from his meaty hand.  We walked through the farm yard and down the track. A young woman was hanging out washing. There were few trees and little garden but daffodils had been planted by the track.

Twisted Beech tree

We walked past a low hill to our left. On the map it was labeled in gothic print, ‘MacBeth’s Castle’. Later I emailed a friend called MacBeth, who lives in Glasgow, who replied saying that there were a lot of ‘MacBeth’s Castles’ but sadly none of them belonged to her.

Gate at Dead Wife's Grave with view of hills beyond

Just after that we took a wide path between stone walls which passed between fields to the left and forestry to the right. At the top  we entered a wood and continuing up hill came to a gate at the edge of the wood with a view of the next valley. The place is called Dead Wife’s Grave, a name which belies the beauty of the place and the tenderness of this simple memorial to someone loved.

Soon we could see Stobo.  We walked down cheerfully. We heard a clattering, panting and turned to see a young man, his arms held out hopefully like featherless wings, run past in an ecstasy of kinetic energy.

Beech tree trunk behind stone wall or dyke covered in lichen, sheep and meadow in background

At Dawyck Mill we crossed over the River Tweed. It had been a good day.

I am walking a long way to raise money to help homeless children. If you have not already done so, please donate at

http://www.virginmoneygiving/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 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

 

 

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

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

 

Tairbull to Erwood – Day 12 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for street children

Market researches, girls with clipboardsMarket Researchers in Brecon                                                                       © James Forshall

We walked down the main road for the few remaining miles to Brecon.  Johnny wanted to buy some new boots and I needed some maps for the next leg of the journey.

Orchids We were heading  for Nighton, which is two days walk from Brecon.   A straight line drawn on the map would take us within a few miles of Erwood, where there is a bridge over the Wye.    There were few footpaths across the farmland and those did not go in our direction but across it. We would have to take lanes for much of the days walk.  Although it would not be difficult to navigate, tarmac is an unforgiving surface on which to walk.

Looking south to Pen Y Fan framed by treesLooking south to Pen y Fan                                                                             © James Forshall

We stopped at a farm house to fill my water bottle. You could see the Brecon Beacons clearly.  ‘Yes it’s a lovely view’, said the farmer’s wife, who was cutting up cabbage, ‘ but it’s rough up here in winter.’

I walked out of the farm to find that Caro, a friend of Johnny, and who lives nearby, had arrived with ginger beer, pork pies and chunks of delicious ginger cake.  Thank you Caro.

DSCF8998 Ivy clad telephone box copyright James ForshallTelephone Box                                                                                           © James Forshall

At Erwood we stopped for a drink in the pub. As I walked in an old habitue of the place, said, ‘Well hello, looks like Crocodile Dundee’, and sniggered. What I should have said was, ‘Looks like Crocodile Dundee…. It is Crocodile Dundee’….  but of course I didn’t.  I was tired.

We walked through Erwood over the bridge and up the hill on the other side leaving the road and heading north through fields hedged with hawthorn further uphill.  We saw a curlew and heard it’s cry as it tried to distract us from it’s nest.  Peter, Caro’s husband came to pick us up. He took us back to their beautiful house on the banks of the Wye where Caro was preparing a delicious supper.

It was the night of England’s match against Uruguay. We watched the first half before eating and then watched the recorded second half, and the Nibbler of Uruguay destroy England’s hopes.  Well better to be beaten by a superstar and than a mediocrity, and England’s spoilt, overpaid players did seem to be trying a little harder than usual. The surprise of the game was Rooney scoring a goal.  We all agreed that it had been a good game and as I stumbled off to bed I thought what a jolly evening it had been, how delicious the food and how kind and hospitable our hosts, and although I cleaned my teeth I certainly don’t remember my head touching the pillow.

You can help Romilly help homeless children here: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Aberdulais to Tair Bull – Day 11 Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

man sleeping in sleeping bag, foxgloves We started walking around 6.30.  Our target was the campsite at Brecon.  It was going to be a long day. We walked past woods and wind turbines.  The track was clear enough.  After about an hour and half we came over the side of a hill an saw Duffryn below us.

Oxeye Daisies at Duffryn

                                                                                                                                © James Forshall

We walked down between two rows of cottages which Johnny told me had originally been bought by the coal board, who when short of money sold them to the tenants.  When the pit closed those that had bought found their savings locked up in houses that no one wanted to buy.  Beyond this a road led off to the main village.  A man with a stick was walking towards us and I went to ask him where the pub was.  I was thinking of breakfast and wanted to keep my cold deep fried sausages in reserve.

The man told us that Duffryn was the birth place of St Patrick and that was a stone dedicated to him down the road, how he’d been a slave and then become a Christian and went to Ireland.  ‘People say he was Welsh, but there were no Welsh then. We were all Romano British. The term Welsh didn’t exist in St Patrick’s Day.’   The man’s name was George Evans. He was over 80 years old and as sharp as a tack.  He pointed us on to the pub. ‘Tell Glynn George sent you and to treat you right.’

We found Glynn outside the Duffryn Arms,  stripped to the waist, painting the wall in front of the pub.  He took us in and fetched us cheese rolls and a cup of tea.  We chatted away. He asked where we were walking to, where we had stayed.  ‘How much do I owe you’  ‘Oh, let’s see…..make it a fiver’.   We had also had a couple of bags of crisps.  ‘That seems very reasonable’.  He asked why we were walking and when we told him he gave us back the fiver.  ‘Here put this towards your charity’.   I found this very touching.  Thank you Glynn.

A little to the North of of Duffryn we picked up the Sarn Helen, the Roman road going up to wards Brecon.  It is very impressive though sadly damaged by green laners and tractors.

Sarn Helen, Roman Road

Sarn Helen – The Roman Road                                                                         © James Forshall

We walked past hill farms and through plantations of fir trees. We met no one except for a party of DoE girls resting and later some elderly rambler types ending their walk and getting into their comfortable cars. Here there was a stream. We were at the base of the Beacons.  Not so far to go now.

Johnny had sped along the day before but was finding it more difficult today. It was long and he was wearing a pair his son’s shoes, which were not providing him with much protection from the broken stones of the Roman Road. Though obviously suffering he never complained.Man bathing feet in stream

We were two hills to the west of the Storey Arms.  We climbed almost due east and then turned north and made our way along sheep tracks, past shaggy ponies to the top of the hill. We turned north west and then due north to a saddle and then just north of East walking towards the top of the cliffs above the road which heads north from the Storey Arms.  We could now see Corn Dhu and Pen y Fan to the East.  We had been walking for over twelve hours.

Looking North East towards BreconLooking north East towards Brecon                                                           © James Forshall 

Man Reading Map

 

Man descending hill side

© James Forshall

We climbed down towards the road which leads north from the Storey Arms to Brecon.  It was about as steep as a grass bank can be. Once on the road we headed down hill for the Tair Bull pub as quickly as we could.  We were hungry and wanted to get there before the kitchen closed.  Once at the pub we ordered chicken curry and beer. We had walked 28.5 miles and were about 5 miles short of being back on schedule.

Help Romilly to help homeless children. Donate here :  http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomllysOneIslandWalk

All photographs © James Forshall

 

Instow to Illfracombe – Day 8 Romilly’s One Island Walk for street children

I’d arranged to meet Bill Bennett, Tessa Rubbra, and Tim and Lizzie at the south end of the new bridge in Bideford at 8.30 so I had six miles to do before 8.30, which meant starting at Instow at 6.30, which meant leaving the house at 6.00, which meant getting up at 5.00 ish.  We had allowed half an hour to get to Instow, which should have been enough especially as we were taking the most direct route but somehow it wasn’t and we arrived at Instow at 7.00. I was really paying for my late breakfast of the day before. Nobody’s fault but mine

It was another beautiful morning. I hammered down the Tarka Trail.  Because it is a railway line the curves are long and the straights are longer. This makes one feel as if one is moving very slowly, which relative to the trains for which is was designed, one is. Most people use it as a bicycle path. electricity poles, old fence poles floodingI went as fast I could.  In the end I did the six miles in 1 hour 5o minutes, which meant that if we had been able to start from Instow on time I would have been ten minutes early. My knees ached but I was pleased with myself, especially as Billy was the only person at the r.v. before me.

We continued along the Tarka Line. More tarmacadam. The weather was hot too. Team Romilly © James ForshallTeam Romilly: Tessa Rubbra, Tim Drake, Bill Bennett and Lizzie Drake.

Our first target was Croyde. Luckily there was a footpath across the hill, which we took and which gave us lovely  views across the estuary.DSCF8680

DSCF8681Just after this field I lost the footpath. I could see the path we were supposed to join, traversing gently down and across the hillside below us, and access to it from a gate in the field  to the right of the one over which I was looking. The thing was to get into the field with the gate below us to the right.  I walked to the right. Now all we had to do was cross the fence and bash our way through the scrub into the field below, with the gate, which I could no longer see, but which must be there, because my compass said it was. The only question was, would the others baulk at the fence.  Not a bit of it all of them clambered over with out so much as a scratch.  Now for the scrub. This turned out to be made up of mature hawthorn, immature hawthorn, gorse and brambles at all stages of development. My trousers were torn and Tim and Lizzie only had shorts. The hawthorn got thicker and thicker. I wondered if we would be able to wriggle through it on our tummies. The scrub got darker and darker as the hawthorn became taller. On the lower edge of this hawthorn cave immature hawthorn blocked out the light and the way. I saw a lighter patch and headed for it. We waded through huge ferns. ‘It’s like the jungle’, said Tessa happily. “Its like Bear Grylls’, she said. ‘No it’s not’, said Billy, ‘He gets the television crew to do everything while he hangs out in a hotel’.  And then after a very severe bit with a steep drop disguised by a huge pile of rotten wood and brambles the trusty compass confirmed my faith and there, bingo!, was the path. I don’t know where the gate and the field, which I had seen from above,  had got to, but no one was complaining and none of us really cared where the path would take us.

It took us to Croyde and lunch with Catherine, Flora and Ben Rubbra, who were our valiant back up team and who had brought us Flora’s delicious sandwiches.

Toad Warning © James ForshallToad warning.

Team Romilly Woolacombe Beach © James ForshallTeam Romilly on Woolacombe Beach.

 

DSCF8705Team Romilly. Lizzie being good humoured about getting sea in her boots.

We met Catherine and Flora again at Mortehoe.

 admiring the beach © James ForshallOur admirable back up team admiring the view from Mortehoe.

DSCF8733 © James ForshallGreenbank, sea view, foxglovesfootpath closed sign, man climbing fenceVisiting the danger tree.

Man and woman on footpath sign keep to the pathWe arrived at Illfracombe at about 8.30. My original section, Barnstaple to Illfracombe had been 18 miles, to which I had added another 6 miles in the morning: 24 miles at least. Not bad and I had made up for my late start of the previous day. In Illfracombe the sun was setting and people were getting ready to watch footie. Tomorrow was a scheduled rest day….and Fathers’ Day.

Help Romilly to help street children. Donate here:

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