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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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