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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road Markings at Queensferry seen from the Forth Road Bridge

View from Forth Road Bridge at Queensferry

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

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

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

‘We don’t do tea’

‘Oh’

‘Ther’res no call for it’

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

His companion nodded at me in affirmation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cargo ship seen from the Forth Road Bridge

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

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

Builders yard seen from above, scaffolding pipes in sunlight

View from The Forth Road Bridge, Queensferry

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

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

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

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

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

Fence post

All photographs © James Forshall

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

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

From the Bhuddist Monastery to Tibby Shiels Inn

Colourful Bhuddist temple

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

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

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

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

‘From Gretna Green.’

‘So, not so far?’

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

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

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

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

Commercial forest, moss, evergreen trees

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

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

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

Common mistakes in fence crossing. Example 1.

Moorland walking, crossing fences

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

New born lamb, grass, moorland, afterbirth

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

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

Gretna to the Bhuddist Monastery

sign on gate by railway track reading 'come back safely your family need you'I was setting out on Romilly’s One Island Walk, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I expected this part to be tough.

The day before I had traveled up from Exeter by train. I had lost my over sixty discount card. Rather to my disappointment none of the ticket inspectors asked me for it. My B and B was immaculate. If you ever need to stay in Gretna this is the place. It’s near the station and only a short walk from the famous forge where, presumably, you would be  getting married.

‘Marriage is real industry here, isn’t it?’

‘There’s not much else to do. We used to have the MOD and the nuclear nearby but they’re running down’.

After a delicious breakfast I had asked to borrow a pair of scissors to trim excess weight off my maps.  I ripped out the part of my book, which I had already read. My landlady looked shocked.  I did not do this to upset her: on the wall I had seen the the prize she had won for literature as a child, but ‘Tom Jones’ is quite a chunk to carry.

‘ You should get a Kindle. People used to leave books behind but now they’re all on the kindle’,  she said.

The wind was cold but spring was in the air. It was sunny and the lambs frisked in the fields,  like animated, tea towel sized fragments of the fluffy clouds above. The keen air was full of energy and hope. I felt happy.

After about an hour I came to a farmer feeding his sheep.  ‘We live in a peaceful place. When you wake up you’ve got to look forward to the day, haven’t you? People think we make money but it all goes back into land. You’re just keeping it for your children. I don’t know why dairy’s crashed but it has.’ He did not seem unduly worried though: a nice man. Car, man with white sack, sheepI followed his directions, walking through his farmyard, past that of his neighbour, through past more farm buildings, and crossed a stream. Stone wall with metal attachments In a wood I saw a strange concrete building, its roof covered in moss and grass, from which small saplings grew. Track, trees, blue sky Behind a barn I jumped down into a field.  Rather pleased with this athleticism, I walked down into a valley, crossed another stream and walked up hill to an abandoned stedding.  Here I had lunch in the sunshine,  with my back to the wall,  eating the tin of mackerel I had bought the night before. ruined buildings, large puddle grey skies A mile or so on and the track led through another farm yard. There was a small family in the road, a cow, a very young calf and a bull. The bull stepped forward and squared up to me. I walked back to a gate and round the farm, down to another stream which I jumped across and then back onto a track.  Decrepit machinery, was rusting in the fields. The house looked uninhabited. Someone had recently cut down an ash tree. The bright new wood shone, but elsewhere buildings and machinery showed years of neglect.Meat hanging in barn I crossed the B7088. My plan was to walk the five miles across the hills to join the road leading up to Eskdalemur. I followed a track due north towards the moor. At the last cottage I knocked on the door. No one seem to be around and I was just about to leave to see if I can find an outside tap when the door was opened by a woman on crutches.  She asked me in. We went into the kitchen and she ran the tap.

She asked me what I was doing.

‘….Not over the hills?…tonight? in this weather?….’

‘Yes, you don’t think it’s going to rain?’ I asked

‘Sure to.’ She had just had a hip operation ‘My brother’s helping me….. Dave, di ye hear that? Man’s walking to Inverness’.

Dave came in and lowered himself into her arthritis chair. ‘Nooer? And Samye Ling ternight? O’er hills?. Ternight? In this weather ?’  I looked out of the window. The sun was shining.

‘Does your wife like walking?’ , asked the woman. ‘ Umm, not like I do’. ‘ Well, they say a change is as good as a rest.’ She looked at me slyly.

I thanked them both. They were kind and good humoured. We had had a laugh. Outside it started to pour with lumps of frozen water. I walked up hill.  It was very cold. Luckily the rain stopped but I sheltered in a dip to put on more clothes. Dead fox by stone wall It was dark by the time I reached the monastery. I had been walking for 14 hours and had traveled about 23 miles. rain in distance above moorlandI am walking a long way to raise money to help home less children.  Please donate.

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com

photography © James Forshall  

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

 

 

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

 

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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