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 for street children. Stobo to Auchinoon: not lost, just not sure where I am.

Reflections of branches and sky in dark waterA path came down from the south crossed our path and continued up hill and north.  I looked at the map. The paths marked on the map didn’t seem to correspond with what I was seeing on the ground.  Hmm. I don’t call this being lost. I just wasn’t sure exactly where I was, which is not the same thing at all. I took a guess at where I thought we were and a bearing, more or less due north, which, in the general scheme of things couldn’t be far wrong. We set off up the path which crossed ours.

We had left Stobo earlier, walked through woods with ponds and lakes to the left, the sun lighting up the trunks of the pines through which we saw the blue water below, and now after the decision at the crossroads we were heading up hill and north. Soon the path petered out. A wave of nagging doubt entered my mind. Should I have taken the other path? This was hard work too, through tussocks of moor grass, and hummocky heather, of which the stiff stalks lay downhill. We were walking against the grain as well as gravity. We climbed the western side of what I thought must be Riding Hill, descended onto a saddle and climbed another hill, which if I was correct in my map work, guess work, was the eastern spur of Ladyurd Hill. From here could see the Southern part of the Lyne Water Valley to the east and felt vindicated. My plan was to cross the Tarth Water, just over a mile to the north and then join the track leading through Scotstoun Bank in the direction of West Linton.

Heather in foreground, grass scar over hillside, sky

We headed down hill but, just over the crest, were blocked by forestry. We followed its eastern edge north and at a corner took a track through it.

‘Chemical warfare.’ muttered my friend.

‘What?’

‘Chemical warfare. Nothing grows under those trees.’ We came out in the fields above Ladyurd, a farm settlement, following the edge of the forest again to the track which led to the farm, and down to the road which we crossed making for Tarth Water. This turned out to be much wider and deeper than it had looked on the map. My companion was all for crossing it but I was not, so we followed it north west to the bridge and then walked up the track to Scotstoun. This was quite a place. ‘You can almost see the money from Edinburgh flowing out into the Borders’, said my companion. We sat down to eat lunch, admiring the view of the house. Someone was shooting at clay pidgeons, intermittent bangs were carried to us over the fields on the wind.

‘What an idiotic occupation!’, said my companion.

‘I rather enjoy clay shooting.’ I said.

‘I was really talking about pheasant shooting…It’s hypocritical of me I know. God knows, I’ve had a lot of fun shooting. But driving huge numbers of birds over people paying huge sums of money to blast away at them…it’s crass and the people paying for it are often ghastly’, he said.

‘I guess it was the new breach loading shot guns and manufactured cartridges at the end of 19th century that made that kind of shooting possible,’ I said, ‘providing, had we chosen to see it,  a warning the of slaughter to come……

………..Who said, “I’ve always regarded the contest between a man with a gun and a rabbit as being dishonourable.”? ‘

The Tarth Water, stream, water, burn, beech branches and buds, green weed
Tarth Water not looking so deep or wide

We went up the main road, turned left onto a farm track which took us through a farmyard. ‘Funnily enough farmyards and golf courses are some of the very few places in Scotland where you cannot walk without permission’, my companion told me,  but no one objected and we continued on the farm road. Here and there were large tin chicken rearing sheds. A pretty young woman with a baby in a pram and a boy following on a bicyle stopped to talk to us. She was warm and friendly with an accent from somewhere in the North of England. We all agreed that it was a lovely day. The way we said it, repeating the phrases to each other was like saying grace. ‘I’m always surprised how the people who talk to you and greet you on a walk turn out to be English’, said my Scottish friend. After a mile and half we came out on a road, which took us into West Linton.

We stopped at the pub and ordered a cup of tea. People were sitting out in the sunshine on the pub’s terrace. I did not know if it was Sunday, a bank holiday or simply because it was sunny, but there was a feeling of celebration and relief, which you don’t get in countries where you can take sunshine for granted and where it is often too hot. West Linton had been my target for the day, but we were well ahead of schedule and I wondered if we could cover some of tomorrows walk to Livingston. If so we must hurry.

Track leads to gap in dark line of trees

We headed east out of West Linton and then took the road north to Baddinsgill. On our left children played among the cars parked beside a gold course. We walked up hill. After a while we came to a large blue container, like a cargo container, with a bright stainless steel pipe extending vertically from it. ‘It’s a biomass heater’, its owner explained, a tall capable looking man. ‘I know it’s a nonsense, heating firewood to dry it out, but we sell a lot of it’.  ‘What a great business’, muttered my companion as we left.Highland Cattle, grazing on heather

We continued up hill following the track of pink stone towards Cauldstane Slap, the saddle from which we would descend to the Harpering Reservoir and the A70, our second target for the day.A track of pink sand and rock through heather to a walker on the skyline

It was a gentle uphill walk and although I know that my companion was tired, and probably would have preferred to call it a day at West Linton, he never complained. The route is known as The Thieves Road from long ago, but from time to time we passed notices asking the public to report the theft of sheep to the police. The track ended and a path at times uncertain found its way to the Slap between two hills and here we could see the reservoir, a wind turbine and cars moving as if on sliders, on what must have been the A70, through the otherwise slow moving landscape. We walked downhill to the road.  It had been a good day and I must have done a good chunk of tomorrow’s walk.

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

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

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

Johnny and the Phantom Signal Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chirk Castle, Offa's DykeChirk Castle                  © James Forshall

Chirk CastleChirk Castle                                                             © James Forshall

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

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

Reflection of Ash tree in Llangollen CanalLlangollen Canal     © James Forshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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