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

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

 

 

Travor to Queensferry Bridge 26 miles – Day 17 of Romilly’s One Island Walk for Street Children

 

Rucksack, shoes, sticks sleeping bag, in foreground, green field, grey skyMy bedroom 5.50 a.m.                                                    © James Forshall

I like sleeping in the open: no tent, just a bivvy bag. I have a poncho too, just in case it rains so I can put up a shelter. Of course if the weather is really bad a tent is much more sensible but in the summer, sleeping in the open is best. If there are no midgies and it’s a clear night you can look at the stars. There’s nothing like the night sky to put things in proportion, to strip away the clutter of images, memories, desires, and fears which flair and flicker in your mind, and to connect you without effort to the power behind the universe.Sometimes you see shooting stars.

I don’t take a blow up mattress. It’s one more thing to carry. Grass and heather are really very comfortable.  But of course you wake early. That’s nice too, since if it’s 5.00 ish you certainly don’t feel guilty about a snooze and then again it’s nice getting up and getting going.  You can’t do that so easily in B and B’s. At least not without forsaking the breakfast you have paid for.

This morning we packed up quickly. I don’t remember what I ate. A biscuit. I noticed that my right ankle was swollen and my leg red and itchy. It felt as if something like a giant mosquito had bitten me behind the knee.  We headed up to the gateway that you can just see in the picture, and then to the house with the two chimneys.  We went through a still operational but derelict farmyard and then walked up through the woods to the right of the house. Jerry was map reading and we made good progress.  He was leaving us later in the day; and Johnny would come to the end of his section at the River Dee that evening; and after that I would be on my own through the Wirral, Liverpool and the Lake District, quite a few days. I like being on my own but I would miss my companions.

‘I’ve got a good word: three letters….you’ll never get this. Never,’ Jerry said.

‘Are we playing hang man?’

‘Ok that’s one life’

‘P?’

‘Hang on, Johnny, go for the vowels.’ And then as an after thought, ‘I suppose it does have vowels?’ I asked

‘You can’t ask that question’, Jerry said

‘Does it have any vowels?’

‘That’s two lives. No’

‘Is it Welsh?’

‘That question isn’t allowed’

Ok, I know. Cwm’

‘You’re supposed to guess the letters individually, ‘ Jerry said,’ It spoils the game to ask questions like “Is it Welsh? ” or “Does it have vowels?”

We crossed fields and then came to the moor.  The bracken came up to my shoulders. It was hard work to push through it and sometimes you lost your footing.  It made me wonder whether I had not been over optimistic about my projected rate of progress over the Scottish hills. From time to time ragged sheep would look up fearfully and then disappear, hurriedly, into the bracken.

Men in red brewing up in a church yardBrewing up                                                                   © James Forshall

Sore footJohnny’s foot.                                      © James Forshall

At Minera a nice woman filled my water bottle. The pub was closed so we retired to the church yard where Jerry made a cup of tea and Johnny massaged his feet.  It would not be long before Jerry left us to catch his train so he used his camera to photograph the map he was leaving with us. Lower down the grave yard a woman walked past with a bunch of flowers, held stiffly in front of her, like a soldier on parade, her eyes fixed upon the grave she was visiting. I hoped that she would not think us disrespectful but feared that she would.

From Minera we took a public footpath, once a railway track, which followed the back gardens of a row of houses. Some were completely overgrown, others were stripped bare of all vegetation by the hens living in them, others full of rubbish, some with rows of happy, shiny vegetables, some the homes of happy dogs and some of fierce unhappy dogs. At one point the railway line had been built over with houses. In another place it had been used as a store for large plastic coated silage bales which we clambered over. Sometimes it was completely overgrown and we had to fight through thick undergrowth.

For a while we left the path and travelled along narrow lanes which we left after a farm with a large collection of canabalised tractors, walking downhill across the fields to a valley.  Here the ground was wet. There was the sweet smell of decaying vegetation, and marsh buttercups. The path wound between willows and continued downhill into the valley, deeper, darker and more thickly wooded. After a few hundred yards we came the huge vertical piers of railway bridge which used to span the valley. The horizontals had been removed but the massive stone piers, hung with creepers, rose up through the forest gloom like Aztec ruins.

Stone pier of railway bridge in woodRailway bridge vertical                          © James Forshall

What capital investment they represented, what confidence. Had they not been axed would not Britains pre-Beeching rail network have provided the basis for an ecologically sustainable transport system, above all one suited to a small, densely populated island?  All along my walk I had seen telephone boxes overgrown with ivy, rusting pillar boxes, the massive remains of axed railway lines, networks pioneered in Britain, supposed redundant, but also the visible symbols of unifying, beneficient, trusted government.

Iron work and barbed wire Railway iron and barbed wire         © James ForshallDSCF9335 Jeremy leaves usJerry leaves to catch his train              © James Forshall

We continued on the railway line and after a few hundred yards of wading through stinging nettles, Jerry left us to catch his train at Cefn y Bedd.  We came to a very thick section of undergrowth beyond which we could see one of those difficult looking 6′ fences of sharply pointed corrugated tridents. We climbed down from the line to the road at Ffrith and walked up the road to Llanfynydd where we walked north east up hill to Waun y Clyn. Johnny said, ‘ I can’t believe that we can be so near towns like Wrexham and be walking through country like this.’

Foxglove and tree barkFoxglove         © James Forshall

From the top of the hill we followed a water course down to the main road. The rest of the walk would be on tarmac. Johnny hoped to catch a train that evening so we did not stop for lunch but cracked on, up the road from Hope to the park at Hawarden, the towers of the cement works to the west acting as an indication of our progress. Once we drew even with them we would only have four more miles to Connah’s Quay and the Dee.

At a the entrance to the park we sat down to lean against the cottage wall and take a rest. Johnny massaged his feet and I had a drink of water. It was nice and peaceful. Johnny had given up the idea of catching a train and I could happily have sat there for a the rest of the day….no, make that the rest of the week. We had not been long there when a small car stopped and a slight woman and a tiny boy, about 5 years old got out. After the usual politesses, the woman asked, ‘Do you mind me asking what you’re doing.’  We explained, resting, on the way to Liverpool.’  She was relieved and apologetic. ‘It’s just that my parents were broken into a couple of weeks ago.’ We were sorry to have caused anxiety. After she left we reflected how brave such a small person had been to confront two characters, one in a Grateful Dead T shirt, looking like an out of work roadie on a hitch hiking holiday, the other like a poor imitation of Crocodile Dundee. On reflection she too might have wondered if she had slipped back in time, or, more likely, if we were visitors from the not so distant past, her parents youth.

The road took us through woods. Signs told people to keep out. At the end of the park the road came up against a dual carriageway embankment.  We followed this west, negotiating a round about and then continuing on through the park to join the main road. We trudged on and were definitely uplifted by the sight of Hawarden and there, almost opposite the road junction, a pub.  We went in and ordered some food and soft drinks. We had planned to camp at the camp site near Queensferry but this seemed so pleasant and we were so tired, but they didn’t have rooms. We wasted quite a lot of time looking at other pubs. We trudged on towards Queensferry. We decided to look for somewhere to eat something and somewhere with a room.  Isn’t that the way? Start the day praising sleeping in the open air, end the day praying for a hotel room.

Man on Queensferry Bridge view west over River DeeJohnny crossing the River Dee at Queensferry            © James Forshall

It started to rain, not heavily but it had not rained since my arrival at Swansea and without a tent it was not a night to sleep out. Under the flyover at Queensferry a nice couple directed us over the bridge to the ‘Gateway to Wales’ hotel.  I took photographs of Johnny. He had completed his mission, walking 170 miles from Swansea to the Dee in seven and half days, an average of 21 miles a day. He had never complained even though his feet gave him trouble, a good effort, and it had been fun to have him with me. As well as being my brother he is one of the most amusing people I know.  My sincere thanks to all those who sponsored him so generously.

The River DeeThe River Dee, looking west                           © James Forshall

Man in Red Grateful Deat shirt in front of blue metal work, Queensferry Bridge, River DeeJohnny completes his mission, Queensferry Bridge, River Dee:  170 miles in 7.5 days                                                                                                         © James Forshall

If you would like to help Romilly help homeless children you can do so at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RomillysOneIslandWalk

Welsh Road signThe End of the Welsh Road           ©  James Forshall

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

Johnny and the Phantom Signal Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chirk Castle, Offa's DykeChirk Castle                  © James Forshall

Chirk CastleChirk Castle                                                             © James Forshall

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

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

Reflection of Ash tree in Llangollen CanalLlangollen Canal     © James Forshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Three men and trig pointTeam Romilly         ©James Forshall

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

An Offa they couldn’t refuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men look down at waterOffa’ Dyke  © James Forshall

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Blisters

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

Welsh ponies and walkers                                                                                                                  © James Forshall

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF9045 preparing sheep for shearing © James Forshall                                                                                                                                   ©  James Forshall

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

Sheep farmer, Radnor, Wales                                                                                                                         © James Forshall

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

Man cooling feet in stream                                                                                                                          © James Forshall

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

DSCF9055 Patrick © James ForshallPatrick                                                                                                        © James Forshall

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

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

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

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