One of the things that especially amazed me during the ‘End to End’ walk was how very beautiful the whole of Britain is. Although a few days stand out as highlights (a couple of stretches of the Southwest Coast Path, the Cheviot Hills in the far north of England and a day or two along the West Highland Way) I don’t have a single favorite part of the route. It’s all constantly interesting, varied and often absolutely enchanting. So I’ve no idea why, after a clutch of lovely photos along the southwest penninsula (the original prints look a lot better than the scanned versions!), it now becomes much harder to find photos that give an idea just how lovely the countryside and the old towns and villages are. It’s just as wonderful, though, and every bit as worth exploring as the southwest coast.
Wednesday 12th July: Day 35
Knighton, Powys (Wales): Distance walked to date: 443 miles
Before starting this walk I bought a pair of “1,000 Mile Socks” which are supposed to last a thousand miles of walking, and more importantly are guaranteed to prevent blisters. The socks have already worn through at the heel after just 400 Miles, but wearing these and other socks I have at least had very few blisters! My feet are hardening but a pulled muscle resulted in a painful foot, and meant I had to take a third “injury day” off. While walking along The Offa’s Dike Path in Wales, I meet up with a chap who shortly after starting his attempt on the Land’s End to John O’Groats walk some years ago, had the arches of his feet “fall”, and it has taken him 5 years to get to the stage where he can walk properly again. My walk through Somerset has been one constant battle with a wilderness of obstructed ‘public footpaths’. Perhaps the worst of many moments was on day 28. I was walking north towards the River Seven,when the footpath became obstructed. All stiles, gates and footbridges across the ditches had been removed or made unuseable. Furious at this shameless behaviour, I had no intention of back tracking, so using the map, I attempted to follow the path, climbing through hedges, down ditches (luckily dryish) and up the other side, only to find in one field a herd of excited and angry-looking cows. My problems became worse, as although I kept to an adjacent field, the cows worked out that by getting through a gate at the top of their field they could get into mine. Soon they were trotting en-mass across the field, moving menacingly towards me. I ducked under an electric fence just as the first cow reached me, but they still didn’t give up. As I crossed the field beyond looking for an exit and way forward, the cows trapped behind the boundary hedge of their field ran up and down, seemingly trying to find a way into the field where I was. I’m wondering – having experienced this strange cow behaviour so often now – could it have anything to do with my red backpack?
Well, after 28 days, I finally left the Southwest Peninsula and crossed over into Wales. Five tough days after leaving Glastonbury, it was a great thrill crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales (the bridge is so long it took 40 minutes to cross).
Offa’s Dike and the Welsh border country is great for walking, with beautiful countryside but lousy weather. The well-signposted and easy-to-follow paths of the Offa’s Dike National Trail are a welcome relief after the nightmare walk through Somerset. Day 32 there were more crazy cows stampeding through the fields as I passsed by; luckily they were in a field parallel to the one I was walking through, and they could not find a means of entry short of bursting through the hedge.
Tomorrow I leave Offa’s Dike and begin another stretch on public footpaths as I head northeast across the English Midlands towards the start of the Pennine Way.
Thursday 20th July: Day 42
Buxton, Derbyshire (England): Distance walked to date: 560 miles
As I said in my last report, crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales marked the start of The Offa’s Dyke National Long Distance Path. The Offa’s Dyke Path follows The Welsh border dividing the Welsh uplands to the West from the lower ground of the English Midlands to the east. The Dyke comprises earth ramparts built about 1200 years ago to define the Welsh/English border at that time. The Dyke at times is a great bank up to 25 feet (7.6 metres)high, with a deep ditch to the west; at other times it is no more than a hedgebank or ridge across a ploughed field, identifiable only because it is ‘in the right place’. Offa’s Dyke passes through a succession of landscapes of great variety,with rather more rolling hills than the wild country I’d expected. In the south the path is high on the eastern edge of the spectacular limestone cliffs of the lower Wye valley, this is followed by the rolling farmlands of the Monnow and Trothy Valleys, and then the spectacular hills of the Black Mountains. The path is famously hard going in places, but there were no major problems apart from a pulled muscle which kept me off my left foot for a day. Since leaving the Dyke running roughly due north, my route turned north-east into Shropshire (England). The scenery interestingly becoming more compelling, exploring the beautiful Shropshire hills, wild and mysterious, with isolated sharp hills rising out of the flat plains and offering fantastic 360 degree
views for miles around. There followed a trek across the level plains of Cheshire following boat canals part of the way. Now I’m approaching the half way point of my walk at last!.
I’m back in the beautiful hill country of the Derbyshire Peak District National Park, heading for Edale. Edale is where the biggest challenge to date will start, the Peninne Way, the first and most popular of all Britain’s National Trails, tracking up the mountainous backbone of England for some 260 miles. Injuries and angry cows permitting, I will be over the border into Scotland, and only have 400-plus miles to go when I complete the Peninne Way.