By Colin Walford
Route: Bridstow to Bream
Date: Friday September 7th 2012
Distance: 16m (25.8km)
Elevation: 200ft (61m) to 482ft (146.8m)
If at first, you don’t succeed…. ....
In the end, it all started rather abruptly. I had been toying with the idea of another attempt at a walk I had cobbled together, taking me from my front door to the south coast in as southerly a route as I could manage. This meant me using established trails, public walkways and, occasionally, a less attractive path along busy A-roads. I had tried to complete my invented walk in June and my feet had capitulated within two days, leaving me the easier and less painful option of continuing south by taxi, bus and hitch-hiker’s thumb. It had turned out to be a pleasant and satisfying interlude, yet the thought had nagged at me after my return home that I hadn’t really ‘done it’. I was determined to set this right.
The final decision was made within moments. I saw, as I perused the rota one evening, that I had a stretch of eight days off from work coming up. Next day, I went shopping and bought food supplies, plasters for my first-aid kit and batteries for my head torch. I didn’t really talk about my second attempt much and it was only as I obliquely tweeted about it a week or so before I intended to walk, that friends and family became aware of my intentions.
The night before the start of my Postcode South walk (as I had christened it) was spent checking my kit over; especially my new, lighter tent and air mattress. I had become convinced that the disintegration of my toes during the first attempt south was due to my rucksack and kit weighing in at 18kgs. I had bumped into a fellow walker on my first day out, who informed me that he had done a walk from London to York, carrying kit weighing a mere 11kgs. In the event, I couldn’t get my baggage weight to lower than 13kgs but this felt comfortable and manageable.
The day of the walk dawned warm and sunny, as it had three months earlier. This was at once welcome and a cause for some vague concern. A pessimistic voice in my head muttered something about the heat causing my feet to swell and so become imprisoned and damaged inside my boots. Well, nothing to be done about it – I was going today and that was that. I locked up the cottage and stood on my doorstep. My garden flowers were nodding sagely at me. The gardener was noisily strimming the hedges and annoying me as I tried to voice my intentions on my camcorder. Nothing was different from any other day and few people knew I was even attempting to walk to the coast. The suddenness of my decision and arrival of the day itself left me feeling a little strange, as if I wasn’t really going far at all but just having a bit of a local stroll. I hefted my pack higher onto my shoulders and looked at my watch as I walked up the path, turning to have a last glance at the cottage. Five past ten. This time, I promised myself, I was going to have a bloody good go at it.
There is a farmer’s field literally across the lane from my place and it instantly presented me with a clear view of the hills I would be encountering at the likes of Tump’s, Coppet and Huntsham Hill. They looked quite far away but I knew from experience how quickly distance can be covered at even a steady pace. I’d be amongst them in about three hours and with this thought in mind, I began my walk south.
A narrow lane took me down past the Claytons estate and over the Poolmill Bridge. An even narrower one swept me upwards and across the A49. I crossed my first field (the first of many) and reached Weirend Farm, nestled as it is next to the A40 road which was, as always, sonorous with traffic passing at high speed. Somehow, I managed to walk amongst the cluster of farm buildings set out across a wide yard rather than around them as I should have done. I came upon a gardener standing on a lawn, who watched me stop and consult my map uncertainly. I happened to glance up at him and he offered me an apologetic shrug, as if we had a shared problem with the whole affair. I quickly managed to find the track I needed and followed it down through a subway, under the A40 and out the other side where I could see that I had been deposited beside the bank of the River Wye, at this point flanked by a belt of trees.
I was soon clear of these and out over an open field containing long grass still heavy with dew which, to my instant dismay, quickly found its way inside my walking boots. I stopped and wriggled my wet toes. These were Gore-Tex boots that I had also treated the day before with a water-resistant protective spray. I sincerely hoped that this was a one-off occurrence.
I followed the winding curves of the river for about three quarters of an hour, enjoying the warmth of the day and receiving companionable little waves from canoeists who glided past me now and then. I stopped briefly at a stretch of pebbled bank, the sight of which reminded me of one of my walking traditions. I bent and selected a smooth stone small enough to fit comfortably into my trouser pocket. This would now accompany me all the way to Chesil Beach. I would then select a stone from the beach to bring back home with me.
The River Wye near Glewstone
When I felt sufficiently recovered, I found a lane which stole away all the height I had worked for as it swept me down towards I approached some workmen as the lane broadened out and one of them spied me and made his way ponderously into the centre of the tarmac, effectively barring my way. My heart sank a little, as I could see they were doing some kind of work on the road and wondered if I was about to suffer an enforced diversion to God knew where. I would just have to plead my case.
"Walking far?” he asked in a friendly enough manner, the words rich with a pleasing Welsh accent. I paused. How to answer this without sounding incredibly smug and boastful? Yes squire, I’m walking a hundred miles or so to the Dorset coast. Care to tag along? I decided to scale it down a little.
“Well, I’m walking to Bream today. Heard of it?” I said. He nodded, but had caught the inflection.
“Today?” he asked.
So I told him about my plan and he actually seemed interested and pleased at my endeavours. He asked me if this was my hobby and I thought about it and told him that I supposed that it was.
“I can’t afford holidays abroad, so decided there’s plenty to discover in our own country and this is a cheap way of doing it.”
He nodded again and then wished me good luck. I thanked him and walked on, relieved that I was still allowed an uncomplicated route into Goodrich. I duly arrived there and went, with a certain amount of anticipation, to its pub, The Cross Keys for a pint of something refreshing. A firmly closed and locked door let me know that I was out of luck and I had no choice but to wander on towards which I wanted to explore.
The view was pleasing and I put my map down on the battlement so that I could film what I was seeing and do a bit of commentary (a small amber light should, at this point, have begun flashing at the bottom left-hand corner of my consciousness). I filmed and nattered away about the history of the castle and then moved towards the stairs I had accessed, pointing out the difficulty of climbing its cramped confines (the amber light should now have begun blinking more rapidly and insistently). “The steps are extremely steep,” I said to my camcorder, “I’ll give it a go while I’m recording,” and I started to descend, filming precariously as I continued downwards (it was now that the amber light should have turned red and been accompanied by a klaxon horn in my head). I carried on exploring the courtyard and portcullis once on level ground, discovering that the howitzer gun, made locally in 1646 with the express purpose of breaking the siege deadlock at the castle, was in the courtyard itself. It was sitting there, ugly and wide-mouthed like a squat cooking pot and there was also a collection of small roundshot which had been discovered in the moat by workmen in the 1920’s. Pleased with my explorations, I finally made my leave and walked back towards the reception building and car park. I carried on down the lane I had approached from, thinking to myself that I’d better consult my map to see where to go next. As the thought occurred to me, so did the instant realisation. I had left the map on the battlement of the Keep and now would have to go back and retrieve it. Of all the places to abandon it, I had chosen the most inaccessible part of the whole castle.
It is true to say that I fairly stomped my way back uphill, scowling at myself as I thought of crawling up those winding stairs once more. It was no easier second time around and made more of a chore by the notion that it shouldn’t have been necessary. My rucksack got snagged on the low ceiling as I reached the top steps, forcing me to pull forwards with my whole body weight. There was an instant of scraping and then I was suddenly free, tumbling onto the keep on hands and knees and startling an elderly couple who had been admiring the view. The gentleman watched me as I retrieved my map, swiping it a little savagely from the wall.
“We were wondering who’s that was,” he offered, “About the worst place you could have left it.”
They both smiled sympathetically at me and asked me where I was heading and we fell into conversation. They also seemed impressed with my efforts and peppered me with comments of the ‘jolly well done’ and ‘bravo’ type nature, as if I had already completed the walk and returned triumphantly. The lady assured me that, with the exception of next Monday, the weather looked promising for the whole week. Finally, they wished me good luck and I made my way back down to the castle courtyard and on my way.
I took the road out of Goodrich and past the hills I had seen when starting out that morning and soon found myself standing on Huntsham Bridge, looking at This was my next destination, so I left the road and walked along the bank of the Wye again until one of its sweeping curves brought me to the fringe of Elliot’s Wood. I also had the pleasure of acquiring more nettle rash on an overgrown and steep, rambling track I had to negotiate for a while.
Elliot’s Wood gave some pleasant relief from the heat of the sun as I climbed up a path and walked past Symonds Yat rock, unseen as it was to my right and above the treetops. I joined part of the route of the Wye Valley Walk for a while here and decided to have lunch on it, after I had broken free from the wood and found myself on an open stretch of river bank. It was a lovely spot and too good to pass by, so I sat by the side of the river with woodland at my back and a long valley between low hills to my right.
I set my lunch out beside me but, before I ate, I made sure that I removed my boots and wet socks to let my feet get some air. A workmate and ex-army guy had assured me this would be a good habit to get into every time I stopped for a break and I was determined to carry this through. To my surprise, my feet did feel instantly better and I was able to dry my socks out in the baking warmth of the sun.
The River Wye at Symonds Yat
I took a long, climbing track through Court Wood which suddenly gave an open view to my left along the valley I had seen earlier, but also introduced a severity to the climb which made me grit my teeth a little. The track turned almost back on itself at a place called Rosemary Topping and I curved right and was led onto a lane leading to Bicknor Court. I then headed off over fields again and walked amongst rolls of harvested hay which lay dotted about in large groups and gave me confirmation that autumn was imminent. It was now that I began to encounter stiles on public walkways that had become the victims of farmer neglect. Their upkeep was certainly not a priority to the farmers around here and I was forced to battle my way through brambles and nettles every time I reached another field boundary. Some of the stiles were almost hidden in undergrowth. It made me bloody annoyed, to be honest. I couldn’t help but wonder if the farmers were receiving a grant from the government to keep these public paths and stiles in good order, choosing instead to pocket the money. I have no proof that this is the case at all; it is speculation borne of frustration and the acquisition of thorns on my arms and legs. Let me just say that the word ‘bastards’ began to enter into my vocabulary with increasing frequency.
I crossed a lane and then scurried across more fields, seeing that the ground before me was rising again. I knew that I had to climb Chapel Hill but was suddenly unsure where the route was. Two women were in a field, a chestnut horse standing patiently beside them as they carried on a conversation. They noticed me as I walked nearer, twisting my map about in my hands and obviously looking a bit vague. “I think you want the next field along,” one of the ladies said, in a tone that suggested that they were used to helping out inept walkers. She reinforced her words with a pointed finger that jabbed somewhere off to my left. I thanked her and they waved me on my way.
On the way to Chapel Hill
The staff working here are definitely worth a mention, as they were welcoming and helpful on my last visit here in June and were no different now. I ordered two pints of Stowford Press cider and gulped one straight down, asking the manager if I could charge my mobile phone.
“Might as well,” he said, “Everybody else does.”
As I drank my second pint in a more measured way, I listened to the bar chatter and picked up on some local gossip, before thanking them and walking on. Christchurch isn’t very big and I’d soon left it behind and was travelling along open road when two cyclists passed me. They had rucksacks on their backs and something about them told me they were also out on more than a day’s trip. One of the guys acknowledged me with a nod and a smile and I detected that they’d surmised the same about me. I suddenly wanted to tell them how far I was going and where I’d end up and wondered about their final destination and if they even had one in mind. One of the fellows, I noticed, had dreadlocks hanging right down his back. They were soon out of sight ahead of me and I plodded on, wrapped up in my own thoughts and with the track by Skeelo ‘I Wish I Was a Little Bit Taller’ going on a loop inside my head.
The town of at six p.m. on a Friday evening was a quiet place and I didn’t see many people out and about as I worked my way through its centre and past a clock tower, outlined against a blue sky as empty as a blank canvas. The evening was pleasant now, rather than stifling in its heat as the day had been. Coleford gave way to an industrial estate and it was about now that I realised I had a sore area on the sole of my left foot. It wasn’t especially painful, but it did turn my mind towards stopping to camp fairly soon. As I went through a place called Milkwall I brushed the south-western tip of the so that large trees frequently graced the shady lanes and main road which took me onto Ellwood. A father and his two daughters were playing on a field and he smiled and greeted me over the girls’ happy chatter and laughter. I walked a little further up the road and then took a break, enjoying the peacefulness Ellwood had to offer as the evening drew near and deliberating on which road to take next.
All was well on my chosen route at first, but I gradually seemed to wander off course as I entered the edge of the Forest by Little Drybrook and walked through glades that all looked identical. I asked a woman walking her dog for directions to Bream and a little further on a man locking up a warehouse, which had two redundant train carriages slowly rotting and rusting away alongside it. He indicated a path through the wood which, I noted wearily, suddenly climbed upwards. This muddy track took me by a row of houses and onto a road and quite suddenly, I hit a main street of It was now a quarter-past seven and I was relieved to have reached my destination for the night. It took me a while to choose my camp site; a small grassy area on the fringe of woodland in what I hoped was a secluded spot.
Coleford Town Centre
I got chatting to a couple maybe ten years older than I at the next table. The woman was friendly and originally from Wolverhampton and had picked up on my own Midland’s accent. Her husband was unimpressed by the music being played loudly in the bar, a high tempo dance track with an incessant chirping accompaniment.
“Sounds like a Budgie being kicked around a room,” he complained, which made his wife laugh.
After a couple of beers, I wandered back to my tent and cursed the fact that my phone had zero signal. I cursed even more when I passed the row of houses that had looked so innocent, earlier. There were several pissed teenagers in a garden and loud music thumping into the night. I could smell a barbeque on the go and had to negotiate my way around a pimply couple who were snogging deeply as they stood on the track I was walking along. I tried to skulk unobtrusively off the path and towards my tent, but was aware of being watched by a few of the group as I disappeared into the trees. Once in my tent, I crawled gratefully into my sleeping bag and invited sleep to take me. I was immediately jolted from this state of contemplation and disturbed by a number of lads from the group, who took off into the woods at a charge, whooping and hollering and all carrying torches and energy levels borne of Red Bull and juiced up hormones. Instead of welcoming sleep, I lay beneath the thin walls of my tent and waited for the inevitable moment when I was sure they would crash on top of me from the darkness and begin plundering my goods. Thankfully, they seemed to give up the game within minutes and I was able to settle for the night.
- Actually got a signal in the pub in Bream. A good day's walking, bloody tired now mind. Tent pitched at the edge of some woodland.
- Feet have held up, bar a sore area on the sole of my left foot. Some work required in the morning. Pub is called The Rising Sun.
- Not buzzing, even for a Friday night. Dance music with chirpy-type sound going on hasn't impressed one of the older regulars.
- "Sounds like a Budgie being kicked around a room," I overheard him tell his missus.
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