Postcode South Day 2

Postcode South
By Colin Walford
Day Two

Route: Bream to Aust
Date: Saturday September 8th 2012
Distance: 17.4m (28.1km)
Elevation: 28ft (8.6m) to 200ft 482ft (146.8m)

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A morning of mist and fields ....

I woke for the umpteenth and last time at about 07:50am to discover a cool, dewy morning awaited me. Sleep had not been the most undisturbed or comfortable of experiences. My new, light-weight air mattress had sprung a creditable leak and several times during the night it had deflated to a degree that brought me into contact with the cold, hard ground. Half-asleep, I was forced to search for the valve and blow a few dozen breaths into it until it lifted me off the floor and enabled me to doze off again. After about an hour, the whole process had to be repeated and I now felt un-rested, muttering darkly at the mattress lying rumpled and flaccid beneath me. It took me a while to pack away my equipment and stow it into my rucksack. I also had a cereal bar for breakfast and did a bit of narrative filming to a background of morning birdsong.
I got under way at 10:00am and made my way onto the high-street of Bream. My intention was to use a public toilet next to the library which I remembered from my last visit and to fill my water camel from the sink, but it was firmly locked so I walked on and found the local mini-supermarket. I bought a litre of water and then retired to a convenient bench overlooking what looked like a bowling green. I was re-sealing my camel when a local woman shuffled up to me and greeted me loudly, going on about the morning’s weather before I had a chance to respond. I don’t mean this maliciously, but I picked up fairly quickly from how instantly familiar she was with me and also that she was dressed a little strangely, that she was probably somebody with a borderline learning disability. Be that as it may, she was a very pleasant lady and she rattled guilelessly on at me about what a terrible two years it had been for her, what with her health and losing her Dad. We had a bit of a natter and then she hefted up her oversized and wrongly buttoned overcoat, so that the lapels rose to just under her eyes.
“Well – I’d best do my shopping,” she boomed at me and then smiled, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you!” She held out a meaty hand and shook mine, nodding emphatically as if we had just clinched a mutually satisfying deal. Then she shuffled away and I turned to look in the opposite direction, where my own day’s dealings were to take me.

I walked out of Bream, past a church and graveyard and then turned left onto a country lane. This immediately climbed, but it was a pleasant incline bordered by low cottages and high hedges. I remembered that the last time I had taken this uphill route, I had groaned aloud. My pack had been much heavier, my feet blistered and I had already started to feel the strain, but today it was a doddle and I swung along easily. I came to a T-junction and this was where I left the lane and played ‘hunt the stile’. I knew there was one here that I had to climb to enter a field, but three months of summer growth had hidden it and it took a while to find it and even longer to once more claw and scrape my way through a mesh of brambles. The farmers around these parts really don’t like walkers. This brief physical effort brought to mind how close and humid the day was. The mist, as yet, was showing no sign of burning off. I set off west and then south-west across the field, which had me climbing obliquely around a small hill and gave me an open view of houses, hedges and fields to my right as the land dropped away. This field was littered with large packages of what I assumed was hay but it was hard to tell, as they were all sealed in black plastic. I was aware of the sore spot on the sole of my foot, but I had tended to it and covered it up before I set out and it wasn’t hindering my walk. Soon, I found my way onto another road and made my way past Close Turf Farm and towards the superbly named The Great Hoggins Farm. It was here that I cut across country once more, through a muddy field that had been stripped of its crop so that only broken off stalks remained. I remembered that I had to walk past Severn View Farm, which today did not live up to its name due to the stubborn haze that wasn’t yet dissipating. It was at this moment that I had my first meaningful encounter with what I was to term ‘Followy Cows’ during my eight days of walking. A small herd of curious bovines began to lumber after me as I traipsed nearer to the farm. They closed in behind me to the extent that billows of their moist breath began to engulf me. I was glad to make a boundary fence, where I sat perched to look back at them.
“What do you lot want, then?” I berated them. They gazed back mournfully. I looked around me as I sat and also took a picture of a wind turbine being shrouded in a dreary fog, which I sent off to Twitter. Then I walked on, past the farm where people were driving vehicles and generally being industrious. I reached what looked like a couple of storage buildings at a place called Great Dunkilns
PCS Day2 Pic 1

My first campsite at Bream, the one that did for my air mattress

and moved onto a dusty track, which was supposed to lead me to a fence and a stile and then into the inevitable field. I stopped. There was no fence or stile, yet I distinctly remembered both from my last sojourn this way and my map clearly showed a walking route over the field. During the intervening three months, the farmer had uprooted the fence and stile and allowed an enormous crop of what looked like corn to completely dominate the field. These plants were huge, about three metres in height and clustered so thickly together that the interior looked dark and any sign of the walking path was obliterated. Sizing it all up, I felt like I was about to take on an army of Triffids. I walked around the edge of this mass and then grew impatient and plunged into it. I was almost hoping to be challenged so that I could argue it out with the people involved and I thrashed my way past a farmhouse, glaring hopefully into the windows. The wind turbine drew nearer and then receded again as I progressed clumsily through avenues between the cultivation. I reached a boundary fence and clambered awkwardly over it for want of a stile, carefully avoiding strands of barbed wire and removing my backpack and heaving it over first, then discovering that I had moved into the wrong field. Cursing, I reversed the procedure and then found the right fence to negotiate. I was finally able to leave the stifling confines of the cornfield and make my way across open ground again. The field rose and then dipped towards a belt of trees. There was long, lush grass all around me and my feet instantly became sodden again. It seemed that my boots had the fatal flaw of not being in the least waterproof. This, I thought, was going to be something of a setback as I walked south.
The ground was very broken as I descended through the trees and reached a track that gave me a decisive way through what had become boggy ground. Suddenly, my feet were hurting and squelching with wetness as I crossed a plank bridge over the small, gurgling Aylesmore Brook. I went over another stile that was menacing with brambles and nettles, adding to an already generous collection of scratches and nettle rash and causing me to further dispense my view of local farmers, using language generally not acceptable in high company. I had a sudden, steep bit of pasture to climb and it was enough to stop me cursing and leave me breathless and with burning thighs, by the time I came to a stop at a stone wall and stile. I sat for a while, looking back at the route I had taken whilst sipping water and brushing away an insistent gang of flies. I applied sun cream, as the day was growing hot and the sun was finally penetrating the morning’s mist. I also had a couple of handfuls of my dried fruit and nuts mix, all carefully blended and bagged up in separate bags which would be enough, I hoped, to last me the whole walk. My feet throbbed and I was pretty sure that it was the soaking they had received and having to walk in saturated socks that were the problem. I remembered the lane I now found myself on, once I had climbed over the stone slab which served as a stile. It had given me a decent view of the River Severn back in June. I peered east over fields, but still couldn’t penetrate the distant opalescence so I moved on, making my way towards Hewelsfield. I actually skirted this small village, clipping it’s east side by way of a small network of lanes that took me past isolated cottages which, as such dwellings always do, made me wish I was living there. I soon wound my way out of Hewelsfield and the lane I was on rose above it and eventually brought me to a clear height, where I finally saw the broad ribbon of the Severn. It was a little past noon and visibility had improved with the eventual lifting of obscuring haze. It was a narrow glimpse of the river, offered to me through a small gap in a line of trees, but it was strangely encouraging to me in that it confirmed my progress south.

My reflections were abruptly interrupted by a sound which is guaranteed to make any walker nervous when on a narrow road; the approach of heavy machinery. I turned back to look and my eyes must have widened, as the beast approaching me was an impressive monster of yellow metal and gigantic tyres. It looked like some kind of digging apparatus and it was closing in on me with unnerving speed, the driver a remote figure sat in a glass cabin above me. I had nowhere to go and just shrank into the hedge and embankment as much as I could. As I recall, the driver barely slowed down as he bore down on me and I genuinely began to worry; this massive vehicle took up the entire lane. I looked up imploringly at the man behind the glass and was not at all heartened. He didn’t acknowledge me in the slightest and stared steadfastly ahead. Worse, the heavy-browed creature in charge looked like he had left school at the age of 14 still not having graduated from using crayons to write with. One of the tyres scraped my leg as it rolled interminably by and I tried to embed myself into the hedge. “Fuck off!” I shouted, fear making me react uselessly. My relief was considerable when the contraption roared away, a relief tinged with extreme annoyance. The bastard hadn’t taken any care at all.
Once I had extracted myself from the local flora and pulled myself together I plodded on, the route taking me at first gradually downwards again and then with a sudden plunge to another T-junction of lanes. I turned right and found myself on the route of the Gloucestershire Way, which took me around a disused quarry. I turned right again, this time upwards at a fork in the track which led me to a place I remembered stopping at previously.
PCS Day2 Pic 2

In a courtyard just before Rosemary Lane, Woolaston

It was a small but deeply cleft fissure in the land and I was on one end of it, my route taking me down into it where I would walk its length. But first, I decided it was lunchtime and also time to sort my soaked footwear out. I sat down on the steep bank of the slope and laid out my wet socks and boots in what had become the fierce heat of the day. I also opened up the tiny solar panels on my camcorder and let it charge up in the sunlight. The track I had come along continued behind me, going off and upwards to the right towards some farm buildings. A man in overalls came along it as I was starting on some food. “Nice day for it!” he said cheerfully, in a strong rural burr. I agreed that it was and then realised I had deposited myself across what looked like a highway for ants. I don’t like ants and skittered several yards further along the grass bank. There I sat for about three quarters of an hour, enjoying the rest, the food, my dry feet and the view of woods on the opposite bank and the grass floor of the little ‘valley’ I would soon be walking in. I was at pains to apply some fresh plasters to my feet to replace the wet ones and also to cover some new blisters that had formed during the morning but, for all that, I wasn’t in any particular pain. I did have to fish dry socks out of my rucksack to wear and hang my damp ones off my rucksack strapping as I started out once more, again marvelling at the restorative feeling of dry feet.
I had become horrendously lost at this point last time and had wasted a couple of hours in trying to find my route again. Fortunately, my memory was fresh of this part of the route and I negotiated around the difficult spots with no problem. What had been an exasperating toil over hilly ground in June was, today, a swift tramp through wild but beautiful scenery. I walked the length of the mini-valley, climbed steeply out of it and went unerringly through a few fields surrounded by woods that had flummoxed me before. True, it was a torturous little route, involving doubling back on lanes, steep descents into more fissures and a brief and blessed interlude into cool woodland near Ashwell Grove, but I didn’t lose my way at all. I quickly broke free of the woods, entered another field which I edged around and went along a track amidst a thin belt of trees. Suddenly, I found myself on Rosemary Lane.

A bridge too far .... ?

I had been looking forward to reaching this point all day. For me, it seemed to declare that the hilly part of the Forest of Dean area was coming to an end. Ahead of me, on Rosemary Lane, was the long descent to the A48 road into Chepstow and flatter country for a while. I passed a house and yard which contained a ruinous vehicle I likened to an ancient school bus. It had a rust-nibbled bonnet and was dressed in faded blue paint, vegetation sprawled over bowed plastic windows. The house cat watched me disdainfully and refused to be drawn by my earnest entreaties to pet it, so that I gave up and moved on. Having said that I felt Rosemary Lane marked an end to this hilly section, I now encountered a part of it that swooped upwards for a short but savage period. I remembered it well and started my ascent, head down and breath soon rasping. The view from the top was worth the effort, however, as I could now see a large swathe of the River Severn. It was at this point that I parted company with the Gloucestershire Way, which darted down a hilly track on a more direct route to Chepstow.
PCS Day2 Pic 3

The Wye meanders towards the Severn near Buffer Wharf, Chepstow

I was determined to reach that town my way, on the A48. I fancied level tarmac for a while, rather than more rugged cross-country terrain. Rosemary Lane plunged downwards without hesitation and the angle was acute enough to feel as if it were hurrying my footfalls. I suddenly saw the Severn Bridge way in the distance, looking dainty and insubstantial through the shimmer of the day’s heat. It was now just after 3:00pm and I made the decision that I needed to be on that bridge within the next three hours or so. This currently seemed a very ambitious goal and I began to wonder whether I would be spending the night in Chepstow, as I had done in June. I carried on downwards, losing altitude rapidly and passing by two elderly gentleman stood in conversation on a small allotment. High hedges sprang up on both sides of me at one point, cutting off the view of the Severn and giving me nothing to look at but the abruptly descending lane ahead. The route began to twist a little as it took me through a copse and then into the open and by a row of cottages. It was a twenty minute journey on Rosemary Lane, all downhill, before I finally approached the A48.

I was suddenly in a different world, leaving behind the quiet and leafy lanes, the social chattering of Rooks and Jackdaws and the hum of insects. Now, my ears had to quickly attune to the constant din of traffic passing by at high speed. I was able to walk along a path adjacent to the vehicles roaring by and took a quick break for water near Hanley House, set back as it was amongst a large garden. This bit of the day was a trawl. The A48 was long and straight and also uphill at times. The hard and unfamiliar concrete was unkind to feet that were already tired and beginning to ache with the miles they had put in and I guessed that I had between two and three more miles of this to walk before I reached Chepstow. At any rate, it took me a weary hour to reach the outskirts of Chepstow along a route that was at times, ‘bloody horrible’ as I commented during some filming I did. Sometimes, the convenient path alongside the road disappeared and I was forced to trudge along a narrow grass verge, darting out onto the road itself when vegetation forced me away from the verge and left me cringing at the passing cars and lorries. As I neared a bridge across the River Wye, which was imminently converging with the Severn at this juncture, I filmed another road bridge I had just walked under, a kind of flyover. This second bridge marked the only spot on my current walk which crossed a walk I had done three years earlier; the Offa’s Dyke path from the Sedbury cliffs, which I had walked in the company of my brother, my cousin and a family friend. Now, I stood looking at Chepstow castle and trying to come to a decision. I was thirsty and fancied a pint. The time was now 4:50pm. Did I make a detour into the town, or carry on towards the Severn Bridge? I decided to walk on a while and decide later. In coming to this decision, I noticed a ‘Welcome to England’ sign for drivers leaving Chepstow, which meant that I had just crossed a border and was going to spend at least part of the day walking in Wales. In years gone by, I remembered, Chepstow castle had been ordered built by William the Conqueror in order to deter the Welsh from attacking Gloucestershire. It is the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain and its construction was started in 1067. Chepstow town itself is placed on very hilly ground and I next spent quite a while toiling up its streets, surrounded by bustling people and hurrying traffic. I cut left once I was well into town, leaving the A48 and walking along a lesser road through residential streets. I took the opportunity to stop at an Aldi stall to buy some more water and also quickly glugged down a cool and delicious yoghurt drink before hastening forwards on feet that were okay, but definitely achy and tired by now. I managed a couple of wrong turns through these streets, but it wasn’t too difficult to get back on track and find myself alongside the M48, my first motorway of the walk and the one which would become the Severn Road Bridge and see me safely across the Severn Channel.
PCS Day2 Pic 4

Looking back on the old Severn Bridge

I had done it and my estimate from the top of Rosemary Lane had been very accurate; it was now 6:00pm and three hours since I had made a prediction of, well, three hours to the Severn Bridge. It took about forty minutes to walk the entire length of the bridge, although this included a couple of stops to do some filming and simply marvel at the size of the structure I was on. Tiny and delicate, it had seemed, from some miles away but not now. I craned my neck upwards to take in the height of the supports and the lengths of thick cabling strung between them. Rivets the size of my palm were dotted everywhere to hold the composite parts together and it was all painted a very pale grey. The tarmac road looked tired and worn and the section of bridge I was stood on trembled flutteringly as vehicles thundered by. In contrast, if I looked over the railings on my left I could see the familiar rustic fields and hedgerows that had been my companions over the past two days. In turn, these gave way to huge mud banks that glistened wetly in the late afternoon sun as I progressed over the bridge, walking up an ascending slope for about fifteen minutes before the bridge structure levelled out. I then crossed over the wide, flat water of the Severn itself. The tide seemed to be quite low and more naked banks of mud revealed themselves in slick groups. I sniffed the air experimentally and, yes, could detect the salty tang of the sea. On a distant shore to the east, a power station marked the point where a friend of mine had started his own manufactured walk a few months previously. After about twenty minutes, the road began to descend again towards the bridge’s far end and I passed over a jumble of rocks called Little Ulverstone and then over Aust Rock and towards Aust Cliff, which was the end of my passage of the Severn Bridge (Aust is pronounced ‘ust’ rather than ‘oust’ as locals had previously informed me). On my earlier walk here, I had intended to find time to go fossil-hunting at these cliffs. The Aust cliffs are supposedly famous for carrying a highly productive bone-bearing bed at the very top. This bed is full of teeth and reptile, fish and dinosaur remains. Fossils can be found by simply beach-combing the foreshore and I had really fancied a go. However, ‘Access Prohibited’ signs had meant that I was cut off from the bridge access to the beach and I had had no time to search for an alternative route to the cliffs. I had been forced to walk on, as I was going to have to do today.

I negotiated the road system around the Severn View service station and quickly found my way into the village of Aust, via a tunnel under a flyover of the M48. I was weary by now and my feet were hurting, so I decided to pitch my tent on the first available green space I could find. This turned out to be a stretch of grass right next to the flyover and snuggled into the side of a neat little power station. A couple of houses lay next to this and these, in turn, lay perpendicular to a whole street of houses. I was a little too close to human habitation than I wanted to be, given that I intended to walk to the village pub I had collapsed at three months before, after conceding that my walk was, on that occasion, over in its truest sense. The problem here was that I was going to be leaving a certain amount of valuable electronic equipment behind and unguarded for the evening, in my tent. I shrugged and pitched my home for the night. The light was fading now and I had no time to search for a more secretive pitching area. I changed out of my wet, dirty and stinking clothes and into something approaching respectability, before walking to The Boar’s Head and approaching the lady behind the bar with an ingratiating smile and a request of a hot meal. I was in luck and I ordered a steak, which I had been harbouring a growing craving for all day. Even more important than refuelling myself, I found a power point and covertly plugged in my mobile phone for a much needed charge up. I then relaxed and had a few beers with my meal, also chatting occasionally to a couple at the next table. It was a cool, dark night by the time I left the Boar’s Head, strolled back to my tent and crept into my sleeping bag. Far from being intrusive, the occasional passing vehicle on the M48 above me was actually quite soothing and it quickly lulled me into a welcome sleep.

Daily Tweets
- Quick one, before my battery expires. Spent a combative night in my tent, battling with an air mattress with a puncture.
- Now off to Easter Compton, on the far side of the Severn Channel. If the miles are hard on my feet, Chepstow instead. Or casualty.
- I've made it to the A48 in one piece. Now walking towards Chepstow. Feet are sore, but not shredded. This is preferable.

For a full profile of the route (PDF format) click here

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1 comment:

  1. Just a thought; maybe that driver in the death machine was the farmer whose cornfield you had previously invaded? You were probably out of gunshot range at the time ....