Toiling in the lowlands ....
I awoke at just before 08:00am and got out of my tent to be greeted by a very pleasant morning; all sunshine and blue sky. A few early locals began to stir as I was eating a breakfast bar and packing my tent away, but nobody seemed to notice me and I slipped unobtrusively out of Aust at about 09:20am.
From today, my Postcode South route was virgin territory for me. I hadn’t gotten any further south than Aust during my attempt back in June.
I walked onto the main street and past the Boar’s Head again, before striking out on what turned out to be a delightful path called Foss Ditch. It was basically a long stretch of grassy ground some five to six paces wide, which was hedged on both sides but still open to the light and sunshine. To my right as I walked was, indeed, a ditch which was partially filled with water and ran like a trench for the whole length of the turfed strip. Mature oaks occasionally hung over the strip and formed a partial tunnel and it was quiet and peaceful, with the sun gently warming my face. I shared the Foss with an elderly man, out walking his dog some two hundred meters ahead of me. Now and then, it was necessary to stop to open a wooden gate and progress to the next section of the Foss and after a quarter of an hour or so, these gates petered out and the fields around began to look wilder and to broaden out. This was where the morning’s problems began.
I came to a spot where the track through the grass divulged, one track going off at a right angle and one carrying on more or less ahead. The trouble was that the track on the map didn’t seem to do either, but made a rather half-hearted kink to the right and then carried on. There was certainly no right-angled turn. I dithered about which route this was meant to represent and finally carried on cautiously ahead. Soon, I approached an isolated little wood called Asnum Copse and grew more confident; my route went past it on my map as I was doing now. If I seemed to be walking by it at a different angle than indicated and also seemed to be nearer to the wood than intended, I shook this off as me having trouble with the scale of the map and carried on. I soon had to go through a tunnel of trees; swishing through wet grass which came up to my thighs and then I entered another open field and followed the right edge of this until I came to a fenced hedge and a dead end. I could hear water trickling and peered into another ditch beyond the hedge, which was running with water. This was called Lord’s Rhine and clearly I had gone wrong, so I back-tracked and guessed at another avenue through trees with a more promising track which, in turn, led me to another cul-de-sac. I had now spent twenty minutes wandering in soggy circles through long, wet grass. My feet were also getting used to the feeling of being wet. My frustration deepened when I found that I had become disorientated and could no longer be sure how to get back to Asnum Copse, where I felt that my problems had begun. I spent more long minutes blundering about and comparing my map with my compass. I finally had to resort to using the ‘Maps’ app on my iPhone just to find out where I currently was. I discovered ‘me’ as a pulsing spot on the map and used this to guide me back to Asnum Copse .By now, near enough an hour had gone by since I had left Foss Ditch behind and I was hardly any further on. I trudged back to where the track had originally divulged. It still didn’t look right, but this time I took the right-hand track through a hedged meadow containing pretty yellow flowers. I passed by Asnum Copse at a greater distance this time and I had to admit that this looked more in keeping with what my map was telling me. However, there was another point where I headed off in the wrong direction before noticing that I had to follow the course of Lord’s Rhine from the other side to what I had approached it previously. Finally, I was able to make some halting progress through a number of fields, using this small brook as a guide. The whole area around here was very water-logged and riven with the likes of Old Splott Rhine, Bilsham Rhine, Holm Rhine. Where there were no Rhines, there were instead fields of marshy grassland. It all made for very wet and slow walking. To add to this torpid advance, I continued to battle with stiles that were overgrown and hidden at times by a summer’s virulent growth of brambles and nettles. My hands, arms and even legs were becoming minor war zones of scratches and rashes.
It seemed that I hadn’t yet done with wrong turns and I made one into a field I should never have been in and met a herd of cows that defined how stupid they can be. They were in the furthest corner of the field from me and I was walking at an angle away from them. In other words, I didn’t present them with any kind of threat and yet they still saw fit to startle as a group and stampede needlessly into the corner of the field that I was heading. This, of course, now meant that I was walking steadily towards them; a fact they quickly cottoned onto. Looking fearfully bewildered, they obliged me by stampeding again and heading away from me and to their original corner, where they stood regarding me distrustfully with swishing tails. Before long, I realised that I was off-route once more and would have to turn back. Such a rapid and apparently aggressive course of action sent the whole pie-bald bunch of them careering about the field once more, kicking up great clots of mud as they thundered about in a panicky mass. I was not at all surprised to watch them choose the gap in the field I had entered in which to come to an uneasy rest, effectively blocking me in so that I was going to be forced into scattering them once more as I exited the field. “You are ridiculous, stupid creatures!” I called out to them in exasperation. This caused them to leap about and run into each other in their terror of me. They fled to their original corner for a second time. “I had a steak last night and I’m going to have another bloody one tonight!” I shouted at their retreating backsides.
Once I had gone back through the gap and into the previous field, I had to cast about until I found a narrow stile hemmed in by hedgerow, the way I was meant to have travelled. This took me past Bilsham Farm and led me to a rare meeting with a B-road, which I did no more than cross before heading out over another stile and into another soaked field. It was frustrating, but I made another error here and walked in the wrong direction across the field. The trouble was, there were no distinct paths here. The whole area was saturated and low-lying. Firm and visible well-walked tracks would be hard to establish. I was going by map alone and with the best will in the world, there were not enough features to stay faithful to my route and it was a morning of trial and error, with an emphasis on the latter. I circled this latest field with a feeling of resignation, wondering what the occupants of a white farmhouse overlooking me would be thinking, if they happened to be observing me from a window at that moment. I eventually gravitated to the correct end of the pasture and went through a gap in a hedge to be faced with another field. This one was a real aquatic beauty, with open sheets of water glittering across its surface. I tried to walk around these, but was finally forced to accept the situation and wade through a pool of it. This brought me to Holm Farm and no obvious way out, except to climb over a metal gate and walk through the farmyard itself. I looked back the way I had come across the open field. The looking clean in the day’s sunshine and white rather than light grey at this distance with the blue sky framed behind it, stood and reinforced to me that I had now been walking for two hours and hadn’t moved on much further. I hoisted myself over the gate, walked quickly through the yard between stone buildings and went over another gate to find myself in a lane. It was here that I made an error that was all of my own making. I had the choice of going left or right along this lane and the map was clear enough in telling me that my route lay to the right, but for some reason I misread this and turned left. There was nothing during the trek along this very pleasant lane that told me I had gone wrong. The map stated that I should soon be passing by a small piece of woodland and I duly did. The lane should turn to the left just now and hey-presto, a left turn. The trouble was, I was passing by different trees and taking different turns than I should have been. The day grew hot again and I had to stop in the shade of some trees and apply sun cream. I did begin to wonder about the number of right-angled turns I was starting to make that didn’t seem to correspond with the map, but told myself that I was being too speculative. Anyway, I was soon due to hit a bridge over the M4 motorway. If I didn’t, then I would know that I had gone wrong and sure enough, I soon came upon the bridge and was introduced to the whoosh and muted roar of passing traffic again as it sped by beneath me. I did some filming from this bridge before setting out towards Easter Compton which, I realised with a hint of dismay, I had only managed to cover half the distance towards since leaving Aust that morning.
Hospitality from the Fox ....
A downhill road took me off the motorway bridge and past the farmyard of Greenditch Farm, where two young lads were playing and talking loudly into one another’s faces. I turned right onto a B-road and it was as I went along it that I began to realise that something was wrong. According to my route, the road I was on was soon supposed to end at a T-junction where I was to take a left. Instead, I found myself going along a long stretch without any sign of a junction and I faltered to a stop and consulted my map. It didn’t take me long to realise that I was quite a bit off route and had actually crossed the M4 on the wrong bridge and was almost two miles further east than I wanted to be. That earlier turn left rather than right, back at the farmyard, had come home to roost. I cursed, but could see that the situation was salvageable if I walked a little further along my current road. There appeared to be a track, which cut south across several fields and which would make sure that I re-joined my ‘official’ path on a small lane near a place called Torrs Farm. I wasn’t sure that I’d found the right one initially, but I set out on a likely looking track and soon discovered it to be hard going with the usual obstructed stiles. To add to this, my friends the cows had churned up whole sections of fields into muddy quagmires, which they’d kindly topped up with shit. Alternatively, previous chewed-up sections had baked hard in the sun and now provided me with an uneven platform of 9-inch clay cobblestones to stumble across. I was becoming unfairly hostile towards cows. In this manner, I inched painfully south with the morning slipping away towards afternoon. I used a small wooden bridge to cross Pilning New Rhine and then moved resolutely on over an endless supply of fields and pasture.
Passing Brynleaze Farm on the way to Easter Compton
Typical of the day’s events, I immediately set off in the wrong direction in search of a pub I knew to be in the village called The Fox. I realised my error quickly and turned around to walk along the main road until I came to the pub, set back from an open tarmac car park. It was now coming up to 2:00pm and I knew that the pub would be busy with Sunday lunch customers. Equally, I knew that I stank to high heaven and looked as if I had dragged myself through dozens of hedges, which was exactly what I had been doing. The sight and smell of me was going to raise a few eyebrows and crinkle a few noses, but I was past caring. Besides, I really fancied one of those Sunday roasts. I entered the bar and took my rucksack off, rather than bowling customers over with it each time I turned around. The bar lady was actually lovely, very cheerful and welcoming and keen to know where I had been walking, though she did poke fun at me a little when I admitted that I had taken all morning and part of the afternoon just to make my way from Aust. She kindly refilled my water camel for me, before pouring me a cold one and taking my order for food. I quickly sank that first pint and took myself out into the beer garden with a second one. Now was the opportunity to sort out my drenched and sore feet once more. I took off my wet boots and socks and left them in the warm sun whilst I dried my feet and discarded the sodden dressings. I spent a while putting fresh plasters and dressings on and sorted out fresh socks from my rucksack, pulling the damp ones through straps on my rucksack so that they could continue to dry as I walked along after lunch. My meal arrived as I was doing all of this and had cooled a little by the time I had finished. It was delicious for all that and I felt relaxed and considerably fresher with a full stomach, a quenched thirst and warm, snug feet. The hospitality at The Fox had restored my energy and eagerness and I spent a while chatting to the bar lady about her job and leisure activities, before hoisting my pack once more and saying farewell.
Into the city ....
I was not at all surprised by now to have difficulty finding my route to Spaniorum Hill, one which turned out to be up a tiny alley and through children’s play area and then out across fields again. I crossed a minor road and then reached the base of the hill. The ascent was quite steep, but presented no problems and was actually a pleasant part of the walk; I had been stuck in saturated and low-lying land all day and this climb felt like an escape from it, so I started forward eagerly. Within twenty minutes of leaving the pub, I was at the top of the hill and looking back at the way I had come and then forwards towards Bristol. I was also able to gaze out to sea from here, where I was surprised to be able to view the island of as the Bristol Channel opened out into the sea. Two horses were up here with me and they whinnied for my attention while I did some filming, but would come no nearer when I spoke to them. The trek down from the hill was swift and took me along the edge of woodland of something called the Community Forest. From here, a track led to a lane which brought me to my second motorway of the day; the M5. As before, I stopped to consider my progress and do a bit of filming and then sauntered on along the lane on the other side of the motorway.
Crossing the M5 on the way to Henbury, Bristol
It turns out that golf courses are bloody difficult things to walk across. Not only was I trying to be mindful of golf etiquette by avoiding the greens and fairways as much as possible, but there were also no signs to tell me where to go and no confirmed walking tracks. I dodged stripey-trousered golfers and took the long way around the course by keeping to the edge of woodland. This meant that I had to guess where ‘my’ route plunged into the woods and went steeply downwards again. I was supposed to have walked by Coombe Farm but never did, so had to resign myself to being off track once more and make my own way through. I found a mud path which twisted through what looked on the map to be called Limekiln Wood. Hazel Brook had done a big loop and was now in front of me again and I was forced to follow one of its twisting contortions until I could pass it by. It was now gone 5:30pm and my walking had taken me into a bowl within the woods, so that the sunlight was cut off and I moved in shade as I attempted to find a way to climb out of the woods and onto a road. It became frustrating, as I could hear traffic passing by on what I was sure was the B4057 and could see Victorian style wrought iron fences above me, effectively stopping me from climbing steep earthen banks to climb over onto the road. Sunday walkers and families were idly strolling by and I must have been the only harassed-looking person amongst all this serenity. It took a while for me to find an opening and by then, I was pretty sure that I had been forced quite a way from my planned route. However, with all the twists and turns, I wasn’t sure whether I was east or west of it. By pure fluke, I soon discovered that I had come out onto the B-road at almost the spot I needed to. It was a lucky break which enabled me to journey through the roads and streets of Westbury on Trym, albeit roads which were at times ridiculously steep; I had entered the area, a fairly upmarket part of the city. The extra toiling made my mind up for me and I decided that I was going no further today. It was time to find accommodation for the night.
No room at the inn ....
I approached a couple of guys, identical in oil-stained blue overalls, who were attacking the innards of a tired old van. I asked them if they knew of any local B&B’s. They were friendly and meant well, but really sent me off on a lost cause at a time when my tired body and sore feet could have done without. Following their advice, I walked back on myself to the end of Durdham Down, a lovely open-spaced area of park, busy with people who strolled about in the early evening light or sat out in groups on picnic blankets. I looked for a particular B&B mentioned by the van guys, searching along a row of houses. I walked up, I walked down and I walked around the back of the properties. This involved a very steep descent and climbs back up a street that should have had a chair lift available, such was the gradient. There was no sign of the B&B and I took to knocking on people’s doors to ask. Most folk were fine, but one charmer knocked on the window from his upstairs apartment and told me to get off his property. The woman I had been talking to shrugged apologetically and as far as I was aware, this was all rented property and he didn’t own it. We remonstrated with each other for a while, swapping graphic insults via sign language to get over the barrier of double glazing and him being a floor above me. I invited him outside to discuss the situation in the end, mainly because I was tired, my feet were hurting and he had irritated me. In retrospect, I should have left well alone; he looked a bit ‘odd’ and, I think, was somewhat eccentric and probably harmless, if unlikeable. In the end, I gave him a final universal sign of my opinion of him and wandered off. It was probably just as well I hadn’t found the BandB anyway; I was on the edge of Durdham Down in a posh part of the city. It would have cost me a small fortune to stay there. When in doubt, find a pub and this I did by walking down another steep side-road and plonking myself tiredly at a bar, requesting a cold cider. The bar lady, a Brummie, was a diamond and phoned me a taxi after getting advice from the regulars about the best place for me to find accommodation. They all seemed to agree that I should go to Southville, so off I went. Taxi-man was a friendly, chatty guy who deposited me in a street which contained three B&B’s. Surely, I thought, I had been rescued. There was no answer at any of the doors and I ended up phoning mobile numbers left behind for potential customers. The first place said they’d be back within an hour, but didn’t offer laundry facilities. I considered the state of my clothing and politely declined, subsequently getting no answer at all from either of the other two properties. I was obliged to walk the streets of Southville on feet that were now actively painful, looking for vacancy signs in windows. I knocked on doors and was turned away or had no answer at all, for over an hour. I was beginning to feel like a double-glazing salesman. It was now getting dark and I despondently approached yet another window. A vacancy sign! With relief, I rang the bell a few times and then punched in the displayed mobile number on my phone. After a few rings, an Irish woman answered and I stated my wish to fill the vacancy in her B&B. There was a pause while she seemed to be considering her answer.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she tinkled, “There’s no vacancy – we must have forgotten to take the sign down!” She laughed merrily, as if to show what a silly thing this was to do.
Right there and then, I could have collected a half-dozen house bricks and stove each of her windows in. I had to force myself to walk away and take my evil intentions with me, stalking over a bridge across the river Avon and towards the floating harbour. I asked at another bar, an upmarket place with shiny brass bar rails and dimmed ceiling lights, but they couldn’t help so I wandered on and suddenly came across the Youth Hostel I had used with my son several years ago. I went in and asked about a bed for the night, with something approaching desperation. God bless them, they had vacancies and I had a further stroke of luck whilst being checked into one of the dormitories, when the young lady remembered a last minute cancellation on the top floor. I was given my own room and it only cost me twenty pounds. I also bought some washing powder for my laundry and got myself settled in. I was tired, my feet were sore and my body was aching. I just wanted to lie down on my bed, but still had to wash my laundry. This necessitated me making several trips, going up and down the lift and climbing another floor on foot, from the laundry room in the basement to my room on the top floor, until all of my gear was washed and dried. I also had to take a walk to the local supermarket for fresh dressings and plasters, as well as some food and a lunch for next day. I added a couple of bottles of beer to my purchases, not noticing the sign in my room instructing me not to bring alcohol onto the premises until I was halfway down the first bottle. Oh well – what they didn’t discover wouldn’t hurt them (next morning, I stowed the empty bottles in a bin in one of the communal bathrooms – sorry YHA!). I aired my tent by spreading it out over the wardrobe and then took a shower which made me feel like a new man. At last, I climbed gratefully into bed and considered the day’s walking and my plans for tomorrow. I wanted to post a used map back home and also purchase some postcards to write out for a few folk, who’d requested I keep them in touch with my progress. My brother phoned at 10:00pm and we talked about my journey south so far and how he was faring on his own trail, as he had started to walk The Centenary Way a few weeks before and was getting sections done as he found the time. I was so tired after ending the call, that I struggled to keep my eyes open long enough to finish off my second beer. I did try reading some of my book, but sleep claimed me within minutes and I didn’t stir all night.
- Just leaving Aust near the Severn bridge on a lovely sunny morning. Be glad of a proper B&B tonight, mind. I pong. Heading for Bristol now.
- A horrible morning in terms of distance covered. Ever seen an ant carrying a leaf? That would be me, meandering all over the bloody place.
- Now sitting in the gardens of The Red Fox in Easter Compton, about to eat a Sunday Lunch. Lovely manager, who gave my camel pack a refill.
- She also hasn't seemed to mind me displaying all my wet and reeking laundry on one of her garden tables. I'm trying to dry it in the sun.
- My feet are sore but have held up, thanks to dressings and tape. Will have to redo them, though, as they're wet and disintegrating.
- Bare feet are now airing in the breeze. Coincidently, all the children have stopped playing on the garden swings and have dashed indoors.
- Bristol's a sizeable city, right? You'd think I'd be able to get myself a room on a Sunday evening? Hah! Bloody, sodding hah!
- Two hours walking around the streets of Bristol, looking like a hobo. Smelling like one, too, come to think of it.
- A hot shower just now made me feel like a God!
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