Thanks for not killing me ...
During the night, it had been cold under my insubstantial blanket and I woke at five and six o’clock because of this. I finally got up at seven-thirty and made my way quietly into the bathroom for a shower. That, at least, was working fine; though it was a pity to have to dry myself on the scabby towels available to me afterwards. By the time I was dressed to walk and had gone into the kitchen, both Mabbon and Jonesey were up and about. True to word, Mabbon got his can of Super out of the fridge and took some gulps out of it. I repressed a shudder and then took a look around. The place was a shambles, there wasn’t much in the way of sustenance in the fridge or cupboards and Jonesey was complaining that he was hungry. I surprised myself by realising that I felt sorry for their lifestyle, chosen one or not. I suddenly reached into my wallet and brought out a tenner, handing it out towards Mabbon.
“Here you are, lads – have a breakfast on me.”
Mabbon hesitated, “You’ve already paid me.”
“No worries. You offered me a place to stay and I had a good evening, so thanks.”
Mabbon took it and him and Jonesey grinned at each other. “Shop?” asked Mabbon.
“Shop,” agreed Jonesey, took the money and disappeared out of the door. I somehow doubted that he was off to buy anything green and burdened with vitamins, but that was up to them.
“Do you want to stay for breakfast?” Asked Mabbon and I declined.
“Better not, I’ve a lot of miles to walk and want to get started. I’ll have a coffee with you, though.” So, we drank coffee in the kitchen and chatted about my walk and the places that Mabbon had lived, none of which struck me as particularly salubrious. Then, it was time for me to leave so we shook hands and wished each other the best, as you do. I walked out of the open door of the building and back towards the pub (although I was heading for the Spar shop for supplies). That tenner I had handed over to Mabbon and Jonesey – I tried to pretend, as I walked up the street, had been given out of kindness for their plight but blatantly it was gratitude money for not bashing me over the head the night before. In the dark hours there had crept a worm of a thought in my head, involving stowing my body inside a roll of carpet and taking a short trip in the boot of a car. There are a lot of deep gorges in Wales. Despite such unworthy ponderings, they had been nice lads and it had certainly been an experience. Llanboidy was as unlovely and run-down on a crisp, sunny morning as it was at day’s end. A woman came out of the village store, tattoos on her brawny shoulders.
Efailwen - An elvish name
I was off-route for the moment, but remedied this by turning right at a T-junction and making my way by a couple of cottages and a farm to return to my Way at a place called Blaenpanteg. My phone sprang into life as I left the valley of Llanboidy and a few messages of support for my walk came through from a friend. I chose to wholly snub my written route after passing through a settlement a little further on, having lost faith in cross-country rambling by and large. I stuck to the lanes but there were a few moments of displeasure when a farmer at work had me walking through his crop spray, carried from his field towards me on a vindictive breeze. I began to breathe in a fog of bitter-tasting chemicals and tried to hold my breath and make a crude filter of my cupped palm as I hurried through. Fine, if I grow breasts and start lactating I’ll know which farmer to visit and strangle with my new tail. I marched on and was taken abruptly up Rose Hill and then dropped back down into the village of Llanglydwen . I approached what I thought was simply a row of terraced houses, which is why I was surprised to find a wooden bench and tables outside the front door of one of them. One of the ‘houses’ was in fact a pub; the , to be exact. It looked like just another house from the outside, apart from the outdoor furniture and when I looked again, a metal pub sign depicting a fish jumping out of a river. Given this, I wondered if the ‘S’ had fallen off it but apparently not and the Plash Inn is it’s right and proper name. I stopped here (although the pub itself was shut) and dumped my rucksack on the table, before applying a generous amount of sun-cream. It had turned out to be another day of blazing sunshine. Whilst doing this, I could hear the busy sounds of industry from somewhere near; hammering and beating, sawing and then an industrial device screeching its way through metal. Moving on, I left the village and crossed the Afon Taf via a bridge before climbing the inevitable hill back onto the heights and into the district of Cilymaenllwyd. This whole area has a sparse population of 725 souls and the western edge of the community borders Pembrokeshire, with the Pembrokeshire Afon Tâf forming the eastern boundary. I was about to enter my fifth and final county of the journey. Where I now found myself was a plateau; being part of the foothills of the and rising to an altitude of 814 feet (248 metres). Yet, it was dissected by deep valleys of the Taf and its tributaries, which is why I found myself spending another day of going up and then down again. The principal commerce of the parish is agriculture and on 13th May 1839, the tollgate at Efailwen (within Cilymaenllwyd) was the first turnpike to be attacked in what would later become the ; uprisings by poor farmers to abolish what they believed were unfair taxations. Walking through history; isn’t there a programme with that title on TV? If not, there should be.
A sign from the seagulls ...
Before long, I had reached Efailwen itself and found it to be another modest community perched on high ground and having a name I thought as rather Elvish in nature, a la Tolkien. It contained a small school and rather pretty white houses and was made pleasant by a backdrop of a blue sky and fluffy clouds. I suddenly became aware that I could see seagulls wheeling about. I had heard them on and off the day before, but it gave me a bit of a thrill to actually spot some. Rightly or wrongly, I took it to be evidence that I was drawing near to the coast and journey’s end. Given the trials and doubts of my early days on this walk, this was a big deal for me. I didn’t loiter, choosing to leave my designated route temporarily, which I had designed to streak recklessly off into the wilderness on paths so faint on the map they looked like the tiny, broken veins on a drinker’s nose. Nearer at hand, was an official trail which would take me down and through a forest, to reunite me with my route not too far ahead, on the banks of the river Cleddau-Ddu (Eastern Cleddau). This route was known as the and was so obviously the better path forward, I should have inked it in as part of my route in the first place rather than stick to a rigid west on the compass. The beauty of hindsight, I suppose. I wasn’t to know, when writing this walk a couple of years before from the comfort of my living-room, that a lot of these lesser paths were a nightmare to navigate and even find, in some cases. The path, I noticed as I started along it, had a Celtic-looking waymark symbol attached to it. I was immediately taken downwards from the plateau I had been marching across and was led to Clyngwyn Farm and through it, before being directed down into the woodland. The path was a steep, windy trail. Wet and even boggy in parts,
Looking back east in search of mountains
The sinuous path was narrow and frequently had me ducking beneath low branches as I wound through the woods. I was slowly introduced to a pleasant and open wooded valley, but not before being faced with barriers in the shape of fallen trees. They were numerous and evidence of the power of several storms we had endured during the last winter. It meant that I had a couple of obstacle course-type scramblings, before I broke clear. I was provided with stunning views across the valley to the wooded slope beyond and then continued onto a track. This, in turn, led me to a lane and downwards to a church at a place called Rhydwilym . It was a Baptist church and had a churchyard which was currently being bathed in sunshine, so I decided it was time to stop for lunch. I placed myself beside the raised graveyard on an open piece of lawn, with a clear view of the old church. It was now actually hot and I was suddenly in no rush. I took my boots and socks off and ate barefooted in the sunshine, contentedly gazing around me. I had had a few unsure moments in that wood as I had tried to find the way forward and I was feeling pleased at having negotiated this tricky valley. Lunch over, I decided to stay put for a while. I charged my iPhone using a mobile, battery-powered device and spent a good while with my book and map out, catching up on walking notes and observations whilst the chattered away as it ran nearby and sparrows scrapped on the church roof. It was a very pleasant period but, eventually, it was time to move on.
No way through at Dol-fach ...
I had studied my map and thought it was time to trust to my route and cut across country once more, go off-lane for a while. This was okay at first and I crossed the Cleddau via a small bridge and then went across a couple of lanes and some pasture. I stopped to take a photo of the horizon because I realised that, for the first time during the majority of the walk, there was no visible mountain range. I had left even the far behind me now and the were several horizons back and a distant memory. I strode on and soon ran into problems, after descending steeply once more adjacent to another wood and reaching a farm called Cefnmwynant, where the trail seemed to just fade away into obscurity. I tried a couple of forays which came to nothing and were made wearisome by the fact that I was wandering across hilly terrain again. It didn’t help that several areas had wire fencing and meant that I had to turn away from them. I made faltering progress to another lane, which I had to leave the safety of more or less straight away. The next hour was a disaster of blind meandering and growing frustration and was the episode which, more or less, put paid to me trusting off-lane routes for the rest of the trip. I was led across fields and over a series of electric fences and had to find a tiny track down into the abrupt Dol-fach gorge. It was precipitous and I had huge misgivings about committing myself to descend into a place where there may, or may not, be a viable route. Sure enough, once at the bottom of the bastardly thing I quickly realised that any permissive path had long ago been reclaimed by nature.
The result of winter storms
I was striding along, still in a bit of a dour frame of mind, when I noticed a horse and rider coming towards me. It quickly became obvious that the horse was also feeling a little out of sorts and its progress was skittish, to say the least. I did not want to be responsible for causing it to rear up and decant the woman on top of it, so I stopped walking and stood very still on the border of the lane to allow them to pass. Once they had gone by, she turned in her saddle to me.
“Thanks very much. He’s a bit jumpy,” she said, as her mount did a nervous, sideways tap-dance across the asphalt.
“No kidding,” I muttered, raising a hand in acknowledgement and marching on.
The long way round ...
The walk along this narrow road took me a good way south off my route. I knew it was going to and the day was getting on, so I power-walked the hell out of it, making a gradual descent as I did so. After twenty minutes I turned right, heading west once more at a junction of four lanes and going back uphill near a settlement called Llanycefn . I swung away from this and continued on over a crossroads and to the village of Penffordd. I didn’t stop, keeping up a swift pace and beginning to take a pounding on my feet but covering ground quickly. I stuck to the lane as it contoured around hills and followed the length of another valley, using a bridge to cross the Afon Syfni and walking by Pentrose Wood. I swung north along with the Syfni and passed a disused quarry; a familiar sight in these parts. I was now due south of the by something a little over a mile. It was a place I had ear-marked to camp for the night, but I was in a determined mood to press on. I had it in mind to lessen the walking miles required on my last day to St. Justinian’s. I swung west north-west at Walton Mill and climbed a hill to reach the village of Walton East . Again, I didn’t stop but I had time to register as I walked through the village, that I liked the way it was laid out. The properties were set back from a spacious village green and it all looked neat and tidy. I cut a corner on the village green and strode on. So it was that I reached Quarrypark Lane just outside of Walton East and despite earlier promises to myself, decided to once more trust to a path that would leave the security of the lanes. Quarrypark Lane petered out into a track just after a property called The West, but it was across open plateau and looked clear on the map. More to the point, it descended to another property called Froghall, the lane of which intersected my official route and set me straight once more.
Scolton Home Farm - A lucky find
“There’s always the village green!” she called back to me as I walked on.
From rags to riches ...
I arrived at the village and found the pub straight away. It was called The and it had a porch area crowded with drinkers. I apologised to them as I shouldered clumsily through with my bulky rucksack and bed-roll and sat tiredly and gratefully down on a bar stool. I’ve got used to curiosity about my appearance, especially in small villages in deepest rural countryside. I’d hardly licked the froth off my lips from the ale I’d ordered when a woman at the bar next to me indicated my gear.
“Where you off to, then?”
So I told her and her boyfriend and the young girl at the bar, who was listening in. They made suitably kind noises about my journey and such ice-breaking enabled me to ask about accommodation. The woman introduced herself as Carol and she was very chatty and helpful. Her and her fella suggested that I have a word with a bloke called John, who had been one of the characters I had excused myself past at the porch area. He was, apparently, loaded and owned an estate locally. He also rented out holiday cottages. I privately cringed at the potential cost of this, but thanked them and approached the man they had pointed out. He was dressed very casually and relaxing with his mates and didn’t at all look like the wealthy country gentleman. He just seemed like an average kind of geezer out with his mates, but he was a God-send. He immediately agreed that I could rent a cottage for the night and I was extremely pleased with the price he gave me. It would be thirty quid, an absolute bargain. John was a diamond and a very nice bloke. I had struck lucky. John joined us at the bar for a last drink and I learned a little more about Carol, who was a Londoner (I had picked up on the accent) but had lived in Wales for the past fifteen years. They asked me, belatedly, where I had walked from that day and I told them that it was a tiny village called Lllanboidy.
“Do you know it?” I asked.
Carol looked a bit blank, but John and a couple of his cronies nodded. John was looking at me in a measured sort of way.
“That’s thirty miles away,” he told me.
I stared at him. Thirty miles? No way – although I knew that I’d put in a fair whack that day, my internal odometer informed me that there was no way I had covered that kind of distance. I was right as well; when I mapped my route out once back home, I discovered that I’d walked twenty-two miles that day. A decent effort over tough terrain, I like to think, but certainly not the distance they thought I’d covered. Still, I must admit that I enjoyed the response from the others.
My home for the night
“That’s for you – feel free to have a dip in the swimming pool over the way,” he pointed back across the yard. “It’s heated,” he added and I thanked him in a daze as he bid me goodnight.
I looked about me, engulfed in a strange sense of dislocation. Twenty-four hours ago, I had just made arrangements to doss down with a couple of likely lads in what amounted to a fleapit. A generously offered and friendly flea-pit, absolutely, and I mean no ill-will towards Mabbon and Jonesey, who were great. It’s just that the difference now could hardly have been greater. I had just been driven onto a luxurious estate after procuring a very comfortable cottage for myself. There was a bed with clean sheets waiting for me upstairs and also a deep bath, promising deep suds and hot water. I had just been given swimming gear so that I could use their heated swimming pool. The carpets were clean and the curtains didn’t look as if they had been hung with knicker elastic. There wasn’t a Diazepam or a spliff in sight. The sensory shift had me shaking my head in bemused wonderment.
I ate my food and then wasted no time in washing and drying clothes that were well overdue such treatment. I sat on the sofa and watched the end of a Harry Potter film then ran a hot bath and soaked the day’s exertions away. Despite the discomfort, my feet were actually in pretty good shape. I lay back, up to my neck in bubbles, whilst a sudden rain shower pattered for my attention against a night-blackened skylight. I was tired, I realised, but I also didn’t want to cut short the celebration of my comfort by going to bed early. I dried myself and went back downstairs, watching TV until my eyelids were drooping despite game efforts to stay alert. At one o’clock in the morning, I admitted defeat and chose a bedroom. Under the quilt, I was almost instantly asleep. My last conscious thought was that I hoped the rain, which was still falling against the window, would be gone by morning.
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