Postcode West Day 3

Postcode West
By Colin Walford
Day Three

Route: Llanthony to Cwmdu
Date: Wednesday May 14th 2014
Distance: 20.4m (32.8km)
Elevation: 426ft (130m) to 2661ft (811m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 3586ft (1093m) and 3895ft (1187m)

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Dodging the rent….

I awoke to sun streaming through the fabric of my tent and the sound of the River Honddu rushing by. I searched for my watch amongst the items heaped by my side. It was eight thirty; late for me but considering the effort I had put in yesterday, understandable. It was, indeed, a sunny morning as I packed away my tent and gear. In the daylight, I was able to take in the surroundings of where I had camped. The rough field, with its shaggy turf, was bordered on three sides by lines of trees; the ones closest to me on the west side of the field were thicker and had partly absorbed the sound of the Honddu. Hatterrall Ridge dominated the east view of course and I was pleased to see quite a lot of blue sky behind it. The Hatterall Ridge forms the border between Powys and Monmouthshire in Wales and Herefordshire in England. On my descent of the ridge yesterday, I had entered Wales for good and was technically going to be on foreign soil until the end of my walk at St. Justinian’s. The ridge itself is about 10 miles (16 km) long and on the west side of the ridge is the Vale of Ewyas which I was now camped in; a steep sided and once glaciated valley. The western side of the ridge falls within the Brecon Beacons National Park. Llanthony Priory, the ruins I had walked by yesterday evening, was a former Augustinian priory situated in the Vale of Ewyas and dates back to around the year 1100. A Norman nobleman, Walter de Lacy, reputedly came upon a ruined chapel of St. David in this location and was inspired to devote himself to solitary prayer and study. There was to be no such luxury for me today. I was ready to go by ten o’clock and set out to find the owner, so that I could pay for my pitch. I walked across the field, passing the young couple outside their tent and their little girl, who was walking unsteadily through the long grass with the sun washing over her blond curls. In the event, I never did locate the owners of that field and so I walked on. To this day, I owe them three pounds.
For some reason, I had difficulty finding the narrow metal bridge that I knew would take me out across the field and towards Bal-Bach Ridge. It’s not as if I hadn’t used it before and in fact, my brother and I had walked over it only a month before. Regardless of this, it was quite a while before I located it and crossed over the Honddu, shooing a group of what looked like partridges out of my way. Straight away, I joined the Beacons Way trail and was taken into a damp and tree-lined cleft in the valley, which eventually cut into the ridge itself. This track was boggy underfoot and uphill. I tried walking in the ditch that the cleft had formed as it ran beneath the trees, but discovered leaf-choked pools of water, so I then walked on the bank above it for as long as I could. It was better to be out from the trees and bathed in sunshine, rather than squelching in the murky light of the ditch. The trees became fewer in number as the gradient increased and I began to feel the familiar racing of my pulse, as I was forced to put more effort into the climb. I walked parallel to a spring as it splashed its way down into the valley and at a place called Cwm Bwchel, I came across a well-marked Bal-Bach route with the rare luxury for me of signposts. This didn’t stop me from taking off in the wrong direction until I realised that this couldn’t be right – I was walking on a level path and I knew that I had to be going uphill and sharply, at that. I re-traced my steps, found the correct track and began the climb. The day was by now warming up considerably and it wasn’t long before I was breathing heavily and sweating freely, using the excuse of taking photographs to grab a rest at some point. Mind you, I got a lovely shot back to Ewyas Vale and the extent of Hatterrall Ridge as it stretched away to the north. I walked on and at times had to almost scramble upwards on the track, making my legs tired again and my shirt damp with perspiration. As I neared the top, after about forty minutes of stop-start hiking, the gradient became savage and I was presented with a series of false summits, which always seem to knock the mental stuffing out of you if nothing else. Finally, wearily, I made the top of Bal-Bach ridge and crossed slowly through a section of gorse, taking my rucksack off and dumping it onto an established path going along the ridge, which was still part of the Beacons Way.



Upper House, down a hill….

As I rested, I began to appreciate what fantastic views I had all around me. I was at a height of 1700 feet (520 metres) and surrounded by peaks. The humps and crests of The Black Mountains rose and fell in a wide arc to my east and south, with Hatterrall Ridge now beginning to fall back to become just another edifice that merged with the rest. To the west lay my next destination and I stared at what I had yet to walk that day. A large expanse of the opposite range was visible; a ridge-backed splendour made up of individual places such as Pen Twyn Mawr and Pen y Gadair Fawr. The highest point of my entire walk west, the plateau of Waun Fach, wasn’t actually visible at all. It was further north-west and hidden behind a foreground of swells and rises. In front of it all and tumbling into the valley like a dark green curtain, lay the Mynydd Du Forest. I spent a good while just gazing about me and occasionally taking a photo. I also did a little filming, carefully eking out what battery life I had in my faulty camcorder. A sense of well-being came over me at the views my efforts had given me. I was high above the lives of most people and their problems and free to wander along Bal-Bach towards Garn-Wen and beyond. It looked a good path too and (a blessing) was a level one, which I knew would continue for a good while along the length of the ridge, before descending to a place called Partrishow at the far end of the valley to my right. It was very tempting to keep standing here and simply admiring what my eyes were seeing, but I was also aware of the miles over fairly remote ground I would be covering and had no desire to be stuck in the middle of The Black Mountains when darkness fell that evening. I walked on, soon heading slightly downwards on the bold and easily walked path. It would have been about fifteen minutes into this pleasurable bit of the trail, that I saw ahead of me a white mass of something lying on the track. I was puzzled until I got quite close and then saw that I was looking at the dead carcass of one of the hill ponies that frequented these mountains.
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Hatterrall Ridge and the Vale of Ewyas

The poor thing’s head was facing me as I approached; its front legs and hooves lying within the margin of gorse by the side of the track, back legs immersed in the mud of the track itself. In fact, mud had mottled its white coat all the way to its flanks and tufts of hair had fallen off the body and lay scattered about its head and neck, as if some macabre barber had come along and tried to tidy up the scene. Dull black eyes stared me down and the flesh had pulled away from its jaws, so that the pony flashed me a rictus grin full of large, discoloured teeth. There was no clue from the front end what had killed this unfortunate creature and it wasn’t until I had passed it by and looked back that I saw that its entire abdomen was an open cavity crawling with thousands of flies. The stench of it hit me at the same time; the wind was at my back and I had to endure the smell of spoiled flesh for long after it had disappeared from sight. A couple of minutes after this encounter I came upon a large, upright cairn – more like a tower of stones – at the level space of Garn-Wen. From here, the path began to steadily descend. I was about to leave this ridge behind me.
The track went off at a right-angle and followed a dry stone wall for a while. I walked through a place of sheep, languishing in the shade beneath a couple of trees. It was indicative of the growing heat of the day. All was well for a while and I continued down, across an open space of grass and a tumbling slope to my right. This opened up the view to the west and across the valley floor and my eyes couldn’t help but be drawn by the lushness of trees in full leaf. The opposite side of the valley was wooded in part and there were many hues of green, all vying for my attention. There was a vibrant lushness from saplings, which stood out from the verdant avocado and sea-green of more mature specimens. It was all set off rather splendidly by the fact that these trees were in marching ranks, scaling the opposite ridge I was making for. I joined another stone wall and paced the length of this for several minutes. As happens when you’ve walked for a few years on various routes, you acquire a knack for knowing when you’ve gone wrong. My guidey-sense started tingling and I stopped to consult my map. I had trooped by woodland on my left at Coed Ty Canol, which had been correct, but now saw that I was following a wall that I actually should have crossed behind, so that I could angle down the tumbling slope at Coed Mawr to a residence named Upper House. This was bothersome, as I had to back-track for quite a distance and it was just the start of my navigational problems. I don’t know why I came to the decision I did – perhaps I had gone map-blind through constant exposure – but I made a silly error which really made me pay in terms of physical effort. A long track took me to Upper House and right past the back yard. My sudden appearance to a few dogs caused the usual barking furore, yet I noticed busily wagging tails at the same time, so wasn’t concerned. My mistake came when I reached a fork in the track, one of which went up left into woodland and the other over the prow of a small rise and out of sight. Now – I can understand me discounting the woodland track. It was heading uphill and I knew, at this point at least, that I had to go down into the valley to arrive at Partrishow. What, for the life of me, I cannot comprehend is why I so easily dismissed the path going over the rise. It was even heading in the direction I was supposed to be going at this point (virtually south). I was feeling leg weary and frustrated that the up-slope prevented me from seeing where this path went. I remember thinking that it was too much effort to walk up and discover where it would lead me. I was, somehow, convinced that it was a red herring of a track. The idea came to me that, since I needed to get into and across the valley anyway, I could save time and distance by simply plunging down the extremely steep hill on which Upper House was placed and crossing the river Grwyne Fawr. From examining my map, I saw that I could then take a road that would lead me, more or less, into Partrishow itself. I realised I was relying on blind faith that there would be a bridge or some means of crossing the river, but my mind was stubbornly made up and down I went. It was an abrupt descent too, requiring me to climb a fence and plunge downwards, grabbing on to handfuls of long grass in some parts to stop me from becoming a human avalanche. When I’d reached a flat bit of open sward I regarded something that made me mutter openly, seeing not one but two lengths of wire-fencing stretched out across my path and about a dozen feet apart. This put me firmly into the category of trespassing once more and I glanced guiltily back up to the house. There was nobody around and I’d decided my route was set, so I took off my rucksack and heaved it over both fences in turn, climbing clumsily after them in my unwieldy walking boots and trousers which were loose and baggy with sweat and cow shit. I then walked to the bank of the river and looked up and down its visible length. This part hadn’t a bridge in sight and it was also deeper and running swifter than I’d bargained for. With no easy crossing, I was starting to feel the rank weeds of failure grow in the corners of my mind. There was no solution, no idea that saved the moment. I spent long minutes pushing through bracken, a stand of trees and over the rounded boulders in the shallows of the river, looking for stepping stones, fallen branches or bloated corpses – anything in fact that I could use to get me across. Finally, I had to abandon the whole idea and face a terrible reality; I was going to have to climb back up the horrible incline I had virtually slid down. My spirits sank and to make matters worse, I had no one to blame but myself. The cherry on this cake of woe came in the form of an occupant of Upper House, who chose this moment to appear and potter about innocently in his garden and greenhouse. I knew he hadn’t seen me (yet) but I also knew that I had an open area of field and two of his fences to scale.
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Cairn at Garn-Wen

I felt pitilessly exposed but as a result of a small wonder or, more likely, the failing eyesight of this particular white-haired gentleman, I managed to cross the ground and scale the obstacles without being seen. I then tackled the hill itself and it was as awful as I’d feared. I had no real energy for the job and had to rest frequently, breathing in huge whoops and wiping sweat from my face and neck. I finally got back up top and dragged myself over the final fence. I was back on the track I’d first arrived at over half an hour before; only I was no further forward in my walk and I was knackered. The final vexation was when I re-engaged with my map and saw, clearly, that the route I needed to take was the obvious path I’d dismissed, over the prow and all the way down to the road. There was even a handy bridge to cross the Grwyne Fawr river.
I noticed how weary and footsore I’d become, as I left that river behind me and immediately began the sharp climb back out of the valley. I was taken through an end bit of the woodland I had earlier admired and as I got clear of it, I came upon quite an atmospheric scatter of ruins, including a stretch of wall. My OS map gave me no clue what this place was but for me, it became the site of a mini-surrender. I had just realised that, at that moment, I could go no further. I took off my rucksack and sat down, facing the vestiges of what looked to have once being an impressive structure. It never occurred to me on that day, even as I rooted in my pack for a trail-mix of fruit and nuts, why I was struggling with the terrain and lacking in strength. The truth is it had been over twenty hours since my last square meal. That had been back in Longtown at The Crown Inn and I had scaled two significant ridges since then. I wasn’t going to flourish on this hike whilst munching only on snacks. After a rest, I continued on through the scant settlement of Partrishow, feeling the sun beating down on me. I mused on the fact that my original idea had been to reach and camp at this place at the end of day two, so I was half a day’s walking behind my schedule already. Partrishow sits in the valley of the Grwyne Fawr and is in the county of Powys, close to the border with Monmouthshire. I hadn’t realised that I’d crossed into another county, my third of the walk so far. The village is noted for its outstanding grade I listed 11th-century church, with mediaeval mural paintings and one of the oldest fonts in Wales. The church, I discovered, was noted for its particular bitch of a steep road, which I thought was going to kill me as I struggled up it. I don’t think I’ve ever walked a steeper piece of tarmac. This took me to a track that was exceedingly sheer. It seemed that I had begun my climb up to Waun Fach ridge. I was led on a twisting route to a fenced-off area of grass. This was an annoyance, as I couldn’t see why such a wild area needed fencing and I knew I would have to climb over one in order to continue upwards. I’d already had my fill of climbing fences for the day, but appreciated the necessity when I looked beyond them and saw sheep tracks striped across the rising ground in front of me. Well, at least I had something to follow in my attempt to reach the top. A toss of the rucksack and an ungainly clamber followed and then I started to hike sharply upwards. Almost immediately, my legs began to burn with the exertion and I was also beginning to worry about my water supply again. I had been swigging generously all morning and what was now a very sunny day, coupled with the gradients, wasn’t going to ease this compulsion.



The in-house inquiry….

From where I was, near a little speck of a settlement called Ty’r Ywen, I could see Crug Mawr and the focus of my struggles. A hill in its own right, Crug Mawr boasts a summit of 1,805ft (550m) which is marked by a trig point. Yes, I could see it alright, but getting there proved to be an ordeal. It was fine for the sheep and wild ponies around me, who thought nothing of trotting splendidly through layers of thick gorse and heather on their way to the next exciting patch of grazing. On the other hand, I was left staggering around in the bloody stuff. It grew to about knee height and all obvious paths had vanished, so that I was forced to high-step myself up the hill like an errant lunatic from a marching band. I tried to shy away from the thought of a lurking adder or, worse, crashing in on a writhing group of bad-tempered males as they wrestled with each other for supremacy. It’d be a bad, lonely place to take on board a shot of venom. In this fashion, it took me a long time to make progress and it was tiring and dispiriting. I was running with sweat again and took my shirt off, having to drink frequently to replace the fluids. I feared running out of water before I’d got anywhere near Waun Fach, let alone past it and down the other side of the ridge. I had come to realise, during my solo walks, that I could gauge my state of mind by how much noise I made. When content and at ease I walked along, humming or singing snatches of songs. I smiled at cows in passing; I complimented a particular scene on how splendid it was looking. When things were going badly with me, I shut up as tight as a clam. I am apparently one for internalising my misery and could go hours without making a sound (not counting profanity) whilst my current worries and emotions were tumbled around in my mind like grubby laundry. I was now in the latter state and hadn’t spoken aloud for some time. During such mental troughs, my solo walks had also produced a second symptom; the in-house inquiry. I began to question myself. Was I really enjoying this? I still had so far to go – did I really think I was going to reach the coast all the way across Wales? Wouldn’t it be simpler (an internal voice coaxed soothingly) to stop this nonsense at once and go home to my abandoned, but instantly forgiving sofa? Fortunately, experience had also taught me that such dismal periods were as a result of tiredness, discomfort and frustration. I knew that if I ignored crafty entreaties to pack it all in, I’d be okay. In six, twelve or twenty-four hours’ time this moment of self-pity would be gone and only half-remembered and so I kept myself moving along faithfully. Finally, I made the peak and trudged to the trig point. I was instantly greeted by a buffeting wall of wind and within a couple of minutes, went from being hot and sticky to shivering as the sweat was chilled on my body and goose pimples rose up on my arms. I couldn’t get my shirt back on quick enough and also dug into my rucksack for a fleece jacket. I then rested briefly, sitting on the base of the trig point and feeling huge relief when I discovered that I still had a litre of water in my camel bag. I took in more fabulous views of rugged Wales, doing them an injustice with only half an eye as my main concentration was on the stony track along the ridge. It wasn’t long before I was on my way again.



Where the Fach…?

After the recent trawl, this part of the walk was an initial doddle. It was a short-lived but sudden drop from the peak of Crug Mawr onto the stony track, which took me resolutely north along the ridge. I was soon passing alongside the cascading rug of Mynydd Du Forest to my right. It was a long, long track and I went well past the equivalent spot on the opposite ridge, where I had ascended and rested at Bal Bach, but all was well until I began to come across boggy areas that I had to pick my way through. The path went on, coursing the length of the ridge and encouraging me into a walking rhythm that began to make time a bit immaterial. I was measuring my progress by distance only and starting to think that the path would never end. The terrain started to swoop up and down in gentle but strength-sapping swells and still I walked on. I was becoming increasingly worried, as my path discovered a tendency to go down and become wet and muddy and I was pretty sure I needed to be going up to become wet and muddy. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure where I was on my map. Suddenly, I realised that I was on my own up here and that the sun was dipping as the afternoon was sucked away from me. I back-tracked a long way (without having any definite idea where I should be back-tracking to) and then began to slog upwards, the ground quickly becoming steep again. It was a return to very tiring walking. I was faced with a particularly strenuous ascent up a hill and was delighted when I’d got to the top, convinced that I had just reached the plateau of Waun Fach and thinking that it was a good job I had, as my reserves were becoming much drained. I was still congratulating myself when I’d sat down and flattened my map out on the ground as best I could, whilst a harassing wind tried to snatch it out of my hands and toss it into the valley below. Straight away, I could see that something wasn’t right. There was a body of water, the Grwyne Fawr Reservoir, a couple of miles ahead of me at the north head of the valley but, according to my map, if I was on Waun Fach I should have been parallel to it. I gazed ahead at the still distant hump of a piece of unremarkable ground. Surely, that wasn’t Waun Fach? Because if it was, it meant that I was still back on – I looked down and traced my finger backwards on the map – the peak of Pen y Gadair Fawr. For a few minutes, I tried to convince myself that this couldn’t possibly be true. I finally got my compass out to try and settle the matter once and for all, although really I already knew. If I was on Waun Fach, the reservoir should be north-east of me. If I was sat on Pen y Gadair Fawr, the reservoir would be lying almost due north. The compass seemed to have sorted its earlier issues with life out and its red needle swayed lazily for a couple of seconds and then settled, almost due north. It was a crushing blow.
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The plateau of Waun Fach

I looked at my watch and saw that it was five o’clock and I still had an awful lot of walking to do before I was back down in a safe, populated valley. For the first time, I faced the thought that I may have ballsed-up colossally and about to be locked in the heart of The Black Mountains when darkness fell. What time did that happen in mid-May? My thoughts were interrupted when, from out of the blue, my phone burst into life and started to ping with communications as a rare signal made its services available. There was a message from my brother, who had responded to a text I had sent the day before when I had told him that it was late afternoon and I was still only just about to climb Hatterrall Ridge. He had responded with, ‘You’re not going to do that now, surely?’ Bro, I thought, I’m in a lot more shit than that now.
I stood up to take a look at what lay ahead. I was at a spiritual low point and it was with a burst of delight that I saw a distant figure trudging along towards me from what had undoubtedly been the top of Waun Fach. This sight made me happy on two levels. The first was that I immediately didn’t feel so alone and vulnerable. There was another walker up here this late in the day, so it seemed to me that it was normal for late afternoon walkers to be strolling about up here. Why, I may even come across a family at ease; wife and daughter sat on a blanket with a picnic hamper, father and son throwing a Frisbee and laughing as a friendly gale swiped it away, to decapitate somebody in the vale far below. The second reason I felt happy was that this fellow walker had just come from where I needed to go and was making good time as he approached. This meant that Waun Fach was navigable and although it looked a good way off, would be well within my reach before the sun bid a sleepy adieu. I regarded the figure in a rucksack, knowing that I was outlined against the sky as I stood on the peak and therefore, would also have been seen by now. Impatient, I began to walk downwards. The figure turned into a young man as he drew close and made his way straight to me. We met in a no man’s land of watery ditches and squelching turf and greetings were exchanged. We chatted about what a lovely day it had been to go walking.
“Is that Waun Fach?” I pointed behind him.
He said that it was and then warned me that it was very boggy. With nothing else to say, we wished each other luck and walked away, with contrasting destinations in mind. Wherever his was, he still had a lot of walking to do to get him there. Mind you, he was probably thinking the same about me. After a while, I looked back and he was already distant as he made the top of Pen y Gadair Fawr. As for my own climb, he had been quite right and the nearer I got to Waun Fach the worse it was underfoot. Had I been a Hippopotamus, I couldn’t have been happier with all the potential to have a good old wallow. As it was, I slugged my way through dispassionately. It continued to be very tiring and why not? I’d had a whole day of ascending and descending (although the former had seemed to far outnumber the latter) and enduring this through increasing areas of marshy soup drained what little fuel I had left in the tank. As the hill deepened, I suddenly felt a blister pop on my right heel. I hadn’t even known there was one there, but I certainly did for the next few minutes because it stung and rubbed against the inside of my boot as I climbed. I was thirsty but refrained from stopping to take a drink, at a stage when I was rationing what I had left and promising myself a good gulp when I’d got to the top. I achieved this, the pinnacle of my whole route west, at just before six o’clock.



I’ll take the low road….

Waun Fach is a shit hole. I said so at the time when jotting up notes and my affection for the summit has not grown one iota since. It is a morass of dark, peaty mire and stewed water with a shallow crater and a concrete rock sat in the middle of it, apparently all that is left of the foundation of a trig point that no longer exists. It was a fitting place for my camcorder to finally expire, which it duly did several seconds into the last recording I ever did on it. At least it did so with a sense of humour and a bit of comic timing, as I just had time to say, “Battery’s just about to die, so a quick view – “ and then it did die, denying everybody the horizon I was just about to sweep across. I should have buried it there and then, un-mourned and abandoned, rather than lugging it about for a further two days. However, if my immediate surroundings were grim, I only had to raise my eyes a little from ground level to take in the highlight of the walk so far. This magnificent vista from the highest peak of the Black Mountains enabled me to see for miles. I observed May Hill in Gloucestershire, just over thirty miles away. At about the same distance to the south, I saw the glittering ribbon of the Bristol Channel. I had the privilege of a wonderful, far-reaching panorama as hills rolled and frolicked in all directions. Waun Fach’s swampy plateau tops out at 2,661 ft (811 m). It is one of the three Marilyns over 600m that make up the range and if it is the highest of them all, it is also the least glamorous. There is no film-star pinnacle that catches the sunlight or becomes impressively rimed with ice in the winter. It has a totally unexceptional, plain-Jane fa├žade and is no joy to walk across once you’ve conquered it, but its reward lies in what you can see once you’re there. Thoughtfully, I gazed west at all the miles I had still to cover in the days to come. From here, the horizon was vast and indifferently remote.
After a short break, I decided it was time to leave Waun Fach and so began to pick my way dubiously across its churned-up surface. I walked west and then south-west and if anything, the view became even more spectacular as I curved high around the vale of Grwyney below and saw, at the valley’s far end, the Sugarloaf Mountain pointing an erect nipple at the sky. I began to head downwards and the going got tougher, because deep furrows and hollows began to make up the route and there were boulders and heaps of rocks strewn everywhere. I was, somehow, marshalled off to the right with such an ease that I didn’t realise for a while that I was heading in the wrong direction. I had to keep stopping to gauge the route ahead, pick a spot and
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Above the vale of Grwyney

aim for it and the ground was eroded to buggery, meaning that I was forced to clamber up and down hillocks of earth and piles of stones. I topped out again at Pen Trumau and stopped to resignedly contemplate the next peak I was due to scale, Pen Twyn Glas on Pen Allt-mawr, itself a subsidiary summit of Waun Fach. It seemed to me that I was doomed to trudge lofty peaks forever, but my interest was roused by the sight of another track, which looked as if it turned right before this climb and offered me an easier way down. I consulted my map and found this path which did, indeed, offer salvation and a quicker way down from the heights. I was not so purist in the following of my route that I wouldn’t snap up a clear advantage when it smiled at me. When I reached a juncture of five potential paths, I ignored the one going straight ahead and very much upwards again and turned sharp right onto my new friend.
The journey downwards was at first gentle, but soon began to gather momentum and I lost altitude rapidly. The sun was still a hot brand on the back of my neck and my feet were killing me. I had a distracting thirst and my cruel mind kept throwing up an image of cold lemonade in a huge glass, ice-cubes chinking musically. However, I was making progress and soon found myself walking the length of a long stone wall and then plunging down steeply until I came to a metal bridge, by which time I had descended about 1,200 feet. I crossed this and moved on down a field until I reached civilisation in the form of a lane. Here, I met a man who was enjoying a walk with his dog. I was eager to know how far it was to the village of Cwmdu, which I had decided was to be my stopping place for the night, based on the fact that it had a pub and a camping site and was, therefore, wonderful. When he told me that it was three miles away I must have visibly wilted, for he looked at me with a terrible kindness.
“Can I ask you something?” he asked, thereby proving that he could.
“Yes” I said, glumly.
“Why do you do it?” This was said with a gentleness that almost had me bursting into tears, but I also felt a little defensive and so I looked him in the eyes. “Enjoyment.”
He stared at my tired, strained face and dishevelled clothing and seemed genuinely unsure how to respond to this. Even his dog stopped sniffing the caked dung on my shins to regard me with a whiskery doubt. They both came to the conclusion that I was a lost cause and the man settled for telling me to have a cider for him at The Farmer’s Arms and wished me well.



The nine o’clock deadline….

I moved on, hobbling for the first few hundred metres because that brief pause for conversation had caused me to seize up a little. But at least I now knew the name of the pub and that I would be brought right to it, even if the road I was presently on seemed to stretch interminably ahead. In fact, it was a good mile and a half of weary plodding, sometimes passing a smattering of houses, before I reached the A479 at Blaenau-mawr. I dislike walking along A-roads, chiefly because I have an aversion to tonnages of metal ripping by me at high speed, but I wasn’t long on it when I saw a police car ahead. It was parked up in a lay-by and I shamelessly put on a pronounced limp and moved in on him. As it was still a warm evening, his window was open several inches so that he could benefit from the occasional breeze. I wasted no time.
“Excuse me, officer – how far is it to The Farmer’s Arms?” I rasped.
He told me that it was only a couple of miles and I winced theatrically and looked down at my feet. To his credit, there seemed to be no reluctance or hesitation on his part and he immediately offered me a lift. I was out of my rucksack and into his car before he could properly take in the state of my clothing, apologising for the air of farmyard and workhouse I brought with me. He told me not to worry about that, but I did notice that he cranked his window all the way down as we pulled away. This was my first exposure to Welsh kindness from a really pleasant guy, who also wished me luck on my walk as he deposited me at the door. As was becoming routine, I immediately bought two pints; one of lemonade and one of lager. I also asked about getting a meal later. The large man behind the bar sucked his teeth doubtfully and looked at a clock on the wall. I looked too, seeing that it was ten-past eight.
“Tell you what,” said the man, “If you can get back here by nine o’clock, I’ll keep the kitchen open for you.”
This didn’t leave me much time to drink up, hunt down the camping site, pitch a tent, clean up and get back but I accepted the challenge and drank so quickly that I was producing huge frog-like belches, as I hurried off up the road. I had an eye out for a B&B but was out of luck, although I quickly came upon the Cwmdu camp-site. The owner was residing in a caravan on the site and I made him aware of my arrival and immediately found a good space, next to a tent that was already cosy with light and conversation. The occupants were a couple from London-way and he engaged me in a friendly manner as I threw my tent up and asked them about laundry facilities. She was darkly pretty and heavily pregnant, he was new-agey and instantly likeable and I was running out of time, so I dashed back to the pub and got there bang-on nine o’clock, with an expectant expression and taste buds twitching. “Oh, I’m sorry – the kitchen’s closed,” he told me, firmly. It was as if we had never had the earlier conversation.
I was both baffled and miffed, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I settled for giving him a really hard stare (a la Paddington Bear) and bought a couple of packets of crisps. I think he realised that he’d done me a bad turn, because he kept apologising that the kitchen was closed, like he’d personally had nothing to do with the decision. I showed him my back and watched TV as I drank a couple of pints. This was my second evening without a proper meal and I’d just walked for over twenty hilly miles. His apologies weren’t meaning an awful lot. With nothing to stick around for once my beers were drained, I walked back to camp in the dark and found a phone box. I called my brother to let him know that I was alive and in one piece and we both had an immature giggle at our terrible English pronunciations of ‘Waun Fach’ and ‘Cwmdu’, which made them sound like a visit to a prostitute. Tired as I was, I was also ridiculously cheered up by this phone call and it gave me enough momentum to wash and dry my laundry, finally eradicating the horrible evidence of leaping over a gate and into a cesspit the day before. My boots still bore a passing testament, but the rest of me would be clean and fresh come the morning. Finally, I charged my phone overnight, trusting that it’d be okay left plugged into a socket in the laundry room. I slid into my sleeping bag at midnight and was almost instantly asleep.

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