End of Phase 2 – 277.06 miles

Saturday 28th April 2018

Phase 2 finished as I got onto the train home at Chepstow on Tuesday 24th April. I wanted to be back in time for my 62nd birthday on 25th, and my grandson’s baptism on 29th. I’ve updated my thoughts on the other pages so I can keep the home page for reporting the walking days.

Phase 3 starts next Thursday 3rd May as I return to Chepstow Rail Station.

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Walk Day 25 – Gordano to Chepstow

Tuesday 24th April 2018

21.08 miles today (including the wandering around and retracing steps at the Avonmouth Bridge). 277.06 total.

This was planned to be the longest day so I was up and breakfasted and out an hour earlier than if I had been camping.

The first challenge came after following the footpaths to the Avonmouth Bridge. I couldn’t see any way to get up to it and wasted an hour exploring the various cycle and footpaths around the base of the pillars, feeling more frustrated every minute. I had been told there was a cycle track across, thought I had read instructions elsewhere about how to find it, and my map still showed one, but by this time had almost decided these were figments of my imagination and there was no access. If this were true it would be a ‘Very Big Mistake’ and would mean I would have to return in six months time to add on a longer alternative route. It was quite a depressing thought and I felt quite tearful with frustration.

After following each turning with no joy I even climbed a set of maintenance access steps to peep at the motorway to try to see the path. No joy, just the crash barrier and lots of cars. I wasn’t going to set foot on the motorway itself so retraced my steps towards the service station calling at a farm – no one there – and formulating alternative plans to get across the river, none of which met my ‘rules’. With time, energy and distance wasted, I was getting quite upset with myself at the apparent planning failure.

Eventually I headed for the church looking for local knowledge (I wasn’t convinced that police in their cars at the service station would know much about foot and cycle paths) and knocked on the first door I found. A man called Grafton was able to confirm the existence of the cycle path but couldn’t get me to understand how to join it. Bless him, he drove me through Pil, left me at a gate with instructions to turn left, and after wading through knee high grass I found a stile to the cycle way. Phew! A few yards further on and I could see where I turned around previously, around twenty feet and an apparently locked gate away. So near and yet so far. But with a happy ending.

Having expended so much effort to get up there the view from the bridge was unspectacular. The tide was out and the light was a bit murky. I was the only pedestrian among the lycra-clad men on bicycles.

After this the route went to plan although I was then worried all day that the time lost and tiredness from the extra distance covered might make me late for my train at Chepstow. “Just keep on walking.” “Briskly.”

And when the negative thoughts start, they can be quite hard to chase away. I spent a lot of the time making up positive rhymes to sing to myself, and to distract from the minor foot injury which I’d taped up for the day (it worked quite well).

Bristol Docks seemed interminable with dusty pavements and heavy lorries, but human kindness was still surrounding me. I called into a fuel station to buy a bottle of sugary drink and the cashier paid for it when he found out I was walking for charity.

The Severn Way was long and bleak with the river looking muddy and uninviting. The surface was fascinating though, with such a variety of patterns caused by tide, wind and river flow. Despite enjoying open-water swimming I wouldn’t want to swim in the Severn!

I was almost counting my steps to the two bridges as they were the major landmarks. Below is the last picture I took before crossing the toll bridge to Wales. At this point the weather was overcast, but looked otherwise OK.

Then as soon as I began to cross the M48 toll bridge the weather suddenly changed from the uninspiring greyness to full-on wind and rain blowing sideways along the Bristol Channel. It felt as if I might be blown off my feet and I quickly zipped everything closed and stuffed my map case inside my jacket. The rain was spiky on my face and very cold. It was more of a challenge than I really wanted at that stage of the walk and there is nowhere to hide for that 1.75 miles. However I was here, I was doing what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to stop just because it was difficult. I counted down the lamp posts and kept walking as fast as I could.

Despite the energy I was expending, by the time I reached Chepstow I felt quite cold, so I went into a pub for coffee and a chance to sit down and drip on their carpet. I chose the vinyl-covered seats 🙂

The last two miles were as much a mental as physical challenge although the scenery was diverting.

So close to finishing Phase 2, but so many steps to go. Only another mile. “Keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Eventually…

I arrived at the railway station with an hour to spare before my train time, pulled some extra layers of clothing on, and sat snuggled next to my rucksack in the cold rain until the train came. I’m posting this from the train. Wet feet, but otherwise reasonably comfortable.

Phase 2 complete – 277.06 miles walked so far.

Walk Day 24 – Cleeve to Gordano

Monday 23rd April 2018

10.3 miles today. 255.98 total.

The flights out of Bristol airport start at 6am so no lie-in today. I packed up and got moving as soon as the site owner had collected their money. As always the owner was charming, but it doesn’t compensate for lumpy sloping ground.  I moved the tent at sunset rather than try to cling precariously to a slope in the teeth of a biting wind while holidaymakers took off overhead

Last night it was a sloping field full of cowpats and deep hoof prints (think mud and more mud and then think of muddy bovine knees. Then let it dry – a bit, and let the grass grow so that it looks flat…). I know. I’m fussy!

Today’s route showed lots of contour lines. More road walking, but with some pretty footpaths to compensate. I’m not so good with stiles though and there were a lot today. I hope no-one was watching :-O

The first part of the journey was on roads, which batters my knees, and I stopped early to get breakfast at the Box Tree cafe at Cleeve Garden Centre. The cafe didn’t open until 10.30am so no food, but I did get a coffee thanks to Helen who worked there. Thank you for going over and above the call of duty and for your contribution to PCRF.

A bit further on I spied a pub. ‘Food’ said the notice. ‘Breakfast” thought I. ‘We start serving food at 12’ said the barman. Ho hum. Keep walking.

Then I found Brockley Stores

which sells food that has been made by people not machines. My mini quiche was wrapped in paper and put into a paper bag. The ginger cake was also plastic free, and they had a great range of different fresh foods. Well worth the stop.

My walk continued through Backwell

with a stop at the Post Office for my log book to be stamped, and a chat with people in the queue, then to the ‘Spar’ for Lucozade, and then it was time to get on with walking.

Through Nailsea, and another coffee

up the hill to Wraxhall

And more amazing views, then across the footpaths of the Gordano round

to the M5 service stations where I am currently relaxing. A real bed and breakfast. My cup runneth over.

Thank you to those I met and chatted with today; to Richard and Alan for your donations, and to Margaret and Larrie for the welcome cup of tea and detailed route knowledge.

I overcame the final difficulty of locating the hotel entrance in the middle of a building site, and am now drying wet stuff and recharging my backup battery. The hotel socket (singular) is so close to the desktop that the USB phone charger can’t fit into the gap. Who designs these things? Anyway, the whole place is being refurbished so I may be one of the last people to experience this particular issue. I’ve solved the problem by moving the TV. Must remember to put it back before I leave tomorrow.

There is only one more day to go in this phase and it’s a long one. I’m feeling apprehensive about reaching Chepstow in time for my train home. And of course that means I’m more aware of the potential problems. But… if I keep putting one foot in front of the other and avoid rabbit holes…

I’ve just taped the first Compeed of the trip to the angle between my heel and foot. The skin had got too wet then too hot and is cracking and blistered. Considering the abuse my feet have had it’s a minor injury. I won’t dwell on the other twinges and figgles except to say that they are indicators of overuse, so the rest days that follow after tomorrow’s long push were well planned.

Walk Day 23 – Cheddar to Cleeve

Sunday 22nd April 2018

10.14 miles today. 245.68 total.

The camp site at Cheddar Bridge was well run and clean with good facilities. I felt very safe. There is a ‘silence’ rule from 11pm to 8am, which was observed on the site itself. The rave that started ‘somewhere’ at dusk and continued until past dawn kept me awake for a lot of the night but it gave me an earworm ‘The March of the Mods’.

I packed up in time to go to Communion at the church next door and then started walking, almost immediately uphill towards Shipham. I hadn’t been going very long before a familiar car drew up alongside and the message, “We were driving and saw Cheddar on the sign and thought of you, so let’s have lunch”. There was a cafe a few yards further on, so lunch with the family it was.

Afterwards the walking was relatively easy, with the occasional steep bit through the woods. This is where the earworm gave me some help as it set the rhythm for my feet.

I walked through the Congresbury Estate and Kings Wood where I enjoyed seeing the bluebells and primroses, and peaceful, with the exception of the aircraft flying out of Bristol Airport.

The camp site – another Camping and Caravan Club Certificated site – was just outside the estate and easy to find.

Walk Day 22 – Wedmore to Cheddar

Saturday 21st Aprìl 2018

5.6 miles. 235.54 total.

A much shorter day today, mainly because I had always planned to take two days to travel between Bridgwater and Cheddar.

The day started by meeting Phil’s wife, Sue. She is the keeper of the chickens and the gardener. We had a discussion about socks, cancer, and what to do with a broody hen. (I had previously thought being broody was a good trait for an egg-laying mammal.)

It had been an interesting night. Firstly the farmer of the field right next to me had sprayed the field at sunset. My tent was about twenty feet from the tractor at one point so I was concerned about being run over (didn’t happen) or of being poisoned (who knows.)

Then I heard crackling and rustling and sniffling and snorting and I wondered if it was badgers or asthmatic rabbits. Obviously I couldn’t see so had to imagine.

What did become obvious overnight is that my shoes, which smell of swamp, are investing everything with their stink, so out they went to ‘air’ overnight. In reality this means to collect dew so they are soggy. The grass was long so it made no difference and my tactic of wearing waterproof socks in the morning only proved that there is no such thing as a truly waterproof sock.

As I set off, confident that my soggy feet would be dry in an hour I could see the clouds coming in.

Wedmore is a pretty town,

I stopped for breakfast, my Post Office stamp, and to put on waterproofs because, you’ve guessed it, the rain came down.

However it was easy walking with more gentle countryside and the occasional nugget to catch my attention.

Eventuality the sun reappeared and I arrived at Cheddar.

With plenty of time to spare I wondered about the wisdom of yet another Camping and Caravan Certified Site, and thought a b&b or hostel room would be a nice treat. Fantasies of hot water and a bathroom combined with fears that I was getting swampy all over. The YHA wasn’t answering the phone and the booking system wasn’t working. I tried the local pub. No room at the inn, at least not in my price range.

So I visited the church, took some photos and sat down to decide where to go next.

Through a series of chance meetings I ended up enjoying Messy Church with tea and sandwiches, and with an offer of a bed for a night. Thank you Hilary, I know it would have been inconvenient, so when I was given information about a better, closer campsite, with a lift there, I gladly accepted.

None of my rules were broken. The site is just behind the church and  I’m retracing my steps in the morning.

And while I was catching up on emails in the last of the sunshine Andy and Alexa, who are in a glamping pod opposite, made me coffee. How good is that? We shared a smile about the comedy value of putting up tents and of watching others do the same.

There has been thunder and lightning since then but I have found hot showers and am now confident that it is only my shoes that smell 🙂

Walk Day 21 – Bridgwater to Wedmore

Friday 20th April 2018

15.33 miles. 229.94 total.

A much longer day than expected because I had, mentally, placed the campsite I was aiming for at the halfway point between Bridgwater and Cheddar. More like three quarters, and the sun shone. And I got burned.

First I crossed the M5, then across flat reclaimed land drained by ditches.

Through the royalist village of Chedzoy with its beautiful church (rather a lot of crowns on show) and a reminder that we once had civil war.

I said the morning office and travelled on through more villages.

I walked alongside, then crossed Kings Sedgemoor Drain. A dog-walking lady told me that the water had been right up to the top of the bank last week, and she had to carry her dachshund over the puddles on the footpath.

The name of the head teacher here made me smile (Mr Bird).

Farmer’s are permitted to plough footpaths as long as they make good afterwards. This field was being harrowed as I arrived and I dodged the tractor to cross the field. Luckily the mud wasn’t too wet.

Shortly after the village of Woolavingon with distant views of Brent Knoll

I caught up with Ed. He is also on a long walk and had camped in the same field as me last night, but the chickens that followed me around ignored him.

Our paths coincided for around five miles and it was pleasant company that made walking easier.

Ed wanted to climb Brent Knoll so we parted company at Mark, which I am told by Helen McGinty, is the longest village in England. Thank you for your contribution to PCRF Helen.

I slogged on and eventually arrived at my destination, once again the only camper. Sunburned and very knee-sore, it was good to stop.

My immediate neighbours are badgers and chickens. I took this photo from my tent in the morning.

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This was the view from my tent into the next field – the one that was sprayed at sunset!

Rest Day in Bridgwater

Thursday 19th April 2018

A few miles of walking today – unplanned. Google and the local bus services are not synchronised. The absence of any information at the bus stops meant that I used Shanks’ Pony instead.

I found the library and a park, and filled myself with food. Otherwise a lazy day.

This is the campsite. As you see the chickens are hoping I bring food.

Walk Day 20 – West Bagborough to Bridgwater

Wednesday 18th April 2018

13.33 miles. 214.61 total.

It shouldn’t have been such a long day but it was hot and dry so I took time to make sure I packed a dry tent. And then it took me an hour or so to adapt to walking. And I got hot.

I saw my first butterflies today.

I made my first proper navigational error today and walked three sides of a square before realising my error. And having walked up the very steep hill (contour line 110 to 235) with wonderful views,

and then down the very steep hill, I was reluctant to retrace the route so found a temporarily flatter alternative.

And it was blessed.

I followed the Macmillan Way West through Cothelstone Park

and found the little church where I had a short rest.

Then back to the hill stuff climbing around the side of Cothelstone Hill and across Merridge Hill to Buncombe Wood and a most excellent cafe/restaurant called The Pines. Proper home-made food. My salmon and spinach quiche was delicious.

None of those were on my original route, so it was a fortunate mistake.

It was a day of panoramas.

The walking after that got flatter and the long stretch into Bridgwater was alleviated by seven trampolining children.

My apologies if I’ve got number wrong, but it was very funny seeing the bodies bouncing up over the fence as I walked towards them. So thank you to Henry, Oscar, Heidi, Marius, Chloe, Ross, Jessica and assorted adults and friends for your welcome, your donations and the tea. It was good to sit down, and I envy your ability to do back flips.

I enjoyed seeing Durfield Reservoir over the hedge.

The final walk around the canal and across the river to my campsite was much less salubrious and I arrived just as the sun was setting.

It’s a rest day tomorrow.

Walk Day 19 – Brendon Methodist Church to West Bagborough

Tuesday 17th April

9.9 miles. 201.28 total.

4am. Yesterday I finished at Brendon Methodist Church, then got a lift to Washford where I caught the bus to Minehead. It’s possible to get back to Washford by public transport but no further. If I were to walk from Washford to my next destination the journey is the same length. But… my rules say I will walk every step from Lands End to John O’Groats so I need to get back to yesterday’s stopping point.

There are two choices:

Continue to the original plan but walk from Washford to BMC and on to Raleghs Cross to complete yesterday’s route, then start walking today’s route. Cost – 5 miles extra today.

Stay in Minehead tonight, leave my kit and take a circular walk from Washford to BMC return today. 10ish miles without a pack. Cost – 1 day, which would have been a day off in Bridgewater.

I’m now going back to sleep on it.

By 10am the solutìon had presented itself. My chauffeur kindly dropped me off at Brendon Methodist Chapel so that I could restart at yesterday’s stopping point. Perfect.

The mist was just starting so I paused to don full waterproofs. Just in time. There was a lot of road walking today and when I did get to use footpaths they were soggier and muddier than any so far. By the end of the day I rinsed mud out of my shoes and socks. Thick floppy sticky mud, runny slippery mud, red mud, black mud, more red mud. The stonier footpaths were streams.

However… trail shoes get wet but they dry relatively quickly (no chance of mine drying anytime soon; it’s still raining) and most stuff washes through.

The scenery is changing gradually and there are good views to be had both near (can you see the black cat?) and far.

Today’s treat was walking through a forest and listening to the West Somerset Railway steam engine in the distance. This part of the route even went under the railway track.

I keep meeting nice people 🙂 As I got close to my destination I moved out of the way of a car, only to meet the driver again at the top of the hill. After discovering that the last ‘pub’ was now a b&b her offer of tea and biscuits was very welcome. As was the opportunity to sit down for a few minutes. Thank you Cathy for the refreshment, company and your donation.

Just around the corner I was stopped again by someone wanting to check that I knew where I was going. The couple turned out to be knowledgeable about my destination and not only confirmed I was on course, “… the path is quite muddy …” but they too made a donation to PCRF. Thank you Carolynn Moore.

It was only about half a mile later that I found the campsite, a flat field (“… the ground is a bit wet …” said the owner) with the nicest garden shed containing toilet and washbasin. It even had bath mats, fresh towels and was spider free.

I had the site to myself and was able to hose the mud off and out of my shoes.

And here are some animals. Just because.

Walk Day 18 – Wheddon Cross to Brendon Methodist Church

Monday 16th April 2018

9.26 miles. 191.38 total.

I was heading for Ralegh Cross but without anywhere to stay, and the pub told me they were closed for two days. My alternative options were looking unappealing when a co-incidence and some lateral thinking, a car journey to Washford and a bus trip left me at Butlins at Minehead. Creativity at it’s best.

The weather today was perfect for walking with cool breezes and sunshine. My extra mileage was created by an attempt at re-routing to Washford that I then had to backtrack quickly (as in, running uphill with full kit) to meet the car. I reached Brendon Methodist Church, a little short of my planned finish at Ralegh Cross before contact was made.

Lots of photos today because the weather was so much better.

Last night I stayed at the recently refurbished and modernised Exmoor House B&B at Wheddon Cross. It was extremely comfortable and thanks to their drying room I was able to pack everything dry this morning, including the tent. Result. And a special thank you to Teri and Austin for offering to taxi me back to Exmoor House tonight and tomorrow. That was kind.

Also to Andy Lea for his donation to PCRF.

Now to spend the evening relaxing and replanning tomorrow’s route.