07 July 2008

Day 21 - Trails, interrogations and a missing destination

Bath to Tormarton - 10/6/08

Today saw a significant milestone in my journey through the country. Up until now the majority of my days have been made up of roads, canals, rights of way and the occasional minor trail. BUT...today saw me join the first of the major national trails, the Cotswold Way, which I will be following for several days. Being a major national trail, the Cotswold Way is excellently waymarked (I could probably have managed without the maps today) and well walked by other intrepid hikers. This means that my experiences of hacking a path through the undergrowth should be behind me (for the time being at least) as the passage of hundreds of pairs of booted feet has already done the job.

Inevitably, the route had one last parting gift before I picked up the Way into Bath. When checking the map the morning before I noticed an old road that would take me directly from the campsite to the outskirts of Bath. I really should know better by now, but I decided to utilise this shortcut and then swiftly regretted it when it turned into a nettly, brambly nightmare after the first mile. I seem to have a talent for picking these seldom used (for seldom read never) routes, which annoyingly have a habit of turning shortcuts into exhausting slogs.

Still, when I finally did reach the start of the Cotswold Way (not the actual start, but the start as far as I was concerned), it made me appreciate the wide open, easy trail even more. Joining a national trail also had other effects. Today was the first day since leaving Lands End, well over 200 miles ago, that I've encountered other hikers. Weirdly, one of the first chaps I bumped into happened to be chair of the local long distance walking club. While he has never done a full end to end, he has done most of the national trails and he seemed to approve of my selection. Having passed my interrogation, I continued to wind my way gradually Northwards.

That is the one problem with the Cotswold Way; it appears to have a real problem going in straight lines and tends to opt for an extra few miles of winding in order to bypass a 50 yard stretch of road. It's something I remember reading about in Mark Moxon's fine publication and now that I'm here, I do see his point. Having spent most of the last 3 weeks walking along roads, I've got no problem with using them in order to cut off some of these redundant twisting sections. That's not to say that I will be abandoning the Way entirely (after all, it is easier on the feet and blessed with some terrific views), but if it starts to veer wildly off course and I can see no major benefit to it, I'm going to look for an alternative.

That quibble aside, the walk today has been exceedingly pleasant although the heat was a tad overpowering again. I never thought I'd say this, but I would actually welcome a spell of cooler weather. Lugging my pack up and down hills tends to warm me up plenty on its own. Nevertheless, everything was going pretty smoothly, right up until I reached Tormarton (my destination for the day), when I realised that I didn't actually know where the campsite was. Actually, campsite is a bit misleading. I'm staying at a B&B that has given me permission to camp in their garden due to a chronic shortage of campsites along this part of the Way.

After a call to HQ (my folks) I had a street name and a grid reference, both of which I located but still to no avail. Every B&B I've ever stayed in has some sort of sign outside, proclaiming it as such and my downfall in this case was that this B&B had absolutely no outward indication of its B&B nature. Assuming it to be just another house in a street full of houses, I walked straight past it several times before giving up and knocking on the first door to ask for directions.

Not knowing that this was the place, it was slightly unnerving when I was greeted with "Ah, you must be Chris, we've been expecting you". After a moment of panic that I'd stumbled across a community of LEJOG stalkers, it was confirmed that I was actually in the right place. Think I'll stick to the official campsites from now on - at least the tents are a bit of a giveaway.

Day 20 - Lethargy......

Chilcompton to Bath - 9/6/08

At last, it seems the weather is finally on my side. Today was another scorcher and whilst this might cause me to sweat even more profusely than usual (and that is bad enough) at least I can chill out in the sunshine after reaching camp. Even better, today turned out to be a pretty short day by my standards, which means I have maximum time to be lazy. The only downside to short days is that it makes writing an interesting blog entry something of a challenge. I suppose I shouldn't complain. After the last few days, it's quite pleasant to have an uneventful walk.

The route for today was largely along the roads, which is far from ideal but at least you can be certain that the way will be clear of excessive foliage. The oppressive heat (I know - I'm never satisfied) did make the going slightly tougher than it ought to have been but it was far from the most challenging day I've had.

Probably the hardest (but certainly the most interesting) part of the day came when I finally abandoned my tarmac friend and took an old byway in order to cut quite a sizeable corner. It started innocently enough; the surface wasn't great but you could still easily drive along it if you took it steady. As I descended further into the valley, small streams started to appear along the road, shallow at first and then progressively deeper and wider so that eventually I found myself walking along an increasingly narrow embankment. To top it all off, there were a series of steep drops where the original road had obviously subsided due to its new watery status.

What surprised me most, as I slowly clambered down this natural obstacle, were the tyre tracks. This track was long past the point that it could be called a road and yet people still seemingly used it as such. I presume it must be used by some local off-roading club, but I suppose its possible that some navigationally challenged but optimistic motorists might have attempted to force their way through. I'm both disappointed and glad not to have been witness to such an act of lunacy. While the attempt would surely be spectacular, being roped into pushing them back up the slope would have seriously eaten into my sunbathing time.