02 July 2009

Day 26 - Classics, Treats and an Angry Bovine

Tewkesbury to Worcester - 15/06/09

The one downside to a tent as a form of temporary accommodation, is that in terms of sound proofing it is somewhat lacking. Normally this isn't too much of a problem as my ear plugs (probably one of the cheapest and yet most essential purchases of my entire journey thus far) do a sterling job of blocking out the sounds of the countryside (and the sound of my alarm, but that’s another matter entirely) and I'm usually so worn out from walking that I'm asleep in moments. Last night however was slightly different, a combination of a short day and a monumental racket from the wedding party being held mere yards from my fabric shelter meant that I didn't sleep a wink until the wee hours of the morning. I did however get to relive the school discos of my youth by being bombarded with classics such as 'The Time Warp', 'The Twist' and 'The Birdy Song' all at brain meltingly loud volume. Peaceful it was not, but on the plus side I had another nice short day today and even better I have a nice swanky hotel in which to relax this evening.

The reason for the short day and opulent accommodation are one and the same, tomorrow is my 24th birthday and to celebrate my folks have come down to visit and treat me to a night in plush surroundings. Hurrah! This meant that I had the rather odd situation (well for me anyway) of having a fixed finish time for today’s hike. Usually I just set off at some point once I've packed away my lodgings and get to my destination whenever I get there. Today however as a pre-birthday treat I decided I'd have a nice short day and so arranged for a pick up at 2:30 regardless of where I might be (well presuming I'm not in the middle of a field somewhere).

Today I took my first steps along the Severn Way, a trail which as the name suggests follows the winding course of the river Severn. Always a bit apprehensive when starting on a new trail, as my experiences in Cornwall and Devon have left me a tad sceptical about the walkability (hurrah for made up words!) of footpaths in this part of the country. It turns out that I had nothing to fear. Besides a small issue with a broken step on the very first stile (which ended up requiring something of a vault to clear) and a couple of short sections of rampant undergrowth, the stroll along the river turned out to be a real pleasure. One small hiccup in this, which had nothing to do with the Severn Way itself, was caused by one intractable bull that thought it would be amusing to park itself in front of the only exit to a field. As I approached it began to snort, stamp and generally look rather unhappy which would generally be enough to have me seriously reconsidering my choice of route. Sadly in this instance there really was no other choice but to gingerly sneak my way past, whilst preparing myself to leap over the hedge if it took so much as a single step in my direction. Obviously, given that I'm writing this now I clearly survived unscathed, but it's not an experience I shall relish repeating.

After my encounter with the local wildlife, it was really little more than a matter of getting to the nearest lane and tromping along until my designated pickup time. Helpfully this coincided nicely with my arrival at a little village which makes remembering where to begin again tomorrow slightly easier. But that’s a problem for tomorrow, for now I'm going to make the most of my luxurious surroundings and go soak my walk weary legs in the jacuzzi. Hurrah!

Day 25 - Sloth, Stares and a Short Stroll

Cheltenham to Tewkesbury - 14/06/09

To make up for my unscheduled early departure yesterday, this morning I seized the (somewhat rare) opportunity to lay in until lunchtime. It's the first proper lie-in I've had for quite some time and certainly the first I've had on a walking day. I've been able to get away with the wanton bout of laziness however as my walk today from Cheltenham to the picturesque town of Tewkesbury was little more than an afternoons stroll. Nevertheless despite the low mileage I decided to play it safe and stick to the lanes for the day as the thoughts of yesterday's foliage filled footpaths were still fresh in my mind.

It's rather tricky to think of something to write about an afternoon trundling along the lanes, but one thing that I have noticed today is the stares of the drivers. If the motorists in this part of the world are anything to go by then walkers must be a rare species indeed. I realise that dressed as I am in my full hiking regalia I do sort of stand out from the crowd, but it doesn't make it any less unnerving when the occupants of every passing vehicle are treating you like some sort of mobile exhibit. I suppose it's another reason (if one was needed) for avoiding the roads where possible and it was with this thought in mind that I decided to take a shortcut across some fields on the outskirts of Tewkesbury. This decision then proceeded to bite me right in the ass when I hoofed across said field to find that there was no way out save the way that I came in. It was clear that once upon a time there had indeed been a stile but at some point it must have been damaged and the owner of this particular field had decided that the best way to repair it was with lashings of barbed wire. Helpful it was not.

I really can't wait to get up into the peak district where the sight of a backpack is more the norm than the exception. That's not to say that I'm not enjoying my time in Southern England (the Cotswold Way is just one of the highlights of the last few weeks), but I'm getting a little tired of of feeling quite so out of place all of the time.

26 June 2009

Day 24 - Evictions, Disturbances and an Absence of Manners

Painswick to Cheltenham - 13/06/09

Didn't really get the best of starts today to be completely honest. After confirming with my B&B hosts over breakfast that checkout would be at 10:30 I found myself unceremoniously expelled from my room at 10:05. To make matters worse I was right in the middle of packing my pack for the day and my pleas for another 5-10mins to get everything straightened out fell on deaf ears. My gracious 'hosts' didn't even have the decency to wish me well on my journey but instead retreated back to their TV in the lounge and left me to see myself and my armful of possessions out. Still it gave me the chance to experience completing my packing from the comfort of a park bench in true hobo style. Now all I need is a knotted hanky on a stick.

Naturally this spontaneous bout of rudeness didn't put me in the best of moods for the remainder of the day, but thankfully the now much flatter Cotswold Way did go someway towards soothing my ruffled feathers. Alas, this afternoon saw me bid a final farewell to the Way and after bidding it a fond farewell (and a promise to re-walk it in full some day) I joined the somewhat less fantastic Gloucestershire Way. Maybe the well walked and well maintained footpaths of the Cotwolds have spoiled me, but this afternoons foray on the Gloucestershire Way was a real pain. Every trail was choked with clinging vegetation and naturally most of this turned out to be of the stinging variety.

Now, after nearly four weeks on the road I've understandably become rather adept at spotting a stile lurking amongst the undergrowth. Credit then must be given to the Gloucestershire Way for managing to conceal one so completely that I passed within 5 yards of it (several times) without ever becoming aware of it's existence. After vainly searching up and down half a mile of hedgerow for some considerable time (and debating the possibilities of successfully vaulting a 5 foot hedge) I did finally manage locate the devious little thing. I then set about my usual tactic of using improvised trekking pole machetes to clear myself a path through the stinging shrubberies so I could finally be on my way once again. In my mind, this not only prevents me from my legs being stung to buggery, but also provides something of a public service to any poor hikers following in my wake (unlikely in this case I reckon). Apparently the farmer who interrupted my pruning session would beg to differ. I was mid hack when he popped his head over the hedge and asked if I would mind keeping the noise down. Two things baffled me about this statement. Firstly my trekking pole chopping was hardly what you would call noisy in the first place and secondly, I was surrounded on all sides by open farmland so who exactly was I disturbing? I managed to refrain from mentioning that maybe if he maintained the footpath a little then ramblers such as myself would no longer have to disturb his empty fields. Ah well, here's hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Day 23 -


25 June 2009

Day 22 - Lords, Ladies and a Weary Walker

Tormarton to North Nibley - 11/06/08

Having said only yesterday that I shall be sticking to official camp sites from now on, tonight I am once again in the garden of a B&B. Unlike yesterday however my accommodation here in North Nibley (oddly I don’t recall seeing a South Nibley or even an East or West for that matter) would be difficult to miss for all but the most unobservant rambler. I find myself this evening pitched in the gardens of a grand 3-storey country manor and whilst the owner really couldn’t be nicer, my little tent feels somewhat at odds with the opulent surroundings. In fact the whole town seems to have an air of wealth about it, which is not something I was anticipating. I was surprised to find that the local pub that I sauntered into in my usual state of post-walk dishevelledness (yes I agree, that’s probably not a real word) was serving up top quality nouveau cuisine. Granted my minted lamb cutlets in red wine jus were delicious but after a day on the road I would have really preferred quantity of quality tonight.

Its not that the walk has been particularly long today (14-15 miles, sort of average really) but its been pretty warm again and the Cotswold Way has led me a merry dance up and down the hills all day. Nevertheless, I’m quite enjoying the Cotswold Way thus far and I’m even willing to forgive its somewhat eccentric course as long as that course continues to be a clear and trouble free as it has so far. I can understand the reasons behind its meandering journey North, this is certainly an area with a lot of history and the Way does its best to take it all in. There really is only so many forts, monuments, statues, churches, etc that one man can take in a single day however so I’ll admit to once again taking to the roads for an hour or two in order to cut a bit of a corner. I do feel a little disappointed to be missing these occasional stretches but I guess from a slightly mercenary point of view, my goal is to get to John O’ Groats and so any path that doesn’t head Northwards (however excellent) has to be considered expendable. Besides it gives me a good reason to come back and walk the Way in totality sometime in the future, preferably without the giant backpack though.

As to the bits that I did actually walk today, they were once again very pleasant, with the possible exception of the climb out of Wotton Under Edge which it has to be said was a complete killer. There does seem to be an annoying tendency for the hardest physical challenge of the day to occur within the last hour or so of the walk. Maybe it just seems more difficult because of the several hours of hiking that proceed it, or perhaps the chap who wrote my guide book is a touch on the sadistic side (I think this has already been firmly established with the Tiverton to Taunton fiasco). Either way, I suppose it makes me appreciate it all the more when I finally get to put my feet up at the end of the day and that feeling alone is almost worth the extra effort.