Onwards and upwards and downwards

Giving up my job feels like a big deal. It feels right and ready and proper but it also feels like something that should be marked, celebrated, acknowledged. They don't seem to do cheesy Hallmark cards. Congratulations on turning your back on your successful career. Another door opens, complete with soft focus sunrise. I decided quite a bit ago that I would mark it by doing something which I could not have done over the last thirty years when children and work made their due claims on my time. I am going to walk the Offa's Dyke long distance path.

We live about twenty minutes walk away from the path, twelve miles or so from its Northern end. Ever since we got here the sense that it is just up there, running away south and north down the ridge along the length of Wales, has called out to me. My brother lives about ten minutes away from the path too, right down at the southern end in Chepstow. I love the idea that you could just get up there and start walking and find yourself at the other end of the country.

So at the end of May a friend and I are going to walk it. There has never been a time when I could absent myself from my normal life to do something like this (and it is worth pointing out that even now it does require Ian to be prepared to feed cats and chickens and take care of the house which he has said he will do and someone else to look after my grandson for a couple of Mondays, I am not totally dispensable). I am not totally unfit but I am not extremely fit either and my normal life does not ask me to walk for ten miles or so every day for two or three weeks. I am sure that to your fell running, marathon completing, three peaks challenge types the 177 miles of walking is a mere bagatelle, but to me it is faintly daunting. It needs planning and preparation. I am both sure I can do it and slightly scared. I go onto websites dedicated to walking the path and find hyper competitive men boasting about doing the walk in five days and I think that they will just have to budge over and let us middle aged women in. We will be walking quite slowly and we don't mind stepping to the side of the path as they come powering through but sometimes they will just have to fume silently while we huff and puff up the steep narrow bits. Tough. It's my world too.

So today I had a bit of a panic about the imminence of the walk and my total unpreparedness. I rushed through a morning of work, suddenly made frantic as people realise I am really going and if they want me to finish things there is not much time. Then a speedy drive to Denbigh and a whizz round the supermarket (I know, not small scale, not good, but at least not Tescos) and this afternoon I set off up the hill.

It is odd to walk alone when you are not used to it. There is no distraction in the form of conversation. For a moment it feels strange and lonely and then slowly you settle to it. The trees are still bare but catkins hang from the hazels. The sun is pale and the sky is clear and blue above the ridge. Tiny lambs have appeared in the fields, impossibly small and wobbly on their feet. Even so small they really do run and leap and gambol like a children's picture book, a tangle of legs and tails and bounce. Abruptly as I climb there are no lambs, just heavily pregnant ewes heaving themselves to their feet at my approach. It doesn't take much, just a few metres higher up the hill, but here they are not ready. It is too windy, too high, a couple of weeks further behind on the march towards spring.

Over the high hill the path snakes downwards through woods and fields towards the distant village. The wind blows in my face but there is warmth in the sun. I see no one for an hour or so and then an old farmer moving slowly away across the fields, tweed jacket, cap, two sheepdogs at his heels. A hand painted sign is nailed crookedly to a tree at the side of the path: "Stray dogs on this land will be shot". This is old country: no Barbours, no Shaker kitchens, no shiny 4 by 4s. It is beautiful up here but a hard life. I pass a farmhouse falling back into the earth, slate roof long since taken or blown away, stone walls collapsing, grass growing round the hearth.

Further down there are places which have not been deserted and the path skirts a field up close against a farm which is occupied and cared for. Again there are lambs and ewes. Over the wall in the sunshine a pair of twin lambs are so new their coats are wet and plastered smooth to their sides. They are so close and so small I could almost reach over and put them in my pocket. One stands wobbling against its mother, trying to push for milk. The other, newer one is lying on the grass, still bloody, the mother licking at it. Beside them the afterbirth lies darkly red against the new green of the grass. I am always astonished, every year, by how beautiful lambs are. Sheep are not beautiful, but lambs are fantastically, unfeasibly perfectly beautiful, almost too sweet to be true and yet not a marketing construct, not an overblown illustration, not a piece of foolish sentimentality. This is just what they look like, as perfect and as fleeting as a swallow or a butterfly.

It takes me two and a half hours to walk over the hill, down to the village that I have only previously visited by road, and back up the hill and home again. In places it is steep and hard, I grow warm and out of breath but recover accpetably enough when the path eases again.

I arrive home heartened. One walk is just a start, but maybe I can do it if I practise enough, a rite of passage.

Comments

  1. Your walk sounded lovely. I too am sadly out of shape but my daughter has roped me in on her daily walks. I know you will really enjoy your trek with your friend. Hopefully you will have enough energy to take a camera with you so we can see all of the beautiful sights.

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  2. Hello from Southern California...I recently discovered your blog. I enjoyed your descriptive walk here on this post. I agree with Elizabeth - it would be wonderful to see some photos to!

    I have been attempting to get back into the walking habit recently myself. Wish I had beautiful country hills to walk over, but I'm making do with city streets instead.

    Your upcoming walk from one end of Wales to the other with a friend sounds like a great adventure. I look forward to hearing about it.

    Sara

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  3. Fascinating! Congrats on the freedom to choose daily to live strong. I love the pic of your cottage.

    Last year, I walked 12 miles a day. A far cry from what I'm doing today. I need to return to such habits.

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  4. Oh ... you remind me that I need to start my regular morning walk, too! I've been ignoring it too long. I hope I can start back soon and narate those walks nicely like you did.

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  5. Your long walk sounds like the perfect way to mark your move from working away from home. I'll be very interested to hear about how you do it, where you stay......all the details. I am quite envious of both your courage in quitting and your upcoming long walk.

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  6. What an exciting challenge you have set yourself. I agree, milestones should be marked, that's when we lay down memmories, Margaret

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  7. Yes, you can do it Elizabeth and what a great way to mark your change of direction. It is such a good way of getting i n touch with what is around you too. Good luck xx

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  8. That sounds like a fabulous idea, Elizabeth. What a perfect (and challenging) way to mark your new beginning. I am full of admiration as I could barely stumble up the slightest incline at the moment, let alone Welsh hills. I remember fondly, and sadly, when I used to bounce (well, nearly) up Moel Siabod...
    Loved the description of your walk - took me straight to the Welsh hills in an instant. So lovely at this time of year as the lambs come and the land is coming to life.
    Good luck with your training!

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  9. I am sure you will love every minute of your long distance walk. Husband, who is now 73, tries to complete two long distance walks each year. His favourite by far is the West Highland Way - he came back with some magnificent photos. Good luck with the training!

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  10. Your walk sounded really lovely. Peace oozed out of this post and I am sure that this is the first of many lovely outings.
    Only one thing missing! A camera!

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  11. Offa's Dyke has always fascinated me. It must have taken many, many man hours to build, with just primitive horn diggers etc. And what a powerful King to have been able to organise such a project. I've been on bits of it in the past, mostly around the middle, but alwas my walking days are over now. Wish I had stuck out and done what I wanted to do whan I could. We never know when something is going to be taken away from us.

    But have a wonderful time - and just ignore those big-headed-20-miles-a-day walkers! They miss such a lot, powering on through the countryside!

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  12. Ones sees so much more on foot - and also alone. Things seem to be in sharper focus and there is a feeling of being in touch with the landscape rather than detached in a tin box on wheels or engaged in conversation.

    The path passes here about a mile away - I hope you'll call in or I could meet you with flasks of tea and sticky buns.

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  13. A lovely thing to do as you move into your new life Elizabeth. You will have, now, the gift of time.

    Lambs are adorable - by what strange alchemy do they become boring sheep?

    You described it so well, I really don't think we needed pictures - they formed in my head as I read.

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  14. Wow - what a great adventure! I think it's great when suddenly new possibilities open up in front of you. I think you will get much more out of this planned walk than you imagine.
    Some of us will be with you in spirit every step of the way.

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  15. What a beautiful post Elizabeth. Such lovely descriptions and heartfelt sentiments. I do hope that all will go well for you when you stop work. The walking holiday sounds like just the thing to do.
    Thank you for sharing this walk with us.
    CKx

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  16. Hello Elizabeth! What a lovely walk and so much nicer to "train" this way rather than slogging away in a gym!!!

    Am very jealous of your planned expedition - something I would have liked to do but, sadly, am not up to it. However, I will charge you to take tonnes of photos and blog in minute detail so that I can share it with you.xx

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  17. Elizabeth, You have a marvelous idea about how to mark your life-changing decision.

    I so enjoyed reading about your walk upwards and downwards. Hoping that you will be keeping a regular journal for the next ... oh say, six months. I did that after leaving a very corporate career, and found my gradual transformation very interesting.

    Someone else has requested pictures, too. May I second that motion?

    xo

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  18. I have been waiting for this update on your leaving work and it was certainly worth the wait. I cannot do long (or short) walks anymore and so instead I will vicariously live this lovely walk through you. I was walking every step of the way with you and could feel it in my bones and my mind's eye. Thank you. Ruth

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  19. Never mind the power-walkers. Think of all the things you'll see as you amble along - they'll miss them as they scoot by.
    May you enjoy lots of walks preparing and then feel suitably fit when the time comes.

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  20. great idea to have an immediate BIG thing to do to mark the change in your life. AND you'll have your friend with you. AND you'll be able to tell us all about it. Comfortable shoes are an absolute must. 177 miles very impressive sounding from this corner of hte world.

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  21. I think it sounds wonderful. I've always wanted to do it but have failed to find the time or energy.

    To help you along, come over to mine for a moment and pick up an award! x

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  22. Sounds fabulous and I am sure you will do it.

    My advise would be, make sure you have great boots, well worn in before hand, natural fibre socks (angora is amazing) and lots of layers to wear that you can pull off or pull on as needed.

    Look forward to hearing all about it!

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  23. I admire the way you are living consciously; accepting, embracing the changes. I look forward to future posts as you chronicle your new life.

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  24. What a fantastic thing to do. You're so right, these things deserve to be marked in some way. Funnily enough I've always fancied the sound of the Offa's Dyke walk. I'll be marching alongside you in spirit.

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  25. What a great plan! I had a romantic idea of walking the Cornwall coastal path when I was a teenager, but my more pragmatic best friend decided that it would be too difficult to organise, so we ended up cycling around Cheshire on a tandem for a long weekend instead. I still regret not doing the more adventurous thing. Good for you!

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  26. Sounds brilliant - get a good pair of comfy boots (Brasher get the best reviews - and we sell loads of boots!), and don't worry about the power-walkers, you're there to enjoy te experience, the beauty of the countryside, and have a darned good chat. And the sense of achievement at the end - fab.
    Good luck, wish I could come with you! Even lazy old me is almost tempted!
    xx

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  27. Just loved your descriptions of the lambs and all the beautiful spring countryside. I too love Offa's Dyke, although I only really know the middle Shropshire bits... a treat for you when you get there :-)

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  28. I've always wanted to do this walk too. My sister and aunt are great walkers regularly doing the coast to coast Scotland walk. Maybe when I give up work I shall find time to do it but it's hard enough to take off more than a few days. Good luck to you and I look forward to the blogs. meanwhile get fit fast.

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  29. What an absolutely beautiful post, and the very best of luck with your life-without-having-to-go-to-work, and for your mammoth walk too. I will be thinking of you as you prepare for it, and following all you have to say.

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  30. I think anyone who lives anywhere near should come and do a bit with us, and yes please mountainear to flask and buns and moral support! Would be great to share it.

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  31. Sounds like you will have an amazing, empowering adventure...Savor every step!

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  32. Good luck and it should be wonderful that time of year. Walking IS brilliant, clears your brain as well as keeping your lungsheartlegsthighs in condition!

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  33. You're so right - life changing milestones need to be marked in an important way.

    Like many others I started off reading this post thinking that some pictures would be lovely, but I now think they would get in the way of your wonderful descriptions and the pictures that formed in my head. I felt like I was right there beside you. Marvellous stuff.

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  34. Thank you for doing this wonderful walk and sharing it with us. I can feel your sense of joy and trepidation and love that you are starting to train for it with excursions around your neighborhood. It makes me want to come and join you and encourage you. Take pictures for us!!

    The newborn lambs are not something one sees every day!!

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  35. Well done and what a fitting rite of passage to mark the decision to leave paid employment to setting out on your own. I love being on my own when I'm running.

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  36. Of course you can do it - this is just the beginning - why not do that same walk every day for the next week or two - then you will see how much your fitness has inmproved - and at the same time you will be able to inform us of the changes in that same piece of landscape - those pregnant ewes will all have given birth - you'll be a new woman at the end of it! Congratulations on having the courage ot leave work and get a new life going. And good luck with the walk.

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  37. The thing that always strikes me about your posts is the way you seem utterly peaceful and calm. I wish I were that way!

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  38. Wonderful! I was with you all the way. I love walking there's something so connecting yet freeing. For me walking is allows me space in my head and in the world. I would love to walk Offa's Dyke!

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  39. What a wonderful gift to yourself. The perfect combination of freedom and discipline. Although it is not something I have ever wanted to do - reading your post I was ever so slightly envious of you and your friend.
    I don't understand how I have arrived so late to this post, very confusing,
    K

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  40. I've been reading for several months now...and thoroghly enjoy your blog.
    I wish you luck with this new turn in your life !
    Pop on over to my blog, I've left you an award....

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  41. Late as usual to read your blog, but as good as ever. Your descriptions are so good and the chance to step out of the everyday life box is so fantastic.. us too one day [hopes].
    Happy walking and look forward to your reports.

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  42. Congrats on all counts!! Love your blog and i am now following!

    Please take a peek at mine: http://ryans-garden.blogspot.com/

    Hope you like!

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  43. I loved this post. All of it, your grit at walking the trail, and the descriptions of the land, the people, and the lambs..Thank you for sharing this.
    Your going to have such an amazing time, body and spirit!
    You live in place that I have only dreamed of visiting, walking a path I know from my history books...please do take pictures, it would be so cool.
    Happy spring!

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  44. Brilliant! What a great way to start a new life. I love the Offa's Dyke (give Bishop's Castle a wave for me as you pass) and I'm dead jealous.

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  45. Hi, I,m cottonreel. retirement is pure magic

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