Saturday, 20 June 2009

Llanvetherine to Hay on Wye

Sunday 31st May

12 miles, 9.10 to 5.00, calories used 1126

The reality of long distance walking kicked in: my blister was so enormous it was too huge for the tiny Compede plasters I had optimistically brought along and needed one of Erica's larger ones; I had skimped on the sun cream yesterday and the backs of my calves were glowing red and warm even through my walking trousers. Cover up day.


The day started with the compulsory big breakfast and a fairly gentle walk to a beautiful little church, St Cadoc's.


Britain is full of these beautiful ancient buildings. What will happen to them all I wonder as church attendance falls off and they become unable to sustain a congregation? I am not a religious person but a well used church has a lovely feel, peaceful, warm and sustaining. This one had an extraordinary carved beam, an amazing find in a tiny church which must always have been tucked away in its backwater.





More walking on farmland took us to Pandy and then the beginning of the climb up Hatterrall Ridge. I had pondered about how to do this stretch when I was planning the walk. Because we had not got as far as Pandy the previous day, walking the whole length of the ridge was impossible. Reorganising the first two days of walking to ensure we got to Pandy would have led to two long days when we were finding our feet (or our blisters) and even if we had managed that the walk from Pandy to Hay on Wye is seventeen and a half miles, beyond what I thought we could do. So I had settled on coming down from the ridge to split the walk.


As we started to ascend I started to think this was a very stupid idea. The ascent is steep, the views breathtaking and the descent over the side of the ridge looked a long way down but we were committed now. We nearly missed the stone marker showing the path down to Longtown. We had asked a fellow walker if he knew where it was and he didn't. We had been looking for the stone for about twenty minutes and had just about decided that we must have missed it when we saw him up ahead waving and pointing. Without that we would have turned around and landed ourselves with a very long and miserable day. Walkers are very helpful to each other like that. It is similar with sailors and campers I have found. I suppose you offer the help you would like to receive yourself.


It was a very long way down and we longed for an enterprising farmer to come steaming up on a quad bike offering lifts to the pub but it didn't happen. The day ended with chips and lasagne and wine outside in the sunshine, backs firmly to the view of the huge climb back up to the ridge. We could think about that in the morning.

Monday 1 June

15 miles, 9.00 to 5.00, calories used 1207


This was the day we were to get to Hay on Wye, a small town on the Welsh border which has transformed itself into a place of pilgrimage by virtue of its bookshops and its Literary Festival. Hay was also to provide us with our first rest day, assuming we got there. Four long days of walking had seemed daunting. When I was planning the walk I thought that if we managed to get to Hay we would probably be able to do the whole thing, on the basis that we were getting fitter as we went. First of all though we faced the long climb back up to the ridge.


As always things looked better in the morning. Fuelled by cereal and eggs we steamed back up the hill and soon were walking high above the world with only buzzards and Welsh mountain ponies for company. To one side was England, spread out for miles with its small fields, stands of oak and farmhouses.


To the other was Wales, the folds of the Black Mountains beautiful, high and empty.

Ridge walking is fabulous. You are up, so you don't have to climb, meaning you don't have to puff and ache and stop to pretend to look at the view. And you can see for miles. The day was hot, perhaps almost too hot for walking, but up on the ridge there was a gentle cool breeze. It is bleak up there I suppose and in bad weather it must be harsh but we were lucky and we bowled along on top of the world.

Towards the end of the day we met a walker sitting by the side of the path with his map out and stopped for a chat. After a few minutes of swapping stories he asked us where were going to.

"Hay on Wye," we said.

He looked surprised. "Then you are going the wrong way."

Now I have had a lifetime of being wrong if Ian and I ever disagree about where we are so just for a moment I felt a flicker of horror that somehow of other I had totally lost it. Then logic kicked in. We knew where we had come from and a ridge is a bit like a one way street. There is not a lot of room for getting it wrong. Alngside that, the views of mountains to one side and farmland to the other and the sun on our backs all showed we were heading north, as we should be. Momentary panic over, we tried to persuade him. I even got my compass out but he was not interested in taking it or looking at it. Eventually we said goodbye, cheerily indicating that we were carrying on regardless and leaving him clearly thinking we were mistaken.

A few miles further on he caught us up and came to thank us for putting him right, with a mixture of good grace, embarrassment and angry frustration with himself that he could have made a mistake like that. We tried not to be impossibly smug, we tried to think there but for the grace of God go any of us, but we were pretty damn pleased with ourselves really.

And arriving in Hay on Wye we found ourselves in a fabulous B and B, Tinto House, with friendly hosts inviting us to sit in their glorious garden. We showered, we sat in the sun. All was well with the world.

22 comments:

  1. That all sounds so wonderful and satisfying. Hope your blisters are all healed now. The views are absolutely breathtaking. Can't wait to hear more.

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  2. I really envy you. I have gotten to do a lot of things in my life, but a hike like that I could never imagine taking on. Your journal is so descriptive and detailed its like seeing a movie. My husband's ancestory is Welsh. Blessings
    QMM

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  3. Sounds wonderful - well done you two. Looking forward to th next instalment and whatever happens from here on in it sounds as though its been an unforgettable experience.

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  4. I enjoyed this second installment. I imagine it must have been very hard to climb down the ridge, knowing that you'd have to go all the way back up in the morning. I had a look at the B&B site - you must have been so happy to land there!

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  5. What a wonderful walk and a wonderful experience.
    Glad you didn't turn round when that man told you that you were heading the wrong way!
    looking forward to the next installment!

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  6. Those views from the ridge are stunning. I particularly liked England's patchwork landscape. (I tried to enlarge but blogger wasn't playing.)

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  7. Stunning photos - what a great walk. I am tempted to do a bit of it and would love the walk along the ridge - would need to get in some practice for the hill climbs!!!

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  8. I'm really enjoying you walk!
    Thank you

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  9. i cannot believe how long your walks are. man, we were hurting in wicklow at 10-11 miles a day and you went much farther.

    and good for you for not panicking when he told you you were going the wrong way. i would have believed him and started to cry and then turned around.

    i am really loving taking this walk with you except for the blister. compedes rock! wish you'd brought bigger ones.

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  10. I do so hope you will find my comment.
    Thank you for popping over to my blog and leaving such a friendly comment.
    As you know I too live in this wonderful region.
    And I too have come out of a dark time, twice, for 2 different reasons. There's light at the end of the tunnel, I promise.
    I must go downstairs and cook some lunch now, but I will be back.

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  11. I bet you are feeling cock-a-hoop that you did it in spite of the blisters - and oh the joy of being right about where you were going. I have really enjoyed reading about it.

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  12. That looks like beautiful countryside! I used to love walking in high places. Your nourney sounds so interesting - first nudists and then a directionally challenged man!

    Can't wait for the next instalment!

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  13. Your pictures are glorious - and just around the corner from me so it's lovely read of familiar territory. Well done for doing the walk.

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  14. Do hope he blisters are better. I am sure the walk hasn't been better described. Look forward to the next instalment.

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  15. All I can say is 'Oh wow!' I feel as if we are all walking along with you. Thank you for your blog, it's lovely and inspiring to read.

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  16. Oh how I love that countryside, thank you so much for taking us with you.
    Carole

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  17. I'm following your walk with interest and enjoying the photos too. Hay on the Wye is a place I'd love to spend some time in someday, book lover than I am.

    I was in north Wales a couple of weeks ago but only for a couple of days....on a tour. Wales is gorgeous; I want to come back someday.

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  18. How unusuals that a man to admit he's wrong ! HA
    I'm loving this journey hurry up xx

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  19. Big relief that you didn't take his advice - you might still be there! Blisters notwithstanding, you are painting a picture of something that I think I might like to attempt - which is almost unheard of (as I prefer running to walking!)

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  20. Wonderful stuff, Elizabeth. Where to start commenting - could easily end up writing a post back. Well done for coping with a nasty blister - it can make you feel very miserable so not surprised you felt a bit glum at the downhill ascent. You picked a good time to ridge walk, glad conditions were benign. Glad too, that your fellow walker came back to acknowledge that you were right.

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  21. Many thanks for such a beautiful post with such stunning pictures. Churches will survive, they have been there forever, they will continue to exist. And so will religion, do not fret.

    Greetings from London.

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  22. I need to adopt your passion for walking. I used to walk to work, but walking just to revel in nature is an alluring proposition. And your descriptive powers make me want to dig out my walking sneakers at once!

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