Llanvetherine to Hay on Wye
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.
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.