Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Oh no it is raining again. A couple of days ago we had such a lot of rain the path in front of the house turned to a stream.

The land drains worked a treat and all the water from behind the house came spurting out and rushing down the hill.

Let's try to take a positive approach here: the hills are a glorious green. The vegetable garden does not need watering, including the new beds in the field which require the humping of heavy watering cans. The onion crop for some reason is the best ever. The hens are all laying, the Welsumer and the Frisian bantam having at long last given up their joint attempt at going broody, much of which involved sitting in the nesting box together, taking turns to sit on each other's head. I am about to go and see my daughter and son in law and my parents, which, as Ian and I are both going, will mean a lot of my favourite people all together. The roof is not leaking (fingers and toes crossed here).

But I do long for meals outside under the yew tree and a warm wind and lying down on the grass and watching the sky. Maybe next week.

I shall try to console myself with the thought that this was a only a couple of days ago.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


A great blog from Around my Kitchen Table about invisibility in older women and the sacking of Arlene Phillips has got me thinking. Get over to her blog for some fascinating thoughts on both of these subjects and apologies to her for nicking the idea as a topic for a blog. It just struck such a chord with me and is something I found myself thinking about quite a few times as I have grown older.

When you are a teenager the last thing you want is invisibility, unless your parents are being excrutiatingly embarrassing. My best friend and I used to walk our family dogs after school every evening and when we were about fourteen we used to wear our shortest shorts (this was New Zealand so it was warm!) or tiniest skirts and the aim was to see how many wolf whistles or beeps of car horns we could get on our circuit. Looking back there seems an innocence about it. Look at me, look at me! our behaviour said but we hated it if anyone actually stopped or tried to talk to us. That was not the game. We were practising, playing, trying out our new female power in a way that now seems somewhat reckless but then was more funny than anything else. It was a game.

In your twenties you might sometimes love a bit of invisibility. A good looking girl is public property in all sorts of ways. Builders shout and whistle. Complete strangers tell you to "Cheer up, love. It may never happen." Older men press up to you on crowded tubes and won't meet your eye even when you have the space to stamp hard but discreetly on their foot. Sometimes it is great. You are dressed up and made up and know you look good and the glances as you walk by affirm your general gorgeousness. Sometimes you just wish you could go for a run without men calling out as you pass. This double edged sword is with you through much of your thirties and then, sometime in your late thirties or early forties, you begin to feel the first early signs of the dwindling of your visibility. If you are happy and busy, maybe with children, maybe not, this doesn't seem to matter too much. You can still turn it on if you want to and you are too busy living your life to notice very often that you are being ignored or to mind very much when you do.

And then in your late forties and early fifties comes the next stage: actual invisibility. You can go into shops and buy petrol and find that people don't seem to look at you, don't notice you at all. You thought when you were younger that the kindness and jollity of the older man in the bike shop was just a reflection of the fact that the world was a nice place. Now you realise that people like talking to young and pretty girls (and why not?) and what you understood as a general benevolence, if you were cheery and naive like me, was actually something else. Not necessarily something bad, just something else.

At work I found the combination of the sharp suit, the high heels and seniority meant it was easy to be listened to and hence to be visible. Outside work, in the jeans and the t shirt and the trainers and the ubiquitous fleece, I just blend into the background these days. And astonishingly, I really like it. There is a freedom in invisibility, in not being looked at, in not being noticed, that is wonderfully releasing. As a woman in her fifties you can, if you like, wander about like the Invisible Man without his bandages. You can look at things in shops without being asked every five minutes whether you need any help. You can read half a book in Waterstones without anyone noticing you are doing it. You can smile at small children in the street without their parents glaring at you for being a stranger.

And then if you like you can take the invisibility cloak off. You can adopt your ringing complaining voice and people's heads turn. (You might not get good service but that won't be any different from anyone else!) You can put your lipstick on and have a blow dry and pretend to be someone who might spend some money and miraculously appear in shops again. You can wear your eccentric clothes and have people glance at your green shoes or your green feet. I never realised how much I would like having both options!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

What's this? A blog which is not about walking!

It seems so long since I blogged about anything other than walking so time for a general catch up.

It's four weeks since I got back. A week of frantic revision for my Welsh exam took care of the first week. The second week involved a flying visit to London to visit younger daughter and to see her new flat with her first garden, full of pots of flowers, tomatoes and strawberries and an unconscionable amount of ground elder. Week three brought elder daughter and her husband to stay. She is expecting her first child and struggling with sickness extending way beyond the traditional early three months. It was lovely to see them and to indulge my need to look after her a bit. By the time she went she was still feeling nauseous in the mornings but was a little less tired in the rest of the day and her voice had lost that thin, exhausted quality. Then we had friends to stay last weekend and people have been coming in and out of the holiday cottage every weekend. This weekend we have younger son and his wife coming for the weekend. The pleasures of a big family. I love seeing them all and the sense of people coming and going.

And what have I been doing in between feeding people?

I just managed to get to the elderflowers in time to make elderflower cordial and gooseberry and elderflower jam.

I have weeded and weeded and weeded some more.

These poppies have been all over the side garden in such quantities that I haven't been able to decide if they are a weed or a blessing. Each flower is so lovely and fleeting and there are so many different colours - pinks and purples and sudden flares of red - and forms - simple singles and flamboyant doubles more like paeonies than poppies. But the foliage, a lovely glaucous grey, quickly turns brown and blotchy on the lower leaves and looks a real mess. I have not had the heart to pull them up so each has had its brief day of glory and then has been lifted before they have chance to set seed. They are not a week like creeping buttercup, nettles, couch grass and all the hundreds of other weeds which throng my garden. I may just have an embarrassment of riches.

I have sown more carrots and picked broad beans and peas and raspberries.

I have spent much time thinking about dieting while eating exactly the same as usual. I have looked after my grandson and taken my father in law visiting. I have done my yoga and loved it. I have booked to take my parents to see War Horse at the National Theatre. I have missed my walking but have had no time to do anything about it.

Time to concentrate on the summer. This will be easier if it stops raining.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Llanymynech to Prestatyn

Wednesday 20th June

Four Crosses to Carreg y Big

13 miles, 1091 calories used, 8.45 to 4.30

No more rest days now, just five days of walking to the coast. I was fired up with the knowledge that on Friday night I would be sleeping at home and we both felt stronger and fitter. Five days walking, no problem.

To Llanymynech took us along the Montgomery Canal, about as different from the hills both behind and ahead of us as could be - ducks, swans, irises and water lilies, beautiful houses with gardens stretching down to the water. Then we began to climb, unable to see the views today in the haze. We were passed as we climbed by three walkers going at what seemed to us an unsustainable speed, the woman at the front setting a scorching pace, a man who seemed to be her partner just about keeping up and another man puffing at the back who looked as though he would far rather have been walking with us!

By lunchtime it was raining again but not too hard and we trudged on to Carreg y Big. Great drying room and good breakfast served by the owner already dressed in his suit and white shirt ready for a business day. He intends to leave his job to focus full time on the bed and breakfast business. Best of luck to him!

Thursday 11th June
Carreg y Big to Froncysyllte

7 miles, 715 calories used, 9.30 to 3.00

A half day walk which took us past Chirk Castle which has been occupied for 700 years and then over the aqueduct at Pontcysyllte, an extraordinary aqueduct built by Thomas Telford in 1795.

You can walk over it and we did, no wobbles!

You meet all sorts of people when you are walking and most people stop and chat. We loved the fact that we met so few who were walking the whole of the Offa's Dyke walk. It made us feel special! This morning we met a couple who were walking the Northern end from Prestatyn to Knighton. She was carrying a tiny wooden handled umbrella and no pack. He had a small pack supplemented by a Marks and Spencer carrier bag. It takes all sorts.

Froncysyllte brought the only disappointing B and B of the walk in a house so cluttered with a mixture of beautiful and terrible things that we did not know where to look. A yappy dachshund bounced and snapped at my heels in the kitchen. With tremendous self control I did not kick it.

Friday 12 June

Froncysyllte to Llandegla

12 miles, 1072 calories used, 8.45 to 3.30

This was a day of two halves with a great morning only marred by a slightly dodgy breakfast with scrambled eggs so watery they may not have contained any egg at all but might have been concocted from custard powder and lukewarm water. The breakfast and the yapping dogs were soon left behind though and we climbed up above Llangollen with views first of Castell Dinas Bran and then climbing ever higher to a stretch which the guide book suggested needed good balance.

We stopped for lunch at World's End, which sounds a harsh and unlovely place but was in fact very beautiful high in the forest with a stream rushing and jumping down the hillside.

The afternoon was different: high barren moorland where we walked on duck boards above peaty bogs followed by a long descent through a conifer forest supplying wood for paper making, utterly dark, utterly devoid of birdsong, an industrial wasteland masquerading as a wood.

But then Llandegla and a welcome bench outside the post office, Ian arriving with the car to whisk us home and my own bed, my own shower, the garden so thronging with the weeds of the past fortnight it was important not to look. After all the walk was not yet done.

Saturday 13th June

Llandegla to home

16 miles, 1387 calories used, 9.00 to 5.50 and more up and down and up again than you could shake a stick at.

The big day - up and out from Llandegla and then along the Clwydian range, hard walking the guidebook said but it was all familiar, to me at least, as I had done all my practice wallking up here. And so beautiful and so familiar and this was really the day for walking home.

I loved this day, all of it, up the hills through the heather and whinberry and over the springy grass on the ridge. I loved the huge views out across the Vale of Clwyd and the point when I could just see our house far away , clinging to the side of its valley, just seen through the trees. I loved it even when by half past four my feet cried to be let out of their boots. I loved eating my sandwiches, made by Ian with our own home made bread.

I loved the great swell of Moel Arthur and the other Bronze and Iron Age hillforts which make up the ridge. I even loved the swarms of people climbing Moel Famau because they all melted away as we carried on along the ridge, leaving us still walking and the sky larks sang and the wind blew warm.

Coming into our kitchen, hot and tired at the end of the day was a great thing.

Sunday 14th June

Home to Prestatyn

15 miles, 1399 calories used, 7 hours of walking

Now in my head I had really finished when I came through the kitchen door the day before so it was a bit of a trial to drag myself away from home and carry on walking, which was, unbelievably, necessary as of course the long distance path finishes in Prestatyn and not at my house.

It was a hot day and a long one, enlivened by Chris's company but still a long, hot slog out to the sea.

But eventually we could see the sea.

And we made it.

We used these.

It is a fabulous walk. If you are at all interested I would say do it. Beautiful, varied, full of buttercup meadows and high hills and curious cows, it shows you that it is indeed to possible to walk the length of a country (or at least this country), every step under your own steam. Fantastic.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Drewin Farm to Llanymynech

Sunday 7th June

9m miles, 698 calories used, 9.00 to 2.00

Another morning of pouring rain, too wet to see, too wet to stop, we just slogged on through the rain, water bouncing off the roads, swelling the paths with puddles, too wet to stop for our ten minute rests. The whole world was streaming with water and that included me, right down to my underwear.

We found a tumbledown shelter for our lunch, a brick shed with an old tin roof with a hole in it. We sat on some logs just out of reach of the splash of the rain through the gash in the roof and ate our sandwiches and changed our socks again. There was nothing to do but walk and to walk at speed so we arrived at Heath Cottage near Forden way too early to a warm and easy welcome. There was a boiler room to hang our sodden clothing in and newspaper with which to stuff our boots. There was a warm lemon cake and tea and, after a shower, a fire in the living room and newspapers to read and a chat. Bliss.

Monday 8th June

Forden to Llanymynech

14 miles, 1144 calories used, 9.30 to 5.00

This looked like a hard day on paper but proved easy enough, the climb and descent restricted to the first hour or so and then much of the walking on flat land by the Severn or along the Montgomery canal. Before we left we were shown the chickens and chicks and the ducks with their ducklings, tiny balls of perfect fluff which look just like a children's toy. We also had the most marvellous breakfast with fruit and homemade preserves along with the now familiar but fabulous cooked breakfast. Can we eat that much and move? Yes we can.

We tried to stop for lunch on the path by a scenic smallholding with beautiful Light Sussex cockerel and hens scratching and pottering and gently grazing sheep. Unfortunately the sheep might well have been hand reared as they showed none of the usual reserve faced by humans but came charging over, intent on sharing our cheese and ham sandwiches as soon as we sat down and would not be shooed. Red faced, hungry and cross, we decamped.

I have heard this described as the boring bit of the walk but we didn't find it so. It was quite flat after the long slow climb out of Forden but the stretch by the canal was quite new, full of water birds and water lilies and a deep green calm.

At one point we skirted a farmyard where a collie was guarding eleven pups, all bouncing with wriggle and curiosity.

They came rushing across to inspect us as we walked through.

The Golden Lion in Four Crosses was clean and pleasant with exceptionally good pub food. It felt good to be more than halfway now, with the rhythm established, the rain gone and another rest day ahead. The landlord here was clearly more interested in music than in the pub and there were live music evenings every night. We listened happily to someone sawing a violin while eating yet more chips and chatting to a fellow walker from The Netherlands.

Tuesday 9 June

Four Crosses and Trelystan

no miles walked, much tea drunk and fine lunch consumed, washing done: tons

We had been looking forward to our only day off in the second week since the very beginning of the walk. We were to spend the day with mountainear and the idea of a house, not a B & B, and a day where we might be looked after had kept us going through the rain and the mud.

She picked us up from the pub where we were staying and gave us a day of luxury and total freedom, freedom from walking and from any kind of decision making. We were ferried about by car - leather seats, speed, purring engine - what a fantastic invention. We ate quiche and strawberries, drank tea and listened to the hum of the tumble drier delivering warm, dry clothes and a measure of respectability. We wandered her beautiful garden, inspected her chickens, were driven to Montgomery and admired its castle and perfect town centre and finished the day with a meal with her and snailbeachshepherdess and their husbands. It was lovely to engage with the world again, to catch up and to share stories and to be sent on our way replete and clean.