Re entry

In a comment on the blog Aggie remarked that she hoped my re entry would be gentle.

It was a perceptive comment from someone who knows. I had only been away 13 days but I have found returning very difficult. Not because I wasn’t pleased to see everyone and see how the little legs had changed in just a fortnight, but because when you’re walking everything is simple.

Helen speaks of enjoying the ‘pared – downness’ of walking. She means in a physical sense. We don’t carry a stove but given the dearth of amenities we might next time: I’ve already begun looking. But we carry everything else that we need. We sleep in basic accommodation mostly and while we might groan and quibble, that’s not really an issue. The simplicity of the thing is part of its attraction.

I went to book group on Thursday and a friend had come back from Skiathos looking tanned and relaxed and having read ten books in a fortnight. She rested in the sun and swam and ate nice food and had a lovely time with her husband. I like that too but I also like the exertion of walking and the process of getting away from my thoughts, allowing my mind to roam and wander. If I am lying on a sunbed I am still turning thoughts over in my mind.

Also when you’re away and unavailable and maybe doing what is considered a hard thing, there is nothing you can do about the problems that beset people at home. Really, there is nothing. Things carry on without you and mostly, people find their own solutions. If you are like me, you’re pretty good with coming up with solutions and answers to questions which haven’t even been asked yet. Often people just want to talk, to share their day to day burdens. They are not looking for my input. So why give it so much of my brain time? I have a friend who repeats to herself over such things, ‘There is nothing I can do about this.’

It sounds like a cop out but it’s true.

And it gets worse.

Years ago there was a programme called Brat Camp where unruly, addicted, often violent teenagers were sent abroad to the USA to learn some life skills. It was an example of tough love. Sometimes they were alone in a host family, sometimes with other troublesome teens on a hike or camp. One memorable episode involved a young man who bloomed on the programme. He loved the outdoor life and learning new skills. He became very good at making fire from scratch. So much so that he helped his fellow campers in their efforts, to the point of doing it for them. The leaders took him aside and gently pointed out that by doing so he deprived them of the opportunity of learning. So true. And yet I do it. I see others do it.

So when I go away, I am away and cannot ‘help’ or ‘mend a life’ yet, somehow life goes on. I might hear of a dilemma but a solution is found. They find another way. Not my way but theirs. And I am not there to make suggestions or judge the outcome. Glory be. So as a compassionate person, can I bring that loving detachment back with me? I don’t know. I will try.

No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Without me. Mine is the only life I can save. Time for Mary Oliver.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

Same old same old. Sue will understand 🙂

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End of Offa

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Well as they say, it’s been a journey. Not sure I’ll ever return to Prestatyn but I am glad to be here today.

Offas Dyke is a tough walk. Grown men cry. And stop walking. H’s Uncle Bill had a friend who stopped walking after 3 days and had to be taken home. We hear of experienced walkers of the world, doctors even(!) who have found this hard. We have found this hard. We’ve averaged 15+ miles a day over welsh hills and mountains in mixed weather. 20150525-182908.jpg

It’s very remote and not particularly well served. Much of the accommodation was nondescript. One host described Welshpool as ‘not what it was’. It was nice enough. i bought a hat. i didn’t expect to in late May but i am glad i did.

This is the first wifi I’ve had in a while. We met very few people. Many we’re doing in chunks of five or seven days which makes us very grateful to have nearly a fortnight to just walk. 20150525-184934.jpg
It is hard walking but contrary to popular belief we’re not Amazons. I generally ache at the end of the day in the usual places: knees, feet, shoulders. i groan when i see another punishing rise. I get very hot and red faced going uphill which there’s a lot of. Everest you remember? We both go a bit quiet at 3pm when it becomes clear there’s further to go than we imagined. We both fall upon tasty food when it arrives. The unexpected shepherd’s hut cafe on Moel Famau, for example. The Marks and Spencer cafe in Prestatyn this afternoon. But we enjoy the rubbish food too, if we approach it with good humour. We’re generally in bed by 7.30 when the sun is shining outside and sleep pretty well which helps our tired bones mend, as I’ve written before.

We laugh a lot. And we have what H calls a no blame culture. So each of us has made mistakes with the map, chosen crap food or accommodation, but what’s done cant be undone so what’s the use of whining or sulking?
We just enjoy the challenge and the freedom of having only one thing to do that day. Walk to the next place.
I can’t get my pics to upload – maybe the bandwidth is too narrow. Wouldn’t surprise me. Lots of these paths have been too narrow. The menus are limited. Beds are single. You can tell I am tired.

Walking into Prestatyn was no Santiago experience. It was full of Brits doing Bank Holiday things: lots of noise, cars, people, smells. It was difficult after the stark simplicity of the hills. But we threw our stones collected at Sedbury Cliffs into the sea and took the obligatory selfie.
Look a little tired and perplexed? Yes I feel it.
We walked from the Severn Estuary to the Irish Sea up an entire country. Next time someone uses the expression ‘the size of Wales’ I’ll have some idea just how big that is. 20150525-192925.jpg

Knighton to Drewin farm

Everything is relative. “Not unduly steep” yesterday and “an ascent of almost inhuman severity” on the walk from Knighton to Shewin Farm. It was. And not just one climb, maybe six? We walked 15miles in about 7.5 hrs.

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It was very hard and we ground our way slowly uphill and slithered our way down. We both took a tumble. And if Wales ever hosts the Olympics we suggest slalom skiing in sheep shit.

There were lovely moments.

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We met a man eating a pork pie here. Such is the social whirl. We’ve met very few walkers : a surly Australian girl and a couple from Montreal who do this – and camp! They are unfailingly cheerful and my spirits lift when I see them slurping their yoghurts in a church porch. We offer them a Hobnob.

We’ve been rained on a lot. And we put filthy trousers on as it’s not worth washing them. Our rooms are strewn with our washing and every night we are fed and in bed by 7.30. Despite the weather I am loving it. And we are more than halfway.

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How can this be when it’s so obviously arduous and uncomfortable? Endorphins of course. And then fact that after such efforts small pleasures feel bigger. Montreal man while yoghurt slurping said “I’d just spoon this down on my sofa at home: here I am really enjoying it. ”

Lots of that. And this.

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Welshpool tonight. 16.5 miles today on much easier terrain. Only got lost once. And a nice cyclist showed us where we were on the map.

Hay to Kington: day of hospitality

Super healthy breakfast provided by Nikki

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Long walk to Church town where as promised in the guidebook we found tea and coffee making kit and biscuits in the church. It was very welcome and a jolly good idea. No one was there in person but we tipped them handsomely
all the same.

On to Gladestry “more of a real village .. with the Royal Oak public house, a weekly bus service etcetc!”. We fell upon some hot chocolate in the pub and then saw the pudding menu. Sticky toffee pud and custard? Yes please.

This was an inspired choice and saw us up the final hill Hergest Ridge and into Kington. Into a ghost town and ghost youth hostel.

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We were four people in a hostel for 45. Subdued wasn’t in it. But it served us.

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We cooked some pasta, ate crisps, drank tonic and went to bed. That was a 14.5 mile day.

Knighton / Kington confusion

After a lovely sleep in a snowy white bed I feel much better. Face is a bit tight and rosy with all that wind but much better. It’s magical the way my body heals with rest. I’m so grateful.

Today we walk to Kington, or is it Knighton? Two adjacent stages with similar names: bad planning Mr Offa. Anyhow we’ll trust and follow the acorn out of Hay and walk through more undulating countryside. But today we mustn’t go too quickly as our next nights accommodation is in a youth hostel and we can’t get in till 5pm.

Strange as it may seem to some, this will be hard for H and me. We both like to get up and get going and for me at least the temptation is to go too fast. And not enjoy the journey. Today’s walk is easier and shorter so should offer every opportunity to SLOW DOWN. Amble even. I am listening to God, as I understand him, and this is a big one for me. I’ll keep you posted.

Offa’s Dyke days 1-3

A lovely walk despite torrential rain on day1. Chepstow to Monmouth 18.5 miles

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Not the most glamourous pic of me but you get the idea. Drenched.

A no photo day as we dared not lift our heads to see the view for fear of drowning or ruining our phones. At 3pm we decided to get a taxi for the last few miles and waited dripping self consciously in a Spar shop munching fruit and nut chocolate: the big bar. But from what I remember through the falling rain and rising mist the scenery was lovely.

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Day 2 Monmouth to Pandy 16.75 miles over beautiful hill and stunning dale and only met two people all day. A couple from Montreal who helped us out with their GPS system and we helped them by pointing out the acorns which mark the path. Nice and reciprocal. Oh and Michael Helen’s son who landed like a drone from Hunger Games bearing our lunch from Waitrose. Long story, but basically the promised pub was closed.

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Too tired to write much but birdsong, bluebells and wild garlic everywhere. This is the most unspoilt part of the UK I’ve ever been to apart from Scotland.

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And tonight after a monster and windblown romp over the Black Mountains -17.5 miles steep ascent and precipitous descent and a long stomp on the ridge in between – we are glowing gently with wellbeing in a friendly cake filled B and B with a hostess who addressed us as my angels. We are in Hay on Wye, a pretty place though marred by hurdy gurdy music from a travelling fair. That sounds rather Hardyesque – all pigs and bonnets. Its not. More like roller coasters and sad goldfish. Whatever joys of Hay, they are lost to us as we are already tucked up in bed.

On the way today I did wonder “why am I doing this?” It is arduous and my feet hurt a bit. We have another washing strewn room and everything feels a bit grubby. But it’s so liberating having so few possessions, so little to look after. To be really thirsty, really hungry, really tired. First world problems- we are sated with stuff. Without the stuff Helen and I have time to do the one thing in front of us: walk, talk, eat. And now rest.

Everyone has been kind and helpful. Bringing forward breakfast by and an hour or more to accommodate our early starts. Swapping a full English breakfast for a very decent packed lunch. All our rooms have had good showers and clean white linen. I feel very blessed. And very tired. Good night.

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Another Long Walk

A long time since I last posted-that phrase has become a familiar refrain- but it’s true nonetheless. And some lovely people have asked me “Where’s the blog? We’ve not heard from you in a while.” And there are reasons.

Family stuff mostly: becoming emotionally and otherwise entangled in affairs which aren’t really mine, except they are. Family life is not like a safety deposit box- and it appears even those are not so safe as they might be – you can draw boundaries and tell yourself as often as you like that “it’s not my stuff” but the sadness creeps in anyhow. However I have found solace in a number of practices.

1. Making cake and then eating cake. My waistline has suffered but at least I am not pouring gin down my throat.

2. Walking, of course. Long walks in the glorious Kentish countryside wordlessly reconnecting with my creator and creation. The bluebells are out and however brief their appearance is each year they never fail to lift my spirit. As do the newly unfurling baby beech leaves, pale and vulnerable, and persistent.

3. Some attempt at mindfulness which should be called mindlessness I feel as it’s the mind, its prevailing thought patterns which churn and lurch in a pointless circular fashion, which send a mood spiralling downwards. I endeavour to catch my thoughts before they gather pace and while acknowledging them return to focussing and following my breath in and out. Very basic. Very effective.

4. Spending time with the little boys, who are transparent and do not yet have complex needs. A biscuit, a nap, a story, a cuddle.

All these help restore and ground me.

And yes I have external reasons why I haven’t been writing but there is also a sense of unworthiness/perfectionism which requires me to write something ‘good’ or well thought through or uplifting. As if my readers needed me to be a certain kind of writer! How narcissistic is that!

Anyhow I’ve started again and as
Helen and I are about to start on Another Long Walk I have the perfect re entry point to the blog.

We are walking Offa’s Dyke and start next Thursday. Eek! Day one is 17.5 miles. There are 400 stiles on the way. We will have ascended the height of Everest by the time we finish at Prestatyn. The guidebook has so much information it makes me feel weak to read it.

But what have I learned? One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, and lots of cake. Looking forward to it.