This leg saw me skip my rest day at Barnstaple in favour of having a few days off in Bristol. So I made my way in land to Chepstow and Wales to walk parts of Offa’s Dyke Path.
28/06/2016 – Barnstaple to Challacombe
I decided to skip a full days rest and set off for Challacombe at lunch time. I made up two days and decided to spend the time with Sally in Bristol as I wasn’t sure when I would see her again in the next few months. That and the weather forecast looked awful and I figured I’d try and get ahead of it.
I was wrong. Weather wise this was the worst yet. I tried not to let it get to me but when you’re soaked to the bone, walking in it, slipping on muddy paths and not being able to see anything other than the rain soaked tracks ahead it’s hard not to.
I got to Challacombe and met an older guy walking his dog. We got chatting and he saw how sick I was and offered me a room at his B&B half price. I took it as I had no desire to put my tent up in the down pour that wasn’t showing any sign of letting up. But I just felt so shitty for stopping in another B&B.
It wasn’t the spirit of adventure I was wanting. I wasn’t having any fun, I was messing up and struggling a little bit. I couldn’t speak to anyone that night. After a long warm shower I ate and crawled into bed early.
I woke up in the middle of the night to be sick and later on had the shits (sorry, too much information but this is a warts and all account after all)
29/06/2016 – Challacombe to Roadwater
I woke up feeling sick but kept it together. I ate a light breakfast then donned my waterproofs for another day in the rain.
My ankle bones were bruised from the new boots I’d bought a few days before. I always have this problem with new boots. I put some tubular bandages over the bruising, tied the boots up tight and made for Roadwater.
The plan was to go up and walk over Exmoor National Park but I literally couldn’t see it. The tops were covered in fog and the rain lashed down.
I made my way up but after a short while came back down and decided to follow some back roads. Normally I would relish the chance to practice my navigation skills in those conditions but with a heavy pack, a bad stomach, sore ankles and low morale I figured it could have been a recipe for disaster.
I stopped at a village called Exford and had lunch in a bus stop just to get out the rain. I text Sally something like “tell me something to make me smile” and she replied back that she’d meet me in Roadwater.
I laughed thinking it was a joke but she was serious. That gave me a little kick and I motored on, avoiding the hills and fog. I hate walking back roads but with new determination I kept at it.
When I reached Wheddon Cross the rain stopped and I took my waterproofs off to try and dry out. The jacket did go back on. Common theme. I take it off, I dry, it starts to rain, I get soaked through. Repeat. But I started to just not care. Even laughed about it.
At Pooltown I met an old couple who were out tidying their garden. They offered me tea and biscuits, even telling me if they’d prepared something they would have fed me dinner!!! More kindness from strangers. I politely declined and explained I had my girlfriend waiting.
I was walking out of Pooltown and up a back road when I saw someone familiar. It was Sally. She’d come to find me. I hadn’t seen in her 3-4 weeks and it was amazing to see her standing there in front of me. She always makes me smile.
On the walk back to Roadwater we caught up and for once I didn’t begrudge getting a room. After I had a shower we ate and talked all night. It really lifted my spirits and I was so happy to see her after the last few days.
30/06/2016 – Roadwater to Bawdrip
I left Sally and Roadwater behind for Bridgewater and a campsite just past it at Bawdrip.
The walk was uneventful with more rain and took me through fields and over the Quantock Hills. Bit boring and so I couldn’t wait to get the day over with.
01/07/2016 – Bawdrip to Cheddar
It rained a lot overnight which kept me awake but the days forecast was dry.
Most of the day was spent walking back roads, muddy tracks and old drovers lanes. All flat, easy and boring. The most eventful things were getting chased by cows and receiving an electric shock off a fence.
At Cheddar I had a look around. I was meant to be wild camping round the Gorge but I didn’t think it would be possible. I walked up to the Gorge and would have normally had a look around but the tacky shops and restaurants really put me off. That and the pack on my back.
I found a camp site and headed for it. The lady wouldn’t charge me when she found out about the charity walk. Another kind soul.
I also cooked the best camp food yet. Noodles with spring onions and tuna. All for under £3.
02/07/2016 – Cheddar to Portishead
It rained all night. Hard heavy rain that battered the tent. I’m a really light sleeper so again another shit nights sleep.
As a result of the rain the paths were ankle deep in mud and the rocks slippy. I also found trees blocking my way on some of the bridle ways. Not little trees, proper big trees.
I eventually got onto the Strawberry Line. A disused rail track that once linked all the local villages together. The sun made an appearance as well.
I got off the line and was walking through a field when I nearly stepped on a snake warming itself in the heat. It must have been a grass snake and I’m not sure who was the most surprised but it didn’t hang around.
I was meant to stop near Easton in Gordano but diverted to Portishead. Always wanted to go and now I could say I’d been.
It wasn’t anything special and to be honest I’m not sure what I was expecting but tomorrow I would be heading for Chepstow then making my way to Bristol for a few days off.
03/07/2016 – Portishead to Chepstow
The mornings walk was a bit boring. I followed cycle paths most of the day to Severn Beach (there is no beach)
I passed a place at Severns Beach called Shirleys Cafe. I went in to get a drink. It had obviously been there since the 60s with its old chairs, pinball machine and jukebox. Shirley even made an appearance with it now being run by her daughter and granddaughters.
And it sold sausage sarnies. I’d craved one for a while and had struggled to find anywhere decent that might have done one. It was perfect. Two pieces of thick cut bread, the butter melted by the three sausages cooked perfectly and lashings of red sauce. I washed it down with a banana milkshake and a cold can of shandy.
After letting it settle I walked along the Severn to the bridge. I was starting to tire but still had to cross the bridge into Chepstow.
That was the longest bridge I’d been across. It didn’t seem to end. But it did and I made it into Chepstow. The trains didn’t appear to be running from there so I got a taxi to Severn Junction and jumped on a train from there to Bristol.
I needed a few days off and spending time with Sally would be the tonic I needed.
06/07/2016 – Chepstow to Monmouth
I left Sally and Bristol behind after a few lovey days off and got the trains to Chepstow (3 in total) I was a bit shakey when I left and I put it down to leaving the familiar and heading back out on my own.
I found the start of Offa’s Dyke and set off with the sun shining. I passed a few other early starters (whom I would see on and off for the next few days) and headed into the woods along the Wye.
The path is clearly marked and rather than go along the high route (which looked a bit boring) I followed the low route along the river.
At Redbrook I stopped in a park for a bit to enjoy the sun and a cold can of ginger beer. Then continued on to Monmouth where I stopped at a campsite and watched the Wales/Portugal game.
02/07/2016 – Monmouth to Pandy
I had a lie in. Today was a shorter walk to Pandy so I took my time through fields and woods mostly, with the odd view of the rolling hills.
At Pandy I was picked up by Mary. I had tried to book into a bunkhouse but they were full and recommended her. I’d assumed she had a bunkhouse but it was an off the books B&B. And she was a character.
Nearly 80 she had boxes of birthday and Christmas cards from previous guests and her visitors books were filled with sweet messages.
When I arrived she and another guest decided I would need fattening up so they fed me cheese and cake. I then had a bath before Mary dropped me and the other guest off at the pub. The other guest was on a pony trek and so I sat with her and the other people in the party to eat.
When Mary picked us up she took us on a tour of Pandy. She’d lived there all her life. When she passed a house she would beep her horn so they knew it was her saying hello.
When I got back we had a cup of tea and I had an early night.
08/07/2016 – Pandy to Hay on Wye
I woke up early and Mary had cooked a big breakfast. I scoffed it down and she dropped me at the next part of Offa’s.
Most of today’s walk was on a ridge from Hatterrall Hill to Hays Bluff. It was by far the best days walks I’ve had so far. The weather was warm with a cool breeze and there was clear views for miles. And what a countryside I was staring into. It just seemed to unfold before me. Stunning.
Eventually I had to come down into Hay and the plan was to keep walking into tomorrow miles but the weather was nice and I wanted to relax.
I found a really nice campsite where the chickens roamed free, the toilets were drop boxes and the showers some weird solar powered things (I didn’t try them)
09/07/2016 – Hay to Knighton
I didn’t sleep well. There was some sort of mini festival a few fields away and the music went on into the night.
I got up at 7 and was away before 8. I had a long day ahead. Most of it was spent in more drizzle and rain but by now I just smiled and kept going. I figured a little rain wasn’t going to spoil my days walk. And being wet is only temporary anyway. Only bug bear is taking photos. I have my camera phone and really don’t want to damage it in the wet.
I followed the Wye, went through fields and along back roads, up a few hills and eventually got to Knighton. I met Phil and Emily (my AirBnB hosts) who seemed lovely and made me feel very welcome.
I had a shower, washed some clothes, went out for a beer and got far too much Indian takeaway. I ate too much, which would normally send me into a food coma, but I managed to stay awake for a bit.
09/07/2016 – Knighton
This has been my rest day and I decided to take it. I’ve caught up on a few things, sorted my washing and had the Sunday roast I’ve craved.
The first few days out of Barnstaple were awful. The weather sucked, the walking sucked, I sucked. In hindsight I’m pretty pissed off with myself for backing down so easily. But I’m not going to beat myself up over it. It’s done, I’ve learnt and I’ll move on.
The boots, while initially causing my ankle bones to bruise, have been worth it. They give my ankles more support, offer a bit more in the way of waterproofing and, when trudging through mud,seem more stable.
Offa’s Dyke is a great walk. I only did a few days but from Pandy to Hay was the best days walking I’ve had so far. I love Wales and I know when I’m done on this walk I’ll be spending some time exploring it more.
Sally turning up was the morale boost I needed. We’ve only been together a short while but I reckon I’m lucky to have someone who makes me smile and who would drive out their way on a day off to see me. That’s all I’ll say on that.
So the following 9 days will see me heading through Shropshire and the Peak District to Hebden Bridge where I start the Penine Way.