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Month: June 2016

8. Tidenham Chase – Trefynwy; Tidenham Chase – Monmouth

8. Tidenham Chase – Trefynwy; Tidenham Chase – Monmouth

Step Count: 24,716
Distance: 8.94 miles
Max Altitude: 198 m
Min Altitude: 9 m
Height Gain: 251 m
Height Loss: 409 m

Despite the idyllic setting, I had a terrible night’s sleep. I woke at 4.25am and couldn’t get back  properly so had a proper grump on by 9am. I think it had been brewing since the previous day. Most backpacking hikers get to that one day where everything just seems a struggle and it takes everything to drag yourself out of it.

So, glum old me went to the shower block and on the way Farmer Brian of Beeches Farm gave me a cheery wave and invited me for a cup of coffee. He asked me what I was doing and when I told him, his response in the nicest possible way was, “are you mad?!”

We had a good chat over a cuppa about many subjects, including pancreatic cancer, and bulls on the Wales Coast Path (disgruntled farmers in his opinion). He told me that his campsite had humble beginnings and got started when Offa’s Dyke Path hikers started turning up in his field and pitching tents. Bit by bit they got the site to what it is today. It comes highly recommended by me; you could do a lot worse than slinging your tent up in this beautiful place. Brian even sent me on my way with a Mars bar. “You’re going to need the energy”, he said. He was right.

Off I went on the trail. It was late morning and the humidity level was cranked up to eleven. A short while after leaving the farm and taking a very sharp descent, the ODP turned into a choice of two paths.

I needed to get to Brockweir in order to get some food so went left. I also wanted to get back to the side of the River Wye.

Brockweir is a very charming little village. The path took me past The Brockweir Inn, and there was no way I was walking past! The advice I received from Will Renwick (youngest person to complete this route that I am on), was to stop at every pub and castle, so who was I to argue with such brilliant advice?!


I received a tremendous welcome at the pub and was well fed. I got chatting to two friendly Wye fishermen, James and Colin, who kindly sponsored me. And I very much enjoyed talking with staff Sam and Nicky, who were fascinated with my kit. They were also generous enough to make me a packed lunch for later.

With my belly full, I rejoined the path which hugged the Wye. It was hot and muggy. I walked past hikers who were sweating profusely accompanied by dogs with their tongues hanging out, knackered. When I got to opposite Llandogo, I sat down underneath a large tree to do some writing.

In a couple of kilometres, the path re-joined the other which had branched off before Brockweir. Suddenly my lovely riverside trail turned into an arduous and unrelenting ascent into the heart of Highbury Wood.

I sat down on a stone, listened to the birds and got annoyed with myself. Hiking alone means plenty of time to think things through, which in turn means plenty of time to overthink things too. But more on that in another blog post.

I saw that my solar battery pack was running low, as was my phone (which is what is throwing out my GPS signal and safety beacons). So I had to get a move on before I ran out of power and water.

A sharp descent lay ahead. Now, as much as I hate the ascents, I think I dread the descents much more, since I dislocated my left knee last year. On the way up you have all your muscles firing for you. But on the way down it’s just a bit of cartilage between you and miserable knee pain. Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I was being super careful on the way down and minding my knees. And that was when I felt a twang at the top of my left quad. Out came the ibuprofen and on I limped like an injured hound.

By the time I got to Redbrook my battery pack was dead, and I was down to a couple of per cent on my iPhone.

I made it into Monmouth finally with no power left and in pain. However, I was able to sample the delights of electrical power, food and water. It’s the small things in life, it really is.

7. Cas-gwent – Tidenham Chase; Chepstow – Tidenham Chase

7. Cas-gwent – Tidenham Chase; Chepstow – Tidenham Chase

Step Count: 22,314

Distance: 7.3 miles

Max Altitude: 291 m

Min Altitude: 16 m

Height Gain: 358 m

Height Loss: 450 m

Feeling refreshed after my day off yesterday, I couldn’t wait to get the Offa’s Dyke Path started.

I even arrived at the start point during the morning (sometimes I impress even myself), despite having a poor night’s sleep (too muggy, no air). I was quickly on my way after a final pack check.


Here I am crossing international waters –

One of the first things that struck me was the marked difference between the nature of the stretch of Wales Coast Path I’d just arrived on and the Offa’s Dyke Path. One word = hills. Yes, hills, and plenty of them too. I met a Belgian man in full stride on one hill early on, whose first words to me were, “my God, what a big pack you’re carrying”. I offered him the chance to carry it up the hill but when he didn’t answer, I took it as a “no”.

I continued at a slow but steady pace. My earlier joy was short lived however, when a wrong turn due to a lack of waymarks took me on a wild goose chase landing me back where I was an hour previously. Talk about demoralising! I sat down, ate a Welsh cake (of course), put Biofreeze on my feet and carried on, rejoining the path where I should have much earlier on.

In the Tidenham Chase section of the path, I met a couple of gents carrying a huge banner, as though they were on their way to a protest rally. And they were indeed protesters angry at proposed fracking in the Forest of Dean.

I started to flag a bit and even a cheeky Welsh cake couldn’t save me. It was fortunate that I arrived at the part of the trail known as The Devil’s Pulpit, because the view lifted my spirits and geed me up. It’s a spot which has the most breathtaking view of Tintern Abbey, and is so-named because apparently this is where Satan himself would stand and try to tempt the Cistercian monks below from their holy path. Such a shame that it was a muggy, hazy day as the photo doesn’t do it justice.

By now it was mid afternoon and I was still in the forest. This section of the Offa’s Dyke Path has no facilities. From the start point onwards, there had been no cafes or shops or pubs. Yes I had supplies but my water reserve was dwindling. Also, there wasn’t a water source for me to fill my Water-to-Go bottle since the trail is very high above the River Wye Gorge. So when I saw a sign pointing towards a campsite, there was no way I was continuing.

A short way off the path was a stunning campsite complete with hot showers (think of me as Pig-Pen from Peanuts at this point).

And so as Clark Tent and I settled down for the evening, here was our view –

6. Diwrnod Gorffwys; Rest Day

6. Diwrnod Gorffwys; Rest Day

My first rest day of #WalkingWales feels strange. I feel that I should be walking and am even missing the weight of my rucksack, though ask me whether I still feel like that by Friday!

I’m in Chepstow (Cas-Gwent) with my feet up (not really). This town marks the end/start of both the Wales Coast Path and Offa’s Dyke Path. It feels fitting to have a rest stop here therefore.

It was dark when I arrived last night so I have spent most of the day just walking about the town, in particular the area around the Old Wye Bridge. It’s an important place for both the ODP and WCP.

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Nearby there are several stone and mosaic monuments marking both paths.

 

One of the coolest things about the Offa’s Dyke Path is their Hall of Fame, which is what you’re inaugurated into if you walk the entire route. I have my ODP Completion Card at the ready, and got it stamped at the nearby Boat Inn earlier on.

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As of tomorrow, I will be following these acorn waymarks for the next 177 miles between Chepstow and Prestatyn. I can’t wait.

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5. Cil-y-Coed – Cas-gwent; Caldicot – Chepstow

5. Cil-y-Coed – Cas-gwent; Caldicot – Chepstow

Step Count: 24,462

Distance: 9.15 miles

Max Altitude: 61 m

Min Altitude: 1 m

Height Gain: 187 m

Height Loss: 182 m

 

It was another late start on the Wales Coast Path. I’ve never been much of a morning person and there’s something just nicer about walking in the evenings.

I returned to pick up the trail where I’d left off at Caldicot Railway Station. From there the path went straight to the side of the estuary. Unlike yesterday, it was a bright sunny day with blue skies, so I was able to walk towards the Second Severn Crossing and appreciate it in all its glory. The WCP takes you directly underneath it and for the first time I walked beneath it.

 

The WCP then passes through the village of Sudbrook before rejoining the side of the estuary. You are able to stand between the original Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing.

 

This was the last time that I saw the coast closely though, since the path veered inland through ploughed fields and meadows.

 

Shortly after the above silhouette self portrait was taken, I walked onto the fairway at St Pierre. I didn’t have a set of clubs, a pair of plus fours or lots of money in the bank, so was understandably stared at by nearby golfers.

It was just after this that the WCP waymarks went missing and I had to guess my way along. From a farmer’s field, I crossed a footbridge over the M48 only to land in a rather perturbed field of sheep. It couldn’t possibly have been the official route but I had no way of telling what was, so on I went. I ended up having to push my way through thick hedges and brambles before climbing over a barbed wire fence, and sliding down a slope. I was on the edge of the M48 now and this sign cheered me:

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Thankfully, the WCP waymarks reappeared and led me through a Chepstow housing estate where I bought a doughnut from a local shop (bliss!), before continuing into a forest on the edge of the Wye.

By this time it was getting dark, and had I been walking in a more isolated area, I would have quit walking by then. But I knew that the end of the Wales Coast Path was in reach, and so on I went. I badly wanted to arrive at this important milestone in my journey before the day was out.

Into Chepstow I went, following the waymarks through the town, and I was led to the side of the Wye once more, to a space near the Old Wye Bridge  The light had almost failed.

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I had reached the end of the Wales Coast Path and was delighted!

 

As you can see, darkness was upon me. So I shall be returning to the area tomorrow for a closer look and better photos.

 

4. Allteuryn – Cil-y-coed; Goldcliff – Caldicot

4. Allteuryn – Cil-y-coed; Goldcliff – Caldicot

Step Count: 21,961 

Distance: 8.16 miles

Max Altitude: 16 m

Min Altitude: 3 m

Height Gain: 45 m

Height Loss: 52 m

I decided to start late today. I was a little fuzzy-headed after yesterday and I think I was dehydrated. So I spent the morning drinking plenty of water and SOS Rehydrate, and taking care of some Walking Wales admin.

I set off from Goldcliff early afternoon, after a cup of tea at the Seawall. I picked up some supplies from the shop there too as the stretch between Goldcliff and Caldicot has no facilities near the Wales Coast Path.

After spending yesterday escaping angry bulls and being routed away from the coast for most of the day, most of today was spent walking along the sea wall. Unlike yesterday’s sunshine, today was overcast and a haze hung over the Severn Estuary.

As I reached Summerleaze, I decided to take a break, tucking into the Welsh cakes I’d bought from the Seawall.


It couldn’t have been more different from the last few days. It was isolated and I didn’t see a soul all day. The only creatures I encountered were sheep and cows.

Then, suddenly, through the haze, I saw the Second Severn Crossing in the distance. It was a symbolic moment and I felt great!

South of the Severn Toll, I was routed away from the coast due to the local wildlife. Walking down a Tarmac road, a very loud ‘MOO’ made me jump. I thought a repeat of yesterday was on the cards. Indeed it was a bull, an angry one at that, and he was staring right at me. Fortunately though, this time, he was stuck behind a thick hedge and fence. Siriol 1 Bull 0.

Back packer hater

Shortly after crossing over the M4, I reached Caldicot Station. I decided to stop there for the night whilst there was still daylight. And off I went to find a place for Clark Tent and I to stay the night.
Before I sign off, I want to say a huge thank you to the South Wales Scorpions and North Wales Crusaders fans at the Big Welsh Derby today for donating £206.78 to #WalkingWales. Overwhelmingly generous. Diolch yn fawr!

Diolch! Thank you!

Diolch! Thank you!

Fe fydd tîm rygbi’r gynghrair, South Wales Scorpions, yn chwarae’r North Wales Crusaders heddiw ym Mharc yr Arfau. Mae nhw wedi bod yn ddigon caredig i roi pwt am #CerddedCymru yn y rhaglen a fe fyddan nhw yn cynnal casgliad bwced yn y maes hefyd. Rwy’n hynod o ddiolchgar iddynt am fod mor hael a charedig a diolch i Griff am drefnu’r holl beth hefyd. Os gewch chi gyfle, ewch i’r gêm. Mae hi’n dechrau am 5 o’r gloch!


It’s rugby league’s Big Welsh Derby tomorrow between the South Wales Scorpions Rugby League Club and North Wales Crusaders Rugby League Club at the Cardiff Arms Park. I’m overwhelmed that they’ll be doing a bucket collection at the ground and #WalkingWales is also featured in their programme. Kick off is at 5pm so get down there if you can! Thanks to the Scorpions management for their kindness and generosity and thanks to Griff for organising.

3. TREFONNEN – ALLTEURYN; NASH – GOLDCLIFF

3. TREFONNEN – ALLTEURYN; NASH – GOLDCLIFF

Step Count: 21,312 

Distance: 6.97

Max Altitude: 17 m

Min Altitude: 1 m

Height Gain: 62 m

Height Loss: 66 m

It was almost a deja moo (thanks Lals) on the Wales Coast Path this morning. After being accosted by the ‘cows’ (bullocks) yesterday evening, I picked a random field to sleep in, free from murderous bovine. I was out for the count until my alarm went off this morning. I had a quick tent wash (wet wipes), packed up my rucksack and set off for the Newport Wetlands.

I had to cross the same field again but luckily the bullocks were grazing on the other side. I was so pleased to have evaded them. But my delight was short lived because no sooner had I left the field that I landed back inside another one populated by even more bullocks. Well, first off I thought they were cows, but soon realised they weren’t when they started charging towards me en masse; also the lack of udders and huge horns were a bit of a giveaway (hey I don’t pretend to be an expert in livestock!). Off I pegged back over the stile, while they crowded towards me, snorting. Hmm, what’s the way out of this, I wondered…the path was leading me through the field, after all. I decided to make my way into the next field over to see if I could get through that way. No such luck. The thicket was way too, er, thick. So back I went to the field to see if I could spot another route. My luck was in! They had all decided that I wasn’t that interesting and had gone to graze on the opposite side of the field. I sneaked through and got to the next stile. Excellent I thought, and began striding through the long grass.

You’d think that by now I’d have learnt about hubris because, yes, you guessed it: yet another field with bullocks and one enormous brown bull with massive horns and a penchant for goring backpackers. Oh dear. They had spotted me and began heading towards me with a speedy intent.  I had to escape into the thick reeds and ended up in soggy marsh, up to my ankles. Gah! And then I crouched down and hid, I’m unashamed to say. I kept popping my head up to see if they’d moved on and within about 15 minutes they had. I was then able to move slowly to the stile, ducking out of sight the whole way.

I was already behind schedule. Sprinting and hiding from bulls can take its toll on general timekeeping. However, I was only too happy to just amble along on the Wales Coast Path through the Newport Wetlands, and make the most of the sunshine. The East Usk Lighthouse is an impressive sight.

Nearby I met a woman from Warwick who was ticking off sections of the WCP and Offa’s Dyke Path bit by bit. Val had done Pembrokeshire and north Wales amongst several other parts. She would drive to Wales and take buses and taxis to the sections she was covering that day. We walked and chatted for a good 2km. She too had almost been gored by the bulls shortly after I had. We said our goodbyes and Val pushed on ahead.

Finally, I reached the seawall south of Goldcliff and decided to pitch Clark Tent right on top. I was tired and fancied a snooze, so that is what I did. After an hour or so I was back on my way. The path led me through fields of sheep and cows, often quite far inland in order to avoid the nesting places of wetland birds.

I was feeling good when, yet again, the path led me into a field full of bullocks, which I assumed were cows, and which, yet again, decided to advance upon me as I was half way through the meadow. Should I run forwards or back? It was like being hung up between third and fourth base. I began sidling. But each step I took was mirrored by the bullocks. There was no choice but to sprint, so away I went at a pace. And towards me they charged. I got to the stile just in the nick of time, out of breath. They were so angry they were butting the stile, but I had escaped. Relief!

In no time at all I had reached the Seawall at Goldcliff. This is a tiny shop and cafe operated by a family out of their home which is right next to the seawall. And a charming place it is too; a proper oasis for the traveller. The lady who served me told me that she had been expecting me; Val had told them that I’d be along in a short while after her. I had tea, a lollipop and some sugary treats, and managed to do some writing in the sun.

After feeling fully refreshed, I headed towards the seawall and appreciated the view before setting up camp nearby for the night.

2. LLANBEDR GWYNLLŴG – TREFONNEN; PETERSTONE WENTLOOGE – NASH

2. LLANBEDR GWYNLLŴG – TREFONNEN; PETERSTONE WENTLOOGE – NASH

Step Count: 32,004

Distance: 12.14 miles

Max Altitude: 18 m

Min Altitude: 4 m

Height Gain: 99 m

Height Loss: 100 m

It was quite the morning. I slept like a log after yesterday and even high winds on the Severn Estuary couldn’t buffet Clark Tent enough to wake me. I left the campsite to get to the path by about 0830 and started walking. Within 30 minutes as I passed Peterstone Wentlooge, I noticed a collection of driftwood on a marshy patch next to the sea wall. When I looked closer I saw that somebody had created the name ‘BRIAN’ in giant letters. I was overwhelmed. As you will know, that was the name of my late father, whom I lost to pancreatic cancer four years ago, and the whole reason why I’m doing #WalkingWales. It was incredible, strange and emotional. A positive sign if ever there was one though.

When I got to the West Usk Lighthouse I took the opportunity to sit down and just be.

I could see the Transporter Bridge in the distance but because of the industrial zones, as well as several temporary diversions, I was routed inland for ages. I walked through Dyffryn and arrived at Maesglas Industrial Estate, where I was very kindly given coffee, biscuits and a comfortable chair by ironman triathlete, Richie Bowen. It was much needed and I am very appreciative of the hospitality. Richie’s chosen charity for Ironman Wales was Pancreatic Cancer UK too.

Then on to Pill before I finally got to the Transporter Bridge. I stood beneath it for the first time in my life; before today I’d only ever driven past. And as luck had it I was just in time for the final crossing of the day too. Yes, yes, it’s technically cheating because the Transporter Bridge isn’t on the Wales Coast Path, but the fact that it’s a national treasure is my perfectly valid excuse.

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After passing near factories and through a large industrial zone, I was finally back in some yellow meadows nearing the Newport Wetlands. I arrived in Nash and the waymark was directing me across a field of cows. Thinking nothing of it, I strode across the field. I felt a rumbling behind me and saw the herd rushing towards me, so I had to hightail it across the rest of the field before leaping to safety across the fence on the other side. I think they may have been a bit hungry. Either that or they wanted me dead….

1. Caerdydd i Llanbedr Gwynllŵg – Cardiff to Peterstone Wentlooge

1. Caerdydd i Llanbedr Gwynllŵg – Cardiff to Peterstone Wentlooge

Step Count: 27,158

Distance: 9.36 miles

Max Altitude: 31 m

Min Altitude: 5 m

Height Gain: 99 m

Height Loss: 97 m

Finally I am underway! Last night was spent packing and tying up all the other bits of admin that needed to be sorted out. Before I knew it I was on the steps of the Senedd this morning getting ready to go. As I was about to leave, it suddenly dawned on me that I was getting ready to walk more than 1000 miles. What on earth was I doing?? I asked Linda Reardon, a fellow pancreatic cancer activist and she confirmed that I might be slightly adrift. Who was I to argue??

It hit 10.56am and off I toddled on my way. I had weighed my bag before leaving and it came in at 44lbs but the weight felt comfortable on my back.

As I walked through Cardiff Bay towards the East Moors I was inundated with messages on social media from well wishers. So a big thank you to everybody who geed me up on my way! It must have been that which accounted for the blistering early pace I was setting (and which I soon reigned in when I came to my senses).

On the way past the sewage works in the East Moors, I met a man walking his dog who asked me if I was out hiking for the day. I told him I’d be hiking for the next eight to ten weeks and he was rather shocked. He asked me why I was making the journey, and was I on holiday. When I told him that I was doing it for charity, he reached into his pocket and gave me a fiver. He wouldn’t tell me his name, so he is now known on my donations page as ‘kind man and dog’.

I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t the most stunning part of the Wales Coast Path, but there is still beauty to be found. Parc Tredelerch is a fine spot, despite being so near to an industrial estate. While this meadow is opposite Lamby Way landfill site

I’ve walked 15km today. It’s not as much as I’ll be doing further on into the trek. But I’m going to take it easy for the first couple of days. Now though, it’s time to set Clark Tent up and get some rest.

Amdani!

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