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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:

image

 

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.

image

 

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.

 

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!

Gear – Cooking

Gear – Cooking

Cooking, and eating in general, is one of the areas I’ve given the least amount of consideration to. My thinking is since I’m not traversing the Sahara or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo, there really isn’t that much to worry about. I’m walking the perimeter of Wales after all, which means that there will be plenty of places to stop off at. However, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to be lording it up in expensive restaurants along the way.

I will be cooking along the way using a Jetboil MiniMo, and replenishing supplies in shops along the route.

Jetboil MiniMo
Jetboil MiniMo

 

What I love about this device is the speed at which it cooks. It can boil a cup of water in less than a minute. This means that I won’t be going short of coffee. It can also simmer, which is perfect for cooking rice and the like. Another highly desirable feature is the push button igniting function; when it’s windy, rainy and generally miserable, the last thing you want to be doing is fumbling about with matches.

I may not be Delia Smith, but I certainly won’t be going hungry.

Gear – Socks

Gear – Socks

Never in my life or career as a journalist did I envisage sitting down to write an article about socks. But here we are. This stuff just needs to be said, because as any backpacker will know, the whole socks issue is a burning one (or certainly can be if you’re not wearing the right pair).

Put simply, a good pair of socks are what could stand between you and a great big honking set of weeping blisters. As with shoes and boots, socks are a personal thing and you should always listen to what your feet are telling you.

Back in 2013, I discovered what – to me – felt like the Holy Grail of socks….the 1000 Mile Socks. Before my epic find, I was forever in bother with my socks. I would find them rubbing in the wrong bit, pinching my toes or worse, gathering under the arches like giant, frustrating sock pillows. Ugh!

However, the 1000 Mile Socks are to socks what the Clifton Suspension Bridge is to engineering.

They consist of two layers, meaning that one layer stays with your foot whilst the other moves with the shoe. This means no friction, which means no blisters. And incredibly they work. And no, I’m not being paid to say all this.

THO80_400_1
1000 Mile Tactel Liner Sock

 

The 1000 Mile Tactel Liner sock is what I’ll be wearing for Walking Wales. I’ll have a few pairs of these little bad boys in my rucksack.

Gear – Walking Poles

Gear – Walking Poles

In the days BWP (before walking poles) I would have balked at anyone who dared suggest I even pick a pair up, let alone head towards the trail with them in my hands. Me with walking poles? No, never!

However, as the Inca Trail loomed in 2014, I did start to wonder whether I should give them a try. So I left my preconceptions at the door, wandered into a shop and bought a cheap pair for about £10. I stuffed them into my holdall, not thinking that I would bother to even get them out once I arrived in Peru.

When I arrived in Cusco though, I found that not only did the overwhelming majority of other hikers have them, but that the local Inca Trail porters actually call them “magic sticks”. What did they know that I didn’t? I wasn’t about to risk being left out. So on the day that we left for Kilometre 82, the start point of the Inca Trail (and so called because it’s 82km on the railroad from Cusco), I had them lashed onto my pack, y’know, just in case.

As we started Day 1, they stayed strapped to my rucksack. I didn’t think much about them, in fact. But that soon changed as talk over dinner turned to the infamous Day 2 – the slow and gruelling ascent up to Dead Woman’s Pass, an unrelenting upwards trail to the highest point of the Inca Trail. We were going to need them, so as the day dawned, I had them gripped tightly. And boy, was I glad that I did.

Since that day, I’ve used them each time I’ve gone walking from the Brecon Beacons to Snowdonia, to the Andes.

But what are the benefits of using walking poles? Mostly, poles provide stability and balance, which cannot be overestimated when you’re on a steep ascent. They distribute the stress across your entire body, so when you’re walking your upper body gets a workout too. All in all, if they’re used properly, they will increase your speed and help prevent injuries (they really save your knees on a sharp descent). And what’s not to like about that? I certainly wouldn’t be without mine.

 

Leki Vario XS Speed Lock Hiking Poles
Leki Vario XS Speed Lock Hiking Poles

 

The Leki Vario XS weigh just 422g for the pair. I got them new in Ecuador last year and that’s the set that I’ll be using for Walking Wales too.

Gear – Tent

Gear – Tent

Choosing a tent turned out to be a bit more complicated than I had expected. A tent for a ten week expedition requires a bit more thought than a weekend in Glastonbury or a three day surfing trip to the Gower.

Walking Wales requires something that packs up small, and is light, inconspicuous and rugged. I’m going to be wild camping in all weathers and terrains so a barely-waterproof, neon pop-up tent with a packed size larger than my rucksack just wouldn’t do.

So after hunting around the internet, I had my eye on a few suitable candidates. But ultimately it really did come down to weight, size, and of course, price.

I have chosen the Snugpak Ionosphere ™ (yes it really does have a ™ in the title) as my home for the  journey.

ionosphere_stone
Clark Tent

It’s light, takes a couple of minutes to pitch, packs up small and is waterproof. It was £129.00 from Outdoor GB, which I think is a bargain compared with other ultralight tents in the same category.

What more could a hiker want? A shorter name perhaps? Snugpak Ionosphere ™ is a bit of a mouthful so instead I’m christening him Clark Tent. I’m sure Clark and I will have many happy hours together in the driving rain come June 1st.

Gear – Footwear

Gear – Footwear

After a suitable and well-fitting rucksack, my next major consideration was what to wear on my feet.

Last year I took some advice on trail and mountaineering footwear. I made the foolish mistake of listening and trusting someone else’s views instead of listening and trusting what my feet were telling me. The boots I bought as a result turned out to be a hellish nightmare. They pained my feet, made the soles burn and generally made me feel as though I was dragging a couple of lead clumps around on the bottom of my legs. They also altered my gait which led to me dislocating my left knee and further damaging my broken back (more on that delight another time). But for some bizarre reason, I soldiered on in them, up and down mountains here and there before finally giving up on them before Christmas.

The offending boots - Mammut Advanced GTX
The offenders – Mammut Advanced GTX (£150)

I have nothing against Mammut, which is a brand that makes great mountaineering clothing and gear. I’m sure that these boots have worked well for thousands of other feet. But that’s the point… those thousands of others feet are not my feet.

So, for Walking Wales I have been markedly more sensible when it has come to choosing footwear. I went with a make of shoe which took me around Wales and the Inca Trail for hundreds and hundreds of miles in 2013 and 2014. They were so comfortable, I wore them until the soles were dangling off. Not a single blister or hot spot or sore point were suffered in these and frankly, I was a fool to not get another pair sooner. Better late than never though.

Hi Tec Penrith = foot love
Hi Tec Penrith (£29)

For £121 cheaper than the Mammuts, I present the Hi Tec Penrith. It’s not always about the brand or the attached price tag. Never again will I let anybody tell me that more expensive means better. Yes, the Mammuts are Gore-Tex and they have this feature and that. But who cares if they tear your tootsies to shreds?? I’ll take my £29 set of Hi Tecs, thanks all the same. They may not be Gore-Tex and come with all the bells and whistles but my feet couldn’t be happier inside them, and ultimately, that’s all that counts.

 

(Since writing this post, I’ve since bought another two pairs of glorious Hi Tec Penriths in a fit of worry that they were going out of production!)

Gear – The Rucksack

Gear – The Rucksack

My biggest consideration when I started to put the kit list together for this trek was undoubtedly the rucksack. Never before have I undertaken an expedition such as this, where I’d be trekking long distances daily for weeks on end; and also travelling alone, I might add. Previously, I’ve only mountaineered or hiked, at high altitude and in groups, meaning I’ve only ever had to carry a light pack. So Walking Wales is an entirely different beast.

A good quality rucksack is designed to distribute weight evenly, and also in the right places. A decent pack will minimise stress on the back and shoulders.

Being a small woman meant that my choice of appropriate rucksack was cut right down. Yes, there were plenty of female-specific packs about, but were there ones catering for us shorties too? Not really, no. My choice, after looking through scores of reviews by short female backpackers, eventually came down to two 65L packs, both by Osprey: the Aura AG 65 or the Ariel 65.

After reading up on the pros and cons of both, my heart was set on the Ariel – it had top and front access, a hydration chamber which loaded at the rear (thus avoiding my pet hate of having to stuff a bladder in through the main section of the pack), and was basically perfect and the pack for me. Going to fetch it from the shop was merely a formality.

But when I got to Cotswold Outdoor I thought I’d give them both a try.


 

So the assistant kindly measured me and fitted the Ariel pack specifically to my size (he diplomatically remarked that I was the most petite person he’d fitted). Then he started loading weight into it. 5…10….15….20…25 kilos went into the rucksack. And yes it felt a bit uncomfortable. It just didn’t sit right somehow. So out came the weights and off went the pack.

We then did exactly the same with the Aura AG 65, and oh my! Putting the Aura on was like getting a warm hug and gliding over a cloud at the same time. The weight inside it – half my own body weight – felt like nothing! Suddenly I could see why AG stood for “anti gravity”. All thoughts of getting the Ariel went out of the window immediately and I was sold on the Aura. To hell with carrying a bladder anyway, I’d carry a water bottle instead.

The Aura and I have a few long hikes under our belt already, and I have christened him Buddy because of the very friendly hip hugs he gives me. I can’t wait to hit the trail on June 1st with him on my back.

When Walking Wales is finished, I’ll write a review of how the pack held up after more than a 1000 miles worth of use.

Publicity! Cyhoeddusrwydd!

Publicity! Cyhoeddusrwydd!

Behold the first piece of publicity about my walk! It’s courtesy of “Y Dinesydd”, Cardiff’s Welsh language magazine.

Diolch yn fawr i’r Dinesydd am yr erthygl. Rwy’n gwerthfawrogi pob gair!

Erthygl Y Dinesydd

Why?

Why?

The question I get asked more than any other when I tell people what I’m going to be doing come the 1st of June is – “why?”

And it’s a fair question.

Well, the idea first popped into my head on a Wednesday evening in early April. I had been needing a goal, something new to aim for. But what? I just didn’t know. And I had stopped thinking about it since before Christmas.

Then it came to me, BANG! I should walk around Wales. Wait, what? Yes, I really should walk around Wales! YES! From then on, the idea snowballed and snowballed until it became a reality.

The fact that I can use the walk to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, just makes the journey truly purposeful.

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