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A morning of mist and fields ....
I woke for the umpteenth and last time at about 07:50am to discover a cool, dewy morning awaited me. Sleep had not been the most undisturbed or comfortable of experiences. My new, light-weight air mattress had sprung a creditable leak and several times during the night it had deflated to a degree that brought me into contact with the cold, hard ground. Half-asleep, I was forced to search for the valve and blow a few dozen breaths into it until it lifted me off the floor and enabled me to doze off again. After about an hour, the whole process had to be repeated and I now felt un-rested, muttering darkly at the mattress lying rumpled and flaccid beneath me. It took me a while to pack away my equipment and stow it into my rucksack. I also had a cereal bar for breakfast and did a bit of narrative filming to a background of morning birdsong.
I got under way at 10:00am and made my way onto the high-street of Bream. My intention was to use a public toilet next to the library which I remembered from my last visit and to fill my water camel from the sink, but it was firmly locked so I walked on and found the local mini-supermarket. I bought a litre of water and then retired to a convenient bench overlooking what looked like a bowling green. I was re-sealing my camel when a local woman shuffled up to me and greeted me loudly, going on about the morning’s weather before I had a chance to respond. I don’t mean this maliciously, but I picked up fairly quickly from how instantly familiar she was with me and also that she was dressed a little strangely, that she was probably somebody with a borderline learning disability. Be that as it may, she was a very pleasant lady and she rattled guilelessly on at me about what a terrible two years it had been for her, what with her health and losing her Dad. We had a bit of a natter and then she hefted up her oversized and wrongly buttoned overcoat, so that the lapels rose to just under her eyes.
“Well – I’d best do my shopping,” she boomed at me and then smiled, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you!” She held out a meaty hand and shook mine, nodding emphatically as if we had just clinched a mutually satisfying deal. Then she shuffled away and I turned to look in the opposite direction, where my own day’s dealings were to take me.
I walked out of Bream, past a church and graveyard and then turned left onto a country lane. This immediately climbed, but it was a pleasant incline bordered by low cottages and high hedges. I remembered that the last time I had taken this uphill route, I had groaned aloud. My pack had been much heavier, my feet blistered and I had already started to feel the strain, but today it was a doddle and I swung along easily. I came to a T-junction and this was where I left the lane and played ‘hunt the stile’. I knew there was one here that I had to climb to enter a field, but three months of summer growth had hidden it and it took a while to find it and even longer to once more claw and scrape my way through a mesh of brambles. The farmers around these parts really don’t like walkers. This brief physical effort brought to mind how close and humid the day was. The mist, as yet, was showing no sign of burning off. I set off west and then south-west across the field, which had me climbing obliquely around a small hill and gave me an open view of houses, hedges and fields to my right as the land dropped away. This field was littered with large packages of what I assumed was hay but it was hard to tell, as they were all sealed in black plastic. I was aware of the sore spot on the sole of my foot, but I had tended to it and covered it up before I set out and it wasn’t hindering my walk. Soon, I found my way onto another road and made my way past Close Turf Farm and towards the superbly named The Great Hoggins Farm. It was here that I cut across country once more, through a muddy field that had been stripped of its crop so that only broken off stalks remained. I remembered that I had to walk past Severn View Farm, which today did not live up to its name due to the stubborn haze that wasn’t yet dissipating. It was at this moment that I had my first meaningful encounter with what I was to term ‘Followy Cows’ during my eight days of walking. A small herd of curious bovines began to lumber after me as I traipsed nearer to the farm. They closed in behind me to the extent that billows of their moist breath began to engulf me. I was glad to make a boundary fence, where I sat perched to look back at them.
“What do you lot want, then?” I berated them. They gazed back mournfully. I looked around me as I sat and also took a picture of a wind turbine being shrouded in a dreary fog, which I sent off to Twitter. Then I walked on, past the farm where people were driving vehicles and generally being industrious. I reached what looked like a couple of storage buildings at a place called Great Dunkilns
My first campsite at Bream, the one that did for my air mattress
The ground was very broken as I descended through the trees and reached a track that gave me a decisive way through what had become boggy ground. Suddenly, my feet were hurting and squelching with wetness as I crossed a plank bridge over the small, gurgling Aylesmore Brook. I went over another stile that was menacing with brambles and nettles, adding to an already generous collection of scratches and nettle rash and causing me to further dispense my view of local farmers, using language generally not acceptable in high company. I had a sudden, steep bit of pasture to climb and it was enough to stop me cursing and leave me breathless and with burning thighs, by the time I came to a stop at a stone wall and stile. I sat for a while, looking back at the route I had taken whilst sipping water and brushing away an insistent gang of flies. I applied sun cream, as the day was growing hot and the sun was finally penetrating the morning’s mist. I also had a couple of handfuls of my dried fruit and nuts mix, all carefully blended and bagged up in separate bags which would be enough, I hoped, to last me the whole walk. My feet throbbed and I was pretty sure that it was the soaking they had received and having to walk in saturated socks that were the problem. I remembered the lane I now found myself on, once I had climbed over the stone slab which served as a stile. It had given me a decent view of the River Severn back in June. I peered east over fields, but still couldn’t penetrate the distant opalescence so I moved on, making my way towards Hewelsfield. I actually skirted this small village, clipping it’s east side by way of a small network of lanes that took me past isolated cottages which, as such dwellings always do, made me wish I was living there. I soon wound my way out of Hewelsfield and the lane I was on rose above it and eventually brought me to a clear height, where I finally saw the broad ribbon of the Severn. It was a little past noon and visibility had improved with the eventual lifting of obscuring haze. It was a narrow glimpse of the river, offered to me through a small gap in a line of trees, but it was strangely encouraging to me in that it confirmed my progress south.
My reflections were abruptly interrupted by a sound which is guaranteed to make any walker nervous when on a narrow road; the approach of heavy machinery. I turned back to look and my eyes must have widened, as the beast approaching me was an impressive monster of yellow metal and gigantic tyres. It looked like some kind of digging apparatus and it was closing in on me with unnerving speed, the driver a remote figure sat in a glass cabin above me. I had nowhere to go and just shrank into the hedge and embankment as much as I could. As I recall, the driver barely slowed down as he bore down on me and I genuinely began to worry; this massive vehicle took up the entire lane. I looked up imploringly at the man behind the glass and was not at all heartened. He didn’t acknowledge me in the slightest and stared steadfastly ahead. Worse, the heavy-browed creature in charge looked like he had left school at the age of 14 still not having graduated from using crayons to write with. One of the tyres scraped my leg as it rolled interminably by and I tried to embed myself into the hedge. “Fuck off!” I shouted, fear making me react uselessly. My relief was considerable when the contraption roared away, a relief tinged with extreme annoyance. The bastard hadn’t taken any care at all.
Once I had extracted myself from the local flora and pulled myself together I plodded on, the route taking me at first gradually downwards again and then with a sudden plunge to another T-junction of lanes. I turned right and found myself on the route of the which took me around a disused quarry. I turned right again, this time upwards at a fork in the track which led me to a place I remembered stopping at previously.
In a courtyard just before Rosemary Lane, Woolaston
I had become horrendously lost at this point last time and had wasted a couple of hours in trying to find my route again. Fortunately, my memory was fresh of this part of the route and I negotiated around the difficult spots with no problem. What had been an exasperating toil over hilly ground in June was, today, a swift tramp through wild but beautiful scenery. I walked the length of the mini-valley, climbed steeply out of it and went unerringly through a few fields surrounded by woods that had flummoxed me before. True, it was a torturous little route, involving doubling back on lanes, steep descents into more fissures and a brief and blessed interlude into cool woodland near Ashwell Grove, but I didn’t lose my way at all. I quickly broke free of the woods, entered another field which I edged around and went along a track amidst a thin belt of trees. Suddenly, I found myself on Rosemary Lane.
A bridge too far .... ?
I had been looking forward to reaching this point all day. For me, it seemed to declare that the hilly part of the area was coming to an end. Ahead of me, on Rosemary Lane, was the long descent to the A48 road into and flatter country for a while. I passed a house and yard which contained a ruinous vehicle I likened to an ancient school bus. It had a rust-nibbled bonnet and was dressed in faded blue paint, vegetation sprawled over bowed plastic windows. The house cat watched me disdainfully and refused to be drawn by my earnest entreaties to pet it, so that I gave up and moved on. Having said that I felt Rosemary Lane marked an end to this hilly section, I now encountered a part of it that swooped upwards for a short but savage period. I remembered it well and started my ascent, head down and breath soon rasping. The view from the top was worth the effort, however, as I could now see a large swathe of the River Severn. It was at this point that I parted company with the Gloucestershire Way, which darted down a hilly track on a more direct route to Chepstow.
The Wye meanders towards the Severn near Buffer Wharf, Chepstow
I was suddenly in a different world, leaving behind the quiet and leafy lanes, the social chattering of Rooks and Jackdaws and the hum of insects. Now, my ears had to quickly attune to the constant din of traffic passing by at high speed. I was able to walk along a path adjacent to the vehicles roaring by and took a quick break for water near Hanley House, set back as it was amongst a large garden. This bit of the day was a trawl. The A48 was long and straight and also uphill at times. The hard and unfamiliar concrete was unkind to feet that were already tired and beginning to ache with the miles they had put in and I guessed that I had between two and three more miles of this to walk before I reached Chepstow. At any rate, it took me a weary hour to reach the outskirts of Chepstow along a route that was at times, ‘bloody horrible’ as I commented during some filming I did. Sometimes, the convenient path alongside the road disappeared and I was forced to trudge along a narrow grass verge, darting out onto the road itself when vegetation forced me away from the verge and left me cringing at the passing cars and lorries. As I neared a bridge across the River Wye, which was imminently converging with the Severn at this juncture, I filmed another road bridge I had just walked under, a kind of flyover. This second bridge marked the only spot on my current walk which crossed a walk I had done three years earlier; the Offa’s Dyke path from the Sedbury cliffs, which I had walked in the company of my brother, my cousin and a family friend. Now, I stood looking at and trying to come to a decision. I was thirsty and fancied a pint. The time was now 4:50pm. Did I make a detour into the town, or carry on towards the Severn Bridge? I decided to walk on a while and decide later. In coming to this decision, I noticed a ‘Welcome to England’ sign for drivers leaving Chepstow, which meant that I had just crossed a border and was going to spend at least part of the day walking in Wales. In years gone by, I remembered, Chepstow castle had been ordered built by William the Conqueror in order to deter the Welsh from attacking Gloucestershire. It is the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain and its construction was started in 1067. Chepstow town itself is placed on very hilly ground and I next spent quite a while toiling up its streets, surrounded by bustling people and hurrying traffic. I cut left once I was well into town, leaving the A48 and walking along a lesser road through residential streets. I took the opportunity to stop at an Aldi stall to buy some more water and also quickly glugged down a cool and delicious yoghurt drink before hastening forwards on feet that were okay, but definitely achy and tired by now. I managed a couple of wrong turns through these streets, but it wasn’t too difficult to get back on track and find myself alongside the M48, my first motorway of the walk and the one which would become the and see me safely across the Severn Channel.
Looking back on the old Severn Bridge
I negotiated the road system around the Severn View service station and quickly found my way into the village of Aust, via a tunnel under a flyover of the M48. I was weary by now and my feet were hurting, so I decided to pitch my tent on the first available green space I could find. This turned out to be a stretch of grass right next to the flyover and snuggled into the side of a neat little power station. A couple of houses lay next to this and these, in turn, lay perpendicular to a whole street of houses. I was a little too close to human habitation than I wanted to be, given that I intended to walk to the village pub I had collapsed at three months before, after conceding that my walk was, on that occasion, over in its truest sense. The problem here was that I was going to be leaving a certain amount of valuable electronic equipment behind and unguarded for the evening, in my tent. I shrugged and pitched my home for the night. The light was fading now and I had no time to search for a more secretive pitching area. I changed out of my wet, dirty and stinking clothes and into something approaching respectability, before walking to The Boar’s Head and approaching the lady behind the bar with an ingratiating smile and a request of a hot meal. I was in luck and I ordered a steak, which I had been harbouring a growing craving for all day. Even more important than refuelling myself, I found a power point and covertly plugged in my mobile phone for a much needed charge up. I then relaxed and had a few beers with my meal, also chatting occasionally to a couple at the next table. It was a cool, dark night by the time I left the Boar’s Head, strolled back to my tent and crept into my sleeping bag. Far from being intrusive, the occasional passing vehicle on the M48 above me was actually quite soothing and it quickly lulled me into a welcome sleep.
- Quick one, before my battery expires. Spent a combative night in my tent, battling with an air mattress with a puncture.
- Now off to Easter Compton, on the far side of the Severn Channel. If the miles are hard on my feet, Chepstow instead. Or casualty.
- I've made it to the A48 in one piece. Now walking towards Chepstow. Feet are sore, but not shredded. This is preferable.
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