Walking from John O'Groats to Land's End in the winter of 07/08.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Leintwardine to Kington

Two days of relaxation. Lazy days that were not merely guilty pleasures, but necessary in order to gather strength and continue this journey (or maybe just a good excuse to spend more time in bed). After this, setting off again was a brutal reawakening to just how hard walking the length of the country in winter can be.

It started innocently enough, finding a route across the waterlogged grassy fields that form the floodplain of the River Teme. I worked my way across more green fields, took tracks across steep wooded slopes and followed lanes through villages as I headed for the Welsh border. Drizzle grew to heavy rain, blown in on a strong wind, and the wetness began to overwhelm my waterproof clothing. This continued for several hours through the pleasantly lush and gently undulating landscape until I entered the third country of this walk and the town of Knighton.

Here I joined the Offa's Dyke Path, which I found climbing steeply out of the town in a small wood, and followed as it skirted a golf course to reach the crest of the hill. As I gained height the rain turned into soggy snowflakes, which coated fences and began to slowly colour the fields in white, a broad brush stroke starting from the lee side. Leaving the shelter of the trees, the wind was bitterly cold. Many stiles lay ahead, each marked with the acorn symbol, but eventually I emerged on a road. Fighting to keep warm, I ducked into a bus shelter for a few moments of relief. Eating a few muffins, each movement reminded me of my damp clothing. I wrung out my hat and gloves, casting my mind forward to the end of the day and away from this unpleasantness.

It was time to move on, although I doubted whether I was being particularly rational at that moment, the past forty two days of effort compelling me to keep going. The snow covered the fields in increasing depths and camouflaged the trees to the white of the rest of the landscape. Visibility dropped, the usual landmarks and the footsteps of previous travellers disappeared and the blizzard blew flakes into my eyes. The shallow ditch of the Dyke took the crest of the hill and offered no shelter. Eventually I descended to a tiny hamlet and a green valley.

The path was easy to follow over the hills and I began to grow in confidence, no longer intimidated by the aggression of the weather. As darkness fell I struggled to find the way through a farm and wondered how long it would take me to navigate over the tricky final hill. So I returned to the road and followed a small lane. Here I got into a rhythm and detuned my mind from the red rashes my wet trousers were rubbing into my thighs, something I hadn't had to deal with since Scotland.

Finally I took to the verges of a busy road, and trudged in the rain as cars illuminated my dishevelled form. I found a room in the first inn I came across and slowly began to dry out. It's tempting to think that after the wilds of the north, and with large proportion of the distance already walked, I faced only an easy romp in increasing daylight to Lands End but this journey still holds some tough challenges.

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