Friday, June 27, 2014

O Fôn i Fynwy - walking Wales from end to end


Walking the Anglesey coast path
Walking the Anglesey coast path
When Harri was about 18 he bought a copy of Tony Drake's book, The Cambrian Way, in an outdoor shop opposite Cardiff Castle.
From that day on, he always hoped he would one day complete the high level walk described on the official website as 'traversing the highest and wildest parts of Wales'.
At 275 miles, the Cambrian Way is nearly 100 miles longer than the popular Offa's Dyke Path; it is also far more physically demanding with an overall estimated ascent of 61,540 feet (18,742 metres).
Looking across the Menai Strait towards Snowdonia
Looking across the Menai Strait towards Snowdonia
The route is not waymarked and so requires good navigational skills (map-reading and compass).
When Harri and I met back in 2006, he was still enthusiastic about walking the Cambrian Way, though realistic about the difficulties of completing it in one go. A year or two later, as he began to establish his outdoor writing career, he managed to get a publisher interested in the project. Unlike Tony Drake's book, Harri proposed to provide clear directional advice so that hikers would be less likely to lose their way.
One of Wales's many reservoirs
One of Wales's many reservoirs
Sadly, despite walking most of the Cambrian Way over a series of holidays and long weekends, we never quite completed the project. The publisher lost interest and it soon became apparent to Harri that certain sections of the route, e.g. the Rhinogs and some of the Snowdonia peaks, can be extremely dangerous in bad weather conditions, even in summer. Harri himself was caught in a white out in Snowdonia (at the end of April) and forced to clamber over treacherous and very slippery rock faces in the water-logged Rhinogs (in August).
Descending into the seaside town of Barmouth
Descending into the seaside town of Barmouth
Yet the idea of walking from one end of his country to the other had taken root and, as anyone with a heartfelt ambition knows, sometimes you just have no choice but to go back to the drawing board.
After a lot of time poring over the numerous OS maps covering Wales, Harri came up with an idea. The Welsh phrase O Fôn i Fynwy literally means from Anglesey to Monmouthshire but is also used figuratively to mean the whole of Wales. Why not devise a long-distance walk from west to east, starting in the north-west town of Holyhead and meandering south through Wales to Chepstow?
Near Beddgelert in Snowdonia
Near Beddgelert in Snowdonia
Harri's route would be undulating and demanding (this is Wales after all) but, unlike the high-level Cambrian Way, still well within the capabilities of anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. Moreover, it wouldn't present hikers with the ultimatum of continuing across high mountains in extreme weather or pulling out, because the highest peaks would be outlined as optional detours.
At around 400 miles (the exact distance is yet to be calculated), it would also be a much greater challenge than Wales's existing National Trails, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (186 miles/299 km), Glyndŵr's Way (135 miles/217 km) and Offa's Dyke Path (176 miles/283 km).
The pretty valley village of Abergynolwyn
The pretty valley village of Abergynolwyn
We walked O Fôn i Fynwy in June, leaving Holyhead on June 2 and arriving in Chepstow on June 24. It was tough going at times and we faced some steep climbs, e.g. the Cadair Idris pass, Carmarthen Fans, Pen y Fan. Harri's route takes in some of Wales' most breathtaking mountain scenery, including waterfalls, rivers and lakes, follows miles of the Wales Coast Path and visits some of the prettiest places our small country has to offer.
The Carmarthen Fans, Brecon Beacons
The Carmarthen Fans, Brecon Beacons
Like the late Tony Drake, we've stuck to public rights of way, but wherever possible, we've used existing waymarked trails like the North Wales Path, the Ardudwy Way, the Beacons Way and the Wye Valley Walk as they are usually better maintained and signposted than other footpaths.
We're still refining the route - we'll be returning to mid Wales in July to check out some alternatives to the route. If all goes as planned, we aim to publish the guidebook by early autumn. In the mean time, I'll be sharing some of our experiences with readers of The Walker's Wife across the world.
The Black Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to Llanthony Priory
The Black Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to Llanthony Priory

Our hope is that one day O Fôn i Fynwy will be recognised as Wales' fourth National Trail. In the meantime, we just want to introduce outdoor lovers from across the world to this beautiful country we live in.
The twin peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du
The twin peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du

O Fon i Fynwy - walking Wales from end to end by Harri Roberts and Tracy Burton will be published by camau later this year (2014)
A more detailed version of this blog will be published in an accompanying ebook later this year.





Sunday, June 1, 2014

Backpacking in hot weather

The balmy days of summer are few and far between in the UK
The balmy days of summer are few and far between in the UK
When you live in Wales (or Britain, come to that) you tend to get used to walking in miserable conditions - snow, sleet, hail, fog, torrential rain. Our wonderful, constantly changing climate means that even the Met Office can't get it right most of the time. You get a forecast for a warm, sunny day, set off in sunshine and end up soaked through a few hours later.
Harri and I have had some dreadful experiences over the years; we've shivered and dripped our way up and down Wales and around the South West Coast Path. During one unforgettable summer trip to the western tip of Cornwall, we walked from St Ives to Sennen in the heaviest rain imaginable. The coast path had become a raging torrent around our feet and the rain and wind was relentless (unsurprisingly, we only passed two other hikers all day and they looked as miserable as us!).
Three years ago, Harri tackled the Rhinogs in weather that was so bad I was fearful for his safety (yes, you've guessed it... in August!). When I finally picked him up near Harlech hours later, he was so cold we had to have the car heating turned up high.
Locked out in the rain at Ilston, Gower
Locked out in the rain at Ilston, Gower
My point is that in the UK we're so busy expecting (and preparing for) the worst possible weather that we rarely pause to consider the likelihood that it might end up being hot and sunny.
On our recent trip to the Somerset Levels, it was really blustery but the sun was so strong that we both managed to burn our lips. Had we been hiking in Europe, or the States, we'd have stocked on up lip salve with UVP but it didn't cross our minds that we'd need protection from the sun here in the UK, in May.
When it gets too hot  there's only one thing to do... find water and JUMP IN!!
When it gets too hot there's only one thing to do... find water and JUMP IN!!
Hot weather hiking requires an altogether different mindset so who better to ask for some pointers than someone who lives in central Texas, where summer temperatures can reach the high 90s Fahrenheit. Joseph is an avid kayaker, who works for Austin Canoe and Kayak (ACK.com) so he's got plenty of experience of staying safe in the sun while still having plenty of fun.
So, while I sit here dreaming of another summer like 1976, it's over to Joseph.
"When you think about summer hiking, you probably imagine the blistering sun beating down, dusty soles edging on hot rock, snakes rattling from the bushes, and shimmering mirages off in the dusty distance. And yet, these thoughts aren’t all that far from the precautions one must take when considering a desert hike or during the summer months. Important things to consider on your hike are the conditions of the trail, staying hydrated, wearing adequate clothing and carrying helpful gear, as well as the possible dangers of exposure and fatigue when it’s hot outside. Consider the following points when you’re planning your next summer hike.
Enjoying the heat in Setubal, Portugal
Enjoying the heat in Setubal, Portugal

Proper planning 

The first point of your logistics should be to tell someone you’re going for a hike. Tell them when, where, for how long and swap contact names and numbers for all those in the party. Prepare an emergency plan. Hiking as a pair or as a team is not only safer, but sharing the experience is more fun. Make sure you research your proposed route and any contingency plans. Take note of any potable water points or permanent streams and lakes as these may become useful in the event you exhaust your water supply.
Know your terrain. Sometimes it’s best to make sure the members of your team are of similar ability, but in the case of a family group or multi-experienced team, pace yourselves to accommodate the lowest level of experience in your party.
Check the weather before you go. This will help you to plan more effectively for possible severe events, even though it’s good to pack a rain jacket anyway. In more mountainous terrain, the weather is increasingly unpredictable and so too the likelihood of being caught in a thunderstorm, especially during the summer months and even in the desert.
A rare hot day in the Brecon Beacons (Harri on Pen Cerrig-calch)
A rare hot day in the Brecon Beacons (Harri on Pen Cerrig-calch)

Stay hydrated

The most important personal factor to consider when planning a warm weather hike is proper hydration. If you are hiking uphill and in full midday sun you can lose up to two quarts of fluid an hour, not to mention the essential electrolytes you are losing during this time as well. Be sure to pack an appropriate sized water bladder, a handheld water bottle, and a water purifier (tablet, bottle attachment or pump) if you’re going to hike for a long period of time. This will allow you to collect water from the natural resources along your hike such as streams lakes and pools. Note that long slimmer bottles pack more easily than shorter bulkier ones.

Clothing 

When packing clothing, be sure to carry proper attire for all expected inclement weather. You need to be prepared for thunderstorms, hail, and even 30-40 degree drops in temperature.  You should wear layers and pack extra pieces you may need. A sweat-wicking under layer, mid layer for morning and evening, and a rain jacket to protect against wind and rain. If you have room in your pack, it’s nice to have a third outer, warm layer in case darkness falls during your journey. You should also pack a hat or bandana and sunglasses in order to shield yourself from the intense sun.
Clothes
However hot it is, always carry extra clothes for sudden weather changes

Footwear

Wear appropriate hiking boots and be sure they have adequate tread, can lace up tight, and fit properly. If they are too tight or loose, you can develop blisters and actuate poor circulation. High-topped hiking boots can also help protect your ankles through cactus and snake terrain. If you’re planning a trip with a few hikes, or a particularly long hike, and you’re thinking of purchasing new boots, it’s a good idea to break them in for at least two to three weeks prior. A tip to help minimize friction inside your boots and prevent blisters or hotspots forming is to wear two layers of socks. Wear a thin under-layer made from a material that helps wick moisture away from your foot and a second thick outer-layer sock to provide good support and cushioning. The friction will be mitigated between the two layers of socks and reduce any potential hotspot on your foot.

Selecting the proper pack

When selecting your pack, it’s best to consider the length of your hike and the personal items you’ve decided to pack including your water, food, extra clothing layers, first aid, and emergency kit. Typically a good size pack for a day hike is anything between 20-30 kilograms and will depend on how much water and food you need and whether you are carrying items for others (in the case of a dad or team leader). It’s important to make sure the pack is positioned on your body correctly, with the weight placed predominantly on the hips. Also consider packing the backpack properly by distributing the weight evenly. This will help you to save energy on the hike and eliminate a shifting load.

Bring the proper gear 

It’s important to pack anything you may need in the lightest way possible. You should bring a headlamp to be contingent on a late arrival time. Make sure to have sunscreen, bug repellant, extra batteries for your headlamp, a first-aid kit, a flint fire starter, and a GPS device or a map.
About the Author:
Joseph is an avid kayaker based out of the central Texas area. He has spent many a weekend and holiday on the Texas coast attending sea kayaking events or just having some fun with a kayak or paddleboard. He’s currently employed at Austin Canoe and Kayak (ACK.com) and loves that he gets to spend time working with his favorite toys.

A refreshing dip in a shallow stretch of the River Monnow... but never jump into deep, cold water
A refreshing dip in a shallow stretch of the River Monnow... but never jump into deep, cold water


Thursday, May 29, 2014

England Coast Path - Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater

The wooden lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea
The unique wooden lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea stands on nine oak 'legs'
I think you can pretty much judge a place from the first few people you encounter. Fortunately, Burnham-on-Sea seems to be one of those places where people will stop and give you the time of the day, which was a relief because by the time we reached the seaside resort we desperately needed cheering up.
It was hard to believe that a few hours earlier we'd been strolling through Uphill in glorious sunshine. Now, after several miles of blustery Bristol Channel winds, we were cold and desperate for any kind of shelter.
Rounding a bend in Bridgwater Bay, we at last spied Burnham's iconic wooden lighthouse in the distance.
The 36 feet low lighthouse, as it's called (I think, referring to its proximity to the estuary), is one of three lighthouses in Burnham, but the only one still active. It was built in 1832, at the same time as the High Lighthouse, and was put out of service between 1969 and 1993. Its lights were re-established when High Lighthouse was permanently discontinued. It's a lovely-looking structure and not at all like our typical British lighthouses.
Our initial plan was to find a bench and eat our lunch al fresco... it was May afterall. Unfortunately, despite finding an empty bench, it was too exposed for anything but shivering.
We headed into Burnham's main shopping street, determined to locate a cafe. Harri, however, immediately spotted The Victoria Hotel, which proved to be a great choice as it's one of the friendliest pubs we've visited in a long while. I stuck to a cuppa (amazing value at 85p, and with a biscuit thrown in) and Harri had a pint. We talked to each other for a while, but gradually got chatting to the cheery landlady and before we knew it, other customers had joined in the conversation.
Boats on the River Brue
Boats at the mouth of the River Brue, near Burnham-on-Sea
There seemed to be an air of disbelief that, having walked there from Weston, we now intended to continue to Bridgwater. One customer told us we had at least another ten miles to walk, which sounded much farther than our somewhat vague calculations.
Yet again, the niggling issue was a river. Our route to Bridgwater would see us following a tidal stretch of the River Parrett, but first we had to do another inland detour to cross the smaller River Brue. It's not that I don't enjoy meandering along riverbanks on sunny afternoons, but when it's cold and blustery, it's not the easiest kind of walking. It's also hard psychologically because you can walk for hours only to find yourself moreorless in the same place, albeit on the opposite riverbank.
Setting off up the River Parrett as the tide comes in
Setting off up the River Parrett as the tide comes in
The River Parrett itself reminded me of the River Usk, in Newport, but without the industry. We could see the outline of Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station in the distance but we wouldn't be reaching that particular landmark until the following day.
By now my feet were killing and Harri wasn't feeling much better. Sometimes I really think we push ourselves too hard but when you have friends who do ultra-marathons (yes, really) it feels a bit wimpish to pull out of a day's walk after a mere 20 miles. Anyway, we had accommodation booked in Bridgwater so we had no choice but to carry on... it was only another six miles after all.
Combwich across the River Parrett
Combwich across the River Parrett
Six miles later, we limped into Bridgwater to a dazzling skyscape. The sun was setting to our left, while the moon was high in the sky to our right. Somehow, despite the exhaustion, sore toes, aching calves and hunched back, I had the presence of mind to photograph both (I amaze myself at times!).
The sun was setting as we limped into Bridgwater
The sun was setting as we limped into Bridgwater 
Finally, at just past nine o'clock we arrived at our Premier Inn, knowing that tomorrow's hike would see us leaving Bridgwater and following the River Parrett Trail all the way back to the river mouth (but this time on the opposite bank).

England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Roberts will be published by camau in ebook format in August 2014.
The Somerset sky was full of beauty as we approached Bridgwater
The full moon in the clear Somerset sky

England Coast Path - Weston to Burnham-on-Sea

Weston's Big Wheel, taken from our hotel room window
Weston's Big Wheel, taken from our hotel room window
I was too tired to really notice when we rolled in last night, but this morning I opened the curtains of our Premier Inn room to be confronted with a superb, close-up view of a big wheel. Not that I'm a great lover of funfairs, but having this great monster of a ride right outside our window definitely reinforced the fact that we had arrived at the seaside proper!
It's amazing how much more optimistic one feels after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed. Despite the little toe on my right foot now boasting three separate blisters and my legs feeling like I'd run a marathon, I was spiritually refreshed and ready to face another day's hiking.
We munched dry packets of oats (the golden syrup variety is really nice uncooked) and banana chips before setting off to find the nearest supermarket to stock up on lunch and evening supplies.
Life becomes so simple when you have no choice about what to wear, what to eat, what to do, etc. When all you have in your daily life is what you're able to carry in your rucksack, it really makes you question our culture's obsession with possessions. Why do we need twenty or more outfits, clothes we'll never wear, books we'll never read, ornaments, trinkets, endless amounts of things? Maybe we should show some courage and give away our surplus belongings, aim to lead simpler lives? We'd probably be a lot happier for it.
Back on the promenade we were amused by a plaque on the toilet block, which read: 'Send a message to a faraway friend, encourage them to build something wonderful: Utopian Town, Pond of Repose, Giant Arch, Tumbledown Shed, Room 102. That relief on the toilets is the undersea Atlantic cable that carried telegraph messages to the USA. It emerges at Heart's Content, Newfoundland.'
xxxxxx
The toilet block on Weston's promenade
It sounded a tad nonsensical but we later found out that it's part of the Wrights & Sites project, which has developed 41 carefully worded signs around Weston to encourage people to engage with their immediate environment and 'encourage the reader to think again about its specific location, to conduct an action or thought experiment.'
Before creating their messages, the artists conduct extensive research on an area, often walking for miles around a town and talking to local people. Their work is intended to 'tap into different layers or strata of strata of a place, peeling back the surface to reveal hidden or obscured aspects of a location or situation'.
It's an interesting concept and it certainly works because it got Harri and me chuckling, talking about the toilet block's history and wondering if transatlantic cables really had been associated with the seafront premises.
Back home, we checked and the Wikipedia entry for Weston states 'In 1885, the first transatlantic telegraph cable of the Commercial Cable Company was brought ashore and the company started a long association with the town, ending in 1962. Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy, successfully transmitted radio signals across the Bristol Channel in the spring of 1897, from Penarth (near Cardiff) to Brean Down (just south west of Weston, on the other side of the River Axe).'
There was a time when sand art was free to all
There was a time when sand art was free to all
We'd barely made any progress before something else caught my eye... a huge Disneyesque sandcastle was peeping over the top of a fenced-off area. We couldn't see very much of the sculpture as the whole exhibition was hidden behind those high barriers. It was a sad reminder of how different life is now than when I was a child. Back in the 70s, the sand sculptures at Weymouth were created for all children (and adults) to marvel at, no-one had to pay an entry charge to see them. Weston Sand Festival isn't expensive - family tickets cost £10 - but there must be plenty of families for whom even a tenner is unaffordable. It's a shame...
The River Axe - one of Somerset's natural 'obstacles'
The River Axe - one of Somerset's natural 'obstacles'
Our first challenge of the day was crossing the River Axe. In its beach safety leaflet, Sedgemoor District Council warns 'Do not attempt to cross the River Axe on foot from near Brean Down to Uphill'. And bearing in mind those individuals who tend to ignore official rules, it adds 'Deep soft mud and very fast rising water have in the past proved fatal'.
Unfortunately, many do not heed these stern words. In July 2011, coastguards were called upon to free three people stuck in mud. Just two days later, two 22-year-old women got stuck in exactly the same place after trying to walk across the estuary.
As a self-professed hater of mud, I find it impossible to imagine what is going through these people's minds when they start wading through the horrible thick slime. I assume they risk it because the rocky headland at Brean Down looks so near and they can't (or won't) accept they have to walk miles up the estuary and back again to reach it.
The River Axe at low tide... keeping well away from the mud
The River Axe at low tide... keeping well away from the mud
Burnham/Weston coastguards... if you're reading, be assured you will never have to rescue me from the River Axe, not ever. Nothing on this planet that would induce me to leave the nice solid path through Walborough Local Nature Reserve and wade out onto those glistening mudflats.
Despite my mud-aversion, the area alongside the estuary is really rather nice. Standing high above the village of Uphill is the old church of St Nicholas, now partially ruined (the Victorians built a new church of the same name slightly away from the village centre) but still imposing. The Norman church dates from AD1080 and retains many of its original features. It's usually open to the public during the summer (from Whitson) but alas, we didn't have time to do the 'uphill' detour.
Despite its name, the village of Uphill lies below the level of the highest tides
Despite its name, the village of Uphill lies below the level of the highest tides
Another interesting thing about Uphill is that its name is something of a misnomer. The village lies below the level of the highest tides, making it vulnerable to flooding; the December 1981 floods, which devastated the Marine Lake at Weston, saw parts of Uphill under three feet of water. Low-lying Uphill has been reliant on sea defences since medieval times. During the Second World War, prisoners of war rebuilt the sluice and in 2003/4 the structure was again updated to meet modern standards of safety.
We followed the estuary for a while on the cycle path, enjoying the warm sunshine and pretty landscape. As I've said previously, I don't object to these inland detours as long as they're well signposted and scenic.
Don't be fooled... alpaca do not make good pets
Don't be fooled... alpaca do not make good pets
At one point, the footpath took us onto a farm where they bred Suri alpaca for wool. We stopped to chat to the owner, who quickly put us off ever owning these animals. Despite their cute appearance (and their undisguised interest in us), they are apparently quite difficult to keep, bite if given the chance and require specialist shearers. That's it then, we're sticking to Plan A and keeping goats...
We returned to the coast at Brean village where the tide was out and the beach seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. We were disappointed to have missed Brean Down but it would have meant a long walk in the wrong direction and we just didn't have time.
Unfortunately, while we'd been wandering around country lanes, the wind had been gathering might and we walked the rest of the way to Burnham-on-Sea battling against it.
We faced a long, cold walk along the beach
The sandy beach stretches seven miles from Brean Down to Burnham-on-Sea
Highlight of this coastal stretch for me was the wreck of the SS Nornan at Berrow. The Norwegian ship was one of many caught in the Bristol Channel during a howling south westerly gale in March 1897. She'd sought shelter in the lee of the Lundy Roads but found herself being swept towards Berrow mud flats by the driving wind.
The next morning, the ship was spotted just off Gore Sands. In gale force conditions, the Burnham lifeboat went to her aid and miraculously managed to rescue the crew of ten and their dog.
Its crew was saved but the ill-fated SS Nornan never sailed the seas again
Its crew was saved but the ill-fated SS Nornan never sailed the seas again
We felt like we, too, were experiencing the best gale force conditions the Bristol Channel had to offer... really it's so hard to walk on these vast exposed beaches when the wind is blowing straight at you.
We rounded a bend and got our first glimpse of Burnham-on-Sea... not the day's final destination but somewhere to rest a while and have a bite to eat.
For more pictures of the SS Nornan visit The Walker's Wife on Pinterest.


England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Roberts will be published by camau in ebook format in August 2014.











Wednesday, May 28, 2014

England Coast Path - Clevedon to Weston

Marine Lake will be transformed if a Heritage Lottery Bid is successful
Marine Lake will be transformed if a Heritage Lottery Bid is successful
With our elevensies rapidly devoured and the sky getting greyer and greyer, we reluctantly hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs and set off again.
Clevedon is home to the largest tidal pool I've ever seen. Marine Lake is located at the far end of Salthouse Bay and from certain angles it looks like a huge infinity pool with the open sea as its backdrop. The pool opened in 1929 and was very popular until the 1960s when package holidays abroad took off.
For decades, Marine Lake was neglected; then, about ten years ago, its fortunes began to change as Clevedon Town Council and other groups began to recognise its enormous potential for sailing, canoeing, open water swimming and model boat sailing. Grant-aided repairs were made in 2012, and the outcome of a £980,000 Heritage Lottery Fund bid is currently awaited.
I must admit that to my inexperienced eyes the pool looked wonderful, but apparently there is a leak in the outer wall of the lake, which means that the water level drops at low tide, making substantial parts of the lake unusable until the next high tide.
The Marine Pool with Clevedon Pier in the distance
The Marine Pool with Clevedon Pier in the distance
If the bid is successful (fingers crossed) the walkways will be improved, the paddling pool refurbished and beach huts and showers added. I think it's brilliant when historic landmarks like this one are restored and brought back into use and, if Clevedon gets its grant, I'd like to return to see the transformation for myself (and perhaps take a dip).
It's a shame we didn't have time to linger in Clevedon because I would have loved to have popped in to the Corrister and White boutique cafe to say hello to Diane (we worked together for years) and treat myself to one of her delicious cup cakes.
And so we left Clevedon, steering ourselves for a long inland detour (such is the slow development of a national coast path) and, judging from the colour of the sky, an imminent soaking. We'd barely reached The Lookout when the heavens emptied; within minutes we were soaked. In half an hour, we'd gone from wandering through a charming Victorian seaside resort in glorious sunshine to staring down at a muddy inlet in torrential rain. And my poor little toe was hurting badly.
The weather changed as we walked around Clevedon Pill
The weather changed as we walked around Clevedon Pill
We plodded on, very wet and (in my case) miserable. A cycle path across the River Yeo at Tutshill Ear is proposed and will hopefully be in place within the next few years but until it is, walkers have no choice but to head inland (no hardship on a warm, sunny day but rather less appealing in the rain).
If anyone ever tries to convince you the life of an outdoor writer is glamorous, I can assure you it's not! Not in the British climate anyway. On days like today, with my trousers clinging to my legs, my hair soaking and my toe in agony, I almost long for the relative comfort of my old office. Almost. But no matter how bad the weather, stopping was not an option - our car was back home in Wales and we weren't exactly in the middle of commuter land. We'd have to walk miles to stop walking miles so it made sense to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Returning to the coast after a long inland detour
Returning to the coast after a long inland detour
On we trekked, our spirits sinking lower and lower. Of course, we don't suggest that anyone else walks from Portishead to Weston in one day; in his book, Harri is splitting the route into two day sections: Portishead to Clevedon and Clevedon to Weston. It's just that we needed to cover the whole walk in five days due to other commitments. It seemed a good idea at the time... when we were talking about it... in the sunshine...
We finally returned to the coast near Woodspring Priory. By now, the wind had died down and it was once again sunny.Had we not been so tired, we might have noticed the gorgeous scenery.
Coast path walking proper on the
Coast path walking proper on the headland above Sand Bay
The grassy slopes of Middle Hope and the headland beyond are coast path walking at its best - undulating grassy paths with gorgeous views across the sea and the dry stone walls that I love.
We descended to the northern end of Sand Bay, where a ladies-only running group enjoying an evening run made me despair that I'd ever be able to move that fast again (I think I was hobbling by this point).
Sand Bay is another interesting place. It was the site of one of the earliest Pontins holiday camps, opening in 1947; during its peak, it had 300 chalets spread over 17 acres. Several changes of ownership followed and the site has once again opened under the Pontins brand in 2014, though now it is adult-only.
In the 1980s, the beach was raised to prevent flooding; as a result, it now has two levels, one at the original height near the sea and a grass-covered higher level beach adjacent to the road.
Weston Woods lifted our spirits temporarily
Weston Woods lifted our spirits temporarily
Earlier in the day, Harri had told me we'd be entering Weston via a lovely woodland trail running parallel to the toll road below and I was really looking forward to this final stretch of our walk through Weston Woods (the trees were planted on Weston Hill in the 1820s by the lord of the manor to create a private game reserve, however 80% were felled during World War I).
By the time we reached said trail, the sun was setting over the Bristol Channel and my limp had become a mile per hour hobble. It was great to escape man-made surfaces for a while though and my mood cheered as I enjoyed the dappled patterns created as the flame-coloured sunset broke through the trees. A century after they were razed for military purposes, the woods are once again thriving and providing worn-out walkers with an uplifting end to a very long day.
At last, we descended a stony track and emerged in Weston.
The scary causeway that separates the open sea from Weston's Marine Lake
The scary causeway that separates the open sea from Weston's Marine Lake
The very last hurdle of the day (apart from finding a chip shop that was actually open!) was crossing the very-scary causeway across Weston's Marine Lake (yes, another Marine Lake which coincidentally was also created in 1929). The causeway separates the sea from the artificial lake behind and has been an important part of Weston's sea defences for over 80 years (a refurbishment programme has taken place in recent years).
I don't know if it was tiredness or the fast-dimming light, but I found the experience so terrifying that I managed to summon up my last ounce of energy to rush across at top speed. Goodness knows, I must have looked a pretty scary sight myself, hunched over with a huge backpack and a pronounced limp!
It was 9.30pm when we finally arrived at the Premier Inn which was to be our home for the night... and it wasn't a moment too soon. Twelve hours of walking is pretty tough, even in a landscape renowned for its flatness.
And we had to do it all over again tomorrow!

England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Roberts will be published by camau in ebook format in August 2014.