Dipping my Feet in - part 2 (Wye Valley Walk 2018)
July 2018 – Wye Valley Walk
Since my last entry, we’ve moved (not far away and still North-east Wales) and had a baby – little baby Samuel.
This is not a small change as many readers will know… so my walking will be limited this year, I think… but I’m feeling the need for a week away walking, and Nathalie understands this need, so although Samuel is only 2 and a half months, I am going for a week walking in the Wye Valley.
Monday July 16th
Nathalie and Samuel are going to have the first few days whilst I am away staying with our friend Sue. So we travel down together to hers. I leave from hers in Tewkesbury with my walking stick that I found earlier in the year, in coniferous woodland near where we are in the Vale of Clwyd. Take a bus to Cheltenham and then a train to Chepstow, to the west side of the Wye River (not far north of where the Wye Estuary pours into the larger Severn Estuary)… Begin to follow the Wye Valley Walk, walking northwards from there.
Very wooded all along the side of the Wye, and most of this evening’s walk is through beautiful deciduous woodlands, though I’m feeling a little unsettled.
Hoping to get to Tintern tonight with its picturesque Abbey, as I love locations with monasteries – new or old! Don’t quite get that far, but camp a few miles away from it in a really large field.
Tuesday July 17th
Walk to Tintern, enjoy looking at the Abbey ruins and have a cup of tea. Happen to meet the delivery driver for the chocolate company up in North Wales that I have literally just stopped working for the week before this walk. Was quite unlikely that I would see her here almost 4 hours south of the company, but they do deliver all round Wales, so we have a chat. Feeling a bit low and unsettled from the nights camping, and from some different challenges in the last few months. My friend Luke sends a text which says, ‘Was just thinking of you and felt the Lord wants you to know He’s got you safely in His hands… Hope that’s an encouragement.’ And it was – just the encouragement I needed at just the moment I needed it. He didn't even know I was out walking, so the timing had to be from God.
Hoping to walk as far as Monmouth tonight, so walk and walk and walk. One or two parts of the woodland are beautifully peaceful and quiet and stay for a moment in a couple of spots. Then walk some more. See a deer dart across the road. Get as far as a little town called Llangogo, then realise I am tired, feeling exhausted within myself – may be all the changes in this last year.
Whilst I know I am not walking long enough to do the whole Wye Valley Walk in this week (which stretches all the way to Plynlimon Mountain near Machynlleth in North-west Wales – it really needs two weeks) – yet, I am hoping to at least get to Hereford, and feel I need to walk every section along the way. It then occurs to me as I am sitting worn out at four in the afternoon that I do not have to do every section. This walk is for fun - this is just to get me through this year, and keep my walking going, ready for some of the ones I’ll do in future years. And it is for some respite in the midst of raising a little one. Bearing all this in mind, I have one of those… ‘abandon the strictness of your plans’ moments (that I have had in a few of my previous walks!)… and get the final bus out of the village that day to Monmouth.
Monmouth is a colourful town that I have a particular love for and drawing to, and it was one of the first places we thought of when we looked to move to Wales… In the end we have landed quite a long way north in an equally beautiful town: Ruthin.
I find a campsite, which is mainly caravans, and am pointed to a caravan and told to go and speak to a lady called Chris. She says its fine for me to stay and there’s a small space for tents. It feels safe and this feels like a good choice.
I go and get some fish and chips by the Monnow River, sit by the Monnow Bridge, thought to have been built in 1272, and reflect a little on the history of Wales, and how unsettled life on the borders has been.
Wednesday July 18th
Enjoy Monmouth and walk around town - have coffee and breakfast and read a bit of the paper in town, and now I feel like I am relaxing. In a town I love, having coffee and ‘being’…
Decide I will stay in Monmouth for two more nights, and so do some walks in different parts of the countryside around Monmouth. This turns out to be a brilliant decision.
I walk today back down the Wye towards where I left off yesterday, but only for a couple of miles, and then take a road up from Redbrook, after crossing the large bridge there, up into the countryside.
Walk up near to Kate Humble’s farm – called 'Humble by Nature'. I had read the story of how it came to be, in the years when we lived in Watford and were dreaming of coming to Wales. Feel suddenly nervous and wobbly about the thought of bumping into Kate Humble, which I feel silly about – our celebrity culture does really funny things to us! Speak to a man who lives nearby and he says that the café they used to have at 'Humble by Nature', the farm, had to be shut for the time being, but that they may open it again as things get going. They still run all the courses though.
I walk over some fields around the area, and something about the beauty of the landscape and the fields with oak trees in them, seems to evoke childhood dreams in my heart of what the perfect sort of countryside looks like, partly based I suppose on the countryside I would have encountered on holidays, and at my gran’s, and in books and stories I would have read and watched on telly. It’s as if my dreams of countryside as a child would have been something like this. And it’s so great up here that I don’t want to leave, but at some point I figure it is time to head back down the hill, over the bridge and up the Wye into Monmouth to the campsite and sleep.
Thursday July 19th
Spend another day enjoying Monmouth and in the afternoon get out into the countryside in a different direction to yesterday. I follow the river Monnow this time, out into the countryside beyond. It is ‘still’, beautiful and surprisingly deserted.
Meet a man out walking, who is a university lecturer in something scientific that is beyond me!
We talk, I tell him that I studied theology, and that I now write about spirituality and subjects like pilgrimage.
He says what a worthwhile thing that is, and I feel seen and heard. How often do you feel that in life? It’s great when you do. Think he enjoyed the chat too.
Having been in a few settings recently where people give me a glazed look when I tell them what I write about, this was a lovely change - though unfortunately I think I gave him one of those looks when he told me what his subject was, so much so that I can’t remember it. (Look up ‘glazed look’ as am writing this down to check it is the right expression – I recommend looking it up yourself just for the comedy value of the photos of peoples faces that come up on the search by googling that expression. Try it!)
Gaze out over golden fields of wheat (No glazing here, just gazing!).
Then as I’m walking back into town along a lane with beautiful views over the undulating hills, the sky starts to turn a beautiful pink, and I start to walk slowly and feel myself slowing down, taking it in and just ‘being’, and I begin to rest from all the changes of this year.
I know as soon as I get that feeling that I am slowing down, I am starting to find a bit more a 'natural inner pace' that my heart is happier with. This happens at moments when out walking over a period of time, and it happens on retreat as well. You begin to find everything slowing down.
Friday July 20th
I finally get walking back along the Wye Valley towards Ross on Wye. I was so enjoying Monmouth that I could have stayed the whole week, but I feel it’s time to walk further along the river.
I get beyond Symonds Yat (great name), where there is a large rock (imaginatively named Symonds Yat Rock!) protruding right above the river, similar to a very high cliff edge at sea. It’s meant to be a good place for seeing Peregrine Falcons, but I don’t see any – though I don’t actually go up to the official viewing point.
Want to keep going so I can camp somewhere. In the end come down through a path through woodlands, which I think is still the official Wye Valley path, but it has string across it blocking the way, and is very overgrown, so wonder if I’ve gone wrong and feel a bit unnerved, but keep going and climb under and around things, until eventually come out in a grassy opening by the River Wye. It feels quiet and peaceful and away from everything and everyone. My heart basks in the silence of God’s love that I sense here, and just sit for a while, and then put up my tent and sit and watch the river as the geese fly nearby and the sun sets.
Would love to see an otter – but that will have to be another time.
The beauty of the setting is good enough.
Saturday July 21st
Today I get up early and it is a full day of walking by the river to reach Ross on Wye by that evening. We have some friends who live there and I think of calling them to see if I can stay with them. Try but don’t get through.
I find a really good torch lying on the ground half sunk into the mud and pick it up, thinking that perhaps I will need it that day! I am intending to camp before dark, so I can’t see that I’ll need it, though I have forgotten to bring one on this walk (I can blame that on ‘baby brain’ – I know that’s only meant to be for mums, but I think I might have caught it!)
My intention is to camp in one of the campsites showing on the map amongst cider orchards. I go towards this as it sounds fun. However when I arrive the atmosphere does not give me peace at all. The people who run this place are serious hippies – not sure if the word ‘hippy’ has any real meaning any more but if it does it describes them! And to be honest it’s too good a word to never use! I decide there is no point in staying somewhere that feels so unpeaceful, so I walk back towards Ross on Wye, then along the river, and camp a little too close to the town, but it is now dark! After all that I do need this torch that has dropped out of heaven. Without it, pitching my tent would be an extreme struggle!
Sunday July 22nd
Walk towards Hereford, hoping to get the whole of the way there. Cut away from the river, using the map and through an area known as the Golden Valley, which at this time of year really earns its name with all the fields of corn and wheat glimmering in the sunshine. The blaring sunshine becomes too much and I stop by a farmyard barn. In the end, I meet a nice farmer. He tells me about a campsite they have which is beautifully placed on their farm, and we talk about the need now for farmers to diversify in what they do in order to make enough money. We also talk about the importance of kids learning at school about agriculture. He has some fantastic ideas of how this could be done more, and I suggest he shares his ideas a bit more widely.
Late afternoon I stop in a pub, and sit for a time. Then asking the quickest way to Hereford, I decide to abandon the river again, and get as close as I can to the city, as I will get a train from there tomorrow. In the end one of the barmen who I met in the pub gives me a lift to Hereford. We chat about his life and future as he drives me.
There are no obvious campsites in the city. Buy a KFC before heading out to find a place to wild camp… If there’s one thing I do like about civilised society it's this: Kentucky Fried Chicken. I could have happily lived in a hermitage away from everything had this been my calling, but even if I had done, I think I would still have wanted an occasional trip out to KFC!!
So I walk along the river in the direction of Wales for about 30 minutes, and eventually come out to beautiful spot… and think this is it, I’ll camp here. I do, and have a dream that night about the healing of all of creation, and how nothing and no one is unreachable in this healing, and how the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.
Monday July 23rd
Get train back to Chester, and then home, to my lovely wife and baby boy!
The River Wye flowing by Ross on Wye