The blog / The journey

Not waving but drowning

I thought that this inland bit would be easy. 360 whole degrees of route-planning options rather than the 180 that you get on the coast (unless you fancy getting wet), no particular requirements except to head south as fast as possible, green and pleasant lands to camp in, kind affluent been-here-for-generations people to wish us well and wave us on. But it’s been surprisingly tough.

There are certainly kind people, we’ve met them all, and the average campsite cost went back down to £5 per person, which was nice. The land is very green and very pleasant, and there are daily breathtaking vistas. But I think I’m drowning in them. They’ve totally taken my breath. I pushed off from Chester at the northern edge weeks and weeks ago and I’m doggy-paddling increasingly frantically towards Chepstow, but it still looks a long way off. The land beneath us rises and falls all day long from under 100 to over 400 metres, sometimes we’re deep below the high green hedgerows, winding along in valley backroads, then snorkelling suddenly upwards through steep mulchy bridleways so totally overgrown as to be gloomy, covered tunnels, wriggling through the roots of the ancient old-world trees, clutched at by cat-toothed brambles, spanked in the shins by nettles, sweating from the inside, drizzled on from the outside, pursued by flies excited by a change from bothering cattle.

Then we break the surface, Chico and I as relieved as each other, gulping in the view on the crest of some ridge or common, scudding along a farm’s top field between the floating hay bales, sailing for a few miles between fields of billowing tufted barley, edged in pink froth of Rosebay Willowherb. The distance is often misty or hazy, grumbling low dark clouds with ragged stripes of sudden brightness or post-rain pearliness at the far horizon. And all around us are fields of different greens, and the odd gold or ploughed chocolate, edged by wise old trees, lit up like an empty dancefloor by momentary breaks in distant cloud.

There’s little to tell me what is what in the surrounding panorama; occasionally a quarry or distinctive shaped ridge seems to be a clue, but by the next breath it has all moved about. To make sense of it I need a map that shows dozens of miles in every direction, but I’m clinging to my 8km square of map, charting my floundering way through the choppy contour lines. I miss having the sea always on my left, seeing a headland in the far distance, then camping or picnicking on it, then seeing it get folded away behind the next one.

On Hergest Ridge near Kington we found ourselves amongst forty or more wild horses, but they wouldn’t lower themselves to getting het up by some passing strangers. Several fields of cows have been the same, much too well bred to make a fuss. The people too – it’s a long time since anyone shouted ‘Donkey!’ from a car window. Some people pretend they don’t see us at all, rather than risk being uncouth in bothering a passerby.

We’ve picked up our own hitchhikers though – Chico has lice, so our travelling carnival boasts a flea circus too. Chico is itchy and tired, surprised to be walking alone with me after weeks of different visitors. Elevated to fifty percent of the gang, he’s now liable to stop when he feels like it – sometimes just to have a bit of a think, sometimes with real mutinous intent in the set of his great jaw. He’s not convinced of the wisdom of labouring up just to come down again; he can tell that my encouragement is hollow – I can’t see the shore either.

But I do have the charts, and tomorrow morning we should be fresh from a few days’ rest, repairs and louse powder in Hay-on-Wye. A few more days of walking and we’ll join the great dignified Wye river at Monmouth, which will carve us a path through the landscape and down to the sea cliffs. I know we have an unlovely stretch of industrial coast ahead, but I can’t wait. I’m holding my breath in the green.



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  1. Wow, the scenery is quite magnificent and, in spite of your weariness and *ahem* hitchhikers, you’re waxing quite poetically about it all. Lovely read, stunning photos.

  2. Looks like something straight out of a James Harriot novel. Very beautiful. I hope you and Chico are getting along better these days.

  3. I know what you mean having done walking treks myself, but I must say these landscapes are breathless! what a magnificent countryside! the size of the paths also looks perfect for a human and a donkey.

  4. H Han , images are wonderful. Chico still a handful? Lovely reading your blog, can’t wait for the book!

  5. Morning Hannah,
    so beautifully written – I can’t wait for the book!! I am trying to find a window in my work in Anglesey to make my way to see you, but you’re trotting away a bit fast for me at the moment! At least you are heading for somewhere I’ve actually heard of vis Hay on Wye!! All the best Kay Laurie, Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens

  6. What a nice piece of writing! It DOES look idyllic, but all the wet would get me down. You two are troopers.

  7. Hi Hannah, Great to see progress going swimmingly! If you’re close to Caldicot and want a bed/paddock for the night we’d love to put you up

  8. It was good to spent a couple of days with you,albeit stationary. Home again. Envious of your wide open space, endless new choices, movement. After 3 month of this I most probably would like a change. Walking with a companion who is slower than you, both physically and mentally, is quite a challenge.Solving riddles has to happen on an entirely different level. In your case on a donkey level. Learning to have empathy with an animal cannot be forced. It takes time and suspension of human concepts.Whow,what a pilgrimage! You might have to go around England next.Not that I think you are slow,may be not slow enough.

  9. Nancy in Iowa says:

    Like Kris, I also thought of James Herriot. The scenery is gorgeous, and your writing is wonderful. How I wish I could meet the 2 of you in person! Sorry about Chico’s affliction – I hope the powder worked quickly.

    I find you amazing.

    Nancy in Iowa

  10. Keep your chin up Hannah, you are doing a fabulous job and we so enjoyed meeting you here at Cosy Under Canvas. We are keeping track of your every move and will let you know if we think of anymore suggestions of where to lay your weary head. Good luck xx

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