Hope you all had a great Easter weekend.
Predictably, I spent mine, you guessed it, walking. This time in wonderful Wales – updates below, sent from rustic Danywenallt Youth Hostel near Brecon.
Before I start, a quick reminder on Saturday, June 8, there’s a group walk in Oxford (good central location, lots of parks/meadows) to raise money for the three charities – the Alzheimer’s Society, the Puzzle Centre and Medical Detection Dogs. It’s the only feasible day all the family can make. (So sorry, heard there’s a clash with Swanbourne Fete but 5 mile walkers could easily get back on time).
Everyone is welcome. Exact plans still to be finalised but 5, 10 and 20 mile walk options will be possible (or shorter if wanted). 5 miles likely to be most popular. I’ll do 20 (with my cart) but do whatever works for you. If interested please send an email to: email@example.com and let me know the number of people and preferred distance. Walks likely to start around 10.30am with a small post walk bunfight in the afternoon. Would love to see you.
Will also be giving some talks, especially Buckinghamshire, in late May, early June.
Ok, back to the diary…
Day 202 to 205 (last bit of Ireland)
Sleeping under the stars is one of the great joys on this walk.
If I can get away without a tent and just roll out my tarp and sleeping bag, so much the better.
Friday night on the road to Wexford I’d finished walking late and ended up at Mary Jo’s pub at Larkins Cross.
A Guinness with several cheerful locals later, I was told I could bivvy down in the neighbouring paddock.
After jumping the electric fence, stretching out on the tarp, ogling the dynamic night sky, I fell into a deep, childlike sleep.
The road en route has been full of surprises. In the quay at New Ross I saw a venerable Famine Ship dating back nearly 200 years.
When Ireland suffered its devastating potato famine in 1845 (over a million perished) many families, if able, chose to jump on a ship to America, the New World.
Over the years this tradition has produced such Irish American greats as JFK; car maker, Henry Ford and actress, then princess, Grace Kelly.
In Wexford the weather finally turned, whipping up a breeze so feisty my beanie was sent hurtling skywards.
The lovely team at Ferrybank Camping Park, Jimmy, Alisha and Lisa, let me pitch my tent in a sheltered spot even though the site was not due to open for campers until July!
After a stormy night, I packed up my damp kit and yomped the final 12 miles to Rosslare Harbour.
It rained steadily all day but this did not dampen my mood when I finally reached the choppy, wind lashed sea, a goofy smile all over my chops: the wild and gorgeous Emerald Isle was done.
I was further tickled by a Brexit Information Desk at the ferry terminal – All Your Brexit Questions Answered! Wow, what a brave claim!
The desk looked so deserted tumbleweed might start lolloping by. The poor soul running it had clearly bolted.
To end my magical Irish hike, a quote from a much used but evergreen Gaelic blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields…
Day 206 to 207
Grinning my chops off having hiked to the Irish Sea. Next stop, Wales.
After a stormy crossing from Rosslare, Koko and I docked at the lovely, snoozy port of Fishguard.
What a dramatic coastline, no wonder it was used for the 1956 film, Moby Dick, starring a wild-eyed Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.
My Welsh walk got off to a lively start when I stopped to pee behind a roadside shrub. A chap, waving his arms like a crazed footy ref, ran towards me, swearing heartily and saying words to the effect, ‘Get off my land’. I did, sharpish.
In town, I stopped at the James Hamilton hostel, run by a great, friendly bear of a fellow called Steve, ex Hells Angel and all round good egg, who has done every job known to man.
He let me hang up all my rain soaked kit and cooked up a shepherd’s pie for all the other guests, including a jolly bunch of locals, Brits, Spanish and Aussies.
This was followed by a pint at the Fishguard Arms, a tiny, laughter filled nook, where I met wise, white bearded, Peter, who with his wife, had run St David’s Youth Hostel – the most westerly one in Wales – for 25 years.
‘We applied for hot showers,’ said Peter. ‘But they were refused. Too soft. We were told, what’s wrong with guests washing in the sea? That was the 80s. Those were the days.’
Today, I checked out Fishguard’s main claim to fame – it was the last place in Britain ever invaded by foreign forces.
In 1797, when Napoleon was at the height of his powers, a plan was hatched to ship French soldiers to the Welsh coast. Due to fierce storms only one ship made it – to Fishguard.
The invading 1,400 soldiers were ill disciplined and were soon rounded up (many of them drunk) by local troops in Wales, including local legend, Jemima Nicholas, a Fishguard cobbler, who, armed with a pitch fork, forced a dozen French to surrender.
Later I walked 10 miles on to a top camping spot at Rosebush. A nearby farm shop, sold pies made from local grass-fed Dexters, the smallest cows in the UK, meat full of Omega 3. Wonderful. I ate them all!
Day 208 to 210
This part of Wales is full of ley lines, mythical threads of ancient energy still thought to be buzzing through the earth today.
Carmarthen, where I reached yesterday, is Wales’s oldest town and supposed birthplace of Merlin the wizard.
I’m often sceptical of mystical claims about nature. As a young journalist I worked for a local paper in Malborough, the nerve centre of the crop circle craze in the 1990s.
Those incredible, symmetrical patterns in the wheat fields attracted mystics, scientists and tourists from all over the world.
It later turned out they were created by beer fuelled pranksters armed with planks of wood with which they flattened the corn at night. Top scoop for a trainee hack!
That said, the landscape around here does pulse with a definite magic: the hills, the flowers, the roiling skies and bleating lambs, the ancient stones…
With this fine weather the camping has been a joy, too.
In Whitland, Diane, barmaid at the Fisher’s Inn kindly let me camp in the neighbouring caravan park – as usual I was the only tent.
The night before I pitched up by a lake in the village of Rosebush.
Nearby, I bumped into a jolly family, dad, Jeremy, with his son, Barnaby, and three nieces, Lyra, Olivia and Beatrice, who were all petting a sheep, with the magnificent name Barry (especially as she was a ewe).
Tomorrow, more sunshine! I might put my shorts on for the first time since Arizona – brace yourselves Brecon Beacons!
Have a lovely Easter everyone and make the most of it.
As the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, who lived not far from here, urged us:
‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light…’
Day 211 to 213
3000 miles complete!
Hit this milestone yesterday: an Easter I’ll always remember.
I turned up late and sun baked at the Ynysfaen (love to tell you correct pronunciation but haven’t got a clue) Campsite in the Brecon Beacons.
It was getting dark and I appeared out of the blue (it’s a far flung spot) but I was given a hearty welcome by Duncan and Elaine, the owners, who asked what I was up to.
I gave a quick explanation and went to set up camp – for once I was not the only tent.
I was knackered after a cracking but largely uphill day and ready to crash. All I had left in my rations was some Trail Mix but that was fine. I’d be able to stock up again tomorrow.
Before I knew it Duncan and Elaine had brought over a jacket potato, a sausage roll, some strawberries, a few Hobnobs and a cup of coffee.
I looked on in amazement at this feast and scoffed the lot with my hands with Shrek-like relish.
Turns out it was D and E’s first week running the camp site – they had sold a jewellery making business in Hampshire, working 14 hour days, to live a less stressful life in Wales.
The next morning, over breakfast, they gave me a laminated 3000 mile sign they’d made specially for me to celebrate.
I was so touched by D and E’s kindness, especially at Easter, a time I was missing family and friends. I hope they know how much their generosity meant. All I can say, if you like stunning, remote places make a beeline for Ynysfaen Camping. For a few quid you are in a wonderland to rival Tolkein’s Shire.
Earlier that Easter I’d walked through a tiny hamlet called Bethlehem. Christmas would have been more appropriate but still, irony was at play!
The night before I’d been allowed to pitch my tent in a paddock at the back of The Plough Inn near Llandeilo. Thank you manager, Sarah.
In America it was often churches who kindly let me stay/camp. In Ireland and Wales, it’s the pubs!
If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading! Ireland and Wales have been soul chargingly fine but I’m so excited to soon be walking on home turf including Swanbourne, Oxford and London.