This is the fifth stage of my challenge to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, wild camping all the way. This stage is from Cheddar to Monmouth.
Day 16: Monday 4th March 2019
I woke this morning to no wind, and a LOT of condensation. It had been very windy in the night, but I was well protected in the bottom of a valley. I got going at first light (about 6am), passing the obligatory dog walkers and runners – all female, and not particularly friendly.
It was quite a nice walk to Winford, through fields, green lanes and quiet roads. I stopped for lunch in Winford and went for the full three courses as I’d had no breakfast to speak of. I was also a bit worried about my timing to get to Bristol, as I needed to find a large supermarket that stocks meths for my stove. The lack of hot drinks is difficult at the moment, and I nearly picked up pot noodles before I realised that I can’t heat the water for them.
From Winford it was a short walk to Bristol.
The priority was finding some meths. I eventually found a Sainsbury’s and used the loo, but no meths, so I didn’t shop there. Walking further on, I found a Toolstation which I luckily hold an account for. I got 500ml of meths for £3 but no shopping! This left me with three coffees.
I’m not seriously worried though, as I keep having trouble finding water to filter. There were no streams over the Mendips and very little lower down. I am considering buying some, but at least I have just enough for a coffee tonight, combined with a bar of chocolate for my tea.
My route through Bristol took me under the Clifton suspension bridge, which felt quite momentous to me. I’ve walked over it a number of times and have always wanted to walk under it – it’s a nice feeling to have finally done it.
Finding somewhere to camp was my next significant challenge. I knew I was pushing my luck coming into Bristol so late, as it is a long walk out of the city.
After rejecting many spots (see photo above!), I finally found somewhere by the River Avon. It would have been a good spot, apart from the traffic noise. I hoped I had hidden myself well enough and was glad I camped when I did, as the rain arrived as soon as I’d pitched my tent.
I suddenly feel as though I am getting somewhere on this walk. Getting to Bristol is a milestone achieved, and with the Severn Crossing tomorrow, Wales feels very close.
I’m quite worried about the Welsh section of my challenge, though. It’s a remote section with a lot of pathless stretches, which are not easy to follow in bad weather. Having checked the weather forecast, I may follow the River Wye as this will be easier to navigate and lower level.
Day 17: Tuesday 5th March 2019
There was lots of rain last night, and I woke to an early shower. I was up and away by my usual 6am, and walked through the Bristol suburbs with some lovely park areas by the river.
I crossed the M5 again and walked through fields, then a massive industrial estate which led me under a new motorway bridge to the old Severn Road Bridge. This has a footpath leading to Chepstow.
I stopped in Chepstow to resupply and get some lunch, but mainly to rest – it was a long walk across the bridge and the wind made it difficult too. My muscles are feeling quite tight, so it was good to rest my legs for a bit.
It was school finishing time when I walked through Chepstow. Watching all the school children walking home made me miss my children, and my normal routine of the school run and making tea for them when they arrive home starving!
The weather deteriorated in the afternoon. On leaving Chepstow in the drizzle, I joined the Wye Valley Walk and enjoyed it straight away. The path was a bit muddy in places, but it was lovely zig-zagging through the woods, up and down. Some stretches are high above the river on the hillside, which I loved.
I found the one and only stream I’d seen for days amongst the woods here. I filtered some water and carried it for about a mile before camping, really looking forward to finally being able to make coffee! This is especially important on damp days, and it can be pretty chilly in the mornings (often around 3 or 4 degrees).
It was great having a dry tent to get into. I have been trying to stop each day for about half an hour or so, ideally somewhere windy, so I can put the tent up to dry it. It does dry very quickly, but the weather forecast next week is wet every day. That might be the make or break of this challenge for me. My down sleeping bag needs to be dry to work, and there are some freezing nights ahead. I always put my Jack Wolfskin windproof jacket over the foot of my sleeping bag to protect it from the damp at the low end of my tent, and this is working really well. The jacket is often wet, but the sleeping bag is dry. This system also keeps my feet warmer so I’ve not needed my down socks yet. I’m keeping them with me, though, as I’m sure I’ll need them soon. You can’t beat warm feet.
Covering these high mileages each day has been done by continuous walking. I am not a quick walker – I usually average about 2mph – but I’m not stopping very often because it’s not warm enough. I have started forcing myself to sit in a cafe or pub for as long as possible to rest during the day, if it’s possible. The downside to this constant walking is hygiene. My body is fine with antibacterial wipes; they are working fine and I feel (and smell) clean. However, my clothes are definitely suffering. They all smell (although the merino stuff not as much) because there haven’t been any rivers lately that I can wash them in. I’ve now got the added challenge of rain every day, so I won’t be able to dry anything. I could find a launderette, but I am worried about what the machines / detergent will do to all my high-end clothing. At home, I always put it on a silk wash with soap flakes only. So this is a work in progress, and a problem I need to solve!
The other issue I have is finding more appropriate food. I am struggling to find anything with enough calories in the small shops, and I am worried I won’t find enough pubs in Wales. This is another reason for considering changing my route from high to lower level. I’ve climbed the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains many times so I don’t feel any particular need to include them in this challenge, but I do want to include Snowdon. Lots to think about.
This is how I spend my evenings in the tent, as it gets dark by 6-6.30pm at the moment:
- Slave over my Vargo meths stove, making dinner and coffee
- Wash and wipe my feet dry – check for blisters and sores
- Sort tent so everything is in its place. I can then reach out in the dark for my headtorch, hat, extra layer, etc.
- Write this diary on paper – I then periodically post my notes to my wife, who transfers it on to this blog. I’ll also send texts and pictures (through What’s App) if I have a signal
- Replace loo roll and wipes in my day toilet bag
- Replace snacks in the hip belt pockets of my rucksack
- Check and sort maps for the next day
- Change clothes for night time
- Listen to some music on my iPod while my legs ache
- Fall asleep early so I can get up early the next morning and make the most of the daylight
Day 18: Wednesday 6th March 2019
It rained all night but I slept reasonably well, apart from being woken at about 2am by condensation dripping on my face. I used my towel to wipe the whole of the inner down and dry it as best I could.
I made coffee at about 6am, packed up and got walking. Stopping was difficult as it was very wet everywhere, and windy too. I just had snacks left so needed to resupply in Monmouth, or go hungry. Plenty of coffees though, as long as I could find water.
I had arranged to meet up with my family this weekend, but the poor weather forecast and my remote position in Wales at the time they’ll get here has made that impossible. I’m sad that I won’t see them, but I don’t want them driving for 6 or 7 hours each way to walk with smelly old me in the rain and cold. The children are likely to be cold overnight too, as their sleeping bags are not up to the low temperatures forecast.
Perhaps I’ve been out in the wilds too long already, as I have thought of a way I could get more adventurous with my eating and get more calories. I’m carrying a sharp knife that I haven’t used much, and there are grey squirrels in abundance – supplemented with the odd deer, I should be OK…
At about 8.30am I descended to Tintern Abbey and was delighted to find a shop and cafe open. The veggie breakfast and hot chocolate went down very well, and the rain hammering down outside made it hard to leave!
I am still agonising over my route up to Snowdon. In this weather, my morale is helped immensely by eating well and having regular rests in a cafe or pub. I’m not sure I could continue without that. I would have more opportunity to do that on the lower level route, so the Wye Valley it is.
Final decision made, I sent the Brecon route maps home and will follow the well-signposted Wye Valley Walk. It’s a good path, and as I’ve still got some pain in my left knee and ankle this will be a help. I can’t stop often as it’s too wet, cold and miserable, so a good path and a pub is a godsend.
I made it to Monmouth but everything was wet when I walked into the pub. I’ve found the decision to change my route quite stressful. From Monmouth I will join the Offa’s Dyke path to cut the corner a bit, and to get to Hay on Wye for the weekend if my wife (a book worm) wants to join me.
Monmouth itself was quite nice in the centre, and I found supermarkets so I could resupply.
I camped a mile or so out of the town in fields, next to the Offa’s Dyke path. My decision to pitch early (about 5.30pm) was so my tent could dry a little bit before I had to get in it, but as soon as my tent was up and I was filtering water, it started chucking it down. I had to unpack and sort everything out inside the tent, which is always a bit tricky.
So from Monmouth I’m following my new route – here’s hoping the decision pays off. I’ve got some bad weather coming my way.
You can read the next stage (Monmouth to Llanidloes) here.
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