I set off from Abergynolwen at 11am, spinning out the last few moments of chat at Sarah's breakfast table before I put my boots on and headed out to walk. Again. Across the valley and up to a back road that led into the forestry and high up to the farms that border Tal-y-Llyn. I'd not seen this side of the lake before, the road I'd normally drive curls alongside it, low down on the opposite side. I walked along, enjoying the sunshine and fresh green countryside. Just half an hours walk and I was already far away from roads and buildings, high up on the side of a hill. Away from everything except nature. Perfect.
The path wriggled up and down above the lake, descending into small gorges to cross streams and crossing ancient abandoned farmyards, trees growing out of crumbled ruins. I walked through fields full of brand new lambs, napping in the sun, struggling to co-ordinate legs and brain. One particularly brave lamb didn't run away with its mother, stood, stared, came over and smelt my legs then curled up beside my foot. I couldn't resist crouching down and taking a few photos. A lamb close up!
I dropped down at the end of the lake to the road and passed the foot of Cader Idris. There came a short period of road walking, pretty dangerous on this busy A road but finally I reached the peak of the mountain pass, the road opened up into the wide valley and I could head left to walk over the reedy moorlands before Cross Foxes. A short stop at some sheep pens to rescue some stranded tadpoles in a fast drying puddle (save the tads!) but eventually I reached Cross Foxes. There was time for a quick pint at the hotel, put my feet up on the sofa before I was ready to walk around the small hill before Brithdir and look for somewhere to sleep. I got distracted by an old barn, walking into the field, entranced by the view of Cader Idris to the left and layers of blueing hills but couldn't find anywhere that felt right. Ground too lumpy, stones scattered near to the barn walls. I get really picky about where I sleep, it needs to feel right and so I end up walking on and on when I'm tired, looking for the right spot.
Eventually I left the road, came to a cycle track that led over open farmland, sheep grazing the grass close cropped, the track led over the hill and down to Brithdir, here was my last chance. The flattest spot was on the path itself, another place I wouldn't normally sleep but I decided to chance it. Laid out my bed, ate my evening meal (flavoured couscous, mackerel, grated carrot, mayonaise, loads better than it sounds!!), read a book until it got too dark then laid down. I love sleeping without a tent, no barriers between you and the world. It was cold, I had to put a scarf over my head and face and my nose was definitely freezing but when your eyes flicker open as you turn over to catch sight of the moon rising silently over the hillside, it's all worth it.
Thursday 9th April
Another thing about sleeping outside, you wake up early. As the sun lightens the sky, so do your eyes flicker open. I sat up to watch the pre dawn light flood the view below me, eyes taking a while to focus, gluey from the cold night air. Around me the dew beaded every grass blade, a fresh morning, just a little bit too cold for me to jump out of bed. I should have done though, about half an hour later came the buzz of a farmer's golf buggy. Oops! I wrestled out of the sleeping bag and quickly packed it away before he came into view. He had to make a detour around my patch but just nodded to me. Morning. Morning.
Phew! I made a quick move, heading down the hill to Brithdir and then along the valley side towards Bala. It was ten miles to Llanuwchllyn and another beautiful warm day. Summer warm, too early for me still with my white winter skin and thick clothing. I went a few miles to the edge of a forest, stopping for breakfast on some tussocky tree roots, sitting and admiring the thick mosses and fallen leaves, so comfortable. But I must continue, I must always continue. The path took me along quiet tracks, above the modern road down in the valley bottom, it would have been a toll road two hundred years ago, Mary Jones couldn't afford that. So instead I experienced old tracks, tree lined, winding, the ways to travel before tarmac and engines came into being. Up and down went the day, from farm to farm towards Llanuwchllyn. I stopped for lunch, a carrot and a stray chocolate bar from the bottom of my rucksack, I'd run out of real food. I trudged on, feeling suprisingly tired and rubbish. A row of four excited pensioners perked me up; sitting outside their caravans enjoying the sunshine, they gave me a fillip of validation, a water top up and 30 pounds for my donation tin. I'll probably see them on my way back to the coast, in exactly the same place. I went on a bit further but was struggling and it wasn't long before I gave up, at a flat patch of grass beside a stream. Boots off, feet propped up in the air, scoured my rucksack for remaining scraps of food, read my book and tried not to fall asleep....even though I really wanted to. Eventually I felt good enough to carry on, although my head started to hurt. If I could get past Llanuwchllyn there was a woman living near Bala who would come and pick me up. But as I carried on my head ached more and more; I think it was the hazy light. My feet hurt, as they always do. I know that my feet will continue to cause me significant pain until the end of the walk (another thousand miles), it's a question of managing it in order to carry on walking without long term injury, which is why I stick to about ten or twelve miles a day. I phoned Fiona to see if she'd pick me up, pressing a little upon her good nature but I felt pretty rubbish, sitting in the Eagle Inn with my head in my hands. She took me home and made me comfortable in the caravan. I tucked up with a meat pie, woolly blankets and the radio, bed by nine thirty.
Today I feel better. Washed, rested. I'm in a cafe in Bala now, having walked the final five miles around the lake. It's a beautiful beautiful day, I'm so glad I'm here doing this, it's a fantastic experience, even though I'm skint, achy and tired. I've reached Bala, following the likely path that Mary Jones came to buy a bible, two hundred years ago. How different my life is to hers, my needs fulfilled with a press of a button. What kind of money would I raise if I saved for six years? How many books could I buy? She bought one.
My only job today is to walk to Bala and back again and I'm halfway through already. This meant I could pop into the Eagles in Llanuwchllyn and ask to leave my bag there, I'll return later in time for an afternoon pint before I head away to find somewhere to camp.