This time seven days ago found me at the uppermost reaches of the Offa's Dyke Path, coming closer to Prestatyn but never seeming to arrive. I walked and camped onwards from Welshpool, growing ever dirtier. Finally the rains came and I spent a soggy night in the pine forestry at Bwlch Penbarra. I set up a sagging poncho as a shelter, which leaked. The rain started at about 6pm and continued for a few hours. I did the best I could to set up a shelter and after that, all I could do was get into my sleeping bag and read for a few hours. I'd made a delicious bowl of dried vegetables and couscous, reconstituted with the last of my water but once the rain started I felt like everything was too difficult and miserable and I didn't feel hungry any more. Once I woke up in the morning, I found that a little mouse had crept to the edge of my bag of muesli and enjoyed an entire evening of delicious stolen treats. So the edge of my food bag had mouse poo all over it and so did the bowl of couscous.
I walked in the rain that day, up and down the endless hills of the Clwydian range. Having decided that I was fed up of walking I made an unsuccessful attempt for a local friend to come and pick me up. I was in the wrong car park, she couldn't find the right one, I only had 1% battery left on the phone, she accidentally heard me saying "For fucks sake" when I thought I'd put the phone down. I waited for a while, reading in the shelter of a stone wall, watching the raindrops speckle and darken each page as I learnt about the last months of the life of Malcolm X. I feel like I'm showing off by naming the book I was reading but in saying that, I've also realised that I'm so lowbrow I think it's highbrow to read a biography of any person at all. Currently reading Villette by Charlotte Bronte and next on the list is Ghandi, by the way. Get me.
One nice thing was when I gave up on the pick-up from a friend and walked over the next hill and down to the next car park where a woman got out of her car, called my name and took a picture. It was Morg and Nigel, my hosts in Denbigh. I'd thought I was going to walk to Bodfari and call them to come pick me up but they'd come up the hills to walk their dogs and deided to stick around and see if I turned up. I did! And it meant I didn't have to walk in the rain for another three endless hours with the wind alternately slapping my wet hair into my face and onto the side of my hood.
After a really nice rest day (that was definitely the least tough part of the last week) I left Denbigh, got taken to the Moel Arthur car park and set off to walk the 16 miles to Prestatyn. Today was the day I would finally finish the Offa's Dyke Path, the path I'd started a month ago. My legs thought differently that day, however. I dragged and plodded and grumbled my way through 9 miles, taking til 3 pm just to walk that far. It just seemed to hurt and I greatfully took advantage of the opportunity the Rhuallt Caravan Park bar offered to drink pints and eat expensive crisps. Morg had told me; if you can't find a place to stay in Prestatyn just call us and we'll come pick you up. I gratefully took advantage of this too.
While I was sitting in the bar, enjoying several pints of John Smiths I made an unsettling discovery. The tooth that had cracked ten days previously, the one I'd travelled back to Machynlleth for, breaking the walk at Knighton in order to have a temporary filling put in and for the dentist to tell me "We'll see if it moves." Yeah, that one. It had moved. A full quarter of my molar was coming away from the rest of the tooth. I felt rubbish; it was the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend and I couldn't phone the dentist until Tuesday. The really horrible feeling was the interuption to the walk...again. I felt as if I was crawling, sluggishly across the land, never actually achieving any goals or getting anywhere. I had to stop, hitch back to Machynlleth, have more painful dentistry (that I am scared of), recover and hitch back to walk again.
I just felt shit and had a strong urge to get very very drunk. I didn't though; I got picked up by Morg and taken back to Denbigh where I could eat a baked potato and lie on a leather sofa watching Britain's Got Talent and feeling sorry for myself.
I kept walking; there was nothing else to do. Fortunately the tooth didn't hurt; I just had to chew on one side of the mouth only, avoiding any strange tongue movements. I made it to Prestatyn by lunchtime the following day. The end of the Offa's Dyke Path felt great, another section of the walk finished and there was still time in the day to walk along the Coastal Path a bit, to Rhyl.
Where Prestatyn was pretty ordinary; Rhyl was awful. A booze smelling, glass strewn dive of a town. Sorry people of Rhyl but I don't like your place. I realised when I arrived there that there would be nowhere quiet and clean to camp. No ground within walking distance would be untouched by assortments of pissed people, their dogs and their various excretions. I sat in a cafe drinking two pots of tea, surrepticiously rubbing my aching feet and looking at Google Maps to try and find the nearest green space. Colwyn Bay it was, the town with green within walking distance and so I took a train over there, paying 8 quid to do so.
A lovely spot in a quiet field awaited me and I could sleep peacefully and take a train back to wonderful Rhyl the next morning; the smell of vomit floating on the breeze as soon as I came out of the station.
The days walk to my host in Colwyn Bay was fairly uneventful, just a long, boring walk along promenade and then cycle path. It felt strange to be somewhere so flat and samey after weeks of walking inland where you're constantly climbing hills or turning corners. At all times of my day's walk, I could turn around and see Rhyl in the misty background behind me. My feet were aching but no more than normal and I made it up the steep hill to Vicky the Couchsurfers house.
Unfortunately, once I'd cooled down, I couldn't really walk properly. Sharp pains underneath my right foot whenever I put my heel to the ground, it was impossible to bear weight on it. The next day was better on waking, I walked over to Conwy and spent a pleasant few hours there before hitching back to Machynlleth but on arriving at my friends house I was limping again and in pain.
So there we have it; another enforced break, another scary dentists visit and this time a painful foot injury into the bargain. I've looked it up and the result (authenticated by Google) is that I have plantar faciitis - a straining of the tendon that runs under the bottom of the foot, resulting in pain where the tendon is connected to the heel bones. The scary part is that this won't go away; I'll just have to be really careful about stretching and mileage so as not to strain it again.
I've decided not to go back to Conwy until Monday and to just take it easy for a week or so, even just walking less than five miles a day, if I can find a good enough book to fill the intervening hours.
Deciding this (to take a break) feels frightening at first. Many worries fill my mind and I wonder whether I can complete this walk. I'll feel better once I get out there again; I'm sure of it.