The next morning I was up by 7, the lovely lady made me chapatis and coffee and we talked some more philosphy about the nature of love. All love involves need, we decided. What if love could be given freely, without leaving you wanting something in return. Is that possible?
It was a lovely evening, just being able to walk up to a van, sit and talk and receive food and hot drinks. I realised that this happens every day to someone being supported. It was wonderful! And also made me realise that what I'm doing, the way I'm doing it is REALLY BLOODY HARD!!
My route that day lay over the Black Mountains, a steep climb up to the west of Lord Hereford's Knob then down the valley and along into Capel-y-Ffin and down the valley towards Llantony Priory. I revelled in the wilderness of the high hills, the long views out behind me and the easy to follow path, leading down into the valley. Fortunately the sun stayed out and I managed to get down into Llantony by 3.30pm. I managed a quick couple of pints in the Half Moon, even though I got chucked out at 4 because they wanted to close for a couple of hours. I took my final pint outside, just as it started to rain and sat under a Stella Artois umbrella eating a gigantic packet of cheese savouries. A thin black cat came over to me and jumped onto my lap, I rubbed it slowly around the ears and under its chin, savouring the pleasure of the touch of its fur. It's one of the things I miss about being away from home, the regular stroking of a cat; you can entice strange dogs to come over when you're on the road but strange cats usually see me and run a mile.
The rain eased off and the sun came out so I walked up again, looking for a place to sleep. I knew it would rain again later so I needed to find somewhere undercover. I'm realising as this journey goes on that I really don't like making camp in the rain. It's annoying to set up a shelter, it's annoying when the shelter doesn't work and my kit gets wet and it's annoying to pack away wet kit in the rain. I'd just rather avoid the whole thing. So I set off, past the incredible priory ruins and up the hill. Up the hill and into a small copse. Looking at the ground, see if it's level, could I string up a shelter there? Somehow nothing felt right, I kept going. I came to the edge of the woods, looking for a path ahead around the contour of the hill. It started to rain again and I cursed my indecision, I should be under a shelter and safe by now, not getting caught in showers. I stood at the edge of the trees, my hair catching in a holly bush, my feet slipping on mossy logs, waiting for the soft rain to stop again.
I carried on, towards a farm. I could see an barn at the edge of the cluster of buildings, the open door faced away from the rest of the farm and I longed to have the guts to sneak in there and make a cosy nest in the hay, listening to the rain falling outside. I walked around the buildings, the path crossed the road and went off to the south but I turned and looked at the haybarn longingly. A horse swished its tail in the rays of setting sun and I just couldn't do it. I turned and walked on, starting to feel pretty annoyed about where I might sleep that night. I passed into a field of long grass, the recent rain had left it covered in water and I had to push through it, soaking my legs. I cursed the path, I cursed the wet grass, I cursed the rain and there was nothing I could do but walk on. Eventually, after passing through sloping fields and fields with long wet grass and fields full of curious horses I came to a ruined house and round the corner a flat piece of ground. That was it, my bed for the night. A final grey cloud passed overhead and the skies cleared. I laid out my bed roll and went to sleep.
I paid for the annoyance the next day; waking up at 6am, sitting, slowly coming back to life. I ate breakfast and set off, following the contour line around the hillside down to Cwmyoy. There was a fantastic church on the path, the ground settling underneath it over the centuries, leaving it leaning south at one end and north at the other. It was incredibly beautiful and I sat inside. Soon however, things started to spin and I realised I had a banging headache and felt sick. The longer I sat there the less I felt like walking, I slumped over in one of the pews and went to sleep for an hour. It's very hard being vulnerable in public, with nowhere safe to go when you feel rough. When I woke up I felt better, the painkillers had kicked in and I realised I hadn't eaten very much the previous day and had drunk just a single litre of water. I had a big meal of couscous and beetroot and felt much better. I went to see the woman in the house next door to ask for water, she invited me in for a cup of tea and made me some sandwiches. Just another example of the massive generosity I receive from strangers all the time. It was lovely talking to her and playing with her dogs; fortunately the meeting took place just as a heavy shower of rain passed over and I could carry on in the sunshine.
I carried on out of the valley, coming out of the Black Mountains and out onto the Offa's Dyke Path again; I'll follow this familiar route all the way down to Monmouth. It was 4pm and I'd walked maybe 6 miles so far - spending about 3 hours feeling ill in the church. I came down into Pandy where I knew there was a pub and a campsite. The pub was closed, very irritating, so I sneaked into the showers and had my first one for three days. I was very sweaty, dirty and irritated but came out feeling cleansed and refreshed, amazing what a difference it made. I washed my clothes in the sink, brushed my hair. Wonderful.
I decided to walk the final two miles to the next village where I found a sweet little pub full of people interested in my walk. I sat and chatted, got given plenty of donations and even a free meal and a couple of beers. The owners were interesting; a pair of brothers who had clearly done a lot of travelling and wild living over the years. Later that night I found myself at the kitchen table of one of them, getting immensely drunk and swapping life stories. We were unafraid to get down to the bare bones of our experiences, with the freedom of expression that comes from knowing the person you're talking to will never be part of your daily life again.
So that's how I came to be here, on a zebra print sofa, extremely hungover, watching bad TV and with an unexpected day off to enjoy. I wasn't planning on a day off but I was far too rough for walking.
I'll get down to Monmouth tomorrow and then turn to walk along the bottom of Wales, above the coast but below the Brecon Beacons, it should be interesting. I'd like to see what's happening in the South Wales valleys; how friendly will people be? How easy will it be to find places to sleep? Let's find out!!