Off path, off piste and it was dammed frustrating.
I set out to walk along the riverside from Bangor-on-Dee to Holt, following footpaths set out on the book I'm following. It soon became apparent that the paths were not there any more. Farmers planted crops, stiles were overgrown. If people are walking their dogs in this area, it isn't along the river.
There was a river, wide and fast, high banks with trees and trodden down pits where cows stoop to drink. The river wound in sinuous curves, almost doubling back on itself.
There was a embankment, winding through the fields, covered, usually, in nettles. The rest of the landscape was flat and wide, just trees dotted around in ancient, meaningless, gaping partial boundaries.
The grass was high, thick and dotted with thistles, nettles and other, more innocent plants. I had to step high with each stride forward, lifting my arms to drag my poles behind me. It was a very inefficient way to move slowly through the landscape and there was nothing else I could do. I just had to keep on, looking at the shape of the section of winding river that was in view and trying to relate it to the black line drawn across my map that sometimes touched the river and sometimes set off at an angle to cut across a horseshoe loop.
The sun shone hot on me and my dwindling water. Sometimes I came to patches of grass that would shoot out fluffs of white powder and seeds as soon as I moved against them and I began to sneeze, the inside of my mouth itching.
I came to a fence where the book said there should be a double stile. Fuck it, I thought and laboriously climbed over. A field of Friesans came into view, I could see I had to cross through where they were langurously lying, relaxing, chewing cud. They stood up as I approached and ran away, apart from one. She stayed and near to her feet was a newborn calf, lying dead on the ground.
The calf was warm, I slapped it in a pathetic, ignorant attempt to make its sides move, to make it breathe, take air into its lungs, to live. There was nothing I could do; just a dead baby calf on the floor in front of me, the mother hovering, making warning noises. I walked away, nothing I could do, looking back to see the mother nosing her child. I held it together until I reached the stile and found a fallen tree blocking it. Impassable. It was the final frustration I needed to burst into loud tears; I sobbed and told the cow I was sorry her child was dead. There was nothing I could do, I walked on, looking back moments later to see the cow eating the placenta, chewing vacantly on a string of bloody gore. My tears turned instantly to scientific detachment; I didn't know they did that, did you?
Another fence, another stile, another field full of long frustrating grasses, no path, just picking my way through. I was looking for a gate leading to a stone bridge crossing a stream. But what's this? The river in front of me. I looked to see which was it was flowing, confused. Ok, flowing left so I'll follow it left. I didn't understand where the bridge was but kind of gave up. If the river is flowing towards the sea, I'll follow it towards the sea; that makes sense, I thought. I continued, picking my way towards the sea. Then came a cut through a hedge boundary, a driftwood log lying on the floor. I recognise that log I thought. Am I going in a circle? The river looped round in a way I didn't recognise. If I was going in a circle there'd be a fallen tree up there I thought, so I can't be going in a circle. There's just been so much grass and fields that it's sent me slightly loopy. I carried on, cutting across a field to miss out a curve of a river and came to a fence boundary. The same one I'd climbed over an hour ago. I'd gone in a fucking circle.
I shouted and screamed in frustration; would I ever be able to leave this stupid overgrown silage patch? Fucking shitty fucking shit. I climbed over the fence again; this time managing to rip my top on barbed wire.
It was enough for me, I walked on through the next field, going the right way to find a gate and then the beginning of a track. Another 6 miles of riverside struggle? No thanks. I cut across west to a field with sheep in it and then, finally a house, a road. Civilisation! After a conversation with the homeowner about why I was cutting through her field I made it out to the road and a 4 mile stride to where I am now - Holt, last town in Wales. I walked into the Peal O' Bells and started swearing about what a shitty day I'd had until the landlord bought me a drink! Tonight I cross the border and tomorrow Chester. In fancy dress.