I set off from Llangollen and thought I'd camp a night before making it to Chirk where I could go to Val's house again (the step mother of a friend of my mothers).
I ended up walking more quickly than I thought; thanks to the lesson in foot strapping I received from Sarah, the beautiful person I met in Llangollen. Just a simple piece of tape along the bottom of my foot means I'm suddenly able to walk 9 miles with no pain; completely different to a couple of days ago. Val was very accomodating and picked me up a day earlier at short notice so I set off the next day, thinking I would head into a stretch of small villages and no contacts ahead - a chance to really get back into wild camping again, renter the journey I set out to make, just me and the countryside.
I walked into Overton and into the library, to spend a couple of hours sitting, resting, writing. The librarian asked what I was doing - the flags and large rucksack tend to inspire a raised eyebrow or two. I get people approaching me to say umm...err.... and I fill in the question they're too embarassed to ask "What am I doing?" "Yes!" they say, and laugh. "What's it all about?"
So I gave the usual spiel about cancer, long distance walking, hospital appointments, Wales. "Where are you sleeping?" "Well I'm set up to camp but people keep offering me places to sleep which is really unexpected but a massive help."
The woman at the computer opposite asked if I'd like to stay at her house. Being offered a place to stay by a person in a library that I'd had no conversation with at all was so unexpected that I couldn't really say Yes. I stammered a maybe and we swapped phone numbers. It was only 2pm and I also kind of wanted to walk a bit more, it was too early to stop really. The librarian offered me a cup of hot chocolate which was very nice. I'd been walking in the rain for most of the morning which gets a bit shocking after a while. I was dazed and reacting really slowly to things, speaking in a low, slow voice and unable to think very quickly. I also hadn't eaten or drunk very much that morning.
Rebecca the nice librarian said that she might know someone I could stay with. "I know someone who will take you in. They're kind of drop outs, trying to live self-sufficiently" she said. "And they have people coming to stay with them. He might come in later, I hope he does." And he did. Rebecca placed him at the computer next to me, just saying "This is a special lady that you need to talk to". We chatted about what I was doing and Steve said "Do you have anywhere to stay tonight, do you want to stay with us?"
We agreed that he'd pick me up a couple of miles down the road; I walked on down the river, without my rucksack and felt a great feeling of lightness. The air was thick with thistledown, floating like fat snowflakes against the trees. A cow stood close to me, I stopped still, said hello and she trotted over! Close enough to lick my outstretched hand and almost let me scratch her poll. Really unusual!
I waited at a pub and was picked up by Steve and taken to his home. There I found a Christian family, driven to give up their business lifestyle and live self sufficiently, keeping pigs, growing vegetables, living without electricity, mostly without hot water, completely without gadgets; striving to show people that we are headed down an oil and consumption addicted dead end that will lead to the collapse of civilisation within our lifetimes. They were also told by God to keep an open house and accept anyone referred to them in spiritual trauma, usually after suicide attempts or mental illness.
"A person who believes we can keep a finite system in constant growth is either a madman or an economist." said Steve.
It was an out of the ordinary evening that I'm completely glad I experienced.
When, in normal life, do people say to a stranger.....do you need somewhere to stay tonight? Come and stay at my house.
The words long distance walk for charity appear to have some unappreciated magic in them that has transported me into a world of smiles, horn beeps, free cups of tea, admiration and money thrust into a plastic pot that I have tied to my side.
I've never experienced anything like this in all my years of looking bedraggled with a large rucksack. But I suppose I've never done a long distance walk for charity before.....simple.
This is hard, okay? When I got my hair caught on a bush that I was pushing against because the whole of the soggy path between trees had been churned to sticky clay it was extremely irritating and I just had to set my jaw and carry on. I walk and walk and walk, onwards in rain, in sun, every day, I am becoming a machine. My thighs and calfs are setting to solid muscle. I've been doing this for three months now, I just walk, that's what I'm doing.
But this constant influx of generosity, the wonder of meeting new people and hearing their stories is turning this walk into a completely different thing. When I get a bed, a shower, a packed lunch from a stranger, just because I'm walking; the walk doesn't feel hard at all.