I'm trying to limit my speed again; as I did the last time I was in the Conwy area, remember? Around the start of May it was, as I came up the final stretches of the Offa's Dyke Path, when I managed to re-crack a tooth, on crisps this time, on the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend and followed that up by straining my foot on the miles of concrete between Prestatyn and Colwyn Bay. I wound up having ten days rest back in Machynlleth, unable to chew on one side of my mouth and unable to put my right foot to the ground. I came back to the Conwy valley rested but still in pain. Some days I'd walk just four miles, some days pushing it to six or seven. It wasn't until I reached Llangollen on the river Dee and met Sarah Mann who showed me how to strap my foot up and my mileage could increase again. Well, months later and I'm back to injury and limitations. As my mileage has crept up, so has my foot pain, it's fine while I'm walking but keeps me shuffling and hobbling as soon as I've been sitting for a while and with a new spicy ingredient in the long-term injury mix - bouts of shooting pain through my heels, sharp, sporadic and coming whether I'm walking or resting. It's time to ease off again, it's either that or stop, or rest. I'm not in the mood for resting; I had two full weeks off over June and July to attend a couple of festivals and it feels too soon to have another week. I'm sensitive to the end of the summer too, it feels as if I need to walk now to save the Winter miles that will surely come later. It need not be said that I am definitely not quitting, not even thinking about it, yet. So I'm experimenting with slow walking again, as I did up the Conwy valley in May. It's harder, in a way, to keep my pace slow. I have to consciously take smaller steps, ease back when the rest of my body wants to stride out on a lovely flat forestry track. I become very aware of the hours in a day that I am spending simply walking. I don't use any distractions like music or radio, a lot of long distance walkers write of the poetry they recited as they strode. Patrick Leigh Fermor would renact great swathes of Shakespeare as his nimble, greatcoated, 19 year old self made his cheerful, optimistic way across pre-war Europe. I sing snatches of songs as they come to mind, usually just one or two lines that I can repeat over and over. "I don't care how you get there, just get there if you can". I'm not sure what I do all day, just think, it seems. I'm not even sure what about. I'm not bored, never bored and I'm not lonely, although I do appreciate company. I suppose walking slowly makes me more aware of the great distance I have still to cover - a whole day has passed today and I have only covered eight miles. Eight miles! And I am trying to walk 3000!!! I am a small snail who has set out to cross a mountain, one pebble at a time.
However, never mind how slow I feel. It is good for my feet. The reduced mileage and some magical stuff called Muscle Oil which I picked up in my local healthfood shop. There is no list of ingredients but the name of the maker - Richard Evans, Bonesetter, Pwllheli - the date, est 1800 and the picture of said Mr. Evans, a respectable gentleman in a suit, white hair and round glasses is enough to satisfy me. I rub it on my feet at night and the shooting pains have diminished. Whatever will enable me to crawl towards and COMPLETE this 3000+ mile challenge is what I will do, even if I must chafe at a ten mile daily pace for the whole of the remaining 2000 miles.
I've come over from Dolgellau since I last wrote. I walked from Machynlleth, up through the quarry behind Aberllefenni and down to the main road again where I hitched back to Mach and spent a very nice weekend with my brother, in town to ride in a mountain bike race.
Come last Sunday I hitched back to my starting point, walked to Dolgellau, finding yet another stuck sheep on the way, this time in a cattle grid (!) and was lucky enough to be offered a last minute bed. I was feeling tired and groggy after three days of rest - turns out that three days is just enough to relax and start to feel all the aches and pains of a body coming out of fast pace but not long enough to cure them all and I couldn't face camping in the rain that I knew was coming that night. I walked into a pub to ask if they had rooms and walked out with Sue and Pete, a very kind couple who offered me a bed.
I walked from Dolgellau to Trawsfynydd to Blaenau Ffestiniog and to here, Capel Curig. It's taken four days, something that would take most walkers two at most....but I'm not comparing, I never do that (yeah right). I wild camped all three nights, first against a stone wall about half a mile out of Coed Y Brenin, I made a rudimentary shelter that failed to keep out the rain and woke up soggy around the edges. It was a beautiful days walk into Trawsfynydd and out again; I was in search of a cafe and a sit down but the two cafes in the village had closed down. The kind people in the shop offered me a cup of tea and brought a stool outside for me to sit down for a while. It started to rain again as I sat working out my onward journey on the map but I didn't mind. Getting slightly wet is going to be the norm from now on, I can already feel my reaction to mild rain getting to be almost the same as no rain at all.
That night I slept in a beautiful field - I wanted to say meadow but I don't think the grass was long enough to qualify - I came down through the forestry and into the valley of the river Cynfal. I lay on the remnants of a Roman road and read the Mabinogion, finally coming to the story of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the climax of which took place by the same river I was lying by. It rained overnight but I didn't mind, I'd made a great, if slightly sagging shelter and I was happy, cosy and slept tolerably well, rising before 8 which is always a sign of a good night's sleep for me.
It was a half day, even a quarter day yesterday, just a short 5 mile stroll into Blaenau Ffestiniog, where I could shower, shop and recharge my phone. I took a short day yesterday so I could walk a full day today and come down into Capel Curig where I'll meet Shan, my excellent host for the night, provider of shower, a bed, a drying room and safety.
Finally for my third wild camp in a row, I came up the sharp climb of Blaenau Ffestiniog quarry last night, stopping to admire my final view of the Trawsfynydd power station towers before continuing to....the end of the footpath! I could see on the map that there was a gap between the path which climbed through the quarry and another which snaked its way around the lakes and down to Dolwyddelan but thought there'd be a way through somehow. I didn't expect a dead end, a hundred metres above the quarry working below, surrounded by rusty machinery and slate piles. I dropped my rucksack and had a scout around, there were a couple of ways up the final slopes of slate and shale, none seeming too attractive but I spotted a way to climb onto a bank of grass leaving just a 10 metre scramble up the shale and rock with only a small drop and a flat bit below it reducing further the very small chance of my rolling down the hill in a flurry of rock. Holding my breath I moved slowly from foot step to foot step, the heavy rucksack on my back changes my balance in a way that makes it very difficult to go up steep slopes, I resorted to hands to pull me up the final few steps and I was out on grassland again, above the quarry and free to walk over the moorland towards the forestry and down into the next village. But that was for the next day, first I must sleep. I walked through the boggy grass and headed for a slate tower, old mine workings meant that there's be a layer of stone between me and the squelchy ground. Perfect, a raised platform, long grassed over and with an incredible view back down over the quarry, the surrounding mountains and even the sea. The weather forecast gave a clear night so I decided to chance it and settled down for a night in the bivvy bag. There was a low stone wall along one side of the creation and it was the windbreak I needed, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag, hood up and dozed off. Rain. It rained.
Let me tell you that there are not many worse feelings than to be lying in a sleeping bag in the rain with very little that you can do to avoid the inevitable drenching. It happened when I'd been asleep for a while, maybe 11pm, I was too close to sleep to jump up and take action, there wasn't any action to take anyway, all I could do in that situation would be to lose body heat and make myself and the inside of my sleeping bag wet as I fumbled in the dark and rain, trying to string up some half arsed shelter. Nope, better to stay put and ride it out, take the punishment for my laziness. It rained, off and on, in a light drizzle kind of way for a few hours overnight. I stayed warm and dry - the inside of my bag did anyway. The outside and the bivvy bag got wet. Sigh. It's times like this that I am so thankful for the people who offer to host me so I never have to suffer the ultimate penalty for my shoddy adventuring skills which would be to bed down for the night in a wet sleeping bag.
Today has been pretty spectacular, in only eight miles from Blaenau to Capel Curig I've managed to say goodbye to southern Snowdonia, view two seas at once, the upper piece of Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea beyond Conwy and walk around Moel Siabod and get a view of the Glyders. I'm into serious mountain territory and it's a little intimidating to think that in a few weeks time I won't be skirting round the feet of these mountains but going over the tops of them, one summit after another. It will be a test, a serious test, as if the first 1300 miles was training! I'm not sure how well I'll manage this but, as usual, all I can do is try. I have a map and compass, I'm certain of my survival skills and my stamina and I just have to take it slow and steady. It seems that this is my mantra for this sizeable journey, too big to be devoured in one push I must take it.....slow and steady, slow and steady.