I've started again, it was only a three week break but oh my goodness things have changed. When I stopped I could kid myself that it might even be a late summer but it's definitely autumn now, there's no going back.
The clocks have changed, sun down at half past four and total darkness by 5.30 so I must be stopped, camp made by a terribly early hour. There are gales this week, the wind blowing against me as I walk on the clifftops, the crumbled edges scattering drops of earth even as I watch them. There is mud, rain, cold. It's all a bit of a shock really, not that I didn't know it was coming but it's still pretty difficult to cope with now I'm here.
That's the difference, I can still do this but I need to be more regimented about it. It's a matter of definite steps to get into bed warmly and cleanly. Before I could stop anywhere, slump for a while, scatter my belongings, safe in the knowledge that no rain would come overnight. Now I must clamber into the tent, keeping muddy things away from tent walls, leave wet trousers and jacket in the tiny entrance, climb into bed, make sure I'm warm, no skin left uncovered, tucked up by 7pm.
I've been used to nice lazy mornings, a wake up, gentle sit and stare for a while before lumbering off, as long as it's by 10am I didn't mind. Now I must value my daylight hours, there are only 10 of them and I'm used to walking for ten hours a day. So I'm setting my alarm for 6am and getting walking by 7.30; it's quite nice, in a way, once I get past the pain of the first alarm.
I'm rediscovering the pains from before, my foot pain, which disappeared while I stopped, is glimmering into being. I must stretch, religiously. It's the only thing that makes it bearable.
I set off from Barry, three days ago. I've walked along the coast, reaching Porthcawl today, I've slept under the overhanging roof of a forestry lodge, in my tent on the edge of a ploughed field and, last night, in the ruins of a castle. I'm still resisting sleeping in a tent at nights, I don't know why. I think I might be slightly claustrophobic in there, plus I hate the idea of putting up a wet tent. I've been discovered twice in my sleeping spots, something I normally try and avoid at all costs. It's been a scary experience both times, mainly becuase of my fear; both times the young men who disturbed me, spliff smoking, skulking around in the early hours of the morning are people we are scared of. But they backed away both times, leaving me to my sleep.
Last night I was woken out of my moonlit sleep by people talking, coming up the stairs into the floor of the ruined castle where I'd made my bed. I sat up, fumbled my glasses on in time for their bright torch to sweep over me, bringing them to a halt. We paused, something swinging from the boy's hand and two or three dogs flickering in and out of the torchlight. One came up and licked the hand I was holding up against the light and this broke the spell, the boys backed away down the stairs. "Dyou want a fag?" one of them called out. I didn't answer, waiting for them to leave; as their lights swept away amongst the trees, I found my hands were trembling.
It's not an easy time, this return to walking, will it get easier? I'm not sure. It's just happened that I'm walking in a week of gales and rain. But this is winter, maybe I just need to get used to it, learn my new routine.
This sounds like a list of negative things, it's not, not really. I think it's just the shock of the change, this is definitely going to be hard but it doesn't mean I'm not enjoying it. The way the wind blows the trees back from the coast, the rush of water towards the sea, the hoots of owls waking up at dusk, the heart melting generosity of strangers, a surprise every time.
It forces me to be mindful at least, to take each day individually....because if I think of the enormity of what's to come I'll bloody well give up!! Wouldn't you??