I started out feeling nervous about injury, testing out how much pain would return to my foot after a weeks rest. I've finished it feeling happy and relaxed after a lovely week of meeting people and beautiful landscapes.
It's all thanks to Deri, my old next door neighbour. He's the man who has an auntie called Shan who has been absolutely brilliant.
I hitched up from Machynlleth to Conwy, all set to turn away from the coast and back towards the uplands. I had a new tooth, a reenergised foot and a new river in front of me. I bought a packet of posh crisps (luxury) and sat in the nature reserve as the sun started to set. It was a beautiful evening, the light stretching across the estuary and I felt all possibilities opening up to me - would I sleep in the reserve? Find an open bird hide? Or maybe further across, paddle around the edge of the estuary, across to Glanconwy and out to some woods on the edge of the village. But then my phone started buzzing with excited Facebook communications. I laid out my location and turned the phone off; there was a slightly creepy guy somewhere in the reserve (not the one I spoke to about bird calls, another one!) so I decided to walk along the bottom of the sea wall, under the trainline and up into Glanconwy. I paused in the Cross Keys pub for a quick half while I waited to see what might happen before bedtime. More Facebook buzzing. It was Deri, my old next door neighbour from the Uwchygarreg valley putting me in touch with Shan, his auntie in Capel Curig. Shan was offering lifts, beds, contacts, communications. She tagged Irene, could Irene offer a bed? Yes she could and so I was picked up from outside the pub at ten to ten by Irene.
The next night Shan put the word out on Facebook again; could anyone in Llanrwst help me? The owners of the Meadowsweet Hotel could, they'd had a late cancellation, so I could hitchike down from the path to Llanrwst and find myself curled up in a hotel bed for the night, not really being able to believe what was happening to me.
Then my mum visited, two nights in a B&B while we visited Bodnant and I could carry on down to Llanrwst. It rained that day, a big black storm descended and I reached a cafe in the town just in time. I decided to wait out the rain, first in a cafe and later on in the Eagles Hotel. The rain pelted down, thunder and lightening was covering Wales and I decided to sit, read and look out of the window for a few hours, also spending time chatting to the people propping up the bar. One of them offered to pay for a hotel room for me but that felt strange so I said No; he insisted on giving me money to use for a local B&B but I told him I was probably being picked up and I'd put the money into my charity tin. I didn't like the idea of such a huge sum (relatively speaking) being used just to give me a bed to sleep in; I mean, if I'm going to be able to inspire someone to give me forty pounds, I don't want that money to be wasted on sleeping when I could be perfectly comfortable camping, you know? Plus I was feeling as if all this luxury was making me lazy; I mean I'm going to all the trouble of lugging camping equipment around on my back, plus food for evening meals and then I never have to use them!! Since I'd last camped I'd had three nights with Morg in Denbigh, nine with friends in Machynlleth and four being hosted in the Conwy valley I felt as if my camping muscles were growing soft. I walked out of the Eagles, putting the money into my donation pot and, as night came down around me, found a place to sleep on the edge of a field. It rained at about 1am but I was safe and warm in my shelter and I managed a good nights sleep until 7am.
The next night found me with Shan in Capel Curig, having picked me up from Betws-Y-Coed; a whirlwind of a woman, it was really inspiring to meet someone working so hard to make change, especially using her area of expertise which is community development.
Shan's word spread ahead of me the next day as I walked up from Betws towards Ysbyty Ifan - she introduced me to the people at the Conwy Falls Cafe and arranged for another host that night at a farm near Ysbyty Ifan.
I walked along the high lands that day, in beautiful sunshine, dipping down to a couple of cafes and finally taking the back road over towards Ysbyty Ifan. A car coming towards me stopped and a smiley lady called Sioned asked me how I was getting on, the remaining windows were filled with the curious faces of children coming home from school. It turned out they all knew about me and had been waiting for me to pass the school that day. They scrambled out of the car and we had a photo; which doesn't show effectively my happiness at the sheer joy of such a random happening.
Finally there was Elin, Alun and their four lovely children. Elin didn't even know Shan; she'd seen a post that a friend had shared, asking if anyone could help me as I walked up and up the valley and she'd said Yes. I was dropped off by Alun this morning; they've helped me to walk up from Ysbyty Ifan to Llyn Conwy and keep dry and clean and comfortable at night. I also got to meet their adorable children, practice my meagre Welsh, read a bedtime story to a five year old, eat delicious food and just generally experience a happy, family home.
I don't want to talk too much about each person I met or give a long list of thank yous but it's been a really heartwarming week and I'm really grateful for every kindness - donations, hosting, cups of tea, it's all uplifting.
I haven't asked for this to happen or set out to create it but here it is, kindness and generosity are happening to me and it's reminding me of just how wonderful humans, as individuals, can be. I feel a lot of fear and mistrust as I move through modern society; we're used to being fed a diet of bad news by a media which only seems to show us how terrible things are and this journey is showing me that things are different, underneath all those layers of perception. There are still a lot of people in Britain being friendly and nice to each other and with the capacity to do the same for strangers; it's still there, we haven't lost it, remember this. Community still exists.
As well as all the humans there's also the river and the land. The Conwy valley has been beautiful; I've been up to hills for a valley view and down alongside the river for a meander. From the placid, wide estuary right up to the stark and silent moorlands, it's all been stunning. The weather has helped (in patches) and it's the right time of year for everything to be blooming and blossoming. I don't think I've ever seen so many bluebells in my life.
Finally, my foot is.....OK........I've mostly walked around 7 miles a day, lots of resting and lots of stretching. I can't really push it, I can feel that pain is there, ready to come back if I take long steps or try to walk any faster. But the real difference over the week is relaxing into a new stride, not pushing myself to walk a little bit further every day, not reading the map ahead or thinking about where I can get to the next day or the day after that.
I'm just walking, I tell myself. I'm just out for a nice walk. And it really is.