Well guess what? It's changed!
I think that the last few weeks across South Wales and Carmarthenshire have covered a lot of road walking, sometimes the entire day on tarmac, my feet stay in the same position, just slapping down on the unyielding surface over and over again in a way that makes them throb and ache. As I've moved off the road and my path has taken me into forest and field once again my feet can twist and bend to take account of the ever changing surface they find themselves upon; it really helps with the tendon and ligament pain that I experience daily.
I've also moved north and found myself again in the place I call home. I felt the same as I came off the Offa's Dyke Path and onto the Glyndwr's Way - as I move into the landscape of high moorland and quiet pine forestry I find the land familiar to me. Where the farms are more spread out and up on the high lands there are heather, bracken and bilberries; miles of waving yellow grasses and squelchy peat bog. Where unprofitable small farms have been handed down, amalgamated into large stretches of mountain sheep territory and the houses are empty, abandoned, heaps of stones and wavering, solitary chimneys, maybe a rusting bedstead.
The day I walked from Cymystwyth I came into my real home territory, the wildness of Plynlimon and the Nant-Y-Moch reservoir, leading down to the town of Machynlleth. I left my home more than five months ago, packed up, gave notice and set off to walk to hospital. I walked away from Mach, up the single track road towards my newly old house at the head of the Uwchygarreg valley and past it, up to the highlands of Hyddgen and the slopes of Plynlimon where Glyndwr's army defeated Henry's soldiers so many years ago. I walked to the bridge across the small river trickling down towards the reservoir where it would turn into the river Rheidol and turned left to go up the mountain, it was the start of my journey to hospital; I had to walk up Plynlimon, find the source of the river Severn and follow it all the way to Bristol.
This time, last week, I was walking towards home; not returning, just passing through, visiting. I gave a gasp of shock as I saw the clump of pine trees by the bridge, remembering that cold March morning that I struggled slowly through the boggy ground and up the mountain, my feet in too tight boots that would give me blisters by the end of the day, my plump body in no condition for physical work, grown soft through months of driving and working, no time left for preparation for this massive challenge. All that drove me forward was an idea, the belief that I could do this, simply put one foot in front of the other for months at a time until the small steps grew into a journey stretching for thousands of miles. Now, months later, I am returning to my home landscape, having walked for five months and covered almost 1300 miles. I may not be in the best condition, my feet particularly are suffering and close to injury but I am doing it, slowly and steadily. I walked down through the valley as the light dimmed, the waterfall, the forestry plantations lining the steep sides. I came down through the field that G uses for silage, past my old house, the place I came to in the aftermath of cancer, the small house where I curled, alone, and healed.
The barns were still the same, falling down, the fields hadn't changed, the cars in the driveways belonged to the same people. New windows on a house, a replaced gatepost. Here was the road I walked two or three times a week to go down into Machynlleth, the familiar dips, the views of Cader Idris, the same chapel, corners and trees. It was still the same, just me who was different, turning up at old friends houses, door slamming open with the wind to reveal a hooded, rain dripping, rugged wanderer, seeking shelter and perhaps some sustenance. I felt as if I'd been gone for years, so much have I lived over the last five months and it was a surprise to find my friends still the same, baby a few months older, walking, playing, bread being baked, vegetables grown and good meals cooked. Raspberries slowly infusing into a bottle of gin.
Now, even a few days after that, so quickly does time pass, I've walked away from Machynlleth and come back to it for a weekend off. My feet were fine for a few days and then suddenly came an excess of shooting pains through the heels. It's hard to say what the problem is, so sensitive are they to small changes - could be the fact that I hadn't stretched for a couple of days, or perhaps that I didn't rest on the final day's walk, simply striding out for twelve miles, or it could be that the last few days have been a 15 mile day, a 20 mile day, a 5 mile day and a 14 mile day, maybe a little too intensive for my feet. I feel as if I'm teetering on the brink of serious injury, just a little more overforcing of my body will break it.
I want, very deeply, to complete what I have started; it will not feel good to stop. So I must manage this very carefully. I would rather walk very slowly, ten miles a day and complete this walk over the course of a year than to have to stop. I very much hope that I can do this.