Thursday, July 23, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Tasting for a moment how easy, really, it all is, when I can get to this place of ease. And now--just like I found joy in the search-and-find of the acorn markers along the trail--I hold lightly this rediscovered ease and marvel playfully at continuing to keep this connection as I ease back into my 'regular' life.
AND being reminded of this important lesson: there is always a silver lining to those darned gray clouds. Losing the trail for a few hours meant meeting wonderful people I would not have met otherwise, or seeing flowers in a different quality of light, or being teased by a friendly & curious colt only just let into a field with her mum. As in life, when the unpleasant happens, who knows what wonderful things may occur as part of a chain of events.
What a privilege it is to be able to have the time for such journeys. I am reminded to continue to do this in life, because there is so much richness to gain. Phil the landlord (bartender-owner) of the Green Dragon pub, told me that a few days before, a couple who were 83 & 84 and were hiking the whole 177+ mile trail, and carrying their tent, sleeping bags, stoves, etc. I, too, want to be an old lady hiking along!
What a joy to have only a minimal agenda--2 plane tickets at the beginning & end, a 177 - 182 mile-long trail (lenght depends upon who you ask & which book or sign you look at!), and the details to be filled-in with each step. A pause to look at a raptor soaring on the wind, or a new wildflower; a laugh and shared moment with a fellow walker moving north-south rather then my south-north; which village should i stay in tonight?; always singing on the trail; singing on the top of a mountain, surrounded by sky, wind, and sheep, looking at the rolling hills to the west at Wales and east at England, with the coast--and the end of my hike--off in the distance.
And to eat perfectly cooked toast each morning! Brown & crunchy, not the half-baked toast I often find at US breakfast places.
And the eggs so fresh just gotten that morning, the yolks are more orange then yellow.
And strawberries, raspberries, bilberries, gooseberries & sour cherries picked & savored.
And sooo-tasty beer in the pubs on the trail, just cool & pulled rather then carbonated like at home. It takes longer to pull a beer then pour one in the US-way. I philosophized with Phil: the world would be a better place if US bars served pulled-beer, forcing us to slow down until our pint glasses are filled.
And sleeping in a variety of houses, farms, & inns--the majority of which were a minimum of 200 years old, with exposed beams of wood, floors slanting with age, and many with their own ghosts & spirits.
The always present electric teapot in each room--offering a welcome cup of tea or nescafe when a weary traveler arrives & first thing in the morning when the rested traveler awakes.
And washing my clothes in the sink in my room, hanging them to dry over night for the next day's walk.
Remembering the wonderful surprise Jeannet, Axel & I had when we came upon a field of barley also filled with 1000s of orange poppies. And a hillside covered with foxglove. A mountain range stained purple with blooming heather. Pausing in the rain to admire a field of oranges, purples, whites, reds & blues of wildflowers--all yelling their colors in the gray skies. Rolling hills of deep-green forests. The dark browns of the Mores, covered in scrub, and then to suddenly see a Kelly-green hill of grass rising above in the distance and dotted with the whites, browns & blacks of sheep, cows & horse . I was reminded of Dorothy walking out of black & white into technicolor.
And oh the birds!! So much serenading of so much variety while I walked on.
The rich & spicy flavors of West-African food served from a London street vendor, who kept filling my plate because I loved his food so much. I watched the Londoners pass by. They move so much faster then Welsh sheep.
And people are good. I did not meet one person who was not nice, friendly or helpful.
And truly relishing each step of the 18 miles of my second-to-last day of hiking. Many tiring steep ups & downs, lots of conversations & laughs shared with passers' by, a few miles walked with another, and the rest fully enjoyed walking with only me. Lots of singing & feeling strong as my legs carried me one more step forward towards the end of my journey. Feeling invigorated, if not slightly sad that this journey was nearly complete.
And on my last day, I met up with four others having lunch on a grassy hill. We completed the Offa's Dyke trail together, walking through the town of Prestatyn to the beach & the end of the trail. The tradition is to dip your toes into the water, which we all did with a joyful cry!
And as if on-cue, it began to rain. And continued to rain into the next day as I got on a train to London. This was the first time I saw constant rain like this--which is a very typical weather pattern--in all of my time on the trail.
How weird it was, to sit in a metal box for nearly 9-hours, only to step onto US soil. A day of sitting for as many hours a was my usual walk!
In the wise words of the prophet Willie Nelson, I can't wait to get on the road again...
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Amazing to me that I started to walk two weeks ago today. That I get on a train on Friday to London and then plane to the States on Saturday.
Why, some of you may wonder, have I decided to do this hike? My dear friend Frannie & her mom walked the Offa's Dyke Trail (or Cloi-vah Claud Offa, phonetically spelled in Welsh) in 1995. Since then, I've wanted to do it. But why solo? My map reading is...challenged...at best, so doing this walk on my own is improving my skills. Mind you, the acorns are quite well placed, if not hidden in some areas. But all in all, I feel more confident.
But most of all, I like solo travel. Going my own speed, so when I take 20 minutes to speak with a farmer in the middle of a field, I don't feel bad that I am holding someone up! Also learning about myself, reflecting upon life, seeing how my brain grows more quiet, and really love meeting people along the way--something that happens in a different way when I have traveled with friends.
I think that my sheep is improving, because now they do talk back to me. and I find I can understand them as well. Take this conversation I overheard yesterday:
(high-pitched BAAA) Mum!!
(low-pitched BAAA) Yes dear?
hpB: Mum!!! Where are you?
lpB: I'm right over here, by the fence
lpB: Stop shouting! I'm right here!
hpB: Mum! Can I go over to the next field with Billy & Nancy?
lpB: Yes, but have some milk first
hpB: Mum, not in front of the others! I've told you that a million times!
...and so on...
Call me Mr Ed
So much of this walk is through field of sheep, cows and horses. You go over 'stiles'--which are 2 planks going up & over the fence on each side--there are hundreds of these along this hike. Also sometimes through gates. All to keep the animals where they are. Two days ago, I entered this field where a brown Welsh pony was grazing. I also do a good horse imitation, so when I spoke to him, he came up to me & started head-butting me in a friendly way, as well as trying to eat the apple out of my back pack. I scratched his head & back, he pressed his head to mine & escorted me to the next stile, gently nudging me along the way.
Twice this has happened to me: walking through a field of young bulls, they all check me out, and start following me as a massive group, but I am not really sure they are following me because when I turn around, they all instantly stop. Then I keep going, sense they are following, turn around, they have stopped but are definitely closer. Too funny! Feels like a cartoon!The IPod in my head:
As I walk, I sing songs, sometimes out loud, sometimes humming . Yesterday turned out to be much reggae, today was female singer-songwriters. SCI, Grateful Dead, the Band, James Taylor, JP Orbit, Cat Stevens, Violent Fems, Willie Nelson, Kris Delmherst, New Monsoon...my inner Ipod is on shuffle and has endless megabites
Another reason why I solo-hike is to spare all of you my off-key singing :)
Ahh the fruit:
Strawberries, raspberries, bilberries, sour cherries...between the berries & getting lost twice a fe days ago, I was very late to the B&B, around 8pm. When I arrived, the very concerned husband said, 'welcome, take off your boats and I'll make you some tea just after I call the police and tell them you have arrived.'
His wife just laughed and said, 'I told him not to worry'
Go Speed Racer:
Having been in walk mode for so many miles, it is truly an oddity to see speeding cars. Last week, I was sitting on the front steps of a small building at the crossroads of 3 streets, having a snack with Axel & Janette--a couple from Holland who I've been walking on and off with since Thursday. Watching the cars speed by in all the directions...we were just amazed...not sure what to say...even giddy with so much fast motion. We laughed that it was performance art. It made me think of the movies Baraka and Koianiskatsi (sp?)
It is such a nice thing when I bump into Janette and Axel. He walks a bit faster, so Janette and I talk, eat wild raspberries and strawberries, and she is also a wild flower geek, so we teach each other the flowers we know. Yesterday we met while I was having tea along these 100s of year old canals. Like me, they had decided to not follow the Offa's Dyke trail up a mountain, but rather walk along the canal to the next village we were all going to stay in -- they in a B&B and me with a Andrew & Tracy of Couch Surfing. A lovely walk and we were very glad of our choice as we sat out a sudden intense thunder storm under a bridge.
Couch Surfing has been great! Last night with Andrew & Tracy, I felt like I was sitting with friends from the Bay Area. She is into spiritual practice & he into political blogging. They made a massive dinner plus wine and breakfast, and needless to say, I was a bit slow going today. 3 ghosts live in their house, along with two sweet small & scruffy dogs. I did witness 5 things mysteriously breaking, but saw no ghost with me own eyes.
3 kinds of orchids within 10 minutes of walking!, self heal, morning glory, St. John's Wort, veech, not to mention the trees: beech, walnut, chestnut, ash, maple, even redwoods, lots of furs and a crazy thing called a monkey puzzle tree, brought to an estate by an eccentric old chap a few hundred years ago.
and speaking of estates,
Last week when I was walking with Sal & Sue, we saw in the distance this huge estate. After a few seconds, Sue said, 'all that dusting' and Sal said, 'you'd spend all day washing windows'.
Raindrops keep falling on my head...not
I know I shouldn't tempt fate here, but I seem to be a few steps ahead and behind the big downpours of rain. But for last Wednesday, I've not been rained on but for a little spitting. 'Good thing you didn't come through here an hour ago. Huge storm!' I've heard on several occasions. Or I will stop for the day, and the rain begins moments later.
Right then! Time to hit the trail.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Follow the Acorn:
The 177-mile trail is quite well marked with Acorn markers--the official logo of Offa's Dyke. Sometimes it is like a treasure hunt, trying to find the acorn on a post, fence, wall, pole. I have a map of the trail and a book as well, to guide me. I've only lost the trail 3 or so times, one being the day before yesterday in a downpour of rain & lost somewhere in the middle of a potato field. I did bring a GPS with as a back up, and I must say it was nice to have it during that storm.
How many have I seen so far? 1000s & 1000s. I baaahaaa at them as I walk by, which they barely look up from their meals of grass. On the other hand, past experience shows that goats do respond, so I either speak goat, or sheep are not so easily fooled.
The sheep are all blasted with splats of pink, blue, green, purple, red. Some might think it is the markings from the farmers. But I know better--I am sure that in the middle of the night, the sheep jump their pasture fences & have paintballfights against the sheep from other farms.
As I climbed out of the town of Kington yesterday, I crossed a golf course. Again, sheep everywhere, which means sheep droppings everywhere. I am hard pressed to imagine American golf courses in such a state. On the other hand, what a great lawn-cutting job these sheep do.
Plants & flowers:
Wild strawberries patches are the most wonderful thing to find along the route--as small as your 1/2 your pinkie nail, but so sweet to taste. Also occasional raspberries that are ripe.
Wildflowers have been the-most-purple-foxglove, campions, purple & white thistles, buttercups, scotch brush, grose (smells like butter cookies), heather, purple & white clovers, and (shake it shake it) filliery. Also seen lupine & larkspur in gardens--so strange as these grow wild in CA. I saw what I imagine is a a cousin to pine drops in a particular woods.
Live Oaks, ferns forests, stinging nettles galore (making my calves tingle every night bed), and even mugwort on the side of a hops field.
I find it takes me a few hours to get into a pace, but then walk stronger into the rest of the day. I appreciate the solo journey allowing me to go at my own pace, stop & check out the wildflowers & stunning views. And to snack on the strawberries when I find them.
The first 5 days of walking was in a heatwave. Having grown up in the Midwest & hiked many miles in the Sierras, I loved the heat, which seemed to wilt the Brits I met upon the trail. And the last several days have been more normal weather: overcast, rain, sprinkles, sun, more overcast, dumping rain, sprinkles...get the picture?
But walking feels good, no big body aches, no blisters but for the start of one because of yesterday's wet socks.
Funny thing happened on the way to a Farm B&B my 3rd night. I cut through a field and found myself on a road, not the farm I thought I would end at. I flagged down a car & a lovely Welsh man helped me figure where to go & took me there. He knew the family & had wanted to stop by to see their new barn. The next morning as I walked up the drive & not relishing the mile walk back down the road to the trail--asphalt is so tiring on the feet! I was just thinking I may flag down a car to get a ride to the trail...when my friend of the evening before pulls up next to me and with a laugh of surprise, ushers me into his & car and to the trail!
Two days ago on the trail, I met Sue, Sal & Rufus the wonder dog. They are also hiking the trail, but taking years to do it, doing 2-3 days at a time. We walked much of the day together. After a particular heavy dump, we came upon the 400+ years old Saint Mary's church in the middle of the trail. The door held a sign, welcoming in hikers to take a rest, make some tea & have a biscuit (cookies). How lovely it was to get out of the rain, have a hot drink with lunch!
Yesterday as I hiked, I wondered if I would meet them again. In early afternoon, I heard this strange heavy breathing behind me, turned around & there was Rufus wagging his tail & licking my calves. So I walked again with them until we reached this town of Knighton, where they got into their car & I on to my stay.
If you go to CouchSurfing.com, you will find an international network of folks who would like to stay with you when they are in your town & whom you can visit when you are traveling. I spend my first night in the UK with Jimmy & Mary this way, in the town of Chepstow. What a great resource, way to save money & way to meet interesting people.
Which brings me back to Knighton. So in the last 2 hours of hiking yesterday, it was dumping rain. Soaked to the bone. After I said goodbye to Sal, Sue & the dog, I phoned Edward--my Couchsurf stay in Knighton. He met me at the town clock, we walked to his home...into the room I would stay in...and out the window into a hot tub! Yes, a wood stove heated hot tub. Amazing. Just like being home. And he had champagne & blue berries (I am working on my hospitality, he said). Later, his brother, wife, daughter & her boyfriend came by to tub. A rare thing in these parts, Edward said.
I imagine that in the many hundreds of years of people hiking Offa's Dyke trail, I am likely the first one who walked off the trail and into a hot tub.
Farms...fields...mountains...forests...sheep...cows...horses...rivers...Climbing to the top of the trail& looking around is breath taking no matter where I am.
Right then, I am off! More writings later on down the line.