The days were getting longer and alas, spring was (apparently) springing. Which could only mean one thing for me. My Aries feet were getting rather itchy. I needed adventure and challenges to satisfy my soul. I longed to be outdoors in the fresh air and the wild winds. Every year without fail, at springtime I get fire in my belly, infinate energy and an insatiable appetite for new adventures.
In search of a new challenge I picked up my copy of the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail guidebook that I had purchased some months before when I had first heard about the trail. I had originally planned to do my walk in February as I had the feeling that I had to get moving right away. However on looking at the dire weather forecast and realising that no campsites were open I postponed my plans by exactly one month.
On the 19th March, I got out of bed before the sun, caught the 6:15am train to Chepstow (by a whisker – some undignified running for the train was involved) and I was on my way. Just me, a huge bag weighing a quarter of my body weight which containing everything I needed to survive and 177 miles.
I took the bus to Sedbury and my first challenge was to find the official start of the walk. Of course I headed off in the wrong direction but I was soon corrected by a helpful chap who pointed me towards the official start of the walk (pictured above). I was off. I wasn’t even sure I could walk one mile with the load I was carrying but somehow I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was soon in the stunning Forest of Dean and I was so in awe of everything I seemed to forget about my physical discomfort. Or the fact that I had 18.5 miles to walk before dusk, something I was sure was impossible. I was quite exhausted but I had had some beautiful weather and a great days walk as I began my approach to my first campsite, where I had my first animal encounter of the walk.
I was happily minding my own business and walking through a field that contained a very large, chestnut coloured horse. He did not take kindly to my presence in his field and he cantered over to me and blew its hot breath right into my face. He looked mad. Laden down with my pack and exhausted as I was, running away was not an option for me. I stood very still and calmly held my hand out for him to smell. He stood there staring me out for a while. Soon, I decided that I was too tired to have a staring competition with a horse. I told the horse, ‘It’s ok buddy, I am just going to walk over there.’ I walked very slowly and calmly to the stile. I didn’t dare turn around to look at him. The second I was over the stile he came running full speed upto the fence and started stomping his hoofs and kicking the dirt back in a very aggressive manner. Needless to say I hotfooted it over the next available fence to get away from the crazy guy. I made my way down to the campsite where I pitched my tent, met some friendly horses and a sweet dog and had a peaceful nights slumber.
The next day as I was leaving the campsite, I noticed a tiny house tucked behind the stables! A tiny house! I got chatting to the owner and creator of the tiny house as I too plan on building my own tiny house in the near future. We hiked up to the Kymin and watched the eclipse (photograph above). It was a really beautiful sight to see but it meant I set off very late to start hiking. The weather was absolutely glorious I had my t-shirt and sunglasses on the whole day as I hiked through fields and over hills. I was very late arriving to my campsite thanks to my very late start – darkness had descended just as I was coming down from the hills so I had to pitch my tent in the dark. Thankfully I was at a pub campsite so I had a gigantic bowl of chips and a coca-cola for my dinner. Throughout my trip hunger got the most of me on multiple occasions and I made some terrible food choices.
Day three took me up into the Black Mountains. This was the my favourite day of the walk as the scenery was so dramatic. Either side of the ridge you could see for miles and miles. There were some lush wild ponies in the mountains in all different colours and patterns.
I met a very inspiring man who was just out walking his dog in the mountains. He told me he had recently finished Offa’s Dyke for the 10th time on his 70th birthday. What an inspiration! He asked if I was camping out and he patted me on the back and said ‘good girl’ when I confirmed that I was camping.
At different times during my hike, my backpack would either seemingly weigh nothing or it would seem an impossible load to move. The black mountains was one of the times when I completely forgot about the load I was carrying. I was so awestruck by the beauty that surrounded me that nothing else could permeate my thoughts.
The next day was one of the toughest for me. My feet and legs seemed uncoordinated and they did not cooperate when I told them to move. It took me about two hours to walk the first two miles as they kept protesting and wanting to rest. Some of the padding had gotten all bunched up in the back of my left boot and painfully jabbed into my achilles tendon with every step I took. I somehow got to the top of Hergest Ridge and I decided enough was enough. I hastily unpacked my bag to find my knife. I cut the offending part from my boot and was instantly relieved of the painful torture when I checked to see if it had worked. I met my auntie on my way down from the ridge and I spent the night at their place as they live very close to the path. A hot bath was ran for me the moment I entered their house. I could have stayed in the sanctuary of the tub for hours as every part of my body ached. My clothes were washed and we had a delicious takeaway curry. The next day I was greeted with coffee in bed and steaming bowl of sweet porridge. I felt refreshed and replenished and eager to carry on with my hike.
I had a lush walk in my clean clothes and arrived to the campsite that was closed but they allowed me to stay anyway, free of charge. I headed into town to resupply as the lady told me there would not be a shop for the next 35 miles of the walk! I went to the chip shop and got chips and mushy peas which I ate in my tent. I had the most peaceful nights sleep, all alone next to a babbling brook with the occasional chirp from the chickens in their garden. I awoke to find Jack frost had been in the night and he had even snuck into my tent!
I reached the halfway mark on day 6. Hurrah! I was rejoicing my achievement for a short time. Soon my excitement dwindled as I learnt what ‘switchbacks’ were… Oh, and it rained, hailed and then finally snowed. The switchbacks were a series of long and ever steeper ups and downs. I fell on my butt twice on one ascent as it was near vertical, slick wet muddy grass. I got to my campsite again after dark where the amazing lady at the B&B I was camping at made me a brew, allowed me to use the brand new shower and to share dinner with them. I was so grateful for her kindness and generosity as I didn’t have the energy to cook dinner for myself that evening.
Days 7 and 8 of the hike were shorter and the scenery (especially on day 8) was very uninspiring. I barely saw another person for these two days and my excitement for the walk was waning. I had serious thoughts about quitting the walk altogether. There were moments every single day when it got tough when the thought of quitting would flash through my mind but I usually reasoned with myself, ‘don’t be silly Olivia! What would you rather be doing? Sitting on your butt watching tv shows, or enjoying this spectacular scenery?!’ This would jolt me back to reality that yes, it was tough but Wales is such a beautiful country and I would much rather be here than in the city. Needless to say, I almost reached breaking point on day 8. I was following a canal and then the very flat river severn. I didn’t see many animals and I was ankle deep in mud several times. I needed to rest. I made the decision to take half a day off. I dragged my tired butt off the trail and booked myself into a B&B. I bought as much fruit as I could carry, ate it all in one go in bed. Had a very long shower and a very long think about whether to carry on. I had a great dinner of big fat chips, homemade soup and a cider and went back to my room.
I had made my decision. Every fibre of my being wanted to carry on. One of the main aims of my trip was to hopefully inspire other girls to go out and explore the world for themselves. I truly believe that you must lead by example. It is fun, exciting and totally empowering to go out and do things on your own. Nothing bad will happen to you and you might just end up having a fabulous time, see some beautiful things, learn a lot about the world and a lot more about yourself.
The next days hike was lush. I was back in my beloved forests and hills. Rejuvenated and re-inspired by my new surroundings. I absolutely adore being in the woods and forests. It is the place where I feel the most comfortable, the most like myself and the safest. I camped at a wonderful B&B with a very sweet sheepdog. The lady cut me some fresh purple sprouting broccoli which I scoffed with great delight. My body was certainly craving all things fresh and green.
On day 10 I my path led me over the Pontcyslite Aquaduct. This was a canal suspended 120ft in the air over the river Dee. It was quite spectacular and an amazing creation. I saw this awesome frog who was happy to sit and pose whilst I took his photograph. He didn’t transform into a prince but he certainly was a handsome chap. I got to a sweet camp site where I met a very welcoming Duke of Edinburgh group who I am now going to volunteer with. Opportunities can arise when you least expect them. I had a great evening with the group and they kindly donated a compass to me as they were shocked that I hadn’t thought to bring one!
Day 11 saw me through the worst weather of the hike. I was up in the Clwydian hills, however the fog was so thick that I could barely see the landscape. There were winds of 60mph and rain that whipped my whole body and snuck into every crevice in my waterproofs leaving me soaked to the bone very early on. I didn’t stop to eat lunch on this day I just had a few snacks every now and then as I was too cold to sit still. I was nevertheless enjoying my day as I could feel my achievement and I was certain that I could finish what I had started. As I descended the last hill down to the village where I was set to camp I saw a cheeky familiar face! Mummy! My mother had come a day early to surprise me and found her way up the hill to the trail to find me. I cried tears of joy! Mum laughed, ‘you didn’t expect to see me did you?! Aww did I make you cry?!’ And with that she produced some bananas!!! A flask of hot coffee and some Linda McCartney sausages. My hero!
We went to the village and booked into a bunkhouse which was a converted garage. We had a glass of wine and ordered way too much Chinese food which we ate in the pub. My mum had been my hero throughout my walk, offering me words of encouragement when I needed them and finding me campsites when I was unable to.
On my final day I felt a strange mixture of emotions. Mum had taken my bag in the car with her to Prestatyn so I felt light and free as a bird. Hiking was a lot faster when I was unencumbered by the bag. I was happy to be finishing my hike but also sad to be leaving the beautiful countryside. I feel so much more like myself when I am in the countryside than when I am in an urban area. I was reminiscing about my time on the trail. The highs and the lows. How I had overcome internal struggles when it felt like I wanted to stop, how I had seen more beautiful things than I could have imagined. I felt like a different person to the girl that had set out from Sedbury Cliffs, but I was still fundamentally the same person. I felt closer to nature and like I had a better understanding of the world. I could do anything I set my mind to.
I walked under my final blue pine trees, wound my way down the steep cliffs and met mum on the sea front at Prestatyn. I dipped my toes in the sea and felt proud of myself for my achievement. My aunt and uncle came to meet me once again and we all went for a well deserved coffee and a good catch up.
The next day at my parents house it was so strange to wake up and not have to walk anywhere. It was kind of blissful to be able to rest but I also felt restless in doing so. Throughout my hike the one thing I had missed the most was running which I know sounds crazy! After a couple of days rest I went for a run and it made my soul smile like nothing else can.
How wild it was to let it be
Questions for you…
Have you been long distance hiking? Where would you recommend for my next hike? Have you got any camping tips or tricks?
Love Olivia ♥