Friday, August 26, 2022

40 days in, things have changed

I’ve been walking for 40 days now. Phew!

And a lot has changed about how I do my walking.

For starters, when you’re carrying everything on your back, you don’t really think twice about throwing away things that you don’t need. Towards the beginning of my trip, I sent home two packages of things that I realized were just extra weight.

My weight-carefulness has evolved. When I started my trip, I used to fill up all of my water bottles, for a whopping 5.5 liters of water, or 12 pounds. I would also go shopping every three or four days and load up on enough food to get me through all of that time.

Now I only carry 2 liters of water at a time. There’s water to be had everywhere, whether it’s from a stream, or from some kind soul whose door I knock upon. I have yet to be turned away.

As for food, I kind of feel the same. When I pass by a grocery store, I pick up enough food to last me for the next few meals. I also try to get in more variety, based on what’s freshest.

My whole body has been so grateful for the weight reduction. Really, it feels like I’m carrying nothing at times, even though my pack probably weighs about 28-30 pounds.

You also start to have a routine. I have a place for everything, and know where things go. Garbage goes in one pocket, so when I reach a garbage bin, I can drop it in. My munchies are in one hip pocket, while my headlamp and pocket knife and useful things like that are in the other.

When I started out, I kept losing things because I’d forget them when I left camp. Now when I set up camp, I have a routine I follow, and it’s the same for breaking camp. I haven’t lost anything since… I left my sunglasses behind back on day 14.

I could start a fire, pack my backpack, and set up my hammock now blindfolded.  

I’ve also given myself permission to stop at anytime and for any length of time to visit with people, or to visit a church or castle or other interesting place. This gives me a chance to rest and adds so much variety to the journey. Today I stopped and talked with two really fun blokes who even showed me the best swimming hole nearby. I took a delicious dip. Can’t beat that local knowledge!

After forty days, I guess the biggest thing I’ve changed is just listening to and being very careful with how I treat my body. On a journey like this, it’s the only transport I have. And more than that, in life, it’s the only body we’ll get! Early on in my journey I felt a pressure to get the miles in and hurry things up. I ended up whacking my head on a branch once, cutting my thumb with my pocket knife, and really tiring my feet out. 

Now, though I’m still walking something like ten miles a day, I’m trying to be gentler with this good old body of mine. That could be just going over gates in fields a bit more carefully, or not banging so hard on the pavement with my feet. 

And those feet have been quite happy!

PS the map had dots with all of the places I’ve camped

Day of deliciousness


Today was delicious.

Well, to be honest, it didn’t start that way. It started with me realizing in the middle of the night, that it’s a bad idea to camp next to a train tracks. Especially busy ones. Especially by a crossing where they had to use their horns. My ear plugs muffled the sound a bit, but it was a roughish night. 

And when I woke, it was raining and the wind was blowing hard. Not fun packing everything up in the rain.

But then I had a nice long walk along the Avon and Kennet Canal. There were little boats, and great big house boats, and everything in between. At one point, I got to walk across an aqueduct that carried the canal over the river Avon—pretty neat!

My walk took me by Iford manor, and I spent a few hours proofreading my book in a tiny little cloister that the old owner cobbled together from bits and pieces of old churches from Italy. It was beautiful and magical, and the perfect place to cool off after a long walk in the sun. Delicious.

I was talking with my sister and her kids on a video call when we stumbled across the ruins of a castle, Furleigh Castle. It was really fun showing them around, looking for the dragon they assumed must live there. While we didn’t find the dragon, we did find the dungeon! 

As I continued my walk south, I started to come across houses with thatched roofs. Then there were horses, and quail, and swans, and a real working mill.

Finding a camping spot was a bit tricky, but I am nowhere near any train tracks. As I was setting up my hammock, I noticed a giant chicken of the woods mushroom. Dinner!

But before cooking dinner, I went down to the river Frome, and jumped in. The last time water touched my body was nine days ago. It felt so good!!! It felt delicious. I’m sure when I was a little boy I tried to go nine days without taking a bath or shower, but I’m not going to let that happen again!

And for good measure, I threw a line in the river afterwards… and caught a little fish, my first!!!

I cooked up some ramen noodles, sautéed the chicken of the woods mushrooms, and baked the fish in the coals, and had a fabulously delicious dinner.

So that was my delicious day: the coolness of a beautiful little cloister, the cleansing waters of a river, and the yumminess of fresh wild mushrooms and fresh wild fish. None of it was planned, I just started walking. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Poetry in the Cotswolds


Walking through a forest just now on the Cotswold Way, I came across a spring, and right next to it, a “Message Box”. Inside the message box was a little book that hikers can leave their memories in. 

There was a cute poem inside, about two walkers from Bristol, which inspired me to write my own. Here it is:

From Glendalough and over hill 

To Dublin town he came

And took the ferry o’er the sea 

To Anglesey the famed.

And walked the Wales Coast Path he did,

Through wind and rain and sun, 

And down the Offa’s Dyke until

His feet said they were done.

So to the gentle hills and vales 

of England he then turned

Along the Severn way he went

And the jubilee trail discerned.

Then down the Cotswold way he trekked,

until he found this bench

This blessed, lovely, wonderful,

delicious, friendly, bench.

And here he wrote his story, 

One that is not over yet

For many a mile awaits him still

Through dry days and through wet

Across the channel

And ‘cross France

And over mountains tall

Until he walks into Saint Peter’s 

As the leaves begin to fall. 

And what is then

The next part of this saga that I tell?

It is the story that you’ll write 

Who read my little tale

Walking through a forest just now on the Cotswold Way, I came across a spring, and right next to it, a “Message Box”. Inside the message box was a little book that hikers can leave their memories in. 

There was a cute poem inside, about two walkers from Bristol, which inspired me to write my own. Here it is:

From Glendalough and over hill 

To Dublin town he came

And took the ferry o’er the sea 

To Anglesey the famed.

And walked the Wales Coast Path he did,

Through wind and rain and sun, 

And down the Offa’s Dyke until

His feet said they were done.

So to the gentle hills and vales 

of England he then turned

Along the Severn way he went

And the jubilee trail discerned.

Then down the Cotswold way he trekked,

until he found this bench

This blessed, lovely, wonderful,

delicious, friendly, bench.

And here he wrote his story, 

One that is not over yet

For many a mile awaits him still

Through dry days and through wet

Across the channel

And ‘cross France

And over mountains tall

Until he walks into Saint Peter’s 

As the leaves begin to fall

And what is then

The next part of this saga that I tell

It is the story that you’ll write 

Who read My little tale. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Into England

 It’s official. I’ve left Wales and am now in England. This morning I crossed the Bristol Channel and said goodbye to Chepstow, and the Offa’s Dyke trail I finished, and to the Welsh dragon.

I’ve spent a lot of time working on my book these last few days. In fact, I got all the way to the end yesterday and now I’m doing a first revision. I’ve spent lots of time curled up in my hammock, or sitting on benches in parks and churchyards, typing away on my little IPad.

It was funny last night as I finished, I kind of couldn’t believe it. After four years of researching and writing, the book has only really come together on this pilgrimage, and I finished it in a little forest behind a neighborhood by some train tracks, the most unassuming place ever. I was typing away, and then got to the last bit, and then all of a sudden I was writing the ending. 

I credit the easy writing to all the in situ inspiration I’ve had these days and weeks, as well as to the quiet seclusion of a hammock in the woods. 

I spent two full days camped out at Tintern Abbey. Yesterday I left there in the middle of a morning storm, and walked down the Wye River Valley to Chepstow. Along the way were some very beautiful scenic views like one called “Eagles’ Nest”, and there was a really neat place where part of the path went through a cave, “Giants’ Cave.”

I met a fellow named Andrew at Eagles’ Nest. We ran into each other a few more times and decided to finish the hike together. It was nice to have the company—Andrew, his dog Kody, and me. Afterwards we got a bite to eat at Chepstow Castle. he was a fascinating fellow, and had an awesome accent!

I had originally planned to go through Bristol, but this morning at the last minute I changed my plan and headed around it to the north. I’m taking the Jubilee Way through south Gloucestershire, and then the Cotswolds’ Way to Bath. So far it’s been much easier walking than Wales, which I don’t mind at all.

If I keep going at the same rate, I’ll end up at the coast in a week, taking a ferry to Normandy. 

People have continued their kindness. Andrew bought me lunch. The priest at the church I went to yesterday was giving out chocolates after mass. Someone had a box of extra apples, free for the taking, from their orchard, sitting out in front of their house. Whenever I’ve run out of water, I knock on a door and people are glad to help. Even the blackberry bushes have been quite generous and their berries sweet these last few days.

So, though my body is usually aching by the time I sit down to cook my dinner, it’s still a delight every time I set out in the morning, not knowing what the day will bring. And at the end of the day, as I hunt for a place to put up my hammock, it can be nerve-wracking not knowing where I’ll end up, but it’s fun to hunt for the perfect trees.

Tonight I lucked out with a spot near to a few nice benches overlooking a churchyard, and a church with a bathroom inside. What luxurious accommodations!

Honestly, bathrooms have been so rare that if I come across one, sometimes I will go inside even if I don’t need to use it, just to be able to wash my hands and feel the cold water on them and the grime washing away. 

Ah, the things like sinks I’ll be grateful for when I return home, and knowing where my bed will be! What I most miss in the evenings is just a chair to sit on as I eat my dinner. Often I’m sitting on a little cushion pad on the ground, when my body would love a chair. I’ve stopped eating breakfasts in the morning at my camp; I’ll pack up and stop at the first bench or better yet picnic table I come across.

As I finish my trek each day and set down my backpack, my body seems to rejoice at the weight that it’s no longer carrying. It’s like it’s saying, “without all that weight, I can go a few more miles now!” Any hike without a 30 pound pack from now on will be a real treat.

I’ll also be grateful for hair clippers and trimmers. My beard feels like an unruly bush, and it’s only going to get worse. Even still, it is kind of neat to see it grow out longer than ever before.

As someone who’s “roughing it”, I encourage you to be grateful for the amenities you are enjoying right now! 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Kindness upon kindness

 Hitchhiking anyone?

Yesterday I had connected with a kind couple in the town of Monmouth who had offered to put me up in their home for the night. I had picked the perfect night to ask, since it started raining at about 7pm. Nothing better than a sound roof over your head on a rainy night.

Only at 7pm, I had already walked 10 miles and was still another 10 miles away from their house. And sopping wet.

I had gotten off the path I’d been taking through the hills, and hit a road, intent upon hitchhiking the rest of the way. It had looked like a big road on my map. But by the time it was 8pm, I had walked two miles in the rain, and had only seen one car going in my direction. I had barely been able to get my thumb out, and the car had continued on its merry way.

So I kept going. I was ready to hike another 3 or 4 hours, I just felt bad for the people who were putting me up that night.

(Side note: at this point, I stumbled across the coolest water fountain. It had a spigot for people to get water from, a trough for horses to drink from, and even a lower basin meant just for dogs. It also looked beautiful and had a sign in Welsh that read, “Free Water for All”. How cool is that!?!)

Then I heard the sound of another car coming from behind me. I whipped out my thumb, and the car whizzed by… and then slowed down. Alan waved me into his car and off we went. He was a beekeeper with over 20 hives spread out across Wales, and he had just come from a beekeepers’ meeting. He was on his way to check out some beekeeping equipment for sale, and yes, he would be happy to drive a few miles out of his way to drop me off where I needed to go. In the back of his car he had a demonstration hive which he could take to schools and scout groups to show youngsters how beekeeping works. 

Alan and I had a wonderful conversation, he told me about his bees and local history (including the recording studio we passed where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody) I told him about my friend Alex who keeps, and then he managed to drop me off right in the driveway of the place I would be staying.

Patricia and Pete were waiting up for me, worried for my safety. They told me that if I would have asked, they would have come and gotten me. 

Patricia is American, and she met Pete, a Brit, in Greece. Pete cooked the most delicious shepherd’s pie for me, and I fear that between dinner and breakfast the next morning I might have eaten them out of house and home. It didn’t help that their food was so delicious.

After dinner they told me I could use their bath or shower. “Bath?” I said, “I haven’t had a bath in ages.”

In fact, about a week ago my mom had recommended that I take a hot bath with some bath salts to ease my aching muscles. “Sure mom,” I had said. “Lots of Bath salts arrived here and plenty of baths,” I laughed. Now I think moms are clairvoyant. 

That bath at Patricia and Pete’s—it was like my body ate it up. I guess you don’t appreciate a bath until your muscles are sore and your body is tired like I was that day. 

I was able to wash my clothes in their washing machine—a rare treat—and charge up all my batteries.

Patricia cooked me a delicious breakfast and then Pete walked with me along the first mile of my trek that day, from their house and through the quaint little river town of Monmouth. Pete knew everyone and everything, and so it was slow-going, but delightful going. 

I wanted to hug him as he headed off.

I walked along the river Wye all day and made it to Tintern Abbey, the picturesque ruins of a Cistercian Abbey along the banks of the river. I am camped out here right now, and I’ve decided to stay a few days to write, write, write my book on Saint Kevin. It’s coming along nicely. 

Alan and Patricia and Pete were the soul of hospitality for me. Pete even repaired my broken umbrella and hiking pole. 

Today a friend I met the very first hour of my journey sent me a donation to buy myself “a pizza or two”. It came right in the nick of time, for the rain started up again this evening, and I was able to hunker down in a pub, work on my book, and enjoy a delicious pint and steak pie and chips, instead of try to make a fire and eat in the rain.

It’s been exactly one month today since I started walking. 330 miles. I’ve camped out 27 of those 31 nights. I just went through my expenses, and by camping and restocking at Aldi and Lidl I’ve been able to survive off of $13 a day. 

Except the truth is that I’ve been surviving especially off of the kindness and generosity of others. Others like the gentleman who gave me a bottle of water when I had run out the other day. Others like my sister Madeline, and my parents, who are kindly watching my dog. Others like Alan the beekeeper/Good Samaritan, or Patricia and Pete the kind kind hosts, or Sammy and Kylie who paid for my dinner tonight. 

I am so humbled and grateful and happy.

If you’d like to send a donation for fish and chips, or a cup of coffee, or a pizza, I’m brobigmac on Venmo or on PayPal. 

Many blessings upon you!!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Finding Family

I saw an apparition… and followed it.

It all started as I was hiking along Haterall Ridge, a part of the black mountains that goes on for what seems like forever. The sun had been blazing down on me all day, and there seemed to be no end to the ridge. The last tree had been literally ten miles back, and when I found a concrete marker, I gratefully sat in its shade for an hour.

In fact, I think the sun was getting to me and I was starting to feel a bit loopy.

That was when I stopped and looked down into the valley on my right. I had seen on the map that there were supposed to be some ruins of an abbey down there.

“Yeah, ruins,” I thought, “like the last ones that turned out to be three stones and an information plaque.”

By now the clouds had come out, and as I gazed down into that valley, the sunlight burst through the clouds and shined down upon the ruins of… a very large abbey. It looked beautiful. And I pulled out my monocular to get a closer look.

My plans had been to continue along the Offa’s Dyke Path that I had been on, so I debated a while. The abbey looked like the kind of place Saint Kevin would have loved. And I was ready to get off this ridge. And it might be a good place to write in.

I turned back and headed down into the valley.

As soon as I got off the ridge and into the trees that marked the start of the valley, everything felt different, a difference like I’ve always felt when I go to visit Saint Kevin’s valley in Glendalough, Ireland, or like you feel when you go to Assisi. It felt holy and like there was a goodness covering the valley.

The ruins are charming, and fun to poke around.

I continued down the valley to check out the little river and see if I could find a spot to swim.

On the way down I saw a family sitting on a lawn together, talking. 

The river was nice but I couldn’t find a good swimming hole.

As I headed back up, one of the grandkids in the family was kicking a soccer ball with his grandfather. I asked if I could join in.

He gladly gave me his place, and I kicked the ball with the lad and then his cousin a good long time.

Eventually one of the sons offered me a beer, then they gave me a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw, along with another beer. 

After chugging along that ridge all day in that sweltering sunlight, joining the Bloor family (that’s their name) felt like stepping out of the Sahara into an oasis. Yes, after days of camp food, the real dinner they served me was amazing. 

But it was more than that. These were good, fun people, and they reminded me of my family very much. Grandma and Grandpa are about my parents’ age, then they had two sons and two daughters and all their families. We ate and talked, and I even got to show the grandkids how to roast a marshmallow the proper way,  till it was golden brown.

I miss my family very much. We have brunch together every Sunday, and often see each other during the week. It is always good to be together. 

And somehow I was drawn down into this beautiful valley and was blest to spend time with this beautiful family. They adopted me yesterday, and I spent a good bit of time with them today as well. They showed me where the best swimming hole is, and we played some more soccer. After dinner, we played a game called questions. Each family wrote down 5-10 questions about anything, and everybody else tried to answer as best they could.

Questions ranged from “What’s my favorite food?” To “What are the six words with ‘monger’ in them?” To “What was the name of the Sith Lord who made the rule of two?” To “What are the names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”

It was hilarious, and I hope to bring the game back home to my family.

Sometimes we think that people who live on the other side of the world from us are different, or that they wouldn’t understand us. We imagine all kinds of imaginary barriers exist between us. But they’re not, they’re normal. And we have way more in common than we might think.

Two nights back I sat eating fish and chips on the banks of the River Wye with a man from Pakistan who had moved to London. He was a good kind man.

This family was a good good loving family. Their children were normal children. (The first night, when one of the moms told her daughter that it was time for her to go to bed, the girl dutifully informed her mommy that it was not time to go to bed since they hadn’t roasted marshmallows yet. Needless to say, she got to roast her marshmallows.)

And I am glad for it. I’m glad to take this journey and meet all these good people. It gives you hope. And, I think, keeps you grounded.

Blessed heat and blessed sunlight, that sent me down into the Llanthony Valley! And many blessings on the Bloor family!!!!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

259 miles in


I’ve done about 259 miles in 23 days of hiking, plus 3 days off. Here are some maps to show how far I’ve gotten, and the route I’m hoping to take to Rome. I’m near Kington now. 

These last few days I’ve found my rhythm in writing my book on Saint Kevin. I’ve had so many experiences on this walk that I’m incorporating into the book in one way or another. 

What I’m doing now is writing whenever I can and then when I need some inspiration, I hike some more. I’ll stop wherever looks good and write. In the mornings, I’ll write for 2 or 3 hours, and get a late start.

And I feel that August 31 deadline creeping up!

My highlight today was jumping in the river Ugg for a swim. You heard it, that’s right, the river Ugg! It was delightfully cool. 

I also found some more edible mushrooms, this time ones called Shaggy Inkcaps. They were delicious together with some lemon and coriander couscous.

In fact, I’m thinking of writing my own cookbook to accompany my Saint Kevin book. Tonight I fried up my own tortilla chips and had what I call “poor man’s Thai”, a combination of sweet and sour noodles with some Indian snack mix. Magnifique!

I’m still probably two weeks out from France, but I’m trying to brush up on my French and get my French maps and route in order. After a month of the British Isles, I’m sure France will be different. I’m looking forward to the differences, especially the food!

Many blessings on you and yours!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Slices of heaven

Today was a hard day. 

It started with getting woken up by a pack of dogs.

Yup, they wouldn’t leave me alone or let me sleep. Some sadistic person had gotten up at the ungodly hour of 8am and taken their five dogs—or their neighbor’s and their friend’s, and their mailman’s dogs—on a walk, right by where I was sleeping, all of them off leash.

So I got up a bit earlier than my usual. Hey, “Early to bed, early to rise, keeps a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” said somebody, maybe Benjamin Franklin?

Anyway, I was none too happy to break camp so early, but eventually the dogs left and I was on my way.

Enter problema numero dos: I had no water. I had accidentally kicked over my precious pot of hot cocoa last night, which meant I had to use up all of my water reserves to save the day—I mean night.

Thankfully, my trek started with a lot of downhill, and it looked like there were several water sources on the way down.

None of which panned out. All dry, “the lot of ’em”.

Then I ran into a couple who had just finished taking their beautiful yellow lab, Jimmy, for a walk. Jimmy was the best-trained dog I had ever seen. Translation: unlike my dog, when you threw a ball for Jimmy, he would bring it back and place it directly into your hand. This is fetch heaven as far as I’m concerned, and I am dead set on training my dog to do the same as soon as I’m back home.

Anyway, these wonderful folks did have half a bottle of water which they shared with me. I didn’t think much of it, but that half a bottle would get me through the next four hours of walking in the sun. I didn’t find water until the town of Montgomery about six miles away.

Much of today’s walk was in the blazing sun. Not St Louis blazing sun, where you can fry eggs on the driveway, but still quite warm. Add to that some of the steepest inclines I’ve ever hiked, and I was, as they say here, knackered.

Towards the end of the day, I was walking down a hill so steep I could barely keep my balance… when everything changed and I found heaven.

First of all there was the giant puffball. If you know your mushrooms, you know that the giant puffball is prized for its deliciousness  above all others, with maybe the exception of the morel. Slice the puffball into half inch patties, and it tastes heavenly. Someone had left a rather large part of a puffball by the gate at the bottom of the valley I had just entered. An inveterate forager, I carefully scooped it up to use for my dinner.

Then there was the graveyard which I spied between the trees on my left. A graveyard meant a church, and a church meant the possibility of a place to sit.

I entered the graveyard, and sure enough there was a nice bench for sitting on, which I did. Then I thought, “maybe the church is open.” Most churches aren’t here, though they sometimes are during the day. But it was already 7pm or so.

Anyway, I approached the beautiful little stone church, tried the door, and it opened. Inside was about 10 degrees cooler than outside. Not only that, the whole interior smelled like flowers (someone had put some fresh violets inside) and the sunlight was streaming through the very beautiful stained glass windows of the church.

I stopped and prayed, and read all of the quirky little bits of history about the church, like how the stone (which is still there) in front of the podium used to be used as a measure for bags of wheat, and how Freddy the Red Welsh Setter was too shy this year to participate with the other animals in the blessing of the pets.

It was the kind of cozy church that made you just want to stay and wander around and pray and sit, and even sing.

When I finally did head outside, I heard the sound of water. The streams in the last two valleys I had passed through were all dried up, so I had just assumed that this one would be too. But not at all. It was still flowing, and with a little help from my water purifier, I had as much delicious cool water as I could have ever wanted.

Later this evening I made my dinner. I only had a bit of olive oil, which you need to cook the giant puffball. But I was able to fry maybe 12 little slices. I added a little salt, and honestly, I think I had the best meal in the whole world at that point. You can’t cultivate puffballs. They just seem to spontaneously grow in totally random places. You have to be lucky enough to stumble across one. 

They taste like… kind of like… well, the taste depends on how you season it. It’s more the texture that’s magical. It’s kind of like the finest mozzarella di Bufala that you can get in Italy, if you’ve ever had that. But not quite. It’s much smoother. It’s more like a marshmallow texture, but much softer and without being sticky. It melts in your mouth faster than chocolate or marshmallow, almost like a bit of hot buttered pancake covered in syrup. Really, you must try some.

These were the slices of heaven at the end of my long and trying day. I’m grateful to the people who left me the puffball. I’m also grateful to the people who built this little church and keep it clean and open to the public. I’m grateful to the people who kept me going by sharing their half bottle of water with me. And I’m grateful to the inventor of puffballs, and mountain streams, the Father of Good Samaritans, the One we worship in our churches. 

Who ever said getting woken up by a pack of dogs was that bad after all?