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!