Damp patch

17Oct14

The last morning dawns milky and filled with birdsong as I prepare for the final push through Hereford and west. Incidentally, think twice before you try to cross the Wye. It is mysteriously difficult – practically no bridges! Why? Do they fear invasion? Engineering? The automobile? Except there are even footbridges, so you have to tough it out, on a narrow, fast road, without walkways, locked in combat with motorists, a hefty percentage of whom seem bizarrely affronted to see someone on foot, even though I’m in high-vis gear and show a craven willingness to squeeze into hawthorn hedges face first to let them pass.

Yesterday was tough, though. Steep hills and the sun came out, making it hot work. The compensation was sensational views (I try not to think what beauties have been shrouded in fog or veiled in rain earlier this week. Also, my calculations were correct – it is apple season, and how. Ledbury to Hereford is packed with orchards and lunch yesterday was picked up en route and shoved into pockets – it seemed sensible to get clear of the place before scronching into the ill-gotten gains.

Last couple of days have also had me getting lost – quite badly in some cases. Since last winter’s flooding, Tewkesbury is having major ditching work done. Footpaths have gone and landscape reconfigured. Still, plodding up to a stranger ‘Where are we?’ is quite the icebreaker. I’ve met a mechanic, some ladies on horses, a postman and, deep in some woods, in a hut, sitting at a circular whetstone and fiddling with a chainsaw, a one-eyed sixty-something who told me he’d got his gold Duke of Edinburgh award and came top of his class for mapreading. And that encounter, in a nutshell, is why I love walking. You simply have no idea what’s going to happen next – you could be rescuing a dog from a main road, scrambling over a hedge, tiptoeing across someone’s garden and praying there’s no one home, eating an apple while sitting on a stile and gazing out over a red, gold and green valley. Or having a laugh with a one eyed man in a wood.

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