Rest Day, 5th April: Brean
With a pile of washing dripping from every hanging point in the van, Mike disappeared with daughter Claire and my repeated thanks for the comforts of his home. A brief respite and I headed off to squeeze Snickers into the Tesco car park and pick up my next support driver, Clive, from Weston-super-mare. Clive isn’t someone I have met more than a couple of times in my life but, for me, a big part of this entire trip is getting to know and re-acquaint myself with family and friends both old and new. I’m sure Clive won’t mind me describing him as a morris dancing, real ale enthusiast and ex HSE inspector who is clearly as mad as a box of frogs in volunteering to drive for me, a relative stranger and vague acquaintance. It’s great!
Stage 40, 6th April: Brean to Clevedon
An overcast day with light showers awaited, as did a closed crossing of the fens – thanks to the Environment Agency plus a few large chains and a couple of padlocks. Hence I started the day with a three-mile road detour. However the road detour proved to be one of my highlights to date as I saw a long black tail slink down into the ditch alongside the road. As I approached I heard a very distinctive squeak coming from below me and as I walked on by a juvenile otter crept up out of the ditch and came towards me to within a few feet. I considered bending down to coax it like a puppy, but remembered that otters carry a sharp set of teeth, so thought better of it and gave it a little bit of room. By the time I had thought to dig out my camera it had skulked back into the ditch and sat there looking up at me, squeaking plaintively whilst refusing to make a hasty exit. Its behaviour wasn’t what I expected of an otter as I have come across them a few times on the Scottish West coast, but they are my favourite creature on the planet and even the hardest soul on earth must admit that they are more than a little bit cute.
After that, the holiday towns of Weston and Kewstoke didn’t hold much interest to me and though the walking was flat it wasn’t easy navigating my way through or even around the maze of ditches and drains of the Somerset levels. So much so that after Wick I might have….errrr….committed an act of semi-deliberate trespass. In my defence, the gate was open. OK, so my digital Ordnance Survey map didn’t confirm that the track was legitimately accessible, but it was the only available crossing of a particularly nasty drain that would have required a five-mile detour if I didn’t use it. Just as I made my way across the ditch I peered slightly guiltily over my shoulder to see a tractor approaching at speed. I was within ten yards of the road as he caught up with me for the “gerroff my land” discussion, so I pleaded ignorance and he let me off on the basis that I was only walking one way so wouldn’t have seen the big sign he had posted, which I would only see as I turned around on reaching the road (photo). Why didn’t they buy a sign for the other end of the track apart from the ‘Private’ one I might have….errrr….ignored.
Ten minutes later whilst I was still celebrating my sneaky little victory, my GPS battery decided to warn me that it was about to give up. I took two minutes to quickly note my remaining route to Clevedon by memorising a sequence of lefts, rights, wiggles, turns and u-turns which seemed to work well as I arrived in the upmarket town and managed to squeeze in a quick Mint Feast before finding Clive, rather luckily I suspect, without a hitch.
Stage 41, 7th April: Clevedon to Mathern
Showers and a muddy coast path greeted me in the morning as I headed through the scrubby woodland around the low cliffs of Portishead. Huge houses lined the cliff above Portbury Wharf whilst the wharf itself was now a new development of expensive waterside (mud-flat side) apartments.
I headed inland around more flat lands, big industrial units and up on to the Avonmouth Bridge for a couple of miles in the company of roaring traffic on the M5. This was followed by the pleasures of Avonmouth. I couldn’t find anywhere even remotely decent to sit down and have a bite, so I ate on the fly as I marched the pathway alongside the A403. The A403 is lined with scruffy roughty toughty industry and frequented by truck after truck – horrible.
I was relieved to find the Severn Valley Way and cross under the ‘New’ Severn Bridge (photo), squelch through more very muddy flats in a hail shower and up to the ‘Old’ Severn Road Bridge, my crossing point. Here I briefly met up with my eldest brother Steve and his wife Anita who accompanied me halfway across the bridge in chilling winds with added spits of rain. Steve is future support crew and his week will be welcome, but it was lovely to see them and have a quick catch up with family news.
Wales and the Wales Coast Path! Another target achieved.
Stage 42, 8th April: Mathern to Nash
Kate’s forecast told me to expect a bright day, occasional showers and a brisk cool wind in my face. Bang on…..thanks again! It was a muddy start down from the village to cross the railway, join the sea wall and cross back under the other side of the ‘New’ Severn Bridge which was smugly and satisfyingly jammed East bound. Along, over and back over the M4, around a small firing range and with yesterdays experiences of trucks in Avonmouth, I found the noisy traffic almost insulting to my wind and wave trained ears. A brief chat with a lovely man and MS sufferer walking his extremely patient labrador was undoubtedly the highlight of my day and our conversation cheered me immensely.
Back onto the sea wall, lined with storm detritus on the seaward side. It was topped with soft short grass and clad with a carpet of flowering daisies but everything else was pretty much featureless. I passed the time looking over to the other side of the channel identifying the places I’d passed through over the last few days. I met up with Clive shortly after lunch and he walked with me around the Newport Wetlands edged with expensively built wooden bird-watching hides. Onto the headland at the mouth of the river Usk we shared a resigned groan and jointly questioned the parentage of flytippers who had carefully dumped their spoils in strategic heaps along the pathway. A grim sight even amid the pylons and wires radiating away from the nearby power station. Nash and the car park (and bar) of The Waterloo Inn awaited. Both were welcome.
Stage 43, 9th April: Nash to Penarth
It was a bright white puffy cloud day with a chilly wind to mask the burning power of the sun, even this early in the year. I made my way up the river Usk skirting tatty industry units with litter strewn along fences out of sight of their main business and reception areas. The path was similarly littered with the added mix of recent storm debris. It was all a bit grim and rather depressing.
On the other hand the Newport Transporter Bridge (photo) was uplifting in more ways than one. Having declined the offer to walk over the top of the bridge span I waited for the gondola to slide across the river and read up on transporter bridges. This particular one is one of only two operating in the UK and is part of a measly world-wide total of eighteen ever built. I will hopefully use the other working UK one in Middlesbrough later this year. One small one in Warrington doesn’t work and is awaiting refurbishment.
Once on the gondola to cross the river I chatted with local lad and bridge employee Tom who filled me in on a little more history, the charity status of the operation and a little bit of technical information about the original engines pulling us across. Tom was a very likeable lad who had a great deal of pride in the old bridge. After the brief voyage we wished each other well with a good firm handshake and I disappeared into the streets of Newport.
Down and back to the coast from Newport I passed Duffryn High School where the smokers gathered in the road and a few lads idly kicked a football down the pavement. Not much else seemed to be happening – things were just drifting along in their quiet unassuming way as I equally drifted back down for another few hours of featureless sea-wall walking. It was dull, very dull. I tried to just lose myself in my thoughts and setting the occasional bush as a sighting target, but it was still tedious.
At last I headed back inland towards Cardiff and the sea wall was disappointingly replaced by traffic laden roads. Finally the roads emptied and edged their way around to Cardiff Bay which has clearly seen enormous investment over the past decade or so. The waterfront was not only plush but also bustling with foreign tourists, including one rather strange-looking Englishman sporting a pair of very muddy boots and trousers, a small rucksack, a trekking pole and a sunburnt Swan Vesta like forehead….miles from anywhere muddy.