June 2015 – Day 3
After a lovely breakfast and final chat with Glyn and Rose about bees and other things; they are part of bee friendly Monmouth, admiring their meadow lawn so similar to my own, and hearing of one of their transition group who knows everything about bees and has learnt to become fluent in Welsh too since his arrival in Monmouth shire, I set out in the drizzle to see Chepstow castle.
It startles me with its size. It must have been an impressive sight when it was first built. The Norman invaders surely made their presence felt, it must have felt quite terrifying to the locals.
It is also the start of the Wye valley walk. A boulder from Plinlimon has been brought down as the official marker. I set out, the way couldn’t be easier to start with but I am not lulled into any false sense of security, I have pre warned about the challenges of this first stretch of the walk. For a mile or two all is well, and the stick Glyn has told me to look out for to help me turns up perfectly strewn amongst a heap if broken branches it has a smooth forked top and is stout and the exact height for me. I feel as if I have been given my Merlin’s staff.
The famous picturesque views of Valentine’s Piercefield are totally obscured by the strong summer leaf growth in the tree covered gorge . The path takes me high above it by hundreds of feet and I am glad I cannot see the sheer drop so close to my right side. I keep left and use my stick to stop me from slipping in the newly muddy path after the previous day and night of rain, and the continuing mizzle.
As I amble along, very slowly, I think about what Glyn said about those young children not so many years ago that were sent to school by their parents only to discover that everything that came naturally to them was wrong. We have in common fathers who began their education left handed and left ambidextrous after having been forced to write with their right hands. Then there were the Welsh children, like his mother, who on arrival at school had a sign hung around their necks saying No Welsh ‘dim cymru’ and forbidden to communicate in their native language.
The image of the horror and cruelty of these recent times stays with me. How many unheard stories must there be buried deep in our psyches just awaiting release? For how long have we considered education as a wholly good thing and neglected to pay attention to the unhappy consequences of misguided rules that served no one.
My reveries are soon broken by the realisation that I am now on the part of the route that Rose has told me about. Fortunately the trees summer growth masks the worst of it but what they cannot do is provide protection from paths that muddily slope downwards so that a walker needs only slip slightly once to be at the bottom of a precipice and in the river far far below.
There then follows what is quite possibly one of the most frightening episodes of my life. For maybe half an hour possibly more I walk mindfully one step at a time, poking ahead with my faithful staff for roots and stones my feet can get more purchase on, breathing deeply and totally focussed on making it to the upward footpath that will take me off this most hazardous of trails. It is a lesson in kindness to myself. I promise the little one inside me that we will never risk such a trail again, that we are finished with so called pleasure trails and shall henceforth stick to the favoured back lanes and village hop as is our preference.
When I finally spot the upward footpath my mouth is dry and I realise just how scared I have been. Alone and in potential danger from one wrong foot or a second taking my concentration away from the present moment I have learnt how much love I have for this my body and my life. Kindness begins with ones self.we can only extend as much love as we can feel for ourselves. I feel this lesson I have learnt this day.
As I climb the steep footpath away from the perilous trail a high wind blows and I hide behind broad trees as I go, aware that had this wind begun when I was still on the treacherous trail it would have amplified the chances of a slip. I shout into the wind, daring it to confront me in this way when I am full of the energy of self preservation. In that moment I feel the strength of my fierceness and it fuels my swift ascent to the top of the woods and out to temple door. This old entrance to the Piercefield estate is now in ruins and gives out to the main road. I sit at it and drink from my drink bottle.
Then I cross the road and stride purposefully down the hill to the little lane leading away from the main road. Lanes again. I let relief filter through my system as water flowing over smooth stones and walk with bright sunshine energy on the inside. I become aware of my faithful staff. It is cumbersome now I don’t need it anymore, I am aware of its weight and the way my gait is different when walking with a stick. My thumb and fore finger feel chaffed from grasping it and I know I cannot carry it on with me. I leave it leaning against a hawthorn and Rowan grown together at the lane side. I can hear it begging not to be left behind, it has become embued with my protector energy and feels somewhat alive. I stay some minutes with it, then kiss it goodbye with thanks and walk on, telling it it may join me in the future if it is needed and that it may, in the meantime, be needed by some other walker.
I feel as if I have left a good friend behind.
The lanes are wonderful now. I amble to my hearts content. I pass a solitary chapel and still onward I go headed for Tintern, the long way round.
My good friend Marion is waiting as I finally descend from the upper ridge where once the main thoroughfare would have led into the little roadside settlement of Tintern. Unbelievably as I have walked the rain has stopped and it has begun to warm up. It is mid afternoon. We walk slowly to a grassy field before the abbey and sit ourselves down facing it on a conveniently situated picnic table.
The sun has come out.
Marion removed cloth placemats and proceeded to lay the table. This is your birthday picnic she says, reminding me that one of the reasons for this walk is to commemorate being 50.
“Thats your birthday present” she adds I smooth down the place at with its stone age aboriginal images, “I brought it you from Santa Fe.” I resolve to look up the meaning of the images when I get the chance.
Marion though has begun to remove other items from her small rucksack; a proper mug for me to drink from. A flask of delicious hot blackcurrant cordial, two types of local cheeses, a chutney, two kinds of speciality crackers, stuffed vegetarian rolls and two kinds of cake. The picnic plates are decorative with a tasteful Morrisesque floral design, matching paper napkins and there is cutlery.
As we tuck into my birthday feast Marion regales me with her latest projects. As ever her enthusiasm is infectious. Although Marion has been I’ll as last ng as I have known her and walks with a stick she is quite the most positive person I know. Why waste time being miserable she wants to know.
Her ongoing project, dream the future, to travel round the festivals collecting the positive visions of the people she meets there continues. More than ten years older than me Marion is now k nown at Glastonbury where she has a stall each year collecting positive stories.
“its such fun” she says, with the delightful school girl grin I know so well
There are other projects afoot; a funder to pay for a really good translator tool so we can all understand one another, no matter our native language, an improvement on google. Let me know if you know of such a person. Then there is a project that is enabling young city folk to start up their own eco build project which she is supporting.
Marion wants 1001 positive visions of the future. Look up Marion MacCartney and Dream the Future to give her yours. We need more people to remember this essential truth. Life becomes what we imagine it will.
We walk onwards, the sun has gone in, staying just long enough to warm our picnic, and for us to share what needed sharing. Marion reads me Wordsworth’s famous musings on the Wye a few miles on from Tintern and I read her the poem I have written for this walk.
We walk along the pavement by the busy main road that zooms alongside the river till we gain Marion’s guest house and where I take my leave. Both Marion and I have Transition to thank for our friendship and our positive future projects. No longer so focussed on what the group may do but widened out into the world, seeding hope, being the change. Living Transition has become who we are, each in our own un ique way.
The lanes i now follow to Llandogo are easy walking. I am pleased I have walked by the Wye finally, seen its calm waters flow on by, but given human intervention it is not so far proving so pleasant to walk so closely beside. I thrill at the sheer exhilarating wow factor of the views up on the ridge and recall a time from my first storywalk, around England,in 2010, when I travelled a couple of miles inland from the famed coastal path in Dorset to follow the original track high up and on a ridge, to find better views, a safer walk and know I was following in the footsteps of ancient ancestors. This fad of recent peoples to want to be so close to waters edge takes no account of the most natural, most harmonious ways to go. When will we realise that we are u nlikely to improve on what the first peoples discovered long ago? That certain truths have been known for all time.
The final episode of this my first day following the way of the Wye is an encounter with the Disorientating Woods.
The map is clear, the land doubles back on itself and the lane is fairly straight forward leading down into Llandogo where I will spend the night. I would not like to be off the road in those woods. The road curves in ways that the map does not show, the way goes on and till I become convinced I have taken the wrong route, but that is not possible, there is no other route to have taken. I quell feelings if panic that arise, its evening and I want to be settled for the night, and walk on. The road leads somewhere, I tell myself. I will worry myself about where when I get there.
Finally houses come into view between the trees though it still takes time before it becomes obvious a settlement has been reached. With relief I send my way down and not the small town, looking back up to see it is Swiss like, perched on the steep hillside amongst the trees. It is clearly Llandogo and now the river is visible again. I take quite a little while to find my host, Jennifer has a guest house on the way out of the village headed onwards following the river source wards where I am going.
My room is at the back of the house overlooking the densely wooded gorge side at the other side of the Wye. Too tired to go back out in search of dinner I say I will take a bath and retire early and am presented with biscuits and fruit.
It is a simple act of kindness, a fitting way to end my day. I lay in the bath for an hour, simply sitting, simply being, no hurry to get anywhere at all. Today I have learnt that kindness begins with taking good care of yourself first. We can only offer others what we are capable of offering to ourselves.