June 2015 Day 1
Leaving the Great House, the charming old Welsh long house where I’d spent the night in a room overlooking the river Usk far from the madding crowds of Newport, I was struck by the rightness of the huge wooden sculpture carved from oak tree roots at the end of the road from whence my warriors way commenced. It was a giant head entitled ‘warrior’. It looked calm, stoic, aligned with purpose.
I was thrilled the BnB I had chosen, part through chance, part through liking the look of the old stone building was within yards of the start of the Usk valley way, where my journey was to start.
As I set out through woodland following the Usk at my left I mused on my first impressions of the country so similar yet not to my own. The people reminded me of my native Lancashire, friendly and helpful, easy to smile. I’d noticed as I’d walked through Newport the previous day how some of the young women openly stared at me, an uncomfortable phenomenon that took me back to my childhood so that I forgot for a moment that I am now a mature woman of 50. On reflection my sense of not being quite right, not quite fitting in, seemed to be because my stature is so very different from the curvaceous, voluptuous nature of those that stared. I so wished to look like them, I realise now they probably wanted to look like me!
My musings on people types, these women have their counterparts in men who are broad and stocky, led me to wonder if the different races that came to inhabit these isles are still visible in our body types. My maternal grandfather had this stocky build. My grandmother came from Irish stock and she was delicate, birdlike.
I am soon pulled from my reverie by my arrival at the first golf course of this journey. I know them of old from my storywalk around England in 2010. Their neatly shorn greens make a mockery of maps and they contain fiercely shot missiles of the small white variety. This one was hosting an Open and was full of people, most of whom were not local enough to give me directions. Even the stewards were so intent in directing the new arrivals that their replies to my questions were short and sent me off route over and over. After what felt like an interminable amount of time wondering around in what felt suspiciously like circles I finally hit the road but as I walked I began to feel something was wrong…was I going the right way? I couldn’t follow my map because I didn’t know exactly where I was. For a moment I enjoyed thinking about that. How often do we follow other people’s frameworks for life without knowing where on that framework we ourselves stand. If you don’t know where you are to start with you might end up anywhere…unless,wont is to happen to me, a guide, a knight, turns up out of the blue. Today he rode a large quiet impressive looking motorbike. My gentlemanly courtier checked where I was going, told me I was the right road, but going the wrong way! How often I wonder in life do we do such a thing?
I turn about and stride firmly trying to make up for lost time. I don’t feel comfortable until I am beyond the golf resort and clearly further east than when I set out. I have spent my first hour walking around in circles. I feel cross and resolve to stick to the roads for the rest of the day. Privately owned land cannot always be trusted to have maintained public footpaths the way they are depicted on maps.
Now the way becomes straightforward and surprisingly pleasurable. After a little way I notice two things; B roads in these parts are quiet and the A road has a pavement protected from the roadway by a wide grassy verge., and the once Roman road the Usk valley way followed is beneath these main roads I now follow. I have walked out of Caerleon with its amphitheatre and picked up the straight Roman road just as those soldiers would have done. The walk feels so easy I wonder if the road itself is drawing me, used as it must have been to thousands of foot passengers.
The road to Caerwent has other foot passengers too, a gentlemanly young man of African descent on his way to work and a very sprightly elderly lady walk its way with ease. I am delighted. A place where walking is seen as so normal the pavement continues mile after mile.
Then I find Penhow castle. I’ve been looking out for it. I know it as soon as I see it. Its tree topped green hillside covered in ancient boulders calls me as if it is my home. I cross the road but see that it is private property. I follow the public right of way around its edges. Round the back I see that a castle has been added onto over the years and made into a home. It stands next to an old chapel to John the baptist. I try to go inside to taste its peace. It is locked. I sit in its porch and eat my lunch with a view of the churchyard yew.
As I leave, grateful I have had a little shelter and place to sit and eat, I am planning to stop at the next pub to relieve myself when I am amazed by a green portaloo right next to the porch. Almost as if life is providing for all of my needs. I return to the road passing the ancient boulders once more. I know that the current building with its castle walls was not the original building to stand on this site. I know it deep within myself. This was once a place dedicated to the feminine. A place of healing. A little way on I come to an old inn, recently refurbished, called the Rock and Fountain and I have my confirmation. Here was a place of healing waters. I know deep inside that I can trust my inner knowing to tell me what is beneath the things that are visible to the eye.
Now I leave the Roman road to veer off left to follow the lanes for the main purpose of today’s walk; I am headed north east to Llanmelin hill fort, some sources say that it is here that king arthur held court rather than in the Roman fortressed town. It is the site of an iron age hillfort. I reach it by village hopping, my favourite way to travel. Little yellow C roads I know are little more than lanes and quite delicious to follow and the settlements found along the way often full of surprises.
I am not wrong; the lanes are as quiet as my home Devon ones, and the locked chapel at Penhow is more than made up for by the beautiful church of St Mary beneath the woods in the village of the same name; Llanvair Discoed. It is a lovely grey stone chapel similar in appearance to Penhow chapel and inside full of deep peace. There is a remembrance tree and I shed a few tears for my father who loved country lanes too and write a card to hang onto the tree.it feels good to have a little private space in which to honour the love we shared.
Would that all churches would remember that one of their functions has always been a place of sanctuary and to regard that above fear of theft.
I walk on and skirt the wooded mound that was king Arthur’s stronghold. It feels majestic, full of oaks. It is a place of masculinity different in feel to the mound of Penhow. I follow the lane round to the entrance and walk a while on a trail through woodland, climbing gently all the while till it gives in a gate into a well grown meadowlandfull of humps.at first I don’t know where to look than my eyes adjust and I head for the circular enclosure to my right. I sit on the grassy edge looking in. I see at once how similar it must have been to Landmatters.
I am struck by circular patterns; the amphitheatre with its 8 entrances which inevitably had me thinking of the seasons and the 8 points of the year our ancestors observed and now this enclosure, and the roundhouses of Landmatters. When we are left to create naturally it is in circles that we build.
Now I am nearly home for the night. I return through the woods the sunlight dappling the trees and earth.it has a feel of faery land. I feel the first stirrings of the magic that being alone in nature always brings.
I haven’t seen a soul for several hours. The land becomes mine,my experience,my adventure.
Now I reach Shire newton my home for the night. I have booked in at the hunstmans. My map shows four pubs. It is the last I find. The Sunday lunch for dinner I order is fit for a king with six types of fresh vegetables accompanying. In the morning, the best cooked breakfast I have ever eaten away from home. I have been really honest about exactly what I want. A good lesson.
It’s raining outside.it was full moon last night. The weather always turns then. Pay attention next full moon.