24 May Offa’s trees
Just started a big walk. Offa’s Dyke Path, from the south to the north of Wales along the border with England. 177 miles – assuming we pick the right route.
I’m writing this from Monmouth. About 17 miles completed over a day and a half. Takes a while to get into the groove of distance walking. But the person who turns up at the start of the trail is not the same as the loose-limbed, supple-jointed person that exists in my head. Been quite diligent with the training but somehow it’s never quite enough to see you through the first few days free from aches and weariness. There are things that help – hot bath, early bed. Tragedy that tonight’s B&B has no bath. Pyjamas at 9.30 pm. Bed soon after.
Distance walking. More daunting with each year. No, the limbs are not as loose, nor the joints as supple as last year. The mind is also less supple, more fragile. The self-belief ebbs a little. Recovery takes longer. Which all means that, if we get to Prestatyn a week on Monday, if we make it all the way, if we put one foot in front of the other for those 178 miles, the satisfaction will be off the scale. Each year is a new personal best.
Yesterday afternoon from Chepstow and the massive Severn river, we walked by narrow paths up and down the strange thing that is Offa’s Dyke. In a sense, you don’t see the dyke because you’re on top of it for much of the first 15-20 miles. Then, according to the guidebook, it disappears for 54 miles. So the Offa’s Dyke signature of this long walk is slightly beside the point for much of the way, it seems. Not that it matters whatsoever.
Walked to Tintern on a hot afternoon. From high up on the western bank you see the ruin of the old abbey close beside the River Wye. Moody, majestic and drenched in sunlight. Today the sun has gone but the dyke, the river and the woods still give off their magic. Especially the trees.
It’s the trees that matter. Oh, the trees, the woods, the pale and the dark, the forest floors of ancient mud and rotted leaf, of meandering roots holding heavy canopies or securing slim giants. Moist. Liquid green. Caressing the narrow paths, mile after mile of wild garlic; pretty white flowers, fierce fragrance. Walk inhaling the aroma of pesto, the smell of green. Wild garlic, its broad silky sheath-like leaves are wet today so that they glisten. We imagine bands of wood-dwelling elves at work since dawn polishing them one by one. Where the light reaches in, ferns unfurl along the edge.