The last seven days of walking haven’t lent themselves to an orderly and coherent blog post. Probably because the South Wales coast from Swansea to the Severn River is anything but orderly and coherent. One moment you’re walking down a stunning expanse of sandy beach. The next moment the heavy weight of industry is everywhere, and you’re in the landscape said to have inspired the dystopian opening of Bladerunner.
So instead of trying to write you a flowing account of this week, I’ll just share with you some things I’ve learned and how I learned them. And if it’s as disjointed as the coastal path has been, so be it.
I’ve spent a lot of time going the wrong way.
Never in a really major way. But half a mile backtracking or a few loops of the wrong farmer’s fields here and there probably add a marathon or so onto my mile count. Some of these mistakes I’ve accepted graciously. Others, definitely not.
There’s a fairly strong pattern to the times I’ve gotten lost. It begins with me thinking, ‘oh I guess it must be this way’ rather than actually waiting for a signpost to appear. Shortly after this moment I’ll think, ‘hey that’s weird, the signposting has been so good up to now. I wonder whose job it was to do this area. They didn’t do very well…’
Then I’ll realise that I’m in the wrong place.
When you’re going the right way, the signposts are an encouraging and affirming sight. I often smile passing the unique little ‘dragonshell’ design.
When you’ve had to sullenly find your way back, finding that the signs were obvious, they look smug and obnoxious.
I think we spend a lot of life like this. I certainly do.
It doesn’t have to be difficult to be worthwhile.
There’s nothing to gain by making this as hard for myself as possible.
When struggling, I quite often find myself saying to God, “Okay, show me exactly what to do here.”
He has a very efficient system for these kinds of questions.
My mum was driving back to Wales along the M4 as I was walking around Barry Island, so she dropped in to see me.
Without realising, I’d walked 23 miles that day, not including an accidental detour inland (see post above), making that my longest day so far. I’d gone to bed the night before in the troubling position of being very low on water; woken before sunrise to leave my clifftop camping spot and walked two and a half hours that morning before I’d been able to get water.
Still, I thought I was doing fine.
But my mum has this amazing ability to see things as they are, and a way of pointing things out that only a mum can get away with. Like my outrageous glasses tan. Or the fact that, as I’d suspected, I did not smell great.
And the fact that I was totally exhausted.
Long story short, she put me on a train from Barry to Cardiff and we made a last minute booking at a hostel near the station.
And it made me so, so happy.
For one thing, a hot shower was an absolute delight.
For another, it was an amazing hostel. The kind that you hope to find on your inter-railing trips and becomes one of your favourites.
But the biggest thing was that I was around people. I am definitely a person who recharges by being with people, and you always meet the best people in hostels.
The next day I hopped on the train back to Barry and did the walk into Cardiff Bay as planned. Following mum’s advice I left some heavier things in the hostel, which made it quite a restful day. To me this felt like cheating – but who’s making the rules? My goal is to walk around Wales, not to be as tired and miserable as possible while I do it.
It’s okay to make things easier on yourself. It’s a strength and not a weakness to accept help and relief when it’s there. What could have been a difficult day turned into a lovely one, followed by the delight of sleeping on a sofa, an impromptu take-away and a washing machine while hanging out with the wonderful Criddle Family. THANK YOU!
Being kind to myself meant I didn’t need to take a rest day in Cardiff as I’d planned, and carried on towards Newport the next day.
It’s been awesome to see many ripple effects of the trip, not least on the fundraising side of things. I think because the Costa Foundation is associated with a big coffee chain, people assume that they have all the resources they need. But I’ve had wonderful messages from people who work at the foundation saying how encouraged they are by what I’ve been doing. Such as:
Sophie, I’m bowled over by your commitment to our charity and just had to make a personal donation to set you on your way. Trust me, every penny you raise will be invested wisely. Good luck, Piers
Hey Sophie, I’ve told the founder of the Costa Foundation and the CSR manager for Costa and they both think you’re amazing! Becky
It is encouraging that what I’m doing is going to have a very real impact on developing communities. And I love the fact that this seems to be an encouragement to the people making it happen.
And then there’s the people I’ve been able to connect and reconnect with because of this walk. Messages of support have been coming from all over. It means a lot.
Finally getting used to the weight
Old Wye Bridge
So in summary, I’m 180 miles in, still enthusiastic and loving that this is actually happening. My body is starting to get used to the slightly bizarre routine and my relationship with my boots has greatly improved (we’re friends again now). I start Offa’s Dyke today, a path up to North Wales that crosses the Wales/England border more than 20 times. There’s lots of hills. Wish me luck.
Thanks again for all your support.