Friday, September 1, 2017

The Ups and Downs of Offa's Dyke: Days One and Two

My friend Annie Sparkes, who I met while living in Peru, is an avid walker who lives in Bristol—very close to the Welsh border. I picked her brain to find out what paths in Wales she recommended and her first reply was Offa’s Dyke. It is 177 miles from the south to north coasts of Wales. I had no delusions that I would do the entire walk, so I started reading about sections and decided to start in the middle of the path at the lovely village of Welshpool. 

A river pool is a place where the water is deeper and the flow slows down considerably. Historically pools in large rivers were natural harbors, especially for large ships. And so, many place names in England reflect these locations: Liverpool, Pool in Cornwall, the Pool of the Thames in London, and Welshpool. Originally, Welshpool was called Pool, but the name was later changed to distinguish it from the town of Pool in Cornwall.

I arrived in this village on Saturday, August 19, and stayed the night at the Severn Farm B&B—not far from the railway station. They regularly allow walkers to camp on their lawn and even provide a small self-catering kitchen for us. 

From one of the many interpretive 
panels along the canal.
Early the next day, I set out. I had chosen Welshpool for a starting point because much of the first day is level walking along the Montgomery Canal and through pastures. I decided right away that I love canal walking…it is so peaceful. The tow paths are level and the serene flow of the water is occasionally broken by canal locks and water wildlife. 

Too soon, I had to leave the canal and begin my walk across the first of many, many sheep and cow pastures.

I would be watching for these yellow arrows
and acorn symbols for the next 6 days.

It turned out to be a fruitful day. Although I decided not to breech a steep incline to get the apples and the blackberries were not quite ripe, the tiny plums were delicious!

After a nice long day walking I came into the village of Four Crosses, beyond which I found a caravan park that had spaces for tents. However, although the rain had held off all day, the weather deteriorated rapidly as I tried to set up in the wind. The inside of my tent was quite wet before I could shelter myself and--partly because I was so tired--I burst into angry tears. I was so frustrated that my hiking attempts in the UK seemed to always be thwarted by rain. It was a cold night in the damp tent and I did not feel much better when I woke up to fog and mist. I packed quickly, hoping that I would find a warm place to breakfast in the next town, two miles away. 

More canal walking made me feel a little better. Two miles along I arrived at the village of Llanymynech where the map indicated a café. I would learn that often the map notations are dated enough that I should never get my hopes up. But the little Village Pantry Café was open and the proprietress greeted my muddy self warmly. I ordered a large pot of tea and full English breakfast—I could use the calories!    

While I waited for my breakfast, I perused the local newsletter. You never know what tidbits of off-the-tourist-path information you will find there. This one had a “Rubbish Correspondent!”

My breakfast arrived and I ate just about all of it. I got in the habit of taking a sausage and a couple pieces of toast with me to eat as a snack later on the trail. If there is a bit of jam to go with it, all the better…I love sweet and salty together! 

I arrived cold, wet, hungry and a little discouraged. I left with energy, a new disposition and ready to take on the next 10 miles! Amazing what filling the tank will do!

I walked down the village street—on one side is England and the other side is in Wales. About the time I got to the end of the village (only about 4 blocks), it began to rain again. I suited up—cursing all the while. 

The next stage of the walk was almost straight up—glad to have gas in my tank. Before long I came to the old lime quarry/mine. Lots of interpretive panels told the history. Limestone was and still is used in construction and stone fences throughout the UK. The stone was historically also burned in lime kilns to extract the lime for keeping the almost perpetually-used fields sweet and fertile. One tidbit of history: In the 1860s, greedy mine owner, Thomas Savin, thought he would save some time by using four times the amount of explosives to extract a month’s worth of stone in one day. The blast rained stone down on the neighboring homes and he ended up spending all the money he had saved repairing the roofs of the angry homeowners! Ha!
I am now in Wales—all signs are in English and Welsh!
After all the rain, I had a lot of mud to wade through. The pastures where cattle had grazed were the worst—they seem to gather in the corners and churn up a real mess, especially near the gates. At one point, having heaved myself and pack over plenty of stiles for the day, I had this choice: another stile OR an OPEN gate blocked by a mud pond. I opted for the stile!

The highlight of the day came after I had climbed up and up to the top of Moelydd. (Don't ask me how to pronounce Welsh!) As I crested the hill, I could not stop my exclamations of “Wow! Wow! Wow!” It was a 360º view of all the valleys below—well worth the climb. The sun was out (well mostly out) and I stopped for an hour or so for lunch and to lay out wet clothes to dry. 

Some of my friends may recall my Facebook
post where I modeled these new rain chaps
 that I made just for this trip. Well they sure
came in handy but they are not so new anymore!

Before I walked down, I decided it was such a lovely place that I left some of Rachel’s ashes at the base of the direction post. (I keep some of her ashes with me so I can leave them at all the beautiful places I visit around the world.)

I walked down to the village of Trefonen where I picked up some provisions, including a couple locally made meat pies from a small store and. then I enjoyed a half-pint at the local pub before continuing on. It was already 7:30 in the evening, but I had a good hour and a half of light and was determined to put in a few more miles. Well, between the cloudy skies, the lateness, and the fact that I had to walk a couple miles through the thick Candy Woods, it was a pretty dark walk. I emerged from the other end of the woods to find myself in an area of homes that was not appropriate for wild camping, so I had to go back into the woods a bit to find a secluded place to camp. By the time full night came on, it was a dark as a cave (no exaggeration) and so very silent—not even any animal sounds all night!

My lonely little tent in the dark Candy Wood. I am glad no one mentioned that it might be haunted or that the big bad wolf might live there!

It had been a long, but satisfying day of hiking that I had really enjoyed. The first day had a tough ending, but by tonight things were looking up. I looked forward to the next day. Little did I know what a slog it would be!

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Art of Quitting: Finding Gratitude in Disappointment

Sometimes (well, many times) when you are traveling, things don’t turn out the way you envisioned them. I had such great plans to visit some parts of Scotland and for the past year I had even visualized myself there: The Isle of Skye,  West Highland Way, Eilean Donan castle, the Jacobite Steam Train (This was the train used in the Harry Potter movies). 

Well, the day before I left Hawaii, I sprained my ankle—BADLY. The first thing I thought as the initial pain subsided and I tried to get off the ground: “My HIKE!?!” I had trained all winter for it—I was up to carrying 20 pounds for almost 10 miles, for gosh sakes. I deserved that hike!

So, I changed my itinerary so that the hike was at the end of my stay in Scotland—just to give my ankle plenty of time to heal. It worked! By late July, ankle was strong…I was ready.

THEN…it was the rainiest July in many years in the UK. Rain and wind everywhere. AND…I had forgotten to consider that July/August is holiday time in Europe and the UK. It was about impossible to find any kind of affordable accommodation on Skye. Also, I learned that the West Highland way is a veritable highway in the summer. So, I turned inward—or  inland, actually. I looked at the heart of the Scottish Highlands where there might be less rain and fewer people, and found the lovely village of Pitlochry which is at the end of the Rob Roy long-distance trail. I did a test day hike up to Loch a’Choire and was rewarded with such a lovely day and flowering-heathered hills that I scattered some of Rachel’s ashes at the wee loch where I had lunch.

It was still rainy, but I looked at the forecast and chose a few days to tackle part of the Rob Roy Way and set off.

In two days I was drenched and dried off six times. There were no great Highland vistas—just clouds, mist, fog, and the slosh of my wet shoes. 

Too many shades of gray

Near the end of the second day, I reached into my pack and found that the pants I had planned to wear to sleep in were DAMP! It would be a cold night. I happened to be at a crossroads and there was a bus stop and a bus was coming in 40 minutes. I thought, “I’m not doing this to prove that I can…I am doing it to SEE the Highlands.” I bailed on the hike and tried not to cry.   

Of course, about that time, the sun came out to tease me into continuing on. Sure enough, though, when the bus arrived, it began raining again—I had made the right decision.

The next day, I made plans to move on to England after six weeks in Scotland. I felt let down. I wrote in my journal:
I did not see:
    The Isle of Skye
    Castle Eilean Donan
    The Knockando Woolen Mill
    Knitters on North Ronaldsay
But I should make a list of things I have done and seen that have been special:

     1.    Collecting hintelagets and spinning them on Bressay Island
     2.   Knitting with the women in Haddington
     3.    Whiskey-tasting with Elspeth Berry
     6.  Visiting New Lanark 
     7.  Camping alone by the Falls of Leny
             8.  Lots of kinds of ferries 
             9.  Managing at midnight in Kirkwall without a room
        10.  Cream Tea at Victoria’s Vintage Tea Room in Unst
        13.  Walking on the beach at Scapa
        14.  Walking on the beach at North Ronaldsay—seals!              

        15.  Taking a ride in a tiny plane
        18.  Eating Cullen Skink
        19.  Meeting Antje at the Yarn Cake
        20.  Meeting Catherine Henry and her husband, the wool broker for Jamieson and Smith
        21.  Riding REAL trains
       22.  Making a cool hat out of Icelandic Lopi yarn that I bought in Reykjavik
       23.  Photographing puffins
 24.  Sleeping near the Arctic Circle at the summer solstice and listening to birds singing all “night”

Okay, I was discouraged about not doing four things, but I listed 24 AMAZING things that I did experience.

Expecting the Unexpected, indeed.
On to England!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Quest for Fiber: Chapter 10: A New Tradition in Herding Sheep

 I guess this falls into the "Quest for Fiber" category...
I was certainly following behind a bunch of 
fiber on the hoof today!

Since I arrived in the English Yorkshires two days ago, I have been hoping to see some sheep dogs working on a real farm. I have seen them at sheep dog trials, but never in real life herding a large flock. I got my chance today. I was taking a walk through Wensleydale on a little lane between fences and stone walls. Ahead a lane came in from the right, and racing around the corner was what looked like a reasonable-size flock of sheep.

Fortunately they turned up the road away from me. I watched as more and more poured after them.

I could hear a tractor in the distance approaching behind them. I was kind of disappointed…no sheep dogs. I waited so I would not interfere with the herding and was rewarded with a dog following behind the tractor. I decided, that since the farmer now had a tractor, the dog must be retired. So sad for him with nothing meaningful to do. Every once in a while, the farmer would yell for the dog to catch up.

But then, the sheep came to a wide place in the road and as they spread out, the dog went to work. It would have been easy for the sheep to linger and then slip behind the tractor. The dog’s job was to prevent that and he knew exactly what to do. The farmer only occasionally had to give him direction; the dog zig-zagged behind the tractor making sure there were no slackers.

Most of the sheep seemed to know when to turn into the new pasture, but some continued on past the gate. The farmer stopped his tractor and sent the dog up around the sheep and soon, they ran back down and into the right gate.

The farmer signaled the dog and he jumped up on the back off the tractor. His job was done—he got a ride home!

Here he is in action!

In case the video does not work for you here, 
you can try this link:

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Quest for Fiber Chapter 9: The New Lanark Cotton Mill

I am backing up a bit to write about some of the
spectacular places I have visited up until now.

In late June, I was in Glasgow and the first “go-to” place in my plans was the WorldHeritage Site of New Lanark. From Glasgow, it was only about a 45 minute train ride to the village of Lanark and then a mile walk down to New Lanark on the Clyde River.

I had read about this mill town before I arrived, but I was not prepared to come around a corner and see how big it was.

Established in the late 18th Century, it was taken over by a partnership that included Robert Owen in 1800. Owen was a social reformer who lived at the convergence of the Enlightenment of the 17th  and 18th Centuries, the Industrial Revolution, and the time of the Highland Clearances when crofters (tenant farmers) were being forced from their farms in Scotland and moving to cities seeking work.  

The education and welfare of the mill workers and their families was a high priority to Owen. He established New Lanark as a “model community” which included free medical care, enforced community sanitation to ensure good health conditions, the first “Infant School” so that mothers could return to work, school for all children, adult classes, lectures, concerts and dancing in the evenings, and garden landscapes in the town. No child under the age of 10 was allowed to work in the mill and they were encouraged to remain in school longer.

At a time when factory workers could work up to 19 hours a day, six days a week; Owen reduced this schedule to 10½ hours in his mill and withstood quite a bit of criticism from other factory owners for the decision. Indeed, he coined the expression, "Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest."

Owen’s work helped inspire the beginnings of the Cooperative Movement and trade unionism. Even in its time, New Lanark was recognized in Europe as a model working community and Owen was able to show that it was not necessary to treat workers poorly in order to conduct a profitable business.

This is the same Robert Owen who established the New Harmony experimental community in 1825 in Indiana in the US.

I spent the entire day walking through the exhibits showing the living quarters, spinning machinery, children’s living conditions, the non-profit company store, and today’s working spinning mill making the New Lanark Wool Yarn. The relatively modest (for a factory owner) Owen home is located within the company town, which was another thing that was unusual at the time. Inside, a fascinating documentary, Quest for Universal Harmony, about Owen’s work and philosophy was being shown. I had come to New Lanark expecting to learn about a 19th Century cotton mill, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn so much about this reformer and the movement he was a part of.

Today, the New Lanark Trust takes care of the town and it is not only a restored historical museum and education center, but it includes a hotel, a hostel, a café, and a nice restaurant, as well as low-income housing, a woolen mill, and much more.

When the exhibits closed, because the sun sets late in Scotland at this time of year,  I had time to spend a couple hours walking up the nearby Clyde Valley Woodlands trail to the Falls of Clyde. There are many falls all the way up the trail and I thought I had seen them all. 

As I approached the top of the trail, I had intended to turn around before the bridge at the top. Fortunately, a couple people were coming down and they told me that I must cross the bridge and hike just a bit down on the other side—that the sight was amazing. So I did and was very glad I had encountered them.

If you are having problems viewing this video, try opening it
in YouTube: