Begin in the Middle

859Where to start. In the middle is best since you will not bore the ones who know what you are about, and you will confuse those who do not know, and you don’t want them to know anyway. The middle begins after the end of the beginning with a sense of cold. Not the kind of cold that you can make use of with a warm blanket and mulled wine, but the kind of cold that finds its way into your very marrow and burrows in with wee little claws. The kind of cold that smirks and sneers because you can’t make it let go. The kind of cold that only a very hot shower and a lot of whiskey can smother. It is this radiating stillness from within that makes you move when you don’t want to in directions that would not be considered otherwise. Here is where you start. Leave the uninitiated in the dark – they deserve it – and let them wonder how it is you allowed this visceral intruder entry into your soul. They wouldn’t understand anyway.

The water is cold. Not as cold as you are, but still cold enough to shimmer. Watch it and it will reach out toward you, trying to make a connection with the cold inside of you. I pulled my coat close about my body in a futile attempt at containing a warmth that did not exist. From the outside, I suppose, I would have presented a positive image: leather boots, only slightly scuffed; black wool coat with a large collar turned up against the wind; a scarf of purple and gray to acknowledge the existence of color, but no more; and a beret jauntily tipped as if I cared how I looked. How enticing and alluring, says all the magazines. Bosh and nonsense. These were the first things I found on the floor when I got up. They were relatively clean, so I put them on. I needed to leave, and leave quickly as I would have otherwise been smothered by the walls moving in toward me screaming conform! comply! behave! Outside I was able to breathe, so I walked to the river to watch the water move in ways that only water can. It seemed so alive, yet not. Cold. It was simply moving cold.

Why is that when you think you have something figured out, there is one more facet that comes to light that mixes up the palette you’ve created? There are too many possibilities to account for them all, and thus you end up playing games with time and energy in order to facilitate the pretense that all is well. How many times had I said one thing while meaning the complete opposite? How many times had I managed to even fool myself that I was actually warm when it was simply that I was so cold that I did not feel anymore?

So, here I was, once again acknowledging the cold and wondering if I should bother to do anything about it or not. It would be easier to pretend that all was well and go into avoidance mode; but then, I would hate myself at some point in the future, or so I told myself. Maybe I wouldn’t. Did it really matter either way? No, it was no good, I could lie to everyone around me, but I couldn’t lie to myself. I deserve better than that.

Time to warm up and face the music. This time, however, the music would be of my own design.

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Llanthony to the End

The last few days blurred a bit after the adventures at the Bates Motel. We did wonder where the wife was. Hopefully just visiting friends or family.

Looking over my notes from these months past, I found none. I think at this point we were looking ahead to the finish with determination. Both of us were a bit tired, but feeling very accomplished. This walk was the most challenging we done, and we did it well. Amy was my inspiration, I don’t think I would have got through some of those days without the smiles and the berries and the encouragement.

We managed to make it all the way to Chepstow, the end of the walk on the Irish Sea. We dutiChepstowfully tossed our offerings in the direction of the water, as there was a very large cliff that I refused to traverse.

The last night was great. The pub/inn was charming (the key was on a rubber ducky) and the people were very Chepstow3helpful and pleasant. Met some other guests and ended up hanging out at a local pub for a drinkie in sight of Chepstow Castle, complete with illuminated gargoyles. Can’t beat an illuminated TheFinish7gargoyle.


CallinTheFinish6g it finished! On to plan the next . . .

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Hay-on-Wye to Llanthony

Hay-on-Wye to Llanthony (13 miles/1 day)

The day threatened rain, so we packed all the appropriate gear. Heading out of town, we noticed a trend in ye old guidebook. It directs us down various streets in towns, but there are no street signs. Or numbers on houses. How does the mailman get it done? Curious. Ran into an open air market, likely on a street we were not instructed to be on, but hey, it’s an adventure! Snagged some yummy meat pies and scones for lunch. It does amuse us continually how narrow the roads are, and we were entertained early today by a car having to back up (back down?) a hill.

The morning was spent going up an escarpment to the top of Hatterrall Ridge. The plan was to walkHatterrallRidge2 the top of the ridge to the charming village of Llanthony (more on that later). The up to get to the top of the ridge was strenuous, but the pauses for gasping did afford some great panoramas back down the slope, oxygen deprivation notwithstanding. The top of the ridge, walking wise, was a breeze – flat. I love flat. I can stride for hours and miles on flat. Once on top of the immense backbone, one could see miles – just wonderful. The path was simple and straight and we made excellent time. Discovered that the berries we thought were blueberries were whimberries. Who knew? Good thing they were/are edible because we ate a lot of them.

Wild ponies were wandering everywhere. They know they are protected, so they are nearly tame. Got some great pictures, of course. There was, amazingly enough, so much people traffic! People were just stacking up on the path! Well, not an LA freeway kind of traffic, but there were people a-coming and a-going. The trig point at 2010 feet was awesome considering its remote location. It was chilly up top and we actually need to put on the jackets we had been schlepping about for days.

The walk was listed as being 13 miles for the day, but it was either mis-estimated, or we are awesome. Got down the two-down path and to our B&B by 2:30. Slipping and sliding down a severely rock-strewn path, avoiding ferns that wanted to help hydrate the back of my neck, I was very satisfied with my rain gear and sturdy boots. Amy was not as satisfied with her footwear and was squelching in a most disconcerting fashion.LlanthonyPriory5

On to Llanthony. For Amy, Deliverance came to mind. For me, it was Psycho. I had called the night before to The Half Moon Inn to clarify the directions as my maps were unclear as to the exit point from the path. The proprietor was nice enough and gave good directions. The path from the ridge to the deep, dark, creepy valley was, as noted, viciously steep and wet as it started to rain. At one point on this side path we could see some amazing ruins – the Priory of Llanthony – and a charming white-washed Inn. Little did we know that we were heading for the black hole of Calcutta when it came to communication with the outside world.

HalfMoonInnMade it down, walked the grounds of the Priory – very nice – got a drink in their wee bar as we had a lot of time before checking in to our place for the night. Finally, it seemed the appropriate time to head over to the Half Moon. [Insert creepy music here.] First impression: Amy’s basement. The icky part. Smelled of mold and mildew. There were no lights, no other guests, and no music. The bartender, lurking in the dark silence, at last figured out what was going on and showed us to our room. We saw no one else.

Quietly stepping through dark hallways, we turned corners that were, I was certain, hiding lurking evil. The room was clean, at least, but no light bulb in the lamp. The only light was from the ceiling/operating room light. The bathroom and shower closets (and I use that word literally) were down the hall. Separate little enclosures to meet only basic needs. Clean, functional, but small and claustrophobic. We took quick showers and went down to eat.

We were abruptly informed that dinner would not start until 7:00 p.m. so we sat in silence for an hour, pretending to read, watching while the bartender guy watched us pretending to read. Amy’s dinner was a small piece of chicken served on a cheap bun – thrown down with the comment: “I burned the bun.”

We slept this night listening to the frantic neighing of a horse, warning us to flee. In the middle of the night mysterious music began to play – was there actually another ‘guest’? What a long night. When we got up the next morning, we discovered we were locked into the one section of the place where the rooms were. We could get outside through a fire door, but could not enter the lounge (dark, chilly, musty) or the front lobby/bar area. Calling out the window to the proprietor did little good as he merely replied that breakfast was at 8:00 and he meant it.

Food so you don’t die, explicit instructions on how to leave, on foot as there was no phone service, and no cabs to call anyway, and we departed. Whew.LlanthonyPriory

Back up the ridge, and on to the charming village of Pandy, which we could have easily reached the day before. Here we stopped at a lovely establishment, had some good food. Communications restored we were able to affirm out existence with our loved one in the states.


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cliffRunning on the edge is ordinarily considered hazardous.While I ordinarily strive to not behave in a risky fashion, sometimes I am oblivious of exactly where the edge is located. And I can say with certainly that I do not ordinarily do ‘run’ in a literal sense, there are simply times when the mind strides ahead of the body thus an edge is even more obscure.

That  being said, I am somewhat fatigued by the running I’ve been doing lately. Perhaps this is a conscious acknowledgement of why I’ve been running so hard; admitting to the fatigue admits to the action that caused it. But I am afraid to stop because if I stop then I will be bored and confused because I won’t be doing anything and then I will be guilty because I’ll be wasting time and how much time does a person actually have, so I should keep running. And, apparently, keep writing run-on sentences.

But, back to that edge. Sometimes I can see it hovering on the periphery; sometimes I can just touch it with my toes, but never so far over that I feel I will fall. Not that kind of edge. But once in a while the mouth (or fingers should a keyboard be involved) gets ahead of the brain. It sees that edge clearly and yells, “Geronimo!”

This is when the dilemma begins. When you step over the edge, cross a line, go beyond one’s boundaries it is politic to apologize. But what if the mouth was right? The brain catches up and says “Yeah. What she said.” Still over the edge, but unapologetic.

Don’t want to play that game.  I want to communicate what I want. Been watching West Wing on DVD to see how it is done. Much thanking, okay-ing, and apologizing. Once in a while some straight talk – honest, unfiltered, direct. But the character usually gets into trouble for it and then, humiliation in a hand basket, is forced to apologize.

So, advice to self: Find the edge, run alongside at full speed; if the urge to jump so much as makes a toe tingle, crash the internet, yank the battery from the phone, and break all the pencils. No evidence. Then speak aloud in an empty room that which needs to be said.

Edge embraced; consequences avoided.

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Fortress Alcatraz

Found this when I was looking for something else and thought I should give it home. It is from 2006, but still relevant, I think.


First seen through the eyes of a child while being yanked along the dock, hand gripped by the sticky paw of an older brother, Alcatraz was a neat building emerging between banks of fog. Birds screeched overhead, and people jostled on the boardwalk as I tried to catch a glimpse of that island trying to hide in the clouds. I have returned to San Francisco on various occasions, but had not ever taken the time to re-visit the elusive place. Opportunity struck at last on a rainy day in January. Having come to the city as a companion to my friend at work who had won another award for her phenomenal teaching, I found myself with a day alone before the events of the conference.

Alcatraz beckoned. The site of riots and mayhem, Civil War soldiers and political controversy, I was going to see it through the eyes of an adult. Consulting with the hotel staff for directions and particulars, I was thrilled to discover the National Park open for tours and easily reached with a quick cab ride. But, two miles was not all that far, I thought. Feeling adventuresome, I snugged up my Australian black raincoat, flipped my scarf jauntily over my shoulder, and headed off.

Anyone who has walked downtown San Francisco knows it is a journey through time and culture. Faces from the world exchanged silent greetings and riders on busses peered out of steamy windows as I peered into shops through the middle of Chinatown. It may have been January, it may have been raining, but I was on an adventure!

Contrary to the lugubrious warning of the concierge, I had no difficulty purchasing a ticket for the ferry ride to Alcatraz; the next boat left in ten minutes as I meandered to the dock. I was not the only one who had the idea to play tourist this Friday; surprisingly, the rain did not scare everyone away. There was, in fact, a decently substantial line waiting for permission to board. It seemed silly to stand in the rain in a line that was not going anywhere, so I found a spot across from the gate under a small overhand to wait. While watching the sheep in line, I chatted with a pleasant, good-looking gentleman. He agreed that the line was a needless thing. I had a ticket – I was going to get on the boat. First or last, passage was ensured.

My conversation partner happened to be a State Park volunteer – my sharp eye zeroed in on the patch on his hat – so small talk related to visiting the site, the view of the island, and, of course, the weather. Had I been before? No, Hard to see the prison through this haze! Yep, sure is. No, it’s not so bad, I have a good jacket. He was obviously friends with the vessel employee who smiled at both of us. She was dressed for the occasion in a bright yellow full-body rain slicker as she moved about the dock in preparation for our trip. Obviously, she had been through this scenario before. Get the people into a line, ensure their safety, let them on the boat when it is time. Wait a while and do it again.

Inadvertently, I had found the right place to stand, and the right company. When the time came for departure, I was graciously waved on board – in front of everyone in line. I felt very important with hundreds of eyes watching as I passed before them as if such prerogatives were always accorded me. I immediately stood a bit taller (ignoring the squelching of my Converse high-tops) and walked with great dignity and purpose. (The effect was somewhat diminished when I could not determine which boat to get on at the bottom of the ramp, but that is not truly relevant.) Once on board, and after the multitudes embarked, I found my companion once again. Having been an observer and participant o this tour numerous times, he was intrigued about the change in the type of person who came on the tour; we were dong some nonchalant people watching, and he recalled other trips he had taken in the past. Lots of families, as one would expect, but also couples who seemed more interested in each other than in the visit. That I was gallivanting about, a woman alone, was something, he observed, would have never happened in ‘his day’. I managed to amaze him, too, with the number of items in my travel satchel. (Being the packrat that I am, I can pack a lot into a canvas shoulder bag. Doesn’t everyone carry wallet, water, umbrella, cookies, books, writing paper and pens, phone, mittens, and maps with them everywhere?)

Alcatraz Island – destination achieved. Pulling up to the cement dock, the first building the traveler sees is the Barracks Apartments. Having been designated as a military prison in 1861, the original barracks, built in the 1860s, was added to in 1905. This structure became the housing for Correctional Officers and their families when the facility changed from an army prison to a civilian penitentiary – Building 64. This first view was less intimidating that I had expected it would be. Perhaps it was the gift shop underneath the “United States Penitentiary” sign obscuring the “Indians Welcome” graffiti. This is not to say that both the island and the facility is not imposing; the place carries a reputation that leaves a layer of awe through which the uninitiated spectator must peer. Nonetheless, I came to see the place – little did I know I would get more than I expected.

My welcome companion remained by my side – and what a boon this turned out to be! After the Park Ranger provided some general information, the pack of visitors disbursed in the designated directions – one path led up a fairly steep hill between the barracks and the guard tower. The ranger had omitted a small detail – there was a tram for those who felt the climb up the hill would be too strenuous. What a splendid idea! And something one can find out about when one has her own personal volunteer who was not interested in making the hike.

The tram wended its way up the hill in an extended ‘z’ pattern past undesignated structures to arrive at the cellhouse. This structure was built in 1907 after Alcatraz shifted from a defensive fort to a military detention barracks. It was built on the site of the army citadel. Within were “four cellblocks with a total of 600 cells, a kitchen, dining hall, hospital, recreation yard, and administrative offices.” According to the guide published by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, “when finished in 1912, the cellhouse was the largest steel-reinforced concrete building in the world.” Built by prisoners with materials and equipment shipped over on barges, it became the home for many of the prisoners who built it.

The army relinquished possession of Alcatraz in 1933 since it was too expensive to maintain and supply. In 1934, Alcatraz became a federal prison. Here was to be incarcerated “kidnappers, racketeers, and individuals guilty of predatory crimes.” Eventually, 1545 men would serve parts of their sentences on the island.

The public tour began at the cellhouse; one enters through old, institutional drab green doors. (I was reminded strongly of my elementary school days.) Above the doors hovers and eagle, the symbol of freedom, ensconced within a crest of plenty and patriotism. Within this Administration Building, I was informed I had been blessed with the company of someone very, very special.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked after drawing me away from the few visitors beginning the tour. Curiosity piqued, I shook my head. We exchanged a glance – mine of confusion, his of almost childlike mischievousness. Slipping out a badge previous hidden under his jacket, I learned that I had made the acquaintance of a very important individual. My interesting volunteer was, from 1955 to 1958, Alcatraz Correctional Officer John P. Hernan.

Wow. Was my friend back at the hotel going to be jealous! Mr. Hernan – Officer Hernan – occasionally visits his old stomping grounds when time and inclination permit. Today, I was privileged to enjoy his company and his remembrances.

So much of the inherent value of history is lost when it is distilled to the cold page of text. The humanity of daily transactions fades behind statistics and events; but not on this day. Returned to significance was the meaning for the individual, the reality of existence for one who made it happen. Reveling in the luck that brought me my personal griot, we proceeded to walk backward in time.

The cellhouse was composed of three corridors, three stories high, lined with jail cells. The older units were five feet by ten feet with a height of eight feet. They are so small that a man of average size could, by merely tipping back and forth, touch both sides of his cell. John shared with me this observation as well as the fact that for a good-sized man, changing the single, bare light bulb was a simple act of reaching up.

We traveled the corridors, peered into tiny, empty spaces intended to house men deemed incorrigible, and John told me of what it was like to walk these hallways when the cells were occupied. He spoke of the surreal quiet at three in the morning, darkness seeping in from cold walls, the only light coming from his flashlight. Counting heads, pacing the hall – time moved slowly in the wee hours of the morning.

It was easy to imagine such an experience listening to Officer Hernan, watching him pace off his steps and gesture as if there was once again a flashlight in his hand. The years melted away from his face and his back straightened and his shoulders spread. Volunteer jacket and cap morphed into the black of a uniform and I could hear the echo of his steps as if that was the only sound in the dark of night. In my mind’s eye, I saw the strong hand, fingers curled around the bars of a cell, and I also saw the sleeve of his garb. Beyond was not an empty space, but the tight rectangle of a space – the home for one man – once again occupied by an inmate sprawled across a metal cot, his tired eyes peering out at a guard, a tangible taste and smell of freedom he no longer had access to. With a shudder and a shake on my part, and a knowing smile on John’s part, my new friend and I continued on the tour.

Within the cellhouse was an area designated as a barber shop. Today there is not much left, but through John’s eyes I could see the chairs bolted to the concrete and easily visualize incarcerated men attempting to retain a shred of normalcy in such an aberrant place.

We continued through the building, smaller than I expected it would be, and entered the dining room. A very large, now very empty, room, the dining hall would have had about 200 of the 285 prisoners in it at one time. The men were fed three meals a day. Those not eating were the cooks and servers, those in the hospital wing, or those working in another part of the facility. There were no civilian workers – all the needs of the penitentiary were met by the prisoners themselves. Cooks, servers, gardeners, handymen, cleaning crew – whatever needed doing was done by the inmates. John spent shifts in the dining room supervising the inmates at their meals. He did not patrol the room armed as that would have been too dangerous. The temptation to abscond with a weapon would be too great for the desperate. Overhead used to be canisters of tear gas in case of active rebellion. These were not made use of during Officer Hernan’s stint as Correctional Officer. Luckily for him, his time there was essentially calm; the famous escapes and riots had occurred outside of his tenure.

John told me that the prisoners could earn money for working at the prison at the astounding rate of ten cents per hour. The money went to the government for safekeeping under the prisoners name until his final release. The only exception was if the man’s parents could prove destitution, in that case they could withdraw the funds.

Unbeknownst to me, the correctional officers during that time lived on the island. The first building seen was for those officers who had wives and children. The one “end of the island was fenced off for the security of the families.” Also available for the officers and families was “a recreation hall and officers’ club, complete with a dance floor, gymnasium, two-lane bowling alley, and soda fountain.” There was even a Wives’ Club on the island.

John lived in a building with the moniker ‘Military Chapel’ which was at that time reserved for the single officers. These apartments were spartan, but comfortable. There was one public phone on the island and competition for its use with the resident teenagers made courting his fiance a bit of a challenge. As well as pursuing romance, John also pursued his education traveling to the mainland for classes. It was fairly easy for the officers to traverse the bay as boats came and went each day delivering supplies and water as well as transferring personnel.

While I probably could have gotten much of this same information from the available audio tape or guidebook, the mental pictures created for me surpassed everything that could be revealed in a two-dimensional medium. To share the memories of one who was there brings a level of complexity unattainable in any other way. Students of history are usually limited by the technology of recording mechanisms available when history happens. Recent decades provide scholars and aficionados with myriad resources – but nothing will ever replace the visceral integrity of human telling human his story. Look in the eyes, see the half-smiles and read the messages of the body and the hands. That is true history – that is getting the real story – that is being part of an experience, or as close and one can get without having taken part.

I was honored to spend the rest of the afternoon with a new friend. Conversation wandered from Alcatraz to current topics. For me, the title ‘Correctional Officer’ lost its inhumanity and impersonality; it transformed from a faceless entity into a real man with real dreams and a life beyond the uniform.

I left the experience not just having seen an old prison, albeit a rather famous one, but having spent a night patrolling, guarding criminals at a meal, waiting in line behind a teenager to call my fiance, and having seen the place not as the crumbling hulk it is becoming, but in it s heyday as the model of forward-looking penology of the time.

“Discover Alcatraz: A Tour of the Rock”. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, January 2004.

The National Park Service: Alcatraz Island Golden Gate National Recreation Area website at Last update [when this article was written] June 20, 2005.

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Without Regret

maxTrees are not supposed to look sad. They are life and green and squirrels. But when I looked out the window, elbows resting on the still, forehead barely pressed against the glass, I thought ‘sad’ when the branches of the old sycamore hung limply. The leaves were gone, but they fell every year as they should; the bare twigs did not look any different, sticking out in all directions. Why sad?

So, it wasn’t the tree that was sad. Well, then it must be the lawn furniture. That’s it. Inanimate polyethylene chairs were suffering from depression. Amazing how I picked up on that so fast. Must be that sixth or seventh sense of mine.

Fine. Not plastic chairs. It is everything. Fine. If sadness is the veil through which I must see everything, then so be it. It is much easier to feel sorry for a rosebush with a spent bloom than admit that I am sad.

Legitimately, appropriately, justifiably sad. But if I go there, I remember why I am sad and why I feel sorry for myself and then I have to start all over again with the crying and the staring at empty spaces. I really don’t like how big spaces are when they are not occupied as they should be. Walls have moved further apart and there is too much air in the room that doesn’t smell right.

I have forgotten how to finish my meals. Where there isn’t anyone to share then with, it becomes hard to know if I have eaten enough or too much or not. If I admit that it isn’t the mashed pillow on the couch that has sagged with the weight of the emotion in the room, then it is my thoughts that seem smothered by memory – heavy and thick and solid.

Ever try to get out of blankets after a dream-filled night when you were running from aliens and the covers have managed to mimic mummification? That’s my head. Every process, decision, idea or inkling must fight its way through those blankets. It’s exhausting.

Easier to feel sorry for a sad tree.

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Only on a visit to the DMV

dmv-linesThe DMV is a vortex for unique phenomenon. Anyone who has gone there has a story to tell, but usually it is of long lines and incessant waiting. The lines weren’t that bad, and the wait was darn near reasonable for the Department of Motor Vehicles. No, that isn’t what made this a collection of incredulities.

First, I can’t even get onto the side street where the driveway that isn’t for testing is located as there is a crazy person standing in the intersection waving and shushing the cars, none of whom are moving. Yes, I am a victim of bystander apathy, I assumed someone else called someone else regarding this person obviously in need. I was superficially excited to sneak past and get into the parking lot.

There, I had to indulge in seriously stalker-esque behavior in order to abscond with a parking spot. I drive a very small car; I only needed a little bit of space. But it was the monster truck that eventually moved out of my way.

Fine, onto the the lines. Yes, I made an appointment. That gave me the honor of standing in the line of people with appointments in order to get a piece of paper that says I get to stand in the other line with the other people with appointment after which I get to sign, pay, and fingerprint my way into another line with other people to indulge in crass photography that will haunt me for the next ten years. This process was made nearly entertaining by the other people also participating in this rite of passage ritual dance.

One man was also amused by the 16-year-olds nervously going through the process. Another woman enthusiastically told me that she was nine months sober and entitled to apply for a new license (which gave me such a sense of security on the road that I high-fived her in congratulations). Another man joined the photo line who was, shall I say, a very, very lot of human. Yes, I’m being rude again; I know one is not supposed to point out that a fellow being was absolutely enormous – but, holey jumping fright!

Okay, okay, enough of my insensitivity. Got the paperwork done and was permitted to exit the temple. Only, I was not exactly allowed to leave. There was a car of indeterminate age suffering a severe lack of functionality which was being towed away. The tow truck was parked directly behind my itter bitty car and I was going nowhere. The poor fellow who had the misfortune to own this scrap pile was apologetic, but we both had to wait while the tow truck driver did a bit of personal grooming in the side-view mirror.

They left; I left. Don’t know where they went, but I went to buy wine. After, of course, passing the crazy person in the road again. Luckily the recently-sober was nowhere to be seen.


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Welshpool to Brompton Crossroads to Knighton

Welshpool to Brompton Crossroads to Knighton (27 miles/2 days)

We know where Dolores Umbridge lives when she is pretending to be a muggle for security purposes. She goes by an alias that I will not mention so she doesn’t come after me in the night. She had dogs and she lives in Wales. Read on . . .

The walking day was quite refreshing as it was not too strenuous and only 12 miles. An event of note was the field of wheat. This was a section of the trail that was poorly marked, so much so that the farmer put up signs in his field to help out the walkers. The problem was, we (I) have been so trained to ignore signs that do not have our acorn insignia on them that I didn’t trust the first one. So, we wandered a wheat field for a while. Children of the Corn. Stephen King’s In the Tall Grass. Amy disappeared when she drSignpost9opped down for a quick pee. Eventually we found our way (there are only four sides to a wheat field) and another of the farmer’s signs – this one someone had Sharpie’d “Offa’s Dyke” on it for clarification – and continued on our merry way.

Arriving at our pick-up/drop-off point in a timely fashion (a closed pub by the name of the Blue Bell which had nifty antique gas pumps out front) we called for our ride and nibbled on peas that we had acquired from a field earlier in the day. A very nice gentlemen (apparently under the thrall of Dolores) picked us up and drove us from England to Wales. So far, so good. The B&B was quite lovely, very manicured, with a phenomenal view. Then she came out to greet us. Eek. The smile, the obsequiousness, the giggle. We should have been tipped off by the tea trolley with matching dishes and her matching apron, but I don’t think we were yet paying close attention.

While chatting, as one is apt to do with one’s hostess, we were a bit startled by the glee with which she told us how hard the next section of the walk was going to be. *giggle* The place was too perfect and we felt the need to whisper and walk softly. As we were too far from any village (which was ominous upon hind-sight) she made us dinner for an exorbitant fee. It was lasagna of the Stouffer’s level of quality. Boring. Salad with salad cream and a bowl of cabbage shreds drowning in mayonnaise. All served on white linens. It was as if she were daring us to make a stain on the tablecloth or the napkins. We ate with extreme caution.

Not knowing where lunch would be, we requested a packed lunch for the next day. She put shredded cheese on the sandwiches and put the lunches in very cute little paper bags with handles (which work so well in a backpack). I know I spent the entire morning gloriously celebrating my escape.

The day that was to be one of the three very difficult days Amy was warned about in Prestatyn was not so bad. We are beefy and inured to the trail! Bring it on! Not to say that there were not some hills, and the usual issues of the trail. For clarification, a “one-up” or “one-down” or “two-up” or “two-down” that should you be a member of our immediate family and subject to the live commentary during the trip were hearing about are the indications that Keith makes on the wee maps in the guidebook to indicate ascents and descents on the trail. A one is anywhere from a 20-30% grade and a two could go up to 45%. There was some of this going on today, but quite manageable.

159There was a moment involving Amy, nettles, and a pottie break. Oops. A cow that kept staring at us with what we believed was malicious intent. A few hills angled down into Dante’s 3rd or 4th level, and the fact that the sheep tomorrow will know that Amy ate one of their own and the cows will know the same about me.  We did see a dead sheep on the trail today – that was very sad and a bit startling.

Tonight we slept in a tack room. No, we did not have to find our own lodgings and end up in some farmer’s barn. The George and Dragon has rooms in a converted stable. It was small, but very nice. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it into Knighton in time to visit the Offa’s Dyke Visitor Center where we intended to purchase tokens of our accomplishment. (Due to the magic of the internet, I have done so from home and they will be shipped.)

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Kington to Hay-on-Wye

Kington to Hay-on-Wye (14 miles/1 day)

Met ‘Pansy and Maude’ today at breakfast. Two ladies from the Cotswolds who are doing the walk in the opposite direction. We are not sure what their actual names are, but these seemed to fit. One was small and one was tall. Horrible teeth and non-stop chatting. Very English. I have decided that we did the walk in the better of the two possible directions with regard to difficulty. The hardest part was first, and we are cruising on to the finish. (I immediately changed my mind on the first hill of the day, but that is beside the point.)

MonkeyPuzzleTrees3Lovely terrain today along the Hergest Ridge and surrounding countryside. Met some interesting people as this portion of the path seems to be much more popular than the northern sections. One man was from Washington, D.C. and had chosen Offa’s Dyke as his usual “14 miler runs” in the Colorado mountains had been having too many avalanches. So he is running a 177 mile path instead. “The hills this morning were awesome!” He is obviously insane. Met a man from Australia and he and Amy had a lengthy discussion about boots. And there was even a guy from Wales! Go figure.

Most entertaining was Humphrey. Humphrey had to be in his 70s. We had stopped at another church to check it out and poke about a bit. As we were leaving, this car slowly drives by; we pause to wait for it to pass, but it stops instead. Humphrey. “Hello, ladies, and where are you from?” Discovering we were American, he started quizzing us on very bizarre topics. Turns out he went to the same school that Obama’s kids are going to [Sidwell] and he went to college in California (at some obscure place I’d never heard of) [Deep Springs]. He was thrilled to share this information. Charming as all get out. We finally promised to go see a particular gravesite in the yard so he would drive on and we could walk on.

MonkeyPuzzleTrees4 Hergest Ridge had a few other significant points. One was the enclosure made of monkey-puzzle trees. (Thank you Danielle for the history behind the name. Apparently some guy thought these trees would puzzle even a monkey!) These are very interesting to look at; very prickly and poky. I knew Mom would want one, and she does. Also along this ridge were wild ponies! Just neat. They were wandering about with their babies and not too concerned about the silly humans talking a zillion pictures of them. Beautiful.

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We ended up in Hay-on-Wye (or Ham-on-Rye to the uninitiated). This is a town on the River Wye and it is the used bookshop of the planet. From Keith: “Hay-on-Wye was effectively rescued from obscurity by Richard Booth, the self-style “King of Hay” who resolved to turn a previously rundown town into the second-had book capital of the Western world.” There is one bookshop per every 30 people in town. The guy now lives in the castle which has, you guessed it, another used bookshop. Dinner at the Blue Boar where Amy compared the similarities of the Berkshires with Wales with a lovely couple at the adjoining table who almost got served our dinners.

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Knighton to Kington

Knighton to Kington (14 miles/1 day)

Today started with a grueling slog up to a golf course; not a legitimate use of my energy, in my opinion. The trail was through a forest, so the saving grace was that it was cool and pretty. Amy did a phenomenal job interpreting poorly marked fields with verve and style. We traversed undulating pathways through forest and glen.

In one field, there were sheep. (No, that is not the interesting part there are always sheep.) These sheep, contrary to the norm, did not simply bound out of the way bleating in an annoyed fashionSheep as per the usual SOP; this time, the wee buggers followed me! Stalkers. Amy comments that they are following us. I turn about expecting to see them 20 feet back, staring at me with their little sheep eyes and fuzzy little faces. But, no. Bleat-o-rama was RIGHT BEHIND ME. Had I not been busy squealing, I could have pat them on their little heads. Amy was giggling for the next ten minutes.

Just outside of Dolley Green, we emerged from pasture onto road. In a vehicle were two people, looking at a map and snacking. They very courteously pointed out that we were not going in the correct direction to continue on the path. Very nice, but unnecessary as we were making a short detour to a Baptist Church that provided water and a restroom for walkers. Very nice of them! On our way back from our snack break, they were still there in the car. Turns out they were waiting on a pair of walkers, Grandpa and Nephew, to emerge heading north. Apparently Uncle was going to take the place of Grandpa along the next stretch of path. Auntie, intelligently, was the designated driver. Well, we did eventually come across the pair. Grandpa was doing well with his walking sticks (popular style – looks like ski poles, but not) and Nephew was bounding in a disgustingly gleeful fashion like some sort of hyped-up kangaroo. Youth. Bah. I wished for him to fall into the omnipresent sheep-shit. Don’t know if he ever did or not. We did pass on the message to “get a wiggle on” as requested by Uncle.

Later in the day, we were having second lunch (good habit to follow, thank you Hobbits) atop a hill. “What?” you cry. “There was a hill?” Quelle surprise! Anyway, we sat upon a stile and admired the hillside of ferns that we’d just fought our way up. Made for great mental images of King Kong movies or Jungle Queen, and it did inadvertently provide a lovely accessory to my jewelry. The area was being manipulated for some reason, I think to provide more summer pasturage, by the mowing down of the ferns to get the grass RingFern2 RingFernunderneath. As we pondered this situation, coming to our conclusions which then became fact, the thermos of tea flung itself over with wild abandon and proceeded to roll down the hill. 164Amy and I looked at it dispassionately and requested with all due courtesy for it to “Stop. Please, stop.” It eventually heeded our wished and rolled into a fern whence we stared at it for a while. Amy went and got it.

Kington is a lovely village and we have a very nice B&B. Dinner was at a charming pub, the Oxford Arms, chosen due to its proximity, but enjoyed as a local hangout. The bartender and patrons invited us to a rugby match on Thursday, which would have been awesome, but alas, we would no longer be in town.OxfordArms

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