I’ve re-read what I’ve written in this journal and I’m still not sure I’ve truly expressed how much I hated this walk. From the moment I shouldered my pack after getting out of the car, to the moment I saw Chris driving into Hay-on-Wye to pick me up, I pretty much hated every moment of the walking experience.
I started walking to lose weight and change my lifestyle, but I now walk for the enjoyment. Even on short day walks, there comes a point where the mind clears and all you feel is the sheer joy of putting one foot in front of the other – and nothing else matters; not love; not work, not money; just the feeling of moving under your own steam through a beautiful environment. I don’t think I ever experienced this when walking the Offa’s Dyke Path.
The failure has to lie with me though, not the path. There are beautiful sections of this path – even in the first two days when all I seemed to walk through was cow fields and pastures, many of them uneven and rutted, difficult to walk across with a stile at each field boundary. The River Wye, for example, is majestic and there are many wooded paths replete with flowers and wildlife that should have helped me find that joyous meditative state of walking. But they didn’t.
I’ve had months to think about what went wrong, I’m writing this in February 2008, almost 6 months after the walk and I still can’t put my finger on it. There are, of course, a number of reasons and I will try to identify them as best as possible.
Poor Training: I certainly wasn’t as fit as I needed to be for this walk. The summer of 2007 was extremely wet and although I bagged 50-odd Wainwrights in the months leading up to August I didn’t walk anything like as intensively as I did when preparing for the Coast to Coast in 2006.
Poor Itinerary Selection: I made the first two days of the walk ridiculously arduous, 40 miles and 6,000 feet of ascent at the start of the walk was way too adventurous. I should have cut that section into three, allowing me to start easy and caught up the slack later in the walk if necessary. If anything Offa’s Dyke provides more opportunity to do this than on the Coast to Coast, due to the fact that the route is never that far from a town or village.
Overloading: Although I’d done plenty of my day walks that year with a larger than usual pack to try and prepare for this walk, I was still carrying more gear than I could really manage. I had pared my pack contents down to an absolute minimum, there was nothing I could have easily discarded, but I shall have to think long and hard before I do another long distance walk without the assistance of a baggage carrier.
The weather: The three days were very warm and the sunburn I picked up on the third day would have made things very painful if I had continued to walk any further.
The Coast to Coast: Yes, I blame the C2C as well. It set a level of expectation for me, that Offa’s Dyke just couldn’t live up to. Perhaps I will never regain the feelings I experienced while walking that gem of a footpath, I hope I do, but it wasn’t happening on this walk. I think it’s true to say that the C2C will ruin other long distance paths for a person.
In short – “fail to prepare; prepare to fail”.
The main failure of course was my mindset. If I’d really wanted to finish this walk I would have done. By the end of day three I told myself that if I was hating the experience so much, what the hell was I doing continuing to punish myself. I was here to enjoy the walk – not endure it.
I will do it again one day. It makes up part of my Lands End to John O’Groats route for one thing. That particular challenge is probably still 10 years away – if ever – and I want it to include a Coast to Coast of all the mainland home nations. Perhaps I’ll be back before then, but certainly not until I’ve done a few other long distance paths.
The West Highland Way followed immediately by the Great Glen Way is all booked for May 2008. I will be walking from Glasgow to Inverness in 12 days, with a short walk up Ben Nevis in the middle somewhere. My training plan is in place and I’m determined that at least one reason for failure last time will not be available as an excuse this time 🙂