Day 13: A Walk Around Wye Valley

At the very beginning of my planning phase, I wanted to spend this day in the Forest of Dean, until my innocent wishes were shattered by a B&B owner a few miles up the river. So I’d decided to spend the day doing a walk, though I had no specific route in mind. Then, on my way from Bristol to the Valley, while listening to Lord Hereford’s Knob, I had an epiphany, and decided to do a border walk… How cool would that be for me to say “I walked from Wales to England and back”? Of course I’d mistakenly taken a trail as the border, when in fact I believe the real one is the River Wye… So I set off, aiming for that trail, and thought to myself, “what fun would that be if I’m just reaching an arbitrary barrier and then back? So very soon I found out that I can take a different route back, hence the circular Google approximation of my route today:

When I say the “Google approximation”, it’s because it doesn’t have a detour I took about half way through, which follows the stream (the one that passes that dot on the upper-right side) and goes down to the River Wye. I’d also taken the wrong path once, not long after I came back from the détour, and I have no idea how far I’d gone in either occasions. I indeed need a better map, especially if I want to walk the Cheviots in the spring… Paper maps are an option. But are they any mobile app recommendations? Range viewer charges but it’s the best one I’ve seen, so I might consider it…

So I started off walking up the river on the high way, the meadows across the river look appealing even under dog…

The bridge by Tintern Mill, which goes to the other side. I’ll be coming back via this bridge!

This segment of the highway is right on the river bank, so I took advantage of it and had a good look at the river. It’s visible that the water is not clean, as it’s a yellowish colour. But other than the fact that I wouldn’t drink directly from it, all’s good.

A little cottage was up for sale along the highway. I’m not sure how much land comes with it, but it’s definitely neat, and rural enough to be tempting…

The name of another property, Wyedene. I can only assume that it means Wye den, or Wye’s place, and the owners had been renewing the sign while retaining its archaic spelling… Though it looked like Welsh at first sight, so who knows?

No particular reason for taking a photo of the lamp… Ah well maybe because reminds me of HP… I’d just existed what looked like a second-hand bookshop, and hinted I’d come back thinking I would only be walking for about an hour… Oh sweet summer’s child!

Found a church along the road, which immediately reminded me of Gray’s Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. I felt compelled to go down the path, and as I looked around, I felt a new connection. This new, Romantic surge made me realize that even I’d read him, and went on a field trip in one of the local rural churchyards to re-read the Elegy, I still failed to fully understand it. Of course, the accumulation of readings, interpretations, and experiences helped, but it’s time to re-read, and re-read out loud, Spencer.

“A lot of people, it seemed, had been paying their respect quite recently… Christmas, maybe?” That very thought brought me another image: it was Christmas Eve, 1997, and Harry was kneeling in front of his parents’ headstone, gasping, tracing the words with his finger, not minding tears running down his cheek. Hermione stood just a few feet behind him, looking down at the back of her friend while making sure her wand was both well-concealed and easily accessible, a sad, concerned smile on her face. It seems like I have two huge tasks on my re-read list already!

I saw a path at the end of the church, and decided to trace it. There was a gate, but the footpath looked like it was leading to something, so I, again, trespassed. This was a long one, though… And although the beginning of the path looked promising, there are muddy segments that almost tore off my boots! In return, I get to take a closer, longer look at the River Wye with meadows (not cars!) on my other side.

I reached the end of the church’s property after about 10 minutes of walking, marvelling, and thinking if there was an exit. It turned out that there was, and it was not locked! I seized the opportunity and scooted, only to be facing a flight of stairs upwards, or a even muddier path. I chickened, and went up. It turned out to be a very wise decision, as I managed to stop more trespassing, and found a public footpath designed for walkers. And the very first thing in my sight was the old Tintern Station. Upon seeing the rails, something else clicked: if there had been rails, there had been industry… Considering the little bit I know about Britain after the Industrial Revolution, it is very likely that I am looking at the abandoned tracks that once carried coal across the border to London… I looked around, trying and failing to imagine this lovely valley surrounded by coal mines, even though the water is likely to be suggesting otherwise…

This looks like a circle of heroes, though I only know King Arthur… There is a board nearby explaining who they are, as well as links to more information. I do wonder what the stone in the middle is doing?

A wooden carve, presumably one of the heroes from the circle, with his dog, a snake, a beaver, and what looked like a desecrated rat. Made me think of the four Houses, and then the Marauders, but nothing really fit ;(

After some time, I’d finally reached the bridge that would take me to England! The sky was briefly clearing up, and that means a spectacular view from the bridge:

This is the village right across the river, and I apologize for forgetting  its name… Things on the English side was not exciting at first, as it was basically the village in extension…

This is looking across the stream (I’m more inclined to call it a “burn” now as I’ve been reading so much on the North and Scotland).

I’d just walked past what I initially thought as the border, looking for a nonexistent sign that says “England” on one side and “Wales” on the other. Though I think it’s safe to say that the lack of bilingualism is proof enough that I had indeed reached England?

Since I’d believed a footpath was the actual border, I thought it’d be a big road like the highway in front of my hotel. Instead, I got a little trail… “Would be a good practice for the Cheviots”, I told myself. And this becomes the actual start of my spectacular walk, and already, it reminded me of those days, back in Victoria, when we’d run the woods in PE.

A little stream that I was passing. It’s barely telligible on this picture but it was actually quite obvious. It actually reminded me of 小石潭记 a bit.

After the initial trail, I met my first open clearing. It caused a bit of confusion as where the path went, but with the Map and an intact perception mechanism, I was able to find the right way and begin my first ascend in the wilderness. Reaching, eventually, a three-way crossing.

The ascent felt hard, but looking back from the crossing, it wasn’t too bad. Also, as I was climbing, I felt the first bout of reassurance as I heard other walkers coming to my direction. There is also a sign at the crossing, indicating where the three paths lead to. There was only one problem: Google Map told me there were only two directions, while in fact there were three: one leads to the River, one up the hills, and the other where I’d just come from.

Thinking walking along the riverside may be a shortcut that Google chose to ignore, I followed the other walkers down this path:?

Eventually, we arrived back at the village whose name I’d forgotten… What’s more, the path was a dead end, disappearing at the river bank. There was only one option: retrace my steps and take the right turn.

As I started climbing again, three horses came out of nowhere. They looked innocent enough, until they were coming at me. I wasn’t sure whether they wanted to sniff me or nudge me or trump me, as I’ve barely had any contact with horses before, so I looked away and avoided eye contact. It worked, as they, after each taking a good look/sniff at me, strode away, leaving me feeling a little regretful not patting them!

This was the biggest clearing I’d seen all day, almost looking like a farm itself. I’d put my phone away as I could see the path leading around the hill, and followed it. I checked my phone again after going slightly up in a lot of mud, and saw that I’d wandered off my destined route again! And since there were no walkers coming the other way, I decided to turn back and keep my map out, so that I could look for the right path once I seem to collide with it.

I’m not exactly sure what happened, but this clearly seems to be the path I was supposed to be in… And despite the fact that the map said I should go straight, I had to do a 90 degree turn to a new, less visible path to make sure my little dot was moving to the right direction. Then came another big, free, ascent.

And with ascent, we get scenery. The view from the top is always the best.

At the end of the clearing was more forest, so in I went. Fortunately, I was able to refrain from making more detours, and even though a few mild descent on the edge of a cliff was less assuring, I made it to where I was supposed to turn to another path.

I’d hoped the other path would be easier, and it was granted. I walked swiftly, feeling proud that I was able to manage all the descents fairly calmly (I’m irrationally afraid of going downhill, or down anything except well-constructed stairs, skiing, and being lowered for top-rope climbing). But as I turned to the last path of the day, the one I knew would take me back to the bridge and thus my hotel, my dream for a smooth return shattered.

It was already 3 o’clock, an hour and a quarter before sunset, and I was still out in the wilderness. I knew I had to keep up pace or I’d be navigating in the dark, and I aimed to be out of the woods by 3:30, as that number sounded reasonably safe. But then I was met with a series of steep descents, with landings a mixture of stone, mud, and tree roots. Many of the descents were also on the edge of cliffs. Not pleasant, not pleasant at all.

The above pictures were the ones I found challenging, but not impossible. It took time, but I was able to navigate my way down, even though by the end I was on all fours, and my left leg (as I navigate with my right leg) was hurting from all the support it had to do. I was passed by a few walkers, and only one of them had to wait for me to clumsily come down before going up. I told them not to wait for me before realizing that I felt much safer with other people around…

Then I faced the boss. I think I had a bit of a break with a nice, flat, and dry segment, then things started getting muddy, and the path diverged. It was also on the edge of a cliff, with no trees or grass on the cliff side. It was just uneven rock, and then nothing. The path itself, even after it diverged, was uneven and not easy to recognize, and there was a tree branch lying directly in front of me: I had to either choose the higher path and step around from the top, or choose the lower path and go through from below. I chose the latter. It was a big of struggle, but I was ok. Then I realized that I was getting slightly overwhelmed: the paths were converging again, yet everywhere I look there was loads of mud… There didn’t seem to be a secure way, and the higher path looked like it could collapse any time. I think I tread to the converging point, and stepped onto the higher path with the help of a tree, but I can’t remember what exactly happened. I was then faced with more muddy descent, with an uneven bunch of slippery rocks and more bare cliff. The phrase “I was terrified” was not an exaggeration, especially now as I realized it was already twenty to four, and if I kept at my pace, I’d likely to be stuck here in the dark. My left leg was shaking, either from the hard work or from the fear, or both. My right leg felt weak, too. I couldn’t trust my legs anymore, and eventually resorted to crawling. Even so, nothing felt safe. The usual things I tell myself, like “you got this”, “slowly”, and “you’re doing good” were replaced by “just keep moving”, “don’t think, just move”, and “you have phone signal, you’re safe”. I was blaming myself for this hast choice of path, and horrifying thoughts about what would happen if I slipped were running through my head like a whirlwind, despite my effort to shut them. I don’t remember how long the descent lasted, or what exactly I was crawling on. I might have sworn and/or shrieked, loudly. But when I finally landed on the soft, flat, palpably safe path with muddy hands, I burst into tears. It was a cocktail of emotions: the release of the intense fear that had been building up and pushed aside because immediate survival was more important, the relief that I’d made it down something I would never even try if not for the circumstance, a little bit of shame as I was still being reduced to tears by such a simple task, and the immense joy and pride that I’d pushed on and finished it despite how much I wanted to call 999 and tell them to pick me up with a helicopter (even though I knew that I’d certainly fall if I stop in the middle of the descent and thus I must push on).

But it was no time to cry. I had to carry on and make it out of the woods before dark. So I dried my face and started singing to prevent more tears interfering with my eyesight. And as I finished “Next Year” and “Body”, I was effectively at my last, and much milder, descent, with the River Wye right in front of my eyes.

I was again on all fours for the last descent, but that was more because of how exhausted my legs were. A few more walkers had gone past me, which gave me the final reassurance that I was on the right path. Indeed, within a minute after I took the above picture (can you see the bridge?), I was once again back to civilization.

The river and the valley looked as foggy as they were four and a half hours ago, there was no indication of how much time had passed, only the sun was in the other side of the hills now. It’s been a frightening, yet wonderful adventure full of scenery and feelings…

… And the village of Tintern never felt so lovely before! So I decided to treat myself again by dining at the hotel’s restaurant.

Looks posh, eh? Braised lamb skank with mashed potatoes and veggies. I was expecting a slightly bigger serving but the lamb was so amazing that it compensated. In fact, it was probably the best lamb I’ve ever had in the West… (Sorry Bob… But before this one yours were the best!)

At the end of the day, I think this had been another splendid day. It’s different than Canterbury’s historic feels, Stonehenge and its mystery, or Cornwall with its beaches. But it’s been full of experiences, and ended on a very good note. But here’s the thing that still puzzles me: despite how much I love nature, and feel compelled to immerse myself in it, it still brings me intense fear. Whether it is fear of descent/falling, bugs, or animals big enough to pin me on the ground, it all seems to be related to nature, and the very rural life I’ve been longing for… But maybe this is the exact irony that makes my life complete?

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