What is this life, if, full of care, / There is no time to stand and stare? – Wm. Henry Davies, ‘poet of the tramps’
Today I learnt that I cannot do day after day over 35km. My fitness is excellent: the south-west coastal path conditioned me well and even by the end of a long day I have enough energy to go for several more hours. Recovery is also good: after a good night’s sleep nothing aches and I am ready to start again. But my feet can’t do it. 11 hours stamping down takes a heavy toll on my heels and the bones of my feet, especially when there are long sections of road or hard path walking.
Yesterday was a 36km day and today was 37km (4.4km/h average walking speed, 1721m ascent and descent). Our two longest days, back to back! Blame the late Easter for forcing us to cut a week out of our time and lengthen the days. Yesterday I learned that I can do it… but repeated 11-hr days take all the joy out of it. My friend Jane asked whether this was a “beautiful endurance test”. And the answer today was yes, but for a good half of the day, without appreciation of the beauty.
Also, I discovered that I had been bitten by a tick – a baby one. It must have been hiding in my clothes and escaped the less-than-completely-vigilant check.
By the end of today’s walk, I was in no condition even think about doing a blog. So instead you have a simple alphabet of the nice things that happened to us today. Because if my head is not up and I am not looking around, but instead fixed on picking my way, this walk is not worth doing.
An Alphabet of The Nice Things
A is for Alpaca unexpectedly encountered in a field. Such odd-looking animals.
B is for Bees, swarming in a cracked cast iron soil pipe; and also for Butterflies: five kinds today. Speckled wood, small white, orange-tip, peacock, holly blue.
C is for Coots in a pond with eight tiny cootling chicks paddling along after their parents; and also for Coleridge Way, impeccably waymarked and joyous underfoot.
D is for Discount. The lovely receptionist at the hotel we pitched up at, at 8pm (ditching the Travelodge 3 miles down the road which we had pre-paid) gave us a £30 discount and a luxurious suite because she is a kind and lovely person.
E is for Eggs for breakfast. Good walking food.
F is for Flapjack: A super-kind gift from the lovely Sarah who filled our water bladders, and then offered us gigantic squares of home-made flapjack with pistachios and almonds. I honestly don’t think I could’ve made it to the end of the day without the energy they gave; and also for the Friendly blue squares which helpfully mark even trees along the Coleridge Way so you are sure you’re on track.
G is for Grass: such a pleasure to walk on.
H is for Happy and lighthearted at the start of the day.
I is for Ivy – record-breakingly massive ancient trunks of the stuff.
J is for Jellybabies – Shock Blocks, the grown-up kind which give you a burst of energy in extremis.
K is for Kindness – of Sarah, of the hotel receptionist, and of a lovely man from Brecon who chatted to us.
L is for Lambs, with which the fields are overflowing. Their little bleats and jumping antics are delightful and quintessential markers of springtime.
M is for Macmillan Way – parlously devoid of signage and rubbish underfoot. Sometimes non-existent. Not a Nice Thing but worth remembering to avoid for next time.
N is for North Petherton Church: St Mary’s, dating from the 14th century, having an exquisite tower with elaborate decorative tracery. A lovely thing right at the end of our exhausting day.
O is for Oak trees. Plenty of mature ones in the parkland (hurrah for mixed deciduous woodland – the beech trees of Exmoor were getting rather monotonous), and a terrific dead one strikingly contrasted against the blue sky and yellow rape crop.
P is for Parkland which heralded the beginning of the Quantock Greenway. It was everything you could possibly want, and we sat down on the grass for 15 minutes and just looked around us, per Wm Henry Davies’ advice. Further on the fields were full of the tiniest lambs with the pinkest of little ears and the most quavering of bleats.
Q is for Queen Anne’s Lace: all the hedgerows looking as pretty as a picture.
R is for Railway: our path went along a steam railway line. We should have simply jay-walked along the track (being Friday it was not running). The path, seemingly clear on the map, was rubbish and then disappeared altogether. We had to scale another barbed-wire fence.
S is for Stogumber. A charming little village with a brilliant name where we stopped for crisps (=salt) and postcards.
T is for Thatched Cottages. Stogumber was full of them.
U is for UV light: a whole day wearing suncream and t-shirts
V is for Vetch. I don’t know what kind this is but it is remarkably pretty.
W is for wild strawberry plants in flower
X is for eXcruciation of feet. Not by rights an entry in the Alphabet Of Joy, but unfortunately a primary feature of the day.
Y is for Yellow: buttercups, cistus, primroses, cowslips
Z is an increasingly predominant letter in placenames. We are now definitively in Zomerzet.
Stephen’s wild garlic and nettle soup
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 large red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 leeks, chopped with as much of the dark green tops as possible
Half a bag of frozen petits pois
1 heaped dinner plate of coarsely chopped wild garlic leaves.
2 large handfuls of young nettle-tops
- Chop the onion, crush and roughly chop the garlic, and sauté together in half-and half unsalted butter and olive oil until soft (15 mins).
- Add the chopped leeks and sauté down until only just cooked.
- Add the chopped wild garlic leaves, and wilt down until only just cooked.
- Add the frozen peas, and stock just to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer until the peas are just cooked.
- Blend, adjust seasoning, and if the soup is too thick, add more stock. The key thing is not to overcook any of the vegetables. Add cream if desired, although the soup itself is quite rich.