Adventure starts mid-July, 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012 – Much Wenlock

Meeting in the Town Square
After last night’s dinner with Erik, Margeret, Bob and Pam, it was hard to imagine as good a day as yesterday.  But today was another fun day in Much Wenlock.   The day started with our joining the Much Wenlock walking group for their regular Monday morning walk.  As we waited in the town square, clouds overhead produced a few sprinkles and threatened more.  But nothing could dampen the warm welcome Janet and I received when two of the hike leaders, Melinda and Ken, introduced us to the group.  I remembered some familiar faces from last year, and others were new to me, but I had more trouble remembering names.  One lady remarked that this was only her second walk with the group, to which Janet responded, pointing to me, “His too!”

The walkers break themselves into three groups, based on perceived abilities:  striders, steppers, and strollers.  I knew right away that Janet and I were striders – after all, we had just walked 14 miles around Hay-on-Wye on Saturday.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The striders are called that for a reason –and I could barely keep up.  Properly, we should have joined the steppers, but after last night’s food and drink, joining the strollers would have been smarter. 

You may remember Much Wenlock as the birthplace of the modern Olympics.  Just imagine the deluge of TV reporters from all corners of the world who are now covering the London Olympics coming to Much Wenlock to tape background reports.  I’m told that when one reporter said he was reporting from a small village 40 miles west of London, the locals cringed – partly because the distance is closer to 100 miles, partly because the direction is closer to northwest than west, but mainly because Much Wenlock is a town rather than a village.  I’m not sure of the difference, but it’s apparently very important to the locals.  I am quite certain that last year I, too, referred to Much Wenlock as a village, and offer my sincere apologies.

At the Tearoom

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t notice the walk much – so keen was I on just talking with the villagers… I mean townspeople.  But after the walk we were invited to join them for their customary after-walk tea and scones.  So let’s get this straight:  officially, the group is called Walking for Health.  After a good walk, they retire to a tea room for cream tea, scones and clotted cream.  Hmmm.  You know, I could get used to that.

Wenlock Priory
Afterwards, Janet and I toured the ruins of the Wenlock Priory (largely dismantled when Henry VIII split with the church and seized its assets); and the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Wroxeter (abandoned in the decades following the Roman withdrawal from Britain).  The historic ruins were interesting, but I’m going to remember my return to Much Wenlock for the same reason as I remember my first visit:  its people and the warm welcome they gave to us visitors.  The townspeople (see, I got it right) are superb ambassadors for their community, and have good reason to be proud of themselves and their community’s place in history.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Sunday, July 29, 2012 – Hay-on-Wye to Much Wenlock

Today was one of those very special days you remember forever.  It started with an email from Erik—you may remember him as one of the walkers I first met on the Pennine Way last year, and with whom I walked for 3 days until he left the Pennine Way at Tan Hill.  Erik is from the Netherlands, and his email said that he and his wife, Margeret, were in Hay-on-Wye!! 

Surprising Reunion
What are the odds that we would be in the same small Welsh town on the same day??  I quickly made contact and Janet and I shared good memories together with Erik and Margeret over coffee.  Erik obtained permission from his hotel for me to show him and Margeret my now world-famous slide show on its TV.  It was a delightful, if rather short, reunion.
After saying goodbye to Erik and Margeret, Janet and I set off for Kington, Knighton and Craven Arms.  At Knighton I pointed out the restaurant where I had stumbled upon Bob and Pam after meeting them on the trail last year. 
At Craven Arms, we toured the 13th fortified manor house known as Stokesay Castle.  Jack Frost had toured it last year, and gave it a high recommendation.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time or energy to tour it last year, so made up for it this year.  Last week, at Stonehenge, Janet and I purchased an English Heritage membership, allowing us free entry into all the English Heritage properties.  Stokesay Castle is one of those properties, and we have already saved more in entry fees to English Heritage sites than the cost of membership fee, and we are barely 10 days into our 6 week trip.  The membership has proved to be a good buy.

Pam, Bob, Margeret, Lost-a-lot, Janet & Erik

We arrived in Much Wenlock in late afternoon, staying at the same B&B I stayed in last year.  We concluded the evening with dinner at a local pub, with Erik, Margeret, Bob and Pam all joining us.   As you might guess, we had a cracking good time.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 27 & 28 -- Hay-on-Wye

Offa’s Mead in St. Briavels is truly a full-service B&B.  Not only did Jackie do our laundry (as she did last year) but Eric checked the air pressure in our rental car’s tires (tyres, in Britain) and added air where necessary.  He has a large workshop with all the equipment one needs to rebuild and maintain vehicles – his hobby.

You all know that I am widely recognized for my driving prowess, and I can honestly state with all humility that I may well be the best driver in the world.  Unfortunately, all my recent driving practice may have shortchanged my parking techniques.  While parking in St. Briavels, I inadvertently jumped the left front tire onto the curb (or in England, the kerb).  Realizing my mistake, my lightning fast reactions quickly brought the tire back onto the road, although perhaps too quickly.   Dismounting the curb, the tire’s sidewall was gouged.
Medieval Gate at Monmouth
The tire was probably perfectly safe, but the unsightly gouge may have caused people to underestimate my driving abilities, so I arranged to have the tire replaced.  The replacement took 15 minutes.  Getting the car rental company to authorize the replacement took another 2 hours.  While at first blush that may seem an inconvenience, the extra time gave Janet and me plenty of time to stroll around Monmouth, replenish our supplies, and have a small snack.
Hay Bookstore
Continuing on, we followed a series of roads generally paralleling the Offa’s Dyke Path, arriving at Hay-on-Wye mid-afternoon.  Hay (as the locals refer to it) is the used book capital of the world.  After browsing the bookstores, Janet and I retired to a lovely garden for apr├Ęs drive refreshments and dinner.
At breakfast on Saturday, I spoke with the innkeeper about several possible walks.  His recommended walk was about 8 miles – following the Offa’s Dyke Path to the small village of Rhydspence (really no more than a crossroads), then a short walk to the Whitney Toll Bridge, and a return by the Wye Valley Walk.  8 miles on flat terrain.  Apparently that was before the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates stretched the earth’s crust.  After the crust stretching, the distance became 14½ miles.  Fortunately the stretching of the earth’s crust had flattened the terrain, otherwise we would have had much more than our 1400 feet elevation gain.

Walking through the Wheat

Janet didn’t complain, though – partly because the route had so much variety, partly because the 1400 feet of elevation gain kept her out of breath, and partly because I kept reminding her that it was only 8 miles – even as the GPS ticked away the actual mileage.  The walk started out along the Wye River, then ascended into a dark forest, then across cow pastures, hay fields, sheep pastures and finally through a golf course. 
Through the Golf Course

Yes the path actually ran between the fairways, so Janet was too occupied by errant golf balls to notice the accumulating mileage.  Neither of us had ever walked through a golf course before, and it was fun to know that our right of way had precedence over their game.

Upon arrival in Hay, I noticed that the footpath passed right next to a pub.  Coincidence?  Perhaps, but we had to check it out to make sure.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 25 & 26 -- St. Briavels

Last year, I bypassed Cheddar Gorge because I was unable to find accommodation there.  This year, Janet and I decided to visit Cheddar Gorge to see what I had missed.  What I had missed is a tacky display of commercialism, reminding both of us of the American side of Niagara Falls.  I’m glad that I hadn’t wasted an entire walking day to view the gorge last year.  It was bad enough wasting a few hours driving there.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

But the scenery en route to the gorge was lovely, and we again enjoyed seeing some of the places I saw last year.  One of those places was the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol spanning the River Avon.  It was completed about 1860 -- and is the forerunner to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.  You may recall that Neil Butterfield took me to see it last year.  Janet had seen its image on my slide show many times, and wanted to see it in person.  It was far better than Cheddar Gorge.
Last year Don Gray escorted me through Bristol to the Severn Bridge by a series of footpaths.  Our rental car prefers roads to footpaths, and our road map made it appear that the best route from Bristol to Chepstow is by the M5, connecting to the M4 and the M48 – motorways (freeways) all the way.  Destined to retain my title as Sir Lost-a-lot, I missed the turnoff from the M5 to the M4.  There are very few exits on the M5, so we had to continue on the motorway for some 20 miles before reaching a point to turn around.
Eventually, we made our way to Chepstow, and then followed signs to St. Briavels, where we would be spending the night.  Well, we almost followed the signs to St. Briavels.  When I saw a sign to Brockweir Bridge, I decided to take a short cut, because I remembered that our B&B is only ¼ mile from Brockweir Bridge.  A long and tortuous route down narrow, hedge-lined lanes eventually brought us to Brockweir Bridge.  Then I remembered that the B&B wasn’t near Brockweir Bridge, but rather Bigsweir Bridge.  Of course, the lane was too narrow to allow us to turn around.  So was Brockweir Bridge.  After a few more miles out of our way, we finally reversed direction, and made it to Bigsweir Bridge, arriving at the B&B before dark.
Tintern Abbey
The following morning we visited Tintern Abbey, the particularly well-preserved remains of a large abbey constructed in the 15th century.  The abbey was interesting, but we soon tired of being tourists (or at least one of us did), so we decided to take a walk in the afternoon. 

Wye River

A five-mile stroll along the Wye River ended at  a pub in Redbrook (the village from which last year I had telephoned that night’s innkeeper to advise her that I couldn’t reach the destination in the heat).  The pub wasn’t serving food, but it was serving cold refreshments, so we imbibed. After all, it was a hot day.

Janet walking Offa's Dyke Path

I knew a short cut along the Offa’s Dyke Path, which would get us back to our B&B in fewer than 5 miles, so Janet agreed.  What I hadn’t told her was that the shortcut was straight up over hill.  It didn’t take her long to realize that I had not been totally forthright in describing the short-cut, but hey – on an island where the highest peak is barely 4,000 feet above sea level, how high could this hill be?  And anyway, I explained, we were already starting well above sea level because we had walked upstream – everybody knows that a river which empties into the sea is always above sea level.  Janet admitted that my logic was infallible – although I didn’t exactly tell her that the Wye River is tidal all the way to Monmouth – at least 10 more miles upstream.
In any case, we made it back to the B&B in only 4 miles, and Janet’s still speaking to me – which is more than I can say about Nora Too!

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 23 & 24 -- Crowcombe Heathfield

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  Of course, there were no motor cars in the 17th century, or William Congreve may have reworded that statement to include VW campers as well as women.
It hasn’t been easy, but I think I’ve patched things up with Nora Too!  Vehicles get cold easily, but once you turn them on, they warm up fast.  Nora Too! is no exception.  Why, she even let Janet sit in the driver’s seat.

Nora Too! with a rose from her secret admirer

Later, as Janet and I drove our rental car from somewhere near Barnstaple to Crowcombe Heathfield, we passed a flower shop.  You know what happened next.  Like females everywhere, vehicles always respond well to flowers and intrigue, so I sent Nora Too! a rose without revealing my identity.  But she knew. 
Indeed, she responded with the following verse:
To my secret admirer

My wheel hubs are shining;
My VW badge is too;
My bodywork is blushing;
And all because of you!

A rose is given with love
And love is returned
My eyes have been opened
and my heart has been churned!

And my eyes would be weeping,
If only I had two!
Your everlasting
bashful Nora Too!

Whew!!  It was a close call, so I’ll have to be more careful in the future.

In Crowcombe Heathfield, Janet and I are staying two nights at Hartwood House.  You may remember it from last year as a beautiful manor  with 8 acres of gardens, run by David, Rosemary, and their rescue lab, Sadie.

Alan and me on the engine
Crowcombe Heathfield is on the edge of the Quantock Hills, and if the weather holds, Janet and I will hike there tomorrow.  But today, we took the West Somerset Railway steam train to nearby Minehead.  The railway line was closed in 1971 as a result of the Beeching Report which declared some 4,000 railway miles as uneconomic.  It was reopened in 1976 as a 20-mile private heritage line, featuring a meticulously restored steam engine as the prime tourist attraction.  Alan, the engineer asked me to join him on engine as he was shoveling coal into the furnace. 

The most beautiful steam engine in the world

The steam engine is the most beautiful engine I’ve ever seen.  It pulls the cars smoothly, with that wonderful puffing that only a steam engine can achieve.  Its whistle is that high-pitched resonance characteristic of a former time.  Combined with the ever increasing tempo of the chug…chug… chug as the engine pulls away from the station until it reaches the tempo of a panting dog, the sensation is reminiscent of Ravel’s Bolero.   

The engine conferred a sensual overload I will never forget.  I could feel the heat from the fire, smell the steam from the boiler, and feel the vibrations in the floor.  Coal dust was everywhere, but the highly polished controls emphasized the dignity and power of the engine.  I think I’m in love.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012 – Washaway to Somewhere Near Barnstaple

Today we covered in one day the distance that last year took me a week.  You may recall that last year I often dreamt of trading my boots for a bicycle, but what I really should have coveted was a car.  What an easy way to travel!!  And with air conditioning, you hardly ever break into a sweat, even when driving on the wrong side of the road.

View from Tintagel Castle

From our B&B in Washaway (a small village southeast of Wadebridge), the car took us to Tintagel in no time at all.  After exploring King Arthur’s castle, Janet and I strolled around the village.  Because we are highly-experienced trail walkers, we relate to people who wear large backpacks and who, as you know, are invisible to the general population.   That’s how we spotted King Arthur, happily walking around the village.
“Lost-a-lot!!  I’m so pleased to see you again!!” exclaimed the King.
“Good morning, Your Majesty.  You look much happier than when we last met.”
“Yes, your suggestion that I wear a backpack so I would be as invisible as a homeless person works wonderfully.  I’m so grateful to you, Lost-a-lot.  If there is anything I can ever do for you, just let me know.”
“Well, Art, there is one little thing.  I’ve had difficulty finding parking places.  Can you do something about the crowds?”
“Oh, all my subjects are enjoying the sunny days, and I wouldn’t do anything to deny them that pleasure.  But don’t worry, the weekend is nearly over, and you won’t have any further parking problems.”
King Arthur was right.  After Tintagel, Janet and I drove through Boscastle, Bude, and out to Hartland Quay where we stopped at the hotel for lunch – and despite the crowds, we found a parking place adjacent to the hotel.  Then we went to Clovelly, where there was no parking problem at all.
From Clovelly, we drove to somewhere near Barnstaple, where we spent a wonderful evening with Roger and Pauline in their lovely home.  Pauline cooked a delightful dinner, over which all four of us reminisced about  our meeting last year.  But that was only after I regained my composure.
You see, as Janet and I drove up to Roger’s and Pauline’s house, I gasped at the sight of Nora Too! – Roger’s and Pauline’s beautifully restored 1973 VW camper –  parked in the driveway.  You may recall how Nora Too! and I fell in love with each other last year. 
Well, nothing good ever happens when a spouse encounters a paramour, and I was not happy when Janet immediately got out of our car and walked up to Nora Too!.  From the bits I overheard, their conversation went something like this:
Janet:  “You are much more beautiful than I thought.  No wonder Ken was so enamored by you.”
Nora Too!:  “Enamored???  I don’t think so.  He never writes or calls.”
Janet:  “Well, that’s just the way he is.  Always wrapped up in himself – never any time to think of others.”
Nora Too!:  “I recently became seriously ill.  I had ingested some bad fuel.  My fuel pump became clogged and my spark plugs were fouled.  I could hardly move.  He didn’t even send a get-well card.”
Janet:  “I’m not surprised.  He’s so fickle.  Why just the other day I noticed him ogling a young motorcycle.”
Nora Too!:  “OH!!!  HOW COULD HE?!!!”
Janet:  “You don’t know the half of it.  Sports cars, power boats, jet skis – he jumps from one to the next as if they were toys.  He’s even riding a bicycle now.”
Nora Too!:  “How could I have been so stupid?”
Janet:  “Don’t be so hard on yourself.  You know that Roger and Pauline love you.  Look to them for true love and the rest of your days will be filled with happiness.”
Nora Too!:  “You’re a remarkable woman to put up with him.”
Janet:  “I try.”

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Portreath to Washaway

A warm, sunny day in Cornwall seemed like the perfect occasion to test Janet’s conviction that she could actually walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats by hiking along the high bluffs of the South West Coast Path.  Unfortunately, the weather also provided the perfect opportunity for all Brits anywhere near Cornwall to put the recent rains behind them, as they flocked to the seashore.  As a result, virtually every car park even remotely proximate to the SWCP was jammed full, and even my world-renowned driving prowess was unable to assist us in finding a parking space.  This led me to conclude that there are two truisms of hiking in Britain:
1.       If you want to walk in Britain, it’s best not to have a car; and
2.       It’s best not to hike on sunny days.
Clearly, it was following those two simple rules that made last year’s walk a success.
Instead of hiking, we simply drove along the coastal road, accessing spectacular views whenever a lay-by (turnout) provided the opportunity.  Even though we would have preferred hiking, it was a lovely day for a drive.
At St. Endellion Church

Our drive took us past the church at St. Endellion, on whose bench I sat last year to rest after a long ascent on a hot day.  There was nobody around to take my picture last year, so Janet volunteered to do so this year.
St. Endellion is close to Port Isaac, the scenic location of the fictitious village of Port Wenn in the Doc Martin television series.  Some of you may remember that the program was being taped last year when I passed through, and the sets were in place.  They don’t shoot during the summer, so the sets have been removed.  But the harbor is still there, and the streets are still narrow.



Narrow Street in Port Isaac
We’ll try again to walk the South West Coast Path, but first we’ll pay a visit to my good friend, King Arthur, and have him do something about the crowds.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012 – Land’s End to Portreath

A four-hour drive took us from Salisbury to Land’s End. It felt strange to be there again.  Not only was I back in a place I never expected to see again, but I was in a place I didn’t really see the first time I was there.  It was all surreal.

Last year, heavy morning fog obscured even the nearby buildings.  This year, the Scilly Islands, 28 miles off shore, were visible on the horizon.  Breaking the ocean’s surface a few hundred yards off shore are several small rocks, fitted with a beacon to warn passing boats of the danger – rocks that simply did not exist last year in the fog.  Or perhaps it was merely my mind in a fog.
As Janet and I strolled around, we encountered a group of a half-dozen teenage boys , wearing cycling jerseys and sitting next to the walkway near their bikes.  The young boys were drinking champagne with their parents,boys and parents all glowing with such satisfaction that I knew instantly what had  transpired.  Engaging one of the boys in conversation confirmed my conclusion that the boys had just finished cycling from John O’Groats.  It had taken them 12 days.
As I congratulated one of the boys on his incredible achievement with a hearty “Well done,” I wasn’t even tempted to welcome him to the club.  This was his day – their day, if you include his parents, -- no need to  interject reminiscences of an old man.

Janet and I then walked to the "public footpath" sign marking the South West Coast Path, and continued on with a one-mile walk to Sennen Cove.  The trail looked oddly familiar, but his time it was shared with dozens of people out enjoying the sunny day.  Last year there were no more than a handful of people periodically emerging from the fog like so many ghosts. But for me, the ghosts were still there.

We then returned to the car park and drove north, following the coastal road through Trewellard, where I  pointed out the gypsy caravan in which I stayed; to Pendeen, where I pointed out the post office from which I mailed my maps and duffel, and the small grocery store that provided the mailing box; and past the small lay-by where Nora Too!! was parked.  I felt like Juan, driving Joan Wilder and Jack Colton through his village as they escaped Zolo and his gun-firing police in “Romancing the Stone.”
At Hayle, the bakery where I was advised to buy a medium steak pasty was closed in the late afternoon, and the adjacent bench where I ate lunch was empty.   The afternoon was waning, so I telephoned the Cliff House B&B from Hayle to advise them of our late arrival.  Viv said I shouldn’t be concerned because Hayle was only a 20 minute drive from Portreath.  Last year it took me half a day to get there from Hayle.
Arriving at the Cliff House, I noticed that innkeeper Simon had kindly placed markers in the guest book where my signature appeared from last year, and where Jack Frost’s signature appeared from two weeks prior.   It was hard to avoid choking up.
Portreath Harbour
After dinner, Janet and I strolled down to the harbor, and on a whim decided to ascend the road up to lighthouse point.  The climb, which seemed so difficult last year with a 35-pound backback , was a piece of cake this year.  Janet remarked that from the three miles of the route that she walked today, she honestly believed that she could walk all the way to John O’Groats if she didn’t have to carry a backpack.  Perhaps so – she’s more fit than most women a third of her age – but I wonder how she would handle the rain.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Thursday, July 19, 2012 – Heathrow Airport to Salisbury

London is hosting the 2012 summer Olympics, so we fully expected a long delay through immigration upon arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport.  After disembarking the aircraft at the terminal’s gate, Janet and I took the customary long hike to the immigration area.  To our great surprise, it was empty, except for immigration officials.  We had some difficulty finding the shortest line, because there were no lines.  Zero.
As a result, we passed through customs, with passports stamped, in fewer than three minutes.  It could have been faster, but the immigration official looked so lonely that I couldn’t help engaging him in conversation.  After all, Janet and I had just completed a long hike from the terminal’s gate, and it’s my custom to talk with folks while hiking.
We waited no more than five minutes at baggage claim, scooped up our bags, and made our way to the car rental counter.  The agent turned pale as he read through the paperwork.  Nigel Smythe had apparently left some comments in the rental record (see my first posting, “Gearing Up”).  A forced smile returned to the agent’s face as he commented, “Oh.  I see you are entitled to an express rental,” whereupon he directed me to a small television and adjacent telephone, with instructions for me to deal with a remote agent. 
I’m not sure where the remote agent was actually located, but I suspect India.  Despite all the difficulties you would expect when dealing with a remote agent, we eventually completed the rental agreement and I got the car.  I couldn’t help notice, however, that customers who weren’t entitled to an express rental kept flowing past, rental agreements in hand, while I was glued to the telephone trying to decipher the agent’s words.
But fewer than two hours later, Janet and I had navigated our way to Salisbury, where we toured Stonehenge and the medieval walled city in which the Salisbury Cathedral is located.  It’s amazing how much people can accomplish with stacked rocks.  Stonehenge has been in its present location for more than 5,000 years.  The cathedral is much younger, dating only from 1315 AD.  Because it is much newer, the cathedral is still in use today.  I doubt either was constructed remotely.

Salisbury Cathedral

(c) 2012 Ken Klug

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Honing my Skills

It will not surprise you that I am a highly-trained driver.  What may surprise you, however, is that even we exceptionally skilled drivers must practice to maintain our skills.  This is especially true when an American is trying to leave a good impression in a country where people drive on the wrong side of the road.  So with fewer than three weeks before my departure for the UK, I’ve been sharpening my driving skills. 
After working my arms and legs into condition to endure long periods behind the wheel, I’ve turned to practicing driving in the left lane.  Left-lane driving on American interstate highways (“motorways” to the Brits) is no great challenge, but left-lane driving on rural roads and city streets in America can be difficult.  Nonetheless, it is the perfect way to practice evasive maneuvers.   I’m even mastering the art of making right turns from the left lane. 
I can’t tell you how heart-warming it is to see my fellow Americans showing their support of my efforts by enthusiastically pumping their fists in the air and shouting excitedly.  No wedding procession has ever been accompanied by a more joyful honking of horns.  I only hope I can measure up to their expectations when I arrive in the U.K.
Tomorrow I’m going to practice driving from the passenger side of the vehicle, just like they do in Britain.  This will be an entirely new challenge for me, so I won’t be able to talk on the cell phone while driving until I’ve had a little more experience.  In the meantime, just text me and I’ll respond when the traffic thins.

(c) 2012 Ken Klug