A few weeks ago I posted (frequently actually) about my completion of the LDWA 100 and I’m delighted to be able to read the stories about the adventures that others have experienced on their attempts to walk 100 miles. Nick Rickard was one such successful completer and given that he was new to the LDWA, that’s a quite amazing achievement. And, not only that, he walked the actual planned route of the 100 in South Wales and he managed to add on a few extra miles as well. I’d say that’s a success.
Incidentally, I love the bit about the elaborate hoax, that would have been some practical joke to play on people……
Nick’s adventure is another entertaining and might I even say inspirational, account, of a walk not without its challenges. And given the solo nature of this walk, I’m very impressed. I would add that although Nick mentions the wettest Welsh spring on record, Dave Morgan would want me to add that it didn’t rain much on the actual event, nor on the weekend that it would have taken place last year 🙂
Anyway, enough weather chat, onto Nick’s story of his brave experiences.
I completed the LDWA Y Sir Fynwy as a virtual event over the late May bank holiday weekend.
I’d joined LDWA a couple of months before and, with the lockdown restrictions, hadn’t had the opportunity to get out for any LDWA events. When I saw the LDWA 100 it caught my interest. Any the virtual format meant that I could enter without any qualifying events; if the event had gone ahead in ‘live’ format I wouldn’t have been able to do it this year as a new joiner.
It was also only a short trip across the Severn Bridge from Bristol to Chepstow so it seemed a good idea to take on a route that others had already planned rather than coming up with my own. With not much free time in the lead up to the weekend, I hadn’t been able to study the route. I’d printed off and downloaded the maps, and had tried to plan my start time to hit towns in daylight for shopping so I was happy that I would be safe. But I would normally like to spend time poring over the map detail to understand where I might go wrong, where the hillier and flatter bits were, etc, so that I can spend more time enjoying the sights and experience.
So feeling more tired than ideal and what is perhaps best described as ‘sub-optimal dietary functions’ I got a lift across to Chepstow school and was pleased to see two others there also about to set off which reassured me that this was real and not an elaborate hoax. I set off shortly before 6am on Saturday morning, immediately passing Chepstow Castle (above) and then out onto the Severn estuary. The first part was flat with constant views across the Severn bridges and I made really good progress. After Severn Tunnel Junction, the route turned inland and the climb up Gray Hill afforded great views back and a hazy view across to the North Devon coast.
Pushing on through Wentwood and past some very friendly and inquisitive young goats – that were brave enough to lick my already slightly aromatic shoes – I made it down into Usk for the first stop where I topped up food and drinks at the local shops.
I was pleased with the fast progress I was making and I was a couple of hours ahead of my hard target of getting to Abergavenny before the shops closed for the evening. It was warming up in the afternoon sun and was warm as the route roughly followed the Usk at low level through fields and woodland.
Reaching Abergavenny, I took full advantage of the kebab shop and convenience store to refuel and resupply ahead of the next long and overnight leg, and spent a while in the glamorous surroundings of a bench by the car park after seeing it was a long and continuous climb on the road out of Abergavenny. The climb was rewarded with a beautiful ridge and panoramic views. Just after descending off this I came across a field of very friendly and very noisy pigs/hogs. It was fine in the daylight but I feared for anyone entering that field in the dark being confronted with a very unusual noise.
On through Llanthony, with a water top up at the campsite tap, and it meant I could do the main climb in, just about, daylight which had been my optimistic target. So I was thrilled to only be putting the headtorch on as I was on top of Hatterrall Ridge and it was lovely along there and the following descent into Longtown.
It was from here that I started to struggle. The, erm, digestive issues, had not gone away and, accompanied by a glitch on my phone mapping app, my nighttime navigation on the paper maps was slower than I wanted. I knew this was a long and unrelenting stretch and morale definitely dropped. I made some silly little navigation mistakes. Especially in Pandy where I spent ages in the housing estate trying to find the way out of the urban maze and wondered how many other residents had been and were yet to be woken by tired people stumbling up and down cul-de-sacs.
The wettest Welsh spring on record conspired for some very slow going fields across the rolling farmland. Whoever in the South Wales LDWA had come up with the idea of small silver reflectors on gateposts, and then going out to physically fix them, was a big help as in some cases it made it easier to cross a field at night compared to day as the target stile reflected back immediately in the headtorch beam rather than trying to pick out which gap in the hedge might be the right one. Especially as the mud meant that there was little trace of a worn path on the ground. Despite being a good night towards the summer solstice, the night section went on far too long for me, possibly not helped that the section I found myself in from Pandy to Monmouth was perhaps the least distinctive.
Daylight brought a lovely sunrise and cloud inversion. By now I was finding the negative in everything so my feet which had previously been wet from all the mud were now wet from all the dew on the long grass! I could feel that so many hours in wet socks was starting to take it’s toll on my feet and then were beginning to feel quite tender.
By chance, a friend of mine was camping on the route about 5k short of Monmouth so as it was now daylight I called in there for a cup of tea and water top up (I hadn’t eaten overnight and knew I wouldn’t eat again before the finish) and got some company on the leg to Monmouth which was really needed as I was struggling to keep any sort of a pace. We met a man in Monmouth who had just finished and I was equal parts happy and jealous knowing that it was a long and increasingly hot and hilly trudge back to Chepstow.
I didn’t enjoy the Monmouth to Chepstow section at all. I was getting slower and slower on my tender feet and unfortunately was too focussed on trying to move forward without making navigational errors that I didn’t pay any attention to the scenery. Texting my lift about estimated finish time saw the target move ever outwards. I was grateful that quite a lot of this was in shade as my now the midday Sunday sun was making for a very warm day. It is probably an unfair perception brought on by my tiredness, but I felt the last bit was rather brutal and whilst off the beaten track perhaps missed some of the sights that the Wye Valley has to offer. Maybe it wouldn’t be the same but I pondered whether an easier run in might have been a better choice.
But I eventually got through Tintern and back to Chepstow school by late Sunday afternoon prompted by the thought of a former friend and his legendary pointy stick that he used to cajole backmarkers into forward progress.
With my navigation errors, and a deliberate detour to see the tunnel entrance at Severn Tunnel Junction, I clocked up just over 105 miles against an advertised 100.8miles. Better value for my entry fee!
I’m really grateful for all the effort that went into the route and event planning and it’s such a shame for South Wales LDWA that they couldn’t have hosted this for real. It was nice to see some other LDWAers and their support crew out as virtual company on my way round. I’d recommend the last leg of Monmouth to Chepstow for anyone wanting a vigorous c20 mile workout.
After shower, kit wash, and bed, the next morning was spent trying to pull my photos, route, and waypoints into the evidence pack required by the validation team. Certainly a learning point for me here. Other virtual events I’ve done have been either on honesty or, for podium prizes (which I never trouble!), a Strava/Garmin gpx track. So having only skim read the evidence email beforehand, I was surprised by the amount of information required by the validation team. Thanks go to them for what must be a very extensive and thorough exercise, and I hope I got enough photos on the way round to support my solo submission; fingers crossed.