Monday 22nd January 2007
Distance Walked: 22.7 miles
Start Time: 8:44
End Time: 17:12
Elapsed Time: 8:28
Weather: Bitterly cold and windy.
Distance walked so far: 176.6 miles
It was only when my freshly washed clothes were returned to me by the landlady at the Okehampton B&B that I realised that my pants were previously so stiff that they could’ve walked to Scotland by themselves, which, given the state of my limbs, would’ve been a great help. Instead I hobbled out of Okehampton as the glowering school kids flooded towards their lair, and crawled into Crediton as they spilled back out into the world again. Even the fact that I wasn’t stuck in the Monday morning traffic jam on the way to work (this is my work, at least for now!) couldn’t cheer my spirits.
It’s the pain, y’see. It consumes everything. Every step becomes a catalogue of sensations. Blisters below the toes, and blisters forming above. The twinge in the ankle. The throbbing knee. The slowly swelling shin. I cycle through the four limps at my disposal and try to decide which one is the least horrendous. At least it keeps my mind off the weather, for today it is cold. Really cold. And the wind forces itself through the layers and into the places where I don’t want places. Or wind.
When people heard about what I was intending to do, one of the main reasons for their incredulity seemed to be that I was choosing the worst possible time of the year to do it. And they were right. Winter in Britain can be grim. It’s not the snow, particularly, as that is increasingly rare these days. It’s the drops in temperature, and bitter winds, and mainly the overwhelming greyness of it all. Britain can be a miserable place in winter, and I was planning to walk northwards, straight into the heart of grimness.
But, so far, the timing of the stomp has only brought benefits. For a start, I have the paths and lanes to myself. I’ve hardly seen another walker so far, and the isolation is liberating. I fart and burp and piss freely, wherever I choose. I roll into towns and villages with the confidence that there will be room at the inn. No pre-booking for me, and with it the ability to tailor the length of my walks to match my appetite each day. And I’m able to drift into my own world, free from distractions.
For I’m in Devon now, and at this pace I’m able to slowly absorb the subtle changes in the scenery. There’s slightly more space here. Cornwall seemed squeezed. The hills were steep, the houses piled onto the cliff faces. Devon breathes a little easier. The slopes are more gentle, the gradients softer. The reddish hues of the earth here are more vibrant than anything I’ve seen so far. I relish the change.
I walk through the pretty village of Spreyton, and the procession of picture-perfect, thatched roofed cottages begins. Spreyton is the kind of place that competes for, and wins, Best Dressed Village awards. It must be a nightmare to live there. Then it’s more tarmac lanes, punishing the feet, until Crediton, which seems to consist solely of a long, drab high street with a succession of dour, dusty or derelict shops.
At the B&B, the owners are clearly veterans of catering for end-to-enders. They’ve seen it all before. They have one regular, they say, who is 83 and who recently completed the walk for the ninth time. Takes him nine months to do it, they say. What an idiot, he must be insane, I think, as I plan my route for tomorrow.
Song of the day:
“Dangerous Heady Love Scheme”
With the wind /
Through my senses /
Always with the wind /
Come dangerous heady love scheme