That I didn’t immediately shoot down Alex’s idea of walking around Wales together was perhaps a tiny chink of light, a sign that having made the break from teaching and returned to West Wales, I was starting to regain myself, but I don’t think I recognised it at the time. Still, I agreed to the adventure and became as immersed as Alex in the planning and preparation. Perhaps having something to take control of was what I needed. With hindsight, the car accident in November 2008 had left more than physical injuries: I’d stopped feeling like me.
While Alex took responsibility as kit meister, investigating and testing everything from tents to trangier stoves to work out what we absolutely had to have and what we could do without, I checked out routes and researched the practicalities of living out of 2 rucksacks for 3 months around Wales.
The first hurdle
Bearing in mind that there’s a reason why Wales is so green, we weren’t expecting to leave Cardigan in sweltering heat. Even the ever-present Welsh Wind had abandoned West Wales the day we set out along the coast path heading south for Newport, Pembrokeshire. Along with the stifling heat, we clouds of pollen filled the air as we tackled what is one of the toughest and remote sections of the Welsh coast path. Our aim of 14 miles that first day quickly faltered. Our packs were too heavy, we had seriously under-estimated the amount of water we would need to take with us, and at Ciebwr Bay we had to stop.
A day of walking, and my feet were in tatters, covered in blisters, my toe nails knackered (although they didn’t actually fall off until Llantwit Major some weeks later!). The relief of standing in the sea at the end of Day 1 was immense!
Although Alex’s mum came to our aid that day and took away some of the kit we’d quickly realised was unnecessary (we definitely weren’t going to need the thermals, or the spices we’d packed to liven up our meals – and who needs a second bottle of sun cream anyway?), it would have been so easy to throw in the towel. But we weren’t going to give in so easily.
While my inner resources might have been depleted, Alex certainly wasn’t disheartened. We re-evaluated our daily distances, made sure we would have enough water and patched up my feet with as much Compeed as I could lay my hands on. Then we carried on. After Ceibwr, we spent a night in Newport, camping in the garden of a friend’s family cottage. Will and Kate visited us during the walk a couple of times – and from friend to family as Will has joined us at In the Welsh Wind as host and distiller – the circles of friendship spiralling in new directions. From Newport, to Fishguard where I ditched the boots in favour of sandals (with socks – not the most fetching or fashionable combination, but it worked).
Hearing my voice again
At some point during these uncomfortable – and sometimes downright excruciating – first days of the walk, it would have been easy to turn back; to say to Alex “I made a mistake – I can’t do it”. When his mum came to Ceibwr, I could have jumped in the car with her and headed back to Cardigan along with our excess of kit, but I didn’t.
It was hot, so very hot, but along with the discomfort, we experienced moments of breathtaking happiness, even in the first few days of the walk. Spectacular views, the joy of cooling our feet on a deserted beach at the end of a day’s walking, drifting off to sleep and waking to the sound of the sea as we wild camped in remote coves, eating tinned peaches on top of the cliffs at Pwll Deri.
From Pwll Deri we walked into Porthgain and were thanked for our efforts with an amazing sunset and fabulous meal at the Shed. On to Abereiddy and its iconic Blue Lagoon, my feet still in agony, where we took advantage of our proximity to St Davids to take a break to do some planning, and then back out to Whitesands Bay and on to St Davids Head. Despite the pain in my feet, we were making headway.
Completely in it…
Making headway perhaps, but I was still going through the motions to an extent. Yes, there were some perfect days, yes, I was with Alex, off on an adventure, but something was missing.
As we walked between Newport and Porthgain, somewhere around Abercastell, on this remote stretch of coastal path, something switched. Walking along the edge of a cornfield, golden and rustling, I could hear a voice inside my head telling me I could do it. It was the voice that I had been missing, not just since the start of the walk, but since the accident back in 2008. The transformation was immediate. I began to walk a little bit faster, everything became easier. No more going through the motions – I was completely in it.
With my inner drive came clarity. I could do this.