Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
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|Days N15 - N24 English Midlands|
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English West Country
North of England
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Time of departure: 8.15 am
Time of arrival: 5.30 pm
Place departed: Bristol, Bristol
Place arrived: Falfield, South Gloucestershire
Cum miles: 248.7
Percent complete: 26.8
Bristol Inn, Falfield *****
Cost for bed and breakfast: £50 ($100)
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Passing Bristol marked a significant milestone. Here I completed the leg of the trip that runs up the British southwest peninsula. Here, also, I passed the 250-mile mark, a 25-percent-complete milestone for the end-to-end hike. In any case, Britain has distinct regions, and Bristol is where the English West Country ends, and the English Midlands begin.
A map showing the regions of Britain, as I defined them, is shown above. The Midlands give way to the North of England just short of Liverpool and Manchester. The North of England then runs through the Lake District to the Scottish border at Carlisle.
Scotland then comes in three stages too. First, you have Southern Scotland, incorporating the southern uplands, which ends at about Glasgow and Edinburgh. Then you have Central Scotland up to the top of the Grampian Mountains, by which time you are definitely in the north of Scotland, or the Scottish Highlands, and are within striking distance of your destination at John o’Groats.
As I indicate, Bristol marks the end of the very first but longest stage. At this point, I realized I had many miles to go, but I also felt I was truly on my way. In good physical condition, I no longer felt awkward about disclosing my destination. After about 250 miles, I had won my stripes as a long-distance hiker, even if I had stopped now.
Yet today was yet another day in which I walked further than my body wanted, in search of elusive accommodation. But it differed from yesterday in that the accommodation, once found, was in a quality hotel instead of a grungy B&B. So, as I first composed today’s report in my journal, I was reposing on a comfortable bed, after a marvelous hot bath, enjoying a spotless, modern room with a flat screen TV, watching the cricket World Cup in the West Indies.
It had been a curiously uneventful day, but I can't say I was in good spirits. A camera store confirmed that I'd lost all my photos. I think now I did it by reinserting the card into the camera, which I had previously programmed to format any card that entered it, thus erasing all previous files. I bought a new memory card at a discounted price that was nevertheless more than double what I pay back home, on the slim chance there were actually useful data still recoverable on the old card. Thankfully, much later, that turned out to be the case. But at the time, the combination of events, when added to the grunge of last night's B&B, dragged down my spirits.
Departing Bristol took at least until noon. It's a large city of extremes, and my first recent look at a British city of this size. The downtown area reminded me of Portland, Oregon with its relationship to the river. It has a maritime flavor as befits its history - with boats, quays, and converted warehouses - plus pedestrian-only streets, good rapid transit, fountains, and smart-enough stores and offices. In morning rush hour, I joined streams of people hurrying to work in urban attire, some women in high heels, as I enjoyed my slower-paced lifestyle with a backpack, boots, and stick. As I walked north, I briefly passed a seedy area, with low-life massage parlors, tattoo studios, and cigarette-infested launderettes. This gave way to a more normal suburbia of wider streets, more salubrious people, mini-supermarkets, car dealers, and modern office parks. At Filton, where Airbus components are built, I saw the "Beluga" A300, which is a tubby conversion of the A300 passenger airplane to ferry large airplane components to assembly plants in France and Germany. Here the British Concorde work was once headquartered, and one of the few Concordes built is on display. Almost across the road is the Rolls-Royce plant at which much of the Concorde's engine development occurred, and the Harrier’s also for that matter.
In a suburban area near here, I had one of many dog encounters that I haven't much described yet. These encounters, like the dogs, come in all shapes and sizes, and occur at least daily. At their most benign, a dog will come to the edge of his yard as I walk by, and wag his tail while watching me quizzically. At their most ferocious, a whole group of large barking and snarling dogs will run along the entire property line fence as I go by on the road, often seeming to be aiming pretty hard for a hole in it – and in biting a hole in me. I am relieved to get past some of these places in one piece, because the dogs can be quite frenetic. Today's encounter was with a group of dogs who raced to the driveway gate, placing their front paws on its top and barking noisily, before walking away wagging their tails at their own fine performance, and then rushing back to the gate for more sport. The encounter was probably less threatening than it was noisy, and I even took a picture.
Finally I reached the real edge of the city and the green fields that I am more used to. I was aiming for Alveston but could find no accommodation when I got there, but also had a listing at nearby Thornbury where the B&B owner that I called sounded like she was out of business and was taking years of grievances out on anyone who now bothered her. It’s so easy to tell when someone has no other thought but to end a phone call. Some people are just plain ornery.
So I continued on the road north, asking people on the street, and publicans, for accommodation guidance. This, by the way, does not always produce informed advice. As the evening sun elongated my shadow on the ground to a monstrous length, I started to get worried about finding no accommodation in what now seemed an endlessly rural landscape. It may be hard for others to understand how vulnerable one can feel with just a backpack when exhausted after dark. My favorite singer, Bob Lind:
"Search every corner of the English afternoon,
Oh Lord, I'll find a way to get there soon".
Eventually, I found the Bristol Inn at Falfield. There the young receptionist, noting my hiking attire and decrepitude, took pity on me and gave me a super room for a great price.
“Was it a nice day for it?” she asked, handing me the plastic key.
“Sure was,” I replied, trying to convey glubs of hiker-appreciation. “It sure was.” A nice room for the night makes the day better.
Having departed the Bristol area, I was now in South Gloucestershire, and would cross into Gloucestershire with my first steps tomorrow.
|Day N14 © 2007 and 2008 Daryl May Day N16|