That was a very annoying night. Firstly, it rained a lot and that was noisy. Secondly, a lamb had found its way under the fence into the camping field and couldn’t find its way out again. It spend a good deal of the night bleating for its mother, who in her turn spent a good deal of the night bleating back at it. Thirdly, despite having invested very many pounds in a Vango Venom 300 sleeping bag, which is supposed to be a 3 to 4 season bag, and 4 season when used with a silk liner, I was not as warm as I should have been. Fourthly, when I came to pack up I discovered that my Exped Downmat is trying its best to be a mere Exped Mat as, at deflation time, it started to disgorge several pieces of goose into the tent. None of those pieces of goose was edible, and what is more they blocked the venting hole which made the packing process a good deal longer. Fifthly, when it came to breakfast time, my trusty old flint lighter was damp and refused to produce a spark. As luck would have it I still had an empty piezo-crystal type which, once I had removed the long-redundant flame protector, lit the gas first time, so I could have tea.
I was away around 9 and I discovered that the road along which I had cycled the previous evening in order to get to the camp was now an extension of the village pond.
Since my shoes were already very wet and I had dispensed with socks, this didn’t matter all that much and, if anything, served to clean some of the light brown fondant icing, a mixture of soil and sheep shit, from many of the surfaces to which it clung. I met the farmer, who had come to collect his £4. My verdict on that camp site is that, under normal circumstances, it would be wonderful: peaceful, next to one of the finest of British rivers, the portaloos were well maintained, having pumped water for washing and pumped chemicals for flushing, but having to wander through a shitty swamp to get there took the gilt off the gingerbread rather. I was informed by my host that it has been more than two years since the soil was last as waterlogged as it currently is. For the whole of 2011, which was the driest year for very many in the Welsh borders, it would have been perfect.
Whilst lying in my sleeping bag in the fairly early hours, I had resolved to abandon this trip and return to Hereford, for all the reasons given in my first paragraph. However, the light of day brings a new perspective and my journey towards Hay was gentle and pleasant. Very occasionally the sun tried to break through, but the clouds surrounded and smothered him. There was no wind it wasn’t raining and everything was softened by the damp air – not mist exactly, but an impressionist’s landscape to be sure.
I found a camping shop in Hay and bought a fleece blanket to help stave off the cold nights ahead (frost was forecast – I knew I should have brought my Stormlite) and then indulged in tea an fudge cake in the Isis tea room next door, where I also charged my phone. Not long after my late 11ses I found a pub named the Hollybush. It looked fairly spartan on the outside and there was some construction work going on on the inside which restricted the variety of culinary delights on offer, but a steak sandwich and a pint of Butty Bach later and I left happy. Shortly I crossed the Wye again, in Glasbury, whose canoe hire business was doing none at all, thanks to the high water.
As I left the village I saw the sorry sight of someone’s home surrounded by sandbags as they carried their soggy belongings out onto the pavement.
My route continued with the Wye on my left. As I cycled upstream the water became increasingly “white” and every so often I caught a glimpes of rapids through the trees.
The road was straight and the gradient was gentle, and it wasn’t until I crossed a bridge over another road that I realised I had been cycling along an old railway. This was confirmed when I reached the old Erwood station which had been converted to a tea room. I did my nepotal duty and bought and wrote a post card to Aunt Phyllis.
I was very close to my destination for the night when I saw a flock of sheep behaving rather oddly. I then noticed a dog behind them and the farmer who was shouting and whistling instructions to the dog. It was a wonderful sight as the dog patrolled left and right, or stopped and lay down, all the time driving 100 or so sheep and lambs towards the gate where the farmer was waiting.
A few minutes later I arrived at the Boatside camp site. I wandered around until I spied a man trying to bully a hymn out of an out-of-tune piano. I knocked on the window to gain his attention, he called his wife and I was offered a cup of tea, which I accepted, over which we discussed the political situation à propos of the local election results. I was then shown to the flat, well-tended, sheep-free, dry spot where I could pitch my tent right next to the shower-cum-toilet block and asked if I would like breakfast in the morning
I pitched the tent, enjoyed a beautiful hot shower, put some clean clothes on and then disappeared to the Seven Stars in Aberedw, about a mile back along the road, where I demolished duck, veg and chips washed down with two pints of Felinfoel Double Dragon. Ominously, there was an individual at the bar warning of forecasts of -5°C for Saturday or Sunday night.