I'm sitting in the back of a parked Discover Adventures mini-bus. My head is lolling. My back hurts whichever way I array it; but I haven't the energy to keep wriggling around.
I'm covered in salt. Plus dust.
The stoney, Tetris-like profile of Stonehenge is visible out the little window, through which a little merciful breeze blows. Or is it a mirage? Did I finish? Or did I die on the trail, my heart exploding in the hills as the unrelenting sun baked my head?
All I know for sure is I'm seriously ready to go home.
But a scant twenty-four hours earlier . . .
. . . I've got that ole lighter than air feeling, springy hiking boots and hiking socks, airy shorts, strolling free as a bird in the sunlight to a new adventure. I'm hopping the Circle Line remarkably, I catch a train in two minutes, on the Line that I've said runs so infrequently it's like it doesn't exist, to which I've added that smart Londoners should simply treat as if it doesn't exist to Paddington Station. There I hop a train going Swindon-way in about another two minutes, then get busy napping in the air conditioned peace of the Quiet Carriage. Rock.
Now I'm at the Swindon bus depot, sitting way up high in the bus, glass all around me, commanding view. The only real dominant note I get from Swindon is terrifyingly pretty and dangerously scantily clad underage girls one or two of them already pushing prams. I swap texts and calls with Sara (lovely 'Good luck! You can do it!' message), Tim ('Ok blogging started! New interface.'), and Anna ('Have I got wine at home?')
I'm getting peckish, so I crack open the bale of trail mix in my bag. Regular readers will recall I've been suffering from a spot of tummy trouble. Now, eating is going to be solely about jacking the calorie/mass ratio into the stratosphere. I've somehow got to feed my muscles enough juice to walk 26.2 miles across the Wiltshire Hills without feeding my colon enough ammunition that I become a rocket-fired crap cannon, blasting my way across the previously green countyside.
It's going to be a delicate balance.
The bus pulls out of the bay.
We pass a couple of nice-looking pubs plus a 'Beer Garden Motel Lounge'! Sounds like the best of Bavaria mated with the best of the American Highway, right here in the English countryside.
Though that countryside does start getting worryingly hilly plus I'm by now baking in my glass-walled, bus-fronting slow roaster. And I've only bought the one shirt, which I'm now sweating through. On the upside, there's somewhere between a 0% and 10% chance of precipitation for tomorrow. So I've also left behind my Gore-tex. Not even an umbrella. All in, dealer!
So the stone circle here is referred to as a 'henge'. (This seems to be the generic term, taken from Stonehenge, which itself is Norse for 'hanging rocks'.) It's 4,500-5,000 years old. Um. That's about all I absorbed, actually. There's a lot of history about it being unearthed, and polished up, and whatnot.
The inevitably totally lovely B&B matron also gave me, along with a tour of the house, a bit of rundown on the area. She also brought up the delicate topic of breakfast. So, not only could I not eat anything, I had to eat it early enough to make the walk start at 7am. She has no problem feeding us at 6.30 she says something about her husband having to get up at five to do the milking anyway and Tim will surely benefit.
I ease on out into the back garden. (Remember, you can use your arrow keys to flip through pictues now! Enough of this 'reading'.)
I ease on out into the village which is perfectly circumscribed by the stones. But I end up at this tiny bit of marsh shooting high-zoom movies of this beautiful family of red-billed waterfowl.
What Avebury is not surrounded by is mobile coverage. Standing in a field, I unexpectedly get one bar. I freeze, then jump with my arm in the air, trying to send my queued texts.
I duck into the Red Lion, just to sort of scope out their beers and dinner menu. Just for Tim, really, you know. Perilously, they're serving a butternut squash, spinach, lentil, and spicy coconut curry. Boy, does that sound awesome. And, boy, would that be a colossal error. Also nice-looking salads and sides. Bastards! <shakes fist>
I clench my teeth and continue bimbling.
The H4H website was unfortunately a little vague on our actual meeting point in the morning. My main takeaway was, 'by the stones'. I now realise that's the whole town. I've only spotted one guy who looks like he's definitely here for the walk he's outside the pub, drinking lager, sporting a bergen (military ruck) and an olive green keffeiyah around his neck. He's also scary-looking as hell, but I brace myself and approach.
It turns out he's not only not here for the walk though he was in the TA (Territorial Army, the equivalent of the U.S. Army Reserve) 40 years ago but he's also mad. Seems friendly enough at first. Chatty. Griping about aches and pains, as he's just completed five days of walking out on Salisbury Plain. Then he mentions something about alien abduction, which I assume is some kind of metaphor for how one feels after days hiking alone in the country. Then he mentions waking in his tent, totally wet. "The police said it was just dew. But I've never seen dew in a sleeping bag, when the ground all around is totally dry." The police? It finally transpires that he called the police this morning to report his abduction by aliens.
I smile and make my apologies and back very carefully and quickly away. I suppose I might have expected something like this on the site of an ancient stone circle.
I repair to the cool silence of the B&B sitting room. (It's Avebury Manor Farm, by the way, questionable website, but stunning facilities and hospitality.) On the coffee table before an actual divan are this week's edition of… [click here if you care to read a long digression where I take the piss out of Jane Austen and the local paper]
Thirty minutes after I sit down, the front door bell rings. It's Tim. We repair to the Red Lion for drinks. The walk awaits!
On the coffee table before an actual divan are this week's edition of the Marlborough and Pewsey Gazette & Herald, a volume of the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen (illustrated), and Absolutely Typical The Best of Social Stereotypes from the Telegraph Magazine. I go with Jane, munching at my organic bird food.
I read the Jane Austen for 15 minutes, looking for something suitably witty or wise to put down here. But I read for 15 minutes in vain. I turn instead to the Gazette. The top three headlines, I swear to the aliens who built the stone circle, are:
- Scarecrows Raise Charity Cash
- Classic Machines At Steam Rally
- Blaze Wrecks Boat Man Arrested on Suspicion of Arson Following Fight on Towpath
I'm really out here, aren't I? I brave pages two and three:
- Approval of Mega-Dairy Sparks Boos
- Tool Theft Blow for Mechanics
My God. I'm just about to pull the veil of charity down on the Gazette, when I spot this. Awesome:
Mark Stevens, from Swindon, is planning to complete the route between St Bees in Cumbria and Robin Hood’s Bay in Whitby in 12 days.
Mr Stevens, 41, is a warrant officer with the Royal Logistics Corps, stationed at Wilton near Salisbury.
He said: “I’ve always loved that part of the country and I’m a keen walker.”
The 190-mile route was made famous by fell walker Alfred Wainwright and crosses three national parks as well as the Cleveland Hills and North York Moors.
Also made famous by us!(hide)