31st March – Shifnal to Penkridge

20190331 Lunch by Shropshire Union Canal
Lunch stop by the Shropshire Union Canal

After a good nights sleep and a wholesome breakfast Karen and I returned to Shifnal to resume my walk at 9.30.  It was good to have some company as unfortunately today’s walk consisted of lots of road walking interspersed with field paths.

20190331 Typical field path near Longnor
Typical field path near Longnor

The trail mainly followed the Monarch’s Way, the route taken by Charles 2nd when fleeing from the Battle of Worcester.  We were hoping to get coffees at the Royal Oak at Bishop’s Wood but they seemed to be closed – perhaps the only pub in the UK closed at lunchtime on Mothering Sunday!

We continued on our way via Black Ladies’ Priory, and stopped at the Shropshire Union Canal for lunch. From there we split up, Karen returning to Shifnal whilst I continued to Mitton and Penkridge arriving around 4.20.

20190331 Penkridge church
Penkridge church

My room at the Littleton Arms is small but comfortable and I managed to get a table in the restaurant, where I sat surrounded by families celebrating Mothering Sunday.

On a practical note I am pleased that I brought OS maps with me and am not totally dependent on my guidebook.  Inevitably things have changed since the guide was written and it is true to say that in places a good deal of interpretation is required.

30th March – Much Wenlock to Shifnal

20190330 Talbot Inn Much Wenlock
The Talbot Inn, Much Wenlock

The Talbot Inn was very comfortable, and after a cooked breakfast I left at 8.45.

20190329 Guildhall Much Wenlock
The Guildhall

My route took me past the Guildhall, the scene of a minor epic many years ago.  In 1976 Linda and I had a camping holiday in the area and stopped in the town to find a campsite and to get some provisions.  Like most newly married couples we did not have much money, I seem to remember that we subsisted mainly on liver and onions with mashed potato and carrots.  While Lin did the food shopping I went to the Tourist Information which was in the Guildhall. When I was ready to leave I discovered that the door was locked and as the windows were barred I could not get out.

20190330 Barred window at the Guildhall
No escape by this route…

I went up into the council chamber and luckily managed to call down to Lin and explain what had happened.  She eventually tracked down the person responsible who was not very happy about having his lunch disturbed!

The walk over to Ironbridge was in thick mist and I managed to make a small navigation error leading me to walk 360 degrees around a field before finally finding the exit.  Bentall Woods above Ironbridge has many footpaths and can be confusing: I would have done better to just follow the Shropshire Way signs rather than the book.

20190330 Canal at Coalport
The Coalport Canal

Ironbridge finally came into view and crossing the famous bridge I stopped for coffee at the YHA hostel in Coalport.

20190330 Steps beside the Hay incline
Steps beside the Hay Incline

After climbing up beside the Hay Incline and crossing a golf course I entered Brockton, a very pretty village. I met a delightful young lady riding a horse and we chatted away for a while before she turned into Brockton Grange, an enormous Georgian house.  She stopped at the large decorative gates and used her mobile phone to dial in the code to get them to open!!

I carried on to Shifnal arriving at the station 3.01 pm. Unfortunately Karen was at the station car park and it took a few minutes to sort things out. We finally met up and went for tea and cakes at a garden centre where Karen had the most enormous piece of Victoria sponge that we had ever seen.

20190330 Karen about to enjoy her slice of cake
Karen poised to enjoy her cake!

Arriving at Karen’s house she very kindly cooked us a delicious dinner, which we enjoyed with a bottle of Malbec.  Despite this we remembered to change the clocks.

29th March – Craven Arms to Much Wenlock

20190329 Stokesay Inn
The Stokesay Inn shrouded in morning mist

A perfect day to restart my walk. All went well yesterday. Pam, my neighbour, very kindly took me to Didcot station. All the trains ran on time and I reached the Stokesay Arms by mid afternoon.

20190329 path left the trees
One of the few times the path left the trees

I left the pub at 7.00 this morning, and Subway provided a bacon roll and coffee for breakfast.  I departed Craven Arms at 7.45 and used field paths, basically following the Quinney Brook, to reach Strefford.  From there the path climbed steeply up to Wenlock Edge, which I was to follow for the rest of the day.  Once in Strefford Wood I hit the first problem, a large notice saying no entry due to felling operations.  As it was still quite early, I could not hear any activity and there was no real alternative route I ignored the sign.  Sure enough there was nothing happening and I quickly reached the top and with some relief walked out of the affected area.

20190329 Long Mynd
Temperature inversion – the Long Mynd floats above the mist

The walking on Wenlock Edge is mostly in woods with very restricted views across to the Long Mynd. There was however a good example of temperature inversion with cloud filling the valley and Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd in sunshine. Despite the lack of views the walking was wonderful with large expanses of wood anemones, violets and some primroses all with the background scent of wild garlic.

20190329 Wood anemones
Wood anemones

I must remember that my guidebook author has a tendency to leave the obvious route and wander up hill and down dale for no sensible reason.  Today I followed his route hoping to see Ippikins Rock, which could just be glimpsed through the trees.  It certainly did not justify leaving an old railway track, ascending and descending about 50m on a muddy path to come back down the the track I had just left!

20190329 Guildhall Much Wenlock
Much Wenlock Guildhall

I reached Much Wenlock at 3.30 having covered around 29k.  The Talbot Inn is very comfortable and provided an excellent meal.

28th March 2019 – Restarting the journey

I am heading off for Craven Arms today to restart my slightly adjusted journey, now making for Dunnet Head.  Since recovering from my hernia operation in November, and a quick trip to Canada after Christmas, I have been back in training.

All was fine up to the end of February when I caught a cold and had to stop for a few weeks. Since then things had been going well until I made a novice’s mistake based on complacency. At the end of February I walked around 55k over two days wearing the boots I planned to use on the journey.  I had no problems and I do not normally get blisters. I therefore set off for a training session confident that the boots were fine. They were but my heel got a blister which has now got worse. Unfortunately it is too big for Compeed so I am trusting that a few days in sandals, with exposure to the air, will sort it out before Friday.  Luckily I have another pair of boots that I can use, which are kinder to my feet and will just have to get on with it. Last year I collected some inspirational sayings to help when things were hard and two seem appropriate. ” Stop thinking just start” and “Suck it up!”

This year I will have several friends joining me as I head north, which will be great as it will be good to have a mixture of company and also time for solitary walking and reflection. The first two weeks will be filling in the gap from Craven Arms to Horton in Ribblesdale.  My brother Alan will then pick me up and take me back to West Linton and I will follow the original route to Fort William via the West Highland Way.  From Fort William I will go up the Great Glen to Inverness ,and then take a week out to join my MAC friends for a week Munro-collecting in Braemar. Then it is back to Inverness and the last 12 days going up the new John O’Groats Trial and across to Dunnet Head.  I will be staying in hostels, B&B’s and hotels so that I can reduce the weight in the rucksack by not carrying camping equipment.  Alan is joining me for the last week for logistic support.

Many thanks to everyone who has supported me both financially and also with words of encouragement.  It does make a big difference to know that friends are willing me on. As last year I will try to be as honest as possible and update the blog daily.  Katy will add some photographs whenever possible.


19th October – Update since August

Since returning to Wantage I have been trying to sort out my hernia repair operation and am delighted to report that it will take place at the Great Western Hospital, at Swindon, on November 12th. The NHS have turned up trumps as I was expecting a much longer wait.

The consultant is very confident that I should recover quickly and be able to resume my trip in the spring. My plan is to restart at the end of March at Craven Arms, walk to Horton in Ribblesdale and then catch a train to Darlington. Alan will take me up to West Linton and I will walk to Fort William as originally planned. When I leave Fort William I will now use the Great Glen Way to journey to Inverness. I take a break there to join my friends in MAC for our May meet in Braemar. Returning to Inverness I will follow a new Trail up the east coast to John O’Groats. Two days walking on roads should see me at Dunnet Head at the end of May.

This means that I can finish the trip at the most northerly point in the UK. More important, I will not have to carry camping equipment so I can travel much lighter. The route will not be as interesting as the Cape Wrath Trail, but I am not prepared to run the risk of another hernia problem in country where the only means of escape would be by helicopter.

I was able to visit Cape Wrath, with Alan, at the end of September when we were staying at Durness. We were very lucky as the ferry was only able to operate one day that week. That was the one day when we did not get torrential rain or gale force winds and I was pleased to be in a comfortable cottage rather than a tent.