It’s 12:30pm. We’ve just driven down from Lincolnshire and my husband drops me off on the Wales Coast Path, at the car park near the Severn Tunnel Junction station.
It looks like the middle of nowhere and I am feeling unusually anxious. It will be dark in 4 hours time and I have 8 or 9 miles to cover. I’m such a slow walker!
The roar of traffic hits me and I remember I must be very close to the M4 motorway. Sure enough, a few minutes of walking later, and I cross over the road. I’m surprised to see cars queuing at toll booths, and then I remember the Second Severn Crossing Bridge is only a couple of miles away.
The roar of traffic is still loud in my ears, but the track I’m walking on looks reassuringly rural. A sign informs me I am on a private road, but the picture of a cow is slightly alarming. I was hoping Wales would be full of sheep, not cattle.
Around the bend and my heart sinks. I’m on a very long, very straight track, part of the National Cycle Network (this is Route 4 that runs from London to Fishguard). Cycle tracks are great for cyclists, but make for boring walking.
Luckily the Wales Coast Path branches off to the left. My spirits lift. I’m now heading towards the shore of the Severn Estuary. Towards the coast. At last!
Unfortunately my new track is very, very muddy. It’s been raining constantly for days in south Wales. As I wade through a giant puddle I realise the water has a strange gloopy thickness and is an unusually bright shade of green. It is only when my boots are thoroughly coated in the stuff that I realise I’m wading through liquid cow slurry. Yuck.
I’m glad when I reach the end of the track and can climb onto the bank of the estuary. This is more like it. The sun is shining and I have a marvellous view looking back at the Second Severn Crossing bridge. Further up still, and I can just make out the supporting towers of the first Severn Bridge. I feel like I’m meeting old friends again.
I turn away from the bridges. Time to get on with my walk while the daylight lasts.
Now I’m heading west and into the sun, which is low on the horizon, blinding me. A strong wind is blowing in my face. The bank stretches into the distance. Flat and featureless. This is like walking the endless sea walls in Essex, all over again.
But I have to make the most of it. At least it’s flat and, despite the wind and muddy surface, I should be able to make good progress. Head down. Onwards.
A sick nausea in my stomach makes me realise I’m hungry. I’ve been concentrating on getting the miles done and have forgotten about lunch. It’s nearly 2pm, still sunny and I’m warm despite the wind. But dark clouds are banking up in the west. I should stop before the weather changes.
I find a spot on the bank, choosing the inland slope to escape the worst of the wind. The grass is damp and there are thistles everywhere, so I take off my fleece to provide something to sit on. I’m slightly chilly in my T-shirt, but enjoy my meal – sausages, cheese and fruit cake.
From a safe distance I watch the cows in the next field.
After lunch I pick up my pace. It’s wonderful how much faster you can go with a bit of food in your stomach.
The shore is beginning to curve and I know I will soon lose sight of my bridges. I turn round for one last look and a final photograph.
It’s hard to know where I am exactly, but inland I see a village with a church tower. I don’t stop to pull out my map (time is ticking) but later I check and realise I’m passing Redwick.
Onwards into the sun. I meet a solitary fisherman. He’s the first person I’ve seen since the cyclists on Route 4, two hours ago. He’s caught a trout and we look at the clouds blowing up the estuary and discuss whether the rain is coming our way. Maybe it will veer inland.
In the field below me I see a farmer leading a sheep on a rope. Actually, the sheep is leading him, as it tries to run ahead. It’s a strange sight. He gives the animal an occasional thwack with a stick to make it go in the right direction. I would like to take a photo of this, but the farmer glares at me and I lose my nerve.
Just beyond the fisherman is a private section of bank. I pull out my map and realise I’ve crossed over from my old OS 154 to OS 152. New territory! Always exciting.
This must be Porton House. For some reason it has been painted a hideous shade of pink. Would be fine in Suffolk. But looks all wrong here. And the PRIVATE PROPERTY sign lists 6 things which you must not do. Sigh. As soon as I read it I get the terrible urge to do everything on the list.
The private stretch of bank only lasts 200 yards or so. I pass through another gate and now I can do all the forbidden things if I want to, but I’ve lost the urge, of course.
The wind picks up, blowing straight into my face. And the clouds in front are very dark indeed. I stop to put on my waterproofs, just in time, as the first drops hit me. Hard. It’s hail! Ouch.
I pull my hood up, tuck my head down and march on. And I don’t see the fisherman until I’m right on top of him. He is hunched over a bundle of something on the ground. It looks like a large backpack, but as I walk past I see a pair of feet sticking out.
What? There’s a body in that bundle! For one moment I wonder if I’m walking past a mad murderer.
Then I realise it must be the fisherman’s son, who has crawled into a foetal position and covered himself in his father’s coat, leaving just his feet showing. His father is hunched over to protect him further from the hail.
The hailstorm lasts for 20 minutes and then, suddenly, it stops. The sun slants in under the dark clouds and I turn back to see the shoreline glowing – and a rainbow – as the storm moves on up the estuary.
I’ve reached a place called Gold Cliff. The footpath continues onwards, but appears to come to a dead stop a short way ahead. The official Wales Coast Path turns inland at this point and so I step down off the bank and walk up a track, towards the village where I’m meeting my husband.
Looking back at the river bank, from the landward side, I can see the fisherman and his son on the ridge. They look as though they’re standing under the end of the rainbow.
The sunlight is wonderful. I walk past Elm Tree Farm and follow the footpath through muddy fields.
The path passes along the edge of a wild fowl reserve. There are bird hides built into the bank and I squint through one of the windows. Ahead is a maze of lakes and in the distance are the chimneys of an industrial area. That must be the edge of Newport.
As I squelch along a water-logged track, I see a group of sheep walking along the bank beside me.
The hail storm has left me soaking wet, mud covers the lower third of my trousers and my boots are coated with liquid goo. But this has been a lovely day and, despite my fears, I’ve still got an hour of sunlight left.
I find my husband’s car. It’s empty and I wonder how he has coped with the wind and the hailstorm on his bike. I manage to scrape most of the mud off my boots and climb into the car to wait for him, just before it starts raining again.
Miles walked today = 9
Miles from the beginning = 1,627