WALK 24 : OVER THE BRIDGE TO WALES – FROM SEVERN BEACH, BRISTOL TO LLANTWIT MAJOR.

Severn Beach again.  A day of low cloud and wet mist.  I walked the last four miles of the English coast to the Severn Road Bridge.

I never listen to music when I walk: I find it distances me from my surroundings and the natural world, but as I walked across the Bridge my head was full of the grand opening bars of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto!  Descending from the bridge into Wales, lost in musical daydreams, I suddenly met Mortey, or as he put it as he pumped my hand: “Hey I’m Mortey, from Noo Joisey, how ya doin’?”.  We chatted for a while, out of the rain, in the lea of the bridge.

All the way over the bridge security men and maintenance personnel had smiled and waved, one said “Welcome to Wales” (with a rueful grin at the rainclouds), others just checked that I was OK.

In some indefinable way I was aware that this was not just another walk: the coast of England was now behind me, from the first moment Wales felt like another country, as if I was abroad, just as I had felt when I crossed from Carlisle into Scotland: Walk 6 on this blog.  (I was often aware of feeling a stab of panic when I saw signs written in Welsh, and momentarily felt as if I had slipped into a parallel universe).

It took three days to reach Cardiff, walking the Gwent Levels beside the Severn Estuary, as the coasts of Somerset and Devon gradually receded from sight the further west I walked.  The views were enormous, but featureless and unspecific: big skies, wide views, clouds hanging down low to the horizon, and silver light over the sea.  Coastal marshes, mud, salt flats, and rustling reed beds.

I stayed at the Youth Hostel in Cardiff, in a dormitory with a constantly changing cast of characters.  On arrival I met Paxton, as he said very specifically “from the Malvinas”.  “I never liked Margaret Thatcher” he added, and then “I’m a left wing intellectual; I write books; look me up on Google”.  We had breakfast together one morning, after which he said “Enjoy your walk; look me up”.  (Subsequently I did!).

Brian was there too.  From Kent, he had walked from Land’s End to Bristol and was now walking the Wales Coast Path in weekly segments.  We found ourselves very much on the same wave length but I think we were both surprised to meet another long distance walker!  We talked long and interestingly about many things.

Brexit, like the elephant in the room, haunted every conversation.  I woke several times during the night of Thursday 23rd June and checked the news online.  At 6.10am I read that the nation had voted Out.  That night I was sharing the dormitory with Obinze and Vin.  When he heard the result of the Referendum Obinze, a lawyer down in Cardiff for an interview, walked round the room clutching his head repeating “Oh my God.  Oh my God”.  Vin was equally horrified but confined himself to observing that “The turkeys have just voted for Christmas”.

The Welsh appeared to have voted strongly for Out; nonetheless their conversation and overriding interest of the moment had seemed to be the European Cup in France.  On Monday their team, known widely as “The Boys”, thrashed Russia three nil to wild enthusiasm back in Wales.  Next morning a number of people asked me whether I had watched the match: “Did you see The Boys?”.  (I did!).

Clive, from Canada, was also in the dormitory for a couple of nights.  He was up early both mornings, checking the closing stock markets online; thinking globally, he thought that Brexit would prove positive.  Hans-Gunter, Bavarian with an Einstein hairstyle, agreed saying that in his opinion we should Leave.  When Clive pointed out that Mrs. Merkel might not approve Hans-Gunter merely growled!

Walking down Lloyd George Avenue to Mermaid Quay I crossed the Cardiff Bay Barrage.  In Penarth I asked in a shop for directions.  The cashier came out into the street to point the way to me: “You can’t go wrong, darling”.  Her advice was corroborated by another lady: “Just straight along the seafront, my love”.  I stopped at Barry Island for a Gavin & Stacey moment: sitting on the steps where they had filmed the happy ever after scene in the final episode.

I returned to the Youth Hostel for the night: Clive was still in the dormitory and we were joined by two young Americans on a kind of three week pre-Gap Year trip.  At three in the morning Dafydd came in to use the remaining bed; from Pembroke he was in Cardiff for work and next morning wanted to know about my walk: “How far have you walked? … Cracking!  … It’s a long way round Wales, boy … 870 miles … Tidy!”.

Finally I reached Llantwit Major: the first time I had felt free of urban sprawl, Newport, Cardiff, railways, the M4, industrial blight and perimeter fences.  Just after Cardiff the landscape had changed too: at long last the Severn mud and salt marshes had been replaced by stoney beaches and a line of low limestone cliffs.  Open country beckoned ahead!

© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2016.

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