Welcome to LEJoG Day 19, and the 50FootHead origin story

Day 19 pre-amble

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”, so they say. I’m not claiming this blog to be a “mighty oak” just yet. However I am using the phrase for the title of Day 19. Because this was the day that Charles’s suggestion of writing a LEJoG blog fused with my experiences of mental health and the idea of combining the two stories first came to mind. It was a real “lightbulb moment”. My main obstacle to creating a blog was the difficulty in finding anything unique to say about the walk. But if that isn’t the only journey you decide to write about, suddenly many other avenues open up.

In fact “Little Acorns” to me was always more a White Stripes song (from ‘Elephant’) than a common saying. Not only that, it’s a song specifically written about facing and overcoming problems one tiny step at a time. This makes it even more apposite for the blog.

Day 19 itself was, fittingly enough, the most trying so far. This is where the “big diversions” come in. First, a non-negotiable bovine roadblock added around 1½ miles to my route. Later, some careless navigation and forced backtracking added about the same unnecessary distance. And even before I started, there were problems…

LEJoG Day 19 (Monday 28 May 2018)

Bishops Lydeard to Bridgwater (15½ miles, but should have been 12½)

Cumulative: 260 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 25 minutes. Average speed: 3.51 mph. Weather: Very warm all day, almost cloudless.

Practicalities: This should have been straightforward. Drove from the Lethbridge Arms to Bridgwater and parked at Salmon Parade. The car park was near the bus station and close to the hotel I’d booked. This made it a good jump-off point for Day 20’s walk to Glastonbury in June. Then it should have been a case of catching the 11am bus back to Bishops Lydeard, walking and returning to my car by mid-afternoon.

Somerset is not familiar to me. On all previous bus journeys this weekend I checked my location on GPS so I knew when to get off. Somehow – somehow! – this morning I forgot this sensible policy. I saw a bus stop near a roundabout that looked like the one next to the Lethbridge Arms. And even though I instinctively knew the stop had come around too soon, I got off the bus.

I was two miles too early. Tried to walk to my starting point on a 50mph A-road. After about a mile I ran out of footway and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Cut my losses and waited for the next bus, which would be passing in about ¾ hour. It was a warm day and I sat outside the bus shelter, facing away from the road and towards what looked like a military building. After 20 minutes or so of perfectly innocent phlegmatic waiting around I noticed the CCTV. And just as I had the first inkling that sitting alone facing a military installation (and occasionally getting my mobile phone out) perhaps wasn’t the wisest of moves, out came the security guard to ask what I thought I was doing.

I let him approach without changing my stance or looking remotely embarrassed or furtive. Immediately surmised that complete honesty – however dumb it sounded – was the best policy. Let’s face it, the explanation was not something Tailor would have concocted. Although, as ever these days, truth proved stranger than fiction later this year. Also I had the bus timetables in my pocket to back it up. Naturally I asked if it would be better if I went back in the shelter and faced the other way. The security guy responded in the affirmative, and we went our respective ways.

It was this place, incidentally.

Eventually I got on the right bus and the walk could finally begin.

The walk

Start: Lethbridge Arms, Bishops Lydeard, 1:05pm. End: Salmon Parade car park, Bridgwater, 5:40pm.

The first aim of today’s route was to re-connect with the Macmillan Way West without retracing too many of my steps from yesterday, so here’s the MWW long distance path map again.

Headed north from the inn, and on reaching Pound Lane turned E towards East Lydeard. After a left into Tetton Lane, crossed a field on the marked footpath and rejoined the road briefly at Middlebrooks. After crossing the stream, took a wide footpath N toward Toulton, passing farm buildings on the left, and then turned right into Cushuish Lane. At the point where the lane turned sharp right, I proceeded directly E along the footpath. This leads to another footpath that heads north towards Ivyton Farm, at which point I was back on the Macmillan Way West. For the record, it was on the approach to Ivyton Farm that my “lightbulb moment” occurred and the first little acorns were planted.

A brief road section is followed by a descent to Raswell Farm. This is via a soil footpath which could be muddy in poor weather. Then there’s a reasonably arduous climb – by today’s standards at least – on similar ground, leading to the road junction shortly before the village of Broomfield. A church, some large houses, a man playing cricket with his son on his front lawn. Into a wooded area east of Broomfield, past a small lake, right down Shelthorn Hill and a left turn into the woods. It all seemed very idyllic and I was making rapid progress. Heading east towards Rooks Castle Farm, my only decision was whether to follow the red line of the MWW all the way to Bridgwater, or avoid the double-back and head north towards Goathurst and pick up Andy Robinson’s route.

The cows of Stream Farm made the decision for me. I hadn’t come across a bovine welcoming party since Trelights on Day 7. That one was a minor incident which added less than half a mile to my day. This was more serious. They were blocking the path completely, staring at nothing but me and responding to every slight move I made toward them. I turned back on myself: had already lost 20 minutes by the time I was back on Shelthorn Hill. Climbed it and followed the road north to Goathurst, which was less direct than the footpath I would have taken if granted the luxury of choosing Robinson over Macmillan.

At least it was quick, and largely free of traffic. Once in Goathurst I aimed to follow Robinson all the way to Bridgwater. I won’t reprint the route here though, because I failed miserably. Generally I am an excellent driver-navigator, completely eschewing the sat-nav for instance. But on foot I have certain unhelpful tendencies: not consulting a compass or GPS soon enough (or, as in today’s case, not even having one with me) and ignoring niggling instinctive doubts that are usually spot on.

So, today I headed east next to Cobb’s Cross Stream, needed to continue east but instead followed a field border south as far as Oakenford Farm. Look at the map and you’ll work out that someone with my tendencies would inevitably mistake Oakenford Farm for Millford Farm. Thus I carried on along the footpath, wondering why I hadn’t crossed a road yet (the niggling doubt). When I finally did reach the road I thought I was somewhere near Shortlands Farm, and was horrified to see a sign for Goathurst village, which I was now approaching from the SE, having completed a semi-circle since Cobb’s Cross Stream.

This was actually the first moment of genuine despair on LEJoG. Not only was I infuriated with my mistake and my complacency, I was asking why the hell I was even bothering. Retracing my steps to Oakenford Farm, if I’d told someone this is how I’d spent my Bank Holiday weekend, and they’d told me they’d had a “dirty weekend” in a hotel, it would have broken me like a twig there and then. While I was chuffed with the blog idea, it would require absolute honesty to make it work. The idea of confessing to such sadness had absolutely no appeal in that moment. Just to round it off, I’d also managed to leave my remaining full water bottle behind after stopping to check GPS.

When facing down a minor existential crisis, the only solution is absolute mental focus. So I abandoned both Robinson and Macmillan and decided to follow the roads back to Bridgwater. No danger of getting lost, no need to check maps for footpaths, stiles etc. Headed E from Oakenford Farm, turned right and then left along Rhode Lane. After a mile or so, reached a built-up area and the suburb of Hamp, where I stopped to buy much-needed fluids. Turned left up the A38 and crossed the River Parrett, with Salmon Parade almost immediately on my left after the river.

All of today’s route – the wrong way, the right way, the Macmillan Way, should be clear from the MWW link above.

After the walk

I was over-dressed for such a warm day: changed into T-shirt and shorts in the back of my car and set off home at 6pm. Stopped at Gloucester Services for the first time, having heard great things about its food and farm shop. Enjoyed a Moroccan lamb burger.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Nothing. Not even the White Stripes song. From memory I think the iPod would only work in the car, and I had no podcasts to catch up on.

Picture of some little acorns, from shakerlakes.org. No other photos taken today.

Next: Day 20 (23 June 2018) in which Ben finally learns not to overload himself with baggage. Physically, at least.

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