Welcome to LEJoG Day 24

Day 24 pre-amble

Thus far, grazing dairy cattle have been very much part of the supporting cast in the tale of 50FootHead, adding about half a mile to my journey on day 7 and about 1½ miles to day 19. Today, however, they bustled their way into a starring role, delaying me by 1¼ hours. The highlight of the stretch from Bristol to Chepstow really should have been the crossing of the Severn Road Bridge (M48). But, not only was it overshadowed by the ‘Friesian Standoff’ just before, my mobile ran out of battery somewhere round Aust and I was unable even to capture the crossing in a photo. Otherwise that would certainly have been the header image for Day 24. Here’s an image from Bristol Business News online by way of compensation:

Severn Road Bridge, LEJoG Day 24

The Severn Road Bridge. That shepherd-delighting sunset does not reflect today’s reality.

LEJoG Day 24 (Saturday 28 July 2018)

Bristol – Clifton Suspension Bridge to Chepstow (20½ miles)

Cumulative: 337½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: 6 hours. Average speed: 3.42 mph. Weather: Warm start, cooling, breezy, occasional rain. Severn Bridge crossing wet and windy, warmer again in Wales.

Practicalities: Checked out of the Rodney, walked half a mile to the bridge.

The walk

Start: Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol (north end), 10:30am. End: Woodfield Arms, Chepstow, 6:15pm.

The aim of today’s walk was to follow Andy Robinson’s Day 15 route as closely as possible (yes, he’s 9 days ahead of me, I told you in the Pre-Amble about his red-hot pace!). Robinson’s starting point was Easton-in-Gordano, several miles to the west, and he crosses the River Avon on the M5 viaduct. This is the next available bridge downstream from Clifton, but a prohibitive distance away. So it would be quite a while before we met up again in the suburb of Henbury. The linked satellite map can be used to help explain how I covered the ground between Clifton and Henbury.

The first stage of my route involves a short climb to earn the spectacular picture-postcard views of the suspension bridge (as used in the header image for Day 23). From there, descend to the A4176 and take a right straight through Clifton Down. A typical Saturday morning in urban green space, this: cyclists, runners, young families, regular joggers and (I’m guessing) one LEJOGger. Turn left along Stoke Road, then right along Saville Road, joining Parrys Lane (left) at the crossroads. Follow this for about a mile NW, proceeding straight ahead down Coombe Lane when Parrys Lane forks left. Turn right into Red House Lane, following this residential cul-de-sac as it bends to the left. At the end, join a footpath past Coombe Dingle Sports Complex.

Approaching the children’s play area, turn left through Canford Cemetery, then right along a road which brings you out on the A4162. Cross at the bus stop, turn right and follow a short residential road to a footpath heading due north and trending uphill, culminating in steps. This emerges on the B4055 Henbury Road. Turn left; you are soon at the brow of the hill and will be descending for the last mile to Henbury. Follow the road round to the left after the junction with the B4057, and turn right into Station Road at the roundabout (near a Best Western Hotel). At the next roundabout (with the B4059) go straight on. You have now rejoined the Robinson route.

I will reprint the next section here, as it’s the one I followed most closely, without hitches. The only difference is that, instead of taking Greenfields Way, I headed north on Station Road and crossed the railway before taking the left (Berwick Drive) to Norton Farm.

Robinson Henbury to Easter Compton, Day 24

You will note that I cross the M5 for the second (of three) times. I’m not sure whether it’s their rarity value* or because they seem so alien in largely rural surroundings, but my photo library suggests I’m fascinated by motorway crossings on this route, in spite of them telling you the square root of sod all about what the journey is actually like. Anyway, here’s the M5, looking south at a northbound traffic jam:

M5 crossing, LEJoG Day 24

*I think I cross a motorway just eight times in England and Wales, although three of those crossings are today:

  1. M5 near Bridgwater (Day 20)
  2. M5 north of Henbury (today)
  3. M4 near Northwick (below, today)
  4. M48 Severn Road Crossing (below, today)
  5. M5 near Frankley (Day 32)
  6. M6/A38 (M) under Spaghetti Junction (Day 33)
  7. M6 Toll near Chasetown (Day 34)
  8. M62 Pennine Way footbridge (Day 42)

The section from Berwick Wood to Spaniorum Hill is lovely, incidentally: one of the best bits of country walking in the south west.

Between Easter Compton and Pilning I decided to follow roads rather than Robinson’s route. There are times I lack the patience to cross multiple fields and keep an eye out for so many stiles. This was one of them. There is no doubt his field route is more direct, but the roads could hardly have been more straightforward. I turned left, following the B4055 all the way into Pilning, then turned right just after Pilning Garage, into Northwick Road. This eventually leads to a crossing of the M4, only a few hundred metres west of the access road used by Robinson. Here is the (much quieter) M4, looking west:

M4 crossing, LEJoG Day 24

Stopped for lunch at 1:30, immediately after the crossing. At this point I was expecting to be in Chepstow before 5pm. How little I knew…

As Northwick Road met Bilsham Lane, I had a decision to make. I could head to Bilsham Farm and follow Robinson’s route to Aust. Or I could try what looked like a clearly-marked footpath out of the hamlet of Northwick, which would meet Robinson’s path soon enough. I chose Northwick, and here my problems began. The start of the path was clear enough, but shortly afterwards I was in a rectangular field with no apparent exit. Not even using my compass helped match ground to OS map. Fought through a hedge into another field in the forlorn hope that the path would re-appear, but no luck. Tried an adjacent field but came across a ditch. Completed a hopeless 360 in a smaller, almost square, field. Finally, reluctantly, had to accept that the best course of action was Retreat, Retrace, Robinson.

It wasn’t quite humiliation, but it was galling after having enjoyed such a good first half of the day. I reached Bilsham Farm about 45 minutes after I should have done. Not surprisingly, the route was considerably easier to follow. Eventually I came to the bridge over Lords Rhine (a wide drainage ditch) and could almost smell Aust and the Severn…

You know what’s coming, right? The bridge led into a field, about 200 yards wide by 150 long. There was a clearly marked right of way, dead straight ahead. But. This field was occupied by about 40 Friesian cows. Several of them were close to the path. And, as I emerged through the gate at the end of the bridge, every one of these stopped to look. As I took my first steps, more cattle took an interest. And by the time I had completed 30 yards or so, at least a dozen had started to wander in my general direction.

Running wasn’t much of an option with my pack, and I thought it might startle them anyway. I moved slowly forward. The cows moved far enough to make it clear that they would obstruct my route if I proceeded. I turned around, some even continued to follow. I was being chased out of the field, in slow motion. Went back to the gate, crossed the bridge to the other side and decided to wait it out for 15 minutes or so. The time was 3:20. Chart Music (no.11, see My Listening Pleasure) had been particularly funny, so the next quarter of an hour would pass swiftly.

Needham, Parkes and Price covered ‘Golden Brown’ and ‘Get Down On It’, and I thought I’d try again. This time, even more cows had moved closer to the gate. It was a complete non-starter. Now I started to look at the ditch and see if I could cross it further down and use a different field to reach Aust. There were no bridges marked on the map, and a recce two hundred yards in either direction confirmed I would have to rely on my legs. They’re good legs – they might even be the fittest part of my body. But they’re not jumping an 8-foot ditch with embankments either side. Besides, I would be trying to chuck my pack across as well.

The next plan was to try and reach the A403 to the west. Unfortunately this came up against the same problem: Lords Rhine was in the way. The only way to reach the A403 involved an even longer retreat than the one I’d already had to suck up, and that simply wasn’t acceptable. Even if it were, there was no guarantee of a pavement or verge on a busy A-road. So, once more unto the bridge… and once more the cows were nowhere near indifferent enough for comfort.

It was a standoff, and only one party had a brain sophisticated enough to back down. I listened to the rest of CM#11 and simply waited. On one occasion I thought the path was clear enough and managed to get halfway down before a group of cows at the far end started walking towards me. At 4:30pm, most of them had gone to the far right corners, and I decided it was probably now or never. A couple turned their heads towards me, but none of them were interested enough to threaten.

And so the standoff finally came to an end, after 1¼ hours in which I could have completed over 4 miles (about the distance to the far end of the Severn Bridge). Frustration was compounded by two things: my phone battery was below 10% and ran out completely before the crossing, and it started to rain. Just a shower to begin with, but the weather gods were saving the best for the moment of maximum exposure.

Still, I was excited about the crossing. Robinson describes the views as “tremendous”, with the caveat of “unpleasant” traffic. To be honest I really didn’t mind the traffic. I thought this would probably be the one and only time I crossed a major motorway bridge on foot in my life and wanted to savour every metre. The rain started up again almost as soon as I was above the river, and this time there would be no respite.

After a few hundred metres it became clear what the biggest challenge would be: the wind. It was very strong – not gale force or anything but enough to cause a few stops and wobbles. As I gained height (however gradually), both the wind and rain became colder, and by the apex it felt like hail. If this sounds like a moan, you’d be wrong. As long as I’m adequately prepared, I quite like walking in the rain. And this was a particularly spectacular walk, quite unlike anything I’d done before.

Looking south to the Second Severn Crossing (M4) I couldn’t quite believe how slowly the traffic seemed to be moving. Now, of course I understand why appearances can be deceptive (perfect link for today that!). I’m sure that if I’d watched for long enough, everything would make sense and a car travelling at 60mph would have taken about 3 minutes end to end. Also I’m terrible at estimating distances to landmarks and horizons. I have never quite been able to believe that the human eye can clearly see the 21 miles across the English Channel for starters.

Anyway, in an Adrian Mole ‘Just my luck!’ moment, the rain subsided just as I came towards the end of the crossing, and the weather for my entry into Wales was comparable to that for my departure from Bristol. I’ll include the route from the M48 to Chepstow below, adding that I have no idea why Robinson didn’t use the direct road route as marked. I certainly did.

Robinson Chepstow route

The Woodfield Arms is situated on the route through Chepstow centre, on the right hand side of the road about 50 yards before the Tourist Information Centre.

After the walk

Meal and drinks at 7pm in the Woodfield Arms. Went to the supermarket to buy Lucozade for tomorrow’s walk. Soon after I’d returned, the heavens opened once again. This was really when the heatwave broke for good – extremely heavy rain throughout the night and the following morning.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Having fallen asleep listening to Chart Music #10 on Friday night – nothing to do with Neil, Taylor and Al, everything to do with strong beer at The Mall – I listened again from the start. Highlights included Taylor taking aim at John Lennon, an extended discussion of this documentary and their collective joy in this Great Pop Moment. The podcast finished just after Pilning.

Chart Music #11, which I listened to immediately afterwards, was probably the best episode since CM #3. It features a proper evisceration of DLT, the origin of “Shakin’ ****” and most memorably of all, the presence of both Dollar and Bucks Fizz on the TOTP roster means it’s open season on Mr David Van Day. Started after lunch: as you well know it finished during the Friesian Standoff. I’m very grateful that my trying afternoon had such an entertaining soundtrack.

Then with nothing much else to do in the Welsh rain, I listened to Chart Music #12 in my hotel room. The first 90s episode, it had a very different flavour and feel. Simon and Neil’s music journalism stories replaced the more detached kind of analysis. Didn’t help that, apart from this, there was very little which felt representative of the era. Still great though.

Finally, while writing this post I listened to my ‘Perfect Balance’ collection of birthday number ones, as featured on the Day 23 blog.

Picture of some interested-looking Holstein-Friesian cattle from theconversation.com: an educational article entitled “When cows attack: how dangerous are cattle and how can you stay safe around them?” Yes, before I became a walker I might have stifled laughter as well.

Next: Day 25 (29 July 2018) in which I have nothing to Offa but toil and sweat (no blood or tears, thankfully).

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