WALKING THE WALK - A TWENTY-FIVE YEAR HIKE IN WALES
Doesn't a path sound lovely? Something you skip along to Grandma's house…past little flowery-fenced cottages in dollhouse villages.
And if that lovely path is in Wales-just a wee bit of a place tucked into that Not-So-United Kingdom-wouldn't it be fair to believe that it would all be rather diminutive?
So, when my husband suggested we walk Offa's Dyke Path in Wales for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I jumped at the plan. We would stroll through the softly rolling hills, stopping for tea and waving to a sheep or two.
We looked up the strange name. Offa was the King, of what was then called Mercia, from 757 - 796 AD. Some historians speculate he built the huge, and very long earthen rampart to keep the English out. Yes, well…
I saw us skipping hand-in-hand along that curving path as we followed Offa's old eroding boundary. Tra la la la la.
Sure, the path was almost three hundred kilometers long, but we'd booked thirteen days to walk it. The Welsh company, Drover Holidays, would take care of all our lodgings, delivering our bags each day and promising us that we would be sent off with a packed lunch after every morning's breakfast. They had even sourced walking sticks from a company in Hay-On-Wye.
It would be a walk in the park.
Knowing now, what I didn't know then?
Well. Suffice it to say, that twenty-five years ago, I believed that marriage would be a piece of cake.
It started off better than I could have imagined. Our 17th century storybook hotel in the village of Chepstow had listing floors with windows that looked out at a crumbling castle built in 1067 AD. We ate local lamb and toasted our clever anniversary plan with a fine Syrah.
The next day, I found it harder to remember our smugness; it seemed to dwindle in direct proportion to my pounded feet. The unexpected sunny weather didn't help. By the twentieth kilometer, my thick woolen socks had completed the baking of my flattened soles.
Not to worry. Soon all I could think of was the stabbing pain in my left ankle. Which is about when Kevin's knees began to seize. We looked like Frankensteins.
At the next chemist store, we bought sports tape, knee braces and jumbo-sized bottles of anti-inflammatories; continuing to drag ourselves up the sides of hills like we were climbing dirt ladders and then staggering down the other side, only to go up and down, again and again.
But each night found us in fabulous accommodations, tucking in to local food and cozy rooms and praying for the restorative effects of a good sleep.
Each day we discovered stunning new terrain.
Some mornings we stood on mountains looking down at tiny towns we'd left far behind. Other days were filled with purple fields of heather that stretched off into a hazy mauve distance.
There were deep green woods and flashing rivers. And then, miles of sheep-filled meadows, curious cows and even a trail through the corn. We climbed countless stiles and smooched our way through dozens of kissing gates.
But then, the leftovers of Hurricane Katia rushed across the Atlantic in a concerted effort to try and smash us into those beautiful mountains. Jabbing my walking sticks with every step was the only way to not get tossed right off the trail.
Somehow, between the adrenalin, endorphins and handfuls of ibuprofen, we made it.
Thirteen knackering days later, after pulverizing our knees for seven to ten hours each day, while being buffeted by crazy winds, and just after being soaked by an epic cloud-burst, we staggered down a steep, slippery embankment into the town of Prestatyn; cold, wet, stiff and exhausted…and completely exhilarated by our accomplishment.
Tradition suggested we take off our boots and walk into the Irish Sea to honour the completion of the hike.
But. The wind was sandblasting our faces and we were already frozen from the earlier cloudburst. Instead we fell onto a rock wall and asked an elderly Welshmen to take our picture.
The photo shows two grinning and very-happily married walkers, proving that I was right all along; walking Offa's Dyke Path is just like being married.
Piece of cake.
IF YOU GO:
PHOTOS by Colleen Friesen
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