I dropped down to the combe floor, (here in the south west of England a combe is a short valley) and then began the short ascent back up to a ridge. Walkers passed by below and I hoped I wasn’t seen.
At this point I knew I’d be missed, the few who cared, would know to look on the hills for me. I’d spoken to a great friend of mine several days ago, I told her of ‘the tree’ and anyone else who knew me, would certainly think that if I was to go missing, it would be somewhere amongst ninety square miles of fields, mines, caves, woods, forest and heath.
If I wasn’t seen nobody would know where to begin looking, I’d not thought of the obvious, my abandoned car.
As I reached the ridge I descended down the other side and it began to rain, then hail. This was it, come rain or wind, I’d walk, I’d do those 630 miles and beat every negative situation along the way. I had the little light weight rain coat which was fine for a light shower, but this was heavy, what should I do? What could I do? Find shelter asap, in the winter with most trees bare of leaves, only deciduous trees can offer slight protection from the rain. I knew these hills so well, that just down from the ridge were big old holly trees, their leaves are dense and would keep the worst of the rain off. I took shelter and watched the hail lash down around me, sheep too wanted to take shelter, this tree was taken, and they walked quickly on to one nearby and stood staring at me.
The shower passed letting me carry on, down the combe edge where a small family walked, I didn’t hide, change my route, they may just pass and not pay any attention to me, eye contact was made and I politely made conversation, something about me heading off to watch deer. A poor diversion as deep down I knew a search would sometime begin, by that time I’d be long gone, well into North Devon.
Across the next stream and up Willoughby’s cleave, there’s lots of holly trees there which I could seek shelter under, when the next shower came through. It did but just a short one. Three or more days like this had made the ground very wet and I knew it would be important to try and keep me feet dry.
Up top I looked North East to the Holford and Kilve memorial trees, beyond that Hinkley Point power station and the Bristol channel, I then glanced to the right of it, towards the caravan I was renting, my possessions within. I thought about what would happen to them, the children few toys, clothes, the odd book, my computer with 6 years worth of photographs, for all I cared they could be destroyed, I could only look forwards and will have no looking back.
I dropped down to what was the edge of the main hill and walked East following and fence line separating heath from fields it then began to rain heavy, I tried to shelter under coppiced hazel trees, after a short time the rain soaked branches dripped on me, I just had to get on.
The shower did pass and my little coat kept out the worst of the wet. A sign sent me North off the hill and soon I was down on a road, I crossed and entered a field, trusting I’d find a way onto the beach.
I turned to watch a helicopter pass over the hills above where I’d just walked off, a moment’s thought suggested they’d be looking for me, however in my mind I’d only just left so believed that I’d not be missed, yet, if at all.
With my boots getting gradually heavier as clay stuck to them I searched for a way through, of the cliff, down onto the coast line. I scanned the hedge line looking for a way through to the next field, but there was nothing. So then came my first experience of the trip, of following my nose, taking the random option, just because it feels right. A thick hedge had an opening, which exposed a steep muddy slope down 40 feet into what I could only guess as being a stream, I way to the sea.. The mud had run off the field after the heavy rains and cleared a way to the bottom.
My boots sank into the soft sticky mud and it offered no support to me, I tried to control my slide into the potential way out (or not) by grabbing trees where I could, with reasonable success I reached the bottom.
I should at this point state that I have an injured knee. One day whilst riding my bike, I crashed and went over the handle bars, landing straight legged at speed on a steep uneven slope. The knee ligaments in my right knee gave way and tore, this has made it unstable and venerable when on uneven unstable ground. So doing things like embarking on a 600 or so mile off road walk, with an unsuitably designed bag strapped to my back, is quite possibly putting it at risk of injury.
Surveying the area I realised two things, one it was extremely overgrown down here and two, following your gut instincts can, perhaps not always rewards you. Call this luck if you like, whatever it is you’re less likely to appreciate it if you experience by following rules, clear directions or normal habits.
It would appear this big ditch was used for shooting, I guessed that Pheasants were flushed out from within and shot by rich city men, thirsty for a kill, I hear they pay thousands to be able to shoot at reared birds and I’m not even sure they eat them or serve any other function other than as a living target. I don’t condone the killing of animals, I’ve done it. As a teenager I had I shotgun, I’d use it nightly to kill rabbits, hares, pigeon, pheasants, foxes.. Not badgers and I’d never intentionally kill a bird of prey though, on the one occasion I did and i was mortified, it wasn’t long after that event I stopped all that killing, at least during that time in my life.
All I shot was eaten, if not by me, by neighbours, friends, strangers, it was the country way, nature provided. Now I’d only do it out of compassion or necessity and with that I mean to provide me with food.
In the bottom of the ditch i stood amongst empty shotgun cartridges and surveyed the area, a path appeared to head forwards and up out again, however I wanted to be on the beach and sought a way down. A bramble grew all over the steam bed and no way of bashing them down would make it easy or passable, up and out was my best option. Crudely cut steps and a rickety old hand rail, rotten and loose took me up onto another field and I could see in an opening on the other side, I sensed, I’d soon be off the grass and may continue on the coast proper. I was right and through one field into the next, a gateway to a slipway took me onto the pebbled beach of St Audries bay.
Sea weed and beach litter was washed up on the shore, this stretch of sea has the second highest tide in the world, the water is murky from the constant changes in direction, with silt being disturbed as the sea crashed against the shore.
I looked for washed up fishing tackle as I hoped to be able if i had too, catch some fish. I found tangled fishing line and rusty hooks, nylon cord, etc. I looked for electrical wire too as I could strip it back to the copper cord and use as a snare to trap rabbits. This all gave me focus and drive to acquire things I may need and need to survive. It kept me from thinking back, back to all those thought of failure. I was going to do it and knew what; I’d have to do to succeed.
Water crashed off a high cliff top eroding the bedrock below. I stopped to touch the rock, smoothed by time and water, my fingers ran over the surface of the rock, I freed my mind with closed eyes and felt the texture the shapes, my fingers became the water and for a moments peace I was at one with nature, the essence of all that is. I often took time to do this, bare feet in the sand, running water across the skin, feeling the bark of a tree, at times I even felt the pain inflicted by mankind upon them, like from the scars from tree tattoos, the sort where knives carve names and/or images into the bark. When a fence was nailed to tree, over time the tree would grow and grow around the fence, its rusting leaking poison into the heart of the tree, this happened in from nature too. Bracket fungus grow as parasites on the trunks of trees, Gall wasps lay their eggs in leaves, living wood, fruit and even animals, so their young will have fresh food and shelter when they hatch. The ox tongue fungus or beef steak as it’s also known, they are blood red and this redness bleeds right through to the centre rings, these trees, often Oaks are then cut down by furniture makers as the stained wood is sought after. Industry and greed has led to nature being exploited and destroyed in so many ways and I feel its suffering, it saddens me, I’m embarrassed to be a part of this so called civilisation, though I see a way out...
I leave the rocks to the erosion of time and continue onwards, rocky shores make for an obstacle course, slippery sea weed popping under my weight. With the tide ebbing out to my right, crashing against rocky outcrops and the to my right my senses are stimulated by sights and sounds, my mind clearing and focused, and I will not look back, only for the views.
Whilst watching my footing I looked at the rocks forming this land, layers of gypsum, pink bands breaking up the reds and greys or the sand stone/lime stone cliff, such variation makes this a geologists favourite.
In the distance I could make out the harbour light of Watchet, it would be here I’d make my first attempt of earning a meal, I needed to eat.
A steam train chuffed past as I came into town, and then I once again came into contact with people, I became aware that I may be noticed and that questions would be asked, my identity found out and if in a few weeks someone should care that I’ve gone missing, my whereabouts would be found out. If this happened, I feared I’d be captured and locked away for my own protection; this was something I needed to deal with. As I walked along the esplanade a PCSO (community police officer) appeared, for a moment I thought to turn to avoid him, I didn’t as that would draw his attention to me. As I drew alongside him, he stopped remarked of my appearance, as indeed I looked like I was going for a long walk. Without needing to mention my name I told him I was walking the SWCP and doing so without a tent or money, I seem to remember him asking where I’d walked from, to which I recall telling him from Taunton train station, travelling down from the midlands. I felt everyone with authority was against me, that if he had any reason to suspect me, he’d be on my case and my efforts would become yet another failure of my life. I wished him a good evening and set about finding the courage to approach people for help.