The rain pitter-pattered on our bedroom skylight throughout the night, sending a subtle message of what the coming day would bring! So when we woke and got our stuff ready for the day, we started with our clothing and gear prepared for the wet weather. Before setting out though, we had a hearty breakfast to conquer at 8 am. Everyone in the Heimann house was up for breakfast today and it was well worth the effort as the owners of the B&B spared nothing to prepare a wonderful vegan meal for us. We had a variety of cereals with soy milk, a variety of fruit juices, including orange mango and apple elderflower! That was followed by mushrooms, potatoes, beans, tomatoes topped with grated vegan cheese, and waffles. The owners doubted we would be able to eat it all, but she doesn’t know the Heimanns!
Lara doesn’t usually eat breakfast but on hiking days we all fill up on the meal like we are birds about to hibernate and then typically forgo lunch, especially on rainy days. And we had fun going around the table sharing our favorite and least favorite traits of one another. (I had just proposed sharing favorite traits, but the kids wanted to add least favorite so we did both with the caveat that there had to be at least as many favorite traits shared as least favorite!)
After breakfast we went back to the room to start packing and things took a turn for the worse. Olivia got back in bed and had a hard time moving. She is just mentally spent from the school year. We did coax her up and finished packing, finally heading out the door shortly after 10 am to a slight drizzle.
As is typical at this point in the day I started to get my watch set to chart the course (I had preloaded my Garmin with the ODP waypoints) and was baffled to see that it wasn’t working properly. Knowing how poor the book/maps we had were, I was determined to get my watch working so I sent the others ahead to the point where we would connect back up with the ODP at the northern end of Tintern 0.85 miles ahead and spent some time trying to reboot my watch. I must have spent 45 minutes on it but finally had to give up as I couldn’t get the maps to load and couldn’t even get the hiking app to work properly. Flustered and mildly concerned, I decided that I need to get started and hope for the best.
The others were waiting for me at the proposed meeting area. We also met an older gentleman who was doing the path from the North and finishing the hike that day. He lived in Australia but was originally from Wales and bemoaned the condition of the trail. He said that it hadn’t been maintained as well as he had hoped for such a well known trail and that the marking were poor, making it hard to stay on course even with a good map. This added to my concerns as we presently had neither a good map nor a working GPS! I vowed to get a better map when we reached Monmouth later in the day.
While we were literally at the intersection of the path and the town road, it turned out that we were also at another crossroad. Olivia was just unable to continue. Just mentally fatigued. I feel partly to blame as I scheduled this trip to leave for the day after she finished an incredibly challenging and exhausting year. I didn’t have a choice because I needed to squeeze it in before she leaves for another amazing adventure at Northwestern on June 30th, but this was still not ideal. Olivia didn’t want to leave us, but also didn’t feel like she could continue. And she didn’t want to hold us back by walking as slowly as she has been, but also didn’t feel comfortable getting herself to the next lodging by herself. All understandable feelings. After some discussion, it was determined that Lara and Olivia would head back into Tintern proper to find a way to our days destination, while Jonah and I would continue and meet them at the end of the day. It was a tough moment for all of us as we have been through a lot on these hikes, but always had managed to finish each day as a unified team.
While disappointed with this turn of events, we did have one promising piece of news. My Garmin suddenly decided to wake up and chart the course! After hearing about the poor signage, this was a very welcome bonus. So off Jonah and I went. Since the day was filled with rain again, we didn’t take quite as many pictures as I typically do. Still, Jonah was such a trooper posing for all that I wanted to take.
The first part of the hike was rather flat and pastoral. There are actually two options for this first section, one low along the river and the other a bit higher up along the ridge. We chose the low route that followed the sinuous River Wye for about 3.5 miles.
We met quite a few sheep and cows in this section.
Those who have followed our past treks might remember that I have self-anointed myself as the Moo Man. What can I say, cows have great taste and are drawn to me! Today was no different.
When the two paths met up in Bigsweir, we started to gain elevation and go through quite a few wooded areas. This also was where signage started to be a little less easy to follow.
After passing through the town of Redbook, we had our first misstep of the day. It probably cost us extra mile of hiking. The town road sections seem to be less well marked than some of the wooded areas. We were walking up on a steep road that didn’t have much of walking area on the side - felt a bit precarious. We were looking for the turnoff but didn’t spot one and my watch was still listing us as on course. Then it started to show that we were off course but we couldn’t find the entrance back on the path. We finally did find the poorly marked sign and since the actual path was running parallel for a while to the road we were on, the watch didn’t signal an error. Oh well - we were happy to be back on course and started up a very steep path back through farm country with more sheep and cows. The animals were plentiful and so was the dung - we definitely had to keep our eyes checking down to avoid the mounds of presents the animals were leaving behind for us.
After a few more miles a beautiful countryside, we made our second wrong turn of the afternoon. We followed a sign over a stile and then continued along what seemed like well-trodden path through a pasture. It seemed very obvious which way we were supposed to go.
But then that trail started to fade and we were just walking through a field and then we came to the end of the pasture and a fence. No sign. No exit. No idea where we went wrong. So we doubled back to the initial sign and scanned the area. We finally saw a stile and acorn sign off in the distance, but not with an obvious trail to get there. No worries - we were happy to have found our way again and pushed on.
While saddened that we weren’t together as a family, we did take advantage of the alone time. Sometimes it is easier to talk with one parent and one child; it is a different dynamic. I thoroughly enjoyed the hours of conversation that Jonah and I had. What a gift!
Some more fields, some more wooded areas, and then some areas that felt like they were mudslides!
It has been unseasonably rainy here, even for the UK so the mud is expected. After a while we finally found ourselves in Monmouth. This town holds a special place in my heart, as it is the birthplace of my favorite Shakespearean character, Henry V! It’s a nice town too, probably one of the larger ones we’ll see on our trek.
And with that size comes the likelihood of outdoor gear shops. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to get some better maps so went looking for some. Fortunately the shops were ideally located along our planned path through town. Unfortunately one was closed and the other didn’t have any maps specifically for the ODP. However, the clerk pointed me toward the tourist center shop, which he thought might have one. We were in luck! Though pricey (£23 pounds for two maps), they were in stock so we bought the pair and headed on our way.
Our lodging for the night would be a few miles west of the town. Jonah and I had a bet as to whether we would see Lara on the path looking for us. Jonah thought not, while I was pretty sure she would come looking. After all, she isn’t the Movement Madame for no reason! A day without movement for her is unthinkable. And I don’t want to gloat, but I was right. ;-) We found her shortly as we turned off the paved farm road out of town and back on a dirt path through fields and forest.
We almost never met though. Lara had turned down a wrong path at one point and so was off the path. Jonah saw a sign and thought to make the same wrong turn and asked me to come look to see if that was the path. I went back to check. it’s very confusing and easy to mistake because the signs for the ODP and regular public pathways are the same, the only different being a small acorn in the middle of the ODP sign. But Jonah was probably just being drawn to the super energy that Lara emits. When I looked along that other path I saw Lara in the distance and she me. It was a happy reunion!
And since Lara had already been along the path to come get us, I could take off my navigating hat and relax for the final 3 miles of our hike to our lodging. When we finally made it at about 5 pm, Lara took a picture of me and my intrepid companion. Proud of my little guy for pushing through this rainy day without complaint.
We all had our This Sh$t Builds Tenacity (#TSBT) type of day in different ways. For Olivia, it was learning the lesson of knowing when to give herself a break and take care of herself (something she hasn’t done much of all year). For Lara, it was taking care of a child in need despite her strong desire to stay together and to enjoy the day’s hike, something she had been looking forward to for a long time. This is another quality that I admire so much about Lara - she is great at changing courses when necessary and not sticking to a plan just because she made it. She’s adaptable, much more so than I am. And knowing that I would struggle with skipping a section, she volunteered for that role today. While I’ve never been diagnosed with OCD, I definitely have something at least verging on a mild case of it. Order and discipline are important to me - probably why I have excelled at taking and teaching standardized testing - and it’s very hard for me to not complete something that I have begun. I would have had to go back and do the missed section, but Lara has a much healthier perspective on things like this than I do. I definitely married up! And Jonah and I had more classic TSBT moments as we trudged through the rain for what turned out to be 3.5 miles longer than we originally expected the days hike to take. This extra distance was in part from poor signage leading to a couple of missteps and in part from poor calculations on my part of how many miles the days hike would actually be.
We met Val, owner of Old Hendre Farm, who more than made up for the lack of Welsh hospitality that we had received so far. What a joy she was. She took our wet gear to dry and a load of laundry to wash. To top it off, she had vegan cake and cupcakes waiting for us along with coffee and tea!
After a shower, some relaxing, and some music playing (ukulele and flute jam!), we came down for an incredible dinner. It was nice to see Olivia looking refreshed from a long day’s sleep.
The dessert she had made was the perfect end to our day!
We feel spoiled by the service and personal touches. If you are ever in Monmouth, treat yourself to a night with Val! She not only took care of us after our hike, but had done the same for Lara and Olivia when they had arrived earlier in the day. They had walked back to Tintern and waited for a bus to Monmouth. While waiting, Olivia rested on the ground and Lara got in some mileage walking up and down a hill for about 45 minutes! From Monmouth they took a taxi to our lodging and arrived shortly after 1 pm.
After a hearty meal we went up to relax and I promptly passed out at about 8:30 pm. One time might be considered an anomaly. Two nights in a row and I’m starting to see a pattern! This time I managed to wake at 11 pm though with enough energy to write the blog. I’m finishing the entry at 2 am still with plenty of time for getting some more sleep before we start another day of adventure!
Distance: 16.53 miles
(Even though Lara didn’t do the day’s hike, with her hiking at the beginning, walking up and down the hill, and hiking back to Monmouth to meet us, she actually hiked 10.1 miles today!)
Time: 5 hours 40 minutes
Average Speed: 2.9 miles
Total Ascent: 2,228 ft.
Total Descent: 2,126 feet