Wellington to Boot: a footwear adventure

Wellington Arch to Wellington, Somerset

Monday 21st March 2016

The route boot

What better way to start a Wellington Boot adventure than by seeing Wellington’s boots, the ones that started it all off. Laura Maisey told me the story: Wellington wanted his boots shorter for greater flexibility, and removed the fancy tassel removed; these boots were made for fighting, not flippery. I slipped out, armed with a Wellington Boot mascot to lead me on my way.

Wellington’s Boots

The train slid West to Taunton, where Charlie and I headed off into the sunset in search of Wellington.

The road to Wellington was lush, a glorious contrast to the choking streets of London I’d left behind. The green fields, twisting lanes and fresh air burning life into my lungs made me twinkle with joy, the whole gilded by gleaming blues, pinks and oranges above. This was the fanfare for “best medium sized town in the South West” (Britain in Bloom, 2005.) Wellington Somerset must be pretty special.

I tried. I really tried. I passed streets and squares named in reference to the man himself. This was Arthur Wellesley’s town, the town his title was named after, and the streets and shops made heavy reference to this. I wanted to find a square or park where I could stand up and say “Hello Wellington!” The park comprised a back street car park next to a fenced off sports pitch. The square was where the pavement by the main road got slightly wider — I think that was it. The high street was pretty, the pubs looked cosy, but I never took to Wellington mark one. Still, three more to go!

Wellington, Somerset to Wellington Herefordshire

I sped away keen to get a few miles into tomorrow’s ride before the sun set. I made to Bradford on Tone, a small village with a stone bridge arching over the river, and a small core of old houses. And a nice pub. I regretted not joining a team for the pub quiz; my attempts at telepathy failed as miserably as silently shouted out that pre-Raphaelites were 19th Century.

I left the White Horse for the riverbank. I tucked up Charlie and set down my bag by the light of the silvery moon, casting shadows as I worked. As I lay I crushed my bed of wild garlic, releasing the sweet fragrance ever time I rolled over.

Tuesday 22nd March 2016

Dawn heralded a my first dog walker. I’d packed up and was returning from the bushes. She clutched a mug of steaming tea as her dog roamed the fields.

“It must be wonderful to have everything you need on your bike and be free to go where ever you want to go.”

I returned to Taunton on NCN 3, enjoying ease of a well signed route through the town. The Taunton and Bridgewater Canal took me on to Bridgewater, naturally. Moorhens skittered across the water, upsetting the reflections of the mistletoed trees.

Gloucester Old Spots and Saddlebacks snuffled around free range in an old scrap yard (“they took most of the cars away and replaced them with pigs.”) A scaled planetarium stretched the length of the towpath.

Breakfasted, I headed out beyond the town. Alongside an old railway line ran a little rill complete with stainless steel paper boats and origami swans. Simple, playful, why not. Then out across the flatlands, the grid iron pattern set out with ditches and fields. The roads zig-zagged, farms clustered at corners. On the hill of Crickham I played guess the gorge, staring at the wall of the Mendips ahead of me, rearing up from the plains, trying to guess which breach was Cheddar. I hurtled down to check, arriving in the town of cheese at a perfect lunch hour. Cheddar Gorge is another good game, where players attempt to stuff their faces with as much cheese as is humanly possible. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Factory assisted me in my bid for champion, until I got distracted by a scotch egg fresh from the oven; game over. Doh.

The Strawberry Line dragged me out of cheese heaven and over the Mendips, the escarpments made smooth where the trains once ran. From fern filled cuttings to open orchards, the line ticked off the local landscapes like a tour guide. There were still platforms standing, stone mausoleums to the hazy days of steam.

As I passed through grasslands and reservoirs on a quiet sandy track, I was at ease to consider my coat. The shiny silver quilted jacket had a decidedly astronaut aesthetic. In the sleepy villages I felt like an alien, but out here I could be whatever I wanted. I started singing. “I’m the cycling spaceman…”

Too soon I was beyond the M5, a no mans land of posh stables and crumbling farms, tucked away beneath the highway in the sky. Concrete columns raced for the heavens, while bramble and elder crept through stone walls and tiled roofs beneath.

Portishead offered a sea of Lexi and Toyotas. Gleaming rows of steel, just a numberplate short of being on the road. Until someone invests in one of these beasts, a commitment that sucks up repayments and fuel in return for a sense of freedom, they are just numbers on a parking lot, marks on a spreadsheet, specks in a budget. I felt so very small, but unconstrained, on my beat up old bike.

The final disused railway line on this Dr Beeching Appreciation Day still had the tracks. Tarmac had been poured beside or even over the sleepers. I still checked for trains. Soon I was on the Avonmouth Bridge, admiring the floodplains and sewage works, on my way to the Lamplighters.

Jessi arrived, and we talked and chatted our way through pie of the day and a few drinks. She shared with me the story of Eve. The 2 ft high figure caught forever in that moment of going forward — leaping into life, opening her heart to the sun, free from constraint and fear. The perfect woman, an inspiration. Beauty. Eve watched over me as I slept like a log.

Wednesday 23rd March, 2016

The Portway should be a shitty road to cycle; it’s a dual carriageway charging down to Bristol city centre, but the early hour and river views made it glorious. Cliffs reared up either side, a wicker whale leapt through a field and the Clifton Suspension Bridge perched precariously above. I was ready for Project Awesome!

Lloyds Amphitheatre gave us room to run hurricanes; hop, skip and jump over harbour bollards; and play side plank slapsies (extra hard with fits of giggles.) The Hat of Awesome was awarded on a biggest-hug for-most-awesome-thing-you’ve-done-this-week. It seems Bristol PA have a great appreciation for chasing waterproof footwear across the country…

At coffee, everyone signed my boot with messages of joy and support.

Steve did a freehand BRI tag, then decided to slack off work in favour of cycling with me to Gloucester. (It was only when we were on the road that he realised I wasn’t going to Gloucester, but he tagged along all the same!)

Bristol PA — you are most definitely awesome. It’s wonderful to start a morning with strangers, and within an our feel like part of a family. I was sad to leave, but I knew there was another wonderful day ahead of me, another Wellington calling.

Steve led us through his city, giving me a glimpse of Bristol before diving down a narrow lane, retreating to the comfort of the countryside. We followed signs for Severn Beach, because Beach! Racing though a wood we belted out The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, while I did the maths about the infinite number of bears in the wood, and a passing cyclist gave a strange look. It seems not everyone cycles with pleasure.

The idea of cycling the Severn Bridge had laid heavy on me for a wee while — a good way to test the current status of my vertigo. The bridge arched up over the exposed mud of a low tide, the wind riffled through us. The cycle way was away from the traffic, wide and open. No fear. I think I might have invented my vertigo when I was going through my ‘phobia phase’ as a kid.

From the side of the M4 a little track winds through the wooded cliffs and hills into Wales. Why would anyone take a car and miss this? At Chepstow we rewarded ourselves with coffee and cake — and I practiced my zero-gravity bounding. My coat demanded it.

We climbed higher into the hills to earn our reward — the Wye Valley. A long, wheeeeeee descent to Tintern Abbey, the ruins silhouetted against the meadows. We meandered on, following the river through woods and fields, slipping seamlessly between Wales and Gloucestershire. We played the human jukebox, sharing songs new and old, voices echoing down the valley.

The valley widened and Monmouth loomed ahead. We sat by the river, on a balcony overlooking the old gate house bridge. We ate soup from lion bowls, before completing operation Welsh cake.

Silence fell about me as I headed on North. Wellington Herefordshire was a few miles away, a few hills to go. Charlie and I rose and fell with every crest and rill. From the A49 we found a cycle way, another old railway to serve the cyclists of Hereford. I called ahead — there last reviews for Wellington’s only pub were five years old; I didn’t want to spend the night in a pub-less village.

I found Wellington. I found The Wellington in Wellington. I left my Wellingtons outside The Wellington in Wellington.

It wasn’t a gastropub, but the lasagne was good pub grub. I drank a squealing pig, but soon realised I might need to go. At half nine I was the last person there; the chef and the barman were shutting up around me. I guess I was wise to call ahead.

I returned to a rutted track I’d passed earlier to make my bed. I had hoped it would narrow off, or present a natural covey, but I had no such luck. I settled down in a comfy tractor track, closing my nose to the stench of a nearby chicken shed, and slept.

Thursday 24th March 2016

Next morning I was woken by dog walkers. I waited until I had seen them go past twice — there and back — before heading out to pee. There was no hiding.

Returning to Wellington, I finally found the sign. Wellington Two complete.

Wellington, Herefordshire to Wellington Shropshire

An easy day, barely over 50 miles. Few hills. I tarried where I could to save me from a long evening.

I chose my routes on whims, destination Ludlow.

The market was in full flow. I headed for the cheese stand. The lady asked me where I was cycling. I shared my map-on-a-boot. She loved the story, took my twitter handle, and told me to eat more cheese to keep me going.

Another stall sold free-range Gloucester Old Spot sausage rolls. I told the man about the scrapyard Old Spots from Somerset. “Well I wouldn’t touch them.” I ate a happy pig, then found a cafe to linger in as rain fell and my phone refuelled.

I found a nice hill to cycle down out of the city. Admiring the surrounding countryside framed by old alleys, it seemed to be Shropshire’s answer to Siena. I was accosted by an old man cleaning the church. He praised me for my spring ride, “They all go cycling in the autumn when the Council cut the hedges. Blackthorn everywhere, pop, pop, pop.”

As fields ticked by, I thought about the next town for my second lunch, waiting for me in my bag. Then I realised how fixed I was in my ideas. Why must we wait for towns to eat, why sit on a bench where everyone else sits, staring at the same cars going past the same high street as everywhere else. I pulled over where I was, plopped down on a grassy bank, a gentle valley laid out before me. Fuck you, warped logic of the need for urbanity to pause.

Soon I was in Much Wenlock. I confused the librarians by asking for OS maps. After much discussion they led me to the far corner with a few local sheets hidden away. I scoured the plans for good places to sleep near the next Wellington, hoping that nothing too much had changed since 1988.

The rest of the town was a little gem, old buildings leading to a small square, where I found a coffee shop. I tried not to splurt my mocha over the Ladybird Guide to Dating; hot drinks and comedy should never mix.

Having had my full of Quainstville I peddled on to IndustryWorld: Coalbrookdale. Orange cooling towers now dominated the valley, dwarfing all about them. I took Dale Road to the top, hoping for a view of the Ironbridge. Wrong valley, I guess — the hill kept coming, slowly, slowly, slowly, old mills making way for woodland as we moved further from the water below. The steady hill suited me well, my back shifter had been getting stiffer and stiffer, wrestling with my wrist every time I needed an easier gear.

The road to Wellington was a dual carriageway; a dull carriageway. The Wrekin rose up to my left, Wellington trickled into view on my right. At the signpost I pulled onto the hard shoulder for the mandatory kodak moment. I did a little dance on verge, celebrating my third Wellington. Car horns cheered or chided my joy.

For the first time on the journey I took my panniers with me when I left my bike; Wellington the Third had that sort of feel about it. I searched for a pub that was open, did food, and didn’t do fights. I ended up in Spoons — the William Witherington in Wellington.

I was accosted by another cyclist, he’d seen me wheeling round the town earlier. We talked tours, routes and ways roundabout. A bike is a great convener of enthusiasts.

My curry and carbs barely touched the sides; the sticky toffee pudding was savoured a little longer, but not all the sugar in the world could save me from sleepiness. I lay on the banquette, curled up foetal. A lady on the next table tapped me on the shoulder, “Are you ok?” “Yes, fine thanks, just exhausted!” “You look a little flushed, that’s all…”

Dan and Cat arrived, bringing with them my second wind. We talked, they ate, and we planned. I took up an offer of a shower at their hotel, while Dan ferried back and forth waiting for Charlotte to make it to the right station. Gone 11 we were finally all four in Wellington; Svenny and Dan finally meeting after a decade of good intentions. Introductions made, we headed off in our pairs to sleep.

My library learnings were fruitful in the form of another old railway path, where we found a bay between brambles to sleep. I was out like a log.

Friday 25th March 2016

The barking woke me up first. For Charlotte, it was a wet doggy tongue licking her cheek. The joys of bivvying by a footpath…

Wellington, Shropshire, to Wellington, Cumbria

Keen to avoid hills until I could change gears more easily, we sped to Market Drayton, delighted to find it was the home of gingerbread. Brenin bikes provided a new gear cable, beautifully ombre mochas and bonus hot cross buns. The staff were friendly, and we could have stayed much longer — but we were now on a mission for gingerbread. At every cafe, bakery and gift shop we asked, but we did not receive. In the home of gingerbread itself, we resorted to Greggs.

Before we could leave the town, we were hailed from across the road. Jana and Russ, cycling home from Crewe, just passing. We caught up, exchanged recommendations, and smiled up at the sun.

Blue sky, green fields, dramatic trees. Red brick farms nestled in the rolling hills, free range eggs available at every farm gate.

Delighted by Nantwich, we were upset to find ourselves seeking a late lunch in the less salubrious Northwich. On the edge of the town, the Red Lion saved the day, a terrace on the River Weaver, whitebait, cheese and honeyed sausages. Our ‘light lunch’ sat heavy in our stomachs for the rest of the ride, but could not be regretted.

As the sun shied away, we pushed on, catching a glimpse of the Anderton Boat Lift before bracing ourselves for the shortest route through Warrington. Liquorice Allsorts were applied at the crucial moment to keep our spirits up as we moved through the churning traffic and roundabouts of the shedlands.

Newton-le-Willows — not as nice as it sounds, but a lot nicer than I had been expecting from my Salford days. The first pub had a tapas menu. No need to confer — tapas would not suffice. The second pub was recently closed, surrounded by a sea of broken glass. The third pub looked homely, but did not food. “There’s the Pied Bull, home cooked and that, or there’s one down the road, but I wouldn’t, unless…” Words failed her. “I’d go to the Pied Bull.”

The Pied Bull was rammed with young groups starting a big night out, old couples sucking on their fish and chips, and everyone in between. The food was carb based and filling — the pub grub stodge I yearned for every night.

We moved on to find our campsite, having scoped out a few areas through Google Earth. High fences and “Danger, Private, Shooting area” signs deterred us. We moved on to a wood in Haydock Park, where the Private sign was too small to see by torchlight.

Saturday 26th March 2016

“Are you dogging?” our 5am alarm call.

“Are you still dogging?” the guys came past again at 6. Damn snooze button.

A man and his dog came by later. “You alright lads?”

Charlotte peered out of her bivvy bag.

“You’re a girl!”

I looked to see who was talking.

“YOU’RE BOTH GIRLS!!!”

He paused to take stock.

“I just wanted to make sure you’re alright. There’ll be a load of traffic and dog walkers down this way soon, so you might want to get on.”

The roads to Wigan Pier turned out to be small and quiet, flat farm land and little villages, the greatest highlight being Helen Street. Having claimed what was rightfully mine, we sat in a greasy spoon waiting for Mel’s train to arrive. Veggie breakfast with black pudding — perfect!

Having introduced Mel and Charlotte, shared hugs and compared bikes, we hit the canal. The industrial heritage was beautiful, a cohesive whole. We quickly mastered the anti-motorbike blockades, working as a team to pass our panniered bikes through the narrow gaps. One lock gave us a glimpse of Narnia, with plants, path and paving smothered in fine white dust.

After the paving faded our bikes tripped over ruts and tree roots, but we were too distracted by the scenery. Wild woods, mossy streams, soft fields where fluffy sheep roamed. The air felt crisp and clean, while homely smell of barge wood burners warmed our cockles as we passed.

From Chorley we left the canal for Route 6, cycling through parks and greenspaces, leading us to slalom the one way systems of Preston. We didn’t stop, but it felt like a place of interesting buildings and a strong community. The old market thronged with life.

We spent the afternoon in a part of a transport corridor, the M6, A6, Lancashire Canal, West Coast Mainline all heading North in parallel. Cycle Route 6 twisted and turned, silently weaving between the big boys.

After deciding to eat at the next pub or cafe we came to, we stumbled upon Guy’s Thatched Hamlet. It was like the Olde Englishe Village-e at the theme park, but without the theme park. We found the last table as heavens opened. Sheets of water battered the ground, finding their way through the famous thatch, dribbling down to our table.

Again, attempts at a light lunch failed, despite our resistance to the temptation of Rainbow flavoured ice cream.

The rain stopped as we took back to the road. We twisted our way North, making it to Lancaster in time for Charlotte’s train. Mel and I continued on as the light faded, taking the A6 as a the most direct route. They were the fastest 14 miles of the day, the tarmac slipping away beneath us.

As we passed into the Lune Valley deja vu hit me at every turn. Nether Kellet, Capernwray Hall, Priest Hutton — the sites we’d learnt like the back of our hands for our final year project at Uni. I saw the bus stop where Hasila and I had set off to find the site for our Nuclear Fusion Power Station; the spot where Sue and I found a fairy glade of mossy stones and gnarly trees. Happy memories.

We cheered at every sign post — Carnforth — tick; Cumbria — tick; Burton in Kendal — tick. It was Mel’s birthday, and Mel wasn’t spending her birthday in a soggy bivvy bag. (Fair play.)

The King’s Arms put us up in the new annexe, we were sleeping in Wordsworth. Big beds with fluffy duvets that threatened to envelop us; a hot shower in a gleaming bathroom; hot chocolate waiting for us by the kettle. Perfect.

The landlord welcomed us, found us a secure spot for our bikes, and introduced us to the pub dogs. We drank prosecco, ate melt in the mouth fish, and were made to feel part of the family.

We slept like logs.

Sunday 27th March 2016

Bright sunlight drew us out from under the covers while the Lake District beckoned us to join it for a wonderful Spring day, but only after a Kings Arms helping good breakfast to get us up the hills.

With warnings of the A590 from the Kings Arms, we took the back roads and the cycle routes to Grange over Sands, the beach-free seaside resort. The route took us parallel to highway, then dived away to follow the coast, keeping behind the railway embankment to save those pesky cyclists from any distracting views of the estuary. We met another cyclist at a kissing gate, who offered us jelly babies to keep us going all the way to Wellington. The last section took us through an old estate, where the track deteriorated into broken bricks and muddles (technical term for muddy puddles. Luckily it was too warm for Michaels — icy muddy puddles.) We tip-toed through the bog, expecting hard ground to reappear at every turn. Only after bridging the river were we free to glide off on the tarmac.

Now we started on the hills. Granny gear, click, slog, slog, slog. Just keep spinning, just keep spinning… And hail. The ice beat down on our cowed backs as we left civilisation; we were gonna have to ride this damn thing out.

Ten minutes later, the view was back in glorious mode, and the sun glistened off our soaking thighs, carry away the cold and rewarding us for our labours. The road spun on, weaving through woods and fields, stone hamlets and rocky outcrops.

A troop of psychedelic rabbits jogged past, carrying baskets of eggs with their running gear. Happy Easter! I’d forgotten days could be marked by calendars and holidays, work days and weekends; my time was now bound by the landscape, the places and people that I passed.

Our route took a happy detour through Cartmel; that Cartmel. The infamous Village Shop sold every version of sticky toffee pudding. We each took a hot serving with ice cream, and ate it on the steps of the old market cross. The sugar poured straight into our arteries, pumping energy to our muscles and joy to our brains. We buzzed on out, ready to face our biggest climb yet…

“I was gonna lie in bed, but then I got high.

Lay there and wait to be fed, but then I got high.

My bed it still lies empty and I know why, cos I got high, cos I got high, cos I got hi-igh.”

As I got higher and higher up the hill I kept on singing. Did you know that song has 37 extra verses? No, neither did I. But it got me to the top, peddling, peddling, peddling. And was it worth it? Of course! Looking back over the valley where the mountains, the coast, the patchwork fields and forests came together like a rumpled counterpane of the Gods. Gusts of wind caught us, knocking us grinning as we headed on through the moor. Only our rumbling stomachs disrupted the wilderness.

We flew downwards to Grizebeck and the Greyhound. The standard pub fair cuddled with familiarity us as set about working out what would be the most filling yet least filling option to keep us on our way.

After Grizebeck we were faced with an indefinite number of short, sharp climbs; we traversed the foothills like cycling yo-yos, cursing every rise, secretly grateful when we glanced up the scree-slopes of the mountains beyond.

As the road headed North up the coast, the view at every turn was determined to outdo the previous. Cliffs vied with inlets, distant hilltops bathed in sunshine, and the more picturesque sheep. The final hill granted me the Wallace and Gromit theme for my sing-along.

From Gosforth it was only a hop, a skip and a jump to the final Wellington; it was so close it didn’t even merit a village sign for me to pose Charlie by. But it was the right place — as confirmed by the presence of Cat and Dan’s Wellington holiday cottage.

We were welcomed into the den of cosiness and food. We were shown to our quarters — the Dolphin Suite. The curtains, duvets and pictures were all dolphins, along with the soap rack, loo roll holder and toilet seat. There was even a bonus dolphin suspended from the wind chimes, just to be sure. The aqua blue walls suggested there could be many more dolphins just beyond the surface, waiting to emerge in the dead of night.

In the open living space, reaching up into the rafters the length of the cottage, Cat and Dan festooned us with Champagne, a tour of the fridge, and a beef Wellington. Shaped like a Wellington. With pastry Wellingtons on it. In Wellington. 2kg of finest beef had been transformed into even greater art, by the power or Wellington. (I never quite worked out if there were more Wellingtons or dolphins that night.)

Stuffed with meat, pastry, bubbles and cheer, we collapsed into our dolphin nests.

Wellington, Cumbria to Boot

Monday 28th March 2016

After tea and sticky toffee pudding hot cross buns, we set off in search of signs of Wellington. On a tiny green stood a tiny fingerpost, with tiny letters arched over the top reading “Wellington”. It would have to do.

With all of eight miles to go to complete the mission, we carried on in high spirits. The hills were noticeable, but not unmanageable; the craggy woods were stunning; the river Esk bumbled along, leading us closer and and closer to Boot.

The sign! We spotted the sign and cheered and whooped! The village was full of model boots, with The Boot Inn the crowning glory! Mel and I posed on the old bridge over the River Esk, jumping for joy. Cat and Dan joined us, taking on the roles of photographer as I perched on a stone wall, lining up my boots with Boot.

Sadly, the Boot Inn was closed for another hour, but the Brook House Inn was ready to take in celebratory cyclists at 11am. We drank beer from my boot shaped mug, carried all the way from London for this exact purpose, before gorging on Cumberland sausage. All the while, the Easter Fox bared its incisors and glared over us from above the bar, a fluffy pink basket sitting uneasily in its menacing jaws.

Return from Boot

Mel looked increasingly worried at talk of the Hardknott Pass — three times the height of the Grizebeck, and the most direct cycle route back to our booked trains from Oxenholme. With no signal to order a taxi, Mel was left with only one option — the miniature steam train back to Bootle, then the scenic coastal train to Grange over Sands.

I faced the beast of pass with optimism, relieved to see other cyclists taking on the task. The reassurance drained when I realised they were lycra clad racers on road bikes with no panniers. I scowled at my comedically huge sleeping bag, as if it alone was responsible.

At the base of the climb were the warning signs — 30%, not suitable for certain vehicles, not passable in certain weathers. There was even a phone box if you wanted to call it off.

I think I lasted about a quarter. On the flatter sections I might hop back on, and trundle a little further, before even the granny gear got unmanageable, and the bike felt ripe to flip backwards on the gradient. I trudged, pushing my bike for the first time. I’d made it to Boot alright — this was just the bonus ride after all.

Bank Holiday traffic oozed up and down, uncertain drivers testing their city runarounds in unknown territory. Near the top a car stopped, and the driver leapt out as I passed.

“I feel knackered just driving up these hills — you must be exhausted!” He grabbed my bike and continued pushing it, while I trotted alongside. He was a day tripper from Wigan, here with his girlfriend (patiently waiting in the car for her gallant partner). Realising how heavy a laden touring bike can be, his enthusiasm eventually waned, and he sprinted back down as the summit broached the horizon.

Wild moorland undulated away in every direction, the sun set hillsides alternately green and gold. The ribbon of road danced off into the distance, playing hide and seek in the topography. Not a house, not a town was visible. Wilderness — or something similar- roamed the vista, knocking out signs that could destroy the vision.

Plunging back down, again I reverted to walking as my fear of flipping forwards got the better of me. The valley floor was a delight, until the second climb out of the basin again left me scrambling like a spider in the bath.

A few tents nestled in a lay, while another billowed on a rocky ledge, its optimistic occupants scurrying round with rocks and ropes trying to hold down a sail in the wind.

As I descended to Windermere, the crowds grew. The steady trickle of cars grew to a torrent of coaches, buses and people carriers. I traipsed along, easing my chain through the gears that squeaked the least, enjoying the gentle down hill to Kendal.

The final climb brought me to Oxenholme Lake District. I managed to catch Mel in the Station Inn long enough to order chips for dinner, hug, and make sure we were both ok. I downed a half of cider and legged it back to the train, ready to snooze all the way the Euston.

***

So what did I learn on my Wellington Boot?

  • Travel with a smile (or, if that makes you look too crazy, a general air of happy openness) — people will be more willing to help you.
  • And wear a bobble hat. No one can be intimidating in a bobble hat.
  • Carry a handy map/ aide memoire of your journey — so you can show people what the hell you’re up to…
  • …and have an silly story, so they can get behind you.
  • Don’t be afraid of bivvying — no one seems to mind. I’ve been afraid of admitting I’ll be sleeping out near their village, and so closed off opportunities to talk in those pub evenings, fearful of that inevitable question.
  • Let providence guide you. The worst rain fell when I was inside anyway.
  • Project Awesome is just that. (I knew this already.)
  • Accept offers of help.
  • Sing your way to the top.
  • Prepare your gears in advance.
  • Views are best admired earnt.
  • Pubs are the cornerstones of British life, and there are many ciders named after pigs.