54 kilometers, 3 days of walking, 2 sore feet.
Setting off from behind Kingsland Hall in thick fog with a rucksack full of clothes, food and some more food; and the promise of good weather ahead made a light mood from apprehension. The mist cleared as we entered Wales, and all seemed to go going well. That was until we started walking…
Barely 500 meters into the first 18-kilometer leg, our first turning proved elusive. Perhaps it was there, but hidden by plants, or maybe it was disused and totally overgrown; either way we went straight past it. We soon found ourselves making a plan to get to the first checkpoint based on the fact we were heading south and not north. A route of roughly the same length was jumbled together, and with a splash of luck and a few well-noticed wrong turns, we made it through our first 5k. “No more deviations from the route” came the warning, and so with double and triple checks of the map we set out across the first of many fields of cows.
Day 1 went on and the distance left slowly fell until finally just one huge hill stood in our way. Five minutes pass as a blur of pain from my legs, and then we are there in the campsite, tent half built, stove cooking, eating, chatting, and then asleep.
An early morning accompanied with the freezing cold greeted us at sunrise. Eating through half our supply of bacon, we packed everything away and set off. 200 metres later we stopped, continuing our theme of getting lost early on. This time we recovered our error without any extra walking, and were quickly on route for a 3k walk up, and then around, a hill. We dropped down into the valley, over the bridge along a road, and then began the main assent for the day. It was 180 meters of elevation and a 15% gradient and higher. Pushing on up hill we found a rhythm and were soon at our lunch stop, tired, but pleased. From there the day followed a seemingly endless road for eight or more kilometres, before we disappeared off down a path, which swung around into the next campsite. The final three kilometers found us having almost an hour of breaks, and sore backs and blistered feet slowed progress. The campsite provided some much-desired relaxation; and a chance to get some food on board.
We woke the next morning to find ice on the outside of the tent – or at least one of us did, the other 5 (myself included) decided to wait in our sleeping bags until things warmed up. The mood was light and positive with our final 18k underway, every step now nearing the last checkpoint. We were set to follow a single trail much of the way, but despite this, within 500 metres we had pulled our usual trick of missing a turning, and so with a backtrack, and a test for the light mood, we were back under way. The rucksacks sat heavy with damp tents and the weight of exhaustion, but after a 2000-meter detour around a hill we were relieved to be heading towards our last big climb. We saw it as we crossed the bridge – a huge hill, and a winding path disappearing around a corner.
We pressed on, thoughts of lunch driving us forwards up and up, step after step. A brief down hill, and then up yet again. Lunch. Rucksacks hit the floor as six tired hikers rested weary calf muscles for a euphoric moment. The end was finally in sight, just 8 kilometres away, relief. From lunch all went as planned, the mini-bus proving a welcome sight to end our expedition. We were glad to stop walking, but had it been so bad? It had hurt at times, tempers had risen at times – but that was what DofE was about, surely? Working together, overcoming problems, and pressing on. But most importantly: being more than a group of people, and becoming a group of friends. It was a road worth walking for sure, and a memory to keep forever.