3.15 miles about 1.5h 166m ascent
Near Bala, Gwynedd
I sat nursing the last vestiges of a hangover, warmed by the afternoon sun. The planned morning walk had not panned out. We had found the lakeside path closed. Three generations had succumbed to post lunch somnolence but I felt in need of a wee stroll. Half an hour would clear my head.
The track up to the cottage was marked as a public footpath. I had, as the song says, no particular place to go, but thought I might follow the footpath for a quarter of an hour and then turn back.
I climbed the stile and set off across the field that had held young bulls earlier in the day. I had no route planned but an idea began to take form as I walked. I found myself walking uphill and I wondered if I would be able to see Lake Bala from the higher ground ahead.
Whenever I had to choose a direction, I chose that which took me uphill. It was no great gradient but I felt it all the same. A faint track had been worn in the grass but it turned downhill towards some farm buildings in a wee hollow, so I left it to continue uphill.
The sun was hot and the air still. I could now see the young bulls down in the lower part of the field and I felt better to find the next field had sheep. I climbed the gate which had long since lost its ability to open and continued my uphill trek watched by sheep. This brought me to a single track road. I had intended continuing on through the field opposite but was faced with a line of horned sheep on the other side of the gate. No words were needed. The message in their eyes was clear, something between ‘fuck off’ and ‘do you feel lucky, punk’.
I considered and chickened out. The road offered more uphillness so I looked at the sky, took a breath and walked up the hill until I was at the top. Question answered. I couldn’t see the lake. And now it was time to head back. I would walk back the way I had come. I felt a little better already.
But as I walked down the road I decided a change of route might be more interesting. I would continue along the roads back to the cottage. Then I saw it. A green sign. A walking figure. A public right of way. That would do.
Some uphill again then down over very uneven ground, mud churned by cows then dried out, almost. Cuckoo flowers, celendine and dandelions grew in the grass. I looked at the map and found my descent had taken me across nine contour lines. At a narrow road I wondered if I should continue on down into Bala and ring Mrs M and ask her to pick me up in the car. But did we have phone reception in the cottage?
No, that would not do. It would be better to accept the necessary climb and walk back myself. A signpost pointed to another public footpath. A well constructed stile took me over the fence but I was left to cross a stream just beyond it. I didn’t notice the bridge (hidden by long grass) until I had leapt across.
This was more of a public right of way than a footpath and involved crossing the type of grass that screams out ‘it’s wet here’. I walked through fields of grass, barley (I think), sheep and lambs, turned soil (the tractor still ploughing), and then more young bulls. This last field did have a track in the grass but the bulls seemed to be guarding it and had to be given a wide berth.
My jaunt got a respite from the uneven fields with a kilometre or so of country lanes after that. Easy road walking, mostly downhill with very few cars, gave me a chance to examine the hedgerows. One of the buzzards I had seen the day before circled above the fields.
When I was back in the fields again, a farmer noticed me plodding along the edge of a field and came over to ask if I was OK. His facial expression suggested he was asking about my mental health more than anything else. I reassured him I was alright. I was now close by the farm in the hollow that I had avoided on my way out. Unfortunately my way back to the cottage was through the farmyard, unless I wanted to retrace the previous hour of walking.
It looked as though the farmyard was either being used a slurry storage area or had suffered a muck spreading accident. All other routes to where I needed to be had been fenced, barbed-wired or blocked. I realised how deep the muck was when a collie crawled out through a gate, gave me a half-hearted bark, and then ran through it. I tried several routes through the yard, shinning along gates, hopping between what appeared to be likely islands of safety but there was no avoiding it. I reached the other side with shoes (and lower trouser-legs) coated in s?!t.
I was now back in the field with the young bulls but they were further down the field. As I walked on I saw Mrs M and the rest of our group sitting outside the cottage. I was almost back, an hour and a half had passed and my hangover was gone. An arm waved to me leisurely.
Then the waving was more insistent. I waved back and plodded on. They were calling to me but I couldn’t make out what was being said. As I reached the stile I heard a low grunt nearby and turned to see that the bulls were converging on me. I was just over the stile before the closest reached me.