Leaving Holme Fen, drizzle turned to downpour and I was happy to reach the Elephant and Castle in Wood Walton at midday. This drowned rat was soon joined by some of the locals, also drenched from a do at Stilton. Having dried out a little and after a complementary mug of tea and a ham and cheese sandwich I ventured into the brightening afternoon with a bounce in my step, soon removed as the thick clay formed a heavy overshoe around my feet.
I rejoined the Icknield Way though a map, a guidebook (written, as most seem to be, for those travelling in the opposite direction) and some strange waymarking to be more problematic than anticipated. My final day on this trail would prove horrendous. After careful planning, anything that could have gone wrong did, and a Birthday that began watching a pair of fox cubs playing on the path before me, ended – at last! The Ridgeway National Trail, although wet underfoot, was nettle-free and easy to follow.
The first two and a half weeks had felt like two and a half months and I was badly in need of a rest day, which I took at Wallingford, and proved to be a turning point on my journey. A shoulder/neck injury that had me on the verge of passing out in a supermarket was now under the influence of painkillers and I would see no more rain on my way to the coast.
The trail was now dry. Along the byways to Avebury, across Salisbury Plain and past Stonehenge towards the Dorset coast, the hill forts encountered en route would be a constant reminder of the ancient origins of this route.
The wildlife encountered, butterflies in abundance, the rich variety of birds (including a Red Kite), the young deer in the woods and the old dears on their rambles, all woven into the rich tapestry of the English countryside.
Reading a text message before departure, “What a lovely day for you to start such an adventure.” Indeed.
The first five days along the Angles Way the sun shone and all was well. The roads (more than expected), were pounding the soles of my feet, and new footwear (not worn in, stupid I know), provided a slight degree of discomfort.
My foot massage skills, well practised on the Coast to Coast and Pennine Way, were proving effective and the blisters kept in check with the magic of Compeed.
Then the rains came! For ten days or more I was walking with soggy feet and living in a soggy tent, with laundry and drying opportunities rather elusive.
Heading off the established long distance path towards Holme Fen, I was trudging along on the heavy clay such ancient tracks avoided and my supply of clean, dry socks was disappearing like a well known Yorkshire football club from the Premiership.
A bright, sunny Sunday afternoon saw me to Holme for a couple of jars before the short stroll to the Fen. These factors combined left me feeling less than 100% as I crawled into my sleeping bag for the night. I explored the area the following morning for a photo opportunity, then headed South for my next destination.