I haven’t worked out the overall score for today, but although it feels in general like a bronze day, or perhaps a silver one, it is going to be recorded forever more as a diamond day, because of the sense of achievement, and the particularly special part I completed.
Today, I crossed the Severn Bridge. I have now completed all the way from the Humber Estuary to the Severn Estuary (except the last element along the Thames that will be the final weekend, and the 4 miles at Bigbury that are still haunting me). I think I can say, however, that I have completed the south of England and am now in beautiful Wales.
It was generally an easy day. I left at the crack of dawn from Clifton Down station and reached Avonmouth just as it was getting light – around 7.30am. The road through the docks was incredibly busy and smelly (there was definitely something very dead somewhere) and I could almost feel my lungs being coated with black slime as the lorries thundered past.
Eventually the path (part of the Severn Way) leaves the road and runs beside the railway track, between hedges of brambles. At Severn Beach, the path becomes a promenade, where the early fishermen were out in force.
The fog that had been expected yesterday, turned up today, so although it was not cold, I could see very little of the view. There was no sign of the lower Severn Bridge, although I could hear traffic and the beeping of horns. It was quite strange, as the bridge is so enormous, to know it was there, but invisible. It did not emerge from the mist until I was no more than 30 yards away – and even then, I could only see the couple of pillars nearest me. The sun was struggling to come through, and I hoped that it would come out to allow me to see the upper bridge, which was my crossing point.
I passed under the bridge, the trucks on the M4 roaring over my head, and continued along the promenade, which meandered for about half a mile, before turning inland and becoming a very easy track along dykes built to manage the salt marsh. Looking back, I could see the mist clearing and part of the bridge now visible. Ahead, there was still no sign of the second bridge. The sun was trying harder, and the grass was glossy green.
The path led onto a lane, and I rejoiced to see the tip of what I thought was part of the bridge, only to realise it was a metal pylon from previous engineering works, but after another ten minutes, bits of bridge became fleetingly visible as the mist rolled back and partially broke up.
I reached Aust around eleven. I was so hungry I could have eaten my own arm. Normally, I don’t worry too much about food when walking, but obviously, I had not had enough breakfast. I debated walking into Aust to see if there were a shop, although it did not look hopeful, and I was reluctant to add a half mile each way. I whipped out the phone (normally well hidden and turned off when walking) and saw that the motorway services were not far. So I elected to cross the motorway, on a walkway across the toll-booths of the M48 and grab an early lunch.
Fortified, I returned to the south side and began the big adventure. The upside of it being misty was that there was little wind. I muffled up and pulled on my hood, but was not particularly cold. There is a walkway on either side, but I had decided on the south side, as my original idea of going to Chepstow was superseded by the decision to carry on as far as Severn Tunnel Junction.
As I walked over, stopping for frequent pictures, I was amazed at the number of motorway maintenance vans that tootled up and down the walkway. Not sure where they were all going as they trundled along at 10 miles per hour, stopping for a chat as they passed each other.
Crossing the bridge took about twenty minutes. I then joined the Wales Coast Path. I must say I am hugely impressed with the signage. At every point where there might be confusion, there is a marker, and the ones at the stiles are tall, with yellow tips, so you can see them as you scan the far side of a field, looking for the exit.
The path was easy, behind various factories, then down along the estuary shore. There was so much mud in parts, it nearly sucked my boots off, but the trip was uneventful. The only bovines were docile Welsh Blacks, not feisty Friesians, and so they paid no attention to me. I passed an ancient holy well site, dedicated to the Celtic king, Tewrig, who scored a nifty victory over the Saxons not far away. The statue of him showed him crowned, but unshod. An early example of ‘all fur coat and no knickers’, I suppose.
I won’t bore you all with the appalling Great Western Rail service back to Clifton Down: suffice to say, it was not the highlight of the day. 17.5 miles