Chepstow is a nice enough town on the Bristol channel which, amongst other claims to fame is the start point of Offa’s Dyke LDP (Long Distance Path).
From when my Dad retired in the late 1980s until he could no longer manage, he and I and a mix of friends undertook an annual week’s (sometimes longer) linear walk. In those 12 years or so we saw some of the most beautiful parts of England, Wales and Scotland and, occasionally, some of the most drear. One of our favourites was Offa’s Dyke
Offa’s Dyke sort of contours along the England-Wales border from Prestatyn in the North, adjacent to Liverpool Bay and the North Sea to Chepstow in the South on the mouth of the River Severn.
The blurb says:
The 177 mile route crosses high wild moorland, attractive well cultivated wide river valleys and ancient woodland. It passes through historic towns and isolated hamlets. En route can be seen hill forts, castles, abbeys and surviving remains of the habitations of former occupants of the beautiful corridor of the path. The flora and fauna are as rich and as varied as the scenery.
There are many places of note on this walk and many on the others we did but Chepstow gets the nod for this challenge, for reasons which will become apparent.
One excitement of our undertaking Offa’s Dyke was that it took us abroad for the first time – into Wales. We would eventually brave the West Highland Way and some magnificent Scottish Scenery and hospitality and, eventually, we ventured to one of the darkest corners of our little island – Norfolk – which, while technically not a separate state maintains an independence and curiosity borne of its isolation stuck away on England’s eastern rump. For those not accustomed to the geography hereabouts look at the map of England – to the east you will see a shape that is reminiscent of the Kardashian arse that supposedly broke the Internet. Norfolk is the topmost part of that topographical tush though without the champagne glass.
The main reason it features today is that is was here that I had one of the most tricky – trickiest? – conversations with Textiliste that I have had in the 38 years we have been together.
To set the scene -it’s May 1994…
I set off after work on the Friday for my parents’ house in the New Forest. I had to dash in and out rather, leaving as I was, the Textiliste and two small children (aged 1 and 4) to fend for themselves for a week. Do I remember feeling guilty alongside the excitement? Hmm.
On the Saturday morning Dad and I drove to Stan’s house where all participants gathered. Our party numbered six. Dad and me. Ernie the Map. Pete the MC, Stan the Van and Terry the Tar. We had a minivan (hence Stan’s nickname). Terry (a proud former sailor, giving him his) and Stan were along for the craic as well as the designated drivers. Due to various ailments they did only a little of the walking between dropping us off, meeting for lunch, if the route allowed and collecting us at the end. Between whiles they would explore the area, having a grand old time in their own right. Pete and I are old uni buddies. He was already a boring management consultant but had the biggest personality in the group so set the tone for a lot of our discussions along the route. Our MC.
Ernie was the star without whom no walk would happen. He worked out the route, and the meeting points and the accommodation. He also liked to think he could read a map… Oh well I always had mine, just in case!
We drove from Basingstoke to Chepstow at a leisurely pace. We arrived at about three for tea and scones, debating breakfast times (the old men wanted it early to coincide with their shrinking bladders – Pete and I , who were the ones still working, happily envisaged 8am as plenty early enough). There was a lot of banter and goodwill.
‘I’ll just go and ring Mrs LeP,’ I said. ‘Just to let her know we’ve arrived safely.’ And headed off for a phone box. No mobiles back in 1994. Dad came with me, planning on ringing mum. I went first. I got through on the second ring.
‘Yes?’ If the tone didn’t give it away the background noise of two wailing children might have hinted at some tension.
‘Hi love. It’s me. We made it safely.’
Silence, at least from the Textiliste.
‘Sounds a bit manic just now. How’s the day been?’
‘Oh not bad….’ Something told me the pause was a build up, not an opportunity to interrupt. ‘For my tenth wedding anniversary.’
I was flummoxed. It couldn’t.. It wasn’t… I looked at my watch, accusingly telling me it was indeed 19th May.
They say, when in a hole stop digging. But there are some holes in which you find yourself, when all you can do is pull the earth back in and bury yourself completely.
While I struggled to regain the power of speech she said, all bright and breezy, ‘And you, good journey? How’s Chepstow?’
Being nice doesn’t ease the pain any, you know. Dad wondered why I looked pale but once I had assured him the grandchildren and the Textiliste were well he happily took over to call mum.
I wandered round that sweet little town hating every ancient arch and cobbled stone. I spent a small fortune in a jewellers buying a locally made glass bowl with our date and anniversary details to be engraved on it. It didn’t really help.
Since then we have ticked off another twenty years. Sometimes she forgets the day. She laughs; we both do when I’m the only one with the card and present and surprise dinner date. She can afford to. My debt will never be repaid.