I’ll keep on walking, no matter what

Published 23 July 2023

Large rucksack on a picnic bench at a campsite in Knighton, near the Offa's Dyke Path
Sometimes the best place for a rucksack is not on your back.

A few weeks ago I spent the weekend walking part of the Offa’s Dyke Path.  For those that don’t know, it’s a path that follows the England/Wales border, partly in company of a huge dyke constructed on the orders of King Offa of the Kingdom of Mercia. 

It was, arguably, not my most successful walking trip.  Lack of affordable accommodation meant I’d opted to camp.  That meant carrying all my camping gear in my rucksack, something I’ve not done for twelve years since I’d walked the Southern Upland Way.  I knew It would be doable, but I also knew it takes time to get used to carrying such a heavy load. And I was unlikely to build up enough tolerance in the two days I would be walking.

Even packing as light as I could, it was a lot of weight to suddenly get used to.  Not helped by me belatedly realising that the complicated back adjustment straps on the pack were not in the correct place.  I’d lent my 80L rucksack to a friend a few years earlier who is much taller than me.  I sorted it out in the end, but too late to avoid a bit of back pain, and a bit of bruising on my shoulders from the straps.

Then there was the fact that the first of the two days was very up and down.  We’re talking serious undulation here.  Walking on the flat when you’ve not carried a very heavy rucksack for a while, well that’s doable.  I could cope with that.  Going downhill is bit harder but also achievable.  Just watch your balance, especially when it’s steep.  Going uphill?  Oh boy, that’s seriously hard work.  Exhausting even.  If it had been only one hill, I could have got away with it.  But a day of ascents and descents followed rapidly by another ascent.  Well that was absolutely exhausting.  For good measure I had to walk fifteen miles of this. And there wasn’t even an open pub at the end of the day to relax in.

Thankfully the second day was a lot flatter, and a lot easier. I managed to get to the place I was planning to end at. I even mostly enjoyed it, despite how hard it was. 

Until I was within a mile of the train station for the ride home.  

I was at a zebra crossing.  Cars had stopped for me, so I started to cross.  The train wasn’t for a while, but there was a pub near the station.  I was in high spirits.

And then disaster.  Unknown to me, my laces had – somehow – worked themselves free of the hooks at the top of my right walking boot.  The laces were still tied.  The knot, that was secure.  But free of the hooks, there was a lot of boot lace dangling around. 

Well you can guess what happened.  Half way over the crossing and I was suddenly on the ground.  The weight of the rucksack meant I landed very heavily.  Skin was removed from my right elbow and knee.  Blood was flowing down my arm.  And then there was the chest pain.

I sort of noticed it at the time, but I only really twigged about that about an hour later.  I’d clearly bruised – possibly even cracked – my ribs.  Breathing was difficult.  Coughing and laughing, painful.  As I type this, a few weeks later, the pain’s gone down, but still there.  If it had happened at the start of the trip, I would have needed to have abandoned the whole thing.

Yeah, not the best of walking trips really.

Yet within days of this happening, I was staring at the maps, trying to work out my next steps.  Research showed that, again, there was a dearth of accommodation and I’d probably need to camp again.  Shorter distances though.  Fewer hills.  Yeah, I could do that, I thought.  A plan started to be drawn.

I could have been put off by the bad experience.  Shelved the Offa’s Dyke Path there and then.  But that wouldn’t have been very resilient.  You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.  There’s lots of smooth when you’re long distance walking.  But there’s a lot of potential for rough too.  And, for the most part, the smooth outweighs the rough.  Getting outdoors, exploring the countryside, seeing the country, that has huge benefits.  It – generally – brings peace.  Relaxation.  It helps reset my mind.  Bring a sense of calm and sense of order. 

No matter what the setbacks, I’ll keep on going.  Keep on heading out into the countryside, even if it does mean suffering the consequences of a slightly too heavy rucksack.  Hey, even if I do have to spend a few weeks after not doing very much in order to let my ribs recover.

As long as I can do long distance walks, I will keep on doing them.  No matter what.


Vic Flange

23 July 2023 at 10:12 am

Oh, Andrew, sorry to hear about the fall but glad that you’re recovering, and just as importantly that you are not letting it dampen your enthusiasm for future walks. Your post covers quite a few issues that resonate with me but far too much to cover in a comment (so I won’t).

By chance, earlier this week, for the first time in years – certainly pre-pandemic – I looked at your Flickr site and was pleasantly surprised to see that in March you started Offa’s Dyke Path. Have far have you reached? My guess is that your two-day trip above might have been Knighton to Welshpool (though I don’t recall a pub being near to the station, from my walk of Glyndwr’s Way a couple of years back).

NB I mostly camp these days – due to the cost of B&Bs which has greatly increased in the last five years or so – and I’m about ten years older than you. As you mention, I find after about five or so days the body gets used to the weight as it strengthens in response to the load but I probably carry less than you (usually a 45l bag but sometimes a 60l).

Keep on going :-)

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

24 July 2023 at 1:30 pm

Hi Vic – yes, I’ve got as far as Welshpool. I think it will be next year before I can get back to do the rest, but we’ll see. The pub I went to at Welshpool is about 300m from the station, next to a Tesco. Not exactly obvious!

I’m always agog at how people manage to go out on camping trips with something like a 45L rucksack! I don’t think I’ve ever filled my 80L pack (technically a 70+10) to its full capacity – probably had a good 10-15L free this time. But I’d struggle to get my tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mat, and cooking stuff in my 50L pack, yet alone anything else!

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

24 July 2023 at 1:38 pm

Thinking about it, if I could tie my mat to the outside of the pack like a lot of people do, it would probably be doable with a smaller pack. But it’s a MultiMat one with a stuff bag that folds in half lengthways, then rolls up to fit in a stuff bag, so I always put it inside. But it does take up a lot of space.

Vic Flange

30 July 2023 at 3:22 pm

I tend to put the flysheet on the outside of the rucksack (in a drybag or stuffed in a pocket if it’s wet). My mat is a Thermarest NeoAir XLite – which I’ve had for about ten years now. It’s probably a lot lighter and smaller than your mat.

And I don’t take a cookset with me: I just rely on pubs/restaurants and if not available just have some ‘dry’ rations to keep me going. I’ll probably still do this when I walk the Southern Upland Way in September (assuming the weather looks OKish). On which point, I’ve been picking up some pointers from your account, so thanks! I’ve bought a DrinkSafe filter – now available with a folding bottle.

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