Day 47, Berkeley to Bristol, 29 miles, 'The End of the Severn Way'.
I'm not sure what it was exactly, maybe the stars weren't quite aligned or maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or much more likely it was the 8 pints at the Salutation Inn last night, but today was a gruelling challenge. The title says 29 miles but it could have been anything from 27 to 32, I lost count a bit and wandered off the beaten track so who knows, but one thing's for sure: it was long.
The beginning, however, was very pleasant. I walked back almost all the way to the Sal before turning to my right, off the roads and onto some quite lovely rural paths. Having walked the canal between Gloucester and Berkeley (well, near-ish to Berkeley) yesterday, it was time to find the mighty Severn again, and I had only around 3 or 4 miles heading west in order to be reunited with the UK's longest river (though the River Shannon in Ireland is 4 miles longer).
The paths wove around field boundaries and ran alongside nameless streams in a pleasant and unhurried manner, aggressive vegetation was as per usual, an issue but aside from a few nettle stings and some scratches from a very dense thicket the early miles slipped by easily. There were many cows, but fortunately they were behind fences - that is until I made it to the Severn. When I had last been by the river before Gloucester, the Severn had been a significant river, but still something you could probably play catch over if you had a decent arm - reaching the Severn estuary felt very much like reaching the sea itself. Across the water lay Wales, but it much have been at least a kilometre away as the river had widened significantly as it approached the Atlantic. Then as the estuary slowly drew into view, cows. Hundreds of cows. More cows than I had ever seen gathered in one place in my entire life. I had approached the herd from behind and saw them long before they saw me and so had time to plan my path around them - unfortunately I was spotted whilst scheming away and had to walk very swiftly (whilst seeming very calm) around the cows, overtaking them in the process. Initially they stood still as statues, but their curiosity overcame their fear and they began to slowly, then more determinedly, follow me. As the path simply follows the Severn at its widest point, there were very few gates and the bovine army must have been on my tail for at least 2 miles. When I eventually found a fence I hopped over eagerly and rested for a few minutes, finally safe from the beefy aggressors who followed me all the way to the gate to stare at me with dead and unblinking eyes.
And with the cows behind me I was finally back on the Severn proper - though it was no longer charming forest paths and idyllic country pubs, this had an industrial feel to it. The walkway was nearly all tarmac and signs sprung up every mile or so to punctuate the wire fencing, warning people against riptides and bloodthirsty cattle. Compared to the countryside charm of somewhere like Bewdley, this felt more like walking the Thames than anything else.
Still, my hangover was decreasing with each step and far off in the distance I could see two huge bridges over the river, I noted these were likely close to Bristol and could be used as a visual way to determine my progress. For hours I marched alongside the estuary and those bridges never seemed to get any closer. I met an old couple cycling, a pleasant blonde-haired family, walked right by an abandoned nuclear power plant, took a break for lunch and still those bridges seemed as far away as ever. Eventually I found an abandoned bird spotting hut and took refuge for a while, as rain had begun to fall.
Eventually, after at least 5 full hours of walking, the first bridge loomed slowly towards me but regrettably there was no way forward, it had all been blocked off, so I was forced to walk an extra mile or so away from the river, through an odd looking service station, and then finally back onto the path. I finally made it to the second bridge which was for the M4, having walked through the Severn Beach, an area famous for summer holidays back in the 1920s and 30s, but now an abandoned and rather sorry site.
When i finally got to the end of the Severn, I realised I still had about 8 miles to go to get into Bristol itself - I had arranged to meet 2 friends there this evening who would be walking with me to Bath tomorrow, and didn't want to keep them waiting any longer than was strictly necessary. I gave genuine consideration to calling a cab or jumping on a bus and just not telling anyone as the 8 miles into Bristol would be hard going on tarmac with very few sights out amongst the suburbia. However the moment of despair passed after a brief rest and I continued on my march into Bristol, passing through an unceasing backdrop of mute, sterile towns. Hallen, Henbury, Westbury on Trim, and so on. They all looked and felt exactly the same which, bizarrely, helped 8 long miles pass by without incident, though unfortunately the scenery was so uninspiring there are no photos of this rather urban section. But at least I had walked it and not succumbed to temptation. Around 7pm I finally arrived into Bristol, met up with my friends and enjoyed yet another debaucherous evening as we toured the bars and pubs with enthusiasm before I clocked in, knowing that tomorrow I would have company, and then a full rest day to enjoy in Bath.