Day 48, Bristol to Bath. 18 miles, 'Bill, Andrew and the long straight road.'
For those who read the previous day's entry, you'll know that today we welcome two brand new intrepid adventurers to the annals of this blog, as I was joined by my friends Andrew (though I call him Fraser), and Bill (I just call him Bill) for today's walk. As ever, let's get the run down on our new characters before we continue.
(In no particular order)
Name: Andrew (but I'll be calling him Fraser in this entry).
Profession: Something to do with films. It all sounds very technical.
Likes: Rangers FC (even though he's definitely not Scottish...), sleeping in far passed socially acceptable times for a grown man and picking up mysterious hiking injuries with alacrity.
Dislikes: Celtic FC (presumably...) and losing at FIFA.
Key Hiking Strength: Can stay reasonably chipper all day.
Key Hiking Weakness: Legs.
Profession: Oooh that's a tough one. Something to do with university funding and project management? Or science? I think it might be science...I know Bill actually reads this blog so hello from the past, and sorry.
Likes: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Birmingham City FC and long walks on the beach.
Dislikes: Getting caught out in the rain halfway up a mountain in Scotland and disappointing football under Tony Pulis.
Key Hiking Strength: Always smiles convincingly in the photos.
Key Hiking Weakness: I suspect he actually hates hiking.
It's also worth noting that I know Bill has some solid hiking experience under his belt, as we tackled the West Highland Way together a few years ago and whilst he did moan about his knees a lot, he did get there in one piece, but I was confident both the lads would make Bath with relative ease today as 16 miles is very doable even without training, especially as we were on a glorified cycle path for most of the day.
The day itself started out in very promising fashion. We agreed to meet up in the morning at a park in the south east of Bristol that marked the beginning of the Bristol-Bath railway path, a 16 mile track that follows the route of a now-disused train line. Just at the edge of the park lay a breakfast van, and I mean one of the proper, old school ones surrounded by men in high visibility over-suits, smoking and talking easily amongst themselves. Now I've found these authentic working mens' food vans can go one of two ways, they can either be fantastic value for money with sometimes ridiculous amounts of bacon in your roll for two quid, or they can give you botulism. Fortunately today was an example of the former, and so we sat happily in the adjacent park and greedily consumed our gigantic breakfast baps before cracking on.
As you can see from the above, both Bill and Fraser are quite casually dressed, as they should be for a relatively short and simple days walk between two cities. I on the other hand, wore my full war gear: colossal hiking bag, hiking poles, boots with two months wear from the top of Scotland, gore-tex mac, lycra underpants and a full on beard. As we strolled on I became increasingly aware that it looked very much like I had massively over-prepared for what looked like a short walk into town, but what can you do.
The railway path was actually a bit of a disappointment to be honest; it was very effective at being a path and hardly deviated at all, but it didn't feel like hiking as you were never really out of sight of a road or some building. It was quite pleasant though, especially as we drew further out of Bristol, but first we had a pit stop to make. We quite quickly realised, about two hours in, that the path was only around 15 miles long and that we were making nearly 4 mph on the flat, tarmacked surface - if we didn't stop for a break we would be in Bath by lunchtime - so we consulted the handy railway path map / information stands that were spaced every mile or so, and took a detour to the pub.
But the first pub we chanced upon was closed and, to be frank, didn't look all that anyway and so after a short discussion, headed instead to Mangotsfield (sounds awful does't it?) where a pub would be open. We arrived at the Red Lion and enjoyed an incredibly cheap pint (£2.50 in this day and age...), a few games of free pool and were soon back on the path. We had added on around 3 miles to our day, but to be honest we could easily afford it. When we returned to the railway path the train theme had become far more pronounced, with actual steam trains running slowly up and down the tracks full to the brim with pearly teethed pensioners beaming enthusiastically from the windows. The old stations became less like the abandoned and overgrown affairs pictured above, and began to come with cafes, bunting and picnic tables attached. All in all it was a pleasant evolution to the day and the path continued to improve in aesthetics as time went on, although it remained firmly tarmacked.
As we approached Bath, with the path becoming ever greener and the scenery more impressive, Bill and Fraser were both struck down with the 'Day 1 aches', first Fraser began to experience a mysterious pain in his left knee which left him hobbling slightly, then Bill's feet packed in leaving him limp and footsore for the remaining miles. In all fairness, the only reason I wasn't hobbling was sheer recent experience, long distance hiking isn't meant to be carried out with stone underfoot all day and it's no surprise we were all feeling fairly weary by the time we got into Bath. The final miles weren't fantastic either as we were forced to stroll along the incredibly thin and busy path around the River Avon into town, still the buildings were nice enough.
And just like that Bill and Fraser ended their adventure on the end-to-end trail! We celebrated with pizza and beer and after Bill headed home that evening, onto a series of excellent cocktail bars - Fraser and I were staying in Bath overnight and I had a full rest day tomorrow so we gave ourselves free reign of the city. I planned to do very little tomorrow other than wash my clothes and sleep, and after that? There would be no more Severn Way or easy cycle paths to follow, from here to Glastonbury it would be very much 'make it up as you go', a challenge I was both looking forward to immensely, and dreading.
Oh, a big thank you to Bill & Fraser for their company, cheers boys!