"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
12 Hour Walk (UK Team) - April 12th - 2021 - Bristol to Severn View
Last year when I took part in a relay version of the Sri Chinmoy 12 Hour Walk I didn't for a second anticipate that we would all still be locked down in the UK rather than holding the event on our road loop at Jamaica High School as we always do. Here we were again though - still in a pandemic and still looking to take part in some way or other, each in our home city on our own course.
I had started out on a hard 100k bike ride the day before, then aborted due to a major mechanical. While that was bad news, it did mean that I finished the day planning what I could do as my contribution to The Walk - rather than sitting this event out as I probably would have done had the bike ride gone to plan. I had been planning for ages to try and find a trail/road route on foot out to the Peace Plaque at Severn View and this seamed like the perfect time to do it. I got my maps out and guessed it was around 20 miles - with dry conditions meaning I could walk fast on the roads (as the 12 hour walk is a race/challenge after all) but at the same time explore the trails around Ingst and have a "meditative" walking experience as many others would be doing across the globe. I was out the door early on a cold but bright day and soon into the swing of sub-15 mins pace. For an hour or two that is no great challenge but I know from experience that as time wears on that pace gets tougher and tougher.
I was soon out at Almonsdsbury with the busy A38 behind me, ready to head off down Fernhill and head on to the lanes. My map showed a path under or over the motorway that cut off the corner so I tried to find it but found only a dead-end street. I think the map is showing paths up to each side of the highway that don't actually join. That slight detour apart I made good time and around every corner I had a new sighting of the bridge, slightly closer, slightly more in focus, as the miles in between grew fewer.
Around Tockington I was on the course of our duathlon event, past Duckingham Palace (the ducks were out on their island sunbathing, not in the palace, as you'd expect) then I was on to my first off-road section to bypass Tockington and find my way to Olveston.
Coming over the hill the bridge came into view again, against the backdrop of the Forest of Dean. I was listening to Sri Chinmoy's songs, poems and talks on my headphones and despite the stiff challenge of 4-mph walking on mixed terrain I was definitely drifting into a meditative mood. My whole body and mind felt flooded with a sense of peace and wellbeing. Painful sensations were there too in legs and feet, but they were fading into the background and the elevated mood held sway.This was the experience I'd been hoping for.
I was back on the road after Olveston and then turned on to the lane through Ingst. I knew from experience this road would be dead quiet and so it proved. I could have gone as quickly via the main road but it is not really a safe route for walking or running, so I was determined to find the elusive trails between Ingst and Aust that would take me over the fields and across the rhines to my destination.
I found the end of the footpath and managed to match up the map with the view just enough to find the hidden gates and styles at each field boundary. In places I also had to negotiate old, collapsed footbridges with snapped and sunken planks offering a doubtful route over the rhines. On previous attempts to find this route to the bridge I had given up after finding paths that ended blindly in the middle of nowhere or came up against impassable obstacles but this time the route slowly unfolded and I found myself on the lane at Aust, passing the church and the flags at half-mast for the recently departed Duke of Edinburgh. All morning I had hardly seen anyone - it was lockdown-silent despite the fact that pubs were due to open for the first time in months (outdoors only) that very day.
From Aust I took the trackway that leads to the old tollbooth bridge, then I was up at the Viewpoint and standing on the very spot where Sri Chinmoy held his Peace Meditation 30 years ago. I stood there and had my own peace meditation, gazing into the sky and contemplating the swirling waters of the estuary. I was in no hurry so I let it run for a while before turning on my heel for the return journey. I had worked my way through a lot of bars so I refuelled at Costa and gave myself a shot of coffee for the 10 miles back to Filton. After all I knew the second ten miles would be harder than the first.
I had hoped to take a different route back but there were closure signs on one of the paths so I retraced my steps towards Ingst. A farmer clocked me in his field from a tractor and I saw him stop to watch me, doubtless thinking I would get lost trying to trace the well-hidden path, but I remembered it exactly from an hour or two before and had no trouble finding the broken bridges and making my way through the maze back to the road.
Here I decided to push on along the trails instead of heading for Olveston, and as a result I had quite an interesting experience. I followed a waymarked public footpath over some fields and found it blocked by an electric fence. I took a detour on the assumption that was what the landowner intended, but had to climb around a section of fence overhanging a drainage ditch to rejoin the path. Then, still scrupulously following the arrows I found myself in a yard of trailers being menaced by a large, aggressive dog. One of the residents came out and told me I was off the path (though I clearly wasn't). I asked her to show me where it was but she just pointed me towards the gate so I could get out. The whole place had a heavy and brooding consciousness which I had picked up on before on one of my abortive attempts to find the route from Bristol to Bridge. I should have guessed on that occasion that the place was bad news and not tried to cross that way again. I asked myself why, having acquired the sensitivity to spot these negative and hostile vibrations I then insist on walking straight through them anyway? No matter. I'll know not to bother next time, as the people on this spot clearly don't know what the "public" in "public footpath" means and have decided to use blockage and intimidation to keep people out.
I mused on all this for a while as I speed-walked the road to make up for lost time but decided the best thing was to forget it as soon as possible and not dwell on the negative side of an otherwise blissful day.
Soon I was back on the beautiful trails around Tockington, with Almondsbury Church as a beacon up ahead of me to help me stick to the right course. I was keen to be more on the trails and less on the roads (especially the A38) on my return journey and so I trecked on along the byways and bridleways with frequent checks of the map.
My wanderings brought me out at the foot of a hill that I knew well from previous long training runs and I climbed the slope on stiff and aching legs to emerge at The Tumps and then hit the A38 in Patchway. I was still in race mode as well as walking-meditation-mode and managed to do the last 2 miles at close to 14 minute pace.
All in all it was 21 miles in 5 hours 22 mins, most of those miles walked at a hard race pace but still in peace-meditation-consciousness. And I had found time for a coffee and found some new trails I could train on in the future. A superb day.