Keynsham, United Kingdom
I had been planning to take an unplanned trip like this for quite some time.
Back in 2005 when I was travelling on a Round-the-World ticket I first entertained the thought of backpacking Europe and then taking the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. The idea evolved into some sort of worldwide train trip from London to Saigon. But on my return to the UK, the idea got buried as I busied myself with a new job I had landed at a local software consultancy firm (against all odds as well – I had referred to my interviewer throughout as Brian when his name was in fact Barry. I still insist he looks more like a Brian. I think it’s the beard).
Only a year later did I seriously entertain the thought of taking off again, and I began to formulate my Lack of Plan.
Conventional holidays start off somewhat artificial, I thought. You drive to an overlit warehouse in the middle of nowhere with the expectation of being treated like a criminal, not to mention to have your potentially dangerous tube of Colgate confiscated. You are then invited to take a seat on a large, flying metal cylinder big enough for two-thirds of a person in order to eat space food and wake up at an identical overlit warehouse in the middle of nowhere, thinking it was yesterday lunchtime and shouldn’t Neighbours be on about now?
No, my idea was a little bit different. What if you simply walked out of your house and turned left? Belongings on your back, cash in your bank account, and only a vague idea where you would be spending the next night and how you would get there.
And so at a quarter to eleven this morning I said goodbye to my folks, walked out of my house and turned left.
And kept walking. Down to the next village along, Saltford, and along by the River Avon there, past collective nouns of napping ducks and over the river into the fields stretching to Kelston Roundtop, the biggest hill in the area at a whopping, er, 218 metres, and my first waypoint.
I started earnestly following the yellow “Public Footpath” signs, but they were poorly labelled, and soon I found myself scrambling desperately over barbed wire-lined gates and skirting hedgerows in a half-crouched run expecting at any moment for a farmer brandishing a pitchfork to announce himself with a cry of “gerroffmylaaand!” I started to prepare my excuses should such an unfortunate incident occur: “Barbed wire means no entry, you say? There was me thinking it was one of those newfangled assault course footpaths…”
Eventually I spotted tarmac and left the cover of the treeline to make a break for it, and thankfully emerged in something resembling civilisation, also known as Kelston Village, an archetypal English countryside settlement. All the essential components were there: a clutch of old houses, a church, a red telephone box and a pub, to which I headed to refuel with a meal and a cheeky pint of Butcombe, a local brew (for local people).
On my next bout of trespassing I successfully navigated the public footpath signs up to the peak of the Roundtop, to be rewarded with unfortunately overcast and misty views of the surrounding area, including somewhere the house I had left only a few hours before. I pushed on around the side of the hill, rambling through cow-patted farmland until the sprawling city of Aquae Sulis – Latin for “city of Japanese tourists” and also known as Bath – came into view.
I was glad to step into the outer reaches of the Bath suburb of Weston, partially because it smelt marginally less of shit, but mostly because the going was a lot easier and pleasingly downhill, as I was seriously flagging.
I reached the familiar City Centre and headed for the Backpackers in which I had reserved a dorm bed for the night, and crashed for a couple of hours due to the exertion, but was up again in time for a planned meet-up with a group of (now ex-) workmates for what had become somewhat of a tradition: a pie and a pint in the legendary watering hole The Raven. It was a fine send-off with good friends, but as from tomorrow I would be on my own: just me and the road.
Yes – now I was a proper Dick. Whittington, that is.