Its the little things that get us. You know, when you've been on hold to the IT department for 10 minutes and then the guy comes on and says "Try switching it off and on again". Or you've been waiting in the queue for ages and just as you get there the person says "Join the next line; I'm on tea break now". So here's the first instalment from the walk of some little things which seemed like crises at the time. The picture above illustrates the challenges of footpath signs which have been moved, or turned around, or simply been knocked over. But this first story is best told from the perspective of someone who was walking with me. Names and locations changed to protect anonymity...
It happened just before 4pm on a blistering hot day. Another sweltering day on the South West Coast path; whatever happened to the gentle drizzle of English summers of yesteryear? It was no consolation to hear that the temperatures were way hotter in Spain; if I'd wanted to go to Spain I'd have paid 80 pounds to Ryanair and waited for 12 hours at Stansted airport with the rest of them. No, I was here with my old friend Laurence, who was in danger of becoming my ex-friend.
It had all started so well. Laurence mentioned that the walk was around 11 miles, and would take us about 4 hours or so, with great views. We started off in a forest glade, with some blue bells (or at least plants with blue flowers, I'm not that good with names) sprinkled around. The cool shade was dappled with sunlight, the gentle smell of the ferns was almost perfume-like; Wordsworth would've been happy.
Then, after a steep climb, we burst out onto a sumptuous view of the azure sea, and cliffs which geologists die for, all washed down with a fresh breeze.
The stories flowed. The sun shone. In addition to the views, the walk was enlivened by some unusual signs, such as one warning us of fast horses; sadly we didn't actually see the horses galloping by.
And another one about adders...
Up and down we went. I drank (all of) my water; in contrast to Laurence, who seems to function like a camel. After the third or fourth valley and set of steps, I was replete with views. I glanced at my watch: 3pm. Hmm, 4 hours, should be there in about half an hour, I ventured to Laurence. He looked a little evasive, and muttered something about how Google maps wasn't as good as the Ordnance Survey map we had with us. Then, somewhat pedantically, he mentioned the difference between Total Elapsed Time and Actual Walking Time. Apparently we'd stopped to look at birds and flowers and views and suchlike for quite a few minutes.
Then, trying to assuage me, he said that he thought we'd be able to see our destination within about 20 minutes. "See" our destination! You can see France from Dover on a good day! That didn't sound hopeful at all. We trudged on for a few minutes in silence. Then we saw a sign.
This isn't the actual sign, because I didn't take a photo of it. Because I didn't realize what was about to happen. Anyway, it gives the general idea - only one and a third miles to go. Shortly after the sign, we arrived at a long steep hill. The kind where the path has steps cut into it. The kind where you just look at the 2-3 steps in front of you, without looking all the way up, in order not to get dispirited. Up we went, dreaming of the glorious thirst-quenching drink just a few minutes away. After what seemed like an age, but was probably only 10 minutes, we crested the hill. Our destination was below us. Laurence looked at me, as if to say "see what I meant", but he saw the look on my face.
Then we saw another sign. I kid you not. The distance to our destination was shown as EXACTLY the same, ie one a third miles! It was as if the sign guy had ordered two versions of the same sign and stuck them in the ground several hundred yards apart. Technically, I suppose that it could have been possible for the first sign to be just over one and a third miles, and the second one to be just under. But I cannot think of anything designed better to lead to walker rage than two signs saying the same distance to the destination, separated by a 500 foot hill.