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Tin-Pot Explorer

3 - 4 min read

Thick undergrowthI just walked a walk that has instantly entered my All Time Top 10 Insane Walks. Read on at your own risk. I've mentioned the long boggy walk on the track through the fields to Asda before. Perilous in the darker seasons with its deep thick sinking-mud, the thin track is flanked left and right by reens: agricultural drainage channels full of a green murky juice. 4-5 ft deep, you'd have trouble drowning in one but trying would lack fun. It's been weeks since I last walked the track. I've fallen into an optimised routine of bus trips into Newport for its Lidl, Asian jaggery-stockist and English-hating, prison-tattooed '80s wrestlers (who woman all the tills). Round my way if it's not raining the sun's roasting like a pizza oven. Good weather for gardeners. I expected the track to have grown over since my last walk. I underestimated it. I VASTLY UNDERESTIMATED IT. Ten minutes in, the nettles are up to my chest. The edges of the reens are murked by huge, strange, B-movie plants. The track has gone. The sun cooks my head. Knotted, uneven ground already has me stumbling. I feel slightly sick and a small panic tells me to turn back. But this is my only way to get food — otherwise I'll be without for 4 days until my gas gets refilled and I can cook again (the cupboard contains only food which requires cooking). And the effort I've put into coming this far will have been wasted.

Menacing nettlesAnother 10 minutes in. Shit. I'm in a full ocean of stinging nettles and monstrous thistles. The shortest are 5 feet high, the tallest easily 7. I tell no lie these things loom high over me. Surrounded by dark foliage I can't see to get my bearings. The only option is to remove my rucksack and use it as a lumpy snowplough, push onward, try to carve out the old path from memory. Nettles whip me with each step until my bare arms are entirely smothered in sting. They go up my shirt and sting my belly. They can't get through my jeans.. but the thistles can; hot, sadistic tickles creep all over my shins and thighs, sometimes my chest. They claw for my face but I weave. Long grass and brambles grab at my ankles, try to topple me into the unforgiving depths of this sea of hurt where I'll be lost forever. I carry no flares, nobody knows I'm gone. There will be no rescue mission. For a full 20 minutes the nettles and thistles continue, me a sinking breadstick in some green, diabolic soup. At any point I might go into a hidden reen. I'm hot and tired but there's no place to rest, I try stopping but the stinging plants immediately fan inwards. Bees threaten, angry that I've shoved their workspaces aside. Unseen ancient amphibians make bizarre sounds, heard to me as laughter. After 40 minutes I exit this wilderness, alive. But now the hardened road of civilisation rattles my bones, my knees tender from an old, unhealed injury. Every step twangs my ligament like the violent punch of a doctor's toffee hammer. My reflexes are fine, Doc — but hurty.

Deep vegetationThe return fight through the foliage is even worse. By now I'm exhausted… overheated. Sweat flushes my eyes with salt until I'm half-blind… overseasoned. My knees want to crumple. I want to crumple; once, the brambles get me and I do. I lump to the ground, folding, tendons snapping. I want to stay down here. Eventually, nature always wins. But not today. Finally, the home straight. As I inch towards shade and water, maths messes with me. The infinite divisibility of a line. Every step brings me closer while at the same time the remaining distance somehow increases. As I turn the final corner, powered by will alone, I meet the mother farmer. This is a great woman, but oh my can she talk. A sentence from her can be as long as one of my Facebook posts. We talk of the track. Of the railway line. Of cows pinning farmers to fences, bulls goring farmers to death. I stoop, grimace, rub my knees. There's a bad bull at the farm yonder. He'll have someone, only a matter of time. I angle my feet away to indicate I need to leave. I love to chat but this is a matter of urgency. I become light-headed. My vision whitens and I tap out, leaving her mid-sentence: "I'm so sorry. I have to go and sit down".