About the Author
Author: George Tod
[Index of Walks]
Ready to depart for my walk in 2005
I was born in December 1944 in the village of Rawdon, about 7 miles from Leeds on the road towards Ilkley. At the age of sixteen, when I started riding my first motorbike (an Ariel Red Hunter, which was six years older than me!), I took a trip to the Lake District and was immediately captivated by the splendour of the mountains and lakes. From then onwards, I went on camping holidays there with my friends whenever the opportunity arose, and we would climb a few mountains. Sometimes, when there was nobody else to go with, I would venture forth on my own for a day, or a weekend and do some walking. However, most of this earlier walking consisted of climbing to the summit of a mountain by the shortest route and then back down again, rather than taking a longer route. There was, however, always a lingering feeling that it would be so much better to be able to carry on over to the other side and beyond rather than having to turn back. This was something I only thought about, but never actually put into practice at the time. Shortly after the Pennine Way first opened, a friend of mine suggested walking it, but this never came to fruition for one reason or another. If it had done, I am not sure whether it would have been successful, as I may well have embarked on it with a heavy backpack and insufficient preparation for such a long walk.
From the time I left home to go to Liverpool University at the age of eighteen, I lived in a several different places as required by my job as a computer support engineer and later in software support. These included Stoke-on-Trent, London, Macclesfield, Alsager, three years in Darmstadt (Germany), Manchester and Kirk Smeaton in North Yorkshire, about thirty miles from where I was brought up. I was made redundant in 1996 and then spent over three years doing contract work in Solihull in the West Midlands, working away from home. When the contract work dried up at the millenium, my wife and I sold our house and ventured into the hotel business, buying Plas Elwy Hotel in St. Asaph, North Wales. Some of these places were better than others for access to the hills and mountains. However, Kirk Smeaton, where we lived for 17 years, was quite well placed for access to three National Parks: The Peak District, The North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales, which were all within about an hour's drive or so, although the area around our home was low lying and relatively flat. Our present home in North Wales is within easy reach of all the spectacular mountains of the Snowdonia National Park, whilst even closer to hand is the Clwydian Range at the northern end of Offa's Dyke Path.
When I met my wife Jean, I started to introduce her to the mountains and actually proposed to her on the top of Great Gable, which was the first and last mountain she ever climbed. By the time she reached the summit, she was totally exhausted and I am not sure whether she had full control of her senses, but she accepted and we got married three months later. It became obvious that this sort of walking was just not for her and, in any case, we soon had our elder daughter, who tended to put a damper on that sort of activity. Family holidays by the seaside then took precedence over holidays in the hills and mountains, although I did manage to get in occasional walks from time to time.
It was only when the family had grown up to the point where they didn't want to participate in family holidays any more, that the opportunity came for me to take up walking again. I started to do longer distance walks, mainly around the Peak District, with friends from work. At first I was totally exhausted by walks of 15 to 20 miles, and could hardly walk for the next few days, with aching muscles and blistered feet. However, it was not very long before I started to find that I could take on such walks without suffering many side effects. I started walking fairly regularly and also started to go walking alone when there were no group walks planned.
In walking around the Peak District, I was forever crossing the path of the Pennine Way and started to wonder what it would be like to walk the whole of the route. The more walking I did, the more appealing the idea of walking the Pennine Way became, although it was only something to dream about at the time. I never really thought I would get the opportunity to do it for real, nor had I any idea if I would be able to keep up the daily pace required.
At that time, I had a job with 30 days paid leave plus national holidays each year, so it was often difficult to use it all on family holidays, especially as my younger daughter had taken up horse riding and was not interested in any holiday that did not involve four legged animals. Thus, it came to be that Jean suggested that I should go on a walking holiday for a week, as she knew how much I enjoyed walking. I had started talking about the Pennine Way in the sort of tones that made her realise that I had an urge to do it. When she suggested that I should walk the Pennine Way, she didn't realise that it would take far more than a week, but when I pointed this out, it was agreed that I had enough leave to cater both for family holidays and for the walk as well. Not knowing anyone who both wanted to do the walk and could spare the time for it, I quickly decided that it would be best to go alone.
Having successfully completed the Pennine Way in 1991, a long distance walk became an annual event. I completed five of them with the Coast to Coast Walk in 1992, the Westmorland Heritage Walk in 1993, The Pennine Way in the opposite direction in 1994, and the Lakeland Round in 1995. In 1996, I was planning the Cambrian Way along the length of Wales as my sixth walk when my plans were thrown into disarray by redundancy. It then seemed more appropriate to spend my time looking for a job and trying to conserve money, than pursuing my walking plans. Having found work away from home as an I.T. contractor after 3 months of unemployment, it then placed me in a somewhat different position. Whereas when I had a permanent job I had a large amount of paid leave, now as a contractor it is a situation of 'no work - no pay', which makes the cost of a long distance walk rather more than I could justify. This situation continued for three years and only changed slightly in 1999 when I was involved in a change of shifts. This left me with a break of almost two weeks shortly after my annual holiday with Jean. I could, therefore, fit in a one-week walk of the Cleveland Way without making it too bad for her, as I could spend time at home both before and after the walk.
My fortunes took a different turn in November 1999 when my contract came to an end and nothing new came on the horizon. After some time my wife and I decided to have a complete change of direction. We sold our house and bought an hotel in North Wales. The sale of our house was to be completed in early July 2000, so it seemed an ideal opportunity to take holidays before we took over the hotel, when we would find it more difficult to get away. The pair of us went on a trip to Hungary and the Czech Republic and then it was possible for me to walk the Cambrian Way that I had planned to do four years earlier.
Initially, after taking over the hotel, I was very busy doing all the maintenance that had been neglected for the past decade so, for quite a while, I hardy had chance even to take the dog down the road, let alone take time out for longer walks. However, as I gradually managed to get on top of things, it was possible to start thinking of another long distance walk. My only problem then was, after such an exhilerating walk as the Cambrian Way, what could I do next without being disappointed. As we now live in Wales, which abounds in hills and mountains, it seemed more sensible to do another walk through Wales, but it was a question of finding a another good high-level route. I thought that I might be disappointed with The Offa's Dyke Path, as it is not primarily high-level, and I also thought that I might find the Pembrokeshire Coast Path had not enough variety of scenery.
However, the options became very limited after the outbreak of foot and mouth disease early in 2001. By midsummer, there were still many areas restricting access to walkers, so I planned on a walk in September instead of my preferred time of June or July. Even then it was far from certain whether many of the long distance walks would be open in their entirity. For this reason, I decided to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which had been free of any outbreaks of foot and mouth and was fully open again. All went according to plan and I found the walk enjoyable but not as much so as some of the mountain and hill walks that I have done.
Despite my reservations about Offa's Dyke Path, as I now live only a few miles from its northern part, it seemed a logical walk to do next and I completed that in 2002. By now I was running out of new walks of the type and duration that appealed to me. However, I had sometimes considered the Southern Upland Way, but been put off by the lack of accommodation in some parts. Looking into this further, showed that the accommodation was not quite as difficult as I had thought and I chose that as my walk in 2003.
By now it was becoming more and more difficult to find something new and I decided that I would revisit some of my previous walks. Although my favourites were the Pennine Way and the Cambrian Way, both of these take rather longer than two weeks, which is the time I had set aside for the walk, so I opted for the Westmorland Heritage Walk in 2004. In 2005, I had a bit more time available, so revisited the Cambrian Way, and in 2006 Wainwright's Coast to Coast, but this time from East to West. 2007 brought another walk of the Pennine Way after a gap of 13 years. I decided on a new departure in 2008 by devising my own walk through the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District, having tired of repeating walks I had already done before.
Still trying to find a walk that I had not done before, in 2009 I decided on the Cotswold Way. This is only about a week's walk, so to extend it into a fortnight, I made it into a circular walk The Cotswold Round with additional walks put together my the Macmillan Foundation, though these additonal walks proved to be far less interesting than the Cotswold Way itself.
In April 2010 we finally sold our hotel. Since the latter part of 2006 there had been a downturn in trade for a variety of reasons. The enlargement of the EU in 2007 to include several Easter European countries meant that the average level of EU income reduced because of the low pay in those countries. Since 2002, Wales had benefited for Objective 1 funding from the EU because the average income was less than 75% of the EU norm. However, the reduction in the norm with the pending enlargement of the EU meant that Wales would no longer qualify for funding. Consequently, the Welsh Assembly Government's budgets planned for 2007 had to be altered drastically, meaning that many business initiatives in the area had to be shelved or cut back. As most of our hotel trade was commercial, this had a major impact on the numbers of guests. What small recovery there was once the dust settled was soon wiped out by the credit crunch and things just went from bad to worse from then onwards. We had had the hotel on the market since before the downturn but, even though we kept reducing the asking price, we were unable to sell and eventually resorted to taking a very low price at auction. We were left with just enough money to pay off our debts and buy a bungalow but this didn't leave a lot for our retirement, though we have enough in pension income to fund a modest lifestyle.
Following retirement there was an opportunity to do a walk without having to limit the duration to a couple of weeks, though there was no way that I could commit the amount of funds that would be require for anything too ambitious such as Land's End to John O'Groats Walk. As my favourite walk is the Cambrian Way, and as I was concerned that, with advancing age, it may soon become too challenging, it was an obvious choice. I did the walk in June and was extremely lucky with the weather, which was far better than can normally be expected on a long mountain walk through Wales.
Unfortunately, 2011 brought more financial difficulties. Our younger daughter and her partner had been without jobs since we had employed them in the hotel, so we used our remaining capital to set them up in a delicatessen. However, like many High Street shops, this was doomed to failure because of the general downturn of the economy. This then put paid to any plans for a long distance walk, as we were unable to afford any holidays that year. Towards the end of 2011, our financial situation was considerably improved when our daughter was able to find herself a good job providing a regular income and thus relieved us of some of the demands on our finances. However, we still never seem to have much money spare for such luxuries as walking holidays, as the cost of accommodation and meals adds up to a considerable sum, averaging about £40 to £50 per day and sometimes even more.
In 2012, I started considering how I could reduce the cost of walks to an affordable level. One option, of course, would be camping and making my own meals, but my wife has always been averse to that on safety grounds. If I have accommodation booked, she at least knows who to contact if I have not phoned home at the end of the day, but it is not so easy with camping. I have also had reservations because of the extra weight I would have to carry and also the difficulties of getting warm and dry at the end of the day in bad weather. Another alternative would be to use the 'there and back' approach, taking a car plus camping gear to move base along the way and walking shorter sections of the route in both directions to return to the car each day. This would also make it easier for obtaining supplies and would enable the walking to be undertaken carrying only a light day pack. The disadvantage, of course, would be that each day I would only be able to walk a lot shorter distance. It would not necessarily mean doing half the distance, as there would be little or no walking off the route to accommodation, there may sometimes be an easier or shorter route back to my starting point, and I could walk a little further carrying less weight. Nevertheless, it would probably mean that I would only be able cover about 60% of distance that I would normally walk each day. The other drawback is that it would somewhat destroy the ethos of walking the whole route under my own steam.
All of these possibilities began to fade from my mind, however, when summer approached. June, when I normally prefer to walk, suffered dreadful weather with forecasts of more to come and resulted in a summer with the highest rainfall for a hundred years. So, Instead of undertaking a long distance walk, I had to content myself with a number of day walks around Snowdonia and the Clwydian Range as and when there was any good weather.
In recent years, I have become more and more involved with the Cambrian Way. When I first did the walk in 2000, I sent a printed copy of my diary to Tony Drake, pioneer of the route and author of the guidebook. He was not used to receiving such detailed accounts from walkers, so telephoned to thank me and have a chat. When I walked the route again in 2005, I did the same thing again, prompting Tony to get in touch again. This time it transpired that he was thinking of setting up a website, and so I volunteered to help create one. From then onwards, I became more involved with Cambrian Way issues, walking the proposed low level alternative route through the Rhinogs to check it out for Tony prior to inclusion in the 2006 edition of the guidebook. I was also made guidebook updates, which were previously issued by post, available from the website.
As time progressed, Tony became more frail with the onset of Parkinson's disease and other health issues, so he began looking for helpers to continue his work in maintaining the guidebook and following up other related issues, though, even up to the age of 83, he had still been able to reach any part of the route himself. Bob Rear, a long time friend of Tony, had already had considerable involvement with the guidebook, so was an obvious person to continue helping, though only a little younger than Tony and with his own health issues. Whilst surveying parts of the route and proposed amendments, John Coombe had accompanied Tony on many of his outings, so he was another candidate, and I, with my experience of three walks of the route and involvement with the website became the third.
In July 2011, the producers of the BBC1 Country Tracks programme were looking for someone to do a television interview about the reasons why the Cambrian Way had never become a National Trail. By this time Tony Drake was in a nursing home suffering from dementia, Bob Rear didn't feel that he was in a position to do the interview, so it fell upon me to take part. This was my first ever television appearance, and proved to be very stressful. This was not so much from the point of view that it may be seen by an audience of around two million, but from the way the interview had to be conducted whilst walking along with the presenter. It was a miserable, drizzly day on a hillside near Ponterwyd and various takes were done whilst walking towards the camera crew, who were crouching a short way ahead. In some cases we were to walk past them and in others they had to start walking backwards as we approached. In addition to thinking about what I was going to say, which was totally unscripted for spontenaity, I would get in a panic because I could see that we would have gone too far past the camera crew before I had finished what I was saying, or that we were walking too fast for the camera to move backwards at the same speed.
Eventually, after about three hours of going backwards and forwards with numerous retakes (not all down to me), it was deemed that they had got what they needed, by which time I had lost track of what I had said already that hadn't been spoiled in some way, but that didn't matter, as the producer had a clear idea of what she wanted, and the whole lot was to be edited down to just a few minutes of television. I felt rather guilty that it had taken so long to achieve so little, but was assured that this was quite normal in television work. By the end of filming, I felt more exhausted than if I had climbed a few mountains, even though I had only been walking for short distances backwards and forwards on relatively level ground, but this was all due to the stress of the situation rather than physical effort. I would say, though, that the production team were extremely pleasant throughout the whole thing and tried their best to help me through my difficulties.
The programme was eventually screened on Sunday 11th September 2011, and I had a few phone calls and e-mails from friends who had seen me. The hit rate on the Cambrian Way website showed a big increase for a few days, and there was an increase of sales of the guidebook, but this was all very short-lived and things soon returned to normal.
Tony Drake passed away aged 89 on 7th March 2012 View his Obituary. Unfortunately, he was never able to see the Country Tracks programme due to his increasing level of dementia and other health problems from the time of its screening until his death. The situation now is that, once probate has been granted, which should be very soon (September 2012), the intellectual copyright to the guidebook will be passed in trust to Bob, John and me, so that publication can continue into the future. However, at the time of writing, I am the youngest member of the group at the age of 67, so it would be good to see someone younger coming forward to ensure the longer term future of the walk. Had the Cambrian Way managed to achieve recognition as an official walk, this would not be necessary, as the route would be marked on OS maps, there would be an official guidebook with detailed maps and route directions, and there would be waymarking of the route. However, there are many objections to the walk because of its mountainous and remote nature from landowners, local authorities, National Parks authorities and mountain safety organisations. It is, therefore, very unlikely that it will ever receive official recognition in its present form, and most people who are involved with the walk would not wish to see the route 'dumbed down' just to obtain recognition - far better for it to remain as an unofficial walk with its present route.
A further development came in 2013 when John Coombe decided that he no longer wished to be involved with the Cambrian Way and tendered his resignation, leaving two of us to continue, though we were the ones who were mostly involved with updates to the guidebook anyway. In 2014, Bob died - he had been feeling for some time that he was living on borrowed time after heart and other health problems, so it was not unexpected. This, however, left me as the sole person taking the Cambrian Way forward. Bob's wife Mavis offered some help, thinking that she had inherited Bob's share of the intellectual property rights to the guidebook until it was realised that this was not the case in law.
It started to cause me some concern, as it looked as if I would be on my own trying to set up a Trust and publishing a new edition of the guidebook, not knowing others who were likely to want to join me as Trustees. However, it turned out that Tony Drake had left a considerable legacy to The Ramblers to be spent on promoting and maintaining the Cambrian Way, so Mavis was able to introduce me to their working group and hence it was possible to recruit other Trustees. The added bonus was that the two who joined me, Richard Tyler and Geoff Williams were both retired solicitors, which was a great help in dealing with all the legal matters, and Richard's daughter Jess, also a solicitor, also agreed to join us, making a welcome addition of someone younger to the group. Most of the guidebook and website updating was still down to me, but I was very grateful of the others to deal wih most of the other aspects of the Cambrian Way Trust, which was set up in October 2015. The 7th Edition of the guidebook was published in February 2016 and has been selling well with all the extra interest generated through The Ramblers, so much so that it was necessary to have another print run in August 2016.
Having been thinking about doing another long distance walk for some time, the opportunity arose in 2016 thanks to, of all thngs, the European Football Competition! Having been on holiday in France at the same time as the 2012 Competition, my wife and I decided that it would be a very bad idea to repeat the experience, so we planned to avoid June and wait until after the school holidays in September. This left June free for me to fit in a walk. The cost of accommodation etc. was no longer a problem, as I started a part time job as a Gardener/Handyman in a Council dementia home at the beginning of 2014, so the extra income eased any financial pressures and allowed more to spend on holidays. With all my involvement in the Cambrian Way, this seemed the obvious choice, though I did not have enough annual leave to undertake the whole walk. The two weeks that I had available, however, would allow me to walk from Cardiff to Barmouth with quite a demanding schedule, though I didn't think that this would defeat me despite my age of 71. In fact, I was feeling fitter than at many times in the past due to regular strenuous mountain walks in Snowdonia and other parts of North Wales. My job also helped, as it involved being on my feet all day and doing quite a lot of manual work for three days a week as well as helping out my elder daughter and her husband in their housebuilding project.
I decided on the section of the Cambrian Way from Cardiff to Barmouth, not because it is the best part, but because I have the opportunity to walk parts of the Northern Section as day walks, whereas I can only occasionally walk any of the other sections if my wife and I are on holiday nearby. It also means that I could complete the walk with a one week walk another year if I so wished. The walk went well, apart from the somewhat unsettled weather which was very hot and humid to start with and then cloudy with rainy spells. I was, however, able to enjoy most of the walk despite the weather, my only downfall being on the final day when I suffered problems with my knees, particularly on the final descent from Cadair Idris at the end of a very demanding day, but I did manage to make it to Barmouth, albeit being 10pm by the time I reached my hotel.
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