With the cloud cover it was nearly dark, and the mosquitos were beginning to hunt. Mosquitos are my enemies. They love me, I am their delicacy, their buffet, their delight. I used to regularly get four bites a night at home. Every few bites one would swell up to about the diameter of an eggcup. Every few dozen, one would swell up to the size of a dinner plate and I’d have to take anti-histamine. And once in a while, one would swell and keep swelling, until it encircled the whole limb and I’d have to go to the doctor for antibiotics. A bite on my feet would have put me out of action for days.
Getting in and out of the tent was a vigilantly observed procedure. As soon as my boots were off, I zipped the door closed, my bed socks went on and my legs went in the sleeping bag. The tent had to be open for the bare minimum of time.
I fearfully heard another couple of bikes go past but no one bothered about me. It’s strangely much more unnerving once you’re inside the tent because you can’t see people as they come past. Sat outside you feel you own the space more and you can see immediately that someone isn’t interested in you. But once out of sight the mind can focus unerringly on the worst possibilities.
In the morning it is chill with a beautiful mist hovering over the canal as the sun rises. Crunchy sweet oat bars that have become my breakfast of choice, cheap and quick. I can have tent down and be on my way in less than half an hour.
After the canal ends I pass an old stone barn, and it looks like a war zone. The plaster has fallen off in chunks and the wall is largely made of a brown crumbly looking substance, elsewhere stonework is visible. There are deep rows of holes that look like bullet holes. As I get near I hear buzzing. Then I see the bees, masonry bees I’m guessing. There are dozens of them, flying in and out of the holes. The only other time I’ve seen something like that was a sandstone cliff on a beach.
A detour before Taunton to Cotford St Luke will let me stay with a university friend of Miranda’s. The village is relatively new and the entire village does not exist on the older map I have from the library, so I have the strange quest of heading to where I think it should be and then following the directions kindly given to me by Miranda’s friend.
On the way to the village, walking up a gently sloping field, I pass lots of clumps of reeds across half the field. They are as tall as me with a meter or two between them and they sit in a natural looking arrangement that looks very pretty. I’m confused for a minute at the sight of something that does not appear to be a crop. Then I spot a raised blue plastic barrel on the edge of the field.
The next morning I am walking through fields and along streams and for ten minutes straight I hear gunshot almost every second. I wonder how many of the birds that were hiding in those reeds are left. I wonder if somewhere at the end of the day there will be a heap of carcasses, as I’d heard of in Oxfordshire, because they shoot far more than they want to eat.
On the edges of Taunton there is an open sided building the size of a barn with benches underneath. About ten people in their late teens are hanging out under it, and I’m really pleased to see the public space being used. Miranda told me to go to the Lush shop in Taunton, and when I get there I am greeted with celebration. A tea and a seat quickly come and then I’m offered a foot massage! Soaking my feet in a fizzing blue bowl then having them rubbed with a scrub and oils is an amazing treat. I must be the luckiest person to be able to do this walk. All this kindness just because I’m walking? Nope, because the people in Lush are lovely… and Miranda had called ahead and asked them to be extra lovely.
It’s at this point that I have to say goodbye to a couple of pairs of socks. After all the rain I haven’t been able to dry things on the back of my pack, and a couple of pairs of socks have rotted. I put my last clean pair of socks on after the massage and hope I’ll get a dry spell.