Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Clare Wadd

Clare Wadd | 14th December 2018

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings in which our contributors and friends look back on the events that’ve shaped the past twelve months. From Clare Wadd:

Two things have defined 2018 for me – one, I learnt to run and two, I did a lot of brilliant walking. Alongside this, of course, there’s been work, probably approaching a hundred gigs – kicking off on January 2nd with the annual Winter Sprinter and ranging from a friend’s back-garden to Hyde Park – and there have been books I’ve loved and books I’ve given up on. But mainly it’s been about being outside, walking or running.

Early April saw us in Anglesey, where I got my first sunburn of the year on Newborough Sands; the next day getting cold, wet and muddy in the mist and peatbogs of Holyhead Mountain. A return trip to Wales in June took us to Ceredigion, walking from Devil’s Bridge (from the creepy first series of Hinterland) over hills and moorland and through forests and valleys, then following the coast path from Aberystwyth to Borth in brilliant sunshine, enjoying stunning views and average ice-creams.

I joined starter-finisher friends on the first day of their Weald Way walk south from Gravesend waterfront through freshly ploughed farmland and beautiful bluebell woods. And in May we were in Hereford, walking the River Wye, its banks bursting with blossom, followed by a circular walk of views, caves, rope bridges and my first ever hand ferry at Symonds Yat.

In June, inspired and aided by Darren Hayman, we took a day trip to Rutland and Leicestershire to try and walk between the two Thankful Villages of Teigh and Saxby. Where Darren had succeeded though, we failed, thwarted by one farmer cropping over the path in several fields, rendering it unwalkable, while other paths in the area were both well maintained and waymarked. Midway between the two villages is Wymondham, a glorious warren of gorgeous old walled semi-urban paths where we lost an hour trying to document the most perfect route through.

I spend a lot of time in Brixham, South Devon, and in 2018 I had several wonderful summer days on the South West Coast path. Arriving in Butleigh Salterton at 10am on a Saturday morning in May, I walked to Exmouth surrounded by wildflowers. And then, on the Sunday, west from Dartmouth past the castle in the Dart estuary, round the headland, and over Blackpool Sands to Strete, sharing part of the walk back with a man who was most of the way through the whole of the South West Coast Path. On a week-long trip in August, we circumnavigated Torquay on foot, round the coast from the harbour past Meadowfoor Beach, Thatcher Point, Hope’s Nose and onto Babbacombe beach, taking the cliff railway then roads back into town. Next day we parked in Slapton – just the other of Strete, where I’d left the path in May – its long road along the Leys now re-opened after being washed away by the Beast from the East. Slapton is the place that triggered my interest in World War II, where the Operation Tiger rehearsals for the D-Day landings went so badly wrong that at least 749 American servicemen were killed and all survivors sworn to secrecy so as not to compromise the actual invasion. Its history was only unearthed in the late 1980s by a local author who then raised a tank from the sea to stand as a memorial to those who lost their lives; the home-front history is the subject of a lovely Michael Morpurgo book, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. Our walk took us through Torcross, Beesands and Hallsands, a village largely destroyed in storms 100 years ago, to the lighthouse at Start Point. Later that week, I made my first visit to Burgh Island (the tide was out, so sea tractor not required) and walked west to the Erme Estuary, encountering what must be some of the South West Coast Path’s steepest ascents and descents.

Alongside all this of course there’s been lots of brilliant walking in London, including the splendours of the Isabella Plantation and celebrating the first National Park City Week with a series of walks taking in the views of One Tree Hill, the green spaces of Peckham, Crystal Palace Park and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Aided by the Couch to 5k app, I surprised no one more than myself this year by both taking up, and liking, running. This has seen me spend more time than ever on my little local bit of The Thames Path, where Kingston becomes Richmond near Teddington Lock, enjoying brilliant sunsets and sunrises, spring blossom and autumn leaves. I now do Parkrun here on Saturday mornings when I’m around – and, if I’m somewhere else, I try and do Parkrun there instead.