It’s said you should never judge a man til you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. I’m walking not one mile but three in someone else’s wellies. It’s a freezing February day in the middle of the worst storms Britain has seen for, oh a couple of centuries, but my book schedule is getting a bit tight and the trail must go on.
To say the day hasn’t started well is a pretty large understatement. I am due to meet some otter-spotters at 7am at Bosherston Lily Ponds, but the car park is pitch black when I arrive and the innocuous slope I park on has, I discover, become a mud bank. Suddenly I’m on the move, and standing on the brakes does nothing. There is a stone building ahead and a bank dropping steeply onto a lane to the right. Either way, it is not going to end prettily, for the car or me. So I aim for a small tree in between the building and the bank and hope for a miracle.
Miracles happen. The tree – a sapling, really – bends teasingly then holds the car in perfect safety by one front tyre. I inch my way out and see that there isn’t a single scratch on the car (well, there might be, under the mud, but it looks good for now). Reversing is hopeless so I get out my AA card and mobile phone. Oh yes, it’s west Wales; there is no mobile signal. I trudge through a 7am storm to a thankfully nearby village and find a phone box – which works! I put in 20p and discover that between 1998 and 2014 the minimum call charge has risen to 60 pence. Who knew?
An hour and a half later I’m operating a winch on a tow truck whilst an alarmingly young man from the local garage steers the car up the bank. Turns out my AA cover doesn’t include car parks, so this is costing me £125 (that’s quite a few copies of the children’s trails book I now need to sell). I meet the NT team two hours late, where my fellow otter-spotters have already walked five miles and are tucking into breakfast. I’m met with lots of concern and a bacon butty. Oh, and the wellies, because the trail I’m about to do is flooded above hiking boot level, so the otter-spotters report.
The nice NT people seem a bit worried that I should be out walking at all, but I’m absolutely fine. So in the borrowed wellies and with three pairs of socks compensating for the wellies being a couple of sizes bigger than my feet, I set off on a three-mile trail around the lily ponds. It’s glorious. A couple of showers feebly show up and, as I reach Broadhaven Bay, the worst storms in, oh, centuries are crashing dramatically onto Church Rock, but the sun is determined and Stackpole’s landscape glistens beautifully. And the wellies? Oh, they don’t work at all, because the trail is really flooded in parts and the water comes over the tops. But I’m absolutely fine.
I get back to my muddy car and drive 97 miles home. I walk through the door to the sound of The Artist running me a hot bath and burst into tears. I spend the next few days in bed with something nastily resembling tonsillitis and, although the book schedule says there are three more trails to do in the next week, I don’t seem to have the energy to even fill up my flask. Besides, I’m all out of socks.
I email my editor, who sends a lovely reply saying that several of her authors are having a bad time with the weather. This hasn’t occurred to me and I wonder briefly if the landscape is clogged up with trails book writers sliding down mud banks. She extends my deadline. I cry again, hide my rucksack under the ironing pile and head back to bed.