Sometimes you wake up in the morning and the last thing you want to do is go to work; indeed, for some lucky people this is the exception rather than the rule, but it happens to everybody at some point. Even people who love their jobs get that sinking feeling every now and then, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's natural.
So it had to happen to me eventually, and this morning, for the first time, I woke up and really didn't feel like walking. It wasn't that I felt tired or had terrible blisters, it was just that I couldn't be bothered to don the gear, hoist the pack and hit the trail.
I still did it, though. You don't get from Land's End to John o'Groats by giving up that easily.
The Limestone Link
Despite the lack of palatable life in Midsomer Norton, the Greyhound proved a good place to sleep – I was out like a light at 10.30pm – and the breakfast was top notch. The weather also decided to sort itself out, and as I set off through the town centre, the sun peeped out from behind the clouds and bits of blue sky floated past, rubbing their eyes from their recent hibernation. Everything was set for a lovely 16-mile walk through rolling countryside to the beautiful city of Bath, but still I didn't want to know. Instead, I sulked.
I knew that it was just my mind playing tricks on me, but even though it was obvious that my mood would eventually pass, I felt miserable. When you're walking and you're happy, it's great; there's loads of time to think happy thoughts, and it's rare that anything comes along to spoil your day. Even rain is hardly a reason to get all miserable, because when you're in a good mood, rain is guaranteed to make that pint on arrival taste even better.
But when you're under a metaphorical cloud and the day stretches ahead of you, your mind fills the time by worrying. I worried about whether I was getting bored of walking, because if there's one thing I can't stand, it's getting bored; I worried about the blister on my right heel, because it's important to be consistent in your concerns; and I worried that I was worrying when I hadn't worried before.
The Limestone Link didn't help. A few miles north of Midsomer Norton I tried to pick up the Link as it wound east through Radford, but within the space of half an hour I'd got myself lost three times. The first time, in Durcott, I ended up wandering round someone's garden, and despite some friendly help from a neighbour who was obviously used to lost walkers wandering around the area, I soon gave up trying to work out what was going on and retraced my steps back to the road. The second time, in Camerton, I followed a 'Public Footpath' sign in the general direction of where I thought I was going, but because my OS map looked like an accident involving a piece of paper, a pot of green ink and an army of ants, I only found I'd picked the wrong green line when I hit a stream that shouldn't have been there. And the third time, a little further on, the path started going uphill at a rate that didn't tally with my map one little bit, so I finally gave up on the Limestone Link and hit the B-road.
I didn't give up for long, though, because round the next corner a way-marker with the Limestone Link's ammonite logo confronted me. 'Go on,' it said. 'You don't want to walk along boring old roads when you can experience the wonderful Somerset countryside with me. You're supposed to be doing this for pleasure, remember, and road walking is no fun at all. And this time I promise not to lose you. Scout's honour.'
I was so surprised by bumping into a talking way-marker sign that I jumped to attention and set off once more along the Limestone Link, and true to its word, it didn't lose me once, all the way to Bath.
A Pint of Solution
I tried everything to shake my mood as the Limestone Link guided me northeast towards Bath. I kicked nettles, safe inside my Gore-Tex gaiters, and that helped a little; I thwacked the heads off dandelion clocks with my trekking sticks, sending the seeds into the balmy sunshine, and that helped too; and whenever a dog barked at me, I stuck my fingers up in a salute that even terminally stupid canines can understand, and that really helped. But the breakthrough came in Monkton Combe, a small village just a couple of miles from Bath city centre, where I discovered one of those wonderful country pubs that make living worthwhile.
The pint of Brakspear I ordered tasted like nectar, and I managed to assuage my guilt at succumbing to a lunchtime drink by ringing up the Ordnance Survey and ordering the maps I need to get to Glasgow; I figured that spending a fortune on maps would force the owner of the credit card – me – to make a reasonable amount of commitment to this walk, and finally that did the trick. When you know you've got a long journey ahead and you've just bought 16 more maps to get you there, one day in the doldrums seems to make more sense. If man was the kind of animal who woke up every morning, raring to go, then there wouldn't be a challenge in walking from Land's End to John o'Groats in the first place; but he isn't and there is, and that's what makes the goal worth achieving.
To celebrate, I even took the long route into town, following the Kennet and Avon Canal right the way round the city, before struggling up Bathwick Hill to the city's Youth Hostel, where I pulled off my shoes, scrubbed myself clean and sat down with my maps. I might be only one-fifth through this walk, and I might have the biggest challenges ahead, but at least I'm getting there, moody or not.