|Country road as rubbish dump.|
The walk did not start well. Leaving Barnetby and the roar of the M180 behind me, I took a minor road north and found that someone had dumped mounds of rubbish by the track. As a walker you come upon this sort of thing disturbingly often. At first it used to enrage me; now I just feel a kind of hopeless despair. How do human beings deserve to live on this beautiful planet if they engage in such filthy, mindless and selfish activity? So many roads — usually the main roads — in England and Spain are lined with the sweet wrappers, crisp packets and juice cartons people have thrown from their cars. A lot of this stuff never seems to get cleared up. I wrote about the 50 types of rubbish I found by a Spanish roadside here.
For hours I crossed montonous chalk farmland. The landscape was flat and featureless — huge fields of four-inch high wheat shoots, purple sprouting broccoli, and very little else. It was so uninteresting that eating an apple from my packed lunch became a major event. I pined for a picturesque ruin or pretty village. But at least the paths were soft and firm and easy on the foot — mostly grassy bridleways along field boundaries. They were dry too, as rainwater is quickly absorbed by the porous chalk.
Birds were the saving grace — especially in the few isolated pockets of woodland which miraculously survived. It's the spring migration season and lots of birds were on the move. I saw flocks of fieldfares bound for Scandinavia, and heard chiffchaffs newly arrived from the Mediterranean and North Africa. But the bird that accompanied me for most of the walk was the skylark. These were either invisible or tiny specks high up in the blue, singing their hearts out over the cornfields. Skylarks were under threat at one time, but here they are plentiful.
After the forecasted promise of mild weather, a chill Siberian breeze had blown in from the North Sea and, with no obstacle before it, swept across Lincolnshire's northernmost chalk plateau, cutting straight through my fleece, polypropylene shirt and merino wool vest. The temperature was more like winter. Despite a few recent balmy days, spring was still holding back.
Dropping with relief into the more sheltered Humber valley, I followed a hedged byway to South Ferriby. The views north towards the Humber estuary (and west to the steel works of Scunthorpe!) would have been impressive had conditions been clearer, but the day remained hazy, with an intermittent sun.
The estuary was muddy and opaque, the same muddy brown as the North Sea into which it flowed. I could barely make out the far side through the haze. Taking the path along the southern bank, I passed a couple of cliffs, then deviated through Far Ings nature reserve — the true path had been closed because of flooding. The Humber Bridge swung into view out of the murk. I remember Queen Elizabeth opening the bridge in 1981. It was then the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world, but now it's been demoted to seventh-longest.
Footsore, I stumbled into the Humber Bridge viewing area car park at Barton, the official start (or end, depending on which direction you're travelling) of the Viking Way. I'd been hiking this route on and off for nearly three years. (I started in May 2011 — here's my first blog entry about it.) Although it's 147 miles long, I'd covered more than that, as I'd walked some there-and-back stages twice. It had been a piecemeal, jigsaw-like affair — sometimes I'd gone north to south, sometimes south to north. However, I'd finally reached the end — or the start. And it really was the beginning in yet another sense: over the bridge beckoned the first stretch of another long-distance trail, the Yorkshire Wolds Way.
Slowly I walked the half mile into Barton-upon-Humber's town centre. It was late Saturday afternoon and the place was practically closed except for some raucous pubs. I didn't fancy going in. Young kids screamed about on bikes and in bus shelters. Men in hoodies nursed beer cans. It was bitterly cold. If you weren't feeling suicidal before, a trip round Barton could have tipped you over the edge. For me, at that moment, it seemed a wretchedly miserable backcountry town, and I made for the railway station, eager to leave. (I say 'railway station': it comprised just one track, one platform, and five bucket seats occupied by some of Barton's yelping youth.) The train came in on time. I boarded, warmed myself by the heater, and headed for home.
|Sheltered bridleway to South Ferriby.|
|Remarkably straight furrows.|
|Sheep graze by the Humber.|
|The wide Humber estuary — muddy and opaque.|
|Another consequence of Britain's recent severe weather.|
|Willow tree on the diverted path through Far Ings nature reserve.|
|The Humber Bridge.|
|The beginning (or in my case the end) of the Viking Way. A little anticlimactic that it ended in a car park on a cold and dismal afternoon.|
|Walking to Barton railway station by a reed-fringed watercourse.|