In my previous life as a local newspaper reporter (the South Wales Argus if anyone’s wondering), we’d spend the weeks leading up to Christmas frantically searching out stories that were not topical or time sensitive, articles or features that could sit in the file for weeks if necessary, waiting for the day when the newspaper looked a bit thin.
In the weeks preceding the holiday period, we’d hunt out those quirky tales which could never compete with the endless coverage of court proceedings and council meetings, but which came into their own when everything else ground to a standstill.
And so it is with the life of an outdoor blogger (it’s official, The Walkers Wife is now a member of the Outdoor Blogger Network). When the sun is shining and we’re out hiking regularly, there’s plenty of topical things to write about, but when the weather turns wet and miserable… when you find yourself coveting a pair of those posh Aigle Parcours wellies because your hiking boots no longer keep your feet dry… when you’d prefer to stay indoors if going outside means another soaking… that’s when the pickings for an outdoor blogger become rather slim.
Like a local reporter over the Christmas/New Year holiday, you’re stuck if you haven’t planned ahead.
It’s just as well then, that I anticipated the lean times and stashed some ideas away.
Like stiles. Love them or loathe them, most of us outdoor types have no option but to climb over several during a day’s walking. Interestingly, when Harri and I were doing some route checking work for the AA’s book 50 Walks in The Cotswolds, they actually asked us to count the number of stiles on each route.
Like benches (my other obsession), stiles come in all shapes and sizes, and for an item which serves no purpose other than providing a means for a person to transcend a hedge or fence, it’s amazing how many of them are actually really difficult to scramble across…for a person of average height. I think the majority of countryside wardens and volunteers must be at least 6 foot 6 inches tall. Why else would they construct stiles where the bottom step is nearly two feet above the ground?
The worst offenders are those towering structures which greet you at the top of a steep climb and consequently demand a monumental amount of effort to pull oneself onto the bottom step. Believe me, I’ve struggled over more than my share of those monsters.
Second on my list of user-unfriendly stiles are the ones that are so complicated it takes a lot of head-scratching to work out the best up-and-over strategy. You know the sort of thing… usually a mixture of old and new, stone and wood, sometimes a few strands of barbed wire to keep walkers on their toes.
There are some landowners who think a stile has been erected for their convenience, like this one near Llansteffan which is being used as a workbench (we’ve walked this route several times and the vice is always there!).
My own personal favourites are the centuries-old stone stiles, although they must have been incredibly difficult to cross in long skirts.
Most of the stiles we come across on our walks are wooden or stone, however in the Cotswolds we passed over (squeezed through?) some rather ornate designs, which must have been a throwback to earlier times when people were perhaps a little narrower than they are today.
Of course, the Cotswolds are like everywhere else in that some stiles are a delight and others… well, let’s say they require more of an inelegant clamber than a gentile step.
The majority of stiles are relatively simple in design, but occasionally we do get the impression that a great designer is at work.
Some of the most interesting stiles we encounter are those which combine centuries-old stonework with modern attempts at accessibility… with varying degrees of success. These tend not to be the most aesthetically pleasing of stiles but if the alternative is complete eradication of the stone then I’ll stick with the juxtaposition of old and new.
This one’s even worse.
Occasionally, we come across stiles which seem to serve no purpose at all, like this free-standing one alongside the River Usk, in Abergavenny.
I could talk about stiles all day but I think the nicest stile we’ve seen recently is this lovely memorial near Gray Hill, Wentwood. I have no idea who Rosemary Unwin was, however by erecting this wonderful stile/memorial stone which recalls how she ‘helped many people on their way throughout her life‘, her family have made certain she’ll never be forgotten and will continuing helping people on their way.
I know it’s wrong to poke fun at people but Harri and I do love spotting typos and spelling mistakes when we’re out walking and I think this one is rather apt.