Splattered with mud, blinded by fog, a walk through nothingness, but a fine way to start the year ...

Word had gone round the village that the New Year Walk would assemble outside the shop at 10.30 on Monday morning. At 10.29 there was no one in sight, but in the next two minutes 15 human starters and one dog materialised.

Our leader was Ron Robins - a tall, lean, fit-looking 59-year-old, who, with his wife, Margaret, owns the shop and runs the post office. Like most of the others present, I was uneasily aware that in 1992 these two walked by a roundabout route from John O'Groats to Land's End, covering 1,400 miles in 100 days. So did Max, their black mongrel, like a sawn- off labrador, whose ebullience on New Year's Day was such as to suggest that he was hoping for a repeat performance.

After a quick head count, Ron announced that because fog was lying on the hills, we would head down the valley first and come back over the top, in the hope that by then the mist might have lifted. His aim was a two-and-a-half-hour walk, ending at the Old Crown on the green.

Away we went, out of the village on to footpaths and down across the fields. Our little column proved agreeably flexible: we tended to bunch at stiles, then spread out again. The result was that I kept falling in with new companions, some of whom I knew, some strangers.

At first there was much talk of the weather. "We'd never have done this on Saturday," said somebody - nor would we, for Saturday was the vilest and most dangerous day that anyone could remember. Freezing rain, hitting frozen ground, turned every smooth surface to glass and made it impossible to stand up on the slightest slope. Now, as we trudged, the bone was still in the ground but at least the top had thawed to greasy mud.

At any point where there was a possibility of error, Ron waited genially to shepherd his flock, and Margaret handed out reviving peppermints. On the move, they talked of their big hike. They walked the length of Britain not to raise funds, but merely for a holiday. Yet as they headed south, people began to offer them money, and when they returned to base in Gloucestershire, Max proved such a charmer that fans sponsored him to the tune of pounds 2,500, enough to provide a trained guide dog for the blind. The couple also raised pounds 600 for the village church.

As we went round the back of the eminence known as Smallpox Hill, Ray, who had lived in the village all his life, admitted that he had never been able to find any trace of the isolation hospital that once stood on its summit. All the same, he reckoned that the hill was a spooky old place, especially when shrouded in mist.

When we passed Coldharbour Farm - what a name, on that morning - the talk turned to hornets, which nest in a long wooded gully known as The Delkin, and we wondered if the poor creatures could have survived the recent bitter cold. Speaking of natural history, one woman disclosed that she has inherited a collection of birds' eggs, some with labels in Arabic, and finds herself in some difficulty, since possession of such things is now illegal.

As we ground up to the 700ft ridge of Cam Long Down, Ron, ever the optimist, predicted that we might come out into the sun on top. Far from it: the air was colder, the fog thicker, the view - normally spectacular - zero.

A steep grass descent caused some spectacular falls, and left Elliott, one of the teenagers, plastered in mud all up the back of his red lumberjack shirt. Then came a hard pull up to Uley Bury, an extensive Iron Age fort crowning the next-door hill; half a lap of the Roman race-track that skirts its perimeter, and over one of the precipitous earth ramparts, down which I like to imagine the defenders rolling rocks on wild, red-headed invaders from Wales.

And so at 2pm we piled into the cheerful fug of the Old Crown for a few pints of Uley bitter. We had achieved (and seen) practically nothing; but we had given ourselves a good workout and made new friends, and everyone felt that we had started 1996 in the best possible fashion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum