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.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end