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Great Britain
Monday October 19th, 1998 to Wednesday October 21st, 1998

I entered Wales in the back seat of police car. Hitching is generally legal in the UK, but it is prohibited on major highways; unfortunately, it is not always clear what does and does not constitute a major highway. Furthermore, Southern England is separated from Wales by the Bristol Channel and the Mouth of the Severn River, and the only bridge across the Mouth of the Severn is apparently a major highway. I thought I had walked far enough down one of the feeder roads to avoid hitching illegally, but I was wrong. In any case, once the cops realized that I wasn't English they decided that charging me wasn't worth the effort, and they drove me across the bridge to where I could hitch legally. They actually became quite friendly, and were giving me tips and opinions about the various sites I might wish to see while in Wales.

I ended up a few km inside Wales on the road to Monmouth, where I was hoping to spend the night. I was walking up the road in an attempt to find a good place to hitch when I saw a sign indicating that the ruins of Tintern Abbey were only a couple of miles up the road. It was a nice fall day, and the landscape was hilly and covered with multicoloured forest, so I decided to walk to the abbey made famous by a Wordsworth poem.

Tintern Abbey is now a dedicated heritage site, and is perhaps a little too tame to inspire any more great works of Romantic poetry, but its huge crumbling walls are still a pretty impressive sight. After spending an hour or so in the ruins, I set out along a path than ran parallel to the road and along the river for a few km, intending to meet up with the road and hitch a ride the last 30km or so to Monmouth. It was getting late in the afternoon, so I was pushing my luck a little, but I managed to get a ride fairly easily, and I was in Monmouth by sundown.

Monmouth is a fairly bleak little place, and I'm not quite sure why I decided to go there (perhaps simply because I had heard of it — Geoffrey of Monmouth is said to have been the first European historian). What the town lacked in character, however, was more than compensated for by the hostel, situated in an old church and run by a very stereotypical old Welshman. There were only a few of other people staying in the hostel — a middle-aged cyclist from the British Midlands, an elderly woman from Glasgow, Scotland, and a younger woman from the outskirts of London — and the atmosphere was very friendly. We spent the evening sitting around a fire in the large stone sitting room listening to the old Welshman opine on everything from the weather to the failings of the British educational system. It was worth the trip just to listen to the woman from Glasgow talk, and it didn't matter what she was saying; I thought it most ironic when she commented on my accent.

After a chilly night, I set out for the town of Brecon; the town itself didn't hold that much interest, but the trip there would take me through the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range that one of the cops who had brought me into Wales told me was "as fine as anything I'd find in Scotland." A week or so later, when I arrived in Scotland, I found that he was being a little optimistic, but the mountains were still beautiful.

Travelling through the mountains was quite a hassle; rides were easy to get, but no one seemed to be going very far. After a few hours of walking and 10min rides (one of them from a sheep farmer who spoke English in a way that was completely unintelligible to me), I gave up and got on a bus. Fortunately the scenery more than made up for the frustration of travelling. The Brecon hostel was actually a few km outside of the town down a forest path (it was much further by the road, which looped around); although it was raining, the walk through the forest was pretty cool.

The next day I optimistically set out for London, hoping to be on an overnight coach to Edinburgh, Scotland that night. The plan was to catch a ride down to Cardiff (Carditty to the Welsh) and then hopefully get a ride across to London on the superhighway. I didn't really think I'd make it, but I figured it was worth a shot. I got a ride right into Cardiff with a guy who proudly told me "this is Tom Jones country" on the way back down through the Beacons. I caught a city bus out of Cardiff (and back across the bridge that had gotten me in trouble on the way into Wales), and then got a ride from a bunch of electricians in a van. They weren't going very far, but they pulled into a service station, found somebody who was going to London, and hit him up to take me there. The sucker they found turned out to be Canadian military personnel stationed in London, and I think that in the end he enjoyed having someone to talk to on the 4hr trip; the fact that I sort of knew what he was talking about when he ranted about Canadian politics was just gravy. He dropped my off at a tube station near his house, and I was at the coach station in plenty of time to catch the overnight coach to Edinburgh (which, incidentally, cost less than the hostel I had been staying at in London — it would have been cheaper for me to travel back and forth between London and Edinburgh every night, sleeping on the coach, than it was to stay in London).

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