Eddie Watkins Lodge No 10492
At 2 p.m. on Sunday 6th September 1998, after the weekly Lodge meeting, Bros Milan Tomic' ROH, Mike Wallace KOM, Dave Peacock CP, Phil Bushell and Brian Wallace of the Eddie Watkins Lodge No 10492 set off on a sponsored walk from Hereford to Aberdare and back, to raise money for the PGP's Appeal, the Hereford Alzheimer's Disease Society.
Sponsorship was estimated at £500 and with the intention of raising more whilst walking, and visiting Lodges en route, the intrepid walkers set off toward their destination heading for the first nights stop over in Abergavenny.
Although the weather seemed reasonable for this sort of physical venture, the walkers had only reached Wormbridge (some 5 miles) when the heavens emptied and they sampled what was to be the sort of conditions that would become prevalent during their trek. Undaunted, and still in reasonable spirits, the lads put on their waterproof coats and carried on regardless, alternating their walking with rest periods in the dry back-up vehicle reaching Abergavenny about 8 p.m. By this time the rain was relentless and it was decided to pitch camp and settle for the night. A friendly publican in Gilwern allowed us to use his beer garden to pitch the tents, and in response to his generosity, we allowed him to take our money in exchange for liquid and solid refreshment.
The following morning, after a hearty meal cooked by the resident chef (yours truly) and a short wait for the tents to dry out in the weak sunshine, once again the walking mode was adopted with the joyful knowledge that, this day, we would face the daunting Heads of the Valley Road. We had reached the start of this awesome climb by 11 a.m. and, after a quick brew, decided to plod on. The walk up was strenuous but, luckily, there are lay-bys every quarter mile which were put to good use to rest and take on liquid refreshment (water provided by Jim Wellings our Lodge Baby Kangaroo). Brynmawr was reached about 1 p.m. where the tent was erected at the rear of the RAOB Club, just before the expected rain started, which was to carry on unceasingly for the next few days.
After lunch in "Natalie's", a local cafe, refreshments of a more necessary nature were taken at the Royal British Legion Club before returning to the tent to prepare for our first Lodge visit to the Cendl Lodge where we were well hosted and raised d's for both their Lodge and our appeal.
The next morning, the realisation that the tent we had taken was insufficient to repel the terrible rainstorm we suffered became apparent when Bros Mike and Dave's sleeping bags were found to be saturated, and, with the rain not easing at all, it was decided to travel to Merthyr Tydfil by van. This was done in two stages and by the time the second half of the group reached the town, the rain had eased off sufficiently to allow the last 2 miles to be carried out on foot.
That evening we were to visit the Wimborne Lodge, held at the Cardigan Arms. The landlord, Bro Tony, having heard our tale of woe readily offered us accommodation in his darts room which we eagerly accepted. Whilst we were setting up our beds for the night Bro Tony even provided sustenance in the form of faggots and peas, together with samples of the local ale, and the hospitality was only an example of the way we were received during our week in Wales.
It was during the evening when the members of the team were to start being renamed; it started when some Brothers of the Wimborne Lodge started to call Bro Milan an "Aberdare Snake", together with its origin (or at least one of them!). This was rapidly followed the following morning with Bro Dave being renamed "Stopout" for failing to retire at a sensible time as did the rest of the team.
Wednesday morning produced the usual heavy rain and so we RV'd at a local Italian cafe, awaiting a break in the weather which would enable us to complete the first half of the walk. Alas, it was not to happen so we decided to drive to Aberdare and prepare for that nights Lodge visit. On arriving we went to visit Bro Milan's mother, where hot baths/showers were gratefully received by all, as was a "Malcolm Meal." (All together now "Cup of tea? Never!"). This is where Bro Brian obtained the name "Scrubber", readily jumping in to wash the dishes. It was also decided to rename Bro Phil "Grant", because of his obvious similarity to that soap character!
Due to an administrative cock-up by the Aberdare Park Lodge (our intended target) but with some swift legwork by their Secretary, Bro Bob, we still managed to visit a Lodge in Aberdare, the Reg Jones Werfa Lodge, where we were pleased to be joined by Bros Bob Best KOM, Les Thomas KOM and Jim Wellings, from our own Lodge who had driven down to meet us. An excellent evening ensued during which the PGP Draw prizes were increased by 2 more bottles and Bro Mike finally received the nickname "Waffler", for the obvious reason, as those who know him can testify. After Lodge, and accompanied by Bro John Frank CP, Milan's uncle, we nearly retired for the night but instead we were persuaded to frequent the local pub until early o'clock.
Thursday morning, and guess what - it was raining. So, with another "Malcolm Meal" inside us, and countless cups of tea, we waited until finally, about 11am the rain stopped and after kisses and hugs all round we set off from Milan's mum's to start the return journey. Walking around Aberdare, the drizzle returned but was ignored. We had decided to walk over the mountain to the next valley and so a forced march pace for over an hour got us to a local hostelry where shelter was sought to protect us from the now heavy rainfall. After a swift half (honestly) we set off again, only to find that we had been misled by the OS map provided by Bro Phil, and that the road was closed to vehicles. Safety prevailed, and it was decided not to walk over the top of the mountain with no back-up in the storm that was approaching and so another shuttle service took us back to Merthyr and our Italian cafe. During our previous stop in Methyr, Bros Dave and Phil had found a tee-shirt printer and had 2 made for them and when we went to pick them up decided that we would all buy one and wear them to the few remaining Lodges we were to visit. After a swift pint in "Chaplin's" bar we returned to the Cardigan Arms and, once again, settled in for the night. The evening's meal was from the local chippy, after which we descended upon the Prince Llewellyn Lodge for another excellent night's Buffing.
Bro Dave reinforced his "Stopout" name but managed little sleep as we were awoken early by the local nutter at 5.30 a.m. banging and rattling before setting off to the local court!
Surprisingly, the weather was with us and we were able to complete the next leg in weak, but obvious, sunshine, arriving back in Brynmawr in the afternoon, where we partook of a late breakfast in "Natalie's", followed by drinks in the British Legion. As the weather was fine, it was time for the duty chef to concoct the evening meal only to discover that "Stopout" was missing again but had, this time, coerced Brian to stray with him. After a search and find mission the "naughty" Buffaloes returned for their meal and were immediately demoted and put on permanent "jankers."
That evening we visited the Waen Hel-Y-Gen Lodge, which was held in the snooker room and which provided, to the detriment of the City Constable, an excellent large flat area on which to fling the d's.
After Lodge, we retired to the lounge and were entertained by a female singer Tyla McKay (call me Emma) whose performance (singing!) persuaded us to book her for the PGP Draw in December.
Friday night it rained again! Saturday morning it was still raining! So, after tea and toast at the home of one of the Waen Hel-Y-Gen members, we set off for Abergavenny by van until the rain had stopped at which time we recommenced walking just outside the town and through the town centre with buckets rattling. A call into the British Legion revealed that there was nothing arranged for that evening so we plodded on to Rowlestone where Phil had managed to procure the village hall for that night's stopover. After another meal prepared by Milan we visited a local hostelry to reflect on the week's efforts before retiring to our warm, dry accommodation.
Sunday morning, and the lads were served breakfast in bed by a grateful PGP and after a good clean up, we set off on the final part of the walk, to return to Lodge at 1 pm, where we managed to avoid the crowds of well wishers lined up outside the British Legion (not)!
A lot of planning, preparation and effort was put into the week, but now we can say we did it, and raised approximately £700 to boot!
Bro Milan Tomic' ROH