29 September 2010

Birthays, Severns and Rightwards Distractions

Day 27 – Worcester to Stourport

Today was a good day for many reasons!

Not least of which is that today is my 24th birthday. Hurrah for me! Besides being another year older and wiser (well older anyway!) I’ve also had a cracking day on the trail and I’m sitting in my tent right now another day closer to that distant finish line up North.

After a lovely night in a fancy hotel last night (repeated nights camping on a Thermarest really make you appreciate a real bed!) and a delicious hearty breakfast this morning I had expected that my folks would say their farewells and head off back home. But today is my birthday and so not only did I leave this morning with my dad once again in tow but also with promises of a nice pub dinner somewhere tonight after we rendezvous with my mum and my Nan at my campsite in Stourport.

Of course, even the very best of hiking companions are going to struggle to make a dreadful walk any more than bearable, but happily today the route was both pleasantly varied and delightfully stress free. After hacking my way through the shrubberies of the last few days, today has definitely been something a welcome relief.

Credit must go to the Severn Way, whose winding course we have been following all day. Granted I only picked up this lovely river-side trail yesterday, but I have to say that the walking along it thus far has been great. It’s brilliant to finally be on a trail that genuinely seems to want you to walk it and credit must go to whichever local group does a great job keeping the paths clear and well way marked.

I’m a big fan of river walking as it’s a sure fire way of spotting a bit of wildlife as you tick off the miles, (even if it’s only the occasional curious duck) and watching the hustle and bustle of nature going about it’s business is a great distraction from weary feet! It also makes navigation a doddle, as was the case today, just keep the river on the left (or right) and put one foot in front of the other until you get where you’re going.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted that I described today’s walk as ‘pleasantly varied’ and so it was, although I admit it sounds largely river based thus far. It’s true, that to the left of us the river Severn dominated the view all day but the right was another case entirely. Worthy distractions rightwards included (in no particular order):

- Worcester (admittedly somewhat viewable to the left too, but you get the point)
- A working quarry (rather boldly the Severn Way cuts right through the middle rather than skirting around it)
- A vast and rather intricate horse jumping course (sadly sans horses)
- A pub with a beer garden dominated by roving gangs of turkeys and peacocks (odd, just odd)
- A slightly decrepit and rather creepy looking funfair (Scooby doo and the gang would have been right at home)

Bit of an odd mix all told, but combined with the view to the left and a spot of chat with my dad it served to keep my mind off my feet and my legs for the whole day, which is all you can ask really. When we rounded the final bend and strolled into camp I was surprised to find my tent assembled and waiting for me, it turns out my mum and Nan had got there a bit early and rather than going for a nice cuppa they had set to work putting my camp together for me. Bless ‘em!

A lovely pub meal later and we finally parted ways after what has been a great little birthday. The parting is only temporary though, I’m only a few days away from home now and I must say that I’m really looking forward to a couple of days to recover and reorganise before I resume the push North. If every day is a pleasant and trouble free as today, I’ll be there in no time at all.

02 July 2009

Day 26 - Classics, Treats and an Angry Bovine

Tewkesbury to Worcester - 15/06/09

The one downside to a tent as a form of temporary accommodation, is that in terms of sound proofing it is somewhat lacking. Normally this isn't too much of a problem as my ear plugs (probably one of the cheapest and yet most essential purchases of my entire journey thus far) do a sterling job of blocking out the sounds of the countryside (and the sound of my alarm, but that’s another matter entirely) and I'm usually so worn out from walking that I'm asleep in moments. Last night however was slightly different, a combination of a short day and a monumental racket from the wedding party being held mere yards from my fabric shelter meant that I didn't sleep a wink until the wee hours of the morning. I did however get to relive the school discos of my youth by being bombarded with classics such as 'The Time Warp', 'The Twist' and 'The Birdy Song' all at brain meltingly loud volume. Peaceful it was not, but on the plus side I had another nice short day today and even better I have a nice swanky hotel in which to relax this evening.

The reason for the short day and opulent accommodation are one and the same, tomorrow is my 24th birthday and to celebrate my folks have come down to visit and treat me to a night in plush surroundings. Hurrah! This meant that I had the rather odd situation (well for me anyway) of having a fixed finish time for today’s hike. Usually I just set off at some point once I've packed away my lodgings and get to my destination whenever I get there. Today however as a pre-birthday treat I decided I'd have a nice short day and so arranged for a pick up at 2:30 regardless of where I might be (well presuming I'm not in the middle of a field somewhere).

Today I took my first steps along the Severn Way, a trail which as the name suggests follows the winding course of the river Severn. Always a bit apprehensive when starting on a new trail, as my experiences in Cornwall and Devon have left me a tad sceptical about the walkability (hurrah for made up words!) of footpaths in this part of the country. It turns out that I had nothing to fear. Besides a small issue with a broken step on the very first stile (which ended up requiring something of a vault to clear) and a couple of short sections of rampant undergrowth, the stroll along the river turned out to be a real pleasure. One small hiccup in this, which had nothing to do with the Severn Way itself, was caused by one intractable bull that thought it would be amusing to park itself in front of the only exit to a field. As I approached it began to snort, stamp and generally look rather unhappy which would generally be enough to have me seriously reconsidering my choice of route. Sadly in this instance there really was no other choice but to gingerly sneak my way past, whilst preparing myself to leap over the hedge if it took so much as a single step in my direction. Obviously, given that I'm writing this now I clearly survived unscathed, but it's not an experience I shall relish repeating.

After my encounter with the local wildlife, it was really little more than a matter of getting to the nearest lane and tromping along until my designated pickup time. Helpfully this coincided nicely with my arrival at a little village which makes remembering where to begin again tomorrow slightly easier. But that’s a problem for tomorrow, for now I'm going to make the most of my luxurious surroundings and go soak my walk weary legs in the jacuzzi. Hurrah!

Day 25 - Sloth, Stares and a Short Stroll

Cheltenham to Tewkesbury - 14/06/09

To make up for my unscheduled early departure yesterday, this morning I seized the (somewhat rare) opportunity to lay in until lunchtime. It's the first proper lie-in I've had for quite some time and certainly the first I've had on a walking day. I've been able to get away with the wanton bout of laziness however as my walk today from Cheltenham to the picturesque town of Tewkesbury was little more than an afternoons stroll. Nevertheless despite the low mileage I decided to play it safe and stick to the lanes for the day as the thoughts of yesterday's foliage filled footpaths were still fresh in my mind.

It's rather tricky to think of something to write about an afternoon trundling along the lanes, but one thing that I have noticed today is the stares of the drivers. If the motorists in this part of the world are anything to go by then walkers must be a rare species indeed. I realise that dressed as I am in my full hiking regalia I do sort of stand out from the crowd, but it doesn't make it any less unnerving when the occupants of every passing vehicle are treating you like some sort of mobile exhibit. I suppose it's another reason (if one was needed) for avoiding the roads where possible and it was with this thought in mind that I decided to take a shortcut across some fields on the outskirts of Tewkesbury. This decision then proceeded to bite me right in the ass when I hoofed across said field to find that there was no way out save the way that I came in. It was clear that once upon a time there had indeed been a stile but at some point it must have been damaged and the owner of this particular field had decided that the best way to repair it was with lashings of barbed wire. Helpful it was not.

I really can't wait to get up into the peak district where the sight of a backpack is more the norm than the exception. That's not to say that I'm not enjoying my time in Southern England (the Cotswold Way is just one of the highlights of the last few weeks), but I'm getting a little tired of of feeling quite so out of place all of the time.

26 June 2009

Day 24 - Evictions, Disturbances and an Absence of Manners

Painswick to Cheltenham - 13/06/09

Didn't really get the best of starts today to be completely honest. After confirming with my B&B hosts over breakfast that checkout would be at 10:30 I found myself unceremoniously expelled from my room at 10:05. To make matters worse I was right in the middle of packing my pack for the day and my pleas for another 5-10mins to get everything straightened out fell on deaf ears. My gracious 'hosts' didn't even have the decency to wish me well on my journey but instead retreated back to their TV in the lounge and left me to see myself and my armful of possessions out. Still it gave me the chance to experience completing my packing from the comfort of a park bench in true hobo style. Now all I need is a knotted hanky on a stick.

Naturally this spontaneous bout of rudeness didn't put me in the best of moods for the remainder of the day, but thankfully the now much flatter Cotswold Way did go someway towards soothing my ruffled feathers. Alas, this afternoon saw me bid a final farewell to the Way and after bidding it a fond farewell (and a promise to re-walk it in full some day) I joined the somewhat less fantastic Gloucestershire Way. Maybe the well walked and well maintained footpaths of the Cotwolds have spoiled me, but this afternoons foray on the Gloucestershire Way was a real pain. Every trail was choked with clinging vegetation and naturally most of this turned out to be of the stinging variety.

Now, after nearly four weeks on the road I've understandably become rather adept at spotting a stile lurking amongst the undergrowth. Credit then must be given to the Gloucestershire Way for managing to conceal one so completely that I passed within 5 yards of it (several times) without ever becoming aware of it's existence. After vainly searching up and down half a mile of hedgerow for some considerable time (and debating the possibilities of successfully vaulting a 5 foot hedge) I did finally manage locate the devious little thing. I then set about my usual tactic of using improvised trekking pole machetes to clear myself a path through the stinging shrubberies so I could finally be on my way once again. In my mind, this not only prevents me from my legs being stung to buggery, but also provides something of a public service to any poor hikers following in my wake (unlikely in this case I reckon). Apparently the farmer who interrupted my pruning session would beg to differ. I was mid hack when he popped his head over the hedge and asked if I would mind keeping the noise down. Two things baffled me about this statement. Firstly my trekking pole chopping was hardly what you would call noisy in the first place and secondly, I was surrounded on all sides by open farmland so who exactly was I disturbing? I managed to refrain from mentioning that maybe if he maintained the footpath a little then ramblers such as myself would no longer have to disturb his empty fields. Ah well, here's hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Day 23 -


25 June 2009

Day 22 - Lords, Ladies and a Weary Walker

Tormarton to North Nibley - 11/06/08

Having said only yesterday that I shall be sticking to official camp sites from now on, tonight I am once again in the garden of a B&B. Unlike yesterday however my accommodation here in North Nibley (oddly I don’t recall seeing a South Nibley or even an East or West for that matter) would be difficult to miss for all but the most unobservant rambler. I find myself this evening pitched in the gardens of a grand 3-storey country manor and whilst the owner really couldn’t be nicer, my little tent feels somewhat at odds with the opulent surroundings. In fact the whole town seems to have an air of wealth about it, which is not something I was anticipating. I was surprised to find that the local pub that I sauntered into in my usual state of post-walk dishevelledness (yes I agree, that’s probably not a real word) was serving up top quality nouveau cuisine. Granted my minted lamb cutlets in red wine jus were delicious but after a day on the road I would have really preferred quantity of quality tonight.

Its not that the walk has been particularly long today (14-15 miles, sort of average really) but its been pretty warm again and the Cotswold Way has led me a merry dance up and down the hills all day. Nevertheless, I’m quite enjoying the Cotswold Way thus far and I’m even willing to forgive its somewhat eccentric course as long as that course continues to be a clear and trouble free as it has so far. I can understand the reasons behind its meandering journey North, this is certainly an area with a lot of history and the Way does its best to take it all in. There really is only so many forts, monuments, statues, churches, etc that one man can take in a single day however so I’ll admit to once again taking to the roads for an hour or two in order to cut a bit of a corner. I do feel a little disappointed to be missing these occasional stretches but I guess from a slightly mercenary point of view, my goal is to get to John O’ Groats and so any path that doesn’t head Northwards (however excellent) has to be considered expendable. Besides it gives me a good reason to come back and walk the Way in totality sometime in the future, preferably without the giant backpack though.

As to the bits that I did actually walk today, they were once again very pleasant, with the possible exception of the climb out of Wotton Under Edge which it has to be said was a complete killer. There does seem to be an annoying tendency for the hardest physical challenge of the day to occur within the last hour or so of the walk. Maybe it just seems more difficult because of the several hours of hiking that proceed it, or perhaps the chap who wrote my guide book is a touch on the sadistic side (I think this has already been firmly established with the Tiverton to Taunton fiasco). Either way, I suppose it makes me appreciate it all the more when I finally get to put my feet up at the end of the day and that feeling alone is almost worth the extra effort.

16 September 2008

Endings, Musings and Thanks to All

Hey Folks,

As you've probably guessed from the title of this post and from the rather dashing photo of yours truly above, I have at long last completed my epic trek across the country! To be more precise, I actually finished my epic trek across the country back on the 30th of August at around 4:30pm some 98 days and 1100 miles after leaving Land's End.

Despite having officially hung up my boots about two weeks ago, the fact that I've actually finished still hasn't really hit home. I'm not sure at what point the knowledge that I've managed to walk the entire length of the country will dawn on me, but at the moment I'm still convinced that I'm merely taking a few days off and that I'll be back on the trail any day now. There's something very pure about focusing all your efforts getting from point A to point B and the therapeutic effect of doing this day after day should not be ignored by those yearning to escape the rat race of modern life. That said, I am quite glad that the challenge has been completed but I know I shall nonetheless miss the simple life of the rambler.

I would like to take a moment to thank any and all who have taken the time to read my blog, leave comments and generally show their support for my challenge. That support has made a big difference, especially back in my planning days when the expertise of the LEJOGing community proved invaluable on more than one occasion. Also, to all those who were kind enough to make a donation to Katharine House Hospice on my behalf, the total amount raised so far is in excess of £2500 and I've still got a few more donations to collect. This is absolutely fantastic, and I want to thank each and every one of you on the Hospice's behalf. Your money will make a big difference.

Apologies again that I was not able to keep up the day by day posting that I had naively planned for way back in May but as I said in my previous post on that topic it simply became too much for me to handle at the time and in the end getting the walk done was my top priority. Now that I'm back and getting back towards some semblance of normality (these last two weeks have been unbelievably busy) I shall finally start the process of writing up my daily notes and sticking them up here with the odd photo or two. Obviously some of the suspense will have been lost as you're now aware that I made it safe and sound, but for the sake of completeness and for my own satisfaction I shall be continuing to write my diary anyway although it may take me quite some time to finish the whole thing.

Anywho, thanks again to all of you out there in blog land. I couldn't have done it without you!