05 May 2008

A Namesake, A Swarm And An Attack From The Hiking Pixies

Hello again everybody.

First off, apologies for the lack of posting last week. I spent most of the weekend trying to sort out some bits and bobs for my plans after the LEJOG, which unfortunately left little time to do anything for the LEJOG itself. Rather than trying to stretch an entire post to convey the above three lines I thought I'd give myself a little break and wait a week before continuing my ramblings. Of course, that now means that I have to try to cram a week and half’s worth of anecdotes into one tiny blog post. Now, before you take a shifty glance at the clock and start to wonder if you have the time/energy to read this bumper post (yes I know that I write too much, count yourselves lucky that you only actually see the shorter edited version) bear in mind that it's now only two weeks till the big day. With the starting line in sight it must be said that there is not much left really that needs to be done and hence fewer admin tasks to bang on about in prose. With a couple of small exceptions, my plans are all in place, my hoard of equipment is complete (although I'm almost certain I will have forgotten some small but essential item) and despite still feeling slightly un-prepared practice wise, I'm just counting down the days until I can finally get under way.

Speaking of practice, now that all the paperwork for this trip has been squared away I've finally had chance to get a bit of decent hiking in without having to feel guilty about using up my precious planning time. Having spent most of my training days thus far plodding around the woodland of Cannock Chase (nice though it is) I was feeling ready for a bit of a change of scenery not to mention a change in the weather. I'm pleased to say that this weekend I was fortunate enough to get both at the same time and also have a nice catch up session with my good friends Rob and Vicky at the same time. The plan was for Rob and I to spend the day tromping around the Nottinghamshire countryside after which we would meet up with Vicky back at their flat and go out to the pub for dinner. As plans go, this one was pretty hard to fault.

We had decided the previous evening that rather than following any national trails we'd just pick a couple of points on the map and then use the lanes and ROW's (Rights of Way) to join them up into a big loop. Admittedly this big loop turned out to be somewhat bigger than we had anticipated but more of that later. In order to get a more realistic picture of my life for the next few months I decided to load up my backpack with my gathered possessions and see how my knees/back would cope with the additional weight. To be honest, after a few minutes of adjusting straps and pulling toggles my pack settled into place quite nicely and with the aid of a couple of recently acquired trekking poles it didn't appear to be too much of a burden.
Buoyed up by the sense of optimism we strode out along the road towards Berry Hill which would serve as our first target of the day. Unfortunately it seemed that everyone else in Nottingham decided to join us on the road to Berry Hill and rather than walking they had opted for the motorised transport option. So much for a stroll and a convivial conversation, Rob and I had to shout just to be heard over the traffic and there really is nothing pleasant about slogging along a litter strewn verge (insert littering rant here). After putting so much effort into getting to my namesake, Berry Hill turned out to be little more than a car park beside an old dried up canal lock. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting to be honest but perhaps some sort of hill wouldn't have been beyond the realms of imagination given the name. It's a bit like going to Loch Ness and finding out it's a cement factory. Still disappointment aside, we had a quick look at the overgrown waterway before striking out along the old towpath and onto our next destination St Mary's Church at Colston Basset.

We caught our first glimpse of St Mary's long before we actually got to it through the rolling farmland. Standing proud upon the hillside above Colton Basset it's not immediately obvious that what you’re looking at is really little more than a shell. The church was gutted back in 1898 to make way for the new church of St John the Divine in the village itself. Maybe I've just got a soft spot for old buildings, but to let something that was built with such skill and care fall into ruin in order to build another half a mile away seems like a tragic waste. Fortunately, the site of St Mary's has been lovingly restored and it served as an excellent place for a spot of lunch whilst we poked around the ruins. It was upon entering the church itself that I suddenly became aware of deep humming noise. It appeared to be coming from the bell tower so I thought I'd put my sleuthing hat on and try to determine the source of the disturbance. This source became swiftly apparent when I tilted my eyes skyward inside the tower and beheld a veritable cloud of bees. Luckily, Rob was there to catch my hasty retreat on camera for all posterity. Cheers for the support matey!

After my escape from the little flying honey factories we thought it might be best to press on and leave the new residents of St Mary's in peace. So we gathered up our belongings and set out through the bustling little village and into the farmland beyond. Farmland walking does have a tendency to get a little tedious after a while (well to me it does), but after spending the whole morning hiking along the road it was pleasant to just have a bit of peace and quite and some soft ground underfoot. Nevertheless by the time we reached our third stop off point of the day, Vimmy Ridge, I think we were both ready for a bit of a change. Things were not helped by the fact that my pack (which until then had been an unobtrusive passenger on this little endeavour) was starting to become more of a burden and the thought of dragging it through yet another field of oil seed rape was not especially enticing. However a look at the map revealed that in order to get back to our starting point, we had a choice of more fields or more roads and so by default the former won out. I've noticed that this paragraph is getting a little negative, but it should be noted that on even the best hike, the last few miles is inevitably spent fantasizing about kicking off the boots and relaxing with a well earned pint. That's not to say that after said pint and an hour or two's rest you're not eager to begin the whole process again, but that's not always an easy thing to keep in mind when the hiking pixies are sneaking lead weights into your pack with every step.

I haven’t really got much to say about the last 3-4 miles from Vimmy Ridge to Rob and Vicky's flat except that it swiftly became an exercise in endurance. There were some pleasant distractions though, such as watching the little planes buzzing in and out of the local airfield as we trundled past and the sudden appearance of pine forest on the outskirts of the city made for a pleasant (if belated) change to the scenery. For the most part though I just kept my head down and plodded slowly towards my destination whilst at the same time feeling bad for holding up Rob who unencumbered by a portable home in a bag was clearly none the worse for wear from the days exertions. Still, "slow and steady wins the race" they say and we did of course eventually make it back to the flat, albeit with slightly less of a spring in our step than we left with.
I must admit that that evening I began to feel a little apprehensive about the 1200 mile walk I'm starting in two weeks time. We set out that morning with the aim of doing a 16-17 mile route and if that was the case then it was considerably harder on the knees than I had anticipated it was going to be. I was a bit confused though, as I've done that sort of distance in the past without too much complaint (notice how I've used the qualifier 'too much') and surely the training I've been doing up to now should make it easier rather than harder. Deciding that this merited closer investigation I dug out my map measurer from the bottom of my bag and set about getting an accurate mileage for the day. I'm pleased to say that our guestimation skills leave a lot to be desired, as our steady 16-17 mile day turned out in fact to be a 21 mile slog. This caused a hasty u-turn in my appraisal of the situation, as at 21 miles the walk was just half a mile short of longest day I've got planned all summer and if I could manage it now then by the time I've had a couple of months on the trail to toughen up, I should have no problems going that little bit further.

Well. That's the theory anyway.