Hardcore Hiking…

spires-smallerOn paper, the conditions were ideal. At least they would have been, if the farmers of Lincolnshire hadn’t all conspired together, to plough all their fields at the same time the weeks before the event.Then there was the weather. Did I mention the weather? Five hours of non-stop heavy rain, while the competitors slipped, and stumbled their way through those muddy fields.

So the question remains: Why would literally so many people gather together for so much collective discomfort over a 26, or 13 mile course? One of the organisers, Donna Sutton said, “It was our biggest turnout in the last five years.”  Was it for charity? Well, there are far easier ways to give money, one of which was being simply to click on your banks website. Was it down then to simply one’s desire to improve on one’s personal best. The conditions were hardly conducive to anyone being rewarded with their best ever marathon time. So what was this mysterious force that drew so many people together? Surely, it has to come down to the overwhelming sense of achievement that results from undertaking such a task. The fact that the conditions were so difficult, that just made the sense of achievement even greater.

Spires and Steeples Heritage Trail

Now, in its 9th year, the name of the event comes from the rural sport of Steeplechasing. The course itself runs from Lincoln to Sleaford over a 26 mile course, taking in the villages of Washingborough, Heighington, Branston, Potter, Hanworth,  Nocton, Dunstan, Metheringham, Scopwick,  Digby, Dorrington and Ruskington. Money raised from the event went to the charity Wheel power.

King Arthur’s Old Stamping Ground?

To be honest, the Camelot half Marathon-being only 13 miles long, wasn’t really too much of a challenge, especially since I spent the first part of the week walking along an extremely torturous section of the SWCP between Dartmouth and Torquay.  This was easy in comparison. Nevertheless, apart from a few fraught moments when the maddest looking husky I’ve ever seen in my life turned up at the start-actually frothing at the mouth mad, and who in turn set off just about every other dog there, it was great fun taking part-once everyone had settled down, and the views were amazing!

Held annually in Sherborne, the walk itself is circular in design (which saves on the logistics of trying to bus all the competitors back to the start), and consisted of several hills, the most prominent being Cadbury Castle-which is one of the reputed sites of King Arthur’s Camelot, from which comes the name of the challenge.

On the day of the event, the sun dazzled, everyone I met was friendly, we were plied with as much cake as we could eat to keep our strength up ( obviously! ), the medal was well designed, and as a collective group we managed to raise over £2,400 for the charity Honeypot. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Pill Boxes

Often while walking alongside the Thames you come across many of these Second World War built concrete guard posts-popularly known as Pill Boxes, but yesterday between Lechlade-on-Thames and Radcot, they literally seemed to be everywhere. I think I came across about 7 or even 8 just in that short 8 mile stretch.

The narrow slots in the concrete are of course gun slots through which to fire weapons. Thinking, however, about their supposed role in the second World war, it was so Dad’s Army it was untrue. They were supposed to be manned by the Home Guard, who for the most part were too old to fight, and which as everyone knows didn’t actually have enough guns in the first place to even train with, ( My Great Granddad served in the home guard and would typically use a broom to mimic a gun ), so the prospect of actually placing a gun inside each of these concrete bunkers was never going to happen.  Still they stand today silhouetted magnificently against the skyline as a silent tribute to a different time.

 

14202678_10154300813955071_4241341063481196724_n

“Getting by with little help from my friends…”

Such a huge, surge of emotions and memories still surfacing from yesterday. On so many levels, the whole day proved to be inspiring-hearing everyone telling their story as to why they were taking part, as we each walked along the course. 
 Before the marathon even started, one of the organizers told us that the route was extremely challenging, and as such, we needed to look out for each other. And that’s exactly what took place throughout the day. I saw numerous examples of people helping each other to the finishing line-not least the girl ( Louise ) who helped me personally with my heat stroke, and who walked with me for the last few miles.

 When we discuss how powerless we all are, when we are faced with the shock of losing somebody-taking part in events like this doesn’t of course bring our loved ones back. But, it’s about trying to do something to help-however small that is, in the face of that loss, and sometimes that’s all we need-some small measure, to help us to cope.

 For me, I needed to do this, for my Grandparents who both died of cancer, so just wanted to thank everyone who helped me to do this, by either sponsoring me, or simply putting up with me boring them to death about this marathon for the last few months

Days that make a difference

I’ve been wanting to complete a marathon for quite some time, but it had to be the right one, so after about a year of exploring different options, I finally signed up to the Cotswold Way Mighty Hike, containing a section of the National Trail starting from Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire where the route then followed the Cotswold Way escarpment before finally descending to the World Heritage Site of Bath and finishing in front of Bath’s famous Royal Crescent 26 miles later.

I had spent the previous 3 months diligently training for the event, culminating in a least two 23 mile training sessions on the final week, and was quietly confident of being successful when I arrived at the starting location on a cold, misty morning just before 7am for registration to commence. Being one of the first people to arrive I was given a yellow wristband which placed me in the first pen. After a brief warm up session involving a laughably bad attempt from me at Zumba, there was a countdown, before the ribbon holding us into the pen was pulled free and finally on Saturday 23rd July at about 8am I started out on my first ever marathon.

It was a really well organised event, with volunteers from both Action challenge and Macmillan themselves marshalling and accompanying us on the walk itself.

Despite, a worrying episode towards the end, where I was having dizzy spells, and had to sit down for nearly 40 minutes just after the 25th mile, to rehydrate and get some rest, I finished 182nd out of 376 finishers (At least 50 dropped out during the event ) with a time of 10 hrs 43 minutes and 55 seconds, while at the same time, managed to raise a total of £332.50 for Macmillan Cancer Support

13735128_10154186389170071_4714413114496479468_oIMG_20160725_104738

Walking The Thames Path: From Bourne End to Windsor Castle

Thames Path 003 smallVolunteers were busy cutting back some of the hedgerow along the Thames Path this morning which meant a delayed start, but once I was over the railway bridge at Bourne End, the walk very quickly settled down to an attractive mixture of riverside, and isolated wooded walks, passing through the village of Cookham (the home of the artist Stanley Spencer), then into the increasing suburbia of Maidenhead which incidentally contains a railway bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, through the attractive Boulters Lock, the villages of Bray, & Eton Wick before the final stretch leading to Windsor which contains fantastic views of the castle.

Thames Path 036 small

On the approach to Windsor, I could hear the sound of someone speaking into a loudspeaker. Students apparently were having a race on the Eton College Rowing Lake, which you could occasionally see glimpses of, through the trees. No matter what your views on their sense of entitlement and privilege are from attending such a World famous institution-just knowing that 19 Prime Ministers have been educated at this school, does set it apart as being very special. On hearing all the boys cheering as their scores were announced, I did wonder whether one of the voices would yet prove to be the 20th or 21st?

One of my favourite views during the day, was under the M4 bridge-yes, it surprised me too! It was the perfect symmetry I found attractive. Beauty it seems really can be found anywhere.

Thames Path 094 small

Sleeping under the stars

On dayzeroproject.com-which essential is a website where people list all their objectives in the immediate future and then gradually tick them off as each one is achieved, the fourth most popular thing that people want to do is to sleep under the stars, presumably while camping.

It’s certainly a romantic notion to fall asleep while watching the night sky shifting position as the Earth slowly rotates in the opposite direction. But, how many have actually done it?  Have you ever looked up while the icy, dusty, debris from a meteor shower came into view? Have you ever camped in a place so remote, with so little light pollution you could literally see thousands of stars. What a truly memorable experience!

I’m reminded of Emerson’s words, ” If the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. We have grown accustomed to our blessings.”

On Monday I was outside at 3am watching the night sky while waiting for the lunar eclipse. It was a fantastic experience watching the moon slowly turn red-something to be remembered for a long time, and this was the best photograph I took that morning.

Lunar Eclipse 046 small

This Great Country…

One of the things I love about this country, is no matter how impossibly crowded the towns, the roads, and the pavements always seem to be, you never actually have to travel far to find some breathing space-which is unbelievable when you think of the vast number of people we have all sharing the same bit of land.  I’m sure my circumstances are no different to most people.  I live in a large town, yet despite this it never takes more then a 20 minute walk to find some serious peace and quiet.

Today for example, I spent 5 whole hours walking from Waddesdon to Wendover in Buckinghamshire, completing the 31 mile Aylesbury Ring, using the North Bucks Way, the Midshires Way, and Swan Way and yet I only saw five people over the entire walk!

Anyway, here are a few of today’s pictures…

Alpacas small
Alpacas in Ford

Horse small

Coloured field small Cows small

Dinton Stocks small

Dinton Church small

River small Storm Clouds small

The 2015 Chiltern 3 Peaks

More then 550 volunteers took part in this years Chiltern 3 Peaks Challenge to raise money for the very deserving charity, the Rennie Grove Hospice.

The challenge itself required a walk along the Eastern section of the Ridgeway-Britain’s oldest road, through three different counties in a place that has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Last year I made the mistake of carrying way too much, so this year, I ditched the rucksack entirely, which made the 18 mile walk so much easier.  I figured food was available all along the course-which it was, including the chance to nip into the Co-op in Wendover, so that was one thing less to carry. And water bottles were generously provided at regular water stations along the route so again, I didn’t need to carry them either. In fact, there wasn’t even really a great need for that regular of hikers staple: the first aid kit, because members of the St John’s ambulance were also supporting the days events and could be seen all along the course. This was a reflection on just how well organized the event was-everything was provided, even down to your transport back to your car, courtesy of Arriva buses and the drivers themselves who freely gave up their time.

DSCF0491 small1B The Ridgeway small

As a local, it’s a wonderful experience, being able to see the place that I live from an entirely different vantage point.  Now, all of the hills I see every day on the horizon, actually mean something. They are more then just hills.  Places like White Cross Hill, Pulpit Hill, and Coombe Hill are really steep. I know that now! And I have the aches in my feet and calf muscles to prove it!

Me and Ben made pretty good progress during the day. Leaving the School at Princess Risborough just after 9am, eventually arriving at the top of the Beacon in Ivinghoe, seven hours later shortly after 4pm, to join a whole pack of other walkers who were already at the top, cheering and clapping the conclusion of their own personal adventures.

All in all, a great day, so cheers to Rennie Grove Hospice Care for all their hard work in organizing such a wonderful event.

DSCF0506 smallDSCF0515 plus small

1A The Ridgeway Sign small12004810_10153502315875071_6824239655671092925_n