The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Day 12–Market Rasen to Barnetby le Wold

(Mick only; detailed supplied by Mick)

31 March (0845-1530)

Distance: 16 miles (Tot: 212)

Weather: cloudy start, then warm and sunny, but v. windy

Number of churches: loads

Number of unfulfilled kissing gates: all 14 of them*

It was a rainy night and having rained for so many hours the natural assumption was that it would continue. But, of course, rain always stops eventually (even if sometimes that is days later) and on this occasion it stopped about ten minutes after the alarm went off. Perfect timing!

With the skies still threatening we were dressed for wet weather as we strode/hobbled (Mick/me) away from the campsite, only to part at the end of the driveway as Mick turned left and I turned right.

I made my way down to Market Rasen and arriving an hour early for my train was pleased to find that next to the train station is a big Tesco complete with a coffee shop, so that was me sorted for the wait. Three trains, a bus and four hours later I was home.

Meanwhile, Mick found the beginning of his walk a little bit strange as he’s not accustomed to this solo walking malarkey. Moreover, he’d lost his navigator so he had to take on that task too – more of a challenge as he can’t see the map without his specs on (plus he had no-one to blame when it went awry, which I’m sure is why he usually delegates the navigation to me!).

By the time he climbed up onto the ridge at Normanby le Wold the weather was clearing, the layers were coming off and there were fine views to be seen out to the west, with Lincoln Cathedral visible in the distance (I had a closer view, as I had to change trains at Lincoln). It was about this time that a small panic ensued when Mick realised that he’d lost his camera and immediately back-tracked to try to find it, only to remember a few hundred yards later that he’d stowed it in his lid pocket this morning rather than in its usual home of the hip-belt pocket. 

Meeting an elderly chap who was out for his daily exercise, Mick learned that when visibility is really good up on the ridge the views are extensive indeed, as the chap listed various distant features that can sometimes be seen. The chap then explained his various ailments (new hip, knackered knee) before wishing Mick a pleasant walk.

With the Viking Way having dropped down into a protected valley the rising wind went unnoticed for a while, but by the time Mick was the other side of Caistor, where he found a nice spot for lunch, the day had become quite blustery.

As the Way continued to through farmland and villages the wind became the most notable feature of the day; it was very strong and was causing lots of dust storms- Mick reported at the end of the day that he felt like he was being sand-blasted from the dirt blowing off recently-ploughed fields. With the clouds having cleared and the sun beating down, the sand was sticking nicely to the applied sun cream**.

Apparently there are some lovely villages along the way, which I will appreciate when I come to walk this section, and each village had its own small church, which Mick photographed as he went.

From Bigby on, things became less interesting, with pastureland being prevalent on the walk into Barnetby le Wold, where relief from the wind was finally found in arriving at the night’s B&B.

Whilst Mick’s been battling the wind and making progress north, I’ve washed and dried my down jacket so that it is now restored to fluffiness (I’d noticed last week that it was becoming a bit flat), have rested and aired my feet (not to mention having applied liberal amounts of surgical spirits) and I’ve booked a train ticket for Saturday afternoon to get myself to Mick’s brother’s house, which is where Mick’s heading on Saturday afternoon too. I’m pleased to report that the two most troublesome blisters are looking better than they have over the last few days. Fingers crossed that the others follow suit tomorrow.

(A couple of notes from me on Mick’s report:

*I’m quite pleased that the kissing gates were unfulfilled!

** I did a bit of pre-nagging before I left. Applying suncream was one of the nags, because Mick is a delicate flower who burns at the drop of a hat. This bit of Mick’s description of the day was, I’m sure, designed to let me know that he is a big boy and can remember his suncream without a prompt!)

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Wussing Out

The feet are poorly. Two of the blisters are now looking to be infected. Three conclusions have been reached:
1) They're not going to get better unless I give them rest and a chance to heal;
2) They're not going to get better whilst I'm still wearing the current shoe/footbed combination (I'm blaming the footbeds, as this is my fourth pair of the same shoes and they've never caused a problem before)
3) I'm a wuss.

So, tomorrow morning, whilst Mick heads north, I'll be hobbling down into Market Rasen to catch a train home. On Saturday night, I will catch back up with Mick, albeit with three days omitted from the walk.

That means for me this isn't going to be a 'thru-hike'. I will, of course, walk the entire distance by returning to cover the omitted section, but I won't be walking it all entirely in order. Disappointing, but due to point 3 of my conclusions above, for me it's the better option than any more days of pain on every step (not to mention the real possibility of making the feet even worse).

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Day 11 - By Stenigot to Market Rasen

30 March (0730-1415)
Distance: 15 miles (Tot: 196)
Weather: Cloudy start, light rain from 1315
Number of mole hills seen since Boston: 2,619,832

Once the farmer had stopped his to-ing and fro-ing last night, and once those with guns had stopped shooting whatever they were shooting, and once the bird scarers had passed their 'off' time, it was a quiet night on our pitch. A warm night too - at least comparatively.

My feet were feeling massively better this morning, which lasted until I put my shoes on and stood up. A bit of wishful thinking perhaps. That didn't stop us making tracks at our customary hour, and today progress was more consistent.

Farmland and villages were the theme of the day and we had to remark about how well (but not superfluously) waymarked the Viking Way is. We were on the Way yesterday too, and whilst farmland can so often be hit and miss as to whether paths are evident and whether waymarks will be helpful, there have been no such issues so far on the Viking Way. Every time you need to make a turn a clear signpost will tell you where to go. It's a nice change from playing 'spot the stile' when crossing fields.

Most of the villages have been lovely too. Ludford may not have been an overly attractive village, but it had the bonus of a cafe which appeared at precisely the right time for elevenses and served plentiful quantities of tea and food.
Tealby, on the other hand, by far won the vote for the nicest village today. Even from a distance it looked attractive, and that was a while before the detail of any of the houses could be seen.

It was as we left Tealby that the first spots of rain were felt but we resisted our waterproofs, feeling sure that it was just a passing shower. We even managed to convince ourselves that it had stopped at one point, which lasted until we left the bit of dense woodland which had been sheltering us. Alas, the rain didn't stop. In fact it's still falling as I type this over three hours later, but of course we are now snug in the tent listening to the gentle pitter patter on the fly.

As for the feet - that's the subject for another post.

(Louise - I think that there's been a mast breeding programme in these parts! Three at Fulletby, one north of Stenigot and one NW of Donington on Bain. I think it was the latter which we could see from our pitch last night)
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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Day 10 - Tattershall to by Stenigot

29 March (0900-1915)
Distance: 19.5 miles (Tot: 181)
Weather: wall-to-wall sun till 3pm then high cloud
Number of killer dogs: 1

Well, that was a day of slow progess!

Having left the frosty campsite intentionally late, Woodhall Spa (a rather nice looking place) proved to be our first distraction of the day, even though we weren't even an hour in. A trip to Boots to buy blister-combat supplies took about a week and a half, by which time Mick had decided that a visit to a tea room was in order. I think it was the novelty of finding a place with a dozen tea rooms, all open for business.

Picking up the Viking Trail, a disused railway line complete with art work (see photos) led us to Horncastle. It was 1pm and we'd walked a whole 9 miles of our intended 20.5.

Horncastle supplied further distractions as Mick got the strap re-attached to his watch, groceries were bought and lunch eaten. It was gone 2 by the time we left.

Progress might then have been swift, except that the two blisters (one on each foot, same place on each) decided to multiply, causing lots of 'just need to look at my foot' stops. By the time we reached Goulceby I had more blisters than I've had in the previous three years combined.

A visit to the pub in Goulceby was in order to get some water for the night and I would have liked to have taken my shoes off, except that the pub dog was intent on chewing my shoes - with me wearing them - and the landlord didn't feel inclined to call his dog off. I don't think I'll be visiting that pub again!

In a highly unusual move, I then decided that we would cut short our day. 19.5 miles of pain on every single step was enough. I'm not sure we picked the most discreet spot, mind. It felt quite secluded until the farmer drove through the field twice (apparently not noticing us).

That probably sounds more doom and gloom than enjoyment, but actually the day was rather good. In particular, we've found contour lines. Indeed, we even went into tripple figures of altitude today, as we passed through lovely rolling patchworkness!

I'm now praying for a miraculous recovery of the feet overnight, otherwise a few rest days are going to be necessary to allow the mess to heal.

(Louise - no-one rushed out of their house offering us tea, so I guess we didn't pass your Mum's house ;-)
Conrad - I was pleased to see that the grid reference you mentioned was off our map - not that it prevented all killer dog incidents! BTW, we lunched yesterday outside the campsite at Chapel Hill, which is from where we were watching the jets take off.)

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Monday, 28 March 2011

Day 9 - Boston to Tattershall

28 March (0900-1530)
Distance: 14.5 miles (Tot: 161.5)
Weather: high cloud, sunny intervals, warm
Number of emu: 1

Park Lea guest house was a good choice last night, and after a very comfortable night and an excellent cooked breakfast we strode out this morning to retrace our steps by a few hundred yards.

Our day primarily featured the River Witham, which is more like a large canal than a river. Its straight lines cry out 'man made' and (perhaps unsurprisingly as there were no contour lines on today's map either) it barely had any flow visible. Whilst rivers or canals aren't generally one of my favourite types of walking, today's was particularly pleasing. Perhaps it was because, by being at the dizzy altitude of 5m on top of the flood-defence bank, we had extensive views of the surrounding flatness. It probably also helped that the weather was better than expected.

A while outside of Boston I happened to look back and wished I had sooner as directly lined up with the straight river was the imposing (massive) tower of the church in Boston. There should be a (poor quality) snap of it above, which can't possibly do it justice.

As if by magic, just as we were thinking about lunch some benches appeared ahead of us, so we had a comfortable break sitting in the sun on the riverside, watching the ducks and swans go about their business. We then discovered that our bench also gave a view of the tower and a section of the runway at RAF Conningsby, where, in the half an hour we were there, three Typhoons were seen to take off and one Chinook land.

The afternoon was short on miles, but we strung it out firstly by sitting and admiring the fantastic-looking Tattershall Castle (there should be a photo of the castle above too) for a short while and then by feeling the need for an ice cream when we found a shop in the village. We consumed our ices on the village green, sitting opposite a girl with her pet iguana on her shoulder.

It wasn't then far to the campsite but it turned out that the entrance was at the far end - 600 yards away. Having walked all the way up to the entrance, we then had to walk 600 yards back once booked in, as that's where the tent area is (and of course we couldn't possibly pitch in a hook-up area, even though there's plenty of room).

Rumour has it that the weather is going to take a turn for the wetter for the next couple or three days. S'pose we couldn't realistically expect the recent good run to last much longer!

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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Day 8 - N of Holbeach St Matthew to Boston

27 March (0810-1445)
Distance: 17 miles (Tot: 147 miles)
Weather: cloudy, couple of minutes of vague sunniness
Number of killer dogs: 3
Number of horses which wanted to nibble our gear and who followed us quite a distance trying: 10

There was a theft in the night. A whole hour of precious sleep was taken from us. A bit of grumbling therefore ensued, and the alarm was reset for half an hour later.

It had been a slightly warmer night, and thanks to the wind swinging around a bit at some point it was a completely dry tent that got packed away this morning, contrary to my expectations. A dry tent, plus almost-empty food bags, plus reduced water supplies gave us much more comfortable packs today, so we set out with a spring in our steps.

The day (another without any contour lines on either side of the map) was spent almost exclusively on sea defences; mainly the modern one which is nearest to the sea, but for part of the route we deviated inland a little onto an old sea bank. Our findings were that the modern dyke is flat and smooth on top, usually with short grass. The old dyke is none of those things. It did at one point feature some overly inquisitive horses which tried to appear nonchalant for a while until curiosity got the better of one of them, which set off all the others to follow us.

The day also featured another lengthy detour to a bridge. It was (a very long) four miles to cross to Fosdyke, but only a couple of miles back up the other side as it was at that point that we opted to see how the land lay a little further inland.

I'm not sure whether it was the stolen hour, the cumulative effect of the miles we've covered over the last few days, the psychological effect of being eager to reach Boston for a night of luxury, or just a touch of dehydration, but I was almost dead on my feet by the time we were 12 miles through the day. I was almost dead on sore feet too, as a blister that had been plaguing me (yes! Horrors! A blister!), on the side of the sole of my foot, reformed yet again. I lost patience with it this time, and overlooking the scrap-metal quay at Port Boston I took a needle and thread to it.

Such was my tiredness, that I tried to delegate the grocery shopping to Mick when we finally found Asda in Boston. Alas, Mick claimed that he wasn't qualified to do the shopping and so, disappointed that the cafe was shut, he sat on guard on a bench whilst I walked an extra half of a mile around the mega-store.

Happily, the B&B wasn't too far away, and as a reward for having to give extra information on checking in (as it's Census day today) we were given a cup of tea in the living room. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Hopefully, a comfortable bed tonight will perform miracles and the body will feel verily refreshed for our nice sensibly-short day tomorrow.

(Conrad: the tarmac runs along a chunk of the firing range, but becomes loose aggregate then grass well before the car park. We pitched beyond the car park (beyond the likely wandering ground of any youths that may choose to congregate there on a Saturday night), on a perfect pitch next to a pumping station. As for hills, I was only commenting today that my feet and legs would really appreciate a hill right about now!)

(Sorry, no photo today; I only took one and it's too poor to share. I'll try harder tomorrow.)

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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Day 7 - Admiralty Point to N of Holbeach St Matthew

26 March (0730-1700)
Distance: 22.5 miles (Tot: 130 miles)
Weather: cloud, two light showers, a chilling wind

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday we were in shirt-sleeves, basking in the heat. This afternoon I was wearing long sleeved base layer, fleece, down jacket, waterproof jacket, buffalo mitts and fleece hat - and still didn't feel overly warm. Aside from the drop in temperature, I don't think that sitting by a roaring fire for an hour at lunchtime helped; but I'm getting ahead of myself...

This morning we set out on the first side of a double-sided A4 map that didn't feature a single contour line on either side. The only lumps within sight were the sea defences (along one of which we were walking) and the two man-made islands off the coast. The second island was off my map and proved to be deceptive - it looked so near and yet it was a long time before we were past it.

Second breakfast was taken at the lighthouse at the east side of the mouth of the River Nene (Sir Peter Scott used to live there according to the sign on the wall). The lighthouse on the west side was about 150 yards away (you should be able to see them both on the photo at the top of this post), but it took us two hours of walking to get there as the nearest bridge requires a 3+ mile detour upstream.

At the turning point of that detour is Sutton Bridge where, in the absence of a tea room, we imposed ourselves on the landlord of the New Inn, even though the pub wasn't open. Not only did we get a cup of tea (not that his pub usually serves tea) but he refused payment. It was a good (not to mention warming) break.

Next thing we knew it was approaching 1330 and we were approaching what was supposed to be our night stop. Clearly it was far too early to stop and wild camp, but as we weren't going to be so close to a village for the rest of the day, a detour to Gedney Drove End was called for so that we could pick up water.

The Rising Sun isn't the smartest or most modern pub, but it has friendly owners and free WiFi and we managed to while away an hour there in front of the blazing fire. The packs were once again heavy with water when we left, but I lightened mine a while later as, having stopped for lunch not only did the amount of food get reduced but I started shivering quite violently, so out came the down jacket.

Not wanting to pitch for the night on the military firing range and with the hour too early to stop in any case (not that we'd seen a single person out and about all afternoon), we strolled on. Eventually, after hours and hours of not seeing any flat, smooth grass, what should appear to the side of the sea defence but exactly that. It's nice and springy with moss too. Unfortunately we're completely sheltered from the wind, so we'll have condensation again tonight, but the flat springiness was too good to refuse.
As to today's distance, I can assure you that we won't be walking so far tomorrow. Tomorrow we have a B&B booked in Boston.

(David: we must have come very close to meeting - that would have been a bit of a coincidence!)

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Friday, 25 March 2011

Day 6 - Pentney to vaguely near Admiralty Point

25 March (0730-1740 less lots of time stopped)
Distance: 19 miles (Tot: 107.5)
Weather: hazy sunshine, some cloud, thankfully not so hot!
Number of boar: 1

"Found you!" came the exclamation from outside of our tent at 0645 this morning. It was Geoff, who was going to join us for the first 10.5 miles of the day. He waited patiently as we packed away and at 7.30 (by which time the night frost had melted away but the day was far from warm) off we all strode, to pick the Nar Valley Way back up. Except for one big loop that we were going to opt to omit at Shouldham Warren (via a tiny bit of trespass), we were going to follow the Way the whole way to King's Lynn.

Despite my foot really not wanting to play* we fairly well marched along and by second breakfast we were able to take advantage of the bench outside of the delightfully-named Wormegay Church. (*The rules of a Big Walk seem to state that at least one of us has to get tendonitis and for me this year the tendon to the big toe is throwing a bit of a paddy.)

Rejoining the river after the Way took us away from it for a few miles, and just after passing a house with a guard-boar grunting behind the gate, elevenses were had at the point where Geoff was to leave us.

It was then just a few miles into King's Lynn where we surpassed our usual slowness in getting from one side of a town to the other. We entered the town just before 1330 and left at 1615! Firstly there was the need for lunch and a noodle-bar did the job nicely, then there was a trip to the supermarket to stock up for the next couple of days. Then, somehow, in between reaching the quay in the wrong place for the ferry and walking around to the right place, we fell into a pub. Well, we weren't in any rush...

Finally, we heaved our massively heavy bags (we needed water for tonight and tomorrow, so had 4 litres apiece on board, as well as food for 2 days) onto our shoulders and missed the ferry by seconds. Still, we weren't in a rush and it was quite pleasant to sit on the jetty for 20 minutes.

The ferry ride was over almost before I'd had chance to think "eeek, I'm on a boat" and back on dry land, out along the Great Ouse we went, to walk towards the Wash. It's not the shortest route we could have chosen, but it looked easily the most interesting option, and that's an opinion I've not changed having walked part of it. We're now secreted away for our first wild camp of the trip (and given our location I think this qualifies as 'wild'; we're not awfully near any significant civilisation).

(Louise: I always find that if I psych myself up to believe that a long day will be awfully hard, and if we set off early, then the reality is never as bad as I expected. As for having fun, we certainly are. The weather is, no doubt, helping.
Alan: we'd best keep walking. We're in the middle of nowhere as I type this! (Hmmm, just as I typed that a dog walker came past; didn't expect that in this location with darkness almost upon us!)
Geoff: Great to walk and talk to you too. Pleased to report that we didn't quite do the 20 miles you predicted for us today and even more pleased that we didn't do the same mileage as you!)

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Day 5 - Swanton Morley to Pentney

24 March (0710-1615)
Distance: 22.25 miles (tot: 88.5)
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine
Number of freak ferrule-loss incidents: 1

In a continuation of the theme, we woke up to a clear blue sky and a heavy mist, but this time there was quite a layer of ice on the tent too. I thought it had felt a bit nippy around 4am.

Having been awake since 4.30 (the side-effect of being asleep by 8pm), at 5.45 I decided we may as well get up and opted to prepare breakfast in the warmth of the (heated) toilet block. I then had to wonder why, when we were the only people there, we hadn't just spent the night in there.

Getting an early start on our longest day yet, our immediate plan, to start the day by going via the village shop, didn't quite work due to a bit of confusion between 'right' and 'left' on my part (ooops). Rather than doubling back when I realised my error, we put our faith in one of the villages later in the day having a village store (and so it did, albeit it was slim pickings).

Part way through the morning we picked up the Nar Valley Way which we followed, save for where it put in some big detours via villages which we didn't feel the need to visit, and at 11am we were pleased to see that we had covered half the distance for the day. I always find that, from a psychological point of view, long days are best tackled by getting the bulk of the miles covered before lunch.

Lunch fell after 17 miles in the village of Castle Acre where we did take the time for a quick look around the castle. Admittedly, had it been a shorter day (and had we not have had our packs on) we would have spent much longer exploring not just the castle but the nearby priory too.

In between the castle and the priory, just as I was feeling dead on my feet and very hot and bothered (it was a very warm day), we found The Ostrich - a pub which refreshed us with cold pop and food.

Although the only really notable features of the day fell within a half-mile stretch in Castle Acre, the whole day was pleasing. It remained so for most of the final 5 miles too (the last half mile was along a ridiculously busy A road and although we avoided the road itself it was an imposing presence). Most notably during the afternoon the surroundings became much more green and rolling with fewer vast brown fields. Also notable during the afternoon was a very long snake that I encountered in some woodland.

It was some particularly nice woodland that finished our day too, leading us to Pentney Park, where the campsite was kind enough to recognise that as they weren't busy they could allow is to pitch on an electric hook-up pitch, rather than making us stay in the tent area, well away from the toilets. Having covered over 22 miles my feet didn't want to walk any further than necessary to go for a shower.

Soon after setting up we were being whisked off to Sally's for tea and within half an hour of getting back there was the gentle sound of snoring coming from our tent...

(As for the ferrule loss incident, I don't think I could have managed to put my pole end so perfectly straight down the 'key' hole in a manhole cover again if I walked across that same patch of grass for the rest of the day!)

(Conrad: you did more ascent on Wednesday than the entire first 100 miles of our walk!)
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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Day 5 - Holding Post

24 March (0710-1615)
Distance: 22.25 miles (Tot: 88.5)
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine. V warm

Just a short holding post. It was a long day, but an excellent one (even if my body did protest for the last few miles).

Today's full report is delayed as Sally in Norfolk very kindly invited us around for dinner tonight, so I've been far too busy chatting to write my blog.

A big thank you to Sally for cooking one of my top favourite dinners (not to mention the scrummiest muffins) and to both Sally & Geoff for the excellent company.

The full post (featuring castles, priories and a very long snake) will follow tomorrow.
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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Day 4 - New Hainford to Swanton Morley

23 March (0736-1450)
Distance: 15.5 miles
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine
Number of stealth runners who gave me quite a fright: 1

The temperature in the night suggested that the sky had remained clear and indeed we woke this morning to a low mist and startling blueness. By the time we were ready to go, the mist had already burnt off and there was enough warmth in the day for us to set out in our shirt-sleeves.

It wasn't the nicest start to the day though. The location of the campsite meant that we first had to tackle a section of busy A road, only a small section of which boasted a pavement. The battle with traffic in a tearing hurry was over in twenty minutes and onto vast open farmland we went - where the line of our paths went straight across newly ploughed fields. Walking around may have been further, but it was definitely easier and cleaner!

Just north of Taversham we picked up the Marriott Way, a disused railway line that is now a 26-mile cycle and walking route. We were only on it for 4 miles, but they were a pleasing four miles. One of the benefits of the flat land is that cuttings were not a prominent feature. The dirt surface did muffle the sound of footfalls, mind, hence I nearly leapt as high as the trees when a runner suddenly appeared alongside me.

We'd engaged in the (usually) foolhardy game of 'what shall I have in the tea-room?' as we left the Way to go through the small village of Lenwade. We really didn't expect a tea room, and certainly not one that was open and so when we stumbled across one with multiple 'open' signs we didn't need to consult each other before stopping for a very early lunch (and I can report that they serve monster portions).

The nature reserve through which we passed, having finally hauled ourselves back out of the tea room, was set off very nicely under the still-blue skies, but by the time we got through the village of Lyng my body and feet were protesting. I don't think that the long stop and big lunch with so few miles under our belts helped, and I had to give myself a good talking to (not to mention a bit of chocolate) to convince myself that the last three miles were going to be over before I knew it.

The thermometer (admittedly sitting 90 degrees to the sun) was reading 24 degrees as we strolled along those final lanes to our night stop. A bit of a contrast to the same week last year when I don't think my fleecy hat left my head for the whole week and I was wearing everything I had with me.

Tonight's campsite (Hunter's Hall) is big, yet empty save for our tent. It's a very nice site and excellent value for money, but it's always amusing when arriving on such an empty site to get given strict instructions about how and where to pitch, as if breaching the rules would inconvenience anyone!

As to the state of the body, the feet are unsurprisingly protesting at the extra load they've been carrying and are not looking forward to tomorrow's longer day.

(Robin - I was going to suggest that Martin should go for a walk over the same period to counter-act your luck with the weather - but it seems that he beat me to it!
Carol - from the small sample we had it seemed like a nice route. The Marriott Way today seemed equally nice.
Mike - didn't want to be carrying extra hair around!)
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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Day 3 - S Walsham to New Hainford

22 March (0740-1515)
Distance: 16 miles (tot: 51 miles)
Weather: AM: wall-to-wall sun; PM: cloud
Number of rabbits in field next to campsite: 156
Number of black rabbits (named Frith?): 1

The grass was heavy with dew, the sky completely cloudless and a stunning orange sun was just rising as we climbed out of the tent bright and early this morning. You can't ask for a better start to the day than that, can you?

With today being a bit of a 'linking day' on roads we had a choice to make: the short way on busier roads or the long way on little lanes, and with the potential to find a handy path heading our way through Ranworth Marshes? The long way won hands down, and it was a good choice. The hoped-for off-road paths didn't materialise but we did enjoy the view at the top of this post (of Ranworth Broad) and the lanes were incredibly quiet.

At Woodbastwick (where we were too early for the recommended Fur and Feather Inn to be open) we pondered whether the village name is pronounced as it looks. 'Woodbast-ick' was the obvious pronunciation, but we couldn't help take it one step further and conclude that it should be 'Wu-ba-stick'.

The next village on our travels was Salhouse where we expected Geoff's brother to run out of his house offering us tea, but in the absence of any stranger approaching us in such a manner we made tracks onwards to trespass a little on our way to Wroxham (I'm getting quite bold with my trespassing, you know!).

Wroxham, it seems, is a little town which is owned mainly by Roy. His name appears on the department store, supermarket, cafe, toy shop, fashion shop, children's shop, garden centre and car parks. We only took advantage of two of his enterprises before picking up the 'Bure Valley Walk', which runs alongside a narrow gauge railway. For some reason I had expected this to be a surfaced path and was happy indeed to be proved wrong. Not only was it unsurfaced, but for much of the time it wasn't hidden in a cutting either.

After lunch on a village common, field paths took us to Hainford where an unfortunate lack of further convenient field paths meant we were obliged to walk three sides of a square to reach our night stop. It didn't turn out to be as bad as expected as we managed to avoid the stretch of B road by meandering our way through some woodland, and then the little bit of A road we had to follow had a pavement.

So, for a day that I expected to be almost exclusively on tarmac I ended up happy that at least a third of it was on nicer surfaces and traffic free. Plus we saw some good views, gawked at many a thatched house as we passed through villages and enjoyed another whole day of excellent walking weather.

(Geoff - that was the very campsite. If only they were all like that; I rather liked it.
Sally - it would be lovely to see you. Look out for a comment in response to yours; it should appear soon.
Alan - tsk - letting the side down, aren't we?!
Robin - an even harder life in weather like this!
Conrad - as we passed the Three Feathers we commented that it wouldn't have been much use to you even if it had been on the right side of the river. Aside from looking as though it had long been an ex-pub, it didn't look like it had been at all inviting even when it did exist.)
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Monday, 21 March 2011

Day 2 - Gt Yarmouth to South Walsham

21 March (0815-1440)
Distance: 15 miles (Tot: 35)
Weather: fair, some sun
Number of consecutive miles without a single foot of ascent: 10

Arriving back in Great Yarmouth by bus this morning we used the knowledge of the place gained during yesterday afternoon's wanderings to get ourselves back to yesterday's finishing point, from where we briefly took to the Weavers Way.

I had noticed last night that we had two obvious options today: to take the route I had plotted along the south bank of the River Bure, or to follow the Weavers Way. The Bure won the toss and having indulged in a tiny bit of trespass to reach it from the Weavers Way, the next ten miles required absolutely no navigation. Those 10 miles were also pathless, which did surprise us a little. But, the going was easy, even if a bit uneven as we simply made our way along the grassy top of the meandering embankment, often with water on both sides of us.

At Acle surprise hit us again, as we learnt that the entire stretch of path that we had just walked from Great Yarmouth was closed due to sea defence construction work. Glad I hadn't known that at the outset! (Of course, had we joined the path at a legal point, rather than trespassing we might have passed a closure notice.)

A handful of paces further on was another sign, telling us that our intended route to Upton was also closed, but rather than being for construction work it was to allow vegetation to regenerate following construction. A construction closure we would have ignored (particularly based on the morning's evidence), but I couldn't quite bring myself to trample tender vegetation. So, we re-routed.

Despite feeling like we'd been covering the ground at a more sensible speed than yesterday, and having indulged in appropriate breaks (not to mention a number of unscheduled faffs), we found ourselves 2 miles short of our night stop before we'd even had lunch. A reasonably leisurely lunch was immediately had, and then a mile and a bit later we found that the pub in South Walsham was open (unlike every other tea room and pub we'd passed during the day - it was starting to look like a bit of a conspiracy) so we slowed ourselves down further by popping in for tea.
The afternoon was then just half a mile long to bring us to our first Camping & Caravan Club Certified Location of the trip. Very nice it is too, and very quiet as we are the only people here (probably because the site doesn't actually open until April).

I would append a photo to the post at this point, except that I now realise that all photos were taken with the camera today. I forgot to get the phone out. Instead you'll just have to picture reeds, a river, a river cruiser and a windmill (with or without sails although we saw more without than with).

(Conrad: based on your stile count last year I have to conclude that the south side of the Bure has more stiles than the north side!
Geoff: I didn't publish a detailed itinerary for this one, just the route outline.
Robin: Confucious obviously didn't have the same storage limitation as we have (i.e. the number that can be fitted under the bed in a horizontal stack).
Others: thank you for the comments - always nice to receive them.)
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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Day 1 - Lowestoft to Gt Yarmouth

20 March (0725-1250)
Distance: 17.5 miles
Weather: High cloud, some sun
Number of twitchers with scopes trained on us: 14
Number of delightful churches passed: 2

If you have a look at a map you'll see that Great Yarmouth isn't at all far up the coast from Lowestoft. Only about 9 miles, in fact, and when I first plotted the route I checked to see whether it was possible to walk up that section of coast (it is). However, I decided that the extra miles were worthwhile to walk inland, via Burgh Castle and Breydon Water. The last time I visited East Anglia was in 1981, for a 1 week family holiday, and such was my age in 1981 that I don't recall much about the landscape. The most novel route for me today was therefore going to be the inland option (figuring that I pretty well know what a section of coast looks like).

Things were reasonably unremarkable for the first ten miles. It was pleasing farmland and lovely villages (one of the photos on this post is of the primary school at Somerleyton; it took us a while to pass through that village as we paused to admire almost all that we saw), but nothing massively remarkable.

Then we reached Belton and joined the River Waveney, and suddenly, as the view opened up over the Broads, it was remarkable indeed for someone who's not seen this landscape before. I often complain that we live in a flat area (which we do; the only notable ascent on some of my local circuits comes in climbing over stiles), but that flatness is nothing compared to this.

The lack of hedgerows here makes a big difference. It's not just flat, but open and flat, such that at any moment you can see a handfull of picture-postcard windmills. Then there is the occasional yacht, whose progess towards you can be seen from quite a distance. I found it all quite lovely.

There was a bit of history too. In 280AD the romans built a fort at Burgh Castle (although I suspect that it wasn't called Burgh Castle at the time...), and three of the mighty walls remain on the site. It was as we diverted to inspect the remains that we felt a little conspicuous as a flock of twitchers had apparently seen something in our general direction. I expected to encounter birdwatchers, but not such a large group, all armed with tripods and scopes and all, apparently trained on us!

I would say that it was just a stroll along Breydon Water to Gt Yarmouth, except that we found that we were still in 'training walk' mode, rather than the more chilled 'Big Walk' mode. As such there was no strolling today, as demonstrate by the fact that we covered 17.5 miles in 5.5 hours. Tomorrow we will remind ourselves that this isn't a race, and will slow down to a more appropriate pace.

Finishing our day so fast, we found ourselves with an afternoon at our disposal, so we went for a walk...but only around Gt Yarmouth.

(Alan and Alan: thank you for the Confucius quotations - both very true!)
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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Day 0 Home to Lowestoft

19 March
Distance: 2.5 miles
Number of clouds seen all day: 0

Three years ago when I pictured what it would be like to walk away from Land's End, I imagined that it would be raining. In the event, we got a glorious blue skied day.

I didn't think our luck could hold for a second Big Walk, yet when we left St Margaret's just under a year ago, the sun beat down on us. "We'll not be third time lucky too" I pessimistically said, but happily I was wrong.

The grass was white with frost before we left home this morning, and the clear skies lasted all through our exceptionally smooth (and entirely on time) train journeys. And so, for the third biggie in a row, the start photos were taken with a blue backdrop.

It was a tad nippy, mind, but perhaps that was to be expected given the time of year and the fact that it was 5pm when we set out. Originally the plan had been to set out tomorrow, but as we were going to be walking past Lowestoft Ness to get to our night-stop, it seemed silly to go back and repeat the journey tomorrow.

So, it was a gentle start to our journey, once we'd strolled through an unattrative industrial area to get to the start line. With no-one in the immediate area when we arrived at Ness Point, we simply had a good look at the big circle on the ground which gives distances to various places, including the cardinal points (apparently Ardnamurchan is 451 miles as the crow flies)), took a few dodgy self-photos (because it's not easy to take self-photos without gurning just a little) and then set out northwards along the coast.

The sea wall and then some lovely woodland brought us to Pleasurewood Hills, where, within an hour of setting out, the Travelodge became our home for the next two nights. First day proper tomorrow...

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Last Minute...

Nowt like a last minute change. Train's due in 15 minutes and I've owned these shoes for 5 minutes. Good job that the running shop is only a few paces down the road from the station!

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Friday, 18 March 2011

East to West: 1 Day Till The Off

Random Thoughts:

1) My bag is packed. I weighed it and gulped a lot to find that it weighs 9.5kg without any water. Then I took my food bag out and weighed it and that comes in at 2kg (5 days evening meals, plus 2 days snacks and lunches). Deduct the weight of the gas too and I’m down to nearer my usual 7ish kg baseweight. Plus, of course, the gas and lotions and potions are all currently full for (hopefully) the only time in the trip.

2) Mick’s bag isn’t packed, so no news yet as to how much his weighs.

3) Things have been so hectic that I’ve not put together a full kit list for everyone’s perusal (being too hectic has been one reason for not doing that; the fact that I was still changing my mind about what kit to take late this afternoon may also have contributed).

4) By way of a departure from the last couple of big walks, I’m not taking my lovely OMM Villain this year. I had a shoulder problem at the end of last year that spilled into the beginning of this year. It’s all better now, but I’ve gone for an Osprey Exos this time, as the Villain doesn’t entirely lift the weight off my left shoulder, whereas the Exos does.

5) Also by way of a departure, I’m not taking my trusty Therm-a-Rest Prolite (girly) this year. In a kit-buying frenzy last week, I threw a medium NeoAir into the basket as Mick hadn’t got around to sending his leaky one back (we’ve tried and failed to find the leak, which is very slow and just requires a middle-of-the-night top-up). I didn’t previously like the NeoAir due to the sticky fabric, but noticed that the new one is not nearly as sticky as the old. A quick squirm around on it in my sleeping bag suggested that I’ll be able to sleep on this one. Suddenly Mick doesn’t have a new NeoAir, but I do…

6) Continuing my theme of last-minute gear indecision, we nearly bought a new tent this afternoon, having been offered a Terra Nova Voyager Superlite at a very good price (yes, I know that we already have both a Voyager and a Voyager Superlite, but this was the latest, lighter model). Unfortunately, having blown up our NeoAirs and put our rucksacks in the porch, we had to conclude that the tighter dimensions means that it’s just not big enough for us to be comfortable on a 2-month trip. So, it’s Susie Superlite  that’s going to be coming with us tomorrow.

7) I just couldn’t leave it alone! I played with the route a bit earlier in the week. It was that ‘three sides of a square’ bit where we go over to the east coast at Scarborough then come back west to Osmotherley. I thought that I’d plot a more direct route, as an option, just in case we’re feeling the need for a shorter route for any reason. The problem is that I rather like the look of the shorter route. Add to that the fact that we’ve walked before a significant chunk of the ‘via Scarborough’ detour, and it looks likely that we’ll take the shorter option. I’ve got maps for both printed, so no need to decide yet.

I’m sure that I could witter on, but there are things that still need to be done (including getting a good night’s sleep) before the adventure starts tomorrow.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

East to West: 4 Days Till The Off

I’ve just taken the final batch of pasta off the dehydrator, meaning that we now have all of our evening meals cooked and dried. Moreover, the most difficult bit of the planning has been completed: I’ve come up with the food logistics plan (and Mick has spotted all of the mistakes (I hope)).

Not everything is going quite so well:

- The printer doesn’t want to play any more and we still have a few maps to print.

- Despite owning 15 pairs of walking shoes I only have 1 new pair and I’ve just realised, rather belatedly, that none of my other comfortable pairs have enough miles left on them to be useful. Four days to go is not the ideal time to be tracking down the right pair of shoes locally.

- I also only just realised, when I started getting my kit out and putting it in a pile, that my sleeping bag stinks. Too late to do anything about that either.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

East to West Preparations

With just two and a half weeks to go until the off, we are woefully ill prepared. That we are both still working (contrary to all original plans) has not helped. We will of course be ready on time, although it will likely all get a bit frantic any day now.

More progress has been made today. Since I got home from work:

- six servings of meat pasta sauce have been cooked and are currently in the dehydrator;

- six servings of veggie pasta sauce have been cooked, of which four are in the dehydrator (ran out of dehydrator space at that point)

- eight tons of washing up has been washed (that’s the problem with doing two batches of food at once)

- One batch of brownies has been cooked (nothing to do with walk preparation, but I felt like I deserved something chocolaty after all the monster cook-fest mentioned above)

- Maps have been printed as far as Barnard Castle.

Tonight, more work on the maps.

Tomorrow I will try to work out what kit we need to buy (off the top of my head: at the moment I have no trousers, and I think that we only have one pair of new socks between us), and maybe I’ll finally get around to cataloguing what we’ve already dehydrated so that I can get a feel for how much is left to be done.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Gratuitous Graphs of February

Another month has passed, which must be my prompt to produce some more gratuitous graphs.

Bearing in mind that February is three days shorter than January, I’m quite pleased with the mileage for the month; moreover considering the other things that have been demanding so much of my time lately:


Compared to the same month in previous years the bar chart looks quite pleasing too. As with January, I think that I may have peaked!


Alas, most of February has seen me walking locally (and sometimes in some particularly dodgy areas), which means that ascent hasn’t been a big feature:


I did manage to rise above the target 5 miles per month for a few days of the month too:


Given our walking plans over the next two month-ends, you may be relieved to hear that this blog should now be a graph-free zone* until the end of May!

(*In terms of mileage and ascent statistics. I can’t guarantee not to slip the occasional other sort of graph in. I am an obsessive, after all…)