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]

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Getting Out … And Getting Back In Again

Getting Out

When Mick took himself off to the world of employment, leaving me carless, I thought that I would be a good idea to get my bicycle back on the road. It has sat unused in the back of the shed for the last two and a half years and its tyres, as well as being flat, were perishing.

That was three months ago now, and even though I got around to buying new tyres and inner tubes back in November, they have also been sitting in the shed waiting to be fitted.

Now that I’m half way through my carless period (or to put that another way Mick’s half way through his employment) I thought I’d better get around to fixing the bike, telling myself that it would be a quick job.

It was only when I started that I realised that I have never even had to fix a puncture before (hope that’s not tempting fate; the last puncture I recall was when I was six or seven). Fortunately, I remember watching my Gran fixing punctures on her old Raleigh Shopper (I distinctly recall the handles of two forks being used in the process!), and I’m a reasonably handy person, so how difficult could it be?

P1270001Of course the difference between my Gran fixing a puncture and me changing tyres is that the latter task requires the wheels to come off first.

The front wheel came off without too much difficulty and although the removal of the tyre and fitting of the new one was trickier than I expected, it didn’t take me long to have it restored to the frame and looking shiny and new.

Then came the rear wheel with the difficulty of gears. It started going really awry when a piece came off and I didn’t notice where it came from. Onwards I ploughed and soon enough I had the new tyre fitted to the wheel.

Reassembly of the wheel/gears did not go well. I’m still not entirely sure where the spare part goes and I finally came to the conclusion that I need a third hand to be able to put the chain-to-gears mechanism-thing back in its proper place (not that I’ve yet worked out exactly where its proper place is).

So, the bicycle is still upside down in the house, and I ended the task with very oily hands. I think that latex gloves may have been advisable.

P1270003 (And Vic, I may need to look at your bike next time I’m there, to see if I can work out how it’s meant to look!)

Getting Back In

Whilst I had the toolbox out, I also finally (two and a half years overdue in this case) got around to fitting a new cylinder in the night-latch on the front door. The old one was getting more and more difficult to open and I really didn’t want to get to the point of being locked out before I changed it.

After the bicycle debacle, I knew that this really was only a ten minute job.

It clearly wasn’t my day.

Off came the lock, out came the old cylinder, in went the new one and one of the securing screws was duly hack-sawed down to size (a one-minute job). I don’t know what the second securing screw is made out of, but none of the three hacksaws I have in my toolbox would so much as put a dent in the side of it.

At that point I gave up with practical jobs for today.

Monday 26 January 2009

More Same Old

Ten and a half miles today, from the front door and almost entirely through ridiculous levels of mud. And I got chased by three horses.

Don’t think I’ll be repeating that circuit again until it’s been dry for a while.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Same Old, Same Old

When: Today

Where: Cannock Chase

What: 12 mile training circuit

Ascent: 1500 feet

Being a route that we’ve walked so many times there’s not a lot more to say about it. We met a couple of large groups of Ramblers (the second group being exceptionally large and seemingly intent on walking six abreast at about 1mph and not letting us past; the first group we met twice and was far more friendly) and, within half a mile of each car park, plenty of other people out and about.

There’s an outbreak of Phytophthora Ramorum on the Chase at the moment (from what I can make out reading the media coverage, it’s a nasty disease that is currently present in the bilberry in the area and which, if spread, threatens the oak population) and we did see a few (but not many) signs instructing people to keep to the main tracks and to keep dogs on a short lead. We didn’t see many people complying with the dogs on leads bit, but then, as is so often the case on the Chase, the signage was very patchy – with signs at one end of a short path, but not at the other.

The item I saw on the local news a couple of weeks ago stated that the disease is most commonly spread via animal fur, but that it could also be spread on shoes. By effective signage people and dogs can perhaps be kept out of the infected areas, but surely the biggest threat is the sizable deer population which will wander at will in and out of the ‘closed’ areas.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Of Cubs, Scouts and Gear

Sunday evening saw Mick and I packing our backpacks, an exercise that made both of us eager to go somewhere and to camp on a hillside.

However, this packing exercise was not for a trip. The contents of the packs were the same (or as close as we could get them, given the demise of some kit) as we carried for our LEJOG jaunt last year. Our destination was a church hall in Oldham, with an audience made up firstly of 127th Oldham, St Thomas Moorside, Cubs, followed (after a frantic repacking exercise) by the Scouts.

After a brief outline of what we had done, both groups were eager to take it in turns to try on the packs and try out the Pacerpoles for a turn around the hall, before out came all of the gear for some demonstrations.

By the end of the night Vera Voyager was set up on one side of the hall with Wendy Warmlite on the other (with chairs in lieu of pegs), a chilli and rice had been rehydrated (and despite initial reluctance to try it, every last scrap was eaten), and various bits of kit had been received with enthusiasm. I think that the outright winner for the Most Popular Item was the fire steel. What is it with boys and fire, eh?

Other popular items surprised us: the sunglasses, the hats and head torches and gaiters.

“Look, I’m all kitted out” said one lad and when we turned to look he was wearing a beanie, a Tilley, a headtorch and some sunglasses!

All of the Cubs were eager to climb into Vera, into a sleeping bag and pretend to be asleep, whereas all of the Scouts wanted to climb into Wendy – apparently all at the same time. Now, I know that Wendy is big, but maybe not quite that big (perhaps we missed a trick there: the world record for the most Scouts in a Warmlite 2R!).

The Cubs managed to listen to us for half an hour, and the Scouts for an hour and a half. Congratulations go to both of them for the feat, particularly as their attention only drifted a few(!) times.

Playing in the Snow

Had I looked out of the window earlier yesterday morning (and it was quite out of character that I didn’t) then, almost certainly, I would have lost no time in throwing some things in a bag and an early start would have been made.

As it went, I completely failed to pay any attention to what the day had brought until after breakfast when Ma-in-Law made some comment about the lovely day. How in the world had I failed to notice the clear blue skies? What a perfect day for a walk!

Out I went into the snow, which was only lying a couple or so inches deep, and soon picked up the Calderdale Way, which I would follow for a while.

Everything was looking pretty

P1200018but the combination of the snow obliterating any trace of paths across fields, a lapse of concentration and a lack of way marking, soon saw me confused as to my location.  There I was, at the end of a track of which I had no recollection and out came the map, confirming that I had missed a stile.

No matter, I took the other two sides of the square to get back to where I should have been.

Skirting the edge of Halifax Golf Course the snow got a touch deeper, but not so much as to make things at all difficult (that was the job of the ice I encountered a little further on) and a while later I spotted Ogden Water ahead of me.

P1200021 It’s a popular place at any time, and the perfect conditions had brought out more people than you might expect to find on a Tuesday; the snow on the path around the water’s edge was heavily trodden. Apparently many of those people had got out of the wrong sides of their beds though, as they studiously ignored my greetings.

Leaving the popular path at the far end of the water I was on my own as I made my way up through the woodland (where the remains of trees have been turned into ‘shrooms),

P1200026on my way to the moor above.

Popping out of the woodland further up, I was confused as to my exact location for the second time (the perils of having the map in the backpack rather than somewhere accessible) when just after the Giant’s Tooth (a future legend in the making?)

P1200028 P1200027I realised that the wind farm wasn’t quite where it should have been (or, to be more precise, that I wasn’t quite where I should have been in relation to the wind farm).

Back and forth I wandered trying to locate myself (a process that would have been easier if I had a compass to hand; unfortunately my compass was in my other backpack, which was in the boot of the car, and the car was with Mick in Oldham). I didn’t take too long to work out where I was, but then I had to decide how to get myself to where I wanted to be. After no small amount of dithering, it seemed that the most obvious thing to do (which wasn’t necessarily the quickest or easiest thing) was to just take myself onto the open moor and walk along the fence line to intersect my intended path.

It was a touch windy up there, and the snow depth varied between ankle and mid-thigh (at one time reaching mid-chest, but that was more to do with me falling down a hole than wandering into a considerable snow-drift; it was at that point that I belatedly thought that maybe my poles would be better off in my hands than strapped to my pack).

Amongst all of this snow wandering I also discovered that I’m not very adept at taking photos of my own legs. This was my best effort at demonstrating a snow-to-the-thighs bit (although the reality was that there was a layer of snow on top of heather, which made it seem deeper than it was; still jolly hard work, mind):


I’m not a habitual wearer of gaiters, but by the time I re-gained my intended path, I had to concede that they would have been very handy on this day. In their absence, once I got back to the relatively shallow snow on the path, I just had to fish as much snow as I could out of the tops of my boots.

Given more time I would have made a circuit of the moor, but with an engagement later in the day I needed to be heading back (kicking myself again for not making an earlier start), so over to the other side of the valley I headed to return to Ogden Water.

A large patch of untouched snow on the way back down nearly turned me into a seven year old child as a temptation to create a snow-angel almost overwhelmed me, but with great restraint I passed it by.

Clouds were appearing in the sky as I made my way back down to the reservoirP1200034but I still had the benefit of sunshine as I sat on the dam for a cup of tea and a snackette.

Then, with but one deviation, I simply retraced my steps back to Halifax.

The whole excursion had taken me just short of 4 hours, with a mere 8 miles covered (and with a modest 1000 feet of ascent).  Far from a fast pace, but at times hard work, and all jolly good fun!

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Plans and Forecasts - Monday

My plans seem too often to change. Or, looking at it another way, one
of the advantages of unemployment is that I have the luxury of time
and thus am more disposed to change my plans to fit with changing

Today, had last week's intentions prevailed, I would have spent the
day walking a 12-mile route in the Todmorden area.

Then, on Saturday I checked the weather forecast, which until that
point had been reasonable for today, and with the prediction having
changed to a day of rain and sleet, with strong winds and very poor
visibility, I decided to instead travel up to Halifax today and walk
tomorrow only.

No sooner had I bought my train ticket than the Met Office changed its
mind. Suddenly the forecast was for sunshine and very good visibility.
Harrumph, I said, but having bought my train ticket there was nothing
that I could do to revert to Plan A.

As my train left Leeds it started to rain.

As I walked across Halifax the rain was looking distinctly sleety.

As I stood waiting for my bus, the sleet turned to heavy snow.

As I walked up the road to Ma-in-Law's everywhere was turning very
white and the surrounding valley sides were hidden by cloud.

As I sit here in front of the fire, being fed cups of tea and with a
promise of one of Ma-in-Law's legendary roast dinners later, I'm
rather pleased that I didn't find myself out on't moors this afternoon.

As for tomorrow's plans they, hang in the balance. If visibility is
good, I will venture out. If I can't see the other side of the valley,
then laziness may well prevail.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Armitage to Armitage via Stockwell Heath

It’s all too easy, in the course of our weekend walks, to keep taking the same routes over the local fields, or keep popping to repeat, or do variations on a theme, over on Cannock Chase.

When it comes to getting our weekly exercise on field paths (which, given where we live, is the prevalent option) repetition has its advantages, the main one being that you know where you’re going and don’t have to walk map in hand, trying to work out which way across the next field the RoW goes, with a constant game of ‘spot the stile’ going on in the background.

Every now and then, we find a bit of inspiration to do a field-yomp somewhere different, and today was one of those days.

Despite good intentions, it was marching on towards mid-afternoon by the time we left Armitage so we wasted no time in finding a way to get ourselves onto the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Not fifty yards after we joined, we left the canal, to take the pedestrian tunnel under the newly four-tracked West Coast Mainline


before a few paces later crossing over the River Trent


thanks to the robust pedestrian bridge. P1170003

The imposing presence of Rugeley Power Station was within sight the whole time. The West Coast Mainline, whilst not always within our sight was, for much of the walk, within our earshot.P1170005

“Hello” said a man in a garden as we made to climb a stile on the outskirts of Mavesyn Ridware “It’s not often people use the footpaths around here. You’re the first I’ve seen in six months.”  It didn’t bode well for good, easily navigated paths.

Sure enough, fields had been cropped without the paths being reinstated. One did cause us to take a slight detour around, in all of the others we took the line of the ROW, usually popping out the other side with feet so covered with heavy mud that we looked like we were wearing comedy shoes.

We both commented on the farm below, with five adjoining buildings in different styles, looking like it had started small and been repeatedly extended:P1170008 Farm buildings didn’t distract us for long, though. We soon came to a stile that was impassable with overgrown spiky things

P1170009 Then came the mud. Great vast quantities of deep mud – always in places where it couldn’t be avoided, like in this lane:

P1170010 It was quite a relief to get to Stockwell Heath with its central village pond, at which I’ve a few times taken a snack break as it lies on both my 25 and 28-mile training walk routes.

P1170011It was just as we left the village that I looked at my watch and did a few calculations: 1) It had taken us an hour and a half to reach Stockwell; 2) the route back was slightly longer; 3) Sunset was in about an hour’s time, giving us not more than an hour and a half of usable daylight. I hoped that we didn’t find ourselves going horribly astray on the way back!

Between Stockwell and the village of Colton we were on the Staffordshire Way, along a section that we’ve walked a few times before, so we knew where we were going, but from there on it was back to map-in-hand – which became increasingly difficult as the light got lower and lower.

Passing through one farm we spotted, hiding behind some dead grass/rushes, some early lambs:


By the time we rejoined our outward route, just before the river and the mainline, darkness was overtaking us. The power station was lit up, as were the passing trains (okay, the photo is far from good, but that slight blur of light on the left side is the train!):

P1170015 We got back to the car in full darkness, but having had a moderately strenuous walk (thanks, once again, to the soft ground and mud), covering just over 8.5 miles.

(Note to Mike: As we found ourselves passing your house (which took us rather by surprise, because, funnily enough, on the OS map it doesn’t highlight it as ‘Mike’s House’) we did knock on your door to say hello. You were either out or saw us coming and wisely hid!

Note to Geoff: This was the ‘Handsacre to Blithfield recce’. I’ll email you with my thoughts.)


Thursday 15 January 2009

A Good Turn, A Stoat, A Rabbit And The Missing Secateurs

I went ‘equipped’ this morning as I set out for my shuffle around the block. Concealed in the pouch pocket of my Paramo was a pair of secateurs. I had had enough of spiky things on the overgrown track grabbing at me and at having to duck and weave my way through, so I thought it was time that I did a good turn to others who may want to walk that way and clear a path through.

Half an hour was spent merrily clipping (all the time looking over my shoulder for an angry farmer approaching wanting to know why I was pruning on his land) until I was happy that someone of around my height can now walk straight along, standing tall and without being grabbed by brambles and the like from the side.

Gardening wasn’t the sole purpose of my outing, so on I continued through fields and across a couple of roads. At the boundary to the Estate it struck me that my figure-of-eight would see me passing the same point later in my walk and thus there was no need to have a pair of pruners hitting me in the chest for the entire time, so I popped them into some undergrowth with the intention of picking them back up about an hour later as I passed back by.

(In the unlikely even that you’re reading Kay, stop now! You’ll not like what’s coming next)

Along I bimbled uneventfully until, just into the return leg, I saw a rabbit running across the field in front of me – a marginally unusual sight at this time of year, but not unusual in the grand scheme of things. It was only when the rabbit reached the hedge that I realised that it was being chased.

No sooner had it run into the hedge than it ran back out again, and this time headed straight for me. I stood stock still to watch what would unfold and a few moments later the rabbit passed about a foot away from me with a definite look of “Oh shit! Help me” in its eyes.

Moments later, past came the stoat that was chasing it, throwing me a quick glance in passing (and if I’m not mistaken it also licked its lips…).

Onwards down the field they ran, with the rabbit opening up a reasonable gap between the two of them. Then it made its fatal mistake – it turned and started running back towards me (once again seemingly heading directly for me).

It was within three feet of me when the stoat succeeded in its aim. There was a bit of screaming from the rabbit, but as soon as the stoat had it by the back of the neck the rabbit did what came naturally to it: it played dead.

I stood there, amazed that all of this was passing off in the middle of a field and so incredibly close to me. Then the stoat let go, the rabbit jumped back to life and started to squeal and kick out for its life, and a further tussle ensued. The stoat won.

Deciding it was time to move on and leave the stoat to its kill I was a tad worried that my movement might scare it off. As I slunk away it did peer at me over the now dead rabbit (this time it was grinning and looking jolly smug as it licked its lips).

I do hope that the stoat managed to move the rabbit (and this was a full sized rabbit, not a little bunny) before one of the local kestrels or buzzards came along and made lunch of the stoat, or before a dog walker came along and disturbed it.

On my way I went, battling with the mud up the hill and then down the hill, then I was on estate tracks.

Back at the place where I had left the secateurs I bent to pick them back up – and couldn’t believe it when I found that someone had nicked off with them!

In the four and a quarter miles that I walked I saw one horse rider and not even the hint of another person, and based on such typical quietness I hadn’t made any particular effort to really hide the pruners, because I really didn’t expect anyone to even pass them, never mind to notice them sticking out of the undergrowth and pick them up. That’ll learn me!

I didn’t take the intended short route home from there. Instead I thought that I would mourn the loss of my secateurs by walking back along the overgrown track to check out my handy work. I made it through without a single snagging and without any slaps around the face by a piece of hawthorn.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Cold Canals

Off went the alarm at an earlier than usual hour this morning and the temptation was to stay where I was, but that would have defeated the purpose of waking early, so out of my lovely warm pit I climbed and, with joy, saw that it was hoary outside. Unfortunately it was also rather foggy, which wasn’t so much a problem for my walking plans, but did raise the question as to whether the bus driver would see me!

By the time I’d breakfasted the fog had lifted and it was looking like another spectacular morning to be out. With a great display of disorganisation things got a little frantic but just in the nick of time I ran out of the house to flag down the bus.

No sooner had I boarded than I realised that the map I had with me didn’t cover the start of my walk. Doh! That was something of an issue as I’ve only been to Lichfield twice before (the first time seven years ago and the second time about three weeks later), so I’m not at all familiar with the place. Given that I always find navigating out of towns to be tricky even with a map, there was no way that I was going to be able to follow my original plan, which would have seen me leave the town to its east.

With my actual purpose of visiting Lichfield dispensed with, I followed my revised plan, which saw me walking north up a main road until the point where I walked back onto my map, then I took the first public right of way to the east.

Making it across the railway track unscathed, it was then under the A38 dual carriageway, before following the border of some (very hoary) fields

P1140021until I could join the Coventry Canal.

After a couple of warm (comparatively, at least) days, I was surprised to see that the canal was frozen over again, albeit more lightly than over the last couple of weeks.

P1140022 Hmmm, not actually that obvious from the photo that it’s frozen over, but it was!

With the extent of the ice, it seemed that I wouldn’t be seeing any moving boats, nor much birdlife on the water, however, it wasn’t long later when I came across a couple energetically breaking up the ice around their boat and moving it back and forward in a manner that suggested that they were planning on going somewhere.

What should have been a nice peaceful canal walk was marred along the first section by the proximity of the A38, with all of its lorries:

P1140026Once I’d passed under the road again (now that was a bridge designed for short people!), temporarily getting out of noticeable earshot of it, my mind fleetingly settled on the question of where the ducks go when the water is frozen over. On mornings like this one, the answer soon became apparent: they all flock to the bits of canal that are sheltered and thus not frozen over:

P1140030 I had been intending to cut a corner off between the Coventry Canal and Trent & Mersey, but when I got to the cutting-off point I decided that there was no value in shaving the distance (after all, if I hadn’t been out for some exercise I could have caught the bus back home), so onwards I went to Fradley Junction.

Once there I opted for the path through the nature reserve, which runs adjacent to, but is much nicer than, the canalside service road. I contemplated going an sitting in the thatched and stilted bird hide there for a cup of tea


but it felt like too soon to stop, so onwards I went, noticing on the way the flock of gulls walking on water.

P1140033 Once back on the canal it struck me that suddenly the surface was entirely ice-free, and that equally suddenly I had gone from sunshine to cloud and mist – which later turned to fog.

P1140035 My thoughts turned again to my flask and a cup of tea as I passed a couple of carved benches

P1140037    P1140036

but it was cold and misty – and more importantly I’d forgotten my sit-mat, so I wasn’t inclined to park myself on either of the damp surfaces.

With visibility getting worse it was difficult to gauge where I had got to, and sooner than expected I realised that I had reached the River Trent, where there seemed to be a swan gathering going on in the gloom.

P1140038 The light coloured blobs are swans; the dark blobs are trees!

I had intended to turn off the canal shortly after the river, but because of my change of route out of Lichfield I’d omitted a few miles at the beginning of the walk, so I continued straight on to take a slightly longer route home.

The tow path became very muddy for a while, as it so often is, but my attention was drawn away from that to the dozens of trees that have been taken down over a couple of hundred yards long stretch of marshland that abuts the canal here.

P1140039 Back alongside the A38 (boo hiss), I pondered a bridge/bridge/leaking-lock set up

P1140041 then with an increasingly urgent need for a cup of tea and some lunch I hotfooted it until a mile later I left the canal and made for the pools just outside of the village, where I had a vague recollection that new picnic tables have just been installed.

A brand new information board was browsed as I lunched (a brand new information board which indicates that just up the road from where I live there is a pub; the reality is that it closed down knocking on for ten years ago!) then headed for the path which goes around the pond.

Obviously all of the ducks there are far too used to being fed, so as I approached practically every bird on the pond headed in my direction, the front runners climbing out of the water to mob me. I think I could perhaps have even categorised some of the mob as ‘killer swans’, except that the worst they did was run at me and hiss.


My route only saw me go a quarter of the way around the pond, before heading off to trespass through the local sports club, and past the village pond and into the village. Passing consideration was given to taking a circuitous route over fields from the village centre, but in the end laziness ruled.

The stat for the day was that I walked 12 miles (that surprised me, it felt at least a couple of miles further!). The ascent was more negligible than a negligible thing.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

TGO Challenge – Route Vetted

After a couple of posts about route planning and associated library visits back in November, I then failed to mention that by the middle of December I felt that I had done all I could on our TGOC route, and thus I submitted it for vetting.

It’s not unheard of for me to plan a route for a walk and then find, when we get to a section of it, that what I’ve plotted is nonsensical, circuitous or (at times) plain ridiculous, but that usually doesn’t matter because I haven’t had to share my plan with anyone (well, except for Mick, who does sometimes look at my proposed route before we walk it). Usually, unless I confess, no-one needs to know that I planned something nonsensical, circuitous or plain ridiculous and, as we usually do manage to spot these things in advance, we simply come up with an alternative at the appropriate time.

With a need to share our TGOC plans with a third party, and not wanting to look unduly silly, I checked, rechecked and checked again the route for glaring errors and dreaded a response along the lines of  ‘please try again and resubmit’ (although I’m sure that the very nice vetters wouldn’t ever be so unconstructively abrupt – I’m just scarred by the red pen of my teacher in Class 7 of Junior School!).

I didn’t have to wait long for a response. In fact, it was a remarkably speedy four days later, and well before Christmas, when comments were received. As well as providing us with some useful information, like in which places we would find shops, our vetter said nice things, like the following snippet:

“I think you have submitted a very interesting route for a first Challenge, including 3 – 4 Munros. To me it looks a true challenge, with 2 or 3 really hard days. My compliments for your route planning...”


I gulped slightly at the ‘2 or 3 really hard days’ but then I reminded myself that I had intentionally made bits of it slightly more challenging than anything we did last year – including the incorporation of (weather permitting) three Munros.

So, what is the route? Well, we’re starting in Oban and ending in St. Cyrus. We will be passing through Tyndrum, Blair Atholl, Glen Clova and Tarfside on the way. Perhaps scandalously, we won’t be passing through Braemar.

And now all we have to do is sit back* and wait for four months until we can go and put the plan into practice.

(*When I say ‘sit back’ I do of course mean ‘train diligently, paying particular attention to hill-work’)


Sunday 11 January 2009

Much Mud

It was a close call today. The intention was to take ourselves out for a bit of exercise, but with the wind blowing and unexpected rain falling, the temptation was instead to sit in front of the fire.

The thought of how much chocolate I’ve consumed in recent weeks was enough to make me stick with the exercise plan and out we set onto the local fields.

Mud was immediately the theme that stayed with us. Even where the ground was still frozen, the top half an inch had thawed and that made the going slippery and much harder than it would have been a couple of days ago.

Within the first mile we were waylaid twice. Firstly the horses wanted our company and so blocked our way every time we tried to get past them. The frisky young cows a couple of fields later just wanted to run at us and around us, kicking up their hoofs as they went. A year ago I would have squealed, cowered behind Mick and generally had kittens in both scenarios, but thanks to all of last year’s encounters with killer animals, I’m now a little more relaxed around such beasts (although I’ll still run scared from big cows giving chase).

We saw the dozen or so cars parked in a field by a normally very quiet lane before we saw any people and immediately started guessing what the gathering was about. Metal detecting turned out to be the answer. A couple of dozen people all wandering around a field dragging a square of polythene on a piece of string behind them and waving the detectors in front of them. We didn’t see much digging going on.

We ‘oohed’ to an unnecessary degree every time we spotted something that had changed since our last round of this route. Quite sad really (verging on exceedingly sad) as all of those changes were entirely mundane, like new stiles and kissing gates and new barriers separating the river from the canal.

More young cows were encountered around the Potter’s Meadow area, but they were less interested in our presence – probably because it’s a more popular area with dog walkers.

It was as we left the canal after a short distance along it that I noticed that my legs were feeling verily exercised. Surprisingly so for an almost flat walk that hadn’t been very long. Then I realised that along with Mick setting a punishing pace, we hadn’t paused for even a micro-break at any point. We still didn’t slow down or pause, as we took a green lane back to the village and then took a slightly circuitous route through its streets to get back home.

We arrived back home within 3 hours of leaving, having covered 9.5 miles under grey skies. Happily it didn’t rain whilst we were out, as on the homeward leg I realised that my hood wasn’t attached to my jacket. Given the weather forecast for the next week I must locate and re-attach it.


Thursday 8 January 2009

Walking In The Queen’s Back Garden

When I said to Vic, on Christmas Eve, that I would pop down to London see her this week, she suggested a walk along the North Downs Way. An excellent suggestion, it being somewhere that I’d expressed an interest in walking.

I duly chose a section of route, but it wasn’t until I came to print a map on Monday that I realised that the train times to get to the start point, combined with the length of the walk, meant that we would be pushing it to fit it into the available hours of daylight. Not wanting to have to rush along, nor to be finishing in the dark (nor hitting rush-hour on the trains, really), we had a late change of plan.

The revised plan was a nice and short train ride to Windsor for a stroll around Windsor Great Park. By some great omission in my life, I had not visited Windsor since I was two years old, and I confess that I have no recollection of that visit.

Yesterday morning was somewhat on the bracing side, and the streets of Windsor were deserted save for various people in uniform, as we made our way past the more attractive sides of the castle so as to place ourselves at the end of the Long Walk.

 P1070017 We’ll gloss over why there’s still a big Christmas tree blocking the street…

The Long Walk is appropriately named, being a two-and-a-quarter mile long, dead straight driveway, leading from the castle to the George III statue.

If you don’t know that the statue is a statue then from a distance of two miles away it does look somewhat like a strangely shaped tree. Getting closer, it becomes rather more obvious what it is:P1070006Hundreds of people must have sat at its base to picnic, but there were few people brave enough to be out on this morning, so we didn’t have to fight for a rock to sit on for our elevenses.

P1070008It was a pity about the haziness; I’m sure that on a clear day there’s a good view back to the castle. As it goes, you’ll have to just believe that the structure at the end of the Long Walk is indeed a big castle.

P1070007It took us a few minutes sitting at there to realise that we were exceptionally close to a large herd of deer, but the photo I took was so poor that I’ll not reproduce it, so you’ll just have to believe me on that score too.

Apparently on a sunny day the Long Walk is packed full of families who just walk to the statue and back. Our route was more interesting though, so off we set, off paved surfaces for a while, to take a few frozen paths to The Village.

The Post Office there was offering us ice cream with the promise that it was ‘Summer Inside’, but we didn’t believe the claim and it seemed inappropriate to partake, particularly as I was already struggling to feel my hands.

P1070011  Apparently sometimes the local swans, as well as the weather conditions, conspire to put shoppers off:

P1070010 The swans were not in evidence, either by the gate or on the pond. Admittedly, the frozenness of the pond may have contributed to their absence.

P1070012Further through the park we went, passing lots of oak trees that had been planted to commemorate various royal occasions (one princess in particular apparently had a penchant for planting trees for any occasion; Queen Victoria (to whom most of them were gifted) must have been thinking ‘Another oak tree? Can’t she see that we’ve got plenty all ready?’).

A short detour was taken to take in a tower (and look Vic, I even managed to place it straight in the photo!),P1070013

then we were looping back round to get back to the main part of the park, where, pausing for lunch, I impressed Vic with my ability to ferret in my pack, unwrap my sandwiches and eat them, all without removing either of my Buffalo Mitts (far too cold to expose the hands to the air).

Despite the mainly frozen ground, we did manage to find a bit of mud to smear on our shoes and trousers, something we were hoping to avoid in the hope of being in a fit state to visit a Windsor Tea Room for a warming brew before catching the train back.

The miles were eaten up as we chatted away, and before we knew it we were rejoining the Long Walk, this time half way along. The day had cleared a bit by now, so the castle was in our view, but we agreed that it doesn’t look particularly spectacular from this vantage point.

P1070015 (hmmm, actually, not that clear in the photo is it?)

Notwithstanding the muddy shoes and ankles, we descended on a tea room for a warming pot of tea. It took three cups for me to be able to feel my hands again, at which point we thought we’d best leg it back to the station for the train.

A very pleasant walk, with some interesting features to take in. The stats were 10 miles walked around the park (plus 3.25 walking to and from the station from Vic’s house), with a huge 350 feet of ascent.


Monday 5 January 2009

Wash, Wash, Thrice I Wash

According to the Paramo website, one of their waterproofs needs washing after 4-8 weeks of regular use and should be reproofed every 6-12 months.

Following the failure of the proofing on my Velez back in October on the West Highland Way, I washed and reproofed it.

No sooner had we got home but I tipped something sticky all down the front of it, and having washed it I got paranoid (perhaps due to the experience of cold water running down my body and into my trousers being so fresh in my mind?) about the sticky substance having removed the repellency, so I proofed it again.

Despite having two washes in the space of two weeks (both by hand, allowing me to scrub away at the dirt), the jacket still wasn’t overly clean. It seems that the marking around the seams and cuffs just doesn’t want to come out.

That staining was seriously augmented this weekend when I found myself ill-advisedly crawling around some kitchen cupboards whilst wearing it and followed that activity with a close encounter with a sticky lemon tree. Another wash was required.

In the same way that we know that water and down don’t go together, we all know that dire warnings exist about ruining waterproofs by using detergent. In the same way that I was reluctant to wash my down jacket, I hesitated to throw my Velez into the machine with bog-standard non-bio powder. However, not only did the Paramo website say that this is a perfectly acceptable way to treat stubborn stains, but I was also buoyed by the recent success of the down-washing experiment.

Paramo’s advice is to treat the stain with detergent, then remove the detergent by using TechWash, then reproof. That’s already a lot of washing – but I went for belt and braces with an extra wash.

First in went the Velez with a small load of washing, with detergent.

Then it went in with another load of washing, with soap.

Then just to make absolutely sure that all of the detergent was gone it went back in the machine for a third time with my Cascada trousers and some more soap.

Then it had a hand-wash treatment with TX-Direct (I work on the basis that I know I’m getting the right concentration of Nikwax to water if I hand wash, plus it has the added benefit to someone as tight as me that hand washing requires half the dose required by machine washing).

So, three washes in one day, plus a waterproofing.

And did it come out clean?

Nope, those seams and cuffs are still grubby.

So, that’s now two reasons I’ve found as to why buying a bright orange jacket (and I only had the option in XS of bright orange or black) was not a good choice. Black would not show the dirt.

Ice and Quiet

Five days into the new year and I’ve been for four walks. I’m quite pleased with that start.

Admittedly they’ve all been very short, there’s been a definite repetitive theme, and none could be classed as exciting, but it’s got to be better to be out there getting a bit of exercise than not – particularly whilst all of those muddy fields are frozen solid, the skies are blue and the air is crisp.

Worry not. I shall not be making a habit of commenting on my daily shuffle around the block (which is how I think of it, even though 75% of it is on fields and tracks). However, two things today did stand out.

On New Year’s Day on the same route we encountered three quarters of the population of the village out with their trousers tucked into their socks. Today, as expected, normality had resumed. I saw, but did not pass, one dog walker. Otherwise, I had all of the paths to myself. Call me unsociable (and it’s not that I particularly mind saying ‘hello’ repeatedly), but I prefer quiet to busy.

The most notable thing, though, was the ice. It wasn’t hoar-frost icy, as in previous days, this was good and proper ice that had me skating all over the place. A set of spikes would not have gone amiss.

When I looked out of the window at 4am it was raining (as I suspected before getting up to look; really must fix the guttering that was driving me to distraction and keeping me awake with its dripping). At some time after that the sky cleared, the rain froze and the thawing ground re-froze, leaving a layer of ice not just on the pavements and tracks, but even on parts of the fields.

The ice-rink-on-a-slope at a gateway was the trickiest of the slip-hazards, and at one section of track I took to the grass – not so much because of the slipperiness but because the ice was crunching disturbingly loudly under my feet, but by good fortune (and maybe the adoption of a flat footed waddle) I managed to get home without taking a spill.

Friday 2 January 2009

Start As You’d Like To Go On

It’s likely that I’ll be doing a lot of walking locally over the next few months (what with having no car whilst Mick’s away) and it’s equally likely that I’ll be getting quite bored of repetitions on the same theme.

So, as we were going to be passing across Cannock Chase today it seemed like a good idea to stop off for a quick stroll – even if that did just mean walking one of my regular routes.

It was 2pm by the time we left the car park (in which I’ve not before seen even a quarter of the number of cars there were today; it’s been busy out this last week! Yesterday was ‘let’s go for a New Year walk’ day, today I guessed that it was the ‘back to work/school on Monday’ realisation that caused everyone to squeeze in one more day of fresh air and exercise) and off we headed into one of the less attractive sections of forest.

As pleasant as it was, there’s not a lot to say about it.

Around the Visitor Centre and the ponds it was busy, but as is usually the case, elsewhere we saw not a single other person walking, but a handful of mountain bikers.

When we reached the brook about three quarters of the way around, just by the ponds, it was to the sight of a queue of people coming the other way, waiting to use the stepping stones. The brook is not deep, so we just walked on through without putting ourselves in any danger of wet feet. Heads swivelled in our direction as we did so, as if we were perhaps slightly strange for not wanting to use the stones.

The fishing ponds, beautifully still today, were partially frozen over,Image054and obviously lots of people had been entertaining themselves by throwing stones onto the ice. Indeed, as we approached a family bent to collect handfuls of stones and started throwing them at the surface.


The oscillating whistling sound made by the stones as they skimmed the whole way across the ice to the other side of the pond was quite incredible. It apparently pleased the stone throwers too, as it accompanied us until we were out of earshot.

Whereas yesterday’s short walk was all but flat, today’s had a couple of short, but reasonably steep, slopes in it. Happily the knee had no objection to the gentler downhill. It protested a tiny bit on the more violent uphill, but I did wonder whether I would have noticed if I hadn’t been so fixated on whether it was hurting or not.

By the time we got back to the car park the light was far duller than the hour of day suggested that it should be.

The stats were a modest 4.25 miles with fewer than 500 feet of ascent.

Thursday 1 January 2009

The First of the Year

I walked down the stairs this morning and happily noticed that my knee didn’t hurt. Yeah! Now that’s the sort of miraculous recovery I was looking for.

The sensible thing to do seemed to be to give it another few days of rest, but at the same time it was another gloriously frosty morning that just begged to be walked in.

The compromise was a 3-mile all-but-flat route from the house over a couple of fields and through the local estate.

I’ve not walked that way since the beginning of last year, so I was interested to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t. Even though new gateposts were put in over a year ago, making me think that the broken gate over which one has perilously to climb (it’s only secured by twine at each end, and at the hinge end it’s only secured to some unsecured wire fencing) would soon be fixed. Alas no. The new gateposts are still there. You still have to climb a very wobbly gate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We started off down a track about 100 yards away from the house, where the hoar frost was making everything look very pretty indeed:


Between the jammed-gate and the perilously-unattached-gate the track is still as overgrown as it ever was, with spiky things that try to grab you as you walk on past.


After a couple of fields and a couple of lanes to cross, we entered the Estate grounds behind 10 other people out enjoying the day.

P1010003aThat was just the tip of the iceberg; as we continued we were never out of sight of groups of other people. I’ve walked this route dozens of times and at most I’ve encountered a few dog walkers. I guess that New Year’s Day is one of those classic ‘let’s go for a local walk’ days isn’t it?

Next to the entrance the small pond was frozen over and by the number of sticks and stones that had been thrown onto the surface I would guess that it’s been that way for more than a day.

P1010004aA steepled church always strikes me as a pleasing sight; moreover in today’s near monochrome.


It’s a pity about the power lines which cause a blot on the landscape – but as I like my electricity as much as the next person I suppose I’ve limited cause for complaint. There was quite some buzzing today as we passed under pylons.

P1010010aMick calling my name caused me to look back over my shoulder whilst simultaneously fiddling with my mitten.P1010012aA while later (soon after coming close to taking the wrong path; now that would have been careless!) we were taking the Horse Chestnut lined lane that leads back to the village and from the village it was just a thoroughly unexciting walk up the road home.