Portsdown Hill proves no match – from the archives

I have often kept a diary and found about three months worth of posts on walking. Here’s one from just a couple of months after I started long distance walking and this was probably the day when I convinced myself that I could walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

17 March 2012. 23.5 miles, Sarisbury – Portsdown Hill – Sarisbury
An achy knee meant last Saturday without walking so I was looking forward to today. A drizzly morning delayed my start until about 11:30 and the intention was to get back into things with a 12-14 mile walk, where – I don’t know. I have really felt as healthy and mentally sound in the last week or so as I have for a couple of years, but even two weeks without a walk has meant a pound or two gained around the waist. I appear never to put on any weight on any other part of my body so it does show (at least to me) if I let myself go. I have always planned the 23 mile walk up Portsdown Hill as a real step change (sic) in fitness but the priority today was just to walk. A purposeful start towards Fareham shows no ill effects and I have a real good daydream about football, cricket, walking and anything else that comes to mind. I feel full of vigour and, after a quick stop for a pasty and latté, I carry on further eastwards. I decide to take it on and on starting to climb it is amusing (sort of) to see a ‘No waiting for 6 miles’ road sign. Some of the ascent has a path, some doesn’t, some has a reasonable verge, so on the whole it is difficult to get a decent rhythm. This is compensated by some fantastic views of Portsmouth – you might argue there is no such thing – and I try to pick out features that I know. However, it is important to concentrate on walking since the roads are not the easiest; most drivers are extremely considerate and courteous but it is clear that there are a minority who consider the 40 speed limit to be metres per second rather than miles per hour. I come pretty close to being hit by the driver of a speeding saloon beeping his horn and refusing to move any further out from the verge but that is the only real close shave. Portsdown Hill offers an interesting contrast between those views to the south with those of defence, military and research establishments with a never ending barbed wire fence to the north. There is some greenery and shrubbery too with a few rabbits running across the roads on occasion, but there is no sign of roadkill – they must have better road sense than animals on other country roads I’ve walked. The weather is grey but the rain holding off and absolutely no pain anywhere at the moment. Once I reach the Churchillian, a pub right on the summit, the ice cream van is tempting but I resist and stride down towards Cosham. I can well understand why people climb Everest “because it is there” – I feel so positive that I’ve managed this and feel ready to conquer the world. Of course, I’m brought down to earth metaphorically by the sign that says “Fareham 5 miles”, knowing that this means over ten miles to home, just as there are spits and spats of rain, but thankfully these don’t last too long. There are more hurdles to come over the next two years – walking with a pack and heavy rain particularly – but I’m not ready to combine those with a really long walk yet. The A27 from Cosham to Fareham will never win any most exciting road awards and I listen to football and rugby on my radio, despite the depression over Portsmouth FC and their financial crises. It takes my mind off the burgeoning blister on my right sole but I really could do with a drink now. I promise myself something in Fareham and, when the time comes, I gulp down a whole litre box of Ribena and snack on some chocolate caramel biscuits. Not quite sure those were the best things for me at that time and, in what is now persistent light rain, it takes another hour and a half to reach home. It is getting dark at around 6:45 but it is good that I can now walk that late with the evenings getting lighter in mid-March. I am on cloud nine and go to Google Maps to check the distance – 23.5 miles. Less pleasant is checking the blisters but after releasing the fluid from the largest one, I feel pretty good, ready for another walk tomorrow if I needed to! The knees have given me virtually no problem until late evening when the left one is a bit stiff, but this is hardly surprising. Magic stuff – this distance is probably longer than I will do on any one day of the long walk. Add to that the longest, highest hill in the area and this was one giant leap today.

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