It has been a month since my last walk of any substance – the longest hiatus since I started toddling seriously at the beginning of 2012. Cricketing commitments, in the main, have blocked any chance of walking in June and the only likely day was thwarted by the likelihood (rather than the actuality) of heavy rain. Light cloud and light rain were forecast for today but it was really muggy as I set out in the late morning for a clear the airways walk. Before I got to the end of our road, I could feel light rain falling. In fact, the first hour, coincidentally the time it takes me to reach a coffee outlet, it was what I would call “cricket rain” – probably not heavy enough for the players to definitely come off but, once you come off, you would never get back on, since it never quite stopped. A very leisurely coffee stop it was, with me checking out the other cricket scores from yesterday and catching up on Facebook, before I continued on my merry way towards Bitterne. The rain had freshened the air considerably and, with this being the first walk in so long, I was never going to do much of a distance but I did want to take on a few step roads. Athelstan Road is a decently long road, all uphill, with the last 130 paces (yes, I have counted them) particularly steep. Down to Woolston and then along to Sholing, where the Portsmouth Road has become more difficult due to overhanging bushes making the pavements only worth about one-third of their proper width. My feet were fine but the afternoon was now very close and I was a bit more tired than I had expected. A 5 minute sit down on a bench and a drink was good enough to get me through to home, or at least the cricket club, where I sat for an hour and watched a very good T20 game. 12 miles.
Lots of things on my mind today. I had always felt that I needed a walk to clear my mind a bit, not least after a frustratingly narrow derby defeat yesterday and pondering the second half of the season. I have always taken solace in music during difficult times and Michelle Branch is my current musical squeeze, and she was my head music today, along with a bit of Aerosmith and ELO, with whom you can rarely go wrong. I am just very happy that my very long walk wasn’t in June / July, since I am not sure I could have taken 20 miles after 20 miles each day in these conditions. February to April was an excellent decision – not all my decisions on that walk were the right ones but the crucial ones were the better judged. Let’s see what Tuesday brings, when temperatures in the mid to late twenties are forecast down here.
There was something else occupying my mind. I cannot write a blog post without mentioning my mother, who passed away on her 87th birthday, 13 June, and her memorial service is tomorrow, followed by a private cremation. I have managed to hold it together in the last two weeks, and it helped to help my father sort out most of the paperwork in a couple of days. In fact, I have been puzzled, if that is the right word, that I haven’t felt really sad. Perhaps it is knowing that she had been in poor health for some time and that her passing was in some ways a release. I have been overwhelmed by lovely messages, kind words and thoughts by so many friends. I know when I have been in the position of offering sympathy that I have sometimes not said anything since I simply haven’t known what to say. So I don’t get upset if people don’t say anything, because I know how difficult it can be even to try to comfort, or know how to do it. I was moved almost to tears though by a work colleague and someone whom I consider a good friend, but I will keep their identity to myself, when he said to me that my Mum would have been so proud of you when I did my walk from Lands End to John O’Groats. I think I know that was the case but it moved me to think that someone else thought to say that. I had always promised Mum that I would call her first both when I reached Scotland and when I reached John O’Groats. Sadly, on both occasions, she was not feeling well but I did get to speak to my Dad and I know she was lifted by the news both times. My parents still have a massive colour map of Britain showing my progress and many visitors comment on it. Indeed, it brought home to me how much it meant to Mum when she was in hospital and on Pam and I entering the ward, she called out to the nurse and other patients, “this is my son who walked from Lands End to John O’Groats”. I was a bit embarrassed and bashful at the time but now I can only see the really happy side of what she was saying. I wasn’t sure how much she knew about my Isle of Wight Challenge but I think, to her and many others, that was a much lesser challenge and required much less sacrifice than the previous challenge. Me, I always felt confident of the long walk once I got past Bath, the most difficult first two weeks, and the psychological turn toward the north. Though I was actually covering less ground for the following five weeks or so, many many people have commented how I suddenly accelerated – it just felt I was walking further because I was walking away from home, rather than in a direction that didn’t feel as if it was entirely towards the ultimate finish of John O’Groats. The Wight Challenge wasn’t ever one that I felt certain of finishing – though at halfway round I was comfortable, even though it was cold, dark and wet. I shouldn’t dwell on the decision to stop – I did what I thought was right at the time – no matter what I think now.
So tomorrow is a day to get through.