Notes from a small town

Sometimes one is just driven. Not literally, since that would be cheating. Driven to push oneself a little bit more than is comfortable. With the boots, the most before today has been 16 miles and “a little bit more than is comfortable” would be around 18-20 miles. So today was something of a marathon, 26 miles actually, so more than something of a marathon, no something about it, just a marathon.

I took a fairly straightforward route to Stubbington and stopped for a coffee. The Times today had a big feature on Jeff Lynne and ELO, looking back on his career and forward to the UK part of the tour. I saw them three times before and they will be great again, though I am not going to see them this time around. A restart found me with slightly stiff legs and I put them out of my mind with some head music, which normally comes naturally but I forced it with one track from each of ELO’s studio albums: 10538 Overture, Roll Over Beethoven, Dreaming of 4000, Mister Kingdom, Down Home Town, Tightrope, Sweet Is The Night, On The Run, All Over The World, The Way Life’s Meant To Be, Bluebird, So Serious, Alright, When I Was A Boy. OK, that really did set me up for a really good stretch along Lee on Solent and down into Stokes Bay.

Having passed through Browndown, I then (as often) shared a path with cyclists. One took the road sign a little too literally, forcing me into evasive action to avoid his bike running me over, but at least he was under 40mph, just. He had a cycle helmet with a camera; no doubt that incident will be quickly and smartly erased.


On to Stokes Bay and this is where I might do the Bill Bryson bit. Gosport is quite possibly the largest town in England without a train station and it has been unfailingly cold and windy whenever I have visited before, especially for football and cricket. But there are some good things about the town. Unlike Portsmouth, it has loads of public toilets open and, much later, even a cemetery had quite reasonable facilities that I did make use of. It also has given me knowledge that I have stored in case of a Pointless question that asks you to name any town or city with a Golden Mile. Scenery is nice on a nice day. I went as far east as I could, round Stokes Bay golf course and through a few streets close to Haslar.


What I do recall from my first couple of visits is that there are very few sign posts to anywhere outside Gosport. It’s as if it is so difficult to attract people to the town that they have a cunning plan to stop you leaving. Even a very good cycle route (that starts close to the Gosport Darts Arena – nothing like overplaying your part, eh?) ends with a dilemma: left or right?



My toes were feeling OK but I did need a second stop, which I took in Fareham. Sat down for 5 minutes when all of a sudden in walked Linvoy Primus and Dave Waterman. I did think about having a selfie but I respectfully kept my distance. When I started again on the five and a half miles home, my toes hurt for a minute or two but soon got into my stride, and included a couple of speed walks to shave about five minutes off my normal time for that section. I bumped into the Sarisbury cricket captain just as I reached my road and we chewed the fat over the forthcoming season for a few minutes.

A nice end to a really good walk today. A better distance than I expected to be able to do. I have a routine hospital appointment tomorrow, but fortunately not until 7:10pm, so a (shorter) walk tomorrow is possible. 101 miles in the Week of Pain, brilliant given the need to wear in new boots.


15 with love

As planned, Pammy and I set off for a walk in the New Forest. I had planned to park in Lyndhurst, near Bolton’s Bench, and walk to Beaulieu and back. That is precisely what we did.

The last time we came here was in June, the day my mother passed away, though we weren’t to know it at the time. There was cricket being played at the ground there, though we arrived just as the last wicket fell in the first innings. As the players went off for tea, half a dozen horses crossed the path and proceeded to mosey around the outfield. One even got very close to the pitch and was shooed away by one of the players, presumably a batsman who didn’t want a hoof mark on a length when he was at the crease. It is a scenic place with many good photo opportunities, particularly today when the weather was pleasant enough.

Boltons Bench

We ventured in the direction of Beaulieu, taking a well worn path and mostly off-road. We became a trifle disoriented but found the main road and broadly followed that in the last few miles, normally a few yards away from the road, but many areas further away were sodden or too muddy for comfort.

In Beaulieu, we stopped as planned, Pammy having a rather large jacket potato with prawns, while I enjoyed a cream tea with scones, butter, jam and clotted cream. There is something about cream tea that always makes me feel good and we set off on the return to Lyndhurst in good spirits. It felt an easier trip despite a couple of showers and one aggressive hailstorm that had us both cowering with our backs to the intended direction of travel. We got a good kick on and reached the car, slightly soggy, but just in time to hear that England had won the cricket. Obviously, the match wasn’t at Bolton’s Bench since the ground was waterlogged in parts from the rain, both recent and from today.

Lovely to be with Pammy today as this was the toughest walk for a few days, not due to the distance (15 miles or thereabouts) but the conditions that tested our ankles and knees. Good news from the toe department as they are feeling better and able to stand up to a decent walk. Tomorrow is the last of five successive days walking due to an appointment on Friday and, despite not getting anything like the distance I really desired at the outset, the boots are gradually being worn in and so it has to be recorded as a success. See how tomorrow goes – at least it appears to be a dry day, at last….

I’ll be back stage after the show; You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry.

The third successive walking day and the fourth in five started with a survey of the damage. A blood blister on the little toe of the left foot was tempting to burst but experience has taught me to leave them be, while the right foot looked to be healing nicely. A fresh plaster for the leftie was in order and I loosened the laces on both boots to give my feet half a chance.

This all seemed to work for a while but it was difficult to concentrate on anything else and gradually each step became a test with one repeating question, “Did that hurt or didn’t it?”. As I took the route from Sarisbury through Warsash and Titchfield to Stubbington, I mused as to the historical comparisons between Don’t You Want Me by Human League and Sk8er Boi by Avril Lavigne. Both start with one having what appeared to be an unpromising relationship: “working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” and “all of my friends stuck up their nose, they had a problem with his bad clothes”. The partner then achieved success but rejected they who had stuck with them during the bad times. Quite why this occupied my mind for at least 20 minutes or so was beyond me, but it took my mind off my left foot, and by that I don’t mean anything connected to Daniel Day Lewis.

The worst toey feeling was starting again after a half an hour coffee break as left little piggy rubbed mercilessly for a couple of minutes as I walked back up Burnt House Lane. However, this soon passed and I had a great feeling about the walk and life in general. I do need to get back a single-mindedness, confidence and a sort of arrogance in order to be at my best. I am not necessarily a good person to walk with or talk with at times when I feel like that, and I can just be pretty quiet for a while. I felt like I needed to do at least the distance of yesterday and really got a good stride and speed-walked a couple of 15-20 minute spells after reaching the A27, through Segensworth and ultimately up towards Burridge, turning left at The Elm Tree pub which promised two rumps and a bottle of wine for £19.95. I would hope and imagine that indicated steaks rather than random buttocks but I wasn’t about to stop to check.

It was at this point that some light drizzle became steady rain and I was glad to cross the M27, the railway line and reach the A27 again. My feet were still in good shape but I find that uphill or downhill is hard enough without the degree of difficulty multiplication factor of pavements that slope left to right, or right to left, down to or away from the road. That is what makes Sarisbury Hill a very decent test. At first it is simply uphill then, as it appears to get steeper, the pavement slopes sharply toward the road, then suddenly slopes the other way. It always feels good to reach the top, that’s for sure.

Tomorrow I will be going further afield for my walk, into the New Forest and sounds as if I will be walking with Pammy. 16 miles today and could be around the same tomorrow.


Poor man’s Alan Biley

Another satisfactory walk today, and the boots feel ok. A little rubbing on the little piggies, but they did find their way home, each in one piece. There was clear evidence of the visitation of Storm Katie overnight as I went on a pre-planned 13 mile route, with plenty of branches and twigs strewn across the paths and one fallen tree on the Southampton Road business estate. I walked steadily to Fareham, took my time over a coffee stop and sauntered into the shopping centre and did a bit of window shopping before embarking on the journey home.

It was the one time that the wind really picked up and some steady rain blew violently in my face for five or ten minutes. The woolly hat was on and I pulled my hands inside my sleeves like a poor man’s Alan Biley. That brought back wonderful memories of Nottingham Forest League Cup, two headers in stoppage time in the Santa/Oxford match and a header at the Milton End v Bristol Rovers that brought him a kick in the face. A true legend of Pompey. If you’ve never seen the legend of Alan Biley and that Oxford match (or even if you have), it’s here: Goodness all of that was more than 30 years ago but they are as fresh in my mind as if they happened yesterday.

Yeah, this is a blog about walking. It was still a stroll and an increase on the distance yesterday. Job done.

Pennying the streets

I really enjoyed a good stroll in the early afternoon. Yesterday I bought new boots and then settled down to hear / watch England win at both cricket and football on the same day, and had only good thoughts in my head as I barely pounded (perhaps only pennied) the streets. You might be surprised that, even after four and a bit years and around 6,000 miles walking, I don’t have a favourite brand of boot. I often cannot say what brand I am currently wearing, since I choose by feel on a first wear. I buy size 10 walking boots when my day to day shoes and trainers are usually 9 1/2. What I do know is that my feet are very close to being the same size. Most people have one foot slightly larger than the other; if one is right-footed then the right foot tends to be larger, sometimes by half a size. I learnt very early in my football days that there was considerable benefit to being able to kick well with either foot, something I drilled into my own son, and for which he derived considerably more benefit than I had. As one might say, some of his very best goals were with his ‘wrong’ foot.

Back to boot brands. I have only ever had major problems with one pair, and that was an Italian brand that were too tight to be comfortable, and gave me bulging blisters even after a couple of months wearing them. From experience I know that Italian boots are narrower, and German and British brands wider, American wider still. Standard width is usually ok for me.

The Week of Pain will not be as originally planned. It is probably not essential for my own fitness, given I clearly have a good distance in my legs already. It is essential, however, to wear in these new boots and so to that end I will be having five successive days of walking. Today I took my first steps in yesterday’s purchase. It was never the aim to rack up twenty or thirty miles and I was never going to get too worked up at either the distance or the pace. Most of today was taken at a stroll, sometimes even a dawdle. The weather forecast was not altogether promising and I was party to a couple of short showers, but I timed a relaxed coffee stop nicely while a heavy hailstorm belted down against the shop windows. Even as my way was blocked on the Harefield estate by a mother more concerned with her phone than her pushchair, the former quite obviously much more expensive than the latter, and I cheerfully crossed the road to continue on.

A total of 10 miles, normally barely sufficient to get me out of bed. The walk ended in glorious sunshine but the key result was a pair of feet with little sign of damage. Both my little toes showed signs of redness – every pair of boots pressures in slightly different spots – and I guess as a precaution I will tape those up on tomorrow’s walk, which I expect to be of a similar or only slightly longer distance. Easter Sunday also marks the end of Lent and, for me, the end of 47 days without chocolate. I won’t be breaking the famine too spectacularly, just a Galaxy bar from the local shop, standard size not giant, and I might not even eat that all today, since my brain and body won’t appreciate the sudden introduction of masses of that stuff into my diet. I have felt generally pretty healthy recently and I don’t want to prejudice that. Another walk tomorrow, hopefully in decent weather. Probably more chocolate.

Ravelling, no, revelling while unravelling

Actually, ravelling or unravelling – there is no question. They mean the same thing, a bit like flammable and inflammable. Last week I was on fire, 31 miles and, most importantly, precious little reaction the next day. A day and walk to inspire massive confidence in the ability to do London2Brighton, now only just over two months away. More like revelling than ravelling, then.

However, the Week of Pain appears to be unravelling. I will need to take time out to get a new pair of boots since the wear on both heels, especially the left, has rendered them incapable of getting me through to the end of May. That, in turn, means I cannot get the mileage that I really desired over the forthcoming few days. On top of that, it is belting down for the foreseeable future and so the best opportunity for a decent distance was today, in worn boots.

I set off gently but soon accelerated as if I had limited time to reach the ark before it launched. On days when I struggle to get going, the old favourite of head music helps immensely. I wrote around six months ago about one particular song whose lyrics make me quite emotional and Greatest Love of All (Whitney Houston) worked its magic again today. Once I had momentum after an early coffee stop, there was little to stop me with one extended speed walk between Bitterne and Southampton only interrupted by a chap stopping me to complain about all the dogs**t on the path near the Northam Bridge. Quite what it had to do with me is beyond me, and even a slightly sardonic, “It wasn’t me, I did go before I left the house” did little to nudge the hibernating humour of this chap, who bore a South African accent eerily reminiscent of Joss Ackland in Lethal Weapon 2. I could quite imagine him harumphing, “Deeeplomatic Immunity!” if he’d had to. On reflection, he was perhaps lonely and just needed someone to talk to for a minute or two. He reached his house, we bade farewell and I moved on apace.

The legacy of last weekend was to instill real purpose into today’s walk and, taking a long route round past St Marys Stadium and then the overbearing Ikea building, Hill Lane was a straightforward climb, followed by the remainder of The Avenue before turning for home down Bassett Green Road. More climbs through Woodmill Lane and Mousehole Lane and a gentler stretch took the distance to 21 miles, almost feeling routine, which is saying something.

You know, I am going to do London2Brighton. I will need new boots and I won’t be able to walk great distances for the first few times while I break those in. But I know I can do it, and I will do it. The Isle of Wight Challenge was one in which I completed 50 of the 66 miles but I was in danger of entering another dangerous depression for a while after as, without having regrets as such, I knew I could have done it. I became moderately paranoid as it felt like the elephant in the room for a few weeks after as I chatted to friends and work colleagues. But this time will be different. I will not fail again. Mark my words. I will not fail again.

In the meantime, Lent is almost done and chocolate has only proved a challenge on a couple of occasions briefly this week. I ought to find a real challenge next year – like coffee – but, on the walking side, I saw an interesting event that takes place in the autumn (see or – the Atlantic Coast Challenge, the equivalent of three marathons in three days, it appears mostly using the South West Coast Path, part of which I walked during the big walk two years ago. Accommodation and food on a plate, as it were. It felt a little bit on the expensive side on first viewing, but perhaps not unreasonable given the organisation needed. That is tempting me and looks a serious candidate, I would guess for autumn 2017 rather than 2016. But let’s see, a lot can happen before then…..




Just (a little bit) like Eddie

I’m not one normally for watching Comic Relief, Children in Need or Sport Relief for hours on end, and this Friday was no different. However, there are two events that have really caught my attention. Both are fantastic achievements in their own way, of human beings pushing themselves to their own absolute limits. Eddie Izzard – 27 marathons in 27 days in South Africa, including two on the final day, which is today (Sunday), to mark the 27 years that Nelson Mandela spent in prison. All these seemingly in temperatures in the late twenties / early thirties Centigrade. Earlier, (a 58 year old mordidly obese) Jo Brand had walked from Hull to Liverpool in seven days, remarkable given that in September she could barely walk up what looked only a short hill with moderate incline. She has shown what so many people (I hesitate to say anyone) could do with determination and will-power.

As someone commented to me a week or two back, when the subject came up, they are both well funded, have support teams and have all arrangements made for them, but that is somewhat beside the point. They have both achieved more than they must have thought they could. I dipped into my pocket and donated, but that was a mere token of my admiration compared to how much praise is deserved. Around 20 years ago, I was compared to Eddie Izzard by one of my students, presumably because of a rather dry delivery of a pun, rather than painted fingernails, and I have to admit that I wasn’t really a great fan of his at the time. Now looking back, to be mentioned in the same breath as Eddie is something to be proud of.

News that the London2Brighton Challenge has a new option of walking the 100km in two days, with camping in the intervening night, left me in two minds. Great that it might encourage more people to participate but, on the whole, it waters down the challenge considerably. Two 30 mile walks, effectively, with the chance of a shower, good sleep, change of clothes and all-in-all, a refresh. To me, that makes it so much less of a challenge – I would easily have completed the Isle of Wight Challenge if I had taken such an option. Part of the whole challenge is the psychological element of walking through the night, which leaves you disorientated and it is massively more a physical feat to complete. So I will not be taking up that option and has made me even more determined to complete the challenge in the way that it was formulated.

In the light of all of that, I can’t remember ever being more focussed and full of motivation on Saturday morning. There is very little that will get me out of bed at 8am at a weekend, but I had the bit between my teeth from the start. Pammy could sense this and warned me not to overdo it, and it is a fine balance between pushing yourself and overdoing it. I felt I had that balance just right today. It was a trifle concerning to see that my boots have some wear on the heels, and these must be replaced as soon as is reasonable. My Week of Pain will have to be tempered to a degree to a goal of wearing in new boots but that was not going to stop me today.

I was out of the house at 9:23am (I always log the exact time in my head) and within just over three hours I was in Cosham, 11 miles down the road, for a coffee stop. I still felt full of fire and, in fact, that half hour was my only stop of the day, apart from at a couple of shops to get refreshment, and a chance meeting late on with Linda Hart / Lloyd near Fareham. From Cosham, I traversed south onto Portsea Island and took a deliberately slightly longer than optimal route past Fratton Park, before turning west and then north. In the last few miles, as it started to darken, there were some twinges from my Achilles, bringing back memories of previous long walks, but I was not to be deterred, even managing two more smallish detours to reach home after 10 hours. It was the furthest that I have ever walked on one day, apart from the aborted Isle of Wight Challenge, a total of just under 31 miles.

Yes, I did ache and I was not moving around as freely as I would have liked during the rest of the evening. But today, the morning after, I feel great. Yes, a bit stiff in places and I have a niggling hip flexor that is undoubtedly caused by the wear on the left boot and consequent lack of support. However, I have no doubt that, if I had sufficient light in the day and appropriate boots, I could walk quite a few miles today – probably not 30, but certainly 15 to 20 could be achieved. If I was having the week off work, 30 might just be possible. It has been a real boost to confidence, just three weeks after I was so despairing at having so little strength on that Sunday walk.

So next task is new boots (sounds like a job for Good Friday) and then wearing them in. These boots have been good to me and they will go to a good home in our garden, as flower pots! Suspect the first couple of days of the Week of Pain will be shorter than advertised. I can’t aspire to the same as Eddie Izzard, but I am thinking of his achievement and its ultimate fulfillment today. Puts anything that I have ever achieved or will achieve firmly in the shade.