It wasn’t Fernando

Not a great day at the office today, even if my weekend ‘office’ is the open air rather than the enclosed space I inhabit during the working week. Very cold today but I have walked in colder and much more unpleasant weather than this without feeling the effects. There was just something in the air tonight, but the stars not so bright, and it certainly wasn’t Fernando, and I never felt like the Super Trouper that I sometimes feel I can be.

I had sufficient clothing for this sort of weather, but the cold was energy sapping and I wasn’t sorry to finish late in the afternoon, still with a respectable distance of just over 14 miles. Hard as I tried to keep up a reasonable speed, and my body was kept warm, all the extremities and my face really felt it today and I was well off my usual pace. I had the woolly hat and gloves on from the start, and I know how these alone can give a fairly menacing impression to a stranger. On side roads particularly, I notice women cross the road away from me occasionally when I am within about 20 yards. I often cross the road myself if I can sense a tension. Some time ago, I crossed just as a young lady crossed, and then that was repeated in the opposite direction as we both realised what had happened. She may well have been freaked out by this but thankfully we went in opposite ways at the next junction (I don’t know if that was her original intended direction or not). I am therefore nervous at using a scarf across my face to keep my nose and mouth warm, in case that raises the bar in scariness. Perhaps I am too sensitive for my own good. I did struggle today to speak when I reached home with lips numb from the cold.

I didn’t really have the sense of adventure, not something I could say about Levison Wood, who is currently running his four-part series Walking The Americas, serialising his trek from Mexico to Columbia. As you might imagine, his temperature challenge is at the opposite end of the scale, as well as encountering drug cartels, jungle and forest conditions necessitating basic survival skills, and language barriers. He had an old friend as a local guide to walk with him, which obviously helped. Very interesting and entertaining viewing. This follows his previous series, all on Channel 4 by the way, Walking The Himalayas and Walking The Nile, and during the latter one of his guides died of heatstroke, which puts his achievements very much in perspective. Not sure what my long walk would have contained, if it had been serialised, but it certainly would not have been a great viewing experience like Levison’s walks. Despite all the difficulties facing him, he still kept up a pace of around 100 miles a week (not dissimilar to me) but he also appeared capable of spending considerable time during the walking day to take in local culture. I just wanted to sleep at the end of the day!

Not going to dwell too much on today’s walk, I think. I am looking forward to longer daylight and warmer conditions as the weeks pass. Pretty certain that this year’s main challenge will be the South Coast Challenge: Eastbourne to Arundel on 26/27 August.  I know it is a tough challenge, tougher than London2Brighton, but it cannot possibly be as bad as the Wight Challenge. The dates pose two further challenges: persuading myself that it is fine to miss the last home match of the cricket season (when promotion could hopefully/possibly be celebrated without me) and the weekend also coincides with, er, the birthday of a very close family member. However that pans out, I need to get fitter, eat less chocolate and make all the necessary arrangements.



Some deep thoughts this week as I pondered how to proceed with this walking part-hobby part-obsession. I thought back to when I started long distance walking at the start of 2012 and when I first got the idea of doing proper challenges. I had this weird idea of walking some long distance, specifically Land’s End to John O’Groats. It’s the sort of thing many must think about for a while, then never get round to doing it.

Except I felt I had to do it. Not just for me, but for my niece Lorraine and her daughter Poppy, who had passed away and been born sleeping. Lorraine received considerable support from SANDS and once I had the idea to walk for the charity, it was impossible to turn back. Poppy would have been 7 years old this week, and her legacy lives on. Two younger sisters, Emily and Daisy, will in time get to know and understand the full story and the impact that Poppy has had on their lives. I have already felt the full force of her on my own. At a time when I was still struggling with my own mental health issues, she made me realise that this was the best way to fight my own battles, and help others fight theirs.



Going on regular walks helped me build up decent fitness and gave me confidence that I could achieve something special, an achievement no-one could ever take away from me. It was hard work but every time I had the slightest inkling of jacking it all in, I thought of Lorraine and Poppy. Once I started the walk, I often felt in the first couple of weeks that I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I stuck at it. Later, when I was in pain most days, it was even harder but, by that time, I had regular contact with a group of friends from work (the COOF group) and many were commenting on my daily blog – that being this blog, in case you didn’t know (see posts February to April 2014). Many of you will have followed at the time – apologies if I am boring you.

Once I had passed Bath, I knew I could do it, but wasn’t sure that I would. What were the real driving forces were Lorraine and Poppy. Every time I faltered, I thought of them. This blog excerpt from one day in the fourth week summed up how I felt:

I could give up and go home tomorrow if I wanted and the pains would disappear pretty quickly, I would imagine. I guess most people would think I’ve done really well, 371 miles. But many don’t have a choice. Women who have lost children can’t just switch the pain off. I am also at an age where I hear news of former schoolmates who have died, either recently or some time back, others who have cancer, or spouses with cancer, or with children with severe difficulties. I can only think how lucky I am. In the board game of life fairness, I clearly threw a high score and owe something to those who threw a two and a one.

Ultimately, yes, I did make it. Ultimately raised almost £12,000 for SANDS. Ultimately raised the awareness of the support available for women and families for the hundreds of people who either sponsored me or attended one of the fundraising events at the time. Poppy – 7 years old on 13 January. That was all for you. You will never know how important you are.

Today’s walk: 22 miles. Hurts a lot. But I’ll be ok in a day or two.

Following in the steps of Morgan Freeman?

I feel rough today. I felt rough last night. It is rare that I feel like this after walking but somehow it just didn’t work for me yesterday. Perhaps I am coming down with a cold or something and yesterday was too much. But it is unusual that 15 and a bit miles should affect me so physically, mostly afterwards not during the walk. Within five minutes of reaching home, I felt really cold and so went to have the shower that I normally have about half an hour after finishing. I came back downstairs and fell asleep on the sofa almost immediately.

The walk itself was mostly uneventful, walking to Fareham and then down Newgate Lane, past HMS Collingwood. Not very eventful at all in fact, or even picturesque. I was becoming a trifle bored and so I took a footpath signposted to Stubbington just for somewhere different. Within a couple of minutes I was paraded by a solar farm on the left and MOD property on the right, both with barbed wire fences. Not that the solar farm would have too much business with a grey and cloudy afternoon all that was on offer. As I walked further, the quiet was deafening and it was as if I was going somewhere I shouldn’t, certainly seeing nobody else on this path. I didn’t know where this path was going to emerge, only that with security cameras everywhere, I felt quite vulnerable and not sure whether to continue. But, of course, I did and nobody bothered me. The sight of a car in the distance did at least comfort me that this path did emerge somewhere and that I would rejoin civilisation. And that was it – the only interesting part of the walk. Probably the least interesting anecdote one could imagine.

The television schedules over the Christmas and New Year period have been quite poor, in my opinion. Unimaginative rather than poor, perhaps. All the Harry Potter films, the dreadful Mrs Brown’s Boys pretty much every day once it gets late and even the normally reliable soap dramas were very diluted to dull mundane affairs. But whenever The Shawshank Redemption comes on, I cannot resist watching some or all of it. Bizarrely, one scene brings back vivid memories of my long walk – though I can never remember exactly where and when. I think it was near the start, certainly before Bath, in the country and I am sure that I walked along a road that looked exactly like this.theshawshankredemption06

Well, not exactly, it didn’t have a sign saying “Buxton” (though I did pass through Buxton in Derbyshire some weeks later) and I wasn’t following Morgan Freeman in a brown suit. But the road, the buildings,….look so familiar. And any time that I get such clear memories of that time, I do think that that was such a wonderful period and that I will never ever have that experience again. Even if I were to do the Lands End to John O’Groats walk again (and I intend to), it wouldn’t be the same. There wouldn’t be the same sense of venturing into the unknown, the same naivety and innocence with which I approached the first attempt, nor (probably) the same doubt and scepticism with which many of my friends viewed the challenge I had set myself. There were many times in the opening fortnight that I felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew. The next time, I know I could do it and the main challenge would be merely to repeat a previous achievement, and to show fighting spirit against advancing age.

It is hard to build up for new challenges when, without doubt, the first challenge was the most challenging I could ever have given myself. But setting goals is the road to being able to keep up the interest and motivation – so watch this space, when I am not feeling quite so rough.


Refusing to panic

I was musing this morning as I woke early – sometimes what makes you happy also makes you sad. I am sure I have heard someone say that before. That period between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve is apparently the peak time for suicides and divorces – I have no statistical evidence that I can provide for that, but I have heard that anecdotally more than once. Perhaps that’s why I have come to dislike Christmas – it may actually be dreading the days that follow, and the big come down after what is supposed to be such a joyful period. Most people get through it, and in more recent years the third Monday in January has been ‘heralded’ as the most depressing day of the year. There is even evidence supported by Office for National Statistics on this:

Personally, once we get past the first few days of going back to work, I am cheered by the obvious first early evidence of daylight getting longer, but at the same time it is often the start of a period of work for a couple of months without leave. However, this year will have a week’s break in February when Pammy and I will have been married for 25 years. As long as there is something tangible to which to look forward, things never seem quite as bad. That said, I have found this post-Christmas period quite hard; the obviously more sedentary lifestyle, a touch overeating and (just starting) the beginning of the count down to that going back to work thing, still another week, in my case. Thankfully, this year’s post-Christmas blues period was punctuated by lovely visits from relatives and friends, all of whom travelled significant distances to see us, and I managed to cook substantially sized meals for them without causing food poisoning, as far as I know, anyway. But to counter the slight gain in poundage, I did really need that walk today.

An afternoon pounding the streets, coupled with plenty of football to listen to on the radio, including a big match for Pompey, was just what the doctor would have ordered if I had spoken to him or her, and if they knew me well. Nothing special about the route, plenty of inclines that have given me a good stretch, and my calves and thighs bear the evidence. Passing the university in Southampton gave me real food for thought as to how time and society have changed. I studied here from 1987 to 1992 and that bit of Burgess Road had very little apart from a couple of banks and a small shop that sold cheap sandwiches (a shop run by two old bats who tutted whenever you didn’t have the exact money). Now there is a Costa, a bookshop and some banks.

I stopped in the coffee shop which resembled a common room with every table occupied by someone reading notes or books, making notes or doing coursework, free wifi, lots of power sockets. Remember also that this is 2 January. Some were even drinking coffee – in a coffee shop! Fortunately there was one small table free but, unusually, there was only one newspaper, the local Echo – but that was ok, lots of football coverage, pretty much all refusing to panic on Southampton’s two home defeats over the holiday period and the start of the dreaded transfer window. But you can only write or say “refusing to panic” so often….. Anyway, I had my coffee in the midst of the students eschewing their cold dormitories for the warmth of Costa, and I was on my merry way once again.

Radio football dominated my head for a couple of hours with Pompey playing well for a while, Luton then playing well for a while, and Pompey winning. And anticipating more “refusing to panic” over the forthcoming days. It certainly made the miles pass quicker, or seem to, on a day cold enough for me to wear gloves throughout and the woolly hat for all but the first 10 minutes. Hardly surprised to still see so much moaning by a faction of Pompey fans on social media, but that’s what social media offers. But most of us are refusing to panic. Blimey, I’m at it now. 19 miles.