Monday, 22 December 2008

Wimbledon Park to Osterley – (Surrey) – 22/12/08 – 11 miles approx – 9kg – Myself.

This being the fourth time this year I have done this walk. Well okay maybe not quite, as the last time I did it back in September severe blisters on my heels forced me to curtail some seven miles in at Richmond. Still I’ve solved the heel blister problem haven’t I ? Well yes but today I had a different foot problem emerge in its place. The problem seems to be around the ball of my right foot. Thus although a big blister had formed on that by the time I got home, I actually think it is more of an oversuse problem supporting weight there, which was a periodic issue going as far back as my jogging days. Thus rightly or wrongly carrying 9kg over 11 miles today, 13.5kg over 6 miles yesterday, and 18kg over 4 miles two days prior to that, probably constitutes overuse for me. So what started off as a minor irritation by the time I had reached Wimbledon Common, and what seemed to feel every stone sticking up out of the ground, found me walking with a very pronounced and painful limp by the time I had reached Syon Park. Still musn’t grumble !

Having become acclimatised to the cold when out walking lately, the jump in temperature over the last few days caught me out dresswise, which meant I was wearing one layer too many, and with a bag full of water ballast, it meant I had no storage option to remove a layer. After all this is supposed to be Christmas time, you know snow and cold and all that. And just in case one forgot what time of year it is there was a Christmas tree in Wimbledon Common to remind one. So by the time I had reached the windmill in Wimbledon Common I was sweating buckets and decided that I needed a break, stopping at the tearoom there. Needless to say a hot chocolate and a slice of Coffee and Walnut cake didn’t leave much change out of a fiver. Still the supermodel that served me was most impressive.

Richmond Park found me messing around with my camera trying to set the timer, and take the definitive Mike walking photo. Needless to say nothing came out right, apart from the more arty one you can see here, that has me heading in the direction of Spankers Hill Wood. Still I persisted, but with only one of my Mister Potato Head pictures (as seen) not looking like a wanted poster.

Now I am meant to be leading IVC on this walk in a couple of weeks, and the Dysart Arms that is opposite the exit at Petersham gate is slated to be our lunch stop. However a closer inspection outside did not see any food advertised. Alright yes I should have gone in and asked, but as I wasn’t planning to eat, I didn’t want to get an affirmitive answer and then just walk out again. Therefore I decided to do a left (rather than right) to see if there was any other local food serving pubs. Thus five minutes off route and I found one, only it seemed to specialise in Thai food so I decided that wasn’t going to be a runner (incidentally a search on the web when I got home revealed the Dysart does do food, but for reasons of price and loud Sunday lunchtime music, it is not going to be suitable either). Anyway that is all a problem for another day.

Coming out of Petersham Meadows I could hear a youngish couple chattering and coming up rapidly behind me. Thus it was immediately obvious that they were quickening their pace in order to overtake me. At which point I went into naughty mode and decided to keep increasing my pace so that they couldn’t get round. This went on for about 100 yards with them barely half a pace behind me, and me virtually panting now in order to stay ahead. They had the last laugh however as when we reached the gate that links up with the towpath, I tried to go through the wrong bit losing a valuable yard and my lead. The guy then held the correct part of the gate upon for me and graciously asked me would I like to go first (bastard). Thus feeling a bit of a twit now I conceeded that they were quicker than me, and let them through in front. All that effort however meant I had to stop and have a swig from my bottle, and when I looked up again, they were some fifty yards out in front.

Along the towpath by Richmond bridge I recceed various other places to eat for next time. However my right foot was now getting very painful, although I had no intention of curtailing this walk at Richmond station, as the pain wasn’t in the same league as the last time along here. Over Twickenham footbridge along some roads and the river and I had reached Syon Park, by which time the light had dropped considerably. After leaving there I joined the Grand Union Canal at Brentford. The original plan today was to continue along there all the way to Boston Manor station and finish at the point I am planning to do with IVC. However given how painfully I was limping that seemed pointless and I came off at my usual point at the Great West Road, and headed back for Osterley.

Limping aside, today constitutes one of my ‘exercise walks’ and I am sure it fulfilled that function. One thing I have tended to do during Christmas over previous years is to give myself the week off exercise wise. However considering that one usually eats three times more than normal during this period it has always been a mistake which I am determined not to repeat this year. What I decided last week however, is that as much as I want to do my Country ‘weight carrying exercise’ Walking, three times a week as my sole exercise regime, a combination of my shift patern and propensity to get ill or injured just doesn’t allow that (today being a case in point that will probably affect the rest of the week). Therefore I am having to remix it in again with my Urban Cycling workouts (not on this blog).

Monday, 15 December 2008

Otford Circular – (Kent) – 14/12/08 – 7 miles approx – IVC + Helen.

Thankfully the rain that had blanketed most of the country the previous day was not in evidence for this walk, that also doubled as the IVC walking group’s Christmas party. Also along for the occasion was Helen whom I partially managed to convince, that this was an integral part of our Christmas themed weekend, that had been running since the Thursday evening.

Almost immediately out of Otford station we were faced with quite a considerable climb that took us up onto the North Downs. From there however we seemed to be negotiating a series of one muddy and puddly lane after another, with one particularly deep puddle overspilling into my boot. It was not too long however before we found ourselves coming back down from the Downs and heading for The Bell pub in Kemsing where we had a function room set aside for our Christmas celebrations. After some confusion which I brought into the day about what was happening re: the food, I had the fish and chips whilst Helen had the soup. Following which everyone present circulated assorted Satsumas, Mince Pies, Chocolates and other Christmas fare, before lunch time was rounded off with an assortment of Carols.

After coming out of the pub we found ourselves in the car park across the road being advised by a ‘three sheets to the wind’ local that we were going the wrong way. The only way however was up and back onto the North Downs, during which one of our party decided the climb was worth doing a second time, in order to get up close and personal with three guard dogs. Whilst there was obviously some variation to the route that took us to the pub, we eventually began to retrace it. The final part being a muddy and slippy considerable descent (formally known as the considerable climb) which took us back to Otford station. Upon arrival there we discovered we had missed the intended train and would instead have to wait for the next Victoria train scheduled for 1631, which arrived at 1621 (well I was confused anyway). Incidentally there were no photos as I forgot my camera, but given the overall gloom and mist of the day, that was probably no bad thing.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Richmond Park Outer and Inner loop – (Surrey) – 03/12/08 – 11 miles approx – 9kg – Myself.

Every time I have ever gone round Richmond Park, whether as a runner back in the early Nineties during my brief membership of Ranelagh Harriers, as a cyclist, or more latterly as a walker, it has always been in an anti-clockwise direction. The only exception to this was the last time I walked it with Helen back on the 21/09/08 Thus I realised on that day that the clockwise direction is both more scenic and more challenging in terms of gradients. Ever since then I have been itching for an opportunity to do the clockwise outer and inner loop again, only this time carrying my 9kg ballast in the rucksack. A combination of no available free time and my well documented (in this blog anyway) problems with my feet and boots have prevented that up to now, however having at last appeared to have resolved the foot issues my chance finally came today.
The weathermen warned that it was going to be a cold one, and even when I arrived at Ham Gate Avenue (on this occasion both my start and finish point) at 11.45, temperatures hadn’t risen sufficiently to melt the ice in the puddles. Yet the fact that there was no real breeze, meant the wind chill factor was at a minimum and with sufficient layers on I remained as warm as toast throughout. There was a cold mistly look to the park as I made my way up from Ham Gate, past Pembroke Lodge and towards Richmond Gate. Yet from that point onwards the Sun came out bathing the Park in a beautiful light for the rest of the day. Having passed Roehampton Gate on the outer loop I decided a hot drink was in order and stopped at the café by the Cycle Hire shop, that me and Helen missed on a previous occasion. A shame really that I didn’t miss it on this occasion as well, as £3.90 for a cup of coffee (that tasted of plastic cup and soap suds) with a slice of fruit cake is really taking the piss. What goes in must also come out however, and I was grateful to be able to make a watery contribution in the toilets at Robin Hood Gate.

Having reached Ham Gate this basically marked the end of my outer loop, however I was still on the non-elevated section that I had only re-discovered with Helen the last time out (I should have remembered it was there however from 17 years ago, training with Ranelagh Harriers). So having traversed from there onto Petersham Gate this was the part of the day of that involved the steepest climb up onto the elevated section coming out at Pembroke Lodge/Henry VIII’s mound. This was where the 9kg in the backpack started to do its work, and combined with some muddy and slippy grass meant I was breathing somewhat faster than normal by the time I reached the top.

Following the road by Richmond Gate before making a right turn by the sports fields and up towards White Lodge meant I was now most definitely on the inner loop of the walk. It was also apparent that the Sun was setting in earnest and the clock was moving past the1500 mark. Thus having turned right again at the the mobile café area and starting the long walk up towards the Ham Gate exit, the low sun was now directly in my eyes, so much so that anyone coming towards me was no more than a silhouette. At one point I couldn’t make out one shape in front of me at all other than it wasn’t a tree and it wasn’t moving. Finally using my hand to shade the Sun I discovered I was just about to walk into a young Deer, who also had two of his mates in close proximity. Now this wasn’t the first time I had seen the Deer today, as evidenced by the first photo here, however as you can see in the second photo this was really a good time of year to be making themselves less visible.

By the time I had reached the 65 bus stop at the end of Ham Gate Avenue, and my official end point it was exactly four hours after I had started. So given that I believe I walk at a good 20 minute mile pace these days, and allowing twenty minutes for my coffee break, as well as other general photographic sodding about, I make that a good 11 miles. Now the 9kg in the rucksack turned out not to be quite the physical challenge over this course that I thought it might be, yet having said that I wouldn’t like to go round it again with even 1kg more on board. So perhaps that weight is about right. Also for most of the day there was a real absence of people and especially cyclists (which I think had really bothered Helen last time out). Thus this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable walks I have ever done, on a perfect day in a perfect place. Certainly it was up there with my first walk this year from Seaford to Eastbourne, which I also did on my own (shit what am I saying). Anyway if there is a Heaven, today gave a little glimpse
of it.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Bayford Circular – (Hertfordshire) – 23/11/08 – 9 Miles approx – IVC

There is no such thing as bad weather, only insufficient clothing. Thus having been forewarned by the weathermen (and women too) that this was going to be a cold one, I was taking no chances. So starting from the bottom up that meant: two pairs of socks, trousers plus rainproof overtrousers, t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, long sleeved thick jumper, body warmer, and to start off the walk my Berghaus waterproof jacket. Just as well then as when we got off the train in Bayford, we were met by a mixture of hail and sleet (not nearly as nice as the dusting of snow I saw out of the kitchen window when I first got up). That said the rain soon disappeared along with the need for the rain jacket. Thereafter the sun came out, and I was comfortably warm as toast for the entire walk (the moral being don’t blame the weather for your lack of sufficient clothing).

So our seven man and one woman group started off from Bayford station with a slight illegal trespass through the grounds of some motoring organisation’s headquarters, before heading down some muddy bridleways. Now this was actually the first time I had done anything walking related with IVC since my involuntary curtailment of the Stour Valley weekend. So with two people from that weekend along on this walk, it was useful to be able to clear up any misunderstanding of why I couldn’t continue on that particular weekend. Anyway after a couple of miles of bridleways our leader brought to the group’s attention the historic/heritage moment he had obviously been saving up. Namely the old bit of track we had just turned onto was none other than Ermine Street. Yes that one, no really the very same. Oh alright then I hadn’t heard of it either, but apparently it is (and I have just checked this on Wikipedia) Click, a Roman road that ran from London to York (via Lincoln). So what can I say other than………. well let’s just say its no Hadrians Wall. Anyway we reached The Huntsman pub in Goose Green (no not the Falkland’s one silly) around 12.30 with our leader telling us we had covered five miles. This however was being ever so slightly optimistic, with it requiring a large leap of imagination and a strong tailwind to believe we had covered anything more than three.

After a certain amount of soul searching outside, and a half hearted undoing of laces, we decided to chance wearing our muddy boots inside, which in the event was not too much of problem as most of the pub was a stone floor apart from …… ahem cough, …….. well apart from the bit where we sitting down to eat. So anyway eyeing up the specials I decided to have the Cornish Pasty and chips, as did another member of our group. Thus having got his order in first (even though he saw it after me) he was told there was only one Pasty left. So after much sulking on my part, along the lines of: “I don’t mind really, but I did see it first” it was agreed that I could have it. Good choice as this was one of the best, and most reasonably priced pub meals I have had in a long time. As Gordon Ramsey would say ‘simple and rustic’, which was of course washed down with my usual pint of Strongbow. Despite the very full plate that had been set before me, that was obviously not going to be enough to keep me going so I was able to settle my stomach afterwards with a nice chocolate sponge pudding covered in cream. Meanwhile those in the pub eating around us appeared to get ever quieter and quieter, as our discussion of the merits or otherwise of bendy buses got ever louder and louder.

The second half of the walk which would take us back to Bayford station was far more interesting, challenging and longer. It was also far more muddy. Thus for the most part it consisted of a series of climbs through Hoddeson Park Wood. Although there was a considerable gloop factor involved, not exactly helped by going uphill this was more than compensated by the sun setting through the trees, and at one point an incredible light decending that one could only achieve in photographs by use of a filter. Eventually we were back on the bridleways and encountered two sets of two horses (+ riders) along the way. Then as we were a few hundred yards from Bayford station, the married section of our group decided they could make the 1616 train back to Kings X, whilst the rest of us stopped off for coffee in a nearby pub, and instead settled to catch the 1646.

So enough of all that, as I am sure what you all really want to know is how I am getting on with my boots ? Well lets just say last weeks decision to dispense with all foot inserts/insoles and heel supports has proved to be the right one, as they gave me no trouble whatsoever. It is also worth noting that as I started/finished the day with an overall additional 3 miles to Boston Manor underground my true mileage was actually 12 miles. Also wearing two pairs of socks (in the Winter anyway) seems to be a good idea for the additional protection they provide. In fact it might be time to start doing some long walks again carrying the additional weight in my rucksack, only with the boots back on instead of trainers. This of course being what I want to do, but we will see !

Monday, 17 November 2008

Osterley to Greenford Station (The Capital Ring) – (Middlesex) – 16/11/08 – 6.5 Miles – 0kg – Helen

After a four mile walk round the outskirts of Osterley Park with Helen a couple of days previous, I decided that my newish £11 boot insoles were in no condition to carry on with. Therefore I started this walk with just two gel type heel inserts I had bought for £6 two days back. However after a half a mile I decided they were also a problem, and continued on with just the bare insides of the boots. In the event this proved the best course of action with the boots not giving me any problems during the walk, although I have to qualify that by saying I wasn’t carrying any weight in my rucksack, and I also had on some new £12 walking sock’s (as opposed to my usual 12 socks for a £1 footwear from Primark). So you can now consider yourselves up to date on my shopping.
Anyway the Capital Ring, and if you recall (or click here ) me and Helen began this back in July with stage 6 from Wimbledon Park tube finishing some two thirds into stage 7 by coming off the Grand Union Canal onto the Great West Road. Well on this occasion we rejoined it at exactly the same place on the canal (which cut out the official joining link for stage 8 at Boston Manor tube). Our destination would be Greenford tube on the Central Line and the official end of stage 8.

This section of the Grand Union Canal is becoming oh so familiar to us these days, however once we turned off at the bottom Hanwell Lock (there are six) to go alongside the Brent River, we were in unexplored territory. Following the path we soon reached Hanwell Bridge (which dates back to 1762 apparently) but instead of going under it, the deepish mud forced us to cross on the upper road. However once we were in the field opposite, the Wharncliffe Viaduct came into view. This being an impressive structure that was a regular sight during my childhood, when I would be out walking my aunties’s and uncle’s dog when they lived in Hanwell. As we went under it we were greeted by two cyclists who we had seen earlier on the canal, and who said they were also doing the Capital Ring (funny I thought it was for walkers). Presently we ended up in Brent Lodge Park where Helen decided to explore her inner child at the small zoo. However with time cracking on and the light and weather not looking to improve I managed to keep her out of the adjoining maze. Once back en-route we snaked round the edge of the park as instructed by the ‘Walk London’ instructions, and nearly became a trophy killing for one of those bull terrier type canines, but fortunately the owner was responsible enough to keep the aggressive mutt on a lead.


The weather had been spitting on and off from the start of the walk but as we crossed a section of Brent Valley Golf course and then went along the edge of Bittens Field (a reclaimed landfill site) it was raining heavily enough that my waterproofs were now being kept permanently on. Helen for her part didn’t seem to have too much in the way of waterproofs but did have a rather fetching pink umbrella (as pictured). From there we crossed into Perivale Park turning right at the bowling green and ‘half left at the tennis courts. Then it was over the A40 via the footbridge, round the perimeter of another sports field and another couple of turnings, before going under two bridges (one for the railway and one for the tube) and reaching the stage 8 finishing point at Greenford Station. So overall a very nice mix of the urban, footpath’s and park life. Well maybe not so much park life as the weather seemed to be keeping people indoors (but obviously not hardy types like us).

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Somersall to Chander Hill circular – (Derbyshire) – 04/11/08 – 5 miles approx – Helen (Luther and Molly)

Squelch, this was a muddy one as Helen took me and Labradors Luther and Molly across assorted fields. This was terrain where you needed to make sure your boots were tightly laced, less the mud ended up sucking them completely off your feet. The drizzly day did nothing to help conditions underfoot either, but for once I was fully kitted in my Berghaus waterproofs, and remained relatively dry.

Highlights along the way included being shown the river which Helen used to play in as a little girl, her former tennis club, the primary school she used to attend, and the site of a former cotton mill where she may or may not have once worked. The lowlight was seeing Helen slip on some steps, but thankfully have the softest landing possible in the circumstances. None of this was of interest to the two dogs however, who had agendas of their own, especially Luther who appears to eat tree trunks for a hobby. After a long climb up a muddy hill and a slightly hairy walk along a maximum speed limit road (minus pavement), we were soon home. Once there the dogs got a thorough scrubbing and rub down, whilst I was left to fend for myself.

Now to change tack and return to my last post and walk on 26th October. I was very disappointed to discover at the start of this day, the result of carrying 9kg in my backpack that day, was that yet another small hole had been ground into the heel of one of my boot’s brand new foot inserts. Thus to wear these boots again (and for all I know any boots) whilst carrying such weight will mean another episode of freshly skinned foot, and another week of hobbling about. Also the two midweek 4 mile urban walks (not on this blog) that I did since then but only in trainers, and which I carried up to 15.5kg, have left me with an aching lower back and knees. Now the bottom line is this walking whilst carrying weight caper is a very good exercise. However one of the things I am having to accept with age, and that has been proved in the last few years with Running and Karate, is that any exercise that keeps leaving you injured is not exercise at all, but merely another way to damage ones ageing body.

Therefore the new policy is I am abandoning the 4 mile midweek urban walks (and upping the cycling mileage again), and I will only be carrying the 9kg maximum additional weight, when I am doing a double figure mileage walk on my own, and wearing trainers (which have proved they can cope with the extra weight). Given my current circumstances that is only likely to be once or twice a month.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Grand Union Canal – Out and Back – (Middlesex) – 26/10/08 – 10 Miles – 9kg – Myself

If I am doing a door to door ten miler along the Grand Union Canal that usually means I am trying to squeeze a walk in when I am tight for time (in this case trying to fit it around movies at the London Film Festival). However I had been looking forward to this all week, especially as last weeks shift at work left no time for any sort of exercise. Not only that though, but it is now over a month since I did a walk in the double mileage figures range (although plenty at less than half that distance). Now as such there isn’t much to report on the walk itself, other than it was constantly raining and was a very gloomy day. There was a small smattering of human and canine activity around Hanwell Locks, and a bit more minus the dogs at Southall. Beyond that the canal towpath was mainly deserted. Also for reasons I have yet to figure out, I decided to leave my spanking new £114 waterproof Berghaus jacket at home, and go instead with a £10 coat I bought some time ago at Primark. Suffice to say that said coat isn’t really waterproof and I did get progressively damper as the walk went on. On the other hand it is worth noting that although I did wear my £40 ‘waterproof’ Berghaus trousers, when I got back the bottom 6 inches of each of my inner trouser legs were sopping wet. So now onto my boots.

You see what this walk was really about was a chance to pick up on the long distance weight carrying idea, which crashed disasterously on my walk on the 10th September (the last time I tried it). Like then I was wearing my Peter Storm boots, only this time with new £11 Sorbothane inserts, and like then I was also carrying 9kg of water in my rucksack. Along with the new inserts a few other things should now be going in my favour. Namely in the last fortnight I have spent a full week wearing these boots (+ inserts) as I did my conservation bit for the National Trust. Also I have been doing a couple of Urban 4 mile walks per week (since the heels healed up) carrying up to 22kg in weight in my rucksack, only in that case wearing trainers. So by today my feet should be capable of carrying 9kg for 10 miles wearing boots, yes ? Well I have to tell you it was a close run thing, and that although my heels didn’t blister or have the skin ripped off, by the time I came to take the boots off that was what I was expecting to find, as both of my soles felt as if they were on fire. Thus once indoors in bare feet, it was a good twenty minutes before I could support my body weight on them.

So in summary the fitness benefit of carrying weight in my rucksack is for real but there is going to have be limitations as to how far I can take this idea. The way I now envisage it is: Walking with other people = no additional weight. Walking by myself on a double figure country walk wearing boots = 9kg additional weight. Walking by myself on a four mile urban blast wearing trainers (not featured on this blog) = 22kg additional weight. I hope you have all got that now.

Monday, 20 October 2008

4 x North Devon Walks – (Devon) – 12th-15th-16th-17th/10/08 – 3/5/2/2 miles approx each – 0kg – N/Trust Working Holiday + Helen.

No this wasn’t a walking holiday, but rather an initiative of Colin, the leader on the Exmoor based National Trust conservation holiday for Arlington Court. As such Colin, a real last Mohican, organised a short evening walk after every working day as well as a longer walk on our midweek day off. Cooking duties and general fatigue, meant that me and Helen didn’t make the walks on the Monday, Tuesday and Friday (although we did do a walk of our own on the Friday which is also included here).

LYNMOUTH COASTAL PATH – With only half a day of work behind us, everyone was still full of energy at this point and up for the daily extra curricular activity. Needless to say as the week went on, there was something of a drop out rate (myself and Helen included). This first jaunt however was a beautiful evening walk that started from the Exmoor basecamp, with our party making their way along the coastal path towards Lynmouth. At the highest point Helen took a couple of amazing group photos (given the low light) minus flash, before we all headed back via Beacon Tor in the direction of the fullish Moon. Apparently we passed the landward side of an Iron Age hillfort in the process, however as the light was virtually gone by the time we had reached the basecamp, I for one don’t recall seeing it.

WOODY BAY to HEDDONS MOUTH circular – The heavens had opened for the start of our day off, meaning that when we set off from the Woody Bay car park, waterproofs were definitely the order of the day. Thus the walk started off with a gentle climb towards the coastal edge where we discovered the roofless remains of some type of structure perched on the cliff edge. What followed from that point however was an absolute pig of a climb, that never seemed to come to an end. This took care of three of our party who wisely, given their age and/or weight levels, abandoned it at an early stage and returned to the start point for some refreshments. I on the other hand adopted my usual tactic of going at it as fast as I could (save for the etiquette of not overtaking the leader) so that I could have minimal painful climbing time during, and maximum recovery time at the end. It works for me so don’t knock it. Anyway with the rest of the party having caught up we then undertook a far more gentle gradient until we reached Selworthy Beacon, where it was proved once more that I am the only person with the sufficient expertise and specialised knowledge required, to be able to operate my camera. The views from this highest point were stunning if a little overcast; but not so overcast that we couldn’t see the Hinkley Point radiation factory glowing in the distance. However we were now in a descent mode which culminated in a scrumptious coffee and cake half hour, at a National Trust tearoom at Hunters Inn. The walk was then rounded off along Allerford Woods before returning to our start point at the car park at Woody Bay, and a rendevous with those we had left behind. As such the walk took up half of our day off, with the other half spent exploring Dunster Castle.

FORELAND POINT LIGHTHOUSE out and back – Well that was the plan anyway as our five man team set off from the basecamp, once more on the coastal path. Unlike the Sunday one though, this was going in the direction away from Lynmouth. However a combination of: the hard days work just undergone, the failing light, a real drop off in temperature, and the need to get in the showers before dinner, meant we were soon wimping out on our leader Colin. Thus it wasn’t too far along, probably at the point where we admired the badly sheared sheep (singular), that we left him to carry out this mission on his own, whilst we headed back the way we came. A big mug of Coffee before setting off had seemed a good idea, however by the time of our retreat it was getting really cold. All of which meant I had to skulk at the back of our now four man group until a suitable opportunity arose to contribute to the global rise in Sea levels.

ARLINGTON COURT CIRCULAR WALK via THE LAKE and WILDERNESS – A couple of hours between the half day end of our last day, and a promised cream tea, gave me and Helen the opportunity to explore the circular walk in the grounds of Arlington Court. As such it is advertised on the signpost as a 60 minute walk which turned out to be fairly accurate. We started off holding hands on this one but the excessive swinging action caused by the steep drop at the start, meant we gave that up as a bad idea before any limbs were dislodged. On our downward trek Helen was nearly stranguled by a Monkey tree, and on my prompting competed with a wooden bench as to who could do the best impression of Edvard Munch’s THE SCREAM. Not long after that we ended up at the lake, and read up on the history board the Chichester family’s failed aspiration to build a suspension bridge over it. Now as you know what goes down must come up, and to round the walk off we had to make a reasonably steep climb before ending up back at Arlington Court itself, via the site of some of our Rhodadendrum bashing. The afternoon was rounded off with a look round the house, the previously mentioned cream tea, and a short horse and carraige ride. Then it was back to basecamp before me and Helen wimped out once more on the last of the planned evening walks.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Richmond Park outer and inner loop – (Surrey) – 21/09/08 – 10.5 miles approx – 0kg - Helen

At last summer returned (for the weekend at least), which found Richmond Park packed with people enjoying what may be one of the last decent days this year. For my part having taken all of the skin off of my heels a mere ten days ago, I wasn’t taking any chances this time out. That meant no carrying excess weight (for this walk anyway), trainers instead of boots, and both heels protected with thick plasters.
The more I see of Richmond Park the more I like it, and on this occasion I decided we should go round in the opposite direction to how I would normally do it on a bike. However first things first, and having arrived at the park around 11.40 (bus diversions in Richmond), it wasn’t long before we decided to stop for lunch. This section from Richmond gate to Robin Hood gate turned out to be the busiest with a never ending procession of cyclists and joggers doing their thing (not to mention the kite-boarders in the distance).
Having done three quarters of the outer loop by chance we ended up on an unintended, and far superior to my normal, path running from Kingston to Richmond gate that doesn’t run alongside the road. Thus the outer loop was completed on this section at our start point at the Dysart Arms. Then for the second time we did the steep climb which takes one up to Petersham Lodge where we had a cup of tea/coffee only. From there it was round the inner loop, finally coming out at Ham gate, and catching an overcrowded 65 bus home.
For my money Richmond Park is the nearest London has to New York’s Central Park in terms of being a democratic open space. What’s that about Hyde Park you say ? Well the fact is that area wise Richmond Park could swallow Hyde Park (including the next door Kensington Gardens) at least six times over. Thus with a vital green lung like this in the heart of (West) London, you cannot expect it to be anything but popular. This therefore may be a problem for the walking purist, as may well be the gravel pathways that navigate a route for you through the flora and fauna. For my money though the multiple users furnish one with a sense of security and belonging, whilst the paths mean you can concentrate on your walking and not on consulting maps and a compass. Not for everyone sure, but as a walker you would have to fairly blinkered not to at least appreciate the beauty of the setting.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Wimbledon Park to Richmond – (Surrey) – 10/09/08 – 7.5 miles - 9kg – Myself

Okay I will start today's post with some consumer advice. Namely never buy anything from Millets, and never buy any boots made by Peter Storm. Still if you are a regular walker, you probably know that already. Why magazines such as 'Country Walking' or 'Trail' can't spell out simple tips like that I don't know. Actually whilst I am on the subject, don't buy Fuji Finepix cameras (specifically the F45-fd or F40-fd).
So anyway today's walk was intended to be a repeat of the one I did with Helen in July, from Wimbledon Park to Osterley. Regular readers will remember however that two walks back, my Peter Storm boots had started to disentegrate in their inner soles, causing massive blisters on the soles of my feet. Last time out, I wore trainers, however for today's jaunt I had filled in the holes with chewing gum and then put two new cushion inner soles in them. The result being an even larger chunk of skin taken off both heels, and the neccessity of having to curtail the walk at Richmond Station.
Whether this was an omen or not I don't know, but the headline on the front of The Metro on my journey to the start read something like: 'On your own in a park, then you are a pervert'. So without getting too much into the logic of that one, I decided I had better not hang around in Wimbledon Park for too long. I was there long enough to see across the boating lake, the builders hard at work at The All England Tennis Club. Yet even as I had got to the exit of Wimbledon Park, immediately I knew the boots were going to give me problems.

Anyway into Wimbledon Common past the Windmill, which seemed to be getting a makeover, and the boots were getting worse. Maybe by this time the pain had put a strange look on my face, as all the lone women in the common out walking their dogs, seemed to give me the impression they were avid Metro readers. Anyway by the time I had got to the bridge that crosses the A3 and takes one into Richmond Park, I was officially in agony, felt like I was walking on fire, and just wanted to quit. Unfortunately that is a point of the course where there are no quit options, so I had no choice but to make my way across Richmond Park. However having hobbled to the exit by Petersham, I decided not to quit out there, but instead carry on for another mile and a quarter to Richmond Station, which meant I would have at least completed the official Capital Ring section from Wimbledon Park to Richmond at seven and a half miles.
Ultimately I cannot say anything positive about this walk as it was just an exercise in living with excruciating pain. Needless to say when I finally got home and got the boots off, all the skin was off both heels as well, with the insoles a scrunched up bloody mess (so for another week I am going to be unable to walk). Now okay this problem has come about once I started carrying about 9kg of ballast in my backpack. However last time out my trainers had proved able to cope with that, on the same route that the Peter Storm boots first gave me this problem, therefore the problem is the boots. Shit, why don't I make more of a point of keeping receipts.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Grand Union Canal - Out and Back - (middlesex) - 02/09/08 - 10 Miles - 9kg - Helen

An exact repeat of my walk 7 days ago, only this time with Helen in tow. The idea being to get a quick door to door ten miler in, as we both had time constraints to contend with. As such the BBC tried to put us off the whole idea before we even started with a severe weather warning. In the event however we had to contend with about 10 minutes drizzle at the start and that was it. In fact by the time we were on the last couple of miles the Sun had even started to put in an appearance.

So with brollies down and waterproofs off it was like last week, out to the '88 mile marker to Braunston' and then back. Having made it to the 88 mile marker (just before Bulls Bridge and the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union canal), we decided to stop off for a cup of coffee at a local pub. Basically because one or both of us were in desperate need for either: the loo, or to sit down and rest for a few minutes. The pub itself being slightly seedy, but at £1.20 for two cups of coffee, who's complaining.

Helen had commented on one or two unsavoury types or hoodies we passed (or tried to avoid) on the way, and you will note from my write up last week that I myself had to pass through what to all accounts seemed like a drug deal in the offing. So suffice to say, that as you pass along the canal in the general Southall to Hayes region, it does pay to keep your eyes open and wits about you. Yet don't let that put you off as it is a pleasant and undemanding walk, and along the way we were able to admire (or look at anyway) the many barges and houseboats (in differing states of repair) that are moored along the canal, as well as the various locks that the more seaworthy ones have to navigate. Also during our travels we encountered a variety of: Dogs, Ducks, Swans and three Herons (or the same Heron viewed in three different locations).

Now regular readers to this column will remember that last week I set off with 9kg of additional ballast in my rucksack (aka 9 litres of water), for exercise purposes doncha know. Well the immediate result of that was severe blisters on both feet, two holes ground into the heels of my walking boots, and the neccessity of having to go to work on my bike all week. The jury is most definately out on the future of the walking boots (this was done in trainers). However the exercise value of carrying this additional weight is beyond doubt, as a rucksack that seems to start off as easy, becomes more of a challenge as each mile passes. The next challenge for me with this system therefore, is to tackle a route with a lot more gradients. However although last week I stated that I want to be carrying 15kg in total, that realistically is a longer term objective that can be staged up, as hopefully (isn't it always) my own body weight comes down.
The picture by the way is courtesy of Helen and her superior (to mine anyway) Fuji Finepix camera.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Grand Union Canal - Out and Back - (middlesex) - 25/08/08 - 10 Miles - 9kg - Myself

What I enjoy about walking, is the chance to get outdoors in the fresh air and explore new places, and certainly it fulfills that function for me. Yet what I also want (make that need) is the opportunity to exercise, and for me at least walking has always fallen short of this goal. What constitutes exercise is of course relative, so whereas for one person a 10 - 12 mile walk might be a considerable workout, for me it is no more than a pleasant activity. Frustrated with this fact, I have yet again this week contemplated how feasible it would be to make another attempt at a Running comeback. Yet last years attempt (over the most minimal of distances) was almost immediately aborted, as the pounding brought back all the old injuries which I assumed time had finally cleared up. So given that walking (along with cycling) remains my best injury free option, the question is how can I get more out of it fitness wise.

Now for reasons described in the last post, I turned down the opportunity to do an 18 miler on Saturday, yet surely given how much time such a distance requires, that cannot be the way ahead. Well today I tried something new (although a variation on an idea from last year) namely carrying weight over distance. So for todays experimental 10 miler, I carried an additional 9kg (or 9 litres of water in my rucksack). The original and future intention was/is to make that 15kg, but I felt it best to err on the safe side. The other great thing about carrying water as the bulk of your self imposed ballast, is that if it gets too much to cope with, you just tip it all out.

So on an overcast day that continually threatened rain (but never did) I set off from my home in Osterley reaching the 'Braunston 92 Miles' sign on the Grand Union canal in exactly 20 minutes. I took that to be a good mile, which turned out to be fairly accurate, as all the other mile markers were also coming up in just under 20 minutes. My ultimate objective being the 'Braunston 88 miles' marker, which would make me exactly 5 miles out, at which point I would turn 180 degrees and come straight back. As such it was quite a straightforward walk apart from one slightly hairy moment, when I had to negotiate my way through a gang of dodgy looking youths, who looked to be in the middle of some sort of drugs deal.

Anyway by the time I was at the 5 mile point, the weight of the rucksack which had already raised my sweat level above normal, was starting to take its toll as unusually for me, I had developed two enormously painful blisters on the bottom of my heels. Not only that but my fingers had all turned white and were slightly swollen. Thus the blisters were a real problem on the way back but not the weight of the rucksack itself, which makes me feel I can easily cope with the additional 6kg's next time out.

As such I wasn't in any way out of breath at the end of the walk (although given some decent gradients I am sure that would be a different story), but was certainly aware that the distance had been far more of a workout than I would normally have expected. I think therefore that this is the way to go in future for all my walks, as the potential to add weight is unlimited, whilst hoping the fitness benefits are as well. All I can say is watch this space.

Finally todays 10 mile blast was a good antidote to what was in effect a very disappointing and unfulfilling weekend.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Stour Valley Circular – (Suffolk) – 23/08/08 – 10 miles approx – M&M IVC.

Getting the negatives out of the way first, this walk was meant to be the first of two (or three), on the IVC M&M Stour Valley walking weekend. However my total dissatisfaction with the sleeping arrangements (i.e. decibel blasting snoring) meant I wasn’t prepared to do a second night of total sleep deprivation. Therefore it turned out to be my only walk of the weekend. This of course being the sort of risk you run with cheap dorm accommodation (and I have done my fair share of it encountering similar, but not as extreme, problems with the National trust). Also it would explain why some people who have done these weekends before, choose to stay in B&B’s.

So Saturday morning found a party of ten of us (2 guys + 8 ladies) doing the smaller ten mile walk (my intention was to do the other group’s 18 miler, but I had to factor in the time for me to get back to London that evening, as well as not wanting to spend a day with the two people who had kept me awake all night). Thus a party of three cars set out to our start point, which was Shotley village hall. The route being a circular one which for the top and bottom sides of the squarish circle (work with me on this) would keep us within sight of either the River Stour or the River Orwell as they formed a bay around Stotley itself at the furthest point.

The real bonus of the day for me was that Art’s Group Sea Pea (whom I have known for about ten years, but haven’t seen for several), was along for the proceedings. Now she is someone who is always good company and whom you can pick up with immediately whatever the time gap between last meeting’s. Thus throughout the walk whenever my spirits were starting to flag due to the downer of the whole weekend sleeping situation, I would seek her out to have a few laughs with.

The early part of the walk was spent negotiating nettles and wheat (waiting for harvest) along the edge of first Cockle Creek and then Waterhouse Creek. Thus after about an hour we stopped on the beach cum mud flats to have a tea break. Admiring the various yachts floating by, we eventually came to the conclusion that some sort of race was taking place, especially as one yacht was nearly overturned due to the proximity of a competitor. However not long after we had to turn inland from the land locked side of the squarish circle (remember) leaving the River Stour behind.

Our next teabreak stop was just outside a small village church in Harkstead, which some of our number went to explore. The rest of us who were hanging around outside were contemplating a field which we were meant to cross next, which had a ‘beware of the bull’ sign on it. However everyone seemed in broad agreement that this was just a field of black bullocks, who admittedly were forming a ‘do not cross line’ in our direction. However just as we were moments from climbing into the field, a very largish black bull appeared from behind the group, sending in our direction the hardest of hard stares. Therefore there was no dissension in the ranks when it was decided to bypass that field by walking along the road instead. Further down the road we came across our second combine harvester of the day, collecting up the Weetabix. In fact this seemed to be a theme of the day, as wherever we went we came across wheat waiting to be harvested, in the process of being harvested, or bundled up having been harvested.

By the time we came to the River Orwell on the top of my squarish circle we decided it was time we thought about eating our sarnies (or smoky bacon crisps in my case). There we were able to watch another procession of yachts sailing round the bay in the opposite direction (obviously the race stragglers from the ones we saw earlier). Upon moving off there was some debate/confusion as to what constituted a wooden building and Oak tree, for the right turn as described by the guide. However we bypassed the first set up that fitted that description, and went successfully with the next set instead. Thus one more stop off, for the non-religious types who nonetheless possess a great interest in looking at the insides of churches, and we were virtually back at our start point (with cars parked) of Shotley village hall.

Back at the basecamp we tucked into some Jamica Ginger or fruit cake + tea/coffee, before I had the downer of parting company with everyone, by virtue of being driven back to Manningtree station. To my immense delight (No:1) I ended up paying £20 from the machine for a single ticket back to London, when I then immediately discovered on the platform that my Saver Return was also valid for that day as well (this is what sleep deprivation will do for you). To my immense delight (No:2) I got to share the train with a load of (near London based ?) Ipswich and Wolves fans coming back from the football.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Seaford to Eastbourne – (East Sussex) – 03/08/08 – 13 miles approx – IVC.

Unlike my rehearsal along this route two and a bit weeks back, it was clear from the off that the weather this time was going to be a lot more unpredictable. Anyway given that this had been forecast, and that the cost and time required to get to Seaford is hardly a positive factor, a turn out of ten people for the first walk I have led for IVC was more than satisfactory. I had sent an email around the group earlier in the week warning people that this was a very demanding route, and no doubt that had (rightly) succeeded in putting some people off. However it soon became clear that this had also acted as a marketing commercial to others who were looking to test themselves.

So having made our way onto the cliffs at Seaford, it became apparent how strong the wind actually was, and I for one alternated between trying to lean sideways against it, and taking my hat off (metaphorically speaking, as a real one would have blown off) to the golfers putting away a few hundred yards to our left. However whist there were a few spots of rain in the air, I for one was still kitted out in shorts (albeit with a bodywarmer on upstairs). Everyone was going along at a fair pace though, especially as for this section before lunch I kept stoppages to a minimum. Thus by the time we had made our way inland from the beach at Cuckmere Haven, I sensed one or two people felt this was all fairly easy fare, even if I did point out we had only come a third of the way, and the real challenges were still to come.

So three of us decided to have lunch at the Golden Galleon, with two others furtively having their sandwiches in the garden, meanwhile everyone else wandered down the road to the Exceat tea rooms by the visitor centre of the same name. Unfortunately for me the pub had one of those menus which I didn’t really fancy anything from, so I resorted to what is my usual fail-safe, namely have the chicken (or Hunter Chicken as it was called). What ended up in front of me tasted like Lamb, and was smothered in some sweet, tangy and disgusting sauce. While I lamented the fact that Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares series had come to an end (perhaps this place can make the next one) I took some comfort in the fact that the Seven Sisters section would be enough to burn the lump out of my stomach before I chucked it up instead. So with just two of us left in the pub, and my (normal for IVC) lunch hour deadline closing in fast, we set off to round up the others, only to find everyone still settled into the Exceat tea room now ordering coffee’s. So by the time they had rolled out of that, lunch had been expanded to an hour and twenty minutes (a most definate rebellion in the ranks).

As we regrouped by the bus stop opposite, the rain had started to come down steadily, and en masse we all put our waterproofs on, which was guaranteed to dehydrate one and all on the hardest section ahead, going over the Seven Sisters. However having made our way back towards the sea, along the river and back up onto the cliffs, I decided I would have my revenge over the lunchtime extension. The fact is I am far fitter and faster than anyone else who had come along on the day. Therefore I made a point of shooting on off ahead at speed, up two of the Sisters at a time, and then waiting at the top for everyone to catch up. Thus as soon as the last one was back level, I would cheerfully ask “everyone feeling fit” ? and then shoot off again before waiting for an answer. Whilst that was a bit naughty putting everyone under pressure on the hardest section, especially given that I was the leader, I can’t pretend that the extended lunch break hadn’t slightly pissed me off. Thus by the time we reached Birling Gap I was told (with some justification this time) that everyone was having a half hour tea break.

So following what was for a change a really enjoyable cup of coffee (well at least compared to the dishwater I bought earlier at Victoria station), we set off again on the long climb up to Beachy Head. For my part I was feeling more confident about the weather with the wind having dropped, and I resorted to coming out of my waterproof gear again. Now the thing is I think what hits people hard on this walk, is not the section over the Seven Sisters as people rise to the challenge. However having completed that, it starts to become both mentally and physically draining when they realise that there is still another two and a bit mile climb up to Beachy Head, and then a long and not very exciting three mile descent down to Eastbourne. One person who had told me earlier in the day, how he was taking up walking to lose weight and wanted to be physically wrecked at the end of all of his walk’s, was by this point constantly asking whether each new climb was now the last one.

A fortnight or so back I had thundered through this section, however I had long lost any sense of urgency, especially as we all agreed that the 1855 train from Eastbourne was going to be the realistic option. So on the climb’s up towards Beachy Head we stopped and looked at the Belle Tout lighthouse that had been moved 55 feet inland in 1999 due to nearby coastal erosion. Also we wondered at the some newish, and some wilted, bunches of flowers that had been pinned to the fence. Surely people hadn’t ……….. ? Well by the time we noticed a few small crosses by the edge, as well as a gap in the fence that one could only describe as a diving platform, it was clear people had…….., that is had been using this spot to take the easy (or hard) way out.

So having made it to the car park at Beachy Head with the remainder of our group (one person having taken the bus drop out option at Birling Gap) not yet feeling the need to go over the cliff themselves, everyone seemed relieved when my fortnight prior recce, revealed that there were public toilet facilities available for one and all in the car park. Just as well given the effect running water has on most of us, as from this point the heavens literally opened. It didn’t matter how expensive your waterproof gear was (not very expensive in my case) you were going to get soaked. All of which meant that the three mile descent down into Eastbourne put something of a dampener on what was an otherwise good day. Thus by the time we made it into the station, to a man and woman everyone had both mentally and physically had enough, and been soaked through into the bargain.

So overall a good day, although my walk along this route two weeks prior in nicer weather and unburdened by the responsibilities of leadership, was the more enjoyable.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Wimbledon Park to Osterley – (Surrey) – 26/07/08 – 11 miles approx – Helen

This particular walk is part of the ‘Capital Ring’ and is an exact repeat of the route I did with the ‘Walk London’ people on 31st May. So given the fact that I had done this one less than two months before, had a print out of directions to hand, as well as any number of handily placed ‘Capital Ring’ signs to guide me, I shouldn’t have expected to have too many difficulties – correct ? Okay well this is me we are talking about, but fortunately help was on hand in the form of the lovely Helen, who was able to explain what things such as ‘triangular wooded clearings’ and ‘right fork’ actually meant. If that wasn’t bad enough her knack of smugly spotting route signs at a hundred paces, whilst I was still contemplating the directions and wondering whether I had suddenly caught dyslexia was a tad disconcerting to say the least.

So suffice to say no sooner had I started us off in Wimbledon Park then I immediately lost the plot and actually had to make an unplanned diversion in order to rendevous with the boating lake. However having found a bench for us to scoff our provisions I was quickly able to regroup, and in no time at all I had located the exit from the park.

Next up was Wimbledon Common and the famous Windmill. Things were going well here direction wise, until I insisted I knew what a triangular clearing looked like, and rapidly had to backtrack when it became apparent that I didn’t. However with my guide patiently putting me back on the right road, it was soon time to cross the road (namely the footbridge over the A3) and enter Richmond Park via Robin Hood Gate. By this time the temperature was starting to pick up, and after cutting across the park, and climbing our first gentle gradient alongside Spankers Hill Wood, it was time to sit down and stare at a family who had brought a table, radio cassette, and any number of other modern essentials with them, for their outdoor picnic experience. We eventually moved on passing through the two Pen Ponds and up another gradient (where this picture of Helen was taken).

Our time at Richmond Park was rapidly drawing to a close however, but not before I had actually managed to remember where King Henry VIII’s mound was, and impress Helen (Hmmm ?) with the hole in the bush telescopic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a mere ten miles distant. So leaving by the Dysart Arms PH exit we crossed Petersham Meadows where I believe Helen commented on the insect noise coming from the grass. However I had long since stopped listening to her by that point as I assumed it was just another one of her sad pleas to be fed again. Yet needs must and I decided I had to do something to jivvy her along, and therefore condescended to buy her a Cornetto and allow her a few minutes break by Richmond Bridge in order to eat it. I know I am too soft, but it was a hot day.

From this point the walk became far less picturesque, and having crossed Twickenham footbridge, we found ourselves being pushed further away from the Thames and out onto the main road’s round Isleworth. After cutting through the unimpressive Syon Park, and negotiating a pedestrian crossing in Brentford, we came down some steps to the very start point of the Grand Union Canal, and had a nice time discussing what would be the most suitable type of barge/riverboat for our needs. However we were only on the Grand Union a short time, before we had to leave the Capital Ring to go and do whatever it does, and climb up onto the Great West Road modernist dystopia, and then get home for some coffee and cake.

A nice day, a nicer walk, and the nicest of company.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Seaford to Eastbourne – (East Sussex) – 16/07/08 – 13 miles approx – myself.

Having already filled up on my ‘Oats So Simple’ for breakfast (porridge for those who haven’t yet tried it), I was pleased to find a man outside Osterley tube station handing out bananas. Obviously he had come along specially to see that I was fully carbo loaded for the day’s exertions (alright then some lackey doing a promo for a health club). So that was a good start anyway, which soon went downhill on the train out from Victoria, due to some tiresome woman dumping two of her three brat kids onto the seat beside me (yes I know what she wanted me to do, but sorry if they are going to bring a curfew in for kids, then there shouldn’t be a lower age limit to it). Whilst that irritation did eventually resolve itself, I then found myself getting more and more concerned with the very threatening black clouds out of the window. In the event I needn’t have worried as the moment I stepped off the train at Seaford, the day turned into a lovely sunny 70 degree one.

Now this walk was straight out of ‘Time Out Country Walks Volume 2’, and the reason for doing it on my own midweek, was in order to check it out before leading the IVC group on it in a couple of weeks. Now I must say at this point that I found the book very accurate (once I got the hang of what they called 60 metres), and didn’t go wrong at any point. However I do have to temper that with the reality, that in the main this walk can be done easily without much guidance, if you can remember to keep the Sea to your right.

That is not to say everything went according to plan. Thus no sooner had I got out of the station and onto the cliff face, then I had to have an encounter with the village idiot. Alright that might be a bit harsh, as basically the guy was a retired fireman walking his two dogs who wanted to have a chat, and the thing is I am always happy to exchange a few friendly words with anyone. However this guy just went on and on and on and on about his life of sporting achievements on his bike and on his feet. The problem with boring twits like this you see is that they are not interested in having a two way conversation, but instead just want to download their entire life story on you. All I wanted was for him to draw breath long enough for me to say: “I have to go now”, but on and on he went. I kid you not he must have kept me there a good half hour. Fortunately and eventually some OAP’s distracted him and his dogs long enough for me to say “I have got to be going now” whilst I was literally moments away from having my entire life force bored out of me.

Anyway shot of him I was able to carry on and it wasn’t long before the (deceptively close) Seven Sisters came in sight. However once one had come down to beach level at Cuckmere Haven, the route ahead was barred by the Cuckmere River, necessitating a long inland diversion, crossing the river at the Exceat bridge and onto one of the suggested lunch stops at the Exceat farmhouse tearoom. This being around 4 miles and approximately a third of the walk. However having looked in there hoping to grab a quick dog roll or something, I found it full of OAP’s sitting at quaint little tables, whilst some sort of school party milled around at some sort of visitors centre a few yards away. I therefore decided there and then, that lunch was for wimps.

So having found my way back onto the South Downs Way cliff edge, this was where the walk and the Seven Sisters began in earnest. Thus no sooner had you got to top of one climb and in oxygen debt, you were then faced with a steep descent, and the opportunity to do it all over again on the next climb. This middle third of the walk being harder than the other two thirds put together. However seven notches on my rucksack later, and I was at the near 8 mile point of the Birling Gap hotel, where I decided I had earned a pint of Strongbow and a packet of crisps. Yet even then another school party of kids came out of nowhere, to harrass my sensibilities. What was worse, was that they were foreign kids as well.

So off I went again on the last and longest third of the walk. Whilst the section that took me on to Beachy Head (and another Ice Cream) was still rather up and down, it did not quite have the severity of the middle section, and from that point on it was an overall downward trajectory towards Eastbourne. Speaking of which, Eastbourne has a very underwhelming beach and promenade I must say (or maybe I was just getting tired), and the walk itself finished in a disappointing near mile trek through the local shopping area, in order to get to the station.

That quibble aside it was an excellent walk (though not one for a total beginner) and an excellent sunny day as well. What impressed me as much as anything, was the fact that there was public toilet facilities at miles: 0, 4, 8, and 10, as well as what you could find in the various cafes/pubs in Eastbourne (if you plan to lead a walk you need to know these things).