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.