Thursday, 29 January 2009

Baslow (circular) – (White) Peak District – Derbyshire – 27/01/09 – 10 miles approx – Helen, Luther and Molly.

This particular walk was planned and conceived by Helen, courtesy of her OS map, and began (and of course finished) at a car park in Baslow town centre. Also along for proceedings were Lab dogs Luther and Molly.

Once away from the traffic we started up a lane with a steepish climb, where having got so far up, it was decided that we really needed to have taken a stile on our left, that we had just passed. Thus having called the dogs back, they shot past us and headed straight for the aforementioned stile, as if to say “we wondered what you were doing”. As we carried on there was some impressive views of the valley below, with Helen at one point showing me a great big E and a great big R in corresponding fields far away in the distance. Now of course these can be open to any number of interpretations, but Helen seemed to think they were connected to some sort of Royal anniversary, so for want of a better explanation, I deferred to her local knowledge.

Not much further on though and we had hit a bit of a problem, with a stepladder that Luther couldn’t climb, combined with a gate he couldn’t get under. After a certain amount of chin scratching, I decided to lift the gate a couple of inches, and we were once more on our way. So cock a hoop were the dogs at this point, that it wasn’t long before they had found an elderly walker having a rest, and decided to help him share his sandwiches. Unfortunately he didn’t come across as the sharing type, so it was decided to stop for a tea break of our own, well away from him, at the Wellington Monument. Well I’m sure I don’t know what a monument to Wellington is doing up there in the middle of nowhere (a Celtic cross, not a stature by the way), but apparently there is a Nelson monument nearby as well (someone forgot to tell the tourists though). Far more interesting/unusual though was the Eagle Stone Rock a short distance away (see photo). This seemed peculiarly out of place in a such a flat and barren part of the landscape, and actually resembled some sort of unfinished stone like effort, that had come off a gigantic potters wheel. My own theory however is that it is actually a UFO, that is using a type of stone based camouflage. Unfortunately such theories are notoriously hard to prove and given that I have yet to fully formulate this one, we will leave it for now.

As we made our way along the rock and boulder strewn Baslow edge, Curbar Edge and Froggatt Edge, the weather began to slightly deteriorate. Thus not only were the views below becoming ever more misted, but the sudden chill forced me to put on my gloves and woolly hat. It was decided therefore to find a rock and have a quickie lunch consisting of: a ham and chicken cob (that’s a roll to everyone outside Derbyshire), crisps, coffee and biscuit. However it was also time we were going downwards before the mist/clouds came up/down to meet us, and with Helens expert map reading it wasn’t long before we had picked up the river Derwent, via Hay Wood, to retrace our way back to Baslow. This by virtue of skirting through my old stomping grounds at Grindleford. By this time however it had started to rain in a too heavy to go without waterproofs, but too light to wear them either sort of way. More irritating however was the grippy/slippy mud we were having to trudge along. On one side of us on this muddy trail ran the Derwent, and on the other was the back gardens of houses you probably couldn’t afford even if you won the lottery.

Having briefly left the riverbank, we decided to have our final tea break at the far end of a pub car park, sitting in the rain. Unfortunately my flask had run out of hot water at this point and I had to make do with my last biscuit. From there it was more mud, more river, some farmland and a few landmarks personal to Helen, before we found our way onto the road heading back to the car park in Baslow, via Bubnell. After a long day of running around both doggies seemed subdued and worn for the rest of the evening, Molly especially who was good enough to avoid being car sick, until she had actually got home and out of the car.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Harpenden (circular) – (Hertfordshire) – 18/01/09 – 8 miles approx – 9kg – IVC.

These days a trip for me to St. Pancras station, means a trip to visit Helen. Therefore I had to remind myself not to hop onto the East Midlands Sheffield train, but instead get the First Capital Connect one to Flitwick (getting off of course at Harpenden). Given that they run at four an hour on that line, I even decided to get on the one fifteen minutes in front of everyone else, purely for no other reason than I could. Anyway today was something of a first for me, as it was the first time I have dared to come on one of these IVC walks with a weighted rucksack. I am sufficiently confident now that I am not going to take the skin off my feet (despite that large blister on the 22nd December). That said for the entire day my right calf muscle was grumbling away, and gave the impression that it did have the potential to pull at a moments notice. This is a very old running injury, which immediately revisited itself on me during my abortive 3 week running comeback in 2007. However I have noticed in the last few weeks of my ‘rucksack walking’ that it has made its presence felt again, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it does pull at some stage (as in the past, that means sitting it out for the three weeks or so it takes to get better), but we shall see.

Now this was not a particularly long walk consisiting of four miles to the pub and then four miles back to the station by a slightly different route. Although the weather felt more chilly than I had dressed for at the start, once all twelve of us were on the move, things warmed up nicely. Shortly before lunch we made our way along the ‘Nickey Line’ for a short distance, which is a former railway line that linked Harpenden, Redbourn and Hemel Hempstead. Lunch itself was in a fairly quiet pub where you could have anything you wanted to eat, provided it was a roast dinner. I opted for the roast chicken, which looked very similar to other people’s roast lamb and roast beef, not least because they were all covered with the same unappetising gravy. The chocolate gateau afterwards was a bit more like it, but caused me some confusion when it came with five grapes. Once off again we passed Redbournbury watermill, and finished the walk relatively early in the afternoon, after passing through Harpenden Common.

There was a moment early on in the walk when we were making our way across some rolling farmland, where I had a sharp intake of breath and thought to myself that it is views like this that really lift the spirits and make country walking so enjoyable. Unfortunately that was easily as good as it got, as most of this walk consisted of walking along lanes where the countryside always seemed to be on the other side of the hedgerow. That said it was fresh air all the same, and a chance to get out of the city. However as a comparison it was nowhere near as interesting or enjoyable as the IVC walk the previous weekend. Now that was a walk ………… !

Monday, 12 January 2009

Wimbledon Park to Boston Manor – (Surrey) – 11/01/09 – 11.5 miles approx – IVC + Helen.

The frost strewn Winter Wonderland of the previous day, which both me and Helen had walked four miles in, had been reel pwetty (sic). It had also been bloody cold, so it was a relief that this walk was taking place in temperatures quite a few degrees warmer and with a fair amount of Sunlight. Thus given that I was actually leading this one (with only four attempts at the course over the previous nine months to get it right) the omens were looking good.

The plan was for me and Helen to get to Wimbledon Park early enough for a cup of coffee in one of the local cafes. Thus when we spotted a female opposite us on the tube in full walking apparel, we pretended not to notice, lest we be stuck with her for twenty minutes prior to the meeting time. Thus after ordering our coffee in the café, said female and one of the IVC’s more regular walkers also turned out to have the same idea, and in due course joined us in the cafe. This was fine only for the more regular member to think it was a good idea to start ordering toast and marmalade a mere five minutes before the off. Thus having left them to meet/greet everyone else at the tube station, a group of some 15+ to be nearly sort of exact, we then found ourselves all waiting for her to finish her late breakfast.

Anyway the start was the usual unexciting plod through Wimbledon Park and the back roads, before we made it to the real start at Wimbledon Common. The person who the previous week had warned me that the café by the Windmill, would be chocker with runners on a Sunday morning, turned out to be spot on, with them all queuing out the door. However some of our group did manage to find/use some public toilets at that location which I had missed on my previous toilet inventory for the walk. Meanwhile I was clutching tightly my Walk London print out for the route, lest I messed up anything, and which Helen had correctly referred to as my security blanket. Over the A3 and into Richmond Park found our second (official) or third (unofficial) toilet stop of the day at Robin Hood Gate. Thus always wanting to conform and be part of a group, I decided it was time I had a turn at this game as well; on the other hand it had been a very large mug of coffee at the café.

So with me and another regular setting the pace, we found ourselves way out in front and plonked ourselves on a handy bench at the top of the hill by Spankers Hill Wood. So having had a nice break myself, I for one expected everyone else to keep moving once they had caught up. However despite being a mere twenty minutes from lunch, everyone else decided this was a good time to plonk down, and in the event took a certain amount of shifting to get on the move again. However once we had gone past Pen Ponds and round the Isabella plantation, we reached our lunch stop at Pembroke Lodge. Given that the lunch location was the one aspect prior to the walk that had caused me the most grief, it turned out to be a reasonable choice, with plenty of seating available (outside !). Anyway I had leek and potato soup (+ bread and butter), and a bottle of strongbow (Helen for her part having a very strange looking baked potato). I then decided to head off back to the continuation spot of the walk, in order to get moving again. Thus having parted with one of our group before lunch at this spot, the second person who had planned to leave us here (after lunch) also made her goodbyes. Waiting for other certain members to finish their extended lunch break’s however was a tad wearisome, and was in the main the same people who did this on the other walk that I led (but who don’t appear to do this on anyone elses).

Anyway we soon reached the Thames towpath where we availed ourselves of the final toilet facility of the day (once the female members of the group worked out that their door was likely to be on the other side to where the men’s door was). By this time the light had noticeably darkened and started to give me my first little concern about how much light would still be around for the final leg of the walk (that said there still seemed to be plenty of time left). A more immediate concern though was that the water level of the Thames was higher than I had ever seen it at this location and was encroaching onto the footpath. Thus having reached a point where it was half way up the tire of a cyclist’s bike, there was no other option but to make a short diversion into Richmond town centre and outflank it. This turned out to be a good time to point those who were dropping out at this point in the direction of the station, before the rest of us rejoined the towpath. There followed a brief stop at the meridian line at The Old Deer Park, before we crossed Twickenham footbridge and headed off in the direction of Syon Park.

On my previous walk on this route back on the 22nd December, I decided a cut off time for reaching the underpass on the Gt West Road via the Grand Union canal should be circa 4.00pm, if we wanted enough light to continue along the canal to Boston Manor, rather than walking along the road. Thus having entered Syon Park at about 3.35pm I was convinced that we had time to spare. However from this point on everyone, save for Helen and our new member who we had first seen on the tube, was just getting slower and slower. So when I reached my artificial cut off point it was 3.59pm. However despite the fact that it was seriously gloomy, a fact proved by being dazzled twice by oncoming cyclist’s front lights, it was by no means impossible, and everyone made it to Boston Manor by about 4.30pm. Here we said our goodbyes before me and Helen walked another mile and a half home, only this time along the road.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Hampton Court to (Richmond) Osterley – (Surrey) – 01/01/09 – 11 miles approx – IVC.

I started the day in a fairly relaxed frame of mind travel-wise, despite having to rely on a bank holiday bus service to get to the meeting point at Hampton Court Station. After all I reasoned, if I turned up late I could just catch everyone up on the Thames towpath. In the event it was lucky I arrived in good time, as once our nine man group passed the ice rink at Hampton Court, they turned off the towpath, and headed into Hampton Court Park.
Now as we all know King Henry VIII liked his deer and just like his other favourite parks (Richmond and Bushey) this was full of them. Also hanging around a long straight stretch of water known as ‘The Long Water’ there was a considerable gathering of Swans, Ducks and Canadian Geese (in essence the sort of animal New Year parade that normally only Disney can put on). Once out of the park however we were back on the Thames towpath and heading towards Kingston Bridge, where there was an abundance of even more Swans and other bird life/noise. Our main concern at this point however was lunch, but having crossed Kingston Bridge we found the Youngs pub there was still 45 minutes from opening. There followed a series of pointless discussions and minor changes of direction as various people suggested places that were bound to be open on the bank holiday. Eventually though our leader decided to lead from the front, and we all headed up onto the second floor of Bentalls shopping mall, and their instore restaurant. Given that I usually feel ripped off whenever I eat out these days, £7.50 for a twelve inch Ham and Mushroom pizza was almost reasonable value (and yes I ate it all).

Once back on the towpath and heading towards the group’s projected finish point in Richmond, the crowds all seemingly heading in our direction got more and more dense (haven’t people got anything better to do on their bank holiday ?). What was by this time causing me a problem was the number of stones on the towpath, all of which I seemed to be feeling through my boot on my currently oversensitive right foot. What was also causing me a problem was the slow pace everyone was now walking at. Thus everytime we came up behind some couple out walking their toddlers, instead of going round them (or perhaps pushing them in the river) the group would just slow down to their pace. This wasn’t a problem for everyone else who was ending the walk in Richmond, but as I was walking an additional three and half miles to Osterley I was starting to become concerned at the failing light. By three o clock we still had only got as far as Ham house, at which point there was another stoppage whilst the map was consulted ? By three fifteen however, we had finally made Richmond Bridge and a tea shop, at which point I was able to split from the group, and really put the hammer down on the usual route home via Syon Park and The Grand Union canal. I was certainly going at a good pace, even if I say so myself as I came off the canal at Osterley at exactly four o clock, with perhaps fifteen minutes of partial light to spare.

The pace of the group today slightly concerns me for my walk next week, lest we don’t have enough daylight to finish it. Also of concern is that one of our group told me that my new projected lunch stop for next week, the Windmill Tearooms, is always packed out with runners on Sunday mornings after 11.00am. Oh well, watch this space.