Monday, 28 July 2014

Abbey excitement

Saturday 26 July

Our destination for tonight was Wisques, to stay in the Abbey Notre Dame, a living Abbey for Benedictine Nuns.  I had made contact with a very enthusiastic nun from the Abbey ( Sister Lucy ) who was in charge of co-ordinating guests who stay in the Abbey grounds.  We were invited to have dinner with the nuns also.

We set out at just after 9 am, after spending 30 mins getting pine tree sap drops off our tent with     ‘ wet ones’.  The outer tent is now very sanitised, with a neutral PH balance.  I had wondered the evening before why my fingers were sticking to one another when I could see no goo but could certainly feel it.

The sky was cloudy - hoorah !  and for the majority of the time that we walked this day it was relatively cool.  Such a relief after the blistering days of recent.  After several meeting points, and main road fly-overs or unders we arrived at Wisques mid afternoon.  There was no cafe or pub in sight so we went straight to the Abbey hoping that we were not arriving too early.  

The Abbey was a very impressive sight, a beautiful and very large building.  We approached the main entrance where 2 nuns were chatting in the doorway and I introduced myself.  Instant recognition shone from Sister Lucy who welcomed us very warmly.  We were taken to the very lovely house close to the Abbey where guests stay ( Hotellerie Saint Charles ).  There were 8 guest rooms in the house, with a lovely old kitchen, library / sitting room and even 2 chapels in the cellar ( which Tony discovered whilst nosy parkering behind closed doors - it had to be done in a place like this ! ).

There were other guests staying in the house, but we were the only walkers.  We spent the afternoon hours before tea ‘ sorting stuff’, showering, snoozing and I even mended the 3rd puncture on the bike all by myself.

Bike events

Fell off x 1 in UK ( practically on 1st day - documented in early blog )
Fell off x 1 in France ( when I was moving further to the right of the road towards grassy bank to give a bin lorry more room - foot down with my right leg is not my natural way, so I lost balance and fell onto grassy bank ).
Punctures x 3 all in less than a week ! 

We had our evening meal in the Abbey with the other guest house guests in what was described as ‘ the small dining room’.  We entered the abbey through the impressive stone doorway, were led up the very clean stone steps into a grand foyer area, and turned left down a mullion windowed corridor into one of the rooms along it. A table was set for 8.  One nun had cooked for us and the other was serving.  It was simple fare, but tasty and nourishing ( vegetable soup followed by potatoes, fried courgettes and lovely cheesy omelette - I think that this was as a result of me having informed Sister Lucy that Tony is a veggie, so all guests got what Tony could eat ).  We had cheese for afters followed by a fruit puree compote.  Oh, and water and wine were both served.  There was an informal atmosphere with much chit chat.  Tony and I were fortunate in that there was a lady who spoke very good English amongst the group, so she ‘brought us into the fold’ .

After dinner, we wanted to explore the whole Abbey complex but alas would not be allowed.  We did, however, find the Abbey chapel and sat for a while listening to some of the nuns singing one of their services - very atmospheric.  The rest of the evening ( which had turned sunny by the way ) was spent outside reading and typing with the valley view ahead of us from where we had arrived earlier in the afternoon.  We felt very chilled, and perhaps a little pensive, and dare I say, humbled and thankful…

Distance - 12 miles
Total since Helmsley - 539.75 miles

100 % tarmac for Rachel

Friday 25 July

Today was to be a relatively short walk compared to most done up to now, so when the alarm went off at 6.50 am I snoozed it.  Over half an hour later we woke feeling very naughty that it was way past the time that we normally get out of bed, but reminded ourselves that we had the luxury of less miles to cover today.  

I cycled to the local Boulangerie to collect our Pain au Chocolat ( elevenses ) and some Pain au Cereal ( with cheese for lunch ).  Tony went on his way with his route instructions and GPS with french maps successfully loaded to it ( very high tech ). 

I had decided that today I would not stray from tarmac.  The day before had been a successful one in the sense that we spent the whole day together and were able to confer when confused re navigation, but I am sure that I spent more than 50 % of the day pushing the bike. The terrain had been mostly farm tracks with big grooves or may stones making keeping the bike steady and moving it forward very very hard.  My right wrist and arm are much much stronger than they were before this trip due to all the pushing that I have done.  I used to be proud of my right arm muscles when I was a teenager working in the bakery at Tescos lifting crates of bread, well I am proud again now and challenge anyone to an arm wrestle !

My plan came to fruition, and 9 miles later I rolled into Tournehem-sur-Hem.  Tony arrived at the village square soon after and we sat like locals outside a pub ( except there were no locals in sight as it was 2 pm - siesta time ).  We chatted with another English couple who were travelling by car to Reims - it would take them approx 2 hours.  We were flabbergasted as we estimated 2 weeks for such a journey. Our sense of distance vs time to travel that distance is now rather out of touch with the modern world.  We think that we have travelled very very far because it has taken us days and nights, but in fact a car could travel just over an hour how far we walk in a week. 

The campsite was only another half mile from town and we arrived there at a record early time of day for us.  It was lovely to shower, set up camp, make tea, read etc at a leisurely pace.  We sat around in the shade, however, as it was still blisteringly hot.  
The remaining hours of the day were spent in the on-site bar on the internet searching for and booking future accommodation.  

Distance - 9 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 527.75 miles

‘Sacre blue’ it’s hot over here

Thursday 24 July

Our first night on a French campsite passed without any incident. The site having many English visitors using many modes of camping - Caravans, Motorhomes, static caravans and Eurocamp tents which include Safari ones??? Not sure if these come with resident Elephants and Lions? It does seem a strange name to give a tent in France.

We bimbled into town after breakfast to stock up on fresh bread for sandwiches, croissants for elevenses, food and fresh drinking water. We called into the Tourist Information as we had been made aware the previous night that the Pilgrimage trail we were following used a ‘Passport’ scheme which entailed Pilgrims to receive preferential treatment at campsites and maybe a small discount on the overnight costs. Success there was indeed a ‘Passport’, we received these at no cost - even better, received our first stamp and went on our way.

The walk we are following for the majority to our destination involves following an original pilgrim trail walked from Canterbury to Rome, so in theory the route would prove easy to follow.  The day proved true to form, we followed the trail through fields, the TGV line in part and our first rest stop was a very welcome picnic area. We sat down on a bench…’s surprising how these little things give such pleasure when normally you would just have to make do with sitting on the grass. We were both absolutely saturated with sweat but I guess that would be something we would have to come to terms with with temperatures close to 30 degrees. We dined on chocolate croissants and drank luke warm water to sate our thirst. Soon it was time to set off again.

The trail now went straight up hill, Rachel felt that she would be able to be with me most of the day, but invariably this meant having to push the bike up the hills. Sometimes with me acting as the rear stoker, pushing the bike from behind. The rest of the day saw us travelling through lush woodlands, the occasional field and a fair bit of roads.

By mid afternoon we had reached our destination and proceeded to the nearest cafe / pub for a drink and to catch up on the internet. Alas the village appeared to be in a dead zone for wi-fi signals so we drank up and set off to the campsite. Now we had a choice of two and the first one we tried to use, which had free wi-fi, had no space when Rachel enquired the previous night. So I told Rachel to go on ahead and bag a nice cosy spot with some shade and quiet. Meanwhile as I was passing the first one, I popped in and asked again if they had space. Maybe because I had my pack on they immediately said yes and showed me to a nice quite sheltered spot……prefectamundo.

Now I just had to find Rachel……the phone wasn’t working so I walked the extra 1k to find her. She had found a spot and proceeded to unpack, I explained tactifully that the better site had come up trumps, so we returned there. Yes it worked out a few Euros more expenses but for free wi-fi it was worth it. We even had a small stone step to sit on while we had dinner.

Now for some strange reason this site, despite the costs, did not supply toilet paper. Now some things are a must and soft, squishy and it does not have to be a nice colour, are a must. I explained this Rachel and she set off to investigate the ladies toilets. Having confirmed this was true and with no shop on site Rachel marched into the Reception and with some polite inquisitive authority said      “ is it correct that there’s no toilet roll ’? I think the manager got the hint and proceeded to produce a pink toilet roll from a cupboard like a rabbit out of a hat.

We dispensed with the obligatory noodles for tea and went all Mediterranean and had cous cous. Now here I must digress and mention that I am currently reading Bill Bryson - A Walk in the Woods. The book explains in great detail his experience of walking the Appaluchian Trail in America, some 2000+ miles. Now we are not attempting to come anywhere close to that distance but I have recently read an excerpt where he talks about Noodles - and here I must share it with you.

“ On the first night after a rest and possibly eating ‘normal’ food you are starving for noodles; on the second night you are starving but wish it wasn’t noodles, on the third you don’t want the noodles but know you better eat something; by the fourth you have no appetite but just eat because that is what you do at this time of day.”

Well it is not quite like that for us, but as I am a vegetarian and with only one pan and a frying pan menu options are limited to what we can get in a pan all together and what is quick to cook and available in the shops - the French ones not giving the widest choice.
The meal was a huge success with fresh fruit salad to ensure we maintained our 5 or 7 a day.

After tea we spent a few hours in the bar on’t net whilst also charging equipment.  We were so tired after our very long trans-country day that we fell asleep easily despite the very loud Zumba class that was taking place just across the way.

Distance - 10.50 miles
Total since Helmsley - 518.75 miles

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Goodbye England - Bonjour France

Wednesday 23 July

We woke early to get the 8.25am crossing to Calais, had our porridge in the room, packed up and dashed for the ferry before the check-in time expired. Rachel went one way on her bike and paid £10 less for the ticket and I headed off as a foot passenger.

O what a palaver….firstly we all got on the bus with our luggage to be taken to the ferry. Why do travel organisations not provide adequate transport for people who have got luggage? This was an ordinary bus with limited space for cases so it was a bit of a free for all.

The first stop we all had to get off, troupe through the front door to customs wave our passports at the uninterested officials and then troupe back out of the back door and back on the bus. Off we go again…

Second stop, everyone off this time with cases, through the metal detectors, a quick frisk…ooo er misses!! if the detector beeped like it did in my case, and then back on the bus.

Rachel and I rendez-voud on deck 8 and with the £10 free voucher each (I don’t believe it was free, Rachel does so the jury is out on that one) we loaded ourselves up with packup stuff for the day ahead. Rachel survived the ferry journey and we did not capsize - she does not like ferries now either.

By midday we were in Calais, had purchased our French SIM cards to save our mobile phone bills and were soon on our way.

The path took us along two canals with very little shade in the 27+ degree heat. Rachel followed alongside on the bike until the final section and at that point headed off to locate our first French campsite. After only 7.5 miles I reached the village of Guines and met Rachel and then proceeded to check in at the campsite. This one was a 5* campsite with swimming pool, a peaceful and secluded pitch for us and ample shower blocks.

Needless to say that once the tent was pitched everything was discarded at the back of the tent and we both raced off to cool down in the pool………..o what heaven!! After a quick dip to cool down, we showered, ate and retired to the cafe to commence charging my phone and the GPS…..o and a small beer for me.

Distance - 7.5 miles
Total since Helmsley - 508.25 miles

Puncture No 2 - %^&^%$$$

Tuesday 22 July

5am the alarm went off and after another ten minutes we shifted ourselves and completed the now regular routine. Once all our goods and chattels were gathered and attached to their various homes we set off……….no we didn’t…….Rachel had another puncture. So everything was removed from the bike and because it was so early in the morning, like church mice we crept to the entrance of the campsite to complete the repairs.

Now if any of you who have worn latex gloves knows, once that have been worn once they are hard to get back on……sometimes. “Rachel have yo got the talcum powder” I asked. 
“What for”?

“Pass me it and I will show you”. With a quick squirt and hand rub they glided on.  This was not to be as easy as before as I could not locate the puncture. So it was brakes released, wheel nuts removed and back wheel off so that Rachel could take it to the washroom sink. She returned like a jubilant hero smiling and running towards me with the inner tube in her hand with a well located finger just by the hole. The job completed we proceeded to load up the bike and me to go to the bus stop to the start of the walk - well it was to be a long day and by taking the bus it was save an additional two miles.

The day continued with the usual departures and getting together at various points as I followed the North Downs Way towards Dover. Shortly before lunch I met up with two walkers who were completing the final four days of the Downs Way. We chatted about walks in general, what I was doing which surprised them but again they understood and were interested in the concept. (Sorry I can’t remember your names - I am getting old!)
After lunch we left the North Downs Way to follow our own route slightly more direct towards a couple of Abbeys that I had noticed on the map. The first one was actually not an abbey but had previously been a country house and was now a park with a cafe which we just had to visit. The second one was within a farmstead and was in a very sorry state. The whole site would have been huge back in the 11c but now had been raped and pillaged for the stone for various other buildings.  Sadly there was no information board to impart any knowledge on what it may have looked like or its history.

My day ended with a fabulous walk along the ridge heading down towards the port with the town to the left and right of me in the valleys below.  I headed to our B&B for the night rather excited at being in a bed and having fluffy towels after seven night being in a tent. We even had dressing gowns and slippers……………….

That night we dined at the White Horse Inn in Dover, reputed to be the oldest one and also where all the cross channel swimmers get to sign the walls and ceilings after completing the epic swim.

We slept and dreamt like babies that night…

Distance - 19 miles
Total since Helmsley - 500.75 miles

Rest day ……. or so we thought!!

Monday 21 July

We rose fairly leisurely and headed into the city for breakfast by bus. Wow……don’t they go so fast and they even have very comfy seats to sit on. 

We arrived at our breakfast venue, plugged in all our electrical equipment to recharge and gorged on our breakfast, savouring every mouthful, but refrained from licking the plates. We both made lists …..yes even I made one for all the various purchases and actions that needed to be completed before we left the UK to resume the walk in France. Needless to say the planned mornings activities followed by a quiet restful afternoon never came to fruition and it was late afternoon before we have completed all that was required. We jumped back on the bus and like giddy kippers headed back to the campsite.

We decided that we would continue to treat ourselves and ordered an Indian takeaway that we had delivered to the site. We sat down on a proper seat - well picnic table and scoffed our faces. By now the sky was starting to get darker as the night crept in, so we completed our night time routines and retired to bed. I had decided to complete the last leg of the walk to Dover in one day rather than the suggested two following the North Downs Way, so a 5am wake us was coming.

Distance - 0 

1st Puncture since we started

Sunday 20 July

With a reasonable night’s sleep under our belts we woke to a very heavy dew fall and mist so the flysheet of the tent was never going to dry before we set off on our walk. We completed the usual routine and packed away the soggy tent and went our separate ways, arranging to meet in the next village. I think I was only about two miles into my section when I received a call from Rachel to say she had got a puncture on the back wheel. She explained she had past a few cyclists earlier who had experienced a similar situation - obviously something in the road.

We met up and I donned the latex gloves and commenced the operation whilst Rachel mopped my sweating brow and passed the mechanical tools with precision as I called for them. I soon identified a small hole which was soon repaired and the offending item, a piece of flint, vanquished to the grass verge. We were on our way within 20 minutes.

Once again we went our separate ways and again arranged to meet in the next village, one we had been told about by Antony the previous day. My section took me once more up and up onto the ridge of the North Downs to pass through an extremely large wood, which with the heat of the day was a welcome to be in the shade. This area was very popular with other walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders, so a bit like the traffic on the M1 it was very busy compared to my usual quiet days walk. Half way through Rachel text me to say the village was indeed a chocolate box one with a cafe that sold scrummy food - I replied to say despite the large pack on my back I was running like the wind. Needless to say, once I arrived we dined like a King and Queen and the village was indeed a chocolate box one with a large central square and houses that dated back to 16th / 17th Century. Reputably the village is a popular location for period dramas.

Once our appetites were sated we set off on the last leg to Canterbury to leave the North Downs Way and follow the Great Stour Way along the Stour river. As we entered the City we asked a local for the most scenic route to the Cathedral, the end of our day, and were directed to follow the Heritage route though the Benedictine Gardens. Once we reached the Cathedral the walk was at an end but there was still 2 miles to the campsite. We gathered the now obligatory pasta meal ingredients and the even more regular, in more than one way, supply of fruit to make a salad with for pudding. The campsite was a 5* with fabulous showers and lashings of hot waters - can you tell that we now get excited at what most normal people take for granted. This venue was to include a rest day for me to let my legs recover after clocking up about another 80 miles walking. 

We slept like logs that night.
Haggered pilgrims

There really was a herd of Highland cattle under a bridge on outskirts of Canterbury

Distance 15.5 miles
Total distance since Helmsley - 481.75 miles

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

For shits & giggles

Saturday 19 July

The morning after the storm the night before was calm.  We had hoped that the air would be cooler, but it was still muggy and warm.  There were some large tree branches / boughs on the ground that we made our way around on our route away from the campsite - we know that we were very lucky not to have ‘ come a cropper ‘ in our tent under the trees the night before.

We mixed our route now between the North Downs Way and the Pilgrim’s Way ( the latter was our preference ).  We stayed together for much of the day as the Pilgrim’s Way is suitable for horses and bikes too.  The ground was wet from the rain the night before creating mud and puddles in the uneven ground so I pushed the bike much of the way.  I almost said ‘ that I went as slowly as Tony’, but in fact I have to trot when walking / pushing bike in order to keep up with him.  

Our lunch was taken sitting at a picnic bench that was close to a mighty portly wooden carved monk pilgrim. As we were gobbling our well deserved ‘ 4 for a £1 ‘ rolls, quorn slices ( beef flavour ) and cheese ( cut with Tony’s very sharp knife on his fancy pen knife ) 3 other walkers came to sit ( Alex, Anthony + Colin ).  They were in awe of how far we had come and where we were heading. 

It was a strange thing to have other people’s respect regarding what has become our way of life.  I think that we both felt rather proud of ourselves. 

Inevitably we played catch-up and overtake rather a lot in the afternoon with our new walking friends - they set off before us after lunch but Tony overtook because he was a faster walker, Tony changes batteries in his GPS and they overtake, Tony catches up again and he overtakes, und so weiter…  

This day was Tony’s favourite day of walking so far.  This was due to much of the ( Pilgrim’s Way ) path being tree lined avenues in woods, so no map reading necessary and also having company and chit chat with other walkers ( I tried not to take offence at this ! ).

We had end-of-day drinks at a pub near that night’s campsite where the landlord’s name was Harry Webb, but was definitely not of the Cliff Richard variety.  We chatted with him and he asked us if we were doing our walk ‘ for shits and giggles? ’ .  This phrase is one which made us chuckle and are unlikely to forget.

That evening we were staying at a campsite just West of Wye.  It was a farm site so we bought fresh eggs and had a cheesy omelette for tea - heaven.  With very full tummies we slumbered well. 

Distance - 15.50 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 466.25 miles

Short walk + shopping in Maidstone + storm of all storms !

Friday 18 July

There were only a few miles to cover today, but this fitted well with the need to do some provision shopping Maidstone.

We made our way back through the enormous Buckmore Park site to get onto the walking route. 

The walk / cycle was straight forward today and was again in very hot weather.  We were booked into a campsite on the outskirts of Detling.  We arrived early afternoon at the campsite, and I left pretty much straight after to cycle to the bus stop and catch a bus to Maidstone ( the roads were way too busy for me to cycle there, plus I wanted the novelty on travelling faster than my two wheels would take me ).  In the meantime Tony had a much deserved shower and restful afternoon.

The evening came and we knew that a storm was due.   After tea we hammered down the tent pegs and even put down the extra guy lines.  The sky started to change colour in the distance and the clouds rolled up like whipped cream as the various weather fronts headed our way.  We could hear the thunder and see the lightening on the horizon too.  Soon enough the sky over us was various shades of black, grey and sunset reds with the electric storm ( we were under a group of tree so were pleased that it wasn't fork lightening ).  HUGE claps of thunder and lightening but with surprisingly little rain ( only a drizzle at most ).  We sat with our tent open for a wee while and watched the sky change colour with the lightening strikes, and later zipped ourselves in to listen to it all from the protection of our hardy little tent. We fell asleep as the storm continued, but it then woke us both up again at about 4 am with the loudest clap of thunder either of us had ever heard - it sounded and felt like the earth was about to open up.  It went on for about another hour as it rumbled past like a huge angry beast. Eventually we both drifted off to la la land……..
Amusing mental image ...

Proof that we are heading in right direction

Distance - 5 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 450.75 miles

Many Ups in the Downs

Thursday 17 July

Needless to say the previous night was a quiet one, although I hardly slept. We had a 20 + miler planned for this day ( in order to stay on schedule after the extra mile fairy had visited on Monday ), so we rose at 5 am in order to set off at 7.  We left on schedule with spirits high.  Again, the sky was blue and bright indicating that another scorcher was due.  

We had arranged to stay at Buckmore Park Scout Camp site this coming night and were being met on site at 6.30 pm by our contact.  

We were travelling through the North Downs in Kent..  The countryside was becoming decidedly rolling - unlike me - I was walking more than rolling this day.  Conclusion was that there are a lot of ups in the Downs.

We had regular meeting points throughout the day, and I had a 2 hour long stint in a pub where I had a much looked-forward-to Earl Grey tea and charged equipment too - I will have cost the pub money on this visit.

As we approached Rochester we were apprehensive about how to cross the Medway River.  There was an enormous and very busy bridge spanning it but it was unclear until we were very close whether pedestrians could cross it or if we would indeed need to go all the way into Rochester and then come out due South to our Scout campsite destination - 2 sides of a triangle etc.  A very enthusiastic local impressed to us that it was impossible to cross the bridge on feet / bike and that we would have to make the very long detour.  In fact, as we slowly and very carefully approached the brow of the very busy hill leading to the bridge we could see what was indeed a footpath ( which was actually on the map ) that we could use. Big ‘ whews’ were uttered.

With the bridge and many lanes of noisy traffic behind us, we parted company again to continue our separate routes.  We both walked alongside or over the Eurostar train tracks, and both saw Eurostar trains speeding  past - very noisy, very very fast and very impressive to see.

We were on schedule re miles and time of day.  After one particular long, hard and very hot trek through a forest we came to a Hansel & Gretal style pub.  This was the most welcome public house that I have ever come across, and I had the biggest pack of ready salted crisps that I have ever had - very important to replenish salt lost through physical effort in hot weather you know.

We arrived at Buckmore Park on time after approx 11.50 hours of walking / cycling, and were welcomed as promised.  The campsite was being used that evening by various local Cub and Scout groups having end of term events like BBQs and massive water fights, i.e. these were not the usual evening meets.  There was also a group of wee folk called the ‘ Challenger Troop’.  These were 7 - 10 year olds who wore army gear including boots and had camouflage design rucksacks to match.  They were shooting targets on a mini range too using .22 pellets and bow and arrows on another. Out pitch was directly in their firing line albeit with a small copse in between.  We were advised when this activity was about to start so that we didn't wander into their ‘ play area’. 

After an evening of watching the campsite activities and chatting to interested Scout leaders, we slept like babies after our mammoth day.
Pretty river at 'wild' riverside camp

Really necessary ?

Because we deserve it !

Distance - 21 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 445.75 miles 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Started well, didn't end well

Wednesday 16 July

We re-joined the Thames Path after retracing our steps through the ‘Shameless estate’.  Soon we turned inland heading towards Dartford.  We had intended to walk and cycle separately but due to difficult / bad signposting walked / cycled together.

It was stiflingly hot and we were in an area where there was no shade at all.  Cycle helmet stayed on in place of a sun hat, to match Tony’s sun hat which, it seemed, he hadn't removed for days.

Again, in Dartford, walk signs that we were following for this stretch where bad, or had been removed resulting in some detours and repeats of sections leaving us tetchy and tired.  We stopped in a pub to charge appliances and to get some cool liquid inside our very hot bodies.

Away from Dartford we stayed together with me struggling on walking ( rather than cycling ) paths so that I didn’t have to negotiate very busy roads.

We were heading for another campsite, and were looking forward to expected basic facilities as described on the phone by Wayne.  I arrived at the campsite before Tony, only to find that it was even more basic than we had accepted it would be - only porta-loos and an outside cold water tap for filling receptacles ie no indoor toilet or sink with running water ( what we had expected ).  Tony arrived at the site and within an instant declared that he didn't want to stay there especially as they were going to want some money from us for our stay.  So, at 6.30 pm we headed down the country lane with no accommodation planned for the night.  I did some deep breathing, and talked to myself out loud. Tony knew he was not in my good books.

My instruction was to to ride on to the next village to check out the usual pub / b&b / grassy patch at back of pubs / locals with garden for us / quiet field options.  I performed the necessary investigations and came across a large playing field that had an evening activity for local children happening on it.  I chatted with the car park attendant and a deal was done - we could use the park loos until they were locked at 7.30 ( fill up with water and wash a bit - hooray ! ) and could also camp on the bit of field near the river that is obscured from view of the bridge / village.  Much relief was felt by me, but not excitement.  In fact I wasn't a happy bunny at all.  I was starting to fantasise about my 3 bed-semi with big bed, and instant hot water and chairs.

We pitched up.  Tony had his much deserved pasta tea, but I had no appetite.  I wanted to rest because I knew that I would need to stay awake and alert all night in order to fend off any potential axe wielding murderers or locals with their tinnies riding their scooters over our tents for amusement.

Distance - 16 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 424.75

Industrial Thames + the 400 mile marker !

Tuesday 15 July

Another hot and sunny day ahead - 80 degrees

We found our location back on the Thames Path and continued along it.  We were now getting to much more industrial Thames scenery with gravel and sand drudging barges being loaded + unloaded, recycling and waste sorting plants, sewage treatment works and such like.  It was still fascinating.  There were numerous very old looking wooden posts in the Thames sand that once supported piers, and piers that were clearly now dangerous structures due to decay.  I thought of Tony Robinson and Time Team.

Towards the end of the day we left the Thames Path in order to turn inland and head to the campsite that we had originally planned for the night before.  The areas that we walked through to get to the campsite were decidedly ‘ dodgy ’.  The neighbourhood reminded me of that in Shameless, only in London and with lots of horses tethered all over the place.

Finally after walking through the more pleasant ‘ Lesnes Abbey ’ grounds, we arrived at our destination.  The site was very busy with mix of tents, camper vans, caravans.  Our camping field was multi national with us, French, Dutch, Italian, German and more Dutch.  It struck me that, in fact, this was a great location at which to stay if doing the tourist sights of London.  Good for them.

We had been advised by the enthusiastic rule following campsite assistant ( example - she was going round the site looking for, finding, and dismantling empty clothes lines that had been erected by campers - health and safety of course ! ) that squirrels could open zips, and that foxes loved shoes.  So, all of our food had to be wrapped and double wrapped and closed tightly in our waterproof Ortlieb cycle bags so as not to attract the naughty squirrels of which there were many, and our crocks, shoes, boots had to be either in the same bags or inside the tent with us.  Our tent and bags were fortresses against wildlife, except for the inevitable teeny flies that got into the tent.

We dined in style sitting at a picnic bench rather than on the ground consuming our now regular diet of seven a day fruit and veg plus pasta.

Distance - 10 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 408.75

Off we go again + the extra miles fairy

Monday 14 July

We set off on the train at 10am, back to London to continue where we had left off on the previous Thursday evening, arriving after 2pm. The weather as we left the station concourse was to remain hot and very humid throughout the day.

We had planned to walk to Greenwich where there was a campsite that we had our eye on. Little did I realise that I had dropped a big clanger with the expected distance.

The walk was a very pleasant experience, initially making our way down to the River and then to follow the Thames path. It’s when you have all the time in the world you realise and see so much of what would otherwise just pass you by. Following the River we passed most of London’s sights, the Millennium Bridge, a giant blue Amazonian dead parrot on it’s back ( indication that Monty Python was performing nearby ), The Globe Theatre, The Shard, Tower Bridge to name a few delights. It is also refreshing to see some of the old warehouses, narrow streets and original wharfs that have been given new leases of life. 

Soon we were out of the city and into the sprawling mix of new and old apartment buildings that now line the majority of the embankments. I remember the days when these would have been referred to as flats…………lol.

At around 5 pm it became clear that with still 13 miles to go ( !! ) before arriving at the campsite, we would not reach it that evening.  It seemed that the ‘extra miles fairy’ had visited.  With no accommodation planned or booked in our immediate vicinity Rachel started twitching…..lots.   She comforted herself with an impromptu visit to Waitrose ( oh the luxury ) whilst I scoured the internet  for budget last minute accommodation in Greenwich ( ! ? )

After an hour of searching, and much ‘ how could you miss so many miles’?  ‘how could you let this happen’? ‘ why don’t you just book the Travel Lodge - the price was fine’ assistance from Rachel, we headed to a part of town where there was an Ibis, Travel Lodge and a.n.other similar style hotel.  Rachel stood outside the Travel Lodge entrance refusing to go any further, whilst I bounded across the road to check if the other options were perhaps cheaper.  They were either booked or cost more, so I sneakily booked the Travel Lodge on-line on the street in order to get a better price than just turning up at the reception desk - boom !

I treated Rachel to a pint of fresh semi-skilled milk ( for her tea in the room of course ), and a gooseberry fool from Tescos next door.  I think I was back in her good books.
We had a very comfortable night in a proper double bed and a hot shower too…………..

Thames Barrier

The Globe Theatre

The Shard

Distance - 9.5 miles
Total since Helmsley - 398.75 miles

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Bus Man's Holiday

The weekend consisted of a family weekend in the Lakes, camping and walking for a change. The weather was warm and sunny but on Saturday evening some very heavy showers which is always very entertaining when you’re laid in a tent.

Last day before a ‘Bus Man's Holiday’

Thursday 10 July

We woke with excitement at the prospect of sleeping in our own bed tonight and a hot shower. The usual routine followed, breakfast of porridge, bags packed and out of the door. The manager of the hotel we had stayed at was intrigued and interested at the details of our walk and as a result we received a good deal on the accommodation costs - Many thanks for your hospitality and generosity, you know who you are.

We returned to where we had left off with the day ahead to be a very long one following a marked path most of the way through there suburbs of Barnet, Finchley, Hampstead and Camden Town - some 18 miles to Euston station where the day would end - not too far….lol.

Despite the excitement of travelling home both our bodies batteries were pretty tired and the first very steep hill, within the first half mile, that went on for ever was not a welcome start. We both reached the top puffing and blowing like cart horses, myself from the extra effort of assisting Rachel with her bike by pushing it from the rear - a true gentleman!

It was not long before we departed after arranging our first meeting point. It was a bit spooky for me knowing that here I was in London surrounded by so many people, so close yet alone on this path, as I headed into the woods. These woods were originally part of a huge ancient forest of London before the urban sprawl. It was not long before my phone rang as Rachel was unsure of her directions and was not keen keen on the idea of heading towards the A1 (an extremely busy dual carriageway). I reiterated the directions she should travel and off we resumed.

It was not long before I had the same A1 experience but this time for me it was necessity as the path I had to follow took me up and down the road as I had to use an underpass to reach the other side. Rachel was very alarmed when she queried by text why I was taking so long and I responded that I was just walking down the A1…………. 

I met a women and son and gave them the right of way on the path, explaining I was not as fast as them. She was intrigued as to whether I had travelled far and a conversation ensued about long distance walks, and the journey I was following. She was enthralled by my tales, asking many questions, and we parted as our paths went their separate ways, but not before a solid handshake and another well done uttered. It is on occasions like this that really make the day worthwhile….

Eventually I met up with Rachel, she relayed her experience of wishing to avoid heading towards the A1 at a roundabout earlier and that after completing several laps of it on the inside, three lanes of moving traffic had to stop and give way so she could reach the road she wanted.  I refuelled, then after arranging the next meeting point we set off fairly quickly as the weather forecast had mentioned heavy showers later in the day.

For me the paths were a doodle to follow, very well marked and with little or no obstacles to hinder my progression. 

Rachel checked in by phone again as she believed she had passed the point where we had planned to meet. Now there are directions and directions and information and information and so a conversation followed……

Rachel - “Hello I think I have gone past where we were going to meet, this road seems to be going on for a long time”

Tony - “So where about’s are you?”

Rachel - “I am on a road and there lots of people, cars, some shops and oh a bus”

Well I am gifted in many ways but that beat me. Eventually we identified where in London she was and how she could meet up with me as my path was ok to cycle on. 

We continued together and after nine miles reached Finchley, as we crossed the road I spied a coffee shop and with depleting energy levels and the thoughts of a comfy seat to sit on, a warm drink made by someone and ……..dare I say, possibly a piece of cake, we availed ourselves of their hospitality.

After a 30 minute break and with another nine miles still to complete we decided that it was best to get going again. The path I was following now had reached suburbia and it was easy for Rachel to cycle alongside me, the signs flashed by. We passed a local synagogue and were surprised at the strength of the security measures that surrounded it, including security staff. Soon we reached East Finchley tube station and followed the path through it. We paused at a local fruit stall so we could top up on our ‘five a day’. I checked the map as the path did not feel right and yes as I thought we were on the wrong one……..Bubbles!!!!

We retraced our steps with Rachel in front to identify where we had gone wrong. Eventually some 1.5 miles later we found the error of our ways and set off on the correct path. 

We soon arrived at Hampstead and walked through the village houses, very nice indeed and with some at a mere 4.5 million pounds an absolute bargain. Just past the Heath there is small pond which used to be frequented by the local people in days gone by when the weather was hot and sunny, so much so that the area was commonly known as Hampstead on Sea…..

From Hampstead we reached Camden Town a thriving and hectic metropolis of people, noises and smells. It was strange that in between the suburb areas the streets were relatively quiet only to wake up as the local shops started to materialise. By now I was starting to flag and with 18 miles having gone past it was just a case of head down and just walk. After 21.5 miles we reached our end goal of Euston station and the next stop being the nearest place for a well deserved beer and something to eat.
Camden Lock, London

Distance - 18.50 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 389.55 miles

The Big Smoke here we come !!

Wednesday 9 July

Well after a reasonable nights sleep on the floor of the Library in the Quaker Meeting House - thank you again William for the hospitality and generous support, it was a quick pack up and out of the door before the venue was occupied from 8am. 

So next stop breakfast, well Sainsburys (and other stores are also available) offer a reasonable choice and the nearest one was only just over half a mile away, so off we headed deciding to give Wetherspoons although nearer a miss.

Eventually we arrived at the store and while Rachel was locking the bike up I gathered all our goods and chattels and like a laden mule I headed to the cafe and promptly completed an immediate u-turn back to Rachel…………o dear, o dear, o dear or words that effect I uttered - well this is a public blog! I informed Rachel with much smoke coming out of my ears that although this was in fact a superstore, the cafe only served tea, coffee and croissants for breakfast. Now that was not quite what I had in mind and was really looking forward to, so I was not a happy bunny. Rather than return to town we headed to the organisation that has ‘Golden Arches’ and serves plastic food - a very sad and sorry replacement.

Eventually the days walk started from St Albans, the meeting point agreed with Rachel, and I set off to follow the Ver-Colne Valley Walk. Ironically and totally unplanned in St Albans passing by a ruined 12c Benedictine Nunnery in Slipshot.

The first part of the walk was a pleasant 6.5 miles following the river through lush meadows, quiet bridleways and only one field of Bovines that just happily continued munching on grass as I stealthy approached and slipped by.

The first meeting point went without a hitch shortly after I walked over the Magic Roundabout otherwise known as the ‘Road to Hell” (M25) by the singer Chris Rea.

We parted after I had refuelled and agreed to meet soon at a village pub. This was so that Rachel could catch up with e-mails and the blog diaries we have been writing. It had nothing to do with the fact it was a warm sunny day and they served beer………….honest!!

From the Ver-Colne Valley Walk the path turned onto the Hertfordshire way which made the navigating for the day very trouble free as I passed from signpost to signpost showing me the way. Needless to say when we met at the pub I had a cheeky half, previously I have drunk a full pint in the afternoon but due to the warm temperatures, the distances I have been walking and the fact I am regularly burning nearly 2000 calories a day, the beer makes me very sleepy and lethargic.

After a longer than normal break we set off to our final meeting point before we were able to complete the final section together. I found that even the half pint I had severally depleted my energy levels and my legs were like lead weights as I plodded on - I think beer during the day will be out of the question in the future.

My walk took me over a local airfield with no security aside from the obligatory warning about low aircraft…….I thought that would have been obvious. As I started to cross over I could hear a helicopter some way off but definitely approaching so I increased my speed. Just then my phone informed me I had a message, whilst multi-tasking ( not a very common thing on my part ) I checked the phone to see a message from Rachel to inform me that she had arrived at the ‘North Pole’ and everything would be made clear when we met up?

After passing through the local park I found Rachel and yes she was truly at the North Pole - well according to Pooh Bear! It transpired that she was sitting in a field in the park that was where Pooh Bear lived - honest. There was pots of honey, signs pointing to the North and South and other Pooh related paraphernalia. I had my photo taken just for the record.

After passing all the quite footpaths and villages we entered suburbia and all the noise, smells and traffic the goes with it. We had managed to find some accommodation after informing  the manager of a hotel that we were in desperate need of a bed, we were completing a long distance walk and that after many queries from people interested in the walk, yes we were also completing it for charity but initially not our primary purpose. The latter phrase being the key that opened the hotel vacancy door.

After a very long hot shower, a meal, I was unconscious and in the land of nod by 8pm.


Tony, the explorer

The explorer hugging the North Pole

Distance - 12 miles
Distance since Helmsley - 370.75 miles