Tag Archives: walking

362/365 – First adventure of 2016

January has been sensible. A month of quiet, healthy weekends – lots of cinema, running and eating home-cooked, mostly nutritious, food. After finishing my last blog (on the lows of blogging for a year) Elaine and I decided to do something a bit different this weekend. 

We packed a bag and headed out towards the New Forest. By the time we arrived at our gorgeous hotel in a village outside Southampton, there was very little daylight left. We made the most of the facilities and headed to the gym and swimming pool to unwind after the busy drive. Lounging in the sauna, we promised that we would do this kind of getaway more often. 
Today, after another swim, spa and brunch, we set out for my first proper walk of 2016. 

After a failed walk in the New Forest during our first break together, the rain was not going to put us off today. Wrapped up and excited, we set off through a campsite overrun with wild horses and onto a muddy sand track. The first section of woodland seemed abandoned except from horses lurking rather magically in the trees. When we came to the first Heather plain, it was obvious why as the path turned into a series of islands to jump between in the bog. As we forgot the canoe, there was a lot of sinking into muddy puddles. 

Once we’d navigated the first stretch of the route, which was like the bogs of Mordor with dead people lurking in the puddles, we were able to properly stretch the legs. Then the dog walkers appeared out of nowhere and our route passed over undulating hills, gnarled trees and lots more Heather. We became rather nimble at island hopping and experts at spotting a solid piece of ground…or so I thought until I ended up calf deep in a puddle. 

We took a few wrong turns and ended up jumping across burns to get back to the car, but I heard a quote recently that I love:

An adventure doesn’t start until something goes wrong.

After a couple of falls and slips, we were muddy, wet and rosy cheeked from the slog of the route. But I’ll be taking the peace of wide open spaces and nature’s soundtrack back to London with me.

282/365 – Exploring green spaces in and out of London

I’ve got a confession to make: this weekend I’ve been quiet because I was so busy with work last week that I felt I needed a break.

So I got out for some fresh air both in London and in nearby St Albans to clear my head. I just couldn’t resist crunching around in those Autumn leaves.

On Saturday, I headed out with the lovely Kate to explore the Parkland Walk. The old railway turned nature trail runs from Finsbury Park to Muswell Hill. The first section of the walk made us feel like we were in the middle of the countryside and you’ll see why below.

  
We stopped at Highgate in a charity shop before taking on the second half. It was equally beautiful but sadly I was starting to tire a little due to the anti-biotics I was taking. I always feel exhausted when taking those.

While the effort was difficult, the views across London just as you reached Muswell Hill were spectacular. To recover, we did a bit more charity shop hopping. 

After a rest on Saturday night and Sunday morning, Elaine and I headed out to beautiful St Albans.

After exploring the former abbey and surrounding area, we walked to the park beside the Roman ruins and mosaics. The trees were all shades of autumn and I was delighted to have taken time out to breathe in the fresh, crisp air.

Again, I tired quickly and had to stop for some food at the cafe in the park. It didn’t dampen the experience however as I felt the slow and steady pace and regular breaks on both days allowed me to enjoy my surroundings. In fact, if I took anything from it it would be to slow down.

Thankfully I’m feeling a lot better this week – perhaps the clean green air helped the mending process.

145/365 – First walk done by lunch

Meeting at 8am for breakfast, our group filled up on St Jean’s finest croissants, orange juice and, most importantly, coffee. Some of our group are not happy campers without coffee – to the extent that three of us paid 4.50 euros for cafe in a can just in case we can’t get our hands on any. 

I was a bit worried as I had had a troubled sleep the night before setting off and breakfast didn’t feel particularly substantial. My vision was double again, but I hoped, having taken my medication with a bit of time to digest before walking, that it would quickly get closer to normal.

    After a last minute purchase of a walking stick and a poncho, we headed off through St Jean Pied du Port’s main thoroughfare, averting the eyes from its array of cute shops selling tasty treats, through the seemingly ancient town gate’s and onto the road. 

    The first day was, as promised, spent scrambling up steep ascents. The first 5km or so was on little roads past farmhouses with the Pyrenees backdrop getting more spectacular with each bend we turned around. Soon we could look down on St Jean and hear the bells chiming. Then it turned into a muddy path, still at a steep ascent, complete with slip marks and sheep poo. Just as we said ‘this would be treacherous in the rain’, it started to drizzle. But after a light shower, it stopped and the fog seemed to part for a moment or two. We had climbed into the mist clouds that were widely admired earlier. 

    Just as we finished a really tough part of the upward slope, I shouted down to Anais what the name of the place we were staying was. Low and behold it was just on the next bend – Kayola. We had made it. No more climbing today, or at least until dinner which we had to walk 800 metres for. 

    Although it was only around 8-10kms, a two and a quarter hour walk, our clothes were sodden with sweat from the humidity and exertion. My calves were screaming to be stretched out, so Ruth and I did some yoga on the grass outside the house with this stunning view in the background. 

    Day one is complete but, from the flyer we got in St Jean, day two will be even tougher in terms of the gradient we’ll be climbing at. The sticks have come in handy so far and I expect are will be indispensable tomorrow. 

    Physically I’m feeling strong and my eye is beginning to look a little less startled. Perhaps a combition of the antibiotics and exercise. Once again, this year I find my pilgrimage is about challenging my body to stay strong while facing a tough test. One day down, three to go.

    135/365 – 22kms of East Sussex countryside

    With just a week to go to the Camino, this weekend was the last opportunity to clock up some miles before following the yellow arrows through the French-Spanish border. Leaving the house before most people even roll over on a Sunday morning used to be a weekly occurence for me in my football-playing days. However it’s rare these days and I struggled to get out of the door in time to meet our friends for the long drive ahead. 

    By midday we arrived in Crowhurst, East Sussex, bursting for the loo and with nothing but a church and a closed train station in sight. Thankfully a kind minister/priest/vicar let us use the facilities (I would highly recommend if you’re in the area). Much relieved, we set out on our 20/21/22km trek (depending on what book/app you use). With the sun warming our faces, many striking panoramas and a reasonably flat gradient, the first 10km flew by and before we knew it we found a seat in the sun and were tucking into Westfield’s finest fare, and cider, at the New Inn. 

    After hearty lunches, the second half was a bit trickier. Thankfully the views were even more striking as we carefully manoeuvred our way through bluebell meadows, burrowed through enchanted woods (at one point expecting a wicked witch to jump out), gazed at thatched mansions and then had to battle our way through thick nettles for hundreds of metres.  

    Despite our more adventurous second half, my knee and the myasthenia behaved well. By the time we reached the last climb, I still had plenty of energy, my muscles felt strong and my feet showed no signs of blisters. Time to celebrate with a pint! 

    As I supped my celebratory cider, in Battle (of Battle of Hastings fame), a smug smile spread across my face. My cross training has paid off, I am strong and I am ready – Pyrenees, come at me.  

       

    128/365 – 15 days until the Camino begins

    I completed my first mini duathlon two weeks ago today and the next physical challenge on my list is only 15 days away. On Monday 25th of May I’ll be setting out with nine others to walk 65km of the Camino de Santiago. While significantly less than the 120kms Elaine and I trekked last year, the challenge will be the terrain – the rough paths and slopes of the Pyrenees. 

    The first day is meant to be the toughest of the French way because it is a near constant ascent until you reach Ronascevalles 26kms away. As some of us have health conditions/dodgy knees (in my case both), we’ve split that first day in two. That means we have a build up of distances – 10km, 16km, 22km and then 20km for our last day. These chunks feel manageable – particularly if we set out early and take breaks on the tougher days. 

    While I haven’t had many opportunities to get out of London for long walks this year, I have been building my walking fitness most weekends and doing strength training for my legs and core. I have no doubt the mountains will challenge me, but I’ve promised Elaine that I will be honest about how my body is feeling. 

    With the days flying in now, I am going to get out for one of my last long city walks today. Sadly there are no mountains to scale but perhaps I’ll route in a couple of flights of stairs and hills if I can find some. 

    121/365 – Wet and wild walk

    With three weeks today until we set out on the Camino de Santiago, Elaine and I decided that this weekend we needed to get out walking. The Scottish weather had other ideas. 

    We were up visiting my friends and family in Edinburgh so I had looked at routes in the Pentland Hills to mimic the undulation of the Pyrenees and the Fife Coastal Path to get the much needed miles up. When we woke up yesterday to the rain chucking down, both of those options lost their appeal and we decided to stay much closer to home. With inappropriate clothes on, jeans and rain are a terrible combination, we only lasted 10km before our soaking wet clothes got the better of us. The only thing that could make it better was a wee dram to warm up.  

     
    As I’m off to Rome next weekend, time is of the essence to get walking fit. This week I plan to spend as much time walking, and as little time on public transport, as possible preferably with my hiking shoes on to make sure they are properly broken in. I’m just hoping the weather decides to work with me in my drive to clock up the miles! 

    108/365 – Unexpected weekend break 

    There’s nothing better than the unexpected to shake you up. Whatever it is you do, stepping out of the routine has the potential to make you feel really alive and appreciate the vast choices available every day. This weekend has done exactly that for me.

    After a lovely catch up with some of my old workmates on Friday, Saturday had the potential to be a complete write off. However, it turned out to be just the beginning of a sundrenched, beach filled weekend.

    Having left me passed out first thing to to do befriending, when Elaine came back she floated the idea of going for a drive. We didn’t know where – but decided to pack a few bits just in case the notion took us to stay over. 

    So that’s how we ended up walking along the white cliffs of Dover. As it was my first out of London walk since the ill fated Windsor ‘walk’, I felt a bit nervous setting out. But with the below image as the backdrop, it was quickly impossible to feel anything other than humbled by the beauty of the National Trust cliffs. 

       

    We spent around an hour climbing up to the South Foreland lighthouse and each corner we turned around was more beautiful than the last. My legs held up well all the way up to the lighthouse and my feet didn’t even have a hint of a blister during the 4 mile jaunt. On the way back, we took the higher route which had more climbing – all good practice for the Pyrenees in a few weeks time.   

     

    Rather than feeling tired from the walk, I felt full of energy and not ready to go back to London. So following that feeling, we booked a cheap as chips hotel in Folkestone (with a sea view thrown in our night came to £29). Best decision of the weekend.

    While the hotel had more than a hint of the faded glamour associated with Victorian seaside resorts, I fell in love with the place itself. With a contagious out of the way stillness, beautiful beaches with wild landscaping and quirky places to eat and drink with friendly staff, it’s somewhere I’ve already vowed to go back to (if not live one day). We had an antiques shop all to ourselves for dinner (Follies), heard an amazing blues band play (The Chambers), got lost in the winding path at the beach full of caves and vegetation and even managed to pick up a few bargains before setting off in the town shops. 

        

       Having fallen in love with Folkestone, we drove on up the coast back through Dover to Deal (also incredibly cute), Sandwich (even cuter), Ramsgate (great selection of pubs at the harbour), Margate (we had planned to get out but it’s very run down) and then finally to Whitstable. 

    With a more touristy vibe, we walked away from Whitstable, of Oyster fame, to Tankerton along the front. We kept walking as the colourful beach hits kept pulling us in. With the hundreds of dogs along the way, sadly my legs started to feel a bit shaky because of my phobia rather than fatigue. The gorgeous walk had a few surprises including a camper can meetup and a canon. 

       

          

      

    After a couple of hours of walking, we headed into Whitstable finally and, after climbing over oyster shells, decided to pick up another kind of seafood – fish and chips. 

    Making the last of the glorious sunshine, we found a picnic table to eat our fish and chips and made promises to ‘do this’ more often. While we could have done more miles over the weekend, we did enough to warrant saying we had good walks on both days. Plus the sense of calm of being at the quiet (and not so quiet) coast and the sheer joy of exploring new territory made this unexpected weekend an absolute pleasure. 

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    99/365 – London strolls

    Since early last week, I’ve not been feeling strong enough for long runs or cycles. So I’ve been trying to compensate by doing extra walking. Still determined to do my 10,000 steps a day (roughly five miles) in training for the Camino – I’ve been making an extra effort to do more. 

    In spite of the Saharan smog last night, I took an early evening break from work to go for a long walk before the warmth was gone from the day. I took one of my favourite routes up to the top of Alexandra Palace to gaze out over the city as the sun was setting behind me. As you can see from the picture below, the air had cleared by then and in the distance I could see across the city to my old office in Canary Wharf. With the cherry blossoms blowing their petals in my direction, it was a lovely moment I was glad I had taken for myself.  

    Then today, after an early morning shift at Childline, I dragged Elaine out to explore North London. Having walking through Archway, Highgate, Hampstead Heath to Belsize Park, we took a break outside in a little sun trap cafe in Belsize Village to refuel, delicious salt beef bagel for me pictured below, before carrying on to Swiss Cottage, Kentish Town, Primrosehill and finally along the canal to Camden Town.   

     That there are five months of this weather ahead is putting a massive smile on my face today. There is no better feeling than being out in the warm spring air exploring new parts of London.

     As my body felt strong enough for the 15km distance all-in-all today, tomorrow the duathlon training continues. But this week has taught me that sometimes slowing down to walking pace has restorative powers. I can’t wait for the Camino in around six weeks’ time.    

       

    83/365 – A royal crash and burn

    After a hectic six-day working week, Elaine and I decided to get out of London and go for a walk in Windsor today. Although the wild wind was making the rain whip hard against exposed flesh, we decided to wrap up  and brave the elements. With only two months until the Camino de Santiago, getting ourselves physically prepared is becoming a matter of urgency. 

    After a longer lie than anticipated, we decided to drive to Windsor and set off from there rather than the previous plan to catch a train to Sunningdale and walk to the queen’s home town. After a walk to the castle we set off via Eton. Right away I could tell that it wasn’t a day for long distances. My legs felt like lead and like they give way under me, my temperature soared almost instantly and my head went fuzzy. As predicted, I had overdone it and knew I needed rest. I pushed on for a while hoping I would get a second wind but it never came. By the time we reached Windsor after turning around about 5 miles in I according to Elaine I looked like I was ‘dragging my knuckles behind me’. She dragged me into a cafe to get a sugar boost and we ended up treating ourselves to afternoon tea. The rest helped, but I didn’t have energy to keep walking after our break.  

    With a four day week ahead, and one of those days spent at a training session, I know it will be a much easier week. But for now, it’s time for this tired body to curl up and hope for more energy tomorrow.

    31/365 – Breaking myself in gently

    Last week I made a big decision about my pilgrimage in May. I decided that something was more important than doing lots of training, resting well and understanding the challenges of the route in advance. More crucial to having an enjoyable trip than these three things combined this year is the investment in a good quality pair of shoes.

    As I wrote about here in Girls Gone Wild, last year I had too many blisters to count during my five days of hiking the final stage of the Camino.

    Excluding a day of 31km where I struggled, my muscles felt comfortable with the daily distances of 20+kms. My feet, however, did not and I was reduced to tears on several occasions bursting blood blisters. I’ve decided to try to do all I can to stop a repeat performance this May and thought the obvious start would be investing in a decent pair of walking boots. Whereas last year I spent £30ish, this year I’ve broken the bank with a North Face pair and had the pleasure of trying them out this weekend with a 10 mile jaunt around Lea Valley park from Cheshunt with my friend Keith.

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    Out of the city we went and spent several hours exploring a beautiful part of Hertfordshire in the rain and the snow. I’ve included a selection of my favourite images from the walk and also a snap of a much appreciated real fire we parked ourselves in front of halfway through out trek to dry out.

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    Although breaking my boots in was one of the reasons for clocking the miles up, another was to see how my muscles would cope with the longer distances. While the course was very flat, and I did have the odd tingle in my calves from the cold, my body felt tired in a strong way afterwards. I even managed to walk the additional 2km home from the station without too many complaints.

    And my feet….well there wasn’t even a hint of a blister. I know that the added stress of the backpack and heat will up the likelihood of them appearing but I get the feeling, this year, there are going to be less tears shed and curse words shared when it comes to taking my boots off at the end of the day.