Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Great English Walk Day 4 - 20 March 2018

West Malvern to Woodbury Hill
Walking 8.30am to 5.15pm
Distance walked 18 miles
Distance left 514 miles

Mike treated me to a cooked breakfast which set me up for the day. Val left early to catch a train to Berwick upon Tweed. It never occurred to me to do the same and end this walk early - honest. Mike took me up some steps behind his cottage which led along the hillside above all the houses with magnificent views opening up to the west. It was a beautiful clear morning and we could just make out the Clee Hills where I'll be the day after tomorrow. Thanks Mike for your great hospitality. 

Dropping down to the road, I joined the Worcestershire Way which I was to follow on and off all day. The snow had largely gone and I was surprised that the ground wasn't as wet and muddy as I'd expected. The route took me by a number of apple and pear orchards just beginning to bud. 

At Alfrick I had a mid morning break in a delightful nature reserve. There was no one else around. Just past Knightwick I had lunch on the bank of the muddy, fast flowing River Teme. Plenty of tree branches and logs being carried along but no bodies. 

Past Martley, I rejoined the Worcestershire Way over the length of a long, thin belt of woodland. Such lovely views. Leaving the WW, I followed a field path. A woman came into view and I wondered if she would be bringing my trail magic for today. When she was about two hundred yards from me I slipped on mud and hit the ground. When I had got to my feet, the woman had disappeared through a hedge on to another path. It clearly wasn't meant to be. 

So, a good wild camp tonight on Woodbury Hill, a forested Iron Age hill fort. All is quiet although I heard a distant muntjac earlier. The weather has been dry today. It's warming up a bit. 

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Monday, 19 March 2018

Great English Walk Day 3 - 19 March 2018

Flaxley Woods to West Malvern

Walking 6.30am to 6.30pm

Distance walked 25 miles

Distance left 532 miles

Oh what a day. There wasn't really anywhere to camp in Flaxleys Wood so the serendipitous offer by Su yesterday was great. I spent a comfortable night in the granary. 

I had arranged to overnight Monday with a friend in Malvern but had emailed him to say that it was likely to be Tuesday instead, due to the short day yesterday. 

I set off really early. It was a lovely but cold morning. There was still much snow in Flaxley Woods and even more on the footpath down to the A4136 at Longhope. I had decided again to road walk today. 

After Longhope, I followed narrow lanes up and over May Hill, where conditions were still quite Arctic and down through Clifford's Mesne. Here I photographed the inside of an old telephone box with a Chinese exhibition inside. I was told that the theme changes regularly.

On into Newent where I sought out a café for tea and a bacon and egg roll. Looking at the maps, I realised that reaching West Malvern today was feasible although it would be a long day. Road walking really eats up the miles. The weather was cold and breezy much of the time but with some welcome sunny spells. 

At Hollybush, I reached the southern tip of the Malvern Hills where there was still snow on the eastern flank. I made good time though but the disappearing snow left glutinous mud behind. 

I dropped down to the road at Colwall and then powered along West Malvern Road to where my friend Mike, and his wife Val, live. A G&T was thrust in my hand and a hot bath was had, followed by roast chicken. It's so tough being a backpacker. 

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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Great English Walk Day 2 - 18 March 2018

Near Bream to edge of Flaxley Woods
Walking 7.50am to 3.30pm
Distance walked 12 miles
Distance left 557 miles

My woodland pitch was good but looked very different this morning after several inches of snowfall. I was aware of it during the night as it blew into my tarp now and then but, even though the temperature dropped to minus 2, I was quite warm. 

I eventually got going albeit later than intended. Dropping down through woodland towards the Dean Forest Railway, the path, covered in snow, was well signed at first but then I lost it completely. There was nothing for it but to climb the fence and follow the railway line as I knew that the path crossed the line after a while. After that experience, I made the sensible decision to road walk today and, fortunately, the lanes went in the direction I wanted to go. 

I stopped for lunch at the Dean Heritage Centre, all closed but I made use of the outdoor cafe seating. I was cold after that so, at Soudley, I called in to the White Horse for a pot of tea next to the fire. Lovely. 

On then to Littledean. There was very little traffic so the road walking was quite enjoyable. Thinking ahead about finding a pitch for the night, I entered the Forestry Commission's Flaxley Woods. It didn't look that promising as it was all coniferous. I was overtaken by a jogger, Sue, who interrogated me and, presumably reassured that I was normal, offered me a place for my tarp in her garden. In the event, and after consulting with her husband, Dennis, I am now housed in a dry outbuilding, a former granary. A mug of tea with her and a Twinky, were most welcome. Superb trail magic and only Day 2! So, only twelve miles and stopping earlier than intended but I shall have a comfortable night. 

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Great English Walk - Day 1 - 17 March 2018

Chepstow to near Bream
Walking 10.30am to 5.30pm
Distance walked 14 miles
Distance left 569 miles

The day started with some flurries of snow and it was quite chilly. Amanda returned home and I walked with friends Robin and Faith until lunchtime. Chepstow being in Wales (just), crossing the bridge over the Wye took us back into England. For a very short distance out of Chepstow the route coincided with the Offa's Dyke Path and then on and off with the Gloucestershire Way. We lunched in Robin and Faith's car and I then continued walking alone with the exciting prospect of a really long walk ahead of me.

Out of Aylburton, I heard the faint chuffing sound of a steam engine, which I assumed was the Dean Forest Railway. The route took me into Old Park Wood, part of the Lydney Estate. I caught sight of a few deer which were startled by my presence.

Not aiming to do a really long day, I found a nice pitch at the northern edge of Old Park Wood.

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Great English Walk - just over a week to the start

Not a lot to say. I've done a trial packing of the backpack I intend to use. It all seems to fit in and the weight is about 16lb minus food and fuel which isn't bad for a walk which could include wintery conditions.

I've printed out my Ordnance Survey maps of the route (scale 1:50,000) on to 57 sheets. The route has been highlighted with a fluorescent marker pen, making it much easier to see at a glance where I am on the route. I've also marked the route with a cross every ten miles (with a mileage number) so I can keep track of my progress. I aim to cover the best part of twenty miles a day. I'll take the sheets covering my route from Chepstow to Hathersage together with the route guide book Part 1. My wife is meeting me in Hathersage when I'll take a couple of days off. She'll hopefully remember to bring the remaining maps and guide book Part 2.

A number of very generous people have already made donations online to my Just Giving page. Thank you to everyone.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

A night out

I'm putting on my first ever Backpackers Club weekend later this month. On the Saturday, I have a full day's walk in mind to take us from the Friday night's pitch to somewhere else on Saturday night. I haven't walked the whole route for several years so I decided to do it now to refresh my memory and to make sure there are no problems, obstacles, etc. The weather was clear but with rain forecast at night. There were patches of really bad gloopy mud and trekking poles really came in useful. I'd planned to wild camp in a wood I know. It was OK but sloping slightly which meant that I slipped from time to time during the night. There was rain and much wind but I was well protected from these. In the evening there were some rowdy pheasants and some time in the night I was woken by a very loud muntjac barking close by.

SilTarp 1
I'd been practising knot tying during the week (I tend to forget them easily) so I took a small tarp with separate guylines. The tarp is an Integral Designs SilTarp 1 (now marketed by Rab under their name). It is definitely a solo tarp and, whilst it was OK for my one night out, using a bivy bag as well (an Alpkit Hunka), I wouldn't have liked it in a less sheltered spot and I prefer more coverage for general use. If I'd been out in the open with wind and rain, I'd have wanted to pitch it close to the ground and it would have been a very tight squeeze. So, for the Great English Walk coming up next month, this will not be my choice of shelter. Instead, I shall take my Golite Cave 1, larger and giving greater coverage and weather protection and a bivy bag won't be necessary. There is, in fact, a net weight saving. The Golite Cave weighs 454g whereas the SilTarp and bivy bag together weigh 700g.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Great English Walk - planning

In the past, when undertaking long walks (a prime example being my LEJOG in 2009), I have planned my route and identified usually a campsite at the end of each day so that I've generally known where I will be each night. This time I shall not be doing that. In fact, I haven't even looked at campsite locations. I shall aim to camp every night (unless something else presents itself such as a bit of trail magic). Instead, I intend to camp wherever the fancy takes me and when I find a suitable spot, obviously well out of sight. All I need to do each day is to make sure that my 2 litre water belt is filled somewhere along the way.

What I have also tended to do on past trips is to post (or have posted) food resupply parcels a week at a time. Food would be the main items but also batteries, loo roll, wet wipes and maybe a razor. This time I shan't do that. Not only does it make my pack much heavier for the first couple of days after resupplying (and slow me down as a result) but, having explored my route, I shall be passing through villages with a shop where I can resupply two or three days at a time (sometimes less). The further north I go, the fewer shops there are but I shall get by.