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So my lovelies, the time is almost nigh!! At 10:07 on 1st September; 3 weeks from today (whoop whoop), I’ll be on the train heading North. Destination Berwick Upon Tweed.

I start walking the Northumberland coast path that same night, albeit staying in Berwick for 3 nights…I’ll explain later.

Then in exactly 1 month from today, I start my official walk along Hadrian’s Wall. 4 years to the day from when I started my Portuguese Camino 😊😊

So bloody excited. I can’t tell you πŸ’ƒπŸ’ƒπŸ’ƒ = my happy dance.

So wow, suddenly it’s only 3 weeks to go and I’m on my way.

The dates have been identified, there and back travel tickets booked, all accommodation is booked, Airbnb hosts contacted and confirmed, the routes identified, daily kilometres from here to there measured (repeatedly πŸ€ͺπŸ€ͺ), what to see noted, where to go planned, what to do listed, ferry trip booked, where to get my passports stamped noted.

Pepe is packed, Gemini and I have been practicing like mad – getting fit, which shoes to wear decided on, budgets calculated and as much planning as I can possibly do, done!!!

And just because, after weeks of planning and noting the route each day on the Northumberland Coast Path with the relevant distances, yesterday I only decided to rejig days 4-7 and fiddled about with the distances. But now it is a lot smoother, with one day shorter and another longer.

I confirmed yesterday that I can use my senior bus pass on all the bus routes that I need to use between end of day’s destination and return the next day. I’m going to be doing quite a bit of bouncing back and forth due to accommodation on the NCP.

I’m copying everything into an old-fashioned method of keeping records – a notebook 😁😁

Northumberland Coast Path here’s looking at you, and finally 🀞🀞 after a whole year of waiting Hadrian’s Wall…I see you!!

Now it’s a waiting game; 21 days and counting.

As for you Covid-19 with all your variants…..you know what you can do…πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

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How could I resist? And before you go rolling your eyes at me and shaking your head 😁😁😁…. to be fair I resisted the allure of the Cote d’Azur and left Athens to the Olympians, but this one I had to have…it’s stunning, and only 66kms, I could do that in 3 days…but probably won’t, more likely 5 days or so…

However, I am going to do it asap….because I want that medal!!!

Flower Route Virtual Challenge

The sails actually move and there’s a dial at the back which changes the scene…one if their best imo.

Tulips, hyacinths, narcissi, or daffodils β€” from Haarlem all the way to the Naaldwijk; 66km (41 miles) through scenic landscapes, blooming flower fields along rivers, villages, and iconic windmills of the Netherlands. How could I resist??

Now all I have to do is decide which area I want to walk in in order to complete the challenge….I’d like it to be something related to spring, with lots of tulips! Why not “tulips in Amsterdam?” 🌷🌷🌷 I hear you asking, and truly…I’d love to hop on a plane or train (probably train) and go to the Netherlands and walk amongst the tulips for a few days while doing the challenge…but you know….covid and brexit. ugh.

Of course we have wonderful gardens in the UK with tulips galore…I saw these in London in April while walking Stage 2 of the Thames Path

🌷🌷🌷🌷 the Flower Route; Conqueror Virtual Challenge

I shall have to see how things are in spring…if EU is out of the question, then perhaps I shall have to do some research and see where I can enjoy some flowery scenes while walking in the UK. These are some options I have found meanwhile, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for their open days in 2022 and try squeeze in one or two….awesome!!!! https://ngs.org.uk/plan-a-visit/tulip-gardens/

Not that it would be cheaper to travel to these places in the UK than flying to the Netherlands…but hey, I can’t be bothered with having to get visas etc. Although of course, I may well change my mind closer to the time. Seeing the tulip fields in the Netherlands has long been a dream of mine. My daughter and I did in fact travel over one year last decade to see the tulip fields, but went about 2 weeks too early….so we missed them and I’ve just never managed to get back…

Maybe, just maybe….

So wish me luck!! Both for travelling to the EU and walking the challenge. I have a few options in mind…

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Four years ago I read in the news about this young lad, Alex Ellis-Roswell from Canterbury What an extraordinary venture; a 9,500 mile, 3-year walk around the UK coast, including N.Ireland, from Minnis Bay to Minnis Bay, raising funds for and visiting more than 200 RNLI stations along the way, and raising more than Β£65,000 for the life-saving charity. Astounding. I had not heard of anyone walking the entire UK coast, and didn’t realise it was even a thing.

At the time I was not long back from walking the Camino Portuguese from Porto to Santiago, 174 miles, and my efforts felt quite piddling in comparison. I was totally awed at his efforts.

I’ve always loved walking, and walked a lot in my early 20s when I lived in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, but from when I had my baby and acquired a car and a husband in 1980, I didn’t do much by way of walking at all. Life went by, I had a car, and although we travelled a lot around South Africa walking was just part of a day or an outing and not the focus of the outing.

In 2001 I had the absolute joy and good fortune to spend 6 months in the Rep. of Ireland with my younger sister and her hubby. While there, my love of walking was rekindled and played a part in my decision to return to the UK full time…which I duly did in April 2002, albeit to Ireland first for 4 months till September. During my time in Ireland; 2001 and 2002, we walked everywhere, weekend jaunts across country, along the east coast in mid-winter (mostly because there wasn’t anything else to do LOL) and wonderful walks in historic Glendalough National Park in County Wicklow, and my midnight returns to home after an evening in Dublin.

When I relocated to the UK in September 2002, before starting work, I did a 6 week housesit; a penthouse in Hampstead Village with a rooftop view of London, lots of walking opportunities with Hampstead Heath nearby and the historic village of Hampstead.

When we, my daughter and I, eventually settled in Richmond in 2010 I started walking the Thames Path in various directions as well as many many walks in the City of London (eventually covering 95% of all the roads, lanes and alleyways) and City of Westminster, with occasional sojourns to other areas. I even started up a business (now defunct): 3 Days in London which involved guided tours (only a few because I really did not enjoy guiding people around the city LOL).

In 2011 I had the bright idea of following Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales route from Southwark Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral and in 2014 we moved to Broadstairs, where my coastal path jaunts began. Along the many ‘ways’ during the years from when I first arrived in the UK, the Camino de Santiago seeped into my consciousness from varying angles; my Dad and a couple of siblings cycled the French route (at different times), I met a lady who had walked the French route and loved it (she gave me my 1st scallop shell), I saw the film with Martin Sheen and books on the Camino started to make themselves known. And so my ‘dream’ of walking the Camino germinated. Initially I thought I’d walk it in 2016, having decided on the Portuguese coastal route as my preferred ‘way’, and to that end I started practising by taking lengthy walks along the coast to Margate or Ramsgate and further afield to Sandwich. Finally in 2017 I felt ready and walked the Portuguese Coastal Route to Santiago in September of that year.

Since then I’ve completed a number of long distance walks and my reading matter has turned to books about people who have done amazing walks. Shortly after reading ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn, I was inspired to set myself the challenge of walking the entire English Coast Path; coincidentally whilst I was walking between Sandwich and Walmer one day last year. And so the idea was born, and now that I have a specific target, I’ve started walking sections with purpose (I will write up about those stages in due course).

During the preceding years I’ve been inspired by epic adventures embarked upon by people like Steven Fabes who cycled 6 continents and covered 80,000 km on his bike. And Ben Fogle’s many adventures with ‘New Lives in the Wild’ TV shows, Steve Backsall’s many epic adventures (not that I envy any of his adventures thank you!!), Michael Palin’s many wonderful travels around the world, Michael Portillo’s ‘Great British Railway Journeys’, and Julia Bradbury’s many amazing walking adventures in the UK.

Way back in my South African past, a boyfriend at the time gave me the book ‘Full Tilt: From Dublin to Delhi’ by Dervla Murphy, which I devoured at the time, never imagining that I would one day actually live in Dublin! I loved her story and I think it probably ignited a small flame that was later nourished to become a passion; travel.

During lockdown in 2020, for 7 weeks between March and April, I was lucky enough to be working and living in a tiny village in Somerset; Nether Stowey, where I was able to indulge my walking escapades despite lockdown because there was hardly anyone around and I seldom encountered a soul during my 2 hourly breaks from working.

My daughter introduced me to the ‘addictive’ Conqueror Challenges in April of 2020 and working towards those goals has kept me motivated.

that’s me! The Conqueror – conquering the world, walk by walk LOL

I also started looking to find more people who were walking the UK coast and somewhere along the line, via Facebook I found and started following Chris Walks the UK. At the time he was safely ensconced on a remote and unoccupied Scottish island where he stayed for much of lockdown. Following his journey both then and now, I’m totally inspired by his fortitude and strength. Having started the journey in the midst of depression 5 years ago (apparently Sunday was his 5th anniversary, so I’ve added the link to reflect that), a former Veteran of the Armed Forces, he was then and still is raising funds for SSAFA and has met the 2 loves of his life along the way; 1st Jet, a beautiful greyhound, and then Kate a beautiful young woman who popped over one day to say hello and never left. I love their daily posts and am in so much admiration for how they cope with obstacles.

Slowly, during my travels, I stumbled across other walks; the Two Saints Way, St Cuthbert’s Way and St Oswald’s Way, Great Glen Way, The West Highland Way, Hadrian’s Wall, and as I came to learn about more and more walks, I started buying the Cicerone Guide Books. Now, with a whole long list of walks I now want to do, I joined the UK Long Distance Hiking page on facebook, to get ideas and advice, occasionally discover new routes to walk (oh my lord! Like I need any more!), and while scrolling through the posts a couple of days ago I stumbled across Tracey Elizabeth Hannam, an amazing woman with an interesting story who is currently walking the UK coast. I saw one of her posts; a poem that she wrote and it resonated so strongly that I asked her if I could share it here…..and she has agreed.

Here is the link to her facebook page and the poem that caught at my soul

.. Thoughts..a poem

What am I thinking is my life shrinking I need to get out,
Where am I going am I happy knowing as I start to shout,
I’m feeling quite trapped being part of the rat race as they call it..
I’m trying to fit in but I can’t begin as I simply deplore it,
As I try to escape, suffocated in this place I know I must go,
To the sand and the sea I feel it beckoning me and now that I know,
I must be out in the wild like a inquisitive child seeing new things each day,,
Sleep on the earth in a tent, many happy days spent loving the way,
How my new life has changed simply been rearranged by thoughts in my head,
Of times I couldn’t breathe, there was a hidden need to be out here instead,
My eyes now open to see this new happy me away from the grind,
Of a regimented past life, sometimes trouble and strife but now cleared from my mind,
Medicine not in a pill but walking up a hill is healing my soul,
Prescribed by Dr. me as I began to see I needed a new goal,
And I’ll never look back to that old beaten track that stopped me from growing,
I’ll look right ahead never to dread this new me I’m knowing,
Leading the way not afraid to say to others too,
Don’t settle for less cause you are the best ..refresh and renewβ€¦πŸ’œβ€

Copyright: Tracey Hannam .. 31/7/21

Tracey Hannam – Long Distance Hiker, so inspiring

During my research into other long distance UK coastal walkers I came across this fantastic website https://www.britishwalks.org/walks/Named/CoastWalk/Links.php an amazing resource listing the many people who have already walked the coast or are currently walking.

There is something quite extraordinary about a person who decides, for such a variety of reasons, to up sticks and walk for thousands of kms/miles, sometimes for years on end. Carrying the bare minimum, yet loaded with a lot of stuff to carry, they put one foot in front of the other, enduring pain and discomfort, all the weather types you can imagine, blisters, scrapes and falls, a lack of home comforts, facing some of the hardest days anyone could imagine – and yet, they just keep on going, loving that life despite the hardships, and rejoicing in the beauty of new places.

I find it so inspiring and totally awesome.

For me it’s the sheer freedom of the path, of the unknown, of starting at one place and ending at another that leads me on….

English Coast Path

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Now that the plans have been laid, and the bookings made, the excitement begins!! On waking up this morning my first thought was Oh My Gosh!!! it’s exactly 1 month to the day till I leave on my September ‘walking holiday’!! 31 days…

Although why it’s called a holiday is anyone’s guess since it’s hard work and not a relaxing pastime…well, it is relaxing some times, most times it’s just bloody hard work LOL and a holiday it is not! I usually come back from my long-distance walks exhausted and in need of a….you guessed it…. a ‘holiday’!!

But….whoaaaa 1 month! when I say it like that, it induces a sense of both terror and excitement. But I can barely wait for the time to pass so I can go already!!

Time to get excited

As you may well know from a previous post, I’ve done loads of research on the Northumberland Coast Path more recently and last year on Hadrian’s Wall (postponed to 2021 due to covid lockdown 2 days prior to my setting off) and I’ve scoured google maps to work out exactly how far it is from place to place so that I could plan my days accordingly.

Most days will be straightforward: get up, dress, eat, walk from here to there, eat, shower, hopefully blog, sleep and repeat the next day. But due to my accommodation issues, I’ve had to plan a couple of days where I will end at one point, take the bus to my overnight stop, then take the bus back to the previous days end point and walk to where I started…..sounds confusing eh! Yeah, it was and so I had to really focus on my day to day planning to ensure that a) I walked the whole route b) that I didn’t have days that were too long, c) that there were in fact buses from point a to b and back again.

And so it has all come together, along with a fair amount of stress, but I do believe I have done it.

Fortunately all the Hadrian’s Wall planning happened last year, so except for the 2 nights of AirBnb accommodation I cancelled outright due to the hosts not having the manners to reply to my messages, and that the route from all accounts is fairly straightforward, the plans for that walk needed very little adjustment.

So the gist of it is: 1st September 2021 I shall board the 10:07 bound for St Pancras, take a short walk to Kings Cross and board the train to Berwick Upon Tweed. I have planned 3 nights in BWK so that when I arrive I can explore the town, walk the town walls, visit the castle and walk to the border with Scotland at Marshall Meadows. I have also planned a day to visit Lindisfarne (Holy Island) but as a tourist, not a pilgrim (I’ll save that for when I walk St Cuthbert’s Way), then walk back to BWK from Beal thus covering the first part of the route, and a 2nd day for a visit to Bamburgh Castle and a part way walk to Seahouses, again to cover that part of the route.

Day 4 will be when I set off for real and cover those parts of the route I have not yet walked to reach my overnight accommodation.

By Day 7 I will have reached Cresswell, the end/start of the official Northumberland Coast Path, but I’m planning on walking right to the county border at Tynemouth on the River Tyne over the following 2 days which will add on another roughly 45 kms to my walk and cover the first half of Tyne & Wear which is a geographic and ceremonial county without administrative authority, and still part of the historic county of Northumberland, but neatly dissects that particular section of the English Coastal path from Northumberland to Durham.

From Tynemouth I will head inland along the River Tyne to reach Wallsend which is the official start of Hadrian’s Wall, and thence to Newcastle where I will be staying for 2 nights. I plan to visit the Newcastle castle, both the Roman forts; Segedunum in North Shields and Arbeia, a large Roman fort in South Shields, which belongs to the historic county of Durham, where I would pick up again when I continue walking the coastal path (sometime in the future).

Segedunum was a Roman fort at modern-day Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, England, UK. The fort lay at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall near the banks of the River Tyne, forming the easternmost portion of the wall. It was in use as a garrison for approximately 300 years, from around 122 AD, almost up to 400AD. Segedunum is the most thoroughly excavated fort along Hadrian’s Wall, and is operated as Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum. ref wikipedia

Arbeia was a large Roman fort in South Shields, Tyne & Wear, England, now ruined, and which has been partially reconstructed. Founded in about AD 160, the Roman Fort guarded the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall. It later became the maritime supply fort for Hadrian’s Wall, and contains the only permanent stone-built granaries yet found in Britain. It was occupied until the Romans left Britain in the 5th century. “Arbeia” means the “fort of the Arab troops” referring to the fact that part of its garrison at one time was a squadron of Mesopotamian boatmen from the Tigris, following Emperor Septimius Severus after he secured the city of Singara in 197. ref wikipedia

There is much else to see and do in Newcastle, so if I don’t get to see everything, I shall plan for when I return at a future date to continue my walk south along the Durham coastline, which also happens to be the shortest English county coastline. (p.s. did you know that Devon is the only county with two coastlines? – it straddles the Cornish peninsula, which happens to be the county with the longest coastline at 1,086 kms which would take me 54 days at 20kms per day to walk πŸ™‚ ) love that kind of trivia!!

And on the 11th September, exactly 4 years to the day from when I set off on my Portuguese Coastal Camino, I will be walking from Newcastle to Heddon-on-the-Wall and my first overnight stop along Hadrian’s Wall.

I will be walking a total of 22 days including 7 days of exploring …..the longest walking ‘holiday’ by far that I’ve ever done….the Pilgrim’s Way the longest, albeit split into 2 different sections and walked in different years, which puts the Camino in the running for the longest continuous excursion.

Still not anywhere near the kind of distances that other people have walked….but, I’m getting there.

In the meantime I’m compiling a list of ‘things to see and do’ on both these walks and hope to get to do them all.

I’m keen to calculate my various days of walking over September to see just exactly how many kms I cover over the period. I’m going to allocate all the kms walked in August and September to the Kruger National Park Conqueror Challenge which is 412kms and aim to complete by the end of September so I can get the original medal that I signed up for. They changed the distance and medal subsequent to my signing up because people were complaining that the ‘street’ view was boring LOL I mean hellloooo It’s the Kruger Park….the street view is in a national game reserve and the animals don’t come out to play just because google is there. But we have until 30 September to complete the original challenge, so I’m going to do my best.

Kruger National Park virtual challenge
Kruger National Park virtual challenge

Countdown has well and truly begun…

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Stage 7 – Windsor to Maidenhead 12.06.2021 β€“ 17.41 kms – 6 hours 05 minutes – 34,510 steps – elevation 40 meters

This stage was actually split into 2 really because I stayed for Trooping the Colour to see the Queen’s troops march past and of course my favourite the King’s Troops Royal Artillery…and I wasn’t disappointed. The whole affair was muted in comparison to previous years due to Covid-19 and we didn’t get to see The Queen or any of the Royal Family ride by in their carriages because the whole affair was held behind closed walls.

And so after a goodnight’s sleep I meandered down to the Long Walk and stopped to watch the procession of Troops. First The Queen’s Household Cavalry who looked absolutely splendid as always, then the Blues and Royals Cavalry who also looked absolutely splendid. The Footguards had already passed by the time I got there, and the Royal Artillery likewise. But I got to see them afterwards which is always a treat.

Trooping the Colour 2021
The Queen’s Household Cavalry
Trooping the Colour 2021
Blues and Royals Cavalry
Trooping the Colour 2021
King’s Troop Royal Artillery

We were also treated to a Red Arrows flypast which was well exciting, and I’m so glad I stayed for that…even though it was probably going to make me late for my evening train home!

Red Arrows flypast
Red Arrows flypast

Once the Red Arrows had gone I set off to find somewhere to recharge my phone coz the battery had pretty much depleted itself with all the photos and videos.

I ended up at the Three Store and before I knew what had happened I had upgraded to a new contract and obtained a new phone, a tablet and a speaker with alexa installed – how did that happen? It also took well over 2 hours to transfer all my media and phone information, so by the time I left Windsor, it was already 15:13….wayyy behind schedule now! And my backpack was a lot heavier than when I started the day due to having to stuff in all the equipment! I felt it.

So my km’s in Windsor amounted to 2.95km with 10,314 steps, and the actual walk itself was 14.46kms over 3hours 53 minutes and 24,196 steps (just to be specific). An easily manageable distance between bridges.

Setting off I made my way to the river and yes, I bought an ice-cream LOL It was already quite hot and I figured I may as well start the day off on a good footing – food wise. Anyway the ice-cream I had bought the day before was delicious, so I figured a repeat wouldn’t be a bad idea…the chocolate at least would give me energy.

From there I meandered upstream a short way and relaxed on a bench while enjoying my treat….it’s not like I wasn’t already well behind schedule… The swans gathered for a sample, but we agreed it wouldn’t suit their digestive systems, so I declined to give them any LOL

Gimme, gimme, gimme….no!

Windsor Bridge is at least an 800-year old crossing point, although the present bridge was only built in 1822, and the first arched bridge over the river. In 1736 is was possible to walk over alive for 2d, while being being carried in a coffin cost 6s 8d. Weird!!

Windsor Bridge

I eventually got myself moving, although I can tell you for sure, that I was not in the mood for walking…but needs must, so off I went – crossing Windsor bridge to Eton

Eton

I soon found the path and crossed a lovely wide open green space. Dozens of sun-worshippers dotted the grass, all very sensibly socially-distanced (technically we were still in lockdown, although you would never have guessed).

Socially-distanced – Windsor Castle in the background

The path soon reached a lovely shady stretch which was a relief since it was extremely hot that day.

Ahhhh shade!!

Just before I entered beneath the trees I stopped for one last glimpse of Windsor Castle. Windsor is derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Wyndesore’ meaning ‘winding shore’, which probably refers to the Thames’ twisting course. The castle began as a fortress by William the Conqueror, is The Queen’s main home and the resting place of many monarchs, including Henry VI.

I wound my way along the path, walking beneath shady trees, crossing small bridges over little inlets and creeks, passing under bridges and stopping to photograph the graffiti

Bridges
Graffiti on the underpass

and meandering alongside fields ripe with crops. The sky was a gorgeous blue with white fluffy clouds lazily puffing by and a gentle breeze worked hard to keep me cool.

Through fields of green
This little river was ever so tempting, how much I would have loved a swim

I was on the lookout for a specific spot, a riverside seat known as ‘Athens’. Athens was an Eton College bathing spot where rules required that ‘boys who are undressed must either get at once into the water or get behind screens when boats containing ladies come in sight’. Mentioned in the guide book I was keen to see this notorious spot, but if it hadn’t been for the fact that I saw a gentleman leaning over looking at it, I would have marched right past! I stopped for a wee chat and hoorah! I finally met someone who was also walking the Thames Path, albeit from a different direction. I am sure though that there were likely others, but I just hadn’t met them. After a brief swapping of notes he went on his way, I captured an image of the rather obscure looking bench and went on mine…onwards, upstream.

Athens

Before long I reached Boveney Lock, ever so pretty and stopped to read the information board. Boveney Lock is set within the ancient landscape of Dorney Common. A dispute ove an unpaid toll in 1375 is thought to be the first mention of a lock at this location. In 1780 there are suggestions of a pound lock, and in 1820 various plans for a replacement lock proposed cuts to the mouth of Clewer Mill Stream because of difficult navigation of the tight bends downstream. The present location was chosen with a timber lock built in 1838. There is an avenue of chestnut trees, planted in the 1800’s that lead to the lock known as ‘Conker Alley’. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the Manor of Boveney was given to the nuns of Burnham Abbey in 1266.

Boveney Lock
Information boards enroute are so enjoyable to read

A short walk later and I reached the beautiful little 13th century church of St Mary Magdalene set back from the river in a field of green grasses. Built from chalk rubble, with a wood clad bell tower housing three bells, its only lighting; a candle (and sunlight). Its origins and history are something of a mystery, and in 1859 the churchyard was thick with gravestones, of which there is now no sign.

St Mary Magdalene

I stepped into the cool shady interior and stepped into another world. A calm air of simplicity enveloped me as I stepped through the door and honestly, I could have just sat there for hours…it was so beautiful and so peaceful.

I spotted the remnants of a medieval wall painting, the colours still quite rich.

Medieval Wall painting

It’s such a shame the purists managed to get their whitewash out, and literally destroyed thousands of these stunning wall paintings in hundreds of churches around the country. Fortunately modern technology has allowed for the recovery of some, but it’s costly and painstaking and not really affordable on the whole. I’ve visited quite a number of churches over the years where they have managed to recover/restore some of these works of art…a legacy we should be proud of.

Looking back

From Boveney Lock, the church is a very short walk upstream. The river was so calm and blue I was tempted to jump in for a swim LOL ….the cool green shady trees would have to suffice

Tranquility

A bit further upstream I spied a lovely building across the river but couldn’t discover what it was. Intriguing and annoying LOL A closer look at google maps tells me it might be Summer River House, but I can’t be sure.

I also spotted Oakley Court through the trees; (a riverside retreat with a golf course – tells you it’s most likely very expensive!!)…wow, it’s stunning. I shall have to go there some time by car. It’s very gothic looking with towers and gingerbread icing trimming and all. Uh yeah…I just had a look…Β£275 per night hahaha. In my dreams. The description on the website reads: Oakley Court is a Victorian Gothic Mansion House recently renovated and set in 35 acres overlooking the River Thames at Water Oakley in the county of Berkshire which features 118 bedrooms, 118 bedrooms just downstream from Windsor & Eton. Hah! Apparently Oakley Court was built in 1859 as a residence for an Englishman who hoped the Gothic Style would make his homesick French wife happy. General de Gaulle visited, and the building was used in the films: St Trinian’s, Half a Sixpence and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (my 2nd favourite film after Mary Poppins).

Oakley Court

The river wound it’s way lazily downstream and I wound my way sort of speedily upstream, although the river was likely a little bit faster I’m sure, passing through shady glades, alongside fields and islands, passing stunning houses and wondering just who can afford those mansions!!

I’m on the right path

The gravel paths are so much kinder on the feet than the metalled roads.

Without realising it I had walked right by Dorney Lake which featured in the 2012 Olympics and more recently the 2021 Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.

I passed a cycle route marker that told me I had 3 miles to Maidenhead – this was at 17:30 and I knew for sure that I was not going to make my ‘planned’ train at 18:30…oh well

Maidenhead 3kms

Looking across to Monkey Island I spotted a little gazebo through the trees and felt quite envious really…it looked so idyllic, and is apparently on the grounds of a rather grand B&B; Monkey Island Estate Luxury Hotel, and at Β£203p.n. not that much cheaper than the Gothic pile further downstream….but hey, it’s on an island. Monkey Island possibly means ‘monk’s island’ as it once belonged to Merton Priory on the River Wandle. In 1738 the Duke of Marlborough decorated the fishing lodge ceiling with monkeys!! A hotel since 1840, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had tea on the lawn with 3 future sovereigns – George V, Edward VIII and George VI.

Looking across to Monkey Island

Passing through a private estate, once again I was overawed by the sumptious houses and the size of their gardens, mostly an array of resplendent colours; rose arbours, and creepers and flowers galore. Nice if you can afford it.

I could hear the hum and then roar of traffic ahead and looking at my map I realised I was soon to pass beneath the M4. Lockdown is essentially over really….we’re back to the business of polluting the air.

The next lock on the route, Bray Lock, soon hove into view and whizzed on by. I think they’re all so pretty and interesting.

Bray Lock – although it looks quiet and restful, the lock-keeper’s job is not – they are busy throughout the day.

Looking back I could see how the river split around the lock island and tumbled over the weir on the far side.

Looking back to Bray Lock

I was nearing Maidenhead now and I am definitely going to have to return to explore the opposite banks of the river…

The Thames Path

The Waterside Inn at Bray-on-Thames looked intriguing and their website tells me it’s: A unique riverside haven in a dreamy village setting, a revered restaurant with elegant quarters, just screams £££ – also very posh!! and a tad more expensive than the other two at Β£420 per night. Holy moley

The Waterside Inn

I could hear the traffic in the distance and all too soon I was walking beneath this beautiful red-brick railway bridge. Maidenhead Railway Bridge, completed by Brunel in 1839 carries the Paddington-Bristol railway line and appears in Turner’s 1844 painting Rain, Steam and Speed on the GWR

The Sounding Arch – Maidenhead Railway Bridge

A short walk later, passing some stunning houses

stunning houses and amazing gardens
how gorgeous is this house!!

and finally, quite exhausted from the heat and feeling the 2 days distance, I was crossing the river via Maidenhead Bridge.

Looking back across the river from whence I came
Looking downstream from Maidenhead Bridge towards the railway bridge

Hoorah! I had reached my destination for Stage 7…it was now 18:38, and with another 2 km to reach the station, I had definitely missed my 18:35 train, as well as the next 2 trains as it transpired… I was so exhausted by the time I reached Maidenhead that I simply could not walk any faster, and so I had to wait for the 19:35 train and got home at 22:45….

Enroute to the station I passed one of the 2012 Olympic Gold Post Boxes; painted to celebrate the Paralympic success of equestrian Sophie Christiansen….awesome that they still paint them gold.

Gold painted post box

This section of the river; Staines to Maidenhead is seriously gorgeous and I so enjoyed my two days of walking. Both days were super hot and I must admit I found it hard going at times, but the serenity of the shady copses, the extraordinary history and the sheer joy of just walking more than made up for it. Rural mixed with urban, land lubbers and canal boat dwellers, bridges and locks, historical sites and a castle made for a most interesting jaunt along the Thames. I am so looking forward to walking Stage 8 Maidenhead to Marlow & Stage 9 Marlow to Henley. Both easy distances, so I may jig them a wee bit and see if I can squeeze more kms out of the day and squeeze 3 into two and get as far as Reading.

Although Stage 7 wasn’t as laden with history as with the previous stages, particularly through London and Stage 6 to Windsor, it was still so interesting, and from what I have gleaned from the guide book, most of the history lies on the opposite bank from where the official path runs. It’s a bit like a switchback, the River Thames; an optical illusion where you think something is one side, but as you get closer you find it’s not.

Talking of the guidebook, all writing in italics is either from the guide book or google.

And that brings to a close the 7th stage of my Thames Path walk. I’m hoping to do another 2 stages before year end, but it’s looking tricky time wise…I’m still following the Saxon Shore Way and walking the English Coast Path from Dover to Rye in October, with my jaunt along the Northumbrian Coast and Hadrian’s Wall in September… so we shall see.

If you missed Stage 6; Staines to Windsor, click on the link to read more about it.

And if you really have the time and want to start at the beginning (a very fine place to start ) Stage 1a: Erith to the Thames Barrier

Wish you a fine day and happy walking….thanks for dropping by to read my lengthy jottings (definitely not on an envelope!) LOL

If you’d like to join me on instagram, you can find me @overthehillstilltravelling

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Well that didn’t take long…I guess I can now be classed as a seasoned backpack packer! Hoorah!

Packing for hiking

I remember when I packed for the Camino in 2017, I weighed every single item, no matter how small and carefully calculated exactly what I desperately needed and thought I should have in my backpack…some of it ‘just in case’. Much of it unused. I packed, unpacked, and repacked countless times rearranging everything over and over to get the optimum balance …but now have a place for everything, and everything in its place πŸ™ŒπŸ˜πŸ˜

Fortunately I have since learned just how much I can manage without, and I’ve scaled it down drastically. Carrying the backpack in Spain and then again on the first half of the Pilgrim’s Way, gave me a fair idea of just how heavy it gets after 4 or 5 hours, never mind 8!! When I packed for the Camino, the weight came in just over 11 kgs, which in reality was more than the recommended 10% of body weight by a few kgs, and lugging Pepe across England on the Pilgrim’s Way in the heat of summer in 2018 has taught me more than I care to know.

So with that in mind I unpacked EVERYTHING I had and I laid it out on the bed. I then went through the less obvious items and removed at least 1kg, but this is an extra cull after the one I did subsequent to the 2nd half of the Pilgrim’s Way in 2020. So now, I have the bare minimum (I think) and at least 5 items on the list will be on my body each day instead of in the bag. I’ve even cut down on the shampoo and conditioner because I’m going to have my hair cropped as short as I can before I leave in September, and I’m sure the AirBnb hosts and the hotels will have what I need. You know how those ‘few’ 100 gram items add up!!

Keeping in mind that not only is there an average of 8 days of rain in September in Northumberland and it will, knowing my fate, rain on at least some of the days I’m walking….(but I might be lucky…who knows), I’ve added the waterproof over trousers and gaiters. And then of course there is Hadrian’s Wall and I know for sure from the many images I have seen of other walkers that it rains quite a lot and quite heavily along the wall…

So without further ado….here is my list:

Emergency Items: Waterproof Backpack Cover with reflective chevrons. Orange emergency survival bag (plastic) with a copy of my passport folded up inside and a list of I.C.E. numbers. Silver foil emergency sheet. 1 LED emergency flashlight. A reflective safety vest. A flashing reflector light for my fanny-pack. These are items I take on every walk.

Rain gear: 1 bright yellow waterproof (I hope 🌧🌧) poncho. Waterproof breathable over-trousers. a pair of gaiters.

Cold weather clothes: ultra light Puffer jacket with hood. Pair of gloves. 1 long-sleeved jumper. 1 long-sleeved lightweight vest.

Outer gear: 2 pairs lightweight, quick-drying hiking trousers. 3 lightweight, quick-drying breathable hiking t-shirts. I should probably get myself a hat??

Underwear: 5 pairs double thick hiking socks (love these socks). 4 pairs inner wick-away socks. 2 pairs night-time underwear. 4 pairs netting pants for day wear. 2 bras. (No night-time gear – I will wear the next day’s t-shirt to sleep in).

Toiletries: SPF 50+ sunscreen (in case I remember to use it πŸ€ͺ). Aloe Vera facewash. Bamboo toothbrush. Small tube toothpaste. incognito anti-mosquito (100% natural ingredients and no poisons). Tiny bottle incognito citronella oil. Hotel acquired tubes of shampoo & conditioner. Small bottle shower gel. small comb. Emery board to keep toe nails under control. Aloe Vera Heat Lotion for tired feet pre and after walking (works a treat). Lip-Ice. Hand sanitiser. Eye mask (my eyes are light sensitive and I sleep better in the dark). Sound blockers for nighttime. Prescribed Medications.

Health: a pack of paracetamol pre and after walk pain killers (my feet appreciate the thought!) Various small items for cuts, grazes and as yet no blisters. Covid Masks, surgical gloves, small plastic waste bags, plasters, vitamins (I boost my body daily when hiking to repair any damage done), gel toe guards, braces/velcro loops for hanging wet items off the backpack to dry while walking.

2 litre Hydration pack. 1.5 litre water-bottle.

To be added prior to departure: Phone charger. Emergency charger. Guide book & passport. Small travel double adapter.

Fanny pack with my Camino shell attached. Purse with passport, drivers licence, cash in case my bank card doesn’t work, driver’s license. Small note book with route places noted, AirBnb addresses and a list of ‘things to see’. My train ticket (collected yesterday hoorah!). And of course my reading and long-distance glasses…can’t leave those behind.

My Conqueror Medal for Hadrian’s Wall. I figured that since I’ve walked it virtually and will now be walking it for real, and after seeing someone on the Conqueror community group do the same, I’m going to wear mine as I walk πŸ™‚

And that’s it! Anything I’ve forgotten? Seeing it listed, it still seems quite a lot…

Even though the reflective backpack cover is meant to be waterproof, I usually pack all my clothes into resealable plastic bags in case of a downpour since Pepe is not waterproof and rain tends to creep in anywhere it can find a gap.

I’ve removed my night t-shirt and leggings, a torch that’s quite heavy albeit small, towel and face cloth, various duplicated toiletries and relevant toiletry bag.

37 days and counting…..

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And so the time has come πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ With just 37!!! days (😱) till I set off on my big adventure, Pepe needs a repack. I’ll be away working for 24 of those 37 days, so now is the time!! It’s both thrilling and terrifying…this will be my longest walk/s by far. The most I’ve walked continuously in the past has been 11 days on the Camino.

Pepe looking pretty in yellow πŸ’› and the colour matched poncho I bought yesterday 🀭🀭🀭

This walk will be 23 days. Naturally of course, 6 of those 23 days will be devoted to exploring the areas I’m in; Berwick Upon Tweed, Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Newcastle, Carlisle and Glasgow, but that all involves walking πŸšΆβ€β™€οΈπŸšΆβ€β™€οΈπŸšΆβ€β™€οΈ

So whewww, I’m ready, but I’m almost certain that my feet are not at all as excited – they’ll be doing most of the work, poor old πŸ‘£πŸ‘£πŸ₯ΎπŸ₯Ύ #notjustagrannyΒ  #overthehillstilltravelling

I’m going to be packing as light as possible, even lighter than the Camino, and very definitely, I am planning on using baggage forwarding wherever possible and feasible. As I have said in the past, I’m not into self-flaggelation, and walking for me is an enjoyable pastime not a penance for past sins!! Camino or not!! πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Tomorrow after I’ve returned the tiddler to his parental unit, I’m going shopping for new walking shoes. The asics I purchased a few months ago are not quite doing it for me, and weirdly the Salomons I tried on last week felt more like mini coffins than comfy trainers, which is toats weird since I wore a brilliant pair on my Camino. Shoulda bought 2 pairs!! πŸ™„πŸ™„πŸ™„

Let the packing commence…🀨🀨

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After a few weeks of intensive planning and calculating distances and studying the terrain via Google satellite maps, I am almost ready to rock and roll along the Northumbrian coast as I walk the Northumberland Coast Path from Berwick Upon Tweed to Cresswell – the official route.

Of course, because I’m just that way πŸ™„ I’ve decided to tweak the route and add on a few kms!! After all, why not? It’s only 100 kms, I’ve done way more than that on other walks, so yeah….I’ve planned my route to include the stretch from the border of Scotland at Marshall Meadows to Berwick Upon Tweed and since I’m going that way anyway, I’ll keep walking from Cresswell to Newcastle….not all on one day mind!!!

So whew, I’m now VERY familiar with the Northumbrian coast…I know just about every town on the route and the distances between – slight exaggeration of course, but it sure feels like it.

What’s not an exaggeration is how much time I’ve invested in searching for suitable places to stay that are not too far apart and not going to cost me a month’s salary for 1 night!! Exaggeration of course but some of those places do charge more than I earn in a day…

Google maps, Booking.com, Airbnb and I have all worked overtime since I decided on impulse to leave St Oswald’s Way and St Cuthbert’s Way for 2022 when I do the Two Saints Way (different saints), and instead walk the NCP as part of my quest to walk the whole of the English Coast – since I’m up that way anyway for my other big walk.

My train ticket is booked, my accommodation is now finally booked, I’ve identified bus routes for getting to and from stop/start points, and I’ve identified some of the must see sights.

There are a lot of castles and rivers and a few islands. Plus the coastline is a UNESCO heritage site (I think???) I’m sure I read somewhere that it was, but for the life of me I haven’t been able to find where I read it, so may just have to let that go, but it looks like I’ll be adding quite a few places to Project 101.

In the interim I got my official guidebook and passport πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ and that was well exciting.

It’s been really tedious working this plan. You’d think that with the sea to my left and heading from north to south it would be a breeze to plan my days, but no!!

Accommodation has been a huge stumbling block. I figured I would aim for approximately 20kms a day or as close as possible, but because I couldn’t find affordable accommodation in some places, a few of my days are a bit of a yo-yo.

But yesterday I finally nailed it. Hoorah!!!

So 3 nights in Berwick Upon Tweed with 2 day trips: 1 to Lindisfarne and 1 to Bamburgh Castle and some walking to cover that part of the coast inbetween, then on day 4 I hit the road, so to speak.

I’ll be adding my kms to the Kruger Park Virtual Challenge since I need to complete that by the end of September.

I’ll pop up another post in a few days with more details, but for now…

…..all I have to do is keep my fingers crossed that we don’t go into another lockdown…

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This is a very short post (hoorah I hear you shout 😁😁πŸ€ͺ) but I just saw this on Facebook and I found it SO powerful that I simply have to share it.

The words are absolutely spot on and I wonder why it is that we feel the need to control time.

I follow the Regenerative Conciousness Community on Facebook and they often post some really thought-provoking and powerful messages.

And as I think about the words above and feel them, I get quite panicky at how restrictive our need to control time actually is. I understand the fundamental need to do so, but it is quite restrictive.

When I was involved in the personal development environment 14 years ago, I remember working through a process during which we identified our highest value/s. Mine was freedom. So I guess that’s why those words have induced a feeling of panic.

And now I’m going to shut up πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ this is turning into one of those posts where I go off on a tangent.

I wonder what your thoughts are on the above quote?

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Last year, 2020, inbetween lockdowns, and somewhere between Sandwich and Deal, on a practice walk for my now started Thames Path jaunt, and having just finished reading The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn, I was inspired to attempt to walk the WHOLE of the English Coast….in stages – you know how I love my stages πŸ˜‰πŸšΆβ€β™€οΈπŸšΆβ€β™€οΈ

I have already walked from Broadstairs (when we still lived there) to Sandwich, and to Margate – countless times when preparing for my Portuguese Camino in 2016/2017.

Due to my job I also get to work in a variety of locations, and occasionally it’s at the seaside…so I’ve already walked a few sections of the English Coast Path accidentally. But of course, now I’ll have to walk them again, this time with purpose, and that won’t be any hardship.

I reckon it’ll take about 10 years at my current rate, and because I’m still working and following a multitude of other routes!

Actually, I recently had the good fortune to have a booking in Nether Stowey and planned a couple of days in Paignton during which time I walked from Berryhead to Torquay via Brixham over 2 days βœ…βœ… and I also walked as far as Dover last year. (I will eventually get to write about these walks – the scenery is just stunning, and of course the east coast is awash with history – forgive the pun!).

Although I have a penchant for just going on my walks ‘on impulse’, mostly a fair amount of planning has already gone into the ‘idea’ 😁😁 and its usually impulse meets opportunity, and off I go.

I’m walking Hadrian’s Wall in September, so decided to walk the Northumberland coast path from the border with Scotland and part of the Tyne and Wear coastal path. Since I’m up that way….

To that end I’ve ordered the Northumberland Coast Path guidebook and passport (yes!!! To my delight, I discovered that there is a passport to go with it yayyyy πŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒ).

The Northumberland Coast Path

And so planning has begun. Originally (2020) I had planned on walking St Cuthbert’s Way and St Oswald’s Way, both of which are in Northumberland/Scotland, but there are 2 other Saints walks I want to do, and since I have the St Francis’s Way Conqueror Challenge still waiting in the wings, I’m going to try plan those for 2022, and put the mileage towards that challenge. πŸ˜€

I better plan a trip soon…I joined this challenge in December 2020!!

Part of the enjoyment of these walks is the planning. I love to set up the spreadsheet, decide on suitable dates, identify the distance and then start my research : transport, accommodation, weather, food stops, and of course affordability. I usually budget for Β£100 a day all told because accommodation costs are quite expensive. There’s a HUGE difference between the UK prices and Portugal/Spain. Its wayyyy cheaper to travel the Camino than plan a walk in the UK, unless you wild camp, which I have not yet had the courage to do.

First I had to identify all the main towns along the route, which is 100kms +- from Berwick Upon Tweed to Cresswell, and onto Newcastle. Identified and noted – spreadsheet updated.

Then I broke the distance down into ideally 20km walking days to see the how long and where to stay places. Towns/places noted. Some days will be longer than other!!!

Next up: transport. Hmmm. There’s a railway line but it appears to goes direct from Berwick to Newcastle πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€” and buses? Also a direct route, and no stops from what I can see (on closer inspection I found a few stops πŸ™„). So possibly basing myself in one place and hopping back and forth like I’m doing with the Thames Path and Saxon Shore Way! Tricky!

Next up: accommodation! I had a look on Airbnb and Booking.com. I nearly had heartfailure at the prices!! Even the YHA in Berwick Upon Tweed are charging Β£99 for 1 night! Restyled as a Hilton then?? Jeez. A more indepth search is required.

What I found during my searches is that accommodation is in short supply, and few and far between, and if available – very expensive!! Gosh, I hope the guide book is waiting for me when I get home!!

So I contemplated the possibility of ‘wild camping’ πŸ• πŸ₯΄πŸ₯΄ I’ve seen loads of people who do this on their long distance walks, but tbh I can’t even consider the idea of carrying a tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag!! I carried a sleeping bag on my first day of the Pilgrim’s Way and the extra weight nearly destroyed my will to live.

I’ve been toying with the idea of just roughing it and sleeping with my jacket on under my emergency blanket…but I asked myself “what if it rains?” and of course there is this: Wild camping is not allowed in England, so please do not pitch your tent unless you have sought the permission of the landowner. What if I don’t have a tent? LOL

But ‘just in case’ I decided to check the weather patterns for September on the Northumbrian coast… very encouraging. Of course those 8 days, could coincide with my 6 days πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ so perish the thought!!

I hope my trip coincides with those 22 days…
Q. Weather Northumberland September?
A. On average, it is maximum 16Β° in september in Northumberland and at least around 10Β° degrees. In september there are 8 days of rainfall with a total of 8 mm and then it will be dry 22 days this month in Northumberland’.

Not sure which year this was, but I hope it rings true for 2021 too!! Loving the average temperature!!

Sitting here on Saturday morning waiting for my client to wake up and scrolling despondently through the World Wide Web πŸŒπŸ•Έ I had the bright idea to ask the community on the Long Distance Hiking page on Facebook 😁😁

Voila…I’ve had some lovely responses so far, but not much about accommodation. So, patience being a virtue, I’m keeping my fingers crossed 🀞 and hoping someone has relevant information.

If not, then I’ll have to just wait for the guidebook and hope for the best….other than that, I’ll just wing it. I have a limited amount of time to book my advance rail ticket…

So that was in the morning…. meanwhile I’ve had a few people respond with more information about accommodation and bus routes that I did not find during my searches – change the keywords and success! It seems there are indeed local bus services that ply the coast between towns (of course πŸ™„πŸ™„ silly me, I had wondered how people get around).

I then had the bright idea (yes, I do wake up occasionally) of going back to the Northumberland Coast Path site from which I ordered my guide book, and hey presto! Guess what??? They have a whole section dedicated to the different stages and surprise surprise….accommodation options. However, on closer inspection some of the accommodation listed is well beyond my price range and when there are no prices listed….don’t even bother going there!

So back to the drawing board and fingers crossed by tomorrow I’ll have my route sorted and accommodation identified and booked.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted πŸ˜‰πŸ™ƒ

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