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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Am I going walking next week? ✅
Am I prepared?✅
Is everything organised?✅
Am I fit enough?✅
Did I have a full-blown panic attack at 3am?✅✅✅🤪🤪🤪

No matter how well prepared I am, just before I set off on a long walk, I have a mini crisis
Am I excited? Yes I am!!! 💃💃💃
Will it be exhausting? ✅🥵
Will it hurt? ✅😪

But oh my gosh, the places I will go, and the things I will see makes it all worthwhile. 😃😃😃

This is by far away the longest distance I have ever walked on a continuous day to day journey.
But I’m going to fulfil a long-held dream of not only seeing Hadrian’s Wall, but actually walking the route; a journey through history.👏👏👏

As well as which, I’ll be adding to a newer dream (2020 to be precise) of walking another section of the English Coast 🚶‍♀️🚶‍♀️🚶‍♀️

Prepare for frequent posts to say how excited I am as I countdown till 01.09.2021 😁😁

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With just over 2 weeks till I set off on my epic (😁😁) walk along the Northumbrian coast path and Hadrian’s Wall, I decided it was time for another test of my mettle.

I had already scheduled a walk into my diary for Monday 16th; the penultimate stage of the north-east section of the Saxon Shore Way, from Rainham to Rochester, so it was an easy decision to take Pepe along, fully loaded except for water supply, and check out how we got along.

We had a brilliant day, it was overcast and cool (I even wore a cardigan), perfect for walking but not so fantastic for photos.

I headed back to where I left off a few weeks ago, and not finding any signs to direct me, and considering it’s a residential area, I decided to just follow my nose and my intuition. After all, it’s a ‘shore’ walk, and the general direction (useful) is along the shore heading north/east…🤪🤪

I found the first sign 5 kms in, pleased to note I was on the right path.

Saxon Shore Way
Useful 😁

I discovered what a teasel is…I’ve seen this fascinating little flowers/plants all over the place but hadn’t idea what they were…now I know 😉

I came across a funfair and was reminded of one of the most terrifying fairground rides of my life…I took my daughter (8 years old) and sister on one of these many years ago in South Africa. It went wayyyy higher than I knew and she nearly slipped off the seat and under the rail. O was holding onto her and my handbag that contained my whole month’s salary in cash. 😳😳

Pirate swing
The funfair

In all it was a very successful walk, I frequently forgot Pepe was on my back..ergo, its comfortable and not too heavy, which was my main goal – how comfortable will it be? Fortunately I’m now aware of those little straps that work loose, so checked them every time I stopped for a break (every 5 kms) and pleased to say the corner of the bag didn’t dig a hole in my hip like it did on the final stages of the Pilgrim’s Way.

Enroute is an island near Chatham; St Mary’s island that I simply had to visit; its there, how could I not? And for good measure, and totally unnecessarily, I walked virtually the whole perimeter thereby adding over 2.5 hours and 4.42kms to my journey 🙄🙄 But now I can add that to Project 101…another island done and dusted. Saw a gorgeous sculpture

St Mary’s island
St Mary’s island
The Mariners
And saw Upnor Castle…didn’t realise it was so close

I did however find the history of how the island came to being rather disturbing. Built on the backs of 19th century convict labour from desolate Marsh wasteland, the convicts lived on rotting hulks on the shore and were marched daily, 1000 strong chained together, to work on building the island. Ghoulish history.

So, I had a very comfortable 22.46km walk on Monday with very little discomfort except for the usual spots, which I’ll resolve with fleece.
But the weight is good and as with the Camino and Pilgrim’s Way, I mostly forgot it was there. Although I was tired without doubt from 16km onwards, and ready for bed.

So pretty…seen in Rochester

I slowed down quite a lot in the last 6kms.

Seen in Chatham
Seen in Chatham
Seen in Chatham

Feet no worse than usual,  in fact, better than usual in recovery, hardly any pain in my heel, just a couple of twinges and no blisters. My 2 toes on my left foot as usual were red and sore, which is totally bizarre since there’s loads of space in the front of the shoe and no obstruction. My right foot toes never have the same issue… weird 🥴🥴

So all good. Ready to go 1st September. I even got to test my poncho. Conclusion: it kept the rain out = waterproof. But…my arms got wet coz the sleeves are so short, and I’ll need to finesse the hood so it stays snug around my face instead of either covering my eyes, or blowing off the back of my head 🙄🙄

In all a pleasing day.

I will of course give this stage of the Saxon Shore Way a proper write up when I do those articles, but I’m well pleased with my progress so far.

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I took my precious BooBee on an action packed adventure today. He’s so much fun and an absolute joy to be with.

He had ice-cream on the beach, jumped and did head rolls on a trampoline, rode on a merry-go-round, went on a pirate swing boat, jumped on a bouncy castle and played a game of table tennis 🏓

We stopped for lunch and rested a bit. Afterwards we walked through the harbour and to the beach where we built a stone pile and paddled in the sea before covering him up with sand.

We then climbed the cliff path and stopped on the way to look for dinosaurs in the chalk and draw his and my name with chalk

From there we went to the funfair where he enjoyed a pirate stage show and a couple of rides on a bouncy slide.

A fantastic day all round and we (read me 👵🏻) covered 9 kms…most of which he was sitting on my shoulders. Entered my kms to the Conqueror Kruger Park challenge and boom 💥 another post card!! 👏👏👏

Kruger National Park

Having left Hluhluwe my first stop was the Manyoni Private Game Reserve.  Privately owned and one of the largest reserves in Kwazulu-Natal, Manyoni was established in 2004 when 17 landowners dropped their fences and opened up their lands to create a protected area for wildlife.  One of the main drivers was to create a release site for a founding group of black rhinos as part of the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP).  

The project is a collaboration between Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).  Their aim is to transfer black rhinos from provincial and national parks where they are at capacity to privately and community owned sites where they can continue repopulating under protection.  Black rhinos once roamed much of Africa and had a population of 100,000 as late as the 1960s.  Over the next 25 years the population diminished by 97% leaving a mere 2450 rhinos that were under protection in small reserves putting them on the critically endangered list.  

However, with the aid of BRREP and sites like Manyoni the population is slowly growing.  Manyoni has also reintroduced endangered cheetahs and African wild dogs whilst also focusing on conserving the landscape and ecosystem. 

The next location is the Zimanga Private Game Reserve.  Originally known as Hlambanyathi Game Reserve, the game on site were nearly all wiped out due to neglect and poaching.  All that was left was 7 zebras, 1 wildebeest and some impalas and warthogs.  In 1998 Charl Senekal, a sugar cane farmer, purchased the estate the reserve was a part of.  He rebuilt the game reserve, fenced it and expanded the land.  Over a period of time he reintroduced animals that were historically present in the area. Today it has 80 species of mammals including giraffe, buffalo, rhino, elephant, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra, kudu, nyala, hippo, cheetah and lions.    

The final reserve in Kwazulu-Natal was the Pongola Game Reserve.  This 31,000 hectares reserve is over a century old and the first proclaimed reserve in Africa.  Within its reserve is the 15,000 hectare Lake Jozini (aka Pongolapoort Dam).  Besides typical game species, the reserve also has four of the Big Five: elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard.  

The lake primarily used for irrigation is fed by the Phongolo River which runs right through the Pongolo Reserve.  Dammed in 1973, the lake is home to the pink-backed and great white pelicans, the Nile crocodiles and hippos.  The dam also supports more than 350 bird species such as Pel’s fishing owl, the green and red Narina Trogon and the red-beaked, black and white Saddle-billed Stork.

The Space for Elephant Foundation are also working at the Pongola Reserve aiming to create a habitat for more than 1000 elephants and re-establish an old migration route.   Baby twin elephants,  Dingane and Shaka were born at Pongola in 2014.  Twins are extremely rare, as little as 0.5% of elephant births worldwide, making these twins extremely special at Pongola.

I’ve now completed 94 kms of the Kruger Park challenge

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I finished my latest booking today, so from 3.30pm my time is once again my own – for 6 days 🤪

When I got home, after unpacking my suitcase I had a quick sleep and then I popped Pepe onto my back and took us for a practice walk.

We need to start becoming seriously reacquainted now coz it’s less than 3 weeks till we do some serious walking. It’s good from a few aspects; I test all the pressure points from the weight, I test the pressure points of my feet…where does it hurt? What needs strapping up – like my little dislocated toe on my right foot…I’ll have to strap that. Where on my heels? Etc. And testing my distance vs time.

I walked via the harbour, then up the hill…immensely pleased to not even break stride, or huff and puff.

Ramsgate Royal Harbour

Pushing myself the last 16 days has paid off big time 😄😄👏👏👏 From there I walked along the clifftop past the fairy woods where I saw an orange egg with feathers and a funny face, to my favourite sunset spot overlooking Pegwell Bay.

Fairy woods
English Coast Path above Pegwell Bay

I was too early for the fireworks, but it was still beautiful.

Pegwell Bay
Looking back towards Pegwell Bay

Then back down via the harbour again and past ASDA where I bought myself a packet of my favourite crisps…which I haven’t had for 16 days and I think after all my hard work I deserve it 😁😁

I just got home and my stats are 7.83kms 2 hours 4 minutes at just over 13 minutes per km. I’m on track 👏👏👏👏

Pressure points: right hip – on checking Pepe I found one of the smaller shoulder straps had worked loose, so the backpack was unbalanced (note to self…check the straps every morning before walking).

Left foot – I have very high arches, and the top of my foot on the bony area is painful from rubbing against the tongue and laces of my shoe, so that needs looking at, albeit not a new problem, walking for 26 kms is going to make it a real problem, so I must sort that before I go.

The little dislocated toe is not happy. So that will definitely need looking at.

Other than that, just my right knee was complaining, but I think that’s from the pressure of the unbalanced backpack pressing on my hip.

I’ll go out for another test run tomorrow night and see if the tightened strap makes any difference.

The bonus is that I’m still very comfortable with my gorgeous ‘Osprey Mystic Magenta Tempest 40’, and it’s like we’ve never been parted…it’s so comfortable on my back that I forget it’s there.

I’m walking another section of the Saxon Shore Way on Monday from Rainham to Rochester; approximately 16-20 kms, so that will be another good test.

Tomorrow I’m taking my grandson out for the day, and on Sunday it’s my daughter’s birthday so we’ll be going out for an early supper.

Onwards…the seagull says I did good 😁😁

And now I’m off to bed. Already missing the peace and quiet of the countryside…

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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 💃💃💃 = 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 🤪🤪), 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…😂😂😂

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When I bought the Kruger National Park challenge in March I had it in mind to honour the memory of my brother Arnold, who should have been 66 years old today; 08/08/21. He died in his mid-20s nearly 40 years ago under very sad circumstances.

Kruger National Park virtual challenge
Kruger National Park virtual challenge – starter bib

So I figured I would hold it till 1 August before starting the challenge and try to walk 66 kms by his birthday. As well as which, I was born in South Africa and one of my most enduring childhood memories was a visit to the Kruger National Park when we were teenagers…probably about 13 or 14 at the time. My Dad, his 2nd wife, me (the eldest) my brother (6 months younger than me – adopted by my Dad when he remarried), my sister 3.5 years younger than me and my much younger brother who was a baby at the time.

As we drove along the very long narrow dusty road heading towards the gates of the camp, after a long day of driving, my little brother threw up all over my older brother…I was wearing a very fancy patterned two piece pant-suit; a mini-skirt length top and bell-bottoms at the time, blue with coloured squares (I think I wrote about this some time back under a different context)…anyway, my brother had on a bright orange shirt and khaki trousers, which now had vomit all over them. A quick stop at the side of the road and we progressed with everyone affected cleaned up and my brother wearing the pants of my suit and looking both sheepish and colourful.

I can’t recall the name of the camp, but I do remember that we had a fantastic view of a massive waterhole from the dining room. We had a fantastic time and managed to see a lot of game on our drives, as well as in the compound when the animals from outside the fence decided to join the animals inside the fence!!! But of all the exciting things we saw, that episode with the clothes and the eggs we had for breakfast are my best memories.

And so I kicked off on 1 August and got my first postcard

Once again, the amount of information they provide with each postcard is amazing, and so fascinating. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have

On the southeast coast of South Africa and bordered by Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique is the province of Kwazulu-Natal.  Known for its beaches, mountainous region and large savannahs with big game, this province is also home to the Zulu nation.  Kwazulu-Natal is made up of two separate provinces, KwaZulu and Natal, that merged in 1994.  KwaZulu was a semi-independent area intended as a homeland for the Zulu people whose ancestors were part of the Zulu Kingdom.

The Zulu Kingdom was a monarchy from 1816-1897 which grew to prominence under the leadership of Shaka Zulu, the illegitimate son of Senzangakhona, the Chief of the Zulu clan.  Senzangakhona had 14 sons, 4 of them ruled as kings.  Although Shaka was the oldest, due to his illegitimacy he did not have any claim as successor to his father.  When Senzangakhona died in 1816, his legitimate heir Sigujana took over but his rule was short-lived as Shaka had him assassinated and became king.  He in turn was killed 12 years later by another brother, Dingane who 12 years later was overthrown by his brother Mpande, who ruled for the next 32 years.  Mpande’s son, Cetshwayo, succeeded him in 1873 for the next five years.  

Cetshwayo was the leader during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.  Fought over several bloody battles between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom, the war lasted less than six months.  The first significant battle was at Isandlwana in January 1879 where 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked the British forces of less than 2,000 soldiers.  Defeating the British, a contingent of Zulu warriors broke off from the main force and proceeded towards Rorke’s Drift, which would become the second main battle on the same day.  Having been pre-warned of the Zulu advances, the British were prepared for the assault.  Vastly outnumbered with guns blazing, the British held their position.  After 12 hours of fighting, the Zulu warriors retreated.  Several more battles were fought over the coming months until the British moved into the royal village where they inflicted the final defeat.  By August, Cetshwayo was captured, deposed and exiled.  He was the last king of an independent Zulu nation.  Today Cetshwayo’s descendant Goodwill Zwelithini is the 8th reigning monarch of the Zulu nation.

My journey begins in the town of Hluhluwe.  Located in the north of Kwazulu-Natal between iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park, this small town is known for its big game, national parks and production of 95% of South Africa’s pineapples.  It has a population of less than 4,000 residents, yet it is considered a travel hub for Kwazulu-Natal. 

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is a major attraction for the big 5 game: elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.  Located southwest of Hluhluwe, the park is the oldest nature reserve in Africa consisting of 96,000 hectares.  Established in 1895 as a park, the area was originally a royal hunting ground for the Zulu Kingdom.  The reserve was setup to protect the endangered white rhinoceroses and now has the largest population in the world (approx. 1000).  The park is also the only one in Kwazulu-Natal where all five big game animals can be found.

Located northeast to Hluhluwe is the 1,270sq mi (3,280km2) iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  The park is rich in fauna and flora due to the “different ecosystems within the park, ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannahs, and wetlands”.  A wonderful array of animals co-habitate here both on land and in the ocean such as: elephant, leopard, rhino, buffalo, hippos, whales, dolphins, leatherback and loggerhead turtles and crocodiles. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

The park also contains the 140sq mi (350km2) estuarine Lake St Lucia.  It was named in 1575 on the day of the feast of Saint Lucy.  Nearly 2,200 plant species have been identified in the lake’s system such as the Sausage-tree, bearing sausage-like fruits 1-2ft long (30-60cm) and purplish-green flowers. It is also an ideal environment for mangrove trees, six different species have been recorded.  Other delightful flora are the Prickly Tree Hibiscus with its yellow flowers, Maputaland Cycad with its red flowers, Impala-lily with its delicate pink flowers and the Cape honeysuckle.

And so, over a period of 7 days I managed to achieve my goal of walking 66kms; 1 for each year that he would have been…had he lived.

I miss my brother, and although we were not blood relatives I adored him and he me. We got up to a lot of mischief as children and one of the few photos I have of him is when there were just the 5 of us; my cousin Yvonne, me, my cousin Brian, my brother Arnold and my sister Susanne. My family expanded a lot after this photo was taken, what with remarriages and another 4 sisters and 1 brother.

family and relationships
me, my brother, my sister, and cousins

The rest of the challenge will be completed during my jaunt along the Northumberland Coast Path and Hadrian’s Wall, both of which are long enough to ‘possibly’ allow me to complete this challenge before I return home. Although I have to say that the temptation to buy a 2nd Hadrian’s Wall challenge and complete the virtual walk whilst walking the actual wall is VERY strong!! LOL… I’ll decide by the 09th of September before I start my actual walk…it will all depend on how many km’s I manage to complete before then since the Kruger challenge has to be finished by 30/09/21 because the organisers changed the medal and made the route shorter. But I want the original medal, so…onwards into the breech dear friends, onwards!

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for me, I’m kicking up dust in the Kruger National Park… 🙂

Here are some of the scenes from my 7 walks

walking the kruger national park
Day 1 Sunday 01.08.2021
walking the kruger national park
Day 2 Monday 02.08.21
walking the kruger national park
Day 3 Wednesday 04.08.21
walking the kruger national park
Day 4 Thursday 05.08.21
walking the kruger national park
Day 5 Friday 06.08.21
walking the kruger national park
Day 6 Saturday 07.08.21
walking the kruger national park
Day 7 Sunday 08.08.21

Day 3 I ended up hip deep in a ditch sky-high with brambles…still not sure how I got out, there’s a long story behind the cows on day 4 and there’s one particular scene that I just love and photograph it every day when I walk that route. The houses in this area are stunning…and I get house envy when I see some of them, and I love that quote from Day 1.

The above scenes are round and about the farmlands of Faversham. They recently harvested one of the fields nearby, hence the tractor and the harvester.

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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 — 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 £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 renew…💜

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 🙂 ) 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 – 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…£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 £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 £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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