Friday 31 May 2013

Post scriptum

Nearly a week has gone by. Time to reflect on this year's walk. The official length of the Ridgeway trail is 87 miles, but including the distance to and from our nightly stops, Mel did 92 miles in the end and I managed 80 which I'm very pleased about, considering the nature of the terrain. But if I'd had a choice I would have taken more time. The pressure to complete each day's walk was extreme and left little time to really appreciate the lovely landscapes we were passing through. 
Having said that, it would have been much harder without all the support we received. The back-up team - Ed, who very efficiently moved our luggage, and sometimes us, from place to place; Joan who collected us on day 1 and delivered us to the start of the Ridgeway path; Diana and Alan who transported us to our B&B on day 2; the landlords at the White Horse and the Cherry Tree who transported us back to the Ridgeway to start the day; Julie and Paul who met us, fed us, encouraged us up the final slog and transported us to our hotel; and all the family and friends who sent cheery messages along the way. I never thought I would say this, but it would all have been harder and a lot lonelier without  email  and internet!
And, of course Mel, who gave me the courage to give it a try (though we both knew it was way outside my comfort zone), waited patiently while I dragged myself up the steeper bits, stood  guard while I scuttled behind bushes at regular intervals, stuck  Compede plasters on my toes and picked leaves out of my underwear!
And finally my inspiration - Arts Together and all its people - members, staff, volunteers and artists whose vitality, sense of fun and zest for life never cease to inspire me! I do hope we've raised a little money for this incredible charity and done something to help raise its profile along the way.

Peak performance

Wendover to Ivinghoe Beacon. It was the right decision to opt out on Friday. Mel arrived at our hotel late in the afternoon, soaked to the skin and frozen and I realised that, had I decided to walk, I would have seriously slowed him down and added unnecessary risk to the day. We also discovered that you can't use a touch phone if your fingers are frozen, so I'd sat in our room wondering if he was ok while he was trying to text me on an unresponsive phone. Sobering thought - what would have happened if he'd needed to call for help?
The Red Lion was a real treat - friendly, comfortable and delicious food!
By contrast Saturday turned out to be a perfect day for walking the final section. Cool, sunny and clear with magnificent views. We walked through beech and mixed woodland with masses of bluebells scenting the air, followed by open downland and the song of skylarks. The path was surprisingly dry and mostly not too slippy.
Julie, Paul and Steve met us in Tring Park with a delicious picnic - a real treat after pub-type packed lunches all week - and then caught up with us later about half a mile from the end. We walked about 11 miles in total and I'm not still quite sure how I got to the top when we reached the Beacon, but what a view when we reached the peak! And fascinating to look back towards Wendover and realise just how much ground we had covered on our last day.
Julie and Paul took us back to  their house, where Joan and Steve were waiting, and treated us to a celebratory glass of bubbly. Good to take my boots off for the last time.
Spent the night at Aylesbury Premier Inn as Tring was fully booked. What an anti-climax but too tired to care!

Friday 24 May 2013

Chickened out!

Woke up today so exhausted that I decided to take a break - sorry sponsors, but 16 miles yesterday was just too much, so I've chickened out. I hope it means that I can recover enough to do the final walk to Ivinghoe Beacon tomorrow which looks very strenuous, and also I won't be slowing Mel down today as he's much faster on hills and will be able to finish earlier. Am waiting for Ed to come and transport me with the rest of the baggage to Wendover, our next stop.

Challenging Chilterns

Leaving the outskirts of Wallingford it was a steady slog uphill. Then about 3 miles along Grim's Ditch which starts as a raised causeway flanked by trees and bushes and eventually becomes a ditch between 2 banks. Rolling fields on either side. Some very steep ascents and descents through beech and bluebell woods and I was so glad that the ground was still dry, not slippery. There were several quite fierce hailstorms but we were protected from the worst by the trees, until the last mile or so which was exposed and very muddy. Sadly not much time to really enjoy the walk, but it got me thinking how it must have been for travellers in the past who didn't have the benefit of light weight, high tech walking gear.
Saw more wildlife today - rabbits, a squirrel, a fledgling bird who looked very lost, also unexpectedly an unspoilt bank of violets and cowslips. But no people and certainly no motorbikes.
The last few miles were flattish and low so we had clear views of the tree covered hills rising above us in gentle evening light. The Chilterns just as I remember them.
16 miles today. Exhausted to bed!

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Familiar places

Day 5 Streatley to Wallingford
Quite nostalgic today walking along the Thames and then over the bridge into 
Wallingford. Cloudy again but no mist and quite chilly till the afternoon, when the sun came out. We remembered the stifling heat last year and were grateful! Suddenly we are seeing trees and shrubs in blossom - lilac, laburnum, horse chestnut, magnolias and wisteria and the sweet scents of early summer. Also stinking ranks of cow parsley! The cuckoo was in full voice  and so were the geese.
The grasses in flower are particularly lovely and I'm so glad I don't suffer from hay fever.
We were conscious of the mainline to London disturbing the peace most of the day. But passing under a fine brick railway bridge crossing the Thames I remembered how I was fascinated by the many different bridges we came upon last year.
Quite surprised that a hotel like the George where we are staying doesn't offer afternoon tea, nor is there a tea shop in town. So we ended up at Costa and I pretended I'd earned a big slice of carrot cake!
Tomorrow we start the great challenge of the Chilterns, in snow and hail if the forecast is to be believed.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Horse Racing Country

Day 4 East Ilseley to Streatley
A shorter walk today for which I'm so grateful as my toes are getting very sore. Ed drove us the first couple of miles back to the path. Very murky again, but if it had been hot and sunny the heat and brightness reflecting off the chalk would have been deeply unpleasant. It's a part of the world famous for its racing stables and we saw a horse exercising on the gallops. It's a landscape you can't see from any road and it felt like a great privilege to able to walk through it.
Most of the snails had gone today and the few slugs I saw were facing the opposite way. Maybe thats an omen? However what was new today were the lapwings and their haunting cry. And some drama - a buzzard being mobbed by crows as well as the inevitable Red Kites circling ominously. Don't know why I find kites so sinister.
Lovely to be back in Streatley where we stopped last year on the Thames Path and celebrated reaching the halfway point of our journey. Strangely we are half way through our Ridgeway journey too.

Gastropod gala

Day 3 Woolstone to East Ilesley.
Today I was in totally new surroundings having never walked beyond Uffington before. Rather murky and quite chilly but still the rain kept away. Lovely weather for walking in fact though it made some of the scenery a bit vague. What was visible was BIG and that was a bit of a surprise. Huge rolling hills, very few people and absolutely no motorbikes!
We were accompanied by a band of little black slugs mostly pointing the way we were walking plus a troupe of pole dancing snails. Why DO snails climb to the top of dry leafless stalks? It looks so uncomfortable. Mainly yellow shiny and brown. Clearly showing off their party shells.
The birdsong was glorious but even this began to pall as we neared the twelfth mile on our longest day.
Thankfully Ed picked us up from Bury Down and drove us the rest of the way to the Crown and Horns in East  where the food was good and the bed was soft. I don't remember much else!