Friday, 28 November 2008

Long lost cousins and new found friends. Gloucester to Wotton

I'm sitting on a railway station, got a ticket for my destination, and I can't stop singing quietly to myself as the train speeds it's way to Newport, South Wales.
I had four reasons to be cheerful, firstly was the thought that my B & B hopping days were nearly over. From here on I had friends in Salisbury, Devon, and a cottage in Cornwall with family and friends for the final week. Secondly, sister Jill was also on her way to Newport, via Pennsylvania USA, with an en route stop off at Welshpool, Wales. I imagined she'd be on her train right now, probably polishing her halo, having done the "neicely" duties of a visit to a 91 year old Auntie Edna. Thirdly I'd be met at Newport by a long lost cousin (not seen for 40 years) and last but not least, tomorrow, I'd be walking with some V.I.P's from "Natural England" who'd been supporting this mad venture of mine.
And as I write, I'm wishing that that particular tomorrow was not so far in the distant past. The reality is, I'm not now on that train, but sitting in front of a fire on a cold winters night in November with another Christmas, without Sophie, looming ahead. And so, this has all but ceased to be a blog, and more a way of finishing a journal.
Flashing back to August, after meeting up with a very sprightly cousin Michael, who certainly didn't look the 40 years older he was, and having enjoyed an excellent evening of good food, wine and hospitality, the next day, with perfect timing I meet my new found friends on Gloucester Station . Stella, a big cheese in the WHI initiative, having been there at it's inception. Fiona and Moira who deal with publicity and advertising, and Mitch, "Pedometer man" which as I found out later, was more than just handing out little gadgets. There's a whole lot of research going into it all, which is all fine and dandy to hear about, until numbers and statistics come into the equation, and my eyes start to glaze over.
Firstly, after initial introductions, the important questions were discussed. To buy or not to buy? Lunch that is, and who was going to map read. On the second issue I gratefully accepted that they, the locals, could lead the way. Fortunate as they were to work in the lovely town of Cheltenham they were also pretty familiar with the less desirable Gloucester.
Mitch route marched us out of town before I had chance to view it's more attractive side (if it had one) and before too long we were heading up the hill towards Robinswood Hill where on a clear day you could see as far as the Bristol suspension bridge. Considering what a popular place it must be, the choice of paths to get there was very confusing. Being a man, Mitch couldn't possibly ask for directions, but we girls could, and somehow or other we made our way to the top, where we paused for photo's. Me in my "whiter than white" T shirt. (and isn't it amazing what a hot wash can do!)
After some deliberation, we decided on the route to Stonehouse where we would have to eventually part company. I looked nostalgically towards Painswick in the distance, but sadly it wasn't on this year's path, and besides that blue cup" (pub) on the map, in another direction, looked like the ideal lunch stop. To sit in the midday sunshine in a quaint little pub in a hamlet in the Cotswold countryside was something to look forward to. Or it could have been. "Closed due to unforeseen circumstances" was the hurriedly scribbled note on the firmly shut door. Whatever their circumstances were, ours were, two packed lunches between four people. But here's the interesting fact,one always packs more food for a "packed lunch" than one would normally eat at lunchtime. And so there was food a plenty. Sitting in the sunshine on a bench outside the deserted pub we metaphorically shared our loaves and fishes.
Mitch marched us on our way towards Stonehouse. An ideal second refreshment break yes? No. It didn't materialise as the sort of quaint town where there would be a "Ye oldie tea shop" to bid our fond farewells over a cuppa, as it turned out to be unfortunately more Calcutta than Cotswold, with a plethora of curry houses lining the High street. Perhaps it was just as well we didn't stop as I'd arranged to meet cousin Michael in Wotton under Edge, and estimated getting there at 5pm . With promises to keep in touch and perhaps to join Mitch on his next "challenge" (climbing Everest) I finally picked up "The Cotswold Way" retracing the steps of last years trek...
5pm came and went. Michael was there, I wasn't. Not wanting to keep him waiting I put a spurt on and puffed and panted my way through the woods on a part of the "Cotswold's Way" I'd merely strolled through last year. Staggering upon Michael outside a most delightfully tempting (open for business) pub. It was however, all temptations considered, a long way back to Wales.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The unexpected assault course- Tewkesbury to Gloucester

Glenda was inside Tesco's buying sandwiches for lunch, I was outside waiting to meet the next WHI group and Beverley had run off with the proprietor of the B & B.
A fast mover, I hasten to add, she was after my rucksack, not the man, and was back in a flash to join the rest of the party. Rushing to keep this 10 am appointment I'd left my bag behind. As Dennis & Annie had driven all the way from Leominster with two of their walkers, Jason and Carl, to walk part of the way down the river with us, I didn't want to be late.
After I'd got over the shock of B & G wanting to join in again this year after they'd endured the arduous assault course that was the Pennine Way last year, they then preceded to lay down the conditions. "No hills, no scrambling over rocks, refreshments en route, toilet facilities,nearer to home, and definitely no more than 15 miles, oh, and for one day only. Ok, can you organize that?" I most certainly could. Today's walk was one I'd been looking forward to. Rated as one of the five best walk of travel writer Mark Moxon's L.E. to J.O.G. trip ticked all the boxes. And this was how I "sold" it. "A pleasant meander along the banks of the river Severn, with the opportunity for frequent liquid refreshments at any one (or three) of the delightful riverside pubs. The added bonus being, we were unlikely to get lost"
And all was well, for the first few miles. The six of us set off downstream at a cracking pace, none more cracking than Jason and Carl. Charging ahead of us, theirs was a real WHI success story. When Annie first encouraged them to walk, they could barely complete a mile in 40 minutes. In less than two hours we'd clocked up 5 miles and were enjoying a picnic lunch in the sunshine.
Soon it was time for us to bid fond farewells, and move on to find one of those delightful pubs Mark waxed lyrically about. Well, we found one and yes, the setting was ideal, the pub less so. Never the less, surprisingly good coffee was served with a smile, and as we contentedly sipped and sat at a wooden bench by the river, we eyed up the route ahead and encountered a problem. Where exactly was the route ahead?
When the only way forward seemed to be ploughing through the undergrowth and scrambling up the bank to avoid falling in the river, I sensed dissent among the ranks. Hearing mutterings from behind of "This is worse than last years climb up Stoodley Pike" we reached the mutual decision to backtrack to the pub, whereupon in full embarrassing view of the pub clientele we spotted the sign which would continue our journey on the "Severn Way"
I'd like to say, it got better, but by courtesy of Gloucestershire C.C. who'd decided to put maintaining public rights of ways at the bottom of their "To Do" pile, we encountered our old friends, the nettle family.
So what with that, the mud, and thoughts of a long drive home ahead of us, we settled on the minor road option for the final few drizzly miles into Gloucester.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A hole in my shoe- Worcester to Tewkesbury

That's me, on the right, riding the crest of a "Severn Bore" wave. Not bad for a novice, if I do say so myself!

I lie, of course. But I was interested in finding out about the phenomenon of the "Severn Bore" and would I actually see it? On the internet was a mind boggling amount of information about precise times, dates, places, statistics and an awful lot of charts. It was all getting far too technical and I sensed I was entering "serious anorak" territory. Time to switch off, but not before ascertaining that I wasn't in the right part of the river to view a sighting anyway.

And so onto today's real, but slightly less exciting adventure.

There was no denying it, I could feel pavement through my sock, and on investigation there was a sizeable hole in my shoe. Well, all things considered, they'd lasted me well to get this far,and just as well I was in a town with a "Miletts". Half an hour later, I was bouncing down the High Street the proud owner of a replica pair of new boots. Somehow or other they bounced me in the direction of the Cathedral. As if by perfect timing I arrived during a morning rehearsal. Lighting a candle, I sat back in the pew, closed my eyes, and let the wonderful sounds wash over me.It was so incredibly moving, I really wanted to stay forever (or at least until I was thrown out) but I had to go. Another day, and another rendezvous. Today I was meeting friends from home at Upton-upon-Severn, or that was the plan.

I got there, Beverley and Glenda didn't. Caught up in traffic on the motorway, they were hours behind schedule, giving me time to check out Upton and bus timetables. Tomorrow, Sunday, we needed to get back from Gloucester to Tewkesbury. (buses ran every day-except Sunday) Oh dear!

I dawdled along the river, stopping to buy an Ice Cream. It was a lovely sunny day, and the weekend crowds were making the most of it. What a shame B & G hadn't got here to enjoy it.

Or, perhaps not. The wide path slowly dwindled down to a narrow unkempt one. That I could cope with. A couple came walking up. Stopping for a chat, their parting shot of "watch out for some nettles further along the way" proved to be the understatement of the year. 1/2 mile of waist high nettles is not "some nettles"

I pulled up my socks, pulled down my shorts to try and cover any inch of exposed flesh, raised my arms high up above my head and waded through. It hardly made any difference, the little b.....s managed to find a way. In what seemed like an eternity I finally saw an end in sight, and hoped that was the worst of it. I needed to warn the obliviously happy pair, who were by now making their way out of Tewkesbury. "Are you wearing long trousers?" "Don't be ridiculous, it's a lovely sunny day, why?" Well, fortunately for them, that was the rest of the walk into Tewkesbury was nettle free. Feeling quite brave and macho I proudly displayed my battle scars, which resembled the crater like surface of a very fiery red moon. Ever the prepared girl guide she once was, Glenda whipped out her travelling medicine cabinet and put out the fire.

As we passed by, I looked longingly and nostalgically at the "Tudor House Hotel" Although they must have been ravished by last year's floods, they were up and open for business, but unfortunately not for us. As in Worcester, in desperation, I booked a "cheap" triple room in a Guest House. In my experience, cheap does not necessarily mean poor standard, and it wasn't really that bad (for one night only) Put it this way, we were as cosy as the three bears, but there definitely wasn't room for Goldilocks.

Friday, 3 October 2008

A warm welcome to Worcester

"Cashier number one please"
9.00 am, and I was first in line at the Post Office in Stourport upon Severn. I hadn't realised getting my "walking passport" stamped would be such a trial. "I'm not signing and stamping anything unless I know what it is" cashier number one retorted, flicking the passport from side to side, suspiciously. "Ere, Shirl, ever seen one of these?" Cashier number two (Shirl) heaved herself slowly of her stool and lumbered over to take a peek. "No, can't say I have" Meanwhile, an impatient queue started to form behind me, because as we all know, there are only ever two post office windows open at any time. I started again "I'm walking from..." Eventually she reluctantly signed, stamped and I went on my way.
Either it was the weather or the early start, I don't know, but I seemed to whizz alongside the river, and still have time for two pub stops along the way. And there's nothing quite like sitting by the river with an ice cold drink, on a sunny day.
I was looking forward to meeting Peter, his wife, Marguerite, walk leaders from the "Pitchcroft Pacers" in Worcester and Elinor, from Droitwich. But try as I might, I couldn't help conjuring up images of little men in farmers smocks trekking round the racecourse, with pitchforks for walking sticks.
We met, as planned at the "Sabrina Bridge" so called, as she is the Goddess of water. But not without a detour. The effects of last years floods meant I had to leave the riverside and the prospect of gawping at the houses on "millionaires row" for a much less attractive route down the main road into town. But what a warm welcome I received when I got there from the three of them. Why, Elinor had even brought me a present!
We all walked up to the Pump House together for a welcoming cup of tea, where we met and chatted with the young girl from the press, before posing for photo's outside.
Later when Peter and Marguerite dropped me off at the dubious looking B & B, I kind of regretted not taking them up on the offer of a drive out to the Malvern Hills and a bed for the night. But it was too late to run after them, and shout "I'm a tired traveller, get me out of here!"

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The golden age of steam - Pattingham to Bewdley

Penkridge, Pattingham and Bewdley, all places I'd wanted to re-visit. Not just because they were nice places to stay, but more so because of the people I met there. Then, strangely enough, when it came to it, I didn't want to go back to Penkridge library, or the farmhouse B & B in Pattingham, because somehow I knew it wouldn't be the same. There was, however, one person I'd already planned to meet, and that was Adele in Bewdley. We'd exchanged phone numbers last year, but losing the phone, meant losing her number. Meeting in "The Pack Horse" Pub last year we'd shared histories over a glass or two and vowed to keep in touch. But perhaps it was just as well we were not destined to meet up.
The phone rang "Hello! Peter here! I've arranged for the press photographer to meet us at the Pump House at 3pm, is that ok?" I gulped, and quickly set the calculator whirring in my head. Bewdley to Worcester, 20 miles at approx. 3 miles an hour, with extra time for brief stops and getting lost, meant leaving at 7.30 am. "Fine" I said, breezily, "I'll see you there!"
Oh, it was so hot, sticky and unbearably humid today, I couldn't wait to get down to the river. To spur myself on, I earmarked a "blue cup" on the map, to treat myself to a large orange juice with plenty of ice, and what passed the time was meeting a retired policeman, full of local knowledge and stories of last year's floods. In the pub garden, it was hard to believe a year ago I'd have been 3 foot under water.
Was it the heat and fatigue that had made me imagine the haunting distance sounds of a steam train? Or was it all the nostalgic thoughts of yesterday? No, as I reached the river, there up above was the "Severn Valley Railway" chugging back and forth between Ardley and Bewdley. I had to take a look, not least because there might be the prospect of an Ice Cream. Sadly, it was already getting late and the shop was closed. As the last train to Bewdley pulled up to the platform, it was calling out to me "Come on Carol, you're tired, hungry, and it's only 5 miles, I'll get you there in a jiffy"
Now, can you imagine the powers of restraint I needed not to jump on board?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

A Transport Manifesto- Pattingham to Penkridge

"Pillock?" she enquired, scanning a finger down the visitors book, "Er no, the name's Pollock, actually, I made the booking over the phone, perhaps you misheard me" I laughed, she looked puzzled. Young and Polish, she clearly knew not what she'd said. It was early morning in a Pub in Penkridge and I was itching to get going, once I'd extracted myself away from the jolly landlady who wanted to know all about the trip. How good it felt to be back in the Black Country. From the moment Keith dropped me off at Coventry station, where, with perfect timing, I caught the only straight through morning train to Penkridge, friendliness prevailed, from the ticket office at the station to "Curry's" in Wolverhampton, I was met with smiles and greetings. Why, I was even getting to like the accent!
Dumping the rucksack in Penkridge I made my way to Pattingham by train and bus. With an hour to spare in Wolverhampton, while "Curry's" were obligingly charging up the camera for me, armed with a town trail map I explored. And was pleasantly surprised. Wolverhampton is like one of many post industrial towns, making the best of their heritage
For the first time in the history of the Lejog/Jogle I found getting lost actually worked to my advantage! Following the Shropshire Union Canal, watching the barges chugging slowly up and down the canal, I started to muse about how our whole transport system had completely changed, for the worse really, in the last 50 years. While Beeching was ripping up train tracks, canals were drained, and tram lines removed, arteries of motorway were threading throughout the land, and the age of high speed travel arrived along with jumbo jets and Concord. Deep in thought, I found myself in the middle of a housing estate, and on asking for directions, was guided to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal all the way into Penkridge.
So back to the Transport Manifesto. It seemed to me that in the name of progress we'd actually gone backwards. All because we've lost our sense of time. Continuously seeking ways and means of getting ourselves, and goods from A to B faster. If only the time element was taken away, we could return to the days of transportation by foot, bycycle, train, boat or barge.
But it would take a brave Transport Minister to radically tackle today's problem of pollution, overcrowded roads, and a confusing and inadequate railway system. I reckon whoever is in charge of National Express should be appointed. What a fantastically efficient way of travel. How else can you travel from London To Inverness (return) for £2?
And so all the new Transport Minister has to do is make us all go on compulsory "Canal Bank Holidays" Why? To get us all to de-stress and chill us out to the level where we can accept a slower pace of life. I've never been on a canal boat holiday, but it seems you've got to learn the art of travelling slowly and waiting patiently at all those lock changes.
And so, after a day of sunshine and "bon homie" along the tow path, I spent the evening in the "Littleton Arms" with Kim and her husband, good food, wine and lively conversation. Perfect!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

And so we went home - Uttoxeter to Penkridge

"Where shall I drop you?" asked Kim, "At J.C.B. City!" I cried. And we sped off back to Uttoxeter at the start of yet another grey drizzly day. I'd met Kim on a "Natural England" training course, where we'd swapped "if you happen to be passing through this area..." contact details, and here she was! Why J.C.B. City?, well, the surreal landscape of "giant prawns claws" had really caught my attention last year, and I'd ever since regretted not taking a photograph. I think Kim must have dropped us at another smaller depot, as it didn't look quite so majestic, especially under grey clouds. Never mind, it was onwards and out of Uttoxeter, a place I'd never imagined I'd be in again. As we left, I thought back to last year, the enthusiasm of the local press, how we'd "posed" purposefully walking down the High Street, for "how many times was it?" to get the photo they wanted. This was no time for nostalgia as there were more pressing matters to deal with, e.g. the burgeoning blisters on Sheila's feet. Sticking to the roads to make the journey quicker we stopped en route at a pub where the locals were busy preparing for a big BBQ "fun & games" event. As we left under menacingly dark skies, it looked likely to be a wash out. Or hopefully not, because as we walked southwards, the weather certainly improved for us and it looked like we could enjoy a scenic route into Penkridge along the canal in the afternoon sunshine.
But we didn't. Why?, because, as usual, I talked too much when I should have been map reading.
Faced with a ford in the road caused by the heavy rain, I had to persuade a doubtful Sheila that there really was no alternative. Besides, "It won't be that deep" two seconds later we were ankle deep in water. It wasn't pleasant squelching into town on yet another main road. Had we gone back (as she suggested) we'd have picked up the right track to the canal. Oh dear. When Sheila, cried "I need Blaster Plisters!" it was lucky we hadn't got far to go and could see the funny side of what she'd just said. And finally, to round of a "cracking" day, if we were hoping, showered and refreshed, to venture out of the hotel into the evening sunshine, it wasn't to be. The thunder cracked, the lightning struck, the heavens opened and it was another night dining at the "Quality Inn"
The following morning, we weighed up the situation. With the odds stacked against us, rain, blisters and the fact that I'd probably walked too much for too long, we made a decision, booked the first bus back to London and called it a day.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Weddings and Wimbledon- Fenny Bentley to Uttoxeter

Well, that was a welcome reprieve! Thanks to Jane. It was interesting to read someone else's "blog" and saved me two days of "What do I write now?" moments.

I have to say it was quite exciting waiting for Sheila to alight from the bus in Ashbourne, as this was the first time someone on this trip had come out to join me en route. We celebrated the prospect of three days walking together with a nightcap in the pub. Sheila fighting fit, and fully equipped with the pedometer, was rearing to go. Yes, today had been a great day of sunshine and easy walking along the "Tissington Trail" the B & B in the delightful village of Fenny Bentley was luxurious. Things could only get better.
Or maybe not. The next morning dawned with drizzly rain as we set off along the last stretch of the "Tissington Trail" towards Ashbourne. Circumnavigating Ashbourne, by the third "I think we've been down this road before" experiences, we were confidently giving directions to the locals, never mind the passing tourists looking for Uttoxeter race course.
Sticking to the minor roads was easy, but looking for the ever elusive "Limestone Way" was a tricky business. Ploughing through the undergrowth and a nasty patch of nettles, we somehow stumbled, albeit briefly, upon the "Staffordshire Way"
Fed up with all this "which way" confusion, we decided the best option was to find a road, any road, that would take us to Uttoxeter- our destination. Happening across a farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere, we knocked on the door. It looked like no-one was home, until through a window we saw this old crone in nylon overalls, circa 1950's, (the overalls, not the crone) of about 104 heaving herself out of her chair. Three years later she eventually managed to open the door. Now, we didn't quite get what she croaked in answer to "Where is Uttoxeter?" but she pointed wildly in a southerly direction, and that was good enough for us. Where there's a farm, there has to be a road. Unfortunately it was the A515 into town. And even when we got there, the next problem was how to get to Penkridge? The bus driver at the bus station obviously hadn't chosen local Geography GCSE, as he hadn't a clue, but fortunately a passenger on the bus had. According to her, if we got a bus to Stafford, we could then get a train to Penkridge. But not before we had to kill time waiting for the bus in the greasiest of spoon cafe's where, lingering over a stewed cup of tea, we had time to admire how the proprietess dealt swiftly and efficiently with the local "Riff Raff" Any attempt by them to loiter in the caf and they were sharply booted out.
And so it was after a long, long, day we finally arrived at the "Quality Inn" in the middle of a wedding reception. Too tired to venture further than the bar, we joined the wake of the wedding party and the bar staff around the TV watching Wimbledon Highlights. The highlight of our day was a pedometer reading of 20 miles walked. 2,800 calories used which = eat, drink and be merry-Hurrah!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

In the Dales – Parsley Hay to Fenny Bentley

So lucky to have one of the really lovely days of the year weatherwise – fluffy white clouds and blue sky. Set off early to hit the trail – Tissington Trail – at Parsley Hay. This is one of the several Peak District trails converted from the old Matlock to Buxton railway route after Beeching did his worst in the 60s. It's such a pleasant, slightly downhill, route, passing through the beautiful drywalled farm land of the White Peak.

After a lunchtime and coffee encounter with a longdistance lorry driver who without any reluctance unfortunately showed his injured ankles(?!), and Carol tried to persuade him how much he needed to join a WH group (to no avail sadly), we had a pleasant afternoon's walk along to Tissington and its famous Hall; a 'stunning Jacobean manor house' - a lovely spot to which I must return with husband Neil sometime, not least for the delicious cream tea which to our delight, awaited us when we stopped off for a break. Tissington village is a lovely spot and has one of the Peak's renowned Well Dressing festivals, usually in May each year.

From there it was a short hop to Fenny Bentley, strung out along the main Ashbourne to Buxton road, but thankfully the comfy looking B+B where Carol was meeting Sheila was high above it in a really peaceful spot. We parted there and I made my way back to the main road for the bus back to Parsley Hay, hoping I had done my bit for WHI and Carol this year. Will be back for more (and to make sure Carol and Keith do the 'missing' Hope to Bakewell bit or thereabouts!)

Back over to you Carol...

Successful Walking for Health day in Sheffield – 3 walks in 1 day!

Bit of a drizzly day dawned, but we had big plans…Set off for Grenoside in north Sheffield to meet up with the first of the Sheffield Walking for Health groups. We found Tina and Jim with all the group in Grenoside Community Centre car park, with a stunning view over towards the northeast of the city, Wentworth and beyond. Had a lovely walk through Greno Wood, with Jim telling us details of local history, and everyone keen to hear Carol’s walking experiences and how the Surrey group is organised. Returned to a welcome cup of tea and biscuits in the adjacent Church hall, slightly overlapping with Mother and Toddler group still clearing away.

Decided we had time for a quick visit to town (and shopping, Decathlon very successful last time!) en route to our second walk in the west of Sheffield with the Fulwood group – Whiteley Woods and the Mayfield Valley. I was really pleased as I even got to go down lanes and byways I’d not been down before. Our round walk passed the long-established Mill House Animal Sanctuary, the field opposite full of a beautiful herd of Jerseys with one huge bull! – fortunately we were safely the right side of the fence. Leader Sue Lee chatted at length with Carol about the way different WHI groups were set up and the problems of getting grant money etc, though it seemed reassuring that some difficulties were the same wherever you are in the country!

After another much-needed cuppa in the famous Forge Dam café, it was home for a quick meal and catch-up on the computer before our final walk of the day, with the Center Parcs Six (well 4 of them anyway including me Jane). We walk every week if possible, putting the world and ourselves to rights. Ecclesall Woods is near my home and wonderful for walking; the WHI groups sometimes meet there along with other local groups. We did our usual circular route, under the canopy of one of the most beautiful Ancient Woodlands in Yorkshire; by the 16th century, most the area was coppice woods, part of the manor of Ecclesall, but it was acquired by the City Council in1927 from the Wentworth Woodhouse estate. Wonderful bird and wildlife but not much in evidence this evening. An earlyish night as a much longer walk in the Derbyshire Dales tomorrow.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Last of the free wine.

Wiping the greasy counter bar counter, she sighed. "Yes, can I help you?" in a way that said "You are the last customer I'm serving tonight, I just want to go home" On that point I was in total agreement. On any trip there are highlights and lowlights. Last night, sitting in a dismally deserted Wetherspoons on a grey drizzly evening, I tried to have positive thoughts. On the plus side, I got a free glass of wine with my meal (whoopee!) eating a tasteless rubbery beefburger served up by an apathetic young waitress was, hopefully, going to be the lowest point. Surprisingly, for a reasonably large town, Halifax had few restaurants, all of which (apart from Wetherspoons) stopped serving at 9pm.
In the spirit of it can only get better, it did. A totally different scene emerged the next morning. Leaving from the more prosperous leafy south side of town (in the sunshine) was more Harrogate than Halifax. Imposing Victorian mansions bordering vast green parks paved my way towards Huddersfield.
There's something quite exhilarating about standing on the brow of a hill looking down over Huddersfield and being able to see the far side of town, knowing where you're heading. To the canal, that's where, and to any long distance walker the prospect of walking alongside a canal is a welcome relief...for about the first 5 miles, then, it gets boring. Two days later you come across the next one, and the excitement starts all over again...
And so I wended my way to Holmfirth. Somewhere I'd specifically chosen to get to. Not because I'm a huge fan of "Last of the Summer Wine" but I figured the location of an incredibly long running and boring series must have something about it. Disappointingly not. It wasn't just mediocre, it was dire. While waiting for Jane, my next host, to arrive, I attempted to walk the steep hill to "Norah Batty's House" Halfway there I thought "What is the point?"
I just didn't get it. How could a "comedy" about three men, who never seem to get any older, still be going for over 30 years?
And so with a sigh, I made my way back down the hill.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Hell, Hull or Halifax - Skipton to Halifax

As the saying goes - "Hell, Hull, or Halifax, which would you choose?" I chose Halifax. Why? Well, last night Alan was being paternally concerned. He wasn't going to let me leave the house without knowing where my next bed was coming from. Lis had been checking B & B options in Hebden Bridge and there weren't any! Consulting the map it looked like Halifax was nearer to Holmfirth (the next destination) and so at 10.30pm a rather surprised Landlady took a very late booking.
In a supreme effort to avoid hills (difficult in the Pennine region) I chose to follow the River Aire out of Skipton. Following a river is easy, trying to negotiate a miriad of "ways" was definitely not. From Keighley to Haworth there was "The Worth Valley way", "The Bronte Way", "The Howarth Way", "The Railway Children Way"...confused and disorientated I could have been on the "Jenny Agutter Way" for all I knew, but somehow I stumbled out of the undergrowth onto the road which led up a very, very, steep hill to Howarth. Did I need to take it? No, I didn't. Not only did I find a flat river option but also, as luck would have it, a lady dog walker to guide me up to the main road into Halifax.
Why no photo's? Well, with a borrowed old phone of Alice's. I took the pictures but have no way of getting them out. Hopefully, eventually...where there's a will there's a way.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Trout fishing on the River - Buckden to Skipton

To get back to the Dales, I had to get an early train from York, change at Leeds, fight my way through the rush hour crush to the platform for Skipton, and then catch the little Dales bus to Buckden.
I'd been looking forward to the "Dales Way" or the part of it I was doing.An 82 mile walk, running from Ilkley to Bowness, this should be one of the most scenic sections.To start with it was a great relief to be on the flat, alongside the River Wharfe. After Kettlewell,an idyllic dales village, location of "Calendar Girls" it was the signs directed me up and up, presumably for the wonderful views. But it was a hot day, worn and weary, I'd done enough up, up and aways in the last few days. And there was a little yellow road running alongside the river, shouting out to me to tread it's path. It certainly looked a more desirable option.
Back on the riverside path was a truly delightful stroll, except I didn't have time for ambling, with a train to catch in Skipton. Treating myself to an Ice cream in Grassington, I was preparing myself for the inevitable haul along the road up and then down into Skipton.
And so it was a very tired and sweaty walker who finally arrived back on York Station.

An Uninvited Walker - Reeth to Kettlewell

Over breakfast Bob and I chatted about the "Coast to Coast". Reeth, being right on route, was the reason why the place was always so busy. As he set off to meet friends he'd hooked up with along the way, I waited on the Green for Lis, Alan, Alice and Rachel to pick me up.
First, Alan obligingly drove me back to the spot where I thought I'd lost the phone. We all hunted high and low, to no avail and so it was a late start for Lis and I back in Reeth. With arrangements to meet Alan and the girls for a picnic near Aysgarth Falls we left the village. Somehow or other the cycle track marked on the map, wasn't where it should have been. Through phone contact we knew Alan wasn't far away. but somehow we never met. Disappointingly they had to track back to the falls with the cool box, and by the time we eventually arrived they'd already eaten. After a hurried late lunch walking companions were swapped with a revised route. i.e. a shorter one if we were going to get back to York at a reasonable hour. Alice and Rachel took the car while Alan, Alice and I took the familiar route (for me) to Thoralby. As a family we'd holidayed here and it brought back many happy but poignant memories.
Just before we hit the main road we were joined by a frisky little puppy. For some reason, he didn't want to leave us, and try as we might, we just couldn't catch him. He whisked this way and that way across the busy road. It was embarrassing, every passing car must have thought we were it's careless owners. Not only that, he was likely to get run over at any moment. After about two miles of this a car screeched to a halt, out jumped a young man, clicked his fingers and grabbed the dog's collar, just like that!
"That's Cooper's dog that is, always getting out he is" "Coopers as in at the Caravan Park?" I asked. The very same people we'd rented our holiday cottage from. Small world in the Dales!
Thankfully he drove off with the dog and we carried on...and on. The road rose up and down along with the sun and we were relieved to finally reach our destination and the car.
Back in York with a Chinese take-away we planned the next day.

Chapter 4. Like a pack of cards. Barnard Castle to Reeth

This was the Chapter in the story where nearly everything started to go wrong.
Like a pack of cards, things started to tumble. Starting with phones. My super dooper radio/camera phone dropped down the toilet, water damaged, it was useless so I took Sophie's phone with me. When it fell out of my pocket somewhere in the middle of the Dales, I not only lost photographs, but more tragically, something of very sentimental value.
And then there was Darlington. Looking up bus timetables on the internet it seemed the last bus to Barnard Castle was at 4.30pm. My train didn't get into Darlington until 4.40pm so I had to book a B & B in there. It was something else. To say the owner was a fan of Nelson would be a gross understatement. Like stepping into a museum, it was stuffed with memorabilia. Led to my room passed a wall long mural of the battle of Waterloo, he proudly told me he'd been collecting for the last twenty years. The room was small, basic and reminiscent of my attic abode in Wick, but thankfully, Nelson free.
And now for somewhere to eat. Not a great deal of choice, and I made a wrong one. Tapas bars are for sharing platters with friends, not for sad and lonely singles. How does one choose two dishes from about fifty selections on the menu? Gloomily I went back to the "Admiral" Lot's of noise and jollity hailing from the "Waterloo" bar, tempted to join them, I thought better of it and headed to my room.
The next morning at breakfast the table was adorned with red, white and blue napkins and little union jacks waving between the salt & pepper pots. Outside in the garden, the flags of England, Scotland,Ireland and Wales waved back.
Wondering how any wife could put up with this Nelson fanatisism, she told me she herself was also a fan. They'd got married on the HMS Belfast, in full costume (of course) as seen on the photo of their business card.
Phew! with a quick salute to the flags at the front door I was off to Barnard Castle, a lovely dales town with lot's of lovely places to stay, eat and drink. Grrr!
First stop, the Information Centre. I needed to know how I was going to get from Reeth to York tonight. By taking three buses and a train apparently, and the last bus from Reeth was at 5.30.
Right! Better get going then. All was going well on the yellow roads. The sun was shining accompanied by a gentle breeze until I hit the high road. Battling in the wind across the moors, I somehow lost my way and when I saw a dirt track I took it -because it led back to a road. Disorientated setting off in the wrong direction, I soon realised I was heading north, not south. Now I may be crap at map reading but along the way I've picked up a bit of geographical knowledge as I'm able to tell the difference between the rugged northern pennines and the rolling dales.
Scrambling down to a ford I stopped to fold the map. This is where I guessed, later, I must have lost the phone, because not long after that I tried to ring York. I wasn't going to make that bus tonight.
With no way of contacting my friends I just hoped and prayed there'd be somewhere to stay in Reeth. It was a pretty big village with five pubs and a couple of B & B's but- It was Saturday night, and with a wedding party in town, to every knock the answer was "No room at the Inn" My last hope was the "Temperance Hotel" As I started to knock, the door flew open. The owner was dashing off to Evening Service, and I just caught her in time. With everything crossed I asked the question. Yes! She did have a room "But did I mind being alone in the house with Bob?" the only other guest. Did I mind? Did I care? Most certainly not, but first I needed to use the telephone.
I had a super large room in this huge three story Georgian House, I was amused to read the notice in the bathroom about how the ten reasons people give for not washing can easily be the same reasons people choose not to go to church. Well, as I needed some cleansing, spiritual or otherwise I was pouring bubbly into the large bath from the "help yourself" array on the shelf when I spotted a blast from the past "Goya's Aqua Manda for Men Aftershave" One quick sniff and I was catapulted back to the Seventies (A decade with a lot to answer for in Fashion and Musical taste-well some of the music was ok, but a lot wasn't) Dancing to the "Revolution Shuffle" with spotty youths in wide flares and ludicrously tight cheesecloths shirts ,who somehow, in the cold light of day, never looked as dishy as the illustrated boys in "Jackie" magazine, were stood up on the first date.
Ah well, back to 21st century and food. Not having eaten since breakfast, choosing somewhere to eat wasn't that difficult as all the pubs were heaving. Wedged between the Billiard table and the wall, I read the B & B lady's account of her "Coast to Coast" 25th Anniversary walk with her husband.

Hot and High. Stanhope to Barnard Castle

It had been a big mistake to celebrate one day to soon, as Keith and I had one more day to complete before going home. On a hot day, trekking over the northern pennines was not going to be fun. Even less so with a heavy head and tired eyes-but it was our last night in Stanhope with Angela, Peter and Jenny and so the partying didn't end there we arranged to meet up in Cornwall. Invited to join us in the cottage for the final week, I was determined to get them walking somehow, somewhere!

The only way to tackle a day like today was to hit the road and stick to it. I wasn't brave enough to tackle the footpaths dotted across the moors and so, boring as it was, we didn't take long to reach the outskirts of Barnard Castle (where Keith had left the car) The only highlight of the day had been the strange sighting of a car full of "dolly birds" stopping off for a picnic in the most unlikely setting of a quarry.

George made it! Hexham to Blanchland to Stanhope

The party split into two camps. Those that had sensibly had an early night - The walkers. Keith, Jenny and I. And those that hadn't -The drivers. Hilary and Maurice.
We met in the very urban setting of the Hexham Business Park, but were soon heading up the steep hill out of town and into the rural countryside. Walkers and leaders from different groups around the area had come to join us, and with Alison, thankfully, back in charge of the map, I was able to have a chat to them all. She'd devised a scenic route weaving in and around the river and after about 3/4 miles the three ladies of the group set off in a taxi back to Hexham. But not before "Jane" tried to take "George" with her. George, her husband, was in his 80's. Attired in a long sleeve shirt, tweed jacket, topped with a Duffle coat, he decided he wanted to walk onto Blanchland. Clearly, this was not the original plan as he had no packed lunch or water.
But, he was insistent and with a wave to a worried looking Jane, we were off again. As we climbed higher over the moors the sun got hotter and hotter, but still he kept his coat on, as "he didn't want to have to carry it"
I don't know how Alison navigated us across the moors down into Blanchland, but somehow before too long we were sitting in the Abbey tea shop garden enjoying some well needed refreshments. Once again, it was time to say goodbye. They'd been such good company, but it was time for me to trek the last 10 miles on my own.
George didn't seem to have Jane's number so unsure of quite where to leave him, my last sight was of a rather worried looking Alison driving off with a tired but happy man.
Later that evening in the pub, young student Jenny had been so inspired by old George that she told us all that from now on she'd walk to all her lectures everywhere around Bristol. Another convert to "Walking for Health"!

Off Duty! - Bellingham to Hexham

As Alison (WHI Co-ordinator for this region) hopped on the bus outside Hexham, I knew today could only get better. The sun was shining and so was the map holder slung around her neck. Yes, I was off map control duty for the next two days!

We arrived at Bellingham, and after a brief chat with some local walkers we were off on our way. With Alison map reading, I could concentrate on what I do best -talking! We compared notes about our respective Co-ordinator positions and before too long met yet another lone "Lejoger" He certainly didn't look like he'd make it to Bellingham, never mind John O' Groats. Oddly, he was wearing all his waterproofs. Sweating profusely, in the heat of the day, he explained he was trying to minimise the weight on his back. At 4.30am with a minimal water supply he'd set out from "Once Brewed" or was it "Twice?" I can't remember now, but feeling very sorry for him we decided it was time for our own "brew" and stopped off at the delightful little teashop cum Post Office in Simonsburn. An estate managed village, it was a picture postcard place with all the houses painted in heritage green.

We had to speed things up a bit as I'd arranged to meet Alec-a walk leader from Cramlington, who'd driven over here especially to meet me. We eventually caught up near Hadrians Wall where Alison was leaving us to return back to her village. Back in map control, within five minutes, Alec and I managed to get lost in a field. After going round in circles a few times we eventually found a dog walker who guided us towards the minor road into Hexham.

The next problem now was guiding Keith (mapless husband) out of Hexham to come and meet us. Now I read maps in a colour coded way. Yellow=ok for walking. Orange=not ideal, but ok for a short stretch if there's no alternative. Red= to be avoided at all costs, unless absolutely necessary. Blue=If found walking on one of these you should be carted away in a little white van.

Anyway, Keith is taking directions down the phone. "Yellow road, what yellow road? are you mad?" he barked down the phone. "What the hell are you talking about, all roads are grey!"

Fortunately, as Hexham was his childhood stomping ground he knew where he was going and we all eventually walked into Hexham together.

Bidding farewell to Alec, with promises to meet up next time he was down in Redhill visiting his family, we set off back to Stanhope.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Writers Blog

As I sit here in Devon, with Lands End in sight I need to apologise to any confused readers who may be wondering why I'm still in County Durham.
When I set out on the "Lejog" trek last year, the Blog became the millstone around my neck with never enough time to keep it up to date. This year, with a job & domestic activities piling up every time I came home between each leg of the journey, "Writers Blog" set in. It stuck at the bottom of a "To do" list.
Now, I'll endeavour to catch up, but keep it brief. The notes are all there for the longer journal (which may eventually be written) but for the loyal supporters of WHI groups who've enthusiastically joined in to support me I want to get it finished!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

What a difference a year makes

Well, with no sounds of snoring from the opposite bed, I guessed, correctly, that Jan was a woman. Quietly creeping out of the room, so as not to wake her, I was planning on an early start.
Not quite as early as the 5.30 am the kitchen clock told me it was! However, since I was up and about, I started preparing breakfast and packed lunch when into the kitchen strolled Jan's husband and (male) friend from Canada. I understood the sleeping arrangements.
After long discussions about the pros and cons of the Pennine Way, addresses were exchanged, and with an offer of a bed if I was passing through Herefordshire, I was off.
But not before saying goodbye to Mr & Mrs Youth Hostel. They really had done a stirling job of turning this place around when it was on the point of closure. I could see for myself the improvements from last year. The showers for one. Yes, I would heartily recommend this place. Where else could you get a bed, breakfast, two course evening meal, with wine (yes, they even have a license now!) packed lunch and towel hire for £26.00.
Practically skipping through Keilder Forest, which last year had seemed such an eternally long end to a tough day, by 11.00 am, I was triumphantly calling my sister from "Witley Pike" "Guess where I am?" She couldn't believe it. Last year, following late night revelling with old school friends, we'd climbed the steep hill out of Bellingham, in the searing heat of a midday sun to reach this point. But what a difference a year makes. Of last years trio of hills, heat and hangovers, only the hills remained.
Feeling smug, self satisfied, and thinking I really ought to slow down to a stroll, as Angela (my host) wasn't picking me up until late afternoon, I took a long rest, and was admiring the views, when along the path came a couple of walkers. Laden down with heavy rucksacks they were camping all the way to John O' Groats. While he looked quite chipper, she looked completely knackered, and pretty fed up. And I soon realised why. After brief exchanges of what we were doing, how and why, he looked me up and down a bit and sneered "Well, if you were carrying packs like ours, you certainly couldn't get away with wearing those" pointing to my lightweight trainer style walking boots. And then added suspiciously, "You're not a member of the Ramblers are you?" Not quite understanding the relevance of this question I replied "Well, yes I am actually" "Thought so! The sought of people who think walking is to drive to a nice location, stroll around a bit, go to the pub, get back in the car and go home" Gritting my teeth, and trying to remain polite, I wished them the best of luck with the rest of their journey. And as they walked on, she turned round, as if to say "Please take me with you" I tried to convey my sympathy at her misfortune in ever agreeing to walk with him, silently replying, "Take my advice and do yourself a favour. When you get to John O'Groats, buy him a one way ticket to the Orkneys "
Unfortunately, I then took his advice of trying the "Alternative Pennine Way" So alternative, that all the signposts disappeared. All my early progress was lost in a wasted hour of scrambling about on the moor, looking for a way down to the road.
When Angela picked me up and whizzed me off to Sunderland, for a quick shower, before heading off to South Shields, I was amazed. I'd expected cranes, warehouses, ships and a grim grey landscape. The reality was golden sand stretching for miles. With a distinct lack of any of the trappings of a seaside frontage, in the evening sun it looked like the south of France.
We were in South Shields for a Dance Show. Her daughter, Sophie, was performing with the elite Northern Dance Company. A contemporary performance it was nothing like the dance shows I'd been subjected to over the years To sit for hours watching other peoples children prance around just to see your own little darlings brief appearance as a chicken or a fairy is, I suppose, all part and parcel of playing the dutiful parent of dancing daughters.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

On the Border

Last night I prayed to a God that hadn't really been listening for the past two years.
I said "The forecast for tomorrow is torrential rain sweeping across the whole of the UK. We are being advised to board the Arc immediately. With places to get to and people to meet, if I don't walk the 30 miles to Byrness tomorrow I won't be able to. Now, if you can't work big miracles can you try a small one please, and stop the rain?"
And do you know what? He did. Leaving Melrose for the "St Cuthberts Way" under grey, but dry skies, I said a silent "thank you"
It was with a regrettable sigh that I past by a very attractive house on the "S.C.W." I was due to meet a "Paths to Health" WHI leader yesterday for afternoon tea at his home. Obviously that had to be re-scheduled to morning coffee, but he unfortunately at the last minute, had to be elsewhere.
Never mind, I needed to get a pace up. The route is well marked and easy to follow as it wiggles and squiggles it's way alongside the river. One huge loop near St Boswell's was one I was determined to cut off. I tried and failed last year, but today, Hurrah! I succeeded.
Somehow it seemed easier this way round, and before too long I was heading down the long straight "Dere Street" into Jedburgh.
Just as I got into town, the heavens opened and so I darted into a steamy cafe. "Is this seat taken?" were wise words, as I met the most interesting lady who was really taking "Active retirement" seriously. Having bought herself a camper van to travel the world, going wherever the fancy took her, she was starting the journey here in The Borders, one of her favourite haunts.
A voice in my head said "Ok, you've made one cup of coffee last an hour, if you want to get to Byrness before nightfall, it's time to move on - and look, it's stopped raining" and so with a quick swapping of e mail addresses and promises to keep in touch, I was on my way out of Jedburgh, only pausing to take a photo of the magnificent Abbey.
Walking down the minor roads and riverside paths, the clouds slowly cleared away and by the time I stepped out onto the main road at "Carter Bar" (the border of Scotland and England) the views of the sun setting over the Borders were stunning. All was quiet and still. The Bagpipe Player, who last year was entertaining a coachload of Japanese tourists, had packed his souvenir CD's and gone home.
Was I ever glad to see the Youth Hostel in sight, and even gladder that I'd booked ahead, as there really is nothing else but the hostel in Byrness. It had been touch and go when I'd rung yesterday. "Sorry, fully booked. school party in" "What! Can you not squeeze one small female in anywhere? I'll sleep on the boot rack if I have to!" "Well, give me five minutes to check whether "Jan" on the Pennine Way is a man or a woman, and I'll phone you back" and my luck was in, she found me a bed. Whew!
I don't think I'd realised just quite how tired I was until my eyes blurred and I started swaying, trying to take in the instructions for using the shower.This place is full of them. Run with military precision by the ex Army trainers they were, all guests clearly know the rules. The boot one being the most important to remember. "Do not under any circumstances attempt to enter the house wearing your boots or you will face a court marshall" or words to that effect.
After a very very late meal, I collapsed into bed, far to exhausted to care if my room mate was "Jan" the man or the woman.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A summit meeting of the Legog Society

Feeling fresh, invigorated, dry and ready to finally make up those extra miles I missed on the first day, I was going to walk to Jedburgh. Oh yes I was! Or was I?
Taking the easy low road which follows the Tweed, the plan was to weave alongside the main road, stop at Innerleithen for a coffee, and then on to Walkerburn, over the bridge to the minor road to Melrose. None of that "faffing around" with the "Southern Upland Way" going all the way round the houses (literally) in Galasheilds I was going straight to the "St Cuthberts Way" at Melrose. From there on it was an easy route to Jedburgh. All I needed to was book somewhere to stay.
Circumnavigating "Cardrona" the ostentatious housing development favoured by footballers wives, ( how any property developer ever got planning permission to blot the beautiful landscape of the banks of the River Tweed remains a mystery), I arrived at a minor road pointing me towards the hills and "The Southern Upland Way" Well, I considered the options, perhaps this stretch of "The Way" to Melrose might be a good idea, after all. Not long down the road I met a lone female walker. After the initial "Hi, and where are you walking today's" she told me she was walking to Lands End! In the next half hour we swapped stories and e mails before moving on. Blow me, 20 minutes later I met my next "Lejoger" .We chatted about this, that, and the state of play at the Byrness Youth Hostel. (the only place to stay en route) If I booked ahead, as they are getting busy, and remembered the boot rule, I should be ok. Half an hour later, I was off again, thinking I really needed to get a spurt on if I was going to make it to Jedburgh before nightfall.
Undoubtedly, it was hard going, but the views made it all worthwhile. "The Point of Resolution rings "were an interesting "lets stop and get my non existent scientific mind around this amazing sight" sort of moment. Later, pausing for another breather, I met two ladies doing the "SUW" and as we chatted, who should appear up the slope but another trio of "Lejogers" As one of them enquired about the whereabouts of Ruth, I detected a distinct frisson of enthusiasm that she'd been spotted earlier. Could this be the beginning of a Lejog romance, or was my imagination running away with me?
By now, I was way, way, behind time and by the time I'd stopped for another chat with another "Southern Upland Wayer" I'd resigned myself to staying in Melrose.
Which seemed, initially, not a bad decision, I'd really liked the place last year, and regretted not having enough time to enjoy it. So, first stop the Youth Hostel. £30 for a shared room without breakfast! They'd got to be joking. Unfortunately not and as every B & B had "No Vacancies" in desperation I finally checked into a hotel. For £45, I was offered a "non smoking room" (like I should be grateful)which would have been almost acceptable if the T.V. the lights and the shower had worked. In the end, it was so late, I was so tired, I even ate there. Another disappointment. The lack lustre attitude of the bar staff reflected in the service and the food. So, Melrose, beautiful a place as it was, passed me by.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Like Pooh and Piglet I go hunting but don't catch a Woozle

Well, news travels fast! Here I was in West Linton with the Pipe Band playing me out of town to a cheering crowd. I wish! No, I'd arrived on the morning of the "West Linton Festival" a day unfortunately dawning grey and drizzly.
Originally planning to stick to the River Tweed, I decided instead to take the old "Drovers Road across the hills. It was well signposted and with a more direct route, I should have made good progress. Unfortunately not, as I climbed higher, the weather deteriorated, and somehow, head down against the driving rain I missed a signpost.
To spend the next hour in a huge forest, knowing I was going round in circles, was getting to the scary "will I ever see my family again" point. Confused and disorientated the only way forward was to go backwards. Clambering through the bracken, I eventually backtracked to the point where I'd taken the wrong turning.
From there on, it was easypeasy all the way back to Peebles. Easy, but grim. Soaked to the skin, all I could think of was the hot bath I'd sink into when I finally got there.
It was only after I was warm, safe and dry, I could see the funny side of it.
Like Pooh and Piglet I'd wasted an afternoon going round in circles in the wood, and didn't even see a "Woozle" never mind catch one.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

An unexpected guest

If your thinking I should have been at the bridge yesterday you'd be correct, but in order to meet up with the B.F's yesterday, I needed to swap the days over. And, just to complicate matters further, I also decided not to walk back to Balerno, because for the equivalent mileage I could walk right into the city. And what a brilliant decision that turned out to be ( I certainly don't make many of them) On a beautiful sunny day I followed the cycle track all the way to the Haymarket, practically to the front door of the flat.
Why was it so great? Well, after the excitement of striding over the bridge I was walking back into the countryside again heading towards Barnton, one of Edinburgh's most affluent suburbs. As I tried to guess the price of a huge detached house in this area I came across one of those really modern architectural splendours of the type you see on "Grand Designs" juxtapositioned between the 1930's mansions, and it somehow didn't seem out of place.
On this bright Saturday morning everyone and his dog was out cycling on the path. As every northerner knows (me included) a warm sunny Saturday is a rarity to be made the very most of.
A perfect day for a visit to the "Royal Yacht Brittania" Permanently docked at Leith, it is now a museum for the viewing public to get a feel of what life on board the Royal Yacht was like-from both sides of the "green baize door"
It was fascinating, and I came away feeling really quite sorry for the Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family, in that they were probably bowing to public opinion (influenced by the media) into relinquishing what had been a damn good P.R. exercise. My goodness, she worked tirelessly. OK, between state visits, life on board was a relaxing interlude, and why not? I didn't feel quite so sorry for those "below stairs" The hierarchy of life aboard ship was all apparent as we descended to the bowels of the ship. Anyway, I'm sure a compromise could have been made. As it is, it's being preserved in pristine condition, hired out for corporate events no doubt at some mind boggling cost.
On the bus to Peebles, I was slightly concerned. All attempts at contacting Ruth and Roy (my hosts) failed. There was nothing for it but to ring the bell and hope for the best...No response. The car was in the drive, it was a beautiful sunny evening, they must be in the garden, watering the plants. "Hello, how nice to see you!" exclaimed Ruth, hose in hand, in a way that indicated she was surprised to see me. However, this wasn't a problem. As we got stuck into a quick change of sheets, I was, I think, flattered that I was an "ok" sort of unexpected guest.

Chapter 3. The Balerno Footsteps

In a flash of last minute inspiration I decided to fly up to Edinburgh very early on in the morning I was due to meet my first "Walking for Health" group. It made more sense to use airmiles, than use up hours getting there by train or bus. And so, just over 3 hours after leaving home, I was sitting in the office of the Balerno High School Community Office waiting to meet Chris the "Balerno Footsteps" Co-ordinator.
When I was introduced to the group, it all felt so familiar to me. They were such a nice friendly group of people, and talk about coincidence, one of the walkers had a sister who had just joined one of our walking groups in Surrey!
We set off with a melee of school children looking like they were joining us on the walk, but they were actually on some sponsored walk and soon headed off in a different direction.
Balerno was vaguely familiar, as I'd walked through it last year to make my way to the start of the canal. As we walked through the suburbs I chatted to George. In his 80's he had lots of interesting stories to tell.
Eventually I had to say goodbye him, Chris, and the other male walkers as I walked on with the three ladies to the Harlaw Reservoir for another few miles. It was a beautiful spot, if only it hadn't been spitting with rain. Another fond farewell as in such a short space of time they already felt like old friends.
And then there were two, as Carol and I walked on towards the Pentland Hills where she was going to set me off on the right track. Incredibly fit for her age, she'd already walked about 12 miles the day before!
Finally, it was just me, the wind and the rain. As I climbed higher the fog came to join us. It wasn't anything like the same hike we'd made last year in the warm sunshine.
I was beginning to get tired. Perhaps getting up at 4.30 am hadn't been such a good idea after all, and so, after a few miles of road walking, I called it a day and got the bus back to Edinburgh from West Linton.