Monday, 10 April 2017

People, chalk mines, brickwork railways and Spring.

Up and down our country (and yes, that includes Scotland) Challengers are stretching their legs. Social media tells of new shelters, boots, rucsacs and knocking back pints of methylated spirits to dull the pain. Most seem to be preparing alone; they prefer it that way. This is either because they have no mates or the oft-used blether of seeing more wildlife, appreciating the silence and rambling wherever their wont takes them, unencumbered by a companion. 

However, on my solitary strolls (No, I don't have any mates either) around the local patch I've experienced enormous pleasure bumping into some fascinating characters.

I had passed a Foggy, Compo and Clegg combo on an afternoon thirteen miler, ambling along a fine stretch of footpath only to bump into them again a few hours later. It would have been curmudgeonly not to have a quick chat, seeing as we were the only people for miles around (I would add that this is not something that would have troubled the Curmudgeon-in-Chief, Lord Elpus) and I discovered them to be a wonderful bunch. They have been walking together for fifty years or so and by all accounts had been there and got the t-shirt. 

Amongst various stories we shared, I found out that they had helped in the campaign for the Ridgeway to become a National Trail and were the first people to walk it, along with the campaign's chief organiser upon its designation in 1972. 

We were strolling along a straight section of path that I had often thought looked a little direct, and the trio mentioned that it had once been a railway for the Binfield Brickworks. This area used to be full of brickworks; As a boy I had learned to canoe (or worse, learned to capsize the bloody thing) in the old Warfield Brickworks' clay pit lake. It's now a housing estate.

I have tried to find out more about the Binfield works, but have drawn a blank. From the map I can only surmise that it used to be where the sewage works is now, but that has been there since before I was born. 

Surprised at my ignorance of things local, the boys then told me all about the Reading Chalk Mines. At this point I was convinced that these blighters were pulling my leg. Indeed, they continued, a shaft to the mine could be found in an excellent pie shop in Reading town centre!

Yeah, right...

Well stone me, mate, but after a very quick Google I discovered that indeed there was a Reading Chalk Mine and it still exists! The chalk was used in the production of the local bricks - a soft red rubbing brick. A few years ago a terrace of houses started to collapse as the mine workings beneath fell in. Lorry loads of concrete were poured into the mine to prevent further disasters. I have yet to find the Pie Shop referred to, but intend to track it down as the pies are purportedly delicious.

The pictures in this post are in chronological order and you'll notice that since my last post three weeks ago Spring has sprung and it just remains for the oaks to pull their roots up and get on with it. They are lazy blighters.

I spent a nervous half hour yesterday attacking my very pricey Carbon Superfeet insoles with a very sharp knife. It's a tricky job as you only have the boots' floppy insoles to use as a template and the Superfeet have a very definite vertical profile, so it's a question of a tiny slice at a time until they fit perfectly. They're much more comfortable now.

And speaking of huge expense, I recently took out a mortgage on a new pair of Smartwool socks. Dear God! When did they become so expensive?





For completeness I've attached the progress to date. It's all going rather swimmingly.

In a week's time I shall be amongst a gang of hooligans on the Annual PreWalkDaunder, this year being run by our Guest Fat Controller, that VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams. He's had his work cut out, as there are fourteen of the blighters on this year's walk! It's like herding cats.

Monday, 20 March 2017

TGO Challenge 2017: Getting Organised: Limbering up

As someone who has done a fair bit of planning in my time, the first thing to bear in mind is that Plans Always Go Wrong. However, if you start out without a plan, things stand a much greater chance of going horribly wrong. 

Lord Elpus counts himself a fortunate man. He has Miss Whiplash to beast him around the footpath networks of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Mud holds no terror for Miss W, and Poor Phil gains his phenomenal fitness gritting his teeth against snow, hail and icy blasts straight from Siberia. This punishing regime starts as soon as he returns from the Challenge in May. It is a year-long struggle.

Like most years, my plan for a general level of readiness for the TGO Challenge is straightforward, and I might say, more gentle. Starting in the New Year, I walk on average three miles a day until the start of the Challenge in May. Three miles a day doesn't sound like a lot, but if you miss a few days you have to catch up the missing miles, and then you realise that it's not quite so easy.


Of course, you don't want to walk on roads, because down in the south east of England the roads are very busy and wherever you live they are hard on your feet. But more importantly walking on level surfaces won't prepare the soft tissues in your feet, ankles, knees and hips for a walk over the rough ground found in Scotland.


A recent discovery is a nature reserve at the northern edge of my patch. The entrance sign says permits are required and the gate to the reserve is locked, assuring you that you are not welcome.


However, right next to the reserve is the wonderful Chawridge Wood, an abandoned coppiced wood. 



The footpath network hereabouts is well signed and generally in good order, with a few glaring blackspots where stiles are overrun with very spiny bushes, seemingly deliberately planted by one particular landowner.




Can you spot the deliberate mistake in the next picture?


After a slow start, I've finally dragged my carcase back up to and now passing the planned mileage. I have almost fifty miles in the bank, which is probably as well, as the weather forecast for next week looks poor. 

And finally a spreadsheet and graph. Because I love both. I know you do too.


And now, from two years before England won the World Cup, here's one for OM.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Two Churches walk and trees

In my usual disorganised fashion, I set off too late for today's stroll, especially as it turned out to be an eleven miler, making it up as I ambled along. I took profound pleasure watching buzzards, a kestrel, a few red kites, a jay, dozens of rooks, a sky lark or two (it may well have been just the one, as I'm pretty sure he was following me. Paranoid?) blackbirds in delightfully full voice, and a deceit of lolloping lapwings. On the ground there were Belted Galloway Pigs, dozens of rather smart horses and indeterminate sheep. I'm not sure what the fluffy beggars are around these parts but some are quite large so perhaps they're Texel crosses? I shall make an effort to find out.


With the recent fine weather the sloppy mud in my northern patch is working down to a sticky clay and managed to walk its way up the inside legs of my trousers to about knee height. When it gets up to my goolies I'll stick them in the washing machine. The trousers.


At Chawridge Bank, an ancient meadow and nature reserve, there are signs saying visitors require a permit, but having looked at the website there's no mention of this. I shall have a poke about on my next visit as it looks interesting.

I had been looking forward to the comfortable bench at Westleymill Ford but some blighter has pinched it! I continued my plod onwards to Tickleback Row with a somewhat disconsolate air. 

The topmost part of my patch just clips the flightpath from Heathrow, with the end of the runway barely ten miles away. You notice the planes flying out and fortunately they're high enough to be interesting but not a nuisance.


You will have seen these trees on here before. You may well see them again as I love them. Whoever planted them did rather well. At the moment Bracknell Forest Council seems to be doing its level best to cut down all the ancient oaks and cedars dotted about the place. Someone ought to do something about this.



The soil around these parts is quite heavy. Low lying fields hold water for weeks in the winter and in the summer the ground is as hard as iron. Three labradors and a couple of spaniels took great delight splashing about in the wheel ruts just after I took this snap. They came out plastered in mud. A little later I saw them in a very smart midnight blue Range Rover with cream leather upholstery as they drove past in a fury of barking and mud splattered windows. 

Schadenfreude is a beautiful thing.



Happily, at the moment it's light enough to walk comfortably until about seven o'clock, and I scuttled home in the gloaming to catch my evening fix of the Archers. 


All the pictures were taken on my phone. It's fine, as far as it goes but pretty hopeless if you want to zoom in as the only thing that happens is an electronic cropping of pixels. 

The new boots - you do need to know this - have now clocked up a hundred miles, and all is fine and dandy.

And now, in the spirit of Old Mortality:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Things looking up

The arrival of new boots invariably promotes a passion for perambulation. [That's enough of the alliteration, thank you very much.] And so it has been with the new Scarpas, with over a hundred miles knocked off in two and a half weeks. Not all in the boots, but most. 

The wonderful thing about comfortable shoes is that I forget that I'm wearing them. Over the years Phil and I have seen so many footsore Challengers to know that the opposite is true of uncomfortable shoes; they are devices of torture and the limping backpacker is in torment. They can only think about their feet. A well-shod walker, on the other hand, strolls about with an unencumbered mind, free to roam. 

Latterly, my walks have become random affairs, turning left or right as the fancy takes me. My only directive is to ensure I'm back in time for tea. 

All this fresh air has lifted my frame. After months of stooped inactivity I'm at last walking naturally again. I spent too many months worrying about my blasted foot and had started walking in a way to compensate for the Plantar Fasciitis; a sort of Richard the Third crab-like shuffle. I wouldn't wish PF on my worst enemy. Oh. Hang on. Yes I would. The bastard.

So, things are definitely looking up. And speaking of looking up here's a couple of pictures where I had indeed been doing just that.