Sunday, 10 May 2015

Unfortunately guys - it's going to have to be BDLS 2016

Hi guys, it's about time I posted an update on here!

I've been holding back from making the announcement until it was certain but it is now for definite.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of financial, personal and physical reasons the walk is having to be pushed back another 12 months. I've managed to put some impressive miles in when training but not at the sustained levels required of 50 days back to back and I'm not willing to get 7 days in and have to concede defeat again... so it's a case of cracking on with training and physio for my ankle so that when the walk goes ahead I storm it! Also, I can't afford to take another two months off from practice with another baby (yes my third!) due in September (which was bang in the middle of this years scheduled dates for the walk!). 

Just to reassure everyone who has donated so far, each of the three charities (the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes) have bagged over £1000 each from the donations that have already been made. 

In the mean time if you see me in a luminous green or orange t-shirt rambling over the Chilterns in the early hours be sure to give me a wave or a honk of your horn - I'll be hard at work getting fighting fit for 2016!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

An update - I'm still alive!

Hi guys! Sorry that I've been a bit quiet the last 8 weeks or so - I have managed to get out and do a couple of mid-length walks (10 miles or so) recently but to be honest I am still definitely recovering from the effects of the accident with seroius soreness and stiffness in both ankles, my right heel and my achilles tendon following each walk. Don't get me wrong we're coming on leaps and bounds since I went back to work in early September, but there's not a lot to write home about at the moment with pavement walking being the highlight of my training. The rescheduled date next summer remains in place for the time being but realistically we will have to keep it under consideration depending on the speed of recovery in terms of my ankles and my finances both. One thing you can be absolutely sure of though is that this walk is going to happen - it's not an "If" but a "when" situtatiion Thanks for your continued support guys and for helping to raise over £3500 (including Gift Aid) in respect of the first attempt - every penny of that money goes to the three charities divided equally - Macmillan Cancer Support, the MS Society and Help for Heroes.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Big Dave's Little Stroll... Down but not out!

With the announcement that the walk will still take place later next year I have been inundated with messages of support from so many of... you wonderful people, pledging donations and #GoBigDave selfies!

I look forward to getting back on my feet (quite literally) and then getting back out there and training... I'm determined to do you all proud :)

So for now keep those #GoBigDave selfies (and the donations) coming and don't forget to spread the word...
 
Big Dave's Little Stroll - down but not out!
 
 
In the meantime enjoy a bit of Sons of the Late Colonel - 500 Miles (#GoBigDave)
 
I've got an audio track of this... perfect for Ipods!
Just message me and I'll send you the copy -
all we ask is that you pop a small donation in the charity pot :)
 
 

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Unfinished Blog of the Interrupted Adventurer - A tale of 4 and a half days, many cans of Irn Bru, 15 kilos shed, only about 16 miles walked and the rude and unwelcome arrival of a twat in a camper van...

Friday 27th June 2014 -

After nearly 6 months of planning - 6 months of dieting to the extreme and losing over 5 stone in weight - 6 months of exercising like a mad man; lifting weights, doing cardio, walking 24 mile practice treks on the weekends in all weathers - 6 months of telling the world what I intended to do... the time was finally here... the hour had come... it was time to put away the talk and walk the walk (so to speak) by setting off on my Little Stroll.
 
My brother in law, Colin, was coming to the house at about 10:30pm to pick Lorna, Niamhy and I up and take us all to the Milton Keynes Coachway. The plan was for them to wave me off as I hurtled away in a National Express coach to Inverness against the midnight sky and over the horizon.
 
In typical Dave Redmond fashion, the last few hours before Colin's arrival had been a manic blur of last minute panicked activity. There I was - printing off additional back up copies of maps from the OS Get a Map site - repacking parts of my backpack and then cursing at the additional weight that those changes now represented - downloading a playlist onto the Ipod, which at around 6pm I had decided that I would, in fact, bring along - squeezing in a last minute bath around 8pm which was a suitable follow up performance for the whistle stop haircut I had factored into my day at around 3pm (don't worry... no beard hair was harmed as a result of this haircut!).
 
In many ways it was a good thing that those last hours had been so busy. I must admit that the day had been one of very mixed emotions. When my thoughts were occupied by a specific task that needed doing I felt nothing in particular, but in those quiet moments between tasks I felt giddying highs of excitement and anticipation, quite staggering lows of anxiety and self doubt, and repeatedly pangs of regret and remorse that I would be leaving Super Wife and my little Monkey Face behind for so long. Thankfully, Super Wife was in cracking form and those negative feelings were short lived. Quite quickly as the time fast approached 10:30pm those emotions were replaced with the frustration and anger at myself in the realisation that my pack was evidently too heavy...  by at least 10 kilos I'd say. I resolved to throw all items into either the backpack or into a large wheeled holdall to sort out once I had arrived safely in John O'Groats.
 
Before I even knew it I was loading my bags into the back of Colin's pick up and putting Niamh's car seat into the back of the double cab. Cols had handed me a good luck card when he had arrived which had taken me aback. I think it was only at that point, that simple gesture, that I truly appreciated, this was big. Not just a challenge, but a truly big deal to a lot of people other than myself. It had an instantly galvanising effect, steeling my determination to smash those miles and return triumphant having conquered the behemoth task I had set myself.


Once at the coach station, having arrived 20 minutes early, we discovered that in fact the coach was due to be at least half an hour behind schedule. With a little one in the car, smiling like a Cheshire cat but clearly very tired, we decided that it would be best to say our goodbyes now so that a heavily pregnant Super Wife, a significantly injured brother in law and a very tired monkey face could get home and get some sleep. I had a last cuddle with Niamhy who properly cuddled in with her daddy and I confessed filled my eyes with tears tinged with happiness and yet an unexplainable sense of loss. It washed over me like some enormous tide, the simple fact that I would not see her again for at least 53 days and it overwhelmed me.

Super Wife held it together incredibly well, but the sentimentality of those final five minutes must have been significant... because we all nearly forgot my packed lunch! I saw Lorna leap from the Hilux as it was about to pull away, but it wasn't some Whitney Houston in the Bodyguard "Stop the plane!" moment leading to a lingering snog on the tarmac - there was the serious business of Ginsters pies and toffee crisps to be addressed!
 
 
Saturday 28th June 2014 -
 
At around 12:30 I dragged my bags into the hold of the X588 to Inverness and boarded the unexpectedly packed coach.
 
They say with National Express you get what you pay for. If that's the case I must have elected the "only one arse cheek on the seat, no leg room, tibia snapping, shite option" with a side order of "a snoring smelly old git immediately across the aisle from me," together with "a boozy Glaswegian couple kicking off at each other at 190 decibels" to follow. But for just over twenty quid...
 
I got zero sleep during the course of that journey and was massively relieved to arrive in Inverness about 11:35. I was straight across road and into the little café there, Ashers, which sits in the same hall as the ticket office. For the next couple of hours  just sat at the table in the corner drinking tea and coffee, demolishing a bacon roll, tweeting and Facebooking whilst listening to Faithless on my Ipod... bliss... and, most importantly... loads of leg room!
 
The Orkney Shuttle Bus by comparison was an absolute dream. Loads of room, very comfortable and the option of buying refreshments en route. 119 miles of remote highland highway for only £25... you can't argue with that. As we sailed along the A9 northwards I studied the terrain of that road very carefully as it was going to be my home for the next 4-5 days and I must say, it wasn't too bad at all. Despite being the Highlands, the road itself is, for the most part, relatively flat, save for a bit of an undulation around Berriedale. I felt quite content sitting there watching picture postcard perfect scenery fly past my window.
 
There was only myself, a little old Scottish lady about three rows ahead of me and what I think was a German backpacker about 6 or 7 rows behind me, but who rarely made a sound. The young girl of about 19, who was taking the money and the tickets was clearly English, with quite a well pronounced home counties accent. The driver was a big chunny fella (not unlike myself) who was clearly a highlander. The two of them chatted away together as we travelled, the young girl constantly giggling in a shrill tone at all of the rawdy, risqué and very funny, to be fair, tales the driver relayed to her. The one thing I found very disconcerting though was the way in which the young girl constantly said "aye" in a Scottish accent every time you would normally say "yes" or "yeah" but then go directly back to talking in her native pinched BBC voice. That said, I don't want to be mean or rude about her, she was lovely, and compared to the waking nightmare that had been the previous 11 hour coach journey - the trip up to Orkney had been a little slice of heaven.
 
We arrived at John O'Groats just before 5pm and I went immediately with my rucksack on my shoulders trailing my wheeled holdall behind me along the gravel pathway to the gentleman taking photographs beside the official John O'Groats signpost. As it had been my intention to head off at the crack of dawn on the Sunday morning and get a head start on all those miles I decided to try and get the obligatory mug shot in front of the famous mile marker right away. A big jolly man with a massive red beard met me as I approached and was more than happy to take my picture with the next days date marked up on the sign. He was probably one of the most upbeat characters I had ever encountered in my life. He warned me to watch out for the precarious stretch of road near Berriedale and declared with no detectable falseness or insincerity at all that he was sure that I would make it the whole way south... and I say that as one of the most pessimistic and cynical people I know. I took an instant shine to him.
 
A short while later I was walking the 150 yards or so back south to the Seaview Hotel where I was booked in to spend the night. I hope I don't so it any discourtesy when I say that from the outside you could be forgiven for feeling that this is probably going to be no better than an average travel inn, but I can honestly say that I was very impressed - with the bedroom, with the shower facilities, with the bar, with the food... it was all good, and at £60 a night including a cracking cooked breakfast in the morning, it was very much worth the money. 
 
I dropped my rucksack onto the bed, put my holdall on the luggage rack and proceeded to empty it's entire contents out all over the bed. I made myself a cup of tea, noted that there was no phone in the room and so dug out my phone charger before making a call to Super Wife back home. Only problem was that the phone wouldn't maintain signal for more than 10 seconds, so after several failed attempts, and Lorna no doubt feeling she was being stalked by a man who wouldn't talk, I gave up on the endeavour and carried on packing my bag.
 
Once I had everything from the holdall on, in or attached to my rucksack it was so monumentally heavy that I broke my watch strap and one of the Camelback clips just getting it onto my back - and that was without ANY water weight. I could walk about in it sure... but I knew in my heart that it would cause my feet to be shredded within 4 days and that essentially if I went out with it the walk would be doomed to fail. The problem was simple. I had intended to take about 10 dehydrated meals with a combined weight of about 1kg - instead we had bought about 34 pouches of Wayfayrer food with a combined weight of nearer 10.4kg! I had also managed to amass a reasonably heavy foldable shovel, a pair of trainers, some replacement walking pole parts, emergency ration pack, and various other non-essential items.
 
Feeling completely desolate about my chances of realistically completing this challenge under the pressure of all this weight, I decided I would go and get something to eat from the Hotel and then call Super Wife to discuss my cunning plan. I had intended to leave early Sunday morning, but officially the walk wouldn't begin until the Monday, so my thinking was that I would strip out all the non-essential kit on the Sunday (non-essential in my eyes not under the caring but overly cautious watchful eyes of Super Wife) and then courier all the excess stuff back home on the Monday morning. There was a post office less than 100 yards south of the hotel and the Seaview could allow me to keep the room for an extra night. It would mean I'd lose my head start but I thought it would be worth it to lose over 10kg as a result.
 
After I had eaten my fill and had a soppy conversation with Super Wife I returned to my room and instantly took out all but 5 packs of food, the trainers and the shovel - the bag was instantly immensely lighter and a significant weight was emotionally and psychologically (not to mention literally!) lifted from my shoulders. I returned to the bar post haste for a celebratory pint of the black stuff.
 
 
Sunday 28th June 2014 -
 
I awoke surprisingly late, I can only assume as a result of being safe in the knowledge that I no longer needed to be anywhere today. My only task was to strip down my bag further and then take it out for a test run... but first... breakfast.
 
Having had my fill of bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, toast and beans, and appreciating every mouthful of what were like to be my last couple of meals not out of a Jetboil cup from a sealed foil pouch, I headed back to my room in the singular mind to ruthlessly decimate that back pack.
 
I then switched on the SPOT Gps device, slipped it into the top pocket of my rucksack and trundled out of the hotel, onto the road and struck out in a generally southerly direction.

The first thing that hits you as you begin to walking up in the most northern section of the country is that it is three things... bleak, stark and astoundingly beautiful. My intention was to test out my overall rig by taking a stroll up to Dunscansby Head, the furthest north easterly point of mainland Great Britain.

The going was good. A little bit of uphill, a little bit of downhill, but nothing too strenuous. As I made my way downhill on my way out to the lighthouse I found myself bouncing, actually bouncing, along to Fix Up, Look Sharp by Dizzee Rascal. It's quite a comforting fact to know that no-one can see you, at 31 years of age, swaggering along to a bit of top quality London grime.

In terms of the kit itself, the weight was monumentally better. I still had aspirations to strip out a little bit more to make the comfort factor ultra-sweet but generally I was feeling good, feeling strong... feeling sweaty! Those Helikon army fleeces certainly do their job.

It was about 2 miles out to the lighthouse and about 2 miles back so all in all just under 4 miles in a pretty fast time.

No pain, no discomfort. If I could shave another half kilo off I'd be laughing.

I recorded what had been intended to be the first of many handheld short video updates - I wasn't to know that this would in fact be my only foray on film... but we'll come to that later.

video

I went back to the hotel and got about 5 hours of much needed afternoon shut eye. It dawned on me that I hadn't gone to bed until 4am on the Thursday, had woken up at 7am to start all over again and then hadn't slept at all on Friday night. I was shattered - time to recoup for the big start tomorrow.
 
Don't get me wrong... I got up later that night, tucked into a lovely bit of sirloin steak and washed it down with a pint of Irn Bru.
 
I sat in the bar area with a half pint of Orkney Ale and eavesdropped the conversation of a group of forty to fifty year old men and women who had clearly just completed a bicycle journey from Lands End to John O'Groats. They looked absolutely shattered but they were brimming with the happiness and excitement of teenagers, and justifiably so. One of their number put Careless Whisper by George Michael on the jukebox which made everyone in that little bar laugh, everyone being the group, the barmaid, myself and two leather clad, long hair and bearded German bikers. This selection was immediately followed up by Ace of Spades by Motorhead much to the approval of our Germanic cousins and feeling light of heart and reasonably content I left the scene to have an emotional half hour conversation with Super Wife which further spurred me on for the next days adventure.
 
Then... it was back off to bed.
 
 
Monday 30th June 2014 -
 
Here it was!
 
The official start of Big Dave's Little Stroll 2014!
 
I woke up at about 6am and I was absolutely buzzing. All the apprehension, the self doubt, the negativity had just lifted from me. If anything I was frustrated that I couldn't get straight out there as I had to wait for the post office to open up at 9am. Breakfast wasn't even being served until 7:30 so I set about packing all the gear up that needed to be sent home to Super Wife in Houghton Regis. I had another shower, and then another cup of tea, put the extra double strike insoles into my Scarpa Ranger boots and then strapped them on.

I ate heartily over in the main dining room of the Seaview Hotel, receiving friendly nods and good mornings from all of the German bikers (for they had multiplied) that were sat dotted all around me. I thanked the lad serving once I was done and seemingly skipped back across to my room to collect all the gear to send back. The two little ladies who run the post office were more than happy to help me box up all the excess gear to send back and wished me luck with my walk. I had decided to wear the bright green t-shirt of Macmillan Cancer Support that morning and it was noticeable how many more smiles and nods you get from people when you look like me but are wearing such a beloved shirt.
 
Once I got back to my room it took me a matter of minutes to buckle up my webbing, velcro on my osprey vest, bustle my rucksack onto my shoulders, apply the sternum strap and don the flat cap at a jaunty angle.

I checked out at the Seaview Hotel reception and the lady behind the counter kindly came out and took a picture of me in all my gear about to set off. Not only that but she switched on my GPS for me, as I had forgotten, which saved me having to do the special dance in getting my rucksack off and the back on again. It was important to take a picture on my phone as I could upload that instantly through twitter. Although, I had brought both a camcorder and a camera with me I didn't bring the means to upload files from either without the need for a USB port in a computer. Neither Super Wife or I had realised that the Kindle didn't have one. Schoolboy error. This had led the previous day to someone tweeting their doubts that I was even in John O'Groats or walking the route at all. The person even demanded proof. Obviously I had always intended to provide a blog, pictures and video (I had even spent money out on an expensive GPS system) but the blunt way in which my honesty had been challenged, I must admit, had upset me more than I could comprehend or would have expected. So armed with my image burned onto my Blackberry... I was off!
 
The first section of  the walk was along a largely featureless stretch of road - plain, stark but beautiful. As I steadily plodded along the gently uphill of Warth Hill, I soaked in the vast open horizon before me whilst listening to the uplifting strings of Elbow's One Day Like this.

Before I had gotten as far as the hamlet of Freswick I came into contact with a young lad on a bicycle coming the other way. "Have you got far to go?" he chirpily enquired. "Just a bit" I chuckled back. I asked him if he'd come far and he told me he had "only come up from London."
 
Staggering.
 
His name was Dan and he was writing about his travels around Great Britain. He was on something liker day 58 of his journey (I can't recall exactly now) but he was keen to know who I was fundraising for, what the name of my blog was and asked if he could take my picture. The well known poser that I am (ahem!) I readily obliged.
 
I strolled on through Freswick and the Hill of Harley, rationing my water and my polos as I went, treating them as rewards for reaching each hill crest ahead. That said I was accosted by some ponies on a stretch of downhill road who followed me for quite a while quite clearly eyeing up the circular mints protruding from my chest pocket. I paid the sugary sweet toll to my equine companions before leaving them behind me as I traipsed through Auckengill and past Nybster.

And then disaster struck... quite literally.
 
Along the stretch of road between Helberry and the remains of Keiss Castle I was walking along quite happily on the right hand side of the road and as close to the nominal kerb as I could be comfortably. I was striding along with a pacerpole in each hand, a red flashing bike light on my chest and a luminous yellow hi-vis vest hanging down my front so that any oncoming vehicle could easily see me. The day had been warming up, the midges were out in force and, being the middle of the afternoon, visibility was pretty damn good. I was listening to a bit of Ed Sheeran's A team with an ear bud in one ear only so I could still hear what was going on around me.
 
Then all of a sudden I felt an almighty thump in my back which caused my head and neck to snap back violently and my arms to spring out to my sides. I don't remember the rest very clearly, such was the speed at which it happened, but I felt myself being hurtled forward several metres, twisting in the air and landing in a twisted heap of limbs face up on my rucksack and the side of my webbing in the flint filled ditch/border at the side of the road. The pain in my right shoulder and upper chest was instantaneous and searing. My head was literally spinning and my neck felt numb. I had no idea what had happened. I half-rolled, half scrambled onto my knees, using my left hand to push myself off the ground, but as I went to push off my right foot to rise up I heard several loud cracking sounds and I fell back onto my hands and knees with some force. I looked up from this position, initially to find myself facing the grass verge at the other side of the tarmac, before twisting my entire upper torso to stare with eyes half filled with muck up the incline of the road. As I did so I could see quite clearly about 250 to 300 metres away an old style white box campervan, rapidly decreasing in size on the horizon. I wasn't in the right frame of mind to note the registration, nor do I think I could have seen it in any event. There was no doubt in my mind that it was that vehicle that had struck me as there was literally nothing else around and there was no indication that the vehicle had even slowed down; as I watched it disappear from sight I hadn't witnessed even the glimmer of a brake light.
 
I rolled onto my arse, pulled my right ankle up towards me and squeezed it. It felt painful, but not unbearably so, and was not yet swollen. I wriggled out of the straps of my pack and slowly stood up. As I did I felt a sharp shooting pain run down my left shin to my exterior ankle causing me to exclaim reasonably loudly. My right arm hung painfully and as I pressed on the front of my clavicle I could tell something wasn't right.
 
My first thought was to ring the police there and then, but when I went to use my phone it had no signal at all. The more I thought about it the more I realised that I had hardly any details to give in any event and with no CCTV and still absolutely no soul around I resolved to take a handful of extra strength Ibuprofen, harden up and battle on to at least the next little village, which was Keiss.

By the time I reached the hotel and the little shop opposite it in the middle of Keiss, the pain had begun to numb out and although walking in a somewhat laboured and staccato fashion, I truly began to believe I would simply be able to tough it out and get on with things. There was a little picnic table outside of the convenience store where I dumped my bag and my poles, brushed myself down properly, before going into the shop and buying myself a couple of cans of Irn Bru, a bottle of coke and a bottle of water.
 
I returned to the bench and a short while later my mobile phone started buzzing in my vest. I was obviously now in an area of signal. I replied to a message from Will Scrivener, a friend who is in the Sons of the Late Colonel (the band who had done the #GoBigDave charity single) and incidentally who was an usher at my wedding, saying "GO BIG DAVE!" I told him that I'd just been clipped by a campervan but that I had managed to keep going.
 
It's a strange thing the male ego... having been told that I was essentially "a legend," that I was going at a cracking pace on the GPS which was being keenly followed by many people and having just down two cans of Irn Bru and another handful of extra strength Ibuprofen, I was honestly feeling good to go... In fact, I was feeling invincible... In fact, if I had come across a white camper van with a large wing mirror hanging off it or a Big Dave shaped dent in it's body work, I would have felt fit enough to knock that sucker clean out! (Mr T style... obviously). That said, as I had conveyed to both Will and Super Wife via text, I couldn't actually lift a can of Irn Bru to my mouth using my right hand... never a good sign.

I did the special dance getting my rucksack back on to my shoulders and then hobbled for forty paces or so ever southwards, before regaining my normal stride as I joined a proper footpath that ran along the A99.
 
But alas all great things must come to an end, and so it was here. The first thing to diminish at an alarming rate was the established footpath and before long I was back to plodding along the tarmac into oncoming traffic. I trundled on uphill past the Bridge of Wester and Westerloch. The second thing to come to an end was the absence of pain. By the time I made it up to Quoys of Reiss I was in my own personal agony. Pain seared through my right ankle and left leg with each and every step, and each step was about a third the length of my normal stride, On top of that, the front of my right shoulder was beginning to move beyond the realms of a painful distraction and into the vicinity of laying me low.
 
In a spate of desperation I began to wave one of my pacerpoles at vehicles passing me by, in the hope that one may be inclined to give me a lift to the nearest telephone as mine was again without signal, but it was to no avail. To be fair I think most of the vehicles passing me by were mistaking my grimace and raised arm to be a smile and a wave. Cars pass by at quite a pace on that stretch of road. I eventually admitted defeat and stopped dead at the side of the road, building up the courage to give it one last push down the last stretch of the A99 where it joins to the A9 at Reiss.
 
My first bit of good fortune arrived in the guise of two quite remarkable elderly people who pulled up beside me in a small hatchback, genuinely concerned as to my condition. Together myself and the elderly gent managed to get my bag onto the bag seat with me positioned beside it. They were extremely apologetic that they couldn't take me any further than the crossroads at Reiss but I will be forever indebted to those two wonderful people. It might only have been three quarters of a mile at best, but at that time I would never have gotten myself and my kit to the end of the A99.
 
I leant against a wall that formed the boundary of someone's front garden. My phone now had signal but I had no idea of the number of any local taxi firms and with the battery running dangerously low I was loathe to use it for anything other than essential calls. My second bit of good fortune was spotting a taxi turning towards Sibster, a company called Miller, and so I rang and shortly thereafter another older gentleman came and picked me up with the intention of transporting me to Wick Caravan and Camping Site. Being completely truthful with you, before the taxi arrived, having stripped off my backpack, vest and webbing, and whilst being in so much pain that it was hurting to even stand leaning, I felt actual tears of frustration and guilt welling up. I had sworn I would not use any vehicles at all on this expedition, and here I was on my first day within 14 miles taking lifts from strangers and ordering taxis. I managed to keep my emotions under control by convincing myself that I would get myself properly patched up at the campsite and then tomorrow get a taxi back to the exact spot from which I had taken the lift. It was far from perfect, I thought to myself, but it was honest and I wouldn't feel that I had cheated myself.
 
As we approached we got to Wick Camp site I was suddenly filled with dread that they may well be completely booked up, but I need not have worried. Immediately upon our arrival we were met by a lovely lady by the name of Tricia Miller who was the embodiment of helpfulness and concern. Although I mentioned to her that I'd been involved in an accident it later transpired that she had only realised that I may have turned my ankle. In fairness, I may well have been quite spacy and more than a little vague, but nevertheless she sorted me out with a space to camp, the code for the shower block and told me she would take me to the hospital if I needed to go.
 
I had no intention of going to the hospital at the time but was extremely grateful of the offer. I sat on the bench near to where I intended to set up camp and pretty much downed another two cans of Irn Bru. I then very slowly set about pegging out my basha using bungee ropes, shuffling around like a hobo. I completed the task to a borderline satisfactory standard then pushed all my gear under its cover. I then went to the shower block and made the fundamental mistake of removing my boots. I won't go into the ins and outs of the 15 minutes that followed, but I emerged from that shower block pale, shaking, in absolute agony... and wearing boots.
 
Another lovely couple who were friends with Mrs Miller offered to take me to the Caithness General Hospital, again without any wish for payment and without any hesitation - absolute diamond people. I sat in the A&E department for about an hour and a half before I was seen and having been examined by one medical professional then sat for just over another hour in a small curtained cubicle, barefoot with my trouser legs pulled up past my knees, shirtless and slightly high on some serious painkillers. During this time I sent several texts to Lorna to let her know what had happened to me. I later found out that these were pretty incomprehensible... well... that's serious painkillers for you. The doctors allowed me to go later that evening, strapped, wrapped  and with a bag of drugs with the clear advice that I would not be able to continue with my walk for at least 4-6 weeks, best case scenario, and that in any event I should keep from putting any sustained pressure on either leg for at least 2 weeks (which is difficult when both your legs are injured. One of the doctors actually suggested complete bed rest for a few days, but the other humorously waited until she had left the cubicle then essentially said she was being a "Jessie."
 
Mrs Miller kindly came and collected me from the hospital. I was a mess. One severely sprained right ankle, one seemingly severe high ankle sprain of my left leg with deep tissue bruising, fractured clavicle, torn trapezius muscle and soft tissue damage to neck, trapezius and my mid-back, plus a beautiful array of cuts, scrapes and bruises - but most importantly no broken ankles, no misaligned clavicle fractures and no head injuries. Small mercies and silver linings - but as both Super Wife and the medical professionals pointed out, if it hadn't been for the size and shape of my kit it could have been gravely more serious, if not fatal. One of the doctor's suggested that it was likely that the driver was of foreign extraction and had reverted to driving on the right hand side of the road. Then as a result of not paying proper attention he must have clipped me. Everyone I've spoken to has suggested that the driver must not have known otherwise they would have stopped and maybe I'm being too cynical, but I just don't see it. I'm nineteen and a half stone carrying around 2 or so stone of pack. If you hit that at any speed, even with your wing mirror, you're going to know about it.
 
Mrs Miller immediately offered to ring around and try to find me a room at a local hotel or bed and breakfast. It took a lot of effort as everywhere was booked out but eventually she found one room at the Queens Hotel in Wick. Then Tricia and her husband William helped me to gather all my gear together and load it into their car, drove me to the hotel and carried my gear into the lobby before bidding me farewell. They both seemed genuinely apologetic that I had been hit by this driver, which was heart warming in itself, but on top of that Tricia in fact refunded the money for my stay at the campsite. I vigorously attempted to refuse to take the money in light of all the amazing assistance they had rendered me but in the end took it on the proviso that I would donate it to the fundraising site on their behalf. 
 
I booked in at the front desk of the Queens Hotel at around 8:30-8:45pm and inched my rucksack, webbing and vest up the stairwell and along the hall to room one where I was lodged. There I straight away lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling for well over twenty minutes.

I was overcome with regret, disappointment, dismay and a profound sense of guilt towards all the many people who had believed in me and donated to the cause. I felt deeply that I had let them all down, that I had failed, that my word was worthless. I know that many people will tell me that those feelings are ridiculous, that it was taken away from me, that I should be proud - but I promised that this blog would be honest at all times, the good with the bad, the rough with the smooth - and that's how I felt. As I lay there with a burning anger, overwhelmed by disbelief and melancholy, tears streamed down my face. I wasn't sobbing, but I couldn't stem the flow. All I kept thinking was that I'd let everyone down and that 6 months of starving myself and putting myself through so much pain had been for nothing. Again I know that may seem imbecilic in the cold light of day, but that is what I truly felt.
 
I was forced to stagger 50 yards up the road to a local Chinese takeaway to get any food as the hotel had stopped serving. I did however sit in their dining room tucking into said oriental cuisine, with a pint of Irn Bru on the go and my mobile plugged into the wall being consoled by Super Wife on speaker. Bless her, she had been through hell that day. As I had no real recourse to the internet up until that point Lorna had been in charge of updating the social media sites, fielding enquiries from lots of concerned people but not really being able to give full or accurate response, and all the time worrying as to whether  was alright. Considering she is 6 months pregnant that is a phenomenal effort and I truly don't know what I would do without her.
 
I managed to drag myself back up the stairs, unwrap and unstrap myself, struggle through a nice hot shower, completely forget how to put the bandages back on, eventually exasperated giving up and collapsing on the bed.
 
 
Tuesday 1st July 2014 -
 
I woke up late, about 7:30, managed another shower and to dress myself and then hobbled down to the breakfast room. I wolfed down a full cooked breakfast on a par with that of the Seaview Hotel and asked the hotel porter how far away we were from the Wick Railway station. It turned out that it was less than a five minute walk away but, with my collarbone now being twice as painful as it had been the day before and much more inflamed, I knew that I would be unable to carry my kit a few feet, let alone for five minutes. So the porter booked me a taxi for 12:15 for the 12:35 train. Only problem was that check out was at 11.
 
Not wanting to fanny about up in my room for any longer than I needed to, and fearing that my ability to hold or carry anything at all would only get worse as the day went on, I inched my bag down the stairs at a snail pace, all the time placing both my strapped up legs under immense pressure, dragging it through to the dining room where I stayed from 9 until 12:15 reading and sipping coffee.
 
The taxi driver was an absolute star, single-handedly loading the kit into the car, unloading it at the station and in fact walking it right onto the train for me. I couldn't have been more grateful. Unfortunately the ticket inspector was less helpful, insisting I walk the 120 metres down the station to the ticket office to buy a ticket (every single step a fresh agony), only to discover that the ticket office computers were down and I'd have to get it on the train (120 metres back). Once back at the inspector she simply said "oh yes that's fine" (ticket machine hanging around her neck) before telling me that the kit bag would need to be moved two carriages further down the train... and then watching me essentially crawl along the platform in clear distress, having been told only minutes earlier by the taxi driver assisting me that I had two injured legs and a cracked collarbone. If she had been a man...
 
Once on the train the joy didn't end there. The train to Inverness, it turned out, was not a train to Inverness at all but a train to Brora due to an obstruction on the line. As such the rest of the journey would be by replacement bus service. When we arrived in Brora I again carried the bag out of the station and onto the coach to which I'd been directed. By this time I was moving very much at the pace of an old man on oxygen with a zimmer frame. Only once I had boarded the coach was I informed by the inspector that if I wished to make the 6pm connection to London (the only one incidentally until the next morning) I would need to "very quickly" get onto the "other" replacement bus. So I did, as quickly as I could unload my own bag from one coach down the road about 50 metres and then onto another coach, before quite audibly collapsing into my seat.
 
A couple of hours later we were at Inverness Railway Station. Problem was I needed Inverness Bus Station, which I was reliably informed was through the station itself and then about one block away. Problem was... I by now quite literally couldn't lift my bag. In fact, I could barely walk.. I left my bag completely unattended and hobbled off in search of a luggage trolley, which I found deep within the station, one of two, linked by those £1 release mechanisms. I went back to my bag, wheeled it through the station and clambered my gear into another taxi, before returning the trolley and myself then staggering back to the taxi. In less than a minute and a half in city traffic we were there. A fit Dave could have carried the bag there in 40 seconds... pathetic. To his credit the taxi driver unloaded the bag onto the pavement, before I somehow managed to get it into the Ashers Café that I had visited a few days before.
 
I bought myself a couple of drinks and sandwiches and was told by the middle aged lady that worked there that they were closing in 15 minutes. I specifically asked her whether we were still permitted to sit on the chairs in the hall even when they closed and I was categorically told yes. So, I bought the food and sat myself down at a table in the corner. I shit you not, 10 minutes later the woman comes over to me and says you need to move into "the other area now sir" - the area with no chairs, no tables... the area the other side of the poxy ticket hall! I swear I could have lost it. Steam must have been visibly coming out of my ears. Pure anger alone gave me the strength to move my bag, food, the lot across the hall and everybody knew that I was not a happy man, without me even uttering a word.
 
I waddled my bag back outside to the stand where the X588 to London was due to arrive nearly an hour and a half later. I no longer cared. I just knew that I didn't want to move that bag, or indeed walk, anywhere anymore.


When I did finally get onto the coach I sat right at the back in a seat with slightly extra leg room, I placed my bag fashioned out of the combat vest and bungees on the seat next to me, I squeezed my boots off, and promptly went to sleep. I wasn't moving for anyone and if anyone really wanted to sit next to me they'd have to wake me up and hope I was in a considerably better mood. It had been an horrific 24 hours, one that I would never want to repeat. I had gone from the absolute highs and euphoria of setting out on a new adventure surrounded by so much wild and beautiful landscape to being brutally flung down the tarmac sustaining multiple injuries. I had suffered the ultimate indignity of having to abandon something I had repeatedly sworn I would do and the profound sense of guilt and failure that accompanied that decision. And I had struggled at nearly every stage throughout the day to get anyone to assist me at all with my bags when I was clearly physically injured and in a great deal of pain.
 
 
 
Wednesday 2nd July 2014 -  Onwards and Upwards!
 
So, I'm sure you would forgive me if I had decided that I would give up on this whole endeavour entirely... one bridge too far and all that jazz... but I haven't.
 
Before I had even gotten home to Houghton Regis in the taxi that carried me away from the Milton Keynes Coachway at 5:30 in the morning I had sworn to myself that an idiot in a camper van was not going to stop me. I swore that I was going to do all I could to raise awareness and money for the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes by walking from John O'Groats to Lands End and that is what I am going to do. Broken bones and sprained ligaments and muscles will heal. I will train my arse off yet again. It's not going to happen in a matter of weeks but Big Dave's Little Stroll lives on.
 
The support has been phenomenal.
 
The response has been fantastic.
 
The donations keep rolling in.
 
It'll take at least 4-6 weeks to heal - minimum. Then my little boy is due in October. Super Wife and I have discussed it and we think late next year I can get out and attack this challenge again - and I intend to smash it!
 
In the meantime, once I am healed, I will undertake as many smaller challenges as I can get involved with, I will continue to diet and I will continue to train... and I will do my upmost to keep that fundraising total ticking upwards so that the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes can receive a decent total once I'm done.

Big Dave's Little Stroll will continue... onwards and upwards!
 
I suppose the real question is... will you guys continue to support me?
 
 
 
 

Friday, 27 June 2014

500 Miles (#GoBigDave) - Fantastic charity single by Sons of the Late Colonel!

In a leafy corner of Bedfordshire Big Dave Redmond was  training hard for his Little Stroll...

Getting ready to walk from John O'Groats to Lands End for the MS
Society, Macmillan Cancer Support & Help for Heroes...


But somewhere in a grotty backstreet Dave Dangerous was having a quiet word in the shell of Charlie Ferrari..."
 

.................................................


Starting out on 30th June 2014, Big Dave Redmond is going to walk from John O' Groats to Lands End.

He will be completely on his lonesome and as such won't have a team to support him or carry his gear. He will be carrying all his own kit the entire journey and will be sleeping in a tent every night.

The rules are simple: no cars, buses, boats, trains or planes... no donkeys or other livestock... no hitching a lift on a passing teenagers handlebars or nicking the skateboard or rollerblades off of the local kids.

Only pure leg power (together with a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears we're guessing) is going to drive him for the 1000 or so mile journey and what is more... he is aiming to achieve this in about 50 days (give or take).

Who is this mad man? Well, he isn't your average long distance trekker that's for sure! Dave is a 31 year old, 6ft, 24 stone, criminal barrister from Dunstable, near Luton. He is a full time husband and father, part time PhD student and a sometime warrior poet! By his own admission he has become a bit squidgy round the edges in recent years, but this local man is determined to do something that makes a difference this year and thus this crazy plan was hatched!

All the money raised will be divided equally between his three chosen charities: Macmillan Cancer Support, MS Society and Help for Heroes.

So go on... show him your support and donate a few quid to some incredibly worthwhile causes.

Donate at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bigdaveslittlestroll/

Follow his blog at http://bigdaveslittlestroll.blogspot.co.uk/

Loving the Sons of the Late Colonel? Then check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SonsOfTheLateColonelUK?fref=ts

Impressed with the sound production? Well then you need to take yourself over to www.latentlemon.co.uk and sample the incredible talents of Justin Sabin!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Some interesting facts about… The Two Moors Way, the Dartmoor Way, the Tarka Trail, the Two Castles Way, the West Devon Way & the Camel Trail (Footpath Nos. 26, 27, 28. 29. 30 & 31)

We left the general route description last time at Withypool where the Exe Valley Way begins to coincide with the Two Moors Way… so that’s where this instalment will kick off.
 
The Two Moors Way is a long-distance path that runs from Lynmouth on the coast of North Devon, crossing parts of both Exmoor and Dartmoor, finishing in Ivybridge in South Devon. The total length of the trail is about 103 miles (166 km), and some sections are difficult in poor weather. I won’t be walking the whole length. I’ll start up in Withypool which is a small village in Somerset, near the centre of Exmoor National Park and close to the border with Devon. From there I’ll walk south along the River Barle to the Tarr Steps. The Tarr Steps is a clapper bridge that possibly dates to around 1000 BC. The stone slabs weigh up to 1-2 tons apiece. According to local legend, they were placed by the devil to win a bet. The bridge is 180 feet (55 m) long and has 17 spans. Crossing the Tarr Steps will lead me to the small village of Hawkridge, then turning south west towards the village of Knowstone.
 
From there it’s a zig-zagged southerly route as far as the village of Witheridge which is situated almost equidistant from Dartmoor and Exmoor. As such Witheridge has earned the nickname the Gateway to the Two Moors Way.
 
From Witheridge its westward to Morchard Bishop, a village with a population of less than a thousand people which is reputed to be the bustling hub of activity in this area of the world – so a good place to stop for a pint in my book! Another jagged southerly route will eventually find me at Hittisleigh, a small village known as the birthplace of Samuel Bellamy the eighteenth-century pirate.
Then it is onwards to the village of Drewsteignton and then over Sharp Tor and Hunters Tor past Castle Drogo before moving further south towards the small town of Chagford.
 
Rather than stroll into Chagford I will link up with the Dartmoor Way just north of the town which will lead me counter-intuitively north-west.
 
The Dartmoor Way is a route around Dartmoor which links hamlets, villages and towns with a variety of scenery including wild upland, sheltered valleys and quiet lanes. As I head northwest I’ll first come to the village of Throwleigh and then a bit farther still the village of Sticklepath. Why am I going to be heading north-west when surely I should be heading south? Well, whilst Sticklepath might be technically on Dartmoor, it is easier to follow the established footpaths skirting the edges of the moors than it is to try and strike out across the moors where there are no established paths – along this section not only are you guided by the Dartmoor Way but also by the Tarka Trail with which it coincides.
Sticklepath is only a short distance from Okehampton, an ancient settlement founded around 980 AD and today a thriving town in West Devon.

Okehampton is also the point at which I pick up the Two Castles Trail. The Trail follows river valleys, ridge roads, open downland and woods away from the northern edges of Dartmoor, linking the imposing Norman castles at Okehampton and Launceston. What’s more the Trail coincides with the West Devon Way between Okehampton and Bridestowe which means I’m bagging another established footpath at the same time. Plus, it represents the point at which I turn sharply southwest again.

The first notable settlement I’ll pass as I clip the northwest corner of Dartmoor will be the village of Bridestowe, then westwards on to the village of Lewdon which is dissected by the A30 and then further west still the village of Lifton, one of the first in the west of Devon to be founded by the Saxons, and of strategic importance to them because of its location on a major route close to the border with Cornwall. A little further west and I will reach the end of the Two Castles Trail at Launceston.
 
Launceston Castle, which dominates the town, is a Norman castle of motte-and-bailey design, and was built by Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother of William the Conqueror) ca. 1070 to dominate the surrounding area.  

From Launceston I go off piste properly for the first time and for quite a while.  I’ll head south towards Daws House and South Petherwin, then sharply west towards Polyphant and Altarnum. Unlike the indomitable looming Dartmoor, this time round I’m going to carry on westwards across the open access land of Bodmin Moor – making sure to keep my eyes peeled for any beastie that mat be lurking there – and finding the time to climb to the top of Brown Willy (well it would be rude not to wouldn’t it) before descending to St Breward.
 
Turning south from St Breward I’ll soon come to my next established footpath, the Camel Trail. As the name suggests the trail follows the Camel River, along a disused and resurfaced railway line that provides a recreational route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The trail is flat, running from Wenford Bridge to Padstow via Bodmin and Wadebridge. It is 17.3 miles (27.8 km) long and used by an estimated 400,000 users each year – so it should be an easy stretch for me to traverse compared all that has come before. I’ll join it near Wenfordbridge and follow it through the Great Shell Wood, southwest down to Hellandbridge, through a great deal of forest to the north-western outskirts of Bodmin itself.
 
From here I then strangely will follow the river northwest (again as a result of a more clearly marked trail) towards the town of Wadebridge. From there the trail follows the estuary of the River Camel towards Padstow Bay and into the heart of the town and fishing port of Padstow itself.

This is where I will leave this instalment as all that remains is the South West Coastal Path – the final home stretch of the journey!  

Can you spare a few quid in support of the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes?
 
 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

I’ve been everywhere man... like the great Johnny Cash... or Chris Addison. – 26th May 2014 – Dunstable to Dunstable, via Luton, Kinsbourne Green, Harpenden, Redbourn, Flamstead, Markyate and Kensworth

As is becoming a bit of a regular occurrence in recent weeks, I had been a bit ill on Saturday morning which I only discovered when I had gotten out of bed at 4am to do a training walk. As I nearly fell down after what had been a truly shattering week at work, Super Wife gave me a stern talking to and demanded I shelve the morning’s perambulation. So back to bed I went... which was glorious. Until about 10am when sitting in my living room I had felt like the biggest failure who had ever lived (or skived a PE lesson) ever... ever! Sunday wasn’t an option for getting out into the countryside to catch up on those missed training miles either. Super Wife works all day on a Sunday and Daddy has the responsibility of looking after little monkey face – whilst also attempting to pack up various bit and pieces in the house (as we were moving in a couple of weeks).
 
But I was not to be deterred... like Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi, I was a man on a mission... but unlike Elwood and Jake my assignment wasn’t handed down to me by any unseen deity. Nope, my task was motivated by a deep desire to not appear to be a grade A, top of the class, cream of the crop whoopsie (and to not let valuable training days slip away when there was only a month left to go until the big one)!
 
So... on a chilly bank holiday morning... an early morning... 4:45 to be exact... I was already out of my front door dressed in a green Macmillan t-shirt, wearing a flat cap, a duffel coat, my worn out hiking boots (which had lost a couple of rusty eyelets that very morning), some Sealskinz socks and a pair of ripped jeans (that were so ripped in fact around the groin area that it looked like I was wearing vagrant chaps). I had talcum powdered the living hell out of my feet, but I had been forced to forego the gooey delights of having petroleum jelly smeared all over my inner thighs due to an issue with my restock request being misunderstood by my lovely assistant, Super Wife. That’s right! I was going out into the wild (well... the Luton area) without the protection of Vaseline. I could only hope and pray that some of those 5 shed stones had come from my inner thigh area otherwise it was going to be a pretty busy party in chafe town this afternoon!
 
Unsurprisingly, for anyone who knows me well, the ink situation in respect of my printer had yet to be resolved, so today’s adventure was again to be unchartered. I walked down Luton Road, past the Central Bedfordshire College’s relatively new motor mechanics centre, past the White Lion Retail Park, under the Duck Bridge and then left up Station Road.
 
It’s a good thing that I’m not a religious man... else I would have begun to suspect that the omniscient purveyor of retribution had gotten his (or her) ethereal knickers in a transcendent twist. Pour quoi? I hear you cry... the poxy, British weather, that’s why.

The weather had been pretty good up until that morning. Saturday would have been a lovely ambient stroll had I actually managed to get started, but today... today it was chucking it down. It wasn’t raining cats and dogs (more guinea pigs and gerbils) but there was a lot of it... constant and unyielding... so much so that within no more than 100 metres from the house I had managed to soak my jeans right through... well at least I had the world’s largest air vent to stop my under crackers from getting soggy eh? Even the temperature of the rain and wind was such to have a super efficient plum shrinking effect that left me wondering whether I would ever father another child whilst simultaneously wanting to try out the high notes from Let it Go from the Disney wonder that is Frozen... but I digress...
I squeezed through the ridiculously narrow barrier that prevents buggies, wheelchairs and fat blokes from accessing the path along the busway, but which incidentally does bugger all to deter the mopeds and crossers from doing so as they can simply cut through the tree line from the residential streets between Great Northern Road and Downs Road Park.
From there I walked along the footpath between the Paddocks and the park at the foot of Blows Downs until I reached the end of Half Moon Lane.
I then turned left and walked along the base of the hills along the stone and dirt track in the general direction of Jeans Way.
From there I turned diagonally across the open fields, where only a few weeks ago I had engaged in battle with my canine nemesis Trixie.
This morning all was quiet, with only the percussive sounds of rain drops on foliage providing the soundtrack to the opening chapters of today’s ramble. The sound of rain and my own hearty rendition of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, that is. The rain slowly pattered out and I trundled on, singing away. I quite literally couldn’t care less, as a young lad burst past me mid chorus, decked out in his weekend clobber, dashing along in soggy shirt sleeves having clearly been caught in the downpour, and also obviously not enjoying his shivering shuffle of shame the morning after, what was no doubt, an “epic” evening to remember. I used to love the feeling of walking back from a cracking night out n the early hours of the next morning – be honest... no good story ever began “so... I was sat at home sipping a cup of tea and reading a good book...” As the young scallywag disappeared into the grey of the miserable morning to my left, I continued on up the hill and on to the reprise... “I’m... so in love with you... whatever you want to do... is alright with me-e-e-eee...”
Across the chalky pathways that meander around the Bulldog, rabbits everywhere disturbed by the sound of a chubby, pasty white, Lutonian’s rendition of seventies American Soul, I made my way steadily.
I did notice though, that not much more than a couple of miles in (probably not even as far as that) I had started to feel a distinct amount of bruising to my right heel pad – never good.
Evidently, my boots were no longer to be regarded as allies and could properly be categorised as hostile critics of my ongoing endeavours – I started to fantasise about hurling them from the top of the Bulldog comforted only in the knowledge that my swish pair of Scarpa II GTX Rangers (Gucci kit) were soon to arrive and relegate these little buggers for all eternity. Ladies and Gentleman, that sums up what I have become. A man who gets passionate (and borderline violent) about a pair of hiking boots!
I followed the path along to the end of Hatters Way and up the steps that lead along the ridge above the roundabout far below. In the past I have followed the path uphill that runs along a sort of ridge towards the tree-line in the general direction of Caddington Golf Course, but today I was striking out across the overgrown hillside in the direction of Luton. There is the faintest hint of a path to be found in the slight colour differential between the shades of grass but other than that, without a map, you’re on your own.
I walked directly across the hillside until I came to a section of fenced woodland blocking my progress further northeast. There was a style in the far upper corner of the open grassland and on the other side a choice of relatively overgrown dirt paths – one heading sharply uphill in what I would assume to be the direction of Caddington, and one heading downhill, in what I perceived to be the direction of Chaul End Lane, which was the way I had intended to go. Problem is, without a map it’s all guess work, and as I went deeper and deeper into the undergrowth I realised that I... may... have taken a wrong turn (knee deep in stingers and stood next to the carcass of a burnt out Fort Cortina that was in an implausible position considering the lack of ingress and egress into this deep thicket). I managed to scramble my way back up hill, dodging branches, brambles and stinging nettles as I went, bursting back out of the undergrowth onto the dirt track. Even then, I managed to get it wrong again, coming back through the stile and all the way down the hillside until I reached a fence that overlooked the busway below. So, I staggered back up the hill, almost clawing at the tufts of wild grass as I went, and having crossed back through the stile, took the last option available to me; the path that went in the wrong direction towards Caddington. So, I cursed away as I stumbled up the tree roots that littered the track, moving towards the light that was breaking through the overhanging branches until I emerged into open ground, where the path... suddenly turned left! Towards Chaul End Lane! You could have toasted a marshmallow off the embarrassed heat emanating from my flustered, sweaty bonce at that point!
I walked across another meadow, through a large iron gate onto Chaul End Lane, over the road and through a bit of woodland onto a large bit of open land that appeared as if it had been regularly used to race quads and crossers around it judging  by the wealth of tyre grooves all around me.
From there it was up a steep bit of dirt track along what appeared to be the boundary of the M1, before reaching a level and then descending down a set of steps.
At the bottom of those steps you come to a tarmac road of sorts that runs over a bridge that spans the M1 motorway. I say a road of sorts. There is a sign up that states only one vehicle, up to 3.5 tonnes, is permitted on the bridge at any one time, but if you look at the bridge itself it is massively overgrown and more to the point, has only a narrow footpath either end, so exactly where this theoretical lorry is supposed to materialise from is anyone’s guess.
The rain had kicked back in at this point and it was a dark and gloomy track through the woodland for the next 5-10 minutes. My heel had started to ache considerably more and purely to distract myself from this nagging soreness I found the Crazy Dave jukebox tuned into Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, the relentless bass of which sustained me in song until I finally emerged out onto the street by the Brache Sparta clubhouse near the end of Dallow Road.
I walked through the field past the Foxdell Junior School, to the kissing gate in the far corner where the walker is presented with two options – go straight on through a tunnel under the M1 or, as was my want today, turn sharply left down a dark alley that runs along the rear gardens of the houses of the Dallow Estate.
As I was walking along that track wedged between the houses and the motorway the section between slowly became wider and wider until, before I had even realised it, I was walking along a country path through a delightful combination of woodland and hills, the Dallow Downs.
This area, as I understand it, was pretty much unusable back in 2008 when a group of volunteers started working to clear the scrub from this area of grassland and mature woodland. The result of their efforts some six years on is well worth a look.
Why anyone would choose to walk along the tarmac of Dallow Road itself with its industrial estate and overloaded traffic system, when, on a sunny or dry day, it would be just as easy and a lot more pleasant to follow this trail from the top of Dallow Road to Farley Hill or into the Town Centre via Ashburnham Road, is beyond me.
That’s the route I was taking today, over the hill and down to the gate that leads onto what is technically Long Croft Road at the very top of Ashburnham Road.
By the time I walked out onto the tarmac I was again drenched from the waist down, a little bit cold, very bedraggled, freezing my exposed plums off and with condensation dripping from the tips of my straggly beard. Just what every resident wants to see plodding past their house first thing in the morning!
Ashburnham itself is a fairly long emulating road that leads into the heart of Luton, where I turned right into Adelaide Street.
I wandered past the Luton Police Station, which had an alarming number of squad cars and meat wagons parked behind it – the car park was quite literally rammed – and I couldn’t help but speculate as to how few officers there must be out patrolling on this overcast and miserable bank holiday Monday morning. I did consider taking a picture of the sea of vehicles, but my inherent fear and paranoia regarding the constabulary kicked in and I was overwhelmed by a real sense that I might be risking being bundled onto the pavement and detained under the Terrorism Act. So like a true coward, I stole a glancing shot of the front entrance of the towering fortress on Buxton Road over my shoulder as I waddled off into the mist of rain.
 
I traipsed off down Adelaide Street, then down Hastings Street, onto Regent Street, under the Chapel Viaduct and then down Chapel Street itself. As I splashed through the puddle streets, pausing only to take pictures under the confused gaze of two Eastern European window cleaners, I moved on to my second homage to the man dressed all in black, murmuring out the words to Walk the Line as I went, and only realising what I was doing when I stopped in the middle of Chapel Street to take a photo of my former home. I received an accusatory glare from a bin man cleaning the streets with a pick and a barrow as I pointed my camera in his general direction, but the focus of my lens was Pepe’s Piri Piri that stood behind him – my home as a student for 3 years – number 6 Chapel Street. The flat was absolutely massive, deceptively so if you considered how it looked from the front. When we had moved in the store below had been Oakley Bros, a cured meats and preserves shop with a beautiful tankard glass wooden framed shop front. By the time we moved on it was a Roosters Chicken and Chips shop. I would sit up on the window sill on a mid-week student night and watch the throng of clubbers emptying out onto the street from Space or @mosphere, hailing their taxis, sharing their philosophies, issuing challenges to each other and, of paramount importance, getting their kebab orders in a Efflers.
From the bottom of Chapel Street I looked across to the Mall, forever referred to by me as the Arndale, with its pink and white sign glowing amongst the gloom of a damp Luton morning.
I walked up the pedestrianised Market Hill, strangely eerie in its emptiness, with two tenets of my working life standing proud at its head – the Luton Crown Court where I wile away my days now (from time to time anyway) and the Crown, formerly the Heights, where I worked as a barman for a year or so as a student under the mindful and sedate tuition of “Northern” Dave Upstone, Steve “Cookie” Cook, Gary & Maureen Thompson, Big Gay John, Little Scott, Damien “Damo” Blow, Jim “Jimbo” Watts and countless other quality friends... the stories that Dave, Cookie, Damo and Jim could tell you! Well... they’d probably get me disbarred!
From there it was a soggy stroll down Stuart Street, past the University of Bedfordshire (Luton University) where I spent one year with my good mate Bill Delve studying the law, then under the Park Viaduct and past the Edge, where many a night of intoxicating loud metal and liquors were experienced and onwards past the building where Adams Moore Family Law once existed, where I had worked for a couple of years before the bar.
Park Street was also my home for three years – 217a – where I lived with Lorna and my younger brother Dean, where many a party was had, many a dog was looked after and where we spent a summer digging tree stumps and building rubble out of the back “lawn” before relaying it, only to promptly move away to Colchester.
Park Street was also where we woke up one night to an almighty and thunderous bang that shook the very foundations of the house, causing us all to run down the stairs and open the front door to discover a Vauxhall Corsa had taken out the front wall, hedge, and a not unsubstantial telegraph pole coming to an abrupt stop against the brickwork to our porch at the front of our house. A mid-terraced house... nowhere near any turn or corner! Nevertheless the car sat perpendicular to the flow of traffic with a rather shocked looking young female driver looking out of her windscreen at a rather shocked looking young man, my brother, stood in his boxers staring back at her.
I carried on past my old hovel and turned up Cutenhoe Road towards Stockwood Park. By now the rain was absolutely lashing down and I was drenched.
Cutenhoe Road is a relatively steep residential road in Luton. Not very steep you understand, but it continues for quite a distance at a reasonably steady incline which can be quite difficult to sustain in the pouring rain when you’re suffering from a swollen and aggravatingly painful heel – but sustain the pace I did and soon enough I was walking towards Kidney Wood and the M1 slip road at the top of London Road with the shadow of Stockwood Park fading with each step behind me.
The motorway slip road is undergoing a fair amount of groundwork at the moment, with signs, cones and fencing littered everywhere – despite a distinct lack of human activity this morning. I was forced to play chicken with a National Express coach at this massive roundabout, but a hop, skip, jump and a “bloody hell that was close” later, I was safely on the other side
I waddled down London Road like a duck, soaking, sore, and truth be told not particularly in the right frame of mind for a big walk – but I resolved that it was at times when I was feeling this way that it was most important to carry on. If I am going to walk 1127.5 mles then it’s not going to be all sweetness and light. Sometimes you’ve just got to grit your teeth, fix your gaze at your boots pounding the ground below you and press on.
So that’s what I did... and I started to sing Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” just for shits and giggles.
Soon I was passing the great wrought iron gates of the Luton Hoo Estate, which I hear is a truly magnificent spot for an afternoon tea in the presence of quality companions, but to which I have never been. That said some of the female members of my family were employed as staff there during the Second World War when I believe many a foreign serviceman was billeted there also, so despite my ignorance of its splendour, it will always be splendidly and intrinsically linked to my own family history, as it will be for many a Lutonian.
I crossed the road just before Gibraltar Farm, having inadvertently ended up following a middle aged woman in a wax jacket and rubber boots walking her spaniel for nearly a quarter mile and having crossed over the road at pretty much precisely the same time as her. I had no choice... I had run out of path!
I then walked for just over a mile on a narrow strip of tarmac completely encroached from either side by white flowered weeds and stinging nettles that came up past my chest and soaked me to the bone. I could not even see my feet for foliage. I couldn’t risk reaching down to my pockets to take out my phone or my camera for two reasons – first, I was afraid I might quite literally drown the devices and second, to put my hand anywhere lower than my armpit was to accept being stung repeatedly on my exposed skin. So instead, I kept my hands firmly gripped to the straps of my rucksack just under my armpits and strode on, hesitating only when stung through the saturating fabric of my jeans to curse before continuing.
It was rough.
I moved on to my next Cash classic, “When the Man Comes Around” as I pootled along through the foliage. “There's a man goin' 'round takin' names; and he decides who to free and who to blame; everybody won't be treated all the same...” SPLASH! A lorry flew through a bloody lake of a puddle in the road which sent an 8 foot wall of grimey water diagonally up and over my head, running down my face, my beard, down the nape of my neck. My initial reaction was one of pure rage... I opened my mouth to curse only for an Audi to come hurtling past, again creating a 6-7 foot arch of water to fly up at me. I tilted my head this time, my flat cap protecting my eyes and mouth. I felt the anger beginning to subside. I looked up the stretch of tarmac ahead of me, which ran as far as the eye could see. I saw the glint of light on the murky water of a literal trough that ran the entirety of the length of that stretch on my side. There was no path on the other side. The outcome was inevitable and was likely to be repeated again and again. I sighed, was instantly grateful that this wasn’t the usual Monday morning rush hour traffic, and with the feeling of grubby water trickling down the crevice of my gluteus maximus, I plodded ever onwards. “There'll be a golden ladder reaching down...” SPLASH! “...When the man comes around.”
I wandered through the weeds and before I knew it I was back on clear path and passing the Fox, just on the outskirts of Kinsbourne Green... well I say Kinsbourne Green. I past a sign that proudly exclaimed entry into said village but then, very shortly after, there was another sign pointing off to my right suggesting the village was up there. Shortly after that I came to The Common, but again, the pretty and well crafted signpost didn’t say Kinsbourne Green but Harpenden – plain and simple.
I ambled ever onwards past The Bell public house in Harpenden, day dreaming of stopping for a pint of Guinness and a mixed grill as I did so.
That’s another good thing about the big walk – once I’m on it the dieting goes out of the window. If I’m lucky enough to pass a little pub on the Pennines and they have a cow-a-saurus steak and a basket of chips the size of my head on offer – that steak never had a chance... and of course it would be rude not to sample each of the speciality ales on offer!
Quicker than expected I was at the bridge carrying the Nickey Line over Luton Road in Harpenden, ominous and looming in the downpour, and then I was storming up Park Hill and onto the Nickey Line itself.
The Nickey Line itself was pretty abandoned. I passed pleasantries with an old lady walking her small dog in the onslaught of drizzle that had by this time persisted for a couple of hours. It was about 8:30am and as I tramped onwards, my right heel determined to put me onto my arse, a sudden realisation swept over me. I had seen several cyclists, a few old people walking dogs and a couple of lady joggers (who incidentally looked like they had run a phenomenal distance judging by their game faces – grit and determination or what!). What I hadn’t seen any of... at all... were pretentious, professionally kitted out, rude and obnoxious male joggers – the kind that had plagued my sun drenched walk a couple of weeks before – the kind that had repeatedly bumped me or tried to force me from my path as if they had some sort of unspoken priority on the footpaths. Not one out in the pissing rain however. Not one busting a gut like the ladies come rain or shine. Don’t get me wrong. I saw an old boy in shorts and a jumper slowly making his way down Cutenhoe Road earlier and I passed a young lad in sweats and a hoody on the London Road in Luton who I presumed was a young boxer putting in his road work – I’m not having a pop at people who jog generally. I’m having a righteous dig at the middle class, middle aged, pencil necked, uber-thin twonks dressed in high performance materials which clings to their scrawny frames – but much more importantly knocking into people, pavement and path hogging, ignoring the cheerful hellos of those around them and tutting at people as they narrowly sail past. Those people are... in my opinion... pricks.
The rain let up for a little while so I took the opportunity to sit down for 10 minutes and fill up my water bottle from the reserves in my pack, rest my feet (as my heel was throbbing like mad) and inhale a banana. I was sitting there I had to have a serious word with myself. I was absolutely ready to pack it in for the day. If there had been any buses running on the bank holiday I would have been sorely tempted to hop on the 34 from Redbourn. I was sitting there giving myself a pep talk when an elderly couple walked past with a couple of massive hairy spaniel eared dogs. The old lady looked at me with a massive grin on her face and tunefully sang out a good morning, to which I replied. Only after they had disappeared into the woodlands did it dawn on me that I was sitting there with my elbows resting on my knees, legs apart, with a massive hole in my crotch area! I had been sitting there with my boxer pouch exposed legs akimbo cheerfully and chirpily greeting anyone who passed with a good morning!
So... having rested up for a bit I trundled onwards down the Nickey Line, over the roundabout at Redbourn Lane, then along the path that passes the traveller site and onto Waterend Lane.
I know that I have probably come across as a real grumpy old man this week, and this next section will probably do nothing to alleviate that criticism, however...
I absolutely, positively must tell you guys about an incident that occurred on that stretch of path. I had a male jogger come trottiing towards me as I walked up a set of steps next to the boundary fence... you know... the quality kind. I nodded at him, stepped very slightly to the side and said quite loudly “good morning.” This fella looked me straight in the face and made eye contact. He wasn’t wearing earphones and he wasn’t sprinting. He frowned slightly, barely deviated his course and I swear he made a tutting noise as he narrowly missed my left shoulder.  I was about ready to boil over but managed to keep it in. Less than a 10 count later I heard an almighty thump, the scatter of leaves and stones and a bit of a yelp. I turned and took a few steps back along the track to find the happy jogger face down on the track having clearly misjudged a protruding tree root. In my mind, this happened...
But outwardly I maintained my stoic demeanour and raised my voice to ask him if he was alright and needed any help. The miserable git got off of the deck, grunted “no” and then carried on trucking down the track.
As terrible as it sounds, I had serious trouble not laughing and the inwardly held mirth kept me going for a fair while – by the time I stopped giggling to myself I realised I’d got as far as The Bull Inn on Redbourn High Street.
I struggled onwards up the Dunstable Road along the footpath that leads to Redding Lane. At this point I’d only clocked up about 16 miles but I was certainly feeling it.
I followed Redding Lane over another bridge that crosses the M1 towards Noringtonend Farm. The mental Dave jukebox was now onto Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” which was strangely cathartic and seemed to occupy my emotional state enough to at least partially distract me from the pain.  “I hurt myself today... To see if I still feel... I focus on the pain... The only thing that's real... The needle tears a hole... The old familiar sting...  Try to kill it all away... But I remember everything...” Having belted out at least one entire rendition of the song my brain seemingly hit repeat and I started all over again.
I trundled through a gate that leads the foot path through someone’s front garden. You literally feel like you are trespassing but you’re not. What I later realised I was doing however, was pottering through someone’s garden singing away at full volume, and not just any song... “What have I become... My sweetest friend... Everyone I know goes away in the end... And you could have it all...  My empire of dirt... I will let you down... I will make you hurt.”
Pretty worrying to the innocent bystander. Ah well, I’m just trekking on through!
I won’t go on at length about the rest of the walk as I’ve already waffled on for a fair old time.
Essentially, I wandered through some fields between the farm and Flamstead, past some randy horses that followed me like stray dogs across their sizeable paddock, and attempted to nab my last banana from me.
I then walked through the most non-existent stony footpath that I’ve ever seen through a field of crops over a serious amount of rubble underfoot and under the constant threat of rain.
I cracked on through a bit of woodland on the outskirts of Flamstead where I, now seriously tired and not paying proper attention, managed to bang my head hard off the bottom of a low hanging branch, causing my head to snap back viciously making my neck crack loudly as it did. Luckily I didn’t knock myself out sparko but I was a bit spacey until I reached Friendless Lane on the other side of Flamstead.
Between Flamstead and Markyate my route took me through several open fields of rapeseed where I came across a bloke who looked at me, stood there soaked from the chest down, and said to me “looks like we won’t be lucky, it’s going to rain I reckon.”
I managed to just say yes with no trace of sarcasm whatsoever and squelched on past him and his two black poodles.
I wandered through a completely empty Markyate – either everyone was having a serious lie in that day or they’d all chipped off to another town for an adventure because, short of three people, there was no one there and no signs of life.
I cut across the playing fields on Cavendish Road walking along the track that leads down to Lynch Hill on the outskirts of Kensworth.
By the time I had reached Lynch Hill I was utterly spanked having by this point done about 19.5 miles (about 18.5 of those with an incredibly bruised right heel).
Inexplicably I then decided to climb the hill up a footpath that cut through the crops to the brow of the hill before descending down the hill and out on to the A5. It had achieved absolutely nothing in time or distance savings but it did mean I didn’t have to pound the pavement for the equivalent distance past the Packhorse.
Then it was the long trudge along the A5 past Turnpike Farm, past Manshead, past the new Holiday Inn and onto Southwood Road.
It was soaking.
The rain hadn’t held up for a moment since Markyate. I received a text from the brother-in-law checking that I would still be about to help him move some fencing later that afternoon. My heart sank as I was spanked, my body felt like it was in bits, but on I plodded, back along the base of the Blows Downs where I had been about 7 hours previously.
From there it was out onto Station Road, back under the new Duck Bridge, back up Luton Road, down Ridgeway Avenue and then onto Western Way.
I slumped down onto the front lawn directly upon arriving at my house. I didn’t care if it was wet. I didn’t care that it was still raining.
I didn’t care that both of my dogs came running out to revive me by licking me to death.
I had however just completed 23.5 miles of walking by about 1pm. Not bad considering that I’d had a painful heel for the majority of those miles. Not bad considering I’d wanted to give up today after only about 10 miles. Not bad considering that I’d managed, on a bad day, to do more mileage than I would need to do on the big one.
Just to wrap this blog entry up – I did go and load the brother-in-laws van with fence panels and concrete feet later that afternoon. To be fair he has done himself a serious injury to his back and I got to borrow a lawn mower and a large tractor tyre out of the deal as well – not to mention it was a cracking upper body workout as well.
The next day I managed to get down to Storm Gym over in Luton opposite Wardown Park for 6:30am to put in an hour and a half session with Amir – a man forged out of iron! He had me doing laps of the fighting mat (probably about 20 metres a lap or thereabouts) carrying a 10kg bag for 10 laps, a 15kg bag, a 20kg bag and a 25kg bag each for 10 laps... and then the same again! Then it was onto the leg raise extension weight machine, raising the weights 9 repetitions at 9kg, 14 at 14kg and so on and so forth until I got up to 64kg. Then it was onto the cycle for 30 minutes and about 10 miles. Finally, onto the leg squat machine to do 64 repetitions at 64kg. And that was it... for the morning.
I was back at Storm Gym for my second session later that evening at 7pm – where I was straight onto the treadmill, starting at 6.1 mph on the highest incline possible. That lasted all of about 4.5 minutes! Seriously concerned that I was about to come flying off the back of the treadmill I then went on to do 30 minutes at 3.6 mph at the highest incline possible. I was quite literally ringing with sweat after that. Then it was onto the rowing machine for 5 minutes, then the stepper for 5 minutes, the cycle for 5 minutes and then stepping up and down from a weights bench for 5 minutes – after which I wouldn’t have been able to kick my way out of a paper bag!
So there you have it... with only 26 days to go until I set out from John O’Groats - despite coming down with tonsillitis – that’s what I’ve been up to. Training, training, training... working... training, training, training... so that I won’t let you guys down! I’m going to smash this walk – I only hope that we manage to smash our fundraising target for these three amazing charities – the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes.