Seven years ago
Today I walked part of the same route that I used for a long run when preparing for the Brighton Marathon in 2011. It has some steep bits and some long boring bits, and is quite exposed to whatever the weather throws around, so it’s good for training. My most vivid memory of the run was the very-small dog that leapt out from behind a fence and tried to bite my ankle. Sadly for the animal it was a cool morning when I set off, so the attack yielded a mouthful of fabric from my jogging bottoms and an unscheduled flight through the air as my leg moved. With such unexpected results the dog decided retreat was a better option. I gave the dog full marks for courage and the owner ‘nil points’ for boundary fencing.
This morning was less exciting as all the dogs were either secured or unconcerned about random walkers, and the route was a much shorter version of that run. Despite that it felt like much harder work. I’ve maintained for years that a mile walked seems longer than a mile run because of the time on feet, and age-related muscle loss also had a noticeable effect today. Use it or lose it even faster.
Seven years on I’m musing that the one constant in all training is that the bit between the ears is the biggest predictor of success or failure. The brain-training continues.
Friday 2nd March 2018
36 days to go. My own planning continues with trying to resolve a rather convoluted final couple of weeks to John O’Groats. There is very limited accommodation available in October so my ideas involve buses and a daily ‘commute’ from the camp sites. It works in theory, but as Jules has just discovered, the unexpected always happens.
In the teeth of the ‘Beast from the East’ and facing storm Emma, Jules started her LEJOG yesterday. She writes beautifully and if you haven’t come across her online yet, I’d encourage you to read her blog at http://www.julesforth.com/walkingtheblackdog/.
Sunday 4th February 2018
The sun shineth…
The world has turned and the days are noticeably longer. The hibernating Helegant is stirring. This morning I was out with the dog at 6.30am in time to see the sun rise across the lake, and to wish I’d worn a lighter coat. However by noon, as we returned from church on my second trip out, the in-the-face breeze had turned biting and blew dark clouds in front of the sun. Ten minutes later we arrived home with numb noses and fingers and I’d been reminded that Britain’s weather is, at best, changeable. It is still February after all.
Planning continues from the comfort of an armchair and this week I’m focusing on the Pennine Way. Subject to all the usual caveats Plan A is to follow the official footpath, with Plan B to drop off the path if it all gets too much. And if I’ve passed the point of no return then just keep putting one foot in front of the other until it’s safe to stop. My imagination isn’t filled with thoughts of sunny wild camping, although that would be nice. Instead I’m being quite pessimistic and expecting rain, cold, and lots of mud, especially around Redesdale. And, just so I can have a hot drink once in three days, Mr is going out tomorrow to buy me a lightweight stove as a belated Christmas present. I know. We are incurable romantics.
There’s always a balance of risk (optimism vs navigation in my case), and I’m still reading other people’s blogs to try to learn as much as possible from their mistakes. My favourite blog this week has been this one which I’m gleaning voraciously https://oldieoutdoors.com/2016/11/23/pennine-way-blog-south-north/comment-page-1/ It’s amusing me, mostly for his wonderful use of language.
On a practical note – when did it become policy for the YHA to block book all their rooms? Most hostels have no availability and one is even listed for sale. Fortunately most of the PW is quite well resourced, and hopefully by the last few days I’ll have transformed into the sort of tough cookie who can cope with discomfort. Either that or I’ll be penuriously wallowing in luxury just to avoid yet another cold night in a damp sleeping bag.
“The sun shineth” Rev 1:16
Thursday 30th November 2017
I started this page entitled LEJOG, and the one question I didn’t answer was ‘Why?’
It’s maybe the hardest question of all, but I was asked it today, by someone who already knew the answer and nodded with recognition when I spoke about expanding boundaries and making memories, “What an amazing thing to look back on, and just imagine all the things you’ll see and experience…” Yes, you ‘got’ it. 🙂
Much of 2015 was spent in a dark haze of pain as the result of a multiple-cause shoulder problem that was eventually resolved by surgery in August. With the aid of physiotherapy I progressed quickly and by the end of the year I had not only recovered almost all of the use of my right arm, but was feeling much better and finding the joy in life again, as well as trying to regain some of the lost fitness.
Joy is about recognising opportunities and not just obstacles, choosing to say “Why not?” more often than “No way” or “I can’t” and sometimes just taking a deep breath and going for it.
I follow the exploits and achievements of some extraordinary people. The point about them is that they are ordinary people who just kept going when other people stopped (including me). Physically they may also be statistical outliers, but they are my inspiration – not to emulate their achievements, but to recognise their ‘can do’ attitude and apply some of it to my own dreams. (I may come back and edit this paragraph to name the names and embarrass individuals…)
When I was at primary school I wanted to become the youngest person to swim the English Channel. The reality of a North London suburban childhood meant this was a dream that went unfulfilled. And when I investigated the logistics about ten years ago I discovered that, although I now had the resources to plan and train for a channel swim, I’d rather gone off the idea.
LEJOG was a distant thought in my mind. Gradually over the last year it has gone from something that ‘other people’ with amazing fitness and experience and reserves of awesomeness do, to something that is ‘way outside’ my capabilities to… hang on, I used to be a project manager. Now, remind myself, how do you eat an elephant*? And gradually the idea moved from the impossible fantasy to a planned possibility, and if it can be done, and doesn’t involve goose fat and oil slicks, then why not?
ABLE – Adventures Beyond Life Expectancy
Given that there’s not enough time in one life to do everything that interests me, or that catches my attention; given that there are adventures that have had to be left behind because there’s always a balance of needs – e.g. working close to home while my children were young… given all sorts of other reasons/excuses… there are still adventures beyond life expectancy – too many for a bucket list 🙂
I’d rather reach the end of my road knowing I’ve taken as many of the opportunities as I could, when I could. That includes building a home and a family and faith, caring for others as well as the different career stepping-stones. And it includes the occasional foray into the “She’s doing what?!” category. If only to show my grandchildren that the world is a wonderful place, that most people are kind and lovely, that even old people can have fun, and that dreams are worth pursuing.
Lose this day loitering—’twill be the same story
To-morrow–and the next more dilatory;
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? seize this very minute–
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!
*One slice at a time
Thursday 30th November 2017
Where to start?
If we temporarily ignore the question, “Why?” the next layer is “How?” and “When?”
As the idea began to form I started a notebook to capture the different ideas that go into making an adventure happen. Page 1 included the various aspects that I thought I needed to consider:
Overall mileage, route, accommodation, equipment, cost, training (body and mind), support, timing, safety, record-keeping, preparation. I also need to think about the time spent away and what will be happening back at home. That sets some boundaries on when and for how long I’m comfortable to be away.
I’m going to try to organise this site to cover the different ideas that have made it through the percolation process.
As someone who likes to make unique mistakes (i.e. learn from other people where I can), I’d like to say a huge thank you to the many people who have gone before me and written blogs about their experiences.
As they say on game shows – in no particular order:
Rambling Man at https://ramblingman.org.uk/ I’ve followed this blog since I started planning The Ridgeway walk.
Mark Moxon at https://www.landsendjohnogroats.info/walking_tips/links.html The definitive LEJOG blog written in an amusing and informative style. Shame his book is out of print.
Daryl May at http://mylongwalk.com/Webdocs%20S%20Jogle/Southbound%20home.html another very amusing good read, and Daryl is really helpful as well as being realistic. It was he who suggested I leave the Trangia at home and travel with a can of sardines instead. It’s no wonder he lost weight on his journey!
Wayne and Danielle Fenton at http://www.treksnappy.com/the-pennine-way Great photographs and always positive. I’ve focused on their Pennine Way blog.
Philip and Marilyn Slater at http://ukendtoend.com/ I amuse myself by imagining the conversations they have that are not recorded in the blog, especially about navigation. I like the luxury of stopping to brew coffee every day, but not sure about carrying the extra weight. Her description of the peat bog on Black Hill was quite worrying until I discovered that bit has now been paved.
Alan Sloman https://alansloman.blogspot.co.uk/ one of those who are out there and have loads of experience walking in Britain. Also a good source of advice.
Adam Dawson http://adamswalk.com/ Young and fit, he did it the hard way, by adding a few extra goals and mileage but had a lot of support.
Jules Forth http://www.julesforth.com/walkingtheblackdog/about/ I’m hoping our paths will cross next April. We have each other’s phone numbers.
Thursday 23rd November 2017
I’ve been reading more blogs and thoroughly recommend these two:
http://litehikersblog.blogspot.co.uk – Geoff’s blog has given me some useful ideas about kit and about lightweight backpacking in general. I’m almost convinced about Pacer poles too 😉
Almost the opposite of litehiker, if the photos are to be believed are Dave and Dot: http://daveanddot.co.uk/ – They seemed to have taken everything needed to be comfortable camping in icy January, so they are quite hardcore. They are one of those couples that I would love to meet. Their blog has lots of lovely detail about the people and places they came across, and they took a sightly different route to most folks which has made me rethink part of my route. If you come across them simply offer them a cup of tea. They won’t say no.
Current bedtime reading:
http://gayleybird.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/index-of-lejog-posts.html I liked her pre-walk haircut.
https://floraworks.me/ anyone who can drop in a comment about examining sea maps off the coast of Finland is already interesting 🙂
Saturday 4th November 2017
End of Phase 1
Hopefully most of the blog is now updated, even if the unpacking isn’t complete and the washing is piled up.
It was odd sleeping in a bed last night after a few nights in a tent, and normal life has to be resumed between now and April.
I’m happy with most of the kit I took with me, but now need to practice carrying my bigger rucksack over winter because I’ll need to include tent, sleeping bag etc in the loads for next year, and no matter how much I like the Deuter, it simply isn’t big enough.
We took a lot of food that we didn’t eat – it was too cold and wet to be cooking out of doors and I won’t risk carbon monoxide poisoning so cooking in the tent is out of the question. We used the microwave in the car to boil water and heat soup, and that was about it.
I also found that I wasn’t particularly hungry during a day of walking and never did touch that emergency can of pilchards recommended by Daryl May. (As I recall his idea was that emergency food should not be so attractive that you eat it because you want to. I demonstrated the accuracy of his idea when the chocolate vanished during the last three miles to Tintagel.)
Overall I’m happy with Phase 1.
I’d planned to walk around 100 miles and managed 96, which included a day lost due to toothache. My knees didn’t dislocate (no strapping required), my legs are stronger and I estimated the effort fairly accurately. The way I used my walking poles has strengthened my upper body more than I expected, which is no bad thing. At this rate it will even get rid of bingo wings; I may be onto a new exercise fad.
My attention to navigation needs to improve, especially when I think I know where I am and where I’m going. Complacency is dangerous.
Using a mobile for blogging needs a lot more work, and the lack of a signal for huge areas is something I need to think more carefully about, especially if I need to use it as a backup for navigation.
Now to spend winter planning…
Sunday 22nd October 2017
Events, dear boy
There’s a saying in certain Christian circles, “If you want to make God laugh, tell your plans.” It’s a reminder that none of us is in total control of our lives.
This has been an interesting week and life outside LEJOG has thrown up some issues that might affect what I can achieve in the next twelve days.
“Napoleon built his campaigns of iron and when one piece broke the whole structure collapsed. I made my campaigns using rope, and if a piece broke I tied a knot”
Priorities don’t change and LEJOG is important but optional.
The plans I’d made may need a bit of knotting, but as at 12noon today we’re still planning to leave on time tomorrow.
18th October 2017
PR and publicity
Today I took two phone calls in quick succession. The first, from my successor in the rural Totternhoe, Stanbridge and Tilsworth parishes, linked me to the past, and included best wishes from a delightful couple who had taught me a new way of preparing freshly-killed pheasant. It reminded me that I haven’t explained that the green scenic photograph with the limestone paths includes most of the three parishes and was taken from somewhere near the Chilterns Visitors Centre, which was in the southernmost corner of Totternhoe Parish. I once had a phone call from a colleague asking if I minded if he conducted prayers of blessing for a newly-wed couple up there, and promising me that he wasn’t conducting a wedding, despite what some of the guests might later claim (I didn’t mind, and the guests didn’t misunderstand).
This was originally a little adventure (OK, for me, a BIG adventure), but little in the overall scheme of things. It seems to be growing.
The second call was from the lovely Jo, PR person for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (see https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/helegant-walks-lejog) looked firmly forwards to next week. She asked a lot of questions and I sent her the photo of me with Jet the dog as he will be walking some of the route too. I’m interested to see what someone else thinks is important when she sends me the press release.
Food and Memories
Other bloggers suggest they have lost weight while walking LeJog and that fuelling themselves adequately has been a challenge. I have to say that my last two walks haven’t presented any such challenge. As long as I get enough sleep my appetite seems to ensure I keep stable weight.
But then I remembered Trailwalker 2004, and the difficulty, when very very sleepy, of facing anything that resembled carbs. I went back and searched the Runner’s World archives and found this.
It’s a reminder that we all have different food needs, and that I need to add more protein to my box of food.
That discovery then led me to a trip down Memory Lane and more archives and I found this,
The only people experiencing afterglow are those who didn’t actually walk the ****** thing this year!”
Reading back further I found this, written the day after completing Trailwalker 2004. I should add that we bailed out at 40 miles in 2003 during the worst weather ever experienced on the event. In 2003 the dragon won. 2004 was the rematch.
Very emotional still. After the memories of last year I was already feeling tearful as we crossed the start line. I don’t have words to describe what went on in my head through the event, and getting to the finish became essential, even if I had to crawl.
Mentally the toughest event I’ve done.
In a long list of people I have to thank is the Gurkha officer who decided that the best way to treat a wibbly woman at CP11 was with chocolate – lots of it. His boss made me laugh at the finish when he handed out the medals and asked me if I’d be back next year. I only realised on the drive home that he was the officer standing in the tent doorway as his chap was stuffing KitKat into my rucsack.
Slept well, woke at normal time feeling fine, and no muscle soreness at all – we walked through it (not an experience I ever want to repeat). Swollen lumpy bits around both sore knee joints and my left hip won’t rotate. A couple of very deep blisters, sweat rashes from socks and bandages, but overall I’m in much better shape than I would have believed possible, and everything feels mendable.
I do want to thank my wonderful team-mates and especially Lorna without whose medical administration I probably wouldn’t be in such good shape now. Sometimes a hug really is the best medicine.
I want to say a huge thank you to our supporters; you were ace guys. Josie Jump cooking scrambled eggs in the rain, Peter’s hot coffee, Bear nagging about eating, and doling out bear-sized-hugs are just examples.
When my head unscrambles a bit I’m sure there will be more to say. Meanwhile the score is Dragon 1, Helephant 1, and there will not be a rematch.
It’s a useful reminder when the going gets tough, that we all have more resources than we think. I might add chocolate to the box too 🙂
16th October 2017
Today’s job was to sort clothes and camping kit into two piles. One for this coming weekend – just me and Jet the dog (Jet qualified for a final at the British Agility Championships), and then the other pile for next week in a different tent with Mr and the dog.
I’ve also been re-reading some of the motivational stuff and have to say thanks again to Daryl May for his honest account of his 56 days northwards,
“the hardest sustained exertion of my life. Every day has been exceedingly hard, and the sequence of exceedingly hard days has been overwhelmingly hard.“
“There is an old saying that seems to have faded away, and it shouldn’t have, because it’s a great truth. You get out what you put in. I put a lot into this, and it gave me a lot back.“
Thank Daryl 🙂
10th October 2017
Two weeks and counting
The plan is to leave Land’s End on 24th October.
One crate of non-chiller food is now packed ready for camping. Mr has laminated my sign that I’m planning to wave in front of the St Ives harbour webcam at 10am on 26th August (I hope I can find the thing!)
This evening’s job was to write with thick pencil lines on four OS maps. It’s all starting to feel a bit real now. I’ve amended the route a bit following advice from Alan Sloman (https://alansloman.blogspot.co.uk/), so won’t be sticking to the SWCP for as much of Cornwall as originally planned. In line with his handy hints I’ll also have a hi-vis tabard and lights.
Unlike Trailwalk 2004, I won’t be tying glow-sticks to my walking poles.
25th September 2017
There are lots of books and blogs written by cheerful optimistic people who have completed LEJOG, and all of them have chosen different routes. Not all these blogs have been as unvarnished as I might like. The shortest route, according to Google, is less than 1000 miles. The average seems to be around 1400 miles.
My daily mileage will be lower than most people’s because of the ‘have to do this again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that’ factor. Several other younger, fitter reporters suffered injuries related to their high mileage or heavy packs, and although I’ve taken a more conservative approach, it’s still risky. My aim is 10 miles a day over the whole journey, and I hope I’ve got the balance right.
Did I mention that I’m planning to camp for most of the walk? That means carrying a tent and sleeping bag and cooking equipment and, and… Buying a completely new set of ultra-light tough equipment isn’t in my plans (I wish I had the budget!) and bivvi/tarp combinations sound great for short summer trips, but I’ve been very glad of the protection offered by my trusty Vango in the past, especially in the kind of York Moors rain and cold that send sheep to huddle together for survival. It’s another balance to find.
So many choices. Do I walk the Land’s End Trail or the South West Coast Path through Cornwall? Do I follow main roads (shorter) or interesting footpaths? Do I go for the adventure and the view, or try to protect my knees by avoiding routes marked as ‘challenging’? (‘Challenging’, a ‘little discomfort’ – those wonderful euphemisms that minimise the reality? Yeah, right.)
What to include?
I started by making a list of the places I wanted to visit; places that link to my family history, archeological and tourist sites, those wonderful views shown on OS maps, places described with affection by other bloggers… Then I joined the dots and worked out how many days I would need to be walking. Then I started crossing places off the list! There are too many wonderful places to visit, so I need to ration my ambitions – at least for now.
Actually, you can’t have it all
The next stage was to break the walk into daily chunks, then to find campsites that match those start and end points. Can you see the flaws yet? Firstly, campsites are common in tourist areas, but less common elsewhere. Their opening dates often reflect the tourist season, and my walking will go outside those dates. To find a series of sites every 10 miles through Britain that are open when I need them is Mission Impossible.
This means I have to be creative. It also means planning has taken much longer than I expected, and has been an iterative process as I’ve adjusted the route to connect with places to stay. I’ve taken a variety of different approaches to each stage, depending on the area and the support available, and have even had a couple of very nice replies from people allowing me to stay in unlisted places.
Tranche One – Easing in to it
The first tranche uses my dearly beloved husband as a courier, ferrying me from the start and end of each walk back to where we are camping together, with our dog. Using a car means we can take more ‘stuff’ with us, including such luxuries as a full bag of toiletries, spare clothes, extra pairs of dry socks without having to carry it over every mile. One essential item for October camping out of season is a fan heater for the tent. It’s a luxury that I won’t have next year when hubby will stay at home.
Tranche One is a test walk to see how my knees hold up to the serious undulations of the South-west coast path, so I feel no need to carry lots of extra weight this time just to prove a point. There’s time to increase loads etc during winter training. This is about a live recce to learn as much as I can about my current capabilities and limitations before launching out on my own.
What if you meet the unexpected?
It would be a strange sort of adventure if it didn’t. Unlike Marks and Spencer I usually have a Plan B (years of risk management in IT leave brain grooves) for the obvious difficulties – having to walk on roads instead of the cliff path for instance, and I’ve gained confidence from those times in the past where plans haven’t gone quite as imagined.
An example? On the Coast to Coast path lies Nine Standards Rig, a line of cairns that photograph well in benign weather. I arrived there in deep cloud with horizontal rain driven by a ‘stiff breeze’ that drilled the water through everything. Worse, I could only see one cairn at a time, with a vague shape of the next one appearing every so often and then disappearing again in the swirls of white. The map and guide book said the path went due south then met a track, but I couldn’t separate ‘path’ from the stony moorland. Unwilling to wander too far from what I could see in a white-out, waiting for the weather to clear seemed over-optimistic. So out came the compass and I navigated south, downhill in my own foggy cloud, taking bearings from grass tussock to tussock, through boggy puddles that came up to my knees, not daring to move to left or right. It was hard, extremely slow work, but it kept me very warm and the adrenaline provided some extra input.
Some way down the hill the cloud suddenly lifted and there a few yards to my left was the path. Then, people. Walkers, marching and chatting, following their GPS parallel to the route I’d taken. Their group had arrived at Nine Standards Rig as the rain stopped and followed the clearing weather behind me, so were moving faster than me. They knew the area and were good company so I happily joined their group for a few miles and let someone else take charge of navigation. Meanwhile I was quietly satisfied with my compass skills in the absence of landmarks.
20th September 2017
On 4th November 2016 I left The Vicarage in Bedfordshire where I had served four years as Vicar of a multi-parish rural Benefice. I was beyond tired, and had decided to take six months off work to discern options. I was fairly certain that my future would not include full-time stipendiary (paid) parish ministry.
During the six months it became apparent that my thoughts of part-time ministry didn’t fit with the opportunities and expectations available, so I decided to call myself ‘retired’ and look at other paths.
In 2012 I’d walked the Coast to Coast long distance path, with a little four-wheeled help on the longer sections, so I now refer to that as the ‘Moast to Moast’. In 2016 I walked the Ridgeway. On both of those walks I found spiritual refreshment in solitude, nature, and the easy company of other travellers. Other paths beckoned, and as I recovered my energy, so I also rediscovered my sense of adventure. And gradually the path became clear. It starts at Land’s End, and finished at John O’Groats. Land’s End = LE, John O’Groats = JOG. LEJOG. Approximately 1400 miles.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”
Of course I have no idea whether I can complete this challenge. My knees are the same age as me (61 at the time of writing), but are rather more worn than the other parts; there are family and social considerations that might get in the way; I need to run a very tight budget to do this at all, etc. etc. (Get the excuses in early!)
On the other hand, my knees won’t get any younger, and I won’t get any richer, there are always reasons/excuses, and now is as good a time as any, and I know I can take the first steps.
Then sings my soul
One of my favourite hymns – but please sing it at a decent pace; it’s a celebration, not a dirge. 🙂
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”
Some planning has already gone in to this adventure (more on that later).
Tranche 1 starts in Cornwall on 24th October 2017, and it then continues in 2018.