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Walking into Suffolk – Colchester to Woodbridge

 So the 3rd week is done and i have covered close to 300 miles so far. A few changes to the route and a few setbacks early in the week, but it’s still been a good one overall. Very much looking forward to next week already!

 The walk from Colchester was quite good actually. After a nice tea break and updating the blog, I set off across the town and crossed the river soon after. I was walking along a B road to begin with and then slowly started making my way north east through footpaths and country lanes.

With the sun coming out properly at times it got quite warm, which was a nice change to the day before. My fleece came off and I enjoyed walking with just the base layer and my paramo jacket. By this point I had already covered over 5 miles, despite it being just after 11am. The early start certainly helped my mileage.

Initially I thought Manningtree, close to 20 miles away from where I camped, would be a bit of a push, but when I took a lunch break around 1pm I discovered I had done 2/3 of the trek already. It really does make a difference when the weather is nice and the footpaths aren’t made of mud!

Towards the later part of the afternoon I started to get some problems with my feet though. My socks had been damp in the morning from the day before and I did not want to dig through my rucksack to get a fresh pair in the morning, and I was paying for it now. I had developed a small blister right between and underneath my right big toe. On top of that my left big toe was troubling me. I had banged it 2 weeks ago on the Saxon shore way, and despite the nail turning a lovely shade of blue, it had been fine. But a bit of nail broke off on the edge and I think it cut a bit of the nailbed, so it has started hurting a bit when walking.

I hobbled more than walked the last 2 miles into Manningtree, which is really a tiny little town by the looks of it. I sat down in a pub and had some cranberry juice as I was quite thirsty (need to remember to fill up water when possible after camping) and had a look for cheap accommodation. There was a campsite about 2 miles away and I would have managed, but they don’t open until next week! I can’t wait for spring time. I can’t wait to hit the coast proper. I got a taste for camping the night before and want some more!

Thankfully the bar girl was very nice and she directed me to a nice self catering place which was only marginally more expensive than the campsite. I was the only one there, so had the kitchen to myself. Was quite tempted to cook up a storm, but in the end I opted for a light dinner and some snacks (god I have grown to love cross buns and Snickers special edition Maximus!) and use the time to take care of my feet. I put on a blister patch I brought along and cleaned out my left big toe and put some cream on. Also spread out all my equipment to give it all a proper dry out.

In the morning I made myself a light breakfast (loving  Mueller milk rice with strawberries), checked all my equipment and gave my feet another round of treatment. I set off around 9am and had a nice trek across the bridge and then along the river Stour along the other side. It was quite warm and the sun came out at times and that made going really nice.  At some point, in the middle of nowhere, I could have sworn that I was able to smell fresh baked brownies. Wondering if there might have been a factory across the river or something…

It’s funny, but it’s the little things that seem to help a lot. Things like the sun coming out a bit, or walking along a nice footpath that is not all muddy and slippery. Things like that really cheer me up a lot and make the walking easier. If I don’t constantly have to watch the path, I also have more time to enjoy the scenery and the view.

I had decided to take it a bit easy today, to let my feet recover and so my target was just south east of Ipswich on the other side of the river Orwell and I had planned to visit one of 3 campsites there. I had some lovely breaks in some small towns and took loads of pictures today as well, including some wildlife. I have come across some amazing birds already, the problem is, most of time my camera is still in the bag and by the time I get the camera out, the birds are gone! But today I got lucky a few times.

I am really glad I have my walking sticks, and even more glad that the kids in Basildon did not take them off me! They help a lot when walking on muddy paths and have stopped me from falling over more than once! Above all though they are a massive help when walking up steep hills! They help me dig in and get on with it.

After one such steep hill I entered Holbrook, which is a lovely little town south of Ipswich. It was around 1pm and the hill had made me real thirsty and alas, I saw a pub sign ahead. As I got closer I could smell the lovely aroma of Goulash! I thought I must be dreaming, but no! Today’s special was Hungarian Goulash! Coming from Austria, I have always loved that dish and my mum probably makes the best in the world (one of them is called Szegediner and has sour cream in it – god that’s amazing!), so I decided to save my Trek bar and my banana for dinner and have a proper meal.

The pub was called The Compasses Inn and it’s a lovely country side inn with restaurant. I had a blueberry J2O (which I have never had and it is sooooo good!!) and a half pint of IPA. And of course the Goulash, with fresh baked and warm bread! I was in heaven! I got to chat to a lovely chap called David (who had the roast beef), who said I was lucky to get there as the place is known for good food, and he was also very interested in my walk. The staff in the inn also joined the conversation and I had a lovely time telling some stories from the last few weeks and explaining what I did.

After lunch I went to the loo and on my return I found that they had refunded the money I had paid for my lunch and drinks! Was not expecting that and was a bit at a loss of words, but the guys there were just so nice and supportive! The chap David also gave me 10 quid out of his own pocket, for meals and a beer, but I’ll be putting that on the donation site next chance I can! What a great introduction to Suffolk!

I left very well nourished and the next 4 miles passed quickly. About 3 miles out of Ipswich, and about 1 mile from the Orwell Bridge, I called some of the campsites (after finally getting a signal). Turns out one of them is now a golf course and the other one opens on the 1st of March – argh! Roll on next week! I had a third option, a bit further away, but still do-able, but there was no answer.

As always I got a bit desperate at this point, it was getting close to 4pm and I was on the outskirts of a major town. I am quite glad to say though that camping the first night somehow has taken away a lot of pressure. I don’t feel like I have to camp at any cost if I don’t feel comfortable. I know I will be camping a lot in the 50 or so weeks to come, and particularly along the coast I’ll be finding plenty of spots. But the truth is I just don’t feel comfortable yet to camp close to cities and towns. I am worried that I bother people, I am worried that I get asked to move on and to be honest I am a bit worried about someone mugging me or something. I probably worry about too many things there, but I just need to get over that fear and I strongly feel that getting back to the coast will help me a lot with that.

After a bit of phoning around I found a really cheap self catering place and that settled things for me in the end. I had to walk into Ipswich proper though, which added a few miles, bringing my total today to around 16 miles I think. It gives me another evening of taking care of my feet and that’s definitely a good one. They are doing ok today, with lots of cream and dry socks things are looking up. On the health front things really look good now. My knees have finally decided that it’s not worth fighting me anymore, so they stopped hurting! My guess is that after another week of walking most of the niggles should be gone and I’ll have turned into a proper walking machine!

The night in Ipswich was interesting. Around 1 in the morning there were flashing lights outside my window as someone had been assaulted by a few drunken youths and a car had been damaged. It took about half an hour for the police to sort things out and for me to get back to sleep. Still I woke up quite refreshed, made some breakfast and set off well before 9am.

I quite enjoy walking through towns on a Saturday morning. Everyone is still waking up and it’s usually very quiet. Ipswich was no different and it’s quite a bit city, so I walked through deserted river fronts and roads, until I found the footpaths leading through the parks and towards the river Deben, which I then followed up towards Woodbridge.

It was raining all day and there was quite a cold wind in my face most of the day. It reminded me that it was still winter and the warm sunshine of the day before was not yet the norm. When I reached Woodbridge I decided to warm myself up with some soup and found the lovely Waterfront Café, where I got a warm welcome and some space was set aside for my backpack. I enjoyed probably one of the best fish soups I have ever had and it really warmed me up. After chatting to the owner for a while he helped me find some accommodation for the weekend and so I was able to get a great rate in a lovely B&B.

I had decided to call it a day early after a mixed week to chill out for a bit and also to enjoy the Rugby as well as the Carling Cup final on Sunday! Hopefully Arsenal will be ending their 6 year draught and win a trophy!

So 2 more days until I get back to the coast properly around the area of Aldeburgh and honestly I can’t wait. Looking at my original plan, which counted on ferries operating, it seems my actual trek across Essex has cut off a few days. If I manage to keep this buffer, it’ll mean more time and miles on the islands in Scotland!

In the meantime I’ll be taking care of my feet, relax and enjoy the football!

London to Colchester

So after a night of camping just south of Colchester, I got up around 7am, packed my things and started walking. Reached Colchester just after 9am. I needed to buy some more OS maps as my route had changed slightly due to ferries not working yet, so called at a Millets and got some more maps. Then I spotted a nice little tea room with WIFI, so decided to have a bit of a break and update the blog while I can before heading towards Manningtree for the rest of the day.

So here is an update from the start of the week.

After a nice day off in London I was quite ready to head off again. I had eaten well, had a few pints and had a great catch-up with Jamie.

I was up before 7am on the Monday morning, as I had to take the tube across London to Barking to catch the train to Tilbury.

I was just switching tube trains when I noticed a problem with my equipment. I figured I could not go on and returned to Jamie’s place to swap stuff out with what I had deposited at his place. All in all the round trip cost me about 2 hours and it was not until 11 that I reached Barking. In my hurry to get on with it, I managed to jump on the wrong train and had to swap trains again, losing a bit more time still.

When I finally got off at Tilbury East, it was almost noon. I set off at a decent pace and made good progress until I reached Fobbing, just past Stanford-Le-Hope. From there things took a turn for the worse.

I set off on one of the footpaths going through the marshes and quickly was rewarded with overgrown and muddy paths. Not only that, but I actually managed to take a wrong turn somewhere and I ended up tracking towards a major refinery on the coast. Just when I thought I was going to pass through it, the path turned north again and I walked away from it. But I was clearly on the wrong footpath, and I managed to confirm this with my map. Apparently I should have gone straight somewhere, but I could not figure out where.

The marshes are quite desolate. There are so many little rivers and canals and everything is just wet and muddy. The dreary weather did not help either. At times I was lucky enough to go through cow pastures, that were easier to walk on and drier. But mostly I was moving very slowly over totally overgrown paths with brambles and marshy ground.

Then I guess I took another wrong turn somewhere, as I made a massive arc around some farm land that my map told me I could have walked straight through. When I hit the end of the arc, I was at a dead end with barbed wire and a car junk yard on the other side. A big sign said PRIVATE. I had a loud shout to vent my anger and frustration and a massive flock of birds took off from the waterway next to me. I decided I could not face backtracking the same way again and climbed over the fence. As I walked through the yard I met some people and apologized and told them I was lost. They did not seem to mind too much thankfully.

I followed the private road out and finally found the right footpath again. I had another shout and my frustration was seriously growing now. The path disappeared after about 100 meters! Then there was another dead end. I finally found the right route only to be on a bit of path that is used by a nearby horse farm. So I had the choice between mud or horse dung. I chose mud.

All in all I had spent the better part of 3 hours covering a straight line distance of no more than 5 miles. And to top it off, all the way through this maze of marshes I could clearly see the Fobbing church I had passed earlier. I had moved in a circle around it and never seemed to get further away from it. It was still standing there on that hill, mocking me.

I had had enough. I decided I was never going to reach the campsite in Rayleigh, another 10 miles away, in the daylight remaining and so I looking for a place to stay in Basildon. I could not find anything! There are a bunch of cheap motels and a few B&Bs but they were all booked out. The only thing I could find was a place for 90 GBP! Definitely not!

I looked at my map and the next big town was Southend. So I figured I might as well take the train there, spend the night and then take the train back to Basildon the next day to continue where I left off. On the way to the train station I got surrounded by a few young kids of, for some reason, wanted me to part with my walking sticks…. I can’t say I was much impressed with Basildon.

I always knew there was going to be bad days, and today certainly was one of those. Nothing seemed to go right. I was very depressed when I was deep in the marshes and I knew I was lost and not getting anywhere. I also knew that this part of the journey would be quite hard. There are not many real coastal paths as there is a lot of industry and power stations. On his walk a few years ago, Seb bypassed this area entirely and I can see why. My plan calls for me to walk at least some of it, but I might have to modify this route to take a more straight line approach. Particularly as some of the ferries across the rivers are still closed until April as well. I can’t wait to get past this marsh and river landscape and reach the coast proper again.

I got up quite early the next day and took the train back to Basildon. Once I arrived there I had a quick breakfast and then headed out of that place as quickly as I could. Once out of town it was actually quite nice going. I passed quickly through Wickham and followed a B road. Unfortunately I missed a footpath that would have let me to Battlebridge, which I really wanted to check out – not that I know anything about it at all, but with a name like that surely it must be a cool place!

So I passed north of that instead and moved along some B roads and footpaths and bridleways. It really was fairly easy going with some stunning farmland scenery all around me and I quite enjoyed myself. Unlike the day before I did not get lost either and I made good progress in the right direction. No more church towers haunting me either.

At some point I ran into a lovely young woman, who spotted me looking at my maps. She gave me some helpful directions and it turned out she was training for 2 marathons this year! I love walking, but I don’t think I’d ever run a marathon! We got to chat a bit and I passed on another card!

Had a lovely lunch break near Bushy Hill under a great big oak, which I thought was appropriate! Managed to take some pictures as well today!

Towards the middle of the afternoon I was closing in on Maldon and was getting a bit tired, and just in time a nice little pub came along. I decided to pop in for a lager-tops and give the camp sites ahead a call. I walked in and got some funny look, probably due to my appearance. But as always my backpack seems to be a great icebreaker and the people inside soon were chatting with me, asking lots of questions and I had a great time. Passed on another card. The people there also pointed me in the right direction for another footpath and one of them even offered me to camp in a field. But that would have been a bit of backtracking and I still had at least another 1 ½ of walking in me.

So I set off again and headed into Maldon, which took me a bit longer than I had thought as the footpath sort of meanders around a bit – unlike roads, most footpaths in this area do, and it means I am adding extra miles, which is fine with me.

I had tried to call the 2 campsites I had found. I knew I was not going to get much further than Maldon, and was unsure of the countryside after the town, so preferred to camp on a site. Unfortunately 1 site was closed and at the other site I got no answer! So I was a bit desperate now (and actually I am getting more desperate about camping now each day), but the first pub/inn I entered in central Maldon offered me a 20 quid rate for a room for the night and a free pint – so I went for that.

Got a call from my dad as well, which helped lift my spirits. Turns out he has a snapped tendon in his shoulder (that bit did NOT cheer me up!) and he actually walked the first 2 days with me without knowing – he thought it was just a strain!

I am feeling really quite good physically now. The backpack feels ok and my feet are coping better. The only thing left is a slight pain in my left knee, but I am putting deep heat on in the evening and it’s ok in the morning. Once it warms up through walking it’s fine as well. I only really feel it towards the end of the day.

Some bad news today though. I found out that all the ferries along the coast that would have allowed me to cross the rivers, are closed until April. So I am looking at maps and will have to stick inland a wee while longer, passing through Colchester, Manningtree and Ipswich before I can finally move back towards the coast. Walking along the coast is much nicer and easier, as I don’t constantly have to criss-cross the fields and find footpaths, so I am very much looking forward until I see the ocean again. It’ll be at least 3 more days though.

Leaving Maldon I made yet another mistake in navigation. I blame the fact that it was 8am. I headed out the wrong way and ended up wasting almost 3 miles before I managed to cross the bridge. It had started to rain already and I was not happy about loosing time early on.

Once I finally got across the bridge it was actually not too going, along some B roads and footpaths when I could find them. I made decent progress, but the rain got quite heavy and the footpath I was one was just a pure mud slide. Stupidly I had also decided not to put on my waterproof trousers, as I know my Craghoppers deal with a bit of rain just fine. I was soaked.  Just when I thought about shouting a bit, I came into Goldhanger and right at the centre of that little village is the Chequers inn. I decided to call for a pot of tea and they had a roaring fire going, which helped me dry out. Thankfully the Craghoppers walking trousers dry out in like 5 minutes and after about an hour I set off again, much warmer and now with the waterproofs on.

My aim was to get as close to Colchester as I could and I had looked at the map and saw some potential camping spots. I follwed some more B roads and footpaths and just as it was getting dark, I crossed a reservoir with a little woodland on the other side. I dived in, scratching my face in some brambles in the process, and found a reasonably dry spot. I set up the tent in falling darkness and it took me less than 10 minutes. The Vango Spirit 200+ is slightly bigger than I thought! The front porch area for storing equipment and cooking is quite huge! Not complaining though, as it makes packing and unpacking in the rain nicer. I made myself some soup and had a chat with my mum on the phone for some time, which was really cheering me up! I was a bit nervous about camping so close to the road and a field, but ever ything went fine and I slept quite well and my sleeping bag kept me nice and toasty! I could hear some owls in the night, which was cool!

I woke up just after 6:30 and got up soon after.  The weather had improved a lot and the sun was just coming up. I packed everything up and then walked about 2 miles to the first bench I came across, in a lovely church yard, and had some breakfast – cold tea with a trek bar!

So that’s it for now, sorry for not so many pictures this time, I took some more yesterday, but have not had time to edit them and don’t want to make this break too long – so more pictures next time!

PS: the car wash picture is for my dad!

Another week comes to an end

Faversham to London

I set off early from Faversham.  I had looked at the map all evening the day before and I had come up with a plan of sorts to make sure I hit Gravesend before lunch on Saturday, while minimizing the miles lost.

I decided to set off straight across the country for the most part and well, it worked. But the less said about that day the better. It was hard going, mostly along roads, partially a dual carriage way, and only from time to time I was able to cut across fields on foot paths. The weather was not ideal either. A stubborn fog hang across the fields and low clouds meant I was never quite able to tell what time of day it was.

Somehow I managed to get through Sittingbourne and then on towards Rainham. I joined the Saxon Shore way again just north of Rainham and finally I saw some coast (even if it was the river now and no more sea).

I did not take many breaks, opting to do a bit of a forced march instead. I got a call just after lunch by a reporter from a local Kent radio station and we agreed to meet on the coast of Gillingham. Another 3 miles or so to cover in just over an hour. I made it, arriving just as she did. The interview was cool and short and hopefully will be aired this weekend. I was thinking of tea, but still had some miles to cover, so set off again.

I had called the youth hostel in Gillingham earlier, but they had a big group and where full! Thankfully the chap was very helpful and recommended a really cheap and nice B&B to me, where I found a free room.

All in all I have to say I am not too happy about what I have done today. I marched for the sake of marching, and I went off route as well. Truth be told, if I had done normal pace, I might not have reached Gravesend on Saturday and it might have been Sunday instead. I still feel a bit guilty for not sticking to the coast, it’s very weird. I might have only cut about 5 or 6 miles off my total distance today, but it feels like I have cheated myself. But the good news is, I’ll be getting some additional exposure  through Radio and newspapers and that’s great for my walk and in particular for Trees for Life, and that’s definitely worth a lot.

Saturday morning brought some rain. I had an easy start of the day, only about 1 ½ miles to get to Strood train station. I took the train from there to Gravesend, which took less than 10 minutes. Very strange to think that the walk there would have taken me about 2 or 3 hours! My initial plan was to walk to Gravesend and then take the train to London, but meeting the photographer early meant that was not gonna happen. Instead I opted to switch things around and walk from Gravesend inland to make up the difference in miles.

I was in Gravesend early, so I actually went through the town eastward and then cut north towards the shore of the Thames to walk back in along it until I reached the point I was to meet the photographer. So I added about another 2 miles to the total distance that way.

The photographer was slightly early and we got done fairly quickly, taking a few snaps on the sands of the Thames river bank. He was nice enough to take some pictures with my camera as well so at least I have some shots of myself now! I also met a lovely old lady there who gave me 5 GBP for the cause! I’ll be paying that in as soon as I have a proper internet connection

After we were done I set off westward along the Thames River. I passed by the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry and was tempted to take it across and set up north early, but I resisted!

I had never planned to walk there, as the original plan was to be on a train to London at this point, so I never bought an Ordnance Survey map for this area. And unfortunately this showed. I got lost a few times, following the river is not as easy as one might think apparently, and I had to backtrack on occasion.

The walk itself was really rather dire to be honest. I did not mind the rain too much, but the areas I passed through (with few exceptions) were depressing. Lots of old  and derelict factories, wharfs and husks of buildings. But what depressed me the most was the sheer amount of rubbish and debris that was everywhere. Next to the road, in the ditches, on the river banks – piles of garbage everywhere.

The only other thing of note was passing under the Dartford bridge, which was massive, and heading past 2 huge distribution centres for ASDA and Sainsbury’s. That’s some highlights of the day eh?

Just after lunch I had a lovely chat with Gemma on the phone though, and I knew I was only a few hours away from my best friend Jamie’s comfy sofa, so that kept my spirits up and I eventually made it to the Erith train station and took the train in from there.

Now for a weekend of relaxing, food and cinema before I set off again on Monday. I’ll be taking the train out to Tilbury (exactly opposite of Gravesend) and then making my way north east from there. I am hopefully heading into more camping friendly territory now, so not sure how frequent my blog updates will be. The good news is, i’ll be posting more pictures each time! Keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook as i’ll be posting short updates from my phone there.

Easy day – yeah right! Broadstairs to Faversham

So i thought i had an easy day, due to starting late. Well think again! After an easy day comes a hard one! I met the photographer on time and he took a few quick snaps of me looking as cool as I could and then I was off, and I was quite eager to get going!

The aim of the day was to reach a campsite in Reculver, about 14 miles away, which I thought was achievable, despite the late start. The going was great, despite being on concrete cycle paths for the first bit. Once I hit the north-eastern part of Thanet island, and the most north-eastern part of Kent, I was able to get down on the beaches and walk on the sand, which was awesome!

There were quite a few stunning views along the way and I chatted to some people walking their dogs. At one point I ended up at a dead end on the beach and I had to scramble over some concrete wave breakers with the tide coming in. I tried not to get my feet wet and failed. I had timed my run to be between the arrival of 2 waves, but the second one was a bit faster than I thought and my right leg was drenched! Luckily the weather was nice and warm and the sun dried my trousers – the boot and sock dried out from walking!

On the same beach I also came across a small dead dolphin which had washed up on the shore. It was really quite a sad sight. My first reaction was to take a picture, but on second thought I figured that stuff like that is better left. Then i figured i might have to call someone but realized i had no clue who. So i chatted to the next dog walker i met and he promised to have a look about what could be done.

Had a fab little lunch in a café on the shore in Westgate-on-Sea and set off fairly quickly after that as it was already past 1pm and I still had lots to cover. I pushed on towards Reculver, taking a few short tea breaks and enjoying the views. When I reached the campsite it turned out to be closed. According to some people in the pub they only do caravan rentals now anyway and no longer take campers, so I guess OS needs to update their map!

I decided to walk on and try for Herne Bay but camp wild if I’d find a spot. Unfortunately, what looks like suitable camping country turned out to be wide open with no cover and in clear view of houses. On top of that quite a few people were walking their dogs and giving me odd looks whenever I stopped and looked around. So I ended up in Herne Bay after all, about 18 miles done in a day. I got in when it started getting proper dark and I was quite glad I found a very cheap B&B within a few minutes. And they had  TV! So i went to a garage which was close, bought 2 Coronas (of which i only managed 1!) and watched Arsenal beat Barcelona! What a game!

Had a great call with my parents as well which cheered me up quite a lot!

Looking at the maps for the next few days I thought I finally might be in areas where I can do some wild camping. I really want to finally do it to lose the worry about it.

But one thing at a time!

Walking out of Herne Bay was quite nice the next day. I knew I had about 3 hours to cover about 5 miles, so I was in no rush. I took a few breaks as I made my way along the coastal path and it was a good walk, with the sun threatening to break through the fog. On the way I met a really nice lady, who was riding her bike to walk her dog. We had a bit of a chat about my walk and I gave away another of my cards!

I reached Whitstable quite early, despite the breaks, and found a lovely café and had myself a double latte! I usually stay away from coffee and other caffeine products now as it really makes me want to use the loo a lot! Peppermint and Camomile tea all the way! But enough of that sort of thing – I did enjoy one of the best coffees I ever had. Maybe it’s just so good now as I don’t have them that often! I got to chat some great chaps enjoying a morning break and one of them turned out to be a flash games developer. Another card was passed on! One older gentlemen was really nice but had little faith in my progress, saying at my current rate it would take me 2 years! Thanks for that!

At noon I went to the Pearson’s Arms where I had another free lunch waiting for me, thanks to George Shaw organizing it. What a brilliant pub that is! As some of you know, I love my pubs, in particular ones that do good food. It’s a bit of a weak spot for me. And this one hit the spot! Lovely fire going, lots of old and comfy furniture, great ales and fantastic food! If I lived in Whitstable it would no doubt be my local! As I came in I was immediately recognized (I guess not too many people with massive backpack this time of year) and I was told to eat and drink as much as I wanted! I opted not to have any ale, as it was still early and I had a ways to go, though the selection was tempting!

Kent ale is seriously good. I have developed a particular taste for Shepard Neame Master Brew. God that’s heavenly stuff!

For lunch I had a red wine braised chicken (of the very happy organic free range sort) in a lovely onion and mushroom sauce with new potatoes – all served in a big stone ware pot! I would have loved to lick the plate clean! Seriously good food. Definitely one to return to when I am done with the walk – and only a short train ride from London really!

After about an hour break I was quite keen to get on, despite being offered dessert and coffee, which I had to decline! I wanted to go past Faversham as I talked to some locals and they said it was possible to camp along the coastal paths. So I set off and made good progress, thanks to a good energy boost. The going itself was actually quite depressing as the fog had come in again and at times visibility dropped quite low. Sometimes I could hear the sea, but not actually see it anymore. The path was alright though and I just kept my head down and kept going. But I could tell that I had done a massive walk yesterday. My feet started to hurt and my knees were aching again, and I was getting really tired.

Once I hit the outskirts of Faversham, things turned more interesting. I had to cross over a really small and dodgy looking bridge and then pass through the wharf where lots of ships where being worked on. Quite interesting and in hindsight I should have dropped my backpack and walk around to take more pictures.

As I started walking through the town, over cobbles and tarmac, my feet seriously started hurting and I realized I could not do another 3 or 4 miles to reach a camping spot. I decided to call at a local inn that had a lovely single room for a decent rate and call it a day.

Shortly after I settled in, I got another call from a journalist and I was doubly glad I stopped early! He asked me to be in Gravesend before 3pm on Saturday, so I have 2 massive walks ahead of me in the next days! My aim was to reach Gillingham tomorrow anyway, which was a stretch, but now I have to make it and hopefully push into Rochester. I need to look at the maps properly tonight to determine a good route. I never really planned to do the isle of Sheppy and another small peninsula in that area, as I’d rather hang on other areas later in the year if I have the time, so I might cut across them tomorrow. I think there are some nice footpaths through the marshes, so I should be able to do this.

So an early night tonight and taking care of my knees and feet and then off for a long hike tomorrow! According to my plan there is a campsite in Gillingham, so I need to double check if that’s on my way and far enough, so I can reach Gravesend on Saturday.

From Gravesend I’ll be taking the train into London proper, and I am looking forward to spending 2 nights there with friends, catching up on things and having some beers!

Kent and Thanet Island have been a fab experience so far. People are very friendly and i talked to lots of  them that were out on the coast. Also got to chat to lots of people when i had a sit down with some tea and in the places i had food. It’s a lovely area as well and the seafront towns are beautiful with lots of little shops, cafes and great pubs – i often wish i had a bit more time in each of the places to explore properly. But alas my budget does not allow for that. But they all go on the list of holiday places for the future!

Start of week 2! Dover to Broadstairs

It was nice to relax in Dover for a day! I did walk around town for a while and took some pictures of the castle and the harbour, but mostly I gave my knees a rest and let my body recover from a week of walking.

It’s hard to believe that I have already spent more than a week on this journey! The time really has gone by very quick! My body really has adapted well. I only start to feel the backpack in the later stages of the day now and I really find myself enjoying the walk a lot more as I don’t always have my head down, but actually have time to look around and enjoy the views.

The weather has also been very kind to me in the first week. I only had 1 day of rain and actually had 2 sunny days.

My knees still hurt after a few miles, but mostly when going steep up or down or when using stairs. On the flats I don’t feel them at all, so I am not too worried about it. I guess it’s just a matter of getting used to it.

The walk from Dover was simply stunning. I went along the Saxon Shore way from the harbour of Dover to Kingsdown, onto Deal and then on to Sandwich. Initially I had planned to call it a day around Deal, or maybe slightly further north of the town. I was hoping to camp there, but it turned out to be all golf courses and farms, and it was only 3pm and I was still up for a walk, so I continued on.

I reached Sandwich just after 4pm and it was slowly starting to get dark, so I found a nice inn where I got a decent rate on a room and the first pint of guest ale for free!

I was really happy with the progress of the day, covering over 16 miles in about 7 hours, including a 1 hour lunch break! It makes such a difference when walking along grass and packed loam!

 When I started walking the next day I knew it was going to be a shorter day and I was happy about that, though obviously also a bit anxious as I do want to get some miles in.

The reason for the short day was simple: I had a free meal and a free bed waiting not too far away!

Thanks to the Vango press release from last week, a local PR person, George Shaw, managed to set me up with some of his local clients to help me along the way!

The first target of the day was to be Eddie Gilbert’s, a fishmonger and restaurant in Ramsgate, where I would be getting a free lunch. The walk from Sandwich was uneventful and for the most part boring, as it was along an A road, past some industry estates and a disused power station. Only once I got into Ramsgate things changed. I was back on the Shore way and passed a replica Viking longship and some fantastic scenery as I came into town.

Ramsgate itself is a beautiful coastal town, another one my list to visit some other time in summer (same for Sandwich and Deal).

I quickly found Eddie Gilberts’s and was treated to an amazing grilled plaice and half a pint of local ale! The people there were really friendly and wanted to feed me more, expecting me to have a huge appetite, but I did not want to eat too much and be in need of a siesta! The place really is fantastic, with a fishmonger shop downstairs and their product looked great coming in! I had a brief chat with the owner, Johnny Dunhill, who was really enthusiastic about my walk.

After over an hour I set off again, belly perfectly filled with great tasting protein, and I only had a short leg left for the rest of the day. Broadstairs was the final target for the day, so just over 2 miles down the road.

Here I had an offer from Christa and Bill Hackney at the South Lodge Guest House to spend the night free of charge!

Broadstairs is a gorgeous coastal town. Bill had told me on the phone the day before that he thinks of it as a Cornish town on the east coast, and coming into it, despite the lack of sunshine, I can see what he means. Lots of little shops and cafes surround a small bay and it’s all very colourful. Definitely one to come back to in the summer as well! And already know where to stay!

The room I got at the South Lodge was a massive twin room and was nice and toasty!

I managed to stay ahead of the bad weather for most of the day, so I did take a few pictures as well. It literally just started to rain as I reached the B&B – I guess the “Schutzengel” I have on my backpack does work!

I was resting up and took care of my knees, expecting the next day to be a short one as well. I had arranged to meet a photographer at 10am near the coast to take some pictures for the Thanet Gazette. I only nipped down to the local for a half pint and reading some papers! 

The first week comes to and end

New Romney to Dover

I think I am getting stronger. While I still ache quite a bit in the evenings (in particular my knees), I seem to recover quicker and not feel like I am half dead for a few hours after I stop. This morning started off really well. It was still raining lightly when I set off from New Romney and I enjoyed the coolness of the air after a night in a room where I could not turn off the heater! I angled for the coast directly and spent the majority of the morning walking along an endless and beautiful beach leading up towards Hythe. St.Mary’s and Dymchurch went past as I walked on the hard packed sand. Not as nice as grass, but still quite good to walk on. The tide was out and there were only a few dog walkers out, so I felt a bit lonely across the massive beaches.

I got to chat to a lovely lady near Dymchurch who commented on my backpack and asked what I was up to. She mentioned that she was going to climb Snowdon and she did not know what charity to do it for. So I told her about Trees for Life and gave her my card. Perhaps another charity event in the making! She also told me that the Hyth firing range was active today and that I’ll have to go inland and bypass it. I also found out that Dungeness firing range was active all week – so good thing I went inland yesterday and bypassed that. I would have had to turn around otherwise!

Going inland was a bit boring. I had to follow a footpath next to an A road until I reached Hythe. Walking on concrete started to hurt my feet and I was glad when I reached the town centre and a pub. A nice (and cheap) ploughman’s lunch with half a pint of ale sorted me out!
After almost an hour break I went along the military canal towards the beach again. It was a nice walk along a really long promenade. One thing I have noticed though whenever I leave the beach and use normal footpaths: DOG-POO!!! Why can’t people pick it up! Seriously mad and I had to quickly step aside more than once!

Once I hit the beach the sun actually made an appearance for a wee while and I got quite warm! I had a tea break and took some more pictures (I did a lot more of that today!) before setting off on the final few miles to Folkestone.

My target was to get towards the north eastern end of the town. I felt like I could have pushed on a bit even, but by looking at the map I was not sure if I could have found a camp spot easily by the time I got really tired. I had found a really cheap place to crash for the night anyway and so decided to call it a day around 4pm. plenty of time to keep going and camp when it does not get dark at 5pm!

On the way up from the seafront I went along a zig-zag path going up the steep slope. It was carved into the rock and there were lots of nooks and caves, surrounded by lovely trees and bushes. I paused a while and took some more pictures. Truly stunning view with the sun just going down as well.

Saturday marked the 7th day that I had been walking and I felt quite good in the morning. It was still cloudy and there was a wee bit of a drizzle but the weather was forecast to improve through the day. I had been putting on some nurofen gel on my knees again and they felt ok.

I made my way through the eastern part of Folkestone and down to the harbour. I resisted the temptation to get into a nice looking café there for a croissant and coffee to start the day. I felt fresh and wanted to get on with it. Not far out of the harbour a steep climb up the hill started where I was able to join the Saxon Shore Way. The climb seemed to take ages and it was along a really narrow footpath, partially under complete cover from trees. I really enjoyed passing through those tunnels, but the entire path up was slippery and I had to watch my steps.

I promised myself a break when I reached the top, but actually, once I reached it and the path flattened out I just kept on walking – I felt fantastic! I kept going for a wee bit longer, just stopping to take some pictures from time to time and it was almost 11 when I took my first proper break.

The Saxon Shore Way is amazing, the views are magnificent and it feels totally remote. But at this time of year, and with the recent rain, almost the entire path was muddy, which meant lots of slipping and sliding. It looked like 100 Saxons in battle gear had run along it recently! I was really happy I had my walking poles to help stabilize myself at times. Twice I almost fell over, and it was only thanks to the poles I managed to stay upright – it must have been a funny sight to see me flailing wildly trying to keep balance with the backpack on. It was not too funny at the time though, as I was about 2 meters away from the sheer drop down the cliff side! Must be careful!

I came across the first concrete radar construction from WW2! I had seen those on the BBC Coast program and they are scattered all the way around the Dover area. Fantastic piece of engineering, and still looking brilliant, despite some graffiti!

Just before noon I had a long phone call with Gemma which really cheered me up a lot! By that time I had been weighing my options and was thinking of calling it a day early in Dover and actually take a break on Sunday. My knees had started to get painful again from all the up and down (and there were quite a few stairs as well) and I was thinking of using the break to give them a rest and take care of them properly. Gemma encouraged me to take a break and reminded me what I had walked already in my first week, and that swayed me to just take it easy today and tomorrow.

It is quite mad really. Despite telling myself not to worry about schedules I still fall back to trying to hit targets. It’s good to have them of course, but I really need to switch off from my old work-like mind and realize that I am in this for the long run. It’ll be pretty much exactly a year now that I want to finish, so there is no point in rushing now and doing damage. I just feel a bit frustrated for not doing more miles and I feel a bit ashamed almost, as if I was letting people down. I feel a bit weird sitting here and relaxing when I could be out there walking. It will be interesting to see how I deal with having a day off!

I have had some great contact from my friends and they certainly have kept my spirits up! Howard from Trees for Life called last night to check up on me and it was great to chat with him. Marc, my friend from work, sent a few texts with updates from my old company and words of encouragement. Chris Hardwick already sent me an itinerary where he will be joining me for a week and Charlotte sent some good advice for my knees (I got the Ortho’s and will see how they go – and don’t feel bad for reading my blog at work!), it’s been great to hear from people and it definitely helps a lot!

So now I’ll be looking at the pictures I took and size them down a bit to upload, but first here comes the Scottish Anthem and 6 Nations Rugby! COME ON SCOTLAND!!!

All in all i estimate that i covered a bit over 90 miles so far!

A mixed bag – Bexhill to New Romney

Wednesday started well. Despite relative cold weather and an overcast sky, I set off earlier than before and was on my way around 8:30. The first leg was along the Bexhill promenade, which was really nice and because it was early in the day I did not mind the concrete too much either. I made good progress to Hastings and I covered the 6 miles to the pier in less than 2 hours.

I switched on my mobile briefly to check any messages and had a voicemail from the chap at the B&B in Bexhill. I had forgotten my mobile charger. So popped into town to find a shop and got a replacement.

From then on things did not go too well though. Progress was good; in fact I did quite well over the hills out of Hastings towards fairlight. The hills were hard work, but much better than the pebbles from yesterday. But it was cold and miserable and I only took short breaks and no pictures. I was just keen to get on with it again.

My right knee was hurting last night and after giving it some rest and putting on some deep heat cream it felt alright this morning, but it came back with a vengeance today. In hindsight I should have stayed in Fairlight but I figured I’d get more choice for B&Bs in Rye – camping was not really an option and I was looking forward to resting my knee anyway. Problem with Rye was that I could only find a more upmarket B&B. I got a decent rate, but could have probably done cheaper in Fairlight. Also, by the time I actually got there my knee was close to giving up and I should really have avoided the last few miles. I have to admit I cheated a little today. I went inland early to avoid Rye harbour and shaved about 3 miles off the hike. Felt a bit guilty at the time, but can’t say I do now! I am sure I’ll make them up somewhere along the way when I have to backtrack!

Thursday started better. I had gotten some nurofen cream and put that on my knee every 4 hours. The swelling had gone back and the pain was almost gone. Rain was forecast for the day but when I set off just before 9am it was still dry but the sky was looking moody. I made really good progress from Rye towards Camber along some nice grassy footpaths. Starting like this is great, because my body starts to warm up and walk itself in on softer ground. When I reached the outskirts of Camber, I went over the dunes and hit the beach proper. I don’t think I have ever seen such a wide beach! The tide was out as well and I could see people riding horses at the edge of the water. They seemed miles away! Going on the beach was ok, not as good as grass, which is definitely my favourite surface so far! Once I reached the seafront, such as It is, of the town I had some tea and a snack outside a closed coffee shop. This place truly is deserted!

A few miles on I came to Jury’s Gap, which is just a few houses. It was time to make a decision. I could carry on along the coast and go past Dungeness and then up along the coast towards Lydd on Sea, but I could catch a glimpse of pebbles ahead. My nemesis walking surface. Additionally there were a few lorries driving up and down the coast and one of the workers recommended not to go that way due to work in progress. He probably just wanted to avoid any disruptions, but that and the pebbles swayed me to cut in land towards Lydd.

I had a lovely walk along what actually is a cycle path. I took shelter once for a few minutes under a lone stand of trees and I was reminded about the cause of my walk and I was glad for the shelter those trees provided, as the rain had now started to come down properly. I reached Lydd in good time. I had managed just over 8 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes, including 2 breaks.

At a pub there I had the daily soup with some bread and a half pint. I chatted to some locals who commented on my heavy backpack. They were quite impressed with my undertaking but somehow they thought I was Canadian! My accent really must be terrible! Also had a lovely message from Gemma waiting and looking forward to a promised call from her on saturday!

After about an hours break I set off towards New Romney. I did not want to follow the road though and my OS map showed some footpaths that would take me back towards the coast and criss cross a bit. I figured I had to make up some of the miles I cut away by going inland and I was glad I made the decision as most of the paths were really nice to walk on and I had a good pace going. Some paths were completely overgrown and some were a total mudslide, but I managed just fine. I even had to cross a single beam bridge, walking over a beam of wood no more than 10 inches wide, with some wooden handrails – I was quite scared to do this with the backpack to be honest, but I managed! Had some tea after to calm me down!

I reached New Romney just before 4 and briefly debated to push on towards the coast proper, but as I was debating this I came across a nice looking pub that advertised rooms and they had a cheap-ish rate for me, so that was that!

So a mixed bag of experiences in the last 2 days. My body is definitely adapting, the backpack is getting easier to carry (though I’ll definitely continue to shed weight as I figure out what I need and what I don’t – why on earth did I take 2 large canisters of gas with me, if they sell them every 5 miles….) – I came too prepared! It feels like as one part of my body gets used to the exercise another part realises it’s now time to hurt instead. My knee worried me yesterday and I was a bit down, but the fact it’s better today cheered me up to no end! I will keep an eye on it though that’s for sure.

Also passed from Sussex into Kent now!

Progress is slightly behind my original schedule, but I don’t care at the moment. I am tired every evening but as I look over OS maps and try to figure out how far I can go the next day I already look forward to setting off – and that’s the main thing I think.

Note to self: Take more pictures

Not sure yet if I will take a day off this weekend (as per my plan) will just see how it goes. If I manage to find a hostel that’s cheap I might, otherwise I might just press on a bit.

Eastbourne to Bexhill – sun and pebbles!

I hate pebble beaches! There I have said it! And there were endless beaches of it today!

I set off this morning around 9am after a great breakfast at the B&B in Eastbourne and it was a glorious start of the day! The sun was out for the first time since I started. Clear blue skies and a calm sea made for a stunning view as I headed down the Eastbourne sea promenade. I had not gotten too far when I got chatting to a nice Australian chap who was taking pictures of the pier. I told him what I was up to and he was quite impressed. Though he was hoping I worked for Apple as he needed help transferring pictures from his camera to his macbook. Oh well!

The first few miles went really quickly and I reached the end of Eastbourne, bypassing the marina, in good time. Then things changed though. Pretty much all the way from the edge of the marina to Bexhill the beach is made of bloody pebbles. Walking on them might be fun at first, but it seriously adds to the work out! When possible I walked close to the waterline where there was sand it was compacted down. This seriously made things easier, but there were plenty of wood wave breaker thingies and I had to go around many of them. In the end I’d guess I spent about half of today’s journey on pebbles and I can feel it now!

But enough of the whining, because today was also seriously good in many ways! The weather of course helped, but probably because walking on pebbles was so tiring I started taking more breaks and just sitting on the beach with the sun in my face was brilliant. Being on my own now, it’s slowly dawning on me, that I don’t have any real deadlines and that my schedule is really just a guideline. It does not matter if I hit every target. I no longer have a 9 to 5 day and I can start and finish when I want. It’s great to just be able to sit at a nice spot, have some tea and take some pictures!

That thought helped me to keep going this afternoon and when reaching the beginning of Bexhill I opted to take the side walk next to a small road that ran parallel to the beach. Bexhill is a very tidy town, so there was a strip of neatly trimmed grass next to the pedestrian walkway and my feet very happy finally! I managed to get more than halfway through the town to a decent B&B that was cheap enough for me. I seriously need to start camping soon, but being in the middle of the town really left no choice there! At least I have internet finally so I can post the updates for the last 3 days!
Plan for tonight is to get some proper dinner somewhere, as I am really starving! My appetite was not too good for the last 2 days, but now it’s returned, which I take as a good sign! Overall I am aching a lot, but I seem to recover ok by the morning. I guess it’ll still take quite a few days before I am fully used to all this!
Had a call from my parents and a lovely call from Charlotte, so my spirits are high now!

A stormy day from Seaford to Eastbourne

Up at 8 and great breakfast! Had some cereals and probably the best scrambled eggs on toast ever! Could not really face a full English for some reasons, I think my body really needs to adjust to a lot of things!

We left the B&B just after 9am and that felt like a good time to start! The goal of the day was Eastbourne and I hoped to get there by 5pm.

It actually felt quite bad to do the same stretch of coast again that we had done the previous day. I know there will be quite a few additional miles along the way, when I get lost or when I come to a dead end and have to turn around, but still it felt a bit rubbish.

At the end of the beach in Seaford is quite a high hill that leads up to Seaford Head, so having a steep climb up was hard to start the day off with, but it would prove to be the norm of the day! Once up there I took a short pause and got my camera out to take some pictures of Seaford and the coast below me. That was a great way of catching my breath again!

The first leg of the day got us to Cluckmere Haven, which has a beach I hoped to cross on the way to the Seven Sisters way. But it turned out that an Environment Agency was digging out the river channel. Rachel, the supervisor, initially waved us off along the river path inland, but then tried to get us across after all to save us some miles and time. Unfortunately the tide was in too much and it would have taken us too long to cross, so the digger driver asked us to go inland after all so they could continue work (they stopped all machines for us for a while). Rachel gave me 5 GBP as a donation, which I’ll pay in as soon as I get a chance – she was really nice!

So inland we went and it turned out to be about a 2 mile detour, which is not what we needed before starting the Seven Sisters! These are 7 hills in the cliffs between Cluckmere Haven and Beachy Head near Eastbourne. It was hard going and I have to say that it did not help that my dad kept track of them! “Well that’s 2 down, 5 to go!” – really did not need to hear that :)

We had lunch on the 4th hill and the views were stunning, despite the misty and windy weather. The white cliffs never fail to amaze me and you can see for miles in either direction. The sea far below us was wild and the waves were massive!

The wind seriously picked up in the afternoon and on the 6th or 7th hill I had to move in quite a bit from the cliff edge as I was worried I might get blow off. In the news later in the evening I heard that the wind had reached up to 70mph! Now I know what that feels like. And my backpack acts like a massive sail hehe

As beautiful as the walk was and as stunning as the views were, I was glad when we reached Beachy Head and saw Eastbourne only a few miles away! Due to the weather and wind getting worse we decided not to make it down onto the beach itself. By that time my feet had started to hurt quite a bit again as well, going downhill is particularly hard as my feet sort of get jammed to the front of the boot and there is a lot of pressure on my toes!

So we had one last tea break on the cliff above Beachy Head and then strolled down into Eastbourne. We reached the town just after 3pm, quite a bit earlier than I had expected. This was great though as we found a great B&B early on for me. My dad dropped me off at the B&B and then got a taxi to the train station to catch the train back to Brighton. The owner of the B&B is a really nice guy. Normally he would have had closed this week, but I guess he saw the desperation in my eyes and he offered me a single room for a good rate! The B&B is called the Brayscroft and it’s seriously nice as well! The chap also pointed me to some shops and I got a fantastic turkey sandwich from a delicatessen shop! Stocked up on a beer and some snackage as well!
The rest of the evening was spent munching food and watching TV. Another early night though and from now on I’d be travelling alone – at least for a while!

Below is a picture of me in my awesome Paramo jacket – it kept my nice and warm and dry during this stormy day! And no, i am not fat, i just stuffed all the pockets full of stuff!

The first day – Brighton to Seaford

So this is the first actual blog entry written from my travels! And I am blatantly stealing the style of title from Nat’s blog! Since I am going the opposite direction that he did, I think I might just get away with it!
The send-off in Brighton was brilliant! My parents were there and so were many of my friends, some come from quite a distance away! It was great to see so many friendly faces wishing me well (or were they just smiling because they were rid of me for a while??). It was good to have Howard there, who represented Trees for Life and Martha from Paramo!

At 9am a nice chap from the Brighton Argus showed up to take some pictures and ask some questions, so there should be a little news piece in one of their issues this week!

Just before 10am my dad and I finally set off! I was so used to having my mum walk with us the 2 days prior, that I actually forgot to hug her and say good bye! I thought she was coming along – quite embarrassing!

The first couple of miles were easy enough, and I knew the paths really well from the time I used to live in Brighton and cycled along the seafront. The weight of the backpack was really weird at first and it took a few small stops to adjust straps and position to get it to sit right.

We managed to stay on the Undercliff walk for a long time and while it meant we did not have to deal with all the up and down of the cliffs above, it also meant we were walking on concrete, which started to put additional strain on my feet.

The scenery was spectacular though, the high wind caused some high waves and as they crashed against the wall of the path we got showered in spray once or twice! I think my dad managed to take some pictures, but I kept my camera in the bag, my head down and just pressed on.

At the point where the undercliff walk stops we were faced with a quite steep set of stairs that went straight up the cliff face. I promised myself a lunch break at the top and got on with it! I was starving 5 minutes later when I reached the top and we sat down for some sandwiches and some cups of tea!

After the break we headed along the cliffs and eventually came towards Newhaven, and we were rewarded with some stunning views of the harbour. Quite steep paths lead us down into the town and we had to move inland quite a bit to find a bridge to get across the river. Following a narrow but well-worn path we made our way towards Seaford. We passed through some awesome old ruins of a mill and had a last tea break before doing the final stretch!

Once we were closer to town I looked up a B&B and lead us straight there. I had picked the one furthest along the coast and that turned out to be a problem. Or well rather me not calling ahead was a problem. They were full. So we had to back track about 1 mile to find one that still had vacancies. Though that proved the be lucky! The B&B was called the Silverdale and it was amazing! I got a double room for a really good single price and it actually had a little winter room attached and the biggest bath I have ever seen in a B&B or Hotel! The owners were really nice as well and did not mind us looking a bit muddy and worse for wear! I had a long shower, flopped on the bed and watched TV for a while just to relax and actually be able to move again. The last 2 or 3 miles had been really hard, walking along concrete and asphalt, the weight of the backpack really started to get to me now. I was glad when we finally found the B&B and I got out of my shoes and had the backpack on the floor!

We just popped out for a quick pint to eat at a decent pub and after dinner and 1 pint my dad and I agreed that it was time to crash! I got home just in time for Top Gear, which I watched half asleep and then I passed out at 9!

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