Prepared for, erm, dunno


Oh Lord, it’s all a disaster. I’ve massively overreached, what was I thinking, give up now etc. For here we stand, on the eve of Big Walk MkII and I don’t mind admitting I’m really quite scared. I’ve tried rationality (‘You’ve done this before’), taken a punt on logic (‘The days are so long you can pace yourself’) and given it some old-school (‘Buck up, Sniveller’), but the way I’m feeling, it’s going to take the combined power of Mr Snuggles AND Blankie to make it right.

Hips and legs had been feeling the pressure of late, until the tube strike nearly finished me off. Then I ramped up the stretching to more-than-15-seconds per rep and – miracolo! – now I have the lower limbs of last autumn. Then at the weekend I had two marvellous walks – the first alone on a section of the North Downs Way near Guildford, where I saw, in no particular order, thousands upon thousands of bluebells and two men lassoing goats (I think – they were quite far away and I didn’t like to stare). I had a sensational cream tea in Farnham (the Vintage Cake House, you live in my dreams) and at the gate of a rare-breeds farm bought some eggs that gave their lives for a wondrous mushroom omelette 24 hours later.

The second walk was to Marlow, this time with a friend and her dog, a tall, elegant French poodle whose energy levels were so high he was still able to chase a field of calves (or ‘Oh, shit, are they bullocks?’) four hours in. Fortunately, poodles are extremely obedient and Benjy came when called, narrowly squeaking us past what was unmistakably shaping up to be a Fenton moment

And so we arrive at last night, and the map room (ie my bedroom floor), which was heavy with silent concentration that became less silent as the minutes ticked on. The crunkle of new maps unfolding, the whistle of pursed lips, the soft curses as index finger slid across the sheet, diagonally, before sweeping back again, tracking the sandal prints of St Oswald. Bloody Google maps! They’re all very well for planning a walk in sketchy outline, finding a Nando’s in suburbia (or a B&B in the middle of nowhere, booked two months ago, ok, yes, they are useful sometimes), but they don’t show terrain clearly – or indeed at all – and now I’ve seen the OS version, the time for wailing is upon us. Great chunks of that coast are unstable-slash-unwalkable, thanks to a toothsome supergroup of dunes, power stations, marshes, estuaries and industrial estates. Which is presumably why St Oswald, with remarkable prescience, walked his Way with at least one enormous swoop inland. It’s hard to say for sure through a veil of unshed tears, but that looks like an extra five miles right there. Which is fine, unless you’ve allowed for, at a pinch and a prayer, walking 23 miles that day and suddenly find yourself staring down the barrel of a 28-mile minimum.

On the plus side, this has pushed to the back of my mind the previous worry that it was going to pour with rain. I’ve had the freedom to choose between two websites: the one that says it’s going to sheet with rain all week, and the other one that says sunshine and occasional light showers. Some Yank site versus the BBC, respectively. Light showers it is.

As an aside, my neighbour has already advised me on how to be a London nob when I’m up there, learned from experience, she claims. Just stop at the window of any estate agent in Newcastle, peer at the photographs, point and shout ‘Oh my God, you could buy that OUTRIGHT! For CASH!’

So, there we have it. Unsure of ability, troubled by an achy ankle, having to grind through 26-30 miles on some days. Well, sunrise is at 0504; sunset is 21.00. The days are 15 hours 52 minutes, plus there’s about 45 minutes of civil twilight each end. Yeah, that should be fine don’t you think, Mr Snuggles? Mr Snuggles?


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