Stage 78, 21st May: Formby to Walmer Bridge
Today was a day for the sun block and as I have the complexion of a polar bear I was right to slap it on as I headed straight down onto the beach where the clearest day of the year so far allowed me my first distant sighting of Blackpool Tower.
Seven miles of featureless shallow beach backed by dunes was only enlivened by having to repeatedly cross ankle-deep channels running diagonally across the sand. I by-passed Ainsdale-on-Sea and only ducked inland at Royal Birkdale golf course for a nosey through Southport.
I can report that Southport was very clean and tidy thank you. I passed the model engineering club and a model boat pond frequented by enthusiastic grey haired men in cardigans with remote control consoles watching their home-built pride and joy motoring quietly up and down their own miniaturised ocean. I crossed Morrisons car park for a walk inland of the slightly larger Marine Lake and noted that once again it was all very tidy without having anything particularly remarkable to say about it. To me, the word “tidy” summed up Southport.
The highlight of my day was when Gary Dawson – SIA Peer Support Officer for the North West pulled up alongside and got out of his car to walk with me for twenty minutes. He had recently completed a hefty long distance hand-bike ride and had upper body strength far superior to mine. Together, we worked out that with my increasingly firm bottom half and his strong top half we might actually make one fairly decent body. He turned his chair, wished me luck and headed back to his car. I felt I had made a new friend very quickly.
I finally left the road to walk the rectangles of dyke tops around Hesketh Marsh and up the Ribble estuary which seemed endless. My ageing eyesight had wrongly interpreted a path leading up to the river and another leading away from it on the other side as a crossing of a minor tributory at Hesketh Bank….but….errr….no, so I had to trudge all the way up to the main A59 to record a new PB of 28.3 miles and a pair of very sore feet. To make my mood worse the ice cream shop strategically placed at the end of my stage was shut by the time I arrived. I was not a happy bunny.
Stage 79, 22nd May: Walmer Bridge to St Anne’s
I knew I was in for another day of road walking and I got it, twenty plus miles of it. To add to my displeasure light rain was trying to get through my layers on and off all day. But today – my clothing won.
I stopped in on an old work colleague and friend in Preston for a quick cuppa, a raid of her chocolate biscuit stash and a good old-fashioned gossip about what was going on in my former corporate world. It did seem more than a little strange to talk about something I no longer had any part of.
Road and more road took me out of Preston towards Lytham. The Lancashire Coastal Way was making its presence known even if the signposted path seemed a little pointless to me. The map told me that it dipped away from the road only to rejoin it half a mile further on after a quick visit to the mudflats and marshes. Hence I stuck to the road.
On passing through Warton I didn’t take much notice of a chap standing idly waiting on the corner. As I approached he made it clear that he was waiting for me and had followed my progress since Southampton. Neil from BAE Systems introduced himself and very generously pressed some cash into my palm as a motivational aid and charity donation before he dipped back into work for a meeting. It was yet another really kind gesture and one that made me smile all the way into Lytham. These motivational aids really do work.
Lytham gave me some promenade walking around the old lifeboat station with a slightly artificial looking white-painted windmill sitting proudly and prominently next door. I finally got my reward of the day in the form of one last mile of sandy beach before I met up with John waiting at the road end of St Anne’s Pier.
Stage 80, 23rd May: St Anne’s to Bank Houses nr Cockerham
With more hard surfaces expected, a brief beach walk was very welcome. But by the time I reached the south shore of a very grey and rainy Blackpool the beach had too many water filled channels to find my way around, so I elected for a stroll down the promenade and to share the experience of all the arcades, thrills and spills with early holiday weekenders dressed up in their winter finery with hoods pulled down over their faces. The rain tried its hardest to soak my interest but it was the stiff north-easterly wind in my face that was more of a bane.
Brash and colourful Blackpool eventually became the quieter Cleveleys and as I turned the corner towards Fleetwood the wind really got some breath up. In doing so it picked up most of the nearest sand dunes and threw each individual grain of sand hard at me in an attempt to grit blast the skin off my face. I had little option other than to pull my hat down low, look two feet in front of my feet, bend my back and keep walking towards the ferry for Knott End.
Ah – a bit of a problem! The ferry wasn’t running. The tide was too low and the boat was clearly sitting in the mud with a gentle lean to one side as if taking a well-earned rest. Tony – the ferryman – told me it wouldn’t be working again till around 4pm. It was only 1:30pm and the diversion up the estuary would add sixteen miles to my day. I expressed my displeasure in a very adult way and told Tony what I was doing and that I needed to be in Cockerham by 5pm as my daughters were coming out to see me. If I waited for the ferry or took the diversion I would be far too late and I could feel a minor tantrum rising with my blood pressure. But then, and to summarise more than a few conversations, Tony took me next door to the RNLI station and talked to Steve. Steve looked across the water a little forlornly before coming up with an idea. Steve talked to Skip. Skip got to the RIB whilst Steve got me some wellies and a life jacket. Skip and Adam then saw me across to the other side where Adam walked me up the very sticky mud bank before returning to Skip and the RIB with my loaned gear. They might not have saved my life, but they certainly saved my day. So to Tony, Steve, Skip and Adam – thanks muchly!
As it was, 5pm was always optimistic and it was nearer 6pm as I finished some nasty traffic dodging verge hops along the A588 to Cockerham. It is not a practice I would recommend to anyone but I kept to my safety rules like a good boy and walked on the right hand side of the road facing the oncoming traffic and removed my radio earplugs so that I could hear and be very aware of traffic coming from both directions. Even so, it’s not the cleverest thing to do and is almost certainly the most dangerous thing that I have very little option to avoid.
The reward for a hard day at the office? I picked up my daughters, Gem and Rach, at Lancaster station for two nights in the cramped confines of Snickers. In doing so I said a fond farewell with huge thanks to John and his cardboard Karen who departed on the opposite platform back to Manchester to pick up his car and eventually onward for an even longer journey back to Oman. Undoubtedly John’s journey to join me for a week in this little adventure is unlikely to be beaten and I am still astonished and incredibly thankful that he did.
Rest Day, 24th May: Bank Houses nr Cockerham
With John gone, my girls got to enjoy the confines of Snickers on a wet miserable day as I did my laundry and tried to get myself back in order. It was truly great to catch up with them and I think they were grateful for a break from exam revision for a day even if it did involve sitting around doing pretty much nothing. Sometimes just enjoying precious company is worth every minute and I was trying to savour the minutes whilst trying to keep my head on the weekly chores and achieving my next small target of Morecambe Bay. Small targets have played a huge psychological part in this trip so far, as I daren’t think too far ahead just in case it all becomes a little overwhelming. The only down side I have noticed in doing this is that every time I meet a small target I find that the next day tends to be very hard as I start afresh again. Psychology baffles me sometimes but I’m beginning to understand what works for me and that’ll do nicely.
Another former work colleague and friend, Terry, turned up mid afternoon with his son Alfie and I just had to indulge everyone with an ice cream (el cheapo choc-ice on a stick, unbranded) from the camp shop, forgetting that my youngest actually hates ice cream – is that normal? A quick and decent hearty meal in the camp site social club and we retreated to the van rather than endure the crooning of a slightly off-key cabaret act. Trying to squeeze five into a four berth van was an interesting challenge, particularly with two teenage girls – but after an hour of shuffling bedding, clothes and kit the juggling eventually worked out and we all managed at least an hour of sleep – after the background noise of cabaret crooning and shouting kids roaming around the campsite had subsided.
Miles to date: 1,633 Ascent: 250,000ft