Stage 244, 3rd December: West Wittering to Chidham
It was a decidedly crisp chilly December dawn that gave me a few early minutes on the soft sand at West Wittering. A low cold sun bleached the sand with its glare and flattened the colours of the brightly coloured beach huts to pastel shades. Winter had confirmed its arrival with the addition of a biting wind on my face as I turned North and East up the Chichester Channel.
If the rich mans ghetto at Aldwick Bay was a coarse flashy and tacky show of wealth, then West Itchenor and Westlands were home to a much wider socio-economic spectrum of billionaires all the way down to multi-millionaires. This was serious and old money country. The houses in Aldwick would be little more than a summer-house in the garden to these residents. Yet other than the sheer size of the mansions lining the river front, none of it felt or looked quite so ostentatious, it just exuded established class with barely a private plated 4×4 in sight.
I topped out the estuary at Fishbourne having crossed the lock gates at the expensively well populated Chichester Marina and briefly scared the living daylights out of a woman. I did warn her with a subtle cough as I came up on her from behind but she was engrossed in something on her mobile phone and literally jumped back as a creep dressed in black in a woolly hat and carrying a stick came alongside her.
I briefly turned back down the Chichester Channel to Bosham Hoe and back up another inlet for Bosham village. I’d been warned to time my walk through Bosham as the roads and paths get flooded with each high tide. I couldn’t have timed it better as the low tide path across the estuary was fully available and a small corner was cut giving me enough time to complete the day before the already dipping sun vanished below the horizon.
Stage 245, 4th December: Chidham to Eastney, Southsea
Following a lovely evening spent in the company of a couple of his old family friends, John’s stint filling in driving Snickers for a vital few days came to a close and he headed off to swap keys with James and get back to Brighton to fulfil his many alternative medical appointments to sort out a dodgy shoulder.
Twenty minutes out and my 5,000 mile landmark came and went ignominiously at Cullimers Pond. Throughout the entire walk I had been religiously recording my cumulative mileage total against my original estimate of 5,032. It was the one thing I had always considered beyond a couple of days in advance. It was the one thing I always kept my eye on. It was the one target I always wanted to exceed. My plan told me that I should complete 5,033 miles and it had never given me much leeway if my daily mileage didn’t live up to expectation. Over the last nine and a half months I had been both in front and behind my projection and more often than not frighteningly close. For the last few weeks I had relaxed in the knowledge that I’d got things pretty much right and I now reckoned my final total would be nearer to 5,045. So when the 5,000 came and went, I wasn’t elated, nor was I deflated. I just felt relaxed that I didn’t have to worry about finishing the entire walk on 4,999.
More sea-wall took me around Cobnor Point with bridged sections now sacrificing farmland back to the sea, making the pathway into a curving causeway rather than a permanent headland. Thorney Island was quickly bypassed and by Emsworth I was back in Hampshire and soon back on The Solent Way. The circle was almost complete and my mind now overloaded with targets achieved.
The weather was decidedly dull. It was a heavy lead grey sky and cold with a mist of rain in the air, definitely a mizzle. Gladly, the walking wasn’t dull. It wasn’t thrilling either, but with lots of twists and turns in the path the minor scene changes kept my interest. With my mind travelling at a million miles per hour, I barely noticed Hayling Island to my left as I swept passed the bridge where flashing blue lights indicated a distant road accident.
Langstone and Brockhampton came and went quickly too and a last dip down around the headland at Farlington Marshes took me back to the aural discomfort of road noise and the suburbs of Portsmouth. My last march South took me to Eastney and a meeting with James for our one and only evening together catching up on work gossip and a damn good pub meal. As a good old work friend I had always wanted James to come along for a week. Like many of my friends who work for themselves, his work commitments meant that he had found it difficult to commit to a guaranteed slot, but to have his company for even one night was grand.
Stage 246, 5th December: Eastney to Warsash
James dropped me back in Eastney and drove off back to Maidenhead to leave me to walk into camp at Warsash.
For my last full day I had planned to take things easy and the seafront of Southsea was a stroll which became a sprint as a cold Northwesterly breeze chilled two cups of tea and a bowl full of milky Oatibix. For reasons known to the local councils and probably the occasional well-known celebrity or two, heavily populated towns and cities close many of their public toilets in the winter. So when a walker with a gallon of chilled tea and milk onboard cannot find a tree or bush to sneak behind his gait becomes a hurried pigeon footed mince as the urgency to avoid a warm legged accident becoming a reality increases. Fortunately Southsea pier came to the rescue, or so I thought. 20p for a pee and no change. A knock on the window of a man probably called Desperate Dan, revealed a true British official with no imagination or vague sense of mercy, who didn’t carry change and who wouldn’t let in a man about to wet himself. Fortunately a merciful passer-by flicked 20p in my direction, but it rolled tantalisingly under the barrier and out of my reach. At the offer of a fiver to let me in, the official relented and he entered through the exit barrier to retrieve the rogue coin – my dignity was safe.
Now relaxed I was able to enjoy Portsmouth with the shapely curve of its Spinnaker Tower overseeing all sea movement for miles around as prolific boat traffic filled a marine equivalent of the M25. A quick anonymous trip on the Gosport Ferry took me to my last bit of peace and quiet around Gilkicker Point and across my last MOD range and an empty shingle beach at Browndown.
At Lee on Solent my phone buzzed up a missed call from a private number. Voicemail gave me the telephone number of a BBC TV chap who wanted to cover my final day and return to Southampton tomorrow. I tried to remember the number he repeated but my brain was frazzled and I just couldn’t remember the whole number despite three retries. I felt disappointed that I couldn’t do something that in normal circumstances wouldn’t test me one bit but relented and nipped into a newsagent in search of a cheap pen that writes on the back of a hand. Media interest was, at last, growing and I suspected a few friends had intervened.
A brief low cliff walk and a tame muddy path into Warsash and my final night aboard Snickers was one spent alone. I treated myself to a steak in peppercorn sauce with creamy mash made with french mustard and a tin of baked beans – well I was sleeping alone. The end was truly nigh and everything felt a little quiet, very still and more than a little alien. I just wanted to get home now and anything else was just a blur. Tomorrow would be a very strange day and one I hoped I would remember fondly.
to be continued……