A Little Favour and Other Walkers

Having no personal news of walking adventures, I thought I should take advantage of this opportunity and maybe ask all of you kind souls and all-round wonderful people who may have purchased, acquired, borrowed or stolen a copy of my book to do me another favour. Could you please leave me an honest (but preferably half-decent) review on Amazon???

Apparently it helps sales and if I can get rid of the heap of boxes sitting in my study gathering dust, the weight bearing floors in my house would certainly gasp a big sigh of relief. I’m not begging for kind words or glorious recognition of a literary masterpiece, but if you can be vaguely pleasant it will protect my tender feelings. I am hoping to see the back of this hefty lot, if only to make sure that the paper gets used before I find another use for it in the smallest room of the house. AND if you haven’t bought one yet then – go on – pretty please. It makes a great door-stop!

In other walker news – I can report that Natalia Spencer recently completed her year long walk around the coast at Durdle Door in Dorset. Her extraordinary ‘walk of love’ in remembrance of her 5 year old daughter, Elizabeth, who tragically died after a short illness in December 2016, was done to focus her grieving energy positively and raise as much money as she could. With the assistance of a cracking back-room team, she has managed to raise over £130,000 for Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal supporting Bristol Children’s Hospital and has rightly earned recognition with numerous awards including the Just Giving Endurance Fundraiser of the Year. A huge congratulations to Natalia and I am aware that she hasn’t by any means finished her fund raising efforts. She is now the most successful fund raising coast walker I know of.

To be completely fair to Natalia, I know that she also had a rather large grumbling bone to pick with me in trying to follow some of my Viewranger published routes. I sneakily suspect she was right to tell me, with a wry grimace, that more than a few of my….errr….20+ mile days ended up being more like 25 miles of actual walking. I know that my documented mileage was Pete Hill’s personal “official” yet completely unofficial record, but I also acknowledge that I probably walked a smidge further than I claimed. To save battery use, my tracking device only registered every 10 seconds / 33 feet. Hence a sharp bend in the path might be logged a little straighter than actually walked. Although it is reassuringly nice for me to know that I probably walked a wee bit further, it still means that there is room to improve in terms of accuracy and if I’m not careful I will get drawn into the old mileage debate again. I am and will remain adamant that the grand total is NOT an issue, it’s the effort that counts. I still silently seethe over those purist arseholes who consider their mileage as sacrasanct and belittle everyone else.  I just think I will leave it for others to check and improve upon my accuracy and hence I am not laying a belated unverified claim to having walked further than I recorded. Feel free to do so on my behalf if you can be bothered.

I am also aware of two other walkers (not telling you who they might be, yet) who are looking to start their circumnavigation of this island over the coming months and one other who managed to get going back in February but who sadly had to stop due to injury. From nerdy research, my best guess reckons that around 50% of those who have started the walk have made it round in one hit. But as far as I am concerned, anyone who has a go is a ‘coaster’ in my eyes and it is sometimes only bad luck that draws things to a halt. Indeed there have been many reasons for people not completing the challenge in one long slog. Bravely, many have returned later to complete it or reverted to doing it in sections. The following is a list of the reasons I could find for stopping and not one of them has been due to excessive rain, which could be viewed as a surprise to some who consider Britain to be a rather damp island:

  1. Injury or Illness (just bad luck)
  2. Injury (due to inadequate planning, lack of preparation or poorly fitting boots)
  3. Exhaustion (too fast / too many miles per day / inadequate diet)
  4. Lack of funds / resources
  5. Undefined Personal / Motivational Reasons (not telling)

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All Routes Now Published

Since completing my walk I haven’t spent all of my time thumb twiddling. I have now managed to convert ALL 247 of my GPS tracks into routes on ViewRanger. I have corrected them for some of my minor detours and errors and have added a daily photo, notes about the terrain and a very brief description on what to expect. These are available for viewing and uploading for your own use if you fancy a go at any of my stages. I have also created six curated collections covering the more popular walking areas.

Click Here To See All The Routes ViewRanger_Logo_2

AND – if you haven’t already – PLEASE VOTE FOR ME by 31st May in the hiking and walking section of the Simply Hike Blog Awards.

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Another Sanity Test

Stage 226, 12th November: Heybridge Basin to Bradwell Waterside

It was a brief mile or so up the River Blackwater to Maldon and then a sharp turn to head back down it again, giving me a whole day in the company of a wide and muddy tidal river. I spent the next couple of hours dodging showers as I managed to walk East across the front of the first big black cloud approaching from the Southwest, which dropped its contents on Maldon now some distance behind me. The next two smaller ones hit me, but not enough to dampen my spirit and barely enough to really need the waterproofs I had put on in readiness.

It was very much an iPod day and any thoughts of a river being soothing company were lost as the monotony of the flat landscape became a soporific reality. A brief rainbow across St Lawrence Bay and Maylandsea woke me and an adder was the most sociable of creatures I saw all day, though I wouldn’t say that the hiss it gave me was a friendly greeting. I was amused by the sight of a riverside pool with a dozen plastic duck decoys bobbing around like corks. As I approached these were supplemented by two flapping and equally plastic ducks mounted on poles at the water’s edge. Finally I came across some camouflage netting and the barrel of a gun as a duck shooter scowled a begrudged greeting my way. I think I’d just ruined his day. He even had one of those plastic whistles that sound like a mumbling Donald Duck. I thought I looked ridiculous.

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Maylandsea, Mayland and The Stone were places which offered little of interest other than the odd boatyard and a few nondescript houses for me to throw a passing glance towards.  However, the light of the now rapidly setting sun cast a shallow winter warmth across the water to the nuclear power station a few miles away at Bradwell. The marina near Bradwell Waterside looked as if it might have given me some smart or antique boats to look at but sadly the sun had long gone by the time I got there and all I wanted to do was have a shower and get something to eat.

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Stage 227, 13th November: Bradwell Waterside to Creeksea

I was immediately back on the sea-bank again and started the day listening to the Anglo-Saxon shouts of the workers decommissioning the nuclear power station. Their words were soon silenced as distance grew and a cold wind blew in making me pull my woolly hat down low. The sea-bank and occasional stretches of concrete topped sea-wall continued in long straight sections interspersed with gentle curving ones and occasional sharp detours around a small inlet or sluice.

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To break the tedium a lovely golden retriever bounded up to me from distance with two terriers trailing behind. After a barked greeting we were best of pals in seconds as Lennon stood on my foot and leant against my thigh slobbering as I compared ailments and doggy traits with his owner, Pam.

A few miles of real seaside didn’t last as I took a turn up the River Crouch. It brought little change to the terrain or the scenery and only a few huge thudding explosions from the range over the estuary at Foulness gave me any interest. I had a passing thought that I might have just seen a large chemical incident and briefly worried as a heavy rusty coloured smoke cloud skimmed across the bay in my direction. The cordite smell reassured me as the rest of the day sunk into obscurity.

By the time I arrived in Burnham-on-Crouch the cold wind had brought in some rain and I counted four sailing / yacht clubs along a clearly prosperous but short waterfront. The large marina half a mile further on was full of brash displays of wealth but with summer long gone I barely noticed any activity. The only noise was a strangely comforting one and I liken the sound of the wind drumming the rigging against the yacht masts to that of alpine cow-bells.

Stage 228, 14th November: Creeksea to Hullbridge

Heavy rain had been forecast from home and it arrived early morning to wake me and drip into Snickers bathroom a little too easily. Paul and I checked the skylight for leaks. What skylight? Was this another case of “It just fell off”?

With Snickers now an open-topped vehicle, Paul had a job on his hands looking for an urgent replacement and I headed out into the rain hoping his plastic bag patch wasn’t a long-term fix.

I continued up the River Crouch following yet more sea-bank and wall. The rain on my back wasn’t too much of a problem but the thick gooey mud underfoot was and every step seemed to make my feet slip away in random directions. Progression was slow.  By late morning the rain had eased, but I knew the mud would stay with me till Southampton now that the sun was weak and grass growth had slowed. It was the first time that I had really thought of the end. My family and friends had been mentioning it for a while, but I saw that as a minor irritation and had been in denial, trying to concentrate on one day or, at the outside, one week at a time. With over 90% of the walk complete I had entered the nervous nineties and the slow muddy progression would probably be mirrored in the clock ticking away in my head. I was preparing myself for a few mentally testing weeks. It really didn’t help that the whole walk up river via South Woodham Ferrers and back down again via the antique traders kingdom of Battlebridge was a featureless walk.

I ended the week with the sun going down over the pylons and yet more sea-wall to Hullbridge. Paul cheered my mood considerably with a newly fitted second-hand skylight. By the sound of his day it was entirely possible that his blood pressure had been tested a smidge. In my eyes he was a star for getting it fixed so quickly.

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Rest Day, 15th November: Shoeburyness

With the salubrious nature of our campsite, the slug populated showers and cold damp toilets by torchlight encouraged an early start. I dropped Paul off at Wickford station and I said my heart-felt thanks as he boarded a train for London with, I suspect, some relief to escape my slightly surreal, cold and muddy world. It had been a tough week for finding stopovers open to receive a motorhome and for driving the lanes of Essex with impatient drivers pushing their way through. The behaviour of drivers had changed hugely over the last few weeks and with every step closer to London the driving was undoubtedly getting faster, more aggressive and less courteous. It’s not a trait I like of the Southeast but it is a comment on how busy this part of Britain is and how overcrowding breeds an uncaring selfishness.

I picked up old uni pal Ian a couple of hours later and we headed over to stay with his brother Paul in Shoeburyness. An afternoon watching England lose to South Africa at Twickenham was a rare treat and looking at a large television screen was an alien experience with the colours and camera work almost hypnotising me into a restful doze on the sofa.

Miles to date: 4,678.2   Ascent to date: 519,282 ft

 

A shrinking coastline

Rest Day, 11th October: Filey

With Sue and Diesy heading off after their second full week of looking after me, I was truly in their debt….well maybe not so much Diesy’s debt. He had a great week with miles of great walks, plenty of canine friends to sniff and more than a few bonus treats.

So for a genuine change, I had quite a relaxing day as Kate was already on board and took over mothering me by doing many of the chores I had become accustomed to doing myself on changeover days. It even gave us time to nip into Filey for the evening and treat ourselves to a chinese and a good one at that.

Stage 199, 12th October: Filey to Bridlington

With another heavy dew accompanied by a low hanging mist it was down to Hummanby Sands for a brief and chilly beach stroll before dipping inland to follow the only accessible OS marked route across farmland for the villages of Reighton and Speeton. The long grass liberally soaked my lower legs and feet and my first steps through the cobwebs draped silk around my walking pole and calves like fine flowing tassels.

The sun quickly burnt the early mist away as I made my way back to the coast joining the Headland Way and a walk across the top of Bempton Cliffs, reportedly home to the largest colony of gannets on the UK mainland. Twitchers and walkers now outnumbered the birds and only increased in number as I approached Flamborough Head which added Sunday strollers and anglers to the bright Sunday afternoon throng. The sheer number of anglers was a surprise and they gathered in droves on the rocks and in small inshore boats all dangling a hopeful line into the water, though I didn’t see one pull anything in. I love sea fishing too, but for me the pleasure is in fishing alone and without someone commenting upon my ineptitude or taking to bait advice. I like to learn by my own mistakes.

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The walk along the cliff edge down into Bridlington slowly shallowed out until I was on the promenade with its diesel-powered land train, noisy fun fair and late afternoon ambling families. One overheard conversation between a young couple made me smile.
“Have you ever been on the Spotty Boat in London?” he asked as they watched a power boat twisting and turning a few yards offshore.
“I’ve never been to London.” she replied.
“Never?” he queried.
“No, you’ve only ever taken me to seaside towns.” she sniped.
“You’ve been to Manchester.” he snapped as a riposte.
“Only to the airport.” she said with finality.

I met up with Kate at the harbour and we indulged ourselves with a 99 cone, a rare treat with the season closing in. I wondered if hot pies and pasties would be more likely from here on.

Stage 200, 13th October: Bridlington to Aldbrough

The wind had got up significantly overnight and the sky had a threatening murk. Nonetheless, it was dry to start and I made my way through the regiments of static caravans to rejoin the beach. I was hoping for a personal record-breaking beach walk all the way to Aldbrough today, but the tide was only just turning to go out and it was a high spring tide.

With no option, I dipped inland and crossed farmland again to round another static caravan park. By the time I returned to the cliff I was now in a land suffering from serious coastal erosion. Once a seaside road, not any more. Once a garden, now on the beach. Once a house? Some pessimistically say that they can expect to lose up to ten metres of land a year to the sea. In truth I think the figure is closer to two metres, but either way it’s still a fair chunk of land and very tough for some people who have lived on this part of the coast all of their life to see nature slowly but very surely take what they thought was theirs. They must dread each storm and high tide and another one was very imminent.

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I found a few homemade steps taking me down the muddy cliff  and onto a mixed shingle and sand beach which looked very bleak and rarely walked. The rain finally decided to break free from the heavy clouds and washed in over my left shoulder with a gusting wind picking up speed by the minute to push me forwards at pace down the beach. It was a beach rich with pebbles and a few fossils, but it wasn’t the weather to linger. Fortunately the MOD range I had planned to divert around was open, so I stayed on the beach all the way to Aldbrough. A steep slippery climb up a muddy cliff took me to Kate waiting in Snickers and feeling decidedly sea-sick at the violent buffeting it was taking from the gale now battering in. I suspected that we might be in for a restless night so we moved Snickers to the leeward side of a building to give some shelter from the onslaught that began as the evening drew in.

Stage 201, 14th October: Aldbrough to Kilnsea

My suspicions were well founded as the night had brought torrential rain and a wind that I hadn’t experienced since Bertha struck back on the West of Scotland. A few of the nearby static caravans, which had temporarily been moved away from the cliff edge, had made a break for freedom but none had suffered any damage. The same couldn’t be said for the cliffs.

I returned to the cliff edge for an inspection. The wind was still raging but the rain had mercifully abated and only sea spray made me keep my waterproofs on as I briefly stuck to the cliff top. There was no chance of walking back on the beach for a while as the tide was still far too high and the waves were literally washing chunks of cliff face away before my eyes. With no coast path to follow I took to farmland again and a diversion inland around the village of Grimston.

As I regretfully approached a road junction I heard jogging footsteps behind and a voice called out my name. I had been emailed a few days before by Flora who had very kindly offered bed and board at her place nearby. A fellow long distance walker, she had completed LEJOG last year and had through some convoluted friend of a friend method found out about my journey. She took me back up the lane and also took control of my route for a while as her local knowledge guided me through uncharted paths and private land. It also took me past her front door and that meant that a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s Tea Cake just couldn’t be refused. I had only turned down her kind offer of accommodation as we had already arranged last night’s stopover at Aldbrough, but on meeting Flora and her husband Ian, plus the heavy battering of the overnight storm, I rather wish I hadn’t.

Flora walked with me back to my planned route before turning for home. I had enjoyed my brief time in Flora and Ian’s company and meetings like this have been a highlight of my trip. I think she would have liked to join me for a full day of walking and her company and easy conversation would have made a great change.  It’s always nice to compare notes, experiences and geeky kit reviews.

Back on the cliff top path, the wind had now eased and the tide was receding nicely. I was soon back on the shingle beach and heading towards Withernsea. For the rest of the day I was afforded the sight of coastal erosion in action as I came across muddy boulder after muddy boulder scattered across the beach. At one point a small cliff collapse and landslide came to halt barely a few steps away from me. One fossil hunting man near Withernsea told me that the beach we were standing on was all sand yesterday. Now it was boulders, mudslides and shingle. He was happy sifting through the debris for newly exposed fossils, but I suspect the land owners up above the cliff were less so.

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After a brief walk along the short promenade at Withernsea my afternoon continued as the morning had finished and I was back on the beach all the way to Kilnsea and the North end of Spurn Head to meet a less wind-battered Kate. In doing so I passed on the seaward side of Holmpton and Easington with its huge high security gas terminal barely visible above the low cliffs. As I walked, the storm debris was tempting me into a bit of treasure hunting too and I spent much of the walk with my head down looking for fossils, pretty rocks and pebbles. The glacial deposited boulder clays and till are very soft and with the nature of such unconsolidated rocks come many erratics.  These erratics give collectors a dream ticket to find a huge variety of fossils, rocks and minerals. I was a happy bunny as my rucksack slowly gained weight with various fossil fragments, pretty pebbles and a nice heavy handful of haematite. My day was complete when I found one very nice ammonite to take home.

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Time to Decide……

18th November 2013.

For anyone who knows me, I’m probably not the greatest at making decisions. I’m the type that makes lists, analyses and re-analyses until my brain is completely fried and ready to implode.

For the last couple of years I have dreamed about walking the coast of the British mainland. With time, the dream has grown from a whimsical private thought to a burning obsession that arises in every conversation.

I have read many books and blogs. I have researched kit and routes with the dedication of a true nerd. I have constantly chewed over the impact on my family. I have worried about my physical ability. And I regularly suffer from self-doubt with added fear of apathy and lack of mental fortitude. But for once in my life I think my heart has ruled my head and the easy excuses of lack of time and money have been snatched away thanks to “early retirement”  from my long-term employer.  So maybe it’s time to just shut up, stop rambling incoherently and get on with actually doing something a little bit different and hopefully worthwhile.

Hence at 9:15 am – then again at 7:15pm and once more at 8:15pm – I committed to everyone in my contact list that I was going to do it. After a couple of hours tapping away at the keyboard a long-winded email winged its way out to over 120 people……most of whom now think I have completely lost the plot!