Thursday, 30 September 2010

Day 42 Modbury to Tideford

Thursday 30th September 2010

After leaving California Cross in the early mist I continued my journey westwards through the Devon countryside. The narrow lanes in this area were almost completely traffic-free, there was often half an hour or more between vehicles. Once again the hills were hard work, one long steep stretch heading out of Ermington was possibly the toughest climb I've come across since I came into England.

My walk started in the summer, but it's very clear by now that I've walked my way into autumn. It's not only the deteriorating weather and much earlier sunsets, the trees are changing colour, leaves are beginning to fall and increasingly often I'm finding myself treading on horse-chestnuts, acorns and the like.

With 10 miles or so covered I crossed the A38 on a bridge, found myself on busy roads again and came into Plympton. With rain falling I took the chance to get in the dry and had my lunch in a cafe. Not much further on I dropped into Plymouth's Milk & More depot, it's handily placed for me to the north of the city meaning I could avoid the central areas. While there I enjoyed a very warm welcome from the management team of Nick and Joe as well as product controller Dave, office girl Marie and many other friendly staff.

From the depot I skirted around the northern suburbs of Plymouth until the Tamar Bridge suddenly came into view at St.Budeaux. Another of Brunel's pioneering Victorian bridges takes the railway across the River Tamar right next to the road bridge. The Tamar marks the border between Devon and Cornwall, when I crossed it I entered the final county of this amazing journey. The bridge takes you right into Saltash, I stopped there, found the local bakery and treated myself to a Cornish pasty. All us Devonians know that the pasty was actually invented in Devon by monks in 1105, but the Cornish have perfected them in modern times and it seemed an apt way to mark the moment.

Through Devon I'd managed to avoid walking along the obnoxious A38, the nearest thing to a motorway in these parts. Unfortunately it was unavoidable for a couple of miles west of Saltash this afternoon, but I could make my final approach to Tideford on country lanes. As I made my down the last steep hill of the day, a harsh 1 in 4, my thighs let me know they'd had their best workout in a long time. After walking this far if I come across anything particularly steep I'd rather be going up than going down.

I've entered Cornwall free of blisters, my slightly sore and swollen achilles heel remains a concern, but it's giving me no real trouble. Tomorrow I will avoid the treacherous A38 and make my way to Bodmin via rural lanes.

GPS track click here

Mileage today; 26.11 miles, walking time 6 hrs 39 mins, average walking speed 3.9 mph

Weather; early mist, then mainly overcast with some bright spells and some light showers

Cumulative mileage; 891.94 miles

A crooked church spire in Ermington

Walking under the A38 at Plymouth (much preferable to walking on it!)

Arriving at the Tamar Bridge, Brunels's railway bridge is to the left

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Day 41 Maidencombe to Modbury

Wednesday 29th September

My first task this morning was to finish the nasty stretch of road between Maidencombe and Torquay. Much like yesterday it had to be walked in murky weather. It wasn't too long before I reached the outskirts of Torquay. I made my way to the Milk & More depot where I was greeted by Tim and Dave.

After passing rows of Fawlty Towers type hotels I had a quick look around historic Torre Abbey before emerging on Torquay seafront. There might be palm trees everywhere but the English Riviera didn't look particularly impressive in the rain. I made my way along the front to Paignton with it's colourful beach huts and pier. The prices advertised by the B&Bs here were the lowest I'd seen anywhere in the whole country.

From Paignton I headed west and made my way inland. Devon is quite a hilly county, if you're passing through on foot steep climbs are are unavoidable and I soon had a few typical examples to tackle. By now though, weeks after conquering the Highlands, I can honestly say I'm not really troubled by hills. In fact after making my way through most of England on mainly flat routes I now quite enjoy a few undulations for the variety. I stayed off the main roads and made my way to Totnes using quiet rural lanes. Totnes would be the only town on my route after leaving the coast so I stopped there for lunch.

By mid-afternoon the intermittent rain had stopped and was replaced by pleasant sunshine. I continued west along more deserted hilly lanes and was treated to many fine views of the Devon countryside, with the peaks of Dartmoor always visible on the horizon. I could see the unmistakeable rock formations at Haytor which I walked to in training a couple of months ago. There were some pretty villages and hamlets on my route including Harburtonford.

Soon after crossing (yet another) River Avon at Garra Bridge I reached the California Cross Campsite 3 miles east of Modbury where I'm stopping tonight. My sore heel is still tender, but it didn't hinder me again today. My worries about it are easing a bit now that it's coped with two days of walking without either worsening or causing any significant discomfort.

After another ten miles or so of making my way along country lanes tomorrow I will pass through the northern parts of Plymouth and visit the local Milk & More depot. When I cross the Tamar Bridge in the afternoon I will enter Cornwall, the last county of my walk. I've booked a B&B a few miles west of Saltash. If everything goes to plan this will all be over in a week.

GPS track click here

Mileage today; 23.12 miles, walking time 5 hrs 55 mins, average speed 3.9 mph

Weather; intermittent light rain until mid-afternoon, then sunny spells, max 17C

Cumulative mileage; 865.83 miles

Ruins and palm trees at Torre Abbey, Torquay 

Paignton Pier


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Day 40 Exeter to Maidencombe

Tuesday 28th September 2010

The rest day in my own home on Monday had been the best thing imaginable at this stage of the walk. One thing had played on my mind though as I took my day off, my right achilles heel has become a little sore and stiff. I decided to walk as planned today and see how it goes, I'm also planning to redcuce my average daily mileage from here to the finish to try and avoid making it worse.

Arriving back at the Milk & More depot in Exeter this morning was great fun, everybody gave me a wonderful reception. Seeing all my workmates for the first time in ages was a real treat. A big good luck message had been fixed to the side of my milkfloat. The best surprise of all was to find that no less than three people were going to walk with me. Marcus, who maintains the Milk & More fleet went to great lengths to spare a couple of hours despite being snowed under with work. Product controller Steve, who has completed many long distance charity walks in the past, and office girl Sally had both volunteered to do the whole day.

After posing for photos we left the depot in pleasant weather. After three miles of road walking we joined the towpath of the Exeter Ship Canal and headed south. We passed under the southern end of the M5, 11 days ago I walked under the northern end at West Bromwich. As expected the canal was ideal for walking and we caught plenty of glimpses of wildlife. The canal empties into the Exe Estuary at Turf Lock, from there we continued along the Exe Estuary Trail.

Marcus had been a great walking companion, but he had to leave us when we reached Powderham. As we went along the estuary by Powderham Castle we saw a herd of deer and stags, a woodpecker and a crane. Unfortunately drizzle started to fall by the time we reached Starcross, light rain and drizzle then continued for the rest of the day. Between Starcross, only a mile across the estuary from my home in Exmouth, and Dawlish Warren we had to walk on roads again for a while, but from there on we able to spent most of the day walking along the coast path.

Dawlish was well placed for our lunchbreak, we approached the town walking along the seawall where trains are very exposed to the elements during stormy weather. The line along the coast here is one of Britains most spectacular stretches of rail and it's often seen on TV. Due to the rain we opted to take our rest in a cafe. After leaving Dawlish our previously flat route started to get quite hilly. We were never going to be able to avoid the notorious Devon hills forever and the coast path to Teignmouth gave us our first hard work. We entered Teignmouth on another section of seawall before cutting through town and crossing Shaldon Bridge. We then headed back to the coast path, watching fishermen reeling-in catches as we went.

The hills got taller and steeper south of Shaldon. The views were good when the rain eased, but the constant ups and downs through fields of cows were hard work in the miserable weather. Often the official coast path is hard to follow so we just wandered through fields in what looked like the right direction and hoped for the best. As we came close to Maidencombe we decided to return to the road hoping to find a footpath running alongside it. Unfortunately there was no path and the road here was narrow, bendy and very busy, easily the most unpleasant place we'd found ourselves walking all day.

In bad weather and with the light falling we called it a day just north of Torquay. Sally and Steve had both done a brilliant job and had walked 22 miles each. Sally in particular put in an amazing effort, she had never taken on a such long walk before, but managed to push herself through some tough sections towards the end. I finished feeling relieved that my heel, while still a bit sore, hadn't worsened or really troubled me to any degree. I'd thoroughly enjoyed walking along the estuary and the coast with my workmates. Tomorrow I will resume walking from Maidencombe. After a visit to the Milk & More depot in Torquay I will be making my way through the Devon countryside before stopping at a campsite near Brownston.

I would like to say a big 'thank-you' to all the Exeter Milk & More staff for such a warm welcome today and for their continued support thoughout my walk. Andy, Steve, Marcus and Sally in particular deserve a special mention for putting themselves forward and volunteering to walk with me.

GP:S data click here

Mileage today; 22.08 miles, walking time 7 hrs 6 mins, average walking speed 3.1 mph

Weather; a bright start, then light rain and drizzle, max 17C

Cumulative mileage; 842.71 miles

The four walkers prepare to leave Exeter. Sally, myself, Steve and Marcus.

Turf Lock

A view of Teignmouth from the coast path

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Day 38 Taunton to Exeter

Sunday 26th September 2010

After leaving my accomodation I had a mile to walk to get to the Taunton Milk & More depot. Unfortunately it's closed on a Sunday so I didn't have the chance to introduce myself to any local staff. However, my Exeter colleague Andy was already there waiting for me. Andy had bravely volunteered to join me for a tough day of road walking.

As soon as we set off I could see that Andy was an ideal walking partner. He's as tall as me, has an equally long stride and and his natural brisk pace meant he'd have no trouble keeping up. For the second day in a row the weather was perfect, we enjoyed glorious sunshine with a cool breeze that stopped us getting too hot. Taunton was soon behind us as we headed off into the Somerset countryside. For several miles we were overlooked by the Wellington Monument which dominates this area from the highest point of the Blackdown Hills. Andy is just as good at talking as he is at walking, that was great news for me because the miles seemed to fly by in no time at all. When we stopped for lunch at Cullompton we'd already crossed the border into Devon and covered more than half the days total distance.

I don't know if it's my imagination, but the English countryside seems to get greener and greener as you head further south. Also by now the ploughed fields were clearly showing the distinctive red Devonshire soil that I haven't seen for so many weeks. With no footpaths or canals going our way we had no choice but to spend the whole day on tarmac. The quiet lanes were our favourite, but fortunately, despite the great weather, the main roads weren't that busy at all. I'd incorrectly predicted that the Sunday drivers would be out in force. After lunch we pushed on as far as Broadclyst at a good pace. We stopped there for a short break, but were disappointed to find the local shop closed when we fancied an ice cream. When I spotted Woodbury Castle in the distance I realised how close I was to home, it can be seen from many parts of Exmouth and Exeter. With a couple of miles to go another colleague Marcus turned up to give us moral support and he brought a very welcome drink, an open shop meant we were able to buy our ice creams in Pinhoe. Soon after we reached the Exeter Milk & More depot where our loved ones were waiting.

Andy has shown great strength of character and stamina today by walking nearly 28 miles with me at a very good pace, that's further than a full marathon. I'm very grateful to him for joining me and being such a brilliant walking partner. Reaching Exeter marks a major landmark for me. I'm stopping for a rest day in my own home, a priceless luxury after five and a half weeks away. The end of my journey may seem close to some, but to get complacent now would be a big mistake. There is still a very long way to go and I will remain fully focused on the job in hand until I reach the finish line.

Monday will be a rest day, much needed after a week of very high mileage. The walking will recommence on Tuesday when I leave Exeter and make my way to Torquay.

GPS data click here

Milage today; 28.86 miles, walking time 7 hrs 34 mins, average walking speed 3.8 mph

Weather; mainly sunny with a cool breeze, max 17C

Cumulative mileage; 820.63 miles


The Wellington Monument on the Blackdown Hills

Andy and myself shortly after arriving in Exeter

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Day 37 Weston-Super-Mare to Taunton

Saturday 25th September 2010

My morning today started with a visit to the Weston-Super-Mare Milk & More depot. Manager Mark was there to greet me, I also met many other friendly staff at a busy time of their day. Mark, who is kindly organising a collection for MacMillan, joined me as I set off and we got the days walking underway. When we reached the B&B where I stayed last night my parents were waiting for us and they took over from Mark.

It was a great personal honour for me to have my Mum and Dad, Eileen and Bill, join me on the walk today. They have not only supported me as well as possible during this walk, but through my whole life in general. Both are retired, but obviously still very fit, they easily managed a mile and a half at my side before wishing me well and turning back to return to their car.

In the best walking weather of all thirty seven days so far I headed off along the A370 and A38 through the Somerset Levels. The busy A38 had many warning signs saying it was a 'red route'. This has nothing to do with stopping restrictions, the red must refer to bloodshed. The signs also quote the figure of 723 casualties in 5 years. Luckily for me there was a good footpath all the way, annoyingly though it often switched from one side of the road to the other, crossing was not easy.

At Pawlett I stopped on a bench in a quiet park and enjoyed the lunch my mum had given me earlier. A little while later I reached the town of Bridgwater, famous in these parts for it's huge annual carnival. At Bridgwater I stocked up with refreshments before joining the canal which would take me the rest of the way to Taunton.

The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal gave me a typical towpath walk; peaceful, tranquil, traffic free and flat. With just a few fishermen and dog walkers around it was a welcome respite from the busy weekend roads. This canal is still navigable, but easily the quietest of those I have walked along with hardly any watercraft around. In many places there were still WWII bunkers to be seen along the canal, something I hadn't seen on the canals further north. Surprisingly there were also big swarms of midges, by far the worst I'd seen since The Highlands. Luckily they seem to leave people alone and don't instantly attack human flesh like their Scottish relatives.

The canal took me right into the centre of Taunton. It somehow seemed apt I should stay here. On my way into town I passed the Somerset County Cricket stadium. In 1985 Somerset cricket legend Ian Botham went into the local hospital with a sports injury. After taking a wrong turn and going into a children's ward Botham was shocked to learn that some of them only had weeks to live. Soon after he set off on the first of his many charity walks, it was from John o'Groats to Lands End. Sir Ian Botham has since raised an incredible £12 million for charities through his walking.

After a day of high mileage I was pleased to finish feeling quite strong. Today should be the last time I post a daily total of over 30 miles. Tomorrow I have another exciting day to look forward to, I will be crossing into my home county Devon. The finest city of them all, Exeter, where I work and know so many people, is my destination. My good friend Andy from the Exeter Milk & More depot has volunteered to walk the whole 28 mile stage with me. Will he be able keep up? Good question. I'll let you know tomorrow!

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 32.65 miles, walking time 8 hrs 1 min, average walking speed 4.1 mph

Weather; sunny with a cool breeze, max 16C

Cumulative mileage; 791.77 miles

The rebuilt Grand Pier at Weston-Super-Mare, I was in town shortly before it
was due  to reopen after being destroyed by a fire in 2008

The A38 Red Route

The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal

Friday, 24 September 2010

Day 36 Clevedon to Weston-Super-Mare

Today was a day of not many miles, but plenty of excitement. MacMillan Cancer Support hold an annual 'Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning' event and today was the chosen date for this year.

My morning started with a short walk to the local coffee morning at Challicoms of Clevedon, they are a business who very kindly do a lot of fundraising on behalf of MacMillan and other charities. While I was there I was very well looked after by all the friendly staff, particularly Liz, Nicola and Val. The coffee and home-made cakes were delicious. I spoke to Trudi, a local newspaper reporter, and we all posed for pictures. As I left I was delighted to be given very generous donations for MacMillan.

Before leaving Clevedon I wanted to visit the lovely Victorian pier, so I headed back down to the seafront, still wearing my MacMillan t-shirt and with my pack on my back. As soon as the staff realised what I was doing they decided to waive the entry fee and let me go on for free. After having a good look around and enjoying the superb views I was astounded when pier manager Linda presented me with a goody bag. It's contents included pier souvenirs, chocolate and Kendal Mint Cake. I left Clevedon a very happy man after the people at Challicoms and the pier had been so kind to me.

The shortest official walking route from Clevedon to Weston-Super-Mare involves a huge detour inland to Congresbury before heading back to the coast. You can't simply just walk along the coast here because the way is blocked by unbridged rivers. However, after a close look at online satellite images I could see there were some sluice gates on private land over the Blind Yeo river that might let me avoid the detour. I headed south west through country lanes until I came in to the area in question and took my chance. I passed through a farmyard, along some tracks, went through a couple of unlocked gates, found the sluice gates and crossed over the river successfully. If there had been someone around I would have asked for permission to pass through, but I didn't see anybody and I wasn't challenged. The last gate I came to before reaching a proper road again was locked so I climbed over, on the other side a sign said 'Private Track, No Access'. Oh well, it was too late by then and I'd saved myself several extra miles of walking by skipping the inland route.

Soon after I came to the village of Wick St.Lawrence. By chance I stumbled across another MacMillan coffee morning event that was being held in Wick St. Lawrence Church. I found myself invited in and was soon enjoying more food including delicious sandwiches, cookies and coffee with a very friendly group of ladies. They were busy preparing for their flower festival that's being held this weekend. Everybody was amazed that a MacMillan end-to-end walker just happened to be passing by. I found myself the centre of attention for the third time in a day and left with yet another generous donation in my pocket.

An hour later I reached Weston-Super-Mare where I happily met my parents as planned, they have arranged a B&B where we are staying tonight. Tomorrow morning I will drop in at the local Milk & More depot before setting off on the 30+ mile trek to Taunton.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 11.24 miles, walking time 2 hrs 47 mins, average walking speed 4.0 mph

Weather; overcast and windy, max 16C

Cumulative mileage; 759.12 miles

Walking onto Clevedon Pier, a grade 1 listed building described by Sir John Betjeman as
"the most beautiful pier in England"

The spot where the long abandoned Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Light
Railway used to cross the Blind Yeo, I took my shortcut over sluice gates here

Wick St.Lawrence Church. I realised I'd stumbled across my second MacMillan 'Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning' venue of the day when I saw the balloons on the gate

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Day 35 Yate to Clevedon

Thursday 23rd September 2010

This morning started with Merle and Dave very kindly driving me all the way back at the Yate Milk & More depot after my night being spoilt rotten at their Bristol home. On arrival I met a very friendly bunch of people including manager Paul, supervisor Will, roundsman Mike and office girls Gill and Brenda.

Paul made a great gesture by taking time out of his busy schedule and walking with me for the first five and a half miles of the day. Having such good company seemed to make those miles whizz by in no time at all. We took a route from Yate that went through the northern and western edges of Bristol meaning that I could avoid passing through the city centre. On my way through I saw the Bristol Rolls Royce works and the Concorde next to the runway at Filton Airport.

At Clifton Down I stopped for a rest and ate the lunch that Merle had prepared for me earlier. Soon after I enjoyed one of the biggest highlights of my walk so far when I crossed the spectacular Clifton Suspension Bridge and entered Somerset. When choosing my route Isambard Kingdom Brunel's amazing creation easily beat the only other contender for crossing the River Avon, the M5 motorway bridge. I'd been looking forward to this moment since before my walk even began. It was not only a spectacular sight, it was a major landmark to me, I have now entered the South West and begun the final quarter of my journey. While going over the bridge I unexpectedly found myself feeling quite emotional for only the second time since I left John o'Groats five weeks ago (the first time had been when I reached the end of the West Highland Way and completed my amazing 8 day journey through the Highlands of Scotland back on day 14). I spent at least half an hour at the bridge savouring the views, taking pictures and having a look around the excellent visitors centre.

The afternoon was spend dodging traffic on B-roads as I made my way to Clevedon, only stopping for another short break at Failand. Clevedon is a small seaside town with a quaint Victorian pier. There are good views of Wales across the Bristol Channel from here, the TV in my room is tuned into Welsh regional channels.

Tomorrow morning I'm attending a MacMillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning event in Clevedon. After leaving I will make my way along the coast to Weston-Super-Mare, I'm meeting my parents there, they are travelling across from the New Forest to visit me on the walk. A blister formed under the small toe today on my right foot today, I can feel it a bit as I walk, but it's not really bothering me.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 25.45 miles, walking time 6 hrs 31 mins, average walking speed 3.9 mph

Weather; an overcast morning followed by light showers and sunny spells in the afternoon, max 19C

Cumulative mileage; 747.88 miles

Approaching the superb Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Concorde I saw by the runway at Filton Airport

A view of the North Somerset countryside on my way to Clevedon

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Day 34 Gloucester to Yate

Wednesday September 22nd 2010

One of the biggest pleasures of this walk is having the good fortune to meet so many kind-hearted people. I can now add Mary to that list after I was so well looked after during my stay in her home.

Fantastic news reached me from Wigan overnight. Lorna who walked with me on Day 25 has managed to raise a total of £174.05 for MacMillan Cancer Support. Thank-you so much to her and her sponsors for such a brilliant effort.

Surprisingly my legs felt very fresh this morning, no sign of any aches, pains, fatigue or stiffness after yesterdays 31 miles. After working my way through some housing estates I joined the A38 and headed south. Walking along a busy road for 12 miles isn't the best of fun, but I always had a footpath or cycle lane to use and it took me in a dead straight line exactly the way I needed to go.

After a short break for a cold drink and a bite to eat I was able to leave the A38 near Berkeley and take country lanes. The going was much more pleasant now, passing through rural areas with the roads mainly being used by tractors and the occasional horse rider. I went through some charming hamlets and villages like Tortworth.

At Michaelwood I went under the M5. It was strange passing by on foot when I have stopped so often at the Michaelwood Motorway Services during car journeys. Not far from there I was surprised to come across HMP Leyhill in it's rural setting. There are no high walls or barbed wire fences at this low security prison.

By mid-afternoon I fancied another cold drink in the warm sunshine. I had water in my pack, but nothing beats a cold one straight from the fridge. At Cromhall there were several signs directing passers by to the local shop, proudly 'run by the community'. Well, the community must have been having the day off, the shop was shut despite my arrival being right in the middle of it's advertised opening hours. I decided to keep going until I saw the next shop or open pub. Amazingly this wouldn't be until I reached Yate. Over the last couple of weeks it's been very easy for me to buy provisions whenever I like with shops seemingly everywhere. This afternoon was a reminder that I should never take the availability of food and drink for granted.

My final route towards Yate was along the B4058, busier than the lanes before it. When I arrived I finally found and enjoyed my cold drink, by this time my feet were telling me that they don't like a day on Tarmac as much as yesterdays grassy fields.

So, it's been another day and another marathon. Merle, sister of my partner Lea, and her husband Dave are very kindly putting me up in their Bristol home tonight. Dave has also gone to the trouble of picking me up from the Yate Milk & More depot in the rush hour traffic. I'm lucky enough to be getting the VIP treatment again and being provided with everything a weary traveller could possibly ask. Tomorrow, after resuming from Yate I will pass through central Bristol and over The Clifton Suspension Bridge as I make my way to Clevedon on the North Somerset coast.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 26.67 miles, walking time 6 hrs 31 mins, average walking speed 4.1 mph

Weather; hazy sunshine, max 20C

Cumulative mileage; 722.43 miles

Gloucester Cathedral

As I passed through the countryside I spotted this MacMillan sign

One of the many Gloucestershire chocolate box cottages

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Day 33 Worcester to Gloucester

Tuesday 21st September 2010

There was a thick fog in the air when I woke in Worcester this morning. After packing away my tent I keenly headed off south on the Severn Way, which handily runs right next to the spot where I'd camped.

It didn't start quite as well as I'd hoped, the overgrown grass in the first couple of fields was knee high and my trousers soon got soaked by the heavy dew. This was followed by walking along the side of a field of tall maize, then across a freshly ploughed field. The Severn Way joins the A38 near Clifton for a while, the road wasn't nearly as busy as I expected and there was a good footpath so I decided to stick with it for a while to cut out some meanders in the course of the river. In fact I decided to stick to the east bank of the Severn all the way to Tewkesbury (the Severn Way crosses over to the west bank). I picked up riverside footpaths again from Ryall, these were slow going in places with broken stiles and banks of stinging nettles as tall as me, but they gave me a reasonable enough off-road route the rest of the way.

By the time I arrived in town the sun had burned away the last of the fog. With nearly 14 miles covered it was time for lunch, I bought a sandwich in a supermarket and rested on a bench overlooking the River Avon. Tewkesbury was one of my favourite towns of this whole walk, it's full of character and there are many well preserved Tudor buildings. I saw very little evidence of the severe flood that hit the town in 2007.

With the sun shining I took the Severn Way all the way from Tewkesbury to Gloucester. It was much better terrain here, all the grass fields were kept well trimmed by the cows and sheep. I took a short afternoon break at The Red Lion Inn, it is in a fantastic location overlooking the Severn. I saw many caravan parks along the river through the day, all the static caravans are on tall stilts even though they are on ground several metres above the river. Presumably this is in case the 2007 floods are repeated.

When I reached the northern edge of Gloucester I left the river and made my way to the Milk & More depot. Unfortunately after a day of high mileage I arrived far too late to meet the Milk & More team. Then I pushed on another three miles to the south of the city. Mary who lives there has very kindly offered to put me up for the night, she is a relative of one of my milkround customers. I'm being very well looked after and Mary has already given me a generous donation for MacMillan. I've also had the pleasure to meet Mel and Alan while I'm here.

I'll sleep very well tonight after putting in the second highest mileage in a single day of my walk so far. It's back to the roads again tomorrow as I head for Yate on the northern outskirts of Bristol.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 31.19 miles, walking time 7 hrs 56 mins, average walking speed 3.9 mph

Weather; a foggy start, then bright spells, max 19C

Cumulative mileage;  695.76 miles
A typical section of the Seven Way between Tewkesbury and Gloucester

One of the riverside caravan on stilts in this flood prone area

Monday, 20 September 2010

Day 32 Redditch to Worcester

Monday 20th September 2010

This morning I set off from Redditch bursting with confidence. All the friends and relatives who saw me over my highly enjoyable birthday weekend were unanimous that I have lost weight and look tanned. That's enough to make anybody feel good, but to add to that the blister which has been an annoyance over the last few days seems to be fading away and within myself I'm feeling fitter than ever after a month on the road.

It was very easy to work out a route from Redditch to Worcester that avoided all A-roads completely. Some quiet lanes took me out into the countryside until I picked up footpaths through fields that lead to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which I joined near Hanbury. From there the canal with it's grassy towpaths goes all the way into the centre of Worcester. Having covered 12 miles by midday I took a break at the Fir Tree Inn at Oddingley.

Sometimes it almost feels like I'm doing a pub-crawl from John o'Groats to Lands End, not a walk. But quite honestly on days like today a pub is the only place on my path where I can rest my legs for a while, enjoy a cold drink and spend a penny. Also, in the evening the local inn is usually the best place to get a good value meal without feeling too out of place in my walking gear (I don't carry any other clothes or footwear).

In error I left the canal a bit earlier than I needed to in Worcester, so I made my way to the centre through some residential areas. After a quick stop for lunch I crossed the River Severn, pausing to look at the impressive cityscape and cathedral from the bridge. After passing the county cricket ground I arrived at the local Milk & More depot. I was welcomed there by two very friendly fellows, manager Dave and area manager Clive.

After leaving the depot I walked on another couple of miles to a lovely spot where I'm camping tonight, it's right next to the Severn and has views across to the Malvern Hills. Handily there's a pub next door (the best place to write a blog entry of course). Tomorrow my advance towards to the South West will continue when I walk to Gloucester. It will be another off-road day, I'm going via the Severn Way. All being well I should make the northern edge of Bristol on Wednesday afternoon.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 22.94 miles, walking time 5 hrs 35 mins, average walking speed 4.1 mph

Weather; bright spells and breezy, max 19C

Cumulative mileage; 664.57 miles
The Worcester and Birmingham Canal near Droitwich
Crossing the River Severn at Worcester

One of the peaceful lanes west of Redditch

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Day 31 Rest day in Redditch

Sunday 19th September 2010

Day 30 Sandwell to Redditch

Saturday 18th September 2010

While I was in Birmingham yesterday I bought two new pairs of socks to replace a couple of pairs that were getting worn out. The new ones are guaranteed not to wear out and prevent all blisters for at least 1,000 miles, we'll see, I started wearing them today.

After returning to Sandwell & Dudley railway station I continued my journey south through the West Midlands conurbation, the weather was perfect for walking. The first mile or so took me through industrial areas and under the M5. After that I found myself walking for several miles through affluent looking residential areas. It was all wide avenues and well kept semi-detached houses, quite different from the somewhat tattier areas I'd been passing through since Cannock Chase. I took my only break of the day at Northfield, enjoying lunch in the sunshine.

Not far south of Northfield I finally left the urban area when I entered Worcestershire. It was nice to get back into the countryside and have rural scenes to look at again. I decided to take the quickest route to Redditch, walking alongside the A441. On arrival at the Milk & More depot I met Brian, a very pleasant fellow. From there I had a quick look around the town centre before enjoying a very special moment. My partner Lea, who I haven't seen since I flew from Southampton Airport more than 4 weeks ago arrived to meet me. Sunday will be a rest day for me, spent with Lea.

On Monday morning I will resume walking from Redditch. My target will be Worcester as I begin to head towards the South West of England. By then I will be wearing my third pair of boots on this journey, I had a spare pair on standby at home that I've asked Lea to bring. They're identical to the pair that got me through Scotland completely trouble-free and I'm hoping this pair will get me the rest of the way to Lands End in similar fashion.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 16.48 miles, walking time 4 hrs 1 min, average walking speed 4.1 mph

Weather; sunny spells and a cool breeze, max 16C

Cumulative mileage; 641.53 miles

I had pleasant avenues and good weather to enjoy this morning

After passing this sign I re-entered the countryside after a couple of days in the city

In Redditch I saw this MacMillan shop

Friday, 17 September 2010

Day 29 Walsall to Sandwell

Friday 17th September

Today, my 44th birthday, was the shortest leg of my journey so far. I'm feeling fine physically but I need some time to catch up on things like laundry that I can't do when I spend the whole day walking. It's hard to get too excited about a 7 mile trek through the traffic choked streets of an urban sprawl. Near the start the Walsall Arboretum did give a brief moment of tranquility away from the rush hour traffic. A bit further on I was amused to see the badly named Carless Street. It was full of cars.

Although it's an ugly sight I was actually very pleased to walk under the elevated junction where the northern end of the M5 merges with the M6. The M6's path and mine have crossed many times since Carlisle, I won't be seeing it again though, my occasional companion from now on will be the M5 as we both head towards the South West.

By mid-morning I had reached the West Bromwich Milk & More depot, it was my pleasure to meet the manager Dave while I was there. After leaving I walked to a nearby rail station which gives me easy access to central Birmingham. I will return to the station tomorrow morning and continue south to Redditch.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 7.64 miles, walking time 1 hr 54 mins, average walking speed 4.0 mph

Weather, sunny spells and a cool breeze, max 16C

Cumulative mileage; 625.05 miles

Walsall Arboretum
The M5 meets the M6, a sight for sore eyes, but a pleasing landmark too.

'Carless' Street

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Day 28 Stone to Walsall

Thursday 16th September 2010

The weather gods still had it in for me this morning. As I left my hotel  a series of heavy showers decided to give Stone a good drenching. I dodged the first few by finding shelter, but it was wasting too much time so the waterproofs went on and I just carried on regardless.

Walking along a dual carriageway in the pouring rain is not the best way to spend a Thursday morning, but at least the A34 had a wide footpath to protect me from the traffic. I was making good speed and reached Stafford by mid-morning. The showers had stopped now and it looked like Stafford had seen hardly any rain compared to Stone. I didn't have time to stop but Stafford looked like an interesting place. The A34 took me a few miles further south until I left it to cross Cannock Chase.

To be honest Cannock Chase wasn't the most impressive area of outstanding natural beauty I've ever seen. It reminded me of The New Forest, but much smaller and without the ponies. I didn't stray too much from the road so perhaps I didn't get to see the best it has to offer. When I went into the woods to look at the Katya Memorial it had been removed for repairs. A bit further on I stopped at the war cemeteries, pausing there a while for thought.

Having already clocked up 17 miles without a break by lunchtime I decided to rest my legs and get a bite to eat in Hednesford. From there it took me another hour or so to reach the Chasetown Milk & More depot in Burntwood. It was a pleasure to meet hardworking manager Dave and roundsman Andy while I was there.

Another 7 miles of walking through the West Midlands conurbation brought me to Walsall where I'm staying tonight. Its amazing how the local accents are changing so noticeably day by day as I pass through England, for example the Brummie accent where I am this evening is totally different to the voices I heard in Stone in the morning.

After several days of high mileage I am going to give myself an easy day tomorrow, I will walk as far as the West Bromwich Milk & More depot before taking the afternoon off the catch up with laundry and other chores. On Saturday I will walk to Redditch, Sunday will be a rest day spent with family.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 28.32 miles, walking time 6 hrs 42 mins, average walking speed 4.2 mph

Weather; frequent heavy showers to start, then bright spells, more showers in the late afternoon, windy, max 18C

Cumulative mileage; 617.41 miles

Cannock Chase war cemetary


Errrrr, the Katya Memorial on Cannock Chase

Day 27 Crewe to Stone

Wednesday 15th September

After yesterday's unpleasant traffic I wanted to do my best today to avoid busy roads. A canal looked good for the second half of the day, but going from Crewe towards Stoke was a bit more tricky. I managed to work out a route that took me through the village of Haslington, Crewe Golf Club's course, footpaths though various fields and some quiet country lanes. Dodging mud, cow-pats and stinging nettles slowed me down a bit, but I'd pick the cows over the cars any day.

After going under the M6, which I've seen many times since Carlisle, I went through Alsager. On my way into town I saw The Biddle Barbers and decided to go in for a trim. A little while later I left with a free haircut and a generous donation for MacMillan. My opinion of the human race is getting higher and higher every day thanks to gestures like this.

Soon after Alsager I was able join the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal. It must have been very busy in it's day as all the locks are doubled. After a while I came to the very long (2,926 yards) Harecastle Tunnel. Pedestrians can't walk through so I needed to go another way. Without being asked the Tunnel Keeper kindly came over and gave me a sheet giving directions to the other side for walkers. It was quite a pleasant diversion going through peaceful Bathpool Park.

When the canal came into the Hanley district of Stoke I left it for a while to visit the city's big Milk & More depot. I met manager Degsy, his assistant Dave and various other staff. I didn't want to stay overnight in Stoke, preferring to use the afternoon to get more miles covered, but Degsy still went to the trouble of arranging accommodation in Stone, my intended destination. He also gave me enough money to buy enough food to last at least a day.

After leaving the depot the canal towpath took me through the busy urban areas of Stoke-on-Trent. I saw lots of industrial areas, some easier on the eye than others, also the Britannia Stadium. I stopped for a rest when I reached Barlaston. After there the towpath turned to grass, it had been paved all through Stoke. My feet like grass a lot at this stage of the walk, but unfortunately this section turned out to be a bit of a quagmire after all the recent rain.

Stone is a very pleasant town. Degsy happens to live locally and joined me for an evening drink. I was also delighted to get a surprise visit from my friend Alan. Today had been very pleasing, the mileage seemed quite easy and I'd avoided roads for the most part, I'd met some great people and my blister fears are easing. I've arrived in the Midlands now after leaving the North West. Tomorrow I plan to visit the Milk & More depot at Burntwood before making good progress towards Fridays target West Bromwich.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 25.44 miles, walking time 6 hrs 33 mins, average walking speed 3.9 mph

Weather; bright early, then windy and showers, max 18C

Cumulative mileage; 589.09 miles

A double lock on the Trent & Mersey canal

One of my walking partners this morning

The entrance to Harecastle tunnel, nearly 2 miles long

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Day 26 Warrington to Crewe

Tuesday 14th September

When I left the Victoria Lodge Hotel this morning the lady on reception handed me an envelope, it was to be the first donation to MacMillan of the day. She told me how close family and friends of hers had benefited from the organisation's wonderful services in the past.

The rain was falling again when I started walking. As I left Warrington I went over London Bridge, it crosses the Bridgewater Canal (not the Thames!). The A49, busy with rush-hour traffic, then took me across the M56. Once over the motorway I headed down the A559 Northwich Road. This was a nasty place to walk, busy with traffic and having only a very narrow footpath. I won't be spending any money in B&Q for a while, one of their lorries ploughed through a puddle and gave me a soaking when he could have easily moved a little into the other half of the road which had no oncoming traffic. When I approached a section that had no footpath at all and saw a warning sign saying '56 casualties in 3 years' I left the A-road and made the rest of my way to Northwich by country lanes. I did not fancy becoming casualty number 57.

The country roads were very quiet and a much nicer place to walk, I passed though pretty villages like Comberbach and Anderton and saw more of the canal. Entering Northwich the first thing that struck me was the huge ICI chemical works, I suppose they have to be built somewhere, but they can only be described as an eyesore. Right in the middle of all the works I crossed Winnington Bridge, a battle there in 1659 is considered to be the last of the English Civil War. Northwich's main shopping area looked very pleasant, being almost completely pedestrianised.

The Milk & More depot is very central in Northwich, just behind the pedestrianised area. When I arrived I was greeted by Mark and Ian who were on duty. They were a very friendly pair and after a long chat about the walk, the charity and general dairy stuff. I went on my way with a smile on my face and with a generous donation to MacMillan from both.

I didn't have to time to hang around because I wanted to walk the 12 miles to the Crewe depot before everybody there finished for the day. As I left Northwich the rain was really hammering down. The quickest route to Crewe was along King Street. It goes for several miles in a dead straight line, surely following an old roman road. It was OK to begin with, but when the road leaves Northwich the footpath disappears, it becomes narrow and is very busy. Huge HGVs come thundering towards you every few seconds, they can't pull out because there's just as much traffic going the other way, you just have to pray and dodge things as best you can, repeatedly getting covered in dirty spray. This stretch was awful, even worse than Northwich Road earlier in the day. I hated walking along here, it was easily the nastiest section of road on my walk so far. I managed to survive the ordeal to Middlewich where things were to become much easier. After more pleasant canal views and quiet country lanes I arrived at the Crewe Milk & More depot.

The Crewe depot's location is the total opposite to Northwich's, it is out in the country, I got there without seeing anything at all of Crewe itself. Manager Andy and several staff were still on site. I had another very warm welcome from a great bunch of people. Andy had already arranged a hotel for me for the night and gave me money to buy a meal. All the staff were very friendly and were keen to know about my walk. Again there was much generosity shown. When I left I had donations for MacMillan from Annette, Dennis and Lionel.

There were a couple of miles further to walk to make the hotel. Until this point my blister hadn't troubled me a day, but for some reason it felt sore for those last two miles, my shin seemed a little painful too. I will keep a close eye on both. The hotel turned out to be the classiest I've stayed at so far. This will be my third night in a row with a roof over my head at no cost to me thanks to my amazing colleagues at Milk & More.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 24.30 miles, walking time 6 hrs 2 mins, average walking speed 4.0 mph

Weather; wet morning, heavy showers in the early afternoon before turning dry, max 18C

Cumulative mileage; 563.65 miles

The plaque on Winnington Bridge
A picturesque old building near Crewe

I left this road here for obvious reasons

Monday, 13 September 2010

Day 25 Wigan to Warrington

Monday 13th September 2010

Today would turn out to be very different to any day on my walk so far. Until now this had been a one man event with me gradually making my way down the country completely alone.

Kev and Angela had been very kind to me during my overnight stay, the hospitality they showed to someone they'd never met before was unforgettable. I was very well fed, had a hot bath, a warm bed for the night, my clothes were washed, I was taken to the local pub to share a drink and introduced to their friends. Nothing seemed too much trouble. Even the neighbours joined in, a kind lady bringing me a packed lunch for the day shortly before I left.

On arrival at the depot I was shown around and introduced to manager Mick and the Milk & More team including Lorna who was to be my brave walking companion for the day. Lorna, Mick and myself then posed for a few shots for a local press photographer.

Lorna was very courageous to be the first person to volunteer to join me on the walk and had been busy raising sponsorship money for MacMillan before my arrival. She doesn't walk too much and wasn't sure how she'd do, but after meeting her I was confident that her determination to do her very best for such a good cause would be enough to carry her all the way.

The weather didn't make our task any easier. The rain started to fall almost as soon as we set off. During the first big downpour we took cover under a bus stop shelter and our waterproofs had to go on. We pressed on despite the rain, having somebody to talk to for a change really helped pass the time and took my mind completely off the weather and the walking. When we had covered a bit more than half the distance we stopped in a pub for a while to rest our legs and get in the dry for a bit.

After getting back on the road we passed Haydock Park racecourse before reaching the outskirts of Warrington. Lorna bravely pushed through a tough patch with a couple of miles to go, stubbonly refusing to give into her tired legs. Soon after the rain eased off enough for Lorna to take off the bulky Milk & More coat she'd had to wear to keep dry, from that moment on she seemed to grow stronger again and the last mile soon went.

We were both elated to reach our destination, the Howley Milk & More depot in Warrington. Lorna had managed to walk more than a half marathon in a shade over 4 hours despite the bad weather, a fantastic achievement. We had little time to rest though, another press photographer was waiting and within minutes of arrival we were posing for more pictures.

At Warrington I met office girl Lesley and manager Peter, he had very generously arranged local accommodation and a meal at no cost to myself. My place to stay for the night was a couple of miles to the south in the Stockton Heath district, the same way I shall be heading in the morning. I refused the offer of a lift and walked the extra distance to give me a little less to do tomorrow. On the way I crossed the River Mersey, then the Manchester Ship Canal via a huge swing bridge. Taking off my boots I noticed I have my first blister, it's below the ankle on my right foot, I didn't feel it at all while I was walking.

Tomorrow I shall be dropping in at two more Milk & More depots at Northwich and Crewe. Today had been a wonderful day and I was very fortunate to meet some great people. In particular I'd like to say an extra big thank-you to Lorna, Kev, Angela and Peter.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 15.44 miles, walking time 4 hrs 40 mins, average walking speed 3.3 mph

Weather; rain, max 18C

Cumulative mileage; 539.95

The Halliwell Jones Stadium, home of Warrington Wolves

Passing Haydock Park

Lorna took this picture of me next to an old mile marker

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Day 24 Garstang to Wigan

Sunday 12th September 2010

It was a sultry start to the morning, not ideal with a big pack on your back. The light showers that blew in every now and then were actually quite refreshing, the wind always picking up and the temperature dropping with each shower. Between Garstang and Preston I saw the canal passing under the road a couple of times, but I absolutely had to stick to the road today with my destination Wigan being 28 miles away by the shortest possible route.

After some pleasant countryside I passed through Preston, I didn't really see much there as the busy A6 bypasses the city centre. All I noticed were the museum, which was shut, and a prison. In keeping with everywhere else on my route so far there were hand car washes to be seen on many closed down petrol station forecourts. After crossing the Ribble I bought my lunch in a convenience store and ate it while I rested on a bench.

From Preston I walked to Wigan via the A49, this was a bit quieter and free of HGVs due to a very low bridge. The A49 took me past the edges of Leyland and Chorley. For some afternoon refreshment and a rest I stopped at the very pleasant Hinds Head Hotel at Charnock Richard.

As I got close to the centre of Wigan, after taking a shortcut through a boggy field and a cemetery, I saw crowds of Wigan Warriors rugby fans on their way to watch a big play-off match against rivals Leeds Rhinos. Wigan is a relatively small town, but it can boast a Premier League football club as well as a top class rugby league team. Soon after I finally arrived at the first Milk & More depot on my walk, supervisor Kev came out on his day off and met me. Kev and his wife Angela have very kindly offered to put up for the night in their lovely home.

Today I passed two pleasing landmarks; 500 miles and 1 million steps. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to walking to the Howley depot with Lorna, a Milk & More office girl at Wigan.

GPS data click here

Mileage today; 28.75 miles, walking time 7 hrs 0 mins, average walking speed 4.1 mph

Weather, sunny spells and light showers, max 19C

Cumulative mileage; 523.81 miles

A reminder of the past near Wigan
Good weather and beautiful scenery at Charnock Richard

The River Ribble at Preston

About Me

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Exmouth, Devon, United Kingdom
Hi :) I'm a 49yo father of three from Exmouth, a lovely seaside town in Devon. In parts of Exeter I'm well known as the local milkman where I've been making traditional doorstep deliveries for 15 years.