It started well. I had planned a route from the Conham River Car Park on the outskirts of Bristol, along the Avon to Bath. The signs said it was 14 miles. What could be more pleasant?
The first two and a half miles, to the Chequers Pub at Hanham Lock is my normal training base for my five miles during the week walks. The path is clearly defined and even at 8.30 you meet a constant stream of joggers (often shapely lycra clad young ladies), cyclists (invariably lycra clad men who could do with losing a few pounds) and stacks of folks walking their dogs. There is a rather glamorous older lady on a horse who I meet now and again.
Joy of joys, I saw a Kingfisher for the first time in the wild. What a glorious sight as it took flight. I rather assumed that the whole walk would be like this. It was not.
Shortly after Hanham the path rather disappeared and I found myself walking through fields. Sometimes patterns in the grass suggested there was a path somewhere, often there were no patterns. At the edge of each field a metal kissing gate gave me renewed hope that I was on the right track.
I ploughed on, making reasonable time but at the village of Swineford the track stopped altogether and I found myself staring at a road and a not yet open pub, the Swan. I could see no sign so wandered along the road towards Bath for a third of a mile and finding nothing wandered back again. I met a man and asked directions. I retraced my steps heading back along the road towards Bath as instructed. After about a mile there was a footpath market down towards the river.
I took the path but by the time I got to the village of Kelston I had my hands above my head as I pushed through deep nettles. I do not wish to sound like some angry townie rambler but, well, I was an angry townie rambler at that point. Cut back your fecking nettles Kelston. Wandering through Kelston I met other walkers: a young man who, like me. had a back pack and who overtook me and than raced on ahead and then four folks who looked to be about sixty who I overtook! Hooray. That was a first and I had nine miles under my belt already at that point. I paced on, conscious that the skies were darkening.
It was at this point that not looking in more detail at the route proved my downfall, for I should have crossed the river. I did not. As I continued, I noticed that the paths had disappeared altogether, that there were no walkers and that I was walking through fields packed with cows who seemed not entirely familiar with ramblers. The terrain got tougher and tougher. There were no paths. No kissing gates just rusty old farmers gates to mount but I convinced myself that keeping the river to my right would get me to Bath.
Eventually I reached a field with only one exit. I had to jump a stream, clamber over an old rusty gate that cannot have been used in decades and I found myself in field with grass up to my chest. As I wandered through it, I saw big red signs at the end “Private land No Entrance, Ramblers and working Class People will be shot!”. Okay I made the last bit up but I recognised the game was up and seeing an exit at the top of the field I started to climb a track that cannot be used more than once a month.
It was a hard old, very steep, climb of 400 yards or so which left me breathless but at the end I was at a road and I headed right towards Bath. The views overlooking the river valley far below were spectacular and pretty soon I reached the outskirts of Bath. I walked almost to the Centre where the Mrs met me with her motor.
Thanks to getting lost twice and my unusual route I easily managed fifteen miles. I really did worry at one stage that I was completely lost and that there would be no way out other than swimming the river. I have no blisters to report which is good. I know that as an ex smoker a few years ago I’d have been gasping for breath but my lungs seemed fine. In that department I could carry on all day. My feet and legs were fine at the end and I am fairly confident that I could have carried on at my 3mph pace for another couple of hours or so, without collapsing but by the time I got home they were sore and seizing up. So all the articles I planned as I marched past the cows must be postponed. It was straight to bed where I slept like a log.
On balance, I have learned a valuable lesson about reading maps more carefully but I take heart from my stamina and so plan a 20 mile walk this weekend coming up.
This is all in preparation for my 32 mile walk on July 28 with fellow financial journalist Brokerman Dan who, I suspect, is already doing twenty mile walks without breaking a sweat. He is a smug bastard! So far we have raised £7,639.16 ( or just over £9,000 with gift aid). As you laugh at the idea of me scrambling up a steep slopes through grass tall enough to get me panicking about snakes; as you consider the pain of my legs stiffening yesterday and ponder me staring carefully at each cow I approached to make sure that it was not a bull, I am sure you can donate a tenner to a great cause. Please do so HERE.