Out on a McMooch (I)

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Looking back over Corrie Fee and Glen Doll from the plateau

That was an achievement, not just scaling the Mordor like steps and paths up the face of Corrie Fee, laden with rucksack, laden with kit, laden with thoughts.

Just getting there, just getting to Scotland was a task.

The time had come for the trip away up the road, to take in a few days on The Cateran Trail, a 60 odd mile circular route in Angus and Perthshire that took in the Cairngorms National Park and some wild camping in Glen Doll and Glen Clova. The Cateran Trail named after the reiver Caterans that came across to the fertile Eastern Glens and rob the cattle and crops under the cloak of night. It followed the trails and paths that these Caterans took to carry out their nefarious deeds, spilling blood and destroying what they couldn’t carry. Buoyed up by theses tales, we were looking forward to getting on the trail.

We had decided against flying, air fares are pricey and you were limited to the amount of kit that you can take, no gas allowed, it would have to be sourced up there, that can be a task on its own, even before a boot has hit the trail. Driving, not really practical for our trip this time, as we were walking, the logistics of leaving the car and getting back to it would be too constrictive. As well as doing the majority of the Cateran, we wanted to get into the Cairngorms and get some higher altitude wild camping done. It was decided that we would travel by train. The tickets were slightly more reasonable than flying and the journey time was quicker than driving, surely a win win, right?

Um, no, not a win win.

To be honest, not even close…cue dramatic music…

We got to Norwich station early, eager to get the journey done and stride out on the trail for a few miles in the early evening, pitch up a wild camp and get into the swing of things of being off grid for a few days.

Thats where it started to go a bit wrong.

I’m a bit of an over thinker (those that know me, know that its more than just a bit) I wanted to get to the station early, to be in the right frame of mind, to set myself up mentally for the journey that lay ahead. Every possible permutation of issue and problem to do with the journey had been duly thought over, fretted over and mulled over for good measure. I had allowed myself a treat, I wasn’t going to worry about this journey, it wasn’t going to be easy, it certainly wasn’t going to be easy, but I was going to give it my all. I was in a good place, it felt good, really good to feel like this, I just wanted to be up the road, on the trail, free.

I looked at the departure board, cancelled, our train was cancelled. This would have put me into a spiral, I would have gotten very anxious about how we were going to get to Scotland and it would have made me feel sick. For a split second there was the dry heave of anxiety trying to claw its way from my gut to my head…

I slammed the door shut on that.

No.

Not today.

You’re not going to win today you fuck.

Instead of flapping and getting worked up, I wanted to solve the issue, I wanted to find a solution, it was ok, the next train was delayed, but was still going to get us to Peterborough in time to make the connection to Edinburgh, the planets were aligning to get us there. The lads I was travelling with, Al and Doug, are two laid back people, I worry and fret enough for the three of us. They carried on sipping their lava like coffee, whereas I was off like a whippet to the information office to see how we could move forward and start the journey to Edinburgh. I listened to what the man in front of me was being told, then it came over the tannoy that the delayed train had now been cancelled. This was testing me now, I could feel the dry heave come back and spread through my body, this would then turned to anger, as I disliked the situation and for me to cope I would get shouty and generally be unpleasant (like a moody teen, its not trait I’m proud of).

But,

From where this sense of calm had come from, I wan’t sure, but I wasn’t going to question it, go with it, ride this wave of zen. The chap behind the counter could see that I was about to ask a question, he asked me to wait for a couple of minutes. I did, he came back to me, I explained that we needed to get to Peterborough. The train to Liverpool Street was going to make an unscheduled stop at Stowmarket so that those that were going to Peterborough could get there. This was music to my ears, Smiling I thanked the chap for the information and went to get Al and Doug, who were still trying to sip their lava like coffee.

We were on our way, we were getting closer to the start of the trail.

The train from Stowmarket was delayed, we had stood with the rucksacks from Norwich and now had to do the same to Peterborough. I was still feeling quite zen about the situation, this though was being tested.

We missed our train to Edinburgh by twenty minutes because of the delay at Stowmarket. Another wait, another cup of lava like coffee. Thought to myself that perhaps I should lay off the old caffeine, whilst it’s beverage that I really enjoy and I consume a lot of, it has the potential to become a cup of anxiety if I’m not in the right frame of mind. This journey was rapidly affecting my frame of mind. Before that could take hold, the next train to Edinburgh came to a halt at the platform edge.

The rucksacks were thrown into the train carriage, what joy! We were going to have to stand, stand we did, all the way to Darlington. The clickety click of the movement of the train was quite melodic and was making us sleepy, have you tried sleeping standing up? It’s quite an odd sensation, granted I was able to lean against the bags for support, but I managed a micro sleep of some description. Hardly enough to sate the fatigue of travelling, in fact it made me feel more tired, I do find it odd when that happens. This musing passed into mild elation as we were able to get seats at Darlington and reclined in relative comfort, the journey became less arduous.

The train got us into Edinburgh, now for the final leg of the journey, onward to Montrose. The station at Waverley is massive, it felt like we were walking for miles in order to get to the right platform for the train, to complete our journey, or at least this portion of it.

Buoyed up by seeing the train for Montrose and by luck we had literally a few minutes to get on board…

Only to be told by the platform guard that we would be unable to get tickets on the train, they would have to be purchased before boarding, in order to get through the barriers.

Now, normally this wouldn’t be an issue (to be honest, it wasn’t really an issue in this case, its just that the driver had been seen getting onboard and the engine started and I was getting a wee bit fractious, it had been a long day and every part of the journey had been elevated to ball ache status) With now literally seconds to go before the train starting pulling out of the station, following a slapstick comedy of fumbling hands, incorrectly keyed in pin codes, waiting what appeared to be an actual aeon, the tickets spewed forth in a glacial manner. sprinting to the barrier, we were granted access, as the announcement stated the next train (our train) was about to leave the platform (the one we were running down) to Montrose. Running with fully laden rucksacks isn’t the most pleasant pastime, it did however wake up the legs after a few hours of relative inactivity, we hopped aboard as the doors closed, we had made it by the skin of our teeth.

At last! at last, a part of the adventure was going our way. Thats when the dynamic of the pretty terrible journey changed. We were chuckling, sipping whisky from hip flasks, chatting, we were enjoying the jaunt, we were feeling  good. Only another ninety minutes and we would be able to get our boots onto the trail.

The seven hour trip had become nearly twelve hours.

It had taken a long time,

But we were here,

We were in Scotland, in Montrose, in my sisters car, off to the start of the Cateran Trail.

Even with the delay we would be able to get out on the path and stride out for a mile or three. This was good.

 

Pen y Ghent and Long Mires

DSCF1810One of the highlights of the second day of our Dales adventure was ascending the magical Pen y Ghent, its double stepped ridges and plateau dominating the surrounding countryside, echoing the distinctive flat topped outline of its slightly larger brother (or sister) mountain Ingleborough. We were in high spirits, a chance to climb, a chance to look at the trail from on high, we were looking forward to this.

The morning hadn’t started as buoyantly, it started raining at about 4.00am, at first light, you saw the cloud rolling in at ground level.

I’ve not slept in a cloud before, all I can say is, its wet. The open ended tarp and wind direction meant that Al got the main brunt of the drizzle and then heavier rain, stoically and with admired aplomb he slept through most of it, awakening every so often to shift position and then drifting back to sleep. His sleeping bag was soaked, bivi bag too, luckily I wasn’t too badly affected, the water had collected under my bivi bag but hadn’t breached it. A lesson was learnt here folks, its ok to put a secondary tarp down as a ground sheet when it looks like there will be no rain, we had the tarp in an open ended configuration and this allowed the rain to enter, after this we ensured this wouldn’t happen again and we would think of a better configuration to use, to offer more protection from inclement weather. In the damp, brews were made, consumed, then the joyous job of packing up wet kit. Luckily we have learnt from many long distance walks the absolute necessity for dry bags. By having kit stowed in the dry bags, it helps to keep the interior of the rucksack in ‘some’ semblance of order, compartmentalising the load, it also helps to keep dry kit dry and stops wet kit soaking everything else and making the pitch up at that nights camp miserable by having to get into damp clothes or damp doss bag. As is second nature to us, we broke camp and ensured that it looked like it did when we pitched up. Flattened grass being the only sign that we had ever been there. Not going to bang on, but it infuriates me and many, many other wildcampers and people that love the Great Outdoors, are faced with deluge of rubbish that others carelessly leave all over the show, I appreciate that not all of it is done maliciously, things do fall out of pockets, but if you’ve brought into the field with you, have the decency to carry it out of the field and dispose of it or recycle it correctly. Here endeth the lesson.

Rucksacks loaded, they were swung onto achey shoulders, the grooves in the shoulders not yet developed , still sore, it would take another day or so for that to improve. We were on our way by 8.15am, plenty of walking to be done. No breakfast, we would do that later, wanting to get some miles under our belts, protein bars and bananas adding sustenance, we hit the trail.

We walk past the tarn and Malham House FSC (Field Studies Council), a fantastically sited complex for out door pursuits and groups of folks to stay there. As we walked past after filling up water bottles, we saw groups of school children getting ready for a day of activities in the hills and on the tarn. Before long we left the tarmac drive of Malham House and head back onto the Pennine Way path, Fountains Fell our objective to get some food down us. The ascent starts in the rolling hills of a sheep farmers fields. Plodding on between heavy showers and warming sunshine, coats on, coats off, coats on, coats off seem to be the order of the day, inter spliced with wine, whisky and song (bawdy First World war marching songs adding to the thread of our upward walk). It is a fairly long drawn out ascent to the top of Fountains Fell, moods lifted by seeing a cairn situated near to a dry stone wall, this would offer us a place to dump rucksacks and get some food on.

The wind at the top of Fountains Fell that blew across gave us ample opportunity to get some gear dry. The bivi bags cracking and whipping about like voluminous wind socks, drying in minutes, a sight we would have been for other walkers who summitted Fountains Fell. Bivi bags safely stowed after drying, Al began the arduous task of drying sleeping bag and sundry items that had had a dosing during the inclement morn. Ad hoc drying implements where hastily constructed,  a sleeping mat wedged betwixt upright walking poles, sleeping bag draped over the dry stone wall, the ripping wind drying as it blew over. With this hiatus, stoves we’re sparked up, exped breakfasts were go!

Seeking shelter out of the biting wind, the food was enjoyed, in as much that rehydrated clag can be enjoyed, it provided welcome calories, with a swig of whisky, all was well. Then it hailed, fast and ferocious, pelting us like scatter shot, luckily Al had managed to stow his just dry gear. Then it rained, a spiteful shower of intensity that blew over as soon as it had burst, then the sun came out, fuelling the old adage of all seasons in one hit, for us in one thirty second hit.

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Heading down

Suitably sustained, we started to descend the Fell, the next target in sight, the double stepped silhouette of Pen y Ghent, its name derived from the Celtic “Penn” meaning a hill, usually pointed (Richard Muir: Landscape Encyclopaedia 2004,p.204). The path leading us to the valley floor, soon tarmac was under our feet, plodding toward the path to start the ascent of the mountain.

The sky remained overcast, clouds bursting to our left and right, we encountered a couple of ultra runners running the Pennine Way. They stopped for a welcome breather and offered to take our photo, after a brief chat they were off, scooting up towards Pen y Ghent. Their brightly coloured base layers pinpointing them conspicuously against the greens of the mountain. At the base of the ‘Ghent, the path sharply steepened, nearby was a crossroads of sorts where two paths crossed, a five minute rest was called, gleefully the heavy rucksacks were dropped from shoulders and used as chairs.

Upwards, upwards, stop for a few seconds, stretch tightened calves, upwards, upwards, pause to look back at the path you were climbing up and away from, the road that we had turned off to start the ascent, curving and winding like a snake far below us.

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Contemplating what lay ahead

A scree field confronted us, we were able to skirt round it, scrabbling up well polished rocks, keeping the all important three points of contact at all times, the trusty walking poles now somewhat redundant in this part of the ascent. Then it rained. At least we had cleared the scrabbling portion of the climb, we were on the haul to the plateau, a gentler incline, energy sapping none the less, even more so as we were now head to toe bedecked in wet weather gear, slowly steam boiling in the ‘breathable’ waterproofs.

The rain had made the slabs that lead the walker to the summit almost treacherous, iridescent patches on the stones surface indicating leached oil, care was taken not to go pissballing over, onward we plodded, then we glimpsed the shelter at the top and the trig point, we were there, we were at the summit of Pen y Ghent. We took seat in the dry stone constructed shelter, within minutes the squall had passed us by, we were able to gaze over the vista in glorious sunshine. It was a good moment.

It was such a great feeling to be 694m up, on all of our past walks, we have had to cover the miles in order to get the daily allocation completed to ensure  the walk would be finished on time. This adventure allowed us to get some elevation rather than banging the miles out, a very welcome change and one I’d like to repeat on future expeditions.

A celebratory whisky was handed around and pinches of jerky were consumed. A chat with a couple of fellow walkers, jesting about the fact that we were from the flatter Eastern Lands of Britain, all of us united by the fact that we were all atop Pen y Ghent at this time.

The descent was easier in some respects than the ascent, laid stone slabs making a staircase, a great way to lose altitude quickly. Two thirds of the way down, the Pennine Way snaked off towards Horton (the fabled start/finish of the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge) and a barely discernible path lead off to the right. We had a breather.

We trod off the path and started on the boggy marshy section of the day, across Long Mires, an odd surface to walk upon, not feeling completely solid, as though you might break through and sink up to your middle ála Dr. Gloster. Sapping your strength further with every footstep, wearied legs now calling out for respite, the tarp to be pitched and to be recumbent. Onwards we plodded, over rolling hillocks, the sun on our backs, as we were traversing a bog the opportunity to take the weight off of tired aching feet didn’t present itself, the day was beginning to drag.

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Across the bog

There was a stream to cross, not in full spate, but difficult enough with fully laden bergens. Eagle eyed, we were trying to find the best place to attempt a crossing without a soaking, this entailed walking upstream, then dejectedly turning round and walking back downstream when there was no easy place to traverse. We could get halfway, to tiny islets, but then it got too deep to wade through or the stones were too precarious to trust not to topple you and your kit into the babbling stream. Then it disappeared.

The stream sank back into the limestone from whence it came, like the plug had been pulled and the sink was draining away. Relieved that we weren’t going to have to endure soaking kit, we had five minutes, of course as soon as we stopped it started to rain, we looked at each other, fatigue starting to take hold. Standing there getting wetter, it was decided that the shower was going to last longer than first thought, wet gear was reluctantly pulled on. Here the bog had a more discernible path to follow and follow it we did. Now began the game that we like to play at the end of a tiring day, find the place to pitch up…

Nothing was springing out immediately, we don’t ask for much, just enough space for three to lay out , alas nothing was forthcoming. We had to continue onwards, eventually we came across a ruined sheep pen, here, here we would pitch up. After some light landscaping (boulder removal, which were replaced when we left the next morn) the tarps were up, bed rolls laid out, scoff on. The wine was passed around with gusto, it had been a long day, we drank deeply and enjoyed the opportunity to be off of our feet. Nature was providing the visual entertainment, a glorious sunset.

Food had been consumed and we were dog tired. D drifting off to sleep first, breathing turning to snores as sleep took hold. A long and beasting day over, recumbent we admired the view, through a red wine mist.

Adventure in the Dales, Malham & the Pennine Way

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Looking at the wonder of Malham Cove in the evening light

We left Norwich on thursday morning, in the murk and light drizzly rain, a drastic change to the unbroken sunshine that we have had for weeks. The mile or so walk to the train station in the drizzle, evaporating with each footstep, the expectation of adventure gripping us. The pull for the trail was strong and this morning we were off to find adventure.

Al, Doug and I, brimming with rucksacks and kit virtually skipped to the station. This adventure was going to be a different experience to our usual forays away. For a number of years we have undertaken walking a long distance trail or other, last year we did the South Downs Way, this year we wanted a change. Instead of a linear walk, we wanted to do some miles of the Pennine Way and get up some hills, get some elevation, rather than smashing the miles out, looking at the hills and mountains and wishing that we could be up there looking out over the landscape. So thats what we did. We were heading to the Yorkshire Dales to spend a couple of days on the Pennine Way and then ping across to the Howgills and get some hills in and then head back into the Dales to get the train home.

The train journey was quite uneventful, brightened by the fact that each minute passing in the carriage, was another minute closer to starting on the trail. One hiccup, at Peterborough, our connecting train to Leeds had been cancelled, no matter, we were able to get a train to Grantham and continue as planned. Very soon into the journey, the landscape that stretched out before us began to change, the tree lined Brecks giving way to the featureless and billiard table flatlands of the Fens to the hilly beauty of Yorkshire and the dramatic vertical shift of the Dales. It was on.

We alighted the train at Gargrave and it rumbled on, getting smaller as it clacked along the tracks on it’s way to Lancaster. Quick pitstop in the village to pick up needed supplies, we each filled our hydration packs and decanted wine into sports juice bottles (getting the necessities squared away), soon we were good to go.

The sun was shining and cotton ball clouds dotted the sky, we were soon leaving Gargrave and entering the hinterland of the settlement and the path proper.

The ascent was steady and enjoyable, a great way to stretch the legs after hours of train travel, ascending into the verdant green meadows and lush  fields along an old Drovers path, either side of us a sea of green. It was a warm summers day, not so hot that it was uncomfortable, a welcome breeze dabbing our brows from the perspiration that had begun to bead with the exertion of our walking. At a path crossways, we encounter another soul out enjoying the landscape. Eating his lunch, homemade sandwiches, his dog wanting to be fed as well, eagerly and longingly eyeing up the sandwich, ready to strike if any should hit the ground. A pleasant five minute chat was had, enquiring Where we are off to? How far we’ve been? Where we’re from? Us asking the same of him, glorious interaction, the language of the trail.

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Navigating a Dales style

Cheery farewells as we continue and leave him to finish his lunch, the dog still waiting for a titbit to drop. The rolling hills take us up, down, up and down, upward and downward, cheery smiles from my chums, we are on the trail proper. The miles that are being trodden are bringing us closer to our target for the first day. We are heading to Malham, to visit the Cove and head onto the Tarn and the first wildcamp pitch of our journey. Buoyed by the glorious weather and absorbing the landscape, the ache that starts in the shoulders from carrying the rucksack, being ignored until the weight is taken off. We take a break by a river, reclining against rucksacks, snacks being offered about, happy to be on the trail, happy just to look at the countryside around us. Getting to the bridge we sat against, we had to pass another stone style, the upper rock polished from the many, many hands that have gripped there for purchase to get them over the obstacle, the many, many hands of those trail pilgrims that had passed before us, each one of us taking hold in the same place, polishing the stone just a little bit more, adding to its sheen that will last longer than the brief seconds we spent there as we carried on.

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The polished patina from the thousands of hands that have passed this way.

 

 

Soaking up the view, the tree lined landscape, we are serenaded by the high pitched chirp chirp of swallows as they wheeled and cajoled overhead, the perfect soundtrack to our resting place.

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Dales vista

We swing the rucksacks onto sweat soaked backs, the base layers wicking the moisture away as best possible, but it is always damp. Malham hoves into view, the vista vying for attention with the stunning Goredale Scar, unfortunately with time against us, we reluctantly agree to leave visiting Goredale for another time. We press on into Malham, stopping at the Buck Inn for a restorative pint (or two) of Heptons Dark Horse, here we converse with another trail soul, five days into the Pennine Way, a solo walker from the Czech Republic, we cheer him on as he leaves to continue his journey. I’ve wanted to visit Malham Cove for some time and was never sure when I’d get the opportunity and was actually quite giddy as we approached it. Basking in the evening golden light, it really did take my breath away transfixing my gaze, my memory drinking it all in, not wanting to miss any part of it.

As we walked toward it, mouth agape, soaking it up, I looked at the crest of the Cove and by a solitary tree I spot a Kestrel hovering, hunting for its prey, I look away, look back and the Kestrel has gone. Malham Cove is an immense wall of stone, a natural edifice, a cathedral of stone, it encapsulates you. I have a huge sense of elation at finally being here, part of my pilgrimage completed, I am happy. I am in my happy place, I’m outside, in my natural environment.

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Looking over the edge

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Sprouting out of the limestone

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karrens, grykes and clints

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Looking back to the path that led to the Cove

We set about climbing the 430 odd stone hewn steps to the top of the Cove, restored by the beer, we clamber to the summit, again, a mouth open moment. The plateau is made up of a limestone pavement, covered with pits and hollows, called karren, with grykes and clints, these are the fissures that make the appearance of the limestone pavement so recognisable. Rucksacks off, exploration of the summit is in order, playfully looking over the edge as close as we dared, its a sheer drop to the floor of the cove some 260 feet (80 metres) below. Some climbers are scaling the bottom third of the Cove, not my bag I must say, but I admire them for getting out there and enjoying it.

Enjoying the ambience of the summit, the golden glow of the light creating warm tones, casting huge shadows and enveloping us in warmth, until the sun starts to creep lower in the sky. Time is pressing, we need to get near to Malham Tarn in order to be able to find a wildcamping pitch. Onwards we trudge and are soon confronted with another cathedral of stone. A dry valley with great stone clad sides that swallow us as we walk along, in awe of the majesty of the place, the light creating glorious hues, we keep on keeping on.

We ascend higher to the top of the valley and look back towards the Cove, back along the path we have traversed, the sky divided, bisected with cloud formations and contrails from passing aircraft cut across the sky. The 3/4 of a mile to the Tarn soon passes and we find a suitable spot to pitch the tarp, against a dry stone wall overlooking the Tarn. The tarp goes up in the last vestiges of daylight, a glorious rosy glow illuminating the sky, sunset, sunset on the first day of our adventure. The sound of Oystercatchers calling resound across the Tarn, accompanied by the hiss of gas stoves as dinner was prepared, red wine being swug from bottles. A great end to a great first day. Bed rolls put together, we’ve been looking forward to getting our heads down. Sleeping the sleep of those that have earned it.

Scoff on. Wine drunk. Dreams of the trail.

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Thats when it happened

It was a Friday afternoon at work, nothing untoward about that, mundane if truth be told. I worked at a high end Jewellers in Norwich, we were quiet with customers, so I had been tasked with stock taking some of the Swiss watches.

Thats when it happened

It was 3.19pm July 28th 2006 and I was about to change.

Not in a good way, most certainly not in good way, most definitely not in a good way.

Not in a good way at all.

I had a number of these Swiss watches on the counter and I was checking the stock numbers against the stock control sheets, when the door buzzer went. Nonchalantly I looked up from my task, there were two other colleagues in the shop with me, so whilst I was aware that somebody wanted to come in, I wasn’t paying huge attention to them, my colleagues had this covered.

Thats when I saw them

He bundled in like a cartoon character, dark sunglasses on , sun hat pulled down over the top of the sunglasses, he looked like Manny from The Stone Roses, some shitty sports tracksuit top zipped right up. His two accomplices dressed similarly, one didn’t have a hat on as I remember, he held the door. This in a split second had my full attention, the door has an electric lock and to needs to be shut fully to properly lock, he was preventing this. ‘Manny’ as we’ll call him didn’t even need to open his mouth for me to know that we were in the process of being fucked. It even played in my head like the scene in ‘Lock, stock and two smoking barrels’ “Charles get the rifle out, we’re being fucked”.

By this point everything had gone into uber slow motion, seconds did literally feel like minutes or hours, it was playing like a film, not like real life, not like my real life, not like how my real life should play out.

‘Manny’ had now bundled into the middle of the shop and had reached down to his waistband and pulled out a ‘firearm’ and then started shouting, not the angry shout of an angry individual, a shout of someone who wanted to get his point across. As soon as I saw the gun, he had my, our, full attention. He then went to one of my female colleagues and punched her in the chest with the firearm, shouting “Get down, this is a mother fucking raid, get on the fucking floor, this is a fucking raid, don’t you understand? this is a fucking raid, get on the fucking floor” Over and over he shouted this. We stayed standing, the three of us in the shop were struck rigid, the lady that he punched stood there, the lady by the till, she stood where she stood, we all stood there.

Thats when I moved

I was told later by the lady standing by the till, at this moment that I moved, she said she would always be scared of me. She said that my eyes went black and I let out a cry “How fucking dare you!” * and that I went for him.

As I remember, ‘Manny’ had gone over to my colleague and punched her, his mate had pulled a hammer out of his bag and was shaking it menacingly, the other one was still holding the door. I remember saying something but I wasn’t sure what it was, it turned out to be *, this had gotten their attention, he turned from the lady he had hit and they both turned towards me. If it had been going in slow motion, time had very almost stopped by this point as far as I was concerned. ‘Manny’ came towards me doing that sideways gangsta gun stance “Don’t YOU understand mother fucker, this is a fucking raid, do as I say, get on the fucking floor” closer, closer, they approached, hammer boy shaking his hammer more threateningly, I remember thinking “If he hits me with that thing, it’ll either paralyse me or fucking kill me.” ‘Manny’ was getting closer, waving the ‘gun’ in my face at this point, they had backed me into a corner, I had nowhere else to go, no escape route and the only way out was past these two cunts.

I felt like my legs had turned to lead. I stood there.

Thats when he pistol whipped me

That was after he pointed the ‘gun’ at my head, I remember looking out the corner of my left eye, looking down the barrel, something didn’t look quite right with the ‘gun’ It was all happening quickly, I couldn’t be absolutely sure, was it a real gun? We are talking about split seconds here, the brain is a fantastic thing, performing all sorts of complex calculations and replaying memories from my adolescent teenage years. I had had BB guns when I was younger, I knew what the interior of the barrels looked like, but with this milli second glance, I wasn’t sure if this was a BB one or if it was real. It was confirmed when he hit me with it.

He whipped me around the face and head with it three times, I just stood there, my head moving with the impact of each blow. This is when I wanted to piss myself, because at this moment I knew it wasn’t real, the way he hit me, if it had been real it would have split my skin open and I would have fallen to the floor as he wasn’t lightly tapping me with it. (It was in fact a replica BB gun) I wanted to piss myself with pent up relief, being terrified, literally a million other emotions, I wanted to piss myself because it had evened itself up a bit, I distinctly remember thinking “Right you cunt”.

This is when I moved

I remember going for him, exchanging blows to the head, me punching him, him punching me, him gobbing on me, me punching him, spinning around in the shop grabbing hold of him, him trying to let go, to get away, round and round we went, exchanging punches and both wildly shouting. The one with the hammer and the one holding the door had both left, as soon as it wasn’t going to plan for them, they made good their escapes, the door left open. we were going round and round, him trying to get out of my clasp, me trying to punch him further and trying to kick the door shut I was told by my colleagues that I shouted “Shut the fucking door, I’m going to keep this cunt in here, I’m going to kill him”.

Thats when he got away

I saw him dart for the door, to get away, I managed to hit his head with the door a couple of times, I wanted to hurt him so fucking badly, I wanted to hurt him in the same way that he had made me fear for my life.

Thats when he got out of the door

I ran after him, down the street, conscious that a crowd had gathered outside the shop and they were all staring, watching this ‘drama’ unfold in front of them. I was shouting as I chased him, I ran for about a hundred yards or so, I had nothing left, all the adrenaline that I had, had been expended. What if they were waiting down the street? There were three of them, only me. I stopped and returned to the shop.

The whole affair from beginning to end had taken less than a minute.

This less than sixty seconds had changed me.

It didn’t happen straight away, but happen it did. Intense highs, spiralling, crippling lows. Not being able to have people I wasn’t used to walk near me, couldn’t have anybody walk behind me. Angry a lot of the time, defensive, very guarded, prone to intense explosions of rage, wanting to fight people, wanting to drag people from their cars if I thought they had cut me up. Loss of confidence, becoming very anxious and long periods of despairing depression, I had the full complement. I however, thought I was dealing with it, I had had a couple of sessions with a counsellor after the event, I thought I didn’t need anymore, I thought I had this nailed. I couldn’t be more wrong.

I started playing it over in my head, it seemed to occupy my conscious hours, like a fucking horrible dream. To feel his shitty tracksuit top slip from your grasp, to play that moment over and over in your head, and I do mean over and over, over and over and over and over, filled me with an intense rage, made me so very angry and this anger was always bubbling under the surface, the slightest infraction was enough for me to go ballistic. I would get angry over anything and everything, angry at everything except what I should have been concentrating my emotions on, getting myself better. To talk to somebody that I had problems, meant that I was conceding that I did have a problem, as far as I was concerned, as I have said, I had this. Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Long story short, that was my problem, I wasn’t dealing with this mental trauma that I had been involved with, I had locked it up in a box and thrown away the key, this box though, was bulging and wanting to explode, it wanted to be processed and dealt with, I see that now, but at the time I couldn’t or more likely didn’t know how to deal with it. It was my issue to deal with and I’d deal with it in my own way.

They caught ‘Manny’ at Liverpool Street Station a few months later, he had left a bag unattended and the Transport Police waited for him to collect it, then asked his name, which he gave and they arrested him. Him gobbing on me had been the key to his arrest, the Police took a swab of his spit on my face and there was a DNA hit from Interpol from a person from Eastern Europe. He got 11 1/12 years. I saw him get sentenced. I thought I had turned a point when I saw him again, he was no longer the massive monster that my minds eye had conjured him up to be, he was a scared 24 year old. That was February 2007.

We now go forward to November 2016.

Thats when I asked for help

That is when I got the help I needed

That is when I became me again

That is when I started to live again, Mathew Shinton gave me the tools to deal with the trauma, to recognise the anxiety and depression triggers that living with this for a decade can do to you. Catherine Kercher has stood by my side through thick and thin, from complete arsehole to not so much of an arsehole. I had to ask for help, it had to be when I was ready to process it all and work through it. When I did, the fucking strangling darkness started to lift and everything started to feel brighter. I’m getting there, a work in progress if you will.

I’m not a hero. People said that I was a ‘have a go hero’ I’m not, I just couldn’t have them hurt anyone else. It was most definitely a fight or flight situation and that is how I dealt with it, what angers me now and when I say anger, I mean, peeves me a bit is that fact that I’ve lost 10 years by not dealing with it, which I’m trying to get back, living the best life I can. The anxiety and depression associated with post traumatic stress is always there, but I am trying to manage it better.

I know this has jack shit to do with getting outside, but you see it has, might seem tenuous, but when they backed me into the corner I had no escape route, being outside, I can see all and every escape route. The wide open spaces meant that I could see any potential threat and be able to run away from it. Now I can be outside and enjoy reconnecting to the landscape.

I know this might seem self indulgent, make of it what you will, it is part of my story, we all have stories, some good, some bad, some funny, some indifferent, this is part of mine. Mathew has asked me to write this down to help me process this since November 2016, its taken best part of two years to be able to do it.

I felt that the 12th anniversary is long enough to hold on to this.

 

 

 

 

Weavers Way, the Reprise.

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Rucksacks full, briar stoked & lit, walking poles, yes, its another day on the trail. A few months after Weavers Way first round, Al, Doug & myself returned to have a bash at finishing the walk. We convened at Acle, which was to be the end point & made our way back to Worsted to where Al & I had previously finished our Weavers Way adventure.

Time was pressing, not for the walk that we were on, but towards our jaunt along the South Downs Way, we had three weeks for a fitness & kit shakedown before the allure of the Downs called to us like harpies to sailors on the high seas. A chance to properly test out our Osprey Aether 70 litre rucksacks, we have used them on most of our long distance walks & they never disappoint, plenty of space for all your kit, plenty of stuff pockets for the gear that needs to be handy, plenty of anchor points to attach gear, personally for me, the ideal carriage for my equipment as I parade it around our countryside. With this in mind, we started off, the sun warming the day nicely, high altocumulus clouds were dotting the sky with a carpet of cotton wool balls. It wasn’t long before the jokes started, the soundtracks of the walk, that & the rhythmic stomp, stomp of walking boots on the sun baked trail & the thudding of your heart beat in your ears. Initially the talking was constant, but as we got into the stride of the walk, the sounds of nature became the playlist.

This part of the weavers Way was like coming home to me, it was a very local trail & previously I had walked parts of it with my folks, with my primary school, cycled some of it, it was a path I knew & had travelled, but not in any great detail, it was good to be in this context with it giving it new understanding & attachment, giving it new space in my memory. As it was, we would pass within a couple of miles of where I grew up, I could literally put my hand out & touch my past.

The path at this point was still the defunct rail way line that had been followed since just before Aylsham, this continued to Stalham, a small Norfolk town, its high street suffering the same fate as many others, the local shops being squeezed out by the massive supermarket on the outskirts of town, it felt as though the heart of the town had been torn out. We stopped at a butchers & picked up some pastry cased meat delights to have later on the trail, beer was acquired for the evening as well as some plastic straws. Why straws? Well, the answer is simple, depending on the elevation of your tarp & whilst wild camping it is advisable to keep it as low as possible (to avoid the eagle eye of landowners and/or rangers) drinking an ale whilst recumbent is rather clumsy & can result in annoying spillages. Inserting a straw into your brew allows the consumer to lay about & imbibe the libation with ease & comfort with no annoying spillages. A simple solution to that age old problem of drinking beer in a low pitched tarp.

As is our wont, we stopped at the church in Sutton for a look around & a bite to eat, oh & a beer. It was a warm if overcast day and the opportunity arose for boots to be taken off and we grabbed it with both hands!

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Boots off, breather and beer.

Who ever would have thought that walking boots would make splendid receptacles to hold beer cans? To capture this moment for posterity, I took a picture, Scarpa, Meindl, Altberg and Bridgedale would be pleased with their product placement as would our tasty beverages as they stayed upright rather than distributing their contents all o’er the show and making the nice gravel soggy underfoot.

Refreshed, the trail beckoned, we still had a good few miles to cover and a couple of pubs to further refresh ourselves in. Again, as we started off, the banter was constant, jokes and chuckling, as the pace increased, it again slowed up, the sound of the trail returning to the sounds of nature.

The path conveniently took us to the Riverboat pub in Hickling, at the end of Hickling Broad cut, it had been raining, enough for us to don waterproof jackets and rucksack covers, it was a group decision to stop at the pub and have a brew or three. The beer flowed, pint after pint, jokes and chat flowed, more beer flowed. There were about five miles to go to hit anywhere where we could wild camp, with heavy hearts, the rucksacks were thrown across slightly sore shoulders, our hearts were heavy to be leaving a thoroughly decent pub serving thoroughly quaffable ales. As we left the pub, we started singing, first world war marching songs that we had picked up over the years, the sun had come out again and the evening glowed, the miles passing underfoot, the songs keeping us buoyant of mood. The path was leading us to Hickling Broad proper, there was plenty of woodland around us to find a suitable wildcamping pitch, the hunt was on to find the perfect pitch, as we all know, no such thing exists, unless you have a location scout that can sniff these prime locations out, we decided after a good hour of looking that the next place that could accommodate our tarp would be home for the night. Its not as though we are particularly picky as such, its just that no massive roots, marsh, or loads of midges are appreciated as you’re trying to get your head down for some much needed kip.

And then…

We found a smashing little spot that ticked most of the boxes.

There was enough space between the fallen trees to open out one of the DD 3 x 3m tarps as a groundsheet and plenty of branches of the still living fallen tree to tie off the roof element of our two piece tarp encampment. It was as ideal as we could have hoped for, plenty of leaf litter under the groundsheet to provide a comfortable space to put the sleeping mats and unroll the sleeping bags. Plenty of space for the three of us and our bulky packs, it was boding well for the South Downs Way, the tarps were what we would be using as our shelters, so far, so good.

Next mission.

Scoff.

Using our various cooking implements the water soon boiled for the dehydrated meals, Doug had had an epiphany…the dehydrated meals can be a bit lacklustre in the taste department, the chicken curry option particularly so, plenty of warming food and good calorific content, but taste, not so much. The epiphany was this, adding some thai chicken green curry paste, literally transformed these bland menus into ones of wonder and flavour. Doug had ingeniously decanted a couple of sachets into a lidded container and we were able to add the paste to taste to turn the meh into eagerly wolfed down sustaining food. As the night progressed and the beer had been drunk, the trusty hip flasks were opened and passed about. 12 year old Glenlivet warmed our bellies as the banter slowed and chat was replaced by the heavier steady breathing of sleep.

As morning broke, Doug and I were woken from our slumbers by the barking of a male fox, located within the same copse that we had pitched up in, he was finding his voice and appeared to be moving around us, eventually he must have realised that we offered no issue to him and silence again resumed. By this point Doug and I were well awake, so it seemed prudent to have a brew, Doug attended to this whilst I took pictures, soon the aroma of coffee was wafting around our makeshift camp.

The sun was rising higher into the sky, it was decided to break camp and return to the trail and make our way to our destination of Acle. As is typical with us when we wild camp, thanks are given to the place that we pitched the tarp for the hospitality that we had been granted, although on this occasion Doug was less inclined to offer thanks, the reason why? During the night, whilst liberally applying anti mosquito lotions and sprays, Doug had been high on the menu for the flying bitey beasties, he had bites literally up and down both arms, his feet, legs, hands and more alarmingly one of his eyelids, which was beginning to swell and looked quite painful. He reassured us that it wasn’t painful as such, it was itchy and with the swelling was impeding his vision, after Al and I had stopped taking the mick, anti histamines were taken in the hope that they would abate the swelling. Time would tell, with this happy thought we got about the business of taking down the tarps and starting off.

The area was swept to ensure that we had not left any ‘gash’ our term for rubbish, satisfied that the area was clear and that it was virtually impossible to tell that we had stayed the night there, the trail beckoned. As is sometimes the case, breakfast wasn’t eaten at the site, we thought that we would get a few miles in and stop to have a bite to eat, almost like earning the repast. Luckily a village wasn’t that far away and it promised a cafe of some description. The village is Potter Heigham, a place on the Norfolk Broads that is popular with tourists and locals alike, offering great moorings and boasting a couple of eateries and pubs, it is a destination for those boating on the Broads. Luckily enough for us it had a cafe van, bacon rolls and stewed tea were ordered and consumed, just the rib sticking sustenance required for rucksack carrying and mooching on a warm summers day.

The trail took us off the roads and tracks and followed the river from Potter Heigham to Acle, it was punishing, tussocky lumps ready to twist an ankle and strength sapping as we trundled along, the stops became more frequent. The weather was glorious for messing about on the river, carrying a three stone rucksack was proving not to be as glorious. Eventually the bridge at Acle hove into view, we were almost at the end of our shakedown preparatory walk for the South Downs Way. Our spirits had held out as had our senses of humour, the rucksacks were fabulous as ever, a few blister niggles, that were due to the temperatures and differing surfaces that we had pounded along, but on the whole it was looking really good for the adventure that was to happen in a couple of weeks time.

It was set.

We were ready for the South Downs Way.

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The difficult second studio album band photo

Weavers Way Take One

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That’s Al, seen striding down the path, the tops of the hedges either side almost touching, giving it that tunnel or holloway feel, striding along, eating into the miles, thats Al. Laden with his osprey Aether 70 litre rucksack, walking the paths & traces that make up the Weavers Way.

The Weavers Way is a series of paths that connects Cromer to Great Yarmouth, after much discussion Al & I decided that it would do as a training walk for our summer effort, the South Downs Way. A lot of it is track, some road, a fair bit alongside rivers & broads & a large portion is along old disused rail lines notably from Aylsham to past Stalham. This is due to Dr Beeching & the policy of dismantling the ‘superfluous’ rail network in the 1950’s & 60’s. It’s been a walk that I have wanted to do for some time, but as is usual, never found the time to do the walks on your own doorstep, so we made time & embarked on a trek along Weavers Way. As practice walks go, this would be tip top, plenty of level walking, some inclines, wild camping, beer & whisky & the countryside of Norfolk. As it was going to be predominantly level walking, we were anticipating on getting 30 – 40 miles covered in the two days. We had already spoken of finishing the walk with another couple of days & a wild camp later in the spring. What could possibly go awry?

Long story short, nothing, it was a great walk, the miles seemed to evaporate. When the opportunity arose, we stopped at convenient public houses en route, glad of the restorative ale that we imbibed. The sky was starting to bruise as we left the second pub of the day. Undaunted, the rain covers were donned on the bags and reluctantly we too donned our waterproof jackets. There is something quite pleasant about walking in the rain, it seems to wash us as we walked along, washing away the negativity that can build up within us. It really is quite cleansing to walk in the rain, we stopped by the lake in Blickling Park for a brew up and a welcome cup of tea.

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Waiting for the brew to boil

It is a great estate to walk around or in this case walk through, passing the great Tudor house, where Anne Boleyn grew up and is still supposed to haunt after falling foul of Henry VIII in the 16th century.  We were rapidly approaching Aylsham, it was here that we left the roads & footpaths and joined the disused railway carving our path through the landscape, heading towards North Walsham.

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The train line beckons

Well hedged, the walk along the defunct railway line was obviously linear & as it was lined with well established hedges & cuttings, it felt as though you were almost cut off from the modern world. You could almost feel or hear the rhythmic clacketty clack of train wheels on the old lines, half expecting to hear the shrill whistle of a locomotive heading out towards the coast thundering down the no longer visible tracks. As the breeze built along the path, you could feel yourself sniffing the air to see if it had the smell of steam & oil.  At one time a very industrious place, busy with passenger traffic & goods wagons, a hive of mechanised activity, now returned to nature & those sounds associated with that, bird song, the breeze in the leafless branches, the squeak of boughs touching & moving as the wind cajoled them. Time was advancing, it was beginning to get towards dusk, visibility was dropping. As our eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, we decided that a pitch should be found for us to rest up after a long day on the trail. Scouting out the hedges was proving to be fruitless, offering very little in the way of suitable accommodating places for the tarp to be set up. The light grew dimmer still, night was not far off & we were no closer to setting up for the night. The map had been studied on the train from Norwich for possible sites, alas these proposed sites were not suitable in reality, as is often the case & we decided to push on to find a better spot. The path went through cuttings as it cut its way along, making the trail seem enclosed & more than a little claustrophobic in places. By this point head torches had been deployed, making the walking a little easier, Al stepped off the path, a smaller path had caught his peripheral vision, it lead away from the main path that we were following into a small meadow. It was perfect for what we required, we had the bank of the train line & the dense hedge to offer protection from wind & rain, rucksacks were slipped off achey shoulders & the process of establishing camp was begun at last.

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Tarp up, time for beer & food

Al was eager to set the tarp up, previously we had used army surplus desert camouflage tarps for our jaunts & they had worked exceedingly well, Al had just purchased a DD tarp, 3x3m, it was enormous, palatial in fact. My old tarp was used as a ground sheet & once set up, the beer began to flow. A great days walking had been had, happy to be recumbent, boots were taken off, musing on the finer points of the day. All was well.

With the onset of morning, the sun was starting to warm the damp, dewy ground & a fine mist was forming, it was time that we got back on the trail. The night had been comfortable, both of us getting rather a lot of sleep, more than was thought that we would get. Suitably refreshed it was decided to delay breakfast until we hit North Walsham. As the tarp was being folded up a solitary dog walker passed us, not giving us a second glance, her dog made more of our presence & said “hello” with this she turned to us & asked if we had camped the night, we answered that we had indeed stayed there, looking at the tarp she was inquisitive, “You slept in that? Well thats not a good tent, that hent got no sides…” We smiled & explained that it was a tarp & our particular configuration, did indeed have no sides, thinking we were odd, she carried on her way, the friendly labrador following dutifully behind.

With rucksacks on, we started off along the railway line towards North Walsham, the early morning light casting great long shadows of the trees, flicking dark then bright light as we plodded along.

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Deserted platform on the trail

We passed a long deserted & ruined station, the platform still evident, the mind wandered to the time that this platform would have had eager passengers stood on it, waiting for the next train to take them away from there homes towards the coast or Norwich, a snapshot of a past age, a remnant to remind us that these arterial routes were important for people in the hinterland to get from place to place. The idea of possibility, travel, necessity, work, pleasure all caught up in these left behind platforms of brick & shaped stone. The five or so miles passed relatively quickly, the thoughts of a cooked breakfast in the market town occupying our thoughts & conversation. It was intended to get toward Stalham, then organise getting back to Norwich, but as we had stormed along the day before, Worstead was now our destination for the day. A further 5-6 miles from North Walsham. The sound of traffic grew louder indicating that we were approaching the town, this meant breakfast!

Suitably filled with toast, beans, bacon & scrambled eggs, tea & orange juice, meandering through the market, picking up a bit of cake for the train journey, the trail was revisited and we were again following the Weavers Way. The day was warm, spirits high because of the food we had eaten & that the destination was getting closer with every footstep. Thats not to say that we weren’t enjoying being out in the great outdoors, or the trail, it was a practice walk for our summer jaunt & we were having a great time, it was convenient to call a halt at Worstead & return to Norwich by train. The massive church tower of Worstead hove into view, paid for by the profits of the extremely successful Worsted wooden trade in the Middle Ages, a beacon for the surrounding area of the the vast wealth & associated godliness of the Flemish weavers of Worstead. As my dear Professor of archaeology at University, David Austin would have glee saying “The  very ideology of power within the landscape” you had to agree, this of course worked with castles, but also with the heaven pointing towers of churches, an idea that I still think of when I’m out & about looking at the ruined & not ruined structures that we find about us, thinking of their context, what they meant & what it said about those who had them constructed, from long abandoned hill forts to the most impressive towers of churches & cathedrals, I still muse about the ideology of power within the landscape.

Our walk was done, the first half of the Weavers Way walked, we would have to leave it here & complete it another time.  Which of course we would.

Get outside chums, get walking, get exploring, lets see what we can find.

 

Bike Packing Peddars Way

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Maps & books, formulate the plan

My chum Carl (carls_mini_adventures) had been texting & emailing about a bike based adventure, this was in February, ideas were bandied about, discussed, left, went back to, it was finally decided on. We would undertake bike packing Peddars Way.  Buoyed up by having an adventure at hand, prepping for a jaunt was what I needed to help me out of the funk that I had found myself in.

Bike packing was another way of enjoying the great outdoors & one that I had fancied doing for a while, trouble was, I had no bike packing kit as such. I had the kit that I used for wild camping, that was a given, other than a rucksack I had no way of transporting any additional kit about. Further discussions with Carl ensued, Alpkit was mentioned more than once. I trawled their website, such an extensive range of kit, well made and appropriately priced. Not wanting to jump in full bore I asked Carl for pointers of bits & bobs I should concentrate on & acquire. As far as I’m concerned Carl is definitely the go to man for this kind of information, he has undertaken several long distance rides for charity, wild camping & bike packing his way along his chosen routes, a goldmine for the kit related queries that I bombarded him with.

As I have one or two Osprey rucksacks I opted to use my 26 litre stratos, ample room & not too heavy when laden to be an issue when cycling along. I also plumped for the Alpkit 20litre goretex barbag, a superb piece of kit, essentially a dry bag for your gear that clips to the bars, with this acquired I was ready (?) for the off. I decided that the barbag would hold my tarp, sleeping mat, down jacket, hip flask (an essential) & scoff, the rest of what I needed would be in the rucksack; spare clothes, waterproofs, maps, cooking gear, spare inner tubes , med kit & other essentials, such as woolly hat & soft-shell would also be stowed.

Cut to an overcast morning in early March.

Carl had stayed the night in Kings Lynn, I was travelling to catch up with him by train. I had booked the bike on the train & was happy that I had, the rattler to Kings Lynn was full of Norwich City supporters heading North for the game later that afternoon, the two carriage train was jam packed, luckily by having booked the bike on the train, I was able to squeeze into the carriage that allows bikes, getting several supporters to move so that I could buckle the bike in.  Initially they were a bit cheesed off that they had to move, but curiosity got the better of them, questions were asked, enquiring what I was up to? where I was headed? for how long? when I answered their questions they thawed & the 90 minute journey biffed along without incident, even having a can of beer with them.

Thankfully I was soon in Kings Lynn, Carl met me at the station and we were set to start. We had to get to Hunstanton in order to get up to Holme-Next-the-Sea to get onto the Peddars Way proper. In preparing for the trip I had undertaken a few 20 mile training rides to get used to riding a laden bike, so I felt ready for what laid ahead. With the extra mileage at either end, we were finishing at Thetford Train station (Peddars way finishes at Knettishall Heath) so that we could both get home, we would be clocking up about 70 miles over the two days. With this in mind, we pedalled off.

The journey to Hunstanton was about 22 miles, happily halved by going through the Sandringham Estate, it was felt that a brew was called for. We had been following a Cycle Network route & we were eating into the miles.

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Bikes + brews + kit aplenty = ADVENTURE

Energised by tea, we climbed back onto the saddle and pushed on to Hunstanton. The weather was beginning to brighten, it had been drizzly, overcast & fortunately not windy. With the sun starting to shine, thoughts turned to beer & what would be the first of the day. Arriving at a pub, we parked the bikes & went in to have a pint, it tasted like nectar & was thoroughly enjoyed, as we cycled Carl & I chatted, but it was good to swap stories over an ale. We had a second in another pub & decided to get some carbs in by having some chips, after the beer, the chips seemed like a good idea, but they laid heavy as we started off to get to Holme and start the Peddars Way.

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Ancient track heading South

The tarmac gave way to tracked bridleways, it had been very wet in the days before the jaunt & in place it was akin to a swampy quagmire, before too long, I had slipped off my bike into the mud. I laid there, grinning with my thumbs up, whilst Carl took a picture to post online. The going had slowed up considerably as the track was so rutted & churned up, it was like riding through gloop. The bikes held up admirably in the morass, the path levelled out & was for a spell drier, Carl paced off, I looked down, looked up to see what I can only describe as mountain bike ninjapokery the like of which I’ve never seen before & which I’m afraid to say I will never again. Some how, Carl managed to unclip his feet from the pedals as his Ti GT was in a slide, going down to meet the path. It was like the matrix, time & dimensions were rendered redundant as Carl jumped over his now planted bike & landed skilfully next to it. How he hadn’t gone head over heels & been mangled in his bike I’ll never be fully sure, but he looked at me as if to say, “its alright chum, I do this all the time, nowt to see here”.

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Carl, moments before the ‘incident’…

Thankfully the rest of the days ride was uneventful, the path & tracks had become virtually impassable except for those with four wheel drive capacity, with heavy hearts it was decided to leave the trail & follow the route of Peddars Way on roads that ran parallel with it, so that we had a chance to get into the pub at the end of the day & not be turned away as swamp donkeys.

Daylight was fading fast as we cycled into Great Massingham, we had spoken about having a couple of restorative ales & pushing on to find a suitable wild camping spot. With this in mind, we parked up by the Dabbling Duck & strode purposefully into the pub. The beers flowed, we toyed with getting a bite to eat, more beer flowed, stories were swapped, laughs were had, more beer arrived, was drunk, we were drunk, the evening passed by in a warm fug of beer, chat & comfy fireside chairs. Not really in the mood to push on a couple more miles to find a wild camping spot, we looked toward the church to provide sanctuary. The bikes were pushed into the churchyard, we made sure that all our kit was packed against the wall so as not to be too noticeable. The tarp was laid out, doss bag, the trusty Alpkit Hunka bivy bag, sleeping mat all ready for me to stretch out & get to kip. Carl was equally squared away, down jackets & woolly hats donned to keep the cold out, laying back, the clouds parted showing the blanket of stars above our heads. Sleep wasn’t far off.

The morning soon came about, a fitful nights sleep was had, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes, a face appeared over the wall. An older face greeted us, enquiring as to whether we had slept alright & wondering if we were cycling Peddars way, I answered yes to both questions. Said that I hoped he didn’t mind us resting in the churchyard, he didn’t have an issue with us sleeping there, as Church warden he was there to open the Church up for the Sunday service that was to start in a few hours time. He asked if we wanted a coffee & some cake, my reply was that if it wasn’t any trouble that would be marvellous. He walked to the Church & returned asking whether we liked Banana cake as he had baked some & whether we took sugars in our coffee?

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Cake & coffee FTW

Stretching the legs from the ache of the previous day, the warden returned, a tray with two steaming mugs of coffee & a brick shaped lump wrapped in tin foil. We thanked the kindly chap & said that we would cut off a couple of slices for our breakfast, to which he replied that he didn’t want the cake back, he had made a

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Carl waking up

few & that we were welcome to take it with us. Both Carl & I thanked the warden & said that we would leave the tray in the porch, that was no bother he said, he had to chip off to get ready for the service, left to our own devices again we decided to break camp, then enjoy the coffee & cake. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, peppered with fluffy clouds that reminded us both of the Orb track, all was good.

 

 

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Interior of St. Mary’s, Great Massingham

We had a look around the Church a marvellous medieval edifice, a thoroughly peaceful space, I had a look at the exposed stonework to see if there was any medieval graffiti or any graffiti, alas there was none of any sort. We both left donations in the box as a thank you for the resting place that it had provided, along with the now empty mugs, the cake safely stowed, we got back on the saddles & started off.

The first few miles that we cycled towards Castle Acre were uneventful, the sun seemed to be holding on, the wind had picked up..then it rained…it rained a lot, I mean it pissed down for hours & hours.

It kept raining.

& raining.

& raining & raining.

I like riding my bike, mountain, road, vintage, any bike,  however, the rain was starting to make me not like this pastime very much at all & this was making me sad. There wasn’t the opportunity to stop to have a breather or brew up, the inclement weather put paid to that. The rain eventually abated  as we cycled into Watton. We were nearing our destination, Thetford was tantalisingly close. A mixture of road & track were leading us to the end of our jaunt.

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Track, having a breather

The sun broke the canopy of cloud & its weak warmth started to dry our saturated gear, restoring the mood, we hammered into Thetford & made our way through the town to the train station & the end of our trek. As we waited for our respective trains we each had a celebratory bottle of Newcastle Brown ale & it went down a treat. 70 odd miles covered & a great adventure to boot with my chum Carl. Cheers mate.

Long time no post…

Here we are, end of August 2017 and striding ever closer to years end, what a year, what a year indeed.

Back in February I posted, bit half arsed, truth be told. I thought that I had better post something, anything, to stay connected with what I love doing, to try and keep my passion and fire alive for it, but it was waining, diminishing. Thats not strictly true, it had diminished, the muse had not just left, it had packed up and left without a forwarding address, I felt adrift and bereft of purpose.

Before last Christmas I had, for me quite a serious episode, shit that I had bottled up for the last decade decided that it was time to start processing and working through it, I had started to feel pretty low about this time, that wasn’t something new, I have been prone to periods of darkness, lasting anything from a couple of days to weeks even months. I know I’m not alone with this, at the time though I couldn’t have felt more alone and distanced from everybody and everything. I put as brave a face on it as I could, trying to display to the outside world that everything was ok, that I was ok, but these dark feelings manifested, they grew and it felt like I would be consumed by them. I needed help, I wanted help, I wanted to stop feeling like this, everything around me was suffering.

There is a link here to the Great Outdoors, bare with me…I felt that the only place that I could feel happy and to a large extent free of these dark feelings was when I was outside, it was my escape, it was my escape from my head and the tumultuous thoughts that were raging around within my skull all vying for precedence, all vying for my absolute concentration, I internalised and overanalysed everything, as a dear friend said it was “paralysis by analysis” overthinking things to the nth degree and not being able to function because of them. Being outside gave me respite from that, my head was clear (for a short time at least) and I was able to look up and revel in the sky and the delicious cloud formations, walking miles with chums, enjoying wild camps, but at a capacity of about 75 percent, the niggling thoughts waiting in the wings to come crashing through the serenity and bombard my brain again and again.

So, before last Christmas I spoke with one of my closest friends, I asked him to help me, he said he would do so, without question or judgement and quite literally talking to him has changed my life.

The detritus of the last decade started to lose its hold over me, talking through the events that had preempted the prolonged periods of darkness and what these periods entailed. By talking about it, giving the thoughts and feelings the substance of words, little by little I felt them leave my head. After a deep and emotional 90 minute talk, I physically felt lighter and the light and colours appeared brighter. It felt as though the interior of my head had been cloaked in darkness and there were little chinks of light breaking through, like observing crespucular rays,  when the sun is behind a cloud and you see the light fanfare displayed in the sky. Recently on the South Downs way I had the perfect visualisation for this, walking along the chalk paths, we passed through a wooded section, the sun was shining high above us, it was quite dim in the fairly well wooded copse, the light broke through the canopy here and there, piercing the semi dark with shafts of bright light. This continued until we reached the end of the wood when we again stepped into the brightness, leaving the dim and murk behind. It was the most glorious feeling. Talking to my friend last year had the same effect on me, I was in rapture.

I still talk with my friend every week, I am very fortunate, I am a work in progress, I tell him weekly that he has helped me change my life, with his help and vocalising what is going on, helps me keep the space clear for good thoughts and enjoyable feelings. 2017 has been a year for change, not my love of the Great Outdoors and immersing myself in the landscape whenever the opportunity arises, that had always been there, just hidden by thoughts and anxieties that served no purpose other than self paralysis and doubt. There have been adventures and I will post about them, better late than never. I decided to shift some timber, I had ballooned, I mean I was a unit (comfort eating had reared its greedy head to help(?) my deepening moods) I stepped into my local Slimming World group the third week of January at a hefty 20 1/2 stone (not the heaviest I had been) and to date I have lost 5 stone, with another stone to go. This has as well as talking has helped me get my life back, to keep the black dog on a short leash and to recognise triggers has helped enormously. The improved fitness has helped me enjoy being outside even more, it’s still an escape but not from my head, its about being able to breathe it in, connect, wonder and wander at our surroundings.

I’m back.

I’ve got some time to make up.

Thank you for sticking by and having a read, normal service WILL be resumed, more outdoor ramblings of one sort or another,

Get outside…

 

 

Plans

Plans, plans of action, actions, adventure, more adventure, we all need adventure; this year I’m going to grab them with both hands as often as possible. Thats not to say that every week there will fantastic far flung adventures, but there will be something, a mooch, a ride, something, something to get me outdoors and appreciating what surrounds us.
Wildcamping will feature, whether its a solo cheeky overnighter or with a mucka, when I’m not able to be outside, I feel a bit like a caged animal, pacing about, fidgeting, this evaporates when I’m surrounded by the Great Outdoors, its my tonic, in essence it gives me my energy. Looking to explore the Long Mynd in Shropshire, was taken by it when watching a programme on British mammoths that had been found nearby. Locally in Norfolk we have the weavers way, a path that follows a disused railway, that’ll be home for a couple of nights. Getting some mid week miles in. Fancy having a crack at the South Downs Way, tarping our way along it, absorbing the environment and embracing the chalky uplands. It’ll be different from the longer walks that I have done in the past, as they’ve been up the road in Scotland, a walk to prepare for, to refine my kit for, to acquire more kit for.
To be honest, I get almost as much enjoyment getting my kit just right for the trek as I do actually doing it, knowing that I have prepared and squared away exactly what I need (or at least what I think I need) chatting with chums undertaking the same journey, seeing what they are/aren’t taking, refining kit, upgrading pieces that have become worn out or just treating yourself to a bit of kit you’ve had your eye on for a while.
Granted its been a while since my last post, I have continued to mooch, as oft as I can, but the muse had left me, I had lost my mojo if you will. I had an awakening some weeks ago and feel that I am back on track, its a bit of a long road (pardon the walking based pun there) but I’m strolling along, would be grand if you came with me…

Get outside, get exploring and lets have some adventures.

Its all good.

Finding my feet again

Its been a while, its been a long while since I last posted, well that hiatus is over, I’ve got the bit between my teeth. You could say that I’ve found my feet again…

Since January, I’ve been on a few walks, nothing of any note. Thats not to say that I didn’t enjoy them, I did immensely, I didn’t feel the spark of inspiration to post about them. Days became weeks and before you knew it, months had passed since my last post, it seemed difficult to get back in the saddle as it were. I started cycling more, rather than going for a walk, I was getting out on the velo. I like the fact that you can cover so many more miles in the same time frame, I like the fact that it is kinder to my dear old arthritic ankle and knees, I like the speed that I can nip along at, what I missed was the sense of connection with the landscape, sure, I was still in the landscape, but I had substituted walking for cycling and was passing through it too quickly.

On the bike, you can scout out areas for walking potential and for spots for a cheeky overnight wild camp, but being on a road bike I was unable to mooch along the numerous footpaths and bridleways that criss cross our country, like arteries of the countryside, enabling you to immerse yourself deeper in the landscape and your surroundings. I miss this a lot. Walking along hedgerows and old ancient tracks, looking in the fields for unusual stones, items that are not natural inhabitants for the area, long deposited glacial debris, not hulking great boulders but the smaller detritus indicating that they have travelled from afar, granite and worn pebbles on hill tops, the bearings that moved the glaciers all those thousands of years ago.

Its called balance, I’ve got to get the balance between riding and walking into some form of parity, so that I don’t feel like I have neglected my dear old friend for the sake of a shiny new travelling partner. It was walking that sparked my interest in the Great Outdoors, for wanting to explore and investigate the countryside around us, to feel connected to it, to walk in the footsteps of our forebears, to try and understand my place within it.

I’ve a few plans in mind for walks, looking to do a two day walk of part of the Norfolk Coastal Path, wild camping along the route. Not sure how much of it will be covered, but it gives scope for adventure and exploring and the opportunity for some coastal miles.  Have been talking to a mate about doing the West Highland way again, did it in 2012, my first foray into long distance walking in Scotland. Have subsequently done the Great Glen Way, The Rob Roy Way and the East Highland Way and to be honest, we were spoilt by the first walk, the WHW is magnificent. It is a challenge and is definitely worth the effort, you see wonderful views and feel part of the landscape.  The others, whilst having their own merits, pale beside the WHW, that is not to say that they are bad walks, far from it, each one is a challenge, but for dramatic scenery it is hard to beat the WHW. Have also been thinking about wild camping with my MTB, alpkit in their ‘espresso’ email shot had a great article on the merits of bike wild camping and have released a range of tarps to be used with your bike, using the front wheel as the main support of the tarp set up.  Am looking forward to giving this a go, when I do, I will post about it!

In September, my wife, Catherine and I are going back to the Lakes for a few days, we are going to be staying in Keswick and are looking to get some good walking in around the area. I’ll be looking to revisit the stone circle at Castlerigg to wander among the stones, looking at all the ridges, fells and mountains that surround this ancient site.  We hope to walk up Catbells and then go on to do the ridge horseshoe that takes you back towards Keswick.  Also looking to walk Castle Crag, whilst not the highest summit, its one that has held my imagination and heart since I saw Julia Bradbury walk it a few years back. We’ll see what else we can squeeze in whilst we’re up there, going to meet up with a dear old friend, who should be up for a good old mooch, lets see where we end up.

Its all about plans,

I think I’ve found my feet again.

All is good.

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