stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101travel)
18 March 2012

Readers of [personal profile] el_staplador have been bored to tears by my incessant rambling about my new toy, seen above. It is a Trailmate de Soto tricycle; it has no gears and is bloody hard work to ride, and, occasionally, terrifying.

I have started riding it the six miles to work (also the six miles back again). I have something of a love-hate relationship with it. At times it is only bloody-mindedness and the knowledge that I'm saving myself six quid a day that keeps me going. Yesterday I didn't ride it because - well, did you see the weather? (For such as didn't, it was tipping it down, and windy with it - one of my colleagues had a tree branch come down in front of her car.)

What I did do yesterday, which I haven't done for ages, was to spend 50 minutes on Wii Fit. And I remembered why I haven't been on it recently. Boredom, dear internet, boredom. I enjoy it for the first week or so, then I remember how to beat all the activities, the irritating tunes get stuck in my head, and I give up again.

And so I've decided to do something that I'd previously ruled out: I'm going to include physical activity done outside Wii Fit. (I hadn't, for example, been recording the time I spent swimming - though I've not done much of that recently, either.) I asked myself why I had ruled it out - and the answer is, it feels like cheating. A little rational reflection confirmed that this is completely ridiculous - five minutes triking is far harder work than five minutes flapping my arms around pretending to be a chicken.

I suppose that I am worried about over-reporting myself. This is also silly - Wii Fit over-reports anyway. But that's my brain for you (my unfortunate pilgrimage partner used to say that I had a 'Protestant walk ethic'). I've made the following compromise:

On days when I ride to and from work (and I'm unlikely to ride only one way, being reluctant to leave the thing locked to a station cycle stand overnight) I'll record one hour's activity on Wii Fit. This is definitely under-reporting, but even so I reckon I'll easily make the four hundred hours. I don't stand a hope of completing this goal otherwise - and what is it about but getting more exercise and becoming more aware of my body?


(This is me on a trike a few years ago, on honeymoon in France)

I have another definite goal in mind with all this getting fit. I've booked two weeks off work in August, when I'm going to walk the Offa's Dyke path. The recommended pattern takes twelve days. I'm thinking of taking a rest day in Knighton (approximately half way, and a few miles from the house where I grew up) but even so I couldn't do such a long way in my current state. So there; that's something to work towards.

I'm also well aware that I have a couple of days to write up on the Canterbury pilgrimage - I've collected another one and a half walkers, and have been going rather slowly as a result. More on that later.
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101compass)
29 October 2011

Somehow, I left off this pilgrimage at the end of April - and then the summer happened. I did things that were vaguely connected, going up to St Martha's church with the PCC, meeting up with members of the Confraternity of Saint James at Reading Abbey, watching 'The Way' (again), and generally thinking that I really ought to get on with it. In September my partner and I went away to Cardigan with the in-laws, and got some good walking in along the west Wales coast. But it was only on Saturday that I put my boots on and got back on the train to Oxted.

Picture-heavy )
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101compass)
Denbies Vineyard, Dorking

It was a while ago, so you may well have forgotten, but a couple of people got married in April, and as a result we had a bank holiday. I made the most of it. I took the train to Guildford, and then I took another train east, and, while sitting in it, debated whether to get off at Dorking West and head north up something called the Mole Gap Trail, or get off at Dorking Deepdene and head north up the main road, which would still be legit, but shorter. But I hate road walking, so the Mole Gap Trail it was.

Not that it was marked as such. However, it was pretty easy to follow on the map. It came off a residential road, and then went through a vineyard. Yes, I thought. Yes, this is what a pilgrimage is meant to be like. A tramp through a vineyard, cockle shell bouncing against my rucksack (I'd remembered to fix it on this time) and the prospect of a very big hill up ahead. A chap walking his dog asked if I was getting my walk in before the Big Event. Well, sort of.

I wasn't on the route, yet, but I knew the Mole Gap Trail hit the North Downs Way. Somewhere.

Pilgrims' Way

The only problem was, the North Downs waymarking failed just at that point. Footpaths, bridleways, rights of way there were in plenty, but it was by no means clear quite which of them I needed to turn right on to. Eventually I went too far, walked through Westhumble (passing, for church music geeks, Cleveland Lodge), and followed my nose east.

There are four significant obstacles on the way east. The first is the railway. Well, I was walking down a lane, and it crossed the railway. The second is the main road. Happily, it seems that all walkers, cyclists, and anyone who's not a motor vehicle, have to cross the main road at the same place, and there's a subway, so in the course of crossing the main road I picked up the North Downs Way.

The third obstacle is the river. You can wuss out and cross this using the footbridge. Or you can keep going in a straight line, and use the stepping stones.

Stepping Stones

Well, wouldn't you?

And the fourth obstacle is Box Hill. Look at it on the OS map, and you'll see that the contour lines are so close that they merge into a smear of orange. Helpfully (I think) there are planks set into the path all the way up to serve as steps, but I found that I had to sit down several times along the way to recover my breath. And my hip was beginning to complain, already. Annoyingly fit people, twice my age, most of them, overtook me. There was one pair who passed me on their way down, and then overtook me on the way up again. I had to keep reminding myself that it is not, repeat, not, a race. This is one of the perils of making pilgrimage alone: I am very prone to competitiveness.

But let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. There's a heck of a view from the top.

Box Hill - Trig Point

Once at the top of Box Hill, one proceeds for the most part along the contour lines, rather than across them, which is much more dignified. The path is mainly wooded, hazel, yew, oak, sycamore and chestnut in varying proportions. My friend Karen, of whom more anon, claims that the wealth of yews along the Pilgrims' Way is due to the pilgrims of old who ate yew berries to induce penitential bowel discomfort, and excreted the results along the road. Whatever the truth of this, there are certainly plenty of yews, and they are pretty old.

Union Flag

Coming down the other side, it's a lot less steep, but one has the joys of road walking to contend with. I avoided being run over, noted that civilisation was getting on quite happily without me, and celebrating the Royal Wedding, and, pretty much as soon as I'd got off the road and back into the shade, sat down to eat my lunch.

And then I was back among the yews and hazels. A couple of lads on motorbikes passed me, but posed no problem: I'd heard them when they were a long way away, and dodged. The path started to climb again. This was Colley Hill. Nothing like Box Hill, but still hard on my hip.

Circular Walk

Rucksack, Hazel

And I was beginning to think that I knew Colley Hill. As I toiled on up, past more yews, and then a high wire fence with a notice warning of guard dogs, suspicion became certainty. I'd been here before. I'd been here before on a drizzly July day in 2009, on the famous Yomp de la Poulet. My friends have a somewhat idiosyncratic way of doing hen nights, it must be admitted.

This was a cheering realisation, for I knew that if the North Downs Way was going to follow in the way of Le Yomp, and from the map it looked as if it was, it would be easy to track, and sooner or later I would come across a helpful National Trust car park with a loo block, and maybe some ice cream.

It also gave me some helpful landmarks to look out for, as previously pointed out by Karen. I'd seen plenty of Pilgrim Yews, but I could still find the Huggy Trees (except the North Downs Way cuts that corner off, so I couldn't) -



- the Furry Cows, looking much the same in 2011 as they had two years ago -

Furry cows - Colley Hill

- and the little temple thing with the mosaic ceiling -

Shelter - Reigate Hill

Shelter - Reigate Hill

and, eventually, the footbridge over the main road, and the car park. I'd half hoped that I'd find another Roman snail, but it was hardly the weather for them. I sent Karen a text to let her know how I was doing; she and her husband Nicholas live in Merstham, beautifully close to the Pilgrims' Way, and had generously agreed to put me up for the night, assuming that I didn't mind their house being in chaos. I didn't mind.

The loo block was still there. The little cafe next it had gone seriously upmarket and offered lattes and smoothies and stuff like that. All I really wanted was a Twister. Happily, hiding among their pretentious organic sorbets or whatever, there was one. I sat and ate it, and enjoyed the view over Reigate.

Next I was walking through Gatton Park, one of Capability Brown's masterworks - although, it must be said, not entirely a pleasant walking experience due to the unevenness of the paths. Usually that sort of thing wouldn't worry me, but every time I tripped over a stone or a root it jarred my hip. At the bottom of the hill I found a field of goats, wandering around some standing stones. These, it transpired, were put up for the year 2000, and each featured a spiritual thought by a giant of literature or theology, one for every two centuries.

Millennium Stones - Gatton

Having found my way out of Gatton Park, I discovered that I was in the grounds of the Royal Alexandra and Albert School. It seemed that this was deliberate, though there were stern notices here and there about not leaving the path. This would have been fine, had it only been evident where the path actually was. It turned out it was the road, so that was easy. I plodded on along it.

Then I crossed a golf course, watching diligently for flying golf balls, and found myself approaching Merstham. I phoned Karen to see if I had to cross the motorway or not. Not, was the answer. But I had to find my way to Camilla's house, Karen and Nicholas both being at Camilla's Royal Wedding party.

Camilla had never seen me before in her life, nor I her, but this seemed to be no barrier to my attending the party. I got there just as the royal couple were making there way to (or from?) Buckingham Palace in a convertible, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden with tea, scones, cream, jam, etc. It was most pleasant.

Airbed

A night in Karen and Nicholas' front room, on the airbed, which, we discovered too late, had a leak in above and beyond the leak we'd already found and duck-taped. Still, a pilgrim must expect less than optimal accommodation. I slept pretty well despite it, and set off the next morning to cross two motorways and head towards - though not quite into - Kent. For the first time, I moved inside the M25, and the distant roar was my companion for the rest of the day.

North Downs Way - Oilseed Rape

I climbed to the top of the ridge, and found some honest to goodness Pilgrims' Way, with a sign and everything.

Pilgrims' Way - Hilltop Farm

For the next mile or so the way consisted mainly of farm tracks, looking out alternatively across fields or protected downland. Pesky buzzy things buzzed around me, but didn't seem inclined to bite. Small mercies, and all that.

There was more road walking at the end of that, but it was a fair bit quieter, and on the whole reasonably pleasant. My main problem was what to do about lunch. I'd waved off Karen's offer of sandwiches, being sure that I'd find something, somewhere, but I was beginning to have my doubts.

Another main road, another bridge across it. I had hopes of this main road. The map showed a car park, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, where there was a car park there might be a burger van, or a loo. I don't know, because I never found it, but, stomping down the byway to reach the road, I saw a sign to a vineyard. The sign mentioned a coffee shop. Where there are coffee shops, there is often food, and there are always loos.

Lunch, it turned out, was a very pleasant cheese and broccoli bake, with pear juice from the vineyard's own pear trees.

Rejoining the North Downs Way after Godstone Vineyard involved some Up. The North Downs Way involved some more Up. Then some down. And my hip was protesting more and more. I thought about leaving the path, saving a kilometre or so, and heading straight to the station at Oxted, but it looked confusing, and I really couldn't face getting lost.

A chap overtook me while I was having a rather miserable sit-down. I contemplated calling Anne, my former pilgrimage partner, and asking her to persuade me to go on. I thought about it some more, and concluded that actually I had no intention of sitting there all night, so I went on of my own accord. I caught up with the chap at a viewpoint, and overtook him. Some short while later he overtook me; we exchanged brief comments about the possibility of cutting corners, but both decided against it.

Oxted, Railway

And, finally, a steep descent from the ridge (with the railway tunnel directly beneath, which is mildly surreal), an unfairly windy meadow, a footbridge back over the M25, and plodding into and through Oxted until I found a coffee shop, and a train home.

Next up: an interlude, a revisit.
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101adventure)
Joining the North Downs Way

The great thing with this pilgrimage, about taking the train home and back again, is that you can be sure you're picking up exactly where you left off. The station is a fixed point, where 'somewhere in Guildford' isn't. Even so, I went over my route from Saturday for a few hundred yards, dropping down from the station to the towpath and following the river as far as the town bridge. There I crossed over and went up the High Street as far as Quarry Street, which I walked down on the off-chance that St Mary's was open. It wasn't, so I kept going.

North Downs Way: Chantry Wood

The North Downs Way runs a little way south of Guildford proper. After crossing the Wey at Shalford it runs along the edge of Chantry Wood, which is where I joined it. It's well way-marked and easy to follow. Through the wood and out the other side, walking up on the banks of the path so as not to have to plough through dry sand, and then a steep climb up St Martha's Hill. I stopped just before the summit to get my breath back, eat breakfast, and consider the next step. Originally I had intended to stick to the North Downs Way, which is more direct - but I wanted to stop in Shere and I hadn't brought anything for lunch. For the most part, the North Downs Way skirts around the places that one might expect to have pubs or sandwich shops. I changed my mind.

St Martha's

St Martha's Churchyard

St Martha's was closed, too. This didn't worry me, however; I'll be visiting it with the PCC in a couple of weeks. On coming down the other side of the hill, I left the North Downs Way and joined the Pilgrims' Way. This is considerably trickier to follow, and I was getting the map out at every fork in the road all the way to Shere.

Pilgrims' Way: Bluebell Path

The church at Shere is dedicated to St James, the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred and the pilgrims' saint. There are cockle shells on the kneelers and a tiny Madonna and Child, thought to be from a pilgrim's staff, in the wall.

St James, Shere

Pilgrim Staff Ornament, St James, Shere

While in Shere, I stopped for a lemonade and a bite of lunch at the White Horse - and another look at the map. Or, rather, maps - traversing from the Guildford and Farnham sheet to the Dorking, Box Hill and Reigate one was imminent. So that was quite exciting. I was not looking forward to the next stage, though - climbing up to rejoin the North Downs Way. I'd done that before and not had much breath left at the end of it. As it happened, I went up Combe Lane and Combe Bottom by mistake, and by the time I'd worked out where I was had almost got to the top. It felt a lot less steep than the previous route I'd taken, though that may of course have been my imagination.

Once safely back on the North Downs Way it was a level, shady walk on a well-kept bridleway between tall conifers. A group of cyclists whizzed past me; I heard them say they'd be in the region of Toulouse in ten days.

North Downs Way: Birches, Chalk Path

After a while, one leaves the top of the ridge and moves into chalky paths along the face of the Downs. Oak trees, silver birches. Sun on my right. Something slithered out of the way of my clumpy feet. A slow worm. (They're not slow.) Waymarkings for 'Walk the Chalk' - Dorking to Gomshall. I considered following them down into Dorking, but trying to do it backwards was risky: too easy to miss them. I stuck with the OS map and the North Downs Way until I came out the other side of Ranmore Common.

North Downs Way: Slow Worm

North Downs Way: Dorking

I was half-tempted to buy an ice cream from the van in the National Trust car park, but a loo would have been more helpful. I left the path and began the long descent into Dorking. A few hundred yards of road-walking - dodging Chelsea tractors every twenty seconds - was mercifully ended by the discovery of a footpath running alongside the lane. This,
while overgrown, was infinitely preferable to the road and not actually too nettley.

Map: North Downs Way

The Pilgrim, Dorking

I came out near Dorking West station, passing "The Pilgrim" on my way. Then came the exciting search for a public lavatory on a bank holiday Monday. There isn't one. Second best: a pub - but I needed to get some cash out, because it's terribly poor form to go in just to use the loo. One has to buy a drink at some point in the exercise. Well, I found a cashpoint, and then a pub that didn't look too horrible - and indeed it wasn't.

And then I bought my ice cream at a petrol station, and consequently missed the most convenient train back to Guildford by about a minute. (I know, because I saw it go while I was waiting to cross the road.) But really, it was a lovely evening, and even if Dorking Deepdene station is a bit of a dump, there was a friendly blackbird to talk to.

Not at all bad for the first day of serious walking - although my thighs have only today stopped aching. Tomorrow I'm walking from Dorking to Merstham, and on Saturday Merstham to - who knows?
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101travel)
Wey, Narrowboat

Back in 2007, when I was making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with my best friend Anne, we walked 500 miles over seven weeks. We would start walking where we'd left off the day before, we would take a rest day once a week or so, and we walked until we got there.

But there's another way to do it. Towards the end of our journey, we found ourselves falling in with a group of four folkies from Ely. Two of them were only walking the last bit of the camino, but for the other two the stretch from León to Santiago was the last of many stages. Over several years, a week here and a fortnight there, whenever they could get the time off, they had walked the camino a bit at a time, picking it up where they had left off the last time.

My current pilgrimage is a lot closer to home. So close to home, in fact, that I can walk every step of the way, from my home in Woking to Canterbury. I don't have to mess around with trains and boats. However, I'm not in a position to take a huge amount of leave in one go, and I'm not in a state of physical fitness sufficient to up and walk one hundred and fifty miles at a time.

Happily, the cluster of bank holidays around Easter, May and the Royal Wedding have sorted themselves into a nicely paced schedule. On the days off I can walk, and on work days I can rest my legs. I'm walking this pilgrimage a day at a time.

Adding to the fun is the fact that I'm completely reliant on public transport. Fortunately I'm reasonably handy with a bus timetable, but it does mean that I'm having to be a bit creative with the paths I take. It does help to end a day's walk in a town with a railway station.

I began walking on Easter Saturday, and persuaded my long-suffering partner [personal profile] countertony to join me for a gentle stroll into Guildford. Woking is some way north of both the historic Pilgrims' Way and the modern North Downs Way, so before I could join a recognised path I had to make up a route south.

We struck out towards Old Woking and Send, and joined the Wey towpath at Cartbridge - resolutely resisting the lure of the pub. The Wey Navigation is not the shortest way into Guildford, but it's easy to follow, and on a hot day a nice flat walk by the river is the most tempting. And my word, was it hot. We finished two litres of water between us on a three and a half hour walk.

Send Church
Send Church, from the Wey.

The Wey, in its natural state, is not entirely navigable; thus stretches of canal-like navigation were put in from the late 1500s onwards. There are locks and all sorts, which add to the interest. Assorted wildlife (including, it is rumoured, parakeets, though I didn't see any). An ancient tree held together with an iron band. The bits of plain river aren't bad, either.

Duck and Ducklings

Oak Tree

Wey: Reflection

I had planned to eat at a hostelry in Guildford (to be decided when we got to it) and then attend the Easter Vigil at the cathedral. And that is, in fact, what we did - somewhat to my surprise. My hip was complaining all the way from Stoke Lock into town, and I was developing a splitting headache, and it was as much as I could do to cross the river from the pub to the cashpoint and order food. I wasn't feeling much more human at the end of the meal, so we decided to call it a day and get the train home.

Except... when we'd hauled ourselves to the station, it quickly became apparent that we wouldn't be getting home in a hurry. A lightning strike had taken out the signals between Guildford and Woking, and there were no signs of improvement. And, you know... it's not really that far from the station to the cathedral, if you go out the back. And my head was improving.

So I went to the Easter Vigil and, while it wasn't a patch on last year's (no fire inna bucket!) and I haven't got used to being in church and sweaty and filthy and horrible and therefore felt somewhat awkward, I'm glad I did. It starts Easter off properly, and it starts the pilgrimage off, too.

And when I got back down to the station the trains were running beautifully on time.

Sunbeam

As it happens, the Wey Navigation is part of a long-distance path. The E2 European Long-Distance Path, in fact. We looked this up when we got home; it runs from Galway to Nice. They're not kidding when they call it long-distance.
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a compass (101adventure)
Along the Pilgrims' Way

What's this about?

It's hardly news that Canterbury is an important destination for pilgrimage; it has been ever since the murder of Thomas Becket. It's not all that far from me, either.


Why do I want to do this?

It's been far too long since I did a proper pilgrimage, which is something that I find extremely useful in my spiritual life. This one is easily manageable from where I am now.


How will I know when I've done it?

I'll have travelled on foot from my home in Woking to Canterbury cathedral. I may do this in stages, so long as I pick up each new stage exactly where I left off the last one.


I'll record this in posts in this journal.

August 2013

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