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Friday, 28 April 2017

TGO Challenge 2017: PreWalkDaunder. The Lakes.

January 2016:
  • You'd like to do what, David?
  • You're kidding, right?
  • Have you any idea what it's like, organising a PreWalkDaunder?
  • I'll tell you what it's like, Sir. It's like herding cats. That's what it's like. Phil organised one once. And now look at him! Half his innards removed. He's not been the same since. A broken man.
But did he listen?          

PROVISIONS


One week later:
  • Fifteen, you say?
  • Really?
  • Are you out of your mind, David?
  • And just who are all these people?
  • Nope, Never heard of him.
  • Who? No. I've not met her either.
  • Look. I've never met any of this lot. But it's your Daunder and I'm happy for you to invite whosoever you like but don't ask me to sort out the fights.

HEATHROW, TERMINAL FIVE

Another week later:
  • Christ on a bleeding bike! I've just opened your route file in RouteBuddy.
  • You do realise that the first day's ascent is the bloody Matterhorn? And looking at the stacked contours, even steeper?
  • A good work out? It's eighty bloody miles!
  • And what did Phil say about it?
  • What! You haven't asked him!
  • Oh God...

KATHMANDU AIRPORT: BAGGAGE RECLAIM 

The next day:
  • Hi David. I've just looked at the second day...
  • What's that? You've already sent it to everyone?
  • And no one else moaned about it?
  • Oh God.  

MIKE, ROBIN, MAD'N'BAD & EMMA: RONGBUK MONASTERY

That VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams has allowed Lord Elpus and me to tag along with him on the TGO Challenge in just two weeks' time. In an effort to find some common ground prior to the walk, he thought it a good idea to spend some quality time together somewhere away from the masses.

So he chose the Lake District...

MIKE SEARCHES FOR HIS PRAYER FLAGS

My journey north was arduous, involving a night at the newly refurbished Lord Elpus Hall drinking fine wines. It was as well that Lord E had a decent cellar, as Virgin East Coast had no trolley service, again. 

CROYDON, LORD ELPUS, JUDITH, JAMES & LYNSEY TACKLING THE KHUMBU ICEFALL

Upon reaching our Lakes' destination, Lord Elpus and I spot an open hostelry. A happy time is spent evaluating the various muscle relaxants on offer. Strangely there are no other Daunderers to be seen.

STRUGGLING IN THE THIN AIR

Arriving at Camp I we notice that everyone else has already pitched, leaving us the fag-ends of sites on tussocky bog and broken ground. That's my life, that is... mutters Lord E.

A night in the pub follows, that has mysteriously been wiped from my hard drive. 

THE GREY MAN CATCHING A STRUGGLING PHIL 

After a tortured night, featuring Loud'n'Vulgar Northerners yelling at the full force of their northern lungs until the small hours, I stagger bleary-eyed to the showers at a Very Early Hour remarking, in a Very Loud Estuary Accent about Bloody Inconsiderate Vulgar Northerners. 

In the pouring rain, we assemble in the cafe and the first schism is plotted by the seated malcontents. However, it transpires that it is not to be the first. That honour rests with Robin, who resolutely refuses to leave his palatial mobile home until everyone has left. Mad'n'Bad is sent back to forcibly extricate the blighter.

Nor is it to be the second schism, as after a goodly mile or so Lord Elpus spies a sign to Ye Olde Licensed Tea Shoppe, that lies on a drier, less hilly, more evenly surfaced (ie, road) and shorter route. Two old lags knock the establishment open half an hour early and enjoy tea and Chocolate Fudge Cake. 

A SQUALID, HIGH ALTITUDE CAMP II

The Full Schism finally occurs just as the party is reunited. The Pieman suggests a far mightier route in the terrible drizzle and gusty winds that currently prevail: Dale Head Tarn - Directissima. 

Grown men have been known to blanch at this terrifying prospect. But we few, we happy few take it on manfully, and part with the softies who have merely to tackle vertiginous peaks, with ne'er a tear in our proverbial eye.

DESERTED. NOT EVEN FROZEN CORPSES.

And so it is, Dear Reader, that we clamber up into the Danger Zone with not a thought for our safety. We make the Col, and bear round to the upper sanctuary of the tarn, eschewing the comforts of the Col itself, thinking only of a suitable spot for our missing chums, who, strangely have not yet arrived. This well-found spot should shorten their day. 

Late in the afternoon, seven poor wretches stagger into Camp II, but obviously dazed and confused, continue onwards, unaware of the impending slatey horrors of the mighty descent into the pit.

Bemused, the pitched, forward party (that's pitched, forward - not pitched forward, as not a drop has been taken at this point) gather in the mess tent and discuss the unfortunates' miserable plight well until the bottom of the flasks.

LUCKY THE RESCUE DOG SEARCHING FOR BODIES

The night calms to an eerie stillness. Stars, as hard as diamonds shine in the firmament. Crackling ice webs spread over flysheets. Grasses are cloaked in an icy fur. It's a magical time for a noisy alfresco pee.

SUNSHINE GREETS THE MORNING AFTER.

As sunshine blasts beneath Trinnie Trailstar's flanks,  I am overtaken by an irrational urge to leave my snug pit and photograph the event. Please forgive the camera shake as it is bloomin freezing and I am dressed only in my silk pyjamas.

SUNLIGHT PLAYS OVER THE WESTERN CWM

Of course, the awful shivering might be lessened if my faithful batman had brought my dressing gown but the devil was still fast asleep. I think the Sits Vac column needs to be shoved beneath his nose to sharpen him up a little.

NO SIGN OF IRVINE OR MALLORY

At a damnably early allotted hour we break camp and set off into the great unknown. Croydon brings up the rear, to encourage those of a lesser constitution, and engage them in stories of their marital difficulties and advise in the affairs of the bedroom.

WITH PROVISIONS EXHAUSTED, SHACKLETON LEADS THE TEAM UP AND AWAY FROM CAMP II

However, the careful timings of last evening has not allowed for matters speleological and the exploration of the lead mines. Nor do they allow for the knee-wrenching six thousand foot descent into the crater that is Borrowdale.

NEARING STARVATION, JAMES LICKED THE COLOUR FROM HIS ANORAK FOR VITAL NUTRIENTS

HUNGRILY, THE PIEMAN EYES LUCKY.

Fortunately, Lucky the Dog is a trained caver, and comes already equipped with Nature's Onesie. Bravely, he takes the lead in guiding the Pieman through the waterfall and into a huge hole in the side of the mountain, only to emerge twenty feet lower down through what is known as a squeeze. At least, that's what it looks like as Mike wriggles his body through the tiny crack in the rock.

IN SINGLE FILE, THE TEAM DESCENDS INTO THE CRATER

At the very bottom of the slate staircase the missing girl is reunited with the sisterhood. There is relief all round, as Mad'n'Bad's bloodlust had not been satisfied. Perhaps in the nick of time? 

THE LOST GIRL IS FOUND AMIDST VERY POOR COMPANY

As an enormous crocodile, we stroll along the Cumbria Way in the warming sunshine. But Phil has plans to break this up. After ten minutes or so of walking, he drops his pack and jogs back to the meeting place to collect his walking poles. He does have form in this respect.

THE PIEMAN FARTS NOISILY. JAMES GIGGLES AND EMMA AWAITS THE RADIATION CLOUD

At the Seathwaite Hub for International Transport (the Bus Shelter & public toilet, or 'SHIT' as it is known by the locals) the stragglers of the party are informed that there is another schism afoot! Excitement and tension mounts as we discover that yesterday's heroin, the rufty tufty Doctor, has had quite enough thank you very much of that uppish hard-work nonsense and is proposing an off-route expedition of the River, and a Public House.

The Gentlemen in the party feel honour-bound to accompany our Mountaineer. The Cads and Bounders slope off to clamber over more vertiginous peaks in the cooling breezes, whilst we suffer in the sweltering heat of the valley floor.

THE HILLARY STEP.

Small, brightly painted birds flit about the place. Woodpeckers go about their day and we are bathed in dappled sunshine as we stroll down the delightful West Bank. You can almost hear the unbelievably bright green leaves push out from their twigs. The river tumbles and splashes alongside us and small children play on the pebbles at the water's edge.

Croydon farts so loudly it shocks the woodpeckers and the colourful birds into total silence.

LORD ELPUS MAKES LIGHT OF THE DANGERS

After dicing with death on the Stepping Stones, we make the calming silence of the Scafell Hotel's Riverside Bar and its frabjous Ciabatta Sandwiches.

Time is well spent in this temple of worship. And yet, we feel duty-bound to leave after a just a couple and head out into the dazzling sunshine. Sunhats are deployed.

THE MYSTICAL WATERS OF THE DUDH KOSI

We set off into Langstrath and pass through the delights of one of the prettiest hamlets in Britain ~ Stonethwaite ~ and then gently make our way up to prepare Camp III for the inevitable late arrivals, at the gem of the campsite. Soft, sheep-nibbled turf, tall stands of pines and oak, and birdsong.

ENROUTE TO CAMP III

Eventually, the stragglers arrive; sweat stained, salt encrusted and not a little stinky but victorious, having conquered various knobbly things and a distance not matched by London Marathoners.

We repair to the pubs for more monstrously good food, foaming pints and the occasional dog fight. Lucky wins all his bouts.

CROYDON CONSULTS THE WISE ONE.

This morning the sun rose in its heaven, but only reached us after we had packed away ice-cold condensation-soaked shelters; I arranged the remnants of our party into a straggly line for a group photo with numb fingers. Three of the Daunderers have already left in a fearful rush and one has made off to the purity of the last porcelain of the morning.

It is at this point, scrolling through the pictures on my camera, that I realise that two Daunderers have yet to be captured! One is the Fat Controller himself, that VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams and the other the party's Mountain Goat and Honorary Northerner, JohnBoy. And both have planes, trains and automobiles to catch and so have left in obscene haste! 

THEN THERE WERE ELEVEN.

A Gallic shrug suffices for the moment. We do, however catch up with the pair, lying exhausted after a small rise in the woodland beneath Castle Crag. Understandable, this exhaustion thing. They have struggled and bounded up every available pinnacle and peak all weekend. Still, if they can't manage a Daunder without collapsing into whimpering heaps, what chance have they on the Challenge, eh? Just my two penneth. As you were.

LORD ELPUS BREAKING THE TRAIL

The Daunder's Final Schism now takes place as those in a hurry dart off for the final leg back to Braithwaite, whilst the Daunder's True Laggards avail themselves of a cafe, serving bacon-crammed rolls, a sunshine terrace and never ending teapots. 

THEY CAME FOR HIM. IN THE MATTER OF A MOMENT HE HAD VANISHED.

Quite remarkably, our Laggards next come across an excellent pub at Swinside, serving good food and very good beer. The wind is very nippy indeed, but the sunshine encourages the party to remain stoical and outside, enjoying the views over to far Braithwaite, where our Crack Troops have already arrived, having eschewed tea & bacon and beer!

THE ALIENS' SHIP.

AN EMPTIED PINT GLASS. CHIPS. SALVATION.

JUDITH TEXTS THE ALIENS, DEMANDING THE RETURN OF THE SUMMIT PARTY 

Reluctantly, we haul our packs onto our shoulders for the last time, and stroll down the hill and along the coconut gorse clad banks of the river.

Another PreWalkDaunder completed. No one died and there were no fights. That's twenty three Daunders, to date. And this year's was up there with the very best. 

Many many thanks to the VeryVeryNiceMan for organising the Biggest Daunder Ever! In two weeks time we should be camped up together on some remote bealach in Scotland with one of the finest views on the planet.

Monday, 10 April 2017

People, chalk mines, brickwork railways and Spring.

Up and down our country (and yes, that includes Scotland) Challengers are stretching their legs. Social media tells of new shelters, boots, rucsacs and knocking back pints of methylated spirits to dull the pain. Most seem to be preparing alone; they prefer it that way. This is either because they have no mates or the oft-used blether of seeing more wildlife, appreciating the silence and rambling wherever their wont takes them, unencumbered by a companion. 

However, on my solitary strolls (No, I don't have any mates either) around the local patch I've experienced enormous pleasure bumping into some fascinating characters.




I had passed a Foggy, Compo and Clegg combo on an afternoon thirteen miler, ambling along a fine stretch of footpath only to bump into them again a few hours later. It would have been curmudgeonly not to have a quick chat, seeing as we were the only people for miles around (I would add that this is not something that would have troubled the Curmudgeon-in-Chief, Lord Elpus) and I discovered them to be a wonderful bunch. They have been walking together for fifty years or so and by all accounts had been there and got the t-shirt. 

Amongst various stories we shared, I found out that they had helped in the campaign for the Ridgeway to become a National Trail and were the first people to walk it, along with the campaign's chief organiser upon its designation in 1972. 




We were strolling along a straight section of path that I had often thought looked a little direct, and the trio mentioned that it had once been a railway for the Binfield Brickworks. This area used to be full of brickworks; As a boy I had learned to canoe (or worse, learned to capsize the bloody thing) in the old Warfield Brickworks' clay pit lake. It's now a housing estate.

I have tried to find out more about the Binfield works, but have drawn a blank. From the map I can only surmise that it used to be where the sewage works is now, but that has been there since before I was born. 



Surprised at my ignorance of things local, the boys then told me all about the Reading Chalk Mines. At this point I was convinced that these blighters were pulling my leg. Indeed, they continued, a shaft to the mine could be found in an excellent pie shop in Reading town centre!

Yeah, right...



Well stone me, mate, but after a very quick Google I discovered that indeed there was a Reading Chalk Mine and it still exists! The chalk was used in the production of the local bricks - a soft red rubbing brick. A few years ago a terrace of houses started to collapse as the mine workings beneath fell in. Lorry loads of concrete were poured into the mine to prevent further disasters. I have yet to find the Pie Shop referred to, but intend to track it down as the pies are purportedly delicious.



The pictures in this post are in chronological order and you'll notice that since my last post three weeks ago Spring has sprung and it just remains for the oaks to pull their roots up and get on with it. They are lazy blighters.



I spent a nervous half hour yesterday attacking my very pricey Carbon Superfeet insoles with a very sharp knife. It's a tricky job as you only have the boots' floppy insoles to use as a template and the Superfeet have a very definite vertical profile, so it's a question of a tiny slice at a time until they fit perfectly. They're much more comfortable now.


And speaking of huge expense, I recently took out a mortgage on a new pair of Smartwool socks. Dear God! When did they become so expensive?






ST MICHAELS


CRICKET PITCH AND THE PLOUGH & HARROW

THE PLOUGH & HARROW

ONE OF THE LOCALS

For completeness I've attached the progress to date. It's all going rather swimmingly.



In a week's time I shall be amongst a gang of hooligans on the Annual PreWalkDaunder, this year being run by our Guest Fat Controller, that VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams. He's had his work cut out, as there are fourteen of the blighters on this year's walk! It's like herding cats.

Monday, 20 March 2017

TGO Challenge 2017: Getting Organised: Limbering up

As someone who has done a fair bit of planning in my time, the first thing to bear in mind is that Plans Always Go Wrong. However, if you start out without a plan, things stand a much greater chance of going horribly wrong. 

Lord Elpus counts himself a fortunate man. He has Miss Whiplash to beast him around the footpath networks of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Mud holds no terror for Miss W, and Poor Phil gains his phenomenal fitness gritting his teeth against snow, hail and icy blasts straight from Siberia. This punishing regime starts as soon as he returns from the Challenge in May. It is a year-long struggle.

Like most years, my plan for a general level of readiness for the TGO Challenge is straightforward, and I might say, more gentle. Starting in the New Year, I walk on average three miles a day until the start of the Challenge in May. Three miles a day doesn't sound like a lot, but if you miss a few days you have to catch up the missing miles, and then you realise that it's not quite so easy.

FAVOURITE TREES

Of course, you don't want to walk on roads, because down in the south east of England the roads are very busy and wherever you live they are hard on your feet. But more importantly walking on level surfaces won't prepare the soft tissues in your feet, ankles, knees and hips for a walk over the rough ground found in Scotland.

ONE FOR DAVE: HEDGE LAYING

A recent discovery is a nature reserve at the northern edge of my patch. The entrance sign says permits are required and the gate to the reserve is locked, assuring you that you are not welcome.

THE MYSTERIOUS NATURE RESERVE

However, right next to the reserve is the wonderful Chawridge Wood, an abandoned coppiced wood. 

PRIMROSES IN CHAWRIDGE WOOD


CHAWRIDGE WOOD

The footpath network hereabouts is well signed and generally in good order, with a few glaring blackspots where stiles are overrun with very spiny bushes, seemingly deliberately planted by one particular landowner.

WARFIELD

FAVOURITE TREES, ABOVE ST MICHAEL'S

*THE* FAVOURITE TREE, ABOVE ST MICHAEL'S

Can you spot the deliberate mistake in the next picture?

SPOT THE MISTAKE, ASHRIDGE LANE

After a slow start, I've finally dragged my carcase back up to and now passing the planned mileage. I have almost fifty miles in the bank, which is probably as well, as the weather forecast for next week looks poor. 

And finally a spreadsheet and graph. Because I love both. I know you do too.

THE PLAN SO FAR

And now, from two years before England won the World Cup, here's one for OM.