30th April 2012
I must be crazy, ok maybe not totally crazy, but just a bit. I mean, at heart I’m lazy. I can lie in bed at weekend till late afternoon with no effort at all. And I’m a telly addict. I can sit in front of the goggle box all day, again without any effort. It’s easy, just sit and stare. Not that I watch mindless, lowest common denominator fodder. I take that back, I do watch crap, but in the happy knowledge that it IS crap but easy viewing when my brain needs a rest. No, documentaries are my fix. History, Science, Geography, anything that opens your eyes to the world out there. It’s the same with reading. Ever since primary school, where I have vivid memories of learning to read and write, I’ve been fascinated with books and words. I don’t think there was ever a time as a kid when I didn’t have at least one book in my pocket and another one on the go at home. Ok, we’re not talking literary classics, Enid Blyton filled my shelves. The Famous Five, The Magic Faraway Tree, as a child these were great rolling sagas, filled with exiting adventures and magical possibilities. I mean who could not be enthralled by endless cakes and lashings of ginger beer?
I digress, where was I? Oh that’s right, I’m crazy and I’m lazy. Now when I say lazy, that’s a selective laziness depending on the situation. During the week I’m up until after midnight most nights and awake by 5-6 o’clock, I go to work and work hard, I always have. After years of having many different jobs, I’ve now had the same job for 12 years and worked my way up from minimum wage factory floor button presser to running the place. In the work environment I cannot stand nor understand laziness, I just don’t get it. There are 24 hours in the day, the average person spends 7-8 hours in bed, so around half your waking, working lifetime is spent at work, so working hard means the day goes quicker and to me, the satisfaction from doing a good days graft means, whatever the job is, you feel like you’ve achieved something. But outside of work I revert to my inherent bone idleness. Physical exercise as an activity or as a means to an end holds no interest for me. Jobs at home get left for mañana .I’m a game of two halves, a dichotomy, an oxymoron if you like.
So why, you may ask, am I planning to walk from one end of the country to the other .To answer that you must allow me to digress again. Cue the swirling clouds and nostalgic music. As I child I don’t recall being a lazy person. At 9 or 10 years old I would run to my granny’s house which was around 7-8 miles away. For my BREAKFAST! I’d get there and she would make homemade potato cakes with lashings of real butter on.(See, that’s Enid Blyton’s influence coming through).I got my first proper bike, a Dawes Lightning racer, blue and gold, when I was 11 or 12, and from then till the age of 17 I lived on that bike. My great friend from childhood Craig and I went everywhere. We’d cycle to Clitheroe, around 25 miles away for a weekend camping. Or we would cycle to Liverpool in the morning, have something to eat at the docks then cycle back to Manchester, a round trip of about 75 miles. All the way down East Lancs Road, which anyone who knows it will acknowledge as an extremely boring road. Just one long gradual downhill, followed by an equally long up hill, repeated god knows how many times. When we were 15 our bikes groaning under the weight of all our camping gear, we spent two weeks camping on the Isle Of Man, cycling all over the island it was one of the most pleasurable times of my childhood. I’d spent what money I had by the fourth day, Craig was skint by the sixth. We lived off mushrooms for breakfast/lunch, picked from the field next door. Tea was freshly caught fish from a couple on the campsite who went sea fishing at Peel on the west coast. Wrapped in tinfoil and put in the fire it was well appreciated, and i don’t even like fish, even less so as a kid. Coming home all we had to eat was a tin of sardines and a tin of sandwich spread. I remember standing on a railway bridge at the top of one of those interminable hills on the East Lancs eating those sardines out of the tin. Yum yum.
Now when I wasn’t on my bike racing around, I was walking. Walking, walking, walking. I’d leave in the morning with a jam butty and a little flask of coffee and just walk. Down the canal to Radcliffe, around the reservoir, in the fields and woods, just out exploring, seeing what was out there. A favourite route was a big triangular circuit which was up out of town, near enough to Heywood, then through country lanes to Ashworth Valley reservoir, up to Turn village then back down Walmersley Rd to Bury. Roughly 18 miles. Now this was when I was around 12-13. On my own, down country lanes and on the moors. Looking back now, at that age, madness. Although I know statistically it’s no more dangerous now than it was then, the thought of letting my kid do that at that age on their own now, well you wouldn’t contemplate it would you?
And walking was always a solitary occupation for me, unlike the bike. It was about taking your time , taking in the scenery, finding ruins of old mills and houses and imagining what it was like to live there then, in those times. I’ve always, when walking, looked at the lie of the land and wondered what it was like before roads or even tracks were there, I do the same on roads when I’m driving. When we started putting down train tracks, major roads and later, motorways, I wonder how engineers decided where to follow the contours, where to tunnel, where to span the valleys.
So, enough with the reminiscing, well for now anyway. Back to the point of all this .I don’t really remember when the idea of LEJOG first came to me, it seems like it’s always been there, an attraction, a goal, but it was as a cycling adventure that I always wanted to do it. As I’ve got older that has changed to a compulsion to walk it. I’ve read and re-read countless blogs online over the last couple of years which has only fired my desire to get out there and do it. I’d encourage anyone contemplating the walk to save this website, http://www.hockeylejog.co.uk/Links.htm#Otherwebsites in your favourites and get reading. In the links Mark Moxon’s blog is undoubtedly a classic but make sure you check out Daryl May’s as well.
Route planning wise, I aim to take as easy a route as I can. Most LEJOGers tend to use The Cotswold Way and The Pennine Way as part of the route which seems a bit too perverse for me. Some stick to minor and not so minor roads which also seems like a missed opportunity to me. My plan is to join the Severn Way and then use that to link up with various canals, The Worcester and Staffordshire, the Trent and Mersey, the Macclesfield, the Peak Forest and the Manchester Ship Canal to, unsurprisingly Manchester. Now I know that I’ll miss out some great countryside and I’m sure the Pennine Way has some highlights, plus I also in a way feel like I’m cheating somehow by using canals all that way, but hang on, I’m going to be walking, what, around 1000 miles, so I think I can forgive myself! I don’t imagine I will stick exclusively to the canals, there will be stretches where it makes more sense from a distance point of view to leave the canal and uses minor roads/ rights of way. Besides, I like canals, there’s plenty of history to explore and camping should be easier. Another reason for missing the PW is that my route takes me to my hometown area where I hope to walk a little bit of my childhood. From there I plan to link up with the Thirlmere Way and the Lancaster canal which will take me to Kendal. From there, an undecided route as yet, to Carlisle. Most walkers who find themselves in Carlisle then seem to use a route which mirrors the A74, I’m trying to plan something through Dumfries and Sanquhar then to the east of Kilmarnock to get to Glasgow, then it’s the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way and finally the dreaded A9 to finish. Now I’ve lived at the top of the A9 just south of John o’Groats and know the A9 like the back of my hand. Yes it’s going to be tough going with the traffic and although it’s not as stunning as the west coast, the scenery and the small coastal towns offer a different view of Scotland from the usual tourist hotspots.
On the subject of camping, it does seem the best way to go. From a financial and a convenience viewpoint it makes sense. B&B’s have vastly improved in recent years but with that, prices have also risen, you’d probably be looking at anywhere from £25-£100 per night and until you actually used the B&B that could be £25 well spent or £100 wasted. A few years ago on two trips to York, one trip was spent in a £60 per night “hotel” which felt like God’s waiting room, the other was in a £15 per night room above a pub on the river, which was the best £15 ever spent, so price is no guarantee. Let’s say £50 average for roughly 10 weeks, that’s £3500 for the trip. That also means a hell of a lot of planning distances and being tied to arriving at a certain place every night to an uncertain reception for a tired walker.
I do plan on using a B&B maybe once, even twice a week to have a good rest in a hopefully comfy bed and a long soak in a bath but that will still leave me with over £2500 saved which I can instead spend on top notch camping equipment and the like. It should also cover most of my food costs.
Now camping obviously involves carrying more weight, tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag. I’d take a camping stove whether I was camping or not so it boils down to those three items, which, if I go lightweight I reckon I can get down to around 3kg. 1 ½ kg for the tent, 1kg sleeping bag and 1/2kg for a sleeping mat. Overall I’m aiming for a maximum weight minus food of about 12-15kg.
Mapping wise I plan on using paper maps, ordinance survey of course. Land ranger preferably, plus dedicated maps for established routes. I already have a Harvey map for the West Highland Way and am sure I can get something similar for the Great Glen Way, the Severn Way and some of the canals. Of course paper maps are heavier in total than some form of handheld GPS, but as I’m not planning on walking with all the maps at once then something like a week’s worth of maps is not going to weigh more than a GPS. As I’ll be camping for the vast majority of the walk a GPS which will need charging every day is not really an option, plus I would rather have a map in front of me with which I can use to look at a broader lie of the land when route changes look more promising. I need to explore more the posting of maps on-route to post offices or where possible, friends along the way, I don’t really want to have to buy maps on the walk.
GPS also involves some form of software and programming of route. There seems to be various options but all sound a bit too complicated or expensive and most people who use a handheld still have paper maps to back it up, so really it seems pointless and unnecessary. Plus as I’ve already said I’d rather hold a map in my hand which I plan on tracing my route on. I’ve worked out which Land ranger’s I need and have collected some already.
Friday 4th May.
Well now I’m not happy. After around 2 years of research into equipment, I’ve finally got of my arse.... metaphorically at least and bought my first and most important piece of kit I’ll need. I was resolved to having to spend around £3-400 on a tent which would be light enough but of a quality which would stand up to constant erection and derection? I really didn’t want to suffer with a 1 man tent lack of room wise so have been trying to find a 2 man tent for around 1 1/2kg or 3lb. Suddenly on Wednesday night I found a tent I’ve never spotted before. An Easton Kilo 2 man tent for less than 1Kg! And it has its own poles! RRP is £450 but brand new from a cycle store in Cumbria at £195 delivered. Now it says new but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the 2011 model which may have been sat on the shelf since. But hey, it is “new” and unused; it comes with a warranty and is actually lighter than the 2012 model. So I took the plunge and bought it on Wednesday night through EBay. Parcel tracking kept me up to date on the whereabouts and delivery was expected today at work. I’ve been on tenterhooks all day and waited until 5 o’clock but still no sign of it. I checked my emails; there was one from the parcel company saying delivery had been attempted. I rung up was put on hold for nearly 20 minutes before being told the driver must have gone to the wrong address and it would be back out for Tuesday delivery. Not a happy chappy.
Saturday 5th May
I love it when suddenly something clicks in to place and you understand the why and therefore. I’m talking of Lashings of ginger beer. Why was it always lashings of ginger beer? Apparently ginger beer is made with a Ginger beer plant (GBP) which is not what is usually considered a plant, but a composite organism consisting of a fungus, the yeast Saccharomyces florentinus (formerly Saccharomyces pyriformis), and the bacterium Lactobacillus hilgardii (formerly Brevibacterium vermiforme), which form a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast .
Sorry, I copied all of that from Wiki, it seemed easier. Basically it means that once you start making the stuff you can’t stop it. That’s why all middle class kids in literary fiction were drinking the stuff. Their parents couldn’t get it down their necks quick enough. Anything to get rid of it. I will have to investigate this as I’m quite partial to a ginger beer.