On the road again…

Or, more accurately, on the sand and mud of Breckland again. It was our first training walk for Dovestep 3, and we were keen to kick things off to a good start. We’d done this walk before, Jonny and myself. It’s a superb tour through all that’s good about the Brecks -grass heath, river valley, pine plantation and open fields. It was also a chance to gauge our own walking performance against previous occasions, as well as a great opportunity to tell Jonny all about my recent trip to Colombia.  

 
Walking first up through Bury St Edmunds and Jonny’s #patchbirding site along the River Lark, we scored a flyover pair of redshank and four female pochard which Jonny was deliriously pleased with, shouting “Beat Nick!!” several times. I don’t know why. At Culford I was busy relating my tales of Colombia while Jonny looked hard for Chiloë Wigeon, pretending not to listen. 

 
After a great pit stop at West Stow CP, we headed north into the King’s Forest. Great walking, on a pleasant,cold but still day. The day was notable for the soaring buzzards, and we saw at least 30. We skirted Berners Heath and descended south via Deadman’s Grave along the public byway, while I regaled Jonny with more Colombian adventures. 

 
This was a walk where nobody suffered. We were both in good nick, and the feet and legs withstood the 27 mile distance well. Just the job!

The final stop took us to SWT Lackford, and a welcome cup of tea and 3 red-crested pochards. Nice. These birds look nothing like common potoos. 

 
Finally, we got back into Bury at dusk, very happy with the days’ work and ready for rehydration. Here’s a vlog of the days’ events! Enjoy!

https://youtu.be/VDaGHgBBh7w

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Bag packed!

Well with two days to go I have finally assembled all the kit I need. I have a dodgy back, so I decided to make an investment in some high-tech lightwieght stuff to minimise my pack load. All in all, I was pretty pleased to get the pack wieght down to around 8kg.

So, my entire world revolves around the following kit for the 13 days of the walk:

Me

3 pairs soft cotton trunk style pants

3 pairs Bridgedale socks

3 t-shirts

1 thermal base layer (top and legs) doubling up as pyjamas.

1 pair Meindl boots (love you!)

1 pair craghopper trousers, unfashionable cut.

1 pair shorts (cotton)

1 microfleece

1 beanie hat

Rab waterproof jacket (lightweight at 550g)

One man tent (Wild country Zephyros) 1.5kg

Rab down sleeping bag (600g)

Therm-a-rest sleeping mat (600g)

Head torch

Swiss army knife

Bedsocks (Heatholders)

Tweezers

Nail scissors

First aid kit minus bandages

Painkillers

Iphone for tweeting

Powerbee rechargeable power pack.

Bepanthen to soothe chafing.

Lamisil for Athlete’s foot

Plasters

Water bottle

Compact Swarovskis (216g) borrowed from the great Peter Ryley (thank you!)

Foody bits

Cleaning cloth

Toilet roll

washing gear, toothbrush, toothpaste, sun cream

Plastic bags

Wallet with photos of children (love you too!)

And, I think that’s it? can you think of anything I’ve forgotten?

Cornell Labs notebook

Pens

40 miles of Sun, Sea and Sand

My aim was to walk the entire North Norfolk Coast for this training walk, Hunstanton to Cromer. This was to be a 2 day odyssey, I had a night of luxury booked in nouveau-posh Wells next-the-sea. Armed with maps, bananas and oat bars, and my new Meindl boots, I dumped the car at Hunstanton and cracked out the first few miles with ne’er a glance backwards. Except this:

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I pushed on, feeling like a god in my new boots. In factg, I thought I could walk on water. My illusions were seriously shattered as I strolled along Brancaster beach:

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This tidal creek was way too deep to cross, even for a real tough guy like me! I waited. I waited some more. I marked the dropping water level with razor clam shells. Some scoters flew close in shore, and I could see some velvets in amongst the commons, which was nice.

After 2 hours I thought I would have a crack at crossing. I took my kit off and waded in. Feck!!! It was so damn cold!! It wasn’t deep, but I nearly didn’t get across because of the cold. I lay gasping and yelling with pain on the sand on the far side, to the amusement of the well heeled dog walkers thereabouts.

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My road clear, I marched through Brancaster on to the wild and remote (and to me undiscovered) Deepdale marshes, where there were 4 red kites quartering the flooded water meadows. Never seen so many together in Norfolk. Awesome. The weather was perfect though a bit windy, thankfully at my back. The birches looked terrific in the low sunlight in Holkham Meals. The feet started to suffer later on in the day, and by the time I reached Wells I had handsome blisters on both little toes.

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A great evening of oats, beer and fish and chips revived me no end, and a hearty cooked breakfast the next morning set me on the road for day 2. I popped the blisters, and stretched the legs, and off I went. Stiffkey and Warham Greens are always brilliant, and today was no exception – I flew through them, and after 2 hours I was in Blakeney. There was still plenty of evidence of the storm surge around, with carpets of plant debris covering the Coastal path in places. At Stiffkey Fen, a kindly birder took pity on me and let me look through his scope at the black-throated and great northern divers feeding at the mouth of Blakeney Harbour. Soooperb!

I passed through Cley without too much fanfare (where were the crowds lining the streets?) and moved swiftly on to Salthouse, and then Kelling Quags where there were massive piles of storm detritus.

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My legs felt good, but as I walked I was conscious of the time, as I knew I would need to catch a bus back to Hunstanton. So, though (and I stress) I could have gone on and on and on, I stopped at Sheringham, with 40 miles completed in the 2 days, 3762 calories burned, 77,500 steps walked and 2 severely blistered little toes. But don’t feel sorry for me. My pain is completely self-inflicted. I am not getting shot, eaten and having my habitat degraded. I am not a turtle dove.

What have I learned this time? 1. Tide tables can be useful. 2. There will be pain. 3. I can do this. 4. When you are going for a wee in the wild, make sure you have really finished otherwise it can really ruin your day. 5. Keep eating and drinking. Fanta never tasted better. 6. Harden the f*ck up. 7. I can do this. Oh yes.

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Reality dawns

300 miles in 13 days. What a good idea that seemed at the time. And now? Well, to be quite frank, it seems scary and a long way off being a certainty that I (for one) will make it. Mind you, I have got the most fantastic new boots, c/o Cotswold Outdoor and Meindl boots. They are so light! And I have started taking care of my feet for the first time in oh, 44 years.

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We are currently trying to tighten up the schedule a bit, and have recruited the help of organisational wizard Sven Wair who is trying to sort out some accommodation at appropriate places. See Jonny’s previous post for our potential stopping points. Also, things are moving forward on the fundraising front! New sponsor Wild Frontier Ecology (high quality consultants for all your ecological needs), and further private sponsors have taken the total raised to £550, which surpasses our first projected target. That is brilliant! Hopefully we will get some more sponsors before the walk – maybe you? Perhaps I can persuade you by the photo below, giving an indication of the pain and suffering incurred by the team. See the pleading expression in his eyes!

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This is going to be harsh, and no mistake. But it’s already been very heartening to have so much interest and support. Thanks everyone! There will be more training walks, more events and fun and games coming soon!

Of pigs, ducks, socks and maps

It’s starting to get serious now. Like, so serious. Walls have been pushed through. Pain has been felt and then callously ignored. Birds have been counted. And yes, toileting needs have been discussed.

After a truly splendid evening meal chez Rankin (and some lovely ladies), in which a glass or two was raised to the absent and sorely missed Gooders, we (this being Jonny and myself) set off bright and early with the dual intention of training for Dove Step, and seeing a few nice birds. However, due to a minor map reading error by the trip navigator (I was the trip leader) it turned into a brutally epic walk, of which Sir Ranulph himself would have been proud.

The first part of the walk seemed to be basically one large pig field. They were everywhere, for miles and miles, pinkness, hairiness, mud, swollen testicles and far too many nipples. Squealing and electric fences. A Saturnalia. There were birds too, thousands of them, including abundant gulls, lapwings, shelduck and thousands of starlings. Of course, Jonny will not be happy unless I mention the presence of a single ruddy shedluck as well, looking like a flying orange.

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We passed through Livermere, a frightening and challenging experience for those of us with a fear of ducks. Livermere has an enormous population of mallards, some of which appear to have no hybrid traces at all. Well, we walked quickly through without meeting the gaze of any duck, and survived. Whew!

A bit later on the navigational error occurred. It turned out the nameless navigator (who was not me) was pretty sure he knew the way, so sure that we didn’t need to look at the map. Well, two miles later we realised something was not right, so we did look at the map. Uh oh! whoops!

Route duly corrected, we entered the King’s Forest, a bit like hobbits entering Mirkwood, only less twee. I noticed Jonny was flagging around this time, and it was then he told me some bizarre story about getting into a hot bath after working out and suffering from hyperthermia. Of course, I didn’t believe it, so I just carried on with a manly laugh shouting back at him “come on, man up! We’re in this to win!”. On reflection this may have appeared a bit heartless.

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Jonny deciding whether to vomit, faint or just keep walking.

As we emerged from the troll-laden gloom of the King’s Forest, the welcome sight of the excellent Suffolk Wildlife Trust Lackford visitor centre, where we were replenished by lashings of cake and tea, and the stunning sight of a bittern in the evening sunshine. From then on it was a heads down thrash back to Bury, hot baths and check the stats. 24.63 miles. Rob – 1 blister (little toe), minor groinal chafing; Jonny – wounded pride.

The day provided some thoughts to be actioned in the near future.

  1. Sort out places to stay/ camp along route.
  2. Get a system worked out for packs of stuff to be sent ahead.
  3. Rob get new boots (dammit!)
  4. Evolve kit list, to include toilet paper.
  5. Work out 2 day training walk soon.

300 miles in 13 days is seeming pretty scary right now. But, challenges are there to be met and overcome. At least until it hurts.

Rob

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Walking the Spit

I hadn’t done a walk for a couple of weeks, for various reasons. For one, after the last walk, I had a stiff and painful left leg inherited from an old lower back problem, and I wanted to give it a bit of a rest. However, I have recently discovered that stretching it removes virtually all the pain, so…game on!

I decided to walk Blakeney Point, partly because it’s my favourite place in the World, partly because its a good bitesize challenge for the long walker, and partly because I wanted to see the storm damage from the recent surge. I started at Cley Norfolk Wildlife Trust car park, and sauntered curiously along the mud-strewn coast road up to the closed car park at Cley beach. Not only is it closed, it ain’t there!

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So, off I bimbled, up the stony stony spit on the way to the point. The storm surge had ironed out a lot of the lumps and bumps in the point, and also packed the shingle tightly together, so in places it was genuinely nice to walk over. Regulars to Blakeney Point will not be used to this, it usually feels like you are wading through unset concrete while moving slowly and inexorably backwards. The whole Point seemed relatively unscathed by the storm, for which it has my sincere respect.

I made sprightly progress, zooming up the Point in bright sunshine, with my newly inherited Scarpa boots thanks to Sir Jonny of the Pacific. I soon started coming across white furry stinking blobs.

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These increased in number, along with larger piles of heaving blubber I took to be bull and cow seals. In fact the Point itself was littered with them. Suckling, pooing, whoooing, shuffling, gurning. I needed to make my escape, so off I went, down the hardened beach like a bearded bat out of hell. I was impeded by piles of plant debris, including bits of pine tree, presumably from Holkham.

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It seemed no time at all before I was back closer to civilisation, so feeling daisy fresh I thought I would walk round Cley to see more of the storm surge effects. A small mud cliff along Cley beach, lumps of reedbed lifted bodily on to the East Bank. Shingle ridges that were no longer ridges. Reedbed squashed flat by debris. All bad, but two weeks after the storm, there was a feeling of renewal and resilience I think, a feeling that for all the fury of the sea, my fave place had survived and was reborn once again. My walk was ace, and thanks to my training, there’s a lot more spring in those legs…

Saints, Kings and Berners

After an evening of cider (!) and whisky at the domicile of Jonny of the Arctic and Pacific, we set off, haggard and raw on a previously reconnoitred walk on a grey Saturday. The plan was to circumnavigate the King’s Forest, setting off from Bury St Edmunds, taking in the birding hotspots of Berners Heath and Lackford Lakes on the way. Very nice, you’re thinking, but this is a cool 25 miles, and not to be messed with. Jonny kept the runkeeper app running on his phone, so we could keep a close track on our progress.

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Walking along a river, we soon encountered some of the local colour, a kingfisher. There were lots of other birds around, which helped to pass the time, as I couldn’t get a word out of Jonny; he’s such a wallflower;-)

After a while, it was time to stop, but you know, when you start walking, you don’t really want to stop. You almost have to make yourself do it. Anyhow, quick coffee, and off again at a brisk pace. We encountered a lovely group of trekking ladies, who had come all the way from Thetford, but otherwise absolutely no-one else. A lunchtime stop, after about 12 miles, at the expansive Berner’s Heath was quite chilly, and within a few minutes I was feeling quite cold. There was a shy stonechat there, and a whole crop of fieldfares whirling around a curious herd of goats in amongst the bushy heather.

So after lunch the physical side of the walk begins to kick in. Any aches and pains, blisters and chafes, start to show themselves. This time I was lucky, nothing much to report except some stiffness in the left leg. This is an old recurring problem from a disc injury a couple of years ago, so to be expected. Jonny was in one piece as well, so we walked on through the beautiful grass heath to the west of the King’s Forest southward and downward towards West Stow and Lackford. Jonny gave me a sample of American native peoples’ chanting as we walked, which was nice. At Lackford Lakes, which is a splendid Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve, well worth a visit, we bought tea and cake:

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When we told the nice lady what we were up to, and that we had just walked 19 miles, bless her she gave us a free mince pie!! Whoop whoop! An omen of things to come, I hope! Also at Lackford, nice wildfoul, goldeneye and goosander. Anyway, that spurred us on for the last burst, when I sang a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody fairly loudly in the gathering gloom, putting at least four golfers off their swings.

The walk ended back at Jonny Towers, tired but a great sense of achievement. What did I learn? Make sure you know where you can doo a number twooo! Thanks to Sir Rankin and Lady Fee for putting up with me:-) Last thought: If a turtle dove can fly 6000 miles in a year (or more), then I can walk 300. So could you.