These Boots Were Made For Walking

At the end of May this year I will be walking a marathon (yes, the full 26.2 miles) to raise money for a local children’s hospice called Naomi House.  I’m a fairly fit and healthy person, but even with a good basic level of fitness, walking that kind of distance requires some training.  The walk itself will take about 9 hours (it took me just over that the last time I did it), and as someone who has a sedentary job and usually only exercises for a few hours at a time I have decided to start early to get the most training in.

I know from previous years that I am comfortable with walks of around six miles so in order to challenge myself I am starting my training with walks of eight to ten miles.  I am not walking alone – this year I will be walking with one of my best friends, who did this charity walk with me two years ago, and a friend from work, and we will be training together too.

Training has got off to a mixed start so far.  Out of two planned walks only one has gone ahead, and only two of us made it (no, we didn’t leave the other one behind, she was too ill to walk that day!). Unfortunately at this time of year the weather seems to be doing all it can to deter us from our training mission.

Nevertheless, our first planned walk of nine miles went ahead despite forecast torrential rain and gale force winds, with the two of us optimistically heading out, top-to-toe in waterproof clothing, and hoping that the worst of the weather would wait until we got home.

Sadly it started raining the moment we parked at the start point for our walk, so there are no photos from this walk at all (sorry folks, not risking ruining my electrical equipment for a few snaps) however the walk was not uneventful!

The walk took us from the train station and into the nearby Victoria Country Park which looked out over the Solent, where the wind lashed us with rain and sea spray, and we could dimly see the stacks of the refinery at Fawley through the grey skies. It soon became apparent that the official walk guide expected us to walk along the seafront, on the shingle beach.  We gamely headed down to the sea wall, only to recall that we were experiencing the highest tides in 18 years at the time, and yes, you guessed it, it was high tide.  There was no beach.

A hasty consultation with Google Maps on my phone as we huddled together to protect it from the rain showed us an alternative route through the woods along the cliff top, which we both agreed was the better option, so we set off into woodland, which mercifully protected us somewhat from the wind and rain, following what we hoped was the right path to meet up with the official route further down the coast.

Unfortunately without a compass or map my sense of direction is pretty poor, and I led us a couple of miles in the wrong direction before we realised our error. Happily though we ended up in a small village area so we were able to get our bearings and make tracks in the right direction again before too long.

Once we picked up the official walk again we discovered to our delight that we would be making a small ferry crossing as part of our journey. The vivid pink ferry was waiting at the end of the jetty in Hamble for us, with a rather damp looking chap poised to set off as soon as we were seated. Five minutes and £1.50 each later we arrived at a deserted jetty in Warsash, the other side of the river, and disembarked to a windswept and wild looking path. As we looked at a tourist signpost, which included a helpful map, we realised that our walk now took us along a nearly 2-mile long causeway, with sea on both sides, no more than 4 metres wide for most of its length. With the wind getting stronger and the rain beating down this was going to be interesting!

As we skirted puddles, dodged sea spray, climbed precarious and slippery wooden bridges (ok, just the one bridge) and became increasingly thankful for our wet weather gear, we also took the time to admire the houses on the inland side of the causeway – not so much in bad weather but in summer you could imagine the view would be lovely from there, and the gardens were huge – one even had a tennis court in it. However, the wind eerily whistling and humming through the rigging of the hundreds of ships in the marina would be enough to keep me up at night.

Dreaming aside we finally made it on to land again and, after walking through the marina and ship yard we started to head inland, towards the motorway.  Our final destination, Botley, was still another three and a half miles away so it was back to focussing on the path ahead.  After walking underneath the motorway flyover and through another shipyard we found ourselves on a rather boggy patch of land following the path of the river North, and unfortunately the river had gotten a bit uppity and burst its banks. Our walk instructions directed us to cross a stile and head into the country park on the other side….currently the stile was a foot deep in river, and surrounded on all sides by water and barbed wire fences!  Through teamwork and sheer luck we tiptoed out onto the small island of mud held in place by the fence (only getting a little bit prickled by the barbed wire), climbed the stile whilst holding on to each other for support, and splashed back to dry land using the mud on the other side of the fence. Note to self, don’t do this walk when it has been raining.

Finally on dry land and making a steady climb upwards out of the river valley we headed gratefully into Manor Farm Country Park, where a sign proclaimed it was 3/4 mile to the tea rooms.  “Thank goodness” we thought, “we can use some shelter to check the rest of the route, and have a quick drink and bite to eat out of the rain.”.  So we plodded on, only to be told at the next sign post that it was STILL 3/4 mile to the tea rooms…. Slightly disheartened that we apparently weren’t any closer (but at least the distance wasn’t getting greater!) we plodded onwards. After all the excitement of getting lost, the ferry, the slippery bridge and the flooded stile, this path seemed quite dull, but I am sure it would be lovely in the summer.  We met a few dog walkers (and their dogs!) along the way, and finally found some shelter in the covered picnic area near the tea rooms, where we scoffed jelly babies, drank water and planned the rest of the route.

With only a mile and a half to go we picked up the pace a little bit – there was a train to catch at the other end! – and with mixed feelings started the last leg of our journey on tarmac. On the one hand you are less likely to turn your ankle or fall in a rut on tarmac, but on the other hand it is not very forgiving on tired feet!

So, we reached Botley…but where was the train station? Neither of us were aware that the train station was nearly a mile outside of Botley, and there were only 10 minutes before our train was due, so we power walked our little socks off to get there, purchased our tickets and ran to the platform…only to discover that we were three minutes late.

Deflated, we headed over the road to the nearby pub which had a glorious wood fire, free seating and the most delicious cappuccino I have ever tasted (things always taste better after a workout anyway). We took 50 minutes to warm up and dry out a little, before heading back out into worsening weather, for a damp and dreary train ride back to our start point.

Despite the weather conditions, detours, getting lost and practically having to swim across some parts, we both enjoyed this walk, especially the bonus of the little pink ferry, and have agreed we will do this one again, in the summer, when hopefully I can get pictures!

If you would like to sponsor us for the marathon walk (please) our fundraising page can be found here. Full details of the walk (as it is supposed to be done) can be found here.