Bedgebury Forest & Pinetum
My plan is to complete a 20 mile walk every 2 weeks to stay on schedule and have a small window for contingency. So Walk 8 should have been completed the last week of May. I’d been struggling though. My ocular migraines were back with a vengeance that week and with the added hot weather, completing a 20 mile walk was deferred until things settled again.
Keeping plans flexible , I put some time into considering a ‘safe’ route – one that would enable me to abort the walk if I needed to and one that meant social distancing was easy.
I walk a lot at Bedgebury Forest – it has great paths and walking trails. Its been closed during the recent lockdown but opened up in the last 2 weeks for a limited time each day – not quite long enough to complete a 20 mile walk, until this week when they extended the opening hours again – hooray! Walking location confirmed 🙂
Our usual routes around Bedgebury vary between 4 and 8 miles, but we knew that there were whole areas and bridleways that we have never explored – largely due to lack of time or the fact that the bridleways stay very muddy. So with dry conditions, and cooler weather we packed the rucksack and headed out.
It was quite strange seeing the public play areas all cordoned off and quiet – the signs were another reminder of the impact of Coronavirus again.
We quickly headed off of the main marked trails and started exploring the side bridlepaths that criss cross the forest. For this walk I had Ruby our Springer Spaniel and my husband Neil with me. Neil was still apprehensive that my migraines were lurking and wanted to make sure someone was with me.
The weather was far muggier than forecast and the ground hard and dusty underfoot – this made the churned up bridlepaths a bit more challenging than the usual maintained trails.
As I’ve mentioned, we walk Bedgebury regularly but on this trip we were on new paths for most of the first 15 miles – discovering new areas and vistas.
Which brings me onto another aspect of this particular walk – the ants! We saw so many ant hills crawling with ants and the quieter paths were like an ant M25. I stopped to grab a picture of one and Ruby knocked a stick by the nest and it came to life!
You can actually be served some of these ants at a local restaurant as part of your dessert – they have a very strong citrus flavour.
Bedgebury forest is a fantastic facility to have so close to us and as well as sharing it with horse riders there are also extensive mountain bike trails. These are definitely not to be walked on (although we did once get lost and ended up on one) and have different grades of difficulty. As we ventured deeper into the forest we found our first Black trail – a sign that we were in a tough terrain area but didn’t seem to phase Ruby.
Walking around Bedgebury off the main public walking route was beautiful and you got to understand the scale of work that continues in managing the forest . There are areas that were being cleared to keep the ecosystem healthy.
Each new path we took opened a completely different scene and in some of the remoter areas we saw the most stunning Rhododendrons, honeysuckle and fungi growing naturally in amongst the trees. We even heard the calls of the rare Turtle doves that have returned to the forest.
We hit 10 miles and it was getting incredibly muggy and some ominous dark grey clouds were forming. We had decided no rest break on this walk, we’d refuel as we walk and just take water stops for Ruby and the obligatory half way selfie for social media.
I’m not sure why we never notice downhills, but we definitely found a lot of uphill on this walk. Having set out to explore side paths we hadn’t plotted a detailed route so kept discovering surprisingly frequent steep hills (we call them thigh burners..)The data shows we did hit the downhills too but suspect we just relieved the uphill had stopped.
We planned that at around 15 miles we would head back to our familiar paths as we had a rough idea of mileage that would mean we could plan to be back at the car at 20 miles. We did not want to find ourselves in the depths of the forest at 20 miles with a 5 mile walk back, however appealing it was.
It took us a while to find our way back to the familiar paths – the trails that all interconnect in the wider forest take you out wide to the edge before hooking back onto the central trails. We were keen now to get back on the better paths as the bridlepaths were taking their toll on our ankles and feet.
So at 16 miles we were back near familiar waters (literally) and a route planned that would keep us on fairly flat terrain round a final loop back to the car park. It was incredibly dusty though on these paths – a maintenance vehicle went past and we were left in a complete dust cloud.
We now had less than an hour left to walk. The light was changing and there were a few spots of rain, and also the first signs of the dreaded aura in my vision. A pause for another water break, and some energy snacks for me. Rather than slow down too much I was keen to maintain the pace as we were now on familiar paths and I wanted to get the final miles done so I could get home and rest my eyes and brain.
I’ve talked about this before, but changes in lighting really impact my vision and how my brain manages visual signals. Sometimes my brain just can’t keep up and the aura – multiple flashing lights in my vision is the first sign.
When an episode starts everything changes. My priority moves from enjoying the walk to just getting the miles done. I’m not saying a 20 mile walk usually has us smiling all the way round – to quote Neil “it stops being fun when your feet start hurting”, but with an aura your alerts go up as your brain struggles. I stop recognising people and things and I become disorientated and very quiet. Each step is like walking through treacle and my vision is through a kaleidoscope. My posture goes to pieces and small aches and pains become big ones.
The whole point of being at Bedgebury was to be able to stop if I needed to. We were at 18.5 miles and although I knew the sensible thing was to stop and see if this passed, I also knew in half an hour I’d be back and done. The trouble with auras is that sometimes they will disappear as quickly as they came, your brain copes and resets quickly but others will escalate to a full ocular migraine and wipe you out for 36 hours.
As in the previous week I’d had several ocular migraines, I hoped that whatever had adapted in my brain last week to keep them in check was going to kick in now and keep this under control. I was lucky – it did. The kaleidoscope eased and whilst I was still off kilter and drained, my vision was stable again.
We made it to the end of the route in just over 6.25 hours and paused to take a badly staged cheesy photo at the end, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling drained afterwards..
Walk 8 done.
A surprise to me that I could discover a hidden 15 miles somewhere I have walked regularly for the past 6 years, what a revelation. However, my memories of this walk will be very much of dust and ants.
I’m slightly off track in timings now, so hope to complete 2 more walks in June taking advantage of the longer days so keep an eye out (no pun intended!) on social media for my plans.
As always a reminder that each walk is part of a challenge I am undertaking to raise funds for The Macular Society. I will be completing 20, 20 mile walks throughout 2020. Please do share my blogs and my story and any donation, however small really does make a difference.
Thank you all for reading and for your support and encouragement.