Mud, wet and tiers.
Since walk 19 at the end of October, there has been a lot of marital ‘discussion’ here about the plan for the final walk. Let’s just say that selecting a specific day in December was seen as sabotage by Neil, he felt I should just grab the next opportunity for good weather.
I, however, was keen to finish with a flourish and a finale. Visions of walking through our local towns on the shortest day, racing the daylight, and catching the Christmas lights at the finish. Once I found out that this also coincided with the first appearance of the Christmas Star for 800 years the date was set for 21st December. Then things changed.
The weather forecast was worsening every time we looked. Monday 21st December was forecast for heavy rain all through the walking hours and strong winds. There was potential flood warnings and it looked like walking may require a snorkel or a canoe. Then we heard the new Tier 4 announcements, and it was clear that walking around our local Kent Towns should be reconsidered. We agreed to stay local and walk on the 20th instead to get the last day of dryish weather.
So decision made that led to a bit of hurried activity; contacting those who had hoped to join on the walk and also drafting a new route. I was also incredibly hesitant about whether we could actually complete the walk in the daylight time. Our average for 20 miles was 7 hours 19 minutes but the conditions would be tough. The hills and mud would slow our pace considerably and we would have just 7 hours 53 minutes of daylight to get this done.
Our alarm went off early and we could hear a torrential downpour outside, er, that wasn’t forecast. Not a great start, but we packed our bags, donned our waterproofs and the downpour stopped just as we left home at 7.50.
It was cold but with a good pace we warmed up quickly. The light was magical as we headed out across the orchards. This start of route being so close to the village meant it was used a lot and the path was exceptionally muddy. Neil had managed to lose his walking boots this morning and so had opted to walk in his trail trainers and waterproof socks – not the best choice for the conditions..
It was clear that the popular paths were going to be difficult. It took us sometime to negotiate the downhills of the old golf course – just 2 miles into the walk. It was a miracle neither of us fell. We were slipping , sliding and squelching everywhere.
We made it out of the footpath here onto a local quiet lane. Usually we would cross into the next field, but it was incredibly waterlogged, so we decided to walk the lane for a while to try and recover some pace. It brought us to the same point, and gave our legs a bit of respite. We weren’t quite at 3 miles yet, and I started to have real doubts that we could do this in the conditions.
We now decided we would keep on these quiet back lanes for a while, even if it meant walking down and turning around constantly. It’s all extra miles and meant we could explore a little bit. The sun was breaking through now and we were starting to warm up. I even started shedding some layers.
We came across a footpath we hadn’t tried before. I knew roughly where it headed and the path was not too muddy so we decided to venture along it. A quick look back and we could see the sky was looking a bit ominous again. There was a definite gathering of very dark clouds starting on the horizon.
We carried on enjoying the new path, and then the heavens opened. The ground, already waterlogged, was getting very boggy, and the small streams we were crossing were racing below us. Layers were hastily put back on. Neil’s trainers filled with rainwater. We were still only just around 6 miles. This footpath again finished on a quiet lane and we headed up the hill turning right into some woods to escape the downpour.
The woods gave short respite – we crossed a stile and came into a large hilly field fully exposed to the elements – torrential rain and howling wind. Nice.
We headed out of the field back onto a familiar lane and part of the original planned route. Another footpath should link us to another quiet lane, again waterlogged and exposed. Neil’s other trainer filled up. He was reminding me of the nice weather we’d seen last week.. Oops! Negotiating a very narrow very muddy path we headed down the next lane towards more orchards. Again this was a popular walk so the original planned footpath was incredibly boggy and so we chose to stick to the farm track instead. It was still pouring, and I knew this path was a dead end. It’s not easy walking along a track knowing you have to turn and retrace your steps again.
As we turned, the rain stopped, the sun broke through and a rainbow appeared. Maybe, just maybe we could get that good weather that was forecast now.
So now we were heading towards Brenchley back on a familiar route. The weather was definitely much kinder now and the light was beautiful – even behind my anti glare glasses.
The half way point sounded on the app just as we were negotiating another flooded farm track, but at least we were drying out now.
We started heading back towards home and the start from this morning ready for another loop. This did mean heading back on those early muddy paths again. They had had a lot more traffic and a lot more rain, so even though this surely wasn’t possible they were even muddier than this morning!
I can’t say that we were feeling fresh – the conditions were taking their toll. We were walking through treacle pretty much most of the way, and it was firing up small aches and pains for Neil & I.
Amazingly though we kept the pace going – confident in the planned route we had – as many lanes as we could find plus a revisit of the new footpath so we could commit that new route to memory.
Once we hit 15 miles two things always happen. Neil instantly starts falling to pieces. As though a switch is thrown and his joints complain. This time this was added to by his soaked trainers that now had a hole appearing too.. Secondly, I stop counting up the miles (mile 2 , 6, 10, 13..) and starting counting down (4, 3, 2 to go). It doesn’t make it easier physically, but psychologically its a boost!
The sun was starting to dip in the sky now and it wasn’t as warm as it had been a little while earlier. The same vistas from earlier now had a new warm light.
We were now almost back at the village but we would be about a half mile short of the magic 20 so we decided to turn and head towards the Village Green. One of my favourite walking spots is just by here and always is lovely as the sun sets, so I was pleased to be able to include it. The village itself was already very quiet – the usually busy road uncharacteristically quiet.
Really close to home now and we needed really just a few extra feet to guarantee the 20 miles without a walk around the garden. I convinced Neil to head towards my favourite field so I could capture the evening light.
This was as close as I got – another stile was just too much even for Ruby – I was overruled and we turned towards home. We hit the 20 mile marker just around the corner, just as the sun was dipping:
We peeled off our muddy boots and layers at the door and Neil had very very thoughtfully put a bottle of fizz in the fridge in anticipation. Crazy to think this challenge is now done, especially as I had initially planned walk 20 meticulously to avoid mud and hills!
So whilst, I am not out walking today as I’d expected and ending this challenge at a lovely Christmas filled finish line, we’ve all had our plans shaken up this weekend; so this finish seems somehow far more 2020.. I will though try and head out this evening and spot that Christmas Star.
I’ll raise a glass to you all in thanks for all your support for this challenge. You’ve all been wonderful – from joining me if you could, to sending supporting messages and of course donating much appreciated sponsorship. Even yesterday my crazy cousins in the West Country joined me ‘virtually’ lifting my spirits with their photos and this video of their poem of support.
The Just Giving page is still open , so if you would like to help one last time please do share my social media posts about this challenge to help spread awareness and maybe gain a few extra donations..
Wishing you all a healthy and happy 2021. I’m off to put my feet up…