Walk 10

Halfway : Medway Valley Walk

So halfway through June, we’ve completed Walk 10 and are now halfway through the 20-20 Challenge. Its been a bit relentless in pace this month as I was keen to catch longer days, good weather and quieter routes.

This walk was planned originally to be a 20 mile linear walk from Tonbridge Castle along the River Medway to Aylesford Priory. However as I’ve already highlighted logistics are a challenge at the moment as we can not share car journeys, so each walk is beng adapted to an ‘out and back’ or circular route.

We therefore set off from Yalding and headed to Allington Lock, just outside Maidstone.

At the Start Point
Medway Valley Walk – along the Medway River

The starting point was just outside Yalding by the canoe launch points at the lock.Its quite a busy stretch of road but it offered parking which was key as the usual car park is currently closed.

A short walk towards Yalding station, past a field of Llamas, brought us to the riverside path. Already river life was underway here with someone having a Kayak lesson and others preparing their boats for a day cruising the river. Although this path follows the railway track most of the way, it was incredibly calm and peaceful.

River view near Yalding.

It was a muggy day again, and the skyline had many threatening dark grey clouds gathering so we were hoping to miss any downpours. Just a few metres along the path we were rewarded with beautiful river views and a Heron taking off. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with the camera – but I can’t capture everything for you!

There was a real community all along this path – from the kayakers and small boat owners through to the fishermen and those that had made their homes along the riverbank. There were several small caravan sites along the way – one was not for permanent residence but the others were. They all had beautiful views across the banks and on a lovely day many were sitting on small verandas outside.

The scenery and landscape was constantly changing. From woodland to fields and wide reaching views. These first few miles were incredibly peaceful and the river was a delight to walk beside. Many of the trees here were exceptionally old but in good health , although there were also several that had fallen across the path adding extra beauty to the trail.

Fallen Trees
Old Trees
Stunning old willows line the path

We were now moving from Nettlestead into Wateringbury. It was bustling around here and we had two route options from here to Teston. We decided to continue following the path at this point and save the alternate for our return. We crossed Bow Bridge to pick up the path and below us we could see the swans gliding on the river.

Level crossing at Waterinbury
Swans

Also below us was a guy on a stand up paddle board – we seemed to keep pace with him for the next mile or so. Our route took us up above the river now towards the hamlet of Tustham and the paddle board kept coming into view when we had the river back in sight.

SUP
Hello again!

This little hamlet was gorgeous. The initial path had a sign with a rather formidable warning, but proved to be out of date thank goodness. I know very little about this place, but the views were stunning and the buildings looked idyllic. It also hosts one of the World War 2 pillboxes that can be found along the river Medway.

Cottages in Tustham
WW2 Pillbox & a muddy Ruby
Tustham views

From here we followed the lane back towards West Farleigh & Teston. Here we crossed the river over the Grade 1 listed bridge that dates back to the 15th century. This bridge is only one vehicle wide and without a footpath. It has little bays built into it on each side so you can tuck out of the way and admire the river view.

We joined the path again along the river . This time we not only had the railway running parallel, but also the A26. However, it felt a million miles away as the river was in a small valley beneath them, just dotted with fisherman along the banks.

Teston Bridge – you can just make out the bays curving out of the bridge.
Moody skies at Teston

As we continued along the path towards Maidstone we headed through a narrow section. There were a lot of Coronavirus signs here making you aware that you would not be able to social distance. Its the first time we have seen these on our walks. It does seem that the authorities here are rather keen on signs – I’m still making a mental list of what the etc could be on this sign!

Etc… see the Coronavirus warning sign in the background

The path here switched to tarmac and the banks of the river were lined with an eclectic mix of houseboats. Many also had a small garden alongside all lovingly tended and the vegetable plots were very impressive too. Again there was a real sense of community here and the river here was lined with large old trees.

Houseboat
More Houseboats
Running your business from a houseboat

We were now just over a quarter of the distance on this walk, but already felt we had seen so much more than on our last few walks. We now reached East Farleigh and again it took on a bustling atmosphere as we approached the bridge and lock.

East Farleigh

From here on, we were approaching the outskirts of Maidstone, and both sides of the river were now lined with apartments or houses. The houses had gardens that swept down to the riverbank – many had built decks so they could sit or fish at the waters edge.

It wasn’t long before we could see the Archbishop’s Palace on the opposite bank signalling we were in the centre of Maidstone.

Archbishops Palace Maidstone.

There was a definite change of atmosphere. The banks of the river were lined with benches and these were largely occupied by groups who seemed to have turned them into makeshift pubs – complete with pub umbrellas.

We had to head away briefly from the river to navigate the large central roundabout by the Crown Court and then rejoin on the opposite bank to head out the other side of Maidstone.

We had just 2 miles now to get to Allington Lock which would take us to just over the 10 mile marker and be the turning point. However, just under a mile from here we were greeted with this – today is the 15th June..:

Route Closed

Typical! Lots of planning to make sure we didn’t have to walk around by the car when we arrived back and now we were going to be 2 miles short!

We turned round as alternate routes were through residential streets and we made the decision to walk past our car and along the path in the other direction when we got back to Yalding.

Close to this turn around point there was evidence of rejected bounty from some magnet fishing abandoned on the riverbank.

Magnet fishing haul

We also decided to stick to this bank of the river for as long as possible to bypass the bench drinkers. This meant an opportunity to look round the grounds of the Archbishop’s Palace a bit more.

Archbishops Palace

The weather was very changeable now as we retraced our way back along the paths. It was very very muggy and we were feeling that oppressive heat starting to drain our energy and resolve. Probably coupled with the fact we knew we had to walk past the car when we got back and find a further 2 miles.

However the light was beautiful and the river was shining on the route back.

Beautiful light
Old Willows

It seemed to take a lot longer to head off the tarmac path and back on the natural paths. Ruby took every opportunity to jump into the little streams that flowed into the river – cooling her paws and tummy in the clear water.

This time we walked through Teston Country Park and past the lock back to Wateringbury.

and back we go..
my walking buddies..
Teston Lock

As we were now on the opposite bank we could just see a few landmarks from this mornings walk through Tustham – particularly the WW2 pillbox.

Pillbox again
River Life

So we found ourselves back near Wateringbury and then on through the fields towards Nettlestead. It was so much quieter here, and as we approached the final field we were greeted by such a magical sight as the air was filled with floating seed heads just bobbing around us. The video doesn’t do it justice but gives you an idea!

Wateringbury
More wonderful Willows

So now we were back by the car. Poor Ruby was keen to get back in it , but we still had 2 miles to clock up. We walked past the car towards Teapot Island and headed along the Valley Walk towards East Peckham. We knew we had to walk a mile out and it felt like the longest mile we’d ever walked!

It was clear the path here was not used so often as it was much narrower and overgrown. We were listening hard for the app to shout 19 miles so we could turn back towards the car. It was a lovely route, but our tired feet weren’t truly appreciating it.

Yalding towards East Peckham – you can sense that oppressive air
The Final Mile

Finally the app buzzed and we turned and headed back.. I was really quite achy now. Three 20 mile walks so close together were starting to take their toll . Even though we stretch, rest and recover in between, its a reminder that it is very much a challenge. Neil’s comment of the day was ‘Why didn’t you say 20 Kilometres..”

If only lockdown hadn’t played a part, we could have finished this walk here on the banks of the river with a lovely glass of something cold and some delicious food – but it was not to be this time.

For another time..

We ambled back to the car, and of course (!) we were still 0.04 miles short (grrr), so we walked past the car – much to Ruby’s annoyance – and back again til we got the 20 mile beep.

20 miles done. Walk 10 of 20 done.

Halfway there and new trainers now on order as mine are starting to wear thin and the canvas has holes appearing now.

Despite the struggle at the end, we both loved this walk and I hope that maybe I can do the original planned 20 miles of it another time – I will check the route is fully open first!

As always this is a reminder that these walks are part of my 2020 challenge to complete 20, 20 mile walks to raise funds for the Macular Society. If you would like to encourage me (and I need it at the moment!!) please do consider making a donation, however small, if you can here:

Janes 2020 Donation Page

Thank you for following this challenge – hope you are enjoying the story!

Walk 9

The Forest Way : Three County Challenge.

It’s been just under a week since Walk 8, but I’m keen to take advantage of the long days and calm weather. We have a motto in our house “Don’t be complacent” or “DBC” for short. So with memories of being soaked to the skin on Walk 1, crossing floods for Walk 2 and with perfect weather forecast – Walk 9 was hastily planned.

This was originally going to be Walk 4 in late March when conditions underfoot off road were too challenging. Obviously circumstances changed and I had thought I’d return to this route later in the year.

However, logistics plays a part in the challenge now and the 20 mile linear routes I had planned over the summer aren’t currently an option.

As my vision and migraines can be triggered unexpectedly, I need to have company with me. Whilst I can social distance with someone on a linear 20 mile walk , I can’t in a car on the lift back. Therefore, Neil has suddenly found himself my number one walking buddy as well as designated driver. Routes are therefore currently circular or 10 miles out and back. I’m not really a fan of ‘out and back’ as I prefer the variety of a circular walk, or the sense of achievement in distance of a 20 mile linear route, but its still definitely a 20 mile walk.

The Forest Way Trail

I’ve walked a disused railway line before (Walk 2 Cuckoo Trail) and my last walk was through Bedgebury Forest – so walking a disused railway line through the Forest was a natural step. It was also very flat – a key part of the original June plan! I’d booked a week in Norfolk with the view to complete 3 walks given the infamous terrain and lovely long days. That plan was obviously now scuppered so the challenge is to find flat walks locally which are slightly gentler and enables a quicker recovery.

The Forest Way runs for just under 10 miles between Groombridge and East Grinstead. Groombridge village straddles the border of Kent & East Sussex, and we would be walking out to East Grinstead (and back) in West Sussex. A three county challenge.

Long days and no closing times to take into account meant we headed out a bit later than usual and parked in the centre of Groombridge so we could make up the extra half mile we would need. There’s no signage from the village to the start, but with a bit of research and some helpful locals we found our way to the start point at the bottom of a hill. Noted : hill finish to look forward to..

Disused? Confused..

It was perfect walking weather. Around 17 degrees a mix of cloud and sun so not too much of the dreaded glare for my eyes. We started on the trail and were almost immediately confused by the first sign: “Horseriders beware of approaching trains” – why only horseriders? – why not walkers and cyclists? – what trains? – isn’t this disused after all? The loud rumble of a train cleared things up – the first part of the path ran parallel to the active railway line it was very close and the noise could make a horse bolt.

The line we were walking on originally opened in 1866 but was closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching cuts to branch lines across the country – the same as the Cuckoo Trail Line. Ironically, Dr Beeching used this particular line for his own commute as he lived near Forest Row.

This first part of the trail from Groombridge starts with beautiful views across the countryside before you head into the Ashdown Forest.

Perfect weather and views

The view ahead is a relentless straight line disappearing into the distance. The trail itself though takes you through many different landscapes as it skirts the River Medway (a river that will hopefully feature in Walk 10!) and through the Forest itself. Ruby loves to have a dip in water and was keen to lead us off the track to the river bank – but it was a bit too steep for her on this occasion.

Only able to look today
Straight ahead – almost hypnotic

This trail was the right type of busy ; lots of cyclists and dog walkers. Whenever we neared a village or town the numbers increased considerably. We’d been warned that in the summer the trail gets busy, so if a Tuesday in early June is an indicator, then this would be difficult to walk at peak times. The path isn’t quite wide enough to manage cyclists trying to get past walkers in both directions. Luckily, for us, it was fine and we soon settled into a good rhythm and pace.

Tunnels

There are many tunnels on the path and I love the echoes that your footsteps and voices create as you go through them. A silly childhood pleasure of calling out as you go under each one – even if it made Neil roll his eyes. Some of these tunnels were starting to be reclaimed by nature and as you went deeper into the forest you could have been on an Indiana Jones set.

Quiet Please – I’m obviously not the only noisy tunnel walker

As we approached Hartfield, the forest thickened and the river was again close by. We were in Winnie the Pooh territory here and could have ventured off to the famous bridge and play Pooh sticks. We were only a few miles in though and wanted to keep the momentum going. We will come back another time for that.

River Views
Forest vistas
Forest Trails

As we walked, the trail brought some amazing country views between the forest landscape as it skirted the edge of the forest. This would have been a beautiful commute on a train.

Ooh – an Oast house – memories of Walk 6
Is it me or is that house looking at me?

There was of course wildlife too. Wildflowers, birds and an abundance of squirrels everywhere. We heard a cuckoo calling out which somehow always breaks through all other sounds and catches your ear.

The trail has marker posts along the way as well as formal cycling signs as well. These aren’t necessarily needed to guide you – the path is obvious except for a short part around Forest Row , but they give you clear mileage indicators for your progress.

Cycle Signs near Hartfield
Mileage Marker near Forest Row

There’s a ‘gap’ in the trail at Forest Row where you head down a small lane and cross the busy A22 and join the final part towards East Grinstead. This part of the trail was so much busier and it felt like we were facing a sea of people walking and cycling towards us from East Grinstead. Its obviously a much valued resource and the path here was much wider. We had decided that once our apps had hit 10 miles we would turn round and head back. We could see the end of the trail but it was so busy there we were keen to start back along the quieter sections.

I managed to accidentally stop my app when checking the 10 mile alert, so had to restart a new tracker for the return leg – luckily Neil had his app going too (a contingency as we’ve had app issues before) so I’d still have the full 20 mile log.

Forest Views
Back in Quieter sections

The consistent flat path meant we had a really good pace going. It wasn’t deliberate it just naturally picked up and was partly motivated by the never ending trail visible in front.

The trails were also quieter again and we started passing familiar faces who were also making their return journeys. In fact on the walk back although we passed many people, there were only one or two new faces. There was a sense of camaraderie as we all said hello again.

Picking up the pace

We started ticking off the mile markers quickly on the return leg. It seemed no time at all til we reached Forest Row and then Hartfield appeared quickly.

Mile Markers
Almost back

The forest gradually thinned out and we were almost back at Groombridge where we had started the trail. The paths were a bit narrower here, but we pretty much had them to ourselves. This return part didn’t feel as fresh as the walk out had . We were retracing steps on the narrow tracks and it now seemed very familiar. This is undoubtedly a lovely walk. The constantly changing views and sights really help motivate you on long walks like this, so I will really look forward to picking up those long linear walks again at some point.

Final Stretch
Last of the tunnel whoops

So there we were, back at the start of the trail – still half a mile to clock up for the full 20, and even with the walk to the car we were still going to be a quarter mile short – how does that always happen?!

The end and the beginning and lockdown hair

So as usual we could see the car, we could touch the car, but we walked 3 laps of the park next to the car park to hit the magic 20 mile marker.

Walk 9 DONE! No migraine, no flashy eyes and a great pace and time.

The Stats

Almost now at the half way point for this challenge. There are still 11 walks to plan and complete, and I hope that I can start getting friends and family to join me again too. I’ve missed your company but appreciate all your ongoing support.

As always, here is the reminder that I am undertaking these walks as a fundraising challenge for The Macular Society. Later this month is Macular Awareness Week, and I’ll be sharing more about the work this organisation does to support those affected by Macular Disease and the research for treatments that they fund.

If you would like to make a donation to support my challenge and the Macular Society you can simply click here:

Janes 2020 Challenge Donation Page

Walk 8

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.

Warnings #staysafe
Keep Out

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.

Main Paths
Off the Beaten Track

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.

Is it called Holby as you end up in A & E?

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.

One of many water breaks
look at that Lockdown hair!

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.

All those rolling hills made for a workout

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.

New paths
Picking up familiar trails

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.

Looks inviting but tough on the ankles

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.

Back on the main route
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.

Determined last few miles
Posture!

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..

Well done you!

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.

DUST

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.

Just Giving Donations Page

Thank you all for reading and for your support and encouragement.

Walk 7

My Unlucky Left Leg

Well, I have to start this blog with a bit of an update from the past couple of weeks. You’d think with lockdown in full swing, it would have been fairly uneventful, but I appear to have stumbled (literally) across a run of bad luck. More specifically my left leg has.

It started just after Walk 6. I managed to stub my little toe with real force, resulting in a badly bruised foot and painful little toe. I have weirdly long toes so I’m used to catching toes on furniture and the occasional broken toe is not unusual as a result. However, I was uncertain if this was a break or bad bruise. I followed guidance for broken toes (ice, elevate, buddy strap) and it improved – still swollen and bruised but not too painful unless I put weight on the troublesome bit. Which I seem to do quite alot!

So not too bad all things considered, and I was back out on the dog walks in no time. It was on one of these walks, my left leg got involved in an altercation between Wilf, our daughters young Patterdale pup, and a number of cars. You see, Wilf has a high chase drive and about 10 days ago he decided to up this from squirrels to cars.

He may be small but he’s very strong , and so when I put myself between him and an oncoming car , I took the full force of his lunge on my left leg. Another huge bruise just above my knee; more ice and elevation.

So now, I’m hobbling a bit – a swollen toe, knee and some nasty bruises as trophies. Surely my luck couldn’t get any worse. Of course it could!

Me and Wilf and a pristine left leg

We all take it in turns to practice Wilf’s recall training in the garden. To do this he has a long 10 metre lead that trails behind him so if he decides to head off after a squirrel we can stamp on the lead and keep him safe.

Wilf and I headed out to the garden with his lead trailing behind him, and he was understandably excited. he ran through my legs circling my left leg and scooted off towards the lawn. The lead was wrapped around my left ankle and pulled tight as he ran – the full 10 metres whizzing around my ankle at speed giving me a nasty friction burn. Look away now if you are squeamish.

Friction Burn Courtesy of Wilf

The good news though was that restrictions have eased and unlimited exercise is permitted – so I can get back out and complete the 20 mile walks. As you know I had them planned in various locations across the country, but these will not be possible as we can not stay with friends and family. Also a 20 mile walk takes between 6-8 hours depending on terrain. That means at some point I need a ‘comfort’ break and all hostelries are currently closed. I’m not the peeing behind a bush kind of girl, so for this walk decided to keep it local so I could make a pitstop back at home.

This walk therefore, was a 10 mile circuit around Matfield and Brenchley in Kent, which I completed twice.

The 10 mile loop

I headed out on Saturday morning with just Ruby, our Spaniel for company. We headed up to Matfield village, and instantly noted the lanes and paths were much busier than they had been recently. This was the first weekend of the eased restrictions. Usually at most you may pass 1 person on the half a mile up to the village, I passed 8. Several with maps in hand and rucksacks on their backs. We are really lucky to have amazing walks on our doorstep, and after the orders to stay home it was clear that the attraction of these walks and open spaces were drawing people to them. It makes us appreciate where we live even more.

Matfield Pond

It was a grey start to the day but pleasantly warm. I walked out past the village pond, and our local butchers were already in full swing with their ‘drive through’ service for the village. A cheery wave from the team there , and probably a smile from behind the facemasks. Its hard to forget how different things currently are, as there are small reminders of the impact of this virus everywhere.

I headed out on to the footpaths. I know this route well. In fact its an amalgamation of several different dog walks we take, and I was at this point guessing that it would be about 10 miles. I met my neighbour almost straight away, and had a quick socially distanced chat.

As I have mentioned, like many places there have been a lot more people out walking in recent weeks. Its not always easy to follow and find the footpaths if you aren’t familiar with the route or investigated it beforehand. Signs can be covered this time of year as hedges and trees burst into life, and many very quiet paths that pass through peoples property have become exceptionally busy. In fact some routes have temporary diversions set up to help people distance more easily.

Diversion

From here, the paths were really busy. on this route I would maybe see 3 other walkers on a busy day. I had walked 2 miles and had seen 24. Not an issue, but the need to socially distance each time,so people can pass, means this was becoming slow. However, there’s always a positive and all these pause points allowed me to drink the views in. In my last blog, I talked about the creation of visual memories, and here was a great opportunity for this.

Well worn Paths

The ground was incredibly hard underfoot and dusty. In places there were deep cracks where the earth was completely parched. It made for very uneven walking at times and this meant I kept, involuntarily, putting too much weight on my little toe. My ankle was carefully covered and protected, but my toe was sending my several sharp reminders to be a bit kinder to it.

I started to become more and more aware of the sheer number of Oast houses, that I pass on my walks. These iconic Kentish buildings stand out across the countryside with their white cowl tops catching the sun. In fact look back and you’ve seen one already by that footpath redirection sign.

There are many different styles of Oast houses – not sure why – maybe I’ll take some time to investigate, but I decided to try and capture images of the different styles as I walked.

‘Square’ oast

The sun came out (hooray!) so time to switch glasses back to my full light blocking ones. These are definitely striking, and I’ve learnt not to be so self conscious in them. Of course I’d prefer stylish ‘cool’ frames and lenses, but the reality is they are not strong enough in eye protection on extra bright days.

Quick glasses switch – sun breaking through.

The number of Oast houses was increasing rapidly now – white ones, square ones and round ones. I couldn’t quite get the depth on my photos to show the tips of the cowls dotted across the views. I was literally crossing fields that had Oast houses at each end – a reminder of the history of this area for growing hops.

Oast views
White and Square Oast
Classic double roundel

The route now took me up towards Brenchley viewpoint – a spot that gives panoramic views across the countryside. It was, unsurprisingly, busy this morning so I took a quick diversion across another unexplored path where I suspected I would get a similar view. I was right and it was even more enhanced by the beautiful, if curious, cows and calves in the foreground.

Socially distancing from the curious cattle

Just by this path is a newly refurbished Oast House. The roundels have a distinctive render, and they have placed great tops on the cowls – fighting hares and the symbol of Kent the Invicta horse.

Great Cowls

It took me a while to get both of these in shot, as it was a bit breezy and the cowls kept blowing round and hiding their treasure.

At the top of this road we head towards Brenchley. The buildings here are really stunning – a fabulous Oast and barn and plenty more historic buildings. The village itself dates back to the 1200’s.

Historic house
Kent in a photo

At this point I’m still only 5 miles in. The views just keep coming as do the Oasts, and as I return closer to a village, so do the other walkers. The pace slows again as we social distance to pass each other.

Views with a tip of a cowl

I’m now heading up through the orchards back towards Matfield. I pass the best named house – I want to live here just because of its name – Ruby seems keen too..

Swingle Swangle – who wouldn’t want to live in a house called this!

Its warm now, and whilst I’m actually less than 2 miles from home I need to tick off twice that to hit 10 miles and complete the first loop. So I plan a zig zag route back to home. Heading back to Matfield Green, I get that wonderful view of our beautiful village.

Matfield Green

A sharp left turn here, behind the cricket pavillion and I’m back on the High Weald Landscape Trail heading towards another classic Oast House.

High Weald Landscape Trail
More Oasts if you know where to look

We are now on a cross country events course. Ruby loves this – I’m sure she would have attempted the jumps in her younger days. Usually, I avoid walking here at weekends, as the course is often in use and you can find yourself in the middle of a full scale competition with horses on the course. At the moment its closed, and a little known route with the most amazing views , so its been a great walk for us when paths are busy.

she thinks she’s a horse!

Now its just a short stroll down to Cinderhill Woods and back towards home. As I come out of the woods I can hear a familiar bark of Wilf still trying to catch a car as he’s heading back from his own late morning walk.

A quick pitstop of 20 minutes and I head back out again, this time with Neil for company.

Here we go again..

Its now about 2pm, the paths are quieter than they were this morning which helps. We navigate the short narrow paths quickly and head back out into the wider fields and spaces.

Narrow Paths

This whole route has only a couple of short narrow paths where it would be impossible to social distance. Knowing that routes are busier, planning for this was important so we could avoid having to retrace our steps to give distance. We also try to minimise stiles and gates as much as possible, especially on busy routes. They can’t be avoided completely and I’m becoming adept at using elbows to open gates:

Great elbow work – bad lockdown hair- caught the grey nicely Neil !

It didn’t seem to take anywhere near as long to get back to Brenchley and be crossing the orchards towards Matfield. It seemed really quick for the village green to come back into view. another reminder that company and chatter always helps the time fly by.

My feet were now sore and my little toe throbbing from the uneven and hard ground. The ankle injury also meant that I couldn’t wear my usual walking socks and the alternates I’d chosen were proving to be less than supportive. It made it hard to turn away from the usual direct route home and double back on ourselves.

Oast views again

We finally had the entrance to the woods in sight. From this mornings calculations, if I was at 18.75 miles here I would hit 20 miles exactly when I reached our gate. My not so trusty watch app was only showing 18.4 miles. I hadn’t factored this mornings actual route into the equation as I’d walked up on a detour to the village to drop a poo bag in the bin, thus adding a third of a mile.

Entrance to the woods

So we had to add a wiggle to the route in the woods. Ruby was happy as that meant a trip to the stream and a dip in her favourite place to cool off, but it also meant we had to climb another hill on tired feet back out to home – I’d planned the original route to avoid this – that’ll teach me to stay alert!

The Final Mile

It worked – we reached the gate and my app hit exactly 20 miles, love it when that happens!


It felt really good to get back out and get a proper 20 mile walk under my feet again. Not sure my feet, or more precisely my left foot was so appreciative.

My little toe was really unhappy and my feet covered in dust and dirt from the dry paths and inappropriate socks.

*****Warning – foot picture with my weird toes coming:******

Big little toe , remnants of bruise and other weirdly long toes..at the end of Walk 7

Here’s hoping that my luck changes for my left leg and I can be a bit more comfortable on Walk 8. I’m back route planning, keeping in mind to stay local. Who knows, maybe I might hook up with a socially distanced friend next time – keeping 2 metres apart for 20 miles will be a good exercise in itself!

As you know I am completing this challenge to raise funds for the Macular Society. All charities are facing difficult times, and many provide specialist support to many people and research organisations too. This is true of the Macular Society who have seen an increase in calls for support at a time when large fundraising activities have had to stop.

If you can, please do make a donation for this challenge to help support their work – both the Macular Society and my unlucky left leg would appreciate it.

You can find the link here:

Janes 2020 Challenge

Walk 6 Route

The virtual one (Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge)

This is a real walk – one that had been planned and mapped out to be completed and shared with you all. Its ever so slightly over 20 miles and was full of things to see and share with you all.

So, whilst I couldn’t physically complete the walk with the restrictions in place – I could share the route and the sights of the walk with people on social media and we could enjoy it together from comfort of our sofas. So from 11.30 am on 29th April I started sharing posts for each part of the walking route on Facebook Instagram and Twitter. Here is that ‘walk’.

Tunbridge Wells Station

We are ‘meeting’ outside Tunbridge Wells railway station at 11.30 am. By the taxi rank opposite Hoopers department store. This walk starts at Tunbridge Wells station and ends at Tonbridge station so connections are easy. We won’t be following the direct A26 main road as I plan to take the scenic route today.

A short walk up Mount Pleasant and we head into Calverley Grounds – part of Decimus Burton’s development of ‘Calverley New Town’ from the 1830’s. Here we are right by the bandstand and cafe. I have fond memories of tobogganing with friends in this park many many winters ago.

Calverley Grounds Bandstand & Cafe

The park is in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, and from here you can see the Villas and enclosing wall that formed the New Town development. In addition to the Villas there is this crescent of 17 Regency houses next to the now Hotel du Vin that rise above the park. We can leave the park through here and head back down past the station and the old High Street and on to Tunbridge Wells’ most iconic location.

Calverley Park Crescent

Lets head back out of the park now and walk down the old High Street towards Tunbridge Wells most iconic spot. The Pantiles.

The Pantiles

No walk in Tunbridge Wells is complete without a trip to the iconic Pantiles.
Following the discovery of the Chalybeate Spring in 1606, with its restorative waters, Tunbridge Wells quickly became a tourist attraction. Wooded ‘walks’ were hastily planted where the Pantiles now stand. This was to provide a place for promenading with shelter from the elements. The area evolved over time as tourism grew and developed a reputation for hosting more scandalous pastimes such as gambling. In 1735 this beautiful Georgian colonnade was built and the area again became the height of fashion. This was largely thanks to the influence of Beau Nash, an 18th century fashion icon and famous celebrity of the time who championed this area. The Pantiles has undergone another resurgence in popularity in recent years – full of coffee shops and restaurants and is also host to weekly al-fresco Jazz nights each Thursday throughout the summer.

Leaving the Pantiles now and heading back towards Tunbridge Wells common we have two very contrasting buildings almost opposite each other. Firstly, King Charles the Martyr Church which boasts an ornate plaster ceiling by Sir Christopher Wren’s chief plasterer, Henry Doogood. The interior of this Church is definitely worth a visit and it also often hosts music recitals.

King Charles the Martyr Church

Now looking across towards Tunbridge Wells common from the outside of this church you will see an unusually shaped building called The Forum. The Forum used to house public toilets and a brass rubbing centre but was converted to a brilliant music venue in 1993. Since opening it has hosted many bands at the start of their career ; the list is impressive and includes : Oasis, Coldplay, Muse and Adele – I missed seeing all of them here.🤦🏻‍♀️

The Forum

Following the path now up across Tunbridge Wells common, its worth mentioning that when Tunbridge Wells first became a tourist spot there were no hotels or guest houses and so people camped all over the common in elaborate tents.


This area also includes a number of sandstone rocks, dating back to neolithic times (I googled..) including Wellington Rocks – pictured here. These rocks were named after the Wellington Hotel on Mount Ephraim (now a travelodge) – the hotel got its name as it had connections to the Duke of Wellington’s wife who often stayed in the town.


The local history society also tells us that guides from the early 19th century highlighted “small transparent pebbles are found on the paths of the Common, especially after rain. These crystals are called Tunbridge Wells Diamonds, and, cut and polished, form brilliant additions to the jewel-case”. Apparently these small rounded pebbles can still be seen here today embedded in the sandstone – oh and we tobogganed here too narrowly avoiding crashing into the rocks!

The local history society also tells us that early nineteenth century guides report that “small transparent pebbles are found on the paths of the Common, especially after rain. These crystals are called Tunbridge Wells Diamonds, and, cut and polished, form brilliant additions to the jewel-case”. Apparently these small rounded pebbles can still be seen here today embedded in the sandstone – something to look out for.

Wellington Rocks

We are now going to head out along Mount Ephraim and out towards the countryside that borders the town rather than along the A26.

Thackerays

We are walking along Mount Ephraim now. Looking back across the town from here the distinctive building of Thackerays restaurant shines out. Originally built as a lodging house to accommodate the influx of tourists the building was renamed after one of its famous guests.

Turning now away from the town we head out along Royal Chase and back towards the residential areas of Earls Road and Bishops Down Park Road to pick up the footpaths heading through the countryside towards Southborough and Bidborough.

Salomons

Out on the country footpaths now, we skirt the edge of the Salomons Estate. This is now a multi functional event and conference venue. The Estate was originally built for Sir David Salomons in the 1850s and was designed by the architect Decimus Burton. There is a free museum in the main building showcasing the wide history of the family – from the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London through to the pioneer of the first British Motor Show which was held in Tunbridge Wells in 1895. The buildings include a spectacular Victorian Theatre and an intricately decorated Gold Room. It has the well earned nickname of ‘mansion of marvels’ and was the first house in the country to have electricity.

Southborough Common

The footpath now will take us to Modest Corner and Southborough Common, leading us through the paths of Whortleberry Woods and countryside that has links back to Saxon times. (Thanks again google!!) This area is historically linked to Tonbridge Castle and was formally owned by the ‘Lord of the Manor of South’ – hence the name Southborough. The Lord of this Manor included Anne Boleyn’s brother, who was granted the title by Henry VIII. His fortunes changed with the demise of his sister and he was found to be too closely linked to Anne and therefore also executed.

St Peter & St Pauls Church, Southborough Common

Heading onto the common now at Southborough and towards the Decimus Burton Church ( He was a very busy man in this area Decimus Burton! ) . This creates the perfect backdrop to the quintessential English cricket ground. In fact Southborough’s links to cricket were so strong that it became renowned for the manufacture of cricket balls.

Heading back out on the paths behind the Church, we continue through to the village of Bidborough. Here the views across the North Downs are stunning. The ridge rises above the River Medway Valley and stretches out in front of you. That’s where we head to now – the River Medway.

View from Bidborough Ridge.

Walking down into the Valley before we cross underneath the A21, the countryside views continue. We eventually arrive at the Leigh Flood Barrier. This barrier creates a storage area for flood water to control the volume of water flowing in the river and protect the town of Tonbridge from flooding. It was built in 1982, but in recent years has struggled in keeping the town flood free.

Leigh Flood Barrier

The footpaths here connect us into Haysden Country Park, and are dotted with kissing gates. Quick question – Am I the only one that believes it’s bad luck not to blow a kiss to your walking partner when going through one of these? Apparently it’s a myth 🤷🏻‍♀️ From here we cross Lucifer Bridge and walk around Barden lake which is always filled with keen anglers. Walking here with dogs can be a challenge as the smell of all that bait drives them mad!

Haysden Country Park
Kissing Gate

The path will eventually bring us into Tonbridge. Follow the signs here for Tonbridge swimming pool where, if we are lucky, the miniature steam train may be running – this always evokes childhood memories..

Tonbridge miniature steam railway

We take the path next to the Swimming Pool up until we reach Tonbridge Castle – a classic Motte and Bailey Castle. The original castle was built to guard the crossing of the River Medway but was burnt to the ground – along with the town of Tonbridge, in 1088 following a rebellion against King William II. The castle was then rebuilt around 1100 with the stone wall added for extra security almost 200 years later.

Tonbridge Castle Gate House

Moving on now we take a slight detour and head North on Tonbridge High Street, to Tonbridge School. This public boys school was founded in 1553 and continues to thrive today. It’s buildings are beautiful and really stand out in this part of town. It has a fascinating list of alumni of sportsmen, journalists, authors and scientists.

Tonbridge School

We are going to head back along the High Street to the river again. We still have some miles to go to get us to that 20 mile mark so we will walk out of Tonbridge for a while now. We pass through the new developments alongside the river and reach the Industrial Estate. Cross the road here and take the footpath to make our way towards Tudeley.

Tonbridge River Development

I’m not heading out this way solely to clock the miles up. There is a purpose to heading to this area just outside of Tonbridge before we head back to Tonbridge station and the end of our walk. Set just off the road in Tudeley is All Saints Church, whose stained glass windows were created by modernist artist Marc Chagall. The second photo is of the East window, a memorial tribute to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye. Sarah was the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid; after their daughter’s death in 1963 they commissioned Chagall to create the memorial window. He then offered to create designs for the full 12 windows. The first was completed and installed in 1967 and the last in 1985 when Chagall was 97 years old. They create a wonderful atmosphere in this church.

Tudeley Church
Chagall Stain Glass : east window

Leaving the Church now, we head cross country towards the River again. On the horizon you should see the Grade 1 listed Hadlow Tower, the remaining part of Hadlow Castle. The Tower has had a varied history having been built in 1838. It is now in private ownership but has been used as a Watchtower during the war and then holiday accomodation. It was badly damaged in the Great Storm of 1987 and was bought by the local council for restoration with Heritage Lottery. It dominates the skyline and local myth has it that it was built to impress the parents of a number of eligible ladies in the surrounding areas. I love seeing this tower on the horizon when I walk, it’s great for navigation. My mum lives in its shadow with a spectacular view of it from her garden – when I see the tower I get a sense of connection to my mum – especially at the moment when we are all self isolating.

Hadlow Tower

We now arrive at Hartlake Road and Hartlake Bridge. There is a memorial plaque here, to commemorate 30 Hop-Pickers who drowned in a tragic accident. A horse pulling the wagon that was taking the hop-pickers back to their camp, shied on the bridge. The wagon crashed through the poorly maintained wooden bridge tipping the 40 occupants into the swollen river. The victims were aged between 59 and 2 years old. It is said that their screams could be heard in Hadlow village, several miles away. They were buried together in St Marys churchyard with a further memorial there.

Hartlake Bridge Memorial

We walk back along the river now towards Tonbridge. Hadlow Tower still on the skyline, but a peaceful walk before we arrive back in the Industrial Estate in Tonbridge.

River Medway at Hartlake

We are almost finished now. Its only a short time before we are back in the bustke of Tonbridge and walk back into the Town Centre and along the High Street to Tonbridge Station.

Tonbridge Station

It was lovely to have you with me on this ‘virtual’ walk and once restrictions are lifted I will walk this route fully and post my own photos of these landmarks rather than the ones I have shared today.

This Walk has actually taken many hours to pull together – almost as long as completing the Walk in real time. Planning the route and then researching the Landmarks that have hopefully kept you interested throughout this journey.

Thank you again for your support and please share my posts and spread the word about this challenge for the Macular Society.

All these challenges are part of my 2020 Challenge to raise funds for their work and research. All donations, however small have an impact at this time, and will help fund research that are focussed on developing treatments for sight threatening Macular conditions.

You can make a donation here :

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jane-woodhead20-20

Walk 6

The Virtual One : Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge

Ever regret committing to something well in advance? Find yourself painted into a corner through your own actions? I’ve always prided myself as being a great contingency planner – despite having to, ahem, “leave” the Girl Guides (that’s a story for another time..), I’m sure my friends, family and colleagues would say I’m someone that personifies the “be prepared’ slogan.

Yet, when I announced in December that I was committing to complete 20, 20 mile walks for The Macular Society during 2020, a pandemic lockdown was not a scenario I considered: bad weather; injury ; apathy ; work priorities ; family dramas – all had been considered, and there was always a way I could see of still completing the walks.

This is however, just an extra ratchet to the challenge. In hindsight, planning 20, 20 miles walks then completing them with friends and family was fairly straightforward. The new challenge is creating events that fulfill the brief of a 20 mile walk without breaching the lockdown restrictions. So far , under lockdown, I’ve completed Walk 4 by walking within the confines of my garden and neighbours’ field and Walk 5 was a community walk where friends and family donated a mile (or more) from their permitted daily exercise. To stay on track for completion in the timeframe – a Walk needs to happen roughly every 2 weeks.

I had already planned a number of Walks – all carefully mapped out on the Ordnance Survey App, and it was becoming disheartening to feel these were not going to happen. So I started to scan social media for ideas. How were people that walk for a living managing at the moment – and that led me to discover @Blitzwalker on Twitter and @look_uplondon on Instagram. Both usually guide Walking Tours around London and have brought their tours onto social media. They run as ‘Live’ events or for posts to be revisited when time allows.

So a plan was formed – I had a local route planned and I knew a number of landmarks along the way (with a bit of tweaking to pass them), so I set about creating the Virtual Walk.

Just borrowing images of these landmarks from the internet didn’t seem enough somehow. I’m conscious that fundraising through a challenge should actually involve a fair amount of effort – however tempting a shortcut is. Why else would people donate to support me?

This collation of sights along the route was also something I had set out to do as part of each of my walks. Capturing photos and creating a blog to record the journey is a key element to this – so you can all see what I’m doing and that I am actually doing it!

Its also a challenge in itself, as my blind spot in my vision can make capturing photos difficult – often the image I end up with is not the one I thought I’d taken, as my brain struggles to adapt to different light or perspectives.

My macular condition is still relatively mild, and the impact on my vision is at the ‘irritating’ level. Here’s a good representation using a photo of our Spaniel Ruby. The first is the actual photo, and the second is how this appears to me.

Ruby
Ruby – early stage Macular Pattern Dystrophy impact

You can see the impact of my blind spot and how it mists part of my visual field. It varies in noticeability depending on how well my brain is managing to cope with filling in missing visual signals. Changes in light, tiredness, motion, and too much glare can all have an impact and my vision is impacted and can lead to flashing lights that progress to an aura and an ocular migraine.

Capturing views and images that I love is really important to me now, and its something that members of the macular society community talk about – creating vision memories.

So this Virtual Walk was making me think hard about the vision memories on the route. These would be the landmarks I would use for the ‘event’ itself. I realised that I actually only had a headline knowledge about these places, despite having lived in the area for 30 years. If I was going to demonstrate some effort in this particular challenge, then I should do some research and try and find some ‘well I never knew that facts’ to throw in.

So that’s what I did – research the landmarks and gather some information to share in each post. Research and writing the ‘journey’ took several hours over the weekend but gave me a framework so I could post the Walk with a sense of flow as if actually moving from one place to the next. I started posting at 11.30am and then every 15 minutes right through til 5pm. Almost as long as doing the walk for real (Ordnance Survey says it would take 7 hours).

You can find the walk on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts and I have also created a separate Route blog for this one, so you can read at leisure.

Thank you for those who popped in and out of the walk throughout the day, joining in the conversation and sharing their own memories or interesting facts. It helped keep me going.

I do plan to actually go and do the Walk for real when restrictions are lifted , and take photos to match those that I borrowed from the internet.. Hopefully a few of you would like to join me and you can test how much of the facts I can remember!

Thanks again for all your support, encouragement and donations. Now to think about Walk 7..

Walk 5

Community spirit

What can I say? Walk 5 will definitely be a special one. The wonderful sense of community spirit that stretched across all four corners of the UK reaching the Highlands, Wales, West Country , Norfolk and down to us here in Kent – and further afield still : Australia, Tasmania and Canada too.

I’ve already highlighted that with lockdown in place and walking exercise limited to an hour a day outside of the home, thinking how I can complete each 20 mile walk is proving to be more of a challenge than a walk itself.

Since Walk 4 I’ve been struggling with my ocular migraines – nothing serious but a return of the dreaded aura and the ‘migraine hangover’. I suspect its as a result of my exercise being far more restrictive, and also having to stop the specialist pilates sessions that had helped ease these migraines. Another 20 miles walk at home was going to have to wait – but I needed to complete another walk soon to keep on target to complete 20 this year (I need to do 1 every 2 weeks roughly).

Then my friend Sam asked a question on my blog – could the challenge be completed vicariously by others? There are no rules around this as its my own challenge but it felt I might be outsourcing the challenge I’d undertaken. I wrestled with this a fair bit before deciding it was a brilliant idea. The purpose of fundraising is to not only raise much needed funds for The Macular Society but also understanding of their work and the support they provide. The more people who get involved with my challenge the wider the spread of this information. So rather than seeing it as Janes2020 ‘light’ it was actually Janes2020 ‘plus’.

The target was to gather 19 people who would all donate 1 mile from their daily walk – which would be roughly 20 minutes in time ( so 20 -20 in another variation!). With myself also walking that would complete Walk 5 from the 20 miles walked between us. The outcome was that 72 people (and 34 dogs) signed up donating anything from 1 to 5 miles each.

The Antipodean contingent led the way. My cousin Linda in Sydney and friend Theresa in Tasmania sending me their photos before I’d even woken up – this was a great motivator and start to the day ahead.

Linda in Sydney starting the day off with a real challenging walk
Tasmania – luckily we didn’t need woolly hats here as sun shone for us

All day my phone was pinging with the images and ‘miles’ coming in. The weather in the UK was lovely – an idyllic spring day and many of us were lucky enough to be close enough to woods bursting with bluebells.

Clare – on her break from working as a nurse to donate the miles with her fox red lab
Phil and Nina – bluebells and fox red labs too

We headed out too with Ruby & Wilf to clock up our miles and again later that evening I walked with our eldest round the garden (she is in the extremely vulnerable category so subject to shielding rules) to add another mile to the tally.

The messages and photos kept coming – lots of smiling faces holding up their phone apps or sharing their maps – heres a few to give you the sense of spread:

Ian (& Kathy & Tess) Surrey


Dawn walking view from Lucy in Essex
Samantha (thanks for the idea!!) with Jasmine & Daisy in Knoydart, Highlands
Jason & Sandy clocking the mile while working
on their allotment
Julie & Phil – near Glastonbury
Helen, Martha & Fraser in Modbury

Chris & Angie in Ticehurst

A special mention here too for my cousin Sharon in Wales. This has not been an easy time as her father’s funeral was the previous day and yet she still walked – with her son Ben and a big smile. Love you x

Sharon & Ben, Ammanford Wales

One of the best bits of all this was seeing everyones faces again, albeit a photo – and a sense of sharing something. Followed by lots of lovely messages pinging away with updates and chatter.

There was a common theme in these messages – everyone was enjoying walking with a purpose. Maybe our daily walks being governed and restrictive had seemed somehow to become exercising a right rather than a pleasure. I really miss walking with friends and talking rubbish for hours (maybe they don’t miss my rubbish nattering!) and yesterday I felt a sense of connection again – so thank you all…

I will ask one last favour and that is to please tell people you joined me and that we were supporting The Macular Society. Charities are all struggling with funding and are finding more demands on their services when resources are stretched. For those with a visual impairment the world at the moment is extra challenging – managing social distancing when your visual field is reduced- nervousness about attending hospital for essential sight saving injections. The Macular Society are supporting so many people with a raft of concerns and questions as many eye hospitals have seen staff diverted understandbly to the crisis.

By way of reward for your support yesterday I’ve collated all the dog images here for you to also share if you wish – maybe we can break the internet with them!

Walking swimming – waggy tails compulsory.

So finally – THANK YOU – 155 miles means between us we have completed equivalent of 7+ 20 mile walks. I will bank some of those miles in case I can not get back out properly before the end of the year – lets do this again sometime – hopefully in person. Stay safe lovely people and please do take time to share the collage of you all below along with the link to the donation page.

Janes2020 Donation Page

How lucky I am to know so many wonderful people

Walk 4

Stay Home ; Stay Safe

Just last week I wrote that I would be pausing my 20 20 challenge to ensure I met the government guidelines during the Covid 19 outbreak. Yet, here I am a week later writing about completing Walk 4.

After my last blog, several people got in touch encouraging me to consider completing a walk at home. I received links to numerous other charity fundraisers, completing half marathons and marathons in back gardens and on balconies – even one man continuously climbing his stairs to complete the equivalent height of climbing Everest. I was feeling a bit of a wimp by comparison.

I started by trying to build up time on our Elliptical Cross Trainer – a sensible option for virtually completing the 20 miles safely at home. However, I couldn’t get beyond 20 minutes before dizziness set in. This was an issue I had suffered from last year as my eyes constantly try to refocus whilst keeping up with my blind spot. The up and down motion of the cross trainer was aggravating this and therefore ruled this option out.

I’m fortunate to have a large garden, and over the last week, I’d been thinking more and more that completing 20 miles around the garden was possible. I started switching my Apps on when wandering around the garden and measuring the perimeter to calculate how many laps it would take ; roughly 110 if you are wondering. Doesn’t sound too difficult really, when you think about it.

Now, there’s another aspect that I had to factor in : the dogs. We have a 9 year old Springer Spaniel, Ruby, but have also been joined in the past few weeks by Wilf.

Wilf is our daughter Shona’s 8 month old Patterdale Terrier pup. Shona and Wilf are staying with us during lockdown and Wilf’s training and recall is still ‘work in progress’. Patterdale’s love to chase things – and my going round and round the garden past the window was going to test Wilf’s patience!

With all this in mind, I woke up Saturday morning saw the amazing blue sky and thought – why not? I pulled on my jacket and trainers and just got going.

It was a really bright day – and as someone with a Macular condition this causes a lot of discomfort as I have extreme light sensitivity. This means I was rocking my strongest light blocking glasses: full wrap around;red mirrored lenses to lessen glare; polarised and extra UV protection. They aren’t exactly subtle, but they really help.

By my rough calculations 5 laps should have been a mile (give or take) and a leisurely walk would usually see me complete a mile in around 20 minutes. When I’m distance walking , especially on my own, this pace increases and I can complete a mile in just over 15 minutes comfortably. I always err on the cautious side and had thought this walk would probably be 20 minute mile territory. Starting just before 10 am and planning a half hour stop for a snack and comfort break – I should be done and dusted around 5pm at the latest.

Watch out for those pesky rabbit holes

The thing about our garden is that its not manicured and we share it with a lot of wild rabbits. These wild rabbits are constantly digging and the garden can change suddenly overnight with new holes appearing. The ground is therefore rather uneven and my laps needed my full concentration to avoid falling down a rabbit hole. As predicted, the dogs were keen to join in and Ruby started following me quite early on.

Wilf was also undertaking recall training with Shona and my husband, Neil, in the garden so whenever I appeared around a corner, he came running at speed to greet me!

Beautiful loyal Ruby following me round and round
Wilfred trying to trip me up

Despite my glasses, I started to get the early signs of an ocular migraine. The familiar flashing aura in my vision that is so disorientating. I was approaching the 5 mile mark and realised I would need to take a short break to let this pass before carrying on. I paused my App and was confused when I saw that I had been walking for over 2 and 1/4 hours, meaning I was averaging 28 minute miles. At this rate – with no stops I was going to be walking until 8pm and finishing in the dark.

The reality of walking round and round a short loop meant that my speed was compromised. Constantly turning and going round corners simply slowed me right down. I was feeling despondent – I had a bad head and this challenge now seemed unachievable. A 20 minute break cleared my ocular migraine and a cup of tea and slice of cake boosted my resilience and determination. I mean, I’d already been marching round the garden for hours so not to complete it meant I’d wasted all that effort. I set back off around the garden varying my route in different directions to ease the monotony and the dizziness that was starting to hover in the background.

To help mix things up we decided to head off on our daily dog walk. Breaking the circle seemed a sensible idea and would mean I could literally stretch my legs and increase the pace for a while . With Ruby and Wilf in tow we headed out on the quiet lanes.

Incorporating the daily dog walk
Blue skies and social distancing

We did pass a few people on our walk. It was a glorious day on Saturday and people were out to get their daily exercise. The majority were friendly saying hello and ensuring we all gave each other at least 2 metres to pass each other. There was a minority, however, that really seemed oblivious to social distancing; one couple walked directly ‘at us’ down the middle of a wide footpath forcing us into the hedgerow at the side to keep the safe distance. This was so out of kilter to everyone else we met, it seemed so strange.

Back home after the diversion , I headed through our gate and back to the loops. This time I tried to mix up the infinite circular lap by pretending to virtually mow the grass; going up and down creating imaginary stripes. The more I walked the more I spotted little tasks needing to be done in the garden – the start of a bramble or nettle peaking out. I suggested to Neil that he could follow me and I would show him where there were chores to be done – he didn’t seem keen.

Ruby hoping to offer some distraction – Wilf again attempting to trip me.

So now it was 4pm and I had completed 12 miles. My neighbour, Lizzie, had noticed strange goings on in our garden and called out across the hedge to Neil to see what was happening. An hour later Lizzie appeared at the hedge again and offered the empty field at the back of their house as a longer circuit for me to finish my walk. Neil seemed really keen for me to take this up – obviously hoping I’d stop creating a long list of gardening chores for him!!

Lizzie opened the gate to the field and walked me round the lap, keeping the full 2 metres away. The route had been mowed into the long grass that afternoon by Lizzie’s husband so that she could use it for her daily exercise. Each lap was a wonderful full 1/2 mile in distance. Again the terrain was rough in places underfoot, and this time included a small hill, but it meant I could speed up slightly and had a chance to complete the task before dark.

Back home for the final lap

The sun was starting to get low and there was a distinct chill in the air now so I headed back to our garden for the last 1/4 mile lap. The App clocked 20 miles at 7.22 in the evening. I had been walking for almost 8 hours and had taken over 50,000 steps. By contrast my last 3 walks had averaged 6.25 hours. This was definitely the toughest walk so far.

Stats..

Below is the map image of my completed walk. The birds nest are my loops and loops around our garden and the spaghetti strips – Lizzie’s field. I am now back ‘on track’ to where I expected to be with 4 out of 20 walks completed before Easter. With restrictions on exercise in place this 20, 20 challenge has become a whole lot harder. I’m not sure I’d do an ‘at home’ walk again, but I am determined to keep my challenge going in some form during this difficult time and continue fundraising for the Macular Society.

Route Map

If you have any wonderfully creative suggestions for tasks that can be completed at home around the 20,20 theme – please do send them to me. The more entertaining the better! I can then complete these until restrictions are lifted and I can resume walking.

If you need a reminder, here is the link to make a donation and help me support the Macular Society through this challenge. Click Here Thank you to all who have donated so far – its keeping me motivated!

Stay Home and Stay Safe everyone.

Update

Just a short post to confirm the obvious. With the current lockdown in place, my walking challenge is on hold to ensure we follow government guidance to Stay Home during the Covid-19 outbreak.

I am hoping to ‘catch up’ on the walks once lockdown ends, but as the timeline is undefined I am considering alternate 20 -20 challenges – so do send me any suggestions!

For those with Age Related Macular Degeneration who have regular injections and are worried about having these at the moment the Macular Society has regular updated information on their website.

I will do my best to use this time to give some background about my Macular Dystrophy over the coming weeks, such as why I’ve taken to wearing these ‘Bono’ style glasses – and want to thank everyone who has sponsored me to date.

Keep safe and healthy and wishing you all the best .

Walk Three

08.03.2020 Moorfields Eye to Eye walk + 6 miles on South Bank

So Walk 3 had an added focus this time. As well as being a 20 mile walk for my twenty twenty challenge, it incorporated the Moorfields Eye Hospital Charity Walk; 14 miles around London starting at Moorfields Eye Hospital and finishing at the London Eye.

The Genetics Team at Moorfields monitor the progression of my Macular Dystrophy as well as reviewing my DNA profile for the genetic flaw. They also supported my sister when she was younger, for treatment of her congenital cataracts, and therefore they are an organisation that have been important to our family and I was keen to give them my support. Joining the Eye to Eye walk enabled me to raise some funds for them as well as my wider challenge for the Macular Society.

6.15 am on a Sunday and ready for the Eye to Eye for Moorfields

An early alarm call for me as I was catching the 7am train to enable me to get to Moorfields in time for my 8.30am start time. It was tight timings, but I arrived with 10 minutes to spare – emerging from Old Street tube at 8.15 and following the familiar green line to the door of Moorfields to sign in.

The green line that guides patients from the tube to Moorfields door,

I was tackling this 14 mile walk without my usual company, however, there were plenty of others donning the distinctive blue T shirts and raising money for Moorfields. The waiting area was filled with people; young and old, some severely visually impaired and a number of dogs too – both assistance dogs and family pets. Every person had a personal connection to this hospital and the range of their work is incredible. You can find out more about them at : www.moorfieldseyecharity.org.uk

The walk was on open streets, meaning that we were not on a closed event course. We had to follow the route map, guided by signage and navigate the usual ‘traffic’ of runners, cyclists and people just enjoying a sunny Sunday morning.

The route took us out to Angel and Islington then along the Regents Canal through Kings Cross and Camden. Its such a great oasis of calm through London and really well used even early on a Sunday morning. We left the canal towpath at Camden and headed out into the North London streets

Camden Town

Now we were heading up, and it definitely was up, to Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill. Following the orange arrows that kept us on the right route. I wasn’t expecting the hills, but it did provide some great views – tantalising glimpses of the London Eye on the horizon, and the BT Tower which would be just after the half way point. It was hard walking through these areas as the sun was shining and the coffee shops were filled with people having a relaxed Sunday brunch and read of the papers. It was so tempting to grab a break but I was still only 5 miles into the walk and had to keep moving.

The orange arrows that guided the route

Around Regents Park, several of the walkers around me were stopping to take photos of the 7 mile marker. I was confused at first – and then I realised that for these people this was their half way point. Its a natural photo opportunity.

The route now brought us back into West London, and a familiar area for me. I worked in Baker Street for many years so Marylebone High Street and the side streets around here were an old haunt and whilst lots had changed, there were many buildings (and bars) that I still recognised .

We had a slight route change now, as the event was no longer allowed to walk through Hyde Park and we had to walk around it from Marble Arch, down Park Lane and on to Hyde Park Corner. My half way marker (10 miles) should have been right in the middle of Hyde Park surrounded by green with daffodils bobbing around it in the sunshine. However, it was now attached (a bit wonkily) to a lamppost in Park Lane. Hey – it was still a milestone and I wasn’t complaining as the sun was shining!

10 mile marker -Park Lane

I now knew I had just 4 miles (around an hour) left before I finished the Eye to Eye walk and met up with my walking buddies for the final ‘freestyle’ 6 miles. It was around 11.15 so I was making good time, and I was already on Constitution Hill heading towards Buckingham Palace. It was VERY busy – of course it was, I’d managed to arrive right in the middle of Changing of the Guard. The time when every tourist in London heads there and holds their ground. It wasn’t easy getting through the crowd , but once I did, I managed to breakthrough onto the Mall and walk straight down the centre – pretty much having it to myself!

Constitution Hill – now the ‘traffic’ picks up

Now I was in tourist heaven, ticking off key sights in the next two miles: Buckingham Palace; Trafalgar Square; The Savoy Hotel; Houses of Parliament and of course the finish point the London Eye.

Nelsons Column and Trafalgar Square
Savoy Hotel, the Strand

It was now almost 12.30 and I was at the finish line for Eye to Eye. I had some admin to do – get signed in so the organisers knew I had completed the course safely and collect my finishers medal. This meant a trip up to the fourth floor of County Hall where the organisers were offering me hot drinks, massages and food – they seemed rather confused when I said- I’d love to but I’m actually completing a 20 mile walk today for The Macular Society so I need to carry on for another 6 miles..

I did find this a bit difficult as everything up to this point had been focused on 14 miles – and everyone around was now celebrating the finish – I’d literally crossed a finishing line, been given a medal, but hadn’t really finished!

The London Eye ; 14 mile marker

I had told my husband Neil, and friend Nicola, that I should be at the London Eye between 12.30 & 1. So the plan was we would meet there and complete a further 6 miles. They had had some travel challenges (weekend rail works meaning no trains for them) and were heading in by tube from North Greenwich. When I called them they were on their way to the London Eye from Waterloo tube station and what should have been a simple meet up became a bit of a comedy. We kept missing each other, which my walking App’s map shows quite well!

To me , to you..

We eventually managed to meet and the new plan, given the train situation, was to now walk back to Greenwich where Neil had left the car. This was part of Nicola’s running routes and so we knew it would definitely get me to the full 20 miles. However, just as we met up, the heavens opened and quickly went from a shower to a real deluge. We took refuge in the British Film Institute Cafe so I could grab a quick coffee and switch Charity T shirts.

Ta dah! Quick Switch of Charity T shirts

The rain stopped and we stood up to head off along the South Bank. I realised very quickly I had forgotten something. This was my third 20 mile walk in 18 days , and these long walks do put some strain on the body so it is essential that when you stop, you stretch to stop things seizing up. In the excitement of the downpour I’d just thrown myself onto the seat without the crucial stretch.

My right hip flexor was moaning – it was very happy sitting down thank you very much, and really not keen to join in for another 6 miles. I did try to stretch it out but it was a bit late – it gave me a wonky gait and some discomfort for the rest of the walk. Even the sights of the Tower of London, St Pauls and Tower bridge couldn’t distract me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MURSWypMjM4

Now we were following the Thames Eastwards and the familiar rhythm of walking with friends, dogs and inane chatter. In the above video clip we were talking about little known gems hidden across London, and Nicola is encouraging me to go and visit the ‘Cathedral of Sewage’.. No I didn’t know about it either , but its now on the must see list.

I’d like to say these last miles flew by, but I was feeling the miles in my hip and my companions were on very fresh legs. The cobbles of Shad Thames were pretty but not very welcome and I was pleased to get back on standard pavement again.

Shad Thames

Around 3pm my 20 mile marker sounded on my phone. We were still over 2 miles from Greenwich and the clouds were picking up again and ahead of us we could see the ‘stop’ for the Thames Clipper that could whizz us the short distance down the river to central Greenwich – it got my vote!

All the sights, but clouds were gathering.
End of the 20 miles

We had just missed the 3.18 boat (typical!) so had a 20 minute wait to take in the impressive view that you get from this part of the river and , importantly for me, an opportunity to get stretching some more. We were back in Greenwich grabbing a late Brunch before 4pm, the sunshine and showers giving us an impressive rainbow. Seemed like a fitting end to the day.

Walk Three definitely had been a bit of a stretch. Although, ironically, this was probably because there had been no stretching….

You can’t have rainbows without a bit of rain..
The final 20 mile route.