2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 3.
(15th Jan 2021)
Cloudy day in Oxford but in Torpoint there’s some sun. I stayed overnight at the Carbeile Inn. I read online that Torpoint is a grid-based town design, which as the name sounds sees the roads generally run at right angles to each other. This is meant to aid wayfinding and navigation, and is the system employed when designing Milton Keynes too, although having visited Milton Keynes many times I must say I’ve found it very easy to get lost. Some of the most famous grid designs feature in the US. Torpoint has an important connection to John Langdon Down who was born in the town. As Wiki tells us, ‘he later described the medical condition which is now referred to as Down Syndrome.
Torpoint looks quite a pleasant place to visit but I can’t hang about as I have a ferry to catch. That’s right. The Torpoint ferry crosses the River Tamar, transporting vehicles and passengers to Plymouth. As I’m on foot, I get to go free, and the journey is seven minutes, running every ten minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s a chain ferry which means it passes through the river by means of chains anchored to both banks and propelled across using these. Quite fascinating to watch (and you can do so online for a real sense of it). Having now seen this ferry, I have a feeling I’ve been on one somewhere before but can’t for the life of me remember where it might have been.
Stepping off the ferry this morning, it’s official. This is the last bit of Cornwall I will see. Once I have walked through Plymouth, I’m in Devon. I shall enjoy the day whilst I can. Oh, and in terms of me, here, in reality, I’m not bad this morning, which is a good sign. The end of today signals the halfway point of my isolation period. I’m itching to get back out and do some proper exploring again though.
I’ve managed my usual thing of walking around the house and the garden to clock up the miles. It’s been a mixed bag of a day really and a game of Fortunately, Unfortunately. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many of my tasks done today, Fortunately I wrote some poetry instead, Unfortunately this was overshadowed by, how shall we say, ‘neighbourhood relations’, Fortunately a hot chocolate and being able to offload to others meant I’ve kept the mental health in check. The same can’t necessarily be said for the rest of the family. It’s a shame when communities don’t work.
Nevertheless, in Plymouth, my stroll through the park takes the edge off. There’s a memorial here commemorating the Boer War, and the Park Pavilion are doing takeaways. This park also has a sensory garden. I’m a firm believer in the benefit of engaging our senses, and having worked in schools, and with my own work which you can find out about on this website, being able to engage all five of them really can make a difference to your standard of living. I think any opportunity to include a sensory space in a place has to be of benefit. Kings Road takes me alongside another park. There’s lots of green space here to explore. Well done Plymouth. That’s what I like to see. Through the town I trundle, and as you know already, I do have a fascination for architecture, especially when it’s a dilapidated building. I don’t know for sure, and I can only go from what on streetview but there’s a hotel/theatre here.
The New Palace Theatre sounds like it should be a very grand place and I’m guessing in its day it was, but from what I find online it was transformed to a nightclub and that’s how it’s remained. There is a Youtube video of somebody clambering through the remains of a dead space which with some care could have life breathed into it again. It’s a few years ago so I hope someone had the foresight to restore it in some ways. Theatres and performance spaces in particular interest me, although any of these videos that give a glimpse into the past, I find fascinating. It gives you a sense of how when something’s moved on, not a lot is left. Do we really need all the stuff we surround ourselves with? And how much of the stuff that we do keep really brings us joy and makes the place feel better? I’d love to own a theatre, or have that sort of space that I could do something exciting with that would benefit others. The arts are underrated. The benefits of creative pursuits have been noted so many times before.
I’m going to add an edit here because I’ve found some further information and it looks like a dance academy was running from the space. I was so excited to find the video, but a new video from last year shows some people clambering around inside again, and once more, it looks like the building has been ransacked and it’s on its last legs. Poor soul. Buildings have souls. That’s my theory. Think about the places you visit. How do they speak to you? Restore, for example, when I visit is not only a calm space that makes you feel at home but there’s something familiar and inspiring knowing so many people have passed through and been supported to get life back on track.
On I go. One point on the architecture front as I keep walking. I do like hotels too. When you think of the coast, doesn’t it remind of those tall hotels standing proud overlooking the sea? How many people have stood at those windows over the years and enjoyed the peace and quiet of that vista?
The next part of the route is strange as it takes me in a big loop, suggesting a place of importance to explore. Hoe Park is. It’s a lovely park on the seafront, but it plays home to Smeaton’s Tower. It’s one of the area’s most well-known landmarks. A memorial to the man who invented lighthouses. Ah me, there’s another thing I love. Lighthouses. Have I mentioned this before? I don’t know. I’ve lost track, but I love them. Again, I’m not sure why, but when I’m on holiday I’ll always try and walk as far as I can to see the lighthouse, standing proud, guarding the shore. Smeatons design was based on an oak tree apparently. Well, I didn’t know that.
There’s another sensory garden nearby, and in the middle of the park a statue of Sir Francis Drake and a memorial to the Royal Air Force. I continue through town and reach the marina area and the Mayflower Steps, where the Pilgrim Fathers are believed to have embarked on their journey to America. I follow the River Plym and end up stopping at the Premier Inn for the night.
(16th Jan 2021)
I can’t actually believe we’re 16 days into the year, and this challenge, already. The Premier Inn backs on to the 19th Century Fort Efford, part of the defences for the naval dockyard. A few miles later I’ve hit the 100 mile mark. 100 miles walked in two weeks. A good achievement, but still 983 to go. I can officially say now though…HELLO DEVON!
I feel lucky to have met some lovely people on the walk so far and you can go back into the previous weeks to see our chats, but today I want to share with you a video from one of Restore’s users. This is Tam. He explains how a stressful job saw him using Restore’s services to get life back on track, but it wasn’t easy as we were quickly plunged into lockdown.
Plymouth, which I am now heading away from has a strong maritime heritage and it’s a shame that I can’t explore it further, especially the National Marine Aquarium which houses a variety of underwater sea creatures, however, being on lockdown has shown that I am currently 21.3 miles behind the pacer. This is something of a disappointment and I’m trying to keep positive with it. I know I can catch up at some point, and so over this weekend, I’m intending on not spending as much time doing work of any kind, but finding fun ways to get the steps up whether that’s through the power of dance or simply tidying the house (which may be more a case of moving things from one room to another). This next part of my journey is pretty much following the bypass to Paignton. I suspect therefore there won’t be much of an update until I get to the seaside town.
What I have done though is ensured time in the garden. It may be cold, but there’s a sprinkle of sunshine. I stood. That was it. For about ten minutes. It was so pleasant. There was not a sound save for the birds. I heard and saw the robins again, the blue tits were nesting, and according to my bird app, there was a grey wagtail. Looking at the picture I’m suspecting this is perhaps what I actually saw the other day near the river. If so, it’s interesting to see the sort of area they are travelling around. They don’t start breeding until April so perhaps they’re searching for somewhere.
By dinnertime I reach Smithaleigh. It’s due South of Princetown, which certainly holds some memories. I mentioned before that I used to be a DofE Award leader, supervising expeditions, but I also undertook my own expedition in Dartmoor National Park starting from the Plume of Feathers pub, which had a camping field attached. It was a strange experience of two halves really. On the one hand the award had been sold to me and that I should run at Gold level due to my age. The trouble was I hadn’t done any of the other levels so it was a bit of a baptism of fire. I completed the other areas pretty well but the expedition saw me thrown into the depths of Dartmoor with very little training specific to expedi tioning in this terrain. The group I was with were lovely. Really supportive and all round ‘good eggs’ but I carried far too much of the wrong equipment, we arrived late on the first day, and basically from the off it didn’t go well. Now, Dartmoor has some lovely views but it’s tough going. We had searing heat (it was the middle of summer) and hardly any shade due to our route. I was pushed to my absolute maximum and looking back on it now, I learnt a lot. I can still see the forty five degree hill that we all struggled up at the end of the first day and the image is so vivid that I’m reminded that sometimes, no matter how hard the struggle, if you only put one foot in front of the other, things will level out in the end, and all will come good. It helps having the right people by your side though.
With a superhuman effort today I manage to get to Ivytown in time for bed.
(17th Jan 2021)
What a beautiful morning in Oxford. The sun is out and casting a golden glow over the trees at the bottom of the garden and on the houses opposite. I’m sat here with Classic FM on. There’s something really enjoyable about waking on a Sunday and just sitting with some classical music on. Music lifts the soul and whatever your tastes they all stem from Classical so I thoroughly recommend immersing yourself in some. In Ivybridge it is supposedly much the same, although perhaps a little cloudier. I turn on the webcams for the area and my, it does look beautiful. I wish I was there. There are several cameras in the area, some on the coast, others across the countryside itself. I’m slightly disheartened that it’s such a gorgeous day and I’m still on isolation. The best I can manage is to walk or sit outside – I’d assigned today (well the weekend really) as a slower paced one, so I may even crack the paints out.
My route from Ivybridge is continuing now in a north-easterly direction as the destination is Torquay. That’s about 22 miles from where I am now. I know this only because the pacer, reminding me how many miles I need to do in order to reach John O’Groats by Mental Health Awareness Week in May, has popped up there. There’s no way of getting to Torquay today. 22 miles is too much for me to walk in one day, especially around the house, but I can just about get to eight miles if I really push. It’s about 20,000 steps and I was a few shy of that by bedtime. I’m guessing I’ll be close to Totness by tonight, and Torquay by Tuesday night, which is about when isolation ends. A good milestone marker.
Despite my best efforts I reached a farmer’s gateway outside Tigley by bedtime. The bonus is, although I’m only walking around the house, I clocked up my best distance yet. That’s a push in the right direction. Really not sure how I managed so much though considering I spent the day painting. I really couldn’t be bothered to do much else, and you know what, I’m glad that this is all I did because it was a great downtime activity.
(18th Jan 2021)
A great night’s sleep where I dreamt about owning a pub. I mean, if anyone knows what this means, please do say. It was in a popular small town high street location and was popular before we’d even opened the doors. I do love a good dream. Despite all of this, I’ve woken up in the gateway of a farmer’s field.
I’m walking from Tigley towards Shinner’s Bridge this morning and for sure will reach Totnes today. I walked the most I’ve walked for a while yesterday and am making excellent progress.
Also today I was interviewed for Restore’s podcast. Very exciting. That will be available soon. The money is slowing coming in too which is another boost to keep me going. We’re up to £65. It’s another route of fields and hedges either side. The day’s not been too bad today. Very busy and tiring as a result but a lot has got done. It’s been important to have some self-care this evening though.
I wanted to get to Totnes today and I have managed to. Totnes is a quaint little market town with a number of former merchant buildings. It’s quite a thriving hub now, and when Covid permits, it will be good to see its arts becoming big once more. I cross the railway bridge and the wide River Dart and then out into the countryside again. It’s strange because I’ve hit a point of boredom this evening and I’m not sure if it’s a case of knowing I’ve only got about 12-24 hours of isolation left and it’s that last struggle. It’s another night of camping on the edge of a field over looking the rest of the rolling hills. Tomorrow, Paignton.
(19th Jan 2021)
The dreams are coming thick and fast at the moment. Lovely dream about a new house. The stairs weren’t the most accessible but it had a large square hallway and the ceiling reached up to the next floor (is it called vaulted?). In the hallway was a cosy log burner that meant the whole house was warm. I can see a small rectangular room off the hallway, a kitchen, and then a lounge overlooking fields and fields. Sounds idyllic, and I’ve no idea where it came from but I know I’m content there.
Back in the real world, I wake to remember that I’ve got a lot of appointments today. I’m 11% into my journey though and something has struck me. Yesterday I was asked how I would cope with setbacks on reaching my end goal. The first thing that sprung to mind was…is anybody truly interested in this blog and the interviews I’m doing, but then I have to pull it back to what’s important and why I’m doing this. I wanted to challenge myself this year. That was the crux. Everything else came afterwards, so first and foremost, as long as I’m happy doing my challenge and I’m happy recording it, I’d like to think that enthusiasm for this little project will spark joy elsewhere.
I manage to get some exercise in before breakfast meaning 1.1 miles have already been walked. This is good because I’ve got a fair few bits of the day where I’ll be sat around. This mile has taken me from camping in the field to being on the road just outside Paington. Nearly there!
At the edge of Paignton is Paignton Zoo Environmental Park. Opened in 1923, like so many other places, they need financial support now more than ever. They have more than 2,000 animals that they care for, with a huge emphasis on conservation, especially around endangered animals. The zoos aim when it opened was around education and that is key to its success today. Learning is key to our mental health too. We should always find things to learn about to keep the brain active. That could be a new skill or hobby, understanding your mental health better, or even exploration of the world around us. Paignton Zoo actually has some really great resources online. Why not check them out and see what you could learn?
Once more over the train tracks and the aptly named Sands Road leads me straight to the beach. The esplanade is vast and forms part of the Torbay area, often dubbed the English Riviera as a sort of nod to the French Riviera. The one dominating feature along the seafront, as with many coastal towns, is the pier. Paignton’s is 240m (780 ft) long, more than twice the length of a football pitch. It’s not the longest in the UK though – that title is held by Southend at a whopping 2,156 metres. I like piers. There’s some atmospheric at them. I especially like Victorian piers at the end. I think it’s the mix of architecture and history that’s passed through it. Paignton is no different. It has the traditional grand pavilion at the end.
The seaside town has the usual attractions on the front with outlets, play spaces, and an arcade. I love the fact that streetview actually lets you walk the pier too. I used to love the pier at Weston-Super-Mare, although I will admit to being a bit scared of them too. Seeing the waves gently lap against the struts below the slatted boards can take your breath away, as can standing at the end of the pier looking out to sea. It can be unnerving but freeing at the same time.
I don’t stay long at the pier. It’s time to really clock up those miles, and as isolation ceases, I can once again leave the house. It’s a little tentative. 10 days imprisoned is tough. I don’t know how so many people that live in flats, for example, are coping, especially in places where they’ve not been allowed out, or haven’t any green space near by. I can imagine the loneliness hits harder. I know it has for an elderly friend who hasn’t been outside for months. Her only joy is colouring mindful colouring books. I call every so often. It’s so important to keep contact with each other.
The evening walk felt good. It’s was damp but so much nicer to be out and about than walking around the garden. Off the pier, where I will admit I will have probably put about £20 in the machines, I walk part of the mile-long beach. Hollicombe Park and Beach come into view. The beach is a small sandy cove which actually looks tricky to get through. It seems secluded but a picturesque spot. This leads me neatly in the Hollicombe area of Paignton and as you head around this part of the coastline you begin to realise how many cosy coves there are. It’s not quite so sunny here in Oxford, although we have still got some Christmas lights up on some of the back streets it seems.
I’m well and truly in Torquay by the time I return from my evening walk. The first thing I always think of when I think of this location is the TV series Fawlty Towers written by and starring John Cleese and Connie Booth, with Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs. Running for only 12 episodes, it was based on a hotel that Cleese actually stayed at (who can believe the hotelier was really like that?!), although the actual filming took place much closer to London with exterior shots at the clubhouse of a golf centre. An interesting fact is that the building used has been demolished and residential flats for senior citizens have been erected and named in honour of the late Sachs.
I absolutely love Fawlty Towers so I’m pleased to spend a while in Torquay seeing what it’s really like – well one can imagine. Not sure I’d stay at the infamous hotel long though. I do find it fascinating how Cleese was able to take a situation and twist it just that extra turn to make it the gem that it is. I think that shows how sometimes looking at a situation from a different angle makes a massive difference to the scene that’s playing out.
The route I’m provided with only affords me part of Torquay before it doubles back along the beach – there we are. Seeing things from a different direction now. I get as far as the marina now with the shiny boats bobbing up and down. There’s some interesting places along here though. There’s Torre Abbey, the Royal Terrace Gardens, and the Princess Theatre. All of these places sound by name alone the sorts of places that herald back to a bygone era, and coincidentally the history of this seaside town is then neatly wrapped up at the end of the road in the Torquay Museum.
That’s got me thinking about what’s in a name. Restore for example gives a sense of hope for the future. If it were some other name (Unfortunate Soul, for example), we’d be less likely to walk through the door. I think we often get a gut instinct with places and things that we are comfortable with, and if we not, I firmly believe they hold no place in our lives. We need to feel comfortable.
Torquay has its very own land train. Ah memories. I remember as a child going on those with my parents. In fact, I remember as an adult still being dragged onto them by my mother. It was either a chance to reminisce or just make us look silly. Maybe both. Either way we had a laugh and they say that’s a good tonic.
Torquay seems to have a lot looking at the map and I can see why lots of people flock here year on year. I on the other hand have no time to spare, so I head north. The next major destination is Maidencombe. In reality, the next destination is bed, but tomorrow I will head out again because now I’m out of isolation I’ve got some freedom back and we should take what opportunities to reconnect with the world that we can (plus I need to buy some essentials). I camp over at Torbay District Scout Campsite. As a sometime Scouter they’ll extend a hand – the left I hope. I used to run Scouts every week but took a step back but it’s good to know people still look out for you. How lucky that the Scouts here have a campsite perched above a beach and diving cave, although sadly it seems due to coastal erosion and storms this time last year, the cliffs have collapsed making the beach unsafe to access. What a great shame that is.
(20th Jan 2021)
It’s a horribly wet morning in Oxford and not much better in Torquay. On their webcam the waves are rolling in, and here, we’re expecting rain all day. It won’t necessarily prevent me from walking. It feels like a new found freedom being out of isolation, but at the same time, I don’t fancy getting soaked. I could do with going to town but that may wait until tomorrow when the weather’s due to be better as the couple of items I need I’d rather they didn’t get wet. Having said that, there is something quite lovely about walking in the rain (but maybe not when it’s torrential). In Torquay, it’s on with the hiking boots and waterproofs though as I begin today heading past the King George Recreation Ground.
I’ve reached a point where 7-8 miles a day is starting to feel bearable, although I’m slightly behind on the pacer so am going to have to pick up the pace a little anyway. The hardest part is knowing that to fit the miles in takes about three miles out of my day so I have to allow for that with everything else I am doing.
I managed a mid-day walk. Didn’t do the shops. Couldn’t be bothered because it was too wet to walk to town but I did go around the park (see the video). Damp, damp, damp. The walk outside and a bit more inside saw me stroll past Brunel Manor. It’s a conference centre today but originally was designed as the retirement home for Brunel, who sadly died before even setting eyes on the place.
The Teignmouth Road does what it says on the tin. It takes me to Teignmouth. On my right, there’s a place called Labrador Bay. No sign of any dogs at the moment but certainly sounds like the sort of place my brother would love to visit. Smugglers Cove which is nestled beside it reminds me something from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Has anyone got any ginger beer?
To reach Teignmouth I have to cross the River Teign. The river stretches 31 miles from Dartmoor, ending in the English Channel. Although I take the traffic bridge over it does look passable when the tides out by crossing the sandy bed below, but perhaps that’s a silly idea. I imagine it’s more like quicksand.
Teignmouth is larger than the other seaside towns I’ve visited and one of the oldest holiday destinations in the area. Although not on my route, I take a short detour to the beach. For me, the more time I can spend near the sea, the better. I’ll soon be back at the computer working. My reason for the detour, not surprisingly perhaps, is so that I can see the lighthouse, RNLI, and 1800’s pier. The port has been operating since this time too and continues to be busy to this day.
It’s been a difficult day for steps. I went for my short walk but I have suddenly got a lot of jobs in the diary. Not sure how that happened (part of it was editing the video I suppose). It’s meant the afternoon has been spent primarily on the computer. I did however manage to clock up a little bit more walking around the house. This evening’s been good though. We finally returned to online youth club. Being able to offer the young people some sense of normality with virtual hilarity for an hour makes the world of difference. Takes some planning, but it really is amazing how doing something for others can make you feel so much better. They have grown since before Christmas though!
We’re up to £105. Thank you so much!
(21st Jan 2021)
It was a good morning and I slept well at the High Tor B&B. They do a Full English breakfast apparently. Haven’t had one of those for a long time. It’s a typical British holiday thing really isn’t it? We eat healthily at home but get us on holiday and the Full English breakfast has to be consumed…or the running joke in our family is breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, tea, supper, and then any other snacks in between. No? Just us then!
As the weather’s good here, I’m heading to town. I only need a few bits and pieces and can’t do without them, and the exercise will do me good. Now, the town situation was an interesting one. It was fairly empty, as you would expect with a pandemic lockdown, but the few people that were there decided that keeping distance was not important. This does induce some anxiety. I hate the fact that some people are so self-absorbed that they cannot make space for their fellow man. For example, please if you are walking two abreast, it doesn’t take much to drop back briefly if passing someone else. I think I mentioned it before, but myself and my brother do this. It’s a simple thing but it makes the difference, especially for people with anxiety which is heightened further at the moment. It could very well mean the difference between someone talking a walk for air and to clear their mind and not.
On the plus side, I managed to get to town and purchase what I needed, however, as I had book tokens to spend I bought one, then more. I’m trying to clear the house but love books so much that I purchased seven. Ooops.
Down on the south coast, I pass through Holcombe. Lots of little coves along here once more. The next stop is Dawlish. I’m quickly realising how much of the UK I’ve missed out on. The beach here is a mile and a half long and the town is one of our most popular resorts. The area has what is classed as a Mediterranean climate, something we could all do with enjoying at the moment. It has a few notable literary links, and in a bygone era was particularly known for its fishermen and salt makers.
One of its most notable aspects is the railway line that runs along the sea front. In recent floodings, part of the track was destroyed, cutting off most of the south coast area that I’ve already mentioned previously in the blog.
The Exeter Road takes me north past Dawlish Countryside Park, a 65 acre public space, past a plethora of caravan sites, and on to meet The Strand, which runs perpendicular to the train tracks, which also run in line with the coast again. I’ve made it to Starcross, which immediately sparks the idea that Romeo and Juliet may have enjoyed a passionate night in a caravan here once – maybe not.
Starcross is a village with a small population. It has very notable feature – ‘The Italianate pumping engine house, the best surviving building from Brunel’s unsuccessful Atmospheric Railway’ (Wikipedia) is still evident from various named buildings in the area.
I head back inland and ironically north towards South Town, and just past here, my bed for the night at a place called Mill Farm Bed and Breakfast. It looks a particularly pleasant place with a sweeping drive off the main road and well-appointed rooms in a sort of country cottage. In the middle of nowhere, I’d be sure to get a good night’s rest. Imagine waking up to rolling hills and the birds singing at your window.
Meanwhile, back in Oxford, it’s been a busy day. I’m getting into the video editing again which is a skill I’ve not really used properly since my days at college so I’m beginning to produce things for work too. Restore has been in touch and I’ve been told I could be on the BBC! Really? This is so much bigger than I ever thought it would be. It still feels like it’s just my mini project though and I’m really honestly surprised people are enjoying reading this, so thank you for your support. It really does make me happy. Oh, and inspiration struck again. The start of two poems as I walked into town, so maybe I walk there wasn’t all bad. See, find some positives in the day. Here’s another. I had a hot chocolate to ease me into the evening. Yum. Managed to do extra miles today to catch up too. Crikey, it really is surprising when you stop and think about what you’ve achieved in a day how small but significant things are.