mental health, Walking, wellbeing, Writing

Roy’s Ramble – Week 4

2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 4.

DAYS 22-28

DAY 22
(22nd Jan 2021)

Oh what a beautiful morning! We have clear blue skies. I’ve fulfilled my morning duty of a Facebook LIVE for work. There’s a challenge at the moment for all Relax Kids Coaches to present the same tips and tricks each day for 20 days (different content each day but we present the same one each day if that makes sense). It’s good fun and I’m getting confident at them but as I said yesterday, it’s indoors so I’m OK.

The weather in Kenton is the same supposedly and I like that. It’s good when the weather matches as you can really feel as though you are there. Doesn’t sun really cheer a day up? If nothing else, the sun is like a smiling friend, there to brighten the darker days that appear. It shines through often at the right moment I find. Morning exercise is done and having sorted out the diary for the day – more video editing for work and an interview for this blog this afternoon – I’m gearing up for a walk.

Lovely walk in the sunshine of just over 3.5 miles. That’s helped boost the mileage, and my energy. I had a lovely walk to start with but I have to say it’s getting harder, not because I can’t manage to walk the distance but because of the amount of people who won’t social distance. It’s starting to really spike the anxiety. I’m going to have to find a way to push through it. Some welcome relief came in the form of the Horsebox Coffee Company. I walked past them the other day and didn’t stop. Today I made a point to.

First of all, they have a cool logo. Secondly, they are very friendly. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly because it’s their trade, they do pretty fine hot chocolate and homemade cake. I had a great chat with the delightful Emily and she was really keen to see what I was doing for Restore (she’s a big fan), so she kindly gifted my refreshments. People are so kind. Shout out to them. Please support them.

As the sun shone down, I continue to head northwards past many fields once more and come across the RSPB Exminster and Powderham Marshes. Their website explains that they are still open and you can see a myriad of birds, from geese and warblers, lapwings to buntings, what a wonderful world it sounds. If you’re looking for something to do that’s bird related you can’t go far wrong with getting involved with The Big Garden Birdwatch either. I’ve had a love for birds for a while and I still remember the excellent course at the Oxfordshire Recovery College, part of Restore, which I attended a couple of years ago. It was all about getting out in nature and was a gentle introduction to ecotherapy.

I follow the route that runs alongside the train track and turn on to the A379 (another busy road) for the next leg of the journey and over Alphin Brook, a small stream of water that runs next to the River Exe, separated by a bank. It seems quite apt that I’m virtually walking here because I’ve just walked a similar type of place in Oxford called Mesopotamia. It was particularly busy today and one of the reasons I found it especially difficult. Before I get to much further on, I’m stopping for lunch

At my youth club’s Christmas Fair we won sausages. We actually found this more hilarious than it probably is, but the prize was for six packs from Heck. We’ve cracked open the Chicken Italia. To round it off, I’ve my homemade cake which I didn’t even nibble on before I got home. There’s a rarity!

The afternoon seemed to pass in a flash. I spoke to BBC Oxford who are interviewing me on Monday next week, I ended up filming and editing more content for this and for work, including an interview with Lesley from Restore, due up on Sunday, and before I knew it, dinner was on the table. It’s been a good week but I’m thoroughly exhausted tonight. With the usual few steps around the house and garden and a quick pop to the shop, I find myself in Clyst St Mary. I was hoping to be further on but I’m so tired that I can’t do any more miles. There wasn’t a great deal to look at other than a few shops, car dealerships, IKEA, that sort of thing up to this point. The name of this village comes is Celtic and means ‘clear stream’. I’m not sure how it’s got that name. Certainly the River Clyst doesn’t appear to be overly clear from the images online. The area the village is located on was home to a great battle in 1549. I’m hoping for a peaceful evening! The Eastcote Luxury Guest House looks to be my haven.

DAY 23
(23rd Jan 2021)

The sun is out again and today is quite exciting. This morning is another busy one and one in which I’ll get a few steps in but not many. Not opening myself up too much here so you’ll have to guess what the family doing but we’ll be doing it in a covid-safe way.

By the afternoon we’re home and after a spot of lunch, which was really enjoyable because I’ve not had fruit loaf for some time, I’m out walking again. Fruit loaf doesn’t sound like it should be a thing, but it really is. It’s one of those foods that I will gladly savour and enjoy every last morsel.

The walk today was around the back of the hospital site. It’s expanded a lot over the years and I had a strange thought whilst walking in the park yesterday – all the lovely noises of the wildlife and yet our doctors and nurses have the constant noises of beeping machines. Being at the back of the hospital today it felt much the same. Birds singing as the sun set, yet just metres away, people working flat out to save thousands of lives, all the while their mental health is taking probably the biggest knock out of anybody.

One place on my route today that I’ve never even heard of is Crealy Theme Park and Resort. It’s as it says and probably not somewhere I would go in all honesty. I’m not a rollercoaster person, but for the so inclined, it looks a good place. Of course, it’s closed at the moment but aside from the rides they have hot tub lodges, so perhaps I could be tempted.

Further along the road is Greendale Farm Shop. There’s something friendly and familiar about a farm shop that feels like home. Often selling those nick-nacks that appear in lovely houses in glossy magazines but which nobody really needs. If I’m ever on holiday and there’s one around, I do tend to pop in, not least because I am a massive fan of real apple juice. The sort that tastes as though somebody literally picked the apple and squashed it through the neck of the bottle.

This morning a statement popped up on one of my social media feeds. It said to fuel the positivity in your life. Learn to let go of the things that may be outside of your control. Focus on what you can control.

This reminds me of what Tina said in our chat the other week and is something I’ve tried to hold in mind today. Maybe it will serve you well as we continue over the next few days.

The road feels long here again but I pass by another RSPB site, this time Aylesbeare Common. It’s primarily heathland, and interesting to see that whilst there are a few familiar species from the last site, this one is noted for the Dartford warbler, a lovely looking and clakkity sounding Stonechat, and a stunning Yellowhammer, with it’s bright lemon coloured feathers. On their website it does say to be aware at this time of year that you could see Snipes, a long beaked bird, at the reserve. I’m glad I re-read it because I thought it said snipers. That being the case, I wouldn’t have stayed.

Newton Poppleford comes into sight. As we’re considering nature quite a bit in the blog, you may be pleased to know if you’re green fingered that the soil here is particularly good, so much so that in 1899, they won an award for a daffodil that was grown there. For those of a more board game ilk, many of the questions in Trivial Pursuit were written at a cottage in the village. All of the information I can find out about the place really do point to it being the sort of village you feel you could instantly fall in love with.

I’m heading towards Sidmouth and somewhere familiar to me due to a holiday many years ago but for now, I’m going to sleep in a field at the East Hill Pride Farm Shop.

In which I meet Lesley Dewhurst, CEO of Restore, Oxford (and look slightly paranoid!)
DAY 24
(24th Jan 2021)

We’ve woken to snow again, but this time not a sprinkling. There’s a good few inches of the white stuff. My plans for the day have changed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that’s important to hold on to. Often we worry when our plans have to change but there can also be something fun about the idea of ‘going with the flow’.

As such it’s a lazy morning and I’m sat here watching an interesting programme (Weather Man Walking) about walking the coastline and the impact that litter is having on our oceans and beaches, amongst other things. It’s quite shocking and sad.

I do like the little statement that’s popped up on my social media this morning. It says to love yourself. ‘In order to conquer our fears, we must learn to stand up and face them head on…keep pushing forward…most importantly, keep loving yourself.’ Such an important message. Maybe if you’re reading this today and feeling a little low, you can make a list of all the things you are good at. I’ve done this a few times – it can be a real mood lifter.

After a bit of tidying around the house I head out to the post office and to collect a parcel from the Amazon dropbox. It’s not that cold and the snow is deceptive although it is a bit slippy underfoot. Put in some good mileage and saw some great snow figures (men, women, igloos). Brother bought me a very tasty chocolate and cranberry bar which made it also feel a bit Christmassy. The parks are busy with the joyous laughter of children. It’s almost like a gift to them having snow after such a difficult 2020.

The next place I visit is Sidmouth, but not completely. I skirt the top of Sidmouth, but for the purposes of the blog I’m actually going to divert (virtually) because I remember many year ago (I should think 15 ish) we had a family holiday here and I want to see if where we stayed still exists. It does. The website and logo seem to have changed and from what I can tell, it’s under new management, which isn’t surprising really.

Why we went here I’m not really sure. Sidmouth is quite out of the way of anything I seem to remember but it was a good holiday, as our holidays were – any event or occasion is only as good as you’re going to make it really, isn’t it? When we went we stayed quite near the clubhouse and I’m trying to see the building, but it’s tricky to find. There’s a few things I instantly remember about this holiday.

For one of the first times, I don’t think I followed in the family’s footsteps of writing a diary but filming it instead, primarily because I’d got a video camera so of course I was now Stephen Spielberg – although why I decided every morning to film the sunrise with a whispered David Attenborough style commentary, who knows? It’s given us many a laugh since because the washing line appears in it as well, with the joke now being ‘Good morning. It’s Day Five. Here’s how many pegs are on the washing line today.’ I also remember my keenness at cooking breakfast very early for everyone each morning, and their keenness to have a lie in which was impossible because the smoke alarm was directly above the cooker.

I digress. Next door to our lodge was The Donkey Sanctuary and we seemed to spend our week with them, not least because we loved them to pieces but because every morning we were woken by their braying. It beat a cockerel a suppose. We visited some beautiful gardens too high on the cliff edge – Connaught Gardens I now find online. I think I was too young to take note of the name back then.

Best we move on otherwise I’ll basically be telling you every detail of the holiday. Something really strange occurs with this app. It claims to take you off the beaten track at times to show you points of interest, hence why the route is longer. This does excite me, but let’s get something straight. Today it’s added about half a mile walking me around a caravan park. The reason? Because it can. It’s as though it’s taunting me saying ‘look who can’t go on holiday.’ Oh well, homeward bound then.

I follow the A3052 and could veer off towards Beer but I don’t. Yes it is a lovely place with a gorgeous little pebble beach but the route keeps me inland and if I keep diverting too much we’ll never get to Scotland. This evening has been tricky. The house needed a jolly good tidy and I’d got it in mind to do this, but I also need to finish editing my book, and sort my diary out for this next week. In the end it was a bit of a mish mash of jobs at a very slow pace. It’s no bad thing, especially if you know you have a busy or difficult week ahead. We shouldn’t ever push ourselves too much. Down days are good. Bedtime calls at the edge of Seaton.

DAY 25
(25th Jan 2021)

Woke up to a lovely sunny day again. Clear blue sky. It may be chilly but I adore days like this. We can wrap up against the cold and still enjoy nature, even if it is the garden. I’ve managed a mile already this morning, and having done a Facebook LIVE video for work, I’m now gearing up to be interviewed by BBC Radio Oxford at 11am. What a day and life! Never when I started this was I expecting this at all. It’s crazy and does sort of blow my mind that people are that interested in what I’m doing. Thank you.

And at 11.30am, I’m done. BBC Radio Oxford interview complete. I felt I rambled (in true sense) so if you listened, thank you. It was a great experience but did make me anxious and when I get anxious I feel tired so will have to have a bit of a rest before my walk today.

The walk today saw me not so much noticing nature as I should be. It’s my friend’s Birthday so I spent most of my time on the phone, putting the world to rights. Remember, connection with others is so important. We had such a laugh and our conversation ended up at nearly an hour, about the same amount of time I was out. I didn’t get to visit Seaton either, but that’s OK. I’ll hold on to the memories from our holiday. I don’t remember whether we went on Seaton beach when I was younger. Perhaps the fact I don’t recall this means we didn’t. I do remember the tram though. The electric tram transports you through three miles of the most gorgeous Axe Valley. I can still visualise in my mind the vast expanse of the River Axe and surrounding area which was so peaceful. A great place for bird watching too. I do like bird watching but only as a thing whilst strolling along or sitting in the garden. I’m not sure I could stand being in a bird hide all day. Does anyone with experience of this want to tell me what it’s like?

I’ve got myself a new toy which will hopefully make the out and about videos less wobbly. It was cheap, which probably accounts for the fact that upon testing it, things still shook. Oh well. My next stop is Lyme Regis. That might be a bit of a push for tonight. I’ve also realised that I’ve taken lots of photographs recently whilst I’ve been out and not uploaded up. I really should so that you can enjoy these places with me. It’s amazing what even looking at pictures of nature can do for you so I’m sort of letting the side down on that front.

This afternoon I had to meet clients (virtually – are we really getting used to this? – I’d love to meet people in person again) but this evening I was back to the decorating lark which back and forth added a few steps. There’s something of an early spring clean feel at the moment. Get rid of the old and unused and move on.

As I head to Lyme Regis, my next key location on the route, I spot an alpaca farm and stop by. This is a teaching site. Not only do they look after this odd looking creatures (I say that with affection), but they run courses, outside of covid times, all to do with parasites and the gut, with a fully equipped laboratory available. Isn’t it interesting what you find when you look slightly off the path you should be taking?

Arriving in Lyme Regis for bedtime, I have this feeling that I have been here before, but then I doubt myself. Maybe I haven’t. As I come over the brow of the hill though there’s a great view of the sea ahead between the rooftops as the sun set. This seaside town is often dubbed the ‘Pearl of Dorset’, which as the name suggests, I have now made it in to my third county on my journey. That seemed to have happened quickly but Devon is relatively narrow, certainly compared to Cornwall before it. Once again I’m going to divert a little in order that I can get right down to the seafront because, well, who doesn’t want to watch the sun sink on the horizon as the waves gently lap at the shore on a crisp winter evening?

DAY 26
(26th Jan 2021)

Bit overcast in Oxford this morning but in Lyme Regis they’re on rain watch. Morning exercise done and a few jobs under my belt, I’m off on my daily walk to help clock up the miles.

There’s a few webcams covering the Lyme Regis area and one in particular overlooks the wet and windy beach, a few dog walkers braving the blustery conditions. Lyme Regis is well known for its Cobb which is the large stone sea wall defence encompassing the harbour. Lyme Regis is also part of the Jurassic Coastline and is ideal for fossil hunting, although as with any beach, we must be mindful and careful not to take from these places else our coastline can be dramatically reshaped. I do seem to remember visiting here in real life (as opposed to the virtual one) but I believe I was quite a bit younger, but images online suggest that the Aquarium was one place we looked in. You can actually walk along the Cobb although that’s not for me. Sheer drop into the sea water? No thank you very much.

The area has had many films made there. Further along the beach are the Langmoor and Lister Gardens, an award-winning space of green nature overlooking the sea, merged with crazy golf and table tennis. One thing the town does seem to do well is provide plenty of car parking so visitors can actually stay. The amount of times you visit somewhere that you want to stop and you can’t because they have provided three spaces and two of those are reserved for staff.

As I’m on foot though, no need to worry. I can reach the Lyme Regis Museum on foot. It is closed due to Covid but were it not, the multi-colour bricked building, reminiscent of Oxford’s own Keble College colours, offers something for everyone, with notable interest for schools around the history and geology of the area. There is something to be said for these museums that really focus on outreach work and provide an early opportunity for children and young people to embrace history. From our past, we can learn about our future (I think that’s the quote). They’ve all had to adapt in these difficult times of course, and it’s a shame that Lyme Regis Museum is closed because they are celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year. Their adapting means they’ve launched a project called Museum at Home which includes creative activities. Well done!

A small aside. I pocked my head through the window at The Marine Theatre on the seafront as I love the theatre. From outside you would think it seats six people. Ideal for these covid times, but actually, it’s deceptively spacious and looks lovely. Hireable for events too it seems with views across the sea. Gorgeous.

I took what felt like a good long walk today. In reality it was a couple of miles. The rain started as soon as I left the house. Do I keep going or dart back inside? Continue of course. I cannot be outdone. Remember, one foot in front of the other makes a journey. It was a bit disheartening halfway round thinking I’d done for miles and only managing two but I spurred myself on. I’m doing this for Restore now, not just myself. Quite a few snowmen that are half melted and look a bit sad so I took a few pictures before they vanished completely without a trace. I also saw a painted pebble which brightened my day. I left it for somebody else that may need a boost. I have a picture and that’s enough for me.

Sadly, we bypass Charmouth which I should have liked to look at as it lays claim to one of the best beaches in the area for fossil hunting. I’ll have to imagine. I’ve a few bits of Amonite on my shelf. I’ll pretend I’ve had permission to pick them up from the beach. Charmouth has history too which we could have explored including the visit of King Charles II (undercover I note). Ah well, must press on. The general direction is east and the next main location is West Bay and Bridport.

DAY 27
(27th Jan 2021)

Very cloudy today although dry at the moment. Long walk today which I had to admit is the first time I’ve truly felt bored. It’s hard to find new ways of looking at things sometimes, especially when you’re alone and the route often seems the same. For me though, I have a purpose behind all of this and I’m not stopping. The small moments of seeing people, for example, when I had to pop to Sainsbury and grabbed lunch from the Horsebox again, it’s those small encounters with other humans that can sometimes be the one thing to keep us going, but, and it can take a superhuman effort at times, we have to take the first tentative step.

One thing that has made a massive difference is further sponsorship today. Wow. Thank you so much for your support. I’ve also enjoyed listening to conversations as I go. I always find them fascinating. Talks about the public sector, Ernest Hemingway, and the phrase ‘I’m going to put this on Facebook but don’t spread it around.’ Not sure how the last one will work out.

Virtually I pass Moores Biscuit Factory, home of the Dorset Knob, amongst many other favourites of the area. Chideock and Seatown are on the horizon. Most of the economy continues to be made up of tourism, but there is a trend towards agriculture more in this area too. There is a long history of Catholicism here and as with area all around here, many were martyrs. At the coast we find Golden Cap which is a high natural cliff, 191 metres high, one of the highest points on the south coast, and one which can be seen for miles. Seatown itself is a small hamlet mostly comprising holiday villages and a pub.

Next on the route is somewhere I have actually visited and there was a good reason for it. Bridport and West Bay are where the TV series Broadchurch were filmed. As a big fan of TV dramas, this was one of my favourites. West Bay really is as stunning as it seems in the programme.

It’s a small harbour town with a massive cliff making up a major, recognisable part of the Jurassic Coast. Aside from the Broadchurch series, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin saw it’s titles filmed on the beach, and Harbour Lights was filmed here too. What I found really interesting when I visited was how close things are. The magic of television suggests things are in completely different locations, but they really aren’t. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but even the fact that somebody had the imagination to alter a block of flats into a police station. Proof we shouldn’t believe all that we see on the TV. Broadchurch, certainly series one, does in some ways reflect an incident that occurred in 1990 when a young girl was snatched from an open bedroom caravan window whilst on holiday with her family. She was from Oxfordshire and I remember dad telling us about this story many times. Thankfully she was found three days later. Strange how stories stay with you.

The cliffs are really as imposing as they seem on TV and I took many a picture when I was there.

I follow the edge of the cliff, carefully, cautiously, and end up camping a couple of fields back from the cliff edge. At least I’ll have a good view in the morning.

DAY 28
(28th Jan 2021)

Thursday has come to be known as the ‘end of the week’ now because Friday is when the current week’s log gets transferred into a blog post that you can read later elsewhere on the website. It feels odd changing your week around like this (purely for this project you understand) but it does confuse the brain slightly. Not sure if it’s for the better or not.

Whilst overcast in Oxford, in West Bay I wake to the steady, gentle tap tap tap of rain on canvas, whilst the waves crash loudly below (thanks webcam for showing me this; very exciting). It too is a grey old day but people are braving the damp weather, donning their waterproofs, and hoping for the best. It was wet overnight and it’s quite sodden but thankfully it’s eased. Think it’s time to get off this cliff top.

Abbotsbury plays host to the 18th Century Subtropical Gardens, housing rare plants in their 20 acre site on the edge of the cliffs, nestled in a valley leading down to the 18 miles Chesil Beach. The Swannery, further along the cliff, is home to 600 mute swans which you can come completely face to face with. Also overlooking Chesil Beach is St Catherine’s Chapel, now part of English Heritage, is dedicated, unsurprisingly, to St Catherine who would later become famous for the Catherine Wheel fireworks we see in the autumn.

The Chesil Beach is one of my favourite places in this country. It starts at one end with tiny pebbles and extends to the other end with huge rocks and boulders, totalling an estimated 180 billion pebbles. I’ve spent many an hour walking along the Chesil, and often sitting and watching the waves crash in before pulling away with a loud rumble as it drags the pebbles back down the coastline. It’s not a safe place to swim by any means with the strong undercurrent, but it is a great place to sit and reflect with only the horizon for company.

Due to the way the route pulls back into Weymouth, we won’t be able to stop off at Portland, where I’ve actually stopped over, nor Portland Bill which is amazing to watch the sea roar and fire up over the rocks towards the lighthouse standing proud guiding sailors home. I’ve been up it a few times and the views and history are great. In fact I like this part of the country so much I’ve visited several times during one day to see the changing face of it in the shifting light. The wind can be calm and it can be still, but also ferocious, nearly knocking you off your feet.

In Weymouth however, we could take a short walk around the Nothe Gardens, which is a morning mindful tradition each day I’m on a holiday here, and they have a mindful maze too. If you’ve never experienced one, they are a never ending spiral which you walk and they really do help to clear the mind. There are great views over the harbour and beach here too.

Whilst in Weymouth, I meet up with Harriet from The Horse Course (see the video) to find out about how their service supports those with mental health conditions. A couple of short walks today, as well as my usual miles around the house, have allowed me to bed down for the night in this town. I shan’t complain. It’s a family favourite. In terms of back in Oxford, not a lot to report. My walks were pretty uneventful today. They were good opportunities to decompress from what was a very busy day though. Walking and talking is the way forward.

Before I head to bed, I want to touch here on another walking trail if you’re ever in the area called The Rodwell Trail. I’ve never been able to find the time to do the more than two mile walk, which I’m ashamed to admit, but it follows an old rail line all the way to the Chesil Beach through what is now a leafy lane – lovely.

£260. Only £140 to reach the target.

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