2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 5.
(29th Jan 2021)
It’s the start of another week. Well, in virtual terms it is. A mix of sunshine and showers in Weymouth is the same in Oxford. Torrential rain overnight with little sleep, but now a beautiful blue sky with a glorious sprinkling of white and pink cloud.
Despite, as Harriet said in last week’s video, the huge amount of deprivation in Weymouth, it still is a favourite of mine to visit. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s the sea, the harbour, the lifting bridge, or the award-winning sandy beach. There’s just some magical essence to this place.
One place I do like to visit and recommend is the Nothe Fort. It’s, not surprisingly, an old sea fortress built more than 150 years ago to protect the naval area, now converted to a museum, and very good it is too. I’ve enjoyed it in all weathers, and I mean ALL weathers. I’ve stood on the ramparts in howling wings with the rain lashing down, holding on for dear life. It’s things like that that, yes, you get wet in, but they make the memories.
There’s a fair few good eateries in the town. I like the pie shop and a little fish and chip restaurant in a back street. The latter is slightly ‘old traditional’ in design, and there’s something quite comforting and intriguing about it. I’ve mentioned the beach. It’s a great one, and the Pavilion does some good shows. I even met the Chuckle Brothers there years ago. On the promenade is the Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock which I’ve passed many a time. Looking resplendent in red and gold it’s quite a focal point on the seafront.
I head out past the RSPB Lodmoor which seems apt as I’ve just been out for my walk around the University Parks in Oxford and filmed a little bit of the birds – it’s the Big Garden Bird Watch at the moment. An ideal chance for anyone to get involved with looking out the window and seeing what’s around them.
I manage to get this far in my journey today thanks to the lunchtime walk. It wasn’t the easiest. Part of it took me through the edge of town. Oh, the amount of people that don’t realise Covid still exists is beyond me. We may as well be sardines walking along the street and I have to divert off the main track and take a back road. It takes about ten minutes for my head to calm me back down. It hadn’t gotten horrendously bad but I could feel it spiralling. That’s the trick. Noticing when you’re about to spiral down and seeing what resources lie in your toolbox to not necessarily drag you back up, but prevent you falling down that hole.
It was a pleasant time in the park though and two thoughts make me ponder. The dedicated bench I’m sat on. Who was the person? What were they like? And my second question is why shouldn’t children be allowed to splash in puddles? We should all darn well splash in puddles if that’s what we want to do!
After Lodmoor, most of my walking is around the house, although I do pop out briefly again in the evening. By bedtime, I’ve managed to pass over the top of Bowleaze Cove, which you first climb the steep cliff before dropping back down to get to – great views. At the end is the fun fair. There’s a PGL further along which is an outdoor activity centre. I’ve always fancied being on the staff team at one of these since having a go at a Scout one. I’d probably only be any good in the shop but it’d be fun. I do wonder and worry how many of these places which are so important to our children’s wellbeing and development will remain open at the end of the pandemic. This one is in such a fantastic cliff top location.
Not far beyond this I’ll have to bed down for the night. It’s been a strange old week (in real time) and the highlight of the day I think has to be having contact with a couple of friends who really did provide belly laughs. It’s so good for the soul.
(30th Jan 2021)
A wet start. Horrendously wet. I’m also being lazy. To the point that I didn’t emerge from my bed until about 10.30am. Sometimes we need that. I’ve said it’s being lazy but actually it was self-care. I’ve put in many working hours this week and I woke and felt as though laying there reading, listening to the rain, and reading was what was needed. Never underestimate the power of spending time on yourself. It means that the day has seemingly skipped by in minutes rather than hours, and by the afternoon I’ve not walked other than around the house to tidy, but it doesn’t matter.
I did a very short evening walk and this has allowed me to get to the 20% mark on my journey before bedtime. I have now reached the outskirts of Lulworth. I’m afraid I wasn’t really ‘feeling it’ today so my report is rather short. You’ll have noticed though that the 20% marker at the top has changed colour. That’s because for every 20% complete, the organisation I signed up with will plant a tree, in partnership with the Eden Reforestation Project, so even more reason to keep on walking.
(31st Jan 2021)
There’s something to be said for the peace and quiet of a tent. I’ve been camping for many years, doing much less of it recently, but it is like a big reset button, and it does make me wonder whether sometimes we’re better off stepping out and doing it more regularly. Our bodies tend to take on a rhythm that matches what’s happening in nature in this way as we fall asleep to the sounds of the owl and wake to the noise of the morning chorus.
In reality, I did wake to a few birds outside the window, but sadly didn’t fall asleep to the owl as the thump-thump-thump from a neighbour’s music continued until the wee small hours (2am anyone?). This morning I feel as though a truck’s run over me. Nevertheless, things to do, and I will drag myself to do them. A stint in nature will help.
As the day wore on, I managed to pick myself up, do a few jobs around the house, and also go for a walk. My walk was an evening one, and rather damp at that. You know the sort where it feels like the cold is seeping into your bones and will never escape? One of those. Good chance to talk though.
Durdle Door is one of those places I have actually visited, and it’s quite a walk. I don’t think people realise. It’s not a case of park the car and you’re on the beach. This secluded spot is reached after a few hundred metres walk down the quite steep and uneven paths down from the field. Probably the most iconic part of the landscape is the arch rock which was formed when the sea battered through the limestone. It is quite a sight to behold, and at one point I had a canvas with it on. I wonder where that’s gone.
Further along the coastline, Lulworth Cove comes into view and it’s here that you are in one of the best geological spots in the world. Formed during the last ice age, it takes your breath away with it’s clear blue sea and stunning landscape rising up on each side. The area is part of the Lulworth Estate, and the 17th Century Lulworth Castle sits proudly further up the hillside. It was initially a hunting lodge, and despite a fire in the early 1900’s, thanks to the English Heritage, it has been partly restored. When open, there is something for everyone. Tea rooms, trails, heritage, and even a children’s playground.
There’s great views, a real 360 panorama from the Tyneham View car park. I can see across the sea and down to the 13th Century St Mary’s Church in the village of Tyneham. What’s fascinating is that the village is actually a ‘ghost village’. During the second world war it was evacuated and the only things remaining today are a few of the buildings. Other than that, no residents. The area is part of MOD land though so a small diversion to the village and the bay does require keeping strictly to marked paths.
I wonder if anyone minds me pitching my tent on the village green tonight?
(1st Feb 2021)
February has arrived. I’ve been at this a whole month and walked just under 230 miles.
Today, I spend a bit of time preparing for the week. Unlike when I first started the challenge, I’m finding that due to my work, I’m at the desk a lot more. Really hoping I’m not settling into bad routines now – I may need to set myself a new routine.
I do manage to get some miles in around the house and this is positive at least. I feel I’m coming out the other side of what has been a bit of a ‘down’ few days. An early evening walk and a bit of decorating and tidying in the evening and I’m a bit more human and have clocked up further miles.
On the route, I’ve left the car park and headed east again. There’s a road on my left called Grange Hill, which instantly reminds me of the TV programme. Who remembers that? Wasn’t set here though. It’s about as far as you could get. Having said that, I’m sure many of the issues their young people were facing on the show are the same as anywhere, even here. Through the hamlet of Steeple, which ironically has a church without one, and onwards towards Corfe Castle. This really confuses me because I visited here when I was very young. I don’t remember it but I remember the name, and yet I had this idea that it was on the Isle of Wight. As my feet haven’t got wet today, I’ll presume I haven’t crossed the channel getting to this point. I have followed more small roads that cross between fields to reach here though.
Corfe Castle is not just the name of a castle, but the name of the village in which it sits. The castle itself, now under the ownership of the National Trust, is in ruins, but was originally built by William the Conqueror. Due to being built partly in stone, it shows the high standing it had. There’s a model village near the castle and I have to say, who doesn’t love a good model village. There’s something exciting about being able to stand tall over this mini world. We have a fascination with the model making but we feel suddenly empowered thanks to our height. I think that’s an interesting point though. What happens to our minds when we draw our bodies up to their full height and stand tall and proud? Does it change how we act and react?
After an awful day with the internet (very slow) I’ve finally managed to upload my video.
(2nd Feb 2021)
It’s weird from this point. Well, from yesterday really, because although the month starts again my days continue so I can no longer say it’s day 31 and it be 31st January. Hope I can keep up with it all.
Hoping too I can also keep up with the pacer. After a few days of lesser miles I’ve fallen a little behind again. I do need to go for a longer walk later because I’ve got a click and collect to do – I may have found a cheap solution to the internet. Ah me, I wouldn’t have to worry about all this if I was actually in Dorset at the moment. By now, I’d have woken from my slumber (tent night again), had a hearty breakfast – don’t knock boil in the bag meals until you’ve tried them; they give lots of energy – and I’d be setting out on the day’s adventure.
That’s what it is. It’s an adventure, and when the mind keeps up and doesn’t want to batter me down, it does feel like an adventure doing this. I’ve only had the odd day where it’s felt a little wearisome and that’s mainly due to external factors outside of my control. Remember what Tina said about what you can and can’t control. My morning exercise totals just over a mile. Whilst sat here I realise I’ve not even opened the blinds yet. It poured with rain overnight, the tent got wet, but it’s drier now. Wait, let’s go back. Wet tents. Yuk. Ever tried hiking with a wet tent? It is one of the most demoralising things. Knowing that you have to keep going with your damp house on your back, only to set it up again in a field somewhere and it smells having been stuck in your rucksack all day. In some ways, I’m glad I’m not doing this for real. Of course, at the moment, the pros of doing it outweigh that because not only is it for a worthy cause, it’s keeping my mind and body active, and I’m ‘seeing’ and learning about great locations on the way. The Burnbake campsite was a pleasant enough stay.
We’ve sun and cloud here, slightly pink in colour, which is similar to Corfe. At this stage in proceedings, streetview cuts out. I can only presume we’re in the back of beyond. From above it appears to be scrubland, a few copses, and not a lot else. It’s difficult to find much about the place. I’ll plough on.
The Studland and Godlingston Heath Nature Reserve is the largest expanse of lowland heathland in Dorset and sits perpendicular to the two beaches at Studland. It’s here that I need my waders. Well, OK, I’ll take the short ferry ride over to Sandbanks. The ferry is a chain ferry. You may remember this from a previous diary entry when we crossed over one what is now many miles back.
We’re going to take a detour here, for very good reason. On the left in the middle of Poole harbour is Brownsea Island. It holds a place in my heart. I spent 20-odd years heavily involved in Scouting before taking a more back seat role and Scouting started here, on the island in 1907. Robert Baden-Powell was an army officer who successfully defended the South African town in the Siege of Mafeking and would later use his knowledge from army training to develop a programme for young boys. That was the beginning of Scouting and it has grown to be the biggest youth organisation in the world. To think it started by taking a group of mixed boys (some upper class, others from working class backgrounds) and throwing them together to see how they coped and it stuck is quite something.
I visited Brownsea years ago. It’s a very peaceful place although I do remember the ferry crossing was something else! It’s not just an empty island. It’s one of the few remaining places in the UK you can see a plentiful supply of red squirrels – the native to our country – and there are a few houses and a church there too.
From one extreme to the other, Sandbanks is home to money. If you want a house and can afford a few million, this is the place. Famous names have and do live here. Harry Redknapp for example. It’s fun to see the Royal Motor Yacht Club sits side by side with the crazy golf. It feels a bit of a juxtaposition. Sandbanks is a peninsula and well known for its beach too. I suppose this is one of the reasons it feels exclusive.
I skirt around the Luscombe Valley Nature Reserve and the golf club (of course!) before heading back to the beach and on towards Bournemouth. I settle for a nice quiet spot on the sand to pitch my tent, very close to Alum Chine, before noticing somebody is offering me the use of their beach hut. There’s lots of them along the front, all painted a multitude of colours like a rainbow. What a way to end the day.
(3rd Feb 2021)
I’m not sure why but things often seem far away. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child journey’s on holiday always take forever – I mean are we ever nearly there?
In reality, the fact that Poole and Bournemouth are next door has surprised me. I thought they were further apart. Clearly that Geography GCSE wasn’t wasted. If only there was an oxbow lake nearby, I’d have been able to tell you about it.
Alum Chine Beach where I’ve stopped for the night is a Blue Flag beach which means it’s won awards for being one of luxury. I’m not sure if that means they sift the sand or something but going by the pictures, it does look the sort of place you could lounge about for a while, dipping your toes in the cool blue ocean. Bliss!
One way to start the day, at least virtually, is to stroll along Bournemouth Pier. Again, I suspect I’ve probably done this at some point in my life, I just don’t remember it. The pier looks well kept and even has a theatre at the end. Heaven! Built in the 1960’s it closed in 2013 and is now an adventure centre, but has been designed in such a way that it can return to its former ways if needed. Sad that’s it not a theatre, but at least it is getting use. It’s closure naturally caused controversy with one commentator online proclaiming that maybe a sign should be erected to say ‘Bournemouth’s Closed’ because of how things were changing in the area. We do become very protective of our neighbourhoods don’t we, and yet we are only guardians of them.
You can still get post on a virtual walk and I received this lovely card from Lesley, the CEO of Restore. It’s great to feel appreciated and these messages are real boosts to the morale.
Lesley, I had forgotten about the mice at the Nothe Fort. I remember doing that as a child too. I think I’ve probably got the certificate still if I’m honest! There’s something lovely about childhood keepsakes, although often they’re quite random, aren’t they?
I’ve had a very up and down sort of day and there’s been a few times the mental health has taken a bit of a battering which is really frustrating because I woke with really positive intentions. I reached out though and I cannot stress enough how important this is. I did poetry too to use up some negative energy inside me, but connecting with others really helped push through some blocks.
The Oxford Mail ran an article on my walk today and suddenly the money came flooding in. It was really overwhelming and threw me back a bit, so emotions really have gone from one point to another. I did manage to walk during the day though. There was a young lad (uni sort of age I suppose) who I think presumed I was following him, which I was because he was going the same way, although I must admit I was coveting his really nice overcoat. It was a sort of topcoat but really fitted well. Some people know how to pull these things off, don’t though? Don’t get me wrong, I love my new coat (before my brother and mum read this and moan as it was a Christmas present!).
Anywho, back on track, I’ve walked further along Bournemouth Beach and due to varying factors I’ve fallen a bit behind on miles again and I’m foolishly writing this update at five to midnight which means I won’t sleep well but I’m in a writing mood and need to get it out.
Opposite the pier is the International Centre, opened in 1984 (oo-er George Orwell) and one of the largest conference venues in the south of England. So large, I’ve never heard of it.
I follow the promenade for quite a way and there’s a cliff train. I have a feeling I’ve been on this at some point in my life too but I’d have been small, to the point that I probably couldn’t even see out of the windows but there’s a distant memory ringing of seeing this weird wooden box (which is actually metal apparently) crawling for all it’s worth up the side of the cliff face.
Bournemouth turns into Boscombe, which is quite a trick in anyone’s books, and I find I’m at another pier. Oh, forgot to mention that I passed by Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre which houses a ballroom. I’m surprised it’s here at all really as plans for it way back in the 1800’s were continually blocked and opposed. Strange when you look at how lovely a place it is.
Bournemouth today is very different to years ago when smugglers could be found thrashing their way across the heathland. It was thanks in part to the railway line which made access to the area easier, and thus the dawn of tourism started. People flocked to what was being marketed as a ‘health resort’ and when you look at all the place can offer, you can sort of see why. Current figures estimate 5 million people flock here each year, outside of lockdown of course. There is so much history I could write about Bournemouth that this entry would be crazily long.
I mentioned Boscombe earlier and although only just along from Bournemouth pier, this suburb also has a pier, but in stark contrast the only thing you’ll find on this one are planks and rails, peace and quiet.
Doing a street view look around, I notice a building that looks familiar and this turns to a memory of a hot air balloon. No idea why. It then strikes me that Bournemouth has a tethered balloon that you can go up and down in. Haven’t been in it myself, but yes, proof I have been here, but I would have been young. How many memories of holidays past do we sadly let go? These are the sorts of things we should be holding on to.
I head inland, past shops galore, before passing over the River Stour. This expanse of water is 61 miles long, starting right up in Wiltshire before linking to the English Channel. The river has a lot of recreational use and is also hope to a myriad of wildlife and if you search for the ecology of it online, it’s really quite fascinating, although probably it’s most famous inhabitant downstream, for all the wrong reasons, is the Blandford Fly.
I bed down for the night in a Travelodge in Christchurch. I mean, at least it’s a bed and not the tent. In reality, I stayed up until past midnight with my thoughts, having devoured a cookie I bought on my evening walk. Night!
(4th Feb 2021)
Waking up in Christchurch, a few streets back is the Castle and Norman House. This isn’t a house that belongs to Norman, but the remains of what was once a domineering motte and bailey castle. In reality, I’m gearing up for an exciting morning of being a taxi driver to mum who has to have the Covid jab and we’ve got to guess where to go.
Protected by the English Heritage (the ruined castle, not my mum), has free admission. I suppose that’s not especially surprising considering there’s nothing to support the doors. It stands not at all imposingly on the banks of the river Avon.
It wasn’t originally called Christchurch. It was born with the name of Twynham, but as it grew, and the priory took hold, it changed its name (by deed poll?) to Christchurch. As with most places along the south coast, it was rife with smugglers, and the town has taken quite a battering over the years through various battles. The latest fortifications were put in ready for invasion in the second world war. Today, they’re more welcoming and it’s a tourist hotspot as one of the first or last places in the county of Dorset you can visit on the south coast (depending on the direction of travel).
As with much of the surrounding area, Christchurch also lies in the centre of a green belt area helping to preserve the local green spaces, at least until someone else comes up with ideas.
From here I head north. This is bittersweet.
I’m looking forward to making progress up the country now rather than across but at the same time I’ll be missing out on some great places including the New Forest, Southampton, Portsmouth, and even the Isle of Wight, so you know what, here’s a few reminiscent moments just because.
The New Forest is of utmost importance. One of our National Parks, the wildlife roam free, and if you’ve ever visited, you’ll the know the thrill (and sometimes a tad trepidation) as the ponies gallop towards you. The whole area is a site of special scientific interest and it’s not surprising really with the vast array of wildlife that survives here. Wet heaths and lowland habitats make it an ideal place to explore, and I’ve enjoyed not just holidays and journeys through the area but romping around across the land is something else. The amount of times I’ve taken groups of Explorer Scouts on their Duke of Edinburgh Award here is numerous and it always astonishes me how we entrust 14 year olds to take a map and compass and walk by themselves for days. Admittedly there is some supervision from afar, but they are the ones who map their routes. Each time, their commitment to find their way on uncertain paths is inspiring.
The expedition element of the award is quite thrilling. You spend a long time building your knowledge and skill base and are then essentially thrown out of a minibus (figuratively speaking) in the middle of nowhere and the bus drives off. Yes, usually only a mile up the road, but suddenly, you feel as though you are on your own on the most massive adventure ever. You explore parts of this country that for city teens in particular is quite mesmerising. Over the course of a couple of days, there are moments of excited chatter, moments of quiet contemplation, and often a few tears and tantrums with your team. A whole range of emotions are opened up and explored, and yet, teens (certainly the ones we took) got on with it because life was too short to worry, and if they’d not brushed it off and faced these moments head on, they’d have probably still been walking now. I should think through supervising groups in the area I’ve probably seen every road that the New Forest has to offer, and had many a pony’s face through the window when I stop.
That was quite an aside but allow me to continue because it’s the south coast, which I love, and actually it’s my blog so I’m going to write about it anyway. If you don’t want to hear about these bits, you can scroll on or choose another week (or click on the Gofundme button if you haven’t yet).
Portsmouth is my second aside only because I think it’s a really excellent place to visit. They have managed to marry the history of the dockyard with the modern shopping experience and it works well. I know this isn’t all there is in Portsmouth but it’s the bit I see the most. Spinnaker Tower is well worth the visit and on a clear day you really can see for miles and feel on top of the world. If you can stand the height you can look down and play God for a few minutes. You actually feel in control, and quite free. Again, it’s a place we took our Explorer Scouts many a time for a day trip, and it was where I first experienced a rib ride. I mean, probably won’t do it again as I screamed like a toddler, but at the same time it was fun (even if one of the leaders did pull the plug at the back of the boat and then ask whether he should put it back in – the fact our feet were wet suggested it was a good time).
I’ve spent many a good time here and it always feels a bit like a second home, so much so that one of my short stories is actually set just along the coast in Southsea where we had been regular holiday goers for many years. Southsea is home to the Kings Theatre. I’ve only visited once, not that long after being diagnosed with anxiety really. Attending the theatre that evening was absolutely terrifying. It was a play I was desperate to see (The Play That Goes Wrong – highly recommended). I felt ill and on edge throughout, but I got through it, and even called out/joined in at one point, which was a thrill. Visiting the theatre even now, lockdown aside, is still a very hard thing to do and I’m amazed anybody wants to go with me in all honesty, but it’s a passion of mine and I will never give that up.
Southsea is also the home to the catamaran to the Isle of Wight. What I like about the catamaran is the fact that because it skims across the top of the water, you need a pilot’s licence and not a seafaring licence to drive it.
The Isle of Wight is my final aside for now. We’ve visited many times over the years but our most recent was a few years ago. Great big converted barn. It was a lovely holiday and actually for a small island there’s a lot to see, although it can feel a bit cabin feverish if you do it all in one hit. Pace yourself. The chalk cliffs and gun casements at The Needles, the microclimate and an excellent spa at Ventnor, and one of my most favourite things, but not to everyone’s taste, Quarr Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. It was so beautiful and calm, and I found myself enjoying the peace and sanctitude felt here. Sometimes a place speaks to you and this did. I felt as though a weight was lifted and in the silence, somebody was listening – they quite possibly were. We all need to find that silence, not just physically, but within ourselves too. Quieten the mind.
One of the reasons the monastery sprung to mind was because I saw an interview on This Morning on TV with ‘the singing nuns’ aka the Poor Clares of Arundel. Their music is so uplifting. It’s worth having a listen. They said at the end of the interview – ‘When you listen to our CD, if you’re at home and fed up or anxious or feeling depressed, just know in West Sussex there is a community of women and we are here and we are with you. And we are making the journey as well.’
Let’s get back to the route. It has been difficult to quieten the mind today, but for good reason. There’s been a few ideas flowing, I had an exciting new delivery, and people have even been calling to offer donations. I received in the post a cheque for £100 to add to the total. I’m astounded. I never expected it to go up like this. It really was a small project that’s grown and every little bit that comes in makes me push on, even on days like today where it was wet and I almost couldn’t be bothered.
But bothered I was and I ventured out and saw…floods. Lots of them. The water’s high again and you may remember in my last video about the water level in the area by the rollers. I couldn’t even get there today. The path towards it and into town was calf high, as in the leg, not the cattle. I wasn’t wading that, although a few brave, possibly silly, chaps did. Saw a few horses getting wet, but otherwise, a really pleasant walk. I took one photo that I’m particularly pleased with. Can you guess which one? Which is your favourite? I’m not a photographer by any means.
There’s a couple of pictures you’ll see of buildings. These are pavilions owned by two colleges of the University. They’re clearly not in use and it makes me sad. It makes me sad because as a youth leader, I see so much potential for these spaces, especially knowing we have young people around. How great would they be as youth wellbeing hubs for example? They’re not too large, but have an expanse of land out the front. They’re both across the field from each other and granted they’d be flooded at the moment but think what a massive difference could be made if these were available to the local young people, or even wellbeing hubs for university students. We’re in a mental health crisis. Come on people. Foresight!
I head out of Christchurch, following the River Avon, before arriving in the market town of Ringwood. Typically market-town-esque, it has a weekly market and at one point had a cattle market, although Waitrose soon concreted over that. Move with the times I suppose. For a small place, it has quite a lot going for it, especially if you like your beer as they have their very own brewery. Those of a certain age will also remember the TV sitcom The Brittas Empire, set in a sports centre. Parts of it were filmed here too.
I shan’t walk much more before bedtime. In fact, there’s a Premier Inn a little way up the road, and their beds are rather comfy. I wonder if they’ve any space?
I haven’t taken many photos this week. I’ll try and rectify that and also add some in of the areas I’ve been when I get a minute.