I made a very silly decision a few weeks ago. Having walked the Arden Way over a weekend two years ago, I decided that it would be possible to do it alone in one day. It’s 26.6 miles so I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought that given enough time, it would be possible. It was – just.
I started at 8 in the morning to make sure I had plenty of time and at first it was a pleasant walk. The route is a circular journey beginning and ending in the centre of Henley-in-Arden. The early stages, as much of the walk, are largely in fields and my socks were soon damp with the dew. I’d brought a spare pair (it’s a real pleasure to put fresh socks on when tired from walking) so I was able to change them over and leave the wet ones attached to my pack in the hope that they would dry off. Inevitably, I lost one!
For the most part it’s an attractive route through rural areas, lovely villages and a couple of small towns. There were a number of nice sights, such as an old red phone box convereted into a mini library and some stocks. I also came across two or three fields with cows who seemed to find me fascinating and followed me across their fields. I’m not sure why as I couldn’t see any calves.
I made good time in the morning but as I reached mid-afternoon I was getting tired and still had 8 miles or so to go! As time progressed I found my feet were getting painful – I had a huge blister on my heel when I finished which caused problems for a week afterwards.
The directions, produced by the Heart of England Way Association, were generally pretty good but a few times they were misleading or unclear, which led me off track. I had a map but even so it was difficult to find my way back to where I should be. None of these diversions were particularly lengthy but it was increasingly frustrating as time wore on and I was losing the light. I knew once I got into Henley I would be fine, as there are streetlights, but I only had a mini Maglite to light my way in the fields and woods.
For the last five miles or so I must have looked drunk, so odd had my gait become after so many miles. I was tired, frustrated, in pain and desperate to finish. I’m proud of myself for completing the route in the circumstances but I did ask myself what on earth I had been thinking! The longest I’d walked in a day before was 17 miles so I added nearly 10 miles to that!
I’d seen the TV programme Commando School a couple of days beforehand, which went behind the scenes of training for Royal Marine recruits. One of their qualifying Commando tests is a 30 mile ‘yomp’ (speed march) in Dartmoor, carrying 40 lb. of equipment and their rifle. They have only eight hours to complete this challenge, so I thought it shouldn’t be too much to ask myself to cover three miles less distance in four hours more, and carrying less equipment. In the end, it took 12.5 hours, but thinking of what the Marines have to do gave me the inspiration to keep going.