I don’t even know where to start this post. So much to say, so many ideas in my head, so I’ll do the sensible thing and just begin at the beginning.
A few months ago I decided to do my very own walking challenge in aid of The Lullaby Trust. They had approached me and asked if I could help to promote their ‘Walk for Babies’ campaign. I was more than happy, and somewhere at the back of my mind, an idea started to form. As I’m an OS GetOutside champion this year, and seeing the amazing things that my fellow champs get up to, I wanted to do something a bit crazy. I wanted to set a challenge, see it through and show that anyone can do it.
As my home county of Northamptonshire is so important to me, and plays a massive role in my blog, I wanted to do a local walk. A quick google led me to the BIGGEST local walk, the Northamptonshire Round. A 50 mile trail encircling Northampton and passing through some of the loveliest villages and beautiful countryside this county has to offer.
So, while it was still far enough away to not worry about, I told everyone I was going to walk the Northamptonshire Round in aid of The Lullaby Trust. I originally said I’d do it in one go, but that, quite frankly, was madness. So I reevaluated and decided to do it over a weekend.
So last weekend, the 10th/11th June I set out to walk 50 miles, raise some money for a good cause and prove that I was capable of pushing myself further than ever before.
I did aim to set out at 8am on the Saturday, but Finn decided to sleep in for the first time ever and I couldn’t bring myself to wake him. (It just went against all my instincts!) So it was nearer 9 as I started my challenge and headed off from Brixworth Country Park.
It all started with a nice gentle introduction and a stroll around Pitsford Water. I was doing the first 10 miles (of 30) of day one on my own so I was grateful for the easy start.
After Brixworth, I headed through the village of Holcot. It was a bit weird walking by myself and it took a while for my racing mind to relax and just concentrate on the 30 miles ahead. I kept worrying that I’d forgotten something, had I sorted everything for Finn, had I turned the oven off, that sort of thing! But I soon got used to the novelty of having some time to myself and started to enjoy myself. It was perfect thinking time and I made some great plans over those miles.
However, as I left Holcot, things took a turn for the worse.
The paths were quite overgrown and it wasn’t entirely clear where I should go. In fact, it appears that the footpaths of Northamptonshire are not frequented as much as you’d have thought. On the first day, bearing in mind I walked for 12 hours and it was a beautifully sunny Saturday, apart from a few hot and bothered DofE kids I saw just one other walker. I found that quite staggering, I obviously have a lot of work to do to convince my fellow Northamptonians to get outside. But I managed. I fought my way through and was just starting to think that I was doing alright, when it all went horribly wrong.
The path ahead, where I thought I was meant to be heading, had a PRIVATE sign across it. I panicked. I must have really messed up and wasn’t at all where I should be. There were some suspiciously looking new signs around so I followed them, hoping they’d lead me back to the route. But no.
It turns out that I was where I wanted to be, but there was a detour in place. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise until I saw this sign at the end of the detour I took. I know I should have done a recce, but being so short on time, and already taking two days off to do the walk, I cut corners. That’s an important lesson learned. Secondly, I should have trusted myself. My navigation was right, it was the path that moved! If I had just ploughed on and trespassed for a few metres (it really was a very short path) I would have been fine (not that I advocate trespassing, but in this case it would have been the best option). Instead, like the goody two shoes I am, I followed the signs, that a) added a good few miles and b) left me stranded on the A43. Now the A43 is a busy, busy road with no path and very overgrown verges. I frantically checked my map, there must be an alternative. There wasn’t. So I gingerly started to edge my way along, diving into the hedge everytime a car came past. This was slow and dangerous progress, so I pushed my way through the hedge and walked along the drainage ditch for a while. This was better, but I got so scratched. Eventually, I came to a driveway, so I ducked in and walked along the edge of the fields, with a nice fat hedge between me and the road. This was technically trespassing, but even the grumpiest farmer wouldn’t have minded (so I told myself). After what seemed like forever (but probably only half an hour), I had rejoined the footpath I wanted and was back on my way. By this point I was hot, tired and completely thrown off track, so I did the only thing I could do in the circumstances and had a tea break.
Quick tea break 😉 pic.twitter.com/srmLfjG5wo
It was so worth carrying a flask of tea. I felt relaxed and calm and able to pick myself up and carry on. It was hard having something go wrong when I was on my own and so early in the day. The next section, down past Hardwick Wood, towards Sywell, was poorly sign posted and I did struggle a little. I was generally going in the right direction, and everytime I started to worry, a sign would miraculously appear, only for the path to disappear again.
By now I was getting a tiny bit stressed, due to my late start and my unwanted detour, I was now 2 hours behind schedule. I was heading to meet up with my sister and friend and their partners, so knowing that I was late was frustrating. It was at this point that I had a real tantrum. I managed (just!) not to cry, but I had a real moment of doubt. Maybe I should give up, maybe I’m not cut out for this, maybe this was the worst idea I’ve ever had. In the run up to the walk I had prayed for sun, now, as the sweat poured off me, I cursed it.
Anyway, I made it to the rendezvous at Sywell Country Park, very late, very bedraggled and not at all composed. I refilled my water, quick toilet stop and took on some calories. Meeting up with everyone was a great boost and I suddenly started to feel a lot more positive.
Thankfully, the rest of day one was a lot easier navigationally speaking. I didn’t get lost again, plus having company was a bonus. I don’t think I would have made it to the end on my own.
Our next target was Yardley Hastings, so we carried on, trying to keep a decent pace. This was a beautiful stretch, with lovely views across countryside and rolling green hills.
We were making good progress, when an inviting beer garden loomed into view. As much as we wanted to carry on and make some time up, a break was too hard to resist. I don’t regret it, there’s nothing finer than an English beer garden on a sunny day, plus it was a great morale boost.
Suitably refreshed, we were on our way again. As we headed out of Yardley Hastings, we strode off in sight of our next marker, Salcey Forest. The warm weather continued and I think at this point we were all feeling the effects of the mileage and the high temperature. Passing Yardley Chase and some rather unfriendly llamas, I needed another quick break to check the map and sort my backpack out.
We were now on the final stretch. This was a hard section as the end was in sight, yet so far away! We still had a couple of hours ahead, our feet were aching and I think we were all wondering what we’d let ourselves in for. As we finally made it to Salcey Forest, I was still a couple of hours behind schedule, but it was great feeling to keep ticking off the miles.
The walk through the shady wood and following well signed routes was a welcome relief. It was a godsend to have a few easy miles at this point in the day. As I got towards the end of day one, I was actually surprised at how well I was feeling. A few aches and my feet were sore, but together we managed to keep a decent pace up right until the end.
We ticked off the last few miles, racing the light as we did so!
By this point it really was a matter of just putting one foot in front of the other. Slowly, slowly, the end got closer. My sister’s fiance took over map reading duties (I think he’d probably wanted to for a while!). He seemed to enjoy it and as I got towards 10 hours of walking, I was happy to relinquish responsibility and give my brain a rest.
At 9pm we finally reached our destination, the lovely canalside village of Stoke Bruerne (well worth a visit). We were too late for food at both of the pubs, so we popped over the canal for a curry. It was a good choice. I’m not sure if it was because I’d been walking for 10 hours, but it was the best damn curry I’ve ever eaten.
Up until I sat down for our meal, I felt alright. My legs still worked and my feet seemed to be in one piece. Then I got up after stuffing my face and got a bit of a shock. I could not walk AT ALL. My hip was agony and my feet felt like I was walking on nails. My stomach lurched with panic as the realisation dawned that I had another 20 miles to go. Day two was going to be fun!
If you wish to donate, my JustGiving page is open until 01/08/17