Walk 1000 miles challenge: February 2018

During 2018 I’m taking part in the Country Walking #walk1000 miles challenge. Some months I’ll be doing proper walks in the mountains. But in February the walks were of a gentler nature. Strolls even.

There were two over-riding themes to the month – snowdrop walks and city sightseeing.

Snowdrop walks

February is snowdrop month. I cannot resist the lure of a snowdrop stroll. And, even better, they often come as a package, with coffee and cake.

Snowdrops and celandines at Welford Park
Snowdrops and celandines at Welford Park

The granddaddy of snowdrop locations in our area is at Welford Park, near Newbury. If you want to see a woodland full of snowdrops this is the place to come. It’s also full of people. Luckily the snowdrops are fenced off to stop the masses trampling them.

Welford snowdrops
Welford snowdrops

There’s another side to Welford’s fame too as later in the spring it becomes the filming location for the Great British Bake Off. As befits the GBBO location I’m pleased to report I had an excellent piece of fruit cake after our walk.

Braziers Park
Braziers Park

The snowdrops on our next walk at Braziers Park are on a much smaller scale than Welford. More of a side show really. Braziers Park is a community run mansion house, once lived in by Ian Fleming. Nowadays the volunteers and long term residents look after 55 acres of land, maintain the house and host courses and events.

The guided tour around the house (yes, I counted these steps) provided an interesting peep into life at Braziers Park. I think perhaps I’m too happy with my comfortable life to consider alternative living these days.

Afterwards we walked through the gardens and woodland. An unexpected hail storm blew in so we hid behind trees whilst the icy white stones bounced around us.

Fungi at Braziers Park
Fungi at Braziers Park

Last but not least, we visited Milton Manor. There were only a few snowdrops left so the main attraction turned out to be more cake. And walking through a field with llamas in.

Rope bridge, Milton Manor
Rope bridge, Milton Manor

Dotted throughout the grounds are a variety of play areas, including home made forts and tree houses. I’m not sure Health & Safety would approve but the estate grounds offer a Famous Five type of existence for children. The ‘Teenagers only’ rope bridge looked great fun!

Ghent sightseeing

Away from the snowdrops we managed some impressive miles on our half term trip to Ghent in Belguim. We walked 18 miles during our two full days of sightseeing.

The three towers, Ghent
The three towers, Ghent

It’s a perfect city for walking. Aside from trams and bicycles traffic is limited in the centre. And it’s flat. Pop over and read more about things to do in Ghent with your family.

Beacon Hill, Hampshire

I’ve driven past Beacon Hill many times whilst travelling north on the A34, but have only just got around to climbing it. On the summit, at 860ft, is Lord Carnarvon’s grave. Together with Howard Carter he famously discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the 1920s. His subsequent death, from an infected mosquito bite, contributed to the story of the Curse of Tutankhamun. The summit offers fine views of Lord Carnarvon’s pile, Highclere Castle, better known to TV viewers as Downton Abbey.

Trig point on Beacon Hill, Berkshire
Trig point on Beacon Hill, Berkshire

After climbing Beacon Hill we attempted the High above Highclere Walk from the AA website. I’m a fan of the AA walk books but learnt the hard way that it’s best to take an OS map too rather than rely on basic diagrams. Yes, we got lost. On the positive side, it meant we walked further than I’d originally planned!

Chalk pits,  Blewbury

View from the Chalk Pits, Blewbury
View from the Chalk Pits, Blewbury

Our final February walk was an after lunch stroll to the viewpoint overlooking Blewbury, a local village. A very muddy climb up past an old chalk quarry to a well placed bench. Our walk back to the village took us past a Grand Designs style house building project. Wow.

Mileage totals

I hit my monthly mileage target!

Total mileage in February: 99.25 miles

Running total for 2018: 168.6 miles

Pop over to my first blog about the #walk1000 miles challenge if you’d like to read more about my January walks.

Share this:

Walk 1000 miles challenge: January 2018

I do like a challenge. Last year it was to walk the South Downs Way, the year before to run the London marathon. This year I’m taking part in the Country Walking walk 1000 miles challenge.

There are different ways to approach the 1000 mile target. Some participants count every step, others include only miles in walking boots. I’ve chosen to include all purposeful walks, including my lunchtime strolls along with more rugged mountain walks. I’m excluding the mundane miles; shopping, walking around the house or trips into town. No pleasure in those.

January miles

My challenge got off to a slow start as I only decided to take part halfway through the month. Whilst you can start anytime I decided to back date it to the beginning of January so that all my miles are completed in 2018. This gives me an average weekly mileage target of 19.25 miles.

River Thames, Goring, Oxfordshire
River Thames, Goring, Oxfordshire

I’m not a winter person so I always knew getting outside in January would be tough. Give me warmth and sun over drizzle, mud and grey skies. I also run several days per week so when I’ve got wet and cold once there’s less incentive to go outside again.

It’s therefore no surprise that most mileage in January came from my daily lunchtime and other regular walks. We walked longer routes at the weekends, although sometimes it was just a loop around a nearby nature reserve.

Thrupp Lake, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
Thrupp Lake, Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Favourite January walks

A couple of walks stand out. My favourite was a nine mile circular walk from Goring-on-Thames to Pangbourne. The outward route took us up onto the hills where we stopped for a winter picnic. Battling muddy woods, muddy farm tracks and muddy fields (spot a theme?) we dropped down to Whitchurch and on to Pangbourne for a reviving cup of coffee. We walked back to Goring alongside the River Thames, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. It’s an area I often visit in summer to see the rare orchids at Hartslock Nature Reserve, but this time we kept to the Thames Path trail and didn’t deviate into the reserve.

In Goring we stopped briefly at George Michael’s house. The lane outside has become a shrine for his fans, with flags, photos and mementos left from all over the world. It’s an impressive display but I wonder what the neighbours think!

Great Coxwell Barn, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire
Great Coxwell Barn, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire

Another weekend took us from Badbury Hill to Great Coxwell Barn and back through the woods. It was a drab, cold and muddy day, made interesting with a visit to the 13th Century Great Coxwell barn. This huge stone barn still has its original timber framed roof and it’s amazing to think of all the historical events that have taken place in its 700 year life. More muddy farm tracks took us back to Badbury Woods. In May these are awash with bluebells and visitors. In January there are clusters of snowdrops. Not  enough to bring the serious photographers out but they still brightened up the day.

Snowdrops at Badbury Hill, Oxfordshire
Snowdrops at Badbury Hill, Oxfordshire

Despite my efforts, January ended with a mileage deficit. I’m not too worried as I’ll catch up in spring. I’m looking forward to some warmer mud free walks!

Mileage totals

Total mileage in January: 69.35 miles

Running total for 2018: 69.35 miles

Are you taking part in any challenges this year?

Share this:

My top 10 highlights of 2017

As is my blog tradition I like to review the year in passing.

Of course, nothing is ever perfect and this year has had its share of sad times, frustrations and grumpy children. But there were plenty of great times too and I ticked off a few things on my UK bucket list. Without further ado here are my top 10 of 2017 (in no particular order):

1. Watching the sunset at Newborough beach, Anglesey

Brent geese flying from Newborough beach
Brent geese flying from Newborough beach

This was the most perfect sunset of the year, possibly because it was so unexpected. The weather in Anglesey was, let’s say, mixed.

Newborough beach is a long sandy beach backed by dunes and forest. From the car park it’s a half hour walk out to the tidal island of Llanddwyn Island for more spectacular views. Just keep an eye on the tide otherwise you might be spending the night there.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

2. Bryan Adams at Cornbury Festival

I was never much of a Bryan Adams fan and I hated the over-played ‘Everything I do I do it for you’ song back in the 1990s. But guess what? Bryan Adams was completely and unexpectedly amazing. He’s one of those performers that commands the stage and it was a revelation how many songs I knew and could sing along with. I’m sure he appreciated my contribution.

3. Walking the South Downs Way

View from Rackham Banks
View from Rackham Banks

Back at the start of January I decided the family needed a challenge. A 100 mile walking challenge to be precise. Split over four weekends we’ve now walked the South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne. Logistics and weather weren’t always on our side but the views, evening meals and sense of achievement more than made up for the sore feet and wet clothing. Not sure I can persuade them to walk the Pennine Way though.

View from Birling Gap
View from Birling Gap

4. Wereldband at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

We spent three days at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, watching an eclectic mix of musicals, comedy and theatre. All of us had our individual favourites but the one act we all agreed on was Wereldband. This Dutch group is best described as a collection of slapstick musicians but this understates their talent, imagination and energy. Sometimes there was so much going on it was hard to decide who or what to watch. If you ever get the chance, go see them!

5. Worbarrow Bay walk

Pondfield Cove, Dorset
Pondfield Cove, Dorset

Whilst in Dorset we walked from the MoD village of Tyneham to the coast at Worbarrow Bay. The path passes through land used for military practise so there’s plenty of warning notices and unusual sights to keep an eye out for.

Worbarrow Tout, Dorset
Worbarrow Tout, Dorset

The bay itself, and particularly Worbarrow Tout, is picture perfect. Although the water is freezing in May. You have been warned.

6. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula

Portuairk, Ardnamurchan
Portuairk, Ardnamurchan

We spent four days exploring the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, and it’s now one of my favourite areas in Scotland (except the Isle of Eigg, nowhere beats that). Ardnamurchan is remote, empty of tourists and stunningly beautiful. But you’d probably hate it so please don’t go!

Ardnamurchan Point
Ardnamurchan Point

7. Highland Games, Skye

Dancers at Skye Highland Games
Dancers at Skye Highland Games

There were more tourists than locals at the Skye Highland Games but the traditional mix of sports, piping and dance lived up to my expectations.

I’m still in awe of those competing in the heavy events, I really must practise my tree trunk lifting.

8. Running the Oxford half marathon

I need a challenge to keep me running regularly. There’s no way I’d ever run a marathon again but I quite enjoy running half the distance. The conditions and route for Oxford half marathon were perfect and I was pleased to run a PB. I might even do it again next year.

9. An inaugural music festival

I’ll keep quiet on the location of this as it was a private festival held over midsummer. Camping out in a friend’s field, watching a hilarious tribute act (performing 30 different musicians in an hour) and then rocking to a 90s tribute band. The kids roamed free, returning occasionally with tales of misbehaving grown ups. An excellent night and already in the diary again for 2018.

10. Twixmas walking break in the Lake District

Heading to the summit of Sergeant Man, Lake District
Heading to the summit of Sergeant Man, Lake District

I’ve previously managed to miss my yearly Twixmas walking breaks off my top 10 posts, usually because I’m more organised and have written the blog before the end of the year. But this year I’m less organised so it takes its rightful place.

Descent off of Lingmoor Fell
The traditional way off Lingmoor Fell

This year’s trip, as always with Country Adventures, was based in Ambleside in the Lake District. Our first day was spent enjoying a sunny, albeit icy, walk in the fells above Grasmere. The weather was more interesting on the second day (snow, then rain) but there was still fun to be had in the form of tobogganing and snowball throwing. A great sociable break as always.

The quick way off Lingmoor Fell
The quick way off Lingmoor Fell

How about you? What were your highlights? And what does 2018 hold in store?

Share this:

2016: a year in review – my top 10

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2016. What can I say? It’s been a mixed year. Huge political shake ups, continuing civil wars, the Rio Olympics and Paralympics and Planet Earth II.

Personally, there have been sad times and happy times. I’ve had some great adventures and ticked off a couple of long held ambitions. Focussing on the positives, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of 2016:

1. Running the London marathon

The first three months of 2016 were spent pounding roads and muddy footpaths in preparation for running the London marathon. My once in a lifetime challenge.

Finished!
Finished!

The day itself was incredible and by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve done. There were tough parts (the last six miles), amazing parts (spectator support and running over Tower Bridge) and emotional parts (finishing). Would I do it again? No way! But I’m very glad to have completed it.

2. Walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-ghent descent

We spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and were blessed with ideal walking weather. Perfect for tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. Often walked as a day long charity challenge, we chose the easy option and spread them over three separate days.

3. Family backpacking adventures

Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn
Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn

I’ve cheated here and combined two trips into one. At the start of the year we decided the kids were old enough for backpacking. We bought a couple of lightweight tents and chose a couple of weekend routes close to home.

Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham
Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham

It wasn’t all plain sailing. I oversetimated the mileage we could comfortably walk on our Lambourn Valley Way weekend. And the weather was just a tad too warm on our Thames Path walk. But both weekends were fun, we rewarded ourselves with lovely meals out and made some great memories.

4. Going underground at Zip World Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog

My scary but exciting birthday present. Zip lining in caves, crawling through tunnels and scaling the side of the caverns. Are you brave enough to tackle Zip World Caverns?

Zip World Caverns training
Zip World Caverns training

5. Watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Creation Theatre, Oxford

“Quick, follow me. Walk in zigzags and blink your eyes really fast. Get in the van, hurry”. Think of Shakespeare and you don’t generally think of being bundled into a van in a public car park. Or taking part in an audition. Or popping into the printers to pick up wedding invites.

Part immersive performance, part treasure trail around Oxford this was an incredibly imaginative version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Creation Theatre. It was simply the best production I have ever seen.

6. Descending into Gaping Gill

Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent
Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent

This was an unplanned, but welcome addition, to our Yorkshire Dales holiday. After spotting an advert in a local cafe we siezed the opportunity to descend 100m by winch into Gaping Gill, a large pothole. We had to contend with an early start and a couple of hours queuing but it was worth the wait!

7. Finally finding a bee orchid. And then another. And another.

Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve
Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve

You know the saying about waiting for buses? Well this year I could have substituted the words ‘bee orchid’. I was so happy to find my first bee orchid at Warburg Nature Reserve, closely followed by several more discoveries. I even found one on a roadside verge whilst out on my lunchtime walk. How could I possibly have missed them in previous years?

8. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

I’ve wanted to visit Giant’s Causeway for many years. It has been on my bucket list forever. With expectations so high, thank god it lived up to them!

9. Watching coypu at our campsite in France

Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany
Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany

Whilst on holiday in Brittany my favourite activity was watching a family of coypu living near our campsite. I’d head down to the river every evening, about half an hour before dusk, and wait patiently for them to appear. I was childishly excited at the first glimpse of the coypu each night, and even more so whenever the young appeared.

10. Starlings and moon rise at Otmoor

Moon from RSPB Otmoor
Moon from RSPB Otmoor

Over recent years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to watch the starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor. This year, in addition to 40,000 starlings, we were treated to the most amazing moon rise. Two spectacular natural sights in one day!

What are my plans for 2017? We’re keeping things flexible at the moment but I have a very long UK bucket list which I’m hoping to make a dent in. How about you?

Share this: