Is this where we came in? (Is there anybody out there walking the wall pt6)

The morning arrived and the last day of the walk began. The boys had decided to return to Newton and the phonebox of the living Triffids aka, the place we got a taxi from yesterday. I found this admirable, that despite the cock-up with the daily segments, these 2 are making sure they get every single mile in. For my part, I chose not to. Not just because I couldn’t stomach the extra walking, more the fact that I needed to drive for at least 2 hours once we get to the end. The signs on the M6 do say ‘Tiredness can kill” so the extra fatigue could prove to be a safety issue.

The plan was now for them to set off after breakfast and I would wait until around a quarter to 11 before setting off back to the place it all began for me, back at Bowness-on-Solway. I packed my bags, looked up the start of the path from Carlisle and stepped forth into the warm damp air of Cumbria. I was feeling pretty good. The extra rest had cleared my head of the Trammy fog I have become accustomed to.  A quick stroll through the town lead to a rather beautiful public park by the river Eden.

Wooden signs pointed me in the right direction. Mick started broadcasting his position live on Facebook messenger so I knew how far behind me they were. Over the last couple of days, my comrades of the Roman Grand Designs were pacing a good deal faster than my expertly executed trudge. We were aiming to meet at the Greyhound pub en route. Unless they could catch me before we reached there.

The path down the side of the river was glorious. The movement of the water, wonderful bridges, beautiful river banks. I had found a happiness on the track. The path rolled on under railway bridges and through woods where the brambles encroached across the walkway. Dog walkers exercised their best friends. One chap had 4 different breeds swimming in the river. Stone steps took me up to winding tracks and down to steel footbridges. My eyes were full of wonder and my mind allowed me to find a comfortable feeling from the memories of my happiest stonings.

Trees to fields, sheep to cows, all the time the boys were getting closer. But this was not a race. I felt at ease knowing that should anything happen to me, if I needed to stop, that they would find me and I would be saved. With no maps, no use of Google spy and no one to follow, I hunted for the acorn symbols and took the paths indicated by the ‘Hadrian’ Wall’ signposts. My legs hurt and my feet hated me, but my mind was good. Down the sides of old farm buildings, past ponds and brooks. I was heading back to where I came from on Friday and yet I hadn’t walk a sing step on the same roads.

I reached a point where the path was diverted by white laminated signs. With no sight of an obvious obstruction, I automatically assumed this change of course was some sort of serial killer’s elaborate trap to lure backpackers down a Wrong Turn. Then I remembered the couple I had met some 10 minutes before walking in the other direction. They weren’t stuffed and mounted to decorate the wall in some incestrial love nest. This convinced me that it was safe to proceed.

By now I was beginning to flag. Having not previously come this way I was unsure of how far I had to go to get to the pub. I passed a parish hall. then some posh houses the likes of which I hadn’t seen since attending Steve’s wedding.  The hill up to the village green was tough and my tiredness was starting to impair my thoughts. I couldn’t figure out the best course of action so I pulled out my phone to consult the satellites. No sooner had I opened the cover than the battery died. I had no way of looking up the direction, and no way of contacting the boys, so I decided the time was right to go old school. I found a bench, sat down and waited. Before time had a chance to make another hair grey they arrived. I don’t think I have ever been so pleased to see a couple of 50 plus-year-old men in my life.

Through the guidebook, we found that the pub was about 2km away. So just as the rain started to fall we marched on. Tracker tracks lead us to Bough-on-Sands and for the first time, roads I had previously walked. With cloud seepage dripping from our breathable fabrics we arrived at our resting place only to find they’d stopped serving food. Crisps, chocolate and Haribo’s would have to do.

Leaving the village took us on to the road without end. On my first day, I walked along this 4k stealer of hope with a full pack in desert-like sunshine. This time it was raining and I was with my friends. It was still a road where despair came to lose hope, but the company was great and we laughed our way through. By the time we got the end of that road we were ready for home, however, we still had another 6km to go.

It is funny how the closer you get to the end the further away it seems. The greyness of the sky was making its way into our mood, more paths, more roads. Even the couple engaged in charving parking didn’t draw much more than a cursory glance as we passed. The coast of the Solway twisted around until I could finally see Nina, my car. She was peering out from behind a Ford Fiester looking for me. I patted her on the roof and said “we have one last thing to do,”

Down the side of a house, the final path took us to the coast, the end of the wall, the finish. The boys had picked up stones from the East Coast to bring to the west. They got one for me as well which they gave me on the Friday night. We threw them on to the West Coast shoreline officially bringing this journey to an end. All that was left was to do was return to Nina, go and collect our bags, then drive home.

The sense of achievement is quite something. I know this kind of challenge is beyond the reach of my friends and others who suffer from ME. At times it was the thought that they would probably love to try something like this but can’t that stopped me giving up. I think we all got something special out of the adventure. I know Mick loved it and I think Steve enjoyed the fact it was a tougher challenge than he thought it was going to be. Me, I went through the mill and came out of the other side leaning one very important lesson. The next time Steve says “I’ve got an idea” just say no.

Photos by Mick Arthur

 

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Changing Landscapes (Is there anybody out there walking the wall pt5)

Photo by Colin Davies

The sun broke the darkness of our room as an end came to a rather nice Tramadol and Paracetamol cuddled sleep.  Pain was very much still deep within my legs and even the task of getting to the bathroom seemed harder than ever before. The previous day had seen me broken, battered, chewed up and spat into a taxi while the lads, as brave a tigers on magic mushrooms, soldiered on until the cold and need for a pint caused them to halt the impossible day. So no matter what, they were going back to complete the missing 10km.

My head was still slightly to the left as a clambered down the stairs toward the breakfast table with all the grace a dead baboon with rigor mortis. Over morning caffeine delivered as tea for me and coffee for the other 2, we discussed the day ahead. It was looking very much like the people we paid to organise our walk had messed up the distances. This had lead to the boys having to backtrack a couple of times. It also looked like the full distance would not be achievable so something would have to be skipped. Some of the most interesting parts of Hadrian’s Wall were on the bit missed last night so if they were going to jump past any of it, they wanted to skip it closer to Carlisle. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do, then the food arrived. This chewable joy lifted my spirits and I agreed to go back with the boys and continue the walk from where they left off.

The owner of the Bush Nook Guest House was a rather lovely fella called Malcolm. During our discussion about the walk and what could be missed we enlisted his local knowledge. This lead to him offering to drive us back to the Mile Castle. This act of generosity would save us at least an hour of the day, and we happily accepted.

Back on the hills and my first worry wasn’t about getting my legs moving, the stiffness would soon pass. My first worry was about returning to the darkness of yesterday. I knew the boys with their superior fitness and Dory like ‘Just keep swimming’ attitude would take them away from me at times. I needed a way to level my head. My wonderful painkillers would help in one way, but I also needed to keep moving forward and I doubted ambling along in a cotton candy glow would get me very far.

I decided to play in my head, and sing out loud, Pink Floyd’ The Wall for both the joke and as a challenge to see if I could remember all the words. As I looked up at the first of the rocky clambers that the day I mentally put the needle in the groove, I was playing the vinyl version I’m not a barbarian. This allowed me to fall into my own world, my own movie. When the boys waited for me to catch up the soundtrack would fade and the dialogue begins. For the next 3 hours, I was very tired but quite content.

The harsh rock encrusted landscape came to a very abrupt end at Cawfield Quarry, turning into steep yet rolling farmland. This gentler terrain was still tough, just less arduous. It rose and fell like undulating waves leading us trepid explorers back to Gilsland and the Samson Inn for a lovely Sunday lunch.

The afternoon carried on in much the same way only this time I couldn’t figure out which of my record collection I wanted to recount and stepped forward with the sounds of nature. We continued up and down, through forests and across farmland. Many a sheep were seen but far too many to count safely without falling asleep. Time moved on and trudging became the order of the day. My mind started to over think a past that could not be changed and it was time to stop for a rest. Steve’s guidebook informed us about the Hayton Gate Hut, a most wonderful place with tea and coffee and crips and juice and chocolate. All supplied by the wonderful people of the cottage and paid for with an honesty box. It is simple little havens like this that fill me with hope. There are nice people out there who genuinely care.

Time was not for waiting and we had to push on. As fatigue started to take hold my mood did darken. We were all tired and just wanted to get to our next stopping point. Through fields we marched, step after step. The gap between me and the boys was winding and in turn, I was starting to fall inwards.  We passed more sheep, through woods, farmyards, through gardens, and just as I was about to declare myself done, I found the boys by a village green calling a taxi. This was the end of our walking today. Now a ride into Carlisle for pizza and medicated slumber.

Photos by Colin Davies and Mick Arthur

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The Trial (Is there anybody out there walking the wall? pt 4)

Our first full day walking as a three turned out the be very interesting. The boys really enjoyed it because for the first time the entire day was spent walking across fields and not on the roads. I was feeling OK, though after the day before, a little apprehensive. Onwards and upwards, the walk started by climbing and carried on that way. This path would take in 3 trig points which should give you an indication as to how high we were going.

There was rain in the warm air and a very slight breeze. Something about the open hills, the relentless upness of it, and my own personal feelings of not being as capable of this challenge as my non-Samoan friends. My non-attorneys were a few steps ahead of me as the enormity of the outside world feel on my thoughts. A darkness loomed and as the clouds grew blacker, so did my spirit. As we reached the first trig point I was holding myself together. That’s when the rain started.

At first, it was just heavy warm water falling from the clouds close enough to touch. Then came the wind. A howling monster whipping raindrops as big as your fist thundered against us causing me to exaggerate. We pressed on, fighting the elements. Soon the rain stopped however, the winds decided to stick around. Everything was going OK. We had found a coffee van which gave us a rest bite and a much needed hot chocolate. Mick and Steve drank coffee, they’ve always been much more grown up than me.

This part of the walk seemed very popular with many other walkers joining the path. Quite a few of the elderly enthusiasts out for a Saturday stroll with their sticks raced past us. They reminded me of Landstriders from ‘The Dark Crystal’

The terrane became harsher and more violent. The Romans had picked quite the most inhospitable site to build the highest part of their wall. Sheer cliff faces gave us some quite breathtaking views. Though with the wind pushing us in the direction of the drop, quite scary ones too. By the second trig point my mind was racing with fear, excitement, despair and doubt. Being up on the hill getting battered by the wind was thrilling, but in the back of my mind demons where plotting.

The walk continued over the very rough landscape. Through woodlands and over rocky climbs. Steve trundled off in front for a bit while me and Mick chatted silliness about the state of Roman building regulations. We found Steve waiting for us by a very large pile of ruins. It looked like a fort. This was also the most people we had seen, all clambering about the wall and the fallen stronghold, despite what the signs were telling them. We passed through and up a small but steep hill to an avenue. It was here that my mind fell in on me.

By the time I caught up with my friends I was struggling. Not just physically, though my legs were hurting, but mentally. We had at least 8km of this relentless rock path to go before we could stop and I had entered a personal crisis that only I could sort out. I told the boys to carry on, stop waiting for me. Reluctantly, and only because this part of the path was well populated, they agreed.

So now I was on a journey to beat my own mind. Up and down of rocks and hills. Just pushing through. Not allowing myself to give up. Tears and turmoil ravaged my thoughts. At one particularly low point, both mentally and geographically, I got talking to some people we had seen a few times on the trail. I chatted with them for a short while before they kicked on towards their destination. This small interaction helped me more than they would ever know.

Time marched on and I did too. Then came a phone call. Mick was telling me they could see the pub we were stopping at. From checking the distances I wasn’t far behind them. I pressed on through the fields, finding the easier paths rather than the dangerous looking rock climbs. Soon I could see the little white build my friends had reached. Pushing against the wind I fought on through. Hurting and emotional I got to the Twice Brewed public house. The first people I saw was the group from the hill. I gave them big hug before sitting down with the boys. They had already ordered me some food and for that, I was so grateful.

I decided that was it for me, so after food, I got a taxi to our next digs while the boys went back on the hillside for another couple of hours. But there was no time to rest. As soon as I got to the guesthouse I was told I had to get ready to go to the pub as Malcome, the guest house owner,  had it all arranged that the bys would be meeting me there. One very painful and quick turn around later and I was meeting some lovely people while waiting. My friends soon arrived and the plan for the next day was decided.

I went through hell on those hills, but like the sun spreading warmth as the cloud moves out of the way, my friends helped me back to my version of normality without having to do anything. That and the kindness of people. The world can seem like a dark and lonely place at times. Today I was reminded that there is still hope.

Photos by Mick Arthur

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Hitting the Wall (Is there anybody out there walking the wall? pt3)

So it has begun. This morning I woke at 5 am, left the house at 6 am and hit the road, destination Bowness-on-Solway. But first a diversion. The day before a lorry drove rather inconveniently into a bridge spanning the M6 between the M55 and the Lancaster turn off, otherwise known as, the bit I wanted to get on the M6 at. The driver is not dead and accounts claim him to be much less injured than one would expect from the photos.  This has pushed all the traffic heading to and from Scotland onto the A6, which is never a good thing.

So I decided to head to Lancaster via Shard Bridge. With the sun hanging low in the east, a light early morning mist rising from the fields and Kate Bush’s ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’ playing, a moment of contentment happened. My smile was heartfelt and the day seemed right.

With the help of GPS, I found Bowness-on-Solway, parked the car, gathered my pack and headed off in the direction of Carlisle train station some 22km away. Radiohead was playing in my ears and I will admit a slight bounce in my step. For the next couple of hours, I walked the twisted roads of Cumbria. Radiohead turned into Jethro Tull and ‘Aqualung’ became the soundtrack for the adventure.

Now I might be making this sound nice and easy. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t. In fact, it was as tough as I thought it was going to be, and being as I have been trying to talk myself out of it for months, I thought it was going to be pretty tough. You see this first bit for me was on my own and with a full pack. The rest of the walk will be hard, don’t get me wrong, however, we have paid for a firm to take our heavy bugs from digs to digs, so we will only have our day packs with us. And the extra weight makes quite the difference. On top of this, which I found out later, all the sugary stuff I bought to give me that extra boost when needed as in fact sugar-free. So as I was walking in the oppressive heat of the sun, without a cloud in the sky to hide it, my energy levels were just continuing to drop.

I viewed this part of the walk as akin to writing. Being alone with my own thoughts, seeing beauty all around, struggling every so often to find the right path, finding it a drudge and just having to push on no matter what, hating it, loving it and ultimately having to push really hard to get to the end. There was one part of the road that summed it all up. 3km of open land, a straight road that you can see the end of but never seemed to get any nearer. Bulls just wondering around and cars flying past you at daunting speeds. This section took some mental strength.

Time moved on and the destination moved closer, only thing was, I was getting weaker. I reached the outskirts of Carlisle, a mere 5km from the train station, that’s when it started to bite. I started to think about resting up for half an hour. Maybe in the next pub, get some food and a pint of cold. But the next pub never came. Another 2km down the road and I hit the wall. Everything was hurting but mainly my shoulders. The pack was feeling very heavy, my hands were shaking. I had to stop but there were no shaded areas. I just halted and sat on a garden wall, that’s when a panic set in. Shortness of breath, thoughts of not being able to carry on. I took the pack off just to release the pressure. I started to calm down. I just needed energy, that’s when it hit me.

My friend Simon Jay, feels like this from the moment he wakes from his restless sleep to the moment he returns to the bed for another go at slumber. Rich Davenport has these aches and pains just sitting down to watch the telly. Suffers of ME have to endure this kind of fatigue all the time. I can stop this, in fact, I did. Once I got to the station, waited half an hour for the train to Hexham. Sat resting on the tracks for 50 minutes. I left the station, looked at the 2-hour walk ahead of me, and got in a taxi. I couldn’t take the weight of the full pack anymore.

So now I am here in the hotel waiting for the boys to arrive. They will undoubtedly be naked from their endeavours of the day. Now I have rested I feel I little more confident about tomorrow.

I have completed something that I never thought I could, and actually, during it, never thought I was going to.

Photos by Stephen Barr and Mick Arthur

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The journey of many steps starts with a Fitbit. (Is there anybody out there walking the wall ? pt2)

The journey of many steps starts with a Fitbit.

So it has begun, the boys have completed their first day while I was still stuck in an over-warm office. The only communication I have had with them has been via Facebook as they have briefly updated their statuses.

This, however, has caused me some trepidation. You see in this world of technology we are now able to monitor our activities and produce numbers we never had before. Like the walk the boys have done today. In the past they would have reached their stop off point, having walked about 20 odd miles, it would have been quite warm and taken about 7 hours.

But we now have Fitbits and Garmin watches. We now know it was 20.6 miles, had an average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius and, according to Mick’s Fitbit, took 43500 steps. When the stats are wooly it makes it easier to face. 43500 steps seem like an awful lot. I know Mick has little legs, but not so short as to make a massive difference in the step count between us.

On top of this Steve, the supper fit channel swimming challenge setter, has posted that after that first day’s walk he is ‘tired’. So Mr Adventure is feeling the burn, what hope do I have? Me, who sees 5000 steps a day as exceeding his goal.

Well, tomorrow is when reality bites. I shall stride forward with a determination to succeed. With kindness in my heart, the love of my friends & family, and the words of my late father in my ears as I recount exactly what he used to say when others would take on such challenges. “What the bloody hell do you want to that for. Go back to bed!”

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Is there anybody out there walking the Wall? pt1

How it all began.

Before I take 1 step, pack 1 item or drive 1 mile towards the challenge I feel I must explain a few things. My name is Colin Davies and I’m about to walk, most of Hadrian’s Wall.

Here is the plan. I will be driving up to Bowness-on-Solway early on the Friday morning. Here I will park the car before walking the 14 and a half miles to Carlisle to catch a train that will take me to Hexham. From there I will then walk the 5.9 miles to Chollerford where I’ll meet up with the ‘boys’

I call them the ‘boys’ due to the fact that they both identify as male, though I think Steve identifies as more male than Mick, even though Mick would probably disagree. Let’s just say they are both fit from all the running and the swimming. I, on the other hand, have been getting fit, mainly through swimming though I do run very badly.

The ‘boys’ start their walk from Wallsend on Thursday and will have covered about 30 miles by the time we meet. So across the entire walk, I will be about 10 miles behind them.  I’m quite pleased about that. I was disappointed that I couldn’t spend the time to do the whole journey with them.

When mentioning this excursion many people that know me and my lack of interest in exploring the great outdoors have said to me “Wow! How did that come about?”

The whole idea started when Steve was up in Blackpool on one of his Christmas visits. I’ve known Mick for 30 years and he has Known Steve for even longer. Steve loves Blackpool. He moved away to get educated which proved successful because he never moved back. We went out for our annual curry, a modern tradition but one I like. During the many conversations where we were asking Steve what his next challenge would be, 2017 saw him take part in a cross-channel relay where he swam the final third of the distance, he mentioned that he fancied walking Hadrian’s Wall, and so it was agreed. Though I must admit when I heard him say “Who’s in?” I thought he was asking about ordering poppadom for the meal.

So the idea was born and before I could pull out of it Steve had it organised. We picked the dates and now it’s a reality. That lead me to think, if I’m doing this stupid thing anyway, why not do it for a good cause. So I set up a Just Giving page to raise money and awareness for  ME. 

ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy), or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is an illness that blights the lives of 250,000 people in the UK today.  Even the smallest exertion can floor them; their joints and muscles ache unbearably; restful sleep eludes them, and ‘brain fog’ clouds even the smallest judgment.  It changes their lives drastically – disrupting education; making employment impossible; and straining family relations to breaking point. People may be housebound or confined to bed for many months or years.  There is no known cure. 

I know people who suffer from this and trust me they do suffer.

I will be posting on here every night during the walk to let you all know how things are going, If you are lucky I might have been inspired to write some poetry. If you are really lucky, I might forget to share it.

Until Friday. Peace.

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