The Bee’s Knees

If you’d like to help me, please donate here 

OK so it turns out that writing a blog is a lot harder than you might have thought, and it has been ages since I last updated this; worst still I have just nine weeks to sort myself out and so it’s time to get walking more – having done a number of successful walks earlier in the summer, I haven’t put boot to trail for nearly a month

All of which is fine because I have been doing a load of training at the excellent Crossfit Cirencester – except…well…except I appear to have borked my left knee. So if you are in need of some investment advice, which is naturally why you came to a blog about walking for the Army Benevolent Fund, my hot tip is buying shares in Rock Tape. They make tape which is sort of stretchy and very sticky for sticking on bits of you that used to work but don’t anymore. Sort of gaffa tape for the gymbunny. Buy the shares before my knees are fixed and I’m pretty sure you’ll get a handsome return.

For those of you unfamiliar, as I was, with the process of strapping up an appendage, there are many useful videos featuring unbelievably glamorous ladies having various bits of themselves tapped together…no not like that….by a man (and it is *always* a man doing the taping) who is typically bald and bored looking. This is good as they provide you with a beginner’s guide to making sure you don’t fall apart. However there are a a few bits they leave out.

I mean to start with I am a fairly large bloke. I have, you know, actual legs. This means I need a lot more tape than the 5.5 stone lady in the videos. Reams of the bloody stuff. I also lack any form of advanced origami skills and have fingers like sausages. And I am not double jointed. Typically this means that my first attempts at strapping my knee result in either taping my knee to my hand, or my hand to my other hand, or on one occasion my nose to my knee (it’s elasticated, and springs. Shut up) Once applied of course the problems are really only just begining. Like many people I have hairy legs (and I am not judging cyclists here*)  and find that as one begins each movement involving the leg, the tape acts like a trainee beautician just back from a heavy night and armed with wax that really isn’t up to the job. Each hair will be plucked, pulled, tweaked and turned with even the slightest movement. Squats, which hurt in the first place and hence you are using the tape, suddenly become a thing to dread, and should you be foolish enough to attempt cardio and are thus perspiring** the tape will slip from time to time and find new, previously unmolested areas of the leg to work on.

Also the tape comes in many funky colours, as if to say “being injured can be fun”. Well quite possibly. However quite why Rock Tape make their stuff in camouflage pink, the sort of thing you see early 90s girl-groups wearing, is beyond me; perhaps the copyright has expired so the pattern was cheap. Who knows.

Worse than all of this is the near certain knowledge that this is really all placebo and my knee is just as fucked as before – so on goes the delightfully-fragranced MAX STRENGTH IBUPROFEN cream FOR REAL MEN. It has a bull on the packet so it must be good. I have no idea if this is working either so I have purchased 20 cold packs from the delightful little corner shop on my phone e.g. Amazon.

Suffice to say I am going to have to keep training now, because of the 4 weeks I missed, irrespective of middle-aged body malfunctions, which is likely to result in more problems down the line, but that smells like the problem of Future Will, and fuck that guy he’s a douche.

All of which is to say, yeah, my knee, not so much.

The training programme is now built around completing the Ridgeway Walk in two or three sections over the next month, plus a bunch of shorter training walks around my local area which Willow (my feckless and now slightly ancient hound) and I will be doing very early in the mornings each weekend. I reckon if I can knock 10k out each Sat and Sunday we’ll be golden. Of course, what I hadn’t quite processed when I read and then threw away the ABF approved training plan, was the references to hill walking. See, Northern France is notoriously flat, or so I had understood. Except the vertical ascent on the course, now that I have downloaded it onto an app, suggests about a 500m net climb each day. Hang on, wtf? I mean the good news is I live in the Cotswolds so finding hills isn’t a problem. But still. Hills. Not even once.

OK, so here’s the thing. I need your money to make me bugger my knee over big sodding hills whilst gently epilating myself  with sticky plasters. So give me your money and I will update this blog with the bald patches on my legs for your pleasure.

 

 

*Well, no more than usual. When I retire I am going to buy an electric car, one of the quietest I can get my hands on, and fit and *huge* airhorn to it, and then spend my days sneaking up on peletons before unleashing a fog horn 2.3 inches from the riders’ ears.

** Glowing is a thing done by radiation sources, not by someone actually working out

Cheeky little numbers

For anyone who’s just stumbled across this, I’m Will and I’m preparing to walk 100km in 3 days for the Army Benevolent Fund in October. This event, called the Frontline Walk, will follow the last 100 days of World War One, covering the final advance of the Allied armies that brought that terrible conflict to an end. In so doing I am trying to raise about £1,500; if you would like to donate please go click here

 

So yesterday was what I’m thinking of as a medium range test; a bit like taking an experimental aircraft up  and hoping the wings don’t fall off the first time you put it into a roll, I was aiming for about 17km / 10.5 miles – roughly half the distance I’ll need to cover each day on the walk itself. I need to know where I am and what training I need to do still.

 

I very carefully set up an account on an App called ViewRanger which gives you online access to every OS maps for a flat yearly fee, and then lets you plug in routes of your own devising which you can then retrieve and follow on your phone. God I love living in the 21st century; I may not have a flying car but this is a proper nerdgasm. Anyway, I drew my pretty lines plotting a circular route from Winchcombe in the Cotswolds. My navigation skills are…..limited. So to minimize the chances of me accidentally winding up in Carlisle a week from now, I made sure the route followed things called National Trails – without wishing to mansplain this to anyone they’re well maintained footpaths that should be a piece of piss to follow as they’re sign posted all over the place. The problem is they all go to places and I was deliberately trying to find my way back to where I started.  So I had to take a fw in, and the detail on the map is ok but the drawing tool isn’t that great so 17k became 18.8km on the ground. One lives, one learns, one gives thanks to the lovely people at  le Chamaeu for making a very serious bit of foot wear.

 

My two intrepid companions, Monica and Andrew, had rather sweetly volunteered to keep me company (I think mainly because they know I’m totally inept and wanted to make sure I didn’t become a headline in the local paper as The Man Who Disappeared On Easy Cotswold Walk) – so early ish on Sunday we met up at St Peter’s Church and set out. The M&A collective are experienced walkers and I had discovered on our previous jaunt that a hip flask was encouraged, and a selection of nibbles most welcome. I have some quite specific memories of my early childhood, when I was dragged on indeterminably long walks, often conducted into the teeth of driving rain, gale force winds and increasingly desperate statements of “well isn’t this fun!” despite convincing evidence to contrary. These were often done for the purposes of a “picnic” or as I though of them at the time – eating in the freezing sodding cold for no bloody reason. Anyway M&A had reminded me that actually you need to refuel on these walks, and you might as well make it civilized, so I found a couple of mini bottles of Cote du Rhone in my local supermarket along with, rather wonderfully, pre-divided Camembert – a sort of Dairy-Lee for adults, some sun dried tomatoes* and a small loaf of bread. I also had to include a couple of packets of Walkers Ready Salted crisps because…well I don’t know. I remember them always being present during the nightmarish “jolly” excursions as a child but now I come to think of it, I don’t remember ever eating them. Maybe it was to drive off the evil spirits or something. Suffice to say we also failed to eat them so they’re pretty well travelled, and a bit crushed now

 

I digress. We covered the distance pretty well, including a couple of 20-30 minute breaks to enjoy a swig of wine and some bread, the whole thing took us just over 5hours, which is pretty much what I was banking on – which is great. Better still my feet weren’t too fucked, the mud did cause me to put some odd pressure on my toes in a couple of places and my right heel felt a bit worn when we stopped, but otherwise I was pretty pleased.

 

I think the trick from here is going to be trying to do this on a regular basis; I was worried that I’d feel it today but actually it’s been OK, I have very slightly stiff calves but that may be as a result on my decision to go to the gym this morning; I’ve been working out at Crossfit Cirencester for a while now, and although I can’t claim to be “fit” exactly I am OK. It’s pretty pleasing, as Monica pointed out, to know that the hard work we put in there has a pay off. So if you’d asked me yesterday to continue for another 15km I probably could have – that said the beer I had yesterday evening, and the mammoth take away I ate, were extremely welcome and I slept the sleep of the dead

 

Right – onwards and upwards. I’ve got a job to do and the people I’m raising money for by doing this have a far tougher time of it day to day than I had yesterday

 

*look I am terminally middle class. When presented with certain foods, I can do no other but obey the laws of my people and buy them.

Coming Out

*In which our hero discovers he is a Rambler, but cannot Ramble very well, spends a lot of money on things he does not need and asks you once again to donate to this worthy cause by clicking here *

If I’m being totally honest, I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to be a rambler. Whilst the appreciation of the great outdoors has always struck me as really very admirable, the kit that goes with it really isn’t. If you go up to the Peaks or even round this neck of the woods and walk along any path you’ll eventually find a gaggle of folks dressed head to toe in man-made fabrics, often with bobble hats on, marching firmly toward you in the other direction. Occasionally you may stumble on them consulting a map and trying to discern the correct route before cheerfully moving on. They look so out of kilter with the landscape, and for some reason kit makers seem to want to make all their clothes look as obviously synthetic as they can in bright shades of blue or red or yellow.

It is was, therefore, more than a slight shock to find myself in Cotsowld Outdoors following last Sunday’s first training walk with Andrew and Monica. I had my arms outstretched and clutched in each hand was a rucksack, which I was carefully balancing to see which was lighter, and which I liked the look of better. I’m a terrible nerd, so tiny details please me no end. The one I chose in the end (an Osprey Talon 22 if you’re interested) has a special pouch for your twatpac….sorry… water pack, so that if you suffer a failure it doesn’t lead to embarrassing leakage and wet clothes. Brilliant. The water pack itself comes with a little magnetic toggle thing that you attached to the rucksack too. Allegedly. So far I’ve failed to do this properly so the tube just sort of wafts around in the air a bit like Withnail trying to provide a sample. But aside from operator incompetence the bag is superb – it can be adjusted in all manner of different ways for a comfortable fit, has plenty of room for all the supplies a gentleman walker needs – pouches for the map, a first aid pocket, a place I can slip my hip flask, a water proof cubby for the cheese** etc

Having got home and begun to plan what other purchases I’ll need to make in the months ahead (stick, head torch, jet boil, cheese knife) I went onto Amazon and bought a few different books outlining different routes to try around the Cotswolds. I’ve lived here for more than 10 years and really hadn’t clocked that this is an aknob as we walkers almost certainly don’t say.  That’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or ANOB, which kind of proves the point that whilst I was busy judging the Ramblers they were busy appreciating the countryside I took for granted.

I admit to feeling somewhat ashamed of my assumptions. I have a map, I have wet weather gear, I have patient friends who are willing to help and I have the largest area of Aknob in the country right outside my window. All I need to do now is to actually go out there and start walking.

I might pass on the bright yellow hiking trousers for now though

**Everything I know I learned from the best e.g. Monica and Andrew.

It Begins

OKey dokey – well with 8 months until the ABF Front Line Walk it felt about time to have a little test of the old pins and see if I can cove the ground required at my current state of fitness and using my current gear. The answer was a fairly resounding “No”. Damnit.

I will admit to giving myself something of a shock when I looked up the route we’re going to be taking in October – I knew it was 100km, sure, but what I had somehow got into my brain is that we’d have 4 days to do it, where in reality as it’s three days. So not a fairly straight forward 25k, but more like 35k, 35k and 30k……bollocks

Now I do a fair amount of training at the amazing Crossfit Cirencester and whilst it’s fair to say I won’t be making it to the next Olympics as a power lifter (or runnner. Or rower. Or really anything) I like to think that for a sedintary 40 year old, I’m doing OK but 35k? That’s like…errr…hang on…8km is about 5 miles, so multiply…oh fuck it, it’s a lot (Google tells me more than 20 miles)

So when a couple of mates from CFC mentioned they do loads of walking and asked if I would like to join them for a wee jaunt one weekend I bit their hand off up to the shoulder, and found myself standing on top of Bredon Hill near Tewkesbury one over cast Sunday in February. For those who’ve never been there are a couple of things to know about Bredon and it’s environs. Firstly it’s got the stupidest name in the whole of the English language – “Bre” in old English means “Hill”, so far so good. “Don” in old Norman also means “Hill” and clearly at some point everyone forgot it was already called “Hill Hill” and decided to add a third one just for luck. So it’s “Hill Hill Hill”, which is pretty much all I could wheeze out as I went up it; maybe they did actually know what they were doing. The second thing to say about it is that the various villages around Overbury, Grafton, and Conderton really are lovely, especially the very fine Yew Tree pub, more of which later. If you find yourself in the S. Worcestershire / N. Gloucestershire area I strongly recommend you go and have a wander around. The third thing is that it really isn’t that hard a walk – setting out from Overbury Church, picking up the Wychavon Way* and some wiggling back on yourself around Ashton-Under-Hill will bring you back to your start point in about 4-5 hours having covered about 15km. The start is a bit steep but nothing too challenging. So this was a fairly easy walk compared to what I’m planning on trying in October.

Monica and Andrew are a little more experienced at these things that I am; they had stuff like, you know, back packs and wind proof trousers, whereas I turned up looking like I was about to try and make off with the Estate’s pheasants – replete with green shooting jacket, woolly hat, game bag and a walking stick so heavy I can use it for weight training or for beating other ramblers to death. Anyway we set off on a walk Andrew had done solo a while back, with Lucky the wee dog trotting on in front of us. At some point Andrew had mentioned that he had some supplies for the walk, and shamed by my total lack of preparation I had stopped at the local services and picked up some nutty bar with bit of chocolate in it and a can of pop. It came as something of a surprise when we stopped about half way and Andrew unpacked his backpack to produced beef brisket bites, two types of salami, three types of cheese and, most delightfully, a small flask of port. The man is a genius and a gent as he kindly shared his meagre rations.

Going some way to return the favour, on our descent, I introduced him to the Yew Tree a pub which I spent a fair amount of 1999 hanging around in and which hasn’t changed that much in the 20 odd years since. The beer was extremely good but to be honest they could’ve been filling it directly from the urinals and I wouldn’t have cared as by that point I was in serious need of refreshment.

So what did I learn? My boots fit pretty well, I need a pair of lining socks, a backpack, a stick that is lighter than a small car and to do a shit load more walking between now and October. Fortunately Monica and Andrew are brilliant folks and have offered to take me with them on a few more, provided I up my picnic-game

I was very conscious as we went round, of the history of this place, and of the folks for whom I’m trying to raise money, and of the folks I’ll be remembering during the walk itself. Before we started I sat down in the portico leading into Overbury grave yard; it’s a stone I’ve known for more than half my adult life – friends have got married in that church, friend is buried there and I’d never really looked at it before. On closer inspection it is the village war memorial, commemorating the 50-odd men from Overbury and Conderton who died in WW1. At a guess I’d say that was about half the houses in the village who’d lost someone, and I’d never really stopped to notice it before. Overbury Church WW1 Memorial

So their ghosts did follow me up the hill, as they’ll be with me when I go to France and Belgium at the end of the year. I’m doing this for the living, for those who followed in their footsteps and served this country. I’d like to ask you to support  them by donating whatever you can afford here – it means a lot to me and will help me continue to wheeze up and down various bits of the countryside over the coming months

 

 

* Wychavon Way….Wych Way….oh very droll you yokels – had me rolling in the aisles for literally a nanosecond

 

Over The Top

Before I start, a little background. Between the begining of August and the 11th November 1918, the Western Front saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire war. This wasn’t trench warfare of the Somme or Paschendale, this was mobile war. It involved not going over the top from time to time, but rather a continuous, slow advance. In those few short weeks all sides took huge casualties. It’s hard to know for certain, because there was no single battle, and because it was largely over ground that had been fought over for so long, but estimates put the losses into the millions; perhaps 2.2m men were killed, wounded, captured or went missing in the space of 5 months. At the end of it Allied forces from France, the UK, the US, and across the Commonwealth had pushed German forces back over 100km – an advance which would have been unthinkable in 1917. Exhausted and realising total defeat was at hand Germany surrendered at 11am on 11th November 1918.

 

In October 2018 I will be walking the lines of the advance, and over four days will cover the 100km on foot to raise money for the ABF Soldier’s Charity. Since 1944 the ABF has been providing support to current and former service personnel at key moments in their lives – whether that’s recovering from illness or injury, transitioning to civilian life or providing financial, emotional and physical support to those in need.  There are something like 2.6m current and former members of the armed forces living in the UK right now, many of whom served in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and all of whom deserve access to assistance when they need it most

In order to be able to take part the ABF ask their volunteers to raise a minimum of £1,500 toward their work, and so between now and October I’ll be asking friends and family for their help to hit this goal. Everything I raise will go directly to the ABF

If you want to donate please go here – Will’s Walk Fundraising page

I’ll be keeping a blog of my training, my fundraising and my planning here so if you follow along you can see just how a fat bloke tries desperately to get fit enough to take this challenge on