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.
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