Sunday, May 31, 2009

Racing Against The Clock

The normal pattern on Sundays is that we drive to the market in Esperaza, have breakfast overlooking the hustle and bustle, make our purchases, then drive on to Quillan, where Gay drops me for my mainly off-road walk up the massive hill and on to home. Today that was impossible because the D117, which climbs the hill to its high point of 601 metres, was closed to normal traffic because, annually, the road becomes a race-track for the weekend. All sorts of hotted-up road cars and a number of racing cars race up the hill from top to bottom. I think all this takes place against the clock - competitive time trials. There is not room for overtaking on that road - not that this stops normal road users.

Although my walk is on tracks, I have to cross the D117 at one point, which is impossible while all this is going on. Also, Gay would not be allowed to drive up the hill. So I had an on-road walk today, directly home from Esperaza. The road was much busier than usual because of all the diverted traffic because of the race/time trial. Nevertheless, I was home by lunchtime, with another 20 kms under my belt.

My total for the week is 115 kms, 1848 for the year to date, still far ahead of my target of an average 10 kms per day.

Outrageous Fortune

I didn't walk much on Saturday because I spent all afternoon wrestling with one of the tax forms we have to complete each year - the Impot sur la Fortune, or wealth tax. Whether you regard yourself as wealthy or not, you have to list all your assets, wherever they are in the world, and value them. Several hours work, at the end of which you send them your self-assessment, with a cheque. Our cheque was for just over 4 Euros.

What A Waste

On Friday I walked again down the Voie Verte - the old railway line or chemin de fer - from Lavelanet, almost into Chalabre, then on quiet roads home. The temperature was in the mid-twenties, ideal, one would think, for outdoor activities. But once again I saw only one person on foot for the whole 23 kilometres I walked. What a waste that cycle/walking/horseriding track is. The similar track which we frequent in New Zeland, the Central Otago Rail Trail, is swarming with people. They and the businesses - accommodation, food outlets, cycle hire - which have sprung up to service them, have transformed the economy of a rural area very like this one.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Battlebus This Year

Less than 50 weeks to go now. The weeks are clicking by fast. When I first conceived Vic's Big Walk, it was more than 2 years in the distant future.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that the purchase of a motorcaravan was imminent. We shall be using this as a base during the walk, with Gay driving the base 30 kms onwards every day while I walk. We would both like to be walking, but can not face carrying all the equipment and supplies necessary to house, feed and cook for ourselves. To stay in hotels or bed and breakfasts would be impossible because we would have to eat in restaurants every day and sadly, it would be rare that we would be able to satisfy our minority diets

We were moving in the direction of buying a campervan this year. We would get some use out of it this year, but the main reason would be so that we could accustom ourselves to it now and also ensure that we owned one. If we leave it to next year to start looking for one, there will be a window of opportunity of only a few weeks between us returning from the winter trip to New Zealand and the start of the walk.

However, we have decided to risk that, rather than lay out the money now, not only for the purchase, but for the insurance and housing and servicing and depreciation which we do not need in these hard times.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Helpful Advice on Walking Through England

Some time ago I was trawling the Internet to see if I could find any information on safe walking routes from Portsmouth to Reading, where I shall be moving onto canal towpaths for most of my walk through England. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find websites which seemed to be promoting the idea of walking. I wrote to a couple of them to see if they had any ideas, or if they could put me in touch with somebody with the desired info.

Today I had a very kind e-mail from Alice Walker, at one of these organisations, Natural England. I reproduce it here as an indication of the kind of help I am seeking, and in case the information Alice has given me is of use to anybody else.

"Hi Vic

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on your walking query. What a fantastic adventure you have planned! Do you have OS maps of the areas you are going to cover? I think my suggestion would be to see what public footpaths you can find that take you the most direct way possible, though I’m sure you’ve thought of that already! I’m afraid the off-road routes I know of the area may not be particularly direct, but you can go off road from Southampton to Winchester along the River Itchen, though I suppose Southampton is rather a detour from your route. I have also found the following which may be of some use:

You may like to get in touch with the Ramblers if you have not done so already ( they have lots of regional groups who may be able to give you some tips on good routes.

Good luck with the preparation and all the best for your trip


Alice Walker

Health & Environment Adviser

Natural England

I shall certainly be following up Alice's suggestions. The Pilgrim's Trail from Portsmouth to Winchester looks very interesting as a tried and tested walking route out of Portsmouth and well on my way to Oxford.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Walking Through World War II History

This morning we went to Andorra, a tiny country in the Pyrenees, which is ruled by a Spanish bishop and the French president - a curious arrangement. We went for some shopping - it is as near to us as any of the bigger towns, and we can get things there, like Spanish wine (much underrated), which we would otherwise only get by driving into Spain. The drive into the mountains to Andorra is also spectacularly beautiful, with much snow still on the Pyrenees.

On the way back, Gay dropped me at Espezel, a small village on the Plateau de Sault. This is 16 kms from home and a height of over 1000 metres.

My walk home, although mainly on public roads, was almost traffic-free. That is the type of roads I want when doing VBW. 10 kms from home I passed a sign for the Maquis du Picaussel. This was the headquarters of the local French Resistance during WWII. At 1000 metres or over 3000 feet, the 400 men had a commanding view over the lower territory and could see whether the Germans were making any move in their direction, which helped them survive, of course.

If only the same could be said for the village of Lescale, which I passed through on my way down. All the buildings in Lescale are surprisingly new-looking. A plaque near the church explains why. The original village of Lescale was destroyed by the German Army because they were irritated by the actions of the Maquis.

Nevertheless, German tourists are very welcome in the area. There are always plenty of them about in the summer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Walking Through France

I am still in need of a safe pedestrian route from Puivert to Caen/Ouistreham.

In January this year I tried the route provided by After about 90 kms, this veered over into the middle of Toulouse, well away from my desired direction, not to mention my desire for this to be, as far as possible, a rural route.

I would be grateful for any suggestions or tips from readers of the blog. My ideal route sticks as nearly as possible to a straight line between Mirepoix in the Ariege to Caen/Ouistreham in Brittany. I am unable to use the network of Grandes Randonnees because they wander about too much and, although desirable in many ways, they would add so many kilometres to the VBW that I would be unable to complete it within the 70-day schedule I have set myself.

In the meantime, I have purchased today the above interesting-looking book. I hope it will be of help to me in finding the way north.

The pilgrim roads to Santiago de Compestela in Spain come from all over France, then cross through the Pyrenees at various points. They are still surprisingly well used.

A quick glance at the book in Mirepoix this morning was encouraging. I now need to study it in detail to see whether it can be of help for some of the way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Between The Lines, and Snakes not In The Grass

We had business yesterday morning, first in Mirepoix, then in Lavelanet. So I found myself again walking home from Lavelanet via the Voie Verte, the old railway line. The weather gods have definitely whacked up the thermostat in the past few days and, as I was starting the walk much later than normal, it was quite a warm experience.

The above picture is taken just where the trail crosses the road near St Colombes sur l'Hers. The metal rails are some of the few signs, apart from 3 tunnels, of the route's former history.

A couple of kilometres further on, I was about to step over what appeared to be a sturdy tree branch lying almost the full width of the trail, when I realised that it was in reality a large and long snake. It was black, so I assume it was one of the harmless whip snakes. I was reaching into my rucsack for the camera, when it declined the publicity and slithered off into the grass.

A little further on, when I had left the Voie Verte and was mounting the steep hill at Rivel (a climb of about 150 metres) I saw another snake crossing the road. This one had very clear markings, so I think it was one of the more poisonous serpents with which we are blessed - possibly a Montpellier.

The title of this posting is also the name of an album by the diminutive singer-songwriter Janis Ian (who wisely changed her name from Fink). All of the album is excellent, one of the songs being "At Seventeen", with which Janis had a huge hit when she recorded and released it at the age of 24. She had her first recording contract at the age of 13, but I am not familiar with her works at that age. She is still going strong and touring extensively.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wild Bull Rider

"I'm a wild bull rider and I love my rodeo ..."

So sang the late singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton. If you don't know the name, you will know some of his songs (Joy to The World, Greenback Dollar, Della and the Dealer). And you certainly know at least one song written by his mother, Mae Axton. She wrote a tune which launched a thousand shaky legs, sneers, sideburns and little bitty guitars - Heartreak Hotel. Some of Hoyt's own songs were recorded by Elvis.

What does all this have to do with walking? I gave up my walk yesterday, for love. My wife Gay is a very keen vegetabe gardener. Because we spend the winters in New Zealand and do not generally get home until May, she gets a bit of a late start. The neighbours are already eating some of their own home-grown garden produce by the time we get home. Add a soggy ground, discouraging weather for the first couple of weeks of our homecoming, and things are well behind. She has done well in clearing some of the minor plots, and planting things, but the main vegetable bed was still looking rather forelorn. Gay had cleared all the waist high weeds and grass and was digging the whole thing over with a fork. And this was producing only non-tillable large chunks of clay.

This looked like a job for SuperRotovator. I hate that thing. I'm sure that when I see other people using them, they stroll serenely along with the machine eating into the solid ground and producing a fine tilth, ready for planting. When I use it, it advances at snail's pace and bucks to and fro and side to side like a bronco or the above-mentioned wild bull. Maybe it is because our ground is solid clay and replete with rocks and stones. Maybe the serene types I see are in advertisements.

A session with this machine leaves me drenched with sweat, weak at the knees and aching in every muscle. So it is something I wanted to do instead of a long walk, not in addition. Also, the forecast (one of the usual conflicting forecasts, that is) was threatening wet stuff in the afternoon, so the bull-riding had to be done in the morning.

So, did that, job's a good 'un. Exercise in the afternoon restricted to a stroll round the village, keeping an eye out for somewhere we might keep the battlebus when we get it (which could be imminent). Total for the day 6 kms. For the week 99.5 kms (missed that elusive hundred), for the year to date 1733 kms.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lots of Kilometres, Little Weight Loss

51 weeks to go. I have clocked up over 1700 kms this year, so far.

A bit tired after suddenly (following our return from New Zealand and 3 weeks in transit) lurching into 100+ kms weeks again, and also the return to very hilly terrain with lots of climbing.

The weather has been reasonably kind, despite conflicting and usually incorrect forecasts, so I have managed to get out every day this week without too much discomfort.

I remain amazed that all this walking, all the kilometres covered, and all the calories expended, seem to have made zero difference to my weight. I don't particularly want to lose a lot of weight but I would have expected to do so, especially as there has been no increase in food input. A friend was telling me only last night that she had been told that walking, slow and steady aerobic exercise, is the best way to lose weight. My evidence is all against that.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stacked Shoes

This morning's walk was 17 kms. 7 kms via the trails over the plain, to the turning point in Nebias, 10 kms back through the woods and past the castle. The return involving a sharp climb to well over 600 metres before the descent to the house at 500 metres.

I have two pairs of Columbia Trailmeister IV shoes on the go at the moment. I mentioned on December 30 2008 that I was keeping a record of the distance covered by one pair. At the time they had done 1,000 kms. Now that same pair have done more than 1,250 kms, which with my small strides means they have covered 1,562,500 steps.

It seems that two pairs would get me through VBW, but I shall be taking 3 pairs with me to cover contingencies.

Unfortunately, these shoes are not available in Europe, but, as mentioned previously, I managed to stock up with a couple of pairs while we were in USA over the period of Obama's election. I also intended to get another pair in New Zealand earlier this year. In fact I did buy a pair. When I was walking away from the shop I noticed that the receipt showed only half the price I had seen on the display. So I went back, thinking they had undercharged me. "Did you not see the sign saying 50% off?" said the man. I had not, but immediately ordered another 3 pairs.

Even though these had to come from the Columbia warehouse, I still got them for half price. Bearing in mind that these shoes are somewhat like a running shoe, with all the built in cushioning, but with a stronger sole and top, and yet they are substantially cheaper than a running shoe (since these became fashion items for kids), to get them at half price is a real bargain. And it means that, as well as the two pairs I have on the go right now, I also have 5 more untouched pairs stacked up. I shall probably get through at least two of those 5 pairs before the walk starts.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Know Where I'm Going ...

In yesterday's post, I showed a picture of the Chateau de Puivert - Puivert Castle. My home stands in the shadow of the castle, which will therefore be in view when I start VBW.

There is a similar dominant landmark visible from the finishing line of the Big Walk. For the first 17 years of my life I lived in the house in which I was born. The house stands on one of the few hills in Blackpool. So every time I went in or out of the house I could see Blackpool Tower.

The Tower is pictured above. The idea for the tower was born when Blackpool businessman and councillor John Bickerstaffe visited the Great Paris Exhibition in 1889. He saw the Eiffel Tower and thought it would look very nice on Blackpool seafront and would attract many visitors, all eager to spend their money in Blackpool.

Unfortunately, the Eiffel Tower was not for sale so Mr Bickerstaffe and some chums drummed up a committee, then a company, then some finances, some designers, lots of steel and piles of bricks. They set about making a copy of the Eiffel Tower. They were not very ambitious because instead of making a tower bigger and better than the Eiffel, they made a half-size copy, although it did contain a zoo, a circus and a spectacular ballroom in the building which surrounded the base. I was always very impressed with the fact that the design included, in the event of trouble, a bias for the tower to flop into the Irish Sea instead of into the town and onto free-spending holidaymakers.

When I set off on VBW, I shall be saying goodbye, for some months, to Puivert Castle, the symbol of my current home village. Blackpool Tower is visible, because the surrounding area (the Fylde) is mainly flat, for a considerable distance. When I see it looming over my horizon, I shall know that the walk is nearly over and that I shall have done something which no other person on earth has achieved - a walk from my current home to the house of my birth.

The picture above is used courtesy of The image reference is 37-01-55

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

History In The Making

The above picture is of the Chateau de Puivert, visible from our window, and mentioned in Sunday's posting on this blog. The picture is taken from the following website:

The website will give you much more information about the castle's history. It is open to the public and is well worth a visit.

I managed 111 kms last week, bringing my total for the year to date to 1633 kms. That is more than my probable total mileage for VBW. Although I shall be planning to walk 6 days a week for 10 weeks at 30 kms a day, the shortest possible route will be quite a lot shorter than the total of 1800 kms that would give. I am allowing time for injuries, illness and other delays. Otherwise I shall have plenty of time and kilometres in hand to wander off the direct route to visit places of significance to me (after all, this will be in many ways a walk backwards through my own history.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Dreadful 800 Year Anniversary

Before I started today's walk home from Quillan, I read in the local newspaper that it is exactly 800 years ago today that the Pope, in his wisdom, declared a crusade against the Bonshommes, the people who are known today as the Cathars. These were members of a peace-loving (sounds as if it should be the mainstream) branch of Christianity. The Cathars were in great numbers in the Languedoc - what is now Southern France - and were perceived as a threat to the Pope's own sect. So, in his wisdom, this (ironically named Innocent!) representative of the Prince of Peace decided to exterminate the Cathars and their numerous followers. The military action went on for decades. Among other measures taken was the invention of the Holy Inquisition (hundreds of years before its Spanish activities).

For most of my walk I could see Puivert castle, because the town, and our abode, stand in the shadow of it. I can see it from one of our windows. So-called "Cathar castles" such as this belonged to local lords who supported the Cathars and tried to protect them (they were slain or dispossessed for their trouble). They are visible reminders of those terrible times, but what about the far more numerous invisible markers? How many of the steps I took today in my 17 kms walk were crossing the paths of marauding armies or fleeing defenders? How many scenes of ancient horror did I pass? How many unmarked graves or long-dead Inquisition fires?

If only the rocks could give up their secret witness.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Oh Happy Day!

The world looks a much brighter place today.

As mentioned, the weather has been miserable since we arrived back in France from New Zealand a week ago.

This morning, as we drove off to the start of our walk, the temperature was a dire 4 degrees Centigrade. But, promisingly, the sky was clear. We climbed down the hill into Quillan, wishing we had brought gloves with us, but they are not the first thing you think of in May. Although I do remember a Maytime soon after we had bought the house when it was 36 one day, 11 the next. But 4!

We had a coffee in our favourite cafe in Quillan. Had a look at the morning press to see what they had to say about the weather. They rarely agree with each other but, miraculously, they both said today would be sunny and warm. One said 18, the other said 21, but good news, nonetheless. Since before lunch, it has been well into the 20s.

We climbed the 300+ metres back up to our car, a strenuous round trip of about 12 kms. As we drove home, the temperature had more than quadrupled (note to pedantic ones - don't write in - I know they are not absolute temperatures) to 17.

The grass was dry enough to mow, and Gay has had a happy day in the garden, a-weedin' and a-plantin', while I have been a-wrasslin' with our French tax forms, which are always such a pleasure at this time of year, whatever the weather.

If I manage to get in my planned walk home from Esperaza tomorrow, I will have walked over 100 kms this week, which is a decent amount for keeping the body ticking over.

Friday, May 15, 2009

One Year From Now ...

... I will have completed the first 30 kms of VBW, which will be the walk from Puivert to Mirepoix. This is a path I have followed many times, albeit in reverse. After Mirepoix, I will be in uncharted territory, where my feet have never trod.

15th May, 2010, is the scheduled start date. By this time of day I will have finished the day's walking. I hope the weather will be very much better than it is today. When I set out today from Lavelanet the temperature was 8 degrees Centigrade.

The first 14 of today's 22 kms are on the Voie Verte, the old railway line. I boarded the ghost train at Lavelanet station, and exited onto the road just before Chalabre. When I walk this same line from the other end, starting in Mirepoix, I can reach Chalabre (21 kms)without seeing a single person and rarely see more than two. It is usually a different story from Lavelanet. This end of the line passes close to many more habitations and I normally see several sets of dog-walkers and even one or two who can manage a walk without having something on a leash. Today was different. I had been on my own for 10 kms before I saw a solitary jogger, and that was the only person I saw before I reached home (barring some I saw whizzing past in cars or trucks). Is the recession affecting people's ability or willingness to walk?

I arrived home much quicker than I have done when walking this same route before. I must have been really pushing myself along, possibly in an unconscious desire to keep warm, although the last time was during the winter when it was even colder. It did make me realise that I normally do these long walks without a pause or a rest. I don't know whether that is a good or a bad thing, but I like to get the kilometres out of the way so I can live a normal life for the rest of the day. For instance, at the moment I am struggling with our French tax returns, which have to be submitted by the 29th of this month. Not forgetting the second set of forms, which are due on June 15th. I suppose I shall have to do them all a bit earlier next year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Welcome To The South Of France ...

... Home of the sun?

Frequently not the case. Every day since we arrived home last Friday, the forecast has been for rain at some time of the day or other. But so far we have been lucky. I have managed to stretch my legs a few times, including 3 walks over 20 kms. I have also managed to reduce the elephant grass which masquerades as our lawn (actually, a playground for numerous moles), and Gay has managed to make a start on clearing the unwanted growth from her vegetable gardens and has even planted some tomatoes and other delights.

Today the weather forecast caught up with reality. It was only trying to rain (spitting, as they say in Lancashire) when I set off for a walk. The clouds cunningly waited until I was well away from shelter before they decided to unburden themselves, and the rain has fallen steadily ever since. And the temperature has barely made it into the teens. Can I remind you that we are within walking distance (a sturdy walk, I admit) of the Spanish border. And that it is about 5 weeks until we start winding down towards next winter?

My daughter Nicola tells me that it is 34 degrees where she lives in Italy, on almost exactly the same latitude.

I'm hoping it will improve a bit before tomorrow, when I am scheduled to walk 22 kms from Lavelanet, via the Rail Trail, the Voie Verte, to home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Near Death Experience

Within three hours of writing the last item, I once again experienced the need for such a rear-view device as I was describing. I had another near-death experience.

I was walking back home from Quillan market, a route I have described before. Lots of climbing, mainly off-road except for about 3 kms. I was on the road section, very close to the left edge, facing the oncoming traffic, of which there was none at this moment. I heard traffic behind me. A campervan went past. As it did so, a big 4WD vehicle overtook the camper, coming between it and me. This was on a narrow road, as they all are around here. The 4WD was inches from me.

What sort of lunatic drives like that? To come so close to an unaware pedestrian, who could stumble or deviate a few inches into the path of death? Instead of waiting a few seconds until the camper had moved on a few yards and the road, and the pedestrian, was safe? Unfortunately there are many of these drivers. The sooner we come up with a device which would help all people who walk along the roads, not just myself, the better. If we could find somebody who manufactures a device like this, or who would be willing to do so, I am sure there would be a market for it, and it would save lives.

Look Out, Behind You!

I am still very concerned by the danger of overtaking cars approaching from behind me, as I walk along the public roads. And I have had an idea on which I would welcome comments and advice.

To recap, in France, I normally walk on the left-hand edge of the road, facing the traffic. Most traffic coming towards me pulls out - if not I can at least see this happening and hopefully take evasive action, then of course wave my fist. Traffic from behind should obviously be on the other side of the road, but sometimes an overtaking car, or worse, a truck, will be on my side. I will not see it coming, and have frequently had a very close shave as one has virtually brushed my shoulder. An error of judgement on the part of the driver, or a slight stumble in my step, or deviation from the straight line (something which, amazingly, is not taken into account by these lunatics) and it would be curtains for yours truly.

I had a bit of a brainwave about this while walking back from Esperaza market on Sunday. You will have seen those harnesses which some performers use (I remember that Bob Dylan had one in his early days - maybe he still does - I would know if only I could bear to listen to him). Some sort of strapping over the shoulders, then a small metal frame which holds up a harmonica in front of the mouth, so that blowing and guitar playing can take place at the same time. These things are not specially made for the Dylans of this world, they are readily available from music suppliers, and on eBay.

I wonder if it would be feasible to attach a bicycle rear-view mirror (or "meer", as some Americans say) to the upright of this thing so that I could see any approaching marauders? It would all look a bit odd, but if it saved my life that would be bearable. Maybe I could even take advantage of it to play the mouth organ as I scamper along?

If it works, it would be useful to others as well, of course.

I would be very interested to hear any comments on this, or other suggestions. If you do not know how to leave a comment on my blog, I explain this in an earlier posting (5th of September 2008), or you could e-mail me at:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Things Are Moving Again

I forgot to switch the computer off last night. When I went to do so this morning, I found that it was installing 6 Windows updates. Where had these come from, when my modem does not work? That's what the technician told me yesterday.

So I switched on again and it seems I can access the Internet and send and receive e-mails, albeit rather slowly. I assume the new modem is on its way to me, as promised, and that things will be even better when I have installed it.

I did, as mentioned in "Excuses, excuses", manage to salvage something from the wreckage of last week's walking, by managing a couple of good French walks, of 15 and 22 kms,at the weekend. The total for the week was still only a miserable 58 kms, but I am still well ahead of the plan, with 1522 kms walked this year - an average of 10 kms a day would have added up to 1300. And I am over the forecast 3-week lean period which followed our exit from New Zealand.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Home in Puivert at last, and finally managed to get a few decent walks under my belt. Amazing how a few easy weeks make your legs unused to it. Even the 13 kms walks (being rather flat) we were managing in Australia were of only limited help in preparing us for the really hilly stuff around here.

The long drive down through France reminded me of what a beautiful country it is, and how much there is to see. A real benefit of VBW will be that, with moving on only 30 kms or so per day, we shall be resting overnight in many places we have not seen before.

Another thing the long drive reminded me of is just how far it is and what a task I have taken on.

Arrived to a bit of a communications problem. While we were away, the servers of our Internet provider were upgraded, necessitating all sorts of adjustments on our computer. Of course we arrived on Friday, a public holiday, to be followed, as usual, by the weekend – all days on which technical support was unavailable. This morning I managed to break through the multiple defences of recorded voices and banal music, to speak to a very helpful man. He supervised me while I typed in all sorts of things, then told me that it was impossible, he would need to send me a new type of modem, after which would I please send back the old one.

This blog posting will be accomplished either from the computer of a friend, or at the local bar, which has recently sprung an Internet service. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Excuses, excuses ...

Still not getting much walking done while we are in UK, for two reasons:

Our purpose in being here is to visit friends and relatives, so it would seem churlish to accept their hospitality but spend the time off site.

The weather is rather inclement, or, as they say here in Lancashire "It's chucking it down".

Yesterday I walked the least daily distance since I acquired the pedometer. It was a measly 1.75 kms. Most of that was spent going up and down stairs while loading the car as we left Karen's house, and scurrying through the wind and rain in Lytham, from the car to Cafe Nero and back.

We are staying with Peter and Ruth Labrow in Stockport. Their stairs must be much higher, because I have already exceeded yesterday's record (how could I not), despite there being little improvement in the weather. Tomorrow we drive down the country to Portsmouth for the overnight ferry to Caen, in France.

We then have a drive of approaching 1000 kms, so will probably stop overnight somewhere, arriving home on Friday.

I shall probably then cover more walking distance at the weekend than in the previous five days.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

House Zero

VBW will finish on 23 July 2010 at the house in which I was born 70 years earlier to the day, in Blackpool. Presumably somebody lives in that house now. It would seem polite to let them know my intentions.

When we flew into Manchester on Friday we picked up Spot, our Toyota RAV4, which had been waiting patiently for us since January, in the care of Shenton's, of Handforth, who provide a most excellent and impressive service.

We then drove to Freckleton. My daughter Karen popped out of her office in British Aerospace to give us a key to her house nearby. At this stage we had been awake for almost two days so had a brief 2 hours sleep in order to remain civilised until the evening. This is our normal policy when changing time zones, to adjust our body clocks, so to speak. We then have no problems with jet lag.

Freckleton is very near Blackpool, so I took the opportunity to drive over to have a word with the current occupants of what was my mother's house. The street, which when I was a lad contained one car belonging to the newsagent, had cars parked nose to tail on both sides, with few gaps. It would have been impossible for my backup motor caravan, to be driven by Gay, to park. Lesson one, I must make a point of arriving during working hours on a weekday, when presumably some of these cars will be elsewhere.

As you can imagine, I have entered that gate countless times. I lived in the house until I was 17. It continued to be my mother's home into this century, so of course I made many visits. It felt strange to enter the gate and approach the door, knowing that if my knock was answered it would by by a stranger. Maybe they would be interested, maybe they would be aggressive. Perhaps they would even set the dogs on me.

I did not find out. There was nobody at home. I will try again this morning. Tomorrow we shall be moving South so if I fail to make contact today, it will have to wait until my next visit to UK.

(Later). Been there. Done that. Bit of a damp squib, reallly. I'm not sure the lady absorbed what I was telling her. I'll drop her a line.

I can understand that. It's not every day that someone knocks on your door and says "I was born in this house and next year I am involved in a mad escapade which will end at your gate."