Updated on Aug 30th 2012 at 10:42 PM from the JustGiving API
Impossible as it seemed to tear myself away from Catherine and Jean Jacque's hospitality and that of Gintou the enormous yellow retriever - size of a small horse at 10 months - I did so by 8.45. Unfortunately I passed the front door again at 9.05 having once again set off in the wrong direction. Although this time I do blame Jean Jacques who was adamant I should tournez a gauche from the gate... I do thank him though for showing me a much more rural route, 6km longer (mon Dieu!) but less likely to be squished by a lorry and as today is all about being sensible I followed the longer route. Up until lunch, which I had at a sweet Belgian cafe in a market square, I felt a little guilty as to how much I was enjoying the experience. Meandering through northern France in idyllic weather without a care in the world and I wasn't even hurting. Lunch I had 14 miles in and figured the next 13 would be as easy going. Owwwwwwwwch. The storm kept catching up with me but each time I climbed into full waterproofs it passed over and the sun shone again so I had to change back. After 5 costume changes in quick succession I decided to take my chances, get wet, dry off, get wet dry off - much more satisfactory. I proceeded to dig deeper than a miner for the next 4 hours and found myself contemplating the depth of the deepest ocean and if metaphorically I could go that deep in my physical resource. My parents arrived on the Ferry. They called. They got lost (I'd apparently nicked their map). Found the right route again and when I was 4km from Ypres drove up behind me, caused chaos with the traffic, wished me well and see ya... they were gone. Every step from there - owwwwwwwwch. No longer was I feeling guilty for being sponsored to meander through northern France. I earned your support in those last 4km alone - thank you. I thought a huge amount today as I passed war cemetery after war cemetery - I'm sorry to sound flippant but I realised that when families saw soldiers off to war and to certain suffering and often death, they were really so close geographically. I had never really taken that on board but having walked from London to the battlefields the agony mothers, sisters, fathers must have gone through seemed all the more poignant. I learned today that the gunfire of the battles in northern France and Belgium could sometimes be heard in Kent. As I came into Ypres, or Ieper as it is spelt locally, I knew I still had a way to go as the Menin Gate is well towards the far end of the town. But that was all I knew. Does anyone actually know how to find the Menin Gate? That really would be a pain in every sense to have walked - what turned out to be 132 - miles and not actually find the Memorial. I twisted and turned, hobbling on tight hamstrings and rigid Achilles tendons until I found someone with a guide book. As I began to ask I saw out of the corner of my eye a large white arch, beautifully cared for. As I got closer I saw my parents were standing beneath its magnificent curved gateway and I walked up to them and through the gate. The Menin Gate is beautiful and incredibly moving. Tomorrow I will return, with more appropriate clothing, gait and stature and I have arranged to lay a wreath during the evening ceremony. 'I can't seem to find a cab' announced my father. 'The hotel is only a ten minute walk from here....' Thank you everyone who has been texting me and emailing along the way. I really would not have made it without you. Tomorrow I'm going to visit all the cemeteries that I couldn't bring myself to deviate from my path to today. Also Passchendale which I dreamed about to kick-start this adventure. I will also upload much better Menin Gate images. See you all soon and thank you again. xx
Updated on Aug 29th 2012 at 7:09 PM from the JustGiving API
An early start and relatively un adventurous crossing to Calais where I made friends with Texans and Paragames makers. Now the geographically astute among you who have not already leant your ear to my tale of woe - a belated discovery that it is impossible to travel from Dover to Dunkirk as a foot passenger - will be wondering, why Calais? Well now you know. And as my challenge is from the Cenotaph to the Gate on foot via Dunkirk. You will forgive me, since this realisation, for planning on catching a train up the French coast to Dunkirk. It soon became clear I wouldn't dock in time to reach the train and the smiley Paragamesmaker in her friendly pink uniform found me truckie 'Clive' who was going directly to the port at Dunkirk and would be happy to take me the 40km in his fabulous lorry carrying frozen chips. In this blog I can't begin to share the excitement of being allowed into the commercial drivers lounge on the Ferry and climbing into the cab which is 2 x my height off the ground. I write this while filling up with 400 ltrs of diesel. Or so the story ran until about midday French time when it took a turn for the more interesting and for a usually intelligent person, I realised I'd been very very stupid. Clive proceeded to chat with his mate on his mobile, he wore no seatbelt, and the tattoo on his arm said "Jason" perhaps godsend trucker Clive wasn't such. While chatting in four letter words I didn't understand to someone I believe was called "Cockney (four letter word)" Clive managed to get lost... really lost. He drove down more and more remote tracks through rural French farmland and when I pointed out the truck was now wider than the road and the road was petering out into nothing he said not to worry as all French roads went somewhere. I was sorry to be right in this instance and we stopped at least 4 miles from civilisation at the end of a dusty track. I couldn't see roads or houses or a port called Dunkirk or anything. As Clive drove the truck onto the field of crops to try and turn round and promptly got it stuck in the mud I decided to make a run for it across the fields stopping momentarily to put shorts on in 27 degree heat. I know this sounds far fetched but no word of a lie I found an elderly lady dropping off sandwiches on her husband who was working in the fields. The lady had a car, albeit with a crazy snapping dog behind a grill. She spoke no English and in my pigeon French we established I was lost, I potentially was mad, I had walked from London, it was dangerous to be out there alone and yes my mother would be very worried. This angel sent from heaven kindly agreed to drive me to the nearest proper road and the fact that was well on the Calais side of Dunkirk didn't matter a jot as I could see Clive's truck still stuck in a neighbouring field and an angry Clive trudging through the crop towards us. We left him in our dusty tracks and about 20 mins later I was alongside the D601 with the lady making me repeat 3 times - continuez tous droit, tout droit, tout droit, rond point, tout droit, tout droit, canal, arret, a gauche, tout droit tout droit... you get the picture. I was about 5 miles off my planned route but had found my position on my yellow Michelin map, Robbo, you'd have been proud I made use of (as instructed yesterday) putting the map to ground, and as I gathered my thoughts, tried to replace panic with an appetite for necessary fuel, phoned Fearless Kate and Mary to debrief and destress, send a text home to say I'm heading in the right direction and enjoying walking through France - all true at that point - and I settled back into a good pace, cursing myself that the footpath was the other side of the canal and it would have been easier going if only I'd crossed the bridge a mile back. When I reached Bergues 3 hours later I was back on my original route. From there I picked up my Google Earth print out and was mortified to see it suggested I had at least another hour ahead. I'd run out of water and so rather than be stupid twice in one day I trudged back 100m to a cafe to buy some. Hurrah hurrah, chatting to the cafe owner we established what I thought was Bergues train station on my Google Earth print out was in fact Dunkirk station and so what I thought was an hour+ to travel was infact 1km away. I could have kissed everyone in the cafe. I skipped on to be welcomed with open arms by Catherine at Au Petit Manoir who on hearing my story chastised me thoroughly before showing me to a fabulous room and sorting out bags of ice for my ankle - in all the drama I'd forgotten any pain. I'm sorry M&D really I am. Tomorrow I will follow the straight path to Ypres and will speak to no strangers. I'm sitting in a fabulous drawing room, sipping delicious red wine and for someone with a phobia of grapefruit working out how to take on board the pamplemousse and tomato soup which has just been served to me in a beautiful glass... "for vitamins you know"... Highs / Lows / Lessons learned - I'll leave you to work these out for yourselves today! Xx Ps - as I post this I'm tucking into the most incredible food I've ever experienced, again, no lie. You know who you are, I feel a gastro-weekend just south of Dunkirk coming on! xx.
Updated on Aug 28th 2012 at 8:59 PM from the JustGiving API
What an incredible day. Again we had amazing weather and absolutely stunning scenery. I'm completely in my element. Cpl Mac and Cpl Robbo returned for a second day and arrived with Mellie in the car. I never got to the bottom of the story - did Mellie pick up 2 soldiers as she walked from the station (good skills or as Mac would say 'cashback') or did 2 soldiers pick up an adorable leggy blonde - great choice in Mellie. Anyway we all met up and started on a 20 mile walk - which 8.5 hours later we realised was actually 25 miles across the footpaths we took. Worth every step. Things I learned today: 1.) Cpl Robbo's robot in Afghan is heavier than me so he could carry me across the barbed wire fence when I detoured a little. 2.) Blistered feet beat sore shins and tight hamstrings like to play the game too but, seriously I'm having such an amazing time I don't really care. 3.) Having an ice bath in a small shower tray with a Pyrex jug of ice is interesting... High point of today: Climbing over the last hill to see Dover castle and the sea beyond glistening in the sunshine - a grail moment. Low point of today: reaching the pub I stayed at last night 15 mins after we left it because I'd directed us off the wrong way and managed to do a big loop. Robbo kept a close eye on navigation after that - he's a bit concerned about me in France but is on call at his computer. Thank God for the British Army in every way. Bring on the continent - early ferry crossing... X
Updated on Aug 27th 2012 at 8:05 PM from the JustGiving API
Carol Evelegh looked after Jo and I in top notch form at her beautiful Oast house in Kent and we met up with Cpl Mac and Cpl Robbo at 9am who took their lives into their hands with me navigating the next 20 miles. Another amazing day on the weather front. Pain just an inconvenience in an otherwise perfect day. Things I learned today: 1.) A lot of new stuff about being on a Tour in Afghanistan and the 'quirks' we wouldn't necessarily think about that are faced when returning home. 2.) It is possible to stretch shins. Cpl Robbo taught me all about the muscle along the front of the shin - hmm, that muscle and I are not friends. High points of today: The pints we all enjoyed in the pub garden when we arrived at the New Flying Horse in Wye. A seriously nice pub with seriously nice rooms and a great Curry for supper. I won't want to leave in the morning! Low point of today: realisation that blisters are forming and a bruised lump on my clavicle from my daypack - muscle pain is one thing. Pain pain is a pain! I'm over half way having covered 67 miles. Total - 139,372 steps. x
Updated on Aug 26th 2012 at 9:36 PM from the JustGiving API
Today was the longest day. 27 miles is too far to walk under any conditions but definitely in beating sunshine. Things I learned today: Nurstead Lodge is still on the market. It's the sweetest looking, large cottage outside Meopham, opposite the church. I'd be tempted to look but I'm not sure I'm a Kent girl and the commute would kill me. 3 dedicated crew of the Kent air ambulance service were killed when their helicopter crashed on the beautiful Bluebell Hill in 1998. They are fondly remembered. Thank you to Mrs Bitton for putting a bench in memory of her husband Harold at the top of the hill in Whiteleaves Wood. I enjoyed having lunch there. High points: Jo meeting me a mile from the end and walking with me through that final hurdle. Being welcomed at Tilden Oast by Moët - recurring theme?! Low points: Painkillers don't touch the sides on shins - ouch! Total- 96,483 paces. x
Day one is done and dusted. For those of you caught in the torrential thunder storm in London – bad luck, it followed me all the way and actually hit 3 minutes after I had finished and I watched it from the window. I’m just dealing with some mild sun kiss – I was seriously lucky to avoid that storm.
Key things I learned today:
1. Greenwich may be beautiful, leafy and affluent but it still has drunken youths who throw glasses against walls shattering the pavement and all those in its way with glass. Fortunately it bounced off my leg – an interesting early encounter.
2. Top tip – if you are caught short when out walking try the line. “I’m walking to Belgium please can I use your loo” – it worked for me every time, one man asked if I’d take his 2 year old child with me because she needed wearing out!
3. I have discovered where Oxleas is, which is very handy as I have a clinical experience placement starting there in November.
4. If you run really fast down Shooters Hill towards the speed camera it doesn’t flash up to tell you to slow down like it does for cars.
Best moment of today: Having everyone see me off at the Cenotaph. I’m so grateful to you and was particularly touched to see those I wasn’t expecting. I wish I could have stayed and joined you for breakfast. Thank you to Chloe and Mary for walking with me until Temple and Greenwich respectively.
Worst moment of today: The ice bath I have just experienced to ensure legs work again tomorrow. Although every cloud has a silver lining and I saw the ice bath not as an ‘ice bath’ but as a large ice bucket which would be a complete waste without at least half a bottle of Champagne in it.
Today I took 42,218 paces – expertly counted by my fancy pedometer from Jo.
Roll on tomorrow. X
12 hours to go, work put to bed – bring on the open road! I’ve had the PR team on the phone who say ITV London and BBC Radio London are likely to come down in the morning so watch and listen out just in case! Now there is just time to make my sarnies before bed. Have a happy bank holiday weekend all. x
Less than a week to go now and although the doubts are beginning to set in I can't wait to get started. I just hope it cools down a bit. Two things I learned this week:
1. M&S Flapjacks have a best before date within 4 days - not good for those who like to plan ahead.
2. The wonderful Aty at Six Physio showed me how to use glorified sticky tape to actually keep my knee caps in the right place. x
Thank you everyone for your support. With a month to go I'm delighted to say training has eased off and now I'm just working on logistics - beds along the way welcome! x
A really huge thanks too to my wonderful employer W.A.Ellis for sponsoring the Feet to Remember party back in May which kick started the fund raising. And for suffering me hobbling up and down the stairs – we have a lot of stairs. I’m really lucky to have so much fun at work that I can ruin my weekends by hiking for miles... x