Sunday, August 31, 2008
Five years ago, she set off from her home in Tenby to run around the world. The intention was to do it in two years, but in the event, she was away for five years. She arrived home with stress fractures and on crutches, but while away she conquered the freezing wastes of Siberia and Alaska, was hit by a bus, suffered from pneumonia and frostbite, and had a scare with breast cancer. Not to mention mad axemen and the like.
And did you see the size of the trailer she was pulling?
I have followed Rosie's exploits since she first hit the headlines when she and her then husband and two small children (I think one arrived during the voyage) sailed around the world in a small yacht. Of course the papers, being what they are, still talk of her as the blonde who "sailed around the world in the nude".
I think she has also sailed solo and she has trekked across the deserts of South America alone, except for a horse or two.
Read more about Rosie's big run here:
Headlines about Rosie now say "Grandmother runs ... etcetera". If there is any press coverage of my walk, it will no doubt say "Grandfather ..." I have a granddaughter, Alexandra, who will be 24 in November this year, two grandsons - Joshua and Matthew - at university, and a delightful bilingual scamp called Alessandro (that's him in the picture, teaching me to be a Power Ranger), aged 4, who lives in Italy.
There are nearly two years to go to the finish of VBW. Is it possible that it will be "Great Grandfather walks the walk?" ... Over to you, kids. No pressure.
A Google search on that phrase throws up 446,000 results! It is a recognised medical condition, and it also has some rather unseemly uses.
If you search on "Sausage Fingers" and Walking, there are 3,820 hits.
"Sausage Fingers" and Guitar produces 2,960 results.
But "Sausage Fingers" and Knopfler is far more exclusive. Only 8 pages, of which my posting of yesterday is one.
You probably knew all that.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
The late great Hoyt Axton wrote and sang a song called "Bony Fingers" - he had this brilliant theory that this is what you get if you work your fingers to the bone. But what I have to tell Mark is about "Sausage Fingers", which is what you get if you walk long distance, especially in hot weather.
Gay and I both noticed it when we were doing a lot of walking in Central Otago, New Zealand, earlier this year. It must have happened before, but this was the first time it had struck us. You don't use your fingers a lot when walking, except, especially on that particular walk, to grasp the magnificent world-class date scones at the halfway mark -the Post Office cafe in Clyde. Under severe questioning it is possible that I could face up to the fact that the scones were inducing us every day into a 25 kms walk, which could possibly have led my mind to this whole concept of walking across half of Europe - those scones have a lot to answer for!
I don't think it was just the heat. In the same time scale, we were doing a lot of cycling on the Central Otago Rail Trail, so we were out in the same heat for the same length of time. with no sausage effect. The other day, when I walked 30 kms in 30 degrees, I had a full load of sausages long before I arrived home. Today Gay and I cycled 60 kms (also on a Rail Trail) - not a sossie in sight.
So it must be something to do with swinging the arms, blood rushing to the extremities, especially when in conjunction with the heat.
Anyway, it is impossible to do anything dexterous for some time after the walk has finished. At my puny level of guitar playing, I find it impossible to finger the correct frets or pluck the right strings. If I was not trying to play fingerstyle I would probably have trouble holding a pick. In fact, that's the sort of trouble I have even before going for a walk, but this is not the time for me to cry in your beer.
So, at last I can give Mark Knopfler some advice, which is, I am sure you will have guessed, that he should not go for any long distance walks just prior to a gig. Whatever the temptation, don't do it. Right, Mark?
And I don't mind you passing that advice on to your chum Eric Clapton.
Friday, August 29, 2008
The route I am beginning to map out for the whole walk is more likely to take me in the direction of Mirepoix than Limoux. It is one of few stages I would do mainly off-road. An old railway line was recently turned into a walking/running/cycling/horse-riding trail from Chalabre to Mirepoix, which would account for 21 of the 29 or 30 kilometres of the day's walk. It achieves this without wandering too far from the road, so the distance is not much different and of course it is much safer and more pleasant. We have cycled it several times.
There may be other stages where there is a convenient off-road alternative. Where these can be used without too many extra kilometres, I shall use them, but I shall not always be aware of their existence. I know about the Chalabre-Mirepoix trail because of local knowledge of my own area. If I were a stranger I would not know it is there. The signposting from the road is non-existent.
Yesterday I had a visitor to my blog from Denver, Colorado. This is where the Democratic Party National Convention is taking place this week. Could the visitor be Bill looking for a bolt-hole? Does he want to join me on the walk? Or could it be Hillary looking for somewhere to hide Bill for 70 days? Or Obama looking for somewhere to send Billary ...?
Speaking of Americans, we have been immortalised in someone else's blog! We have had an American family as temporary neighbours for the past two months. Unfortunately they went back to Nice (where they are ex-pat-ing for several years) yesterday They are a delightful family. They run a blog on their life in France and their last entry from Puivert is about Gay and myself, complete with photograph. Click on this:
It is the posting about "Our temporary neighbours" which you need to look at. At the time of writing it is the latest posting on that blog.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
We shall be in New Zealand next year, from mid-January until mid-April. We shall, as usual, be doing a great deal of walking there, over 100 kms most weeks, and lots of cycling as well. When we get home in May, I shall, more than usual, maintain the high level of walking. Unusually, we shall then be here through the winter and spring, during which time I shall increase my weekly distance walked to near-VBW levels.
I always get plenty of exercise, normally a mix of walking, cycling, and - when the weather is against those two - a mixture of indoor rowing, indoor cycling and cross-country ski machine.
The problem with walking as exercise, especially for an ex-runner, is that it takes so long! At least twice as long, probably getting on for three times, as covering the same distance with both feet sometimes off the ground at the same time. Walking 30 kms takes up a large part of the day.
Today, as I had a dental appointment in Limoux, which is 30 kms away from home, by the shortest possible route, I decided I would walk back to give myself an idea how much walking time per day I should be planning for. I assumed 6 kms an hour, so expected to be home in 5 hours, which I was - to the minute. And that's with a climb from 180 metres to 680 metres, and in a temperature of 30 degrees Centigrade. I started the walk at 10.15, after leaving the dentist. Normally I would be on the road by 7 or 8 in the morning, so would escape some of the heat. But I will have to live with the climbing - France is a very hilly country.
One thing I was very pleased with, and that was the amount of traffic. I was walking on a D-road. Most of the time I could not hear a car engine, and was without motoring company for minutes at a time. I have started to plan my route from home to Caen, and hope to be on "white" D-roads for most of the journey, so they will all, I hope, be fairly traffic-free.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I have always been interested in the pre-Columbian civilisations, and have long wanted to visit Peru. Gay is also keen to go. We were gearing up for this a number of years ago, but were deterred by the Sendero Luminoso - aka The Shining Path - a Marxist guerilla movement which was very active then, which seemed to have much the same aims as the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia (and we all know what happened there!) and which seemed to take delight in attacking tourists. We did not fancy becoming a statistic in a Killing Field. So Peru went on the back burner.
A few months ago my daughter Nicola said "So when are you going to go to Peru?" Always being one with a quick answer (not always the right policy) I immediately answered, "Next year" - next year being 2009. I vaguely remember that November is the ideal time to go, climatically.
But during my walk today, I had my usual torrent of thoughts, many about Vic's Big Walk - I really must take to carrying a dictaphone because by the time I arrived home I could only remember 11 points and I am sure there were more - and one of these was about Peru, in relation to VBW.
Gay is, as always, being very supportive to me about the whole thing. As stated before, she ideally would like to do the complete walk with me, but agrees that we need to go down the route of the battlebus. Also that unless we want to take a staff (people, not a stick) with us, she will be the chauffeur. So, she is taking a back seat (not while driving, I hope) so that I can fulfill my objective.
How ideal, I thought, if the Peru trip (which would itself probably be a walking holiday, much of it at high altitude in the Andes) were to come after VBW, as a reward and a thank you from me to Gay for her loving and unselfish support in this venture, as in so many other things.
I put this to her, she agrees, so Peru is pencilled in for November 2010, and I shall now get on to our friend Janet Santamaria Fox to give her advance notice of this.
Janet is the manager of the Manchester office of Journey Latin America, which is an award-winning company specialising in - guess what? We met her when she arranged our visit to that place where one can see vast quantities of evidence of many of the other pre-Columbian civilisations - Mexico, in 1999.
If you have a yen to visit any of these places, you should contact Janet. Her e-mail address is:
The website for the company is of course:
So - it is now France to UK then on to Peru!
Monday, August 25, 2008
I have been using Trailmeisters for a few years. During our 3 months in New Zealand earlier this year, when Gay and I walked possibly not far short of the length of the Big Walk, I wore a pair out. The only problem with shoes of this modern construction is that the soles are not replaceable. This is the price we pay for the lightness and comfort. I did have an earlier pair of Columbia shoes re-soled locally and they look fine, but they are completely different, much heavier and stiffer. I can even hear the difference when I walk. I am using them for gardening.
One of the things I really like about Columbia, apart from their products, is their shining rebuttal of ageism. The company is run by 83-year old Gert Boyle. In Christchurch recently, noting that a Columbia shop had opened since our last visit, we paid it a visit. I flippantly asked the young man behind the counter how Gert was doing. He said that she was fine a couple of months earlier, when she came from Portland, Oregon to Christchurch, NZ, to open the shop! Shall I remind you of her age?
This is Columbia's home page:
Another piece of equipment which I swear by for my feet is the Run 800 sock from Decathlon. Actually, I use two of these at a time.
I may have mentioned elsewhere in the blog that I used to be a runner, until my knee began to object. I ran on average 50 miles a week and raced most weeks, sometimes more than once in the week. I have used numerous different types of sock and have suffered the usual variety of blisters and various other types of damage both to myself and the sock. I started using the Run 800 sock some time before I gave up running and still use them for any athletic activity I am involved in (that includes walking). In fact they are rarely off my feet (I do change them regularly - I have numerous pairs). These are truly amazing socks. I have never had a blister while wearing them. In fact I have never worn a pair out or had a hole - and that is quite an achievement for me, especially in the toe area, as I have very active toes.
I shall certainly be using them during my preparation, for the whole of my walk and beyond.
For those who do not know, Decathlon is a French chain of sports and outdoor warehouses. They are also now in other countries, for instance UK. This is the sock concerned - I would recommend these to anyone:
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Anyway, I am following the best advice which can be given to travellers when packing a suitcase or, even more so, a rucsack. Lay out everything you think you need, then remove anything not completely necessary, then remove half of what is left (I haven't done that bit yet, in fact I am clearly doing the opposite).
Had this message from friend John today:
Vic, I got the impression your long walk was "imminent" but 2010 , how long do you need to prepare? - just get on the road and walk. Cant be much more than a few golf rounds latched together. A mutual friend asks why not run?Anyway, seriously the best of luck. "
I assume he is joking - except about the luck. In case he is not joking, and seriously believes that something like this should be done without meticulous planning and preparation, I have invited him to fly down here on Monday and to join me in setting off on a dummy run of the walk, starting Tuesday.
Had this comment directly to the blog, from friend Jan in New Zealand:
"A friend's sister used the Justgiving website in a similar situation. You can read about her and the event at www.justgiving.com/HilaryBloor . Easy to use, I gather. "
My daughter Karen used that website for her sponsorship when she recently did the Manchester to Blackpool Cycle Ride for charity. I shall probably use it myself, but I think it is a bit early for that yet. Sometime next year, I think.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The visitor counter is a different matter. There is a website associated with it, which gives me an awesome amount of detail, figures, graphs, bar charts, et cetera. There is a map which clearly shows when my friends in Alberta, Vancouver, California, Indiana, New Zealand and Australia have logged on. I'm watching you! Very 1984-ish.
Friday, August 22, 2008
But how scary to see, from those big ticking figures, that I am 700 days from my 70th birthday and my arrival (again) (I hope), after 70 days walking, in Blackpool. Did somebody say that 7 is a lucky number?
And it is very pleasing to receive messages like these, which arrived today:
From Janet Santamaria Fox
It’s very exciting, good for you! No need to reply as I can see how busy you are. Good luck with all the preparations.
From Evelyn Moorkens
Enjoyed the blog. Thanks a million for getting in touch.
We have added your blog to our favourites - it is brilliant to watch the idea develop!
From John Smith
This is very commendable, at a time when people lament their mortality (not me, I hasten to add) you are still proving things to yourself. My brother in law, Mike Smith, who is 65 has just returned from the European Vets in Slovenia having achieved Gold at 800m, Silver at 1500m and Bronze in the 4x100m. I should be setting a challenge for myxelf since I am merely 60.....
I don't know about the walk, but at least my blog seems to be achieving something, if it is only to amuse some people.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
It will be interesting to see how many visitors I have. I e-mailed all my friends the day I created the blog, so most of them will have already paid their first visit. Pity they will not be in the count, to boost my ego.
Like most country roads, there is no path at the side. In some cases there is a ditch, or something else, such as a crash barrier, preventing one from seeking an escape route if the oncoming traffic (I was walking on the left side of the road, against the traffic) is coming too close. Most of the oncoming drivers pull out a little, to give some clearance, but it is surprising how many do not. Don't they realise that a slight stumble - perhaps caused by their alarming proximity - could cause a disaster? To themselves as well.
So constant concentration and preparation for escape is needed. But the bigger problem is with traffic going in the same direction as the walker. You would think that as they are on the opposite side of the road, there is no danger. But when the road ahead is clear, i.e. no traffic coming towards us, the overtaking happens. On that one 16 kms walk, I had several cars and vans almost brushing my shoulder. They just made no allowance for the fact that for some reason I might deviate from the straight line. All very alarming, and yet there is no warning of their approach.
I got to thinking that I need some sort of a rearview mirror. I have occasionally seen the little mirrors which attach to cycling helmets. Would one of those, attached to the peak of my walking hat, do the trick? I had, in any case, been thinking of getting one for my cycling helmet but had never managed to find one in the cycling stores.
A message to my cycling nephew Andrew brought an instant response. He sent me this link:
Clicking on the link led me to the very object I desired, so I ordered a mirror for my cycling helmet so that I could evaluate it. A very efficient company. The item was despatched the same day and received a couple of days later. I have attached it to my cycling helmet and will report further when I have had a chance to use it. It attaches to the helmet with sticky pads. I am not sure that it would be satisfactory for the cloth-covered peak of a walking hat (basically a baseball cap with a bit dangling down the back to protect the neck from sun).
The mirror is like a tiny dental mirror, dangling in front of, and slightly to the side of my eye. I am sceptical. Another possibility which struck me for rear view is a sort of walking stick with a wheel, a bit like those surveyors use, but with a bicycle mirror attached. Do they exist? Watch this space. Or tell me, if you know the answer.
I think the main item of safety equipment required is alertness, and it will be vital to pick roads which are as quiet as possible, as long as their selection does not increase the overall distance too much.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I've read your blog and it all looks very interesting, I would like to raise a couple of points with you however.
First In regard to your travel arrangements. I note that you would prefer to be left alone (both of you) during your overnight restperiods. This sounds ok to me but does leave your driver in an awkward situation regarding his accommodation. I would therefore suggest that rather than a battle bus or a mobile home you use a caravan ( modern of course) this would allow your driver to move to a pre-determined destination and leave the caravan on one of the many excellent municipal camp site's, with all the facilities for a good night's rest ie. electric hook up, hot showers etc. but still to remain mobile and available should you require his services for any other reason. He/She could also do any shopping (green stuff! ) or even prepare a meal for your arrival and then shoot off to his/her B&B.
I'm sure most British Caravan Manufacturers would be only to pleased to help out with a loan in return for the publicity and this would then relieve you of the problem of buying and re-selling of a very expensive motor home and give you plenty of roomy accommodation.
My old rallying partner Vic Ryland spent a lot of his working life in the caravan industry and
we often borrowed a new caravan in order to enter (and win) The Caravan Club International Economy Run, I'm sure if I asked him nicely he would be prepared to make some enquiries on your behalf, so let me know what you think.
Secondly ! taking into consideration your going to be doing this in your 70th year and I fully understand the target of 70 days, I feel that you would be better off dropping the "70 day bit"
and just setting off to walk to "Blairway" if you do it in 70 days, "what a magnificent achievement!" if you don't, "what a magnificent achievement!" -- in essence don't put your self under the uneccessary pressure of a target that may not be achieveable.
I have much more to add but will return at a later date,cos I want to watch this guy who cycled around the world averaging 100 miles a day which is on TV shortly.
In response to your request for your route up from Portsmouth, of course I will gladly help out.
I assume you want the most direct route, avoiding as much "A" road as possible but with the best walking facilities?. Leave that with me and I will get back to you in the near future.
My e-mail reply to Rob after much thought and re-examination of these matters during a long walk.
Just walked back from Quillan (16kms with climb from 305 to 650 metres then back down to our level at 500 metres. I was thinking of doing the other half after lunch (19 kms to Lavelanet) but then I heard all the guns blasting away and realised this is the first Wednesday of the hunting season - Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays being the real hunting days. It's always a dangerous business, being out and about on hunting days, but even more so in the first couple of weeks, when they are at their most excitable - they usually shoot a few of each other - no kidding. The road to Lavelanet climbs through some woods where the shooting was coming from. So - another day.
As I said in my brief reply, your e-mail, and the fact that you are giving thought to the various problems and opportunities raised by VBW, were most welcome.
Rather amused by your expression "your driver". Who is this mythical creature? He seems to be a chauffeur, butler and vegetarian chef rolled into one. Wonderful if we could find him - but only if we were then in a position to pay him as an employee (which we are not). If he exists among the pantheon of our wonderful friends, we could not possibly accept that sort of help - to drive and "do" for us, then to fade away until we need his services again. Not to mention the cost of his B&B. We would indeed be scurvy knaves to treat somebody like that.
But let me explain why we would not want someone around most of the time. This is not standoffishness, although I do admit that I am not a party animal. Nor is it just the awareness and observation over many years that when people go on holiday together it does not always work (sometimes it does) and is less likely to do so over a period of 10 weeks.
The truth is that we shall not only be early to bed every day because the morning walk will commence as soon as it is light, but until bedtime, we shall be very busy. I shall be beavering away on this very laptop, at the very least keeping up with communication and the blog, also hopefully writing a book about the venture. Also, Gay and I will be taking our musical instruments with us and we shall need to practice every day - we started late in life and need to apply ourselves.
So there won't be much time for socialising. I don't mean there will be no time - if we manage to get people to occasionally drive a leg for us so that we can both walk, we would expect to be all together in the evening. It's just that on a large scale, that would scupper us in some ways.
Your offer of involving Vic Ryland to drum up a caravan for us (or presumably a motorcaravan) is kind too, but I have already been down the road of thinking about commercial sponsorship or backing, and have rejected it, for reasons given.
Now to your comments about the pressures on myself, of saying that I am going to do it in 70 days. I understand your concern, but the fact is that I have already made this widely known among my friends, who are the only people I would feel embarrassed about if I fail to pull it off.
As you say, if I had just said "I am going to walk to Bardsway (not Blairway, Rob, an understandable slip of the keyboard. I should explain to other blog readers that Rob and I grew up close to each other. Blairway was a street which intervened between our two homes) It would be "what a magnificent achievement" if I did it in 70 days, or the same response if I took slightly longer. Given a continuation of my current level of health and fitness, I think the target is perfectly achievable. Also, I am leaving a "spare" day per week which could be used to catch up if there are any problems. And I have been a competitive athlete (running) for most of my adult life and have always known, at whatever event I was competing, that there are factors which can prevent success, and that there is no shame in not winning, so long as you try.
My objective, rather than the 70 days as such (and I am sure you know this is a symbolic figure) is to arrive on that same doorstep on my 70th birthday, where I stunned the world by my initial appearance exactly 70 years before. If something holds me up and I get there a few days later, c'est la vie.
I look forward to receiving your advice about a safe walking route from Portsmouth to Blackpool. You are correct in the assumption that A roads should be avoided (and motorways) so that there is not so much traffic, but the route should of course be as near as possible to a straight line - five miles extra when walking is a long way.
Do you have any contact with cycling organisations in France, who might be able to give similar advice about a safe walking route from Puivert to Caen? Walking organisations here would of course say that the GRs (long distance walking paths) are the best places to walk. And they are, but unfortunately they meander all over the place and would double the distance (I would definitely have to forget the 70 days if I went that way).
So, thanks once again. Please do not feel that your advice was a waste of time. It really concentrates my mind wonderfully.
Monday, August 18, 2008
We have just been away for the weekend to the Country Rock Festival at Prat Bonrepaux. Lots of concerts, almost everybody wandering around in cowboy gear for 3 days. Hundreds of linedancers - these always amaze us - it seems that they don't know when to stop, they just go on and on for hours - we have never seen people enjoy themselves so much.
Prat Bonrepaux is exactly 100 kms from our home in Puivert, on the same road, the D117. This road used to be, before the advent of the autoroutes, one of the main roads across France. Fortunately, it is generally quiet these days, although less so in August.
There are no hotels in Prat (somewhere else we could have used the projected battlebus), so we stayed in St Girons, which is about 10 miles nearer to us. There is a wonderful market at St Girons on Saturday morning.
So, on Friday morning we drove to St Girons, had breakfast there and a walk around town. We had parked outside of the hotel which Gay had booked a couple of months ago, but we thought it would be too early to check in. Not fair on them, better if we came back in the afternoon.
We toddled off to Prat and enjoyed the first concert, which started at 1400. The next one started up at 1530 and was not so much to our liking, so we thought this would be a good time to go back to St Girons, check in to the hotel, have a read, snatch a bite to eat, then return to Prat for the first evening concert at 1900.
Shortly before 1600 we were trying the doors of the hotel and its associated restaurant. All locked. We rang the bell. No reply. We telephoned the hotel. No response. Other people were also trying to effect an entry.
After an hour we decided, charitably, that some calamity must have overtaken the hotel, its owners or its staff, so we went away to try for accommodation elsewhere. Because of the concerts in Prat, the brocante (antiques) fair in St Girons itself and the fact that this was not only the main holiday month in France but a public holiday weekend as well, everywhere was fully booked. We returned to "our" hotel.
Still no response. Prospective guests came and went. Some, like us, decided to tough it out, because what was our other option - to return home? At 1805 yet another couple arrived looking for a room. Their knocking and ringing produced a result - of sorts. The head of a young man appeared at a window on the fourth floor. We found out later that he was a cook. Under questioning, he revealed that "somebody" would come to open up in another 15 minutes.
And somebody did! Presumably he was the owner. Other people were nearer the door and got in first. He told a girl, who had also miraculously appeared, to take them up to a room. He looked doubtful, and aggressive, about us having booked, but ungraciously conceded that this was so, after looking in a handwritten notebook. We had to virtually pull him out of the kitchen for this. He was stuffing his face, apparently not giving any importance to his customers, and not being interested when told we had been waiting for over 2 hours "The hotel is always closed in the afternoon," he said. So why not tell us that when we booked? Why not have a note on the door saying so? Why not show any interest in all the potential customers who had come and gone, muttering "Bizarre! Bizarre!" He told us to follow the party who had already gone upstairs and to tell the girl that we were in room 15.
The staircase was in absolute blackness and the lights did not work. We groped our way to the sound of the other guests rejecting the room they had been given. Also the sound of the girl telling them that in that case she would give them room 15. A confrontation ensued, with Gay baring her teeth and hissing that room 15 was ours. By this time, the girl already had the other party in that room and they had accepted it. More confrontation and a retreat of the French party.
The room was pretty basic but with other choices unavailable we decided to stay.
On Sunday morning we got up to leave. We are early risers but we waited until a more reasonable time, 0800, to descend with our worldlies and to pay the bill. No sign of life, except for a French couple who were trying to get the breakfast for which they had already paid. They wanted an early start so on Saturday night they had paid for their room and for breakfast. We wrote a cheque and left it with the room key. The other couple, who had also been up early but had waited until the traditional breakfast time, went back to their room.
So what has all this got to do with Vic''s Big Walk? Well, I very quickly got to imagining how I would have felt about all this if it had come at the end of a 30 or 40 kilometre walk. Another one chalked up for the battlebus idea.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I wish you all the best with this but noting your desire for solitude I will not be joining you walking. My motto re walking, and this includes mountains, is only walk it if you can’t ride it; though having said that having recently added a greyhound to our household I have had to up the walking, though being a sprinter, with no endurance, a half hour jog flakes her out.
From Sonia Greaves 12th August
Blogs great. You never cease to amaze!! Will be in touch.
From Martyn and Ann Pickering 12th August
You have not told us this before and I have two reactions. The first one is what a fantastic idea to celebrate your 70th Birthday in this way. The second is your bonkers!!!
If we can do anything to help let us know and we will definitely be there to wave you off!!
From Liz and Colin 13th August
I have just spent a lovely half hour reading your blog. Better than the morning papers. It sparked lots of conversation about different routes and the sponsorship/no sponsorship debate and the merits of a donkey/horse companion. I did think that Gaye could be playing the keyboard in the back of the gypsy caravan when your tired legs and mind needed soothing. Anyway, it sounds like a marvellous challenge. Look forward to reading the updates!
From Bob (aged 86)
Like the Blog. I have no further ideas about the Logistics of the journey; but would like to suggest a working title of any book you may contemplate writing. " Thin Vick to Carcassone". There is plenty of time - like two years; although this may be a long time to you, it is a very short time to me, given my advanced years. If I am still around, I may be lucky enough to be on a motorised Zimmer Frame. Ah!. I could even accompany you on the journey!! Now, that would be a sight to behold.
From Bob after a night's sleep
I got up about three this morning for a pee. I stood there, a beatific smile on my face, gazing out of the window in dawn's early light, at The View From The Loo, when it came to me. Had I been Greek, I would have shouted "Eureka". Had I been English, I would have murmured
"Jollee good, chaps. Jolleegood". Instead, being half Irish, half Welsh, I farted triumphantly. I had the solution to your Logistics problem.
Fit a towbar to the Battlebus. This will be used to tow a small folding trailer tent, or caravan.
Find A Person, or Persons, preferably from Blackpool, who would fly out, bearing sticks of Blackpool Rock to distribute to baffted Puivert peasants, to drive the 'bus. He/she/they would occupy the aforementioned trialer tent/caravan at overnight stops, and at the end of the Big Walk, they are home again!!. Simple but brilliant.
Rather like me, perhaps; although I am too modest to think that!! Consider, cogitate ( what a dreadful word), contemplate the idea; then squash it flat with some new circumstance, which like my revelation, has suddenly appeared.
That is a very good idea. I had already thought of that, although I had not given it much attention. Will now cogitate, et cetera, as advised. A problem is that there are not many people who we would want to spend 70 days with. In fact I can't think of one. Obviously, they would be sleeping in their own "room", but it would be churlish of us not to spend the evenings with them - we would be almost bound to. But it is a possibility.
"I have decided, during my walk from Quillan this morning, that I don't want to be involved in commercial sponsorship. There are two reason:
If I did this, I would be doing the walk for somebody else, not for me. The whole thing would feel different.
More importantly, I would be going against my own principles. I always sneer at people who say something like "I want to sail around the world but I can't find a sponsor" - in other words, "I want to indulge my dream but I want somebody else to pay". I would be a hypocrite to do the same.
No, barring any disasters, we can stretch to buy a secondhand motorcaravan for the duration of the walk. What we lose on it, should we sell it after the trip, should be covered by the savings in accommodation and restaurants during that time. But, who knows, we may decide to keep it. We have had two campers in the past and have enjoyed them. I don't really understand why we don't own one already - probably something to do with spending 3 months of each year in New Zealand and therefore being reluctant to leave this beautiful area during the rest of the time. Despite the fact that we are so well situated for camper trips to so many other beautiful places in France and Spain.
So thank you once again for your very productive thoughts on this matter. They weren't wasted because they fuelled my own long hard think which led me to the above conclusion.
As for accepting sponsorship to raise funds for charity/chariities, I am still up for that one.
I mentioned above that I just walked back from Quillan, which I do generally once a week. 16 kms, with a climb of 350 metres before coming down 150 metres. A reasonable walk, but I mentioned it to one of our part time neighbours, who is here for a few days. He said that his wife's mother used to grow vegetables and pick mushrooms - of a Wednesday morning she would get up in the middle of the night, walk to Quillan, sell the stuff, then walk back again! Not the first tale like this that we have heard in this area."
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I actually bought a Rapido early last year, but for various reasons disposed of it awhile afterwards. The only contact was a salesman whose name I forget - I'll see if I can find his card in my filing. But I feel a letter from you to the MD would likely fire someone's imagination - this is a serious endeavor and I feel would attract much publicity /public interest should you choose to court that for sponsorship purposes. On that point : whilst I understand your concern regarding a commitment to acheive should you go the route of sponsorship, my feeling is no right minded sponsor would ever complain in the (unlikely) event the walk was not a complete success. My feeling is you are probably being modest, although I understand your point.
Whilst I understand your personal reasons for proceeds being channelled in the Blackpool cause, I would suggest that if you went say, 50-50 with a better known Cancer charity, more people (friends of friends & the public at large) would be likely to contribute. I think this could be huge. Are you ready to handle the fame..?
P.S : for the sake of a few copies of a letter, I would approach Elf / BP / Texaco too regarding free fuel. Any motorhome has lots of white space for advertising the Manufacturer an Oil Company & a Donation web address.
A Ferry Company might be worth a line for a free crossing, too perhaps. Cost to them ? Nothing. Cheers... JH
(My reply) All good stuff, John, keep 'em coming.
If you do speak to the salesman, can you get the MD's name from him.
John, I think your ideas about sponsorship and corporate assistance are great, and I will try them, but I don't think we should get too excited.
I was listening to Dame Ellen MacArthur the other day, being interviewed on the radio. She said that before the big races which made her so famous, she wrote hundreds, or it may have been thousands, of letters to companies she hoped would sponsor her.
"And how many replies did you get?" asked the interviewer.
"Not one", was the reply.
The point she was making was that companies are constantly being asked to sponsor people and will only go for the already well-known.
Or sometimes those for whom they have a personal introduction.
So if you know anybody who knows anybody, et cetera, et cetera ...
Monday, August 11, 2008
I have no objection to some company some of the time, although I look forward to plenty of solitude and thinking time - after all I have to plan the next 70 years of my life.
But I think it is necessary for me to sort out the route first. How could you know if you wanted to walk a leg if neither of us yet know where the legs are? And you would have to walk at my pace. Our American friend Lorenzo Minor, who with his wife Janie stayed with us for a month last year, could be heard vehemently saying to people "Do not walk with this madman - he will kill you!" I walk at about 7 kms an hour and my objective is to get to the other end in the shortest possible time so that the rest of the day is free.
Also there is the problem of accommodation. We seem to have sorted out our own accommodation - or will have, when we acquire the battlebus (this word will be used in future posts instead of motorcaravan, camper, et cetera), but I am sorry we shall not be willing to share it of a night time. Especially if I do get involved in writing articles or a book about the trip. You would be on your own regarding accommodation and transport.
What we would be very keen to hear about would be volunteers to drive the battlebus for a leg so that Gay can join me in walking. Of course that would give you logistical problems - how would you get back to your own car?
I have had some success as a writer and it wasn't long before I was thinking that I could write some magazine articles and maybe a book (not to mention this blog) about the trip.
So privacy was on its way out of the window even before somebody mentioned sponsorship. Of course, if I choose to be sponsored, it will be a case of the more the merrier and one way of boosting it would be to maximise publicity.
This could involve informing, and hopefully coverage by, local - possibly national - newspapers, as I progress along. Played to its maximum - and if a 70 year old man walking back to his birth is interesting enough - it could involve radio and television.
Do I want that? As with the sponsorship, I would be very interested in your views.
Bob Greaves, a veteran of local and national television in Britain, has offered his help with publicity. How could I deny him?
Tell me what you think.
I have mixed feelings about this. I realise it could do some good, but it could also put me under pressure to achieve, whatever the circumstances of weather, illness, injury or other unforeseen problems.
I have noticed that these days most sponsorship is attracted and paid through the Internet and is paid in advance. How would I feel if I had a lot of sponsorship paid up and then for some reason I was unable to complete the trip? At the moment the project is for my own satisfaction - that would change. Please tell me what you think - I am in a bit of a quandary about this.
Recently, my daughter Karen completed the Manchester to Blackpool (60 miles) sponsored bike ride, an annual event which hundreds of people enter to raise money for their favourite charities. Karen raised funds for the Hospice in Blackpool. She had very personal reasons for choosing that beneficiary. Her mother, Gaile, my first wife, died of pancreatic cancer. She was treated in a hospital in Blackpool, but her final days would have been spent in the Hospice if there had been a place available.
My sister in law is currently receiving help from the same establishment.
So we would all be pleased if the Hospice had more beds, but in any case it needs several million pounds a year just to function at its current level. If I decide to use my walk to raise funds, I think it will be for the Blackpool Hospice.
Applying this to the walk, it seems sensible to plan for regular rest days. If I walk 6 days then have a rest on the 7th (could I start a religion here?), it would mean 60 walking days during the 70 days trip. Hopefully we can arrange to be somewhere interesting (not difficult in France) on each rest day.
60 walking days at an average of 30 kilometres a day, which I am sure I can manage, barring accident, injury or illness, means that I should be walking 1800 kms. This gives me plenty of leeway if I take the shortest routes, but since the shortest route involves some motorways - which I shall probably avoid unless I get up a real head of steam and a really good pace - and as I shall be looking for quiet roads - which will meander a bit, but not as much as the Grandes Randonnees - I hope I shall have distance in hand. Who knows, I may even be able to put in extra rest days or, if necessary, days to recover from any physical problems.
For the French leg, the intention was to walk down the Grandes Randonnees, walking trails which criss-cross France. We had the maps out the other night and were delighted to see that the GR36 runs all the way from Caen to near Carcassonne. A connecting GR runs through Puivert.
But then we got down to distances and were dismayed to see that by walking down the GRs, the distance in France would be 1600 kms, compared to about 800-900 kms by road. Not only would it be a lot further (because the GRs wiggle about a lot) but it would be too far to do in the time I have set (70 days, symbolically, for the whole trip). So it's back to the roads. Quiet ones, I hope.
This is another reason for thinking that the Puivert-Blackpool direction would be best. Otherwise I would be walking the roads at their busiest time of the year. Which would also be the hottest time of year.
So the plan now seems to be to leave Puivert in early May, to arrive in Blackpool on 23rd July 2010
The Longest Day has caused us to do some lateral thinking about the Longest Walk.You may scoff, it is not as daft as it might appear. To overcome the problem that Gay wants to walk with you, resort to horse power. One can hire a horse drawn caravan, gypsy style, but with all mod. cons. Gay could walk with the horse, and if her tootsies get sore, she could pinch a ride on its back. The outfit could proceed at a leisurely pace, no one would feel the strain, and it would also generate publicity which may be good for whichever company sponsored you. Nike for walking boots?. Whoever for dehydrated grub?. You could pull into a lush meadow overnight, and the horse could trim the grass.A supply of hay could be carried on the caravan roof. Does it not have possibilities?
This is not Midsummer Madness. Or maybe it is and we don't recognise it!!.
To Bob Parry 21st June
Believe it or not, we have thought of that, or rather of hiring a donkey or a llama to carry our stuff.
Problem is - it would slow us down, and the 70 days would not be achieved. Also, having read of people doing long distances either riding or walking with horses, donkeys, et cetera, they are not keen on doing 70 or more days on the trot. And they get sick, and tired, and sore, and have to have expert medical attention.
So it's a good thought, but not as practical as it seems.
Another friend has made a suggestion that we use the UK vegetarian society to contact vegetarians along our route with a view to them putting us up for a night. He also suggested that the Veg Soc could be more interested if we used this to publicise the benefits of vegetarianism, especially its impact on the environment (costs 10 times as much to produce meat, gas emissions from animals, et cetera) but I am not sure I want to be the centre of that sort of publicity. Also, as with any sort of minority, there are always people who want to argue, or even attack.
Nike? All the running shoe manufacturers now make good walking shoes or boots, but I am very attached to Columbia shoes. Have been wearing them for some years and wore a pair out in NZ this year, doing approximately the same distance as we shall do on the Big Walk.
I am not deriding your idea. It was good. Keep them coming.
From Bob Parry 22nd June
(the book I am reading) is remarkable because it details the wanderings of Jesus, after he survived the cruxification. The point I am going to make is that he either walked, or rode a mule ( or mules ). He finished up in what is now Kashmir. That's a long, long way. There was no pre-planning. He just went. Who put him up? Where did he stay? Don't know. But he made it. He was accompanied by Mary Magdalene, so they both did it together.
Now, you are only planning to walk from Blackpool to Southern France. Piece of cake. Of course, you are not as famous or well known as was Jesus. His name went before him. Perhaps there's a clue. How could your name be put before the general public before the great event?. How could folk be persuaded to feed and water you along the route?. There would have to be a CAUSE. Can you think of a CAUSE?. Over to you, folks
Two big snags. One is that we do not own such a vehicle. The other is that someone would have to drive it. Unless we wanted to spend 70 days in a confined area with someone else (and we did have an offer from Rob Lyons, to be our driver), it would mean that Gay would become a driver rather than a walker. She was very keen to walk.
I e-mailed Pete and Ann Winslade on June 15th. They are good friends and experienced motorcaravanners.
“We have been thinking more about the possibility of using a motorcaravan for The Big Walk. We don't really want to do it, because Gay would like to walk with me rather than move basecamp on, but it does seem to be the answer to the other problems.
We had originally dismissed the idea because of the cost, but it has gradually dawned on us that we could buy a used one and then sell it again at the end of the trip and it would probably not cost much when offset against the cost of hotels and bought food (there are other snags with the bought food idea, as I think I mentioned - not least the fact that it is difficult to get a vegetarian meal in France - we don't really fancy 70 omelettes!).”
In response to my e-mail, Peter telephoned and spoke to Gay as I was toiling in the garden. This is a summary of his excellent suggestions.
We could do a sort of house-swap, exchanging our house in France for the loan of a motorcaravan, so that the people (from UK) with the motorcaravan spent the duration of the walk living in our house while I walked and Gay drove from Blackpool-Puivert, then they drove it home. Peter suggested this might be attractive to a couple who did not like long drives, as they would then only have to drive one way instead of two for a holiday in France.
We could contact French vegetarians, possibly through the magazine of the UK Vegetarian Society, maybe advertising our route in the magazine to see if we could “impose” on members throughout France. This would have the benefit of allowing Gay and myself to walk together.
Regarding buying and selling of motorcaravans. It is easier – because we are on the spot - to buy in France, drive to UK, start there and finish at home. Perhaps it is cheaper to buy in France rather than Blighty. A snag would be that we would finish the walk in September, so it would be harder to sell the vehicle then because it would be at the end of the summer.
Peter said that if we wanted to follow up on any of the above he would be happy to help, for instance with advice on which motorcaravan magazines to use in UK.
I e-mailed them with thanks for these good ideas, and for their effort.
From Pete and Ann Winslade 16th June
"Glad we were able to spark you off in a new direction. As you said it would be nice if Gay were able to walk with you. Somehow or other it could be possible to create some interest/ awareness of the Benefits of Vegetarian approach along the way (particularly with the current focus on need to conserve water/land/energy etc etc - vegetarian food uses approx one tenth of the resources compared with rearing meat) . If the local press were involved along your route that might also help with the search for suitable 'hosts' , if you had not been able to find them in advance. I'm sure the Societies would be delighted to receive press coverage and hopefully would be able to give you advice/help etc on the best way to help them. And what better advertisement for a healthy vegetarian lifestyle than a 'three score and tenner' doing a long walk.
Best of luck and hope they are far sighted enough to see the potential."
Despite the excellence of the ideas, we have not approached the Vegetarian Society. There would only be a point in doing this if we had defined the route to such an extent that we knew in which town we would be finishing each day's walk. We are nowhere near that point yet.
Also, we have more or less decided that the snags of accommodation and food are such that we shall be using a motor caravan. Gay will be the driver, except where we can get volunteers to drive a stage for us so that Gay can walk with me. Sad but true
We did not consider for very long the idea of carrying large rucsacks and tents and cooking equipment together with food supplies. My back has several flaws – I usually manage to avoid any problems but when I get it wrong things can be really bad. The rucsacks, et cetera, would be getting it really wrong, so we would be seeking accommodation each night and eating out much of the time.
There were clearly many other points needing much thought.
Was it a good idea to walk every day for 70 days?
What would be the ideal route?
Accommodation along the way could be difficult to find, bearing in mind that
we would be passing through France in their peak holiday season.
Food and sustenance, knowing that we would be vegetarians in a land of much splendid food, hardly any of which is suitable for freaks such as us.
Would we need, or be able to arrange, back-up and support?
Using the UK-France option (starting in July), there would be a problem with heat, especially in France.
Using the same option, there would be peak traffic on the roads which we may have to walk along.
Because I was in New Zealand when I had the revelation, the first people to hear of it were some of our friends there. I tried the idea out on them partly to clarify the ideas in my own mind and to talk through some of the snags.
The response was most encouraging, although this is where I was first asked whether I was going to walk across the English Channel or to swim it. I have now perfected the groan that question produces.
Slight clanger above. I said the first people to hear of the proposed walk were our friends in New Zealand. Of course the first person I told was Gay, probably while we were in the middle of one of the 25 km walks. She supported the idea, although she did point out that 70 days on my own did not sound like something I would enjoy. That is true. I would of course like Gay to accompany me on the walk but she was silent on that score. A few days later she said she would come with me.
On 27th April, her birthday, Gay mentioned the project to Hans Kurer in an e-mail. This is his reply.
“You are a wonderful and brave couple. Do allow an emergency way out; though my first wife, Irene did a charity walk with a group of much younger folk accross the Siniai peninsula and was first up and first down most of the peaks on the way. So you are not alone. P.S. she was 78!!”
By the time we arrived back in Europe I was referring to the walk as VBW70/70 Vic’s Big Walk, 70 years, 70 days.
Comments from other friends were:
Bob Greaves. “Amazed at your stamina and ambitions!! Are you doing it solo? I refer of course your 'trek' and not something deeply personal! Good luck with it, Mr H. Is it for charity, do you want help with PR? Is it secret? So many questions, apart from the blindingly obvious....do you think you can do it??? I'm sure I should know the answer to that!”
Basil Strickland. “I had to read your Email a couple of times until I worked out the significance of 70 x 70 - it sounds a great project and GOOD FOR YOU! Please let me know how the planning goes. Who knows, if I'm retired by then I might even walk a couple of sections with you if short term visitors are allowed ?”
Derek Horner. “Glad to see you are well and thanks for the update of all your news. The 70/70 VBW seems a great idea but I'm afraid I don't have a spare RV sitting on my drive at the moment. I have got a tandem I could let you borrow if thats any help”
Marjorie Massey. “Its a most original way of spending a 70th birthday but then you were always a bit off the planet - in a nice way of course”
Tony White (after I had mentioned the difficulties Gay and I, as vegetarians, would face eating in France. “Don’t be such a wimp Wickers ! The veggie Yogis of India have walked barefoot from Kerala to Rishikesh or the Kumbh Mela [and back] for centuries, negotiating the odd Tiger along the way. Honey, sunflower seeds, nuts, dates, figs, milk, water, juice and chocolate … Do they still have Wolves in France ?”
Tony White (later) “Walking across France is no mean feat, even for a Marine
Just wondering what dangers might present themselves to the traveller on foot, camping ? Adders, Wolves etc”
During our annual 3 month sojourn in New Zealand earlier this year Gay and I were, as usual, doing a lot of walking, including a long spell of doing 25kms before lunch, with a few extra kilometres during the afternoon. It struck me that I should be able, with little trouble, to walk 30kms a day for an extended period.
And out of the blue, I came up with the idea of symbolically walking, in 70 days, the journey which, at the first attempt, has taken me 70 years. The route, or a route, from the house where I was born to the house where I now live.
Which means from 65 Bardsway Avenue, Blackpool, Lancashire, in England, to my home in Puivert in the French Pyrenees. The house in Blackpool was occupied by my parents from 1937 until my mother left it early this century, my father having died in the 1970s. I have no idea who lives there now but I will contact them. It would be nice to arrange to set off from the doorstep of that house. Or to arrive on the doorstep.
This last because a slight variation of the plan occurred to me, which is that I could do the walk in the other direction, arriving in Blackpool on my birthday. For various reasons which should become clear in later postings, I have more or less decided to do the walk that way round, from France to England.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I was born 23rd July 1940. So on that same date in 2010 I shall hit 70. To mark the occasion I intend to set off on my 70th birthday from the house where I was born, in Blackpool, northern England, and then to walk to my present home in the village of Puivert, in the French Pyrenees. A possible alternative is to walk in the opposite direction - and there are good practical reasons for doing so – and to arrive in Blackpool on my 70th birthday. In whichever direction, the objective is to take 70 days for the trip. Obvious symbolism - 70 years of life, 70 days walking. 70 years getting to where I am now – 70 days to repeat the trip or to reverse it. The distance covered will be somewhere between 1500 and 2000 kilometres.
Why? I want to do something memorable (for my memory – I don’t expect it to go down in the history books) to mark the occasion and to celebrate the fact that at what used to be regarded as an advanced age, I am luckily still fit and healthy. I want to do something which will give me a sense of achievement and which will give me plenty of thinking time to dwell on the long journey from then to now.
All this is almost two years away, but a lot of planning has to be done. Also a lot of thought about the perils and pitfalls, the roads and routes, the accommodation, the feeding and watering, whether this is for my own satisfaction alone or if I should use it as an opportunity to raise sponsorship for a good cause.
This is my first attempt at blogging. In the next few days I will go over my thought processes to date (just on this matter – you don’t want to know all the other junk in my head). Then I will officially “open” the blog by informing family and friends of its existence.
One of the aims of the blog is to encourage and receive comments, advice and help, not only from the above family and friends but also from anybody else who strays onto the blog and who feels they have something to contribute. Please feel free to have your say, even if you think it is something obvious that I will have already dealt with.