Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Is End Of April Too Late?

I have been asked why I feel that the end of April is too late for delivery of the battlebus, when I shall not be starting the walk until 15th May.

Don't forget that is an estimated delivery date. The last estimate was February, which turned out to be rather incorrect. Also, it is the date when the vehicle may arrive at the dealers, no in my hands. Also it is too late because it does not allow for any more delays, and it does not let us do what we wanted to do which is make several shorter trips in it so that Gay can get used to driving it, we can find the inevitable snags and have them fixed, and because Columbia need it so that they can cover it with a glorious design. End of April is too close for comfort, which is why we ordered it for the end of March, and came home earlier from New Zealand so that we could accomplish the above.

We are hoping to get a different model which the man claims he can get within five days. It has the snag that it is much dearer but hopefully we would get that much more back when we sell it, which we may well do straight after VBW. We would love to keep it and use it but can not conceive of when we would do that. With us being away so much of the year Down Under, Gay likes to be at home the rest of the time, except for the necessary trips to Italy, et cetera. She is very keen on the vegetable gardening (none this year because we are only here for 6 weeks in the whole year to the end of August).

Another problem is that I don't know how much longer I will be able to drive. My eyes are definitely worse than when we went away in January. We are watching "West Wing" on DVD. I can not now make out the faces I could see before we went away. We will have to move the furniture closer to the tv.

I have another appointment at the eye hospital on 27th April, to measure the rate of deterioration.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Homeless And Transportless

We had a bit of a setback today in the preparations for VBW. As a result, as things stand, for the 70 days of the walk we shall be homeless and transportless.

We drove over to Pamiers, confidently expecting to meet the campervan we ordered last October, and which we had been told would be arriving at the dealers in February. We need a few weeks to test out the vehicle, iron out any snags, and equip it for the journey. Not to mention the glorious design with which Columbia intend to equip it, head to foot.

On arrival, the smiling Stephan told us that, because of production delays, the vehicle will not be arriving until the end of April. That will be too late.

He is supposed to be scouring the country for an available model of the same type. Failing that, we shall have to return to the drawing board.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hard Work

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As I thought, walking 33 kms was hard, when the last time I walked 30 kms was the first week in February. But it is just a matter of getting used to it.

The Pyrenees were looking magnificent, as shown in this snap I took en route.

And I heard the first cuckoo of the year. We are not normally here at the end of March, because we are normally down among the kiwis and the kookaburras, so I don't know whether that is unusual here. I think in UK they generally appear in May.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bursting Into Action

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Home at last, after driving the full length, in reverse, of Vic's Big Walk. 48 days to go until the start.

As forecast, this has been a very poor walking week, because of all the travelling and visiting we were committed to. Tomorrow I shall walk, in one day, almost as far as I have clocked up in the past week.

Tomorrow's walk will be from Mirepoix to home, 33 kms, and what will be, in reverse, the first stage of VBW on May 15th. The knife sharpener pictured is usually in action outside the cafe from which, after breakfast, I will start walking.

I am indebted for the photograph to our friends Lorenzo and Jane. They took the picture on their last visit to France, which was much too long ago.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rock Bottom

Rock bottom, that's where this week is, walking-wise. I think I will be walking less kilometres than in any week since the VBW project started nearly two years ago.

We are doing some intensive visiting in the UK. The rest of the time seems to be taken up with shopping for various items which will be needed during the walk, or equipment for the soon to be collected battlebus. Not much time left for walking.

Friday we drive from Manchester to Portsmouth, where I will check out the route from the ferry terminal to the start (for me) of the Wayfarers Way (which connects to various other walking paths which will carry me the 200 kms to Oxford). Then we catch the ferry to France, where we arrive on Saturday. We should be home by Sunday evening.

Monday morning is the start of a new week, as I record them. Training will start again in earnest. The plan, for the six weeks or so remaining until the start of VBW, is to walk at least 100 kms per week, with at least one walk of 30 kms per week. This should maintain my current fitness level and also remind me what is like to walk 30 kms so that will not be too much of a shock when I start doing it every day for 10 weeks.

Monday, March 22, 2010


"Completely amazed by your dedication and just grateful that there are people like you prepared to put in the hard graft x"

This is a message on my JustGiving donation page, from Jacky Rolls, who made a donation yesterday.

I don't know Jacky, but she is one example of many strangers who are donating to Pancreatic Cancer research in connection with my walk.

Another example, yesterday we were in Holland and Barrett, stocking up on concentrated beetroot juice (which is good for stamina). Obviously we were talking about why we needed 70 bottles of Beet-it. As we left, she said she would definitely be making a donation.

A few minutes before, I was in Rohan, buying a waterproof cape. The man who was serving me told me that he writes for the Rohan magazine or newsletter and he would publicise my walk in there.

I am completely amazed by the kindness of people like this.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dr Livingstone, I Presume?

We are now in Ambleside, in the English Lake District. I think I prefer the idea of walking 2,000 kms in 10 weeks to that of flying 20,000 kms in such a short space of time, especially last night's 14-hour flight, which started when we were already well past bedtime.

We had a very pleasant surprise at Singapore Changi Airport. As we were waiting to board our flight, a smiling man came up to us and spoke our names. It was William Brambell, with whom we always make our travel arrangements at his excellent company, Trailfinders.

William claimed they had been on holiday in Australia but we recognise this for what it is - outstandingly wonderful customer service - to travel all the way to Singapore just to make sure that we got home safely.

It was very nice to spend a little time with William and his wife, Karen. He is always unfailingly polite, helpful and cheerful. We can now confirm that he is still the same after such a long flight, because we saw him again at the Manchester end.

This breaks our duck. Some people we know never go anywhere without meeting somebody they know, but normally we travel all over the world without bumping into a soul.

As you can imagine, not much walking has been done in the past 24 hours, but I have, here in Ambleside, equipped myself with a pair of Leki walking poles, which I have a feeling may come in handy on those up and down tracks in France which, after such a wet winter, may still be slippy and muddy in May.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alarmist Talk

Some of our friends are a bit concerned about us flying, after me publishing alarmist comments about the approaching tropical cyclone Ului, which was, and still is, heading towards the Queensland coast of Australia.

In fact we are now in the Northern hemisphere - just, because Singapore is marginally north of the Equator.

The latest news of the cyclone is here:

It has weakened to Category 2, although according to the report it is still producing winds of 165 kms per hour. And it seems to have veered north and on that course will miss major population centres (as I understand the geography).

There are 57 days to go to the start of VBW. Interestingly, it was '57 when I first visited Singapore.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thin Week

We are just limbering up to head to Brisbane's airport. The flight is to Singapore, where we have one overnight before catching a 14-hr flight to Singapore. That flight starts at midnight.

Cyclone Ului is still heading this way but is scheduled to arrive Friday or Saturday. I don't know if that will affect the airport but if so we should be long gone.

So far we have managed two 19 kms walks this week and will probably not be able to fit in much more, so it will be a bit of a thin week, distance-wise. The training begins again in earnest when we get home, which will be before the end of the month.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stormy Weather ....

We managed to get 19 kms walking in today, 13 kms in the 6 am walk along the seafront of Moreton Bay (Queensland, Australia) and another 6 kms around the city centre. That is a good start to the week, but I am not sure how much more walking we will manage to get in this week - a week which will see us shift our position by approaching 20,000 kms.

Tomorrow we go away with John and Gail overnight - Tuesday to Wednesday. We then spend another night with them at their home before flying off to Singapore on Thursday. Friday night we have a 14-hour overnight flight to Manchester before finishing the week with a two night stay in Ambleside. I suspect that schedule does not leave much room for walking.

I mention the Thursday flight from Brisbane to Singapore with a certain amount of finger-crossing. There are a couple of cyclones lurking in the Pacific, one of which shows an inclination to possibly hit the Queensland coast "approaching the weekend". Thursday feels ominously near the weekend if Cyclone Ului decides to speed things up a bit. Already the seas are demonstrating, and the cyclone is currently 1500 kms away. Watch this space.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Soft Drinks Almost Double Your Chances Of Getting Pancreatic Cancer

We stopped at a cafe while out for our walk this morning. I had a quick look at the newspapers.

Only yesterday we were discussing with Gail and John about what a dreadful illness pancreatic cancer is. I had previously read that eating fatty meat is one of the principal causes, but in today's paper I discovered another cause.

A study of 60,000 people over 14 years has revealed that those who regularly consume soft drinks have almost twice the incidence of pancreatic cancer as those people who do not use soft drinks.

There is lots on the Internet about this, but there is a report at this address:

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Kindness Of Strangers, Part The Umpteenth

We are at Woody Point, near Brisbane, staying with John and Gail Brady. It has been a very rainy and windy night. We have just had an extremely bracing 13kms walk with John along the sea front here. The sandblasting of our faces, arms and legs on the way back was most therapeutic. Gay says people pay to have that done to their bodies.

On the way back I stopped off for a haircut. Carolyn and I talked of this and that, including VBW, as she chopped at my locks. When it came time to pay, she said, "No charge. Please put the money in the fund for Pancreatic Cancer. I think it is marvellous what you are doing". Only a few weeks ago my podiatrist in Christchurch, Nick Haley, did the same thing.

I had to go onto the JustGiving website to put the donation, and the message, in on her behalf. I noticed while on there that our friend Kerri had recently made a donation of which I was not aware. The two donations together have now taken the fund to 40% of the 7,000 pound target I have set.

Once again, thank you to so many people, many of them completely unknown to me, who have helped me to get the fund to this point. This is a very deserving cause. All cancers are horrible, but there have been great strides in the treatment of most cancers. With pancreatic cancer there has been no progress in the past 50 years and, in my experience, the life expectancy after diagnosis is a very few weeks.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thank You New Zealand

Tomorrow we fly out of New Zealand, having walked many hundreds of kilometres here. This is something which would have been difficult if we had stayed at home. Europe has a very difficult winter this time. This very morning there are TV reports of the French Riviera being deep in snow! While writing this, I have discovered that there is deep snow at home as well.

New Zealand, its weather and its people have been as kind to us as usual. I mentioned a short while ago that we have been showered with gifts and support. When we left Hokitika, Adele and Brian of 252 Beachside Motel gave us a good discount, then presented a gift package as we left. The package contained two pairs of Merinotech walking socks and a box of chocolates for Gay.

Here in Oxford, Robin and Denise have been their usual kind, helpful and supportive selves. We had a good night out with them and some of their friends on Sunday. Denise’s Ribblesdale Gardens are magnificent and a tourist attraction.

This morning we drive into Christchurch and book into the Annabelle Court Motel. This puts us into position for a couple of walks across Hagley Park to the city centre, which will help us to bag more than 10 kms for the day. Jo and Tracy always make us feel welcome.

We have so many friends here. And most of them have contributed through this blog to Pancreatic Cancer research. Excellently so, and I feel there is more to come. If the same proportion of my friends and acquaintances in UK and other countries can achieve the same levels, I will easily achieve my target of £7000. At the moment, the fund is at 39% of that.

Thank you, New Zealand. See you next year.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Lull In Training

We have finished the heavy training in Hanmer and have moved to Oxford. We are here for three days. On Wednesday we go into Christchurch to spend our last night in New Zealand at the Annabelle Court Motel before heading to the airport early on Thursday for the flight to Brisbane.

So there will be a bit of a lull in the training until we reach Brisbane. Our normal pattern there is a sea-front walk with John and Gail Brady at six in the morning, to avoid the heat and humidity certain to arrive later in the day. However, John warns us that "monsoon" conditions have been prevailing lately, with torrential rain keeping them confined to quarters, where they are suffering from "cabin fever". We shall see.

The picture was taken a few days ago and is just an example of the pleasurable sights which catch they eye while out walking.

Referring to the above lull in training, there may also be lulls in bloggery until the end of the month, when we arrive home to prepare for the start of VBW. I am not sure how much Internet access we shall have at the various points of our travels.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Forging Superman

Today is VBW 70/70-70. 70 days to go until I start my 70-day walk to arrive at the destination on my 70th birthday.

I am raring to go. This week's very hard walking -steep, rocky - has reminded me that after the first day I will be walking in territory which is completely new to me. The only Grandes Randonnees I have walked in France have been within a day's walk of home.

I can only hope that it will not be all like the paths we have been walking this week. If so, I would either collapse at some stage through sheer exhaustion or I would arrive in Blackpool as a newly-forged superman.

Vic's Big Route

I have been asked a few times lately to provide details of my route. I did publish details last October, but here it is repeated. Initially, I intended to walk mainly on roads, for a more direct route, but decided it would actually be more of a direct route to the mortuary.

Vic’s Big Walking Route

France Section

Start Puivert track to:
Mirepoix roads to:
Lisle sur Tarn, pick up GR46
Rocamadour, switch to GR6
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil, switch to GR36
Brantome, switch to GR 654
Rochechouart, switch to GR48
Saumur, switch to GR36
Le Lude
Pass East of Le Mans
Pass West of Alencon

English Section

Debark Ferry at Porstmouth, then:

Solent Way to Brockhampton SU 798 058
Wayfarers Walk to near Abbotstone SU 569 334
Oxdrove Way to Bradley SU 634 416
Three Castles Path to Ellisfield SU639 458
Thames Valley Circular to Goring SU594 807
Thames Path National Trail to Oxford
To Oxford 130miles (208KM) miles from Portsmouth

From Oxford

Oxford Canal to Braunston, then Hawkesbury Junction.
Coventry Canal to Fazely Junction, then Fradley Junction
Trent and Mersey Canal to Stone, Kidsgrove, Middlewich, Northwich, Preston Brook.
Bridgewater Canal to Leigh
Leigh Branch of Leeds and Liverpool, then Rufford Branch of L&L to Tarleton
Douglas/Ribble to Preston.
Roads to Blackpool.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood".

- Daniel H Burnham

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oh, How We Ached This Morning…

… after that strenuous waterfall walk/climb.

So what did we do today? We went round again, of course. Just to check yesterday’s impressions. The legs that felt, before reaching the waterfall, as if they could never make it to the sight, never mind trying to get back again.

I can confirm that it felt just the same, second time round.

We may do the same walk again and again in the next few days. We need some tough stuff, some self-punishment, because in a week’s time we shall be in travelling mode again, with no hard walking probably until the end of the month, when we get home once again.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Imperfect Storms

News of the great storm in France has reached us even here in New Zealand, which is poised between relief at the minimal effects of the tsunami (and amazement at the stupidity of people who actually went onto the beaches to watch it) and speculation as to when the next NZ “Big One” earthquake will hit.

This is, to my knowledge, the fourth huge storm to hit France in the past ten years. One was only last year. The other two were on consecutive days only hours before the “millennium” – which even before that had many people speculating about associated disaster.

The two hurricanes felled, if I recall correctly, 29 Million trees. Many of these fell in areas crossed by the Grandes RandonnĂ©es, the great walking tracks of France. In Oliver Andrew’s book of his long walk (some of which covered the same ground as the upcoming Vic’s Big Walk) he had a great deal of trouble as a result. He was constantly climbing over fallen trees or even finding his way completely blocked by them.

So of course I am today visualising all those trees as they fall across my chosen path.

Strangely enough, our own very strenuous walk to the waterfall here in Hanmer Springs, this morning, was affected by fallen trees. The alternative return track was blocked off forestry notices so we had to walk (climb, in some places) back to Hanmer. The total walk was only 16 kms, but the change in altitude was from about 350 to 840 metres. Hard work.