Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back From The Outer Limits

We just came down from the Isle of Skye. Remind you of a song? More later.

We went to Skye to visit our splendid old friends Jackie and Bob Parry. Jackie is 84 and Bob 88. They live in a tiny cottage on the shores of a sea loch and they are young people. It is always a pleasure to see them and this time was no different. They have been enthusiastic supporters of VBW ever since the first thoughts and we give them great thanks for that. Let's hope it is not too long until our next visit.

Skye marked the outer limits of our journey. We have now turned southwards and are heading home. Another couple of days in Dunoon with our family, a bit more of that in the Blackpool area on Sunday, then we head down for the ferry and hope to be back in France on Wednesday morning and back home by Friday afternoon.

I see that the donation button on my blog is showing 100%. Actually, donations now are at 103%, which is the correct figure showing on the JustGiving page. But I don't want it to stop there.

And that song? Here it is.

Donald Where’s your Trousers

1. I've just come down from the Isle of Skye,
I’m no very big and I'm awful shy,
And the lassies shout when I go by,
" Donald where’s your troosers."

Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
Through the streets in my kilt I'll go,
And all the lassies shout hello
Donald where'syour troosers.
2. A Lassie took me to a ball
And it was slippery in the hall
And I was feart that I would fall
Fur I hadnae on ma' troosers
3. I went down to London Town
And I had some fun in the underground
The ladies turned their heads around
Saying "Donald where's your troosers".
4. To wear the kilt is my delight
It isna wrong, I know its right
The islanders would get a fright
If they saw me in the troosers
5. They'd like to wed me everywan
Just let them catch me if they can
You cannae tak’ the breeks aff a Hielan’ man
And I don't wear the troosers

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

14,000 Kms

This report

in the Wigan Observer states that I walked 14,000 kms. This may take some of you by surprise as being the distance between the French Pyrenees and Blackpool.

It is only a slight error. Kilometres walked between Puivert and Blackpool totalled just under 1,900. However, the project has really been under way for more than two years and the distance covered, including extensive training, has indeed been about 14,000 kilometres.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Viva Columbia

The donation which put the fund over 100% was one from Columbia Sportswear.

Columbia have been unbelievably supportive to me during this project. My association with them is not as a result of their sponsorship - it is the other way round. I have been using Columbia kit for years, and was in touch with them to praise their clothes and especially their walking shoes. As a result, they decided to support me with kit, with promotion on their website, with press releases, and also by providing the decoration for the team vehicle.

As I said, I have always been happy with their kit and have nothing but praise for all the clothes they provided for Vic's Big Walk, but I would single out the Mobex backpack for a special mention. This bag is incredibly light when empty, comfortable and practical to use and has numerous other advantages which you can see by watching this short film:|-Product-Spotlight/Pinnacle_Product-Mobex,default,pg.html

Vic's Big Walk For Pancreatic Cancer UK is over ...

... but the malady lingers on.

My fundraising has achieved 100% of the £7000 target. Of course I wanted to reach the target, but I want even more to exceed it. This deadly serial killer can only be defeated as a result of research and all you and I can do is help to finance that research and also to increase the awareness of the world out there.

Many people have donated twice or more. Many more have said they will donate but have not yet done so.

The fund (and the blog) will stay open for a while, so now is your chance to act. If you intend to donate to this most worthwhile of causes, please do so now. If you have already donated, but regarded that (as some clearly did) as a deposit, the balance to be paid if and when I completed the mammoth task of walking from the Pyrenees to the Pennines, now is your chance to come good.

Either way, thank you all for your support, both for the event and for your donations to pancreatic cancer research.

Vic Heaney, aka Big Walker

Monday, July 26, 2010

Homeward Bound

This is a picture of Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick, where we spent our first night on tour.

But the tour is being abandoned and it is a different castle we are heading for - in Puivert, where the eponymous castle looms over our home.

We have been home for only 6 weeks this year, my wife is homesick, and that is the priority. We are fulfilling our commitments in Scotland, then heading south, where we hope to get a change of ferry booking.

My fundraising is at 96% of the £7,000 target. There are still many outstanding promises of donations, so I will be very pleased if some of those are fulfilled so that we can have a triumphant leap in the air, and so that we can achieve even more good work for sufferes from this terrible illness of pancreatic cancer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

BBC iPlayer

Received this from Peter Labrow:

"I saw your note on the blog about the iPlayer - unfortunately, unlike most other iPlayer content, news programs are only available until the next programme is broadcast - so for a few hours only. The VBW one is no longer available."

I replied:

"You may be right about tv - if so, what a shame - but Alison, the Radio Lancashire lass, told me her stuff would be on there for 7 days. Is that nae true?"

Peter said:

"Well, I looked for it and could only find the latest episode - then someone told me that news isn't left up all week."


This is my wonderful birthday cake, made by my eldest daughter Karen. It is an exact copy of V-Force One, inluding the logos of my sponsors Columbia Sportswear and Satmap navigation aids. And of course the URL of this blog. Marvellous! But most of it has been eaten.

A number of people have said how disappointed they were not to be able to catch the radio and television coverage of the big finish.

I understand that the TV and radio programs are or will soon be available on BBC iPlayer website for the next 7 days.

The tv program was on at just before 7 in the evening on Friday. 23rd July. BBC Look North West (regional programme).

BBC Radio Lancashire had an interview at just after 7 am on Thursday 22nd July, and covered the finish from about 1045 am on Friday 23rd July.

But don't ask me how BBC iPlayer works!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vic and Gay On tour

We are off to Scotland today with Karen and Nicola and their families, for a bit of relaxation. We'll probably do some walking. :-)

The Pancreatic Cancer Fund stands at 94% of target. There are many promises outstanding, which would bring it to 100%. Also, some people are being kind enough to donate for the second time.

Both the blog and the fund-raising will stay open for some time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Been There, Done That

I took no photographs today. My walk was only about 3 kms, and some of that was going over some of yesterday's route. But I had saved this picture from Day 57. It was on a canal narrowboat and I thought how very appropriate it would be for today's blog entry.

We spent quite a bit of time with Elaine Dunkley of BBC TV before I started walking. Elaine arrived without the expected camera crew because they had dashed off to cover the big fire which has destroyed the M61 service station at Bolton. So Elaine had to do the filming herself as well as the interviewing.

Then Alison Butterworth of BBC Radio Manchester caught up with us to wire me up for the walk to Ground Zero. I was to listen to the program currently going on, wait until she had finished interviewing people outside the house, wait until she said "I will nip up to the corner to see if Vic is in sight", then appear round that same corner.

The reception committee comprised Gay, daughters and their families, brothers, and some old friends. But what really blew me away was that Sharon, current occupant, had decorated the house with bunting and "Happy Birthday" signs. I had called to see her some time ago to warn that things would be happening outside her house, but I had the impression she didn't absorb it, or didn't care. Thank you, Sharon, that was great.

There were further interviews with Elaine and Alison, a photographer from the local paper appeared, then we all dispersed for lunch. We are now ensconced at Guy's, the place I mentioned the other day, on the canal some miles from Blackpool, where something is planned for tonight.

The BBC report will be on BBC TV Look North West tonight (the program is at 1830 BST). Much to Elaiine's surprise, and putting her under some pressure, she learned shortly before 12 that a motorbike was coming to pick up the tapes because the item was also going out on the lunchtime news.

I want to thank everybody who has supported me in this venture, and of course all those who have donated. The target will be reached - I have promises enough for that. But don't let that put you off donating - I want to well exceed the target and the fund will not close for some time yet.

Thank you, everybody.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 69. Disappointment.

I walked much further today than I intended to. I ended up logging 26.5 kms, total so far 1864 kms, with only a couple of kms to go to the finish.

The day started well, with an interview with BBC Radio Lancashire in the form of Alison Butterworth. We liked Alison very much. She will also be covering the big finish of VBW tomorrow at 11 am – please ignore my mistaken statement of 11 pm – tomorrow.

I walked from Garstang to, first, a coffee shop in St Michaels, then a coffee shop in Great Eccleston. At the latter there were some people who said they had already passed me while I was walking. We had a chat about what I am doing. They seemed very interested. They left. When it was my turn to leave, I found they had paid for my coffee. Then they passed me again while I was walking, slowed almost to a halt, said something encouraging, and zoomed off. Didn’t give me chance to say thanks.

Then things took a turn for the worse. I had been misinformed, or perhaps I had not listened properly. Either way, I went several kms past the campsite where Gay was waiting. Also, I received calls from Alison and from Rebecca at BBC TV, who wanted to come to the campsite tomorrow morning at 9. It was obvious that this would not leave me time to walk to the destination for the appointed finish time. So I walked to within 2 kms of the finish. They will interview us much nearer to the finish and all should be hunky-dory.

Gay’s sister Dana e-mails “I hope you had time to muse on your past life a bit more than your blog entries indicate. Did you come to any revelation or experience any epiphany?” I’m afraid I didn’t. I thought that could happen. But in real life I was too busy trying to make sure I went in the right direction, took photographs, dictated the day’s events into the recorder, drunk enough water, didn’t fall over, spoke to lots of people, and so on. I thought no great thoughts. I’m quite disappointed.

I have left the canals now, so this is the last of the intriguing boat names. And I have no idea what the other thing is.


My previous post said that my arrival time in Blackpool tomorrow is 11 pm. Of course it is 11 am, and I have now changed it.

Thanks to Robin Lane for pointing that out.

Have You Heard The News?

I am being interviewed by BBC Radio Lancashire at 7 am this morning. I don't know whether that is live or if it will be broadcast later, or both. Also, they will be covering the finish live.

Also, I believe BBC TV Northwest Tonight will be covering the finish on Friday at 11 am in Bardsway Avenue, Blackpool. So I suppose that will be on TV on Friday evening.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 68. Reunion City.

I had just about dried out today, after yesterday’s continuous and intensive downpour. We had stayed the night at the extraordinary Great Birchwood Country Park near Lytham, which is a cross between a campsite and a town from the wild west. They have country music and line dancing there at the weekends. We have been intrigued by this place for years. Unfortunately, having now been there, we are none the wiser. The place was a lake, everybody was cowering in their caravans, we did not even make contact with management, so we came away this morning, guilty, without paying (we are trying to contact them about this).

Gay drove me back to the huge sports complex in Preston, just off the Lancaster Canal, where I finished yesterday. My son-in-law Kenny (that's him in the modest t-shirt, a present to him from my granddaughter Alexandra) was with us. We met Karen and Kenny last night for the first time this year. They live and work in Saudi Arabia and are here specially for the end of VBW. They kindly took us for a meal last night.

Soon after setting off, Kenny and I saw this tree, brought down during the night by the rain, which is now totally blocking the canal. It is a big tree and will take some shifting. Then we bowled along the first 16 kms – interrupted only by an interview with Radio Wave in Blackpool – to Guy's Thatched Hamlet at Bilsborrow, where not only was Gay waiting, but so was Nicola with her family, Fabrizio and the two boys Alessandro and Francesco. Again, we have not seen them this year as they live in Italy. We had a coffee there and then Kenny and I completed the other 11 kms which has taken us as far as the Bridge Marina Campsite in Garstang. This is a lovely site, even without the rabbits which are dodging about all over the place.

Tonight Nicola and co are coming to have a meal with us in Garstang. Tomorrow I walk from here to Poulton-le-Fylde, where I went to school. The next day, into Blackpool and the finishing post.

Today’s “route march”, as Kenny called it, was 27 kms. Bringing VBW to 1837.5 kms to date.

By Popular Demand - Repeat Performance of Gay's Big Work

I make no apology for repeating this item, which first appeared on my blog some time ago. I repeat it because it is more true than ever. I could not have done this walk without Gay, who in many ways has contributed more than I have. All I have done is walk. She has done everything else.

I feel very guilty about this being known as Vic’s Big Walk. There is somebody else who is spending at least as much time and effort as I am. Gay is doing everything except the walking.

We get up at about five in the morning. While I go to the facilities and have a shave, et cetera, Gay is making a cup of tea, putting out my breakfast, making me some sandwiches to take with me, getting me out a banana, and putting out a bottle of the beetroot juice to drink before I start the walk.

We have breakfast then I continue to get myself ready. Gay washes the dishes, then she unsecures the umbilical for the vehicle, turns off the gas, demounts the window blinds and generally gets the vehicle ready for moving.

Then she drives me to the point where I finished the previous day’s walk. She sees me on my way. Then she does housekeepery things with the vehicle, she goes for fuel if necessary, she goes for food. She is not necessarily going the same route as me and needs to seek out shops, perchance a supermarket.

If she is able to travel roughly the same route that I will be walking she even stops to suss out where there are suitable coffee stops for me, then texts me to let me know where the coffee shop is in relation to the track that I will be walking on.

She then goes to find the next campsite. She checks in at the campsite. After checking in she probably washes some clothes – don’t forget I am producing sweaty clothes every day. She then decamps – unless the campsite is on my route and I will walk straight to it – and goes to wait for me at an appointed meeting place. She sometimes sits there for hours waiting for me because it is not always easy to estimate how long a walk will take, particularly if I am going to be on rough and mountainous tracks.

She picks me up, takes me to the campsite. While I am having a shower and getting myself sorted, she makes the lunch. We have lunch. Then, while I am writing my blog and dealing with e-mail correspondence, Gay washes the dishes and other necessary jobs.

She then even attends to my feet and nails, especially after the trouble I had in the first week. She spends hours every day poring over maps, particularly for days and days at a time when she was re-planning the route because it was clear that I was walking far too long each day on the stages we had selected.

Then we sit down and have a meeting about the next day’s walk. She gives me instructions on the route – don’t forget I can’t see the tracks on the maps – which I then feed into my invaluable Satmap Active 10 navigation device, ready for use the following day. By this time it is getting on for evening meal time. She prepares that, we eat it. Then, while I transcribe the notes which I have dictated in a tape recorder (as I am doing with this) she washes the dishes. If we are lucky we then snatch time for a crossword and maybe a few pages of reading. By which time it is bedtime. While I go to the ablution block to get myself ready for bed, Gay closes all the shutters on the windows. We are in bed by nine o’clock because we shall be getting up at five.

So, all day, every day, Gay is going full tilt. She is a treasure. I love her. I couldn’t do this walk without her. It is no wonder that so many people say to me, “Vic, you are a very lucky man.” And I know it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blog Day 67. Two More Walters.

Today’s walk with the third set of Walters went a bit astray at first, as we failed to find each other. In fact it was two hours after the agreed time before we were all together and underway. Clive Dickinson had to drop out because he was suffering badly from his asthma but Ian Smith guided me through the Cuerden Valley Park, over the River Ribble and into the heart of Preston, then on to the start of the Lancaster Canal, where he departed while I walked a further 3 kms to find Gay waiting at the Preston Sports Arena.

We then high-tailed it to Lytham, where the fourth attempt at receiving Gay’s replacement Visa card was foiled because, despite long discussions and clear directions to the bank, and their agreement, the card has been sent to our home address, where we are not, instead of the HSBC Lytham Branch, where we were, by appointment.

The early part of the walk was dry, then became very wet, as it has remained since. The hosepipe ban in this area has been in force about 10 days, as has the rain.

This is the first time I have ever seen a sign pointing one off the canal to an ice-cream parlour. The other two pics are amusing narrowboat names. Septimus will recognise another of his aliases.

Distance today was 30 kms, total so far 1810.5 kms.

"Anonymous" Is At It Again

"Anonymous" has left this comment on yesterday's post:

Your walk is admirable but not the longest. Check out

Well, tnank you for your support, Anonymous. I don't know if this is the same "Anonymous" who was so plainly hoping, via poisonous earlier comments, that I would not succeed.

Or if it is the same Anonymous who has not read my references to Dr Barbara Moore and her walks, some of which were across America. I think my reference to that was probably an indication that I know mine is not the longest walk.

Or if it is the same Anonymous who did not notice that I said in yesterday's post that I have RARELY heard of anyone walking this far.

Or if it is the same Anonymous who does not realise that his comment is so completely at odds with all the messages of support and congratulation I am receiving from so many others.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 66 Extra. My Home Town.

Ferlin Husky sang a song with the above title. It started “I’m wondering if anyone remembers me, in my home town”.

That line has been running through my head lately.

My home town is Blackpool, and I have been walking towards it for 66 days now. It is, I can assure you, a very long way from where I live, especially travelling on Shanks’ Pony. I have rarely read of anyone walking so far, and never anybody 70 years of age.

I am receiving huge support in the way of blog readership, encouraging comments and e-mails, and donations to my chosen cause, Pancreatic Cancer UK. This support comes from all over Britain and all over the world. But not from Blackpool.

Blackpool is, as well as my home town and the end-point of my 70-day trek, the birthplace and final home of Gaile, my late first wife, in whose name is the fund associated with my walk. She was related to several illustrious footballers in the glorious past of Blackpool Football Club – providing a link between my walk and this year's triumphant return of Blackpool to top-flight football.

And yet, despite two substantial articles in the Blackpool Gazette, there has been very little from my home town in the way of support of any kind. There have been more donations to the fund from New Zealand than from Blackpool. More from the United States. More from France. More from Italy.

There have been scores of donations, which have taken the fund to 87% of the target of £7,000. Only two contributions have been from Blackpool.

I find this very disappointing. Or maybe the people of Blackpool have a penchant for teasing, saving it all for a last-minute rush?

Day 66. Onward, Ever Onward.

At the Dover Lock yesterday afternoon we had a photo session with the Wigan Observer, had a chat with the two cyclists who were doing Lands End to John o’Groats, ate our evening meal in the pub as a thank-you to the landlord (although this was not a condition of him allowing us to camp overnight in his carpark), and had a good night’s sleep trying not to worry about the rats, ferrets and mink nibbling our wiring.

As usual for the past 8 or 9 days, we awoke to the drumming of rain on the roof. Unusually, the rain stopped as I set out at 7 am. Even more unusually, there was no more rain during the walk. In fact, it is still, so far, a rain-free day.

I walked alone for 6 kms along the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. At the junction where it meets the main line, near Wigan Pier, I met Frank Dawber, the founder and leader of the Walters Walking Club. He had told me to look out for a 6 feet 4 inch, good looking sort of fellow. I can confirm that he is tall.

We walked on, both in good company, to Duxbury, near Adlington, south of Chorley, where Gay was waiting for us. A nice cup of tea, then Frank set off for home and we drove to yet another farm campsite, where we are now located in a field very close to the M61 motorway.

Distance covered. 20.5 kms. 1780.5 to date. 4 more days to go.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 65 Extra. Columbia

These photos were taken by Ken Critchley, the second of this morning's Walters. One shows Ken and Gerry, Septimus and myself, at Ken's wonderfully compact Romahome at the handover point. The other, at the end of the walk, shows Septimus and myself with our wives Gay and Pat at V-Force One.

I have just had a chat with two cyclists and their backup team. They are cycling from Lands End to John o' Groats and this is Day 4, so they are doing pretty well. My attention was drawn by the Columbia shirts they were wearing.

Columbia are of course my main sponsors. They have supplied me with clothing - in fact I have only Columbia clothing with me - they have decorated our vehicle, they have put out very professional press statements, featured VBW on their website, et cetera. And they are lovely people as well.

The clothing has been most excellent and shown no signs of fatigue. You may remember I seemed to have a bit of trouble with shoes at the beginning of the walk, but I can confirm that the shoes were in no way to blame - it was an injury gained prior to the start, which had swollen my foot and ... (I could bore you with the details).

The Columbia shoes have been splendid. Of course the soles show evidence of my passage, but there is no sign of age in the uppers - they are splendidly put together. I have been wearing this type of shoe for years and will continue to do so post-VBW.

Day 65. Different Feet.

Yesterday afternoon, at Warburton, we had a visit from our friends Evelyn, Ian and Rowan. They live in Ireland, were on their way to Cockermouth for a job (Evelyn and Ian are both environmental scientists), and had made a diversion to see us. We walked down to a local pub and had an early dinner. The pub owners had left their 18-year old son in charge. Our visitors told him what I am doing, and how far I have walked. He just kept saying “Bloody Hell!” He must have said it seven or eight times.

Today was the first of my 3 days with the Walters Walking Club. Gerry Millar rolled up for the first half of today’s walk and amazed us by saying that he grew up in the next street but one to Septimus (who had also arrived for today’s walk) and myself. So there was much reminiscing and nostalging as we walked to Culcheth Linear Park, where Gerry handed us over to another Walter, Ken Critchley. Ken shepherded us to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and to the Dover Lock pub, where we are ensconced until tomorrow morning on the pub car park. It is interesting to note that there is no lock here. There was once, but subsidence destroyed it and, to maintain the water levels, locks were built elsewhere.

Shortly before we arrived at Dover Lock, we met a friend of Ken’s on the canal bank. This was Andy Ling, and all of those dogs are his. And they are all well trained and well behaved. Both of those feet are Andy’s, believe it or not, although they are dressed so differently. This is due to an injured foot. Or maybe it is just to provoke conversation. Septimus asks me to point out that his red t-shirt is certainly not indicative of his political persuasions.

When Gay made our number with George, mine host at the Dover Lock, he said we should not park near the hedge because mink, rats and ferrets would get under our bonnet and eat the wires.

Today’s walk was short, at 19.5 kms. I am pretty sure I have no long walks left to do. In fact there are only 5 walks left. The total for VBW so far is 1760.5 kms. Bloody Hell!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 64. Walking Backwards In The Rain.

We are camped next to the Warburton Toll Bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal. I know I have been on a bit of a nostalgia tour diversion for the past few days, but I had just had a nostalgia attack which took me completely by surprise. It was only as I approached the bridge that I made the connection. My first job was as a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy – in fact I believe I may have been the youngest R/O in that service. My very first trip started in Manchester and, on the way to Canada, the M/V Manchester Spinner passed down the Ship Canal on its way to the sea. Of course the canal was built to link Manchester, then the world capital of cotton – King Cotton, as it was known – to the sea near Liverpool.

Earlier this morning, Gay drove me back to Wilmslow, where I finished yesterday’s walk. My route took me under the runways at Manchester Airport to Hale, where Gay and I once lived. After taking sustenance at Costa’s, and doing some proselytising for the cause, I passed through Dunham Park on the way to Warburton. Dunham Park is a National Trust Property – an old “stately home” in extensive grounds, with deer popping up behind every tree.

In Dunham Park I bumped into Sir James Anderton, the ex-Chief Constable of Manchester. We had a chat about what I am doing. He and his friend were fascinated by the VBW project and he urged me to write a book about it.

The chat took place in a brief interval in what was a pretty wet walk. Most of this week has been wet, in fact. Before that, there had been weeks of hot weather and a hose-pipe ban was instituted in the North-West of England only a few days ago. We are expecting a bonus for having changed things so dramatically. There has previously been some debate on this blog about a suitable theme song for VBW. I have been leaning towards “Walking in the rain.” Sir James Anderton, after I explained that I am walking backwards through my life from where I am now to where I started, reminded me that Spike Milligan sang “I’m walking backwards to Christmas”.

Distance covered was 24 kms. VBW total to date 1741 kms.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 63. The Impassable Dream

I forgot to mention that yesterday I covered 29 kms, which took the VBW total to 1685.5 kms.

This morning I left the home of Big Tone and Mu in Congleton, where we had spent a very convivial afternoon and evening, a’reminiscin’ and a’chawin’. The road to Wilmslow from Congleton is the very busy A34, much of it without pavements, and lots of bends – in other words, good Vic-killing territory. It seemed a bit early to terminate VBW in that way, so my navigation officer planned a route to the west of the A34, necessarily a bit longer, but with the priority on safety. Side roads and walking paths. Gay’s planning was great, the roads were quiet and safe. But it seemed that nobody else had ever spotted the paths on the map. Certainly nobody had ever walked them. There was no worn bit on the ground, the grass was long and, because of the rain which became heavy, extremely wet, as were my shoes and socks very quickly. Many of the farm gates were locked, even when accompanied by a signpost clearly saying a footpath went through them. And in many places, the “path” was completely overgrown by nettles and brambles, as in the picture. No sooner had the rash on my legs subsided, than I was into another lot of nettles and another rash.

When I neared Alderley Edge, I discovered that an Alderley Edge bypass is under construction, which is good, it is badly needed. But it was not good for my walk because it meant I had to retrace my steps and find another way around. This added a few kilometres. When I finally reached Alderley Edge and Costa’s, for a much needed coffee, I found myself sitting next to a couple who live four doors away from my former home in Dean Drive, the address to which I was headed in order to take a photograph.

When I reached the Bluebell BMW salesroom, I called in to see if an old friend still worked there. As I entered the portals, my phone rang for a newspaper interview. Eventually I found that the friend was still with the company, in a senior capacity, but not in that building.

I pressed on into Dean Drive to take a photo of my old house. There was a car outside so I thought I had better warn the owner that I would be taking a picture, and not for nefarious purposes. He was really friendly and interested in what I was doing, happy to show me round the house. But by then I was well behind schedule, aware that Gay had been waiting for ages and that she had eaten no lunch.

So I met her at the garden centre, then we hot-footed it to Altrincham and the home of our old friends Jean and Bernard Dolan, where we are to spend the night.

And now I find there is no photo of the house in my camera! So I may have to do Vic’s Big Walk all over again.

While I ponder that one, I will tell you that today I walked 31.5 kms, for a total of 1717 kms.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 62. Knee Deep.

VBW has entered Cheshire, the penultimate county, and tonight we are staying at the home of Big Tone and Mu in Congleton.

I had a last minute change of plan this morning and ditched the idea of walking back to the Trent and Mersey Canal, and continuing northwards by that route. Instead, I walked through the Potteries towns of Fenton, Hanley, Burslem and Tunstall, to Kidsgrove, where I joined the Macclesfield Canal to Congleton.

The statue of the incomparable Stanley Matthews is in the middle of Hanley. The Leopard Hotel is in Burslem.

When I first came to live in the Potteries, Stoke on Trent was celebrating its first 50 years as a city. It was struggling to live up to that title. It was almost impossible to get a meal after 6 pm. Now, the posters are up, proclaiming the 100 years celebration. As Ray Bonneville sings – “Where did it go – the time I mean?” And Hanley in particular seems to be knee-deep in eateries.

I managed to get a haircut at Goldenhill. The young man had been forced out of his business in Congleton by the introduction of parking charges which caused a disappearance of the genus Clientus Barberus. I walked out of the shop and was on my way when he came running after me with my spectacles. I always take these off when having a haircut because of all the little bits of hair which otherwise cling to them. What I don’t understand is how I managed to find my way through the door without them. I hadn’t even noticed they were missing! I am sure that crashing into the first lamp post would have alerted me to the problem.

In Kidsgrove I made a slight diversion to visit my ex brother in law Ray, who I have not seen for well over 20 years. He seemed pleased to see me but neglected to mention the kettle.

On the Macclesfield Canal I met Graham Green, who was fishing for the first time in twenty years. He seemed to be rather hoping he would not catch anything, not wanting to gain his own pleasure at the expense of another creature. He seemed a delightful chap, and I am not just saying that because he gave me a £20 note for the fund.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 61 Extra. Final? Adjustments To Course And Schedule

Here are some slight amendments to the information I posted on Day 57. These changes are due to availability of accommodation. Also, to Gay planning a route (in the interests of my survival) from Congleton to Wilmslow down minor roads and footpaths rather than down the A34. Longer but safer.

Day 61. Wednesday July 14. Walk from Stone to Heron Cross, Stoke on Trent.

Day 62. Thursday July 15. Walk from Heron Cross to Congleton.

Day 63. Friday July 16. Walk from Congleton to Wilmslow/Handforth border.

Day 64. Saturday July 17. Walk from Wilmslow/Handforth to Warburton Toll Bridge.

Days 65, 66,67. July 18,19,20. Walk with Walters Walking Club from Warburton to Preston.

Day 68. Wednesday July 21. Walk from Preston to Garstang with my son-in-law Kenny. This day is reserved for Kenny. Nobody else welcome.

Day 69. Thursday July 22. Walk from Garstang to another location.

Day 70 Friday July 23. Walk from another location to target address. Arrival 1100 prompt.

Please note that almost all the above days are spoken for in that we are either staying with friends, or I am already walking with somebody. There are only a couple of days which are in neither of these categories. I actually want to walk on my own some of the time. This means that all applications to walk with me are now closed.

Day 61. Loony Toons.

We spent last night in a campsite on the edge of the Roaches, near Leek. The Roaches, dramatic rock formations, cover quite an area. Once upon a time some of the fell runners from our athletics club were on a training run in the area and were stunned to see some wallabies hopping along. Their astonishment was not just because the marsupials were much faster than the runners, and clearly capable of winning any fell race they entered. The lads had never heard that the critters existed here. But they have been around for many a long year. I remember that in the terrible winter of 1962/3 the wallabies were expected to die out, but they survived and thrived.

Gay drove me back to Stone this morning, where I picked up the baton I had dropped there on Monday. I pressed on up the Trent and Mersey Canal.

After a few kms I came to Barlaston, where I paused to take a photograph of the Plume of Feathers pub. This is probably the only pub in the world which I, not being a drinker, can be said to have frequented for a while. At a particularly turbulent period of my life, in about 1970, I was in this pub a few times. One of the regulars was a young man, clearly highly strung and excitable, who was known to other regulars, for obvious reasons, as “Loony Bassett”. He was always involved in arguments with them, and of course they would deliberately wind him up. Unfortunately, his looniness had very bad consequences for a French couple.

I had heard Loony say that he used an air rifle to shoot birds from his bedroom window. I also heard him announce that, if he were to kill somebody, he would use a gun, to make sure of the job. Not long after this, I was in the car one night when a news bulletin announced that a young French couple had been killed where they were camping in Delamere Forest, near Chester. A description of the suspect followed – it was clearly Loony Bassett.

The full story emerged the next day. Loony had taken a day trip to Rhyl or one of the resort towns on the North Wales coast. At a fun-fair, he had heard the French couple laughing. Being of the paranoid persuasion, he thought they were laughing at him, although they had probably not given him a glance or a thought. He stole a rifle from a shooting gallery, then followed them all the way back to their campsite, many miles away. I put it to the jury, your honour, that this shows evidence of premeditation. After slaughtering them, he went home, or thereabouts, drove to Barlaston Downs, a secluded local beauty spot, and gassed himself, using a tube attached to his exhaust pipe. Presumably the tube was not just lying around, so it seems he had given some forethought to that, as well.

When I was taking a photograph of Loony’s pub, I explained to an old man at a house a couple of doors away, why I was doing so. I told him the story of Loony Bassett. Amazingly, although this man, older than me, had lived in the are for all or most of his life, he did not know the story. So poor old Loony does not even get lasting fame out of his murderous exploits.

I pressed on. My walk today was only 16.5 kms, total so far 1656.5 kms. We are parked at the premises of Towtal, in Heron Cross, Stoke on Trent. Towtal are part of an organisation called Motorhome Stopovers. This consists mainly of pubs which welcome campervans overnight on their carparks, in the hope that people will emerge from the campervans and consume food or beverage on their premises. Towtal mend campervans, they make trailers to carry little cars behind campervans, and they sell secondhand campervans. I am not clear what trade they would expect to get as a result of one sleeping on their premises. Maybe just the possibility that you could use one of their other services. And maybe it works. We are here because it is ideally situated on my walk and there seems to be not a campsite nearby. We are certainly pleased with them already. As a result of a sudden gust of wind and our ignorance, the awning on the side of V-Force One has not been in a working condition since early in the trip. Thanks to a quick bit of wizardry by the head of the workshops, it is now in full useable order.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 60 Extra. I Suppose It's Progress

"The Pithead bath's a supermarket now ..."

So sings Max Boyce.

Well, the first flat I had, the one I shared with the late Jeff Bardsley, over the newsagents in Huntbach Street, Hanley, is a carpark now.

Big disappointment of the day.

But I did get good pictures of the first school Karen went to in Werrington, and the first house I owned, also in Werrington, which is where Nicola was born.

As I said, I suppose that is progress. Things move on.

But not much progress with my signal strength so, sorry, the pictures were late.

Day 60. Normal Service Will Be Resumed ...

I forgot to mention yesterday that I walked 22 kms and that the total VBW distance covered so far is 1640.

I am dawdling about now because I have plenty of time in hand. I could probably get to Blackpool this weekend if I just continued straight on up the canals, but that would ruin the concept of walking back through 70 years of life in 70 days. It would also ruin the plans of people who have come from overseas to witness my arrival at the house where I was born.

I have cut out the side trips to nostalgia land, or at least the walking version of those, which I only ever intended to do if I had lots of time to spare. As it happens, if I now walked off to Leek, et cetera, I would be pushed for time, but as we are now going to have a day off to visit those places, I shall still have time in hand when I reach Lancashire.

There will be no walking today, for the first time since May 15th.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 59. Enter The Soup Dragon

We were sitting in V-Force One yesterday evening, minding our own business, when I saw this hot-air balloon looming over us. We went outside to get a better look, and noticed that two other balloons had already gone past without us noticing.

Despite all that excitement, we slept well – for the first time in years, Gay has been sleeping well every night during VBW, I never have any trouble, even when not walking 30 kms a day. We awoke this morning to the good news that the heat wave was over. The weather man said there would be rain today, but nothing sustained – I realised later that I must have accidentally been listening to a comedy show. It was spitting when I set off, but after half an hour or so it started lashing down. This went on for some hours. The towpath was mainly grass, so my shoes and socks soon became uncomfortably sodden. The rest of me was as snug as a bug in a poncho.

As I approached Stone, I saw the Soup Dragon striding towards me. This was not a surprise. Tonight we are staying in his house in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The original plan was for Soupie to walk today’s stage with me, but an injury put paid to that. So he parked up in Stone and walked along the canal towpath to meet me.

We had a coffee with him in Stone, then he cleared off to take care of business while we did a bit of nostalgising in Stone. I lived here for 4 years or so in the very early 60s. After Derek (the Soup Dragon’s alias) had gone, we drove over to Walton where I took a photograph of the tiny flat where I once lived. My eldest daughter Karen will not remember the place.

Then we drove to Derek’s home where we have the rest of the day off. Amazingly, after 59 days walking, we have tomorrow off as well.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 58 Extra. Extra Big Donation.

You may have noticed an extraordinary donation on my JustGiving page. The sum is £540. This was donated by an 18 year old boy.

The message from him which failed to appear on the JustGiving page is as follows:

Dear Vic,

Last week, for my 18th Birthday my parents bought me a parachute jump. I thought I would take the opportunity to raise money for your cancer research charity in support of your efforts and in memory of my Grandmother. As the jump was paid for by my parents, every donation I got could go directly to charity. I collected a total that was the equivalent of £540 in sterling, so here it is.

Everyone was very supportive over here, and they feel that your walk is a very noble and selfless cause! I hope the money I raised will prove to be a nice contribution to your journey!

I hope to see you soon; we will try to meet you along your way next Saturday.

Your friend,

Rowan Moorkens O’Reilly

Rowan is an extraordinary boy, if you need telling that after this amazing piece of fundraising. Among other things, he has been on an astronaut training course in America.

Rowan's mother, Evelyn, made the Vic's Big Walk banner you may have seen in pictures on this blog.

Thanks, Rowan, for showing what can be done. And for doing it.

So, with an example like that to follow, what can you do?

Day 58. Small World Part 97

Yesterday evening we were taken out to dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant in Lichfield. John Hayfield had already driven himself and his lady Sandra up from Devon to their home on the edge of the Cotswolds. Then he drove to Lichfield, on to our campsite 26 kms north (I know because I just walked it), picked us up, drove back to Lichfield, brought us back to the campsite, then he and Sandra went back to the Cotswolds. Unbelievable! You will be pleased to know that in the middle of all that, we had a splendid time at the restaurant.

This morning Gay drove me back to yesterday’s finishing point near Whittington and deposited me on the towing path of the Coventry Canal, where I headed north. She headed in the direction of Rugely for a desperately needed launderette. The combination of this hot weather and my own antics is producing lots of damp kit. As we are not registered ammonia producers a pile of it was urgently in need of a washing machine. Fortunately Gay found one and all is, as they used to say on the toothpaste adverts, clean and sparkling.

I passed one moored vehicle which was flying two New Zealand flags – the official one with the union jack in the corner, and the one which could possibly replace it, with the silver fern. Some time later, I caught up with a moving boat, which had a New Zealand name. It turned out that the previous owners had been New Zealanders. Of the current crew, the young lady I was speaking to, when she learned of my mission, told me that she was born in Blackpool. In Kendal Avenue. This was small worldsville again. Several of my late first wife’s relatives lived in that street, including her mother and father.

It was strange walking back to the campsite I left at 6.30 this morning, but here I am. Tomorrow I will walk on to Stone, where I lived for a while in the early 60s.

Today’s walk was 26.5 kms, I am now walking up the Trent and Mersey Canal, and kilometres to date are 1,618, which, for the Luddites, is well over 1,000 miles.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

57 Extra. Replanning of Final Days.

Blog Day 57 Extra. Replanning of Final Days.

As I said a few days ago, we have replanned the last phase of VBW. Most of the nostalgic side-trips to places where I have lived, worked and enjoyed life will now be made under power.

This is in the interests of not adding unwanted extra mileage in this heat. It also allows me to introduce some shorter walks after a bit of a tough time lately (especially in the aforementioned heat). A byproduct of the re-planning is that there will actually be some days without walking, or at least without walks which contribute to onward progress.

There follows a rough plan of what is to come.

Day 58. Sunday July 11. Walk from Whittington to Wolseley Bridge.

Day 59. Monday July 12. Walk from Wolseley Bridge to Stone.

Day 60. Tuesday July 13. Day off sightseeing.

Day 61. Wednesday July 14. Walk from Stone to Kidsgrove.

Day 62. Thursday July 15. Walk from Kidsgrove to c. Alderley Edge.

Day 63. Friday July 16. Walk from Alderley Edge to Altrincham.

Day 64. Saturday July 17. Walk from Altrincham to Warburton Toll Bridge.

Days 65, 66,67. July 18,19,20. Walk with Walters Walking Club from Warburton to Preston.

Day 68. Wednesday July 21. Walk from Preston to Garstang with my son-in-law Kenny. This day is reserved for Kenny. Nobody else welcome.

Day 69. Thursday July 22. Walk from Garstang to another location.

Day 70 Friday July 23. Walk from another location to target address. Arrival 1100 prompt.

Please note that almost all the above days are spoken for in that we are either staying with friends, or I am already walking with somebody. There are only a couple of days which are in neither of these categories. I actually want to walk on my own some of the time. This means that all applications to walk with me are now closed.

Day 57. Nostalgia

Today I entered Staffordshire, and nostalgia territory. I have lived in Staffs and Cheshire and Lancashire, the next two counties, for much of my life, so will be meeting people and seeing places which will inevitably stir up memories.

I didn’t expect that to start with the view I had for some time today, of the enormous television transmitter aerial near Lichfield. Jim Gregson and I sat in a layby on the A5 for 2 hours in the very early 70s, or possibly late 60s, staring at that mast and waiting for a rescue vehicle to tow my broken-down car to a garage in Stafford (that drive was quite exciting, I remember, on the back end of a rope).

The first of the expected nostalgia treats came last night. Bill Davies, an old friend from the same era, who was very sadly recently widowed, came to take us out for dinner. He drove us in his Jaguar to a pub about two and half miles from our very rural campsite. The pub was built in 1245, and the heights of the ceilings and doors reflected that. We had a good time with Bill, who insisted on paying, then went home and made a generous donation to the cause.

Today I pressed on from Atherstone to near Lichfield. We were unable to find a campsite anywhere near Lichfield, so we have driven to a point well north of there, nearer to tomorrow’s finish, in fact. It is very rural. We are quite near to Rugely Power Station, which is a very ugly site in what is otherwise again a very rural vista. The telephone signal is again poor, as it will be tomorrow, because we shall be at this same camp tomorrow. But somehow I managed to get photos up for the past 3 days.

Today was a day for several attempts upon my person by badly-controlled dogs on the towpath. One of which was a huge Newfoundland, and another, part of a pair who jumped from a boat to attack me, landed up on its back after a swift uppercut from my foot.

I seem to have swiftly progressed from crossing 1500 kms on Wednesday, to nudging 1600 kms on Saturday. Today’s walk, again in very hot circumstances, was 28 kms. The total is now 1591.5 kms. I hope to be having some shorter walks in the remaining 13 days, and even a couple of days off so that Gay and I can do some nostalgia sightseeing in V-Force One.