Seems like it is the ideal exercise on the face of it, fresh air, exercise. Coming from a background as an accomplished distance runner I assumed that this walking business would be relatively easy. There is a world of difference and enjoyment from hammering your way through half and full marathons, doing the same distance over the fells and hills of northern England.
Major difference 1.
Don't be fooled for one minute by these "walkers", they don't seem to have invested in the latest gear - the boots and shoes appear to have seen better days (they have!), there is a good selection of upper body clothing of various ages and wear - most of the "athletes" wear tracksters (there's a review in there somewhere!) some of the apparently foolhardy ones are dressed in shorts and a vest -we're talking January in the Pennines now! They appear to be of an uncertain age -as old and as knarled as the hills! Wait, some of them ARE made from the hills!
Major difference 2.
Route? Oh yes I forgot - there's a couple of A4 sheets with instructions and some map references on it. It does say on the instructions, a map and a compass would be useful. (first aid kit!) What no marshals? No Flags? No fancy tape, Sponsorship, stalls selling the latest gear. None of that city stuff here.
Major difference 3.
There doesn't seem to be very many people at the start, in fact there doesn't seem to be a start. There's toast and a pot of tea there - bring your own mug. I am my own mug! Everyone's very friendly; there isn't any of that tenseness that seems to hang around at big important running events. Most people seem to recognise each other, a grunt, a nod, a smile, a shaken hand, and a general air of camaraderie. A knowingness that permeates the air - a vast pool of shared experience. Did I mention this could be 7 or 8 in the morning? If you're lucky you've been up since 5 AM on a Saturday morning just to get to the start, if it's in the Northern Lakes. Still I'm looking forward to my second breakfast! The start's got to be early - in the half dark to allow most of the walkers to finish in the light! The walks are nearly always on a Saturday to allow you to recover on the Sunday or even do another one!
Major difference 4.
A shout, the walkers are called to the start, shuffling off to listen to the words of wisdom that the organisers have." The bridge is down at check point 3, edge along the river bank and take the second stile, Watch yourself don't fall in the river!" "Fenwick's cows are in the top pasture, watch for the bull in the lower pasture - he's a bit frisky", " The river's flooded the lower fields, you'll just have to live with it!"
Of you go then!
The pack does not actually sprint away from the start - more an amble and a shuffle - but we're off.
I can handle this pace - hang on we're still on the road, plenty of people in front, I'm following them, they're turning right over a stile - this doesn't look too safe, I'm over too. Walkers are disappearing away at the start. We've only gone a mile, and I seem already to be on my own, can't be lost there are people behind, I think, I hope. I am actually going flat out, 24 miles to go. Roll on 4pm. I stop to check the route; it has stopped making too much sense. However another walker joins me, he knows the route and we make steady progress, not much is said, names and a few life experiences are shared. I am really enjoying myself now, the miles spin by under my feet and the first checkpoint heaves into view. We stop, large mug of tea and the compulsory cherry cake, the sun comes out and we set off - I'm carrying the last dregs of tea in my mug. I've never quite mastered the art of drinking and running/walking at the same time, it promptly hurls itself down my chest. This does not compare to what I will look like at the end. We avoid the river, I fill my boots with freezing mud, but I'm warm - my ankles are a bit sore and the back is starting to hurt.
This next bit seems straightforward, my buddy starts to struggle and tells me to carry on alone, I was hoping he'd stay as I don't have a clue where I'm going, however I've spotted some familiar anoraks ahead and I turn up the pace to gather them in, should I join them or should I just keep them in view and let them do the route finding? I stay behind. We roll into the next checkpoint. I make my first real mistake. I sit down! Suddenly my legs have decided they like horizontal and resist the effort to go vertical, they start shaking, in fact they are going like steam hammers. I can't stop now! Only 7 miles to go! (on my own, in the dark, reading a map, don't know where I am,) how many excuses can I make not to go on!
To avoid looking like a prat, I hobble away. I am just about able to follow the map. Oh no a hill! This is purgatory. I manage the hill by doing a hundred steps up, look at the view, another hundred steps and so on. This is the last hill and I nearly fly down the other side. The legs are screaming in protest, every stile causes the cramps; I've found weird and wonderful ways to walk without bending them. A familiar face appears out of the gloom coming towards me, he calls my number, I'm last, and he's come to walk me in - fantastic. I don't care any more. It's dark at the village hall. The other walkers cheer me in, sit me down. They are genuinely pleased to see me. (I now know they would have come out searching!) People rush round finding me hotpot, rice pudding, cake and drinks of tea. I feel superb but I just can't move. I collect my badge and certificate. I manage to drive home. I tell the wife what a wonderful day I've had. Run a bath - fall asleep in it, wake up screaming because the water's cold, I think I've fall in the swamp (again!)
Straight to bed and sleep like log.
ROLL ON THE NEXT ONE (Its never as bad!)
More info www.ldwa.org.uk - look up your local group, go along they will be delighted to see you!
The Malhamdale Meander.
A 26 mile walk around Malham, glorious countryside and great weather well organised and great country, was it tough - this was about my 20th and I was quite surprised. There seemed to be some licence about the distances between checkpoints. If you get the opportunity to do this one DO IT! Fairly straightforward route, only grid references were given, but i slotted in with the pack and never got lost. The first half was really quite hard, most of it seemed uphill, but in the middlle they put Gordale Scar. This is a quick ascent up a waterfall. Fantastic. It then continued to Parsons Pulpit, this seems to be out of bounds except for this walk. The rest of the walk was fairly straight forward.