As April 2013 was drawing to a close I had one more long Moonwalk training walk ahead of me. This was the big one, twenty-six point two miles. The longest walks or runs on most marathon training plans stop at twenty or twenty-two miles. The logic being, if you can make it that far, you can do the whole marathon on the day. This is not something I’ve been comfortable with and, for both my Moonwalks, I’ve trained to the full distance. Whether this is a sensible approach or not remains to be seen but it does at least leave me confident I can finish a marathon. April 26 was the day of the long walk…
26 April 2013
The Moonwalk is fast approaching and I have yet to sew a single sequin, or anything else for that matter, onto my bra. I really need to get a wriggle on but I still have no idea what to do. This bra is possibly going to be the most boring in Moonwalk history. Still, there was no time today to be worrying about that because it was the day of the last long Moonwalk training walk! Twenty-six-point-two miles, the full marathon. Yikes, that is a LONG walk! The training plan only recommends going up to twenty miles but, last time, I did the whole thing and this time I wanted to do the same. Call me mad if you like but it gives me a sense of security knowing I have done it. If I can do it in training I can do it on the night right?
Well, that was the plan anyway. When I got up this morning the rain was teaming down. Just a shower I thought, the forecast was for showers so I was under no illusion about it being a nice dry sunny walk. Then the morning TV weather forecast came on, showers all day, heavier ones later with thunder and possibly hail! Is someone trying to tell me something? Showers I can cope with even if I don’t like them, but thunder, hail, rain all day? It wasn’t a very enticing prospect. It was also a case of now or never, if I don’t do it this weekend I would have run out of time, next weekend is the weekend before the Moonwalk, that one needs to be a nice quiet restful one.
In the end I decided to wrap up in my new windproof, waterproof coat, set out as if I was going to do the twenty-six and see how it went. If I got to Eastleigh and it wasn’t getting better I’d think again. At least no one could accuse me of not trying. Besides there was a little robin flashing back and forth in front of the French window, probably building a nest, he didn’t have any choice about being out in the rain so I used him as my inspiration.
The rain had stopped when I set off which was good, but the whole venture very nearly came to a premature end a few yards from home when I met Scary Woman on Mobility Scooter on the Big Hill. Luckily I just managed to jump out of the way in time and I swear there was a look of disappointment in her eye. I bet she has a score sheet on her kitchen wall to mark down all the pedestrians she’s run down.
Down by Woodmill a kindly duck posed for me, I think he thought I had some bread for him actually but still, I took his picture. A little further along a swan did the same his beautiful wings held high behind him. Swans are such graceful creatures, at least on the water, they never fail to make me smile and I carried on marching with a stupid grin on my face. Round the next bend the grin turned to a little giggle when I noticed a cat, not unlike our own little Fluffy, sitting on the bank paying close attention to the ducks swimming past. I’m pretty sure the ducks are safe and I got the feeling they were taunting the poor cat as they swam back and forth past her.
The weather seemed to be brightening up as I approached the Green Bridge and I spotted some Fritillary amongst the tangle of leaves beside the path. Such unusual looking flowers with their deep purple heads hanging down like little lanterns and a pattern that reminds me of snake-skin. Then, in amongst the trees, I saw some shelf fungus, not pretty stripy ones that look like flowers but huge creamy white, green around the edges, almost like mouldy bread. I have no idea of the name but I’m sure my friend in New Hampshire will know, he’s a fungus expert! I clambered over the tree stumps and assorted ivy stems, risking the boggy ground to take a photo.
After that it was onwards towards Eastleigh and the Swan Centre for a skinny latte. The sun was getting quite warm, despite the forecast for cooler weather and high wind and I was getting hot with the fleecy lining still zipped into my waterproof coat. There was nowhere to stop to take it out and put it in my rucksack though so I carried on, past the airport and up Wide Lane.
At the Swan Centre I grabbed a takeaway latte and made for the toilets. Not the most hygienic place to take a coffee but needs must as Costa’s is the first thing you come to in the Swan Centre and the loos are at the other end. I stripped off my rucksack, water bottle and jacket, unzipped the fleece and stashed it in my rucksack. Then it was a case of putting everything else back on, using the facilities and setting off again feeling refreshed and slightly cooler. I strapped the water bottle inside the jacket and left it undone to get some extra ventilation.
When I got to Ham Farm, the pretty little thatched cottage that is actually a Harvester Inn, still sipping my latte, I half expected it to rain. It usually rains when I walk past there for some reason but today it didn’t. The sun was actually shining, although there were a few dark clouds to tell me there would be rain at some point unless I was very, very lucky.
On Highbridge Road there were masses of nettles on the verges. This is not the best of news for verge hopping when cars come but I was prepared with long leggings and, as they were covered in delicate white flowers, hairy like the nettle leaves so probably just as vicious, I was almost pleased to see them. Very carefully, I knelt beside the verge and took a photo. Luckily I didn’t get stung. A little further on, just past the first weir, there were yellow lamium, or dead nettle, with lovely silver striped leaves and cheerful yellow flowers, very like the nettle flowers, they brightened up the verge no end.
Down by the next weir the butterbur were almost over and no longer pretty. The fading flowers were blackened and quite ugly and the leaves were beginning to come out. Now I’d reached the section of road with no footpaths so it was verge hopping time. This bit of my walk tends to get very slow, especially if there’s a lot of traffic as there was today. Thankfully no one tried to run me down and I was careful to raise my hand in thanks to everyone who slowed and pulled out to go past me. There was a little shower along the mile or so of verge hopping so I put my cap on and pulled the waterproof jacket together, fastening it over the water bottle with the handy Velcro fasteners. It seemed to do the trick and the shower was short lived.
When I reached East Lodge I crossed the road like I did last time to take advantage of the access road that rejoins Higbridge Road a little further up and get away from the traffic for a while. The laurels are bursting with blooms, spikes of pretty little starry flowers with long anthers adding to the effect. They smell very strong and citrusy, a smell that reminds me of toilet cleaner and makes me sneeze. It was also along here that I saw my first cuckoo pint flower of the year, well it wasn’t open but it will be soon. Sadly this was the normal common or garden cuckoo pint and not the variegated ones that grow along here, I’m curious if their flowers will be variegated too. Maybe I will never know.
There was a horse in cow pyjamas in the field at the junction of Main Road. The sky behind him looked a little worrying and I remembered the heavy rain that soaked me just after I passed this field last time. Thankfully it didn’t happen this time and I stayed dry. Before long I was in Twyford and the sky was blue with nice fluffy white clouds as I passed through the village. When I came to Queens Road, where I had to turn off to pick up the footpath, I caught sight of my reflection in the window of the corner house so I stopped to snap a photo as proof I was really there. Because I walk alone very few of my photos actually have me in them.
For once there was no getting lost on the footpath, it was all perfectly executed and I found myself walking past the quaint little school and honeysuckle cottage. When I crossed the road and headed towards the start of the footpath I was surprised to see the white cows close to the fence. Every time I’ve passed before they’ve been right over the other side of the field and just dots in the distance. One little calf even stood and watched me pass.
At the ten mile mark I stopped at the bench and sat for a moment so I could take off my rucksack and get my first bottle of chocolate milk out. After the debacle of the leaking collapsible bottles I’d decided not to risk them again so I’d packed two chocolate milkshakes in sealed bottles in my bag. I stretched out my calves as I drank the milkshake and looked out over the river to the valley below. The clouds were gathering again and I was fairly certain there was more rain to come so I didn’t linger long.
Along this footpath the cow parsley is almost coming into flower and everywhere you look there are umbels on the verge of opening. It will be a pretty walk in a few days, not that it’s not pretty enough now. Just before I reached the church I noticed some honesty flowers beside the wall, unmistakable to me as I have them in my garden with their violet five petaled flowers, delicately veined with dark purple they are lovely enough in flower but the pods are beautiful, oval discs of shimmering creamy white like mother of pearl, they’re fantastic in dried flower arrangements. Walking through the sunny churchyard there was more honesty all along the wall making it a riot of dancing purple flowers.
Then it was on to part two of the footpath and I could hardly believe my eyes when one of the donkeys on the ramshackle farm was right up by the fence standing in the shade of a tree. It seemed like the animals were being very accommodating to me on my last long walk. When I stopped to take photos he posed obligingly then came right up to the fence and let me smooth him. Thanking him for being so kind to me I wished, not for the first time, that I had carrots in my bag to reward him. He seemed quite content with a little smooth and a few words though.
When I came out onto the road again there were workmen clearing the footpath with big blowers. They stopped for me to pass and one apologised for all the dust. It was a bit gritty on the eyes and I was pretty glad to be wearing glasses. Just before I reached the Hockley traffic lights the rain began to fall again and I pulled my coat closed once more. Then the hail started, like being peppered with tiny stones. Thankfully it didn’t last long and by the time I reached the other side of the road it was over as quickly as it began and the sun was out again.
The path that leads to Five Bridges Road was lined with cowslips, heads of jolly yellow flowers dotted with orange. I wonder why they call them cowslips though? So I was on Five Bridges Road again, just a few miles from Winchester, the sun was in the sky, the showers had all been light and my legs felt fine as I passed bridge number one. At bridge number two, my turning point for the last walk, I took photos from both sides of the bridge, on one side I could see the cotton wool balls of sheep in the distance. On the other side was the mill and St Catherine’s Hill.
Bearing in mind the weather forecast this morning, for heavy showers getting worse in the afternoon, I’d been lucky so far. Did I dare push my luck and carry on to walk the last two miles or so to Winchester itself or should I turn back now? The extra two miles each way would add an hour to my journey and I knew I wouldn’t get home before five given that I’d have to stop to use the loo a few times and I’d have to stop again to get the second bottle of chocolate milk out of my bag. What do you think I did?