It wasn’t the greatest start to 2014. There I was, redundant again, ever so slightly depressed and feeling lost and bewildered. What I needed was something to motivate me, maybe something like a New Year’s Resolution. Of course I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions but promises and challenges, well they’re a different matter. This post was the birth of a personal challenge to walk one hundred miles a month in 2014.
5 January 2014
There seems to be a gap in the motivation to get out there and walk the miles stakes at the moment. This is not good. So I decided I would set myself a challenge to walk at least one hundred miles a month every month this year. It sounds like a lot but, actually, it works out to just over three miles a day which is easy peasy. Maybe I’ve set my sights too low but weather, hopefully work, and other things will, undoubtedly, get in the way. There will be updates on a regular basis.
This meant I needed to get out walking today, even though it was raining. Walking in the rain is one of my least favourite things, apart from anything there is a wet glasses, not being able to see issue, but I wasn’t going to be put off. As the Echo and Facebook were full of pictures of Riverside Park under water I thought I’d walk down there and check it out.
Sensibly, I wrapped up in my wind proof, waterproof coat, scarf, flappy eared hat and gloves, put my boots on and went out into the rain. My first problem came while I was still half a mile from the river. The road was cordoned off by a big red fire engine. At first I thought it might be flooded and I wouldn’t be able to get through, but it turned out to be an accident. Thankfully it wasn’t a bad one.
As soon as I got to the slope leading down onto Riverside Park I could tell the water was much lower than it had been. There was a puddle across the path, but the water wasn’t half way up the slope as it had been in all the photos I’d seen. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed. Obviously, I’d missed my photo opportunity but I would be able to walk along the river.
When I got to the bottom of the slope I could see the puddle didn’t even stretch right across the path so my feet would stay dry for a while at least. There was a line of debris on the grass showing where the high tide line had been. This bore out the photos I saw on the Echo website where swans were swimming on what should have been a path.
Although the path and park weren’t flooded the river was very high. The little floating jetty close to the first river bend was higher in the water than I’ve ever seen it. When I walked out onto it a while ago the walkway sloped down at quite an angle. It was so steep and slippery I almost went up on my bum and ended up flailing my arms like an idiot to keep my balance. Today the slope was uphill! There was also a mass of debris caught up in it where it was recently under water.
The rain was falling quite hard by this time so I hurried on towards Woodmill, wondering if I’d be able to get through to the little bridge at Mansbridge. Surprisingly, the sluice gates were closed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the mill without water rushing through the millrace. It could also explain why the water was so much higher on the other side of the mill. It was actually lapping at the top of the path, a millimetre or two more and the banks would burst.
Soon I was approaching the final bend before the little Mansbridge bridge, the area where any flooding is always at its worst. The water was close to the top of the bank here but it wasn’t until I rounded the bend that I could see how close. The far bank was badly breached leaving the woods were more pond than wood. As expected, the path was flooded just before the bridge but nowhere near as badly as the photos I’d seen.
Last time I came this way I didn’t risk walking through the water, this time I was determined to get to the other side and see what it was like further along. It would have been easy, and probably sensible, to turn back but never let it be said I am one to give up, or that I’m sensible come to that. After all I had my waterproof hiking boots on, as long as the water didn’t come over the top I’d be fine.
As it happened I crossed the flood with relative ease. Ok, so I did have to do it on tip toe, through the deepest part, as far from the river as possible. My feet were cold but dry when I got to the other side. Then I saw it wasn’t the only water I’d have to cross. Around the bend there was another small flood, not as wide but, if anything, deeper. The river was lapping up onto the bank with every ripple. This water had run down into the fields behind the trees flooding quite a wide area. I should think it’ll be a while before that dries out.
Some teenagers were standing on the bridge peering over the side at the fast flowing river. I thought back to the summer when I watched the canoeists rowing under the bridge. They’d have had a job right then, I’m pretty sure it would have necessitated some head ducking. Beyond the bridge the fields on the opposite bank were completely flooded. This did not bode well for the White Swan pub just around the corner.
The White Swan is very close to my heart, especially as it’s where I met Commando. Sadly, being right on the river’s edge, it has quite a history of flooding. The lane was muddy and very leaf strewn. When the back of the White Swan came into view I was relieved to see the level of the water below the paving of the pub garden, even if only just. The car park, however, was awash. The first sign of trouble was a split sandbag by the back door and, when I came to the front door, it was closed.
This lovely pub opened in the early 1800’s and, as much of the land around was owned by the Middleton Family, it was called the Middleton Arms. In around 1830 the name was changed to the Swan Inn and then, in 1870, to the White Swan Hotel. These days its speciality is an amazing Sunday lunchtime carvery. There would be no carvery today though because they were flooded.
As I wasn’t especially keen to walk through the water again I decided to retrace the route of many late night drunken walks home from the Swan and carry on towards Gaters Hill. A rather determined fisherman sat on the bank under a green umbrella. With a last glance back at the pub, I made for the road.
The road on the bend before the pub was flooded half way across so I had to walk quite a way before I could cross. Before long I was looking across at Gaters Mill nestling amongst the trees. There seemed to be rather more river than usual, and water was rushing between the trees. I hoped the mill wasn’t flooded too.
Gaters Mill closed as a mill after damage whilst being used as a munitions store during World War II. The first mill was built in the thirteenth or fourteenth century and there was a working mill on the site for six or seven hundred years. Originally these were fulling mills, used to clean and thicken woollen cloth but, in 1685, the mill became a paper mill, called Up Mill. Later, in 1865, the original mills were more or less demolished and new mills built to mill flour.
Nowadays the mill and surrounding buildings are used by several small businesses, mostly as offices. The little glimpse of mill buildings through the trees has always intrigued me but, sadly, they aren’t open to the public. As I passed, rain dripped off my hat in front of my eyes. Here the road sweeps up in a steep, short hill, known as Gaters Hill. It was raining quite hard again as I started up the tree lined path and the ground was slippery underfoot from all the wet leaves strewn about. Asking myself why I’d decided to come this way, I tramped up the hill, puffing a little as I got to the top.
Because of the rain I decided to go back along Cutbush Lane, the shortest route home. This is a long, winding lane, mostly tree lined and, although there are no pavements, it’s closed to traffic except for access to the handful of large expensive houses hidden behind the trees. There were a few muddy patches and some slippery leaves but I managed not to do myself any damage or get too muddy. Probably I should have been looking out for fungi and other interesting things but my glasses were so wet it was difficult to see anything much except the path.
After about half a mile the lane appears to end in the middle of some modern houses and flats. Actually, if you turn sharply to the left, it continues as a narrow footpath though a thin ribbon of woodland. Ignoring the glimpses of fences and garden walls through the tree cover, I carried on along the lane, pretending I was deep in the woods.
Of course, as I was heading towards the village it was all uphill, but quite a gentle hill for the most part. Towards the end the banks on either side become quite steep and I could see the tracks where floodwater had been running off fairly recently. In several places the soil had been washed away from tree roots leaving them precariously anchored. With every creak I half expected a tree to topple onto my head and I rushed along as fast as I could. Luckily no trees fell and I lived to tell the tale.
So that wet walk added five miles to my total for the month. At this rate I should make the hundred easily.