Training for the Moonwalk is a challenge. Sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation or the time to go out on long walks especially in the mud and cold. It has to be done though, if you want to live through twenty six point two miles on the night. Every week the walks get longer and the motivation more illusive, particularly when you come to the long miles. In February 2013, three months before Moonwalk night, I reached the first of those long miles.
8 February 2013
This morning was slightly fraught. Along with the sixteen mile Moonwalk training I had a routine blood test. The surgery is only a couple of minutes from my house but I had to stuff down my breakfast in double quick time. Major problem, my trainers were still sitting on the decking from Monday. I’d forgotten to get them in and wash them. They were wet from the rain, still muddy and a little icy too. The only alternative was my new trainers, worn once on a short, five mile walk. Sixteen miles in trainers that aren’t properly broken in is not ideal. Still, I didn’t have much choice.
The blood test took longer than expected. The nurse said I have the skinniest veins she’s ever seen. Nice to know something about me is skinny but I’d rather it was my bum. She also admired my sparkly trainers and was surprised I don’t like the sparkles. A few vials of blood lighter I set off on my walk. Mud was going to be the order of the day but I’m getting used to it now which is probably a good thing.
It was another icy morning, all frozen puddles and frost on the pavements. The route was hillier than expected but better than the alternative up the Scary Hill. Gigi passed me, coming back from the school run. I envied her going back to her nice warm house. My first encounter with mud came soon after on the green. Before long the sparkly trainers weren’t as sparkly any more which was fine by me.
On I went, past the old floating bridge slipway and the Vospers site where they’re building new flats. CJ is working there at the moment so I looked out for him. Lots of men were scrambling about scoffilding in hi-vis jackets and hard hats. Any one of them could have been him, they all looked the same.
Until I reached the shore I’d almost forgotten I was wearing new trainers but, by the wave seats, my right foot felt uncomfortable. At just over three miles this was not a good sign. It was more a squashed, too tight feeling than a burning, emerging blister one, so I sat on a bench, took the shoe off and loosened the lace. When I got my first treat, a mini packet of chocolate buttons, out of my back pack, I promptly spilled half opening them. Why are packets so hard to open?
The sun was bright and the tide high, almost up to the grass. For a moment I watched a pair of swans close to the shore. At the end of the promenade, more swans were splashing about in the breaking waves, along with lots of bobbing seagulls. After the bridge over the stream I left the azure blue water behind and made for the road. I love the way the colour of the sea varies with the weather, giving an ever changing view.
From there it was up Abbey Hill, a couple of photos of Netley Abbey through the fence and on towards Netley Village and Victoria Country Park. There were seagulls everywhere near Sophie’s Pond, wheeling round, squawking away. A couple were throwing bread to the ducks and the seagulls where swooping down to catch as much as they could before it hit the water.
At the country park I made my way to the D-Day memorial. Clouds were gathering on the horizon but they looked pretty white and fluffy, I hoped they’d stay that way. The memorial was my cue to turn my back on the sea and walk towards the chapel. The very same chapel where Florence Nightingale prayed and the Grey Lady is said to haunt. It’s said she was a nurse who jumped from the chapel roof, grief stricken when her soldier husband was killed in action. Apparently she roams the grounds wearing a grey crinoline dress, although I haven’t seen her.
Leaving the chapel I walked towards the Military Cemetery, which I thought would be quite interesting. The path was muddy in places and involved picking my way carefully through the driest bits trying not to slip. The going got better as the path climbed along a high causeway with woods sloping sharply down to either side. Down in the woods a huge toppled tree was prostrate between the other trunks with its huge root ball sticking up above the leafy woodland floor. Another tree, further on, was snapped right in two, the top half resting at an angle against the trunk.
Soon I caught my first glimpse of gravestones between the branches. The cemetry is a peaceful place with little pockets of headstones and crosses surrounded by tall trees. These graves belong to soldiers treated at the Military Hospital from 1865, when it opened, until the Second World War. Many nations are represented, some laid to rest a long way from home. Some graves bore only names and regiments, others a date of death and some an age. Much like the war cemetery in Normandy, I felt terrible sadness at the loss of men who were hardly more than boys. I thought of Pappy who fought in the trenches and could easily have ended there. It’s a tranquil place but also sad and thought provoking.
Feeling quite humbled by the immense sacrifice these men made, I turned back towards the chapel. There was more mud to come, quite fitting after my time looking at the graves of those who fought in the mud of France and Belgium. Passing the Police Training College I walked down a lane of quite beautiful houses nestled on the edge of the woods. There was a brief return to the long, long footpathless road that gave me so much trouble on my twelve mile training walk in Janaury. It was unavoidable if I wanted to take the woodland trail, but I didn’t have to stay on it long. There were no horses in cow pyjamas, I turned off long before I reached them.
The woodland path was well past the half way point. My feet weren’t feeling too bad and my only worry was my iPhone battery. It was sure to give up the ghost before I got home but I hoped it would get me through the woods. This is a path I’ve never taken before and I wasn’t sure where it would lead or what obstacles I’d find. Worst case scenario I’d have to turn back and say hello to the horses in cow pyjamas.
Almost immediately there was mud, but nothing I couldn’t skirt round fairly easily. More worrying was the ominous looking cloud approaching from my right. The temptation was to hurry but the path was getting muddier and I wanted to stay on my feet. A few twists and turns, a bit more mud to stop the trainers sparkling and there was blue sky with white clouds ahead but the dark cloud was hot on my heels. At one point it seemed in danger of overtaking me. Then I came to a place where the path divided.
It’s difficult to keep a sense of direction in a wood, especially on a path that twists and turns and I couldn’t make out which way to go. I’d left the WalkJogRun blue line somewhere back in the woods, although I’d been heading in the same general direction. After a little stop and some head scratching, I turned in what I thought was the right direction (coincidentally the least muddy option). It takes a while for WalkJogRun to catch up so I had one eye on the screen and the other on the path. When it did I realised I’d made the wrong choice and had to turn around to face the mud.
Soon I passed an open field with a few horses grazing preacefully on the far side and the shore line tower blocks in the distance. A little further on I glimpsed the Abbey through the trees to my left and then I was leaving the footpath and returning to the Abbey Hill road. It would have been nice to have a stroll through the arches of the ruined abbey but, in winter, it’s all fenced off behind locked gates.
At the sailing club I turned off the road and picked up the shore path. Heading towards the sea I had a beautiful view of the castle sitting amidst the trees on the edge of the shore. The dark cloud wasn’t far away though and it began to loom overhead as I approached the beginning of the promenade. Rounding the corner I could hear a cachophany of seagull squawking. A little family were at the water’s edge throwing bread and the seagulls were in a frenzy trying to grab as much as they could. The amount of bread Southampton seagulls get it’s a wonder any of them can fly.
Once again I left the sea behind and turned onto the path between the flats. From there I knew exactly where I was so I put my phone away to save what little battery there was left. A big tree in Mayfield Park had a tinge of colour on the tips of the branches, new leaves getting ready to burst forth. The mile long road seemed to go on forever. I’d just passed twelve miles and I was back on the path I took last week. There were daffodils coming into bud in the woods and mud too. The river seemed a bit wider. This really is a path of many bridges, at every turn there was another. Before too long I’d reached Bunny Hill. As I came to the lane WalkJogRun buzzed to tell me I’d passed thirteen miles, just three more to go. Right about then I saw a flash of yellow in the bushes, bright flowers on the gorse.
Then it was back to Millers Pond and the ducks. There are masses of green shoots at the water’s edge and, in the boggy parts of the pond, water iris I think but time will tell. Today I walked almost round the pond, coming out further down the road than usual. I was heading for the charmingly named Squirrel Drive where I thought I’d be able to get into the woods but I found a fence at the end so had to go back to the road. I’m pretty sure there’s a path there somewhere but somehow I missed it.
The phone battery died at fourteen miles. Luckily I knew where I was and where I had to go next but it did mean I had no proper record of my walk which was a shame. The final two miles took me back up to the village by a bit of a roundabout route, it also started to rain, thankfully lightly. To be totally sure I’d completed the whole sixteen miles, I walked the long way down the Little Hill. As I turned the final corner I could see Commando outside by the car talking to one of our neighbours.
So I’ve done the sixteen miles, the first of the tough ones. The new trainers held up pretty well considering they weren’t properly broken in. My feet were a bit sore at the end but not blister sore, just aching sore. There was no muscle stiffening, although my legs were feeling it a bit for those last two miles. Yes sixteen miles is hard work but all I could think was, I’d have another ten to walk right now if was was doing the whole thing. It wasn’t the most pleasant thought.