Training for the Cumbria Way

With time on my hands, now that I don’t have to go to work for several months, and with (hopefully) an improvement in the weather on the way, it’s time to start getting out and about.  I’m scheduled to do the Cumbria Way at the end of this month, and after a winter’s relative inactivity I really need to put some miles on my boots before I go.  Also, I’m going to have to take loads of gear – probably everything short of the tent – so I’d better get used to the load I’m going to have to carry.

So on Sunday I walked home across the fields on Essex.  This can be quite a frustrating experience, as every time I’ve gone for a walk locally I either find that a path on the map doesn’t exist in reality, of that it is blocked in some way.  Sunday was no exception.

Setting out north from Belhus park we got onto farm tracks and then struck out on a footpath leading straight to and then alongside the M25.  Unfortunately, the path was blocked with both a barbed wire fence and an electric fence.  Now usually, this wouldn’t stop me if I was confident about the path and it was clearly just a blockage.  But it was quite likely that even if I made it across the field in front of me, I’d find further obstacles.  So I marked it down as one for the council, and retraced my steps back to the farm tracks, which then took us to the road running to the point we hoped to cross.    And then it was pretty much road and pavement walking all the way home from then on.  A useful 9 mile leg-stretch.

Then in the middle of this week, came the real training walk.  I decided to forego the delights of Essex fields and head over the water to Kent and walk in the North Downs area that I’ve walked so many times before.  But there’s a reason why I’ve walked it a lot before – the paths are well-maintained and waymarked, the scenery is better and there’s more variety in the walking.

I planned a two day trek with the aim of carrying full pack to see how it affected my distance, and also to try out some new items of gear.  My planned route was about 15 miles in a V-shaped walk from Gravesend out to the North Downs Way and back up to my parents for an overnight stop, resuming on day 2 with about 12 miles across the marshes back to Gravesend.

On an overcast and chilly day, I alighted from the ferry at Gravesend and walked up through the town that I grew up in, heading directly south to pick up the Wealdway at Singlewell.

Despite knowing the town so well, I still managed to take the wrong road south out of the town, although I put this down more to not paying attention as I passed old haunts.  I made good time though, and when I stepped off the tarmac onto the first of the fields this continued.  The excellent waymarking of the Wealdway made a map virtually redundant although I did look at it periodically to check where I was and what was coming up.

There were few people about (mostly dog walkers) and I saw my entire day’s allocation of fellow hikers in one hit as I headed away from Luddesdown towards Great Buckland.  After that the only people I saw were in the cars and houses I past every so often.

Heading to Great Buckland I was making great time and was already ahead of schedule, so decided to stick with the Wealdway for a bit longer – maybe even until it met the North Downs Way itself.  But I was starting to flag a bit once I got to Poundgate farm and my rough calculations already had me on 10 miles.  So I headed towards Holly Hill and had lunch at the trig point, exactly on the 11 mile mark.

Now came the slog through wood after wood and up and down valley after valley all the way to the Cobham Hall estate.  By 15 miles I was suffering, and each descent and reascent of a valley was painful.  I practically limped over the A2 bridge and the last few miles to my parents house.  A total of 19 miles (+2 miles to the station at home in the morning) and 555m of ascent.  About as good a comparable walk to Cumbria I could get near home.  Apart from the ascents, which were desperately slow, the pack weight didn’t seem a problem, but then again the ascents were later in the day for the most part, when I was tired.  So maybe it’ll beok.

Day 2 was always planned to be easier, and in view of the excessive day yesterday, I trimmed the walk further.  A mere 7 mile jaunt across Higham and Shorne marshes to Gravesend.  And I actually descended more than I ascended.

Although I’ll pay for it tomorrow, this was a good trip and gives me some feeling that my planned more strenuous Cumbria Way route is achievable.  But I’ll need to do a bit more practice.  I also had a successful rucksack test, and as my parents made me sleep on the floor, a successful new sleep mat test!

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