The Poppy Diaries

Many thanks to Felix for recording and transcribing the thoughts of Poppy throughout the walk, and of course to Poppy herself for generously allowing us to publish her diary of the opening walk of The Games Way. Coincidentally this is the 100th blog post – and I hope you will agree, a fitting way to bring the walk2012 project to a close.

Thanks so much for all your encouragement and comments over the past couple of years.
Happy walking, Mark

The Poppy Diaries

Day 1

– Sharing bacon sandwich by the beach with Daddy while waiting for slow-coaches supposedly joining us on this walk. Bacon is tasty! After tasty MEATZ FROM THE PIG, we meet new human buddies also walking on The Games Way.

Me and Daddy Hodge

Me and Daddy Hodge

– Also meet “Bob” Dylan, another dog, like me. Dylan smells good!

– A glorious time beside the sea, herding the lazy humans, racing with Dylan, so many amazing smells.

– After nine glorious hours of walking, just curled up for ten minute POWERSNOOZ and have woken completely refreshed. Restorative powers of donut pose DOGSNOOZ are amazing!

Smelly, shiny, crunchy. Not tasty.

Smelly, shiny, crunchy. Not tasty.

– Happy time spent racing around in the car park at Durdle Door campsite just before bed. Went beserk and showed that plastic bottle completely once and for all who is the boss.

– Plastic bottle? I own you.

– Not sure what to make of the canvas house sleeping place thingy. Who wants to sleep when there is all this exciting walking to be done? Why are we sleeping, Daddy? B-O-R-I-N-G.

Day 2

– Daddy is awake! Where are we going today?

– HILLZ! Cruised up and down these just after Lulworth Cove a few times, and cannot understand why the humans make so much fuss. Have heard the word “steep” and “difficult” many times this morning. What are these words? HILLZ R FUN!

– Humans need a lot of herding today. Why is everyone so slow?

Tickle my nose, didn't taste this one.

Tickle my nose, didn't taste this one.

– Silly Daddy opened insulting DOG GATE contraption near stile on path somewhere near Wareham. Does he not see that POPPY IS TINY AND NIMBLE AND CAN GO THROUGH THE HUMAN PORTION OF THE STILE !? It is fun making him hold it open, though, while I skip through under the fence. Woof!

– Cream tea at Corfe! FUN!

– At Wareham now. When will Daddy understand that I do not want this dried packet nonsense he is trying to feed to me? It even has a silly dog picture on the front. POPPY WANTS SAUSAGE! POPPY LIKES THE TASTY MEATZ FROM THE PIG! POPPY DOES NOT WANT DRIED DOGFOOD MUCK FROM A BAG WITH A STUPID DOG DRAWN ON IT!

– Oh, goodie. Even though Daddy does not speak “woof” he seems to have understood. A fine dinner on a park bench, shared under the stars. Chips for Daddy. Jumbo Sausage, a few chips, and a bit of cod for Poppy. That’s more like it.

I smell sausages!

I smell sausages!

– Hmm. So the canvas house sleeping place thing is called “tent”.

Day 3

– Hallelujah! He is dumping the dried dog food in the bin at the campsite! Good riddance to bad rubbish!

– Daddy offended gourmet sandwich-makers of Wareham by asking for a small bag of ham for me! “This is finest West Country Ham, you know” sneered The Man in the shop. Sat outside the shop patiently, waiting for Daddy, doing my best good-dog face. I swear The Man put in a couple of extra slices when he saw POPPY BIGDOGEYES. Sucker!

There isn't even a train track - WHY ARE WE WAITING?!

There isn't even a train track - WHY ARE WE WAITING?!

– Glorious start to day; the humans are talking about “flooded” and “floodplain” and “too wet to continue”. Why do they not smell the AMAZING SMELLS!? It smells of SEA, and the wet stuff with flies in it that goes all over the stones beside the water. There are also some really good big flat brown things, that smell a bit like droppings and a bit like the big black and white animals that go “MOO”. Humans decide there is too much water so we have to walk beside a big road instead and go another way. B-O-R-I-N-G. Paws are SO much better than feet!

– Wareham forest is full of RABBITZ and AMAZING SMELLS!

– The Man was not kidding; this really is finest West Country Ham!

– Tried new POWERSNOOZ technique after lunch: hurling myself into the grass with full POPPYPOWERZ followed by a few seconds of lying still, then getting up to lick the grass and doing it again. Works wonders! I am ready for anything now! Where are we going next?

So many squirrels, so little time

So many squirrels, so little time

– Two excellent sausages at the Lamb’s Green Inn, Wimborne. Amazing!

– “Tent” is acceptable.

Day 4

– Long slimy thing on path (humans call it “slug”) does not appear to enjoy my investigations. It’s pointy bits went away when I sniffed at it and it went very still.

– Found a fine, slender rock wall to perch on at dog-stroking height. None of the stupid humans got the hint! I am surrounded by morons!

Stripy sausages, look pretty, but taste HORRIBLE!

Stripy sausages, look pretty, but taste HORRIBLE!

– Bit tired today.

– Chased a squirrel, but it got away, up a tree. Funny – when I told it to come down in “woof” it did not obey!

– Don’t often play the helpless damsel, but hanging out on the platform at Ashley Heath looking a bit lost worked out very well for me – very well indeed! The handsome one – the humans call him “Mark” – lifted me onto the ground. Could have scooted down the side… but it does thrill a small puppygirl’s heart to be in some big, strong, manly arms every once in a while. (No offence, Daddy, but it’s just not the same with you).

– Smashing lunch at Ringwood of bag of Sainsbury’s ham. Got lots of fuss and attention from strangers. I FEEL PRETTY!

– The one they call “Felix” made up a silly song about me which I did not appreciate. Let’s be frank; “we love little Poppy and her little legs” is a bit facile, n’est-ce-pas? I could do better I am sure, if I cared for songs as much as I care for, say, STICKS.

– STICK! It is MY stick! You cannot have it!

– Lovely streams and rivers on the way out of Ringwood. Wonderful smells, and squirrels. Why do the humans walk on the path? It’s so much better to paddle in the nice water.

Standing around - AGAIN!

Standing around - AGAIN!

– Mmm! The water is also TASTY!

– Lovely dinner at Red Shoot. Two excellent sausages. Bit hot to begin with though, and they took AGES to cool down.

Day 5

– Hooray! The humans are cooking a breakfast, and they do not like the long crunchy bits on the edge of the bacon called RIND so I get to have them ALL! YAY BACONRINDZ!

– I like this place, “New Forest”. I have found a stick. IT’S MY STICK!

Mmmm, smelly horse poo and a dung beetle (not tasty)

Mmmm, smelly horse poo and a dung beetle (not tasty)

– There are lots of interesting piles of what looks like droppings on the ground. I could never produce anything of this size! If a dog made them, it is a very big dog! There are very big dog things everywhere though, but they do not smell like me and they do not smell like the big black and white things that go “MOO”.

– Very big dog things everywhere apparently called “horse”.

– JUST CAUGHT A SQUIRREL! DO YOU SEE THIS, PEOPLE? THIS IS MY FOREST! I OWN YOU!

– I AM PROUD AND VICTORIOUS HUNTER!

Lovely smelly horses

Lovely smelly horses

– Have decided to try being deliberately naughty today. First of all I ran under the big kicking things, even though I was blatantly told this was a BAD IDEA. I thought it was a great thrill, and I am sure they wouldn’t have kicked me. Probably. Anyway, then there were some really exciting smells in a bush, and even though Daddy said “do not go after the tasty smells” I went after the tasty smells AND THEY WERE TASTY SMELLS AND OH SO WORTH IT!

– Where have the big kicky things gone? Humans are saying “donkey” this time, but I thought they looked very much like “horse”.

Grrr! Nasty, kicking, watch stealing donkey - WOOF!

Grrr! Nasty, kicking, watch stealing donkey - WOOF!

– Hah! This path is POPPY COLOURED! I am INVIZIBL DOG! THEY CAN’T SEE ME!

– Sleeping beside the river is awesome! Nice water sounds. Dad’s socks smell AMAZING! I think he has had them on for two whole days of walking! Completely into the whole idea of the tent! TENT IS FUN!

Day 6

– Me and Dad are meeting loads of other ladies this morning from something the humans call “Andover Outdoor Group”. We both smell great after our night beside the weir! They will love us!

– Odd mood today. The one they call “Liz” has gone away. She has been here for as long as I can remember; now she is not here. The pack feels different, and there are new faces I don’t recognise. How am I meant to herd this lot?

Foxes - I know them!

Foxes - I know them!

– Had a great time chasing the big machine that goes “VRAAAAAAAM”. Daddy says it is “tractor” and not a good fun toy for a dog to chase, but I think that is not true!

– Still enjoying being naughty after my experiments in the New Forest yesterday; it’s quite fun to not do anything I am told today, but the strategy has the unfortunate consequence of LEAD. I do not like LEAD.

– Andover Outdoor Group and Mark and others are having ROUTE DISCUSSION. I do not like this kind of thing, it takes ages and is B-O-R-I-N-G. I whine and whine to make them hurry up but they still keep playing with silly piece of paper called “map”. Boo.

– I do not like MAP. I like STICK.

– Striking out into the hedgerows today, feeling in a loner-ish mood. Loads of walkers means loads of boring TALKING and not enough SNIFFING of SMELLS!

– Found a baby stream beside the big river they are all walking past today; went in. It was wet! It was splashy! It was FUN!

Pretty daisies, pretty Poppy

Pretty daisies, pretty Poppy

– Mark saved me a tasty sausage from his breakfast at “B&B”. I like the sound of B&B, they do nice sausages!

– We got invited back to lovely lady’s house – Jan – and she had the most amazing rug on her living room floor. I curled up on this and was having lovely DOGSNOOZ while Daddy had a shower. I woke up from nice DOGDREAMZ about chasing RABBIT to hear Jan saying “you can sleep on the sofa if you like” and stupid, awful Daddy saying “no, it’s OK we will go back to TENT”. TENT is fun but RUG is funner. Boo. On the other hand, TENT smells better…

Day 7

– Another sausage from Mark, this time scrounged from a place called “Hotel” in Winchester this morning. Hotel is the source of nice sausages. Thank you, Mark!

Sneezy, not tasty

Sneezy, not tasty

– Plenty of rabbits to be found in the fields beside the Itchen. Also, the river is wet and fresh and nice!

– Chased rabbits, splashed in the water, scurried around in the bushes. All. Day. Long. Amazing!

– STICK! This is MY STICK! You can’t have it! I love this stick. No, wait! Here’s a better one! THIS IS MY STICK! This is my FAVOURITE GAME!

– Met Cheryl at a place called “Bishop’s Sutton” and then we went home in CAR.

Day 8

– No walking today (boo).

– Tried out all my best DOGSNOOZ moves including donut pose and hurling myself on the ground.

Rubbish bark. WOOF! Good bark

Rubbish bark. WOOF! Good bark

– Daddy, when are we going walking again?

Day 9

– Daddy is packing RUCKSACK! This must be good news?

Atchooo!

Atchooo!

– WALKING BUDDIES! Felix and Mark and some other ones that I recognise, all together at a place called “Camping Barn” that we are not allowed into. Daddy is allowed in BARN, but not I, as it is a NO DOGZ BARN. Boo.

– I do not like NO DOGZ BARN.

– A nice time in PUB, while the humans watched other humans running around on the little box. Met another dog called ROXY who lives in PUB.

– Guarded Mark and Daddy from ROXY who was trying to steal their seat! PUB owner says POXY ROXY normally sits in that seat but POPPY says “finders keepers”!!! If Daddy is in the seat, then it belongs to Daddy.

– Grrr! (@ROXY)

TENT!

TENT!

– FUN! TENT again, this time on a golf course. I do like the nice, springy grass underneath my paws!

Day 10

– MASSIVE RAINSTORM! And loudness called “THUNDER”.

MOO!

MOO!

– PUB called “The Anchor” a jolly lot further away than Mark said it was… but the sausages and gravy there were EXCELLENT!

– Good to be walking again!

Why are you all sitting down? CHOP CHOP!

Why are you all sitting down? CHOP CHOP!

– Posed as GANGSTA dog under the M25. Don’t normally “do” pictures, but this place was really smelly! In a good way! So I didn’t mind hanging around while the humans messed around with the silly little boxes called “CAMERA” and “PHONE” making pictures for “Twitter”. What is Twitter? Can I eat it?

Day 11

– THE FELLOWSHIP IS REUNITED! Liz is back, and Daddy, Felix, Mark and Liz and I are all together once more.

– Haha! Scared a load of geese into the big river just by running into them! They are so stupid and so easy to terrorise! Surprised myself by ending up taking a small dip in the water, too!

– Don’t geese and ducks look bigger when you are paddling in the water at head height and they are floating on top of it?! MUCH bigger!

– Peed on a stick. Peed on a can of Carlsberg. Peed on a leaf. GPS, Shmee-pee-ess. Geotagging? I DUZ IT.

– Grrr. Alsations. My nemesis…

– In Bushy Park. Look Dad! Dad! Dad! Look at all the DEER! I know DEER because I see them in Oxford all the time! I am so near to the DEER! NEAR TO THE DEER!

– DEER threatened to stamp on me!? What is this? DEER do not stamp on DOGS. These London DEER are not friends of POPPY. I COULD HAVE YOU, SUNSHINE.

Cowardly deer!

Cowardly deer!

– DO YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME???

– Really don’t understand why it was necessary for LEAD to be put on me.

– BOO to LEAD.

– RICHMOND PARK IS FULL OF DEER! IT’S SO EXCITING! THANK HEAVENS LEAD HAS GONE AWAY!!!

– There are so many smells! I want to follow them ALL! The humans are taking FOR-EVER to get up one tiny hill. Once again there is talk of “long day” and “exhausted”. What are these things?

Funny smelly flower

Funny smelly flower

– Jolly Late Night Tonight: I am not a fan of this. I AM A 10PM BEDTIME DOG. Why is TENT not up until so much later than this? Boo to LONDON and SECRET CAMPING.

Day 12

– I am NOT refreshed. One third of a digestive biscuit is NOT a balanced breakfast, Daddy! I had to eat 3 mouthfuls of grass to get the taste out of my teeth, and then I was sick on the floor.

– LUCKILY Felix and Mark BOTH stole sausges for me from a place called “Premier Inn”! That’s MUCH better!

I smell something beginning with S...

I smell something beginning with S...

– Bit difficult walking in LONDON with all these people. I do not much like LONDON. Where are all my friends in this big crowd?

– HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO HERD MY PEOPLE IN THIS LOT?

– Is this the end? OH NO! I hope we will still do just as much walking when we get home to Oxford. Can we, Daddy? Can we, can we, can we?

– Wait! Where is Daddy going? Who is this “Sharon”? Why is she taking me to PUB?

– Who cares? PUB has WATERBOWL and Poppy needs WATER.

– Yay! Daddy is back, talking about STADIUM! It sounds like an amazing thing. Can I eat it?

– I think now I need a really big DOGSNOOZ! I can hear the others saying “Taxi” but what is taxi? I do not care. Daddy is back. I have had a lovely walk. And it is a long time after 10pm. AND POPPY IS A 10PM DOG.

...and RELAX!

...and RELAX!

– Night night! x

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What a fantastic 12 days of walking!

We did it!

In all I reckon there was around 50 different walkers who took park in the opening walk. Ages ranged from 8 years old to over 70. Women massively outnumbered the men, which I think proves what a hottie I am 😉

At the official starting point of The Games Way opening walk

At the official starting point of The Games Way opening walk

Most of the walkers did one or two days, which was brilliant. Having done the whole walk in one go I am certain that the best way to enjoy the walk is to do it in bite size chunks – a day or a weekend at a time. It is much easier on the feet and you can spend more time looking around and enjoying the incredible scenery on show.

On our way to Durdle Door

On our way to Durdle Door

Anyone “lucky” enough to walk with me on days 5-9 might have sensed the occasional hint of discomfort I was getting from my feet, or more likely a prolonged barrage of expletives! Sorry about that, but take it as a salutory lesson on making sure you are in well-proven boots before embarking on a long walk. One of the bigger blisters got infected, swollen and very painful – at which point compeed plasters become a hindrance rather than a help. Many thanks to Felix for saving the day with brilliant dressing skills, and to Paul (who I’d only met that day) for donating some of his first aid kit to the cause.

Me and the donkeys, Plaitford common

Me and the donkeys, Plaitford common

Felix remains the best walking partner I could ever have – nearly always in good humour and keeping the whole walk a fun and enjoyable experience. However, her position came under intense competition on this walk from a scruffy but beautiful little dog called Poppy who stole all our hearts.

Felix taking the weight off her feet, New Forest

Felix taking the weight off her feet, New Forest

Poppy and Hodge walked nearly all of the walk with us apart from a couple of days where they left us for a big family celebration. They are an incredible team and fantastic company, both lean, fit and with bulletproof feet. Hodge is a wonderful man who really loves the outdoors and walking, and was truly in his element on this walk. It was great to be able to show him new parts of the country outside his stamping ground of Oxfordshire.

Hodge v cows

Hodge v cows - will the tent dry out or be eaten first?

One of the peculiarities of organising a walk online and using social media is that you don’t really know who is going to support your ideas or turn up for the walk. I have always been amused for example at the number of knitters who have taken an interest, and they were well represented in the walk by Helena and Liz. Helena walked the first 2 days with us and then cycled to meet us on the last day. Liz walked with us for 3 and a half days and arrived at Winchester with a brilliant hand-printed Walk2012 T-shirt for me!!

Liz leading the way across the Itchen

Liz leading the way across the Itchen

I have always hoped that the idea of the walk would inspire a few non-walkers to take to the hills, including my own boys who run shrieking from the room to the comfort of their X-box at any suggestion of going out for a walk! I am delighted that Jack joined us in Romsey and Sam in Guildford, and once they got over the vision of their dad walking like a battered tramp I think they were quite proud of what we were doing. Felix’s family also joined for a day near Alton and are now planning to do other stages of the walk too.

Gangsta paradise, under the M25

Gangsta paradise, under the M25

However the prize for new walker has to go to Liz from Devon who rocked up on day 1 having never walked before, and then walked the toughest 5 days with a full pack and tent, at which point she had more blisters than toes and had to stop. We were heartbroken to see her go and so it was a massive lift to our spirits when she returned for the last 2 days, still smiling.

Liz in Richmond Park

Liz wondering why on earth she decided to come back for more!

Of course the walk attracted seasoned walkers too and I was delighted with the support in Hants from Team AOG, the Andover Outdoor Group. In particular I am indebted to Jan for her formidible skills in arranging for the local press to meet us in Winchester, and the effervescent Janet for helping out so much, particularly at the Puttenham Eco Camping Barn. It was brilliant to finally meet Phil (of SocialHiking fame) on the first day, and to walk with a work colleague and fellow walker Glenn on the way to Bentley.

Janet doing Olympic Gymnastics: the beam

Janet doing Olympic Gymnastics: the beam

I am really pleased that so many of our friends turned up to join in with the walk – I promise to start talking about something else now! I am grateful to Anne, Chris and Greg who ended up taking our bags from the finishing point to the pub whilst Felix, Hodge, Liz, Liz and I watched the athletics for a couple of hours.

Greg and Sharon walked with Hodge, Liz, Me, Felix and Liz  to the Olympic Park

Greg and Sharon walked with Hodge, Liz, Me, Felix and Liz to the Olympic Park

Sharon, who is one of Felix’s friends from Ireland walked the last few miles with us and told our story to the people at the ticket office. Sharon is an amazing, irrepressible positive force of nature and somehow she got the ticket folk to make a few phone calls and magic us 5 tickets for the athletic stadium. So a massive thank you to Sharon and the lovely ticket pixies for providing us with an incredible end to an amazing adventure!!

Sharon and Felix

The amazing Sharon greets us at Tower Bridge

For more photos of the walk, please check the album on our facebook page.

Thank you all so much for your support, for joining in and for making this such a fun project to do. I am delighted that so many people turned up for the opening walk, that someone else is walking it in reverse, and that The Games Way is an established long distance path and in the LDWA database. You can continue to download the walking guide free of charge here.

Outside the Olympic Stadium

Outside the Olympic Stadium

Several people asked me whether I have plans to get the walk waymarked. I think it is a brilliant idea, but not something I have the energy to see through. If you would like to take it on then you have my blessing and if I can help then I will do my best.

Why have you stopped walking?

Why have you stopped walking?

Coming soon: Poppy’s diary of the walk…

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The Games Way opening walk – start times and places

Here is the itinerary for the opening walk of The Games Way. If everything goes to plan (…and what could possibly go wrong?!), this is where we will be walking each day.

If you are on Twitter, you may want to follow @walk2012 so I can provide any last minute updates. I will be trying to keep this site and facebook up to date with our progress, but opportunities to get online may be limited, so I will prioritise Twitter.

I have got printed copies of The Games Way route guide – many thanks to the lovely folk at Banner Managed Communication – and I will be bringing these to the first day. If you are signed up for the walk and I’ve got your address then I will try to get one in the post to you tomorrow.

Itinerary

Stage 0: Launch party

Friday 27th July 2012
19:00 at The Ship Inn, Weymouth harbour

Stage 1: Weymouth to Durdle Door, 14 miles

Saturday 28th July 2012
09:30 opposite The Ferry Bridge pub, Portland Road
(alternatively 10:15 to 10:30 at the Jubilee Clock on Weymouth sea front)
Weymouth has a train station – much better than driving.
Durdle Door / Lulworth Cove are difficult for public transport, so I think lift sharing / taxi sharing will be advisable if you aren’t staying.

Stage 2: Durdle Door to Wareham, 15 miles

Sunday 29th July 2012
09:30 Lulworth Heritage Centre – car park
Wareham has a good train service on the Weymouth – Bournemouth line.

Stage 3: Wareham to Wimborne, 18 miles

Monday 30th July 2012
09:30 On the bridge by the Old Granary, Wareham
Wimborne doesn’t have trains, but there are frequent buses to Poole and Bournemouth.

Stage 4: Wimborne to Linwood, 17 miles

Tuesday 31st July 2012
09:30 Oakley Hill, Wimborne – by the Castlemans Trailway and FP30.
There is no public transport in this bit of the New Forest, but there is a good taxi service to Ringwood.

Stage 5: Linwood to Romsey, 18 miles

Wednesday 1st August 2012
09:30 Red Shoot Inn, Linwood
Romsey is on the Salisbury – Southampton train line.

Stage 6: Romsey to Winchester, 14 miles

Thursday 2nd August 2012
09:30 Romsey train station
(alternatively, around 10:30 Megana Way, Braishfield – just before we enter Ampfield Woods)
Winchester has an excellent train service.

Stage 7: Winchester to Bishop’s Sutton, 10 miles

Friday 3rd August 2012
09:30 by the war memorial statue of a soldier outside Winchester Cathedral
Alresford, just before Bishop’s Sutton is on the Watercress train line to Alton and beyond.

Stage 8: Bishop’s Sutton to Bentley, 17 miles

Saturday 4th August 2012
09:30 The Ship Inn, Bishop’s Sutton
(alternatively, about 10:30 St Nicholas Church in Ropley)
Bentley has a train station connected to Alton and Farnham.

Stage 9: Bentley to Puttenham, 12 miles

Sunday 5th August 2012
09:30 The Star Inn, Bentley
There is no train station but you can get a bus from Puttenham to Farnham or Guildford.

Stage 10: Puttenham to Weybridge, 17 miles

Monday 6th August 2012
09:30 The Good Intent, Puttenham
(alternatively, 10:30 or so by the wood sculptures in Woodbridge Meadow, Guildford
Weybridge has good train and bus connections.

Stage 11: Weybridge to Putney Bridge, 15 miles

Tuesday 7th August 2012
09:30 Thames Lock, Weybridge
Putney has buses, underground and overground train stations.

Stage 12: Putney Bridge to Stratford, 17 miles

Wednesday 8th August 2012
09:30 Putney Bridge, Putney
The nearest station is Pudding Mill Lane, but there are several options.

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After 2 years of walking and blogging, the start is in sight

Are these boots worn-in enough?
Is my rucksack going to squeak again?
Why did I stay for that last pint at the party?
Did I pack the sunscreen? …well, we can hope!

Just a few of the questions that will be running through my mind as I stand at the start of the opening walk of The Games Way next Saturday morning. Of course the big question that I have been asked dozens of times and has been niggling away at me for the last couple of years while I’ve been planning the route is:

How many people will turn up?

It is going to be interesting to see – lots of people have signed up for the walk or registered an interest or downloaded the guide. But I have no idea how the number of names on my list will translate to feet on the floor come next weekend. I confess to being a little nervous.

I have no concerns about the route, I think people will love the way it changes from day to day. From rugged dramatic coastline to woodlan paths, to open heath, farmland, river meadows, ridges, and the dramatic shift from the rural to urban as we approach London.

The weather is another matter altogether! Thankfully it seems as if the jetstream that has been mocking the hosepipe ban and causing a plague of slugs to munch on our garden veg is finally playing ball and giving us back our summer. Fingers crossed we’ll be enjoying dryer weather during the walk and the Games, so heed Baz Luhrmann’s advice and wear sunscreen!

Practical matters for the weekend

The launch party is on Friday 27th July at 7pm in The Ship Inn, on Weymouth harbour. Hall & Woodhouse is kindly providing a buffet. It should be a lovely evening as it is also the launch of the Olympic Games so the harbourside will be buzzing. Please let me know if you are able to join us.

The Games Way walk will start at 09:30 on Saturday morning opposite The Ferry Bridge pub on Portland Road, underneath the Rodwell Trail sign. You can look across Portland Harbour to the national sailing academy and see the amazing boats that will be competing in the Games.


View Starting point for Stage 1 of The Games Way in a larger map

If you are delayed and likely to miss the 09:30 start then a very good fallback is to meet at the Jubilee Clock on Weymouth sea front – I think we’ll get there about 10:15-10:30. We walk right past the clock and it is literally just up the road from from the train station.

I will be posting up the start times and meeting points for the other stages of the walk in the next few days.

I can’t wait to get started – hope you are excited too!

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Butterflies, bugs and debugging the Games Way

In the course of writing up The Games Way walking guide (available from all good olympic themed walking blogs) I realised there were one or two wrinkles in the walk that needed ironing out. I have been knocking these off one by one fairly methodically over the past few weeks, and last Saturday Felix and I set off to figure out the situation at Bentley and Bishop’s Sutton, which are in the middle of the walk along St Swithun’s Way.

When Felix and I last walked this bit of the route it was the Royal wedding, and we ended up camping in a copse bordering on the A31. Not, I hasten to add because Felix wanted to record the traffic, but because we were utterly knackered. I think we pitched the tent, ate some soup and then went to bed, sound asleep just after 9pm. Rock’n’roll lifestyles R us!

orchid

One of a bazillion orchids and wild flowers in the butterfy meadow at Bentley

Whereas we had a good sleep and loved the walk to Farnham and beyond the next day (and did record some cattle!) I had a feeling that other walkers might be a bit underwhelmed by our little spot. This is why I was so keen to return and see if we could do better.

I was very keen to try walking with a full backpack to see how well my back has recovered from its fracture in the spring. Felix wanted to see if she could spin yarn and walk at the same time (as you do), and a pair of Brasher boots that I won in a Country walking magazine several months ago finally arrived and so need breaking in before I take them on The Games Way this summer. I rather foolishly gave away my old pair of expensive, good fitting, waterproof Meindls (that turned into a deathtrap on muddy hills) before the new boots turned up. Consequently I have been clumping around in an ancient pair of boots that I had fond memories of until I remembered that they weren’t waterproof and were designed to remove toenails after 10 miles.

bee

Bee in the butterfly meadow at Bentley

So anyway, we set off from Bentley train station with rucksack and shiny new Brasher Hillmaster boots, and headed over the tracks into the woods where we found the most beautiful meadows full of wild flowers and grasses and the air thick with buzzing bees and butterfiles. It is a protected site of scientific interest and it is gorgeous. Most of the photos in this blog post come from here.

hoverfly

Hoverfly in the butterfly meadow at Bentley

We had lunch at the Star Inn, an important part of the days research of course! Isn’t it great now that pubs are caring about where they source their ingredients? This place is a cracker – sweet beer garden out the back and organic food from a nearby farm. Oh and a beautiful summer pint from the FFF brewery a few miles down the A31.

butterfly

Butterfly in the SSI meadow at Bentley

After lunch we met a chap called Chris at Bentley Green Farm who has very kindly allowed us to pitch our tents at the bottom of his enormous garden, and will give us use of an outside loo and water supply. Brilliant! The setting is beautiful, you won’t be disappointed if you are doing this leg of the walk with us in the summer. We also found a much better spot for wild camping up in the woods, away from the butterfly meadow of course.

felix

Felix in the butterfly meadow at Bently with a lesser spotted drop-spindle

So having debugged the Bentley leg we went back to Bishops Sutton to check out Two Hoots campsite, a little way off the route but interesting because it has wooden pods you can hire for the night, each with a king sized bed which might be irresistable at this stage in the walk! It is a small site but in a beautiful spot and the owners were very helpful even though we caught them on their third attempt at leaving!

crops

The path to Two Hoots camp site, Bishop's Sutton

We walked back down to Bishop’s Sutton across crop fields and the Watercress railway line with its steam trains, and popped into The Ship to see if anyone was there that we ‘d met on the Royal wedding day (they weren’t) before heading home, with two legs of the walk sorted out and fit to go into the guide.

steam train on the watercress line

Steam train on the watercress line - choooooo!!

Come walking with us! Sign up now to take part in the first official walk of The Games Way starting on July 28th 2012. It’s free and you can bring your friends!

Join us for a day, a weekend or however long suits you. We’d love to share the experience with you.

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The Games Way Guide is (finally) done! Download it for FREE

The blog has been exceedingly quiet this month because I have given myself a good talking to and finally knuckled down to producing The Games Way Route Guide.

It is available to download for FREE by clicking this link. You will have to give your email address, but that is only because I am interested in who downloads it and because I may ask for feedback at a later date. I won’t pass on your details to anyone else.

…just 4 weeks to go!!!

Cheers, Mark

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New Forest to Romsey – all creatures great and small

Yesterday I walked from Linwood in the New Forest to Romsey – it is the 5th stage of The Games Way and the last stage I need to record walking instructions for.

Linwood to Romsey

Linwood to Romsey

With Felix in Estonia and other walking friends otherwise engaged I was on my own. I enjoy walking alone so this isn’t a problem, but it does mean I sing to myself and talk to an awful lot of animals along the way! Consequently this blog post will consist mostly of photos of all the animals. Excluded from the photos are dogs and their humans. I met a beautiful 2-year old black labrador called Bertie in these woods:

Bluebell Woods

Bluebell Woods, home to Bertie the labrador

…but he was a bit camera shy and didn’t want to be in the photo. Young boy black labradors are my absolute favourite – I love the way they approach you full of bravado and then at the very last second chicken out and run back to their human. This one was very handsome, even with a big lump of doggy drool on his nose!

Before I got very far into the walk I saw a deer about 20m away.

Deer!

Friendly deer, just outside of Linwood

Clearly we were going in the same direction and I wasn’t presenting much of a threat because I was buzzed by the same deer for about 20 minutes. This has never happened to me before, they usually scarper as soon as they get a whiff of human.

Another deer!

Another deer!

Then another deer rocked up and we all parted company as I entered an enclosure on the way to Hollyhatch cottage.

Hollyhatch cottage

Hollyhatch cottage

After a bit of a climb I found myself on Fritham plain and eventually Fritham itself, home of the most excellent Royal Oak pub. The pub is famed for its real ale, ploughman’s and I’ve been reliably informed by @happy_rambler – its pork pies!

After a refreshing pint of Beach Blonde I carried on towards Nomansland, surrounded by ponies and their lovely foals.

New Forest Foal

New Forest Foal

Despite my very best efforts I managed to get lost in the woods (this happens *every* time) and so was about half an hour away from where I wanted to be.

Lost in the New Forest

Navigation FAIL

I wish I knew the secret of successfully navigating through woods. So, although the official route goes down a certain path, I don’t think I’ve ever quite managed to get it right!

Somewhere in the New Forest

Getting lost in the New forest isn't so bad...

I followed a path that crosses some fields by a church and then through Deazle wood (without getting lost) out onto Plaitford Common. I had never heard of this spot before I started walk2012 but it has become one of my favourites.

Pretty Plaitford Common

Pretty Plaitford Common

As well as all the ponies, there are cattle and a herd of donkeys, including this very friendly one who thought he might be able to help me with a banana.

Donkey

Beautiful friendly donkey on Plaitford Common

From Furzely the walk goes across Half Moon common and up a long gravel path (Bricky Lake Lane) past Paultons golf centre and down the A36 for a few hundred metres. This bit of road is unpleasant and I’m hoping that Paultons golf club will let us use their road instead, it will be much queiter and feel safer.

A half-hour or so walk through a bluebell edged path in more woods on the edge of a farm and then I joined the Test Way, which heads due north in a straight line with trees on the left and fields on the right all the way to Romsey.

Busy bee

Busy bee just before the Test Way

Thoughout the day’s walk I had been serenaded by hundreds of birds (think Snow White x 100) including this little fellow:

Bird on a wire

Bird on a wire

…and if young male labradors can be boisterous, they’ve got nothing on these young lads who greeted me most enthusiastically!

Cattle on the Test Way

"Oh wot, just cuz you can wave those 2 feet in the air, you think you better than us, is that it? Put them down man, you're a flippin joke"

Its not just young boys that show off though is it? Even grown up dads need someone to impress:

Swans on the Test

"Ignore your father children, he's just being silly"

Come walking with us! Sign up now to take part in the first official walk of The Games Way. It’s free and you can bring your friends!

Join us for a day, a weekend or however long suits you. We’d love to share the experience with you.

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On the Olympics, a sense of community, and other baggage

The London 2012 Olympic Games are getting close now, aren’t they? About 10 weeks to go until the opening ceremony, and then we will be opening The Games Way and starting our 200 mile walk from the Olympic sailing events Weymouth & Portland to the Olympic stadium in London.

I can’t wait!

It is very exciting to see all the other projects that have been inspired by the Games, it is good to feel part of a community of people who are getting involved, whether officially or otherwise!

Anish Kapoor's The Orbit under construction in Oct 2011

The bigger projects are getting a lot of press and causing some controversy, Anish Kapoor’s red tower in the park, The Orbit is a current hot topic (is £15 too much?), and a couple of weeks ago Anthony McCall’s Column was causing concern (at least to the Daily Mail) about danger to aircraft. Got to love a bit of trouble-making :-)

Two projects I am following are the Battle for the Winds, which culminates in a big performance in Weymouth bay, and 5 Rings (The Games We Play), a theme song for the Games (not sure how official this is!)

Battle for the Winds - because sailing events work better with wind

…and about now I start worrying about walk2012 and whether it will come off, will people turn up, will they enjoy it, will the sun shine….

Worry is not helped by my back problem. It turns out that I fractured the L1 vertebrae when I took a tumble snowboarding last month. It hurts, but luckily isn’t a bad fracture so there’s no great risk of nerve damage or anything that would perplex House. Nevertheless it is a sloooooooooooooow recovery and I’m a bit worried about carrying my pack during the walk.

My non-life threatening fractured spine

It does have a cool name though – it is a fracture of the “right transverse progression of the L1 vertebrae.”

A few walkers have asked whether I’ve organised baggage transport between stages. I haven’t, because frankly I like the challenge, I want to keep costs to a minimum, and so it wasn’t high on my priority list. Funnily enough, it has risen up the list quite dramatically now it hurts to carry my own pack!

So, open question …are you interested in chipping-in for a van and driver to move our tents etc from one stage to another throughout the walk? If enough people are interested I will endeavour to sort something out …and if you know anyone who can help us then please PLEASE get in touch :-)

Come walking with us! Sign up now to take part in the first official walk of The Games Way. It’s free and you can bring your friends!

Join us for a day, a weekend or however long suits you. We’d love to share the experience with you.

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Pigeons: supremely adaptable birds, but natural born swimmers?

Have I mentioned that I hurt my back? If you have had even the loosest dealings with me over the past couple of weeks then the answer is undoubtedly YES! I will take any and every opportunity to bitch and whine about my clapped out body and how if it was a car it would be written off and scrapped. It is something of a tradition amongst the male Stanleys to have a bit of a moan up about our ailments, and it is one of those things that makes me realise I am more like my Dad than either of us would care to admit!

Anyway this week Felix had enough of my pitiful bleating in the morning and sent me off to the doctors. The doctor was a lovely chap who apologised for laughing at how I got injured, and then poured petrol onto my flames of hypochondria by referring me for an x-ray with a “possible compression fracture” – so now I fully expect the x-ray to appear in the daily papers with the words “miracle survivor of snowboarding horror crash”.

…which is an elaborate way of saying that I didn’t feel capable of a long walk this weekend so we decided to go to Weybridge and write the directions that link the Wey Navigation up with the Thames Path as part of The Games Way. If all was well then we’d get the train to Hampton Court and also write up the bit that goes from Hampton Court through Kingston, and across Richmond Park to Putney.

Here’s (more or less) where we started the walk, Coxes Lock on the Wey Navigation, between Byfleet and Weybridge:

The mill, Coxes Lock, Wey Navigation

The mill, Coxes Lock, Wey Navigation

Conversation for the day was mostly about Angora rabbits, sheep and our future smallholding. There was also plenty of anthropomorphising the many robins, blackbirds, pigeons, ducks, geese, swans, dogs, Shetland ponies and deer that we passed on our way, with the occasional grunt at humans.

If you walk along many towpaths the chances are you’ll be familiar with the fondness pigeons have for nesting on the rafters under bridges, and the mild exhilaration at successfully walking under such a bridge without being shat upon. Just down from Coxes Lock is a railway bridge and it is moderately populated with pigeons. At this time of year the babies are learning (slowly) to fly, and unfortunately one of them had ditched into the river and was fast learning that swimming is not so easy without webbed feet and oily feathers. Mummy Pigeon was stood at the side encouraging her baby to get across, but it was sinking so I fished the poor sodden thing out of the river. Here it is:

Say hello to my little friend

Me and the heroically rescued baby pigeon (my halo is out of shot but VERY shiny)

Felix donated a hanky to the cause and I dried him off a bit and tucked him into my jumper for 10 mins or so to warm up as it was shivering and frankly far too placid for its own good. Once it had warmed up and was getting a bit restless we put it back up under the bridge, over the path rather than the river, and out of the way of inquisitive dogs! Hopefully it will be okay and I will become some kind of folk hero among pigeonkind.

Baby pigeon drying off and warming up after a dip in the River Wey

Baby pigeon drying off and warming up after a dip in the River Wey

Our walk continued in the sunshine and we soon wiggled through Weybridge and found ourselves on the Thames Path. It was about a mile back to the train station or 4 miles (ish) to Hampton Court. As the painkillers were working and I knew of a good lunch spot a mile or so along the path, we decided to carry on walking. There are two pubs next to each other, The Swan (a Youngs pub) and The Anglers, which has gone upmarket since I was last there and looked busy so we thought we’d try it out. We were lucky to get a table, this young family weren’t so lucky, but got lots of attention:

Ducks on the River Thames

The Anglers is a gastro-pub that serves locally sourced duck

The Thames Path is lovely along here and there were lots of spring flowers on show, keeping the bees busy while we fantasised about owning different houses on the oppsite bank.

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

Molesey Lock is clearly a highly desirable location for ducks, geese and swans. They tolerate the poor throwing efforts of kids in buggies and enjoy an abundance of breadcrumbs and dropped ice cream cones. Pigeons and jackdaws masquerade as waterfowl and nobody seems to mind.

Ma Goose and the kids, River Thames

Ma Goose and the kids, River Thames

We skipped through Hampton Court, stopping to admire the swathes of daffodils before going through Bushy Park (home of the “other” Diana fountain), and walking across the bridge to Kingston.

Hampton Court daffodils

Hampton Court daffodils

A few minutes later we left the river and walked uphill to the foot of Richmond Park. The Games Way route goes in at Kingston Gate and leaves via Roehampton Gate so we get to walk right across the park with all its deer…

Pretty Richmond park deer

Pretty Richmond park deer

…and somewhat randomly shaped trees!

Richmond park tree

Mind the gap

Richmond Park is remarkable for many things – for me there is something totally incongruous about a herd of deer with tower blocks in the background. Jumbo jets slowly grumble their way across the sky to Heathrow and parakeets squawk abuse from the treetops while squirrels squabble on the ground and up the trunks.

Richmond park deer

Hey, isn't that the guy who saved the pigeon? - what a legend!!

We walked past The Priory, temporary home and rehab centre to the rich and famous on the way to Putney. We also passed by the place where Marc Bolan died, and there is still a shrine there in his memory. Not very glam I’m afraid – I think he would like more glitter.

Marc Bolan shrine

Marc Bolan shrine


…and then a few minutes later we were back on the Thames at Putney Bridge and the walk was over. We did about 18 miles in all, and you guessed – I have been moaning about my poor back ever since. Felix is such a lucky girl 😉

Sign up now to join us on the first official walk of The Games Way. It’s free and you can bring your friends!

Join us for a day, a weekend or however long suits you. We’d love to share the experience with you.

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Fixing Romsey

Several months ago I produced a couple of prototype walking guide cards. Colleen, Anne, Latimer and Suzie were trusting enough to try out the final leg and give me some very helpful feedback which I am incorporating into the official version.

…and then there was Victoria, who drew the short straw and tested out the Romsey to Winchester walk. She encountered a few confusing directions and one fatal flaw that sent her off two miles in the wrong direction. You know you’ve failed in writing clear directions when you get an email that says “I regard myself as a patient and unflappable tracker, but…”

It has taken me a while to get back to Romsey because I have been documenting all the other stages of the walk. I intended spending this weekend documenting the New Forest to Romsey stage, but I whacked my back snowboarding last week and it is still stiff and painful so I decided that a 15 mile walk is probably unwise. Instead, yesterday Felix and I travelled down to Romsey to figure out how to improve the instructions and save future walkers from the same fate as Victoria, so her valiant efforts were not in vain.

Using Victoria’s notes as a guide we were able to quickly find the spot where things went horribly wrong, which was the route from Knapp to Hursley.

Floral verges of Knapp

Floral verges of Knapp

The verges around Knapp are filled with spring flowers and the air is thick with buzzing and birdsong. The road we walk up has a real mix of beautiful houses, from some kind of Grand Design to the quaintest thatch cottage. The path, for once was mostly mud-free and covered in pine cones:

Pine cones

Pine cones

With Felix’s amazing acting skills and nature’s soundtrack I have put together this short video of the route from Knapp through the woods to Hursley.

So thanks once again to Victoria, and I am now confident (what could possibly go wrong..?) that the new instructions will be a big improvement!

For the benefit of knitting fashionistas, Dr. Ford is wearing:
Deco cardigan, by Kate Davies, Excelana 4-ply yarn.
Simmer Dim shawl, by Gudrun Johnston, BFL handspun by Liz Ashdowne.
Blaeberet hat, by Felix, New Lanark DK.
Trousers, sandals, models own.

Felix at the tree-lined avenue to Hursley

Felix at the tree-lined avenue to Hursley

Sign up now to join us on the first official walk of The Games Way. It’s free and you can bring your friends!

Join us for a day, a weekend or however long suits you. We’d love to share the experience with you.

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