One foot in front of the other: London to Bristol!

Like many of our adventures, this began in the pub with the plan being to attend an Ebo Taylor gig in Bristol and rather than take the train, we thought we might walk 100 plus miles over several days – it seemed a good idea at the time so the three of us; myself, Tug and the Vicker set off from London, early on a Tuesday with the aim to walk all the way hhe way meeting up with Vodka Dave near Bath and after that, taking in the gig – returning to London six days later on the Monday…

Cutty Sark - Greenwich

Setting off early, we grabbed a quick breakfast in Maggie’s Cafe in Lewisham – steak, chips and mushrooms for me with the other two going for the full English and whilst breakfasting (and chatting with the owner) it began to dawn on us what the next few days might hold, the weather was looking grim and Bristol was a long long way away!

On the Thames Clipper

The morning was glorious and to make up time leaving London we decided we’d take the Thames Clipper from Greenwich to Putney, all three of us feeling very Beckham like as we hurtled down the Thames sweeping past Canary Wharf which was looking spectacular in the morning sunshine. Before too long we could see the Tower Bridge, the Shard with the rest of the city opening up as we came around one of the large sweeping bends of the Thames. Passing under the various bridges, full of commuters heading to work – our spirits were soaring and we were all looking forward to our adventure properly starting.

The Shadows, on Tour!

Once ashore, we followed the Thames out of London and before long we settled into our routine – one step in front of the over, keep moving forward and I think all three of us (whilst we didn’t say anything) probably felt that this initial part of the walk was probably the most difficult – our berghans were beginning to cut into our shoulders, we were carrying our camping equipment plus food and water, they were beginning to feel quite heavy! This was also, in my mind anyway, our longest day – we wanted to get outside of London and beyond the M25 and all day long we could see planes flying in to and out of Heathrow…

Berghans

Eventually, sometime after Reading we left the Thames and picked up the Kennet & Avon Canal which was to be our ‘map’ for the next several days as we followed this pretty much all the way to Bath before picking up the River Avon into our final destination of Bristol. Walking the canal was an amazing experience though was difficult as the ground was quite rough and stony but we all cracked on, all enjoying the solitude of the countryside with the odd barge passing us by, swapping greetings with the owners of these barges. Before long we were alongside the M4 which wasn’t the best part of our walk – lorries and cars screaming past us as we continued our walk.

Are we there yet?

We stopped off at some great pubs and we always made the comment that ‘…tonight would be the night we got on it..!’ and bar one night, we didn’t really get ‘on-it’ as we were shattered and after a big pub dinner and a couple of pints, climbed into our sleeping bags, exhausted! Our best night was Friday when we met up with our really good mate, Vodka Dave who drove over to meet us. Our initial plan was to meet up in Bradford on Avon though not being to enamoured by the pubs there opted to carry on walking to a recommendation, that being the Cross Guns in Avoncliff – we had a fantastic night and drank too much and ate some very good food. It was good to see Vodka Dave too and to catch up with him. Later that evening a young couple came in with a guitar and set about entertaining us and several others in the bar – singing along to a song from the Jungle Book was a blast! We got chatting with them and on hearing of our trip, invited us back to theres so we could sleep in a bed – we couldn’t believe our luck and whilst it meant backtracking to Bradford on Avon, took them up on their very kind offer and headed back to their place!

The next day began very slowly – we’d been up into the early hours, drinking whiskey and generally chatting with our newly found friends! This part of the walk was particularly breathtaking and was definitely the better end of the canal! Before long we were heading through Bath which is a beautiful city where we stopped for tea and an ice cream – it was here we found out that Tug is terrified of Ducks!

Bristol!

Eventually we arrived into Bristol where our journey ended – we took some pictures at the John Cabot Statue on the waterfront and grabbed our room at the hostel. That night we met up with our friends Richard and Lucy (and their friends) and wend to see Ebo Taylor perform – he was fantastic and though we were tired, our legs and bodies were aching, boogied into the night and had a thoroughly great end to our walk!

Ebo Taylor - Legend!

Op Rafter – Return to Dartmoor

Rafter is the collective term for Turkey and Rafter is the name we decided to call our annual walk following Christmas and binging on Christmas Turkey, that and us being complete turkeys for wanting to spend three nights crossing Dartmoor during the first weekend of January, a walk covering 30’ish miles.

Our starting point was the Warren House Inn, a great watering hole, serving an excellent pint of Otter andequally good Indiana Bones – both (pardon the pun) were very ‘moor’ish! Settling in, in front of the fire whilst we waited for Ben, our thoughts turned to where we might camp up on that first night and most importantly, who was carrying the most kit – the award for the least carried went to Vodka Dave who had his little pink daypack, 2 season sleeping bag and one piece of warm kit – we joked that he’d have been better off with a couple of supermarket carrier bags!

Heading NW we climbed Water Hill, passing the Cairn, we quickly hit Fernworthy Forest and using this as our border we headed West/North West crossing White Ridge – the going was fine and given the recent rains, the ground not too bad though at one stage I did end up knee-deep in some very wet mud, we’d only been going an hour and I already had wet boots/socks and a wet backside!

Given we’d left the pub late we decided we’d camp up in this area and get some food inside before retiring for the night. We’d already pre-cooked our food and we were quickly enjoying Jon’s excellent beef in red wine stew along with several swigs of whiskey and apple brandy from the various hip flasks. The night sky was stunning though cloudy, the stars were incredibly bright and we all felt quite lucky to be there.

Setting off the next morning we quickly passed Grey Wethers Stone Circles and crossing Sittaford Tor, the sky was blue and we were all in high spirits, enjoying the great outdoors. Crossing the North Teign River, which was almost full to bursting, we were soon at Quintins Man Cairn which marks the start of the Okehampton Range Area. From here we headed north to Hangingston Hill and it was during this time the weather took a turn for the worse – a grey fog enveloped us and shortly after it started howling with rain.

Passing a stone memorial for Frank Philpotts we reached Hangingsston Hill and without stopping turned west into the driving wind, aiming for Great Kneeset in the far distance. The ground here was treacherous, boggy as hell and full of ‘babies-heads’ and with the wind in our faces we were a sombre lot as we slowly made our way across. Realising we were well behind on our route-card (and only about three-quarters of the way across) we made the decision to make a break for Fur Tor thus cutting out Gt Kneeset, Lints, Links, Rattlebrook Hill and Hare Tor.

Finding some dryish/flat ground on Little Kneeset we quickly erected our tents and got some food inside us – tonight’s menu being Chicken Dhansak cooked by yours truly and Mexican Beans and Chorizo cooked by Tug, both were excellent and very welcome. The weather by this time had really turned and following food, we climbed into our tents – a little after 4pm which is where we remained until the following morning – a long night indeed and our tents were battered throughout the night!

Having spent a good 17 hours in our sleeping bags, and not really having a chance to catch up with each other we made the decision to spend Saturday night in the Pub, in front of the fire drinking several pints of Otter!

Dave and his little DayPack

So breaking camp early  and the weather was lovely, but we had the pub fire at the back of our minds we cut short our trip and headed off the moor.

Black Hill went on for ever, the summit never appearing until the very last moment, the ground was completely waterlogged and was tough going. Eventually we were on much more familiar ground as we crossed Quintins and then Sittaford before dropping back down to the Warren House Inn where we quickly pitched our tents out of sight of the road and changed into our dry gear and headed straight for the pub.

We had a great night involving several otters, a number of Sambuca’s and some excellent T-bone steaks – we were made to feel very welcome and were the last to leave the Pub!

That final night was probably our best night’s sleep no doubt due to being quite inebriated! One magical moment for me – waking up c 5am, needing a pee I exited the tent to find our three tents surrounded by Dartmoor ponies and sheep, was wonderful!