View from Oban Bothy

View from Oban Bothy

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

TGO Challenge 2015, Part 1

A load of years ago I met the Pieman at Shiel Bridge, my start point for that particular Challenge. Mike was starting from Glenelg, a good few miles to the west. That year it was a bad few miles: the weather had been awful and Mike, the brave chap, had decided to walk to his start point. Thank heavens for Paramo.

This year it was my turn to do the Glenelg start. Everybody I’d spoken to reckoned it was a brill place to start from, I wasn’t disappointed.

Glenelg

On the Thursday night I shared a B&B with High Altitude Brookes and Paul. Mrs Cameron, our host(ess) collected us from Shiel Bridge bus stop and drove us to her rather nice house, a short walk from the Glenelg Inn, a rather excellent boozah.

Tiredness and the need to be up for an early(ish) breakfast meant that Graham and I escaped from the pub at around 10.30pm and legged it back to our B&B….not before we’d made fools of ourselves attempting the pub quiz.

P1040550 Looking west from the Glenelg Inn, 10.30pm

Day 1: Glenelg to Shiel Bridge

A good night’s sleep followed by a decent breakfast set me up for the day. I was in no rush (nowt new there then) and spent an hour wandering around Glenelg, taking photographs, chatting to some of the locals, wetting my boots in the briny – and picking up a lightweight pebble to haul over to the east coast of Scotchlandshire.

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imageThen there was the all important signing out…. 

image…..followed by the great wetting of the feet.

First stop was for refreshments at The Wagon @ Corrary, well worth a visit: decent coffee and a smiley lady serving goodies. Of considerable interest were the remains of a number of ancient brochs, drystone structures with hollowed walls.

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Broch at Corrary

The heat from the sun was hot, probably something to do with the temperature. To stay cool I scared the local wildlife by rolling up my trousers to above my knees. Women and small children screamed at the sight of my pale knobbly knees. Such knees shouldn’t really be allowed out in the daylight, perhaps I should start wearing tights…..or maybe a fake tan is the answer.

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Shiel Bridge was my intended overnight stop, not too far at all. The glorious weather (almost) had me wishing it was further. Whatever, it was a lovely walk that offered some good views.

P1040570Suardalan, Lunch stop No2

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Loch Duich

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For Alan

Most of the Challengers had left by the time I arrived in SB – although I was very pleasantly surprised to find a couple of non-challenging Challengers lurking:

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With Jeanette & Biaggio at The Kintail Lodge

Much refreshment was taken that night, this walking (and talking) lark can seriously dehydrate a chap. And hydration is just so important. Innit.

A good night’s kip followed….well it would, wouldn’t it?

Day 2: Shiel Bridge to Strawberry Cottage

At 8.30am I promptly left the bunkhouse around 9am. The weather was still glorious: hot, well quite warm, sunshine and a gentle breeze. Norralot not to like really.

P1040588 Seals playing

Walking East is always A Good Thing on the Challenge, so that’s what I did. It was easy walking on a Land Rover track through Kintail Forest. Still no Challengers, Shiel Bridge starters were mostly a day ahead of me.

P1040590 Decision time….

P1040591 Decision made

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P1040597  Glenlicht House…and the sun’s still shining

P1040600 View from Allt Grannda

A helicopter flew over at one point, I was later to find out that it was going to extract a Challenger (from Alltbeithe I think) who’d fallen and suffered a dislocated something or other. Such bad luck.

P1040603 Camban Bothy

P1040604 Along Fionngleann and Alltbeithe SYHA comes into view…just

It was tempting to stay around Alltbeithe, I knew that some Challengers were staying there so I certainly wouldn’t be alone. The warden / manager or whatever they are these days was something of a star. She provided excellent refreshments and hospitality to passing Challengers….I only found out a day or so later! Ho hum.

Strawberry Cottage / Athnamulloch is four miles after Alltbeithe, along Glen Affric. It was around 6.30pm when I eventually put my tent up. I was sharing the nice flat(ish) area with 5 other Challengers – company at last! A little later another group arrived but they camped a good distance away from us – they probably weren’t Challengers.

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The sky was quite clear and the temperature was dropping. I was looking forward to a cosy night in my new sleeping bag, a North Face Hightail 3S, but I was disappointed. I was quite chilly, the down in this brand new bag was clumping badly, creating a good number of (very) cold spots with hardly any insulation. Not impressed – especially for £230.

Saturday 17th October, Tockholes – The Real Thing

Further to my little recce t’other day it was now time for The Real Thing, laying trail for the Club run.

Laying a trail on your own isn’t the easiest of tasks: there isn’t anyone else around to compare notes with, carry extra sawdust, whinge at, help with navigation etc. It’s down to the trail-layer, and if it all goes horribly wrong there’s nobody else to blame.

I left the car park of the very splendid Royal Arms at Ryal Fold, Tockholes at 11.15am. I was loaded down with a trail bag full of sawdust, a rucksack with more sawdust, a map and a bottle of water. The first part of the route was through woodland. I left great clumps of sawdust on the paths - an easy trail to follow. I thought. Nobody could POSSIBLY lose such a heavily laid trail. Of course they couldn’t.

Pendle Forest Orienteering Club were also out in the woodland, enjoying (enduring?) one of their Autumn Series events.

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Orienteering kites were spread throughout the woodland

According to their website Tockholes was voted best area in Lancashire in the recent best 100 areas in the UK listing. I can believe it.

So busy had I been on my recce that I completely missed the charcoal burners deep inside the wood:

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My route up to Great Hill more-or-less followed my recced route but somehow I managed to get my feet even muddier. 24 hours, a hot bath and two showers later my toe nails were still stained brown from the peat. Oh well.

Visibility was marginally better than on the recce, it was possible to pick out Blackpool Tower on the horizon.

image That really is Blackpool Tower in the murk

There were more folk out today, it being a Saturday and all that. You don’t half get some funny looks when you’re charging around the countryside leaving piles of sawdust all over the show.

Leaving my recce route by Slipper Low car park I started the climb up to Darwen Moor. Really good tracks were dead easy to navigate, it was just a matter of keeping an eye on the map so as not to go (too far) wrong. On the climb I stopped a few times for a breather to look back towards Great Hill to see if there were any runners in view – not a one. I just hoped they’d not lost the trail.

A most odd-looking contraption caught my eye as I flew <ahem> up the side of the hill. I had to stop (again) just to take the photograph. It took ages to compose.

image Any ideas folks? A look-out tower? An instrument of torture & torment?

Once high on the moor there were a goodly number of opportunities for rest – although I resisted temptation….of course.

imageGed’s Bench – had me thinking of my mate Ged who’s a bit poorly

imageThe view east from Darwen Moor – looking towards Ramsbottom.

Peel Tower is just visible to the left of the windfarm. Windfarms like these are cropping up wherever there’s a need for an EU grant.

imageThen there was this great big bird y’see, just hovering there. I’ve no idea what it was, not being very good with birds, but I’m sure that the ornitho… twitchers out there will come to my rescue. 

Still no sign of any runners so I plodded on, now towards Darwen Tower – or more correctly Jubilee Tower. The tower was completed in 1898 and was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. A few years ago, in high winds, the top blew off. Locals rescued the top and later replaced it with a fibre glass one instead. That one blew off in 2010 and has since been replaced with a new one made of stainless steel. It’s supposed to be getting windy tonight…I wonder?

image Jubilee Tower

A jolly bunch of ladies (a bunch of jolly ladies?) were finishing their jolly lunches at the tower. They recognised my Tally-Ho! kit, admitting to knowing some Club members. That’s a rarity in itself, hardly anyone I know would admit to knowing anyone in our club. :-)

image The jolly ladies with jolly Darwen in the background

5-600 metres of flat running on the NW edge of Darwen Hill offered great views over Lancashire and as far as Cumbria. Closer views were of the empty Sunnyhurst Hey and Earnsdale Reservoirs:

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Still no sign of any runners. They’d either got completely lost, fallen into one of the fetid and man-consuming bogs that Lancashire is justifiably famous for…..or nobody had turned up. Oh well.

It was a steep descent from Darwen Hill back to the boozah which was now in view. Even so, the sawdust trail had to continue to the bitter end.

The orienteers were still out and about, their competition almost finished. I had a chat with a couple of the officials about the long lost 2 Day Capricorn event. Happy days, probably not to be repeated.  

Back at the pub for a very welcome and warming coffee. Although it wasn’t a particularly cold day I’d started to chill soon after I stopped running.

It was around 4pm when the first runner came in, Hon Prez Park – quickly followed by Hon Sec Shipley and Ding Dong. They seemed to have enjoyed themselves, not losing the trail much at all. Or perhaps they were just being polite.

The tin bath was put to good use. Being the trail-layer and therefore the first man back, I got the clean water. Perhaps I should try to run faster so I could finish earlier and get cleaner water on future runs……..nah!

By 5pm only half of the runners had returned, the fast pack were still out. They’d somehow got lost. That’s what happens when you run too fast. The early finishers were hungry so we sat down to a good dinner of Cumbrian Hotpot followed by Apple Pie & Custard – just what the doctor ordered. Halfway through our meal the fast pack rolled up, fortunately there was plenty of dinner left for them.

imageThe fast pack polishing off their dinner

Only 12 runners attended, a very poor turnout indeed – especially for this excellent venue, one of the very best.

Where we went:

Tally-Ho! Tockholes 2015

9 miles with 1500’ of downhill.

That’s a lot of downhill, what’s to complain about?

The lost boys covered around 10.5 miles and  heavens knows, they must have done some serious uphill stuff.

Next time: Longnor in two weeks. I can’t wait!

What the prez said:

CHESHIRE TALLY-HO

The Royal Arms, Ryal Fold, Tockholes, 17th October 2015

Overcast ( later sunny ), 10 Deg, little wind.

The route started across the road from the pub down through Plantation No 2 and crossed the dam separating the Roddlesworth reservoirs. The trail turned south through Plantation No3 and crossed Belmont Road onto Wheelton Moor.

There was a large number of Pendle Forest OC scuttling from control to control. They were celebrating their 50th anniversary.

The first part of the moor was difficult with rushes, bog and Turk’s Heads but eventually high ground was reached and Great Hill came into view. Over the hill we headed for White Coppice familiar as the turning point of the Steeplechase.

We soon turned sharply back towards the bog and Belmont Road. The trail chicaned around Piccadilly into the woods passing Hollinshead Hall ( ruin) , across Tockholes Road and round the shoulder of Cartridge Hill. The last climb took us up Darwin Hill to the Jubilee Tower (372) before dropping down to RyaL Fold.

We came across an old squeeze box player surrounded by saw dust in the car park. We congratulated him on the excellent trail and queried the uncharted rush bog, he retorted that there was a dotted line on his map and carried on playing.

A disappointing 12 eventually sat down to hot pot and apple pie after five headless chickens arrived having been up to the tower several times and covering extra distance. We all cried into our beer.

Jocys did an excellent job laying a nine mile trail on his own.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Thursday 15th October 2015, A Tockholes Trot

6.5 miles with 1000’ of descent.

I was in dire need of a run.

There was a part of a trail route that I needed to recce, I’ve not been ‘out’ for a few days and it’s left me feeling quite lethargic, but more than anything else I’ve been shamed into pulling my trail shoes on by Old Running Fox a fine figure of a man if ever there was one.

This young man gets out virtually every day, rain, hail or shine. It’s only very rare bouts of illness that confine him to barracks – even then he manages to drag himself out into the hills more often than not. I really had no excuse.

I parked the car outside the very fine Royal Arms in Tockholes, deepest Lancashire. The area hadn’t seen rain for a while so the usually very boggy ground was only a bit very boggy in parts. Running through lovely woodland towards the Roddlesworth Reservoirs I passed a few walkers, and passed by a couple of runners…..er, well they passed me.

image The Upper Roddlesworth Reservoir

The track following the River Roddlesworth was a bit boggy but quite runnable.

imageAutumn leaves were really quite beautiful, unfortunately the dynamic range of the sensor on my Lumix DMC-ZS3 really wasn’t up to the job of displaying their colours very well. I should spend a few quid and buy a better compact. I must speak to Ian, he knows all about these things.

imageThe trickling River Roddlesworth

imageGreat Hill 

Across the busy A675 and a gentle uphill pull to Great Hill and rather more squelchy bog. By the time I got to the top of Great Hill my tootsies were a little waterlogged, and, as I was to find out later, dyed a dark brown. From the peat. Honest.

Interestingly, well I thought it was interesting, the cats eyes on the A675 are of the new electronic type. A solar cell charges a small battery which in turn powers bright white LEDs which switch on when traffic is detected. Clever, eh?

imageElectronic Cats Eyes 

image Darwen Tower from Great Hill

I ran trotted walked up to the top of Great Hill – then ran down t’other side. Getting even muckier. Then I ran back to cross the A675 again, this time to run by the ruins of Hollinshead Hall.

image Hollinshead Hall…..well it WAS Hollinshead Hall….once upon a time.

A mile of mainly tarmac took me back to the car. It was tempting to call in to the Royal Arms for a beer and a bag of chips but I resisted.

A good couple of hours – 1hrs 40mins actually, but I wasn’t racing….’cos I’ve got far better things to do with my time. Trail running is for enjoyment :-)

Where I went:

Tockholes 6

6.5 miles with 1000’ of downhill. And uphill.

Friday, 9 October 2015

99th Nijmegen Four Days Marches 2015

 

imageImage borrowed from the Vierdaagse website. 

The International Four Day Marches Nijmegen (or Vierdaagse) is the largest marching event in the world. It is organised every year in Nijmegen, Netherlands in mid-July as a means of promoting sport and exercise. Participants walk 30, 40 or 50 km daily depending on their age and gender, and, on completion, receive a royally approved medal (Vierdaagsekruis). The participants are mostly civilians, but there are also a few thousand military participants.

That’s what Wiki says.

What Wiki doesn’t say is how much fun it is walking 160km over four consecutive days in the company of 45,999 other walkers. Basically it’s a 160km party!

I arrived in Nijmegen on Sunday, giving me plenty of time to register at the start point and to have a wander around the town. My last Vierdaagse was in 2007 and the event is still as popular as ever – the whole town was buzzing. Vierdaagse is party time and the good folk of Nijmegen certainly know how to party!

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Day 1, The Day of Elst

Each day is named after the largest town that the route passes through, today that town is Elst which is north of Nijmegen.  

My allocated start time was 6am (the one in the morning) which meant leaving my accommodation on St Annastraat at around 5.30am, giving me plenty of time to get to the start point – and hopefully not be at the back of the queue.

I’m not sure if it was my alarm clock or the rain hammering against the window that woke me. Whatever it was, I rolled out of bed in a gloomy mood. The idea of walking 40km / 25 miles in heavy rain wasn’t very appealing. By the time I’d breakfasted and had my 2nd cup of coffee things were improving, at 5.50am the rain had stopped completely – and that was the last wet that I experienced for the rest of the walking week :-)

At 6am there was a loud cheer from the crowd as the walkers were scanned and sent on their way. Even at that time of the morning there were huge crowds of spectators, most of them seem to have been partying all night – as the week wore on some of their faces became quite familiar.

P1050084P1050088 P1050090Towards the bridge over the River Waal, of Operation Market Garden fame 

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7.20am (6.20am BST), long morning shadows and the first band of the dayimage 

Route choice

The Marches started in 1909 when most of the participants were military, today the military still have a high profile but their numbers have dwindled to around 5,000 – they come from all over the world.

P1050100UN marchers

It was good to meet up with some good mates from the Royal Marines, to say their company is entertaining is an understatement – their quick wit always has me in stitches. I first met this lot through motorcycling and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Although this was a walk, this bunch of lunatics decided that running a couple of miles of the route might be a bit of a wheeze. I ran with them but that meant nothing – they were shod in full kit, including heavy boots AND they were carrying 10kg+ packs, I was carrying 3kg and was shod in running shoes. Quite barmy, the lot of them.

P1050102Melodeons, lots of them 

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P1050108P1050111P1050112German squaddies

P1050114   One of the many excellent military bands

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P1050124 On the dike, which in 2006, two participants died in the extreme heat

P1050129 A Hercules of the Dutch Air Force flying over the route

P1050132Re-entering Nijmegen – and the end of Day 1

P1050133….followed by a couple of beers

imageActual distance: 40km 

Day 2, The Day of Wijchen

A 5am start may sound like something out of a nightmare but it certainly wasn’t. The weather forecast for the rest of the week was hot and the idea of walking through the hottest part of each day didn’t appeal. So 5am it was, and by swapping my start times with other walkers I managed 5am starts for the rest of the week.

P1050136 4.30am: The queue at the start

P1050137St Niklaas

P1050138  Military participants joining the main 40km route

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One for Alan

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24.8km to go

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Checkpoint

P1050155 The LDWA Irregulars contingent

I hooked up with The Irregulars – although I promised myself that I wouldn’t go drinking with them, I wanted to survive the week! The Irregulars had somehow arranged access to the military checkpoints for refreshments – very civilised!

P1050156The Irregulars at rest….not a common sight  

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Look who I found, East Lancs LDWA get everywhere!

P1050158Residents really make the effort here

P1050161   Fiddles, Uillean Pipes, English Concertina, Guitar – a Dutch / Irish Ceilidh Band! 

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Back to Nijmegen

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P1050166 Spot the Piper!

image Actual distance: 39.7km

Day 3, The Day of Groesbeek…

…and another 5am start:

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I’d arranged to meet up with The Irregulars at 5am, but as an organised group they were rushed through the start and were away by 5am. I was an ‘also ran’ and had to queue, it was 5.20am by the time I got moving. I didn’t see them all that day.

P1050172 Malden

P1050174 She’s got almost as many melodeons as me!

P1050176 The Cheshire Constabulary abroad

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P1050182 Granddaughter on C-F Melodeon, Grandma on Cajon

P1050184P1050186P1050193P1050198P1050202  Lithuanian Customs Contingent in green T-shirts

P1050207 Vespa (?) with trailer

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P1050211 And at the end of the day, two beers – because one is never enough.

 

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 Actual distance: 39.7km

Day 4, The day of Cuijk

My (successful) attempt to get through the start gate as early as possible in order to catch up with the Irregulars meant I had to be up and about at 3.30am :-(

P1050212Even at such an early hour there were already loads of walkers ready to go

The event is very much a 100 mile party, but the last day really is something – everyone is out for a good time, spectators and walkers alike:

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How anyone can look so happy at such a ridiculous hour is beyond me!

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The British Dutch Walking Fellowship (BDWF) and The Irregulars are somehow related and they tend to get involved in joint ventures such as Vierdaagse. This tie-up allows them various advantages, including access to the military checkpoints which offer food, drink, medical facilities. And toilets. There seem to be a number of groups affiliated to the BDWF. Members of the groups need to stick together on the walk to enjoy the advantages. Losing group members can be a headache for the group leaders, but not for this group:

P1050228BDWF Pipe Major gathering his followers

P1050230P1050231The Irregulars on the move again

Of all the towns and villages on the route, Linden is the most spectacular when it comes to doing spectacular….almost outdoing Nijmegen itself:

P1050246Entering Linden

P1050248     Irregulars posing

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And that was only just over half-way through the day’s march, there was more to come.

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Jean leading the Irregulars

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P1050278Choral entertainment on the route 

The route had already crossed the River Maas once, now it was time to re-cross it. There was a slight technical problem: the absence of a bridge. The Dutch military came to the rescue, as they do each year, by constructing a temporary crossing. I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the bridge so took the one below from the Vierdaagse website:

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P1050290 And just after the bridge – a tea stop! Damned civilised.

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P1050301On the final few kilometers St Annastraat is temporarily re-named ‘Via Gladiola’ – gladdies are handed out to all the walkers as they walk towards the finish.

imageAbove photograph from De Gelderlander

See if you can spot the beer truck!

P1050325 image This photograph from http://www.nufoto.nl/tag/via%20gladiola/

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Actual distance: 42.4km

Total distance for the week: 161.8km

More details maps can be viewed here.

If you’re not totally sick to death of looking at my photographs you can see more here.

101 miles in 4 days isn’t excessive – although 101 miles on tarmac takes it’s toll. I wore a fairly new pair of New Balance 854 running shoes with new Sorbothane Double-Strike Shockstoppers to quite literally cushion the blow. Other than being a bit knackered at the end of each day I didn’t suffer any adverse effects.

Some may sneer at a walk that’s mainly on tarmac and that the route is generally flat – but they’re generally the folk who haven’t taken part in Vierdaagse. It’s a huge amount of fun, ask anyone who’s taken part. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

Next year is the 100th and I’m going to apply again. Numbers are limited to 46,000 and I suspect that the event will be over-subscribed, I’m just going to have to cross my fingers!

Practicalities

Me and the Mrs JJ (who didn’t take part in the event) flew from Manchester to Schiphol with KLM @ £76.00 each. We each took hand luggage (included in the ticket price) and one large case which cost around £14 extra.

Accommodation for Vierdaagse is available at reasonable cost but I wanted my own place. We rented a lovely house about a mile from the Nijmegen start / finish point at around £350 for the week. I rather hope that house is available next year.

A hire car + insurance cost £145. It’s quite practical to travel by train but a) Mrs JJ isn’t overly mobile so a car was almost essential, b) The cost of two train tickets, Schiphol > Nijmegen return, was the same as the car hire. The added convenience of having a car for the week made it a no-brainer – so a car it was.

The event itself costs around £60 to enter.

Training: not a lot. I put in half a dozen brisk 20 mile walks and some 10-14 mile run / walks in the 6-7 weeks before the event but that was about it. Interestingly I weighed myself before going to Holland and found that I weighed an unhealthy 13st. I wasn’t overly concerned, walking 101 miles in fairly quick time should shed a few pounds. Imagine my dismay when I returned home, I weighed 13st 3lbs! 6-8 weeks after the event I was down to 12st 6lbs. You tell me!

Walking pace: Quite variable. I averaged around 2.95mph, finishing each day in around 8hrs 30mins – including rest stops.

Food & drink: Butties, water and 500ml of SIS drink each day. There’s loads of food available en-route – that’s probably why I gained 3lbs in the week!

Clothing: obviously depends on the weather. I wore shorts & a wicking T shirt each day. A sun hat was needed this year, the weather was glorious. I wore running shoes with new sorbothane Shockstoppers on my feet. A carried a windproof and a very light waterproof, just in case.

That’s about it. I had a cracking week, met up with lots of old friends, enjoyed Dutch hospitality and I didn’t drink too much beer at all. Although Mrs JJ came along she wasn’t able to get out much although she sat out at the front of ‘our’ house on the last day and really enjoyed the spectacle of 46,000 lunatic walkers, all wearing manic grins, marching to the finish line.

That’s it until 2016 then.

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