Thursday, 27 February 2014

Mighty support from the Exiles

Many thanks to London Irish RFC, "the Exiles," who have provided a home shirt signed by the 2013/2014 London Irish squad to Big Dave's Little Stroll 2014 to be auctioned off at the fundraising evening we've got in the pipeline for late August / early September!
I will look into getting it all framed up, with some pictures of the squad positioned around it, and turn it into a really stunning lot -  a fantastic bit of rugby history right there and sure to pull in a fair few pounds from one of you lovely charitable rugby fanatics :)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Quality contribution from Bell's

Many thanks to the team over at Bell's, purveyors of quality blended and single malt Scotch whisky, who have shown their support for Big Dave's Little Stroll by donating vouchers for two Distillery Tours at the historic Blair Athol Distillery, each for two people, followed by a taste of the Blair Athol 12 year old single malt whiskey... and they're valid until the end of 2015... not too shabby eh?
These will be put together with a series of yet unconfirmed items for an auction or raffle later this year - we think a night of drink and dancing is on the cards - what better way to boost those donations? Ha! Ha!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Back on track... 22nd February 2014 - from the Bridgewater Monument in Ashridge, Buckinghamshire to the Green Lanes in Dunstable, Bedfordshire... and then another couple of miles across Dunstable pushing a pink Minnie Mouse pushchair!

After the disappointment of not quite finishing last week’s training walk I opted to return to familiar, if not more hilly trails, starting out from Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire and finishing on the Beecroft Estate in Dunstable – nothing too testing – about 12.5 miles but enough of a walk to see whether I had managed to get over whatever had been ailing me last week.
The plan was for Lorna (aka Super Wife) to drive me out to the Bridgewater Monument in the heart of the Ashridge Estate early so that I could start to walk about 5:30am. From there Super Wife would drive back to our house in East Dunstable for a couple of hours before heading over to my mum’s house in North West Dunstable to drop off Niamhy, have a quick cuppa and then hop on the bus to Luton so that she would be ready for work at 10:30am (and leaving the car behind so that I could cruise back to our house with the baby after I’d put my feet up and had a recuperating cup of sweet tea after the walk).
That was the plan.
Things started swimmingly. Super Wife got up about 15 minutes before me and brought me a bowl of porridge, a pint of water and my Juice Plus tablets as my alarm went off at 4:55am. She then disappeared into the gloom of the hallway and turned into Super Mum for the next twenty minutes while I, bleary eyed, flatulent and flabby, trundled into the bathroom to make sure I wasn’t carrying any unnecessary weight on the walk. Mission accomplished, and barely able to open my eyes, I then set about the less than glamorous walk preparation of burying my feet in talcum powder until they resembled the feet of an anaemic albino and then smearing copious amounts of Vaseline on my inner thighs – quite possibly the single worst thing in the world for someone like me with a debilitating phobia of all things oily or greasy, but incidentally one of the most important things to do when embarking on a 10 mile plus trek in a pair of torn denim jeans. Super Wife had laid out all of my clothes for me – yes... I am spoilt; I know... and by 5:15 we were done. Super Wife, baby Niamh and I, all packed into the Volvo, pootling towards Ashridge in the pitch blackness of the morning.

All was going according to plan... until we got to the Bridgewater Monument.
Upon arrival it was evident that the car was having troubles. Sour smelling wisps of smoky steam were creeping out from under the bonnet at an alarming rate. Having popped the bonnet and released a massive cloud into the moonlight it was clear that at the very least the water container had cracked or there was a hole in the pipe releasing the coolant. So there we were... stood in the pitch black with the only light coming from the half moon and the headlights. Luckily, we had bottles of water in the car which we poured into the water container to a cacophony of hissing. The car appeared to be functioning relatively normally by now, and with Super Wife insisting that I carried on with the training walk, armed with further water bottles in the passenger foot well, a brief kiss and a promise to call or text me if there were any difficulties, she resolved to limp the car home as quickly as possible.
So there I was, stood in the pitch black, watching the rear lights of the car get smaller and smaller, stressing myself out about whether the car was going to get Lorna and Niamh home okay.
I turned around and started walking the familiar path towards Steps Hill. I say familiar. Even with my eyes adjusting to the darkness I could essentially only “see” about 5-6 metres in front of me, so it really was a case of ignoring pretty much all around me, and plodding on using only the glimmer of puddles to guide me as to the location of the track.
It’s a strange thing... when your mind is occupied on something else as you walk before you know it you’ve done three miles! Before I knew it I had emerged from the forest onto the open fields by Steps Hill, still in total darkness, but as it was a clear and largely cloudless morning with a huge half moon the field was lit up magnificently.
In terms of my physical wellbeing, I was rambling along at a pretty good pace and hadn’t been out of breath whatsoever. I climbed up Steps Hill without stopping, which was a first for me since I started these training walks. This was largely down to the fact that, although still muddy, the path was significantly firmer than the last three times I had been along it. I’m hoping my increasing fitness may have been another contributing factor, however small. At the top of Steps Hill I got two text messages from Super Wife saying that she had made it to Homebase in Dunstable but that the car had started shuddering so she had stopped. I asked if she was alright and she confirmed that she was. She was waiting for the engine to cool down and then was going to put in some more water and take the car round the block to our house.
I walked from Steps Hill to the summit of Ivinghoe Beacon on auto-pilot. The whole time worrying about Lorna and Niamh in the car, but once on the summit I got a call to say that all was fine, they were warm and safe inside and that the car had been fine once the water was in it. Super Wife then said that she would take the car to Chiltern Tyres (?) on Brewers Hill Road on her way over to my Mum’s house and that she was confident of getting it there. I deferred to her better judgment and feeling slightly better about the situation as a whole resolved to cracking on with the task at hand.
I hadn’t even noticed it, but the dawn had come and the countryside, towns and villages surrounding the Beacon looks fantastic in their patchwork of greens and golden browns. I came down the Beacon, across the fields and into the woods, passing several deer – who were too damn spritely for me to get my camera out and capture!
I took on the infernal steps that lead up the hill towards Dagnall and although I had to stop multiple times for a breather I noticed that I’m starting to find that particular damnable feature a little bit easier. I took great joy in scaring the duck out of some geese simply by appearing over the brow of the hill at the end of those steps breathing like an asthmatic bear!
Down through the field and onto the track that leads to Dagnall. From there it was past the school and the house at the bottom of Dagnall Wood, then up the hill towards the Whipsnade Golf Course, all achieved with very little difficulty.
At the bottom of the hill by Dagnall Wood I stopped to take some water and came face to face with an ostrich or an emu... not sure which... but a bloody big bird strutting around like it was as natural for it to be there in the middle of the Hertfordshire countryside as a sheep or a cow. I must admit I started to wonder if I was actually finding this walk easier or if, in reality, I had begun to hallucinate and might be in need of immediate medical care! 
I also noticed that there were a lot more golfers out on the course this morning, the course having been all but deserted on previous occasions. The notable difference today... the weather! It wasn’t hot, but it certainly wasn’t cold and although it was still relatively wet underfoot, it was so much better than the slop of the last few weeks.
I got a call from Lorna as I crossed the golf course letting me know that the car had got to the garage fine and that the “lovely man” who worked there would give me a call when he had located the problem and before he carried out any work. I was about halfway around the perimeter fence of Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, and considerably out of breath, when I got the call. It was the radiator – massive crack in it causing all the coolant, water and so on to escape! It was a complete financial disaster for us, especially at this time. But then to my surprise... this guy was a “lovely man!” We have always been used to the kind of garage and mechanic who tells you news like that, then quotes you a mammoth price for parts and labour, before telling you that you’ll have to source the part yourself and that they might be able to squeeze the job in at the end of next week. This man – a reasonable price considering it was the radiator, inclusive of VAT and labour, and he was attempting to source the part for us at the best price and was hopeful to have it all done by Tuesday! Disaster contained – and friendly too!
Carried along by the fact that the girls were okay, and that the car was at least on its way to being sorted, before I knew it I was approaching Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. It dawned on me that I hadn’t tweeted the fact I was out on a training walk and so I did that just as I was about to have a brief sit down on my favourite bench. I still haven’t fully got to grips with social media but hopefully by the time I’m on Big Dave’s Little Stroll I’ll be a tweet jedi!
Whilst I sat in the Tree Cathedral I experienced the second of my worryingly hallucinogenic experiences. Either I saw a man walking a bull mastiff whilst wearing a baby carrier on his front that contained a pug... or someone slipped LSD into my drinking water!
From the Tree Cathedral I walked across the paddock where my old pal, the angry bull, resides. He was there this morning, albeit across the field surrounded by his harem. I gave him the customary bloke-ish nod as I passed... I feel that we’ve moved on from the slightly fearful “alright mate” whilst walking with haste towards the stile with eyes moving like an eighties action man figure – the gate, the bull, the gate, the bull...
The walk across Bison Hill, was a good sight easier on firmer ground, although still a bit harsh on the outside of the left foot and the right ankle due to the length of time you spend walking at a 35 degree angled slope.
I arrived at the Chiltern Gateway Centre (forever the Hut in my opinion) just as the Regiment Fitness guys were setting out their equipment on the top of the Downs. The training looks like it would be great fun but I reckon loads lads probably still put their clients through their paces.
The walk along the top of the Dunstable Downs was pleasant as ever. The sun was shining and the breeze was up. I still haven’t got used to the new gravelled path instead of the old footpath but it is quite a motivator to know that a level path is coming as you press on across Bison Hill.
I took a slightly different route down from the Five Knolls, opting instead to follow the gravelled path across what was marked as a “permissive footpath” – possibly named the Chiltern Way but I’m not too sure.
In any event, the path still emerges on the slope leading down to the roundabout that joins Tring Road and West Street in Dunstable and today it was my intention to cross the road over to the Green Lanes.
The Green Lanes have changed a lot since I was a kid. It used to just be a series of dirt footpaths and grass with a strip of woodland between the Lanes and the houses of Spinney Crescent and the surrounding streets. I spent literally hundreds of hours as a kid playing in those woods with my mates, riding a clunky and heavy BMX along the Lanes to Totternhoe and walking to the Totternhoe Knolls in the summer. These days there is a gravelled path that runs along that whole stretch, the introduction of which, whilst no doubt leading to better access which is of paramount importance, has resulted in a lot of the charm being lost. Maybe that’s only because I’m looking at the lanes through the rose-tinted prism of nostalgia!
I left the Green Lanes in Dunstable via the alleyway that leads onto the north end of Spinney Crescent. I then took a right down Drovers Way, a left down Pascomb Road, a left onto Beecroft Way and then a right onto Loring Road where my journey was to end.
I moved at a pleasantly plodding pace through the residential streets of my youth with hardly a soul around (despite the fact that it was nearly 10:30). I text ahead to my mum to request the kettle be put on post haste and a few minutes later I was in some fresh clothes, with my feet up and a sweet cup of tea in hand. Up until that point I had covered about 12.5 miles in just under 5 hours – not the fastest of pace but not a bad way to get back on the horse after last week’s cramping fiasco.
Of course, I wasn’t done walking for today yet.
As the car was out of action now until Tuesday, I still had the small matter of walking back from my mum’s house to my house pushing Niamhy in her pushchair with all of our bags hanging on the back. I didn’t realise this but the distance from my mum’s house to our house, using the route that we took, is just south of 2 miles. It doesn’t feel that far and it’s a route no doubt countless Dunstable mums do pushing pushchairs every day. That said, I’m sure as a member of the public it’s not every day that you see a big lump of a man in a hoody and jeans pushing a bright pink Minnie Mouse pushchair (using his knuckles as the handles are too low) across the centre of Dunstable!

Can you spare a few quid in support of the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes?

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A schnifty bit more on the subject of... the Maelor Way and the Offa’s Dyke Path (Footpaths Nos. 15 and 16)

In our last instalment of the Big Dave’s Little Stroll route we left it at the end of the South Cheshire Way on the Shropshire Union Canal at Grindley Brook contemplating the Maelor Way. So that’s where this one will begin...

The Maelor Way links the South Cheshire Way at Grindley Brook, to the Offa's Dyke Path National Trail at Chirk. Most of the way is easy walking across pleasant meadows and through woodlands, mostly in the county borough of Wrexham in Wales, but partly in Cheshire and Shropshire in England. It crosses farmland to Hanmer Mere and Overton-on-Dee with its ancient yew tress, then follows woodland trails alongside the Rivers Dee and Ceiriog to Chirk.
The Maelor Way uses public footpaths, bridleways, quiet lanes and canal towpath to pass from Grindley Brook through unspoiled undulating countryside to Bronygarth in the shadow of Chirk Castle.

The Maelor Way is about 24 miles (38km) and Big Dave’s going to do the lot. It also represents the point where he’ll enter the third and final nation of Great Britain, the glorious and epic... Wales.
According to Wrexham County Borough Council “If you’re looking for rolling farmland with distant views to the Berwyn Mountains or the Cheshire Plain, steep wooded river valleys, the placid and picturesque Hanmer Mere, little-changed villages and hamlets and even a bit of the Llangollen Canal towpath, the Maelor Way is for you.” Who can argue with that?
Chirk Castle is also the point where the route bids farewell to the Maelor Way and embraces another behemoth of a national trail in the shape and form of the Offa’s Dyke Path.
The Offa's Dyke Path (Welsh: Llwybr Clawdd Offa) runs 176 miles (283 km) along the Wales–England border. It attracts walkers from throughout the world and either follows, or keeps close company with, the remnants of Offa's Dyke, an 8th-century earthwork, the majority of which was probably constructed on the orders of Mercian King Offa.  Although, he won’t be doing the whole length of the path, he’ll be doing around 140 miles of it (!) and so he can’t be accused of neglecting the Welsh leg of his journey.
Most walkers travel south to north, starting by the Severn Estuary, at Sedbury, near Chepstow, and finishing at Prestatyn on the north coast... so Big Dave's route is bucking that trend by starting at Chirk and finishing at Chepstow. The walk will take an average walker roughly 12 days to complete, although this can vary depending on individual fitness, attitude, the weather, age and experience.
Following a man-made border and ancient monument, rather than natural features, the dyke crosses a variety of different landscapes. This route crosses the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons and the Shropshire Hills (including the many ups and downs of the 'Switchback', for many walkers the hardest part of the walk).
The Path passes through, or close to, many historic towns, including Chepstow, Monmouth, Hay-on-Wye, Kington, Knighton, Bishop’s Castle, Montgomery, Welshpool, and Oswestry. The Path also passes through no less than eight different counties and crosses the border between England and Wales over 20 times.
In terms of the views, there seems to be much to see – from the riverside meadows of the Wye and Severn valleys to the peaceful rolling hills of Shropshire and Powys and the dramatic heather clad uplands of the Black Mountains. Along the way there are several castles, quiet country churches, enigmatic Iron Age hillforts and enticing country pubs to enjoy... so hopefully it won’t be all about the blisters!.
 Can you spare a few quid in support of the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Feeling overwhelmed... but in a good way!

Overwhelmed by the amount of messages I have had from strangers from all over the country - from Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, Lancashire,... the Highlands - saying that, although they know they can't assist me with the walk in any way, they would love to take a stroll beside me for part of the journey.

This walk is really starting to capture the imagination of more than just my local community and it is truly amazing

Looks like this might not be such a lonely task after all and I think you're all bloody superstars!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Great British company SealSkinz sign up as Expedition Sponsors for Big Dave

We are delighted to announce that a Great British company, SealSkinz, has officially signed up to be one of Big Dave's Expedition Sponsors!

SealSkinz have a simple mission - to enable anyone and everyone to get outdoors, and stay out for longer, whatever the weather. They also create technical gear in the truest sense - rugged, hardwearing and unashamedly functional - designed and engineered to the highest standard.

To say that we are chuffed is an understatement.

Check out their website at


Another training amble... from Warden Hill, Luton to Toddington, via Streatley, Sharpenhoe, Sundon and Fancott – 15th February 2014

First thing first... to be honest this little walk very nearly didn’t happen at all.

The weather overnight from Valentine’s Day had been atrocious; howling gales and constant rain, reports of trees dropping left, right and centre... on top of that it had been an extremely stressful week with me having medical treatment on Wednesday (and still feeling the residual effects) and Lorna and I getting the news that we would have to move house about a month before Big Dave’s Little Stroll begins... amongst a couple of other personal trials and tribulations.

I don’t want to turn you, the valued readers of my blog, into my unpaid therapy so in summary... I was well on the way to telling this week to “do one.”

Enough said.

Another thing you need to know about me is that my biggest supporter/cheerleader in this endeavour (the end to end charity walk) has always been Lorna, my wife. That said, she can also be my biggest obstacle to positive thinking towards my training, purely out of concern for my safety.
This morning was particularly difficult to elicit from her the proper encouragement required.  Having looked out of the window in the pitch black at 4:45 am, and having also looked at the weather forecast on the BBC for the area, it is fair to say that she was less than keen on me going out on this training walk. Once I had togged up, gone outside to inspect the weather first-hand (from our driveway) and returned to report that it “wasn’t that bad” (a small fib at that time in fact); Lorna was fantastic. She leapt into action, filled me with porridge and drove me to my start point at Warden Hill in Luton at silly o’clock. She is an absolute star.
The start of the walk was a bit hairy, mainly because it was pitch black, with several fallen trees along the way... but also because I had never walked this way before. I started, as I've said already, at Warden Hill in Luton, travelling north between the grounds of the Cardinal Newman School and a golf course (name unknown) before turning left through the woodland by Drays Ditches to the A6. This stretch is short and easy enough to traverse, but with gale force winds shaking every tree that I passed, I spent the best part of this section staring up with what little night vision I had at these possible villains, rather than down at the mud and puddles which I was actually traipsing through.
Once across the A6 it was west again up Great Bramingham Lane to the Keech Hospice, at which point I got thoroughly lost for about 5 minutes.
Still pitch black save for the accusing glare of a security light, I finally worked out that the contractors laying the new car park had put a ruddy great curb across where the Icknield Way footpath should have been. Obviously, the car park is very important... don’t get me wrong... but it’s a bugger when you’re trying to find the signpost for a trail that is technically no longer there.
Mystery solved, I then trudged north through a couple of farmer’s fields (on the footpath, naturally) for about a mile, before I came to the beautiful village of Streatley, where I emerged by the village pond, much to the utter bemusement of a herd of sheep who were laying by a hedgerow sheltering from the fierce wind.
I then rambled through Streatley, along the Icknield Way Trail which took me through a pretty churchyard and then sharply east towards the A6 once again.
I inwardly rejoiced when I realised that my route was not going to take me along the A6, as it had appeared from my map, but alongside some allotments and up along a ridge with mature trees and a fantastic view of the surrounding landscape.
It was incredibly cold by this time, but daylight was now fully upon me and the varying colours of the woodland were truly amazing to behold. I paused there for a few minutes to enjoy the view, downed some water and quite literally inhaled a banana and a muesli bar. Then I followed the ridge line in the direction of the Sharpenhoe Clappers.
It was at this stage, I had to climb over my first proper tree trunk of the day (the first of three), which at my size is no small task, but having done so with alarming ease I continued north onto the Sharpenhoe Clappers.
For those of you who aren’t from Bedfordshire (and probably for a fair few of you that are... including me!)... “Reputedly haunted, Sharpenhoe Clappers is a classic chalk escarpment and part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It is crowned with traces of an Iron Age hill-fort and an impressive beech wood.”
Although they were indeed beautiful, they were also incredibly exposed, especially at the point where the route turned sharply west towards Sharpenhoe Road, so I didn't hang about!
The walk then took me through a large area of grassland and some more woodland.
As I walked through the woodland I came across an incredibly well-built shelter made of branches that I would have been immensely proud of if I had made it with my friends in the woods by Spinney Crescent when I was a kid, but that I strongly suspect it was more likely made by a Bear Grylls fanatic... without a girlfriend... not under the age of 40.
After the woods I trudged around the edges of more farmers’ fields, but in mud like glue which tried to pull my boots off at every step. Despite this, I had found this training walk relatively easy going compared to my recent excursions and at this point, my feet, my legs, my breathing... everything was sweet as a nut. More on that later. 
Having crossed the Harlington Road, I struck out across another area of undulating grassland and then turned south along a gravel track towards Upper Sundon. One thing that really struck me about this area was the level of fly tipping that had been going on. The paddock before the track was more like a tip than a field and it was a bit of a shock to the system after weeks of walking through splendid British countryside.
Upper Sundon itself was very pleasant.  It was welcome relief to be off of the uphill gravel and broken brick track and onto a level surface for a while. Unfortunately, it was about this time that I started to get quite severe cramps in my upper abdomen and, strangely, in the underside of my jaw, both of which were growing in intensity. Nevertheless, I carried on through Upper Sundon and onto another gravel track heading towards the roaring M1. I walked across one bridge over the railway lines quickly followed by another bridge over the M1 itself, then under the shadow of the behemoth that is the Sundon Substation, across several muddy field footpaths (which marked the return of the glue-like mud) for about three quarters of a mile, before reaching Fancott.
I then turned west up Sundon Road until I got to the next section of the Icknield Way Trail where I had to pull up for a while as I was in an excruciating level of pain from the cramping in my abdomen and jaw.
Obviously, I had maintained my water and glucose levels throughout the walk and I had quite literally inhaled two bananas. The going had been relatively easy and I’d only covered about 9 miles by this point, so physically I wasn’t having any of the usual difficulties that start to emerge around 16 miles or so. All the same, I was now in significant pain, especially from the underside of my jaw. I decided I’d do another mile or so and then reassess whether to continue today. On the walk itself I knew I wouldn’t have this luxury and the idea of stopping before my planned target of about 16.5 miles was eating at me, but I was also acutely aware that this was only a training walk and that I had been unwell this week. I resolved that it would be better to cut this particular walk short than risk doing myself some damage.
So I set off across another muddy field footpath in a southerly direction following the markers for the Icknield Way Trail and then turned sharply west, as that was what my map had shown and the way-marks bore it out. The only problem was the next way-mark post was telling me to head in a different direction to that implied by the map. After much consideration I decided to follow the clear arrow of the way-mark post along the field’s edge and over a small plank across a ditch into another field, also way-marked (but this time with no directional arrow). There appeared to be two rather puddled and muddied paths running in opposite directions around this field’s edge and up to the brow of a hill. I chose the one to the west, as I knew this was the general direction that I was supposed to be headed at this point, and began the trudge up hill.
That turned out to be a fundamentally bad decision.
The going was unbelievably tough and soon I was up to mid-calve in my old friend the glue-like mud, every step taking the effort of ten normal steps and threatening to take my boot as payment for the surrender of my foot. By the time I made it the corner of this field I was in incredible pain with the cramping and, more importantly, it was glaringly apparent that I was now headed in the wrong direction. I spotted a way-marked post one field over so, being careful to hug the hedgerow of that field, I struck out towards it and followed the footpath it signified (not the Icknield Way Trail incidentally). That footpath emerged into a residential street in what turned out to be south Toddington. If not for the wrong turn, I should have emerged somewhere much further south on Dunstable Road before continuing down a footpath to Wingfield.
In reality I walked along several of the roads of this residential area until I reached Dunstable Road, and then I walked for a short while down Dunstable Road itself, until, having spotted a bus stop along the way with a bus due to arrive in only 10 minutes, I decided that enough was enough for today, sat down and, wincing heavily, began to massage my jaw.
By this time I had walked about 11 miles thanks to my detour and about 3-4 of those had been in no small amount of agony. Thoroughly disappointed with my pansy behaviour, I sat and stared into the distance... until I was engaged in a conversation by a little old lady and her daughter. Seeing me sitting there with mud caked up my legs and a hefty pair of boots on, looking disheartened, this lovely woman started asking me all about my walking, the expedition and the charities that I was raising money for, which, for those 8 or so minutes, lifted my spirits quite considerably.
I bussed as far as the top of Houghton Road in Dunstable and then trundled the last half a mile or so to my mum’s house on the Beecroft Estate for a much needed rest (and to pick up my beautiful daughter Niamhy and take her home). With some sweet tea inside me things didn't seem quite so bad and my mind immediately started to plot the next training walk possibility.

Can you spare a few quid in support of the MS Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and Help for Heroes?