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!

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