After the failure that was last week’s training walk, I was determined to put in a really good weekend of walking. I’d had the flu all of the last weekend and had to take two days off work as well, but I’d managed to muddle my way through two days of court and I was raring to get back out on the footpaths and bridleways to rack up some training miles. The plan was to tackle at least three shorter walks, of 10 miles or so, over the four day bank holiday weekend, back to back, to build up the endurance of the old legs and the toughness of the old feet.
I had most of the kit laid out and ready to go on Thursday night... problem was that Super Wife wasn’t feeling all that super. After a few tearful moments at about 4am on a Good Friday, that didn’t start so “good,” I had been firmly talked out of going on a stroll by my darling, pregnant, and dare I say dangerously hormonal, missus... plus I hadn’t had my obligatory morning tea and muesli.
Saturday morning – take two. Ready to go again and... more of the same. To be fair Super Wife had a day of work ahead of her, and a walk into town of her own to drop off the baby with my mum, so the slightly down atmosphere in the Redmond family residence was not all that surprising. This time however, I managed to negotiate my way through the hazardous terrain of early morning marital discussion; Super Wife had regained her super human powers armed with a steaming hot mug of coffee, juice plus tablets and a bowl of muesli; and I was out on the road, adorned with my green Macmillan livery only an hour later than envisaged.
I didn’t realise how fast I was trundling along, but in absolutely no time at all I had left Luton Road and Station Road in my wake. It was quite strange setting out in the morning light rather than in the darkness save for the multicoloured glow of streetlights.
I wandered up the footpath that runs along the paddocks at the foot of the Blows Downs, from the edge of the busway and Great Northern Road to the end of Half Moon Lane. The going was firm compared to the sludge I had experienced along this stretch about a month ago, which was fantastic for the muscles in my thighs but less good for the soles of my feet. The trusty boots that have seen me through all of the training miles so far (and a fair few trips to the Highlands for that matter) are starting to wear painfully thin – in fact the original insoles are non-existent and there is a sizeable hole in the heel of the left one - but even with a pair of new “sports” insoles in these boots and my wonder socks from Sealskinz – I could still feel every furrow in the track.
I spun a left along the bottom of the Blows Downs and along the track towards the Bulldog – it was a lovely morning – a bit nippy, but to be honest after about 10-15 minutes of walking I generally maintain a pretty decent temperature. So whilst everyone else is stomping their feet or rubbing their hands together frantically to keep warm around me, I come steaming by... quite literally.
It was as I emerged into the clearing near the back of Jeans Way, just before you reach the chalky summit of the Bulldog, that I came face to furry face with a West Highland Terrier.
Before I go any further I should set out my canine credentials. I’m a dog lover – I own two dogs, a Rottweiler named Big Red and a German Shepherd named The Duke. They are unquestionably two large dogs whose breeds have a notorious, and largely undeserved, reputation for being aggressive. I’m a firm believer that it’s the owners not genetics that lead to aggression in dogs, but I also appreciate that these breeds have all the physical tools to put you in the hurt locker and therefore it is all the more important to train them properly and treat them right.
Now... with those views firmly stated. Why is it that some people, who own smaller, less intimidating breeds, clearly make no attempt to train their dogs in any way whatsoever? Case in point... this fecking Westie! Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to Trixie, my hairy midget canine nemesis... This little fluffy terror came flying across the open clearing like a bat out of hell, yapping the entire way as she closed the 100 metre gap between her elderly owner and me. Not usually problem... as I say, I love dogs. I carried on at a steady pace, looked at the dog without staring at it and said the words “hello mate” in as chirpy a voice as I could muster, as I expected this mutt to either sniff me, lick me or simply continue haring on past.
I could just about make out the words “she’s alright, wouldn’t hurt a fly” in a raspy male tone momentarily before this tiny bundle of dread sank her jaws into my right ankle!
Not nipped at my right ankle... oh no! Properly wrapped her tiny little dagger teeth around my bloody leg! Thankfully, it was only momentarily and my jeans and Sealskinz, wetsuit like, sock offered me a surprising degree of protection. Nevertheless, I audibly cursed as Trixie released my leg, circled around the back of me and dashed about halfway back towards her clueless eejit of a master... and I use that term extremely loosely.
I managed to maintain my calm at this stage, but Trixie (old raspy was by now repeatedly shouting her name) leant into her turn as she came flying back towards me for a second sortie. I carried on walking in the direction of the Bulldog (the direction she was pelting from) and as she closed to about 3 metres from me I allowed my left boot to swing forward for about a second or so longer than one would normally employ for a normal step.
Safe to say that having come into abrupt contact with the toe end of a size 12 walking boot, old Trixie decided to finally return to her loving owner. Now – let’s be clear. I did not attempt to kick a three point through the posts with this yappy critter, I merely dissuaded her continued assault with the persuasive employment of boot leather on bonce. But here’s the real kicker... the elderly gentleman who had been “walking” Trixie started hurling abuse at me!
The air was quite literally blue! This guy was about 70-75 years old, an inch or two smaller than me and about half my weight. He was walking with the assistance of a walking stick – not a hiking pole – an old man’s walking stick which – once I had walked to about 10 metres of him – he began frantically waving about. Once he was within touching distance he began thrusting the offending piece of walking apparatus about an inch from my nose, spluttering all over my face. I was initially surprised at the venomous attitude of this particular senior citizen, then mildly amused by the use of language from an otherwise respectable looking pensioner, and then increasingly affronted and angry at the audacity of this idiot (regardless of his age) to start having a pop at me when it was his out of control hound that tried to take a chunk out of me only moments before. That said on the exterior I remained silent and stoic, I simply kept breathing in and out, allowing myself to calm down whilst maintaining eye contact with this lovely fellow and paying particular attention to the stick that was flirting with striking my face. The temptation to snatch his stick and snap it over my knee was immense but I managed to resist that overwhelming urge acutely away that I was in the green of Macmillan Cancer Support and an ambassador for the charity today.
I should also stress that I did not just boot his dog either... that is not in my nature at all - but I was going to be damned if I was going to let her have another bite out of my leg – which was most certainly it’s feverish intent.
When I finally spoke I simply said in the least aggressive tone I could muster – I make no claims as to my success in that regard – “Maybe you should invest in a bloody lead mate... and a muzzle!” Then side stepping this aged wannabe tough nut I carried on my way up towards the gate that leads onto the Bulldog, the sound of raspy curse words left hanging in the air behind me.
Once out of sight I checked my ankle for damage – fortunately just a sore area at the front of my ankle and base of my shin (which actually culminated in a large bruise later that evening) and some additional tearing to the bottom of my jeans – and then I pressed on past the base of the chalky hillock of the Bulldog tweeting a “Good morning Dunstable” message as I went.
It is truly amazing how fast you walk when you’re a bit pissed off. Before I knew it I had reached the footpath at the end of Hatters Way, had stormed up the hill and along the fields to the Caddington Golf Club.
The footpath was an absolute delight at this time in the morning. Not a soul stirred as far as the eye could see as I rambled on through fields and fields of rapeseed glowing with its yellow haze against the blue-grey morning sky.
The blossoms, sparkling white, hung still to the trees and the fields that were not filled with rapeseed and the trees were a deep, rich, luxuriant green.
It is impossible to stay angry when you’re out on a morning such as this was and by the time I reached the edge of the residential caravan site on Folly Lane in Caddington, all thoughts of the pillock and his devil hound were distant from my mind. Still I’ll have to get annoyed more often if it’s going to get me doing 4 miles in marginally over an hour!
TI continued on through Caddington, armed with the knowledge from another training walk, I headed straight for Heathfield Path around the perimeter fences of the village schools and past a patch of woodland covered in bluebells.
I then struck out again across the yellow horizon towards the Woodside residential caravan site.
When I had nearly crossed the expanse I came across another elderly gent accompanied by what I think was a King Charles Cavalier cross. This particular dog took very little interest in me at all but his owner seemed chirpy enough. I offered a “good morning” and received a light-hearted “bit nippy” in reply. Truthfully, I hadn’t noticed.
I emerged onto the Woodside Road in the heart of the little hamlet of Woodside and so my walk down memory lane began. There is a little pub in Woodside, called The Plough I think, that I remember my dad taking me to when I was very small when he went to meet a work colleague for a pint. I sat there with a coke bottle and a bag of cheese and onion crisps with my legs swinging from the beer garden bench, too short for my feet to touch the floor – I felt like a proper grown up and proud to be out with my dad on my own.
From Woodside I trundled along the pavement towards the crossroads at the centre of Slip End. My grandparents raised their family in Slip End, just a few doors down from the crossroads on Front Street.
My grandmother, Ann Redmond nee Dyer, was born a few doors further still up Front Street. I paused to think about all the times I had spent as a young child at my grandparents’ house, sitting on the floor in front of my granddad sat in his chair smoking a cigarette and listening to a small portable radio on the side to his right. My aunts and uncles who, all but one, still lived at home at that time, would be squeezed onto the sofa watching the television in the corner, the Redmond family history proudly emblazoned on the wall behind them, together with many other pictures and ornaments. As a child it was a treasure trove of wonder.
My nan would be out in the kitchen washing up or cooking in front of the window that looked out onto the small garden, whilst my Auntie Tish and my Uncle Les played trivial pursuits sat at the little folded table that sat on the carpeted half of that room. As I walked past the house in Front Street those memories came flooding back made all the more potent by the fact that my nan passed away, having succumbed to cancer, only a few days before.
I decided to walk down Church Road towards St Andrews Church past buildings that once had amongst them a small newsagents with a tankard like front window in which my dad used to work as a shop assistant, having already worked a double shift at the old Delco factory in Dunstable and cycled the distance back to Slip End. That newsagents isn’t there anymore.
What does still stand however, and as beautiful as it was on the day that I married my darling wife, is the lovely little parish church at St Andrews. Having taken a photograph for this blog, I text my wife to let her know where I was and what I was thinking – brownie points for me I think!
I then walked back up Church Road, past the Rising Sun, the pub in which I enjoyed my last beverage in as an unmarried man accompanied by my two brothers-in-law, my three ushers, my groomsman and my best man. Two strange things happened in that pub that morning... first, I didn’t have a Jameson and coke... in fact I only drank an orange juice, feeling worse for wear having survived my stag night the very eve before the wedding. Second, the resident bulldog, a lovely pedigree bitch whose I cannot remember the name, took an obsessive affection to the aroma wafting from under young Mr McClements kilt... much to the amusement of all present.
I walked up Markyate Road towards the A5 and turned sharply up an alleyway squeezed tightly between two houses. It’s a funny thing... walking up a legitimate footpath such as this in the early morning when there is no one around leaves an incredible feeling of guilty conscience on you, despite your legitimate use. A sense that the world suspects you of being present only to scope out future burglary targets! When you look like me, donned in a flat cap, scuttling along an alleyway such as this, you tend to scuttle that little bit faster.
The footpath carries on, back across Woodside Road, and back into the fields of rapeseed... indeed back in the general direction of the Caddington Village Schools. It was at this point that I saw a fox bounding through a field of fresh green. Not the sort of fox that you sometimes witness in the suburbs of Dunstable or Luton, slightly greyed and mangy, digging through the bin bags piled against a commercial bin. This was the size of a medium-sized dog, deep reddish brown in colour with a large bushy tail – healthy – vital - magnificent. Unfortunately, I was too slow to get my camera out, partly due to astonishment, partly due to clumsy, sausage like fingers lacking all dexterity, but it would have been a picture to make Attenborough proud.
I popped out onto Manor Road through a gate that I could barely squeeze through at all and stumbled up that road back into the heart of Caddington, past the Caddington Football and Social Club, before turning down the Dunstable Road, past the allotments and then right onto another footpath that led towards the corner of Folly Wood and then touched the edge of Cradle Spinney before turning sharply northwest towards Castlecroft Wood.
I then took a bit of a wrong turn... all I can say is, thank goodness for a compass. I walked about a quarter of a mile southwest and then north in correction, eventually finding my way back on to the route just east of Dame Ellen’s Wood. Although my path did not take me into those woods from where I walked I could see a blanket of bluebells at the foot of the trees. There is no finer sight in my opinion than a woodland floor covered in those pretty blue flowers.
From there I wandered through the fields and woods of the nature reserve on the outskirts of Dunstable, pausing on the hillside only to take a photo of the view out across Downside and the new buildings popping up by the hotel on the furthest reaches of town.
I came down from the Blows Downs, emerging from the countryside onto a playground at the edge of the Downside estate, from where I ambled up Southwood Road towards the High Street. The town was still quiet. The only people I saw as I passed through Downside was a couple of lads walking a large well-behaved American Bulldog on a lead along Graham Road (take note old codger with the westie!), a young lad with a large microphone shaped afro wheeling down the slope of Southwood Road on the handles of a shopping trolley who gave me a polite nod as we passed each other and three reasonably large men trying to shoe horn themselves into a fiesta being driven by an exasperated young woman who struck me as one of their long suffering girlfriend.
I trundled past the sign welcoming visitors into Dunstable as I again wandered out of its limits, before heading up Beech Road, past the end of Lowther Road, and up a chalk bank to the open field that leads onwards to the edge of Kensworth Quarry.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again... I’m an absolute fool! That quarry is absolutely massive! How I managed to live in the same town for my entire youth completely oblivious of its existence is beyond comprehension.
It must constitute one of the significant employers in the region as it takes an absolute age to walk around the edge of it. I could see several tiny specks moving around the various tiers of the quarry shelves, clearly gigantic earth moving vehicles reduced to the size of large insects from my vantage point. The sun began to shine brightly and the blue of the large pool at the base of the quarry shone like a sapphire beneath it.
From there it was along another dirt track surrounded by beautiful green foliage until I came to the road at the top of Dunstable Downs.
This section of my walk is a very familiar friend by now. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the countryside looked splendid in its colourful array, and the hilltops were as lively as ever. It looked to me as though the Regimental Fitness team were out putting their clients through their paces, a swarm of colourful training tops circling over by the new glass building a bit further on from where the hut used to be.
I also noticed several large wooden apparatus positioned along the top of the Downs – well... I say noticed. They were pretty hard to miss. I can only assume that they will be forming part of an upcoming endurance race. It looked pretty fun to me, although perhaps a little challenging, and in proper girly mode my first thoughts ran along the lines of “think of the splinters!”
I paused along the top of the Five Knolls to take a few photographs as it was such a fine day before heading down the other side along the chalk path that runs beside the back fences of the residences down to West Street.
From there I crossed over to the Green Lanes which I followed down to the colourful painted wooden sign that marks the entrance to the Totternhoe Lanes and Knolls, before turning northeast along the field edges and then northwest towards Sewell.
I then walked down the lanes to the Sewell footbridge where I past two amicable ladies out riding their horses in the morning sunshine who merrily wished me a good morning and a lovely day.
At this point I thought I had barely covered 10-11 miles – I hadn’t actually measured my route this time out – so I was keen to add to my mileage which is why I had set off in the direction of Sewell in the first place and not just turned off the Green Lanes by Spinney Crescent. I did however turn around at Sewell and headed off back in the direction of Dunstable along the Sewell Greenway.
Once I had traversed the Sewell Greenway, it was then the familiar route along the cycleway from Frenchs Avenue to Creasey Park, out on to Brewers Hill Road and up to Brewers Hill Park. Then it was through to Ashcroft and down to Loring Road.
Once at Loring Road I took a pit stop and a sweet cup of tea at my mum’s (not to mention to pick up my beautiful daughter Niamhy and push her back home in her buggy).
When I got home from my mum’s, having walked just under two miles pushing a buggy, but no longer carrying a pack, I discovered that I had phenomenally underestimated my day’s mileage.
In fact I had walked just under 19 miles in the space of about 6.5 hours – which is not too shoddy... even if I do say so myself.
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