The Pier to Pier walk for St Helena Hospice

20160417_144724Yesterday, I did the Pier to Pier Walk for St Helena Hospice to raise money in memory of my friend Martin Hunt who died last year. They run it every year, challenging people to walk the seven miles from Walton Pier to Clacton Pier (or vice versa), or if you’re really wanting a good long walk you can do it both ways for a total of fourteen miles. I did the latter, starting and finishing at Walton Pier.

It’s an almost completely flat walk as it uses the two main promenades (Walton & Frinton, and Holland & Clacton) with the sea wall linking the two. There are a few minor slopes, but this is an Essex coastal walk, so what might be referred to as a hill or a slope here is what would likely be nothing more than a speed bump in the road in the rest of the country. Luckily, the weather yesterday was great for walking – sunny for most of it, but not baking hot and with just a light breeze blowing. It’s probably not as easy (or safe) to do the walk when there’s a storm blowing in off the North Sea and the waves are crashing over the path. As a seaside walk, it’s also very hard to get lost with the only question you need to ask to check you’re in the right place being ‘am I on the path next to the sea?’

There are plenty of beach cafes along the way too, so if you want to make a more leisurely stroll of it, you can. Alternatively, you can do what I did and push yourself through the whole thing with the thought of getting some nice chips from Yates’ in Walton at the end of it.

There were over a thousand people doing the walk to raise money for the Hospice yesterday, with a really pleasant atmosphere and lots of encouragement along the way from the people who were just out to enjoy the sunny day. I think most were doing it in just one direction as I didn’t see as many walkers on the way back from Clacton as I did on the way there, but there were still plenty of people around.

As for me, I managed to finish to keep up a decent pace throughout the walk and do it in a little bit more than two hours each way, without picking up any injuries other than a little bit of sunburn to my face. Martin’s wife and daughter came to see me off at the start, and it was good to see them to remember why I was doing it and to hear about how much the Hospice had helped them during Martin’s last months. We did note that he used to complain about having to walk too far from his car to the Town Hall, so there was a certain irony in doing a walk to remember him but I’m sure he’d have appreciated it.

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me, and you can still do it by visiting my Justgiving page or by donating directly to the hospice. Hopefully next year I can persuade a few more people to do it with me, or find some other things to help raise money for the Hospice.

If you want to see more of what it was like, the pictures are below. Click on any one of them to see it full size.

It was such a nice day, the North Sea even looked blue
It was such a nice day, the North Sea even looked blue
Setting off from Walton
Setting off from Walton
'A good walk spoiled'
‘A good walk spoiled’
Meeting some of the people coming from Clacton
Meeting some of the people coming from Clacton
First sighting of Clacton Pier
First sighting of Clacton Pier
And here we are, with a board of memories and dedications.
And here we are, with a board of memories and dedications.
Greeted by jugglers at Clacton
Greeted by jugglers at Clacton
And a time-travelling policeman
And a time-travelling policeman
Turning around and heading back
Turning around and heading back
And meeting people who were halfway through their return trip
And meeting people who were halfway through their return trip
Walton Pier finally comes into sight
Walton Pier finally comes into sight
Watch out for the punning beach huts
Watch out for the punning beach huts
The final stretch...
The final stretch…
And we're done!
And we’re done!

Walking for charity again

Pier-to-pier-website-bannerOn April 17th, I’m going to be taking part in St Helena Hospice’s Pier to Pier walk, going from Walton Pier to Clacton Pier and back again. I’m doing this to help raise money for the hospice in memory of my friend and colleague Martin Hunt, who spent time at the hospice before his death last year.

If you want to sponsor me, I’ve set up a Justgiving page where you can do it directly online, or if you can’t use Justgiving, then please get in touch with me and we’ll arrange some other method.

It should be a nice day out (providing there are no massive spring storms coming in from the North Sea that day) so please come along to show support for me and all the other walkers doing it – there’s lots of fun to be had on the piers while you’re waiting for the walkers to reappear. I chose Walton for my start and finish because there’s a very good chip shop not far from the pier, and fish and chips on the beach is a great way to relax and enjoy yourself at the end of a walk.

You can sponsor me by clicking here, or if you want to take part yourself, there’s more information and a registration form on the hospice’s website. If you really want to help, keep your fingers crossed for good weather on the 17th!

In memory of Martin Hunt

Unfortunately, another commitment elsewhere means I can’t attend Martin Hunt‘s funeral and memorial today, but as his family have requested donations to St Helena Hospice in lieu of flowers, I wanted to mention something I’ll be doing in memory of him in a couple of months.

Pier-to-pier-website-bannerSt Helena Hospice are staging a Pier To Pier walk on the Essex coast in April, on a route between Clacton and Walton piers. I’m intending to do the full fourteen mile there and back walk (not sure which one I’ll be starting and finishing at) so this is fair warning that I will be asking for sponsorship and donations as the time comes near, and every bit of support will be appreciated. It’s not on the scale of my previous charity walking challenge, but this is one to fill a day rather than an entire summer.

In the meantime, please think of Martin’s family today.

Walking from Colchester to Dedham via the Essex Way

With the weather forecasts all predicting lots of rain and then the cold of winter to come in the next few days, yesterday seemed like the last chance to have a decent long walk this year, so I took the opportunity to head out on the Essex Way. The Way skirts around the outskirts of Colchester so I decided to walk out to West Bergholt and pick it up there, then head along it through the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale.

pringlesThe walk out to Bergholt is one I’ve done a few times. It’s relatively easy to do from the centre of town, and gets you out into the countryside quite quickly, taking advantage of the open space around Cymbeline Meadows. The main path from there takes you out past the farm at Lexden Lodge, then around a bit of the golf course and over the railway at Bakers Lane. The only problem with the countryside feel here is the ever-present roaring of the A12 which you pass under a little way after Bakers Lane, marked by the Pringles can-topped fence. I’m not quite sure if this is just creative litter disposal or the beginnings of some outside art, but they look interesting and the earliest ones have clearly been there for a while.

bergholtpathLeaving the A12 behind, the path continues across the golf course where I managed to get a little lost and so almost get hit by a ball flying over a hill. I soon managed to find the correct path and avoid any more inadvertent golfist attacks, plunging back into the undergrowth and the first bit of the path that was both boggy and strewn with branches blown down in the high winds earlier of the week. It’s still easily passable, and only a short cut through that leads out to the bottom of a lane that gradually widens as you head into West Bergholt and get to join the Essex Way properly.

essexwayOne of the good things about the Essex Way is that it’s pretty well waymarked and the red-on-white waymarkers are quite easy to spot so it’s hard to get lost on it. It also helps that it’s in a lot of open countryside so the paths tend to be straight and easy to find too. It cuts through West Bergholt than out past Armoury Farm, over fields and around an orchard to take you into Great Horkesley where it follows the roads for a bit before heading onto country lanes again. This isn’t the most interesting part as you’re just walking along the A134 and then another road for a while, but it passes quickly and there aren’t really any other ways to get from one side of Horkesley to the other without using the road.

alpacaThere were a couple of interesting sights around the edge of Great Horkesley, as the path left the road and headed into the countryside. First up, there was a paddock with some alpacas (I think, though they could be llamas) that watched me curiously as I walked past. Unlike other farm animals they didn’t either run away at the sight of a human or flock to the fence to greet me in expectation of food, just stood still and kept an eye on me until I was gone.

fallentreeThen just past them there was a rather large tree that had fallen down, almost completely blocking the lane. There was just about enough space for me to squeeze under it (shorter and more flexible people would have found it no trouble) but there definitely wouldn’t be any vehicles getting through there. There wasn’t anyone there, so there didn’t seem any immediate urgency to remove it, but I expect it’ll be gone by now. However, if you want to go and see for yourself (or just be stared at by alpacas) it was around here.

After that, it was out across more fields, surrounded by the scent of the onions that were growing in them. This was one of the most open and exposed parts of the walk, so it’s naturally the time the weather chose to go very grey and windy though the rain held off. Luckily the open fields did have a small wood in them to shelter from the wind in and have a cup of tea while sitting on another fallen tree, thought this one looked like it had been like that much longer.

dancingtreeFrom there, I roughly followed the path of the way (with a few shortcuts, as it does tend to meander in some places) through Boxted and Langham, and got to see the remains of a tree by the road that looked like the remains of a giant frozen in the middle of some ancient rave. You can find it just outside Boxted, near the interestingly named Wet Lane. It’s on one of the short cuts I took to shorten the route a little from one of the way’s meanders so you’ll have to leave the Way it, but this is one part where that are plenty of other interesting paths around and they all tend to intersect each other eventually.

I didn’t follow the Essex Way all the way into Dedham as I’ve walked around there a few times and find the Suffolk side of the river to be a nicer walk than the Essex side. I left the Way and crossed the Stour at Stratford St Mary, then managed to initially take the wrong path and found myself wandering in thick undergrowth for a while before getting back to the road and carrying on down to the right one. For future reference: the path under the A12 is a few hundred metres south of Stratford St Mary, at the second footpath sign, not the first one.

dedhamviewingpointThe path on the Suffolk side of the Stour is right next to the river, while the one on the Essex side (at least to the west of Dedham) is further away in the fields for most of its length. Yesterday was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen it – I think I only saw one other person in that stretch – and the sound of the A12 soon fades away as you’re walking along. I did spot this strange Roman-styled folly by the river which appears to just be somewhere for people on the other side to sit and watch the river, but please let me know in the comments if it has some other purpose.

startledhouseJust after to that there’s the Dedham lock and weir which I crossed over and then followed the road into the village. I had thought about carrying on down the river (on the Essex side this time) to Flatford Mill, then on to Manningtree to get a train home but my legs were pretty tired by this point after fourteen occasionally muddy miles, and I realised that not only was the bus to Colchester from Dedham due soon but that it also stopped at the bottom of my road. By that point in the day, the idea of a very short walk home was too good an idea to pass up.

I should probably write up more walks on here as not only is it motivation for me to get out more, I do get quite a few visitors from Google looking for information on walks in and around Colchester. Maybe that should be my niche…

A charitable break

london2brightonOld friends and long-term readers of this blog will remember that I spent the summer of 2006 walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise money of brain tumour research. This was in memory of my brother Simon, who died from a brain tumour in 2005.

Now that walking bug has caught on with some other members of my family who are taking on a different walking challenge. Although I walked over a thousand miles in total, the most I did in a day was about 30 miles and that was partly thanks to me not realising quite how far I was going that day.

At the end of May, my brother Andrew, my sister-in-law Julie and my niece Lucie will be walking 62 miles (100km) in a day as they take on the London to Brighton Challenge. It’s a massive distance to walk, and one that I’m not sure I could do in a day even if I got back in training.

Like me, they’re doing it to raise money for brain tumour research and so they’re looking for sponsors. If you’ve got a spare few quid and you’d like to support them, then please pop along to their JustGiving pages – Lucie’s is here, Andrew’s here and Julie’s here – and make a donation. Every bit helps, and I’ll give an update on their progress – and hopefully, their successful completion of the walk – when the time comes.

Walking north

No meetings today, and the weather was reasonably good so I went for my first long walk in a few months – probably the first proper walk I’ve done since the Roman Circus one back in February, actually.

Mostly places I’ve been before, starting with the back route to West Bergholt (detailed here) and then following the Essex Way up as far as Boxted, then heading off towards the Stour on the way out of the village, rather than carrying on the Way towards Langham and Dedham. From there, it was a just a short walk up to Stoke-by-Nayland to complete 13 miles with a rather nice sandwich and pint at the Angel. Here, have some pictures:
Oilseed field between West Bergholt and HorkesleyView from the bridge, crossing the River Stour near BoxtedWisteria-covered barn between Boxted and Stoke-by-Nayland
I’m going to try and blog a few more walks this summer – just like I promised to do last year, of course – and am thinking about doing the full Epping-to-Harwich Essex Way this summer. It’s been a while since I’ve done a long stage walk like that, and while it’s not the full 1,000+ miles of John O’Groats to Land’s End, it should make an interesting challenge.

The route

After some playing with Google Maps, I think I’ve managed to plot a rough outline of the route we’ll be taking on Sunday:

View Roman Circus walk in a larger map
If there’s nothing showing above, then click here to see it on Google.

It’s slightly approximated at points because it’s hard to follow footpaths on Google Maps, so the southern section (along the Roman River and through Friday Woods) shows up as basically a straight line when it’s anything but, but a look at Ordnance Survey maps on Streetmap will show you how many routes there are through there.

All roads lead to the Roman Circus

So, if you live near Colchester (or were watching The One Show last week) you’ll have heard about the appeal to raise funds to save Colchester’s Roman Circus.

Well, as part of the appeal, I’m putting my walking boots back on and hitting the road this Sunday to help raise cash. Along with Jo Hayes and my fellow councillor Theresa Higgins, I’ll be walking a twelve mile circuit that starts and finishes at the circus and also takes in some of the other Roman remains in Colchester, including the walls, the Balkerne Gate and Gosbecks Archaeological Park.

So, if you want to contribute then please visit the Roman Circus website and pledge cash there, or contact me for other details of how you can make a donation.

Or, if you feel like joining us for part of the walk then please come along. We’ll be starting from the Circus at around 10am, and I’ll be updating throughout the day on Twitter, and possibly finding some way over the next few days to use the GPS functions on my new phone to report our location.

We’re also arranging a separate shorter walk around the Roman sites in the town centre, which will be led by Bob Russell MP and will cover about three miles around the walls and other sites. Bob’s happy for anyone to join him – they’ll be starting at the same time, and we’ll be covering the same route for a while – as long as they make a donation of £5 or more to the Circus appeal.

So it’s fingers crossed for good weather on Sunday…

Weekly Walk #3: Man-made landscapes

a>We’re heading west this week, and I’ve attempted to give a theme to the walk, of what humans have done to the landscapes of Colchester over the year. People have been living here for thousands of years, and every passing wave of them has left their mark on the area in one way or another. Stone, however, isn’t very common around here, so large walls weren’t always an option, and so lots of earth was moved to provide defences and define boundaries – and some of those boundaries remain today.
Continue reading Weekly Walk #3: Man-made landscapes