The continuing story of my epic walk/hobble around the Staple Fitzpaine Herepath......
Having managed to persuade my right foot to go into it's boot despite it being the size of a large grapefruit, I hobbled out of the front door and out into the cold morning. It was one of those mornings when the air is sharp and cuts the back of your throat as you breathe in and the views are gin-clear. Yeap, it had been cold overnight and there was frost everywhere.
Ok, I was out the door....next obstacle to overcome was the large sheet of ice that covered the road at the end of the drive (there is a spring that flow out over the lane). This was serious...if I slipped I ran the risk of doing myself more damage. Cue poor re-enactment of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks! The Gods were obviously looking at me favourably, as I made it to the other side unscathed. The trail led up a minor road, which then became a wide bridleway and the next obstacle - frozen mud that has been shaped into ankle twisting nightmares by the passage of several horses. Fortunately I had taken a walking pole with me to provide some support and I made steady progress towards the main ridge.
All round me, birds and animals were going about their daily business and the air was full of birdsong and the fast staccato tapping of a woodpecker headbanging a tree. Yeap, it was a good day. The path followed a wide trail through the woods, cutting underneath Castle Neroche and then a narrower, older path that led past the ruins of a small farmstead. I love having a nosey around old building and ancient sites (quarries and mines are a big favourite) and always wonder about the stories they could tell if they could speak....
Now the ground was beginning to thaw and the mud getting slippery, making for difficult progress on the next uphill bit. Again, I was conscious of injuring my foot again, so I took it easy and used my walking pole for support, before arriving at the summit of Staple Hill, the highest point on the Blackdown Hills! So it was going to be down hill from now on! Great, except my injury meant even slower progress than going up hill! I was half way round and felt fine. Ok, I wasn't going very fast, and I certainly was nowhere near Naismith's 4 km per hour, but this was never going to be a race. It was about doing something active, seeing how far I could comfortably go and preventing myself from going mad (there is only so much sitting about I can do).
This is easy, I thought. I will soon be fixed and back to climbing and surfing and walking on proper hills.......and then, there it was, a recreation of the Somme from 1915. Half a km of thick, slippery, sticky, horrid mud, churned up by countless horses. The sort of mud that you get stuck in or loose a wellie to. And there was no way round it. This was the crux...the hardest point of the whole walk and one which could not be avoided. Just dig deep, be ultra careful I said to myself. If I was fully fit, it would have been a struggle, but with a gammy foot , it was like trying to empty Dozmary Pool with a limpet shell - virtually impossible! Slip...slide...lose balance....put walking pole out to steady myself......regain composure......slip....slide...etc etc. I hated it. A couple of times I nearly went over on my bad ankle, which caused me to wince in pain. 500 metres took me 40 minutes. Rubbish!
Having survived The Muddy Field of Certain Death, I hobbled, even more slowly than normal, along the trail. which, thankfully, was flat, wide and easy going. I hadn't seen many people up to now, but just past Orchard Wood, with it's hidden Iron Age fort, I encountered a group of dog owners undergoing training with their dogs. "Afternoon" I said. "oh, hello" one of them said, "are you ok? Have you hurt yourself?" "Well, how long have you got?" I thought.
15 minutes later, I was saying goodbye to my new friends who all thought I was brave (well, that's what they said, but secretly I suspected they thought I was mad) and was making my way to Thurlbear Wood.
Thurlbear Wood is an ancient woodland with a recorded history dating back to 1320 and is now measured by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. It grows on a bed of limestone, which i found surprising, as the surrounding landscape doesn't lend itself to that fact, as there's very little evidence of limestone rock about. Anyway, there's the remains of a limekiln, used for making 'quicklime', a substance used in building and farming. By the time I passed through it, my pace had reduced to something slower than a snail! My foot/ankle had seized up and I had run out of puff. After all, I can't expect to run a marathon after doing nothing, but sit on my bum for 2 months....and now it was beginning to get darker......must.......go......faster......
Eventually, at 16.45, I collapsed in the porch and struggled to remove my boots. It had taken me 7 hrs 20 mins to walk 12.5 miles. Thats not fast by any standard. Quite embarrassing, really, but it's a start. I will pay for this in the morning (and i did - ankle like a balloon!)