“I was thinking,” John tells me over WhatsApp which is apparently his primary form of communication these days, although it’s definitely mine, too, “are you going to write a Hike V preface on your blog? I feel like we’ve lost momentum. We need something to motivate the troops.”
That’s great, John. Let me just cobble a post together for you so other people will briefly talk about it on another WhatsApp group. Far be it from me to write about something creative and fresh, like The Transients, my intended upcoming novel about commuting, broken up into short chunks the length of a train journey and published a post at a time on my blog. Oh no, I wouldn’t want to do that. Blog posts on demand it is!
(… Actually, I’m really struggling to start that. Turns out although I’ve got a hook, I’ve not got a plot. Might need a little more planning there. Fine. I’ll give the blog a look. Any excuse.)
Okay, so we go on long walks, blah blah. You know the rest, and if you don’t a) where have you been, b) me and a bunch of my good mates do 20 mile+ hikes and somehow I find these profound and amusing enough to write about. There. You’re up to speed. Oh, and people who never read anything I write (like my mother in law) actually read them.
What you probably didn’t know is on this Hike, we got lost a few times, tied our route in knots, encountered a derelict church, exhausted ourselves so much it started getting a bit emotional…
… oh yeah and we met this guy. I’ll introduce him in a minute.
So you probably gathered but I never got round to publishing anything pre-Hike. I probably could have, simply because of all the planning involved in this one.
So, looking back on it, perhaps Henley to Silchester is one of those routes that perhaps shouldn’t be walked. I don’t think you’d find it recommended anywhere. The reason we wanted to do it was because we had done Crowthorne to Windsor (twice), Crowthorne to Silchester, and Windsor to Henley. Henley to Silchester seemed to close that particular loop. The fourth side of the square and all that.
Spoilers seeing as this is taken from my app:
Except there’s no obvious route to take. Or at least not one which is consistent the whole way through. Whichever way you look, you’re going to have to consider walking through towns, walking along or crossing A-Roads or motorways, some light to moderate trespassing, and inventive ways of crossing rivers. There’s parts within the route that make for brilliant walks, but as a whole it’s a bit of a mess. But that’s okay. We like a challenge.
So, in the knowledge that planning this one is going to involve quite a lot of effort – more say than just following a river, which was a lot of Hike IV – John tells us (me, Mat and Rob, the so-called Hike Strategy Planning Committee) that he’s not planning this bitch of a thing alone, and we’ll have to all chip in and at the very least share the blame when it goes wrong.
So we divvy the route out. I get the start, needing to determine whether we walk from Henley to Shiplake, or Henley to Wargrave. My wife and I head down there one weekend and walk to Shiplake and we give the route two thumbs up.
… except the lads promptly veto that because there’s no way of crossing the river at Shiplake, which would mean walking to Sonning, which is nice, but then to Woodley, which is a bit naff as hikes go. They’d rather take Wargrave, which would add a few miles to the route and doesn’t seem to be particularly scenic.
I get passive aggressive and say that whatever they want to do is fine by me, but Shiplake really was interesting and would be a good start to the route, if only we could find a way to cross the river.
(Look, I don’t know whether you find this stuff interesting or not. I do. It’s a big part of the Hike, planning them. If this is too much, just skip ahead to the Hobbit gif I’ve planted. You’ll know it when you see it.)
After exhaustively looking at maps, we realise there are several marinas and boating/yachting clubs around where we need to cross. I use valuable work time blasting off emails and making calls, trying to appeal to their better nature to see if any of them would be prepared to ferry us across the dozen or so metre-wide stretch of river. It’d be cool, right? Despite the fact that I offered to promote them on this blog if they took pity on our group of pilgrims, no one engaged in the slightest. Can’t see why.
Finally we reach a compromise in routes: we walk to Shiplake, get the train to Wargrave. It takes 3 minutes. Can’t be more than a mile. There’s a whole load of questioning as to whether this is right for a Hike – are we cheating, does this count as wimping out – but we decide this Hike’s gonna be 26 miles, we’re happy to do the other 25 on foot. We feel our integrity is unscathed.
There were two more stretches we needed to plan in advance: a stretch of the River Loddon that would be far more pleasant than walking through Shinfield, (Mat had that one) and the last stretch after the penultimate pub on our journey, which was basically just a mass of fields. (This was for me and John to sort.) I’ll get to them.
Anyway, while all this is going on, we’re trying to drum up attendance. At one point it looks like we might have as many as 15 people, and amazingly outside of our core crew, (me, John, Rob, Mat and Alan) there seems to be someone from every previous Hike coming. Good times.
… which don’t last. The dropout rate gains momentum, and after lots of back and forth, plus some really unique excuses (kudos to colleague and friend Matt Bolton for at one point dropping out because he had to house sit his mother in law’s anxious cat while she went on holiday to Portugal), we find we drop to ten. Ten’s good. We can work with that.
All the while, John’s sharing with us his various aches and pains, which ebb and flow in intensity as the Hike approaches. His knee’s buggered. Then it’s his foot. Then he gets a cold. He worries about his ability to be able to finish and tells us if he falls behind we’ll have to impose a Pete’s Law (remember that, readers?) on him.
My compassion extends to dubbing this condition hikepochondria and we move on. Because there’s nothing that’s going to stop us from the following…
Hike 5: 3rd June, 2017.
Attendees: from l-r: Dave Moverley, Tom White, Chris “Swatty” Swatridge, Mat Gunyon, Alan “Big Al” Feltz, Alan O’Connell, me, John Duckitt, Mike Blacker and (not pictured because he’s our photographer and too handsome for conventional photography) Rob Golding.
So I leave the guys to get a cab at obscene o’clock (approx 6:15) to Henley. Apparently the cabbie cannae understand quite why anyone would get a cab at that hour to do a walk. I asked Rob for his experience of this as I wasn’t present, and I received the following:
“Well, the taxi firmed called me the eve before just to confirm is was 6.15 AM and not PM.
So i spoke to the cabbie that morning and they thought it was strange at their office that we would want a taxi at that time and not be going to an airport! So he was like, what are you doing?
So i said we was hiking, and he was like ‘what, like over mountains?’.
YES BRUV OVER ACTUAL MOUNTAINS IN BERKSHIRE.”
Rob Golding, ladies and gentlemen.
Cabbie curiosity sated, most of the crew arrive in good time at the Catherine Wheel pub – one of those Wetherspoons that somehow retains the integrity of the original building despite somehow being a Wetherspoons – and do their standard pre- Hike fry up. I gather from John that everyone ordered the large fry up and this made Mat very happy and this in no way surprises me. Apparently the large breakfast is just called a Large Breakfast on the menu, which is rather brilliant. Tom and I join separately, being based locally. I love me a fry up but not at 7 in the morning. Instead I scrounge a lift in from Mrs Twyford. We have our three year old nephew to stay the night before, so he’s in the car too, coerced into getting up and out at such an ungodly hour by being under the pretense he’s joining me on Nick’s Big Walk. I bail out when we arrive at Henley and leave my wife to Joey’s wrath when he realises he’s not joining his favourite uncle on what turns out to be a twelve hour hike. Sorry pal. Maybe next time.
Man hugs of greeting exchanged, we set off, making a brief pass by the Angel, where our last hike concluded –
– pics or it didn’t happen! –
… and make our way along the river Thames. It’s early in the day and gorgeous, the river path including a sort of decked mezzanine that extends along the weir before leading to a few miles of river trail.
We pause briefly to admire a miniature railway that appears to have been permanently installed in some millionaire’s garden, and soon after reach Shiplake station, which, only having one platform, could almost be a miniature railway itself.
We wait half an hour or so for the train, John and I increasingly aware of what effect stopping so early into the Hike might have, while Mike applies suncream, which appears to be a ritual he adheres to every time we pause. Given his UV aversion there’s a chance he’s part vampire, or perhaps a distant relation of Andy Warhol. We all watch in uncomprehending curiosity as Rob (train enthusiast) and Tom (manages several miles of train line) bond over some pretty niche information concerning all train-related concerns. Everyone’s gotta have a hobby.
(I should also mention that by this point Tom has also shared with the group that he and his wife are expecting a baby. This is obviously lovely news, and also proof that our hikes are so awesome that one only has to start walking and it can lead to pregnancy.)
Train arrives, we hop on and narrowly avoid the auspicious eye of a ticket collector, hopping off and, having saved ourselves £2.40 each, feel smug for two, maybe three minutes until we realise the next part of our route has been closed and is sealed off with a fence from a construction company. Fine. Maps consulted and verified by smartphones, route amended, we crack on. You’re going to see a lot of this as the process starts becoming more organic…
The route takes us through farmland covered with miles of polytunnels (is that a thing) and involves some mild route checking before we arrive in Twyford, which creates the opportunity for many hilarious jokes as it’s obviously my surname, although the jokes seem to consist of me standing in front of things that say Twyford. Perhaps we’re not the comedians we think we are, so we continue…
– this photo did surprisingly well on Facebook –
… and pass a model shop for what is clearly a high end clientele, as some of the dollhouse safe valued in the thousands of pounds. Suck it, Sylvanian Families.
Seriously, would you let your kids near this anyway, even if it didn’t cost you £4,000?!
Best not get me started on this, either.
Passing through Twyford and through some woods, we reach a pub and road we probably shouldn’t have, and realise we might have taken a wrong turning, and are forced to loop round under a railway bridge we had passed earlier.
Forgive another mapmyrun screen grab but this is pretty funny:
… pretty sure hike routes shouldn’t have knots in them. Like a god damn Bermuda Triangle.
The upshot is, while obsessing over maps, Swatty shares with us ample lessons regarding nature. These anecdotes will promptly be disseminated over the course of the blog. The first of these concerned dragonflies, as he pointed out some pretty stunning damsel flies at the river where we turned back.
Swatty says: “Dragonfly larvae are basically f**king monsters. Put them in a jar and they’ll eat one another for sure.”
Damn. Cheers Swatty. We’ll have more from him later.
We crack on, eventually reaching Dinton Pastures, which is/was home of school trips from decades earlier and walks with my family. It’s rather nice. We notice Tom has brought a rather posh wood handled umbrella with him but no food. This prompts mockery. Mike at this point mentions his feet are starting to tang, and that he might not stick this one out. We manage to retain him by finding some pretty bitching graffiti and doing whatever middle class lads do when they’re given the opportunity:
I like to think John dresses like this when he does any light interior decorating.
Or maybe Mike just stuck around because it was the middle of nowhere and the pub we were intending on stopping in is near to Winnersh Triangle station. In reflection it was probably the latter, no matter how impressive John’s gang signs were.
(My personal favourite moment was when John explained to Rob that the shape of his fingers in the above sign literally spelled the word ‘blood’, prompting Rob to utter a very genuine and unaffected “Oh that is sick.” Bless.)
Soon after we arrive at our first pub, The George at Winnersh Triangle. The beer range is acceptable (just) and the decor good – nice beer garden by the river, which is where we park up – but Tom is rather taken aback by £5.07 per pint outside of London (what are they gaining from that extra 7p?) and I’m appalled by a playlist that included Celina Dion’s Think Twice. Is that ever acceptable in a pub?
We consume our beer –
– It comes in pints, as always –
And Rob takes quite the shine to the above pictured pint glass (his, not mine, although they are the same) while we wolf our food down and implement running repairs. This consists of the application of talcum powder to mostly feet (I can’t confirm that one of either Swatty or Tom applied some somewhere to avoid chafing. Nor can I confirm that – should this have happened – he (Swatty or Tom) then expressed alarm when opening his fly when what he initially thought was smoke came out.)
John’s new hiking obsession is foot tape, and we watch in fascination as he applies enough of the stuff to the base of his feet that they are now effectively now sandals. Rob and some of the others follow suit.
It’s around this point that Mike confirms that he’s not going to continue and is going to leave us here. He expresses some confusion as to why we would do this to ourselves but we’re a bunch of masochists and functional alcoholics so don’t really understand what he’s getting at –
(There’s no merit to me sharing this photo really, I just like it and it fits in with the timeline and booze point.)
(Found some merit: Mat seems to be the king of hip flasks. Each had something special inside as well as its own history. Quite impressive, but he clearly knows it: those hip flasks gave him the courage to rock the backwards baseball cap.)
(Sorry, final brackets for now as I know I’m making English teachers nauseous but concerning hip flasks, this was a bit of a thing this time around. Even I got involved, purchasing my very own Batman flask – in black with symbol, obviously – loaded with sloe gin. Points for Alan, who brought one of those little clear plastic bottles, approx 330ml, full of whisky. It previously housed some sort of peach water, and I like to think that like bourbon barrels imported from America where the wood is infused with their own unique properties, this plastic bottle leant his whisky something special. Anyway, back to us getting over Mike’s departure…)
… and so we crack on, undeterred by our loss of one. I find the silver lining that we’re now down to nine, and a certain other Fellowship that walked a long distance were made up of nine, (might have made that observation on a previous post) and that now Rob’s changed his t shirt from a grey to a white one he’s now Rob the White and no longer Rob the Grey, but John tells me I’m on my last warning and threatens to throw me onto the M4. As if he could take me.
We spot some Red Kites. Fun fact: their Latin name is Milvus Milvus. I think that was a Swattyism, although it could be one of Mat’s.
Not long after this, we find the tunnel, which no self respecting individual would enter.
It’s HR Geiger meets 1970’s road design. We enter it, obviously. Even stop for a photo or two:
(The second is me getting a shot of Rob photographing us. Told you he was too handsome for conventional photos. Bit artsy, that.)
What’s really odd, which I’m hoping you can see from the pictures, is presumably decades of heavy traffic have squashed the tunnel into a sort of oval shape. Always a nice thing to realise as you’re walking through it.
It’s not long after this that I realise that Rob (who I’m walking behind) has a curious addition on his bag…
Yep. He stole that pint glass. What a felon. To be fair, he did say he liked it.
Our path continues along some nice countrified fields, along which we’re gently serenaded by the M4 as we walk, slightly undermining the country vibe. This passes as we reach another farm, this one full of cows, which has some sort of massive generator which ironically sounds like a giant robo-cow.
When we reach Arborfield, the team pauses for the obligatory map check and hip flask swig. I notice what appears to be a graveyard and go in for a closer look. Rob realises it contains a ruined church and before you know it, the whole crew are wandering round this silent, abandoned church that’s mostly collapsed and is being slowly consumed by nature and is easily one of my favourite parts of this walk.
Indulge me a sec, because this is worth it:
So this was once a church…
This is the bit where you start wondering if it’s a trap.
Okay, photos done for now. The green glow is genuine. Isn’t that cool?
One more. That’s it for church. You get the point. Otherworldly.
We leave the church (finally) and get back to more fields. Swatty takes the opportunity to pull up some Himalayan balsam, which is a non-native, invasive species, apparently. “Funny looking rhubarb,” Alan observes.
The route leads to some incredibly long grass, which in turn leads to this rather amusing image:
(“Where do you think you dropped your keys?”)
This then escalates to walking through pretty dense stinging nettles with most of the team wearing shorts (not this guy!) Worth mentioning that although Alan’s shorts were indeed very short (and rather form fitting, ladies. Just observations from some of the group there) he is immune to most bites, stings and abrasions. Possibly fireproof, too.
Swatty pulls out a bit more Himalayan not-rhubarb, and when I mention a recent article about the ecological benefits to hunting grey squirrels for the benefit of the red squirrel population, Swatty sagely concludes his nature class with this statement: “Conservation is all about working out what to kill next.”
I swear that man is a philosopher.
We emerge from the grass and nettles to Gunyon’s Loop, the part of the route Mat worked out for us which we duly named in his honour. It’s a pretty ingenious path, all along the River Loddon, that effectively cuts Shinfield out of the walk…
… except it’s private land. And closed.
We lose ten minutes or so looking over the maps and trying to find an alternative. Our planning is briefly interrupted by a car of rocket scientists yelling “Gay!” at us which brings big laughs, mostly because a) their insults clearly haven’t progressed since 1995, and b) I think times have moved on enough that simply observing someone’s sexuality shouldn’t really be an insult. Maybe they were declaring theirs?
Regardless, we find an alternate route and discover a benefit: there’s an extra pub stop thrown in. We reach it within moments: The Magpie and Parrot.
Just to make this clear: this pub is brilliant. I can’t quite articulate how much we enjoyed this place.
I think this picture does a pretty good job though.
What’s that behind Alan? Yep, it’s the bear from the start of the post! That’s just the start of it though. It seemed less like a pub and more like we were just having a drink in someone’s lounge. Drinking in the beer garden? Like just being in someone’s garden, funnily enough. The fact that the beers were sold in cans and poured into pint glasses only reinforced the image. Then there’s the sign on the door saying no mobiles, an armchair reserved for one of the dogs, a stuffed bird in a glass cage, boxed toy cars on top of wood beams and shall I once again mention there’s a bear in the corner dressed like a bellhop?
So yeah. Magpie and Parrot. Would recommend.
The ladies who run it were very curious about our Hike, too. I think they were fans. I should send them this blog post, really.
Reluctantly polishing off our beers, we get back on our way, walking through Shinfield, getting a bit lost, seeing this guy once we get off the road –
– as you do –
… and enter more fields. Here’s Alan in one of them, shortly after we passed a wedding at a rather posh venue called Mill House:
A short while later we find ourselves walking through a proper, wooded glade. It’s a lovely, tranquil place, and bringing up the rear, John and I are deep in some grown up conversation.
It’s at this point that Alan turns around at throws his bag at us, and makes a sound like an explosion. It must be a satchel bomb. He promptly points his index fingers at us and starts firing.
See, most people at this point would wonder what the hell he’s doing and tell him to grow up. But we’ve seen that gunfight in Spaced, the one that explains the unwritten rule all men must abide by. And we’re lads. We’ve had a drink. And before we know it, we’ve been blown up.
John notices Alan’s gun fingers slightly later than me. John flanks right, I go left. He makes it to tree cover and gets a few shots off at Alan, who stumbles. He returns fire and John goes down.
I pick myself up when I hear John’s cries. (I had my guts blown out but needs must.) He’s crawled to the tree, rest his back against it and takes the photo of his daughter out. He tells me she was born during his tour and he would see her for the first time when he was back, tell my wife I love her yadder yadder. Then he looks to the sky and mutters something about it being cold. I cradle his head in my hands and tell him not to die on me, you son of a bitch. Then Alan kills us.
It’s around this point we look up. The group’s moved on and some are watching us from a distance, suitably confused.
What a bunch of numpties.
As he gets up, John’s hikepochondria plays up and he fears the battle did his knee in. We hope he’s wrong.
Rejoining the others, we check the team’s morale. By the point we’ve been walking for 8 or 9 hours, and everyone’s starting to tire (aside from Big Al of course, who transcends physical fitness.) We crack on to our penultimate pub, the Elm Tree.
At the Elm Tree – nice range of beers, bit posh, a creamy pale ale that tastes a bit like drinking ice cream – we take stock of the team with a well deserved beer. We’ve walked maybe 23 miles by this point, but still have around 6 to go. Dave, who proved his mettle on the last Hike has reached the point where he’s looking at Uber’s to get to Silchester. We need a morale boost.
Fortunately I’ve got one ready. Returning readers might have noticed a reduced volume of Lord of the Rings puns. Fret not, I’ve been saving them up.
See, I knew extended quotes and puns weren’t enough for the hikes. On Hike IV I discreetly dressed like Bilbo Baggins and took maps of Middle Earth. I had to up my game and get creative.
Yep. I made us hobbit feet.
I only felt inclined to do it for the core crew (me, John, Rob, Mat and Alan) and yes, Alan’s feet are brown, but so is he and I wanted to be sensitive. I discreetly start playing the Rings theme tune on my phone, and John for a minute thinks he can hear it in his head. It’s an oddly emotional moment.
(Brief aside, I found the link for how to make these feet here. It’s a good little guide. What it doesn’t tell you is they’re much easier to make if you have a) my sister-in-law, Georgia Tubb, on hand as a one woman factory line, drawing on the templates and cutting them out, and b) wine. Wine really helped.
This was how I spent my bank holiday week at my parents. Notice the wine glass.
Oh yeah, final note on the feet: it says to buy a hairpiece for the hair. No chance. Oddly I found this at the Range in Reading for 75p…
What the hell is it? I hear you ask. I think it’s meant to be part of a Chewbacca costume. If so, it’s shite, but I can’t deny it was useful for my rather specific purpose.)
Anyway, the feet are a huge success and I’m incredibly pleased with myself. Before we crack on, we look at the route. This was the last part of the route that we looked at as a group. Mat pushes that we should probably abandon this route and go straight along the Devil’s Highway to Silchester. The team are really struggling, and given that our plan was just to walk through some fields for six miles Mat probably makes the right call here.
Oh yeah, and six miles to go on top of the twenty three we’d done already = twenty nine. We’d only planned twenty six. Eep.
Before we depart the Elm Tree I nip to the loo. I neglect to remove the hobbit customisation given the amount of Velcro stuck on and just wear them in.
A bloke around my age who looks thoroughly drunk is stood at the urinal next to me. He glances down, at my feet, fortunately not anything else.
“What are… they?” he asks, his voice menacingly slow with the deliberation of someone well and truly pissed.
“They’re hobbit feet,” I reply playfully, adding, “Figure it’s self explanatory.” Note to self: never say anything to people while your genitals are out.
“No…” he says. A long pause. “It’s not.”
Oh shit have I misjudged my audience.
I start explaining, throwing in about the Hike. “Where are you walking?” he asks, although I’ve told him once.
“Why… why don’t you get a cab there?”
“What are you doing when you get there?” he asks, and I notice his lack of comprehension is beginning to frustrate him. We’re already at a pub, he can’t understand why we’re walking to another pub.
It’s at around this point I cut my losses and just go. As we hobbits have been told in the past, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us, and talking to drunk blokes in pub loos is not the best decision to make.
Off we go, chortling at this road, because we are clearly still twelve:
We make our way towards the Devil’s Highway and everyone quickly realises their energy levels leave a lot to be desired. I give us another quick morale boost by looking for motivational music on my phone, which results in a singalong to Kenny Loggins’ excellent Danger Zone but I only find that and the Rocky theme tune (Gonna Fly Now, not Eye of the Tiger, obviously) but turns out the latter is rather repetitive once you get past the first two minutes.
Then it starts to rain. Great.
At this point we’re at our most tested. We’re shattered, some of us a little injured. The remaining hobbit feet don’t endure. Dave – who it should be said is a trooper and does Wolf Runs and hikes up Snowden and things like that – has reached the point where he literally cannot stop walking because if he does, he’s done, but his pace is suffering so he enters this pattern of bringing up the rear, we stop, he passes us by, then we catch and overtake him. Rinse repeat for six miles.
Turns out John’s injury from our gunfight was his hikepochondria (if I keep saying it you’ll buy into it being a word) but an unexpected casualty from said fracas is Alan, who’s busted his ankle. Haven’t seen Alan injured before. It’s unsettling watching him power through.
Oh, Big Al’s fine though. Obviously. He’s even got his waterproof on.
We enter a vaguely morose pattern where our only option is to grit our teeth and carry on – even if we called a cab they wouldn’t know where to collect us from, we’re in the middle of flipping nowhere – so that’s exactly what we do.
I think this shot sums it all up: check out Alan and John nursing those hip flasks. Even Mat’s port went, and I think most people tend to turn that down. And oh yeah, look! Tom’s umbrella! Doesn’t he look smug!
Ahem. We clear the highway. Our group’s quite spaced out both mentally and in relation to one another, but we regroup walking through a field we crossed st the end of Hike III, which had a smattering of turnips in last time. (Remember that and my hilarious Rings pun? No?) Anyway, it’s changed now.
We regroup for one final selfie (apologies for the framing, for some reason it wouldn’t let me save it, so it’s a screen shot.) Worth taking a moment to really let the look of desperation – but never defeat – in our eyes sink in.
Oh and how about them forced smiles?
On reflection I’m not sure how we got Dave to stop to take the photo given his perpetual momentum. Maybe he’s moving really, really slowly.
Also worth noting Rob made it into this shot. See, by this point every rule and trend of the Hike is out. We’re operating without a net, people. That’s what happens when your app dutifully informs you you’ve been walking for twelve f**king hours.
It’s not long after this that our destination comes into view. The Calleva Arms itself, end point of this one and Hike III. We’ve never been so relieved to see a pub, and we’re Brits, so you know that means something.
Quite charmingly, Mat, Swatty and Tom’s wives had driven out to greet the men folk, and kindly get a couple of snaps of us.
Yep. We made it.
This is great and all but by this point we would really rather be in the pub itself getting on that victory pint. So we do exactly that.
We knew in advance that the pub’s kitchen would be closed so our expectations are managed, but the staff (knowing what we’ve endured and the $$$ it’ll bring in if they feed us) agree to keep the kitchen open, which makes me so happy I could cry.
Mat leans on unstable table and it jerks suddenly, toppling his beer. “I walked thirty miles for that beer,” he says, heartbroken. He gets another because he bloody deserves it.
I promptly destroy a large plate of ham, egg and chips, the salad from Rob’s burger, Mat’s leftover chicken wings, and two bowls of fancy chips for the table. Seriously. Big Al and Hannah saw it.
Calleva Arms, we bloody love you. May your beers always be diverse and hipster skewed, and may your food forever stay warm without the assistance of heat lamps.
Ah yeah, and just as I feel myself start to crash a little, perhaps feeling deflated, I receive the following image from a friend at work that cheered me up no end.
Just to confirm, Rob, we are legit beasts. Expect a WhatsApp group of this name to be formed when prepping Hike VI.
Inevitably the evening passes and people declare they need to get going. Hugs are shared and emotions suppressed because we’re British men, obviously, but anyone can see it’s actually quite moving, the parting of the ways.
(Oh yeah, Tom and his wife gave me a lift the whole way home. Bless ’em.)
It’s only much later we learn of the events of London Bridge, with the terror attack that happened there that evening. It’s obviously pretty sobering, and hammers home how important it is to spend your time with people you care about.
A while ago, when Hike V first came up I asked John what he thought of Hike V, and in advance of the walk, sent me this, which I think is interesting:
“Hikes 1, 2 and 4 all have the same feel about them because of the places they go through. All those towns are civilized and quietly prosperous (or extravagantly prosperous in some cases). All the ‘countryside’ is basically controlled and shaped to give wealthy London commuters the sense that they are somewhere rural, but without any of the inconveniences, like everything being covered in animal shit. Hike 3 was properly rural. People who live in that area don’t commute to London, they farm stuff. You remember when we asked in Riseley where the nearest grocery store was and they said it was 5 miles away? That would never happen in Windsor, Maidenhead or Henley. I mean, you’re never more than 5 miles from a Laura Ashley, never mind a grocery store. Hike V starts in the rich man’s pretend countryside and moves into the real countryside. And for that reason, I think it will be the best Hike and the one that links all the others together.”
Speaking of, here’s our four routes, combined:
According to google, this is 75.4 miles, but seeing as we did the first route twice it’s more like 94.5.
(Holy shit, John if you’re reading this – and I know you are – we’re only six miles shy of the one hundred mile mark…)
It’s hard to explain why we do this. If you’ve read so far maybe you can see it for yourself, maybe not. I like to think it’s something to do with pushing ourselves to achieve things we didn’t think we could. Maybe it’s done in the name of friendship. I like to think so. We’re in a very changeable world and it’s nice to have something that’s safe (although perhaps not safe in terms of the state of our feet) and consistent.
Maybe it’s none of these things and we’re a bunch of walking idiots. Perhaps this makes no more sense than hitting your hand repeatedly with a hammer, then proclaiming it feels good now that you’ve stopped.
… but I like to think we’re a bit smarter than that.