The Walking Idiots: Part 16

This was a special one.

Henley to Oxford had been long mooted as a potential hike but because of its extended length (40 miles rather than our regular 20-25) we knew it needed a worthy occasion to happen. Fortunately for us, John, Alan, Mat, Alex and I all turn forty this year and the phrase “40 over 40” seemed to stick.

I want to say that the route seemed relatively self explanatory but then I didn’t get involved in the planning at all, that was all Mat, and we were pleased to see that the hike split neatly into two instalments of 20 miles (more or less) with the first half ending in Wallingford, giving us an ideal overnight stop off.

We put the word out and attendees started to gather. The net was cast wide as ever but the drop off rate seemed lower than usual because unlike with our normal hikes the accommodation situation forces people to book up and pay in advance. So attendance was looking higher than usual, closer to twenty than our usual ten-twelve.

The evening before the hike, people started making their way down; a contingent staying in Henley, others camping in Wallingford. I gather the Henley crew managed to control themselves and there seemed to be no noticeable hangovers when we arrived the next day.

On Friday morning our attendees converged at the Catherine Wheel in Henley. A bunch of us parking up at Wallingford and (collecting the campers) we all pile into a minibus to take us to the start. We struggle to overtake a painfully slow car on the quiet Oxfordshire roads, and when we point this out, our driver sagely replies “Maybe if you lot weren’t so heavy…”

Also, it looked like a previous passenger had been chewing the headrests, which was interesting.

Breakfast at the Catherine Wheel is the Weatherspoons standard, (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) although not messing around Alex orders a large breakfast with a side of Eggs Benedict which earned some respect.

He did leave some of that rocket though.

Final preparations are made (mostly destroying the toilets) and we are almost ready to go. We stare in awe at Max’s endless, almost Tardis-like bag, and Tom’s brave choice of hiking jeans. Then, finally having waited for John to take care of some business, we get our obligatory start photo, set the runtrackers and are off!

Today’s Idiots: Will, John, Mathias, Pete, me, Alan, Max, Alex, Tom, Tom (no longer fictional as I’d been led to believe), Swatty, Dave, David, Mike, Mat and Henry, with Rob behind the camera.

Leaving Henley along the river we march along the walkway until we learn it’s closed, and have to double back on ourselves, following a diversion.

That’s fine, we’ll just bloody turn round then.

An early challenge appears when we see the recent rain has turned several of the fields into marshes, and we have to get creative to avoid getting wet.

Like the floor is lava.

Spring is in full flow though and Swatty is more than eager to drop some nature knowledge, which we all eagerly absorbed.

This is, um, a pink flower.

After a couple of hours we’ve blasted through six miles with ease; passing by fancy houses, sneaking through idyllic woodland and crossing numerous fields in places with names like Tokers Green and Craysleaze.

We also saw a plant called Herb Robert, creating a trio of names that are equal parts twee English and gangsta speak.

Somewhere called Gallowstree Common was also on our route but we didn’t see much of interest there or it’s cool name (history here).

Eventually our path leads us to an enormous field of rapeseed oil that we have to walk right through the middle of.

POW marching pose optional.
Swatty got to do his “walking through the fields in Gladiator” tribute, too.

Finally reaching the end of the sea of yellow we crack on for more fields and woodlands, spotting two small things:

This guy was hard to understand as his voice was a little hoarse.
John doesn’t take many pictures on the hikes but of course he had to get this.

Then, at the end of twelve pretty productive miles of marching, we reach our first stop, The Highwayman.

Does “eating house” just sound strange to you too? Is it because it’s so literal?

Dating back to the 16th century (or so it says on their website), the Highwayman has a traditional-meets-gastropub vibe. The staff seemed pretty undaunted to have nearly twenty gross and noisy hikers arrive as they wisely usher us into a large room towards the back, presumably so we don’t disturb the other patrons. Uncharted territory for a Walking Idiots hike is entered as most of the group order lunch, and the majority of the team have three pints. (Call it perks of a relaxed distance with an overnight stay).

Eventually Walking Idiots management acknowledges that if we remain there any longer we’d never leave, and a five minute warning is given.

Stood in the pub car park that once was a blacksmith’s forge, the group are poised and ready to set off when Mathias whips out a bottle of tequila. Along with a lemon someone had brought and some salt liberated from the pub, the group forge (stretched that) some shots for morale, and finally we set off once more.

“For morale.”

As hiking karma tends to do to us, almost immediately after leaving the pub we find ourselves ascending a pretty steep hill which wakes everyone up a bit, and shortly after we cross a field full of young cows, which Max and I immediately befriend.

It helped Mat had left the field by this time so they felt confident they wouldn’t be eaten.

A short while later we reach the church of St Peter and St Paul in Checkendon, a mild detour but well worth it – it’s a Grade 1 listed building with parts dating back to the 12th century (made by the Normans) with Gothic additions.

So quite old then.

Before entering I see Rob checking out an unusual gravestone and when he moves closer to take a look he does a sort of tiptoe step/dance over some graves to get there, saying “sorrysorrysorry” the whole time. I would’ve loved a photo of him doing that.

The church is great inside, with a decent 13th century wall painting…

(Probably this)

… and a brilliant modern (well, 1960’s) etched glass window which is hard to see unless you’re at the right angle, and then it pops.

Basically don’t look at it with a white background.
Couldn’t think of anything clever to say about this. It is pretty cool though.

Departing the church, more tequila is consumed and we vanish into the countryside.

Seeing this rather non-PC sign along the way.

The woods are achingly quiet, devoid of the road or aircraft sounds we’ve come to expect even when walking in local woodland…

… for a while at least.

Come on Rob. Everyone’s waiting.

Our path across the road heads straight up a low rise hill topped with trees called Watch Folly. It contains pretty much the only history I found in researching this hike that’s of interest (this link about the ghost of a shepherd boy) but the hill itself is pretty unremarkable and before I have the chance to recount it, we see something that’s much more The Walking Idiot’s bag.

Not this…
That’s more like it.

The (what we assume was an) abandoned grain store didn’t have a sign saying no entry, so really it’s on them if a group of tequila-swilling miscreants choose to enter it. It would’ve only been to bring you high end blog content if so.

I mean, just look at that lighting.
Not to mention the zombies.
This doesn’t look terribly safe though, they’d best stop people going in really.

Having finally enjoyed this enough we decide to rejoin the others, who by this point are understandably worried sick. They forgive us though and only seem slightly jealous. The route leads us on through North Stoke, which has quite a pleasant bridge/mill combo and like everywhere else on this hikes looks like somewhere I’ll never, ever be able to afford to live in.

After that we head up through The Springs golf club, cross an unsafe, damaged bridge that has the same density as cheddar, cross the bridge at Winterbrook and arrive at Wallingford with only a few aches and pains.

Not that you can see even an inch of discomfort here.

The Boat House has a lovely setting, an adequate range of beers (we’re not fussy) and a passable interior, so we take our drinks out and celebrate the first day of marching.

“Same again tomorrow yeah?”

After a beer or two the group gently disbands as a couple of our one day only people make their way home (thanks Tom, Pete), others stay out for more drinks and a burger, and the rest of us check into our hotel.

Normally this would be the point where I’d wrap this up, but we’re only halfway through our two day outing, so just to throw out a few more highlights, I’ll add Mat and Swatty’s not-domestic when Mat told Swatty off for complaining (“Stop. Crying.”) and Rob’s opinion on where we should go for drinks later (“I don’t wanna go anywhere where they call me Granddad.”)

Also, lazy option as it seemed at the time, the bar and food at the George Hotel was pretty decent, the staff were lovely and overall it’s a charming little hotel with a nice coaching house-vibe.

Right, onto day two then…

The second leg of our journey takes us from Wallingford to Oxford. It’s a strange sensation (and completely new to us) to wake up the morning after a hike knowing we basically have to do it again, but despite some initial stiffness everyone seems game.

Those of us in the George grit our teeth at the prospect of the promised continental breakfast included rather than the desired fry up, until the staff serve us a cooked breakfast regardless. As Alan put it, “Everything is coming up Alan.” Can’t argue with that.

Like Pete and Tom, Mike decided to just do the one day but stayed overnight and leaves us shortly after breakfast.

We didn’t evict him for wearing crocs after the hike, but it might’ve affected the possibility of him remaining if he did want to do day two.

We’re reinforced by Big Al and newcomer Jacob.

After some logistical padding (lots of faffing with Waitrose lunches) we take our start photo…

Took Rob ages to take this

… and set off! Unless there’s a sight of historical local interest, nothing can possibly stop us now!


Okay, we didn’t mean to get distracted by something literally less than one hundred metres from our hotel, but come on, this is great. Wallingford’s castle grounds are large, peaceful and filled with just enough ruins to pique everyone’s interest.

Also Max brought his walking staff and I couldn’t be Moria impressed.
However, like this door in the ground, it was getting us nowhere, so it was time to go.

A detour owing to another shut weir means we walk along the road for a while before going cross country again, first through some fields, then into woodland, and then climbing a hilly field before ascending Castle Hill.

Situated at the top of a hill and with a raised perimeter the whole way around, I find it doubtful the name Castle Hill is a coincidence.

We didn’t need to walk the perimeter but it was fun.
That said, Max climbed over the top of it, which was also the right choice.
Worth it for the views, too.

Descending the hill, our route leaves the countryside and becomes what I found myself referring to internally as a country death road.

We move in single file as cars pass us by, their sense of disdain almost tangible. The feeling of dread intensifies when the speed limit changes to the national limit but I console myself with the fact that Mat and Swatty are ahead of me and their bodies should reduce the speed of any cars by the time they reach me.

For the last stretch of the road some genius had at least considered a raised platform for us to walk along, which I was a big fan of.

My dog would’ve loved this.

Finally the road ends, dropping us off at our first pub stop of the day, The Barley Mow in Clifton Hampden.

Yay for beer!

We don’t stay especially long but the bar staff are very friendly and the pub is well presented. We spare the patrons (who are in Saturday pub lunch mode) our gross unruliness and sit outside, assessing how we’re finding day two (and generally overthinking it).

With it’s impressive stone bridge, Clifton Hampden reminds me of Sonning in more ways that one, mostly because it creates an ample backlog of traffic that undermines the beautifully quaint English village vibe, but we have no time to dwell on such things as we have more fields to cross.

You probably know what fields look like by now.

The public footpath seems to be marked with a convenient trail of orange, which we assume is pesticide.

So that’s… good?

We cross another field full of cows, but unlike yesterday’s which were all juvenile cows, this is a mix of very young calves and their mothers. One especially massive mama cow makes her opinion of us known by moving into the middle of the path and bellowing repeatedly, forcing our crew at the back to have to take the long way round or face her wrath.

Probably a better “You shall not pass” moment than Max’s, to be fair.

It’s not long later that we find a place even more twee than Clifton Hampden: Marsh Baldon, which has a green more like a wildflower meadow and another pub stop, this one called The Seven Stars.

Not the best picture, but it was probably for the best we didn’t take many out the back.

The Seven Stars was very pleasant, although the most memorable thing about it will be that we were sharing the garden with a five year old’s birthday party, hence why taking pictures probably would’ve been frowned upon.

Also not appropriate for photos (although we did take one but I’m leaving it out so you can keep your lunch down) we saw the phenomenal blister that had decided to consume the back of Tom’s heel. It looked like he’d taken a potato peeler to it, exceptionally gross stuff. He soldiered on though, to his absolute credit.

(Additionally it was here that I finally clock that Mathias is buying a bottle of red at each stop, which is new.)

Leaving Marsh Baldon we walk through a field so waterlogged it feels like an actual marsh (which is flipping great five minutes after a sock change) and then head cross country to Sandford-on-Thames.

Highlights of this stretch include a passionate debate about historical inaccuracies in movies (apparently field size is a dealbreaker) and this pylon:

Alan did not climb this, don’t worry.

We treat ourselves to a surprise pub stop, The Kings Arms, which isn’t really needed but when in Sandford-on-Thames.

It had a good range of beers but a bar area so ridiculously hot we all legged it outside to relax and stretch out a bit.

Some stretches were deeper than others.

And then we’re off onto the footpath along the Thames that takes us the whole way into Oxford for our last few miles, the way relatively busy with cyclists and walkers, and the river full of rowers as afternoon turns to evening.

We saw beauty wherever we turned.
This sign provided great entertainment.

At a milestone too eroded to read, Mat’s route tracker pings to tell us we’ve hit the forty mile mark, a cause for celebration by any account.

Happy Max.
Thank god I got a picture of Alan climbing something he shouldn’t or this blog would’ve been a write-off.
And for Swatty’s celebratory cigar pic I told him “Give me Hannibal from A-Team when a plan comes together.”

Initially we had planned to finish at the Lamb and Flagg (it has a tenuous Tolkien connection) but given that it was on the other side of town, we were uncertain if it did food, and there were probably going to be loads of other amazing pubs that we pass by, we decide that we should stop at the first pub in Oxford that looks decent.

The Head of the River looked decent.

Many beers are bought, food is ordered, and everyone celebrates their giant collective win.

I couldn’t get a picture of the guy in the bar who got a round of applause for yelling “penis,” so this heartwarming image will have to do instead. (This is in my top five hugs of all time).

And then, inevitably, it was over, our attendees either heading home, to their hotels or to locate an incredibly well earned curry.

It’s fair to say though, that over two days, with double the distance, the bar has been raised. Let’s see what we can do next. (It’ll probably involve tequila).

The Walking Idiots: Hike X(Mas) Redux

Well, that’s probably the worst title for one of these I’ve managed to do so far. It can only get better from here.

We prefer a shorter hike over Christmas. We tend to just invite people who are local (not in a League of Gentlemen way), mostly because so many people are away or busy. Rob gets final say over the route, because it often coincides with his birthday, which is on the 30th December and is quite frankly a rubbish day to have a birthday. You probably know all this already, this being our fourth one.

Rob intended for us to do the last stretch of Hike XV this time, specifically from Gomshall to Guildford, because we’d been forced to power through it last time in the dark, with many of us a bit too drunk, some unwell, and no one really able to appreciate it. It was all a bit of a glorious disaster, and would be nice to do properly (and actually see it.) The route didn’t require much in the way of planning seeing as we’d done it before, and turns out the trains were not too much of a nightmare for all of us.

Well, except it was 2022, which was not a good year for train journeys. At all. The outlook seemed bleak, so we decided to cut our losses and stay local. We’ve (in my opinion) absolutely rinsed the Crowthorne area for walks, to the extent I think I’m on a first name basis with most of the trees that line the Blackwater River near the Big Tesco at the Meadows, but we had one option left, which was to re-do the interesting bits from Hike X, the controversial outing which John didn’t make back then but could now. Given that the main appeal of this hike was to have a chance to again visit the Wheatsheaf in Heatherside, but this time in non-Covid settings, we didn’t need much convincing. The route was lightly amended to shorten it owing to winter light, we settled on a date, and we were good to go.

Arriving at the Costa on Crowthorne High Street (I don’t remember that being there when I was growing up in the 90’s) I find that we’ve already lost John, who’s popped back home when he realised how unruly his enormous parka was going to be. Rob’s dad, Jim, and his brother Sam join soon after – they previously joined us for the first stretch of one of our other Christmas hikes, and are planning on doing a similar thing here. John returns, we gather our things and leave.

Your crew for today: Tristram, Rob, me, Swatty, John, Mat, Jim and Sam. Alan is taking on photography duties while Rob makes his vlog, so enjoy his tasteful snaps.

By the end of Crowthorne High Street we’ve already cracked open Mat’s homemade whisky mac. (It’s 8:15am by this point. The sun has barely risen. It’s a strong indicator of the sort of day we’re likely to have.)

Not long after we start along the Devil’s Highway, past the infamous Broadmoor estate, and into Swinley Forest, a place we’ve spent a phenomenal amount of time walking through.

There’s not much to say about the experience this time, although the sun rising through the trees was very pleasant.
Everyone’s still enjoying themselves at this point.

Swatty also kindly answers all my questions about public footpaths; how new ones are set up, how some can be (rarely) decommissioned, things like that. If you’ve any questions like this, drop a comment on the blog and we’ll send them on, he’s good like that.

I also got a picture of not just John, but three of our group answering the call of nature, which I knew you’d appreciate.

Not long after this (I think, time loses meaning in Swinley) we emerge in Bagshot. We walk around a new and intimidatingly large Waitrose and enter Earlswood Park, where, upon reviewing our progress, we realise something that had been troubling me for quite a while: if we keep on at this healthy pace, we will arrive at the Wheatsheaf long before it’s due to open.

This is a grim awakening for us all as we search for alternatives to pad the route out. Unfortunately the only suggestion that seems even remotely reasonable comes from Alan (“Why don’t we just go behind that bush and drink for a bit?”) and rejecting his sage advice, we decide to risk it, and just take our time a little more.

We cross the M3 (always a pleasure) and enter Lightwater Country Park, taking our time to stop at the magnificent viewpoint on Curley Hill, where we can just about make out London on the horizon. Sadly unlike last time no hologram/ghost of a helpful tour guide appears and then vanishes to give us an overview of the, um, view, but we are familiar enough with it now to muddle by.

Perhaps this is why he didn’t appear.

Rob didn’t notice anyway. He was too busy vlogging, or at least checking out his reflection.

A tactical decision is made to eat our lunch now to pad time out, (it’s about 10:30am at this point) and a few hip flasks are dipped into. Can you tell how eager we are to have the full Wheatsheaf experience?

As before, our route from Curley Hill to the Wheatsheaf took us via Wellingtonia Avenue in Heatherside, which is notable for being lined with scores of stunning Redwoods (218 of them, according to The link has some good local history, but for those of you afraid to drag your eyes from this blog, the TLDR rundown is they were planted by instruction of Augustus Mongredien (great name) as part of the estate including Heatherside House in the mid-nineteenth century. Most of this estate is now housing, but the avenue still runs, uninterrupted and awe inspiring, towering over the nearby houses.

This never gets old.

This time around, however, we noticed something a little more unsettling…

Crucified stuffed toys. On every tree. As far as the eye could see.
What the hell, Heatherside?

Walking until the redwoods’ end, we meander around the local housing estate (I mistakenly compare it to Edgcumbe Park, for which Alan chastises me accordingly) until finally, only five minutes before its noon opening time, we reach the Wheatsheaf. (They let us in early, even if they wouldn’t serve us ’til 12.) As expected, Jim and Sam bid us farewell once we enter. It was a delight having them along.

We didn’t really get a chance to enjoy the Wheatsheaf properly in 2020. Owing to the way the world was in lockdown, it was table service only, a one way system, and we were sat outside, so we had all of about two minutes to soak it all in before we were ferried through and out to the benches amidst a flurry of hastily imposed rules and Covid-anxiety.

It’s not really much to look at on the outside, a bit unusual perhaps, but it’s hardly the rustic village country pub you’d expect to get excited over in winter. But inside…

I’ve said this a load but it’s sort of like a Clockwork Orange/70’s brutalist thing if applied to the interior of the Tardis. The whole thing is riddled with small nooks and spaces, as well as mezzanines and sub levels. It also reminded me of a tiny Barbican, which is almost entirely inaccurate.

Apparently this thing in the middle is a chimney. I’m not convinced.

I tried to find some interesting stuff out about this one, but all I got was it was built in the 1970’s by a prominent church architect and that due to the eccentricity of the design, the site was given listed status in 2018. You’ll have to make up your own narrative.

Unfortunately the dialogue shared among us in the pub was somewhat cruder than the setting, and the only thing worth sharing is that the boys noticed how badly I’d split the crotch on my hiking trousers. Naturally I styled it out like a pro, even if my bright blue running shorts were now clearly visible.

Regardless, our pints downed, we made the tough yet probably sensible decision to not stay there all day, and departed, our route taking us into the woods around Pine Ridge Golf Club. Last time we lost about 20 minutes helping someone search for a lost dog, which fortunately did not happen this time.

The downside of having padded out the start of the hike to get to the Wheatsheaf after 12 was that we were now conscious of light and finishing in darkness, which is never fun. We had adjusted the route to go a slightly different way than before which included a pleasant stream

(Which we had to pose on)

This might be my favourite hike photo since the ill-fated Hike 11’s Idiot Tree.

And then a particularly sharp hill that we had to climb and then descend, stopping at the top where we almost had some of our snacks pinched by a very friendly dog (not the lost one from last time, as far as I remember.)

Hill: conquered.
Snacks: at risk.

Shortly after this we emerge in Frimley. I wouldn’t have thought there’s much of interest to share about Frimley (no offence, Frimleans) but there was a pretty amazing series of houses on Apex Drive that are worth a mention.

Rob said “like a swimming pool or a car park… but you live in it.”

Apex Drive was designed by Laurie Abbott in 1966. Abbott was an instrumental figure on some of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th century, including the Pompidou Centre and Lloyd’s of London, so this was quite a find (thanks,

As we progress through Frimley, we spy The White Hart, which has just the right amount of rustic looking charm/is a pub, to entice us. Well, it entices John, who heads in, then comes back to fetch us when we don’t follow. Some alpha level tension ensues as Mat is adamant (adaMat?) that we don’t have time owing to when his app says we’ll now finish and how dark it’ll be, not to mention the fact we’ve not long stopped, and a bit of a standoff follows until Rob suggests a compromise of a swift half lasting no more than 20 minutes. (It wasn’t that tense really, I’m just dramatising to make this interesting, go with me here.)

The White Hart is a far more conventional sort of pub than the Wheatsheaf. It’s got low ceilings, wooden beams, and (paraphrasing John) the bar staff had just the right amount of resentment towards us to serve us even slower than the locals (which didn’t help our 20 minute compromise.) We drink our beers and off we go again.

As tends to happen on these things, our group naturally splits into segments, with Mat and Swatty leading the way, Tristram, Rob and myself somewhere in the middle, and John and Alan languishing in the rear (they stopped at an off licence to get more beers.) It’s like this from Frimley, over the bypass, and along a stretch of the now-very-familiar Blackwater River.

Off they pop.

We briefly reconvene as a group at a point along the river where Mat realises his app hadn’t updated properly, and our 6-something finish time is now more likely closer to quarter to five, so we’re fine now. Oh how we laughed.

We set off for the final stretch. I now join John and Alan at the back, helping them to drink their beers, which are quite heavy and need to be reduced in weight. The three of us definitely don’t get into a mock play fight like we did years ago on Hike V, nor do we all definitely not cross any bridges unsuitable for crossing.

Okay, that bit might be inaccurate.

The last few miles are more of the same; reducing unhelpful beer weight, spouting nonsense, and continuing to walk as the light diminishes.

Also this.

We finish several metres shy of 16 miles at The White Swan in Sandhurst, which is fit for purpose and at least leans towards that wood panelled pub aesthetic, if nothing else.

(The wood panels do look suspiciously painted on, though).

We sink a few more beers there and start planning our next great, epic hike (here’s hoping, as long as we can pull it off it’ll be a doozy) before going off in search of a curry.

I definitely do not get so drunk I get hiccups. And even if I did, it’s not part of the hike, so it’s not getting blogged…

Until next time, Idiots!

The Walking Idiots: Part 15

This one is going to take some explaining.

So this is the fifteenth full length hike for our little band of wanderers. It’s also hike ten, done again! Merstham to Guildford was the continuation of our Pilgrim’s Way walk, which we started with Lenham to Canterbury.

Lenham to Canterbury was the one where I went to all the trouble of getting a pilgrim’s passport, remember? No one stamped it, despite all the places we stopped at. It was pretty sad. Tragic even. Anyway, remember the passport shenanigans, because like a well constructed drama, this is foreshadowing at work.

Mat did what he does best and plotted our route, although then was reminded by John that he’d literally planned the exact same route three years ago for our aborted hike ten. The hike never came to pass because of a certain global pandemic which reduced our scale significantly for a while. This was our chance to finally do it, and it did not disappoint.

Planning for this one goes through a few permutations when we discover this route has vineyards, breweries and distilleries to see. Our ambitious escalate as we try to find a compromise between distance and places to drink.

Logistics take a blow when a series of train strikes are announced. These are quickly undone by the passing of the Queen, and our numbers bounce back… for a while.

Bounce may be a bit strong as our usual pre-hike dropout occurs, almost halving our numbers. The day before the hike we lose Arran, Ruaidhri, Tom, Jim and Graeme. Then Mat gets ill which takes out him, Little Tom and Big Al. (When Mat goes his extended invitees fall, too. The metaphor that comes to mind is like when someone in a war movie shoots the guy holding the flamethrower and he blows up taking out all the guys near him.)

It’s a very early start for many of us given that Merstham is thoroughly inconvenient for everyone other than people who live in Merstham. For my part it involved a generous early morning lift from Rob to his parents house, a walk that recreated my journey to school as a teenager, and then a long taxi ride with half of our crew courtesy of returning hike guest, the Mango Man, once again failing to provide any mangoes. The group meet at the Quality Cafe, a properly authentic greasy spoon that absolutely does the business, even for poxy vegetarians like me.

Rob destroyed this. Clyde had to wait.

Our stomachs lined with enough grease and fat to give a buffalo a cardiac event, we do the only thing one should do with this full a belly, and go on a twenty four mile walk.

Here we are: Will, Alex, me, Alan, Tristram, John, Pete, Clyde, Simon, Max and Richard, with Rob behind the camera.

Our walk starts innocently enough, going through a few fields, throwing a frisbee for a friendly dog, and following the North Downs way through a very posh school that for some reason is open on Saturdays. The grounds are stunning and the weather is fine. Our pace is excellent, despite the abrupt elevation that takes us both up and down until we eventually reach the some stunning views over Surrey.

Viieeewwwss with context!

A gentle revision to the route over the bridge is followed by a gentle revision to that revision through a tree tunnel, which I include only because I like the visual, and Alex’s orange t-shirt.

To get a better idea of how steep this was, tilt your phone towards your knees. (Disclaimer: this joke only works for readers on mobile devices. And even then, barely.)

A short while later our route officially hits the Pilgrims Way, which is of course very exciting for everyone.

Get those pilgrim’s passports ready, it’s about to go down

Our marching pauses briefly to admire a striking tower that Max tries to climb with little success, and we resume.

Still better than the Dark Tower movie.

We pause briefly to admire the grave of Quick, who by all accounts was… a dog. Quick’s owners were sure about that if nothing else.

Living it large in doggy heaven, Quick.

Then we’re off, again climbing and descending while testing our legs but never dropping our pace.

Well, for some of us anyway. The inevitable split between the marching hikers and the relaxed wanderers occurs around nine miles in, which is normally fine except we at the back get confused, worrying that we’ve gone awry at a crossroads that leads up a hill, so we turn back when another group of walkers tells us they saw the rest of our group going through an adjacent meadow.

I was pretty sure I’d catch the quick ones up so let them get some distance to get this picture. Then they vanished.

Confusion deepens when the meadow path comes to an end with a fence. In desperation, we turn to Alan for leadership, and he concludes that the path we’ve lost is mere metres below us through the hedge.

It seems so obvious now I think about it. Go through the massive hedge on the left!

The path is indeed revealed to us, which turns into a steep slope downhill. Fortunately someone in the past decided to “help” by cutting steps into the way down. The quote marks are because the steps were clearly only made for elephants to enjoy. They’re brutal.

The two halves of our team are reconciled at the stepping stones that cross the River Mole, and after waiting patiently for everyone on the North Downs way to cross before we can, we proceed as one, Rob making us pause to take advantage of us lined up.

This’ll probably be the cover when we release our calendar.

From there, we cross the dual carriageway A-road, using a group of Duke of Edinburgh students as a convenient human shield from the oncoming traffic, and leave the pathway ten miles into our walk to stop at Denbies.

Look at how civilised this is. Let’s change that.

I’m going to admit, I was a bit sceptical of the idea of Denbies. Don’t get me wrong, I love a vineyard, but when it comes to hikes I’m all about a pub stop, and the fact the inside closely resembles a garden centre crossed with a farm shop doesn’t fill me with hope. Anyway, sitting outside we stop for lunch and a drink and things look up. I offer the group some coffee and guava energy blocks I was sent by accident when I was race training and most of the group look at them in horror.

Then a few bottles of wine is drunk and people’s moods improve further.

Pete’s review for the group was the red and the fizz were good although the white was just fine, in case Denbies is reading this.
… then we find the brewery and everything is right with the world.
We really didn’t feel like moving for a while.
Rob did one of those seated protests and everything.

We liked this a lot. Probably too much…

… because Max thought it would be a great idea to buy twenty pints to carry for the remaining fifteen miles.

What a happy boy.

This all sounds great in principle, although a logistical issue quickly presents itself because twenty pints of beer is not the most portable of things.

It started okay. Then the box literally disintegrated.

Some utter tomfoolery occurs as our crew desperately try to find a way to carry this thoroughly impractical but immensely appealing gift for us all. Everything about the next fifteen minutes descends into giggling carnage as the team tries to siphon off as much excess as they possibly can in order to fit the sack of hoppy nectar into Max’s hastily emptied bag.


This is probably the worst decision we’ve ever made on a hike. Or the best. Definitely the best. Clyde did say this has probably made it the last hike, and at that point it was hard to fault the logic.

Finally, having managed to gain control over the unruly skin of beverage, we leave the vineyard and rejoin the North Downs way, several liberated pint glasses passing back and forth between the group as we work hard to lighten Max’s load.

We got some looks.

The route back on the North Downs Way gives us a fantastic view down on Denbies, and I’d like to say this is the very reason why our pace in these next few miles takes an utter hammering, but you probably won’t buy that.

It is pretty nice though. A good accompaniment to walking beers.

We pause to check the route when the road forks and some of the team take a moment to collect themselves.

There’s two things that seem to get included on every blog: John having a wee, and Alan climbing something he shouldn’t.
Two for two!

Continuing west we reach Ranmore Common and its stunning old church. Churches are, as you know, a hike staple, so we decide to approach, cunningly hiding our beers outside and pretending to be sober.

“Are you here for tea and cake?” asks a very nice member of the church, and we explain that we’re hiking to Guildford from Merstham along the Pilgrim’s Way. “Oh!” she says, “You must get your Pilgrim’s Passport signed!”

Well. Flashing back hard to our failed attempts in our Canterbury hike, we shoot round to the other side of the church and enter, any hope of properly regaining our pace well and truly lost by this point. My Pilgrim’s Passport lost by this point, they offer to just stamp a piece of paper with their brand new stamp, which I gratefully accept.

Honestly, they were so excited to do this. Apparently it’s their first ever stamp. In my notes for this bit, I just wrote “bless.”

We lose even more time admiring the church, but that seemed well justified as it was pretty stunning.

The problem is, the more enthusiastic we seem about the church (beer fuelled, although it was lovely and we do love a church), the more enthusiastic the people in the church get, clearly delighted to have a group of engaged and handsome young men to discuss it with. They were lovely though. Surprisingly dry sense of humour, too.

When we jokingly admired their covid one way branding, one of them said the tiles had always been like that and were oddly prescient. Well played, sir.

Having been urged to sign the guest book, we bid farewell, pausing to admire one final gravestone and reclaiming our concealed beers.

Now, you’re probably thinking this has got a bit wholesome, or that the blog is getting a bit tonally inconsistent. I can’t say I blame you, but don’t worry, things get a bit silly again now.

As mentioned above, somehow over the years I’ve managed to include lots of pics in the blog of John relieving himself, for illustrative purposes. He cottoned on to this recently, so, concerned I might not get any this time, I decided to get an insurance policy:

Best £17.50 I’ve ever spent.
I think this works perfectly.

A short while later we reach an old Second World War pill box, something we see a surprising amount of on these hikes.

Because we’re boys, our instinct is to climb it. Like a palate of Alan’s.

The views from it are superb and we end up spending far too long on it.

And, um, other things.

Our attempts to regain some movement prove to be in vain until Pete releases some truly putrid gas which forces everyone to hastily clear out.

It’s quickly becoming apparent at this point that we have many miles to make up and not a lot of time to do it in. Looking at the elevation in Mat’s route, we decided to descend as quickly as we can in an attempt to get as flat a route as possible for a while, pausing briefly to check the route and get another group shot.

Actually maybe this’ll be the calendar cover.
Things are mostly going fine until we hit the nettles. Then swearing ensues.

Now, despite being aware of the day getting on, we’ve walked far enough to get in one final pub stop before the last push. You can either believe this is because we want more beer, having polished off the twenty pint skin on top of the pill box, or because we need to get in a sock change and review the route, I leave it up to you.

The Compasses is a charming pub in Gomshall situated over a shallow stream. The beer does the business and the staff kindly refill our water bottles for us.

Happy customers.

Some of us decide to use the time more constructively than others.

The concentration. You can practically taste it.

As we’re leaving, Pete sees an old boy (Richard’s description) getting into his car. They lock eyes. The look of shock on the older gent’s face as he struggles to process Pete wearing his John mask is an absolute picture, so Pete does the sensible thing here…

… and gets a picture of his own.

The next ten minutes are spent laughing so hard at this that we’re all tripping on endorphins but eventually we collect ourselves and follow the stream towards Shere. The light is waning as the sun’s set continues, and we’ve six miles to go. Things could get a bit hairy.

Still very photogenic.

We cross a ford, which Alex decides to walk through despite having a perfectly reasonable footpath to use.

Clearly not the most foolish thing we’ve done today though.

The sun finally sets around 7:30, and the head torches make their inevitable appearance.

There goes the light, taking hope with it.

We walk in single file under Newlands Corner, the head torch I patiently spent hours charging quickly proving itself pathetic compared to the lightsabers Tristram, Alex and Max all brought.

That small green glow at the foot of the tree is Tristram’s torch giving all local wildlife a mild tan.

I spend a good while marching up the last main hill behind Tristram, cheekily stealing whatever light I can.

We pass by St Martha’s Church, cutting through the graveyard in true goth fashion, pausing in the darkness near the car park of St Martha’s Hill to check our route. In principle every path should lead us west to Guildford, but at this point we dare not take the risk. Energy levels are so low that several of the team even consume some of my (presumably horrible) coffee energy blocks, anything to make things go quicker.

Speed, however is not on our side as we ascend St Martha’s Hill. This final hill is steep and hard to climb in the dark, but worse still for some reason it’s also covered in dense sand, slowing us down and making our exhausted legs work even harder than before. (Will thought we’d got lost and were approaching the sea.)

At the peak of the hill we collect ourselves one final time, turning the torches off for a minute to admire the clear sky. The lights of Guildford beckon us on.

Then we’re off for the last push back to civilisation, funnelled into a single file track between two fields that goes (mercifully) gently downhill for the last mile or so, the only sound that of a dog in the distance hearing the sound of twelve pairs of feet slowly dying and mourning them.

It didn’t seem this cool at the time.

It was around this point somewhere that Rob tells me he was pretty sure he saw the Grim Reaper watching him from one of the fields.

Finally, we leave the woodlands behind for good, emerging onto Fort Road, a remarkably posh road in Guildford’s south east corner where Alan summed up how everyone was feeling in expressive dance:

The local neighbourhood watch were unimpressed.

A few more roads lead us to the edge of Guildford town centre and we make the executive decision to finish at the first pub we see, The March Hare, which was wonderful and a pub I’d like to visit earlier in the day and with properly working limbs.

A kindly pub patron offers to take a photo of the group so we’re all in shot for once. This would be great for Rob as he always takes these pictures, except he’s only got about an hour left until the Angel of Death claims him.

Oh, the relief.

Standard issue victory pints ensue, although given the late hour many of our group depart before this in order to get home, their parting gift the promise of stiff legs the next day.

Also this gold from our hike MVP.

A small contingent go on to consume a well deserved meal out, and we part knowing we’ve overcome but thoroughly satisfying day out.

And this concludes Merstham to Guildford, our third longest hike to date. I’ll leave you with two pictures which I think summarise the day nicely:

Walking Idiots, disassembled for now.

The Walking Idiots: Part 14

Get your toe socks on guys, it’s about to get wild.

Kingston to Windsor was one of our planned hikes we’d had in the bag for a while. As ever there was some tweaks and discussion to be had amongst the committee, but other than a planned coup to end the hike in Crowthorne, (a town known for its accessibility and broad range of pubs and restaurants) it was remarkably drama free.

We lit the beacons to see who could join us, and the usual flurry of interest from new recruits petered out to a selection of returning faces, with the exception of Mat’s nephew, Tom, our youngest recruit to date.

Our respective attendees made their plans to get to Kingston. For my part, I travelled up the night before and stayed at Clyde’s in Teddington where I immediately became smitten with his dog, Harper (it may have been mutual) and Clyde and I decided the best prep for ten hours of walking would be to drink three whiskies each with a couple of beers, listen to some 80’s Neil Young records, and go to bed around 1am.

Harper: a Good Boy and smarter than me and his owner.

Meanwhile, the Crowthorne/Sandhurst contingent planned to get an early taxi on the morning of the hike. They were delivered to Kingston by the mysterious Mango Man, who apparently is just a driver of a large taxi, but given that I didn’t see it, I’ve decided that his vehicle bears a striking resemblance to Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine with a giant plastic mango on top.

The attendees arrived at the White Hart in Kingston. Mat managed to arrange for the staff to make us some bacon and/or vegan sausage sandwiches, giving everyone the best start to the day possible, or at least try and shake off some of last night’s whisky.

Here we go: Arran, me, Big Al, Swatty, Clyde, Max, Mat, John, Tom and Alan. Rob on photo detail (despite confusingly being photographed by Arran.)

We set off shortly after, our route for the first mile going through Home Park, one of the fancier royal parks, where we see deer, lakes and mansions. Mat decided to resuscitate our practically dormant Instagram account and we drop in what could be our Christian rock album cover, if we weren’t a bunch of heathens.

More on the ‘gram later.

The route through the park leads us to the river, heading past Hampton Court palace. The river is full of a mix of rowers and some people on megaphones loudly telling them what they’re doing wrong to the benefit of no one’s self esteem.

Honestly, if you know best why don’t you bloody do it.

The next eight miles run along the tow path. Speaking of running, throughout the course of the morning our route is beset with runners taking on the Thames Path challenge, their light footfall oddly remiss of gazelles in comparison to our bison-like stomp. Even though they would cover a far greater distance than us, I doubt they did as many pub stops as we would do. The route is lovely but other than some filthy banter involving a hamster wheel, speculating about whether those towers on riverside mansions have rooms specifically for eating baked beans (you had to be there) and some hobo telling Rob whose cap was worn backwards “Yer ‘eads on backwards!” it was a relatively uneventful couple of hours.

Around the eight mile mark we notice an interesting bridge leading to an island with the sort of house you feel probably gets inherited from generation to generation, or is inhabited by recluses or serial killers. Either way, “crumbling” is a pretty good way to describe it.

Rob’s facebook post where I pilfer most of the photos from tells me it’s none other than Eyot House on D’Oyly Carte Island, a unique Grade II listed Victorian home on a measly 1.9 acres. Although it has thirteen bedrooms and five bathrooms, it only has one grand ballroom, so we quickly lose interest in it.

It’s not long after this that a Walking Idiots first happens, and we cross the river using the Weybridge Ferry. At the cost of £3 per head the ferryman, who we shall call Brian, made a pretty good haul out of five minutes work, but he was nice enough to take our picture.

Although I preferred the selfie Max took, so I’m using that instead.
Also this.

Our first pub is only a few minutes walk from the ferry, so we stop for a well earned beer.

We would’ve stopped for a beer at the Anglers but apparently 10:30am is too soon to start serving. What utter shenanigans.

Naughtiness is afoot at the Thames Court, a nice watering hole with a pretty good range of beers. Not only do some of us stop for not one but two beers (risky business, that) but even Tom has a beer, although Uncle Mat makes him wait a respectable distance away from the pub in order to not attract attention.

Proof of the crime.

Some socks are changed, and the nonsense level peaks when we start discussing spice-themed gangsters, the most menacing amongst them a sinister figure known only as Turmeric Steve.

Setting off again along the tow path for quite a while we’re flanked by a constant surge of ultra runners, the sensation increasingly starting to feel like the Gallimimus stampede in Jurassic Park until we finally leave the towpath and cross Chertsey Bridge.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Some of our crew, brought to life by the madness of two beers at the pub, decide to pop into a BP garage and get some cans to keep the party going, and it’s not long after that that we leave the main road and into a slightly more interesting area.

Chertsey is an eccentric delight, to put it mildly.

Crossing the M3 bridge (there’s a lot of bridges on this walk, as Swatty pointed out later) we return to a footpath that runs past a rather unsettling cave that of course didn’t smell of urine.

Swatty saw The Horror.

We cross yet another bridge, this one going over a lake, where some kids are busy leaping into the freezing waters below, and then our path takes us somewhere really interesting.

Thorpe Park is one of the largest theme parks in England (I’m writing this on the off chance any non-UK residents are reading this) and for us semi-locals we’ve been going for as long as we can remember. It’s exciting, fun filled, and excitingly presented.

From the front.

Yep, our route took us round the back, where we were treated to a range of sights and sounds, with discarded ride carriages, disused trains and the back of some of the more sinister rides all offset by the sound of patrons screaming, and in one instance, the most morose member of staff singing happy birthday through a tannoy.

Not gonna lie, it was amazing.

Around this time we’ve posted a few more pics on the ‘gram, and we’ve attracted the attention of an account (or more likely a ‘bot from the account) who asks if we want to be an ambassador for their brand of hiking apparel. We reply, strongly suspecting that we’re not the clientele they’re looking for.

This is just impractical, really.
I just don’t feel we’re “on brand” in comparison.

Our futures as influencers pretty much guaranteed, we emerge into the village of Thorpe and stop at the Red Lion at Thorpe. It’s a nice pub but with only one person apparently working it’s some of the slowest service we’ve ever encountered and it did have a significant impact on our pace.

It did give my feet a chance to dry out though. Sock change for everyone!

I don’t mean to say I am everyone by choosing this photo, I just didn’t have a better one. I’m not that narcissistic.

Setting off from the Red Lion, our route takes us cross country across fields and paths for while as we leave the river behind. There’s some aches and pains starting to manifest, especially in some of the more sensitive body parts, so some of us take the opportunity to apply talcum powder away from the judging eyes of society.

Safe space, Al.

After that, things get interesting, if they weren’t already gripping enough. The footpath effectively disappears, passing through what we could pretty much only describe as a swamp. A small wooden footbridge runs over the worst of it, but it getting onto the bridge and then off it onto dry land proves a challenge.

Tom’s foot sinks to his ankle and he nearly loses a boot until John helps haul him out (his mum would’ve killed the lot of us if he’d sunk like that horse in Neverending Story), and the rest of us warily make our way across.

Well, except for Alan, who runs it like a common basilisk running on water. (Thanks for the reference, Swatty!)

We make it across, but for many of us, the good work of changing our socks at the Red Lion has effectively been undone, and some quick adjustments are made. Oh well, at least no one’s complaining about the chafing on their balls any longer.

In a rather refreshing change of pace, our amblings take us out of the swamplands and into somewhere a bit more high-end as we enter a university campus where Rob treats some of us to his uncanny impressions of Zippy and George from Rainbow. Max leaves us (he did have foot surgery less than a month previously so to be fair doing the eighteen miles he managed already is basically superhuman) but we’re sorry to see him go, especially because he probably would’ve quite liked what was lurking up the hill:

Rob sagely mused aloud how many Batman reboots it’d be until this became the new Wayne Manor, and you could see his point.

Walking round the campus provides Arran with a surge of flashbacks back to our uni days when he visited here, but he shrugs it off like a Vietnam vet’s acid flashback and the group takes a brief break from our ambling to see whether the university chapel is worth the fuss.

It was all right.

Mat didn’t burst into flames, which was a rare thing.

Never seen a priest with legs this good (credit Mat Gunyon)
Also I made Alan hold this in place for a stupendously long time for literally no reason.

Sad to leave the campus but well aware that our pace has dropped significantly, we crack on, entering Savile Garden/Virginia Water (I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, they tend to blur.) Morale dipped to its lowest point here, as the twisting routes winding round the gardens often tended to feel like they weren’t leading in the right direction, and water supplies started to run low.

Nineteen miles in, we stop to rest up at Savile Garden’s beautiful but terrifyingly overpriced café, where we take advantage of a loo break and charm the staff into refilling our water bottles for us (it helps when we tell them how far we’ve walked so far). The café is a compromise between stopping at a pub and getting on, as some want to rest up and others share the feeling if we stop now we won’t get going again.

Seriously, with content like this we’d be fantastic influencers. I think they’d be lucky to have us.

The penultimate part of our hike approaches (although the ultimate bit is quite a stretch) and we enter Windsor Great Park via the Cow Pond (looks nicer than it sounds). We decide to torture those with aching feet a little more and force everyone to ascend to the base of the Copper Horse at the top of the Long Walk (a location on four hikes, now) and soak in the view.

…. and take photos of ourselves.

From here it’s simply a matter of going down The Long Walk towards Windsor Castle. I say simply, but google informs me it’s 2.64 miles, which is quite hard going when you’ve done twenty-one miles by this point already.

Not that you can tell from the back.

The last stretch takes most of the golden/Instagram hour, and there’s a wonderful moment where we have to cross the busy A308 and Big Al decides he’s had enough of this nonsense and marches into the road, stopping traffic on both sides. Not all heroes wear capes.

The final stretch approaches and our banter probably reaches it’s darkest point to keep morale up (looking at you, John) and as a group we finish as one, passing by the Two Brewers pub, which would’ve been the perfect finishing point but it’s always bloody busy, and opting instead for The Carpenters Arms, which treats us to a smattering of burgers, pies, nachos, and of course, beer.

Beer time!

Inevitably our group slowly starts to disperse as trains and the like need to be caught, and we part, happy with one of our finest hikes to date, the few stragglers at the end listening with interest to Alan’s idea for a sports drink that’s a blend of blackcurrant juice and Bovril, AKA Ribeefa.

When I caught up with Clyde the next day, he pointed out that this hike was quite unique, because it started at a palace and ended at a castle.

Not a lot of places you can do that.

The Walking Idiots: The Hellfire Hike

We’ve not done a Rob birthday/Christmas hike in a couple of years for pretty obvious reasons. I like them a lot, but what’s not to like? After a week of gluttony and a real absence of exercise it’s nice to get out with the lads and breathe some fresh air for a change. For this one, Rob decided he wanted to give West Wycombe a go, which was just fine by me. A date was agreed, Mat drew up a cracking route, and we waited for the date to arrive.

Except it’s never that simple, is it? Owing to Covid, time off, health, and a range of other reasons, everyone other than Rob and I were unable to attend. We remained determined though, this was happening. It does mean, however, that for the blog you’re about to read, photographs will be limited to just the two of us, and we were the only ones navigating the route. I’ll let you decide which of the two is more important.

The morning of the 29th, we arrived at West Wycombe. It’s an interesting village; mostly National Trust owned, which means predominantly beautiful old buildings through the (pretty small) high street. The village is overlooked by West Wycombe Hill, which has an impressive mausoleum on top of it, as well as the notorious Hellfire Caves embedded within. I won’t go too deep into the history right here but I’ll definitely touch on it as we go.

Always so much enthusiasm at the start.

Anyway, first things first. We’ve a walk to get on with. We set off, and the first thing we notice is it’s bloody flinging it down. We Idiots don’t mind a bit of rain, but when the first thing you have to tackle is a steep hill and you’re trying to read a map off a smartphone screen as it becomes increasingly erratic in the wet, it’s not exactly ideal.

Halfway up the hill we pass the entrance to the Hellfire Caves. The caves were excavated in the 1740’s by Sir Francis Dashwood as a way of mining chalk and became the location for the Hellfire Club’s meetings. And by meetings, I mean orgies.

Utter filth.

This is the closest we get to any of it though. Bizarrely, in the arches above we see a man wandering who looks exactly like John. We’re briefly excited, thinking our comrade in arms has made a surprise arrival, but this mysterious figure then whips out a yellow tape measure for some reason and we realise this familiar looking gentleman is not our beloved leader.

Our pathway leads up the hill, where the Dashwood family lie in the Mausoleum. It’s quite the sight, perched on top off the hill, even in the rain.

From there we follow the pathway round to St Lawrence’s Church, a pretty impressive fourteenth century church which was extensively remodelled in the mid-eighteenth century. It does however have one feature which blows our tiny minds.

See that golden ball at the top? Yeah, you can go in that. From wiki:

“The ball was reputed to be a meeting place for the Hellfire Club – it could seat 10, and was described by the author John Wilkes as “the best globe tavern I was ever in.” It has been suggested that Sir Francis Dashwood used a heliograph to signal through a porthole in the golden ball to his friend, John Norris (1721–1786), who had erected a tower, now known as the Camberley Obelisk, near his home at Hawley, Hampshire, 21 miles to the south.”

So yes, that’s just awesome. Sadly access to the ball is not available to the public, which is a real shame, because I’d kill to go up there. We kept imagining having drinks up there with the rest of the lads. Pretty exciting.

Anyway, enough history for now. We’ve got a (mini) hike to do.

If anything, the rain seems to intensify as we descend the hill, once again showing up my BBC weather app which promised that things would improve throughout the day. Rob slips and falls on the descent and yet somehow practically bounces back up again without a signal sign of mud on him. We write it off as a birthday miracle and crack on.

In our confusion with the route we realise we’re following it backwards, and decide we’re adults, we can do what we like, and opt to do the route in reverse rather than get any more confused. At this point it seems like the best option, if for no other reason than it means we can keep moving. We agreed it’s best not to tell Mat, who will surely mock us for this.

Sorry Mat. Your route didn’t fail us, we failed it.

Finally getting to the base of the hill, we cross the main road, go under the railway bridge and start ascending our next hill.

This way promised success.

Following the railway line for a while, we eventually leave it to enter the woods. The landscape gets steep here, and between that railway bridge picture above and this one below, more than an hour passes because we’re trying not to a) get lost or b) die.

Finally, as the rain lets up, we leave the woods and reach the farmland.

Savour this picture. This is where it goes wrong.

I was tempted to include a picture of the route to justify our confusion but as it’s just different shades of green on green you’ll just have to trust me. I spent ages comparing the route I was drawing on Mapmyrun against Mat’s route on plotaroute because it wasn’t very obvious where we were meant to be going. Rob even got involved and got google maps out to unpick it. Basically we left the woods too early.

Unfortunately we only realised this halfway along the edge of the field, around the time we also realised we weren’t on a public footpath. (It wasn’t going so well). We waded across the field until we reached a thin, muddy footpath, enormously relieved that we had learned our lessons from past hikes and bought decent boots that let you just power through mud rather than force you to avoid it.

At the top of the field, things aren’t looking much better. We’re in between various fields but no public route in sight. Closer examination of the map shows we need to head east.

See those woods on the other side of that valley? We should be in them right now.

At this point we realise we have two choices: head back (nope), or to power on with our trespassing in the hopes that we eventually find a footpath or sty to cross to get us back on track.

Descending the valley, neither are to be seen. We reach the furthest corner of the field, and with no other choice, first crawl under and then climb over two barbed wire fences, re-entering the woods.

What an utter shambles.

Within minutes we find a sty over another fence, into a field with an actual public footpath, and just like that, we’re back on track!

A bit more ambling through fields and woods leads us to Speen, a nice little village with quaint houses, and more importantly at this point, paved roads.

Unfortunately the paved road leads us along a rather steep, winding country lane which looks like it could be a potential death trap, so we find an alternative way on the map. It’s got some interesting red hash marks, but we figure it’ll be fine.

Innocent enough, right?

These, as it turns out, I will forever refer to as The Bastard Stairs, the steepest set of stairs set into the side of a sheer, muddy hill that I can remember facing in a long time. They break both of us, and we reach the top sweating and out of breath, but our reward is a smooth, flat lane at the top that allows us to try and reclaim some dignity. From here it’s a pretty uneventful but still muddy trek to our first pub stop.

Before the pub, we pass over a cricket green which had this beauty resting on it. We stop to appreciate it for a moment before deciding we need a pint (which is code for Rob looked at it for ages while I nagged him about wanting to get a beer).

Our first pub stop is the Hampden Arms in Great Hampden. Here, have a picture of it, followed by one of some beer drinking (and us drying off) and finally me eating a prawn sandwich outside the pub after we left.

The Hampden Arms is pretty good. Nice rustic vibe, low wooden beams, fireplace, etc. Not the most exciting Walking Idiots pit stop but it did the business. But we didn’t want to linger, for there were more woods to get lost in!

Also, this has a path and therefore requires less navigation. I like it.

A pretty uneventful hour later we found ourselves approaching Lacey Green, a rather delightful windmill on the horizon giving us something to head towards.

Or should that be tilt at?

We pass through another church, trespassing for a second, much milder time when the pathway in the graveyard ends with an abrupt, short fence that requires a mild lunge to clamber over.

As ever with our hikes, light is a crucial factor, and with the afternoon moving on, the golden hour is upon us.

These were our reactions. I eat when happy.

As the sun continued to make everything look even better for Instagram, we continued to head south towards Bradenham.

Sticking to bridleways, Bradenham Woods and Park Woods are crossed pretty uneventfully. We do manage to make some new friends though.

Resist… long face… joke…

Crossing back under the train line and over the main road, we enter Hearton Wood, our final, rather stunning stretch of woodland that rises high above West Wycombe.

We basically walked all over this, which was nice.

Our route took us back to the church with the golden ball, and beyond that on to the mausoleum, which we were delighted to see is lit up at night.

It looked more dramatic than this in person, honest.
And we didn’t do time on tanning beds to get to be this colour.

With an oddly time displaced sense of deja vu, we descend the hill once more.

This time though, we had quite a nice surprise.

Shame Alan missed this. He loves a sunset.

We descend the hill, almost as slippery as it was that morning, but more treacherous simply because I spend the entire time looking up and gawping at the sunset, riding high on some weird euphoria owing to the combo of the sunset and the imminent end of the hike.

We find ourselves a watering hole in West Wycombe village. Everywhere’s exceptionally quiet, and we choose The Plough, primarily because it’s the one Mat had chosen for us on the route.

Also I like the rabbit in the window.

The Plough is a gorgeous listed building and a cozy pub, and they didn’t mind the disgusting state in which we arrived, so that was nice.

You know, I wasn’t sure whether to blog this mini (but still fifteen mile) hike or not. It didn’t seem right without the boys. Also, we wanted them to experience some of this stuff first hand if we do this route again, rather than read about it here. But Rob said to blog it for his dad, if for no other reason. So I said yes, knowing the others probably only read the blogs for themselves so it’s doubtful they’ll read it, anyway.

This one’s for you, Jim!

Obviously I jest. Next time it’ll be completely different. Mat will be there to guide us, John to lead us, and Alan to climb things that shouldn’t be climbed. It might also be the correct way round, if nothing else…

The Walking Idiots: Part Thirteen – Gorillas in the Mist

Our spirits lifted from the success of our loop around the Marlow/Maidenhead area, the Idiots resolved to squeeze in an extra hike before the end of the year. We don’t tend to do them later than November because daylight becomes a factor, and your choices are then either to hike in the dark or shorten the route, and really, if you can’t take pictures, and if it’s under twenty miles, what’s the point?

This time we opted to return to Kent where John lives, and we quickly decided that a walk along the estuary and coastal paths would be a good choice for a couple of reasons; firstly, it’s stunning, as the pictures you’ll see will illustrate, and secondly, because for the most part it involves a lot less planning and checking the route than usual. I adored the Marlow hike, but I did spend large portions of it comparing the plotted route with my run tracker making sure we were where we were meant to be.

Less of that this time around.

The inevitable WhatsApp group was set up, and people added to it, a mix of Hike 12 participants and invitees, as well as a smattering of John’s friends from Kent, who were all local and had absolutely no reason not to make it (as far as I was aware, anyway). In the end, Max was the only one from the Kent crew to turn up, but Max was a great success in Hike 12 so we were delighted to have him back. For my part, I was lucky because I was able to introduce Will to the group (he’s my comic artist friend). My cousin Richard asked me if he could join, to which the answer was a resounding yes. (Okay, Mum’s cousin, so technically first cousin, once removed, according to google. I doubt there’s a greeting card for that, which I feel is a shame.)

Some of our non-Kent crew couldn’t make the journey; Mat in particular felt it would be a bit rude to come when his son had been born a week earlier, which we reluctantly accepted. Freddie is probably very capable, but maybe give him a few weeks before he’s left to his own devices.

The Friday before the hike, the majority of the non-Kent attendees descend and meet John and Max in The Man of Kent, a charming pub with the most amazing range of beers, wonderfully curated by the landlady, Heather. Despite our attempts to stop drinking and leave early, we somehow failed at both, extricating ourselves after midnight. (Even my own valiant attempt to get us out was dismissed when the notion of a final half was suggested by Heather and immediately embraced… by me.)

These are the faces of no regrets.

The next morning there are plenty of comments about how the pub was both a great idea and a terrible decision. The feeling was made worse by the fact that owing to our schedule, we don’t have time for our customary fry up.

The Travelodge contingent get to the station for the 7:20 train to Sittingbourne, but we notice that John, Alan and Max are nowhere to be seen. Held up by life logistics, they miss the train, and Rob, Will, Clyde and I board it, facing a reminder of our slowly advancing age when we notice how many people on it are most definitely on their way home after what look like eventful nights out. (The outfits, the smell, and the large number of people trying to curl up into something resembling the foetal position give it away.)

Twenty minutes later we arrive at Sittingbourne, which is… I mean, it’s got… okay, apparently it has a nice steam railway. Maybe it’s for the best that the town is veiled in fog.

It’s like it was trying to warn us.

The most eventful part of our brief exploration was when Rob and I help up an older gentleman who fell in the road. We leave him to his shufflings and grumblings, his only discernible sounds were swear words.

The upside, for us four at least, is that while we’re waiting for the others we’re able to grab our Wetherspoons breakfast after all. Richard joins us when we reach the pub and is introduced to everyone. It’s not much later that the others arrive and we set off.

Calling anything in Sittingbourne “hope” really smacks of optimism to me.

Here we go: Clyde, Alan, Max, me, John, Richard and Will, with Rob behind the camera.

We navigate the town for a few minutes, cruelly denying Alan the chance to get a McDonald’s breakfast (okay, he denied himself, for the good of the group) and a short wander through some industrial lands gets us to the start of our footpath that leads us to the estuary.

The estuary footpath was fascinating; a mix of overgrown greenery and industrial equipment, both working and in disrepair. The whole thing was smothered in fog, with dew making the numerous spiderwebs glisten.

Oh yeah and this weird fog made everything an odd shade of silver that gave everything a delightfully melancholy vibe. More on that soon.

More than once did a member of the group look down at the mud flats, revealed by the withdrawn tide and muse aloud, “I wonder how many bodies are buried down there.”

Especially when they list body parts on the signs. I mean, really…

We tweaked the route in planning in order to avoid more of the town and get on the river pathway sooner. This was great in theory but it did seem a little questionable when it came to crossing the river via the bridge. Will in particular expressed doubts about the logic of our route when the footpath seemingly forced us to double back on ourselves.

All part of the plan, Will. Honest.

From here, we walked through the fog along the estuary footpath for hours. And by hours I mean about ninety minutes. Time seemed to move differently. There’s something about being surrounded by impenetrable fog that messes with one’s perception of time. Comparisons were made to Silent Hill, Seventh Seal, the Green Knight, and old, badly rendered video games where you could only see a few feet ahead of you. At points some of the crew further ahead or behind would disappear into the fog, and when that happened I was pretty convinced that they had never existed. No one did. Several existential crises took place.

Not gonna lie, it was bloody great.

If you’ll allow me a brief aside (you will, it’s my blog,) the thing in retrospect about this path was that we saw maybe half a dozen people over this stretch of path. It’s not especially accessible, and really, there’s no need for the path to exist. It doesn’t really connect that many useful places. And yet it does. I love that they (whoever they are) decided to make, not to mention maintain, a path along it. They didn’t need to. But they did. There’s something to be said for that.

As we walk, Max points out the amazing things we should be able to see, except we can’t, because fog. Finally, one thing presents itself to us…

I’ll quote Rob: “Old wreck, of a wartime minesweepers at Elmley Ferry on the banks of The Swale. Elmley Ferry was one of three ferry crossings that used to provide a service over to the Isle of Sheppey. All three crossings stopped operating many years ago. It was at the Elmley Ferry where James II was arrested by fishermen in 1688 when he was trying to flee England. Knowledge is power.”

Perhaps more importantly, it was a decaying ruin. You know what that means, don’t you?

Yeah. Alan had to climb it.

Rob and I climbed down to the boat too, the path being exceptionally treacherous. As soon as Richard saw Alan pose, he said, “Oh, you’re the one from the WhatsApp group photo,” because we used the picture of Alan poised on top of the burnt out car from Hike 12. We’re setting a new precedent in hike lore now, where Alan has to clamber atop dead vehicles. Or trees. Most things.

John may or may not be urinating here.

A while later, having passed a boat yard (barely visible), sheep and ponies, we decide to stop for a moment. We were hoping to stop sooner, but the pub in question at Teynham had yet to open (it was only 11:30 by this point) so the smartest thing to do at the time was to keep moving.

Clyde tried establishing conversation, but didn’t know what to say to ewe.

Seemingly unprompted, Alan whips out quite a nice bottle of Shiraz, John sources a nice block of cheese and a sausage, and a very sophisticated picnic emerges.

Which was all very nice.

The sun finally reveals itself and all of a sudden we’re in what feels like a summer’s day. The change is almost abrupt. If it wasn’t for the promise of eventually reaching a pub we may have stayed for longer…

… except apparently we’ve stopped in the middle of the nursery of baby spiders, because we all seem to have tiny arachnids crawling up our necks. The grass is practically covered in webs. Lovely. Even writing this I still feel them on me. Probably time I washed.

Resuming, we delight in being able to finally see across the river, and we’re treated to views all the way to the Isle of Sheppy.

So basically like before, but blue and with depth perception.

Proving we’re not the only people in existence, someone finally passes us on the path and Max does a double take when he realises it’s his old maths teacher. Presumably he’s been lost in the mist for years, and we didn’t dare to disturb him.

More importantly, we saw our future selves. Sadly we received no stock tips or ledgers, did nothing to collapse the space/time continuum or create a paradox. We look well though.

We carry on, the path weaving around the line of the estuary as we start heading inland to Faversham.

Where there’s boats. Boats and money.

The sun is a welcome change from the mist, and the view remains a welcome sight, but it’s warm now, and after about three hours of walking, the need to get to a pub is strong.

To pass the time (and because we love doing this) half of us long time stalwarts end up doing a deep dive analysis of the hikes where we try to name them, the others saying they can never remember which hike is which based on numbers alone. (I only manage because I blog them, I guess). If there’s one thing more self indulgent than talking about these hikes, it’s talking about these hikes while on a hike. We apologise to Max for this massive level of in-jokery that he’s broadly not privy to, but he just laughs, saying he loves anything at this level of nerdiness, so feeling supported, we cracked on.

Trying not to take it personally, our first choice of pub in Oare, The Three Mariners, is closed, so we stop at The Castle, a pretty decent spot with a nice beer garden and welcoming staff.

… aaaand beer.

Everyone’s moods improve vastly as we take a few moments to change socks, sort feet and drink. Rob goes out of his way to buy a Red Bull just to troll Clyde, I replace my inexplicably wet socks, and Alan decides the best way to waterproof his feet is to wear dog poo bags between his socks and boots. Sounds daft, actually worked. I’m pretty sure the bags were clean, too.

We drink up and leave, aware that staying put would be all too easy. We’re meeting James at the next pub and we’re already running behind. I know he doesn’t mind waiting (he has a book and beer) but I don’t want to leave him too long, because ten miles three pints deep is quite the challenge.

Fortunately for us, the walk between the two pubs is mercifully short, only about half an hour through some uninspiring housing estates, before we reach Faversham, where we meet James at the Bear Inn. He’s very pleased to see us.

This is closest we’ve come to a pub crawl. Dangerous. Beers courtesy of Richard, our enabler.

The Bear is a delight; a historic pub just off Faversham’s market square, we sat in a wood panelled booth under oak beams enjoying decent beer. Along with the Bell in Waltham St Lawrence from our last hike, this was right up there with pubs we were sorry to leave.

I chose this image to illustrate the majesty of the Bear, as well as our exceptional willpower required to leave it.

Now, Faversham is stunning. We all loved it. Historic buildings, cobbled streets, quirky shops, what’s not to love? It felt a bit weird to suddenly be back amongst civilisation, and we all felt like the numerous people around us hadn’t earned their beers like we had (chances are most people had driven there, can you imagine?) We marched out of there with pride in our step and a smile on our face…

As demonstrated here…

… which would’ve been great, except as soon as we left, we found a church.

We had to check this out.
And this.
Not to mention these.

Yeah, we ground to a halt. In our defence, if you’ve ever read any of these things before you’ll know it’s standard practice for us to stop at churches and graveyards. I’m pretty sure it’s in the manifesto.

Think we couldn’t go any slower? Think again. We went in, had a chat with the clergy, had a bit on an explore.

Alan found God.
This made John’s day.
And this tickled my inner goth.

Okay, that additional delay out the way, now we’re leaving!

FYI I forgot to pause the run tracker and now it looks like I drew Mr Messy.

Nothing can possibly delay us now, and after a false start we’re definitely off again. Right?


We reach Standard Quay, made up of old buildings selling copious antiques, especially tools. Many of the crew fall in love. We tarry for another short while, before finally gathering ourselves and setting off.

Our path leads us out through an eccentric boatyard…

“Eccentric.” Try f***ing nuts.

Although it has its charms.

If you like industrial junk. Which we do.

From here our path follows the river for a while before going cross country through farm lands. We enjoyed the salt flats, but the change in landscape is welcomed. It also helped that we were approaching the golden hour, my favourite time of day where the light lends everything a special significance and I can let the pictures do the talking.

John may or may not be urinating here, too.
The knowing smile is because I know I don’t have to write much here.
I’ve shared enough pictures here but I really like this one so you’re getting it too.
And this. On with the narrative!

Finally, with the sun setting, we can see the sea.

Max was very brave balancing and didn’t ask anyone to hold his hand.

We march along the sea walls, but it’s not long before several of us hop over the wall and head down to the water. The tide is far out, which is a shame as I’d packed a towel and everything.

Of course Alan gave it a go though.

Having reached the sea at the twenty mile mark, we mistakenly believe we’ve finished, but there’s a way to go til we reach the pub, so we walk along the beach for a further three miles while the sun sets behind us.

Except for those of us with special foot protectors or dog poo bags, the feet are starting to ache now, and I feel every stone I stand on. We opt to take footpaths over beach where we can, until finally in the last of the twilight, we reach our end point, The Old Neptune, a pub whose beer garden is literally on the beach.

Richard kindly took the victory photo so Rob could share in the moment.

A few generous rounds are purchased as we recall hikes past, both the highs and the lows.

John’s blurry face party trick baffled Will.

After that, James departs to try and avoid a messy train journey home, and we head into Whitstable to search for well earned food.

That, or we’re still walking through the mist of the estuary path, and everything I’ve written since is a mirage-like hallucination. I do hope it’s the former.

Oh no.

The Walking Idiots: Part Twelve

New recruits, same Idiots.

As much as we’d wished otherwise, our last hike wasn’t the best. Lockdown had capped our numbers and reduced the range of where we could go. The booking of pubs created a constant sense of awareness of pace, and the weather… well, it wasn’t as wet as we feared but between it and some pretty old boots it was enough to create sore feet, and sore feet do not make for happy Idiots. We needed our hike mojo back.

So it was perhaps forgivable to view this next one with some sense of trepidation. We went through the motions of creating a new WhatsApp group and adding prospective invitees to it, some of whom were returning familiar faces who we’d been unable to hike with for two years at this point. Others were new recruits, willing and eager. There were some who wanted to attend but were for various reasons regretfully had to pull out. And there were some who just left the WhatsApp group without a word.

I won’t say who they are, but they’re as dead to us as this very dead bird of prey John made us take a picture of. He loves dead things. Don’t know why.

I may have made my, um, reservations about walking around the Crowthorne/Sandhurst area known to the boys and this was taken into account with the route. Basically, based on my whinging about nothing being local to me Mat decided to plot an absolute beauty of a route around Marlow. We opted to keep it circular, which isn’t our preference, just until things get truly back to normal (or as close as they can get) but it did the business, taking into account loads of the highlights Jen and I have discovered in the area since taking up lockdown walks like the rest of the nation.

We’ll overlook the fact that John has to drive from Kent to get to us as this totally undermines my grievance.

The route as ever is gently tweaked and amended but it doesn’t need much work. John suggests changing the route to remove Hambledon so we could walk along the river. This is rejected given that Hambledon is a a gorgeous old rustic village used as a filming location in almost everything and a nice part of the world. Bear that in mind for later.

Beyond that, the only task left to do is book the pubs, which as mentioned above remains a Covid annoyance. The England match happening on the evening adds another thing to manage in terms of finishing on time, but it can’t be helped. This is all very much first world problems by this point.

The last source of frustration was the forecast. You’d think in July the thing to worry about would be the sun, right?

Wrong. Seriously, based on the icon, 42% chance of what? All weather? This is arse covering of the highest order, surely.

The hike grows ever closer and travel arrangements are made. It’s all coming together nicely, although we do have a couple of last minute drop outs. The trains are hellish for Clyde to get to the start on time so he crashes at mine the night before.

I get why Jen wanted him to take the sofa as the spare bed’s a bugger to sort out but I’m not sure why I had to sleep on it too…

After a hideous night’s sleep (in separate beds) Clyde and I arrive in Marlow. Arran, who was my housemate in uni, is waiting for us. I’ve been wanting Arran to join us for ages so I’m really pleased to see him. Henry, who worked with John a while ago arrives soon after and we introduce ourselves. Hike veteran Pete arrives shortly after that and the pubs opens to let us in for breakfast. It’s not long before John and Alan rock up and the group orders various fried goods and the conversational tone plummets to its usual depths. It would be uncouth of me to say what about but I’ll never look at a bic razor in the same way again.

Once we’ve finished breakfast, which Pete kindly buys (we owe you, Pete) some additional last minute supplies are purchased, including some swanky cheese which Henry buys from a swanky pop up market stall outside the pub. The rest of our attendees have turned up by this point so we make introductions, (Mat and Swatty arrive along with hike virgins Max and Wynand) get the obligatory start of hike photo, set our paedo-meters and head off.

We’ll be your hosts for today. Alan, Mat, John, Henry, Clyde, Arran, me, Pete, Max, Swatty and Wynand. You’ll notice Rob’s missing: don’t fret, he’ll meet us halfway. You’ll know when he arrives because the photos will get a lot better.

Our route starts by taking us immediately over Marlow Bridge, a suspension bridge built in the 1830’s that’s a Grade I listed building and with its perilously close iron traffic control measures is the scourge of all drivers in the area.

Very soon after we leave the road for a public footpath that takes us across a field and towards Bisham Woods that looms above us.

Pictured: woods, looming.

It’s not long before we realise that our map should be leading us straight on towards the hills via a tunnel that runs under the road ahead, but our route is veering right with no tunnel in sight, just more hedge. Fortunately we spot a jogger running parallel to us who vanished into the bushes, and adjust our route to match hers.

I miss this because I’m busy taking a walking selfie. Seriously, Nicholas…

As if by magic a gap in the hedgerow appears and we found ourselves in the creepy, ominous tunnel that we tried to find years ago back in Hike IV. We love a creepy tunnel, so it’s a bit of a treat.

At the end of the tunnel was a plaque showing that Theresa May opened it, with a dog poo bag on top. Nothing but the best in Marlow.

We enter Bisham woods which almost immediately takes the form of seemingly never-ending steep hills, some of which are made of wet chalk. Little do we know that uphill will be a feature of this hike. This will make up for all those missed leg days, won’t it?

After what seems like an age we leave the woods (with little photographic evidence) and emerge into a series of fields and woods. We notice it’s exceptionally muggy, but are consoled by the beauty that surrounds us…

… affectionate horses…
… this snail, gracefully climbing a tree…
… the sunlight gently illuminating the canopy of leaves high above…

Oh yeah, and this very dead burnt out car.

Honestly, you knew in your heart Alan was going to climb it, didn’t you?

In his new role in health and safety Arran can’t quite get behind this, but like others in the team he cracks open a hip flask to put his worries to one side and we enjoy the spectacle.

To be fair there was a few other dead things and dilapidated buildings along the way that I could’ve included in addition to the aforementioned May/poo bag combo, but it would’ve lessened the impact of the VW voted most likely to fail its MOT. It’s not like we don’t have photos of them all. John really likes making us get photos of dead things. He also collects pictures of condom machines in pub toilets, the weirder the better. Don’t ask.

From here on for a little while we swap out woodlands for fields:

Soon after the route tells us we need to take the public footpath through Temple golf course, and we do so, our group disturbing what seems like the only two golfers on the entire course, although they seem happy enough to let us pass. We climb the discrete footpath onwards.

“It’s fine, this’ll definitely be the last of the hills…”

Shortly after we enter the grounds of the Berkshire College of Agriculture, where the sun finally comes out and we take that selfie from the start of this post.

That’s more like it.

Everyone is quick to put their sunglasses on, which seems like a really great idea until we enter some dark woods. When we emerge on the other side the sun’s gone in. It’s still muggy, which the shades do nothing whatsoever to help with, but at least we look cool now.

Coming out the other side of BCA we ascend and then descend Ashley Hill, with half our number getting a bit lost on the ascent and needing to go off route to catch up. In their (our, I was one of them) defence, there’s lots of paths and it’s hard to tell one from another. This happens again after we regroup but with a bit of trial and error we find our way onwards.

At the bottom of Ashley Hill we cross the A4 and are dismayed to see that plotaroute has done us dirty as the public footpath through the farm we need to take doesn’t exist. Fortunately I know of another one but it adds a fair few minutes finding it and then looping back to where we should be.

The footpath is round the back of the Bell and Bottle pub, and given that we’re meeting Rob at the Old Bell and we know he’s anxious about missing us, Mat does the only sensible thing and sends him a picture of the Bell and Bottle, telling him we’re there and trusting that Rob will assume the worst. This gets the desired response and we let him off the hook; we’re not monsters, after all.

The farmland route takes us on to Littlewick Green, a stunning little village built around a cricket green, seemingly hidden from the world and the progress of time. It charms everyone as we wander through, quite grateful for a brief change of scenery.

Let’s make this clear: you will never be able to afford to live here, ever.

We find a well, so Alan does the only sensible thing and climbs in it. We also pass Redroofs school (one of them, at least) and the home of Ivor Novello, famed composer and entertainer. This is quite exciting until we realise the person to have most won the award named after him is Gary Barlow, and we depart the village, suddenly feeling unclean.

Alan by a well. You’ll definitely never see that again.

Minutes later we’re back onto the farmlands, where our path takes us directly across the field in one of those footpaths you know is a massive source of frustration to the farmer.

Between the steep uphills, the route confusion on Ashley Hill, and the lack of entrance into the farmlands we’ve fallen quite behind so we endeavour to pick up the pace. Normally it wouldn’t be an issue but our pub booking is due to start imminently and after nearly four hours of walking we’ve all got a thirst on.

Onwards for beer!

The problem is the wheat fields are really quite beautiful, stretching off in every direction almost as far as the eye can see. We even almost have a North by Northwest moment because of the nearby Waltham airfield.

Does that make the pub our McGuffin?

Getting to the far end of the field we cross the railway bridge and continue down the country lane which is a firm favourite of MAMILs all over Berkshire before entering Shottesbrooke Park, the stunning parklands of a sixteenth century Tudor mansion.

It’s all right, let’s not go crazy.

I lead the way with Wynand as we reach the church next to the mansion.

The real treat though is the passage between the church and the walled garden of what may have once been a monastery:

I’m waiting for this to get big on Instagram.

Everyone loves this (especially John, and I think Alan is tempted to paint it) and I take no joy in driving everyone on in a passive aggressive way for fear of losing our pub slot (bloody Covid). Fortunately for me I shared the route with my local guitar group and Nick from the class has decided to join us at the Bell, and he’s just arrived there. He calls and I get him to claim our tables, abating my anxiety. We leave Shottesbrooke, Swatty asking us detailed questions about hike rankings and how many need to be attended to get on the leaderboard (this stuff matters, ask any one of us.)

Minutes later we enter Waltham St Lawrence, where Rob is waiting for us by the church next to the pub. We are of course delighted to see him, as he represents a symbol of hope for us all, even the guys who’ve not met him before.

Also we notice the horse car park built into the roundabout, which quite frankly inspired.

The Bell Inn of Waltham St Lawrence is a fifteenth century (not fourteenth, apparently the sign is wrong) wood panelled pub. This alone would make us inclined to like it. They serve a good range of beers and decent food.

I sneakily took this as we passed through to get to the beer garden. Oh baby.

Nick is waiting for us in the garden. We settle in and order drinks and start the standard hike break routine, namely making old man noises as we sit down, changing our socks, and sorting out foot tape if necessary. Beers turn up quickly and when we ask for water the staff offer to fill up all our water bottles, making the Bell shoot right up there with the very best of pubs we’ve visited on hikes. They even did some quick maths to help our tired brains split the bill fairly.

… what the hell. We got a second round in. We’re having a blast. Blame Nick.
I’m mostly sure John brought the talcum powder with him. I certainly don’t remember seeing it on the menu.

Swatty sagely observes a large number of attendees checking in with their respective other halves which earns some rather self conscious laughter all around. The second pints being ordered as well as some food does rather impact our pace, but we’ve walked for over ten miles by this point and are enjoying ourselves far too much to leave.

This is us dragging ourselves away. I think we’d happily have stayed there.

Finally we depart, briefly allowing a diversion into the church next door to appreciate the stunning Yew Tree in the church yard.

Basically an Ent.

Our route takes us back into farmland, and we have to follow the public footpath right through the centre of the farm, which must be even more inconvenient for farmers than those paths that run through their fields. We know we’ve got to pick up the pace but we are two beers deep so really our speed is unchanged, possibly slower. I get a buzz as I learn Max is a Silmarillion fan and we lose a couple of miles geeking out over the Istari, Maiar and other niche corners of Middle Earth.

It’s not long after this that the farmland ends and we reach Castle Royle golf course, where a long, narrow public footpath runs through the course. The path is framed with dense bushes on either side and nettles have spilled out onto the route. There’s lots of awkward lunging and twisting to avoid the worst of them, and Arran voices his regret about succumbing to peer pressure and changing into shorts at the start of the hike.

We enter Knowl Hill which is, yes, another hill. It’s gruelling, and much like Bisham Woods our priorities are adjusted so no photos are taken for some time. Swatty and I are busily chatting away and wonder aloud why we’re out of breath until John points out that we’re the only ones chatting in earshot, everyone else is focusing on the task at hand.

Knowl Hill eventually becomes Crazies Hill, which is great if you like hills. (We’re cooling on them by this point.) We pass Rebecca’s Well, a Grade II listed Well house built around 1870.
The inscription on the well reads, “Rebeka and the Servants of Abraham at the well of Nahor. And the servants ran to meet her and said let I pray thee drink a little water of thy pitcher.” I know this because I lifted it straight from Rob’s Facebook post about it, so it must be true.

Clearly this was the hike where Alan was about (don’t say it) well being.

Next to the well sits a house with a garden railway that gets Rob all a-flutter but it’s in some degree of disuse and the foliage is too dense to get pictures. Proceeding through the hamlet of Crazies Hill with their seriously nice houses we take a footpath that leads to a very green series of corridors. A drone flies overhead and we pass a field of alpacas (or funny looking dogs, as Alan may have once referred to them).

It’s around here that we take a brief break to stop by Henry’s step brothers’ house, where we have been offered a quick refreshment. They’re very courteous with their food and drink but we are so sweaty and horrible by this point that some of us feel a little uncomfortable stinking up their beautiful garden. If you’ll allow me a second Tolkien reference it’s not dissimilar to the dwarves rocking up at Rivendell. Fortunately there is someone there who does her best to make us feel at home.

This is Molly, our new favourite hike dog (tied with BoyBoy.) Also a bit of a hussy.

Molly took a particular shine to Pete and Alan, or at least liked their smell the most. Henry’s step brother’s garden was a thing of beauty but I didn’t feel it was fair to take a photo of their garden, even if it was for illustrative purposes, so here’s another Molly picture.

She’s a nice lady.
Also here’s us stinking up their lawn. Bet your family wouldn’t have us over.

Mindful of the time (god knows how late we are at this point) we resume. That same drone from earlier sees us off and I’m told it was Henry’s step brother’s. Sadly it didn’t get any pictures which would’ve been amazing. Our next pub is The Flower Pot at Aston, near Remenham, but they aren’t bothered about bookings so there’s no urgency there other than for those who want to get back for the football or have rotten journeys home.

Rob insisted on getting a picture of this sign, too. So mature.
John also wanted a picture of this dragonfly, presumably because it was dead.

It’s not long after this we enter Remenham, more specifically the stunning Culham Court estate, which includes an excellently maintained parkland, herd of white deer, a chapel/mausoleum, ha-ha, follys and a mansion. (We’ve covered this on the Hike IV post on this site. Alternatively for a more factually accurate – but less entertaining account – wiki Urs Schwarzenbach if you’re interested; there’s serious money at play here. Also VAT fraud and art trafficking.)

Perhaps most remarkable of all, to a few of us at least, is that coming up the hill is Grant White and his wife. Grant was in our (Mat, Alan, John and my) year at school, and we’ve known him for over thirty years. We’re quite surprised to see him, for some of the group it’s been an incredibly long time. Quite randomly while chatting to us he gets a text from Charlie, who was also in our year at school, and all this coincidence unsettles us, so we wish him well and crack on.

Also we wanted more beer.
Pleased we got Rob back. I like this photo of the rear guard a lot. Also: we finally got to go downhill!

We collect ourselves for the last push before the Flower Pot. Rob and I nip up the hill to get a picture of the chapel, while John and Max conduct some guerrilla repairs on his boot.

A different sort of classy.

A short while later we arrive at The Flower Pot, a pub which blew our minds back in Hike IV for its impressive display of taxidermied animals, rustic setting, massive pumpkins on the benches (in autumn) and warm customer service. Presumably they’d got wind of how much we loved The Bell and took offence, because we got a warmer reception from the dead animals than the staff this time around. The pub wasn’t especially busy and while we might be a bit gross after eight hours of walking we’re very polite, so the experience rather confounded us. Max kindly bought the round when the staff offered no help in terms of splitting the bill.

Even though most of us ordered lager, all we could taste was bitter.

It’s at this time that we decide to amend our route for the last stretch. We’ve about five miles left and feet are starting to get sore. We’re sick of hills (how is a circular walk almost entirely uphill? It’s like an Escher painting!) so Hambledon’s cut and a more direct river route added in its place. Turns out John’s suggestion was right after all.

We set off on our final stretch along the river, passing through Medmenham, Hurley, Temple and Bisham. Fuelled by a sense of finality, and a desire for football, rest, or curry, we soldier on, with gaps forming amongst us owing to pace.

There was lots of this. Refreshingly flat.

A section of us pause on Hurley bridge. Henry catches us up and asks us to wait for the stragglers, which we agree to. We don’t mind, the bridge is beautiful and we’re feeling pretty good.

When the others catch us up, Clyde informs us that John proposed a shortcut to help them gain ground (basically a straight line cutting out the bends along the river the footpath would take). This was great in principle except this short cut went from moist, to boggy, to full blown marshland. Also apparently John led from the back so he could judge what route he could take from their mistakes. I think this was an excellent strategy. Clyde told me all this in confidence so obviously don’t tell anyone.

The remaining miles are your standard issue Berkshire riverside fare:

By which I mean totally stunning.

Upon reaching Marlow we regroup in the park next to the river where someone has thoughtfully set up this finish line for us all.

No idea why they branded it as a triathlon though. Still, the thought counts.

We give ourselves our congratulatory pats on backs and the bulk of the group disbands to travel to London, Rochester or home to catch the start of the football. Our remnants go for curry, which is worth it because a) excellent curry, b) the staff are appalled by the state of John’s boot. They seat us outside so we can’t stink up the joint and that’s fine by us.

Working on reduced brain power we struggle to read the menu but our real challenge comes when we try and work out how to get us all home in two cars, which is sort of pathetic really.

Look, you’d struggle too if you’d burnt 1,800 calories walking for 9.5 hours and drunk at least five pints.

And that, Dear Reader, is how you finish a twenty five mile hike. With beer, curry, good friends, and the sense of self delusion that you definitely don’t have any blisters. Oh, and England won 4-0.

Until next time.

The Walking Idiots: Part Eleven

… in what is hopefully the last hike the Idiots have to do in lockdown, where we experience our highest casualty rate ever with not one, but two instances of Pete’s Law, being enacted. Who did the hike gods bring to ruin and who was spared? Lay on, gentle Reader, and find out.

I don’t think I need to explain in too much detail that the last year has well and truly managed everyone’s expectations in every way, including hiking. By this point the mythical, glorious days of hikes in other counties with large groups of friends old and new, casually dropping into pubs along the way, and remarking upon the start points, so many miles away from us were long gone. Now, as you know from the last few posts, it was all about circular hikes in the local area, BYO beers, and limited numbers. The core crew from school made five, and John had promised that Ross – last seen all the way back in Hike 1 – would attend completing the allowed six.

We knew that the end of lockdown (whatever that will look like) was on the horizon, but getting a date that suits everyone can be such a pain that we decided to lock in and get one done while we could. We discussed the route as we always do – this one went through about a dozen permutations – but really it was only ever going to be routes around Crowthorne or Sandhurst, and these were definitely getting very familiar. Still, the lads did their best and found a few areas new to us, including the land around a certain manor I will mention later.

In all honesty though it didn’t matter; it was a day out together, hopefully with some pub stops thrown in. It sounded like a good idea.

Well, it did, until the forecast revealed itself.

You can tell if it’s a bad forecast when my dad – who rarely uses his phone – goes out of his way to ominously text me. Fine. Thanks Dad.

I’ll get her something. Chill. God.

To say we become somewhat interested with the grim forecast is probably downplaying it. I know I refreshed the BBC weather app so many times it started to think I lived in Sandhurst. But still, hope remained. (I would say estel, but that would betray how much of a certain Tolkien podcast I’ve been listening to in lockdown, and no one needs to know that right now.)

Then, on Friday, finally, it seems to lighten a little. Could it be…? Was change coming? We continue to keep a vigil.

The morning of the hike we awaken to find that the app’s forecast has changed once more. It’s still going to fling it down, but only until about 10am, then 40mph winds will replace them. We can work with that. (“The winds will dry us out,” we joke.)

We head down to our starting point. The WhatsApp group gets a message from John: “Do we have the route anywhere? Do we even have it finalised?!” Oh yeah. That. We’ll work it out later. We’re working without a finished script, but that’s okay, it worked out fine for Quantum of Solace and the Hobbit movies, right?

We meet outside Greggs. Once upon a time it would’ve been a pub breakfast, but we work with what we’ve got. To our dismay, Alan has cut his hair, (he changes his look every hike, it’s how we’re able to tell which one we’re on from the photographs alone) and we’re all a bit annoyed because he’s once again the most handsome of us all. I think to myself I’ll get revenge on him later and not buy him a Chelsea bun if the opportunity arises, but for now, we walk.

You’ll note Ross made it. He’s clad in John’s dad’s waterproof. As mentioned above, we’ve not seen Ross since the ill-fated Hike 1 (check out the post about it HERE if you’ve not seen that. It’s a disaster. The post about it’s not much better.)

Speaking of John’s dad, he dropped our leader off, said hello to everyone and remarked on Alan’s shorts, mentioning an anecdote about when he once wore shorts that were too short on a boat he accidentally exposed himself to a stranger (you can see where his son gets it from, right?)

We set off in heavy rain, telling ourselves it won’t last. It’s still pretty grim. Oh well. We pass some sewage works that make it especially scenic. After the that, the first few miles are pleasant enough but pretty uneventful. Everyone catches up but mostly it’s about enduring the rain, which slowly starts to ease off as the morning passes. At one point we pause next to a field near Minley Manor (filming location for the second Jurassic World film, Stardust and Enola Holmes) where there’s a large black bull, which reminds me of a scene from Withnail & I. (I’ve gone heavy on the film references, my apologies. Best get used to it, I think it’s likely there’ll be more.) We watch in mild confusion as Ross shakes copious amounts of sand from one boot.

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!”

We carry on, through various woods and along some main-ish roads round Hawley. I lurk at the back of the group with Ross, testing the depths of my banter, but against him I am a rank amateur. Still, it’s good to catch up. I’ve not seen him since a weekend where John coerced us into doing a terrible job trying to paint his boat. At least he likes a Tolkien quote, and “Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys,” becomes the unofficial motto for this hike, at least between us.

We also practiced the cold, dead stare of a serial killer. Y’know, for work zoom calls and such.

We regroup when we find ourselves on a curious iron bridge that seems to go… nowhere.

Seriously, check this thing out. Located in the midst of the wilderness (as wild as you get in Surrey, anyway), it’s a metal terror straight out of a David Lynch nightmare.

So of course, we loved it.

You can almost taste our delight.

Naturally we postulated it’s the sort of place where one would enter one of the doors underneath it only to emerge from the other like that magic trick from The Prestige, but probably covered in blood, having somehow lost years of your life. There’s even white rabbit graffiti all around to make it even more ominous. Turns out Rob discovered it was a filming location for Detective Pikachu, which on reflection really brings the horror home.

John, shortly before entering the Dark Place.

Our morbid curiosity sated, we leave the bridge of horror behind, shortly after that we pass a beautiful avenue which of course we don’t walk down.

Would’ve been nice though!

Shortly afterwards, Ross mentions that his knees are giving him some absolute grief, and he leaves as we enter some rhododendron-filled woods which remind me of our childhood in Crowthorne. Off to get a cab, he agrees to meet us at the pub but won’t continue the rest of the hike after. That’s right guys, as promised, we enacted Pete’s Law, the Walking Idiots rule that if someone is unable to continue a hike due to ill health, they depart rather than struggle on. As promised in the tantalising introduction, this is the first of two instances, a first for our hikes. Who of the remaining crew would fall foul of it, though?

Unaware that this fate hangs over another of our members, we descend deeper into the woods in Elvetham…

… which turned into a swamp.

Gorgeous as it is, the swamp blocks our path to rejoining Ross, and with no wizened old Jedi master to guide us through it, we take a detour around.

Rob and I pause when we see a warning that no one should linger too long in this swamp….

Picked clean. Creepy.

And we regroup with the others, where Alan proves his strength is not linked to his hair, Solomon-style, and lifts an enormous heavy metal thing, the showoff.


Back on track, from there we pass along a series of fields. By this point the rain has stopped but the wind has started, so that’s fun. There’s a lot of yellow in the field, which I assume is mustard.

Spot the Idiot.

Getting that selfie at the start of this post, we soon emerge from the fields and find some farmhouses.

Also: Twitter headquarters. Hilarious.

Soon after we reach a golf course, where I fail to get a picture of the sign which really lays it on thick about how dangerous flying golf balls are, a bit like the polo sign in Windsor for Hike 1.

Finally we reach the Cricketers, where poor Ross has been waiting for us for what seems like ages. We share a pint with him, and when we head off, we say our farewells to him. Good to have Ross along again, we’ll probably see him on Hike XXII.

Not seen: actual cricketers, because it was bloody miserable out.

While we stop for our midday beer, we all kick off our boots, replace tape, change socks.

You don’t need to see Mat’s feet, but I took the picture so I’ll use it for illustrative purposes.

I realise Alan has a mat in his bag to rest his feet on when they’re drying, which is quite frankly genius. My own feet, which were rather exposed to the elements owing to a rather large hole in my boot, look like the faces of bodies scooped out of the river, wet, clammy, pale and swollen.

Speaking of swoll (hear me out), John’s been working out and we’re a bit jealous of him (as you can tell by now, we’re a friendship group fuelled mostly by jealousy and resentment).

When we realise we’ve forgotten to get a picture of us leaving the Cricketers for this very blog, rather than walk back the hundred or so metres to get one, we jokingly suggest Rob use photoshop to capture it, saving us the effort. As lads banter tends to, this escalates, until the only inevitable conclusion is instead to get a picture of the five of us in a human pyramid, propped up by John’s non-unimpressive guns. We all take to this idea, Mat in particular. He’s a big lad, and to use a Dirty Dancing metaphor (why not) he’s always been a Patrick and never a Jennifer. He rightly insists on going on the top, like the angel on a Christmas tree, and who are we to deny him the time of his life?

This is as close to a Beatles album cover as I’m ever going to get.

As ever with Hartney Witney, John and Alan return to One Stop, source of their university summer holiday employment and spiritual Mecca. It’s the location of many a rose-tinted tale, as the rest of us have frequently enjoyed hearing about their out of hours drinking on the shop’s flat roof like something out of Kevin Smith’s Clerks, or how the shop withstood a siege of travellers like something out of Assault on Precinct 13.

Sadly it’s a Tesco Express now so the experience is somewhat lessened, but Al gets some Heineken to commemorate the experience. While this emotional pilgrimage is being completed, Mat, Rob and I are eyeballing the baker’s shop window. The Chelsea buns look exceptional, so in a move of uncharacteristic generosity, I decide to buy the three of us one each. They’re bloody brilliant.

Moments later, John emerges from dead Onestop Tesco, sees us tucking in, and immediately asks “Where’s mine?” Fair enough, one more is bought.

Shortly after that, Alan appears with his beer. Sadly the bakery has run out of Chelsea buns by this point, but I give him the choice of anything else and he picks a lemon turnover which stops any tears. We depart, leaving the rather upmarket Hartney Witney high street and returning to the wilderness soon after.

Rob asks us to stop so he can change his footwear, although he only changed his socks a short while ago in the pub. None of us knew what this meant at the time until it was too late.

He’s happier here, bless ‘im.

From here the landscape changes into gorse and heather, quite a change from the farmlands and river we’ve been used to so far. We take time to inadvertently startle a heron.

Fly, my pretty.

Soon after that, we emerge on a curious, long driveway.

Oh, hello…

I realise with a sense of delight (I don’t follow the route plotting as closely as my far more involved collaborators) that we’re on the approach to Bramshill House, which I’ve been looking forward to seeing for quite some time.


Bramshill House is allegedly one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. It comes complete with fourteen ghosts, including a ‘Green Man’ who apparently drowned in a lake, and the ghost of a bride who hid herself in a cupboard on her wedding night in an ill-fated game of hide and seek, but who was not found until fifty years later, or so the story goes. There’s loads more, scroll down to the Legends section of the wiki page and take a look. I also like the knight in armour, the Grey Lady, and the ghost of a child who tries to hold visitor’s hands.

The manor is presently for sale, a steal for only £10 million, so start saving, everyone.

Sadly the house, which later became a police training centre, was locked up and not open to the pub, which is a real shame as we would’ve loved to have gone in and bust us some ghosts.

Who ya gonna call?
Yeah… that says “the stroked cat is meek.” Not exactly Winter is Coming, is it?

We leave, and moments later a rather threatening black land rover appears at the gate, apparently from nowhere, clearly having gotten wind of our threatening presence. Like a kraken returning to the blackness, the land rover vanishes, having dismissed us as a threat. We don’t care either way. By this point, we’re each picturing ourselves as drunken lords of this abandoned mansion, followed around by a patient and long suffering latina maid who tolerates our alcoholic rantings and occasional pukings, affectionately referred to in her broken English as ‘mouth sorrys’ (You had to be there.)

Soon after, we find ourselves on a long, grinding hill that goes through the hamlet of Bramshill. Yeah, Bramshill had an actual hill, and it’s a bastard. Who knew?

The legs are beginning to suffer a little, and some of our number decide to have a little stretch which gives me the chance to get this satisfyingly symmetrical picture.

Stretchy time.

For one of our crew, their time on this hike is numbered.

We reach the Tally Ho in Eversley, last seen in Hike 3, where to our dismay but not surprise Rob announces that he cannot continue, and has also enacted Pete’s Law. That’s right, reader, Rob was our second hike casualty. Holly comes to get him, greets us by giving us a gesture that I assume means staking a vampire, and then there were four.

Okay, Rob took this earlier but I just like this picture, so you’ll have to accept the manipulation of continuity.

We continue. We sorely miss our companion, and our feet are tired. At least the weather is finally pleasant, and the landscape is very familiar, having trekked along this route several times in the past.

We see this, which we know in our hearts would have made Rob snigger.

Eventually we emerge from the peaceful farmlands that we crossed years ago in the opposite direction when we walked from Crowthorne to Silchester, arriving in Little Sandhurst. This return to society is an unpleasant surprise, as without the tranquil countryside to distract us, we’re (or at least I’m) suddenly aware of how sore our feet are. We shuffle on and up, until we reach our end point, the Bird in Hand.

We finished, but we weren’t the people we were at the start.

It’s pretty hard to objectively review any pub in lockdown, given it’s a lot of sitting outside and tolerating the weather, but the Bird in Hand did okay. When the staff came over to ask us what we wanted to drink, we all ordered a beer, except for Mat, who felt he should head back to his family as the hike had taken longer than planned owing to some confusing extra mileage which had appeared along the way (the joys of improvising the route). He declined, saying “I’ve got an uber coming in fifteen minutes so you probably won’t have time.” “I’ll take that bet,” The bar staff replied confidently, and shot off to get our drinks.

Okay, so they had run out of the beer Mat ordered, but they told him super quick and got him something else instead, and he managed to power through it in around eight minutes. It was impressive work.

Not long after that, John and I both order scampi and chips (my personal favourite pub grub), Alan dips a chip in beer which would’ve made me spittake if I’d been drinking, and we reflect on the day while we wait for our lifts (John’s dad and Jen, respectively) to arrive. It wasn’t the greatest hike by a long shot: we’ve pretty much rinsed the area; the route didn’t have too much going for it; the weather wasn’t great; and we lost a third of our contingency, the highest on any hike so far.

But it’s a day out with this lot, and you can’t easily beat that.

Rob, this is still your finest work.

The Walking Idiots: Part Ten

…in which a lot of things happen in what I thought would be quite an uneventful walk.

Planning grief:

Some time in September I asked the lads whether anyone fancied a hike. Crowthorne to Windsor, I suggested, which was a firm favourite and starts where most of us have access to. I even chose a date that fortunately everyone could make. Everyone said yes and we all looked forward to the day.

All that was that, right?

Course not. If you’ve read at least one of these things you’ll know it was never going to be that easy.

I’ll keep this brief because it’ll sound like bitching, no one really comes out of it that well, and most importantly the hike that came of it is far more entertaining than this nonsense.

  • Concerns were raised about getting back from Windsor in a Covid world where people have vulnerable families, etc.
  • Crowthorne to Windsor and back was floated, much to mine and Rob’s dismay.
  • Arguing followed about where the hell to walk.
  • I proposed a circular route
  • The route was rejected but the circular idea embraced
  • Mat created a circular route round Bagshot, Lightwater, Frimley and Sandhurst. Everyone approves.
  • In the week before the hike, John flags that his foot and leg hurts and that he’s worried he won’t be well enough to do it in time and asks if we push back a week.
  • Other members of the crew can’t do that date and John, for the first time ever, is out.

The day itself:

I rock up opposite the Prince in Crowthorne (to be seen later, don’t hold your breath, it’s not that exciting) and soon enough we get confirmation that this is going to be an odd hike when a clean shaven Alan appears, with Mat and Rob soon behind, having made an earlier pit stop at Rackstraws.

Yes, that Rackstraws, the bastion of disappointment from Hike 8.

Anyway, it turns out Alan tried shaving using his webcam rather than a mirror, hadn’t taken into account the lag, or something like that, had an incident and the whole thing had to go. It’s an unsettling moment because our whole crew has been with beard to some extent for years now, but it seems to have paid off because it gave him a vague Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohecans vibe and more importantly seemed to have given him a newfound sense of wisdom, we learned later. Off we go.

Hike 10, 10th October 2020

Your select committee for the day (rule of six rather knackering the sprawling mob we try to invite) comprised of me, Rob Golding, Mat Gunyon and Alan O’Connell.

Almost immediately we arrive in Swinley Forest. This has been a feature in most of our hikes in the last year, and if I’m being honest I’m a little tired of it but Mat’s route plotted a pretty good way around it, including walking the entire edge of Caesar’s Camp which was really good, following lots of high, thin trails.

We also saw this pretty mysterious tree, climbed numerous steep hills, saw a significant amount of cyclists in Lycra and plenty of joggers. We also briefly helped a group of walkers find their missing dog who we’d seen earlier. By helped, I mean we stood around and looked uncertain until we heard someone yell that it had turned up.

However my favourite bit of the forest is the fact that Mat kindly included a detour for my benefit down a stretch of path dubbed Diagon Alley, named after some film series that had some scenes filmed there.

Not sure what the films were. Not Lord of the Rings, for once.

We also found some cool logs, which prompted some physical displays:

Oh yeah, and this pipe, which is some sort of metaphor for either this year or the logic behind our government’s advice:

It’s not too long after this that we emerge from the woods into the outskirts of Bagshot, and we find ourselves at St Anne’s church. This is a good thing because churches are a massive staple on hikes alongside graveyards, random cows and blisters.

Sadly there’s no graveyard but at least the church is impressive (circa 1900) and even vaguely educational. Alan notices significant lightning protection running down from the tower (even had little lightning bolt symbols on the wiring) and we finally confirmed why you get Yew Trees in churches (it’s because Yew trees are poisonous and this put farmers off allowing their animals to graze on church lands. Boom. Now you know.)

A few minutes later we find the local parish hall, which sounds pretty boring but actually looks pretty great:

Even with two Idiots next to it and a host of cleaning supplies in the window it’s very visually satisfying. Alan gives us an account of brickwork and Fleming bonding (I think this is what this is, I stole this from Rob’s caption on his Facebook picture) and properly educated, we proceed to look down our noses at any new builds we see for the rest of the day. Kids today know nothing about bricks, I tell you.

Not long after that we see our first snatches of autumnal colour, which I’m a total sucker for:

And just when you think things can’t get any more exciting, we reach the M3.

I mean, look how much fun we’re having here.

The footbridge leads us to Lightwater Country Park and onwards, up Curley Hill, which is even steeper than Swinley Forest and is completely worth it because of the viewpoint at the top.

There’s another photo of this with us in but I think Rob’s picture here is really nice so you’re getting this instead. The cool thing about the view point was you could sort of see a summary of everything we’d done so far behind us – the M3, St Anne’s church, Swinley Forest – and if you turned ninety degrees you could just about make out the buildings of London on the horizon.

All this was explained to us by a nice gentleman in a shirt, purple jumper and jeans. He had no bag and no dog, appeared as if from nowhere to point out all the sights to us, and the vanished as soon as he’d done so.

Alan puts it better:

Smartly groomed and dressed as if for work, completely out of place deep in the forest. No bag, no dog, no trace. I was looking out across the landscape. Curly Hill is great. It was about half way in and we could see all the landmarks we had past, like St. Anne’s Church. I was looking at this city in the distance, a question in my mind, ‘is that London?’

I turned around, and there he was. As if from nowhere. He knew everything. Every landmark across the land, everything about us, where we’d come from, where we were going. He knew all of history and all of time itself. I turned back to the view and wondered quietly to myself… should I ask him? I bet he knows. Should I ask him the meaning of life? Should I? Do I even want to know?

I turned back and he was gone. I looked down hill, checking every path, every route up to this point. Surely he would be easy to spot, dressed in that bright purple jumper. He was gone. Just disappeared, as quickly as he had appeared. No sound, nor trace, even the memory feels fragmented, broken. A residue from an immaterial realm, accidently breached.

As Rob succinctly put it, “If he’s not in the photo I took of him, I’m out.”

Anyway, he’s there on the left, so he’s at least a hard light hologram.

Viewpoint completed we descend back into the woods where we found a cool trench with, um, decorative nails.


Sadly all this woodland can’t last forever and we shortly reach Heatherside, which is pleasant enough as a suburb but hardly worthy of many precious lines in my blog.

Or so we thought until we turned a corner and came upon this little avenue, beautifully positioned between the houses:

The sight was incredibly calming, kind of inspiring and made us all smile like idiots for no particular reason.

If you were to look this up online I’m sure you’d find plenty of interesting history about it, but fortunately we didn’t need to check, because Alan knew already! He reliably informed us that this Avenue was planted by King Beef Wellington III in the 1800’s for his daughter, Wellingtonia. Done.

It’s not long after this that we arrive at our first pub stop of the day, The Whearsheaf in Heatherside.

Sadly Covid restrictions meant we were not easily able to linger inside the pub and get the photos this place deserves, so you might want to give it a google. It’s brilliant: designed by two interior designers in the 1970’s, the pub’s interior is basically Mad Men meets Clockwork Orange (minus the sex crime) or a mini Barbican Centre. The bar staff were lovely too and knew more than we thought they would about its history. While we drank our beer and charged our phones, Alan quizzed us on why one particular tile on the roof was out of place which is more entertaining than it sounds, honest.

As accomplished at drinking as we are, we’re also disciplined hikers, and we depart, entering more woodland, this time the woods next to Pine Ridge golf club, where Rob got married.

Unfortunately our progress grinds almost a complete halt as soon as we enter the woods when we notice a very nervous dog by himself. He runs back and forth for a while before vanishing out of the woods, towards the (quite busy) road we had just crossed. His owners soon follow with their other dog, looking a bit distraught. The dog (Beau) is nowhere to be seen.

Being decent, conscientious sorts, we decide to help find him. Before I run off, stalking the mean streets of Frimley, I hear Alan, strangely sage-like, ask Beau’s owner if the dog had just gone home. His suggestion is dismissed.

Roughly ten minutes later (probably less) I get a call from Rob to say that they’d learnt that Alan was indeed right: Beau had gone home. I return to the others, the dog and owners long gone, with nothing to show for my experience other than some crazy strawberry bootlace-style patterns on my walking app.

Ah well.

Not long after that, some very small child yells something that sounded racist at Alan (probably wasn’t) and we see a bizarre natural phenomenon:

I should really ask my brother about this, he knows about plants.

From there we proceed to Frith Hill, and things start getting curious.

Like, ‘don’t touch suspicious objects’ curious.

The first signs something interesting is afoot are huge palettes of fake snow, followed shortly by what look like filming trucks (Rob’s guess.) We keep walking, and through the trees we can just make out a patch of white.

This, followed by huge filming cranes and security barriers pretty much confirm we’re near a film set. Amazing!

Amber zone/danger zone. Close enough.

Oh yeah. Definitely nothing to see here.

We happen upon a security guard who’s having a thrilling day sat in his car, but seems to perk up a bit when we get talking to him. He won’t tell us what they’re filming, mentions that entering the set would be trespassing on MOD land and would incur a £1,000 fine (“Is it worth a grand?” Alan asks, and is crushed when it doesn’t illicit a response) but if we keep going and head right up the track we might be able to have a look around.

The track is the wrong way, but there’s no way we’re not going to do that!

We head up, the white through the trees growing…

We sneak in, oddly wary, afraid security will bust us or some army soldier will shoot at us. We’re in full ninja mode as we reach the edge of the set, the feeling a bit like approaching a very modest Narnia.

Our curiosity sated, we return to the path and walk a little further up to find that lo and behold, there’s a whole other snow covered section right next to the track, no sneaking required.

Immediately, our inner Instagram models take over:

As we leave, we see a family having a lovely time on the set before they’re promptly told off by security. We head back, our pace having taken a well-earned kicking. As we return to our path, Rob does some crafty research and learns we’ve just discovered a filming location for the second series of The Witcher, which is soon confirmed by a random family we meet. Rob messages his wife, Holly, who has quite a strong fondness of its star, Henry Cavill. Her response is… enthusiastic.

The final site we encounter in Frith Hill is some seemingly random stepping stones, which we suspect have links to the army barracks that stood here and their parade grounds.

Naturally we had to do something like this with them.

Between the (attempted) dog rescue, the film set not-really-break-in and the stone posing we’re well behind time so we crack on, finally leaving the woods, wandering down a few streets and dropping down onto the canal path, where there’s some cool graffiti.

Nothing to see here, move along.

The canal path is rather nice but not as nice as the houses that are next to it, complete with gorgeous, multi level landscapes gardens, tube slides and kayaks. When these blogs start earning me sick money I might get one of them.

Not too long after that we reach our next pub stop. We could stop at the Kings Arms but decide that since we’ve been there twice and both times it’s been thoroughly good-not-great, we risk going to the Rose and Thistle, which has been closed every time we’ve attempted to drink there in the past.


We enjoy pint no. 2, while Rob hastily re-tapes his feet. They’ve been giving him grief for a while, and he’s not finding it funny anymore.

The Rose and Thistle is nice enough, and the staff are very clear about what you can do in terms of distancing and whatnot, but we basically chill for a bit, drink, and leave.

We resume, crossing the railway line and following the canal path through Frimley and Blackwater. Rob experiences his own Dark Night of the Soul when he realises a) he’s in a lot of pain and b) he’s within walking distance of home, but he bears down and sticks with us as we enter a series of fields near Sandhurst.

Then it starts to rain. Hard.

We cower under trees for cover with some new friends:

Mat and Rob have already got their waterproofs on and Alan didn’t bring any. I whip mine out, feeling sympathy for Alan, only to realise in my haste I packed my 6 year old nephew’s waterproof and not my own.

What. A. Tit.

I fashion it into a makeshift cape, which I genuinely believe helped keep me dry, although the others just think I’m a moron. The rain continues to wax and wane in its intensity, and the only respite from it we find is in a 5 month old puppy who’s on a walk with his owners and delights in running at us at every chance he gets. He especially liked trying to bite Mat’s bum, which is obviously very entertaining.

This was the only picture I could get of her where she’s not a blur.

The rain lets up as we reach Sandhurst and given the state of Rob’s feet (Alan also has discomfort in an intimate spot) we decide the best option is to find the most direct route possible. This takes us through some very smart estates, and as we lose the light, we blast out the 1980’s Transformers’ soundtrack in an attempt to keep spirits high.

We succeed, and not long after, Crowthorne high street comes into view. We make a beeline for the Prince, bidding farewell to Mat halfway up, as he’s parked his car nearby. Our remaining number arrive in the Prince and once I finally figure out their confusing and contradictory instructions for ordering drinks (really not impressed guys) we settle into a well earned victory pint. It’s not long after that that Jen arrives to join us. Holly collects Rob not long after that and he staggers off like John Wayne with ten ingrowing toenails, and Alan and I knock back a couple more beers. Phew.

Out of sheer coincidence, Facebook told me I posted this two years ago to the day. In the absence of a final victory pint picture, I thought this was rather fitting:

Cheers, hobbits.

The Walking Idiots: The Lockdown Diaries

This one wasn’t going to be a blog post.

Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be. But owing to a) the world shaking, sort-of apocalypse massively disrupting the plans of everyone in the country and b) the fact Alan insisted it would irritate John, things changed.

In an alternate, non-Covid reality, by now you would’ve read the blog post for Hike 10 (or ‘X’) of the Walking Idiots. We were intending to – and one day will – hike from Guildford to Merstham/Redhill, continuing our installments along the Pilgrim’s Way, where hopefully I can get my ridiculous Pilgrim’s Passport finally stamped. (This is a super niche in-joke linked to the last blog post, and even then, only one I expect about four people to get it, so don’t let it put you off.)

Anyway, as you all know, circumstances changed beyond anyone’s control and instead we found ourselves unable to deliver our much-needed amble. Needless to say, everyone was disappointed/annoyed/peeved/crushed, but it couldn’t be helped. 

Not that we let this stop us entirely. Some of our number met when the lockdown rules were first eased, but only in the permitted groups of two. John, in particular, managed to meet with several of the crew over a long weekend and enjoyed a range of walks around Berkshire and Surrey. Reflecting that each hike reflected the personality of the person he went with, he summarised the experiences accordingly:

1) A tour around the deeper reaches of the forest, searching out the homes of sexual predators and discovering lost, dark, secret things amongst the silent trees. (This was with Ross, of Hike 1 infamy, channeling a sort of Twin Peaks-esque vibe I’ll never be interesting enough to imitate.)

(Pictured: a lost, dark, secret thing, and the home of Pizza Express Woking branch’s most famous guest.)

2) A well planned, orderly stroll around a very English countryside. High-brow and pleasant, with unexpected twists and turns. Too many hobbit jokes to count. (Yours truly, obviously, although I’m certainly not high-brow.)

(Class act, mine.)

3) Familiar, comforting route liberally scattered with perverse, disgusting jokes. (Rob) Note, no pictures as they were too busy laughing.

4) Lost, filthy and bloodied after about 15 minutes, went nowhere in particular. (Alan) Note, again no pictures as they were too busy getting lost.

For what it’s worth, Rob and I also caught up, and managed a little 10km walk around Warfield and Frost Folly Park. The route covered the area we drive through on the way to visit my in-laws, and I’ve been convinced for years that there was a good walk there. Nice to be proven right. 

Anyway, fun as these are, the real reason I’m sharing (primarily) John’s adventures is because when the opportunity came to put in a walk with the crew, he couldn’t make it. This is pretty unthinkable: every hike and mini-hike to date has included or been organised by John. A hike without John is like the Beatles without John, or the Apostles without John, or the Terminator franchise without John (take that, Dark Fate.) It makes you wonder: if John isn’t present, can it even count as a Hike?

(The answer is yes, but only if I’m there to blog it, FYI.)

From a selfish perspective, John also often sends me notes of the events within a hike, which often form the spine of these blog posts. I’m operating without a net here, people, although this was so much shorter than our usual walks, what could possibly go wrong?

In terms of planning, not much. Since lockdown began, Jen and I have been smashing out long walks in our local area (Maidenhead) and have bought several books of routes to help us out.

(Like this sexy beast)

I appreciate everyone’s just trying to get by at the moment, and I’m sorry for anyone who’s suffered during the crisis, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s been several perks to lockdown, and getting out and exploring has definitely been one of them. Between this and a few OS sites, that’s how I was able to “plan” my super organised mini hike with John. I basically had very little to do with it. One of the books had a route which started and ended in Crowthorne, and as a convenient location for everyone, it seemed like a natural choice.

I did think the route looked a little short for us, so I spliced in another few kilometres from another route that overlapped with our one. 

We agreed to meet near the starting point, deciding that Heathlake Park would probably be the best place to leave our cars.

Heathlake Park is a huge chunk of nostalgia for me. My family and I used to walk round it almost weekly, and when I told my family I was heading there, my brother even wanted photos sent through (I FaceTimed him too, just for good measure.)

It’s quite nice, really. Just very odd coming back. 

Anyway, I soon met up with Alan who was chilling with this gull.

Rob and then Mat soon joined us, we took a couple of obligatory start of hike pics, started the run tracker app, and set off.

The funny thing about this walk was we’ve done plenty of hikes that start in Crowthorne, but with the exception of our mini hike at Christmas, we tend to head out and leave it behind like Frodo leaving the Shire. This one spent a considerable portion of it within Crowthorne itself, and we soon found whole chunks of routes we’d not encountered before, despite all growing up there.

The spliced-on start of our route took us through somewhere called the Gorrick Plantation, which is basically a series of woods which most of us didn’t even know existed. Despite the lack of familiarity with the route, I was suddenly sixteen years old again as the very Crowthorne-like sights and smells of woodland consisting almost entirely of pine trees and rhododendrons surrounded us. 

Like a map reading genius, I’d planned our way to meet exactly where the ‘official’ walk was meant to start, and we soon arrived at our proper arrival point. Other than Alan picking up one of those pieces of plastic that holds beer cans together causing me to swoon a little, and some very nice houses tucked along the way, there’s probably not too much to say about this extra 3km triangular warm up route.

Completing this additional mini loop, (the pre-amble, you might call it if you were feeling especially witty) we reach St Sebastian’s Hall, home to many of Rob’s teenage parties, grab the obligatory selfie, and start the actual route.

(Pictured: Rob, grabbing his selfie.)

Hilariously, at the point where the book advised us to cross the Bracknell Road, it described this as “leaving behind the cacophony of Crowthorne.” Anyone who’s ever visited Crowthorne will know that cacophonous is not a term one would ever really associate with the place, so we draw the conclusion that the author of our guidebook must be some sort of monk, or is possibly part bat.

Regardless of his or her origins, leaving behind the cacophony of Crowthorne, we enter Swinley Forest. We have a bit of a history of not always going the right way here, having missed Caesar’s Camp in the past. I was determined (or maybe just anxious) to avoid that this time, and stuck closely to the book’s instructions. 

That being said, we did pause to get in the odd picture or two. If we made an album of this walk, this would definitely be the cover:

We did find ourselves missing John though. Here’s the four of us gazing in the direction of Kent, silently sending him love:

It was funny really, with John. Wherever we went, we felt he was with us. We saw his image in the strangest of places:

Like that guy who saw Jesus in a slice of toast. Except with us it was with underpass graffiti. But you get the idea.

Finally, we make it to Caesar’s Camp. I for one am rather pleased: we’ve somehow never been able to include it in previous hikes in the area, and we made it just by me following various squiggly lines in the book.

It should be noted here that I have a terrible sense of direction, so this was a big deal for me. Usually it’s all John and Mat’s doing. (Although I often handed the book to Mat and asked where he thought we should go, to be fair.)

Anyway, as you can see from this fancy pano shot, Caesar’s Camp is very nice. It is, in short, an Iron Age hill fort, and from its elevated position, the whole place does have an historic, almost otherworldly feeling about it. 

Which we mostly appreciated by taking photos of, and then having lunch. Lunch of course consisted of the standard packed lunches that have become synonymous with these hikes, although Mat forgot his Cornish pasty, remembered it when his wife called him to remind him, went back for it, and ultimately left it on the passenger seat of his car, where I like to think it was kept warm in the same way you keep things warm in the oven at a low heat. Whilst consuming what food (and beer) we had, we covered a deep range of topics, including depression, capitalism, and the evolving nature of the films in the Fast and Furious series.

Also, Alan took a chunk of photos in addition to the rest of us, which I’ve distributed liberally amongst the assorted pictures in this blog, again showing how our roles are ever-changing. Never stop learning, people.

Or climbing trees. You’re never too old to climb a tree.

It’s not long after leaving Caesar’s Camp that we once again find ourselves on the outskirts of Crowthorne and Bracknell. Crossing a particularly unpleasant B-Road, we carry on, walking past the pub the Golden Retriever. We’re tempted to stop for our first post-lockdown pint here, but we’ve literally just had one (or two) and 3/4 of us are driving, so we make a grown up decision and opt against it. Alan merrily cracks open can no. 6 and off we go.

It’s not long after here that we walk past the Downshire Golf Club – where I had enough golf lessons twenty years ago to make me vaguely proficient at crazy golf/Top Golf – and reach Easthampstead Park.

Easthampsted used to be a part of Windsor Forest, and the lands have a history associated with royal hunting stretching back to the fourteenth century. Nowadays, its stunning Victorian mansion is a conference centre/wedding venue, which I got married in. 

It was the second most beautiful thing there, that day. (Boom. That should score me some points.) 

Our nostalgic reminiscing is abruptly cut short while we’re taking photographs of the building. There’s a guy on a crane platform halfway up the historic front of the building spraying it down. We watch with confusion as he starts yelling at us, imploring us not to take any pictures. 

“Don’t worry, you look great!” Alan tells him. It takes us a while to realise this guy’s not joking, as he insists not only do we stop taking photos – of him, not the building – but also that we delete any we’ve taken. He probably doesn’t realise that any photos we have will show him at best as a cluster of grey pixels, given how tiny he appears. It’s only after we head on that Mat concludes it’s probably something to do with the man’s lackadaisical adherence to health and safety guidelines, as he lists off at least half a dozen violations. 

Anyway, his partner/colleague approaches us, informing us that we can’t continue along the way we need to go in the book as the route is closed for maintenance. This at first appears like a bit of a setback, as without sticking to the route we might find ourselves well and truly stuck. Said partner – who’s far nicer than the spraying bloke – suggests we head along Easthampstead Park’s majestic driveway until we reach some black sign posts which should take us where we need to go. We heed her advice and head on. 

This provided some entertainment on the way.

Following the black signs we enter what feels like a very private road that only has a few posh houses (that slowly evolve into farmland with lots of knackered cars) and a smattering of fields:

We caught sight of some Red Kites duelling in the air, which was of course a bit of a treat.

Leaving this rather pleasant detour, we found ourselves emerging onto Old Wokingham Road. For years I’ve driven down Old Wokingham Road on our way to Bracknell wondering where this private Road led, so imagine my surprise when I finally realise where we are.

Our route from here involves crossing some public footpaths through fields in various states of disuse:

(With more photography from Alan.)

It was around this point I started to notice that the route was a bit longer than anticipated. I check the route and realise it was a 12km walk, not 10. With the extra 3 at the start, this was shaping up a little.

Crossing a few more fields (one potentially owned by a notorious traveller) we reach Honey Hill, where we’re only five minutes walk from our respective vehicles.

It’s here we make a very important decision: pub.

We’re only ten minutes’ walk from the Crooked Billet, and no one particularly wants to part ways without a final drink, with drivers opting for half pints and/or soft drinks. Alan, who’s not driving but has run out of cans, of course treats himself to a pint, and why not.

(Note that Nick from my guitar class recognised the Crooked Billet from the first photo alone, which is very impressive.)

The Crooked Billet is great. Pre-apocalypse it would’ve been a dream, but even now it was just what we needed. The staff handled us all very well, with table service and other measures. Would recommend.

Leaving the pub, we walk past the house of a guy we knew from school. It’s front is gated, it’s an enormous place, and the rumours back in the day were that his dad was a Columbian druglord (even though they were Portugese) or something like that. All I remembered was that I went there once to buy a Nokia 7110 phone off him when I was in sixth form. It had a snap open cover but like those phones in the Matrix, and sixteen year old Nick was a huge Matrix fan. The phone broke, by the way. There’s seventy quid I never saw again.

Getting to the end of Honey Hill, I realise the Crooked Billet was only about a twenty minute walk from where I grew up. Why didn’t we go there in our younger days? I chalk it up to hindsight and mistaken priorities as a youth.

We head back to the cars, having sent poor John more than enough pictures of us in the pub. Soon after I get a message from Jen, who’s survived a day at Legoland with our (very excited) nephew. She’s questioning why she didn’t bring cans of premix, which in retrospect probably would’ve been a great idea.

I check my run tracker app as our group part ways. 17.24km. Not too bad for a little walk.