London to Brighton Challenge-Stage One

I am currently transporting posts over from my website in order to keep everything together, beginning with a favourite of mine: a four part blog about my wonderful L2B adventure in May. Here’s part one.

Saturday 25 May 2013, 5.15 in the morning. The sun was up, and for once so was I; up, dressed and ready to face the challenge of the day: a mammoth walk from London to Brighton. That’s right, London to Brighton. A 100km (62miles in old money) overnight walk. Was I insane? Perhaps. Nervous? A little. Excited? Very much so. Bring it on!

Having persuaded my partner Andy that he would like nothing more than to get out of bed and drive me to Cambridge railway station, my great journey began. The train ride to Richmond was uneventful; I’d done my homework concerning potential delays, and I arrived at the London to Brighton challenge (L2B) start line in Old Deer Park with over half an hour to spare. Time for a little look round.

The start line, which was described on the L2B website as ‘A lively and sociable place’,  was possibly the part of the whole challenge I liked the least. The noise was relentless; kids running round screaming, over excited participants running round screaming (before a 100km walk? Seriously?), people with loudhailers being very hearty, rousing cries of ‘Where are we going? BRIGHTON!’ every quarter of an hour. Hmmph! Where did I put my iPod?

Earphones in, I cast my critical eye around again and noticed to my amusement that Mr Motivator was strutting his stuff in front of the next group of starters. I didn’t realise Mr Motivator was still around, so he had to be worth a facebook post. Within seconds, my sister Sue had replied to my post.

‘I didn’t realise he was still around!’

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Mr Motivator, motivating

My start time was scheduled for ten o’clock, and I became increasingly jittery as the hour approached. The excessive heartiness of the start line suddenly seemed comforting when I thought about the long hours of walking ahead of me, and Mr Motivator actually turned out to be very funny. Note to self: stop being such a grumpy old woman!

Right from the start I walked with a lady from Galway called Bronagh, who had also entered the challenge on her own. It was great to have some company when I considered the huge distance we had to cover, and I clicked with Bronagh straight away. We agreed to walk at a nice, slow pace to begin with, and ambled along the beautiful banks of the Thames, chatting like old friends and snapping away with our cameras. There was plenty to photograph too; bridges, trees, locks, boats, curious looking birds for Bronagh to identify when she got home.

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A nice photo of a lock, with some fellow L2B participants disappearing into the distance

Passers by wanted to know what our walk was all about, and we were only too happy to stop and tell them. We noticed a number of people in identical T-shirts walking in the opposite direction to us, and before long we were exchanging pleasantries with them. They told us that they were on a 22 mile pub walk.

‘A  22 mile pub crawl?’ I asked, impressed.

The pub walkers patiently explained that no, it wasn’t a pub crawl, it was a charity walk organised by their local pub, although they did concede that it may involve a pub or two as they approached the end.

In retrospect, Bronagh and I took things a little too easy. By the time we’d left Old Deer Park the rest of our group had disappeared into the distance. Even a pair of blokes in silly animal onesies left us way behind, and it wasn’t long before we were passed by 10.15 starters, 10.30 starters, and even 10.45 starters.

‘When do we start to worry about being left behind?’ I asked Bronagh.

‘Ach, there’ll be plenty behind us yet,’ she replied in her soothing Irish accent. ‘The start times go on until midday.’

Happy that we didn’t have to panic, we continued our stroll, leaving the river after a few miles to walk through residential areas towards the first rest stop in Surbiton, 12km (7.5miles) into the walk. Feeling a little peckish I toyed with the idea of eating some of my sandwiches en route, until the path took us past a smelly sewage works and my appetite vanished in an instant! We arrived at the first rest stop shortly before one o’clock, still pretty fresh faced and keen, where I conscientiously noted our arrival and departure times on my route card. It’s with a wry smile that I look at the card now; later on in the walk the notes become increasingly smudged, degenerate into approximations, and finally fizzle out altogether!

The walk to the next rest stop was fairly unremarkable as it took Bronagh and me through a warren of suburban streets. They were very pleasant streets, where one considerate person had fixed a note to their car inviting walkers to use their facilities if needed, but it certainly wasn’t the most exciting stretch of the route. Away in the distance we could see some hills, and I wondered out loud whether they were the South Downs. That’s what’s called ‘Wishful thinking’ I believe!

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The ‘burbs, with my ‘wishful thinking’ hills away in the distance.

The curiously named Nonsuch Park offered very welcome respite from the streets; it was as though we were all of a sudden in open countryside. Nonsuch luck! The fields and woodland of Nonsuch park opened out onto more suburban streets.  I’d always been aware that suburban London sprawls out for miles and miles, but it’s only having walked through it that I realise just how much it sprawls.

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On the approach to rest stop two, a couple trimming their hedge commented to us that we must be among the last to come past their house.

‘Not us!’ we told them, still convinced that the start times had gone on until midday. ‘There’ll be loads to come yet.’

At the Oaks Park rest stop, with a quarter of the walk behind us, Bronagh and I decided to relax for a while before setting off for stage two. It felt so good to pamper our feet and ease our rucksacks off our backs, although it did feel odd to walk around without the rucksack by then. We were so used to compensating for the weight on our backs that we were staggering around like drunks with it gone! While we sat in our own little world, chatting, texting, tweeting, facebook posting and eating, we gradually became aware that the L2B staff were busy dismantling the rest stop. That  seemed a little odd, given that there were so many late starters still to come.

Or were there?

‘Umm, are we the last to arrive?’ I asked one of the helpers as the penny finally began to drop.

‘Oh no,’ she assured me with a friendly smile. Phew! ‘There are maybe one or two more behind you.’ Not phew! Panic!

So much for not getting left behind. 10.45 had been the last of the start times and we were very much at the back of the pack. Bags hastily packed, shoes and socks back on, then we were off.

‘Brighton this way,’ said the sign at the exit.

‘Yes, along with pretty much all the other L2B walkers!’ we added as we scuttled past.

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