After the South Downs Way – notes from day 8

(Eastbourne to Bexhill) 

When I went to bed on Tuesday night I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to get my boots on to walk one more day. Even though I didn’t sleep the whole night through, I managed to get enough sleep to make me feel more human again  and I was surprised how well I felt when I got up. I decided that I would do this last day for as long as I could. 

Eastbourne Pier looking beautiful in the morning light

I am very fortunate that I have no real experience of pain but I can report that the pain from the blisters on my heels was pretty bad! Once I had left Eastbourne behind me – and wobbled my way over the bridges across the marina – I made my way onto the beach where the tide was receding. Oh happy days!! Firm sand was so much more forgiving on my feet than paved pathways or pebbles. 

thank to whoever knew that I needed a receding tide 🙏🏻

I walked at a gentle-ish pace and stopped every so often to eat something (lesson learned from the day before) or rest my feet, although actually it felt more painful to get started again than to keep plodding along.

As I walked I was negotiating with myself how far I would be able to go. The options, in case I couldn’t keep going to Hastings, where to pick up a train at either Cooden Beach, Bexhill or St Leonard’s. I decided to aim for Bexhill, buy a portion of chips and then see if I could keep going the rest of the way.

By the time I reached Cooden Beach, the sand was more shingle and walking was becoming less comfortable again so I went up to the road and went on from there. Even though the pavement was hard underfoot it was at least consistent and the pain was just about bearable. With one mile to go to Bexhill I was struggling but seeing the DLWP was a great motivation. 

the end!

On that final stretch I realised that I was done! I would buy my chips and hobble to the station to start heading home. The end of my adventure!! I was a bit disappointed not to walk all the way to Hastings Pier but it seemed foolish to go on causing damage to my feet when I knew I had nothing to prove to anyone. I decided that it was definitely a good time to listen to my body…

I hadn’t planned on getting here by train, but it did feel good

The chips: I had been dreaming about buying a portion of chips in Bexhill for several days. The chippy there is fantastic and I thought they would be the perfect energy source. I ordered a large portion and dived in hungrily as I set off towards the station. They tasted amazing – hot, salty and vinegary – perfect…but possibly a little more than my stomach could stomach! 

After several days without hot food, and actually very little food altogether, my body suddenly went into shock and I honestly thought I was going to vomit in the street!! I hadn’t even eaten many but they were determined to come out. Happily the nausea gradually subsided without me making a show of myself and sadly my perfect chips ended up in the station bin. What a sorry end to a wonderful walk!!

my walk!

My total distance was 146 miles over eight continuous day. My highest hill was Butser Hill at 270m (even though it didn’t actually feel like the highest one). My lowest point was probably lunch in South Harting on day three. My favourite hill was Old Winchester Hill. My favourite bed was in a shepherd’s hut called Dolly.

My biggest regret is not doing it sooner but better late than never?! This plaque on a bench at Bo Peep Hill says it better than I ever could:

So now to rest a bit, pop my blisters (I know it’s not advised but it feels so much better!), have hot baths and early nights, cuddle my dog, see my girls, find my appetite, cut the lawn and do some more walking!!! Jx

South Downs Way – belated notes from day 7

(Southease to Eastbourne)

Day seven was an even longer day and another one with limited stoppage time and no note making, so I’m catching up at 3.20am the morning after because my throbbing, aching feet woke me up a while ago.

Proud to report that when I didn’t suffocate H from NZ last night!

trig point #1 of the day – Beddingham Hill

The morning began with a steep climb up towards Firle Beacon. Came across sheep and a deer but no cows so I had chance to stop and enjoy the views. The highest point was some way off and of course there were about 50-60 cows on the path further ahead but I wasn’t phased. I strode bravely ahead to my second trig point of the morning – albeit on the other side of the fence with just some sheep for company, with a bit of barbed-wire negotiation at the top!

trig point #2 of the day – Firle Beacon

There something about finding a trig point that really makes me smile. They’re pretty ugly I guess but by necessity they’re always in the most high up places and therefore usually surrounded by beautiful scenery. I will miss them when I’m home.

Ever since I started planning this walk I was certain I wouldn’t try the Seven Sisters route (going inland via Jevington instead) As the walk went on, and vertigo kicked in more often, I knew that I wouldn’t go over the cliffs, but decided to walk down to the Cuckmere Estuary anyway, before turning back to Alfriston and then on to Jevington. As I was walking there I started to believe that I could do the cliff section, and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try.

Cuckmere

When I got to Exceat (just above the river) I bumped into the only other walker I had met on the way who was also doing the whole thing in one go. I had seen him on day 4 but then not since and I had been wondering how he had got on. Turns out he got to Exceat 10 minutes earlier and was just going for a coffee with his wife (who had met up with him there) before taking the cliff path to the end. So nice to see a familiar face.

I made it this far…

So long story short: I grabbed a vegetarian sos roll from a cafe, topped up my water and headed for the cliffs…and then I got to the start of them, saw someone standing on the edge, burst into tears and sat down to consider my options:

  • feel the fear & do it anyway
  • walk back up to the road and walk along the edge of it as far as Eastbourne
  • take a short-cut to Jevington and continue from there
  • retrace my steps back to Alfriston and complete the SDW via the inland route

I felt that the only honourable thing to do, given that option one was beyond me, was to retrace my steps and finish well without cutting corners… even though this option added more than 8 miles to my daily total.

The Jevington route was definitely not the easy option – it was actually my biggest number of floors climbed on any day of the whole walk! Once again I was so thankful for my Pacerpoles for keeping me going on these steep inclines.

Sadly I missed seeing the Long Man of Wilmington on Windover Hill. I had expected him to appear above me somewhere en route, but by the time I realised I would need to walk above him and look down the hill, my vertigo legs were back in play and I decided to give him a miss. I can always drive by and see him some other time!!

trig point #3 of the day – Eastbourne (with rain clouds)

The result was a 26.1mile walk that day, two painful blisters and much emotion when I finally sat on my bed in Eastbourne. I didn’t feel any sense of achievement at that point – it was more relief – but I did it! I walked a total of 133 solo miles, travelling only by foot, from Winchester to Eastbourne.

The biggest mistake I made on day seven was not eating enough. I had an almond bar and an apple for breakfast before setting off at 7.20am; grabbed a couple of mini pastries as I left (eaten on the way to Firle Beacon); ate part of a slice of cake when I got to Alfriston; ate part of the vegetarian sos roll and threw the rest away; ate a spinach & something pastry on the way back towards Alfriston, and then almost nothing else until I arrived at the YHA in Eastbourne 6 hours later.

I think the emotions of the day really got to me and I was just so tired and desperate to finish that I didn’t want to slow myself down by eating anything, and actually I was beyond hungry too. Now I’m back home I’m still struggling to eat anything other than crisps, but I’m sure that will ease over the coming days.

I’ll add an update for day 8 soon…I still had a way to go after Eastbourne!!

South Downs Way – belated notes from day 6

(Truleigh Hill to Southease)

I didn’t make any notes as I went along on day six. I did have time before I left in the morning but instead I spent ages looking out to the off-shore wind farm at Shoreham and then I guess I just focused on getting where I needed to be. 

well over half way – good to know there’s a defib just in case 🙂

Day six was the long one – 20 miles on paper / 23.2 miles on foot. More of it was on grassland than previous days which was nicer underfoot but made it much harder to see where I’d come from when looking back. I missed the sense of progress, but at the same time this was the first day with views forward to the cliffs at Eastbourne. Maybe towards the end of a long walk it is good to look forward and start to land back gently into life? 

So back to the start of the day…

I slept for almost 8 glorious hours – but still woke up around 5am. Once I was ready for the day I had to wait for breakfast, but as soon as it was ready I made up 3 jam sandwiches, grabbed a couple of mini pain au chocolate and an apple and headed out the door, eating as I walked.

There were cows within the first hour! I walked (very bravely) through the first group (who were lying down so clearly not interested in me) and was feeling like a warrior – until I saw a small but feisty looking herd waiting to greet me at the next gate!! I decided to wait until someone else came along (safety in numbers and all that) and then noticed two male runners coming towards me so decided I would watch their route and then use it for myself. Happily one of the men read my anxious face at the gate and offered to walk me through the cows to set me on my way. My hero!! Thank you lovely man, especially since you had been telling your friend how much they scared you.

my hero – man on the right

In the ‘cowfusion’ I didn’t check the signage properly and ended up walking a section a little off my path, which took me nearer to the edge and closer to the para gliders leaping off Fulking Hill than was desirable. Total vertigo-inducing sensory overload!!! 

Anyway, I survived, found the right path and carried on past the donkey wheel at Saddlescombe, the golf course at Pyecombe, the ‘Jack & Jill’ windmills at Clayton and on to Ditchling Beacon. On the way I stopped off at Pyecombe church for a cup of green tea (as you do) and an M&S service station to buy something for lunch (the ‘no pork sausage rolls’ were really good – will buy again). The man at the till asked if I had any fuel to pay for – seriously?! I’m wearing a back-pack and holding pair of trekking poles!! Hahaha!

trig-picnic #2

After 20 mins eating lunch atop Ditchling, it was onwards past Plumpton, across the A27, under the railway and up, up, up onto the ridge around Kingston-near-Lewes. I felt as if I was on the ridge for a couple of hours before the gradual decent towards Rodmell and finally Southease YHA. If I thought it was windy the previous day, it was nothing compared to the breeze along the ridge today – I could almost not stay upright in places and used the elastic straps on my poles for the first time.

poppies along the ridge

Today was the first day I’ve had my Pacerpoles in my hands all day. Not only are they brilliant for climbing and descending the hills, but today they really helped me to feel more grounded when the winds were buffeting me about. Very happy I had them today.

Tonight’s sleep is possibly not going to be great! I’ve had an hour or so already but it’s currently 12.30am and H from NZ has just finished sending emails and is now snoring like a good un! And M (not from NZ) spend about 30 minutes repeatedly running water, washing her face & wringing out a flannel before starting on her teeth…there’s a bathroom down the hall!!! She already told me that you can’t come to a hostel and expect to sleep…but I shall repay the favour in the morning when I get up early…. [I was actually very kind when I got up at 5.30am – collected all my belongings and left them sleeping undisturbed]

Also, it was my first (happily only) night in a top bunk. Apparently M reserved a bottom bunk and H from NZ has a bad knee. The other lady here is lovely and offered to swap with me but I reckon if I can walk the length of the South Downs Way on my own, I can cope with a top bunk for one night! And if I really don’t like it, and the snoring carries on too long & loud, I’ll go find a sofa in the lounge…

Eastbourne tomorrow! I can’t actually believe how far I’ve travelled cross-country, although I think my feet can. I’ve got all the way here with just one small blister inside my right heel – the same point I felt it on the very first day I think – but for sure my feet are feeling the miles now. I think sleep will help so I’m going to give it a try – I might just shove my pillow over H from NZ face though first!!! 

South Downs Way – notes from day 5:

(Houghton to Truleigh Hill)

Oh dear! Worst nights’ sleep ever. My first night in a hostel – with 3 more nights in a hostel to come… I got back from dinner to a totally empty, blissfully quiet, place. My roomies had arrived while I was out and perfumed the room with Lynx body spray – haven’t smelled that since my boys were in their teens! Window open until flying things started coming in; window closed.

Ear-plugs in; eye-mask on; slept from 9.30pm for a whole hour…and then I was awake for the next three while all around me doors slammed, room-mate snored, showers ran, toilets flushed, hand-driers whined and the bathroom extractors hummed FOREVER!!!!! Honestly the sound of the fans nearly drove me to start walking at 1am but it finally went quiet around 1.30am all the way through to 4.49am! 

In the middle of all the goings-on, I realised around midnight that I had left all my walking socks on the washing line earlier on, so it was out with the ear-plugs, off with the eye-mask and out to get them in just in case it rained overnight. Walking in damp socks would have been a bad, bad start to day 5.

So here I sit, 5am, cup of hot water by my side, room-mate still snoring, looking forward to my next hostel night tonight, where apparently I’ll be sharing a room with participants from the ‘Big Church Day Out’. I pray that they will be a quiet bunch, although have since found out that it is a music festival so maybe not?!

crossing the River Arun – half way to Eastbourne!

On the road just after 7.30am to take a detour via the local(ish) shop to buy provisions for lunch to save me going off route later today. I need to eat less bread today so no problem that they didn’t sell any vegetarian sandwiches! I opted for a piece of cheese, apple, dark kit-kat, fruit pastilles and extra strong mints – the latter two to help my gut settle down a bit as I walk. 

trig-picnic

Once on the road I made steady progress although it felt like I was continuously climbing for the first two hours. Came across some cows and calves being sent onto a new pasture, thankfully off the route, but I walked uphill with them for some way before they reached the end of their field. 

Today has been all about:

  • the skylarks who have cheered me on nearly the whole way;
  • the spitfire that flew directly overhead, looped down behind some trees and then soared above me again – just incredible (I cried!!);
  • lots of road/track miles
  • lots of piggies near Bramber and
  • loads of wind whipping in off the sea

It finished with more cows & calves right across the path – I climbed over the fence into another field to avoid them, only to find I couldn’t get out of that one, so I cried, climbed back over the fence again, got a grip, walked on my way, and cried again when I got safely to the other side!!! 

I’m not coping very well with vertigo – funnily enough it gets worse the higher I go (who knew??) – and it’s made me really worry about the Seven Sisters section on Tuesday. I’ve decided to cut myself some slack by taking the decision to walk inland via Jevington instead, although I’m planning to walk to the Cuckmere estuary first and maybe once I’m there I’ll just carry on…a decision for Tuesday!

Tomorrow is my longest day (20 miles) so I’m hoping for good sleep tonight and an early start in the morning. Wish me luck Jx 

South Downs Way – notes from day 4

(Cocking to Houghton)

The hospitality last night was wonderful and made up for a tiring day. A good meal, good sleep and good breakfast have helped me feel more human again today.

The long down hill section that nearly finished me yesterday!

This is a shorter day and not too many hills so far. Highlights so far have been an early trig point and stunning views across the south coast, including the many wind turbines off-shore from Shoreham [which I saw every day onwards from here].

south downs way trig point
trig point near Cocking
RIP Rolo

I came off the route to visit the Roman villa at Bignor – light lunch (aka a stodgy scone, bag of crisps & slice of fruit cake!!) and a bit of culture before I head back up again. Bizarrely the site here has no electricity so the urn & fridge run off gas cylinders! They do however have some pretty amazing mosaics from the original flooring – and the slightly macabre remnants of the bones of two babies. 

I’ll add more later when I’ve picked the cherries out of my fruit cake and taken photos of mosaics….

Bignor, South Downs Way
Dining room floor, with underfloor heating obvs!

Cultural interlude complete – a 3-mile, 2-hour round-trip – I headed back up the very steep hill to the SDW and got back on with my stroll through this green and pleasant land. My Pacerpoles have been put to good use every day so far – there have been gradients that I don’t think I could have done without them – except maybe by sliding on my bottom going downhill!!

I only got these poles three days before I left home, having used different poles while I was training, but I am really pleased I switched. The design of the handles is brilliant – light and comfortable to hold with no straps to irritate my hands and wrists – and I now feel well-practised in the different technique required for Pacerpoles. I’ll write more about them later…

Nothing much to report – more stunning views, more hills, a few more people out and about today – and I arrived at my home for the night at 4pm.

South Downs Way near Bury
south downs way views

An hour later my bed is made, I’m clean, my clothes are clean and going through a spin cycle in the washing machine and there’s green tea in my mug – happy days. 

I felt like a more seasoned adventurer today – I remembered to buy water when I stopped to eat and unlike every other day so far there were no careless wrong-turns made immediately after lunch. Feeling proud!! 

Today I’ve been dreaming of a veggie burger, in a bun with fries on the side. I’m sending vibes to the pub down the road as I post this…[I had to settle for a halloumi burger which was pretty good!]

Tomorrow, just after I leave here I will hit the official half way point for the SDW, although my mileage is already more than that…

South Downs Way – notes from day 3

(East Meon to Cocking)

I was definitely ready for my bed last night after 21 miles with my boots on. I could have done without the 4 & a half mile round trip to the pub for dinner, but the food was great, the WiFi & phone charging were useful and walking without a backpack was quite nice! And I saw a deer on the way home (it’s not in the photo – I just wanted to share the golden light with you)

Woke up to the sound of the dawn chorus at 4.30am then managed to doze a bit longer until the sounds of the sparrows in the roof space became too loud to ignore. I went to sleep as the sun was setting so I guess it’s ok to wake as it rises – although a later start would have been very nice.

Since it’s going to be another hot day an early start on the road might not be a bad thing, but my planned breakfast stop (an hour from here) doesn’t open until 10am. By 7.30am I’m ready to go but hanging back a little longer just to let the air warm up a bit and because my legs aren’t quite ready to start walking again yet. Was just thinking what I’d trade for a cup of hot water right now!! 

Dolly the shepherd’s hut has been very comfortable – I think this might turn out to be my favourite sleep of the whole week. Tonight is my only b&b and then I’m staying in hostels all the way home. 

South Downs Way mileage post

Set off at 8am so now I’m waiting at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for the cafe to open – I really need a mug of green tea and some non-snack-bar breakfast. Had a weird moment with vertigo/jelly legs coming down Butser Hill – it wasn’t a very steep descent but there were signs of cows which made me extra nervous. Met a lovely old man on the way down and chatting with him helped me to settle into my legs again.

I have driven along that stretch of the A3 many times but today was my first time seeing it from above and walking underneath it. Lots of memories of Portsmouth University years today… 

Long morning, not many views but beech trees everywhere – plenty of shade but the air feels steamy & stifling. I’m definitely feeling the effects of yesterday’s miles but my PacerPoles have been a great help in getting me up & down some very steep inclines! Every time I use them I remember to ‘walk tall’ and seeing these tress today reminded me to do the same.

As I left the QE Country Park behind me, I saw this fabulous honesty table by someone’s house – what a thoughtful thing to do:

Honesty table along the South Downs Way
flapjack, water & glasses, dog biscuits & a dog bowl and a jar of wild flowers

I took a turn off route for lunch in South Harting. It was a memorable meal, not because it was nice but because it has been repeating on me ever since… ‘vegetarian’ seems to be a slightly alien concept hereabouts – I’m craving simple food, vegetables, fruit and cheese. 

After lunch I walked around and then up the second Beacon Hill on the SDW – and when I got to the top I burst into tears! Not sure if it was the sheer exertion of the climb, the after effects of lunch or the breathtaking views to the Solent but either way I decided it was time to break open the Kendal mint cake to calm my soul and soothe my guts. Seems to have worked but I need to get moving soon – the flies are buzzing around suggesting that perhaps I need a shower?!?! 

South Downs Way trig point

Today was a really long one. The afternoon miles went on and on and on – rough ground, loose flint and chalk, short sharp climbs, long steady climbs, steamy heat and my first time running very low on water. The guide book suggested a distance of 13.5 miles on this stretch but I finished on 18.6 miles! I went off piste for lunch, had an initial climb to re-join the route this morning and made a few wrong turns, but there’s no way they added up to 3 extra miles so I’m not sure where the other 2 came from??! 

On the South Downs Way near Cocking

I trudged along dreaming that there would be a bath at my b&b, and THERE WAS. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see a bath in all my life. Now I’m clean and well fed the day doesn’t seem so bad after all so I might carry on a bit further tomorrow Jx 

South Downs Way – notes from day 2

(Beauworth nearly to Butser Hil)

Day one felt like I was just getting myself in the right place to start in earnest. I had high hopes that from today onwards the views would be spectacular…and they were!

On the road by 8.30am and reached my first trig point within the hour.

Also hundreds of cows so I decided the cycling route into Exton was a better option than the walking one. Took a stop at Meonstoke post office – an apple and a cheese & onion pasty gave me a welcome ‘bag break’ sitting in the shade for a while. I even had a moment with a dog lead in my hand – looking after Raffi while his dad went inside for a newspaper.

I’m feeling good walking today – I’ve settled into wearing my pack, boots feel good and I’ve found a good pace so far. 

Old Winchester Hill was brilliant – felt like I was standing on top of the world. Met two ladies at the top, one of whom has been going there since she was a child and now takes her grand-children there – how wonderful.

It’s way too hot but there’s patchy shade a lot of the time. Sitting inside at Meon Springs enjoying a cup of green tea, crisps and a chocolate brownie – slightly odd lunch but very welcome chance to sit and talk trout with the fishing crowd, as you do.

Added another 6+ miles after lunch, including a missed turn, some long climbs, amazing views over the Solent, more cows (happily behind a fence) and a shepherd’s hut to sleep in.

A good day today – everything I dreamed of and hoped for. Currently enjoying gnocchi and the first wi-fi since Winchester Jx

South Downs Way – notes from day 1

Departure!

Awake at 5.10am & too edgy to enjoy breakfast but left on time with 2 pyjama-clad girls. Finished reading ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ (Anthony Doerr) on the way to London & found a grateful recipient who told me her son would be very envious of my walk & that she’d pass the book on when she’d read it.

Glad I had extra time at Waterloo to find toilets and buy some breakfast. 1st drama was realising phone was only 40% charged – maybe I switched of the socket last night?!! Or actually, maybe it wasn’t plugged in – doh! No sockets on train to Winchester so already making use of portable battery pack… 

My pack is heavier than I might like (11kg with water) and the weather is a tad warm but I’m ready…

The walk:

Winchester was horrid – I just wanted to get in a green space but it seemed to take forever! Wandered towards the cathedral (didn’t actually see it); bought a spinach & ricotta pasty (it was actually a folded pizza filled with peppers); took it back but failed to find another savoury vegetarian option so left with nothing; missed the official start point, went back to find it and then started – beautiful but short stretch along the river; and then seemingly no signs! In hindsight I think they’d been turned around but still annoying. Once I found my way it seemed an age getting out of Winchester and then the road noise could still be heard for a few miles. Finally, after a few tears (thinking about all the things last year that had brought me to that point, missing my mum, tired & a bit frustrated at the patchy start) I took a few big breaths and found my feet.  

Met a ginger Archie and had a brief surge of homesick-for-my-pooch tears. Stopped to apply my first compeed (left heel) and ate my cheese roll from home. Stopped again the take out toe spacer. Realised I was going to reach my destination before 3pm!!!

I deliberately planned an easy day to start with but I think the desire to get going took over. Note to self – next time, set off later or sit and have lunch in Winchester! No matter – sat in the shade with water, book and snacks waiting for the pub to open. Remembering that this is a holiday and sitting down is permitted.

The evening:

The accommodation was fairly basic but the bedding and towels were clean and there was the unexpected bonus of a TV & a bath. Neighbours watched; clothes and body washed. I’d planned an early dinner but once I sat down I didn’t want to move, and then a big group of Harley’s rumbled into the car park and jumped ahead of me in the dinner queue!! It made for a really nice vibe in the bar though, as I half read, half eavesdropped, and ate a really delicious spinach & ricotta cannelloni.

When I woke at 5am to the calls of the peacocks next door it occurred to me that their owner must be the same man who had remonstrated with the bikers as they left at 8.30pm last night, presumably about the noise they were making! 

A beginner’s guide to preparing for a long distance walk (part 2)

my top 6 tips for planning any long distance event, new activity or life in general.

Here’s the next section of my beginner’s guide to preparing for a long distance walk, created as I prepare to embark on my first one. In case you missed it, you can read part 1 here

Consider what you need to spend money on:

When I started walking in January, I was wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt, a cotton hoodie, a vaguely-showerproof dog-walking coat and some vintage walking boots I found tucked away in my shed! On long walks I was covering 13 miles so the lack of ‘proper’ clothing didn’t stop me walking, but I realised fairly early-on that I would need to up my game a bit…

My first purchase was a pair of decent walking socks. Unfortunately they weren’t the right ones for me, but the second pair was much better and I’ve stuck with those ever since.

The thing I resisted buying for longest was a pair of walking trousers, just because they seemed so geeky!! Happily I found a pair that weren’t beige and I haven’t looked back since!

NB If you’re buying new clothing for your event, don’t do what I did and buy three pairs all at once, only to find that loose and comfortable at home = chafing and uncomfortable over a longer distance. I have had to buy a couple more pairs, a size smaller than I would instinctively go for, to get the right fit. I’m hoping the larger size will come into their own in the winter as I’ll be able to fit a pair of leggings underneath, but I could have done without the additional expense.

The first time I wore ‘all the gear’ I felt like a potential fire-hazard, dressed head-to-toe in man-made (aka technical) fabrics, but over the past few months I have appreciated the benefit of said fabrics many times over.

all the gear…in all the colours!!

Finding the right footwear was a bit of a mission but now that I have ‘the ones’ I am glad that I didn’t settle for those which just didn’t feel quite right. The difference they make is huge and it is so good to feel confident that my feet will be ok, especially when I’ll be relying on them as my sole (see what I did there?!) mode of transport from the moment I step off the train in Winchester until I arrive on Hastings pier. If you only get one thing right for your event, make sure it is your footwear!

pair of boots #5

Unexpectedly, my best purchase to date has been a rain poncho. I’ve learned that the thing which annoys me & slows me down the most is faffing on and off with my backpack to put on/take off a waterproof coat when the weather just can’t decide what to do. The rain poncho goes on over everything (including my pack) so on days when I think I’ll need it, I hang it (rolled up in its little bag) from a hook on the front of my pack, ready to pull out and throw on at a moment’s notice. I believe that it is also the most truly versatile piece of kit – ground sheet, canopy, one-woman toilet-tent, hammock, curtain (for my dorm-room bed), talking point…I tell you, it is genius & I love it!

Of course you don’t necessarily need to spend money on everything – ask around and see what you can borrow, even if it is just to try things out before you buy. I have borrowed a sleeping bag for my event and have borrowed a trekking-friends’ poles to train with. In truth I could have used them for my walk too, but I had the romantic notion that I wanted my own pair of poles so that they would be with me for all my memorable walks, now and in the future. Daft I know, but that’s the way I roll!

[I’ll write a separate post about trekking poles soon…lots to say!]

Test everything:

Once you have acquired your kit, or as you are busy acquiring it, get it on and test it how you will use it for your event. Test it in every type of weather, over different distances, with different loads (if you’ll be carrying a backpack) and at different times of the day. Even if you feel silly walking the dog with a 50 litre backpack on, do it anyway! It will create no end of interest from your neighbours, but more importantly it will tell you what, if anything, you need to refine.

Things to consider (obviously the specifics will vary with each type of event):

  • does your underwear chafe? (it’s important to find this out early on)
  • how do your feet feel after  x-hours or x-miles?
  • are your waterproofs waterproof?
  • how does your backpack feel on your back/shoulders/hips?
  • how easy is it to get your gloves out when a sudden cold wind whips up a hail-storm without warning? (answer – far too long, but lesson learned!)
  • how quickly do your clothes dry off after walking through a field of long grass right after a heavy downpour?
  • how easily can you access the things you might need frequently? (in my case the things I like to have in easy reach at all times are lip salve, tissue, phone, map, snacks & water, plus gloves, hat & sunglasses accessible without needing to take off my backpack)

Use every training session as another chance to test out your kit, as getting things right will make the biggest difference for your actual event. Feeling confident before you start is one less thing to worry about when the time comes.

Work out the right fuel & hydration for your body:

This has probably been my biggest lesson.

When I started in January, I was covering 13 miles without any snacks (except for Christmas cake on one joyous occasion) and only rare, brief stops for sips of hot water. I didn’t think I needed any food because I wasn’t getting hungry, and I only noticed how thirsty I was at the end, but what I did notice was that I became very cold as soon as I stopped walking, and then felt totally exhausted for the rest of the day (and sometimes the next day too).

Over time I have experimented with different fuel options and have found a formula which seems to work for me, while I’m walking and afterwards. For a long walk I now carry:

  • a 2 litre water-bladder in my backpack, from which I take small and frequent drinks (I also have two 1 litre collapsible bottles for the SDW so that I can carry extra water on the really long days/in hot weather)
  • an insulated bottle with hot water in it for when I take a break
  • a nut bar or sesame seed bar for protein and energy
  • a raw fruit bar/snack for energy
  • a packet of oatcakes for slower release energy (and because sometimes I want something savoury rather than sweet)
  • Kendal mint cake as a back-up / treat towards the end of my walk
snacks for walking

snacks that work for me –
what are your favourites?

I won’t necessarily eat all of these things (it will depend on time/distance/exertion) but I now have a better understanding of the fuel I need to get me where I need to be and in good shape when I get there.

Giving some focus to this area of my preparation has been very important. To start with I didn’t like drinking cold water (because I don’t like how it feels in my stomach) but I have adjusted and become comfortable with the stomach-feel during recent weeks, spurred on by the knowledge that sipping hot water wasn’t giving me the hydration I needed. The benefit of testing out lots of different food options, has been that I now have four go-to products which my body copes with well.

There was a near-choking scare along the way – I was eating nuts and raisins, whilst walking and talking to a friend; as I did so, I partly inhaled a half-chewed nut, which got a bit stuck in my throat for a few worrying seconds, while I coughed and spluttered and my friend tried to work out how she would be able to perform a back slap while I was wearing a backpack!!! That one incident (and visions of choking to death alone on the SDW) did more to focus my mind on potentially suitable snacks than anything else.

As with your kit, test out your fuel options every time you train for your event – it is another area where confidence in a tried-and-tested approach will make a huge difference when it matters most.

When I started thinking about walking the SDW, I thought it was just about doing the miles and had no idea how much I had to learn, but the process of getting ready has been as positive as the practice walks and physical & mental health benefits. I am feeling slightly nervous about what I’m about to do, but so excited that I have this opportunity to challenge myself in this way.

I’ll report back soon to let you know if all my planning came good and to add anything new that I haven’t learned yet!